Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Krishna, Rama, Ganesha, Ganapati, Hanuman, are just some of the names of Hindu deities one will encounter shortly after opening any book or website on Hinduism. Thus it is fully justified to ask how many Gods there are in Hinduism. The answer is simple although it might disappoint those who would prefer to have more than one.

The Christian doctrine of the Holly Trinity teaches the unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three persons in one. The doctrine, one of the most important in the Christian faith, states that God exists as three persons but as one being. Thus, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are eternal, omnipresent, omnipotent, infinitely wise, infinitely holy, infinitely loving. Three, but one, not dissimilar to the Trinity found in Hinduism where it is called Trimurti (Sanskrit – Three Forms).

Hindus believe there is only one God who can manifest Himself in many forms. Three principle forms of God in Hinduism are Brahma (The Creator), Vishnu (The Maintainer or Preserver) and Shiva (The Destroyer or Transformer). They together are called Trimurti.

Although each of the three forms of God in Hinduism is assigned different roles, each one of them is able to perform any of those functions – creation, preservation, destruction – on his own.

Different Hindu denominations worship different form of the Supreme Being. Vaishnavas (Vaishnavism) worship Lord Vishnu, Saivits (Saivism or Shaivism) – Lord Shiva, Shaktas (Shaktism) – Divine Mother, Shakti or Devi in her many forms, while Smarti (Smartism) followers can choose their preferred deity between Ganesha (also called Ganapati), Surya, Vishnu, Shiva, Shakti and Kumara.

Elephant-head God called Ganesha, also known as Ganapaty, is one of the best known and most worshiped deities in Hinduism. He is son of Shiv and Godess Parvati, the Divine Mother. Although generally known as Lord of beginnings and Remover of Obstacles, he is also worshiped as the god of education, knowledge, wisdom and wealth. Ganesha is usually shown having only one tusk, as the legend said he used his tusk to write famous Indian epic Mahbaharata.

In Hinduism, as well in some other religions as well, God can take a human form to come down from heavens to perform a divine mission or a task as he finds appropriate. Incarnation of God in human form is called Avatar, from Sanskrit word meaning “descent” (as in descent from heavens to Earth).

It could be said that in Christianity Jesus Christ was an Avatar of God – God in human form. In Hinduism the God who had most avatars is the Lord Vishnu. His most famous Avatars are Rama and Krishna.

By Jura Nanuk

What is life?

Life is defined in Sanskrit as anubhava dara, meaning a stream of experiences. Experiences flowing in uninterrupted stream are life as the water continuously flowing is a river. When spirit (you) comes in contact with the matter, experience is created. If those experiences are happy, your life is happy. If they are sad your life is sad, if they are dynamic your life is dynamic.

Experience is a unit of life. Not all experiences are pleasurable, but sometimes we learn the biggest lessons in life from those unpleasant ones. Whatever happens, doesn’t matter how bad, ask yourself what did you learn from it. There are no failures in life, just lessons. If you fall, never mind. Stand up again.  You don’t lose when you fall, you lose when you quit trying.

What is Yoga?

As Hinduism is rich in diversity it comes as natural that it will offer more ways to achieve its goal. Those four ways for attaining the ultimate goal are Raja Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga. Four main types of Yoga are designed to suit different temperaments or attitudes toward life. The Sanskrit word Yoga has many meanings. The root of the word is “yuj,” meaning “to control,” “to unite.” Its translations include “joining,” “uniting,” “union,” “conjunction,” and “means.” It is said that all four types of Yoga lead ultimately to the same destination – freedom from endless cycle of birth and rebirth, to union with Brahman or God.

It is necessary to mention that by Yoga we don’t mean the “Yoga classes” or certain Yoga exercises that are promoted in woman’s magazines. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong about practicing such kind of Yoga. Those exercises can definitely make your spine and joints more flexible, keep you physically in good shape, but this alone will not bring you much closer to the ultimate goal. Those exercises are called Asanas (Sanskrit asana – posture) and they are one part of Raja Yoga.

