What I am Joyful about Being a Hindu

28th July 2013 Update: This article seems to have got pulled off Google search engine results. I presume that is because of certain sentences in it which may have been deemed communally sensitive. My intent is not to increase communal issues but to decrease it and bring more peace and joy :). So I have attempted to reduce sensitivity of this article by suitably editing it. I wonder whether Google search engine folks will have this article back in its search results now.

In response to Mr. Ramchandra Guha’s recent article in a mainstream Indian newspaper I had written a mail to him (and the newspaper’s Letters section). The following is a slightly edited version of its contents.

I read Mr. Guha’s article, “What Hindus can & should be proud of“, in The Hindu dated 23rd July 2013.

I agree with Mr. Guha that the 1971 war victory was achieved by an Indian army consisting of people from various faiths.

I also agree that Babri Masjid demolition is not something which should fill Hindus with pride. Given India’s very turbulent history since the Mughal invasion such ‘revenge’ attitude can create horrific tension and bloodshed as we already have seen. In my humble view, for such centuries old matters, forgive and forget is what the great Hindu saints and Avatars would advise.

Regarding the “story of Hindu pride” part of the article, I agree that Hinduism has had horrific caste prejudice over centuries and the great Hindu reformers mentioned in the article have played a vital role in reducing or removing many of these horrific prejudices. Given the reports of atrocities on Dalits that one reads about, it is clear that a lot more needs to be done on this front.

However the article does not seem to mention saints and mystics of Hinduism or associated with Hindus, who were above such caste and other prejudices. They taught and practiced all embracing forms of Hinduism (and other religions too in some cases) which appeal to Hindus of all castes and many non-Hindus too. I am joyful about being a Hindu due to these masters and I thought I should mention some of them below:

  • Meera whose devotion to Krishna won the admiration of Emperor Akbar and may have played a role in Akbar’s multi-faith initiatives and tolerance.
  • Sant Kabir who was a student of a Hindu master and who taught a wonderful path of love beyond narrow ritualistic boundaries of religion
  • The great Maharashtrian Bhakti saints of Tukaram, Namdev and Eknath as well as the Jnani Gnaneshwar.
  • How Hindus accepted the spiritual power and grace of the outwardly dressed Muslim, Shirdi Sai Baba. Fascinatingly, he lived in a then dilapidated Masjid which he named Dwarkamayi – a Hindu name – but would, it is written, frequently refer to Allah (Allah Maalik). I am very joyful about so many Hindus having accepted the teachings of Shirdi Sai Baba, including the simple but very powerful statement, ‘Sabka Maalik Ek’, and the devotion to Shirdi Sai Baba among Hindus being seen in many places across the country today.
  • Chaitanya Mahaprabhu showed the joyous path of chanting the name of the Lord and dancing in joy. Today’s worldwide ISKCON movement draws inspiration from that figure.
  • The article mentioned Vivekananda but not his master, the great mystic Ramakrishna, who showed the path of Bhakti to so many people and continues to inspire the Ramakrishna mission.

I am not so well versed about South India’s great Hindu saints of the past few centuries. So I will just mention some names: Bhadrachalam Ramdas, Yogi Vemana, Purandara Das, Raghavendra Swami, Annamacharya, Thyagaraja …

I am particularly joyous about being a Hindu as this religion produced in the recent past, great Advaita masters like Ramana and Nisargadatta.

Please note that I am not mentioning names of contemporary Hindu mystics and spiritual masters to avoid controversies.

Is Believing in a Personal God Childish?

Last updated on 21st November 2012

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_God states, ‘A personal god is a deity who can be related to as a person instead of as an “impersonal force”, such as the Absolute, “the All”, or the “Ground of Being”.’

So Jesus, Rama, Krishna etc. when looked upon as human beings infused with divine force/supernatural power would be personal Gods. Many intellectuals look down upon people who believe in such deities, as childish people. Einstein seemed to hold this view as per a letter of his, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2213513/Albert-Einstein-letter-uses-say-religion-childish-goes-auction-1-85MILLION.html. Some scientists today are strongly influenced by Einstein’s views and tend to have the same attitude.

Advaita Vedanta has the view that one’s inner self itself is God. But the view that I am God (an all powerful, all knowing being) is so counter to the experience of almost all of humanity that it is not acceptable to most of humanity, even if it were to be the ultimate truth which gets experienced only by the very, very, very rare fully enlightened beings.

