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The Hindu Culture: A Clear and Concise Summary for Youngsters

Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION

Knowledge

Divine origins

Texts

Age

Challenges

QUEST FOR IMMORTALITY

Brahman

The search

Ultimate destination

Only humans

Summary

HOW TO ACHIEVE BRAHMAN

Atmaan

Methods for achieving Brahman/Atmaan

Yoga

Common objective

Patanjali’s yoga

Yama

Niyama

Asana

Pranayama

Pratyahara

Dharana

Dhyana

Samadhi

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

CLOSURE

SOURCES

AUTHOR

 

[]INTRODUCTION

The Hindu culture is just that—a culture. It is a way of life, not a religion.

First came the culture. Later came all the deities that Hindus today worship, such as Rama and Krishna. We will not debate their divinity. In this treatise, we stick to the facts. The fact is that Rama and Krishna were practitioners of a culture already existing. Repeat: first came the culture. Therefore, to really know the Hindu culture, we must study it as originally founded by the founding sages and recorded in the founding texts—the Vedas and their subtexts such as the Upanisads.

The texts are vast. The foremost Veda, the Rg Veda Samhita, alone has 10,589 mantras or verses. The basics of the Hindu culture are scattered all over the texts. That’s because the Hindu culture was not founded by any one sage but by many sages across many generations. The sages observed nature, contemplated on the observations, then experimented with methods by which to achieve the one paramount objective that the sages called Brahman, pronounced Brahmaa ending with the nasal sound of the n. Most Hindus ritually repeat the words Om and Atmaan without realizing, as you will see shortly, that Om and Atmaan are but different names for the same paramount objective—Brahman. By trial and error spanning generations, the sages honed their observations and perfected the methods by which to achieve Brahman. Read the texts and you can actually sense the maturing of the thinking as one generation built upon the experience of the generations past. The basics of the culture are thus scattered all over the vast texts.

From the vast texts, this short treatise extracts the basics of the culture and presents them in succinct form.

[]Knowledge

Humankind’s knowledge of nature has advanced over time. For a culture to continue to survive, it must make rational sense that fits our present knowledge. If it doesn’t, discard the culture. This book is for ages high school and up, by when you have sufficient knowledge to decide if the Hindu culture makes rational sense. If it doesn’t, discard the Hindu culture, delete this book, and send the author an e-mail for your money back.

[]Divine origins

Some ardent followers of the culture emphatically state that the Vedas were revealed to the founding sages of the culture by some God. Do not believe this. If you do, read no further and throw away this book, for it will not enlighten you.

Writes Jawaharlal Nehru, a past scholar and statesman of India:

Many Hindus look upon the Vedas as revealed scripture. This seems to me to be peculiarly unfortunate, for thus we miss their real significance—the unfolding of the human mind in the earliest stages of thought. And what a wonderful mind it was! The Vedas (from the root vid, to know) were simply meant to be a collection of the existing knowledge of the day . . . I could not approach these books, or any book, as Holy Writ which must be accepted in their totality without challenge or demur. Indeed, this approach of Holy Writ usually resulted in my mind being closed to what they contained. I was much more friendly and open to them when I could consider them as having been written by human beings, very wise and far-seeing, but nevertheless ordinary mortals and not incarnations or mouthpieces of a divinity . . . The Discovery of India

Yet India today worships myriad Gods. There is a profound reason for this. Once you understand the basic culture, you will understand why. Suffice it to say for now that if you are concentrating on this book with undivided attention, then you are, at this very moment, practicing the Hindu culture, and if later in the day you concentrate on something else, no matter what, whether this book or a God imagined with several heads and limbs or even a piece of asymmetric rock picked off the road, you are still practicing the Hindu culture.

[]Texts

This book draws extensively from the original texts of the Hindu culture, but on occasion the book also draws from later texts such as Bhagavad Gita if a later text explains a founding concept more clearly.

The original texts of the Hindu culture are the Vedas. Four Vedas were composed. Each Veda comprises of sections titled Samhitas, Aranyakas, Brahmanas and Upanisads. This book draws extensively from the Upanisads.

It is not known how many Upanisads were originally composed. One hundred and eight have survived. Of these, sixteen were recognized as authentic by Sankara, a noted past Hindu sage, and on ten of them Sankara wrote extensive commentaries. These ten are today regarded as the principal Upanisads and are in bold font in the list of texts below.

 

Atharva Veda

Samhita. Brahmanas & Aranyakas. Upanisads: Kaivalya, Mundaka, Jabala, Mandukya, Prasna.

 

Rg Veda

Samhita. Brahmanas & Aranyakas. Upanisads: Kausitaka, Aitareya.

 

Sama Veda

Samhita. Brahmanas & Aranyakas. Upanisads: Kena, Chandogya, Vajrasucika.

 

Yajur Veda

Samhita. Brahmanas & Aranyakas. Upanisads: *Isa,_ Maitri, Subala, Taittiriya, [[*Brhad-aranyaka,]_] Katha, Paingala, Svetasvatara.

[]Age

In recorded history, the Hindu culture is the world’s oldest surviving culture. No precise date, such as the date of birth or death of a founder, can be ascribed to the Hindu culture, for as stated earlier, it was founded by many sages deliberating over many centuries. Clues of its age come from astronomy and archeology.

In the original texts of the Hindu culture are noted some astronomical events that astronomers calculate occurred about 4500 BC.

Historians, however, argue that astronomical events are not reliable indicators of age because astronomical events can be inserted retroactively to render an older age. The archeology of human migrations provides another and considered more reliable estimate of the age of the culture.

The founding sages of the Hindu culture descended from Aryas or Aryans. The Aryans originated from the steppelands between Poland and central Asia. They practiced agriculture but were predominantly pastoral. They had tamed the horse and yoked it to a light spoke-wheeled chariot, the most efficient transport of the time.

We don’t know why, but around 2000 BC the Aryans were on the move. They migrated east, west, and south. Along the way, they conquered the local populations and established themselves as the ruling class. Some became ancestors to the Baltic and Slavonic people. Some migrated to Europe and became ancestors to the Greeks, Latins, Celts, and the Teutons. Some entered the Iranian tableland and attacked the Middle Eastern civilizations. Some of this stock then turned eastward and invaded India.

The Aryan invasion of India was not a single, concerted action but a series of invasions spanning several centuries and involving many Aryan tribes. Chief among the tribes was the Bharatas. The Bharatas, along with local Indian thinkers, founded the Hindu culture. Archeological evidence suggests that the Bharatas migrated into India about 1500 BC.

Even if we ignore the older evidence of astronomy and consider only the archeological age, the Hindu culture is still the oldest surviving culture in recorded history.

[]Challenges

The evolutionary principles of struggle for existence and survival of the fittest also apply to religions and cultures. Survival is constantly challenged; only the fit survive. The Hindu culture has in the past been challenged by three of the world’s major religions: Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity.

Buddhism was born in India in the 6th Century BC. The founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama, later known as Gautam Buddha, preached his first sermons in Varanasi, India. In the 300 years after Buddha, Buddhism gained popularity in India and also spread abroad. It engulfed most of Asia including Tibet, China, Japan, and the Pacific rim. In its own birthplace, India, however, Buddhism virtually disappeared: today less than one percent of India is Buddhist.

