Core Values of Hindus

What defines a Hindu?

The geographical definition of ‘Hindu’ is ‘one who is born in Bharat’ (India). Then again, one who is born to Hindu parents is a familial statement and one who is born into the fourfold caste system is its genetic inheritance description. All these are partial definitions, because a Hindu born abroad is also a Hindu, so is a foreigner who accepts Hinduism and also one born outside the fourfold caste system.

The traditional defining principles of most Hindus are the belief and faith in one Supreme Divine Reality or Paramatma and the acceptance of the authority and infallibility of the Vedas. While Hinduism is essentially diverse, it also has common threads or core beliefs which are generally accepted by many of its practitioners. Exploring such prominent beliefs or principles can help us get a clearer picture of the basic elements of Hinduism.

Main Hindu Principles

One Supreme Bhagwan or God – First in the list of the core Hindu beliefs is the principle of ‘One Supreme Divine Reality’ or ‘Paramatma’ who manifests in various forms. The Rig Veda says, ‘Ekam sat vipraha bahttdha vadanti’ means – ‘Truth is one, but the wise describe it in many ways’. The belief in one Supreme God is called Ekeshwaravada.

The Authority of the Vedas – The Vedas are the ancient shastras revealed by Paramatma or Bhagwan to the enlightened rishis of India. Along with the four Vedas (Samhitas) the revealed scriptures include their respective appendices, namely; Brahmana, Aranyaka and Upanishads.  The scholar Bryan K. Smith in Reflections on Remembrance, Rituals, and Religions (l989), writes, “Hindus are those who use the Veda as a reference point for creation, maintenance and transformation of their traditions.” For many Hindus,  the Veda is a divine revelation, and as such, its principles have not originated at a particular time in history but are eternal and of divine origin.

Avataravada: The principle that Bhagwan or God himself takes birth on earth in human and other forms. Avatar means ‘descent of God’, who manifests on earth when the time is right. He comes to liberate his devotees, establish dharma and destroy evil.

Atman: The unborn, eternal and indestructible inner self that is the essence of life in all animate things. The atman is sat (eternal), chitta (consciousness) and ananda (bliss). The nearest English word for atman is soul or self. The Supreme Bhagwan is believed to reside in all atmans as antaryamin, inner-controller and guide.

Karma: The universal law of cause and effect according to which a person is responsible for his or her actions and their effects. God gives the appropriate fruits of a person’s good or bad actions.

Punarjanma: The principle of reincarnation or rebirth (punarjanma) in which the atman (soul) passes through many births to attain spiritual enlightenment or moksha. Punarjanma is linked to the karma principle.

Murti-puja: A belief that God manifests in a murti (image) through which he can be worshipped and adored through acts of devotion. This tradition believes that God has a form, and the worship of God’s murti is essential for spiritual elevation of the self.

Guru-shishya Parampara: This tradition is very significant for the majority of Hindus. Through the God-realized living guru, the disciple realizes the highest spiritual wisdom and attains moksha. A sampradaya is defined as guru-shishya tradition – ‘Sampradayaha Guru Kramaha’, this means- ‘Succession of gurus is called a sampradaya’.

Four Purusharthas: Hindu sacred texts state that there are four purusharthas or endeavors or goals of life, namely, dharma (staying faithful to one’s moral duties), artha (acquiring wealth), kama (fulfilling one’s desires) and moksha (acquiring final liberation). The ultimate goal of life is moksha – freedom from the cycle of births and deaths through self-realization and God- realization. Out of the four purusharthas, artha and kama are relevant for householder devotees and dharma and moksha are relevant for both householders and ascetics.

Ahimsa: Hindus believe that God pervades all living and non-living things. This means that God pervades humans, animals, plants, mountains and the whole of creation. Hence, the Hindus love and respect all life forms and practices ahimsa or nonviolence.

Varnashrama Dharma: Dharma is generally explained as varnashrama dharma. This means the duties and responsibilities of Hindus in relation to their varnas (classes) and ashramas (stages of life). It is to be noted that the varna system is not the same as the Indian caste system. The Indian caste system is a distortion of the varna system, as the caste system is purely based on one’s birth. The varnashrama system provided Hindu society with an organized social structure for the development and elevation of society and individuals.

