Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Hindu Way Of Life.

Sometime back I read a post at Korrodu’s blog about a conversation he had with a second generation Polish immigrant on polytheism as practiced by Hindus. The gentleman in question was committed to preserving trees and had done some research on the various goddesses in Indian and Greek mythology. He perhaps called himself a ‘Tree hugger’. It would not be fair on my part to try and repeat what has already been said in the post. It would be best enjoyed when read in the original. However, I have wanted to write something on how I perceive my religion ever since I read the piece.It is not my intention to start a debate on religion. These are just a few observations and not meant to criticize or hurt any sect including more serious minded Hindus

I have never been a deeply religious person. The concept of an all powerful God who is waiting to punish mankind for every sin committed does not appeal to me at all. Were it so, how could all those hardened criminals who plan and execute terrorist act continue to do so? Why are innocent children being born with physical deformities? One gets treated to an over dose of crime report in the various news channels which seem to put ideas into the minds of young children more than trying to address the problem. I stopped watching serials long back and now I run away from news channels as well. Why does this all powerful God let all this happen?

Keeping this in mind I started reading God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. The book, I am afraid did not appeal to me and I discarded it midway. Dawkins claims that on a scale of seven ranging from those who have complete faith in the existence of an all powerful God to out and out atheists, he claims that he occupied the sixth position, just a shade above hard core atheists. I rank myself in the fourth position even at the risk of being called a fence sitter. Extremism has never appealed to me and have always been wary of opinionated discussions. Flexibility and a respect for the other person’s viewpoint is what I prefer.

Hinduism as far as perceive it is a way of life. I was just 13 years old when in the girl’s dormitory of the boarding school, I was cornered by a group of girls who insisted that I was bound to go to hell because I followed a religion that worshipped 33,000 gods. ‘You are an idol worshipper’ they insisted ‘and you worship trees and stones, you are bound to rot in hell’. Even at the tender age of 13 I was able to reason that I could never go to hell if I was honest and loved my fellow human beings. But unfortunately my mother had not explained why we worshipped 33,000 gods and I could not refute their claim that we Hindus did indeed worship trees and rivers. Today I am more enlightened and I can understand that Hinduism is more a way of life than a hard core religion. To me it appears to be a means of sustaining one’s self when everything seems to fail and life seems to be doomed. I am truly grateful to our warden who intervened and scolded us by saying that we should respect the other person’s faith and look for good things in their scriptures even if we did not fully subscribe to it. Her words have remained with me ever since.

Hinduism encourages the worship of nature. A practicing Hindu waters Tulsi and Peepal early in the morning. Aren't these two plants of immense medicinal value? Is it not important to keep rivers that are our main source of water, clean? It was perhaps not possible to explain the medicinal value of plants to a layman who toiled hard to make ends meet. It was easier to say that the scriptures expected him to do so. The same applies to the worship of rivers too.The Hindu religion as I see it advocates the conservation of all biological and environmental resources. Our sages had understood natures contribution to our well being from time immemorial.

Turmeric and kumkum prepared from turmeric were exchanged by Hindu ladies during festivals and auspicious days. Is it not true that turmeric has a natural cosmetic value and a daily application of turmeric keeps your skin glowing?

Each of our deities have a different animal as their ‘vahan’ rats and snakes included. Environmental studies warn us of the dangers that are likely to be encountered if the food chain/web is disturbed. Herbivores, carnivores, omnivores and scavengers are all important for ecological balance. Is it any wonder that animals like the lion, tiger, monkey and the elephant and birds like the eagle, vulture, parrot and peacock as well as a host of other organisms are accorded importance?

Then the question of polytheism-

Hinduism sees God in every living organism and a closer look at the different deities will reveal that each one is worshipped for a different quality. A combination of all such qualities symbolizes an almighty God but a proper understanding of such a God requires a highly seasoned mind. It has been taken up step by step and one’s perception varies according to one’s understanding and all levels are acceptable.

