Spirit of Ma'at: "The Great Religions" — Vol 3, No 7

The Way of Devotion

by Dr. Vasude Kulkarne

by Julia Griffin

Julia: What can you tell me about the beginning of Hinduism and its texts?

Vasude: It begins with the Vedas, our sacred book or source of knowledge, which was written five thousand years ago. It is an ancient and timeless book that was communicated by Brahman or God Himself.

The Vedas is written in Sanskrit, an ancient language that can bring about physical manifestation. It conveys the meaning of truth, as manifested through the Trinity. In the Trinity, there is Shiva, who represents Destruction, Brahma, representing Creation, and Krishna, the source of protection.

The first part of the Vedas consists of chants, and the second part is comprised of rituals.

It is our guide for living in India. The primary portion is the mantra or chants. Theological and philosophical sections, called the Upanishads, explain the chants and were added later.

Upanishad means inner or mystic teaching. The word is sometimes thought to mean knowledge that loosens or destroys ignorance. It refers to a core of truth or certainty that is essentially unreachable except through a way of living. The spiritual meanings of the Vedic texts, such as yoga, meditation, karma, and reincarnation, are emphasized in the Upanishads (see HinduNet.org).

The Bhadgavad Gita is also a religious text. It represents a dialogue between Lord Sri Krishna and the warrior Arjuna. It is about duty, and how one must perform their duty to God, no matter how difficult it is.

Julia: There are many branches of Hinduism. Can you tell me about them?

Vasude: There is Ayurvedic medicine, which is a holistic system of medicine. There is astronomy, a school of mathematics or numbers, Vedic astrology, yoga, and mantras. There are many schools of thought based on Hinduism, and yet there is only one great Truth.

Julia: Can you tell me about the fundamental truth of Hinduism?

Vasude: There is only one Supreme Being. There is only one Truth. We realize this one truth in many ways, and all of these ways are correct. This is our most important belief, that God is in all things. There are many different manifestations of God. The Supreme Being is present in all of us, and there are many paths to God, just as there are many manifestations of God.

There is absolutely no conversion in Hinduism as there is in Christianity. We believe the idea of conversion is inferior. How can we convert one to God, if one is already a part of God? If God is omnipresent, surely He is in everyone at the same time.

Julia: What can you tell me about the many gods and goddesses in the Hindu faith? I know there are Rama, Sita, Ganesha, and many more. What role do they play in your faith?

Vasude: The Divine Beings exist in unseen worlds. The unseen worlds are beginning to become accepted by the scientific community. Scientists are beginning to understand that even the unseen is real, that healing can take place through a distance, and that our thoughts can change the outcome of events.

We know that the universe is so huge that we cannot possibly be the only life in it. There are many other worlds, and each of them is different. Our world is different from the other worlds.

The Divine Beings live in a different realm. We believe that they come into our realm to enact good actions or to help us, and then they depart. Rituals and sacrament, as well as personal devotion, create communion with the Gods and devas. By communion, I mean the fixation of the human mind on the Divine. When our minds are fixed in that direction, we can perform our actions with intent, devotion, and alignment with God.

Julia: There are numerous aspects of each Divinity, and they each seem to have a different power or gift for man. Why is there such an abundance of Divinity?

Vasude: God made many Divine Beings with many aspects so that we can see God in many ways, and so that we can see the reflection of our strength or weakness in the face of God.

In the beginning, as I said, we believe in only One Supreme Being. But just as God manifests into many different people with many different personalities, so there are many gods or Divine Beings. There are different temperaments for different people, so there is a need for many different gods. All of us have the same goal, to free ourselves from our temperaments, and when we do that, we are all the same. But in the meantime, God manifests in whatever way will meet our needs.

Another way of looking at it is this: Have you ever heard someone say, "I loved Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible?" And another person says, "Oh, no, he wasn't any good in that one. I liked him in Top Gun?" They then discuss all of his movies, and they have completely forgotten that they are seeing the same actor in many roles. They actually think that he is a different person in each movie.

We are the same way. We see God in one aspect of himself, but not always in every aspect and not always as the One Truth. We like someone in this lifetime because we like the form or the "movie" they are in. We may not have liked him or ourselves in the last movie or the last lifetime. But we are still the same actor. We think we are the movie, and we forget that we are watching. God is the movie. We are God.

