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.

Read more on Dharma in On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar. You can purchase the book on Amazon.

The Five Layers of Being

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 though, the mind is part of the body. It is the energy that powers our 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.

When it embodies, the soul, the kernel that is our innermost divine spirit, is covered by four layers of being. The soul itself is counted as a fifth layer, though it is pure essence and is devoid of matter. It is the unchanging soul named God. The five layers of being are called kosas. The four layers surrounding the soul can be understood to be sheaths, shells, or husks, or vessels. The kosas increase in density as they move outward, further away from the spirit. The layers closest to our soul make up our ethereal astral body whereas the outermost layer is heavy with matter.

The fourth sheath, nearest to the soul, is knowledge. It is the highest level of understanding and sensitivity that is closest to God. The third sheath is the mind. It is intellect and it contains our memory, causes dreams, and processes the information that we have taken in through our minds and senses. It also manages the collective information we may call human instinct or intuition. This collective information belongs to all mankind. The second sheath is vitality. It is the vital force that moves the body and makes it work. This is the subtle body that controls our senses and actions as well as internal bodily functions like the pumping of the heart. The fourth outermost sheath is the dense physical body itself.

The living body has three attributes or properties called gunas. These attributes are our tendencies or natures. Ranking from highest to lowest, the three gunas are sattva, rajas, and tamas. Sattva is the tendency of the highest and purest of beings. It is true and good. Rajas is the tendency of dynamic beings filled with energetic or frenetic passion. It is not good, but not evil. Tamas is the tendency of ignorant and inert beings. It is bad. People are a mixture of these three traits but our nature depends of which trait is strongest:

 

When Sattva is strongest we are wise.

When Rajas is strongest, we are greedy

and we cannot keep calm or still.

When Tamas is strongest,

we are lazy foolish, and covered by darkness.

(Gita 14:11, 12, 13)

 

This excerpt is from On Hinduism, by Irina Gajjar.

Sinfulness vs. Goodness

In the view of Hinduism, sinfulness and goodness are mixed in our 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 deeds reflect our nature, they also impact it. For example, being truthful and worshipping God with a loving heart are signs of persons who are good and doing these things leads to goodness. Conversely, being dishonest or pretending to worship God with a hate-filled heart are signs of a person who is evil and doing these things leads to evil.

In chapter sixteen of Bhagavad Gita which discusses goodness and evil, Lord Krishna sums up the tendencies and behaviors that constitute goodness:

The Lord said:

Goodness is many things.

Goodness is being brave and pure

And thinking of your soul.

Your soul is God inside you.

Goodness is helping others.

It is self-control and worshipping God

And having pujas

And studying the Vedas and 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.

Peacefulness, truthfulness, and kindness are good.

 

This excerpt is from On Hinduism, by Irina Gajjar. To purchase the book, visit our Amazon Link.

The Principle of Karma

The principle of karma can be illustrated, if not fully understood, by analogy. For example, imagine a shattered window and the presence of many bits of glass on the floor along with a rock some feet away. The action of the rock shattering the glass causes the glass to slow down and stop the stone which we find lying next to the glass, not far away. In this illustration, the workings of cause and effect are obvious and clear. However, karma goes beyond te visible. It pertains to more than just the window, the rock, and the floor. It includes the person who threw the rock, the person who lives in the house with the shattered window, the person who pays for the repairs and so forth Once set into motion, karma becomes a self-perpetuating and self-extending force.

Another example of the workings of karma is the appearance of diabetes in a person who, for many years, has eaten an excess of sweet foods. In a case like this, the diabetes may come as a shock, particularly to someone who is not aware of the causes and characteristics of his disease. Such a person would not recognize that his ailment or condition is the effect of prior behavior. Moreover, diabetes is not only the result of consuming sugar. It can also be a genetic disorder or a lifestyle disorder. Not everyone who gets diabetes becomes overweight and suffers from diabetes and not everyone who gets diabetes has eaten too much sugar or has a family history of diabetes or has failed to exercise. Diabetes has known and unknown causes, but it is the effect of a cluster of causes and as such it illustrates karmic activity.

These analogies show us that multiple causes may give rise to a single effect or to a bundle of related effects or to seemingly disconnected effects. Karma is like a ripple in a pond. It can expand for a wide area and disturb the peacefulness of all the water contained within its circle. As it spreads it dissipates until it gets lost in the waters of the pond.

