Is Hinduism a Monotheistic Religion?

 

We find the answer to this question by understanding how Hindus perceive God. God in Hindu scripture and in mythology takes on many forms. Yet, Hinduism understands that all of these forms are aspects of the single unfathomable power that has created, preserved, and destroyed worlds at its will. Thus, Hindus have no doubt that God is One.

It is difficult for outsiders looking into Hindu belief to wrap their heads around the pantheon of God’s appearances, God’s incarnations, and lower gods who are worshipped but are not God. In the Bhagavad Gita, the Lord says:

 

“Look! I am in hundreds of thousands

of different forms and colors and shapes.

Arjun, see in my body the whole world

and anything else you want to see.”

(Gita 11:5,7)

This verse invites each of us to envision God in any way we choose. The Hindu perception is that the Lord is an infinite force like a flame that emits countless sparks. He or She or It materializes as any aspect of the world, or worlds, or of the universe, or multiverses. God is beyond dimensions we know of and dimensions we have not yet understood. The Lord is not only real, but is the only reality.

The Hindu understanding of God gives rise to a distinctive worldview. For example, while Western philosophy views reality as that which can be measured and quantified, Hindu philosophy views scientific reality as illusory because it is transitory. Hinduism views true reality as that which is eternal and timeless, which transcends our understanding and which is willed in and out of existence by God who is present even in nothingness.

While Hinduism is analytically complex, it is practically simple. It is rich, colorful, and flexible. If we by-pass analysis, we can describe Hindu belief as to the overall sense that order and chaos in life exist under the auspices of a singular higher force. Through our behavior over multiple lifetimes, we can achieve enlightenment or oneness with this force called God. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna repeatedly assures us that if we believe in Him, He will love us in return and we will merge into Him.

See On Hinduism, by Irina Gajjar, Chapter 2, Monotheism.

What Do Hindus Believe?

 

Hindus hold specific beliefs that are clear but hard to define. It is even harder to pinpoint who is or isn’t a Hindu. In my view, any person who identifies as a Hindu, who subscribes to the general beliefs Hindus hold, and who does not belong to another religion is a de facto Hindu. Others may use other criteria if they seek to pinpoint who is or is not a true Hindu.

It is hard for those who have not experienced Hinduism to understand its powerful tenets because they are subject to interpretation and evolution. For example, Hinduism is premised on a belief in God, but it does not mandate this belief. Thus, an atheist can be a Hindu. Moreover, the idea of God is somewhat fluid, given varying notions of what the supreme spirit is or is not, the Lord’s avatars or incarnations, and the presence of a pantheon of lesser gods.

The essence of Hindu belief derives from its goal, to attain oneness with God and liberation from the cycle of birth and death. This attainment is viewed as nirvana, the state of ultimate bliss. Ways to reach such oneness are described in scripture.  Mythology also contains tips on becoming good enough to achieve nirvana. Goodness attaches to the soul which is a spark of God’s divinity and power.

Like the existence of God, the reality of karma and reincarnation is taken for granted by Hindus. These beliefs comprise a fundamental world view which is considered the truest and most sensible explanation for how life, death, and the universe work. The Hindu worldview is not a subject of debate but rather is a starting point for debates on derivative themes such as how best to accrue good karma or how God and karma interact.

Hindus tend to disengage both from defending the validity of their faith and from trying to persuade others of its merit. Their understanding negates arguments like reincarnation cannot exist because the earth cannot accommodate so many people and their remains. They do not feel a need to explain that Hinduism acknowledges the many planes of our universe which transcend the limits of time and space.

Hindu belief encourages philosophy, mythology, and rituals to flourish. It accepts science. It embraces differences in individual perspectives. It produces a rich medley of customs and traditions. It provides harmony in the face of the unknowns that confine human understanding. It gives balance throughout the trials and tribulations that we all endure and it gives enhanced meaning to our journey through life.

Please see Chapter 1 of On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar for further discussion of this topic. We welcome your views and thoughts.

Death or Transition?

