By Durgadas, Ved Kovid
(c) Durgadas (Rodney) Lingham. All rights reserved.
I am often asked “how do I perform a pooja?” etc. The answer is quite complex, but also simple at the same time. Perform what is in your heart through devotion. Everyone is different, just as their appearance is due to different samskaras.
Some people prefer the Divine Mother, whereas others prefer the masculine deity and others still variations within that; some prefer baby-Krishna, caring for him as the son, while others as their master, friend etc. Some revere the Mother as Kali, others as Durga, some as Lakshmi. Even yogas are not the same for everybody.
Pooja and devotionalism should be an offering of your own unique expression of individuality. The strict rules, regulations and tenets are there for those who have not yet developed this or find it difficult to perform devotions and sadhanas. However, a more personalized effort with true inner devotion has greater meaning and spiritual power attached to it then performing such mechanically or ritualistically as a matter of course.
We must express our own individuality without tainting that of others. This does not mean we violate dharma, but practice what is best for us, given our society, time in history etc., just as the Ayurvedic texts recommend suitable foods that we have been genetically accustomed to, rather than be force-fed others. As with yogic guidelines however for those that cannot, bland and synthesizing diets exist, where one can consume foods cooked and spiced in certain manners or otherwise that do no affect their health.
Regarding spirituality, the same can be said here as well. Just as we may be vegetarian, we need not criticize our fellow-man for his meat-eating as such may be due to a medical concern. It has nothing to do with levels of “consciousness”. Swami Vivekananda ate meat and smoked tobacco – this neither means we all should, nor that we mock him for doing so and question his enlightened views, as such were suitable to him alone. Adaptability and the yogic vision to see beyond these constructs is the key here rather than to superimpose one’s views of God upon others, away from a unifying vision.
Today, man is brought into this world fearing God, so it is no wonder that many have become atheists in this system or society. What other hope is there, especially if one has not been properly introduced to such?
Yet, the eastern ideal is quite different, as also for some Muslims and Christians have had a unique experience of their deity in a more sattvic manner, able to understanding their trans-human characteristics which are not limited by a name or a form. Here, such people see Krishna, Shiva or Kali as expressions of their Allah or Jesus. They see no contradiction in these. But, the same cannot always be said of the masses trapped not in the inner spiritual quest for “knowing God”, but the outer sphere of proselytization of the so-called “word” according to a certain society or set of teachings.
Vedanta teaches us that we can all aspire to reach the highest goal, but not that all systems are capable of taking us there, to that highest level. Much depends on the levels; some faiths seek only to elevate man to the system of svargas or illuminated spheres, not even the higher ones and systems beyond this. Others strive for complete liberation of the soul. Advaita Vedanta strives for the highest, but also understands the need for the lowest levels for lower souls and thus encompasses all systems within it’s vast scope of comprehension or vision. It see’s various gradients or stepping stones rather than rejecting them outright.
The Hindu vision is not a dogmatic one; it simply challenges those faiths and systems that see themselves as possessing the sole right of God alone, or of liberation of the human soul alone, without seeing a multiplicity of systems as various layers according to levels of society, one’s personal soul-journey or samskaras and such. Then, it will challenge them for their dogmatic ways, not for being essentially incorrect. Here, the vision of the soul and that of the philosopher unite in Advaita, rather than become exclusive in other systems. Its tolerance historically has allowed other systems to both co-exist with it (as Judaism and Zoroastrianism) and also grown and take birth from it within India (as with Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism). It is the old story that, if all siblings get alone peacefully, while possessing individual qualities and personalities, the parent is content. The parent however is only displeased and will chastise the children when they squabble among themselves or identify with one trait of theirs as being superior to the other siblings and undermine them!
We must assess each individual society properly and their own issues and concerns, not seek to proselytize tenets from another culture and expect others to understand this. It is unfair to superimpose his views and such upon Europeans and Americans any more than it would be fair to superimpose Christianity upon Indians! Some movements such as the Arya Samaj and even earlier Sikhism in India for example were relative for the Indian masses of Northern India at the time of Mughal and Colonial rule respectively and their (philosophical) arguments are based upon that; while they are useful in public debate, we cannot expect others to understand this any more than expecting Indians to understand the Crusades! Enforcing such views upon the masses or any kind of proselytizing in this manner reminds one of Islam and Christianity itself that culturally appropriated.
There is a difference between an indigenous dharma or culture seeking to defend itself and protect its own people from foreign influences or even threats and it is quite another from those outside these spheres to imbibe the missionary-style poison of “one way for all humanity”, which is the problem with Islam and Christianity as also even some fundamental sects within even Hinduism and others themselves. It is about individuality and also being able to see behind the veil of dogmatism to local and historical concerns, such as vedanta provides us.
What we should do is educate people on the original tenets of various systems as also historical accounts, not simply quote one person or one text and use that as an argument, which to me looks more like Islam and Christianity with its monotonous thinking than Hinduism or comparative religion or even basic analysis based on proper logic and rationale. Otherwise we are being dogmatic and no better than those we seek to expose and thus become hypocrites.
Again, an indigenous person protecting their dharma and warning people about it being culturally misappropriated and those outside misappropriating for their own purposes is not the same thing. We should be cautious not to cross this fine line!
Within Hinduism, some prefer God as Mother, some as Father, some as Son – even some as Lover, Friend or Guru! Neither is correct nor incorrect – such is simply their own bhava or emotional temperament generated by their karmas. What is incorrect is to judge one based upon their own unique tastes, which goes against the universal and yogic vision and breeds intolerance rather than acceptance and understanding.
When the Greeks when to India for example, they didn’t convert Hindus to worshiping Greek Gods, nor Egyptians to theirs. They simple saw their deities as localized variations of those of other regions – each possessing their own specialized manners of individualized worship and forms. Even within India, deities of the same variety and name exist in different forms and are worshiped differently. Yet, the unity remains – all are aspects of the same one Brahman consciousness as branches on a tree are all quite different, but each one is still connected to the same one tree.
We are all entitled to our freedom of expression, but again, to take from another and then to use that against them in a misappropriated fashion is not conducive to mankind’s nor the individual soul’s evolution and is inorganic.
As I have stated, there is a difference between defending one’s native dharma or culture and coming from outside that tradition or culture and seeking to proselytize it. These are not the same and cause disunity and disharmony as also become dogmatic as it usually results in thinking in monotones. It is a very fine line.
The first step is to understand all of the cultural and historical aspects of a society and how threats affected them individually. Not to taint everything with the same brush based upon a central philosophy of one Guru, culture or dharma alone. This fails just as a vegan, vegetarian, raw food or paleo diet for one and all!
We may defend other cultures only if we understand them. But there’s no need to superimpose that culture upon the world. Proselytizing of any kind is a Christian not a native tendency. Defending one’s dharma or culture doesn’t have to involve proselytizing!
OM Namah Shivaya!