Anyeot's Hinduism Page

Hinduism is one of the least understood, but the most ancient living religions in the world. The very strength of Hinduism lies in the fact that it survived thousands of years of intense prejudice, neglect, criticism, and misinterpretation from other parts of the world, especially the west. A Hindu is not an infidel, but a true believer of God, not a mere iconoclast but a true worshipper of the Universal Self in every conceivable form. Those who contradict this fundamental truth have to better examine their knowledge or their minds or both. This section contains several original articles and very comprehensive information on Hinduism, way of life, beliefs and practices for serious students of Hinduism. Make the best use of this free information and if you liked this site please recommend to others who you feel would be interested in knowing about Hinduism.


Hinduism is not an organized religion, but rather a compilation of hundreds, even thousands, of smaller belief systems. Perhaps this is why Hinduism seems so complex to outsiders, who devised the term "Hindu," meaning "of India," in an attempt to describe the culture.


Through many different rituals of devotion, or puja, Hindus acknowledge the Divine as a complement of opposites: the synergy of the Divine Masculine (Purusha) and the Divine Feminine (Prakriti) that maintains the balance of all existence. Fire, for example, a masculine element, is balanced by water, a feminine element. Hindus, like the women pictured here, honor both each morning with prayers to flowing water and the day's first rays of sunlight.
Hinduism's complexity stems from the many forms of three primary deities: Shiva, Creator and Destroyer of all Existence, Vishnu, Protector or Preserver of the Universe and Shakti, the Divine Feminine. Each sect views its deity as the "Supreme Personified Godhead," surrounded by a mythology that includes the texts, rituals and social and cultural observances. Depending on their needs, worshippers may appeal to many different deities, but all acts of devotion have the common goal of summoning the universal force known as the Absolute Divine.


Hinduism is the major religion of India, practiced by more than 80% of the population. In contrast to other religions, it has no founder. Considered the oldest religion in the world, it dates back, perhaps, to prehistoric times.
No single creed or doctrine binds Hindus together. Intellectually there is complete freedom of belief, and one can be monotheist, polytheist, or atheist. Hinduism is a syncretic religion, welcoming and incorporating a variety of outside influences.


The most ancient sacred texts of the Hindu religion are written in Sanskrit and called the Vedas (vedah means “knowledge”). There are four Vedic books, of which the Rig-Veda is the oldest. It discusses multiple gods, the universe, and creation. The dates of these works are unknown (1000 B.C.?). Present-day Hindus rarely refer to these texts but do venerate them.
The Upanishads (dated 1000–300 B.C.), commentaries on the Vedic texts, speculate on the origin of the universe and the nature of deity, and atman (the individual soul) and its relationship to Brahman (the universal soul). They introduce the doctrine of karma and recommend meditation and the practice of yoga.


Further important sacred writings include the Epics, which contain legendary stories about gods and humans. They are the Mahabharata (composed between 200 B.C. and A.D. 200) and the Ramayana. The former includes the Bhagavad-Gita (Song of the Lord), an influential text that describes the three paths to salvation. The Puranas (stories in verse, probably written between the 6th and 13th centuries) detail myths of Hindu gods and heroes and also comment on religious practice and cosmology.


According to Hindu beliefs, Brahman is the principle and source of the universe. This divine intelligence pervades all beings, including the individual soul. Thus the many Hindu deities are manifestations of the one Brahman. Hinduism is based on the concept of reincarnation, in which all living beings, from plants on earth to gods above, are caught in a cosmic cycle of becoming and perishing.


Life is determined by the law of karma—one is reborn to a higher level of existence based on moral behavior in a previous phase of existence. Life on earth is regarded as transient and a burden. The goal of existence is liberation from the cycle of rebirth and death and entrance into the indescribable state of moksha (liberation).
The practice of Hinduism consists of rites and ceremonies centering on birth, marriage, and death. There are many Hindu temples, which are considered to be dwelling places of the deities and to which people bring offerings. Places of pilgrimage include Benares on the Ganges, the most sacred river in India. Of the many Hindu deities, the most popular are the cults of Vishnu, Shiva, and Shakti, and their various incarnations. Also important is Brahma, the creator god. Hindus also venerate human saints.


Orthodox Hindu society in India was divided into four major hereditary classes: (1) the Brahmin (priestly and learned class); (2) the Kshatriya (military, professional, ruling, and governing occupations); (3) the Vaishya (landowners, merchants, and business occupations); and (4) the Sudra (artisans, laborers, and peasants). Below the Sudra was a fifth group, the Untouchables (lowest menial occupations and no social standing). The Indian government banned discrimination against the Untouchables in the constitution of India in 1950. Observance of class and caste distinctions varies throughout India.
In modern times work has been done to reform and revive Hinduism. One of the outstanding reformers was Ramakrishna (1836–1886), who inspired many followers, one of whom founded the Ramakrishna mission. The mission is active both in India and in other countries and is known for its scholarly and humanitarian works.

