Earthpages.ca

Think Free


Leave a comment

Ramanuja – Hindu sage likened to St. Thomas Aquinas

English: sage Ramanujacharya's statue

Ramanujacharya’s statue – Wikipedia

Ramanuja (1017-1137 CE) was a leading Hindu philosopher born in the Brahmin caste. Legend has it that he learned the Vedas when he was a baby, only eight days old.¹

Ramanuja was influential to the Bhakti movement, which favors devotion over dry, conceptual philosophy.

Apparently Ramanuja hoped to visit another prominent Hindu philosopher, Yamunacharya, but the latter died before they could compare notes.²

Ramanuja sees the Vedas as authoritative. If you believe in one part, you have to believe in all of the Veda. In other words, he is a religious fundamentalist who accepts the social stratification and misogyny spelled out and reinforced by the Veda.³

Believing that Vishnu is supreme, as a Vaishnavite (follower of Vishnu)  Ramanuja challenges the views of Sankara and the Saivites (followers of Siva). Wikipedia suggests that their respective positions on the soul in relation to ultimate reality are the same.

Ramanuja’s Vishishtadvaita school and Shankara’s Advaita school are both nondualism Vedanta schools,[19][46] both are premised on the assumption that all souls can hope for and achieve the state of blissful liberation; in contrast, Madhvacharya believed that some souls are eternally doomed and damned.4

Contrary to what Wikipedia says, Ramanuja develops a form of monism that differs from Shankara’s. Ramanuja’s system of Visistadvaita is widely recognized as qualified monism. Specifically, Ramanuja challenges Sankara’s claim that only the Brahman is real and individuality is illusory (maya). For Ramanuja, the Brahman is real and beyond pain and suffering. However, individual souls (jivas) emerging from and ultimately resting within the Brahman are also real.

English: Statue of Adi Shankara at his Samadhi...

Statue of Adi Shankara at his Samadhi Mandir in Kedarnath, India. Photo taken by Priyanath – Wikipedia

For Ramanuja the Brahman is beyond the law of karma but the individual soul (jiva) is not and must answer to the wheel of rebirth. Accordingly, the jiva experiences the pleasure and pain of earthly life. And liberation from samsara, the round of rebirth due to karma, is gained through individual effort as well as from the grace of Vishnu.

Ultimately, the individual soul rests within but does not become absorbed by the Brahman or, for that matter, simply disappear.

As a consequence of his religious and philosophical innovations, Ramanuja was persecuted by a rival Hindu who happened to be a Saivite ruler.

The prominent Indologist Wendy Doniger calls Ramanuja “probably the single most influential thinker of devotional Hinduism.”5

Others have likened Ramanuja to the 13th-century Christian thinker, St. Thomas Aquinas. These two thinkers may appear similar on an abstract, intellectual level but any similarity after that becomes problematic. First of all, the alleged truths of Christ and the Veda at many points are incompatible.

Second, from my perspective the religious experiences respectively offered by Hinduism and Christianity (Catholicism specifically) differ.6

Instead of yielding to the pressure of political correctness and glossing over perceived differences, it is far more fruitful to talk about religion and religious experience as we really see and feel it.

Otherwise, sugar-coated religious dialog and ostentatious conferences are a huge waste of time and money. They may help to connect a circle of established or trending pundits. But backslapping, mutual admiration, fancy hotels and superficial proclamations will never replace any kind of true understanding.

STATIONTOSTATION lp album cover by David Bowie – Wikipedia

¹ This seems pretty far fetched. It reminds me of stories about Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, emerging from the womb playing air piano with his baby fingers.

² If both were so spiritually achieved, you’d think that earthly death wouldn’t matter and they could communicate directly, soul to soul.

³ For those claiming that the Vedas do not advocate caste, I urge you to look at the Vedic creation myth.

