18 June 2015
“The Universe makes sense to me through Hindu eyes”
~~~ from “Life of Pi”
The greatest challenge of being a Hindu is that there is no single belief, scripture, God, tenet or ritual that you can identify, single out and say this is what makes me a Hindu! It may be the worlds oldest living religion with millions of followers but each one of those millions would have his/her own interpretation of what constitutes their Hindu faith. Many brush aside this complexity with the statement that Hinduism is not a religion but a way of life. Indeed you find that culture and religion in the Hindu tradition are often used as synonyms!
On one side you have a whole host of rites and rituals you inherit by birth, imbibe through observation or are taught the same by elders in the family. There are mantras you chant without really knowing what they mean or signify; you bring your palms together and bow in reverence before the idol of any deity from the vast Hindu pantheon of gods; your hand automatically rises up to tug at the bell at the entrance of a temple; you know the sacred red thread is to be tied on which wrist and that when someone offers an ‘aarti-thali’ you have to stretch your palms over that sacred flame and bring the heat to your eyes and forehead; you know Tuesdays are good for not eating non-vegetarian food; you keep a small vessel of ‘Ganga-jal’ at home to sprinkle over and sanctify anything; morning or evening when you pray you light the sacred lamp or the ‘divya-jyoti’…an endless list of actions which may even differ depending upon which region you are from.
On the other hand you have a system of philosophy so profound and abstract that a lifetime of study may not be adequate for you to grasp all of its metaphysical aspects. Perhaps this is one of the reasons many Hindus seek a ‘guru’ who can help them comprehend some facets of our complex Vedic doctrines. My father had once dismissed my searching questions about the ‘Bhagvadgita’ by telling me that you will truly begin to comprehend it only after you are twenty-five! In a talk by Swami Tejomayananda (of the Chinmaya mission) i found a very lucid explanation of Vedanta. ‘Paar Brahman’ the all pervading world soul or divine consciousness is ‘Nirguna and Niraakar’…formless, beyond the comprehension of our limited mind and senses. So humans make it ‘Sagun and Niraakar’…imbued with all good qualities we can relate to but without any particular form. All monotheist faiths of the world would fall under this category. And finally you have the ‘Sagun and Saakar’…whatever form or attribute the seeker looks for, his divine reality is made manifest for him in that…his Krishna, Hanuman, Rama, Durga, Shiva and so on and so forth. To me this flexibility, this choice to define what constitutes my version of my faith is what makes me a Hindu.