Hinduism

Listener Essay

Posted December 21st, 2016

Guest host Drew takes a break from his patented Godly Google Goggles to walk us through this obscure little religious thingy from the country that brought us Tandoori Chicken and Tikka Masala.  Unofficially subtitled “Everything You Never Knew You Didn’t Want to Know about Hinduism so You Never Cared to Ask,” Drew takes us on a fascinating journey beyond the red dot.  Listen to this one with your third ear.

  • Paul Anthony

    Namaste, Drew. You did quite a thorough, interesting, and accurate overview about some of the rudiments of Hinduism. It was a great listen.

    A few times I have visited a place, not too far from where I live, called the Trabuco Canyon Monastery, which is run by the Vedanta Society here in southern CA. There is a lot to consider, especially with regard to parallels between Hinduism and Christianity, and I would add Taoism and Buddhism, as well.

    Some of your listeners may be interested in reading ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ by Paramahansa Yogananda, as well as some other works by the same author.

    Also, there is an organization called SAND — Science and Non-duality. I attended two of their events, one in the San Francisco bay area and another one at the Esalen Centre by Big Sur. It gave me the opportunity to listen to and meet people like Deepak Chopra, and Bob Thurman who is Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University, but who spoke about Vedanta during the time I was there. In fact, just recently there have been a few articles on the SAND website that you may find interesting: “The Love Song of Devi and Bhairava” and “The Radiance Sutras part III”. Also, I enjoyed reading “Kali Takes America: I’m with Her” by Vera De Chalambert. I think you’ll get a kick out of that one.

    https://www.scienceandnonduality.com

    As for water (‘holy’ water) in the Old Testament, there is only the one reference that I know about in Numbers 5:17, but the context of this verse is not germane to anything in Hinduism. The use of water in the Catholic tradition may have come from what is called Apostolic Constitutions, and my opinion is that both water and oil were used interchangeably for essentially the same purposes in many cases. Of course the reference to water is mentioned quite a bit in both the Old and New Testaments, but originally as a metaphor, IMHO, that was later expanded upon to give certain water per se, power to heal, ward off evil spirits, etc, i.e., making it specifically “holy water”, just as in Mormonism only pure olive oil that has been “consecrated” by proper priesthood authority has the so-called “power” or qualities (for the lack of better terms, perhaps) to heal and bless.

    Again, great job!

    _/|_

    Paul Anthony

    • Drew

      Paul, we must live near each other. The monastery in Trabuco Canyon has been my “spiritual home” for the past two years. I go there at least once a week for walking and seated meditation. That was where I was meditating in the story about the tingling in my forehead. We should meet up for lunch sometime to talk more about Advaita/Non-dualism. I was introduced to it by Vivekananda’s lectures but it finally sunk in for me when I listened to Alan Watts’ lectures. Also, since it sounds like you’re in the area, have you visited the BAPS temple in Chino Hills? It will blow your mind.

      If it’s alright, I’ll ask Glenn to give me your email address that you entered when you left your comment so we can connect.

      • Paul Anthony

        Drew: Would love to get together. I emailed Glenn from the IonT website, and gave him my contact info to forward on to you.d Until then!

        _/|_

        – Paul

        • Rio

          Excellent job, Drew…and I hope you will consider giving more of these lectures on the various branches of Hinduism because I think you do a better job of explaining than even Allen Watts!

          My best friend in the world, Anita Moorjani (http://anitamoorjani.com), is an ethnic Indian who grew up in Hong Kong (her family was driven out of India by Muslims at the time of the 1947 partition) and was educated in brit schools there. She was steeped in Hindu philosophy during her growing up years and we have had countless discussions on exactly all the things you brot up…and more! So I really appreciate the accuracy and depth of your lecture.

