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According to Western scholars, the religious tradition that we know as Hinduism is the product of at least 5,000 years of development, with roots stretching back to the Indus Valley civilisation, which prospered some 4 - 5,000 years ago. However, the origins of this religion are shrouded in mystery and according to Hindu scriptures may be millions of years old. There are many Hindu creation stories but the one given here helps to explain one of the major Hindu beliefs - reincarnation.

This is not the first world, nor is it the first universe. There have been and will be many more worlds and universes than there are drops of water in the holy river Ganges. The universes are made by Lord Brahma the Creator, maintained by Lord Vishnu the Preserver and destroyed by Lord Shiva. Since the universes must be destroyed before they can be recreated, Lord Shiva is called the Destroyer and Re-creator. These three gods are all forms of Supreme One and part of the Supreme One. The Supreme One is behind and beyond all.
After each old universe is destroyed nothing is left but a vast ocean. Floating on this ocean, resting on the great snake Ananta, is Lord Vishnu. Some say that a lotus flower springs from his navel and from this comes Lord Brahma. And it is from Lord Brahma that all creation comes.
How dies Lord Brahma create? Some tell of how he grows lonely and splits himself in two to create male and female. Then he becomes one again and human beings are created. In the same way he creates all the other living things, from the great animals to the tiniest insects. Others say that everything comes from different parts of Lord Brahma's body. All the different animals and all the people come from his mouth, arms, thighs and feet. Everything comes from one - Lord Brahma, who is part of the Supreme One - so everything is part of the Supreme One. For this universe, this world and this Lord Brahma, like all those before and all those to come, will be destroyed by Lord Shiva.
How long is the life of a universe? Its length is beyond imagination. One day to Lord Brahma is longer than four thousand million of the years that we know. Every night when Lord Brahma sleeps the world is destroyed. Every morning when he awakes it is created again. When the Lord Brahma of this universe has lived a lifetime of such days the universe is completely destroyed by Lord Shiva.
Everything disappears into the Supreme One. For an unimaginable period of time chaos and water alone exist. Then once again Lord Vishnu appears, floating on the vast ocean. From Lord Vishnu comes forth Lord Brahma of the new universe and the cycle continues for ever.

This belief in reincarnation, in the cycle of life, strongly influences the lifestyle of may Hindus. It can best be explained by the terms 'dharma' and 'karma'. Dharma may be translated as 'duty' and for Hindus, part of that duty is to respect and care for all living things. The belief that after death we are reborn in another body, not necessarily human, leads to a great respect for all life and results in many cases of vegetarianism. Karma is the result or product of what we do. If we do our duty, then we create good karma, since the next life we may have is directly related to the actions of our present life. To the Hindu, everything is part of the Supreme One, and thus every living thing is equally important in the great cycle of life.

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