Gita: A Timeless Guide for Our Time

You know what’s great about Hindu texts? Hinduism doesn’t discourage translation and retellings. For years I struggled with the Ramayana, but then I found a very cinematic retelling, and now it’s one of my favorite religious texts. I’ve had the same problem with Bhagavad Gita. I never could engage with it, despite it being part of the Hindu epic Mahabharata. So, when a publicist reached out to me about reviewing a new translation and interpretation of the Gita, I jumped at the chance.

What I received was “Gita: A Timeless Guide for Our Time” translated by Isaac Bentwich M.D.

This Gita translation was a passion project for Bentwich, who devoted 12 years to creating an accessible version of the 700 verse Sanskrit scripture. Firstly, he obviously translated the text to English. Moreover, he worked to create and keep a rhyming scheme to keep with the poetic nature of the source material. Also, each chapter features a short introduction from Bentwich where he shares his thoughts on the message of the text.

The Gita, including Bentwich’s version, is narrative told as a conversation between Prince Arjuna and his charioteer Krishna. Throughout their talks we learn about dharma, karma, and basically, the heart of Hindu spirituality. Bentwich’s “Gita: A Timeless Guide for Our Time” is the PERFECT Gita for beginners, with enough work put into it to make the first, and last copy of the text you’ll ever need.

If you’ve a minute and a half to spare, here’s a nice video about it.

You can learn more here.

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If you’re interested, here is an affiliate link to my favorite version of the Ramayana! Shop your local indie bookstore

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Self-Love through the Sacred Feminine

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of goddesses, and so I’ll admit the main reason I wanted to check out Jo Jayson’s “Self-Love through the Sacred Feminine” was because the cover art was beautiful and the subtitle is “A Guide through the Paintings & Channelings of Jo Jayson”. I figured a book full of art like what was on the cover was worth a look.

“Self-Love through the Sacred Feminine: A Guide through the Paintings & Channelings of Jo Jayson” is a thoughtful exploration of what it is to identify as a woman. Jayson explores the lives/folklore and wisdom of Guinevere: The Queen, Mariamne of Magdala: The Magdalene, Brighid: Mother Goddess of Ireland, Isis: One Who is All, Mary: The Mother, Jeanne D’Arc: Maid of Orleans, Miriam: The Prophetess, Guan Yin: Mother of Compassion and Mercy, Morgan Le Fey: The Water Spirit, Artemis: Maiden of The Hunt, Kali Ma: The Dark Mother, Inanna: Star of Heaven and Earth, and Grandmother Spider: The Weaver.

First and foremost, the artwork is BEAUTIFUL! The book is hardcover with full color glossy pages, perfect for showcasing Jayson’s work. Each entry includes a brief history lesson and what we can learn from them. There is also a prayer and then some exercises you can work through. “Self-Love through the Sacred Feminine” is equal parts artbook, workbook, and history lesson. It’s wonderful book!

You can learn more here.

The Heart of the Goddess

“The Heart of the Goddess: Art, Myth and Meditations of the World’s Sacred Feminine” by Hallie Iglehart Austen was originally published in 1990, but Austen felt the time was right to bring it back.

She’s right. In this time of #resistance, Austen’s look at universal spiritual feminism is right on the mark. Respect for the earth, community building, and reclaiming the power womanhood all blend together in “The Heart of the Goddess”. Instead of your typical who’s who of female deities, Austen discusses each goddess from the perspective of a piece of artwork featuring the deity. This allows for a discussion of the origin of the art (geography and date) and with it, the history and culture surrounding the goddess.

To make “The Heart of the Goddess” a spiritual journey for the reader, the deities are collected into 3 parts: Creation, Transformation, and Celebration. Along the way Austen presents meditations, prayers, and thought exercises with the goddesses.

Regardless of how many books you own or have read about goddesses, I guarantee you that you’ve never encountered anything like this. Informative, spiritual, and filled with art pieces from antiquity to contemporary times, “The Heart of the Goddess” is, and will remain, a classic.

Learn more here.

