[GHHF] Christian Students attend Lecture on Hinduism – discuss and dialogue about Image Worship, Reincarnation and Conversion Part-1
On January 20th 2012, Mr. Mark Blum, Team Pastor from Elevate Life (Church) came to Karya Siddhi Hanuman Temple In Frisco Texas and informed that he is visiting different faith organizations to know more about their respective religions. He said he already visited Jewish Synagogue, Baha’i Temple and Islamic Mosque and heard them speak about their religion. He wanted to bring about 22 missionary students to hear about Hinduism from one of the Hindu Temples. One of his Indian friends told him to contact Hanuman Temple. He said that all the representatives of their religions talked about “how peaceful their religions are?” I asked him if all these religions are so peaceful, “Why do we hear and read about violence, terror, bomb blast, desecration of holy places, destruction of property and mass killings? Do you know how many thousands of people are being killed in the name of religion?” Mr. Blum smiled and said softly that he wanted to be polite and civil, and did not want to ask questions that may rake up bad feelings. I told him when he brings his students to Hanuman Temple he can ask any and every question about Hinduism and he should not be polite and civil. I suggested that he should inform all his students to read about Hinduism and prepare as many questions as they can. That is the only way they would know the true picture of any religion.
On January 26, Mr. Blum and 24 students came to Hanuman Temple. We greeted them at the entrance and briefed them about our Temple. Then we all assembled in front of Lord Hanuman and explained about different manifestations of God, and names of some of the Deities and their characteristics. Then we proceeded to one of the classrooms for the Power Point Presentation on Hinduism.
The lecture started with quotations from Anne Besant, Max Mueller and Abdul Kalam. Anne Besant observed that “After a study of some forty years and more of the great religions of the world, I find none so perfect, none so scientific, none so philosophical and none so spiritual that the great religion known by the name of Hinduism.”
Max Mueller who translated the Vedas to discredit them said “if I were asked under what sky the human mind . . . has most deeply pondered over the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions to some of them … I should point to India. And if I were to ask myself from what literature … made our inner life more perfect, more comprehensive, more universal, in fact more truly human a life . . . again I would point to India.”
Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam, former President of India “ In 3000 years of our history people from all over the world have come and invaded us, captured our lands, conquered our minds. From Alexander onwards, the Greeks, the Turks, the Moguls, the Portuguese, the British, the French, the Dutch, all of them came and looted us, took over what was ours. Yet we have not done this to any other nation. We have not conquered anyone. We have not grabbed their lands, their culture, their history and tried to enforce our way of life on them. Why? Because we respect the freedom of others.”
This is what India, rather Hinduism, is all about? Hinduism emphasizes meaningful living, peaceful living, and respect for freedom for every individual. Then I presented 24 slides dealing with the origins of Sanatana dharma, the concept Hinduism, sources of literature (Vedas, Upanishad, Puranas, Itihasasa, Tantras) Purushardhas, Temple worship, Image worship, Guru concept, Karma philosophy, reincarnation, Yoga and meditation, stages of life, ahimsa, conversion, and other topics.
Following about 40 minute presentation, the Christian students would have 20 minutes to ask any questions they may have. But they stayed for more than 45 minutes. Most of their questions centered on Idol (Image) worship, multiplicity of Gods, conversion, and reincarnation.
Image (Idol) Worship
Why so many Gods? Why worship idols? Why do the Gods have different shapes and features?
Hindus believe in one Supreme Power (Brahman) and also believe in the manifestation of multiplicity of gods and goddesses. According to our scriptures the number would run into 330 million gods and goddesses. In fact these manifestations can be infinite. The proper analogy is Sun and the infinite number of rays. It is difficult to experience the sun and also difficult to look at the sun directly. But we can experience its rays. For all these infinite rays there is only one source that is sun. Similarly all these multiplicity of the Gods and Goddesses of Hinduism are merely representing the many aspects of Brahman. Also we need to keep in that although we cannot see the Sun directly with our eyes, we know that it exists. But we can see the Sun by holding a mirror and see the image of the Sun in a mirror. What we see in the mirror is only an image of Sun, not Sun itself. Similarly, thousands of gods and goddesses we worship in the Temples and at homes are the images of that ONE Supreme power.
