Sadhana for Week 38
Speech Level: Hindu Culture
Explain different aspects of WHY DO WE in Indian Culture to someone different everyday
Without culture, man is a vulture!
The cultured make people happy, wherever they go.
The uncultured, whenever they go.
Hindu culture is essentially based upon sacrifice implied in duty and not upon acquisition, which is implied in rights.
Poojya Gurudev devoted his whole life to spread the awareness Hindu culture to Hindus themselves. Here are the excerpts from his very first discourse on 31st December 1951 which was titled, “Let Us Be Hindus.”
“A Hindu swami to talk. A Hindu temple for a background. A Hindu audience, and the subject for discussion: “Let us be Hindus.” Strange! It sounds like a ridiculous paradox and a meaningless contradiction. I can see very well that you are surprised at the audacity of this swami!
It has become a new fashion with the educated Hindu to turn up his nose and sneer in contempt at the very mention of his religion in any discussion. No doubt, Hinduism has come to mean nothing more than a bundle of sacred superstitions, or a certain way of dressing, cooking, eating and so on. Our gods have fallen to the mortal level of administrative officers at whose altars the faithful Hindu might pray and get special permits for the things he desires, that is, if he pays the required fee to the priest…..
Hinduism is not this external show that we have learned to parade about in our daily life. Hinduism is a science of perfection. There is in it an answer to every individual, social, national, or international problem……
Let us know what Hinduism is! Let us take an honest oath for ourselves, not only for our own sake, but for the sake of the entire world; that we shall – when once we are convinced of the validity of the eternal Truth – try honestly to live as consistently as possible the values advocated by this ancient and sacred religion.”
What is Culture?
Poojya Gurudev defined culture as:
“When a group of people live together in a particular geographical area for a long time, a collective system of norms, values and distinct way of life develops which makes the group’s identity. This comes to be known as their culture.”
All over the world since the birth of mankind different cultures have been established, evolved and have even become extinct. In fact most of the ancient cultures of the world of great civilizations like the Mayan, the Roman, Egyptian, Messopotamian, Greek etc. do not exist.
But there is one culture that has stood the test of time. In fact it is the oldest living culture in the world – the Hindu Culture, which can be traced back to more than 7,000 years BC! This culture is practised even today in India and most of the traditions can be traced back to the Vedic times.
When we hear this the first question that comes to our minds is……….
But isn’t the Hindu culture just a lot of meaningless rites and rituals, a bunch of out- dated impractical traditions that are being followed?
For any culture to withstand the test of time and continuous invasions it must have a solid base, a firm foundation on which it is built. The uniqueness of the Hindu culture is that it is a Global Culture that is Rooted in Values and iscapable of Adapting to Change. It is based on universal principles of truth, righteousness, peace, love and non-injury.
All our traditions are seeped in deep philosophy and scientific principles to help us stay connected with these values, to help us evolve and achieve the purpose of life. They are not empty rites and rituals that have no meaning, no significance, no importance. Every act, every action, every mundane activity, a seemingly simple tradition has an immense impact on our personality, if understood. Unfortunately the Hindu of today only knows the rite or tradition but not the principle behind it.
Know the WHY behind the What!
The culture of the people must continuously serve them,
Nourishing their inspiration,
Guiding their action and proving consolation, comfort, balance and equanimity
In both their joys and sorrows.
- Swami Chinmayananda
Therefore it is very important to know the “why” behind the “what” we do.
1. For example why do we greet another with Namaste instead of just shaking hands. This simple greeting reminds us every time we meet another that the same divinity that is there in me (one hand) is also there in the other (other hand). When we join them together we mean that I bow down to that divinity in us. No one is above or beneath the other, we are all essentially one.
In such a simple act the entire philosophy of humankind is woven. If everyone in the world understood this and evoked this feeling while meeting people the world would be a happy place with no war, terrorism, discrimination, etc.
See a video of Poojya Gurudev on Why do we do Namaste? - https://youtu.be/utWmfN8oGw0
2. Touching the feet of parents every morning….old fashioned, why not just hug them?
Lets take the greeting one step deeper. Feet are the symbol of what a person stands for, what the person has done, achieved in life. When we bow down with folded hands and touch the feet of our parents we acknowledge them for all their love, their selflessness, their sacrifices while bringing us up and for their experience of life. We bow down in reverence not just respect. This helps us to keep our ego and pride in check especially as we grow up and our parents grow old when they cannot do much on their own. Often we forget all that they had done for us. We can never repay them or can equal them.
We greet our teachers, our elders, saints in the same fashion.
Now doesn’t it inspire us to greet another with a Namaste rather than a mere handshake? Isn’t it more meaningful, the transaction deeper, more affectionate, more respectful. Once we know the meaning behind the rite or ritual it suddenly becomes a beautiful gesture. Similarly all our customs and traditions have deep meanings and are often symbolic in nature.
The more we focus on the why rather than the what and try to find out before rejecting an ancient practice, the more enriching our life will be.
3. We worship plants, trees, stones, rivers, sun, moon! How primitive!!!! We even bow down and touch a book if we have kicked it by mistake!
We revere everything in our culture, both the inert as well as the sentient. Everything is a part of the divine creation hence we do not think of anything as a resource that can be used indiscriminately by man. We are the most eco-friendly culture in the world. Water, food, trees, animals, mountains are all to be treated with respect and have an equal right on this planet. Our culture believes in giving more than taking. That is why when one tree is cut, five more are to be planted.