4 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramanuja

5 Ibid.

6 Perhaps only those who cannot discern a difference in numinosity between these two paths would believe they are phenomenologically equivalent. Some may see this as a biased or backward statement but if a person, like myself, experiences real differences among different religious paths, another’s inexperience, insensitivity or preference for political correctness will not change that fact. This issue has recently appeared in relation to some Catholics’ view of yoga.

 Indian wildlife protection act (enagar.com)


Leave a comment

Rishis – Holy persons or good singers with too much time on their hands?

A Hermit (Rishi), India, 11th century AD, pink_sandstone - Chazen Museum of Art

A Hermit (Rishi), India, 11th century AD, pink sandstone – Chazen Museum of Art

In Hinduism rishis are primal seers or sages mentioned in the Vedas.

The rishis belonged to an elite class of male and female holy persons said to have received the Vedas through revelation. They “heard” and then passed on the sacred Vedas in the form of hymns.

Through song and oral repetition the Vedas were transmitted to disciples for centuries until the verses were eventually written down.

For this reason pinpointing the age of the Vedas is problematic because (most likely) no one really knows when the Vedic revelations were received and orally composed.

Also, from a contemporary skeptics eye, no one really knows if the rishis just had good imaginations, were repeating cultural biases, or whether their songs came from God (or partly from God).

This may seem politically incorrect or indelicate to say, but it’s so common for people to level this kind of critique against Jewish and Christian scripture, it only seems fair and right that all sacred scripture should be met with the same kind of critical scrutiny.


3 Comments

Sri Ramakrishna – Hindu spiritual figure claiming to have practiced different religions

English: Ramakrishna Paramhansacommons:Image:R...

Ramakrishna (Photo: Wikipedia)

Sri Ramakrishna (1836-86) began life as an obscure, unschooled village boy, Gadhadhar Chatterji. His first major religoius experience came at age six.

Ramakrishna describes his first spiritual ecstasy…while walking along the paddy fields, a flock of white cranes flying against a backdrop of dark thunder clouds caught his vision. He reportedly became so absorbed by this scene that he lost outward consciousness and experienced indescribable joy in that state.¹

In the years to come, he became a prominent Hindu holy man, emphasizing unity among all religions.

Ramakrishna says he practiced all faiths and discovered that they all lead to the same spiritual place. Just how thoroughly, however, one can effectively rid oneself of one’s cultural and religious biases remains open to debate. My sense is that he viewed other religions through the lense of his own biases, even though he claims all thoughts of Hinduism vanished while, for instance, someone read the Bible to him or while he recited the name of Allah.²

To me his exploration of non-Hindu religions seems superficial and, perhaps, even delusional. He bases his analysis on visions had while practicing some of the outward measures of different religious faiths, including Chritianity. But for most mystically inclined Christians, religious visions only strenghthen and reassure. They are not the measure of faith. Faith is about putting your religion into practice, day in and day out. It’s about finding God through selfless serving, while sweeping the floor or maybe cleaning a toilet. It’s not about a brief and, I would suggest, questionable vision that comes after a few days of external practice. Anyone on drugs or with a hepped up brain can have that. Moreover, it is not about wanting to be exalted as a holy man that everyone should liken to God.³

This issue aside, biographers say Ramakrishna often fell into extended ecstatic raptures. These trances were extreme to the point that even Ramakrishna himself sometimes wondered if he’d gone mad. At such moments the Hindu Blessed Mother, Kali, apparently would appear in a mystical vision and console him with her graces.

English: This is a pencil sketch of the holy m...