Next came Islam. After the death of Mohammad, Islam’s last prophet, in 632 AD, Islam spread like wildfire across Mesopotamia, Armenia, Syria, Africa, Persia, and eventually India. After a series of invasions starting 711 AD, Islam conquered India. The last Islamic ruler was Bahadur Shah Zafar. The British banished him from India in 1858. If we consider this date as the end of Islamic rule in India, then Islam ruled India for more than 1,000 years. In that millennium, Islam tried to convert India by consent and by the sword, yet today, only about thirteen percent of India is Muslim.

Next came Christianity. India has a branch of Christians called Thomas Christians. They trace their origin to St Thomas, one of Christ’s twelve apostles. In 52 AD, St Thomas landed on the Malabar coast of India and established branches of the Syrian church. European travelers traveling India in the 7th Century AD record the existence of well established Syrian churches in southern India. Thereafter came Dutch, French, and British conquerors, all Christians, of course. The British eventually conquered all of India and ruled India for more than three centuries. Christianity today spans most of the world: thirty-two percent of the world’s population is Christian. In India, however, in spite of more than three centuries of Christian domination, less than three percent of India is Christian.

Why is it that three major religions of the world, which converted most of the rest of the world, could not budge the Hindu culture? What is it in the Hindu culture that stands rock steady?

Read on and find out.

[]QUEST FOR IMMORTALITY

[]Brahman

The Hindu culture has at its roots the paramount desire of any life form—to live forever, be immortal.

The founding sages of the Hindu culture were no exceptions. They too desired immortality, and they desired immortality not in some after-life paradise but right here and now, in this life. The desire for immortality led to the founding of the Hindu culture.

While the rest of humanity implored myriad Gods for immortality, the founding sages of the Hindu culture took a different approach. They reasoned that if immortality was possible, then nature must have created something immortal. If they could find that something immortal, perhaps they could emulate it and themselves become immortal. They began a search of the universe for something immortal.

First, however, our ancestors defined immortality. What, after all, were they looking for? What is immortality?

Our ancestors defined immortality as the state of no change. A change involves a start and end, a birth and death. Immortality can’t change. No start, no end. No birth, no death. To the state of no change, our ancestors gave a name: Brahman, pronounced Brahmaa, the n nasal. Another name for it is Atmaan. (The n is again nasal.) Yet another name for it is Om, also often spelled as Aum. Brahman, Atmaan, Om—all three names for the state of no change, without a beginning, without an end, no birth, no death.

Brahman, said the sages, cannot be described, for any attempt to describe it limits it, and a limit is a change: it has a beginning and an end. Brahman has no bounds. Brahman is forever.

. . . This Brahman is without an earlier and without a later, without an inside, without an outside. This Brahman is the all perceiving. This is the teaching. Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad

The sages said the only way to describe Brahman is in terms of na iti, na iti, not this, not this.

. . . Now therefore there is the teaching, not this, not this for there is nothing higher than this, that he is not this. Now the designation for him [Brahman] is the truth of truth . . . Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad

Brahman, said the sages, is simply tyat—that.

. . . Which is the one God? . . . He is Brahman. They call him tyat (that). Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad

Note that the one God, Brahman, is not a superhuman, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God residing somewhere in the stars watching us and tallying our good deeds with bad deeds and rewarding or punishing us, holding us forever in fear. This God, Brahman, is instead a state of existence—the state of no change.

[]The search

Having defined immortality and given it a name, Brahman, the founding sages of the Hindu culture set out to observe the universe for something that never changes.

A modern high school student, armed with the knowledge of the atom and its characteristics, would immediately conclude this search as futile. All matter is composed of atoms, and the atom suffers ceaseless change: the particles in the nucleus constantly rearrange themselves; electrons orbit; electrons change orbits and jump between orbits; electrons also jump between atoms; atoms close together repel each other; atoms far apart attract each other through gravitational forces that exert across space and tug at every other atom in every corner of the universe. All matter in the universe thus suffers ceaseless change.

The founding sages of the Hindu culture did not know the atom. After much time spent searching the universe, the sages came up with naught. Everywhere they looked, the sages observed that the universe suffers ceaseless change.

This observation, that the universe suffers ceaseless change, led the sages to a profound conclusion about how we perceive the universe. What our five senses perceive, they concluded, is not the real universe but the apparent universe. The distinction is important. Look around you. Whatever you observe is changing even while you observe it. It may be changing visibly or deep down at atomic levels, but it is changing. The material universe that we see is, therefore, apparent, not real.

Back to the search for something unchanging.

Having exhausted the search for something that never changed, our ancestors then asked: Is there something that at present changes endlessly but that can be brought under control and made unchanging?

Since the material universe suffers ceaseless change, nothing material can be immortal. What’s left? Only one thing. In the entire universe, there is really only one creation of nature left that can be controlled and made unchanging, and that is the mind—the thought process, the consciousness.

You are not your body but your mind. All humans have the same basic body. What distinguishes one human from another is the mind.

The five senses of your body provide inputs with which your mind perceives the universe. This is important: it is not with the senses that you perceive the universe; it is with your mind.

It has happened with us all that we missed seeing something right before us or did not hear somebody calling us. When somebody called you, your eardrums vibrated; your inner ear magnified the vibrations; your auditory nerve conveyed the vibrations to the brain. The organs of your sense of hearing did their work, yet you did not hear. You did not hear because your mind was elsewhere, and your mind was elsewhere because you put it there.

. . . (They say) my mind was elsewhere, I did not see, my mind was elsewhere, I did not hear. It is with the mind, truly, that one sees. It is with the mind that one hears. Desire, determination, doubt, faith, lack of faith, steadfastness, lack of steadfastness, shame, intellection, fear, all this is truly mind. Therefore, even if one is touched on his back, he discerns it with the mind . . . Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad

Brahman, the state of no change, or immortality, is, achievable with the mind and only with the mind. Make your mind steady and unchanging as Brahman, and you achieve immortality.

[]Ultimate destination

While searching the universe for something that never changes, the sages came to another conclusion: all matter in the universe seeks Brahman—the state of no change. Look around you. A rock prefers to remain where it is, where all forces on it balance each other. If an imbalance makes it change position, it again wants to come to rest where all forces on it balance out again so that it doesn’t have to change position again. The sages said that eventually, whether now or after eons of change, all matter will achieve the state of no change—Brahman. By “all matter” the sages meant literally all matter—animate and inanimate.

At this point, the sages extrapolated their thoughts to the hereafter. They said the search for Brahman extends from birth to birth. This too was based on observation of nature. Nature preserves in the next generation the stronger traits of past generations, thus making a life form increasingly stronger from generation to generation. This progression, observed the sages, is heading toward a state when a life form has conquered all weaknesses and never has to change again—that is, has achieved Brahman. All life forms are thus progressing toward Brahman from birth to birth.

This also applies to the entire universe at large. This universe is not the first universe. Neither is it the last one. Other universes have come before. More will follow—until the entire universe achieves Brahman—the state of no change, immortality.

You, a human, are no exception. You too have come before. You may have come in a different form, in a different outer shell or body, but you have come before, and you will come again and again until you achieve the ultimate destination—Brahman.

Never was there a time when I [Krishna] did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be. Bhagavad Gita

In whatever condition one quits his present body, in his next life he will attain to that state of being without fail. Bhagavad Gita

If a man fails to attain Brahman before he casts off his body, he must again put on a body in the world of created things. Katha Upanisad

Whether in this birth or after more births, you will achieve Brahman, and then, merged in Brahman, you, as Brahman, will become immortal.

The sages said that this universe was, in fact, born from Brahman. As all beings at the end of the day return home, so is the universe striving to return to its roots—Brahman.

