I have heard that Sanskrit is a divine language,
what does this mean?
Scriptures of Hinduism are mostly composed in Sanskrit, which is a highly articulated language. Rituals of the Hindu tradition are conducted in Sanskrit. Hymns and passages of the scriptures, if pronounced articulately and correctly, leave a soothing and holy effect on listeners, even if their meanings are not properly understood. For all these reasons Sanskrit is regarded by the Hindus as a sacred language.
Why is 'Om' considered most sacred and universally
used in Hindu spiritual practices?
Om or Aum, the sound of which consists of the three letters 'a', 'u' and 'm' is regarded as the sound-symbol of the Universe and also of God / Supreme Reality / Brahman who created it. It may also denote the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of Hinduism. With the help of Om, the Lord created the Universe.
From Om, which encompasses all sounds starting from the throat region to the mouth and emanating from the lips, originates all sounds and, as a matter of fact, all human languages and their scriptures.
Hence, Om is considered the holiest and most important sound, often mentioned in Hindu scripture and profusely voiced in the chanting of mantras, hymns and in performing rituals.
Nirvedananada, Swami., Hinduism at a Glance
Bhaskarananda, Swami., The Essentials of Hinduism
What is Yoga?
Yoga means union. According to Hindu scriptures, which profusely use this word, it is the union of the individual soul and the super soul, of the devotee and God, of the Jivatman (embodied soul) and Brahman (Supreme Reality). It is both the way to and the goal of this union.
However, the kind of Yoga we see so widely practiced the world over today is actually Hathayoga, a form of Yoga focused on physical health. If Hatha Yoga is practiced so that we are able to sit quietly in one posture for a long time, it may be useful in the path of Raja Yoga. If it is practiced simply to improve our health, it may prove helpful in that respect, but will not be of much use in the field of spirituality.
There are four spiritual Yogic paths:
1. Jnana Yoga: The path of Knowledge, which emphasises the method of discrimination between
the transient and the eternal, focusing on the eternal.
2. Bhakti Yoga: The path of devotion or divine love which teaches the aspirant to direct his love to God and to practice continuous communion with God.
3. Raja Yoga: The path of sense and psychic control and meditation.
4. Karma Yoga: The path of selfless work, surrendering the results of such work to God.
Why do Hindus worship images? Is it not idolatry?
When Buddhists install the image of Buddha or Catholics the images of Jesus or Mother Mary made of stone, metal or wood in the altar of their respective temples or churches, offer food and pray to them, do we also call them idolaters? No, because they imagine the divine and living presence of Buddha or Jesus or Mary in those images and give offerings and prayers. In the same way, Hindus worship their deities in temples or homes.
Moreover, in the beginning, worshipping God through images is especially helpful for those who cannot concentrate or focus on a formless aspect of God, which is definitely a higher concept of God.
Do Hindus believe in one God or many Gods?
Hindus believe in one Supreme Reality which manifests Itself in various forms of God and Goddess.
Does Hinduism believe in heaven and hell?
Hinduism does believe in heaven and hell, but does not believe in any eternal heaven or hell. According to Hinduism, human beings after death go to heaven or hell for a certain period, which is determined by their good or bad Karma. When that period is over, they are again born on the earth to continue doing Karma. This cycle continues until, by realising God, they attain liberation from both birth and death and heaven and hell.
They do not come back to the earth to create or experience more Karma, but become one with God, which is the goal of human life and all spiritual practices.
Does Hinduism subscribe to the concept of 'original sin'?
Hinduism believes that man is not essentially a sinner, but pure. However, this purity is, as it were, covered by evil propensities of mind, which are to be removed by moral and spiritual discipline. Consequently, when mind becomes free from such dross, the ever pure nature of man shines forth.
What is 'Samadhi'?
Samadhi, which is experienced after long and arduous spiritual practices and by the grace of God, is the state of total absorption of the mind in the Self or God or Supreme Reality, in which the true nature of the Self or God or Supreme Reality, which are basically the same, is revealed to the aspirant.
What are the effects of Samadhi?
After experiencing Samadhi the aspirant cuts asunder all his bonds; he also becomes free from ignorance, impurities, attachments, fear, and sorrow. Finally, he becomes full of joy, peace and love, and is established in wisdom, and, thus, his life is fulfilled. Karma cannot bind him, the seeds of his desires are burnt so that he is not reborn, and he becomes a free soul.