We give knowledge the highest respect more than money, power, fame, lineage. That is why even a book is revered. The Guru or teacher is placed higher even more than ones parents.
Unfortunately today we do not know the deep philosophy behind the actions so we think that it is all primitive and useless.
These were a few practices based on the philosophical aspects, now lets look at some of the scientific and social significances of our customs and traditions:
1. Why do we pray before a meal?
Just before eating a meal when we close our eyes the senses get cut off from their indulgence in the environment. The focus shifts onto oneself. By praying the mind comes in the present in a state of calmness. While praying we offer gratitude that we are fortunate to have this meal. This makes us appreciate the meal placed before us, we appreciate the efforts of the one who has made it, who has produced it. With such a feeling when food is eaten it gets digested very quickly as the body is in a state of relaxation and well being free from any agitations.
The aroma of the food placed before oneself in that quietude makes the stomach produce the digestive juices so that it is ready to intake the food. The saliva glands in the tongue get activated that help in digestion.
All of the above aid in digesting the food. One eats mindfully not indulging in excess. Every bite is savoured. Most of the time people eat without even noticing what is on the plate while watching TV and end up eating much more than required.
2. Why do we have so many festivals in India? Isn’t it a waste of productive time, all these holidays result in national loss?
Diwali is a day dedicated to inner purity and noble character.
- Swami Chinmayananda
Festivals are there to celebrate our lives, the joy of being alive and it is to be shared with all – our friends, relatives, our neighbours, our colleagues, the young, the old, everyone.
Amongst the gaiety and celebrations are hidden great values which rites and rituals bring forth as powerful reminders. But to the one who is unaware of the significance it will appear as wastage of resources, unnecessary indulgences and even foolish, outdated practices.
Take for example Ganapati visarjan. People often say this festival should be stopped because it causes water pollution, next day the sight on the beach with hands and legs of Ganapati is not nice and causes harm to the beach, noise pollution when the processions are being taken out, etc.
Foreigners on the other hand remark, how cruel that you drown your own gods in the sea after taking care of him for so many days!!!
Any normal thinking and caring person would think so. But lets see what this festival is all about and why was is it celebrated. Then decide for yourself.
Ganapati, the Lord, is brought home with great fan fare. For 7 to 9 days he is taken care of like a favorite family member. All the things he likes to eat are made, friends, relatives, neighbours, etc everyone is invited to pay their respects to him. And on the tenth day with great fanfare he bid adieu and submerged in the sea.
Ganapati symbolizes the life spark which is sentient. When it takes a human form and comes in to the world we celebrate the birth of a child. The child is taken care of lovingly by the family, friends, society. Ganapati (child) brings joy, love in the hearts of all. Everyone partakes in all his/her activities, joys and sorrows. So everyone takes care of everyone as all are born. But those who are born also must die, hence live your life in complete harmony with all beings around and know that one day you will depart. The departure should also be such that you leave a mark in everyone’s heart and they remember you for your love, and goodness. Live a life of love, purity, selflessness, contributing to society. This also to reminds us that we have a limited time on earth and one day we all have to go. All that we accumulate – wealth, friends, possessions will not go with us, everything will remain here except our deeds. The chanting that Ganapati come back next year is a reminder that we too will be born again and again until we are able to evolve and gain complete freedom from the cycle of birth and death. Until that time live harmoniously and contribute to the well being of others.
When this tradition was started Ganapati was made from mud. The philosophy was from mud-to-mud. It did no harm to the environment. The colors used were vegetable dyes. Isn’t this festival a beautiful way to convey to the children the importance of right living, to the householders the importance of giving back to society and to the elders to start letting go to prepare for their onward journey. When we celebrate it every year knowing the significance it makes an impact in our minds and our thinking.
About the pollution the idol can be made from eco friendly material. no need for POP and can be immersed in a bucket of water which can be used to water the plants. But to abolish a beautiful, meaningful festival without understanding its significance how wise it that?
We have so many such customs, traditions, festivals, rites rituals – each has a deep meaning, is symbolic and has great learnings embedded in them.
That is why Indian or Hindu way of life has been appreciated by people all over the world:
India is the cradle of the human race,
the birthplace of human speech,
the mother of history,
the grandmother of legend,
and the great grand mother of tradition.
Our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only!
- Mark Twain
A blind following and an outright denial, both do the same to kill culture, instead of bettering it!
1. Find out the meaning, the significance behind the traditions. Read up about the different facets of Hindu culture. Read “Why do we?” – a simple book published by Chinmaya Mission. Gift it to friends to share the knowledge.
2. Practice it with knowledge. Take up one practice or custom everyday and do it yourself after understanding the meaning behind it. Observe how you feel.
3. Everyday share with someone the knowledge you have gained. Make them aware of the beauty and depth off our culture.
1. To know where we came from, as it helps us to understand ourselves better.
2. Many cultural traditions enrich our lives.
3. It is a beautiful accommodating culture which has given shelter to so many other cultures. Strength of Indian culture is adaptability and accommodativeness.
4. Helps preserve our culture which has been passed down from so may generations. Do we want to be the generation to destroy it? Even if one generation does not follow it, it will be lost forever.
Beginners and Advanced:
Do as advised above.
List down questions that you have in your mind about the cultural practices and start finding out their answers and significances and share it with others.
UNTO HIM OUR BEST