Pappankulam – A Village of Brahmins and Four Vedas

Pappankulam is a small village near Tirunelveli, Tamilnadu, India which has some beautiful teples and beautiful stories associated with them. It is my own native place and I had recently gone there. The main Shiva temple (Arulmigu Vadakalainayaki Sametha Thiruvenkadar Temple) was once damaged; but it was renovated in 2017 and now it looks beautiful.

The village also has many other temples like Ramaswamy temple (Lord Rama), Sadai Udayar sastha temple, Palani Andavar temple, Muppidathi amman temple, Chandika devi amman temple, a temple for Ganesh etc. The temple myths seem to convey messages that glorify the village. They seem to indicate that this village gave a lot of importance to arts and crafts, wisdom and Vedas.

Pappankulam Arulmigu Vadakalainayaki Sametha Thiruvenkadar Temple

I am going to go into the details of the myths and explain the possible reasons that such myths were created in the first place. Because, myths are not historical incidents. But they are created to make a point, convey a message, give a theological narrative or a supernatural explanation for a real incident, to glorify a person or a place etc. So they may carry hidden historical explanations even though a story in itself may not be a faithful narrative of a historical event.

There are a couple of stories about Pappankulam which are related to Hindu Varna system. But I will use those stories to remove certain misconceptions about Indian Varna system. In fact, It is not really as worse as it is portrayed by some political parties in India.

This post will also help you to know about an important village in Tamil Nadu which gave so much importance to arts, knowledge and Vedic education. This is very obvious by the stories associated with this place.

Pappankulam – A Land Donated to a Brahmin

Let us first see why this village was named Pappankulam. There is an anecdote which is not a myth but likely to be historical. 

Aditta Varma (or probably Aditya Varma) was a Pandiya king and was also a devotee of Shiva. He built many temples of Shiva and they were designed by a sculptor named Chaturvedi. Chaturvedi was probably his last name as it is a common last name among Brahmins which means ‘the knower of four Vedas’. It could also be just a nickname since his original name was forgotten.

Chaturvedi was an excellent sculptor with good mastery in his skills and a great sense of art. So the king Aditta Varma was very pleased by his work and donated some land. It was called Chaturvedi Mangalam (an old Sanskrit name for Pappankulam).

Chaturvedi later went through so many problems in his life. When consulting astrologers, it was found that Graha dosha was the reason. In Astrology, Graha Dosha is an instance of one celestial body afflicting another. Chaturvedi was advised to consecrate a Shiva Linga with Chandrakanta stone (moonstone or sodium potassium aluminium silicate) and build a huge temple with Navagrahas (nine grahas or celestial bodies in Indian Astrology). He was told that building such a temple will get rid of his problems.

Chaturvedi built a Shiva temple and also dug a pond near it. The temple is now beautifully renovated and known as Sri Vadakalainayaki Sametha Thiruvenkadar Temple, Pappankulam. The pond is called Kalkurichi pond. Once he built this temple, it is believed that his problems were solved.

The pond near Thiruvenkadar Temple

Another version of the story says that the temple already existed before the time of Aditta Varman but the king prayed here to have progeny. He didn’t have children for a long time. But once he prayed in this temple, he was blessed with a child. So the king Aditta Varman expanded the temple with the help of sculptor Chaturvedi and also donated him some land. This information is available in the temple inscriptions. 

The word ‘Pappan’ in Pappankulam is a distortion of the Tamil word ‘pArpAn’ (பார்ப்பான்) which means a Brahmin. ‘Kulam’ means pond. The village got this name possibly because all four Vedas were taught, recited in this village and because of the fact that Vedic culture flourished here.

Some people also give another explanation. The Tamil word ‘pApAngu’ means the young one of a bird. Since a lot of small birds constantly make noise in this pond, it was called by this name. But I really think that this explanation was forced. The first explanation about Pappankulam being the village of Brahmins and Vedas suits this village for many reasons.

Goddess Saraswati and the Curse of the sage Durvasa

In Hindu Myths, sage Durvasa is known for his short temper. But sage Durvasa was a real person, probably a self-realized jnani with a short temper.  

This may sound strange because many people believe that something like self-realization or spiritual enlightenment would certainly make a person get rid of anger. But even a self-realized person retains certain vasanas and many other older habits according to his own karma or nature, so that he is able to interact with the world and society. So each enlightened person carries at least 1-2% of imperfections from his past, which do not cause anymore bondage. For Durvasa, anger was a tool and it is often referred to as sAtvika krodha, the anger arises from balance and compassion. Durvasa has composed Sri Tripura Mahimna Stotra: https://www.kamakotimandali.com/srividya/mahimnah.html

There is another story associated with Thiruvenkadar temple. One day, Durvasa was reciting Vedas but committed a small mistake by using a wrong letter or sound. Hearing this, Saraswati, the Goddess of arts and wisdom, started laughing.This angered Durvasa. So he cursed that Goddess Saraswati should go to earth and live for 64 years and teach all the 64 arts to humans. Because of that curse, both Goddess Saraswati and Brahma (her consort) came to earth, worshipped Tiruvenkadar of Pappankulam and lived there for 64 years, teaching arts and wisdom to people. Thamirabarani Mahatmyam has many stories associated with places near Tirunelveli, including the curse of Durvasa on Saraswati.

Goddess Saraswati

This story was probably created to explain the existence and growth of various fine arts in this village 500 years before. It is a theological narrative to explain how many people in this village learnt arts those days. The temple was a small stone temple during Kulasekara Maravarman’s reign (1268–1308 CE).  The inscription in the temple says ‘ராஜசதுர்வேதி மங்கலத்தின் வடமேற்கே வேளார்குறிச்சியில் பகவதி விண்ணகர் ஆழ்வார்’ (Northwest to Raja Chaturvedi Mangalam, in Velarkurichi, Bhagavathi Vinnagar Azhwar.)

There is a small stage called Jeeva Kalaiarangam very close to the temple, where plays are conducted every year during the car festival. (When I was a school boy, I acted in a few of those plays myself, especially in comedy roles. Just in one play, I appeared in a court scene as a lawyer). A writer in our village writes these plays every year and they last for one hour. 

Vada Kalai Nayagi – The Goddess of arts

The Shiva in the main temple is called Thiruvenkadar and his consort Shakti in this temple is called  Vada Kalai Nayagi. Vada (vAdA) means ‘never fading’; ‘Kalai’ means ‘arts’; Nayaki means ‘Chief’. So the name Vada Kalai Nayagi literally means Goddess of arts. The temple is based on Karanagama.

Sri Vada Kalai Nayagi

Also, the Goddess is depicted to show 32 expressions (Samudrika Lakshana) in a single sculpture and that is considered to be very special, showing the unique skill of the sculptor. 

The Confluence of Ramanathi and Kadana nathi rivers – A Confluence of Tamil and Sanskrit

Pappankulam is the place where two small rivers, Ramanathi and Kadana nathi (Gadananadhi or Gatananadhi) meet and merge with each other. Both rivers have an interesting story. 

Ramanathi is said to have originated from a drop from the Kamandalu (an oblong water pot) of sage Agastya. Kadana nathi is said to have originated from the water that sage Atri obtained as a loan from river Ganges. 

Again, while thinking about the reasons for these myths, they seem to indicate something that is unique about Pappankulam. Sage Agastya is associated with Tamil language and it is believed that Agastya came up with the Tamil grammar for the very first time. (Agastya is also a Rig Vedic rishi). Atri is associated with Gangetic plain and Vedas. It is where Vedic civilization and Sanskrit education thrived. So this story was probably created to explain that just like Ramanathi and Kadana nathi meet here,  Tamil and Sanskrit also meet here.

This makes a lot of sense. Since the village got its name because of Bramins and Vedic recitations, it was certainly a place where Sanskrit met Tamil. Today we have both Brahmin priests who chant in Sanskrit and Tamil odhuvar priests who take care of certain temples; they recite Tamil hymns from Tevaram.

It is also important to note that there are  mountains with the name of both Agastya (Agastya hills) and Atri (Athri malai) just a few miles away from Pappankulam. Devotees can trek both these mountains after getting permission from the forest department. People believe that sage Atri had an ashram in  Athiri malai and created Kadana nathi for his disciple Shri Korakkanathar.

Threefold Classification: Thiruvenkadu (Uttarapuri), Madurai (Madhyapuri) and Pappankulam (Dakshinapuri)

People also say that the temple town Thiruvenkadu is considered as Uttarapuri or northern town, Madurai is considered as Madhya puri (the town in the middle) and Pappankulam is considered as Dakshina puri or the one in the south. The suffix ‘puri’ is usually used at the end of the names of many towns and villages.

I was wondering why there is such a classification and what is common between these three places. I am just writing what seems to be obvious. 

Thiruvenkadu is a village located near Sirkazhi, Nagapattinam. Thiruvenkadu means “white forest’. This village has a famous Shiva temple called Swetharanyeswarar Temple. The name of Shiva in Pappankulam is Thiruvenkadar, which is the literal Tamil meaning of  Swetharanyeswarar. So, it may be said that the temple in Pappankulam was based on the original temple in Thiruvenkadu. 

There are many stories which are associated with Thiruvenkadu and this is one of them (from Wiki): 

“Achyutha Kalappalar, a local chieftain was childless. His guru Sivacharya analyzed his horoscope and read out an ancient palm leaf manuscript. It had the verse of Sambandar, one of the major Saivite saints Nayanars. Chieftain was advised to pray at Venkadu to be blessed with a progeny. He prayed at the place along with his wife and was blessed with a boy. The boy later went on to write Sivagnana Bodham.”

Sivagnana Bodham is considered to be the best Tamil text in Saiva Siddhanta. The author of Sivagnana Bodham is Meykandar, who is shown as the blessed boy in the above story. This superior Tamil text of spiritual wisdom is associated with Thiruvenkadu. Just like that, Madurai is a place associated with three Tamil sangams and the huge body of Tamil literature associated with it. So, the only thing that is common for all the three places is their association with wisdom, literature and knowledge.

Based on that, it is likely that Pappankulam is listed as one of the three places because of its association with wisdom and knowledge.

Association of Pappankulam temple with Budha (Mercury)

Budha (Mercury) is one of the nine grahas in Indian astrology. The main temple of Budha in Tamil Nadu is actually Swetharanyeswarar Temple in Thiruvenkadu near Sirkazhi, Nagapattinam, where there is an image of Budha. But Budha is said to have also worshipped here in Pappankulam too.

Budha is said to be a graha related to wisdom and intellect. According to astrology, Budha dosha, a malefic effect of this graha is believed to cause nervous and mental issues and poor academic performance. Budha as a person is also considered as superior among jnanis or self-realized people.

Since Budha is associated with intellect and wisdom, it is reasonable to assume that association of Budha with Pappankulam temple is to show the association of wisdom with the village. 

Pazhani Andavar temple, Pappankulam

There is a temple called Palani Andavar (or Pazhani Andavar temple) very close to Thiruvenkadar temple. The word ‘Pazhani’ here refers to the hill temple for Murugan  in Palani, Tamilnadu. The temple for Skanda or Murugan in Pappankulam has the same name as the deity of temple in Palani hills.

I am quoting the temple legend of Palani murugan temple from Wiki:

According to Hindu mythology, “Sage Narada once visited the celestial court of Lord Shiva at Mount Kailash to present to Him a fruit, the gyana-pazham (literally, the fruit of wisom), that held in it the elixir of wisdom. Upon Lord Shiva expressing his intention of dividing the fruit between his two sons, Ganesha and Muruga, the sage counselled against cutting it. He decided to award it to whomever of his two sons first circled the world thrice. 

Accepting the challenge, Lord Murugan started his journey around the globe on his mount peacock. However, Ganesha, who surmised that the world was no more than his parents Shiva and Shakti combined, circumambulated them”.Pleased with their son’s discernment, Lord Shiva awarded the fruit to Lord Ganesha. When Murugan returned, he was furious to learn that his efforts had been in vain. He left Kailash and took up his abode in Palani hills in South India. It is believed that Murugan felt the need to get matured from boyhood and hence chose to remain as a hermit and discarded all his robes and ornaments. He went into meditation to know about himself”.

I am also quoting my interpretation of the same story, as I have written in my post ‘3-level meditation’:

First of all, Shiva and Shakthi represent two things: Purusha and Prakriti. Purusha is the pure witness; the consciousness without any attributes including actions or qualities. Prakriti is everything that is witnessed by Purusha. Prakrithi includes everything that is witnessed in your conscious experience: the external world and its internal representation consisting of thoughts, emotions, likes and dislikes, intellect, ego, memories etc. Essentially Purusha and Prakriti are inseparable, just like fire and heat are inseparable. So this union of Purusha and Prakriti constitutes absolute reality or what we call as God.

Realizing this absolute truth in one’s experience is Jnana or self-realization. Usually, self-realization is compared to a fruit, since it represents the fruit of spiritual sadhana. You will see the word ‘Phala’ used in many Buddhist texts as a synonym for enlightenment. There is even sutta in Buddhist canon called samannaphala sutta, which means the fruit of asceticism.

There are always two kinds of people in the world. People who realize that the truth is very close because it is inside them and people who search for the truth outside. The story of Ganesha and Skanda competing for Jnanapalam (fruit of wisdom) has a striking similarity to this concept. Ganesha realizes that the truth is within, so he immediately gets the fruit by reaching the Shivasakthi which is very close to him. On the other hand, Skanda goes around the world and realizes that he did not get jnana in spite of going around the world. (this is illustrated by the story that Skanda could not get the fruit). So finally he realizes his folly and takes Sannyas. He sits in one place and goes within to find the truth.”

The presence of a temple whose deity is associated with the fruit of wisdom again reinforces the fact that the village Pappankulam is associated with wisdom, especially, spiritual wisdom that is realized through self-realization.

The Beliefs and Uniqueness About Pappankulam Thiruvenkadar Temple

Linga made of Chandrakanta stone
  1. For rainfall, people do Tara homam. People say that the result is instantaneous. It is also said that an eagle makes rounds on the sky during the homa. 
  2. Legends say that Chola and Pandya kings worshipped Saneeswaran (Shani) and were able to win battles. It is a general belief that by worshipping Saneeswaran here, one can win his enemies.
  3. The linga is made with Chandrakanta stone (moonstone). People used to believe that this stone gets its coolness from the moon and also keeps the room cool. People believe that this stone is good for meditation and calmness. Chandrakanta stone is worn as a gem and popularly known as lover’s gem as people believe that it helps them to find true love. Moon is linked to the mind; so this gem stone is linked to both emotional balance and intellect. 
  4. Inside the temple, there is a shrine of a siddhar who attained moksha. The details about him are not available. Every full moon day, there is a special puja in this shrine. Some believe that it might be Thiruvenkadar who was popularly known as Pattinathar. (There have been three people by the same name).
  5. The statue of Skanda or Murugan with his consorts is made of a single stone.
  6. In the shrine of Guru bhagawan, a snake is sculpted under his feet. It is believed that people can get rid of Raghu Kethu dosha by worshipping Guru bhagawan here.
  7. The lingam appears bigger if seen from the flagpost (kodimaram) and smaller if viewed from the mandapam near sanctum sanctorum. This is something unique about the architecture of the temple.
  8. Since Budha was believed to have worshipped here and since he is thought of having the power to remove the malefic effects caused by other planets in astrology, people believe that by worshipping him one can get rid of all graha doshas.
  9. The abhishekam (bathing of the deity) water is believed to possess medicinal qualities. People attribute this to Chandrakanta stone.
  10. Sthala Vriksha (the monumental and holy tree) of this temple is night-flowering Jasmine.
  11. The theertham (holy water available in the pond nearby) is called Brahma theertham.
  12. There is a snake depicted separately at the feet of Dhakshinamoorthy. This is something unusual as the snake is usually just drawn in the other temples. The snake represents Kundalini.
  13. People who have problems in getting married visit this place during the Tamil months of Adi and Ani (roughly from the middle of June to middle of August), take bath in the place where the two rivers merge (called irandathu mukku or the corner of two rivers), and worship Thiruvenkadar with oil lamp. They believe that this gets rid of the problem.

Association of Lord Rama and killing Shambuka

Ramayana is an epic based on wisdom king model (Dharmaraja) whereas Mahabharata is based on a warrior king model (Chakravartin). In Ramayana, Rama is shown as a king who protects Dharma, the right way of life, during his reign. Here we need to remember one thing (which I will elaborate on later); the norms of those days were different. And the society was also a lot different.

In Pappankulam, there is a beautiful temple of Rama known as Ramaswamy temple. According to temple inscriptions, it was built before 12th century AD by Pandiya king Maravarman I. 

It is not surprising that Rama, an icon of wisdom, has a temple here. But the temple is also associated with one of the most controversial episodes of Ramayana, the killing of Shambuka by Rama.

In Uttarakanda (Final chapter or Ramayana), sargas 73-76 narrate the story of Shambuka. Shambuka was a Shudra (lower caste) ascetic who was slain by Rama for attempting to do a penance.  Rama considered this penance of Shambuka as the act in violation of dharma as he believed that the negative consequences or karma, resulting from this act, caused the death of a Brahmin’s son in his kingdom.

Uttarakhanda is not usually considered as written by Valmiki, the original author of Ramayana. It is usually seen as a later addition. But this episode is seen as controversial and often used to criticize Ramayana as a whole, as promoting caste based discrimination. There are some problems with such a conclusion. To understand, we need to see how the whole Varna system (the system of four varnas including Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras) evolved and how it was seen in Ancient India.

History of Varnas

There is already a hypothesis called Trifunctional hypothesis, according to which  three classes or castes—priests, warriors, and commoners (farmers or tradesmen) existed in prehistoric  Indo-European societies. This was something which naturally happened. 

Even in Ancient China, there were the shi (gentry scholars), the nong (peasant farmers), the gong (artisans and craftsmen), and the shang (merchants and traders) forming a fourfold classification. So, there has been a natural division of society based on what people did.

Vedic civilization also initially had these threefold divisions. Brahmins (priests, writers, poets, teachers and intellectual pillar of the society), Kshatriyas (king and the army), and Vaishyas (merchants and farmers). There was no fourth varna.

Among the three varnas, there was no strict birth based division. But it was natural for the son to follow the father’s occupation. A teacher was someone who initiated the people from all three classes to Vedic study, which not only included studying hymns and rituals, but also included studying etymology, prosody, astrology, phonetics and grammar. And certainly, it should have included basic education like basic Mathematics, Geometry, knowledge about various plants and their uses etc. Because, this was the only form of study until there was a university in Taxila. But that was a place for scholars and elites, not common people.

Now, who was a Shudra? One who was not initiated into Vedic study. So initially, the following were Shudras:

  1. All people, from the time they were born until they were initiated into Vedic study were Shudras. Since they are not initiated yet, they are Shudras.
  2. Tribes who were following a tradition different from Vedic religion. Since they are not initiated yet, they are Shudras.
  3. Tribes who deviated from Vedic traditions and hence the people born now are no longer initiated into Vedic studies. Since they are not initiated yet, they are Shudras.

When we are looking at the cultures in a huge landmass over a time period of more than 3500 years, we need to keep the following things in mind.

The meaning of the word changes many times throughout history. Customs and rules also change throughout history. We tend to think of a static homogeneous system when we think of Varna system. But that is not really the case. Even the meanings of the words like Brahmins and Shudras have had different meanings and connotations during different times of the history.

Until Kuru kingdom was formed, there were no strict rules in the society. From Michael Witzel, we know that initiation into Vedic studies was open to anyone. This was very true in the early Rig Vedic period. So anyone, regardless of what tribe they belonged to, what language they spoke at home, what food they ate were initiated into Vedic study. This was the time the whole Rig Vedic samhitas were not yet compiled into one collection.

At this point, basically, if a person makes a living through a means that is not natural to his Varna, he is doing something that he is not qualified for. The real intention behind formulation of various rules for various Varna was that a person should do the work which suits his personality, ability, other genetic traits, conditioning and nurture etc. This rule will apply even right now. If your friends say you look like a bodybuilder but you are looking for a high-paying job in a company for a post that you don’t qualify for, the confusion is obvious. But it is true that some of the rules that existed then were very cruel.

Once the Kuru Kingdom was established, things began to change gradually. Because of getting patronage and money, it was very easy for traditional priests to do a good job and prove their worth. So it was not usual for someone to change their varna. Slowly, Shudras became a fourth caste who should serve other three classes. And Varnas became birth based, even though it was not strictly and universally followed. You can find evidence for it in Vedas themselves:

yathemāṁ vācaṁ kalyāṇīṁ avadāni janebhyaḥ | brahma rājanyābhyāṁ śūdrāya caryāya ca svayāya caraṇāya ca ||

Just as I have revealed this salutary auspicious teachings to all humans, so should you. I have revealed the Vedic truth to brahmins, kshatriyas, sudras and Aryas, to personal servants and to the lowest of servants (araṇāya) also. (Sukla Yajur Veda 26:2)

It also looks like there was a discussion. Some say Shudras should not be initiated; and some say that they should. In this context, there are certainly talking about a strictly birth-based four-fold varna system. But the fact that there was a discussion indicates that the rules were relaxed, even though some took advantage of it to show their prejudice.

vidyate caturthasya varṇasya agnyādheyam ityeke

Some say that all four varnas are eligible to consecrate the 3 sacred fires (Bhāradvāja śrauta sutra 5:2.8.)

Markandeya Purana says that Shudras can perform Yajnas or fire sacrifice:

dānaṁ yajño’tha śuśrūṣā dvijātināṁ tridhā mayā |

vyākhyātaḥ śūdra dharmo’pi jīvikā kāru-karmajā |

tadvad dvijāti śuśrūṣā poṣaṇam kraya vikrayaiḥ |

The religious duties of a Shudra are works of charity and the performing of yajñas and serving others. They earn a living from being artisans, tradesmen, craftsmen etc. from service professions, from nurturing and from selling and buying. (Markaṇḍeya Purāṇa 25:7-8)

 Prejudice is natural in human beings, and to get rid of that one has to develop a certain clarity; to get read of it completely, one has to walk on the spiritual path and attain atma jnana or self-realization. But it can be kept in check and channeled properly. One can bring more awareness to it. 

Among any two groups, the problem of ‘we’ vs ‘you all’ is bound to occur at some point of time. When a person associates his self-image to the whole group he belongs to, the notion that the other ‘group’ is inferior can very easily arise. Today, we see the same prejudice and hatred taking place in the name of caste, religion, language, nationalities, races etc. 

At any point of time, a society has all kinds of people with different personalities, character, intentions, mental purity etc. So, it is very safe to assume that in any culture, some kind of prejudice would have resulted in oppression and hatred of the ‘other’ group. But how can anyone get an entire picture of the situation at any point of time in the ancient past? So, it would be a mistake to consider that Varna system was a rigid division that existed throughout the entire subcontinent, throughout the whole past. 

The episode of Rama and Shambukha

Let us come to Rama’s situation in the story of Ramayana. He hears that someone who is not initiated into how to do rituals and penance is doing a penance and it resulted in the cause of a Brahmin’s death. 

Rama approaches the Shudra ascetic, And here is what Valmiki Ramayana says:

On this that Prince approached the one who had given himself up to rigorous practices and said “Blessed art thou, O Ascetic, who art faithful to thy vows ! From what caste art thou sprung, O Thou who hast grown old in mortification and who art established in heroism. I am interested in this matter, I, Rama, the son of Dasaratha. What purpose hast thou in view? Is it heaven or some other object? What boon dost thou seek by means of this hard penance? I wish to know what thou desire in performing these austerities, oh Ascetic. May prosperity attend thee! Art thou a brahmin ? Art thou an invincible Kshatriya? Art thou a Vaishya, one of the third caste or art thou a Shudra? Answer me truthfully!” Then the ascetic, who was hanging head downwards, thus questioned by Rama, revealed his origin to that Prince born of Dasaratha, the foremost of kings, and the reason why he was practicing penance. Hearing the words of Rama of imperishable exploits, that ascetic, his head still hanging downwards, answered “O Rama, I was born of a Shudra alliance and I am performing this rigorous penance in order to acquire the status of a God in this body. I am not telling a lie, O Rama, I wish to attain the Celestial Region. Know that I am a Shudra and my name is Shambuka.” As he was yet speaking, Raghava, drawing his brilliant and stainless sword from its scabbard, cut off his head.”

— The Ramayana of Valmiki: Translated by Hari Prasad Shastri p1585

Rama is a person who doesn’t seem to be too sensitive about the divisions of Varna and certainly he doesn’t seem to exhibit any prejudice. We see that throughout Ramayana. We see his loving interaction with Shabari, an old Shudra woman. And here he is facing a situation. 

Everyone says that this Shudra ascetic needs to be slain; that seems to be the public consensus according to the norms of the day. He is not qualified, uninitiated but his penance was believed to be the cause of the death of a son of a Brahmin, the person who initiates many people. And here he says that he does this penance to attain the status of Gods. Those days, it should have sounded pretty much like, “I don’t have a driving license and I am drunk but I am on my way to participate in a car race now”. You hear this from a guy after you have heard from someone that he had been the cause of the death of someone’s son. 

Penance is done for the welfare of the society.  An unqualified and uninitiated person doing a penance for attaining the status of God while already being accused of having caused a Brahmin’’s death posed a threat to the society. And everyone asks to kill him. As a responsible king, Rama killed Shambuka. Looking at it from a modern lens, it may sound too cruel; but the past is past. Whoever wrote this story has just reflected the norms of the days when it was put into composition.

But personally, I don’t take epics as history, They might have been inspired by multiple stories and traditional lores; some of them may be true; some of them may be a mixture of two different stories. The fact that people had the liberty to compose different versions for stories like Ramayana indicates that they didn’t take the epics as faithful historical narratives as we do today.

Ramayana has a spiritual meaning though. It symbolizes our consciousness getting kidnapped by the three malas: anava, karma and maya. Or it could indicate our senses getting kidnapped by the root ignorance or avidya. An entire text called Adhyatma Ramayana was written to allegorically interpret the story of Hindu epic Ramayana in the Advaita Vedanta framework.

But the story of Shambuka does teach one thing, which became hidden because of time. One should follow his svadharma, or make a living that suits his personality traits, abilities, interests and experience. Shambuka’s story also teaches about the quick justice that happens to an offence in the state that was believed to have caused a serious consequence. But one shouldn’t interpret this as a careless justice given without proper investigation. At least, the author of this part of the story wants us to understand that it was an emergency, according to their norms and situation. 

In Pappankulam, the story of the temple goes like this. According to the temple myth, when Rama wanted to kill Shambuka, he was hiding somewhere nearby the Kadana nathi river. Rama stood on a rock here to locate him. It was the spot where the rivers Ramanathi and Kadana nathi meet. It is said that Shiva appeared as a light near Madavarvilagam and helped Rama to locate Shambuka. Rama is also said to have done Sandhya Vandhanam there. So the rock is called Sandhya rock or Sandhya parai. It has an inscription of a chakra and a footstep. It is believed to be the footstep of Rama, according to the temple myth. After killing Shambuka, Rama is believed to have taken shelter under a tamarind tree, which is the same as the location of Ramaswamy temple in Pappankulam. The killing of Shambuka is believed to have taken place in Sambankulam near Sivasailam.

Chandika Devi Amman temple in Pappankulam, Parashurama and Tripura Rahasya

On the way to Kadana nathi river, there is another temple for mother Goddess Shakti or Parvati. The temple is called Chandika Devi Amman and usually referred to as Sendika Devi Amman by locals. Many people name their daughters as Sendika (my father’s elder brother’s daughter is one of them). I couldn’t find anything much about the existence of Chandika devi amman temples in other parts of Tirunelveli district. But I am assuming they should exist as small temples, as there are stories associated with Chandika and Parashurama.

From Wiki:

“Parashurama (Sanskrit: परशुराम, IAST: Paraśurāma, lit. Rama with an axe) is the sixth avatar of Vishnu in Hinduism. Born as a Brahmin , Parashurama carried traits of a Kshatriya and is often regarded as a Brahma Warrior. He carried a number of traits, which included aggression, warfare and valor; also, serenity, prudence and patience. Like other incarnations of Vishnu, he was foretold to appear at a time when overwhelming evil prevailed on the earth.The Kshatriya class, with weapons and power, had begun to abuse their power, take what belonged to others by force and tyrannize people. Parashurama corrects the cosmic equilibrium by destroying these Kshatriya warriors. Bhumihars claim that their ancestors were Brahmins who were set up to take the place of the Kshatriyas slain by Parashurama. (Bhumihars are a Hindu caste mainly found in Bihar (including the Mithila region), the Purvanchal region of Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, the Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh, and Nepal.).”

There is a legend associated with Chandika worship. Whenever we talk about any myth or legend, we need to understand that it need not be historical. Parashurama is generally associated with Northern India and his birthplace is believed to be on top of the Janapav hills in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. He is also associated with many temple consecrations in south India, including the Sabarimala temple and Kanyakumari temple.

But was Parashurama really a historical person? He was probably a Brahmin who stood up against the oppression of kings and helped with consecration of many temples. Parushurama might have been a real name or just a nickname. But it is usual for people to attribute myths about the person they liked and admired. People also attribute the work of the descendants of an important person to the person himself. It is also usual for disciples to compose a work and name their own guru as the author. So, even with careful and critical analysis of various sources, confirming historicity of an incident is very challenging.

The myth associated with the worship of Chandika goes like this. Guru Dattatreya preached the essence of Advaita Vedanta to Parashurama in Gandhamadana Parvatha hills, Rameshwaram.  He went over the three states of consciousness which are waking, sleeping and dreaming and explained that the consciousness that witnesses these three states is more real than what is being witnessed. It can be understood well with the screen and movie metaphor popularized by Ramana Maharshi. This consciousness is personified as Chandika, who rules over all three states as if they are three cities or Tripuras. So she is also known as Tripura Sundari.

Later, Parashurama is said to have lived in Pothigai hills in Tirunelveli and did a spiritual practice on Chandika for 12 years. He imparted this truth to his disciple Haritayana. Haritayana compiled the teachings as Tripura Rahasya

There are no temple myths associated with Chandika Devi amman temple in Pappankulam. It is a very small temple. But the form of Chandika is used in a lot of myths and famous texts.

Chandika or Chandi appears in Markandeya Purana, in the section known as Chandi or The Devi Mahatmya. This is what she says about herself:

I resemble in form Brahman;

From me emanates the world

Which has the Spirit of Prakriti and Purusha;

I am empty and not empty;

I am delight and non-delight;

I am knowledge and ignorance;

I am Brahman and not Brahman!”

The basis for Chandi worship is found in Devi Bhagavatam and Devi Mahatmya. The Goddess is also understood as a combined force of Maha Saraswati, Maha Lakshmi and Maha Kali. The Chandi worship might have originated in West Bengal and might have been popularized by Parashurama (or one of his descendants) in the South. Parashurama is understood as someone who created or developed the iconography of Chandika in  south Tamil Nadu.

Chandika, Maheshwari and Skandamata are associated with the 5th day of navaratri. Chandika also refers to a 7 year old girl. Chandi is depicted as a very angry Goddess.

Sankara Narayanan and Gomathi Amman temple, Pappankulam

On the way to Kadana nathi, there is a small Shiva temple in the Agraharam street called Sankara Narayanan and Gomathi Amman temple. This temple is not in a good condition and needs renovation.

The original Sankara Narayanan Gomathi amman temple is in Sankarankovil, Tirunelveli district. The temple is associated with religious tolerance between Shaivism and Vaishnavism. The myth about Gomathi Amman is there to explain that Shiva and Vishnu are different names of one Supreme divinity. 

As Rig Veda says, the truth is one but called by various names by wise people (Ekam sat, viprah bahuda vadanti – Rig Veda 1.164.46). This also applies to names like Allah and Yahweh. Gomathi amman can be taken as an embodiment of religious tolerance, who preaches the truth about the essential oneness of various paths.

I ended up writing about Gomathi amman in the past which was a result of some amazing coincidences that I witnessed. I have written about such coincidences in the following posts:

Goddess Gomathi Amman, Adi Thabasu and Religious Tolerance

Some Amazing Coincidences Regarding Religious Tolerance

Sadaiudayar Sastha Temple, Pappankulam

Sadaiudayar Sastha is our family deity. Shasta means a teacher or a guru. Just like there are various forms of Shiva, there are various forms of Shasta too and one of them is Sadaiudayar.

 Again, I would like to remind the readers here that names like Shasta, Shiva, Vishnu etc are different names for one divinity and each of these names may highlight a particular aspect of divinity more than the others. 

Sastha is the personification of a divine teacher. When you consider Almighty or the Supreme reality as a divine teacher or if you are attracted to the image of a teacher more than anything else, then you can choose one of these forms for worship: Sastha, Skanda guru, Dakshinamurthy. 

The true form of worship involves surrender and love, as shown in Bhagavad Gita; but which form you are devoted to doesn’t matter at all, as long as you feel more emotionally connected with your chosen form. The devotion purifies the mind and prepares the ground for self-realization.

Just like there are eight forms of Lakshmi called Ashtalakshmi, there are eight forms of Sastha too. I have elaborated on the etymology of the word Lakshmi and the eight forms of Lakshmi here: 3-Level Meditation

Ashta Sasthas

Let us now see about Ashta Sasthas:

Adhi Maha Sastha – Similar to Adhilakshmi or Mahalakshmi, he represents the highest wealth of a human being which is self-realization or Atma jnana. Adhi Maha Sastha is depicted with two consorts: Poorna and Pushkala. Poorna means fullness; Pushkala means abundance or an absence of any sense of lack. This actually means that self-realization changes the way you experience your life in such a way that you feel full and complete and do not sense that anything lacks when it comes to your ultimate well being.  Adhi Maha Sastha is more popular in villages of South; Sadaiudayar Sastha is just one form of Adhi Maha Sastha.

Dharma sastha: Dharma sastha is someone who takes care of Dharma or cosmic order. Dharma dictates the way of life that contributes to the well being of oneself and the other. The concept of avatar is closely linked to Dharma. So an avatar of Sastha should be considered as a human representation of Dharma sastha. 

Manikandan, who is popularly worshipped as Ayyappan is considered as an avatar of Dharma sastha. This doesn’t mean that Almighty took the form of a person. Almighty is always Avyakta or impersonal; but it is that which manifests as everything. Manikandan was a human prince who practiced celibacy; but once his time is over, he has merged himself with the Almighty; it is explained by saying he merged with Dharma sastha. So the distinction between Manikandan and Sastha is the same as the distinction between Krishna and Vishnu.

This is the reason why I have written earlier that the banning of women’s entry to Ayyappa temple in SabariMala is not at all necessary. Read this post for details: Entry of Women to Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple -A Detailed Look at Sabarimala’s History and the Recent Supreme Court Verdict

Just like there is Bhagavad Gita for Krishna, there is Boothanatha Geeta (or Bhutanatha Gita) for Manikandan. It is a very rare text. You can read a short commentary on it here: Bhoothanatha Geetha – The Song of Ayyappa

Gnana Sastha: He is the lord of wisdom. He is depicted as sitting under a banyan tree just like Dhakshinamoorthy. He also holds a Manikka Veena instrument just like Saraswati, the Goddess of wisdom. Please note that the same icons have been reused for the iconography of Sastha.  He exclusively represents the part of a teacher or a guru. He can be compared to Vidya Lakshmi among Ashta Lakshmis.

Kalyana Varadha Sastha: He is a symbol of marriage and auspiciousness. Can be compared to Vijaya Lakshmi. He is also depicted with his two consorts.

Gajaarooda Sastha: He is the annihilator of enemies. Just like Gajalakshmi who  represents royal power.

Sammohana Sastha: Represents conjugal bliss and harmony and depicted with Poorna and Pushkala.

Santhana Prapthi Sastha:  Symbol of progeny, just like Santanalakshmi. He has a consort Prabhavati who holds Manikka Veena and also a child Satyagan. He is also called Brahma Sastha.

Veda Sastha: He represents Vedas and the knowledge they give. He is also called ‘Simharooda Sastha’ (the one who rides a lion). 

Veera Sastha: Similar to Dhairya Lakshmi, he represents courage and valour. This form of Sastha  is mentioned in ‘Adi Sankara Vicharitham’ which has Adi Sankara worshipping Veera Sastha in a place called Kudhiran.(Between Trichur and Palghat).

Building a  complete Ashta Sastha Temple at Veppampattu, Salem  was a dream of Guruswami Viswanatha Sarma, who was ordained by Paramacharya. But this project is not complete yet and  Villivakkam Sree Viswanatha Sharma Ashta Sastha Temple Trust is currently looking for financial assistance. 

I can see a similarity between this Ashta Sastha project of Guruswami Viswanatha Sarma and Skandasramam project which was completed by H. H. Swami Santhananda Saraswati Avadhoota Swamigal. Skandasramam is also about Skanda guru, the form of divine guru like Sastha (Gnana Sastha, in particular). Both are in Salem, Tamil Nadu. I have opened up regarding some amazing coincidences in a video regarding this, and this video is available on the page about 3-level meditation.

The Village as a Temple – A Unique Feature of Pappankulam

There is a unique feature of the part of the land in Pappankulam where all the above mentioned temples are present. The whole piece of land somehow resembles a temple in itself in which Sastha is the mulavar or the primary deity.

Whenever you look at a Sankalpa mantra in the Puja Vidhi (rules of worship) for any deity, you will notice that the worship of  Ganesh and Durga Parameshwari comes first.

Here are two lines from Ayyappa Puja Vidhi (Harihara Putra Puja Vidhi):

शबरिगिरीशाभिन्न पूर्णा पुष्कलाम्बा समेत श्री हरिहरपुत्र पूजां करिष्ये ॥ (द्विः) आदौ महागणपति , श्री दुर्गा परमेश्वरी पूजनं च करिष्ये ॥

These two lines in Sanskrit say, “I am going to perform Puja for the one who lives in Sabari giri, or Harihara putra (Ayyappa) who is with Poorna and Pushkala. First, I will perform Puja for Maha Ganapathi and Durga Parameshwari.”

When you enter Pappankulam village through its western bus stop, you will soon be greeted by a Ganapathi temple under a banyan tree and a small Muppidathi temple on the two sides of the same street in the same location. (Just next to Ganapathi temple is the home of my father’s elder brother and I stayed there for one year when I was 15 years old.).

Mupidathi is the third  of eight forms of Kali. Pidari means head. It became pidaari and then pidaathi.  Temple myths in Tirunelveli district say that 8 Kalis after coming from Kailash went to Podhigai hills and started gracing devotees in various temples in place near Tirunelveli. These 8 Kalis are the forms of one divinity which is the same as Chandika, Tripura Sundari or Durga Parameshwari.

So, when you step inside Pappankulam to visit Sastha temple, you are greeted by Ganesh and Durga Parameshwari at the entrance of the long street that leads to Sastha temple and Kadana nathi.There is a pond nearby, just like there is a pond near all the temples.  After you walk for five to ten minutes, you reach the cross roads where you take left to visit Tiruvenkadar temple and Palani andavar temple (for Skanda); then take right to visit Ramaswamy temple. Then you proceed to visit both Chandika temple and Shankara Narayanan Gomathi temple. Finally, when you are about to reach the river, where you visit the mulavar which is Sastha. After having a darshan of Sastha, you reach the river bank of Kadana nathi, where you can proceed to visit the confluence of two rivers. This symbolizes the disappearance of duality and realization of oneness. 

My Own Experiences in Pappankulam

From June 1999 to April 2000, I spent my days in this village as I was studying in my 10th standard. This is the village where my father was born; my grandfather Shanmugam who is well known as Pappaiah Pillai in the whole village had passed away sometime during 1992. I was named after him. I had never spent much time here except coming for holidays and staying for four or five days. But during that one year, I lived here and enjoyed the beauty of rural life.

During those days, Thiruvenkadar temple was damaged. The place looked like a haunted place. The area around the temple was used as an open toilet by locals. The place was filled with thorny bushes, and pigs which were feeding on human excreta. I used to sit in the entrance of this Shiva temple for hours in loneliness, composing poems, thinking about stuff, meditating etc. 

During the annual holidays that year,  I wrote two Tamil poems in classical Tamil meters, one for Shiva and one for Goddess Saraswati. Here are the links:

Poem about Shiva: சிவசக்தி அகவல் – A Tamil Poem About Lord Shiva with English Translation

Poem about Saraswati: நாமகள் அந்தாதி

I also composed a short hymn, a Venpa (Tamil metra) on Thiruvenkadar and Vada Kalai Nayagi.

But those days I didn’t know anything about the temple myths; I didn’t know that Goddess Saraswati was associated with that very temple which was my ground of contemplative thought, creative writing etc. I only knew about the story regarding Durvasa’s curse on Saraswati last month, February 2020. I visited Pappankulam for the death of my father’s elder brother, who I personally see as my own father and that is when I became curious about this village. So, my composing a poem about Saraswati was a pure coincidence.

I now see all this as a miracle. 

Conclusion – What do Vedas teach and who is a Brahmin?

Whenever you study a scriptural canon or a spiritual/religious movement, it is important to try and understand the original intentions for such a tradition to come into existence. We should also pay attention to how ideas evolved. We should learn to see things from multiple perspectives. The story of blind men and the elephant comes to mind. You can read this post for more clarity on this: Logic And Spiritual Enlightenment – An Overview of Anekantavada, Saptabhangivada (Seven Valued Logic) and Syadvada of Jainism

The word ‘Veda’ literally means knowledge. There are two kinds of knowledge: 

  1. Knowledge that deals with practical things (this includes all kinds of practical knowledge: knowing which is the closest restaurant from your home to knowing the technical details of building an aircraft).
  2. Self-knowledge or knowing yourself, which is completely realized at self-realization or Atma Jnana. Upanishads deal with this subject.

Now the scope of Vedas includes both kinds of knowledge. No, I am not saying that knowledge about quantum mechanics or general relativity is found in the four Vedas which are in Sanskrit. But I am saying that the modern scientific knowledge which deals with such topics are also essentially a part of Vedas (or simply put, the body of knowledge we have so far as humanity). So that is what Vedas actually mean.

The four Vedas of Sanskrit deal with a lot of subjects. At the first glance, it may seem like Vedas are mostly talking about some complicated rituals which are no longer practiced. But why did they do those rituals in the first place? They tried to find explanations for what was happening in nature and human life, and they tried to manipulate it according to whatever they knew and understand. We are still doing it! Scientific community does exactly that!

Now, if we take this approach and ask ‘why’ questions instead of ‘what’ questions, you can understand many things. 

First we need to understand that early Vedic religion did not have concepts like Atma jnana, Mokha, Samsara or Karma. These concepts were influenced by Sramana traditions . It is not that Vedic and Sramana traditions were two different traditions which did not overlap. While Vedic tradition is a tradition that was collectively followed by a social group, Sramanas were independent ascetics who had certain teachings and followings. So, a Sramana could be a Vedic rishi who gave up the rituals and became an ascetic, after being taught by someone else, who is also an ascetic.

Ritualistic Vedic Tradition and Sramana Tradition

Let me quote from a part of a post I wrote which is ‘Hinduism and Dharma’. It differentiates the concepts of early Vedic tradition from Sramana tradition:

  1. “In Vedic religion, sacrifice is God, and it is more powerful than devas and humans. In fact, sacrifice or yajna created this world. So sacrifice is applied as a metaphor for many others things: birth, sex, burning a body in funeral pyre are all sacrifices.
  2. Devas attained immortality and went to heaven because of sacrifice. There is a story that says that when devas went to heaven, they destroyed all knowledge about sacrifice so that humans do not have access to them. But Rishis received that knowledge as revelation and gave it to mankind.
  3. Devas are not omnipotent. They depend on humans because they are pleased with oblations that we offer on fire. We also depend on them for rainfall, health, cattle, longevity, heaven etc. It is a mutual dependency. It is sacrifice which is omnipotent and that includes the hymns, melodies and the actual ritual.
  4. Each man is indebted when he was born. He owes to devas, Rishis and ancestors who are already living in heaven. So he has three debts. To clear the debt, he has to do these: a) To clear the debt to Rishis, he has to be initiated to study under a teacher and go through Vedic study. b) To clear the debts of Devas, he has to offer oblations five times a day and also offer seasonal rites. c) He has to give birth to a son to clear the debts that he owes to his ancestors. Progeny increases the glory of his ancestors in heaven. Also, a man is reborn as his son and thus attains immortality through son in the earth. At the same time, he also attains immortality in heaven after death.
  5. The wife and the son are two important people in Vedic religion. You are not qualified to offer oblations unless you are married, because you have to do them with wife. It is said that a wife completes a man by giving him the qualifications to do the rites.

So, you have to live a life as a house holder if you want to live according to Vedic injunction, as per Brahmanism. But when cities developed in North Eastern India, new ideas arose: the doctrine of samsara, karma, rebirth and moksha. People who were talking about these new concepts were wandering ascetics called sramanas. Many liberal Brahmins in the cities accepted these new ideas and tried to interpret them within Brahmanic religion which later led to asrama system. But Brahmins in villages were too orthodox and couldn’t accept these concepts because these parivrajakas or sramanas were not allowed to get married.

