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Monday, July 22, 2013

What's Your Problem?- Part 2: Hinduism

Last week we started looking at humanity's problem. We established the possibility that a problem does exist, but left the identity of the specific problem open. This week we will begin looking at a few different proposed problems and solutions. The problem from the Hindu worldview is first.

Hinduism is a pantheistic worldview. That means that everyone and everything is God, and God is everyone and everything. We are all the same essence as each other and as God. The foundation of the problem proposed by Hinduism is that man is suffering from a type of self-induced and self-perpetuated amnesia- in which we have forgotten our "Godness". We no longer understand that everyone and everything is God, and God is everyone and everything- including ourselves. The official problem that man suffers from is a cycle of life, death, and reincarnation called Samsara, that is the result of the "amnesia". 

What is the Problem?
First, let's look at the foundation of the problem and the problem itself, then we'll move to the solution. The idea that we are God does not seem to be coherent. Unless the Hindu definition of "God" excludes completeness and perfection, there is no way for God to forget who or what it is. If it does exclude completeness and perfection, then it is less than God. But that is only an issue if there is someone(thing) else to worship God. Since God and the worshiper are the same in Hinduism, that's not really an issue. So to make things clearer, we can simply remove the "God" terminology and say that everyone and everything (physical and metaphysical) is the same thing- we've just forgotten it.

This, though, can be tested against reality. The most obvious way to test this is to ask if something physical is the same, in essence, to something non-physical...let's say, a human and the laws of logic. If item A is identical to (not just a copy of) item B, they must possess the exact same essential attributes (not just copies of the attributes). There are no essential attributes that a human and a law of logic possess that are identical. Let's take two physical objects. Even if we take two humans, and recognize that they are both composed of identical copies of the same basic elements, we are not saying that the molecules, atoms, and quarks of each human are shared. Even though the elementals share attributes (to give them their identity to be compared to one another), they are not the same molecules, atoms, and quarks shared by two humans. On the surface, the foundation of the problem in Hinduism is not physically possible, but that is not actually an issue, since the physical is really an illusion, and the illusion is not representative of reality. The issue lies in the meta-physical AND the physical (illusion). If the illusion is being experienced, it must be part of reality. It is real in some sense, and in that same sense it is part of reality. Since it is part of reality (not just representative of it), then the comparison of a part of the physical can be compared in essence to the meta-physical- which fails.

Of course, a Hindu may say that I have this all wrong and that the physical and metaphysical DO hold an essential attribute- that is "Godness". However, we are not able to do that because THAT is precisely what we are attempting to test. We cannot start with the hoped-for result to end with the hoped-for result. 

However, let's continue. Let's grant that the foundation is sound. It seems likely that a continued loss of  recognition of our "Godness" could possibly lead to a vicious cycle of mortality. But then again, my knowledge of something (or lack thereof) does not change the reality of that something. If I am God (immortal), I should not be in a cycle of morality. Perhaps the cycle is acted out due to my misunderstanding- perhaps the cycle is an illusion, that must be escaped. Whether or not samsara is an illusion itself or not (most Hindus do claim that it is), we can still move on.

The Solution
Does Hinduism provide a viable solution to the problem? Hinduism promotes four avenues that may be taken to be cured from the amnesia (to escape the illusion of being mortal- "absorption" into the Godhead: Brahma; this goal is also called Moksha). These four ways are:

  • Knowledge
  • Devotion
  • Work
  • Meditation

Is it possible for man to realize that he is not limited and is actually God himself by following one of these?

Let's look at the first: knowledge. Hinduism makes it clear that this is not factual knowledge about the world, but an understanding that two selves exist: the one we are familiar with and the other which is the "hidden" self- that is the Godhead.  Ultimately the adherent is expected to think of himself only in terms of the "hidden self". He becomes one with the Godhead by realizing he was the Godhead all along.

Another way to do this is to love (devote one's life to) one of the numerous incarnations (avatars) of God. But for love to be "love", the giver and recipient of love must be different. It even goes as far as to say that the incarnation of God that one loves is not oneself. If we are the Godhead and incarnations of God represent the Godhead then one must devote their life to a representation of oneself. If a representation is not equal to (and different from) oneself, then an incarnation (representation) of the Godhead is not equal to (and different from) the Godhead.

How can loving something bring you closer to something else? Your studying, loving, and devoting your life to my profile on this blog (a representation of me) will not bring you any closer to me, and it certainly won't make you realize that we are the same- if anything it will make you realize that we are quite different. So this must not be a valid way to become one with the Godhead or realize that you always were the Godhead. Plus it contradicts one of the acknowledgments of the first way (that we and the Godhead are one and the same). If knowledge is a way to oneness with God, then love can't be. If love is a way to oneness with God (even after all the stuff it has to explain), then knowledge can't be.

The third way is through work. Ultimately work is tied to either option 1 or 2, so I'm not quite sure why it is considered a third option on its own. If someone decides that they want to pursue their uniting (or realization) of the Godhead via work, they have to decide if their work will be based on love or knowledge (contemplation and realization that they have two selves that are different). It is explained that work has a "layering" effect. If actions are done with the intention of helping oneself, then it adds a "layer" between the self and the Godhead. If actions are done without the intention of helping oneself then "layers" are removed, and bring the self closer to (unity with or realization that they are) the Godhead. This whole process is called "karma".

Unfortunately, this idea that layer-removing actions can bring one closer to unity with or realization that they are the Godhead is flawed at the lowest level. Since a Hindu must acknowledge that he wishes to become unified with or realize he is the same as the Godhead before he can choose one of the four ways to get to his goal, he has already ruled out work. Every action is ultimately traceable to the intention of bringing the self closer to the Godhead (a benefit to the self...unless Hindus want to deny that this is a benefit). Karma also seems to work against you in one field (knowledge or love) if you did not choose it. "All you need to do is learn how to work in ways that carry you toward God, not away from God" (pg 32). "Everything I do for my private benefit adds another layer to my ego, and in thus thickening it separates me further from God" (pg 32). The first quote indicates that the default position is to act in a way that separates one further from the Godhead. The second quote uses the word "everything". I'm assuming that this includes all actions (both love-related and knowledge-related). If one chooses to learn actions that are only based on love or only based on knowledge, then the other one works against them (if not at an equal pace, it will at least slow them down dramatically).

From all this, it appears that the first three can't really be separated. They are all required- even the ones that contradict each other (the first two) along with work, which is undermined at the first step to becoming a Hindu.

Meditation is the fourth possibility. Hindu meditation typically consists of setting in a relaxed position and attempting to clear the mind of all thought. Most of the time, the clearing of the mind is accomplished by repeating a mantra so many times that it requires no concentration- the mantra comes out by practically muscle memory. This practice does not seem to be able to lead to any kind of "understanding"- regardless of what is to be understood. In order for someone to understand something, they must contemplate it. It must be thought about. If we choose to ignore something, can we say that we understand it? This type of meditation prevents the understanding of anything, so how can it lead to an understanding that we are God and God is us?

None of the proposed solutions will work. If we are, in fact, suffering from a type of amnesia, Hinduism does not offer a valid way to overcome it. Next week we will take a look at the problem of man posed by Buddhism.

I used The Illustrated World Religions by Houston Smith for the majority of the information in this post. 
More info was gleaned from the third-party site Wikipedia- articles here.

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