Sunday, January 22, 2012

On Hinduism

       Below are the contents of my open-book exam on Hinduism.  I am sharing this here for anyone like me, who is looking to broaden her knowledge and experience of the world's faiths.  As a yogini, this one is particularly meaningful for me, however I must include the disclaimer that my study program is not academic in nature; while the information contained herein is very likely accurate, it is necessarily schematic and superficial.  It is based on initial study and personal reflection.  Hinduism has been a personal interest of mine for 20 years, and in our program we attempt to bring respect and diligent effort to the study of many faiths; therefore, in spite of the superficial presentation of this information, I hope that someone can find it inspirational.

1.    What are the four desires Hinduism recognizes? What, if anything, surprises you about these desires? Which one is the most meaningful for you, personally?

The four desires are Pleasure, Worldly Success, Duty, and Liberation.  Truthfully, nothing surprises me about the desires that drive humans.  I feel that all of my actions have resulted from these desires and as I age I am moving further up the rung of desires so that I can base a greater number of my actions on achieving the goal of Moksha, or liberation.  Liberation is most certainly the most meaningful for me, personally.  I have been very disillusioned with the pursuit of worldly success.  I am able to achieve goals that I pursue diligently and have proven to myself that I can compete in the world, but I have always disdained competition, from childhood.  Duty is becoming more appealing to me. I like volunteering and serving my community.  I am always a sucker for pleasure, and I am not ashamed of this.  However, liberation is what my soul truly seeks. 

2.    Describe the difference between Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga and Raja Yoga; describe how each one can be practiced.  If you had to choose one, what would your path be?

Jnana Yoga is “the path to the [Divine] through Knowledge,” as described by Huston Smith.  It is the transcendent, transpersonal path to God, passing first through the intellect in order to subdue the mind, and arriving at the center of being and Oneness with All.  Jnana Yoga is the steepest path, followed by the most ardent philosophers.  The Jnani walks this path by training the mind with intense dedication and precision.  First, the Jnani studies philosophy, theology, and sacred scripture.  Second, the Jnani studies herself.  Third, the Jnani connects with the Eternal in herself, via spiritual practice.  She begins to see more deeply.  She begins to understand not only with the mind, but with the deepest part of her being, that there is truly no separation.  In the end, the Jnani merges with God and with All.  The veil lifts and being shifts into the Eternal. 

Bhakti Yoga is the path to the Divine through love and devotion.  It is the path of the lover of God, deeply personal and emotional.  This path stands in apparent opposition to the Jnana path, because of its personal rather than transpersonal approach to the Divine.  According to the way of the Bhakta, the Divine is the ultimate Other whom we are called to seek, worship and adore with all our hearts, with all we are. 
The Bhakti walks her path with her hand in the hand of the Divine, building upon her devotion with each step.  She is ruled by Love, and carried by the flow of Love for the Divine, into the Ocean of Love.  Following her deepest longing and dedicating her life to the Divine, her thoughts and actions are devoted to achieving union with her Beloved. 

Karma Yoga: This is the path to the Divine through work.  The Karma Yogini acts tirelessly, seeking union with God through dedicating the substance of her actions to the Divine.  This is not the way of the dreamer or the philosopher.  This is the way of the busy and selfless servant.  The Karma Yogini transcends her finite existence through losing herself in her work.  “Like the center of a rapidly spinning wheel, they seem still-emotionally still-even when they are intensely busy.  It is like the stillness of absolute motion.” This is my favorite quote from Huston Smith’s description of Karma Yoga.  I imagine the selfless director of an orphanage, working day and night in the service of needy children, running after them and teaching them, clothing them, feeding them and protecting them. This orphanage director also spends countless hours working in her office, preparing adoption paperwork, applying for grants and keeping track of every detail about each child she shelters.  In this work, the work of her life, she achieves union with God.

