Freedom of Personal Belief in Hinduism

One of the vows in Hindu marriage ceremonies illustrates the importance of freedom of personal belief. Both the bride and the bridegroom encourage one another to develop their personal faith through worship that is free from interference.

The Gita crystallizes Hindu thought but it is too subject to interpretation. It does not require a Hindu to believe anything in particular. Instead, it glorifies goodness and truth and makes references to beliefs that are taken for granted. It addresses human doubts, questions, and fears and inspires physical and spiritual courage. This teaching illustrates the meaning of merging into God, soul, worship, knowledge, good deeds, karma, and reincarnation. It sets forth diverse and sometimes opposing criteria for attaining enlightenment or becoming on with the infinite which, according to Hindu theory, represents ultimate bless.

God is implicit, though debated in Hinduism. He is an idea that cannot be grasped by the human mind, a presumption regarding an absolute, awesome eternal energy worthy of adoration.

God is separate and distinct from the gods of mythology who romp about as did the gods in Greek and Roman myths. God is also separate from His human incarnations. Both in myths and in scripture, Divine Avatars act on behalf of God’s invisible, unfathomable form. Lord Krishna, an Avatar of Lord Vishnu, the Preserver, who is believed to be the source of all other Avatars, explains:

 

I am born from time to time

Whenever the good need my protection.

I am born to destroy the bad and help the good.

(Gita 4:7)

Read more from On Hinduism at http://irinaspage.com/philosophy/on-hinduism/.

Dharma

 

The idea of dharma is a central belief of Hinduism. Its meaning cannot be easily described or translated. Like karma, it is a fundamental concept.

The essence of Dharma is duty, but it is more. It is a universal principle as well as a personal principle. Hindu scripture says:

Dharma is truth.

It is said that

one who speaks truth

speaks dharma

and one who speaks dharma

speaks truth.

Bhridaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.14

Dharma embraces family life, social life, and spiritual life. It is the guideline known as Sanatana Dharma meaning Eternal Law or Eternal Order which actually defines Hinduism.

Read more on Dharma in On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar. You can purchase the book on Amazon.

Vaishnavites

Vaishnavites are the largest denomination within Hinduism. Vaishnavites worship the personal form of Lord Vishnu and all his avatars, particularly Lord Krishna and Lord Rama. Their belief merges dualistic Dvaitism and with monistic Advaitism. Dvaitism views the soul as pure love of God and as separate from consciousness. However, Dvaitist philosophers maintain that the soul and consciousness merge when the soul becomes enlightened and frees itself from the body. Thus they consider Bhakti Yoga, or the Yoga of devotion, as the best means of attaining the perfection of spirit that enable the individual soul to become on with the universal soul.

To read more from On Hinduism, visit our Amazon Link to purchase the book.

The Shaivites

Hindu homes often contain an altar which is generally dedicated to the deity worshipped by the family, most usually Lord Krishna, Shiva, or one of the many manifestations of the female God force that has various names, like Durga Lakshmi, or Devi. Shrines and temples dedicated to particular deities may also become regular pilgrimage destinations for devotees. Yet other mainstream Hindus exercise their religion within the frameworks like eclecticism, atheism, or secularism without leaving Hinduism’s embrace.

Shaivites worship Lord Shiva above other aspects of God. Shiva, the awesome and frightening aspect of God, represents destruction, the force that leads to regeneration. Shiva’s energy is also Shakti, the force which is inseparable from female creativity. Shiva Shakti is often perceived as one impersonal, genderless power. Shaivism is monistic or Advaita meaning that matter and consciousness are viewed as one in God.

Shiva is probably the earliest manifestation of God that existed in Hinduism. Lord Shiva has been identified with the Rigvedic God of wind and storm who was described as benevolent and kind. The Sanskrit meaning of Shiva is “auspicious.” Shiva is thought to have also been worshipped in the Indus Valley Civilization which flourished before the predominance of Aryan culture in India.

Tune in next week to learn about the Vaishnavites in another excerpt from On Hinduism from Irina Gajjar. To purchase the book, visit our Amazon link.

Hate vs. Love

 

Just considering the world, people, and history, it seems that momentum is greater when it comes to hate and anger than when it comes to love and goodwill. Going high in response to going low does not appear to produce as much energy as retaliating.

Most religions do not acknowledge or deal with this concern. They suggest detachment, leaving matters to the Lord, or succumbing. Meanwhile, problems and anger fester and grow with destructive outcomes.

Meditations seeking to promote peace and faith in a higher power are occasionally organized by institutions associated with religion, sometimes on very large scales. But no meditations or prayers or thoughts are promoted to overcome negativity arising from fear and fury. No prayers or discussions are held to consider defeating the evil that provokes anger.

Some answers lurk in the notion that anger and hatred are individual emotions whereas ideals like world peace and harmony are beyond our control, but in my view this suggestion is insufficient. So is the idea that evil depends on our viewpoint. We know it when we see and feel it.

I would love to hear your thoughts on how best to amplify our response to evil.

Knowing God

 

Although God cannot be understood by the mind, God can be known by the spirit. In chapter seven of the Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjun that he will understand God after knowing Him. God says the He knows all beings, but they do not know Him. People cannot see God because confusion and desire cover their minds, but they can reach God by seeking Him.

The Sanskrit language distinguishes between spiritual knowledge (seeing, knowing) and rational knowledge (understanding). We can come to know God only by seeking Him. Trying to understand God is a path to knowing Him, yet we cannot understand God without knowing Him. This is an apparent paradox, not a real one. It means that we must take steps toward understanding God in order to experience God. While the absolute cannot be understood by our finite mind, it can be known by our infinite soul. However, the soul can only experience the truth if the mind strives for it to do so. Reason or understanding is a path that leads to spiritual knowledge, but only spiritual knowledge has the power to reveal God.

