Hinduism and Dharma: The Distinction between a Religion and a Way of Life.

(I am republishing the answers that I wrote in Quora about Hinduism. This is a complete guide to Hinduism. It is a collection of multiple answers posted in a single page. So it is very long. You can bookmark this page so that you can take your time in reading it.)

1.Is Hinduism monotheism or polytheism or considered both?

In my recent answers, I have been writing about Hinduism a lot but I noticed that the answers get a low visibility and agreement. I also kind of discovered the reason. I have been using the word Hinduism to mean something called ‘dharma’.

But people use the word Hinduism to mean a colonial version of system based on the modern concept of religion, which did not exist 300 years before. Yes, there is a difference between religion in general and the modern concept of religion.

So based on this, let me make a clear distinction between Hinduism and dharma. Hinduism is about 300 years old, the youngest religion in the planet, but the dharma that I am talking about has existed since time immemorial. Some use the term sanatana dharma; but I don’t like to use it because dharma includes both eternal laws and the rules and moral codes which keep changing.

Also, this dharma that I am talking about is universal, even though most of it developed in Indian subcontinent.

TLDR: Hinduism is polytheistic; the elements of this polytheistic religion is very old, even though Hinduism itself is a concept that is just 300 years old. But the dharma I am talking about is not polytheistic; but it has absorbed various polytheistic elements as a part of its iconography, seeing everything as the extensions or rays of one supreme reality.

Moreover, Hinduism is based on identity. The more Hindu you are, the more intolerant you will be towards Muslims and Christians. Politics can feed this fanaticism and can tempt you to be too defensive and sensitive towards this identity. You need a constant ego gratification that sees how barbaric other religions are, so that your own identity as Hindu seems better. So you will try to copy the concepts from other religions like conversion, blasphemy, seeing nudity as a taboo etc. There will be a constant temptation to keep the Hindu superiority alive and you can easily do that by constantly pointing out how worse other religions are.

In fact, to be a Hindu, all you need to do is to be born as a Hindu parent. You can prove yourself as a devout Hindu by constantly bragging about this identity. But to follow the dharma I am talking about, you need to apply it in thoughts, speech and action.

First, let us establish that this modern concept of religion is a recent invention:

Here is the excerpt from Wikipedia:

The modern concept of religion, as an abstraction that entails distinct sets of beliefs or doctrines, is a recent invention in the English language. Such usage began with texts from the 17th century due to events such the splitting of Christendom during the Protestant Reformation and globalization in the age of exploration, which involved contact with numerous foreign cultures with non-European languages.[22][23][27] Some argue that regardless of its definition, it is not appropriate to apply the term religion to non-Western cultures.[28][29] Others argue that using religion on non-Western cultures distorts what people do and believe.[30]

The concept of religion was formed in the 16th and 17th centuries,[31][32] despite the fact that ancient sacred texts like the Bible, the Quran, and others did not have a word or even a concept of religion in the original languages and neither did the people or the cultures in which these sacred texts were written.[33][34]

For example, there is no precise equivalent of religion in Hebrew, and Judaism does not distinguish clearly between religious, national, racial, or ethnic identities.[35] One of its central concepts is halakha, meaning the walk or path sometimes translated as law, which guides religious practice and belief and many aspects of daily life.[36] Even though the beliefs and traditions of Judaism are found in the ancient world, ancient Jews saw Jewish identity as being about an ethnic or national identity and did not entail a compulsory belief system or regulated rituals.[37] Even in the 1st century CE, Josephus had used the Greek term ioudaismos, which some translate as Judaism today, even though he used it as an ethnic term, not one linked to modern abstract concepts of religion as a set of beliefs.[2] It was in the 19th century that Jews began to see their ancestral culture as a religion analogous to Christianity.[37] The Greek word threskeia, which was used by Greek writers such as Herodotus and Josephus, is found in the New Testament. Threskeia is sometimes translated as religion in today’s translations, however, the term was understood as worship well into the medieval period.[2] In the Quran, the Arabic word din is often translated as religion in modern translations, but up to the mid-1600s translators expressed din as law.[2]

The Sanskrit word dharma, sometimes translated as religion, also means law. Throughout classical South Asia, the study of law consisted of concepts such as penance through piety and ceremonial as well as practical traditions. Medieval Japan at first had a similar union between imperial law and universal or Buddha law, but these later became independent sources of power.[38][39]

Throughout the Americas, Native Americans never had a concept of “religion” and any suggestion otherwise is a colonial imposition by Christians.[40]

Though traditions, sacred texts, and practices have existed throughout time, most cultures did not align with Western conceptions of religion since they did not separate everyday life from the sacred. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the terms Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, and world religions first entered the English language.[41][42][43] No one self-identified as a Hindu or Buddhist or other similar terms before the 1800s.[44] “Hindu” has historically been used as a geographical, cultural, and later religious identifier for people indigenous to the Indian subcontinent.[45][46] Throughout its long history, Japan had no concept of religion since there was no corresponding Japanese word, nor anything close to its meaning, but when American warships appeared off the coast of Japan in 1853 and forced the Japanese government to sign treaties demanding, among other things, freedom of religion, the country had to contend with this Western idea.[47][48]

According to the philologist Max Müller in the 19th century, the root of the English word religion, the Latin religio, was originally used to mean only reverence for God or the gods, careful pondering of divine things, piety (which Cicero further derived to mean diligence).[49][50] Max Müller characterized many other cultures around the world, including Egypt, Persia, and India, as having a similar power structure at this point in history. What is called ancient religion today, they would have only called law.[51][1].

The reason why a modern concept of religion developed:

The modern concept of religion developed to help European kings distinguish their power from that of church authorities. It was created to limit the power of the church. So life was segregated into religious and secular spheres. This segregation was not found in many other parts of the world.[1]

It is true that Hinduism doesn’t have a founder; it has founders; And most of them were British.

Before 300 years, no one identified oneself as a Hindu. There have been little intolerance between various schools of thought in India but that was not based on any identity. Most importantly, there was no ‘Hindu’ identity.

But Hinduism is actually an identity. Since this idea of Hindu identity is being constantly enforced by the society, politics and media, we are stuck in the world of comparison. Now it is natural that people feel an illogical responsibility to save their identity or Hinduism.

What is Dharma then?

Dharma is a way of living. It is not only about living ethically but to attain ultimate fulfilment and bliss in life through self-realization or God realization. Everything including Upanishads, epics, agamas, puranas serve as a means to direct you towards Moksha or ultimate liberation. The significance of moksha is Jivanmukti, or being able to live completely free from psychological suffering and psychological bondage; this can happen while living!

There are four goals in dharma:

  1. Dharma itself is a goal. It includes both the natural laws that govern the universe and ethical laws that govern people. More importantly, dharma includes instructions for attaining moksha or liberation.
  2. Artha – You don’t have to renounce the world for liberation. You are free to enjoy sufficient wealth.
  3. Kama – Pleasures are also not denied.
  4. Moksha – Dharma and moksha are mandatory in the path of dharma; acquiring wealth and pleasure is optional. It is typical for some people to have no attachment from both of these from the beginning and they tend to take sannyas earlier or just live as a bachelor.

In order to walk towards attaining God or liberation, dharma gives you three methods which can be combined in one’s life:

  1. Karma: Doing one’s duties while working on developing non-attachment to the fruits of action is karma yoga. Karma yoga involves choosing a way of living that suits your abilities and personality or svadharma. You as a person have certain obligations like make a good living and taking care of your family. But trying to do it with a sense of surrender and non-attachment prepares a person for self-realization and Moksha.
  2. Bhakti: Unconditional love towards one supreme God. Love and surrender cannot happen in a polytheistic religion. You cannot surrender to two different things. Dharma is a form of monism which considers Brahman as the ultimate reality and the essence of everything. But this Nirguna Brahman that is without attributes can be personified as Saguna Brahman or a God with a form. But unless it is monotheistic devotion, bhakti won’t make any sense. You are free to choose a specific form for bhakti. Bhakti also purifies one’s mind and prepares a person for self-realization and Moksha.
  3. Jnana: This involves inquiry into the nature of self and called as jnana yoga. It involves closely inspecting the contents of your consciousness, inquiring deeply into the nature of self and engaging in meditations like nididhyasana or mindfulness. Jnana not only includes this practice but also includes the actual self-realization itself, when you realize God in your experience. This can happen while living and give you the ultimate fulfillment and bliss that everyone is unconsciously searching for. The path of jnana involves getting insight about your own mind and its unconscious layers and untying many mental knots on the process.

Among all these three, bhakti is very common. It is found in dharma, Islam and the teachings of Jesus. Islam itself means submission to God. Bhakti is something that even a layman can understand. But according to dharma, we should work on developing bhakti as a pure unconditional devotion, instead of seeing it as a means to get what we desire. Only that pure devotion can purify your mind and make you ready for Jnana.

So dharma doesn’t have any conflict with the teachings of Jesus or Muhammad as far as the pure bhakti is concerned. Because no matter what one believes in (whether hell and heaven or Moksha), the devotion itself has the ability to lead one towards liberation. It is an effect that comes with a practice of devotion itself, regardless of what beliefs that devotion is based on.

There is something very important to notice here. Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad has only the bhakti part. They don’t cover jnana. Even though certain code of conduct is given and there is also a concept of surrender, the complete system of Karma Yoga as defined in Bhagavad Gita is not found in the Bible or Quran. Similarly, Buddha’s teachings concentrates deeply on jnana but ignore karma and bhakti. Dharma is the only one which has karma yoga, bhakti and jnana. In other words, dharma is not contradictory to the central teachings of both Jesus and Muhammad, but very complimentary. Dharma provides what other schools do not provide!

The reason why Bhagavad Gita is so central to dharma is because it defines dharma, elaborating on all the three methods that one can put together to reach the highest goal of dharma, which is moksha.

Dharma is a system of inquiry rather than a belief system. All rituals, stories and iconography can be interpreted in the context of dharma. This is the main difference between dharma and various polytheistic traditions.

While many Hindus talk about saving Hinduism, dharma doesn’t depend on any such community to save itself. There is a promise in Bhagavad Gita 4.7:

yadā yadā hi dharmasya glānir bhavati bhārata
abhyutthānam adharmasya tadātmānaṁ sṛijāmyaham

Meaning: Whenever there is a decline in dharma and an increase in adharma, O Arjun, at that time I manifest myself on earth.