Raja Yoga: This is the path for the person of “scientific bent.”  Raja Yoga is practiced through completing “psychophysical” exercises in succession.  The method involves the whole person, an entrainment of the mind and body to reach the depths of the soul.  A Raja Yogini will have a dedicated Asana practice and a rigorous meditation schedule that will afford her great self-awareness as well as increased comfort in the physical and mental bodies.  This path is less heady than the Jnana path and less emotional than the Bhakti path, while it is also more mental in nature than the Karmic path.  It appears to be a blend of the other three paths, with a more precise focus on meditation.  I know that it is supposed be distinct from the other three, but I see elements of each of them in Raja Yoga.  I think that modern yogis and yoginis are mostly walking the Raja path.  I include myself in that group, although I am a Jnani at heart.  So I would choose Jnana if I had to choose; but practically speaking, I am following the Raja path. 

3.      Describe:
A.                          Samsara: The endless cycle of death and rebirth in this physical realm.  Samsara ends in the attainment of Moksha (liberation).
B.                          Karma: The doctrine of Karma is closely related to the Western concept of the law of cause and effect.  Karma is action and the fruits of action.  Karma exists in conjunction with Samsara; Karma perpetuates Samsara.  We cannot escape from the spiritual law of reaping that which we sow.  We reap in experiences that which we sow in thought and action. 
C.                          Maya: Maya is the direct experience of the sensory stimuli that surround us as human beings.  Maya is what we perceive of our environment with our senses.  It is not the true nature of reality, but it is what appears to us through our sense organs and the perceiving aspects of our minds. 
D.                          Lila: This is “God’s play,” the spontaneous, creative manifestations of the Divine in the Universe.  We cannot discern any rhyme or reason within Lila, as it is the playful, free will of the Divine unfolding in the Universe. 

4.     Choose one sentence in Ramakrishna’s statement (“Many Paths to the Same Summit”) that is particularly important to you and summarize it in your own words. 

Bow down and worship where others kneel, for where so many have been paying the tribute of adoration the kind Lord must manifest himself, for he is all mercy.” As children of the Creator and followers of our chosen paths to the Divine, we are all one in the family of God.  We can worship with all of our hearts, in complete confidence, in any setting.  I can pray to Adonai in a synagogue, a mosque, a Hindu temple, a yoga studio, a Catholic church, a Protestant church, or standing next to the Ocean.  I see the entirety of humanity as my brothers and sisters.  I know that my Lord is with me wherever any are gathered in honor of any form of the Divine. 

5.     What is the one most important aspect of Hinduism that resonates for you?

The aspect of Hinduism which resonates the most for me is the belief in one God, Brahman, from which everything flows, and Who becomes incarnate on Earth for the salvation of humankind.  From the Bhagavad Gita: “Than Me no other higher thing whatsoever exists,[…], On Me all this (universe) is strung, Like heaps of pearls on a string” (VII; 7).  “For whenever of the right a languishing appears, […]A rising up of unright, Then I send Myself forth.  For protection of the good, And for destruction of evil-doers, To make a firm footing for the right, I come into being in age after age.  My wondrous birth and actions, Whoso knows thus as they truly are, On leaving the body, to rebirth he goes not; to Me he goes, Arjuna!” (IV;7-9).