Wealth and valor, health and happiness are all collectively essential but do not individual requirements vary? What is the purpose of having wealth if one does not have the health or intelligence to put it to good use? Worshipping Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati during Navaratri perhaps indicates that each of these are important and one needs to thank God for a combination of the three aspects, each one important in its own way. Navaratri was also a time for social interaction among ladies and a time to give small gifts to the needy. It is important that this purpose is kept in mind while celebrating the umpteen festivals according to the Hindu calendar.

Finally, it is important to understand that the triumph of good over evil is the essence of all religions including Hinduism. Hindu Gods have had their share of troubles and have ultimately come out in flying colors. Does it not signify that one should not be deterred by setbacks and victory tastes sweeter when one has worked for it? And should one fail despite all effort what better way of gathering strength to start all over again than by attributing failure to past misdeeds and considering it important to do one’s duty and not worry about results?

I do not know if there is really a heaven or hell awaiting me but I do know that I find solace in Hindu way of thinking. Korrodu has summed it up beautifully. I quote-

“Thus becoming a Hindu is a life long unceasing process. This is precisely the goals of Hinduism according to my current level of understanding.”


vishesh said...

ha gmom.....

for me life is something different i don't believe in blinded faith and at the same time know that certain things have a value...i refuse to worship any idol....but that doesn't mean i don't chant mantras,for me those have special values...i follow no religion instead i follow something ,anything my heart tells me....i have long realised that god isn't a person to appear from no where and solve everything,it is you.You are the part of the divine spirit which everything is part of,it is you who has everything.There is no good and no bad,all is one,yet it is up to you to choose what you want.

In the sojourn of life,
all is fair and yielded.

btw take a look at my main blog -here

Anonymous said...


" ‘You are an idol worshipper’ they insisted ‘and you worship trees and stones, you are bound to rot in hell’."

a convent school, no doubt - where else in india could this happen?

- s.b.

Usha said...

The beauty of being a hindu is that You do not "have to" do any of the rituals and yet be a Hindu. You do not Have to offer prayer to all the 33000 Gods and you can still be a Hindu. It allows you to organise your life within certain codes of conduct without having to depend on rituals. That is why it is a "way of life" and not just a religion.

Hip Grandma said...

Vishesh:I went thro' your blog and if all os us could appreciate nature the way you've described with or without religion coming into it then we'd be doing a greater service to mankind than any other groups.

s.b.:yes it was a christian school tho' not a convent.It was affiliated to a protestant church.But I don't really blame them.They were also children without much exposure.I spent some wonderful years there and a lot of personality development took place around that time.Will write abt it later.

Usha:to me being a Hindu and being a naturalist mean the same.With Environmental studies made imperative from class three onwards and the importance accorded to it I feel amazed at the knowledge our rishis possessed and how sensible their practisces were.But these Hindu fanatics seem to be undoing everything.

The Visitor said...

Hinduism! - I think it is very difficult to have a common definition of what it is. If a set of Hindu's are asked to define what it is - I am of the opinion that there are likely to be as many different perceptions of the term as there are respondents. This difference could be in the God(s) worshipped, rituals followed, religious texts followed etc.

Personally, I dont believe that there was ever a religion called Hinduism. It is probably a collection of all the religious practices of the several different people who have lived in this part of the world, since a very long time ago. I believe that there used to be difference of opinion between the Vaishnavites and Shaivites regarding the nature of God and man - Dvaitha versus Advaitha. Today both ar considered sub-philosophies of Hinduism. In addition we also had the Shakthi worshippers, who deified the female form.
Unification could have been brought about by free inter-mingling of the people and also by the rulers of those times as a means of bringing about unity against new religions (Buddhism and Jainism) and invasions (Islam and to some extent Christianity).

So in that sense it is probably an amalgam of practices of several local groups and hence reflects a common way of life, rather than as a specific religion. I have myself not inquired deeply about Hinduism and would not be in a position to say anything about it.