This is the truth. As from a blazing fire, sparks of like form issue forth by the thousands, even so, O beloved, many kinds of beings issue forth from the immutable [Brahman] and they return thither too. Mundaka Upanisad

From me all emerge, in me all exist, and to me all return. I am Brahman—One without a second. Kaivalya Upanisad

[]Only humans

While the entire universe is striving for Brahman, the sages said only the human is the closest to achieving Brahman.

The universe is striving for Brahman without knowing that it is. Only the human has a consciousness developed enough to be aware of Brahman. All objects are on a ladder of increasing consciousness. At the bottom of the ladder, with the least consciousness, are inanimate objects such as rocks. Higher up on the ladder are animals. At the very top is the human.

. . . [the human] of all beings is most endowed with consciousness. He says what he has known; he sees what he has known; he knows what is to happen tomorrow; he knows the gross and the subtle. In his mortality he desires the immortal. Thus is he endowed. In other animate beings, understanding goes no further than hunger and thirst. They do not say what they have known, nor do they see what they have known. They do not know what is to happen tomorrow, nor do they know the gross and the subtle. To a certain point they go, but they go no further. Aitareya Aranyaka

Your birth as a human is special. Out of all creation, only you are aware of Brahman, are the closest to achieving Brahman, and only you can make a conscious effort to become immortal in Brahman.

Then do it, said the sages. Achieve Brahman, and do it in this very life. Don’t wait for more births. Do it now.

Self-luminous is Brahman, ever present in the hearts of all. He is the refuge of all, he is the supreme goal. In him exists all that moves and breathes. In him exists all that is. He is both that which is gross and that which is subtle. Adorable is he. Beyond the ken of the senses is he. Supreme is he. Attain thou him! Mundaka Upanisad

He, the self-luminous, subtler than the subtlest, in whom exist all the worlds and all those that live therein—he is the imperishable Brahman. He is the principle of life. He is speech, and he is mind. He is real. He is immortal. Attain him, O my friend, the one goal to be attained! Mundaka Upanisad

Taking as the bow the great weapon of the Upanisads, one should place in it the arrow sharpened by meditation. Drawing it with a mind engaged in the contemplation of that, O beloved, know that imperishable Brahman as the target. Mundaka Upanisad

. . . That from which these beings are born; that by which, when born they live; that into which, when departing, they enter. That, seek to know. That is Brahman. Taittiriya Upanisad

He who realizes the existence of Brahman behind every activity of his being—whether sensation, perception, or thought—he alone gains immortality. Through knowledge of Brahman comes power. Through knowledge of Brahman comes victory over death. Kena Upanisad

Let my life now merge in the all-pervading [Brahman]. Ashes are my body’s end . . . O mind, remember Brahman . . . O mind . . . remember Brahman. Isa Upanisad

Whosoever, O Gargi, in this world, without knowing this imperishable [Brahman] performs sacrifices, worships, performs austerities for a thousand years, his work will have an end. Whosoever, O Gargi, without knowing this imperishable [Brahman] departs from this world, is pitiable. But, O Gargi, he who knowing the imperishable [Brahman] departs from this world is a Brahmana (a knower of Brahman). Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad

This, verily, is that. This indeed was that, the true. He who knows that wonderful being, the first born as the Brahman, conquers these worlds, and conquered likewise may that enemy be and become non-existent . . . (for him) who knows that wonderful being, the first born as the true Brahman. Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad

Brahman may be realized while yet one dwells in the ephemeral body. To fail to realize him is to live in ignorance and, therefore, to be subject to birth and death. The knowers of Brahman are immortal. Others, knowing him not, continue in the bonds of grief. Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad

Let, therefore, the wise aspirant, knowing Brahman to be the supreme goal, so shape his life and his conduct that he may attain to him . . . Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad

In its desire to achieve Brahman in this very life, the Hindu culture stands apart from all other major cultures and religions. Other major religions promise eternity after life. The Hindu culture insists on attaining immortality now, in this very life.

[]Summary

In summary, the founding sages of the Hindu culture defined immortality as the state of no change and named the state Brahman. All creation is striving toward Brahman, coming increasingly closer to Brahman from birth to birth. Whether now or after more births, all creation will achieve Brahman.

Out of all creation, only humans have the consciousness developed enough to achieve immortality in Brahman in this very life, without waiting for more births.

Says Swami Vivekananda, a noted past sage of the Hindu culture:

Nature’s task is done, this unselfish task which our sweet nurse has imposed upon herself. She gently took the . . . soul by the hand, and showed him all that is in the universe, all manifestations, bringing him higher and higher through various bodies till his glory came back and he remembered his own nature. Then the kind mother went back the same way she came, for others who also had lost their way in the trackless desert of life. And thus is she working, without beginning and without end. And thus through pleasure and pain, through good and evil, the infinite river of souls is flowing into the ocean of perfection [Brahman], or self-realization. Glory unto those who have realized their own nature; may their blessings lie on us all. Complete Works of Vivekananda

This is the foundation of the Hindu culture. The rest is how to achieve Brahman. Let us go now to the methods that the founding sages suggested for achieving Brahman.

[]HOW TO ACHIEVE BRAHMAN

[]Atmaan

To achieve Brahman, where to find it? The founding sages said Brahman is everywhere.

Brahman is this immortal. In front is Brahman, behind is Brahman, to the right and to the left. It spreads forth below and above. Brahman, indeed, is this universe. It is the greatest. Mundaka Upanisad

What is called space is the determined of name and form. That within which they are is the Brahman, that is the immortal . . . Chandogya Upanisad

Brahman is in all creations of nature. Brahman is in every rock, in every plant, in every animal, in every human, in every atom of every creation. To find Brahman, you need not look far. Look within you. Brahman is there.

He who knows Brahman attains the supreme goal. Brahman is the abiding reality, he is pure knowledge, and he is infinity. He who knows that Brahman dwells within the lotus of the heart becomes one with him and enjoys all blessings. Taittiriya Upanisad

To help us sharpen our awareness of Brahman within us, the founding sages gave it another name, Atmaan, but the sages repeatedly emphasized that Atmaan and Brahman are not different. The Atmaan within and Brahman without are one and the same.

. . . Know the Atmaan within and the Brahman without, and . . . realize their identity. The Atmaan is Brahman, and Brahman is all. Isa Upanisad

(Note: Atmaan in English is often translated as the Self. In this treatise, we will stick with Atmaan instead of Self.)

What is called Brahman, that is what the space outside of a person is. Verily, what the space outside of a person is. That is what the space inside of a person is. Verily, what the space inside of a person is. Chandogya Upanisad

What is within is also without. What is without is also within. He who sees difference between what is within and what is without goes evermore from death to death. Katha Upanisad

Now the light which shines above this heaven, above all, above everything, in the highest worlds beyond which there are no higher . . . that is the same as this light which is here within the person. Chandogya Upanisad

He who is the Atmaan in man, and he who is the Atmaan in the sun, are one. He who knows this truth overcomes the world . . . Taittiriya Upanisad

He who glows in the depths of your eyes—that is Brahman; that is the Atmaan of yourself. He is the Beautiful One, he is the Luminous One. In all the worlds, forever and ever, he shines. Chandogya Upanisad

He that has once known the glory of the Atmaan within the ephemeral body . . . knows that the Atmaan is one with Brahman, lord and creator of all. Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad

. . . He is that luminous form which gives heat in the yonder sun, the wonderful light on the smokeless fire, as also the fire in the stomach which cooks (digests) food. For thus has it been said, he who is in the fire, and he who is here in the heart and he who is yonder in the sun—he is one. He who knows this goes to the oneness of the one. Maitri Upanisad

Throughout the texts of the Hindu culture, the founding sages repeatedly emphasize the oneness of the Atmaan within and Brahman without. In fact, the sages often speak of the Atmaan in the same manner as they speak of Brahman.

Now next the instruction in regard to the Atmaan. The Atmaan indeed is below. The Atmaan is above. The Atmaan is behind. The Atmaan is in front. The Atmaan is to the south. The Atmaan is to the north. The Atmaan, indeed, is all this (world) . . . Chandogya Upanisad

. . . This Brahman is without an earlier and without a later, without an inside, without an outside. This Brahman is the Atmaan, the all-perceiving. This is the teaching. Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad

The immortal Atmaan is the sun shining in the sky, he is the breeze blowing in space, he is the fire burning on the altar, he is the guest dwelling in the house; he is in all men, he is in the Gods, he is in the ether, he is wherever there is truth. He is the fish that is born in water, he is the plant that grows in the soil, he is the river that gushes from the mountain—he, the changeless reality, the illimitable! Katha Upanisad

. . . This Atmaan, who is pure consciousness, is Brahman. He is God, all Gods; the five elements—earth, air, fire, water, ether; all beings, great or small, born of eggs, born from the womb, born from heat, born from soil; horses, cows, men, elephants, birds; everything that breathes, the beings that walk and the beings that walk not. The reality behind all these is Brahman, who is pure consciousness. Aitareya Upanisad

This is that great unborn Atmaan who is undecaying, undying, immortal, fearless, Brahman . . . Brahman is fearless. He who knows this becomes the fearless Brahman. Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad

. . . He is never seen but is the seer, he is never heard but is the hearer. He is never perceived, but is the perceiver. He is never thought but is the thinker. There is no seer but he, there is no other hearer but he, there is no other perceiver but he, there is no other thinker but he. He is your Atmaan, the inner controller, the immortal . . . Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad

Containing all works, containing all desires, containing all odors, containing all tastes, encompassing this whole world, without speech, without concern, this is the Atmaan of mine within the heart; this is Brahman. Into him I shall enter on departing hence . . . he who believes this will have no more doubts . . . Chandogya Upanisad

That God, the maker of all things, the great Atmaan, ever seated in the heart of creatures is framed by the heart, by the thought, by the mind. They who know that become immortal. Svetasvatara Upanisad

Concludes Swami Vivekananda:

After long marches here and there, in temples and churches, in earth and in heavens, at last you come back, completing the circle from where you started, to your own soul and find that He, for whom you have been seeking all over the world, for whom you have been weeping and praying in churches and temples, on whom you were looking as the mystery of all mysteries shrouded in the clouds, is nearest of the near, is your own self, the reality of your life, body and soul. Complete Works of Vivekananda

Knowing that Brahman without and the Atmaan within are one and the same, the founding sages of the Hindu culture then developed methods by which to reach within and achieve the Atmaan or Brahman and become immortal in Brahman.

[] Methods for achieving Brahman/Atmaan

Over time, six methods were developed. In no particular order, they are:

 

Mimamsa method of Jaimini.

Nyaya method of Gotama.

Samkhya method of Kapila.

Vaisesika method of Kanada.

Vedanta method of Vyasa.

Yoga method of Patanjali.

 

All six methods are followed today. The most popular is Patanjali’s yoga, to which we confine this discussion.

[]Yoga

Yoga, a Sanskrit word, means union—union with Brahman or Atmaan, both one and the same. Instructions on yoga are scattered throughout the texts of the Hindu culture. Patanjali organized the scattered pieces in the coherent system that we know today.

We don’t know when Patanjali lived. A grammarian by the name of Patanjali lived in the 2nd Century BC, but we don’t know if he is the one who organized yoga.

[]Common objective

All methods of achieving Brahman have the same objective: disconnect the mind from the senses.

You and the universe are a chain of three links.

 

 

The universe is one end of the chain. The middle link is your body and its senses. The other end of the chain is your mind.

When one end of the chain rattles, it rattles the rest of the chain: when the universe changes, your senses sense the change, and your mind is affected.

You cannot control the universe. Neither can you control your senses: as the above hearing example illustrates, your senses work no matter what. Then there is only one way to make the mind steady: disconnect it from the senses: that is, remove the mind link from the chain.

Then what’s left of the chain is just the body and its senses connected with the universe. When the mind is completely disconnected from the senses and kept disconnected, Brahman—immortality—is achieved. Then the body will someday wither away and die, but the mind, steady in Brahman, will live on forever.

It may be that I shall find it good to get outside of my body—to cast it off like a disused garment. Complete Works of Vivekananda

One who is able to withdraw his [mind] from sense objects, as the tortoise draws his limbs within the shell, is to be understood as truly situated in knowledge. Bhagavad Gita

[]Patanjali’s yoga

Meditation is the way to disconnect the mind from the senses and achieve immortality in Brahman. Patanjali’s yoga teaches meditation in eight steps.

[]Yama

Start with your actions. Actions reflect the state of the mind. A restive mind produces restive actions. The reverse is also true: control the restive actions, and your mind calms down. Yama is controlling the actions.

Perform no action that ruffles the mind. Be good. Do good. Speak the truth. Don’t harm others, not in action, not in speech, not even in thought. Good actions produce a calm, steady mind.

. . . According as one acts, according as one behaves, so does he become. The doer of good becomes good, the doer of evil becomes evil. One becomes virtuous by virtuous action, bad by bad action. Others, however, say that a person consists of desires. As is his desire, so is his will; as is his will, so is the deed he does, whatever deed he does, that he attains. Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad

[]Niyama

Niyama means routine. A routine fixes the tasks performed daily at set times. A time to wake up, time to eat, time to start work, time to end work, time to sleep, done over and over again, day after day—this is niyama. The steadiness of a routine develops a steady mind.

He who is regulated in his habits of eating, sleeping, working and recreation can mitigate all material pains by practicing the yoga system. Bhagavad Gita

Niyama must be balanced. A niyama of excesses is not a niyama.

There is no possibility of one’s becoming a yogi, O Arjuna, if one eats too much or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough. Bhagavad Gita

After some months of steady practice of yama and niyama, the early results of practicing yoga start showing.

Lightness, healthiness, steadiness, clearness of complexion, pleasantness of voice, sweetness of odor, and slight excretions, these, they say, are the first results of the progress of yoga. Svetasvatara Upanisad

[]Asana

So far, Patanjali’s yoga has focused on actions. Asana is the first step toward meditation.

Asana means the posture of meditation. Asana is the practice of maintaining your chosen posture of meditation for extended periods of time. The common posture of meditation is to sit cross legged, spine erect, hands clasped across the front.

Holding the body steady with the three (upper parts, chest, neck and head) erect causing the senses and the mind to enter into the heart, the wise man should cross by the boat of Brahman all the streams which cause fear. Svetasvatara Upanisad

One should hold one’s body, neck and head erect in a straight line and stare steadily at the tip of the nose. Thus with an unagitated, subdued mind, devoid of fear, completely free of sex life, one should meditate . . . Bhagavad Gita

Let the whole weight of the body be supported by the ribs, and then you have an easy, natural posture, with the spine straight. Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda

Any posture which is easy and steady is an asana; there is no other rule. Sankhya Sutras

You may choose any posture, but having chosen it, don’t change it. Brahman means no change. Don’t change your actions, don’t change your niyama, and once chosen, don’t change your asana.