Adharma doesn’t just mean something that is unethical, but it means violating the overall dharma.

2. What is, in detail, the Hindu religion?

Hinduism is a word that points to a geographical location. But it is not used as a geographical identity. It is understood as an umbrella term that connects various religious traditions. But the concepts that are common in all traditions of our subcontinent are the following:

  1. Atma Jnana or self realization
  2. Moksha or liberation.

This central nerve is forgotten and ignored by most of the Hindus today. But if you understand each concept in Hinduism by looking at its relationship with moksha, you will get a new understanding and extreme clarity on what this religion is all about.

There are four central goals in life, according to Hinduism: dharma (righteousness, social order and code of conduct), artha (wealth and education), kama (pleasure) and moksha (liberation). Moksha is the final and ultimate goal.

First, to distinguish Hinduism from Brahmanism, or the Vedic religion, let me quote from my recent answer:

What’s the difference between Hinduism and the Vedic religion?

Both are entirely different. Vedic religion is no longer followed.

When I say Vedic religion, I am talking about Brahmanism, a unique religion on it’s own which was very popular before the time of Upanishads and after the early Rig Vedic period.

Here are the aspects of Vedic religion.

  1. In Vedic religion, sacrifice is God, and it is more powerful than devas and humans. In fact, sacrifice or yajna created this world. So sacrifice is applied as a metaphor for many others things: birth, sex, burning a body in funeral pyre are all sacrifices.
  2. Devas attained immortality and went to heaven because of sacrifice. There is a story that says that when devas went to heaven, they destroyed all knowledge about sacrifice so that humans do not have access to them. But Rishis received that knowledge as revelation and gave it to mankind.
  3. Devas are not omnipotent. They depend on humans because they are pleased with oblations that we offer on fire. We also depend on them for rainfall, health, cattle, longevity, heaven etc. It is a mutual dependency. It is sacrifice which is omnipotent and that includes the hymns, melodies and the actual ritual.
  4. Each man is indebted when he was born. He owes to devas, Rishis and ancestors who are already living in heaven. So he has three debts. To clear the debt, he has to do these: a) To clear the debt to Rishis, he has to be initiated to study under a teacher and go through Vedic study. b) To clear the debts of Devas, he has to offer oblations five times a day and also offer seasonal rites. c) He has to give birth to a son to clear the debts that he owes to his ancestors. Progeny increases the glory of his ancestors in heaven. Also, a man is reborn as his son and thus attains immortality through son in the earth. At the same time, he also attains immortality in heaven after death.
  5. The wife and the son are two important people in Vedic religion. You are not qualified to offer oblations unless you are married, because you have to do them with wife. It is said that a wife completes a man by giving him the qualifications to do the rites.

So, you have to live a life as a house holder if you want to live according to Vedic injunction, as per Brahmanism. But when cities developed in North Eastern India, new ideas arose: the doctrine of samsara, karma, rebirth and moksha. People who were talking about these new concepts were wandering ascetics called sramanas. Many liberal Brahmins in the cities accepted these new ideas and tried to interpret them within Brahmanic religion which later led to asrama system. But Brahmins in villages were too orthodox and couldn’t accept these concepts because these parivrajakas or sramanas were not allowed to get married.

But slowly these ideas got absorbed in Brahmanism giving rise to Upanishads and the doctrine of Vedanta. Slowly, various folk religions, Shiva, Krishna, Vasudeva, Narayana cults got absorbed into Vedic religion and temple worship also became popular. Vedic popularity was replaced by agamas and puranas. It developed Hinduism as we know today.

But the heart of Hinduism lies in purusharthas: Dharma, artha, Kama, and moksha. It places Moksha as the final goal where as Vedic religion considered heaven as the final goal.

If you think about it, Brahmanism is life positive. Even though Sramana traditions were life negative, they actually offered a way out of psychological suffering while living. By taking the medititative aspects of Sramana traditions and combining it with life positive aspects of a house holder’s life, Bhagavad Gita came up with a complete path to moksha.[1]

Hinduism defines God in three levels:

  1. First you see God as saguna Brahman, a person with a name and a particular form. This is a very limited view of God because it puts him within time and space as a limited identity. Devotion can start at this level but this level has to be transcended. There are numerous forms to choose from.
  2. The second is Ishvara, which doesn’t represent a form but a formless personal God. This is similar to the concept of God in Abrahamic religions. But sometimes the boundaries between the concept of Ishvara and Brahman is blurred.
  3. The third is Brahman, when God is seen beyond the idea of a person. Now God is everywhere and everything. There is no distinction between God and you.

Here is something from another answer that I wrote:

Is Hinduism a polytheistic belief or is it a belief that accepts the many aspects of Brahman as gods or is it something else?

Strictly speaking, it is neither, because both polytheism and monotheism imply multiplicity: the illusion that there are multiple entities; the illusion that something other than Brahman exists….

This is a complex topic by appearance but simple when understood in experience. It is not possible to convey what Brahman is, in language. But we can kind of point to it.

Where does one entity end and another entity begin? Do you think your body is one entity? No. There are millions of microbes living in the body; and for them, you are a forest!

Where does the air inside your body end and the air outside your body begin? Where does the water inside your body end and the water outside your body begin? Apply this to space, heat and atoms of the body too.

‘Entities’ are creations of the human mind. For our own convenience, we have mapped various entities and named them: a car, a man, a cow, a grain of sand.

But in fact, about fourteen billion years ago, all that existed was primordial singularity: there was no space and no time! Don’t try to imagine that, you can’t! It expanded, cooled down and became everything! There was a time when there was no distinction between matter and energy.

Upanishads say that just like different ornaments of Gold are essentially Gold, everything is essentially Brahman. The multiplicity is illusion or Maya and it is also a part of Brahman. Only the mind creates it for practical purposes. If Brahman is like a screen, Maya is like the moving pictures in the screen. In screen, you may see thousand men marching together. But it is just one screen which is manifest as thousand men!

If ‘entities’ are illusions, then ‘me’ as an entity is also illusion. You are Brahman itself in reality. But this has got nothing to do with the egoic self of ‘me’ that you identify with. That ‘entity’ is an illusion.

That is why in Upanishads, you find statements like ‘Tat tvam asi’ : You are That!

So why do we have idols? Actually, they are not idols, they are icons or murtis. If Brahman Is everything, that Murti is also Brahman. We don’t bow down to it, we do namaskar; there is a difference. We do Namaskar to human beings as well. It is done with folded hands. It implies ‘I am saluting the essence inside you’! What is the essence of a Murti? Brahman! What is the essence of a human being? Brahman!

There are multiple forms for that Brahman to focus the mind and to interact with devotionally. A person can pick a form or Ishta Devata to suit his personality. Then all other Devatas are seen as the extensions of the Ishta Devata.

If you look at the history, it will be very obvious.Tulsidas was only devoted to Rama. Chaitanya was only devoted to the form of Krishna. So was Thirugnana Sambandar to Shiva, Arunagiri nathar to Muruga or Skanda, Avvaiyar to Ganesh and Ramakrishna Paramahansa to Kali. This duality of devotee vs God ends with a singularity, with the experience of oneness of Brahman. You can read more about it in my book ‘Discovering God – Bridging Christianity, Hinduism and Islam’.[2]

Does Hinduism have rules and commandments?

Many people say that Hinduism is not a religion of laws and commandments. It is true. Because multiple traditions from the past have combined together to form Hinduism as we know today.

But if we rewind and go back to a period before 2300–2500 years, the religious traditions were a lot different. In fact, there were three types of religions in the Vedic period, before Upanishads were added to Vedic canon:

  1. Brahmanism which was full of rituals and law codes. Their goals in life were wealth, health, cattle, long life and heaven. This early Vedic religion had way more law codes than any religions that we know today. They did not accept the concepts of rebirth, moksha, karma and asceticism. And they had law code for each and everything.
  2. Sramana traditions which were all about asceticism, moksha, rebirth and ending human suffering. This wisdom was unknown to early Brahmanas. In fact Chandogya Upanishad specifically states that this wisdom was never conveyed to Brahmins before. In the late Vedic period, Brahmanism absorbed many concepts of Sramanic traditions. ( Read ‘Greater Magadha: Studies in the culture of Early India’ for extensive details on these two traditions.)
  3. Various folk religions all over sub continent that included polytheistic and animistic elements.

Brahmanism absorbed the concept of moksha from Sramana traditions and derived most of it’s iconography from folk religions. It is only after that agamas, and puranas were created and Hinduism as we know today took shape. But the entire Hinduism is unified by the four purusharthas: dharma, artha, kama and moksha.

So, the detailed law code was indeed present in Brahmanism. All Dharma sutras list forbidden food.But these rules are no longer followed today though.

For example, Apastamba dharma sutras 1.17.14-39 lists forbidden food for students:

14. He should not eat food obtained from the market,

15 even seasonings, with the exception of raw meat, honey, and salt;

16. oil and ghee, on the other hand, may be used after sprinkling them with water.

17. He should not eat, drink, or consume cooked food that has been left overnight

18. or turned sour,

19. with the exception of sugar-cane juice, rolled rice, gruel, roasted barley, barley meal,
vegetables, meat, flour, milk, milk products, and roots and fruits of plants and trees.

20. He should not consume anything that has turned sour without mixing it with some other food.

21. It is forbidden to drink any type of liquor;

22. as also the milk of sheep,

23. camels, and deer; the milk of animals in heat or bearing twins;

24 and the milk of a cow during the first ten days after giving birth.

25. Herbs used in the manufacture of liquor are likewise forbidden;

26. as also Karañja garlic, onion, leeks,

27. and any other food that is forbidden.

28. For a Brahmana states: ‘Mushrooms should not be eaten.’

29. The meat of one-hoofed animals, camels, Gayal oxen, village pigs, and Sarabha cattle are forbidden.

30 It is permitted to eat the meat of milch cows and oxen.

31. A text of the Vajasaneyins states: ‘The meat of oxen is fit for sacrifice.’

32. Among birds that feed by scratching with their feet, the cock is forbidden,

33. and among birds that feed by thrusting their beaks, the Plava heron.