Raja Yoga is a comprehensive method that emphasizes meditation and uses physical asanas and breathing control. Parts of Raja Yoga which are commonly offered in Yoga classes in the West are Hatha, Kundalini, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Bikram Yoga and the various forms of meditation. Since it is known that for clear mind, the body should also be in a good shape, or as Romans would say Mens sana in corpora sano (A healthy min in a healthy body), this meditative type of Yoga contains Asanas for the purpose of making the body fit enough so that person could experience the full gains of meditation.

Karma Yoga is the path of action, hard work and selfless service to others and focusing on honesty in everyday action. It could take many forms and be practiced in many ways. The selfless work of volunteers who are donating their time and effort to help people in disasters or protect the wildlife or the environment or any other valid cause are practicing Karma Yoga. World famous example of such type of selfless service is Mother Theresa (1910 – 1997), a catholic nun of Albanian origin and Indian citizenship, who founded the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India in 1950. For over 45 years she ministered to the poor, sick, orphaned, and dying, while guiding the Missionaries of Charity’s expansion, first throughout India and then in other countries. Following her death she was beatified by Pope John Paul II and given the title Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and India’s highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna, in 1980 for her humanitarian work. At the time of her death it was operating 610 missions in 123 countries, including homes for people with AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis, public kitchens, orphanages, and schools.

Talking about selfless service, a quote from L. Ron Hubbard, American philosopher, writer and humanitarian, comes to my mind: “A being is only as valuable as he can serve others.”

Jnana Yoga is the intellectual path, the path of knowledge, wisdom and contemplation. It involves deep exploration of the nature of our being and the use of our minds for achieving the higher states of consciousness. Jnana Yoga praises self-control, self-discipline and stability of mind. I am sure you can find many examples of this Yogic path.

The one whom I would like to mention here as an example is Professor Stephen Hawking, British theoretical physicist and cosmologist, lifetime member of Pontifical Academy of Sciences (scientific academy of Vatican) and Honorary Fellow of Royal Society of Arts. While being physically disabled and almost completely paralyzed, professor Hawking is of truly brilliant mind. His scientific books and public lectures made him an academic celebrity. His cosmological research of the beginning of the Universe is on the edge between scientific and religious study. And if you ever heard that the universe is expanding but don’t know why is that said or what is the proof of it, I invite you to visit website of professor Hawking and read the transcripts of his public lectures. It helped me to really understand, for the first time in my life, the scientific evidence that universe does have a beginning. It is a very logical explanation which I fully accepted and felt richer for possessing such a piece of knowledge.

I will not here go into explaining the theory of the expansion of the universe, but will share with you the answer of professor Hawking on the question if he believes in God. Hawking writes “One can imagine that God created the universe at literally any time in the past.  On the other hand, if the universe is expanding, there may be physical reasons why there had to be a beginning. One could still believe that God created the universe at the instant of the big bang. But it would be meaningless to suppose that it was created before the big bang. An expanding universe does not preclude a creator, but it does place limits on when He might have carried out his job.”

Bhakti Yoga is the path of devotion, emotion, love, compassion, and service to God. All actions are done in the context of remembering and celebrating the Divine. Ministers of all religions are practicing this path regardless of the name they use to address the Supreme Being or the Divine.

Members of International Society for Krishna Consciousnesses – ISKCON, better known as Hare Krishna movement, founded by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, emphasize the importance of Bhakti Yoga. Members of ISCKON are known by ecstatically chanting names of the Lord Krishna on the streets and squares of cities around the world.

Choose the type of yoga which suits your personality, ambitions and interests. Following as sincerely as you can and watch miracles happening in your life.

Sanatana Dharma: Eternal Wisdom of Hinduism

Hinduism is Vedic religious philosophy whose correct name is Sanathana Dharma, meaning Eternal Law or Eternal Knowledge. It represents the oldest living religion whose beginnings reach in some unknown point in the distant past. It is hard to correctly state the age of Vedas, on which Hindusim is based, as they were carried in oral tradition from generation to generation for thousands of years. They were written down between 3.500 and 4.000 years ago. According to Veda themselves they are trillions of years old and they existed from the beginning of time. It is said they were originally a pure spiritual vibration which existed before the creation of material universe.