Besides these eleven core beliefs, there are others to which some Hindus give importance and subscribe to. Furthermore, as long as Hindus accept the belief in one supreme God and the authority of the Vedas, even if they reject some of the other core beliefs, they can still traditionally be considered Hindus. For example, certain Hindus believe that God has a form and thus they practice murti-puja (idol-worship), while at the same time, others believe God to be formless and thus do not perform murti-puja. Despite such differences, both are considered to be Hindus.

Details about Each Belief

We shall now try to understand in some detail each of the eleven core beliefs that generally qualify a Hindu.

One Supreme Bhagwan Or God

Hinduism has often been misinterpreted as a religion of innumerable ‘Gods’. Many Hindus believe in one Supreme Parmatma or Bhagwan (God) who manifests in many forms. The Rig Veda clearly states ‘Ekam sat vipraha bahudha vadanti’ – “Truth is one, but the wise describe it in many ways’. Bhagwan is sat-chit-ananda (eternal, consciousness and bliss). He is supreme, all-powerful, the all-doer and the all-pervading. Bhagwan is the giver of the fruits of karmas to all souls (karma phala pradata). He is also known as Parabrahman, Paramatma, Parmeshwara and by other names. Bhagwan has a divine, personal form (sakara), however he is also believed by a section of Hindus to be formless or impersonal (nirakara). He comes on earth in human and other forms to liberate the pious souls, fulfill their devotional wishes and faith, and to destroy evil. According to different Hindu Vaishnava traditions there have been 24 or 39 avatars (incarnations) of Bhagwan, out of which 10 (Dashavatara) are revered as the principal avatars. In the Shaiva and Shakta traditions there have been ten avatars in each. It is because of the many manifestations and forms of God in Hinduism that others have come to believe it to be polytheistic. But, principally many Hindus believe that the different forms of God are manifestations of the one Supreme Bhagwan. He possesses infinite divine qualities, out of which six are prominent: gnana (knowledge), aishwarya (lordship), shakti (ability), virya (power), teja (brilliance) and bala (strength). Many Hindus, especially the Vaishnavas, believe that understanding the glory of Bhagwan and worshipping him with the belief and faith that he is supreme (sarvopari), the all-doer (sarva karta), always having a divine form (divya sakara) and is ever present (prakat) on earth through a God-realized guru, liberates one from the bondage of maya and blesses one with moksha. Devas or devatas are the minor gods (namely, Indra, Agni, Surya, Varuna, Vayu, Yama and many others), of whom there are 330 million according to the Puranas. They are all minor deities who do their duties in accordance with the authority and instructions of the supreme God. With regard to the common features of Bhagwan in all Vaishnavasampradayas, Gavin Flood, Professor of Hindu Studies and Comparative Religion, Oxford University, explains, “The Lord is the ‘Supreme Person’ (Purushottama) with personal qualities (saguna), rather than an abstract absolute (nirguna); the Lord is the cause of the cosmos, he creates, maintains and destroys it; the Lord reveals himself through sacred scriptures, temple icons, in his incarnations (avatar) and in saints.”

Authority Of The Vedas

Spiritual faith cannot be wholly imbibed in one’s life in a matter of days or a couple of years. It requires a lifetime or even many lifetimes of sadhana or spiritual endeavors. But the important question is: What is required to develop absolute faith in God? How should one exert oneself? What are the pitfalls and dangers that one should be aware of? What are the practices or sadhanas required to consolidate one’s faith? Is there one path or are there many? Should one follow or believe what one’s mind says or take the word of any person? The answer is that one should not follow any non-standard means or unauthorized ways. Following an authorized shastra or the bona fide guru is the Hindu tradition. The Vedas are the ancient sacred texts of the Hindus. For Hindus there is no higher scriptural authority than the Vedas. All orthodox Hindu texts derive their source and authority from the Vedas. The orthodox Hindu schools of philosophy and sampradayas are called astikas, mainly because they base their beliefs and practices on the Vedas, Brahmana, Aranyaka and Upanishads. This gives them spiritual legitimacy and provides cohesion to sustain their schools of philosophy and religious traditions. Those who do not accept the Vedas are generally termed as nastika or non-believers.


