Ashvamedha

The videos included in this post are the two mentioned in comments from the post before this. They are somewhat lengthy talks (as far as YouTube videos go) by a Doctor from the Oxford Center for Hindu Studies.

I this first video, which is the longer of the two, the speaker details pretty well how vast the collection of Hindu scriptures is and goes into some detail about selective Hindus can be in identifying which scriptures they will or will not adhere to. I found this interesting because it’s one of the aspects of the practice of Hinduism that I think really sets it apart from the other major world religions.

With many of the other major world religions there can be found a prevalent habit of picking-n-choosing which holy literature is most valid or applicable to today’s living. In their context (the context of the Abrahamic religions, for example), however, believers are quite literally talking from both sides of their mouth. They’ve already attributed ultimate sanctity and supreme authority to their holy texts and maintain that claim all the while they select which parts of the same text support the current goal or focus. Naturally, this leads to contradiction and hypocrisy – which I have found to be inherent in Abrahamic religions, specifically. You end up with a religion saying one and ONLY one text is holy (Only the Bible, or only the Q’uran), and then in that same text find them pointing to words that say you should kill someone wearing clothing made from cotton-polyester blends or who eats shrimp (Leviticus) while ignoring other parts of the same textual body that says we should love people as much as we love our own self (New Testament).

In Hinduism, according to the video, Hindus have an historic tendency to abandon entire bodies of scripture when then become irrelevant or create situations like the one mentioned above with the Abrahamics. An example cited in the video is of Gandhi’s stance on widow remarriage. The Manu Smriti / Dharma Shastras are clear that widows are not allowed to remarry. But this was challenged in a big way. Another example was that of wives seeing their husbands as gods – despite poor behavior on the husband’s part, including things like adultery. The speaker was among a group of Hindus and asked the women present about if they do this or would be willing to, and laughter was the answer he received in addition to a lady who went so far as to say that scripture was evil. For Hindus, it seems, the relationship to scripture is sacred insofar as the scripture itself makes sense and serves the purpose of benefiting the greater good, otherwise the scripture risks losing its sacred status in a very real way.

This next video is one in which worship itself is discussed a bit more. The speaker still touches a bit on scripture and its value, but relates it the actual process of worship within Hinduism. He points out that there are different varieties of Sanskrit, some of which are so poorly understood that there are yet words in our Vedas the meaning of which is not likely to be known ever. I appreciated this video because he discusses what murti wrship really means and does so in an intelligent way. He provides answers to some common questions that probably most Hindus would agree on and speaks some about the differences of belief within Hinduism in regard to prana, pranaprathistha, whether the murti is actually god or just the carrier, whether we really are in the presence of god when a murti is worshipped or whether we might be just as effective worshipping the god-amsha within instead. And I also really liked how he was knowledgeable about the Vedas and other better-know Hindu scriptures in regard to how little they actually “support” murti worship.

These videos are definitely informative and an overall good resources that may well answer a few questions for the wondering mind. If you have a free hour, or so, I would encourage you to watch these. If they don’t change your mind on one thing or another, then they may well at least help you understand the larger Hindu picture. It’s probably not entirely what you think.

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Aum Shanti

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Dharmakshetre kurukshetre

After the initial “Dhritarashtra uvacha,” the first two words of the Bhagavad Gita are “dharmakshetre kurukshetre.” These translate, roughly, as “on the sacred battlefield of Kurukshetra.” Today, like every second Sunday of a month, was the largest regularly-occuring worship service at my temple, known as Gita Mandal. I always look forward to this larger crowd, and the experience that is Hindu worship, including the discourse that’s given after all the shlokas, bhajans, and dhuns are finished. Today’s discourse, like the Bhagavad Gita, started with those words.

In the past, and likely also in the future, I’ve had a challenge helping my non-Hindu pals understand that we don’t have a resident speaker, the way Christian churches use their pastors for sermons. The man who spoke today was local, highly educated (as all of our speakers are), and very kind. And he spoke on the meaning and value of dharma.

In a manner not unlike Sri Krsna’s while speaking to Arjuna, this gentleman explained that everyone’s dharma is unique. He detailed examples of what individual and collective dharmas might look like, and then spoke a bit on the immense sacredness and value of each person not only performing their own dharma as best they’re able, but also the tremendous value of investing plenty of one’s self into actually ascertaining what his dharma actually is.

