It was an attempt

Dear readers of World Religion Weekly,

Yesterday, I tried to observe three large concepts in Hinduism. I think I did alright. Definitely not perfect, but alright.

I managed to exclude meat from my diet pretty successfully. I am already an off-and-on peskatarian.  I consumed eggs in bread-type foods (tortillas, veggie pizza, etc.), so I was not nearly as strict as I could have been. As with any dietary restriction, this truly makes you consider what makes up your food and the processes that made it your food. I read several articles on the varying Hindu diets, and many modern Hindus are not necessarily vegetarian (especially many Kshatriyas who eat meat in most meals) but instead exclusively consume local, organic, sustainable food. While the association of diet and religion is sometimes considered odd by outsiders, it is completely natural that principles governing your interaction with the world extend to the processes regarding your food. If a religion prohibits harming individuals who can’t fight back (like animals) then it is fairly natural that they prohibit processes that would lead to that. Religions that promote taking care of the earth, naturally promote eating organic. These things are intrinsically linked.

I meditated three times, yesterday, and I chanted the Maha Mantra out loud three times and several more times mentally. Both these activities are deeply calming. I definitely recommend occasional mediation, regardless of religion.

I had mixed results with trying to be in the correct state of mind. I consistently forgot to offer food to Krona before eating it (honestly, I am slightly confused on how that works logistically) and forgot to leave small offerings, as well. I don’t know how I did with avoiding agitation, letting things go, and doing my duty. I watched some movies that night, so that probably was not the most dutiful thing. I feel pretty good about how I spoke, but I don’t think that I am the best person to judge that. People are very rarely aware of the degree their speech affects their listeners.

Thank you for reading,

Audrey Cole

 

 

Attempting to observe some principles of Hinduism

Hello readers of World Religion Weekly,

Finally, I have a free day to attempt to adopt some aspects of Hinduism into my own life.

Firstly, I will be adopting a diet consistent with Hindu principles. The main part is that I will try to keep a lacto-ova-vegatarian diet. The consumption of eggs is fairly controversial, but I already ate a cheese Quesadilla for breakfast (with egg used in the tortilla). It is too late

. I will just try to avoid eating fully formed animals. The Bhagavad Gita annotations placed an emphasis on how you really shouldn’t kill animals (and eat them), so I am largely going off that. I will also try to only eat moderately flavored food that are not spoiled. However, I can’t really promise to adhere strictly to the last one. Moderately-flavored is a pretty subjective term. The Bhagavad Gita recommended not eating food prepared more than three hours in advance. My family is eating a vegetarian frozen pizza for dinner. Is it okay to eat because it was cooked less than three hours before? Or is it not okay because it was prepared more than three hours in advance? Is this one of the rules that was made less relevant as people got better at preserving food? (This would make a lot of sense in the hot and humid climate of ancient India where it was a fair assumption that leftover food should not be eaten, but refrigeration and freezing made leftover food a lot safer.)

Secondly, I will chant the Maha Mantra and meditate throughout the day. The Mahamantra is Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare. Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Rama is one of the most important incarnations of Vishnu. You can read about him in the Ramayana. Krsna is the Supreme Godhead  (God). Hare is either a divine consort of Krsna or another name for Vishnu. I am kind of unclear about that. Chanting it is one of the best ways to enter Krsna Consciousness. It was actually part of the Hindu service I went to. It was one of my favorite parts because it was repetitive enough that I could just join in. I can attest that it is very calming. Meditating was another part of the Hindu service that I enjoyed. You exhale the supreme truth “Om” for as long as possible several times then you just sit in silence. As soon as I woke up this morning, I folded my legs into a criss-cross applesauce position chanted the Maha Mantra and mediated for a bit.

Thirdly, I will try to put myself in the correct mental state. I will try to only speak truth, not cause agitation, let things go easily, do tasks because of my duty, not for myself, and give little offerings to Krsna of flowers and my own food throughout the day.

Let’s see how this goes. Please comment any suggestions for additions.

Thank you for reading,

Audrey Cole

A Hindu Sunday Service

Hello readers,

Yesterday, I finally attended a Hindu service! My grandmother accompanied me because of her interest in Indian culture and curiosity in what happened at Hindu services.

We arrived at Brahma Premananda just in time to be forty minutes early for the eleven o’clock Satsang and Aarthi service. I believe that my grandmother overestimated the Sunday morning traffic and was very excited.

The temple looked out of place in the small Oregon town of Tigard. A marble-covered temple with astounding architecture rose up from behind a dusty Kinder-Care facility. You could only just see the temple from the busy town road.

We waited in the car until we saw a sari-clad woman slip into the temple. We went all the way to the temple before I remembered that the service was conducted in the less impressive residential building slightly to the left.

We were shown the correct room by a kind gentleman who spoke little English. After we kicked off our shoes (symbolizing leaving behind the grime and concerns of the material world as you enter the separate realm of worship), we entered through the white door. There was a beautiful shrine at one end of the room with a large, red-garbed deity in the center. Smaller deities ringed this centerpiece, along with photographs and paintings of people. When we entered, there a string bag of mandarin oranges sat near it, and, as people entered, more offerings joined those oranges.

A woman in a blue and green sari sat in a chair next to the shrine and welcomed us warmly. She knowingly asked, “Is this your first time here?” and responded to our resounding yes with some basic information on the service and kindly small talk. She was a first generation immigrant who arrived here fortysix years ago with her infant daughter. She recomended speaking to the priest about Hinduism, as he had taught her what it really meant to be a Hindu. My grandmother took a seat in a kindly provided chair next to this woman and I sat on the ground with crossed legs.

Once four more elderly individuals arrived and bowed to the shrine in formal Indian clothes, one woman took charge. She led a series of oms and a period of meditation, throughout which a few more individuals trickled in, payed their respects, left offerings, and took a seat.

The next portion of the service required small booklets from a bin in the center of the room. These books held the prayers that the majority of the service would consist of. In addition to being rendered in a language and alphabet I was unfamiliar with, most of the prayers had a phonetic version of the prayer in the Latin alphabet, and a few even had an English translation. I tried to read along as the congregation sang these prayers. At some point, a man fetched a pair of small finger cymbals (manjira) from a cabinet. Soon, the growing group was singing prayers accompanied by clapping and the loud chiming of the manjira. Though I had little idea what I was singing, aside from the familiar names of deities and characters from the holy books, the positive feeling in these songs was palpable. The devotees took turns choosing and leading the songs, however one man appeared to be permanently in charge of the manjiras.

After the singing of prayers concluded, there was another round of om chanting and mediation. After this, everyone bowed to the room’s deity, with hands,forehead, knees, shins, and feet touching the ground. Them everyone stood up. One woman attempted to explain to me what was to come next, ultimately giving up and just saying “you’ll see”. The man who played the manjiras now went to the side of the altar and picked up a conch shell, which he blew into, producing an astoundingly loud noise.  A woman began ringing a bell, adding to the cacophonous affect. The group collectively began to turn in circles, with hands in prayer position at chest level.

Next, a tray of candle stubs was lit by a woman in a flowered kurta. She faced the deity and lifted and lowered the tray of candles in a circular motion several times. One by one, every member of the congregation received the tray. Part of the way through, I began counting and noticed that most individuals either did three or six revolutions.  Several individuals and families went twice.

Once this was concluded, the woman who lit the candles took possession of them once again. She held them, as individuals came up, placed an offering of money  in a bag, placed their hands over the flames for second, and placed their hands over their eyes. I feel the need to say that no one forced me to donate, and not everyone did. It was entirely a matter of choice that I gave a donation. I mimicked the motion of putting my hands of the flames then my eyes.

After this portion of the service concluded, the organized portion of the service appeared to be complete. A woman in a flowered kurta insisted that my grandmother and I stay to have lunch with them. She explained that the meal had been blessed by the gods and that everyone who participated in the service had to have some. The meal was absolutely amazing, and it consisted of some naan bread, a deliciously spicy yellow curry, spiced vegetables, a rice pudding called kheer, and an almond paste dish. I sat with a man and his daughter, each dressed far more Westernly than some of the older devotees. They both wore jeans with semi-formal shirts (a polo shirt for him and a forever21 blouse for her). He explained that the word “ana” was said so many times throughout the service because it meant happiness. The prayers’ content was just as joyful as the mingling voices of the devotees.

Bright small talk crossed the room in several languages, as everyone enjoyed their food. The manjira-playing man fetched a tray of figs from the altar and passed them around to individuals as they began to filter out of the room. I was slightly surprised to be offered one, but I quite enjoyed my first fig,once I deduced from observation that I was meant to eat it.

I actually assumed that the man who handed out the figs was the priest. This turned out not to be the case. When I asked to see the priest, a man said that he would call him and see if he was in the building. If he wasn’t then he was probably out doing home ceremonies (funerals, weddings, etc.). Luckily, the priest was nearby. However, he had not been present for the service. The man who I assumed to be in charge of the Hindu service was just one of the several devotees who took charge at different parts in the ceremony.

A man wearing an orange kurta and bluetooth earpiece turned up at the door, asking if I had questions. Read what happens next in the Interview section of the Hinduism tab.

Thank you for reading,

Audrey Cole

 

Final Day Studying Hinduism

Hello readers of World Religion Weekly,

This is my last day of studying Hinduism.

I finished the Ramayana this morning. It was funny, heart-wrenching, and awe-inspiring. Rama, the perfect man, an avatara of Vishnu, himself,  was beloved by all save those possessed by the deepest evil or most inevitable fate. He was banished to the forest by his father, the king, (who was forced to do this, against his will, by one of his wives). He was accompanied by his devoted brother, Lakshmana, and his wife, Sita, whose was arguably as or more perfect than Rama, himself. They lived happily in the forest, until Sita was kidnapped by Ravana, an evil Rakshasa bent on taking over the universe. Rama, Lakshmana, and the many allies collected by them worked together to rescue Sita and vanquish this evil emperor.

I have at least part of the Rig VedaMahabharata, Puranas, and Upanishads. Sadly, my efforts to visit a Hindu temple in Portland, Oregon, came to naught. Though I have moved on to studying Zoroastrianism, I will continue looking for a Hindu temple to visit, Hindus to interview, and Hindu worship to observe.

You may notice that I have not attempted to practice Hinduism yet either. I simply cannot attempt to observe the principles of Hinduism, without speaking to actual Hindus on how they observe the principles of their religion. While I love my books and the world wide web, they aren’t quite enough to give me an idea of something as complex as the life of an American Hindu.

Thanks for reading,

Audrey Cole

 

Five Days Offline

Hello Readers of World Religion Weekly,

I’ve been limited in posting for the past few days, do to being in the mountains without wi-fi, cell service, electricity, or running water. I spent that time reading through the Mahabharata and part of the Ramayana. 

The Mahabharata is a multi-generational religious epic which interwoven the story of the royal line of an ancient Indian kingdom with stories of gods, sages, and other mystical beings. I would say that the story telling technique most resembled a waterfall braid. As each story surfaced, it developed until the story of the royal line intersected and interwove with it. Then, once satisfactorily concluded, this episode flowed out as the royal house encountered another challenge. It was beautiful, complex, and fascinating.

However, this complexity did lead to some confusion. Individuals in the story were often referred to with several names, making a bit difficult to keep track of who was doing what. However, a quick Google search or just a bit of thinking remedied most of this confusion. Also, many things were alluded to that I did not fully understand. Several events which were non-noteworthy, left me somewhat bemused. I recommend that outsiders to ancient Indian culture or those with little knowledge of Hinduism should, again, keep a device nearby to search for unfamiliar terms and practices.

Quite like the Tanakh, a heavy emphasis was put on lineage, family, and having children. In fact, Put, a hell  for those without children, was frequently referenced.  However, a greater emphasis was put on romantic love.

All in all, this book was very educational into the implementation of Hindu values in ancient Indian society and a great read.

Thank you for reading,

Audrey Cole

Third Day of Hinduism

Dear readers of World Religion Weekly,

Yesterday was my third day studying Hinduism. I managed to get through the first book of the Rig Veda. The Rig Veda is collection of prayers, hymns, praises, and other poetry addressed to the Hindu gods. These pieces of poetry differ greatly in length, structure, and almost every aspect.

They inform the reader more about the worshipper than the worshipee. These pieces highlight the values that ancient Indian culture prized, the available materials for sacrifices, and how they worshipped. I recommend them to anyone with a serious interest in ancient Indian culture and a love of old poetry.

Thank you for reading,

Audrey Cole

My Second Day of Hinduism

Dear readers of World Religion Weekly,

Today I read through four books of Vishnu’s Purana. I am not sure what order the Hindu holy books are meant to be read in, but the books I ordered from the library are not here yet.  The Puranas were not available through the library.

This Purana ultimately reminded me of the Torah. Mortals were frequently punished for their misdeeds by their god (or gods), and an emphasis was placed upon family relationships. However the gods, themselves, featured very prominently in the plot of the Puranas. They were used to illustrate many of the lessons which show the rules devout Hindus should follow, and principles they should value. Romantic love features prominently in many of the stories, highlighting the relationship between man and wife. Familial love is also featured prominently.

Ultimately however, the focus was on devotion to the gods. Individuals were punished for neglecting to worship or observe principals, and those who acted in the most holy manner were rewarded with increasingly pleasant reincarnations.

The colorful and beautiful text was interesting to read. However it is incredibly complex. Brahma is technically all of the gods, and the gods occasionally further divided themselves, further complicating comprehension. Also, some of the gods and goddesses are referred to by multiple names, which gets confusing.

Thank you for reading world religion reading and I hope you broadened your understanding,

Audrey Cole

The First Day of Hinduism

Dear readers of World Religion Weekly,

Yesterday was technically the first day of Hinduism. It was not terribly productive, but I will make up for it today. Vedas, here I come.

Thank you for reading,

Audrey Cole