Sinner or Divinity?
While some faiths view man as sinful by nature, Hinduism holds that our inmost self is the divine and taintless soul, or atma.
By Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami
This is one of the themes I talked about with Hindus in the Caribbean in August of 2011. I was told in Trinidad last year that this message--"You are a sinner in need of redemption"--is being promoted strongly in an effort to convert Hindus. I am often asked, "What should we say when confronted with this argument by strong-willed evangelists? What is the Hindu view?" Let's explore three quotations from prominent swamis to define our perspective.
The first is from Swami Vivekananda's address to the World's Parliament of Religions in 1893, in the bold manner in which he affirmed truth as he saw it: "Being and becoming are different aspects of the same reality and are only relative to our intelligence. Man has the promise and potentiality of divine realization, of spiritual perfection, and therefore is God in the making; for even his humanity is intelligible only if regarded as an individualized self-expression of God. It is derogatory to human nature, therefore, to attribute sin to man. Besides, God being the sole and supreme Reality, how could a foreign element like sin invade the sanctuary of being? The Hindus refuse to call you sinners. Ye, divinities on earth, sinners? It is a sin to call man so! It is a standing libel on human nature."
Swami Chinmayananda, founder of Chinmaya Mission, explained: "Man is essentially divine. But the divinity in him is veiled by the unbroken series of desires and thoughts arising in his bosom. A variety of these grades and concentration of these create the variety of human beings. To remove the encrustation of desires and thoughts, and unfold the divinity inherent in man, is the ultimate goal envisaged by the scriptures."
Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, my Gurudeva and founder of Hinduism Today, gave a succinct description of our divine nature: "Deep inside we are perfect this very moment, and we have only to discover and live up to this perfection to be whole. We have taken birth in a physical body to grow and evolve into our divine potential. We are inwardly already one with God. Our religion contains the knowledge of how to realize this oneness and not create unwanted experiences along the way."
These opposite perspectives on man's nature--sinner and divinity--were candidly juxtaposed during a 2012 interfaith panel discussion in Midland, Texas, at which I represented Hinduism. The issue arose as clergy from five faiths responded to the question "In your faith, is humanity considered a one family?"
My answer was: "The Hindu belief that gives rise to tolerance of differences in race and nationality is that all of mankind is good; we are all divine beings, souls created by God. Hindus do not accept the concept that some individuals are evil and others are good. Hindus believe that each individual is a soul, a divine being, who is inherently good. Scriptures tell us that each soul is emanated from God, as a spark from a fire, beginning a spiritual journey which eventually leads back to God. All human beings are on this journey, whether they realize it or not."
The next speaker, Dr. Randel Everett of the Baptist Christian faith, put forth a distinctly different perspective. "The idea of the oneness of humanity--this is where Christianity would differ from some of the religions. We do believe in the oneness of humanity but that the oneness of humanity is that we are a fallen people. We do not believe that we are inherently good. We believe we are inherently selfish and self-centered, and that's why we need to be rescued or redeemed--that Christ rescues us from the domain of darkness."
Looking more closely at the Hindu belief that man is not inherently sinful--rather, the essence of man is divine and perfect--a further question arises: "What is the Hindu view of sin?" Gurudeva responds in Dancing with Siva: "Instead of seeing good and evil in the world, we understand the nature of the embodied soul in three interrelated parts: instinctive or physical-emotional; intellectual or mental; and superconscious or spiritual.... When the outer, or lower, instinctive nature dominates, one is prone to anger, fear, greed, jealousy, hatred and backbiting. When the intellect is prominent, arrogance and analytical thinking preside. When the superconscious soul comes forth, the refined qualities are born--compassion, insight, modesty and the others. The animal instincts of the young soul are strong. The intellect, yet to be developed, is nonexistent to control these strong instinctive impulses. When the intellect is developed, the instinctive nature subsides. When the soul unfolds and overshadows the well-developed intellect, this mental harness is loosened and removed."
This understanding of man's three-fold nature--instinctive, intellectual and spiritual--explains why people act in ways that are clearly not divine, such as becoming angry and harming others. There is more to man than his essence or inner nature. We also have an outer nature. However, man's actions, whether beneficial or harmful, sinful or divine, are all expressions of a one energy. That energy finds expression through the chakras, fourteen centers of consciousness within our subtle bodies.
