Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Hindu Yoga as Seen in the Gita
The photo show a practitioner of Hatha Yoga involved in the Sun Salutation. A series of asanas (postures) which serve to welcome the return of the Sun -- the provider of light, warmth and energy.

When the average person thinks of Yoga, he/she believes it is a form of physical exercise. He may know its name, Hatha Yoga. Yet Hatha Yoga's purpose is not to make the practitioner a more perfect physical specimen, but to make his mind/body ready for other practices of morality, ethics, meditation ...that will lead to Yoga --- Union with God. Yoga means union. So Hatha Yoga is a tiny part of the vast system called Yoga.

In the Bhagavad Gita, one chapter of the Mahabharata -- one of the two Hindu epics -- God in the form of the avatar, Krishna, teaches Arjuna (who stands for us) the way to union with God. The Gita focuses on three of the most important yogas: Jnana (Wisdom), Bhakti ( Devotion), and
Karma (Service).

Jnana Yoga is making use of the mind and intellect to approach, and hopefully, attain union with Brahman (God). The Jnani Yogi aims to see behind and beyond the mind through the use of viveka (discrimination). In the words of the revered Sri Swami Sivananda: "Jnana is knowledge. To know Brahman as one's own Self is Jnana. To say, 'I am Brahman, the pure, all-pervading Consciousness, the non-enjoyer, non-doer and silent witness,' is Jnana. To behold the one Self everywhere is Jnana."
One technique commonly used is "neti, neti" -- "not this, not this". The student of Jnana Yoga dismisses each thought, image, concept, sound or sense distraction with
"not this, not this". Eventually he/she realizes, knows that Brahman is not any of these. One then, in a sense, moves backwards into the realization of Brahman -- the Absolute Reality which cannot be seen, heard, conceived or captured. This approach leads to dispassion by which the yogi should be able to detach oneself from all that is temporary --- all that is not Brahman. The Jnana yogi still, though is left with Everything since Brahman is the only Absolute Reality.

Some Jnana Yogis, like the great and highly regarded Ramana Maharshi recommended concentrating on asking the question, "Who Am I?" over and over again -- until one reaches the "knowing" of and union with Brahman.

The Gita depicts Jnana Yoga as the spiritual path for the few -- those of strong intellect and the discipline to use it with discimination and steady focus.

"Therefore, just keep thinking of me. Fix your entire mind on me. Continuously direct your discriminating intellect to consider who I am, and you will soon know that we are united forever; there is no doubt about it." (from The Gita)
Bhakti Yoga is recommended for most people who have a devotional soul, those for whom feelings and affection is easier to come by than intense mental focus. Christianity is basically a bhakti religion.

Within Hinduism -- Bhakti Yogis show their devotion and love usually to a personal form of the Absolute (Brahman) --- Krishna, Rama, the Divine Mother, Shiva, Ganesh. Jesus and Buddha can also be used. Devotion within Hinduism usually is expressed through chanting, prayer, singing of bhajans (spiritual songs) and japa -- reciting one of the names of God over and over again, frequently using a mala (beads, rosary) to keep count and to keep focused.

In Bhakti Yoga the devotee surrenders herself/himself completely to the Lord --- and thereby escapes the impediment to Union which is the Ego.

The Gita (Bhagavad Gita) emphasizes Bhakti in Chapter 12. For Example:
"On the other hand, those who being solely devoted to Me, and surrendering all actions to Me, worship Me - the manifest divine - constantly meditating on Me with single minded devotion; these O Arjuna I speedily rescue from the ocean of birth and death."

Karma Yoga
is a path which also will lead to union with God; however, instead of using devotional practices, or the discriminating use of a disciplined intellect --- it is the Yoga of service. The Karma Yoga considers everything he does as an offering to God. His everyday actions are performed because they are part of his "dharma" -- his duty-- however, she/he does not seek the fruits of these actions -- the fruits belong only to the Lord. Whether in a worldly sense his/her actions are "successful" is due entirely to God. It is the dedicated performance of duties that leads eventually to union with God. All of the yogi's actions are offerings or sacrifices to the Divinity. The yogi is -- in a sense -- indifferent to the results.

If a Karma Yogi is a businessman and works at developing his particular enterprise -- he does this because it is her/his role in life which God has proscribed for him/her --- not for fame, money, or possessions.
These belong to God.

(Some passages on Karma Yoga from The Gita)

"And if one has not developed the necessary self-discipline to practice yoga (e.g. Jnana/Bhakti) regularly, -- he can also attain perfection just by conscientiously dedicating all of his actions to me."

"As for you, do the work that comes to you -- but don't look for the results. Don't be motivated by the fruits of your actions. nor become attached to inaction."

"Whoever desires me above everything else, and (thus) completely devotes himself to me, and (thus) offers me all his actions, and (thus) sheds all personal (selfish) attachments and feelings of ill-will toward any other creature, that person surely comes to me."

