Ideas

My father loved philosophical conversations. He said such talks were about “the philosophy of a matchstick,” suggesting that such conversations do not lead anywhere. What is there to discuss about the stick of a match?

But talks about ideas or philosophies should not be trivialized. They reveal and help formulate beliefs and values. They define boundaries, frames of reference and directions.

Nevertheless discussions about nothing can be problematic when context is missing. While we may talk, or read, or write about beliefs and views, we must also recognize that they mean nothing in the abstract. They lead nowhere without context.

So do they have a point? I think they do. Discussions help us formulate, then refine and finally give a voice to ideas. Thus, they are the foundations upon which actions are built.

God and Karma 

Different Hindus perceive the relationship between God and karma in different ways. Some go so far as to say that karma determines the future and God does not exist or matter at all. Some equate the divine force with karma or believe that God creates karma.

Yet other individuals and Hindu schools of thought, more conventionally, see God as the dispenser of karma, which He tempers with divine mercy. Whatever their particular viewpoint, Hindu philosophers and laymen generally agree with the notion that good behavior earns merit and improves their karma and that misfortune is the product of prior bad behavior. Even those who do not fully believe in karmic power, tend to consider the idea of karma a plausible guideline for ethical living.

From On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar, Chapter One, Hindus and Hinduism; also available for purchase on Amazon.

Why God Scared Arjun 

God’s display of His horrific form in Chapter 11 of The Gita departs from the philosophical tone of rest of this teaching. It is reminiscent of great epics peopled with demons, and goddesses and heroes or even of fairy tales filled with goblins and angels.

Some have wondered why this jolting interlude is included in the otherwise mostly calm, well reasoned, uplifting sacred holy text that is believed to come to us God Himself.

In my view, the inclusion of a vivid illustration of God’s awesome destructive power could not be skipped. God is Time, who perpetually transforms worlds and creates them anew in our universe and in universes light years away.

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

Hindu Myths and Legends

 

Hindu myths and legends illustrate Hinduism’s world vision in vibrant color. They portray worlds inhabited by people, by super people, by gods and demons, by legendary heroes and evil doers, by fantastic creatures endowed with extraordinary powers, and by great warriors wielding remarkable weapons.

These tales tell of places unbound by time or space, places that exist in our imagination, and places we can visit today. They tell of flight through the heavens. They discuss creation and destruction. They speak of God’s manifestations and God’s power. They bring laughter and tears and they thrill, frighten, comfort, and teach generation after generation of Hindus. Ancient stories told and retold never lose their fascination. They weave themselves into the fabric of Hindu life and take on new life when fresh miracles come about or when nature and science amaze us with feats that we once thought could not be performed outside of our imaginations.

Among the most intriguing narratives in Hindu mythology are the stories related to the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu, the Preserver, in the holy trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. The term avatar is understood to mean incarnation or manifestation, but the actual translation from Sanskrit is “descent.”

People do not worship all the avatars and all are not human. Hindus adore Rama and Krishna above Vishnu’s other incarnations, but Vishnu came as a savior in all of them. Hinduism has consistently viewed Vishnu as the savior. While Brahma is the Creator who starts cosmics and Shiva is the Destroyer who ends them, Vishnu, the Preserver, is the one who strives to maintain cosmic order, intervening whenever needed. It is interesting to note that the order of the avatars’ appearance parallels the sequence of Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Vishnu’s first descent is in the form of a fish, a creature of the water. Matsya saved a ship attempting to escape from a great flood and guided it to safety. The second avatar was in the body of Kurma, a tortoise who restored the nectar of immortality to the gods. The tortoise is a reptile, a life form that followed fish in the evolutionary sequence. Lord Vishnu incarnated for the third time in the body of a land animal, Varaha, the boar. Varaha saved the Earth from the demon who carried her to the bottom of the ocean. After a battle which lasted a thousand years, the boar rescued Earth and restored her to her rightful place in the universe.

Narasimha, the giant man lion, was Vishnu’s fourth descent and the last which took place in the Satya Yuga, the earliest age in Hindu cosmology. Narasimha symbolizes the emergence of mankind from the animal kingdom. Vishnu manifested in this form to save Prahlada from his father, a demon who was enraged by his son’s devotion to Vishnu. Narasimha destroyed the demon and made Prahlada ruler of the earth and the underworld.

The fifth, sixth, and seventh avatars of Vishnu take place in the second age known as the Treta Yuga, a period when man progressed from the stone age, to the iron age and then to a society ruled by kings. Thus, while Vishnu’s first four incarnations relate to struggles with demons and the forces of nature, the next three are about social and political struggles among men.

In His fifth incarnation, Vishnu appeared as Vamana, the dwarf who restored heavenly and earthly power to the gods and in his sixth, He appeared as Parashurama, Rama with an ax. His mission was to rid the world of evil and Parashurama went around the world twenty-one times killing bad kings and re-establishing the rule of the virtuous ones. Vishnu’s seventh incarnation was as Lord Rama, widely worshipped and glorified in the epic Ramayana.

Vishnu’s eighth avatar is as Lord Krishna who came to earth to preach the Bhagavad Gita. Krishna is probably the most deeply beloved of God’s avatars. His descent occurred in the third age known as the Dvapara Yuga. Vishnu’s ninth avatar, as Lord Buddha, the Enlightened One, took place in the fourth and current Yuga known as the Kali Yuga. Buddha preached a doctrine of reform that became Buddhism.

 

Read more of The Gita on Irinaspage.com or purchase your Kindle copy today at Amazon.com.