Important Concepts and Misconceptions


In the following sections, I have attempted to highlight popular misconceptions about important concepts in the Hindu religion and Hindu philosophy, while avoiding controversial topics, debate over which will not serve the main objective of this web page.


The Religion
God or Gods?
Misconception


A popular misconception is Hinduism is polytheistic - believes in multiple Gods.
 

Truth
The Vedas tell us this about God - "OM Poornamadah Poornamidam Poornaad Poornamudachyate; Poornasya Poornamaadaaya Poornamevaavashisyate". Translated in English, this verse means "What is Whole - This is Whole - What has come out of the Whole is also Whole; When the Whole is taken out of the Whole, the Whole still remains Whole". The essence of this verse is that the Infinite cannot be measured arithmetically - God is Infinite. The Infinite can be represented in Infinite ways and does manifest in infinite ways. This, in short, is the essence of the Hindu belief in God. That He is everywhere, aorund us and within us. Infact, Hinduism takes the bold step of proclaiming that "we are God".
At the end of the day, Hinduism is monotheistic (Believes in One God). However, Hinduism believes not only in One God, but also in His Infinite manifestations around us and within us perpetually. Realizing that it is impossible for mankind to visualize the Infinite, Hinduism presents us with His forms to help us visualize him. This belief of Hinduism is often confused with polytheism.


To illustrate this point - We all observe the unending processes of birth, existence and death, which seem to be continually taking place around us. We constantly witness these processes and are yet ignorant of them, living as we do in the comfort of our illusory lives. Hinduism gives form and shape to these "works" of the Infinite with the Hindu Trinity - Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. "Brahma" creates, "Vishnu" sustains, and "Shiva" destroys or consumates everything in the Universe.
That the Supreme can be worshipped in any form is a concept unique to Hinduism. Such worship is truly a tribute to His greatness.


Idol Worship
Misconception
Another popular misconception is that Hinduism promotes idol worship.
 

Truth
Hinduism does not promote idol worship. To the contrary, Hinduism urges us to transcend all physical aids to worship, in our spiritual pogress. Realizing that it is impossible for the mortal human to visualize the Infinite and instead of sustaining false hopes of such achievements, the religion urges us to slowly and steadily continue our progress in pursuit of the Truth. For such steady progess, the religion asks us to start with physical aids such as temples and idols, and through practice and devotion, ultimately succeed in visualizing God without the aid of temples and idols.
We are asked not to worship idols, but worship God in the form of idols. This is done to facilitate contemplation of the Infinite with our finite capabilities. To quote none other than the great intellectual, Swami Vivekananda on this matter - "If a person wants to drink milk, he uses a cup as he cannot drink it directly. For the quivering and unsteady mind, there should be a visible form or a symbol, the idol, so that it becomes a foundation for his adoration. The idol form of God is akin to a vessel which enables a man to drink the milk. Through the instrumentality of an idol, a devotee comprehends divinity."


Vegetarianism
Misconception
Another popular misconception is that all Hindus are vegetarians and Hinduism prohibits meat eating.
 

Truth
Kshatriyas (one of the Hindu castes) are allowed to eat meat, as long as it is offered to the Almighty first before consuming it. "Follow your Dharma perfectly instead of following another's Dharma imperfectly", say the Vedas. At the same time, a Brahmin's Dharma is education and pursuit of knowledge. He is asked to refrain from killing and is encouraged to eat simple food in order to maintain equanimity. More on the topic of castes follows, but suffice to say that this is the "religious" or social perspective of Hinduism.
From a philosophical perspective, a "Yogi" or one who has known and seen the Infinite cannot and will not kill to eat meat. Why? Because he sees God in every form of life. How can he hurt anything or anyone when he loves everything and everyone?
 

The Caste System of the Hindus
Misconception
Hinduism promotes stratification of society under the "caste system" and encourages discrimination against the less fortunate.
 

Truth
The caste system, originally described in the Vedas, but much abused and maligned over the years, is nothing but a representation of an efficient human society. The four castes described in the scriptures are - the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas, and the Shudras. According to the Vedas, an efficient human society is based on the strength of its educational/knowledge-pursuit system (Brahmin), its military and defense system (Kshatriya), its economical and business system (Vaishya), and a strong, happy, productive workforce (Shudras).
This noble representation was misinterpreted, exploited, and abused by a few in the Indian society, leading to the indiscriminate creation of thousands of castes and sub-castes, including the so-called "upper" castes. Fortunately, the caste system has been more or less abolished since Indian independence and the distinctions are beginning to disappear, although not significantly.


