Monday February 18, 2019

Does visiting a temple in western attire cause disrespect to God?

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By Pratyasha Nithin

Thousands of people visit temples every day for variety of reasons though the primary purpose of the temple is to allow people to offer their devotion to the Gods. Most women in India wear saree or salwar-suit to the temple. But, some women do wear casual tops and jeans, or skirts to temple as they are more comfortable in those clothes.

Such women who visit temples in western clothes may sometimes be subjected to stares and unnecessary attention from other people inside the temple. The elder generation often advises girls and women to wear only saree or salwar-suits to the temple.

Well there is nothing wrong per se in wearing Indian dresses, but it is often suggested, sometimes explicitly and most times implicitly, that going to temple in western attire amounts to disrespect to the deities who reside there. But does this suggestion hold any real value? Or is it just a mere superstition? Does it have any meaning from the standpoint of dharma?Grand_Palace_dress_code

Let us examine few hypothetical scenarios to understand the matter.

Scenario 1: Let’s say a woman gets ready in a traditional attire to visit temple. When she reaches the temple, she hastily takes darsana of the deity and then sits right next to her traditional friend who had arrived a few minutes ago. Then instead of doing japa or meditation or simply praying the deity, they sit there and gossip about their neighbors, daughter-in-laws, mother-in-laws, cousins etc. Is it respectful to do so?

Scenario 2: Now, take a situation where the same woman sits in her house in a traditional dress to do puja, but in the middle of the puja, instead of concentrating on the deity, she starts thinking about her problems, her conversations with her husband, and her arguments with her children etc. Now these thoughts will make her angry and frustrated and then she starts thinking about finishing the ritual as soon as possible because now what she is doing does not interest her anymore. Is keeping such anger and frustration in mind during the puja, and thinking about finishing the ritual with no more interest respectful towards the deity?

Scenario 3: Let’s now assume that this traditional* woman does not do any of the things mentioned above. Instead, she is very keen about doing the rituals properly. When she is in a temple, she sits silently and tries to concentrate on the deity. But suddenly another woman in a western outfit, may be a jeans or a skirt, arrives. As soon as the traditional woman sees the modern woman, she thinks – “Oh she has no sense of dressing in a temple. Why on earth temple authorities allow such women in the temple? It is so disrespectful.” At this point, the traditional woman’s concentration gets diverted. Instead of thinking about deity in front of her, now her mind is irritated and thinking about the western-attired woman whom she considers as culture-less. Is this attitude also not disrespectful towards the deity? Irrespective of the attitude of western attired woman, our traditional lady who had come to offer worship to the deity, has sidelined the deity and is now concentrating on another woman which also amounts to disrespect** towards the deity.

Scenario 4: Let’s now consider the modern woman. When she arrives at the temple, she is in a good mood. She takes darsana and is waiting for the priest to give her thirtha and prasad. But suddenly she finds a few ladies sitting there, pointing towards her and gossiping about her dress etc. This, of course, makes her uncomfortable. She thinks, “Why on earth these ladies cannot mind their own business? They are sitting here gossiping about my dress. Couldn’t they spare the temple? Oh, what a cheap mentality?” Now, two things can be observed here. First, the gossiping traditional ladies not only showed disrespect to the deity by gossiping, but also by diverting and distracting others. Secondly, this modern-attired woman was also no better than the traditional-attired woman in terms of devotion and mind-control. She did no better than the gossiping group. She easily became distracted and became angry at those who were gossiping about her dress. Also, now her thoughts were more concentrated on her own dress and on the gossiping women, than on the deity in front of her. Hence, in this case, the traditional-attired women and the western-attired woman, both were disrespectful towards the deity.

Scenario 5: Now consider a second traditional woman, who regularly goes to temple, sits and meditate. She does not care about the world around her. All she knows is that the temple is there to concentrate and meditate on God. After a few moments, a modern woman comes. She sees this woman and thinks, “Wow, what a dedication. So many people are around here and she is still meditating. If only I could meditate with such dedication.” Well, to be inspired with other people is good. To think about our own faults is good as well. But, it should not end with thinking. If it ends with only thoughts, as it has happened with this western-attired woman, she is committing the same mistake as people in previous scenarios. This western-attired woman is again concentrating on what other people are doing, instead of focusing her mind on the deity. Hence, she commits same disrespect.