Recently I lost a loved one. His death left me empty and wordless. I was deeply upset when everyone started making references to his passing or his transition. I was angry when at his funeral as people passed his lifeless body and threw flowers at his feet as if those acts had meaning. My love was no longer here. He was not with me or with anyone. He was dead, gone, vanished. How could anyone pay homage to the shell that used to hold his life and his spirit?

But then I realized that he is with us. He is present in memory and in the effect of his words, deeds, smiles, and love. Even if to me, his physical absence means death, his soul has indeed moved to another plane. Thus, it is fair to say that his being transitioned or passed to a place unknown where it will endure.

At first, I thought it was ridiculous to pray for a soul to rest in peace. I believed and still think that souls are beyond our prayers. I think our prayers cannot change a soul’s destiny once it has left the body. But, I also understand that we don’t know what a soul’s or spirit’s journey entails or in what time frame it travels, or how our thoughts and wishes may reach or affect it. Since we know nothing, it is possible that our prayers do have meaning. In any case, they may serve to calm us and they certainly show the living that we loved and honored the person who died.

 

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.

Hate vs. Love

 

Just considering the world, people, and history, it seems that momentum is greater when it comes to hate and anger than when it comes to love and goodwill. Going high in response to going low does not appear to produce as much energy as retaliating.

Most religions do not acknowledge or deal with this concern. They suggest detachment, leaving matters to the Lord, or succumbing. Meanwhile, problems and anger fester and grow with destructive outcomes.

Meditations seeking to promote peace and faith in a higher power are occasionally organized by institutions associated with religion, sometimes on very large scales. But no meditations or prayers or thoughts are promoted to overcome negativity arising from fear and fury. No prayers or discussions are held to consider defeating the evil that provokes anger.

Some answers lurk in the notion that anger and hatred are individual emotions whereas ideals like world peace and harmony are beyond our control, but in my view this suggestion is insufficient. So is the idea that evil depends on our viewpoint. We know it when we see and feel it.

I would love to hear your thoughts on how best to amplify our response to evil.

Moderation in the Gita and in Life

 

 

The Gita in Chapter 6 says that a wise person is on the path to God. Such persons are calm, fearless, think of God, and are measured in all their activities. They are careful to eat, sleep, work, and relax moderately: neither too much nor too little. Those who practice moderation and succeed in behaving on an even keel attain happiness and freedom from sin.

On the other hand, a respected colleague of mine once advised that everything should be practiced in moderation, even moderation. This notion is implicit in the term “moderation” which suggests that once in a while we can stray and binge a little. Occasionally, we should let ourselves over or under-eat or sleep, or work or play or whatever. We will rejoice in the excess and then regret the aftermath. That should lead to our reining ourselves in and once again returning to moderation. Perhaps from there, we can eventually progress toward a state of godliness.

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

 

Happy New Year 2021!

Happy New Year!

I have only random thoughts about the year gone by and the one ahead. I am sharing them with my readers and asking you to let us know how you are processing this transition.

So, the world has survived 2020 and is now embarking upon 2021 which promises to be a fragmented vista of hope, despair, relief, fear, and perhaps emotions that we don’t even have words to describe or explain. We are reacting to events on micro and macro levels. We are happy and worried for ourselves, our loved ones, our nations, our relationships, and we are torn between bravery and cowardice.  Are we happy? Are we fine?

Like I imagine you are, I am looking both forward and backward. Forward are the prospects of normal interactions with people I love and a world that resembles the one we left behind but is a little better. Backward are memories mixed with a bit of personal, national, and global history.

My most recurrent memory is of my mother telling me that when someone asks how I am, I should say fine. As a child, I thought this question deserved an accurate answer, but it was drummed into me that a true or detailed reply should not be given. So, I learned a lesson that has stood me in good stead over time. When asked, “How are you?”  I always say “fine.”

Here’s wishing everybody truly fine and bright years ahead.

Happy 2021

 

What Is Your Ideal in Life?

