Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Thoughts from Gita Class, September 4, 2012

Phipps Conservatory
God is love. Love is everywhere. It is the basis of the universe. God is not affected by anything--but love. It responds in kind. It's like a big, silent, featureless artifact, that does not react to anything. But when somebody loves or manifests love, God glows and emanates back.

How much of us love during worship? We ask. We desire a sign. Peace. A feeling of bliss. We want to see, hear or experience God. Awe, respect, fear. But how often do we feel or practice love? Don't love as a subject loves an object. Just fill yourself with love. Tap into the power of love. Stand under the waterfall of love. Feel love build up inside. Transform yourself into love. Let your essence be replaced with love. Be love. Love without subject and object. Love not as a verb but as a noun. Ultimate knowldge, existence and bliss must equal love. Love is the screen on which maya is projected. But it is also the energy that casts the maya on the surface. When we love, we are aligning ourselves with the quantum spin of God. Our iron  filings line up with the magnetic field of God. The north pole of the magnet loves the south pole, and vice versa.

From Swami Satyananda Saraswati lecture: Worship is just the method with which we pay 100% attention to God. Our attention is fully paid on God and on nothing else. That is the purpose of the rituals, mantras, objects, kirtans, bhajans, and the preparation of all of these. Any dharmic action done with God in mind, will make one think of God throughout the action. The action or the sacrifice is not the offering. It is our attention that is the offering. I am giving up thought of everything else.

I don't worry about getting something out of every verse in the Gita. Studying the Gita may help attain realization with God, but not necessary. There are better ways. And I don't get as much out of the metaphysical verses as I do the verses that are filled with beauty and love. Beauty and love draws me closer to God, not understanding, logic, science, and philosophy. Some of the verses in the Gita count the trees in the mango orchard. The other verses exclaim how delicious the mangoes are.

We should love God not because he cares for us, or protects us, or provides us, or saved us, or created us, or rules us, or owns us, or makes us feel good, happy, peaceful, content, or loved. We should love God just because we do. And saying we love God unconditionally is still a type of condition. Parents don't love their children uncondtionally. They just love their children. Their love is not an action, with a beginning and end, with a subject and object. It is a state. A parent's love of their children is a characteristic, part of their essence. A parent's love for their child pervades them, like a fever. Hanuman didn't love Rama as an external object. Rama was written upon his heart.

Must be three steps. Think about God. Love God. Be one with God.

There are lots of places that emit a holy feel. Obviously, places of worship. But I get the same feeling in a museum, be it natural history or an art museum. I also get the same feeling in an aviary or an exhibitional greenhouse such as the Phipps Conservatory. And, or course, within nature. There are many people that have no interest in going to church, but will go to these other places. And they are getting the same thing in those places as most people get in these holy places. Holy, mostly just means separate. Anything separate and filled with beauty, truth and love, will, for some people, "feel sacred." It is a place of Darshan, of observation and reflection. It is putting aside everything and focusing attention on that one thing.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Catholicism and Hinduism are similar, but not in the ways that one author thinks

I've always felt that Hinduism is very similar to my birth religion Catholicism. In fact, that's one of the reasons I was drawn to Hinduism and feel so at home with it.

Today I found a blog article where the author compared the two religions. And from a brief look, it looks like that to him/her, this is a negative. Also, they got most of the aspects of both Catholicism and Hinduism wrong. 

One commenter corrected the author's knowledge of Catholicism. So I left a comment regarding Hinduism.

Here is what they wrote with each point followed by my corrections. I'm sure I got some things wrong. But I'm comfortable that most of it is right.

1. Repeated sacrifice - At every Catholic Mass, Jesus is again "sacrificed." This is why the elements of the Mass are literally thought to be Christ's body and blood. When Hindus go to temple, they perform some sort of sacrifice, usually presenting an offering to the gods.

To modern hindus, these offerings are essentially gifts. During worship, God visits. And since he/she is an honored guest, they are offered refreshments. A very beautiful practice, actually.

2. Rituals - The Mass itself is a type of ritual. Also, the Rosary is one of the most well-known rituals of the Catholic faith. At a Hindu temple, various rituals are performed such as ringing a bell to wake the gods, bowing before the gods, and chanting different mantras.

You got this one right. And the Hindu practice of repeating a mantra using a circular string of 108 beads is really no different than the rosary. And an example of a mantra is "Om Shanti" which means "Peace." (In truth, just "Shanti" means peace while "Om" is a word or symbol that represents God, just as YHWH  symbolized God in Judaism.)

