Mankind’s Journey

Arjun’s journey from doubt to faith symbolizes mankind’s journey. The journey is premised on a belief in a principle greater than ourselves and on a belief that we can ultimately transcend our human limits. Meanwhile, as we travel on the road to enlightenment, we can improve our human condition. But the journey must begin with the idea or hope that the end will have meaning.

God is The Gita’s premise. Its message is that life’s purpose is to attain enlightenment and eternal bliss merging into God. This message is a familiar one. However, its new and concise formulation coalesced Hindu thought and its fresh expression has guided Hindu behavior into the twenty-first century. In the revelation that is the Gita, God delivers His word with beauty and simplicity. This scripture contains eighteen chapters and seven hundred verses upon which uncounted commentaries have been written and continue to be written.

In the course of responding to Arjun, God as Lord Krishna unclouds Arjun’s vision, opens his mind and touches his heart. He speaks of His own nature and power, of human nature and human duty, or worlds, knowledge, of what is knowable, of the universal and human cycles of birth, life, and death and He speaks truth. Questions related to these matters intersect and overlap and they give rise to further questions and answers. In the end, the Gita paints an integrated picture of our human role in the vast scheme of things that is beyond us but not beyond our wonder.

Read more from On Hinduism, by Irina Gajjar at www.irinaspage.com

What Is the Core Message of the Bhagavad Gita?

 

The Bhagavad Gita’s or the Gita’s core message can be stated in a single sentence. It is this: Overtime and lifetimes, each of us can elevate ourselves to a higher plane until we become one with God. On one hand, this is a simple goal and the Gita tells how we can accomplish it. But on the other, it requires an appreciation of the Hindu view of God, virtue, reincarnation, and karma as well as of how these elements interact. While such appreciation comes naturally to Hindus, it requires others unfamiliar with Hinduism to ponder with an open mind.

The Gita answers questions that human beings have about matters we cannot fathom. Most of us have the same questions but not all of us agree upon the answers that religions and philosophies offer. Yet many of us feel that these answers given by preachers, teachers, scholars, and thinkers touch us and make some sense. Teachings proposed over millennia across the globe have often coincided and resulted in civil societies based on customs, laws, and traditions derived from religious or philosophical principles.

Ancient Hindu writings are classified as “Smriti” and “Sruti.”  Myths, legends, and the like that were passed on from person to person are Smriti, or recollections.

Sacred writings that are believed to have come directly from God are Sruti or revelations. The Gita, constructed as a conversation between Lord Krishna and Arjun, is Sruti and contains the essence of Hindu belief. It explains and seeks to persuade all who read or hear its words that life’s purpose is to attain the ultimate ecstasy of merging into God.

Considerable debate exists about the date that the Gita was crystalized and recorded in its present form. Though some allege it dates back to earlier than 5000 B.C.E. [before the common era], it was most plausibly written shortly before 500 B.C.E. By this time Hindu philosophy, thought, and culture were well established on the Indian subcontinent. Ideas regarding matters like the nature of God, of truth, of duty, and of the spirit were generally accepted. For example, most people believed in karma, in reincarnation, and in the existence of multiple planes with differing dimensions of time and space. These ideas or theories are rooted in the Vedas, the rich body of Hindu scriptures that antedate the Bhagavad Gita.

The Gita itself is part of the Mahabharata, the great epic which culminates on the battlefield known as Kurukshetra. God in the form of Lord Krishna is Arjun’s charioteer. He explains why Arjun’s duty is to fight bravely even if it leads to killing or being killed. In the course of eighteen chapters, the Gita persuades Arjun to act vigorously in fulfillment of his duty as a warrior. God explains that Arjun’s karma and the karma of his allies and enemies is determined, that the soul is eternal, and that for these reasons Arjun should put his faith in God and do his best without considering the consequences of his actions.

Lord Krishna concludes with these words:

 

No one is dearer to Me than a person

                                                    who loves Me.

                                                And whoever has heard or read My words

                                                        in this conversation with you, Arjun

                                                      loves Me.

                                             Whoever has thought about my words

                                                          carefully, worships Me with wisdom.

