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* SOME QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ABOUT HINDUISM *

Spiritual Lotus

Q. What is the main “Bible” or Scripture for Hindus?

A. There isn’t actually a main “Bible” or sole central scripture of Hinduism. There are many hundreds of different kinds of scriptures and spiritual texts belonging to the many different and diverse forms of the religion. Some which are well known include the Ramayana, the Vishnu Purana, Shrimad Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana), and Yoga Vasistha.

There are six divisions of Hindu scriptures and these – in order of general authority and importance – are (1) the Shrutis, (2) the Smritis, (3) the Itihasas, (4) the Puranas, (5) the Agamas, and (6) the Darshanas.

However, there are three specific central scriptures which comprise the Prasthanatraya (“Triple Canon”) and these are the main and truly authoritative scriptures for a Hindu. They are the Upanishads, the Brahmasutras (Brahman Sutras), and the Bhagavad Gita.

Of these three, the Brahmasutras are the least read, due to their being very abstruse and intellectually philosophical, and almost impossible to understand without the aid of a special commentary known as a Bhashya. Their aim and purpose is to expound and clarify the nature of Brahman, the Ultimate Reality, as presented in the Upanishads.

Regarding the Upanishads, Swami Sivananda has written, “The Upanishads are the concluding portions of the Vedas or the end of the Vedas. The teaching based on them is called Vedanta. The Upanishads are the gist and the goal of the Vedas. They form the very foundation of Hinduism. … Even the Western scholars have paid their tribute to the seers of the Upanishads. At a time when the Westerners were clad in barks and were sunk in deep ignorance, the Upanishadic seers were enjoying the eternal bliss of the Absolute, and had the highest culture and civilisation.”

The Upanishads, the oldest of which were written at least 3,500 years ago, are timeless, beautiful, and inspiring treatises which all focus on the identity, unity, and literal sameness of the spiritual nature of the individual and the Divine Absolute Reality or, in other words, the Oneness of our Higher Self (Atman) with the Supreme Self (Brahman). The Upanishads describe Brahman as the ONE Infinite Divine Life and speak of the oneness, non-separateness, and inner divinity of all things. They are the source and the deepest and most profound expression in history of the spiritual teaching of non-duality and universal oneness.

The Bhagavad Gita, which literally means “Song of God” or “The Lord’s Song,” is without doubt the most popular and universally loved of all Hindu scriptures. It consists of a conversation between Krishna and Arjuna and is admired by multitudes around the world for its practical yet profound spiritual philosophy of life. It has been described as “the Manual of Life” and “the Gospel for the 21st Century.” Krishna is thought to represent the Higher Self and Arjuna the individual human soul, who must turn towards and seek refuge in that Self. Set on the scene of a battlefield, it in no way promotes or encourages war and violence as some enemies of Hinduism have ignorantly claimed, but rather symbolises the battlefield of life or “the war within,” which each of us must at some time face. Although not a particularly long book, it is truly an unforgettable classic of the world’s spiritual and religious literature.

Being part of the Vedas (the original foundational scriptures of Indian civilisation and the most ancient books known to man), the Upanishads are thus of the nature of Shruti, meaning direct revelation, and are thus ultimately the primary and final scriptural authority of the religion of Hinduism.

~

Q. What is the Hindu view of God?

A. The Upanishads very clearly and repeatedly explain that God – the Divine Absolute Reality – is not a Supreme Being but rather a Supreme Principle. It is referred to as Brahman, which can be translated as “infinite expansion.” It is acknowledged as being ultimately undefinable and indescribable but the Upanishads try their best by using such terms and phrases as “the divine Principle of existence,” “attributeless reality,” “the ground of existence,” “changeless, nameless, formless,” “Pure Consciousness,” “formless in the midst of forms, changeless in the midst of change, omnipresent and Supreme,” “the eternal Reality,” “without form and unconditioned,” “infinite and invisible,” “beyond all attributes,” “without body and without mind,” “without action or organs of action,” “beyond good and evil,” “beyond the reach of words and works,” “the indivisible unity of life,” and “That from which all words turn back and which thought can never reach.”

Those are just a few examples out of hundreds of similar terms.

Since Brahman is the ONE Life and the ONE Reality, it is said in Hinduism that there is nothing but Brahman and that thus Brahman is all there is, being all and in all. This is the main reason for Hindus revering all living beings and life itself as something sacred, precious, and divine. They know that Brahman is “the Only One,” “One without a second,” as the scriptures say.

And so, in the highermost part of our being, in our essential nature as pure eternal spirit, we too are Brahman, this “Eternal Light” and “Infinite Life.” This is why the Vedanta philosophy speaks constantly of man’s identity and oneness with the Divine. Many Hindus will meditate upon and affirm the statement “Aham Brahmasmi” – “I am Brahman.”

Since Brahman is recognised as being absolute, infinite, immutable, and unconditioned, It can thus have nothing finite, conditioned, or anthropomorphic about Itself, such as form, personality, physical appearance, name and human-like characteristics, etc. Rather than being a “He,” it is taught that Brahman is to be reverentially referred to as “IT” since to do otherwise would surely be an attempt to drag the purely Spiritual and purely Divine down to the physical, material, human level, whereas we should be endeavouring instead to raise and elevate ourselves in consciousness up towards the purely Spiritual and Divine, for That is who and what we truly and eternally are.

However, as well as being an expressly monist or monistic religion, Hinduism is also pluralistic in that it not merely permits but actively encourages everyone to relate to God or the Divine in the way that suits them best and which appeals to them the most. The above may be somewhat unpalatable for some and so we also find many Hindus viewing and worshipping God as a Supreme Being with personal characteristics. Many acknowledge and accept that behind their anthropomorphic concept of God there is the Infinite Brahman Principle but they feel that it is more beneficial and helpful for them personally to give a more human and comprehensible touch to It, characterising It as Vishnu, Krishna (who is considered to have been the supreme Avatar of Vishnu), Shiva, Ganesha, Rama, one of the representations of the Divine Mother, or indeed anyone or anything else of their choosing.

