A Hindu View of Reincarnation

 

Because the Gita and other scriptures consider reincarnation a self-evident doctrine, they do not make arguments to support its truth. This is much the case with most of the doctrines that are a part of scared Vedic literature. However, philosophers and teachers have made many arguments in support of their perspectives or interpretations of both doctrine and scripture. They have taught that reincarnation explains many things.

It explains why some people suffer while others do not or why some children are born with exceptional talent. It accounts for memories and emotions that seem to come out of the blue and it accounts for reports of extraordinary experiences in other dimensions.

It accounts for thousands of near death experiences reported but those who went to other realms and returned to tell what they saw and heard. Rather than rejecting these reports because they go beyond what is strictly possible, Hinduism considers many of them truthful and valuable testimony.

Quote starts with “Because the Gita and other scriptures consider….” and ends with “many of them truthful and valuable testimony.”

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

 

Who Is a Hindu?

The question, “Who is a Hindu?” is much harder to answer than the question “What is Hinduism?”

Historians, teachers, scholars, and gurus have disagreed about Hinduism for centuries and continue to disagree. Hindus themselves agree even less about who they are and what they believe. The reason is that Hinduism, which clear and simple, is a universal faith. Hinduism has powerful tenets, but they are open to interpretation and evolving scientific truth.

Respect for individual thought runs deep. Alternatives abound. Hinduism is easy to understand for Hindus, but complex or varied explanations create confusion in the minds of those who have not absorbed or been absorbed by Hinduism. Numerous and divergent ideas, images, and theories confuse strangers to Hinduism while Hindus themselves find giving answers to outsiders difficult because they never considered the questions.

To believers or followers of Hinduism, their religion is a premise, a starting point, rather than a conclusion or ending point. Hinduism can be views as a springboard and make leaps of faith. This is why describing a Hindu as a believer in Hinduism is accurate, but at the same time incomplete and redundant.

It must be true that no Hindu believes everything that has been preached in the name of Hinduism. The majority of Hindus have not even read Bhagavad Gita or the Gita in its entirety, which is a pity as this short quintessential scripture that contains the distilled essence of Hinduism is one of the greatest writings ever written.

Yet Hindus remain staunch and sophisticated in their affiliation. Their mindset is composed of philosophy, spirituality, and ethics, all colored by ritual, mythology, and tradition.

Are We Really Seeing the Truth?

Many of us want answers to questions of our existence, the reality of God, eternity, the soul, the meaning of truth and other such matters.

On the other hand, most of us know or realize that these answers are not available to our human minds. Still we persist in our quest. I think we do this to a large extent because the exercise is mentally fun. Most of us who pursue such truths intellectually are not really prepared for revelations that evade or defy the limits of our understanding.

Lord Buddha taught that we should not worry about understanding that which is beyond our grasp, but should focus instead on virtuous behavior and our karma. Early Buddhism did not consider God at all, but later Buddhist could not manage without a deity and decided that Lord Buddha embodied God Himself.

See On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar

Goodness

In the view of Hinduism, sinfulness and goodness are mixed in or characters. Our natures contain different proportions of these qualities or tendencies and we should strive to behave in a manner that develops good tendencies and wipes out bad ones. While our goodness is helping others.

It is self-control and worshipping God and having pujas and studying the Vedas and the other holy books.

It is calling out God’s names and glories and suffering for your beliefs. Goodness is being straight and strong in body and mind.

Goodness is realizing God does things through you, that you do not do them by yourself.

Goodness is not wanting, being kind of all and not caring about the pleasures of your body.

Goodness is gentles and being ashamed of your mistakes and not being lazy.

Forgiveness, strength not being mean and not being proud are goodness.

These are signs of someone who is good.

(Gita 16:1,2,3)

This passage shows that goodness is not tied to any particular code of conduct nor does it arise from obeying a particular set of rules. There are no clear cut rules a person can follow to become good. Rather, acting virtuously cultivates goodness and the state of goodness causes a person to act virtuously. Vedic philosophy views goodness as a state of being that can be achieved through self-conditioning. It is  pursuit that lasts for lifetimes.

People who sincerely aspire to goodness attain goodness. Those who wish to become brave, pure, pious, disciplined, worshipful, knowing, tranquil, truthful, kind, gentle, modest, energetic, forgiving, and strong will become these things and will become good.

They will become wise and good decisions. They will perform noble deeds that will benefit the world. They will find themselves on the path to enlightenment and they will find happiness. They will attain salvation. Hinduism offers no shortcuts to salvation. It offers no single principle that people can embrace to be saved if they are not good. In order to be freed, a person must first become good.

 

Excerpt from On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar.

Ahimsa

Ahimsa, or nonviolence, is a Hindu principle that means we should live in harmony with the universe. We should be considerate of all creatures and all natural forces and live in balance with them. We should be compassionate. We should exercise self-control and not go into frenzy to satisfy our desires, treading on the toes of those who stand in our way. We should be at peace within ourselves and with the world. We should not needlessly hurt others in any way. However, we should do what our duty demands.

While Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism all endorse the doctrine of Ashimsa, they consider it differently. Buddhism bans killing along with stealing, lying, sexual misconduct, and intoxication. Jainism opposes all killing categorically. Hindu tenets are not so specific. They go to motive. Hinduism des not oppose killing. Rather, it opposes senseless killing. The distinction is difficult ti put into words. The effects of an act depends on the thoughts that engendered it. The doer of the act must decide whether an act is hurtful or not and whether it is necessary or not. It is the quality of the actor’s nature that determines if her or she makes the right and good decision and that sets karma in motion, for better or for worse. While a wise person performs acts that are in keeping with universal harmony, an anger driven fool is likely to commit acts of unwarranted violence.

Violence and destruction is not always harmful. Burning fields to improve their fertility is a good thing. It is different from starting a wildfire that will burn and destroy forests. The Gita speaks of a moral war, explaining that the soul cannot be killed and that the body does not matter at all. The Mhabharata and the Gita illustrate rather than explain what constitutes a moral war. Lord Krishna speaks on the “Battlefield of Dharma.” The noble hero, Arjun, does not want to slay his enemy. He does not want a kingdom, or victory, or pleasures. He would rather his enemy kill him and kill them. Lord Krishna convinces Arjun to fight, leaving the outcome of the war in God’s hands:

Do not care if your fighting brings pleasure or pain,

Victory or defeat.

Just do your duty.

In this way you will be free.

(Gita 2:38)

 

Read more from On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar

Dharma

A person who does everything for God’s sake

Is free and becomes a part of God.

Doing your duty for God’s sake

Is the secret.

(Gita 23)

 

Religions create communities that are united by shared philosophy and belief. These communities in turn develop socio-cultural value systems. As the socio-cultural composition of a community evolves, the religion that gave it birth must adapt itself or reinterpret itself to endure. However, it must do so without surrendering any of its basic beliefs or principles. Otherwise the religion becomes diluted and ceased to be itself.

Hinduism has had a long and vigorous life and throughout it has upheld the Vedic value system known as the Eternal Law, or the Sanatana Dharma.

A value may be a principle, an ideal, a standard, or a priority. It is a lodestar that determines what matters to a person, to a family, and to a community. It determines what choices people make, where they direct their efforts, and how they develop and maintain relationships. A value is not a religious belief, but it reflects the ideas that religious beliefs endorse.

The value system of Hinduism seems to have emerged as a full blown system, already part of the society in which it matured. Early Vedic scriptures contain its seeds, seeds that continue to blossom and bear fruit today. From the onset, Vedic literature has explicitly valued family life and the nurturing of children, hospitality, self-esteem, the pursuit of knowledge, the pursuit of prosperity, the pursuit of happiness, respect for elders and teachers, living in harmony with all beings, avoidance of needless violence, and most importantly, fulfillment of duty. Doing one’s duty means following the path of righteousness or living in accordance with the principle of dharma which embraces all other values.

Click here to read more from On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar.

 

The Gayatri Mantra

The Gayatri Mantra, dedicated to the Goddess Gayatri, Mother of Vedas, is one of the most important chants in Hinduism. This mantra expresses the essence of the Vedas. It contains only fourteen syllables, but its compact, complex eloquence is difficult to express in languages other than Sanskrit. It means:

Om
Truth
Earth
Air
Heaven
May the Brilliant Glory
Of the Supreme God
Enlighten Our Minds
Enlighten Our Thoughts
Enlighten Our Meditation

(Rig Veda III.62.10)

Read more about the Gayatri Mantra in On Hinduism, by Irina Gajjar.

 

A Skeptic’s Critique of the Hindu View of the Soul

In his introduction to my book On Hinduism, Ravi Heugle questions the validity of the soul’s existence. He equates the soul to the mechanism that moves a watch or clock. Ravi writes:

The soul will render itself superfluous to any consistent description of a life form. In describing a watch, if we understand all mechanisms and principles of operation, no additional idea or concept is necessary to explain its purpose, function of state. I have faith that I do not inhabit my body, but I am because of my body. The establishment of a unified 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 solve serve as a potent synonym for human identity.

I believe this analysis disavows the soul because our human minds lack capacity to define their nature. Yet, lack of definition or explanation does not negate the soul’s existence, even if we can only grasp at the outer edges of its reality.

What is your view of the soul?

See A Skeptic’s Perspective in On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar.

Zero

The notion of zero is philosophical as well as mathematical in Hinduism. Here is an explanation:

The Sanskrit word for zero is sunya which translates as “nothingness.” Brahman, God in his formless, immutable, timeless, memory-less state prior to Creation, is called Nirguna Brahman or Brahman with no attributes. Nirguna Brahma exists in nothingness. With the happening of Creation, Nirguna Brahma becomes Saguna Brahma, the God with attributes who is Ishvar. Zero symbolizes God in nothingness. Zero added to or subtracted from any number does not change the number. The sum of zero and zero is zero. Zero added to or subtracted from itself remains zero. Multiplied by itself, zero is still zero. However, the addition of zero to the right of any number (without a decimal point) increases it up to infinity and its addition to the left of any number (with a decimal point) decreases it down to the infinitesimal.

Zero’s complement must be “everythingness.” Everythingness differs from everything just like “nothingness” differs from nothing. The idea of zero embraces the idea of its opposite, totality. We say God is everythingness and nothingness because we have no better words to describe the unfathomable existence or nonexistence that transcends itself. Thus, zero to Hinduism is more than a mathematical tool. It represents God’s truth that lies beyond human experience and the material world, truth that is just beyond the reach of the human mind.

See Chapter Three, Monotheism in On Hinduism, by Irina N. Gajjar

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.

See On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar.