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Lecture Two The Many Paths of Hinduism Of all the religions in the world, Hinduism is arguably the most complex and sophisticated. Hinduism embraces a broad range of beliefs from animism, the concept that trees and even rivers are alive, to Brahman, the most philosophical concept of God ever conceived by man. But all of this was conditioned by India, one of the world’s oldest civilizations. And there came to India early on the realization that it was impossible to unite all its varying peoples by one way alone, that the way “to unity was through diversity.” Two Paths in Life If we were to take a look at Hinduism as a totality, we could say that it affirms life as a whole. That everything in this life is good, but, it has its limits. But Hinduism is patient, and, it realizes that it often takes many lifetimes to realize that there are degrees of happiness. That at some point, we must ask, “is there anything more than this?” As St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “Lord grant me chastity but not yet.” Hinduism would agree with this assessment. There are two basic paths in life, the path of desire and the path of renunciation. Desires in and of themselves are not bad. At first glance this may seem strange as we often think of India as austere and other-worldly. We think of gurus and Gandhi. But at the beginning of life—and remember all of this must be put in the context of many lifetimes—there is the desire for pleasure. We in the West certainly know this as a desire. The ancient Greeks gave it a name, hedonism, literally, the pursuit of pleasure. Now pleasure is not the highest good but it is not bad either. Hindu temples abound with erotic images of the deities. In the film A Passage to India, Adela Quested travels to India to visit her fiancée and is awakened to her own sensuality by its culture. One day she stumbles into an ancient temple with its sensual images of the gods and suddenly becomes aware of her own desires and the limitations of her fiancée. Unlike the West, India never said that the body and its desires were bad. But it does say that at some point we must move on. Augustine echoed these sentiment when he said, “God, my heart is restless until it rests in thee.” The second goal of life is success, with its focus on money, fame, and power. We in the West know this goal, because, it is for most Westerners the goal of life. You could argue that this pursuit of money—even more than fame and power—became the overriding goal of Western Civilization. To a large extent it was due to the influence of John Calvin, that dour Frenchman, who argued that if all men are predestined by God to heaven or hell than success is certainly a sign that we are part of that elect, because God would not reward the elect with poverty. This theology had a profound effect on the Western sense of individualism and “making something of yourself.” India does not deny that these are acceptable desires—and modern India certainly knows that all too well—but what it says is that even these have limits. The true turn towards real religion occurs when one seeks meaning outside of one’s personal desires. This is the path of renunciation, which has as its goal “duty” towards one family and community. Indians have a word for this, dharma. There is a saying in Hinduism that one must first do one’s duty to one’s family and only then seek the higher stages of life. Indian life prizes marriage, and despite those who renounce sexual activity, marriage is the norm. The deities themselves have their consorts, Krishna and Radha, Rama and Sita. These are the ideals of marriage in Hindu scripture. But at some point, we must ask, is this all there is? As Aldous Huxley wrote, “when one asks even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, is this all?” The final goal of life is liberation, or moksha. And what is it we are freed from? From all the limitations of life, both physical and psychological. Hinduism asserts that most men walk around ignorant of the divinity within them. This notion that we are ignorant of the divine within us has echoes in Gnosticism, an early form of Christianity that died out after the 4th c. AD. According to the Gnostics there is a divine spark within us that can only be known through a special gnosis (i.e., knowledge). The Gospel of Thomas, a Gnostic Gospel discovered in the ancient library at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945, is more akin to Hindu spirituality when it states: “If you your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the Father’s kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside you and outside you. When you know yourselves, then you will be known…but if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty…” The Four Paths to God The ultimate goal of life is to free oneself from the limitations of life and achieve union with God (or, samadhi). Over the course of centuries four yogas have evolved to achieve this purpose. It has given to Hinduism a spirituality as rich as any religious tradition. The major division is between jnana yoga and bhakti yoga, or the path to God through knowledge and the path to God through devotion. In Hinduism you do not have to fit yourself into one spiritual box, either way is acceptable. The Way to God through Knowledge (or, jnana yoga) is only for the spiritual elite. Or as psychologists would say it is for those with a more reflective personality. Hindus say it is the quickest way to God but also the steepest. The goal is to achieve union with God through a series of discriminations: the first step is to learn from the spiritual classics, in particular, the Upanishads which remains the source for this