Otherwise, I agree on both accounts; although, my mind kept thinking about the second part of what he said, pertaining to knowing yourself well enough to determine on your own what your dharma might be, and then having the capacity to choose the most efficient way to manifest that. After all, a lot can be said about “diving in.” You can get busy attempting to iron out your karmas and cultivating your Bhakti, but without a foundational touch of Jnana, you’re likely to just add to your karmic pile and find that your Bhakti has gone every which way. What you then discover is that “diving in” has landed you head-first in three feet of water.

Krishna also says that when dharma decreases and adharma is on the rise, He takes human form to set things back in a more balanced direction. I think what is about the laziest way of understanding this, and it doesn’t make it less true, is that no matter how bad things get, God will and re-show us a way back. I think this is one of the many amazing aspects of my religion, and one of the big things Christianity and Hinduism have in common: the belief that God becomes human.

Equally amazing is that we’re met precisely where we are. Vishnu has incarnated numerous times to help restore dharma. Look at any avatar and you’ll see that God doesn’t usually see fit to coach from the sidelines. Any avatar from any religion will support this. The Universe meets us where we need help… The battlefields of our existence. Kurukshetre… In the place of the Kurus. The Kuru battlefield. Not the side lines. Not at the palace lounging with Dhrtarashtra and Sanjaya. Krishna/God served as the driving force of Arjuna. He supplied him with strength, restoring his courage by imparting universal Jnana. Explaining all things to Arjuna, revealing the true, intimate and impartial nature of Reality, including a mystic vision of Purushottama, Krishna dove into the battle with Arjuna and helped him navigate his crisis. Kurukshetre.

The place of dharma! How curious that the place of dharma (dharmakshetre), happens to be one and the same with the place of battle (kurukshetre). I’m reminded of the Old Testament story involving three young Hebrews and a fiery furnace. I’ll spare you the entire story; you can find it here, but suffice to say three young believers were thrown into a furnace with the intention that they would be met with a torturous demise. What happened instead, as the story goes, is that divine help arrived and all involved danced in the furnace unharmed instead of being consumed by it. Here’s an Abrahamic example supporting the Dharmic understanding of Divinity taking an active role in the so-called battlefield experienced in life.

You see, the battle field experienced in every-day existence is precisely where we’re able to meet our dharma and live as we ought to -for our individual benefit and progression, as well as the benefit of all others in the form of sustained Dharma. How fortunate we are that Dharma meets us where we are and provides us the opportunity to restore balance and order in our personal Kurukshetras!

Om shanti

Circularity

A reposted pic that came on my Facebook newsfeed recently said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” I’m adding that pic to this post for your viewing enjoyment. This struck me, actually, and it reminded me of the quote by Alexander Hamilton that “if you stand for nothing you will fall for anything.” I think the superficial understanding/interpretation of these two is bologna, and I plan to explore them in more detail here. Tune out now, if you care not.

Let’s take the second one first. So, apparently, if you stand for nothing you’ll fall for anything. I don’t think so, really. I think one implication here is something like, “If you don’t know where you are, you might end up anywhere.” (Which, conveniently enough, ties into the other saying being examined in this post!) My husband is actually a great example of why this is bullcrap. He’s not religious in any way, but he does know devotion. He doesn’t focus on humanitarian stuffs, but cares much about the well-being of our society. He votes, and usually Democrat, but he’s not officially affiliated with any one side. He shirks the label of vegetarian, but he’s like 98% plant-based in his eating. In more than one area of his life, it could easily be said, he doesn’t actually stand for anything. And officially, he pretty much refuses suchery. Yet, he’s actually quite clever and reasonable and is by no means a person I’d suspect would “fall for anything.” I think this particular phrase, from someone of western culture and of the Abrahamic background, is typical. In a billion other religions and cultures around the world, folks have been encouraged to know their path and stick to it. But historically this has been taken to extremes in the West by the Abrahamics, who perpetually insist that not only must you be wrong for them to be right, but that if you’re not for them you must automatically be against them. And so, for people of that mindset, it naturally reasons that if you stand for nothing you’re an idiot who will fall for anything. My spouse refuses to stand for most things (at least in the way most people would expect someone to stand for something), but he is by no means someone who falls for anything. In his case, it’s almost more a matter of avoiding the drama of standing for something else (for the record, this is not the same as being lazy!). I’m probably not doing him justice in this encapsulation, but he’s the best example I could think of right off. And that’s that. Standing for nothing does not equate or necessitate falling for anything. And so we move on.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”

I think, in short, this implies that if you don’t know where you’re going you’ll never really arrive. Unfortunate, aimless, wandering is the tragedy implied here. No? As with the previous saying, I think the inadequacy of this one is solved when taken from a dharmic perspective.

