If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Hinduism: core ideas of Brahman, Atman, Samsara and Moksha.

Hinduism is one of the oldest and largest religions in the world. It is also one of the most diverse in terms of practice. This video gives an overview of the central spiritual ideas of Brahman, Atman, Samsara and Moksha.

Want to join the conversation?

  • spunky sam blue style avatar for user TheWitchKing
    I wonder why Hinduism lasted longer than other religions that originated that long ago. also, it's cool how it kind of formed over the merging of many civilization's religions.
    (45 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • duskpin sapling style avatar for user Vince T
      It's also interesting to note that because Hinduism is the oldest Indo-European religion, some scholars of Celtic religion actually look to Hinduism to fill in gaps, since it's theorized that the two have a common origin (though that may be as generic as "an ancient Indo-European tribal religion"). This is of course a heavily debated practice, but it's still thought-provoking. The article "Common Ground of European Celts & Indian Vedic Hindus" isn't from an objective source, but the parallels it covers do make you think.
      (15 votes)
  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Isabella Bachmann
    I'm still confused about Brahman. Is it just like one huge spiritual being that can reincarnate anything in any reality, but Brahman and Atman are one in the same?
    (13 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Polina Vitić
      At , Sal says: "Brahman is viewed as the true reality of things. It is shapeless, genderless, bodiless. It cannot be described. It can only be experienced...[and] according to Hindu belief, we are all part of Brahman."

      Then at Sal says: "[Atman is] that inner self, that thing that is even...deeper than our sense of identity."

      So it seems like Brahman is this big thing outside of us, and Atman is this tiny thing way deep inside of us, right?

      That's the illusion! Brahman & Atman are actually the exact same thing. The fact that this doesn't easily make sense is the illusion :)

      So Atman-Brahman isn't a being, according to Hinduism. Atman-Brahman is actually the true reality of things and it is everywhere and also deep, deep inside of each person.

      Hope this helps!
      (38 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user thomasshirrefs
    I read somewhere that the Sanskrit root word sindh- means a body of water/a river. Can you confirm that?
    (15 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Atreya Vedantam
      You are correct. The word Sindh is derived from the Sanskrit language and is adapted from the Sanskrit term Sindhu which literally means "river" hence a reference to Indus River. ... The ancient Iranians referred to everything east of the river Indus as hind from the word Sindh. (In Persian, "s" is sounded "h.") The dhatu (root) for Sindhu is sindh.
      (20 votes)
  • orange juice squid orange style avatar for user Robert Lapsley
    What do we know about war in the Indus Valley? When Muslims arrived in 600's, were they chopping off heads in the name of Allah? Did the Hindus have to defend themselves? Was there just too many Hindus? How about Rome?
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • orange juice squid orange style avatar for user briancsherman
      There were plenty of wars in India. For instance, the Shunga Empire around 100 BCE fought with the Kalingas, the Satavahanas, and the army of the Greek king Demetrius I. Indians fought the Huns in the 6th century. Arabs and Indians fought the Battle of Rasil on the western bank of the River Indus in 644. Afterward, Umar ibn Al-Khattāb declared the eastern banks of the Indus River to be where his domain ended. In the 700's Lalitāditya Muktapīḍa fought the Turks, the Tibetans, and the Dards in Pakistan. Three different empires battled for power in Northern India in the 9th century. The Pala Empire had elephant cavalry and a huge navy. The Chola Empire invaded Sri Lanka. In 1192, Prithvirāja III was defeated by Muslims in Northern India. Timur, "The Sword of Islam", captured Delhi in 1398. The Mughals fought the Mewar kingdom in the 1500's. In the 1700's the Sikhs fought the Mughals and the Hindus. 1775 to 1818 saw three wars between the British and the Maratha Empire. The British defeated the Sikhs in Northern India in 1846. In 1962 India and China fought over their border in the mountains. War continued, with Bhutan, Pakistan, and China again in 1967. In 1999 Pakistan and India fought in Kashmir. There has been just as much war in India as anywhere else, unfortunately.
      (33 votes)
  • spunky sam blue style avatar for user Bekzod Kimsanboev
    So if I understand correctly Brahman isn't a god, but it is more of an essence/matter that Hindus believe we are all part of, and we undergo different realities for an eternity untill we do something that makes us rejoin Brahman, which THE PURPOSE OF LIFE.
    And to reach this purpose of life we have to fulfill our DHARMA. Correct?
    (8 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • male robot donald style avatar for user Carson Schlem
    If reality as we understand it is nothing more than an illusion anyway, why do individuals have darmas to follow and correct actions that they are supposed to take? Does Brahman decide what is good or correct?
    (7 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • starky tree style avatar for user holly
    braham makes no sense at all to me.. what is it supposed to be?
    (5 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • marcimus purple style avatar for user Kaia nagorski
    what is moksha? how did you reach moksha
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • blobby green style avatar for user Алексей Кулай
    If Dharma is a legitimate role, how to find out whether the law is true?
    Thank you!
    (5 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • winston default style avatar for user Kai Martin
    Brahman: a member of the highest Hindu caste, that of the priesthood.