The Instrument of Freedom

An excerpt from The Meaning of Happiness by Alan Watts

We have examined something of the meaning of unhappiness, of the war between the opposites in the human soul, of the fear of fear, of man’s consequent isolation from nature, and of the way in which this isolation has been intensified in the growth of civilization. We have also shown how man is intimately and inseparably connected with the material and mental universe, and that if he tries to cut himself off from it he must perish. In fact, however, he can only cut himself off in imagination, otherwise he would cease to exist, but we have yet to decide whether this elusive thing called happiness would result from acceptance of the fact of man’s union with the rest of life. But if this is true we have to discover how such an acceptance may be made, whether it is possible for man to turn in his flight into isolation and overcome the panic which makes him try to swim against the current instead of with it. In the psychological realm this swimming against the current is called repression, the reaction of proud, conscious reason to the fears and desires of nature in man. This raises the further question of whether acceptance of nature involves just a return to the amorality of the beast, being simply a matter of throwing up all responsibility, following one’s whims, and drifting about on the tide of life like a fallen leaf. To return to our analogy: life is the current into which man is thrown, and though he struggles against it, it carries him along despite all his efforts, with the result that his efforts achieve nothing but his own unhappiness. Should he then just turn about and drift? But nature gave him the faculties of reason and conscious individuality, and if he is to drift he might as well have been without them. It is more likely that he has them to give expression to immeasurably greater possibilities of nature than the animal can express by instinct, for while the animal is nature’s whistle, man is its organ.

Even so, man does not like to be put down to the place of an instrument, however grand that instrument may be, for an instrument is an instrument, and an organ does what it is made to do as subserviently and blindly as a whistle. But this is not the only consideration. It may be that man has a wrong idea of what his self is. In the words of the Hindu sage Patanjali, “Ignorance is the identification of the Seer with the instruments of seeing.” Certainly man as instrument is an obedient tool whether he likes it or not, but it may be that there is something in man which is more than the instrument, more than his reason and individuality which are part of that instrument and which he mistakenly believes to be his true self. And while as an instrument he is bound, as this he is free, and his problem is to become aware of it. Finding it, he will understand that in fleeing from death, fear, and sorrow he is making himself a slave, for he will realize the mysterious truth that in fact he is free both to live and to die, to love and to fear, to rejoice and to be sad, and that in none of these things is there any shame. But man rejects his freedom to do them, imagining that death, fear, and sorrow are the causes of his unhappiness. The real cause is that he does not let himself be free to accept them, for he does not understand that he who is free to love is not really free unless he is also free to fear, and this is the freedom of happiness.

About Alan Watts:
Alan Watts (January 6, 1915 – November 16, 1973) was a British-born American philosopher, writer, speaker, and counterculture hero, best known as an interpreter of Asian philosophies for a Western audience. He wrote over 25 books and numerous articles applying the teachings of Eastern and Western religion and philosophy to our everyday lives.

Excerpted from the book “The Meaning of Happiness: The Quest for Freedom of the Spirit in Modern Psychology and the Wisdom of the East”. Copyright ©2018 by Joan Watts and Anne Watts. Printed with permission from New World Library — www.newworldlibrary.com.

In a World of Gods and Goddesses

You may not have heard of Indra Sharma, but it is unlikely, regardless of where you live, that you haven’t seen his work. Sharma is one of India’s most well-known artists. He came from a long line of traditional painters and studied in multiple traditional painting styles. As such, his work reflects Hindu spirituality, and that is highlighted to great effect by “In a World of Gods and Goddesses: The Mystic Art of Indra Sharma” by James H. Bae.

What I was expecting was an art book; lots of pictures and a bit of text about the artist and his art. What I got was so much more! “In a World of Gods and Goddesses” is loaded with full color images of Sharma’s art, but it is also a wonderful biography of the artist. It offers a detailed explanation of traditional painting styles in India, and covers the sacred mythology of India and the stories of Hinduism’s deities. You can see why it’s a book to get excited about!

Just a Few of Sharma’s Gods & Goddesses

Thanks to the use of his art as posters, in calendars, and as greeting cards, Sharma’s work has made its way around the globe. I’ve personally found it in some new age/metaphysical gift shops on posters. Maybe you have too. “In a World of Gods and Goddesses” is a great way to learn about the artist, enjoy his work, and learn more about a whole artistic culture.

Hanuman

Illustration by Will Hobbs

Long time Buffet readers, with good memories, may recall my affection for the Hindu deity Hanuman. Back in 2006, when The Magical Buffet was still in its monthly e-zine format, I wrote an article about him. Hanuman features greatly in the Hindu epic “Ramayana”, where he plays a major role in helping reunite Rama with his wife Sita, who had been kidnapped by the villain Ravana.