                                                Whoever understands these words          

                                                       I have just spoken to you, is wise.

                                                Whoever has listened, full of faith to My

                                                         message

                                                 will be sure to get goodness and happiness.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18, verse 70, 71,72

 

See On Hinduism and The Gita, A New Translation of Hindu Sacred Scripture by Irina N. Gajjar

Excerpt from The Pokhraj

The following excerpt is from The Pokhraj by Irina Gajjar. The Pokhraj, a yellow sapphire, is the key to mystery that envelopes an upbeat Jewish family living in Houston.

The Landau dinner party was turning out to be a success. Natalya had planned the evening weeks ago as a surprise birthday celebration for her husband. Victor relished having guests in his home. He basked in their appreciation of his elegant condominium and its view of the city and he was comfortable and at ease on his turf. Thus, tonight, even though he purported to dislike organized festivities – particularly birthday parties, and most particularly his own – he was pleased. Forgetting that he “hated being happy on command” and that he was categorically opposed to gifts, his spirits were high. The group was small enough for intimacy and his guests were good friends, all fun to be with.

They were at about the same place in life as he and Nat were and they shared common interests. The women, like Nat, were attractive and they sparkled with insightful wit. And his presents were to his liking. Besides a broad band gold ring inset with three little diamonds from Nat, he received a bottle of his favorite champagne, Veuve Cliquot, a copy of the Kama Sutra, a dozen glasses with the insignia of Harvard University – his alma mater – Sauvage cologne and The Warrior Angel trilogy on micro disc.

“I’d drive a hundred miles for this dinner,” Victor said with a warm smile. His remark was worn with repetition, but it was endearing because its sincerity was fresh. Indeed the meal was superb. Natalya was an excellent cook and she had stayed away from the office this Saturday in order to go all out. She served a salmon baked in pastry, a baby lamb roasted with herbs, a vegetable ratatouille, new potatoes, home baked bread and salad. The birthday cake was Victor’s favorite, a babá au rum.

 

To learn more about The Pkhraj or to purchase the book, visit http://irinaspage.com/literary-fiction/the-pokhraj/

New New York: Tobor Excerpt

 

The following excerpt is from New New York, a science fiction novel by Irina Gajjar.

Chapter 1 Tobor

Tobor’s feelings were hurt. Beyond that, IT was worried. In his most recent holographic message, Ira [officially Liera, his Arya, stated that he would be back at 19:00 hours and it was already 19:00 hours plus three segments. Tobor probed himself to figure out why Ira failed to message regarding the delay. Such lack of attentiveness was out of character.

Meanwhile Ira was rushing home on his hoverboard, drained. They’re losing it, he thought. The whole screwing lot is losing it. He had walked out of a meeting with the Planetary Secretaries for Education and Wisdom when he discovered that even Labella failed to appreciate the significance of the problems they faced. Inferno! It now looked like Ira, Chief of Education and Wisdom, would have to revamp his bureau yet again. This was always a pain in the neck. It also looked like his budding dalliance with Bella would come to a screeching halt even before it had an opportunity to bloom.

Liera couldn’t care less about whether or not Tobor had reheated his bathwater or arranged to freshen his dinner. As he reached his destination—the red quadrant, level l9 on 2nd Avenue and 18th Street East, New New York, in the Second Rim—he signaled for admittance without a second thought.

“Hail,” Ira said nodding to Tobor as he rushed to the hall bathroom because he felt an urgent need to relieve himself.

“Hail,” Tobor replied, hanging on to the slippers Liera had neglected to exchange for his shoes.

On his way out Tobor accosted him.

“Here are your slippers, Arya,” Tobor ventured because Ira totally ignored IT and was marching through the home with outside footwear.

Liera was flabbergasted. Tobor had just broken the cardinal rule of superrobo behavior: never address your Arya unless heshe first addresses you. Ira didn’t know how to respond. He had never heard of something like this happening and couldn’t foresee where it would lead. It made no sense at all. None whatsoever. In a daze, he took the slippers and headed for his bath. He found the temperature perfect and, as he soaked, he decided to message Tobor’s manufacturer, Whizwiz Dynamics, and if need be, kick some serious posterior until he got satisfactory explanations.