Karma is force comparable to magnetism or electricity. The laws of magnetism govern the attraction and repulsion of magnetic force and the laws of electricity govern interaction between electrically charged particles. The law of karma governs causality between moving forces. Human beings activate karma at the same time that we are subject to its power. We attract and repel at the same time that we are subject to attraction and repulsion. Our minds create energy at the same time that we are subject to electric force. We make our karma and are subject to its effects. Like other cosmic principles, karma applies to the infinite as well as the infinitesimal universe. It applies to mountains and oceans, to living beings and to the tiniest cell, to planets and to atoms, to thoughts and to deeds.

This excerpt is from On Hinduism. To buy the book visit our Amazon Link.

Fourteen Worlds

Vedic scriptures speak of fourteen worlds. Seven of the worlds exist of three higher planes: Bhuloka, the first world or earthly plane; Antarloka, the second world or the subtle, astral plane, and Brahmloka, the third world or the causal plane of God. These three planes can also be viewed as dimensions.

Bhuloka is the dense outermost dimension of being and consciousness. It is the physical world perceived by the senses. Antarloka is the intermediate dimension, the sphere of gods and higher beings, that exists in between the earthly plane and God’s plane. It is a subtle, astral dimension of consciousness. Brahmaloka belongs to Lord Brahma, the Creator. It is both the highest and the innermost dimension. It is pure spirit. Brahmaloka is also known as Karanaloka, the causal plane or as Sivaloka, the plane of Lord Siva the Destroyer who, through destruction, causes a new cycle of creation. To reach this plane is to become entirely absorbed or dissolved in the Divine Spirit and to merge into or become One with the eternal God. To enter Brahmaloka is to end the cycle of birth and death.

The seven lower worlds described in the Vedas are located in Naraka, the netherworld belonging to demons and souls that have become distanced from goodness and God. Naraka is the plane of lower consciousness. Its regions are temporary hells of the mind and the universe. They are places where souls way wander for many ages or for just moments. Ancient scriptures accepted the relativity of time and space. Thus, according to Vedic literature, the duration of any soul’s existence in any world depends upon whether the time experienced by a particular soul expands or contracts and upon the time scales that are in play when souls migrate from world to world.

 

 

The Self

I am made of earth, water, fire, air,
ether, mind, reason, and the self.
These eight things are one side of Me.
The other, higher side of Me
is what makes the whole world exist
And is called the “life principle.”

(Gita 7:4, 5)

 

The self when it pertains to the body or to the material aspect of God means ego. It differs from the Self with a capital letter which means the sense of being. The Self is the life principle or the essence of life. It is God unmanifest. It is the spirit that sparks the eternal soul of living beings. It resides within our temporal minds and bodies but it is not of the mind or body.

The concept of reincarnation underpins the Vedic belief that the eternal soul attains salvation by merging into God. A spark of God’s marvel illuminates the soul which is confidence to the cycle of birth and death until it dissolves into God. When that occurs, the soul’s spark becomes one with the flame that is God and the soul experiences total bliss.

This excerpt is from On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar. To purchase the book, visit our Amazon Link.

The Knower and the Known

Although God cannot be understood by the mind, God can be known by the spirit. In chapter seven of the Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjun that he will understand God after knowing him. God says that He knows all beings, but they do not know Him. People cannot see God because confusion and desire cover their minds, but they can reach God by seeking Him.

The Sanskrit language distinguishes between spiritual knowledge (seeing, knowing) and rational knowledge (understanding). We can come to know God only by seeing Him. Trying to understand God is a path to knowing Him, yet we cannot understand God without knowing Him. This is an apparent paradox, not a real one. It means that we must take steps toward understanding God in order to experience God. While the absolute cannot be understood by our finite mind, it can be known by our infinite soul. However, the soul can only experience the truth if the mind strives for it to do so. Reason or understanding is a path that leads to spiritual knowledge, but only spiritual knowledge has the power to reveal God.

The Gita understands God to be both the knower and the known, or that which we wish to know. He is the great soul, the individual soul called Atman. He is spirit. God is the knower of the universe and the knower of the “field” which means the human body as well as all embodiment. “Field” refers to place or area, like “field of knowledge.” The term field implies that the body is a place where action or conflict occurs. Lord Krishna delivered the Bhagavad Gita on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, also known as the field of Dharma or righteousness.

This excerpt is from On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar, to purchase the book, visit Amazon.