Avataravada is the principle that God assumes human or other forms to liberate countless jivas from material bondage and the cycle of births and deaths. It is of prime importance in Hinduism. Avatar literally means ‘one who descends.’ The term incarnation, is considered to be an English equivalent of avatar. However, it fails to capture the exact meaning of avatar, i.e. the belief by many Hindus that God is totally divine, despite him assuming a living form and exhibiting all the traits of a living being. Even though in a human or any other form his hunger, thirst, sleeping, eating and all other actions appear similar to humans or other living beings, yet they are divine. God’s body and his actions are therefore absolutely divine and liberating. The doctrine of avataravada or incarnation is an important feature of the Bhagavad Gita (B.G. 4. 5-8). Some of the ten main avatars (Dashavatara) of the Puranas are mentioned in the Vedic literature. For example, the Shatapatha Brahmana mentions the descent of God as Matsya (fish) and its story of liberation in, Kurma (tortoise) in, Varaha (boar) and Varnana (dwarf) One may ask as to why God should assume an avatar? Can he not liberate souls from his divine abode with his infinite powers? Yes he can, but the two main reasons why he incarnates in human and other forms are:

(1) To fulfill the wishes and accept the love and devotion of his devotees and countless other spiritually inclined souls, and

(2) to destroy adharma or evil on earth.

The first reason allows devotees to develop deep bonds of love and glory through their personal association with God. Eventually this deep love or attachment to God liberates them from the trammels of maya.

Atman or Jiva

The nearest translation of atman or jiva is self or soul. Hindus believe that all living things have a jiva or atman. It is the fundamental principle of all life which pervades the body and experiences. The ancient rishis of India turned their thoughts inward to discover their inner self. They had a unique experience or a metaphysical entity, i.e., self, that was beyond the external, physical world they were living in. They found it to be eternally existing (sat), having consciousness (chit) and infinitely blissful (ananda). This self is luminous, pure and bodiless; beyond sorrow and decay. The rishis discovered that what they experienced was their true self and the very essence of their life. They called it atman or jiva or jivatma, which is pure, immortal and untouched by evil. The Bhagavad Gita describes the nature of atman in chapter 2.19-25. It says that atman is not born, nor does it die. It casts off worn-out bodies and enters into other new ones. No weapons can split it, or fire burn it. No waters can wet it, nor does wind dry it. The atman is invisible, unthinkable and unchanging. According to the Advaita philosophy of Shankaracharya a jiva is in bondage, goes through transmigration, and when free from maya, it is identical to Brahman (Ultimate Reality). Shankaracharya differentiates between jiva and atman, where one bound by maya is called jiva and when that jiva becomes free of maya, it is called atman. The Bhakti Vedanta schools (founded by Ramanujacharya, Nimbarkacharya, Madhavacharya and others) consider jiva, atman or jivatma to be atomic in size and innumerable, to pervade the physical body in which it resides and to be totally separate from and subservient to Brahman or God. Furthermore, it is important to note that the bhakti schools do not differentiate between jiva and atman as Shankaracharya does. These schools understand the words jiva, atman and jivatma to be synonymous, and by nature the jiva is pure and unbound by maya. But when the jiva is bound by maya (due to I-ness and My-ness) and goes through the cycle of births and deaths, they call it a baddha (bound) jiva, and when it is liberated, they call it a mukta jiva. Hinduism believes that the jivas or atmans pervade the physical body it resides in (sarva-gataha).


Karma means action or deed. Any physical, mental or emotional action is called karma. No living being can remain without performing actions for even a moment. For every action there is a result or consequence. Hindus believe that karma is the universal law of cause and effect which governs life. It is a natural law of human life, just as gravity is a law of matter. Hinduism teaches that a person’s karma, past or present, is responsible for good or bad consequences in his or her life. It is also responsible for the disparities in life: rich and poor, high and low, intelligent or ordinary, good and bad. Hindus believe that nothing in our world is merely accidental or a chance happening. The common wisdom, ‘As you sow, so shall you reap’ succinctly sums up the Hindu law of karma. Good actions produce happiness and bad actions lead to suffering and misery in the present or future lives. Understanding the principle of karma can encourage a person to make moral and spiritual choices in his or her daily activities. A prominent and early mention of the karma principle is found in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3. 2.13, in which Sage Yajnavalkya tells Artabhaga, “Meritorious action leads to merit (punya), while evil action leads to further evil (paap).” The Shvetasvarara Upanishad 5.7 clearly states, “One who performs actions wanders in the cycle of transmigration according to his {good or bad} actions.” The law of karma is a moral principle that explains the circumstances and incidents in the present life to be the consequences of a person’s deeds in the past or present lives. Nothing in one’s life or in this world happens without a cause or reason. So a person’s present or past governs his present and his present actions also shape his future. This means that every person is to some extent an architect of his own future. There are two types of karmas that a person performs, namely, nishkama and sakama. Nishkama karma means actions performed without any expectation of material gain, ego and material desires, but solely done to perform one’s duty (dharma) and please God. Sakama karma means acts done for a specific material desire or purpose.

