What You Need to Know About Hinduism
 

 

A course designed to help you with tools useful in Interfaith gatherings

 

Introduction

 

In April of 2020 in response to the needs of the Indian Community in the US, I devised a course that included questions plus corrections and notes that covered important features of Sanathana Dharma-Hinduism as well as how it differs from other major religions.We had a wide variety of people in the US, India and Australia who took this course including BA Philosophy Honor students, Delhi University. My aim was to provide the tools needed to share this knowledge especially in interfaith gatherings. I am offering this now via this site for those who would like to acquire this knowledge, attempt to answer and follow with self evaluation.
 

PART 1

1.  SanaaThana Dharma is the term that aptly describes the indigenous belief system of India. This is a broad based system that includes a variety of belief systems within it. It is also the foundation from which other sub systems such as Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism grew. T  F
 

2.  Hinduism is the name originally given by foreigners to the mainstream belief system of the people of India. This term eventually began to be used to distinguish Hindu Dharma from Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. T  F
 

3. Hindus are free to worship the divine as they wish because of the many choices in the systems. This has been a source of confusion for and misunderstanding by others who wish to understand and interpret many Indian traditions. T  F
 

4. Hindu Dharma followers are able to revere other religions with ease because of:
  A. The absence of being bound by prophets and founders and also by the absence of           restrictions to a single path.
  B. Variety of worship systems and paths offered.
  C. Tenets within Hindu Dharma scriptures facilitate this attitude.

 

Choose any or all letters that are appropriate.
     

5.  Creation and Evolution theories are never a concern for followers of Hindu Dharma. T  F 
 

6.  Many ancient Hindu temples’ layout and architecture are a symbolic replica of the human body and its connection to the Universe. T  F 
 

7.   Deities housed within these temples and rituals associated with them are based on ancient treatises that include scientific truths and laws.T  F
 

8.  The basic elements of general worship, all based on ancient treatises,  may be simplified to include essentially  the following. Mantra ( utterances that have unique and often powerful vibrations), Yantra (specific geometric diagrams) and or Moorthi ( anthropomorphic sculptures) and Tantra ( methodology of the rituals).T  F
 

9.  A purely polytheistic religion could not have given rise to the concepts of Brhman and AThman. T  F
 

10. Translating AThman in English as soul,  is misleading. The soul can be soiled by sin and purified by the practice of virtues and repentance. The AThman cannot be defiled nor purified. T  F
 

11. Brhman is same as God. T  F
 

12. The word SUNSKRITha (Sanskrit) means, that which is perfected. It is the name of the language thatb eventually became a very effective language for describing and communicating with the divine. T  F
 

13. The technology of Sanskrit as employed in mantras has alchemical and vibration properties and therefore needs to be used with proper understanding and sometimes with caution. T  F 
 

14. In India a numerical value given to the Divine was never an issue until she got exposed to languages and faiths whose origins were from elsewhere. T  F
 

15. The Sanskrit term as personified for the Divine is Deva or Devata . This word may be defined best as:
      A.God      B. gods       C. deity     D. source of illumination and power. 

 

Choose only one answer.
 

16. Vedic Sanskrit and the concept of the divine as found in the Vedas is the same as those found in the puranas and itihasas like the Bhagavat, Ramayana, Mahabharata and Shivapurana. T  F
 

ANSWERS
 

1-T, 2-T, 3-T, 4-ABC, 5-T, 6-T, 7-T, 8-T, 9-T, 10-T, 11-F, 12-T, 13-T, 14-T 15-D

 

 

NOTES
 

Part 1
 

Q 1. Standard history books do not reflect how various strata in society lived at a time, in a country. This includes the subject of belief systems too. To gather a deeper and wider understanding of what folks in the forests, in the plains, in the mountains, in desert areas and those who lived by the shore, believed, worshipped and celebrated, one has to reach out to other sources beyond history books. Observation of cultural traditions, such as their folk stories, their traditional dance and music as well as their family and community festival celebrations are the best ways to get to know their ways. 
 

In grouping the various indigenous belief systems with the popular and highly evolved Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, with all their separate sampradayas, the term Sanatana Dharma conveniently becomes the one umbrella, that shelters all. 
 

