Hinduism is a robust joyful religion in step with the most advanced thinking of modern science. Making sense of the plethora of Hindu divinities with their numerous appendages object vehicles and companions is a daunting task for many modern Indian and even more intimidating for most westerners. Swami Kriyananda simply and convincingly explains that Hindu images and symbols express the Universal spiritual experiences that form the basis of all the world true religions.
“Swami Kriyananda brings order to the vast array of symbols and imagery one encounter in Hinduism and brings forth the underlying teachings from which these symbols arise. Kriyananda does a superb job not only in deepening our understanding and appreciation of the Hindu religion but also of encouraging us to expand our awareness to include an appreciation of truth in all religious. His inspired entered entertaining energetic writing style makes this book delightful reading for Hindus and non-Hindus alike.
Swami kriyananda is one of the chief direct disciples of paramhansa Yogananda author of Autobiography of a yogi. After living with the great master during the last year of his the founder of Ananda Sangha a worldwide organization for the dissemination of Yogananda teachings. Ananda includes eight cooperative spiritual communities and ashrams in the united states, Europe and India. Swami Kriyananda has written over 85 books translated in to 28 language and has composed over 400 pieces of music. He lives in India.
Hinduism is often omitted from rosters of the world’s great religion. Everyone knows of course that Hinduism exists. Even so it is confused in many people minds with what they think of as Buddhism. For Buddhism fits into their concepts of what a religion ought to be. For one things it was founded by one individual Gautama Buddha who was a historic personage like moses Jesus Lao Mohammed and Zoroaster. Buddhism moreover like most other religions has an organized structure (divided) like the other into a number of sects) a set of specific dogmas and an officially recognized way. Moreover like the other religions it has its own set of clearly defined noble principle for better living.
Hinduism by contrast seems to have merely “happened” Foreigners see in it such a bewildering array of gods and goddesses of complex and seemingly incomprehensible ceremonies and of confusion “explanation for everything that most students of the subjects end up merely bewildered.
A friend of mine years ago a long time devotee of Yoga meditation practices was able upon retirement to fulfil a lifelong dream by travelling to India. On arrival in Calcutta he enthusiastically asked a guide to show him the spiritual sights. The man took him first to kalighat Temple where he was shown a goat being sacrificed to the “divine mother” so great was his shock that he returned immediately to his hotel and expressed no further interest in seeing any further “spiritual” sights. When I encountered him a week later I found him completely disillusioned with Hinduism although still faithful to his meditation practices.
Even if the westerner holds good intentions towards India and my friend was certainly one such person he may see Hinduism as containing some of the worst examples of paganism. Small wonder then that many people look upon Buddhism as the noblest representative of India religion and turn to it when wanting an Indian religion to place among the great religions of the world. For not only did Buddha found a religion: He was a religious reformer. Moreover he offered a common sense approach to self betterment to which the modern mind can relate easily.
While Buddhism is relatively simple, Hinduism is complex. Hinduism recommends the worship of countless deities many armed many headed with animal bodies or animal head dancing playing on a variety of musical instruments. What the foreigner asks is going on? When he sees a goat being sacrificed in bloody ritual is it any wonder he dismisses the whole show as idolatry in its most debased aspects?
By contrast Buddhist seems to western especially to offer a benign and palatable form of the Indian religious experience. Most student of religion know that Buddha tried to reform some of the ancient practices; they think of him as having brought order and sophistication to primitive chaos. When they prepare lists of the great world religion of India by calling it Buddhism respect for the religion of India by calling it Buddhism. Most of them are not even conscious of their mistake.
Buddha’s position relative to Hinduism is similar in a sense to martin Luther relative to the Roman structure reformed by each was not supplanted by his teachings. The catholic church survives to this day and has in many ways been strengthened by Luther reforms. Hinduism similarly was purified and strengthened by the teachings of Buddha and was in no way replaced by them. Most Hindus today look upon Buddha as one of their own avataras or divine incarnations.
There are two aspects to Hinduism as there are to every religion. One is outward and concern ritual worship traditions and patterns of social behaviour. The other is inward. This other is essential in both senses of the word: it contains the essence of that religions it is moreover essential that this essence be understood for Hinduism really to be understood at all. This second this essential aspect of the Hindu religion concerns the individual relationship to god and to higher truth.
In their inner aspect the ancient teachings of India are so brad based that it seems almost a contradiction of the vastness of their vision to identify it uniquely with any specific religion. Hinduism in its plethora of symbols and images is endlessly complex and therefore endlessly misunderstood but its true mission is both simple and universal soul enlightenment. The way to understand this mission is to realize that it is goal oriented not way oriented. In other words its focus is the ultimate attainment self realization in God. It is not focused on the outer rituals which are intended merely to remind one of God. The outer teaching of Hinduism which I call the Hindu way of belief developed out of an inner vision of this universal goal of all life. To understand the outer way is not possible without first probing the inner.
The purpose of this book then is primarily to clarify certain deep teachings that lie like the ocean beneath the bewildering profusion of surface waves.
The secondary purpose of this book is to analyze a few of the symbols people commonly encounter from their very first exposure to Hinduism. I don’t propose to explain those symbols in exhaustive detail but rather to give an over view of them in the hope that foreigner and Hindu way of belief also for the deep truths it contains.
For even today thousands of years since they were first expounded by the ancient rishis (Spiritual sages) the religious teachings of India nourish what continues to be the most spiritually grounded civilization in the world.
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