Posted on December 7th, 2011 | Filed under Academic, Challenges, Community, Interfaith, Learning, Philosophy, Theology
Tagged with Belief, Christianity, ethics, Faith, God, Humanism, Interfaith, Jesus, love, Peace, pluralism, questioning, Religion, Scripture, tolerance, transformation
To the Divine and Respected,
"Than whom there is naught else higher, than whom there is naught smaller, naught greater, the One stands like a tree established in heaven. By Him, the Person, is this whole universe filled." -Krishna Yajur Veda, Shvetashvatara Upanishad 3.9, The Principal Upanishads, Radhakrishnan, p. 727
"One who is established in the contemplation of nondual unity will abide in the Self of everyone and realize the immanent, all-pervading One. There is no doubt of this." -Sarvajnanottara Agama, Atma Sakshatkara 14, Collected Works of Ramana Maharshi, p.107
"Let us have concord with our own people, and concord with people who are strangers to us. Create between us and the strangers a unity of hearts." Atharva Veda Samhita, 7.52.1
In Defining God: the World, the Knowledge, and the Light Part I, I described my journey in search for God in my life so far. I first described the kind of family and tradition I was brought up in, which laid the foundation for my search for the Supreme Force. I then went on to define religion and how it is the means, not the ends to one’s spiritual and religious pursuit. I said that religion exists only for the sole purpose of stability in one’s life, providing a base to rise in human consciousness and wisdom, not decline in it.
In order to do this, I implicitly stated that religion is a tool that is provided to the human beings as a means through which we validate it through our own logic, reasoning, and experience. However, such is not the case in the majority of the world’s religions today. By separating ourselves from the nature we live in and by creating our own rules in religion, we accentuate our own arrogance and egoism. We often see ourselves as the creators of the object in front of us but never do we allow our mind to think that we derive our own meanings from that very object.
In addition, many spiritual and religious seekers fail to question the religion they come from ("the word of God"), analyze it, or understand it. Either fear seems to take over the human mind or a truly (hopefully) devout devotion is put in place to prevent from this questioning to happen. Religious authorities often deliberately separate faith from science and nature rather than creating compatibility between both. Statements are issued, comments are made, riots take place, radicalization emerges...but why? Humans today are more engaged in how to advance their own religion for material profits rather than living the example of austere and truly Divine people. In this article, Defining God: the World, the Knowledge, and the Light Part II, I will focus on how important it is for the human mind to liberate itself by proactively questioning the nature around it and understanding the consciousness within which it exists.
Many paths, not one, to achieve ‘Sat-Chit-Ananda’
Hinduism does not have one single founder or a Prophet. For this reason, Hindus recognize that every human being has a divine potential within them and that, if mastered through various yogas, all can reach a higher level of consciousness and a state of oneness with the universe. This state of being is called "Sat-Chit-Ananda": Truth-Consciousness-Bliss, and could be scientifically described as a thoughtless state which results in the complete breakdown of the mind and--more specifically--the ego. To achieve this level of consciousness or to be "one" with it, Hinduism teaches us that there are many paths that one can take to achieve this "Sat-Chit-Ananda." Below are a few of these paths:
1) Raja Yoga, the path of meditation: "AUM"-deep introspection. An example would be the Buddha. Scriptures: Patanjali Yoga Sutras.
2) Karma Yoga, the path of helping others: "SEVA"-Selfless Service. An example would be Swami Vivekananda. “Service to humanity is Service to God.”
3) Bhakti Yoga, the path of unconditional love and devotion. An example would be Paramahamsa Ramakrishna. This Yoga is very evident in Christianity and Islam and similarly in the Hindu tradition of Vishishtadvaita, primarily dealing with the human mind and emotions, and in worshiping a Supreme Being. Incarnations of Lord Vishnu are major examples. Jesus Christ, considered a Yogi in India, is an example as well. Carnatic Music is an expression of this Yoga; chanting is another expression of this Yoga.
4) Jnana Yoga, the path of intellectual and philosophical understanding of the scriptures through the process of Self-inquiry. An example would be Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharishi, who taught that self-inquiry was the fastest way to free oneself from the cycle of birth and death. Questioning the word of God and finding a spiritual path within oneself to liberate the mind and soul from the body.
Recognizing that there are many paths within Hinduism itself to achieve the ultimate consciousness, Hinduism thus derives its tolerance of other religions naturally. Hinduism does not say one must take each of these paths or choose a path at all, it is according to one’s own nature/karma and with their own personal "fit" whether one can prescribe to a chosen path. Divinity, therefore, is not limited to one being. For this reason, understanding that each human body and the soul it harbors are unique is important. Through serious introspection only can one find which path to take. Over the centuries, Aristotle said this and Buddha confirmed it and many Hindu and Buddhist Sages, Seers, Yogis, Gurus, Swamis and Monks continue to prove it.
The importance of questioning the Holy Books: Scriptures. What is the use of the human mind?
