Select Page

Module AssignmentsStudy the assigned curriculum — both Parts 1 and 2.Submit your essay (or your contracted alternative), which must include thoughts on both parts of each module.Your peer exchanges are due two days after your essay is due.The essays are designed to be meaningful exercises of self-exploration (reflections) rather than busy work (summaries).The practice of philosophy is a major goal of your essays and exchanges. This practice promotes and supports independent, creative and original thinking. Essays Due by 11:00 PM on Mondays and Thursdays.Your essays need to be a thoughtful “journal-like” reflections.Essays must address both part 1 and part 2 of each module’s curriculum.A good reflection is one that I could not have read before. This is because it is the essay that only you could have written — due to your unique set of life experiences.Minimum RequirementsEssays are not summaries. That is busy work.Summaries do not receive credit because they do not require serious thought — simply the ability to record information.Your essays must be more than 700 words to receive credit and be eligible for a C, more than 800 words to be eligible for a B, and more than 900 words to be eligible for an A.Your assignments are not eligible for A’s if they require proofreading.Assignments that are partial (not meeting minimum requirements) do not receive partial credit.ESSAY PROMPTSYou are not required to use the following prompts, but they may help you think about what you are studying: What did you learn? What surprised you and/or caused enough doubt that you were inspired to do a little research and fact checking?Did you find any specific ideas confusing or difficult? Did you have an emotional response, negative or positive? Do you know why?Have you had any experiences you are willing to share with our class that help you relate to and understand any of the material in this module?Did this assignment contain any “awakening” ideas, those that inspire you rather than depress you?Did you find any of the ideas surprising? Why? Final Assessment PromptsYou do not need to use these final assessment prompts either, but they may help you put what you are studying this semester into a larger perspective.Can you give an example or two in your essay that demonstrates you were engaging with, and thinking about, our curriculum in a serious way?Did you study everything required or did you rush and skim?Did you find yourself thinking about class content when you did not have to, such as finding yourself discussing ideas with friends or family?Did you seek clarification about class material that confused you? If not, why not?Have your studies contributed to any increase in self-knowledge (how you understand the world and your place in it) or a deeper understanding of one’s current world view?IndiaPrefaceMy introduction to Hinduism came in a roundabout way. My father was active in some of the social movements of the sixties and the seventies, and as a result, so was I. One of those movements was the civil rights movement ,and if you know your history, you will know that Martin Luther King, Jr. was deeply influenced by the Hindu sage and political leader Mohandas Gandhi. Gandhi used the teaching of the Bhagavad-Gita (which we will study), among other teachings, to come up with his idea that the most effective and spiritual way to bring about peaceful political change was through the use of nonviolent resistance.One of the first serious books I read as a teenager was a biography of Gandhi. Since then, I have taken courses in Hinduism and read many of the scriptures. It is a fascinating and amazing religion. I hope this short introduction will foster your interest if you are a novice, and if you know something about Hinduism, I hope it will deepen your understanding. Either way, I hope you all will take the time to read some of the scriptures, most especially the Bhagavad-Gita, one of the world’s great spiritual classics.IntroductionHinduism is a very unusual religion and this singularity starts with its name. It would be much better to call it Vedanta, or Vedantaism, for example, than Hinduism. Why? Because Hinduism is a Western name for the many different indigenous traditions of the land of India which used to be called Hindustan.It is also unusual because it has no single founder, and it has developed and changed over the years. What we first look at in early Hinduism is very different from later Hinduism.“It is important to recognize that Hinduism is not so much a “religion” in the sense we think of it in the West as it is a general term covering all those religions and spiritual paths that have a common base in the Vedas – Hinduism’s ancient scriptures. In fact, the culture and religion of India is neither monolithic nor divided into watertight compartments. Like America, but more so, it is a mix of many colors. Individual components can be distinguished, but, in a sense, the mixture always has been slowly stirring, blending, and receiving new inputs throughout history” (MPMF, p. 57.)Is Hinduism polytheistic or monotheistic? Well, traditionally, Hinduism is referred to as a polytheistic belief system, which seems obvious, because it has so many gods. But we have to be careful; because once we go past the surface, we start to realize that Hinduism has a very profound sense of the One God who is simply manifesting in multiple ways. That is, a Hindu may call God Rama or Krishna, but in the end they realize that these are just different names for the one unnameable mystery that is the underlying reality of everything, including the individual person. They call this ultimate and mysterious reality Brahman.Before we go into the details, I would like to introduce the main idea of Hindu spiritual practice. Hindus teach that we all suffer from ignorance about our true identity. What we need is self-knowledge and the various paths we will study lead to this knowledge. This is one way of understanding the goal of Hinduism.