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« Ozodi Osuji Weekly Series on Psychology 2006, #43 of 52: Morality Matters | Main | Ozodi Osuji Weekly Series on Psychology 2006, #45 of 52: The Semitic Religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) »

April 04, 2006

Ozodi Osuji Weekly Series on Psychology 2006, #44 of 52: The Indian Religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Zen)

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Ph.D. (Seatle, Washington) --- India has spawned many religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism and their Chinese and Japanese derivatives, Cheng and Zen. I will briefly review these religions.

Four thousand years or so ago, Aryans from what is now Iran crossed the river Cindy and settled in what is now Hindu-land (from Cindy River). These light skinned Aryans found dark skinned Dravidians already living in India.

The two groups mixed and produced today’s Indians. Their mixture produced the Indian religious orientation to life.

Some fellows, called Rishes, began to write poems on God. Their poetry is now referred to as the Veda, from which we obtain the Indian religion, Vedanta.

The Rishes also composed elaborate heroic poems on their God and his servants, which came to be known as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata (the most famous section of which is the Bagavad Gita).

In time, the more philosophical oriented Indians subjected what the Rishes wrote in poetic forms to more rational explanation. Their writings are in the nature of philosophical discourse and are today called the Upanishads.

Other thinkers added to this body of religious literature, including Patanjali (the Yogas) and Shankara and Ramanuja. Lately, Guru Nanak and Ramakrishna added to India’s impressive religious literature.

This body of literature, written in Sanskrit, constitutes the corpus of Hinduism. No one particular person founded Hinduism; it is religion that grew incrementally. Nevertheless, it has a core belief system running through it all.

According to the Indian story of creation (every human group has its own story of creation, a mythology of how they came into being); the world began when Brahman (God) decided that he needed company. Apparently, he divided himself into infinite parts. Each part is called Atman. The Brahman and the Atman are the same, since one God self became all the Atmans.

Brahman/Atman in their true state is spirit. At some point, Brahman/Atman decided to experience something that is not their spiritual nature. They cast Maya, magical spell on themselves and seem to go to sleep and in their sleep dream this world. This world is the dream of Brahman/Atman.

In the dream, Brahman/Atman forgot that they are one and the same person and now imagine that they are separated from each other. Each sees himself as totally different and not the other.

One self, Brahman is dreaming this world; all of us are that one self. In the world of dream, also called illusion, each person is called an ego, (Sanskrit Ahankara). The ego is a false, separated self. The real self is jivatman who is one with Brahman.

The world is the dance of one self, Brahman, who sees himself as infinite selves, us. It is an illusion, false and not real. In reality, all the people, animals and everything in this world is no other than God himself, albeit in different forms.

The purpose of the world is two fold: first, for Brahman to forget his true identity as one self and, second, to remember that the entire world is he.

To remember his one self, he undergoes elaborate dances. Since he seems different in different people, he remembers his true self through different dances in different persons.

Patanjali posits five paths to remembering our true self, the five Yogas (yoga, to yoke, to link back to God). These are Bhakti yoga, Jnana yoga, Karma yoga, Raja Yoga, Tantra yoga. These are religious paths to remembering the real self, which is Brahman. Each of these Yogas appeals to different human temperaments.

Some people like to worship God, so Bhakti yoga appeals to them. Some people are rational and intellectual, so Jnana yoga appeals to them. Some are action oriented, so Karma yoga appeals to them. Some people are experimental and Raja yoga appeals to them. Some persons are sensual by nature, so Tantra yoga appeals to them.

Each person must follow the path that suits his nature and cannot follow other paths, other religions (Christianity is a Bhakti religion). The Bhakti cannot be a Jnana, for the Bhakti wants to sings songs of praises to his god and worship his god as if he is a person craving his praises. The Jnana yogi wants to think about God and in time comes to the conclusion that all things are one (one self). The Raja yogi meditates and in his meditation transcends the ego separated self and goes through moksha and experiences our unified self, Brahman (in Samadhi). The karma yogi is active and wants power and wealth; if he goes out there and makes money and uses it to improve the welfare of mankind, he is serving God in his own way. The tantra yogi enjoys sensual pleasure, sex, if he sees his sexual partner as no other than God herself he is unifying with God.

According to Hinduism, there is only one self in the universe. That one self first created matter, called the Guna, and uses it to construct his many bodies. There are three gunas; everything in the world is said to be made of these gunas. Each of the three gunas has different characteristics and whichever one predominates in a person shapes his personality and fate.

The three gunas are: Sativa, Tamas and Rajas. Sativa is calm and if it predominates in one, one tends to be calm and priestly in nature. Raja tends to be active and if it predominates in one, one tends to be active. Tamas is slow and if it dominates in one, one tends to be lazy in nature.

Depending on the Guna that dominates in you, your temperament and even social class is fixed. Sattva predominates in the priestly class, the Brahmin; Rajas predominates in the administrative and ruling class, the Kastriyas. Tamas tends to predominate in the bodies of the lower classes the Sudras.

Hinduism believes in natural class system. It also believes in reincarnation and karma. As it sees it, people’s behaviors have effects and they tend to take the consequences of their behaviors in this life time and the next ones. If you are good in your behaviors, you may reincarnate be a Brahmin, and if you are evil you reincarnate to be a Sutra or worse, the untouchables.

(Bad behavior are said to accumulate debt, sansara that must be paid off before one moves on to higher forms of living.)

It so happens that Brahmins tend to be light in complexion whereas Sudras tend to be dark in color, so it is not particularly difficult to figure out that this karma business is nothing but political ideology hatched by the Aryans to oppress the Dravidians.