Choose a place for the asana, and don’t change the place either. Reserve that place for yoga only. Allow no other activity there.

In a level clean place, free from pebbles, fire and gravel, favorable to thought by the sound of water and other features, not offensive to the eye, in a hidden retreat protected from the wind, let him perform his exercises (practice yoga). Svetasvatara Upanisad

To practice yoga, one should go to a secluded place and should lay kusa grass on the ground and then cover it with a deerskin and a soft cloth. The seat should neither be too high nor too low and should be situated in a sacred place. The yogi should then sit on it very firmly and should practice yoga by controlling the mind and the senses, purifying the heart and fixing the mind on one point. Bhagavad Gita

Worship is possible in a sitting posture, because this encourages meditation. The meditating person is compared to the immovable earth. There is no law of place; where the mind is concentrated, there worship should be performed. Vedanta Sutras

Note that nowhere in the texts of the Hindu culture is written that meditation must be performed in a temple only. As the above verse emphasizes, “there is no law of place.” Pick any asana and any place. Once chosen, don’t change either.

[]Pranayama

The pace of your breathing indicates the state of your mind. A restive mind effects fast, shallow breathing. A calm, steady mind effects slow, deep breaths. Since the state of the mind affects breathing, breathing also affects the mind: control your breathing and you can steady a restive mind. This is what underlies the ancient advice that when losing your cool, count slowly from one to ten. Counting one to ten slowly regulates the breathing, which steadies the mind. Pranayama is the practice of regulating your breathing.

Repressing his breathings here (in the body), let him who has controlled all movements, breathe through his nostrils, with diminished breath; let the wise man restrain his mind vigilantly as (he would) a chariot yoked with vicious horses. Svetasvatara Upanisad

Regulate your breathing: slow in, slow out. Regulate the breathing a few minutes a day to start with, longer over time until all your waking hours you are conscious of your breathing and regulating it. Reduce your breathing to as slow as you comfortably can. Keep that rate of breathing for some time before slowing it further. The average human breathes twelve to twenty times a minute. Yogis breathe once every three to four minutes. Some yogis even slower.

Equally important is to smooth your breathing. Avoid jerky breathing. Also avoid shallow and rapid breathing. Breathe deep, slow and smooth in, slow and smooth out.

To control your breathing, you must concentrate on it, and concentration creates a positive loop: concentration on your breathing, or on anything for that matter, slows your breathing, and slower breathing helps you concentrate better.

No matter where you are, you breathe. Thus you can practice pranayama anywhere, while driving, riding a train, while shopping, over lunch, in a meeting—anywhere. Try it, and watch your mind grow steady.

[]Pratyahara

As noted earlier, the material universe is undergoing ceaseless change, and your senses register the changes. You can do nothing to stop your senses from sensing the universe. Not only do your senses respond to every change in the universe, your mind reacts too. Certain odors and sights you like; other odors and sights you don’t like. Likes and dislikes are functions of the mind. Pratyahara is the next step toward detaching the mind from the senses.

Pratyahara is imposing on the mind two disciplines: conquer desire, and work without attachment to the fruits of the work.

A desire gratifies the senses. Pratyahara is the determination to resist sense gratification. Addicted to sugar drinks? Resist sugar drinks. When you develop such determination, the senses get subdued and your mind breaks free of what Swami Vivekananda called “the thralldom of the senses.”

He who has succeeded in attaching the mind to the centers of perception at will, or in detaching it from them, has succeeded in pratyahara, which means “gathering towards,” checking the outgoing powers of the mind, freeing it from the thralldom of the senses. When we can do this we shall really possess character; then alone we shall have taken a long step towards freedom. Complete Works of Vivekananda

On this there is the following verse: “The object to which the mind is attached, the subtle Atmaan goes together with the deed, being attached to it alone. Exhausting the results of whatever works he did in this world he comes again from that world to this world for (fresh) work.” This (is for) the man who desires. But the man who does not desire, he who is without desire, who is freed from desire, whose desire is satisfied, whose desire is the Atmaan—his breaths do not depart. Being Brahman he goes to Brahman. Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad

On this there is the following verse: “When all the desires that dwell in the heart are cast away, then does the mortal become immortal, then he attains Brahman here (in this very body).” Just as the slough of a snake lies on an anthill, dead, cast off, even so lies this body. But this disembodied, immortal life is Brahman only, is light indeed . . . Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad

When all the desires that dwell within the human heart are cast away, then a mortal becomes immortal and (even) here [in this life] he [attains] to Brahman. Katha Upanisad

Material enjoyments, which are due to contact with the material senses, are certainly sources of misery. O son of Kunti [Arjuna], such pleasures have a beginning and an end, and so the wise man does not delight in them. Bhagavad Gita

Pratyahara extends the elimination of desire to also the fruits of work.

We all work. We work for a desired outcome such as money or recognition. Pratyahara is work for the sake of work, as a duty, but without the desire for the fruits or results of the work. Do your duty. Let the results fall where they will.

. . . Now listen to the knowledge of yoga, whereby one works without fruitive result. O son of Partha [Arjuna], when you act by such intelligence, you can free yourself from the bondage of works. Bhagavad Gita

You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action . . . Bhagavad Gita

Be steadfast in your duty O Arjuna, and abandon all attachment to success or failure. Such evenness of mind is called yoga. Bhagavad Gita

There is no work that affects me [Krishna], nor do I aspire for the fruits of action. One who understands this truth about me does not become entangled in the fruitive reactions of work . . . All the liberated souls in ancient times acted with this understanding and so attained liberation. Therefore, as did the ancients, you should perform your duty in this divine consciousness. Bhagavad Gita

One is understood to be in full knowledge whose every act is devoid of desire for sense gratification. He is said by sages to be a worker whose fruitive action is burned up by the fire of perfect knowledge. Bhagavad Gita

Abandoning all attachment to the results of his activities, ever satisfied and independent, he performs no fruitive action, although engaged in all kinds of undertakings. Bhagavad Gita

One who neither hates nor desires the fruits of activities is known to be always renounced. Such a person, liberated from all dualities, easily overcomes material bondage and is completely liberated . . . Bhagavad Gita

One who performs his duty without attachment, surrendering the results unto the supreme God [Brahman], is not affected by sinful action, as the lotus leaf is untouched by water. Bhagavad Gita

It is not possible for an embodied soul to give up all activities. But he who renounces the results of activity is actually renounced. Bhagavad Gita

To achieve such control over the mind that one can detach it at will from the senses and free it from all desires is tough to achieve. The weak cannot do it. Only the strong, well practiced in yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, and pratyahara can.

O might-armed son of Kunti [Arjuna], it is undoubtedly very difficult to curb the restless mind, but it is possible by constant practice and by detachment. Bhagavad Gita

[]Dharana

By now, through yama, niyama, pranayama, and pratyahara, the mind is steady enough for the final effort toward Brahman—meditation. With asana, you have practiced sitting in your chosen posture of meditation for extended periods of time. Dharana is sitting in asana and concentrating the mind—meditation.

Concentrate on anything, any object or simply close concentrate on blanking your mind of all thought. You may also choose a short chant and repeat the chant over and over again. Whatever you choose as your focus of concentration, don’t change it.

Many yogis concentrate on the symbol of Om, on the cover of this book, or chanted Om repeatedly. Om, also often spelled Aum, is another name for Brahman. Brahman, Atmaan, Om—all one and the same. This word Om is no ordinary word.