“The goal of Hinduism may be given many labels – God-realization, identification with the absolute, supreme bliss, cosmic consciousness – but it is perhaps best spoken of by more negative terms such as release, liberation, or freedom. For it is really beyond all concepts and labels. It is simply freedom. Not freedom in any political or individualistic sense but inner freedom from everything that circumscribes or conditions the sense of infinity one has within; that is, freedom from all relation to the cause and effect of karma within or without. One is to rise above and master all this, to become as free as sunlight and clouds in the sky. Then one knows the answer to the secret of who one really is” (MPMF, p. 57.)Ignorance of what is true keeps us in slavery to an endless round of births and deaths. Each of these lives has great suffering in it, and for the few who don’t experience intense suffering, they will eventually reach utter boredom. Why? Because nothing that the ordinary self craves or desires will bring the lasting satisfaction that is truly sought for by one’s inner self, or true self.This is really not so hard to imagine. Think about something you really wanted as a child for a present. Perhaps it was a bike or a video game. When you first get what you want, you are so pleased and it is so great. But before too long, this wears off and eventually you start wanting something else.Hindus teach that the same thing happens to us throughout our adult lives. We will be happy some day in the future after we graduate from college, after we marry the right person, after we make a bunch of money, after we retire, until eventually we are on our death bed realizing that we have been waiting for the next thing all of our lives.Hinduism teaches that we can understand this process first and then eventually be liberated from it if we take up the practices it advocates and find the liberation that is the true desire masquerading as all of these smaller desires. Now let’s take a closer look at this amazing religion and the intense and wonderful people of India.Understanding HinduismHinduism is centered in India, but it is not limited to India. There are now Hindus throughout the world. It is also important to remember that not all people in India are Hindu. “The religion of approximately 80 percent of the people of India is Hinduism” (MPMF, p. 54.)Travelers to India talk about what an amazing place it is, how intense everything is, and how Hindu temples are unlike other places of worship. For example, if you walk into a Hindu temple, one of the first things you will see are sexual symbols representing the masculine and feminine dimensions of God.“The first thing seen [in the temple] was a large lingam, the phallic pillar, which is the expression of Shiva, set in an oval base called the yoni (a name for the female organ), which is the expression of Shakti. Shiva is the absolute cosmic Being, sheer life force, and Shakti is the absolute power of the phenomenal universe, creative and destructive. Like sexuality, the Shiva-Shakti dynamic is able to give the most stupendous joy and excruciating pain, to make and to rip apart. In the presence of the lingam and yoni, one has the feeling that the Indian worldview is deeply biological, tending always in the end to see the cosmos as a great living organism” (MPMF, p. 54.)Truly, the cosmos is alive like an organism because the universe is the divine manifesting itself as the cosmos. Everything is alive because everything is God. If this is true, why is it not obvious to most of us?This is a good and important question. It is not obvious because we do not see things as they truly are. For example, we have a fundamental sense of dualism. It is almost like it is hard-wired into our brains. What do I mean by dualism? Dualism is the tendency to see everything in opposites and outside of our own selves.For example, I am in here looking out my eyes at the world out there. Do you see? “In here” and “out there” may be the first dualism. And then there are all the others such as day and night, men and women, good and bad, cold and hot, dry and wet, etc. So how does Hinduism deal with this apparent reality of dualism? “To Hinduism, the meaningful dualism is not of man and nature, or of mind and body, but of the infinite or unconditioned and the finite or conditioned. Mind, the unconscious, human society, and nature are all part of a biological continuum, all on one side of the dualism, because they are all alike conditioned; only the breakthrough which sees them all of at once and so makes the many one moves to the other side” (MPMF, p. 55.)This breakthrough is the liberation referred to as the goal in Hinduism. Hindus believe that after this breakthrough, you will see the world as it really is. A metaphor for this is to imagine that a wave of water rises above the surface of the sea, and while it does so, it falsely imagines that it is separate from the sea. But once it breaks on the beach, it once again becomes aware that it is a part of the sea. But the truth, according to Hinduism is that the wave was never truly separate from the sea. And in fact, all of the water in all of the oceans is made up of the same elements, which we call H20.Another metaphor I find helpful to understand, or at least get a hold on this profound teaching, is to consider the “wetness” of water. Whether the water is in the ocean or in a lake or river or rain, it is all equally wet. You could have a glass of water, a bath of water, or a swimming pool full of water. In any case the water is not “wetter” in your glass than in the pool.For Hindus, the “wetness” of water is a way of understanding how God, “the wet,” is present in all of material reality, “the water,” even though we might not ordinarily be aware of this. There are two ways to approach seeing the world as it really is. One way is from the state of liberation, called moksha.In fact, the only reason we are aware that there could be another way of viewing the world is because liberated people have told us about this way. The way we see it as ordinary people, not yet liberated, is through the eyes of dharma.Dharma in Hinduism means the social order. Dharma is a complicated word. “The word dharma is one of those terms so broad as to require more an intuition than a precise definition. But basically it can be understood as the social order of human civilization when it is righteous, that is, in accord with the cosmic order and it is the rites of the priests that sustain both. But dharma also implies the righteousness and duty of the people, themselves, in the sense that it means moral behavior that upholds the social order. Finally, dharma includes ritual usages that uphold the great cosmic-social order by demarcating one’s place in society or caste and sustaining the work of creation by “fueling” the Divine forces that move it” (MPMF, p. 55.)In other words, we as humans have an important role to play in helping the universe manifest as it should, and one of those roles is to be liberated so that we can see it as it truly is.It is important to understand that living a life of Dharma in Hinduism means living a life in harmony with the way things are in their true sense. And thus our lives become a form of art.