A defining moment for Hanuman, in my opinion, is when confronted by people who question Hanuman’s motives for his selfless devotion to Rama, Hanuman tears open his chest to reveal Rama and Sita enshrined within. Back in 2006 I said, “When I think of Hanuman I ask myself one question, one that I pose to you now. If I tore open my chest, to show the world what was enshrined there, what would everyone see? It’s that question, and more importantly, the answer to that question, that illustrates Hanuman’s importance.” In the past four years I’ve never stopped asking myself that question. (It’s very similar to Lama Willa Miller asking you to consider who you serve in the second week of her book “Everyday Dharma”.)

With that in mind, you’ll understand why I was super excited to get a copy of the book “Hanuman: The Devotion and Power of the Monkey God” by Mataji Devi Vanamali from Inner Traditions. Hinduism is greatly influenced by what regions and countries it’s found in. Also, with texts like the “Ramayana”, there are an infinite number of versions of the tale. As far as I’m aware, there is no bad mojo attached to retelling the “Ramayana”, and in fact, those who do so are blessed. I think encouraging others to read it, also blesses you. So pick up a copy, it’s a great read. I’d recommend this version, it’s very cinematic.

I’d also encourage you to pick up a copy of “Hanuman”. Vanamali does all the heavy lifting for you, by meticulously chronicling all the stories of the Monkey God in all their delightful variants. Being a Hanuman fan myself, who enjoyed reading the “Ramayana”, I thoroughly enjoyed what I’ve been calling “the Hanuman-centric” retelling of the “Ramayana” that occurs in the book. For me, this book is like a wonderfully detailed refresher course that also has some new insights on all things Hanuman. However, I think it would also work well for someone who has always wondered about the Hindu monkey deity, but hasn’t wanted to go through assorted religious texts to learn more.

Which Religion has the Best Cell Phone?

In the land of “bling” (as the kids say), you see all kinds of stuff getting the “bling” treatment.  Diamond encrusted jewelry, tricked out cars, and super snazzy cell phones are all items to denote wealth and status.  Which is why I was intrigued to see Computerworld.com’s headline, “Which religion has the best cell phone?”  The column by Mike Elgan is an entertaining look at the ins and outs of cell phones for the faithful.
 
Like Elgan, I was shocked to learn that there may be no Christian cell phones.  There are accessories galore for the cell phone savvy Christian to get their phone on, but no 100 percent Christian phones.  He was also unable to find Hindu or Sikh cell phones, which is a bummer because I might give up my crappy pay as you go phone if I could get a cool looking cell with Kali on it.
 
So who were the big three?  Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists.
 
In third place was the Jewish cell phone.  This essentially is a phone about denial to help Orthodox Jews be good boys and girls.  In second was the Muslim cell phone.  This is genius because if you’re Muslim stuck in a foreign city, how do you know exactly when to pray and which direction Mecca is in?  Well, with the phones listed in the article they will remind you to pray, help you locate a mosque, and will point you towards Mecca!  I have to admit, despite not being Muslim I wouldn’t mind having a phone that would point towards Mecca…that’s just cool!  With the way things are going these days, I’m guessing it would come with a government listening device already installed for everyone’s convenience!
 
Finally, Elgan gave first place to the Buddhist cell phone.  I’m not sure what Buddha would think of it, but if this gold-plated, jade accented bad boy was available in the U.S. you would see it in every hip hop video on MTV.  To get a good look at this Nokia, check out this Trendhunter.com article.

Some Thoughts on Underwear….

Okay, so I stumbled across the BEST story at Earthtimes.org right before the holidays hit.  I became caught up with the holidays, etc. and didn’t get around to sharing it with you until now.  Here it is.
 
According to Earthtimes.org, “India’s eastern state of Orissa has lodged a protest with the US government seeking action against a California-based website for hurting religious sentiments of people by selling undergarments with images of Hindu gods.”  It goes on to say that “Hindu priests and religious groups had slammed the website, cafepress.com, for selling undergarments embellished with faces of several gods and goddesses, including the presiding deities of Jagannath temple, considered among the most sacred Hindu temples in India.”
 
