I really can no longer even pretend to follow a belief where I find so many more questions than plausible explanations
I was asked by several Christians, and even some Hindus, in the US and India why I left Christianity. Christians want specifics, I hope this will help explain.
I started life in a small country town, where church bells rang on Sunday mornings and stores were closed on Sunday by matter of law, not custom, (although laws can arise from customs).
Since just about everyone in that small town went to church each Sunday, it never occurred to me that there was a choice in the matter. It was just what people did. Period. Monday thru Friday people went to work or school. Then on Sunday they went to church. I never analyzed it as just the way of life in The Bible Belt, but then, I was 5 years old.
Fast forward several years, I was starting to wonder about things I had heard in church, things which society enforced, or at least historically embraced because, well, it was in the Bible so it was “God’s will.” Incidentally, these doubts weren’t just in church, but also school. Each morning for my first 9 years of schooling we said a prayer, and in some cases Bible verses, before our academic day began. Some days we would actually discuss a story or two from the Bible prior to classes. In the ninth grade it was a Catholic school which only intensified matters.
He was helpful, but it seemed cautiously so. He would answer questions if asked but not volunteer much information. There were three of them. Two helpers and Him. He didn’t make me uncomfortable, but his presence was great.
It was our first day in Sri Lanka and I had long-awaited the chance to buy some Indian clothing in which to attend the religious services (pujas) during the upcoming two-week yatra*. I wrote in another blog story about “My Kurta Hunt” in which I scoured the Bay area in CA where I lived at the time trying to find appropriate kurta wear for temple and festivals.
I did manage to locate a few but I was really looking forward to finding a variety of outfits that are hard if not impossible to find in the states and that unlike ones I ordered on-line, I could try them on first and know exactly what I was getting.
I was with a friend who was also there to attend the yatra. He too wanted some clothing and we were both glad to be in the midst of so many choices.
My friend, Bill, is a white man of European heritage. I am a black person of African descent. We both embraced Sanatana Dharma several years ago and are affiliated with the Saiva Siddhanta Church headquartered in Kauai Hawaii. It was this temple who organized the yatra and although it was not mandatory, the organizers requested that if possible we wear cultural attire. I noticed during the time there that everyone did.
As we tried on shirts, dhotis* and pajama outfits He just stood by watching. The helpers were the universal salesmen. Running to and fro (successfully I might add), trying in earnest to honor our requisitions. When a salesman informed me they had no shirts of a certain style, HE spoke up and informed him we did. He showed the man where it was and his knowledge paid off, I purchased two of the shirts in different colors.
Sri Lanka is a beautiful country with a rich spiritual heritage which I am privileged to have experienced first-hand. The island, formally called Ceylon, is directly south of India by about 90 minutes flight time between Columbo, Sri Lanka and Chennai, India.
Recently, I was blessed to join Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami along with fifty eight other participants from eight countries as we took a two week spiritual pilgrimage to three Sri Lankin cities.
Name a word or set of words by which a person, animal, place, or thing is known, addressed, or referred. Synonyms designation, honorific, title, tag, epithet, label
Sometimes when one wants to sincerely embrace some facet of another culture, it is hard to be taken seriously. Even if the one embracing is totally committed right to the point of having officially severed ties with a previously assigned
Not long ago, I discussed the conflict I am having about changing my name. I can understand both sides of the issue, and am honestly quite conflicted. The person with whom I was speaking assured me that under no circumstances should I dare call myself a Hindu unless I am willing to change my name. In my defense, I mentioned, among others, Stephen Knapp and Julia Roberts, previous Christians who are now converted to Hinduism and still retain their birth names.
My companion, was however, not dissuaded. Her belief is that no matter how much a person has contributed to the Vedic world or how devout they are to their personal deity, unless one has a Hindu name, they should not consider themselves a total Hindu. Continue reading “Whats in a Name?”
A two-week get away seems like a great relaxing bonus for enduring the mundane. I recently took what amounted to just that when I drove my RV from Phoenix, AZ to my childhood home of Cincinnati, Oh.
One of the first things I noticed when I pulled into a rest stop and attempted to get some sleep was that I had forgotten my murti, Lord Ganesha. When I travel I always take him and or Lord Shiva with me. It is comforting to have a material representation of my deeply held beliefs, and so I was quite annoyed that I had omitted them. I have Lord Shiva on my car fob. Yet since I was in the RV I didn’t have that one either. I did however have The Gita and my mala beads and so between the reading one and doing jappa on the other, I felt in close contact with my ultimate reality.
I had a nice ride and really enjoyed my visit, the purpose of which was to attend a high school reunion. Reunions are great times to reflect the past, contemplate the future and, evaluate the present. Having done all three, I realized how fortunate indeed I am to have embraced this path of Sanata Dharma. Two of my former class mates have converted to Islam, and both have changed their names accordingly. I am still wrestling with that one. There are several factors involved besides just the actual name change which are best left to another post. I enjoyed seeing my friends from high school and recalling old pranks and antics long since submerged into the annals of our childhood.
