Ten Questions                                                                                                            U...
PART 1: TEN QUESTIONS      Humanity’s most profound faith is now a global phenomenon. Students, teachers,        neighbors...
1                    Why does Hinduism have so many Gods?                    Hindus all believe in one Supreme God who cre...
2                        Do Hindus believe in reincarnation?                       Yes, we believe the soul is immortal an...
3                    What is karma?                    Karma is the universal principle of cause and effect. Our          ...
4                       Why Do Hindus worship the cow?                        Hindus don’t worship cows. We respect, honor...
5                   Are Hindus idol worshipers?                   Hindus do not worship a stone or metal “idol” as God. We...
6                        Are Hindus forbidden to eat meat?                        Hindus teach vegetarianism as a way to l...
7                   Do Hindus have a Bible?                   Our “Bible” is called the Veda. The Veda, which means       ...
8                       Why do many Hindus wear a dot                       near the middle of their forehead?            ...
9                  Are the Gods of Hinduism really married?                  It is true that God is often depicted with a ...
10                           What about caste and untouchability?                           Caste is the hereditary divisi...
PART 2         Hinduism’s Code of Conduct                Twenty keys for spiritual living in contemporary times           ...
Yama 3                                                     Yama 4                         Ç—™‰æ            Uphold the virt...
Yama 9                                                                           Yama 10               ⁄º™Ÿ“Ÿ¿   Be modera...
10 questions-about-hinduism
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  1. 1. Ten Questions U CA TI O N ED AL people ask IN T S IG H About Hinduism …and ten terrific answers!all art by a. manivel PLUS… Hinduism’s Code Lord Vishnu stands with the vast ocean of truth behind Him. In the Of Conduct: the sky above, ten birds—symbolizing persistent misconceptions about Yamas & Niyamas Hinduism—take flight as we tackle ten common questions about our faith. © 2004 by Himalayan Academy, 107 Kaholalele Road, Kapaa, Hawaii 96746 To order additional copies of this Educational Insight, e-mail: pamphlets@hindu.org Similar resources on the web include “Four Facts of Hinduism,” “Nine Beliefs of Hinduism” and “How to Win an Argument with a Meat-Eater.” You can access these at www.himalayanacademy.com/basics.
  2. 2. PART 1: TEN QUESTIONS Humanity’s most profound faith is now a global phenomenon. Students, teachers, neighbors and friends are full of questions. Misconceptions run rampant. Here are ten thoughtful answers you can use to set the record straight. ave you ever been put on the spot with a provocative may not know that one out of every six people in the world is question about Hinduism, even one that really shouldn’t a Hindu.” 2) “Many people have asked me about my tradition. I be so hard to answer? If so, you are not alone. It takes don’t know everything, but I will try to answer your question.” some good preparation and a little attitude adjustment 3) “First, you should know that in Hinduism, it is not only be- to confidently field queries on your faith—be they from lief and intellectual understanding that is important. Hindus friendly co-workers, students, passersby or especially from Chris- place the greatest value on experiencing each of these truths tian evangelists. Back in the spring of 1990, a group of teens personally.” 4) The fourth type of prologue is to repeat the ques- from the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago, Lemont, sent a re- tion to see if the person has actually stated what he wants to quest to HINDUISM TODAY for “official answers” to nine questions know. Repeat the question in your own words and ask if you they were commonly asked by their peers. These questions had have understood his query correctly. If it’s a complicated question, perplexed the Hindu youth themselves; and their parents had you might begin by saying, “Philosophers have spent lifetimes no convincing answers. Satguru Sivaya Sub- discussing and pondering questions such ramuniyaswami took up the challenge and as this, but I will do my best to explain.” provided the following answers to the nine Have courage. Speak from your inner questions. Perusing the list for this edition of mind. Sanatana Dharma is an experiential the magazine, we thought it crucial to add a path, not a dogma, so your experience in tenth dialog on caste, since that is the most answering questions will help your own relentless criticism Hinduism faces today. spiritual unfoldment. You will learn from Let’s begin with advice on the attitudes your answers if you listen to your inner to hold when responding. First, ask yourself, mind speak. This can actually be a lot of“Who is asking the question?” Millions of peo- fun. The attentive teacher always learns ple are sincerely interested in Hinduism and more than the student. the many Asian religions. So, when asked After the prologue, address the question about Hinduism, don’t be defensive, even if without hesitation. If the person is sincere, the questioner seems confrontational. Instead, you can ask, “Do you have any other ques- assume that the person really wants to learn. tions?” If he wants to know more, then Of course, some only want to harass, badger elaborate as best you can. Use easy, ev- and turn you to their view. If you sense this eryday examples. Share what enlightened is the case, feel free to smile and courteous- souls and scriptures of Hinduism have said ly dismiss yourself without any attempt to on the subject. Remember, we must not as- dinodia answer, lest you simply add fuel to his fires. sume that everyone who asks about Hindu- With all this in mind, it is still best never ism is insincere or is challenging our faith. to answer a question about religion too boldly A visitor to India questions an elder Many are just being friendly or making con- or too immediately. That might lead to con- about temple ceremonies and customs versation to get to know you. So don’t be frontation. Offer a prologue first, then come on the defensive or take it all too seriously. to the question, guiding the inquirer toward understanding. Your Smile when you give your response. Be open. If the second or poise and deliberateness gives assurance that you know what third question is on something you know nothing about, you can you are talking about. It also gives you a moment to think and say, “I don’t know. But if you are really interested, I will find out, draw on your intuitive knowing. Before going deeply into an an- mail you some literature or lend you one of my books.” Smile and swer, always ask the questioner what his religion is. Knowing that, have confidence as you give these answers. Don’t be shy. There you can address his particular frame of mind and make your is no question that can be put to you in your birth karmas that answer most relevant. Another key: have confidence in yourself you cannot rise up to with a fine answer to fully satisfy the seeker. and your ability to give a meaningful and polite response. Even You may make lifelong friends in this way. to say “I am sorry. I still have much to learn about my religion Each of the ten answers is organized with a short response that and I don’t yet know the answer to that” is a meaningful answer. can be committed to memory, a longer answer, and a detailed ex- Honesty is always appreciated. Never be afraid to admit what planation. Many questioners will be content with the short, simple you don’t know, for this lends credibility to what you do know. answer, so start with that first. Use the explanation as background Here are four prologues that can be used, according to the information for yourself, or as a contingency response in case you situation, before you begin to actually answer a question. 