But slowly these ideas got absorbed in Brahmanism giving rise to Upanishads and the doctrine of Vedanta. Slowly, various folk religions, Shiva, Krishna, Vasudeva, Narayana cults got absorbed into Vedic religion and temple worship also became popular. Vedic popularity was replaced by agamas and puranas. It developed dharma as we know today.

But the heart of Dharma lies in purusharthas: Dharma, artha, Kama, and moksha. It places Moksha as the final goal whereas Vedic religion considered heaven as the final goal.

If you think about it, Brahmanism is life positive. Even though Sramana traditions were life negative, they actually offered a way out of psychological suffering while living. By taking the medititative aspects of Sramana traditions and combining it with life positive aspects of a house holder’s life, Bhagavad Gita came up with a complete path to moksha.”

The Essential message of Vedas

Based on what he have seen above, here is the gist of the message in Vedas:

When you look at the sun, the moon and stars, the changing seasons etc, everything seems to follow a Law. They also seem to contribute something to us humans. When Vedic people applied the same logic to human life, they concluded that humans should also follow a Law and give something back to the society and nature. We receive help from many sources; so we are obligated and indebted to all such sources and we have to fulfill that obligation.

So what is the Law that humans should adhere to? This basically asks the question, “How should you live your life so everyone including yourself can live a happy and peaceful life?”

According to the consensus that we have so far, a human being should strive for righteousness (Dharma), wealth and education (Artha), pleasures needed to meet one’s psychological and emotional needs (Kama) and the ultimate liberation that one attains through self-realization (Moksha). There are various means to attain the first three and in the modern days we don’t have much to take from religious and spiritual texts regarding the first three goals of human life..

But there is an enormous wisdom in the world literature that discusses the fourth goal which is liberation from all the psychological bondage and suffering, while living. The knowledge about it is obscured and distorted because of various issues: changing meanings of words, meanings lost because of translation, meanings misunderstood because of poor articulation or usage of confusing words, lack of people who are capable enough to impart this knowledge to others etc. A part of my work is to make sure that all that wisdom is made available in my blogs and books.

Who is a Brahmin?

So, who is a Brahmin? In practical life, a Brahmin is none other than anyone who excels in intelligence, knowledge and virtue than others (and not just anyone who is from a particular caste).. If a person is intelligent, ethical and knows enough about essential stuff, he is a Brahmin. He should be given  preference in roles like teaching, writing, scientific research, spiritual research etc. When a person who is not competent enough takes the role of a Brahmin (by becoming a teacher, a law maker etc), that will create a huge problem in the society. In fact, the intellectual gap between a stupid teacher and a brilliant student can mess up a lot of things. I will write a different article explaining in detail about how  huge ‘intellectual gap or difference’ can lead to a major social issue.

 I will give you a clue. Try convincing a typical right wing online troll about anything; try talking to him with logic. He would reply with either ad hominem or whataboutery. There are people who have a hard time understanding simple things but are completely convinced that they are intellectually better than others. When these people take up important positions in the society, it will lead to social disorder, poverty, unemployment, riots, chaos etc. It is exactly what is happening in India today.

This is exactly what Gita says as ‘Varna Samkara’ or the mixture of Varnas (Gita 1.43). In the earlier days, a quick shortcut to prevent Varna Samkara was to follow a birth based Varna system. But today’s society is very complicated. Varna Samkara in the modern context can be interpreted as a confusion in determining the roles and qualifications of people. To resolve that confusion, everyone should work on finding their own uniqueness and choose a way of living that suits one’s personality, abilities, interests etc. In other words, everyone should follow their own svadharma. 

There is also a deeper meaning for the word Brahmin. A knower of Brahman or a self-realized person is the one who is truly a Brahmin. He is Brahmavid, one who knows what Brahman is, in his experience. 

People who are caught up in the modern concept of religions, religious divisions etfc may have a hard time in being open to many things written here. If you do, then go through these posts:

A Brief History of Major Religions of the Major World Religions

12 Shocking Truths About Religions

Did Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Judaism Copy from Each Other?

Every culture has influenced every other culture during mutual interactions. It is only because of this influence that humanity has achieved a lot. But many people today call such cross-cultural interactions, influences, adaptations etc as ‘copying’ or ‘plagiarism’ which is both sad and stupid.

For example, today Indians wear shirt and pant, celebrate birthdays using English calendar, cut cakes and blow candles etc. Should we say India copied this from West or West influenced India?

Of course, a lot of Catholic churches and many Sufis have adapted certain cultural things from India as well. So yes, Indian culture has influenced Indian Christians and Indian Muslims. There is no question about it. Have you ever wondered why the Bible is called as Vedagamam in Tamil? It is not plagiarism but influence! Plagiarism or copying means a person using somebody’s work without attribution. This doesn’t apply to cultures.

Let me give you a lot of examples:

  1. The story of Adam in Bible is heavily influenced by Enkidu from the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh.
  2. The story of Noah and Manu was influenced by the great flood in the epic of Gilgamesh.
  3. The old testament doesn’t have the concept of hell or heaven. The divine justice is delivered on earth itself, which is indicated by fall or rise of states. This idea of divine justice was also borrowed from Sumerian-Mesopotamian cultures.
  4. The idea of Good and evil (Satan) in Bible was adapted from Persian religion; and Persian religion itself heavily borrowed from early Vedic religion.
  5. Vedic religion itself adapted many deities from other cultures: Dyaus, Usas and Ashvins come from proto-Indo European culture. Indra and Soma come from Bactria-Margiana culture. And according to Asko Parpola, Varuna was a deity native to Indus valley civilization ( I am a little skeptical of Parpola’s claim though).
  6. There was an ancient University in Taxila founded in 10th century BCE which should have certainly attracted students from all over the world, Even though majority of the people were unaware of other states and empires, there were certainly elites and traders who travelled long distance from the Near East. It is through the influence of this University, many ideas which existed in cultures close to it has travelled to far away lands. A lot of such ideas got distorted, modified, re-interpreted and even developed in the places where they reached. I see no other reason for development of new ideas during Axial age ( 800 BCE to 300 BCE) all over the world.
  7. Early Vedic religion did not have the concept of samsara, moksha or karma. But some individual rishis of Rig Veda might have been aware of such ideas already. These ideas were influenced by Sramana traditions and re-interpreted within Vedic context. Also, early Vedic religion neither had temples or idols.
  8. The stance against idolatry in Judaism was strongly influenced by the representation of the king and the state through images in Egypt . So, the stance against idolatry has a hidden and lost message: Do not consider a human being as infallible authority! But the Hebrew Bible is a theological and mythological narrative to explain real political events, such as the conquery of Israel by Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and others. Along with this, Jewish mysticism which is close to Eastern traditions existed and their ideas also influenced the old Testament.
  9. Followed by Taxila university, Plato’s academy was established in Greece in c. 387 BC in Athens. The idea of eternal hell was developed by Plato as a social tool to discipline people who wouldn’t listen to reason. Later it was adopted by Abrahamic traditions. Plato’s allegory of cave is another metaphorical distinction between real and unreal, just like Vedanta.
  10. Muhammad travelled from Mecca to Damascus every year for trading. In Damascus, he must have been exposed to various mystical traditions. No, he didn’t copy them. He simply brought it to Arabia which by that time had no state, no law, and no justice; People had primitive social norms, killed female infants, raided caravans, married irresponsibly and abandoned orphans and widows. Once thing I can infer is, the intellectual gap between Muḥammad and his followers was very large. As historians agree, Islam indeed improved the status quo of pre-Islamic Arabia and was an improvement to the existing conditions . So many ideas which we think from Islam were already existing before Islam; Muhammad just managed to reform some of them but compromised and adapted some olden values too.
  11. Vedic religion had a concept of Rna or indebtedness. It simply means human beings are obligated to follow a law or Dharma and settle the debts he owes for the society and nature. Failure to do so simply means a lack of gratitude. Dharma means law or way of life. Initially, Dharma was only about ethics and order, wealth and pleasure. But after being influenced by Sramana traditions, Dharma also included the way to attain eternal peace. They came up with three means to do that: karma (doing your obligatory duties without being too attached to the fruits of actions), Jnana (a direct inquiry into the nature of existence) and bhakti (surrender and love to one and only supreme God). Now let us see how all this fits into Islam. Muhammad did not call Islam as a religion but called it as Deen. It means law or way of life, just like Dharma. And the word comes from Arabic for ‘dayne’ which means ‘debt’ (just like rna). And Muḥammad insisted that submission to God as true form of worship. Jihad means struggle, which is the same as Srama in Sramana. And the word ‘khafir‘ originally meant someone who lacked gratitude or someone who hides the truth. If you put together all the pieces and see the whole picture, it will make a lot of sense.

12. Muhammad did not claim that he was bringing something new. He simply claimed he was restoring the original form of worship by Abraham. Who is Abraham? People have noticed strong similarity between Abraham and Brahma and have suggest that Jews and Brahmins were the same. A passage that is quoted often for this is:

“The similarities between the names of Abraham and Brahma have not gone unnoticed. Abraham is said to be the father of the Jews, and Brahma, as the first created being, is often seen as the father of mankind…’ We might also note that the name of Brahma’s consort Sarasvati seems to resonate with that of Abraham’s wife, Sarah [… each one’s identity as a wife and/or sister]. Also, in India, the Sarasvati River includes a tributary known as the Ghaggar…. According to Jewish tradition, Hagar was Sarah’s maidservant…. Both Brahmins … and Jews see themselves as the ‘chosen people of God.’ The Hebrews began their sojourn through history as a ‘kingdom of priests’ (Exodus 19:6). Likewise, Brahmins are also a community of priests. — Rosen in Essential Hinduism, p. 12.”

But I don’t think it is true; there is strong evidence against it. It will make more sense to consider Abraham as a metaphor for a Brahmin who lives between the rivers Sarasvati and Ghaggar. So who is the God of Abraham? It is more likely to be the fusion of aspects of Vedic deities Rudra and Varuna. When I was researching the origins of devotion or bhakti, I was able to trace it back until Varuna, who is described as the Lord of justice, expects surrender and repentance, just like Abrahamic God. And just like God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son, Varuna asks Harischandra to sacrifice his son. Later, the benevolent deity Yahweh (who is similar to Rudra, later syncretized with Shiva) absorbed all aspects of hundreds of older Jewish deities and the aspects of God of Abraham too. This also makes sense, because the same story about human sacrifice make a re-entry in India through a Tamil Text ‘Periya Puranam’ several centuries later. And this time it is Shiva (who absorbed Vedic Rudra) who comes in disguise as a sadhu and asks for human sacrifice of his son. Makes sense?

13. The lost or unknown years of Jesus in the Bible between the age 12–30 has been explained by many by saying that he has travelled the world, including Indian subcontinent. There is a document in monastery in ladakh which actually talks about Jesus studying there and it has been witnessed and translated by many. Jesus also said that he came to establish the Law (Halakha in Hebrew, which means the same as Dharma).

14. All cultures evolve their dharma like this: an animistic tradition that doesn’t have a concept of God but only believes in various spirits inside real world objects —-> Clan deities of various tribes forming a pantheon, sacrificial rituals and accompanying poetry — Evolutionary monotheism which happens by syncretism of various deities into one —-> Worship and surrender to one supreme God with names like Ishvara, Allah, Narayana etc. —-> The mystical path that involves realizing God as all that exists (Brahman, which is usually thought a direct result of worship and surrender to one God, along with Karma and Jnana. In Islam, there is Sufism; in Christianity there is Christian Mysticism; in Judaism, there is Jewish Mysticism and Hasidism. They all start with surrender and worship in the beginning of the path but also talk about the higher truth of oneness of Brahman; But since they use different names and concepts, use different teaching methods, enumerate the contents of consciousness differently (which is nothing but the actual meaning of Samkhya) and also define the stages of the spiritual paths differently, they all seem different. In addition to it, there are cultural, historical, political, linguistic, and geographical differences which has all been wrapped as a package to come up with the modern concept of religion .

15. Apart from Vedic and Sramana traditions, there were thousands of folk traditions with thousands of deities in India. Many were benevolent but absorbed into Buddhist mythology as yakshas and yakshinis who were the disciples of Buddha. They are also seen as various extensions of one reality in meditation. Vedic religion did the same thing by Sanskritizing all these deities and absorbing them into Shiva or Vishnu; if they were female deities, they merged with Shakthi or Lakshmi. And Shiva and Shakthi are again considered as two aspects of one divinity. Many people, especially from South of India think that this is bad. No, it is really not; the only negative consequence of this was denying entry and access to temple worship to people of specific social class. This is similar to ancient Egyptian tradition in which priests were the only ones who had access to temples and other people can only see the deity during processions. This Sanskritization of folk deities led to various monotheistic traditions like Shaivism and Vaishnavism, which were all united by Adhi Shankara as various paths of single dharma.

16. If you stop seeing things with modern lens using modern concept of religion, you can see the truth; if you take this modern concept as your identity and tend to feel superior towards it, it will certainly lead to intolerance. But if you go to the roots and see that it is all about dharma and its three aspects (bhakti, jnana and karma), then everything will be clear. You will agree with what I have written in this post: Shanmugam P’s answer to Why is Hinduism spreading so fast all over the world?

An article that you may be interested in: Pappankulam – A Village of Brahmins and Four Vedas

A Rebuttal to Ram Ablo’s answer on Hindu Misconceptions – Quora

I recently came across the answer of Ram Ablo who says that people who claim that all religions lead to the same truth are some confused and ignorant Hindus. Well, then looks like the list would include the following people too: The list of Ignorant and confused people who claimed that all religions lead to the same goal (according to Ram Ablo): Guru Nanak, Kabir, Rumi, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Shirdi Sai Baba, Vivekananda, Sivananda, Gandhi, Abdul Kalam and many others.

I see a group of people teaming up and supporting each other for promoting Hindu superiority, an illusion that was created in the recent modern past. This blog or this post is not intended to personally offend them but only refute the ideas they are promoting. And comparing this clash of cultural identity with Adhi Shankara’s debates is the biggest insult to Adhi Shankara.

Let me first quote his answer:

“The biggest misconception about being a Hindu is that there is no difference or distinction between the mundane material world and the spiritual world.

I see a vast majority of Hindus being utterly confused about this real and harsh distinction between the mundane affairs of the world and what is considered spirituality. Most Hindus mix up the two, and inappropriately apply the conclusions of abstract philosophical spiritual teachings to real-world problems.

For example, these ignorant Hindus say that all religions are the same, all religions teach the same thing, so people of all religions should be treated the same way, innocently, without caring about what these different religions say, and what the followers of these religions do in the real world.

This confusion comes from the unfortunate availability of all scriptures to everybody, irrespective of qualifications. Everybody reads books on Advaita and Brahman, and without the full understanding of the appropriate application of teachings to appropriate situations, they start talking bullshit about everyone being the same, everything being the same, no need to maintain Hindu identity, no need for any action, no need to protect and defend Hinduism against predatory religions, etc.

Here’s an episode from the life of Adi Shankara, the greatest teacher of Advaita:

Once during his travels across India, teaching and debating, Adi Shankara had a discussion with a king. The king misunderstood Advaita and thought that Shankara was teaching that the world is unreal, and nothing has any value. To mock Shankara, the king ordered his attendants to release the wildest elephant in his stable just as Shankara was walking down the path of the royal garden. As soon as he saw the elephant charging, Shankara broke into a sprint and quickly climbed up the tallest coconut tree nearby.

Seeing this apparently hilarious spectacle, the king laughed and asked Shankara, why he ran from the imaginary elephant, as according to Advaita, everything is unreal? To this, Shankara gave a witty reply that what the king saw as Shankara running was also equally as imaginary as the charging elephant.

This witty episode really explains the true philosophy of Advaita.

Adi Shankara was not a fool to ignore the real-world threat of the charging elephant at the physical mundane level of existence. He protected himself with all his physical capabilities. At a higher level of consciousness, the physical level is less real, but these two levels do not interact. This was the misunderstanding of the king, who mixed the two levels of consciousness and mocked Advaita.

But today, Hindus are getting confused from the opposite side — in their immense faith, they apply their naive and dangerously wrong understanding of Advaita to the real, physical, mundane world.

I have said this in many answers and comments — Hindu philosophy guarantees the spiritual equality of everyone “up there” in the sky. But on the ground, in the physical world of flesh and blood — conflict, aggression and predation are real things that need to be guarded against if this beautiful Hindu philosophy needs to survive.

If Adi Shankara did not see the significance of debating and defeating real-world flesh-and-blood people, and re-establishing Hindu Vedic religion in a physical sense, he would not have taken the pains of travelling through the length and breadth of India and establishing real physical maThas and temples and rituals. He would have just sat in his home in Kerala, thinking, “Everything is the same, so there is no difference whether I go and preach Advaita or whether Hinduism dies.”

As Kalidasa says in Raghuvamsham, “sharIram Adyam khalu dharmasAdhanam शरीरमाद्यं खलु धर्मसाधनम्” — “The body is the primary and only means of conducting Dharma’.

For the Hindu dharma and philosophy to survive, the “body” of Hinduism needs to not only survive but thrive in robust physical forms in the real physical world of flesh-and-blood. This requires protection and defence against real physical world flesh-and-blood threats of various kinds. This protection and defence can only happen when there is unambiguous recognition that everything is not the same. There are real differences, which is why there is conflict.

There is a Sanskrit saying — “pishAcAnAm paishAcabhAshayA uttaram deyam पिशाचानां पैशाचभाषया उत्तरं देयम्” — “Villains only understand the language of villainy, so they need to be answered back in the language of villainy.”

In other words, violence and aggression do not understand the language of peace and civility, and they should be retaliated in the same way that they act.

Let us not repeat the mistake of Prithviraj Chauhan who showed foolish and innocent mercy to the ruthless and cunning Muhammad Ghori.

Innocence is not a quality that is praised in Hindu scriptures. Knowledge and intelligence (of all kinds) are praised.”

https://qr.ae/Tz8WXN

My reply, which I also left as a comment:

The list of Ignorant and confused people who claimed that all religions lead to the same goal: Guru Nanak, Kabir, Rumi, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Shirdi Sai Baba, Vivekananda, Sivananda, Gandhi, Abdul Kalam and many others…

All confusion arises because religion, as it is segregated now, is a modern Western concept. The term ‘religio’ was initially used to call various sects of Christianity. During protestant reformation, they actually defined what religion is, and for the first time in the history, religions were defined based on beliefs, rather than way of life. When the word Hindu was first used in colonial period, it was spelt as Hindoo and used strictly as a geographical identity. Terms like Hindoo Christians and Hindoo muslims were very common. : 12 Shocking Truths About Religions

I grew up as a devotee, and due to intense suffering I went through, I surrendered and finally became a spiritual seeker, going through self-inquiry and mindfulness for nearly 12 years. Even before that I was devotee inquiring about life and throughout my life I have always received divine guidance.

I knew this similarity between religions by studying sufism and Christian mysticism, which say the same thing. And I also did a thorough research on life and teachings of Muhammad and Jesus. What happens in today’s world in the name of religions is not what I am pointing to when I say all religions lead to to the same goal; nor am I using this term as a ‘negative terminology’ given by British. The original word for Hinduism was ‘heathens’, and it was changed to Hinduism since it was offensive.

I studied in Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal Golden Jubilee matriculation school, Sankarnagar and I guess you can see the relationship with Adi Shankara. That school was indeed a blessing. Even if someone is not convinced by my logic when I say the original Islam and the teachings of Muhammad were the same as the paths in our own scriptures, they will be convinced by faith if they go through the story of my life. So it is not that I am talking about Advaita simply after reading some easily available material on the internet; I can backup what I am saying by science (psychology), scriptures and faith. I myself have written a detailed article for beginners about sadhana chatushtaya, the qualifications that you are talking about: What is Advaita Vedanta? – Advaita For Dummies

Since you mentioned Adi Shankara, let me quote from one of my answers:

Adi Shankara has never heard of Hinduism. Hinduism is a modern concept popularized by Irish missionary Charles Grant.

Adi Shankara debated with many people and made them his disciples once they were defeated in the argument. He did not convert anyone as there was no such concept called conversion or even Hinduism.

For your information, he not only refuted some ideas held by Buddhist monks but also refuted many ideas from the school of yoga, samkhya, pancharatra. If he existed today and came up with the same arguments, he would have been called as ‘Anti-Hindu’…

Shankara was not interested in defending any identity. Hinduism is an identity; that is how Hindus see it. But Vedanta that Shankara was teaching is a path.

If Shankara indeed defended Hinduism just like today’s Hindus do, this is how it would have been:

“Shankara: Buddhists are destroying Hinduism. That is because Hindus are not united.

Buddhist: yeah.. so it has got nothing to do with treating Shudras as third class citizens.

Shankara: look who is talking.. the follower of a person who left his wife and children to forest. No sane person would do that.”

But Shankara was not debating like that. He was not a right wing troll. His debates were more like this:

“The purvapakshin (opponent) says that universe orginated from unconscious principle called pradhana. But it is not possible because conciousness cannot arise from something that is unconscious.”

So he was dealing with ideas; not identities.

If he was alive today, it wouldn’t take much to refute the ideas in Christianity, Islam and even within Hinduism which are contradictory to Advaita. His arguments would go more like this, as seen in his commentaries:

“The purvapakshin says that those who reject the message in Quran will go to eternal hell. But it contradicts the idea of the most merciful and most gracious God which is mentioned in Quran itself. “

If you want to get a taste of how his debates sounded like, read his commentaries on Brahmasutras. it is available for free on the internet.

…………………………………………

What I see that is happening in the name of Hinduism today is just a plain hatred towards people of Abrahamic faith, shaking one of the very foundations of what this so called ‘Hinduism’ is based on: tolerance. Shankara was not fighting for a Hindu identity; this equates my Guru Shankara to a right wing troll who mindlessly abuses people without logic. Sorry… Adhi Shankara was not campaigning for BJP; in fact, he criticized many things which we would call today as an aspect of Hinduism.

An article that you may be interested in: Pappankulam – A Village of Brahmins and Four Vedas

What is Advaita Vedanta? – Advaita For Dummies

You may have already heard that advaita talks about oneness, the oneness of the existence that exists without a second; it says that this oneness is your true nature! But this is not a theory and not something that is meant to be just intellectually understood. This oneness is realized in one’s living experience which not only transforms you but also liberates you from all psychological bondages.

I will give you a short introduction on Advaita Vedanta but will also let you know about some pitfalls that one can encounter if certain things are not understood. Before Advaita Vedanta is taught, the disciple is expected to develop four-fold qualifications called sadhana chatushtaya. I will also quickly go over them in this post.

Adhi Shankara

First, advaita (non-duality) doesn’t really have a contradiction with dvaita (duality). And there was a reason why various dvaita (dual)) schools emerged after Shankara’s time. What is usually described as advaita philosophy or the non-dual oneness is the fruit of the spiritual path. What is described as dvaita philosophy (the duality of God and devotee) is actually a path. In the beginning of bhakti, there is duality; but it always ends with non-dual oneness.