Before the Holy Bible, the Torah, and the Quran existed the Vedas and the Agamas. These two massive compendia of shruti (that which is “heard”) were revealed by God to illumined sages centuries and millennia ago. The array of works known as smriti (that which is “remembered”) is equally vast, the most prominent and widely celebrated of which are the Itihasas (epic dramas and history)—the Ramayana and Mahabharata— and the Puranas (mythology). The Vedic arts and sciences, including ayurveda, astrology, music, dance, architecture, statecraft, domestic duty and law, are reflected in an assembly of texts known as Vedangas and Upavedas. Moreover, through the ages God-realized souls, sharing their experience, have poured forth volume upon volume that reveal the wonders of yoga and offer passionate hymns of devotion.
The creation of Hindu scripture continues to this day, as contemporary masters reiterate the timeless truths to guide souls on the path to Divinity (Hinduism Today). Countless Gurus, Swamis, Monks, Saints, Sages, Seers, Rishis, Yogis and people of Divinity speak an unbroken chain of Truths revealed by the Vedas and Agamas which were the word of God. One of the ways the Vedas and Agamas were understood was through the Upanishads and the Guru-Disciple relationship. In this relationship, a disciple of the Guru asks the Guru a question and the Guru answers the disciple with another question, the disciple then through his own experience, logic, reasoning, and karmic law of cause and effect understanding creates his own spiritual path to achieve oneness with God. Such process of understanding the scriptures is the only way one can truly understand and merge towards the oneness with God. Such people in Hinduism are called God-Conscious; they are seen to be in frequency with the Supreme Consciousness.
Furthermore, the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata prove to humanity that storytelling is one of the best ways to understand the nature of God and to achieve God Consciousness. In Mahabharata, Krishna speaks to Arjuna on the battlefield when Arjuna questions his Dharma (duty) as a warrior as revelead through the Bhagavad Gita (written two millennia ago); this story has influenced great Americans from Thoreau to Oppenheimer. Today we have movements like ISKON, the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, which teach and live by the principles of non-violence, vegetarianism, celibacy, chanting, and living in the Divine realms emphasizing peace with oneself and the discovery of oneself through Him. Hence, I believe scriptures must be questioned! For questioning the scriptures opens up paths to one's own self-realization and understanding of the nature of God.
Our Divine Potential.
The Divine potential is within all of us, yet we tend to engage in ritualistic activities that we ourselves do not understand, nor do we allow ourselves to query them. What use are the scriptures if they cannot be questioned and understood intellectually and applied? What use is the creation of math, biology, chemistry, and physics if we do not understand, question, and apply the knowledge within them? The human mind is ultimately useless if it is not being put to use to understand the scriptures. Hindus have scriptures, as mentioned above, that are thousands and thousands of years old and these scriptures are merely trying to help the human mind understand the nature of God through various teachings. That’s why, perhaps, in Hinduism people have such a high reverence towards God-Conscious individuals.
I, myself, am a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, Mahavatar Babaji, Shirdi Sai Baba, and Lord Venkateshwara Swami. I have elements of Bhakti, Jnana, Raja, and Karma yogas in me that I permeate throughout my life. While engaging in worldly activities to help the body sustain itself, I daily try to control the elements of the mind and life force within me through practice of techniques prescribed within yoga and meditation. Through this I allow my mind to liberate itself, knowing that I am part of a cosmic consciousness that is so blissful, so peaceful, so loving, so passionate, so beautiful, and so full of life.
Therefore dear one, I ask you to continue to live with love, peace, and harmony with yourself. For being a doctor, an engineer, or a lawyer--for example--is not the greatest achievement of your life or the greatest contribution to the world. But being one with yourself, one with the universe and the creation, being one with all that exists within it and most of all inculcating the teachings of all the religions that speak the words of love, passion, brotherhood, non-violence are the means through which you are given a chance to radiate your cosmic vibrations of bliss to the rest of the world. This dear divine and respected one, is your biggest and most worthy contribution you can ever give, give and only give.
"Outward ritual cannot destroy ignorance, because they are not mutually contradictory," wrote Shankara in his famous Century of Verses. He continued, "realized knowledge alone destroys ignorance...Knowledge cannot spring up by any other means than inquiry. 'Who am I? How was this universe born? Who is its maker? What is its material cause?' This is the kind of inquiry referred to.The intellect has no answer for these questions; hence the rishis evolved yoga as the technique of spiritual inquiry." -from Autobiography of a Yogi, Swami Paramahamsa Yogananda.
My next article will focus on the Science of Yoga, the role of the mind, body, and the soul.
Featured image, in the creative commons, is courtesy of fotopedia by Marc-Andre Jung.
References: Hinduism Today: What is Hinduism?
Senior, majoring in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Case Western Reserve University. Founder of a Hindu organization on campus that works to practice and preserve Sanatana Dharmic principles and values with the final goal of Seva, Selfless Service, through interfaith collaboration.