I was asked to give my personal thoughts after I posted an article on Penguin India agreeing to trash Wendy Doniger’s book on Hinduism, so I thought I’d share my views here.
As a self declared hot blooded ex-ballet dancer interested in stories rather than a real Sanskritist, Doniger is hardly qualified to comment on the history of Hinduism. Her misunderstood opinions have no place in scholarship and have been offending both scholars and Hindus for years. Penguin has done well by stopping distribution of her works.
Please see my book On Hinduism, for a true versus an alternative representation of Hindu belief. Check out ForeWord’s September 2013 review of this work.
Lately I have been considering the terms world and universe and using them both, in the singular and in the plural in my writing, along with the word multiverses. Technically, the term world refers to our planet and the term universe refers to all creation. Multiverses are defined as potential worlds that may or may not exist.
In my view, the word “world” goes beyond our planet and that worlds exist on other planes, but perhaps even in our minds and dreams. The word “universes” in the plural suggests to me suggests that our universe is cyclical as stated in Hindu scripture. I think “multiverses” implies the cyclical existence of universes that that come and go in spacetime beyond our perception.
Just about all children tell their parents “But you said…” My grandfather told my father who told me under such attack, “I have evolved.”
It is a wonderful thing to truly evolve. But it is not a wonderful thing to be inconsistent for convenience or to compromise for personal gain. To evolve is to be open. It is good. To be fickle is to be unprincipled. It is bad.
If we pause, think and look within, we will know the difference as it pertains to ourselves. As for others, we have to guess as best we can. But others don’t matter as much as we do. We matter most to those nearest and dearest to us, but even more to ourselves.
The governing philosophy of the planet earth in my book New New York is One Spirit! One World! One Word! This is a philosophy of unity, at least in theory.
One Spirit means that humankind is united as part of the unfathomable greater spirit that pervades the world. One World means that people throughout the planet are united in purpose. One Word means that to communicate adequately, all people on earth must speak one language.
How can such a well intentioned plan go wrong?
Medical and legal definitions of life and death vary. These definitions are important for purposes like maintaining life in pregnancy or for organ transplants. But philosophical distinctions matter for understanding and peace of mind.
According to Hindu belief, death occurs when the spirit leaves the body.
Chapter 13 of The Gita explains that the body and the mind are one. The body consists of five subtle elements: ether, air, fire, water and earth. It also consists of the mind and of the five senses of hearing, touching, seeing, tasting and smelling. Consequently our emotions are also connected to our bodies.
In contrast, the soul is part of the unfathomable, eternal and boundless spirit we call God.
Karma is the concept that activity bears fruit. In Sanskrit, karma means activity. This idea is not too difficult to embrace. On the other hand, it is a challenge to grasp the vast interactions between the karma of an individual or a group and karma’s consequences which can be global or beyond global in magnitude. I believe that a person, a movement, a nation, our planet and perhaps the universe all have their karma.
There is no doubt that our karma is intertwined with billions of other karmas. Yet to understand how this reality works is truly mind boggling. The best image I can make in my mind is of karma as a multidimensional fluid network that dances while it intertwines and unleashes itself.
My father was a seeker of answers to spiritual mysteries. He was religiously eclectic and particularly believed in Zen Buddhist philosophy and in the Quaker worldview. He was a passionate admirer of Mahatma Gandhi. However he could not quite wrap his arms around Hinduism. It was too much; it offered too many options and alternatives. The answers he found in the translations of the Gita he read confused him.
I wish my father could have seen that Hinduism is as integrated as it is adaptable to personal interpretation, views, to changing society and to spirituality; it is inclusive yet not intrusive.
One of my life’s missions has been to reveal Hinduism to the world in all its simplicity and richness. My works, The Gita, A New Translation of Hindu Sacred Scripture and On Hinduism make it clear that that Hinduism is straightforward if you accept yourself as interpreter.
Like believers, skeptics come in many stripes and all those who genuinely seek to understand that which is beyond the capacity of our minds to grasp engage in a noble endeavor. The author of the Introduction to On Hinduism, Ravi is a skeptic. He is logical, but his premises differ from mine. Here is an excerpt from his writing:
“I have faith, that I do not inhabit my body, but I am because of my body. The establishment of a blueprint of life by science will exile the soul and the assumption of the existence of the soul will prove itself to be invalid. Thereafter, the soul will solely serve as a potent synonym for human identity.”
Ravi does not explain what the soul is. But whatever he thinks it is, he claims it cannot exist without the body. Thus, he could be right but only if he can define the soul that does not exist independently of the body.
There are many words implicit in the notion of freedom. The term means liberty or self-determination. It means freedom of conscience, independence from others, the chance to choose.
But circumstances, destiny, opportunity and our own choices restrict freedom. Actually none of us is completely free. We certainly wouldn’t like it if those around us were entirely free. We would be baffled if we were completely free, with no boundaries, no safety nets and no standards or values by which to abide.
At the same time we cannot live or pursue happiness if our freedom is arbitrarily restricted by others for purposes of their own.
Ganesh, fondly known as Ganpati, is one of the most popular figures in Hinduism’s pantheon representing God’s manifestations as well as divinities, heroes and demons. The characters symbolize qualities we admire, or fear or love while the personifications arise from a collective consciousness brought to life. There are several versions of stories about how Ganpati, the elephant god, got his head. One of the favorites is this:
One day Ganpati was guarding the bathroom while his mother was taking a bath. His father, Lord Shiva, the Destroyer, came home after a long trip. Ganpati didn’t recognize him and wouldn’t let him in the bathroom. Lord Shiva got so angry at being kept out that he cut off Ganpati’s head.
When Parvati, his mother, saw what happened, she cried and cried. But her husband said, “Don’t worry, I’ll get him a new head,” and Lord Shiva ended up giving His son an elephant head.
Ganesh’s Mother was still very sad and upset. She said that no one would like her son with an elephant head. But Lord Shiva fixed it so everyone would love and worship him. He made sure that all Hindus pray to Ganpati before they pray to God and before they embark upon any important endeavor.