Q 2. The ancient people who lived in this subcontinent probably for a long time had no particular name for what they believed and followed, wherever they lived. This is true for ancient civilizations all over the world. Later on, in time, names were given to them by others, after studying their particularities and features. The term Hinduism came into being over several stages. Visitors from Greece observed the life of the people along the banks of the Sindhu river. Mind you they did not travel to other parts of India at that time. Although later Grecians did go beyond that area. The first set of visitors began to refer to them as Indos. From Indos, to Hindu and later India, words change often from one language to another. The term Hindusthan came into being with the invasions by Muslim countries, the term India came into prominence with the arrival of the British arrived while Bharat was used in conjunction with rituals and with reference to the puranas.
 

Q 3. It is interesting to note how easily Hindus who walk into churches, synagogues and mosques, visit tombs, can maintain respect, as they recognize that these are sacred places. The same cannot be said unfortunately about most of those who follow the Abrahamic faiths for they feel a sense of discomfort and disdain when they enter non Abrahamic worship places.
 

When we talk of others trying to understand India’s belief and worship systems, we are referring to people who are of the Abrahamic faith, namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This faith is strictly prophet based with very restrictive choices and narrow beliefs accompanied by a total disregard of the dignity of other believers and even nature.  In other words, their emphasis is on control not on tolerance based on wisdom and understanding. When they look at India therefore, with those eye glasses on, they are confused and at best only partially understand and too often misunderstand, the way of the religious life of Bharat.
 

Qs 3 & 4. It is of great benefit and peace, if we can see how the belief systems that were prevalent at one time, many that disappeared and the ones that remain can be resolved into a 3 level gradation of TaTtva- lokas, Levels of Reality.
 

The 3 are arranged in a vertical manner. The lowest being Loukika taThva loka, the next above is Pouraanika taThva loka and above that AdhyaaThmika taThva loka.
 

The lowest is the realm of worldly reality. Our day to day lives fall here. Pouranika reality is the realm of cultural legends, scriptures such as the puraanaas, and to some extent the itihasas, then above that is the transcendental adhyaaThmic loka. The transcendental truths are the primary content of the Upanishads. 
 

All human beings have to deal with Loukika  taThva loka. Most followers of Hindu dharma, thrive in the realm of the Pouranika taThva. Most of the fine arts, performing arts, festivals, ceremonies, worship at home and in the temples are inspired and guided by puranic themes. Many adherents travel often into the highest realm from time to time, but their comfort base is the middle strata.  Lesser adherents while still dealing with worldly reality have stepped up to AdhyaaThmika taThva loka, where they find answers to life’s nagging questions.   
 

The Samhita portion of the Rgveda is a category all to itself. For brevity’s sake I have to leave it with just this one line, as it is one of the most misunderstood part of the Vedas!
 

The Testaments of the Bible and the Koran fall into the Pouranic realm. The Zend Avesta of the Zoroastrians is primarily Pouranika in nature but does touch upon some transcendental truths. The puranas also include some elements of transcendental truths.
 

Q 5. Among the Adivasis (tribals) of India, stories with regard to creation vary, just the same way as we see among the native American tribes in the US. There are regional differences too.
Each purana will have its own take on the origin of this world, as the primary devaTha of each puranam is exclusive to that text. 

 

The Vedic approach to creation with its foothold on adhyaaThmic truths is revealed in for eg the Naasadiya and ViSvakarma suktas. 
 

When it comes to the technology of creation, we see highly developed concepts in Samkhya darshana, Ayurvediya Padaartha Vignaanam, and in segments of Prapanchasara tantra and Pancheekaranam.  In these the evolutes are given much elaboration. 
 

Therefore unlike the Abrahamic religions, Hinduism can coexist with evolution as it does not displace its core beliefs. 
 

Q 6. There is a floor plan or blue print for all ancient temples. They are based on Devaalaya vaastupurusha shaastras of Sthaapathya veda.  It is an architecture that is very highly developed in its details. The blue print for the construction of a temple and its specific parts is based on the anatomy of a human body. The Architecture is based on one of the two categories of treatises, they are Viswakarma and Maayaa. There are many books written by Dr. V. Ganapathi Sthapati on this subject. 
 

Q 7. Many treatises are employed starting from the selection of the material to carve, the sanctification and eventual installation and maintenance of the deities by way of associated aacharas or services. The treatises are Shilpa shastras, many tantras and aagamas. Modern temples many of whom have marble statues do not follow the strict rules that govern ancient temples.
 