          About 10 years ago, Anita had a near-death experience due to terminal cancer. She chronicles that experience in her NYT best-selling book, Dying To Be Me. That experience totally blew apart all her previous notions of who we are and what we are all about…including much of what she learned growing up Hindu. I’ve been interested in NDEs for the last 45 years and have read literally thousands of NDE accounts and am a research associate of the Near Death Experience Research Foundation. Anita’s account is one of the most interesting and profound I have come across, and it transcends the religious beliefs and practices that we have today. If you get a chance, I think you will enjoy reading her book for an even more expanded view of what you presented here. At the same time, the many NDE accounts I have read are much closer to Hindu teaching and philosophy than they are to Christian, Muslim or even Buddhism. If you’d like to talk about this stuff, get my email address from the Infants and I’d be pleased as punch to talk with you about it.

  • I enjoyed the episode so much that it inspired the following comment bomb:

    I certainly know what you mean about Eurocentrism. Most of what we are, language, culture, DNA, everything came from the Indus Valley. Yeah, from Africa first, but through the Asian subcontinent. Aryans originated in Northern India, for chrissake, but you’d never know it to listen to or study in the “western world.” One of my favorite books of all time is a “history of philosophy” called Sophie’s World. It’s extremely interesting and told in an engaging novel-like format, but it was written by a Norwegian and, in his view, history that didn’t happen west of Baghdad and east of Newfoundland, didn’t happen. It hasn’t kept me from reading the book at least four times, but it irks me.

    For a couple of years I was a member of a group called The School of Practical Philosophy which turned out to be Hinduism for suits. It was Advaita/Vedanta of the same flavor as Transcendental Meditation, but, like I said, for people in suits and ties. At the time (early and mid ’90s) it was shepherded by the Sankaracharya of the East in India through his London office called the School of Economic Science. The Sankaracharya shared a guru with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, so their practices were the same except for the rigid formality. I thoroughly enjoyed the program for a couple of years, but that particular group was very authoritarian, hierarchical and patriarchal, which rubbed me the wrong way. I also got the impression that left to their own devices, they’d re-institute the caste system, having given it up only as a matter of political expediency, sort of like the Mormons with the priesthood ban. Anyway, if there’s anyone out there who likes the rigidity and conservatism of Mormonism but can’t get behind Joseph Smith, check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_of_Economic_Science.

    You said something about Hindus coexisting peacefully with other religions. There is a LOT of bitter strife between Hindus and Muslims in India. I think a lot of it is residue of the Raj, the British having drawn arbitrary borders around Pakistan and the Punjab and such, very much like they did in the middle east, creating eternal conflict like unto tectonic plates scraping against each other. I’m not well versed in the particulars, but there is bloody conflict between Hindus and Muslims in India still.

    I liked your burning bush reference. I have always thought that Exodus 3:14 is the only place in the Old Testament where God sounds like God. When I first read that, I thought, “There! Right there! He’s finally got God on the line.”

    You brought up “the left hand path” just as I was about to yell, “But what about bhoga? There’s bhoga, you know.” Yeah there is and it’s dangerous. Unless enlightenment really is a coma, surviving your enlightenment via the left-hand path is unlikely.

    Personally, I think Jesus spent the better part of his life in and around India, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Christianity borrowed a lot from Hinduism. The Beatitudes are pure Buddhism, if you ask me, and as you pointed out, the Buddha was a Hindu. Also, I think in the first few hundred years after Christ, people were going back and forth between the middle east and the far east much more regularly than they had been earlier.

    Ramana Maharshi is sort of the super star legend of Advaita/Vedanta and I’ve read a lot about him and I love his story, but my favorite Advaita/Vedanta teacher is/was Nisargadatta Maharaj who was a shopkeeper and cigarette maker who had little or no formal education. He was literate, though, and when anyone started quoting Vedic scripture, he knew exactly what they were talking about, but he pooh-poohed most of it as unnecessary for true understanding. His teaching, to me, is much closer to Zen than to the Hinduism I’ve been exposed to, just simplicity, simplicity, simplicity. There is a famous compilation of his sayings called I Am That. He never lectured as such, but people would come crowd into the upper room of his son-in-law’s house and ask him questions. Some people tape recorded these sessions and Maurice Friedman (a Polish engineer who happened to speak several languages including Maharaj’s native Marathi) translated and compiled them. Jean Dunn (who also spoke Marathi) translated and published a couple of other volumes later, near Maharaj’s death. I Am That sparkles, if you ask me, and Jean Dunn’s books are definitely worth reading. Everything else I’ve come across is derivative of those writings.