It can be speculated that some parts of Vedas were changed intentionally or unintentionally during the period of their verbal existence, and having them written down earlier might have given us better insight in what they originally were. It can also be assumed that some parts of this extremely valuable cultural heritage of the world were lost forever. But even in this possibly somewhat imperfect shape available to us today Vedas do not stop to surprise anybody who embarks on studying them.

According to Max Müller, German philologist and Orientalist, the first translator of Rig Veda and one of the founders of the modern academic subjects of Indian studies and Comparative religions, Vedic culture and its knowledge is 8.000 – 9.000 years old. He noted in his works that “in the Rig-veda we shall have before us more real antiquity than in all the inscriptions of Egypt or Ninevah. The Veda is the oldest book in existence… The Veda fills a gap which no literary work in any other language could fill. It carries us back to times of which we have no records anywhere.”

In his book The History of British India, Edward Thornton observed, “… when Greece and Italy, these cradles of modern civilization, housed only the tenants of the wilderness, India was the seat of wealth and grandeur.”

None of the religions which go back some 5.000 years are still around. While great civilizations of ancient Egypt, the empires of Inca, Maya and Aztecs, are all gone, leaving us only their ruins to figure out what their real cultures were like, Hinduism is still alive and well and represents the third biggest religion in the world today. Its scriptures, customs, ceremonies and wisdom are still widely available to anybody who reaches for it.

Although some say that Hinduism is still alive due to its adaptability and lack of one central authority which resulted in the lack of rigidity, it is more probable that the deep, universal truths it contains made it to endure all foreign influences and withstand the challenges of new times.

Many agree that Hinduism is not only religion but a way of life that person can accept and follow regarding of his background and without the need to leave the religion in which he or she was raised. Author of many respected books on Hinduism and Vedic philosophy, Stephen Knapp, said that Hinduism is “a code of conduct which values peace and happiness and justice for all. Thus, it is a path open for all who want to be learn how be happy with simple living and high thinking, while engaged in proper conduct, a moral life, and selfless service to humanity and God.”

The reason why Hinduism at first sight might seem hard to grasp probably lies in its diversity. As the Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami, the founder of the magazine Hinduism Today, said “Hinduism is not a monolithic tradition. There isn’t a one Hindu opinion on things. And there is no single spiritual authority to define matters for the faith. There are several different denominations, the four largest being Vaishnavism, Saivism, Shaktism and Smartism. Further, there are numberless schools of thought expressed in tens of thousands of guru lineages. In a very real sense, this grand tradition can be defined and understood as ten thousand faiths gathered in harmony under a single umbrella called Hinduism, or Sanathana Dharma.”

Hindu cosmology

The sun sets over the historic observatory of Jantar Mantar in Jaipur, India. The architectural astronomical instruments are built by Maharaja(King) Jai Singh II at his then new capital of Jaipur between 1727 and 1734. He had constructed a total of five such observatories at different locations, including Delhi, while the Jaipur observatory is the largest of all and one of the biggest stone observatories in the world. Jantar Mantar means literally 'calculation instrument'. The instruments are in most cases huge structures. They are built on a large scale so that accuracy of readings can be obtained. The observatory consists of fourteen major geometric devices for measuring time, predicting eclipses, tracking stars in their orbits, ascertaining the declinations of planets, and determining the celestial altitudes and related ephemerides. Babak Tafreshi/Dreamview.net

The sun sets over the historic observatory of Jantar Mantar in Jaipur, India. The architectural astronomical instruments are built by Maharaja Jai Singh II at his then new capital of Jaipur between 1727 and 1734. He had constructed a total of five such observatories at different locations, including Delhi, while the Jaipur observatory is the largest of all and one of the biggest stone observatories in the world. Jantar Mantar means literally ‘calculation instrument’. The instruments are in most cases huge structures. They are built on a large scale so that accuracy of readings can be obtained. The observatory consists of fourteen major geometric devices for measuring time, predicting eclipses, tracking stars in their orbits, ascertaining the declinations of planets, and determining the celestial altitudes and related ephemerides. Babak Tafreshi/Dreamview.net

The Hindu cosmology and its timeline is the closest to modern scientific timelines and even more, which might indicate that the Big Bang is not the beginning of everything but just the start of the present cycle preceded by an infinite number of universes and to be followed by another infinite number of universes. It also includes an infinite number of universes at one given time.

