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Mahasivaratri Feb 21-Feb24

Hinduism FAQ's

Prayer versus Destiny

The Hindu doctrine of karma should not be confused with the concept of predestination. According to Hinduism, your future is not predetermined or predestined. Your karmas from past lives (and earlier in this life) do indeed affect you, but they do not necessarily determine your future. Why not? Because the Lord has blessed us all with the power of free will. This power or shakti is so strong, we can overcome the effects of most karmas if we make a sufficient effort. Traditional teachers compare the force of karma to the current of a river. If you are swimming across the river, the force of the current will carry you a bit downstream. But if you are a very strong swimmer, you can even swim upstream, against the current! In the same way, if we employ our power of free will and strive with enough effort, we can overcome most of our karmas. Suppose we are faced with a crisis like the loss of a job or a health problem. The crisis could be the result of our bad karmas in a past life. Yet, we are not helpless in the face of that crisis. We have no choice over the situation that confronts us, but we have a choice in how we respond to it. Perhaps karma determines the situations we encounter, but we have free will in choosing how we respond to the situation. No matter how desperate the situation, we can still use our power of free will. And we can always use our free will to pray the Lord. Our prayers will certainly invoke God's grace. The Lord will bless us with the strength and wisdom necessary to respond to any crisis. Our prayers may not make the crisis disappear. A crisis born of past karmas is like the current of the river -- it will not simply stop. But whenever we invoke the Lord's grace in prayer, we will be blessed with the wisdom we need to navigate the tricky currents of karma and the strength we need reach our goals. Whatever situations our past karmas might create, our prayers will always empower us to handle those situations gracefully.

Hinduism's standpoint on evolution

Creationism is based on a Biblical story in which God creates the universe in six days. According to this account, God created the Earth with its seas, vegetation, birds, fish, and animals before finally creating the progenitors of the human race, Adam and Eve. Evolution, on the other hand, is based on scientific observations about how living organisms evolve from simpler to more complex forms through a process of random mutation and natural selection. According to evolution, man has evolved from lower life forms over many millions of years. The ancient rishis (sages) were not like modern scientists. Instead of observing and analyzing the world around them, they were focused on discovering the source from which the world came forth. They taught that God or brahman, the source of the universe, is satyam jnanam anantam, limitless intelligent existence. Since the universe is understood as a manifestation of God, God's intelligence must pervade the universe. Science confirms that we live in an intelligent universe governed by the laws of nature. And those laws of nature, including the principles of random mutation and natural selection upon which evolution is based, are understood as a manifestation of God's intelligence. For these reasons, the theory of evolution is completely consistent with the Hindu world-view. Creationism, however, seems to possess many logical and scientific flaws. According to the dates mentioned in the Bible, the Earth is only about 4,400 years old. If so, how do we explain million-year-old dinosaur skeletons in the ground? And how do we explain centuries of scientific observations that support the theory of evolution? Christianity clings to creationism in spite of compelling scientific evidence for the theory of evolution. This is similar to the situation 400 years ago when Christianity held to the notion that the Earth was in the center of the solar system, and not the sun. In spite of the mathematical theory of Copernicus and the astronomical observations of Galileo, Christianity clung to their Biblical world view, only to be later proven wrong by science. When religion and science disagree, it seems that science will eventually prevail. Sooner or later, Christianity will be forced to give up its ideas about creationism. Fortunately for Hindus, none of the basic teachings of the ancient rishis are in conflict with science. Therefore, science and Hinduism will exist side-by-side without conflict for centuries to come.

If God is everywhere, why do we go to the temple to pray

Even though God is indeed everywhere, we often find it difficult to recognize His presence in all places. God is just as present in the middle of a busy highway as He is in the temple. But do you feel God's presence driving down the highway? Probably not. On the other hand, when we enter a temple and see the Lord's sacred form on the altar, we can certainly feel God's divine presence. So, going to the temple makes it easy for us to feel God's presence.

Why are there so many forms of God if there is only one God?

We have many forms in which we worship God because it allows people to choose a form of God they prefer. If you went to a restaurant, would you be happy if the menu had only one item, and that item was creamed spinach?! Wouldn't you prefer a restaurant with a large menu of items from which you could choose? The menu has many forms of food because different people prefer different dishes. In the same way, Hinduism has many forms of God so people can choose the form they prefer for prayer and worship.

If God is good, why is God's creation in the form of nature often harmful and even violent?

This question vexes many people. Earthquakes, famine, disease, and death all occur according to the laws of nature. These natural laws, like everything else in the universe, ultimately come from the Lord. Then why does it appear that the Lord's goodness not always expressed in nature? The basis for this question is our very limited concept of what is "good" and what is "bad." Generally, good is what we like and bad is what we don't like. Of course, what is good for one person may not be so good for others. Some people love karela, bitter gourd, others do not. So we must admit that our concepts of good and bad are ambiguous and ill-defined. In nature, the concepts of good and bad have no place at all. When a tree is struck by lightening or dies of disease, it eventually decomposes in the ground, becoming fertilizer for other living plants. The death of the tree is neither good nor bad; it is natural. In the same way, when earthquakes, famine and disease affect human beings, we must recognize that it is natural. Such events are terribly sad, no doubt, but they cannot be called bad. From a spiritual perspective, anything that leads to spiritual growth is good. The hardships we encounter in life usually force us to grow stronger and wiser to cope with the difficulties. So, if the tragedies of life lead us to become more wise and to grow spiritually, how can we call these tragedies bad? Even the tragedy of death sets a person free from the sufferings of this life to proceed on the journey of spiritual growth as it continues from one life to the next. It is indeed sad when we encounter tragedies naturally occurring in life, but each of these situations can be an opportunity for our ongoing spiritual growth.