    • Drew

      Glad you enjoyed the episode! I’ll see your comment bomb and raise: I was introduced to Advaita (non-dualistic) Vedanta through the lectures of Vivekananda, who introduced Hinduism to America at the Parliament of World Religions held in Chicago in 1893. If you haven’t read him yet, I cannot recommend highly enough a book entitled “Vedanta: Voice of Freedom”, which is a compilation of excerpts of his lectures, arranged topically. Vivekananda also lectured about Buddhism at the Parliament, which he spoke of very highly, referring to it as the “fulfillment of Hinduism”.

      I need to read “I Am That”. One of my Indian neighbors recommended it to me, and now you have as well.

      Doing some digging online, I found some interesting info about Buddhist missionaries sent by Emperor Ashoka making contact with Palestine. The author’s hypothesis was that the Essenes were highly influenced by Ashoka’s Buddhist missionaries.

      About the conflict between Hindus & Muslims in India: I see it more as a political conflict involving people of two different religions rather than a primarily religiously-motivated conflict, though politics and religion are certainly intertwined. It goes back more than a thousand years with Muslim Persians coming in and taking control of NW India. To the extent religion is a motivating factor, having read both Hindu and Muslim scripture, my hunch is that the source of the conflict is rooted far more in Muslim than Hindu scripture.

      Hindus have a long history of welcoming and living peacefully with those who desire the same. When Persian Zoroastrians (Parsees) immigrated to India and asked to live there, the Raj held out a full glass of milk to signify India’s bounty–that there was enough room and food for them. The Zoroastrian leader took a pinch of sugar and dropped it in the milk to signify that the Zoroastrians would only sweeten what the Hindus had. This was one of history’s rare examples of two different cultures coming into contact and living together without conflict. But when the Muslim Persians came into India, they came to conquer, and not as refugees seeking a safe haven.

      The difference between what happened when the Zoroastrian Persians and the Muslim Persians came into India is one of the main reasons I see the Muslim-Hindu conflict as something to do more with the Muslim Persians who came into India to conquer than it has to do with any religious intolerance on the part of the Hindus.

      • I think you’re right about the Hindu/Muslim conflict. I wasn’t going to say it, but since you did, I agree completely.

  • zed

    I thought the Hinduism podcast was a very good overview. After my mission (I was a very dedicated AP) and excommunication (saw that it was bullshit and went nuts), I was really done with religion. I took up reading Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung. This led to Advaita Vedanta and gurus such as Ramana Maharshi. I was definitely not interested in a ‘spiritual practice’ or discipline or renunciation as I had done plenty of that as a Mormon. I only read the ‘knowledge’ school and was very taken by it. I didn’t even meditate. Out of curiosity I attended one ‘satsang’ with a so-called young guru, but it looked like bullshit to me, and I was definitely not interested in any sort of group or pious pretensions. Yet, I was really attracted to the atheistic philosophy of self-realization….

    One night out with my wife at a nightclub I had a total ‘glimpse’ of the Atman out of the blue. I was sipping on a drink and sober outside of that. I wasn’t thinking about anything but the band I was watching. Suddenly, my usual perspective of myself and the world completely turned around. It appeared to me that I was the only ‘thing’ in the universe – that I was utterly alone in the universe. My body and name and personality and history and deeds and thoughts appeared as nothing more than a story. I could see clearly that I had never been born and would never die. That I had never done anything at all, let alone any sort of ‘sin.’ In fact, I had never moved. AND, I did not even exist in time or space. I say “I” and ‘my’ and ‘me’ in order to communicate English. All the ‘others’ around me were functioning as dream characters who were ignoring the basic fact that they were none other than ‘me.’ So, there were no other ‘people’ that existed. I realize that I will never be able to communicate what this. These words are a very simple attempt with the English language.