As Ira was not one to postpone a decided-upon course of action, he promptly linked the message and in a wink he found himself facing an elegantly attired female Whizwizzer.

“Hail,” Ira said.

“Ahem,” the Whizwizzer responded, immediately unlinking.

“Inferno!” Ira shouted to no one in particular. “Those screwing ding dongs don’t have any manners!” He was about to reconnect when he noticed that his bath was draining and he was visibly quite naked. Abashed, he quickly dressed and headed into his study. Then he messaged again and found himself facing the same female who had appeared earlier. This time her response was far more cordial.

“Hail,” she said. “How can we assist you?”

“I need to communicate with someone in Behavior Management immediately,” Ira answered.

“I am Dynima at your service,” the female stated. “I am in charge of the after-hours shift. Behavior Management is the only department that works after 19:00 hours. Please gave me the name, model and serial number of your superrobo and state the date of ITs last program check.”

 

Is Hinduism a Monotheistic Religion?

 

We find the answer to this question by understanding how Hindus perceive God. God in Hindu scripture and in mythology takes on many forms. Yet, Hinduism understands that all of these forms are aspects of the single unfathomable power that has created, preserved, and destroyed worlds at its will. Thus, Hindus have no doubt that God is One.

It is difficult for outsiders looking into Hindu belief to wrap their heads around the pantheon of God’s appearances, God’s incarnations, and lower gods who are worshipped but are not God. In the Bhagavad Gita, the Lord says:

 

“Look! I am in hundreds of thousands

of different forms and colors and shapes.

Arjun, see in my body the whole world

and anything else you want to see.”

(Gita 11:5,7)

This verse invites each of us to envision God in any way we choose. The Hindu perception is that the Lord is an infinite force like a flame that emits countless sparks. He or She or It materializes as any aspect of the world, or worlds, or of the universe, or multiverses. God is beyond dimensions we know of and dimensions we have not yet understood. The Lord is not only real, but is the only reality.

The Hindu understanding of God gives rise to a distinctive worldview. For example, while Western philosophy views reality as that which can be measured and quantified, Hindu philosophy views scientific reality as illusory because it is transitory. Hinduism views true reality as that which is eternal and timeless, which transcends our understanding and which is willed in and out of existence by God who is present even in nothingness.

While Hinduism is analytically complex, it is practically simple. It is rich, colorful, and flexible. If we by-pass analysis, we can describe Hindu belief as to the overall sense that order and chaos in life exist under the auspices of a singular higher force. Through our behavior over multiple lifetimes, we can achieve enlightenment or oneness with this force called God. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna repeatedly assures us that if we believe in Him, He will love us in return and we will merge into Him.

See On Hinduism, by Irina Gajjar, Chapter 2, Monotheism.

Quest for Enlightenment

While Hinduism understands that God is beyond the grasp of human thought, it also acknowledges God’s tremendous power over our human minds and lives. As the quest for the enlightenment is the quest to become one with God, Hinduism strives to bring humankind to oneness with divinity.

Hindu philosophy gives great importance to the soul or spirit which it distinguishes from the mind as well as from the body. Hinduism equates the spirit with God. Chapter thirteen of the Bhagavad Gita explains that the spirit cannot be described, that it cannot act, that it is always pure and endless as the sun and the sky. God is considered the greatest spirit Thus, to Hindus, finding our soul is akin to finding infinity within us. It equates to achieving perfection which can only be attained by a highly evolved soul, a soul that over many lifetimes has superseded the limitations of humanness.

This excerpt is from On Hinduism, by Irina Gajjar. To purchase the book, visit our Amazon link.

Darshanas

Hindu thinkers envision the absolute soul in different ways and they believe that, although the paths to the truth ultimately converge, they may begin in somewhat different places. The major schools are called. Darshanas, which means views, or ways of viewing the truth. These schools are absorbed into mainstream Hinduism today, but their differences encouraged freedom and diversity to flourish in Hindu thought. The teachings of the Darshanas are the product of intensive and extensive and intelligent analyses of Vedic scriptures.

