Brahmanic Hinduism

Indians and Hinduism, like the seven other major world religions, have their wisdom tradition. Its oldest set of religious poetry is called the Vedas. The Great Epics are philosophical and religious poems; ancient stories told for generations before finally being set down in writing about the first century, B.C. A short section in one of the Epics is called the Bhagavad Gita and has become one of India's favorite religious texts.

Within the huge volume of Hindu wisdom literature one can find a basic view of the Self, not unlike found in the Christian west. There is the "outer self" involving feelings and the facts from which they arise. This level of the self is temperamental and not the real self. The inner or "essential" self is called the Atman. This is the real "you": the core of your being and not affected by outer influences. The Hindu priority is to find and "live in" the essential self-and idea similar to what we Christians would call "integration" or "sanctification."

Out of many gods within this tradition, contemporary Hindus worship mainly three "gods." This Hindu "Trinity" bears a striking similarity to the personalities of the Christian Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Brahma, the creator; Vishnu, the savior; and Shiva, the destroyer and restorer. This Hindu "trinity" works to carry out the continual creation.

Brahma would relate to the Christian "Father." Though Jesus is considered "Creator" by most Christians, ultimately, the Father is "creator." Jesus represents the "word of his power"-speaking the will and word of the Father causing creation to happen.

Vishnu has an obvious connection to Jesus as Savior. That Hinduism considers the need for a savior was a revelation to me. Some Christians might question the validity of this connection. But when "Jesus" is recognized primarily as the "nature" and personality of God-the name itself being only phonetic-then the stretch becomes tenable.

Shiva connects to the Christian "Holy Spirit." It is said of the Christian God: "You turn man to destruction, and say, 'Return, you children of men" (Psalm 90:3). Early twentieth century Christian writer Oswald Chambers, referring to this facet of the nature of God said, "God destroys unto salvation." This polarity was considered by the prophet Hosea, sent to ancient Israel: "Those who dwell under his shadow shall return…" (Hosea 14:7). The Benjamite and apostle Paul saw the destructive power of God and his call to return: "For God has committed them all to disobedience, that he might have mercy on all" (Romans 11:32). St. Paul so trusted the nature of God to pull this off he stated dogmatically: "And so all Israel shall be saved" (Romans 11:26).

Back to Hinduism. Educated Hindus recognize their pantheon of gods is "essentially human ideals that men imagine to be objective reality." Hindus say, "He who knows himself will know God." The priority is to know the nature of the divine reality, a passion shared with many Christians. St. Paul claimed a desire to "know (God) and the power of his resurrection." Jesus claimed that the essence of eternal life is to know God-the divine nature, personality and attributes.

Some Christians will have trouble with the Hindu idea of reincarnation, though a number of Christians hold this idea also, citing such examples as Elijah manifesting later in the form of John the Baptist. The point here is not to claim the validity of the doctrine of reincarnation. The point is, the Hindu priority to "know God" has provided them a belief system that defends the character of God: "Reincarnation" is an attempt to do this. Whereas a small part of the Christian Church has God punishing his enemies forever in a place he created for this called "Hell"-Hindus, recognize that the Divine Nature is not capable of this. Reincarnation-right or wrong-offers an explanation for all the human failure in this life. "No one will be punished for an unlimited period because of a limited number of mistakes". (F.H. Ross, The Great Religions By Which Men Live). In this, Hindus have a healthier view of deity than some conservative Christians.

The caste system in India has in times past been abusive to many of the people who have lived in it. Gandhi did much to change its abusive qualities; for example, he restored to the "untouchables" to caste status. This lowest of classes-the untouchables-came "into the loop." They were now imbued with the hope of redemption; that is, they were no longer "untouchable", abandoned and without hope. They too could now enter into the process of redemption: come to know themselves and thereby know God-the greatest hope that life has to offer.

Gandhi also offered to the world his healthy example of non-violence in dealing with the unjust social issues plaguing all societies. Gandhi's example is that of employing spiritual principles in dealing with political situations. He taught the alternative wisdom of prayer, fasting and dialogue as over and against the conventional wisdom of the world-that of violence, terrorism and armed rebellion. He insisted that violence not be used against the Muslims living in India, and this stance cost him his life in 1948 at the hands of a radical Hindu.

Gandhi felt that Hinduism's greatest contribution to society is the respect of all creatures, whether animal or human. Westerners scoff at the idea of "cow worship" and indeed this has idea has sometimes got out of balance. But the essence of the belief is a respect of all animals as a part of the greater whole. The idea is close to that of the Seventh Day Adventist Church that for the most part shuns the killing of animals for food, seeing in this practice a "system of domination" over the animal world.

Perhaps a more balanced view is that of the Native American attitude toward animals. Though taken for food, this is done in great restraint and with respect to the animal kingdom: considered "brothers" to Native Americans.

Within the Hindu belief system is a formula for personal change. One starts out in the Student stage, a time to question life and to seek the "second birth." Jesus affirms this quest as he encouraged Nicodemus, "You must be born again" (John 3:7).

The second is the "Householder stage." One cannot forever remain with a teacher but must eventually make his own contribution to society. It is the "maintenance" stage, best described by Jesus who said that the faithful would be found "so doing" the will of God upon his return to earth.

The "Retired stage" is the third one, and not one all can attain. This is described by St. Paul who spoke of spiritual "eunuchs" for the kingdom of God's sake. The life becomes more fully dedicated to "loosing ones self" in the pursuit of knowing God and serving his brethren more fully.

The fourth stage is the stage of the "Spiritual pilgrim." It seems fanatical to some, acculturated by the comforts of Western society. These Hindus have "forsaken all", wander from place to place as itinerants, seeking food, shelter and offering spiritual wisdom to all those they encounter. Jesus encouraged those who would be greatest in the Kingdom of God to "forsake mother and father" and indeed all to better follow him and to better serve Jesus' brethren. Hindus feel that the easies way to live life is to love all living things, and in this, discover the love of God: "Love of men leads to love of God," a principle that is also very Christian: "He that says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness…" (1 John 1:9).

Ramakrishna is an interesting Hindu saint in recent times. A Hindu by faith, he in turn also became a Buddhist, a Moslem and a Christian, professing a desire to "keep the best and leave the rest." An original pluralistic thinker, he believed in the unity of all religions and in the search for spiritual truth. Hinduism is a religious discipline with a goal of knowing the true nature of God. This is best accomplished when one seeks and discovers himself, for God dwells in each person. This idea is validated by the Christian, St. John, who said of the God Jesus Christ, "That was the true Light, which gives light to every person coming into the world" (John 1:9).

"Listen to the primeval Pranava AUM resounding in your heart as well as in the heart of the universe." Sathya Sai Baba


Hindu holidays

Celebrated by children in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Sri Lanka.

Diwali-November 14. This five-day "Festival of Lights" celebrates the victory of good over evil. The festival is the time for family reunion. It is a custom for children to wear new clothes. Houses are decorated with colorful flowers and strings of lights. Sweets are abundant. Children enjoy themselves with fireworks and the lighting of oil lamps and candles.

Vasant Panchami -February 6. Dedicated to Saraswati, the goddess of learning. It is also the spring festival (Vasant = Spring) celebrated with kite flying, yellow saris, and the blessing of schoolchildren's hooks. Yellow is associated with the festival. Mother Earth and the Ganges are also worshipped on this day.

Shivarati-March 1. A solemn festival devoted to the worship of Shiva, the most powerful of the Hindu deities.

HoIi-March 18. Holi announces the arrival of spring (vasant) and the passing of winter. So joyous is Holi that it is often called the Festival of Colors' as young and old will happily drench one another with colored water!

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