Some conclusions regarding Hinduism and my own beliefs

I’ve been reading a book about Hinduism, specifically the difference between Judeo-Christian thought and “dharmic” thought, and I am reminded of a few things.

First, from what I have read, the sattvic or “selfless” state is still idealized above even the rajasic or tamasic states, considering that, if you aren’t selfless/sattvic, you are encouraged to live by codified rules set for you and seek the guidance of a spiritual master who is sattvic. Coupled with the Krishna stories, which emphasis the utilitarian ideal of the common good, the implication is that thinking on your own terms and not having to listen to a guru or God is discouraged unless you are “selfless”, not thinking on your own interests. To me, this is hypocritical for a religion that supposedly believes in mankind’s own divinity and spiritual potential. Even if each individual has one’s own unique path, that is not influenced by you in traditional dharmic ideas, it’s influenced by your “karma” or actions taken in a past life. But at least you get to choose what deity you want to worship, or even none at all, and often in Hinduism.

Second, I am reminded of the other ideas I do not believe in; reincarnation, the idea that we are burdened by the actions of some past live you might not even have ever heard, the idea that justice is distributed by the universe, and the idea of the falsehood of the self (which to me also spits on the idea of karma as a self-made destiny since how do you make your own choices if there is no individual self?). I also seem to question their concept of Atman, which should refer to inner self but actually refers not to any individual spiritual self or immortal soul, but posits that the “real” self is actually God rather than any individual self. There is another idea I learned was present in Hinduism. I have my doubts regarding another idea I learned was central to Hindu belief. Apparently, they believe that the cosmos is possessed of an integral unity, no separate essences, entities, or objects. I feel it may be more likely that there isn’t a unity of all things. Even if there is something that connects all things, that doesn’t still say there is unity between all things, just a common origin.

Third, in my continuous attempts to integrate Hindu (and even Buddhist) ideas and lore, I feel like I’m trying to move forward too fast instead of sitting down to enjoy my current spiritual perspective (the perspective of a spiritual core self that you yourself fight to preserve until the day, and of the inner world shaped by you and how the outer world affects and inspires you). I could incorporate anything I want that inspires me, so why not be comfortable with images, aesthetics, and entities that come from a system that I don’t necessarily subscribe to, or need to subscribe to, and they wouldn’t necessarily have to represent those systems anyway.

One last thing about the book I read: I feel that while it does offer an enlightening perspective towards Hindu or dharmic ideas, that same perspective actually leads me to only more disconnect to these ideas. The author also seems far too unfair with his perspective on the West, a little pompous on his perspective on the East too. Not all of Western ideas are based on Judeo-Christian ideas, in fact the West is capable of potent antidotes for Judeo-Christian ideas and hypocrisy, and not just atheism either. The author seems to think any unity created by the West is purely synthetic. Yes, we aren’t always united in the right way or for the right reasons, but even if it was, all unity, in both West and East, is not to last. All unity falls apart eventually, sometimes slowly sometimes fast. But why put so much emphasis on cohesion and harmony anyway? Does anyone ever stop to think that maybe putting cohesion as the highest ideal is actually a foolish idea?

Advertisements

Vishnu, the Buddha, the devas, and Hindu lore

In India, Buddhism is not very popular despite the fact that it originated there. Part of the reason is the fact that Hinduism seems to have adapted the story of the Buddha, Siddartha Gautama, into its own lore. Specifically, there is a Hindu belief that the historical Buddha was the ninth avatar of the deity Vishnu, who is said to preserve the universe and protect its balance.

Different reasons are put forward for why Vishnu assumed the form of Buddha within this theory. Some believe Vishnu was promoting the idea of ahimsa (non-violence) in this form, others believe Vishnu wanted to see if people would remain faithful to the Vedic dharma, and there’s a story in the Puranas which suggests that Buddha was born to delude and confuse the enemies of the devas by preaching “false views” and thus weaken them. You could say this was a ploy to convert Buddhists into the Hindu tradition, but you could also say it was a smear campaign against Buddhism (which was viewed as a nastika or heterodox religion) on the part of orthodox Hindu thinkers.

Vishnu and his ten avatars (Dashavatara), including the Buddha.