Sketch of the holy mother Sri Sarada Devi (Photo: Wikipedia)

Before marrying Sri Devi, Ramakrishna prayed that Kali would “root out” all of her sexual tendencies. Not surprisingly, their marriage was never consummated. While this may seem strange to many who can’t see beyond our materialistic, techno-sexual culture, the two reportedly were united in a purely spiritual sense, making sexual union redundant, perhaps even distasteful. Considering she was much younger than him, this is surprising. But most Hindu accounts don’t talk too much about female sexuality, focussing on the male gurus’ ‘great victories’ over their male sexual urges.4

To help overcome his male sexual urges, Ramakrishna often dressed and behaved as a woman. Again, to me this seems quite crude, not in the sense that I am against cross-dressing (I’m not) but in the sense that it is such a materialistic, clunky approach. I would think that a deeply spiritual person, someone revered as holy, would be able to inwardly experience a “subtle body,” as the Hindus put it, of the opposite sex without having to go through all the laborious externals of cross-dressing.

The Gospel of Ramakrishna, based on the writings of his direct disciples, is widely available in the West. Essentially a wisdom book, it is full of pithy sayings and examples. In one analogy Ramakrishna notes, for instance, that bad tomatoes rot faster when bashed up and thrown into a garbage heap. This alludes to the idea that the soul may be purified of ungodly attitudes (bad tomatoes) through holy suffering (for more on this dynamic, see » Bhagavad Gita, Alchemy).

With regard to the idea of karma transfer, which for most people sounds alien and difficult to grasp, an Indian biographer writes that Ramakrishna:

had a vision of his subtle body…[with] a number of sores on the back. He was puzzled by the sight, but it was made clear…profane people had caused the sores on his body. They themselves had been purified, but they had left the suffering arising from their own sins with him.5

English: Photograph of Ramakrishna, taken on 1...

Photograph of Ramakrishna, taken on 10 December 1881 at the studio of The Bengal Photographers in Radhabazar, Calcutta, India. (Photo Wikipedia)

This illlustrates some core beliefs about the dynamics of Hindu mysticism. Similar but not identical beliefs can be found in Christian mysticism, In Catholicism souls closer to God suffer for the salvation of less pure souls (see » Faustina Kowalska). Further to this point, the worldly critique that “prayer does nothing” might, from the perspective of a bona fide saint, be seen as an unfortunate misunderstanding perpetuated by ignorance or sin.

Having said that, the idea that we can pick up bad vibes from other people is nothing new. And I think some religious people sensitive to this dynamic make a kind of grandiose career out of being “special” and “holy” when really, they are just sensitive—probably at least partly due to some physiological predisposition. The grandiosity, I think, comes from an underlying inferiority complex or from some other complication.

On the social level, Ramakrishna’s disciples founded the international charity organization known as the Ramakrishna Mission. And his most beloved disciple, Swami Vivekananda, became another pivotal Hindu religious figure.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramakrishna

² Ibid.

³ Non-Christians, of course, accuse Jesus of this. But it’s pretty clear that Jesus didn’t personally want to go on the cross, a symbol which has lasted through the centuries.

4 We also see this with Gandhi, who apparently in the platonic sense slept naked with his grand-neice and married women to overcome his sexual urges, which seems a little weird from a Western perspective. See >> http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/ghandi-slept-grandniece-historian-tells-uk-government-1460499

5 Swami Tejasananda, A Short Life of Sri Ramakrishna, Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama [Publication Department], 1990, p. 92. PDF (downloadable) version: https://advaitaashrama.org/downloads/A%20Short%20Life%20of%20Sri%20Ramakrishna.pdf, p. 105.

Related » Brahman, Contemplation, Hinduism, Mental Prayer, Spirit, Vocal Prayer


1 Comment

Swami (or Yogi) Ramacharaka – Privileged mystic or just another person mistaking knowledge for belief?

William_Walker_Atkinson1

William Walker Atkinson (1862–1932) – derived from Wikipedia

Swami or Yogi Ramacharaka (true identity unknown) was a Hindu-influenced mystic philosopher.¹ He or she wrote extensively on astral planes where the self allegedly resides between different incarnations.

In his or her book Mystic Christianity Ramacharaka offers an imaginative, if not scholarly, interpretation of the Bible and the life of Christ. Most likely Ramacharaka had inner visions or experienced imaginal scenes about different Biblical figures. If so, the truthfulness of these interior perceptions seems impossible to prove or disprove.

