By William Grice
A good measure of the success of such an experience is perhaps one’s feelings towards the world at large afterwards.
Personally I found that even on the return journey home other drivers had become much less irritating, and my ageing car seemed sprightlier. Even the sudden demise of my ‘Sat Nav’, plunging me into having to actually plan my route home, did not cloud my sunny disposition.
What could have wrought this transformation?
Perhaps the clue is in the use of the word ‘disposition’; being disposed, indeed. My general disposition is to be at the disposal of a rather discursive mind, and therefore not at ease with the practice of ‘noble silence’. However, perseverance after many dismal failings was rewarded this year. What a treat for my school-fellows!
The choice of recorded talks by Phiroz was unanimously agreed to be of even greater relevance this year. Perhaps it was because they were mainly from the earlier times, dating back to the 1970’s. Coincidentally, a recurrent theme was the importance of silence in the practice of mindfulness meditation. It seems that the blindingly obvious is essentially extremely obscure sometimes. One such instance was during a reading by Michael Jenkinson from an American publisher on Buddhism. Although understanding that our psyche has a direct affect on our physical body, the fact that the reverse is also true (naturally) had somehow eluded my understanding.
There was also a new dimension to our general discussions which developed quite spontaneously at times, that of a self-imposed order of which Mr Burcow would have been quite envious.
The fellowship of old friends is priceless. We all get along together in an unfussy manner of which Phiroz would approve; necessarily so, for he had engendered it so.
Special thanks must go to Rosemary Monk for her guiding hand, and to Carolyn Martin for her painstaking programming.
A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Elmau, Bavaria on 22nd September 1975
This morning we started our meditation meeting by considering for a few minutes a very important fact. Every single thought, feeling, word and action registers an impression upon the whole psycho-physical organism, the living person. And this impression is a force which continues to work itself out. That is why no man in himself can ever escape the consequences of his total living process, within himself. In the living of the religious life, it is very important for us to be free of any unworked out forces in our system. Every impression that comes should receive immediate attention, as completely as possible, so that the thought or the feeling or the action does not leave a part of it which is not completely attended to. It is this which forms the stuff of what Jung called our personal unconscious. In India for the last forty centuries at least we have called this the vāsanās, the unworked out impressions, the good ones as well as the evil ones. These unworked out impressions are a sort of a debt which we accumulate, and we have to be free of that debt. And the freedom comes if and when we learn how to be totally attentive from every single moment of our life to the next moment. It is this total attentiveness which works out everything inside our own psyche, our own mind.
We may compare this activity of attentiveness in the realm of the mind to the action of the various digestive juices in the body, the saliva, the gastric juice and all the other juices which are concerned with our bodily living process and which act upon the food which we eat and completely transform it. Part of it is assimilated, because that is necessary for bodily living. Part of it is rejected, which is also necessary for bodily living. But the transformation has to be a complete transformation. Then the body is healthy. It is the same with the mind. If we are constantly and totally mindful, all the psychical and mental food, so to say, the impressions, the thoughts, the feelings, etc., which enter our mind, are completely worked out and there is nothing left over to constipate the mind, to make the mind diseased. What is left over, what is not fully worked out becomes neurosis, psychosis and so on.
So you see, there is this extraordinary law of the functioning of the mind which is somewhat similar to the functioning of the body. There are of course differences, as you remember we saw this morning, in that whereas with the body, a physical substantial body, there are different organs for different purposes, liver, kidneys, heart, lungs and so on, the mind is a whole thing. There are no separate organs of the mind, one situated in one part of the mind, another situated in another part of the mind, because what we call the mind is space-less, it is timeless, it is not matter, it is not a substance. So the mind functions as a whole. If we experience fear, it is due to the fact that the whole mind is in the state of fear. If we experience joy, the whole mind at that moment is in the state of joy. Now you may say, “Yes, but surely sometimes you have different feelings all at once.” You don’t actually. They alternate with great rapidity, as on a cinema film you get quickly moving flickering colours or lights at great speed. But they make an impression and you think that you are frightened and also not frightened at the same time. But that is not the case. The whole mind registers it as such. There are no separate organs or separate parts of the mind. This we must remember.
