By birth, I am a Hindu. 25 years later, I chose to embrace Hinduism as a philosophy and chose vegetarianism as a way of life. This turning point took place after a decade of reading deeply into some of the Hindu scriptures, in particular, the Mahabharata and the Upanishads. I am mindful of a sense of evolution in my relationship with Hinduism. In fact, one of the many attractions for me in Hinduism is that it is in itself an ever evolving museum of eclectic religions including Vaishnavism, Shaktism, Shivaism.
Hinduism and oneness
From my lay understanding of Hinduism, the point of this life is to allow the illusionary wall, or the veil of ignorance, that separates us from God to fall away. At this point, we enter into a state of enlightenment and re-unite with who we really are. This path is a profound exercise in the realization of the fundamental oneness of creator and creation.
On this journey, as in all quests, we are confronted by demons (of our own making). The battle of Kurukshetra (during which the conversation between Krishna and Arjuna, or the Gita, is recounted) reenacts itself a thousand times within ourselves. It is a battle between the ego which yearns to hold on to a false sense of superiority – translated as tribalism, dismissal of the legitimacy of the other, ignorance, megalomania – and the higher self, our better judgment somewhere in between principled reasoning and the intelligence of the heart or conscience.
The fundamental truth of Hinduism is that we are all manifestations of an eternal energy in different biological forms. There is no ‘other’, so that every time we see and act negatively on the differences we have created across castes, creed, colour and class, we simply betray the sanctity of our own oneness with the divine, and thereby we ultimately betray ourselves.
Hinduism and Agency
Hinduism is a belief system that is empowering since the state of enlightenment is something that anyone can attain if this be their hearts desire and if they invest enough effort into this transformation. This is a lifelong project or that of many lives. But, first and foremost, it is one whose reach is within each and everyone of us:
“You grope in the darkness of ignorance seeking the elusive goal of your spiritual quest. But it lies deep in your own mind and becomes visible only to those who care to look inward.” (Yajur Veda)
Empowerment lies neither in temples nor priests but rather in our own attunement to the consciousness that guides us from within. Heaven and hell are both here, spaces within us and spaces we create. Only when the veil of ignorance has fallen do we understand the existential wisdom of oneness behind all creation. Only then do we become tolerant, compassionate and make correct decisions. We then have the responsibility to use our enlightened intelligence to understand the complexities of existence and to extend a helping hand to those less fortunate.
A fundamental appeal for me in Hinduism is that it is a personal journey where agency is paramount, where we are ourselves deciders and creators of our futures. Rather than being enslaved to a notion of fate, we are agents. Despite the references to fate in the Mahabharata, the ultimate triumph is that of human effort. Gurcharan Das’s comments on the Mahabharata joins my thinking:
‘When the epic’s characters make free choices, they become responsible for their decisions. At the moment of making a decision they become conscious of their freedom, and it is this perception of autonomy that gives them the ability to lead authentic moral lives.’ (The Difficulty of being Good: On the subtle art of Dharma, 2009: 255)
The consciousness of ourselves as agents, with choices, reinstores a deep sense of dignity of the human spirit. On his own battlefield, as Arjuna ponders with Krishna the rights and wrongs of taking up arms to defend principle, thanks Heaven, he is able to let go of a crippling sense of ‘Jay De!’ Instead of ‘Jay de’ to long established patterns of corruption, oppression and destructive greed and selfishness within his own family, he embraces the path of ‘Jay Ho!’ As he takes a leap of faith on the path of principle, he has no idea how this ‘war’ will end for himself and others. But he knows, by the end of his conversation with Krishna, that choosing an act of goodness is one of the few things of genuine worth in this world. It will indeed prove to be an act of ‘dharma’ (principled action) which will resonate across the universe drawing to him in fathom and unimaginable ways the resources he will need to win and end the war.
Hinduism and secularism
God, although represented in myriad ways in human forms, is in fact an indefinable and intelligent energy that is the cause of all existence. It is a universal pool of consciousness that can be worshipped in whatever form or name. God, in the sense of superconsciousness, lies dormant in the mind until awakened by enhanced awareness. There are parallels to be drawn between this God or superconsciousness and the untapped potential of the brain at 96%.
This is also an exciting time for Hinduism as neuroscientists are on the brink of demonstrating our fundamental oneness, through neuro-imaging. See V.S Ramchandran’s persuasive argument of how mirror neurons in our brains dissolve barriers between one and the other in ‘The Neurons that Shaped Civilization’ (www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0pwKzTRG5E?).
Hinduism, as I understand it, remains, a deeply liberal paradigm, embracing, and yet beyond, the notion of a God. As with all deep philosophies, it is a far cry from tribalistic reflexes.
The Bhagavad Gita, the holy song between Krishna, incarnation of Vishnu, and Arjuna, the ultimate archer or light warrior, on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, is part of the Hindu epic, The Mahabharata. The latter makes a profound exploration into the very significance of our human existence while recounting a feud between two dynasties of kings.
Dharma is a much more complex concept key to Hinduism and Buddhism but is generally translated as ‘the path of righteousness’.