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Hindus say minority rights ignored in Kenya’s new polygamy law

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Hindus have stressed that feelings and rights of minorities were not kept in mind when Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta signed Kenya’s marriage bill into law on April 29, which legalized polygamy.

Rajan Zed, who is based in Nevada, said that polygamy was not practiced in contemporary Hindu society. Marriage was taken very seriously as it was considered a sacred rite and highest duty in Hinduism.

Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, points out: In Hinduism, vivah (marriage) is the most important samskar (sacrament). Married couple is looked as a complete module for worship and participation in cultural/social acts. With the marriage samskar, one thoroughly enters into grihasth-ashram (householder phase), where one can attend to the goals of dharm (duty).

Zed believes that Kenyatta should have met the leaders of Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Baha’i and other minority religions/denominations in Kenya and taken into account their viewpoint before signing the marriage bill into law.

Zed reminded Kenyatta of his “core value” to “treat everyone fairly”. Moreover, Kenya’s constitution and other laws/policies protected religious freedom and Kenya needed to protect its minorities in order to attract foreign investments.

Ethnic diversity of Kenya, described as “the cradle of humanity” which showed earliest evidence of human’s ancestors, had produced a vibrant culture. With its abundant wildlife and scenic beauty, if Kenya wants to continue attracting tourists and increase its numbers, it has to take care of its minorities and project a picture of harmonious coexistence to the world, Rajan Zed noted.


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Worldwide Hindus concerned at Diwali labeled as “blasphemy” in Cook Islands

Diwali, Trafalgar Square

Diwali, Trafalgar Square (Photo credit: Paul Carvill)

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Hindus worldwide are concerned at celebration of their annual festival Diwali being reportedly condemned as “blasphemy” in Cook Islands by a religious leader.

This religious leader reportedly labeled Diwali, most popular of Hindu festivals, a “paganistic or heathenistic practice” and talked about “its hidden spirit of sorcery and witchcraft” and urged to “put a stop to this paganistic nonsense”.

Diwali, which fell on November three, was reportedly celebrated on Rarotonga, most populous island of the Cook Islands, on November nine where organizers extended an open public invitation and where hundreds of people turned up to celebrate; which included music, dancing, food, cultural display and speeches.

Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, said that Hinduism was the oldest and third largest religion of the world with about one billion adherents and a rich philosophical thought and it should not be taken lightly. Symbols of any faith, larger or smaller, should not be mishandled.

Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, urged Frederick Goodwin, Henry Puna and Teina Bishop; Queen’s Representative, Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister respectively of Cook Islands; to thoroughly investigate the issue and ensure the Hindu community that its religious rights were protected. Article 64(1) (d) of the Cook Islands’ constitution granted: “Freedom of thought, conscience, and religion”.

Rajan Zed further said that existence of different faiths showed God’s generosity and bountifulness. Different religions were simply different human responses to the one ultimate Reality. Despite our seriously different traditions, we all should learn from each other and live harmoniously together in mutual trust, loyalty and peace as we were headed in the same direction, Zed stated.

Image by mjcolman via Tumblr

An inclusive and broader understanding of religion was needed as true relationship with God could exist in each of the great faith traditions. Religion was much more than one’s own particular tradition/experience, Zed noted.

New Zealand’s High Commissioner to the Cook Islands Joanna Kempkers and Principal of Tereora College (the National College of the Cook Islands) Bali Haque also addressed this Diwali gathering and various Hindu community leaders, including Avinesh Naiker and Anand Raj Naidu, participated; reports suggest.

According to Rajan Zed, Diwali, the festival of lights, aims at dispelling the darkness and lighting up the lives and symbolizes the victory of good over evil. Hindus worship goddess of good fortune and beauty Lakshmi, god of wisdom and auspiciousness Ganesh, and mountain Goverdhan on this day. Also on this day, coronation of Lord Ram was held, Lord Hanuman was born, Lord Vishnu returned kingdom to monkey king Bali of Kiskindha, Lord Vishnu and goddess Lakshmi married, Lord Krishan killed demon Narakasur, and ancient king Vikramaditya was crowned. On this day of forgiveness, festivities, and friendliness; families and friends get together for worship followed by a sumptuous and elaborate feast. It is also considered a harvest festival. Besides Hindus, Sikhs and Jains and some Buddhists also celebrate Diwali.

Cook Islands in South Pacific Ocean, first settled in the 6th century and formed of 15 widely-dispersed volcanic islands and coral atolls, is a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand whose economy centers on tourism.


