Hindu Life, Essay Example
Most religions offer the promise of answering some of the most fundamental questions of human existence. In addition to addressing the question of how life and the universe came into existence many, if not all, religions offer insight into how life should be lived and what kind of behavior is ethically desirable. In the context of Hinduism, the meaning of life is tied very deeply to both the conduct of life and with the promise of attaining a higher degree of spiritual wisdom and insight. In order to determine, for example, what should be considered the best possible outcome of a life according to Hindu belief it is necessary to apply the basic ethical and metaphysical principles of the religion to the potential goals of living.
More than any other single source, the Bhagavad Gita, offers a description and articulation of Hindu philosopher that is comprehensive and evident on a passage to passage basis. Simply stated, the goal of a Hindu life is to attain a higher degree of enlightenment which, in turn, allows for a greater balancing of karma. The Hindu religion embraces the idea of reincarnation, so the best outcome of a Hindu life is to live your life in such a way as to gain a greater degree of enlightenment, which, in turn, allows for a higher state of existence in your next incarnation. In order to attain this goal a variety of “paths” are acknowledged as allowable in Hindu philosophy although certain specific principles are always applied.
The means by which a Hindu tries to gain a greater degree of enlightenment is based in meditation and in attaining the right moral attitude and behavior. Because each person experiences a subjective experience in life, karma and enlightenment are unique at the same time that they are universal. For this reason, the Bhagavad Gita offers a comprehensive vision of life and spirituality that can be adapted to many diverse experiences. As M. Reddy writes in an article titled “Psychotherapy – Insights from Bhagavad Gita” one of the most fascinating and valuable aspects of the way Hindu philosophy is expressed in the Bhagavad Gita is the way the principles grapple with so many different dimensions of life. Reddy writes that the “Bhagavad Gita has immense value with enormous intellectual depth that analyzes and explains a variety of life’s experiences, and attempts to reach out to everyone with any kind of intellectual and philosophical background.” (Reddy 100) This brings to mine one of the first significant things to understand about the Hindu religion which is that the diversity of experience is a manifestation of Divine power.
An example of how the embracing of this fundamental precept of Hinduism can lead directly to a higher degree of enlightenment is Gandhi. Varun Soni writes in “Religion, World Order, and Peace: A Hindu Approach” (2010) that “Gandhi’s Hinduism most resonated with the popular Hindu ethos of “many paths, one truth,” an approach that reflected his own life story”(Soni). One of the most important reasons for recognizing the underlying unification of diversity and unity that stands at the heart of Hinduism is because this understanding brings about with it a greater degree of compassion and empathy. The religion of Hinduism is pluralistic in that it recognizes an ultimately infinite amount of perspectives and experiences, but it is unified in that it views enlightenment as the ultimate goal of every life.
According to the principles of Hinduism it is therefore not only possible, but unavoidable that each person takes a unique but essentially universal path to the same goal. The corresponding degree of empathy and universal acknowledgment brings about a greater degree of individual ethical virtue. As Soni points out “Hinduism builds into its framework mechanisms for cooperation and reconciliation, for mutual understanding and respect.” (Soni) This shows that attaining compassion and acting in response to having a true awareness of others are ways to live one’s life correctly as a Hindu. conversely, of course, living one’s life in a selfish manner by exploiting other people and assuming that one’s particular self and life is more valuable than others can be seen as a rejection of Divine Unity. In this sense, self-interest and self-empowerment would be considered the equivalent of Christian sins. The difference is that, according to Hinduism, the sinful behaviors are not due to the temptations of a Devil but due to individual failure or reluctance to receive enlightenment.
As the last statement shows, behavior and religious belief are very closely connected in Hinduism. According to the Hindu philosophy all actions and intentions influence an individual’s karma. therfore working, meditating, praying, acting selflessly and in accordance of the principles of compassion and empathy are believed by a Hindu to bring about good karma, while sinful behaviors and intentions bring about bad karma. This kind of belief system encourages each person to try to live their life with a sense of Divine responsibility. In other words, for a Hindu, it is important to keep the Divine nature of life and the universe constantly in mind. It is equally important to act in accordance with the realization that all life and all actions take place in the flow of God. These statements certainly seem to represent Hinduism and a positivistic and optimistic religion, which is true to some extent. However, Hinduism also stresses that individuals undergo an almost endless cycle of death and rebirth and must ultimately attain a very high degree of enlightenment to move beyond the boundaries of karma.