    Atman: a Sanskrit word for the true or eternal Self or the self-existent essence of each individual, as distinct from ego, mind and embodied existence.

    Samsara: a Pali/Sanskrit word that means "wandering" as well as "world", wherein the term connotes "cyclic change" or, less formally, "running around the circles."

    Moksha: a term in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism for various forms of emancipation, enlightenment, liberation and release.
    (4 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user

Video transcript

- [Instructor] We're now going to talk about Hinduism which is one of the largest religions on Earth, practiced by over a billion people. And, it's interesting for several reasons. First, it is considered to be one of the oldest religions that is still practiced. Some historians would place the origins of Hinduism at 5,000 years into the past. It has elements that may have been practiced in the Indus Valley civilization. You also have significant elements that come from the Vedic Period. In fact, the Vedas, for which the Vedic Period is named really form the root of Hinduism as it is practiced today. It is believed that the Vedas come from an Indo-Aryan people that many historians believe came from Central Asia and were related to many of the people who colonized Europe. Now, the other thing that is fascinating about Hinduism, and I really just referred to some of it, it is a combination of many cultures that really merged over thousands of years. And, they merged around the Indian subcontinent. As you will see there are many traditions, many cultures, many different ways that one can, and many different ways that people do practice Hinduism. But, there are also core beliefs that we wanna get to the heart of in this video. And, we'll discuss more in future videos. Now, what's also interesting is where the name Hinduism or Hindu comes from, a Hindu being someone who practices Hinduism. The name for what we now call the Indus River in Sanskrit was Sindhu, and Sindh is still a region in the Indian subcontinent. The version that the Persians said was Hindus and this got converted to Indus in Latin. So really, Hinduism is the term for the cultural and religious practices of people beyond the Indus River. The India really comes from this same root. Indus is where India comes from, but Indus comes from Hindus, which comes from Sindhu and these are all related to the word Hindu. And, you can see that very clearly in the Persian version. Now, as I mentioned, there's many different practices in Hinduism, many different traditions, many different rituals in Hinduism, but I'm going to try to focus in on what could be considered the spiritual core. And, a lot of this comes out of the Vedas. They're a collection of hymns, rituals, but also philosophy. And, the subset of the Vedas that are very concerned with the spiritual and the philosophical are known as the Upanishads, which means sitting down or coming near to. Some people say coming near to God, some people say coming near to the actual reality, or coming near to a teacher as in sitting down to get a lesson or to have a dialog. Now, the central idea in Hinduism is the idea of Brahman. And Brahman should not be confused with the god Brahma. Brahma is sometimes, you could view, as a aspect of a Brahman, but Brahman is viewed as the true reality of things. It is shapeless, genderless, bodiless, it cannot be described. It can only be experienced. Now, according to Hindu belief we are all part of Brahman. And, what we perceive as our individuality is really, you can consider to be a quasi-illusion. So, this might be one individual right over here and then we might have another individual right over here. And, this separateness, the illusion of the reality that we see around us this is referred to as Maya. And, Maya is not just the illusion or the quasi-illusion created by our senses it is even notions like our ego, our identity. And, within that context that inner self, the thing that is even within our, that is even deeper than our sense of identity. This is referred to as Atman. And, as you can see they way it's been diagrammed here, the way we've drawn it out Atman is essentially the same thing as Brahman. And, oftentimes you will see it referred to as Atman-Brahman, they're really the same thing but it's really, it's an illusion that there is this separateness of our reality. Now, according to Hindu belief in each life you have this core part