“Actually, seeing the world as dharma means regarding life as ritual. It means that one suppresses one’s individualistic predilections in order to harmonize with the swing of the total pattern, so that the world becomes like a great dance. There are rituals for rising, for brushing one’s teeth, for bathing, for eating, for love, for study, for worship. One’s personal dharma, his or her particular steps in the great dance, are determined by individual birth and karma” (MPMF, p. 55.) One of the first things we have to do if we are to fulfill our dharma is to know what it is! That seems obvious on the one hand, but a closer look reveals that it is more complicated than that.It is simple, in that there are some things all people have to do, such as follow the basic moral laws that all the religions teach. But it is more complicated, because in Hinduism different people, at different points in their lives, have different roles they are supposed to play. In other words, how we live out our basic moral values will be different depending on things like whether we are men or women, young or old.And this, in turn, is determined by our karma. Action always implies cause and effect, for nothing in this world acts or moves without an impelling cause. Karma refers to that chain of cause and effect set in motion by one’s deeds in the world. Sooner or later, through inexorable laws of justice built into dharma, they rebound to affect one’s own future as retribution or reward. As one sows, so one reaps. One could just as well attempt to defy nature by jumping off a cliff and trying to fly, but you would still be met by the consequences, [whether you “agree” with them or not]. Retribution or reward will include (but is not limited to) the state in which one is reborn – as a monarch or slave, a god or a dog” (MPMF, p. 56.) A better rebirth might mean less suffering, but mostly a better rebirth will mean a lifetime when one is more likely to make spiritual progress.Toward what is the Hindu progressing? Toward moksha, that is liberation. And what are we being liberated from? Well, as said above, you are partly being liberated from seeing things falsely, but ultimately, you are being liberated from the rounds of birth and death. In other words, a Hindu on a serious spiritual path wants to break free from the need to be reborn over and over again. “This is moksha, “leaping out,” finding liberation. It is the final quest, after all other quests have run out.” (MPMF, p. 56.)Hindus believe that the most important goal is discovering the true nature of yourself and the world around you. In other words, to know the meaning of life is the goal. What is the meaning of life, and what is one’s purpose? “The prevailing Hindu answer is that, in the great quiet of meditation, in hearing the sonorous words of scripture, in the joy of devotion, the realization comes through that there is only One – Brahman, Universal Being. God beyond all personalities – and that “Thou art that” (MPMF, p. 57.) The Religion of the Ancient AryansWe do not know nearly enough about the earliest civilizations in India. In the times of prehistory, the indigenous people of India practiced the tribal religions that were the religion of people all over the world, from what we can tell. As communities moved away from hunting and gathering and took up herding and agriculture, civilization formed as we have come to know it in different places in the world including India.“The Indus Valley, in what is now Pakistan, was the scene of a remarkable civilization around 2500 to 1500 b.c.e” (MPMF, p. 58.) There are only ruins for archeologists to study, but these can reveal quite a lot. What they do show is that they were remarkably advanced. One example is that their plumbing was so advanced that it was not seen again until Roman times, and then the modern world, in terms of its sophistication. They had writing, but this writing is still unknown. Until scholars can break the code, our true knowledge of this civilization is limited.It is the next society that we know more about. “Around 1500 b.c.e., a new people arose in India, and around this time the cities of the Indus Valley declined into ruins” (MPMF, p. 58.) Were the original inhabitants overtaken or did they merge with the newer folks? We simply do not know.For a long time, scholars have taught that the Aryans invaded these indigenous people and took over this area of India. The Aryans are a mysterious people from the north who also invaded Europe. Thus, these people are called the Indo-Europeans.Now, some scholars are questioning this, saying that the Aryans did not invade India, but were the original people of the Indus Valley. If that is so, then all we can tell for sure is that the civilization takes a definite turn around 1500 b.c.e. For example, there is not much evidence in the original Indus Valley civilization of religion; no temples were found. But after 1500 b.c.e., a religion begins that forms the root of Hinduism. Perhaps in the future we will have more evidence and discoveries that will reveal to us what occurred at the dawn of written history.The Rig VedaThe earliest religious texts that we have are the Vedas. “The Aryans in India are chiefly known as the people of the Vedas, the fundamental official scriptures of Hinduism. “The oldest and most important of the Vedic scriptures is the Rig Veda, hymns to the gods sung while sacrifices were being presented” (MPMF, p. 58.)All the rest of Hinduism builds on that foundation. Veda means “knowledge” and rig means “praise, verse.” So it means verses in praise of knowledge, and they are Sanskrit hymns dedicated to the gods. Because of its close linguistic and cultural similarity to the Zoroastrian scriptures in Persia, many have concluded that the Vedas point back to a tradition much older than the written text, which comes from around 900 B.C.E.The actual composition may go back to 1700, making it the only example of Bronze Age literature with an unbroken tradition. “It is thought that Zoroastrianism and Vedic Hinduism evolved from an earlier common religious Indo-Iranian culture” (Wikipedia). Because it is still used and recited today it is the oldest scripture that we have.