HINDUISM
हिन्दू धर्म

Lead us from Untruth to Truth,
from Darkness to Light,
from Death to Immortality.
Om peace, peace, peace.

Let all be happy.
Let all be free from disease.
Let all see the Truth.
May no one experience suffering.


Introduction



The purpose of religion is to answer the most important question in life, says Hinduism. And that most important question in life is: "what do we want?" The answer, of course, is provided very directly. We want four things:

  1. Pleasure
  2. Success
  3. Duty
  4. Eternal Life

At first look, the reader might think that what he or she wants looks somewhat different from that list. But after a quick dive into the philosophy of Hinduism it would become clear.

The idea is simple and straightforward. Starting from childhood, through teenage life and into early adulthood, people naturally seek pleasure the most, namely physical pleasure.

There is nothing wrong with seeking pleasure, according to Hinduism, even if that is all you ever want throughout your entire life. Just know that from the Hindu point of view, being stuck on simple pleasures is like being stuck in childhood. Indeed some people remain child-like throughout their life, and that is their destiny. Nevertheless, most people, Hinduism claims, once they get closer to the age of marriage, they will the desire to succeed.

The idea is that bodily pleasures (food, sex) are very amusing to people when they are young. But as they grow older, the pleasure they get from those two becomes so small and insignificant and so short-lived. But in "success" they find a much more lasting bliss. As the big boss of a company or the great chef of a famous restaurant or whatever it is that one thinks of as success, every day they wake up, they emit an image of success. The bliss of success certainly exceeds the pleasure of food and sex which are, in comparison, short-lived and easily achieved. And as the individual continues to mature, even success will no longer do it for the individual seeking happiness. It will be only a matter of time before they discover a much greater source of happiness: duty.

Some Hindus believe you don't reach this level of wisdom until after you have married and got children. As you fulfill your duty as a husband or wife, a father or mother, to see that smile on your child's face when you do him or her a big favor (i.e. when you serve your child), the bliss that is inflamed within your own soul is as big as the universe when compared to the bliss you used to get from physical pleasures or success. This feeling of bliss extends among some of us into serving not just one's children and husband or wife, but also one's parents, relatives, friends, and even the community at large. To give a lift to someone who's car broke down, to help a blind man cross the street, even to notify someone of a wallet they had accidentally dropped on the street... all such actions would bring true happiness onto the person who is doing the service. This is called the sense of duty towards others.

As you grow older, as your children grow into adults, and you have done your share of "good works" in society, a new desire for bliss comes upon the very few and rare of us who reach this mental and spiritual level to seek the fourth and ultimate source of happiness, the Hindu scriptures say, namely: the pleasure of attaining eternal life.

While most people cannot see any evidence that eternal life is possible, and it's alright by Hindu scriptures if you don't believe, the truth is that eternal life is a certainty, and it can be accessed through meditation. So easy to say: "meditate, and u will find the answers" ... but Hinduism doesn't leave it this way, so mysterious. Instead, it actually provides four methods to reach this fourth level of meditation.


The Four Yogas



To attain eternal life, Hinduism provides four ways or roads (also known in Sanskrit as yogas). These are:

  1. Jnana
  2. Bakhta
  3. Karma
  4. Raja

Jnana literally means knowledge. If you're the type of person who likes to think through logic, reason, and want things to make sense intellectually, you will choose the yoga (way; method) of Jnana. It then outlines in full detail the intellectual explanation of how to reach the mental stage of eternal life, by understanding how and why.

Bakhta, literally means love. In this yoga, the yogi (subject form of yoga) chooses to realize union with God through emotions or the heart. The Bakhta yogi is one who tends to see himself as a separate being from God, and so God becomes the focus of his love and passion. They keep reciting his name, praying to him, talking to him (as if He were a separate being). The jnana yogi, on the other hand, sees God as one and the same with all existence, not someone you talk to, but something that exists behind all existence.

Hinduism says that no one can say that jnana is better than bakhta, or bakhta is better than jnana. Each person is different and each person should choose the path that makes most sense to him/her.

The third yoga is called karma, which literally means action. The karma yogi is someone who can reach union with God through his actions. (This is the form of yoga that has been popularized in our modern era, seen in health education and sports centers as a set of routine stretching and poses with phenomenal benefits to our overall physical and mental health). But in the original karma yoga, actions also include serving others, looking after the poor and the sick, telling the truth, being honest, being kind, or what is known in most religions as "the good works." However, these good works must be done for the sake of God, not for the sake of popularity or earthly rewards. He must, in fact, do it for no reward other than the desire to please God.