I get it, no one wants to see their deities on underwear, but I’m forced to ask…was anyone buying it?  And if so, who?  I mean, when it comes to underwear, I’ll admit it, I’m a pretty boring lady, but if I was going to hit Cafepress for some fun undies, I certainly wouldn’t start with some that had Hindu deities on them.
 
I’m forced to mention, because it was so clever, that Jim said that many bachelors should consider buying boxer shorts with the Hindu God Ganesh on them.  After all, Jim points out, he is the remover of obstacles.  Get it?  Yep, that’s the level of high intellectual discourse in our household.
 
Of course, I’m no better.  I suggested that you could get much more entertainment by visiting my friend Greg’s food blog, What Greg Eats.  At his Cafepress store you can buy ladies underwear that says “What Greg Eats” on them.  Now that’s comedy!

Not to make light of the obvious pain that all of this is causing to the folks in Orissa, but trust me guys, I can’t imagine anyone is wearing that underwear!

Buddy Christ vs. Kali (With Kung Fu Grips): Coming to a Wal-Mart Near You

Beginning in mid-August roughly 425 Wal-Mart stores will be selling a faith-based toy line in their preschool aisle.  The line includes Ester, Moses, Noah, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and more.  This is being billed as the first time Wal-Mart has offered a full line of faith-based toys.  For a thorough article, click here.
 
Okay, can we quit saying faith-based people?  What you mean to say is Christian toys.  If I can’t buy a Kali action figure with kung fu grips, your line isn’t faith-based, it’s Judeo Christian based.  A visit to one2believe’s, the company making the toys, website makes the Christ in faith-based pretty darn evident.  To see the whole line of toys, click here.
 
What my readers may find amusing is that I don’t actually have a problem with Wal-Mart selling these.  I mean, why not?  My problem will be when I find out they WON’T carry my Kali action figure.  I’m telling you, I could make some serious money with a Kali action figure!  My other problem is that the same people that are okay with little Billy learning about Jesus by chewing and drooling on his plastic head probably weren’t okay with this.  I love Buddy Christ.  I love the movie “Dogma”.  For that matter, I love Kevin Smith.  Where was I?  Oh yes, outrage and such.
 
I believe Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists, made a fun, bitchy, and true comment in the Canada.com story.  “Isn’t religion the one who is always claiming that everybody is so materialistic?  And now we’re marketing Jesus dolls.”  Johnson showed amazing restraint since in that same article one2believe’s founder David Socha said, “What’s nice is that they’re real as opposed to other superheroes that are out there.”  I can’t believe the president of American Atheists didn’t take the obvious shot there.  Maybe she didn’t know he said it.  Let me help her out here.  Um, real?  To an Atheist, um, not real.  To a Hindu, not real.  To a Buddhist, not real.  To a Pagan, Wiccan, or Druid, not real.  Congrats there Socha, they’re real only to those who use the Old and/or New Testament of the Bible.
 
So here’s the deal Wal-Mart.  I don’t mind you carrying “faith-based” toys, but if I find out you’re opting not to carry other “faith-based” toys, or that your salespeople are ramming them down customers throats in an attempt to “spread the word”, I’ll be back.  And when I come back, it won’t be the Buddy Christ, it will be Kali (with kung fu grips!).

An Introduction to Hinduism: Part 2

From the editors of Hinduism Today magazine (www.hinduismtoday.com), a team of Hindu swamis and yogis living in a monastery in Hawaii who have been publishing the story of Hindus in modern times since 1979.

Photos Courtesy of Hinduism Today. www.hinduismtoday.com

An Introduction to Hinduism:
Living Faith for a Billion People continued




Hinduism in Daily Practice

Hinduism’s three pillars are temple worship, scripture and the guru-disciple tradition, around which all spiritual disciplines revolve. These include prayer, meditation and ritual worship in the home and temple, study of scripture, recitation of mantras, pilgrimage to holy places, austerity, selfless service, generous giving, the various yogas, and following good conduct. Festivals and singing of holy hymns are dynamic activities.

Hindu temples, whether they be small village sanctuaries or towering citadels, are esteemed as God’s consecrated abode. In the temple Hindus draw close to the Divine and find a refuge from the world. God’s grace, permeating everywhere, is most easily known within these holy precincts. It is in this purified milieu that the three worlds—physical, astral and causal—commune most perfectly, that devotees can establish harmony with inner-plane spiritual beings. Traditional temples are specially sanctified, possessing a ray of spiritual energy connecting them to the celestial worlds.