1) “I end up in a deeper philosophical discussion. Additional resources am really pleased that you are interested in my religion. You can be found at: www.himalayanacademy.com/basics/. II h i n d u i s m t o day a p r i l / m ay / j u n e , 2 0 0 4
  3. 3. 1 Why does Hinduism have so many Gods? Hindus all believe in one Supreme God who created the universe. He is all-pervasive. He created many Gods, highly advanced spiritual beings, to be His helpers. ontrary to prevailing pantheism, which is the belief misconceptions, Hindus all that God is the natural universe worship a one Supreme Being, and nothing more. It is also dif- though by different names. ferent from strict theism which This is because the peoples of In- says God is only above the world, dia with different languages and apart and transcendent. Panen- cultures have understood the one theism is an all-encompassing God in their own distinct way. concept. It says that God is both Through history there arose four in the world and beyond it, both principal Hindu denominations— immanent and transcendent. Saivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism That is the highest Hindu view. and Smartism. For Saivites, God Hindus also believe in many is Siva. For Shaktas, Goddess Gods who perform various func- Shakti is supreme. For Vaish- tions, like executives in a large navites, Lord Vishnu is God. For corporation. These should not be Smartas—who see all Deities as confused with the Supreme God. reflections of the One God—the These Divinities are highly ad- choice of Deity is left to the devo- vanced beings who have specific tee. This liberal Smarta perspec- duties and powers—not unlike tive is well known, but it is not the heavenly spirits, overlords the prevailing Hindu view. Due or archangels revered in other to this diversity, Hindus are pro- faiths. Each denomination wor- foundly tolerant of other religions, ships the Supreme God and its respecting the fact that each has own pantheon of divine beings. its own pathway to the one God. What is sometimes confusing One of the unique understand- to non-Hindus is that Hindus of ings in Hinduism is that God is various sects may call the one not far away, living in a remote God by many different names, heaven, but is inside each and according to their denomina- every soul, in the heart and con- tion or regional tradition. Truth sciousness, waiting to be discov- for the Hindu has many names, ered. This knowing that God is Hindus all worship the One Supreme God, called by various but that does not make for many always with us gives us hope and names, depending on their denomination, and they revere a truths. Hinduism gives us the courage. Knowing the One Great multitude of angelic beings, which they call Gods. Above, the freedom to approach God in our God in this intimate and experi- central figure is Lord Siva, worshiped as the Supreme Being own way, encouraging a mul- ential way is the goal of Hindu by Saivites and many other Hindus. Cradled in His hands are tiplicity of paths, not asking for spirituality. other great beings, known as Gods, including Lord Ganesha. conformity to just one. Elaboration: Hinduism is both There is much confusion about monotheistic and henotheistic. Hindus were never polytheistic, in this subject, even among Hindus. Learn the right terms and the the sense that there are many equal Gods. Henotheism (literally subtle differences in them, and you can explain the profound“one God”) better defines the Hindu view. It means the worship of ways Hindus look at Divinity. Others will be delighted with the one God without denying the existence of other Gods. We Hin- richness of the Indian concepts of God. You may wish to mention dus believe in the one all-pervasive God who energizes the entire that some Hindus believe only in the formless Absolute Reality universe. We can see Him in the life shining out of the eyes of as God; others believe in God as personal Lord and Creator. This humans and all creatures. This view of God as existing in and freedom makes the understanding of God in Hinduism, the old- giving life to all things is called panentheism. It is different from est living religion, the richest in all of Earth’s existing faiths. a p r i l / m ay / j u n e , 2 0 0 4 h i n d u i s m t o d ay III
  4. 4. 2 Do Hindus believe in reincarnation? Yes, we believe the soul is immortal and takes birth time and time again. Through this process, we have experiences, learn lessons and evolve spiritually. Finally we graduate from physical birth. arnate means “of flesh,” it in the twelfth century. It is, in and reincarnate means to fact, one of the widest held ar- “reenter the flesh.” Yes, Hin- ticles of faith on planet Earth. dus believe in reincarnation. Elaboration: At death the soulTo us, it explains the natural way leaves the physical body. But thethe soul evolves from immaturity soul does not die. It lives on into spiritual illumination. Life and a subtle body called the astraldeath are realities for all of us. body. The astral body existsHinduism believes that the soul is in the nonphysical dimensionimmortal, that it never dies, but called the astral plane, which isinhabits one body after another also the world we are in duringon the Earth during its evolution- our dreams at night when weary journey. Like the caterpillar’s sleep. Here we continue to havetransformation into a butterfly, experiences until we are rebornphysical death is a most natural again in another physical bodytransition for the soul, which sur- as a baby. Each reincarnatingvives and, guided by karma, con- soul chooses a home and a familytinues its long pilgrimage until it which can best fulfill its next stepis one with God. of learning and maturation. I myself have had many lives After many lifetimes of fol-before this one and expect to lowing dharma, the soul is fullyhave more. Finally, when I have matured in love, wisdom andit all worked out and all the les- knowledge of God. There is nosons have been learned, I will at- longer a need for physical birth,tain enlightenment and moksha, for all lessons have been learned,liberation. This means I will still all karmas fulfilled. That soul isexist, but will no longer be pulled then liberated, freed from theback to be born in a