Scenario 6: Now what if a western-attired woman sits and meditates in the temple. And a traditional woman sees her. This traditional woman can either be impressed with the western-attired woman’s devotion and dedication, or she may find it as a drama and show-off. In either case, if this traditional woman is only thinking about western-attired woman or about what others are doing, then she is also committing same disrespect as in the case of western-attired woman in scenario 5.

Scenario 7: Now, consider another woman who is crazy about her dressing sense. She may be traditional or modern. Before she leaves her house, instead of thinking about the deity or doing japa she keeps admiring her looks. She wants to look perfect. She puts on full makeup, wears her best outfit and goes to temple. Even in the temple, her concentration is on her looks. She does not want to touch or take anything that would ruin her looks. Her mind is stuck on herself. Irrespective of the attire she is wearing, she is disrespectful towards the deity, as her mind is elsewhere.

From all the above scenarios, it is clear that it does not matter how one dresses, it’s the thoughts and devotion that matter. The deity is not human to think about one’s materialistic appearances. He/She/It is far above that. The truth is, even if one covers every single inch of his/her body thinking that the nakedness will be offensive to the deity, even then all his/her efforts are wasted, as there is nothing hidden from the deity.

So even if one sits naked in front of the deity, it cannot be disrespectful to the deity. God knows what one thinks and what one does, he sees only dedication and not appearance. And most importantly, he gives one only what one deserves.

God would not prefer a person wearing traditional outfit but with zero concentration and devotion over a person wearing western outfit, but with strong dedication and devotion. If one worships God devotionally, he will be spiritually elevated. If one indulges in gossiping and is solely concerned about dresses, one will be more bounded to the mundane world. So it’s better if people stop arguing about dress codes and dressing sense, and wear whatever they are comfortable with and put their best efforts towards developing devotion and dedication towards the deity they adore.

Note:

* I have used the term “traditional woman” only in the sense of someone who considers herself very traditional and devoted just because she wears sarees and adheres to normally accepted outer ways of life. (She may not be truly traditional in the sense of rooted in traditional values of dharma)
** Actually, a deity does not get offended by any of our actions. He is the giver of fruits of our actions. When we say we are showing God disrespect, it does not mean God is getting offended. It only means, that our actions are improper and our attitude towards God disrespectful.

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Know Why Hindus Are Tolerant And Accept Diversity

Though unborn, it appears to be born in diverse ways

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Hindu God Shiva. Image source: Pixabay

Introduction

“Ekam Sat Vipra Bahudha Vadanti” is a Sutra from Upanishads meaning,  “That which exists is ONE, sages call it by various names.”  This is the reason why Hindus are tolerant and accept diversity.

Many young Hindus and Indians get confused with the diverse concepts of different Gods in Hinduism. This diversity can be confusing when confronted by other faiths who are equally confused with the diversity of Hinduism/Sanathana Dharma. This article is an attempt to explain the vast riches of Sanathana Dharma and help Hindus not get converted to other faiths out of confusion with the diversity of Hinduism/Sanathana Dharma. Unfortunately an average Hindus doesn’t have an answer because we are not taught Hinduism properly. We only know to go to temple, ask for wishes, take prasad and may be say a few mantras. There is no connection to the Gods or the Mantras because we understand and follow the rituals but are not taught the philosophy.

We hope  to address the confusion young Indians have about multiple Gods, especially to counter the mockery that non-Hindus make on multiple GODS of Hinduism. Our objective is to prepare young Hindu community to give answers to these conversion machines. Some people claim that many Hindus convert to other religions because they didn’t understand Idol Worship and Concept of many Gods.

God

The English word God is a poor translation for Hindu concepts of Supreme Being/Ultimate Reality. In English, the word God refers to an Abrahamic God who is the creator and is separate from HIS creation.

Hinduism has many additional concepts which get lumped together into English translation as one word, God. Hinduism has

  • Brahman
  • Ishvar
  • Avatar
  • Deities
  • Murti

each has a distinct and different meaning and many of them can be in manifest or in un-manifest form. But unfortunately, due to poverty of the English language or a lack of appreciation by language experts, all of these spiritual concepts get translated into Godthus causing confusion. In western terminology, most often, Hindu Gods are also referred to as Deities.

