Hinduism

Journey to Truth: Hinduism

49The Review of Religions – January 2004 Interpreting Hindu Scriptures (1) ‘All purposes served by a small well can at once be served by a great reservoir of w a t e r. Similarly, all the purposes of the Vedas (Hindu Scriptures) can be served to one who knows the purpose behind them’ (Bhagavad Gita 2:46) In the text above , ‘a small well’ is expressed as having the same capability as a ‘great reservoir of water’. This means that though the layman might regard the Hindu Scriptures as merely a compilation of teachings (i.e. a small well), anyone who truly understands the Hindu Scriptures will regard it as an immense amount of beneficial knowledge ( i.e. a great reservoir of water). The text above reveals the importance of acquiring wisdom, because most of the teachings in the Hindu Scriptures are not m a t t e r-of-fact statements. Th u s most of the teachings in the Hindu Scriptures should not be interpreted literally. (2) ‘Men of small knowledge are very much attached to the flowery words of the Vedas (Hindu Scriptures), which recommend various fruitive activities for elevation to heavenly planets, resultant good birth, power, and so forth. Being desirous of sense gratification and opulent life, Journey to Truth – Hinduism: by Abdul Kudus Alimi – Switzerland Journey to the Truth is a series of articles by the author covering the theme of whether we get the same picture of God and Prophethood from looking at various faiths. He is attempting to compare the view of God from different teachings at different places around the world and from different eras. If all of the teachings show a common theme and common understanding of God, then this adds weight to the belief in One Ominipotent God. The series will look at the major faiths, traditional beliefs and renowned philosophers. 50 The Review of Religions – January 2004 Journey to Truth – Hinduism they say that there is nothing more than this.’ (Bhagavad Gita 2:42-43) The text above implies that when the Hindu Scriptures are interpreted literally, without Divine Knowledge, belief is based on weird phenomena. And because people who lack Divine Knowledge are easily attracted to weird phenomena, they decline to accept that the Hindu Scriptures mean much more than their literal expressions. ‘they say that there is nothing more than this’ (Bhagavad Gita 2:42-43) (3) ‘This supreme science (Hindu religious teachings) was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way. But in the course of time the succession was broken and therefore the science as it is appears to be lost.’ (Bhagavad Gita 4:2). The text above implies that during each generation, Divine sages were responsible for the propagation of the correct Hindu religious teachings. Kings who possessed Divine Guidance aided the propagation. This process continued for some time. U n f o r t u n a t e l y, somewhere along the line, the Divine sages ceased to appear, and thus this ended the propagation of correct Hindu religious teachings (i.e. thus the Scriptures began to be taken literally or misinterpreted). Bhagavad Gita The Bhagavad Gita is one of the Books of the Hindu Scriptures. It is believed to have been a discourse between Krishna(as) and his cousin called Arjuna. Is Krishna( a s ) The Supre m e Being? The Brahmanical religion generally identified today as ‘Hinduism’, is believed to be associated with the teachings of K r i s h n a( a s ). To d a y, followers of this religion believe that Krishna(as) is the Supreme Being, but there is reason to believe that Krishna(as) was a chosen devotee of the Supreme Being and not the Supreme Being. 51The Review of Religions – January 2004 Journey to Truth – Hinduism The Bhagavad Gita reveals that those who wholeheartedly devote their lives to the Supreme Being, over a period of time, conse- quently attain a high Spiritual status called ‘Divine Consciousness’, during which the Supersoul or the Supreme Being manifests within them, and guides all their deeds and sayings, and even occasionally speaks directly through them. Thus there is reason to believe that the words of the Bhagavad Gita, are not the words of Krishna( a s ), but they are the words of the Supreme Being revealed through Krishna(as), after K r i s h n a( a s ) attained Divine Consciousness. ‘Unintelligent men who. do not know Me perfectly, think that I, the Supreme Being, was impersonal before and have now assumed this personality. Due to their small knowledge, they do not know My Higher nature, which is Imperishable and Supreme.’ (Bhagavad Gita 7:24). The Supersoul (The Supre m e Being) ‘He is Knowledge, He is the object of Knowledge, and He is the goal of Knowledge. He is situated in everyone’s heart.’ (Bhagavad Gita, 13:18) ‘ Yet, in this body there is a n o t h e r, a transcendental enjoyer, who is the Lord, the Supreme proprietor, who exists as the overseer and permitter, and who is known as the Supersoul.’ (Bhagavad Gita, 13:23) The Scriptures reveal that the Supreme Being exists within everyone as the Supersoul. But in order for the Supreme Being within one to manifest itself (and guide all of one’s actions and sayings), one has to attain Divine Consciousness. Divine Consciousness ‘Some perceive the Supersoul within themselves through meditation, others through the cultivation of Knowledge, and still others through working without fruitive desires. Again there are those who, although not conversant in Spiritual Knowledge, begin to worship the Supreme Being upon 52 The Review of Religions – January 2004 Journey to Truth – Hinduism hearing about Him from others. Because of their tendency to hear from authorities, they also transcend the path of birth and death.’ (Bhagavad Gita, 13:25-26) Therefore, Divine Consciousness may be attained as a result of, (1) faithful wholehearted meditation; ‘Some perceive the Supersoul within themselves t h rough meditation’. Constant wholehearted meditation implies being aware of the Supreme Being at all times. Because when a person faithfully has the Supreme Being in his mind always, his conscience will always remind him to obey the Teachings of the Supreme Being. He will eventually become a recipient of Divine Consciousness. (2) faithfully seeking Spiritual Knowledge; ‘others through the cultivation of Knowledge’. When a person wholeheartedly seeks after spiritual knowledge, he is bound to gain a correct understanding of the Teachings of the Supreme Being. As he acquires the correct understanding of the Teachings of the Supreme Being, his conduct would be governed by his understanding. Thus he will always remember to obey the Teachings of the Supreme Being, and he will eventually become a recipient of Divine Consciousness. (3) faithfully resisting worldly temptations; ‘and still others t h rough working without fru i t i v e d e s i re s.’ When a person constantly resists wordly temptations and strives wholeheartedly towards sinlessness and perfection over a period of time, the Supreme Being is pleased with him and rewards him with Divine Consciousness. The Supreme Being relieves him of all the hardwork of having striven so hard. The Supreme Being rewards him by manifesting within him, and guiding all his future intentions, speech and actions. ‘They are flawless like the Supreme Being, and thus they are already situated in the Supreme Being.’ (Bhagavad Gita, 5:19) (4) developing a sincerely open mind; ‘Again there are those who, although not conversant in Spiritual Knowledge, begin to 53The Review of Religions – January 2004 Journey to Truth – Hinduism worship the Supreme Being upon hearing about Him from others. Because of their tendency to hear from (genuine) authorities, they also transcend the path of birth and d e a t h . If a person approaches every teaching with a sincerely open mind, he is bound to find the correct Teachings of the Supreme Being. But if one’s mind is biased against other teachings, one would ignorantly dismiss the correct Teachings of the Supreme Being whenever it comes one’s way. Warning against worh i p p i n g men The Hindu Scriptures warn against worshipping a person (who attains Divine Consciousness) as the Supreme Being. ‘Unintelligent men who do not know Me perfectly, think that I, the Supreme Being, was impersonal before and have now assumed this personality. Due to their small knowledge, they do not know My Higher nature, which is Imperishable and Supreme.’ (Bhagavad Gita 7:24) The words above, are the direct words of the Supreme Being revealed through Krishna(as), after K r i s h n a( a s ) had attained Divine Consciousness. These are obviously not the words of Krishna(as). But they are the words of the Supreme Being or Supersoul, Who manifested within Krishna(as) once he attained Divine Consciousness, guiding all Krishna’s actions and sayings, and occasionally speaking directly through Krishna(as). On attaining Divine Consciousness, a person does not become the Supreme Being, but is rather guided by the Supreme Being. The Supreme Being is not human, and thus does not possess physical forms 1ike a human being. ‘He does not possess bodily form like that of an ordinary entity’ (Svetasvatara Upanisad, 6:8) Like many other texts in the Bhagavad Gita, the words of the Bhagavad Gita presented below are not the words of Krishna(as). They are the words of the Supreme Being revealed through Krishna(as), 54 The Review of Religions – January 2004 Journey to Truth – Hinduism after Krishna( a s ) attained Divine Consciousness. ‘Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata (O Arjuna), and a predominant rise in irreligion – at that time I manifest Myself’ (Bhagavad Gita, 4:7) The text implies that during every period of religious ignorance, the Supreme Being would be manifested within His sincere devotee, and this devotee would serve as a means by which the true teachings of the Supreme Being would be re-established on earth. The actions and speech of a person who attains Divine Consciousness become ideal moral behaviour because he is constantly guided by the Supreme Being. Thus he is potentially capable of directing others in the right way. ‘and (the Supreme Being) is the Supreme Director of all (genuine) directors’. (Svetasvatara Upanisad, 6:7) Divine Consciousness Among several other descriptions, Divine Consciousness has been described as: i) a state of PEACE ‘A person who has given up all desires for sense gratification, who lives free from desires, who has given up all sense of proprietorship and is devoid of false ego -he alone can attain real peace.’ (Bhagavad Gita, 2:71) ‘And how can there be any happiness without peace?’ (Bhagavad Gita, 2:66) ii) The MERCY of the Supreme Being ‘But a person free from all attachment and aversion and able to control his senses through regulative principles of freedom can obtain the complete Mercy of the Lord.’ (Bhagavad Gita, 2:64) ‘ To show them My Special M e r c y, I dwelling in their hearts, destroy with the shining lamp of Knowledge the 55The Review of Religions – January 2004 Journey to Truth – Hinduism darkness born of ignorance.’ (Bhagavad Gita, 10: 11) iii) a sense of ‘happiness’ and ‘KNOWLEDGE’ ‘O sinless one, the mode of goodness, being purer than others, is illuminating, and it frees one from all sinful reactions. Those situated in that mode become condi- tioned by a sense of happiness and Knowledge.’ (Bhagavad Gita, 14:6) ‘Before giving up this present body, if one is able to tolerate the urges of the material senses and check the force of desire and anger, he is well situated and is happy in this world.’ (Bhagavad Gita, 5:23) Qualities And Attributes Of The Supreme Being Certain ‘godlike figures’ are metaphorically portrayed in the Hindu Scriptures. They are not portrayed as having absolute powers but are rather designated with specific powers. Each ‘figure’ is depicted as having a specific power of its own. Below are some examples: • Agni – god of fire. • Brahma – god of creation. • Indra – god of the heavens. • Kandarpa – god of love. • Kuvera – god of wealth. • M a n u – god and father of mankind. • Marici – god of the winds • Siva – god of war (i.e. Truth defeating Falsehood, or Re- establishment of Tr u e Teachings in a period of ignorance). • Varuna – god of water. • Ya m a – god of death or punishment (i.e. punishing sinners after death). The Bhagavad Gita explains that these ‘godlike figures’ do not exist as separate beings, but are rather the different qualities or attributes of the Supreme Being. It is wrong to worship them as separate beings. ‘Those who are devotees of other gods and who worship them with faith actually worship only Me, O son of Kunti (Arjuna), but they do so in a wrong way.’ (Bhagavad Gita, 9:23) 56 The Review of Religions – January 2004 Journey to Truth – Hinduism The verse also warns against the worship of past prophets as deities. When referring to death or punishing sinners after death, the Supreme Being often identifies Himself as ‘Yama’’. When referring to war (‘Truth’ defeating ‘Falsehood’ or the re- establishment of True Teachings in a period of Ignorance), the Supreme Being often identifies Himself as ‘Siva’. And when creation is mentioned, He often identifies Himself as ‘Brahma’. ‘His potencies are multifarious’(S v e t a s v a t a r a Upanisad, 6:8) The One And Only Supre m e Being The Supreme Being is described in Vedic literature (Hindu Scriptures) in the following terms; ‘The Supreme Lord is the Controller of all controllers, and He is the Greatest of all the diverse planetary leaders. Everyone is under His control. All entities are delegated with particular power only by the Supreme Lord; they are not supreme themselves. He is also worshipable by all demigods and is the supreme Director of all directors. Therefore, He is transcedental to all kinds of material leaders and con- trollers and is worshipable by all. There is no one greater than Him, and He is the supreme cause of all causes. He does not possess bodily form like that of an ordinary entity. There is no difference between His body and His soul. He is absolute. All his senses are transcendental. Any one of His senses can perform the action of any other sense. Therefore no one is greater than Him or equal to Him. His potencies are multifarious, and thus his deeds are automatically performed as a natural sequence.’ (Svetasvatara Upanisad, 6:7- 8) Hindu Scriptures reveal that the Supreme Being is One being. The issue of His Unity has again been clarified. The Bhagavad Gita also confirms this view as can be seen below: 57The Review of Religions – January 2004 Journey to Truth – Hinduism ‘Others, who engage in sacrifice by the cultivation of Knowledge, worship the Supreme Lord as the One without a second, as diverse in many, and in universal form.’ (Bhagavad Gita, 9:15) ‘AIthough the Supersoul appears to be divided among all beings, He is never divided. He is situated as One. Although He is the maintainer of every living e n t i t y, it is to be understood that He devours and develops all.’ (Bhagavad Gita, 13:17) Krishna(as) It is difficult to obtain complete and accurate information regard- ing the life of Krishna(as). Hindu religious teachings were passed verbally from generation to generation for many hundred years after Krishna( a s ). And after this period, the Bhagavad-Gita and Upanisad, were also written over hundreds of years. Krishna(as) is believed to have been born over 3000 years ago to Devaki (his mother) and Vasudeva (his father). When Krishna(as) was born, he was given the name ‘Kinhai’. It was only on attaining Divine Consciousness that his name was changed to Krishna(as). Krishna(as) belonged to a royal family. His mother was a sister of King Kamsa and also a sister of the wife of a King in the Kuru dynasty called Pandu. King Pandu’s wife was called Kunti or Prtha, the mother of the Pandavas. Arjuna, Krishna’s cousin was one of the sons of Pandu. Most information regarding the life of Krishna(as) do not appear as m a t t e r-of-fact statements. However, a few aspects of his life that have been metaphorically expressed are discussed here. Krishna-Bhagavan K r i s h n a( a s ) is also revered as ‘Bhagavan’ which literally means ‘powerful-person’. This term apparently signifies to Krishna’s Spiritual Capabilities after he attained Divine Consciousness. It should not be interpreted literally as physical power. These spiritual capabilities have been metaphor- ically expressed as physical events such as battles against Beasts and Demons. Such battles signify to ‘ Truth’, triumphing over 58 The Review of Religions – January 2004 Journey to Truth – Hinduism ‘Falsehood’. In otherwords, the re- establishment of the correct teachings of the Supreme Being during a period of ignorance. Multi-Armed Krishna K r i s h n a( a s ) is portrayed in the Scriptures as having more than the normal two physical arms. This is also an indication of his Spiritual capabilities. It implies that on attaining Divine Consciousness, the Supreme Being began to guide his actions. Metaphorically, the added arms are the arms of the Supreme Being Who began to assist Krishna(as) when he attained Divine Consciousness. It is metaphorically expressed as added physical arms because with added arms, there is an increase in one’s capability. Thus it should not be interpreted literally as physical arms. Another example of a metaphoric expression of an increase in capability could be observed in the Scriptures with regard to the possession of wings. It should not be interpreted literally as physical wings. Krishna The Flute-Player Krishna(as) is also portrayed as a f l u t e – p l a y e r. This describes an attribute of the Supreme Being that Krishna( a s ) began to reflect once he attained Divine Consciousness. A flute-player uses his flute as a medium of conveying his musical expres- sions to others. Similarly, the Supreme Being uses His chosen devotee (Krishna(as)) as a means of conveying His teachings to mankind. In other words, K r i s h n a( a s ) is to the Supreme Being, what the flute is to the flute-player. Krishna Dances With The Gopis A very common way of expressing love for a particular musical expression is by dancing. Similarly, an appropriate way of expressing one’s love for a conveyed teaching, is by adhering to the principles of that teaching. Therefore, dancing to the sound of the musical instrument can be interpreted as adhering to the teachings of the Supreme Being conveyed through His chosen d e v o t e e . 59The Review of Religions – January 2004 Journey to Truth – Hinduism ‘Gopi’ is a Sanskrit term which means ‘milk-maid’. It should be noted here that India, Krishna’s birth-place, is a country with cows, cowherds and milkmaids, and not shepherds and sheep. The Gopis Expose Their Nakedness To Krishna Exposing ones’ nakedness to Krishna(as) is not a matter-of-fact statement. It rather means, ‘confessing ones’ sins to K r i s h n a(as) with the hope of obtaining forgiveness from the Supreme Being. K r i s h n a ’s birth had been foretold long before he was born. Most of the story of his birth has been expressed metaphorically. The fact that Krishna’s birth had been foretold shows that long before K r i s h n a( a s ) was born, there had been a person like Krishna( a s ) who had also attained Divine Consciousness, and had been responsible for the establishment of the correct teachings of the Supreme Being during the previous period of Ignorance. This person had foretold his birth which had been expected to take place during the next period of Ignorance. Like his predecessor, Krishna( a s ) also foretold the coming of another person who would attain Divine Consciousness like him, and would be responsible for establishing the correct teachings of the Supreme Being in the next period of Ignorance as part of a cycle. You are most welcome to submit articles to The Review of Religions (prefably in electronic format). All we request is that it should be unpublished and well- researched with full cross- reference to original source material. 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