Hinduism believes that there are cycles to this world, and that each world lasts so many thousands of years, Yuga, and then ends and a new one begins. Hinduism has names for these cycles, including the present one cycle.

The goal of Hinduism is for folks to realize that they’re sleeping and dreaming that they are who they are not. In truth, they are Brahman/Atman. The idea is to awaken to the truth of who they are. Any of the Yogas can help folks to remember their real self.

India has elaborate religious practices and thousands of gods. Some of them are Shiva, Kali etc.

Indians worship their gods with foods etc. Watching a puja, where Indians worship their gods may make you feel that you are among the most primitive folks on earth. Then you read the Upanishads and you raise your hat for the Indian philosophers who reasoned that God is everything in this world.

Let us then say that Hinduism is a potpourri of religions under one religious umbrella. You will find the type of religion that appeals to you if you want to approach your god through Hinduism.

I found Jnana yoga amenable to my philosophical nature. However, I also practiced the royal yoga, raja yoga, meditation.


As already noted, if you saw aspects of Hindu religious practices you may be revolted by it. Who could behold the class system, the belief in karma, the encouragement of widows to throw themselves into their dead husband’s funeral pyres and the primitive perception of God as a deity to be worshipped with food etc and not feel offended at such superstitions?

Gautama Sakayamuni was an Indian who did not particularly like aspects of his inherited Hinduism and sought changes to it.

Gautama meditated and in his meditation experienced oneness with all life (what Hinduism would call Brahman). He entered Samadhi and broke through the veil of separation and recognized that all life is one. He called what he experienced Nirvana.

You probably have heard all the mythologies surrounding Buddha, that he was a prince who did not know suffering or see the old and dying until age 28 (that is impossible); that at 28 he finally stepped out of his father’s palace and saw suffering and death for the first time, that this discovery of pain and suffering unsettled him so much that he left his luxurious palace to go seek for the reasons why human beings suffer. That he tried many of the Hindu religious paths, the path of austerity, the path of tantra and sensual pleasure and finally settled on raja yoga.

All these are quaint stories and need not detain us.

What is likely the case is that a young Indian man of religious sensibilities tried the various paths to God and studied under many Hindu Holy men, Sadhus, and finally tried meditation and sat under a tree (Bo tree) for as long as it took him to discipline his mind to stop thinking, chattering.

When the mind stops thinking in ego terms, stops all conceptual thinking, it tends to escape from this world to a peaceful world. In the meantime, the mind does not like to stop thinking in ego categories, for to do so amounts to dying to this world.

The individual’s mind does not want to die to this world, so it would provide one with reasons why one should live in this world; think about all the nubile young things that one could have sex with, the wealth; the power…Hindus call this the temptations of Mara, the evil one. All these were the temptations of Buddha but he said no dice to them. He refused to go along and meditated and eventually escaped from his ego and its world of separation and experienced oneness, which he called Nirvana.

After his illumination to our essential oneness, he felt enlightened to the nature of truth, human oneness, and he got up from his meditative state and taught his followers that to live on earth; in ego separated state, is to suffer. We suffer because we desire to live as separated selves. To overcome suffering, we must relinquish our desire to live as separated egos.

But we do not want to relinquish our desire to be separated selves. Okay, Buddha said that we could desire the things of this world with detachment realizing that they are transitory and ephemeral, that they come and go and do not last.

If we are detached we do not feel disappointed if what we desire is not received; if we are attached to the things of this world, we suffer their loss.

If you are detached and your child dies you shrug it off, for you know that whoever is born in flesh must die. Why fret the inevitable, death?

Buddha taught people to have compassion for all their fellow suffering human beings, to live moral lives, to not steal, to help other people, to not backbite, to speak the truth at all times etc.

His teachings are called the four noble truths and the eight paths to enlightenment.

Buddha built monasteries and lived with his followers, those who renounced the world and lived simple lives, monks. They begged for their food…begging for food is one way to overcome pride, to humiliate the ego and its false pride; and when we overcome pride, ego, we are ready to reach oneness, God.

Buddha died and his followers carried his religion from India to all over Asia. The religion eventually split into two main branches: Theravada and Mahayana.

The Mahayana branch got to China and became Chiang and Chiang got to Japan and became Zen.

Zen is Japanese coloration of Indian Buddhism. It gave Japanese names to Indian names. Nirvana became Satori; swami became Roshi (priest).

Zen is a very disciplined method of meditation, not necessarily to escape from this world, as Indians do, but to control the mind and concentrate it for action.

Japanese Samurais (soldiers) would discipline their minds not to feel angry when insulted but to only fight when they are calm and collected; they were the world’s most efficient killing machines.

They disciplined their minds not to give in to fear and fly planes into American war ship, as kamikaze pilots. The Japanese transformed Buddhism to serve their militaristic ends. Of course it also served some religious purposes.

Buddhism spread to all over Asia and wherever it went the local religious practices infused it. In Tibet it became very magical.

For our present purposes, Buddhism is Hindu raja yoga and helps people meditate and overcome their ego minds and attain inner peace.

Buddhists want to reach what they call no self, giving up the ego self and its thinking, to make their minds a void, an open spot where their real self then reveals itself.

Indian religions are interesting and should be explored by Africans. However, I have a feeling that theses religions appeal to the oriental temperament, to persons who are world weary and want to negate this world and escape from it to what they believe is a better world. (Hindus wants to return to the abode of God, brahmaloca).

Those persons, who want to live in the here and now world and explore it scientifically, probably would not find Indian religions any thing but a passing fancy.

Posted by Administrator at April 4, 2006 01:42 AM


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