What is power in Hinduism:
Hinduism is the abode of cultural beliefs and it encompasses many sects into it.
Goddess worship is one of the longest standing religious traditions in Hinduism. The term shakti refers to multiple ideas. Its actual definition is dynamic energy that is responsible for creation, maintenance, and destruction of the universe. It is believed as female energy because shakti is responsible for creation, as mothers are responsible for birth. Apart from shakti, nothing in this universe would happen; she stimulates siva, which is passive energy in the form of consciousness, to create. Ardhanarishvara who is a Hindu deity who is half male and half female, is an iconic representation of this idea. The God is analogously male and female, illustrating that the creation, maintenance, and destruction of the universe is dependent on both forces.
Shakti also mentions to the manifestations of this energy, namely goddesses. Some deities embody the destructive aspects of shakti, such as death, degeneration, and illness, while other goddesses embody the creative and auspicious powers of shakti, such as nature, the elements, music, art, dance, and prosperity. Shakti might be identified as the gentle and benevolent Uma, consort of Shiva, or Kali, the terrifying force destroying evil, or Durga, the warrior who conquers forces that threaten the stability of the universe. Goddess followers often view their deity as the all-powerful Supreme Being, second not even to a male god. There are popular goddess traditions all over India, especially in West Bengal and south India. Goddesses personifying various aspects of power very often predominate in village culture. Village males, women, and children, when they pray for immediate needs, address a female, not a male.
The Hindu culture also considers women the vessels of shakti. This personification with shakti acknowledges women as the vessels of both creative and destructive power. Like many recent cultures, Hindu culture has a hard time reconciling the biological compulsion of these two powerful forces. Few feminists and scholars criticize this identification because they believe it has led society to label women either as saints or sinners, with little room in between. They argue that women, like benevolent goddesses, are expected to exhibit forgiveness, compassion, and tolerance of others’ transgressions. If they conform to this role, patriarchal society accepts them; if they do not, and attempt to exhibit independence and assertiveness, they are considered destructive, disrupting community and family social structures. While others argue that the idea of shakti can be used to empower Indian women to resist patriarchy. The debate continues still today.
Sannayas Dharma in Hinduism:
In Hinduism renunciation or sanyasa is the true mark of spiritual life. It is believed to be the simple and straightforward way to achieve moksha or liberation. In true sense of speaking, in the context of sanyasa or renunciation, the word, “achieve,” is not the right word to use because “achieve” denotes materialism, seeking and fighting for things.
Whereas in renunciation one has to give up worldly life and material possessions. And live without aiming for anything in particular. Including the goal of salvation, liberation or union with God. Enduring a purpose is important in worldly life. Whereas not having any purpose is the central feature of renunciation or sanyasa in Hinduism. The four handed Varnashrama Dharma, however, is not compulsory for all. This is also not necessary that everyone has to enter Sanyasa. In the last phase of their lives after completing the prior three stages. It is the ideal for those who choose to become householders. And practice their duties for the order and regularity of the world and the continuation of their families.
A human being can take up sanyasa at any age or time in his life. It has no bindings as such if someone wants to become a renunciant at an early age. In all alike situations one has to be guided strictly according to one’s inner aspirations. Both Buddha and Mahavira became renunciants when they were young. So did Nachiketa. The thought to become a renunciant may arise in a person after an intense spiritual experience, as in case of Ramana Maharshi, or it may happen according to the knowledge of an enlightened spiritual master, as in case of Lahari Mahasaya and Yogananda.
Nature in Hinduism:
Reverence for life, awareness of nature’s forces (earth, sky, air, water, and fire), and awareness of the various orders of life (plants, trees, forests, and animals). These are the beliefs embedded in the Hindu perspective of nature.
Nature is seen by Hindus as a gift of God which can heal the soul. Early Hindu temples were thus built in areas surrounded by trees and rocks, with flowers and fruits sometimes offered in prayers.
Hindus also have the greatest respect when dealing with plants and animals. All plants and animals are believed to have a soul. Hence, Hindus have to perform a daily repentance for killing plants and animals for food, called visva deva. This respect is linked to the idea that all life on earth contributes the maintaining earth’s ecological balance.