When we worship with certain gifts, certain rituals on particular days, we are worshiping the aspect of a god or goddess. For example, one man may be brave or strong or handsome. This is merely an aspect of God. We may worship a deity because it reflects an aspect of our Self, and this aspect may become stronger through this worship. We may make a ritual to another god because it has an aspect that we lack. In the alignment with that aspect of a Divine Being, we may receive what is lacking, what we desire to have strengthened, through the devotion of worship.

Julia: Since reincarnation and karma, the cycles of being reborn and of reaping what one sows, are integral parts of Hinduism, could you talk about this?

Vasude: We believe in reincarnation not only for human beings but also for the Universe itself. The Universe goes through countless cycles of creation, preservation, and dissolution as symbolized or manifested in the Trinity of Brahma, Krishna, and Shiva.

We also have a fundamental belief in karma: the idea that there is action and that consequences follow action. This is all a march to Unity. All of the cycles have an underlying scheme. We change bodies and minds by our past actions and by what we are supposed to achieve or perform in a lifetime.

Our future lives are being created by our actions now, and our past lives and who we are today were created by our actions in the past. We cannot escape karma or the outcome of our actions.

Reincarnation continues until all of our karmas have been resolved, and moksa — spiritual knowledge and liberation — is attained.

Julia: How is moksa attained?

Vasude: When there is ego, there is desire for outcome. When there is no ego, there is no action for desired outcome. When desire begins to cease, the ego and the mind begin to fade. As all action becomes prompted by God, freedom begins and karma begins to cease. You cannot reach God as long you have desires for anything other than God.

As long as there is desire for outcome, reincarnation will not cease. We all have our personal likes and dislikes. These do not matter, as we must learn to follow God's will. God is in all of our hearts, so we know where to find God.

The Bhagavad Gita tells the story of Arjuna, when he must fight his cousins and does not want to do this. Krishna tells Arjuna that he must do his duty and fight as a warrior. He must do what is correct for the Divine and not what he wants to do.

So you see that taking the right action is not easy. It is not doing what we want to do, but it is acting as God wishes us to act.

For all of us, we must learn to trust God, to follow God with faith as we follow our heart. Complete surrender of the ego is the only path to God. All activity in the outer world ceases as the body becomes active for just the soul. This is the path that ends reincarnation.

Julia: Are there practices that lead one away from the wheels of action?

Vasude: Yes, that practice is devotion to God. Devotion through worship of deities, through prayers or mantras, through service — these are all forms that can lead one to God. But what is important is one's devotion, the fixation of the mind and the heart on God. All of the practices are good, but they can be meaningless if one does not focus on the one Supreme Being. One needs devotion more than one needs understanding. It is the more needed of the two. Devotion brings one to the realization that God is the Guide.

When we discipline the mind, the body has to act in certain ways. The heart and the mind must be brought together to control the body. The actions of the body then become possible for us to control. When there is harmony in the mind and body, there is health. We all know that discord in the body and mind cause illness.

Julia: Are you speaking of yoga practice as a method of quieting the mind? I know from my own practice that when the body is controlled, the mind becomes quiet and the spiritual energy flows into the body.

Vasude: Yes, yoga can be used to control the mind. The yoga rituals and the basic asanas or postures offer to those who practice a clean body and a method of concentration. If the body is not still, the mind has to concentrate. When the body is aligned and still in an asana, it changes mindset. All of the busy thoughts stop. The body has to be disciplined as it is in yoga, so that the mind can't interfere with the influx of Spirit.

Meditation is also important. It is another aspect of devotion. When one meditates on God, the Divine energy comes through, and it stops the mind. The mind is always busy thinking about what it wants, what it wants to do next. Meditation stops the mind's agenda. It makes it cease. It doesn't matter if you reach this state through yoga or meditation or another form.

Julia: I have read that Hinduism considers that a spiritually awakened master or satguru is essential to reaching the Transcendent Absolute. How does one find a teacher? What does the teacher do?

Vasude: When you begin to become free from desire, a teacher or master will appear in your life to show you the facts. This happens as a result of becoming free. It is natural. A teacher must appear as you change.

This master will help you by teaching truth, but it is you who must do the traveling. The teachings are taught in different ways to different students — sometimes in groups, sometimes one-to-one. There is also transmission of truth. The master may transmit a truth to you without words. The teacher may transmit his consciousness to your consciousness, and this is transmission of knowledge. It is one of the ways that a teacher can help you on the path to God.

Julia: How is truth found through Hinduism?