Temple rituals, performed by Hindu priests, take the form of puja, a ceremony in which the ringing of bells, passing of flames, presenting of offerings and intoning of chants invoke the devas and Gods, who then come to bless and help the devotees. Personal worship during puja may be an expression of festive celebration of important events in life, of adoration and thanksgiving, penance and confession, prayerful supplication and requests, or contemplation and the deepest levels of superconsciousness. The stone or metal Deity images enshrined in the temple are not mere symbols of the Gods; they are the form through which their love, power and blessings flood forth into this world. Devout Hindus adore the image as the Deity’s physical body, knowing that the God or Goddess is actually present and conscious in it during puja, aware of devotee’s thoughts and feelings and even sensing the priest’s gentle touch on the metal or stone.

Hindus consider it most important to live near a temple, as it is the center of spiritual life. It is here, in God’s home, that the devotee nurtures his relationship with the Divine. Not wanting to stay away too long, he visits weekly and strives to attend each major festival, and to pilgrimage to a far-off temple annually for special blessings and a break from his daily concerns.

For the Hindu, the underlying emphasis of life is on making spiritual progress, while also pursuing one’s family and professional duties and goals. He is conscious that life is a precious, fleeting opportunity to advance, to bring about inner transformation, and he strives to remain ever conscious of this fact. For him work is worship, and his faith relates to every department of life.

Hinduism’s spiritual core is its holy men and women—millions of sadhus, yogis, swamis, vairagis, saints and satgurus who have dedicated their lives to full-time service, devotion and God Realization, and to proclaiming the eternal truths of Sanatana Dharma. In day-to-day life, perhaps no facet of dharma is as crucial as the spiritual teacher, or satguru. These holy men and women are a living spiritual force for the faithful. They are the inspirers and interpreters, the personal guides who, knowing God themselves, can bring devotees into God consciousness. In all Hindu communities there are gurus who personally look after the spiritual practices and progress of devotees. Such preceptors are equally revered whether they are men or women. In few other religions are women allowed such access to the highest seats of reverence and respect.

Within the Hindu way is a deeply rooted desire to lead a productive, ethical life. Among the many virtues instilled in followers are truthfulness, fidelity, contentment and avoidance of greed, lust and anger. A cornerstone of dharma is ahimsa, noninjury toward all beings. Vedic rishis who revealed dharma proclaimed ahimsa as the way to achieve harmony with our environment, peace between people and compassion within ourselves. Devout followers tend to be vegetarians and seek to protect the environment. Selfless service, seva, to God and humanity is widely pursued as a way of softening the ego and drawing close to the Divine. Charity, dana, is expressed though myriad philanthropic activities.

Hindus wear sectarian marks, called tilaka, on their foreheads as sacred symbols, distinctive insignia of their heritage. They prefer cremation of the body upon death, rather than burial, knowing that the soul lives on and will inhabit a new body on Earth.

Perhaps one of this faith’s most refreshing characteristics is that it encourages free and open thought. Scriptures and gurus encourage followers to inquire and investigate into the nature of Truth, to explore worshipful, inner and meditative regimens to directly experience the Divine. This openness is at the root of Hinduism’s famed tolerance of other cultures, religions and points of view, capsulated in the adage, Ekam sat viprah bahu­da vadanti, meaning “Truth is one, the wise describe it in different ways.” The Hindu is free to choose his path, his way of approaching the Divine, and he can change it in the course of his lifetime. There is no heresy or apostasy in Hinduism. This, coupled with Hinduism’s natural inclusiveness, gives little room for fanaticism, fundamentalism or closed-mindedness anywhere within the framework of Hinduism. It has been aptly called a threshold, not an enclosure.