My stand regarding religion would be more towards atheism - maybe a score of 5+ on the scale that you mention.

I appeal to God when it suits me or when I am in trouble. :) Not that I expect God to come and relieve me of my troubles - but it serves as an outlet for my frustrations / anxieties.

I have stopped seriously debating religion or the existence of God, either as a believer or non-believer. I might indulge in an argument for the sake of a discussion, but honestly my beliefs (either in the presence or absence of a God) are not strong.

PS: These are totally my own opinions, based on whatever I've heard from other people and may have several inaccuracies. :)

Srijith Unni said...

The very fact that most Hindus, are not deeply religious in the sense that they do not get very persistent and compulsive about their beliefs is only because, Hinduism is not a religion. It was always only a way of life, a way of life, where one respected and loved nature. Nature was worshipped in different forms, in different ways. "Taru Devo Bhava", meaning Trees represent gods was again advocated by this way of life only. There were scriptures written, or passed down called the Vedas, which have even talked about atheism, itself a lot. The Charvaka and Lokayata philosophy talked about present day atheism in detail.

A religion is something which enforces people to follow a set of beliefs, whereas, Hinduism stands apart, as not a religion, but a way of life, which teaches us to be free thinkers , debate about everything, and at the same time, love nature.!

P.S: Would love reading about your school days.. Hip` Granma.
With Best Regards,

Just Like That said...

A very nice post, HGMom. And in these days when religion is such a volatile subject, you have put across your views very very reasonably and likeably.

I would put myself at 6 in that scale. I have absolute faith in God, tho' NOT in mindless rituals to worship Him/Her.

And tho' I subscribe to all religions - all have their unique merits and demerits- I truly appreciate the way Hinduism does not FORCE you to follow religion in a particular manner- it is entirely a matter of choice, and left entirely to the individual to do or not to do.

And yes, I do believe in good karma over and above all else. You do your bit, and the rest will follow....
However sometimes, it gets very difficult to do what your mind tells you is the right thing to do, doesn't it? that devil inside urges... go on, be bad! be rude! be unkind! be selfish!...

Sigh! That again is when I turn to God sometimes, to help me become a better, stronger human being.

Hip Grandma said...

The visitor:
'I appeal to God when it suits me or when I am in trouble. :) Not that I expect God to come and relieve me of my troubles - but it serves as an outlet for my frustrations / anxieties. '

Exactly and nobody calls you opportunist.that is the beauty of the Hindu religion.
srijith:I agree.I'd like to read the way the scriptures mentioned by you treat atheism.

Just like that:You'd be ranked at no 2 or 3 on the scale mentioned.^ is a tilt toeards atheism which I think you are not.yes hinduism is different 'cos it does not exercise coersion in any form.

WhatsInAName said...

That was a great post and on a topic that is close to heart for me.
I am born and brought up as a God-fearing person.
I have been through the rebel phase as well. Questioning everything and following the religion and the practices with reluctance. Slowly many of the traditions started making sense. As Usha puts it, Hinduism is the way of living and I now am blended into it.
I would probably rate myself as 2 or 3 in the scale. I have no qualms about praying to so many Gods as well. At the same time, I respect other religions too.
You have put it so well. Like you, I find solace in the Hindu way of living.

shark said...

That was a very insightful post. Hinduism described beautifully.

Though by principle Hinduism is a way of life, a nature worship and aids us to live in harmony with other species, generations of superstitions, rituals and caste politics have left all these principles far behind. I hope I can see Hinduism live in a way it is supposed to live and I live to see it :)

To answer your question :
Why does this all powerful God let all this happen?

God made man and all the other living beings on this earth, but he also gave man something called "Intelligence". Now if man uses this gift in the right way it's good. But then some do use it in the worng way and hence we are seeing so much of sufferings around us.