of yourself which is Atman, which is part of Brahman. And, when you die it doesn't disappear, but it will take on or it will subjugate itself to another reality. So, after death this individual or this perceived individual might take on another identity in another reality. They would perceive it as another life. And, this notion of one life after another, one reality after another is sometimes referred to as transmigration of the soul, sometimes referred to reincarnation, or this notion of Samsara, which is this endless cycle of birth and rebirth. It really comes from this notion of same flowing, this thing, this pattern that goes on and on and on. And, according to Hindu belief what that next life is, what that next reality is is based on your actions in this life. Karma, literally is referring to actions, but it's really actions driving consequences not only in this reality but in the next reality. Now, there's another notion of Dharma. Dharma is based on what is the role you should play given the reality, given the life that you are in. So, in a very simplified way you could say, "Well, Dharma is the rightful role, the rightful actions, "your duty depending on your role, "depending on your reality." Karma is how that action translates into consequences which is going to drive what happens in this endless cycle. Now, a core idea of Hinduism is to try to escape from this cycle, to awaken to the true reality, awaken from this quasi-reality. And, this is really one of the central ideas of the Upanishads that eventually if you can awaken, so let's say that this is an awakening, this entity, this Atman, this self right over here, this perceived individual has now awoken and can see through, pierces the veil of that Maya. Now, they have rejoined Brahman and they've recognized that Atman and Brahman are the same. And, this freeing from Samsara, from this birth death cycle, this is referred to as Moksha. Now, to make this idea a little bit clearer let's look at some quotes from the actual Upanishads. So, this is two versions from the Isha Upanishad and the reason why I like to show it is because it shows that if you're translating from Sanskrit into English or really from any one language into another there's gonna be some room for interpretation but we can see it here. So, this is from the Isha Upanishad which is considered one of most important ones. It's a subset, it's a section of the Yajurveda, one of the four early Vedas. And, they write, and this is an English translation, "The wise man beholds all beings in the self, or the Atman, "and the self in all beings, for that reason "he does not hate anyone. "To the seer all things have verily become the self. "What delusion, what sorrow can there be for him "who beholds that oneness?" This is another version of the same verses from the Isha Upanishad. "He who sees all beings in the self and the self "in all beings he never turns away from it, the self. "For, he who percieves all beings as the self "how can there be delusion or grief "when he sees this oneness everywhere." So, I might be getting into an argument with someone but deep down if I recognize that both myself and that individual that we are part of this same Brahman that he is me and I am it, or I am he, well then that anger seems a little bit misguided. Now, to get a little bit more context on this notion of oneness here's another verse from Chandogya Upanishad, which is also considered one of the significant Upanishads. And, it's part of the Sama Veda. "As the rivers flowing east and west merge in the sea "and become one with it, forgetting they were separate "rivers, so do all creatures lose their separateness "when they merge at last into pure Being," into Brahman. "There's nothing that does not come from him." And, the use of the word him is really an anthropomorphism of this notion that has really no gender or body or form. "Of everything he is the inmost Self. "He is the truth, he is the Self supreme. "You are that Shvetaketu, you are that." And, this last verse is referring it's in this Chandogya Upanishad it's a conversation between the teacher and his son. And, the son is Shvetaketu, my apologies for pronunciation. So, what's he's saying is that these rivers is an analogy for you and I and we might see ourselves as different but at some point we will flow and become one with the ocean. And, he's pointing out to his son, you are not different from that, you are self, you are Ahtman. It is Brahman, it is one and the same.