The Importance of Devotion to God in Hinduism - Bhakti Yoga


Devotion to God is presented as one of the several ways to achieve "Moksha" or oneness with the Infinite, but perhaps the easiest. This idea is expressed in the "Bhagavad Gita" (Hindu scripture), ``Whosoever offers to Me with love a leaf, a flower, a fruit or even water, I appear in person before that devotee of sinless mind and delightfully partake of that article offered by him with love. Arjuna, whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer as oblation to the sacred fire, whatever you bestow as a gift, whatever you do by way of penance, offer it all to Me.'' Again, ``To those devotees who worship Me, thinking of none else, who devote their mind to Me and are ever perseverent in My service and in My contemplation, I confer that permanent heavenly abode from which there is no return to life.''
Such devotion can be towards any form of the Infinite. A devotee of "Rama" will not spend a minute without thinking of Him and the Divine Mother. A "Shiva" devotee will spend his time eulogizing His "Lingam". If looked at more analytically, a "Karma Yogi" (one who serves the Infinite through service to society) immersed in the service of the poor and destitute sees God in them and hence cannot bear separation from them.


What is devotion? In short, it means submitting totally to God, discharging His obligations at His behest. How do we cultivate devotion? ``Concentrate and fix the mind on Me''. This sounds simple but in practice one knows how tough it is to tame the mind. When we sit in prayer, our minds are naturally unsteady, impetuous, powerfully defiant and unrelenting. To keep the mind subdued is as difficult as to control wayward wind. Concentration requires discipline and constant practice. So, ``If you cannot steady the mind, then seek to realize Me by practice which consists in constant retraction or withdrawal of the mind from worldly affairs. If you cannot discipline yourself, dedicate all your actions to Me." (Chanting His names all the time). "If you cannot do this either, take refuge in Me, renouncing all fruits of your actions." (Do everything as a service to God - looked at analytically, this will lead you into pious actions. Why would you do something evil if you wanted to do everything in the service of God?)

The Philosophy
Who are we?
 

The entire cosmos is subject to the vicissitudes of time and hence whatever has an origin at a point of time has to come to an end. According to Hinduism, everything is conditioned by time. The process of creation (Srishti) and dissolution (Pralaya) of the Universe is a periodic cycle in which the entire Cosmos manifests at the

 time of creation and withdraws at the time of dissolution. The Infinite alone is beyond time - beginningless and endless.
This endless cycle of births and rebirths that all "souls" experience is called "Transmigration". All souls are cursed to experience transmigration, except the Infinite, which is beyond creation or destruction. This Absolute Truth or Ultimate Reality does not perish even though all beings are subject to decay. This unmanifest being is spoken of as the Indestructible, the Supreme Being, God, Almighty. "Yogis" strive to become one with the Absolute Truth, and this oneness is called "Moksha". In other words, it is a state of mind where we are free from encumbrences, where we are indeed the One. "Tat Twam Asi", proclaim the Vedas, meaning "Thou Art That". We simply fail to realize that. It is not this web site's goal nor is it possible for this site to prescribe the method for attaining "Moksha".


A good analogy to transmigration of the soul is of a person retiring to sleep who wakes up the next morning in the same place. During sleep, the person is unaware of what happens to him. Similarly, the transmigrating soul at birth does not remember its state prior to coming into existence. So, death is also nothing but return to the same state from which one has come to this world. There is a way to transcend this process of transmigration, to which all created beings are subject. This is again presented in different ways by different philosophers of the religion. "Adi Shankara" believes that we are indeed the Absolute Truth, but that the illusion of our worldly lives prevents us from realizing this Truth. Others believe that we are "bonded souls" that merge with the Truth once we achieve the Truth. A discussion of these concepts follows later. In brief, however, this transcendental state that we are all asked to strive for is called "Moksha" in Hindu philosophy and "Nirvana" in Buddhist and Jain philosophies.


Karma


Hinduism believes in transmigration of the soul. Such transmigration is what results in reincarnation. This, in short, is the popular theory of Karma.
Clearly, all forms of life on earth do not undergo the same experiences and are not at the same level of existence. Man is the most superior form of life, but there are also billions of life forms which are far less superior than him. Even among us humans, we constantly witness differences in our modes of existence. Some of us are billionaires and some are paupers. Some of us are extremely healthy and some are always disease-prone. There must be a reason for these different experiences that all forms of life go through, even within their own species. Hinduism's answer to this question is the theory of "Karma".