So now, when there is complete attention the whole mind undergoes this process of transformation, and it becomes purified, which is our great objective in the living of the religious life. Relate this to what the teachers have taught about the moralities. You know the Ten Commandments in the Bible in the Old Testament, you know what Jesus said in addition. He said, “Ye have heard it said … thou shalt not kill.” But he points out that even if you think of killing somebody, you have already killed him, in your imagination of course. “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” In thought and feeling, in word and in action, all the commandments have to be obeyed, have to be carried our diligently. Now this cannot be done unless we are completely awake to what is going on in the mind and totally attentive to it. With action, you can control the action before you do it. You have an urge to do something, you can say, “No, that is not right, that is not good, I won’t do it,” and you can refrain from the action. But with thought and feeling it is different. The thought and feeling arise at once and you are conscious of it afterwards. You are conscious of your desire to perform an action, and that comes before you perform the action, whereas with feeling and with thought it does not come before. You are conscious after the feeling and the thought have arisen, and you say, “I am feeling angry or hateful or kind or generous”, and so on. This is the difference.
The point is that in order therefore to be able to be rightly attentive, you have to practise all day, every day, with great intensity, great earnestness. And you will find that the time will come when you will naturally be awake and the feeling or the thought which is an ill feeling or an ill thought will not arise at all. In other words you will have ceased to react like a machine, like an automaton to the external stimulus. Then the mind is healthy and there is the chance of maturity.
Now a question arises. How is it possible in our modern life, with so many disturbances, so many things to do, all at once, crowding in upon us, how can we be totally attentive and fulfil everything? The question is a very good question and it is a truly serious difficulty. What we have to bear in mind is this. Let us say that I have only one minute to attend to it, or we may have one hour to attend to it, and we say to ourselves, “I can’t attend to it fully in one minute.” But now we have to be careful and understand exactly what is meant by full attentiveness. All right, we have only one minute. During that one minute give it the fullest possible attention, that is all. Then you have to put it aside because there are so many other things to be done physically. To the very next thing give your full attention and don’t let your mind go back, “Oh, what about that thing of the previous minute which I haven’t fully attended to.” Let that be completely out of your mind and give full attention to the next thing which may last five minutes or half an hour or whatever it is. But whilst you have the time, what time you have available for it, give your full attention during that time. And that is all you need to do. So you see, this power of total attentiveness is rightly cultivated.
Now the working out of the thought, the feeling, the full transformation of it, depends upon the intensity of the attention. Don’t think in terms like this, “Oh, I’ll attend to it intensely and discover what to do afterwards.” That is not necessary at all. In the act of total attention you may find that some physical action is also necessary. If you are totally attentive, the physical action will follow, or rather it will go together with the attentiveness. This is what we have to bear in mind. Now when a person disciplines the mind in this manner, so many unnecessary actions are ruled out. Just think, in our daily life how many unnecessary things we do and say, especially say. Usually out of every hundred words we say, ninety, and in some cases perhaps ninety nine, are quite useless, utterly useless verbiage. Man is the one animal who is totally incapable of keeping his mouth shut! The answer perhaps to a question is simply yes or no, or all that is necessary is, thank you. A long speech is not required. But if one is really awake and attentive and sensible (you become sensible that way), the necessary word alone is spoken, that’s quite enough. And similarly with action, only the necessary action is there.
You know how a great artist has this wonderful power of economy of resource. For example in music, you take great composers like Bach or Beethoven or whoever it is, and there is just a simple little theme, and look what magic is made out of that simple little theme. You don’t want a long, wonderful, complicated tune and marvellous counterpoint and lots of tunes, no, just a simple little theme, and out of that sheer magic comes. Look at the last quartets of Beethoven, that’s a wonderful example of that, the works of Mozart, the craftsmanship with a simple theme, just a little turn of a phrase, and, lo and behold, out of it comes this mighty river of melody and beauty. Or take a dramatist like Shakespeare. Take for instance the tragedy of Othello. Shakespeare does not need to sort of work up a terrible situation on a big scale. What does the tragedy depend upon? Just a simple thing. Desdemona drops a handkerchief and the wrong person picks it up. Iago the villain of the piece utilizes this simple fact of a dropped handkerchief, and he rouses up Othello’s jealousy and he murders her. You see how the whole tragedy is worked up from a simple little theme like that, economy of resource. So, by attentiveness we develop economy of resource within ourselves. And this is essential for the spiritual life, for the nature of the spirit itself is complete economy of energy. The spirit is just one thing, not a million things. It is like that.