This is accepted and celebrated in the vastly diverse and open religion of Hinduism, where many differing viewpoints and perspectives live harmoniously side by side, yet it cannot be denied that the Upanishads teach of a Supreme Pure Divine Consciousness which is everything and in everything, rather than a Supreme Being modelled in the image and likeness of us human beings.

The Hindu Trinity or Trimurti is comprised of Brahma (note the important distinction between Brahma and Brahman; they are not the same!), Vishnu, and Shiva. Their roles are popularly described as Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer. It is said that at the appointed time Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva comes forth from Brahman and causes the universe to come into being. Brahma performs the initial task of evolution into manifestation, Vishnu then preserves and sustains the whole universe until finally the universal life cycle reaches its appointed end, whereupon Shiva destroys it all.

Philosophically speaking, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva are not three distinct “beings” or entities but are the three different aspects of the One all-ensouling Life of the Universe or, in other words, Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva is the Living Universe itself…self-evolving (when it radiates forth from the absoluteness of Brahman), self-sustaining, and finally self-dissolving, whereupon everything is completely reabsorbed back into Brahman until eventually the universe has to be reborn, just as everything in Nature is constantly being reborn and following a cyclic pattern.

~

Q. Do Hindus believe in Creation and teach Creationism?

A. Although the terms “Creation” and “Creator” are used in various places in Hinduism, this is an unfortunate choice of word and in some cases is simply a mistranslation into English, since what Hinduism teaches is not Creationism but rather a very broad and far reaching system of Evolution.

It is widely unknown or at least often overlooked in Western civilisation that Hinduism, along with other Indian religions such as Buddhism and Jainism, believed in and taught evolution thousands of years before Darwin came along. Hinduism does not deny but readily affirms that evolution is a fact and that all manifestation is in a continual state of change, transformation, and progressive development into higher and better adapted forms, affecting the species of animals as well as the vegetable kingdom and everything else, humanity included.

And since Hinduism upholds the idea of non-duality and the Oneness of Brahman, it has to deny creation in the literal sense of the word, since if Brahman is all there is then nothing – no new thing – can ever be created, since that would imply duality and multiplicity and thus negate the non-dualistic ideal as well as unphilosophically implying that infinite impersonal Oneness somehow has the intention and ability to personally make things out of nothing.

It is maintained that Brahman emanates Itself, through Itself, within Itself, and as Itself. It cannot be otherwise, since Brahman is the One and Only Reality; Absolute Infinite EXISTENCE Itself. Thus emanation and evolution are facts, whereas creation as commonly understood and portrayed in the Abrahamic religions is not.

One important difference between the modern scientific view of evolution and the Hindu view is that Hinduism says that the most important aspect of evolution is not the evolution of the outer material form but the constant gradual progression, development, unfoldment, and advancement of the inner life entity through a long series of changing physical forms and experiences, eventually working its way up to the human kingdom and beyond. In other words, inner evolution is much more important than outer evolution because ultimately only the inner survives and endures and everything external, material, and objective must eventually disappear and cease to be.

~

Q. What does Hinduism say about the end of the world?

A. Hinduism teaches an ever-ongoing process of the cyclic appearance and disappearance of the universe and everything in it. This again is an aspect of the cosmic and universal system of evolution as propounded in the Hindu religion. This alternating process of the existence and non-existence of the universe is known as Manvantara and Pralaya or the Days and Nights of Brahma, since Brahma represents the universe itself.

Following the cyclically occurring dissolution of the universe, there is complete rest, absolute inactivity, nothing manifest or objective whatsoever, and a complete reabsorption in Brahman. This remains for the exact same duration as the universe had previously been in manifested objective existence, the life span of the universe being said to always be a period of 311,040,000,000,000 years.

After that, the whole process of universal evolution begins all over again, with everything now raised to a higher level than it was before.

Thus the universe itself is ultimately only a temporary and impermanent thing (hence it being called “maya” or illusion) and its contents such as the solar systems and planets even more so, since they die and are reborn a multitude of times within the universal life cycle. Our world will therefore eventually come to its end, only to later be reborn or “reincarnated” in some way, but this will not and cannot happen until the appointed cyclic time and according to the calculations and calendars of the ancient Hindus that time is still an incredibly long way off.

~

Q. Does the West have an accurate view of Hinduism nowadays?

A. Unfortunately not. Despite being the world’s third largest religion and 15% of the world’s population identifying themselves as Hindus, the religion and its teachings and practices are still sorely misunderstood and misrepresented here in the West, with many people not actually knowing anything about it at all. To the average person in the street, the word “Hinduism” signifies a strange, impenetrable, chaotic, colourful world filled with hundreds or thousands of peculiar gods or deities with many limbs, many heads, and unnaturally coloured skin.

It’s true that a few terms and concepts that originate in Hinduism have filtered into popular Western usage, such as karma, reincarnation, yoga, mantras, and so forth, and quite a lot of people are aware that karma and reincarnation play some sort of role in the Hindu philosophy but that’s about all they know at the very most and those terms themselves are often either partially or severely misunderstood, particularly in the case of yoga. But then again, the average Westerner doesn’t know very much at all about Christianity either, despite most of the Western nations still being nominally Christian countries…so perhaps we shouldn’t be overly concerned about this at the moment.

What is a cause of concern is that even the majority of spiritually interested people have a warped view of Hinduism, often falling into one of the two extremes of either erroneously equating tantric things such as Kundalini awakening and the chakras (which play an extremely minor and virtually inconsequential role in the teachings and general practices of Hinduism) with Hinduism at large or alternatively assuming that Hinduism as a whole is a type of Bhakti movement with the central focus on worshipful devotion of a Supreme Being figure and various deities.

The first erroneous view is largely due to the New Age movement which is famous for misrepresenting, misunderstanding, and grossly distorting numerous aspects and teachings of Eastern religions. New Agers spend their time – and money! – attempting to “cleanse,” “unblock” and “heal” their chakras, naively believing the claims of various writers and teachers that this is actually an ancient and prominent practice of the Indian sages, whilst in reality the Indian sages observe such nonsense with pity and cannot help but laugh. The second view is often formed by someone visiting a Hare Krishna temple, for example, and then automatically assuming that all of Hinduism is like that.

