He started learning about Hinduism in part from Chinmaya, a Smarta organization, but decided to follow the Himalayan Academy instead. They follow Shaivism and I've talked about them before. They are the people behind Hinduism Today and the ones who actually have a conversion ritual for those who wish to join Hinduism. I respect them a great deal, but their philosophy is too devotional for me. It seems that the man at Western Hindu felt the opposite. That he respected Smarta, but it was not devotional enough. He writes:
"Firstly the course expounds the position of Immaterialistic Advaita Vedānta. According to this philosophy the only ultimate reality of God (or of anything) is the impersonal Brahman. They claim that the Great Gods Śiva, Viṣṇu, and Brahmā are only a deeper level of illusion, beyond the māyā of the material universe...Naturally there are some people for whom seeking God in the immaterial is the correct path, but for me bhakti or devotion to Shiva is central."
I would agree with some of that and disagree with some. First, yes, in Advaita Vedanta, the various gods are all part of the hierarchy that is only present in illusion. In reality there is only one, and we do call it Brahman, but the name is not what is important. You could call the ultimate reality Shiva if you wanted to, or Bob.
To say that Advaita is "impersonal" seems very odd to me. Yes, you don't have a "personal relationship with Shiva" (or Jesus, since that's a phrase evangelical Christians use a lot). But you don't have to because God is not some being far above you that you need to become friends with. God is inside you. God IS you. It doesn't get more personal than that.
In other of his posts I was startled to find that he makes the argument that if it were Hinduism that had spread like wildfire over the Western world, there would have been no Inquisition or other violence because Hinduism is a tolerant religion.
This seems very naive to me. On paper, Hinduism is a tolerant religion, but so is Christianity. People don't need much excuse for violence and Hinduism does include a warrior caste. There is also strong support in its scriptures for the idea of a holy war.
Sadly, Hindus have participated in bloody riots and massacres against people of different religions into the present day. Like most religions, Hinduism does have an extremist branch. Western Hindu might argue that they are misunderstanding the religion and their behavior cannot define the vast numbers of peaceful Hindus. I tend to agree, except he did criticize Christianity for saying things like “No Christian would ever do this, that or the other. The Christian Terrorists are not true Christians. The Branch Davidian [are] not true Christians. The Catholics, Westboro Baptists or whoever that you don’t agree with are not true Christians." So, I don't think we can distance ourselves from Hindu extremism for the same reason.
Some points he make that I really like are about the gross misunderstandings that Westerners tend to have about what Hinduism is about. For example, he writes:
"The average Westerner knows very little about Hinduism, especially the underlying philosophies and beliefs. They will have heard about things like the Kama Sutra and sacrificing animals to Kali and believe that these are mainstream tenets of Hinduism , because this is what the media often portrays. This a natural affect of the coverage, many people in the UK think that a US policeman will shoot a criminal at least once a week because of what they see on crime dramas, whereas I have read that it is actually a very rare occurrence.
Also “strange TV” sells, so we have seen things like a recent tv program that shown Hindu Sadhus hanging large rocks from their penises. Many people have no idea that this is alien to the average Hindu! There have been programs showing Christians handling poisonous snakes, whipping themselves until they are covered with blood, and shouting in “tongues” at scared children they believe to be possessed, but people in the West have the background knowledge to know that this does not go on in most local churches.
The end result is that many people think they know about Hinduism when what they actually know is either a marginal practice carried out by a handful of people, or is wrong. Some have such an ingrained opinion that they will even argue when they are corrected.
Also, I wanted to show that Hinduism is often seen as fair game by people who want to ridicule it, even though they won’t ridicule Christianity or Islam. This often happens because the backlash if Christians boycotted them would hurt economically, and that Muslims are perceived as a threat – though of course they suffer from the problem that minority activities are perceived as mainstream by the public too. Can you imagine someone bringing out a film called “the Love Pope” or “The Love Imam”?"
All in all, a very interesting read and I look forward to continuing to learn from his journey.
Basu brought up in a comment on the last post that there are concepts of hell in Hinduism. That is true. I was simplifying a bit when I said that there weren't. There are multiple hells and heavens in Hindu mythology, but what makes them different from the Christian idea is that these hells and heavens are temporary. Some believe that after life a soul goes to one of these to work through some of their sanskara, good or bad, before returning to be reincarnated in the world. This makes a lot more sense to me than the Christian definition and I'll turn again to the Western Hindu to explain why:
"I think that the idea of eternal hell can only make sense to people who have no concept of vastness or infinity. Even a lifetime of a century is a fleeting instant from this perspective. Judging for eternity on the basis of a single life would be like releasing mice in the middle of a room and looking at the direction of the very first step they took. Those that stepped right would be given rewards for the rest of their life. Those that stepped forwards, left or backwards would be taken and tortured for the rest of their lives."
Could not possibly have said that better myself.
One last topic for today. Yesterday we went to my boyfriend's niece's Catholic baptism. It was a bit of an odd and uncomfortable experience. I didn't want to draw attention or be contrary on a day devoted to the lovely little baby, so I wore Western dress (unusual for me these days) and I picked a decorative bindi so that it would look more like jewelry and less like a statement. No one commented on that, so I think it worked.
I was surprised that the Priest made blanket assumptions about all the people at the church. I guess that's just part of the ritual, but he had the friends and family chanting the Lord's Prayer and "reconfirming your own baptism." Why would he think we were all baptized to begin with? (I was as a baby, but that is beside the point!). We were supposed to state "I agree" to statements like "The lord Jesus is my savior" and such. I was in the front row and tried to keep my face forward so no one in his family would see that I wasn't saying any of the prayers or the agreements.
That kind of thing really makes me want to be argumentative and point out that I'm not Christian and I'm just there to support my boyfriend's wonderful and welcoming family. But I was good. I didn't say anything. Basically just for the sake of my boyfriend's sister, for whom I care very much.