Culture

Learning about Hinduism: Avoiding modern-day obstacles

Because of the social-political changes within India over the last century, today’s Hindus have more choices than before. This is particularly true for the Hindus of India, the country where Hindu thought has mainly flourished over the ages. These choices — freedom to think and act — were not present for Hindus between 1200 and 1947, when most Hindus were under brute foreign-colonial rule. Also, Hinduism has become a global religion, and Hindus of non-Indian origin also have the freedom and responsibility to contribute to Hindu thought. Accordingly, decisions that today’s Hindus make are important and will have their own importance in history.

Though Hinduism’s democratic flavor and its dynamic knowledge base are among the strengths of the religion, these strengths can become dangers if they are misused. They can become dangerous if followers start dumping everything that comes to their mind to the domain of Hindu thought. We must understand that in the past, over millenniums, Hindu scriptures were developed by God-inspired and God-realized human beings, whom we revere as saints and sages. Today, even non-believers and non-seekers have freedom to express their views loudly through their writings and talks. In this situation, we will have to learn to be selective in what we absorb. We can sometimes ignore the non-devotional individuals, no matter how intellectual they appear to be, who tend to pull Hindu thought in the wrong direction — away from its God-centricity.

Lord Rama: Selected Interesting Facts

Given below are some interesting facts about Lord Rama, who has limitless divine qualities.

  1. Rama is the most ideal and accessible form of God — the Supreme God who also chose to live with us — on Earth. He is God as how God should be.
  2. It was Rama’s name that was chanted by saints like Sri Ramananda, St. Tulasidasa, St. Thyagaraja, St. Mirabai, St. Raidasa, St. Tukarama, and Samarth Guru Ramadas. These saints have had the highest impact, in recent times, on Hindu spirituality; the full list of his devotees is very big.
  3. In the Adhyatma Ramayana, at the beginning of his fourteen-year long exile, when Rama asked Rishi Valmiki where he could live in the forest, Valmiki replied, “You, the Lord of all, already live everywhere – in all beings.”
  4. Goswami Tulasidasa says that his Lord, Sri Rama, is beyond comparison and “Rama is only comparable to himself … If one compares the Sun to a billion fireflies, it is, in fact, a criticism of the Sun.” This implies that all metaphors and adjectives used for the glorification of Rama are trivial, but Rama accepts them out of his mercy on beings; they may get counted as prayers.
  5. Rama’s name is bigger than the words Paramatma, Para Brahman, and Paratpara Brahman — all of them combined.
  6. From a human perspective, Rama has the strongest astrological chart mathematically possible.
  7. During his divine plays on Earth, Rama was the disciple of Brahmarishi Vasistha — the topmost sage of Hinduism. Some of the questions he asked his guru are documented in the Yogavasistha.
  8. Rama’s ista devata is Lord Shiva. Rama is the ista devata of Lord Hanuman, the ultimate Vaishnava.
  9. Diwali, the top Hindu festival, also known as the festival of lights, celebrates Rama’s return to Ayodhya from exile.

Holi: Celebration vs. Renunciation

In the most popular traditional story about Holi, Prahlada, one of Lord Vishnu’s child devotees, was not only saved from an aunt who hated him, but he was also saved from the boon of Lord Brahma, the writer of the divine plan. What Brahma writes on the blueprint for the universe unfolds to cause major predestined events in our lives. Had Prahlada left everything for destiny to work out, he might not have been saved; the divine plan created by Brahma, based on flawless karmic calculations, could have been on Holika’s side. But Prahlada made the right choice — the only choice that could have saved him.  He took the refuge (sharanagati) of Lord Vishnu and found the divine plan overridden by Vishnu’s grace. For us, Holika probably represents very powerful circumstances, filled with anger, hatred, restriction, and conspiracies. Prahlada represents a being who is apparently weak but is solely dependent on the Supreme Soul — Vishnu. Of course, Vishnu modified Prahlada’s circumstances, destroyed Holika, and saved Prahlada.

In the other story related to why Holi is celebrated, Shiva turned Kamadeva, the god of desires, into ashes. Following the elimination of desires from the world, Shiva, in his divine play, continued to focus on his blissful self, and Devi Parvati started her meditation on Shiva (for thousands of years) to get her marriage proposal accepted. For us, the festival indicates that whenever an individual being begins the remembrance of Pavati-Shiva, they take the individual being in their protection and trigger his or her spiritual journey by closing the three gates to hell — kama (lust/desires), krodha (anger), and lobha (greed) — for the individual being. With time, renunciation and pure love win over the individual being’s instincts.

We can waste the occasion of Holi by extravagant shopping, partying, gossips, drinking, making fun of others, or watching scrawled TV programs. Alternatively, we can give the festival some spiritual meaning by eliminating at least a single selfish desire.

Edited on May 9, 2019.

In a temple: Rituals vs. Devotion

If journalists are asked by their boss to visit a temple and find out whether attendants are performing a non-devotional ritual or an act of pure devotion, why would this task be scary for them? Because both events would probably be occurring simultaneously in the temple, and the answer would depend on the intention and desires present in the minds of the participants. While one person may be immersed in the selfless remembrance of the Deity during the ceremony, the other, a job hopper, may be performing the same ceremony for better opportunities. In fact, it takes an antaryami to actually differentiate between sakama karma and nishkama karma [1]. And the universe has only one true antaryami. But we mortals can still discuss the differences between devotion and a ritual to further our understanding.

Assume another similar real-world scenario, where a seeker goes to a nearby temple for worshipping the Deity everyday. But after continuing for a few days, the worship creates a sense of achievement in his mind. With some mutual admiration, the ego (ahamkara) darts off and the individual starts thinking that he, now closer to becoming a saint, is much superior to the people around him, especially the ones not present in the temple [2]. Would you classify this person’s actions as devotional? Wouldn’t directly requesting the Deity for material gains be preferable to this kind of worship?

Many modern intellectuals like to group selfish rituals and devotion (bhakti) together. As a result of their approach, Hindu devotionalism gets wrongly interpreted as being ritualistic. At the same time, the idea of this post is not to follow the experts who label “ritual” as an inferior word, for that would be another mistake. But it only aims to underline that devotion and rituals are not synonyms. What is the take home message? A ritual may be an expression of devotion, but devotion does not need any rituals.

 [1] Antaryami refers to the personality who knows the inner feelings of beings. Sakama karma refers to actions performed with a material desire; nishkama karma refers to selfless actions.
[2] Such phenomena are not limited to Hindu temples but can be observed in the places of worship of all world religions.

Feel free to share your views on rituals and devotion. Don’t hesitate if our views differ.

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