    All this was perfectly clear. And what seemed miraculous to me was that I and others could actually imagine ourselves to be unique personalities with bodies and all sorts of differences. –That the world existed with such variety. This was awesome to see from that place.

    Yada yada yada life went on and I only talk about it if there is interest. So,If there is any true interest in what happened from there, I would be happy to discuss it. I can tell you this, it ended all questions I had about such things or if such states are real or true.

    • Drew

      Glad you enjoyed the episode, and I’m very intrigued by your epiphany at the nightclub.

      It’s funny. We all seem to recognize the enormous limitations of our subjective perspective, and we want to see the bigger picture we sense is there to be seen, but to see it we have to somehow break free of our limited subjective perspective and see reality from a radically different perspective. But because sanity itself is defined in terms of whether a person’s perception of reality corresponds to how others see reality, any viewpoint that radically breaks free of the typical human subjective perspective gets labeled as “crazy” or “delusional”. So the Catch-22 is that we want to see the big picture, but doing so requires us to view reality from a perspective that is likely to get us labeled as crazy.

      Philosophers have recognized this dilemma since at least the Allegory of the Cave. And later “don’t cast your pearls before swine”. The cost of enlightenment is getting labeled as delusional.

      Of course, there are also good reasons for being guarded and skeptical. There are always plenty of nutters out there peddaling their nuttery. As an Ex-Mormon, the last thing I want to do is swap my old glass of Kool Aid for some other religious group’s glass of Kool Aid.

      I’m very interested in talking to you more about your experience and what led to it, as it’s something I haven’t experienced in its totality, but that I’ve occasionally gotten unexpected smaller “glimpses” of. Those sorts of experiences pique my curiosity to explore how far and where the rabbit hole goes.

      If you’re up for further discussion offline, please give your contact info to Glenn so he can forward it to me.

      Best regards.

      • zed

        Thanks for this thoughtful reply. I would like to talk more about it offline. I have some work to do this morning and some errands to run, but I will send a note to Glen with my email.

      • Funny you talk about “glimpses” being perceived as “crazy.” I think that’s what happened to Robert Pirsig, the guy who wrote Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I think he had a major “realization” experience that, when it happened (’50s? ’60s?), was not recognizable as such by him or anyone around him. He ended up in a “facility” and it was a long road back from that “breakdown.” When I first read the book and heard his story in the ’70s I mostly liked his delineation of the Zen frame of mind and didn’t care much about the back story. When I encountered it again in the ’90s, I thought, “Wow, I’ll bet he just saw capital ‘R’ Reality for what it really is and couldn’t handle it and nobody knew how to help him.”

        I’ve had very, very brief glimpses a couple of times. I ran from them. I don’t know how I knew I was outside my normal illusion, but I knew it and somehow I knew how to get back into it which I did post haste. It terrified me, though if I knew how to get there again, I probably would out of curiosity.

        • zed

          I read ‘Zen’ long ago and can’t remember why Pirsig ended up in the mental hospital, but it wasn’t because of a ‘glimpse,’ I am sure. A ‘glimpse’ is seen as totally normal and is not only permanent, but is ‘realized’ as having always been present. It results in super sanity. What I really liked about that book was his descriptions of ‘quality.’

      • zed

        I think my comment ended up in the wrong place. Drew, if you want to get with me, I sent my address to Glen.

  • Jason Jordan Smith

    Drew,
    Very cool episode. Much of what you said reminds me of thr 32nd degree of Scottish Rite Freemesonry. It recites very heavily some of the philosophies you mentioned. The following is taken from the Scottish Rite Ritual Monitor and Guide by Arturo de Hoyos, 3rd edition.