6.     Identify the following names:

Arjuna: He was a great warrior and the friend and brother-in-law of Lord Krishna.  The Bhagavad Gita is the lesson given by Krishna to Arjuna before the great battle of Kurukshetra. 
Krishna: Lord Krishna is the incarnation of the Divine most dear to the hearts of Hindus and Yogis.  I love Krishna.  He is the brother of Jesus Christ (to me, and to many of us).  He is the eighth and complete avatar of Vishnu, the Preserver.  He is the voice behind the Bhagavad Gita.  Gopala is the infant form of Krishna.  Hence, I see Gopala as the brother of Baby Jesus.  Krishna was God made man.  According to the Gita, all incarnations are from the same God (Brahman), and I believe this to be true.  They are one in the same Spirit. 
Kali: She is the Destroyer Goddess, wife of Shiva.  Kali destroys the power of the Finite so that we may unite with the Infinite.  She is to be greatly revered and her love is fierce.  She is often depicted standing on the body of Shiva, sword in hand.  When I envision Kali, I see a magnificent fire breathing beast with black clouds behind her. 
Lakshmi: She is the Hindu Goddess who embodies grace, beauty and charm.  She is celebrated principally at the Hindu festival of Diwali.  She is the principal Goddess of abundance, both material and ethereal, as well as the Goddess of fertility. 
Mohandas (“Mahatma”) Gandhi: Mahatma means, “Great Soul.”  Mohandas Gandhi was the greatest political and ideological leader of India during her rise to independence.  He is principally known for his doctrine and practice of non-violent resistance to tyranny.  He was an international champion of civil rights and women’s rights and tirelessly fought for justice throughout his life.  It is very difficult to give any kind of an accurate description of Gandhi’s life without going into several pages of detail.  Suffice it to say, he should be declared a Saint by every faith.  My favorite Gandhi quote is “You must be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
Ramakrishna:  He was “the greatest Hindu saint of the nineteenth century.”  He was an interfaith pioneer.  In our training, we should all give a daily thought of gratitude to Ramakrishna for the work he did in furtherance of interfaith understanding.  He was a brilliant mystic, who studied Tantra, Bhakti Yoga and non-dual meditation among all of his other Hindu training.  He was a Hindu priest.  He also spent parts of his life following Islam and Christianity. 

7.     Write a response to a selection of your choice from the Bhagavad Gita or other sacred Hindu text. 

I have chosen Chapter II, verses 11-25.  Quoting from Franklin Edgerton’s commentary in his translation: “Arjuna sees in the ranks of the opposing army a large number of his own kinsmen and intimate friends.  He is horror-stricken at the thought of fighting against them, and forthwith lays down his weapons, saying he would rather be killed than kill them.” Krishna then speaks to Arjuna of the imperishability of the soul, the impermanence of the body, and the illusion of being passing into non-being. 

“Thou hast mourned those who should not be mourned, and yet thou speakest words about wisdom!  Dead and living men the truly learned do not mourn.  But not in any respect was I (ever) not, nor thou, nor these kings; And not at all shall we ever come not to be, all of us, henceforward.  As to the embodied (soul) in this body come childhood, youth, old age, so the coming to another body; The wise man is not confused herein.  But contacts with matter, son of Kunti, cause cold and heat, pleasure and pain; They come and go and are impermanent; Put up with them, son of Bharata! For whom these contacts do not cause to waver, the man, O bull of men, to whom pleasure and pain are alike, the wise, he is fit for immortality.  Of what is not, no coming to be occurs; No coming not to be occurs of what is; But the dividing line of both is seen, of these two, by those who see the truth.  But know that this is indestructible, by which this all is pervaded; Destruction of this imperishable one no one can cause.  These bodies come to an end, it is declared, of the eternal embodied (soul), which is indestructible and unfathomable.  Therefore fight, son of Bharata!  Who believes him a slayer, and who thinks him slain, both these understand not: He slays not, is not slain.  Who knows as indestructible and eternal this unborn, imperishable one, that man, son of Prtha, how can he slay or cause to slay—whom? As leaving aside worn-out garments, a man takes other, new ones, so leaving aside worn-out bodies to other, new ones goes the embodied (soul).  Swords cut him not, fire burns him not, water wets him not, wind dries him not.  Not to be cut is he, not to be burnt is he, not to be wet nor yet dried; Eternal, omnipresent, fixed, immovable, everlasting is he.  Unmanifest he, unthinkable he, unchangeable he is declared to be; Therefore knowing him thus thou shouldst not mourn him.”
I chose this passage because it brought peace and joy to my soul.  I recognized these words as truth.  These are words that echo my inner knowing of my own nature.  We are truly free beings if we can let go of fear.  As Jesus says in Luke 12;4, “…do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.”  As Krishna and Jesus teach, how wonderful for us to be able to get out from under the fear of losing our bodies to death.  How wonderful for us to truly know that our souls are eternal, that fire burns us not.  And from this seed of truth we can begin to develop equanimity, that supreme giver of inner peace.  As we learn to sit in meditation in the presence of the Holy One, we can begin to shed layer upon layer of aversion and attachment.  We can continually grow in inner strength, our minds coming more and more into alignment with our imperishable souls for whom pleasure and pain are truly indifferent; because our souls are rooted, seated, forever secure in the foundation of the Almighty.  I had a vivid dream as a young child in which I saw masked robbers celebrating in Heaven around an immense, golden fountain.  I knew then that life after death includes everyone, and our Earthly notions of Good vs. Evil and Pleasure vs. Pain no longer apply, as they do in this Earthly realm.  I believe that there is a realm where the limitations of our physical bodies no longer hold us back.  In this realm, we are joined with the Divine.  I do personally believe in reincarnation, but I also believe in the ceasing of Samsara, a time when we will no longer be embodied souls. As it is written in the Koran, “To God we belong, to Him is our return.”  God created us from Himself, and as He has always existed, so have we always existed.  We do not pass from non-being into being, nor do we pass from being into non-being.  Hinduism and Buddhism teach us that such a passage is an illusion.  We are temporarily tied to our physical bodies, yet as spiritual beings we come to increase our faith in the Divine, and as our faith grows, so our deeper knowledge grows.  And we develop the strength and courage to “put up with” heat and cold, pleasure and pain, clinging to that which is permanent.  The path truly does grower brighter and brighter to the full day of our enlightenment. 
WWrite a description/impression of your site visit/experiential this month:

