The Bhakti Movement (Part 2)
Course: Introduction to Hinduism
Lecture: The Bhakti Movement (Part 2)
We've already talked about the etymology and meaning of the Bhakti movement. We've already talked about defined Bhakti marga. And this is actually finally tying us in to that third part of the chart. You remember the chart where we looked at the three major margas of Hinduism. Right now we're still looking at it as essentially as three separate paths – the jnana marga, karma marga, bhakti marga. What we will eventually see, as we finally do the last cycle in the course, is that the Brahminical movement basically finds ways to dominate all the margas as you might imagine. And so there's a lot of interplay between the three in the popular level today, as well as in the philosophical level. With Ramanaja, we'll have to come back to that later. But we're still in this section where we're trying to develop popular Hinduism on the street in the villages.
You've been exposed to the major icons. You now can identify the major gods and goddesses that you find in temples all over India. And we're going to look at just some of the ways that people interact with these icons or idols. So we're going to look at some themes in the Bhakti movement and then we're going to look particularly at the practice of puja, which is the worship of these gods and goddesses. And I have on the overhead to show, when we get to that point, a few pictures I've taken of actual puja going on and you can see what it would look like if you were in a Hindu temple.
Let's begin with four basic themes in the Bhakti movement. The first is this personal/popular over ontological/impersonal. One of the things that you have to notice right off the bat is that the Bhakti movement is a major swing away from this whole emphasis on ontology. And it is very important to remember that that after all is what Sankara is interested in talking about is ontology. He is trying to understand the ontology of the universe. The Bhakti movement is not as concerned with that as they are one's personal interaction with god. So this is why, whenever you make a statement about Hinduism, anything you say about Hinduism is probably true and false somewhere in India because it's a very eclectic thing and so you have this massive shift away. And one of the things they do is to re-read the Upanishads through the lenses of Bhaktism.
So, for example, as we saw in the early Upanishads the emphasis on god or the absolute as impersonal and as nirguna – Brahman without qualities – suddenly this is replaced by the gods of the puranic myths. The puranas represent this whole smrti literature that reflects popular religious devotionalsim – the wars, the battles, the famous exploits and epics of various gods and goddesses. We'll look particularly in this class in more detail at the Ramayana and the Bhagavad Gita. Those are two little snapshots of a much larger body of material.
But these are not gods that are nirguna, where there's no contact. This is gods with characteristics and attributes. The devotion is now expressed very concretely with a temple and with an image of the deity that can be seen, that has definite attributes and characteristics. The images can be cleaned. They can be gazed upon. They can be worshipped. They can be anointed. Whatever. So, this whole emphasis on god is personal and distinct is very, very important in the Bhakti movement.
Also the emphasis on the immanence of god as opposed to the transcendence – because Bhakti theology toys a lot with this idea of – in what way is god transcendent? In what way is god immanent and close to us? In many ways they play with the idea that he's always slightly eluding us.
I use the example in India with arranged marriages. Especially in the ancient Indian times it was not unusual for someone to have a wedding arranged while they were still a child. So a young girl, who would be only 7 or 8 years old, would already be arranged to marry a certain fellow. So, she couldn't have union with him yet until the proper time. And so this there's this longing of: I'm married, but I can't be with my beloved. And so he's always slightly eluding me. I mean, this is like the best spin on the whole thing, but certainly it's part of their literature. So they play with that.
Or picture of a woman who longs for a husband who is gone because of war or a battle, whatever. She longs forward to be reunited with her husband. He's off working or whatever. And because of that you have this sense of the god always slightly eludes us. A lot of the literature is about a longing after god and yet we can't grasp him. This is particularly true with the literature around Krishna and Radha. We saw the pictures of Krishna and Radha. This is very much a part of that literature. In fact, if you were to go into ... and show this to anybody in India, they would immediately recognise this as Krishna and Radha. We've seen these icons before – pictures of Krishna and Radha – and, O, the stories that have emerged from the Bhakti literature about Radha when she's separated from Krishna. She's always longing, pining away. When will I be reunited with Krishna?
And the whole theme of the whole thing is how in the way that Radha longs for Krishna, so the devotee longs for union with god. So you still have the theme of union with god – even tat twam asi maybe could be talked about by a Bhakti – but it would be totally reinterpreted. Rather than we are brought together ontologically in this union with god, this is a much more of experiential type thing. This is an ecstatic experience where through mantras, through various experiences, through puja, through the worship, you enter into an ecstatic union with god. And so the whole Krishna/Radha thing is brought into that.
Thirdly, there's no question that the Bhakti movement is an anti-Brahminical dissent. The Brahmins will always have the last word on this. They have their own reply to this in due course, as we'll see, but there's no question that much of the Bhakti literature talks about how the longing after god finds its reward in the one who is truly devoted – that the devoted one gets union with god, not the one with knowledge. In fact, what you'll find in all this literature, just to give you a little kind of paradigm for how these margas work in practice in the literature, you'll find a constant toying with three principles: the role of knowledge, the role of works and the role of devotion.
The way I drew this paradigm, this is the classic Brahminical paradigm – that you have three margas: you have the karma marga, you have the bhakti marga and you have the jnana marga and they are going to eventually show that – this is the Brahminical – that the works and devotion are valuable if they ultimately lead to true knowledge. So knowledge is the key to the whole thing. OK, that's the Upanishadic vision – having the knowledge of tat twam asi, the one is the universe, and all of that. Whereas in the Bhakti movement they still are toying with the same three margas, but they reconfigure the whole thing. And they say that actually knowledge and works should ultimately lead to devotion.