. . . These letters A, U, M, pronounced in combination as Om, may well be the generalised symbol of all possible sounds . . . All articulate sounds are produced in the space within the mouth beginning with the root of the tongue and ending in the lips—the throat sound is A, and M is the last lip sound; and the U exactly represents the rolling forward of the impulse which begins at the root of the tongue and continues till it ends in the lips. If properly pronounced, this Om will represent the whole phenomenon of sound production, and no other word can do this . . . Complete Works of Vivekananda

Om is a popular symbol and chant that yogis concentrate on for dharana.

He, who knowing it thus, praises this syllable [Aum], takes refuge in that syllable, in the immortal, fearless sound, and having entered it, he becomes immortal, even as the Gods become immortal. Chandogya Upanisad

Of that goal which the Vedas declare, which is implicit in all penances, and in pursuit of which men lead lives of continence and service, of that will I speak briefly. It is Om. This syllable is Brahman. This syllable is indeed supreme. He who knows it attains Brahman. Katha Upanisad

Om is Brahman. Om is all. He who meditates on Om attains to Brahman. Taittiriya Upanisad

Fire, though present in fire sticks, is not perceived until one stick is rubbed against another. The Atmaan is like that fire: it is realized in the body by meditation on the sacred syllable Om. Let your body be the stick that is rubbed, the sacred syllable Om the stick that is rubbed against it. Thus you shall realize the Atmaan, who is hidden within the body as fire is hidden within wood. Svetasvatara Upanisad

The syllable Om, which is the imperishable Brahman, is the universe. Whatsoever has existed, whatsoever exists, whatsoever shall exist hereafter, is Om. And whatsoever transcends past, present, and future, that also is Om. Mandukya Upanisad

Aum is Brahman. Aum is all. Aum, this verily, is compliance. On uttering ‘recite’ they recite. With Aum they sing the saman chants. With Aum . . . they recite the prayers. With Aum the Advaryu priest utters the response. With Aum does the Brahma (priest) utter the introductory eulogy. With Aum one assents to the offering to fire. With Aum, a Brahmana begins to recite, may I obtain Brahman. Thus wishing, Brahman, verily, does he obtain. Taittiriya Upanisad

Sit upright, holding the chest, throat, and head erect. Turn the senses and the mind inward to the lotus of the heart. Meditate on Brahman with the help of the syllable Om. Cross the fearful currents of the ocean of worldliness by means of the raft of Brahman—the sacred syllable Om. Svetasvatara Upanisad

Disciplining the mind to stay focused on your object of concentration is difficult. Initially, the mind will want to wander.

. . . Let the mind run on. The mind is bubbling up all the time. It is like that monkey jumping about. Let the monkey jump as much as he can; you simply wait and watch. Knowledge is power, says the proverb, and that is true. Until you know what the mind is doing, you cannot control it. Give it the rein; many hideous thoughts may come into it; you will be astonished that it was possible for you to think such thoughts. But you will find that each day the mind’s vagaries are becoming fewer and less violent, that each day it is becoming calmer. In the first few months you will find that the mind will have a great many thoughts, later you will find that they have somewhat decreased, and in a few more months you will find that they are fewer and fewer, until at last the mind will be under perfect control . . . Complete Works of Vivekananda

From whatever and wherever the mind wanders due to its flickering and unsteady nature, one must certainly withdraw it and bring it back under the control of the Atmaan. Bhagavad Gita

One way to tame the monkey of the mind is to start dharana with puja, a short worship ritual such as the slow, rhythmic chanting of a hymn, any hymn. This helps harness the wandering mind. Says Swami Brahmananda, another noted sage of the Hindu culture:

It is of vital importance that a man begin his spiritual journey from where he is. If an average man is instructed to meditate on his union with . . . Brahman, he will not understand. He will neither grasp the truth that lies behind the instructions nor be able to follow them . . . However, if that same man is asked to worship God with flowers, incense, and other accessories of the ritualistic worship, his mind will become gradually concentrated on God, and he will find joy in his worship. The Eternal Companion

[]Dhyana

Dhyana is prolonged dharana, when you sit in concentration for increasingly longer time. The universe around you will continue undergoing ceaseless change, and your body senses will register the changes, but you, concentrating your mind in deep meditation, will not be disturbed.

It is said that Valmiki, the author of the epic Ramayana, was in dhyana when ants built an anthill around him. (The name Valmiki was apparently given to him later in life because the name means born of an anthill.) Valmiki’s body must surely have reacted to ant stings, but his mind, detached from the senses, in dhyana, remained unchanging, steady, raptly focused on his object of concentration—Rama.

[]Samadhi

Samadhi, the final step of Patanjali’s yoga, is never coming out of meditation. A yogi in samadhi merges into Brahman and becomes immortal.

Just as the flowing rivers disappear in the ocean casting off name and shape, even so the knower, freed from name and shape, attains to the divine person, higher than the high. Mundaka Upanisad

The yogi in Brahman himself becomes Brahman, and Brahman is forever, immortal.

[] FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Q) What are the origins of the word “Hindu?”

Today’s Indus river was at one time called Sindhu. The Islamic invasions brought invaders who, in their Persian language, pronounced S as H. Thus the Sanskrit word saptaah for week became haftaah and similarly Sindhu became Hindu for people living on the other side, east, of the river Sindhu.

Q) Why do Hindus have so many Gods?

There is but one God in the Hindu culture—Brahman. As quoted earlier:

. . . Which is the one God? . . . He is Brahman. They call him tyat (that). Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad

Those who achieve Brahman also become Brahman.

He, verily, who knows the supreme Brahman becomes Brahman himself . . . He crosses over sorrow. He crosses over sins. Liberated from the knots of the secret place (of the heart), he becomes immortal. Mundaka Upanisad

Some of the deities of the Hindu culture are those believed to have achieved Brahman and are, therefore, themselves Brahman. For example, in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna speaks of himself as Brahman or Atmaan or Om, all one and the same.

I am the Atmaan . . . seated in the hearts of all creatures. I am the beginning, the middle and the end of all beings. Bhagavad Gita

Unintelligent men, who know me not, think that I have assumed this form and personality. Due to their small knowledge, they do not know my higher nature, which is changeless and supreme [Brahman]. Bhagavad Gita

I am the father, mother, maintainer and grandfather of all this universe. I am what is to be known. I am purity, and I am the syllable Om . . . Bhagavad Gita

. . . I am the basis of the impersonal Brahman, which is immortal, imperishable and eternal and which is the constitutional position of ultimate happiness. Bhagavad Gita

There is one other reason why there are so many deities in India. Brahman is achieved through meditation. Mediation is concentration on any object of your choice. You may pick a flower, a tree, or a stone idol. You may choose a figure with multiple arms and legs. You may choose a dragon. It does not matter. The result of meditating on the object of your choice, no matter what the object, will be the same—you will achieve Brahman, the ultimate goal.

Q) Why didn’t the Hindu culture spread beyond its place of birth as did Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity?

Hindus found that everywhere in the world, in every religion and culture, everybody is striving for Brahman. The chanting of hymns, whether in a mosque or in a church, is the practice of concentration, which is meditation.

Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti. That which exists is one. Sages call it by various names. Rg Veda Samhita

I am in everyone’s heart as the Atmaan, and as soon as one desires to worship the demigods, I make his faith steady so that he can devote himself to some particular deity. Bhagavad Gita

Thus it is that when Buddhism emerged in India, the Hindus accepted Buddha as an idol to meditate on. Bodh Gaya, in the state of Bihar in India, where Buddha meditated, is as much a pilgrimage for Hindus as it is for Buddhists. Hindus believe Buddha achieved Brahman and is, therefore, worthy of worship.

