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Hindu Dharma – A Simple Overview

To get a basic understanding of what we call Vedic Sanatana Hindu Dharma, popularly called Hinduism, we need a basic change in thinking from the linear way of looking at everything in this Creation as we usually have been taught in the West, to a cyclical thinking. This way can bring about a much wiser, gentler outlook, as we will see.
Central concepts to know:
● Creation is cyclical
● Dharma must guide our living
● Karmas produce appropriate results
● Bhagavaan or God is infinite
● So is the "Creation" or more appropriately the "Manifest World"
● Prayer is very important
● Respect for this Creation leads to Harmony
● Human life is our chance to seek unity with our Creator

Creation is a continuous process. At all times there are both beginnings and ends. We are part of this process of creation and dissolution, in that way we too create, but human creation is somewhat different than God’s creation.

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An ayurvedic experience...

The lush green tropical state of Keralam hugs the southwestern edge of India, like a child trying to hold the mother away from any harm. How many came for its spices, its coconut groves and the simple love that permeates the land, the same warmth and gentle acceptance that India has always shown to all those who came to her. For millennia Hindu kings let other faiths come and helped them build their places of worship, never once thinking that many and varied people could not live together, for is not, this infinite variety, the real glory of our Creator?

The Ayurveda Center at the Taj confirms that this belief is still alive and well. The staff as well as the people seeking treatment was testimony to this diversity. The Taj group is owned by persons of Parsi origins, now in India for so long that they have become truly the people of the land. Originally, as many may know, displaced from their ancestral home in Persia (Iran), they landed in what is the state of Gujarat now. The King welcomed them and requested that they sweeten the existing culture of the land as sugar sweetens milk. I think among the multitudes that came to the shores of the पुण्यभूमि (Punnyabhumi) of India this group has truly sweetened the milk. This Ayurveda setup is authentic and maintains the traditions meticulously, while providing long and short-term treatments for people from near and far.

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A glourious heritage (part - 2)

In our wise and humble way of thinking Knowledge was to be shared freely as the source of all knowledge is God--the creator and sustainer alone; Humans are Nimitta Maatra (merely instruments). Our experience is any knowledge when taken without humility and without credit to the original source does not bless, rather it can become the opposite. Maybe that is our problem in the West now. We have wealth and physical comforts at the present time, but minus a proper frame of mind to enjoy it. It seems what we have gained is an ability by which we are going to destroy the world as it exists today. Even that for us Hindus is not a problem, as we know the Creation comes to an end only because of Human folly and then the Almighty Creates again in all its glory to give us one more chance! However, it is a tragedy that need not be, by making every country suffer the same fate we only enlarge the scope of Human suffering.

Is there an alternative to this useless suffering where everyone is being taught to be against everyone else? Surely, it lies in the Vision of Sanaatana Dharma via Advaita Vedanta, which has known and tried to teach what Quantum Physics is saying today, in fact there are a multitude of Western writers from past to the present who have studied the Vedic philosophy and become famous by using its knowledge. Let me name a few for you: Goethe to Schopenhauer to Schroedinger, Voltaire to Michelet to Malraux, from Thoreau to Emerson to Whitman, from Toynbee to Huxley to Yeats. In more recent times Jung of the Jungian Institute and now Ken Wilber. The whole New age movement and the field of Parapsychology is a rehash, often not so well done and camouflaged in complicated academic language, of Advait Vedanta alone. Stealing has been endemic for many countries and not blessing us as it should!

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A glourious heritage (Part-1)

The world offers many things; we receive only what we are capable of understanding. Hearing is given; processing what we hear happens when the mind is behind the words; the two together become listening.
The Bhagavat Geetaa (4.38) says:

न हि ज्ञानेन सदृशं पवित्रमिह विद्यते।
तत्स्वयं योगसंसिद्धः कालेनात्मनि विन्दति।।

na hi jnanena sadrsam, pavitram iha vidyate
tat svayam yoga-samsiddhah, kalenatmani vindati

Meaning: In this world, there is nothing so sublime and pure as transcendental knowledge. Such knowledge is the mature fruit of all mysticism. And one who has become accomplished in the practice of devotional service enjoys this knowledge within himself in due course of time.