Actually understanding how significant this little – I mean, it's a simple little paradigm, but – understanding how significant this is is crucial because in fact it is the way these three are configured more than a debate about the paths which occurs in Hinduism. Because most Westerners typically look at this chart – that's why I'm always hesitant about this chart, because the chart is very helpful, but it can also be very misleading. If you view it as ultimately a competition between paths in the way that are we going to follow the way of works or the way of knowledge or the way of devotion – if you view it that way, you will be led astray. It's actually more of a both/and thing. We're going to acknowledge the valuable role of all of these. I mentioned already with the shamrock in the middle how the way it works is kind of the starting point. But you're never really going to leave that path. It's just in what way do you incorporate the other two paths into the way of works. So the way of works is in both paradigms at the foundation. The question is whether this ultimately leading to some higher knowledge which transcends devotion mainly through Brahminical male kind of paradigms or whether this is something that which is anti-Brahminical dissent which transcends them and even the Brahmins have to ultimately understand the role of devotion. That really is the key. It's not so much competing either/or but how do these relate to each other is a much better way to picture this in your mind.
Well, actually that's the fourth point there – the priority/superiority of Bhakti over jnana marga, karma marga. This is going to be one of the debates within the Bhakti movement – trying to say that the devotional, the Bhakti marga path, has a ... is a final reference point and not is just a stepping point, whereas the Brahmins will argue that devotion is only helpful insomuch as it leads you to a better rebirth as a Brahmin with proper knowledge.
The last thing in terms of the re-reading of the Upanishads is this concept of antaryamin. You may recall, this has been some time ago, that when we passed out and looked at the Mahavakyas of the Upanishads – you recall we had the major passages from the Upanishads, one of which was this antaryamin. And I told you at that point that we would revisit this. Well, we're now revisiting this. The antaryamin was the idea of the one who controls from within. Now, that has become a huge stepping-stone for both Shaivites and Vishnaivites to argue that the Upanishads are really extolling the role of the deity who dwells within the devotee. And that deity serves as the antaryamin – the one who controls you from within, the one who guides you, directs you. It's a personal thing as opposed to kind of the idea of that being the atman within and this has become an ontological axis. This is recreated in more of a popular version and so this suddenly gets launched out into the literature based on the Upanishads.
So, at level one, you have a re-reading of the Upanishads themselves – essentially reinterpreting them in new ways. In fact, one of our students is doing his ThM thesis on a well-known liberal theologian in India named Stanley Samartha. And one of the things that I've asked him to develop – he hasn't completely worked it out yet – but one of ... I've asked him to develop is how fair is it in the way he treats tat twam asi. Because this is a modern Hindu writer who argues that tat twam asi is the paradigm for any religious dialogue. And that just as the Upanishads taught that everything is one, so all religions should be one. So essentially he's taking an ontological paradigm and he's trying to recast it as a sociological thing. It's typical of what you find with all of modern Hinduism is a revisiting of kind of old, standard, Brahminical Upanishadic paradigms and trying to recast them.
Even Ghandi does this. In the whole ramp up to the independence, Ghandi tries to talk about what he calls satyagraha – soul force – and the idea of reinventing Hinduism as a social action force. It was really not part of any of the three margas, but they go back and they reinterpret it. And so he found this from the Gita. So this is the kind of process that happens in the Hindu world.
The second major development – not only is there a re-reading of the Upanishads, but the production of their own literature which we call the Puranas. The Puranas are quite a remarkable bit of literature. I wanted to bring in for you a copy of some of this that a Christian has put out, named Ajay Apasami, but I have loaned it out to somebody. I couldn't bring it into you. But it's called Temple Bells. And this is a Christian from south India who lived late ninetennth century till 1970s. And he wrote a lot about the incredible possibilities of the Puranic literature. And he believed that Christians should appreciate the Puranic literature because a lot of it is not about, you know, Krishna and Radha's love exploits. But a lot of it is very sincere longing after god, prayers of repentance, that Christians could equally pray. And there are prayers that wouldn't be offensive to Christians just in terms of their wording of it. And I think there's some truth to that in the sense that you find genuine expression of sorrow over sin. You find very powerful prayers where people ask for ... they want to surrender themselves to god or desire to be in union with god or asking god to bestow grace on them. So there's some of that that operates at that level.
Now again, as a Christian, we don't accept this literature obviously as in any way inspired or whatever, but what we do ... what we can say is that it shows that certain paradigms are present in there in the Bhakti mind. The idea of the longing for god's grace, the recognition of sin – these are things that you would not necessarily find in many parts of Hinduism that Bhaktism has brought into it. So it's actually a positive thing.
Actually you find this back in the early Vedic material, with the Rig Veda, but it's now been re-emerging in the popular literature. The Bhakti movement develops a lot of variety and, as I mentioned before, the role of devotion is a second major area where they try to emphasise the power of devotion over ritual or caste. And what you essentially see developed in this Puranic literature as well as the smrti literature in general is a number of deities that are raised and lifted up and worshipped in that popular sense. You have been exposed to much of this literature or much of the gods and goddesses, the majority ones, in the slide presentations.
A lot of the literature does focus on Krishna and so I thought I would emphasise a little of that here. Krishna devotion is one example of this. We could spend the whole class developing strands of this and I originally planned on doing a lot more with some of the Tamil movements. So maybe we'll have time to do that. But just looking at time, I think we should at least focus on some of this development.
So you have the Bhagavad Gita which is part of the Mahabharata, part of that larger epic, and the Gita, which we will take some time in a bit to expound on more carefully. But this is a very powerful devotional book – poem. And it is used for many purposes.
One of the advantages of the Gita is that it isn't really at the Puranic level. And therefore it is not as alien to the philosophical concerns that you find in later devotional material. So that's why the Gita's often viewed as the place where philosophical and popular Hinduism meet. The Gita represents a tremendous reflection on many of the philosophical themes and it does it in a popular fashion. For example, everyone that knows that in the Upanishads we witnessed the strong emphasis on the atman and the indestructibility of the atman and the whole tat twam asi paradigm. Well, that gets revisited in the Gita because when Krishna comes down, he is counselling Arjuna. Yeah, here we go. All these ones we saw earlier, this is an example of it right here. In these icons you have – and this is everyone would immediately recognise this as a Krishna/Arjuna paradigm because ... Krishna comes down. This is a well-known mudra of Krishna – that's a hand signal. We haven't really discussed those yet. He comes down. He's giving advice to Arjuna. This is the basic format of the Bhagavad Gita. You have another couple of other slides. This is actually the point I want to look at. Here you have a very visual image. Millions, millions of Hindus if they saw this, they would know immediately this was Krishna talking to Arjuna and that this is the point where Arjuna is expressing his sorrow and grief over the prospect of killing his own relatives. That's right at the Puranic level. We're talking about a big battle. And the Puranas are largely battles and fights and wars and all this. A lot of the material's that way. So, in that sense it's very popular. Every child knows this.