Those who are genuinely and sincerely interested in gaining a clear and deep understanding of the heart of Hinduism, which is Vedanta, may perhaps have some idea where to look after reading this article. One excellent and influential new endeavour is the excellent “Upanishad Ganga” television series from Chinmaya Creations, which is part of the organisation founded by the late Swami Chinmayananda, one of the most widely respected and beloved teachers of Advaita Vedanta in modern times. The first seventeen episodes of the 52 episode series are now widely available on DVD, complete with perfect English subtitles, and many more episodes other than those first seventeen can be freely watched, albeit without subtitles, on YouTube.

Despite some of the current misunderstandings and misconceptions, we believe that the teachings of Hinduism – or Sanatana Dharma – will soon begin to play a new and more influential role in the world than ever before. It’s surprising how many people say, once they learn more about Hinduism, that they have always believed and known such things to be true. Such is the nature of the world’s oldest and most universal religion.

* THE LAW OF KARMA *

The Sanskrit word “Karma” literally means “action” and “deed.”

In the physical sense of the word, it can simply mean any action, deed, or work whatsoever, but in its metaphysical sense it is a much more far reaching concept and is one of the central and essential components of the Hindu worldview. It has long been said that a person cannot be a Hindu unless they thoroughly accept and believe in the Law of Karma and Reincarnation.

Yes, in its metaphysical sense it is a Law…the Law of Cause and Effect, Action and Reaction, Sequence and Consequence. We are always setting causes in motion, every moment, through our every act, our every word, and even our every thought. For every cause set in motion, there is a corresponding and correlative effect which comes back.

This is the way the universe maintains its harmony, balance, and equilibrium.

If a cause was to ever be set in motion without having a corresponding effect, then the entire universe would immediately cease to be, since its continuity and existence depends on this great Law of balance and adjustment. But that will never happen because Karmic Law is immutable Law.

It is the ultimate Law of the Universe. Every self-conscious being in the universe, without exception, is subject to the Law of Karma. Every being in possession of individual self-consciousness and the intelligent power of choice, is a creator of Karmic causes. In Hindu texts, this world is sometimes called “karmabhumi”, meaning “the world of karma.” Karma is the Law of self-created destiny and everything in the universe proceeds according to this Law.

It can be good or bad, positive or negative, depending entirely on the nature of the causes we set in motion. It is entirely impersonal, yet it is entirely just and fair in its working.

To try to escape Karma is to create even worse Karma for yourself. Not only is it grossly unphilosophical, impossible, and spiritually and emotionally immature, but to attempt to somehow prevent and avoid the manifestation of the effects of the causes that you yourself have set in motion is to attempt to engage in nothing less than cosmic injustice!

Many people have a one-sided view of Karma, where they gleefully say such things as, “Karma’s going to get that person who wronged me…I can’t wait for Karma to catch up with them!” whilst completely ignoring the fact that the person wouldn’t have been able to wrong them or harm them in the first place if it wasn’t for their OWN negative Karma.

Karma is never one-sided.

For every effect, there was a cause. For every cause, there will be an effect. People who look forward to Karma “catching up” with others are just creating even worse Karma for their own future by their lack of compassion and spiteful nature.

Karma and reincarnation (also known as rebirth or re-embodiment) are inextricably linked with each other. You can’t have one without the other.

It is obvious that one single lifetime is by no means long enough to reap the full effects of every cause we have set in motion during that lifetime.

It is also apparent that some of the aspects and circumstances of our current lifetime do not have their origins in the current lifetime but seemingly in the distant past. Physical incarnation itself is a Karmic effect, since one of the main reasons we reincarnate is in order to deal with our past Karma. To have a proper understanding of Karma, a person must also accept and believe in reincarnation. To have a proper understanding of reincarnation, a person must also accept and believe in Karma.

There are three divisions of Karma and in Hinduism these are called Sanchita Karma, Prarabdha Karma, and Agami (also known as Kriyamana and Vartamana) Karma. A person’s Sanchita Karma is their “Karmic account” or “Karmic reservoir,” the storehouse of all their Karma from past lives that has not yet been dealt with.

Prarabdha Karma is the specific portion of that Sanchita Karma which the person is destined to face and experience in the present lifetime. If successfully dealt with, that portion of their Karma will then be exhausted and wiped out.

Agami Karma is the fresh Karma we are creating for ourselves right here and right now, as we live this present lifetime. It becomes added to our Sanchita Karma and will manifest itself as our Prarabdha Karma in future lifetimes.

It is true that we all have “a lot in life.”

It is our Karmic lot, our Karmically determined allotment of situations, circumstances, and experiences. When we just cannot succeed as we would like to in certain areas of life, no matter how hard or often we try or what we do, we should accept it as an indication of our Karma and be thankful and content for what we do have, rather than frustrated and depressed over what we do not or cannot have.

No amount of positive thinking, creative visualisation, affirmations or prayers, can alter your Karmic lot in life. This is not fatalism; it is the Law of self-created destiny. In the past you created your present and in the present you are creating your future.

There is no injustice, although there are many things which appear to be unjust and unfair to our very limited and finite perspective.

EVERYTHING that happens to us is either Karmically destined or Karmically permitted. It cannot be otherwise, since nothing can happen outside the Law of Karma. Some things in our life are specifically destined to happen to us, as a result of our Karma, while others are merely permitted. There are also things which do not happen to us, because our Karma will not permit it.

Person #1 and Person #2 are walking along together at night when a madman suddenly appears and stabs Person #1. It seems likely that he would also stab Person #2 but for no apparent reason he runs off without doing so. Person #1 was either Karmically destined to be stabbed or their Karma permitted that they could be stabbed, even though it hadn’t been specifically destined to happen. The Karma of Person #2 neither destined nor permitted such a thing to happen to that person.

While our Karma may sometimes seem like our greatest “punisher,” it can also be our greatest guardian and protector.

The only way to free ourselves from negative Karma is to stop setting negative CAUSES in motion! To avoid creating any further future sorrow and suffering for yourself, stop creating it for others.