There is a false concept, commonly found in academic texts, that Hinduism is world-negating. This depiction was foisted upon the world by 19th-century Western missionary Orientalists traveling in India for the first time and reporting back about its starkest and strangest aspects, not unlike what Western journalists tend to do today. The wild-looking, world-renouncing yogis, taking refuge in caves, denying the senses and thus the world, were of sensational interest, and their world-abandonment became, through the scholars’ eyes, characteristic of the entire religion. While Sanatana Dharma proudly upholds such severe ways of life for the few, it is very much a family oriented faith. The vast majority of followers are engaged in family life, firmly grounded in responsibilities in the world. Hinduism’s essential, time-tested monastic tradition makes it no more world-negating than Christianity or Buddhism, which likewise have traditions of renunciate men and women living apart from the world in spiritual pursuits. Young Hindu adults are encouraged to marry; marriages are encouraged to yield an abundance of children; children are guided to live in virtue, fulfill duty and contribute to the community. The emphasis is not on self-fulfillment and freedom but on the welfare of the community, as expressed in the phrase, Bahujan hitaya, bahujan sukhaya, meaning “the welfare of the many and the happiness of the many.”

Definitions from Prominent Hindus

In our magazine and books we have offered this dictionary-style definition of our faith: India’s indigenous religious and cultural system, followed today by nearly one billion adherents, mostly in India, but with large populations in many other countries. Also called Sanatana Dharma, “eternal religion” and Vaidika Dharma, “religion of the Vedas.” Hinduism is the world’s most ancient religion and encompasses a broad spectrum of philosophies ranging from pluralistic theism to absolute monism. It is a family of myriad faiths with four primary denominations: Saivism, Vaishnavism, Shaktism and Smartism. These four hold such divergent beliefs that each is a complete and independent religion. Yet, they share a vast heritage of culture and belief—karma, dharma, reincarnation, all-pervasive Divinity, temple worship, sacraments, manifold Deities, the guru-shishya tradition and a reliance on the Vedas as scriptural authority. Great minds have tackled the thorny challenge of defining Sanatana Dharma, and we would like to share a few of their efforts here.

Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, renowned philosopher and president of India from 1962 to 1967, states in The Hindu View of Life: “The Hindu recognizes one Supreme Spirit, though different names are given to it. God is in the world, though not as the world. He does not merely intervene to create life or consciousness, but is working continuously. There is no dualism of the natural and the supernatural. Evil, error and ugliness are not ultimate. No view is so utterly erroneous, no man is so absolutely evil as to deserve complete castigation. There is no Hell, for that means there is a place where God is not, and there are sins which exceed His love. The law of karma tells us that the individual life is not a term, but a series. Heaven and Hell are higher and lower stages in one continuous movement. Every type has its own nature which should be followed. We should do our duty in that state of life to which we happen to be called. Hinduism affirms that the theological expressions of religious experience are bound to be varied, accepts all forms of belief and guides each along his path to the common goal. These are some of the central principles of Hinduism. If Hinduism lives today, it is due to them.”

Bal Ghangadhar Tilak, scholar, mathematician, philosopher and Indian nationalist, named “the father of the Indian Revolution” by Jawaharlal Nehru, summarized Hindu beliefs in his Gitarahasya. This oft-quoted statement, so compelling concise, is considered authoritative by Bharat’s courts of law: “Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence; recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are diverse; and realization of the truth that the number of Gods to be worshiped is large, that indeed is the distinguishing feature of the Hindu religion.”

Sri K. Navaratnam, esteemed Sri Lankan religious scholar, enumerated a more extensive set of basic beliefs in his book, Studies in Hinduism, reflecting the Southern Saiva Agamic tradition. 1) A belief in the existence of God. 2) A belief in the existence of a soul separate from the body. 3) A belief in the existence of the finitizing principle known as avidya or mala. 4) A belief in the principle of matter—prakriti or maya. 5) A belief in the theory of karma and reincarnation. 6) A belief in the indispensable guidance of a guru to guide the spiritual aspirant towards God Realization. 7) A belief in moksha, or liberation, as the goal of human existence. 8) A belief in the indispensable necessity of temple worship in religious life. 9) A belief in graded forms of religious practices, both internal and external, until one realizes God. 10) A belief in ahimsa as the greatest dharma or virtue. 11) A belief in mental and physical purity as indispensable factors for spiritual progress.

Mahatma Mohandas K. Gandhi: “I call myself a Sanatani Hindu because I believe in the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas and all that goes by the name of Hindu scriptures, and therefore in avatars and rebirth. In a concrete manner he is a Hindu who believes in God, immortality of the soul, transmigration, the law of karma and moksha, and who tries to practice truth and ahimsa in daily life, and therefore practices cow protection in its widest sense and understands and tries to act according to the law of varnashrama.”