 

The Idea of God

Hindu philosophy is premised on the idea of God, not on a belief in God. Thus, the divine force, howsoever it may be perceived, or even if it is disregarded, is ever-present. Hinduism does not demand faith in God. Rather it provides links to the idea of God. Those interested can click on a link at any time.

What then describes Hindus if not faith in God, or acceptance of the tenets of Hinduism, or following the dictates of Hindu scriptures, or performing specific rituals? Responses often given to the question “Who is a Hindu?” include: followers of Hindu traditions, believers in Vedic philosophy, persons who follow dharma (a complex inclusive terms representing maintaining balance, staying on the path of truth, and fulfillment of duty), persons of righteousness, persons who will perform Hindu sacraments, persons who live a Hindu lifestyle, persons who uphold Hindu values, seekers of God, and persons who profess themselves to be Hindu.

The above replies are all correct, but none is definitive, given the wide diversity in individual beliefs. The last statement is probably the closest to the best answer. Nobody can judge the belief of a particular Hindu, but persons who believe themselves to be a Hindu know what they believe. Thus, a Hindu may be best described as someone who calls himself Hindu and who does not adhere to any other religion.

This excerpt is from On Hinduism, by Irina Gajjar. To learn more about the book, visit the website at www.irinaspage.com. You can purchase the book directly from Amazon by clicking this link.

Knowledge

Hinduism defines knowledge as more than the acquisition of information. Knowledge pertains first and foremost to knowing God. This covers everything from seeking God, to knowing about God, to understand God, or to feeling God. Chapter seven of the Bhagavad Gita, “Knowing God,” offers a road map to the unveiling of the mystery of life. It explains that of the countless people who exist, only a few seek God and that of those few, only a handful gain a true understanding of divinity.

True knowledge pertains to understanding the Creator who causes the worlds and is the “life principle” or the essence of life. In his incarnation as Lord Krishnas, God says that He is composed of earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, reason, and the self. He tells us that He is the wetness in water, the light in the moon and sun, and the sacred symbol Om which encompasses God and the Universe:

 

I am the manliness in men

And the smell of the earth

And the brightness in fire.

Ia m life in living things.

I am the seed in all beings.

I am the wisdom in men’s minds.

I am the strength of the strong and the wish in your heart.

This excerpt is from On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar. To read more or to buy the book, visit the www.irinaspage.com/onhinduism 

 

(Gita 7:9, 10, 11)

Unity with God

Though Hindus know deeply that the ultimate aim of their faith is to achieve unity with God, daily life and worship generally focus on more immediate results. Karma may take ages to play out, but the laws of cause and effect that are its foundation may also operate more quickly. Divine intervention works hand in hand with karma that is created by human behavior. Thus, worship is a path to enlightenment and simply setting forth on this path has its own validity. Progressing on the path to God is not only about reaching a destination. Making the journey earns merit in itself.

Hindu scriptures and customs consider a wide range of activities as worship: fulfillment of duty, prayer, pursuit of knowledge, honoring elders and teachers, tending to shrines in the home, visiting temples, going on pilgrimages, bathing in holy waters, practicing moderation, fasting, performing rituals, chanting, engaging in meditation and yoga, attending and participating in ceremonies, listening to preachers, performing classical dance, and so on. These activities are incorporated into secular life. Though none of them are singly defining, it is virtually certain that routine customs and occurrences will engage just about every Hindu in some overt forms of worship. Mindsets may differ regarding the value or effect of these variegated activities, but participating in some of them unavoidable.

The vast array of practices that make up worship in Hinduism may befuddle strangers to such rituals. Although most ritualistic acts and sacrifices have specific and generally known purposes, collectively their aim is to enhance the mind’s focus and thereby to extend consciousness. These ceremonies as well as actions undertaken in the name of God or goodness acknowledge and revere a power higher and greater than the power of the human mind or the human heart. Whatever form worship takes, be it worship of God or of another deity, worship in any form acknowledges the existence of something greater than humankind. Chapter four of the Gita, “The Sword of Knowledge,” explains:

 

A puja is a ceremony for God.

It is a sacrifice.

The puja is Brahma [God].

The fire which is part of the puja is Brahma.

The person who performs the puja is Brahma.

Brahma is God’s everlasting power.

We cannot see or hear or feel Brahma.

This excerpt is from On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar. Learn more about the book at www.irinaspage.com