Live your life consciously and harmlessly. Gain complete mastery over your thoughts, words, and deeds and live to be of help and service to others. But don’t let your underlying motive for this be one of selfishness – i.e. for the sake of creating good Karma for yourself – but rather live the life of love and compassion simply because it is the right thing to do.

Love goodness and virtue for its own sake…realise that selfishness is the great curse of humanity…and live merely to be an impersonal beneficent force for good in this world.

~

You are your own Devil, you are your own God;
You fashioned the paths your footsteps have trod.

Whatever IS, is Karma.

The Vasanas

* THE VASANAS *

Six latent tendencies which keep the soul trapped in Samsara

The Vasanas

The term “Vāsanā” is used in Hinduism to refer to…

* Latent tendencies
* Impressions
* Habitual modes of thought and action
* Hidden desires, and
* Unconscious propensities

…which are cultivated through our actions, thoughts, and habits in each lifetime and then accumulate in the storehouse of our Causal Body (Karana Sharira in Sanskrit), thus compelling the soul (Jiva) to keep reincarnating. The Causal Body is known in Hindu scriptures as “the abode of all vasanas” and is therefore called “Causal” because it is the cause of continued reincarnation, continued entrapment in the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, the “Sea of Suffering” or Samsara.

We need to exhaust or transcend all our current vasanas, ideally without creating any new ones. As the light of the truth of the Infinite Oneness of Brahman dawns upon us and we begin to recognise that “Aham Brahmasmi” – I am Brahman – and “Tat tvam asi” – You too are That – the vasanas begin to fade away and the pure effulgence of Supreme Divine Consciousness takes their place.

There are six specific vasanas and these are described as…

* Lokavasana – latencies connected with the world.

This includes such notions as “this is my country, this is my family, these are the right customs and traditions,” etc. The fact of the matter is that in our Real Self, our True Self, our essential nature as pure spirit or Atman, we have no specific country of our own, no specific family of our own, for we are the ALL, the Divine Allness Itself, and in this awareness the rules, regulations, and nature of national customs, traditions, and so forth are utterly inconsequential and irrelevant. You are not this (idam); you are That (Tat). Do not mistake the not-Self for the Self.

* Dehavasana – latencies connected with the body.

This includes such deep seated notions as “I am young, I am old, I am this age, physical appearance and beauty is important, my body is desirable, other bodies are desirable,” etc. Your body may indeed be young or old but your body is not you! You are the Atman, the Supreme Reality, which is Brahman. Surely you have enough sense to see and know that you are not the body. If so, why would you want to go chasing after other bodies when you know that the physical body is really nothing more than a very impermanent outer shell? You are not this (idam); you are That (Tat). Do not mistake the not-Self for the Self.

* Bhogavasana – latencies connected with enjoyments.

This includes such notions as “This is good and I must have it, this is not good and I don’t want it, I want more and more things to enjoy and more and more enjoyment,” etc. Why must you have this particular material item or this particular experience of the senses? It is worth absolutely nothing in the whole scheme of things. Prakriti is Maya; Matter is Illusion. Krishna tells you in the Bhagavad Gita that the enjoyment of sensual pleasure is the womb of pain. You keep on wanting and desiring and craving and lusting for more and more things to enjoy but your enjoyment of them is always inevitably short lived. Why not wake up now from this dream and pursue the only real and lasting joy? As for so-called worldly enjoyments, “you should enjoy all things after giving up the desire for them,” says the Isha Upanishad. The end of desire is the end of suffering. You are not this (idam); you are That (Tat). Do not mistake the not-Self for the Self.

* Vishayavasana – latencies connected with the objects of the senses.

When unrestrained, unguarded, and uncontrolled, the senses are our worst enemy and daily become the gateway or entrance through which desire, lust, ambition, fear, depression, ignorance, and other poisons enter our mind and soul, eventually resulting in suffering and sorrow for both ourselves and others. We must consciously take authoritative control over ourselves at the start of each day and do our best to maintain that spiritual self-mastery at all times. There are many things which we must not allow or permit ourselves to see or look at, to hear or listen to, to touch or feel, and so forth, if we wish to stand any chance of purifying, refining, elevating, and spiritualising our entire being. The senses must be mastered and the “worm of sense” must be starved out until it lies completely dormant and inert, no longer controlling but controlled by the man or woman who is treading the path to liberation (Moksha) through Self-realisation. You are not this (idam); you are That (Tat). Do not mistake the not-Self for the Self.

* Viparitavasana – latencies connected with wrong identity.

This includes such deep rooted notions as “I am the body, I have such and such a thing, I do such and such a thing,” etc. The Self never does anything, nor is anything ever done to the Self. There is nothing for It to do, except to BE, and It “be”…for It alone IS. Which part of your being are you identifying yourself with and as in consciousness? You are not this (idam); you are That (Tat). Do not mistake the not-Self for the Self.

* Bhedavasana – latencies connected with the sense of differentiation.

This includes such notions as “Here is the world, here is this, here is that, there is one and over there is another,” etc. Really there is no such thing as “another” or “an other.” All is Brahman. All is One because the One is All. Differentiation and relativity is undeniably a currently objective fact but it is not the real and final nature or truth of things. Remember that glorious and majestic statement from the Rig Veda, that before this universe came into being “the ONLY One breathed breathless by Itself; other than IT there nothing since has been.” There has never been anything but Brahman. Behind the illusion of ever-changing appearance is the One unchanging Reality. I am That, you are That, all is That, and That is all. That is all there is. It would be good to always remind ourselves that only the inner is the real and that all that is outer – which includes everything we can see and sense around us – is essentially unreal. There is no separation in the universe. We must come to a true realisation of this. You are not this (idam); you are That (Tat). Do not mistake the not-Self for the Self.

The elimination and destruction of the vasanas is known as Vasanakshaya. For thousands of years, Hindus have recited this mantra…

Om Asatoma Satgamaya
Tamasoma Jyotirgamaya
Mrityorma Amritamgamaya
Om Shantih Shantih Shantih

OM. Lead us from the unreal to the Real,
From darkness to Light,
From death to Immortality.
OM. Peace, Peace, Peace.