Putting aside the remote possibility that this unorthodox thinker espoused absolute truth, I think it’s fair to say that, like so many religious thinkers, orthodox or not, Ramacharaka adapts scripture to fit with his or her personal and cultural biases.

The human tendency to select and interpret data runs throughout most of life. Not only are religious people prone to overgeneralizing their personal beliefs. We also see this in the sciences. But because science has impressed and stunned so many, we rarely hear sociological or philosophical critiques of science as we do of religion. Both science and religion, however, have efficacy and drawbacks.

Concerning questions about truth and knowledge, debates as to who’s ‘right’ are common. But it seems almost any truth claim – religious, philosophical or scientific – ultimately comes down to belief. Not everyone appreciates this view. For those hard-headed folk who can’t see past their own customs and habits, I refer you to the philosopher Hume’s critique of causality. I think any serious thinker should consider this at some point in their journey. Just because it’s old thinking doesn’t mean it’s bad or facile. We don’t say that about music and art, do we?

English: Ticket for

Ticket for “Chicago Day” at 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. Photocopy by Jacobsteinafm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

¹ Wikipedia says:

No record exists in India of a Yogi Ramacharaka, nor is there evidence in America of the immigration of a Baba Bharata. Furthermore, although Atkinson may have travelled to Chicago to visit the 1892 – 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, where the authentic Indian yogi Swami Vivekananda attracted enthusiastic audiences, he is only known to have taken up residence in Chicago around 1900 and to have passed the Illinois Bar Examination in 1903.

See also http://users.telenet.be/ananda/ramach.htm


Leave a comment

Radha – From milkmaid to goddess

Radha Krishna by Balaji Photography via Flickr Radha Krishna by Balaji Photography via Flickr

In Hinduism Radha (Sanskrit = fortunate or successful) is an incarnation of the goddess Lakshmi. She appears on Earth as the female ghopi (cowherdess and milkmaid) who leaves her husband to become the playmate of the Hindu god Krishna.

Her loving and playful relationship with Krishna has become an integral part of the Indian popular imagination, comparable to Romeo and Juliet had Shakespeare not written a tragedy.

Radha is also interpreted on a higher, mystical level, symbolizing the soul‘s loving surrender to God. Contemporary Vaishnava religion in W. Bengal regards Radha as the ultimate female principle, the Goddess or Shakti.

While writing this I couldn’t help but note a loose parallel to Mary, the mother of Jesus. According to the Bible story, Mary was a humble teenager soon to be married to a carpenter (Joseph). Like Radha, she got a divine call. But she didn’t leave her husband nor humanity immediately to dance in the ethereal realms with God. Instead, she stayed on Earth and lived a real, difficult life, to the extent of watching her human/divine son die at the hands of some of the Jews and occupying Romans. Only after that terrible ordeal do both ascend to be with God.

An image like Radha dancing with Krishna in astral realms might be appealing to some wanting to sugarcoat or, perhaps, escape the world as quickly and easily as possible. But for those who believe that salvation comes from going through not only the joys but also the grind of life, the Christian story, as lamentable as it can be, may seem a bit more real.


Leave a comment

Sanskrit – Does God have a special language?

Sanskrit blogging on the rise by Debashish Chakrabarty

Sanskrit (samskrta = cultured, perfected, in contrast to prakrta = uncultured, popular) is the sacred, ancient language of Hinduism.

One school of thought believes that an early form of Sanskrit originated with Aryan invaders and their Vedic hymns around 2,000 BCE.

Another view suggests that an early form of Sanskrit existed within the Indus valley. And the entire Aryan invader thesis has been questioned.

Regardless of its disputed origins, the speakers of Sanskrit believed, as do many Hindus today, that the correct pronunciation of this language may elevate individuals to higher planes of consciousness, leading to greater spiritual awareness.¹

In Hinduism the Vedas, Shastras, Puranas and Kavyas were composed in Sanskrit.

