This was a packed full weekend. On Saturday morning Chinmaya was having a celebration of the birth of Shankara that I went to. Shankara is a sage from around 788 A.D. who revitalized Hinduism and tried to unite it as one thing (advaita), so he is the founder of the smartha branch of Hinduism that I follow. The celebration was at the large temple in the area instead of the Chinmaya center. It was hard to find the group at first, since they were in the lower level auditorium area and not the main temple floor. I wore one of my saris. I love sari and there aren't enough opportunities to wear them!
Sunday morning I went to the Chinmaya service and then I stayed for several hours so I could go to the youth group's discussion in the late afternoon.
The youth group is for people 18-35, but I was the oldest there by a few years. The vast majority of people were younger than my little brother and were in college or just starting college. They also grew up together, knew the same people, and many went to the same college.
A couple of things didn't work out well for me in this group. One is that I feel like I'm at a very different place in life than they are and that they aren't able to understand my perspective, since I have now realized the foolish stubbornness of being 18!
The other thing is that there was another girl there who was new. She was a friend of one of the other girls. She was a Christian Indian. The book we were discussing was talking about being your own person (a good lesson for me!) and I spoke about the need to separate your own desires and dreams from your parents desires for you.
This girl spoke next. She said, "Well, as brown people, we really respect our parents..." She dismissed everything I said and implied that because I'm not "brown" I am a monster who doesn't respect or care about her parents.
Apparently my insight is useless because I'm not Indian. As though I don't know anything about parental pressure!
I was deeply disheartened by that. She is not, and I'm not sure anyone there is, interested in my unique struggles.
I'm going to look into finding an adult discussion group.
Also on Saturday a friend came over and we discussed Hinduism. I find that I have a hard time explaining many concepts because I have believed them for so long that I'm rusty on the whys.
In essence he asked why we act in the world at all if it is ultimately just an illusion and not meaningful (as stipulated in my post on Good and Evil) (Correct me if I'm wrong about the question, J!)
This life is an illusion, and yet we have to participate in it and play our roles. Why?
I don't have a great answer for this, but I think that people are always going to do something. People will always act. If you were enlightened and you could see that the world was just a game, would you do nothing at all? I doubt it. I think that you'd have fun and do things that made you happy.
What if the things that make you happy are "bad" things (again, there is not really anything bad or good in reality, but there are things that help other souls move toward enlightenment and things that hurt). I would argue that no one actually finds joy from destructive acts. There's another reason behind an act like killing a puppy. A person might think that will make him happy, but I don't believe that it actually does.
An enlightened person gets happiness from helping others quite naturally because he can see that the others are himself. Not to start the whole Christian v.s. Advaita debate again, but my mother used to tell me that Jesus said to love one's neighbor as one's self because the neighbor really is yourself.
Fate is a very slippery concept in Hinduism. Do your actions have effects or does everything happen the way it has to based only on sanskara? Somehow, there is both fate and free will operating together in a very complex web that we will probably never understand. They say that there are certain issues that we will have to face in order for our soul to move forward, but when the problem comes up, if we are present, we have the choice. We can choose something that will move our soul forward or we can rely on a fog of habit.
In reading the Mahabharata, one of the things that you'll notice is that there's always a fate driven explanation for people's actions. For example, Kunti just happens to say to her sons that they must share what they have brought home, not knowing that it is a wife. To not make her a liar, all the brothers marry that one woman. But then Vyasa comes in and says that this woman prayed devoutly in a previous life five times for a husband, so she was fated to have five husbands. It is never clear whether Kunti caused this to happen or if it had to happen and how those two things go together. There are hundreds of examples of this in the Mahabharata.
I don't really have answers. I think is is dangerous to think that you have the answers to things already. If that were the case, I would already be enlightened. I like that Hinduism leaves a lot of things open for one to ponder and wonder about and it might take lifetimes to figure out the truth. The most important thing is to think about it, to keep wondering.