Karma and rebirth are interrelated concepts in Indian philosophy. According to the theory of Karma, we are all part of a cycle of births and rebirths. This cycle has no beginning nor end. We are simply experiencing the results of our own actions in our journey through this cycle. Each spoke in the cycle is a predecessor to the next spoke. When a cycle moves, all spokes move one after the other in a never-ending chain. Similarly, in the cycle of "Samsara", life forms are spokes that evolve from one experience to another, and from one form to another according to their actions. Good actions cause good effects (Law of Cause and Effects), while bad actions cause bad effects. It is as simple as that.
Our actions bind us to this world, and such bondage-causing action is known as "Karma". The bondage refers to the confinement to this "samsara" just as spokes are confined to the wheel of the cycle. While good actions cause us to be reborn to experience the good effects, bad actions cause us to be reborn to undergo pain and suffering. "Yogis", however, are free of karmic actions and reactions, therefore not bound by the cycle of transmigration. Such a state of everlasting freedom from "samsara" is known as "Moksha". Again, the means to achieving such a state of mind cannot be presribed in a "cook book" manner. There is no specific prescription either. If it were that easy, all of us would be free from "samsara" now. Again, some of us probably wouldn't want to be freed from rebirths, even if given the choice. Remember, this is philosophy and not religion. Religions have doctrines, prescriptions and cook books for happiness; philosophy does not. It is what it is!


'Vedanta' - 'Dwaita', 'Adwaita', and 'Vishishtadwaita'


'Vedanta' refers to all of the intellectual wealth of the Vedas, as well as all individual "enlightenment" that is achieved through severe Yogic experiments. An explanation of Yogas and what they stand for follows later.
There are three Major shools of thought in Hindu philosophy about the relationship between humans and the Truth - Dwaita, Adwaita, and Vishishtadwaita. Translated into English, the three mean - Dualism, Non-Dualism and Conditional Non-Dualism - in the same order as above. The three great Hindu Sages who contributed these three concepts were Madhwa Acharya, Shankara Acharya, and Ramanuja Acharya again in the same order. (Acharya in Sanskrit means Teacher and it is a respectful title given to a deserving few. When written, it is usually written as a part of the person's name. Hence, Ramanuja Acharya becomes Ramanujacharya and so on).
 

Dwaita


Dwaita means "Dualism". This theory states that man and God are distinct entities and yet share a relationship between them. According to it, man, the finite element, is constrained by the cycle of births and rebirths. The Infinite element (God) is free from all these constraints i.e., He is free from births and rebirths. The Infinite element in this relationship is referred to as 'Paramatman' and the finite element as 'Jivatman'. Through devotion, 'Jivatman' attains 'Paramatman'. Madhwacharya founded the Dwaita school of thought. According to him, God is an ``Independent Being'' possessing unrestricted powers, He is all-knowing and controls all sentient and insentient objects in this universe. According to Madhvacharya, the entire universe is divided into ``Independent'' and ``Dependent'' souls. The former is Infinite in His attributes. According to Madhva's philosophy, all souls except the Lord are under bondage, which prevents them from knowing their identity. This ignorance is responsible for the selfish, violent and unjust activities of man. Not knowing his nature, he identifies himself with the body and seeks the pleasure of the senses.
 

Adwaita


Adi Shankara propounded the "Adwaita" or Non-Dualistic theory. He proclaimed that the finite and Infinite elements are not distinct elements but are indeed One and the Same. According to him, there is a screen of illusion ('Maya') which separates man from God. As soon as man realizes his folly and comes out of his illusion, he is one with the Infinite.
Adi Shankara

 


From time to time great spiritual leaders appeared in India whenever there was a threat to the religion of Sanatana dharma, to re-establish its eternal principles for the benefit of humanity. Among them, Adi Shankara Bhagavatpada ('Bhagavatpada' means one with Divine Feet) played the pivotal role of not only reinstating the Vedantic religion but also reorganizing the religion on the lines of systematic worship, known as 'Shanmata', thus establishing that philosophy and religion complement one another in the tradition of Sanatana dharma.


It was very long ago (Since there is unending controversy about Shankara's birth date, I will avoid mentioning any date) that a village by name Kalady neighboring the holy city of Trichur in Kerala State, south of India, was chosen for a divine happening. To a blessed couple, Sivaguru, a scholarly Brahmin, and Aryamba, his pious wife, was born the godly child Shankara, later to be known as Adi Shankara BagavatPada to the world.
The period of Shankara's birth was witness to the spiritual degradation of India and a mass adoption of atheistic philosophies by Indians. Atheistic forms of Buddhism were rampant and were slowly diverting people away from the Vedas drawing them into atheism. People started denying the existence of God and adopted "Nihilistic" philosophies.


Buddhism and Jainism


Buddhism and Jainism are both believed to have appeared in India at around the same time thousands of years ago. It is wrong to consider Buddhism and Jainism in their original forms as religions. They were both philosophies propounded by two great Hindu seers, Gautam Buddha and Mahavir Jain. To this day, both Buddha and Mahavira are revered by Hindus in India. Both Buddha and Mahavira preached that all life forms on earth experience pain, pleasure, sorrow and happiness due to their bondage to Samsara. They urged mankind to renounce all earthly attachments in order to achieve liberation from rebirths and attain Nirvana. According to both seers, we are the sum of our thoughts. When we realize this and give up attachment to "bondage-causing" thoughts and resulting actions, we free ourselves of the shackles of "Karma" and attain "Nirvana". Both teachers therefore corroborated the Hindu premise that the Truth manifests itself as us and we continue to manifest as long as we identify with this illusory world and fall into the trap of desires. Unfortunately, both Masters' silence on the topic of God was misconstrued to signal a denial of His existence. This led to a brief period in Indian history that witnessed the growth of atheistic philosophies, questioning the very existence of God. God therefore incarnated as Adi Shankara to convincingly defeat such philosophies and reestablish faith in God and the superiority of Vedic philosophy.