Sri Pramukh Swami Maharaj of the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Sanstha (Swaminarayan Faith) propounds: 1) Parabrahman, one, supreme, all-powerful God: He is the Creator, has a divine form, is immanent, transcendent and the giver of moksha. 2) Avatarvad, manifestation of God on Earth: God Himself incarnates on Earth in various forms to revive dharma and grant liberation. 3) Karmavad, law of action: the soul reaps fruits, good or bad, according to its past and present actions, which are experienced either in this life or future lives. 4) Punarjanma, reincarnation: the mortal soul is continuously born and reborn in one of the 8,400,000 species until it attains liberation. 5) Moksha, ultimate liberation: the goal of human life. It is the liberation of the soul from the cycle of births and deaths to remain eternally in the service of God. 6) Guru-shishya sambandha, master-disciple relationship: guidance and grace of a spiritually perfect master, revered as the embodiment of God, is essential for an aspirant seeking liberation. 7) Dharma, that which sustains the universe: an all-encompassing term representing divine law, law of being, path of righteousness, religion, duty, responsibility, virtue, justice, goodness and truth. 8) Vedapramana, scriptural authority of the Vedas: all Hindu faiths are based on the teachings of the Vedas. 9) Murti-puja, sacred image worship: consecrated images represent the presence of God which is worshiped. The sacred image is a medium to help devotees offer their devotion to God.

Sri Swami Vivekananda, speaking in America, proclaimed: “All Vedantists believe in God. Vedantists also believe the Vedas to be the revealed word of God—an expression of the knowledge of God—and as God is eternal, so are the Vedas eternal. Another common ground of belief is that of creation in cycles, that the whole of creation appears and disappears. They postulate the existence of a material, which they call akasha, which is something like the ether of the scientists, and a power which they call prana.”

Sri Jayendra Saraswati, 69th Shankaracharya of the Kamakoti Peetham, Kanchipuram, defines in his writings the basic features of Hinduism as follows. 1) The concept of idol worship and the worship of God in His nirguna as well as saguna form. 2) The wearing of sacred marks on the forehead. 3) Belief in the theory of past and future births in accordance with the theory of karma. 4) Cremation of ordinary men and burial of great men.

The Vishva Hindu Parishad declared its definition in a Memorandum of Association, Rules and Regulations in 1966: “Hindu means a person believing in, following or respecting the eternal values of life, ethical and spiritual, which have sprung up in Bharatkhand [India] and includes any person calling himself a Hindu.”

The Indian Supreme Court, in 1966, formalized a judicial definition of Hindu beliefs to legally distinguish Hindu denominations from other religions in India. This list was affirmed by the Court as recently as 1995 in judging cases regarding religious identity. 1) Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence as the highest authority in religious and philosophic matters and acceptance with reverence of Vedas by Hindu thinkers and philosophers as the sole foundation of Hindu philosophy. 2) Spirit of tolerance and willingness to understand and appreciate the opponent’s point of view based on the realization that truth is many-sided. 3) Acceptance of great world rhythm—vast periods of creation, maintenance and dissolution follow each other in endless succession—by all six systems of Hindu philosophy. 4) Acceptance by all systems of Hindu philosophy of the belief in rebirth and pre-existence. 5) Recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are many. 6) Realization of the truth that numbers of Gods to be worshiped may be large, yet there being Hindus who do not believe in the worshiping of idols. 7) Unlike other religions, or religious creeds, Hindu religion’s not being tied down to any definite set of philosophic concepts, as such.

Swami Shankarananda of Melbourne, Australia, offers this definition: “In the late sixties when spirituality arose within me for the first time, I could have said (had I enough awareness), ‘I’d like a path that is as spacious as the universe. A path that includes everyone and every possible belief system. A path that is as tolerant and forgiving as a mother, yet as precise and on-purpose as a brain surgeon. A path whose mode of thinking is so broad that no thought or idea is left outside of it. A path of inner transformation and self-development. A path of truth that is also a path of kindness. A path whose love is so deep and all-embracing that no sinner is excluded from its mercy. A path whose source is Universal Consciousness.’ Had I been able to formulate those thoughts that were in me in an inchoate way, perhaps the sky would have parted and a voice from on high might have said, ‘Your path is Hinduism.’”