34. Carnivorous birds are forbidden;

35. as also the Hamsa goose, the Bhasa vulture, the Cakra bird, and the Suparna falcon.

36. The Kruñca curlew and the Krauñca crane are forbidden, with the exception of the Vardhranasa cranes and Laksmana cranes.

37. Animals with five claws* are forbidden, with the exception of the Godha ̄ monitor lizard, tortoise, porcupine, hedgehog, rhinoceros, hare, and Putikhasa.

38. Among fish, the Ceta is forbidden,

39 as also the snakehead fish, the Mrdura crocodile, carnivorous fish, and others that are grotesque, such as the mermen.

( The four ashrama system in Hinduism was not really four stages of life in the beginning but four ways of life. After initial Vedic study, one can take up either of the four ways. Dharmasutras list law codes for all four ways of life, but they never fail to mention that grihastha life is the only way of life that is accepted in Vedic texts and that which guarantees heaven when followed according to the code of conduct.

Also, Apastamba dharma sutras also has contradictory views, hence it talks about rebirth and even the knowledge of self in some verses. That indicates that some portions of it were added probably much later.

But Gautama Dharmasutras lists four ways of life as the view of the opponent and refutes the view with statements from Vedas, insisting that the way of house holder is the only accepted way as per Vedas.).[3]

Is Hinduism a religion of beliefs?

Mahabharata talks about how various people had various beliefs and attitudes during its days. All those comes under the umbrella of Hinduism.

It is a set of schools which encourages logical inquiry, debates, mystical poetry, mystical fiction, healthy criticism, critical thinking, hermeneutics and also allow various folk religious beliefs to co-exist, influence and interact.

Most importantly, it has ways to end psychological suffering in life and feel complete, eternal, infinite, expansive, blissful and content. If understood properly, it can take you on a journey.

The four main goals of Hinduism are dharma (righteousness, social order), artha (weath, education), kama (pleasure) and moksha (liberation). Ultimately it is about self-realization and liberation, which gives you true and endless happiness.

Here are those verses from Mahabharata. Various seers ask Brahma about true dharma (religion):

To which, indeed, of the dharmas should a person here most closely adhere? What do they have to say about this? Tell us, for the course of dharma appears to us to be diverse and contradictory.

Some claim that there is life after death, while others maintain that there is not. Some express doubt about everything, while others claim certainty. Things are impermanent according to some and permanent according to others, unreal according to some and real according to others. Some believe that the one reality appears as dual, while others think that it is mixed;'” some teach unity, others separateness, and yet others multiplicity.

Thus do Brahmins who are wise and perceive the truth argue. Some wear matted hair and deer skin, others shave their heads, and still others go naked. Some say that one should not bathe, while others insist on bathing. Some favor eating, while others are given to fasting.

Some praise rites and others the cessation from them. Some assert the influence of both place and time, while others deny it. ‘ Some extol liberation and others diverse pleasures.

Some desire wealth, while others strive after poverty. Some maintain the efficacy of worship, while others deny it. Some are devoted to non-injury (ahimsa) and others to injury.”

Some claim that one attains glory through good deeds, while others deny it. Some delight in certainty as to the truth, while others adhere to skepticism. Suffering is the motive for some and pleasure for others.

Some assert the primacy of meditation, other wise men that of sacrifice, and still others that of giving gifts. Some assert the existence of everything, while others deny that anything exists.

Some praise austerity, while other people extol vedic study. Some assert that knowledge comes from renunciation, while nature philosophers claim that it comes from nature.

With so much disagreement regarding dharma leading in so many directions, we become bewildered, O god supreme, unable to reach any certainty. “This is ultimate bliss,” “No, that is ultimate bliss”: so thinking, people charge on, for one always praises the dharma that one loves. In this regard our judgment is confounded and our minds bewildered. This we want you to tell us, O lord: what is ultimate bliss?

  • (MBh 14.48.14-27)

But majority of today’s Hindus are being misled by political ideologies, suffering from groupthink, taking Hinduism as an identity instead of seeing it as a path, getting offended a lot, being hyper-sensitive and slowly forgetting the true essence of Hinduism.[4]

What is the relationship in Hinduism between Brahman, Trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) and the rest of the deities?

bsolute reality is one without a second. But we can still divide it into two aspects: Purusha and Prakriti.

Purusha has three dimensions to it: sat or Truth, cit or consciousness and Ananda or bliss.

Brahma represents sat or the truth. Since Vedas convey the Truth, Brahma is shown to have four heads, representing four Vedas.

Vishnu represents cit or consciousness. Vishnu is a solar deity in Vedas and physically he represents sun which takes three strides in the sky everyday. Vishnu means all pervading. Spiritually, Vishnu represents the inner sun or consciousness, who strides and pervades the three states of consciousness which is waking, dreaming and sleeping.

Shiva is always associated with bliss. He is known as the Lord of sleep because He is the bliss that one experiences in deep sleep. So Shiva represents Ananda or bliss.

Just like Purusha, Prakriti also has three aspects or gunas. Prakriti is the one which animates the world and all actions happen because of three gunas of Prakriti. Saraswathi represents sattva or balance and also represents Jnana Shakti, the power to know. Lakshmi represents Rajas or activity and also the Kriya Shakti, the power to do. Kali represents Tamas or resistance and also Iccha Shakti, the power of will.

Purusha is like a screen where the movie of the existence is played. Purusha does nothing; everything is done by Prakriti. Prakriti is the moving pictures of the screen as well as the energy that animates the movie.

Brahma and Saraswathi together represent creation; Vishnu and Lakshmi together represent maintenance; and Shiva and Kali together represent destruction.

In addition to it, any one of the male deities of Trimurti and his consort can be used to represent Purusha and Prakriti. So, If you are a devotee of Shiva, you can see Shiva as Purusha and Shakti as Prakriti.

But always remember that the Truth is one, even though many names are used.

To understand more about Prakriti and it’s three gunas, visit this page: A Shamatha Meditation Based on Symbolism, Visualization, Mnemonics and Classical Conditioning[5]

3. Almost all early human civilizations practiced polytheism (idol worshiping and worshiping nature). Why is Hinduism the only ancient polytheistic religion that survived?

I strongly disagree with Rami Sivan here. Hinduism has survived simply because it is not polytheistic. In fact, it has a better version of monotheism. If Hinduism was really a polytheistic religion, It would have faced the fate of all polytheistic religions in the world that have disappeared.

It is true that there are many forms of God in Hinduism, but not many Gods. Either it is one and only Brahman or the division of a supreme God and a devotee.

But it is true that Abrahamic religions ban idol worship where as Hindus use murtis as a part of their iconography. But unlike other cults of idol worship, Hinduism do not consider a murti as God itself which will mean that everything else apart from the murti is not God. Murti is a representation of God.

So,

शिवमात्मनि पश्यन्ति प्रतिमासु न योगिनः |
अज्ञानं भावनार्थाय प्रतिमाः परिकल्पिताः || ५९ ||
– जाबालदर्शनोपनिषत्

A yogin perceives god (Siva) within himself,
images are for those who have not reached this knowledge. (Verse 59)

  • Jabaladarsana Upanishad

The raise of seeing God as a supreme ruler or Ishvara has a strong correlation with the raise of empires. A strict monotheism developed only during Persian rule in Judaism. Before that, it was monolatory. When people were living as tribes under many tribal chieftains, it was natural to have many Gods, which are independent of each other. But for a king of an empire, God is the divine patron while the king being his reflection. You can see this happening in the history, when a well developed cult of Shiva, Bhagavata deities and Skanda arose before 2000 years.

But we have the example of the divine ruler in Rig Veda itself. It is Indra. Even though Vedic hymns seem to talk about different powerful entities, two lines from Dirghatamas in Rig Veda, solves that problem:

Rg Veda 1.164.46

इन्द्रं॑ मि॒त्रं वरु॑णम॒ग्निमा॑हु॒रथो॑ दि॒व्यः स सु॑प॒र्णो ग॒रुत्मा॑न् ।
एकं॒ सद्विप्रा॑ बहु॒धा व॑दन्त्य॒ग्निं य॒मं मा॑त॒रिश्वा॑नमाहुः ॥४६॥

Translation:

They called him Indra, Mitra, Varuṇa, Agni; and he is heavenly Garuda, who has beautiful wings. The truth is one, but the sages (or learned ones) call it by many names or describe him in many ways; they called him Agni, Yama, Mātariśvan.

When we move to Brahmanas suddenly there is Prajapati. But he survived only for a short time and evolved into Brahma.

And Upanishads proclaim Brahman is the only reality. I am Brahman; You are Brahman. This is what I call as a much better version of monotheism, an evolved monotheism where the division between the God and his creation disappears.

You can see the same theme in a poem of Rumi, a Sufi mystic:

When we move on to epics, we have the most important text of Hinduism (even though it is a smriti) which is Bhagavad Gita. And in Bhagavad Gita, Krishna is the supreme God. He also says that worshipping any God or deity actually goes to him.

The core concept of bhakti in Hinduism is surrender. You can either surrender to God or surrender to the existence. But you cannot submit yourself to two entities at the same time. If Hinduism is polytheistic, then surrender will have no place.

In Rig Vedic verse, we saw that Soma, Agni and Indra are one. In other words, the object of the sacrifice (soma), the carrier of the sacrifice (agni) and the enjoyer of the sacrifice (Indra) are all now one.

Bhagavad Gita literally says that: (Chapter 4, Verse 24)

ब्रह्मार्पणं ब्रह्म हविर्ब्रह्माग्नौ ब्रह्मणा हुतम् |
ब्रह्मैव तेन गन्तव्यं ब्रह्मकर्मसमाधिना ||

brahmārpaṇaṁ brahma havir brahmāgnau brahmaṇā hutam
brahmaiva tena gantavyaṁ brahma-karma-samādhinā

Translation:

For those who are completely absorbed in God-consciousness, the oblation is Brahman, the ladle with which it is offered is Brahman, the act of offering is Brahman, and the sacrificial fire is also Brahman. Such persons, who view everything as God, easily attain him.

We have Upanishads for Ganesha, Shiva, Narayana etc, and each will assert a specific form as a supreme God. Rami Sivan knows better.

