On Loving Your Own (Religion) First

I attended Sathyanarayana puja a few nights back, which was held at our temple as a sort of “opening ceremonies” for Holi. For most of the puja, there was no one in the temple aside from the priest, his daughter, me and then about 45 minutes in this older Indian man who bore a remarkable resemblance to A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada from the side at which I sat.

Just an observation.

Then during puja there was a bit of a delay and the priest and this man got to making some small talk in one of the languages of India which I do not understand. I am not sure how they got from the verses before the delay, to what happened next, but after a few minutes, the not-priest was saying something like “Love your own culture, accept other cultures.”

He and the priest shot back and forth different versions of that same sentiment and finally came to “Love your own culture first, and then others.”I like this because it eliminated the idea of accepting which to me is very close to “tolerating” which is really just putting up with something, which doesn’t really do anyone any good.

By this time the priest was trying to engage me in the debate. I said something like “Makes sense to me.” but what I was really thinking was that no matter how you slice that aphorism it seems like a bit of “us and them” at play. What I wish I’d said was that while I did in fact accept my “own” culture (or in this case religion) first, it did not give me what I was looking for. Or I wouldn’t have been there at that moment.

Of course I tried not to be paranoid and think that it stemmed from “What is this European-American bloke doing here?” To be honest I don’t know the content of the verses that the priest had been reciting just before. It could have somehow sparked such a conversation, but I think it would probably be a stretch. But that is my hangup. Ultimately what I get out of the experience is my responsibility.

Whatever the context, there is a good lesson in the aphorism. Though any culture might take a look at what is going on within that culture in terms of accepting their “own” at the expense of accepting others, there is more. We are all born into a world, a culture, a religion, a locality and a family that is appropriate to our karmic situation “coming in.” I don’t know if we have much choice but to love it first. You can’t find what works for you until you know what doesn’t work for you, right? And you have to at least embrace whatever that first stop is in order to find out that it doesn’t work. What I want people to take away from this is that if you are going to “accept” anything, you have to accept and embrace what feels right to you. No matter what the culture barriers are.

Aum Namo Narayanaya Namaha!

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This Sentence is False.

You know that paradox where you start with the statement “This sentence is false”? And if it IS false, then it has to be true? But if it is true, then that makes it false again?

Hinduism says that all paths are equally valid. One of those paths is Christianity. Christianity says that Christ is the only way. Both play an equal role in the paradox as each precludes the other. The only difference is that Christianity precludes Hinduism straight off the bat, whereas Hinduism embraces Christianity into the fray but then Christianity excludes itself, immediately.

This problem – this oversimplification, if I’m honest – itself stems from another paradox. Because really the verse from Hindu Scripture where we get the idea that all paths are equal – “truth is one, the sages call it by many names” – refers to the path, the experience, the practice. Not the dogma. Not what it says in scripture. Which, again, is where we got the idea that “truth is one, the sages call it by many names” in the first place.

But of course even that isn’t the end of it. Because you see, that scripture is Śruti, or “that which is heard.” In short it is scripture that comes from direct meditative experience of the masters. Whereas other Hindu scriptures are Smrti, or “that which is remembered” which when it comes down to it, consists of commentary on the Śruti texts.

So “truth is one..” is not at its root, scriptural, but a self-referential truth.

But even so, in a world of dogmatic distinctions dividing the faiths, Hindus and Christians have been playing a game of “This Sentence is False” for roughly 2,000 years.

Aum Namo Nrsimhaya Namaha!

Posted in Christ, Christianity, Comparitive Religion, Dharma religions, Dharmic Faiths, duality, Hindu Scriptures, Hinduism, History, meaning of life, meditation, New Testament, opinion, philosophy, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

This and That and This and That and This and That.

Last weekend I once again had the opportunity to have darshan with my current guru-ji Swami Vidyadishananda, via a live feed. Anyone who says that it is not the same as being in the physical presence of the guru…may be onto something, granted. Maybe. I mean what is “presence” when it comes down to it? Anyway, at the end of his discourse he always offers arati to this “virtual mela” and though I cannot smell the smoke, and cannot actually hold my hands over the flame and waft it over my person, press its warmth to my face, I still experience the arati in a way that is just as “real” as when it is taken in temple.

