Even the insiders in Hinduism do not usually know what is right at any given point of time or in any given circumstance. This is because there is too much flexibility in the norms and practices of the religion and too many varieties of rules and regulations. What are the essentials that should occupy the attention of the practising Hindu? What is the minimum that should be protected for the next generation in terms of observances, attitudes and the ways of life? Can these things be passed on to the next generation in a meaningful way, meaningful to the next generation, particularly those of the younger generation who are bred and brought up in an environment where they have no impact of their own religion on them? Can the ways of Hinduism be explained to them in a language which makes sense to them in their modern text?
Hinduism is not simply a religion in the sense that there are several religions in the world and they all speak of God, soul, morality, merit versus sin, mortality versus immortality, good versus bad, heaven versus hell, and ways of living so that ultimately one reaches salvation. Hinduism is an Action Plan for how to live in peace and die in peace. Hinduism bereft of this Action Plan for one’s daily life is nothing but a bundle of academic and esoteric adventures in human thought, though remarkable for their profundity. These adventures in thinking are all recorded in the great scriptures called Upanishads. But since they are very abstract they will not have any impact on you until you have related them to the context of your daily living. When we say that Hinduism is an action plan for daily living so that one can live in peace and die in peace, we do not mean that one should retire from all the dynamism of life and its challenges in the vibrant external world of activity. Hinduism has a unique way of allowing you to be in the midst of worldly activity and still keep you cool. This they do by recommending what they call Karma yoga, elaborately explained in the Gita, which is the one scripture for all Hindus that bridges one’s worldly finite interests and intelligence and the philosophical infinities and wisdom of the Upanishads.
One major difficulty with Hinduism is that you cannot expect to understand it in bits and pieces. For everything in Hinduism a proper understanding comes only in the context of a global perception of the entire gamut of the religion. This global perception is what is explained in the Upanishads. Essentially it says that the innermost core of every human being, the micro of the micro in him, is divine. The baser instincts of man come from the mind which has accumulated them through its several lives of association with this particular soul. These accumulated imprints of the mind are called vAsanAs. The eradication of all vAsanAs is what makes for release from samsAra, the cycle of births and deaths. All the prescriptions of Hinduism are intended to help the mind rid itself of all its load so that in that pure mind God will reflect Himself.
The numberless impurities of the mind act like an indelible coating on the mind and hide the presence of the divinity within. All our rules and regulations for our daily life are programmed to inculcate a habit in us which would be consistent with the ultimate requirement of cleaning our mind from all its dirt. What is dirt? The Samskrit word for dirt is ‘mala’. It is also used to denote faeces. The latter is a thing which we refuse to identify with ourselves. In fact in Hindu metaphysics, an object is said to have dirt when it has in it something other than itself. So a dirtless mind is a mind which does not contain anything other than the mind! That is the crystalline mind in which God will reflect Himself. All our religious habits are so programmed and designed that, when the time comes for us to look Godward instead of outward, we shall not have to unlearn any of our habits.
The mind is like a storehouse of everything that has gone into it (for several lives, though now present only in a subtle manner in the form of vAsanAs).This storehouse cannot be emptied by pressing a single button. The only way the mind can be purified and made ‘dirtless’ is therefore by diluting its contents by continuously pouring in noble, elevated thoughts and those thinking processes that are concordant with the upward path to divine perfection. This is the ultimate purpose of all rituals, ceremonies, observances and penances. It is for this purpose that two great methodologies, which go by the names of Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga, are prescribed and elaborately enunciated in our scriptures. Yoga is efficiency in implementation. YogaH karmasu kauSalaM is what the Gita says.
So Karma Yoga means the efficient way of carrying out our activities. Bhakti Yoga means the efficient methodology for dev otion and worship. These are the two paths that have been shown to lead the average man out of his prison which he has created for himself.
Karma Yoga centres around disinterested unselfish action. It uses the word ‘detachment’ almost as a slogan. Detachment is the non-attachment to the ephemeral and transient things of the world – which include the entire universe, our body, mind and intellect. The one thing that is ever permanent is the substratum of existence that lies at the base of all these things as their root cause, as the canvas on which they are all painted. As the innermost core of our very selves it is called Atman and as the utmost transcendent reality which lies beyond anything finite it is called brahman. Now Karma Yoga says:
Since there is nothing else other than the Atman that is permanent, do not be attached to anything that is non-permanent; because that way you will always be open to unhappiness. Happiness is only within you, namely, in the recognition that you are the Atman and not this body, mind or intellect and in the oneness that is regained by that realisation. Once an intellectual understanding of this is granted, then all the unhappiness and miseries of the world can be traced to the fact that we are attached to transient things like our body, our kith and kin, our opinions, our actions and their consequences. The Gita says: Act in the living world by standing apart from it. You may have possessions but be not attached to them in such a way that they possess you. Just as in a play in which you are only one of the actors and all the property you are handling really belongs to the Producer-Director of the play, so also understand that, in this drama of life, all the things you possess, you inherit, you enjoy, you create, or you destroy are not yours. They are His, namely, of the the Super-Director who is the Supreme Almighty of the Universe. Do your actions certainly as efficiently as you can, as if you are an actor on the stage acting your part well.
In real life for you to get this feeling of detachment, the Gita gives you a strategy of action, namely that of Dedication. Dedication to what? Gita says: Dedicate all your actions to God. If you have reservations in believing in a God, or if you do not understand the concept of God sufficiently to be able to dedicate your actions to Him, then you may dedicate your actions to a Cause which you hold sacred. Or, dedicate everything to one living person whom you respect, revere and adore, like your mother.
Accepting suffering for the happiness of others is dedication. Dedication means that you do a certain action because the god of your dedication would like it to be done that way and you avoid doing a certain thing because the god of your dedication would not like you doing that thing. Thus you totally submit yourself to the will of your god of dedication and all your actions are governed by your own understanding of what your god of dedication would accept and not accept. Other than this one desire of pleasing the god of your dedication you have no desires of your own.
Once you start living your life in such a dedicatedly streamlined way you will see that your own mind will have no selfish desires and every action that you do becomes an unselfish act. You may have hopes and fears but the joys of one and the burden of the other are both transformed to the god of dedication as far as you are concerned. This is Karma Yoga.
The Gita has a technical sanskrit word to indicate this Dedication. It is yajna.
The Gita says that one who does his actions in this unselfish way is uncontaminated even if the action is harmful to somebody else. It is like a judge sentencing a criminal to death because the sentence has been given by the judge in his capacity as judge, with an attitude of total dedication to the Law of the Nation. You may find it difficult to believe that his can happen. But you should experiment with this in your daily life before you pass judgement on this method. The method of dedication is bound to induce an alchemy in all your thought processes and this alchemy will slowly change your personality itself in its upward path of evolution.
Bhakti Yoga implies the recognition of the Supreme Cosmic Power without the sanction of which not ev ente smallest movement can take place in the universe. This supreme power manifests itself in the form of one of several divinities. But when we worship any one of them it is with the conscious understanding that it is the one Almighty God Iswara, that is being worshipped in this form. This is the rationale of idol worship.
Another main reason that different gods and goddesses have arisen in Hinduism is the following: In the long mythological history of Hinduism several manifestations of the Absolute Divinity have taken place. Every one of these manifestations had a name and a form and this particular representation of that nameless divinity had caught the imagination of the people and they have been worshipped ever since. Not only this. In India every temple of olden times had arisen like this. Though the physical environs of these large temples have been built in historic times by historical personages, the deity enshrined in the sanctum sanctorum very often goes back in origin to mythological times when that deity really appeared as a manifestation for a specific purpose.