way. The second step is to distinguish the outer self from the true Self within (the Atman). One of the most famous images is that of a chariot and charioteer who is guiding a team of horses. In the chariot is a passenger, a Lord, who is guided by the charioteer (or, reason). “Know the Atman as Lord of a chariot,” says the writer, “and the body as the chariot itself. Know that reason is the charioteer; and the mind indeed is the reins.” The third and last step is to achieve oneness with God, so that you and God become one (Atman/Brahman). Since this path was essentially pantheistic or monist (i.e., that all reality is Brahman), it was not widely accessible to the general devotee. The Way to God through Love (or, bhakti yoga) is for the more emotional or affective personality. For the bhakta devotee, God is not an impersonal force of the universe but a personal god who can be approached. Bhakti yoga insists on God’s otherness and refuses to reduce all reality to God. There is a saying in this tradition, “I want to taste sugar, I don’t want to be sugar.” The bhakta strives to adore God and not identify with him/her. And this is where all the images of God enter, the myths, the great epics; all serve to draw the heart towards God in loving devotion. To call this paganism is to completely misunderstand Hinduism, because these images are not meant to represent capricious beings that live on a faraway mountain, but symbols of the varying aspects of the one God Brahman. The core of bhakti yoga is found in the Bhagavad-Gita and its message of a loving God has remained central to Hindu practice. In a section that echoes the Gospels, Krishna says: “Whatever your action, Food or worship; Whatever the gift That you give to another; Whatever you vow To the work of the spirit: O son of Kunti, Lay these also As offerings before me.” The bhakta tends to focus their worship on one particular deity, as it is easier from a human standpoint to devote one’s energies to one particular form, in particular, the human incarnations of God, Krishna or Rama. But devotion to the mother goddess is also strong, especially in the southern part of India. Hinduism is the only major religion to keep the feminine aspect of God alive. The Way to God through Work (or, karma yoga) is a practical compromise between the first two yogas, for most of us have to work. It can be practiced in either the jnana or bhakti mode; i.e., as much as possible, you try to make your personality fit your job. The reflective personality is drawn to more contemplative endeavors, while the affective to more outgoing pursuits. This yoga goes back to the early Vedic emphasis on doing one’s duty (dharma) in this life and only then pursuing higher spiritual goals. This echoes the Judeo-Christian idea of vocation, that we are called by God from the moment of birth, as the prophet Jeremiah says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you…”(Jer 1:5). The monastic movement within Christianity echoes this sentiment with the simple phrase, “to work is to pray.” The Gita simply says, “He who performs the task dictated by duty, caring nothing for the fruit of the action, he is a yogi.” There are always the experimental types and the last of the paths is for them. Raja yoga is known as the “royal road to reintegration.” It is not mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita but came to refer to the various steps that lead to samadhi, or union with God. It is important to realize that in some way all Hindus practice some form of meditation. The important point is to find the one path that best suits your personality without totally neglecting the other three. Ramakrishna Through four millennia Hinduism has been revitalized by spiritual leaders. One of these was Ramakrishna (1836-1886) who from an early age devoted himself to the goddess Kali. He communicated with her through intense meditation practices. At one point he exclaimed: When I jumped up like a madman and seized [a sword], suddenly the blessed Mother revealed herself. The buildings with their different parts, the temple, and everything vanished from my sight, leaving no trace whatsoever, and in their stead I saw a limitless, infinite, effulgent Ocean of Consciousness. As far as the eye could see, the shining billows were madly rushing at me from all sides with a terrific noise, to swallow me up. I was caught in the rush and collapsed, unconscious … within me there was a steady flow of undiluted bliss, altogether new, and I felt the presence of the Divine Mother. Ramakrishna came to the realization that the presence of God could be experienced both as formed and formless, in this way combining the best of the paths to God. His message appealed to both the upper classes, who were more likely to take a philosophical approach, and the lower classes, who tended to practice bhakti. Ramakrishna's message was welcomed by both the rural and urban people who did puja (prayers) to the divine mother Kali as a protective and benevolent deity. These devotees saw him as a great teacher who sang the names of God and talked incessantly about God. The sincere devotee could even hope for a vision or dream of the divine mother. Ramakrishna taught the truth of all religions and his universalism inspired the Ramakrishna Movement (or, Vedanta Society). One of his most famous disciples was Vivekananda (1863-1902), who was the first Hindu monk to come to America. He addressed the 1893 Parliament of Religions at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893 and later successfully toured the United States to sold-out audiences for four years. A statue of Swami Vivekananda now graces a hill leading to the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago in Lemont, IL.