In Advaita Vedanta, bhakti or devotion is considered as one of the means to purify oneself and develop sadhana chatushtaya or four-fold qualifications. But the problem with Advaita Vedanta is usually this: people directly go for the theory or the higher teachings in Vedanta without developing these four-fold qualifications. It is developing the four-fold qualifications that takes the most part of a person’s journey.

This mere intellectual understanding sometimes results in pure arrogance with absolutely no transformation. When you tell someone that sounds like “You are God”, it is very likely that it will be misunderstood; the person may also forget his duties and become very careless; because from the perspective of Advaita, nothing really matters. But in practical life; everything matters. Even after realizing the truth in your experience, you still have to play the role in the real world. You would certainly live like a water drop on a lotus leaf, but the world still sees you as an individual bound to the obligations of the society.

Advaita and Dvaita

People like Ramanuja and Madhva who came after Shankara addressed the above mentioned problem. If you see the traditions in the world which see God and devotee as separate, you will notice that they all promise a place after death where they can live in God’s presence. We often hear vivid descriptions of vaikunta, paradise or heaven. This was just used as a trick or a social tool. To the general public, it was this teaching which was appropriate: develop loving devotion to God and surrender to him; after death, you can live with him forever. This was like tricking a child. By saying this, they can lure them into showing devotion. This in turns purifies the mind. According to the tradition, even if liberation is not possible for a person in this life, the spiritual development that he went through is carried forward to the next birth.

There have been many places in the world where people were quite primitive and completely lacked any moral sense or obligation towards society. Just imagine a vast peninsula which has no empire, no state, no kings and no public laws. 5th century Saudi Arabia is one of them. Many people, as a reaction to how things have turned out in the name of Islam and how Muhammad’s life was described in Hadiths written down many decades after his death, have come to a conclusion that Muhammad was a power hungry warlord, who was just after power, women and sex. But that will contradict many things in Islam itself.

Even the critics of Muhammad agree that Muhammad was a genius. Also, historians suggest that he was not illiterate as it is believed by Muslims. Muhammad also played tricks; he made compromises too. The idea of eternal hell was actually a social tool developed by Plato, a disciple of Socrates; it is not there in old Testament of Bible. Muhammad used this concept to discipline the people of Arabia. He was against female infanticide and many other social problems. Most importantly, Muhammad asserted that surrender or submission to one supreme God is the true form of worship. There was no concept of religion those days, even though people had various beliefs. People only had a concept called ‘deen’ which meant ‘the way of life”. Muhammad asserted that Islam or surrender to God is the right way of life or deen.

Islam stands on five pillars which basically is: oneness of God and submission to God; 5 prayers a day which has different postures just like yoga, a way to convey submission and also to focus one’s attention; fasting for a whole month with an attitude of devotion and love; going on a sacred pilgrimage where various devotees from different races and places gather as a symbol of equality and charity to the poor. But Muslims later became too sensitive towards their faith; even though Muhammad improved the status quo of Arabia as per historians, he couldn’t improve it completely in his lifetime. So, only Sufi tradition preserved the original teachings more clearly, which the mainstream Islam rejects as heresy.

Jesus also insisted that love towards God and love towards human beings are his two commandments.

So the bottomline is devotion is one of the ways to purify oneself. And a personal God or a personification is required for it; this divine has to be one and not many, so that one can surrender to it. It is the same as prapanna as described in Gita.

Apart from devotion, karma yoga, or doing one’s duties without attachment to the fruits of actions, also purifies the mind and develops the four-fold qualifications. Karma yoga is about focusing on the action rather than the result, on the present rather than the future; it teaches to develop love towards one’s actions and do the actions with focus and involvement, not with a mind that is daydreaming about the results. Pure Karma yoga produces states of flow quite effortlessly. Other sitting meditations and kundalini yoga also comes under karma yoga.

Four-Fold Qualifications – Sadhana Chatushtaya

So now you may ask; what are the fourfold qualifications that one should develop?

  1. Shad-Sampat

Out of those four, let us just see one for now, which is Shad-Sampat or six virtues. So this one among the fourfold qualifications is further divided into six:

Sama: calmness of the mind;

Dama: gaining control over the mind and senses.

Uparati: The tendency to naturally drop certain conditioned behaviors and habits; for example, you may lose interest in certain habits.

Titiksha – forbearance. Not getting too excited in pleasure and ability to withstand suffering.

Sraddha – trust; This is a trust in spiritual path and see it as a working method; this trust naturally develops once you start feeling some changes in your mind and experience.

Samadhana: Resolving all the internal conflicts so that you gain the ability to focus.

The most practical way to go for is to first slowly develop these six virtues; don’t give any deadline. The practice has to be taken slowly and gradually so that you also live your social life in the meantime. For example, a person who starts with can first work on forbearance or titiksha. This means that whenever you go through suffering, you should go through it willingly since there is no choice and try to bear the suffering without getting too distressed about it. You can also develop shraddha, or a faith that you would be able to grow spiritually as the time goes by.

Focused attention meditation that involves focusing on an object (like dhyana or shamata) can bring calmness to the mind and develop sama. It will also slowly develop dama or self-control. That is essentially about bringing the wandering mind under control without letting the mind distracted by sense objects. Uparati is something that would happen naturally when other virtues are developed. Samadhana is something you develop last.

2) Vairagya – Non-attachment

The next thing in four-fold qualifications that I am going to explain is vairagya or non-attachment. Many people mistake that non-attachment is renouncing one’s possessions. But one can lead a normal worldly life and still develop non-attachment,. This is usually symbolized as a metaphor: one lives like the lotus leaf in water; even though the leaf resides in water, it doesn’t get wet or the water doesn’t stick to it. Vairagya also refers to a certain state of mind; To understand that we have to learn about a concept called ‘hedonic treadmill”.

Hedonic treadmill theory is a psychological theory that states that regardless of the objective outcomes of lives such as success and failure, the experience of life always returns to a base-level happiness. Happiness never increases as time goes by; the base level happiness always remains the same but it keeps us in the hedonic treadmill, chasing for objective outcomes without actually reaching anywhere. This base-level happiness is a limited happiness and one is not satisfied with it. It is only self-realization or the realization of the truth about one’s own nature which can make the limited level of happiness to blossom fully, giving an individual the absolute sense of fulfillment and liberation. When one realizes that running on this hedonic treadmill is fruitless and is not interested in the objective outcomes, he has developed vairagya.

Now one may ask, if one chooses to not to be interested in the objective outcomes, won’t he stop working or performing? No; this will increase the performance. Because it will actually make the karma yoga to mature. Since you are not interested in objective outcomes, you can be fully devoted to action, while doing your obligatory duties. As I said, flow states are very normal when one is in karma yoga; so actions actually give a sense of enjoyment at this point.

3. MumuksutvaDesire for liberation

Now you know that self-realization and the liberation that happens because of it while living is the only thing which will give you the absolute fulfilment. So, your concern shifts automatically from worldly desire to the desire for liberation. Your calm mind, non-attachment and the desire for liberation will make you more focused on the practice and also make you qualified to understand what Viveka is. It might have taken a few decades to reach up to this point. But there are exceptions, like people who get vairagya and mumuksutva in a very early age in life.

4. Viveka – Discrimination of the observer and observed.

One need to realize something that is self-evident. You know the existence of anything because you are conscious of it. You know that a tree you see exists because it is a perception perceived by the consciousness. Consciousness is what that knows everything; that knows that this world exists. So, existence of anything is only known by the existence of consciousness. You are also aware of your own thoughts, emotions, subtle mental movements and mood changes as they float as the contents of your consciousness. When you see everything from a totally subjective perspective, you will see that this world itself appears as a perception in your consciousness; it is as if everything is happening within consciousness.

It takes a great deal of objectivity to understand and develop viveka. Usually a human being is too attached to the concept of ‘me’ or ‘self, which gives him a sense of separation from the world. But when you develop non-attachment, it will be very easy to see this concept of little ‘me’ as an object of consciousness, which only appears to exist because the thoughts flow in the mind in a high speed. Just like a fan which is running in a high speed creates an illusion that there is a circle, the thoughts when moving fast gives a continuity and creates the illusion of self.

But if you take a step back from your thoughts and just observe what they do, sometimes they may slow down and you may be able to silence your mind for a few seconds. In that few seconds, you would just exist as consciousness simply perceiving sense perceptions. You can now see that you are actually consciousness itself, and that the thoughts, emotions, body and everything you perceive in consciousness is not you; But consciousness, which is the true Self, is now identified with the body, mind and many other concepts like one’s beliefs, one’s nationality, one’s religion etc. It mistakes a selective part of what is observed as self. This idea of mistaking the body and mind as one’s self is avidya or root ignorance, which is considered as the root cause of all suffering.

Since it is because of consciousness that the world is perceived, consciousness is seen more real than what appears on the consciousness. This consciousness or the pure awareness has no attributes and gives space for the life experience to occur and the perceptions to exist. Whether you are sleeping, dreaming or in a waking state, it is consciousness which pervades all these three!

With this understanding you can inquire everything that happens in your consciousness and see that it is not you; because you as the pure awareness that observes a thought or emotion should be separate from what is observed.

Since you can observe the thought, the thought is not you. This discrimination or clear identification of the observer or the pure awareness (the real you) and the objects of observation (thoughts, emotions, perceptions etc) is viveka.

Now this may raise a question. Doesn’t Vedanta say that everything is one and there is no two? Doesn’t the discrimination of observer vs observed promote duality? No.. Actually, this discrimination is necessary to remove the attachments and the selective identification of consciousness with body, mind and certain mental concepts related to the egoic self (my beliefs, my religion, my country etc).

The concept of oneness doesn’t have to be promoted as a teaching, belief or a philosophy. This is the reason some traditions do not talk about oneness or the absolute Brahman that exists without a second. It may actually confuse people at the earlier stages. Brahman is the same as your real self. Upanishads say prajnanam Brahman, which means consciousness is Brahman.

You can imagine your consciousness as a screen and everything that is observed in consciousness as moving pictures on the screen, In a sense, the screen and the pictures are different; but the pictures do not have any independent existence on their own, So the picture part is called as maya and the screen part is brahman. But you need to understand that the screen can exist without picture. The pictures are just modifications of the same reality. You may see thousand men marching in a screen but the screen is one. But until or unless this oneness of Brahman becomes living experience, theoretical understanding of what is Brahman is of no use. When the final realization dawns, both observer and the observed is realized as one and the same; this is Advaita. If you want to really understand oneness, it has to start with developing sadhana chatushtaya first.

The final stage of Vedantic path involves to be completely established as a witness or awareness; It is called as shakshibhava or nididhyasana. This is the same as mindfulness in Buddhism. It requires just being a witness and passive observer of everything that passes by in consciousness. You just let the mind happens by itself; you neither give force to the thoughts, emotions and subtle movements of mind nor suppress them. You simply let anything arise and pass away in your conscious experience. Your focus is more on silent gaps between thoughts and mental movements. these gaps keep increasing until the observer and observed converges and all the distinctions disappear,

There are many other things taught in Advaita like karma and creation of the universe. But they are not really much important, Understanding karma helps, but many things can be learnt in the later stage. The only thing one can focus on as a starting point is to work on purifying one’s mind.

I have explained more about Sadhana chatushtaya here:

An article that you may be interested in: Pappankulam – A Village of Brahmins and Four Vedas

You can read my book “The Truth About Spiritual Enlightenment: Bridging Science, Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta” to learn more.

Also read: Buddhism and Vedanta are the Same – A Detailed Comparison

Shanmugam P’s answer to What’s the essence of non-duality?

Real Life Lessons in Bhagavad Gita – Things that can be Taught to Children

(I am republishing an answer that I wrote on Quora)

Bhagavad Gita – The conversations between Krishna and Arjuna

The concept of karma yoga in Bhagavad Gita actually insists that one should do the required action without getting attached too much on the results.

Because getting hung up and attached to the fruits of action rather than giving your full attention on the actions you do will be actually a hindrance to the performance of action itself.

I actually read the same advice in a Forex trading website which asks traders to focus on action instead of results, and treat losses and profits alike because losses do happen in trading (like Gita teaches that one should have a calm and same attitude towards success and failure).

If anyone is having a goal but focused more on daydreaming about the fruits of actions, then he won’t focus on the action with full attention, involvement and love. Doing an action for the pure joy of doing it rather than doing it only for the results it gives, will also make the action easy. Because you are doing what you love to do. This is the essence of Bhagavad Gita.

The situation of Gita is very complicated. It is a fight between the relatives. One side has more people and one side has less. The beauty of Mahabharata story is that it doesn’t show reality as black and white as some middle age Tamil movies do.

In some slightly old Tamil movies, we would have a hero who loves his mother and sister, helps the poor, works hard, gets humiliated but first responds with peace then in climax fights like Bruce Lee, can dance and sing well and cannot see a single flaw. Then there is a villain who is the most cruel person that you will ever see.

But in the epic, it is different. First, both sides have good people and bad people. But none of the good people are shown without any flaws; this applies to Dharma and even Krishna. And none of the bad people are shown entirely evil. Duryodhana helps Karna when others reject him and Karna helps poor with charity. So, the it is quite realistic.

Now, one side grabs a state/land because of jealousy and greed, and other side loses it because of the temptations to gamble. All these are human weaknesses that one should overcome. Also, the war in the epic represents symbolically the struggle that an individual goes through in overcoming these, purifying the mind, conquering the ego and living the rest of the life with full contentment and peace. And Gita tells us to do all these without withdrawing from the world, without renouncing it and without stopping your actions and duties which are obligatory.

Then, Arjuna’s dilemma is this: His gurus are standing in the other side. He is asking, “How can I wage a war against my own gurus Drona and Bhishma? Instead, it is better to beg and live (those days it means nothing but taking sannyas).

As soon as Arjuna refuses to fight, Krishna talks about something practical. He is not interested in talking about spirituality at this moment. He just says casually in two slokas, ‘come on, Arjuna.. From where are you getting all this at this moment. This will only bring defame. This doesn’t suit you. Get up and fight’.. This is a very practical advice.

The very first thing Arjuna utters after that is, “How will I fight Bhishma and Drona with my bow and arrow? They deserve to be worshiped. It is better to beg and eat rather than ruling this world and the next world by killing my own gurus.”

Looking at it superficially, Arjuna sounds wise. But the two armies are ready to fight and the war is about to begin (in spite of many attempts to avoid the war). This is not the right time to say ‘I won’t fight’. That is why Krishna says that the war has happened by chance ( ‘yadruccaya ca upapannam – Gita 2–32’). A person who refuses to fight after coming to the war field will be seen as a coward rather than a non-violent man. When the army general refutes to fight for India, in India- Pakistan war by saying that his high school teacher is fighting for Pakistan army, especially when the war is ready to begin the next moment, it doesn’t look practical. In fact, the duty of the army general is to fight and that is his responsibility.

It also talks about svadharma. The essential meaning of this is one should only do the work or pursue a career that one is qualified for, the work that suits one’s personality and abilities. This very well applies to the modern day situation., People choose higher studies and careers based on its scope, based on money etc. Money is important; but what is more important is enjoying your work. If you are in a profession that doesn’t suit you, a job that doesn’t satisfy you, than obviously you are doing some job that is not compatible with your svadharma.

Many people link svadharma to varna but the inner and original or intended meaning of svadharma is just this. And that is one of the important messages in Gita.

Since Arjuna’s svadharma is being a warrior Krishna reminds him that it is people like him who are needed for the society when such a war occurs. A lot of attempts have been made to avoid the war and it is of no use.

Also, since this is about waging a war in an emergency situation even if our favourite people are on the other side, it teaches that one should be impartial, unbiased and neutral minded.

Then it gets into deep spiritual discussion. Krishna says, “you sound wise; but you forget that true jnanis do not worry about birth and death. (which means Bhishma and Drona themselves do not worry about death). wise people understand the impermanence of things in life”

But without getting into the deepest philosophy of Gita, this much can be taught to school children.

I have a 3 year old son. I have taught him a Gita verse, a Tirukkural, and a few other lines like, “yadhum ure, yaavarum kelir’ ‘anbe sivam’ and ‘vasudhaiva kutumbakam. You can watch him telling these lines by heart here: Shanmugam Piramanayagam was live.

An article that you may be interested in: Pappankulam – A Village of Brahmins and Four Vedas

12 Shocking Truths About Religions

  1. Religion, understood as something related to ‘beliefs’ is a modern Western concept which did not exist 300 years before. {Nongbri,Brent (2013). Before Religion – A History of a Modern Concept. Yale University}.
  2. Religion as a modern concept arose during Protestant reformation, when many people began to emphasize ‘what they believed in’ more than the kind of life they lived.
  3. None of the religions have a word for ‘religion’ and none of them identified themselves based on beliefs. The religions used a different word to call themselves, which is Dharma in Sanskrit, Deen in Arabic and Halakha in Hebrew. All these words mean ‘Law’ or the way of life. It focuses on a way of life that brings ultimate happiness both to yourself and others.
  4. Hinduism as a religion is a modern concept popularized by Irish missionary Charles Grant in 1787. Before that, no one identified themselves as a ‘Hindu’. So in a sense, Hinduism is the youngest religion on the planet. Dharma was never based on an identity, whereas the modern notion of Hinduism is based on identity.
  5. Most of the attempts to define religion is based on the unconscious assumption that it should sufficiently resemble Protestant Christianity. When people debate about whether a particular ‘ism’ such as Marxism is a religion, they are debating whether it is sufficiently similar to Protestant Christianity.
  6. But essentially, all these so called religious traditions are the offshoots of a central wisdom which developed during axial age (8th to the 3rd century BCE). This was developed by inquiring into the nature of human suffering and finding liberation from it.
  7. The central wisdom of axial age was based on inquiry rather than blind faith. They kind of had their own peer review just like we have in science. Their conclusion about human psychological suffering and the way out of it had more to do with the sense of a separate self in human beings rather than belief in supernatural things.
  8. The central wisdom of axial age found that the key to permanent peace in this life is to get rid of the sense that you are a person or entity that is seperate from the rest of the existence. They found three ways that helped: Mindfulness and insight related practices (Jnana Yoga), practices based on unconditional love and devotion (Bhakti yoga), practices based on doing the required actions without being attached to the results (Karma yoga).
  9. Christianity is pure Bhakti yoga; Islam is a combination of Bhakti and Karma; Buddhism is focused mainly on Jnana. But the mystical traditions of these schools also have Jnana Yoga or practices based on insight.
  10. What we call ‘sanatana dharma’ or Hindu Dharma is a school which recognizes all three methods. It is not polytheistic though; Surrender is not possible with two divinites. So Hinduism as a polytheistic religion is a recent myth; we only had monotheistic schools like Shaivism, Vaishnavism etc.
  11. The various monotheistic schools of Indian subcontinent were connected by a single dharma by Adhi Shankara. Many folk traditions were also creatively absorbed within the context of Dharma and their elements were used as psychological aids. All these schools recognize different divinities as aspects, manifestations and various forms of one Supreme reality. If thought as formless, it is called Nirguna Brahman. If imagined with form, it is Saguna Brahman.
  12. So, all religions, if understood properly, lead to the same goal. This has been repeatedly asserted by people like Guru Nanak, Kabir, Rumi, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Shirdi Sai Baba, Vivekananda, Sivananda, Gandhi, Abdul Kalam and many others.

An article that you may be interested in: Pappankulam – A Village of Brahmins and Four Vedas

Also read:

Why is there so much hate between Hindus and Muslims in India?

Prophet Muhammad Exposed – A Different Perspective That Everyone Should Read

Hinduism and Dharma: The Distinction between a Religion and a Way of Life

Hindu Muslim Unity and Grey Block Illusion

This is called grey block illusion. Even though both blocks appear to have a different color, it is an optical illusion. If you hide the part in the centre, you can see that they have the same color… Hatred and discrimination is also an optical illusion, because it is a plank in your eye that hides your vision; you cannot really recognize a dust from somebody else’s eye. (Matthew 7)…♥️

Also read:

Why is there so much hate between Hindus and Muslims in India?

Prophet Muhammad Exposed – A Different Perspective That Everyone Should Read

Hinduism and Dharma: The Distinction between a Religion and a Way of Life

Here is one more illusion. But it is a deeper topic (The actual optical illusion you see in the image is called ‘the Kanizsa triangle illusion):

An article that you may be interested in: Pappankulam – A Village of Brahmins and Four Vedas

Prophet Muhammad Exposed – A Different Perspective That Everyone Should Read

I am republishing a few Quora answers of mine regarding Muhammad, the Islamic Prophet. I have maintained a neutrality and have written these answers in a way to make people open-minded and think differently. As always, I am writing this post to promote religious tolerance.

Why do you think Prophet Muhammad was a good person or a bad person? Please provide unbiased facts based on his biography wherever possible.

I think Muhammad was just like any other human being, a mixture of kindness and aggression.

If you watch old or medieval Tamil or Bollywood movies, you will see a hero who is endowed with all the positive qualities of the world. His love for parents, sisters, and poor people is mind blowing. He knows how to fight, how to dance, how to give lengthy speeches and he will convince you that he is the best human being.

On the other hand, you will see a villain who acts like an animal, has no sense of respect or regard for human life and emotions, will kill anyone for anything and doesn’t even have a simple trace of kindness. You will hate him!

But you can’t find a single human being in the above two extremes. The world is not black and white and people are not black and white. So categorizing a human being as good or bad is not realistic.

I see a human being as a process, not an entity. It is a process that begins in the womb and ends in grave, directed by two forces: nature and nurture.

When Muhammad was a little kid, he would have looked quite innocent, like this:

The society that brought up conditioned him. Muhammad got his moral values from his society. And this pre-Islamic society was not very evolved in terms of ethics. There was no big state or empire and there was no common law regulating the morality and social conduct of people living all over Arabia.

A question to ask yourself now is, if you had born in such a society, how would have you grown up and what kind of moral sense would you had?

If you were born in a tribal society of cannibals, you would have been a cannibal too. You would have not been taught that it was wrong because that is how your society survived.

Female infanticide was very common in pre-Islamic society. Many people were illiterates. Raiding a caravan was a norm. And there was no big leader to tell people what is wrong and what is right. It was also the time when polytheistic worshippers, Jews and Christians were living with mutual intolerance.

But what is the difference between pre-Islamic society and Islamic society? The new Islamic society was worse if you compare it with modern society; but it was better than how it was before. Islam was an improvement. But yes, it led to many negative consequences too.

It created a new culture which created its own art, music, and literature. But this is not to deny the endless inhuman deeds done by many people who not only followed this faith but also thought killing people in the name of faith was a religious duty and a gateway to heaven. Innocent people are still being massacred in the name of blasphemy, which I find to be the most cruel violation of human rights: Denying free expression.

