In a temple: Rituals vs. Devotion

If journalists are asked by their boss to visit a temple and find out whether attendants are performing a non-devotional ritual or an act of pure devotion, why would this task be scary for them? Because both events would probably be occurring simultaneously in the temple, and the answer would depend on the intention and desires present in the minds of the participants. While one person may be immersed in the selfless remembrance of the Deity during the ceremony, the other, a job hopper, may be performing the same ceremony for better opportunities. In fact, it takes an antaryami to actually differentiate between sakama karma and nishkama karma [1]. And the universe has only one true antaryami. But we mortals can still discuss the differences between devotion and a ritual to further our understanding.

Assume another similar real-world scenario, where a seeker goes to a nearby temple for worshipping the Deity everyday. But after continuing for a few days, the worship creates a sense of achievement in his mind. With some mutual admiration, the ego (ahamkara) darts off and the individual starts thinking that he, now closer to becoming a saint, is much superior to the people around him, especially the ones not present in the temple [2]. Would you classify this person’s actions as devotional? Wouldn’t directly requesting the Deity for material gains be preferable to this kind of worship?

Many modern intellectuals like to group selfish rituals and devotion (bhakti) together. As a result of their approach, Hindu devotionalism gets wrongly interpreted as being ritualistic. At the same time, the idea of this post is not to follow the experts who label “ritual” as an inferior word, for that would be another mistake. But it only aims to underline that devotion and rituals are not synonyms. What is the take home message? A ritual may be an expression of devotion, but devotion does not need any rituals.

 [1] Antaryami refers to the personality who knows the inner feelings of beings. Sakama karma refers to actions performed with a material desire; nishkama karma refers to selfless actions.
[2] Such phenomena are not limited to Hindu temples but can be observed in the places of worship of all world religions.

Feel free to share your views on rituals and devotion. Don’t hesitate if our views differ.

Defeating corruption

Hinduism, with its eternal focus on righteousness, the rich guidance it has continuously received from the self-realized, and the disciplined lifestyle that it supports, is the most equipped among world religions for combating corruption [1]. For individuals who wish to change, the scriptures that Hindus typically read everyday can provide sufficient self-help for developing rajasic and sattvic traits. For those who can no longer get on track on their own, Hinduism offers satsang, one’s ultimate hope for change.

What blocks the transformation of the corrupt people among us? Do they believe in God’s authority [2]? It appears that many of them would answer the second question in the affirmative. Probably, they too listen to discourses and memorize praise for God, just like many of the honest people do. Yet, for some reason or the lack of it, they seem to feel that they are faultless. This can be one of their biggest obstacles. While the corrupt would believe that they are goodness incarnate, a saint like Kabirdasa would feel that he or she has more flaws than anyone else in the world [3]. Our recognition of our own imperfections in action and thought, as opposed to a combination of egomania, greed and unkindness, allows our ethical and spiritual advancement.

While Hinduism, with the karmic law in place, has not been gentle towards the corrupt, the Hindu tradition offers a second chance to all the individuals who have realized their fault. To defeat corruption in the mind, we need to go beyond the label of being religious (or spiritual) and start assimilating the teachings of our chosen spiritual path [4].

[1] When we perceive Hinduism as Sanatana Dharma, saying that Hinduism can help us combat corruption becomes redundant because corruption does not exist when everyone follows dharma and performs his or her duties honestly.
[2] This blog does not intend to correlate atheism or one’s spiritual beliefs with morality.
[3] See Kabiradasa’s doha: “bura jo dekhan main chala, bura na milya…”
[4] A spiritual solution may not be practicable for everyone; defeating the shadripu (including greed) in the mind is more difficult than respecting the law.

Satsang

Satsang, meaning “companionship of the righteous,” is emphasized for spiritual aspirants of all levels….What is so important about worshipping together or interacting with other people who share the same interest in spirituality? First of all, it teaches us to connect to each other and to God in place of connecting to God alone. Connecting with each other for a righteous cause is an important lesson to be learned in life, for it gives us a foresight in dharma at a collective plane. Without this initial lesson, we may never develop the impressions for tolerance, peace, and “seeing God everywhere,” cultivation of which is compulsory for becoming a great soul. Satsang teaches us to keep our ego in check, for it promotes sharing of God’s love and prevents us from ignoring fellow humans under the excuse of spiritual evolution. It opens the gates for exchanging good wishes and blessings with fellow beings. In addition to making us more spiritual, satsang develops the wish to live with ethically gifted people. Thus, in the long run, this translates to an eternal wish of making our community a better place to live.