Swami V is a very (anything I say here will be a tremendous understatement) character. I’ve known it ever since one of the first times I saw him via webcast. I have yet to have physical darshan with him, but like I said, what is “presence” when it comes down to it? In any case I have experienced enough with him to hold me. At the end of the talk a strange swirl of light that I couldn’t explain seem to play upon his face. Not the first time. It always seems that when things like that happen there is a glint of awareness in his eyes. Kind of a “I know that you know” sort of connection. Most of you wont know what I am on about right now, and one might say “It’s just a light. Don’t get too hung up on what may be just siddhi.” True. And maybe that is the message whenever I feel this eye-to-eye connection with the Swami. “See this? Ignore it.”

It is tough though, seeing him only online, because much like reading a book on a mobile device affords the would-be reader the temptation to drift off or distract oneself online with something else that comes to mind, the same CAN happen when you are watching a discourse online. Perhaps that speaks volumes of the devotee’s dedication to the subject. Fair enough. And I don’t mean to compare one’s guru to the latest entry in the Oprah Book Club. But attention is attention. Something we all lack from time to time.

While listening to the Swami I found myself looking for an email from a friend, and had to replay various segments of the discourse. I found myself upset with my lack of focus, questioning what I was getting out of this talk that the Swami had offered for my betterment, if I wanted it. It is there for the taking. It is not being, and will not be spoon-fed to me. Just as I began to examine the source of my monkey-mind, the Swami said something about how we are continually shifting from one focus to another, pin-balling back and forth “from this and that and this and that and this and that.” Yeah…I don’t know the remedy for that distraction, but I think that in mere recognition of it, we disarm it somewhat. Recognition is awareness. Awareness breeds focus, eventually bringing you back to where you were before the monkey-mind began carrying on.

Aum Hara Aum Hara Sadashivaya
Aum Hari Aum Hari Narayanaya!

 

Posted in darshan, guru, live feed, Swami V, Swami Vidyadhishananda, Uncategorized | Tagged | 2 Comments

Leading By Following

I am hard-pressed to related this to Hinduism but here it is anyway.

Since I haven’t written anything in forever, another blogger threatened to stop blogging as well. I don’t tell you this out of a sense of pride I derived from the idea that my idleness could bring down a giant in my personal blogging world. I tell you this because it led to a funny little interaction whereby I asked if it was because he was a follower. He said that was the best way to lead. I then told him that I was becoming an Evangelical Republican, which if you know me, is absurd. He said that if that was the case then he’d be happy to, as a follower, lead me astray (from that path).

A goofy little exchange on the surface, but as often is the case with this fellow blogger, it later struck me that there was more to it. I’m not kidding, this kind of stuff bounces around in my brain when I am trying to sleep. Surely he knew what he was talking about, but I decided that to lead by following could mean one of, or all of, or any combination of three things.

  • by espousing a prevalent attitude, we can lead others to adopt similar attitudes, sometimes without knowing that we’re doing it, other times fully aware that we are doing it.
  • reinforcing a person’s behavior by encouraging or simply tolerating it, thereby making them feel that they are on the right track. And kind of a macrocosm of this,
  • influencing a leader’s leadership by following and reinforcing the idea that said leadership is what is needed and wanted at the time.

The first bullet-point above is actually quite powerful in our time, when people are getting most of their news, accurate or otherwise, from social media – where “followers” happens to be a buzzword. Call it ‘meme mentality’. Opinions on issues like Monsanto, the anti-vaccination movement, and many other hefty issues of our day spread like viruses through social media. And they feed off of the uninformed LIKE and SHARE. How I come down on these issues is irrelevant, and not everyone who shares easy-to-digest images on these subjects on social media are uninformed. But by sharing – doing what the memes tell us to do – we are following. Two becomes a group, a group becomes a community and a community becomes a movement.

At this time is when bullet-point #3 comes in. I am just going to go ahead and skip #2 because as I said it kind of works in the same way.

Being heavily mentally embroiled in the electoral primaries going on in the U.S. – more so than is probably conducive to the meditative lifestyle, I admit – I naturally began to relate the leader/follower conversation to the last of these three. By following something that someone in a position of authority is doing or or saying, we lend credence to the direction of their leadership. That leader then comes to crave more of that. We see it all of the time in the way that politicians openly deny their conscience out of fear of how it will affect them at the polls. As politicians catch wind of the changes in attitudes among their constituents, they legislate accordingly.

