“A God who needed no temple, transcended all, was accessible to or within everyone"
“For instance, Armstrong shows the revolutionary effect of the prophets in Judaism, beginning with Isaiah, at the time when the J and E material was still being written. She shows that prophetic Judaism was an 'Axial religion,' a development of the Axial age when cities became the centers of culture in Asia and the Mediterranean. Other Axial religious developments included the teachings of Socrates, Plato, Zoroaster, the Upanishadic sages, the Buddha, Lao-tse, and Confucius. These all taught a universal ethic, insisting that God or the Absolute needed no temple, transcended all, was accessible to or within everyone, and that compassion was the highest virtue.”
A history of the concept of God
The title goes for brevity over accuracy. Perhaps it could have been titled 'A History of the Idea of God in Judaism, Christianity and Islam,' but that would have lacked panáche, to say the least. Armstrong concentrates on the changes in the concept of God, particularly the unique aspects of monotheistic theology, for instance, God as separate from Creation, God having a 'personal' nature, and so forth.
Religious cultures in conflict
Armstrong makes theological history simply fascinating. Beginning with the evidence for near-universal worship of a Sky God in prehistory, Armstrong traces the shift from the Sky God to the Earth Mother to polytheism, and then focuses on the revolutionary development of Abraham's faith in one God which would clash with Canaanite, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian paganism for the next 1500 years. Many Christians interested in objective Biblical scholarship are familiar with the “Documentary Hypothesis" of the Pentateuch stemming from sources J, E, P, and D. Yet never have I seen an attempt to reconstruct the history and interplay of these perspectives throughout ancient Israel and the surrounding regions, and not in my wildest dreams would I have imagined it would be so illuminating...
For instance, Armstrong shows the revolutionary effect of the prophets in Judaism, beginning with Isaiah, at the time when the J and E material was still being written. She shows that prophetic Judaism was an 'Axial religion,' a development of the Axial age when cities became the centers of culture in Asia and the Mediterranean. Other Axial religious developments included the teachings of Socrates, Plato, Zoroaster, the Upanishadic sages, the Buddha, Lao- tse, and Confucius. These all taught a universal ethic, insisting that God or the Absolute needed no temple, transcended all, was accessible to or within everyone, and that compassion was the highest virtue.
The prophets' teaching that 'God desires mercy, and not sacrifice,' was in sharp contrast to the priestly, Temple-based establishment, which insisted the Temple was the ultimate dwelling on God on Earth, having chosen the Israel out of all the nations. (This was the beginning of a clash which would endure until John the Baptist and the ministry of Jesus.)
But this is just the beginning. Instead of specializing on a single religion or period in time, Armstrong boldly takes up all the threads of theology throughout the four millennia of the monotheistic religions. With them, she weaves a tapestry of our collective religious experience which can help us understand our faith and ourselves better. Subsequent chapters focus on the life of Christ, early Christian theologies, understandings (and misunderstandings) of Trinity, the influence of Greek philosophy upon Christianity and Islam, mysticism, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and Fundamentalism.
Three Persons or three personae?
A special treat is her insight on Trinitarian thought. It was a surprise to learn that the term 'persons' in 'One God in three Persons' came from the Latin word personae, referring to the masks of characters in a drama. Personae was the Latin translation of the Greek word hypostases, 'expressions.' The different words used in Greek and Latin to describe the Trinity reflected (and influenced) very different understandings of God's nature. For the Eastern bishops, the Trinity described how One God, whose essence (ousia) is mysterious, ineffable, utterly beyond and above being known or described in any way, imparts his energies (energeia) to Creation through the expressions (hypostases) of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In other words, the Eastern view of the Trinity reconciled knowledge of God as both personal and beyond personal, knowing and loving in his expressions, and yet beyond any human conception at all in essence. Have you ever heard it like that before?
World-wide paradigm shifts
Brilliant also is her ability to relate the historic phenomena of mysticism, reformation, rationalism, and fundamentalism beyond just the Christian perspective, into a world-wide perspective simultaneously developing in all 'the religions of God.' Her revelation that the Reformation was not just a Protestant reformation, but a universal one is a brilliant example. As the printing press spread, the authority of the written word took on unprecedented dimensions. Galileo, she points out, was condemned by the Catholic Church not because his heliocentric universe conflicted with any doctrine or dogma, but because it contradicted an extremely literal reading of the Bible.
Especially helpful is her knowledge about Islamic history with revealing treatments on philosophical and mystical eras in Islam, before the relatively recent phenomenon of Islamic Fundamentalism. It was fascinating to learn that some Sufi schools were so devoted to Jesus that they adapted the Shahada to 'there is no God but God, and Jesus is His Prophet.'"
A History of God
The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
A God who is in the deepest sense of the word subjective
"People, such as the ulema, might be unable to understand the Islam of a Sufi like Ibn al-Arabi. Muslim tradition makes Khidr the master of all who seek a mystic truth, which is inherently superior to and quite different from the God which is the same as everybody else's but to a God who is in the deepest sense of the word subjective.”
Karen Armstrong, A History of God
Ballantine Books, 1993, p. 237.
