(God of the Sabarimala Temple, Ayyappa)
In Kerala India, women have formed a 620km (385 mile) human chain in support of gender equality amidst a row over access to the Sabarimala Shrine. (BBC)
I think it is a very positive thing for women in India to protest for gender equality. Because even though they’re a culture that worships Goddesses, the treatment of real flesh and blood women in India is often problematic. Not only does India have a high rate of female infanticide, but in a list of “most dangerous countries for women,” India tops the list. Levels of violence against women run high. (Straits Times)
India ranked as the most dangerous on three issues – the risks women face from sexual violence and harassment, from cultural and traditional practices, and from human trafficking including forced labour, sex slavery and domestic servitude. (Straits Times)
When I worked at an Indian restaurant, my co-workers often told me that behavior toward women at home was “not good.”
But let’s bring this back to the discussion about the Sabarimala shrine. The Sabarimala shrine was historically closed to women of “menstruating age” – defined as between 10 and 50. And this ban was enforced by a law that was adopted in 1991, because until then, women did reportedly go to the temple in small numbers.
India’s top court overturned the ban in September 2018, but protesters have since attacked female visitors.
The “women’s wall” was organised by the state’s left-wing coalition government.
However, in reading about this protest, one has to keep in mind that the function of a Hindu temple is different than a Christian Church or a Muslim Mosque. Often for Hindus, the temples are places where they believe their Gods and Goddesses live. The Sabarimala temple that the article is talking about is devoted to the deity Ayyappa, the child of Shiva and Mohini (Vishnu’s female form). Specifically, the form of Ayyappa that is worshiped in the temple is in the form of a celibate student. The reason the temple women of menstruating age (10 to 50) from entering the temple is apparently out of respect for the deity’s celibacy.
And what is not captured in the media’s depiction of this issue is the scores of women who took to the streets for #SaveSabarimala, a protest against the supreme court verdict to permit women to enter the temple.
So in terms of temple entrance, the issue may be more complicated than non-hindu readers may understand.
But in terms of marching for gender equality, I think that is a positive thing for women in India.
“Try and contemplate the vastness and mind-boggling impermanence of the entire physical universe, Arjuna, and you just begin to gather an idea of My absolute permanence. By ruminating on the utter immensity of the cosmos you begin to receive hints of the incomprehensible scope of My omnipresence. I am present everywhere in all this vastness.” – The Bhagavad Gita (Purushottma Yoga)
Karma is the Sanskrit word for “action” or “deed.” It refers to the principle of cause and effect, where intent and action influences the future. There is a close connection with karma and rebirth in many Eastern religions, that the actions of this life will affect someone in their following life. In Hinduism there is a very long term concept of this. For example, a blind king in the Bhagavadgita was punished for something he did 100,000 years ago, in a previous life.
Now technically there really is just one “Law of Karma.” The “12 Laws” are not an ancient law, as far as I can tell. I think the 12 laws are something newer, perhaps new age. But they aren’t a bad guideline for life. Many people who struggle through life tend to see themselves as victims, rather than agents of their own destiny. They think all the bad things that happen to them are the fault of others, and expect others to change in order for their own quality of life to improve. Now obviously, not everyone is responsible for every bad thing that happens to them. Bad things happen to good people all the time. There is that old expression, “no good deed goes unpunished.” However, accepting responsibility for your own actions and working to change yourself for the better of others is a key theme of many spiritual paths. So the video I posted above, as well as the laws I provided below are good guidelines to live by.
1. THE GREAT LAW
– Whatever we put out in the Universe is what comes back to us.
– “As you sow, so shall you reap”. This is also known as the “Law of Cause and Effect”.
– Treat others as you want to be treated and so on.
2. THE LAW OF CREATION
– Life doesn’t just happen by itself, we need to make it happen.
– Get in the driver’s seat of the ride that is life, don’t just be a passenger.
3. THE LAW OF HUMILITY
– One must accept something in order to change it.
– For instance, the first step in the AA process. Can’t stop being a drunk if you don’t accept that you are one.
4. THE LAW OF GROWTH
– When we change ourselves, our lives follow suit and change too.
– If you don’t like your life, try changing yourself first before changing others.
5. LAW OF RESPONSIBILITY
– We must take responsibility for what is in our lives.
– You are not a helpless victim of life’s events. To some degree at least, your life is what you make it.