Congressman Barney Frank once recalled asking another representative to support a certain bill of his, to which the representative said “Well, if it comes up after my primary, I can probably vote with you, but if it comes up before that, I have to vote against you.” This congressman was a prime example of being led by followers, to my mind. They say that in a democratic society we are in control because we command with our votes. You could say this is exactly how democracy is supposed to work; that governing bodies are there to serve the majority, who as we all know, rules. We hope for – but know better than to expect – a detached wisdom and philanthropy from our leaders that would make things work that way. And certainly there is something to that. I don’t know that that is all there is though. Not if our leaders are being led by their followers simply as a means to the end of being allowed to continue to lead.

All of these things point the way to the truth that “you get what you give.”

 

 

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“Through him, She…”

I am finally reading the “Gospel of Ramakrishna” which I picked up over the summer. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was a Sanatana Dharmist in the truest sense I can think of. He tested every path for himself: From Daulism to Advaita, from Shaktism to Vaisnavism, to Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism, to Islam and Christianity.Without delving into flat out pluralism or polytheism.

He found that all paths lead him back to Brahman. In worshiping God as Master (worshiping Rama through the eyes of faithful servant Hanuman), Father, Mother and Lover he found that all paths led back to the formless, attribute-less, undefinable Oneness, Brahman.

I recall that in my previous experience as a Christian I’d often hear folks say “Through Him, I” did this or that, meaning by the Grace of God, or in Jesus’ Name, they were able to do something. The account uses phrasing in relation to Ramakrishna’s samadhi with Maa Kali that caught my attention:

“Through him, She…”

In other words, through this frail quiet man then called Ghadadar, Maa Kali worked. Depending on the philosophy of those you associate with you will hear Hindus say we humans “do” nothing. And sometimes you will hear others say that God “does” nothing, that God is the Supremely Aloof Allness. Usually that refers to Brahman. But God, in this case Kali, is not Brahman, but an active (shakti) manifestation of That. It “does”. We do not. I guess that adds up for me. We act because we have to. It is a part of the dharma that makes the world go ’round, ya know? But we do not “do” or at least should not think of ourselves as “doing.”

Some people do not like the idea that we are “an instrument of God” but I view it as a helpful mindset to keep ego at bay. Other than that – and with all gender pronouns being understood as equal – both “Through Him, I…” and “Through him, She” suggest some individual divine favor. It’s a close race and between the two I can’t rightly say which suggests it more. If anything I can say that “Through him, She” is less dualist, but almost not even noticeably so. But their is definitely something refreshing about reading the phrasing with all of the Glory given over to Maa Kali.

Jai Maa!

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The Quantum Album: 4. Live Die Repeat

I watched the Tom Cruise action flick “Live Die Repeat” with my wife this weekend which doesn’t have a thing to do with the Quantum Physics theme of the last few posts, but it sort of set of a chain of thoughts and conversations that tie it back to the series I’ve been doing.

From the very beginning of the movie -even before, having read the synopsis- I was preparing myself to pay close attention to what was going on in this film, knowing that it had ties to rebirth and all that Hinduey stuff. The movie surrounds the plight of Cruise’s character who is a pencil-pushing desk-jockey high-ranking officer of the U.S. military who thinks he’s above actually getting his hands dirty in the war that is going on, but is unwittingly sent to the battlefield. It’s complicated but one way or another he finds that when he dies he is sent back to the same office where this whole mess began for him. He has to go back in to die in the battle again and again, each time gaining a seed of knowledge that can help him in his next go-round. It is basically “Groundhog Day” but with guns and explosions.

So obviously I latched onto this and in my in-movie chit-chat with my wife, we both branded it as a “Hindu movie”. Later two other people came into the picture who were the Cruise character’s advisers along the way, and eventually his entire platoon gets on-board with whatever it was that he was trying to accomplish. Honestly I should have watched it again before writing this but alas the DVD had to go back to the public library. I am sure that if I watched it closely enough I could force each character into the roles similar to the Pandavas of the Gita, which were themselves allegories of certain character traits common to every jivan. There were entities known as the Alpha and the Omega which at first seemed like they could have been Atman and Brahman.

I am sure I could have done that. But that is my point. The whole thing got a little hazy for me when I lost track of what was happening in the film because I was trying to figure out exactly who or what everything represented from a Hindu angle. But then it dawned on me. “Maybe it doesn’t represent anything that has anything to do with Hinduism. Maybe it’s all in my head.”