Lots of temples were destroyed and lots of artwork was smashed. Some had purely political reasons. But that is not to deny some had religious reasons too.

But what does this all say about the personality and character of Muhammad?

First let us see what modern historians say about the historicity of Muhammad:

While the existence of Muhammad is established by contemporaneous or near-contemporaneous historical records attempts to distinguish between the historical elements and the ahistorical elements of many of the reports of Muhammad have not been very successful. Hence the historicity of Muhammad, aside from his existence, is debated

Apart from the fact that a person called Muhammad existed, we can’t really be sure about his life. Hadiths are unreliable because they were not written at the time of Muhammad.

According to Harald Motzki, “On the one hand, it is not possible to write a historical biography of the Prophet without being accused of using the sources uncritically, while on the other hand, when using the sources critically, it is simply not possible to write such a biography.”

Heger (2008) argues that Muḥammad “the blessed one” being a title of Christ does not necessarily preclude the historicity of the prophet of Islam. It rather opens up a scale of possibilities summarised in three alternatives to the default assumption of the historicity of a Muhammad recognizably similar to the hadith accounts,

  1. the Islamic tradition on the life of Muhammad is entirely legendary,
  2. Muhammad is historical, but was active roughly a century later than suggested by Islamic tradition,
  3. there were two distinct people, both given the epithet Muhammad or “blessed”, one active in the early 7th century, and author of the Meccan suras, and the other the Mamed of Johannes Damascenus, author of the Medinian suras.

Ok. So we really know nothing for sure. What does Quran indicate?

I don’t see Quran as either black or white. There are actually many verses that I like, which defines the nature of Allah. Allah is just an Arabic word for God. But that is not to deny that there are numerous verses that asks people to come to war even if they don’t like it, kill the kafirs whenever they see them and many others which are seen as totally inhuman according to the standards of an evolved society.

Before we explore the motivation behind such violent verses, let us first see what kind of revelation would have actually happened to Muhammad. Was he authentic when he said Gabriel dictated the verses?

It is possible to see things which are not there, and hear things which are not there. In fact, dreams and hallucinations are already capable of producing such an effect. Any content that comes out of such an experience comes from one’s own mind. But because of the convincing nature of such experiences, one would really think that he was talking to someone else and getting those information.

So, was there anything divine about it?

It is possible that Muhammad actually went through a spiritual experience. We can’t say anything about the nature of it. Whether it was permanent or impermanent, whether it was transformative or not etc cannot be said. We don’t know if it was what Eastern traditions define as self-realization or just a glimpse, satori.

Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was able to see Goddess Kali and talk to her but the experience is a creation of the brain. It may have to do with the right and left side of the brain. They appear to have two different conscious fields and sometimes act like two people being in one body, if the right and left hemispheres of the brain are surgically separated. For example, see Alien hand syndrome – Wikipedia.

By the way, Muhammad and Ramakrishna were not the only two people who claimed to have such an experience. Let me give you another example:

Conversations with God (CwG) is a sequence of books written by Neale Donald Walsch. It was written as a dialogue in which Walsch asks questions and God answers.

The first book of the Conversations with God series, Conversations with God, Book 1: An Uncommon Dialogue, was published in 1995 and became a publishing phenomenon, staying on The New York Times Best Sellers List for 137 weeks. The succeeding volumes in the nine book series also appeared prominently on the List.

In an interview with Larry King, Walsch described the inception of the books as follows: at a low period in his life, Walsch wrote an angry letter to God asking questions about why his life wasn’t working. After writing down all of his questions, he heard a voice over his right shoulder say: “Do you really want an answer to all these questions or are you just venting?”

Though when he turned around he saw no one there, Walsch felt answers to his questions filling his mind and decided to write them down. The ensuing dialogue became the Conversations with God books. When asked in a recent interview how does he ‘open up’ to God these days, Neale stated “I am reaching out to touch others with this information. When I reach out and touch others with this information I reconnect immediately with the divine presence.”

Conversations with God (CwG) is a sequence of books written by Neale Donald Walsch. It was written as a dialogue in which Walsch asks questions and God answers.[1] The first book of the Conversations with God series, Conversations with God, Book 1: An Uncommon Dialogue, was published in 1995 and became a publishing phenomenon, staying on The New York Times Best Sellers List for 137 weeks. The succeeding volumes in the nine book series also appeared prominently on the List.

In an interview with Larry King, Walsch described the inception of the books as follows: at a low period in his life, Walsch wrote an angry letter to God asking questions about why his life wasn’t working. After writing down all of his questions, he heard a voice over his right shoulder say: “Do you really want an answer to all these questions or are you just venting?”[2] Though when he turned around he saw no one there, Walsch felt answers to his questions filling his mind and decided to write them down. The ensuing dialogue became the Conversations with God books. When asked in a recent interview how does he ‘open up’ to God these days, Neale stated “I am reaching out to touch others with this information. When I reach out and touch others with this information I reconnect immediately with the divine presence.”[3]

Now you may ask, if such a spiritual experience has happened to him, wouldn’t it have made him as a more peaceful man? Not necessarily. Since the nature of spiritual experiences and self-realization has not been studied much yet (even though there is a growing research on this field), there is no way to really know how a spiritual experience changes a person’s behaviour and personality.

But there is one thing which is certain. If you say that Muhammad was a barbarian, I would say that he was a better barbarian. One thing very important to note is that before Islam, there was no such religion in Arabia which had charity as one of the five pillars. Historians do not disagree that Islamic society was an improvement when compared to the pre-Islamic society.

I do not believe that any book is an infallible word of God. I haven’t come across such a book. All religious texts are filled with scientific errors. And Quran, for me, is an outdated book. But I have quoted selective verses from Quran that describe the nature of Allah in my book “Discovering God: Bridging Christianity, Hinduism and Islam”. It is only those verses, which indicate that Muhammad might have indeed gone through a spiritual experience. For me, God is a not a person in the sky. It is more related to one’s experience and consciousness. So I don’t believe in a personal God, eternal hell or final judgement day. But by my experience, I know that spirituality is not nonsense.

Muhammad was neither too good nor too bad. He is a combination of various traits. He was probably cruel at times and compassionate at times. In spite of his good intentions, he possibly had a feeling of vengeance and certain amount of intolerance towards Jews of his time; that was probably because of his previous experiences in the past that put him through a lot of humility.

But he was probably very ambitious to bring changes in the society and had a good charisma. The critics of Muhammad during his time do not criticize him as a cruel or bad man. They called him mad and possessed. He was known to be honest too.

But in terms of modern ethics and law, he is a criminal (if the claims of his critics were true); child marriage and mass murders will land him in jail and may even lead to a death sentence.

But if Muhammad was born in today’s world in a developed country, he would not be doing whatever he was doing in his time. Because, the culture and society that brings him up is different; and hence the conditioning is different. So a Muhammad of modern day may actually follow the modern norms and try to improve the society.

2. How cruel was the prophet Muhammad?

Prophet Muhammad is one of the most misunderstood men in the history but also the most influential person in the history. A strong bias exists in the society among non-muslims which has led to a lot of misconceptions. One big mistake that people do regarding Muhammad is judging him based on today’s norms. But the pre-Islamic Arabian society was a society of conflicts, superstition, female infanticide, social disorder, inequality based on economic disorder, religious intolerance etc.

Historians agree that Prophet Muhammad brought social reforms that improved the status quo of Arab society:

According to William Montgomery Watt, religion for Muhammad was not a private and individual matter but “the total response of his personality to the total situation in which he found himself. He was responding [not only]… to the religious and intellectual aspects of the situation but also to the economic, social, and political pressures to which contemporary Mecca was subject.”

Bernard Lewis says there are two important political traditions in Islam—Muhammad as a statesman in Medina, and Muhammad as a rebel in Mecca. In his view, Islam is a great change, akin to a revolution, when introduced to new societies.

Historians generally agree that Islamic social changes in areas such as social security, family structure, slavery and the rights of women and children improved on the status quo of Arab society.

For example, according to Lewis, Islam “from the first denounced aristocratic privilege, rejected hierarchy, and adopted a formula of the career open to the talents”.

Muhammad’s message transformed society and moral orders of life in the Arabian Peninsula; society focused on the changes to perceived identity, world view, and the hierarchy of values.

Economic reforms addressed the plight of the poor, which was becoming an issue in pre-Islamic Mecca.

The Quran requires payment of an alms tax (zakat) for the benefit of the poor; as Muhammad’s power grew he demanded that tribes who wished to ally with him implement the zakat in particular.

How can one ignore this when talking about Muhammad? Muhammad is the doorway to understand Islam. When you truly understand Muhammad and his character, you can also understand Islam.

He was a simple man, though he was a ruler. This was his room:

More about Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him!).

  1. He was considered as honest and trustworthy by all people of his time, including his enemies. He was described as a person who was generous, always smiling, worked hard for the upliftment of poor and united the whole Arabia into single Islamic polity.
  2. He wanted equality in the society. He was very clear that no one should discriminate based on skin color, economic status and others.
  3. He was against female infanticide which was wide spread in those times.
  4. He introduced Islamic way of greeting people which is ‘as salamu alaykum’. It means ‘Peace be unto you’.
  5. He always had a smile on his face. “I have never seen a man who smiled as much as the Messenger of Allah.” (Tirmidhi).
  6. He was concerned about the welfare of orphans. It was probably because he knew the pain of it; he was an orphan himself. A Hadith says, ““The best house among the Muslims is one where an orphan is well treated, and the worst house among the Muslims is one where an orphan is badly treated.” (Ibn Majah)
  7. He helped people and co-operated with them. “I saw the Messenger of Allah on the Day of the Trench carrying dirt (that was dug from the trench) until His chest was covered with dirt.” (Bukhari)

Comments about him by historians and biographers:

Edward Gibbon (d. 1794), a historian and member of England’s Parliament, wrote, “The good sense of Muhammad despised the pomp of royalty. The Apostle of God submitted to the menial offices of the family; he kindled the fire; swept the floor; milked the ewes; and mended with his own hands his shoes and garments. Disdaining the penance and merit of a hermit, he observed without effort or vanity the abstemious diet of an Arab.” In other words, he not just endured the coarseness of an austere life, but it flowed naturally from him. He was not trying to encourage monkhood or self-deprivation, nor was he faking this minimalism to earn praise from the people. Gibbons continues, “On solemn occasions, he feasted his companions with rustic and hospitable plenty. But, in his domestic life, many weeks would pass without a fire being kindled on the hearth of the Prophet.”

According to Washington Irving (d. 1859), an American biographer and diplomat, “He was sober and abstemious in his diet and a rigorous observer of fasts. He indulged in no magnificence of apparel, the ostentation of a petty mind; neither was his simplicity in dress affected but a result of real disregard for distinction from so trivial a source … His military triumphs awakened no pride nor vainglory, as they would have done had they been effected for selfish purposes. In the time of his greatest power, he maintained the same simplicity of manners and appearance as in the days of his adversity. So far from affecting a regal state, he was displeased if, on entering a room, any unusual testimonials of respect were shown to him.

Bosword Smith (d. 1908), a reverend, schoolmaster, and author writes, “Head of the State as well as the Church; he was Caesar and Pope in one; but he was Pope without the Pope’s pretensions, and Caesar without the legions of Caesar, without a standing army, without a bodyguard, without a police force, without a fixed revenue. If ever a man ruled by a right divine, it was Muhammad, for he had all the powers without their supports. He cared not for the dressings of power. The simplicity of his private life was in keeping with his public life.”

His perseverance:

Consider a man who never knew his father firsthand, hardly enjoyed the compassion of his mother, and then lost his grandfather, and then his uncle and dearest wife simultaneously. Consider a man who lived to witness every single one of his children die save for one, who was treated like a menace and fugitive after decades of building a flawless reputation among his people. Consider a man who experienced physical abuse until he would faint, was starved for years by his own people, and faced countless campaigns of character assassination. Consider a man who was driven out of his home, sent fleeing to Madinah for shelter, only to find hypocrites there awaiting every opportunity to betray him. Consider a man watching assassination attempts against his life unfold regularly, as well as the murder and mutilation of his relatives and companions, and then the slander of his cherished wife Aisha (rA), the daughter of his most loyal comrade. Who could persevere with hope, and persist in matchless ethics, through all this except someone infused by a unique aid from the heavens? The Prophet ﷺ rose from that abyss of negativity and not only survived, but became a fountain of mercy and empathy for people, animals, and plants alike. This is nothing short of miraculous; only God brings the dead out of the living, and produces a spring from a rock, and nourishes a rose in the desert. Only God could have kept him smiling throughout, playing with his grandchildren, standing by his principles, and lifting the spirits of those who suffered so much less than him. Only God could have empowered him ﷺ to have compassion for the heartless, forgiveness for his enemies, and concern for the arrogant. Only God could have kept his heart grateful at times when others could not even be patient, and his heart merciful at times when others could not even be just.

In my recent book Discovering God: Bridging Christianity, Hinduism and Islam, I have shown the beauty of Islam and how its essence is the same as the essence of Hinduism and Christianity. It explains what true Islam is, the side of Islam which was preserved secretly and unknown or unrecognized by the mainstream Islam. You can find the link to the book in my profile.

Update: 1st October, 2019

Unexpectedly and by the grace of Allah, this answer has become the top answer of all my answers. So, I want to use this opportunity to let readers know a few more things. Religion as how it is understood in today’s world is actually a recent Western concept. It was created based on Christianity, when some Christian theologians were trying to prove that Muhammad was a fake prophet and Hindu deities were satanic (Read Carl Ernst’s books for detailed evidence). The whole concept of religion as it is understood today is based on Christian model, with a single holy book, a single saviour. But today many of us have made religion as an identity. People tend to be more inclined to prove that their religion is better than others. But true religion has got nothing to do with pride. It is a love affair and totally private. It is very sad to see that some politically inclined Hindus take political propaganda as authority. Even here, some comments are just trying to make fun and insult instead of being open-minded to understand the reality. This is not about your religion vs another religion!

Anyway, I just wrote a poem today. It is mainly an expression of gratitude, but also requests God to empower me in explaining the truth about religions to people. If you want to know more, buy my book. Here is the poem:

Also read:

Sufism – The Islamic Mystical Path of Love and Surrender

15 Things About The Character of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) Every Muslim Must Spread

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH): A Man of Character

This website debunks a lot of myths about Muhammad: Muhammad Fact Check

Also read this: https://www.quora.com/Was-Prophet-Muhammad-a-virtuous-man-or-a-man-of-good-character-In-some-hadiths-he-is-portrayed-as-a-slave-trading-sex-obsessed-man-If-these-hadiths-are-true-why-do-Muslims-follow-him-And-if-these-hadiths-aren%E2%80%99t-authentic-which-ones-are/answer/Shanmugam-P-12

3. What are the differences between Allah and Brahman? Aren’t they both the same absolute infinite intelligence? A stark similarity between the Quran and the Upanishads?

Before we talk about Quran, I want to explain something.

Most of the disagreements in spiritual schools are only about the terminology and not about the essence. This may sound too controversial for many to hear, but I have walked on the spiritual path over three decades to confirm this. You need to have extraordinary open-mindedness and willing to explore my blog and my book if you want to see why I am saying this.

For example, Shankara never discarded yoga or Buddhism when it comes to the effectiveness of practice or the truth that these paths lead to; but Shankara strongly objected to using negative terminology like ‘Shunyata’; Shankara also disagreed with certain metaphysical elements in the schools of Yoga and Samkhya. For more details with clear evidence, read this: Buddhism and Vedanta are the Same – A Detailed Comparison

The terminology in spiritual schools have created a lot of confusions. This is strengthened by the fact that the ultimate truth is beyond words; and it gets worse when the words get translated to another language. For example, atman really means ‘self’. And when we try to interpret all these words after several centuries later, we are completely unaware of the fact that these words have also had different meanings at different times.

But when you see spiritual truth as a bunch of words and concepts, you may not see this. You need to see words only as pointers.

Now, before I talk about certain verses in Quran, Muhammad has to be understood. (That is why I have included the answers about Muhammad in the beginning). His experiences are in a way similar to Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, (who actually went through multiple paths including Islam and confirmed that all these paths lead to the same truth).

Ok. Now I am going to quote the complete third chapter from my recent book: “Discovering God: Bridging Christianity, Hinduism and Islam”:

Chapter 3. The Nature of God, Adam and Eve and Abraham

In this chapter, I am going to try to define something that is essentially indescribable. So, the words in these chapters actually point to God, even though it can be fully grasped only when the oneness of God or the oneness with existence is felt in one’s moment to moment experience.

In Hinduism, God is described as Avyakta, which means impersonal. He is not a person. God is also described as Sat-Cit-Ananda, with three of his important aspects. Sat means truth. God is the only truth there is. All other truths we see are modifications of the same truth. Cit means consciousness. Your own consciousness is nothing but an aspect of God. But this consciousness is pure awareness, devoid of one’s thoughts, emotions, sensations and perceptions. If you look at your own mind, you can notice that there are two aspects to it. Your actual contents of the mind and the awareness which witnesses these contents. That is why the Bible says that God created man in his own image. This image is not the physical appearance of a person, but the pure consciousness itself. Ananda means bliss, which refers to the eternal bliss that you experience after you go through a spiritual transformation. This Sat, Cit and Ananda are roughly equivalent to Father, Son and the Holy Spirit of Christianity. We will see in what way they are different in an upcoming chapter.

We all know that human beings evolved through natural selection. So obviously, Adam and Eve were not real people. But the story of Adam and Eve has a metaphorical interpretation. When we were born, we were not only naked but we didn’t experience a separation from God in our early childhood. This is before the intellect understood the difference between ‘you’ and the ‘world’. During those days, you felt one with the existence and one with God. In other words, we lived in a metaphorical Garden of Eden. But this oneness was lost when we started to discriminate between the individual self and the rest of the existence. This was possible because of our own temptations to grow and this is also essential as a part of the growth. So Satan, which is the personification of our own temptations was responsible for the fall from Eden. When we developed our discrimination between ‘me’ vs ‘world’ and ‘right vs wrong’, we also lost our innocence and the oneness with God. In other words, we lost our paradise or the Garden of Eden.

Regaining this Garden of Eden is entering the Kingdom of God. It is the same as getting baptized by the Holy Spirit. For that we have to purify ourselves and regain the innocence of childhood. This doesn’t mean that you will lose your discriminative faculty. This means that in spite of the presence of your discriminative faculty, you would still experience the oneness of God. When Jesus says in Matthew 18.3 that you cannot enter the kingdom of God unless you become like a little child, this is what he means.

Consciousness and God

Let us now explore the relationship between consciousness and God and see how consciousness is the image of God. When you see a tree, you are able to see it because the sun’s light is reflected from the tree. Even though the sun gives light, both sun and light appear as a perception in our consciousness. In other words, even though the sun shines the objects, it is consciousness which shines both sun and the objects and makes them perceptible by us. Consciousness is like a screen where every sense perception including light, smell, touch, taste and sound are perceived. It is also the screen which shines the contents of our own mind, including thoughts, emotions, etc. So consciousness is like the absolute reality. You can doubt the existence of anything that appears as a perception in your consciousness but you cannot doubt the existence of consciousness itself. Because it is self-shining and self evident.

Imagine a television screen. You see a movie on the screen and the movie shows various objects. But do those objects have any independent existence apart from the screen? No! Even though thousands of objects may appear on the screen, the screen is the only thing that has actual existence. Similarly, God as consciousness is the only thing which has actual existence in your experience. After spiritual transformation, the psychological boundaries that separate you from God dissolve. Then you feel like you are living in an ocean of consciousness and you see God as the absolute truth.

David Flusser, who was an Israeli professor of Early Christianity and Judaism of the Second Temple Period at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem quotes a legend about Abraham from ‘The Legend of the Jews’ by L.Ginzberg:

“When the sun sank, and the stars came forth, he [Abraham] said, “These are the gods!” But the dawn came, and the stars could be seen no longer, and then he said, “I will not pay worship to these, for they are no gods.” Thereupon the sun came forth, and he spoke, “This is my god, him will I extol.” But again the sun set, and he said, “He is no god,” and beholding the moon, he called her his god to whom he would pay Divine homage. Then the moon was obscured, and he cried out: “This, too, is no god! There is One who sets them all in motion.”

This actually explains how Abraham intellectually discerns that God sets everything including the stars, the sun and the moon in motion and that God as consciousness shines its lights on them and reveals them. This legend is also mentioned in Quran 6: 75-80. Flusser also shows how the same concept is present in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

“But [once] when Janaka, [king] of Videha, and Yajnavalkya were discussing together at an Agnihotra, Yajnavalkya granted the former a boon. He chose asking whatever question he wished. He granted it to him. So [now] the king, [speaking] first, asked him: “Yajnavalkya,

what light does a person here have?” “He has the light of the sun, O king,” he said, “for with the sun, indeed, as his light one sits, moves around, does his work, and returns.” “Quite so, Yajnavalkya. But when the sun has set, Yajnavalkya, what light does a person here have?” “The moon, indeed, is his light,” said he… “Quite so, Yajnavalkya. But when the sun has set, and the moon has set, what light does a person here have?” “Fire, indeed, is his light,” said he… “Quite so, Yajnavalkya. But when the sun has set, Yajnavalkya, and the

moon has set, and the fire has gone out, what light does a person here have?” “Speech, indeed is his light,” said he… “Therefore, verily, O king, where one does not discern even his own hands, when a voice is raised, then one goes straight towards it.” “Quite so, Yajnavalkya. But when the sun has set, Yajnavalkya, and the moon has set, and the fire has gone out, and speech is hushed, what light does a person here have?” “The soul (atman),indeed, is his light,” said he, “for with the soul, indeed, as his light one sits, moves around,does his work, and returns.”

Here the word atman or Self is translated as soul. That is actually the real meaning of the word ‘soul’. Your true Self is not the self-image that you have in your head, not the opinions you have about you, not the story of your life but Sat-Cit-Ananda or God himself. As we saw earlier, God exists without a second. Nothing else has an existence apart from him. So you don’t exist as a separate entity either, even though it appears to be. Your Self is the Self of God.

The fact that God as consciousness and the light of everything is also described in Katha Upanishad:

“The sun shines not there, nor the moon and stars,

These lightnings shine not, much less this (earthly) fire!

After Him, as He shines, doth everything shine,

This whole world is illuminated with His light.”

Who is this Abraham? Was that a real person? Probably not. All historians agree that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses were not real people. These legends as stories were created to communicate subtle truths. First, the children read the stories. Then when they become adults, they could get teachings based on these stories, which metaphorically and sometimes directly convey a lot of insightful messages. This is how mythology and epics work. When I read the narrative of Old Testament, it resembles a lot with Indian Puranas (mythology) and Epics.