Main Entry: subjective
(1): peculiar to a particular individual : personal (subjective judgments) (2): a: modified or affected by personal views, experience, or
background (a subjective account of the incident)
b: arising from conditions within the brain or sense organs and not directly caused by external stimuli (subjective sensations)
c: arising out of or identified by means of one's perception of one's own states and processes (a subjective symptom of disease)
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
People who have never even glimpsed the realm of the sacred, the infinite vastness behind that word (God), use it with great conviction, as if they knew what they are talking about.
I love the Buddha's simple definition of enlightenment as “The end of suffering.” There is nothing superhuman in that, is there? Of course, as a definition, it is incomplete. It only tells you what enlightenment is not: no suffering. But what's left when there is no more suffering? The Buddha is silent on that, and his silence implies that you'll have to find out for yourself. He uses a negative definition so that the mind cannot make it into something to believe in or into a superhuman accomplishment, a goal that is impossible for you to attain. Despite this precaution, the majority of Buddhists still believe that enlightenment is for the Buddha, not for them, at least not in this lifetime.
You used the word Being. Can you explain what you mean by that?
Being is the eternal, ever-present One Life beyond the myriad forms of life that are subject to birth and death. However, Being is not only beyond but also deep within every form as its innermost invisible and indestructible essence. This means that it is accessible to you now as your own deepest self, your true nature. But don't seek to grasp it with your mind. Don't try to understand it. You can know it only when the mind is still. When you are present, when your attention is fully and intensely in the Now, Being can be felt, but it can never be understood mentally. To regain awareness of Being and to abide in that state of "feeling-realization" is enlightenment.
When you say Being, are you talking about God? If you are, then why don't you say it?
The word God has become empty of meaning through thousands of years of misuse. I use it sometimes, but I do so sparingly. By misuse, I mean that people who have never even glimpsed the realm of the sacred, the infinite vastness behind that word, use it with great conviction, as if they knew what they are talking about. Or they argue against it, as if they knew what it is that they are denying. This misuse gives rise to absurd beliefs, assertions, and egoic delusions, such as 'My or our God is the only true God, and your God is false,' or Nietzsche's famous statement 'God is dead.'
The word God has become a closed concept. The moment the word is uttered, a mental image is created, no longer, perhaps, of an old man with a white beard, but still a mental representation of someone or something outside you, and, yes, almost inevitably a male someone or something.
Neither God nor Being nor any other word can define or explain the ineffable reality behind the word, so the only important question is whether the word is a help or a hindrance in enabling you to experience That toward which it points. Does it point beyond itself to that transcendental reality, or does it lend itself too easily to becoming no more than an idea in your head that you believe in, a mental idol?
The word Being explains nothing, but nor does God. Being, however, has the advantage that it is an open concept. It does not reduce the infinite invisible to a finite entity. It is impossible to form a mental image of it. Nobody can claim exclusive possession of Being. It is your very essence, and it is immediately accessible to you as the feeling of your own presence, the realization I am that is prior to I am this or I am that. So it is only a small step from the word Being to the experience of Being.”
Eckhart Tolle: The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment
Publisher: New World Library; 1 edition (September 27, 1999)
The history that vanished when disbelieving Western scholars tempered with time to fit the 4000-year-old biblical creation
Guide To Hinduism
“The History That Vanished
Since the early 1920s, archaeologists have been unearthing an astonishing ancient civilization in northwestern India, now called the Indus-Saraswati culture. It was enormous, at least seven hundred miles from north to south and eight hundred miles from east to west. If you dropped the entire Egyptian civilization along with all of Sumer (two high cultures which were flourishing at about the same time) into that same geographical area, you still would have lots of room left over!
Here researchers found the best-planned cities anywhere on the planet. The neatly arranged gridiron pattern of streets and houses revealed organizational and construction skills unparalleled in the ancient world, and not always equalled in the world today. There cities were gargantuan for the time—three miles in diameter, which isn't a bad size for a town even today.
The quality of the drainage system in these towns, which included brick-lined sewers complete with manholes, would not be seen again till Roman engineers set up shop two thousand years later.
The people who lived there had many of the trappings of civilization as we know it today (except maybe TV). They had nicely appointed bathrooms where they took bucket showers. They had one of the earliest written languages in the world. They had a sophisticated system of weights and measures that was burrowed by the businessmen of Mesopotamia.
They had seaports, but those excavated docks are eerie to look at these days because the river tributaries they once served have gone away. The long-abandoned piers now overlook the bleak Thar desert.
Messing with the Past
Western archeologists were astounded by these findings but orthodox Hindus weren't surprised at all. Their ancient chronicles—enormous religious anthologies like the Puranas and the Mahabharata—often mentioned glorious cities of the distant past. They even mentioned legendary architects like Asura Maya who could whip up spectacular buildings with gardens and lotus-laden pools and mirrored walls.
But western scholars never believed those ancient chronicles for a minute. The surprising thing is that even as they dug up more and more evidence that the Hindus' own version of their history was more or less correct, Western scholars still couldn't believe it!