 

In Romania, where I was born, there is a description of philosophical conversations, or semi philosophical conversations. They are called discussions of the philosophy of a matchstick. My father loved such conversations in which participants inevitably wanted to show that their notions had more profundity and nobility than their friends’ notions.

My father thought up questions and he had a few favorites. One was, “What is your ideal in life?”  One afternoon this came up and when it was my father’s turn to state his answer, he said, “I want to grow.” Clearly, he meant he wanted to grow intellectually and in other good ways. However, his friend came up with a disparaging retort. He said, “How absurd! Even a garbage pile grows.”

I have not zeroed in on my ideal in life. The Bhagavad Gita promises that union with God brings us ultimate liberation and bliss. But I cannot quite focus on the ultimate. Mostly I seek avoidance of pain to my loved ones and myself along with avoidance of discomfort. Since these objectives do not qualify as ideals, I guess I don’t have any ideal in life.

How about you?

 

The Gita: Epilogue

Aug. 21, The Gita, A New Translation of Hindu Sacred Scripture by Irina N. Gajjar

Epilogue

 The Mahabharata War fought at Kurukshetra was set in motion by jealousy, hatred and foolishness. It lasted eighteen days and ended with victory for the Pandavas, but the victory was not joyous. Young and old heroes fought and many died bravely. Among others, the great wise Bhishma and Arjun’s young son Abhimanyu fell. Duryodhana was killed and even at the moment of death he did not stop hating the Pandavas.

Years passed. Yudishtir ruled wisely and kindly. Gradually the sorrows caused by the destruction softened. Arjun and Hindus heeded the words spoken in the Gita by Lord Krishna who was Arjun’s charioteer and these words have left a lasting impression upon the world.

The Bhagavad Gita concludes with Arjun’s agreement to fight the Mahabharata War zealously. He accepts all that Lord Krishna tells him, truths that apply to all who respectfully and lovingly hear this conversation. It is taken for granted that the process of studying or listening to the Gita will convince its audience of the value of its message. Arjun asks many questions and expresses doubts to which the Lord carefully responds. But God’s answers are weighted and qualified. The Lord discourages skeptics and says that those who believe in Him are wise and blessed while disbelievers are ignorant fools doomed to destruction.

I pondered this statement, often reiterated in the Gita, and wondered whether it discourages honest thought and debate since the Gita lends itself to considerable inquiry. Then I realized that considering disbelief in God ignorant depends upon our understanding of what God is. The Lord defines Himself as all that is good and as the causation of existence. This definition leaves little or nothing to disbelieve. If we deny goodness, we are clearly unknowing and foolish. Nor can we deny causation. Something caused the universes and life to come into existence and God is as good a name as any for that force.

Furthermore, the Gita explains that we all contain a spark of God within ourselves. The spark is our soul or spirit. We can access this divinity and become one with it through love, faith, good behavior and practice.

Hinduism contains a vast body of literature, mythology, philosophy and science expressed in Sanskrit, a language that is unmatched in sophistication, breadth and precision. The Gita distills this body of knowledge and thought. It is brief and concise. It is focused on providing a way for those who seek enlightenment to uplift themselves. It offers alternative paths to become merged into God and attain eternal happiness. At the same time, it explains that these paths converge. Stepping on the path of goodness is enough improve your destiny and condition, although the goal of achieving ultimate oneness with the Lord may be distant.

The Gita explains existence. It deals with the vast unknown, but it fits with our knowledge and experience. It explains the relationship between karma and God. While the Lord transcends existence and non-existence, we make choices that determine our paths through life. The Gita assures us that within ourselves we contain a spark of great goodness and that we have the capacity to release this powerful potential for our own benefit and for the betterment of all creation.

Epilogue

Hus the was at Kurukshetra was fought. It lasted eighteen days and on each of these days brave warriors were killed. Young and old heroes fought and died with courage. The great wise Bhishma, Arjun’s young son Abhimanyu, the respected Drona, and Karna, son of Kunti and the son god, fell. Duryodhana was killed by Bhim and even at the moment of death he did not stop hating the Pandavas.