Q 8. The subcontinent of India is technically dived into 3 mekalaas or girdles.. Within each mekala are several aagamas and tantras that are practiced.
 

Tantra earned a bad reputation during the Buddhist and Jaina periods in Indian history as they were often used for malefic purposes. 
 

Q 9. The term polytheistic means a system that believes in many gods. It has to be kept in mind that this resulted due to the reason as mentioned in Q 3. Indian belief system is very varied and so it is not polytheistic nor is it monotheistic, as defined by Abrahamic religions and Western anthropology. This will become clearer in

 

Qs.10,11, 14 and 15. This same misunderstanding is seen with regard to ancient Hellenism. 
 

Q 10. “Lost in translation”! This is what happens when scholars are hasty in translating from one language to another without studying the many facets of a word its meaning and usage. It is not easy to find one equivalent word to substitute for another word that represents a complex concept in a different language.
 

Q 11. Most believers are comfortable when the divine is given human attributes. When one digs deeper this will not make sense and so we have both types of worship for the different levels, namely saguna upaasana, where the divine has attributes  and nirguna upaasana, where the divine is beyond human attributes. 
 

Devata worship is primarily saguna whereas the upanishadic concept of aatman and Brhman is definitely an integral part of nirguna upasana.
 

The concept of God in Abrahamic religions is at the saguna level as represented by Yahweh, God and Allah, while a nirguna path is totally absent.
 

Qs 12 & 13. Masaru Emoto’s work on water crystals includes a segment as to what happens when the mantra Om Namah Sivaya is chanted in the vicinity of a container of water. 
 

In the practice of Kerala’ dakshina marga utthama tantra, moorthis can change in looks when certain texts are read in the proper manner with correct pronunciation. 
 

Ucchista Ganapati homa conducted in Tanjavur by a particular mattom that specializes in this form of Ganapati, concludes with the smoke, forming the shape of that Ganapati and his consort Neela Sarasvati. 
 

The late Prof. Frits Staal of Berkeley has done considerable research on Agni and has books published on the efficacy of certain yagnas that are performed in Kerala periodically.
 

Many research institutions in India continue to see the result of the effect mantras on plants and human beings. They also have proof of the deleterious effects of certain powerful texts when read inaccurately and when the individual letters of the mantras are mispronounced. 
 

The late Kandiyoor Mahadeva Shastri has listed a variety of the ill effects when the Devi Mahatmyam (Chandi paat) is recited inaccurately and when the rules of recitation are not followed.
 

The Mother, of Shri Aurobindo Ashram could walk into a temple and detect the flaws resulting from improper sthaapana( installation)  procedures, just by looking at the deity housed within. 
 

This type of research is being done in the West too.  For example, many years ago the late astronaut Edgar Mitchell who founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences had the personal experience of being cured of prostate cancer when board members chanted Omkara in his presence.
 

Many such effects are explained by laws of physics and chemistry. 
 

Q 14. There is an easy answer in the form of a question to be asked of one who has the initial question regarding Hinduism’s so called many gods and not the One God. It is to simply ask, if he or she can think of the number One without it being a part of the Numerical System. They cannot, for it does not exist. The problem is the ONE GOD of Abrahamic religion that is being applied to other belief systems that brought about the confusion. Today even many Hindus too seem to have this confusion.  They have forgotten that a numerical value can never be given to the divine, a concept which is the backbone of Hinduism. 
 

Q 15 & 16. If we study the concept of devata as revealed in the Vedas, and compare it to the concept in the puranas, one can recognize how vastly different the two are. “DiyaThey iti devata”, is a definition of the word, which means “Source of illumination/ knowledge”. This is what devata means in the Rgveda, where we see it for the first time.  Please check the video “Introduction to Vedic Suktas “on www.ambahouse.org for more details.
 

In the puranas the devatas have a gender, birth, lineage and a history. 
 

Sanskrit grammar as we know it now came into being way after the Vedic period. The rules of say Pannini’s grammar will not fit with Vedic grammar. Vedic Sanskrit stands by itself and has to be studied as a separate subject.
 