physical body. cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Even modern science is discov- Evolution then continues in theering reincarnation. There have more refined spiritual worlds.been many cases of individuals’ Similarly, after we graduateremembering their past lives. Each soul evolves by experiencing many varied lives through from elementary school we neverThese have been researched by reincarnation, called punarjanma in Sanskrit, the process have to go back to the fifth grade.scientists, psychiatrists and para- wherein the soul repeatedly takes on a physical body through We have gone beyond that levelpsychologists during the past de- being born on Earth. Here, a soul, represented by the ray of in understanding. Thus, life’scades and documented in good light, is shown in seven successive lives. Reincarnation is a ultimate goal is not money, notbooks and videos. Young children purposeful maturing process governed by the law of karma. clothes, not sex, not power, notspeak of vivid past-life memories, food or any other of the instinc-which fade as they grow older, as the veils of individuality shroud tive needs. These are natural pursuits, but our real purpose onthe soul’s intuitive understanding. Great mystics speak of their this Earth is to know, to love and to serve God and the Gods.past lives as well. So do our ancient scriptures, the Vedas, reveal That leads to the rare and priceless objects of life: enlightenmentthe reality of reincarnation. and liberation. This Hindu view of the soul’s evolution answers Reincarnation is believed in by the Jains and the Sikhs, by the many otherwise bewildering questions, removing the fear ofIndians of the Americas, and by the Buddhists, certain Jewish death while giving assurance that each soul is evolving towardsects, the Pagans and the many indigenous faiths. Even Chris- the same spiritual destiny, for the Hindu believes that karma andtianity originally taught reincarnation, but formally renounced reincarnation are leading every single soul to God Realization.IV h i n d u i s m t o day a p r i l / m ay / j u n e , 2 0 0 4
  5. 5. 3 What is karma? Karma is the universal principle of cause and effect. Our actions, both good and bad, come back to us in the future, help- ing us to learn from life’s lessons and become better people. arma is one of the nat- Because we Hindus understand ural laws of the mind, karma, we do not hate or resent just as gravity is a law of people who do us harm. We un- matter. Just as God cre- derstand they are giving back ated gravity to bring order to the the effects of the causes we set physical world, He created karma in motion at an earlier time. The as a divine system of justice that law of karma puts man at the is self-governing and infinitely center of responsibility for ev- fair. It automatically creates the erything he does and everything appropriate future experience in that is done to him. response to the current action. Karma is a word we hear quite Karma simply means “action” or often on television. “This is my“cause and effect.” When some- karma,” or “It must have been thing happens to us that is appar- something I did in a past life to ently unfortunate or unjust, it is bring such good karma to me.” not God punishing us. It is the re- We hear karma simply defined sult of our own past actions. The as “What goes around, comes Vedas, Hinduism’s revealed scrip- around.” In some schools of Hin- ture, tell us if we sow goodness, duism, karma is looked upon we will reap goodness; if we sow as something bad—perhaps be- evil, we will reap evil. Thus we cause we are most aware of this create our own destiny through law when we are facing difficult thought and action. And the di- karma, and not so aware of it vine law is: whatever karma we when life is going smoothly. Even are experiencing in our life is just some Hindus equate karma with what we need at the moment, and sin, and this is what evangelical nothing can happen but that we Christians preach that it means. have the strength to meet it. Even Many people believe that karma harsh karma, when faced in wis- means “fate,” a preordained des- dom, can be the greatest catalyst tiny over which one has no con- for spiritual growth. Understand- trol, which is also untrue. ing the way karma works, we One of the best examples of karma is that you can’t give any- The process of action and reac- seek to live a good and virtuous thing away but that generosity will return to you, with interest. tion on all levels—physical, men- life through right thought, right Here, in the upper scene, a lady happily gives clothing to a tal and spiritual—is karma. Here speech and right action. This is youth. Below, she receives an unexpected gift from a neighbor is an example. I say kind words called dharma. as the karma of her good deed brings its natural reward. By to you, and you feel peaceful and Elaboration: Karma is basi- wisely heeding karma’s ways, we tread the path of dharma. happy. I say harsh words to you, cally energy. I throw energy out and you become ruffled and up- through thoughts, words and deeds, and it comes back to me, in set. The kindness and the harshness will return to me, through time, through other people. Karma is our best teacher, for we others, at a later time. This is karma. An architect thinks creative, must always face the consequences of our actions and thus im- productive thoughts while drawing plans for a new building. But prove and refine our behavior, or suffer if we do not. We Hindus were he to think destructive, unproductive thoughts, he would look at time as a circle, as things cycle around again. Professor soon not be able to accomplish any kind of positive task even if Einstein came to the same conclusion. He saw time as a curve, he desired to do so. This is karma, a natural law of the mind. We and space as well. This would eventually make a circle. Karma must also be very careful about our thoughts, because thought is a very just law which, like gravity, treats everyone the same. creates, and thoughts make karmas—good, bad and mixed. a p r i l / m ay / j u n e , 2 0 0 4 h i n d u i s m t o d ay V
