Culture / Sam Toller

Interfaith Appreciation – Hinduism

In this six part series our non-religious Interact Blogger Sam Toller delves deeper into the major world religions and discusses specific aspects within each of these faiths that he personally admires. This week: Hinduism.

Growing up with two Hindu grandparents, I already had a superficial appreciation of Hinduism. I have fond memories of a beautiful painting, depicting a goddess with many arms (whom I now know to be Durga, the destroyer of evil), and always enjoyed the colourful sights, fresh smells and soothing sounds of the various ceremonies. Since then, I have also become a strong believer in the just but slightly idealistic law of karma, although this religious theory is also apparent in Buddhism and Sikhism. Whilst doing some research to fill out my acute appreciation of Hinduism, I stumbled upon Purusartha; the four goals of human existence. Whilst half of them were centered around the conventional religious ideals, I was pleasantly surprised by the other two.

The first aim is Dharma, ’the law of being’, which when observed allows human happiness. It is the moral code that upholds the universe and the people within it. In a more human context, Dharma means living a moral, ethical and virtuous life, in correspondence with the divine laws of the universe. However, due to it upholding all creation, it is the first and foremost objective. It is also argued that the fulfillment of other objectives becomes tainted if done against the ethics of Dharma. Manu, an ancient spiritual teacher, wrote that ‘Non violence, truth, non-coveting, purity of body and mind, and control of senses are the essence of dharma’. Dharma, coincidentally enough, has a close relationship to Karma; living your life by the laws of Dharma rewards you with good Karma, affecting your reincarnation after death.

The second Purusartha is Artha, meaning wealth. Whilst most religions pioneer charity, and ward against the evils of money, I was refreshingly surprised by the Hindu perspective on wealth. Material goods improve happiness, but are also seen as a facilitator for fulfilling the first objective of Dharma. Lord Vishnu, the Hindu avatar (an incarnation of The Supreme Being), lives a rich life, yet he
gives to the poor and protects the weak, thus improving his Dharma, which is still the ultimate goal; Artha means nothing if it’s achieved immorally and against Dharma. The example of Vishnu also presents an interesting argument; the more we earn ourselves, the more we have to give away and improve the lives of the less fortunate.

The third objective of human life is Kama, which means sexual desire. The phrase ‘Kama Sutra’, which refers to an ancient Hindu scripture about sexual intercourse, used to evoke in me an immature giggle, but its role in Purusarthas and the reasons for it’s inclusion are by no means inappropriate. As with Artha, the fulfillment of Kama must not intrude on Dharma, therefore it should only
be fulfilled within a marriage. Although Hindu scriptures say that sex is for procreation, it should also be a pleasurable experience. Some Hindus believe that sex is an appreciation of God’s blissful nature, and that sexual energy transforms into divine spiritual energy.

The last aim is Moksha, meaning clarity and lack of delusion. Hindu’s believe that at the end of our lives, we are reincarnated. A bad life, and bad karma, results in reincarnation as a lesser being such as an animal, whilst leading a good life moves us closer to Moksha, which is salvation from the world, as we know it.  Once reached, it brings an end to suffering for the achiever, who is extracted  from the cycle of reincarnation.

Personally, although this objective is reassuring in the short term, it has always posed the question of ‘What happens then?’ My deepest fear is ‘eternity’, which for me, makes Moksha difficult to appreciate. Dharma is of course a noble aim, but Hinduism’s perspective on wealth and pleasure is very refreshing; my prejudiced view of religion telling people what not to do has been readjusted. In my opinion, pursuing the good things in life whilst doing so morally and ethically, is the greatest message a religion can give.

Sam Toller

Interact

Part one of Interfaith Appreciation: Islam

Part two of Interfaith Appreciation: Judaism

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4 thoughts on “Interfaith Appreciation – Hinduism

  1. Namaste, You said your deepest fear is eternity which makes Moksha difficult to appreciate? Are you one of those who fears that “bliss will get boring after a while”? Remember moksha is beyond the worldly concept of time. Jai Hari Aum!

    • Yes, I am ‘one of those’ – I would get bored of anything for eternity. As I do not have in depth knowledge of these faiths, I didn’t realise Moksha is beyond the concept of time. Thanks for telling me.

      Being beyond the concept of time means that I wouldn’t get bored by the repetitiveness of eternal bliss, but I also feel that without time, there is no concept of moving forwards. You could argue that bliss should be about relaxation, not moving forwards towards a goal, which I would certainly agree with, but without aims, what is the point of any action? I get enjoyment from large tasks, such as finishing a project, as well as small joys, such as eating a plate of food. Whether the fulfilling aim is finishing a project or a plate of food, without that aim, and the bliss that fulfilling that aim brings, what is the point in the original action? Also, without time, surely you would be in multiple places, doing multiple things, at once, therefore never allowing yourself the full participation and enjoyment of your bliss. I’m interested to know if there are any arguments against my feelings that you know of. Thanks again for your comment.

      Sam Toller

      • Thanks Sam, hope “one of those” did not come off too snarky, but you responded with detail. I appreciate that. You asked “without aims what is the point of any action?” THat is exactly the point, as in moksha, we are released from desire at goals, aims, etc. It is a pure “being” or non-being if you prefer. The enjoyment you get out of eating a plate food or finishing a project is completely associated with/attached to your personality/ego (and I don’t mean ego in negative and arrogant terms, just that sense of “you-ness” which ties us to the material world.
        as for your question about being in different places at different times if time did not exist, I am not sure that follows. Interesting perspective to ponder though. I am not just passing that over because I have no objection, I am just not sure how to respond.
        Aum, Shanti!
        – FD

  2. Sorry for the late reply. I just remembered this thread as I was typing up my next article. I’m glad you’ve got back to me.

    No, it didn’t come off snarky! I think it’s a very complicated idea for me to appreciate, as I’m a very driven person! I can’t imagine not having goals, and a life (or non-being) without achievement seems rather futile to me. I understand what your saying – That’s the whole idea! – But personally, that isn’t something I would want as a reward after thousands, possibly millions of years of working up good Karma; I would rather live on, carrying out more good deeds and enjoying another driven but full life.

    In regards to my point about time, perhaps I misunderstood the non-being aspect of Moksha. I imagined a variation of heaven, but am I more correct in saying Moksha is more of a blissful non-existence?

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