Churchill is believed to have said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.” Most of us who live in democracies think this is absolutely true. Also, most of us pretty much take our democracies for granted. We think it is a given in our nations and that it will last for the foreseeable future.
We do not realize, that government by the people, of the people and for the people may not endure. We forget that democracy did not last even two centuries in Greece, where it was born and that it is not the order of the world any more than other forms of government. Dictatorships, benevolent and malevolent, oligarchies, communism, imperialism and ebb and flow on our planet.
I am frightened by the fragility of democracy. I worry about the tensions that threaten it. I think the demise of democracy is a scary prospect and I hear alarm bells ringing across the globe and at home.
We, the human members of our planet, of our nations and of our communities, are conflicted. On the one hand, we want to belong, to fit in and to share our lives with others. On the other, we want to own our personal space, to stand out and to keep our privacy.
Not only are we conflicted in our interactions, but our natures which resist discipline tempt us with intemperance. For example, we want to have our cake and eat it too. We want to eat a lot without getting fat or feeling stuffed. We want to be couch potatoes and feel fit. We want to party, but not feel exhausted. We want to sleep but also be productive.
Calibration can help us manage our conflicted selves. If we balance our opposing urges by practicing moderation, we can experience greater harmony. But too much moderation is boring and unstimulating. So, I note that everything should be practiced in moderation, even moderation.
Our world’s religions tell varying tales of creation, but for the most part, they involve God in some way. We hear stories of how and why and how quickly our world came to be. According to the Bhagavad Gita, in which many Hindus believe, either literally or symbolically, the world was God’s idea. Furthermore, Lord Krishna, in Chapter Ten, explains that He causes the world to appear and disappear simply because He wants it to.
At the same time, the whole purpose of life in the view of many religions is to obtain happiness in the afterlife.
I think these notions are somewhat odd. They suggest that our existence is an exercise in futility. We and the whole world did not exist. Then God creates the world and us and then it all will disappear. Yet our goal in this life exercise is to be as good as possible in order to make our non-existence blissful.
Many of us recognize that in the course of our activities and behaviors, our journeys mean more than reaching our destinations. So, though we are focused on our goals, most of our energy is expended in transit. We also recognize that the effects of our journeys are what we leave behind. But to what end?
Some of us take our beliefs, feelings or doubts about matters like life, death, and the existence of a supreme being more deeply to heart than others.
Some of us worry about small and big things that may or may not be within our power to control while others are more carefree.
Some of us fret over the future of our planet, our people, our nations, our politics, and our faith while others just do our best with without much preoccupation.
It is hard to say that one attitude is better than another. If our concerns make us do better or become better, that is good. But if we believe that we cannot assume responsibility for things we are unable to change and remain more laid back about the fate of humanity, that is fine too. Either way, as long as we strive to be as kind and effective as we can and as long as we can be happy and have fun, we will be fine.
As we enter the fall in the northern hemisphere, many of us struggle with casting off the blahs. Summer ends, vacations are done with and it is time to muster up our energy. Of course, the blahs come and go for many of us at different times, but as fall approaches we get increasingly sluggish.
While sloth is a sin and many teachings and preachings tell us to act with vigor, the blahs are not laziness. They are a response to a changing environment. They help us prepare for colder darker days ahead.
I like the coziness of autumn and winter. It is nice to get away from endless sunlight and heat. It is nice to huddle a bit and settle indoors. It is good to find quieter joys and to eat warmer food. I welcome the blahs.
To some extent, our lives are determined by the choices we make. But to what extent are our choices real? This question underlies most human dilemmas.
Arjun’s doubt about whether it would be better to be killed than to fight and kill his enemies is the focus of The Gita which synthesizes Hindu philosophy. Here, God explains why Arjun must fight and He shows us that Arjun really does not have a choice.
Yet, human decisions though tethered are not fully predetermined. They depend upon our nature, our capacity to judge, our circumstances, our mood and upon the choices we made in the past. At the same time, our current actions and inactions affect our future as well as the futures of all who are touched by what we do or do not do. Thus, as much as our choices arise from our karma, they create it.
Fortunately, we are not always aware of the many big and little choices we make throughout our days. If we were fully aware of them, we would probably go crazy. Still, though fettered or made in haste, our decisions matter. So, we must do the best we can, heeding our consciences and the advice of those we respect.
See Chapter Six, Karma and Reincarnation in On Hinduism, by Irina Gajjar.
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 thought, the mind is part of the body. It is the energy that powers out 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.
According to Buddhist thought, the soul does not retain its attributes at death any more than a wave retains its identity when it dissipates in the ocean. An analogy often used to illustrate Buddhism’s perspective of the cycle of birth and rebirth is that of a candle that lights another candle as it flickers and becomes extinguished.
Buddhist belief in the process of birth and rebirth is validated by the testimony of Lord Buddha Himself, who upon enlightenment came to know all the details of His hundreds or thousands of past lives. He stated that His present life would be His last. Although Lord Buddha would not include God in His teachings and did not claim to be divine, His followers came to worship Him.
Buddhists pay Him homage, if not as God, then as the Enlightened One and Hindus see Buddha as the ninth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the Preserver.
Read more about Birth and Rebirth in the Buddhist Religion in On Hinduism, by Irina Gajjar.
Several legends explain how Ganesh/Ganpati got an elephant’s head. The most popular one tells that his mother Parvati created him out of the sandalwood paste on her body and of the river Ganges. Then she told him to guard her bathroom while she bathed.
Lord Shiva, Parvati’s husband, had been away and when he returned he did not recognize his son and was angry at Ganesh for keeping him away from his wife. As a result, Shiva struck off Ganesh’s head.
Parvati became devastated. To comfort her, Shiva promised to restore Ganesh to life. He told his attendants to bring him the head of any sleeping being they found who was facing north. In a while, the attendants returned with an elephant head which Lord Shiva affixed to Ganesh.
Parvati was not consoled. She told Shiva that no one would respect her son with a big elephant head on his shoulders. So Lord Shiva promised that all worshippers would forever pray to Ganpati before praying to God and would invoke Ganpati’s blessings before beginning any important undertaking in life.
In this manner, Ganpati became the leader of the people, the lord of success, the remover of obstacles, and the destroyer of evil. He is honored in most Hindu homes and establishments and people celebrate him every year in a big ten-day-long festival held in August or September. True to Shiva’s word, Ganpati has become a part of every Hindu’s life.