* NEITHER DUAL NOR NON-DUAL *

Adi Shankaracharya, the great founder of the Advaita Vedanta philosophy based on the Upanishads and one of the most important figures in the history of Hinduism, and Swami Chinmayananda, one of the foremost proponents of that philosophy and teaching in modern times. The Avadhuta Gita, quoted from below, is sometimes called “extreme Advaita.” It does not depart from the teachings of the Upanishads and Shankaracharya but is “extreme” in the sense that it really makes the reader sit up, pay attention, and develop higher and transcendent perceptions of Reality.

Technically speaking, Brahman (the Supreme Ultimate Reality) cannot be said to be either Saguna (with qualities, attributes, and characteristics) or Nirguna (without qualities, attributes, and characteristics). It is neither with qualities NOR without qualities. These do not even enter into the matter when we bear in mind that Brahman is all there is…”ONE without a second,” as the Upanishads say.

There is nothing BUT Brahman. Brahman is ALL THERE IS. And so the whole issue of qualities, attributes, duality, and non-duality, is ultimately negated. At the end of the day all that can really be said about Brahman is simply “Brahman.”

If there is really ultimately nothing but Brahman, then there is nothing that can be said about It. The existence of Pure Absolute Oneness alone negates all description and characterisation of every kind. Since there is ONLY Brahman, even the term “non-dual” and “non-duality” becomes irrelevant and a misnomer.

Of course we do however have to use such terms in everyday speech but the highest realisation carries the soul far beyond all words, details, and verbal descriptions and definitions. The Upanishads declare that Brahman is “THAT, from which all words turn back and which thought can never reach.”

Here’s what Dattatreya had to say, purposely attempting to shock his listeners into higher awareness, in his “Song of the Ever-Free” in the Advaita Vedanta scripture the Avadhuta Gita. The whole essence of Hinduism’s Vedanta philosophy is “Ayam Atma Brahman”…”This Atman is Brahman”…meaning that your true Self, your essential nature, the highermost part of your being, is literally one and the same in essence and identity as Brahman, the Supreme Self, and that there has never been anything but That.

- – -

Avadhuta said:

Brahman cannot be invoked or abandoned, because It is formless. Therefore, what is the use of offering flowers and leaves or practising meditation and repeating the mantra? How can one worship that Supreme Beatitude in which both unity and diversity are merged?

Brahman is not only free from bondage and liberation, purity and impurity, union and separation, but truly It is ever free. And I am that Brahman – infinite as space.

Whether the manifested world is real or unreal – this kind of doubt does not arise in my mind at all. I am by nature blissful and free.

Neither darkness nor light, neither inside nor outside nor any other diversity appears in my Self. I am by nature blissful and free.

Ignorance and knowledge do not originate in me. The knowledge of the Self also does not arise in me. How can I say that I have ignorance or knowledge? I am by nature blissful and free.

Brahman is not associated with virtue and vice or bondage and freedom. Nothing appears to me as united or separated. I am by nature blissful and free.

No one is my superior or inferior. I have no idea of neutrality, nor do I have any enemy or friend. How can I speak of good and evil? I am by nature blissful and free.

I am neither the worshipper nor the object of worship. Instructions and rituals are not meant for me. How can I describe the nature of absolute Consciousness? I am by nature blissful and free.

Nothing pervades Brahman nor is anything pervaded by Brahman. Neither has It an abode nor is It abodeless. How can I describe It as full or empty? I am by nature blissful and free.

My Self is not the perceiver nor the object of perception. It has no cause or effect. How can I say that It is conceivable or inconceivable? I am by nature blissful and free.

My Self neither destroys anything nor is It destroyed by anything. Neither is It a knower nor is It knowable. O dear one, how can I describe It as coming or going? I am by nature blissful and free.

I have no body nor am I bodiless. I have no senses, mind, or intellect. How can I say that I have attachment or detachment? I am by nature blissful and free.

Forceful assertions cannot change Brahman, nor does denial of Brahman make It disappear. How can I say, O friend, whether Brahman is always the same or not? I am by nature blissful and free.

I have subdued the senses, and again, I have not subdued them. I have never cultivated self-restraint or religious austerities. O friend, how can I speak of success and defeat? I am by nature blissful and free.

I do not have a form nor am I formless. I have no beginning, middle, or end. Friend, how can I say that I am strong or weak? I am by nature blissful and free.

O my dear, death and immortality, poison and nectar, have never emanated from me. How can I say that I am pure or impure? I am by nature blissful and free.

For me there is no waking or dreaming, nor any posture of yoga, nor is there any day or night. How can I say that I am in the third state [i.e. Sushupti, dreamless sleep] or in the Fourth [i.e. Turiya, superconsciousness]? I am by nature blissful and free.

Know that I am free from everything, and again, not free from anything. I have no maya [illusion] nor its multiple forms. How can I say that I shall have to practise daily obligatory religious disciplines? I am by nature blissful and free.

Know that I am completely absorbed in Brahman. Know that I am free from aim and aimlessness. How can I speak of union or separation? I am by nature blissful and free.

Avadhuta Gita, Chapter 4, verses 1-19

* 5 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT YOGA *

Hinduism’s glorious and ancient spiritual science of Yoga has been distorted, desecrated, and commercialised in the West … in some cases almost beyond recognition. The average Westerner who talks about “Yoga” has no idea of its actual and original meaning. The aim of this article is to briefly and simply clarify what Yoga actually is and to attempt to restore its dignity and the awareness of its high philosophy to the modern mind.

In the early 1950’s the Italian explorer and writer Fosco Maraini wrote these words:

“Nothing could express better than yoga the inner spirit of the country we are approaching. Yoga stands for India in all her philosophical profundity, her metaphysical flights, her moral daring, her perennial sense of man as an inseparable identity of mind and body, her self-assurance in the midst of the mysterious, the confidential terms she is on with death, and her admirable symbolism. Yoga offers the sage a way of escape from maya (the illusion of transient things, designed to perish) into a fulness of being that transcends becoming.”