And yet, Krishna's advice to Arjuna is largely based on philosophical concerns. And Krishna explains to him, because the atman's indestructible, therefore you don't need to worry about slaying the body. One of the lines in the Gita – I'll just quote it for you here. This is in chapter 2, verse 19. This is Krishna talking. He who regarded this as a slayer and he who thinketh he is slain, both of them are ignorant. He slayeth not, nor is he slain. So, he's saying to Arjuna: You think you are an actor who acts and those who suffer receive the action. But there is neither act nor action. This is ... the real reality is the undivided atman. ??? is Buddhist, but actually this is still Hinduism. But this kind of thing, the Gita very powerfully begins to draw together strands from the way of knowledge as well as the way of devotion. We'll come back to the Bhagavad Gita and say more about that later on.
Another very famous book is the Harivamsa. This is a supplement to the Mahabharata. Hari is the word for lord, in this case, it means Vishnu. OK, so you've heard of Hari Krishna, lord Krishna. Hari is the word for lord. Haridwar that you went to, you know, Haridwar – the doorway or the mouth of god – famous place in India. You've lived in it – Haridwar? So you know Haridwar very well.
Famous pilgrimage spot – site in India. So the word hari is a very famous prefix. This vamsa is essentially the living history or the epic history of hari, the lord, of Vishnu. So, in the course of that, it exploits a number of things in the life of Krishna, including the one that I showed you earlier – perhaps I can find it here. I didn't know ??? how helpful this would be to have this one. So I'm glad that we had it. The famous butter thief. This is where all the butter thief stuff comes in. And he says: I'd rather be known as the butter thief than as Brahman. This is really powerful stuff because it shows the anti-Brahminical critique that's inherent in the ??? and yet, they're dealing with it. They're talking about it. They're engaged with it. This is not two separate movements that don't speak to each other. There's a constant awareness of the Brahminical power in the Indian context. And so Krishna is the butter thief is brought out and it's often ...
One of the things you'll notice in general. We don't have time to lay out the proof of this, but there's always an attempt ... everything is trying to be sruti – obviously, right? So you have an attempt by every literature level to push itself to a higher level. So that's why you have the Rig Veda and the Aranyakas, the Brahmanas and the Upanishads attached to the Veda. Everyone's trying to, you know, put their caboose on the train and take themselves with other literature. So it's not unusual for something to be published and they'll say: O yeah, this is part of the Mahabharata. So all of this literature, the Harivamsa material, is often said to be a supplement to the Mahabharata. It's part of the whole process of creating appendices. It's really not part of the Mahabharata actually, but it's something that you'll find stated in that way. And certainly the devotees believe it to be part of the Mahabharata.
So you have the childhood of Krishna is brought out there – the boyish pranks as a young cow herder, gopila on the banks of the Yemena River. The brothers fall into all kinds of battles with demons and they dance with young girls in the town. I think we had that ... didn't we have that picture as well? O no, here it is. ??? Krishna and the gopis. This is a scene from that epic account – Krishna dancing with the gopis. All of these exploits are found in this literature.
However, in this particular strand, the Harivamsa literature, there's no particular emphasis on any one of the gopis. It's simply his dalliances with the gopis. For example, Krishna has intercourse with over 18,000 women. This is like pretty remarkable. 18,000 women he has intercourse ... and has children by, in the epics, in this material. So what happens is eventually the world is so overburdened by Krishna's children – because he has so many wives and they all have so many children – that he eventually destroys his whole family – kills them all –so that the world is not as burdened by the weight of all these children. This is the kind of way this material can develop.
In fact, I raised this point in a ... this thing I'm writing right now ??? this week I'm working on a ... finishing a little booklet that we're using with our Hindu questioners. But one of the things ... one of the questions that Hindus ask that you would not study at seminary is: Why was Jesus not married? Because all the Hindu gods are married. Why wasn't Jesus married and does this show that He doesn't care about family life? One of my replies is to bring out this about Krishna. OK, Krishna they think is a great symbol of family life. They have these symbols of him with Radha and all that in their minds and say: Well, Jesus doesn't have anybody similar to that. Jesus doesn't care about family life. So I try to explain in the thing ??? and, of course, I'm talking to people who don't have any background of the Bible, but trying to explain how Krishna material is not conducive to family life. Killing your children? They go, O there's too many of them. We can just kill them all. Or this idea of hiding the clothes of these women. This would not promote family life anywhere in the world. This is important material actually because, on the popular level, these are the stories that people know, as opposed to perhaps something from the Upanishads.
The other text I want you to be aware of is the Gitagovinda – and I have on the bottom, you can see, terms to know from this lecture. There are some of these terms you should know. The Gitagovinda is extremely important because, even though it didn't appear till the 12th century, it is a famous Sanskrit poem. And in this poem, it's by a guy named Jayadeva – I don't actually put that on here, but if you're interested I can ... Deva is the word for god. Jaya victory. The victory of the gods. Jayadeva wrote this particular poem. It's composed in Bengal – west Bengal – where William Carey later were to go. And it details in great detail the many emotional states that Radha and Krishna go through. This is like puppy love material – a lot of pining after lost love.
