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.

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.

Sinfulness vs. Goodness

In the view of Hinduism, sinfulness and goodness are mixed in our 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 deeds reflect our nature, they also impact it. For example, being truthful and worshipping God with a loving heart are signs of persons who are good and doing these things leads to goodness. Conversely, being dishonest or pretending to worship God with a hate-filled heart are signs of a person who is evil and doing these things leads to evil.

In chapter sixteen of Bhagavad Gita which discusses goodness and evil, Lord Krishna sums up the tendencies and behaviors that constitute goodness:

The Lord said:

Goodness is many things.

Goodness is being brave and pure

And thinking of your soul.

Your soul is God inside you.

Goodness is helping others.

It is self-control and worshipping God

And having pujas

And studying the Vedas and 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.

Peacefulness, truthfulness, and kindness are good.

 

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

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 a frenzy to satisfy our desires 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 Ahimsa, they consider it differently. Buddhism bans killing along with stealing, lying, sexual misconduct, and intoxication. Jainism opposed all killing categorically. Hindu tenets are not so specific. They go to motive. Hinduism does not oppose killing. Rather, it opposes senseless killing. The distinction is difficult to put into words. The effects of an act depend on the thoughts that engendered it. The doer of the act must decide whether an act is hurtful or not and whether is necessary or not. It is the quality of the actor’s nature that determines if he or she makes the right 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 are 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 Mahabharata 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 than 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)

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

 

The Principles of Dharma

Dharma gives every human being a place and a role within which individuals have a chance to improve their position in the world until they are free of its bindings. They have an opportunity to write their own destiny to make things better for themselves and to make a difference in the world. To do so, they have to think about what is good. Hinduism teaches that responsibility, compassion, spirituality, piety, selflessness, and renunciation are good and these ideas have become ideals. Scripture, society, and culture have translated Hindu ideals into values that in turn determine behavior. Hinduism expects its followers to engage in behavior that promotes the greatest good and this entails living by the principle of dharma.

Dharmic principles mandate behavior that relates to family life, social life, and spiritual life. These principles are not exclusive to Hinduism, but they are specifically integral to Hindu thought. Dharmic laws are both natural and learned, passed on from generation to generation.

Teaching children Sanatana Dharma which is the heart of the Hindu value system has become a challenge in the twenty-first century. As families are separated, as Hindu live more and more in the midst of other communities, as mothers and grandmothers work, and as information overload impinges upon time, it takes more and more of a focused effort to raise children in accordance with traditional values. Customs that passed on from generation to generation naturally now have to be passed on purposefully.

While children used to learn, understand, and practice Hinduism effortlessly, now families must teach its meaning. In the past, children grew up speaking the languages of their ancestors, languages full of symbolism and meanings that cannot be well expressed in other tongues. Today parents must persevere in the teaching children the languages and ways of their elders.

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

 

 

 

The Principle of Karma

The principle of karma can be illustrated, if not fully understood, by analogy. For example, imagine a shattered window and the presence of many bits of glass on the floor along with a rock some feet away. The action of the rock shattering the glass causes the glass to slow down and stop the stone which we find lying next to the glass, not far away. In this illustration, the workings of cause and effect are obvious and clear. However, karma goes beyond te visible. It pertains to more than just the window, the rock, and the floor. It includes the person who threw the rock, the person who lives in the house with the shattered window, the person who pays for the repairs and so forth Once set into motion, karma becomes a self-perpetuating and self-extending force.

Another example of the workings of karma is the appearance of diabetes in a person who, for many years, has eaten an excess of sweet foods. In a case like this, the diabetes may come as a shock, particularly to someone who is not aware of the causes and characteristics of his disease. Such a person would not recognize that his ailment or condition is the effect of prior behavior. Moreover, diabetes is not only the result of consuming sugar. It can also be a genetic disorder or a lifestyle disorder. Not everyone who gets diabetes becomes overweight and suffers from diabetes and not everyone who gets diabetes has eaten too much sugar or has a family history of diabetes or has failed to exercise. Diabetes has known and unknown causes, but it is the effect of a cluster of causes and as such it illustrates karmic activity.

These analogies show us that multiple causes may give rise to a single effect or to a bundle of related effects or to seemingly disconnected effects. Karma is like a ripple in a pond. It can expand for a wide area and disturb the peacefulness of all the water contained within its circle. As it spreads it dissipates until it gets lost in the waters of the pond.

Karma is force comparable to magnetism or electricity. The laws of magnetism govern the attraction and repulsion of magnetic force and the laws of electricity govern interaction between electrically charged particles. The law of karma governs causality between moving forces. Human beings activate karma at the same time that we are subject to its power. We attract and repel at the same time that we are subject to attraction and repulsion. Our minds create energy at the same time that we are subject to electric force. We make our karma and are subject to its effects. Like other cosmic principles, karma applies to the infinite as well as the infinitesimal universe. It applies to mountains and oceans, to living beings and to the tiniest cell, to planets and to atoms, to thoughts and to deeds.

This excerpt is from On Hinduism. To buy the book visit our Amazon Link.