In the story of Abraham, God is shown to test Abrahmam’s devotion by asking his son to be sacrificed to Him. A similar story also exists in Periya Puranam, a Tamil text about Lord Shiva. The idea of somebody sacrificing his own son may sound barbaric. But we need to remember that these legends were created during a time when human sacrifice was a usual thing. Deaths and losing life was also very usual and out of 10 children only 5 or 6 usually survived to adulthood. One mistake that people do is to judge an older legend based on today’s social norms. But the world has changed a lot recently: now we have reached the agreement that human sacrifice is wrong, slavery is wrong and discrimation based on caste, creed or race is wrong.

But the story of Abraham was created to show an example of unconditional devotion. Such a devotion purifies one’s mind and makes him receptive to understand the absolute truth about God in one’s experience. The whole effort of Prophet Muhammad was to restore this path of devotion that is symbolized by the story of Abraham.

Many people have noticed similarities between Abraham and the indian concept of Brahma. The word Brahma has many meanings. It means the creator God as well as a priest. The word Brahman also means God as Sat-Cit-Ananda:

For example, Steven Rosen, an American author has written the following in his book:

“The similarities between the names of Abraham and Brahma have not gone unnoticed. Abraham is said to be the father of the Jews, and Brahma, as the first created being, is often seen as the father of mankind…’ We might also note that the name of Brahma’s consort Sarasvati seems to resonate with that of Abraham’s wife, Sarah [… each one’s identity as a wife and/or sister]. Also, in India, the Sarasvati River includes a tributary known as the Ghaggar…. According to Jewish tradition, Hagar was Sarah’s maidservant…. Both Brahmins … and Jews see themselves as the ‘chosen people of God.’ The Hebrews began their sojourn through history as a ‘kingdom of priests’ (Exodus 19:6). Likewise, Brahmins are also a community of priests.” — Rosen in Essential Hinduism, p. 12.

Probably, the name Abraham may be a product of Hindu influence, through Mitanni kings who ruled northern Syria and southeast Anatolia. Many people have written about the similarities.

Nature of God revealed in Quran

Now, many people may feel a little averse towards Islam because of a stereotype that it has gained in the last century. It is seen as a violent religion and many verses from the Quran are often quoted to show how violence is encouraged by Islam. But the reality is, there were groups of people and tribes who wanted to kill Prophet Muhammad and they didn’t agree for a peace treaty. The violent verses in the Quran have to be interpreted in the right context, as encouraging war as a self-defence. The ‘unbelievers’ that Quran mentions often is specific to these people who were actually waging war against Muhammad and the Muslims of his time. I see Quran as a beautiful poetry. There are many beautiful verses in Quran which points to the reality of God. Let us see some of those verses:

“And We are nearer to him than the jugular vein” (50:16). This verse means that God as consciousness is very close to you than anything else.

“And He is with you wherever you are” (57:4). This means that God as your inner light or consciousness is with you all the time.

“We shall show them Our signs upon the horizons and in their selves” (41:53). – Quran calls its own verses as ‘ayat’ which means ‘signs’. It uses the same word to refer to the things in the universe. Everything that you see is the sign of God. In other words, consciousness is God and everything that is witnessed by consciousness is a sign of God, which doesn’t have an independent existence other than God’s own existence. In Hinduism, there is a word called Lakshmi, which means ‘sign’. Lakshmi is also a Goddess in Hinduism, which actually means that it is an icon among many icons in Hindu iconography which renders psychological aid for devotion. We will see how this Hindu iconography is different from the polytheistic idol worship in a different chapter. But here, we need to understand that Lakshmi is everything that is manifest and witnessed by consciousness, where as Vishnu is the actual consciousness which is all-pervading (pervades all over your moment to moment experience). A name similar to Vishnu also exists in Islam as one of the 99 names of God. The name Al-Wasi’ means all-pervading, which is the literal meaning of the word Vishnu. Here it means both physically or externally all-pervading and internally all pervading as consciousness/the base for your experiences.

Verse 41.53 also says that signs of God can be seen within yourself. If God is all-pervading and omnipresent, then He should also exist within you. He exists within you as the light of consciousness. An-Nur, another Islamic name for Allah means light, which is the same as Cit or consciousness in Sat-Cit-Ananda. He is the light of everything, because it is with His light you sense or notice anything at all. He is within you. That is why Jesus said the Kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21).

In fact, the following verse from Quran explains about this aspect of God as light:

Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The analogy of His light is as a niche, and within it, a lamp. The lamp is enclosed in a glass. The glass is like a shining star. Lit from a blessed tree, an olive neither of the East nor of the West, whose oil is almost luminous, though no fire touched it. Light upon light. Allah guides unto His light whom He will. And Allah speaks to mankind in allegories, and Allah is Knower of all things. (24:35)

The above verse is actually a beautiful piece of poetry

“Wherever you turn, there is the face of God” (2:115). God is omnipresent. Everything you see is actually a sign of God and God is the essence of everything. In this sense, he is both the subject and object, the observing conscious witness and the observed objects. This doesn’t mean that each object is God, as it implies the existence of multiple gods. This means that the multiplicity of objects is an illusion and that it is God who exists as everything; it is God who exists without a second. But this is actually a final truth which is fully grasped only after spiritual rebirth, after-life or self realization, whatever name you want to use for it. Before that, we will be discriminating between God and the signs of God, the observer and the observed, the consciousness and the object of consciousness. This discrimination and clear understanding of the difference between the two has to be completely understood in order to walk in the path towards salvation. This skill is called Viveka in Hinduism. Islam also has such a discrimination. The significance of Islam is that it has a statement related to this as its first pillar and it is called Shahada. The statement is “There is no god but God”. This statement has a deep meaning. ‘No god’ refers to the contents of consciousness, which are like moving pictures of the screen devoid of their own reality. That is why they are called ‘no God’, meaning that they do not have any reality separate from God; God refers to Sat-Cit-Ananda, or ‘Truth, consciousness and bliss’ which is the only reality. The Arabic statement of this is something you have probably heard, which is ‘la ilaha illa illah’. This line is actually meant as a spiritual practice. You observe every thought, every sensation and sense perception and every emotion that occurs in the present moment and realize ‘this is not God, this is a sign of God’. In Hinduism, this practice is called ‘Neti neti’. In the initial stages, you can mentally repeat ‘la ilaha illa illah’ as you realize that the ‘no god’ part. But it is important to note that the final truth you realize in spiritual transformation is the complete oneness. That is both ‘no god’ part and God part are God. Because, ‘no god and God’ implies the existence of two entities whereas God is one without a second. The picture is also a part of the screen! We will explore more about this in a different chapter.

Let us see the quote of some Sufi mystics about this God and no God discrimination (Sufism is a branch of Islam):

“With no god the practitioner negates other than the Real, and with but God he affirms the Presence of Exaltation. When he does this constantly and clings to it, the spirit’s attachment to

other than God is gradually cut with the scissors of no god. The beauty of but God’s authority discloses itself from behind the Pavilion of Exaltation. In keeping with the promise, Remember

Me, and I will remember you [2:152], the remembrance is disengaged from the clothing of letters and sound. The specific characteristics of Everything is perishing but His face [28:88] become evident in the disclosure of the light of Divinity’s magnificence” – Najm ad-Din Razi

No one says ‘No god but God’ correctly unless he negates

everything other than God from his soul and heart.” – Ibn Ata’illa

A poem of Sufi Poet and Mystic Rumi is also about this discrimination:

The joy and heartache of lovers is He,

the wages and salary for service is He.

If they were to gaze on other than the Beloved,

how could that be love? That would be idle fancy.

Love is that flame which, when it blazes up,

burns away all except the everlasting Beloved.

It slays “other than God” with the sword of no god.

Look carefully: After no god what remains?

There remains but God, the rest has gone.

Hail, O Love, great burner of all others!

It is He alone who is first and last,

all else grows up from the eye that sees double.

Discrimination between ‘God’ and ‘no god’ is called as viveka in Hinduism and is considered as one of the qualifications that a seeker or devotee needs to have to walk on the spiritual path.

That is, God is neither limited, mean, narrow-minded, nor poor in resources. All such notions about God, which arise from considering Him as essentially similar to human beings, are erroneous. God’s realm is boundless and so is His vision and the range of His benevolence and mercy. Moreover, God’s knowledge is all-embracing. He knows who remembers Him, as well as where, when and why he does that. (2:116). – This is a very important verse. It actually says that God is absolute infinity and unlimited. In Hinduism, we have the term ‘ananta’ for God, which also means unlimited. The same verse also says that God is not a person and that attributing human attributes to God is essentially a fallacy.

“Everything upon the earth is undergoing annihilation, but there subsists the face of your Lord” (55:26–27). – This talks about the impermanence of things and the permanence of God. Objects keep changing their forms, but God, who is the essence of all objects persists. In Hinduism, impermanence is known as anitya. It is very important to realize that all objects, things, feelings etc are impermanent and getting attached to them causes suffering. Spiritual path develops non-attachment, which is the direct result of purifying oneself.

The next verse talks about the stage of purification, when you purify yourself by unconditional devotion and meditation:

“By the soul and That which shaped it, and inspired it to its depravity and its godwariness. Prosperous is he who purifies it, and failed has he who buries it” (91:7–10).

Let us also see some other important names of God in Islam:

Al-Haqq means ‘Truth’. It is one of the names of God which is synonymous to ‘Sat’ in ‘Sat-Cit-Ananda’.

Az-Zahir means the manifest; Everything that is manifest is a sign of God, which do not have an independent existence even though they seem to be. When this is realized in experience, you see the face of God in everything, as explained by Quran 2:115.

Al-Batin means the unmanifest. Purusha Sukta says that both the manifest and the unmanifest are essentially God himself. But only one quarter of him is manifest as objects in the world, showing His sign or face; three quarters of Him is unmanifest.

Al-Hadiy means way. God is the source, destination and also the way!

As – Salam means source of peace of bliss. It is synonymous with Ananda in ‘Sat-Cit-Ananda’.

In fact, we can come up with an Islamic version of Sat-Cit-Ananda based on the above names. It would be ‘Al-Haqq’ – ‘An-Nur’ – ‘As-Salam’.

Please note that all these names, including Hindu names such as Vishnu, Lakshmi etc are various names of one Truth, which is God. Each name refers to a certain aspect of divinity. Rig Veda says ‘ekam sat, viprah bahuda vadanti’ which means that the Truth is one, but it is called by various names by wise people.

Sat – Cit- Ananda – Explained Further

We saw that pure awareness or consciousness is nothing but God. We are always conscious of something. Even during sleep, consciousness exists but there is nothing to be conscious of. Then, it is like an empty screen. This consciousness remains always the same, shining on everything like a screen of light. The objects like sense perceptions, thoughts, emotions etc appear in this screen and the light of consciousness shines on them, making them visible or known.

Also, at any moment we are always experiencing something. Even during deep sleep, there is an experience of peace. Divine peace or bliss is the base level experience which is felt in its purity when we sleep. But when we are awake, this base level experience gets clouded with impurities like desire, hatred, jealousy, boredom, suffering etc. So we don’t feel the underlying bliss. But once the mind is purified, the pure bliss and pure consciousness is all that exists, and this screen of truth, bliss and consciousness continues to show the contents of consciousness, such as thoughts, sense perceptions etc.

The sense of individual self which acts like a barrier between your inner world and the outer world disappears. Along with it, desire, jealousy, aversion, psychological fear etc also disappears. Since aversion disappears, you are left with pure love, a sense of acceptance, forgiveness and understanding towards all human beings. So God is revealed as He is, once the sense of individual self disappears. You are left with pure conscious experience of being filled with love, the love which belongs to God himself.

So, along with consciousness, bliss and truth are also a part of the screen that we are talking about in our screen metaphor. The screen is made up of three dimensions: Truth, Consciousness and bliss or ‘Al-Haqq’ – ‘An-Nur’ – ‘As-Salam’.

That is the end of the third chapter. Trust me, these words from Quran are impossible for a random warlord of the 5th century Arabia which didn’t even have the scent of any Indian schools of thought, unless the person had actually went through some experience.

4. Is Islam a peaceful religion?

Now the most important question. When you see countless massacres that are happening in the name of Islam, the most obvious conclusion that a person would make is ‘Islam is a violent religion and it is totally anti-humanity.’

While majority of Muslims would actually want to claim that their religion is peaceful, people who want to show Islam as violent claim that true Islam teaches Muslims to kill unbelievers. They insist that an ISIS terrorist is actually the true follower of Muhammad.

But do you realize that this insistence comes from some kind of aversion or a feeling of vengeance, rather than an attempt to create peace? Or may be it is coming from the strong temptation to prove how wrong Muslims are. But what I am saying is, If a Muslim wants to claim that his religion is peaceful, let him claim so. Because, it only shows a good attitude of that Muslim to interpret Islam in a peaceful way. It actually shows that this Muslim who claims that his religion is peaceful will probably not kill an unbeliever, smash a temple or be averse to other religions. Is that a good thing or bad? If you tell him that true Islam asks to kill unbelievers and destroy temples, and insist that an ISIS terrorist is the one who follows true Islam, you are not really adding any value but it even seems like you are indirectly teaching him to follow this ‘true, violent’ Islam that you talk about. I think we need to stop this and help Muslims with the cognitive dissonance that they are facing! Let them interpret Islam in a peaceful way and help them to interpret that way! Is there anything wrong in doing so? After all, it can only bring positive changes.

The key to peace lies in how we are going to bring up the upcoming generation. These children are innocent just like the baby you see in the top of this page. What are we going to teach them? How are we going to bring them up? This is the most important question.

Past is past; you cannot raise Aurangzeb or Mahmud of Ghazni from their graves and punish them because they are already dead. But do not punish the majority of Muslims who are living today, by looking them down just because some ruler, who is not even a common man, did something bad to your culture long before you and they were born.

I like the way how Islamic Religious Council of Singapore interprets Islam:

Also read: What Everyone Should Know about the Prophet Muhammad

Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi and Other Non-Muslims on Muhammad, Islam and Quran

Why is there so much hate between Hindus and Muslims in India?

Hinduism and Dharma: The Distinction between a Religion and a Way of Life.

What does it feel like to be Spiritually Enlightened?

One of the questions that gets often asked by seekers is, “What does spiritual enlightenment or self-realization feel like? I am republishing the answer I wrote on Quora for the same question.

Life is usually felt as a journey in time. You experience it as if you are travelling from point A to point B in time, with hopes, expectations and dreams. It is an unconscious search towards becoming boundless.

Human beings are running in a hedonic treadmill. Everyone returns to a base level of happiness as soon as the effects of a profit or loss, success or failure, pain or pleasure fades away. So, no matter what you try to do, you really do not reach the place where you are left with complete fulfillment. If you stop running on this treadmill, even your base level happiness seems to go low. So there is a constant need to run behind a next achievement, next success or even next spiritual experience. This concept of hedonic treadmill is now a psychological fact.

Spiritual enlightenment/self-realization:  What does spiritual enlightenment or self-realization feel like?

What spiritual enlightenment or self-realization does is, it liberates you from the hedonic treadmill. Because you actually reach the completion or ultimate fulfillment that you have been searching for. Suddenly, the psychological time stops. You are not looking forward to the future anymore. So you neither search fulfillment in worldly affairs nor search enlightenment. Because every search is searching something in the future. At self-realization, the past and the future becomes collapsed in the present. You do not even feel like you have travelled all the way through time to reach that place. You feel like you have been always there. Do you think you can imagine this state? No, you can’t!

You also lose the psychological boundaries between you and the existence. Normally, you feel a difference between being alone and being in a room with another person. You feel it in your bones because your consciousness is trapped inside an idea of being a person or an entity that is distinct from the ‘others’. But after self-realization, you no longer sense the ‘other’ this way! The psychological wall that stands between you and the other breaks and melts away, leaving you in an ocean of oneness. This is what they call as oneness of God.

It feels like, the world and the life runs like a movie, and you are just acting your role, without even feeling that you exist (as a person or an entity). In fact, the word ‘I’ now becomes just a point of reference rather than an experiential identifier of your body and mind. You no longer feel that you are a character in a life story, experiencing it personally.

The distinction between inside and the outside disappears too.

It may sound too boring when you have not realized it yourself, but it is actually quite fulfilling, just like you feel during the end of a movie. After a movie is ended, you don’t regret that it has ended; so enlightenment is not something that will break into your life all of a sudden. It happens as a natural process after the game is over; after the drama is over.

How do you feel after removing a tight shoe that was hurting your toes for the past three hours while walking? The sense of separate self is like a tight shoe, and it puts a lot of pressure on you. You do not realize it since that is how you have lived your life from the beginning. But only when this pressure is gone, you really see how much pressure, strain and weight it was putting on you. You now feel like a free bird.

But words can certainly betray the actual meaning intended, when anyone who is free tries to describe it. This is beyond words!

There is a light inside you. Just follow it, walk where it takes you and you will find the source of the light one day.

There is something called seven-fold logic or saptangivada, which is a different form of logic that is used when talking about such subtle matters. You can read about it here: Logic And Spiritual Enlightenment – An Overview of Anekantavada, Saptabhangivada (Seven Valued Logic) and Syadvada of Jainism

I have put together a guide, in case you are a seeker; it has a series of articles : A Guide To Spiritual Enlightenment

Hinduism and Dharma: The Distinction between a Religion and a Way of Life.

(I am republishing the answers that I wrote in Quora about Hinduism. This is a complete guide to Hinduism. It is a collection of multiple answers posted in a single page. So it is very long. You can bookmark this page so that you can take your time in reading it.)

1.Is Hinduism monotheism or polytheism or considered both?

In my recent answers, I have been writing about Hinduism a lot but I noticed that the answers get a low visibility and agreement. I also kind of discovered the reason. I have been using the word Hinduism to mean something called ‘dharma’.

But people use the word Hinduism to mean a colonial version of system based on the modern concept of religion, which did not exist 300 years before. Yes, there is a difference between religion in general and the modern concept of religion.

So based on this, let me make a clear distinction between Hinduism and dharma. Hinduism is about 300 years old, the youngest religion in the planet, but the dharma that I am talking about has existed since time immemorial. Some use the term sanatana dharma; but I don’t like to use it because dharma includes both eternal laws and the rules and moral codes which keep changing.

Also, this dharma that I am talking about is universal, even though most of it developed in Indian subcontinent.

TLDR: Hinduism is polytheistic; the elements of this polytheistic religion is very old, even though Hinduism itself is a concept that is just 300 years old. But the dharma I am talking about is not polytheistic; but it has absorbed various polytheistic elements as a part of its iconography, seeing everything as the extensions or rays of one supreme reality.

Moreover, Hinduism is based on identity. The more Hindu you are, the more intolerant you will be towards Muslims and Christians. Politics can feed this fanaticism and can tempt you to be too defensive and sensitive towards this identity. You need a constant ego gratification that sees how barbaric other religions are, so that your own identity as Hindu seems better. So you will try to copy the concepts from other religions like conversion, blasphemy, seeing nudity as a taboo etc. There will be a constant temptation to keep the Hindu superiority alive and you can easily do that by constantly pointing out how worse other religions are.

In fact, to be a Hindu, all you need to do is to be born as a Hindu parent. You can prove yourself as a devout Hindu by constantly bragging about this identity. But to follow the dharma I am talking about, you need to apply it in thoughts, speech and action.

First, let us establish that this modern concept of religion is a recent invention:

Here is the excerpt from Wikipedia:

The modern concept of religion, as an abstraction that entails distinct sets of beliefs or doctrines, is a recent invention in the English language. Such usage began with texts from the 17th century due to events such the splitting of Christendom during the Protestant Reformation and globalization in the age of exploration, which involved contact with numerous foreign cultures with non-European languages.[22][23][27] Some argue that regardless of its definition, it is not appropriate to apply the term religion to non-Western cultures.[28][29] Others argue that using religion on non-Western cultures distorts what people do and believe.[30]

The concept of religion was formed in the 16th and 17th centuries,[31][32] despite the fact that ancient sacred texts like the Bible, the Quran, and others did not have a word or even a concept of religion in the original languages and neither did the people or the cultures in which these sacred texts were written.[33][34]

For example, there is no precise equivalent of religion in Hebrew, and Judaism does not distinguish clearly between religious, national, racial, or ethnic identities.[35] One of its central concepts is halakha, meaning the walk or path sometimes translated as law, which guides religious practice and belief and many aspects of daily life.[36] Even though the beliefs and traditions of Judaism are found in the ancient world, ancient Jews saw Jewish identity as being about an ethnic or national identity and did not entail a compulsory belief system or regulated rituals.[37] Even in the 1st century CE, Josephus had used the Greek term ioudaismos, which some translate as Judaism today, even though he used it as an ethnic term, not one linked to modern abstract concepts of religion as a set of beliefs.[2] It was in the 19th century that Jews began to see their ancestral culture as a religion analogous to Christianity.[37] The Greek word threskeia, which was used by Greek writers such as Herodotus and Josephus, is found in the New Testament. Threskeia is sometimes translated as religion in today’s translations, however, the term was understood as worship well into the medieval period.[2] In the Quran, the Arabic word din is often translated as religion in modern translations, but up to the mid-1600s translators expressed din as law.[2]

The Sanskrit word dharma, sometimes translated as religion, also means law. Throughout classical South Asia, the study of law consisted of concepts such as penance through piety and ceremonial as well as practical traditions. Medieval Japan at first had a similar union between imperial law and universal or Buddha law, but these later became independent sources of power.[38][39]

Throughout the Americas, Native Americans never had a concept of “religion” and any suggestion otherwise is a colonial imposition by Christians.[40]

Though traditions, sacred texts, and practices have existed throughout time, most cultures did not align with Western conceptions of religion since they did not separate everyday life from the sacred. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the terms Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, and world religions first entered the English language.[41][42][43] No one self-identified as a Hindu or Buddhist or other similar terms before the 1800s.[44] “Hindu” has historically been used as a geographical, cultural, and later religious identifier for people indigenous to the Indian subcontinent.[45][46] Throughout its long history, Japan had no concept of religion since there was no corresponding Japanese word, nor anything close to its meaning, but when American warships appeared off the coast of Japan in 1853 and forced the Japanese government to sign treaties demanding, among other things, freedom of religion, the country had to contend with this Western idea.[47][48]

According to the philologist Max Müller in the 19th century, the root of the English word religion, the Latin religio, was originally used to mean only reverence for God or the gods, careful pondering of divine things, piety (which Cicero further derived to mean diligence).[49][50] Max Müller characterized many other cultures around the world, including Egypt, Persia, and India, as having a similar power structure at this point in history. What is called ancient religion today, they would have only called law.[51][1].