In most parts of most dharmic religions, a central understanding revolves around the concept that all comes from the same Source. The other side of that coin is that all returns to the same Source. Also understood, is that the Source (Brahman) is beyond all classification. “Neti, neti,” we say in Hinduism. Not this. Not that. The Source is not only everywhere we look and in everything we see, but simultaneously transcends all of phenomenal existence. Something else that highlights this point is known as Om Purnam, and it goes,

“Om purnam adah, purnam idam, purnat purnam udacchyate. Purnasya purnam adaya, purnam evavashishyate.”

This translates roughly as, “That is infinite, this is infinite. From That Infinite this infinite comes. From That Infinite, this infinite removed; The Infinite still remains.” It can be kinda lofty  to wrap your mind around at first, but it’s one of the best descriptions of Brahman, the simultaneous Source and Destination, that I’ve found and because of this I’ve had it tattooed around my left wrist/forearm.

So, coming back to our original topic, it’s quite literally impossible and illogical to not only not get where you’re going but also to mostly even to cognitively know where you’re going. It then reasons that not only are most folks who read things like the sign above misinterpreting it, but also are reading the very Truth! It’s technically easier for the human manas/buddhi/ahamkara to know where it’s not going that where it is, while at that exact moment and forever after, any road will get you there.

Om shanti

Neti, Neti(Neti)

It’s pretty much been a month since I last wrote here. No good reason exists for this, really, aside from sometimes I feel like I’m about to pop and need to step back from a number of things. As much as I enjoy having a presence here, and as much as I enjoy hearing from you all on here, bloggering is currently an easy thing to step back from. So, with that said, please excuse my distance and my silence, and thanks for continuing to read my words.

The saying, “Neti, Neti” means essentially, “Not this, not that” and is employed be jnanis, among others, in the process of discerning Brahman’s nature and attributes. Because of the absoluteness of Brahman, a truer and truthfully more accurate way of knowing Truth is often found in knowing what Truth is not, thus, Neti-Neti. I sometimes use this when asked where I want to eat for dinner. I might not know what I’m in the mood for, but I can usually tell you what I’m not in the mood for, and so the process of refinement begins as to where dinner will be served.

I feel this concept applies to each of us as we’re on our journey toward Self-Realization, toward our real Nature which is Brahman. Obviously, because of our egos and individual experiences and individual karmas, the most base application of Neti-Neti is as it pertains to our minute, personal, human experience.

In that context, as far as my personal experience of Brahman in my life, I tend to view the episodes in my life as part of this process of elimination/refinement. I have an experience. Does it point to Truth or doesn’t it? Hinting at Truth is something everything everywhere does, so that doesn’t count. But does an experience, or a person, or dogma, or anything…does it definitively point to Truth? If not, learn from it and move on. Such is the case, in my life, for Christianity.

A co-worker, as part of our discussion today, stated that Mormonism is an un-Christian cult. I suppose if I looked more into it I might could agree with this, but that would be irrelevant. For the sake of balance, I responded that in it’s beginning what we now call Christianity was viewed as no different by folks who weren’t Christians. They were indeed, a small dissenting group of people who wandered around claiming their leader is God. Mormons were never fed to lions by the Romans for entertainment, but otherwise there are actually quite a number of parallels between the Mormons and the rest of Christianity. My co-worker didn’t care for these remarks and the conversation ended quickly. Apparently what’s good for the goose isn’t good for the… goose.

I’m currently taking a humanities class in which, as part of a recent assignment, I’m basically being asked to pretend I’m either Christian or Jewish. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say I’m not happy. The concept is just fuzzy enough that the school can get away with it, but the work is still clear. I think part of what’s so vile about this assignment, beyond pretending to be something I’m not, is that I have to pretend to promote and condone what I don’t agree with. Sugar on top? One of my co-students and team mate on this project is a middle-aged woman who is unapologetically Christian and when we were hashing out responsibilities for this project she was quick to point out that not only is Christianity the only religion on the planet that encompasses all others, but that the cross is the only religious symbol which is found in all other religions.