It was en-route home that I noticed a feeling of void. Initially dismissed as the general decline of excitement following any event which one has long anticipated, I realized it wasn’t entirely that. While saying jappas one day, I realized that it had been over a week since I was in a temple. That was it! I missed the temple. The shoes piled outside, clusters of people greeting each other, the ringing of bells, people chanting, kneeling, seeing fresh flowers and fruit offered to the Gods and the feel of the soft smooth tile underneath my bare feet.
I am familiar with the concept of some
Hindus that if you are living right, or doing daily home puja then you “don’t need the temple.” Until then, I never had a chance to test that theory. Perhaps it was the missing murtis, but then I was doing a bit of Bakti yogi with the “tools” at my disposal. No, it wasn’t that. I missed all aspects of communion with the divine, I yearned for the temple.
Temple architecture was designed to provide spaces for effortless meditation and where the various deities radiate their own energy and intelligence. As many people meet in temples to communicate with and perform rituals to these deities, the energy abounds and becomes all-consuming to those who are receptive. Put quite simply, I missed it.
When I returned, I went to the Monday night Shiva Puja. It was very uplifting and refreshing. I prostrated myself before God, participated in the Shiva abhishekam and thanked my Lord for a safe and enjoyable trip. After that, speaking to friends I had not seen in a while and just basking in temple darshan, I finally felt that sense of completeness one gets when he is finally home.
Maybe it is my western upbringing, but I cannot stay away from the temple for an extended period of time without what I call “temple withdrawal”. You see as Christians, we were taught that “going to worship” was primarily in the church and that the gathering of the faithful should be done as community and as often as possible, which for Catholics is daily (mass), but for Protestants is Sunday, and in many of them Wed., or the mid-week services.
I wonder if other Western Hindus have such a feeling. As more of us embrace the path, we will invariably bring with us remnants of the spiritual ways of life we leave behind.
The temple is very important to some of us, especially westerners, and certainly more than “just a building,” because unlike ethnic Hindus, we do not get the cultural aspect of Dharma in our homes or businesses. No matter how spiritual we are inwardly, it is affirming and satisfying to enjoin our spiritual family at the temple. I am thankful it is there. Who needs Temples? I do.
One of the main lessons I have learned about Hinduism is that proselytizing is a charged word. The Hindu mindset is not to do it, even though it has and is being done to us, sometimes, even by means of chicanery and deceit. Like many other concepts though, the act itself is neither good or bad, but all in the application.
It is safe to say that the early Hindu missionaries to the West were evangelist as well as a proselytizers. At this point I should stipulate that the difference between the two is purely one of perspective. Christians describe their conversion efforts as evangelism. However in a reverse situation, Christians call the messengers proselytizers. I prefer to say that these beautiful souls and others evangelized The West.
Not too long ago I encountered some Americans in the Eastern section of the New Age book store and we began chatting. I asked if they were Hindu, and one responded with “I am not in a religion but I am spiritual.” He spoke about his meditation practice and how it made him more calm. His friend told me how she is trying to get him into yoga. I helped her a bit by saying how I enjoy it and scores of other men. Continue reading “Hindus Proselytize….but Maybe Not Enough”
Humans are image driven, and will naturally attribute form and design to their inner most mental conjures. Probably the vast majority of humankind worships God in image form because the human mind even objectifies the idea of the formless.
Some of us remember a time before cell phones. A time when the land was
replete with pay phones and every house or residence had a land line. To
call a friend or family member from afar was expensive. When I was a
soldier stationed in Korea during to 1970s, a phone call to my family
back in the US cost $4.00 a minute! That’s right. I paid dearly for the
privilege of speaking to my loved ones. Why? Because I missed them.
Did I keep the phone on the hook and simply talk to the device??
Of course not. That would have been akin to phone worship…..
Well, so it is with murtis : in part, a murti, or murthi, or vigraha or
pratima typically refers to an image that expresses a Divine Spirit.
Meaning literally “embodiment”, a murti is a representation of a
divinity, made usually of stone, wood, or metal, which serves as a means
through which a divinity may be worshiped. 1
Some may consider that to be the definition of an idol. Yet that is exactly what a murti is not. An idol by definition is an image or other material object representing a deity or spirit to which religious worship is addressed. The difference may be described by the word life. One embodies divinity while the other simply represents.
Coming from a Christian back ground, I know that the word idolatry is a highly charged one, meaning to worship, or make any human made image of God, or the divine. Catholics have images which are called idols by protestants, who claim not to have any such. Yet even though they don’t have carvings, they have stained glass windows handsomely adorned with images of Christ. Then during The Christmas season, many of them display statues of everyone involved in the Bethlehem scene from the Angel Gabriel to the sheep who lived in the barn. Yet it is they in particular who have besmirched God’s material depiction, and their explanation of their Bible which has become the default for how our entire western society views what is “right” and “wrong” regarding spiritual expression.
Humans are image driven, and will naturally attribute form and design to their inner most mental conjures. Probably the vast majority of humankind worships God in image form because the human mind even objectifies the idea of the formless. So how is it that dharmic worshipers materialized their divinities while the Abrahamic relied on sub conscious subtleties to plant and enforce the mental image immortalized by Michelangelo of God as an angry ole white man.