It is essential for us to make one thing very clear and to repeat it over and over again in everyday life until people begin to accept, understand, and appreciate it – Yoga is NOT physical postures and stretching exercises. It is achieving Union with the Divine and its aims have nothing whatsoever to do with improving the health and vitality of the physical body.

Maraini wrote those words when the actual concept of Yoga was still fairly clearly understood in the West and prior to its being degraded into a fashionable “health craze” in the public consciousness which was what began to occur around the 1960s. Here are five things everyone should know about Yoga…

#1. YOGA HAS BEEN DISTORTED AND DESECRATED IN THE WEST

Ask anyone in the West today to explain what Yoga is and – whether interested in spiritual things or not – they will most likely describe it as a sort of spiritually oriented system of stretching exercises and physical postures, designed to bring about greater peace of mind and vitality. This system is also often practiced and taught without a spiritual basis, being presented as simply an alternative fitness method.

Many people remain unaware that there is any type of Yoga other than this but this is merely a Yoga method called Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga has long been described as the “lower Yoga” or even the “lowest Yoga” by many Hindus. Western authorities on Hinduism tell us that they have found, during their travels in India, that the most enlightened Hindus regard Hatha Yoga as “the practice solely of the ignorant and unintelligent.” It is physical Yoga as opposed to spiritual Yoga and this fact alone should give some clue both as to why it is viewed with such disdain in the East and with such enthusiasm in the body-centred and materialistic West.

#2. PHYSICAL YOGA IS NOT TRUE YOGA

In Hindu philosophy, the physical body and the physical plane of existence are viewed as being no better than a temporary illusion but potentially a dangerous illusion if we mistakenly believe them to be real and worthy of great attention and emphasis, as we will then end up identifying ourselves with and as the physical. This inevitably brings with it a loss of identification with the spiritual and thus a loss of awareness of our Real Self. Ultimately this causes the soul to become trapped in the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth known as Samsara. The central aim of real Yoga is to cause the individual to dis-identify himself or herself with the physical body and to see this objective realm of material existence for the illusion (called “maya” in Sanskrit) that it is.

In the West, where materialism holds full sway, many people are attracted solely by the physical, material, objective, superficial, outer, and appearance-based things of life. Thus, the idea of a seemingly exotic method for improving the wellbeing and appearance of their physical body is naturally very popular. But because these physical practices keep the person locked in to the lower self consciousness of the physical body and materiality, it is the very antithesis of what Yoga actually is and what it is actually intended to do. True Yoga, which is spiritual Yoga, involves our learning and realising that the physical body is nothing more than merely our outer shell and that the physical body in general is something undesirable and the cause of much suffering.

One leading Hindu spokesperson and educationalist in the UK has recently said that it is time for Hatha Yoga “to be put in its place” before the sacred name and nature (not to mention reputation) of Yoga is desecrated and distorted even further.

#3. YOGA IS THE AIM AND NOT THE METHOD

“Yoga” is a Sanskrit word which means “Union.” It refers to union with our own Inner Self and union with the Divine, which in reality both amount to the same thing.

Self-realisation (Atma-jnana) and God-realisation (Brahma-jnana) are synonymous terms in Hinduism, which teaches that we are God in our higher spiritual Self. It means the knowledge of Oneness and rebecoming in consciousness (and in experience) That which we really and truly are. This is also what is meant by “enlightenment,” which is a term that people often tend to use in a rather vague and unclear way. When a person has become fully God-realised they are said to have attained and achieved Yoga which – as we said – means Union. Achieving God-realisation is the goal and essence of what the Hindu religion is all about.

So Yoga is the AIM and not the METHOD.

In light of the above, we can readily see that everyone on a spiritual path is in fact aspiring towards the same goal, which is Yoga. The various forms of Yoga are therefore not actually Yoga in themselves but are methods, exercises, and techniques for achieving and attaining Yoga, or Divine Self-reunion. It is a pure and holy aim and the methods for achieving it are likewise pure and holy.

#4. THERE ARE FOUR MAIN TYPES OF YOGA

The teaching and practice of Yoga has its origins and deepest exposition in Hinduism, the world’s oldest religion. In Hindu or Indian books and spiritual teachings, 99% of references to “Yoga” which aren’t prefaced by any term to specify a particular type of Yoga, refer to the method of Yoga called Raja Yoga. Raja Yoga is considered to be the highest and most important form of Yoga. Much of its practices focus on gaining complete self-mastery over all aspects of the mind and mental nature. Ask an enlightened Hindu to teach you “Yoga” and he will most likely assume that you mean Raja Yoga.

The Bhagavad Gita (meaning “Song of God” or “The Lord’s Song”) is the most popular and universally loved of all Hindu scriptures. It consists of a conversation between Krishna and Arjuna and is admired by multitudes around the world for its practical yet profound spiritual philosophy of life.

One could spend a lifetime reading and studying the central and foundational scriptures and spiritual texts of Hinduism (such as the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Vedas, and so on) and never find even one reference to Hatha Yoga or other physical Yoga methods. The world famous Bhagavad Gita, which is undoubtedly the most popular of all Hindu scriptures, is described by many Hindus as “the Book of Yoga” but it focusses solely on the higher forms of Yoga and not on the lower and physical forms.

Hinduism teaches that there are four forms of Yoga which are the greatest and these are sometimes called “the four margas” or “four pathways to Yoga.” Remember that Yoga – Union with the Divine – is the aim and not the method. These are considered to be the highest and best paths, all of which will eventually bring the individual to the same destination and goal. Many spiritual people are already following one of the four paths to at least some extent, albeit perhaps without having realised it. These four paths suit four different personality types but of course people can – and do – mix and match. In no particular order they are:

* BHAKTI YOGA – Yoga through spiritual devotion and worship, usually directed in heartfelt adoration towards a personal Deity of the individual’s choice. Bhakti has been called “the path of the heart.” It is incompatible with a belief in non-duality, since it necessarily involves viewing God as something or someone distinct from ourselves and higher than ourselves. The non-dualist (Advaita) philosophies in the Hindu religion say, “I am God and God is me, you are God and God is you, for God is all there is,” while the various forms of dualist philosophy (Dvaita, Vishistadvaita, etc.) say, “Krishna is God” or “Shiva (or whoever) is God and we should be His loving and devoted servants and worshippers.”