If you don't want to have the courage to go into the supermarket and buy a – what do you call these things – a romance novel. OK, if you're just like feel too embarrassed to go out, like, you know, I want to get lost in some romance. So you go, you know, you can go to the grocery store and you can buy it for a dollar, like a book like that thick. I don't know – who has the time to read this kind of stuff – but they're out there. So, if you don't have the courage to do that, then do a study of ancient Sanskrit literature. You can pick up an English copy of the 12th century Sanskrit poem. Tell people this is for my class. And pick up the Gitagovinda and you'll find some remarkably erotic love – it's like the Hindu equivalent of the television programs that ...
Yeah, this is it. This is the Hindu equivalent of soap operas. And they've all been turned into soap operas, really. They're just not modern soap operas. In India you have to always, you know, everything has to be old. And so they re-enact all this same kind of emotional stuff through the gods. I think I told you perhaps that when they aired this on television in cartoon form that the Sunday School program was completely decimated. People wouldn't come to church because everyone couldn't miss it on television. These Indians had very mischievously timed the airing of this to fall right on the time when we were having our Sunday School program. It's really amazing. People love these stories. I mean, not so much this stuff. I mean, this is ... I shouldn't say that. It wasn't so much the Gitagovinda, but the whole Mahabharata – all the battles and all – very, very popular with kids.
The Gitagovinda is very, very popular, but it's all spiritualised. Even the most erotic kind of material is all about really the longing after god. That's how it's interpreted. So it's during this period that the actual Radha theme comes out as the particular gopi of all the thousands of gopis, this is the one that Krishna particularly loves and develops.
So what eventually emerges in this particular strand of it, the Krishna strand, is 18 major Puranas. The one that is most famous is the Bhagavata Purana, which give all the adventures of Krishna, the various ecstatic responses, gopis rendering devotion to him. All this material is displayed and put out in these Puranic materials.
The Bhaktisutras is a treatise on devotion. Again, bhakti means devotion. Sutra can be law or treatise about devotion. Again, bringing together all of the classical Hindu philosophy put out sutras that explained their philosophies. The Bhaktisutra would be the framework of devotion.
So, here you actually have very sophisticated writers trying to write to lay out theologically why this is true and not this. So now you have some theological undergirding for the whole Bhakti movement. And we'll eventually see, as the course develops, we're going to develop a little bit about how this happens with the philosophical movement, how they try to find a way to bring all this back under their domination. So this eventually will receive a lot of philosophical support in various ways – again, along these two paradigms. Bhaktisutras is a big part of that. This is written by two people named Shandilya and Narada. This all was coming out in the Middle Ages. So we're talking about 12th century to the 14th, 15th century.
Finally, there's emphasis on simplicity. Puja is an expression of devotion and adoration to god. Puja means worship, as you know, we've discussed this in the past. But it's simply a way ... how do you express your devotion and adoration to god? You do this through puja. And this is normally done through bringing something to the deity. So you're bringing food to the deity. I have here ... this is an example of puja offerings. You recognise obviously ca... I mean, a banana. You'll see all kinds of other things here that ... these are all being prepared to offer to the gods. These are examples of puja offerings.
Question: ??? say about the Old Testament offerings in the recent ??? using them.
They do. There's two things that happen to it. The priest will eat it. But also they will redistribute this back to the devotees that come. It's called prasad. And so you take that and then you go and you share it with somebody. So you go into their home and you share it as an act of gratitude to your friends. So people will come back from the temple and they'll go to the house with all their friends and eat.
So one of the questions that our Hindus that we witness to ask us is: Why do Christians not take prasad? Because this is a very living problem. This is not just the book of Corinthians. This is a living issue in India. Should Christians eat food sacrificed to idols or not? Again, this shows you the importance of understanding the theology answers questions that are posed to it, because even though this is a very difficult issue, it is not found like if you look at Grudem's Systematic Theology. He doesn't address this question. And yet it's a very important question in Indian context. So you need to have good theological reflection for various cultural contexts. And this is an example of that.
Because the Hindus view it as an act of hospitality. So if you go and take puja to someone's ... take food to someone's house and they refuse to eat it, it's a sign of rejecting their friendship. If you accept it, then it's a sign of accepting their friendship. And yet, if you have a weak conscience about it, and ... because it's been sacrificed to a god or a goddess, then obviously you are sinning against God because you have gone against your conscience. So all of the issues that Paul brings up are perfectly relevant in thing – in his whole argument would need to be reflected on in this light. So, that's a big part of it.
The other is the concept of mana. We're actually going to develop puja a bit more in the next little bit here, but mana is ??? a simple thing. I mean, that's ... part of the process of this is how simple it is to be a Hindu on the village level. One of you wrote in your paper, and I don't want to embarrass you but I thought it was a very great statement actually ... I forgot now who it was, but said: This religion is so difficult that it makes my head hurt. I thought that was a really great line. I'll have to remember that. And maybe that's true. Maybe Hinduism is a very complicated religion. Maybe I have made it even more complicated by all these long 30 hours of explanations of all this stuff. But again, on the village level, they don't view it as complicated at all. Very simple. Because they're not trying to understand this whole thing. You're trying to understand it – and you are to be commended for that – and it maybe think your head hurt – but on the village level, you're talking about taking some food and bringing it to the idol.
And, very typically, they'll take a coconut, and they'll break open the coconut. They'll pour the coconut milk over the Siva Lingum or whatever. And they will sometimes have some little white chips from inside the coconut which represents purity and they'll toss this on there. They have flowers they sell – bags and bags of flowers and they'll throw this flowers over it. And they go home. That's it. Very simple. Not complicated. No one stops and asks them to recite a particular passage from the Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad. It's not that way. It's very simple.
The concept of touch or contact with the deity is very, very important. They will emphasise in the Bhakti movement the importance of a physical – what we'd call, I think – I'm not sure if we'd call it this – but a point of contact. When you actually come into physical contact with something, you can receive the grace of it. Now, this is a important theological debate because people often will say when they're in India: Does that person who's bowing down before that god or goddess – do they believe that that is god? And you know, I address this in my book. If you've read my book, I address this point, so you can reflect on it there. But actually it's not so much that Hindus believe that that statue is the embodiment of a particular god or goddess in its fullness or whatever. But they believe that that statue, or that icon if it's a picture, or it's a three-dimensional idol, is a channel through which they believe they can receive grace, forgiveness, salvation, whatever.