    “The intellect, a minute ray of the Divine Intelligence, separated like the ray of sunlight from the universal light, still retains a connection and is instinctively conscious of its divine origin. Because immortality is the essential nature of self, man aspires, adores, and worships. The self, of its own nature, yearns to be free. ” pgs.834-835

    Also, there is mention of a “triune” stating, “1 is 3 and 3 are 1.” Is there such a concept in any version of Hinduism that you know of? If so, this would be a STRIKING parallel to Christianity’s Trinity. The monitor claims this to be from the old philosophies of the Indo-Europeans, from which many of the subsequent Eouropean mythological systems derive.

  • Jason Jordan Smith

    Ah ha! Found it! It’s called the “Trimurti”. I’m a little interested as to why this wasn’t included as a parallel to Christianity. Thoughts on this?
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trimurti

    • Drew

      Hi Jordan, glad you enjoyed the episode. The Scottish Rite info is very interesting. About the Trimurti and why I didn’t include it: the Wikipedia entry you linked to mentions several of the reasons I didn’t include it as a parallel to Christianity, but the biggest reason is that the Trimurti idea was invented several hundred years A.D. Originally Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva were worshipped separately in separate sects. Several hundred years A.D. thee was an effort by some to unify these sects by formulating the Trimurti. The Kurma Purana proposes the Trimurti concept most heavily. It dates to somewhere between 550-850 A.D.

      So, because Christianity preceded the Trimurti concept, rather than the other way around, I didn’t mention it as a possible influence on Christianity.

      • Jason Jordan Smith

        Thank you, Drew. That makes sense because the Nicene Creed was formulated before that. It does raise the question (for me) as to whether there was some reverse influence onto Hinduism. BTW, I liked your explanation on “bliss”. I’m not sure I’m ready to give up my personality and memories though. Too much of the Western influence, I suppose. 🙂

        • Drew

          I hear you. These are all just theories to me. Interesting theories, but still just theories. It seems the Christian/Mormon approach is to imagine the afterlife you hope exists and to have faith that will happen, while the Eastern approach is to learn to accept and be comfortable with the afterlife that seems likely. To each his/her own.

      • Glenn

        I’m a bit surprised, Drew, by the linear thinking evidenced in your “these parallels suggest shared common origins but these don’t” approach given the non-linear “we are all Brahman (atoms, energy, nature)” approach you discussed in Hindu belief.

        Maybe the reason you find cultural parallels across in different places with different peoples in different times is not simply because one culture came into contact with another and therefore influenced it etc etc, (certainly that happens, but is that the only reason? Is it even the main reason?)

        But perhaps parallels are there because all culture is made by HUMANS, and humans — by our very nature — share commonalities in our very constituation and similar finite limitations in our ability to percieve the world around us.

        So why wouldn’t we expect to see commonalities (ie Nibley-esque “parallels”) in artistic human expression? (This is the basis of the monogenesis vs. polygenesis explanation for cultural origins).

        Maybe the most profound insight behind these “so-called” (lol) parallels is that they are similar because we are all similar — we are all human (aka we are all Brahma).

        • Drew

          Glenn, it can go both ways. Humans are one soecies with common origins so of course himans can come up with the same ideas or artistic expressions independent of each other. So, in assessing whether a common element found in two cultures arose independently of each other, or one culture passed it to the other, it seems obvious that the proximity of those cultures is important to consider. For example, if we find a parallel between Icelandic and Aboriginal Australian culture, the vast distance between those two places would rule out the idea that one of them passed it to the other (for me at least). By contrast, if you have two cultures with known historical connections between each other for several centuries, such as the ancient Greeks and Indians, then the possibility that one of those cultures passed an idea to the other seems more likely. And prior to that, there was indirect connection between ancient Greece and India via the Persians, who held parts of both Greece and India.

          So I do not see the idea that Hinduism may have influenced Christianity as far fetched as, say, the idea that the pyramid builders in Meso-America came from the vicinity of Egypt.

          • Glenn

            I’m not suggesting that monogenetic origins for the “so-called” parallels are far fetched (and I’m just using “so-called” because it is fun). I guess I’m asking “so what?”

            Let’s assume that all of the paralells (“so-called” or otherwise) you pointed are just the tip of the iceberg and there are many many more and we are able to discover them and use them to prove beyond the shadow of any doubt that Hinduism directly influenced specific Christian beliefs and practices. So what? Why is that important? Or insightful?