Here the Knowledge talked of is Aatma Jnyaan (Self realization); however Knowledge liberates in various ways. In the information age, Knowledge of our own History and culture is of paramount importance. With the explosion of information has come much undesirable material too. There are those who, because of their own disturbed mindset, seek to malign others. Unfortunately, even prestigious Universities are producing books and articles that have only slander as their aim. Hindus have been and are now very much under attack by religions that want world dominance; there is no Spirituality to their quest! Hence it is more important than ever before to know our role in this modern and connected world.

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A Hindu mind, if it is truly Hindu tends to go towards goodness, compassion and harmony. It is not that Hindus have not done anything wrong, but we have been brought up on Karma and not blind faith.

Faith involves some things we have to accept without understanding but the law of Karma tells us that our life is driven by our own actions now and always! The Almighty is there as a karma phal daataa or giver of fruits of the actions; much like planting and nourishing a fruit tree. I must plant it, water it, fertilize it, than most likely the fruits will be nice. This law of nature applied to our lives makes great sense to me. I think the sloka in the Bhagavat Geetaa says the same -
कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन।
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि॥

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A view from the other side (part-11)

Today Zee TV, world news talked about the royal couple having given birth to a baby girl! British royals that is! For all us colonized countries of the world— Europe is not a great continent. It has produced two world wars, Crusades that were like Jihaad of today, killing of Jews by the millions —but far less than the number of Hindus killed by two equally cruel religions. Missionary work began by Europeans, that is devastating the more peaceful populations of the world; then why this fascination about a man and women having a child ? How is that different from anyone having a child ? Every time anything happens in England we in the USA also go crazy. Like Diana dying in a car crash with her illegitimate lover. It happens every day everywhere, so what is to be fascinated ? Did USA not throw out the British? Not only that but even the light switches and faucets turn the other way so we could be different! USA was established in its present avatar, to be different and not Catholic for sure. Also we in the USA were against royalty ; who is royal anyway? To me the way they maintain Kings and Queens in Europe is more like maintaining parasites for the tax payers.

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A View from the other side (part-10)

Just a month ago I went to the PanIIT meeting in Bethesda, Maryland, USA. For me it was a historic conference to attend. It is my husband who is an alumnus of IIT Kharagpur, but Bhaagya took me, a spouse to deliver a talk at Kharagpur and help fund the activities of Students Forum for India’s Heritage (SFIH) that was in its initial stages then. So to me going to this conference meant much. Perhaps it is my deep appreciation of the Bhaartiya Samskriti and the fact of my being part Bengaali that pulled me to that part of India. The conference was fabulous—it is the first time I was at a place where the Indo-American was being recognized for all the contributions made by our people towards our adopted country, USA! If we read enough, we find that people of Indian origins have contributed to every country we have lived in. All who come in contact have benefited from the Aarsha Vidyaa (Rishi Knowledge) that is the inheritance of Bhaaratvarshis. More often than not, our contributions have not been recognized, particularly in the Western world, though they are first to open doors for Indian talents—of course only on an as-needed basis. India, however, has been able to supply whatever skill is needed to any country of the world—not a small achievement. Scientists, engineers, physicians, teachers, professors, medical personnel of every kind including physical therapists and much more. Our Spiritual gurus are providing the much needed mental stability, and Maharshi Patanjali of Yoga Sutra fame, is improving the much prized incomes and bodies of America too! Is there another nation such as ours on the face of this earth? It is only appropriate that I give credit to the USA, followed by some European countries, that they have attracted the best of the best from Asia. Is it a play of Karma that what is taken has to be given back in some way? Plunder of the ancient world may require that wealth return to them; that pride return to them and their ideas, at least some that were much better return to us for a better world.