Boothanatha Gita, the only spiritual text assigned to Ayyappa also says (Verse 1.8):

AdimadhyAntarahitam svayam jotih parAtparam

avyayam nirgunam rAjan kAladezAdi varjjitam

citganam nityamAnandam tatbhinnam nAsti vastu bho

asitatvamaham taccetyAmnAyah parikIrtitah

Meaning:

Oh king! Brahman has no beginning, no middle and no end. It shines on its own and is the greatest of the greatest. It is imperishable, attributeless and beyond space & time.

It has been described in the scriptures that it is conscious and always in bliss. Nothing other than that exists! It is you and it is also me.

What about puranas?

Puranas may seem to portray a picture of God having multiple subordinates. This is actually little similar to Gods having various angels as subordinates in Abrahamic religions. But the essence of the puranas seem to show the better version of monotheism, portraying the form of God as the supreme consciousness or Brahman itself.

If you see what the famous devotees of Hinduism worshipped, you will see that they were all devoted to one form of God.

  1. For Tulsidas, the entire world is Rama.
  2. For Chaitanya, everything is Krishna.
  3. Arunagirinathar worshipped Murugan and Murugan alone.
  4. All Shaivite nayanmars worshipped Shiva as the only God.
  5. All Tamil azhwars saw Tirumal as the supreme deity.

In the entire Patanjali sutras, there is only one reference to God. Patanjali mentions Ishvara as special purusha.

So where is polytheism in Hinduism? Which scripture in Hinduism says that there is more than one supreme ruler for this universe? You will either find non-duality, duality or some special kind of duality.

Among today’s Hindus, there is a very large gap between what they believe in and the essential truth conveyed in scriptures. Saying Hinduism as polytheistic will only increase the gap further. It promotes a wrong notion.

It is true that there are still polytheistic forms exist in villages and among tribes. But even though they are classified under Hinduism, their cults are not completely absorbed into Hinduism. But both Vedic religion and Buddhism has absorbed such polytheistic cults in the past. Buddhism absorbed deities like Manibhadra, Vajrapani etc. Syncretism has happened in all cultures.

In another answer, I read Rami Sivan saying that polytheistic is natural because all cultures were originally polytheistic. Well, all humans were originally homo erectus. But we evolved. The religions also evolved in the same way, The only thing is, Abrahamic religions have still not evolved into this better version of monotheism which Hinduism offers (with exception to Sufism and Christian and Jewish mysticism). It will happen as time goes because history repeats itself.

Adi Shankaracharya united various traditions under Advaita. He connected them all with a central philosophical core. And this philosophical core of Hinduism has been maintained by various people like Adhi Shankara, Ramanuja, Madhva, Kabir, Tulsidas, Chaitanya, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Ramana Maharshi and more. It is only because of them Hinduism survived. So more than rituals and myths, Hinduism had a logical appeal to people. It has a strong scriptural basis as a foundation, which you cannot find in any polytheistic religion.

If only the first verse in the Ishopanishad were left intact in the memory of the Hindus, Hinduism would live forever

  • Mahatma Gandhi

(The first verse is ‘isavasyam idam sarvam’ which means ‘God is everywhere).

4. How would you compare the top 3 religions: Christianity, Islam and Hinduism?

This is going to be a long answer. Because it is not only intended to answer this particular question but will answer many other questions too. Because, I see a threat India; and based on the fact that this question is related to three major religions in India, I am going to answer this question to make many Indians understand what they misunderstand.

Religion is actually a recent Western colonial concept which has been wrapped around some major spiritual paths in the world. The divisions like Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam have been created based on certain theological and cultural similarities. Most importantly, it was created to differentiate Christian theology vs the faiths of other cultures, when colonialism was alive.

But this division based on the concept of religions conveniently ignored the esoteric part of religions. They enforced and reinforced the idea that religions are all about a set of beliefs, myths and rituals. Result? 98% of Hindus have no clue about what Bhagavad Gita is, what Upanishads are all about and what are considered as four main goals of a person’s life in the culture that evolved in Indian subcontinent.

Because of this, religion has now become an identity rather than a path. People discuss how proud they are because of being in a particular religion and try to prove that their religion is better than another one. These people are completely misled and end up poisoning the minds of others rather than really understand the depth of their own religion and walk in the path shown by it. Religion is not a matter of pride!

If you think carefully, this concept of religions in its proto-form was only created as a political tool right from the beginning. For example, Vedas were not compiled until the formation of Kuru kingdom, the earliest kingdom in India. Before that, the verses existed with individual families. It was the rulers of Kuru kingdom who compiled them. This resulted in both negative and positive consequences. The positive aspect is that some valuable verses of ancient wisdom were preserved; but it also led to prejudice among classes or varnas for the first time. Winning in a war meant a lot to the king and he depended on the priestly class to provide him with suitable rituals and spells. So, creation of verses that was once meant for inner seeking and divine revelation had then become a commercial thing; varnas or the four classes in ancient India which were strictly based on occupation turned into a birth based system for the first time.. But this was then just a Vedic way of life and Hinduism in its present form didn’t exist.

Hebrew Bible was not compiled until Israelites returned from Babylonian exile during Persian rule. Judaism as a religious concept was created as a political tool. It was created to unify the people of Israel under one temple and one God, purely for political convenience. Before that, various schools of thoughts existed and various tales from folklore existed along with it, with complete freedom of religion. Neither Abraham nor Moses created Judaism, but preached a path, a path of submission to the one and only God.

Christianity was created by Roman Emperor Constantine as a political convenience. Jesus never found a religion but preached a path, a path of submission to the one and only God. That is the reason why the current images of Jesus look like a Roman pagan God and why December 25 is never mentioned as the birthday of Jesus anywhere in the Bible. The whole model of Christianity as exists today was primarily created by Constantine.

The same is with Islam. It is a way of life. All Prophet Muhammad did was preach the path of submission to the one and only God and also restate that Abraham, Moses and Jesus said the same thing. In addition to that, he brought cultural, social, religious, and political changes and reformation. It was Abu Bakr, a father-in-law of the Islamic prophet who had Quran to be compiled in current form in the current order, which led to a theological narrative based on that order, creating Islam as it exists now. Hadith and Sharia were compiled much later mainly as a political device. Contrary to the popular belief, Mughal rulers who ruled Delhi Sultanate were not really interested in converting people to Islam, because that would mean a loss to national revenue. By declaring non – Islamic population in Indian subcontinent as “The people of the books”, they could get them pay a tax.

Hinduism is a creation of British. Before that, there was a philosophical system that united many major traditions of faith. This system has Brahman, the only one without a second as the supreme reality. But it also had a system of iconography, with different forms of the same supreme reality that one can choose from. So, iconography, not idol worship, is the right word to describe the Indian system of submission to God. Adhi Shankara, unified various traditions into six different paths , Shanmata, which is based on six different forms of the same Brahman. This is very evident when you see how devotees in Tamil nadu approached devotion. A devotee of Shiva like Thiru Jnana Sambandhar would only praise the form Shiva and be devoted to Him alone. A devotee of Ganesha like Poet Avvaiyar would only sing the praise of form Ganesh. The same with Arunagiri Nathar to Muruga and Periyazhwar to Vishnu. These are not different Gods and the system is not polytheistic, but they are all forms or icons of the same Supreme reality. This is the essence of all Indian scriptures.

But just after 1st century BCE, a lot of puranas or myths were written, depicting a polytheistic picture. These were just stories intended to convey some philosophical truths then and there. For example, a long treatise on Advaita Vedanta is a part of Skanda Purana. But this led to many negative consequences. The concept of Hinduism during British rule was born with Puranas getting a higher importance. Because of this, Hinduism as now become mostly polytheistic as only a very few actually try to read and understand the scriptures, while majority is concerned with drinking cow urine, building Ram mandir, trying to prove that Internet existed during 50th century BCE in India and pretending to save Hinduism from Christians and Muslims of India. The people who claim to save Hinduism should feel ashamed because they think that a culture that has thousands of scriptures can get destroyed by two books, the Bible and the Quran. So whenever you see anyone who says Hinduism needs to be saved, you can be pretty sure that he understands nothing about Indian culture, its scriptures, traditions and schools of thought. You can also be sure that anyone who is trying to prove Hinduism is better than any other religion is not only wasting his/her time but is also kindling unnecessary prejudice in the society. What is the need to prove which religion is better?

Just like galaxies are moving far away from each other, we are moving far away from each other by appreciating and encouraging religious differences.

Do you know the consequences of this recent concept of religions? It has led people to pick up the most extreme view of any religion, and consider that it represents the beliefs of the whole population that follows that religion. For example, there are some verses called sword verses in Quran, which seem to suggest to kill any non-believer, but it actually refers to a specific historical context, to a specific tribe who were prosecuting the early Muslims in a cruel manner. Similarly, there is a concept called Jihad which simply means struggle, including any kind of positive struggle that one goes through in life, struggling to be a good human being, struggling to build a career and most importantly, struggling to purify oneself to reach the final goal. Jihad applied to war only in certain situations when Muhammad was alive. But certain terrorist organizations who hold extreme views on Islam and who interpret these verses according to their advantage do not represent what the majority of Muslims believe in. (But I am completely against inhuman blasphemy laws that exist in certain Islamic countries. They have also been misled.)

But people who want to prove that their religion is better than Islam would hold on to such extreme views about Islam and never even listen to counter arguments. I have explained a few things about Islam in the following two answers and I suggest reading them too:

Shanmugam P’s answer to How cruel was the prophet Muhammad?

Shanmugam P’s answer to Was Prophet Muhammad a virtuous man or a man of good character? In some hadiths, he is portrayed as a slave-trading, sex-obsessed man. If these hadiths are true, why do Muslims follow him? And if these hadiths aren’t authentic, which ones are?

But I insist and request again, do not see this answer as a discussion of whether your religion is better than another religion!

Also, if we start pulling out verses by the extreme interpretation of each religion and claim that this extreme view represents the religion in entirety (like we are doing to Islam), then Christianity and Hinduism will start sounding worse.

  1. There are verses in the Old Testament of the Bible which portrays God as someone who is instructing to stone infidels to death, including young children. Honestly, they sound more cruel than the verses from Quran taken out of context. Can we insist that this represents Christianity as a whole?
  2. There are a few Dharmasutras and Dharmashastras in Indian religious literature which say that molten lead should be poured into the ears of Shudra, the person of the lowest class, if he listens to the recitation of Vedas. There are verses in later literature which promote Sati, burning the widow alive in the funeral pyre of her husband. At least Islam and Christianity gives you a choice: you won’t be killed if you accept the truth that is being said (according to the extremist interpretation). But Hinduism leaves no choice. If you are a Shudra or a widow, you have no choice of saving yourself by accepting a faith! Can we take this extreme view and say that this represents Hinduism in entirety?