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The Bhagavad Gita in a Complicated World

As it Is by Jeremy

As it Is by Jeremy via Flickr

Krishna says kill?

It’s often said that The Bhagavad Gita is the Hindu Bible. Among a great diversity of Hindu scripture, the Gita stands out as a unique gem, bringing together several core aspects of Hinduism. At least, this is how enthusiasts talk about the Gita. Critics tend to see it as a misguided justification for violence.

The Gita belongs within the Mahabharata, an epic about two warring families. Because of its remarkable literary and philosophical sophistication, most scholars believe the Gita was added to the Mahabharata around 450 BCE, approximately 500 years after the original epic was written around 1000 BCE.

This is not unusual for ancient texts. Almost all contemporary biblical scholars say that diverse oral traditions and authors run though many Old Testament books formerly believed to be written by just one person.

The story of the Gita is straighforward. The hero, Arjuna, derives from the virtuous Pandava family. He’s cheated out of his rightful palace by the wicked Karauva family. As a result, the deity Krishna, seated at the back of Arjuna’s chariot, urges him to fight in a massive battle to vanquish the evil Karauvas. Because the Pandavas and Karauvas are kith and kin, the noble Arjuna hesitates when Krishna exhorts him to kill members of the Karauva family.

At this point, Krishna launches forth on a metaphysical discourse about sacred duty (dharma) and the immortality of the soul (atman). Arjuna is justified in killing, Krishna says, because it’s his sacred obligation as a member of the warrior caste (Kshatriya). As a Kshatriya he’s bound to restore balance in a moral order perilously thrown out of sync by the Karauva’s evil ways.

Krishna says that Arjuna would not really be killing because, at the deepest level, the soul is immortal; it’s Arjuna’s spiritual ignorance that makes him believe he’d be sinning by slaying the Karauvas. In fact, Krishna says physicality is an illusion spun by the web of maya (deception arising from ignorance). Krishna adds that Arjuna’s ignorance must be dispelled before he can attain the clear vision needed to do the right thing—that is, kill the Karauvas.

A Psychological Interpretation of the Gita

Lord Krishna Speaks to Arjuna by His Holiness Bhaktiratna Sadhu Swami Gaurangapada

Lord Krishna Speaks to Arjuna by His Holiness Bhaktiratna Sadhu Swami Gaurangapada via Flickr

The Gita is no mere outburst or artistic statement of anger.† Instead, Krishna’s discourse is an intricate philosophico-religious argument in favor of killing. And it’s not too hard to read the message as if it were meant literally—i.e. killing is okay because it’s holy.

Some may agree with this stance, citing the Jewish Holy War, the Christian Just War and the Muslim jihad as parallels. Others may find it deplorable.

But like any text, literary or not, the Gita can be interpreted.

Putting aside bellicose readings of the Gita, it seems far more constructive to interpret the Gita on a psycho-spiritual level. This isn’t a novel approach. Several Indian thinkers have written on the psychological aspects of the Gita. In fact, the great champion of non-violence, Mohandas Gandhi, said the Gita was his favorite book, one that could untie any spiritual knot.

Gandhi’s notion of spiritual knots reminds me of a roadside conversation I had in West Bengal where an Indian man once said, “The Western mind is very complicated.” He seemed to be alluding to the multiplicity of personality traits and desires in Westerners. Perhaps he was also saying that Indians are more centered, peaceful, and less psychologically convoluted.

Myself, I try to avoid racial stereotypes like that. And it seems that all of us – North, South, East and West – exhibit more than just one personality aspect.

But the Indian man raised a good point. The psyche can be complicated. Some psychologists say that the complexities of the psyche are genetically determined. Behaviorists, on the other hand, say the mind is fully conditioned by the environment. Most, however, take a less extreme stance by highlighting the importance of nature and nurture. Meanwhile, theologians in several different religions believe that spiritual powers act on our personalities, a perspective often overlooked within contemporary psychology.

Sri Ramakrishna and C. G. Jung

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa - Sri Ramakrishna Ashrama, Mysore by Chetan Hegde M

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa – Sri Ramakrishna Ashrama, Mysore by Chetan Hegde M via Flickr

The Indian holy man Sri Ramakrishna says the spiritual quest entails a process of purification, not always easy to endure. For Ramakrishna, the sluggish, inferior aspects of the personality are purged through suffering.

Here Ramakrishna gives the analogy of rotten tomatoes. Old tomatoes rot faster, he says, when bashed up and thrown out the window.