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A View from the other side (part-9)

More than any other place on this Earth—HUMANITY living on the sacred land of Hindusthaan understands that Bhagavaan, Rab, God, Allah, called by a million names now and always—remains ONE. The source of all that we know or do not know can only be one Almighty. In Bhaaratvarsha people knew this fact for as long as human memory is traceable. Hindus and many non-Hindus too within India, remain committed to upholding this obvious truth no matter what the consequences. Knowledge once gained cannot be overtaken by ignorance—never!

It must be because we know that the “Sat” (absolute truth which is God) permeates the manifestation, that we do not call Mohammad a terrorist, Christ a homosexual and certainly we do not print revered Hindu deities on toilet seats, underwear, shoes; nor do we flush other peoples’ holy books down the drain. These acts are committed by the members of the developed and civilized side of our world!

Sitting here, on this side of the world (West), I cannot help wondering how such a mindset comes into existence. Ability to disrespect every Spiritual sentiment does not point to a civilized society. Then, I feel what a blessing it is to be born in Bhaarat Bhoomi and be a Hindu. A truly civilized Samskriti respects the spiritual sentiment of even the enemy and Bhaarat Maataa has been doing so by offering sanctuary to all persecuted people of this hurting planet of ours!! “The One Country that Always Protects, Preserves—Compassionately,” a book of such a name must be written by the publishers of The Hindu Renaissance—easy to read, clear and brief which can be given to all school children so they will not grow up being anti-India as many of their ancestors have done!

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A view from the other side (part-8)

Ancient, yet young and vibrant!
In this infinite manifestation called Jagat (Universe), there are infinite opportunities coming our way at all times. Yet there are special times for an individual, a community even a Nation. For Hindusthaan such a time is this century. There are many signs if only we stop and look. So let us look and having looked, let us act together to usher in the best time yet for Humanity.

The Hindus are well qualified to lead the World into a more ethical and honest era. We, the Hindus, have been around continuously, maintaining the essence of our traditions, in spite of the cruelest invasions into our lands. While most of the other ancient traditions nearly vanished under the horrible advance of the two expanding socio political systems somehow called religions, the Hindus kept going. When Hindus act through conviction and a thorough understanding of Sanaatan Dharma, much help from all sides will pour in – the world is tired of Jihaads and Crusades, religious terrorism and constant destruction that only harm the ordinary citizen in each country. In other words it is the perfect time for Hindus to provide a Spiritual leadership that has been the destiny of Bhaarat Maataa for ever. That is why we are still here!

Bhaarat has a young population, i.e. the largest number of youth lives in India today! I have read that almost five hundred and fifty million Bhaaratiyas may fall into the group of under twenty-five years of age. This is no small advantage at a time when most Western countries are faced with less and less youth in their populations. Even China faces an aging populace as does Japan. No one can usher in a monumental change as well as the young. And that is not all; it has been proven beyond a doubt, that this Bhaartiya youth is super bright. Village youth seem to be equally intelligent and possess more practical experience of life. They have stayed closer to our original Vedic Samskriti; which as we know, produced a phenomenal country that was the envy of the whole world. I want to share two quotes with the readers that reflect why so many came to Hindusthaan ---- the land of the Hindus; and why most stayed on to become part of the larger fabric of the Hindu ethos. This assimilation was possible because of the Hindu understanding of the Almighty as an all pervading Energy. We know that this Energy can be invoked through prayers, with in this conscious, intelligent Creation and it can be called upon for help in innumerable ways.

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A View from the other side (part-7)

From across the oceans at times, I am baffled at what happens in Hindustaan! My heart loves that land to the utmost, my rational side wonders at what really went wrong and how long will it take to fix the Hindu psyche?

There are so many people all over this planet of ours, waiting for the great country of Bhaarat to rise once again. Major institutes within the USA are studying India to unravel her genius of staying alive through so much, for so long. The Cato Institute and the Brookings Institution are two that I know of, there are many others. They know the immense value of our culture whereas we, protected by it, know almost nothing and are thus happy in our oblivion.

