PART 2 - THE HINDU MYSTICS
by Dennis Gaumond
This is part 2 in our continued exploration of the world's mystical traditions. Needless to say, these traditions are very complex and even a lifetime of study and devotion would not familiarize one with all of the nuances and subtleties of Hinduism or any other tradition. These writings are meant only as a brief introduction or overview.
Hinduism is one of the oldest religious philosophies, consisting of countless sects, embracing many deities and concerned with practices ranging from facile rituals to deep, complex concepts. It is said to have been brought to the ancient civilization living in the Indus valley by Aryan invaders. It is the main religion of India, embraced by 85% of India's 800 million people. Hinduism is based on four texts known as the Vedas, the oldest of which is the 'Rig Veda', written some 3500 years ago by a number of anonymous sages. Although the essence of Hindu philosophy is contained in the part called the 'Upanishads', the more popular texts contain epic sagas such as the 'Mahabarata', which contains the famous 'Bhagavad Gita'.4
One of the key concepts of Hinduism is that all aspects of creation are manifestations of the same ultimate reality - a universal soul that they call 'Brahman'. All Hindu deities are aspects of this universal godness. Each human soul is a portion of Brahman called 'Atman', which is involved in a long process that will eventually culminate in reunion with Brahman.
The cycle of creation, which moves from the divine starting point, through the unfolding of the universe, then returning to a divine end point, is known as 'lila'. This grand cycle contains countless sub-cycles of destruction and creation.
The unfolding physical universe is created with a magical power known as 'maya', which originates in our own consciousness. Our consciousness uses maya to create the complex web of illusion, which constitutes our normal, physical reality. To be under the spell of maya is to be unable to see the true reality underlying this constructed illusion. Such a person is said to be bound by 'karma', the interconnectedness of all things. Karma is the cause and effect process of events and actions.
Someone can become free of karma and maya by 'glimpsing' or 'experiencing' Brahman. This experience is called 'moksha'. One of the ways this can be achieved is by using a practice called 'yoga', which means 'to yoke, to join or to unite'. Although nowadays most people think of yoga as a series of physical exercises or postures called 'asanas', they are only a small part of the whole practice, which is designed to help with moksha. Yoga also includes techniques of breathing, chanting, meditating, etc. With repeated exposure to these glimpses of divinity comes liberation or enlightenment, known as 'nirvana'.
Of the many Hindu deities, the most important ones are Shiva, Shakti and Vishnu. Most of the other gods and goddesses are aspects of these three. Shiva embodies many aspects of Brahman, including its entirety as well as its various factions. The most popular depiction of Shiva is 'Nataraja', the cosmic dancer. Here Shiva represents the ongoing cycle of creation and destruction, the endless dance.
Shakti is often depicted as Shiva's sex partner and his equal. She also has several aspects, such as Kali the destroyer, Parvati the lover, Sarasvati the goddess of knowledge and Lakshmi the goddess of prosperity.
Vishnu, who also comes in many forms and guises, is the preserver. A very popular aspect of Vishnu is Krishna, the hero of the Bhagavad Gita and the Hindu deity bearing the closest resemblance to Christ, the 'god-made-man.'
The next newsletter will introduce the great body of wisdom that comes from the Tantric traditions.