Karma is also categorized into three types:

1.    Kriyamana karma: The karma or action being performed every moment. The consequences or fruits of these karmas may be attained in this, the next or future births.

2.    Sanchita karma: The vast accumulation of karma containing the sum total of all karmas done throughout many lives. The fruits of these karmas are being experienced or yet to be experienced.

3.    Prarabdha karma: The portion of one’s sanchita karma that one is presently experiencing in this birth. For example, the attributes and conditions of one’s physical body, mental capacities and circumstances are due to one’s prarabdha karmas. Hindus believe that God gives the fruits of one’s good and bad karmas, that is, he is the karma phala pradata. Karma or deed does not by itself produce or give results; it is only when God decides what to give as the fruits of one’s karma that one actually experiences their positive or negative effects. It is worth noting that the karma principle is not applicable to animals because their actions are instinctual and they lack discrimination between right and wrong. The principle of karma is not antithetical to the concept of human effort. As mentioned earlier, kriyamana karma, that is doing karma every moment, is a part of the karma principle. Without daily action or deeds how can one hope to experience the result of present or past deeds! So karma does not negate the importance of human effort in any way. Kim Knott mentions in her book how Prof Arvind Sharma deals with karma in his book Hinduism for our Times, “To think fatalistically about karma is unhelpful when, in fact, as human beings we have the power at any moment to change our own behavior, and thus its consequences for our future. Free will rather than fatalism characterizes the operation of karma. Karma is thus not fate, because a person acts out of free will and is thus responsible for shaping his or her own destiny. To dissolve or overcome the burden of karmas one has to perform good karmas, moral karmas and spiritual karmas with no desire for material gains (nishkama), and with the aim of pleasing God and the guru. Performing selfless karmas like service to mankind, praying, doing bhajan, reading or listening to shastras, performing bhakti of God, serving one’s guru, etc. elevates one’s soul. Through the performance of nishkama karmas, one finally attains moksha by the grace of God or guru.

Punarjanma or Rebirth

Punarjanma or reincarnation or rebirth is the natural process of birth, death and rebirth. Hindus believe that the jiva or atman (soul) is intrinsically pure. However, because of the layers of l-ness and My-ness, the jiva goes through transmigration in the cycle of births and deaths. Death destroys the physical body, but not the jiva. The jiva is eternal. It takes on another body in accordance with its karmas. Every karma produces a result which must be experienced either in this or some future life. As long as the jiva is enveloped in ignorance, it remains attached to material desires and subject to the cycle of births and deaths. According to the Puranas, every jiva passes through 8,400,000 life forms. The four categories into which the jiva is born are: udbhija (born of seed, i.e., plants), jarayuja (born of womb, i.e., mammals), swedaja (from sweat, i.e., bugs) and andaja (born of egg, i.e., birds and reptiles). Hindu texts such as the Puranas teach that the regression of a soul into animal bodies is due to its base karmas; similarly, the progression of the soul into human and divine bodies is due to its meritorious karmas. Birth in a human body is the highest and rarest of all births, because it provides the jiva an opportunity to achieve its main purpose: mukti or liberation. Understanding punarjanma eliminates the fear of death. One realizes that one is not the body, but the immortal soul which takes on many bodies in its evolutionary sojourn through samsara. Reincarnation ends when one’s karmas are resolved, God is realized and the fruit of moksha is attained.
What are the Reasons for Punarjanma?

