The Reality of Greatness and Nothingness

Belief in the world’s illusory nature gives rise to belief in the reality and greatness of nothingness. AN understanding of nothingness relates to the understanding of mathematics which embodies the concept of zero. At the same time, belief in nothingness is a significant aspect of Hindu belief in God. Nothingness is greater than creation which comes and goes as worlds appear and disappear in cycles. Nothingness existed before God undertook creation and God alone transcends nothingness. Devout Hindus seek to attain enlightenment which is akin to becoming lost in the supreme blissfulness of God who is as much nothing as He is everything.

Some people revere God as an infinite force requiring no further definition. But others find it difficult to work the idea of an intangible, unfathomable, all powerful God into worship or life. Thus, Hinduism facilitates faith by giving God a multitude of physical forms that represent his multiple attributes. It is next to impossible to know these countless forms and names. In ritual ceremonies, priests recite as many names as the worshipers have the patience to repeat or hear while they toss a leaf or a petal for each name into a vessel as a symbol of their acknowledgment.

This excerpt is from On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar. Read more from Irina or learn where to buy the book at www.irinaspage.com.

Hindu Mythology

 

The crown jewels of Hindu mythology are its two grand epics, Ramayana and the Mahabharata. These reflect Vishnu’s incarnations as Rama and Krishna. Both epics are literary masterpieces containing a wealth of history, legend, philosophy, and ideology. They are post Vedic works considered smiriti or recollection rather than sruti or revelation.

The Ramayana was composed by Valmiki, a bandit turned saint and poet. Lord Brahma inspired him to write the Ramayana, a dramatic poem consisting of seven books divided into five hundred stanzas and 24,000 verses. It is believed to have been recorded about 500 BCE or earlier. The story is an intricate one with a large cast of characters including gods, demons, humans, super humans, animals, and birds who personify good, evil, or both. The well-developed characters act out their karma with elegance and might. The master plot containing intricate subplots takes many twists and turns and contains many diversions designed to keep its listeners riveted to every adventure and full anticipation up to the very end.

—This excerpt is from On Hinduism, by Irina Gajjar

Read more from Irina at www.irinaspage.com.

Mankind’s Journey

Arjun’s journey from doubt to faith symbolizes mankind’s journey. The journey is premised on a belief in a principle greater than ourselves and on a belief that we can ultimately transcend our human limits. Meanwhile, as we travel on the road to enlightenment, we can improve our human condition. But the journey must begin with the idea or hope that the end will have meaning.

God is The Gita’s premise. Its message is that life’s purpose is to attain enlightenment and eternal bliss 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, knowledge, of what is knowable, of the universal and human cycles of birth, life, and death and He speaks 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.

Read more from On Hinduism, by Irina Gajjar at www.irinaspage.com

What Is the Core Message of the Bhagavad Gita?

 

The Bhagavad Gita’s or the Gita’s core message can be stated in a single sentence. It is this: Overtime and lifetimes, each of us can elevate ourselves to a higher plane until we become one with God. On one hand, this is a simple goal and the Gita tells how we can accomplish it. But on the other, it requires an appreciation of the Hindu view of God, virtue, reincarnation, and karma as well as of how these elements interact. While such appreciation comes naturally to Hindus, it requires others unfamiliar with Hinduism to ponder with an open mind.

The Gita answers questions that human beings have about matters we cannot fathom. Most of us have the same questions but not all of us agree upon the answers that religions and philosophies offer. Yet many of us feel that these answers given by preachers, teachers, scholars, and thinkers touch us and make some sense. Teachings proposed over millennia across the globe have often coincided and resulted in civil societies based on customs, laws, and traditions derived from religious or philosophical principles.

Ancient Hindu writings are classified as “Smriti” and “Sruti.”  Myths, legends, and the like that were passed on from person to person are Smriti, or recollections.

Sacred writings that are believed to have come directly from God are Sruti or revelations. The Gita, constructed as a conversation between Lord Krishna and Arjun, is Sruti and contains the essence of Hindu belief. It explains and seeks to persuade all who read or hear its words that life’s purpose is to attain the ultimate ecstasy of merging into God.

Considerable debate exists about the date that the Gita was crystalized and recorded in its present form. Though some allege it dates back to earlier than 5000 B.C.E. [before the common era], it was most plausibly written shortly before 500 B.C.E. By this time Hindu philosophy, thought, and culture were well established on the Indian subcontinent. Ideas regarding matters like the nature of God, of truth, of duty, and of the spirit were generally accepted. For example, most people believed in karma, in reincarnation, and in the existence of multiple planes with differing dimensions of time and space. These ideas or theories are rooted in the Vedas, the rich body of Hindu scriptures that antedate the Bhagavad Gita.

The Gita itself is part of the Mahabharata, the great epic which culminates on the battlefield known as Kurukshetra. God in the form of Lord Krishna is Arjun’s charioteer. He explains why Arjun’s duty is to fight bravely even if it leads to killing or being killed. In the course of eighteen chapters, the Gita persuades Arjun to act vigorously in fulfillment of his duty as a warrior. God explains that Arjun’s karma and the karma of his allies and enemies is determined, that the soul is eternal, and that for these reasons Arjun should put his faith in God and do his best without considering the consequences of his actions.

Lord Krishna concludes with these words:

 

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.

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18, verse 70, 71,72

 

See On Hinduism and The Gita, A New Translation of Hindu Sacred Scripture by Irina N. Gajjar

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.

Darshanas

Hindu thinkers envision the absolute soul in different ways and they believe that, although the paths to the truth ultimately converge, they may begin in somewhat different places. The major schools are called. Darshanas, which means views, or ways of viewing the truth. These schools are absorbed into mainstream Hinduism today, but their differences encouraged freedom and diversity to flourish in Hindu thought. The teachings of the Darshanas are the product of intensive and extensive and intelligent analyses of Vedic scriptures.

The dates when the six important schools or Darshanas—meaning visions or viewpoints—became are uncertain, but they came into existence before the Common Era and evolved over time. Samkhya was the first orthodox Vedic philosophical system to become recognized in Hindu doctrine. It is a dualistic philosophy that sees the spirit as distinct from matter, or the soul as distinct from consciousness which tied to matter. The soul is pure spirit without characteristics whereas matter possesses qualities that bind the soul to the life cycle. These qualities are called sattva, rajas, and tamas, which may be described as balanced truth, passionate activity, and dull inactivity. Liberation occurs when the spirit realizes its separation from matter and disentangles itself from the qualities of matter. Samkhya is associated with the path of Raja Yoga or meditation. In its origin, this system of thought ignored God.

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

Seeing, Knowing, and Understanding God

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 the 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 seeking 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.

Read more from On Hinduism or buy the book at Amazon.com.

 

Vaishnavites

Vaishnavites are the largest denomination within Hinduism. Vaishnavites worship the personal form of Lord Vishnu and all his avatars, particularly Lord Krishna and Lord Rama. Their belief merges dualistic Dvaitism and with monistic Advaitism. Dvaitism views the soul as pure love of God and as separate from consciousness. However, Dvaitist philosophers maintain that the soul and consciousness merge when the soul becomes enlightened and frees itself from the body. Thus they consider Bhakti Yoga, or the Yoga of devotion, as the best means of attaining the perfection of spirit that enable the individual soul to become on with the universal soul.

To read more from On Hinduism, visit our Amazon Link to purchase the book.

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.