 

Lord Krishna Shows His Scary Form

 

While Lord Krishna continues -in Chapter 11 of The Gita– to overwhelm us with His all encompassing splendor, His wonderful form becomes terrible. Arjun sees that all space between heaven and earth is filled by God and that all worlds are frightened.

In this scary appearance representing Kala or Time, God demonstrates karma in process. Warriors, already doomed, rush into the Lord’s multiple mouths like moths flying into a blazing fire. The Lord assures Arjun that he will prevail in this Great Mahabharata War.

Arjun begs God to reappear in His calm, gentle four armed form, a form which can be seen, Lord Krishna says, through endless love of Him.

Chapter 11 is one of the most dramatic chapters of the Gita. It illustrates not only the ideas, hopes and fears that human beings entertain about their Creator, but also our more sophisticated understanding of dimensions and of the confluenced integration of universes, time and space.

 

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

 

 

Lord Krishna shows His Gentle Form

 

In Chapter 11 of The Gita, in answer to Arjun’s request, God gives Arjun a divine eye. Thus empowered, Arjun sees God in His powerful beauty, with multiple faces, eyes and mouths, and with magnificent jewels weapons, garlands and clothes. His form is covered with fragrant pastes and glows with the light of a thousand suns.

Arjun perceives the entire endless universe and contained within God and he sees God without beginning, middle or end. He sees nothing but God’s overwhelming brilliance.

The verses describing this vision of the Lord put into words the emotions and thoughts of believers and devotees who try to imagine and explain their certainty about the existence of a benevolent Creator and Preserver to whom they are devoted. The descriptions bring to life ideas that are beyond description or explanation but self-evident to many.

In my opinion, the notion of God evidences a truth that is real because it lives in human hearts and minds though it cannot be quantified or qualified in expressions or images. Human notions, howsoever inexplicable, are powerful. They do not arise from nowhere and cannot be dismissed as nothing.

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

The Karma of Nations 

Hinduism takes karma for granted. It does not seek to make a justification for its validity, but rather bases its principles, beliefs and guidance on the ways in which karma operates. Thus the underpinning of karma is the view or reality that actions have consequences.

While discussions of karma focus mostly on individuals, we should consider that peoples and nations also have destinies determined by consequences of prior actions. Over millennia we have seen nations rise and fall and we now see nations and national values in turmoil. Thus we should consider our behaviors not only in terms of ourselves but also in terms of our politics. Our national and international karma decides questions as momentous as war and peace.

See “Karma and Reincarnation,” Chapter Six, of On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar.

Lord Krishna’s Divine Birth 

In the Gita, Lord Krishna tells us He is born from time to time to protect goodness and destroy evil. He says:

You and I have passed through many births. 

I know them all but you do not remember. 

I am born from time to time 

whenever the good need my protection. 

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

My birth is divine and those who understand 

this become part of Me 

and do not have to be born again. 

Gita: 4:5; 6; 7 

Human beings envision God in a form like ours. Thus we say that He created us like Him or now some of us consider perhaps like Her. At the same time we cannot imagine the Lord being conceived and born in the same fashion as we were.

In my view, the fact that so many of us not only imagine but also believe in miraculous birth validate our notion and make it true. The real question is what does truth mean?

For some answers, see The Gita, A New Translation of Hindu Sacred Scripture, and On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar.

Divided 

People of the world have been united and divided for as long as we can remember. City states warred for territory. Religious loyalists sought to impose their beliefs through both kindness and viciousness. Social groups fought to promote their values and to protect their status. Immigrants and emigrants crossed mountains, oceans ,and deserts going to seek fortunes or to escape from natural and man made disasters.

Thus, we organized ourselves into groups that collided with other groups. We identified with those who resemble or reflect ourselves and rejected those who differed in appearance, or belief, or custom. We forged alliances and fought enemies with different peoples at different times. Such behavior seems inherent to our humanity.

Many of us continue to force our beliefs, methodologies, and customs on others, believing them to be more truthful or superior. Of course we cannot impose our appearance on others except by blending our races over time. Our attitudes about racial mixing, though, are fraught with prejudice, attraction and other factors that are not totally clear even to ourselves.

Still, some of us resist and “otherizing” people who differ from ourselves. We try to appreciate at least some differences.

Today we are most focused on a political divide which encompasses all the other divides: racial, economic, social and cultural. We are most divided in our notion of unity. How should we govern ourselves and be governed? How should we behave publicly? Should we be polite or honest? What does civility mandate?

What is our responsibility to our fellow man, to our world and to future generations? Can we do or be me better? Can we achieve a more peaceful world? How much of our behavior is determined by our history and our destiny?

What do your think?

For some historical and philosophical insight consider the story of the great Mahabharata War which pitted families and friends against one another. See an analysis on pages 80-86 in On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar.

Resolutions for 2017 

Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions this year? I did not. I’m just plugging along with a mixture of joy, cynicism, appreciation, fear, love, anger, neediness, and hope. I don’t see how doing any one thing better than I have done it in the past will improve me. I just hope I can minimize the extent to which I irritate myself and those I love, but this is a life long work in progress, not a resolution. Moreover, as I keep think of United Nations’ Resolutions, I become increasing skeptical about their value.

What I do have is a hope for the coming year. My hope is to remain inspired.

As you welcomed 2017, did you look back upon 2016 resolutions? Were they kept?

If you want an inspirational boost for 2017, see The Gita, A New Translation of Hindu Sacred Scripture, by Irina Gajjar.