Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Hinduism and Interfaith Understanding

On Hinduism and Interfaith Understanding

As Hindus living in America, I encourage you to keep contact with your cultural roots while at the same time you experience American culture. Share your culture and religious traditions with others, not as proselytizing, but as sharing. I would also encourage you to really understand the philosophical basis for the traditions in Hinduism. As you share your background and learn about other religions and cultures it is best to have a firm foundation for your own. You are in the best position to really understand and appreciate the religious traditions of your friends if you are thoroughly grounded in your own. And of all the major faiths, it is easiest to understand and appreciate other traditions from a Hindu perspective. After all we have in the Vedas:

Truth is One; sages call it by various names.

As the rivers all starting at different places all eventually mingle in the ocean, so do all the paths lead to thee, O Lord.

May you, O Mother, please shower your blessings on all the various races on the Earth, with their varying religions and languages.

For example, once you thoroughly know your philosophy, you will see that Christianity is a wonderful example of a Bhakta school. Thinking of Jesus as your savior and redeemer is a powerful way to develop your devotion. Suppose a friend pushes you out of the way of a moving car or a gunshot and ends up dying to save you. Would you ever forget him? Bhakti Yoga tells us to find some relationship with God that will help us to always remember Him. Hinduism gives us many options as to how to do this.

In the Jewish tradition we can appreciate how the attitude of having a covenant with God helps them to remember God throughout the year, the week, and each day.

In Islam we have a wonderful example of regularity of prayer as a way of connecting with God.

Similarly, we can understand Buddhism as a meditation technology, not that dissimilar to Patanjali’s system. Indeed, Sankhya philosophy is similar to Buddhism in that it focuses on the removal of suffering and it is essentially atheistic in the sense that a personal god is never mentioned. Sankhya focuses on the concept of Purusha as consciousness. The goal is to realize your true nature as pure consciousness.

In Hinduism, we have many sects. Each sect worships a particular deity. For the devotees of a particular deity, all aspects of God become symbolized in that one aspect. This is quite natural, for all aspects are Brahman. Krishna is one with Brahman, Shiva is one with Brahman, and Durga is one with Brahman. The Advaitin would remind you “Tat twam asi.” “Thou art That.” The pure Advaitin has the harder task, to see Brahman directly in yourself rather than seeing Brahman through one of the aspects or avatars. But all are equally valid approaches and have been proven to be effective paths to Moksha, liberation or God realization.

Diwali and Mother Lakshmi

On Diwali and Mother Lakshmi

May I wish you all a very Happy Diwali. Diwali is the festival of Lights, symbolizing the triumph of good over evil, light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance. It is usually associated with a puranic event when a demon is destroyed. The most popular one is probably the return of Ram and Sita to Ayodhya after the defeat of Ravana.

The Goddess Lakshmi is traditionally worshipped at this time. Lakshmi is frequently depicted as one of the daughters of Durga and the goddess of wealth, with Saraswati being her sister and the goddess of arts, learning, and culture. But as with other deities and avatars in Hinduism, they are ultimately aspects of Brahman. Because of this, the devotees of Lakshmi will see all the aspects of the Great Mother archetype in Lakshmi herself. Just as we often see family resemblances in siblings and parents etc., as we worship Lakshmi, all of her facets are revealed. We begin to see her as not just as the goddess of wealth, sustenance, and harvest., but also as Mother Earth, one with Mahakali, the destroyer of evil, the embodiment of beauty, grace, purity, and truth. We see her as the one who moves our inner consciousness toward God realization. Each sect in Hinduism sees the totality of Brahman in its chosen aspect. Brahman is like a multi-faceted diamond. The sparkle from one facet catches our eye. We become fascinated by it. As we focus on it, we realize it is the diamond that is sparkling. Thus one facet becomes associated with the whole.

When the devas and asuras were churning the ocean of milk to obtain the nectar of immortality, Lakshmi sprang forth in full form from the ocean on a pink lotus. What can we understand from this story? I believe it indicates that, like most goddess figures, she represents the divine energy manifested in the world. She is the divinity that was hidden in the ocean, but from the churning, was made evident. The lotus she is on also has that symbolism. It rises from the mud and water to bloom in all its purity and splendor. The divine energy is here, imminent in the world, but we must work to realize this, to be able to see it.

As we pray to Mother Lakshmi for her support in the world, we must remember to be thankful to her for the many blessings she has already bestowed upon us.