Although Adi Shankara's earthly sojourn was very short- barely 32 years - he traveled the length and breadth of the subcontinent of India, preaching his philosophy of 'Adwaita', and defeated all forms of atheistic philosophers - Buddhists, Jains, Nihilists - in every nook and corner of India, thereby reestablishing the superiority of Sanatana Dharma and the Vedas. Many eminent scholars from all corners of the country became his disciples. He restructured the various desultory Hindu religious practices into six ways of worship or six sects - 'Ganapathyam' (The worship of Lord Ganapathy, the son of Lord Shiva), 'Kaumaram' (worship of Lord Kumaran, the second son of Lord Shiva), 'Sauram' (worship of Lord Surya, the Sun),' Shaivam' (worship of Lord Shiva, the Destroyer) 'Vaishnavam' (worship of Lord Vishnu, the Preserver) and 'Shaktham' (worship of Mother Shakthi, the feminine power of God). He is hence hailed as the 'Shanmatha Sthapanacharya' (The Teacher who established the Six Sects). During his trek across the country, he held debates with several scholars and defeated all of them, establishing the superiority of Hinduism. He also authored several immortal philosophical treatises. Chief among them is the concept of 'adwaita', besides commentaries on the Brahma Sutras, Bhagavad Gita, and the ten principal Upanishads.


The unique, ineffable, absolute reality of "Brahman" or "Paramatman" or God was Shankara's theme. And his mastery of the scriptures enabled him to establish this doctrine. Shankara's youth was spent in extraordinarily swift mastery of the sacred scriptures following his 'Brahmopadesa' (a ceremony in the Preistly Hindu Caste of Brahmins, wherein a Guru initiates his disciple into the hallowed years of Brahmacharyam (Celibacy) for mastering all the Vedas in their entirety) in his fifth year. Shankara became a 'sanyasi' (monk) at the tender age of eight. Becoming a recluse at such an early age is something altogether unique and unusual. Shankara wandered forth on foot across India.


By the end of his short but remarkable life, the greatest Acharya India has ever known, had successfully eradicated Buddhism/Jainism/Atheism from the face of India and reestablished Hinduism firmly.
Adi Shankara is my greatest and most inspiring idol and hero of all times, and I sincerely believe that his Adwaita philosophy is the most outstanding and the best of all (Although I am totally unqualified to make a statement on such supreme philosophical concepts). Salutations to this great seer, who in a span of just thirty-two years of a hectic life, achieved so much so powerfully and so incredibly.


Vishishtadwaita


Vishishtadwaita or "Conditional Non-Dualism" was propounded by Ramanujacharya. His system is known as Vishishtadwaita, which refers to three Realities viz. God, soul and matter, the first alone being independent, and the other two being dependent on Him. The Acharya pointed out that we experience temporary separation from the Lord, which can be overcome through the method of devotion.


Ramanuja was born in Sriperumbudur, to the south of India, in 1017 A.D. According to him, "All creation is the body of the Lord. There is nothing illusory about this world and our experience of the same. Salvation is but the beatific permanence in the presence of the Supreme where such closeness leads to the transformation of the mortal being into a likeness of the Divine". Countless are the ways to attain the Divine but the easiest is the path of devotion, according to Ramanuja. However, this is also a severe discipline and hence a "Yoga". The starting point as well as the final movement in Ramanuja's 'Bhakti yoga' is faith in a loving God. At the same time, Ramanuja cautioned that the personal God must not become a fetish leading to intolerance.


Scriptures
 

The 'Vedas'
 

The ‘Vedas’ are the primary scriptures of Sanatana Dharma. The Vedas shaped ancient Indian society and governed ethics and morality. The Vedas can be divided in terms of their origin into “Shruti” and “Smriti”. Shruti, which constitutes the majority of the Vedas represents the unwritten form, passed by word of mouth from generation to generation. Naturally, it is not known who authored the Shruti. The Hindu belief is the Vedas are transcendental, because they represent the Absolute Truth and therefore, have no beginning nor end. Smriti, on the other hand, represents the portion of the Vedas that were authored by various Hindu seers.


