4 Great Ideas From Hinduism – Free Ebook

Even if we have no interest at all in becoming
a Hindu, Hinduism offers us at least four

fascinating ideas.

  1. LOOK FORWARD TO DEATH

Hinduism is hugely radical in suggesting that
there is nothing especially noble or interesting

about being alive.

Once we look at matters dispassionately, a
lot of what we have to go through is misery

and suffering: we need – with great effort

  • to grow up, to assume responsibilities,

to master a profession, to have a family,
to take our place in societies full of backbiting

and hypocrisy, to watch those we love get
ill and eventually to succumb to old age ourselves.

To think highly of ‘life’ is, through
a Hindu lens, a fundamental intellectual error.

As Hinduism sees it, our real purpose is to
be done with life forever; that is the true

summit of existence. Hinduism reverses the
Western equation: the sinful and blinkered

are forced to live forever, the righteous
and awakened are privileged enough to be able

to die. If we are not careful, if we do not
show sufficient mercy and imagination toward

others, we may well – Hinduism suggests – be
subjected to the ultimate punishment: we will

have to carry on into eternity.

The symbol of this ghastly on-goingness is
the eight-spoked wheel of ‘samsara’, the

most commonly depicted item in the religion,
which evokes the pitiless and unceasing nature

of life – to which we are committed unless
we take a disciplined series of averting actions

which together comprise the central components
of Hindu ethics.

Hinduism does not suggest that we will carry
on forever in our own bodies. According to

the process of ‘samsara’, we are reborn
into a succession of different outward envelopes,

as each example is eroded away and disintegrated
by time. Because samsara is at work across

the whole animal kingdom, we might find that
our enduring soul (‘atman’) transmigrates

at our death into the body of a woodlouse,
a pelican or a house spider (though we might

also be reborn as a paediatric nurse or the
president). What determines the quality of

the migration is the degree of ‘karma’
or virtue that we have accrued in our lives.

Among the many reasons why we might have to
be kind to others is an awareness that unkindness

might wind us up having to suffer a cycle
or two of life as a cockroach or a naked mole

rat.

The suspicion that life is constantly painful
and anxious is one that we largely have to

bear in a very lonely way in the philosophies
of the West; in those of the East, pessimism

is ennobled and takes center stage. We are
permitted to feel weary and amply dissatisfied;

we have, without quite knowing it, been alive
since the start of creation – and it is untenably

exhausting and frustrating. The trick, and
the true prize, will be to be good and wise

enough to learn to die once and for all.

  1. REJOIN COSMIC TOTALITY

For Hindus, the way to step off the treadmill
of eternal existence is to realise that, despite

many appearances to the contrary, however
paradoxical or absurd the idea might sound,

we and the universe are in truth one!

From the earliest age, we tend to assume the
very opposite. It seems self-evident that

we are one kind of thing and the tree over
there, the relative over here, the clouds

in the sky, the monkey on the parapet and
the river wending its way to the sea belong

to quite different categories. Yet Hinduism
insists that our belief in difference belongs

ultimately to a realm of ‘maya’ or illusion.
If we look more deeply into the nature of

things, through the help of teaching and spiritual
exercises, we stand to discover the remarkable

unity of all elements. Unlike what appearances
imply, everything we can see and experience

around us belong to the same life force: the
leaves unfurling on the tree, the child learning

to read, the earthworm digging its tunnels,
the lava bubbling from the earth, all belong

to a single unitary power which only egoistic
prejudice has hitherto prevented us from acknowledging

as one.

Most of our pain, Hinduism argues, arises
from an overeager attachment to the difference

between ourselves and the rest of the world.
We pay inordinate attention to who has slightly

more money or respect than we do, we are constantly
humiliated by people and events that don’t

seem to honour our sense of uniqueness.

But in a process known as ‘moksha’ or
liberation, we can throw off the veil of illusion

that works to separate us from the universe
and can start to identify with cosmic totality.

It no longer matters exactly where we end
and others begin; everything belongs to the

same whole that we have mistakenly and unnecessarily
carved up into parts. There is a little less

reason to grasp, to be puffed up, to be proud
or to become embittered. We can survey the

course of our lives and of our societies with
calm indifference. We can cease to identify

happiness with the working out of our will
upon the world – and take in with compassion

and serenity whatever destiny throws our way.
We enjoy ‘paripurna-brahmanubhava’, the

experience of oneness with ‘brahman’,
the principle of all things.

Once we have let go of our own ego like this,
we may have a few more years left to live,

but we can be sure that – eventually – we
will not need to keep returning. Constant

rebirth is the fate of those who cleave too
tightly to their own selves. By contrast,

those who have learnt to surrender can at
their demise merge with the universe and will

never need to suffer the indignities of individual
life again.

  1. Don’t Forget Money

Ravi Varma, The Goddess Lakshmi, 1894

We might expect that a religion devoted to
spiritual enlightenment would have scant concern

for money and possessions. But Hinduism surprises
and challenges us by suggesting that – despite

everything – what it calls ‘artha’ or
a concern for material prosperity has a place

within a wise life.

Hinduism is not directing us towards crass
materialism. It doesn’t want to exhaust

us with overly rich foods or attention-seeking
displays of wealth. But it is aware – with

a touching practicality – that many good and
elevated things require a degree of financial

support in order to go well. One won’t be
able to undertake spiritual exercises unless

one is able to take a considerable amount
of time off from practical duties every day.

Meditation on nothingness can be substantially
assisted by having a servant or two to take

care of the laundry and the housekeeping.

Hindus traditionally direct their hopes for
material comfort to Lakshmi, the goddess of

prosperity. One of the most popular of all
Hindu deities, she is typically represented

holding two lotus flowers that speak of spiritual
liberation as well as material good fortune.

She is usually accompanied by at least one
elephant, a symbol of power and strength,

and a swan, an animal that is at home both
in the air and in the water, and thereby speaks

of an ability to combine competence in the
material and spiritual realms.

Lakshmi understands, and would never condemn,
one’s appetite for a better house or a more

high paying job. Her role isn’t to make
us feel guilty about wanting more wealth,

it is to remind us that the true point of
money is – in the end – to enable us to forget

about money.

  1. Don’t Turn Against Sex

Copulating Couple (mithuna), temple carving,
thirteenth century, Orissa, Eastern Gangay

Dynasty, Northern India
https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/38141

We have come to expect very little by way
of encouragement or sympathy in relation to

sex from religions. At best, a blind eye,
at worst, a constant hounding and reminder

of the evils of the flesh.

But Hinduism surprises us; it made the remarkable
step of placing sexual fulfilment – ‘kama’

  • among the four ‘puruṣārthas’, or
    aims of human life, alongside ‘dharma’

(morality), ‘artha’ (prosperity) and ‘moksha’
(spiritual liberation).

Hinduism’s respect for sex was rooted in
a particular understanding of what lies behind

our erotic feelings. These do not stem – as
has so often been alleged – from a base animal

impulse; they are a means by which we can
sense the unity of the universe (‘brahman’).

Normally, we live beneath a veil of illusion
which persuades us of the separateness of

all things, bodies included, but our sexual
desires push us to break down the barriers

between ourselves and others. We might colloquially
say that we are turned on, but through a Hindu

lens, at the core of our excitement is the
sense that we are breaking down the illusion

of separateness and taking a small but important
step towards oneness with what we can, without

exaggeration, following
the religion, term the universe.


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