The Puranic interpretation is the one I find odd. Why would the gods, who are supposedly interested in the truth, go out of their way to deliberately deceive humans, let alone demons, for any reason? How’s it any different from how, in Christian tradition, God apparently lets Satan and his demons “mislead” his own creation? In modern Hindu lore, the gods (or devas) chose the path of truth and their enemies (the asuras) supposedly chose falsehood (in reality it’s about Hindu ideas of spirituality versus materialism), and to me it often just seems like a worthless conflict. Think about it: although there are sometimes genuinely evil deeds punished by gods, usually it’s just either the gods trying to maintain hegemony over the world under the guise of preserving righteousness and the balance, or a mere morality tale of Hindu/Brahmanist social and spiritual ideas defeating materialism and godlessness.

This is also why I barely take Hindu mythology seriously or with the level of religious devotion that may or may not be accidentally implied, and merely use or venerate Hindu gods as a pagan (while not actually worshipping them or providing externality to their existence) but not their mythologies, because in Hindu mythology the gods are mainly a vehicle for both a morality tale and a concept of an external god, since they are merely forms of God in Hindu tradition.

Why the Trimurti is kinda unnecessary

Anyone with a basic knowledge of Hinduism knows that in Hinduism there is a trinity of gods presiding over the creation, preservation, and destruction of the universe. Brahma for creation, Vishnu for preservation, and Shiva for destruction. I can’t but think there’s something rather odd about the concept.

Think about it, the forces of creation, destruction, and preservation are divided into three gods, but this is somewhat pointless because Shiva’s destruction is also said to lead to creation, so invariably Shiva is a creator and destroyer in one. Not to mention, Brahma doesn’t have that great a role in Hindu mythology after creation, beyond granting boons to various characters in Hindu texts. As far preservation, Vishnu isn’t even the only one preserving the universe or saving the world from evil demons. Shiva, Durga, and other gods do by and large the same thing (maybe in different ways though), and Vishnu has an avatar called Kalki who is said to bring on the end of the world, while in the same lore Shiva is the destroyer (though I do consider the Kalki story mere end times lore).

The Hindu faith itself sees creation and destruction as two sides of the same coin, or dual facets of the same force, so coupled with Shiva’s creative role, why even have the Trimurti? Of course, I’m not going to stop others from venerating their trinities, it just means I won’t be making use of the Hindu trinity.

Detachment from the Hindu philosophy

I’ve been doing some research and some thinking, and I am realizing that there isn’t any hope for me and Hindu philosophy. I have had trouble reconciling Hinduism with individualism, and I think the reason for this is because individualism is simply not present in Hindu philosophy.

The first reason for this is because of the obvious values of devotion to God and self-abnegation or self-sacrifice. Individualistic philosophies place emphasis on the individual, and thus the self. Hindu philosophy, meanwhile, values the surrender of the self to God, the abandoning of desire and want, and the cessation of the self and the idea of the individual, and Hindu rishis often describe individualism as a path that leads nowhere, thus marking what is actually anti-individualism. I find that Hinduism’s emphasis on this idea of self-surrender inescapable, as is their emphasis on God, and I can’t find any hope of bringing individualism into it.

Then you have the concept of Dharma. If Hinduism is not a religion, then it is a way of life based on this concept of Dharma, which is about duty (which I have traditionally seen as an artificial moral obligation imposed by others), drawing close to the family and family traditions, and thus family values (which I see as little more than social conservatism), and sacrifice. Again, I find this easily contradicts the spirit of individualism, since individualism is about you, yourself, and your freedom to walk your own path, as opposed to following society, thus it goes against any communal attitudes. I don’t follow the traditions of my family, I follow what I believe and for myself.

The fact is, individualism isn’t very big in Indian philosophy, or that matter many Eastern societies. In the West, we are quite familiar with individualism as a philosophy which values the individual as free to walk his own path (though this is not to say Western society has always valued the individual, or even honestly values the individual today), but many Eastern societies such as India and China valued family and clan more than the individual (China in particular traditionally values social harmony over the individual). In Indian society, there was much importance given to family and the group, only rarely did the individual take centre stage.

I still love Hindu mythology, lore, symbols, gods, and art, and still adore the force known to their culture as Shakti (which I find is related to the horned force, or the raw primal force, or Chaos), but I cannot subscribe to the Hindu philosophy and I cannot identify as Hindu. Ultimately I am a Satanist, and a pagan, because that is where my beliefs and philosophy lie, all I can do is venerate Hindu gods my own way, or in a much more pagan sense. And I like to think I still have a connection to the lore but not the philosophy. Although, I still have some interest in Tantra, and I have no major beef with Carvaka, despite its atheism and materialism (which I find to be rather dull especially for Indian philosophy).