“The Rig Veda consists of 1028 hymns, many of which are intended for various sacrificial rituals. It is organized in 10 books, known as Mandalas (Wikipedia). They are no of equal length or in chronological order. The middle Mandalas tend to be the shortest and also the oldest. For a long time, maybe even a thousand years or more, the Rig Veda was an oral tradition, passed down by the priestly caste.These earliest writings are not very philosophical. They mostly consist of hymns sung to the gods and rituals that needed to be performed. From this alone we would find it very difficult to know what the religion means and how it was understood. But we can figure out a few things. For one thing, the rites were a very specialized and specific series of movements and words performed only by priests, the Brahmins, and only at specific times and places. Everything had to be exact, so much so that if a mistake were made often the whole rite would have to be repeated. The Vedic seers elaborated on a highly developed mythology, but we are also beginning to see the mind trying to understand these stories. The seers were aware of abstract forces that seemed greater than any individual god, such as the force of order that correlated the cosmic and the human. “The profound meaning of Vedic prayer was precisely to maintain order: to watch carefully the normal course of natural phenomena so that by imitating these natural patterns, the ritual process might guarantee stability and renewal” (Renou, p. 22).What does this tell scholars who study these kinds of rituals? It tells them that “the Vedic rites were a sort of science; the old Brahmins saw themselves less as enthusiastic lovers of their gods than as technicians making precise adjustments in the cosmic order to correct an imbalance or produce some desired result. For the [Vedic] sacrifice was nothing less than “making the world” and calling into life the gods who rule over it. The purpose then was to meditate on what the cosmos is like and to make adjustments in it in such a way as to keep it on a course or direct its power in desired directions: prosperity, the inauguration of a king’s reign, a son, long life, immortality in heaven” (MPMF, p. 63.)“Sacrifice was at the center of Vedic religion; A succession of oblations and prayers, fixed according to strict liturgy, in which the culmination was reached when the offering was placed in the fire. The objective of the ritual was to enter into communication with the divine world and thence to acquire certain advantages, which profane initiative could not enjoy. Sometimes vegetable, sometimes animal, the offering consisted predominantly of the Soma plant, from which is extracted a liquor which possesses intoxicating qualities” (Renou, p. 23).By bringing one’s ritual actions and words into harmony with the greater harmony of the cosmos, a priest was able to bring about an alignment with the true nature of things. In some ways, I think of this process as like going to a chiropractor and getting an adjustment on ones back. The idea is that the body is fine in itself, but for various reasons, it can fall out of harmony and require adjusting. We don’t know much about how this would affect the many people who were not priests.“Although it does not disregard interior ritual or asceticism, Vedic religion is primarily a ritualistic religion in which the believer defines faith as the conviction he has of the exactitude and effectiveness of the rite. Moral obligation demands the exercise of good acts, of giving (“Give in order to receive”). Many of the primitive values of restraint and of the exchange of goods have been preserved in the Vedic religion. On ultimate ends and future life there is no clear perspective” (Renou, p. 24).All of the great philosophy we know of as Hinduism today would come later as sages and mystics wrote commentaries on these hymns, which have come down to us as the Upanishads.The Yoga SutrasWhen it comes to liberation, Buddhism taught (as will see) a profound method of “waking up.” Yoga was, in many ways, the Hindu response. “The teaching on Yoga was synthesized in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (c. 300 C.E.)” (MPMF, p. 74.) Yoga was a way of working with the whole of human nature, body, emotions, and mind, in a holistic and integrated manner. There are many types of yoga. I will focus on four main types. Which one works best for you has more to do with your own temperament than the yoga method itself. There is Bhakti yoga, Jnana yoga, Karma yoga, and Raja yoga.Underlying all the yogas, however, is the basic exercises that have become famous in the Western world, known as Hatha yoga. The idea is that the body is a crucial part of our human experience and we need its cooperation in order to receive liberation. By exercising and stretching the body in specific ways we increase our ability to do spiritual practices.