Are the Vedas a book of several thousand pages like the Bible? No. In fact, a significant majority of the Vedas are not written but memorized and passed by word of mouth from generation to generation. However, the Vedas may be broadly divided into four groups - the Rig Veda, the Yajur Veda, the Sama Veda, and the Atharva Veda. Each Veda is considered a separate branch of knowledge and together, the four present a 'comprehensive science'. No wonder, Professor Max Mueller remarked, "India is like a donkey with a bag of gold on its back". The word Veda is a derivation of the word 'Vid' which means Knowledge. Both transcendental (spiritual) knowledge and material (worldly) knowledge can be found in the Vedas. As mentioned before, the Vedas formed the Education system in ancient India.


As mentioned earlier, "Smriti" represents written texts. Of the written texts, the most important and the founding pillars of Hinduism are the "Itihasas" or Epics, and the "Bhagavad Gita". The two greatest epics, "Mahabharata" and "Ramayana", are also known as the "Mahakavyas" or "Great Poems". The Mahabharata contains the "Bhagavad Gita".


The Bible of the Hindus


The' Bhagavad Gita' is in a sense the Bible of the Hindus. 'Bhagavad Gita' means 'Divine Song'. The Bhagavad Gita or Gita is a portion of the Mahabharata Epic and is a collection of God’s answers to man’s questions about life, as envisioned by the author of the Mahabharata, Sage Vyasa.


In the Gita, God is represented by “Krishna”, a pivotal character in the Mahabharata, who is believed by Hindus to be an incarnation of God. Mankind is represented by “Arjuna”, an Indian Prince, who along with his four brothers was unjustly banished from his own Kingdom and went to war to win back what was rightfully theirs. The stage is set for the Gita when Arjuna gets ready on the battlefield and all of a sudden, loses heart and wishes he did not have to see bloodshed in order to get justice. He throws away all his armour and bowing before Lord Krishna, who assumes the role of Arjuna’s charioteer in the war, says he does not want to fight.


Lord Krishna’s response to Arjuna’s dilemma, the subsequent questions from Arjuna about life and its purpose, and Krishna’s answers all together make the Gita. Lord Krishna seeing Arjuna's dilemma and sorrow at the prospect of bloodshed, tells him,``Arjuna, you grieve over those who should not be grieved for and yet speak like the learned; wise men do not grieve over the dead or the living.'' Krishna talks about transmigration and explains that anything that comes into existence and perishes is impermanent, whereas the soul is permanent and never ceases to exist. Wise men are free from the existential bane that all of us experience and are therefore free from any state of existence. Karma is the bane of our existence and getting rid of karma is the answer to the illusion of our existence.


Usually, some emotional crisis is essential to force man to come to grips with his life and drive him towards understanding the meaning of life. Such an emotional crisis forms the basis for the Gita. The profound spritual knowledge which can liberate man eternally from “samsarik” bondage is imparted in the Gita. The Gita portrays the brave warrior prince Arjuna undergoing an intense emotional dilemma in the battlefield. Lord Krishna, his charioteer, becomes his Guru (Teacher), and thereby, the 'Jagadguru' (World Teacher).


The central message of the Gita for modern man is contained in a single verse, which when translated in English equates roughly to the following - “Seek not the fruits of your action but do your duty in this world and dedicate it to Me”. There are several occasions in our lives when we wonder about our “rat race” and its relevance in the grand scheme of things. The Gita exorts us to perform our duties irrespective of the grand scheme of things, for nothing in this Universe ceases to perform action. The sun does not cease to rise every morning and set at night. To run away from the world and our duties is not an act of bravery, but one of cowardice.


The Itihasas


In order to make it easy for mankind to learn the central teaching of the Vedas, sages of ancient India presented them in the form of 'Itihasas' (Epics). The 'Mahabharata' and the ‘Ramayana’ are two great Itihasas, that capture all the core teachings of the Vedas through brilliant story-telling. The hero of the Mahabharata is Krishna, and that of the Ramayana is Rama (you may be familiar with the popular Hindu incantation - Hare Rama Hare Krishna). Both Rama and Krishna are believed by Hindus to be human incarnations of God come to earth to teach us how to lead our lives.