So now, this complete attentiveness completely transforms the mind. We have a teaching in India — “What a man thinks upon, that he becomes.” We can take worldly examples. If a man thinks, “I want to become a millionaire”, granted that he has certain abilities, he is likely to become a millionaire, he is thinking upon it all the time, so he becomes a millionaire. A man wants to found a great society, all right, if he has the necessary abilities and the circumstance helps him, he does that. What a man thinks upon, that he becomes. But this teaching in India does not refer to such things. The teaching goes on, “What a man thinketh upon, that he becomes. Therefore think upon Brahman.” Brahman is the word which stands for the ultimate reality, the supreme ultimate power out of which the universe emerges. Brahman is the all, the all-inclusive totality, the one total reality. Obviously if you or I start thinking upon Brahman in the sense that the worldly man thinks, “I will become this, that or the other”, (that is his own ego expanding), you or I will never become the one total reality! We are limited creatures, we are born, we live and we will die. What is the meaning in this context of thinking upon Brahman? Now, you can guess! Pay total attention to Brahman. When you pay total attention there is no self-consciousness, nothing which says, “I am paying attention to you.” In total attention you have given yourself completely in entire self-surrender, in transcendent love. That is total attentiveness. Now when you have given yourself like that to the supreme reality, when you are totally attentive to it, then you are in communion with it, you are in perfect unity with it.
Now, when I say one total reality, do not imagine that you can give your attention to the one total reality in terms of size. Not at all. It means that you give your total attention to whatever there is at the moment calling for attention. This factor of attentiveness is the key secret of the whole of the spiritual life and the religious discipline, this establishment of the complete relationship with reality and maintaining it.
Now, with this sort of total attentiveness, intense attentiveness, whatever rises up in one’s own mind becomes utterly purified, and in the purification the particular idea or thought or form just dissolves away. A new one will of course take its place simply because it is the nature of the mind to throw out ideas and so forth. But never cling to them, never grasp at them. Take again the analogy of food. If you wish for your meat and your potatoes and what not to remain meat and potatoes inside you, you will soon be ill, thoroughly ill. They must be completely transformed, isn’t that so? Then you take in more when the right time comes, and the process goes on. And therefore you live healthily. It is the same with the mind, it is the same with the spirit. The spirit and the mind and the body are then in perfect harmony, like all three notes of a chord played together perfectly, then you have got a beautiful chord. That’s how it is.
Again, with total attentiveness something of great importance comes into being. Have you ever watched your own mental process? Say you are thinking of something or reading something or studying something or, as now, you are listening to someone speaking. As I speak, does not the mind hark back to, “Oh, so-and-so said the same thing,” or, “No, somebody said something quite contrary to that, I wonder what is the truth.” So you see you are not totally listening. Or you say, “That’s right, I agree with it,” because you already know it, and because you know it and believe it and then hear me say it, therefore you know it must be truth! But is it? Or you may say, “Ah, he’s saying this, now I wonder what will happen in the future if … according to what he says, this, that and the other might happen.” So you see, the attention is not complete and total. Listen completely and you will find extraordinary things happen then. The past will no longer affect you. The past is the known, it is over, it is finished. It is not dead, as we commonly say, because the whole of the past is alive in the immediate moment. What is this immediate moment? Just this very moment here, this room, this country, this planet, this world, is the result of the total past at every single living moment. So in that sense the total past is living now but in a transformed condition, because changes have taken place, haven’t they? All these forces have played with each other, all the shapes and the substances and everything have undergone change in the process of time and movement, and at this instant the entire past lives now. The Now is the living moment of eternity. This is very important. If then you attend completely, you have transcended the limitations of time. You are not bound in the prison house of past memories, or past sorrows, or the nostalgic looking back to, “Ah, that was a wonderful occasion and I wish it could be here now.” But it is here now in the present form, not in that form. But we cling to the dead shapes of the past and that causes us sorrow and regret. “Ah, if I was only twenty years old now, how nice it would be,” and all the rest of that immature rubbish! If we are men, we stand on our own feet, here, now, we are living. The Now is the immediate living moment, embodying the past and also (this is very important) embodying what we call the future. In the immediate moment, the future has no particular shape yet, no particular manifestation yet, but it is a potentiality in the present moment. The nature of the present moment is such that it could become this, that or the other, if uninterfered with. So, the potentiality in the present moment is really the embodiment of the future, but the unfolding of this potentiality, because there is a time process, because there are various forces coming to play upon it all, the shape is really unpredictable, the actual shape.