No!

Now, please don’t take whatever I said as an insult to Hinduism, because Hinduism, just like Christianity and Islam is just a concept; not an entity that can be insulted. But if you feel offended, that is because you have taken religion as an identity, instead of taking it as a path! It is connected to your self-image, rather than being connected to devotion.

Do you know Ramakrishna Paramahamsa? He was the guru of Swami Vivekananda. He practiced the spiritual paths of Islam and Christianity separately, reached the same experience of Samadhi and declared that all paths lead to one truth.

But I know that many so called Hindu saviours of today won’t agree with this, Their gurus are their politicians and political parties. That will make them think even Mahatma Gandhi as an enemy of India and call Godse as a true patriot. I have written a detailed book showing that the basic essence of all these three religions are the same. It is not a topic that I can cover in this answer. Go to this link for the details about the book: Discovering God: Bridging Christianity, Hinduism and Islam.

Also, I want to discuss Christian Evangelism. It is true that Jesus asked his disciples to spread the good news; but it was 2000 years before. Now, the good news has been spread and easily available on the internet. So, why is there a need for a missionary? This missionary business has become dirty, because a lot of these preachers are indulging in calling Hindu temples as Satanic. They misunderstand Hindu iconography; it is not the same as the polytheistic worship of ancient Israelite tribes or pagan Arabs. They didn’t have any philosophy and they didn’t know about the oneness of the Supreme reality that we call as Brahman in Indian culture.

Hindu temples are created based on Agamas which are based on human psychology. The system of worship by the way of Agamas includes stimuli of five senses : decoration of the deity and lamps; the smell of the incense, flowers and food (prasad); taste of the food; touch of sandal, tumeric and sacred ash on the skin; the sound of the bell and hymns etc. These stimuli are paired with the experience of devotion, so that every time you are exposed to one of these stimuli, you automatically get feeling of devotion. This is actually called classical conditioning in psychology. This is an useful tool in devotion and that is what the whole iconography is based on.

Anyway, this is not a time to prove which religion is better than the other, but this is a time to think about living in harmony with the brothers and sisters who belong to other religions. That is the beauty of India and that is what the Republic of India is meant for, Everyone of us living in harmony is the dream of Mahatma Gandhi (Gandhi haters stay away from comments; you will be reported and blocked).

Consider Shirdi Sai Baba; Consider Kabir; consider Ramakrishna; consider Abdul Kalam; consider Gandhi; these are the people who were familiar with the truths of more than one religion, and they proclaimed that all these religions lead to the same goal. I know they look different, but you haven’t gone deep. The difference is only in the periphery and the majority do not understand. I have explained in length in my book and it should be convincing enough for people who are already familiar with the path to self-realization or God-realization. There is an esoteric side to all these three religions and they are the same!

5. Why does Hinduism have many gods?

This question arises based on a false premise, because of not understanding the meanings of these words: Brahman, Ishvara, devata and murti.

Do you think there are equivalent English words? No. But since we mostly talk about Hinduism in English, we tend to misunderstand many things. You will be surprised to see how a lot of Sanskrit words lose their original meaning when they are conveyed using their English alternatives.

In Hinduism, God is referred to as avyakta[1]. vyakti means person. Avyakta means something that is not a person or that is not confined to clear limits. In other words, avyakta doesn’t have any boundaries. A more popular word for this is Brahman. Upanishads say that just like the ornaments of gold is essentially made of gold in spite of their difference in forms, everything is a modification of Brahman.

But it is not possible to conceive this all-pervading, infinite Brahman that is beyond time and space with our limited intellect. It can be only understood by experience, by a direct spiritual transformation.

So, Hinduism steps down a bit and provides the concept of Ishvara.

Ishvara has a personal touch. But it still doesn’t mean God as a person in the sky. The personification is quite fuzzy.

Ishvara comes from the root ‘Ish’ which means ‘to possess or own’. He owns everything, including your body and mind. Ishvara means supreme being.

Yoga sutras recognize just one God, Ishvara as the supreme being. This is more convenient for devotion and surrender. But this word, evolved. It was not used in the same meaning in Vedas.

If we step down a bit, we have Devatas or various forms of God. A devata has a form, personality and stories associated with it. It comes from the root ‘div’ which means ‘to shine’. So a devata is something so obvious like a lamp. It shines with certain attributes. But it is one of the a representations of Brahman.

Brahman is said to have no attributes in itself. But we associate these attributes to a devata to make devotion easier. One can choose an Ishta Devata and consider it as a supreme reality and see other devatas as extensions or emanations of it. So, your Ishta devata can be Shiva, Vishnu, Shakthi or any form you choose.

The final step down is murti. Murti essentially means something that has limits. You need to notice that it is the total opposite of avyakta. Murti also means manifest, because anything that is manifest has boundaries in the coordinates of space and time.

A murti is a physical representation of God. The murti and the temple appeals to your five senses and create strong psychological association with devotion or any spiritual experiences.

So there can be many murtis and devatas. But Ishvara is one. And saying Brahman is one in itself betrays the oneness of Brahman, because the mention of ‘one’ assumes the existence of an other or others. That is why it is said that Brahman is beyond words.


But

शिवमात्मनि पश्यन्ति प्रतिमासु न योगिनः |
अज्ञानं भावनार्थाय प्रतिमाः परिकल्पिताः || ५९ ||
– जाबालदर्शनोपनिषत्

A yogin perceives god (Siva) within himself,
images are for those who have not reached this knowledge. (Verse 59)

  • Jabaladarsana Upanishad

By the way,

Atman is not synonymous to the word ‘soul’; Atman means the true self.

Ahamkara is not synonymous to ‘ego’; Ahamkara means, the presence of the sense that one is the doer of his actions. (When ahamkara disappears, you realize yourself or attain atma jnana and be liberated from all mental bondage and mental pain while living. That is moksha.)

The most shocking thing would be, dharma is not synonymous with Hinduism. Because, Hinduism is a totally different colonial version of belief system which seems to have a lot of disconnected concepts. Religion itself is a recent Western concept, which tries to accommodate various theistic systems, rituals and beliefs into certain abstract categories. (go through linked answers at the bottom of the page for more details).

But if you go by the scriptures, you will see that this scriptural canon of Hinduism calls itself as ‘dharma’. Dharma means many meanings. These meanings bind the seemingly disconnected concepts of Hinduism together into dharma.

Dharma comes from the root ‘dhr’ which means uphold. During Vedic times, Varuna was associated with the upholder of divine order. He is responsible for the movement of the planets, the rain, the changing of seasons and all other natural laws. During the royal consecrations, the rajasuya yajna was conducted and the king was referred to as Varuna, because he upholds the dharma of people. He gives judgements and he makes sure that everything is functioning in the order. So he is called as dharmaraja.

Dharma also means the way of life. Dharma defines how to conduct your life that is not only righteous, smooth, and joyful but also leads to moksha, or the final liberation. And it gives four goals or purusharthas to people: dharma (personal order and righteousness), artha (wealth and education), kama (pleasure) and moksha (liberation).

Dharma is also synonymous with truth. It is an inquiry to the truth which finally leads to atma-jnana (self realization) and moksha.

In Mahabharata. Various seers ask Brahma about true dharma (religion):

To which, indeed, of the dharmas should a person here most closely adhere? What do they have to say about this? Tell us, for the course of dharma appears to us to be diverse and contradictory.

Some claim that there is life after death, while others maintain that there is not. Some express doubt about everything, while others claim certainty. Things are impermanent according to some and permanent according to others, unreal according to some and real according to others. Some believe that the one reality appears as dual, while others think that it is mixed;'” some teach unity, others separateness, and yet others multiplicity.

Thus do Brahmins who are wise and perceive the truth argue. Some wear matted hair and deer skin, others shave their heads, and still others go naked. Some say that one should not bathe, while others insist on bathing. Some favor eating, while others are given to fasting.

Some praise rites and others the cessation from them. Some assert the influence of both place and time, while others deny it. ‘ Some extol liberation and others diverse pleasures.

Some desire wealth, while others strive after poverty. Some maintain the efficacy of worship, while others deny it. Some are devoted to non-injury (ahimsa) and others to injury.”

Some claim that one attains glory through good deeds, while others deny it. Some delight in certainty as to the truth, while others adhere to skepticism. Suffering is the motive for some and pleasure for others.

Some assert the primacy of meditation, other wise men that of sacrifice, and still others that of giving gifts. Some assert the existence of everything, while others deny that anything exists.

Some praise austerity, while other people extol vedic study. Some assert that knowledge comes from renunciation, while nature philosophers claim that it comes from nature.

With so much disagreement regarding dharma leading in so many directions, we become bewildered, O god supreme, unable to reach any certainty. “This is ultimate bliss,” “No, that is ultimate bliss”: so thinking, people charge on, for one always praises the dharma that one loves. In this regard our judgment is confounded and our minds bewildered. This we want you to tell us, O lord: what is ultimate bliss?

  • (MBh 14.48.14-27)

So dharma is actually an inquiry into the truth rather than a collection of beliefs. Certain aspects of dharma keeps changing. For example, scriptures that provided social legal code for Brahmanism like Gautama dharmasutras, Baudhayana dharmasutras, Apastamba dharmasutras etc are no longer followed.

But Bhagavad Gita can apply for all time, because it provides an essence of the path to moksha without much of religious dogma. The essence is the same. But it can be adapted and applied to different times, different cultures and different societies by understanding the core concepts of this eternal dharma that Bhagavad Gita provides: Karma, Bhakti and Jnana.

This is the essence of dharma: live ethically and orderly with sufficient wealth, education and pleasure. To naturally attain liberation and eternal bliss, 1) Do your duties while being not-attached to the fruits of actions 2) Be devoted unconditionally to Ishvara 3) At other times, inquire into the nature of your existence, consciousness and mind and also engage yourself in meditation. Choose a way of living that suits your personality, abilities and interests (svadharma).