Jesus-Fucking-Christ… this is what I’m dealing with. Before this class is over, there may well be a scene because after allowing my toes to be stepped on a few times by the school’s curriculum and classmates’ remarks, I’m actually quite liable to tell a bitch to go to hell and slide her some hand-written directions.

So, the convsersation today… class work from last week… Now let’s back up quite a bit. Let’s revisit my teen years briefly.

For a short time, during my teens, I was the only Christian in my family. To say I was a monster for Jesus would probably be something of an understatement. My intentions were as noble as they come, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t also vile at their source. I’ll spare most of the details, because they amount to this: I was about as typical as it could get for being a zealous Christian teen. The only way it would have been worse is if my parents were Christian, too.

This business lasted a few years until I was around 17 or close to 18. It was just before 18 that I began makng it known to my church youth group that I found a lot of evidence that the Bible/Jesus/God didn’t condemn gays. I was doing this rather gently and secretly because I intended to work my way into a position to come out to them. However, the youth pastor decided to nip the whole thing in the bud(butt?) and called me to his home one evening.

Sitting in his library, he said it’d been brought to his attention that I was spreading “false doctrine.” I explained, as best I could for being neither an adult nor a Bible scholar, that I didn’t believe Christianity condemned gays. His next move was to asked, “Do you consider yourself a homosexual?” I answered in the affirmative. Upon receiving that answer, he assured me, “There’s no place in the youth group, or anywhere else in the church, for someone like you.”

Sitting on his couch alone, and virtually defenseless, I could do nothing by look toward my feet and begin to sob. In the years leading up to this moment, I had actually done more than plenty to distance myself from my family-for the sake of Jesus. And here, an actual man of god was dismissing me entirely. The following months brought the best that church could offer in “therapy,” which amount to nothing. I had already cried myself to sleep numerous nights because I didn’t understand why I am gay. I sought out hetero porn, thinking it might “stick” and change my inclinations. I had girlfriends. I prayed at home, hidden in my bedroom’s closet (irony, no!?!?), the most private place I knew… and I’d prayed down front at my church’s altar. Nothing-which I’m so very thankful for.

I know many good people. Very very dear people to me, who happen to be Christians. Many of these folks would claim people like those others “aren’t real Christians.” That’s simply not true, though. These Christians who are dear to me, I think exhibit the purest Christianity, but chances are great that the vast majority of all the other fellow Christians on this planet still say my old church is correct. In fact I know this to be true, even in my life today. It wasn’t enough that I was literally kicked out as a teen (I had to sign some paper, too, after being asked “one last time”), but now as an adult Christians are the leading reason for why I’m unable to marry the man I’ve dedicated the biggest chunk of my adult life to.

As disappointing as this is going to sound, and forgive me for sounding jaded/hurt/judgemental, I’m convinced that nearly everything Abrahamic is violent and destructive. Throughout world history, into today, and in many places in my own life this has been the truth of experience. When I consciously and conscientiously seek Brahman, and encounter most things Abrahamic, the “still small voice” within invariably chants, “Neti, Neti.”

Om Shanti

That Church

 

I recently finished a very basic composition class. The focus has required writing research papers, which, formally speaking, I mostly loathe. I enjoy sounding academic. I enjoy citing sources of my knowledge. I like challenging myself -especially at things I do often, like writing, and am likely to slack on.

I do not like research papers.

My topic was vegertarianism, which you may recall me mentioning a few posts ago. In a class prior to this one, I’d written briefly about exercise and diet, that was also a research paper, and for this class I was concerned that choosing vegetarianism would be too much of the same. Gladly, I took this paper in a different direction. I decided to speak a little (and only a little) about the cultural, environmental, and religious implications of vegetarianism. The limit on word count really hampered how much I was able to touch on anything.

You may also recall mention of the very Christian (a minister) member of my university’s faculty who was/is teaching this class. Truly, this man mostly awed me. I love everything that has anything to do with languages. In fact, one of my favorite websites is for omniglots. I go there often to study con-scripts and study foreign alphabets as well as hear pronunciation examples. Any time I encounter someone who can pick apart a language, I love them. I think I can’t help it. Truly, a person’s language and religious background influence the course of their life and shape how they see the world more than anything else. You can imagine the bliss I’ve experienced throughout the duration of this class and the last-both of which were taught by this same person. It might be noted that I was about the only student who grew goosebumps and  swooned when, as an aside, sentence diagramming was demonstrated on the dry erase board. <dreamy sigh> That stuff is art, for me.