Effects of navagrahas on our lives

How do the navagrahas affect our lives? According to the ancient rishis, our lives are shaped by two mighty forces: free will and karma. Through the use of our free will, we make choices. And based on our choices, we act. But our actions alone cannot fully account for all that happens to us in life. Many unexpected events take place that can only be explained by the doctrine of karma. We are all born with good and bad karmas from prior lives. These karmas, together with karmas from this life, eventually yield their fruits, affecting our lives. Therefore, our lives are shaped not only by actions born of our free will, but also by our karma. If our lives are shaped by free will and karma, what then is the role of the navagrahas? The answer to this question is found in ancient texts, the Jyotis Shastras, which are the basis for our system of astrology. According to these texts, the position of the nine grahas provide clues which can be used to predict the particular karmas that will affect us at a particular time. For example, the position of Shani, Saturn, can predict an accumulation of bad karmas that will bring difficulties into our lives. It is inaccurate to say that the navagrahas influence our lives because it is actually our karmas that influence our lives. Yet, the positions of the nine grahas can predict the effects of those karmas. But it takes a skillful astrologer to accurately interpret the positions of the navagrahas. No matter how accurate the system of astrology might be, its usefulness is ultimately determined by the accuracy of the individual astrologers who interpret your birth chart.

What is the role of prayer in spiritual growth?

The purpose of prayer depends entirely on a person's needs. Those who have financial, emotional, or health problems can pray for the Lord's blessings. Their prayers, if done with sincerity and faith (shraddha), will invoke the Lord's grace in their lives, helping them to manage or overcome their problems. Those who seek spiritual growth, rather than worldly goals, also pray for what they need. But their needs are different. They need the ability to discover the Lord's blessed presence within themselves and throughout the universe. They need the capacity, the preparedness, and the inner strength to achieve the highest discovery, leading to complete fulfillment and contentment in life. For the sake of making this discovery, there are several absolutely necessary factors which they must possess. They must have minds which are disciplined and prepared, capable of discovering the ultimate truth. They must have hearts which are pure, completely free from any emotional problems that would obstruct their journey of discovery. And they must have qualified teachers and appropriate teachings to guide them to discover the ultimate truth. A prepared mind (adhikaritva), a pure heart (antahkarana shuddhi), and a qualified teacher (guru) — these three requirements can be gained only with God's grace. Therefore, spiritual seekers pray to invoke the Lord's blessings for acquiring these three. With God's grace, they may be able reach the final destination of their lives of spiritual growth

If I am a vegetarian can I take eggs? It is true that eating an unfertilized egg does not kill a chicken. But it is also true that chickens are treated very badly in modern chicken farms. They are kept in tiny cages, allowed no freedom of movement, and are fed with hormones to artificially stimulate the rapid production of eggs. So, eating eggs contributes to this cruel treatment of chickens. The same is true about milk produced in large commercial dairies -- cows often suffer significantly through the production of milk. Does this mean that you should stop drinking milk and avoid cookies or cake made with eggs? Not necessarily. The principle of ahimsa requires us to do whatever causes the least harm. This principle must be applied to your life. For a young, growing person like yourself, milk is an important source of nutrition. It is possible that the harm done to yourself from not drinking milk outweighs the harm done to cows through the production of milk.

Effect of Food on Spiritual Growth

The food we eat seems to affect us not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. After overeating, for example, we not only add to our waistlines, but we also feel dull or listless. To give a personal example, I grew up in a family where eating meat and drinking alcohol were acceptable. As a young man, when I began to practice yoga and meditation, I soon noticed how much those foods disturbed my practice. They made my body feel numb and made it difficult to concentrate during mediation. I soon stopped consuming those items. In chapter 17 of the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna categorizes foods into three groups; sattvika, rajasa, and tamasa. Foods that are satvika are those that promote health, longevity, intelligence, and happiness. Foods that are rajasa are those that are too bitter, sour, salty, pungent, dry, or hot. Such foods are said to cause suffering and illness. Finally, tamasa foods are described as improperly cooked, tasteless, putrid, stale, or impure -- unfit for offering in rituals or for meals. Sri Krishna makes no mention of either eating meat or drinking alcohol. This probably suggests that he didn't even consider them suitable for human consumption. Alcohol, of course, is a poison -- in sufficient quantities, it can be fatal. Generally, drinking small amounts of poison would not be considered healthy. The problem with eating meat is based on the Hindu value for ahimsa, non-injury. Dharma requires us to live in a manner that causes the least harm to all living things. Since we can live without killing animals for our food, it is preferable to do so. Of course, the principle of ahimsaapplies to all areas of life, not just diet. A vegetarian who hurts people with nasty words or rough behavior is only practicing ahimsa for one hour a day -- a half hour at lunch, and a half-hour at dinner. Ahimsa is meant to be a full-time practice.

Why are so many Hindu Gods depicted blue in color or as animals?

The depiction of some Gods as blue toned is an example of the importance of symbolism in Hinduism. Blue, the color of the sky, represents the limitlessness of the sky and universe. Blue is also the color of water, which is life-sustaining. Swami Chinmayanada, a spiritual leader, explained that the human eye sees that which is infinite as blue so the blue tone serves as a reminder of the Divine’s infiniteness. Because Hinduism teaches that all of nature is Divine, Hindus believe that God manifests in the various forms that are found in nature, including animals, rivers, mountains and earth. For example, Ganesha, the Remover of Obstacles, is depicted with an elephant head which symbolizes wisdom, as elephants are recognized to be among the wisest of animals. Hanuman, worshipped as the perfect devotee and depicted as a monkey, symbolizes the individual's ability to quiet the ever racing human mind through loving devotion to God and selfless service.

References: www.arshabodha.org and Hindu American foundation