“Thus, hatha yoga, the physical yoga of postures and breathing exercises, plays a major role in the spiritual quest. Rightly understood, breath and body are indispensable tools. Brought under control of spirit as precision instruments, they can facilitate states of consciousness that evoke the goals of spirit” (MPMF, p. 74.)In the Western world, yoga is often taught as simply a form of exercise. But in the Hindu system, it is the basis for a deep and amazing spirituality. Before we talk about the four yogas, let’s first look at the yogi path described in the Yoga Sutras, because it applies to all of the yoga paths.If you want to follow a yoga path, there are different aspects to this path. The first two are following the positive and negative moral restrictions. That is, you must be on a morally decent path before you attempt yoga. Most of these morals are common to all the world’s religions. You must make an effort to be good and ethical.Next come two steps where you learn breathing exercises and bodily postures that will help you channel the energies of the body in a way that promotes the next steps toward liberation.The fifth step is to learn to disengage from your outer senses so that you can pay full attention to the “inner, subtle ways of awareness. Just as a blind person develops especially sharp touch and hearing, so yoga tells us that when all the gross senses are withdrawn, other undreamed-of capabilities latent in the human being begin to stir” (MPMF, p. 74.)Sometimes a person can become so fascinated with these movements into what we might call psychic powers, that they can get caught up in them and use them in a wrong or even harmful fashion. The idea seems to be that if you develop yourself, you will come into sources of power that are only latent in most humans. You must never forget that your goal is not more power, but liberation. If your goal is liberation, then you don’t want to get trapped on the way.Just as sex and money are the downfall of many people who get trapped by the pleasures of the world, so spiritual powers can lead to what some people have called a “spiritual materialism.”“But these powers called siddhis, doubtless tempting to many, are to be given up for an even greater goal – true liberation of the true self. This is the work of the last three steps, which are interior: dharmana, concentration; dhyana, meditation; and samadhi, the absolutely equalized consciousness of perfect freedom” (MPMF, p. 74.) The goal of liberation means that we should not get stuck before we reach samadhi, which is true realization and liberation. Now let’s look briefly at the four main yogas.Bhakti yoga is the path of love and devotion. It is often considered the most direct route into the divine, for nothing opens our beings like the experience of love. Devotion is the antidote to the selfishness of the ego, the false self. It allows us to get outside of ourselves and focus on the other. In Bhakti yoga, the yogi may focus his or her attention on a specific manifestation of God, such as Krishna, or it may be focused on one’s Guru. But the results are the same. Our hearts expand and break open.Jnana yoga is the path of the mind, for those who are intellectually inclined. It is the path of prayer and study. One studies the scriptures and tries to learn all he or she can. In the end, one realizes that it is not an accumulation of facts that is important, but the depth of insight attained. In other words, one is not simply interested in knowledge, but in wisdom. One of the things that wisdom teaches is that our knowledge is limited. And so in an ironic fashion, the path of study becomes the path of seeing the limitations of rationality and logic, and recognizing that the finite can never understand the infinite.Karma yoga is the path of action and service. It is the path of practicing goodness. Most things we do for some ulterior reason, even if it is a good reason. With karma yoga, you serve only for the purpose of serving. It is “God in me serving God in others.” Another key component is that you serve while practicing non-attachment. That is, you do the best you can do with full love and compassion, but then you leave the results to God. You don’t look for rewards or for thanks. Serving is its own reward.Raja yoga is the path of meditation. All yoga leads to a type of meditation, but this is the yoga that really puts the focus on working with meditation with the same urgency as Buddhism. One seeks liberation by seeing clearly into the true nature of things. This is accomplished by introspection, rather than by gazing without.There is a new form of yoga being taught by the twentieth century sage Sri Aurobindo called Integral Yoga. Integral Yoga is the path of combining all four yogas, the way an athlete might use cross training to improve his or her health. The athlete might specialize in football, but he or she lifts weights, runs, and stretches as well, to maintain overall health and fitness.Sri Aurobindo taught that if a person combines the yogas in an intelligent manner, he could increase the speed and efficiency of all of them. This also requires a certain amount of flexibility, in that you have to be sensitive to what is going on in you so that you can fine tune all the time. Perhaps today you need more raja yoga, while tomorrow you will need to do more service. The idea is to incorporate all of the wisdom available and then put it to good use.The Bhagavad GitaThe Bhagavad Gita is a great summary of the Hindu vision of reality. It also contains a timeless and universal message that has caused it to be loved by people everywhere. The English title might be translated as “Song of the Blessed One,” or, “Song of the Adorable One.” The Adorable One is Lord Krishna, who is God in human form. That is, Krishna is an avatar. An avatar, who is God directly “descended” into human form, appears on earth periodically–in different forms, under different names, in different parts of the world–to restore truth in the world and to shower grace on the lovers of God. The Gita is the song of Krishna to humanity. In many ways, the Gita is to Hindus what the Gospels are to Christians.In the Hindu tradition, Krishna is worshipped as an avatar of Vishnu, that aspect of the one indivisible Brahman who preserves and protects the creation. Many Hindus regard Krishna as a universal savior figure comparable to (or even identical with) such world teachers as Jesus and the Buddha. In the Gita, Krishna is a companion and teacher, as well as the god who commands devotion. Krishna is the incarnation of cosmic power that periodically descends to earth to accomplish the restoration of order in times of chaos.The teaching of the Gita emerges from a battlefield conversation between Lord Krishna and the warrior Prince Arjuna. The war is between