  6. 6. 4 Why Do Hindus worship the cow? Hindus don’t worship cows. We respect, honor and adore the cow. By honoring this gentle animal, who gives more than she takes, we honor all creatures. indus regard all living- way it treats its animals. Cow creatures as sacred—mam- protection to me is not mere mals, fishes, birds and protection of the cow. It means more. We acknowledge protection of all that lives and isthis reverence for life in our spe- helpless and weak in the world.cial affection for the cow. At fes- The cow means the entire subhu-tivals we decorate and honor her, man world.”but we do not worship her in the In the Hindu tradition, the cowsense that we worship the Deity. is honored, garlanded and given To the Hindu, the cow sym- special feedings at festivals allbolizes all other creatures. The over India, most importantlycow is a symbol of the Earth, the the annual Gopashtama festival.nourisher, the ever-giving, unde- Demonstrating how dearly Hin-manding provider. The cow rep- dus love their cows, colorful cowresents life and the sustenance jewelry and clothing is sold atof life. The cow is so generous, fairs all over the Indian country-taking nothing but water, grass side. From a young age, Hinduand grain. It gives and gives and children are taught to decorategives of its milk, as does the lib- the cow with garlands, paint anderated soul give of his spiritual ornaments. Her nature is epito-knowledge. The cow is so vital to mized in Kamadhenu, the divine,life, the virtual sustainer of life, wish-fulfilling cow. The cow andfor many humans. The cow is a her sacred gifts—milk and gheesymbol of grace and abundance. in particular—are essential ele-Veneration of the cow instills in ments in Hindu worship, penanceHindus the virtues of gentleness, and rites of passage. In India,receptivity and connectedness more than 3,000 institutionswith nature. called Gaushalas, maintained by Elaboration: Who is the great- charitable trusts, care for old andest giver on planet Earth today? infirm cows. And while manyWho do we see on every table Hindus are not vegetarians, mostin every country of the world— Hindus never worship cows, but they do revere them as the respect the still widely held codebreakfast, lunch and dinner? It is perfect example of Divinity in all forms of life. Here a girl gar- of abstaining from eating beef.the cow. McDonald’s cow-vend- lands a cow whose horns are painted and adorned with brass By her docile, tolerant na-ing golden arches and their ri- tips and tassels. Her sister offers fresh grass. In India, the ture, the cow exemplifies thevals have made fortunes on the cow is honored, adored and protected as a symbol of wealth, cardinal virtue of Hinduism,humble cow. The generous cow strength, abundance, selfless giving and a full Earthly life. noninjury, known as ahim-gives milk and cream, yogurt and sa. The cow also symbolizescheese, butter and ice cream, ghee and buttermilk. It gives en- dignity, strength, endurance, maternity and selfless service.tirely of itself through sirloin, ribs, rump, porterhouse and beef In the Vedas, cows represent wealth and joyous Earthly life.stew. Its bones are the base for soup broths and glues. It gives From the Rig Veda (4.28.1;6) we read. “The cows have come andthe world leather belts, leather seats, leather coats and shoes, have brought us good fortune. In our stalls, contented, may theybeef jerky, cowboy hats—you name it. The only cow-question stay! May they bring forth calves for us, many-colored, givingfor Hindus is, “Why don’t more people respect and protect this milk for Indra each day. You make, O cows, the thin man sleek;remarkable creature?” Mahatma Gandhi once said, “One can to the unlovely you bring beauty. Rejoice our homestead withmeasure the greatness of a nation and its moral progress by the pleasant lowing. In our assemblies we laud your vigor.”VI h i n d u i s m t o day a p r i l / m ay / j u n e , 2 0 0 4
  7. 7. 5 Are Hindus idol worshipers? Hindus do not worship a stone or metal “idol” as God. We worship God through the image. We invoke the presence of God from the higher, unseen worlds, into the image so that we can commune with Him and receive His blessings. he stone or metal deity more aware of the transcendent, images in Hindu temples timeless, formless, causeless and shrines are not mere Truth. Nor is there any religion symbols of the Gods. They which uses more symbols to rep-are the form through which their resent Truth in preparation forlove, power and blessings flood that realization.forth into this world. We may Humorously speaking, Hindusliken this mystery to our abil- are not idle worshipers. I haveity to communicate with others never seen a Hindu worship inthrough the telephone. We do not a lazy or idle way. They wor-talk to the telephone; rather we ship with great vigor and devo-use it as a means of communica- tion, with unstinting regularitytion with another person. With- and constancy. There’s nothingout the telephone, we could not idle about our ways of worship!converse across long distances; (A little humor never hurts.)and without the sanctified icon But, of course, the question isin the temple, we cannot easily about “graven images.” All re-commune with the Deity. Divin- ligions have their symbols ofity can also be invoked and felt in holiness through which the sa-a sacred fire, or in a tree, or in the cred flows into the mundane. Toenlightened person of a satguru. name a few: the Christian cross,In our temples, God is invoked or statues of Mother Mary andin the sanctum by highly trained Saint Theresa, the holy Kaabapriests. Through the practice of in Mecca, the Sikh Adi Granthyoga, or meditation, we invoke enshrined in the Golden TempleGod inside ourself. Yoga means to in Amritsar, the Arc and Torahyoke oneself to God within. The of the Jews, the image of a medi-image or icon of worship is a fo- tating Buddha, the totems of in-cus for our prayers and devotions. digenous and Pagan faiths, and Another way to explain icon the artifacts of the holy menworship is to acknowledge that and women of all religions. SuchHindus believe God is every- A devotee looks within and beyond the bronze dancing Siva icons, or graven images, are heldwhere, in all things, whether stone, to behold God in His spiritual body of light. Dressed in tradi- in awe by the followers of the re-wood, creatures or people. So, it is tional Hindu garb, the man is performing his daily puja in his spective faiths. The question is,not surprising that they feel com- home shrine—chanting Sanskrit mantras, offering fruit, water, does this make all such religion-fortable worshiping the Divine in flowers, incense and light—worshiping devoutly, beseeching ists idol worshipers? The answerHis material manifestation. The God to send blessings through the enshrined image. is, yes and no. From our perspec-Hindu can see God in stone and tive, idol worship is an intelligent,water, fire, air and ether, and inside his own soul. Indeed, there mystical practice shared by all of the world’s great faiths.are Hindu temples which have in the sanctum sanctorum no im- The human mind releases itself from suffering through the useage at all but a yantra, a symbolic or mystic diagram. However, of forms and symbols that awaken reverence, evoke sanctity andthe sight of the image enhances the devotee’s worship. spiritual wisdom. Even a fundamentalist Christian who rejects Elaboration: In Hinduism one of the ultimate attainments is all forms of idol worship, including those of the Catholic andwhen the seeker transcends the need of all form and symbol. Episcopal churches, would resent someone who showed disre-This is the yogi’s goal. In this way Hinduism is the least idol-ori- spect for his Bible. This is because he considers it sacred. Hisented of all the religions of the world. There is no religion that is book and the Hindu’s icon are much alike in this way. a p r i l / m ay / j u n e , 2 0 0 4 h i n d u i s m t o d ay VII
