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HINDUISM (part 6)

Spiritual Leader  stop.gif (845 bytes) Archive

by Swami Adiswarananda

Part 6

(continued from previous month)

The Values of Life

            Hinduism speaks of four values of life, of which moksha, or liberation through Self‑knowledge, is the fourth. The other three are dharma, or practice of righteousness; artha, or attainment of worldly prosperity; and kama, or enjoyment of legitimate pleasures. Practice of dharma calls for an individual to perform the duties of life in accordance with the laws of morality, ethics, and righteousness. Artha implies acquisition of wealth, necessary for the preservation of life and the promotion of the welfare of others. Kama is the enjoyment of legitimate pleasures, without which life becomes joyless and dry. The first three values must find their fulfillment in the fourth, Self‑knowledge. Moral perfection when not for the sake of Self‑knowledge becomes nothing but enlightened egoism. Wealth and prosperity when not used for the sake of Self‑knowledge breed delusion and attachment. Art and esthetics that do not reflect the light of the Self degenerate into voluptuousness and promiscuity. Knowledge of science and technology when not directed to the attainment of Self‑knowledge proves to be a dangerous weapon of Self‑destruction. Therefore, the acquisition of wealth and the enjoyment of pleasures must be guided by dharma, or righteousness, and governed by the goal of moksha, or Self‑knowledge.

The Stages of Life

            In keeping with the four values of life, Hinduism speaks of the four stages of life: brahmacharya, garhasthya, vanaprastha, and sannyasa. In brahmacharya, the first stage, the individual is asked to acquire knowledge, both secular and spiritual, and to conserve energy through the practice of austerity and self‑control. In the second stage, garhasthya, he enters family life through marriage. Marriage is neither a concession to weakness nor a confession of sin. The householder's life is the bedrock of society. Any society that ignores the sanctity of marriage ultimately undermines its entire moral foundation. The individual personality finds its expression through participation in family life, the training ground for unselfishness. The third stage, vanaprastha, is the stage of retirement from the compulsive obligations and duties of family life. As sense pleasures grow stale, the individual feels the call of the spirit more and more, and devotes himself to a life of non‑attachment and contemplation. The last stage, sannyasa, is the stage of renunciation of everything for the sake of Self‑knowledge. In this stage a person is alone. Alone a person comes, and alone he goes.

The Four Castes

            Hinduism places great emphasis on spiritual qualities, and divides society into four castes in order to preserve the spiritual ideal. It realized that, although all are potentially equal in their divinity, there is an inborn inequality between man and man with regard to intellectual and spiritual evolution, and each could develop his spiritual potential through performance of duties in accordance with his own inner disposition. The four castes are: brahmins, kshatriyas, vaishyas, and sudras. The brahmins, devoted to self‑control, austerity, and purity, are the custodians of spiritual culture. The kshatriyas, known for their heroism, generosity, and fearlessness, preserve the social laws. The vaishyas engage themselves in agriculture, trade, and industry; and the duty of the sudras consists of service. A person's caste is never hereditary. A person belongs to a particular caste in keeping with his or her inner disposition, character, and qualities. The division of society into four castes in Hinduism has nothing to do with the superiority or inferiority of a particular group. Working in harmony, the four castes ensure the equilibrium and perpetuation of the Hindu social structure. The welfare of one caste depends on the welfare of all others. The Vedas compare the four castes with the four important parts of the body of the cosmic person: the brahmin represents the head, the kshatriya the arms, the vaishya the thighs, and the sudra the feet.

            Society, according to Hinduism, is not only men and women but also all beings above them, such as gods and angels, and all beings below them, such as animals and plants. Hinduism maintains that an individual is indebted to all of them for his own existence. For example, he is indebted to his ancestors for his present life, to the vegetable and animal worlds for food, to the saints and sages for moral guidance, to fellow human beings for protection, and, above all, to God for His grace. So he is asked to perform daily the following five sacrifices: worship of God; offerings to the deities; making of oblations to the Manes (dead and deified ancestors); offering of food to animals; and hospitality to chance guests. "He who does not feed the deities, chance guests, the beasts, the Manes, and his own self, each day, by performing the five great sacrifices, is a dead man, even though he breathes," says Manu.

