there are 2 kinds of religions/religious systems, or an approximation and/or combination of them. formula types and bell curve types. hinduism falls in the later half. as does asatru, mithraism, hellenic religion, and all religions that are described by the derogatory word "pagan". the difference is that formula religions are religions right of the bat, and over time begin to resemble a way of life. they prescribe a "path" or formula or "code" for all its followers to follow. this path is more often than not "delivered" by a prophet, whose sayings are recorded in a book, again often with additional inputs from others. the followers of such religions are the people of the book. the bell curve religions are on the other hand, firstly a way of life, which over time, as the curve crystallises, begins to resemble a religion. in between there may be a few books written which sort of "takes a snapshot" of the curve. for example the vedas (actual pronounciation = "Ved"). this book then becomes a book of the people. bell curve/way of life religions are in most cases "area specific" ie,. the way a people living in a certain geographical area live their life is different from a different kind of geographical area. now thing is, in the formula religions, tenets, doctrines, dos and donts are prescribed. in the way of life religions, ideally speaking, there should not be any tenets. but all people have 2 things in their characters - a desire to live life as they want and also a desire to "connect" to others, so that they are not considered odditities. so, due to the first desire, the formula religions have a "spread" or deviation from the formula, since some follow the tenets to the word, some do more than needed, some do less. and due to the second desire, the people who define the "way of life religions" (in the way of life religions its always the people who define the religion... where as in the formula religions, its the religion/"book" that defines the way the people should live) tend to try and "follow" the existing practices though they are perfectly free to do their own thing. hinduism is a double bell curve religion. first there was the way of life of the hindus. their beliefs, practices, rites, rituals, fears, expectations etc. the bell curve of all that was recorded in a book called the vedas. the Vedas are the snapshot of the beliefs and the way of life of hindus at the time it was recorded (vedas were recorded over a long time.. thats a different thing i'll come to later). now comes the interesting part in hinduism. the writers of the vedas could easily have put their foot down and concocted a "formula" or prescription from the vedas and asked every one to live like that. but instead they merely noted everything down and gave advice (the "Upanishads", which is the last chapter of every veda) to the next generations. the people are free to interpret the advice in any way, or ignore them or pick and choose from amongst it or follow it to the word. which of course gave rise to the 2nd bell curve. so hinduism as we see it today, is the spectrum/bell curve, of the many possible interpretations, of the snapshot (ie. vedas) of the bell curve (formed from the way of life of the hindus**) at the time period over which the vedas were written. more later.