The Complexity and Simplicity of Hinduism
Preached on 1/04/2015
By Reverend Tom Capo
First let me share a few interesting facts about Hinduism. (Hindu.BZ.com and hindu facebook)
1. More than 10,000 years ago the institution of marriage was founded and put forth in practice by Hindus.
2. The Rigveda, one of Hindu's holy scriptures, is the oldest literature known to humanity.
3. According to the Vedas, lending money on interest is a bad Karma. We will talk about Karma later.
4. According to the Vedas, Om, Hinduism's most sacred sound, is the sound which was present at the time of creation of universe.
5. Parents, teachers, and food are considered next to God. That makes sense to me somehow.
6. Because of the usefulness of rivers, they are highly revered in Hinduism. People call them mother.
7. Hindus believe that we get the human body when our soul passes through 8,400,000 species of plants and animals.
I could go on with interesting facts or tell you about the gods and goddesses of Hinduism, or the social caste system--the societal level that each person is assigned based on their birth; or I could talk about the various ways that people practice their faith, or all the religious texts and their meaning to various sects of Hinduism; or I could talk about the various rituals, holidays, and pilgrimages. If I chose to talk about even one of these in detail, we would be here for a very very long time. You see Hinduism is a collective term applied to the many philosophical and religious traditions native to India. In a strict sense there was no 'Hinduism' before modern times, although the sources of Hindu traditions are very ancient. And Hinduism has no definite starting point that anyone has been able to discover. The traditions which flow into Hinduism may go back several thousand years and some practitioners claim that revelation in Hinduism is eternal; sound familiar?
So instead, what I want to offer you today is a glimpse inside Hinduism; what is really important to those who practice this faith--which will touch on some of the specifics of how this religion is understood and practiced.
First some basic information about Hinduism is needed. However, there is one caveat before we begin. Like Unitarian Universalism, Hinduism is always in a state of change. It has been for the 10,000 or more years of its existence. And some young and Western born Hindus are more open to new and differnt interpretations of their faith. (adapted from Religious Studies scholar, Huston Smith, book World's Religions).
Most Hindus believe that there are several gods and goddesses; multiple levels of reality; and that all humans are involved in cycles of innumerable reincarnations on earth. Many, but not all, Hindus believe these gods actively influence the world and interact with humans. Hindus also believe in karma; karma is the sum of a person's actions, both helpful and harmful behaviors, in this and previous states of existence; karma is viewed as deciding a person’s fate in future existences. Hindus believe we are stuck here on this earth until reunited with their God, Brahma. By the way, Brahma is a god; Brahman is the spiritual essence of the universe. They also believe that material things around us, ipods, cell phones, tv's, possessions are temporary, seductive, and not helpful in achieving ultimate connection with Brahma. Earth is the place where there are multiple opportunities for spiritual growth so that a person can ultimately come into connection with Brahma. The Universe is Brahma's creation; and he/she is ultimately good and compassionate.
My name is Harsha. [I am actually Reverend Tom, but Harsha is a real person who lives in Canada] My family are all practicing Hindus. For me, this means several things. Every day begins with prayer. Our home has a room that has been set aside as a shrine. We call it our puja room [room for religious rituals]. There are probably 75 or more images of deities, pictures and statues of the God in many forms, in this room. Every morning, my mom performs her puja. She recites prayers and hymns and offers food, flowers, and fruit to the images. We’re a Vaishnavite family, which means we are devoted to the divine in the form of the Lord Vishnu and his consort, Lakshmi. Most of the images in our room are of these two deities, but Shiva and Ganesha are there also. My father and I also do morning puja, but our version is a bit quicker. He has work and I have school. One of my mom’s prayers is the recitation of the 1008 names of Vishnu. I do the shorter version. One of my morning prayers calls the deities down upon my hands. Each part of the prayer is accompanied by a hand gesture: “I call Lakshmi to my hands. I call Saraswati. I call Govind (Vishnu), and I open my hands to see all three.” The idea is that if you invite the God into your hands, how can you sin? How can you commit crimes if God has blessed your hands? How can you do anything wrong if you’ve invited God to be with you throughout your day? It’s also a prayer for the blessings that these deities have the power to grant: wealth, knowledge, and power, for example. In the evening, we thank Vishnu for the blessings of the day, ask him to bless our dreams, and so on. I also like to pray a prayer that helps me do well in school. (Ontario, canda, Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School, textbook)
There are four goals in life for a Hindu: to pursue material gain by lawful means; to follow the right, moral path prescribed in the Vedas and other scriptures; to reincarnate to higher levels of existence through pure acts, pure knowledge and pure devotion; and to be released from the cycle of rebirth/reincarnation and becoming one with Brahma. These are always on the minds of Hindus as they live and move through their daily existence. It is how they live their lives. It is why they do spiritual practices and are deeply concerned with how they treat other people and creatures.
