Free Will and Hinduism

Do we have free will? Many scientists believe that we do not. They believe that our minds are simply machines, computers following a program. At first glance their argument appears to have merit. After all, when we working things out logically we are not using free will. We would all expect that given well defined facts such as “all cats are animals” and “tibby is a cat” everyone would come up with the same answer when asked “is tibby an animal”.

Similarly we cannot say that we are using free will when we are giving in to the desires of our emotions and senses without consideration. Hinduism teaches us that this path leads to degeneration, and distracts from our true divine nature. It is also clear that all people living at this level will act the same way, seeking pleasure where they can.

If a person were just made from these two components; an ability to reason logically plus the drive of sensual pleasure and emotions then the scientists would be right, we would have no free will.

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Hinduism, More than a lifetime to learn?

There is an anecdotal story that someone asked a Hindu about converting to Hinduism. The Hindu replied that Hinduism would take more than a lifetime to learn.

I suspect that this story is just an urban legend, I have certainly never heard any Hindus say such a thing to me. Even so, is this true. If by “learning Hindusim” you mean attaining moksha then the answer is yes. Most Hindus do not expect to reach moksha in this life, so it is hardly a reason not to follow the path of Hinduism.

In any case, only very few people are aware of their previous lives. If someone feels a calling to the path of Hinduism, who can say whether it is a path that they are meant to return to, having followed it in previous lives. Even if someone has not followed Hinduism in previous lives then, to quote a Chinese proverb, “even the longest journey starts with a single step”.

I doubt if anyone ever will tell me that Hinduism will take more than a lifetime to learn, as I said I think it is an “urban legend” rather than something someone said. If anyone does say it to me, I know how I am going to answer!

Religion evolving or devolving?

Is religion evolving or devolving. Most Hindus believe that religion is devolving. In past yugas or eras knowledge of God and our spiritual nature was better known. We are currently living in the Kali Yuga, the lowest of ages, where false and misleading religions will appear. In previous yugas knowledge of God was better, in the Satya Yuga or golden age everyone knew God and lived in ritiousness.

This idea of the golden age is seen in many religions. Even Islam and Christianity believe in the Jewish story of the garden of Eden. Native American religions talk of a time when men spoke to the Gods and animal spirits or “totems”. The Australian aborigines speak of a dreamtime, when the tribal laws were laid down.

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The Caste System

I received several comments from a poster Prasad in response to my article analysing a “Christian conversion” text. It appears that Prasad converted to Christianity after being denied entry into the Hindu temples as an untouchable. He is obviously a sincere and intelligent person, and loss of someone like him is a loss to Hinduism. Why then is there a caste system, and to what extent is it a problem of Hinduism? It seems to me that there are three important questions that relate to whether the caste system is a problem for Hinduism:

  1. Do Hindus observer the Caste System.
  2. Do non-Hindus practice the Caste System.
  3. Is the Caste system central to Hindu beliefs

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The Swastika

The Swastika is a sacred symbol, a symbol of peace, to Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. Prior to Nazi Germany it was also a “good luck” symbol in the west.
The image to the left shows Jackie Bouvier (later Jackie Kennedy/Onassis) as a child dressed in a costume which included a swastika. More images of swastikas can be seen at the “reclaim the swastika” site. These include more pre-Nazi western swastikas, such as 1920s Coca Cola lucky key ring. Hindus still use the swastika today. The picture to the right shows a swastika symbol in a modern UK Hindu mandir. The swastika is behind a Murti of Ganesh, and the swastika is associated with Ganesh and good luck.

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Taking Pride in Westerners Converting to Hinduism

I came across a thread in Orkut discussing Westerners converting to Hinduism. One of the posters said that there was a danger in taking pride in Westerners converting, because it confirmed a “colonial mindset”, and an opinion that a Westerner being interested somehow validated Hindu beliefs. I can see that pride for this reason is a bad thing, but I don’t think it has to be for this reason. Here is an edited reply that I left on the thread:

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There would be peace if everyone was a Christian/Muslim?