So this idea of touching ??? – and touching actually comes in two forms in mana. One form of mana is actually where you physically touch the idol. So you'll see people who'll go up to an idol, they'll fall down and they will touch it on its feet. Or they'll grasp the various mudras, the various hands. One of the things, for example, we'll see – one of the mudras is this one that we saw with the icons of the ??? mentioned has the OM inside the palm. This is a mudra of blessing. So if they can touch that, they believe that they can receive the blessing. So if you have a statue there with a hand signal like this, then that is a way of saying the god wants to bless you. So if you can touch that idol, you can receive the blessing. It's no more complicated than that. So it's one way of mana is physically touching.
You can by extensions agree – say it also includes touching it with your offerings. Because in many cases, the priest mediates this, so that you're not allowed to actually touch the idol. But if you bring milk to the priest and you give it to the priest and the priest goes and pours it on it, then you will have touched the idol by virtue of your offering that you made. That's a form of mana.
The other way that you come in contact with the deity through mana is through gazing. This is a very hard thing for Westerners to understand. I've observed this even in Christian circles. And I don't know quite what to make of it, but in India ... I first noticed this actually, not among Hindus, but among Christians, OK. I'm in a worship service and Christians are worshipping and worshipping and worshipping. And you know how you sing choruses and they sing choruses and more choruses and more choruses, OK. And things get built up and built up and built up, all right. They do that in India. They'll sing for hours. We ... you don't know anything about this. You think twenty, thirty minutes is a long time. No, hours and hours they'll sing and sing and sing and sing. OK, so this will ... they'll usually mount up, mount up, mount up – and then eventually there comes this point where everyone will just do this kind of ... they're just gazing. They're just like in this state of ... no one says anything. Everyone just kind of ... in the presence of God. I never really experienced that in the West. And I don't know really quite how to read it theologically. I'm being honest with you. I don't know ... I've never quite figured out what to do – and it's been relatively rare. But I have experienced it.
But I do know in the Hindu world, this is a very big part of it. I don't know how this is carried over, subtly or not. But in the Hindu world, you go before the idol and it's not just enough to look at the idol – you enter into this kind of gaze at the idol. And there's a point where you can – and they often have these long, long, elaborate puja services where they sing and they sing and they sing and they bang on these drums and they'll go through all of this stuff and they get people worked up essentially to the point where they can properly gaze. I'm not really quite sure how to describe it, but it's this intently gazing state that you're in. And, at that point, they believe that you're actually touching the god or goddess. And you can receive the blessings or the benefit of the god/goddess.
Unfortunately, this has had many terrible, terrible developments, like everything else that Hinduism touches, it actually ... Hinduism is a form of destruction really. That's the main symbol of Hinduism. Hinduism is a religion that destroys people because they don't have the gospel which is born out of legitimate desire people have to be saved and be forgiven gets brought into bondage and the worst kinds of nightmarish things.
So this is where you might want to think about the ministry of like Amy Carmichael. Because, as you know, the reason Amy Carmichael had her ministry among these young girls in south India – if you don't know, you should be aware – is because of temple prostitution. This is where that comes in. Because this is a form of, particularly in south India, the form of puja involved the mana which is coming in contact with the deity. Well, many of these images of the deities, which I haven't shown you here because it's too erotic, but shows the god and goddess in a full erotic sexual embrace. And it's all used philosophically to explain all kinds of, you know, tat twam asi and all that. But this is a very erotic image. So what happens is ... well, I mean, these people taught that if you come to the temple and you engage in intercourse with one of the girls that you're actually engaging in intercourse with the god. So this is a form of temple prostitution which exploited the young girls.
These girls ??? would be given to the temple. See, many of the parents, when they had a child, they wanted to offer the god or goddess some offering. Well, what better offering than your own child? So, rather than just bringing food, they would bring their own child. So, this little girl that we offered to the god or goddess would be married to the deity. And once the little girl was married to the deity, she becomes a temple prostitute. And Amy Carmichael spent her life rescuing these girls from temple prostitution. This also happens in Buddhism – in places like Thailand. You've I'm sure heard of this as well. So, it's a very tragic, tragic thing that happens. And it's all part of this mana. Yes.
Question: South India has larger Christian ???
The British presence and the Christian presence in the government and so forth and, frankly, a number of Hindu reformers that were Hindus but felt like this was horrible joined together and much of this is outlawed. So, today it's illegal to marry one of your children to a god. Offering up your wife to the funeral pyre of sati is also illegal, but people do it. Last summer, there was two of them in the papers when I was there just for six weeks – two satis. So, it's not something that has disappeared, but it's illegal. So, in that sense, there has been a response. And yeah, I'm always trying to be ... trying to be very fair. I don't think it's helpful just to caricature. On the other hand, you have to be aware of the reality of this. I mean, this is a horrible – one of the many, many horrible expressions of Hinduism. Many Hindu reformers are also strongly opposed to, but many popular Hindu expressions still practise it. It's a terrible thing.
So in conclusion, there are five general themes, both whether it's Vishnaivite or Shaivite, expressions of Bhaktism that you'll find. I just want to mention these five – and it's not on the handout, so ??? take down notes on this carefully I guess. But, just to kind of summarise, these are things I think you'll find are true. We've kind of emphasised the Krishna line of this, but in all the Bhaktism, you'll find the emphasis on five things.
First of all, some concrete manifestation of the divine. That's an idol or an icon. And idol I define as any three-dimensional statue-type thing. An icon would be a two-dimensional picture of something. Either an idol or an icon would be found in these temples. Yes.
Question: So with that the idols, they don't believe that it's of one particular idol is any different or better than ??? all the idols that represent you know Shaivite ...