In marked contrast, viewing God via an image, or as a divine force enveloping and controlling all of existence, of which we are a small part, to which we can pray to and get strength, and even have some of our wishes fulfilled is what appeals to most of humanity. Of course, the Abrahamic religions reject image worship but they consider God to be a divine power far greater than themselves (I am of God but not I am God – I think that is their view).

The history of humanity has these very, very powerful divine figures like Krishna, Jesus etc. who exhibited extraordinary powers. People could pray to them/God through them and get their wishes fulfilled! And they pray to them even to this day with some getting the divine response. Further, even in this day and age, some people are hugely fortunate/blessed to have experienced the mind-blowing divine power of living spiritual masters and mystics.

I am of the opinion that it is not childish to view the all encompassing divine power through a personal God like Jesus, Krishna etc. Even for an intellectual it may be far easier to pray to a personal God at times as against praying to a nameless and formless divine power. Some persons may, at different times depending on their state of mind, pray to a personal God like Jesus or Krishna, or to a nameless and formless divine power considered to be either within their own being or outside of their being. In other words they may pray to either the outer God or the inner God depending on their state of mind.

Enlightened spiritual masters tell us that intense prayer has its effect whether the prayer is directed to a personal God or to an impersonal God/divine force. They encourage belief in a personal God for suitably inclined people and forcefully reject notions that such belief is childish or wrong.

Praying Openly While Doing a PhD

Last modified on November 19th 2012

A correspondent sent me an anecdote. I have given it below in a slightly edited form.

A student who had done his undergraduate studies (and maybe post-graduate too) in a holistic, spiritual-cum-secular knowledge Indian university was doing his PhD abroad. Everyday, when he entered his office / lab in the morning, he used to pray for a few minutes and then start his work. His lab mates had observed him for quite some time and then quizzed him about it as follows:

“You seem to pray everyday. What if God does not exist ?”

The student replied politely, “If God does not exist, by praying I would have wasted only 5 minutes a day. Whereas if HE did exist, then by not praying at all I would have wasted my entire life !!”

This would be as good an answer as any we might hear !! 🙂

Does Presence of Pain and Suffering Imply That There is No God?

One Indian scientist-professor thinks so and has tried to spread that view among the public via a part of a newspaper article. The article argues for inculcating a scientific temper which is fine but goes way beyond the limits of science in its concluding part. The author mentions occurrences of natural calamities like earthquakes in 19th century Europe killing thousands of innocent people, including children which, the author says, convinced many thinking scientists that there is no god.

The author then questions, if there was an almighty god why did he not prevent it. He then states, “The only logical explanation was that there is no god with supernatural powers”, http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/lets-ignore-science-at-our-peril/article4017252.ece.

That is a flawed logical conclusion. A correct logical conclusion that can be drawn from the previous statements is that if there was a god with supernatural powers he/it chose not to intervene to prevent the natural calamities.

A further question may be raised as to why did such a god with supernatural powers, if he/it exists, choose not to intervene to prevent the natural calamities. To generalize the question why does god allow pain and suffering? This is a complex theological question for which various religions have various answers.

The following are not definitive answers but some possible answers:
a) Perhaps it is part of the natural rhythm of existence that there is creation and destruction, pleasure and pain, joy and suffering/sorrow. Perhaps we cannot have one without the other.

b) Perhaps pain and suffering are triggers which make humans seek higher spiritual states beyond mundane material existence where he/she can transcend pain and suffering. Without pain and suffering humans may not have the motivation to seek higher spiritual states of existence.

Lack of a definitive answer to the above question does not lead to a logical conclusion that there is no god with supernatural powers.

What one can logically conclude is that if a god with supernatural powers exists then he/it does not always use his/its powers to prevent pain and suffering from happening. He/it may be using it on some rare occasions to prevent pain and suffering from happening e.g. miracles of such type claimed/reported by sacred scripture of various religions.

Epicurean Paradox – A Hindu Take

In an email exchange I was referred to the following Epicurean Paradox (from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epicurus):

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

— end Epicurean Paradox —

My take on it is as follows:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.

My understanding of Hindu philosophy and my belief is that good and evil are two sides of the same coin. Good and bad/evil actions done by living beings are, at least partly, out of choice. E.g. In one case, jealousy may lead a person to hurt another (bad/evil act) whereas in another case a person may overcome pangs of jealousy and not interfere with the happiness of another (not bad/evil act). Similarly one person may be indifferent to another person’s suffering whereas a third person may be moved to help the suffering person (good act).