The reason why a modern concept of religion developed:

The modern concept of religion developed to help European kings distinguish their power from that of church authorities. It was created to limit the power of the church. So life was segregated into religious and secular spheres. This segregation was not found in many other parts of the world.[1]

It is true that Hinduism doesn’t have a founder; it has founders; And most of them were British.

Before 300 years, no one identified oneself as a Hindu. There have been little intolerance between various schools of thought in India but that was not based on any identity. Most importantly, there was no ‘Hindu’ identity.

But Hinduism is actually an identity. Since this idea of Hindu identity is being constantly enforced by the society, politics and media, we are stuck in the world of comparison. Now it is natural that people feel an illogical responsibility to save their identity or Hinduism.

What is Dharma then?

Dharma is a way of living. It is not only about living ethically but to attain ultimate fulfilment and bliss in life through self-realization or God realization. Everything including Upanishads, epics, agamas, puranas serve as a means to direct you towards Moksha or ultimate liberation. The significance of moksha is Jivanmukti, or being able to live completely free from psychological suffering and psychological bondage; this can happen while living!

There are four goals in dharma:

  1. Dharma itself is a goal. It includes both the natural laws that govern the universe and ethical laws that govern people. More importantly, dharma includes instructions for attaining moksha or liberation.
  2. Artha – You don’t have to renounce the world for liberation. You are free to enjoy sufficient wealth.
  3. Kama – Pleasures are also not denied.
  4. Moksha – Dharma and moksha are mandatory in the path of dharma; acquiring wealth and pleasure is optional. It is typical for some people to have no attachment from both of these from the beginning and they tend to take sannyas earlier or just live as a bachelor.

In order to walk towards attaining God or liberation, dharma gives you three methods which can be combined in one’s life:

  1. Karma: Doing one’s duties while working on developing non-attachment to the fruits of action is karma yoga. Karma yoga involves choosing a way of living that suits your abilities and personality or svadharma. You as a person have certain obligations like make a good living and taking care of your family. But trying to do it with a sense of surrender and non-attachment prepares a person for self-realization and Moksha.
  2. Bhakti: Unconditional love towards one supreme God. Love and surrender cannot happen in a polytheistic religion. You cannot surrender to two different things. Dharma is a form of monism which considers Brahman as the ultimate reality and the essence of everything. But this Nirguna Brahman that is without attributes can be personified as Saguna Brahman or a God with a form. But unless it is monotheistic devotion, bhakti won’t make any sense. You are free to choose a specific form for bhakti. Bhakti also purifies one’s mind and prepares a person for self-realization and Moksha.
  3. Jnana: This involves inquiry into the nature of self and called as jnana yoga. It involves closely inspecting the contents of your consciousness, inquiring deeply into the nature of self and engaging in meditations like nididhyasana or mindfulness. Jnana not only includes this practice but also includes the actual self-realization itself, when you realize God in your experience. This can happen while living and give you the ultimate fulfillment and bliss that everyone is unconsciously searching for. The path of jnana involves getting insight about your own mind and its unconscious layers and untying many mental knots on the process.

Among all these three, bhakti is very common. It is found in dharma, Islam and the teachings of Jesus. Islam itself means submission to God. Bhakti is something that even a layman can understand. But according to dharma, we should work on developing bhakti as a pure unconditional devotion, instead of seeing it as a means to get what we desire. Only that pure devotion can purify your mind and make you ready for Jnana.

So dharma doesn’t have any conflict with the teachings of Jesus or Muhammad as far as the pure bhakti is concerned. Because no matter what one believes in (whether hell and heaven or Moksha), the devotion itself has the ability to lead one towards liberation. It is an effect that comes with a practice of devotion itself, regardless of what beliefs that devotion is based on.

There is something very important to notice here. Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad has only the bhakti part. They don’t cover jnana. Even though certain code of conduct is given and there is also a concept of surrender, the complete system of Karma Yoga as defined in Bhagavad Gita is not found in the Bible or Quran. Similarly, Buddha’s teachings concentrates deeply on jnana but ignore karma and bhakti. Dharma is the only one which has karma yoga, bhakti and jnana. In other words, dharma is not contradictory to the central teachings of both Jesus and Muhammad, but very complimentary. Dharma provides what other schools do not provide!

The reason why Bhagavad Gita is so central to dharma is because it defines dharma, elaborating on all the three methods that one can put together to reach the highest goal of dharma, which is moksha.

Dharma is a system of inquiry rather than a belief system. All rituals, stories and iconography can be interpreted in the context of dharma. This is the main difference between dharma and various polytheistic traditions.

While many Hindus talk about saving Hinduism, dharma doesn’t depend on any such community to save itself. There is a promise in Bhagavad Gita 4.7:

yadā yadā hi dharmasya glānir bhavati bhārata
abhyutthānam adharmasya tadātmānaṁ sṛijāmyaham

Meaning: Whenever there is a decline in dharma and an increase in adharma, O Arjun, at that time I manifest myself on earth.

Adharma doesn’t just mean something that is unethical, but it means violating the overall dharma.

2. What is, in detail, the Hindu religion?

Hinduism is a word that points to a geographical location. But it is not used as a geographical identity. It is understood as an umbrella term that connects various religious traditions. But the concepts that are common in all traditions of our subcontinent are the following:

  1. Atma Jnana or self realization
  2. Moksha or liberation.

This central nerve is forgotten and ignored by most of the Hindus today. But if you understand each concept in Hinduism by looking at its relationship with moksha, you will get a new understanding and extreme clarity on what this religion is all about.

There are four central goals in life, according to Hinduism: dharma (righteousness, social order and code of conduct), artha (wealth and education), kama (pleasure) and moksha (liberation). Moksha is the final and ultimate goal.

First, to distinguish Hinduism from Brahmanism, or the Vedic religion, let me quote from my recent answer:

What’s the difference between Hinduism and the Vedic religion?

Both are entirely different. Vedic religion is no longer followed.

When I say Vedic religion, I am talking about Brahmanism, a unique religion on it’s own which was very popular before the time of Upanishads and after the early Rig Vedic period.

Here are the aspects of Vedic religion.

  1. In Vedic religion, sacrifice is God, and it is more powerful than devas and humans. In fact, sacrifice or yajna created this world. So sacrifice is applied as a metaphor for many others things: birth, sex, burning a body in funeral pyre are all sacrifices.
  2. Devas attained immortality and went to heaven because of sacrifice. There is a story that says that when devas went to heaven, they destroyed all knowledge about sacrifice so that humans do not have access to them. But Rishis received that knowledge as revelation and gave it to mankind.
  3. Devas are not omnipotent. They depend on humans because they are pleased with oblations that we offer on fire. We also depend on them for rainfall, health, cattle, longevity, heaven etc. It is a mutual dependency. It is sacrifice which is omnipotent and that includes the hymns, melodies and the actual ritual.
  4. Each man is indebted when he was born. He owes to devas, Rishis and ancestors who are already living in heaven. So he has three debts. To clear the debt, he has to do these: a) To clear the debt to Rishis, he has to be initiated to study under a teacher and go through Vedic study. b) To clear the debts of Devas, he has to offer oblations five times a day and also offer seasonal rites. c) He has to give birth to a son to clear the debts that he owes to his ancestors. Progeny increases the glory of his ancestors in heaven. Also, a man is reborn as his son and thus attains immortality through son in the earth. At the same time, he also attains immortality in heaven after death.
  5. The wife and the son are two important people in Vedic religion. You are not qualified to offer oblations unless you are married, because you have to do them with wife. It is said that a wife completes a man by giving him the qualifications to do the rites.

So, you have to live a life as a house holder if you want to live according to Vedic injunction, as per Brahmanism. But when cities developed in North Eastern India, new ideas arose: the doctrine of samsara, karma, rebirth and moksha. People who were talking about these new concepts were wandering ascetics called sramanas. Many liberal Brahmins in the cities accepted these new ideas and tried to interpret them within Brahmanic religion which later led to asrama system. But Brahmins in villages were too orthodox and couldn’t accept these concepts because these parivrajakas or sramanas were not allowed to get married.

But slowly these ideas got absorbed in Brahmanism giving rise to Upanishads and the doctrine of Vedanta. Slowly, various folk religions, Shiva, Krishna, Vasudeva, Narayana cults got absorbed into Vedic religion and temple worship also became popular. Vedic popularity was replaced by agamas and puranas. It developed Hinduism as we know today.

But the heart of Hinduism lies in purusharthas: Dharma, artha, Kama, and moksha. It places Moksha as the final goal where as Vedic religion considered heaven as the final goal.

If you think about it, Brahmanism is life positive. Even though Sramana traditions were life negative, they actually offered a way out of psychological suffering while living. By taking the medititative aspects of Sramana traditions and combining it with life positive aspects of a house holder’s life, Bhagavad Gita came up with a complete path to moksha.[1]

Hinduism defines God in three levels:

  1. First you see God as saguna Brahman, a person with a name and a particular form. This is a very limited view of God because it puts him within time and space as a limited identity. Devotion can start at this level but this level has to be transcended. There are numerous forms to choose from.
  2. The second is Ishvara, which doesn’t represent a form but a formless personal God. This is similar to the concept of God in Abrahamic religions. But sometimes the boundaries between the concept of Ishvara and Brahman is blurred.
  3. The third is Brahman, when God is seen beyond the idea of a person. Now God is everywhere and everything. There is no distinction between God and you.

Here is something from another answer that I wrote:

Is Hinduism a polytheistic belief or is it a belief that accepts the many aspects of Brahman as gods or is it something else?

Strictly speaking, it is neither, because both polytheism and monotheism imply multiplicity: the illusion that there are multiple entities; the illusion that something other than Brahman exists….

This is a complex topic by appearance but simple when understood in experience. It is not possible to convey what Brahman is, in language. But we can kind of point to it.

Where does one entity end and another entity begin? Do you think your body is one entity? No. There are millions of microbes living in the body; and for them, you are a forest!

Where does the air inside your body end and the air outside your body begin? Where does the water inside your body end and the water outside your body begin? Apply this to space, heat and atoms of the body too.

‘Entities’ are creations of the human mind. For our own convenience, we have mapped various entities and named them: a car, a man, a cow, a grain of sand.

But in fact, about fourteen billion years ago, all that existed was primordial singularity: there was no space and no time! Don’t try to imagine that, you can’t! It expanded, cooled down and became everything! There was a time when there was no distinction between matter and energy.

Upanishads say that just like different ornaments of Gold are essentially Gold, everything is essentially Brahman. The multiplicity is illusion or Maya and it is also a part of Brahman. Only the mind creates it for practical purposes. If Brahman is like a screen, Maya is like the moving pictures in the screen. In screen, you may see thousand men marching together. But it is just one screen which is manifest as thousand men!

If ‘entities’ are illusions, then ‘me’ as an entity is also illusion. You are Brahman itself in reality. But this has got nothing to do with the egoic self of ‘me’ that you identify with. That ‘entity’ is an illusion.

That is why in Upanishads, you find statements like ‘Tat tvam asi’ : You are That!

So why do we have idols? Actually, they are not idols, they are icons or murtis. If Brahman Is everything, that Murti is also Brahman. We don’t bow down to it, we do namaskar; there is a difference. We do Namaskar to human beings as well. It is done with folded hands. It implies ‘I am saluting the essence inside you’! What is the essence of a Murti? Brahman! What is the essence of a human being? Brahman!

There are multiple forms for that Brahman to focus the mind and to interact with devotionally. A person can pick a form or Ishta Devata to suit his personality. Then all other Devatas are seen as the extensions of the Ishta Devata.

If you look at the history, it will be very obvious.Tulsidas was only devoted to Rama. Chaitanya was only devoted to the form of Krishna. So was Thirugnana Sambandar to Shiva, Arunagiri nathar to Muruga or Skanda, Avvaiyar to Ganesh and Ramakrishna Paramahansa to Kali. This duality of devotee vs God ends with a singularity, with the experience of oneness of Brahman. You can read more about it in my book ‘Discovering God – Bridging Christianity, Hinduism and Islam’.[2]

Does Hinduism have rules and commandments?

Many people say that Hinduism is not a religion of laws and commandments. It is true. Because multiple traditions from the past have combined together to form Hinduism as we know today.

But if we rewind and go back to a period before 2300–2500 years, the religious traditions were a lot different. In fact, there were three types of religions in the Vedic period, before Upanishads were added to Vedic canon:

  1. Brahmanism which was full of rituals and law codes. Their goals in life were wealth, health, cattle, long life and heaven. This early Vedic religion had way more law codes than any religions that we know today. They did not accept the concepts of rebirth, moksha, karma and asceticism. And they had law code for each and everything.
  2. Sramana traditions which were all about asceticism, moksha, rebirth and ending human suffering. This wisdom was unknown to early Brahmanas. In fact Chandogya Upanishad specifically states that this wisdom was never conveyed to Brahmins before. In the late Vedic period, Brahmanism absorbed many concepts of Sramanic traditions. ( Read ‘Greater Magadha: Studies in the culture of Early India’ for extensive details on these two traditions.)
  3. Various folk religions all over sub continent that included polytheistic and animistic elements.

Brahmanism absorbed the concept of moksha from Sramana traditions and derived most of it’s iconography from folk religions. It is only after that agamas, and puranas were created and Hinduism as we know today took shape. But the entire Hinduism is unified by the four purusharthas: dharma, artha, kama and moksha.

So, the detailed law code was indeed present in Brahmanism. All Dharma sutras list forbidden food.But these rules are no longer followed today though.

For example, Apastamba dharma sutras 1.17.14-39 lists forbidden food for students:

14. He should not eat food obtained from the market,

15 even seasonings, with the exception of raw meat, honey, and salt;

16. oil and ghee, on the other hand, may be used after sprinkling them with water.

17. He should not eat, drink, or consume cooked food that has been left overnight

18. or turned sour,

19. with the exception of sugar-cane juice, rolled rice, gruel, roasted barley, barley meal,
vegetables, meat, flour, milk, milk products, and roots and fruits of plants and trees.

20. He should not consume anything that has turned sour without mixing it with some other food.

21. It is forbidden to drink any type of liquor;

22. as also the milk of sheep,

23. camels, and deer; the milk of animals in heat or bearing twins;

24 and the milk of a cow during the first ten days after giving birth.

25. Herbs used in the manufacture of liquor are likewise forbidden;

26. as also Karañja garlic, onion, leeks,

27. and any other food that is forbidden.

28. For a Brahmana states: ‘Mushrooms should not be eaten.’

29. The meat of one-hoofed animals, camels, Gayal oxen, village pigs, and Sarabha cattle are forbidden.

30 It is permitted to eat the meat of milch cows and oxen.

31. A text of the Vajasaneyins states: ‘The meat of oxen is fit for sacrifice.’

32. Among birds that feed by scratching with their feet, the cock is forbidden,

33. and among birds that feed by thrusting their beaks, the Plava heron.

34. Carnivorous birds are forbidden;

35. as also the Hamsa goose, the Bhasa vulture, the Cakra bird, and the Suparna falcon.

36. The Kruñca curlew and the Krauñca crane are forbidden, with the exception of the Vardhranasa cranes and Laksmana cranes.

37. Animals with five claws* are forbidden, with the exception of the Godha ̄ monitor lizard, tortoise, porcupine, hedgehog, rhinoceros, hare, and Putikhasa.

38. Among fish, the Ceta is forbidden,

39 as also the snakehead fish, the Mrdura crocodile, carnivorous fish, and others that are grotesque, such as the mermen.

( The four ashrama system in Hinduism was not really four stages of life in the beginning but four ways of life. After initial Vedic study, one can take up either of the four ways. Dharmasutras list law codes for all four ways of life, but they never fail to mention that grihastha life is the only way of life that is accepted in Vedic texts and that which guarantees heaven when followed according to the code of conduct.

Also, Apastamba dharma sutras also has contradictory views, hence it talks about rebirth and even the knowledge of self in some verses. That indicates that some portions of it were added probably much later.

But Gautama Dharmasutras lists four ways of life as the view of the opponent and refutes the view with statements from Vedas, insisting that the way of house holder is the only accepted way as per Vedas.).[3]

Is Hinduism a religion of beliefs?

Mahabharata talks about how various people had various beliefs and attitudes during its days. All those comes under the umbrella of Hinduism.

It is a set of schools which encourages logical inquiry, debates, mystical poetry, mystical fiction, healthy criticism, critical thinking, hermeneutics and also allow various folk religious beliefs to co-exist, influence and interact.

Most importantly, it has ways to end psychological suffering in life and feel complete, eternal, infinite, expansive, blissful and content. If understood properly, it can take you on a journey.

The four main goals of Hinduism are dharma (righteousness, social order), artha (weath, education), kama (pleasure) and moksha (liberation). Ultimately it is about self-realization and liberation, which gives you true and endless happiness.

Here are those verses from Mahabharata. Various seers ask Brahma about true dharma (religion):

To which, indeed, of the dharmas should a person here most closely adhere? What do they have to say about this? Tell us, for the course of dharma appears to us to be diverse and contradictory.

Some claim that there is life after death, while others maintain that there is not. Some express doubt about everything, while others claim certainty. Things are impermanent according to some and permanent according to others, unreal according to some and real according to others. Some believe that the one reality appears as dual, while others think that it is mixed;'” some teach unity, others separateness, and yet others multiplicity.

Thus do Brahmins who are wise and perceive the truth argue. Some wear matted hair and deer skin, others shave their heads, and still others go naked. Some say that one should not bathe, while others insist on bathing. Some favor eating, while others are given to fasting.

Some praise rites and others the cessation from them. Some assert the influence of both place and time, while others deny it. ‘ Some extol liberation and others diverse pleasures.

Some desire wealth, while others strive after poverty. Some maintain the efficacy of worship, while others deny it. Some are devoted to non-injury (ahimsa) and others to injury.”

Some claim that one attains glory through good deeds, while others deny it. Some delight in certainty as to the truth, while others adhere to skepticism. Suffering is the motive for some and pleasure for others.

Some assert the primacy of meditation, other wise men that of sacrifice, and still others that of giving gifts. Some assert the existence of everything, while others deny that anything exists.

Some praise austerity, while other people extol vedic study. Some assert that knowledge comes from renunciation, while nature philosophers claim that it comes from nature.

With so much disagreement regarding dharma leading in so many directions, we become bewildered, O god supreme, unable to reach any certainty. “This is ultimate bliss,” “No, that is ultimate bliss”: so thinking, people charge on, for one always praises the dharma that one loves. In this regard our judgment is confounded and our minds bewildered. This we want you to tell us, O lord: what is ultimate bliss?

  • (MBh 14.48.14-27)

But majority of today’s Hindus are being misled by political ideologies, suffering from groupthink, taking Hinduism as an identity instead of seeing it as a path, getting offended a lot, being hyper-sensitive and slowly forgetting the true essence of Hinduism.[4]

What is the relationship in Hinduism between Brahman, Trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) and the rest of the deities?

bsolute reality is one without a second. But we can still divide it into two aspects: Purusha and Prakriti.

Purusha has three dimensions to it: sat or Truth, cit or consciousness and Ananda or bliss.

Brahma represents sat or the truth. Since Vedas convey the Truth, Brahma is shown to have four heads, representing four Vedas.

Vishnu represents cit or consciousness. Vishnu is a solar deity in Vedas and physically he represents sun which takes three strides in the sky everyday. Vishnu means all pervading. Spiritually, Vishnu represents the inner sun or consciousness, who strides and pervades the three states of consciousness which is waking, dreaming and sleeping.

Shiva is always associated with bliss. He is known as the Lord of sleep because He is the bliss that one experiences in deep sleep. So Shiva represents Ananda or bliss.

Just like Purusha, Prakriti also has three aspects or gunas. Prakriti is the one which animates the world and all actions happen because of three gunas of Prakriti. Saraswathi represents sattva or balance and also represents Jnana Shakti, the power to know. Lakshmi represents Rajas or activity and also the Kriya Shakti, the power to do. Kali represents Tamas or resistance and also Iccha Shakti, the power of will.

Purusha is like a screen where the movie of the existence is played. Purusha does nothing; everything is done by Prakriti. Prakriti is the moving pictures of the screen as well as the energy that animates the movie.

Brahma and Saraswathi together represent creation; Vishnu and Lakshmi together represent maintenance; and Shiva and Kali together represent destruction.

In addition to it, any one of the male deities of Trimurti and his consort can be used to represent Purusha and Prakriti. So, If you are a devotee of Shiva, you can see Shiva as Purusha and Shakti as Prakriti.

But always remember that the Truth is one, even though many names are used.

To understand more about Prakriti and it’s three gunas, visit this page: A Shamatha Meditation Based on Symbolism, Visualization, Mnemonics and Classical Conditioning[5]

3. Almost all early human civilizations practiced polytheism (idol worshiping and worshiping nature). Why is Hinduism the only ancient polytheistic religion that survived?

I strongly disagree with Rami Sivan here. Hinduism has survived simply because it is not polytheistic. In fact, it has a better version of monotheism. If Hinduism was really a polytheistic religion, It would have faced the fate of all polytheistic religions in the world that have disappeared.

It is true that there are many forms of God in Hinduism, but not many Gods. Either it is one and only Brahman or the division of a supreme God and a devotee.

But it is true that Abrahamic religions ban idol worship where as Hindus use murtis as a part of their iconography. But unlike other cults of idol worship, Hinduism do not consider a murti as God itself which will mean that everything else apart from the murti is not God. Murti is a representation of God.

So,

शिवमात्मनि पश्यन्ति प्रतिमासु न योगिनः |
अज्ञानं भावनार्थाय प्रतिमाः परिकल्पिताः || ५९ ||
– जाबालदर्शनोपनिषत्

A yogin perceives god (Siva) within himself,
images are for those who have not reached this knowledge. (Verse 59)

  • Jabaladarsana Upanishad

The raise of seeing God as a supreme ruler or Ishvara has a strong correlation with the raise of empires. A strict monotheism developed only during Persian rule in Judaism. Before that, it was monolatory. When people were living as tribes under many tribal chieftains, it was natural to have many Gods, which are independent of each other. But for a king of an empire, God is the divine patron while the king being his reflection. You can see this happening in the history, when a well developed cult of Shiva, Bhagavata deities and Skanda arose before 2000 years.

But we have the example of the divine ruler in Rig Veda itself. It is Indra. Even though Vedic hymns seem to talk about different powerful entities, two lines from Dirghatamas in Rig Veda, solves that problem:

Rg Veda 1.164.46

इन्द्रं॑ मि॒त्रं वरु॑णम॒ग्निमा॑हु॒रथो॑ दि॒व्यः स सु॑प॒र्णो ग॒रुत्मा॑न् ।
एकं॒ सद्विप्रा॑ बहु॒धा व॑दन्त्य॒ग्निं य॒मं मा॑त॒रिश्वा॑नमाहुः ॥४६॥

Translation:

They called him Indra, Mitra, Varuṇa, Agni; and he is heavenly Garuda, who has beautiful wings. The truth is one, but the sages (or learned ones) call it by many names or describe him in many ways; they called him Agni, Yama, Mātariśvan.