There are several reasons why the jiva takes on different physical bodies:

i. To experience the fruits of one’s karmas – This is the main reason for rebirth. A person’s karmas influence his or her life and destiny. Sattvika karmas i.e. good or righteous deeds, reward one with the pleasures of swarga (abode of the devas). Rajas karmas or pleasure-seeking material actions reward one with mrutyuloka (mortal realm or earth). And tamas karmas, actions related to inertia, laziness and evil, condemn one to patala-loka (the lowest realm or the nether world). When the jiva exhausts its sattvika karmas in swarga, it gets a human birth on earth.

ii. To satisfy one’s desires – When a person indulges in material pleasures, he or she subsequently develops a stronger desire to enjoy more of it (vasanas). This unending craving to satisfy one’s desires causes the jiva to assume new physical bodies.

iii. To complete one’s unfinished sadhana – When an aspirant making spiritual efforts for liberation from maya dies without attaining his goal, the jiva gets another human body to complete its sadhana.

iv. To fulfil a debt – When a jiva is indebted to another jiva, it gets a human birth to fulfill its debt and receive what is owed to it. The jiva comes in the form of a relative, friend or an enemy.

v. To undergo sufferings because of a great soul’s curse – A person’s grave error or sin may incur the wrath or displeasure of God or a rishi. This results in the jiva of that person getting another birth, not necessarily into a human body.

vi. To attain moksha – By the grace and compassion of God or a God-realized guru, a jiva gets a human body to purge itself of the layers of base instincts or moral and spiritual weaknesses. When the jiva takes on another body, it is God who gives it an appropriate one in keeping with its karmas. When the jiva enters the new body it does so with its subtle (sukshma) and causal (karana) bodies. Sometimes, the enlightened person (a mukta) takes birth by God’s wish to carry out a special mission.


The worship of a sacred image of God, or his manifestations, or guru is known as murti-puja. In Vedic times, the Indian rishis worshipped the forces of nature, namely, Varunadeva (sea-god), Indradeva (rain-god), Suryadeva (sun-god), Agnideva (fire-god), Vayudeva (wind-god) and others. They revered and appeased these devas for their contributions in mankind’s existence and happiness, by chanting various prayers in the form of mantras and by performing yajnas. Over time, they developed elaborate rituals of devotional worship for those devas and for the supreme God. To facilitate their concentration on and worship of God, the rishis made pratikas (symbols) and pratimas (murtis or images) of clay, stone, metal and wood. God was invoked (prana-pratishtha) into a murti with consecration ceremonies,. Then the rishis regarded such a murti as God himself and not a statue. The murti became the focus and object of worship. The murti helps the aspirant to withdraw his mind and senses from material objects and concentrate on it. When the aspirant reaches the pinnacle of his sadhana, he realizes God, and he sees, speaks with and touches him.

The Shrimad Bhagvara Purana (11.27 .12) describes eight types of God’s murtis:

“Shaili darumayi lauhi lepya lekhya cha saikati,

Manomayi manimayi pratima ashtavidha smruta”

”A sacred image is made of one of eight materials: stone, wood, metal, sandalwood paste or clay (or other material that can be moulded), sand, precious stones, conceived by mind and through painting or etching.”

Professor Gavin Flood states, “Many Hindus believe in a transcendent God, beyond the universe, who is yet within all living beings and who can be approached in a variety of ways. The transcendent is mediated through icons in temples, through natural phenomena, or through living teachers and saints. Devotion (bhakti) to deities mediated through icons and holy persons provides refuge in times of crises and even final liberation (moksha) from action (karma) and the cycle of reincarnation (samsara).” In Bhakti Yoga the aspirant associates with the murti of God through devotion and love. He expresses his love through seva and worship of God’s murti. Murti-puja has been practiced for several centuries in India. Mandirs are built for darshan, worship, pilgrimage and service of God’s murti. The worshippers of murtis and proponents of mandirs are followers of the Bhakti sampradaya, believing in God who always has a divine form (samra) even in his divine abode. The Bhakti sampradayas in Vaishnavism believe that the consecrated murtis of the supreme God and his manifestations in mandirs are not symbols but realities. Service of God means seva of his murti, which is an indispensable part of devotional practice for all Vaishnava devotees. Almost all Vaishnava, and many Shaiva, Shakta and Smarra shastras, called Agamas, contain elaborate sections on rules, regulations and methods of murti-pratishtha and daily worship. One of the great teachers of Shri Vaishnavism, Shri Pillai Lokacharya, in his work Mumukshupadi states,

“The extreme limit of the easy accessibility that is mentioned here is the worshipped image. This form of the Lord (as murti) is our refuge. He holds the divine weapons in his hands. He keeps one of his hands in a posture asking us not to fear. He wears a crown. His face is smiling. His sacred body reveals that he is the protector and an object of enjoyment.”