No, that' snot true. That's not true. They do believe that certain idols are more powerful than other idols. One ??? the god chose to dwell in this idol more. But there's a very famous one, for example, where Ganesh gives milk. I don't know if you've heard this in the papers. Anybody heard of the Sri Lankan Ganesh giving milk in the news? I guess you had to be in India to read the papers. But anyway, there's this famous Ganesh statue that if you hold your bowl underneath Ganesh, milk will come into your bowl from the statue. I've never seen it. I've never been there, but there have been thousands of reports about this. And you always in the paper from time to time people who claim that they came there and this milk ... and there have been all of these scientists have tried to figure out how could there ... there's so much milk been poured over this statue. Maybe there's like this statue is saturated and leaking. No one knows. But there have been people who say this is a spiritual miracle. And so there are people who will go past 1000 Ganesh statues to get to that one. So that kind of thing happens in India.
In fact, I just brought in ... I showed this with the other class a while back, so maybe you've heard. This is in January. Did I read this to you about this statue of Krishna that fell over? This is in the papers in India – January, from New Delhi. A giant statue of the Hindu god Krishna that took six years to build toppled onto its back this week killing three people. So, here's this huge statue that fell over and killed three poor people. This man named Sivramsharma said: This was a bad omen. This is a 108 foot statue – 108 feet – near this this village of Narsingpur on the outside of Delhi. Two labourers were up there doing the final polishing of the cement statue and they were crushed along with one poor passerbyer. Dozens of others were injured. The village had spent $417,000 to build this statue – a half million dollars nearly to build this statue.
And if you know when you were up in Haridwar – did you see that big, big, gigantic Siva thing? They're building this massive, massive, massive Siva idol there now in Haridwar – huge thing. I'm not sure how tall it is. It must be 100 feet as well. And that is one of the poorest parts of India. People who have nothing are giving, giving, giving to build this. See Hinduism impoverishes people. It's another one of the destructive things of Hinduism because they give all their money to build these ... to build more idols, more temples.
This idol fell to the ground. I don't say it has to have a scientific explanation, but I don't know the answer to it any more than I do about the Ganesh that gives milk. I mean, I've heard these stories, but I have no idea. I think it's probably demonic, but I don't know. Other questions or comments?
Question: I have a friend who's Catholic. She does this thing about gazing at the sacred heart ...
They wouldn't call it that, but yeah, right. Gazing. In Catholicism you have the beatific vision which involves this entering into this ecstatic trance in the presence of God that's part of that whole literature in the Catholic movement. So, there are definitely parallels to this in mystical movements in the West. The veneration/ worship line is not always clear, whether it's a two dimensional ???
I would never, and maybe this is crazy, but I would never bring home from India like a Siva Lingum or some idol to show you. You can buy all over India like the Natarajas. They're everywhere. You can buy little status of Ganesh or whatever. I could bring them home. I could put all these gods up on the table and show you or pass them around in class. I don't want one of those in my house. I just do not want them in my house. I don't mind having electronic pictures of these. Doesn't bother me, because that's an electronic picture for educational purposes. I never have gazed at my computer too long. But I find that offensive. I know people who have these in their office who teach Hinduism and say: Look. You can pass around these gods or goddesses in statue form. That piece of statue has no power over me. I don't feel any fear about it. I just simply don't want it anywhere in my house.
But, you know, people have different ideas about that – what constitutes an act of worship or whatever. But, certainly in India, if you buy an idol, you're giving money to an idol-worshipper. And I fundamentally oppose that. If I have a little bit of money, I want to give it to the people of God who are preaching the gospel, not to an idol-worshipper. So, you know, that kind of thing is different.
Taking pictures – most temples do not permit you to take pictures unless you give them like a few rupees. So, you can give like 10 or 15 rupees to take pictures. I very rarely even do that. I have paid a few rupees – like 20 cents, 30 cents – in order to take pictures in certain temples for the sake of educational purposes – slides – I don't have these slides anymore because I'm doing it on PowerPoint now, but in years past. But basically, I don't, as a rule, give money to idol worshippers.
Question: ??? teach people about that?
We don't teach our people about it. That's the problem. Unfortunately, we're just now actually assessing our curriculum in terms of its usefulness to our students. So, a lot of our curriculum is very similar to what you have here. So what happens is that the curriculum kind of happens as a core. And then students will ask these questions and it'll happen ad hoc in class. There's no question this is being discussed in all of our classes. And professors are responding, but they're responding in a disorganised ... we don't have a coherent policy about it and we have differences of opinion about it on the faculty – just the way you have difference about things here. Not, you know, open disputes, but just we haven't actually have a policy about what we should promote among our church planting pastors. So, we're working on that now. It's one of the things we're working on.
My own view on the prasad is just what the apostle Paul says: that food offered to idols has absolutely no power over you, but you would refrain for the sake of the weaker brother – for his lack of faith, not yours. So, if you are in the presence of a new believer, a new Hindu convert to Christianity, then you should definitely not take it because it would be a stumbling block to that person's faith for sure. But there are some certain contexts where I think it would be allowed.
And secondly, I feel even more strongly that if you don't know it's prasad – see, a lot of times people bring by food and you don't know. After you've taken it, you find out it's prasad. There's no reason why that should be a problem for a Christian because you didn't even know.
But, I think, you know, my feel on all these things is that I don't think it's very helpful for those in the West to legislate these things. I think we need to talk about it theologically. Talk about what Paul teaches. Interact with them. But ultimately the Indian church has to decide these issues, not us. And, of course, it's a good question you're asking and I'm not answering it, but I'm just saying that I think ultimately it's not a question that we can really address well because this is a context that they know better than we know.
The second common feature which this is reflecting about what we've said is the idea of the icon or the idol as a bridge between the soul and god or the bhakta and the divine. You have idols, number one. You have the idea that the idol's a bridge.
And thirdly, you have the idea that that idol can transfer grace or power – shukti is the word for it. Shukti is power in Hinduism. That power can be transferred into you through meditating on the deity, through offering, touching, mana of some kind or through this intent gazing we talked about.
