GEMS FROM THE OCEAN OF HINDU THOUGHT

VISION AND PRACTICE

 

BEACH 10: HINDUISM FOR THE NEXT GENERATION

 

 

Wave 3:Basics of Hindu Religious Worship

 

 

Hinduism is probably the most ancient religion alive today. We do not even know what it was known as in those ancient times. Actually we are talking about prehistoric times when we refer to the origins of Hinduism. The one thing we know for certain is that what the Hindus consider as their most sacred literature today, viz., the vedas, go back to those times. They have come down to us almost in the same form as they were then. This is one of the first mysteries that a student learns about Hinduism.

The Vedas, collectively constitute the scriptural authority for Hinduism. The language of the vedas is Sanskrit. In fact they were never written down by anybody. They came down from generation to generation by just word of mouth. They are recited and studied in a characteristically unique way with specific intonations and accents so that there could be no interpolation or deletion of the text by any one any time. (For more on this click here ).

The text has been preserved in the same form for as long as, probably five thousand years. The earliest time when they were put to writing was the early nineteenth century when western scholars brought out the printed version of the vedas directly from the recitations given by experts.

There are actually four such vedas. The smallest of them is about three to four times as big as the New Testament. These vedas constitute the oldest piece of recorded human experiences on earth. They talk about God, about Nature, about man, morality, the Ultimate Reality of life, what happens after death, the fight that goes on in oneís mental make-up between good and evil, rituals to propitiate gods of the heavens, manís duties to the gods of the cosmos, and so on. Finally, they contain long beautiful poems of praise of the Divine as well as several records of spiritual experiences by great thinkers called Rishis in ancient times. This last part is known by the special name of Upanishads. These are the most treasured philosophical treatises, discussions and discourses on fundamental matters of life and death, mind and soul, bondage and freedom. They analyze what is transient and ephemeral, what is permanent, what is the final truth and what is the purpose of life. Throughout, the one message that the Upanishads are never tired of repeating is: Man is essentially divine.(For more on Upanishads, click here)

During the period of the vedas as well as in later periods of Hinduism the one basic concept that has been universally accepted is the transmigratory career of manís soul. In other words manís soul travels from body to body in its journey of evolution. The central core of Hindu teaching is contained in this. Though man is basically divine, the divine is clothed in material external coverings and is camouflaged by the cloud of dirt accumulated by the mind. Mind clings to the soul in a subtle way throughout its transmigratory career. Mind is a nebulous thing which keeps on accumulating impressions, memories and habits of thinking. These constitute the vAsanAs of the mind or of the person to whom it clings for the moment.

The word ĎvAsanAí means smell. These vAsanAs are the ones which give the individual his mental personality even before his upbringing in this life starts having an impact on him. It is something over which you have no control, because it belongs to your past. This past determines your level of (spiritual) evolution as of now and also your tendencies for human behaviour. If they are bad, you have to contend with them and fight them. This is the meaning of karma theory.

 

As far as the future is concerned you are totally free to create new vAsanAs for yourself. But if you are going to be carried away by the already existing vAsanAs in your system and they happen to carry you into undesirable avenues, it is nobodyís fault except yourself. In this sense you are the architect of your fate. But in the sense that your tendencies are born with you and you have had no control with them when you were born, - as for instance, you did not choose your parents or your sex -- to that extent you are ruled by your fate. But again in the sense that even that fate of yours is a consequence of your own doing in your previous lives, no other force, earthly or heavenly, is to be blamed for that Ďfateí except the previous manifestations of yourself.

Another way of saying this is: The past controls and monitors you. The future is in your hands.

 

In manís journey to perfection, the ultimate aim is to shed off all these vAsanAs of the mind, so that the mind, in its pristine, unloaded crystalline purity may reflect the presence of Divinity, which the Vedas assure us, is there in every one of us. For this upward path to perfection, in addition to emphasizing certain basic virtues like humility, self-control and truth, like all other religions, Hinduism emphasizes two more, namely, non-violence and detachment. Onto Next page

 

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Copyright ©V. Krishnamurthy††† July 4, 2002