SHUBHAM
 

Part 2
 

17. Vedic civilization and beliefs were not exclusive to India however India is the only country that has retained it. T F
 

18. The English word Meditation adequately describes the Sanskrit word Dhyana. T F
 

19. These days especially in the West the word Karma is used in the place of Karma phala. T F
 

20. Many ancient Hindu shastras contain knowledge based on principles that are held to be timeless. T F
 

21. Most yoga practices in the West and in many countries outside of India refer to,  only one form of yoga namely Hatta yoga. T F
 

22. By regular practice of the asanas alone in Hatta yoga one can reform one’s character. T F
 

23. The most important forms of yoga are: A Hatta   B. Bhakthi   C. Raja   D. Siddha  
      E. Karma   F. Jnaana

 

 Choose only 4.
 

24. So called arousing the kundalini practices became popular only during modern times. Historically this was restricted, guarded and well supervised, unlike practices this day and age. T F
 

25. Chakras do operate and even evolve without any rousing technics. T F
 

26. There are many Chakra systems such as Shat-6, Nava-9 and Trayodasha- 13 
       T F

 

27. Prana is not only the life force but also a connection to subtler principles in Creation. 
       T F

 

28. There are no dangers and pitfalls associated with many spiritual technics and knowledge that comes from India. T F
 

29. Maya is popularly considered as illusion however there are many systems of knowledge, philosophies and texts originating in India as part of Hindu Dharma where it is not.  T F 
 

30. There are many sacraments that mark the life of a strict follower of Hindu Dharma.
        T F

 

31. One meaning of the word GURU is remover of ignorance. This is a phenomenon restricted only to humans, who consider themselves as gurus. T F
 

32. There is no equivalent single word in English for the Sanskrit word Dharma. T F

 

ANSWERS
 

17-T, 18-F, 19-T, 20-T, 21-T, 22-F, 23-ABEF, 24-T, 25-T, 26-T,27-T, 28-F, 29-T, 30-T, 31-F, 32-T
 

NOTES 
 

Part-2
 

Q 17. Archaeological evidence shows traces of Vedic Civilization in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
 

Q 18. Like yoga, meditation has spread throughout the world more as a commodity to sell and promote by many organized movements. There are all kinds of meditation being spread around the world, not all of them involve Dhyaana. In Sanskrit and in vernacular languages of India this word is used variously. In Hindi when we say Dhyaan sey karo, then here it means pay attention to what you are doing. In worship when you say dhyaanam, there one is visualizing all the features of a particular devata as described in the shlokam. In techniques to calm the mind it means to reflect and contemplate on the nature of thoughts and its eventual sublimation. When engaged in this act, it is highly important that the mind remain “ peaceful, alert and vigilant “ (Swami Chinmayananda).
 

Q 19. Karma is the act. The result of karma is called karmaphala, i.e. fruit or result of karma. The three common types of karma that accompanies each human being is Praaraabhdha, Sanchita and Aagaami.
 

Q 20. Shastras were developed over centuries. Many who composed these were integrated human beings. Not all shastras can stand the test of time though especially if they had to do with social norms that existed during a particular period in history. 
 

Q 21. No doubt it is essentially Hatta even if they give it various names such as Ashtanga,  Iyengar , Bikram etc.
 

Q 22. Reformation of one’s character, rehabilitation of one’s personality cannot be achieved by indulging in poses and breathing techniques or even meditation as popularly taught these days. Transformation of one’s nature is an active process. The practice of Saakshi Chaitanya bhaava, where one is taught to be a daily witness of one’s thoughts and actions followed by disciplines that help in this, alone can result in reforming and improving one’s character. This is a long and intense process. 
 

Q 23. The path of selfless action, Karma, the path of devotion, Bhakthi , the path of knowledge, Jnaana and the path of aasanas, Hatta are the main and common forms of yoga, that have been in practice in Bharat for centuries. 
 

Q 24 and 25. The study and practice of Kundalini practices were always done under the supervision of an adept teacher. The student lived with the teacher as his daily behavior was supervised and was given specific suggestions as to the diet and daily acts to perform or to avoid. The student had to have certain qualifications before this is taught. Ever since Arthur Avalon published the book, The Serpent Power, a conflagration of interest and marketing of classes and books has been spreading. On the positive side it is important to know that the chakras that are in us, need no fidgeting! The appropriate chakra in one’s particular stage in life will automatically open when he or she has followed what was taken up in Q 22. 
 

