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Posts Tagged ‘Hindu’

I have been delving into family history of late. It is, it seems a pastime of the middle-aged.

I did not have much to go on save a memory from the age of seven of meeting grand-uncle Larry who fought in the Irish war of independence. I got jaundice during that visit so I don’t remember asking any insightful questions, but rather being annoyed by the smell of turf smoke, the taste of sweets, and the presence of everyone I met.

A few years ago, with my mother’s help I started to meet relatives galore. My sister and I ventured to our family seat, an area I found out my family has been associated with from the 7th century. We recorded a 106 year old, filmed a 90 year old, and met the warmest and most affectionate people – all our own people.

I found out that Julia Roberts played my cousin in the film Michael Colliins, and we heard all kinds of funny, heroic, and tragic tales of people past. Maybe the most poignant was one during famine times when a relative, lost her husband and died in the workhouse. So much history, so many unmarked grave stones.

For me three people stood out especially, three nuns. My Aunt Nuala celebrated her 50th year of being a nun this year and invited me to read at her mass – even though I am a Hindu priest. And cousins Sr Stephen, 68 years a nun, impressed me with her humility and sharp intelligence, and Sr Kathy, 45 years teaching in Pakistan, with her dedication.

Three ladies of virtue have inspired me Lord. Three quiet and well-lived lives, expecting simple grave stones, but who have left a greater mark through their example of humility, strength, and commitment. May I follow in their footsteps. Hare Krishna.

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I hope you don’t mind me asking if you are over weight. If you are why don’t you answer my question in your head – there may be people around you who haven’t noticed yet.

Talk of weight passed me by until my late thirties when years of fried food and a sweet tooth began to catch up with me. It was slow at first, an ounce here, a pound there. Then as my forties caught hold a plate of chips guaranteed a thicker neck. ‘Just one more chocolate’ was my hopeful mantra as I put on two stone in two years.

My nephew, on my knee during a family reunion, snuggled against my chest, then sat bolt upright and announced to all and sundry that Uncle Shaunaka needs a bra. I was forced to face the truth – my nephew is evil. Well, of course he’s not but I knew the real truth to be that I was now officially fat.

Over the next few years as I tried the ‘lose-weight-without-any-change’ method, as I wore ever tighter clothes, and weighed myself to depression, I felt doomed. My lowest point was the day I weighed myself after a haircut.

Then a terrible sickness, loss of appetite and the weight fell off – a revelation. It betrayed a hard truth – my personal lack of discipline, and me a Hindu priest, the shame. It took time but I lowered my food intake, cut out the rubbish, and walked every day. At normal weight again I can say, “My name is Shaunaka. I’m an addict.” And its one day at a time.

Lord, simple truths are often as unpalatable as lack of chocolate. I am responsible to you for maintaining this body, which you have kindly supplied for my life’s journey. I will do so with discipline and gratitude for your gift. Hare Krishna.

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Today is the last day of the Diwali festival and the beginning of a new year. It is a time to make a fresh start in life, to be generous, and to consider how to act with as much goodness as possible.

I must admit that, aside from the religious side of festivals – striving to be a good chap and all – I think religious festivals are really great, whatever the tradition. But Hindu festivals take the biscuit for me.

Whether it’s the profusion of colours, brilliant and bright; the cacophony of music and chanting, laughter, alter bells ringing, and ankle bells tinkling; the smells of spices, food, and incense; the touch of flowers and garlands, of hugs, and rich dress; it’s a tasty dish, light, filling and healthy.

For instance, a few weeks ago, we celebrated the Navratri Festival, nine nights of music and dance centred mainly around God in female form.  Whole communities of grannies, aunties, parents, and the urban cool – our children, all dancing together for hours. They begin slowly in a Morris dancing mode but by the end of the evening it looks a bit more clubbing.

Just after Navratri we had Dushera where a giant effigy of the Demon king Ravana, who has just been killed by Lord Rama is burned to great jubilation. It signifies the hope that the dark Ravana inside us may also be destroyed by the goodness of Rama.

But, in August we had Janmastami, celebrating the birth of Lord Krishna, the mother of all festivals and probably the largest annual religious gathering in this country.

Thank you for these festivals Lord, the mothers of devotion, where we can remember you in all your variety, feel your presence, and have fun. Hare Krishna.

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REtoday magazine

May 2009, by Shaunaka Rishi Das

If you have ever been invited to a Hindu wedding or religious gathering you will have noticed the discrepancy between the time printed on the invitation and the time that the event actually begins.

