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8761042 Hindu Concepts and Spirituality

8761042 Hindu Concepts and Spirituality

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Spirituality and Hinduism
----Srinivasan Nenmeli-K This short article presents the basic tenets and beliefs of Hindu faith or religion which form thefoundation for a spiritual life.Any religion has several layers of forms of worship, rituals and scriptures of different antiquities andcultural mores .The spiritual foundations are deep within, acknowledged as such, but not alwaysexhibited or discussed. Scriptural texts like the Upanishads and the Gita [the Bhagavad Gita] containthese spiritual concepts of Hinduism, but they are not easily culled out for our close observation andcontemplation. 
Introduction
In the first place, what is spirituality? How does it differ from any organized religion? These are noteasy questions to answer since we use the term ‘spirituality’ in a casual manner most of the time.One Jewish theologian, Abraham Joshua Heschel defined it thus: “Spirituality is life lived in thecontinuous presence of the Divine.” This definition is useful since it talks about a way of life, and talks of theDivine as 'divine', not any particular God or deity.In fact Hinduism is called a ‘way of Life ‘ rather than a religion with a body of observances and a setof beliefs.A few basic facts about Hinduism should be remembered here. Firstly, there is no single‘founder’ of this religion. We can say that Buddhism has the founder Gautama, the Buddha [theawakened one or Sakyamuni]. Hinduism grew out of a culture, call it spiritual culture or religiousculture, perhaps ten thousand years ago in the northern parts of India. When Alexander the Greatoverran part of western India, this religion was well established; in fact he took several learnedscholars with him to Greece to expound on this faith.Hindus hold the Vedas as the basic scriptures to define the religion.Again the Vedas have no single author or was not handed down to a person , like Torah was given toMoses in Mount Sinai. The Hindus maintain that the Vedas are eternal, meaning they are veryancient. It is called a “shruti” ----heard scripture---which came to the seers or rishis by intuition or divine inspiration. They cover a vast amount of religious and spiritual insights.The Vedas were compiled by one sage Vyasa, called Veda Vyasa. [Vyasa appears to be a genericname for a compiler, because Vyasa is credited with compilation of several other later texts such asthe epic Mahabharata and the Puranas.] This vyasa , Veda Vyasa , compiled the Vedas into four  books—thus we have four Vedas—Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva.[ A digression here: Of these, the first three –Rig, Yajur and Sama are really old ones…Atharva wascompiled later , because the Gita reckons only three Vedas in one of the verses in the 9
th
chapter.Atharva contains several ‘vedas’ relating to mundane arts such as medicine [ayurveda], magic, witchcraft, architecture and so on. ] 
The Vedas
The Vedas contain three parts: the first portion is the songs and hymns for prayer and worshipcalled Samhitas.1
 
The second portion has ‘brahmanas’---mostly about rituals and ways of conducting various ritualisticsacrifices by Brahmins [priestly caste] and Kshatrias [warrior-princes].The third part is called “Aranyakas” ---the forest books—‘Aranya’ means woods or forest---wherethe sages and teachers lived with their families and taught young ones , the esoteric knowledge andalso worldly arts [like martial arts and archery].They were like exclusive private academies, meantfor earnest students who stayed with a master for at least 12 years. The master was a man of greaterudition and realization of truth to expound on the Vedas. He took great care in accepting a student.The Aranyakas contain the spiritual essence of the Vedas and contain Upanishads in seminal form.The fourth part is the Vedanta [ the end portion ‘anta’ of the Vedas, which are likeappendices..]Another more appropriate description is that the Vedanta is the culminating portion of the Vedas, not just appendices---the essence of the Vedas.]{We must note here that the term “vedanta’ is often used for the entire path of the Hindus and alsothat Vedanta is one of the systems of philosophy. But here we use Vedanta only to mean theknowledge derived from the Upanishads. There are Vedanta Societies, using a broader sense of theterm.}{The vedic chapters are usually divided into two broad portions: karma kanda [the chapters onworks--rituals and worship] and Gyana kanda [the knowledge part or wisdom section]This divisin ishard because in some places,they overlap.}While there are more than 100 Upanishads, some of them partially completed texts, the traditionholds 28 Upanishads as very sacred and authentic. Of these, ten are called “Principal Upanishads” because the great philosopher-saint Adi Shankara [788-820 AD] wrote commentaries on them. [AdiShankara is the founder of a sect of advaitism which is dominant even today. The age of AdiShankara is not firmly established, but should be around 8
th
century or a few centuries earlier.]We have to consider the Upanishads in some detail , because they contain the essence of spiritualityto be developed later in this article. The word ‘Upanishad’ means ‘sitting nearby’—an expression thatindicates that the students sat close to the master and learned directly from the master---[ no onlineteaching!]. There were no written books---students repeated the verses and memorized them.The Upanishads are more like college lecture notes---very cryptic---they are in dialogue form aswell as question-answer format. The dialogues are between master and student or the Lord of Deathand an earnest seeker, a young boy named Nachiketas, or between a prince and a teacher or the sage-husband and his wife.They are not philosophical texts, with well-ordered chapters of a book. They have several pregnantquestions and answers or partial answers, because the answers cannot be put in words ,but are to berealized.The basic premise is that Spiritual insight or Self-realization is beyond mind and intellect…so cannot be found by intellectual arguments or discussion…these can point the way --- words and language arehighly limited…analogies and parables may help…Upanishads are like snap-shots of spiritualinsight by the seers.
The Gita
The Upanishads are the basic source for us for developing the spirituality according to the Hindus---the main theme of this article. The Bhagavat Gita which was a later introduction is a basic text for Hindus.This is again a part of Mahabharata, the epic; but some consider this as a later addition,tagged on to the epic. {There are other gitas which need not concern us here.The word Gita means a‘song’.}2
 