Take a simple anology, man created computer and "programmed" it to do whatever he wanted it to do, but still sometimes the computer crashes.. is it possible to make a non-crashable (not sure if it's the right word) computer? No... but that doesn't mean we will stop making them altogether, or we can stop/prevent a crash "always"!...

Hip Grandma said...

whatsinaname:'I have no qualms about praying to so many Gods as well. At the same time, I respect other religions too.'
you have summarized the feelings of a true Hindu.He is raised to believe that other faiths are also to be equally respected.Fanatics exist among Hindus too and that is very unfortunate.

shark:Casteist compartmentalization and superstitions plus godmen fooling innocent and gullible people all go against the essence of Hindu philosophy and makes the world view us with suspicion.The very beauty of a deeply meditated mental attitude suffers and as you say political mileage is extracted.This is indeed unfortunate.BTW your analogy was interesting.

Tys on Ice said...

Ask a hindu if his god is in the idol he worships and he will tell you that the idol is a focus of his devotion not the source. Even monotheist religions like Islam and Chirstanity resort to a focus ( Mecca / Cross). In order to understand something which we know ( if it exists) exists outside our realm of reality, we do require a point of reference. Hence our idols.

I love the fact that we have so many aspects to our god. We as Hindus know that theres only a Paramathma . Look around and we see billions of aspects of the same concept - man. I like my god fragmented. Its easier to have a relationship with such a god.

AM I A HINDU? Best Seller said...

Very well written blog. I agree 100%, no religion or culture answers so many thought provoking, agonizing questions you and I have about so many problems in life.

The concept of UTMOST FREEDOM OF THOUGHTS And ACTIONS is The cardinal principle of Hinduism.

That what attracts many to Hinduism. Hinduism never forbids any one to question its fundamentals.

One side, in Hinduism, you may come across people worshiping pests like rats, and still on other side you will come across concepts parallel to Quantum Physics and Neil's Bohr Theory of nuclear structure and reactions.

On one side ADVAIDA [There is ONLY one ] philosophy is discussed and promoted, still on other side DWAITA [ two--duality] philosophy is discussed and promoted.

Hinduism never ever banished any one, since he or she wrote a wrong scripture or did not observe a particular ritual.

There was never a SALMAN RUSHDIE [author of Satanic Verses] in Hinduism and never will be there one.

Mahathma Gandhi wrote, even atheists can call themselves as Hindus. That is very true.

In fact the CHARVAKA philosophy or NASTIKA philosophy, [existed during the Vedic period] founded by CHARVAKA rejected the existence of God and considered religion as an aberration.

Voltaire in Essay on Tolerance wrote:

I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death, your right to say it.

Hinduism is the symbolic representation of what Voltaire wrote.

Hip Grandma said...

tys on ice:You have a nice take on Hinduism.Yes a focusis required by most humans and our idols do provide them.BTW your piece on what to expect from your children was very good?May i steal it and post it here?i want more people to read it.If this comment makes people curious that's also fine.they'll visit your site anyway.

am I a hindu?:'I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death, your right to say it.'

You are right.Hinduism in its truest form respects other peoples opinion.must visit your site.The name itself is interesting

Kowsalya Subramanian said...

"And should one fail despite all effort what better way of gathering strength to start all over again than by attributing failure to past misdeeds and considering it important to do one’s duty and not worry about results? "
- a very beautiful way of explaining Karma.

Hip Grandma said...

kowsalya:the karma concept is described as an escapist view by some.I disagree.It is the belief in karma that sustains people when all else fails.Have been trying to open your blog can't do it.Have you blocked it or something?

Sriganesh Murthi said...

Nice post! I would not like to comment much on Hinduism as a way of life, as I haven't yet matured spiritually to explore the finer aspects of it, or rather haven't had the interest to! I'm a fence-sitter too!

You may want to read more about my stand on being an agnostic.

Agnostically yours,

Hip Grandma said...

ganesh murthi:I went through your piece and found it interesting.Yes I too have faced situations like the ones you've mentioned and try to look for an explanation.