6. THE LAW OF CONNECTION
– The past, present and future are all connected.
– Yesterday, today and tomorrow, time remains the same.
7. THE LAW OF FOCUS
– You can not think of two things at the same time. (Although I disagree – I can!)
– When you focus on spiritual values, it is harder to have lower thoughts such as greed, anger or violence.
8. THE LAW OF GIVING AND HOSPITALITY
– Our behavior should match our thoughts and actions.
– Put your money where your mouth is.
– Put your words in action.
– In other words, no hypocrites.
9. THE LAW OF HERE AND NOW
– One cannot be present if they are looking backwards.
– If you are fretting over the future, or obsessing over the past, you won’t be able to live in the moment.
10. THE LAW OF CHANGE
– History repeats itself until we learn the lessons that we need to change our path.
11. THE LAW OF PATIENCE AND REWARD
– The most valuable rewards require persistence.
– No guts, no glory.
12. THE LAW OF SIGNIFICANCE AND INSPIRATION
– Rewards are a direct result of the energy and effort we put into it.
– A fundamental law of computer science: junk in, junk out.
– Whatever you put into something is what you get out of it.
In the past I wrote an article called The Original Trinity, Brought to You By Egypt since the spirituality and culture of ancient Egypt most likely had an influence on the formation of early Christianity. The Cult of Isis was highly popular in Rome before Christianity arrived on the scene. Ideas like the sacrifice of the God Osiris and salvation through his death have strong parallels to the Christian faith, as well as the trinity of Osiris, Isis and Horus.
I have also written about the shared connection between Hindu and Celtic culture.
Yet another interesting theory to examine is the possible Hindu origins of Christianity. As I have said in past articles, the Ancient World was much more interconnected than modern people believe. There was a great sharing of knowledge and exchange of culture – especially among trade routes. Cleopatra wore Chinese silks. Greek was once the dominant language of the Seleucid Empire – a territory containing what is now Kuwait, Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan and Turkmenistan. Variants of the Greek language are even still spoken in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan today. And Alexander the Great’s Kingdom stretched all the way to the borders of India. There were even Greek coins minted in northern India for a time.
(Borders of Alexander The Great’s Kingdom. 323 BC)
So what does this all this Greek stuff have to do with Christianity? The New Testament authors wrote in Greek. Greek was the language of scholarship during the years the New Testament was written (in 50 AD – 100 AD). Much of this is due to the spread of Hellenistic culture from Greece into the Middle East by the conquests of Alexander the Great several centuries prior. Yet what this possibly entails is that the early authors of the New Testament (and other early Christian thinkers) were plugged in to the culture and thought prevalent throughout Rome, Greece along with the Middle East. And what is very probable is that Christianity was influenced by the many other cults and religious ideas of the era (Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, the Cult of Isis, etc.) This is quite likely considering the striking similarities between those religions and Christianity.
Yet is it also possible that the ideas of Hinduism were thrown into the mix as well? I cannot say with complete concrete certainty whether this is true or not, but we do know that there was an interchange between Greek and Hindu cultural ideas in the Hellenistic Empire that came out of places like Bactria and the Seleucid Empire.
Then there are also concepts in Christianity that never existed in the prior Jewish tradition, but do have striking similarities to the Hindu Tradition.
Let me list these below:
Baptism: John the Baptist and his Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. This is very similar to the Hindu practice of plunging into the Ganges River to wash away their sins.
The Avatar: Many Christians have said that their religion is unique in that they believe that God came to Earth as a human being in order to teach man how to avoid sin. And yet Hindus believed that their Gods had been doing this for centuries before Christianity ever existed. For instance, Krishna was believed to be born 14 centuries before Jesus’s purported existence. Hindus believe that whenever profound evil spreads widely throughout the earth, the Supreme Being comes to earth in the form of a human person in order to uproot vice and to establish virtue so that the earth may get rid of sinners. Lord Krishna was such an incarnation.
Similar Advice from Krishna and Jesus:
(BG stands for Bhagavad Gita)
‘Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor the dead’ (BG 2:11) with the sense of Jesus’ advice to ‘let the dead bury their own dead’ (Matt. 8:22 ).
Krishna’s saying, ‘I envy no man, nor am I partial to anyone; I am equal to all’ (BG 9:29) is a lot like the idea that God is no respecter of persons (Rom. 2:11 ).