* KARMA YOGA – Yoga through action and selfless service to humanity. The Sanskrit word “Karma” means action, work, or deed. The phrase “selfless service to humanity” may perhaps sound like a grand and impossible ideal for the average person, whose physical scope may currently be confined primarily to friends and family. But this is no obstacle, for “humanity” means any human being and by serving and helping one human being – from a heart and attitude of selfless love, without the slightest desire for reward or recompense, and with the knowledge and awareness that this person, just like ourself, is an integral part of that Supreme Pure Divine Consciousness which is everything and in everything – we are serving and helping humanity. Karma Yoga by itself is perhaps not quite complete unless linked with one of the other four types of Yoga. At the same time, none of the others are quite complete without the force of Karma Yoga.

* JNANA YOGA – Yoga through spiritual knowledge and sharp intellectual perception of Truth. Advaita Vedanta, the Hindu philosophical teaching of non-duality and universal oneness, is especially linked with Jnana Yoga. Those who have well developed intellects and who are naturally drawn towards spiritual study and towards actively thinking about matters of spirituality – in other words, those who can think, will think, and do think – are those for whom the Jnana path exists. Through regular, diligent, and meditative study of the ancient and ageless teachings about the Self (the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Avadhuta Gita being excellent vessels of such teaching), the individual acquires Self-knowledge in the true and highest sense of the word and through his Self-knowledge eventually attains to Self-realisation or what we have called Divine Self-reunion. This was perhaps best summed up by Sri Ramana Maharshi, that famous and widely revered proponent of Jnana Yoga, who said “Knowing the Self, God is known; in fact, God is none other than the Self.”

* RAJA YOGA – Literally meaning the “Royal” pathway to God-realisation. It is described in detail in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and is the path of the highest scientific meditation.

Some people are naturally Bhakti yogis, others are naturally Karma yogis, while others are naturally Jnana yogis or Raja yogis. Although the method called Raja Yoga is generally considered in Hinduism to be the highest and most admired form of Yoga, this does not mean that the other paths are of any less worth, value, or effectiveness. They are perhaps less direct and less intensive routes to the same destination but they will still lead someone there if they follow the route and most especially if they follow it with all their might.

Raja Yoga is an intense, direct, and potentially very powerful practice and it is frequently advised that those wishing to properly and safely practice it should do so only under the expert guidance and supervision of a reliable and reputable instructor. It is also said that only those in good physical health should attempt these exercises. The method of Raja Yoga consists of eight steps leading to Divine Self-reunion. For this reason its is also called Ashtanga Yoga, literally meaning “Eight-limbed Yoga.” But it is not the same thing as the highly popular “Ashtanga Yoga” system of today, which is a rather spurious system devised by Pattabhi Jois and which largely just consists of Hatha Yoga exercises. In real Raja Yoga the first two steps are vital preliminaries and people are always gravely cautioned about attempting to proceed to the further steps before having followed and mastered the first two, which include being strictly vegetarian, unwaveringly honest and truthful at all times, absolutely free from all material and sensual desires and ambitions, and abstaining from all sexual relations of every kind.

There are many reasons for the severity of the preliminary requirements (which are ten in total). One is to ensure that those who are not really serious about it do not waste their own time or the instructor’s time, another is that if the individual were to pass on to the next stages without having followed the preliminaries they would very easily do themselves serious harm due to not being adequately prepared, equipped, and purified to be able to deal with the potent effects of the yogic practice. Raja Yoga is most definitely not for the faint-hearted but requires everything a person can give.

#5. AN OUTLINE OF JNANA YOGA

The methodology of Jnana Yoga is called the Sadhana Chatushtaya, described as the “four prerequisites” or qualifications for God-realisation. Countless generations of Hindu sages and yogis discovered that these particular specific steps, if sincerely and seriously followed, would eventually unfailingly lead the spiritual aspirant to the goal of Yoga. This is the practical aspect of the Advaita Vedanta philosophy. Summarised briefly and simply, it consists of:

1. Viveka
- Discrimination and discernment between the Real and the unreal. The awareness and realisation that everything manifested and material is illusion and that Brahman alone is real. The awareness and realisation that I am not the body, I am not the emotions, I am not even the mind but I am pure eternal Spirit, the Atman, and that “this Atman is Brahman,” as the Scriptures say.

2. Vairagya
- Dispassion and detachment which arises as the natural result and effect of Viveka. Ceasing to have any interest in or desire for material things, sensual things, and the luxuries, ambitions, and goals that the world is always chasing after. Seeing through the illusionary and ultimately worthless nature of those things, knowing them for what they are, and not being interested anymore in anything other than God (viewed as the ONE Infinite Divine Life rather than a “Being,” a Super-Principle rather than a Super-Personality) and spiritual things. Being attracted by nothing other than this and wanting nothing to do with the sensual, material side of life.

3. Shatkasampatti
- The six great virtues, namely (1) Shama, control of the mind (2) Dama, control of the sense organs (3) Uparati, inner withdrawal (4) Titiksha, patient forbearance of suffering and the Karma we have created for ourselves (5) Shraddha, unconditional faith and trust in the scriptures and in the spiritual Master or Guru (6) Samadhana, study and contemplation on the Vedantic texts and the words of the spiritual Master or Guru.

4. Mumukshutva
- Intense yearning for liberation from Samsara and reunion with the Divine.

This is the Sadhana-Chatushtaya and what is briefly expressed here is really the main overriding goal and aim of Hinduism…to consciously reunite man with his own divine nature. As the poet William Blake so aptly put it, “Man is God asleep; God is man awake.”

~ ~ ~

The most important thing for the average person to know about Yoga today is what we said at the start of this article: Yoga is NOT physical postures and stretching exercises. It is achieving Union with the Divine and its aims have nothing whatsoever to do with improving the health and vitality of the physical body.

We have a responsibility to help correct the serious misconceptions that exist in the public consciousness today regarding Yoga. Those false ideas are degrading to the reputation of Hinduism and to the sacred name of its most sacred spiritual science – Yoga Vidyā.

