“In the system of the varnashrama institution there are many principles of religious traditions to help members of the family grow properly and attain spiritual values. The elder members are responsible for such purifying processes in the family, beginning from birth to death. But on the death of the elder members, such family traditions of purification may stop, and the remaining younger family members may develop irreligious habits and thereby lose their chance for spiritual salvation.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 1.39 Purport)
Christian. Muslim. Buddhist. Jewish. Does Hindu follow the same model? Is Hinduism an actual thing? The origin is the Vedas. As a Sanskrit word the meaning is “knowledge.” Real knowledge is about the self. Everything else is ancillary, temporary in nature and therefore disqualified from consideration as the ultimate objective. Even a complex subject like physics or mechanics pales in comparison to the travels of the individual spirit, whose size is compared to the tip of a piece of hair divided into ten thousand parts.
Mind is one of the subtle elements covering the soul in the conditioned state. Mind is more subtle than any of the five gross elements: earth, water, fire, air and ether. Subtler than the mind is intelligence, and ego is more so. The soul is beyond the gross and the subtle. Therefore the science of the soul, which is the actual subject of the Vedas, is more complex than the human mind can fathom.
Followers of the Vedas may object to the identification of “Hindu.” To begin, the naming is improper. The proper identification is based on the Sanskrit word, while the more modern usage is through outside observation. That is to say those who are not familiar with the culture give it a specific name, without the proper understanding.
Secondly, within Vedic culture there are variations in different departments. If someone is Hindu or following the way of life passed on from the Vedas, they are not necessarily following the same path as everyone else grouped into the same classification.
1. Rituals adhered to
In one family the wife observes a complete fast one day a year. This is supposedly to help her husband. The wife sacrifices so much for the benefit of her protector, who is known as pati.
In another family the tradition is to observe a specific kind of worship on a specific day in the annual calendar. The purpose is to raise auspiciousness. Purify the atmosphere. Sacrifice time for something besides personal interest.
The variations are due mostly to family tradition and occupation. The Sanskrit word varna describes a person’s natural proclivity towards a certain kind of work. The classification is based on material qualities, guna, and the type of work performed, karma. For example, it makes sense that the priestly class would have rituals different from the businessmen and laborers.
2. Objects of worship
The elephant-god. The monkey-type person holding a mountain in his hand. The guy with poison in his throat. The many-armed lady seated on a tiger. The bluish figure with a peacock feather in His hair. The goddess seated on a lotus flower.
Hinduism is known for its many gods. The less intelligent say to worship any one that you choose. Indeed, there are many objects of worship amongst followers of the Vedas. These are divine figures, empowered by a higher authority to deliver rewards, when worshiped properly.
3. Objectives of life
It would make sense to have different deities, considering that desires are not uniform. One person wants wealth. Another wants ability in reading and writing. Some are willing to sacrifice for a while in order to get what they want, while others need quick reciprocation. The desires may change within the same individual during the course of a lifetime, leading to different gods worshiped at different times.
The Vedas describe four primary objectives of life. Dharma, artha, kama and moksha. Today I want to be religious, while tomorrow I’m looking for progress in economic pursuits. I need to satisfy my senses, and when everything is finished let not the cycle repeat again.
Whatever the objective sought at the moment, the ultimate aim is always the same. Come closer to God the person. The many deities are empowered by Him. Worship is authorized since it is a way to break free of the mentality in ignorance, where the individual thinks they can do everything on their own. Genuine religion is what separates the human being from the animal. As it is difficult to purify the consciousness quickly and completely, there are so many rules, regulations and rituals passed down. This allows for a gradual progression towards perfection.
That is to say perfect consciousness of God the person can be achieved in a single lifetime or after many. The idea is to keep progressing. Vedic culture is based on achieving this goal. The different aspects begin to make more sense when understood in this context.
Why fast on a certain day? It helps to break free of the dependence on food for happiness. Why get married? It helps to curb the appetite for illicit sex life. Why worship this person for money? Better to go to a higher figure than to think the complexities involved in economics can be figured out by you alone.
A way to save time is to approach the Almighty directly. In this respect not all devas are the Supreme. Vishnu is the soul of an existence, and that same Vishnu expands into different forms. In His two-handed form He is known as Krishna, the all-attractive one. That Krishna can be approached directly by calling His names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
The benefit of the direct method is that purification occurs in the process. If there are other desires, objectives related to a temporary existence, that is not immediate disqualification for worship. Indeed, the only necessary quality is sincerity. Be honest and truthful in the approach towards Bhagavan and help will arrive that no other deva can provide.
What a prototypical Hindu to be?
Since many variations to see.
Like when fasting on particular day,
And which mantra for desire to say.
Deities honored also not the same,
But in background a singular aim.
That closer to Supreme Lord coming,
Easier when His devotee becoming.
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