And ‘one who is equal to friends and enemies… is very dear to me’ (BG 12:18) is reminiscent of ‘love your enemies’ (Matt. 5:44 ).
Krishna also said that ‘by human calculation, a thousand ages taken together is the duration of Brahma’s one day’ (BG 8:17), which is very similar to 2 Peter 3:8.
Early Church Father Saint Augustine praises India:
“We never cease to look towards India, where many things are proposed to our admiration.”
(The Hindu Trinity)
This is an obvious one. Hindus have the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Christians have “The Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit.”
Similarities in Religious Practice:
The way in which Christianity was practiced by the early church fathers, as well as some modern Christians is also more similar in certain ways to the Hindu tradition, than the Jewish one. In this I’m talking about the practice of asceticism among monks, bells in the church, incense, altars, holy water, chanting prayers on beads and even the serving of sacred bread (prasadam).
What many people today don’t understand is that the doctrine of Christianity wasn’t formed all at once. Most written accounts of the life of Jesus did not exist until a couple decades after his purported existence. These accounts were presented by a number of different authors and had somewhat conflicting stories about his existence. These written accounts are known as the Gospels. Also, it is worth knowing that not all of the gospels that were written even made their way into the bible. Only four gospels became the canonical writings for the church. The rest were burned, destroyed or lost. Historians estimate that the first written gospel, the gospel of Mark, was written sometime after 70 C.E, which means that at the earliest, it would have been written 40 years after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus.
So in its formation over time and through hearsay, it can be said that a lot of the Christian religion in the early days of its creation was syncretic jumble of the different cultural and theological ideas in the region, whether it be Egyptian, Roman, Greek, Celtic or Hindu. While it is difficult to say with certainty what traditions did and did not make it into the mix, it is an interesting topic to examine.
“Death is something everyone is scared of. All the people are scared of death. When death nears, they start crying. So when you embrace death, welcome death, ‘death’ will not come to you.”
Varanasi one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Many Hindus believe that death in the city will bring salvation.
There are holy men here who celebrate, rather than fear death. Death is not a fearsome concept, but a passing from the world of illusion. The film “Beyond Varanasi” explores this concept.
If you’re like me, you may have had those moments in your life where you’ve agonized over “what is the correct path?” Is it a monotheistic faith? Is it Pagan? What if there is a “one true way” and I get it wrong? There was an episode of South Park that made fun of this. Several people of different faiths were surprised at ending up in hell, since they thought that their religion was the “one true religion.” But then a voice overhead said “sorry, Mormon was the correct religion.”
So, from the beginning of Judeo Christian religion, we’ve been taught that there is a “right” and “wrong” religion. This is the result in believing in a “one true God.” Before this mentality took hold, there were myriad of different spiritual groups and traditions. There wasn’t necessarily a right or wrong God. There was instead a supreme God (usually the favorite of the emperor or king) and then less supreme Gods.
In Rome some people would worship the traditional Roman Gods while others took to worshiping new Gods introduced by foreigners, such as Epona and Isis. In Japan, when the people encountered Buddhism for the first time, they simply mixed the new Buddhist and the original Shinto tradition together. Even the idea of “Hinduism” as a single religion is misleading (an idea perpetuated by Westerners), because in India they actually practice a myriad of different traditions to a wide diversity of different Gods.
Yet this idea about “the real religion” or “the real tradition” is even pushed by Pagans. Some of us point fingers at other pagan traditions different from our own and call them “posers”, “wannabes”, “too new agey”, “too old fashioned”, “too fluffy”, “too brutal”, “too universal”, “too exclusive.”
I’m not saying every path is always good no matter what. I’m sure if some group decided to start practicing human sacrifice or cannibalism of other group members we could objectively call that wrong. I’m not saying that we have to be open to everything.
However, I’d like to shed some wisdom from the Bhagavad Gita on this age old question:
“You may think this is partiality, but I have no favorites. Whatever path a person travels to Me is My path. In whatever way a person approaches Me, I return like for like. If they treat Me as father or mother, I treat them as My children. If they serve Me as master, I accept their services as their Lord. If they worship Me as a child, I approach them as a child. Those who pine for Me, I pine for. To those who see Me as friend I am friend. Even for those who perceive Me as enemy I approach as enemy. All paths lead to Me, Divinity.” (Krishna’s Declaration in Chapter 4)