The Hindu view of Scriptures

Rigveda MS in Sanskrit on paper, India, early 19th c

Rigveda (padapatha) manuscript in Devanagari, early 19th century

I was asked about the Hindu understanding and interpretation of scriptures, and what they mean to me. I decided that I would answer this in a post rather than as a comment reply.

There are various types of Hindu scripture, the oldest of which are the Vedas. All orthodox Hindus regard the vedas as the divine word of God. The vedas are mostly songs of praise, and so are open to a number of different interpretations. Some of these are resolved by the Upanishads,  philosophical discourses on the vedas. Again these texts are regarded as sacred by all orthodox Hindus.

In addition to these  universally accepted scriptures, each sect has  agamas, which detail the worship of the deity or deities worshipped by that sect. These are regarded as sacred by the followers of the sect, though they see them as only applicable to sect members. The vedas and agamas are known as Shruti, meaning “that which is heard”.

There are also scriptures known as Smriti means “that which is remembered”. These include the Itihasas, the great epics of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Some sects may take these literally, others symbolically, and others as just moral stories which teach the concepts of Dharma. Continue reading

Another Blog by a Western Hindu: Ardhanarishwar

Screensot of the ardhanarishwar blog

The ardhanarishwar blog

The ardhanarishwar blog by Dhrishti clearly describes the concepts behind the non-dual Advaita Vedanta school of Hinduism. He has an interesting style, not writing directly about himself but relvealing a lot indirectly by the way he describes things. He is clearly influenced by “The Seven Stars of Hinduism” by  Dileep Thatte.

I have added this blog to my list of blogs by Western followers of Hinduism.

Bells and conch blowing

The other day in our mandir, Pandit ji gave a nice analogy to explain why we sound the conch and ring the bells before arti. He likened it to the police siren. He said that if there are any unsavoury people hanging around a street corner and they hear a siren of a police car approaching they disappear. They know that the police will be following soon. Similarly when we hear the sound od the conch and the ringing of the bell our bad thoughts disapear. They know that the darshan is coming!

Another Blog by a Western Hindu: Rajanaka Sammelana

screenshot of the Rajanaka Sammelana blog

Rajanaka Sammelana blog

Thank you to Dhyan, who left a comment, telling me about this blog.  The Rajanaka Sammelana blog is an established blog by Douglas Brooks, am a professional scholar and a teacher of the traditions of Rajanaka Yoga. He explores the path of Tanric yoga, as taught by Rajanaka Gopalaiyar Sundaramoorthy. He discusses many subjects in depth, including Sanskrit, the Gita, Kashmiri Saivism.

I have added this blog to my list of blogs by Western converts to Hinduism.

Forgiveness is Human

This is the final part of a series of three posts starting with “Time: past, present, and future“. The previous articles looked at God being within us all, and God not needing to forgive, as he always shows mercy and love.

Toy dealer's pet dog 'ate Batman'

The picture to the right is from a news story about a dog, Lola,  who chewed a rare vintage Batman toy which was worth £1,000.  Lola’s owner is a  collectable toy dealer, who was valuing the toy for a client.

The story starts with the words “She is out of the doghouse and already forgiven“.  Nobody would be surprised if the Lola’s owner was initially cross, but quickly forgave her. The anger would be a typical emotional response, but forgiveness would come easily, because everyone knows that the dog did not understand what she was doing. She was left on her own with something chewable and interesting, and followed her nature. Even if she knew that she was not supposed to chew the toys, she would have had no idea of the value of them, or that she had picked the most valuable toy in the collection.

Its possible that if her owner is someone in control of his emotions and of a generous disposition that he never got angry, and that understanding the situation would see that there was nothing to forgive.

However, forgiveness is not always that easy. People may have done something deliberate to take advantage of us, or hurt us. Some people even delight in causing pain to others.

Because Hindus believe that we are all divine at heart, we believe that every transgression is ultimately caused by our ignorance of our true nature. Continue reading

Kripa, divine mercy, and why forgiveness is not divine

This is the second in a series of posts, which follows on from the post “Time: past, present, and future“. In the first post I described how God is inseparable from us.

Lord Shiva bestows blessings on a devotee

Lord Shiva bestows blessings on a devotee

Since God is within us all, he cannot help but show us mercy. When we are devoted to God we are rewarded by kripa (IAST: kṛpā), which can be translated as grace, or kindness. This amounts to removing karma that we have accrued, so that we do not have to face the consequences.

Continue reading

Time: past, present, and future

This is part of a post that I have been asked to write for the homophilosophicus blog. I have decided that rather than write the whole article at once and post it on both blogs, I will write it in stages here. One reason for this is that I find it easier to write smaller direct posts, and I imagine that many readers will also find this easier to read. The second reason is that I can add details here that would probably be too much for a general audience. Thirdly, I can get feedback as I write. This topic fell naturally into different sections, giving me the idea. The sections in this coloured text are  extras for this blog only!