This might sound enigmatic but Ramakrishna’s analogy might be more easily understood if we compare it to Carl Jung’s work on psychological suffering and alchemy.

Jung did an extensive study of the ancient and medieval practice of alchemy and came to see it as a process of inner transformation. He believed the alchemist’s desire to transform base metals into gold mirrors a psychological transformation. As metals are heated and transformed, the alchemist’s self likewise evolves.

While some alchemists were, no doubt, hucksters trying to scam zealous aristocrats in their search of gold, other were sincere. The true alchemists sought to create a mystical tonic to cure illness and ensure immortality. But this elixir came through prolonged boilings, just as the process of psychological purification entails suffering.

Jung’s interpretation of alchemy parallels Ramakrishna’s take on the Gita because both point to a stormy and painful stage of psycho-spiritual growth.

As we journey through life, people and events can irritate us. During moments of agitation and temptation our lesser qualities may arise. Some accept these personality aspects and leave them unchanged. For these people it’s not degrading to accept their animal nature. It’s just natural, healthy and whole. By way of contrast, potential saints are consumed with the idea of eradicating lower personality traits. Some may even self-flagellate in an attempt to conquer sinful tendencies.

Most of us are somewhere between those two extremes. When confronted with irritating people or bad habits we can view it as an opportunity for reflection, knowledge and self-mastery.

Accordingly, a psychological interpretation of the Gita takes much of life as a battlefield of antagonistic influences, personalities and opinions. But life isn’t quite that simple and a psychological interpretation of the Gita, while superior to a literal one, still focuses on the abrasive side of human relationships.

However, disharmony is only half the story. Conflicts will always arise. But instead of religiously hitting back when people hurt us, shouldn’t we at least try to overcome our pain through understanding and compassion?

As Saint Paul says:

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-2

† Bruce Cockburns’ song, “If I had a Rocket Launcher” comes to mind. Here Cockburn explains that he’s not advocating violence but, instead, artistically expressing a moment of personal rage in response to the 1980s killings in South America.

The Bhagavad Gita in a Complicated World Copyright © Michael Clark. All rights reserved.


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Krishna, Buddha and Christ: The same or different? (Part 5)

The Holy Spirit as a dove in the Annunciation ...

The Holy Spirit as a dove in the Annunciation by Rubens, 1628 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

A Final Word on Violence

In Christian mysticism, peaceful living and spiritual growth go hand in hand. As the believer increases in perfection and becomes closer to God the soul usually experiences an overall increase in heavenly graces.

The ideal Christian washes not just the outside but the inside of the proverbial cup to receive the pure waters of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 23:26). In this metaphor the cup represents the self, the soul, and the person who ultimately is bound for heaven.

So Christian mysticism never justifies violence but rather, gentleness and humility.

One might object to this claim by citing Joan of Arc, her inner voices apparently coming from God and urging her to lead the French army into battle. But it was the Catholic Church which eventually canonized St. Joan. The New Testament Gospels, themselves, never condone violence.

God or no God?

As noted earlier, religion can get complicated. Whenever one forwards a given assertion, an exception usually arises. On the issue of violence, we might point out the notion of the Just War and, for the matter, the bellicose Old Testament which Catholics embrace as originating in God. Having said that, the New Testament and Buddhist ideals about non-violence clearly differ in the sense that Buddhists do not believe in an ultimate, omnipotent, omniscient and eternal God, while Christians obviously do.

To repeat, Buddhists do not believe in God. Instead, Buddhists normally contextualize the idea of God saying “God” is just another cultural idea to surpass on the road to Nirvana, a journey involving the belief in reincarnation.

In Christianity, however, an unselfish love of one’s enemies arises from inviting the living presence of God to dwell in one’s heart. Happiness isn’t just inside, as so many non-Christians (and even some Christian pop singers) say. Rather, happiness is having a good relationship with God, who ultimately exists beyond the self but also immanent.

Unlike Buddhism, Christian salvation cannot entirely rely on one’s own contemplative efforts because God, and not oneself, is seen as the source of all goodness and being. Some see this ultimate dependence on God as a weakness but from a Christian perspective it’s just the way things are. One can only go so far through one’s own initiative. And that, for many Christians, is a significant limitation for Buddhists and for any New Age thinker who thinks they can reach the highest high through their own efforts.

To complicate things, Buddhism does speak of compassionate and intervening bodhisattvas who dispense graces to seekers along the way. But these exalted beings are not regarded as God. A monotheistic God is never present in Buddhism and at some point even bodhisattvas must be surpassed to enter into the nothingness/fullness of Nirvana, a place where the apparently illusory idea of individuality also vanishes.