Many of us have seen the system for water usage at temples in India: a long pipe with faucets along its length from which many people draw water to wash their hands and feet before entering the temple. That's a nice analogy to energy and the chakras. Our subtle body is like a pipe with fourteen spigots. Water is water; it can come out of any of the spigots. It's still water. Energy can come out through any of our chakras; it's still energy.
Energy flowing through the higher chakras expresses the superconscious or spiritual nature. How do we control or direct our energy to keep it flowing through the higher chakras? Gurudeva used to say, "Energy goes where awareness flows." We control our energies through consistent meditation and devotional activities in the home shrine, chanting, performing puja, attending puja and going to the temple on a regular basis. Listening to and playing refined music and performing traditional dance and other creative arts are also ways of channeling the energies through the higher chakras.
Our regular activities determine how our energy flows. If we are engaged in spiritual pursuits, occasionally we might get up to the chakra of divine love. And hopefully we frequent the chakra of direct cognition, in which we are able to look down on our mind and understand what we like and don't like about ourselves, and work steadily to change what we don't. And we get into the chakra of willpower. These are the qualities we tend to manifest if we are engaged in regular spiritual/religious activities.
If we are not elevating the energies, we are just living an ordinary life in the force centers of willpower, reason, memory, maybe fear and occasionally anger. If we see the flow of energy impersonally, then we can control it through the activities we choose to engage in.
I like to say that we have an inner perfection and an outer imperfection. We can take heart in identifying more with the inner perfection, our soul nature, and realize the outer has its problems, which we can work on--and that is the purpose of our life on earth, to work on ourselves, to learn, evolve and ultimately know God. With this attitude, born of the belief in our divinity, we are more detached from our shortcomings and difficulties. It's just energy flowing through our various chakras, more water flowing through one spigot or another. It is not who we are. We realize that we can control that energy flow. "Which spigot shall I turn on today? How do I want my energy to flow? Which negative habit do I want to improve today?" It all becomes easier to tackle because we look at it in an impersonal way.
The concept of the fourteen chakras can help us put our failings into perspective so that we do not become discouraged by them. Shortcomings, such as occasionally being hurtful toward others, do not at all change the fact that our essence is divine. We can deepen our experience of inner divinity and overcome shortcomings by consistently following the various practices found in the Hindu religion. When we feel good about ourselves, we can more readily identify negative patterns and change them. If we have a negative concept of our self, believing that we are inherently flawed and sinful, we are not in such a good position to advance on the spiritual path. And one thing we can all feel good about is that Hinduism assures us not only that we are not sinners, but that every human being, without exception, is destined to achieve spiritual enlightenment and liberation.
Quotes and Quips
Greatness is not what we do, but how we do what we do. Swami Chinmayananda (1916-1993), Vedantist lecturer and founder of Chinmaya Mission
There is nothing higher than dharma. Verily, that which is dharma is truth. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.14
As the body needs food to survive and grow, the soul needs love. Love instills a strength and vitality that even mother's milk cannot provide. All of us live and long for real love. We are born and die searching for such love. Children, love each other and unite in pure love. Mata Amritanandamayi, Kerala-based hugging saint and Hinduism Today's Hindu of the Year 1993
Thou art nothing, O man, but enchanted Being, and His ever-enchanting, ever-beloved Energy. Siva-Shakti is thy name--even as it is the name of all things. Now, the nature of Shakti is rasa. It is juicy, tasteful, and beauteous, infinitely and forever. This is the basic theory of Indian culture, the fundamental justification of India's arts and her literature, her aspirations and achievements, her life and her actions. And today her renaissance means her return to this fundamental doctrine of life. Subrahmanya Bharati (1882-1921), Tamil poet
Japa, austerities, observances, pilgrimage, sacrifice, charity--all these become a mere waste without understanding the guru tattva. Kularnava Tantra 24
The Higgs Boson walks into a Catholic church. The priest says, "What are you doing here?" HB says, "You can't have mass without me." A tweet from Brian Malow, the Science Comedian
The value of a man should be seen in what he gives and not in what he is able to receive. Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
Self inquiry directly leads to Realization by removing the obstacles which make you think that the Self is not already realized. Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950)
It is mind-boggling to consider that we have available to us a language which has been spoken for 4,000-7,000 years that appears to be in every respect a perfect language designed for enlightened communication. But the most stunning aspect of the discovery is this: NASA, the most advanced research center in the world for cutting-edge technology, has discovered that Sanskrit, the world's oldest spiritual language, is the only unambiguous spoken language on the planet. Considering Sanskrit's status as a spiritual language, a further implication of this discovery is that the age-old dichotomy between religion and science is an entirely unjustified one. Rick Briggs, senior research scientist with NASA, writing in AI Magazine, Spring 1985
Don't be arrogant, because arrogance kills curiosity and passion. Mina Bissell, biologist at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory
Monks work, too. They are in the business of Isness.