Hindu saints like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar,(श्री श्री रवि शंकर) Amritaanandamayi maa,(अमृतानंदमयी माँ) Swami Chinmayaanandaji,(स्वामी चिन्मयानन्दजी) Swami Dayananda Saraswati ji,(स्वामी दयानंद सरस्वती जी) and so many more are revered by millions in the world. The West is flocking to Hindu traditions more and more every day; yet in India, somehow a most respected sanyaasi,(सन्यासी) His Holiness Shree Jayandra Sarasvati ji(स्वामी दयानंद सरस्वती जी) of Kanchi Peetha(कैंची पीठ)  has been arrested. Shocking beyond expression!

As a Hindu, as an American, I subscribe to the supremacy of the Law of the Land and its application equally to all citizens. However, nowhere in the whole world is this more skewed than in India at the present time. India is the only country in the world that does not seem to care for its majority. It is obsessed with the minority issues in a very sick and humiliating way. In the final analysis the desire to keep everyone happy produces more unhappiness on all fronts. In any other decent country, if a need arose to arrest a person of Shree Jayandra Saraswati ji’s stature a certain decorum would have been maintained. It would be easy to request a house arrest during the time of the investigation. There is hardly any danger of a person of his fame of actually running away like a common criminal. Absolutely no sanctity should have been broken and he should have been allowed to continue the lifestyle of a Sannyasi, which is not possible in a common jail! This could have been done in accordance with the law—as in legality and in accordance with the law of decency—as in Humanity.

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A view from the other side (part-6)

What Makes Us Unique?
Recently I received a book written by Shree Sandipan Deb entitled, The IITians, the story of a remarkable Indian institution and how its alumni are reshaping the world. My husband was among the third batch from IIT Kharagpur to graduate in civil engineering. Reading the book he seems to have done most of the typical things that IITians have done—coming for a Masters and PhD here to the USA, going back and working in Bhaarat for three years and then returning to find more satisfying work conditions and eventually success. In his case the subject of his PhD, environmental engineering, itself contributed to his return to the USA, as in India of the 1960s though badly needed, we did not have the luxury to think about the environment. Bhaaratvarsha had been left in shambles by the colonizing era preceded by the Islamic and Portuguese crusades; our immediate need was food, shelter and to secure our borders. Imagine the Indo-Gangiatic plains not being able to provide food for a mere 350 million under the able governance of the Europeans, which under the mismanagement of the Hindus has been able to feed over a billion and even export food grains!

This story repeats itself in many fields; the IIT story is certainly one such important story. What is pertinent here is that these IITs were set up in the days of a terribly traumatized country—post partitioned India; not the best time to envision anything great, let alone such amazing educational institutions that one day would be instrumental in letting much pride return to us.

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A view from the other side (part-5)

The Spiritual Context of Human Rights
This time I want to share a very unique experience that I had recently, which relates to the issue of human rights to a certain extent. All over the USA, institutes for healing racism have sprung up in the past few years. The one in our town of Grand Rapids, Michigan, invited me to attend two full days of a workshop on the subject. Generally schools, corporations and other organizations pay to send their employees so they are better equipped to handle the increasing diversity in the population of the USA. Arguably, India may be the only country more diverse than this nation on planet Earth as of now!

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A view from the other side (part-4)

Identities in a Multicultural World
In a world where ever larger populations are on the move from country to country identity becomes a very complex issue. Just fifty years ago it would have been unthinkable for people to be born in a small village in Europe and live in a large and fast changing metropolis like Bangalore, Bhaarat or the vice versa. In the present era this is commonplace, facilitated by easier and faster means of communication, travel, as well as global job opportunities. So the issue of identity is a crisis for all that live away from countries of origin; it seems in a different way the off springs of the uprooted (many willingly) have identity issues too, which varies by ethnic groups.

It is well known that when moving, we take not only a few bags of things with us but also many habits, in fact this is how humans cross-fertilize cultures. Identities are tied to these habits that seem to form rather early in our lives and become ingrained; in one form or another these stay with us - all through the complicated journey of our existence on Earth. That must be the reason why Mom’s food is the best tasting! Another significant add- on to this learning in early years is our religious ideas and concepts of Bhagavaan (God). These then become our core values forming our identities; when threatened cause great disturbances to both the individual and to the world at large. In fact, two most sustaining habits from our beginnings seem to be food and God!