So, In my recent answers, I am trying to redefine Hinduism from the perspective of dharma


10 Things that BJP, RSS, and Hindutva Bhakts Should Understand

My answer in Quora to the question “What message do you have for BJP Bhakts?”:

BJP as a party is nothing but a collection of people; that applies to any party. Parties are like human societies on their own with human beings with a variety of personalities.

Since good and bad people and stupid and intelligent people are randomly distributed among a group of people, it would be unwise to categorize an entire group as good or bad. It would be unwise to also categorize all members of any party with a specific label, like ‘bhakts’.

But still, there is a distinct group of BJP supporters whom you can identify as bhakts. They can be identified by specific traits, thought patterns, way of responding to criticisms etc.

The most important characteristic feature that sets them apart is that they do not know how to argue anything with logic; they are logically handicapped! This handicap varies by degrees from person to person.

In fact, such bhakts exists in every party, but BJP seems to have a large number of them, at least as far as I have observed. And, I do have a lot of things to say to them; in order to help them to get more healthy attitude towards reality and the world. So, here are my messages to them:

1. You don’t have to save Hinduism


It is typical for many BJP bhakts to act as the saviours of Hinduism. I would like to quote from my recent answer, to the question “How can Hinduism be saved in India?”

There are two kinds of people who follow any religion:

People who consider their religion as a path to walk.
People who consider their religion as an identity.
People who consider their religion as a path do not worry about saving their religion. They are happy about the fact that they have a path to walk on and they teach that path to their children. They try to understand the true essence of the scriptures. They consider love towards humanity and God as more important than anything else.

But people who take religions as an identity are the self-proclaimed saviours of those religions. For them, religion is not a matter of love, but a matter of pride. They are concerned about nourishing their ego with religion. Most of the self- proclaimed saviours of Hinduism haven’t read even Bhagavad Gita or Upanishads and have no idea about the essence of their religion. In the name of saving their religion, all they do is breed hatred. As far as I have seen, they seem to be dangerous because their attitude is anti-Hindu.

But anyway, saying that Hinduism needs to be saved is like the biggest insult to Hinduism. Come on? You really think that a library of thousands of books can be destroyed by just two books, the Bible and the Quran?

Whatever that makes sense will continue to grow and make sense to people. Whatever gives importance to love and humanity will flourish. Anything that is anti-humanity will eventually be destroyed in the world. So saving Hinduism is not your responsibility! You following the religion and understanding the essence of it is the greatest service you can do to Hinduism.

If you are still worried about saving Hinduism, I suggest you read Gita 4.7:

yada yada hi dharmasya glanir bhavati bharata

abhyutthanam adharmasya tadatmanam srjamyaham.

Meaning: whenever there is decline in righteousness and an increase in unrighteousness, I will manifest myself on earth!

Then why do you worry? Lack of faith, may be?[1]

Criticisms cannot destroy Hinduism; because, Hinduism itself is a culture which has enormous literature filled with criticisms of various schools of thought.

Even if all the temples are destroyed, it will only be a loss of property ( a huge loss, of course) and not a loss for Hinduism as a religion. Because we have the agama literature, the science which deals with creating temples. The sad part is, any attempt to understand agamas is totally ignored among these Hindu saviors. I recommend reading Rami Sivan ‘s answers to know more about agamas and other scriptures. He is a walking encyclopedia of agamas.

2) Vedic scriptures do not have modern science or technology

It is true that ancient Indians had a lot of scientific temper and made some significant contributions to science. But, even those contributions get overlooked or ignored when bhakts claim that Vedas talk about atomic structure, particle physics, quantum mechanics and nuclear weapons.

By claiming these things, you are not only making the real contributions to fade away but you are also insulting the scriptures themselves. Because scriptures such as Upanishads and Gita are filled with tons of spiritual wisdom, which can transform your life if understood properly. They show a path to supreme bliss! Ignoring all that wisdom, when you talk as if Vedas are science journals, you begin to look like a joker.

I have gone through major Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and some Gitas that most of the bhakts haven’t even heard of, like Ashtavakra Gita, Ribhu Gita, Avadhuta Gita, Bhoothanatha Gita etc. I see the transformative quality of these texts and that remains unnoticed because people are already creating aversion towards our scriptures by claiming extra-ordinary and baseless things.

You need to really stop doing that! Because, when I try to convince some hardcore atheists about the importance of these scriptures, I see a lack of open-mindedness, which is nothing but a direct consequence of such an illogical behaviour. Please refer Raziman T.V. (റസിമാൻ ടി.വി.) answers in which he has debunked such claims.

3) We all came from the outside

Hindu nationalists want to believe that everything originated from India. This is not a positive trait to have but it is the result of intoxicated pride.

These people would often confuse between Aryan invasion theory and Aryan migration theory. It is true that Aryans never invaded and that Aryan invasion theory was proved to be false. But it is so true that Aryans migrated from Steppes; the Aryan migration theory is true.

We not only have strong evidence for it, but it is obvious even if you read our scriptures. Migration was the nature of Aryans. For six months they would migrate, and for six months covering the winter season, they would settle down. It was called yoga and kshema respectively. When we look at the history, we can see that first the Vedic civilization thrived in the West of India, then it slowly occupied Kuru kingdom near Punjab, then moved to Ganges valley and flourished with urban culture and spiritual wisdom when it finally covered the North eastern part of India. The whole movement has a direction, from North West to South East. But apart from this, there are tons of archaeological, genetic and linguistic evidence.

But BJP and other Hindutva-inclined parties have some talented speakers who speak skillfully in trying to prove that Indians actually migrated from India and moved to different parts of the world. For someone who is naive, it may sound extraordinary. But if you get more awareness on how historical method and research works, you will start seeing the truth.

This is not to say that Dravidians were initial inhabitants of Indian subcontinent. Australoids and Negritos were here before them. Dravidians moved from mediterranean, and interbred with the earlier inhabitants to form the ancestral South Indian population. But now we all have mixed genes. No one is Dravidian or Aryan, everyone are just Indians.

Every one of us can trace their home back to Africa anyway; all divisions of language and culture came much later!

4) Sanskrit is not the oldest language in the world.

I love Sanskrit and I have been learning it for the past three years. Now I can speak and express almost anything in Sanskrit (not fluent though), read simple Sanskrit stories, write Sanskrit poems and more. But neither Sanskrit nor Tamil is the oldest language in the world; they can’t be! (My mother tongue is Tamil, by the way).

Languages evolved 150,000 years ago. No language can exist for 150,000 years without becoming extinct or transforming into a different language. So none of the languages spoken today is the oldest; they all descended from a parent language. We don’t even know what people spoke some 12,000 years ago. That was when people first started to settle down and do farming and that was when a major part of anything close to a modern language could have evolved. Because, that is when people started trading and communicating extensively.

Sanskrit descended from proto-Indo-Aryan language and Tamil descended from Pro-Dravidian language. It is true that they are hypothetical, but it is a fact that both must have descended in some parent language anyway. There is no way that such a highly advanced language like Tamil or Sanskrit can be the same as the language that humans spoke before they settled down in one place. If you understand the basics of linguistics, you will know how dumb the ‘oldest language’ claims are.

5) Historical research is not biased

There may be biased historians anywhere, but the general consensus among historians all over the world that is achieved by rigorous teamwork and peer review is not biased.

I am saying this because I recently noticed a meme shared by bhakts. It also received a lot of ‘lol’ reactions, implying how stupid those historians were. The meme said something like , “Jesus and Muhammad are historical persons, but Durga, Ganesh and Ram are not historical”.

These people simply do not understand how historical research works. The historians who say this also agree that Abraham and Moses were not historical. The only two incidents which have been agreed to be true widely by historians in Jesus’s life are his baptism by John and his crucifixion. Durga and Ganesh are forms of God intended for meditations and worship, and their stories are intended to convey spiritual wisdom symbolically. They cannot be considered as historical figures. There is no reference to Rama outside the various versions of Ramayana in ancient literature (which doesn’t reduce the significance of Ramayana in anyway or undermine its essential message). And obviously, no historian would dare to say that Muhammad really ascended to heaven, even though the fact that a person called Muhammad existed is completely and undeniably true.

Every conclusion has reasons. They are promptly explained by historians in historical journals and publications. You can argue with logic, but don’t argue simply driven by emotions.

So, bhakts! you neither understand how historical research works nor understand the purpose of mythology or epics in Hinduism. Just cool down, people who know stuff in India will take care of raising India’s pride. Keep quiet and let them speak.

6) Gandhi is not a demon and Godse is not a hero

The disastrous opinion that Gandhi was bad and deserved to be killed has poisoned a lot of these bhakts.

In seventh standard, we had a lesson about Gandhi in English. My English teacher gave me a nickname ‘Gandhi’ because I also had bad handwriting like him, was very shy like him, and left school as soon as the school closed just like he did. But later I got a lot of interest in him and read his autobiography. He is the real inspiration to every Hindu!

Gandhi was not a perfect person; no one is! Every human being is fallible, but tries his best to reach his highest potential in all dimensions. Did Gandhi strive to achieve the highest dimension in his life? Was he a seeker of truth, peace and harmony? He most certainly was! Please set your biased and preconceived notions about Gandhi and learn true history of him from people like Balaji Viswanathan (பாலாஜி விஸ்வநாதன்) and Awdhesh Singh (Quora user) .

7) Logic matters

If you really like this culture, you must stand true to the values of this culture. Logic and reasoning is one of the core values of this land. Nyaya shastra, one of the six orthodox schools of Hinduism deals extensively with logic. All Acharyas including Adhi Shankara followed the logical of Nyaya shastras in their commentaries, criticisms and debates. Adhi Shankara criticized even Pancharatra agama and yoga, without a single logical fallacy that went against Nyaya shastra. (Now we have modern informal logical which will teach you how to speak with logic.)

But it is sad to see that the comments of these Bhakts are filled with logical fallacies like ad hominem, whataboutism etc. Just google ‘informal logical fallacies and you will discover a lot of mistakes that you make when you are engaged in any heated argument. I won’t be surprised if someone asks ‘what about Congress’ in the comment section or call me anti-Hindu. This simply means that you don’t have anything valid to say, logically, to refute whatever that I have said.

