Issues in Hinduism: Diversity

There are a lot of things people could criticize any religion for. They range from silly to quite serious. One thing I can't understand as a criticism of Hinduism: that it encompasses a variety of practices.Too much diversity? How is this a problem?Diversity is usually a sign of health. Diverse genes are healthier than inbreeding (look at the health issues purebred dogs develop, for example). Three sisters planting nurtures the soil, while mono-cropping strips it. Eating a variety of … [Read more...]

Puja in Plain English

I had a roommate in college who approached prayer like it was a business meeting. Each morning, she'd show up with her coffee and her planner. She'd sit down with God and lay out what she needed Him to do that day.This is not the Hindu way of prayer.Hindu prayer, called puja, is more like what I do when my mom and dad are coming over: clean up the house, make sure there's a place for them to freshen up since they've been traveling, set out snacks, make sure I have their favorite … [Read more...]

Issues in Hinduism: Murtis

Some religions use symbols to represent the Divine. Other religions forbid such symbolism. Hinduism allows imagery; the images are called murti and they are a focal point during puja.Even religions that forbid images need a focal point of some sort. That's why Muslims face Mecca when they pray. Some Christians use icons or statues, but the ones who strictly forbid it will often hang a cross. Even with no iconography at all, Christians tend to look like they're praying to their bed, or to a … [Read more...]

Will the real Divine Mother please stand up?

There is an old joke about two patients in a mental hospital who keep arguing day after day because each thinks he is the Messiah. In Abrahamic monotheism, of course, there is a God and you are not He. In Christianity, He has one human incarnation. If one person is the Messiah, no one else can also be the Messiah. Islam misunderstands incarnation altogether, asking how God can simultaneously be in heaven as well as in a person on earth (which always struck me as an odd question, along the lines … [Read more...]

Issues in Hinduism: Caste

Sometimes it seems like world leaders can't manage to get anything done. This is because, unless they're dictators, they have to work with other leaders. But to the extent that, say, the President, is able to get things done, it's due to a whole bunch of people doing things so that he doesn't have to. The President may have an organic garden, but he doesn't have to grow his own food. He also doesn't have to wash his car, do his laundry, cook his meals, paint his living room, or go to the grocery … [Read more...]

Is any diet truly sattvic?

No matter how you go about it, eating is never a harmless act. Something has to die in order for you to live. Life can be sustained only by feeding on life. As long as we have bodies, this will be our reality.Despite this, many of us strive to do less harm. Occasionally you'll meet someone who doesn't care what harm they do. Their rationale is spoken in cliches of willful ignorance (like the people who joke that they eat meat because they love plants too much to kill them -- despite the far … [Read more...]

Why prohibit onions and garlic?

Devotees of Vishnu don't eat onions and garlic. Food they are allowed to eat is often called "vaishnav" food. Since they're also not allowed to eat meat, a lot of people use "vaishnav" to mean "vegetarian."  This can lead to confusion. If a Hindu says they abstain from onions and garlic because they're vegetarian, people will start arguing with them that those are plants and therefore totally vegetarian. This concept, vaishnav food, is more similar to kosher or halal. It means the food rules for … [Read more...]

The tyranny of unread books

When my husband first met me, he asked what I like to do."I like to read."Since he was asking for ideas of things we could do together, he asked, "What else do you like to do?""I like to go to bookstores and look for more things to read."This was the 1990's, when paperbacks were $5.99 and ebooks were not a thing. In the years since, we have spent thousands of weekends in bookstores. My older son's first outing was to a Borders in Columbus; my younger son's first outing was to a … [Read more...]

What’s the opposite of a white man?

A lot of Americans apparently think of God as a white man. This was something I didn't know growing up. I thought that the one thing uniting Abrahamic religions was their insistence on God's formlessness.In my early 20's I learned that a surprising number of Americans have co-opted a Michelangelo depiction as the official portrait of the Judeo-Christian God. I'm not entirely sure how or why this came about, and I don't know if Christians in other countries share this concept. But somehow, … [Read more...]

Is there magic in tidying?

Is one of your New Year's resolutions to finally get on top of your clutter once and for all? Chances are, if you're a woman, it might be. Studies have found that clutter in the home causes a spike in women's cortisol levels (but not men's). To men, it just looks like stuff. To women, it looks like a never-ending to-do list of things that will never be done.I've been reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Japanese sensation Marie Kondo. Her fame in her homeland is spreading and her … [Read more...]