two royal families and is said to have taken place about five thousand years ago. The long story of how this conflict came about is told in the Mahabharata, India’s vast national epic (twelve times the length of the Iliad and the Odyssey combined, it is the longest poem ever written). The Bhagavad Gita is the sixth chapter.In the story, Arjuna is getting ready for battle, when he sees the destruction about to be unleashed and falls into despair. He throws down his weapons and gives up just before the most important and decisive battle. The Gita is mainly Krishna’s response to this evasion of Arjuna’s duty (for he is of the warrior caste).This is not necessarily an advocacy of violence and warfare. What it mainly seems to be teaching is that we cannot find liberation by avoiding the duties of our caste. In Arjuna’s case he must fight, but he can do his duty (karma yoga) while resting in the fact that the soldiers on both sides are only acting out the play of God. In other words, no one is killed and no one kills (in the ultimate sense). All is God and in the end, all Arjuna needs to worry about is doing the right thing and leave the results to God.“Some say this Atman [the soul] Is slain, and others Call It the slayer: They know nothing How can It slay… Or who shall slay It? Know this Atman…Unborn, undying, Never ceasing,Never beginningDeathless, birthless,Unchanging forever,How can It dieThe death of the body?” (Quoted in MPMF, p. 75.)Needless to say, this is a problem for many spiritual people, who struggle with what to make of it. Here we come upon the problem of interpreting the scriptures of the world. Some people take it literally and see that war is justified. Others, such as Gandhi, who loved both the Gita and nonviolence, interpret the Gita as a religious allegory for the battle we must each do in our soul to conquer our inner enemies such as fear and selfishness.It might also be thought that then you cannot achieve liberation as a member of the warrior caste. Surely you must be a member of the priestly caste and keep your hands clean of the blood of war. But Krishna teaches that it is not what we do, but how we do it and in what spirit we do it.Karma yoga teaches us that the different castes and different stages of life all have different purposes. We must fulfill our purpose to the best of our ability. “It is all a matter of how one lives in the world. The object is to become one with the Absolute, so that nothing in one’s thoughts or deeds causes separation. But if Brahman is truly All, the world of the activist is just as much God as that of the recluse. Brahman is expressed through dharma as much as moksha if it is truly All – in the caste laws and all of life’s stages together. One can realize God in acting as much as in meditation, if one’s actions are as selfless as meditation and as passionless” (MPMF, p. 75.)We have already seen that in karma yoga, the goal is to do what you need to do without being attached to the results. Where could this be more difficult than in a battle where one might have to give up one’s life? And yet, the more difficult it is, the more we can see how spiritually fit you must be to put it into practice.“The point is to be in the world impersonally, objectively – doing not out of personal desire for the fruits of one’s actions but fearlessly and dispassionately, as it were by proxy for someone else, motivated solely by the duty and righteousness of the act. Then, with one’s feelings not getting in the way, one’s actions are a part of the great dance of the cosmos, of the life of the whole social and natural organism, and are as quiet and far-reaching as meditation” (MPMF, p. 76.)“You have the right to work, but for the work’s sake only. You have no right to the fruits of work. Desire for the fruits of work must never be your motive in working. Never give way to laziness either.Perform every action with your heart fixed on the Supreme Lord. Renounce attachment to the fruits. Be even tempered in success and failure; for it is this evenness of temper which is meant by yoga.Work done with anxiety about results is far inferior to work done without such anxiety, in the calm of self-surrender. Seek refuse in the knowledge of Brahman. They who work selfishly for results are miserable” (MPMF, p. 76.)Even if we cannot accept these teachings as spiritual truth, they are good teachings about stress reduction! After all, most of our stress comes from trying to control other people, situations, and things. And yet, we can’t control all of these things, so if we can realize this, then we can let go and experience a lot more peace in our lives. If we can take this teaching as spiritual truth, then we are up against the problem of trusting in the divine. Can we really believe that the divine has everything under control? Can we “let go and let God,” as the popular saying goes? Well, we must try if we are interested in the path of karma yoga.The Gita has so much more in it. It talks about the other yogas, and teaches that we must love God with everything we have. It teaches that God is personal and is involved with us intimately and intensely. The Gita is a short book and I encourage you all to read it. Buddhism: The Life of the BuddhaThe Buddha was born in the north of India, in what is now Nepal, around the year 563 B.C.E. He lived for about 80 years, until 483 B.C.E. The Buddha passed through everything Hinduism could teach him, and he went on until he found the final gate that would release him from suffering. More importantly for the world, the Buddha was not simply liberated, he was able to trace back how this happened, and therefore was able to pass this teaching on so that we still know today the steps that must be taken if we are interested in testing the Buddha’s way.Buddhism is based on the life of the historical Buddha, which we have not studied, so I will say a little something about this in a moment. It is also the result of many influences from many cultures. As Buddhism has traveled to different countries, it has taken on many local aspects and customs, so that the Buddhist world can look very simple and serene in certain settings, such as a Zen monastery, and elaborate and almost tribal in other contexts, such as in the Tibetan culture.