Prakriti – or matter is inert, temporary and unconscious. Everything made of matter undergoes 3 stages of existence- 1) it is created, 2) it remains for some time and, 3) it is inevitably destroyed.
Gunas – Matter is composed of 3 qualities (gunas) corresponding to creation, sustenance and destruction:
- Sattva or goodness is pure, elevating, enlightening.
- Rajas or passion motivates us to create, acquire and enjoy.
- Tamas or ignorance is dirty, degrading, deluding and destructive.
All material phenomena can be analyzed in terms of the gunas. According to the soul’s preference for a particular mode, it takes on a corresponding body. Those influenced by goodness will be elevated to the heavenly planets at death, those largely in influenced by passion stay in the human society and those influenced by ignorance enter into the lower species.
Maya – or illusion means that which is not. Influenced by the 3 gunas the atman or soul mistakenly identifies with the body. He accepts such thoughts such as “I am white and I am a man”, or “This is my house, my country and my religion.” Thus the bewildered soul identifies with the temporary body and everything connected to it, such as race, gender, family, nation, bank balance and sectarian religion. Under this false identity the atman aspires to control and enjoy matter. It is by cultivating the quality of goodness that the soul can make gradual progress towards transcendence and eventually fully escape the influence of any of the 3 gunas including goodness and obtain liberation.
Moksha – or liberation from Samsara, Maya and the influence of the 3 Gunas is considered by most Hindu traditions as the ultimate goal of life. The main difference of opinion centre on the precise nature of Moksha. Although practically all schools consider it a state of unity with God, the nature of such unity is contested. The Advaita or monistic traditions say that moksha entails annihilation of the soul’s false sense of individuality and realization of its complete non-difference from God. The Dvaita or dualistic traditions claim that God remains ever distinct from the individual soul or atman even after the soul has achieved liberation from its false identity; and union with God refers to a unity of purpose in which the individual soul surrenders, serves and loves the Supreme Brahman or God.
God is addressed by many names in Hinduism depending on the tradition or aspect of the Supreme Truth that one is trying to present. Many Hindus describe God as Sat-Cid-Ananda or full of eternity, knowledge and bliss.
These correspond to three main features of the Supreme:
- Brahman refers to the all-pervading aspect of God. Scripture states ‘everything is Brahman.” This sat/eternal aspect of God is realized by understanding one’s own eternal nature as atman.
- Paramatman or Antaryami means “the controller within” and refers to God residing within the hearts of all beings. He is often referred to as the Supersoul and is initially perceived in various ways, through memory, instinct, intelligence, inspiration, and exceptional ability. He is the object of meditation for many mystic yogis. This feature of God represents his cit or knowledge aspect.
- Bhagavan means “one endowed with unlimited opulence” and refers to God who lives beyond this material world. Bhagavan is the Supreme person and the individual soul can enter into a direct relationship with Him, thus experiencing ananda or spiritual pleasure.
Most traditions accommodate these three aspects of God, but will understand the relationship between them differently. They often stress one feature as more important than the others. They also differ as to the exact identity of God and their understanding of the many gods and goddesses.