Granted, some Christian mystics do talk about losing the self in a boundless ocean of God’s love, but God never disappears from the picture. And it’s doubtful that Christian mystics are advocating a complete loss of individuality. Instead, their metaphors seem more like happy fish in a boundless, beautiful ocean instead of the more Asian notion of drops of water dissolving in the sea.

Heaven and Hell

The Buddhist perception of heaven and hell is related to a discussion about violence and non-violence. Hell isn’t eternal for Buddhists. It’s more like a stopover in a lousy hotel room where one eventually checks out. Likewise with heaven. Heaven is described as a sort of ‘spiritual health spa’ enjoyed between lifetimes. So the reincarnating soul eventually departs from heaven to become fully enlightened. In fact, in Buddhism one encounters numerous heavens and hells before attaining full enlightenment.

Upon attaining enlightenment, Buddhists say the soul realizes it, itself, doesn’t exist. And at this point, even the idea of past lives becomes illusory. After all, how can you have a past life if you never existed?

These are interesting philosophical ideas but a Christian hoping to reach everlasting heaven might wonder if the Buddhist heavens could be astral realms and not heaven as understood within Christianity.

Since Buddhist hells are not eternal, they perhaps would be closer to the Catholic notion of purgatory because for Christians hell is eternal. Nor is the Christian hell a mere way-station or, for that matter, trendy or humorous Hollywood fantasy as portrayed in movies and video games. “See you in hell!“¹

For the vast majority of Christians, hell is just hell, forever and ever. And when it comes to the opposite, namely paradise, the Christian understanding of grace as a living presence that guides believers to everlasting heaven is relativized and absent in Buddhism. True, different Buddhist schools speak of emptiness, fullness and enlightenment. And they mention transitional grace and temporary heavens and hells. But Buddhist do not believe in everlasting heaven and hell as articulated within Christianity. So it stands to reason that the graces that Buddhists speak of are not the same thing that Christians talk about.

Conclusion

This brief comparison indicates that the scriptures and beliefs emerging from Krishna, Buddha and Christ have points of similarity but are not equivalent. As we’ve seen, the Mahabharata speaks of peace but in the Gita Krishna emphasizes holy warfare. By way of contrast, Christ, as part of the Holy Trinity is said to be co-equal with God and the Holy Spirit and, rather than engage in violence, is willing to sacrifice himself on a cross. While non-Christians may see this as misguided and some Buddhists (like D. T. Suzuki) say it’s “distasteful,” for Christians it is the ultimate point. This world is not it, and fighting and killing for material gain is not the way to get to eternal happiness.

We’ve also seen in the above that the Buddha doesn’t believe in God, and Buddhists say that the Buddhist nirvana surpasses the Christian understanding of heaven and hell.

The Hindu Krishna and the Buddha each speak of many lifetimes and associated opportunities for salvation through reincarnation, whereas the Christ of the Gospels entreats disciples to get it right the first time because (presumably) there is no such thing as reincarnation.

To overlook these and other differences may be well-intentioned but it’s also imprecise. And it’s doubtful that a fuzzy, misinformed belief in religious homogeneity will contribute to meaningful dialogue and genuine interfaith harmony. Promising commonalities can be discerned among today’s faith groups, but it will take clear and honest thinking for humanity to walk peacefully into the 21st century and beyond.

¹ http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SeeYouInHell

© Michael Clark

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5



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Hindus dismayed at porno-star type image of goddess Kali in upcoming video game

English: With a flaming background that evokes...

Kali with a flaming background that evokes the end of the world (bazaar art, c.1940’s) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Hindus are perturbed at the portrayal of goddess Kali, a highly revered deity of Hinduism, which gives the appearance of a porno-star in an upcoming online action video game SMITE being developed by Georgia (USA) headquartered Hi-Rez Studios.

Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, said that such portrayal of goddess Kali was quite disturbing for the devotees who worshipped her in temples or home shrines on a regular basis. It was denigration and belittling of the entire community.

Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, urged online video game developer Hi-Rez Studios to immediately remove the Kali and other Hindu gods (Vamana and Agni) from the game as it trivialized the highly revered and sacred deities of Hinduism.

