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Some Essentials of Hinduism

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What is Hinduism?

Hinduism is a recent term. The original name of the religion of the Hindus is Sanātana Dharma – Eternal Religion, or eternal basis of existence. Hindus regard the Vedas as the cornerstone of all knowledge and of mental, social and spiritual development. The four Vedas are written by hundreds of rishis (ṛṣis) (among which some 40 women) who could rise up to and communicate with the spiritual worlds above normal human consciousness, and could translate it in to hymns or poetry in the  best possible way. The Vedas are therefore from higher than human origin. Their age is unknown, though in written form they only exist a few thousand years, but still being the oldest scriptures known to our humanity.

Hindus always feel themselves connected with a higher, ever present divine world into which they themselves will emancipate in the future, and is even at this moment their own higher self – i.e. the best deep within themselves. There is no unbridgeable separation between the divine consciousness or of “God” and “His” creation, as often (erroneously) believed in popular Christianity and Islam.


One God, Many Gods?

It is said that there are 330,000,000 gods in Hinduism. But all are aspects of the Brahman, the One – not a person, but a concept. It is the One from which everything manifests, exists within and return to. We are never separate from It, even though it is the nature of our limited mind to think so.


Eternal or Created Universe?

There is no understandable beginning or end to the Universe, but there are periods of rest (Pralāya) and periods of existence (Manvantara) in alternation. They form a cycle. Within each cycle there are many smaller cycles, down to the infinitesimal. At the beginning of every period of manifestation within the cycle there is creation, and at the end of that cycle of manifestation, which is the beginning of the period of rest or inner activity, there is destruction. The creating forces are called Brahmā; the destructive forces are called Śiva. These forces are continuously at work. The particular cycle which runs from the creation of the earth to its end is called a kalpa, and lasts 4,320,000,000 years. We half just past half of the cycle, so we have some 2,000,000,000 years to go. Then the planet dies, only to ‘reincarnate’ after an equally long period of rest. Within the life cycle of the earth are many smaller cycles and periods of rest, in which creation and destruction respectively prevail. ‘Time’ is cyclic and is measurable, and exists within ‘Duration” or ‘Eternal Time’ and is unchangeable and eternal.


Some Fundamental Concepts of Hinduism

–          Saṁsāra – The cycle of life and death, of illusion and suffering.

–          Nirvāṇa or Mokṣa – Liberation of all illusions and limitations. Consciousness has no more limits as far as human consciousness can go, no more wrong ideas, and no more impossibilities due to lack of knowledge.

–          Dharma – Religion or task of life, also our task or duty through the succession of lives. It supports or holds up the whole universe, and for us humans dharma exists in the form of teachings given to us by the liberated and omniscient sages.

–          Karma – Literally: Work. The Universal Law of cause and effect where consciousness is involved. Karma is not good or bad in itself, but depends on our habit of dividing our experiences in ‘pleasant’ and ‘unpleasant.’ Karma is a neutral Law or ‘way of working’ of the whole Universe, always striving to universal harmony. Whether human beings create good of bad karma depends on the measure and discipline with which they follow their ‘silent inner voice.’ Human-made rules and prescriptions are only mental constructions which may either be helpful or obstructive.

–          Punarjanman – Reincarnation, reembodiment. The Universal Law of Cycles, which shows itself to us as birth and death, coming and going, day and night, ebb and flow, etc. etc. When we die we don’t cease to exist, but leave our bodies and our lower thought habits, but we maintain our essential ego consisting of our better, higher and true thoughts – which create the temporary worlds or experience called ‘heaven’ or svarga or svarloka, devaloka, Indra’s heaven, or devachan (in Buddhism and Theosophy). When the energies of the mind have been  exhausted, we reincarnate due to the karma of our former worldly existences – until we have reached the stage of universal knowledge and wisdom in which we will create no more karma and have no more karma to work out. Then we need no more physical body, but life on as ‘gods’.

–          Immortality or Amṛta – The state of consciousness we reach through our development when we remain conscious without interruption. Our bodies are temporary compositions of molecules etc. which fall apart. But our essential ego does not fall apart through deaths and rebirths. At death our personal awareness is interrupted and we gain it again in ‘heaven’ or another state, and before rebirth, we loose our memory again. Immortality means that we maintain our consciousness on all levels of our being. The ‘immortals’ have been normal people, who have reached this stage.

