I have to admit: I love Hinduism far more than I expected to. My time with it is two-thirds of the way through (as I write this). I already feel sad that I will have to put much of it on the shelf next quarter. Thankfully the Feri tradition is as open as Hinduism, more or less, so some bleeding will be acceptable.
What do I love so much? Let me enumerate the ways!
A recent post talked about how Hinduism has a point of entry – a welcome – for everyone. That openness and flexibility feels unique among most faiths. All religions and traditions are valid paths. Hinduism believes that some paths may take longer, or only take a person half-way up the mountain of liberation, but they are still legitimate paths and may be the right choice for a person at that particular time, or in this particular life. Hinduism is a faith of genuine tolerance. It’s not a ‘Lefty Liberal’ or wishy-washy form of tolerance, but a sincere acceptance of diversity. To mangle the saying, Hinduism’s mind is completely open, but its brain has not fallen out.
Hindu culture is colorful. It is certainly reflects its place of origin. I’ve never been to India, but all the pictures I’ve seen show a cacophony of color – in clothing, spices, flowers, decorations. These are brought to the spiritual tradition, with offerings of bright yellow turmeric and other spices and fresh flowers, in the bright and vivid icons of the Deities, and a vibrant beauty witnessed in the fabric of the clothing, the bangles and other forms of self-decoration.
One of the things that was, at first, overwhelming for me, is the vast array of traditions – regional, devotional, cultural, familial, orthodox, and so on. Not being Indian, nor having a community to follow along with, I’ve just been picking and choosing what works best for me and my family. This may be culturally and even religiously inconsistent, but theologically this isn’t a problem. Again, Hindu practice seems to foster a ‘come as you are, start where are’ attitude. It seems to me that a person could celebrate or observe something every single day of the calendar! But that is unrealistic. However, I love me a holiday, so this aspect brings me joy.
I love the God/desses. Depending on the philosophical school, a Hindu might see worshiping any divinity as illusion; they might see the Divine as an impersonal singular God; maybe the Divine is best understood as a reflection in a prism with a singular One expressed in many forms; the Gods might actually be distinct, separate entities. I know I’m forgetting several other ways of understanding this thing we call ‘God’! Beyond this philosophical break down, I love the multiplicity of Gods and Goddesses. Again, there is a god or goddess that could potentially speak to everyone.
There’s also room for any disposition. If you are mystic, perhaps tantra is your path. Prefer physical discipline? Hatha yoga might be the form that your practice takes. I’ve already touched on the philosophical realms. If you like order and ritual, there forms of Vedic orthodoxy that might suit you. There are other forms too. Even taking parts of each is acceptable.
I love Hinduism’s virtues – joy, tolerance, love, cleanliness, celebration, perseverance, ahimsa (non-violence), duty, discipline, moderation – to name just a handful!
I like Hinduism’s understanding of the cosmos. It helps put our short, human lives in perspective. It is less at odds with science than many other traditions: there are 8.4 billion human years in a single year of Brahman’s life! This can also be a problem. The lack of urgency can make us fatalistic and complacent. Mostly I see this vast perspective as humbling, and not a bad thing.
I think it’s pretty cool that there are about 5,000 years of tradition, debate, literature, and experience to from which to draw.
Hinduism is solitary AND communal. Ideally, we have our own personal practice, as only we are responsible to inching closer to our own liberation. But the individual isn’t as fetishised as it is in the West. While my liberation is my own, I exist in a community. I think the best of all religions recognize this.
Hinduism doesn’t proselytize. The only Hindu group I’ve heard of that does is the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, also known as the Hare Krishnas. And even then they’ve got more of a ‘spread the joy, feel the love’ vibe going for them, rather than a ‘you’re going to hell if you’re not like us’ rhetoric.
This my list so far. When I finish my time with Hinduism I’ll write a more personal companion post about what I’ve learned and gained.