Ramayana


The Ramayana, authored by Sage Valmiki, is the story of Rama, Prince and later King of Ayodhya, India. The central message of the Ramayana is to demonstrate to us how to lead a virtuous life that does not violate any law of nature. Lord Rama is considered to be a paragon of virtue, and is believed to be the only human who possessed the 16 great virtues of a “Mahapurusha” (an enlightened man). The Ramayana is simply a treatise on “Dharmic” way of living.
It is believed that God and the Divine Mother descended to Earth in human forms and underwent extreme human sufferings for two purposes - to save the devout from persecution, and to illustrate to mankind the need to uphold Dharma in the face of all calamities. Since we are their children, God and the Divine Mother incarnated as Rama and Sita to save us from sin.
A brief synopsis of the Ramayana follows. The story begins with the birth of Prince Rama and His three brothers, Lakshmana, Bharata, and Shatrughna to King Dasharatha in Ayodhya (in the modern day state of Uttar Pradesh in North India). Around the time of Rama's birth, thousands of devout Hindus in the south of India were facing persecution and death at the hands of Ravana, a tyrannical ruler of Lanka (modern day Sri Lanka). Secondly, mankind was in need of instruction on how to lead a virtuous life, so that society as a whole may function efficiently and nobly. God is believed to have incarnated as Rama to end the persecution of His devotees and to demonstrate to us how to lead a virtuous life. Rama grew up to become the people’s beloved and charismatic Prince. His charm, grace, humility and affability made Him everyone's darling. He won the hand of Princess Sita, daughter of King Janaka, one of the most respected Kings of those times. After Rama and Sita got married came the turning point in their lives. Having grown old, Dasharatha decided it was time for Rama to succeed him as the new King of Ayodhya. However, fate and evil minds connived to deprive Rama of what was rightfully his and He was banished to the forests for 14 years of exile. Promptly discarding all royal attachments, Rama left for the forests (in Southern India in those days) along with Sita and one of His brothers, Lakshmana. As a distraught and helpless father, Dasharatha watched his most beloved son leave for the forests and died, unable to bear the shock.


Popular Hindu opinion holds that the strange turn of events leading to the Lord's exile was of His own making. His exile gave Rama an excuse to retire to the South of India, where His devotees were facing persecution. Rama, Janaki and Lakshmana spent 10 years of ascetic life in the forests of Southern India. During this period, the Lord frequently fought and won several wars with the tyrannical forces of Ravana and protected His devotees from persecution. The news of the military defeats enraged Ravana, who decided to punish Rama.


Ravana, the King of Lanka (present-day Sri Lanka), was a powerful but immoral emperor. To avenge the defeat of his forces by Rama, the immoral Ravana forcefully abducted Sita during Rama’s and Lakshmana’s absence. Taking Her by force to Lanka, Ravana imprisoned Sita to teach Rama a lesson. Throughout Her confinement in Lanka, Sita hardly ate anything and merely meditated on Her husband, beseeching him through prayers to rescue Her from the evil Ravana. Ravana did not realize that Sita was in fact the Divine Mother Herself. To this day, pious Hindu women worship Sita as the symbol of chastity and follow her ideals of love and devotion to their husbands.


Rama was distraught on learning about Sita's abduction. With His brother's support He managed to regain his composure and went in search of Sita. In the process, Rama and Lakshmana met a forest tribe and made friends with them. Gathering a few hundreds of the tribals, Rama entered Lanka for war with Ravana. Rama led his small tribal army against Ravana's mighty Lankan army. A terrible war ensued and in spite of the superiority of Ravana's military, Rama single-handedly vanquished the enemy forces, killed Ravana, and secured Sita. The slaying of Ravana brought an end to the sufferings of thousands of devout Hindus, who were being endlessly persecuted by Ravana and his troops. Both God and His Consort were reunited in their human incarnations to the joy of all Their devotees. Returning to Ayodhya with His wife and brother after His 14 years of exile, Rama ascended the throne and ruled the kingdom for the rest of His life. The period of time when Rama ruled Ayodhya is believed to have been the most prosperous, crime-free era in Hindu history. Rama and Sita led a life of noble values and virtuousness that Hinduism urges all mankind to adopt for the larger well being of mankind.
Key to the reunion of God and the Divine Mother in the Ramayana was a humble and yet highly intelligent person called "Hanuman". Hanuman was one of the leaders of the forest tribe that Rama and Lakshmana befriended. It was Hanuman's valiant efforts that helped Rama win the war against Ravana. To this day, Hanuman is worshipped by pious Hindus as a paragon of devotion to God.


HARE RAMA HARE RAMA RAMA RAMA HARE HARE


I would like to dedicate the following lines to the praise of Lord Rama and Mother Sita. Both the Lord and the Mother came to Earth and endured human sufferings for the sake of us. Such is the boundless compassion of God for mankind that He decided to descend to Earth in human form. When questioned on His true identity, Rama merely replied, "Who Am I? As far as I know, I am the son of King Dasharatha and that is all I know about my existence". The Lord and the Mother underwent all the miseries of human life, its sorrows and angst merely to end the persecution of Their devotees and to demonstrate to us lesser beings the need to uphold Dharma in the face of calamities. Where can one find such love and compassion for mankind? There is no parallel to Lord Rama and Mother Sita, who are my guiding light. They are both my eternal parents who have been constantly guiding me in this journey called life and continue to do so. This child longs to see my eternal parents with my eyes one day, but wonders if that day will ever come to this sinner who thinks about money and worldly matters more than Them? I pray to Them to give me all the wisdom and courage I need in order to see them in this very birth through my own efforts.