Here's why. In the nineteenth-century European intellectual circles, Oxford University professor Frederick Max Muller was held in only slightly less esteem than God. One day Muller announced that the Veda, India's most ancient classic and the very foundation of its faith, had been composed between 1200 to 1000 B.C.E. As far as Western scholars were concerned, God had spoken. This in spite of the fact that some of the positions of the stars and planets mentioned in the Veda could only have occurred sometime between 3500 and 4000 B.C.E.!
Tampering with Time
Where did Muller come up with a date as late as 1000 B.C.E. for a scripture Hindus themselves considered much older? It turns out that unlike the Hindus who believed the universe was billions of years old, a Christian Muller believed the world had been created in 4004 B.C.E. By adding the ages of the patriarchs listed in the Bible who lived between Adam and Noah, Muller could calculate the number of years that had passed since the creation and the Great Flood. This brought him to 2488 B.C.E.
Now, Muller was no fool. He knew it would take time for Noah's descendents to migrate to India, repopulate the subcontinent, and create the hundreds of different languages and distinctive cultures flourishing here. This, he figured out, must have taken at least 1,200 years, maybe as much as 1,400. Veda, the earliest Hindu scripture, could not have been written earlier than 1200 B.C.E. University textbooks uncritically repeated this date through the mid- 1990s!
To give this guy credit, later in life Muller had second thoughts about his guesstimate, admitting, “Whatever may be the date of the Vedic hymns, whether 1500 or 15,000 B.C., they have their own unique place and stand by themselves in the literature of the world.” But the damage had been done: Everyone believed that when he's given out that date of 1200 B.C.E. he knew what he was talking about.
Muller's mistake had catastrophic consequences for the study of Indian history. Saints who according to the Hindus had lived before 3000 B.C.E. were shifted to 1000 B.C.E. The Buddha, who according to Northern Buddhist school lived around 1000 B.C.E., got shuffled to somewhere around 500 B.C.E. No less an authority than the sixteenth Dalai Lama has appealed to Western scholars to get together, clear their minds, and straighten out this mess for once and for all!
'There is no more absorbing story than that of the discovery and interpretation of India by Western consciousness,' noted the renowned Rumanian professor of religion, Mircea Eliade. You can say it again, Mircea.
Back to our archeologists. They've discovered a high civilization that flourished in north-western India between 2700 and 1900 B.C.E. Since the Veda wasn't composed till maybe 1000 B.C.E. (according to Muller) and the sages who composed the Veda were the founders of Hinduism (according to Western scholars), then the people who lived in these cities must not have been Hindus. They supposedly lived nearly 2000 years before Hinduism was invented! Who were these people and where did they go?
Enter the Aryan Invasion Theory. It was decided that the original inhabitants of India were Dravidians. They are the people who fill up much of South India today. They speak a totally different language from most north Indians, and some of them have skin that's a little darker in color. Till 1000 B.C.E., they must have inhabited the whole of India, Muller's twentieth-century disciples decreed. The ancient cities in the north were built by them.
Then, the Western experts concluded, somewhere between 1500 and 1000 B.C.E., the primitive barbarians who composed the Veda invaded northern India, driving the hapless Dravidians into the southern part of the subcontinent where they live today. There were two difficulties with this popular theory:
1. Today's northern Hindus have absolutely no memory of having ever driven the Dravidians out of north India. None of their ancient manuscripts mention any such thing.
2. Today's Dravidians have absolutely no memory of ever having lived in North India. In fact, their ancient traditions suggest that their forebears came from the South, not from the North.
The Aryan Invaders
Minor problems like these did not discourage the European and American scholars of the time. Thousands of pages of the Hindus' own historical records were simply dismissed as fiction. These white scholars were sure a virile white race of white warriors, much like themselves, had invaded India.
Linda Johnsen, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Hinduism, pages 18-20
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Alpha; 1st edition (October 11, 2001)
Hindus fourth major group of Ahl-e-Kitab
“It seems to me, however, that a symbiotic spiritual relationship exists between the two great religions. It is a realization of this spiritual symbiosis, though largely unconscious, that I believe helped sustain this harmonious relationship despite the invading Central Asian hordes led by Ghaznis and Ghoris, who called themselves Muslim, and the British colonialists with their massive effort at divide and rule using all possible propaganda tools.
Islam's encounter with other religions was quite violent. The history of Crusades launched by Christian powers is well known. It was Hinduism alone that provided Islam with a fertile ground for growth, something it had denied for long centuries even to indigenous Buddhism. Muslims' treatment of Hindus, too, was quite considerate and in keeping with the Islamic spirit of Lakum Deenakum Waleya Deen (For you your religion, for me mine, the Koran -109:5). As Hindus had the reputation of being polytheists and idolaters, Muslims could have treated them as Kauffar and Mushrekeen (religious deviants). Instead, the very first Muslim to conquer parts of India—Sind and Multan in 711 AD—Mohammad bin Qasim, accorded them the special status of Ahl-e-Kitab (people who follow divine books brought by messengers of God before the Prophet Mohammed) that was at first thought to be meant for Christians and Jews alone. (Muslims are permitted to have the best of social, including marital relations, with the Ahl-e-Kitab). Even the Central Asian bandits who invaded and looted India could not disturb the growing and deepening spiritual ties. A number of Sufi saints spent their lifetime in India, spreading the message of Islam, that literally means peace, that comes with total surrender to God. The Prophet Mohammed, too, is believed to have felt an attraction for India.