Meanwhile; Catholics, Jews and Buddhists have come out in the support of Hindus who are upset at this inappropriate usage of Kali and other Hindu deities. Well known Roman Catholic leader in Nevada Father Charles T. Durante, prominent Jewish leader in Western USA Rabbi ElizaBeth W. Beyer and distinguished Buddhist leader from Nevada Reverend Jikai’ Phil Bryan have issued separate statements backing the cause of protesting Hindus. Reverend Bryan commented: “Shame on the game-makers for denigrating these Supreme Beings”.

Rajan Zed further said that in a video game set-up, the player would control and manipulate goddess Kali and other Hindu deities, which was highly inappropriate as in reality the devotees put the destinies of themselves in the hands of their deities. Reimagining Hindu scriptures and deities for commercial or other agenda was not okay as it hurt the devotees, Zed noted.

Zed stated that video game makers should be more sensitive while handling faith related subjects and no faith, larger or smaller, should be trampled. As these games left lasting impact on the minds of highly impressionable children, teens and other young people; such inappropriate depictions would create more misunderstandings about Hinduism, which was already a highly misunderstood religion in the West, Zed argued and added that purpose of online games was to entertain and not to offend a large chunk of world population.

Goddess Kali, who personifies Shakti or divine energy and considered the goddess of time and change, is widely worshipped in Hinduism. Hinduism, oldest and third largest religion of the world, has about one billion adherents and moksh (liberation) is its ultimate goal. There are about three million Hindus in USA.

Hi-Rez Studios describes SMITE as an “online battleground between mythical gods” in which players choose from a selection of gods.

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Krishna, Buddha and Christ: The same or different? (Part 4)

Corcovado jesus

Corcovado jesus (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

War and Peace

When interpreted literally, the Gita says Arjuna shouldn’t be upset because his killing is in accord with God’s will. If Arjuna detaches himself from his feelings bad karma will not arise from his violence.

Most Hindus would probably say Arjuna’s not angry on the battlefield. If anything, he’s initially reluctant, almost like a Hamlet who just can’t muster up the gumption to act.

Ultimately, Arjuna does his duty for God, fulfilling his dharma as a kshatriya, a member of the warrior caste. That is, he kills, making the Gita and the New Testament present two remarkably different pictures.

God (as Krishna) in the Gita exhorts Arjuna to engage in violence while God (as Jesus) in the New Testament says that merely thinking murderous thoughts is tantamount to being a murderer worthy of hellfire. In other words, Jesus says don’t even consider violence (1 John 3:15).

But the New Testament goes even further. It calls upon believers to love their enemies, turn the other cheek and pray for those who persecute them.

Because the New Testament doesn’t subscribe to the belief in reincarnation, Christians ideally should try their best to lead good lives, here and now—and not in ten, twenty or a hundred lifetimes down the road.

There’s a difference in both emphasis and direction between these two texts that’s hard to overlook. The Gita affords violence a sort of mythic grandeur, obscuring the harsh realities of blood, guts, pain and death with lofty prose and untenable metaphysical rationalizations, while the New Testament clearly directs believers away from violence.

For Jesus Christ — at least, the Jesus of the New Testament — violence among human beings is unacceptable.

Copyright © Michael Clark.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5




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Krishna, Buddha and Christ: The same or different? (Part 3)

English: Resurrection of Christ

Resurrection of Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Another Inconvenient Truth

Although the religions of Krishna, Buddha and Christ each allow for the idea of the Just War, they arguably differ.

Let’s look at Christianity first. Christians generally put more stock in the New Testament (NT) than the Old Testament (OT). The NT advocates turning the other cheek and loving one’s enemies while the often spiteful and bellicose OT speaks of gaining “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

Christian theologians say that the OT and NT inform one another. And Jesus Christ is often said to be present in the OT. But the NT is also taken as the fulfillment of the somewhat imperfect OT, as embodied in the person, teachings and living example of Jesus.

True, the Christian Bible consists of both the OT and NT, and, as mentioned, the OT has its fair share of nasty bits. But from the OT to the NT there’s a clear and definite movement away from violence to peace, from tribal retribution to the global message of selfless service.

This worldwide message of “peace above all” is universal. Christians unanimously agree that anyone can convert to Christianity. By way of contrast, some Hindus maintain that one must be born a Hindu—that is, for some Hindus true conversion for non-Hindus is not possible, a stance that seems tantamount to racism and hardly a universal message for mankind to unite in peace.

While some public figures like to gloss over this obvious difference between Christianity and some Hindu fundamentalists, it cannot be denied. And mere platitudes that obscure the issue aren’t going to change this inconvenient truth.

© Michael Clark

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