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.
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." Eckhart Tolle
Enlightenment - what is that?
"The word enlightenment conjures up the idea of some super-human accomplishment, and the ego likes to keep it that way, but it is simply your natural state of felt oneness with Being. It is a state of connectedness with something immeasurable and indestructible, something that, almost paradoxically, is essentially you and yet is much greater than you. It is finding your true nature beyond name and form. The inability to feel this connectedness gives rise to the illusion of separation, from yourself and from the world around you. You then perceive yourself, consciously or unconsciously, as an isolated fragment. Fear arises, and conflict within and without becomes the norm.
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
"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)
"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
The Kaballah, Sufism, and Christian Gnosticism—reflect Hindu insights in almost every detail
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 cosmoc 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 expereince 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)
"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)
“Really big numbers are part and parcel of modern science; but I don’t want to leave the impression that they were invented in our time.
Indian arithmetic has long been equal to large numbers. You can easily find references in Indian newspapers today to fines or expenditures of lakh or crore rupees. The key is: das = 10; san = 100; hazar = 1,000; lakh = 105; crore = 107; arabh = 109; carabh = 1011; nie = 1013; padham = 1015; and sankh = 1017.
Before their culture was annihilated by the Europeans, the Maya of ancient Mexico devised a world timescale that dwarfed the paltry few thousand years that the Europeans thought had passed since the creation of the world. Among the decaying monuments of Coba, in Quintana Roo, are inscriptions showing that the Maya were contemplating a Universe around 1029 years old. The Hindus held that the present incarnation of the Universe is 8.6 X 109 years old — almost right on the button.”
Carl Sagan, Billions & Billions, Ballantine Books, 1997, p. 11-2.
Ballantine Books; 1 edition (May 12 1998)
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