Let us become nobler

Sanskrit word 'Arya' or 'Aryam' stands for nobility. Let us implore everyone to become noble, the Arya or Aryam. Christians, Muslims, Hindus or Jews, communists or capitalists, rich or poor, clever or dumb, weak, meek or bully. Uncomfortable perhaps are they with other, threatening peace. Ray of hope for the world is ‘include-all’ ideas of ancient Indian wisdom popularly known as Hinduism. Only they knew how to celebrate individuality of each person. Aryas respect ideas of others, respect way of worship of others, help others and become a noble citizen of this wide and varied world. Idea behind this blog is to bring out those ideas and help each of us become better than what we are. 'N' in the 'Aryan', by the way, was a mistake made by colonial 'experts' who wanted to underplay and undermine the culture and religion of those who they clandestinely enslaved.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

4- Kailash, Kathmandu and Kashi – A story of Shiva and me.

(A decade ago after a trip to Tibet, Nepal and India, I wrote down my impressions. It was not meant to be a book, however after it was read by some, it was suggested that if it gets published, interested persons can use it. However I thought (and still think) that the narration was more of a personal quest into Bhagavan Shiva and that it may not interest a wider audience. Therefore instead of commercially publishing it, I thought of placing it on a website of Publishing house Harper Collins’s website known as Authonomy.com. It remained on their website as "Kailash, Kathmandu and Kashi – A story of Shiva and me", for people to review my narration for many years. However, last year, when Harper Collins shutdown Authonomy.com and I realized that some people still wanted to read my account, I decided to place all 26 chapters of that travelogue on this blog. Reader views and comments are welcome)

Chapter 4.  Hindu Idea of God, Gods and More Gods.
From the time man began to think, he has wondered about God. With all the abilities at his disposal, when he could not find out how or who made the world around him, helpless against life and death and amazed at powers of nature and its limitless expanse, he realized existence of something beyond him. He has since then never stopped his struggle to find that ‘unknown’. To begin with, he invented word or words to signify Him, different in different languages. In English, the ‘God’. As man delved on this subject deeper and deeper, he realized it was impossible to understand God using his limited knowledge. Our knowledge, however much would be still lesser than the creator of the knowledge. How can one reach limitless with limited?


Hindus thought of God in terms of ability and qualities. God was very powerful. Man too is powerful but not as much as God. God has infinite amount of love. Man too has power to love, albeit much limited than God. Man realized that in every sphere, be it knowledge, power, wealth, love or goodness, the God was far-far ahead of him. So much ahead, that God is unreachable for him.  Hindus would mean the same thing but would say ‘almost unreachable’, because as per them, with enough effort (any)one can reach Godhood. Thus a man is on the ladder somewhere near the bottom and the God is at the top.


A Hindu respects all those persons who are ahead of him on this ladder because they are nearer to God then him. He must revere those who have strived and reached lofty heights. Those are ‘Fortunate-ones’-translated: “Bhagavan”. Everyone who has achieved lofty heights is closer to “God” than the person who is at a lower step on this ladder. For us, ordinary mortals, who are still struggling with our beast within, everyone who may be anywhere between ourselves and God on this ladder is exemplary and worthy of respect. Conversely, any one who is below us on the ladder too is worthy of consideration as he too possesses potential to go up and who knows, his speed may be faster and may even go ahead of you. The hunter in the story of Shiv-Raatri, almost went from bottom to top.


If a man who is not familiar with Hinduism was to ask a question to a Hindu: “Do you have one God or many Gods”. He would get a reply that “Essentially we have one God, but also we have many Gods” Everyone on the ladder is either God or worthy of becoming God one day. Hindus like to call all of them as Bhagavan. And remember this too: all those on the ladder even if they may be so close to God, also know that still God is a long way ahead.


Hindu idea of God is so completely different than what is understood by followers of Abrahamic[1] faiths, that unless it is absorbed before venturing into any books on India, Hinduism or allied topics, it would not only prevent appreciation of the big-picture-idea that Hinduism is but could lead to confusion and apathy towards philosophical grandeur of ancient Indic thoughts.


Hinduism, world’s oldest religion, gives full freedom to its followers to believe, partially believe, not believe and even oppose all or any of its philosophy or ritual. It encourages its follower to think and come to any conclusion that satisfies his inquiry. Terms such as blasphemy or heresy are unknown to Hinduism. Its followers follow various different paths of worship. Hindu Scriptures say that there are 330 million Gods and in the same breath they say that there is only one God.


