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
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
Celebrated by children in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal,
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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