  8. 8. 6 Are Hindus forbidden to eat meat? Hindus teach vegetarianism as a way to live with a minimum of hurt to other beings. But in today’s world not all Hindus are vegetarians. ur religion does not like. Many Hindu swamis advise lay down rigid “do’s and followers to be well-established don’ts.” There are no com- vegetarians prior to initiation mandments. Hinduism into mantra, and to remain veg-gives us the wisdom to make up etarian thereafter. But most doour own mind on what we put in not insist upon vegetarianism forour body, for it is the only one we those not seeking initiation. Swa-have—in this life, at least. Vege- mis have learned that familiestarians are more numerous in the who are vegetarian have fewerSouth of India than in the North. problems than those who are not.This is because of the North’s Poignant scriptural citationscooler climactic conditions and counsel against eating meat. Thepast Islamic influence. Priests Yajur Veda (36.18) calls for kind-and religious leaders are definite- liness toward all creatures livingly vegetarian, so as to maintain on the Earth, in the air and ina high level of purity and spiri- the water. The Tirukural, a 2,200-tual consciousness to fulfill their year-old masterpiece of ethics,responsibilities, and to awaken states, “When a man realizes thatthe refined areas of their nature. meat is the butchered flesh ofSoldiers and law-enforcement of- another creature, he will abstainficers are generally not vegetar- from eating it” (257). The Manuians, because they have to keep Dharma Shastras state, “Hav-alive their aggressive forces in ing well considered the origin oforder to perform their work. To flesh and the cruelty of fetteringpractice yoga and be successful and slaying corporeal beings, letin meditation, it is mandatory one entirely abstain from eatingto be vegetarian. It is a matter flesh,” and “When the diet is pure,of wisdom—the application of the mind and heart are pure.” Forknowledge at any given moment. guidance in this and all matters,Today, about twenty percent of Hindus also rely on their ownall Hindus are vegetarians. guru, community elders, their Elaboration: This can be a Vendors at a market are selling fruits, vegetables, grains, spices own conscience and their knowl-touchy subject. There are several and sweets—a potpourri of foods that great cooks creatively edge of the benefits of abstainingways to respond, depending on combine in one of the world’s most sumptuous cuisines. Hin- from meat and enjoying a whole-who is asking and the background dus understand the sound reasons against eating meat, and some vegetarian diet. Of course,in which he was raised. But the many abstain entirely. With such a savory and healthy diet, there are good Hindus who eatoverlying principle that defines there is no need to consume flesh. meat, and there are not-so-goodthe Hindu answer to this query Hindus who are vegetarians.is ahimsa—refraining from injuring, physically, mentally or emo- Today in America and Europe millions of people are vegetar-tionally, anyone or any living creature. The Hindu who wishes to ians because they want to live a long time and be healthy. Manystrictly follow the path of noninjury naturally adopts a vegetar- feel a moral obligation to shun the mentality of violence to whichian diet. It’s a matter of conscience more than anything else. meat-eating gives rise. There are good books on vegetarianism, When we eat meat, fish, fowl and eggs, we absorb the vibration such as Diet for a New America. There is also a fine magazineof the instinctive creatures into our nerve system. This chemical- called Vegetarian Times. The booklet “How to Win an Argumently alters our consciousness and amplifies our lower nature, which with a Meat-Eater” is online at: www.himalayanacademy.com/is prone to fear, anger, jealousy, confusion, resentment and the books/pamphlets/WinMeatEaterArgument.html.VIII h i n d u i s m t o day a p r i l / m ay / j u n e , 2 0 0 4
  9. 9. 7 Do Hindus have a Bible? Our “Bible” is called the Veda. The Veda, which means “wisdom,” is comprised of four ancient and holy scriptures which all Hindus revere as the revealed word of God. ike the taoist tao te ching, prescribe ritual worship, mantra the Buddhist Dhammapada, and devotional hymns to estab- the Sikh Adi Granth, the lish communication with the Jewish Torah, the Christian spiritual worlds. The hymns areBible and the Muslim Koran—the invocations to the One DivineVeda is the Hindu holy book. The and to the Divinities of nature,four books of the Vedas—Rig, such as the Sun, the Rain, theYajur, Sama and Atharva—in- Wind, the Fire and the Dawn—clude over 100,000 verses. The as well as prayers for matrimony,knowledge imparted by the Ve- progeny, prosperity, concord, pro-das ranges from earthy devotion tection, domestic rites and more.to high philosophy. Their words The Aranyakas and Upanishadsand wisdom permeate Hindu outline the soul’s evolutionarythought, ritual and meditation. journey, provide yogic philo-The Vedas are the ultimate scrip- sophical training and propoundtural authority for Hindus. Their realization of man’s oneness witholdest portions are said by some God as the destiny of all souls.to date back as far as 6,000 bce, Today, the Vedas are publishedorally transmitted for most of in Sanskrit, English, French,history and written down in San- German and other languages.skrit in the last few millennia, But it is the popular, metaphysi-making them the world’s longest cal Upanishads that have beenand most ancient scripture. The most amply and ably translated.Vedas open a rare window into The Vedas advise: “Let thereancient Indian society, proclaim- be no neglect of Truth. Let thereing life’s sacredness and the way be no neglect of dharma. Letto oneness with God. there be no neglect of welfare. Elaboration: For untold centu- Let there be no neglect of pros-ries unto today, the Vedas have perity. Let there be no neglectremained the sustaining force of study and teaching. Let thereand authoritative doctrine, guid- be no neglect of the duties to theing followers in ways of worship, The Vedas are revealed scripture, meaning they were issued Gods and the ancestors” (Tait-duty and enlightenment. The forth by God through enlightened sages, or rishis. This divine tiriya Upanishad 1.11.1). “UnitedVedas are the meditative and transmission is depicted here as Lord Siva bestows the four your resolve, united your hearts,philosophical focus for millions of books of the Veda to four rishis. The sacred knowledge, passed may your spirits be one, thatmonks and a billion seekers. Their orally for most of history, was finally scribed in Sanskrit on you may long together dwell instanzas are chanted from memory palm leaves to share and preserve it. unity and concord!” (Rig Vedaby priests and laymen daily as lit- 10.191.4). “There, where there isurgy in temple worship and domestic ritual. All Hindus whole- no darkness, nor night, nor day, nor being, nor nonbeing, there isheartedly accept the Vedas, yet each draws selectively, interprets the Auspicious One, alone, absolute and eternal. There is the glo-freely and amplifies abundantly. Over time, this tolerant alle- rious splendor of that Light from whom in the beginning spranggiance has woven the varied tapestry of Indian Hindu Dharma. ancient wisdom” (Shvetashvatara Upanishad 4.18). “Taking as a Each of the four Vedas has four sections: Samhitas (hymn col- bow the great weapon of the Upanishad, one should put upon itlections), Brahmanas (priestly manuals), Aranyakas (forest treatis- an arrow sharpened by meditation. Stretching it with a thoughtes) and Upanishads (enlightened discourses). The Samhitas and directed to the essence of That, penetrate that Imperishable asBrahmanas affirm that God is immanent and transcendent and the mark, my friend” (Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.3). a p r i l / m ay / j u n e , 2 0 0 4 h i n d u i s m t o d ay IX