The good and bad actions living beings do, typically, create Karmic effects which they experience later on in this life or a future life. Prayer to God (Divine Power) may give strength to face the fruits of bad Karma, and, in rare cases, cancel the bad Karma. Also, very importantly, at rare points in human history, intense prayer by devotees of God have led to Avatars take form like the Narasimha Avatar and, in this case, kill the evil doer who was harassing the devotee.

But these are beliefs – I certainly do not have solid historical evidence of Narasimha Avatar which is acceptable to scientists. Puranas and similar scripture of other religions may be viewed as myths by many scientists and I can’t really fault them for it :).

Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.

He/It lets it happen but is willing to interfere in Karmic law only on intense prayer or something like that.

Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?

At least partially answered in above points.

Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

He/It is able and willing but only on intense prayer or something like that.

Fantastic Espousal of the Good of Religion by Honourable Mr. Tony Blair in Nov. 2010 Debate

A few days ago, I saw this very interesting debate held on 26 Nov. 2010, “Christopher Hitchens vs Tony Blair Debate: Is Religion A Force For Good In The World?“.

I congratulate honourable Mr. Tony Blair for his eloquent espousal of the good of religion in the face of very eloquent criticism of religion. I loved the way Mr. Blair accepted the valid parts of the criticism that the late Mr. Hitchens made but also put forward the good of religion quite powerfully and lovingly.

It was a joy to see such a debate being conducted in a civilized manner :). Usually such debates tend to become unsavoury. I congratulate both Mr. Blair and the late Mr. Hitchens for the civilized debate on such a sensitive topic.

A mail correspondent referred me to these reports on the 2010 Blair-Hitchens debate: Guardian and heresycorner.

My views on the debate are somewhat different.

Mr. Blair could be considered the loser judging by count of supporters vs. opponents – yes. Though I don’t know whether the numbers changed after the debate. My interest was not really in such counts but in the valid points of the discourse, as I saw it.

Hitchens zeroed in on the known failings of organized religion, especially in the Western world. He slammed the Abrahamic religions from the scriptural authority viewpoint though I don’t think the majority of believers of these religions interpret all of scripture literally. Perhaps it was just a debating strategy of his to zero in on this caricature of religious believers as people who interpret all of scripture literally and project it as if all believers are that way.

What I appreciated of Mr. Blair was that he accepted some of the valid points of Hitchens. But he was, at least in my view, able to put forward some important points. From what I recall of the debate, he made the following points that I liked:

a) The way Hitchens spoke one would think that all religions are pure unadulterated evil! Mr. Blair made the point about a lot of good being done by religions, IMHO, to bring a reality-check into the discourse.

b) He said that scriptural authority being interpreted literally (for each and every part of scripture) was not what most moderate religious believers approve (including him).

c) Many times it is not religion that is the main issue but politics & social issues that cause conflict. He referred to both the Northern Ireland and the Israel-Palestine problems.

d) He pointed out that removing religion from the picture, if at all that is possible, is no guarantee of such problems disappearing. He gave the example of Hitler and Stalin whose reigns of terror did not have any religious background.

e) He acknowledged that certain wrongs had been issued from the pulpit like in Christian Rwanda problem of Hutu & Tutsi. But he also stated that in the same problem many religious people had defended people of the other tribe and some even lost their lives doing it.

f) He advocated, if I recall correctly, focusing on the common good of religions and encouraging that.

g) He said Darwin and Christian religion can go together.

h) I felt that Mr. Blair presented the sober, moderate religious faithful view, which perhaps is the majority of religious believers in the Western world. He boldly took a stance which may not be supported by some rigid religious believers.

Hitchens was brilliant at his vitriolic criticism of religion. But then I felt he was playing to the gallery by using his brilliant command of the English language, his wit and his book-knowledge about religion (as against experiential-knowledge). He did not really respond, if I recall correctly, to Mr. Blair’s moderate religious faithful view. Maybe the structure of the debate was such that you don’t try to arrive at a meaningful solution but just attack the other party. So as a debater he perhaps did an excellent job in ensuring he ‘scored’ over the opponent.

But I felt Mr. Blair was the statesman looking for a solution rather than wanting to simply ‘score’ over his opponent.

The Tony Blair Faith Foundation seems to be a very interesting organization. It’s website states that it, “Promotes respect and understanding about the world’s religions through education and multi-faith action. We show how faith can be a powerful force for good in the modern world.” I think such an initiative is a wonderful one. I pray to Almighty God to shower His Grace on The Tony Blair Faith Foundation to achieve its above-mentioned goals.