The Indian sub-continent's pre-eminent poet-philosopher Allama Iqbal wrote:
Meer-e-Arab ko aaee thandi hawa jahan se,
Mera watan wohi hai, mera watan wohi hai.
(From where the Prophet Mohammed received a cool breeze,
That is my motherland, that is my motherland.)
Hindus as Ahl-e-Kitab
Some primordial spiritual connection must have been at work. For only recently have Muslim scholars learnt that Hindus indeed constitute the fourth major group of Ahl-e-Kitab mentioned in the Holy Koran repeatedly. For some mysterious reason, the Holy Koran had left this question vague. It mentioned a major religious group as 'Sabe-een' as the ummah (community) of a prophet who had brought a divine book bearing God's revelation to the world. It also mentioned Hazrat Nooh (Prophet Noah of the Bible) as a major prophet ranking with prophets like Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed. But who the followers of Hazrat Nooh are was left a mystery.
Painstaking research has been going on seeking the fourth major Ahl-e-Kitab. From Hazrat Shah Waliullah, Maulana Sulaiman Nadvi and Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi to a contemporary scholar from Uttar Pradesh, Maulana Shams Navaid Usmani, a number of scholars from the sub-continent, too, contributed to this effort. It is now clear that Hindus are indeed the lost ummah of the Prophet Nooh, whom they know as Maha Nuwo. Evidence from Markandaya Puran and several Vedas, and their description of 'Jal Pralaya' (devastation caused by the Flood, as in the biblical and Koranic stories of Noah's flood) has been most helpful in this search.
The authenticity and finality of the above-mentioned research has not to be accepted by any one, however, to be able to know that the Hindus do indeed constitute a major Ahl-e-Kitab ummah (religious community). According to the Holy Koran, there is not one nation in the world in which a prophet has not been raised up: “There are not a people but a prophet has gone among them" (35:24). And again: 'Every nation has had a prophet' (10:47). And again: 'And we did not send before thee any but men to whom we sent revelation [Divine Book]' (21:7).
We are further told that there have been prophets besides those mentioned in the Holy Koran: 'And we sent prophets we have mentioned to thee before [in the Koran], and prophets we have not mentioned to thee [in the Koran]' (4:164).
It is, in fact stated in a famous Hadees (also written as Hadith, meaning sayings of the Prophet, as distinct from the Holy Koran, which is believed by Muslims to be the word of God revealed to the Prophet) that there have been 124,000 prophets, while the Holy Koran contains only about 25 names, among them being several non-Biblical prophets. Prophets Hud and Salih came in Arabia, Luqman in Ethiopia, a contemporary of Moses (generally known as Khidzr) in Sudan, and Dhu-i-Qarnain (Darius I, who was also a king) in Persia; all of which is quite in accordance with the theory of universality of prophethood, as enunciated above. And as the Holy Koran has plainly said the prophets have appeared in all nations and that it has not named all of them, which in fact was unnecessary and not even feasible. Thus a Muslim must accept the great luminaries who are recognized by other religions as having brought light to them, regardless of the terminology used to describe them, as the prophets that were sent to those nations.
The Koran, however, not only establishes a theory that prophets have appeared in all nations; it goes further and renders it necessary that a Muslim should believe in all those prophets. In the very beginning we are told that a Muslim must 'believe in that which has been revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Issac and Jacob and the tribes, and in that which was given to Moses and Jesus, and in that which was given to the prophets from their Lord, we do not make distinction between any of them' (2:136). The word 'prophets' in this verse from the Koran clearly refers to the prophets of other nations.
Again and again, and in different contexts, the Holy Koran speaks of Muslims as believing in all the prophets of God and not in the Holy Prophet Mohammad alone: 'Righteousness is this that one should believe in Allah and the last day and the angels and the books and the prophets' (2:177). And again in the same surah (chapter): “The Prophet believes in what has been revealed to him from His Lord and so do the believers; they all believe in Allah and His angels and His books and His prophets: And they say 'We make no distinction between any of His prophets'" (2:28).”
Sultan Shahin, Asia Times Online, Dec 6, 2003
Sages mentioned in the Vedas were already ancient to its composers living in 4000 B.C.E.!
One of the great ironies of religious history is that, although the religions that came out of the Near East—Judaism, Islam, Christianity—adamantly reject most of Hinduism's fundamental teachings, their mystical traditions—the Kaballah, Sufism, and Christian Gnosticism—reflect Hindu insights in almost every detail. Numerous students of comparative religion, from Muslim scholar Al Buruni in 1000 C.E. to the world famous writer Aldous Huxley nearer our own time, have expressed their amazement at the parallels between the major mystical traditions of the world and Hinduism...
Hinduism is by far the most complex religion in the world, shading under its enormous umbrella an incredibly diverse array of contrasting beliefs, practices, and denominations. Hinduism is by far the oldest major religion. It has had more than enough time to develop a diversity of opinions and approaches to spirituality unmatched in any other tradition.”