Shiva the creator

Hinduism teaches that  the past is infinite, as is the future. Though there was a creation of the universe and there will be an ultimate destruction, these mark one of many cycles. Many Hindus also believe that there are other parallel physical universes, though Hindu texts are largely agnostic on this. The duration of each cycle is measured in billions of years. The late Carl Sagan, an agnostic astronomer and astrophysicist commented:

But the main reason that we oriented this episode of COSMOS towards India is because of that wonderful aspect of Hindu cosmology which first of all gives a time-scale for the Earth and the universe — a time-scale which is consonant with that of modern scientific cosmology. We know that the Earth is about 4.6 billion years old, and the cosmos, or at least its present incarnation, is something like 10 or 20 billion years old. The Hindu tradition has a day and night of Brahma in this range, somewhere in the region of 8.4 billion years.

As far as I know. It is the only ancient religious tradition on the Earth which talks about the right time-scale. We want to get across the concept of the right time-scale, and to show that it is not unnatural. In the West, people have the sense that what is natural is for the universe to be a few thousand years old, and that billions is indwelling, and no one can understand it. The Hindu concept is very clear. Here is a great world culture which has always talked about billions of years. Continue reading

Another Blog by a Western Hindu: Volara

Volara blog

Allegra contacted me and told me about her blog, volara. She  is a student at Princeton University and a follower of Gaudiya Vaishnavism.  Gaudiya Vaishnavism is usually associated with ISKCON, and Allegra’s path has taken that direction so far, though there are other linages within this tradition.   She writes about both about her studies and her personal spiritual journey.

She also feels sympathy for Muslims in America and writes about Islam. I know that this is likely to be controversial, but it seems to me that even if Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslims victimise Hindus, it does not mean that it is right for Hindus in America  not to be treated equally.

I have added her blog to my list of blogs by Western followers of Hinduism.

Sparks from a fire

Sparks from a fire

Sparks from a fire

Yesterday on the way to work, I listened to the “Thought for the day” on Radio 4. This program allows people with a variety of beliefs to give a three or four minute talk on a subject of their choosing.  This particular talk was by the Rabbi Lionel Blue, and he talked about what a Kabbalist had told him about his view of God. The image he used was of God being nothing in the beginning, then withdrawing part of himself to leave a void. Into this void he sent divine sparks of himself.

According to the Kabbalist, the purpose of our creation is to allow these divine sparks to find their way back to God, to make him whole again.

It struck me how similar this is to the symbolism of the Mundaka Upanishad: Continue reading

Happy Mahāshirvātri everyone

I’m not doing a long post today, so here is a leaflet about MahaShivratri:

Mahasivaratri, Shiva’s Great Night

Importance of Dialogue – a Hindu Perspective.

This article was written for the interfaith site homophilosophicus (meaning “the philosophical person”). Having been asked to write this, I found it quite a daunting task. My main worry was that I would misrepresent Hinduism either by making an error or saying something that applied to my lineage as though it applied to all Hindus. I was also worried that I was stepping into the territory of “real theologians”, people with doctorates in theology, but the article seems to have been well received.

If you have any comments for me about this article leave them below as usual. If you have any comments that you would like to share with the non-Hindus at the interfaith site then make them at the publication of the article there. The comments that I have received there so far show that most of the posters are sincere about wanting to know about Hinduism but some of them have a lot of misconceptions.

Interfaith Banner

Dialogue has always been important in Hinduism. Many of the Upanishads (religious texts) take the form of a dialogue, discussing philosophy from different points of view. Many of the Hindu saints were renowned for their debate and dialogue, frequently changing their opinions as a result. In theManisha Panchakam, Adi Shankara starts by asking an outcast to move aside, and ends up concluding that when one knows God, then caste is irrelevant, and that the outcast is Shiva himself. Satsang (literally meaning true company), is respectful dialogue among devotees along with reflection and meditation.  This is positively encouraged by many Hindu lineages. Nowadays this sometimes takes place in closed internet forums, private social networking groups, etc. This is seen as valuable as long as it aids learning and spirituality and does not lead to discord. Continue reading

Ten thousand years worth of knowledge – for the taking

Sohan Giri

I read a facebook post  which is an excerpt from a story by Babu Rampuri. In this story  Sohan Giri jokingly accuses the narrator of taking ancient knowledge and give nothing in return. The narrator sees that despite being a joke, this is actually true:

Although this was just a joke, which the other young sadhus around the dhuni were enjoying, I had to admit that he was right. I just walk in, and because I’m a white boy, and logic and experience dictate that probably there is some money somewhere, the streets of Am-rika are paved with gold (or at least gold-plated), and because of my privilege, I presume that ten thousand years of secret knowledge should simply be handed over to me just for the asking.

This made me think, we should never cease to be grateful that the tens of thousands of years of wisdom which is encompassed in Hinduism is not secret, and for the most part is handed over just for the asking.

It also made me think about how we repay this. For the most part it is with thanks and respect, but unfortunately it is not always so.

Yoga instructors have been allowed to claim copyright on yoga postures that are thousands of years old. Similarly ayurvedic medicines have been patented. This is not just being ungrateful for what has been given freely, but turning round and using the legal system and international patent agreements to say “now you have to pay us to use it”. Continue reading