  10. 10. 8 Why do many Hindus wear a dot near the middle of their forehead? The dot worn on the forehead is a religious symbol. It represents divine sight and shows that one is a Hindu. For women, it is also a beauty mark. he dot worn between the evil eye. As an exotic fashion the eyes or in the middle statement, the dot’s color comple- of the forehead is a sign that ments the color of a lady’s sari. one is a Hindu. It is called Ornate bindis are even worn bythe bindi in the Hindi language, actresses in popular Americanbindu in Sanskrit and pottu in TV shows.Tamil. In olden days, all Hindu Elaboration: Men and womenmen and women wore these of a particular religion wishingmarks, and they both also wore to identify themselves to one an-earrings. Today it is the women other often do so by wearing dis-who are most faithful in wearing tinctive religious symbols. Oftenthe bindi. these are blessed in their temples, The dot has a mystical meaning. churches or synagogues. Chris-It represents the third eye of spir- tians wear a cross on a necklace.itual sight, which sees things the Jewish boys wear small leatherphysical eyes cannot see. Hindus cases that hold scriptural pas-seek to awaken their inner sight sages, and the round cap calledthrough yoga. The forehead dot yarmulka. Sikh men wear theiris a reminder to use and cultivate hair in a turban. In many coun-this spiritual vision to perceive tries, Muslim women cover theirand better understand life’s inner head with a scarf, called hajib.workings—to see things not just Do not be ashamed to wearphysically, but with the “mind’s the bindi on your forehead in theeye” as well. The bindi is made United States, Canada, Europe orof red powder (called sindur, tra- any country of the world. Wearditionally made from powdered it proudly. The forehead dot willturmeric and fresh lime juice), distinguish you from all othersandalpaste or cosmetics. people as a very special person, a In addition to the simple dot, Hindu, a knower of eternal truths.there are many types of fore- You will never be mistaken as be-head marks, known as tilaka in longing to another nationality orSanskrit. Each mark represents a Decorating the face and body with colorful paints is a univer- religion. The sacred forehead dotparticular sect or denomination sal human practice, often a cultural rite expressing one’s tribe, is an easy way of distinguishingof our vast religion. We have four beliefs and identity. The forehead dot shows that one is proud Hindus from Muslims. And don’tmajor sects: Saivism, Vaishnavism, to be a Hindu and bespeaks mystical seeing beyond the five be intimidated when people askShaktism and Smartism. Vaishna- senses. Here, in a simple, daily act, a woman obligingly applies you what the dot means. Now youva Hindus, for example, wear a v- a red bindi to her sister’s forehead. have lots of information to give ashaped tilaka made of white clay. good answer, which will probablyElaborate tilakas are worn by Hindus mainly at religious events, lead to more questions about your venerable religion.though many wear the simple bindi, indicating they are Hindu, For both boys and girls, men and women, the dot can be smalleven in the general public. By these marks we know what a or large depending on the circumstance, but should always beperson believes, and therefore know how to begin conversations. there when appropriate. Naturally, we don’t want to flaunt our For Hindu women, the forehead dot is also a beauty mark, not religion in the face of others. We observe that many Christianunlike the black mark European and American women once men and women take off or conceal their crosses in the corpo-wore on the cheek. The red bindi is generally a sign of mar- rate business world. Some communities and institutions disallowriage. A black bindi is often worn before marriage to ward off wearing religious symbols entirely.X h i n d u i s m t o day a p r i l / m ay / j u n e , 2 0 0 4
  11. 11. 9 Are the Gods of Hinduism really married? It is true that God is often depicted with a spouse in our traditional stories. However, on a deeper philosophical level, the Supreme Being and the Gods are neither male nor female and are therefore not married. n popular, village hindu- currents, ida and pingala, into ism God is represented as the spiritual current, sushumna, male, and God’s energy, or in the center of the spine within Shakti, is personified as His each individual.spouse—for example, Vishnu and Hindus know that the GodsLakshmi. In Hindu temples, art do not marry, that they are com-and mythology, God is every- plete within themselves. Thiswhere seen as the beloved, divine unity is depicted in the tradi-couple. Philosophically, however, tional icon of Ardhanarishvara,the caution is always made that Siva as half man and half wom-God and God’s energy are One, an, and in the teaching that Sivaand the metaphor of the insepa- and Shakti are one, that Shaktirable divine couple serves only to is Siva’s energy. Siva is dearlyillustrate this Oneness. loved as our Father-Mother God. Hinduism is taught on many Yet, sexual gender and matrimo-levels to many different people, nial relations are of the physicaland to uneducated people who and emotional realms, whereasare not able to understand high the Gods exist in a stratum thatphilosophy, Hinduism is taught in far supersedes these levels of life.story form. Because the temple is For that matter, the soul itself isthe center of every Hindu com- neither male nor female.munity, and everyone is focused Some modern swamis nowon the temple and the Gods urge devotees not to pay any at-within it, the Gods are the major tention to Puranic stories aboutplayers in these stories. Hindus the Gods, saying that they havewho understand the higher phi- no relationship with the worldlosophy seek to find God on the today—that they are misleadinginside while also worshiping God and confusing and should no lon-in the temples. Simple folk strive ger be taught to the children. In-to be like a God, or like a God- stead, they encourage followersdess. These tales, called Puranas, to deepen themselves with thehave long been the basis of dance, Through history Hindus have depicted God as Ardhanarish- higher philosophies of the Vedicplays and storytelling around the vara, which literally means “half-female Lord”—Siva as male Upanishads and the realizationsfire in the homes to children as on the right and female on the left. This vision of the Divine as of Hindu seers.they are growing up. The stories our Mother-Father God supersedes the popular, mythological Other faiths sometimes criti-illustrate how a family should notion of marriage of a God and Goddess, declaring that God cize the Hindu religion as a sortlive, how they should raise their and His energy are one. of comic-book