“Buddhism is not rooted in a single culture or area, as is Hinduism, but is an international religion, a movement introduced in historical time into every society where it is now at home. It has deeply pervaded these cultures and deeply identified with them” (MPMF.) In this lecture, we will look at the Chinese influence on this religious teaching. Buddhism always returns for inspiration to the basically simple and straightforward teaching of Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha.Buddhism emerged in Northern India, but for a variety of reasons it did not remain a strong movement in its native land. “Buddhism has a somewhat different atmosphere than the Hindu context out of which it emerged. Buddhism always combines something of the Indian spiritual tradition with very different cultures. However, instead of the rich, heavy “biological” flavor of Hinduism, Buddhism has a more psychological thrust” (MPMF, p. 122.)It is no surprise that many people who are involved in psychology in one fashion or another are often attracted to Buddhism. When you realize the important place meditation plays, you see that Buddhism looks inward. In the process of this inner examination, Buddhist philosophy developed some profound insights into the nature of the human psyche and how it works.Given the fact that Buddhism is so psychological and meditative, one might easily wonder if Buddhism is not the religion of solitaries. This is not true. Buddhism is also about the samgha, that is, the Buddhist community. Buddhists realize, as well as everyone else, that we need each other. It is difficult to practice alone, and it can even be dangerous to practice without receiving feedback and guidance from others.The goal of Buddhism might be said to be enlightenment, but as we will see, enlightenment is not a static state of blissing out, but a state that is dynamic and demands expression in service and compassion. In other words, the more enlightened someone is, the more loving he or she will be. It is not always easy to be loving, to express love, on your own. Enlightenment must be shared.While Buddhism begins with a very simple teaching, it has led to an immense amount of philosophical speculation. Once you connect with the idea that the truth can be found within, you start to think about how this inner truth relates to the very nature of reality.“Buddhist theoretical expression is psychological in point of departure, for it is concerned with the analysis of human perception and experience. Buddhist thought is not a vague diffuse mysticism but a sharp precise intellectualism that delights in hard logic, and numerical lists of categories. It holds that ordinary life is unsatisfactory, for it is based on ignorance and desire, resulting in the inability to realize that there is no “self.” All entities within the universe, including human beings, are impermanent compounds that come together and come apart. The answer is a different kind of mind, a “wisdom mind,” which finds the “middle way” between all attachments, uniting all opposites – being, like the Buddha, free of partiality toward any segment of the cosmos – and is therefore, in its unclouded clarity, open to all omniscience, all skill, and all compassion” (MPMF, p. 123.)Theravada BuddhismThe oldest form of Buddhism is Theravada Buddhism “The Buddhist world is now divided into two great traditions. Theravada (“Path of the Elders”) Buddhism is found in such nations as Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. Mahayana (“Great Vessel”) Buddhism has spread throughout China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, and Vietnam” (MPMF, p. 133.)Most Westerners are more familiar with Mahayana Buddhism, because it is the Buddhism of Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, the most popular forms of Buddhism in the United States and Europe. Historically, we must start with Theravada Buddhism.Any time you have a religious teaching, there will be some confusion as to what the teacher meant when he or she said any given thing. As long as you have the Teacher, you can ask questions and try to figure things out. But once the teacher is gone, and especially when you are relying mostly on an oral tradition, it becomes necessary to figure out what the “core teaching” really is.You can even see this in a political metaphor. In the United States, the “core teaching” is the constitution. All of the courts and laws are about trying to figure out how to put the Constitution to practical use. In other words, how to live out the principles of what this core document has to say. Well, in religion it is no different.This impulse to “get things right” is a noble impulse of protection. It is all too easy for false teachings and stories to enter a tradition. It is not surprising that people want to be sure of what the Buddha taught and then preserve it for all time. Theravada Buddhism provided a rich understanding of the Buddha’s teaching, but due to its stress on the monastic life, it was only a matter of time until a broader form of Buddhism would emerge. Since that is the Buddhism of China, it is to that that we must now turn.SummaryHinduism is a religion of much diversity. It seems to answer the call to polytheism with its belief in Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu, and yet it also responds to the call of monotheism with its adherence to Brahman, the one source of all reality and the great mystery beyond words and thoughts.In general, it is a tolerant religion. For example, it does not expect all Hindus to follow the same path or lifestyle. It recognizes that different people, at different times in their lives, need different practices and need to be concerned with different things. Hinduism tries to find a balance between doing what we need to do in this world, while at the same time taking liberation from this world very seriously.Hinduism “embraces a vast diversity of gods, practices, and spiritual paths. It includes the worship of God through images and concepts and by taking those images and concepts away” (MPMF, p. 113.) This ability to give people many options to find their way to God helps explain Hinduism’s longevity and adaptability.Hindu