As last war ended and victory came to the Pandavas. But it was a bitter victory. They went once again back to Hastinapure, their family home, now a city of sadness and emptiness.

Years passed. Yudishtir ruled wisely and kindly. So, gradually the sorrows caused by the terrible war softened.

The Mahabharata War could not have stopped. Its wheels had been set turning by jealousy, hatred and foolishness. Arjun and his brother, as Kshatryas, had no honorable choice but to fight courageously.

Arjun understood all that Lord Krishna taught him on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. He finally arose and fought, understanding that it was his duty.

He trusted in God and did everything in his life for God.

Whoever is lucky enough to hear about God’s message in the Bhagavad Gita has a chance to understand the truth just like Arjun. Understanding the truth is being wise. Wisdom puts us on the path to God. This path leads to freedom from death and birth, to God Himself, and to everlasting happiness.

To purchase The Gita, by Irina Gajjar, visit our Amazon Link.

Chapter 18: Giving Yourself Up to God

August 14, The Gita, A New Translation of Hindu Sacred Scripture by Irina N. Gajjar

Commentary and Chapter 18, Giving Yourself Up to God   

Arjun asks God in Chapter 18, the final chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, what giving everything up for Him means. The Lord answers that some people think it means giving up action altogether while others think it means doing your duty but giving up attachment. Those people believe that we should continue doing good things without considering the outcome or worrying about how things will turn out.

The Lord then says He will tell Arjun what He Himself believes. He says Arjun should not give up helping others or perfuming rituals but should do the things holy books say are good and will purify him. He should do these things for the sake of God without considering what the result will be. This is means giving up the fruit of your actions. Surrendering the fruit of your actions for God brings freedom and happiness. It is giving yourself up to God. Wise people do their duty without caring about whether it is enjoyable or disagreeable. Doing your best will make you Godlike. It will make you sinless, unselfish, strong and calm.

People who act focused on the outcome of their actions are greedy. They do not do things for God, but for a reward. Such people are happy one moment and unhappy the next. Their mood keeps changing and they often get angry. But by doing your duty, even by killing you do not sin.

The Lord, Bhagvan, describes three kinds of action, three kinds of knowledge, three kinds of reason, three kinds of firmness and three kinds of joy. These things have qualities like those of Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas which are good, passionate and dull, respectively. He tells Arjun that the best action is performed for God’s sake, that action performed for selfish pleasure is bad, and that the worst action which hurts the doer and others is done out of ignorance and foolishness. Knowledge is also of three types. The best knowledge sees God as One in all beings. Lower knowledge thinks that all beings are separate. The worst knowledge, which is false, believes that beings exist without God.

God explains that reason means choosing between right and wrong. The best kind of reason understands that things like goodness, bravery and freedom are right. Reason that confuses right and wrong is bad. The worst reason is dull. It idiotically insists that good is bad and bad is good.  Similarly, firmness or determination is good when it steadily focuses on prayer and thoughts of God and goodness. It is passionate and bad when it sticks to the quest for riches and pleasures. But the worst firmness arrogantly sticks to unhappiness, fear and anger. Joy or happiness can also be good or bad. It is good when it comes to prayer and devotion but not when it comes from getting what you want. The worst joy comes from laziness and fooling yourself.

It may be challenging to think that anyone could or would fool themselves into happiness or cling to unhappiness. However, when our happiness is superficial and merely the result of satisfying a material desire, it will end up in anger and discontent. Thus, seeking to hold on to such joy is delusional and dull. It is fooling yourself and being unwilling to pursue deeper and lasting happiness. The Lord explains that while the pursuit of fun and pleasures seems appealing at first, it becomes bitter as we find the true and beautiful happiness that comes from the pursuit of goodness and God.

As the Gita comes to its conclusion, it references and justifies the duties of the four castes into which Hindus were divided at the time of its formulation. While the duties are ranked in favor of the higher castes, the Gita acknowledges that the spirituality of the Brahmans, the bravery of the Kshatriyas, the agriculture and trade provided by the Vaisyas and the service of the Sudras are all needed for the functioning of society. The problem of the caste system was not so much in the allocation of responsibilities but in the total absence of mobility and the terrible disparagement of the lower castes. However, the Gita acknowledges that the duties performed by all the castes can lead to perfection and the attainment of oneness with God.