Paramahamsa Yogananda once when visiting the Catholic saint Therese Neumann in Germany, pointed out to his disciples exactly at which chakra stage she was operating. There it was, a saint who had nothing to do with Kundalini !
 

Q 26. Most common is the Shat chakra concept, however in the worship of the patron devata of Kerala, namely Shaasta, there is the 9 chakra system and in Devi Mahatmyam upasana there is the 13 chakra system.
 

Q 27. Our pranic force is connected to the pancha mahaabhutas that is in creation. At death the exit of the prana facilitates the return of all the 5 bhutas back to the universe where they came from.
 

Q 28. We have moved far, far away from when a young person went to a gurukul as wished by his parents. There under the supervision of a rishi who was generally a grihasta, he lived a life where he not only acquired spiritual but also secular knowledge and gained very important skills and participated in the gurukul activities and maintenance before he returned home. This was never in conducted masses, the groups were small in order to give individual attention. More and more teachers of spiritual paths of these days no longer do this. 
 

On a personal note let me humbly inform you that this is the kind of upbringing fortunately I had. My parents were traditional classical dance teachers and performers in Kerala. We had students stay with us. I saw how Dharmic yet simple a life we led unlike many other artists. My parents not only taught the art but was actively involved in the character formation of the students, just as they did with their children, so that when they left they would be of benefit and goodness to society and themselves. 
 

One can find a semblance of this in Arya Samaj and many traditional Vedic gurukuls even today where young ones are taken in as residents. 
 

Q 29. In Advaita philosophy Maya is neither real nor unreal. It is anirvachaneeya, cannot not be capsulated with explanations. It is equated with Avidyaa, that is ignorance. 
 

In Dvaita philosophy Maya is real, and is the power of Brhman.
 

In Saiva Siddhanta, the body that accompanies an atman is Maya, and therefore can facilitate liberation if properly managed.
 

In Vaishnavism it is considered an illusion and is the power of the godhead.
 

In Shaakta sampradaya, Maya is an intrinsic aspect of shakti .“Meeyatey ithi Maya”, a Sanskrit definition for Maya here. This means “ that which measures”. In other words, it is the finite that has issued from the infinite. We cannot operate in an infinite world. We can work only within a finite world where everything is measured such as time and space. Thus the bija Hreem is not only Shakti Pranavam, but is also called Maaya bijam and Lajjaa beejam. 
 

In Samkhya, Maya is an evolute, equated with Prakriti and is real. 
 

In the earlier parts of the Rgveda, Maya is equivalent to pragna and is associated with knowledge and power. 
 

Q 30. There are 16 rites of passage in Hinduism called Shodasha samskaras. These are important junctures in life when specific rituals are performed to drive home the importance of the juncture. This begins with conception and ends with death.   
 

Q 31. The word guru also means heavy as opposed to laghu, light.
       

There is a phenomenon or truth called Guru tattvam. Here any one, human or otherwise at a particular moment can become a source for dispelling ignorance. This may be a human being, an animal, a plant or an occurrence in nature too. Please refer to Shri Dattatreya’s 24 gurus. In the Srimad Bhagavatam Canto 11 Chapter 7 Shlokas 33 to 35.
 

Q 32. Dharma can mean duty, intrinsic property of a thing, a moral order in consistence with universal order, therefore there is no one English word for this. 
 

“Dharmo rakshaThi rakshiThaha”.The power of Dharma itself will protect the one who upholds dharma.
 

SHUBHAM
 

Notes on tenets not covered previously

 

PANCHA MAHA YAjNA
 

With birth as a Hindu, we incur Five Debts that must be cleared throughout life.
     1. To the pithrus- We honour our Ancestors by rituals and remembrances
     2. To the devatas- by worship 
     3. To Bhoothas- by proper maintenance and care of the animals, plants and the                    environment. 
     4. To the rishis- By studying and practicing the wisdom the sages have given.
     5. To Manusha- By being of service and help to other human beings, thus to the                    community, society and the nation.