8) Being devoted to a political party is not democracy

This applies to everyone, no matter what party they support. But there is too much attachment to BJP for all these BJP bhakts. For them, the only crime there is in the world is to criticize BJP or the ideas spread by the party members.

If you become committed to vote for one party for your entire life, you have forgotten the true meaning of democracy. If you want to be unbiased in your voting, you must drop your attachments and devotion to political parties and deriving your identity or self-image from them. It is not good for the country.

Bhakts have gone one step further by creating a cult of personality around Modi. There are some bhakts who even built a temple for Modi. I listened to Modi once and I liked his speech. He explained the difference between criticism and allegation and how criticism is healthy for democracy. But why are bhakts too intolerant to any healthy criticism? Because of their devotion and attachment.

9) You are misinformed about Muslims and Christians

Because of the ways of divide and rule by politicians, we are slowly forgetting what being an Indian means. The beauty and significance of India is in the unity in diversity; India is the opportunity to prove to the world that people of major religions of the world can live together without conflict. But because of our huge trust in politicians, we are slowly building up aversion towards other religions and its people. From some Facebook groups and their posts, it is very clear that this aversion is growing day by day.

First, it is a misconception to believe that Islam was brought by Mughal rulers and Christianity was brought here by British. Christianity entered South India almost a century after Jesus and Islam entered South India almost a century or two after Muhammad, Their descendants are still living in Kerala.

Second, both Christianity and Islam have mystic schools which share the same essence as Hinduism. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa went through the spiritual practices of both of those traditions independently and concluded that they all lead to the same goal, moksha! We have numerous saints like Kabir, Shirdi Sai baba etc and wonderful personalities like Mahatma Gandhi, Abdul kalam, Poet Bharathiyar etc who understood that the true essence of Islam and Christianity is the same as the essence of Hinduism. (98% of Christians and Muslims do not know this. So do not ask me whether they would accept what I say). Anyway, I have written more about this in my book “Discovering God: Bridging Christianity, Hinduism and Islam”.

If you think that people of other religions are wrong about something, engage in a healthy, logical debate with them. To do that, you must be strong in logic and scriptural knowledge yourself. A Christian reads the Bible everyday, a Muslim reads the Quran everyday; how many of you read the Gita everyday? How many of you are capable of handling any criticism with logic, instead of resorting to name calling and logical fallacies?

We are living in a world in which things that make sense will survive the test of time and things which are nonsensical will get discarded eventually. If your arguments are logically strong, there is no need to be concerned about any criticism.

10) I am not an anti-Indian or anti-Hindu.

A typical behaviour of bhakts is to label anyone who criticizes BJP as anti-Hindu or anti-Indian. I hope you understand why that is dumb, based on what we have discussed so far. So, let us be mature, shall we?

Some Amazing Coincidences Regarding Religious Tolerance

I have crossed 36 years on this planet. My birthday was just yesterday, September 26th. I have placed my step on 37th year now. When I think about the past, nothing immediately comes to the memory because I am completely unburdened by the past in psychological level. There are certain times when I behave in certain ways motivated by any emotion-provoking incident from the past, but those times are very rare. 

Freedom from the past is correlated with peace, fulfilment and absence of the sense that one is seperate from the existential source. This is not the result of a scientific study, but something that I confirmed by my own experience. So, this is not a public evidence that can be objectively verified yet. But whatever I write in this blog is not new. I am just separating facts from myths and summarizing the essence of spirituality, by looking at it from all perspectives, including the modern psychological perspective.  This essence of spirituality has been communicated by various people through various texts. Those texts probably number in thousands or even millions. But one doesn’t have to read all that. I have summarized everything in two different books, with two different perspectives or approaches.

There are two ways to approach the ultimate truth of existence. One way is scientific way, but it is a psychological exploration combined with mindfulness meditation. You don’t have to believe in a God or follow a religion. You just have to follow a certain set of instructions to do two types of meditations: open-monitoring meditation or Vipassana/ Mindfulness and closed-focus meditation or shamatha/dhyana. The former involves in non-judgemental moment to moment passive awareness of what goes on in your mind; you start with with body first and extend it to your thoughts, emotions, subtle mental reactions or movements etc. The latter involves focusing on one object; whenever your mind wanders from that object, you notice it, take it with acceptance and bring the attention back to the object of meditation. The former is the direct path to freedom and comes second in the two-fold spiritual path that I often mention in my posts and videos. The latter is the path to purify the mind, develop non-attachment and prepare the ground for the former direct path; it comes first in the two fold spiritual path. Explaining this and practicing this requires no beliefs! This approach is the approach of meditation.

The second approach is the approach of love. This approach usually accompanied with a belief in a personal God or personification of the absolute truth of the existence. This is a path of unconditional love, prayer, chanting hymns etc accompanied by love towards other human beings and a longing to unite with God. This approach is the path of devotion.

Two kinds of people exist in this world. Based upon one’s nature, they can choose either one of them or even combine them both but not simultaneously. One could start with devotion to God, use the devotion as a stepping stone or the purification stage (stage 1 in 2-fold path) and later progress towards the approach of meditation. But since purification stage is already complete, you can stick to the open-monitoring meditation alone. This is how I walked on the spiritual path. The first 18-19 years I walked in the path of devotion, though I tried closed-focus meditation from time to time. The next 12 years were spent usually in a lot of mindfulness meditations.

I have written  two books for these two different approaches, so that I could address all kinds of people. 

  1. People who are atheists, scientists, critical thinkers etc can read the book “The Truth About Spiritual Enlightenment: Bridging Science, Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta” :https://www.amazon.com/dp/1973364549
  2. People who believe in God, no matter which religion they belong to can read the book “Discovering God: Bridging Christianity, Hinduism and Islam”: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07XRJ3GWS

In the post Goddess Gomathi Amman, Adi Thabasu and Religious Tolerance, I have written about certain coincidences in life that I was amazed by. You can bookmark it and read it later because it is pretty much connected to my latest book, the second one in the above list. These days, I am observing such coincidences so closely and I am making sure that they are recorded in my blog posts. There are some new coincidences related to this book which are wonderful and creepy; I want to share them with the readers today.

Before that, let me start with the very first coincidence that started all this. My school life was mostly influenced by Tamil Poet Bharathiyar; and my life in my early twenties was mostly influenced by Osho. My son was born on December 11th, 2016. It is on that day I realized that both Bharathiyar and Osho were born on December 11th. So I get to celebrate three birthdays on my son’s birthday! Amazing right? But wait, there is more to it.

I released my book “Discovering God: Bridging Christianity, Hinduism and Islam” on September 11th, 2019. It didn’t plan that, it just happened by chance that the day I released my book ended up being September 11. But then I realized that it is an important day in many aspects.

  1. Memorial day of Tamil poet Bharathiyar that I just mentioned. He was very keen in explaining people that all these three religions lead to the same truth. Once he had given a speech about Prophet Muhammad, in Pottalpudur in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, India during his lifetime. There is a famous dargah in that town and I used to pass by it everyday by bicycle to school when a studied in T.M.Puram, a village next to this town. 
  2. On 11th September 1893 Swami Vivekananda, gave his first speech in the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago. He addressed the crowd as “Sisters and brothers of America”. After saying these words, Vivekananda received 2 minute standing ovation from the crowd. Vivekananda’s guru was Ramakrishna Paramahansa, who promoted religious tolerance by practicing spiritual practices of all these three religions and confirming that they lead to the same goal. Also, Vivekananda’s speech created a big revolution and made Westerners to have interest on Eastern philosophy.
  3. But it also has been one of the worst days in history. The day September 11 is known for the terrorist attacks in the US in 2001. The main reason for this attack was religious intolerance. It is also true that those terrorists were getting inspiration from some verses from the Quran itself which are regarding Jihad. This and many forceful conversions in the past has earned Islam a bad name. I also dedicate this book to the people who lost their lives in those attacks. But I have also presented the nature of true Islam as taught by Muhammad and shown how the major religions Christianity, Hinduism and Islam can be bridged. I hope the overall message in the book will spread to more number of people.

Anyway, after seeing these related coincidences, I was sure that I can find interesting about Osho on the same day. So I searched for the English speech that he gave on September 11th. The first one I got surprised me. Osho kind of summarized whatever that I said about the two approaches in the beginning of this post. Let me end this post by including that exact discourse which happened on September 11, 1980 in Chuang Tzu Auditorium, Pune:

God can be attained through two ways: either prayer or meditation. They are different ways, diametrically opposite but, strangely leading to the same experience.

If you look at the ways they look antagonistic, and if one thinks logically one will think, how can these contrary thoughts lead to the same goal? But those who have attained have seen that, ultimately, both paths lead to the same goal. And those two paths are needed because there are two types of people in the world.

Humanity can be divided into two categories: the people who are more interested in love and the people who are more interested in bliss. The person who is interested in love has to follow the path of prayer. Then God is somewhere outside and you become a lover or a beloved. Both things have been done in the past.

The Indian mystics who followed the path of prayer have always thought of God as the lover and themselves as the beloved. They thought of themselves as feminine because God is the only male. That too has a beauty of its own — you are just receptive like a woman.

The Sufis have done just the opposite. It is the same path but they think of themselves as lovers and God as a beloved. God is the woman — that too has its beauty. But both are on the path of love. Prayer means the highest form of love. But you have to hypothesize God somewhere outside, then you can relate.

The people who are interested in bliss have no need to hypothesize God outside, they have to hypothesize God inside. Buddha, Mahavira — the whole tradition of Tao mystics and Zen mystics follows the path of meditation. In meditation, you don’t need any outside God — it is self-exploration.

Now, these two things look totally opposite; one is focussed on the inside God. How can they reach to the same point? — But they do.

The person who thinks of God as being on the outside dissolves himself into his God. He disappears, and the moment he disappears the ego is dropped and there is oneness. That oneness is realization.

In meditation you have to discard the ego, you have to become aware of the ego, you have to become watchful of the ego and all its tricks and strategies and cunning ways. As you watch the ego and its subtle ways it starts disappearing. It cannot exist in the light of awareness. Awareness is just like light: you bring light in and the darkness disappears. And the ego is nothing but darkness.

The person following the path of love surrenders his ego to God. “I am not, you are.” But the same phenomenon happens, the ego is surrendered. And the person on the path of meditation does it through awareness. The same phenomenon happens, the ego disappears. And the moment the ego disappears you have come to find oneness with existence. So both reach the same oneness, both paths lead to the disappearance of duality; the duality is dissolved.

