Tag Archive: Hinduism


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By Sharon St Joan

 

Inextricably intertwined with the animals of the forest, with the rivers, the mountains, and the rocks, since time immemorial, has been the spiritual life of India, as Dr. Nanditha Krishna writes in her very beautiful book, Hinduism and Nature. The spiritual traditions of the East tend to have a kind, gentle, and reverent approach to the natural world.

 

The gods of the Vedas, the earliest books ever written, were all linked to nature. Indra is the god of rains and storms, thunder and lightning. Shiva lives at Mount Kailas, a great mountain in the land of snow and ice. We are all the children of Mother Earth.

 

God himself comes to earth in the forms of the animals. Lord Vishnu incarnates first as a fish; then as a turtle; then a wild boar; then a half-man, half lion; and only then as a human. Everything in nature is sacred. All animals and all of nature belong to god, all are in fact manifestations of god, and all, ultimately, are a sacred part of god.

 

Human beings are not given dominion over nature, but rather are expected to protect and care for the natural world, living in harmony with it.

 

As we struggle today with the reality of climate change, this is a book with many lessons for the times in which we live. Despite the grave concern that so many of us have about our destructive approach to nature – progress in changing human behavior just limps along, and so far, the destruction of the natural world seems to be not just continuing, but by some accounts is winning and gaining momentum.

 

Unfortunately, we tend to put climate change at the bottom of our collective list of priorities, and when we think of it at all – we think mainly in terms of benefit to humans. How many carbon footprints can we count – how much energy can we get from wind and solar?  Really, this is a far cry from seeing ourselves as a part of nature – we are a long way from worshipping the trees, the mountains and the rivers, as our ancestors once did, even in Europe.

 

Some of us are appalled at the thought of worshipping anything at all (and this also is a western mindset). Heaven forbid that we should honor the sacredness of animals and plants. Instead, we objectify nature. We remain alienated from the earth and the beauty of all the living beings of the earth. Yet, if the earth is to survive, we will need to make an about-face. We need to acknowledge the intrinsic beauty and value of all life.

 

The most ancient books of Hinduism were composed in the forests, where sages and wise people lived.

 

Every village in India once had a sacred forest – maybe two acres, or maybe two hundred. Within the boundaries of this sacred grove, all life was sacred. Within these forests lived the gods that people worshipped. The trees and the animals were not to be harmed for any reason, though, in recent decades, many of these forests have fallen into disrepair. One of Dr. Nanditha Krishna’s foundations, the CPR Environmental Education Centre, has restored 53 of these sacred groves; and their upkeep is now being managed by local villages.

 

Most of one of the two great epics of India, the Ramayana, takes place inside forests, as the hero Rama travels throughout India traversing all the many different kinds of forest; there are spectacular descriptions of flowering trees and plants, and the graceful beauty of the wild animals.

 

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Every river in India is a goddess – except for two who are male gods. Beautiful stories are told about these river goddesses. Because the river Ganges did not want to fall straight down to the earth out of fear that her great power might destroy the plants and animals below, she sought the help of Shiva. When she fell down from heaven to earth, the water power was caught in Shiva’s hair, in order to break the fall, then it fell gently down, from Shiva’s head, to the earth below. It still does today.

 

The land of India, north and south, is filled with sacred lakes, and sacred ponds known as “tanks”, which are artificial bodies of water, some created many centuries ago. These sacred bodies of water hold large amounts of rainfall to protect against droughts. Seeping from these ponds and tanks into the surrounding soil, the stored water is available to the plants and trees during times of water scarcity. Many of these tanks were built in times past by kings whose engineers understood the value of conserving water.

 

Even today, despite the deleterious effects of western influence, which is all too pervasive in India, particularly in the fields of science and education, there is a strong, vibrant love and respect for nature. There remains today, as always in the past, a profound reverence for all life – human, animal, plant, and the features of the landscape – the mighty rivers, mountains, and forests.

 

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There is much that we in the west can learn from this great land, whose wisdom stretches back at least 5,000 years, and probably much, much farther. Dr. Nanditha Krishna’s beautifully written book, Hinduism and Nature, is a very good place to start on this journey to broaden our understanding of the earth and our place in nature.

 

Photo Credits

 

Top Photo: Ondrej Zvacek / This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Wikipedia. / Northern side of Mount Kailash

 

Second photo: Anonymous [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons / The Ganges falling through Shiva’s hair.

 

Third photo: Rbsrajput / Wikipedia: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. / The Narmada River.

 

Hinduism and Nature - release of book

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The book, Ganesha: the Auspicious…the Beginning, written by Shakunthala Jagannathan, who passed away in 2000, and her daughter, Dr. Nanditha Krishna, is about the elephant-headed God, Ganesha, who is beloved by all Hindus.

 

In general, a prayer to Ganesha preceeds all occasions of Hindu worship and all events of any importance, such as the dedication of a building or a new business.

 

Ganesha is jovial, kind, and good-natured – he brings success and good fortune to all endeavors. Like the elephant who makes a way through the dense jungle so that other animals can follow, Ganesha overcomes all obstacles, he finds a way where there seems to be no possible way. He is the very essence of positivity and possibility.

 

One of the sects of Hinduism, the Ganapatya sect, worships Ganesha as the ultimate form of God, as Brahman, who is the ultimate reality, as the One Truth, who is Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva – the One from whom the entire universe was born.