Another way to explain the infinite manifestations of Supreme Power is by remembering the very nature and qualities of God. All religions including Christianity and Islam believe that God is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient. That means God is all pervading, he is all-powerful, and he is all knowing. If that is the case, God can take any shape He wants to take, He can appear in any number of places he wishes to do so, and he can be present in any number of images or any objects if he chooses to be. If we think otherwise, we humans with limited knowledge and little brains, are limiting the Supreme Power of the Almighty. God cannot be limited, he cannot be restricted, he cannot be boxed in and he cannot be confined. Hence we Hindus believe in the supreme power of God; and see every-where and in every thing.
Only Hindus are Idol worshippers? All religions practice image worship. They are all idol worshippers. Hindus accept it with pride and developed lengthy procedures to conduct worship services (pujas). Since Hindus believe in multitude of Gods and Goddesses, they developed wide variety of pujas to suit the image of worship. But unfortunately, there is a tendency on the part of Christians, Muslims, atheists, secularist, and communists to discredit the image worship knowing fully well they hold certain items or images as sacred and hold them dearly.
Let us remember one thing at this point. The whole world is made up of images, signs and symbols. Without them, the whole human race cannot communicate, cannot speak, cannot imagine, cannot accumulate, cannot travel, cannot identify, and cannot remember. When we think of a mother, we know exactly how she looks and remember her smile, words and compassion instantly. Similarly, when we think of a house, children, God – whether he be Hanuman, Allah, or Jesus - Bible, Quran, Bhagavad Gita, Vatican, Mecca, national flag, etc., we immediately remember and identify with it. When some body sits in a Church and hears the sermon by a Priest or Pastor, would not that faithful remember the images of Jesus and the Bible? Can we image somebody going to Hindu Temple and not imagining and identifying with an image? We all know that all religious followers respect their scriptures, and respect their services as sacred. Hindus accept it, remember them, and do pujas, while Christians and Muslims may accept them as sacred but refuse to do worship services similar to Hindus.
Also it is very difficult for the mind to control and keep it blank. Mind cannot be kept quiet. It always imagines, perceives, wanders, roams around, and keeps moving. It arouses thinking, opinions, philosophy, emotions, feelings, memories, dreams about material as well as non-material objects. It can travel with a speed of light any where irrespective of the distance. Mind has the ability to form a mental image of something that may or may not even exist. That kind of imagination is the root of many inventions and discoveries. It is the mind that creates or builds mental images, pictures, objects or events. Hindus believe that the mind creates the images depending on what you want to imagine. A Hindu can sit in a Worship room in the house or in the Temples and visualize images with different attributes, characteristics, costumes, weapons, features, ornaments, and the mystery. When Hindus think of different images of Gods and Goddesses, they evoke memories of the connection between the image and the beyond. Hence he can imagine the kind of image he wants such as Lord Rama, Krishna, Hanuman, Lakshmi and so on. Similarly, if a Christian sits in the Church listening to the Pastor, it is reasonable, rational and natural for the mind to imagine either Jesus, Mary, Bible, Cross, Paul or Timothy. Unfortunately they do not want accept it for the fear that they may be called idol worshippers. Likewise, when Muslims go to Mosque to listen to Imam, do Namaz five times a day, kneel on the floor in the direction of Mecca, mentally thinking of being in front of Allah, and making a Hajj to Mecca to touch or kiss Kaaba, It is difficult to believe that they do not imagine none these. All religious followers are image / idol worshippers. Hindus accept with pride and others don’t.
Swamy Vivekananda and King of Alwar
Then I gave an example of Swami Vivekananda meeting King of Alwar who thought image or vigraha worship was a superstition. (I have summarized the following incident to the students.)