Linda Johnsen, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Hinduism, pages 76-77
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Alpha; 1st edition (October 11, 2001)
“The Eternal Religion
Hinduism is so ancient its origins are lost in the mist of prehistory. Many sages are associated with it, but none claim to be its first prophet. Hindus believe their religion has existed forever, even before the universe came into being. They say the truths of their faith are inherent in the nature of reality itself, and that all men and women peering into the depths of their inner nature will discover the same truths for themselves.
The image too many outsiders have of the Hindu tradition is of primitive, superstitious villagers worshipping idols. As we get to know the Hindus better, we'll see that their understanding of who and what is God is incredibly sophisticated. In fact, their view of the world and our place in it is so stunningly cosmic in scope that our Western minds start to boggle!
Let's enter the universe of Hinduism, an amazing world where inner and outer realities reflect each other like images on a mirror, and the loving presence of the divine is as close as the stillness behind your own thoughts...
You might think it takes a lot of chutzpah (if I may borrow a Jewish term) to claim that your religion is eternal. What Hindus mean when they say this is their tradition doesn't come from any one founding father or mother, from any single prophet towering over the bastion of hoary antiquity. In fact, the first few verses of the Veda, an incredibly old book, parts of which were composed 6,000 years ago, acknowledge the sages who were already ancient to its composers living in 4000 B.C.E.!
Very old Hindu texts speak of a time when it became almost impossible to survive on Earth because of ice and snow. This could be a reference to the last Ice Age, some Hindu scholars believe. Archaeologists have unearthed small statues of goddesses from 10,000 years ago (that's about the time the Ice Age was ending) like those being worshipped in Indian villages today. So even if we're not willing to grant that Hinduism is eternal, we still have to admit it got a jump on the other major religions...
I'd really like to bring home to you the vastness of the time scale Hindus are talking about here. One area where Hinduism and Judeo- Christian tradition agree is in saying that at the moment we're in the seventh day of creation. But according to the Hindu sages, a day for God is a bit longer than our human day of 24 hours.
The following schema was taught to me by Swami Veda Bharati, a renunciate who lives in a tiny ashram in Rishikesh in northern India. He's a devotee of the Divine Mother. (The Goddess is a major league player in Hinduism, and you'll soon see.)
Swami Bharati's time frame, preserved in the Hindu mystical tradition, starts with a day and a night in the life of our local creator god. Years here mean human years:
- One day and night in the life of Brahma is 8,640,000,000 years.
- The lifetime of Brahma is 311,040,000,000,000 years.
- One day and night in the life of Vishnu equals 37,324,800,000,000, 000,000 years.
- The life of Vishnu is 671,846,400,000,000,000,000,000 years long.
- One day and night in the life of Shiva lasts 4,837,294,080,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000 years.
- Shiva's lifetime corresponds to 87,071,293,440,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000 years.
- One glance from The Mother of the Universe equals 87,071,293,440, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.
It might surprise you that Hinduism speaks of gods dying. Not to worry—they're reborn again later like the rest of us! According to Swami Veda Bharati's tradition, at any one moment there are trillions upon trillions of Brahmas, Vishnus, and Shivas manifesting their universes within the endless expanse of the Divine Mother's awareness.
This, folks, is Hinduism's Big Picture...
But the thought I'd like to leave you with is that for many millennia the Hindu sages have claimed that if we purify our minds with spiritual practices and open our hearts to learn from her, The Mother of the Universe begins to share her secrets with us.
In the West, we peer into space with powerful telescopes hoping to learn the origin of the universe. The Hindu approach is to couple astute observation of the world outside us with a self-disciplined inner journey. Peering into the depths of consciousness in our own minds, we connect with the consciousness that underlies the entire cosmos. Truths other cultures need radio telescopes to ferret out simply present themselves to our concentrated inward attention.
To India's mystics, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva are not just characters invented to make a good story. They represent actual states of divine awareness that are available to devotees, provided only that the devotee is prepared to do the spiritual work to access them.
In fact, in Hinduism the point of doing spiritual practices is to attain jnana, living knowledge of Divine Being. It's an ambitious agenda! (Jnana means knowledge, specifically knowledge that you know in your soul, not just your brain. It's related to the English words gnosis or gnostic.)...
The BIG Picture
Why did God create the universe? Hinduism offers several suggestions:
1. He was lonely. He looked around and saw He was by Himself. He desired to become many. And whatever God wants, God gets. The moment that wish entered His mind, an infinite number of souls emerged from His limitless intelligence to keep Him company.
2. She likes to play. The Goddess can't sit still for a moment. She's always got to be doing something. All these worlds are Her game, or “Her sport" as Hindus like to say.
3. The Divine Being is so brimming with bliss, He/She spills over. Shiva/Shakti (God and Goddess who are both two and one in Hinduism) spontaneously generate cosmic after cosmos. Creative energy simply pours out of the Divine. It's the nature of the Supreme One to create, as it's the nature of light to shine.
In the Western religious traditions, God creates us out of nothing. In Hinduism, Divine Being creates us out of itself. This means we are literally one with the divine, one with everything else in the universe, and one with each other.