In Abrahamic faiths, God is a creator of universe, who owns us, gives laws, monitors everyone, rewards persons of good conduct and punishes offenders. And no man can ever become God. And He has a rival ‘Satan’, making for two centers of power governing world affairs. And that God has created this universe whose mastership has been given to man. On the contrary, in Hinduism, God does not own a man, although He is the creator-sustainer-destroyer and yet He does not expect subservitude from mankind. Hindu God does not give ‘ten commandments’, man is free to think, act (or not act) and decides his fate by his own Karma, not needing God to play administrator. Man can even reach Godhood by cultivating divine virtues. There is nothing that is absolutely bad or absolutely good; both elements are simultaneously present in every thing in varying proportions. Every situation is meant for learning for man and becoming incrementally perfected from one moment to the next and that life is a school from where any individual (Hindu or otherwise) can and will graduate into eventually becoming God himself. God expects man to develop, grow up, climb the ladder and become as perfect as Him. That is what Moksha is, the ultimate goal of a Hindu. Grow up to be good as God. And there is no rival power to God. Everything is his manifestation. One power centre. Relationship a man share with God is the same relationship every object, human, animal, plant or mineral shares with God. Human is no master of universe, but if he does understand; only a caretaker who would ensure no abuse, be it of humans, animals, plants or minerals.


For Hindus, God permeates through whole universe and also it envelopes all, making everything divine, animate or inanimate. the whole universe and its every part are divine for him. Therefore he sees Gods everywhere. In humans, animals, trees, stones, water, lakes, mountains, rivers, seas and in every other thing, visible or not, including own-self. A guarantee to the world that Hindus would protect the environment so long as they continued to respect ethos of their ancestors. Today Hindus are torn between their ethos and pressures of modernity which encourages consumerism leading to indiscriminate exploitation not only of natural resources but also of human capital. As of now, despite rapid economic activity, India’s ecologic footprint is, thankfully, considerably small. Hindus, in the meanwhile, have lost some of their God Consciousness in wake of ‘benefits’ of modernity, commercialization and exposure to foreign faiths for who, ‘monkey-god’ ‘tree-god’ and ‘holy-cow’ are too strange and must be ridiculed routinely. Modern faiths have not been able to keep open mind to see if there exists any merit in these customs when berating them as pagan or idolatry. (Index of Ecological footprint for India stands merely at 1.06 hectors as per data of 2008-2009, thus ranked at 108. On the other hand wasteful nations have bigger footprints. For instance, with 12.22 hectors USA ranks at 2 and United Arab Emirates with 15.99 hectors has the dubious distinction of being number 1, the world’s biggest ecological footprint. Per capita consumption of electricity of Canada is highest at 16,995 kwh as compared to 704 kwh of India. If the entire world population of 6.8 billion people were to adopt a lifestyle of USA, it would need a planet 3 times as big as earth with comparable mineral and other resources and having land surface area of 830 million square kilometers. (470 million sq km is the total area of earth including oceans) On the other hand, if one was to adopt life style of current India, we need only half the earth.)


For all practical purposes, one can use the word ‘Bhagavan’ in place of God, and in that sense it is the closest match with Abrahamic God. However strictly speaking, in Hinduism, there is something that is even beyond God or Bhagavan. Ancient Hindu philosophers were not satisfied by just attributing the unexplained as ‘God’. They delved deeper to discover what is known as ‘Brahman’, ‘the ultimate truth’ or ‘the ultimate reality’ (Do not mistake the word Brahman for similar sounding word ‘Brahmin’). Bhagavan is an entity of or from impersonal Brahman, but possesses an identifiable ‘personality’. The Supreme ‘God’, Brahman is one, the only one and nothing exists beyond that one. But this ‘one’ is not a ‘person’, not ‘a man upstairs’. ‘Brahman’ by its very definition indefinable! Impossible to fully define as it is beyond all senses thus impossible to see, hear, feel or know in any way by our senses. It can also be said that everything put together in the universe and beyond is Brahman. Thus Brahman can be said to be present in many ways, forms, fully or partly, and every those entities are called Gods. Any thing or any non-things ‘thought’, ‘emotion’ ‘space’, ’time’, ‘sound’, ‘light’ too are Brahman and are potentially ‘God’ upon realization of its divine content. Therefore every being, thing or non-thing is qualified to be called a God, when that divine content rises to fore. In other words, all manifestations are potentially Gods and are addressed as such when that manifestation becomes predominantly divine. Therefore, when a saintly person is addressed as Bhagavan, it conjures disbelief in others but does not surprise a Hindu. Entry to the ‘Bhagavan-Club’ is not closed in the Hindu domain. In this book, we would consider Bhagavan and God as interchangeable terms.