For one, we Hindus consider all of creation to be God who is imminent and transcendent throughout the universe. Therefore all things created contain God’s presence. With that in mind, consider that there is not much of a transition to realizing that the images of Lord Ganesha or Goddess Saraswati already contain God whether made of wood, marble or granite. Murtis are not just physical carvings but bodies which are energized to vibrate in a certain way such that they impact their surroundings. The science of the murtis derives from The Agama Shastra, a tantric scientific methodology that has been perfected over eons. Each Agama consists of four parts, however for this purpose we focus on the Kirya which includes rules for construction of temples; and consecration of idols (murtis). This code is analogous to those in Puranas. 2
The Kirya has also detailed the creation for vibrational capacities and the life within the murtis. This life, this vibration of energy responds to us when we call upon it and address it. Every aspect and form reflects Gods presence which is nestled therein. Devout Hindus accept idol worship as a simple way of expr essing their faith, love and devotion to God. There is a childlike innocence and purity of approach when a person stands reverently in front of an image or a murti and bows to it in total submission. It is possible only when a person has strong faith and no egoism. Worldly people or intellectuals who have strong egos cannot easily surrender to God or worship God’s images with simple faith. However, those who worship God with devotion and humility know that murti worship connects them to God and opens their hearts to divine love. 3
Some reject at the idea of murti worship as superstition. However, the practice is based on scientific principles, matters which western scientist have recently began to acknowledge.
A temple, is a miniature cosmos comprised of the five elements and a presiding deity. They are the places containing pure vibrations of magnetic and electric fields with positive energy. A temple is an outgrowth of the deity which has its own independent intelligence and from which energy is constantly radiating. Essentially, temples were designed to be spaces where the mind spontaneously moves within and meditation happens effortlessly. Every aspect of the temple, from the architecture to the rituals to the kinds of worship offered, has been consciously created to make this experience happen. 4
Deities work as our focal point, to remind us of our true potential. In silence your thoughts have tremendous potential to become reality. This is why people say “My prayers have come true”. Indeed every prayer has potential to come true provided you prayed in deep awareness. Deity itself has no meaning unless you create. They are used more as a focal point or to attack the Mind. 5
Without getting too immersed into quantum physics, this works on the premise that all matter vibrates and thought vibrations can and do produce desired results. Murtis are the conduit whereby these abstract brain pulsations transform into meaningful praise and supplications.
This practice also works for the practices of Voodoo and tantra shastra. Distance healing is based on a similar principle. Thought waves are very subtle, they can be transferred at incredible speed through space. This can be performed with willpower. After all, existence is homogeneous. In a state of silence all psychological barriers are broken. 6
The first time I ever visited a Hindu temple, when I was in deep searching, I remember feeling overwhelming joy and peace. The feeling was extremely profound, almost tactile. I returned to that temple many times to make sure the sensation was not imaginary. After having attended awhile, I discussed it with the temple Pandit. He explained the vibratory energy and said that when the worship is done in a group it is intensified. It was that positive intensity that I felt welcoming me onto the eternal path.
Back to the concept of the phone call. If the conversation stops at you just talking to the phone, then your conversation goes absolutely nowhere (ie idolatry) . It is not until you “open the connection channel” that you are able to communicate with your desired party. The phone just simply allows the two way transmission.
Swami Paramananda sums it up better than I. He says “Coming to idol worship, let it be very clear that if worship stops at the statue or the picture, then it is idolatry. The truth, however, is that idols are a means to reach the formless aspect of God. Form is used as a means to reach the formless. Many people talk about praying or worshiping directly, but this is impossible – no one can make it. Whether it is a mosque, a temple, a scripture, rites, rituals, prayers, meditation techniques, a prophet or a guru, all are forms and only means to reach the formless. Yes, it is absolutely true that people stagnate with idolatry, thus missing the opportunity to experience the formless. 7
By the Prana Pratishtha ceremony, the idol becomes identical with the deity.
I recently learned that there are some temples in India that deny entry to non-Hindus. The Swami who told me that said that he thought it had to do with some westerners who disrespected the temples by their dress and or behavior. Later, I learned that there were also temples that deny entry to women.
In brief summary, we have discussed the goal of Yoga, which is to unite one’s transitory (temporary) self, “JIVA” with the infinite “BRAHMAN”, the Hindu concept of God. This God is not a personal God, but it is an impersonal spiritual substance which is one with nature and cosmos. Brahman is an impersonal divine substance that “pervades, envelopes and underlies everything”. Yoga comes to yogi who is one with Brahman”
Yoga Pt III Breathing and Posing Third in the series, The Debt I Owe to Yoga
We now arrive at asanas. This is limb number three of yoga that gets called, well, “yoga.” Actually, it is properly named asana, or , posture. These are the poses you see in advertisements for yoga paraphernalia or poses by bodies that grace the covers of Yoga or health related magazines . These postures practiced in asanas, comprise the third limb and the breathing exercises or pranayama comprises the fourth. If you have been reading this series so far, you will know that asana is not a fitness system or a series of gymnastic exercises but part of a larger process of spiritual rebalancing. 1, 2