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Another unique feature of Hinduism is the fact that it conceives Divinity also as Mother Goddess. The concept of 'womanhood' in Indian culture is actually a concept of 'motherhood'. It is the all-suffering all-forbearing quality of the woman as mother that stands foremost. Listen to Swami Vivekananda:

Woman! Thou shalt not be coupled with anything connected with the flesh. The name has been called holy once and for ever, for what name is there which no lust can ever approach, no carnality ever come near, than the word mother? That is the ideal in India The one thing that fulfills womanhood, that is womanliness in woman is motherhood. That according to the Hindu mind, is the great mission of woman - to become a mother.

It is only in Hinduism that we see the Ultimate Power being also expressed in feminine terms. It must be said to the credit of the Upanishadic seers that they categorically asserted that Real Godhead has to transcend a gender-specific connotation and invented therefore the unique word 'tat' - meaning, 'that' - for that Divinity. And therefore, they argued, whatever reason or rhyme we have in referring to God by a masculine pronoun, the same right there is for us to call God by a feminine pronoun. In fact Hinduism goes further. It conceives the energy of every cosmic Divinity as feminine and thus arrives at the interesting concept of primordial Power, technically named as Para-sakti. When we thus talk of the Energy of the Ultimate Supreme it looks as if we have already stepped down from the supreme pedestal of the Unmanifested Ultimate. But the beauty of Hindu philosophy is that this Para-sakti Herself is transcendent beyond anything that is finite and immanent in everything there is. While Brahman can only be cognised, Para-sakti can be worshipped with a form and a name. She is the Divine Will personified. She is the Conscious Power behind everything. She is the Presence, invisible and constant, which sustains the world, linking form and name, holding them in interdependence. There is nothing impossible for Her. She is the Universal Goddess. She is all knowledge, all strength, all triumph and all victory. She is in fact the Mother of the Universe. She is Durga, the Goddess of supreme strength. She is Lakshmi the supreme Goddess of Love and Delight. She is Saraswati the Goddess of divine skill and knowledge. You may worship Her as a Goddess with form and attributes or you may imagine that Energy to be abstract and therefore has to be only cognised and felt in your bones. In one case She is adored as one of several forms resplendent in the numerous temples with any one of Her more than thousand names. And in the other case She is the Kundalini Sakti who is present as the dormant energy in every one of us.

Another traditional way in which the Mother Goddess worship manifests itself is the worship of the cow. There are great religious obligations in respect of the cow, on which the economy of the country is based. Ancient tradition very thoughtfully developed certain practices - which are disappearing because of the modern craze for urbanisation of everything - to be observed in every household that will provide good care of the cows. All kitchen garbage like plantain leaves, skins of all fruits and vegetables, water that has been used for washing rice and after boiling rice, -- all these used to be kept neatly and hygienically, thus providing good fodder for the cows in the house almost at no cost. Since the family, and not the individual, is considered in Hindu codes of ethics as the basic unit for all purposes, the entire economy of the society was based on the concept of rearing and nurturing every member (young or old) of the family including a cow, In fact the cow worship may be considered as a perfect blend of science and spirituality. The cow dung and cow urine should go back to the earth. This is an ecological requirement. There is enough evidence to show the capability of cowdung coated walls to prevent nuclear radiation. Mother Goddess is said to reside at the hind part of the cow. The worship of the cow is equivalent to the worship of Lakshmi, the Goddess of prosperity. Cow slaughter is therefore considered as one of the greatest of sins.

The concept of Avatar or Divine descent is the unmatched prerogative of Hinduism among all religions. In the long mythological history of the Indian nation and also in its historical past, there have been many occasions when the Absolute Godhead chose to manifest itself in flesh and blood, as a living presence, for the purpose of either putting an end to rank cruelty, hatred and wickedness, arrogance of muscle power or spiritual power or for the purpose of showering Divine Grace on a superhuman devotee and spreading of the air of spirituality. Each one of these manifestations is a voluntary and planned descent from the absolute pedestal of the nameless and formless God. Such a descent, where the Perfect Godhead assumes an imperfection, as it were, to raise us imperfect humans towards the path of Perfection, is called an Avatar. It is only by God's own Grace that we may recognise His own Avatar. We should feel honoured and doubly blessed if, in addition, we can enjoy His beatific presence. The two most sacredly held avatars are those of Rama and Krishna. The manifestation as Rama is a central thread in the vast fabric of Hinduism just as Resurrection is the central kingpin of Christianity. Rama and Jesus had many things in common. Both were a great colossus of humility without the least shade of arrogance. Both undertook suffering on themselves for the sake of humanity. Jesus died on the Cross so that humanity may be saved for God. Rama lived a life of truth, compassion and virtue throughout his long life and showed to the world how we must not only be prepared to sacrifice but in reality renounce every attachment to ourselves, for the happiness of the rest of the world.

The Avatar of Krishna happened five thousand years ago in the city of Mathura in North India. Again it was the same reason: Protection of the virtuous and destruction of the wicked. Krishna's story has several parallels with the life of Jesus. The birth itself was a miracle. And in his life he performed miracle after miracle, almost for the asking. Krishna's life is in another sense most important for Hinduism because He condensed all the truths and philosophy of the ancient religion in 700 simple verses and taught it directly to one of the most well-known characters in the history of Hinduism, namely, Arjuna of the Mahabharata. This teaching is called the Bhagavad-gita, the Song of the Lord or the Divine Song or Poem. In fact for those who cannot go back to the entire vedas to understand Hinduism, the Gita has everything in it. It is very much relevant even in the modern context. The final teaching of the Gita is:

Do your work in an unselfish way.

Even if your duty leads you on to do apparently unjustifiable things, place the burden on God and do your duty.

Do not keep on worrying about what is going to happen in the future.

Have faith in the ultimate Divinity of every being.

Love and serve every being.

Each being has the same divinity in them as what you have in you.

If you serve God and humanity with humility and surrender to the Will of God you have nothing to fear either in this life or in the after-life.

Never be carried away by the transient ups and downs of everyday life.

And leave the problem of your Salvation to God. He will take care of it.

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Copyright. V. Krishnamurthy October 12, 2000