I have spoken to many Indians about this phenomenon and they all declare how upset they are about their community’s attitude towards time. “It can be very embarrassing”, said my friend, Jayesh, “especially when British people are attending. They don’t understand our ways and must find our ways very shoddy indeed”. Yet, the same fellow had arrived half an hour late to the event he was commenting upon, suspecting that it would not start on time.

The tendency towards embarrassment about “our ways”, is quietly experienced in classrooms throughout the country among children, and expressed in quiet frustration in later years. Yet, the Hindu community in Britain is also quietly proud of its ways, as is evidenced by the fact that they host very large religious and cultural gatherings – and the fact that family ways are still such an important factor in their decision-making.

The consciousness of every Indian is infused with stories of gods and demigods, sages and holy men, warriors and weddings, and action and reaction. Ethical choice, their elders tell them, is less about religion and more about personal virtue, personal dharma. They are nurtured to believe that there are many sacred writings, many spiritual teachers, many religions – and all are to be respected. Kama, pleasure, is as important as moksha, salvation, depending on your stage of life. Yet, when they walk outside their front doors they encounter a different world with different stories and different conclusions – but mostly without the tools to analyse and make sense of the differences.

So, let’s go back in time – back 2000 years – no, let’s make it 3000 years. Back to a forest in India and a small gathering of sages who have come together to consider the nature of the self, the cycles of life, and the theory of evolution. The sages, after offering respect to each other with joined palms, sit in a circle on kusha grass in a small clearing beside a river. They open their discussion by considering a conversation between a Yaksha, a benevolent nature spirit, and Yudhishthira Maharaja, the Pandava king. The Yaksha had asked Yudhishthira four questions the last of which was, “what is the news”. Yudhishthira answered that the news is that this world is like a pot. The sun is the fire and the days and nights are the fuel. The months and the seasons are the wooden ladle, and Time is the cook that is cooking all creatures in that pot.

One sage remarks that later in the Mahabharata Krishna says, “Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all assembled here – nor in the future will any of us cease to be”. All assembled agreed that this was a good connection.

Right, let’s come back and connect with our own time. As we say in Ireland, “there’s eating and drinking in that” – so, a time to digest. We have heard the sages, and Krishna say that we, all creatures, are eternal by nature, that we have no beginning and no end. This perspective is very different from one where we are created. In fact Krishna’s statement confirms an eternal relationship between him and others – but in this view it seems there is no creator, there is no time, and the limits of space are irrelevant. Yet, as we have heard, Time’s dietary regime is making a stew of us.

Back to the river bank, and the sages are now discussing the song of Krishna, where he speaks of the difference between the living self, atma, and matter. The self is eternal, and matter is temporary, as it is called into being and into dissolution, and is subject to time and space. The body is referred to in Sanskrit as a yantra, a machine, which has a life span of 80- 100 years. So, now we have eternity as one energy, one reality, and time as another, albeit inferior reality. Thus for the manifest world there is a creator after all, Time is cooking, and space limits our world, or should I say, the pot.

A sage remarked how our eternal self could take no material distinction seriously, how different views of religion, different ways of thinking, different cultures, genders, and species are not views of the eternal but of the temporary. Thus, they deduced the tolerance and the pluralism of the holy men they had met.

As they nodded appreciation for the contributions to the conversation one sage asked about the cycles mentioned in Yudhishthira’s reply to the Yaksha. He noted that aside from the cycles of the days, months, seasons, and ages, there are also cycles of happiness and distress, and pleasure and pain. The sages concluded that everything they knew worked in cycles. By accepting the law that for every action in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction they discerned a cycle. Why, they reasoned, would they not thus consider the possibility of the eternal self inhabiting more than one machine, or body, during its journey – its cycle – through the material energy, through time? Even thoughts came around again and again, a fact they depended on in their meditations. By deepening a meditation they attracted that pure thought to return more frequently and thus improve their virtue, their dharma.

And now back to our time, to the Beatles, who sang, “It’s getting better all the time”, or further to Leona Lewis, who depends on things getting “Better in time” – and we see a pattern of linear time. Gone is the cycle and in is the progressive path to perfection. We inherit this hopeful worldview from Abrahamic thinking and the many philosophies that have grown up in its shadow.

The cyclical view does not credit things as getting better by default of time, but also allows for a realistic bit of worse. The eternal self’s journey through the cycles of nature is a process of evolution of consciousness – the evolution of bodies and minds being less significant – the object being to evolve into enlightened, loving, and knowledgeable souls, in spite of the cycles of nature.