Hindus also believe that there is a need to give up some comforts of everyday life, a concept called Yagna, or sacrifice, in relation to the ‘modification of actions in consonance with the cosmic order’, in order to achieve harmony with nature. For example, a sacrifice would be leaving behind a plot of forested land, usually used for agriculture, in its natural state. Leaving it would benefit the environment as natural vegetation would grow there.
Goddess Earth, or Bhoodevi, deserves the reverence of humans because she feeds us, gives us shelter, and provides materials to be used in our daily lives. If we do not take care of her, she will not take care of us.
Upanayana means “sitting close by,” referring to the boy’s taking shelter of the guru (spiritual teacher). According to Vedas, he would move away from home to the teacher’s ashram, called “gurukula.” Even members of the royal family were trained to live simply without luxury or sense-gratification, in order to keep their minds pure and unspoiled. When in future married, they would remain attached to the spiritual values they imbibed during their school days. The emphasis at gurukula was on the study of the Vedas and development of character.
In primal times (kalpa) thread ceremony for women was recommended. Or the father, paternal uncle or brother would impart knowledge to the girl. However, other men were prohibited from doing this task. A celibate girl (brahmacharini) would ask for alms in her own household. Manu (2.66) states that the thread ceremony in girls was performed without a mantra. From this, it appears that since Manu’s times this custom slowly started declining.
In the succeeding age, the Panigrahan sanskar (rite) performed by the bridegroom on the girl was the main sanskar. The Upanayan chapter of the Sanskar-Ratnamala mentions the following two types of women based on the quotes from ‘Haritsmruti, 1. Brahmavadini – the one who is desirous of studying the Brahman principle. Her thread ceremony should be performed and she should be allowed to study the Vedas. 2. Sadyovadhu – one who wants a worldly life. Her marriage should be arranged soon after the thread ceremony is performed. Even today followers of the Arya Samaj perform the thread cermony (Upanayan) on girls.’
Every human being is born a Shudra, that is he just learns how to clean himself physically. However, by performing rites (karma) he is reborn (dvij). ‘Dvi’ means two, that is second time and ‘j’ means to be born. Since due to the thread ceremony the boy has a kind of rebirth he is said to become twice born (dvij). The second birth of a celibate (brahmachari) is marked by the rite of the thread ceremony. It is symbolized by wearing a girdle of munja grass. In this birth, Savitri is supposed to be his mother and Acharya (the teacher) his father. (Manusmruti 2.170). Once he becomes twice born he becomes worthy of chanting the Gayatri mantra, that is qualified to do spiritual practice; hence performing the thread ceremony is a must, while marriage is not.
In Hinduism there are no commandments. In other words there are no rigid “do’s and don’ts.” Hinduism gives us the wisdom to make up our own mind on what we put in our body except there is a firm prohibition of eating cow meat (beef). All Hindu scriptures including the Vedas, Upnishads and the Gita tell us, “You are what you eat.” They further state that the food we eat determines the temperament we possess. The food is divided into three categories namely
Sattvic (pure), Rajasic (energizing) and Tamsic (dull). The sattvic foods produce calmness and serenity of mind and include plants, vegetables, nuts, fruits, grains, pulses and milk products. The rajasic foods contribute to the restlessness of mind and include onions, garlic, peppers, spices and sour and bitter foods. The tamsic foods lead to the degeneration of the human nature and include meat, alcoholic beverages, and stale food.
The concept of Shiva Shakti finds its deep roots in Yoga philosophy, especially in the Tantra Yoga tradition seen as the manifest and the unmanifest. In Yoga the union of Shiva and Shakti is seen as the union of Consciousness and Energy. One cannot exist without the other, they are the mirror image of each other. Together they become the indestructible force, the masculine and feminine that is present within each and every individual and the cosmos as a whole.
Awakening of the Kundalini is the process of higher awareness or higher mind, which is beyond the notion of time, space and object. In Tantra it is known as atma darshan (vision of the soul) when the liberated energy and consciousness are freed from the physical body. In Yoga,the physical body is seen as the storehouse of prana shakti, the mind is the storehouse of manas shakti, and soul (higher mind) is the storehouse of atma shakti. The three energies depend on each other, whatever the mind dwells upon, the entire Shakti is absorbed in that.
Hinduism is a vast religion with diverse practices. In our next articles we shall reflect on the various sects of Hinduism.