You know how it is, if you are a writer, or a speaker, or a musician, or whatever you are, you have a certain idea, a germinal idea, and then, as you work it out, it changes in the process of working out. Look at the notebooks of Beethoven, it is one of the finest examples, the extraordinary difference! Take the notes of the Eroica symphony particularly, that is one of the finest examples of it, the utter transformation of quite sort of childish little ideas which come first and which do not offer much scope for development. And then as the days and months pass, at last it comes, and you have got that marvellous Eroica, especially that first movement, it is sheer magic! That is how the magic emerges. So, when the symphony was completed, the future, which was potential in the first idea, now had come to fulfilment.
It is the same with us. In this immediate moment is the entire future embodied. If we are totally attentive to the immediate moment, we are in tune with that future, and this is the wonderful part of it. Our own desires do not interfere with that potentiality. What works out the potentiality? Transcendence itself works through you then and inspires you. That is the person who is divinely inspired all the time, the person who is totally attentive Now and therefore utterly selfless and gives himself to it. His activity therefore is the same as the divine activity, it is creative activity, creative power, unhindered altogether. This is the fundamental meaning of the word karma, the word which we use in India, I expect all of you have heard this word karma. Its root is the Sanskrit kr¸i, which means if you look in the dictionary ‘to make or do’. But that is not enough, they have missed out the most important word. It is ‘to create’. Creation takes place in the immediate Now. It is causeless, it has no consequence to it. This may sound very strange to you, we haven’t time to expound the whole thing in detail, you’ll find a fair amount of information in my new book when it is published next year. There is a good deal written about all this. Creative action is in the immediate Now, the moment of eternity. Therefore the divine creative action is always in terms of action in eternity, and if you or I are totally attentive to that, we are completely in tune, in harmony, and in rhythm. (I won’t use the word time now, because time is associated with space and manifestation). We are in rhythm, we are thrilling in harmony with that divine creative activity. And then whatsoever happens in our life, if we live like that, it is the best possible thing that can happen. It has no interference from our own desire or our own ambitions and so forth. And so we are in the state where we do no harm to anybody or anything. Does not that mean fulfilling love, the state in which no harm is done, there is no possessiveness, there is no demand from the loved one, there is no one which is loved, but everyone and everything is loved freely and openly , in a manner that brings no harm, no impurity in that love? You see the importance of this complete attentiveness. In that state there is no such thing as selfishness, absolutely none, it is impossible for selfishness to be there.
It is in this way therefore that man lives what we commonly call the holy life, the good life in the true sense, the pure life. If I make pictures of what the holy life or the good life ought to be, I will always go wrong. You know why? Because this mind, which is at present an imperfect mind, a mind which has not perfect skill or knowledge, is bound to make the wrong sort of picture of what is true goodness. But if this mind is empty of all its pictures, this mind is absolutely transparent, then the light of the divine wisdom itself shines through it and guides you, the person, and me, the person, into the best possible action, the pure action, which means living the good life, the holy life, unspoilt by any pictures of what it means. It is so important to understand this very clearly, otherwise we say, “Oh, my teacher said do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t do that.” When I live in that way, what happens is that my natural urges, which may go against the good life, are never fully understood. In total attentiveness everything is perfectly understood, because with total attentiveness you neither give way, indulge your urge, nor do you resist it, fight against it. The state of conflict is out. The state of creative action, of purification, is naturally there and the perfect thing emerges by itself. This is very important.
We all say we believe in God, we trust in God, and all the rest of it, but we certainly do not live as though we trusted in God. You know the terrible saying of Oliver Cromwell in England. He told his soldiers before the battle, “Put your faith in God but keep your powder dry.” You see, this is how we are. And then we say that we have faith in God! How absurd! But with this total attentiveness, where one’s self is not there, I have no battle to fight and victories to win, I have no ambitions, no desires of my own, and then there is the divine guidance quite naturally and spontaneously. It is everlastingly beautiful and it is everlastingly wonderful. This we must fully realize.