33 Million Hindus Gods

There is, a popular perception stating that there are 33 million deities (Gods?) in Hinduism.[116] No one has a list of all the goddesses and gods, but scholars state all deities are typically viewed in Hinduism as “emanations or manifestation of genderless principle called Brahman, representing the many facets of Ultimate Reality”.[115][116][117] This concept of Brahman is not the same as the monotheistic God of Abrahamic religions. In those religions God is considered, separate from humans as “creator of the world, above and independent of human existence”. Hinduism accommodates that concept of God as duality as well as a concept of God, the universe, human beings and all else is essentially one thing and everything is connected oneness, the same god is in every human being as Atman, the eternal Self.[117][118]  It is quite likely that when the world’s population was estimated to be only 33 million, each atman being one with Brahman, led to the popular belief of 33 million Gods.

god ganesha

For many young Hindus and Indians who are confused with the diverse concepts of Hinduism, are adviced to seek through choosing one form that they connect most with. Then Surrender, be open and have faith, Seeking will come and path will be shown through perseverance. Hindus are implored to invest more time in understanding the vast rich Sanathana Dharma and not get converted to other faiths because they are confused with the diversity of Hinduism/Sanathana Dharma.

Sagun/Nirguna

The concept of Brahman (wrongly translated as God) can be understood as Saguna or as Nirguna. The Formless Pure Consciousness is the unmanifest energy (Nirakar/Nirguna) which can manifest into form (Saakar/ Suguna) of Brahma as the Creator, Vishnu as the Protector and Shiva as the Destroyer. In unmanifest form, this is pure consciousness,  Nirguna – with no Gunas or attributes , Nirvisesha – no special characteristics, Sat-chit-ananda – Eternal truth consciousness. This unmanifest form when manifested, it has form and Suguna – attributes or qualities required for sustenance of the creation. But both the Manifest (Suguna) and UnManifest (Nirguna) forms of this cosmic energy are eternal, non-destructive and non-differential from each other.

Vedas and the Upanishads have said that there is one supreme energy named “’PARABRAMHA” which is formless, infinite, all pervading, omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, genderless, eternal and unfathomable or indescribable in Human language. “God” is a Supreme cosmic energy, with infinite potentialities and attributes, which is formless but can manifest into a form when required to run and sustain creation.

In comparison, other religions express God either as a Nirguna (formless, unmanifest) or Saguna (with form, manifest) but it is only Hinduism that understands God in both unmanifest as well as manifest form. Other religions when the explain God as manifest usually insist of one form of God only which sometimes is depicted as an old White Male with a flowing beard.

Deities

Hafeez Jalandhari wrote Krishn Kanhaiya, praising Hindu God Krishna
Hafeez Jalandhari wrote Krishn Kanhaiya, praising Hindu God Krishna. Pixabay

Deities in Hinduism are referred to as Deva (masculine) and Devi (feminine).[44][45][46] The root of these terms mean “heavenly, divine, anything of excellence”.[47] Manifest Gods in Hinduism are symbolism for spiritual concepts. For example, god Indra (a Deva) and the antigod Virocana (an Asura) question a sage for insights into the knowledge of the self.[71] Deva-Asura dichotomies in Hindu mythology may be seen as “narrative depictions of tendencies within our selves”.[71] Hindu deities in Vedic era, states Mahoney, are those artists with “powerfully inward transformative, effective and creative mental powers”.[72]

Another Hindu term that is sometimes translated as God or deity is Ishvara[77] The term Ishvara has a wide range of meanings that depend on the era and the school of Hinduism.[78][79][80] In ancient texts of Indian philosophy, Ishvara means supreme soul, Brahman(Highest Reality).[78] In medieval era texts, Ishvara means God, Supreme Being, personal god, or special Self depending on the school of Hinduism.[2][80][81]

Avatars

Hindu mythology has nurtured the concept of Avatar, which represents the descent of a deity on earth.[155][156] This concept is commonly translated as “incarnation“,[155] and is an “appearance” or “manifestation”.[157][158]

The concept of Avatar is most developed in Vaishnavism tradition, and associated with Vishnu, particularly with Rama and Krishna.[159][160] Vishnu takes numerous avatars in Hindu mythology. He becomes female, during the Samudra manthan, in the form of Mohini, to resolve a conflict between the Devas and Asuras. His male avatars include Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Parashurama, Rama, Krishna, Buddha, and Kalki.[160]Various texts, particularly the Bhagavad Gita, discuss the idea of Avatar of Vishnu appearing to restore the cosmic balance whenever the power of evil becomes excessive and causes persistent oppression in the world.[156]

