In Orissa and Bengal, Lakshmi images include a white owl. In local belief, white owls have come to be associated with ausp..
Continued from Who are the (H)indus?
Karma is another very important tenet of Hinduism which has been perverted in modern times, not only because of its fashionable misuse in the West, but also in India itself where, because of influences during three centuries by missionaries and secular thought, it is often mixed-up in varying degrees with the Christian concept of sin and virtue. Hindus (and Buddhists) have always maintained that all actions, good or bad, which we perform during a lifetime, carry automatically consequences for the next lives to come. But there is absolutely no moral implication, no notion of Good or Evil, as for Hinduism there is a mathematical and immutable logic in our actions: “Whatever the seed you planted, you will harvest its fruit sooner or later”, says the Buddha. Consequently, there is never any absolute injustice: suffering in this life could be the consequence of a “bad” karma sown in another life; and today’s happiness, might result from a “good” karma performed in another body. With this knowledge, one can understand a little better the sufferings of humanity, even though many of them still look so unjust; but true compassion is always accompanied by right knowledge.
The concept of the avatar is also indispensable to the understanding of true dharma. Hindus have always believed that the Infinite, the Immanent, the Supreme, or whatever name you want to give to That which is beyond us, has manifested Himself throughout the ages in human bodies – particularly at crucial stages during the history of humanity. Christ, Krishna, Buddha, Confucius, Mohamed, are all avatars in the eyes of Hindus. Each of these “sons of God” explained and developed their messages in the terms and with the images of their times, which fitted into the understanding and culture of the country where they had incarnated themselves. None of them, except maybe Mohamed, ever said that he was “the only” son of God and that his religion was the only true one; it is their disciples and followers who later perverted their messages and converted what was essentially spiritual teachings into fixed religions with their intolerant and exclusive credos. It is these followers who today refuse to adapt their religions to modern times.
Finally, it is difficult to understand Hinduism if you do not grasp the concept of shakti, the divine feminine energy. Because of the influence of British thought, it is nowadays fashionable in India to always to highlight the downtrodden condition of Indian women and its underprivileged place in Indian society. As a result, Western correspondents are always keen to do stories on female infanticides in Bihar, child marriages, or sati cases in Rajasthan. But who knows that no country in the world has granted such an important place to women in its spirituality and social ethos ? “Without Him I exist not, without Her I am unmanifest”, says a great Indian yogi. Thus in India – and it is true that it is often a paradox, as women, because of later Muslim influences, have often been relegated to the background – the feminine concept is a symbol of dynamic realization. She is the eternal Mother, who is all Wisdom, all Compassion, all Force, Beauty and Perfection. It is in this way that since the dawn of times, Hindus have venerated the feminine element under its different manifestations: Makalaxmi, Mahakali, Mahasaraswati, Maheshwari – and even India is feminine: “Mother India”. She is the consciousness transcending all things, she is the emptiness beyond all emptiness, the smile beyond all smiles, the divine beauty beyond all earthly beauties.
India has had many great female figures, whether warriors such as the Rani of Jhansi, or saints like Anandamai. And even today, behind all appearances – arranged marriages, submission to men, preference of male children in some rural areas (but girls are loved in India like nowhere in the world) – the role of women in India is essential and it can be safely said that very often, from the poorest to the richest classes, they control –even if behind the scenes – a lot of the family affairs: the education of their children (men in India are often “mama’s boys”), monetary concerns, and men often refer to them for important decisions. Countries such as France or the United States, who are often preaching India on “women’s rights” never had a woman as their top leader, whereas India had Indira Gandhi ruling with an iron hand for nearly twenty years; and proportionately they have less MP’s than India, which is considering earmarking 33% of seats in Parliament for women, a revolution in human history! And finally this shakti concept is so rooted in the subcontinent, that you have had women Prime Ministers, such as Benazir Bhutto or Kaleda Zia, in Islamic countries (Pakistan and Bangladesh) which are predominantly male-controlled in a much stricter way than India.
(To be continued)
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