My feeling is that, as man becomes more and more mature, the path of meditation has to be more and more implemented.

A child cannot understand the path of meditation; he can understand the path of love because love is natural. Every child knows what love is. Maybe later on he forgets what it is, but every child knows what love is; it is an intrinsic feel.

Meditation is for a grown-up person. And humanity has come of age, hence meditation is going to become more significant than prayer in the future. Buddha is going to become more significant than Jesus. Zen is going to become more predominant than Sufism, Hassidism. Of course a few people will go on following those paths, and nothing is wrong in following them if they appeal to you — if they fit you. But the more intelligent you are, the more contemporary you are, more is the possibility that you will be easily moved by meditation; hence my emphasis on meditation.

I help people in prayer only when I see that meditation will not be possible for a certain person. But it is becoming more secondary every day.

Dhyaneshwar means God that is attained through meditation. So remember, meditation is going to be your way.

Experience is of the mind. Mind deals only with dead things. Experience means something that has already become past. Experiencing means that which is present, which is already here and now, which is a process, not a thing. And this has to be understood about everything that is valuable. Love, bliss, awareness — these are all processes, not things. You are always moving from one perfection to another perfection but the end never comes. It is an endless pilgrimage. The pilgrimage itself is so beautiful that there is no need for any end, the pilgrimage itself is the end.

Never make any goal in life because life has no goal, hence all goals are false and those who are running after goals are bound to be disappointed. Live life as a process, not as a dead thing but as something alive, growing, like a tree which is constantly growing; new leaves are always coming, the old are disappearing, the old is constantly replaced by the new. Or like a river which constantly goes on flowing towards the ocean, it is a continuum. Life is a river, love is a river, awareness is a river.

Remember always, nouns are all false. Existence consists of verbs, not nouns. In fact if we want to make language really true — true to life, true to reality — then we have to drop all nouns, all pronouns. Language should consist only of verbs. There is no tree, there is only treeing. There is no river, there is only rivering; there is no life, there is only living; and there is no love, there is only loving.

This has to be remembered constantly because the mind tries to make everything a noun. It lives in nouns — that’s why it goes on missing life. It is very happy with dead things because dead things can be easily manipulated. Dead things become objects. You can think about them, you can go round and round them, you can dissect them, you can try to find out what their secret is. But when something is alive mind simply feels impotent.

You cannot dissect an alive child. Yes, you can do a post-mortem when somebody is dead. And mind goes on doing post-mortems. It goes on cutting up and analysing corpses. But when a child is dead it is no more the same child. The real has already left; the bird is no more in the cage, only the cage is there. And by dissecting the cage you cannot find the bird.

That’s why science goes on missing the soul. It goes on missing your centre because it depends on dissection, analysis. Science lives in nouns. A person becomes religious when he becomes aware that all nouns are false, only verbs are real.

That is the meaning of Prem Anubhuti: love is an experiencing, it is a process. Never try to make it permanent. Never try to change its natural course, its flow, because a canal is not a river. There is a tremendous difference between the two. The river has freedom, the canal is imprisoned. It only has the appearance of a river.

My sannyasins have to understand it as deeply as possible. Never destroy any process by forcing your ideas upon it. Remain spontaneous, alert, receptive, but allowing life its own course, never interfering. Then all bliss is yours and all benediction is yours. Then life is always an ongoing ecstasy, it is a dance of such tremendous beauty and grace that mind is absolutely incapable of comprehending it.

Discovering God: Bridging Christianity, Hinduism and Islam

I just published my new book yesterday, September 11, 2019. The name of the book is ‘Discovering God: Bridging Christianity, Hinduism and Islam’. It is available in both kindle and paperback. This book is a step towards bridging all religions. Out of 100 readers, I am sure that it will make a difference to at least 10 people. This book explains the central nerve, the essence of all religions. I have written this book hoping that it will contribute something towards religious tolerance, unity of mankind and the ability to really see that all religions lead to the same truth.

You don’t have to have a kindle. You can download kindle app for android, create a free amazon account if you don’t have one, login and download the book for free during the period of promotion. Please leave your reviews after you read the book, to let the world know about this book. This book was possible only by Grace. Here is the book description as it is given in Amazon:

” God is the most misused and misunderstood word in the world. There are thousands and thousands of religions in this world but the major religions that stand out in the list include Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. Do they have anything in common or they are completely different from each other? In this book, I will show you how all the major religions of the world have the same central core and point to the same truth. I have quoted numerous verses from the Bible, Bhagavad Gita and Quran and have given a detailed commentary on them in the process of explaining the truth about these religions. I have unraveled the secrets of Greek mystery schools, Upanishads, Kabbalah, Hasidism, Sufism and other mystic traditions in the book. But this book needs a complete open-mindedness and patience from your part. By buying this book and sharing it with your friends, you are contributing something to the world peace. I strongly believe that this book will bring a change. “

US readers, click here to buy the book:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07XRJ3GWS

Indian readers click here:

Story of Lord Ganesha and its Spiritual Significance

Today is Ganesh Chaturthi, which is celebrated as the birthday of Lord Ganesha. Ganesha’s birth story conveys something very symbolic. Parvati while taking bath, makes the form of Ganesha with turmeric paste. She breathes life into the form and makes him as a young boy and appoints him as a guard. When Shiva comes in, Ganesha doesn’t recognize him and doesn’t allow him inside. This results in a fight and Shiva severes the head of Ganesha. Finally when the truth is recognized, an elephant’s head is fixed on the headless boy.

Lord Ganesha with Shiva and Parvati

Parvati taking bath symbolizes the first step in the spiritual path: preparing the ground by purifying oneself. Ganesha guarding the door is your awareness guarding the contents of the mind, which symbolizes the second step in the spiritual path where you remain as a witness. When Shiva or the self realization comes, the head or the ahamkara, the feeling that one is the doer of his actions, is severed. Elephant symbolizes wisdom. Wisdom replaces ahamkara.

The story of Skanda and Ganesha quarrelling for the fruit of wisdom or the gnanapalam also has a symbolic meaning. Ganesha symbolizes the type of seekers who realize that Purusha and Prakriti, or the Father and the Mother are within and get the fruit of wisdom instantly. They are like Ramana Maharshi who follow the direct path like self inquiry right away. Skanda symbolizes the type of seekers who go around the world, seeking fulfillment in worldly things, then trying various spiritual practices before attempting to go through the direct method. These people are like Ramakrishna Paramahamsa who was more attached to the name and external form of Goddess Kali. After trying various sadhanas, he receives Vedantic instructions from Totapuri and gets the fruit of wisdom.

Lord Skanda or Murugan

Bhagavad Gita 2.23 Explained with Ramana Maharshi’s Movie Screen Analogy

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The verse 23 of chapter 2 of Bhagavad Gita says, “Weapons cannot cut the Self, nor can fire burn it. Water cannot wet it, nor can the wind dry it.”

What is this Self? Self is neither the body nor the mind but the knower of the both. It is the pure witness. So whatever that happens doesn’t happen to the Self.

This topic has been already covered by me in many of my previous posts. To get a clear idea, go through the following posts:

Ramana Maharshi and the Cinema Screen Analogy

Sat-Chit-Ananda (Truth, Consciousness & Bliss) : Advaita Vedanta in 3 Infographics

Kshetra Kshetrajna Vibhaga Yoga (Bhagavad Gita: 13.2) – With Animated Yin Yang Images

Here is an animated video that explains this sloka:

 

 

 

Goddess Gomathi Amman, Adi Thabasu and Religious Tolerance

I am always amazed by coincidences in life. As I scientist, I regard them as just coincidences but the poetic aspect of me rejoices in the beauty of the connections. Many such beautiful coincidences happened today; and today is also Adi Thabasu, a festival in Tamil month of Adi that celebrates religious tolerance.

There is a beautiful temple in a town close to my city. The town is Sankarankovil, in Tirunelveli district. This temple has a story behind it. It is not history, but a story. But the story comes with a good message which served to connect Shaivism and Vaishnavism, the two sects into one.

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I am including the story from Wikipedia as It will save me a lot of typing:

“The goddesses is a yogini who was performing her penance on the tip of the needle to please lord Shiva and merge with him. Two snake kings namely “sangan” and “padman”. Sangan was worshipping lord shiva and padman was worshipping lord narayana. One day they had a quarrel on who is great whether lord shiva, the destroyer or narayana, the protector. They were trying to prove their own power and finally went to the yogini and pleaded her to give them a proper judgement.

The yogini grew out of her grace pleaded the almighty to show his universality form so that not only the snake kings but also for every human being. By the intense penance lord shiva appears before the yogini in the form of half shiva and half vishnu showing the world that they are equal and it is with love and sacrifice they could reach them. Hence sangan and padman worshipped the lord and prayed to the yogini for showing them a way to attain the god and they stayed with her. the yogini was none other than goddesses gomathi. Gomathi means repository of wealth. Since the snakes stayed with the goddesses, this place is free from all venomous creatures and praying to this goddesses can eliminate the fear of venom.

One of the 18 siddhas, the great pambatti siddhar worshipped this goddesses as valai kumari and he regarded this goddesses to be the great serpent power which can make miracles in taking aspirant in yogic transformation. Pambatti siddhar samadhi is seen behind the temple.”

My long time readers would know that I am not happy with the hatred spread by RSS and other Hindutva organizations in India. This morning, before I knew that today is Adi Thabasu, I commented on an RSS group in Facebook. Their replies were in Tamil but you can guess what they are basically saying by reading my replies that are in English. Eventually, in between the comments I got to know that today is the festive day that reminds us about religious tolerance, as I was also checking Tamil calendar app in my mobile. And what I notice among RSS members is religious intolerance and hatred. Here are the screenshots:

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There was another coincidence too. Once I finished posting these comments, I saw this in my Facebook feed:

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A birthday of a Muslim friend and a Christian friend. Both are my good friends. And coincidentally, it made me recall a conversation that I had with one of them in a post that I posted a month before:

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The conversation itself was regarding religious tolerance. This is way too much of coincidences today. I am not sure if they have any other significance other than being coincidences but they are beautiful and poetic. They make me smile and I enjoy them!