 

RITES of PASSAGE- AaSHRAMA
 

Four stations as we progress in life, with age, are recognized and observed with rituals.  The first is Brhmachaarya, when young, where one is to conserve energy and utilize it for gaining valuable knowledge and skills necessary to navigate wisely and adequately through life. Observing celibacy aided this pursuit. This is followed by the second which is Grihastha where one is married, pursues an occupation, maintains a family and serves the community. The third is Vaanaprastha, where with children married, one moves away from time to time away from the family, reside in Nature filled places to contemplate on life. The last is Sannyasa, where one has minimum material possessions and responsibilities, lives a very simple life and engages in spiritual pursuits.
 

This day and age many are anaashramis beginning with Station One itself !
 

SHAREERA TRAYA 
 

Each human is composed of 3 bodies systems. This threesome has corresponding cosmic counterparts too. The two are connected. Sthoola shareera is the visible gross body, Sookshma shareera is the subtle that includes the mind and the systems that operate the sensory organs. Kaarana shareera is the causal body associated with primal ignorance and necessitates birth.
 

AVASTTHAATRAYA
 

Jaagrath is the waking state of the human.  Svapna is the Dream state and Sushupthi is the deep sleep state. These also have corresponding cosmic connections.
 

GUNA TRAYA
 

Qualities within the human. Satva guna  is altruistic, light giving and receiving. Rajo guna is active and bound by emotions. Tamo guna is heavy and inert. All three have their good and bad effects.
 

RTM and SATYA
 

There is an universal order already established in creation called RTM. When an individual acts in harmony with this in his behavior, then he is said to observe Satya or  personal truth. The core of his being synchronizes with the core of the universe/creation.
 

RECOMMENDED READING 
 

The Essentials of Hinduism by Swami Bhaskarananda


 

A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP IN AN INTERFAITH SETTING
 

Adapted from the talk by Vasanti Jayaswal, Cotati, California
 

August 30 2015 
 

Interfaith Council of Sonoma County
 

“Playing with other religions”

 

At the outset I have to preface with a statement that I personally believe. The proper pursuit of any religion if practiced in consistence with Universal Order, will lead to the same end goal. All religions however, are definitely not the same.  
 

The word “playing” I have used, to simply point to the fact that in dealing with religions that are different from one’s own, there is a certain callousness and lack of respect, increasingly evident these days, especially by scholars.  In other words, the advice is “Let us not play with other religions.
 

The primary and most important understanding or foundation we have to abide by, is the acceptance that, all religions, from the primitive to the sophisticated ones, with their gamut of philosophies, have one thing in common. They all relate to and address the Divine, in their own way. It is therefore not advisable to rate them or pit them one against the other. The tribal man is in debt to his environment for his daily life and recognizes the power of nature, so his recognition of a greater power above and beyond is colored by this relationship. By developing a capacity to appreciate the way of ancient civilizations now extinct and the ways of local tribes and manifold traditions of the world with its variety in cultures, will only serve to increase one’s knowledge and sense of beauty. 
 

In interfaith gatherings if all participants can agree that scriptures were after all composed by human beings and not by “God”, then each participant can look at his or her religion with a sense of objectivity. The human hand in all scriptures naturally contain human wisdom, ignorance and prejudices. This sense will enable a cleaner path for discussions. When a transcendental lift is given to Jesus, Rama, Buddha, Zarathustra, Moses, Mohammed and Mahavira, no matter how divine they are, then and only then do we run into controversies, occurring in their behavior or sermons. If we can avoid giving them this lift and leaving them in their Pouranika and not Adhyaathmika status, all will be fine.
 

Respecting other faiths results only when we realize that they are not a threat to our personal religion. This takes into account the comfort in one’s own religion without prejudice towards others. On a one on one basis, it is important to remember that the other person’s connection to his or her religion is just as important as mine is, to me. The importance however should not blind us to noticing beliefs that may be starkly different from our own. Instead of arguing, one can state one’s clear cut position. The Christian may declare in his belief system, if a person is not baptized he will go to hell,  as he has only one birth and Christ is the way to heaven. The Hindu can state that karmic effects will continue through many lives, which then determines the final destination. Neither stand prevents the two from respecting each other. 

 

Lack of respect for other faiths shows itself in the following ways. 
 

1. Looking down on other religions comes easy because one believes that his or hers is the only true religion. In fact, there is nothing such as one true religion, just as there is no one true language.
 

2. Feeling threatened by other religions and so resorting to conversions especially of the poor, the vulnerable and seizing opportunities presented by societal weaknesses, to do the same, is of common occurrence in many Non- First- World countries.  
 