~ ~ ~

Smiling Indian woman

“Brahman is formless, and can never be seen with these two eyes. But Brahman is revealed in the heart made pure through meditation and sense-restraint. Realizing Brahman, one is released from the cycle of birth and death. When the five senses are stilled, when the mind is stilled, when the intellect is stilled, that is called the highest state by the wise. They say that yoga is this complete stillness in which one enters the unitive state, never to become separate again. If one is not established in this state, the sense of unity will come and go.”
- Katha Upanishad -

The Mahavakyas

* THE MAHAVAKYAS *

“Aham Brahmasmi” – “I am Brahman.” – In the highermost part of my being – pure eternal spirit – there is no difference or distinction of any kind between me and God. This is equally true for all beings and all life.

The Mahāvākyas – meaning “Great Sayings” or “Great Sentences” – are four statements from the Upanishads which clearly and memorably indicate the unity and absolute oneness of our own spiritual Self with the Supreme Self; of Atman with Brahman.

The Upanishads are the central and foundational scriptures of Hinduism. They are filled with many Mahāvākyas but there are four specific ones, from each of the four Vedas, which are considered the greatest.

Meditation on these Mahāvākyas is a daily practice for many Hindus, who seek to attain God-realisation and to rise in consciousness to the highest levels of awareness of our own inner divinity and of the oneness and divineness of all life.

The philosophy of Hinduism dignifies and divinifies all mankind, by asserting that all life is the ONE Life…that all life is sacred, precious, and divine…and that there is nothing but Brahman, the One Supreme Divine Principle which is all and in all.

1. Prajñānam Brahman – “Consciousness is Brahman”
(from the Aitareya Upanishad of the Rig Veda)

2. Ayam ātmā Brahman – “The Self is Brahman”
(from the Mandukya Upanishad of the Atharva Veda)

3. Tat Tvam Asi – “Thou art That”
(from the Chandogya Upanishad of the Sama Veda)

4. Aham Brahmāsmi – “I am Brahman”
(from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad of the Yajur Veda)

“In the beginning was only Being, One without a second. Out of himself he brought forth the cosmos and entered into everything in it. There is nothing that does not come from him. Of everything he is the inmost Self. He is the truth; he is the Self supreme. You are That, Shvetaketu; you are That.”
~ “Tat Tvam Asi” in the Chandogya Upanishad ~

Picture of a Hindu Sage

* THE DIVINE WISDOM OF THE UPANISHADS *

Lady with The Lamp paintingThe Self is one. Ever still, the Self is swifter than thought, swifter than the senses. Though motionless, he outruns all pursuit. Without the Self, never could life exist.

The Self seems to move, but is ever still. He seems far away, but is ever near. He is within all, and he transcends all.

Those who see all creatures in themselves and themselves in all creatures know no fear. Those who see all creatures in themselves and themselves in all creatures know no grief. How can the multiplicity of life delude the one who sees its unity?

The Self is everywhere. Bright is the Self, indivisible, untouched by sin, wise, immanent and transcendent. He it is who holds the cosmos together.

Isha Upanishad, 4-8

Knowing the senses to be separate from the Self, and the sense experience to be fleeting, the wise grieve no more.

Above the senses is the mind, above the mind is the intellect, above that is the ego, and above the ego is the unmanifested Cause. And beyond is Brahman, omnipresent, attributeless. Realizing him one is released from the cycle of birth and death.

He is formless, and can never be seen with these two eyes. But he reveals himself in the heart made pure through meditation and sense-restraint. Realizing him, one is released from the cycle of birth and death.

When the five senses are stilled, when the mind is stilled, when the intellect is stilled, that is called the highest state by the wise. They say yoga is this complete stillness in which one enters the unitive state, never to become separate again. If one is not established in this state, the sense of unity will come and go.

Katha Upanishad, II:3:6-11

As long as there is separateness, one sees another as separate from oneself, hears another as separate from oneself, smells another as separate from oneself, speaks to another as separate from oneself, thinks of another as separate from oneself, knows another as separate from oneself. But when the Self is realized as the indivisible unity of life, who can be seen by whom, who can be heard by whom, who can be smelled by whom, who can be spoken to by whom, who can be thought of by whom, who can be known by whom? Maitreyi, my beloved, how can the knower ever be known?

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, II:4:14

May the Lord of Love, who projects himself into this universe of myriad forms, from whom all beings come and to whom all return – may he grant us the grace of wisdom.

He is fire and the sun, and the moon and the stars. He is the air and the sea, and the Creator, Prajapati.

He is this boy, he is that girl, he is this man, he is that woman, and he is this old man, too, tottering on his staff. His face is everywhere.

He is the blue bird; he is the green bird with red eyes; he is the thundercloud, and he is the seasons and the seas. He has no beginning; he has no end. He is the source from whom the worlds evolve.

From his divine power comes forth all this magical show of name and form, of you and me, which casts the spell of pain and pleasure. Only when we pierce through this magic veil do we see the One who appears as many.

Shvetashvatara Upanishad, IV:1-5

As a person acts, so he becomes in life. Those who do good become good; those who do harm become bad. Good deeds make one pure; bad deeds make one impure. You are what your deep, driving desire is. As your desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.

We live in accordance with our deep, driving desire. It is this desire at the time of death that determines what our next life will be. We will come back to earth to work out the satisfaction of that desire.

But not those who are free from desire; they are free because all their desires have found fulfillment in the Self. They do not die like the others; but realizing Brahman, they merge in Brahman. So it is said:

When all the desires that surge in the heart are renounced, the mortal becomes immortal. When all the knots that strangle the heart are loosened, the mortal becomes immortal, here in this very life.

As the skin of a snake is sloughed onto an anthill, so does the mortal body fall; but the Self, freed from the body, merges in Brahman, infinite life, eternal light.

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, IV:4:5-6

- – -

You may also like the articles on this site titled The Self in Hinduism, The Aim and Goal of Hinduism, Common Misconceptions about Hinduism, and Rescuing Hinduism from the New Age Movement, which includes “YOGA IS THE AIM AND NOT THE METHOD.”

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