When we think about someone, we're sending a thought form to that person, and that thought form is affecting them. If it is a positive, uplifting thought, it affects them in a positive, uplifting way. If it is a critical thought, it affects them in a negative way. Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami, publisher of Hinduism Today
When we encounter wickedness in others, let us be compassionate, for truly there is no intrinsic evil. Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami (1927-2001)
Did You Know?
Surgery Was Used In Ancient BharatWhile India's traditional medical system, ayurveda, is strong in balancing the body, maintaining health and preventing disease, Western medicine today excels at repairing the body when serious injury occurs. It seems both approaches are necessary in our lives, and it turns out this is not a new idea in India. As far back as 600 bce, Mother India laid claim not only to sophisticated preventive medicine, but to advanced surgery as well.
One of the best-known medical texts from this time period is the Sushruta Samhita, by the eponymous acharya who is widely regarded as the father of Indian surgery. In his detailed work, Acharya Sushruta describes 300 types of operations, including treatment for twelve types of fractures and six types of dislocations. He used 125 surgical instruments--scalpels, lancets, needles and more--mostly crafted from the jaws of animals and birds. Also mentioned are a number of stitching methods, using horse hair or tree bark fibers as thread. He also details amputation, rhinoplasty, Caesarean and cranial surgeries.
The widely recognized wisdom of ayurveda and the lesser-known work of Acharya Sushruta have shed light on the fact that ancient India was far ahead of her time in the understanding of the human body, its care and repair.
Basics of Hinduism
Devotional SingingThe expression of bhakti, or devotion, through song is a central practice in Hinduism, dating back untold millennia. Awakening love in the heart, devotional singing and chanting by oneself or in a group celebrates and worships God, the Gods and one's guru and opens oneself up to their divine grace. Many Hindus sing bhajans daily before their home shrine as part of a morning religious vigil, setting a spiritual tone for the day, or during evening devotional practices, carrying them to celestial realms during sleep. In most ashrams, the daily routine of worship includes group chanting of bhajans or a practice called kirtan, which includes dancing.
Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami wrote, "These hymns are actually heard by the subtle beings. Devas in the Second World come, hover around and near us and rejoice in our singing. If we are deeply devoted and inspired, then even the Mahadevas of the Third World will hover above the devas in their magnificent bodies of light, showering blessings to those who are singing or chanting prayerfully. You may not be able to see these subtle beings, but you can feel their presence, feel a holy atmosphere around you."
I'll wreathe Him in garlands. I'll hug Him to heart. I'll sing Him His name and dance with gifts of flowers. Singing and dancing, seek the Lord. This alone I know. Tirumantiram
Hinduism in BaliI would like to convey to Mr. Rajiv Malik and all the Swamis of Hinduism Today my sincere and deepest thanks for presenting such nice articles, which touch the soul and often point us in positive directions. I loved reading about Hindu schools in Bali ("Bali, Land of Offerings," Apr/May/Jun 2012), and I asked myself why in Mauritius, with a population that is more than 50% Hindu, do we not have a school, primary and secondary, to promote Hinduism--in all senses: cultural, economic, social, spiritual and intellectual. We are suffering from its absence as our youth are being drowned in Western culture by all media. All your hard work is really appreciated.
mougam _@_ intnet.mu
The revival of Hinduism in Indonesia is a great story. Such a revival should occur in Afghanistan and Pakistan. All of non-Arab Asia is the great Hindu world, from Iran to Indonesia, Mongolia to Australia, including all the "stans" of Central Asia and the Buddhist Far-East of China, Japan and Korea.
Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India
srwakankar _@_ gmail.com
Mr. Rajiv Malik has been kind enough to courier me the Apr/May/Jun 2012 edition of Hinduism Today, carrying the article on Bali and many more. The magazine on the whole is beautiful, well made, carrying a treasure of information on various subjects on Hinduism. It takes us on a virtual trip to Bali through a journey of words and rich visual images. It is the home away from home for Hindus. Written through the eyes of Rajiv Malik, giving a highly personalized 12-day account of his experiences that definitely endears the land to the reader, it offers deep insight into the sights, sounds, cultures, colors, lifestyles, beliefs and what keeps the people of Bali going.
The magazine carries varied articles, including those that provide spiritual learning, imparting knowledge to the uninitiated as well as enhancing the knowledge of those who are learned. Words of wisdom from the spiritual gurus are conveyed through their quotes. There is an account of the traditions and customs of the Hindu wedding ceremony, how the tradition has been kept intact, replete with its ancient sanctity.
Bali's tradition and historicity is brought to life through the description of its art and dances. The issue is an eye-opener for the world as it lends a peek into this hidden beauty. In a world torn with political strife and religious intolerance, Bali stands out as an example of unity and peace, where its people live in utter harmony and with respect for each other. The issue has presented a holistic view of Bali--historically, geographically, culturally and spiritually. It is a must-read for every travel enthusiast and a true gem as a collector's edition, a true collector's treasure trove, priceless to those who know its value.
Theresa T.P. Pandey
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
theresa _@_ tacovisions.com
Siva's Five PowersThe Jul/Aug/Sep 2012 edition is really wonderful, especially "Siva's Five Powers" and "Which Yoga Should I Follow" by Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami. The information on the 15th World Sanskrit Conference was extremely useful. At the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple in Maryland, we have been teaching Sanskrit for a few years, and now some of the students have started teaching in their homes and other places. The article on the Supreme Court ruling is a must-read for all temples and Hindu organizations in the US. Thank you so much for publishing these varied, informative articles as part of Hinduism Today, and please continue this service for years to come.
Lanham, Maryland, USA
doc4baby _@_ aol.com
I am still vibrating to the tone of "Siva's Five Powers." Amazing is all I can say. Thank you for such a magical, mystical, meditative experience. Now I am dreaming of Pieter's paintings on the walls and ceiling of my shrine room!
Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
pranavam _@_ templebuilder.net
Gay MarriageI read with interest the article, "One Hindu's Take on Gay Marriage" (Jul/Aug/Sep, 2012). Same-sex marriage is a social and legal issue, not a religious issue, in the context of the Minnesota state constitutional amendment the author is referring to. Therefore, all the Hinduism-based arguments that he uses to support gay marriage are irrelevant. Of course, homosexuals must be acknowledged and treated with fairness, respect, honor and dignity. But I don't see any reason to redefine marriage, which has always been defined in all the societies of the world for thousands of years as "the formal union of a man and a woman, typically recognized by law, by which they become husband and wife."
Detroit, Michigan, USA
pradeepscool _@_ hotmail.com
Embracing Hinduism, My WayApoorva Murthy's "Embracing Hinduism My Way" (Jul/Aug/Sep 2012) put on paper the feeling I myself harbor. The constant questioning and the reluctance to accept certain beliefs that she speaks of define my own relationship with Hinduism, and I, too, am working to overcome these unnecessary approaches in my own way. My generation, the students just beginning college and getting a taste of the real world, will benefit greatly from the realization that skepticism when it comes to Hinduism is unwarranted.
Plantation, Florida, USA
faren.rajkumar _@_ gmail.com
Hinduism in Early RussiaReferring to your article "Hinduism in Early Russia" (Jul/Aug/Sep 2012), the name "Russia" is only about 300 years old. The czar Peter the Great changed the name of his kingdom of Moscowia (the city of Moscow is less than 900 years old) to Russia after conquering the medieval polity of Kievan Rus. The claim that the town of Starya Maina is 1,700 years old thus puts it beyond the histories of Rus and Russia. Of note is that Kievan Rus had as its symbol the trident of Siva, and almost all languages of Europe are Indo-European, though historical records do not connect India and Europe.