–          Ahiṁsā – Nonviolence. The first ethical rule of yoga, as formulated by Patañjali.

–          Yoga – Derived from the Sanskṛt word ‘yuj,’ which means ‘to connect.’ Yoga is reaching conscious unification with God – one’s inner god, or the method leading to this unification. (The well-known yoga taught popularly in the West is no real yoga). It involves ethical en mental discipline, devotion to the highest within each and all, and acting in harmony.

–          Triguṇa – The three fundamental states of being which are in balance during pralaya (cosmic rest), and are active during the periods of manifestation of life as rajas (desire), tamas (ignorance, lethargy) and sattva (wisdom). The triguṇa is practically applicable to everything in life, such as food, attitude, philosophy, cosmic forces.

–          Trimurti – The  three divine beings – or rather the Leaders of the hierarchy of conscious forces which we know as 1) creative (Brahmā) 2) the all pervading sustaining forces of existence (Viṣṇu) and 3) those of destruction with the aim of liberating the spiritual from its material encasement to prepare for a new cycle of manifestation (Śiva). A trimurti can also be an idol or sculpture of a god symbolizing that the Three are in reality One.

–          Ṛta – Eternal order in the cosmic sense; the eternal law of order which imposes order and symmetry to chaos and produces esthetic forms and beauty, as well as ethical forms in the human mind. Ṛta is together with satya (truth) is the most important concept of the Veda.

–          Satya – Truth. It means integrity. In a second sense it means ‘Ultimate Truth’. This can be known by inner vision.

–          Yajña – Sacrifice, giving of honor. The universe is a continuous play of giving and taking (or exchange) of energies, in which consciousness and will are involved. In case of human beings, our main action is ‘serving the gods’ in their efforts, which means to live, think and act and strive in harmony with the highest within themselves (which is the divine). Externally and ritually yajña has become an action of priest trying to please the gods through material symbols – which as sometimes led to animals and even human sacrifices. Such rituals nowadays have at most some value in the astral realm (which is only slightly less material and just above the physical realm). They therefore can produce some feelings of devotion and calm confidence in the devotees, and occasionally bring about ‘miracles’.


The Veda

There are four Veda’s, though it is said that all knowledge was originally contained in one Veda only. The four are Ṛgveda, containing hymns or mantras, i.e. ‘directors of the mind’ to the Vedic Gods (especially Indra – the mind, Agni or Fire – spiritual aspiration, and Sūrya – the Sun (the focal point or all vitality in the solar system as well as the source of Intellect in man). Others are Space (Varuṇa who knows all about you, even your secrets), Vāyu (air), Soma (the moon as well as the fluid (drug), or the yogic action which helps a man leaving his body, but keeping a conscious relation with his earthly body. The third Veda, the Sāmaveda  or ‘Melodious Veda’ contains mostly the same as the Rig Veda, but in the form of verses to be sung. The second Veda or Yajurveda (of which exist two version) contains mantras for performing rituals, and the fourth, Atharvaveda, which stand a bit apart, contains magical formulas and mantras for healing.

Each of the Veda’s contain commentaries called Brāhmanas, and commentaries on these are Āraṇyakas (‘written in the forest’). The deepest, most philosophical and esoteric commentaries without any rituals or formulas are the Upaniṣads (which means ‘sitting at the feet of the master’). The Upaniṣads form the end and conclusion of the Veda’s (Vedānta), on which most of India’s philosophy and spirituality is based.

There are two main streams of interpretation: the ritual interpretation, which is brought into practice by priests in temples, and the philosophical interpretation. Until the nineteenth century the Vedas were only accessible to those belonging to the Brahmin caste.


Other Scriptures

Almost all other scriptures are regarded as of human origin. Some of them, such as the 18 Purāṇas and at times the great epics about incarnations of Vishnu (the sustainer, all-pervader) known as Rāmayāna and the Mahābhārata, contain a wealth of information which can be interpreted esoterically by those initiated in the deeper meaning. Inserted in the Mahabharata epos is the Bhagavad Gītā, a poem of 18 chapters and  the most famous and well-known Hindu scripture, which is about Philosophy and Yoga. A very important scripture is the Manusmṛiti or Laws of Manu, the basis of the traditional legal system in India. There is hardly a form of art or science thinkable, or a sacred place or temple in India of which there is no study or story in the form of some ancient scripture in India’s vast literary production. A most important scripture of unknown age which is relatively unknown, but which contains the basis from which apparently the greatest souls of Indian soil derived inspiration is the Yoga Vasiṣṭha.