Mahabharata


The Mahabharata is the story of a catastrophic war fought by brother against brother, student against teacher, friend against friend, and grandhildren against grandparents. At the center of the epic is the Absolute Truth, Lord Krishna. The story is about two families, the “Kauravas” and the “Pandavas”, that were led into war by a series of events. The seeds of war were sown long before the war itself, due to the inherent hatred in the Kauravas for the Pandavas, who were their cousin brothers. The Kauravas connived to steal the Pandava brothers of their Kingdom and had them banished or sent in exile to the forests.
Krishna, the King of “Dwaraka”, shared a special relationship with the Pandavas as their mentor and best friend. Among the Pandavas, dearest to Krishna was Arjuna. Although enraged at the injustice done to them, the Pandavas offered the Kauravas peace in return for their Kingdom, but it was rejected by the Kauravas. Finally, when war seemed inevitable, the Kauravas and the Pandavas decided to settle scores on the battlefield of “Kurukshetra” (modern day Haryana in Northern India). Lord Krishna assumed the role of Arjuna's charioteer during the war.
The bloody war ended in victory for the Pandavas, but left thousands of people dead on the battlefield. The effect that the 18-day war has on the minds of the reader of the Epic cannot be described in words. Such a dramatic work has no parallel in the history of human literature. Sage Vyasa authored the Mahabharatha.


Main Tenets of the Religion


Sanatana Dharma outlines certain values (Dharmas), which are considered important for the well-being of the individual and of society as a whole. The religion lays out four 'Purusharthas' or goals of human life - Dharma (righteousness), Artha (wealth), Kama (sensual pleasures) and Moksha (liberation from Samsara). At the same time, the religion explains the basis for the pursuit of all these Purusharthas. The objective of Dharmas is to enable everything in the universe to function according to the Laws of Nature. We humans have the ability to exercise our will against Nature, have done so and continue to do so. Dharmas allow us to distinguish right from wrong and ensure that we do not violate the Laws of Nature. According to Sanatana Dharma, we are allowed to pursue desires in life, such as Artha and Kama, as long as they fall within the boundaries of Dharma, i.e., follow the Laws of Nature. Basically, man is allowed the pursuit of wealth and sensual pleasures as long as they are morally and ethically right.


Through its teachings, Hinduism tells us that lust and anger are mankind's worst enemies. The Ramayana's essence is this. The Bhagavad Gita emphasizes this. All great saints of the religion have preached this. Lust is a degrading evil that leads humans astray from the path of all goodness. It defiles the mind, contaminates the spirit and wastes our energy and time. Sex within the boundaries of Dharma (through marriage) is not considered evil but righteous by the religion. However, sex as a pastime, as an occupation, or as an obsession destroys mankind. Anger deludes the human mind and distorts rational thinking. We witness several examples of this truth in today's world. Anger manifests in wars around the world, resulting in the death and maiming of millions of people.


The three qualities of mankind


According to Hindu philosophy, all life forms fall under three different categories. These categories are called "Satwa", "Rajas" and "Tamas". "Satwa Guna" or the quality of Goodness is the most ideal quality. However, 95% of today's world population is supposed to have "Rajo Guna" or the quality of Passion. There are a few among us of "Tamo Guna" or the quality of Ignorance. People with the quality of Goodness like all good things, such as love, charity, selflessness e.t.c., and they have complete faith in God. People with the quality of Passion are given to the most common vices such as selfishness, jealousy, adultery, treachery and so on, and they are skeptical believers in God. People with the quality of Ignorance worship demons and ghosts, murder, rape, and commit other horrible crimes, and they detest God. The most amazing revelation, however, is that the true "Yogi" transcends all three qualities of mankind. The Yogi is free of material existence and has realized his true identity. He is therefore not bound by Goodness, Passion or Ignorance.


Yoga


In Hindu philosophy, Yoga is a means to attaining the Supreme State of mind. It is a skill, an art and a separate branch of knowledge. There are countless Yogas. A few spiritually advanced systems of Yoga are - Bhakti Yoga
Considered by many to be the highest and the best form of Yoga, especially in today's times, this is the path of Devotion. Bhakti yoga teaches us how to cultivate a devotional relationship with God. Some aids used include chanting the Lord's names, singing His praise and so on.


Jnana Yoga


Jnana yoga is an approach to spiritual enlightenment through discrimination and reason. This path makes strong use of the powers of the mind. It is the path of the philosopher who wants to go beyond the visible universe. Extremely difficult for the ordinary man to practise.


Karma Yoga


Karma yoga teaches us how to discharge our worldly duries in a spirit of detachment and yet harness the natural desire to be productive. This Yoga lays stress on doing one's duty ('karma') without expectation of the fruit. A simple example is a householder who provides for his children without any expectation in return (not even the child's affection, which clearly requires an extremely high level of perfection of the mind to perform such sacrificial yoga). Most of us expect something or the other in return for the duties we dischrage, thereby tainting the action with karma and binding us to this material universe.
 

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