Now, this total attentiveness has the power of transmuting what is actually present. That which is ill is transformed into the perfectly well, and this act of transmutation is itself bliss. The transmuting process is a blissful process, and the great agent which works in the transmuting as it takes place is death. If you plant a seed in the earth, what happens? The seed as a seed no longer remains like that. If it remained a seed, there would be no plant. The seed dies as a seed, but that death of the seed as a seed is the very means by which the plant comes into being. Death is the actual transforming power, the transmuting power. Death is not destruction. That is why I always say this, that what we call eternal life in its totality is a wonderful pulse, a creative pulse. The old teachers called it life/death, thousands of years back. This goes right back before the days of Abraham. We have this life/death pulse. I call it the life/other life pulse, life/new life, life/new life, life/different life pulse. If you look at it that way, you will be free from this peculiar fear and repulsion at the idea of death, and you will not cling to what you call life, because life is eternal. So, never be afraid to let the death process take place at the right time in the right way. It will happen by itself. And in that is marvel and beauty.
Have you ever watched a leaf on a tree? Outside here for instance some of the leaves are ready to fall, but they do not of their own wish fall down and bring about their own death. They just wait, and the wind blows and they go like that, and then when the wind blows a little more strongly one leaf will naturally come out, naturally, spontaneously. And watch that leaf coming down to the ground, thrilling with ecstasy! Isn’t it marvellous? This is the death of the leaf, if you like. But this is the great life process. The tree lives and it will put forth new leaves next spring, and this leaf, which we call the dead leaf, is the giver of life to the soil, makes the soil wonderful. So, you see, this appears to die, but it has become transformed into a new state, a totally new state, which I, as I am now, will never know.
As I said some time back, we ask for a Heaven for ourselves where we will meet our loved ones, but do remember, if we are to have a Heaven where we will meet our loved ones, we will also meet all those whom we dislike and who are our enemies, because the Lord God may think they were good chaps in their way and have them in Heaven! Then what? Are you going to have a fight up there again? No, it is this transforming. Don’t cling to the shape, to the form. Attend completely Now and everything becomes wonderful and marvellous.
This transformation and the important part played by death… Death is not just a destroyer. Let death be. Death is the perfector, death perfects everything, it acts when everything has come to fulfilment. Death is the final consummator. When your life as it is now has come to its fulfilment, then comes that last act of transmutation, death and, lo and behold, this mysterious unknown magic of other life has come into being. So, have no fear of death. Don’t say No to death, because death is life’s immortal twin. Note carefully the words. I say, “Death is life’s immortal twin.” It is the other face of life, and this other life is eternal life, not for me as an entity, a separate entity, because in eternity there is no measurement, there is no particularity, there is no limitation. There is this divine mystery. Let the divine mystery be. Who am I to say No, I want it otherwise? It is only I who suffer then, unnecessarily.
So now, the religious life, and the heart of religion, this realizing fulfilment and ultimate communion, complete communion with the total reality, this is the heart of religion, is it not? So, have we had in these four meetings in the afternoons some glimpse of this heart of religion, of the nature of the actual living of the holy life here and now, free of desire, free of intruding ourselves upon the world and spoiling it? Do we understand what it is to live like a pure flame of wisdom, of harmlessness and compassion, burning away every moment and letting the eternity of the divine life shine with intense light? It is in our power not to let it do so, and this is where we sin, this is the fundamental wrong, the fundamental evil. Have we had some sort of glimpse of this or not? If we can let the divine light shine through us, is not this the glory of God made manifest on Earth? And you, you are the body, the holy body, the transubstantiated body, the human means by which the glory of God is made manifest throughout the world, you are that, yourself.
So, we come round full circle in this fourth meeting with what we started with at our first meeting, happiness, do you remember? I asked you the question, “Are you happy?” Face your own soul and answer truly for your own selves. Are you happy? And perhaps, if we have understood now the true meaning of happiness, what one can say is, “Enter your kingdom of happiness, freely, silently, peacefully.” Happiness is your birthright, and happiness is not the pursuit of desire and pleasure, of ambition or any such thing. This happiness which I speak of was never born and it never dies, it is an eternal happiness, the bliss of God which passes all understanding, just as the peace of God passes all understanding.