3. Prayer to multiple saints/gods - Many Catholics (not all) pray to various saints within the Catholic church. Most Hindus (not all) pray to various gods within the Hindu pantheon. Some of the most popular are Shiva, Vishnu, Lakshmi, and Ganesh.

Most Hindus consider all their gods as forms of the one true, formless God, which they call Brahman.

4. Priests - both Catholics and Hindus must go through a priest to get to god. There is no direct access to any god.

In Hinduism, there are four paths to God. One of them is Bhakti Yoga, which can be translated as the path of love, devotion, or worship. Hindu priests perform rituals within that Bhakti path. However, they are not mandatory. There are a lot of rituals that any hindu can perform, and usually at home. But rituals are not the only way to show devotion to God. You can also repeat his/her name. Or, just sit and think about him/her.

5. Cathedral/Temple - In both religions, all important practices occur at some type of building. There is little encouragement for meeting in homes because priests cannot be at multiple homes at the same time.

Many Hindus perform daily worship in a home shrine. And some go to the temple on weekends. Some maybe a few times a year.

6. Images and Icons - In Catholic churches, pictures and statues of saints are common-place. These typically receive veneration. At any Hindu temple, there will be multiple statues of the various gods. These will include Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesh, Hanuman, Lakshmi, Durga, and others.

No modern Hindu really thinks the statue is God. They just believe that during worship, the spirit of God enters that statue. The same way that the spirit of God would hover above the Ark of The Covenant when God visited Moses. And I guess how some Protestants believe that the spirit of God changes bread into Jesus' body during the mass. And how Catholics believe such a transformation is permanent. 

NOTE: Some hindus do not bother with the idols. They prefer the other paths, or they just pray to formless and transcendent God with bowed head and folded hands with no idol in sight. Or just sitting with crossed legs and closed eyes and meditate on God, either as Father, Mother, Lord etc.

7. Works-based salvation - In both Catholicism and Hinduism, salvation is based, at least in part, upon the works of the individual. This is far different from the cry of the Protestant Reformation: "Justification by faith alone."

Another path to God (like Bhakti/devotion) is Karma Yoga. This is done through unselfish actions as service to God or toward another fellow human being. However, Hindus do not believe in "salvation." They do not believe we are born sinners. And they do not believe in hell. They just believe that wrong actions result in bad karma. And this bad karma must be cleaned away before one can escape reincarnation and be united with God. And this is done by a number of ways including suffering, following one of the four paths, through God's grace, or removed by an especially holy person.

8. Lack of knowledge of sacred writings - Within both religions, the typical follower of the faith has limited knowledge of the sacred writings of his religion. The same is true within Protestantism, but to a much lesser degree. Within Catholicism and Hinduism, the priest is heavily relied upon for scriptural knowledge and understanding.

This varies per person. Some are VERY knowledgeable in the Hindu scriptures. And most are very knowledgeable in the Bhagavad Gita, considered to be the most important. Just as most Catholics are at least very knowledgeable in the Gospel.

9. Centered on Rome/Ganges River - Both religions are very centralized. Rome is the epicenter of Catholicism, is the home of the Pope, and is a destination for thousands of Catholics each year. For Hindus, the Ganges River is the site of pilgrimage. Many Hindus travel hundreds of miles to take a dip in the "holy river," in the hope that it will wash away their sins.

Kinda true. Don't know if the Ganges is the number one location for everyone. India is FULL of sacred places. And in each sect, there are many locations that are especially dear to them. Just like in Catholicism, devotees of Mary are very fond of places like Lourdes and Fatima. If anything, I would equate the Ganges to the Holy Land, or maybe the river Jordan.

10. Death: purgatory/reincarnation - Both faiths teach that upon death, people do not go directly to heaven or hell. For Catholics, purgatory awaits. For Hindus, death leads to another cycle of reincarnation.

For Hindus, death only leads to another cycle if one didn't achieve enlightenment. And one can find that enlightenment via one of the four paths. Two were mentioned (Bhakti and Karma). The third is Jnana Yoga, which is the path of knowledge. The devotee searches in their mind what is real and what is unreal. At the end of that path, they realize God is real and everything else is illusory. The fourth path is Raja Yoga, which is realizing God through meditation.

NOTE: Many or most Hindus do not follow just one path. Throughout the day they may follow a number of paths, or all four. Or switch between the four throughout their lives.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Music and God

I am sitting here, at home, at night, listening to one of Chopin's Nocturnes. And I think that I am listening to God. And at the same time, God is listening to the music. I am Brahman, listening to Brahman play Brahman.

