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.

Rituals and Traditions

Now you know.
You know that you should do
what the holy books say is
right and good.
(Gita 16:24)

The Vedas prescribe the manner in which ceremonies, known as pujas, should be performed. The earliest described sacrificial rituals were undertaken to appease forces of nature, spirits, demons, and gods. Later they evolved into rituals dedicated to the worship of the absolute God. Today pujas remain an important center of Hindu life. They are festive events where God is respectfully given offerings of sweetmeats, fruit, flowers, and incense.

At large ceremonies, participants and visitors dressed in their finest clothes and adorned with jewelry come to homes and temples in happy moods. Most attendees enjoy worshipping with their friends and family and then sharing the treats that follow. They are attentive to the proceedings for a while, but not bound to absolute silence and many hope that the priest will move things along at a brisk pace.

An entire Veda, the Sama Veda, was dedicated to ceremonies in which the cannabis-like soma plant, similar to marijuana, was honored and used to modify states of consciousness. While partaking of this plant, ground up in milk or mixed into food, is no longer a current practice, the puja is still meant to be a pleasurable experience that brings about feelings of well-being. Religious ceremonies, whether elaborate or simple, belong to Hinduism’s living and growing memory.

Long standing cultural practices that link the present to the past become tradition. The practices of some persons reflect strong beliefs whereas those of others are more of habit. Certain traditions, like arranged marriage, have enduring effects while others, like eating sweets before undertaking a journey, are symbolic gestures.

It may take a great deal of effort to follow some traditions, like learning the language of one’s ancestors, or giving up meat, or going on distant pilgrimages. On the other hand, following other traditions, like wearing a particular gem stone for good luck, can be easy, enjoyable, or comforting. Traditional practices among Hindus vary from person to person, from family to family, from region to region, and from one community to another.

One could say that each Hindu follows a self-designed path that becomes his or her personal tradition. Although traditions are well established, they adapt to the times and circumstances. In the past, Hindu joint families were the norm. Work was passed down from father to son and a family was like a small commune where everyone worked for the common good.

Now, in India and worldwide joint Hindu families are breaking up and nuclear families are increasing in number. Children develop different skills and travel to study and to find work. Opportunities for a joint family to thrive as a single economic unit are becoming limited and less inclination exists to participate in a lifestyle that does not afford much privacy.

While Hindu practices are not cast in concrete, the beliefs underlying the practices have remained stable over the ages. People find the means to uphold traditions and to pass them along to successive generations. Hindus seek out lessons, classes, teachers, and media programs that reach out and teach the young new ways to preserve old ideals and ideas. Like-minded friends gather together and make purposeful efforts to preserve their valuable heritage and to pass it along to their children.

Hindu traditions touch most aspects of daily life. Language, dress, use of symbolic markings like a dot on the forehead or red powder in the hair parting, wearing the sacred thread or special bracelets, greeting others in a particular manner, praying, engaging in meditation or yoga, following astrological recommendations, observing dietary restrictions or fasts, respecting certain superstitions, visiting temples and shrines, or using particular Hindu names are some of the many traditions that are a part of Hindu life. People follow some traditions wholly and consistently while they follow others in part or from time to time. Not everyone in a family observes the same traditions, as not everyone finds every tradition relevant to his or her personal values or beliefs. However, everyone is expected to respect the traditions that their loved ones do observe.

Read more on Hindu Traditions in On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar

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.