Vasude: How is it found anywhere? The truth is everywhere. There is only One Truth. That is that God is the Truth, and there is only one God or Supreme Being. The Supreme One is in everything and everybody. Hinduism doesn't change that truth.

Truth is simple. It is the same everywhere. God is the same everywhere. I can't change it just because I am Hindu and you are not. The truth is the same for everyone, whether we are different or the same. The truth is the truth. There is only one way to say it, there is only one truth.

Julia: Are there any beliefs in Hinduism that are thought particularly important or any special guidelines to the way in which advocates of your religion should live?

Vasude: There is the principle of nonviolence. It is very important, because we see God in all people. We should not hurt other people because the Divinity is everyone, and God is in everything.

Gandhi exemplified nonviolence by way he lived and the ideals he believed in. One hundred thousand British wanted to rule three hundred million Indian people. Gandhi said that if the people didn't want to be ruled, they shouldn't have to be. Through his attitude of nonviolence, he created a stage for non-cooperation. The British were forced to walk away. Gandhi achieved this through his purity and faith in the power of the Creator. He created this change through nonviolence, by his belief in the Divine power and its omnipotence.

So you see what can happen through simply believing, by having absolute faith, by having all of your actions propelled by the Divine. It's incredible!

Martin Luther King borrowed this same idea from Gandhi to bring about racial equality. Mother Teresa embodied the ideas of the Divine God when she devoted her life to feeding and nurturing the sick, hungry, and homeless. This was the Divine acting through her. She sacrificed her personal needs, her actions for herself, to God, and you can see what miracles occur when we are able to do this.

You will hear of people who say that they met Mother Teresa and their lives were transformed. This is the concept of transmittal in action. We can see the power of God to transform lives and situations when we are able to surrender through complete devotion. It is a remarkable force. There is nothing like it anywhere.

This force of God is the thing that we must have faith in. This is the thing that people sometimes say it is hard to believe in. You can see from these people's lives how powerful faith is when we are led to it through devotion.

Julia: What is the view of soldiers who kill people in war? How does this compare to the type of nonviolence you have just described?

Vasude: Killing during times of war is completely different. It is a soldier's duty. It is not a crime when it is committed during war because it is not prompted by the ego. It is their unconditional duty to fight and not ask why. So many soldiers during the Vietnam War asked, Why should I fight in a disaster such as this? But we do not question the motive of the soldiers in World War II. There was no guessing there, it was so obvious. Fighting in World War II had to be done at all costs.

There is no difference. A soldier must fight. They were put in that particular life to do so, and there is noo blame for the following of their duty.

Julia: What about right and wrong? We talked about karma and the outcome of action, but I wondered if there was another aspect of behavior or daily living that you found important?

Vasude: There is only one thing that causes harm, and that is the motive of the ego. The ego always expects to get something in return for its action. It thinks, "If this happens, then I will receive so and so." The motive of the ego as we perform action is the root of all of trouble.

Expectation is the root of all evil. The mortal body, the attachment to the physical body, leads all of us astray. We want things for the sake of the body. Think of it. Everyone says, "I'm happy, I'm sad, I'm angry," but we experience these states because our expectation is fulfilled or not fulfilled. As long as we expect to receive something for our actions, we will never be free.

Why? Because when all of our actions spring from our union with God or our connection with Divinity, there is no expectation. That connection with the Divine is enough. We stop wanting to act in any way that would lead us astray from the Divine, and all of our actions become without thought except for the thought of God. We can do only what is right, then, and we become free. The wheel of consequence ends when our connection with God becomes the basis of our actions. This is the only way to achieve the ultimate goal, to escape the wheel of reincarnation.

Julia: Is there any other advice you would have for people who are seeking God or have an interest in Hinduism?

Vasude: Devotion, discipline, and concentration are tools to free all parts of the mind from distraction. If we go through the knowledge of the mind, we can receive the energy of All.

Everyone is a God Seeking Himself. The ego is the barrier between our Self and God. The only way to progress through the darkness of the unknown or the ego is to go to God through the practice of devotion. Then you can open your eyes and see that your doubts and the darkness are like the rain and clouds that obscure the sun. You will know then that the sun with its brilliant light is real and has always been so.

Dr. Vasude Kulkarni is a physician in Macon, Georgia. In addition to practicing medicine, he teaches at the Hindu Temple of Atlanta in Atlanta, Georgia. He may be reached at mdjdmba@hotmail.com or by phone at 478-275-1122.

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