According to Hindu belief, as long as a person is still experiencing karma they will still be experiencing some degree of pain and still remain somewhat separated from God. One way to understand the way that the actions of life and the metaphysical ideas of Hinduism are linked together is to recognize that, for Hindus, the meaning of life is that it allows the individual to grasp a greater sense of the vastness of the Divine nature of the universe and also to understand more fully the interconnectedness between all things. In the Bhagavad-Gita, verses 28-35 show the insight of empathy and interconnection that is found by Arjuna. His realization that the soldiers he is about to fight in war are men just as himself and his friends shows and awakening of compassion. however, the way that Krishna instructs him in his moment of doubt shows the complexity that is part of Hinduism, because as the verses in Chapter 2 clearly show, Krishna uses the underlying revelation of metaphysics, including the nature of the soul and reincarnation, to convince Arjuna to fulfill his role as a soldier.
By examining Arjuna’s original complaint with a part of Krishna’s response, it is possible to demonstrate the nature of the way life creates opportunity for enlightenment in Hinduism. To begin with the verses that show Arjuna’s awakening conscience, verse 31-32 read “I see Omens of Chaos / Krishna: I see no good / in killing my kinsmen / in battle / Krishna: I seek no victory / or kingship or pleasures / What use to us are king ship / delights or life itself?” (Stoler 27). A close examination of these two verses shows several very important things about Arjuna’s emotional and intellectual state at the time of his talking to Krishna. The reason that Arjuna can see o value in the things of life is because he is confronted with his conscience about the nature of being a warrior. He feels that his awakening empathy towards his fellow man is much more vitally real than the need to conduct battle for earthly gains.
For many readers, Arjuna’s case would seem to make a lot of sense and it would also seem to show a degree of enlightenment because it is evidence that Arjuna has come to understand his fellow humans as brothers and sisters. The fact that Arjuna specifically says that his desire for power and earthly pleasure has decreased due to his insight into the nature of his relationship to the rest of humanity indicates that he has begun to see that his actions have consequences. In a Christian world-view, it is the correct understanding to have and one which would obviously encourage a non-violent stance due to the “turn the other cheek” philosophy that is integral to Christianity. However, the philosophy of reality that is offered by Krishna in response to Arjuna’s crisis is one which encourages Arjuna to accept is role as a soldier. This may surprise some readers because it encourages Arjuna to turn away from his conscience and empathy. however, a closer inspection of the way that Krishna responds to arjuna shows that what Krishna is actually doing is to encourage Arjuna to use his empathy and compassion to gain an even higher state of enlightenment, one which is predicated as detaching from life altogether and thereby removing oneself from the wheel of karma.
Krishna tells Arjuna that he will be best off if he can rise from his present dejection and fulfill his duty as a soldier because the true goal of life is to move to a state that transcends all desire, whether the desire be for good or evil. He tells arjuna “you must learn to endure fleeting things — they come and go! When these cannot torment a man/ when suffering and joy or equal for him / he has courage ” (Stoler 33). Krishna’s words are meant to encourage Arjuna to engage in battle. They are also intended to encourage Arjuna to move into a state that is beyond pleasure and pain. These notions are very difficult for a Westerner to understand because the usual goal of Western life is to attain pleasure and avoid pain. Obviously, in Christian terms, the idea of eternal pleasure (heaven) and eternal pain (hell) show that the goal of a Christian life is to attain pleasure over pain. This is is not the case in regard to a Hindu life.
As Krishna’s words to Arjuna show, the goal of a Hindu life is to move toward a state of transcendence that is greatly based on detachment. That is to say: the most important form of enlightenment in Hindu philosophy is that which allows the individual to break their ties and desires to the cycle of karma and birth and death. This s why the dynamic between Arjuna’s compassion and Krishna’s seemingly ruthless advice is so complicated and profound. It is also the most straightforward evidence that attaining a state of detachment is the best outcome of a Hindu life. the way that enlightenment is measured in Hindu philosophy is by the degree to which an individual has become removed from desire and pain. This means, as already mentioned, that even the slightest of attachments can bring about pain and pleasure and deepen rather than decrease the individual’s involvement with karma.
Because the ultimate goal of any Hindu life is to step off of the karma wheel into a state of emptiness, devoid of desire, karma,a, or self interest, and attachment or desire that one has in life must be seen as an obstacle to attaining this goal. this means that, for a Hindu, the Western ideal of material ambition and self-interest is actually a “sinful” life that leads to little enlightenment. The fact that fulfilling one’s karmic obligations is a way to attain the ultimate goal of attachment is very important in Hinduism. This means that along with meditation and study meant to encourage detachment from desire and pain, the Hindu also accepts that enacting a karmic life, or role in society, is part of the way that true enlightenment is gained.