The Rig Veda questions the origin of the cosmos:

“Neither being (sat) nor non-being was as yet. What was concealed? And where? And in whose protection?…Who really knows? Who can declare it? Whence was it born, and whence came this creation? The devas were born later than this world’s creation, so who knows from where it came into existence? None can know from where creation has arisen, and whether he has or has not produced it. He who surveys it in the highest heavens, he alone knows-or perhaps does not know.” (Rig Veda 10. 129)

Mahatma Gandhi’s article about God

In 1931, during Mahatma Gandhi’s stay in England Columbia Gramophone Company wanted to record his voice. Gandhi didn’t want to talk about politics and he decided to read out one of his articles called “On God”:

“There is an indefinable mysterious power that pervades everything, I feel it though I do not see it. It is this unseen power which makes itself felt and yet defies all proof, because it is so unlike all that I perceive through my senses. It transcends the senses. But it is possible to reason out the existence of God to a limited extent. Even in ordinary affairs we know that people do not know who rules or why and how He rules and yet they know that there is a power that certainly rules. In my tour last year in Mysore I met many poor villagers and I found upon inquiry that they did not know who ruled Mysore. They simply said some God ruled it. If the knowledge of these poor people was so limited about their ruler I who am infinitely lesser in respect to God than they to their ruler need not be surprised if I do not realize the presence of God – the King of Kings. Nevertheless, I do feel, as the poor villagers felt about Mysore, that there is orderliness in the universe, there is an unalterable law governing everything and every being that exists or lives. It is not a blind law, for no blind law can govern the conduct of living being and thanks to the marvelous researches of Sir J. C. Bose it can now be proved that even matter is life. That law then which governs all life is God. Law and the law-giver are one. I may not deny the law or the law-giver because I know so little about it or Him. Just as my denial or ignorance of the existence of an earthly power will avail me nothing even so my denial of God and His law will not liberate me from its operation, whereas humble and mute acceptance of divine authority makes life’s journey easier even as the acceptance of earthly rule makes life under it easier. I do dimly perceive that whilst everything around me is ever changing, ever dying there is underlying all that change a living power that is changeless, that holds all together, that creates, dissolves and recreates. That informing power of spirit is God, and since nothing else that I see merely through the senses can or will persist, He alone is. And is this power benevolent or malevolent ? I see it as purely benevolent, for I can see that in the midst of death life persists, in the midst of untruth truth persists, in the midst of darkness light persists. Hence I gather that God is life, truth, light. He is love. He is the supreme Good. But He is no God who merely satisfies the intellect, if He ever does. God to be God must rule the heart and transform it. He must express himself in every smallest act of His votary. This can only be done through a definite realization, more real than the five senses can ever produce. Sense perceptions can be and often are false and deceptive, however real they may appear to us. Where there is realization outside the senses it is infallible. It is proved not by extraneous evidence but in the transformed conduct and character of those who have felt the real presence of God within. Such testimony is to be found in the experiences of an unbroken line of prophets and sages in all countries and climes. To reject this evidence is to deny oneself. This realization is preceded by an immovable faith. He who would in his own person test the fact of God’s presence can do so by a living faith and since faith itself cannot be proved by extraneous evidence the safest course is to believe in the moral government of the world and therefore in the supremacy of the moral law, the law of truth and love. Exercise of faith will be the safest where there is a clear determination summarily to reject all that is contrary to truth and love. I confess that I have no argument to convince through reason. Faith transcends reason. All that I can advise is not to attempt the impossible.”