In Shaktism traditions, the concept appears in its legends as the various manifestations of Devi, the Divine Mother principal in Hinduism.[161] The avatars of Devi or Parvati include Durga and Kali, who are particularly revered in eastern states of India, as well as Tantra traditions.[162][163][164] Twenty one avatars of Shiva are also described in Shaivism texts, but unlike Vaishnava traditions, Shaiva traditions have focussed directly on Shiva rather than the Avatar concept.[155]

Murti

Hinduism has an ancient and extensive iconography tradition, particularly in the form of Murti (Sanskrit: मूर्ति, IAST: Mūrti), or Vigraha or Pratima.[22] A Murti is itself not the god in Hinduism, but it is an image of god and represents emotional and religious value.[124] A literal translation of Murti as idol is incorrect, states Jeaneane Fowler, when idol is understood as superstitious end in itself.[124] Just like the photograph of a person is not the real person, a Murti is an image in Hinduism but not the real thing, but in both cases the image reminds of something of emotional and real value to the viewer.[124] When a person worships a Murti, it is assumed to be a manifestation of the essence or spirit of the deity, the worshipper’s spiritual ideas and needs are meditated through it, yet the idea of ultimate reality or Brahman is not confined in it.[124]

Murti is an embodiment of the divine, the Ultimate Reality or Brahman to some Hindus.[21] In religious context, they are found in Hindu temples or homes, where they may be treated as a beloved guest and serve as a participant of Puja rituals in Hinduism.[127] A murti is installed by priests, in Hindu temples, through the Prana Pratishtha ceremony,[128]whereby state Harold Coward and David Goa, the “divine vital energy of the cosmos is infused into the sculpture” and then the divine is welcomed as one would welcome a friend.[129] In other occasions, it serves as the center of attention in annual festive processions and these are called Utsava Murti.[130]

Scriptures

 

This chance occurrence had forever immortalized the Feline species as being irrevocably intertwined with Goddess worship.
Idol of Goddess Durga

erses Describing God as Formless (Nirakar)

“Na tasya pratima asti”

“There is no likeness of Him.” [Svetasvatara Upanishad 4:19, Yajurveda 32:3]

There is no Form of Nirguna Brahma or God as Supreme Consciousness.

“His formless form is not to be seen; no one sees Him with the eye.”

[Svetasvatara Upanishad 4:20]

His Formless Form can’t be seen. Though He manifests Himself as Sakar Saguna Brahman, no one can see Him with present eyes or material eyes. To see His Supreme and Original Form one needs spiritual perfection. “No one can understand the transcendental nature of the name, form, quality, and pastimes of God through his materially contaminated senses. Only when one becomes spiritually saturated by transcendental service to the Lord are the transcendental name, form, quality and pastimes of the Lord revealed to him.”(Bhakti-Rasamrta-Sindhu 1.2.234).

God says: “You cannot see me with your present eyes. Therefore I give you divine eyes so that you can behold my mystic opulence” (Bhagavad-Gita 11.8)

“Shudhama papviddham”

“He is body less (Here Body means the physical structure, including the bones, flesh, and organ. Brahman has unique transcendental formless spirit body which is infinite like space) & pure.” (Yajurveda 40:8)

“He (Brahman/Paramatma) does not possess bodily form like that of an ordinary living entity. There is no difference between His body and His soul. He has a unique transcendental spiritual/spirit body which is infinite and omnipresent like space. Brahman is omnipresent soul and Soul “itself” is his spiritual body. He is absolute. All His senses are transcendental. Any of His senses can perform the action of any other sense. Therefore, no one is greater than Him or equal to Him. His potencies are multifarious, and thus His deeds are automatically performed as a natural sequence.” (Shvetashvatara Upanishad 6.7-8)

God as Nirakar Nirguna Brahman or Supreme Consciousness is body less and pure. That doesn’t mean His Sakar Saguna form is impure, it is pure too.

Verses Describing God with Form (Sakar Saguna)

“Ekam Sat Vipraha Bahula Vadanti”

“The Lord of the universe, Lives inside the universe, And without being born, Appears in many forms, And only the wise realize his real form” – (Rig Veda Purusha Suktam 2.3)

Although I (Supreme transcendental Brahman) am unborn, imperishable, unchangeable and God of all living entities I do incarnate (Sambhavami –cause to be born or produced) by using my Maya/Illusive energy. (Maya:- the combination of material and mental elements e.g. five elements, five internal senses, five organs of action, five external sense base also called sense objects, One vital breath, mind, intelligence ) – (Bhagavad Gita 4:6)

Meaning – Even though I am unborn I appear (u