The description below was prompted by my visits to a Hanuman Temple in Watsonville, California.  I visited that temple in January of 2010.  Since that time, my knowledge of Hinduism and Yoga has progressed quite a bit, however I feel like I picked up the particular divine energy of that place during my visit.  I was staying for several nights in a cabin just up the hill from the temple.  I awoke to the sound of the bells ringing in the temple each morning of my retreat.  I felt a distinct Holy presence during my entire stay at Mount Madonna (the location of the retreat).  I saw many Hindus in traditional dress making a pilgrimage to the temple.  I now realize that the Hanuman temple was where I experienced my first kirtan (chanting the Hanuman chalisa).  Since then, I have chanted in an audience with Krishna Das, in my yoga classes, and in a local kirtan group.  I sometimes chant mantras in Sanskrit before I meditate.  My children like to chant mantras as well, even though they don’t yet realize what they are doing.  They chant, “Wahe guru wahe guru wahe guru,” and “Gobinda Gobinda Hari Hari.”  I love it.  There were families with young children in the Hanuman temple, and we sat on the floor for worship.  I felt at home.  I plan to visit the Ganesha Temple in Queens, but I am including this site description in my homework in case I don’t get the chance to write up my Ganesha experience before class.  I dearly loved the Hanuman temple and plan to return to Mount Madonna Center. 

“The Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple is a sacred place of worship used primarily by the residents of the community and many Hindu visitors, although it is open to the public.  As the name implies, the temple is dedicated to Hanuman, a Hindu deity.  Hanuman is sometimes referred to as The Monkey God.  I was told that his primary quality is selfless service, as reflected in the values of the Mount Madonna Center.  As a visitor, I was invited to attend two daily services, one at 6:30 a.m. and the other at 6:00 p.m.  I attended three of the evening services.  These were joyful experiences of praise and worship of the Divine, complete with various musical instruments and beautiful bells hanging at multiple points across the entrance, perimeter and covering of the open air temple.  I especially enjoyed ringing the bells.  I also sang, or attempted to sing songs of praise which had been thoughtfully written out in the English alphabet with various accent marks to assist in pronunciation.  I was invigorated and inspired by these rhythmic chants, which I believe were the Hanuman Arati.  I plan to buy a CD containing the Hanuman Arati and the Hanuman Chalisa.  At the end of the service, everyone was invited to receive the tilak forehead mark and to partake of the Prasad, which consisted of sweet foods placed into the hands to be immediately consumed.  We were then invited to partake of blessed fruit from a large basket.  I interpreted this as receiving the bounty provided for us by the Divine following our material offerings along with our offerings of prayer and worship.  I loved the beauty and simplicity of the service and appreciated being allowed into a Hanuman temple as a woman since this is forbidden in orthodox Hindu practice.” 

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