What does it mean to be a human being in the Hindu tradition?

Published 27 Mar 2017

For Hindus, the concept of the human being is more spiritual rather than physical. They believe that the roles being played by the physical body is moved by the state of the spiritual self. Their belief in reincarnation and their patronage of the caste system exhibits a different understanding of human nature. For them, the body is an instrument for the end goal of life. The human body is not a privilege or a gift; it is an instrument with which the human being will try to achieve eternity according to the Hindu belief.

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In the process, it may appear that the life of a Hindu can be troublesome and sacrificial. This is because hardships can be believed as beneficial for the spirit. With the caste system in force, families live their destiny according to their stature in the society as dictated by the classes with which their kin belongs to. Reincarnation, on the other hand, allows for different traditions and ceremonials to be made for the purpose of securing the afterlife of the dead body whose spirit will live again.

With these concepts, it becomes evident that the Hindu concept of humanity is widely different from that of the other religions. Reincarnation exists in other religions too. The caste system may exist in other religions, though sometimes in a different name. It is interesting to discuss how these two beliefs demonstrate the concept of the human being in the Hindu religion.

The caste system

The Hindus believe in the divinity of human beings. By saying so, they mean that human beings have the power to obey what life the Brahman has set for them. This includes their position in the caste system and stature in the community. (Lakhan nd) One’s position in the caste is provided for by the Absolute. It is a destiny passed on from generations to generations. The caste system represents different aspects in which each member in each caste has respective responsibilities. There are four orders in the caste system. All of them make up the bodily parts of Purusha, the human spirit which symbolizes the universe.

The first caste order is the Brahmin. This is the group of priests and teachers, the mouth of Purusha. This is where the learned belong. Next is the Kshatriya. This is the group of the strong, of rulers and warriors. This is the arms of Purusha. The thighs of Purusha are the Vaishyas, the caste of merchants, craftsmen, and farmers. They are the skilled group. Lastly, there is the Shudras or the servants, Purusha’s feet. (Lakhan nd)

This grouping system has existed for a very long time. However, it became an avenue for later rulers of the Hindu religion to exploit its followers. Dalits or those who have no capabilities are not included in the caste. As there was no system of education at the old times, these Dalits had no choice. The members of the caste, on the other hand, felt privileged enough to be members of their groups. This is despite gruesome poverty and abuse by the rulers. Many are made to believe that the caste system was of religious necessity. However, scholars claim that it is plain economic and political exploitation. (The holy book of Hindu religion-The caste system nd)


The Hindus also believe that the spirit of the dead comes back to assume another life. This is reincarnation. Hindu belief has it that all living things have the body, the mind, and the Atman or the divinity of human beings. As living humans would change their clothing when it has served its purpose (to clothe), the spirit also leaves the physical body to assume another body or form. Hindus believe that bodies die because it has served its purpose. (Vrajaprana nd)

However, death or reincarnation is not a goal in life. The goal is always freedom from bondage, ignorance, fear, sorrow, delusion, and ultimately the cycle of life or reincarnation. This connotes the view of Hindus that reincarnation is a cycle of dying and being born again repeatedly until such freedom is achieved, at only which time the cycle will stop. (Vrajaprana nd) Valea (nd) agrees, saying that humans need to face a second death and go through the cycle until he has achieved the goal in life which is mystic knowledge.

These beliefs in reincarnation have led many to do ceremonials that support the after-life. For Aryans, dead married men should be cremated with their living wife and a servant to accompany him in his travel to second life. There is also the belief that the treatment of the living to the dead affects the life of the living, and so the living should commemorate the dead. (Valea nd)


The spirit is the focal point of the human being for the Hindus. Thus, humans need to live a life of sacrifice and obedience in order to achieve their desired end. The Hindus are taught that they will be reincarnated after death if they have not yet achieved the great knowledge of their divinity. Divinity is achieved through a life of sacrifice and obedience. In connection, the caste system and these beliefs make Hindus become vulnerable to abuse and slavery. All of this shows the high regard that Hinduism gives to the Atman or the human spirit. However, the same cannot be said of their treatment of the physical body. In conclusion, the Hindu regards the human being as the spirit which is part of an infinite whole more than a living person from the creator.


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