I also think, that with some exceptions, there is not spiritual music and secular music. There is only music. God can be found in any piece (again, with exception, I guess.)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Jimmy Carter shares his ideas about the Bible in a new book

Great interview of Jimmy Carter about his new book, "NIV Lessons from Life Bible: Personal Reflections with Jimmy Carter." A fine witness to sensible and compassionate Christianity.

An excerpt from the interview:
The example that I set in my private life is to emulate what Christ did as he faced people who were despised like the lepers or the Samaritans. He reached out to them, he reached out to poor people, he reached out to people that were not Jews and treated them equally. The more despised and the more in need they were, the more he emphasized that we should go to and share with them our talent our ability, our wealth, our influence. Those are the things that guide my life and when I find a verse in the Bible that contradicts those things that I just described to you, I put into practice the things that I derive from my faith in Christ. 

President Jimmy Carter Authors New Bible Book, Answers Hard Biblical Questions

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Yes. After thousands of years. Somebody is writing a sequel to the Ramayana.

I'm a lazy writer. Many of my writig projects appropriated a myth or a previously published work in the public domain like "A Christmas Carol." I'd like to think that I'm fond of such works. But I also realize that I'm attracted to it because I'm lazy. To me, it's so much easier to write something with existing characters than to make them up from scratch.

For years, I've been trying to write a modern take on the Greek myths, specifically the binding and escape of Prometheus. It started as an attempt to be witty. I thought, aren't the Greek gods and goddesses essentially a crime family? And Zeus the original god-father?

Well, there have been many iterations. Many. And most no longer than a chapter.

Well, I'm knee deep into Hinduism now. And one deity I have consistently called on to bring me closer to God has been Hanuman. So it follows suit that I am fond of the Ramayana. So a little while back, I thought, instead of appropriating Greek myth, why not appropriate this great Hindu work. I wouldn't be the first, or course. Not even the first westerner. But it still sounded like something fun to do. And it would also give me the opportunity to deal with such wonderful aspects as Hanuman's love and duty toward Rama.

But one thing I want to do was alter a bit so that there were a new, young character in the middle of it. Someone less than perfect who interacts with Hanuman and Ram. Someone the reader can identify with. And if it is to be a YA story, having a young protagonists is pretty much a necessity.

But as I thought a bit more, I had the idea to give myself some freedom by using the existing characters, but making the plot my own. A Percy and the Olympians version of the Ramayana. And one way I figured I could do that was to make it a sequel. And not only that, maybe use my spiritual bio as inspiration. That is, show the citizens of Rama's kingdom becoming disenchanted with him, abandon him, then search for him again.

Course, to be honest, I've been at this writing game for so long. I have such a low opinion of my talent. Plus I think I've just become so bored with it. But if I try to remember that I am not the doer, and never have been, maybe I stand a chance. If it is Mother, Thakur, Rama or Hanuman that wants me to write this, they will be the ones wrting it. So I really have nothing to worry.

Another key is that I make it a unabashed labor of love. Write not for glory, money, or to impress anybody. But to write to emphasize the aforementioned qualities of love and loyalty. To make it a puja to Hanuman and Rama. To tap my devotion at it's root and put it down on paper.

And if this doesn't go anywhere, I'll really be no worse off than I am now.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

CNN Heroes nominee dedicated to feeding the poor

Was looking through my Facebook timeline around the time that I started at the Ashrama, and I found this. Certainly worth sharing with everybody.

It's about a guy who spends all his time feeding the poor in India, and one of the CNN Heroes' nominees. Very inspirational.

Videos Posted by Achyut Sharma This video blew me away.... [HQ].mp4 - YouTube:

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Modernity, Memory and Mantra

Went to my first ashram last weekend, a Ramakrishn­a Vedanta one. I was so impressed by some of the members who could chant any part of the Gita if given the number of the chapter and shloka. Inspires me to try the same some day. (But I want to attempt the Hanuman Chalisa first!)

Anyway, I found this article on the Huffpost that talks about the practice of memorizing and chanting the Bhagavad Gita:

Mantrajapa (chanting of mantra) simultaneously engages three of the eight limbs of Yoga -- namely pranayama (breath control), dharana (concentration) and dhyana (devotion or meditation on the Divine). It has also been referred to as the Yoga of Sound, with scientific studies enumerating its medical benefits, which include lowering blood pressure to producing endorphins and supporting healthy metabolism. But science is not what is on our minds when we lose ourselves in the power and beauty of the Gita. Perhaps it is the knowledge that these are the words of Lord Krishna. Or maybe there is spiritual power in the intonations and rhythmic patterns in which the Gita is traditionally chanted. Could it be the recognition that we are connecting to millions now and before us who have indulged in this primeval spiritual practice? Whatever the reason, my family is experiencing something deeply moving and profound.