Once Vivekananda arrived at the palace of King of Alwar who was an ardent follower of English culture. The King said to him, " I think Hinduism's so called "Vigraha-aradhana" is a baseless superstition. Making an idol from wood or stone, and then kneeling in front of it and praying! I can't agree with this nonsense. "
There was a picture of King, hanging on the wall. As requested by Swamiji, the King's minister fetched that picture.
Swamiji asked the Minister, " Whose Picture is this? " "This is our Maharaja's picture", replied the Minister. "If so, I ask you to spit on it".
The Minister and others near him were astonished to hear this audacious demand from Swamy Vivekananda to spit on Maharaja's picture ; and that too right in front of the King !!! .
Vivekananda ordered again to the Minister, "Do as you were told. Anyone can spit on this Picture ".
The Minister and other citizens stood there, trembling with fear. Finally, somehow the minister gathered a little courage and said, " This is our beloved Maharaja's Picture. I will not spit on it. Not only that, even asking me to spit, is a punishable offence".
Swamiji answered with a smile, " This Picture is nothing but a mere piece of paper. It has nothing to do with the King who is standing right here in front of you. This Picture does not move or speak like him. Still, you think that spitting on this Picture is insulting the King! "
Turning towards the King, Swamy Vivekananda spoke:
" In one level, this Picture is not you. But in another level, it reminds about you. It helps to invoke your memory in the viewer's mind. So, the same respect they have for you, is given to this Picture as well. This is the reason preventing them from spitting on it. This is also the logic behind * Vigraha-Aradhana*.
None has ever heard about any single Hindu standing in front of the Vigraha and say, " Oh Stone/Wood! I worship you". Every Hindu is worshipping the same God. It is not possible to limit the *Parabrahman* within the individual mind to worship. Even to think about any particular idea, we need to have a specific means such as it's name or shape. Only with that, we could think about the idea.
Hinduism promotes freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom to think. Tolerance of other ways of worship and other images is the epitome of Hinduism. Even in a single family, one member may worship one image (Hanuman), second member Shiva, third member Devi, fourth member Rama, and the fifth may be an atheist. Hence respect for the freedom of expression and worship are embedded in Hinduism. No member will criticize the other for his choice of worship. No member will condemn the other to hell for not believing his manifestation of God. Thus Hindus from their childhood learn to respect other ways of worship and believe in freedom of worship as long as others would not interfere with their ways. Can the Christians and Muslims allow other religions to practice their way of worship?
Part 2 will discuss about Reincarnation and Religious conversion.
V. V. Prakasa Rao
GHHF Team: V. V. PrakasaRao, PhD, (601-918-7111 cell), (601-856-4783 home); Prasad Yalamanchi (630-832-2665; 630-359-5041), D. Satya (732-939-2060); Dr. K. R. Venkatramaiah (Canada) (416-925-8167); Satya Nemana (732-762-7104); Sekhar Reddy (954-895-1947); Tulasichand Tummala (408-786-8357); Raju Polavaram, MD (919-959-6141); Rama Kasibhatla (678-570-1151); Srinivas Murthy (212-538-8716); Rajesh Veerapaneni (773-704-0405); Sunil T Patel (214-293-4740); Raghavendra Prasad; MD (214-325-1969); Gopal Ponangi (214-868-7538); Ram Yalamanchili (214-663-6363); Ravi Pattisam (617-304-3577); Krishna Athota (214-912-3724); Rajendra Narayanadas (214-901-3399); Sesharao Boddu (972-489-6949); Jayesh Thakker (214-718-7481); P. Srinivas (832-444-6460); P. Viswanadham (972-355-7107); I V Rao (214-284-6227); Sridhar Kodela (214-907-8552); Vijay Kollapaneni (818-325-9576); Ghanashyam Kakadia (469-583-1682); Sridhar Polavaram (248-497-1029)