In a more traditional sense, satsang refers to the company of saints, who have God in their heart and continuously aspire for him.* It is believed that they can radiate positive or spiritual energy to our minds, and their presence can accelerate our spiritual progress, just like the company of the immoral can trigger our tamas instincts.

Excerpted from Devotional Hinduism by M.S. Goel (2008), p. 20.

*Note that satsang is a much wider term than listening to discourses (pravachan), though the two are often used as synonyms today.

Can humans claim to be incarnations of God?

Before you answer this question, let us look at a logically related but devotionally incorrect question: Why do Hindus worship Sri Rama and Sri Krishna? Try to select an answer from the following options:

  1. because they were extremely righteous in behavior
  2. because they protected their followers and the good people
  3. because they were flawless yogis
  4. because they were universal gurus
  5. for all these reasons
  6. for reasons not covered above

If you did not select Option 6 as your answer, please think again. Options 1-4 are not sufficient reasons for anyone’s being worshipped as Paramatma. While righteous individuals and our exceptional orators may be appreciated, they can not be considered Brahman, for only Brahman can be considered Brahman.

So why do Hindus worship Rama and Krishna? A correct answer would be, “Because Rama, who later appeared as Krishna, happens to be Purna Brahman.” And how do Hindus know this? The rishis and saints, through the power of their yoga, recognized the Divine’s incarnations and revealed his divine plays to fellow beings. While the rishis experienced Brahman ages ago, the bhakti saints saw him in very recent times. In other words, we do not worship Krishna because he established dharma on Earth; we worship him because he is the Supreme Soul, who established dharma on Earth.

Remember that the Absolute Truth does not change with time, and realizing him through his own guidance still remains the only focus of Hindu spirituality. So the next time someone on the street tells us that he is an incarnation of God (or Krishna), can we just believe him? Unfortunately, many of us do.

Last edited on March 28, 2019

Cows, India, and Compassion

In a story written by Munshi Premchand, an Indian peasant has to sell his cow, his sole possession, for money. In spite of financial hardship, he sells it to a Hindu at a lower price, not to a butcher. It appears true that if God gave cows a choice, they would choose to be brought up in a Hindu household or shelter. Even if they end up with a poor cowherd in India and have to sustain on leftover food, they would still die a natural death.

Besides compassion for all beings and support for vegetarianism, numerous devotional and cultural factors add to the reverence of Hindus for cows. Some of them are given below.

  1. Cows symbolize piousness and auspiciousness in Hinduism.
  2. Because cows are associated with Lord Krishna (known as Gopala) and Lord Shiva (known as Vrishabharudha) in the Epics and Puranas, respect for cows is linked to one’s devotion for Krishna and Shiva.
  3. Supporting cows is said to increase prosperity in homes by attracting the blessings of Goddess Lakshmi.
  4. Dairy products are offered in temples as prasadam and are used in fire sacrifices.
  5. As Mahatma Gandhi tells us, cow protection means protection of the “helpless and weak in the world.”
  6. Following the tradition set by Krishna, many Hindus see a cow as a mother.
  7. Many Vaishnavas would love to reach Goloka (“the planet of cows”) — the abode of Sri Krishna, where he lives with his devotees and divine cows.
  8. Killing a cow is ranked among the worst karma in Hinduism.
  9. While cows provide nutrition through their milk, their dung is a fertilizer and gomutra has medicinal value in Ayurveda.
  10. In Vedic Astrology, offering food to cows can propitiate afflicted planets in a chart. 

“Hindus will be judged not by their tilaks, not by the correct chanting of mantras, not by their pilgrimages, not by their most punctilious observances of caste rules but by their ability to protect the cow.” — Mahatma Gandhi