The fourth theme that's common to all of the Bhakti movement is the sense of being overwhelmed, enraptured, in the presence of god. This is, I guess, the ultimate expression of this intent gazing thing – of being overwhelmed. They have these very, very loud services. There'll be a lot of music and chanting. And this creates a sense of being overwhelmed. I haven't mentioned a lot of the particulars of how this is done. But let me just give you three things briefly that are involved.
One thing that's used are mantras. A mantra is the utterance of some sacred syllables. It could be a Sanskritic phrase from the Upanishads. It can material that's specially particular to a particular Bhakti movement. The mantra means, simply means, sacred words. So you will repeat certain words over and over and over again in order to enter into an ecstatic experience. That's called a mantra.
The other element, which I've alluded to but we haven't discussed, is mudras. This is even more important in Buddhism than it is in Hinduism. It's important in Hinduism as well. And this refers to hand signs – various configurations of the hand of the deity that convey certain kinds of things. You notice, for example, in the Saraswati imagery where you have the hands extended and the money is flowing out of the hand, the coins out of the hand. That is a mudra of giving blessing, giving help to somebody in need.
The most important one is the one that we saw already with Vishnu is the hand like this at shoulder level. This you'll see on many of the idols and icons. And this is a particular thing means a blessing. It's called the abhaya mudra. Abhaya means blessing. And if they have that position it means abhaya. So again if you touch that, then you receive the blessing.
The other one – I'll mention just a few that you'll probably know – the other one is one called anjali. You don't need to know any of these terms. But the anjali mudra is this one where Indians greet one another. It's the mudra of greeting. Now this, you'd be surprised, is a very interesting cultural question because everybody in India greets like this. Traditionally the word is namaste or namaskara. That's a common greeting all over India. It's one of the uniting words of India. So it doesn't matter if you're a Hindi speaker or if you're a Tamil, Mulialam, whatever, you can say namaskara or if it's familiar namaste. OK, now that particular greeting – this anjali mudra – is a sacred symbol which is supposed to be, theoretically or technically in Hindu iconography, this is bowing to the atman within the other person. So when you greet somebody like this in India, if you want to be technical about it, you are worshipping them. Now, it's not used that way. It's used as a greeting. It's just an example of cultural things. I mean Christians will greet like this. Many Christians won't, but most Christians do. Many times I greet congregations like this in India because it is the kind of the Indian way to do it.
Do they do this in north-east? Do they do it like this in north-east? No. Yeah, I just know ... ??? the whole class isn't a part of the north-east. But everywhere else in India.
Question: ??? the Muslims would obviously be very much opposed to worshipping any other ???
Right. Muslims do not use anjali. Muslims will typically have their own greetings. They say: selema lekam naka salam. Now, if a Muslim is down in a Hindu area, it's very possible. I don't know. I can't really think of an example, but I'm sure that the Muslims, certain Muslims that are widely travelling around, wouldn't have any problem with doing this. But it's not commonly done. Certainly a Muslim greeting a Muslim, it would not happen. All right. That's the question, yeah. But certainly it's very customary within the Hind...
Even with other things, like when you walk into a Hindu home. When I was just recently visiting with Shivraj Mahindera – both of you know Shivraj – he lives in the home of a Hindu man who called Guruji – guru, teacher; ji is a way of respect in Indi. So he was like the village teacher. It is a very small village. He's still a Hindu. He lives upstairs; Guruji lives downstairs. So we walked into the house to have tea one day and Guruji was there sitting on a little settee thing. And the minute, even though he's a Christian, the first thing Shrivraj did, he walked in, then was to reach down and touch the toes of Guruji. It's the very thing – a very polite thing to do if you walk into a Hindu home. What it means culturally is: I acknowledge that you're the head of the household. I don't question your authority, you know, whatever.
If someone in India, even among Christians, if someone wants to tell you something – like we would say: I swear, I promise to you, that kind of like if you're really in an intense thing and someone wants to let you know they really, really mean this, that, you know, like cross my heart and hope to die kind of thing when your kids are growing up that kind. When they really want to talk to you that way, they will put their hand underneath your thigh and they'll say: I did not mean to hurt you when I said that. And what that means, if they do that to you, is they are promising you solemnly that they did not mean to hurt you. They really didn't. It wasn't like an apology after the fact. It's like, you know: I was not there Tuesday night. You know, it means you were not there.
So the idea of touching, this whole mana thing, symbols of the hand, is very much a part. And it has developed into Christian circles – certain elements of it have developed.
The other is the one that you may have seen a lot is the vitarka mudra, which is like this. This is where you touch the forefinger and the thumb together. And, of course, this is a symbol of the OM and is the mudra of teaching. So you often see teachers in India in statues that have this.
So again, the mudras are very important because they also help you identify, not only the gods and goddesses, but even other statues – like of Sankara will have this symbol. He'll be doing this because Sankara's a great teacher. So that you had a Buddha ... Buddha has this. So you'll ... this is also part of the way you identify various other statues in India.
The last one is called the dhyana mudra. These are just the most important ones. You'll see many statues with the hands like this. Actually, yeah, it's like this – the left hand under the right hand, the thumbs are touching, and it's the meditation mudra. So you'll find this with the various ??? ... or if they're in meditation. If you see a statue that has this symbol, it means that this god is meditating. The word for meditation is dhyana. This is the word in Japanese zen – where you get zen Buddhism from. In India, it's called dhyana. In China it's called chan. In India or Japan it's called zen. Meditative Buddhism – so this is the dhyana or the zen or whatever. It also goes in Buddhism mudra.
So there are a number of these ways in which grace or teaching or greeting or blessing and there are many others of these they come across – and they're called mudras.
The last and fifth general feature is the desire for the company of other bhaktas who've enjoyed similar ecstatic experiences. So they get together in big meetings. They'll have big services. And this is a very, very powerful kind of joint experience. So Indians like being in corporate gatherings. They don't like being alone. So a lot of Hinduism, the whole emphasis on karma and all, is so individualistic. This is a anti-individualistic expression. So you'll find, even though they don't have a day of worship like certain day where everybody goes like when we do in Christianity or Islam. In Hinduism, they'll have so many festivals, so many opportunities, when people can get together. Every marriage is another opportunity to worship idols. Every engagement, every opening of a new business, every you name it – opportunity to get together.