So… I struggled with this paper, simple as it was. Between word limit and references being limited and kind of wanting to slant my writing in a way that would appeal the most to my Christian teacher (yes, I’m manipulative), I was almost stuck. With a paper I’d written before now, he confided to me in his feedback that he’d been so impressed with the paper’s content and structure that it not only kept him awake at midnight while he graded it, but that he later shared it with his family at the dinner table. I’m thinking this paper didn’t sit the same with him. Here’s why.

Although I tried, somewhat, to appeal to his Christian senses, I’m thinking this may well have backfired on me.

My paper’s introduction actually wasn’t too bad, and I feel it pulled at some Christian strings in the ways I had hoped, while remaining professional/academic. The rest of the body of the paper I pretty much just stayed on topic and got through it, with the exception of when I spoke on the religious/moral aspects of vegetarianism. I only mentioned Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity-focusing almost entirely on Hindu and Christian views. I cited the Qur’an, a youtube video by Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya and quoted a few Christian sources, including the King James Version of the Bible. To say the least, as with the rest of my points of discussion, I was unable to dive as deeply as I wanted. My conclusion was rather weak, but did the job I think.

The problem? I should have known better. With the exception of some Jews, most of those adhering to the Abrahamic Faiths think they are experts at their own dharmas. Either not realizing, or choosing to ignore, the convoluted histories of these paths, they ascribe a number of fancies to their religions … which basically amounts to serious cases of denial.

What kills me, is that this highlights a terrible tendency among Christians (in particular). Picking and choosing, in addition to selective interpreting when it comes to their own holy writings. If you realize and accept the notion of deeper, perhaps more abstract truths, then even if your starting place is in taking the words literally you still recognize there’s more than the black and white of the page. If you limit your own religion, however, you end up relying on the black and white of the page, only, and through the ages spend more time arguing over where periods and commas go than what the Truth conveyed might be.

Through the ages, virtually since their Scriptures were first written and then compiled, Christians have engaged in selective interpretation in order to achieve their personal wills, at the expense not only of the divine Will, but many many human lives. Depending on who they’re trying to conquer or convert, certain Scriptures hold more or less weight than others. Whether it’s burning “witches,” keeping blacks as slaves, women as property, or gays from marrying, Christians are notorious for manipulating their own Scriptures according to what they want to accomplish or prevent.

The same actually applies to vegetarianism. 1500 years ago Christian kings would put their clergy to “taste tests” that involved eating meats. The fear was that Manacheaenism had infiltrate the clergy and corrupted them. Any Christian priest or minister who refused or was even reluctant to eat meat was severly punished. Hatred for vegetarianism was a major player in beginning the Inquisition as well.

The funny thing? Of all the things that are “literally” spelled out in the Bible, few things are clearer than the mandate for human vegetarianism. There are lots of instances mentioned in the Bible about animal sacrifice or meals that were had, unclean versus clean and all that jazz. The New Testament tells us that what we put into our bodies doesn’t corrupt our soul (Gospel of Mark). However, if we’re to take the Bible as literally as Christians have historically insisted, Genesis should be no different. (I realize that, increasingly, some Christian denominations are recognizing a more broad was of viewing Scripture, but historically and even today this is not the norm. The same is to be said of Islam.) I understand that a reason often cited for why certain portions of the Old Testament are ignored, is that Jesus came to put an end to the Law. And that’s fine, but for two loopholes: Vegetarianism was mandated before The Law applied and is the way things ought to be- it was spoken directly by G/god to humans instead of to humans through another human, and vegetarianism isn’t a part of The Law at all.   

According to some, there are two creation accounts in Genesis. The first, is the one most are familiar with and this is the one I’ll be referring to the most. In this account of the beginning of life, God apparently tells the first humans, “Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat” (verse 29). A verse or so later, the very same is said about what animals are to eat.

(As an interesting aside, two chapters later documents the apparent fall of mankind. This represents the beginning of the flawed world as we know it. The Devil assumed the form of a snake. The snake tricked the first woman and the first woman got the first man to disobey along with her. God finds out, and punishes all of creation. During this episode, while the Almighty is flexing his moody muscles, he tells the snake, the woman, and the man exactly what their respective punishments are to be. It’s because of this part of the story that I’m inclined to go out on a limb and say that even arguing that vegetarianism no longer applies because we live in a fallen world is a weak arguement. It’s in chapter 3 that Adam’s punishment is made clear to him, and that punishment affirms the continuation of vegetarian sustenance. Gensis 3: 17-19, “And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” One can see here that nowhere does God punish Adam by saying, “You’ve messed up and now you have to kill animals and eat them.” I think the text suggests that He still meant for humans to be sustained on plants, and this is clear not only by G/god cursing the ground and telling Adam that he’ll eat from it in sorrow, but also by the introduction of thorns and repetition (from earlier Genesis) that herbs are to be eaten. What the heck kind of punishment would the introduction of thorns and cursing of the ground be, if we’re not concerned with plants?)