Learn more about Irina’s book, On Hinduism. You can purchase the book on Amazon using this link.

What Is Knowledge?

Hinduism defines knowledge as more than the acquisition of information. Knowledge pertains first and foremost to knowing God. This covers everything from seeking God, to knowing about God, to understand God, or to feeling God. Chapter seven of the Bhagavad Gita, “Knowing God,” offers a road map to the unveiling of the mystery of life. It explains that of the countless people who exist, only a few seek God and that of those few, only a handful gain a true understanding of divinity.

True knowledge pertains to understanding the Creator who causes the worlds and is the “life principle” or the essence of life. In his incarnation as Lord Krishnas, God says that He is composed of earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, reason, and the self. He tells us that He is the wetness in water, the light in the moon and sun, and the sacred symbol Om which encompasses God and the Universe:

 

I am the manliness in men

And the smell of the earth

And the brightness in fire.

I am life in living things.

I am the seed in all beings.

I am the wisdom in men’s minds.

I am the strength of the strong and the wish in your heart.

(Gita 7:9, 10, 11)

To learn more about On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar, visit the link or purchase the book on Amazon.

 

 

The Five Layers of Being

In Hindu philosophy, goodness, truth, and God are one. God is absolute goodness and eternal truth. The Absolute Soul that is God illuminates the soul of all beings. However, human goodness is a material human trait. The human traits of goodness and evil both pertain to the body, not to the spirit. In Hindu though, the mind is part of the body. It is the energy that powers our intellect, our judgment, and our ego, but it is temporal and it is shed when the soul is released from the bondage of repeated reincarnations. The body and mind are matter whereas the soul is spirit. A particular life comes into being when the spirit and the body join together and it ends when the soul and the body separate at death.

When it embodies, the soul, the kernel that is our innermost divine spirit, is covered by four layers of being. The soul itself is counted as a fifth layer, though it is pure essence and is devoid of matter. It is the unchanging soul named God. The five layers of being are called kosas. The four layers surrounding the soul can be understood to be sheaths, shells, or husks, or vessels. The kosas increase in density as they move outward, further away from the spirit. The layers closest to our soul make up our ethereal astral body whereas the outermost layer is heavy with matter.

The fourth sheath, nearest to the soul, is knowledge. It is the highest level of understanding and sensitivity that is closest to God. The third sheath is the mind. It is intellect and it contains our memory, causes dreams, and processes the information that we have taken in through our minds and senses. It also manages the collective information we may call human instinct or intuition. This collective information belongs to all mankind. The second sheath is vitality. It is the vital force that moves the body and makes it work. This is the subtle body that controls our senses and actions as well as internal bodily functions like the pumping of the heart. The fourth outermost sheath is the dense physical body itself.

The living body has three attributes or properties called gunas. These attributes are our tendencies or natures. Ranking from highest to lowest, the three gunas are sattva, rajas, and tamas. Sattva is the tendency of the highest and purest of beings. It is true and good. Rajas is the tendency of dynamic beings filled with energetic or frenetic passion. It is not good, but not evil. Tamas is the tendency of ignorant and inert beings. It is bad. People are a mixture of these three traits but our nature depends of which trait is strongest:

 

When Sattva is strongest we are wise.

When Rajas is strongest, we are greedy

and we cannot keep calm or still.

When Tamas is strongest,

we are lazy foolish, and covered by darkness.

(Gita 14:11, 12, 13)

 

This excerpt is from On Hinduism, by Irina Gajjar.

Moderation in the Gita and in Life

 

 

The Gita in Chapter 6 says that a wise person is on the path to God. Such persons are calm, fearless, think of God, and are measured in all their activities. They are careful to eat, sleep, work, and relax moderately: neither too much nor too little. Those who practice moderation and succeed in behaving on an even keel attain happiness and freedom from sin.

On the other hand, a respected colleague of mine once advised that everything should be practiced in moderation, even moderation. This notion is implicit in the term “moderation” which suggests that once in a while we can stray and binge a little. Occasionally, we should let ourselves over or under-eat or sleep, or work or play or whatever. We will rejoice in the excess and then regret the aftermath. That should lead to our reining ourselves in and once again returning to moderation. Perhaps from there, we can eventually progress toward a state of godliness.

See The Gita, A New Translation of Hindu Sacred Scripture, by Irina Gajjar

 

Happy New Year 2021!

Happy New Year!

I have only random thoughts about the year gone by and the one ahead. I am sharing them with my readers and asking you to let us know how you are processing this transition.

So, the world has survived 2020 and is now embarking upon 2021 which promises to be a fragmented vista of hope, despair, relief, fear, and perhaps emotions that we don’t even have words to describe or explain. We are reacting to events on micro and macro levels. We are happy and worried for ourselves, our loved ones, our nations, our relationships, and we are torn between bravery and cowardice.  Are we happy? Are we fine?

Like I imagine you are, I am looking both forward and backward. Forward are the prospects of normal interactions with people I love and a world that resembles the one we left behind but is a little better. Backward are memories mixed with a bit of personal, national, and global history.

My most recurrent memory is of my mother telling me that when someone asks how I am, I should say fine. As a child, I thought this question deserved an accurate answer, but it was drummed into me that a true or detailed reply should not be given. So, I learned a lesson that has stood me in good stead over time. When asked, “How are you?”  I always say “fine.”

Here’s wishing everybody truly fine and bright years ahead.

Happy 2021