The perfect person eats lightly, lives quietly, controls her mind by fixing it on God, controls her body, is calm, and is not selfish, angry, greedy or proud. The perfect person is cheerful, wants for nothing and loves God. He keeps on doing his duty and gives up the fruit of his actions. God will always come to help those who do these things. But those who do not will come to destruction and ruin.

The Gita ends as it begins, with an exhortation to Arjun to fight as demanded by his nature and his duty, to trust God and to go to Him for protection and peace.  God reminds Arjun that He lives in the heart of all beings and asks him to think about the secret words he repeats out of love. He says:

Think of Me, love Me, worship Me,

bow down to Me

and you will surely reach Me.

I promise you.

Give yourself up to Me

and I will forgive all your mistakes.

Do not worry.

My secret should not be told to anyone

who does not love God or to anyone

who does not want to hear it.

But whoever tells it to people who

love Me, God, will be sure to come to Me.

 

The Lord continues telling us all that no one is dearer to Him than a person who loves him and that whoever hears or reads His conversation with Arjun will love Him. Whoever has thought about this conversation and understood it is wise. Whoever has listened with faith to His message will get goodness and happiness.

God asks Arjun if he kept his mind on His words, if he understood their significance, if he now knows the Truth and if his confusion and unhappiness have gone away. Arjun replies that, thanks to God’s mercy, he knows the truth and will fight.

Sanjay, who related the Gita to King Dhritarashtra, expresses his joy at having heard the Gita and says that wherever there is Lord Krishna and brave Arjun, there will be happiness, victory, glory and truth.

OM TAT SAT

Please enjoy Chapter 18 Below.

Chapter 18: Giving Yourself Up to God

Arjun said: Oh Mighty God, I want to know what giving everything up for You means.

Bhagvan answered: Some people believe it means giving up doing things altogether. They think you should give up action completely because action is bad.

But otherwise men think it means doing good things for God. They believe you should do your duty without attachment. Without attachment is without thinking or worrying about how everything will turn out.

Now I will tell you what I, God, believe.

Oh Arjun, listen. You should not give up helping others. You should not give up religious ceremonies like pujas and only sit doing nothing. You should not give up things which the holy books say are good. Those things make you pure and good.

You should not give up your duty just because it is hard. That is wrong.

You should do your duty and not think about how the things you do will turn out. Just do your best and do not worry about anything. This is called giving up the fruit of your action. This is very good. Giving up the fruit of your action will make you free and happy. Giving up the fruit of your action is giving yourself up to God.

Wise people do their duty without caring whether it is enjoyable or disagreeable.

The things you do may turn out to be good or bad. But if you have done your best and do not care about how your actions turn out, you will be happy and free. You will be like God. You will be sinless. You will be unselfish, strong, and calm.

But people who care about what their actions will get them are greedy. They do not do things for God. They do them for a reward. Their mood keeps changing. They are happy one moment and unhappy the next. They are often angry.

If you do your duty wisely for God’s sake alone, even by killing you do not sin.

Oh Arjun, there are three kinds of action. The best action is done for God’s sake. Action done for selfishness or only for pleasure is bad. The worst is action done out of ignorance or foolishness. The worst thing to do is to act without understanding. Such action hurts others and hurts yourself.

There are also three kinds of knowledge. The best kind sees God as One in all beings. Knowledge which thinks that all beings separate is lower. But the worst knowledge is thinking that beings can exist without God. Such knowledge is false.

And there are three kinds of reason. Reason means choosing between right and wrong and understanding what is good. The best kind of reason understands goodness, bravery and freedom. Reason that mixes up right and wrong is bad. But the worst reason is sure that wrong is right and that right is wrong. It stupidly says that good things are bad and that bad things are god. There are also three ways of being firm and sticking to what you do. The best way is being firm and steady about praying and thinking of God. Another way of being firm is sticking to riches and to pleasure. That is bad. But the worst way is sticking to unhappiness, fear and anger.