The very general Hindu themes were definitely there, anyone would agree that Cruise’s character was in a sense “reincarnating”. And many would argue that each time we take a new body there is a -however subtle- residue of understanding that we picked up last time around that helps us to gain a good head start this time. Some might say that is what instinct is. An impression from previous lives. And again maybe there was more there had I watched it more closely. Doesn’t matter. Anyone from any spiritual angle could do the same with any movie I suppose, and there was probably more in “Live Die Repeat” that speaks to the Hindu than there is that speaks to the Catholic, say. But nonetheless it was that realization that it was all illusory that was a bit embarrassing but also a bit of a breakthrough.

Just the other day I had another conversation with another American Hindu friend of mine who is currently pursuing a degree in physics. And without having read my recent bloggings, our conversation led him to some fairly harsh words for those who try at all costs to “spiritualize” natural phenomena. I maintain that one could argue that everything can be spiritualized. He argued that if one does that, you have to take pantheism to such lengths as to make the equations (by which we come to understand phenomena) God. Which I still don’t see a problem with, quite frankly. And I am a firm believer that one should take inspiration from where you find it.

At any rate, what it comes down to is this: I am not in any way an expert or authority figure on the subject of quantum physics, or any other subject for that matter. But people are going to see what they want to see in any situation, depending on what angle they are looking at it from. The trouble for me is that, yes, if you really don’t understand quantum physics and you latch onto some aspect of it and make it evidence to back up whatever point of view you have toward the Holy Infinite or whatever you want to call it, you might miss the point and do a disservice to what quantum physics really does tell us.

Whatever the hell that is.

And we all know there is enough misinformation out there on any number of topics.

Also you might miss what would otherwise be just a really great movie that isn’t really an allegory at all. Then again, who’s to say a movie isn’t an allegory just because the writer did not intend it to be? What is the standard by which we say whether your truth is or is not true, relative to mine?

asato ma sadgamaya
tamaso ma jyotirgamaya
mrtyorma amrtam gamaya
Aum shanti shanti shanti.

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The Quantum Album: 3: Timespace of the Subatomic Flea

One of the more – oh I don’t know – mystical elements of Quantum Physics is the idea that “time” is a “dimension” just like the three others we are familiar with. And this doesn’t really relate a lot to Hinduism other than it serves to bridge the gap between what would otherwise be a very dualistic “time AND space”.

My mind has connected time and space for me through an odd little quirk which I am not sure how to explain in words but I’m going to have a go at it anyway.

When reading things of the universe, I usually have no trouble at least forming an idea of a unit of time or distance times a thousand, or times a million or a billion, etc.

But when you go the other way around, when you start talking about a nanosecond, or one second x -1,000,000 or whatever it is, I can’t fathom such a small unit of time. It’s that proximity to the finite zero that I have trouble with. One second alone goes by in such a snap that one-millionth of that time is just…un-experience-ably brief.

But here is where it gets weird. Whenever I read about such a unit of time, something at some point kicks in, and automatically my brain causes me to imagine myself as a subatomic micro-organism. In that micro-size (in other words, the amount of space occupied) I am able to imagine what that one-millionth of a second feels like. It is only in bringing myself down to the ground floor of being, in the dimension of space (size), that I can begin to know what the same would be like in the dimension of time.

Approaching what you thought was absolute zero, time reveals itself as infinite in both directions. If you keep splitting a mustard seed in half and had the tools to continuously do so, you would never get down to nothing, you’d just keep getting half of what you had before. The same is true with a unit of time. Stillness, Oneness, Peace, is at absolute zero. But how do we get there if we can divide the “moment” infinitely? I think the answer has to do with the expression “center nowhere, circumference everywhere.” I know, I know, in Eastern philosophy the “center” is supposed to be the goal, but if you aspire toward the circumference, the all-in-all in every moment…that is Aum.

I am suspicious whether this “perception of the nano-second as a bug” thing has anything to do with the relativity of lifespan. As a human being I have the instinctive knowledge of what my life expectancy is, roughly. And therefore the shorter the amount of time, the less important it seems in the “grand scheme” of a lifetime. Sometimes humans let hours, days, years fly by without a second thought of how we are spending them. If we lived a trillion years would a month be just as imperceptible or unimportant? I am not trying to suggest I am somehow channeling the experience of a subatomic flea or something. But if you take yourself out of your body and adjust the entire experiential paradigm under which you are programmed to think, things can shift drastically.

Aham Brahmasmi
Tat Tvamasi
Aum.

 

 

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