The dates when the six important schools or Darshanas—meaning visions or viewpoints—became are uncertain, but they came into existence before the Common Era and evolved over time. Samkhya was the first orthodox Vedic philosophical system to become recognized in Hindu doctrine. It is a dualistic philosophy that sees the spirit as distinct from matter, or the soul as distinct from consciousness which tied to matter. The soul is pure spirit without characteristics whereas matter possesses qualities that bind the soul to the life cycle. These qualities are called sattva, rajas, and tamas, which may be described as balanced truth, passionate activity, and dull inactivity. Liberation occurs when the spirit realizes its separation from matter and disentangles itself from the qualities of matter. Samkhya is associated with the path of Raja Yoga or meditation. In its origin, this system of thought ignored God.

This excerpt is from On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar. To purchase the book, visit our Amazon Link.

What Do Hindus Believe?

 

Hindus hold specific beliefs that are clear but hard to define. It is even harder to pinpoint who is or isn’t a Hindu. In my view, any person who identifies as a Hindu, who subscribes to the general beliefs Hindus hold, and who does not belong to another religion is a de facto Hindu. Others may use other criteria if they seek to pinpoint who is or is not a true Hindu.

It is hard for those who have not experienced Hinduism to understand its powerful tenets because they are subject to interpretation and evolution. For example, Hinduism is premised on a belief in God, but it does not mandate this belief. Thus, an atheist can be a Hindu. Moreover, the idea of God is somewhat fluid, given varying notions of what the supreme spirit is or is not, the Lord’s avatars or incarnations, and the presence of a pantheon of lesser gods.

The essence of Hindu belief derives from its goal, to attain oneness with God and liberation from the cycle of birth and death. This attainment is viewed as nirvana, the state of ultimate bliss. Ways to reach such oneness are described in scripture.  Mythology also contains tips on becoming good enough to achieve nirvana. Goodness attaches to the soul which is a spark of God’s divinity and power.

Like the existence of God, the reality of karma and reincarnation is taken for granted by Hindus. These beliefs comprise a fundamental world view which is considered the truest and most sensible explanation for how life, death, and the universe work. The Hindu worldview is not a subject of debate but rather is a starting point for debates on derivative themes such as how best to accrue good karma or how God and karma interact.

Hindus tend to disengage both from defending the validity of their faith and from trying to persuade others of its merit. Their understanding negates arguments like reincarnation cannot exist because the earth cannot accommodate so many people and their remains. They do not feel a need to explain that Hinduism acknowledges the many planes of our universe which transcend the limits of time and space.

Hindu belief encourages philosophy, mythology, and rituals to flourish. It accepts science. It embraces differences in individual perspectives. It produces a rich medley of customs and traditions. It provides harmony in the face of the unknowns that confine human understanding. It gives balance throughout the trials and tribulations that we all endure and it gives enhanced meaning to our journey through life.

Please see Chapter 1 of On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar for further discussion of this topic. We welcome your views and thoughts.

Seeing, Knowing, and Understanding 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.

Read more from On Hinduism or buy the book at Amazon.com.

 

Death or Transition?

Recently I lost a loved one. His death left me empty and wordless. I was deeply upset when everyone started making references to his passing or his transition. I was angry when at his funeral as people passed his lifeless body and threw flowers at his feet as if those acts had meaning. My love was no longer here. He was not with me or with anyone. He was dead, gone, vanished. How could anyone pay homage to the shell that used to hold his life and his spirit?

But then I realized that he is with us. He is present in memory and in the effect of his words, deeds, smiles, and love. Even if to me, his physical absence means death, his soul has indeed moved to another plane. Thus, it is fair to say that his being transitioned or passed to a place unknown where it will endure.

At first, I thought it was ridiculous to pray for a soul to rest in peace. I believed and still think that souls are beyond our prayers. I think our prayers cannot change a soul’s destiny once it has left the body. But, I also understand that we don’t know what a soul’s or spirit’s journey entails or in what time frame it travels, or how our thoughts and wishes may reach or affect it. Since we know nothing, it is possible that our prayers do have meaning. In any case, they may serve to calm us and they certainly show the living that we loved and honored the person who died.