Raiford, Florida, USA
Government-Run TemplesWith reference to the article "Protest Against Move to Convert Temple Hall" (Hindu Press International, May 4, 2012), please note that not only Hindu temples, but the administration of several Jain temples have been taken over by bureaucratic state governments. I agree that other than Hindu and Jain temples, other faiths' places of worship are free to manage themselves, even though they may also engage in questionable administration practices--but the governments don't dare disturb!
Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
4prakash _@_ gmail.com
Holst's Hindu StudiesFellow readers might be interested in a review in The New York Times of May 11, 2012, by Zachary Woolfe of a performance of the opera "Savitri," written by the early 20th century British composer Gustav Holst. Holst is best known for his symphonic suite "The Planets," which reflects his long and deep study of astrology. But Holst was also very interested in Hinduism. He secured university tutoring to study Sanskrit and made a number of Sanskrit-to-English translations. Besides "Savitri," which is based on a story from the Mahabharata, he wrote another opera, "Sita," based on the Ramayana, wrote choral settings for verses he translated from the Rig Veda and produced two pieces based on the works of Kalidas. The review of "Savitri" may be accessed at bit.ly/holst-savitri.
Brooklyn, New York, USA
edwin.smith3 _@_ verizon.net
Transferring of Temple LandsReferring to the story "State Restores 468 Acres of Temple Land" (Hindu Press International, May 24, 2012), I thought it would interest readers to know that transfers of temple land to private individuals has also happened at Puthur Siva Temple in Perintalmanna, Mallapuram District, Kerala. This ancient Siva temple was so rich once upon a time. You must go there to see how powerful it is.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
lalitae74 _@_ hotmail.com
Kuttuvilakkus Come in PairsRecently I bought What Is Hinduism? and and have been looking through the pictures in the book. I would like to express an opinion regarding the painting on page 182, in the chapter "The Home Shrine." There is only one kuttuvilakku (standing oil lamp) in the shrine. Traditionally two kuttuvilakkus are placed by a shrine on all auspicious occasions. In Sri Lanka, one lamp is only placed near the head of the deceased at a funeral.
oketheeb _@_ hotmail.com
Dropped MurtiLast pradosha in the Ramalingeshwara Temple in Bangsar, Malaysia, an arrogant priest dropped a Siva statue and it broke in two in front of a crowd of about 200 people. Looking afraid, the priest quickly tied a string around the murti, covered it with flowers and proceeded with the prayers. Were his actions appropriate?
Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Malaysia
drroseliasimon _@_ yahoo.in
Putting First Things First
How to discover who we are and what really mattersIn 1980, Subhash Choudhary arrived from India and soon found himself in a US high school. The sense of dislocation drove him to ponder the great questions: "Who am I? What does it mean to be a Hindu?..." Three years later, he found Hinduism Today: "One of the best things that ever happened to me," he explains. "Here were my answers and a wealth of understanding. I still read the magazine today. It helps keep clarity of mind and gives the strength to recognize the right thing to do."
By 2003, Subhash had become a Vice President at Xerox. Everything was going well except that he worked long hours away from home. "I began to ache at seeing my boys growing up without me, and I feared I would lose them." After much introspection and many family meetings, it all became clear and Subhash made his decision. He turned his back on the bright career and turned to what really mattered: "my family and my faith--my passion."
Today, he works reasonable hours as a consultant and spends his spare time sharing his inspiration with his boys and teaching and promoting Hinduism at every opportunity. With copies of Hinduism Today ever in his briefcase, Subhash is ready to share with youngsters, parents, teachers and whoever shows interest.
Over the last 13 years, Mr. and Mrs. Choudhary have donated regularly to the Hinduism Today Production Fund, which is a part of Hindu Heritage Endowment. And they have included the fund in their estate plan. "We cannot say enough good things about Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, who had the vision to launch the magazine that would answer our greatest needs so perfectly. We want it to continue to grow and give Hindus everywhere knowledge of their heritage, and the knowledge of who they are--and show Hinduism to the whole world as the remarkable model of sustainability and continuity that it is. We do not know of a greater or purer cause, and feel privileged to be a small part of it."
Om Tat Sat
(My humble salutations to Sadguru Sri Sivaya Subramuniyaswami ji, Satguru Bodhianatha Velayanswami ji, Hinduism Today for the collection)
(The Blog is reverently for all the seekers of truth, lovers of wisdom and to share the Hindu Dharma with others on the spiritual path and also this is purely a non-commercial blog)