And so the idea ... and they have clubs and they have little medallions they wear around their neck that show you if they're a Bhakti follower and people say: O, you know, I worship that god and then it's like a fellowship thing they promote. All right, any questions about any of those five things. Yes.
Question: What was the third sense ??? mantras ???
O, I didn't ... I didn't mention the third one. You're right. Yeah, the third. The three ms – Mantras, mudras, mandalas. What's a mandala? You should already know this from Vedic times.
Response: It's a little image that's a representation of ???
Right. Congratulations. Cosmic homology. Everything in India, ultimately at some point, touches cosmical homology. That's why you have the whole thing when you say: Do they really believe that that god dwells in that stone? No. Cosmical homology. If you can connect with that god through mana in the stone, you can connect with the god of the universe. It's a cosmical homology. So, the mandalas are the diagrams. They will display these diagrams. They're used for the gazing – so it's part of the mana – and you look upon it, you gaze upon it. And you believe that you can get insight into the whole universe. So this is used to create the Bhakti ecstatic experience. So there's all kinds of ties in with the philosophical tradition, but also done in a very, very popular way. Thanks for reminding me. I'd forgotten to finish that up.
OK. Puja refers to a ritual symbolic offering to a god or gods in Bhakti Hinduism. We have no idea what the word puja is derived from. Now, I'll tell you what it's derived from. OK. There's a lot of debate among Bhaktis about this. Some say it comes from pa-ja – parayana japa – which is referring to the repetition of the names of god, which is part of the whole Bhakti process I mentioned earlier where you get into this ecstatic union. Others say it comes from pushpam which is the word for flower, jal the word for water – pu-ja – pushpam jal – because flower and water are two of the main things you offer in puja. There are people in the more philosophical bent who believe it stands for purusha – pu-ja – janma. Purusha's a word for god; janma means wake up or to excite. And so the idea is that you wake up the god within. So there's a lot of different ideas about what the word puja means – and what is the derivation of it. We actually do not know.
But, in some ways, I think it's helpful to have it here before you because it does show you the way puja can be used on a very common level – flower and water – or all the way up to some practice or even some philosophical connection. So it does show you the way puja operates popularly and in the larger philosophical sense.
The key elements of puja. This is fairly ... what we've discussed already a lot. You have the icon or the idol of the deity located in a mandir – sacred space – that can also mean temple. It can be a niche in the wall. There are certain trees in India that are very sacred. The most sacred one is a tree called ... yeah, banyan tree. Thank you very much. The banyan where the limbs will come down and root into new ... This should be the front cover of your book by Vlipner. That's a picture of a banyan tree. You know you ... he used that as an analogy – like covers this whole like a square mile. That's a banyan tree. They have several of them very close to where I teach in India and they will dig into the tree and they will place an idol into that mandir – that sacred space. And there's a lot of reasons for the banyan tree being worshipped which we won't ... we haven't gone into. But it's a sacred tree in India. So, any kind of sacred space. It doesn't have to be elaborate temple. Many of them are just little concrete buildings. Many of them are in the middle of fields.
You'll have a sacred vessel – which is known as a purna kumbha – which is located next to the icon. Again, I've not included words like mandir or purna kumbha on your list of things to know. But in case you're interested in the terminology, it's there. It just means sacred vessel – or a purna means actually pure – a pure vessel. And it's usually immediately next to the idol. It's often filled with water or rice, leaves, flowers, coconuts. We discussed some of these things before.
Often the pot is viewed as a symbol of Devi, which is the great goddess – or a particular manifestation of it – Lakshmi. So they often will say: I don't care what deity you're worshipping, Devi is always there. What they mean by that is Devi is there because of the sacred pot is there and that represents the goddess of the earth or the order of Devi. The goddess of earth is another one of the goddesses that comes from Devi.
The flowers are viewed as often a beauty, ornamentation of the gods and goddesses. And they will spend a lot of money and time decorating the god with flowers – and bringing food to the god; rice, coconut. One of the most dramatic conversions in India was from a young boy who was observing the gods – and this is part of the story behind the emergence of Sikhism. But he's observing the god and at night-time he was there trying to gaze at the god, you know, day and night – this whole thing about gazing. And during the night, he noticed the rats were coming to eat the prasad. And the rats were crawling all over this god. And it just blew him away. Why would god allow this? And it turned him away from Hinduism. He saw that it was just a statue.
So you have this presence of food there. It's very, very important. Prasad just means sacred offering of food. Flowers, perfumes, substances and coconut milk are the most obvious examples of this.
And they'll light oil lamps and they have various ways ... It says lam – it should say lamp, I'm sorry. The lamp represents virtue and knowledge. The oil wealth. The cotton wick is pleasure. The light itself is liberation. This is all part of the way they explain everything has meaning and purpose.
Let me just show you real quick. This is a picture of puja going on. This is them pouring the water over the idol as a sacred offering. These are the Brahmins. They're wearing the sacred thread. We haven't discussed that yet, but there's no doubt these manis are Brahmin males. This is the offering of coconut milk over the deity. Again you have Brahmins gathered around performing this – sort of people watching, participating in that way. You have the vessel here. That's just a vessel of water. I don't see any other vessel there but this is just like ad hoc pictures here.
Question: So that's not Devi?
No, it's not Devi. It's actually Bhoodevi. Bhoodevi is the goddess of the earth. It's one of the manifestations of Devi. You can see the food offered here – and this is just like candid shots. So it's not as perfect as maybe you'll find in an encyclopaedia or something, but here you have them pouring it over the goddess. Here's another priest offering ... now this is a newly installed goddess. So it's very decorated with the flowers and all this. This is not always look this elaborate. And this person is chanting mantras. People are there participating. That's the way it ... offering the light. OK. I think we will stop there.