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.

 

Hypocrites in The Gita

The Gita sums up the definition of a hypocrite as follows:

A person who pretends not to care about the body,

but who really keeps on wishing for enjoyable things

is called a hypocrite.

Such a person is a fool.

The Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 3, verse 6

In order to attain Oneness with God, the Gita teaches that we must become detached from the feelings and desires created by our bodies. The above verse warns against faking piousness and pretending detachment rather than striving to achieve it.

Hypocrisy is tempting to those who wish to appear devout and even to those who wish to view themselves as devout. But in the Gita Lord Krishna repeatedly tells us that just trying to become close to God is very good and leads to happiness and wisdom. Regardless of how we view God or our truth, we should face ourselves honestly and be real.

Learn more about the the Gita in my book, The Gita, A New Translation of Hindu Sacred Scripture.

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.

The Gita’s Premise

God is the Gita’s premise. Its message is that life’s purpose is to attain enlightenment and eternal bliss by merging into God. This message is a familiar one. However its new and concise formulation coalesced Hindu thought and its fresh expression has guided Hindu behavior into the twenty-first century.

In the revelation that is the Gita, God delivers His word with beauty and simplicity. This scripture contains eighteen chapters and seven hundred verses upon which uncounted commentaries have been written and continue to be written.

In the course of responding to Arjun, God as Lord Krishna unclouds Arjun’s vision, opens his mind and touches his heart. He speaks of His own nature and power, of human nature and human duty, or worlds, of knowledge, of what is knowable, of the universal and human cycles of birth, life, and death and He speaks the truth.

Questions related to these matters intersect and overlap and they give rise to further questions and answers. In the end, the Gita paints an integrated picture of our human role in the vast scheme of things that is beyond us but not beyond our wonder.

The Gita develops around the concept of a universal God who can be envisioned, though not understood on a human level, and around the idea that life’s purpose is to attain unity with God. This precept is implicit as are other fundamental beliefs like reincarnation.

When the Gita makes explicit references to such ideas that are a familiar part of Hinduism, it does so for emphasis or analogy rather than for evaluation. It reiterates them and alludes to them in different contexts, but the beliefs themselves are treated as givens, not as theories. They are considered beyond question, though not beyond interpretation:

 

She who always worships God faithfully
Crosses past the world
And becomes a part of God

(Gita 14:26)

 

This excerpt is taken from The Gita, by Irina Gajar. To learn more about the book, visit http://irinaspage.com/philosophy/the-gita-sacred/

Knowledge

In Chapter 7 of the Gita, Lord Krishna speaks of knowing God. It is hard to put the meaning of knowing God or knowing anything for that matter into words. But without a doubt, there are some things we know or at least we feel like we know.

I wonder what the difference is between thinking or feeling we know and actually knowing. I suppose the distinction only makes a difference when we speak of matters which others take seriously. To opine or feel or believe that we love someone is no different from loving someone. However, when it comes to science, or politics or faith, knowledge that does not conform to what others have confirmed or what our society may lead to dangerous action.

To know is not the same as to understand or to believe. Understanding and belief often lead to knowledge, but they are not knowledge itself.

Read more from The Gita at http://irinaspage.com/philosophy/the-gita-sacred/

Notions of God

In Chapter 8 of The Gita, Lord Krishna gives us a descriptive view of God’s characteristics. Even assuming we believe in a supreme divine force, this view stretches the limits of our intellect and

imagination. Lord Krishna Himself acknowledges that Brahma, the spirit of God, exists beyond what our mind understands. But He encourages our efforts to grasp what we cannot grasp because, He tells us, God can be reached by the wise.

Brahma exists beyond ignorance and shines like the sun. Brahma is Time. He endures for thousands of ages consisting of thousands of days and thousands of nights. Brahma Is permanent and indestructible. He is beyond the world. Brahma is the origin of everything and He is the resting place of those who are liberated from the cycle of birth and death.

Regardless of whether or not we believe or hope to believe, the possibility of Brahma can fill a huge void in our spirit. If we carry a spark of divinity within ourselves, we have a place and a role in the universe.

See On Hinduism, A New Translation of Hindu Sacred Scripture, 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

God, King of the Universe  

 

The notion of God as the King of the Universe feels odd to me because it humanizes a force that I view see as way beyond humankind. Still, personification of the Lord occurs throughout most major religions. Imagining God as our King reflects our human need to envision divinity in our image and to empower it as our ruler.  

In the Gita, Lord Krishna tells us He has many forms including prayers, fire, sweets, eternity, perpetuity, destruction and the heat in the sun. Yet, further to God’s absoluteness, endlessness and everythingness, He specifically tells us that He is our King:  

I am the king of the Universe. 

I am its Father and Mother and Grandfather. 

I am making things and taking things  apart. 

I am being born and dying 

and I am living forever. 

                         —  The Gita, Chapter 9, Verses 17 and 18  

 

These passages give believers freedom to shape their belief in any respectful way they can.  

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

 

The Universe in God

Then Arjun saw in God the whole universe.

Then Arjun, full of wonder,

with his hairs standing on end’

bowed down to the Lord and pressing his hands in prayer said:

Oh Lord,

I see all the gods and thousands of beings in

You.

—The Gita, Chapter 11, verses 14, 15

 

Consider the idea of the whole universe, of everything imaginable, contained within the being of its Creator. This vision represents the vastness of all existence that lives in the confines of our imagination, reason, and belief. This is a remarkable perspective.

See Chapter 11 of The Gita, A New Translation of Hindu Sacred Scripture, by Irina Gajjar.

Lord Krishna Shows His Scary Form

 

While Lord Krishna continues -in Chapter 11 of The Gita– to overwhelm us with His all encompassing splendor, His wonderful form becomes terrible. Arjun sees that all space between heaven and earth is filled by God and that all worlds are frightened.

In this scary appearance representing Kala or Time, God demonstrates karma in process. Warriors, already doomed, rush into the Lord’s multiple mouths like moths flying into a blazing fire. The Lord assures Arjun that he will prevail in this Great Mahabharata War.

Arjun begs God to reappear in His calm, gentle four armed form, a form which can be seen, Lord Krishna says, through endless love of Him.

Chapter 11 is one of the most dramatic chapters of the Gita. It illustrates not only the ideas, hopes and fears that human beings entertain about their Creator, but also our more sophisticated understanding of dimensions and of the confluenced integration of universes, time and space.

 

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