There are four very general paths to achieving connection with Brahma, and these are based on personality types. (Huston Smith, World Religions) Some people are primarily reflective; some are basically emotional; others are essentially active; and some are experimentally inclined. For those who are reflective, they generally choose the way to God through knowledge--learning to discriminate the difference between what is surface and what is important for spiritual growth. For those who are emotional, they generally choose the way to God through love--love that is outgoing toward other people and to Brahma. For those who are active, they generally choose the way to God through work--how they do every activity in life with Brahma in mind--like Harsha's family does when they call their god into their hands as they go out into the world. And For those who are experimental, they generally choose the way to God through psychophysical exercises--one of which you did today during our meditation.
Ramakrishna, a famous Hindu mystic, wrote: "God has made different religions to suit different aspirations, times, and countries. All doctrines are only so many paths; but a path is by no means God himself. Indeed, one can reach God if one follows any of the paths with whole-hearted devotion. One may eat a cake with icing either straight or sideways. It will taste sweet either way.
As one and the same material, water, is called by different names by different peoples, one calling it water, another eau, a third aqua, and another pani, so the one Everylasting-Intelligent-Bliss is invoked by some as God, by some as Allah, by some as Jehovah, and by others as Brahman.
As one can ascend to the top of a house by means of a ladder or a bamboo or a staircase or a rope, so diverse are the ways and means to approach God, and every religion in the world shows one of these ways...
People partition off their lands by means of boundaries, but no one can partition off the all-embracing sky overhead. The indivisible sky surrounds all and includes all. So people in ignorance say, ‘My religion is the one, my religion is the best.’ But when a heart is illuminated by true knowledge, it knows that above all these wars of sects and sectarians presides the one indivisible eternal, all knowing bliss...
There was a man who worshipped Shiva but hated all other deities. One day Shiva appeared to him and said, ‘I shall never be pleased with you so long as you hate the other gods.’ But the man was inexorable. After a few days Shiva again appeared to him and said, ‘I shall never be pleased with you so long as you hate.’ The man kept silent. After a few days Shiva again appeared to him. This time one side of his body was that of Shiva and the other side that of Vishnu. The man was half pleased and half displeased. He laid his offerings on the side representing Shiva, and did not offer anything to the side representing Vishnu. Then Shiva said, ‘Your bigotry is unconquerable. I, by assuming this dual aspect, tried to convince you that all gods and goddesses are but various aspects of the one Absolute Brahman.’”
The Hindu religion has much to offer those on a spiritual journey--practices, rituals, traditions, various religious texts accumulated over thousands of years, a rich and interesting history. As Unitarian Universalists, we share much with Hinduism; we too are an evolving religion with a religious foundation that has been incorporated into our religious traditions, but no longer dominates our religious beliefs. We too believe that revelation is not sealed. We accept that there are many paths to the divine or to connection with humanity or to connection with creation. For some of us the path is one of knowledge--studying, learning, relying on our rational mind. For some of us the path is one of love--looking beyond ourselves to help others, especially those on the margins of society. For some of us the path is one of work--seeing our vocation as well as our lives devoted to a greater purpose. For some of us the path is one of psychophysical exercises--using prayer, meditation or ritual to connect with the divine, humanity, creation. For some of us the journey can be some combination of these paths. We have much to learn from Hinduism. I encourage you to find one aspect of this rich faith and learn more about it. Don't get overwhelmed by the complexity of this faith, find the essence of this faith that speaks to you. Then follow it for a time. Perhaps it will lead you to greater connection with your deeper self. Namaste, my friends, "The Spirit within me salutes the Spirit in you."