Hinduism is one of the longest-surviving religions in the world. The terms Hindu and Hinduism come from the Sanskrit term for the Indus Valley, where prior to about 500 BC the dominant religious worldview was what we now call Vedism or sometimes Brahmanism. This is the ancient form of “modern” Hinduism and the foundation for the various sects and interpretations of Hindu belief today.
Brahmanism, specifically, does not distinguish any major religious sect of Hinduism. There is a social-political movement known as Brahminism, spelled differently than Brahmanism. Members of a particular social caste within Hindu society are labeled Brahmans. For the most part, however, Brahmanism is an umbrella term covering all major Hindu religious beliefs. Any group that highlights that word in their identity does so to emphasize beliefs inherently common to all Hindu practitioners.
The cornerstone belief of Brahmanism and its spiritual successors is the concept of Brahman. The term Brahman describes the ultimate reality. Brahman is perceived as the single, original, eternal, transcendental, all-encompassing truth. It’s common to see Brahman oversimplified as the ultimate “god” of Hinduism. However, in Brahmanism, Brahman is neither personal nor confined to any description. Rather, Brahman is “existence” or “the universe” or “all that is or could be.” Brahman is not the same thing as the deity Brahma, who is one of the three major gods of Hinduism, along with Shiva and Vishnu.
Brahmanism, from this belief in Brahman, is so fundamental that it is difficult to describe. Those not raised in a culture based on that worldview are not used to thinking of reality in that way. Beyond attempting to explain it as the ultimate “oneness” that makes up all that exists, an article format such as this cannot truly define Brahmanism.
Offshoots and interpretations of belief in Brahman are described using terms such as Atman, pantheism, reincarnation, karma, nirvana, and so forth. Few, if any, of those concepts were a distinct part of ancient Brahmanism itself. Rather, those beliefs developed from Brahmanism over time. Depending on how one defines terms, religions such as Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism could be considered parallel offshoots proceeding from Brahmanism. These religions share core ideas but have markedly different applications.