Some of you have heard me say in the past, “You are the children of the New Dawn.” But looking at the world as it is, with its lusts and hatred, its fear and violence and stupidity, you may say, “What dawn do I see?” And if by any chance I see a gleam of heavenly light, it is soon swallowed in the tumultuous darkness of this world. And you might like to say to me, “Are you not just crying in the wilderness, this fearful wilderness of the world with a vain hope?” But listen, the light is within you. Let the light shine, that is not mine, the light is divine light. Let it shine. And so you will realize your fulfilment as human beings. Consider for a moment, when you see the dawn and then see the sun rise, that dawn passes away because you are standing in the same place. But supposing you could move with that gleam of heavenly light, there would be a perpetual dawn and a perpetual glory of sunrise, wouldn’t there? We are so bound by time and place, by our dull ideas, our petty beliefs and by custom. Let the spirit soar into the infinity of the everlasting life, and then you will be the ever youthful, ever virginal child of the New Dawn which heralds the rising sun of your own Transcendent light, of your own Transcendent reality. And this is a way of approaching simply and with utter self-surrender and love the very heart of all religion.
What a fantastic and beautiful talk. All you need to know, in this informative lecture. Thank you.
Tom, 7th December 2022
What a fantastic and beautiful talk. All you need to know, in this informative lecture. Thank you.
Tom, 7th December 2022
By William Shakespeare
Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition: By that sin fell the angels.
By Phiroz Mehta
Use the senses. Experience everything fully. Thrill to it, whether it is pleasant or painful, to the utmost capacity which you have – but remain inwardly poised.
Continued from part 1
The Aryans brought with them a wonderful collection of religious hymns when they entered the Punjab. More hymns were composed as time passed. The composers of the hymns were saintly sages.
In modern times their real greatness is not clearly understood. Some of them were, in fact, as great as the Founders of the world’s Great Religions. They were called Ṛsis. The main collection of their hymns is called the Ṛg-veda (verses of knowledge); the smaller collections are called the Sāma-veda, the Yajur-veda and the Atharva-veda.
An elaborate system of religious services and sacrifices arose in order to suit private and public worship, state occasions such as a king’s coronation, family events such as births, weddings and funerals, and ritual sacrifices such as the horse-sacrifice. These are described in detail in treatises known as the Brāhmaṇas.
In the several, prosperous, civilized kingdoms which the Ṛg-vedic Aryans established over the Indo-Gangetic plains, there arose philosophically-minded men and women, deeply religious by nature, who, after having brought up a family, retired into little hermitages adjoining the villages. There they devoted the rest of their lives to holy living. They got to know the truth about the deep mysteries of life, the purpose of man’s existence and his destiny, the hereafter, and about the soul and immortality and God. As a result of this came the compositions known as the Āraṇyakas (forest meditations) and the Upaniṣads (‘sitting-at-the-feet-of-the-master’ knowledge). In the very early days, knowledge was handed down orally. After the fifth century before Christ, it began to be written down and preserved in palm leaf manuscripts. Books as we know them today were made only in recent centuries.
When we say Vedic literature, or Vedic scriptures, we mean the four collections of the hymns, the Brāhmaṇas, the Āraṇyakas and the Upaniṣads all together. When we say the Vedas, we often mean only the four collections of the hymns.
Now just as the old Greeks had their two great epics, the Iliad, or the story of the Trojan War, and the Odyssey, or the story of the Wanderings of Odysseus, from which we learn a good deal about early Greek religion, even so there are two very long Hindu epics, the Mahābhārata, or the Story of the Great War of the descendents of Bhārata, and the Rāmayana, or the Story of the ideal King Rāma and his wife, the ideal woman Sītā, which contain religious teachings in addition to the Vedic scriptures.
The Brahmins not only taught the common people their religion, but also their daily duties, professionally and socially. All these daily duties in the household, the school, the shop, the office, the farms and the government, had religious ceremonials associated with them. When you went to your shop you said a little prayer; before eating your meal you said grace and a made a little offering; when you went on a journey and when you returned home, a little religious ceremony was performed; and so on in connection with everything. Thus religious ceremonial permeated the whole of life. Each member of each social group had his own religious duties exactly laid down. This type of religion has been called Brahmanism. In a broad sense, it was the successor of Vedic religion.