When we move to Brahmanas suddenly there is Prajapati. But he survived only for a short time and evolved into Brahma.

And Upanishads proclaim Brahman is the only reality. I am Brahman; You are Brahman. This is what I call as a much better version of monotheism, an evolved monotheism where the division between the God and his creation disappears.

You can see the same theme in a poem of Rumi, a Sufi mystic:

When we move on to epics, we have the most important text of Hinduism (even though it is a smriti) which is Bhagavad Gita. And in Bhagavad Gita, Krishna is the supreme God. He also says that worshipping any God or deity actually goes to him.

The core concept of bhakti in Hinduism is surrender. You can either surrender to God or surrender to the existence. But you cannot submit yourself to two entities at the same time. If Hinduism is polytheistic, then surrender will have no place.

In Rig Vedic verse, we saw that Soma, Agni and Indra are one. In other words, the object of the sacrifice (soma), the carrier of the sacrifice (agni) and the enjoyer of the sacrifice (Indra) are all now one.

Bhagavad Gita literally says that: (Chapter 4, Verse 24)

ब्रह्मार्पणं ब्रह्म हविर्ब्रह्माग्नौ ब्रह्मणा हुतम् |
ब्रह्मैव तेन गन्तव्यं ब्रह्मकर्मसमाधिना ||

brahmārpaṇaṁ brahma havir brahmāgnau brahmaṇā hutam
brahmaiva tena gantavyaṁ brahma-karma-samādhinā

Translation:

For those who are completely absorbed in God-consciousness, the oblation is Brahman, the ladle with which it is offered is Brahman, the act of offering is Brahman, and the sacrificial fire is also Brahman. Such persons, who view everything as God, easily attain him.

We have Upanishads for Ganesha, Shiva, Narayana etc, and each will assert a specific form as a supreme God. Rami Sivan knows better.

Boothanatha Gita, the only spiritual text assigned to Ayyappa also says (Verse 1.8):

AdimadhyAntarahitam svayam jotih parAtparam

avyayam nirgunam rAjan kAladezAdi varjjitam

citganam nityamAnandam tatbhinnam nAsti vastu bho

asitatvamaham taccetyAmnAyah parikIrtitah

Meaning:

Oh king! Brahman has no beginning, no middle and no end. It shines on its own and is the greatest of the greatest. It is imperishable, attributeless and beyond space & time.

It has been described in the scriptures that it is conscious and always in bliss. Nothing other than that exists! It is you and it is also me.

What about puranas?

Puranas may seem to portray a picture of God having multiple subordinates. This is actually little similar to Gods having various angels as subordinates in Abrahamic religions. But the essence of the puranas seem to show the better version of monotheism, portraying the form of God as the supreme consciousness or Brahman itself.

If you see what the famous devotees of Hinduism worshipped, you will see that they were all devoted to one form of God.

  1. For Tulsidas, the entire world is Rama.
  2. For Chaitanya, everything is Krishna.
  3. Arunagirinathar worshipped Murugan and Murugan alone.
  4. All Shaivite nayanmars worshipped Shiva as the only God.
  5. All Tamil azhwars saw Tirumal as the supreme deity.

In the entire Patanjali sutras, there is only one reference to God. Patanjali mentions Ishvara as special purusha.

So where is polytheism in Hinduism? Which scripture in Hinduism says that there is more than one supreme ruler for this universe? You will either find non-duality, duality or some special kind of duality.

Among today’s Hindus, there is a very large gap between what they believe in and the essential truth conveyed in scriptures. Saying Hinduism as polytheistic will only increase the gap further. It promotes a wrong notion.

It is true that there are still polytheistic forms exist in villages and among tribes. But even though they are classified under Hinduism, their cults are not completely absorbed into Hinduism. But both Vedic religion and Buddhism has absorbed such polytheistic cults in the past. Buddhism absorbed deities like Manibhadra, Vajrapani etc. Syncretism has happened in all cultures.

In another answer, I read Rami Sivan saying that polytheistic is natural because all cultures were originally polytheistic. Well, all humans were originally homo erectus. But we evolved. The religions also evolved in the same way, The only thing is, Abrahamic religions have still not evolved into this better version of monotheism which Hinduism offers (with exception to Sufism and Christian and Jewish mysticism). It will happen as time goes because history repeats itself.

Adi Shankaracharya united various traditions under Advaita. He connected them all with a central philosophical core. And this philosophical core of Hinduism has been maintained by various people like Adhi Shankara, Ramanuja, Madhva, Kabir, Tulsidas, Chaitanya, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Ramana Maharshi and more. It is only because of them Hinduism survived. So more than rituals and myths, Hinduism had a logical appeal to people. It has a strong scriptural basis as a foundation, which you cannot find in any polytheistic religion.

If only the first verse in the Ishopanishad were left intact in the memory of the Hindus, Hinduism would live forever

  • Mahatma Gandhi

(The first verse is ‘isavasyam idam sarvam’ which means ‘God is everywhere).

4. How would you compare the top 3 religions: Christianity, Islam and Hinduism?

This is going to be a long answer. Because it is not only intended to answer this particular question but will answer many other questions too. Because, I see a threat India; and based on the fact that this question is related to three major religions in India, I am going to answer this question to make many Indians understand what they misunderstand.

Religion is actually a recent Western colonial concept which has been wrapped around some major spiritual paths in the world. The divisions like Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam have been created based on certain theological and cultural similarities. Most importantly, it was created to differentiate Christian theology vs the faiths of other cultures, when colonialism was alive.

But this division based on the concept of religions conveniently ignored the esoteric part of religions. They enforced and reinforced the idea that religions are all about a set of beliefs, myths and rituals. Result? 98% of Hindus have no clue about what Bhagavad Gita is, what Upanishads are all about and what are considered as four main goals of a person’s life in the culture that evolved in Indian subcontinent.

Because of this, religion has now become an identity rather than a path. People discuss how proud they are because of being in a particular religion and try to prove that their religion is better than another one. These people are completely misled and end up poisoning the minds of others rather than really understand the depth of their own religion and walk in the path shown by it. Religion is not a matter of pride!

If you think carefully, this concept of religions in its proto-form was only created as a political tool right from the beginning. For example, Vedas were not compiled until the formation of Kuru kingdom, the earliest kingdom in India. Before that, the verses existed with individual families. It was the rulers of Kuru kingdom who compiled them. This resulted in both negative and positive consequences. The positive aspect is that some valuable verses of ancient wisdom were preserved; but it also led to prejudice among classes or varnas for the first time. Winning in a war meant a lot to the king and he depended on the priestly class to provide him with suitable rituals and spells. So, creation of verses that was once meant for inner seeking and divine revelation had then become a commercial thing; varnas or the four classes in ancient India which were strictly based on occupation turned into a birth based system for the first time.. But this was then just a Vedic way of life and Hinduism in its present form didn’t exist.

Hebrew Bible was not compiled until Israelites returned from Babylonian exile during Persian rule. Judaism as a religious concept was created as a political tool. It was created to unify the people of Israel under one temple and one God, purely for political convenience. Before that, various schools of thoughts existed and various tales from folklore existed along with it, with complete freedom of religion. Neither Abraham nor Moses created Judaism, but preached a path, a path of submission to the one and only God.

Christianity was created by Roman Emperor Constantine as a political convenience. Jesus never found a religion but preached a path, a path of submission to the one and only God. That is the reason why the current images of Jesus look like a Roman pagan God and why December 25 is never mentioned as the birthday of Jesus anywhere in the Bible. The whole model of Christianity as exists today was primarily created by Constantine.

The same is with Islam. It is a way of life. All Prophet Muhammad did was preach the path of submission to the one and only God and also restate that Abraham, Moses and Jesus said the same thing. In addition to that, he brought cultural, social, religious, and political changes and reformation. It was Abu Bakr, a father-in-law of the Islamic prophet who had Quran to be compiled in current form in the current order, which led to a theological narrative based on that order, creating Islam as it exists now. Hadith and Sharia were compiled much later mainly as a political device. Contrary to the popular belief, Mughal rulers who ruled Delhi Sultanate were not really interested in converting people to Islam, because that would mean a loss to national revenue. By declaring non – Islamic population in Indian subcontinent as “The people of the books”, they could get them pay a tax.

Hinduism is a creation of British. Before that, there was a philosophical system that united many major traditions of faith. This system has Brahman, the only one without a second as the supreme reality. But it also had a system of iconography, with different forms of the same supreme reality that one can choose from. So, iconography, not idol worship, is the right word to describe the Indian system of submission to God. Adhi Shankara, unified various traditions into six different paths , Shanmata, which is based on six different forms of the same Brahman. This is very evident when you see how devotees in Tamil nadu approached devotion. A devotee of Shiva like Thiru Jnana Sambandhar would only praise the form Shiva and be devoted to Him alone. A devotee of Ganesha like Poet Avvaiyar would only sing the praise of form Ganesh. The same with Arunagiri Nathar to Muruga and Periyazhwar to Vishnu. These are not different Gods and the system is not polytheistic, but they are all forms or icons of the same Supreme reality. This is the essence of all Indian scriptures.

But just after 1st century BCE, a lot of puranas or myths were written, depicting a polytheistic picture. These were just stories intended to convey some philosophical truths then and there. For example, a long treatise on Advaita Vedanta is a part of Skanda Purana. But this led to many negative consequences. The concept of Hinduism during British rule was born with Puranas getting a higher importance. Because of this, Hinduism as now become mostly polytheistic as only a very few actually try to read and understand the scriptures, while majority is concerned with drinking cow urine, building Ram mandir, trying to prove that Internet existed during 50th century BCE in India and pretending to save Hinduism from Christians and Muslims of India. The people who claim to save Hinduism should feel ashamed because they think that a culture that has thousands of scriptures can get destroyed by two books, the Bible and the Quran. So whenever you see anyone who says Hinduism needs to be saved, you can be pretty sure that he understands nothing about Indian culture, its scriptures, traditions and schools of thought. You can also be sure that anyone who is trying to prove Hinduism is better than any other religion is not only wasting his/her time but is also kindling unnecessary prejudice in the society. What is the need to prove which religion is better?

Just like galaxies are moving far away from each other, we are moving far away from each other by appreciating and encouraging religious differences.

Do you know the consequences of this recent concept of religions? It has led people to pick up the most extreme view of any religion, and consider that it represents the beliefs of the whole population that follows that religion. For example, there are some verses called sword verses in Quran, which seem to suggest to kill any non-believer, but it actually refers to a specific historical context, to a specific tribe who were prosecuting the early Muslims in a cruel manner. Similarly, there is a concept called Jihad which simply means struggle, including any kind of positive struggle that one goes through in life, struggling to be a good human being, struggling to build a career and most importantly, struggling to purify oneself to reach the final goal. Jihad applied to war only in certain situations when Muhammad was alive. But certain terrorist organizations who hold extreme views on Islam and who interpret these verses according to their advantage do not represent what the majority of Muslims believe in. (But I am completely against inhuman blasphemy laws that exist in certain Islamic countries. They have also been misled.)

But people who want to prove that their religion is better than Islam would hold on to such extreme views about Islam and never even listen to counter arguments. I have explained a few things about Islam in the following two answers and I suggest reading them too:

Why do you think Prophet Muhammad was a good person or a bad person? Please provide unbiased facts based on his biography wherever possible.

Shanmugam P’s answer to How cruel was the prophet Muhammad?

Shanmugam P’s answer to Was Prophet Muhammad a virtuous man or a man of good character? In some hadiths, he is portrayed as a slave-trading, sex-obsessed man. If these hadiths are true, why do Muslims follow him? And if these hadiths aren’t authentic, which ones are?

But I insist and request again, do not see this answer as a discussion of whether your religion is better than another religion!

Also, if we start pulling out verses by the extreme interpretation of each religion and claim that this extreme view represents the religion in entirety (like we are doing to Islam), then Christianity and Hinduism will start sounding worse.

  1. There are verses in the Old Testament of the Bible which portrays God as someone who is instructing to stone infidels to death, including young children. Honestly, they sound more cruel than the verses from Quran taken out of context. Can we insist that this represents Christianity as a whole?
  2. There are a few Dharmasutras and Dharmashastras in Indian religious literature which say that molten lead should be poured into the ears of Shudra, the person of the lowest class, if he listens to the recitation of Vedas. There are verses in later literature which promote Sati, burning the widow alive in the funeral pyre of her husband. At least Islam and Christianity gives you a choice: you won’t be killed if you accept the truth that is being said (according to the extremist interpretation). But Hinduism leaves no choice. If you are a Shudra or a widow, you have no choice of saving yourself by accepting a faith! Can we take this extreme view and say that this represents Hinduism in entirety?

No!

Now, please don’t take whatever I said as an insult to Hinduism, because Hinduism, just like Christianity and Islam is just a concept; not an entity that can be insulted. But if you feel offended, that is because you have taken religion as an identity, instead of taking it as a path! It is connected to your self-image, rather than being connected to devotion.

Do you know Ramakrishna Paramahamsa? He was the guru of Swami Vivekananda. He practiced the spiritual paths of Islam and Christianity separately, reached the same experience of Samadhi and declared that all paths lead to one truth.

But I know that many so called Hindu saviours of today won’t agree with this, Their gurus are their politicians and political parties. That will make them think even Mahatma Gandhi as an enemy of India and call Godse as a true patriot. I have written a detailed book showing that the basic essence of all these three religions are the same. It is not a topic that I can cover in this answer. Go to this link for the details about the book: Discovering God: Bridging Christianity, Hinduism and Islam.

Also, I want to discuss Christian Evangelism. It is true that Jesus asked his disciples to spread the good news; but it was 2000 years before. Now, the good news has been spread and easily available on the internet. So, why is there a need for a missionary? This missionary business has become dirty, because a lot of these preachers are indulging in calling Hindu temples as Satanic. They misunderstand Hindu iconography; it is not the same as the polytheistic worship of ancient Israelite tribes or pagan Arabs. They didn’t have any philosophy and they didn’t know about the oneness of the Supreme reality that we call as Brahman in Indian culture.

Hindu temples are created based on Agamas which are based on human psychology. The system of worship by the way of Agamas includes stimuli of five senses : decoration of the deity and lamps; the smell of the incense, flowers and food (prasad); taste of the food; touch of sandal, tumeric and sacred ash on the skin; the sound of the bell and hymns etc. These stimuli are paired with the experience of devotion, so that every time you are exposed to one of these stimuli, you automatically get feeling of devotion. This is actually called classical conditioning in psychology. This is an useful tool in devotion and that is what the whole iconography is based on.

Anyway, this is not a time to prove which religion is better than the other, but this is a time to think about living in harmony with the brothers and sisters who belong to other religions. That is the beauty of India and that is what the Republic of India is meant for, Everyone of us living in harmony is the dream of Mahatma Gandhi (Gandhi haters stay away from comments; you will be reported and blocked).

Consider Shirdi Sai Baba; Consider Kabir; consider Ramakrishna; consider Abdul Kalam; consider Gandhi; these are the people who were familiar with the truths of more than one religion, and they proclaimed that all these religions lead to the same goal. I know they look different, but you haven’t gone deep. The difference is only in the periphery and the majority do not understand. I have explained in length in my book and it should be convincing enough for people who are already familiar with the path to self-realization or God-realization. There is an esoteric side to all these three religions and they are the same!

5. Why does Hinduism have many gods?

This question arises based on a false premise, because of not understanding the meanings of these words: Brahman, Ishvara, devata and murti.

Do you think there are equivalent English words? No. But since we mostly talk about Hinduism in English, we tend to misunderstand many things. You will be surprised to see how a lot of Sanskrit words lose their original meaning when they are conveyed using their English alternatives.

In Hinduism, God is referred to as avyakta[1]. vyakti means person. Avyakta means something that is not a person or that is not confined to clear limits. In other words, avyakta doesn’t have any boundaries. A more popular word for this is Brahman. Upanishads say that just like the ornaments of gold is essentially made of gold in spite of their difference in forms, everything is a modification of Brahman.

But it is not possible to conceive this all-pervading, infinite Brahman that is beyond time and space with our limited intellect. It can be only understood by experience, by a direct spiritual transformation.

So, Hinduism steps down a bit and provides the concept of Ishvara.

Ishvara has a personal touch. But it still doesn’t mean God as a person in the sky. The personification is quite fuzzy.

Ishvara comes from the root ‘Ish’ which means ‘to possess or own’. He owns everything, including your body and mind. Ishvara means supreme being.

Yoga sutras recognize just one God, Ishvara as the supreme being. This is more convenient for devotion and surrender. But this word, evolved. It was not used in the same meaning in Vedas.

If we step down a bit, we have Devatas or various forms of God. A devata has a form, personality and stories associated with it. It comes from the root ‘div’ which means ‘to shine’. So a devata is something so obvious like a lamp. It shines with certain attributes. But it is one of the a representations of Brahman.

Brahman is said to have no attributes in itself. But we associate these attributes to a devata to make devotion easier. One can choose an Ishta Devata and consider it as a supreme reality and see other devatas as extensions or emanations of it. So, your Ishta devata can be Shiva, Vishnu, Shakthi or any form you choose.

The final step down is murti. Murti essentially means something that has limits. You need to notice that it is the total opposite of avyakta. Murti also means manifest, because anything that is manifest has boundaries in the coordinates of space and time.

A murti is a physical representation of God. The murti and the temple appeals to your five senses and create strong psychological association with devotion or any spiritual experiences.

So there can be many murtis and devatas. But Ishvara is one. And saying Brahman is one in itself betrays the oneness of Brahman, because the mention of ‘one’ assumes the existence of an other or others. That is why it is said that Brahman is beyond words.


But

शिवमात्मनि पश्यन्ति प्रतिमासु न योगिनः |
अज्ञानं भावनार्थाय प्रतिमाः परिकल्पिताः || ५९ ||
– जाबालदर्शनोपनिषत्

A yogin perceives god (Siva) within himself,
images are for those who have not reached this knowledge. (Verse 59)

  • Jabaladarsana Upanishad

By the way,

Atman is not synonymous to the word ‘soul’; Atman means the true self.

Ahamkara is not synonymous to ‘ego’; Ahamkara means, the presence of the sense that one is the doer of his actions. (When ahamkara disappears, you realize yourself or attain atma jnana and be liberated from all mental bondage and mental pain while living. That is moksha.)

The most shocking thing would be, dharma is not synonymous with Hinduism. Because, Hinduism is a totally different colonial version of belief system which seems to have a lot of disconnected concepts. Religion itself is a recent Western concept, which tries to accommodate various theistic systems, rituals and beliefs into certain abstract categories. (go through linked answers at the bottom of the page for more details).

But if you go by the scriptures, you will see that this scriptural canon of Hinduism calls itself as ‘dharma’. Dharma means many meanings. These meanings bind the seemingly disconnected concepts of Hinduism together into dharma.

Dharma comes from the root ‘dhr’ which means uphold. During Vedic times, Varuna was associated with the upholder of divine order. He is responsible for the movement of the planets, the rain, the changing of seasons and all other natural laws. During the royal consecrations, the rajasuya yajna was conducted and the king was referred to as Varuna, because he upholds the dharma of people. He gives judgements and he makes sure that everything is functioning in the order. So he is called as dharmaraja.

Dharma also means the way of life. Dharma defines how to conduct your life that is not only righteous, smooth, and joyful but also leads to moksha, or the final liberation. And it gives four goals or purusharthas to people: dharma (personal order and righteousness), artha (wealth and education), kama (pleasure) and moksha (liberation).

Dharma is also synonymous with truth. It is an inquiry to the truth which finally leads to atma-jnana (self realization) and moksha.

In Mahabharata. Various seers ask Brahma about true dharma (religion):

To which, indeed, of the dharmas should a person here most closely adhere? What do they have to say about this? Tell us, for the course of dharma appears to us to be diverse and contradictory.

Some claim that there is life after death, while others maintain that there is not. Some express doubt about everything, while others claim certainty. Things are impermanent according to some and permanent according to others, unreal according to some and real according to others. Some believe that the one reality appears as dual, while others think that it is mixed;'” some teach unity, others separateness, and yet others multiplicity.

Thus do Brahmins who are wise and perceive the truth argue. Some wear matted hair and deer skin, others shave their heads, and still others go naked. Some say that one should not bathe, while others insist on bathing. Some favor eating, while others are given to fasting.

Some praise rites and others the cessation from them. Some assert the influence of both place and time, while others deny it. ‘ Some extol liberation and others diverse pleasures.

Some desire wealth, while others strive after poverty. Some maintain the efficacy of worship, while others deny it. Some are devoted to non-injury (ahimsa) and others to injury.”

Some claim that one attains glory through good deeds, while others deny it. Some delight in certainty as to the truth, while others adhere to skepticism. Suffering is the motive for some and pleasure for others.

Some assert the primacy of meditation, other wise men that of sacrifice, and still others that of giving gifts. Some assert the existence of everything, while others deny that anything exists.

Some praise austerity, while other people extol vedic study. Some assert that knowledge comes from renunciation, while nature philosophers claim that it comes from nature.

With so much disagreement regarding dharma leading in so many directions, we become bewildered, O god supreme, unable to reach any certainty. “This is ultimate bliss,” “No, that is ultimate bliss”: so thinking, people charge on, for one always praises the dharma that one loves. In this regard our judgment is confounded and our minds bewildered. This we want you to tell us, O lord: what is ultimate bliss?

  • (MBh 14.48.14-27)

So dharma is actually an inquiry into the truth rather than a collection of beliefs. Certain aspects of dharma keeps changing. For example, scriptures that provided social legal code for Brahmanism like Gautama dharmasutras, Baudhayana dharmasutras, Apastamba dharmasutras etc are no longer followed.

But Bhagavad Gita can apply for all time, because it provides an essence of the path to moksha without much of religious dogma. The essence is the same. But it can be adapted and applied to different times, different cultures and different societies by understanding the core concepts of this eternal dharma that Bhagavad Gita provides: Karma, Bhakti and Jnana.

This is the essence of dharma: live ethically and orderly with sufficient wealth, education and pleasure. To naturally attain liberation and eternal bliss, 1) Do your duties while being not-attached to the fruits of actions 2) Be devoted unconditionally to Ishvara 3) At other times, inquire into the nature of your existence, consciousness and mind and also engage yourself in meditation. Choose a way of living that suits your personality, abilities and interests (svadharma).

So, In my recent answers, I am trying to redefine Hinduism from the perspective of dharma


%d bloggers like this: