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

The Bhagavad Gita: As It Is

Bhaktivedanta, A. C. Bhagavad Gita: As It Is. Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 2014.

Please read my previous post on the Bhagavad Gita to learn more about it.

You can buy a copy from many sources on the internet and in person.

Thanks for reading,

Audrey Cole

 

The Bhagavad Gita

Dear readers of World Religion Weekly,

As opposed to many of the other texts, which were more of epic stories, this text was far more instructional. It really has more specifics on the “rules” of being a Hindu and far less plot. A dialogue between Arjuna, a legendary warrior, and Krsna, the supreme god. Arjuna has doubts about going into battle and asks many questions about the nature of the universe and divinity, and Krona explains that it is his duty to fight and answers these questions.

For me, this book really cleared up the whole concept of Hinduism as a monotheistic religion. The copy that I read was heavily annotated by the founder of the International Society for Krsna Consciousness. Honestly, without this annotation, the book would have been several hundred pages shorter. This annotation actually cleared up how these “rules” should be implemented in this day and age, so I would recommend reading a similarly annotated copy. However, one should always remember that these annotations are the beliefs of a person, however well-educated and holy. If you disagree with someone’s interpretation, remember that your issue is with that individual interpretation and not the entire religion. A few passages rankled me, but, on the whole, this book’s message was very uplifting and universal.

The state of Krsna Consciousness was heavily promoted. This basically means that  you keep God (Krsna) in your mind constantly and do things, not for yourself or anyone else, but for God. Your exact relationship with God is a personal decision (examples: lovers, friends, parent and child, master and servant). However, individuals should seek out a personal, loving relationship with God. Does this sound familiar? Yes, Hinduism actually really reminds me of Christianity. Moreover, the annotations accept the prophets of other religions (including Jesus) as incarnations of Krsna, in the form which was most relevant to the other location. Of course, Krsna Consciousness is the quickest and best way to attain the best afterlife (Krsnaloka, the home of Krsna), but other religions can result in the afterlife that they deem best (example: Buddhists may be absorbed by the impersonal Brahman and devotees of demigods may attain the homes of those demigods).

I really recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand how being Hindu affects your life (WARNING: there are many different interpretations of Hinduism, just like every religion, so please don’t assume that all Hindus adhere to all of these rules or believe all of these things).

Thanks for reading,

Audrey Cole

Interviewing a Hindu priest

Dear reader of World Religion Weekly,

When I asked the priest for an interview, he declined. He said that he would give us a tour of the temple, and answer some questions. However, some questions he would not answer, and he definitely did not want to be audio-taped.

As we walked back, towards the temple, I gave a question a shot. “What do you feel is the most important part of Hinduism?”

Shaking his head, he declared that question one of the questions he did not answer. We all kicked off our shoes, as we entered the temple. I remained quiet as we entered, absorbing the sight that greeted us. Niches in the walls held many deities, richly attired and knowingly smiling. Some were very pale, seeming to be made from something like ceramic or white stone, and others were made of some dark substance, perhaps stone or wood. If you would like to see them, you can see the temple gallery here. The floor was of black stone and the walls of the same white marble as the front of the building, creating a breathtaking image.

The priest gestured to each of the deities, and he explained that each represented a god. He elaborated that, while there appear to be many gods, Hindus believe in one God. The one God manifests in many ways, he elaborated, leading us to the first niche. I asked what the names of these gods were. He gently reminded me that there was only one god, then informed me as to the names. I’ll try to accurately recount a few of them to the best of my abilities. The first shrine featured the cast of the Ramayana. With a slight blue tint to his alabaster skin, Rama stood alongside his brother Lakschmana and wife, Sita. Hanuman, one of the monkey-people who played a large role in rescuing Sita, crouched slightly in front of them. Offering trays were set in front of the deities. Sita, Rama, and Lakschmana each had a few dollar bills and coins in front of them. Hanuman had the same, with the appropriate addition of a banana. The next deity was a four-armed, larger version of Hanuman. The priest explained that he was an incarnation of God as well. Later on we came to a deity which was different. He was a man seated cross-legged instead of standing, who lacked the sumptuous clothing of the others. This was in fact not a Hindu god, but an individual of importance to Jainism. The priest explained that they wanted this space to be a place of worship for people of many religions. I believe this statue was of Mahavira, the main prophet of Jainism. For those who are curious, Jainism is a religion that believes that basically everything has a soul and preaches extreme nonviolence. The extremely devout are reported to go to such lengths as wearing masks, and sweeping the ground before they walk on it , in order to avoid harming bugs, air motes, and dust. Obviously, most do not go these lengths, but nonviolence and respect are held high in this religion.