Of course, it could be possible that those who wish to surrender themselves to a higher force simply have the wrong idea of how to approach the force of Shakti, as a dear friend of mine tells me.

Gods who fight evil

There is an immeasurable number of deities in Hinduism, and in Hindu lore quite a few gods come to earth to fight and destroy evil.

One of the most common deities associated with the destruction of evil is Shiva.

Among his traits is the destruction of evil and ignorance, and he is also said to protect his devotees from evil and to protect all that is good. At one time, he also appeared as a terrifying beast named Sharabha to pacify Vishnu in the form of Narasimha, after he became berserk, so that he may be calm and harmonious again.

Speaking of Shiva, his wife, Shakti, also fights against evil. Not only that, but in many forms, such as Durga and Kali. In fact, in Hinduism, Durga is very much a symbol of the triumph of good over evil, as well as feminine power. Shakti is also said to be assisted by seven mother goddesses of war and emancipation known as the Matrikas. They are Brahmani, Vaishnavi, Maheshvari, Indrani, Kaumari, Varahi, and Chamundi.

Durga and the Matrikas

Vishnu also fights against evil, usually in the form of his avatars.

My favourite example is Varaha, the boar-headed third avatar of Vishnu who came to save the earth (or a goddess represneting earth) from an evil demon named Hiranyaksha, who stole the world and hid it in the primoridial waters. He slew Hiranyaksha and rescued the earth from the primordial waters she was hidden in, and thus the world is saved.

Other avatars were sent to fight evil, including Narasimha (who was sent to kill an evil demon who could not be killed by man or deva and so had to be killed by an animal-like entity), Rama (who defeated a evil demon king named Ravana who could not be killed by god or demon and, despite his noble and honorable character, was too arrogant and prone to evil deeds), Krishna (who was said to come to earth to destroy evil demons), and Kalki (who is said to come and destroy evil in the future, though Kalki’s presence as a bringer of the end and judge of mortals does not make sense in Hindu philosophy).

Some question the validity of the actions of some avatars. For instance, Vamana, the avatar who is a dwarf or young brahmin. He is said to come to earth to take back the three worlds from Mahabali, who supposedly stole them. But it could also be said he merely wanted to test Mahabali and remove his pride and bring him to “perfection”, which he was close to at the time he seized heaven. Then there’s Parashurama, who pretty much went around killing every member of the Kshatriya caste, guilty or innocent, and somehow gone unpunished. And often times, some of his avatars, including Kurma, Mohini, and Vamana, might just be assumed merely to win a competition with the rivals of the devas, the asuras.

Vishnu is also said to preserve righteousness in the form of Nara-Narayana, and there are depictions of Vishnu that have him holding a sword among other objects.

Other gods often worshiped to destroy evil and for protection include Ganesha, who is sometimes worshiped as a destroyer of evils, perhaps related to his role as the lord and destroyer of obstacles, Hanuman, who is a courageous god believed to be a destroyer of evil spirits and is often worshiped as a protector, and Murugan (a.k.a. Kartikeya) who is seen as a destroyer of evil and protector of good.

Hindu gods also appear in Buddhism, especially in Japanese Buddhism, often as deities who destroy and/or protect from evil as well as protecting the home, protecting from illness, and protecting the Buddhist teachings.

Artwork of Daijizaiten, a Japanese Buddhist form of Maheshvara/Shiva.

To be fair plenty of deities in Hinduism (as well as Buddhism) have symbolism pertaining to war, combat, destroying evil, and protecting the innocent or good, or at least there are many depictions, variations, or forms of said gods.

Perhaps themes here include, besides the triumph of good over evil, strength and driving out fear (since aggression drives out fear).

Perhaps these deities come to the world to punish and destroy those who roll the dice too many times, those who are so evil that truly they deserve to be wiped from the earth, those who threaten the world with their excess and their malice, those who oppress, and those who corrupt themselves and the world. In a way, in fighting evil, they encompass justice, war, power, and balance if you consider that much evil happens when one stops thinking about the need to control yourself by applying balance and thought to ones actions.

Why I’m just a pagan who uses Hindu/Buddhist lore

While I may have been glamorizing the idea of Hindu paganism last month, mostly due to the relation between some Hindu practices, the almost timeless status of the god Shiva, and the relation between the divine pair of Shiva and Shakti and the pagan cult of Bel and Astarte/Ishtar, I’m starting to think I am still unworthy of identifying as a Hindu.