            (I could go on… Don’t misinterpret my intent here. I’m not suggesting that this is unimportant or uninsightful. I think I can answer these questions, but I want to kick it to you and see your answers first)

          • Drew

            Glenn, I don’t know what you’re looking for because your questions seem premised on the assumption that historical facts need to measure up to a standard of importance or insightfulness in order to be worth studying or discussing them. I’m sure we can both come up with dozens of examples off the tops of our heads of obscure historical topics that universities charge tens of thousands of dollars to help students study. Isn’t having an accurate understanding of history a sufficient end in itself to merit study? If not, universities owe a lot of refunds to a lot of history graduates drowning in student loans.

          • Glenn

            I’m just interested in why the parallels are important/intriguing to you because that helps me understand you better. But we can take it off line and discuss it in realtime sometime. (and I can think of at least one folklore graduate student that wouldn’t mind getting in on that refund! maybe that’s why he’s the one saying “so what?”)

          • Drew

            Glenn, I don’t know that I’d characterize it as “important” to me, more in the realm of “intriguing”. Why? Because I’m always intrigued when something challenges my previous assumptions/understandings. I read the other day that ancient Chinese coins were recently found in a Roman burial ground in England. That was intriguing to me because I never knew coins traveled those distances in ancient times. Similarly, I always assumed Christianity grew out of Judaism and assumed it wasn’t influenced by Eastern religions. But as I’ve been studying Hinduism, I’ve been surprised to find parallels between Hinduism and Christianity that I previously didn’t know existed. Why does that intrigue me? I don’t know. Why does anything ever intrigue anyone? I guess it’s just that I get a kick out of discovering something I never knew before.

          • Lloyd

            I’d be interested in a link to the info on the Chinese coins found in England. I tried to find it but only found an article about a 1500-year-old Roman coin found in a burial site in China. Thanks in advance.

          • Drew

            Lloyd, I misremembered: it wasn’t Chinese coins found in a Roman burial ground in England; it was the bodies of two ethnic Chinese. My guess is I was conflating my memory of that article with the coin article you mentioned.

            http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-37452287

          • Lloyd

            Thank you Drew, for the clarifications. Very interesting find, and I’ll be interested in further info on that. And thank you for this episode. I found it fascinating, as was your prior episode with Sage, and I’m interested in learning more. My wife has two co-workers from India, and we’ve had some fascinating conversations with them about some of this info. Thank you again.

  • Leslie North

    I give this episode a 10. Thank you. I wonder about the guru situation. My understanding is that if a disciple wants to study with a particular master or guru, they might have to serve the guru for some time to indicate their firm desire and devotion. Thus, I would not call that free. I don’t like it much when you hear some people nowadays say they “caught one glimpse” or “felt the electricity” and just KNEW that was my guru. I think this is dangerous and irresponsible. Follow those guidelines you gave, for sure. And it also might be necessary yo be your own guru (moving from darkness to light)

    • Drew

      Glad you enjoyed the episode. I agree that whole service requirement seems sketchy. Extracting payment as a requirement for intstruction certainly goes against the idea of the teaching being free. I suppose there are gurus of all stripes, including hypocritical and manipulative ones.

      I haven’t had any such negative experience with my guru. There was no payment required, either in money or in service. And our relationship is 100% in my control. I see and talk to him as often as I choose, and sometimes several months pass and we don’t see or talk to each other.

      That’s the only kind of guru relationship I can feel comfortable with.

  • Leslie North

    your essay is written down? I’d love a copy to follow when I listen again

  • Sterling C

    This was a really good episode. I listened to it over the Christmas break and I was just linking about it. I just wanted to say thank you for putting it on.

  • David B.

    Drew, I didn’t think I’d like this episode and I was right, I didn’t like it, I LOVED it!! Fascinating parallels to Christianity which I never would have guessed. A lot of coincidences. More research is needed on the subject of Hindu influence on Christianity. Great job!