Therefore it is no exaggeration to say that religion plays a role in very aspect of a Hindu’s life. All actions are involved in the decreasing of desire and pain or in the increasing of attachment to the world. That brings a great degree of significance to even the smallest of desires and ambitions. Accepting one’s role on society is part of accepting one’s karma. Krishna tells Arjuna “The actions of priests, warriors, commoners, and servants are apportioned by qualities born of their intrinsic being.” (Stoler 141) This may be one of the most significant statements in the chapter because it shows that the social order and the mechanisms of the hierarchy of politics and church remain intact in Hinduism despite the great emphasis that is placed on detachment from desire, power, and ambition. The reason that Krishna tells Arjuna that accepting his role as a soldier is preferable to running away from it is because he has been born as a soldier due to karmic forces.
This means that one of the best ways to overcome the obstacles to attaining a meaningful life according to Hinduism is to accept one’s karmic incarnation. Westerners might see this viewpoint as accepting one’s fate. However, in the context of Hinduism, the embracing of karma means something slightly more deep and philosophically profound. Acceptance of karma is a path towards self-knowledge. By understanding the innate qualities that are part of an individuals present incarnation, that individual comes to understand their own nature and the degree to which they have been successful in gaining enlightenment throughout other lifetimes. This means that the caste system or hierarchal system that is often associated with Hindu philosophy functions as a way for all individuals to measure their spiritual successes. Of course, since ridding one’s self of all ambitions is the ultimate goal of Hinduism, the pursuit of enlightenment in order to reach a higher caste of society is actually something that would cause more karmic harm than good. This is another reason that Krishna encourages Arjuna to accept the karma that he has and not to try to run away from his intrinsic nature.
These features of Hinduism distinguish the religion as one with a very peculiar blend of conformity and individuality. For example, Hinduism dictates that all people should accept their karmic roles in society, but it also dictates that the only way to truly find in enlightenment and therefore to gain in spiritual insight is to proceed through self-knowledge. That said, the other major pillar of belief in Hinduism is that all individuals should aspire to a selfless state. So, the pursuit of self-knowledge is supposed to eventually lead to a state of detachment from self altogether. And in this detachment the real inner nature of the Divine Self can be manifested. If this all sounds a bit confusing, it should. Westerners are grounded in philosophical ideas that are quite simplistic compared to those examined above in relation to Hindu philosophy. Where Hinduism stresses detachment and enlightenment, Western philosophy generally stresses materialism and the ethics of “good” and “evil”
As the preceding discussion has shown with evidence from the Bhagavad-Gita and other sources, the ultimate goal of a Hindu life is to attain a higher state of enlightenment> his stage is attained by following the philosophical ideas of Hinduism, most of which are described in the Bhagavad-Gita. The process of enlightenment involves a simultaneous effort at self-knowledge with the pursuit of detachment from all pain and desire. the doctrines of Hinduism teach that because each life emanates directly into the next, the best possible outcome of a life is basically that it leads to a subsequent life that is closer to realizing the transcendent truth of enlightenment. the obstacles to attaining this goal are those which in Western culture might be identified with the idea of sin. in the context of Hinduism the pursuit of selfish ambitions and gratifications are methods that interrupt and hamper enlightenment.
Similarly, even attachment to seemingly positive virtues such as compassion and empathy can become karmic attachments that stoop further enlightenment. This is why self-knowledge is so important in Hindu philosophy. An individual must be able to understand and embrace their current karmic position in order to live in such a way as to begin to diminish their karmic attachments and increase their level of enlightenment. One direct way of accomplishing this goal, as demonstrated in the foregoing examination, is to accept one’s role in society. The fact that a person is in a specific relation to others in society is reflection of the person;s unique karma. The best goal that can be attained in a Hindu life is to recognize that self-knowledge leads to universal discovery which, itself, leads to a higher level of detachment from fear, pain, desire, and all other manifestations of karma.
Miller, Barbara Stoler trans. Bhagavad-Gita,Bantam Classic, 2004.
Reddy, M. “Psychotherapy – Insights from Bhagavad Gita.” Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine 34.1 2012: 100.
Soni, Varun. “Religion, World Order, and Peace: A Hindu Approach.” Cross Currents Sept. 2010: 310+.
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