philosophy is known as Vedanta. This teaches that there is only one ultimate reality, Brahman, and we are united with that source as our own very being. Vedanta has influenced American thought and life through the Transcendentalists.We must remember that there is a certain amount of speculation when it comes to early Hinduism, because we simply do not know enough. What we do know is that people in India began to question the validity of these “outer” rituals and rites based on the Vedas, especially if they did not correspond to an inner disposition that could make sense of them.How do we know this? Our understanding of Hinduism really comes from the commentaries on the Vedas, the most famous of which are called the Upanishads. It is here that we come across all sorts of profound and amazing teachings about ourselves, God, and the nature of the universe. One of the key changes from the Vedas to the Upanishads is that it is made clear that the outer ritual actions must be in harmony with inner spiritual work.This “paved the way for philosophy and yoga. For the person was now the cosmos; one replaced with oneself the cosmic sacrifice; all without was also within, the greater in the smaller and the smaller in the greater. This is the secret of the Upanishads, the last and most philosophical commentary of the Vedas.” (MPMF, p. 63.)The Upanishads teach that we are one with the cosmos. If this is true, then this knowledge will change everything about how we view the world and our place in it. Since most of Hinduism rests on the insights of the Upanishads, it is important we take a closer look at them as they are revealed in the story known as the Bhagavad Gita.The Gita is a great summary of the Hindu vision of reality. Its message is timeless and universal and transcends all religion. A traditional view holds that the different emphases in the Gita are not disagreeing with each other but rather looking at different facets of the same gem. As the Vedas state, truth is ever the same, though the wise speak of it in various ways.Three Points to Facilitate Understanding: The dialogue it tells about and the battle it describes is a metaphor for the journey of every soul. We all must have this dialogue between the self that is in the world and our deeper, truer self that is the divine spark in us.Second Point: “Each of us contains the doubting, despairing, potentially brave and illumined human being (Arjuna) and the mystery of Krishna (the eternal Divine Self) hidden behind all the veils of our psyche and mind.” Third Point: We must approach a study of a text like this in the manner of a medieval monk doing Lectio Divina. That is, we most approach it not as a text to tackle and finish, but as a poem to meditate and reflect on. In other words, the Gita is a wisdom document.Core Message: 1. We must not give into depression and despair. Through spiritual practice and wisdom we can face the battle of our lives in a world desperate for love and healing.2. We are encouraged to realize our own union with the divine because that is the main source of our hope and strength.3. The Gita teaches the importance of “letting go and letting God.” That is we are to give up our attachment to our own plans and success and to our own need to feel important and to be of service for less than holy reasons.Keys to understanding the teaching of Krishna:1. “Krishna’s exposition of the relationship between death, sacrifice, and devotion dramatizes the Hindu idea that one must heroically confront death in order to transcend the limits of worldly existence.”2. “Krishna directly addresses Arjuna’s emotional attachments, uncertainty, and inability to act, and in the process, he enlarges Arjuna’s awareness beyond the personal and social values that Arjuna holds sacred.”3. “In order to explore the paradoxical interconnectedness of disciplined action and freedom, Krishna develops his ideas in improvisational ways, not in linear arguments that lead to an immediate resolution.”4. “The dialogue moves through a series of questions and answers that elucidate key words, concepts, and seeming contradictions in order to establish the crucial relationships among duty (dharma), discipline (yoga), action (karma), knowledge (jnana), and devotion (bhakti).5. “Krishna teaches Arjuna the way to resolve the dilemma of renunciation and action. Freedom lies, not in the renunciation of the world, but in disciplined action (karmayoga). All action is to be both performed without attachment to the fruit of action and dedicated with loving devotion to Krishna. Disciplined action within the context of devotion is essential to the religious life envisioned in the Gita.”6. “Devotion allows for a resolution of the conflict between the worldly life of allotted duties and the life of renunciation. By purging his mind of attachments and dedicating the fruits of his actions to Krishna, Arjuna can continue to act in a world of pain without suffering despair.”7. “The divine charioteer reveals his terrifying identity as creator and destroyer of everything in the universe. As destroyer, he has already destroyed both mighty armies. As creator, his cosmic purpose is to keep order in the universe, as well as in the human world.”8. “Arjuna realizes that by performing his warrior duty with absolute devotion to Krishna, he can unite with Krishna’s cosmic purpose and free himself from the crippling attachments that bind mortals to eternal suffering.”9. “In the thirteenth teaching Krishna redefines the battlefield as the human body, the material realm in which one struggles to know oneself. It is less a physical place than a symbolic field of interior warfare, a place of clashing forces, all of which have their origin in Krishna’s ultimate reality.”“The dialogue closes with Arjuna’s avowal that his delusion is destroyed and he is ready to act on Krishna’s words. Krishna draws Arjuna into a universe beyond the world of everyday experience but keeps forcing him back to wage the battle of life.” “Krishna does not condone physical violence. Instead, he identifies the real enemy as desire, due to attachment, an enemy that can only be overcome by arming oneself with discipline and acting to transcend the narrow limits of individual desire