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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Importance of Understanding Hindu Terminology and Concepts

Together, Hindu philosophy and scripture depict how “truth is one, paths are many.” One gives evidence towards the other; the philosophy derives from the scripture. Huston Smith’s Illustrated World’s Religions defines many of the Sanskrit terms that are key to understand within Swami Satchidanananda’s commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. Within the Chapters 2 and 18 that have been analyzed, Krishna specifies Arjuna’s dharma, or duty. In addition to Krishna’s explanations, Satchidanananda’s commentary explains how the Hindu terms and beliefs from Smith’s texts fit into scripture and reality. It is crucial to understand Smith’s concepts before diving into the Bhagavad Gita; though Satchinananda’s comments are easy to understand, the broad Hindu terminology has to be learned and experienced to a degree that allows for the reader to relate to the scriptures. The Four Yogas are the philosophies that both Smith and Satchinananda write on; however, the Sanskrit words are better defined within Smith’s text while Satchinananda elaborates more on the concepts and beliefs that the same words have. This depicts the need to understand the diction before understanding how “truth is one, paths are many.” Both writers point to this significance of this philosophy through the shared medium of the Four Yogas. While learning the Hindu terms, one can follow their teaching through the steps prescribed by yoga and achieve what is true.   
            Within the quote “truth is one, paths are many,” the Hindu yogas are the paths. Hinduism’s inclusivity binds many variations of how an individual can become closer to God. “The result is…there are multiple paths to God, each calling for its distinctive mode of approach.” (Smith, 26.) While there are four paths called the Four Yogas, each believer is included in a branch of yoga. The goal of yoga is “to discern the self’s deep-lying divinity.” (Smith, 26.) Again, Smith defines the terms that are applied in the Bhagavd Gita; “The first step of every yoga involves the dismantling of good habits and the acquisition of good ones.” (Smith, 26.) The paths in “truth is one, paths are many,” are meant to be journeyed on while the truths are to be discovered.
In Chapter Two of the Bhagavad Gita, Sloka 41 rephrases the concept of “truth is one, paths are many” as: “If your mind is unsteady and wandering, many-branched and endless are the thoughts and choices. When your mind is clear and one-pointed, there is only one decision.” (2:41, Baghavad Gita.) To achieve a clear and one-pointed mind, yoga is prescribed. It encompasses the physical, mindful, and spiritual demands of Hinduism. While Smith states yoga’s ideal, Satchinananda follows the Bhagavad Gita and discerns the reality of one who is trying to live yoga. Satchinananda quotes Krishna telling Arjuna, “‘You haven’t harmonized your thought, word, and deed.’” (Satchinananda, 13.) At this point, Krishna begins teaching Arjuna the use of yoga.
The spiritual and mindful demands of yoga are best seen in the form of raja yoga. Known as the “royal way,” raja yoga encompasses the teachings of Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. According to Satchinananda, in raja yoga, also known as integral yoga, “You blend theory and practice. You apply the theory in your day-to-day activities.” (Satchinananda, 19.) The day-to-day activities can be seen as karma yoga, which is the way through action and work. To integrate truth while on one of the many paths of karma yoga, one needs to apply the said “theory” from Satchinananda’s quote. But in order to understand truth of that theory, one must incorporate jnana yoga, or the path of knowledge and discrimination. Because yoga literally means “yoking, or uniting together,” one needs to yoke the truths found in jnana yoga. “For those already enlightened, the scriptures are as useful as a water reservoir during a flood.” (Chapter 2:46, Bhagavad Gita.) While one can learn as much as possible from the teachings found in scripture, Hinduism does not stop at this point. Bhakti yoga signifies love and devotion. “The aim of bhakti yoga – the yoga of love and devotion – is to direct toward God the love that lies at the base of every heart.” (Smith, 28.)  Because love and devotion can both be continual, the combination of the Four Yogas is unconditional.
However, yoga does not call for one to rejoice in their accomplishments. Satchinananda is quick to point out that “one’s duty is to perform the act, but not for the fruit.” (Satchinananda, 23.) The fruits of one’s actions can delude yoga’s attempt to bring one’s atman, or soul, closer to God. Though there are many paths on which a yogi can follow to reach ultimate truth, there are also false paths that are distracting.  In Chapter 2:49 of the Gita says: “Work done for the sake of some results is much lower than that done in mental equilibrium, Arjuna. Wretched are those motivated by the fruits of their actions.” Instead of being led down the wrong path towards distractions, Satchinananda advises “equanimity of mind is yoga.” (Satchinananda, 23.) Equanimity has two Latin roots: eques, meaning equality, and animas, meaning soul or mind. While in philosophical terms, the word equanimity can refer to equal- mindedness, Hinduism combines this meaning with the idea of an equal or calmed soul. Equanimity enables a yogi to stay on the correct path to truth. “With minds full of desires and heaven as their highest goal, they speak mostly of rites and rituals, which they believe will bring more pleasure and power.” (Chapter 2:43, Bhagavad Gita.) Only with equal minds and souls can a believer truly practice the Four Yogas.
I think that Hinduism’s inclusivity is something that world religions lack today. While both Christianity and Islam require for a believer to be completely committed to their faith, I think Hinduism allows for some picking and choosing. This can be reflected in the multiplicity of deities. Hindis are able to pick an ishta, or one’s chosen ideal of God, and this allows for believers to worship a more appropriate deity that reflects their chosen path of yoga. Hinduism’s teachings are not loose and unrestricted. With many deities come multiple mythological stories that convey the same message of yoga and stress the significance of yoga. I find that some of the major concepts of Hinduism, such as the Four Yogas, can be applied to other faiths. I think that when reading Hindu scripture, such as the Bhagavad Gita, there can be an array of interpretations, all of which are accepted. I think Satchinananda’s commentary portrays how analyzed and complex simple terms such as yoga and dharma can hold so much meaning while at the same time, the same terms in Smith’s context can be used as simple building blocks to create a much larger picture. The quote “truth is one, paths are many” depicts how the same terms can be used with the same meaning, but explain an assortment of Hinduism’s traditions and teaching.