religion, and wechildren, and much more. Before should not be part of perpetuat-the printing press, there were few books, and Hinduism was ing that image by passing on such misconceptions as the mar-conveyed orally through stories and parables. While these often riage of the Gods. Other religions move and adjust with the times.violent children’s tales should not be perpetuated, there remains Hinduism must also do so. It must offer answers to the questionsmuch of value in the extensive writings of the Puranas. about God, soul and world—answers that are reasonable, that Elaboration: Those who learn the higher Hindu philosophies can be understood and accepted even by a child, that are coher-know that Gods are neither male nor female. In fact, attaining ent, sensible and strictly in accord with scripture and tradition.to that Godly level of being is one of the mystical goals of yoga. This is necessary in the technological age, necessary in orderThis is accomplished by blending the feminine and masculine that Hinduism will be a religion of the future, not of the past. a p r i l / m ay / j u n e , 2 0 0 4 h i n d u i s m t o d ay XI
  12. 12. 10 What about caste and untouchability? Caste is the hereditary division of Indian society based on occupation. The lowest class, deemed untouchables, suffer from discrimination and mistreatment. It is illegal in India to dis- criminate against, abuse or insult anyone on the basis of caste. aste, from the portu- societies. It has sustained a con- guese casta, meaning “clan” tinuity of culture and religion for or “lineage,” refers to two thousands of years. Europe, on systems within Hindu soci- the other hand, has seen millen-ety. The first is varna, the division niums of upheaval. Still, one onlyof society into four groups: work- has to go back to before the 17th-ers, business people, lawmakers/ century industrial revolution tolaw enforcers and priests. The find a social system that is simi-second is jati, the thousands of lar to caste. European societyoccupational guilds whose mem- then comprised the landed elitebers follow a single profession. Jati (including royalty, a hereditarymembers usually marry within caste maintained to this day),their own jati and follow tradi- merchants, artisans and peas-tions associated with their jati. In ants. The artisans formed guilds,urban areas they often enter oth- occupation-based organizationser occupations, but still usually that served both as closed unionsarrange marriages within the jati. and marketing monopolies. The Wealth, especially in urban guild legacy remains in Westernareas, often trumps caste. Indus- surnames such as Smith, a metaltrialization and education have worker. There was no public edu-greatly altered India’s jati system cation system, and each genera-by eliminating or changing the tion learned at home the familyprofessions upon which it was occupation. There was little tech-originally based, and opening nological change, so jobs werenew employment options. The static. Industrialization and pub-jatis are evolving to function to- lic education altered (but did notday less like guilds and more like destroy) this class system in thelarge clans of related families. West, just as they are changingAt the bottom are the so-called caste and jati in India today.untouchables, who perform the Second issue: racial/class dis-dirtiest jobs and have suffered crimination. Most Indians aremuch like the black people of Representatives of the four castes, or varnas, are shown here unfamiliar with the extent of dis-America, who were freed from surrounding Lord Ganesha. They are: worker, businessman, crimination in the West today. Inslavery just 138 years ago. Strong general and priest. These are natural divisions which appear America, for example, hundredslaws have been passed in India in all nations and societies as shown by the universal existence, of thousands live destitute andto end caste-based discrimination. in some form, of labor unions, businessmen’s associations, homeless on city streets, as trueModern Hindus rightly deplore armies and police forces, and religious ministers. “untouchables.” US cities are morecaste abuse and are working to racially segregated than beforeset matters right. Just as in the US, it is a difficult task that will the 1950s Civil Rights Movement because of “white flight” to thetake decades, especially in the villages. suburbs. Black Americans receive harsher sentences than white Elaboration: Caste is, no doubt, the biggest stick that Hindus get Americans for the same crime. Many Native American Indiansbeaten with. It is taught as the defining attribute, or fatal flaw, of live at the bottom of society, destitute and alcoholic, on barrenHinduism in Western schools. Untouchability as a formal system Indian reservations. This kind of response—we can call it theshocks Westerners. One response we can make is to separate so- “You’re one, too” defense—doesn’t mean Hindus should not workcial stratification from the issue of racial/class discrimination. much harder to end caste discrimination. But it reminds others First issue: social stratification. India is one of the world’s oldest that no country in the world is yet free from racial discrimination.XII h i n d u i s m t o day a p r i l / m ay / j u n e , 2 0 0 4
  13. 13. PART 2 Hinduism’s Code of Conduct Twenty keys for spiritual living in contemporary times ow often do you see a professional team of people ed aims of everyone in society, and assumed to be fully intact for misbehave on the job? You’re on a flight from San Fran- anyone seeking life’s highest aim in the pursuit called yoga. Sage cisco to Singapore. Do the flight attendants bicker in the Patanjali (ca 200 bce), raja yoga’s foremost propounder, told us, aisle? Of course not. People at this level of business have “These yamas are not limited by class, country, time (past, present control of their minds and emotions. If they or future) or situation. Hence they are called the didn’t, they would soon be replaced. When they are universal great vows.” Yogic scholar Swami Brahm- on the job, at least, they follow a code of conduct ananda Saraswati revealed the inner science of spelled out in detail by the corporation. It’s not un- yama and niyama. They are the means, he said, like the moral code of any religion, outlining sound to control the vitarkas, the cruel mental waves or ethics for respect and harmony among humans. thoughts, that when acted upon result in injury to Those seeking to be successful in life strive to ful- others, untruthfulness, hoarding, discontent, indo- fill a moral code whether “on the job” or off. Does lence or selfishness. He stated, “For each vitarka Hinduism and its scriptures on yoga have such a you have, you can create its opposite through yama code? Yes: twenty ethical guidelines called yamas and niyama, and make your life successful.” and niyamas, “restraints and observances.” These The following paragraphs, with accompanying“do’s” and “don’ts” are found in the 6,000 to 8,000- illustrations by A. Manivel of Chennai, elucidate year-old Vedas, mankind’s oldest body of scripture, the yamas and niyamas. Presented first are the ten and in other holy texts