Although Pali is the primary language of Buddhist scripture, some Mahayana texts were composed in a hybrid Sanskrit.

Sanskrit has also found its way into Jain scripture.

The earliest surviving character of its unique Devanagari (language of the gods) script is dated at 150 CE.

Not unlike Latin in the Catholic Church, Sanskrit remains sacred and prestigious among teachers and students throughout India and beyond.²

¹ This kind of claim is not unique to Hinduism. Not a few adherents of different religions believe that their own special language is the key to higher consciousness, awareness or God. I personally think it’s a joke to assume that God would prefer one “special” language over another. In Catholicism, some speak of the Latin Mass as if it has some kind of special sanctity. But what these people forget is that Jesus and his message is for anyone who wants to hear it. That’s why I applaud Catholic Bibles translated in any language and see them as equally valid as ancient Greek (original language of the New Testament) or Hebrew (original language of the Jewish scriptures and the Christian Old Testament) manuscripts. Some contemporary religious scholars use the language-game-power-trip to try to raise themselves above and literally intimidate others. But again, that is contrary to the Christian message.

² See https://www.highly.co/hl/58014caafb56eb5a9b00007e


Leave a comment

Sankara – A Hindu who was no big fan of the Buddha

English: Statue of Adi Shankara at his Samadhi...

Statue of Adi Shankara at his Samadhi Mandir in Kedarnath, India. Photo taken by Priyanath. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sankara, Shankara or Adi Shankara (c. 700 – 750 CE) was a Hindu philosopher, mystic and theologian born in Kerala, India.

A towering figure in Indian philosophical history, Sankara advocated Advaita Vedanta. His commentaries on scripture like the Bhagavad-Gita and Brahma-sutras outline the Advaita philosophy, which teaches the non-duality and absolute identidy of atman and brahman

Sankara was highly critical of the Buddha and is often held responsible for driving Buddhism out of India. In his commentary on the Brahma-sutra, he writes

The Buddha exposed for the sake of instruction, three mutually contradictory doctrines, either having manifested thus his own incoherent garrulity or his enmity towards all living beings, having erroneously assumed that they would be confused.²

Srimad Guru Adi Shankaracharya

Srimad Guru Adi Shankaracharya (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In fact, Sankara and his followers regarded the Buddha as an evil avatar. Why evil? Because the Buddha, from Sankara’s perspective, tried to sway the masses away from the sacred Veda.

But some Hindu philosophers take a big picture approach and interpret the Buddha’s critique of Hinduism in an overall positive light. For them, the Buddha’s apparent deception restored balance to a Hindu priesthood that had become hypocritical and elitist.

Some see this as a strength of Hinduism. It can take almost anything and conceptually absorb it into its overall philosophy. However, others see this as problematic because, for them, Hinduism fails to appreciate different religions for what they really are, on their own terms.³

Related » Moksha, Ramanuja, Scholarship, Self, Visistadvaita

¹ The following reveals considerable ambiguity with regard to authorship: https://www.highly.co/hl/57fd669e9fc2077c0800002f

² http://www.lioncity.net/buddhism/lofiversion/index.php/ (Now a dead link; was active in 2009/05/12)

³ While a student in India doing my Masters, a professor whom I admired very much once said “Jesus was a messenger” and “all religions are the same.” As I grew into my – admittedly innovative – Catholic path, I really have questioned these assertions. For me, the Eucharistic love and warmth simply could not be found in my experience of Hinduism. The Eucharist helps me to experience a whole new vista that I didn’t even know existed prior to my reception of it.  So I would not agree that all religions are the same. As to the status of Jesus, this is something I think about a lot. But I would not be happy relegating him to the status of “messenger,” just like any other religious figure. Simply put, no other figure makes me feel the same way. Having said that, I also believe that all religions may work together. But imo that does not mean that they are all the same.