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A view from the Other side (Part-3)

Frontier Arjunas of Northeast India
I am just back from the Maatri Bhoomi and this time from an exceptional trip, the experience of which I want to share with you. I had the privilege of being invited by two prestigious organizations of Bhaarat, the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla (happens to be my Janma Sthaana—confirming Karmic connections!) and Vivekananda Kendra (VK), a monumental organization in itself. On my own I included Kashmir in my travels.

I am told some call VK workers, Frontier Arjunas—and very appropriately so! It is often said that India is Eternal but very few think why it is so? Its eternity is owed to the Vision of the Rishikaa/Rishi culture of this amazing land, which continuously produces people who are a tribute to these ancestors in every sense. In the three weeks that I spent with the Vice President of Vivekananda Kendra, Su Shree Nivedita Bhide and her team of Jeevanvrati Kaaryakartas (Life long workers) numbering only—one hundred and seventy four—but equal in determination to a thousand, I was reassured of the continuity of our land and its culture. The unique thing about the dedication of these people is their understanding of the present needs of the country, their devotion to her and the determined way they work. In a world where money seems to override all morality, all ethics, these volunteers have given their lives to make things better for the present and future citizens of their country—majority of whom seem unaware of the danger that Bhaarat Bhoomi faces on so many fronts. Also most remain oblivious to the sacrifice and the hard work these volunteers do every single day to secure the land for posterity—children of the uncaring and unconcerned. How unfathomable is our Human existence!

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A view from the other side (Part-2)

We must stand up against the Adharma of Conversions
Conversions are a hot subject everywhere now. September 11, 2001 is going to remain in the psyche of all Americans, especially the white - European American, for a very long time. I make this reference to the European Americans in particular as they have been shaken up more by the incidents of recent terrorist acts on the soil of this country. Americans of other origins and hues have faced so much unjust behaviour from dominant groups that their reaction is more of sadness and less of panic.

For the fundamentalists within the Christian faith, this is an opportunity to further enflame the fear of the fearful! Apart from being able to shred all other traditions to pieces, they can convince their flock that it is all because of the infidels, pagans, heathens and all who do not accept their religious beliefs. Hindus are the worst -- but others are included. Muslims are at least people of THE BOOK so a bit more tolerable than, Hindu Jain, Boudha, Sikh and a host of other traditions, which deserve no respect. In fact the fundamentalists would like to see all of us blended into a creamed soup of one religion or simply eradicated. We are called Devil worshippers, Godless and people of darkness often on Evangelizing Television channels in this secular and powerful country. Did you know that? Of course, with the presence of not one, but two true religions, (neither recognizes the legitimacy of the other) there is a bit of a problem as you can tell!! They will not, cannot agree either in the name of God or in the name of Allah. Freedom in Religion? They do not believe in that at all!

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A View from the other side (part-1)

"Shubham Karoti Kalyaanam, Aarogyam Dhan Sampadah
Shatru Bhudhi Vinaashaaya Deepa Jyotir Namostute"
I begin this very first column for the new, Hindu Renaissance quarterly in the tradition of our Samskriti (culture). All beginnings must be auspicious, so Shubham is just the word I needed. A prayer done for eons by Hindus as they light a lamp in their home or Mandir altars each morning. To me this is one of the wisest prayers -- as it asks for all that Humans usually hold important like, wealth and health, but it goes on to include the one thing which is the base of all our emotions and desires including the feeling of happiness – The Mind. This we are made to understand is the Aadhaar (foundation) of all feeling! So very beautifully, this Praarthanaa asks for a mind that can be a friend and not an enemy! A mind that turns into an enemy creates a world vision that is disruptive to our own Peace and often destructive to everything around us.

It is true that without a proper frame of mind nothing can be enjoyed. Even when everything seems to be in order we are left with a feeling of agitation. Then there are those moments when all seems to be well in spite of something obviously amiss. When we start to consciously, be aware of such moments we find the dawning of wisdom.

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