expounding the path of yoga. yamas, the do not’s, which harness the instinctive The yamas and niyamas are a common-sense nature, with its governing impulses of fear, anger, code recorded in the final section of the Vedas, called Upani- jealousy, selfishness, greed and lust. Second are illustrated the shads, namely the Shandilya and the Varuha. They are also ten niyamas, the do’s, the religious observances that cultivate found in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Gorakshanatha, the Tiru- and bring forth the refined soul qualities, lifting awareness into mantiram of Tirumular and in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The the consciousness of the higher chakras of love, compassion, self- yamas and niyamas have been preserved through the centuries lessness, intelligence and bliss. Together the yamas and niyamas as the foundation, the first and second stage, of the eight-staged provide the foundation to support our yoga practice so that at- practice of yoga. Yet, they are fundamental to all beings, expect- tainments in higher consciousness can be sustained. THE 10 VEDIC RESTRAINTS, YAMA æº Yama 1 Yama 2 Ç⁄“Ä–Ÿ Practice noninjury, not harm- –´æ Adhere to truthfulness, ing others by thought, word refraining from lying and or deed, even in your dreams. betraying promises. Speak Live a kindly life, revering only that which is true, kind, all beings as expressions of helpful and necessary. Know- the One Divine energy. Let ing that deception creates go of fear and insecurity, the distance, don’t keep secrets sources of abuse. Knowing from family or loved ones. that harm caused to others Be fair, accurate and frank unfailingly returns to oneself, in discussions, a stranger to live peacefully with God’s deceit. Admit your failings. Do creation. Never be a source not engage in slander, gossip of dread, pain or injury. or backbiting. Do not bear Follow a vegetarian diet. false witness against another. Noninjury, Ahimsa Truthfulness, Satya a p r i l / m ay / j u n e , 2 0 0 4 h i n d u i s m t o d ay XIII
  14. 14. Yama 3 Yama 4 Ç—™‰æ Uphold the virtue of nonsteal- ∏˘“˜òæ@ Practice divine conduct, ing, neither thieving, covet- controlling lust by remain- ing nor failing to repay debt. ing celibate when single and Control your desires and faithful in marriage. Before live within your means. Do marriage, use vital energies in not use borrowed resources study, and after marriage in for unintended purposes creating family success. Don’t or keep them past due. waste the sacred force by Do not gamble or defraud promiscuity in thought, word others. Do not renege on or deed. Be restrained with promises. Do not use others’ the opposite sex. Seek holy names, words, resources or company. Dress and speak rights without permission modestly. Shun pornography, and acknowledgement. sexual humor and violence.Nonstealing, Asteya Divine Conduct, Brahmacharya Yama 5 Yama 6 ’ºŸ Exercise patience, restrain- ∞‡⁄™ Foster steadfastness, over- ing intolerance with people coming nonperseverance, and impatience with cir- fear, indecision and change- cumstances. Be agreeable. ableness. Achieve your goals Let others behave accord- with a prayer, purpose, plan, ing to their nature, without persistence and push. Be adjusting to you. Don’t argue, firm in your decisions. Avoid dominate conversations or sloth and procrastination. interrupt others. Don’t be in Develop willpower, cour- a hurry. Be patient with chil- age and industriousness. dren and the elderly. Mini- Overcome obstacles. Never mize stress by keeping wor- carp or complain. Do not let ries at bay. Remain poised opposition or fear of failure in good times and bad. result in changing strategies.Patience, Kshama Steadfastness, Dhriti Yama 7 Yama 8 ÆæŸ Practice compassion, con- ÇŸú@∆ Maintain honesty, renounc- quering callous, cruel and ing deception and wrongdo- insensitive feelings toward all ing. Act honorably even in beings. See God everywhere. hard times. Obey the laws Be kind to people, animals, of your nation and locale. plants and the Earth itself. Pay your taxes. Be straight- Forgive those who apolo- forward in business. Do an gize and show true remorse. honest day’s work. Do not Foster sympathy for others’ bribe or accept bribes. Do needs and suffering. Honor not cheat, deceive or circum- and assist those who are vent to achieve an end. Be weak, impoverished, aged frank with yourself. Face or in pain. Oppose family and accept your faults with- abuse and other cruelties. out blaming them on others.Compassion, Daya Honesty, ArjavaXIV h i n d u i s m t o day a p r i l / m ay / j u n e , 2 0 0 4
  15. 15. Yama 9 Yama 10 ⁄º™Ÿ“Ÿ¿ Be moderate in appetite, –Êò Uphold the ethic of purity, neither eating too much avoiding impurity in mind, nor consuming meat, fish, body and speech. Maintain shellfish, fowl or eggs. Enjoy a clean, healthy body. Keep fresh, wholesome vegetarian a pure, uncluttered home foods that vitalize the body. and workplace. Act virtu- Avoid junk food. Drink in ously. Keep good company, moderation. Eat at regular never mixing with adulter- times, only when hungry, ers, thieves or other impure at a moderate pace, never people. Keep away from between meals, in a dis- pornography and violence. turbed atmosphere or when Never use harsh, angered or upset. Follow a simple diet, indecent language. Worship avoiding rich or fancy fare. devoutly. Meditate daily.Moderate Appetite, Mitahara Purity, Saucha THE 10 VEDIC PRACTICES, NIYAMA ⁄≤æº Niyama 1 Niyama 2 ⁄„ Allow yourself the expres- –≥™ËŒ Nurture contentment, sion of remorse, being mod- seeking joy and serenity est and showing shame for in life. Be happy, smile misdeeds. Recognize your and uplift others. Live errors, confess and make in constant gratitude for amends. Sincerely apologize your health, your friends to those hurt by your words and your belongings, Don’t or deeds. Resolve all conten- complain about what you tion before sleep. Seek out don’t possess. Identify with and correct your faults and the eternal You, rather than bad habits. Welcome cor- mind, body or emotions. rection as a means to better- Keep the mountaintop view ing yourself. Do not boast. that life is an opportunity Shun pride and pretension. for spiritual progress.Remorse, Hri Contentment, Santosha Niyama 3 Niyama 4 ÆŸ≤ Be generous to a fault, giving ÇŸ⁄—™èæ Cultivate an unshakable liberally without thought of faith. Believe firmly in God, reward. Tithe, offering one- Gods, guru and your path tenth of your gross income to enlightenment. Trust in (dashamamsha), as God’s the words of the masters, money, to temples, ashrams the scriptures and tradi- and spiritual organizations. tions. Practice devotion Approach the temple with and sadhana to inspire offerings. Visit gurus with gifts experiences that build in hand. Donate religious lit- advanced faith. Be loyal to erature. Feed and give to those your lineage, one with your in need. Bestow your time satguru. Shun those who and talents without seeking try to break your faith by praise. Treat guests as God. argument and accusation.Giving, Dana Faith, Astikya a p r i l / m ay / j u n e , 2 0 0 4 h i n d u i s m t o d ay XV

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