Visible and Invisible Worlds and Bodies

The physical realm of matter which western science studies is only a very thin slice – and in fact the coarsest and most illusionary one – of all the various realms (lokas, talas) with all their subdivisions in which conscious beings live. Most forms of existence do not have physical bodies are therefore unseen by us, even with our instruments. But, as the Viṣṇu Purāṇa states: “There is no a square inch which is not teeming with life.” They all have both body (of subtle matter) and soul (ātman). To the inhabitants of these many invisible realms in all states of evolution we can call devas. A deva or ‘radiant’ being can be subhuman, or even below the minerals in its stage of evolution, but others have passed the stage of human evolution a long time in the past.


Human (and other) beings have bodies of refined matter which are invisible, some of which continue to exist (for a shorter or longer time) after physical death. They are connected with our feelings, thoughts, higher mental efforts, spiritual intuition and spiritual knowledge. These bodies are known by many names, such as kośas, upādhis or śarīras. High yogi’s can be conscious of and leave and use these bodies at will. From a Hindu point of view all kinds of miraculous phenomena and yogic performances have a complete scientific basis – but can only be understood by those rare persons who have studied these sciences.


The Cycles of Existence

As stated before, the universe and evolution run in cycles, not in straight lines, There is no absolute beginning (creation) or end. There is no limit is the duration of the cycles, whether we speak of cycles of cosmic duration or those of chemical atoms or their sub-particles. As far as the great cycles called Mahā-Yugas of human evolution, energetically, emotionally, mentally, and higher, are concerned, which each take many millions of years according to Hindu calculation, each cycle is divided in what we can call a golden age of purity and truth (Satya or Kṛita Yuga), and then respectively a ‘silver’, ‘bronze’ and ‘iron’ age to use western terms (Dvāpara, Tretā and Kali Yuga). The Kali Yuga is the most material and untruthful age, in which we can no longer trust each other and our leaders, and in which outer comfort and vanity is more important than honesty, purity and true philosophy. The last about 5100 years we have been living in a Kali Yuga, and this will continue for another about 427,000 years, until a great destruction and war will wipe out all bad people. Then a next Satya Yuga comes, in which the righteous people will be reborn and continue to develop there spiritual intuition and faculties.


Social Aspects of Hinduism

There is no action from morning to evening in the life of a Hindu (or any other genuinely religious person as it should be) which is not in some way connected with the gods, or with the divine forces of nature. It reflects itself, often in the form as undesirable of later interpretations, in all phases of life, from what one eats, how one eats, when one gets up and how one bathes, even how one goes to toilet, the phases of life during childhood and during adulthood, with whom and when a person should marry, the caste system, professions, daily prayers, rituals, in all forms of art, even in the most modern art, and of course in the general view of what is important in life, and what is important for the soul after death and in its next rebirth. There are many holy places and cities, and rivers and hills in India, all related to some spiritual event in often the remotest history or prehistory. There is no living being that does not earn respect, and sometimes even insects are fed. Many Hindus are vegetarians and for the higher (sub)castes vegetarian life is compulsory. The teachings of karma and reincarnation give them a tremendous power to suffer difficulties, and even death is not something to be desperate about. The other side of the coin is much indifference to many things other peoples find very important – which sometimes lands heavy on unprepared foreign visitors. The cast system, though originally descriptive and practical has caused enormous human suffering when it became rigid and was strictly maintained by the priest caste, based on interpretations to which the wider public had no access and therefore could not criticize. There is so much variety of opinion in India, and so much tolerance, that India can easily be called the most democratic country in the world. Every opinion and every form of clothing from nude monks to burqa-clad women or life-style is allowed and exist often in the same street, and is in some way supported by religion. So, Hinduism is a total culture, permeated by a divine world, a confidence in the existence of a higher life and a purpose to human existence – a purpose which unveils ever new perspectives.


– Rajasthani

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