 

Because, with the proportions of an elephant, he is very big, he contains within him the entire cosmos and all that exists.

 

A more widely held perspective within Hinduism, however, places the triad of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva as being the three primary Gods who were present at the beginning, with Brahma having been given the task of creating the universe. From this viewpoint, Ganesha is the son of Shiva and his consort, Parvati.

 

There is no conflict though between these two views. Hinduism has a way of reconciling and including many divergent ways of seeing things. It is rather like the old parable of nine blind men describing the elephant – one who has felt the elephant’s legs says he is like four pillars, one who has felt the trunk says he is long and tubular, one who has felt only the tusks says he is sharp, curved, and pointed, and so on. No one is right or wrong – all are describing reality as they perceive it. Since reality is vast and infinite beyond our imagining, all the different stories that are part of the Hindu tradition serve as ways to add to one’s understanding.

 

Ganesha is the sacred syllable Om, the first sound and the first word, from which all created things spring forth. Ganesha appears at dawn, in joy, dancing in the first light. The mystic syllable Om encompasses the entire universe, extending beyond the boundaries of time and space, and this is the reason it is spoken at the beginning and end of meditation or prayer.

 

The book, Ganesha: The Auspicious…The Beginning is a profound and delightful book, which gives one an insight into the nature of this wonderful God, Ganesha, who brings peace, calm, knowledge, freedom from burdens, and success – who is at once infinitely complex and beautifully simple.

 

Image: “This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.” From a painting done around 1800 by an unknown artist. / Wikimedia Commons / “The five prime deities of Smartas in a Ganesha-centric Panchayatana: Ganesha (centre) with Shiva (top left), Devi or Durga (top right), Vishnu (bottom left) and Surya (bottom right).”

 

To see Ganesha: The Auspicisous…the Beginning on Amazon, click here.

 

© Sharon St Joan, 2014

 

 

 

A water buffalo

By Dr. Nanditha Krishna

The late Paramacharya of Kanchi – venerated as a saint in his lifetime – said that any function (wedding, festival, etc.) involving the death of animals – including the wearing of silk – cannot be termed as “Hindu”, as every Hindu shastra and mantra speaks of ahimsa as an ideal and invokes nature, both animals and plants, in every ritual.

Unfortunately, Hinduism, in its all-absorbing catholicism, has permitted the entry of all kinds of practices, including animal sacrifice, which was given up in the Vedantic period (1000 B.C.) following the influence of the Upanishads, which came out strongly against the sacrifices of the early Vedic period. Buddhism and Jainism were a similar result of Upanishadic teachings.

Durga puja (Navaratri) also celebrates the defeat of the buffalo-grazers of ancient India by the food-producing Dravidians (Mundas) who worshipped the Mother Goddess. Thus you will find that Durga pooja and buffalo sacrifice is strongest in places of Dravidian culture, such as eastern, north-eastern (including Nepal) and southern India. It has nothing to do with religion. It is a mere celebration of the take over of land which belonged to indigenous people by their conquerors. Tribes such as the Gonds, Maria Gonds, Todas, etc., still worship and graze the buffalo and bury it with ritual honours when it dies. Sacrificing the buffalo – who is described as a demon – was their way of showing contempt for the buffalo grazers. I have written extensively on this subject in my BOOK OF DEMONS, published by Penguin India.

There is neither God nor religion in the act of taking life. I condemn it strongly. We Hindus should work BEFORE the next Navaratri to educate people about how and why buffaloes are sacrificed. The Devi Mahatmya, which is read for nine days during Navaratri, does not even mention animal sacrifice, so it is obviously alien to Durga Pooja. Devi merely kills the demon Mahisha-asura (among others), who took the form of a buffalo. Animal sacrifice is a laukika (folk) not shastraic (canonical) tradition, so you have to persuade local people to give it up at every individual temple.

The Varahariswarar Temple near Kanchipuram

In the 7th century A.D. the great philosopher Adi Shankara stopped animal sacrifice wherever he went – from Pashupatinath in Nepal to Kanchi Kamakshi in the south (he walked all over India). The Shankaracharyas of Kanchi have stopped it in many villages in Tamilnadu, which is one of the reasons why they were hounded by the government. Unfortunately, it suits governments to let the common people “amuse” themselves with sacrifice, etc. so that they will not notice more important problems such as corruption and mis-governance.

Today we are living in an age of crass commercialisation and conspicuous consumption. How does a person show off his/her wealth and power? By sacrificing many buffaloes. It has been mentioned that the cost of a young buffalo is anywhere between Rs 30,000 and Rs 35,000. A person who wastes his money and the life of an animal so easily is not only showing off his wealth, but also his power to take away life – making him a “living God”. That is the ultimate arrogance.

A temple cat, Kanchipuram

Unfortunately, thanks to the Muslim demand for animal sacrifice on Bakr-Id, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act says that nothing contained in the Act shall apply to the use of animals for religious purposes, giving a clean chit to animal sacrifice. Muslim and Hindu animal activists have to work together to stop this cruelty and nonsense. While Ibrahim may have sacrificed a ram instead of his son, God never asked him to kill a ram every year. Nor does Ma Durga thirst for buffalo blood.

Top photo: Zzvet / dreamstime.com / A water buffalo

 

Second photo:  The Varahariswarar Temple near Kanchipuram, Tamilnadu

 

Third photo: A temple cat, Kanchipuram