 The Bhagavat Gita is set in the context of Lord Krishna’s legendarystories and extra-ordinary life. This work is about 5000 years old—Krishna’s time according tomodern historians. The Upanishads are much older texts.The Gita is considered as the essence of the Upanishads, but the Gita goes beyond the Upanishads.It reinterpreted the meaning of sacrifices or yagas from the vedic meaning. In Vedic language,yagas were rituals to propitiate some God or Goddess for some favors or gifts or merits. In thelanguage of the Gita ,a sacrifice is part of renunciation---self-less work or gift of knowledge would be a sacrifice as well. You can chant mantras and incantations for the welfare of the world and offer that as a sacrifice. In other words, one does not do this for the welfare of himself or his family or hisclan. The gita also emphasized the path of action or karma yoga from a fresh perspective—not justrituals as prescribed in the Vedas, but self-less action.The Bhagavat Gita is in the form of a dialogue between Lord Krishna and his warrior-friend Arjuna.Thus it is easy to follow….with or without elaborate commentaries. Many common questions thatarise in our minds ---the eternal questions of spirituality --- are asked by Arjuna and the Lord answersthem in definitive terms…In many places, the Gita appears as a dictionary of specific terms. We shalldraw many concepts from the Gita.Above all, the Gita is a practical manual of the major yogas or paths….Swami Vivekananda [ 1863-1902] condensed the various yogas into four major yogas or paths---Gyana yoga-yoga of knowledge and enquiry; Raja Yoga—yoga of meditation and breath control;Bhakti Yoga--Yoga of devotion and Karma Yoga ,the yoga of self-less action. You will find elaboratedescriptions and emphasis on these yogas, chapter by chapter ,in the Gita. Thus you can go straight toone of the chapters and learn about that particular yoga. [Later authors/philosophers tried to graduatethe yogas in some sequence—karma, then bhakti and then gyana and so on…thus one follows asequence of practice….these are of very limited value, since no one can follow one yoga to theexclusion of the other…Further one yoga is not superior to another…these polemics led to lot of controversies, verbal battles , sectarian philosophies and much schism among the Hindus.We need notdwell on these at all, in the context of spirituality. This will clear our minds from much of uselessliterature that came in later years.] It should be added that the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the basic text for meditation and psychic powers, is a later text, perhaps of 1
st
century/2
nd
century CE---the period of early Christianity. Thoughthis is a useful text for meditational practice, it does not have the significance of the Gita.We shall draw the spiritual moorings of the Hindus basically from the Upanishads and the Gita. Thefollowing books are recommended for a quick and brief introduction to the contents of the two texts,especially for western or young readers:
n
The Bhagavad Gita ---Eknath Easwaran –Nilgiri press, CA
n
The Upanishads---Eknath Easwaran-Nilgiri Press, CA [both texts have a weighty introduction in simple terms]
n
The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita –N K Srinivasan –Pustak Mahal, New Delhi [the present author]
n
The Holy Geeta – Swami Chinmayananda—Chinmaya trust, Mumbai
n
The Gita – Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood—Vedanta Society, Los Angeles.
n
The Hindu Mind ---- Bansi Pandit ---Dharma Publications, Il [ An elementary ,but highly readable introductionto Hinduism][ I must add that there are a few sects of Hindus who do not accept the Gita or the Krishna lore.Theygo by texts relating only to Lord Shiva.]3

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