The Paths to the Goal

            Hinduism advocates freedom in the practice of religion. It maintains that the path to God‑realization cannot be the same for all. Spiritual disciplines can never be standardized, because all men do not have the same inborn tendencies and temperament, and each must follow his or her own path.  According to Hinduism, there are basically four types of mind: emotional, active, mystical, and philosophical. And in keeping with the four types of mind, Hinduism prescribes the practice of four different paths known as yogas: bhakti-yoga, karma‑yoga, raja‑yoga, and jnana‑yoga.

            Bhakti‑yoga is the path for the emotional type. Following this path, the seeker worships a specific aspect of a personal God or a divine incarnation. Or he may worship the ultimate reality as a deity who is without form but with divine attributes. He establishes a human relationship with God, regarding Him as father, mother, master, friend, or beloved, according to his temperament. He directs all his emotions to God and worships Him through the performance of various rituals and ceremonies. The watchword of bhakti‑yoga is "Thy will be done," which indicates absolute self‑surrender to God. Through self‑surrender and ecstatic love the seeker ultimately attains to God‑vision.

                        The path prescribed for the active type is karma‑yoga or the yoga of selfless activity. The watchword of this path is "work is worship." The seeker following this path performs all his actions regarding himself as the instrument of God and surrenders the results of the actions to Him. The seeker may be a worshiper of a personal God or look upon the ultimate reality as the impersonal absolute dwelling within him as the soul. Karma‑yoga is non‑attachment in action. The practice of non‑attachment purifies the heart, and purity of heart leads directly to God‑vision or Self‑knowledge.

                        For those who are mystical by nature, Hinduism prescribes raja‑yoga, the yoga of concentration and meditation. The seeker following this path looks upon the ultimate reality as his inmost Self. The Self remains unperceived because of the mind's restlessness, which is overcome by ceaseless concentration and meditation on the Self. The watchword of this path is "know thyself." Through uninterrupted concentration and meditation the seeker ultimately realizes the true nature of his Self-pure, perfect, and immortal.

                        The path of jnana‑yoga is for those who are philosophical and rational in temperament. It is the path of relentless self‑analysis, discrimination, and complete renunciation.  The watchword of this path is "The Self is Brahman."  The seeker practices discrimination, renunciation, and self-control, and develops intense longing for liberation.  He hears about the Self, reflects on It, and meditates upon It.  Through ceaseless meditation on the Self the seeker attains union with It. 

            However, a seeker may follow any of these yogas or a combination of two or more of them for the realization of his spiritual goal.

            The four main themes of Hinduism are: non-duality of the Godhead, divinity of the soul, oneness of existence, and harmony of religions.  God as the ultimate reality is always one, and all seekers, regardless of their religious beliefs and traditions, are calling on the same God. "Truth is one: sages call It by various names," says the Rig-Veda. The various Godheads of different religions are but various facets of one and the same God.  The soul of man is divine, and its divinity is neither created nor derived nor borrowed.  The goal of religion is to manifest this divinity already in us.  All our prayers and worship, penances and austerities, are intended to arouse faith in our divinity.  Oneness of existence is the basis of all ethics, morality, love, and sympathy.  An act is regarded as ethical only if it is conducive to the welfare of all, and ethical actions are considered good because they lead us to realize the oneness of existence.  Different religions are but different paths leading to the common goal of God-vision or God-realization, and there is an underlying harmony among them -- the harmony of the goal.  The paths vary because of the variety of human temperaments, but they all lead to the same goal.  So Sri Ramakrishna says: "As many faiths, so many paths."  Harmony of religions is to be realized by a seeker by deepening his God-consciousness. stop.gif (845 bytes)

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