Hinduism is about finding our place in an immense universe. It shows us how to deal with suffering and where to find joy. It reveals how learning to know our own inner Self is the key to entering the consciousness of God.
In the Western world, until very recently, there's been a tendency to consider Hindus 'primitive' and 'supertitious' because they believe there is a living spirit everywhere. What I hope you remember is that Hindu thought isn't primitive at all. In fact it's fantastically sophisticated. Hindus look at reality through a different lens than Westerners do, but in the context of Hindu culture, their understanding of who God is, how His laws operate, and what our position is in relation to him is just as insightful as the Western viewpoint.
The least you shouls know:
- The Hindu tradition is extremely mystical.
- Hindus consider their faith to be “The eternal religion.”
- Time doesn't end; it spins on in cycles through eternity.
- Direct personal experience of God is the purpose of life.
- Everything arise out of consciousness.
If you had been around in the third millennium B.C.E., India is where you would have wanted to be. The quality of life was higher there than practically anywhere else in the world. In fact, the towns of North India in 2600 B.C.E. were more comfortable and technologically advanced than most European cities till nearly the time of the Renaissance!
Religious life was vibrant in ancient India. Some of the oldest surviving spiritual writings came from this part of the world. They reveal a religion that was both boisterously earthy and transcendently mystical—not unlike Hinduism today.”
Linda Johnsen, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Hinduism, pages 1-17
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Alpha; 1st edition (October 11, 2001)
“Inclusivism is a mediating position between exclusivism and pluralism. Inclusivists in the Christian theology of religions both accept and reject other faiths. They accept the divine presence in other religions but consider them insufficient for salvation apart from Christ. Inclusivists believe God offers all humans the light of faith and grace, but this is always because of Christ and in relationship to Christ. Inclusivists seek to avoid confrontation with other religions. Two binding convictions are held in tension: the operation of the grace of God in all the religions of the world working for salvation, and the uniqueness of the manifestation of the grace of God in Christ, who is the final way of salvation. Inclusivists disagree with exclusivists on how the particular grace of God in Christ is made manifest.
Inclusivists want to avoid monopolizing the gospel of redemption. They acknowledge the possibility of salvation outside of Christian faith or outside the walls of the visible church, but the agent of such salvation is Christ, and the revelation in Jesus is definitive and normative for assessing that salvation. Jesus Christ is believed to be the center, and other ways are evaluated by how they relate to him. Other religions are not just a preparation for Christ, but Christ is actually present in them. Some elements in other religions are even willed by Christ.
Inclusivism assumes that God's saving presence in Christ impacts the wider world and other religions. Since all truth is God's truth, Christ must include all that is true in other faiths. If all truth and goodness is from Christ, then all religions belong in some way to Christ. Inclusivism emphasizes continuity between other faiths and Christian faith; that which is hidden in other religions has been fulfilled by Christian faith. Inclusivism attempts creatively to integrate non-Christian faiths with Christian theological reflection.
Inclusivists believe that non-Christian religions have a positive saving potential similar to Judaism in the Old Testament; they can serve as preparation, bringing people to Christ. They can be the means by which God's salvation reaches those who have not yet heard the gospel. (p.44) Alternate religious traditions may even mediate divine grace found in the particular Christian tradition. Those who believe can relate savingly to God either apart from their religious practices or through specific elements of their religious tradition.
Inclusivism, like exclusivism, emphasizes that people are not saved apart from Christ on the cross, but inclusivism would not place so much emphasis on explicit faith. Grace is explicit in Christian faith but is more implicit in other religions, offered freely even without making a personal decision about Christ. Inclusivists ask how much one must know to be saved; if God knows the person's heart, is knowledge really necessary to be a believer? Is saving faith knowledge about God or trusting in God for salvation? Those who are saved, however, are not saved because of their religion but in spite of their religion. John Sanders wrote, 'Inclusivists hold that while the source of salvific water is the same for all people, it comes to various people through different channels.'
Inclusivists insist that God works decisively in the singular and particular event of Jesus (one person and place, not several persons and places), who is the source of redemption and forgiveness. If Christ saves Buddhists, Hindus, or Muslims, they are drawn to him as a magnet and are saved through him. God's grace can flow through other religious instruments but only because of Christ. Christ's grace and power magnetize the good in all religions and people. Truth and salvation are present because Christ's saving grace is there even though people may be unaware of it.”
Who Do You Say That I Am? Christians Encounter Other Religions
Calvin E. Shenk, Wipf and Stock Publishers (2006) pp. 43-44
“The Mother of religion, the world's earliest spiritual teachings of the Vedic tradition contains the most sublime and all-embracing of philosophies.”
“India is The Mother of religion. Her civilization has been acknowledged as much older than the legendary civilization of Egypt...
On the basis of archaeology, satellite photography, metallurgy, and ancient mathematics, it is now clear that there existed a great civilization—a mainly spiritual civilization perhaps—before the rise of Egypt, Sumeria, and the Indus Valley. The heartland of this ancient world was the region from the Indus to the Ganga—the land of the Vedic Aryans,” state N.S. Rajaram and David Frawley, O.M.D., in 'Vedic Aryans and the Origins of Civilization' (New Delhi: Voice of India, 1997).