3. We see a wanton vandalizing of religious tenets such as Yoga, Guru, Karma, Kundalini, Meditation and Dharma, all sacred to SanaThana Dharma. Products that insult, trends that only serve fashion, classes by overnight excerpts, hastily written books all contribute to this vandalism. These days we see many groups holding Mevlana Rumi’s flag as it were and claiming to be a “cool sufi” without ever practicing or even understanding what it takes to be a sufi. 
 

4.  Rel1igions that have migrated to lands away from their origin, have conveniently brought about misleading changes. For example, Jesus is depicted more commonly as a blue eyed, blond Caucasian which he was not. The famous Buddhist chant taken from Sanskrit should be Om Namoh Amitaabhaaya. Millions chant it as Om Namoh Amitaabho. The famous Vajrayana Tibetan prayer to the 21 Taras describes Tara as tears from the eyes of Avalokiteshvara, In the original Sanskrit, in which this prayer was composed, she is described as the central core of Avalokiteshvara, just like the core of an open flower. Truly so much was lost when this prayer was converted to Tibetan.
 

5.  In translating from one language to another, instead of taking the trouble to understand the nuances of the original word, haste and negligence takes prominence and single words are used, which are almost always, misleading. For example, the word Jaan that occurs in Sufi poetry is translated as soul in English works. The       word Jaan has many implications and many usages. It is definitely not the soul as seen in English translations. 
 

6.  It is important to notice the brazen arrogance of the commercial world that sees fit to have toilet bowl covers with pictures of Ganesh, shoes with Buddha on them, and beer with devata pictures.  In India, the magazine, Business Today, had a front cover of a Vishnu like form with the caption “God of Big Deals”.  Such acts open a wide chasm of hurt and anger that often result in violent backlashes.
 

7.  Interpreting other religions using the tenets of one’s own religion as a standard is a common practice. This results not only in antagonizing the other adherents but sadly fails to see the totality in the nature of the other religion. When trying to understand another religion one has to cast away all forms of comparison and study that religion, as is. In other words, I do not believe in “Comparative Religions” as taught in educational institutions. Each religion should stand on its own with no comparison, only then would we do justice and gain a sound understanding.  
 

On the other hand, it is very crucial to accept the processes that all major religions, spare none, underwent through the centuries, to where they are today. Geography, culture, societal and especially political influences have molded all religions.  We have the glaring examples all over Greece, where Byzantine Christian churches were built after tearing down existing holy temples of the ancient Hellenic faith, on the same spot, that too. More examples are there such as Shri Vibhishana’s temple in Kendiniya, Srilanka replaced by a Buddhist temple, the Vadakunatha Shiva temple in Kerala was once a Jain temple and the Palani-aandavan temple to Kartikeya in Tamilnadu was a Buddhist temple. The Hagia Sofia in Istanbul was a temple to Artemis, then the Byzantines took it over and then the Ottomans converted it into a mosque. Then it had a short life as a museum before it reverted to become a mosque again. Do we need any more proof of arrogance and intolerance ?  In Ephesus, Turkey, the temple of Artemis was destroyed by a Christian mob, the ruins used as a quarry for building materials for churches. We know for sure that many a historical war was based on religious intolerance. 
 

Interest in religions other than one’s own is a healthy one. This interest needs to go  beyond books. Participating with an open mind in ceremonies of other religions, spending valuable time with families that have been traditionally living them and visiting countries of their origin, all contribute to a balanced appreciation.
 

In interfaith gatherings, if mutual respect is practiced, an open mind towards other religions is maintained, accompanied by a sincere desire for knowledge is threaded, and finally if the dregs of  untoward influences can be sifted, then one can benefit the blessing of enjoying the beauty of the many ways, from times immemorial,  that human beings have observed, for connecting to the divine.
 

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PEACE CHANT- SHANTI PAAT
 

May all experience wellness, May all be free from delusion, May they perceive that which is safe and progressive, May they not partake of unwellness. Om, peace, peace, peace. Sarvey bhavantu sukhinaha, sarvey santu niraamayah, sarvey bhadraani pashyantu, Ma kaschit dukkha bhaag bhaveth. Om shanti shanthi shanthihi.
 

SHUBHAM

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