Now, Oh brave Arjun, I will tell you about three kinds of joy.

The best comes from praying and thinking about God. The second kind of joy is not as good. It comes from getting things you like. And the third kind of joy is bad. It comes from fooling yourself and from laziness.

At first, praying and thinking quietly of God seems boring and bitter as poison. Having fun and getting things you like seems wonderful. But later, thinking of God, loving Him, and understanding Him are wonderful and beautiful. Then just getting what you want seems bitter and foolish.

And Arjun, there are different kinds of duties in life for different kinds of people.

The Brahmin’s duty, for which he is born, is self control. The Brahmin’s duty is studying holy books and concentrating on God. The Brahmin should be peaceful, pure, forgiving, wise, honest and full of faith in God.

The Kshatriya’s duty is to be a soldier. It is to be a good warrior and a good ruler. The Kshatriya’s nature is to be brave and generous. His duties fit the Kshatriya’s nature.

The Vaishya’s duty is to plant food, to protect cows and to do business. These jobs are right for the Vaishya.

The Shudra’s duty is doing work for the other groups. This is his duty for which he is born.

Each and every person can reach God by doing her own duty well. Each person can become perfect simply by doing her duty. It is better to do you own simple duty than someone else’s greater job.

No one should give up her duty, whatever it may be.

Now I will tell you what a perfect person is like.

The perfect person eats lightly and lives quietly. She controls her mind and keeps it thinking of God. She controls her body and is calm. She is part of God. She and God are joined. They are One.

The person who is good enough to join God is not selfish, angry, greedy or proud.

The perfect person is cheerful. She is never sad. She never wants or needs anything. By loving God she gets to know God and becomes part of God.

The perfect person keeps on doing his duty. He keeps on doing things. He does not give up action. He only gives up the fruit of action. This means he does everything for God’s sake.

So, you see, you should do everything for Me. Give up your actions to e. Give yourself up to Me. Concentrate on Me all the time.

If your mind is always on God, I will always help you when you need help. But if you do not listen to Me, you will be destroyed. You will be completely ruined.

You are proud and silly, Arjun, if you, a Kshatriya, say, “I will not fight.” Fighting is your nature. It is your duty and your own nature will make you fight.

Oh Arjun, remember God lives in the hearts of all beings and makes them act. Trust God. Go to God for the protection and peace.

Oh Arjun, this is My secret. Now I have given it to you. Think about it and do whatever you wish.

Arjun, listen again to My final most secret words. I will tell them to you for your own good because I love you.

Think of Me, love Me, worship Me, bow down to Me and you will surely reach Me. I promise you.

Give yourself up to Me and I will forgive all your mistakes. Do not worry.

My secret should not be told to anyone who does not love God or to anyone who does not want to hear it.

But whoever tells it to people who love Me, God, will be sure to come to Me.

No one is dearer to Me than a person who loves Me.

And whoever has heard or read My words in this conversation with you, Arjun, loves me. Whoever has thought about My words carefully, worships Me with wisdom. Whoever understands these words I have just spoken to you is wise. Whoever has listened, full of faith to My message will be sure to get goodness and happiness.

And now, Oh Arjun, son of Kunti, did you keep your mind on everything I have said to you? Did you understand My message? Do you now know the Truth? Have your confusion and your unhappiness gone away?

Arjun said: Lord Krishna, because of your mercy I know the Truth. I will be firm and do what you wish. I will fight!

Sanjay said: And so I heard the marvelous exciting conversation between Krishna Bhagvan and Arjun. Through God’s grace I heard this most secret Yoga. I think, Oh King, of this wonderful holy conversation and I am happy. I rejoice again and again.

I keep remembering how wonderful Lord Krishna looked and I am happy delighted again and again.

Wherever there is Lord Krishna and brave Arjun, there will be happiness, victory, glory and truth.

OM TAT SAT

To purchase The Gita, by Irina Gajjar, visit our Amazon Link.