Some people say that there would be peace if only everyone followed their religion. To those who say that there are many paths to God they say “if you believe that all religions can be a path to God, then why not be a Christian (or Muslim or whatever), because then there would be peace”. Of course believing that all religions can be paths to God is not the same as believing that all religions are equal. Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami said:

I explain that there are many paths to the top of the mountain, some lead to the top and others half way up.

In my view Hinduism gives the best means, example and motivation for spiritual advancement, as I describe more fully in my blog entry “What Hinduism has to offer“. Even so, could it be true that if by some chance everyone converted to one of the exclusive religion there would be peace? At first glance it sounds like a strong argument, but look a little deeper and you will see that it is not so.

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Belated response to second post by an Indian Christian

I have received two unpleasant posts from an “Indian Christian”. After responding to the first comment I decided not to post a response to the second comment for a while, for reasons I described in a post “Why I will not respond to the second ‘Christian’ post soon“. Anyway, I now feel ready to respond to the comment.


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Weserner at a Hindu Temple, a year on

It is now over a year since I wrote about my first visit to a Hindu temple. Since then I have been attending regularly with my family. I now feel accepted by the Indian Hindus, and one incident more than anything else brought this home to me.

A new mandir has been constructed in our city, and will soon hold rituals to consecrate the deities and the building. This is a very important event, which we are looking forward to very much. One of the people I meet there regularly asked me if I had been given a personal invitation. I told him no, but I had seen the public invitation on the noticeboard. He called over our pundit (priest), and asked whether I could be given an invitation. Pundit ji said “of course not”, then quickly smiled and gave me an envelope with the personal invitation for me and my family

Now he is comfortable enough to joke about me being accepted, I have absolutely no doubt that my family and I have been! I am very privileged to be at the opening of the magnificent new building. This purpose-build mandir will show the presence of Hinduism to everyone in the city. I have great affection for the old building, which is I believe had previously been a club, but at times it was limiting, with some people having to listen through the doors of the prayer hall during well-attended events.

Thoughts on Cloud Atlas

The novel Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchel is at one level a collection of stories. This review is from the perspective of Hinduism, so I talk about the theme of reincarnation and spiritual advancement more  than conventional reviews; I also skip over the plot. If you want to read a more conventional review, then there are many on the web [1], [2].

The stories describe various characters, a naive 19th century traveler, a rather immoral composer, a female journalist in the 1970s, a present day publisher, a victimised clone in the future, and a member of a Hawaiian tribe in the distant future following the collapse of civilisation. These stories are written with such a diversity of styles that they could almost be from different authors.

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Books, leaves and Gurus

My wife received a painted leaf in an ebay order, which is shown in the picture on the left. After some research I confirmed that this is a picture of Shiva and Parvati, and found that it is painted on a skeleton leaf from a sacred fig tree.

Many Hindus that to develop spirituality past a certain stage one needs a guru. They also say not to worry about not having one, when you are ready a guru will find you. Despite this I still used to worry about how in the UK I would find a guru. Well, I have not found one yet, but I no longer worry, and the fig leaf is part of the reason.

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We have a new Mandir

Last month our old mandir was replaced by a new purpose-built one. I attended one some of the inaugeration ceremonies and I felt very privileged to be there. Much of the ceremony was in sanskrit with translations into Hindi, which I did not understand, though the key points were described in English also. Sometimes less can be more, and the few salient points that I did understand appeared to be just what I needed to know. One was the idea that more than the ceremonies it was the prayers of all the devotess together that pleased God, and that is why we were all asking God in various forms to be present in our murtis. This made me realise that I was part of this, that among the good will of everyone there God was answering partly for me. I prayed that others may come here and be helped on their path as I have been.

One surprise was when the Lord Mayor gave his speech he announced that his wife, the Lady Mayoress was was keenly interested in the proceedings as she is a student of sanskrit. It just shows how studies of Hindu culture are spreading in the west.

Altogether it is a great feeling being together with so many devout people, who’s purpose is to praise God, advance spiritually and help others to do so now and in the future

There is a nice entry detailing the inaugeration of the mandir on the blog of Shri Sadgurudeva Ji Maharaj, which has many pictures.