What are Sattva, Rajas, Tamas, which are often
referred to in Hindu scriptures?
These are the three 'gunas' (in Sanskrit) which are both quality and subtle substance and constitute Prakriti, the Primordial Energy. Every animate and inanimate object in the universe is made of these three gunas, though in varying proportions.
1. Sattva guna stands for poise or wisdom, and a predominance of sattva in an individual's nature
generates purity, equanimity, and the power of clear vision.
2. Rajas stands for dynamism, and a predominance of this in an individual's nature generates passions, ambition, and restlessness.
3. Tamas stands for inertia and ignorance, and a predominance of it in an individual's nature generates lethargy, dullness, and delusion.
By transcending all three of these gunas, which bind the Self, one becomes free and is established in wisdom and bliss.
Bhagavad Gita Chapters 14, 17 and 18.
What are 'Karma' and 'Samskara'?
Karma and Samskara are two of the most important concepts of Hinduism and are now widely known and often referred to.
Karma, in the broadest sense, includes not only what we do with our limbs, but also with our senses, mind and intelligence. Our every movement, including our breathing and even the blinking of our eyes, is also karma. Karma, in a technical sense, is what we do or think repeatedly or even once not only in this life, but also in our previous lives, and their effects in the form of our enjoyment of pleasure or suffering of pain which is not restricted to one life, but may extend to a series of lives. The process continues until we get liberated by controlling and transcending our desires, which are at the root of karma, through hard and sustained spiritual practices and the grace of the God.
'Samskara' in the context of the theory of Karma, refers to the subtle mental impressions, which may be either good or bad, resulting from the good or bad thoughts and deeds we do repeatedly in a series of lives, including the present one, which drive us to do or to cherish good or bad things. These tendencies, by which we are meant to grow, are samskaras.
Is the theory of Karma the same as the concept
of fatalism or predestination?
No. While fatalism or predestination do not explain why something must happen and is also unavoidable, the theory of Karma explains the happenings in an individual life by referring to one's Karma earned either in previous lives or the present one.
Moreover, according to the theory of Karma, if one suffers, or is destined to suffer, because of one's bad Karma, this suffering can be reduced substantially by performing good Karma, that is, by purifying oneself through spiritual practices and seeking refuge in God, who is the giver of the results of Karma.
Why do Indian monks wear saffron color clothing?
The color of the cloth worn by the Hindu monks, who have given up hearth and home and embraced a life of total renunciation to dedicate their lives to realize God and serve people unselfishly, is called saffron or ochre or 'gairk' in Sanskrit. Fire reduces everything subject to decay and destruction to ashes. Thus, by wearing this color, which is the color of fire, monks are reminded that things of this world are non-eternal and must not be craved after as they seek the Eternal, that is, God.
Why are many Indians vegetarian? Is it a sin to eat meat?
In India, while there is a strong opinion that the killing of any life for whatsoever purpose, including for food, is a sin, there are also others who think that though killing is definitely condemnable, there are certain exceptions to this rule, which are enjoined by Hindu scriptures. For example killing for the purposes of food, self-protection, saving the honor of a woman or protecting one's country from invaders, do not accrue any sin.
Even a casual study of Vedic literature reveals that eating meat by Indians in the Vedic Age was not uncommon. But later, as a result of the impact of Buddhism, and later still by Vaishnavism, which preached nonviolence in food habits, many people became vegetarian. Nowadays vegetarianism is practised more as a family tradition, a local tradition, or on health grounds, more than out of any religious consideration. Thus, while most of the people of Bengal, Orissa and Assam are non-vegetarians, people of other provinces of India are mostly vegetarian.
Why is the discriminative caste system allowed in Hinduism?
The caste system as originally planned and practiced in ancient India was pragmatic and flexible, but it gradually degenerated when the priestly class demanded special prerogatives for themselves and became rigid. However, if we probe deeply we find that caste systems not only existed in Indian society, but in some form or other in almost every ancient society.
However, this discriminatory system has been fading away slowly, as in modern-day India intercaste dining and marriages, especially in cities, are becoming more and more common. Moreover, there are lots of people belonging to the lowest social strata receiving good educations and jobs and rising to social and national distinction. A few prominent examples are: Doctor B. R. Ambedkar, Father of the Indian Constitution, K. R. Narayanan, President of India, Ms. Kumari Mayawati, former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, and many former and present-day central and state ministers, executives and professionals.