Hindu versus Christian Practice
Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami , 2011-10-05
Doing good works is not enough. Practicing Hinduism, believing that we are all divine beings, we to come closer to God, have experiences of God . Good conduct, selfless service, devotion and meditation lead to punyam and unfoldment, a slow process, breaking out of the cycle of samsara. The idea is not to stand still but to joyously make spiritual progress through consistent practice and a natural amount of effort.
For the last two years we've been visiting the Caribbean. First time I went there was last year and then we went again this year, both times in August and getting acquainted with the Hindus there, as we know, quite a few Hindus. Visiting Trinidad and Guyana, specifically.
And they've been subject to a lot of conversion efforts. I don't think so much in the last few years but you go back a decade or so, there was lots of efforts from Christian evangelical groups in the United States to go there and convert the Hindus into Christians. Used to be easy. The, when the British were in Guyana they had a very simple rule that if you wanted a government job you had to become a Christian. That made it easy, right? But then, many government employees, when they retired from the government would end up somehow back at the Hindu temple.
So, Hinduism and Christianity have gotten kind of mixed up there is the point. And even some prominent Hindus in the community don't really see that much difference between Christianity and Hinduism.
So, I was pondering that, you know, how can you in a simple way explain the difference? So, I came a cross a verse from the Upanishads, Mundaka Upanishad, which gives a good sense of it. It's saying that if you're a good person, you do good works, you worship daily, you definitely earn some punyam, some merit and what happens? You go to heaven, right? But, then what happens? Your punyam runs out and you get reborn. That is not a permanent state. It's like a, you know, six months visa or something, verses permanent residency.
So, very interesting verse and it shows one of the differences that between Hinduism and Christianity and many other religions too is that good works, good deeds aren't enough. That we have to do more then that. That somehow, we need to come closer to God, have some kind of experience of God according to our own philosophy and approach here on earth in order to not be reborn. In order to break out of the cycle of samsara.
Another key difference between Hinduism and Christianity is that in Hinduism eventually everybody becomes saintly. There's no one who isn't a divine being from the Hindu point of view. It's just a question of when that divinity will express itself. Maybe a couple of more lives before it does express itself. Because, it's a slow process. Gurudeva gave a wonderful analogy and also gave a guideline for analogies about unfoldment.
He said: Keep it simple. Talk about plants and animals and trees and all when you describe spiritual unfoldment. And the one he gave was the lotus flower; you may remember it those of you who've studied his writings. He talks about the lotus flower and how it starts in the mud just as roots, moves through the water as a stem. Then you have a bud on top and finally that bud slowly opens and fully blossoms. Compares that to man's nature. The mud is the instinctive mind. Well, we all start out in the mud in one lifetime or another, we're not a very nice person. We tend to hurt other people. Maybe we end up in jail, whatever. You know, we all start down there.
And then, finally we get some control over that and we move up to the water which is the intellectual mind. We become a thinking person: Someone who's able to make decisions logically, someone who has a basic control over the emotions if when threatened doesn't just become angry and fight. You know, can control the emotions. So, we're an instinctive intellectual person. But someone who's simply an instinctive intellectual person living in the mud and in the water has no sense of God, has no sense of a spiritual purpose for life.
So we have many people like that who are atheists, agnostics, existentialists. They have no sense that God exists. They have no sense that there's a spiritual purpose to life. Well that's fine. Instinctive, intellectual! But then what happens. The bud shows up on top, right? We have a bud and the air represents intuition, our spirituality or some sense of the existence of God. So, when we have a bud there, we start to think about religion; we start to think about spiritual practices. Just being an instinctive and an intellectual person just pursuing ordinary things, worldly pursuits isn't satisfying. But, the bud is closed, right? The bud knows God's out there but doesn't have much sense of it. It has to open. The bud has to open.
So, what causes the bud to open? Spiritual practice! We have to do something. The analogy I always use is to dance because everyone understands it. You know, the question of course is: How does a young Hindu become a good classical dancer? And everybody knows the answer, right? Practice! The only way someone can become a good dancer is by practice. Ideally daily practice. You can't just go to class and come home; that's not good enough right? Teacher tells you what to do; if you don't go home and practice it you won't make any progress. You just can't read a book about dance, watch a movie about dance. Not good enough.
So Hinduism is the same. To open the bud we have to practice. And our religion gives us practices that can be grouped into four categories:
The first one is simply good conduct. Character building. It's the foundation for deeper practices.
Then we have selfless service, seva or karma yoga. Doing things for other people we don't have to do. That's how we define that. If we go to work and we do something we don't have to do for someone else that counts as seva. Doesn't have to be done at the temple. If we go to work and only do what we're paid for, no seva. No seva points earned.
And then we have devotion. We're all here this morning so we understand the importance of devotional practices, both, you know, coming to a temple as well as having a temple in our own home. Having a shrine there and worshiping in our own home is a very important practice.
And then we have meditation. Well meditation's a bit advanced and requires a teacher to really do well at it. Most people who I speak to say: I try and meditate and I can't control my thoughts. They haven't had a teacher. They haven't had someone explain it to them personally. So, it's an advanced practice. It's very unusual person who can learn meditation all by themselves.
And, there's two kinds of meditation. One's called Raja Yoga which is the kind we do or Ashtanga Yoga and the other is called Jnani Yoga which is the one we don't do. Two kinds of meditation, normally someone does one or the other; they don't do both.
So you put all those four practices together and do them on a regular basis and what happens? The bud opens, slowly. That's the point. The bud is slowly opening but it's a slow process. And because it's slow, slow process -- taking many lives -- Gurudeva gives us some advice.
He says: "Life is meant to be lived joyously." You know, don't kind of charge at it and say: I'm going to unfold that bud all the way this lifetime. No, you just take it in a natural pattern. A natural amount of effort is applied to it depending on your situation in life.
The western idea, a lot of them, are based upon an attitude, underlying it, that there's really only one life or there may be only one life so we better do everything this life just in case. So we better achieve enlightenment this life just in case.
But, the Hindu attitude has, you know, confidence. Oh, I know I'm coming back, no rush. I'll do as much as I can. Therefore, the idea is to make spiritual progress every lifetime. To open the bud a little bit more and enjoy yourself in the doing of it. Don't make it penitent or sad or too somber a practice. You want to be serious without being somber. And that's the idea. And we just make spiritual progress, we're doing well.
So, every lifetime another analogy is going up a mountain, you know. Up at the top is moksha, liberation. And there's a path. A path pass up a steep mountain wind, right? Road, paths, they all wind. So, it's a windy path. But, it's going up.
So, the idea is: Let's say we're here on the path when we're born; we want to move forward. We don't want to simply stand still and definitely we don't want to go backwards. How do we go backwards? By doing adharmic deeds. By doing things we really shouldn't. Being dishonest and so forth. We go backwards. We're worse off at the end of our life then we were at the beginning, spiritually. How can we stand still? Well we don't do anything; we don't do any spiritual practices at all. We can stand still.
So, those are wasting lives as far as Hindu philosophy goes. We should move forward. By some kind of consistent practice, whatever level we can sustain.
I think I hit my five or ten minutes.
Have a wonderful day.
[End of transcript.]