Existential Intelligence & Other Human Intelligences

Howard Gardner seems to be famous in the West for identifying various human intelligences.

Extracts From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Gardner

Howard Gardner is an American developmental psychologist who is a professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education at Harvard University, Senior Director of Harvard Project Zero and author of over twenty books translated into thirty languages. Since 1995, he has been the co-director of the GoodWork Project. He is best known for his theory of multiple intelligences.

Gardner’s Theory of multiple intelligences states not only do human beings have several different ways of learning and processing information, but these methods are relatively independent of one another: leading to multiple “intelligences” as opposed to a general intelligence factor among correlated abilities. Since 1999, Gardner has identified eight intelligences: linguistic, logic-mathematical, musical, spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. Gardner is still considering a ninth, or existential intelligence (the intelligence of “big questions”), but has not, as yet, added it.

—end extract from Wiki —-

BTW Gardner is closely associated with Harvard University’s Project Zero. “Project Zero’s mission is to understand and enhance learning, thinking, and creativity in the arts, as well as humanistic and scientific disciplines, at the individual and institutional levels.” Here is the web site: http://pzweb.harvard.edu/ with a link on the top related to Gardner winning some “social science” prize.

Here is an account of Gardner’s multiple intelligences: http://skyview.vansd.org/lschmidt/Projects/The%20Nine%20Types%20of%20Intelligence.htm [One possible error here is that Existential Intelligence is listed as one type of intelligence whereas the Wiki page states that Gardner is still considering it.]

I find the above account to be easy to relate to and will use its terms below.

Great Spiritual Masters & Holy Scripture say that the highest wisdom is “Atma Vidya” which may correspond to a blend of “Existential Intelligence” as well as “Intrapersonal Intelligence” (Self Intelligence) in Gardner’s terminology. But Gardner is not even sure about “Existential Intelligence” (“Big questions” – Who am I? perhaps) – I mean the wiki page states that he is still considering it.

Perhaps that’s because of lack of exposure to Great Spiritual Masters. In the Ancient and Holy land (Punyabhoomi) of India/Bhaarath Existential Intelligence & Intrapersonal Intelligence is not only accepted as a valid form of intelligence over millenia but also accepted as the highest form of wisdom/intelligence/Jnana by a large majority of the populace.

The scientific temperament has brought great material progress and comfort to mankind. Perhaps due to that, in today’s world logical-mathematical intelligence which is the key intelligence type for scientific temperament gets worshiped as the ultimate intelligence type by the vast majority of people! Some think that science alone can explain the mystery of life. Science gets worshiped and the other intelligences, especially the Existential Intelligence and the Intrapersonal Intelligence gets relegated to the background as relatively unimportant intelligences.

About the limits of human (logical-mathematical) intellect, J.B.S Haldane, the British Geneticist and Evolutionary Biologist has said, “My own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.” (Source: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/J._B._S._Haldane). IMHO, understanding life in all its bewildering variety, for example, at the biological level, from a ‘material/measurable by senses’ point of view and to the fullest extent is, in all probability, impossible. Further, it seems to me, that ‘measurable by senses/physical devices’ science will NEVER be able to uncover the ultimate existential truth(s) of the universe. As the universe is queerer than we can suppose. Our human logical-mathematical brains are quite limited, after all.

Great Spiritual Masters & Holy Scripture say that “Atma Vidya” (“Existential Intelligence” & “Intrapersonal Intelligence”, perhaps, to use Gardner’s terms) can reveal our existential mystery and fill us with Love, Joy & Peace. Some Great Masters are also able to “see”, what is perhaps, the Greatest Mystery of them all, the Law of Karma. I mean, they are able to “see” a life form’s (e.g. human or animal) past births, its past actions and the fruits/effects of those actions that it has to experience in this or future births. Hindu Scripture has a lot of accounts of Sages (Rishis) having had this capacity/intelligence/wisdom.

Perhaps the wise path is to use logical-mathematical intelligence as a tool, and science & technology as tools, to improve the quality of material life and to make a living as an industry engineer/scientist or an academic scientist. But to also realize that science & technology and logical-mathematical intelligence has its limitations, no matter how impressive it seems, how “essential” it has become to life, and how many masses of people it awes. To increase Love, Joy & Peace in one’s life and to eventually know and experience the existential reality of life it is “Atma Vidya”, the highest type of wisdom/knowledge/intelligence, that has to be studied/cultivated, assimilated and practised.