For starters, I don’t believe in reincarnation, and if the Indian faiths are right, then I wouldn’t really want to reincarnate. I’d rather be in a heaven of my own. Then there’s the more serious problem, Hinduism, or at least religious Hinduism (or perhaps just Hinduism in its current form), places too much emphasis on renunciation, altruism, and merging oneself with God for me to want to identify with it. Despite the supposed flexibility of Hinduism, the goal is eventually to merge with Brahman/God, and this is not my goal. And I don’t much care for the whole renunciation ideal.

Then there’s Buddhism, which is similar to Hinduism or at least has similar ideas. Like Hinduism, Buddhism seems to value renunciation, the rejection of desire, and believes that all desire and craving must be eliminated before one can escape a seemingly endless cycle of life, death, and rebirth. And their idea of Nirvana is described as ultimate liberation through complete extinction (probably the extinction of the self).

To be honest, in my personal practice, I use Hindu, Buddhist, and other Asian deities, names, symbols, and sometimes terms and ideas, but in the end I don’t fully identify with the Hindu and Buddhist teachings (and I don’t really follow Hindu texts or believe in the authority of the Vedas), and those can’t really call myself either.

A bodhisattva named Vajrapani

In the end, I’m a pagan, or a Satanic Pagan, not Hindu. And actually, I’m alright with that. Besides the downsides of the Hindu and Buddhist labels I already mentioned, I find the label I have more flexible and comfortable, more allowing of my practice.

I still think there can be a connection between the pagan and the Hindu. For instance, Shiva is a Hindu deity, my favorite deity in mythology, and I see some connections with the god Baal (or Bel), due to his association with masculine power, fertility, and the phallic object of worship (the lingam is the closest Hindu equivalent to an obelisk), his divine animal vehicle (or vahana) is the bull, and his roots are a horned god (his crescent moon still calls to the horns of old). Baal has horns, he is linked with male fertility and power, and his animal is the bull. His wife, Shakti, is female power and fertility is also associated with love, and her divine animal vehicle is a lion or female tiger. Astarte/Ishtar is also associated with female power and sexuality, and is associated with the lion or lioness. It might be coincidence, but it seems to me like there might be a connection.

Anyway, going back to the point, as a Satanic Pagan who loves Asian myth, I pretty much uses Asia deities, symbols, often ideas as a part of my practice. Shiva and Shakti are not the only Hindu deities. Two examples include Agni and Kartikeya, and another example is an appropriation of Asura as an individual deity. Buddhist entities I incorporate include Mahakala and Mara. There is probably more, but I just wanted to list generic examples. With both Hinduism and Buddhism, there are entities I may not venerate or work with, but still appreciate.

In the end, this doesn’t make me a Hindu. It just makes me a pagan and Satanist who uses stuff from Asian religion.

However, I would like to add that if I engage in Tantric practice alongside Satanism and Pagan, and incorporate it as a major element, then I can probably add Tantric to the Satanic Pagan label. It’d still count for something, though either way, it’s hard for that label to account for the Chaos part of my beliefs (unless what I said about Satanism and Chaos counts for something), or for the fact that my own instincts and gut beliefs are very much at play. Truly, it is difficult for one label to account for everything.

The truth about the caste system

When talking about Hinduism and Hindu beliefs, people often mention the caste system, and often associate and lump the caste system in with Hinduism, as though it was actually religiously mandated. In reality, this is far from the truth.

The Indian caste system is actually a social idea, mandated by Indian society, not religion. It was never sanctioned by Hindu texts, despite what some in the West may believe. While Hindu texts do mention a system of social stratification that divides people based on class, work, and other things, it is merely described, not advocated or mandated. Some even think the caste system is an invention of the British colonialists, but this is debatable, and some question the idea as little more than revisionist history.

Not only is the caste system a societal creation rather than divine or religious mandate, and not associated with Hinduism, it’s also not even unique to India to begin with. Lots of societies had social stratification back then, and sadly still do today. In the Indian subcontinent alone, the idea of a caste system is also practiced by small groups of Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists, though keep in mind I do mean small groups.

The idea of caste being religiously or spiritually mandated probably comes from a major misunderstanding on the part of Westerners, particularly those who have confused social mandates with religious ideas.