It is important to note that these yogas are most of the time mixed with one another at various degrees. No one can function in the absolute through just one of the four yogas. For example, the karma yogi who is more intellectual (closer to jnana yoga) will do good works not only because he believes in karma, but also because he knows that the universe becomes balanced through good works that seek no earthly reward, for he would "reason" that the reward is in the action itself.

The fourth yoga is also the ultimate yoga, known as Raja yoga, which literally means royal; supreme. This one is the highest form and most difficult path. This is the form of yoga you see in someone sitting cross-legged (in the lotus position), hands placed on knees, back straight, eyes closed, and is in deep meditation. This form of meditation has been picked up into Buddhism (an offspring of Hinduism) and Taoism with their Zen masters.

While this meditation, to the outside observer, looks mysterious, to the raja yogi there is a clear path set out by the scriptures: there are eight steps to make this meditation actually work, and when one reaches the eighth step, one is meant to actually feel/see/realize that they have truly become one with God. It says that at that point, the yogi won't feel time or space. Time and space cease to exist, and the yogi truly experiences the eternal life that awaits after death.

Hindus themselves find it almost impossible to reach the level of raja yoga. So many try, but very few ever claim success. Raja yoga is something too deep to be explained in words.

The scriptures claim that in normal cases, a person would not seek raja yoga until he or she has become a grandparent, entering the third stage of life according to Hinduism - the stage of retirement. It says that this is when man should relax, kick back, and just enjoy nature; enjoy life. He doesn't need to work because he no longer seeks silly things like success or rewards, and he no longer has the duty to serve others, for he has already done his part. It is at this stage that a man becomes more philosophical, takes on reading books to increase in wisdom and figure out the meaning of life. It is at this stage that a man becomes interested in the fourth pleasure: eternal life, and how to obtain it through the yogas.


One God



It's a common misconception among non-Hindus to think that Hinduism is a polytheistic religion. Hindus don't actually worship cows or mutli-armed statues of gods and goddesses, but worship the one and true God that is behind all creation. However, they also believe that this one God is the source of all life in the entire universe, that He is omnipresent, and thus all forms of appreciation to His creation are also a form of worshiping Him.

Thus, Hindus believe that all true religions come from the same God, whom they call in Hindu as Brahman (which comes from the root word of breath; spirit). From their point of view, every people require a different prophet or messenger to deliver the message of truth in the way that fits them. Although God is one, reaching Him has many paths, and Hindus recognize that Hinduism is just one of those paths. Hence, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Bahaism, and others are seen as true religions of the same God they worship. They have no interest in converting others to Hinduism or to have Hindus convert to other religions, because they see in that a waste of time, like trying to convince a person to climb the mountain of truth from his side, when everyone knows that all sides of the mountain lead to the same summit.


Mysticism and Reincarnation



Just as "worn-out garments are shed by the body; Worn-out bodies are shed by the dweller" (Bhagavad-Gita, 11:22). Hindus believe that souls immigrate from one body to another, and not all bodies are necessarily human. But that in the human body is the soul most developed and ready to be conscious and responsible for its actions.

The concept of karma here takes a deeper meaning, for now it not only means work but also refers to cause and effect. It is like the universal idiom "you reap what you sow," Hindus believe that souls reap what they sow, and that this cycle of sowing and reaping does not end at the mere death of the body, for the soul is immortal. In the Hindu philosophy, there are no accidents or luck. Fate is in full control, and it is our lack of knowledge and understanding of how fate works that makes the world appear as though things happened out of sheer coincidence.

Understand that at the center of the human soul is God (known here as Atman), and that the ultimate goal of this soul is to return to God. Thus, if a person dies before he or she has achieved the fourth stage of desires (eternal life; mentioned above), his or her soul will reemerge in a new body to continue its natural path of growth. This is the reason why Hindus don't believe that people should be forced into upgrading to the higher pleasures of life (such as success and duty), because if they don't reach those levels on their own, it simply means that their souls are not ready yet (have not matured enough), and require a second round and maybe a third and fourth or more, who knows. But in the end, every soul will eventually find its way back to Brahman.