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Acharya
Religious teacher, learned Sadhu and master of scriptures. Very often, he is head of a Sangh.

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Advaita
In the first millennium AD in India a new philosophical direction came into existence, that was deeply influenced by the idealistic metaphysics of the later Buddhism. Interpreting relevant passages of the old Upanishads, the new thinkers claimed, that the whole world was a mere illusion (maya), basing on false knowledge (avidya). In reality, there is only one absolute truth (Brahma), and each individual soul is one with it. Liberation can only be attained through realization of this truth. The remaining passages of the old scriptures were considered as secondary, being merely preparations for the ultimate truth. The pioneer of this philosophical tradition, called 'absolute Monism' (kevaladvaita) was the south-Indian BrahminShankara (788-820 AD).

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Ahimsa
Sanskrit: non-injury, without harm. Ahimsa is the fundamental ethical virtue of the Indian Jain religion. It was highly respected throughout the centuries by Hindus and Buddhists as well. In 20th century, Mahatma Gandhi, the famous politician, philosopher and spiritual leader, was inspired by the principle of Ahimsa to develop his theory of passive resistance as a means of bringing about political change.
In Jainism, Ahimsa is the standard by which all actions are judged. Male and female lay members of the Sangh observe 5 small vows (Anuvrata), on the base of Ahimsa meaning for them not to kill any animal life. Male and female ascetics observe the much more severe great vows (mahavrata), which are also based on the principle of Ahimsa. For them, Ahimsa entails the greatest care to prevent them from knowingly or unknowingly being the cause of injury or harm to any kind of life. 'Any kind of life' includes not only human beings and animals but insects, plants, and atoms as well.
Many common Jain practices, such as not eating or drinking after dark or the wearing of mouth covers (Mukhavastrika) by monks and nuns, are based on the principle of Ahimsa.

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Anushastra
Lit.: 'little compendium', when applied to a person, someone with great intellectual and spiritual capacities.

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Anuvrat
Means 'little vow' and is not as strict as a Mahavrata (see Mahavira) 'big vow' for male or female ascetics. Anuvrats are for lay people, living family lives. The five Vrats (vows) are: Ahimsa (non-violence), Truth, Non-stealing, Self-control, and Limited-Accumulation.

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Arjuna
In the Mahabharata, Arjunais mentioned as the fifth son of Pandu (house of Pandava). As the hero of this epic he wins under the guidance of Krishna the battle against the Kauravas. During the battle, Krishna instructs Arjunain the doctrine of bhakti.

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Asanas
The meaning of this Sanskrit term in the Yoga system of Indian philosophy is 'sitting posture' or 'seat'. It describes different bodily yoga postures assumed to purify the flow of energy in the body for freeing it from blockades which might invoke health injuries. It is the third of the eight prescribed stages by Patanjali intended to lead the aspirant to Samadhi, the spiritual aim of yoga.
There are 84 different Asanas, about 32 have been enumerated as the most important, of which perhaps the most common is Padmasana ('lotus posture').

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Ashrama
See: Manusmriti

Avatara, Avatar
The avatara-theory, i.e. the descending of god to earth, in order to save the good, to destroy the evil and to re-establish the law (dharma), was elaborated with regard to Vishnu in the Smarta-Tradition, its fundamental scriptures being the Mahabharata and the Ramayana (400-200 BC). According to this there are 10 avataras of Vishnu, who appears in different manifestations on earth, whenever the varnashramadharma is endangered. These are: Vishnu as a fish, tortoise, man-lion, Krishna, Vamana, Rama, Parasurama, Buddha and Kalkin. In the scriptures his main tasks are described as the solution of conflicts. Vishnu never appears alone, he is always accompanied by other gods, who incarnate with him as well. Closely linked to the avatara-theory was the doctrine of the four yugas, prescribing particular duties and rules for every age. For every age one avatarawas responsible.

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