The priest then pointed across the room to a more familiar figure. The Buddha sat in a mirror image of Mahavira’s cross-legged contemplation. The priest explained that these two religions were deeply connected. I assume that this referred to the nonviolence (ahimsa) preached in both. Another group of gods was pointed to, and the priest explained that they were the ones worshiped by the Sikhs.

We walked over to a group of three. The priest explained that they were the Generator, Operator, and Destroyer (G. O. D.). This trinity showed the main manifestations of God in taking care of the universe. A central display showed Vishnu (the Operator) with his wife, Lakschmi. The priest gestured back to Rama and Sita, and he explained that these two couples were one and the same. The next pair was Shiva and Parvati, who were once again explained as being the same.

The next set of deities were a showing of the extreme tolerance and inclusion that this temple offered. Mother Mary clasped Baby Jesus in front of an offering tray. The priest explained that Hindus believe that there is one God, who manifests in many different ways in many different cultures. He drew a parallel between Jesus and Rama, both of whom were manifestations of God in human flesh, and who appeared when humanity was in need. Rama appeared to deliver the world from the Rakshasas, and Jesus appeared to help deliver the Jews.

We then moved to a statue of a woman in a beautiful red gown. She held all manner of weapons in her bejeweled fingers. She was Mother Nature, the priest explained. She fought off monsters for nine days and nights in order to save humanity. She is our mother, and we must care for her, he added.

The next thing we came to did not look much like a god or goddess. It was black and had what looked like a channel for liquids in it. The priest explained that this was also Shiva. For festivals and ceremonies, milk and other substances were poured on it as offerings. He explained that this belonged to Shiva even more than the depiction of him in human-like form.

The tour concluded, the priest went into more detail as to why he would not answer my broad questions or participate in an interview. He explained that any answer to those questions would be his opinion, which he didn’t want to present as the truth. He gestured to his eyes and explained that his was not the only or necessarily correct view. Most people would answer questions such as “What is the most important part of Hinduism?” completely differently. He did not feel that his view should be elevated, especially in the view of someone with little experience in Hinduism. This is an admirable and refreshing view, especially in this age where everyone is trying to yell their opinions over each other. Facts often lose out to these roaring, subjective statements that blast from the people around us and ourselves.

The priest continued that he was sorry he couldn’t answer more of my questions and hoped that I understood. I finally did. Hecontinued that he had a book I could read in order to get a much deeper understanding of Hinduism. In fact, this was the book he generally gave to students.  He fetched an English translation of the Bhagavad Gita, which I gratefully accepted and promised to return.

Though I did not receive the interview I expected, I felt that I had learned a great deal about Hindu worship and temples, and I possessed a new respect for Hindu priests.

I dare you to spend a day or even an hour trying to avoid putting your own unconscious biases and well-declared views above those of others. Just avoid putting them into speech and think deeply as to why you think that and examine facts and truths. I will clear a piece of time in the next few weeks to do just that. I will comment my experience, and I would love if you commented to share yours.

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

 

A short analytical text on Hinduism

Vasudha Narayanan. Hinduism: Origins, Beliefs, Practices, Holy Texts, Sacred Places. New York: Oxford, 2004. Print.

I couldn’t resist this analytical text on Hinduism. This book is short and sweet, filled with connections and information I wouldn’t have found otherwise. In 105 pages, it obviously couldn’t go into depth on any subject, but it did give attention to a wide array of information. I recommend it for someone who wants to gain a basic grasp of what Hinduism is in as little time as possible.

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

 

The Mahabharata

This is one of the holy books which I read. It is a fascinating epic, which I describe far more fully here. There are eighteen books of it (I only read book one: The Beginning). The sixteenth book is the most important. It is called the Bhagavad Gita. It really reminds me of the Bible.

The Ramayana

Menon, Ramesh. The Ramayana: A Modern Retelling of the Great Indian Epic. New York: North Point, 2001. Print.

This book is NOT a direct translation of the Ramayana. This makes it less accurate  (which irks me a bit), but it also makes it a lot easier for the layman to understand and enjoy. It’s gorgeous and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys stories about long, epic quests.