The scriptures of India “Are the oldest extant philosophy and psychology of our race,” says renowned historian Will Durant in 'Our Oriental Heritage (The Story of Civilization', Part I). Robert C. Priddy, professor of the history of philosophy at the University of Oslo, wrote in 'On India's Ancient Past' (1999): “India's past is so ancient and has been so influential in the rise of civilization and religion, at least for almost everyone in the Old World, that most people can claim it actually to be the earliest part of our own odyssey....The Mother of religion, the world's earliest spiritual teachings of the Vedic tradition contains the most sublime and all-embracing of philosophies.”
In his two-volume work 'India and World Civilization' (Michigan State University Press, 1969), historian D.P. Singhal amasses abundant documentation of India's spiritual nurturing of the ancient world. He describes the excavation of a vase near Baghdad that has led researchers to the conclusion that “By the middle of the third millennium B.C., an Indian cult was already being practiced in Mesopotamia....Archaeology thus has shown that two thousand years before the earliest references in cuneiform texts to contact with India, she was sending her manufactures to the land where the roots of Western civilization lie.”
India's spiritual influence extended not only west, but east. “India conquered and dominated China for 20 centuries without ever having to send a single soldier across its border,” observed Dr. Hu Shih, former chancellor of Beijing University and Chinese ambassador to the United States. And Professor Lin Yutang, the famous Chinese philologist and author, says in 'The Wisdom of India' (New York: Random House, 1942): “India was China's teacher in religion and imaginative literature, and the world's teacher in philosophy....India is a land overflowing with religion and with the religious spirit. A trickle of Indian religious spirit overflowed to China and inundated the whole of Eastern Asia.”
The high civilizations of the Americas, as well, show definite evidence of India's influence. “In ancient times, no civilization spread abroad more extensively than that of India,” Professor Singhal writes. “And thus, occupying a central position in the cultures of the world, India has contributed enormously to human civilization. Indian contacts with the Western world date back to prehistoric times.” He goes on to quote the illustrious scientist and explorer Baron Alexander von Humboldt, founder of the systematic study of ancient American cultures, who was convinced of the Asian origin of the advanced pre-Columbian civilizations in the New World: “If languages supply but feeble evidence of ancient communication between the two worlds, their communication is fully proved by the cosmogonies, the monuments, the hieroglyphical characters, and the institutions of the people of America and Asia.”
“The traces of Hindu-Buddhist influence in Mexico...correspond in kind precisely to those cultural elements which were introduced by Buddhist monks and Hindu priests in Southeast Asia,” Dr. Singhal observes, and cites the conclusion of Professor Robert Heine-Geldern in 'The Civilizations of the Americas' as follows: “We have little doubt that a sober but unbiased comparative analysis of the Mexican religions will reveal many traces of the former influences of either Hinduism or Buddhism or of both....to such an extent, both in a general way and in specific details, that the assumption of historic relationship is almost inevitable.”
The Second Coming of Christ (The Resurrection of the Christ within You)
Volume 1, Discourse 5, pg. 84
Printed in the United States of America 1434-J881
“Al Biruni Takes Notes
Al Biruni was born in Khwarizm (today's Khiva in Uzbekistan) in 973 C.E. He was a brilliant astrologer and scholar who published books on optics, mineralogy, chemistry, mechanics, astronomy, mathematics, and the calendars and dating systems of many cultures.
Khwarizm was raided by the Muslim despot Abu-Said Mahmud in 1017. Al Biruni was taken to India as one of Mahmud's reluctant human prizes, and lived there for 13 years.
Al Biruni despised Mahmud, who he complained wrecked northern India economically as well as killing Hindus "like specks of dust scattered every which way.” He found a good use for his time, however, in purchasing all the Sanskrit manuscripts he could find and consulted endlessly with Indian pandits about Hindu science and spirituality.
The result was the Indika, Al Biruni's monumental study of Hindu culture and spirituality.
Notes on the Hindu God
Al Biruni was a good Muslim and was by no means always sympathetic to Hindu ideas or culture. He thought the Hindus' claim that the universe was billions of years old was ludicrous, and mocked their tendency to think in terms of incredibly long cosmic cycles. But he made a sincere effort to report Hindu beliefs objectively, so that Muslims interested in India could clearly understand the Hindu perspective. In the Indika, Al Biruni described the Hindu view of God:
—There is one God only Who is without beginning or end. He cannot be reached by thought but is sublime beyond our ability to conceive. He is infinitely vast, but not in the spatial sense since He exists outside of time and space.
—How can we worship this one whom we cannot perceive? He lies beyond the grasp of the physical senses, but the soul feels His presence and the mind understands His divine qualities.
—Meditating on Him one-pointedly is true worship. When meditation is practiced for a long time without interruption, one attains the highest state of blissfulness.”