The word Bhagava(a)n, literally translated means ‘Possessor (Vaan) of Fortune (Bhaga)’ (in the sense of luck, quality, virtue, richness etc) and the word is independent of gender. Thus no bias when it comes to divinity; Bhagavan is equally applicable to male or female forms. We are all fortunate in one way or the other.


Let us consider a few examples of Gods in Hinduism. One, the creator and controller of universe (in the sense, generally understood in Abrahamic faiths) is God. If split into its trinity components, all three, Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, the creator-sustainer-destroyer respectively are also Gods. (Shiva is known as Mahesh, the Great God). These three reincarnate at different times and those incarnations too are Gods. Many male and female associates, spouses and other relatives (only if they have matured enough such that divinity radiates by itself from them. If not they are not yet in the ‘Bhagavan-Club’) too are known as Gods. Even, mortal saintly people too are known as Gods. Mother and father also qualify to be called Gods by their children and so also a teacher by his or her pupils. A verse in the holy Bhagavad Gita says that the spark of greatness in whatever one sees in the universe is a form of God. Thus anything and everything that impresses an individual is a God for him in more or less way; for a small child, his mother is everything, therefore a God for him. To consider all these as Gods is blasphemy in Abrahamic faiths but not a bit surprising to Hindus. It is so hard to inculcate even a fraction of divinity by us mortals that anyone who has attempted becomes divine for us. Anyone who has worked and gone nearer to divinity is good enough for us ordinary mortals to respect him as God. A Hindu appreciates how afar we ordinary mortals are from the lofty heights of love, truth, bravery, selflessness etc virtues acquired by those exalted individuals and certainly they deserve to be called as Bhagavans or ‘Gods’.


Over and above these Gods, Hindus have a large pool of non-human or part-human-part-animal forms of Gods that are venerated (one may even use the word ‘worshipped’). Behind each form and its worship, one finds something to learn and grow further in divinity, up the great ladder.


Essence of every thing, such as fire, water, wind, rain, space, time etc are also known as Gods (some call them Deva or Demi-Gods); Stars, planets and satellites too are Gods, such as Sun-God, Saturn-God, Moon-God etc. Among animal and plant kingdom too exist many Gods and other equally venerated entities. On specific occasions, cows, bulls, turtles, eagles, peacocks, roosters, crows, swans, tigers, lions, elephants, snakes, mice etc are venerated; Banyan tree, Piple tree, fruits of Coconut tree, Rudraksh (Elaeocarpus) tree, Beetlenut tree, leaves and fruits of Bilva-tree (Aegle Marmelos Tree), Tulasi (Basil) Plant, etc are considered worthy of veneration owing to certain ‘divine’ contents in their makeup which help in our quest of divinity.


All these apart, in Hinduism, man has liberty to choose his relationship with God. Some may venerate by knowing him as creator, as all-knower, as provider of everything, as father, as mother, as brother, as friend, even as lord. Every relationship is acceptable. However in relating God as lord the worshipper assumes him to be His slave and therefore Hindus recognize this relationship as a contradiction. A slave, by definition can not possess the free will (His owner’s will is his will) whereas God has given us the full play of exercising our free will. Even if one wants to forfeit God’s gift, and even if one wants follow God’s will, how is one to know what is His will? When we hear so rampant an expression “God’s will” by even those who have hardly anything Godly in their lives, it seems God has freely distributed His power of attorney! For a Hindu, who knows, it is rarely “God willing”. They can not cheapen God’s will.


Gods and divine things are venerated by Hindus. Veneration done with rituals is known as ‘Pooja’. Veneration is appreciation an acknowledgement and takes various form depending upon the worshipper. It can be by meditation, hymns, chant, songs, dance, art, spreading message of love etc. Once we know what the word ‘Bhagavan’ (God) and what the word ‘Pooja’ signifies to a Hindu, it helps us to peek into Indic stories in a better way.


[1] Judaism, Christianity and Islam

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