I’m not a Bible scholar in any way. Admitted. I’ll never claim to be, and truthfully, at this point in my life I’m thankful that I’ll never be. Never mind that, though, because that’s not the point. The point is that if the Christian Word of God is supposed to be taken literally, then let’s take all of it literally. Agreed? In that context, nearly all Christians are disobeying their own God, and for those Christians who are familiar with their own scriptures, they should be afraid because not much deeper into their holy writings it is made abundantly clear that their God is a jealous God and is also vindictive and fond of severe punishments, often exceeding what is warranted by any specific offense.

Beyond this, there are only two alternatives: Don’t take the Word of God literally, or, as happens mostly, conveniently pick and choose what you want to literally apply and what you don’t. If we’re not to take the Word literally then slavery should never have happened, nor half the wars ever fought between humans, and gays would already be afford the same rights as heteros. If we’re to opt for the pick-n-choose-as-is-convenient method, we soon find ourselves in the predicament we know today. Regardless of which route we choose, it’s obvious that things have only worsened along the way – but that’s a whole other post altogether.

Backing up eight crazy paragraphs, we return to the topic of my paper and how my approach to it may end up biting me in the butt. Precisely because of the convoluted and twisted nature of Christianity, today and through out most of it’s very young lifespan, I suspect that my minister-professor will likely be unimpressed or feel somehow challenged, if not outright offended, and that it may show in my grade. Truly, I’ll be very surprised if the oppossite occurs. As I’ve composed this post, it’s come to my mind that (knowing the exact content of my paper) my paper wasn’t written as slanted as I had originally hoped. In fact, it couldn’t have been because I didn’t have the space to go deep enough to slant much at all, let alone in a manner that would appeal to my target. <sigh> Who knows? My grade still isn’t posted and I’m sure by the time it is, I won’t have the time or energy or care to argue it.

Om Shanti.

vaishnav Ganapatya or ganapatya Vaishnav?

Something has crossed my mind a time or two since my recent vacation … but I’m not sure how to express it. Please forgive me now for any instances of wordiness or talking in circles.

In pretty much all of the Abrahamic Faiths (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Baha’i) you’re either in or out. One of them, or not. Then, once the necessary distinction has been determined, there’s a definitive “what kind” which must usually be decided as part of the sealing of allegiance. Reformed Jew or not? Shiite Muslim or Sunni? Protestant Christian or Catholic or Eastern Orthodox? And even after that, further labels or distinctions are often applied. So you’re a Protestant Christian… Are you a Baptist, a Methodist, a Presbyterian, an Adventist, a Lutheran (just to list a few)? (The last few sentences are by no means meant to be exhaustive.)

The catch is that, almost always, you have be “that” or “not that.” As far as I’ve experienced, you can’t well be a Lutheran and a Baptist. Actually, I know that one’s true… I was a Baptist in my teens and recall far too well that Baptists have ironed out to the “T” why all others are likely to fall somewhere short of the pearly gates. That example aside, I’m still going to assume that one can’t be a Quaker and a Presbyterian or a Sunni and a Shiite. You can’t be Catholic and Protestant, can you? Someone correct me if I’m mistaken, but surely not.

As with many other things, Hinduism offers a staggering amount of freedom. There is definitely an expectation that you will assume responsibility for your own progress; even with a guru’s guidance, the work is your’s. Beyond that, in many many instances you’re free to adhere to the sadhana or sampradaya which most closely suits you. And… this may well involve mixing and matching. (This is not to imply that Hinduism is a willy-nilly kind of religious path. Many instances within Hinduism, a person is indeed free to mix and match according to their individual inclinations and karmas, which is hinted at in the staggering diversity shown in the selection of devas and devis from one home’s mandir to another. But they still are required to exercise true bhakti, in some manner or another, to actually have an experiential relationship with The Divine.) With the permisability of so-called mixing and matching within Hinduism, I’m wondering whether a person can can be one kind of Hindu and another kind of Hundu. This perplexes me a little.

