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.

What Is Goodness?

We are told by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita that goodness is many things. It includes bravery, purity, contemplation of the soul, worship of God, study of holy texts, strength, straightforwardness, truthfulness, peacefulness, kindness, gentleness, the absence of anger, detachment, repentance for transgressions, forgiveness, humility, truthfulness and vigor.

This is a comprehensive set of qualities. Though most of us would agree that these qualities do represent the better side of humans, some might of us, particularly those of us who are not inclined toward orthodoxy, may question whether the worship of God and the study of holy texts equate with traits like kindness.

I wonder why God, who is all powerful, all knowing, and present everywhere seems to have a great need to promote Himself and to persuade us to believe in Him [or Her?] Can’t we just take the force that is God for granted and move on from there?

See Chapter 16 of The Gita, a New Translation of Hindu Sacred Scripture.

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

God Loves Those Who Love God

Loving God is a key theme in the Gita. In Chapter 9, Lord Krishna tells us that loving God is the Holy Secret and the key to attaining ultimate freedom from cycles of birth and death. He explains that God is everything and everywhere. He is the creator and more because the very notion of the world is His. Thus, even the worst sinners are liberated by the love of God.

In Chapter 12 of the Gita, Lord Krishna describes all the good things that happen to those who love Him. He tells us that those of us who do love God are dear to Him. But He does not talk about loving humanity to the extent that He speaks of the power of our loving Him. It is through our understanding and love of the divinity that we merge into the Lord and attain ultimate salvation.

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

Did God Create the World?

A number of major world religions subscribe to the notion that God, such as God is understood, created the world or worlds or universe and all existence. Hindu scripture specifically tells us so. In fact, in the Gita, God Himself reminds more than once.

In Chapter 9, Lord Krishna tells us that the whole world was His idea, and was born from Him. It explains that a great wheel makes it turn round and round and that it appears and disappears repeatedly because He wants it to.

In Chapter 10 He explains:

Everything comes from Me.

Truth, wisdom, forgiveness, self control,

happiness, unhappiness, bravery, fear,

peacefulness, fame and shame

all come from God.

The Gita, Chapter 10, Verses 4, 5

 

At the same time the very God who takes credit for creation, declares His creation to be an illusion. It is “Maya” or make believe or magic and He tells us that only fools believe that the world is real. In His own words:

The wise who understand God pass beyond

the world.

They cross over Maya and reach Me.

The Gita, Chapter 7, Verses 14

Now why would God or the sages who gave to life to the ideas embodied in the Gita create a world that is illusory only for humankind to acknowledge this truth? Why would a power like God want to create worlds that come and go?

It seems to me that the reason does not fit within human logic. It is just that this is how it is.

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

Why Was God Born?

In the Gita, Lord Krishna Himself explains His incarnations:

You and I have passed through many births.
I know them all, but you do not remember.
I am born from time to time
whenever the good need my protection.
I am born to destroy the bad and help the good.

My birth is divine and those who understand this become part of
Me and do not have to be born again.

The Gita, Chapter 4, The Sword of Knowledge, Verses 5-9

These beautifully succinct verse encapsulates Hinduism’s fundamental beliefs: the existence of God, His powers to create and destroy, God’s benevolent intent, the importance of understanding divine power, the reality of reincarnation, and the meaning of salvation which is becoming one with God.

See The Gita, a New Translation of Hindu Sacred Scripture, 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.

Why God Scared Arjun 

God’s display of His horrific form in Chapter 11 of The Gita departs from the philosophical tone of rest of this teaching. It is reminiscent of great epics peopled with demons, and goddesses and heroes or even of fairy tales filled with goblins and angels.

Some have wondered why this jolting interlude is included in the otherwise mostly calm, well reasoned, uplifting sacred holy text that is believed to come to us God Himself.

In my view, the inclusion of a vivid illustration of God’s awesome destructive power could not be skipped. God is Time, who perpetually transforms worlds and creates them anew in our universe and in universes light years away.

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