Notes on reincarnation
Al Biruni's description of the Hindu view of reincarnation is particularly interesting:
Until it reaches the highest state of consciousness, the soul is not able to experience all things at once, as if there were no space or time. Therefore it has to experience the universe piecemeal, one thing at a time, until it has been through all possible experiences. An awfully lot of experiences are possible, so this process takes a very long time.
So immortal souls range through the universe in mortal bodies, which have good or bad experiences depending on whether their behaviour has been virtuous or evil. The purpose of experiencing heavenly states in the time between physical incarnations is so that the soul learns what is truly good, and wants to become as good as possible. The purpose of experiencing hellish states in the time between lives is so that the soul learns what evil is, and determines to avoid it all together.
The process of reincarnation begins at very low levels of consciousness, like minerals, plants or animals, and slowly winds its way upward toward very elevated states of awareness.
The process ends when the soul no longer desires to explore new worlds, but gains insight into the sublime nature of its own being, and rests content in itself. At that point the soul turns away from matter, and its links with physical existence are broken. It returns to its true home, carrying with it the knowledge it has gained during its many journeys.
Having closely studied all their systems, Al Biruni noted that the Greek, Indian and Sufi mystics taught essentially the same doctrine.
Linda Johnsen, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Hinduism, pages 39-41
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Alpha; 1st edition (October 11, 2001)
Muslims, Hindus, Christians and all have to evolve to a higher state
Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi “That you have to be born again, that you have to be baptized, that you have to become a Pir, that you have to become a Brahmin — all these descriptions have come to us from all the great scriptures. It is very easy to say that we don't believe in God, we don't believe in any Incarnation, we don't believe in Jesus, we don't believe in any religion, we don't believe into anything; is very easy to say. Even it is easy to say that we believe in them, we believe in God, we believe in Christ, we believe in Krishna, Rama, all that. Both things are equally the same.
When you believe in God you believe in the darkness and ignorance, and when you do not believe in Him also you are in ignorance. By believing into you close your eyes, accept the faith and go along with it. Of course it shows that you are conscious of some Power which is beyond. Such people have a great chance. But in the case if you go to these extremes in this kind of faith then you start only believing in Christ, only believing in Muhammad, only believing in Krishna — I mean depending on where you are born. How human beings are so narrow-minded?
If you are born in England either you will be a Catholic, or a Protestant, or maybe one of these witchcraft people. You believe into anything because you are localized in a place; there has been some identifications because your mother believed into something, because your father believed into something, or you paid for it. And this faith can become such a blinding effect on people that you develop absurd types of groups which call themselves as Christians, Hindus, Muslims — whatever you may say — and are extremely, extremely exclusive, blind, and fanatic.”
Being Born Again, Caxton Hall, London, U.K. — May 12, 1980
“The religion of Christianity or any religion is the religion of the living God. At different times, there were great flowers on the Tree of Life, but we plucked them and said, 'This is mine; this is mine' and we are fighting the dead. But in Sahaja Yoga, you will know the beauty of all these great prophets and you will be amazed how they have enriched us; all of them.”
Christian Tradition and Christ
Vienna, Austria - 8 September, 1984
Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi “The Kundalini rises through a very thin line of Brahmanadi. In the beginning only a hair like thing rises, it pierces through. In some people, of course, in a big way it rises also. And then it pierces this fontanel bone area which is a real baptism, real. Today only people felt the cool breeze coming out of their heads. Can you do that by jumping, or by paying money? They felt the cool breeze in the hand. It's written in the Bible, even in the Bible very clearly, that it's the cool breeze. Cool breeze is the sign of the Holy Ghost. You start feeling the cool breeze in your hands and you start feeling the cool breeze on your head. This is the actualization.
Of course, you people don't read other books which are very good, like Adi Shankaracharya. People don't even like the mention of his name who has really and clearly said that it is the cool breeze, the chaitanya, is to be felt like cool breeze in the hands. They do not want that you should know the truth. And this is the truth that when you get your realization, you have to feel the cool breeze in your hands yourself. You have to judge yourself. I'm not going to tell you. It is you who has to see, it is you who has to feel. And then you have to grow and you have to know all and everything - all the secrets of Divine Science. You become the master then, you are the guru.
You are the Spirit, and you should get it. It's your own which is given to you. I have nothing to do about it. I'm just a catalyst.”
Maccabean Hall, Australia on March 22, 1981
Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi “The Spirit resides in our heart; it's the reflection of God Almighty. In Sanskrit language, this aspect of God which is all- pervading and is the first and the last, is called as Sadashiva; is the Father, who does not incarnate. We say Yehovah, we can say, or the God who does not incarnate. This great aspect which encompasses everything ultimately and also manifests everything is the reflection within our heart as the Spirit. This aspect is just the witness aspect; it witnesses the play of its power, the Primordial Power, the Holy Ghost, to see what is created by Her. He's the only enjoyer of the game. He sees the game, the Leela, the fun. She organises everything, it is She who gets divided into three powers, it is She who creates the whole universe, it is She who gives us this evolution, it is She who makes us human beings and it is She who has to make us the higher human being. That's the Holy Ghost, the Primordial Holy Ghost and the reflection of that is this Kundalini within us.”
Sat-Chit-Ananda, Houston, Texas, Oct 7, 1981
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