When Christianity came to India, the Hindu culture similarly accepted Christ. Hindu children freely attend Christian schools.

It is because [the Hindu culture] has been so permeated with the spirit of Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti that she has known relatively little of religious fanaticism, of religious persecution, of religious wars. Characteristically, she has sought the truth in every faith—even in faiths not her own. The Spiritual Heritage of India

In its acceptance of other religions and cultures is the Hindu culture’s maturity and strength. All cultures and religions being equal and striving for the same goal in their own ways, the Hindu culture found no need to spread beyond India.

Q) Why do names in the Hindu culture often end with an “a?” For example, Ram becomes Rama; Ashok is Ashoka; Krishn is Krishna.

In Sanskrit, names and words often end with a colon. That colon of Sanskrit effects a fade out rather than an abrupt end of a word. Ram ends abruptly; with the colon the end fades out. Ashok ends abruptly; with the colon the end fades out.

English has no punctuation that effects a fade out. To simulate the fade out, the best that English can do is to add “a” to the end of the word. Thus Ram ends abruptly but Rama simulates Sanskrit’s fade out. Ashok ends abruptly but Ashoka simulates Sanskrit’s fade out.

Q) Is the Hindu culture casteism?

Let’s understand first what a caste system is.

A society is organized in four groups of people: intellectuals, who foster knowledge and conceive the order of a society; administrators and warriors, who administer and protect the order; business people, who produce goods and acquire wealth; and laborers who perform work and service. Whether it is India or the United States or Australia or Japan, every society has this basic organization.

The Hindu culture recognized this structure thousands of years ago. In the Hindu culture, the four groups are called: Brahmanas (intellectuals, also active seekers of Brahman), Ksatriyas (administrators and warriors), Vaisyas (business), and Sudras (labor). Dr S. Radhakrishnan, a past scholar and statesman of India, summarized the work of the four groups:

Wisdom conceives the order, power sanctions and enforces it, wealth and production provide the means for carrying out the order, and work carries out. The Principal Upanisads

How is it determined who belongs to which group in a society? Is one free to choose his occupation?

The caste system is determining one’s occupation by birth. If born to Brahmanas, one’s occupation is Brahmana for life. If born to sudras or laborers, one’s occupation is sudra for life. One’s choice or ability does not matter. In the caste system, birth determines occupation.

Did the caste system—that is, determination of one’s occupation by birth—exist in the Hindu culture at one time? Yes. Does it exist today? In the minds of many Hindus, yes. By law, determining one’s occupation by birth is banned in modern India.

India is not alone to have at one time or another practiced the caste system. For many centuries, the United States had the caste system of slavery: the offspring of a slave was automatically also a slave by birth. (Slaves are sudras.) The United Kingdom is another example that to this day practices the caste system: royalty is a caste in the United Kingdom because royalty is established solely by birth. (In the parlance of the Hindu culture, the royals of UK would be ksatriyas.)

Note that the Hindu culture has derived one significant benefit from the caste system: the texts of the culture survived because of the caste system.

The texts of the Hindu culture are vast. They fill many thick volumes. The Rg Veda Samhita alone has 10,589 mantras or verses. The texts were composed when there was no printing. The only method of preserving the texts from one generation to the next was by memorizing them and passing on from generation to generation.

Memorizing thousands upon thousands of complex Sanskrit verses is a mountain of a task. Few would volunteer for such a task. Would you? Would you dedicate yourself to memorizing thousands of Sanskrit verses for half your life and then spend the rest of your life teaching the thousands of verses to your children?

Yet in the history of the Hindu culture, that is exactly what happened. This is exactly how the culture and its voluminous texts were passed on from generation to generation. The task was accomplished by the caste of Brahmanas.

The occupation of the Brahmanas was to learn, preserve, and propagate the Hindu culture and its texts. Were it not for the dedication of the Brahmanas to this task the texts of the Hindu culture might well have been lost to the multiple conquests that India has suffered over the centuries.

The texts of the Hindu culture were put to print in the 10th Century AD. With the advent of printing, preservation by memory became obsolete. Furthermore, while memory was confined to only the Brahmanas, printing made it possible to disseminate the texts to the masses.

Q) Is the Hindu culture vegetarian?

The Hindu culture encourages a vegetarian diet. There are, however, exceptions in the ancient texts of the culture.

Now if one wishes that a son, learned, famous, a frequenter of assemblies, a speaker of delightful words, that he should study all the Vedas, that he should attain a full term of life, they should have rice cooked with meat and eat it with clarified butter, then they should be able to beget (such a son)—either veal or beef. Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad

Apparently, meat was prescribed for certain situations. Note the reference to beef. Evidently, the reverence given today to the cow came later.

Scientific evidence increasingly suggests that vegetarian diet is more suitable for the human body. How did the Hindu culture recommend a vegetarian diet thousands of years ago?

Philosophy states that there are two sources of knowledge: rationalism, which is knowledge gained by reasoning, and empiricism, which is knowledge gained by experience. The Hindu culture’s recommendation of a vegetarian diet stems from centuries of experience.

Q) Why is having a family or personal guru important to many Hindus?

The guru, teacher, any teacher, school teacher or a spiritual teacher, holds a high place in the Hindu culture. In fact, the word upanisad is derived from the Sanskrit upa, near, ni, down, and sad, to sit—sitting down near, as a student before a teacher. Some scholars translate upanisad as “sitting near devotedly” to a teacher. The Hindu culture is, in fact, a compilation of the teachings of many, many generations of teachers to their students. The sages of the Hindu culture asserted that Brahman cannot be achieved without a teacher to show the path.

There are three branches of duty, sacrifice, study and almsgiving. Austerity, indeed, is the first. The second is the pursuit of sacred wisdom, dwelling in the house of the teacher. Absolutely controlling his body in the house of the teacher is the third. All these attain to the worlds of the virtuous . . . Chandogya Upanisad

For I have heard from persons like you, revered sir, that the knowledge which has been learned from a teacher best helps one to attain his end.” To him, he [the teacher] then declared it. In it nothing whatsoever was left out, yea, nothing was left out. Chandogya Upanisad

Having scrutinized the worlds won by works, let a Brahmana [seeker of Brahman] arrive at non-attachment. The (world) that is not made is not (won) by what is done. For the sake of this knowledge, let him only approach, with sacrificial fuel in hand, a teacher who is learned in the scriptures and established in Brahman. Mundaka Upanisad

Unto him who has approached in due form, whose mind is tranquil and who has attained peace, let the knowing (teacher) teach in its very truth that knowledge about Brahman by which one knows the imperishable . . . Mundaka Upanisad

To many it is not given to hear of the Atmaan. Many, though they hear of it, do not understand it. Wonderful is he who speaks of it. Intelligent is he who learns of it. Blessed is he who, taught by a good teacher, is able to understand it. Katha Upanisad

Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth. Bhagavad Gita

Again, there are those not conversant in spiritual knowledge who, by hearing from others [teachers], begin to worship [Brahman]. Because of their tendency to hear from authorities, they also transcend the path of birth and death. Bhagavad Gita

The emphasis everywhere in the words of the founding sages of the Hindu culture is on finding a guru, a teacher, who is a true yogi, who has to a good extent progressed toward Brahman.

Q) Are the verses recited by pundits in pujas taken from the original texts of the Hindu culture?

Most are from the Vedas. A common example is the Gayatri mantra or verse.

Bhur bhuvah swah tat savitur varenyam, bhargo devasya dhimahi, dhiyo yo nah prachodayat. We meditate on the adorable glory of the radiant sun; may he inspire our intelligence. Rg Veda Samhita

Q) Is every Hindu expected to renounce the material world, live in seclusion, and seek Brahman?

Seek Brahman only when you are ready. You will know when you are ready.

This Atmaan cannot be attained by instruction, nor by intellectual power, nor even through much hearing. He is to be attained only by the one whom the Atmaan chooses. To such a one the Atmaan reveals his own nature. Katha Upanisad

Q) What does the Hindu culture say about the pursuit of wealth?

Listen to the sage Vasistha tell Rama:

Acquire wealth. This world has for its root wealth. I do not see the difference between a poor man and a dead one. Ramayana

There are numerous other references to wealth in the original texts of the Hindu culture.

Resplendent God, grant us fame and wealth acquired in a thousand ways with skill and honest labor. Rg Veda Samhita

To Him alone we pray for friendship, for wealth, and for valor. He alone is powerful, and He alone can protect us from injury and confer wealth on us. Rg Veda Samhita

This dawn whose transcendent and refreshing rays are seen all around us, grant us great riches, fair in form, and blissful wealth that is attained without much struggle. Rg Veda Samhita

Go forward, feet, press quickly on, take us to the houses of our rich relatives. Let unconquered, unplundered, foremost riches lead the way. Atharva Veda Samhita

Acquire wealth, says the Hindu culture, but acquire wealth without getting attached to it. The greatest character trait of Rama in the Ramayana is that he, a prince born into royalty and having enjoyed the luxuries of palace life, turned and adapted immediately to life in exile in a humble hut in a forest because he was never attached to his wealth.

Wealth is a result, a fruit of work. As stated earlier, you have the right to work, but you have no right to the fruits of the work. Repeat:

Abandoning all attachment to the results of his activities, ever satisfied and independent, he performs no fruitive action, although engaged in all kinds of undertakings. Bhagavad Gita

You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action . . . Bhagavad Gita

Q) What is the status of women in the Hindu culture?

. . . One should not despise any woman. That is the rule. Chandogya Upanisad

If she does not grant him his desire, he should buy her (with presents). If she still does not grant him his desire he should beat her with a stick or his hand and overcome her (saying) with (manly) power and glory, “I take away your glory.” Thus she becomes devoid of glory. Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad

In spite of the above diverging views in the original texts of the Hindu culture, out of the major cultures or religions of the world, the Hindu culture is the only one that exalts women to the status of God—women who are believed to have achieved Brahman. Examples are Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge.

[]CLOSURE

Now that you know the Hindu culture as it was originally founded by the founding sages, know also that you are free to, if you desire, choose a different path, a different culture or religion, one that you may think is more suited to your nature. No matter which path you choose, you will still be seeking Brahman. The other culture or religion may have a different name for Brahman, but each time you chant a hymn, you will concentrate your mind, and that is seeking the unchanging, steady state of immortality in Brahman.

May you achieve Brahman in this very life. May you become immortal in Brahman.

[]SOURCES

Chief among the many sources from which this book is derived are listed below in alphabetical order by last name of author.

Bhashyananda, Swami. From the Unreal to the Real. Chicago, IL, USA: Vivekananda Vedanta Society, 1986.

Chand, Devi. The Atharvaveda. New Delhi, India: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1995.

Chand, Devi. The Samaveda. New Delhi, India: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1995.

Chand, Devi. The Yajurveda. New Delhi, India: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1994.

Deussen, Paul. Sixty Upanisads of the Veda. (2 vols.) New Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass, 1995.

Nehru, Jawaharlal. The Discovery of India. New Delhi, India: Oxford University Press, 13th impression, 1993.

Nikhilananda, Swami. The Bhagavad Gita. New York, NY, USA: Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center, 1979.

Prabhavananda, Swami. The Spiritual Heritage of India. Hollywood, CA, USA: Vedanta Press, 1979.

Prabhupada, Swami. Bhagavad Gita As It Is. Los Angeles, CA, USA: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1972.

Radhakrishnan, S. The Bhagavadgita. New Delhi, India: HarperCollins, 10th impression, 1996.

Radhakrishnan, S. The Principal Upanisads. Winchester, MA, USA: Unwin Hyman, 1989.

Sarasvati, Maharshi Dayananda. The Rigveda. (5 vols.) New Delhi, India: Sarvadeshik Arya Pratinidhi Sabha, 1984.

Sarasvati, Satya Prakash et al. Rg Veda Samhita. (13 vols.) New Delhi, India: Veda Pratishthana, 1977.

Vivekananda, Swami. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. (8 vols.) Calcutta, India: Advaita Ashrama, 15th ed, 1977.

[]AUTHOR

Mrinal Bali is a retired engineer and school teacher. He lives in USA and India.


The Hindu Culture: A Clear and Concise Summary for Youngsters

This book is for youngsters high school and up. For younger ages, see by the same author: The Swami and the Children. In the 4,000-plus years of the Hindu culture, humankind’s knowledge has advanced. Today’s high school student has more knowledge than all the founding sages of the Hindu culture combined. For any religion to continue to survive, it must make rational sense to our educated young. The Hindu culture makes rational sense to the modern young—if the culture is taught the way it was discovered. I know this because I am a retired science teacher who has taught the Hindu culture to our modern young. The Hindu culture was not founded but discovered and discovered by the same process by which our young learn science: observe, explain, test the explanation, and if the test fails, repeat the cycle. This is precisely the process the founding sages of the Hindu culture followed. What the sages sought was immortality, and that remains the paramount objective of the Hindu culture, but instead of beseeching unknown gods for immortality, as the rest of the world was doing and still does, the sages did something novel: they observed nature. The sages reasoned that If immortality was possible, nature must have created something immortal. If they could find it, perhaps they could emulate it and themselves become immortal. The sages defined immortality as a state of no change—a state without a beginning, without an end, no birth, no death. They called the state Brahman (pronounced Bruhm-aa, n nasal). Atmaan and Om are the other two names for it. Everywhere the sages looked, however, they found that the universe suffers ceaseless change. Today’s high school student, knowing the atom, would conclude this nature of the material universe in a minute. The sages took centuries. When they didn’t find something that never changed, the sages then observed nature for something that changes but can be controlled and made unchanging. That brought them to the mind, the consciousness—the only creation without atoms and hence possible to make unchanging. The rest of the Hindu culture is the discovery of methods to make the mind unchanging and merge in Brahman. Instead of teaching our young how the Hindu culture was discovered, we teach our young deity worship. The fact is that first came the culture. Our many deities came later. For example, Rama and Krishna were practitioners of a culture that already existed. The discovery of the Hindu culture, along with the failures and pitfalls on the way to the discovery, is recorded in the original texts of the culture, the Vedas and their ancillaries such as the Upanisads. The texts are vast. The Rg Veda Samhita, one of the four Vedas, alone has 10,589 verses or mantras, and the process of discovery is scattered throughout the texts. This book extracts the the Hindu culture from the vast texts and in short, to the point, gripping language, with extensive quotes from the original texts, narrates the Hindu culture for the modern young. There is no finer legacy that a Hindu parent can bequeath to our children. This book is a must gift from every Hindu parent to his or her child.

  • Author: Mrinal Bali
  • Published: 2017-03-14 01:50:11
  • Words: 11715
The Hindu Culture: A Clear and Concise Summary for Youngsters The Hindu Culture: A Clear and Concise Summary for Youngsters