Brahmanism flourished for a thousand years or so before the birth, in 563 B.C., of Prince Siddhartha Gautama who became the Buddha. During this period, as happens in the history of all organized religions, abuses had crept in. The Buddha taught afresh the supreme truths and the path to the Highest, which he called Nirvana. So the Buddha’s reformation of Brahmanism produced a great new world religion, namely Buddhism. As the centuries passed, large numbers of people became Buddhists. Brahmanism had to take note of this. It went through a series of changes. Hinduism is the name given to the old Brahmanism after it went through these developments. Hinduism also has undergone changes and developments during the last fifteen centuries.
Vedic religion, Brahmanism and Hinduism are the three broad divisions in the development, over some four thousand years, of the one religion we call Hinduism today. In addition to the Vedic scriptures, there are the Purāṇas (ancient teachings) which are a great collection in eighteen books of Hindu myths and stories of Hindu saints. There are also several great systems of philosophy which have scriptural status to some degree or other.
Pre-eminent among all the Hindu scriptures is the Bhagavad-Gītāor Lord’s Song. Here, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, who is God incarnate in man, gives the supreme teachings to his beloved disciple Arjuna, a heroic prince. Hinduism is unique among the great religions of the world in certain respects. It has had many Great Teachers instead of one single founder. It is intimately bound up with the Hindu social system and with the daily life of the people. It has always been so willing to absorb different or new ideas that it includes almost all doctrines and beliefs and religious practices found
all over the world. Consequently, even contradictory beliefs and doctrines are found in one and the same religion, Hinduism. Lastly, the Hindu outlook on life is one in which religion, philosophy, art and science do not have rigid boundaries but mingle together to a great extent. The aim is to make life a unified whole.
The socio-religious way of life of the ancient Aryans was called Varnāśrama Dharma. The varṇas were the various groups of people — workers, warriors, merchants etc. The āśramas were the four stages of life:
Only the very religious men and women went through the third stage; and of these, only the great saints went through the fourth stage. The bulk of people stayed in the second stage to the end of their days.
Dharma means all your social, professional and religious duties, proper to your varṇa and to your āśrama. Thus the word dharma stands for your own religious faith and worship, and also for the whole way of life you ought to observe throughout every day of your life according to the instructions of your religion. One may wonder why religion should control ordinary everyday life, love, happiness and pleasure, etc. The answer is well expressed by Vyāsa, one of the Great Teachers: Success and happiness in the true sense are the results of living the good life as taught by religion.
Just as Christianity has many branches such as the Roman Catholic, Protestant, Methodist, etc., Hinduism has its branches such as Shaivism, Vaishnavism, etc. There is, however, a core, a Hindu dharma, which is common to all these branches, and is called the Sanātana Dharma or the Eternal Religion. This declares that the universe is an orderly cosmos and not a disorderly chaos. The Power or Law by which this world-order is upheld is dharma. This upholding Power is inherent in everything, both living and non-living.
It is not forcibly imposed by Divine Command. Indeed, the Divine is absolute Dharma itself, or absolute rightness, love, truth, goodness, beauty, wisdom, duty, etc. Thus if we recognize and understand dharma, we recognize and understand the truth in everything from a flower to a star-cluster, in every creature from an ant to a saint, and, most wonderful of all, in God. A moment’s thought will show us, then, that scientific knowledge, which reveals to us the laws of principles according to which things happen, life grows and the universe moves in marvellous patterns, reveals dharma, reveals the ways of Providence to us. So, too, if we look into art and philosophy, we can discover how they reveal dharma to us. Thus we can understand how, in the Hindu view, religion, science, art, philosophy and the affairs of daily life are so intimately related to each other.
Dharma, or religion, is the power for making harmony in our own selves and in our personal and community life. Hinduism teaches that the means for producing this harmony and happiness is to fulfil all our duties: in relation to the world of affairs we must do our jobs perfectly; in relation to our own self, constant purification and training; to family and to mankind, loving service; to life and nature, reverent and joyous appreciation; to God, our whole self in uttermost adoration, worship and surrender. The religious man is he who devotes himself to making and maintaining such harmony. His life is truly the happy life, the good life, the holy life. The irreligious man is he who makes disharmony.
Continued in part 3, part 4, part 5 and part 6
This article is a good one as it brings up some of the most important highlights of Hinduism — how it is not just a system to take one to heaven or some such wishes of the ego.
T. C. Gopalakrishnan, 9th November 2011
This article is a good one as it brings up some of the most important highlights of Hinduism — how it is not just a system to take one to heaven or some such wishes of the ego.
T. C. Gopalakrishnan, 9th November 2011
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