As an aside, but related no less, on my Facebook page I indicated that I’m a “Hindu with Buddhist leanings.” What I mean by this is that Hindu is the shape of my face, and buddhist is whatever shape or style in which I chose to grow my facial hair. Yes, the facial hair is a part of the face and at times is more noticeable than at other times. But it’s still one small aspect of the composition of my face as a whole.

It works to be a Hindu with Buddhist leanings because, technically although often just barely, Hindu and Buddhist are two distinct and different things. As long as you have apples and oranges, you can say you prefer apples with orange juice or oranges with apple juice. But there’s no such fruit as oranpple (orange-apple) or an apprange (apple-orange). And so, it might be said I prefer apples with orange juice. I’m clearly one thing, with a side of another. Point taken?

What about being two kinds of the same thing, can you? “I’m a staunch Baptist, but also follow Lutheran doctrine/dogma.” Umm…probably not. But what about within Hinduism? Is it possible that a devotee can be a Shaivite and a Vaishnav? What if I’m a dedicate Ganapatya (Ganesha is Mahadeva), but join a vaishnava sampradaya? Conflict of interest? I somehow doubt it, but I’ve yet to encounter the logistical specifics. Someone help me out here!

Om Shanti

Hinduism’s Second Star

The second star designated in Thatte’s booklet is that of Advaita, NonDualism. This is huge for me. From my earliest memories I’ve been spiritual. Winter has always been my least favorite season, but as a young child I can recall looking out my parents’ front door windows at snow swirling down. I sensed the wind. I felt a hint of the temperature on the cold glass. I saw flake after flake swoosh to the ground or a tree branch and pile up on the flakes before it. All of this is very superficial and something anyone can see, but I saw Something behind all those aspects of a snowfall. I had no idea what to call that Something because the family I was born into isn’t religious, but I perceived It no less. For me now, the saddest part of that memory is that I assumed that Something was on the other side of the front door’s window. It must be out there.

As I entered my teens, I familiarized with Christianity through the means of a local Baptist church. I’ll spare the many details of this part of my life. For what seemed like a long time this new chapter satisfied me religiously and spiritually. Still, as with my early childhood, That was external. It should be noted that within every branch of every Abrahamic faith, the vast majority have a very orthodox understanding of an external God. This trait, in my estimation, is a defining characterist of those streams of humanity’s perception of the divine, and frankly I feel this is a sad testament to the state of human affair in recent millenia.

If the Abrahamic faiths can be noted for their distant god, surely the Dharmic faiths should be noted for the opposite trait as something which is equally defining. This is where Advaita/NonDuality comes in and is also why it’s particularly important to me.

“Advaita Vedanta maintains that everything is derived from Brahman and Brahman resides in everything. The Upanishads teach us that the world comes from Brahman and returns to Brahman.” (Thatte, 2010)

All throughout most of Hindu theology nowdays one encounters the notion of Atman. Invariably, this is presented as the human soul and is essentially defined as a spark of the Divine which resides in every entity. This Atman comes from Brahman in the same way a spark comes from a fire. It’s because of this, that hindus have the mantra/prayer, “Aham Brahmasmi,” “I am Brahman.”

Thatte goes on to explain that it’s because of all this that one does not need an external medium to seek God. Because your deepest Self is nondifferent to God, knowing your self(aka self-realization) automatically is synonymous to knowing God.

This is phenominal. Truly, I believe the Abrahamic faiths, at their cores, teach this. Today though, it’s much tougher to discern that from their doctrines. Part of why this is amazing is that it allows the flood gates to open for the experience of God. If God naturally resides in me then I don’t must follow some prophet, else I’m damned. Each person is free, even before the grand self-realization process has begun, to find their own path Home. In my opinion, this is foundational for any real and true spiritual or religious effort. Also, on a very personal level, the fact that this is(currently) a huge difference between Hinduism and the Abrahamics is enough for me to sense the truth there. My time with Christianity didn’t end well or quick, really, and while I honestly hold no actual grudges against individuals I can’t help but find comfort in anything that isn’t Christianity.

Back to the booklet…

Thatte’s practical take-away for this star’s chapter is that: Since each of us is essentially Atman, all should be treated with respect and reverence, just as we’d treat the Supreme Being.

Star three is somewhat a continuation of this star. It deals more with the Sould and its universality.

Om Tat Sat Om