There is another major form of Yoga, Raja Yoga, which many commentators/ scholars believe is also referred to in the Gita. This Yoga is the way of focusing the mind on a single "object" to achieve quietness -- and with continued practice -- will lead to union with God. The major Hindu scripture devoted to Raja Yoga is the great Yoga Sutras by Patanjali. In this book Patajali describes a complete form of Raja Yoga that includes morality, ethics, virtue as well as various stages of mental discipline.

(Quotations from The Gita are mostly by Swami Satchidananda)

Monday, June 09, 2008

Hindu Karma: No Escape from Cause and Effect

Karma is not Fate. This is a common but mistaken belief.

Karma is Action. Every action of a being capable of knowing right from wrong lays the seeds for the future. Good Karma paves the way for a happier life, especially one with a greater opportunity for union with God. Bad Karma's seeds will result in suffering and more difficulty in achieving liberation.

Humans, though, still have free will. Although, as I understand it, the wise exercise of free will will be easier for those with a greater amount of good Karma.

Karma is a form of cause and effect.

Some seeds of Karma will sprout in this life; some in one's future lives. Hindus, generally, believe in reincarnation. You cannot escape your Karmic residue through death. You continue on your rounds of birth and death -- until you learn the lesson of Dharma and Karma. Then upon death the atman, that drop of divinity which is the real "you" becomes one with the Ocean of Brahman.

God cannot excuse one's Karma or dilute it. (However, some segments of Hinduism may disagree with this, or so I've read.)

Karma is part of Dharma, part of the cosmic law which is part of the "body" of Brahman (God). For this reason, it seems as though Karmic effects would have to come to pass.

A popular way of defining Karma: What goes around, comes around.
Or as the Bible says: As you sow, so shall you reap.

Hinduism is enormously variegated and complex. This is just my attempt to give you a sense of the meaning of Karma.)

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Hindu Dharma ---- the Framework of the World

The word, "'dharma" is used in both Hinduism and Buddhism. Some meanings are similar and some are not.

Dharma within Hinduism is seen as the universal law that governs everything and everyone. The idea of dharma arose from the most ancient sacred scriptures of Hinduism or Santana Dharma. There were four Vedas, the most well known being the Rig-Veda. The four contain the bedrock of morality, religion, philosophy, ritual ... in present day Hindu life and belief. The four Vedas may have been gathered together around 1500 BCE, and, are, generally considered the oldest religious texts in continuous use. Somewhat later appeared the Upanishads and finally the Bhagavad Gita -- which ended those texts considered most authoritative and basic in the Hindu faith.

Dharma holds everything together. It is not so much a set of commandments as a word for the very nature of all existence. It is the "cosmic norm" --- which when deviated from brings unhappiness, instability, and malevolence. In Hinduism, especially in Vedanta --- Brahman, the Supreme Absolute is considered impersonal, but not in the sense Westerners might think. For example, Brahman is the essence of being, existence and bliss (satchidananda), but Brahman cannot be conceptualized. Therefore nothing we can say is what Brahman is. If we could do this --- Brahman would not be the Absolute.

Many Hindus do not believe the world was created as those of the three monotheisms of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam do. Reality --- the universe, the earth, sentient creatures -- are all Brahman. They all are expressions of Brahman, and, have no real self-identity. Some followers of Santana Dharma (Hinduism) consider that observable world as maya -- illusion. In reality it is Brahman. How could Brahman construct things, people, animals? All there is -- is Brahman. Brahman is All.

This universal framework, law "holds" or "sustains" the world and its beings. Dharma -- these ways of living, principles of ethics, qualities of compassion, wisdom and equanimity form a web that sustains stable, healthy, beneficent life. This dharma, IMO, is really a visible (to us) aspect of Brahman. Dharma is not Brahman's commandments or rules --- dharma is Brahman, Absolute Reality's Nature. This is why Dharma is absolute as Brahman is.

When a nation departs from Dharmic behavior and values, when man mistreats the natural world, when he shows cruelty and oppression ---- Dharma weakens and Adharma
becomes dominant. Adharma destroys harmony, creates conflict. Things begin to fall apart. Evil and misery become rampant.

To restore Dharma, Hindus believe, the Absolute "projects" or "emanates" avatars or incarnations of divinity -- at various times and places -- to lead mankind back to Dharma and restore order and harmony. Among these avatars, Hindus include Krishna and Rama, but many also regard Buddha and Jesus as avatars.

Another related meaning of Dharma is one's personal "Dharma" --- or the role that "God" wants you to play in the Divine Drama. Dharma in this sense is similar to "duty". The Bhagavad Gita says that it is better for one to fulfill his/her designated dharma imperfectly -- that that of another --- perfectly. This makes me wonder about all the persons we see from time to time on television talking about their plans for who they wany to be. If the actors in a play decided that they wanted to play someone else's part ---- it would be chaos.

Westerners are mostly centered in their egos. Hindu's believe that the ego is fundamentally an illusion. Oh, it may be relatively "real". The inner true reality of a person is the atman which can be thought of as the "soul" --- but for many Hindus it is a drop of divinity (Brahman) and upon one's death --- if one's karma permits --- the individual returns to the Ocean.