The sages in the forest received no invitation, thus no one was late. Virtue, loving relationships (bhakti), and thoughtful understanding had always dictated their lives and they would never allow time to interfere. This is the mood and thinking behind their ways, and this is their legacy. Despite Jayesh’s frustration with himself he will not change easily as his script was written millennia ago, and until two world views begin a serious dialogue he will have to manage his embarrassment himself.

Jayesh will continue to arrive ‘late’ to functions but I do pray that his children may meet a religious educator who helps them value their world view as equally as others do, and encourages them to explore their tradition deeply. Thus the dialogue may begin – although, we could say it will be late in starting, better late than never.

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Prayer 3 – Diwali

All over the UK today Hindus are celebrating the festival day of Diwali. Diwali is perhaps the most well known of all Hindu religious festivals, as it, uniquely, has special significance for almost all of India’s many religious traditions.

Hindus will visit temples today; they will spend much time preparing food and sweets; presents are exchanged among family members; and displays of fireworks will end the celebrations.

The Sanskrit word Diwali refers to a cluster of lights, and one of the most popular stories associated with Diwali is the journey of Lord Rama from Lanka to his kingdom of Ayodhya, in Northern India. The journey began in the evening and Rama’s subjects lit the way by placing rows of lamps in their windows to guide Him.

Rama was returning home after winning an epic battle which symbolised the victory of goodness over selfishness and conceit, of light over darkness. Rama returned to His coronation and a rule typified by truthfulness, justice, service, and devotion – thus the endurance of His story.

Rama, as the embodiment of morality and right-living, is attractive to everyone who aspires to be good. We all need inspiration in our struggle to make wise and proper decisions. Diwali serves as a nurturing mother to our good desires and aspirations.

This evening, in homes all over the country, candles will be lit to guide Rama on his way – to usher in a new beginning, a new year and a new commitment to the principles of goodness.

Dear Lord Rama, during this year please guide me through the fog of my passions, and the demands of events. Help me to see the right thing to do, and help me to do it right. Hare Krishna

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Yesterday the five-day festival of Diwali began with the worship of Laxmi, the Goddess of Fortune, the custodian of wealth and prosperity – and in our present uncertain financial climate Laxmi may find many worshiping at her altar.

At this time many Hindus will ritually wash coins, symbolising their wealth, and offer it back to Laxmi, to purify their use of her boon, and to attract more. It is a commitment to become good custodians of our acquired wealth.

Any banker will tell you that money makes the world go around – but who listens to bankers anymore. Our gurus, the Beatles, have advised that money can’t buy us love – and still we want it, loads of money. We hope for it, pray for it, and work for it.

While promoting the worship of Laxmi, Hindu texts caution that wealth can degrade us. If we want it we can have it, but there is a price. When we get it, sages suggest, we become more susceptible to pride and greed. Our peace of mind evaporates as we now have more to worry about; and our ability to trust is compromised as we can’t tell who likes us and who just likes our money.

Importantly, Laxmi is unattached to wealth or prosperity of any kind, a fact which leads the capitalist in me to ask, “If, Laxmi, the Goddess of Fortune has no interest in money, what does she have that is more valuable”? Well, Laxmi is totally in love with the Main Man, the Supreme Lord Himself, Vishnu. She considers love of God to be the most valuable gift.

Dear Laxmi Devi, please help me achieve real prosperity by introducing me to the All Attractive Person, your Love. Your words of introduction will be more valuable than gold. Hare Krishna.

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The dentist has become an indispensable person in most of our lives, and indeed, for some of us an inspiration for prayer. It’s a sad fact that the dreaded whirr of the drill and the clinical smells of the surgery has caused much anxiety.

But the course of dental hygiene is running more smoothly and improvements have been made to the extent that even a reformed dental coward, such as myself, can relax under the glare of those big lights.

And dental hygiene is a serious business. We can bleach our teeth until we look celebrity-esque, we brush and we floss and we massage our gums with an array of implements never before available to mankind.

In Hindu culture, as in many religions, purification is considered important, but more important than dental hygiene, for a Hindu, is mental hygiene. How clean are our thoughts? How pure is our intention? How pure is our heart, our feelings or our motivations? The bad breath of selfishness is certainly pungent but what can we do about such subtle impurities?

Among Hindus prayer, or “vandanam”, is considered a very powerful method of self-purification. And prayer is available to all of us, as much as, in fact even more than our local dentist is.

This leads me to a beautiful and very ancient prayer originally spoken in Sanskrit but translated it goes,

Whether we are pure or impure; if we are beginning our spiritual path or are the most qualified; if we simply remember the Supreme Lord, whose beauty is without comparison, we will become purified both inwardly and outwardly. Hare Krishna.

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