For many Hindus who practice murti-puja the devotional rituals provide utmost joy and peace. Many also experience a sense of being near to God and understanding the futility of worldly pleasures.

Guru-Shishya Parampara

The Guru and Guru-shishya (master-disciple) tradition is a unique feature of Hinduism. Since Upanishadic times the guru has played the role of imparting spiritual (Para) and mundane (a Para) knowledge (vidya) to the disciple. The guru guides, inspires and also engages the disciple in the rigours of spiritual sadhana and worldly knowledge. Through spiritual disciplines he aids the disciple in realizing the Divine and in fulfilling the four purusharthas of human life. For an aspirant bound by maya, self-realization and God-realization are not possible without an adept guru. The guru must be brahmanishtha (God-realized) and shrotriya (one who knows and has realized the true meaning of the shastras) in order to liberate the aspirant. The shishya or disciple must be humble and totally obedient with unflinching faith in the guru.

The Hindu shastras and traditions speak glowingly of the guru as the form of God. The ‘God-realized’ guru represents God, but he is not God. He purifies the disciple to make him eligible to experience the eternal bliss of God. So, by seeing, hearing, serving and thinking of the guru, one perceives and serves God. In this way, the guru is the bridge to and means of realizing God. The guru parampara or disciple succession is central to the transmission of worldly and spiritual knowledge for most Hindus. Many Hindu traditions put great emphasis on two factors for transmission of knowledge:

  • Its continuity or unbroken line of transmission and
  • Importance of guru or teacher. Through the true spiritual guru, any given Hindu tradition is able to adhere to its core principles. The guru plays the role of a judge in interpreting those longstanding principles of Hinduism for new contexts and emerging conditions.


Hindus believe in and practice the principle of ahimsa or nonviolence and non-killing. Ahimsa does not mean nonviolence in action alone, but also in thought and speech. Firstly, it is based on the Hindu beliefs that all living and non-living things are created by God and pervaded by him –‘Isbauasyam idam sarvam’, i.e. ‘God pervades all things’ – as stated in the Ishavasya Upanishad. Therefore everything is sacred. Secondly, the majority of Hindus also believe there are separate and independent atmans in each living body, and God resides within all of them. From these two beliefs was born the principle of ahimsa and compassion for all living things.


Two of the many fundamental beliefs that qualify a Hindu are that he or she believes in one Supreme Paramatma who manifests in many forms, and the authority of the Vedas.

The other important principles are avataravada, atman, karma, punarjanma, murti-puja, guru-shishya tradition, ahimsa, four purusharthas and varnashrama dharma.

Avataravada is the principle that God comes in human and other forms to liberate souls and eradicate evil.

Atman is the essence in all living things. It is sat (eternal), chit (consciousness) and ananda (bliss).

Karma means any physical, mental or emotional deed. It is not a self-operating system but is governed by God. God dispenses the fruits of one’s karmas (as karma phala pradata). Rebirth is a direct consequence of one’s karmas.

Punarjanma means rebirth. The soul gets different life forms according to its karmas. Birth in a human body is the greatest and most precious of all births.

Murti-puja is a tradition based on the belief that God has divine human and other forms. Since creation comprises shapes and forms, similarly, the creator too has a form. Murti-puja enables the aspirant to focus his or her senses and mind on God.

The God-realized guru guides and liberates the shishya from the bondage of maya and prepares him to lead a meaningful life in this world and the next. The guru- shishya tradition is an important facet of Hinduism.

Ahimsa means nonviolence in thought, speech and deed. Hindus believe that all things are created by God and pervaded by him. Therefore, everything is believed to be sacred. Devout Hindus are generally vegetarian and abstain from killing in any form.

The four purusharthas are the four goals of human life. The rishis fully considered the needs of brahmacharis (celibate students), householders and ascetics by providing a roadmap of life. They guided householders to aspire for four purusharthas or goals of human life, namely, dharma, artha, kama and moksha, while encouraging the ascetics to focus on dharma and moksha.

Varnashrama dharma means duties and responsibilities of Hindus in relation to their varnas (classes) and ashram as (stages of life).