Friday November 24, 2017

Star Wars and Hinduism: 5 Hindu tenets that define Star Wars saga

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By Nithin Sridhar

With the release of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ on December 25 in India, the epic movie has once again given rise to chatter and discussion about the plot, the characters, and the philosophy behind the saga. Even a layman with no in-depth religious training can easily recognize various trends and philosophical concepts central to the movie, which have been deeply influenced by eastern religions and philosophies, mostly notably Hinduism and Buddhism.

Here are the five areas where the Hindu influence is most profound and which in a sense define the entire Star Wars saga:

1. The Force: The concept of an all pervading and all binding ‘Force’ is perhaps the most central theme of the Star Wars saga. The plot line of the entire series is based on how the ‘Force’ is used by the righteous Jedis on one side and the unrighteous Sith on the other.

In the original trilogy, Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi describes the force as “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” This definition is no different from the Hindu definition of Shakti or Prakriti or Maya who is considered as the source of the Universe who pervades everything.

In Hindu philosophy, Brahman or God is considered as the substratum or Self of the Universe. And this Brahman (also called Shiva or consciousness) using his own power of Maya (called Shakti or Prakriti as well) manifests the Universe and inhabits it. Thus, every object of the Universe, living and non-living, has a spark of Shiva or consciousness and a spark of Shakti or energy. Thus, each individual is associated with a portion of Universal Shakti and hence is connected with the Prakriti.

This Shakti is both within and without, both inside and outside of everything. In other words, Shakti surrounds us, penetrates us, and upholds the galaxy. (Remember the Upanishad definition of God as creator, sustainer, and destroyer)

Thus, the ‘Force’ of Star Wars clearly corresponds to the ancient Hindu concept of all-pervading Shakti which literally means power, force, and energy.

2. The Light Side and the Dark Side of the Force: The movie clearly depicts a duality in the usage of the Force. Though the Force is one, the movie depicts how the Jedi masters use it selflessly for the welfare of people while the Dark lords use it to attain power and rule over others. This is very much similar to the Hindu conception of Shakti. Shakti is both binding and liberating. People have free will to decide how they should utilize the power.

The movie depicts Jedi masters being trained in self-control, calmness, and a selfless use of Force for the greater good. The Jedi masters are also expected to practice celibacy and to renounce all emotional attachment. They aim to strengthen their connection with the Force and remain established in that Union.

This description completely resembles the training of a Yogi or even of a Kshatriya or a Brahmana in Hindu tradition. Indriya Nigraha or Self Control and equanimity is the basic requirement for Yoga as well as for a warrior. Similarly, a Yogi who wishes to connect with the Universal divine force, the Shakti or Atman must practice Brahmacharya (celibacy) and develop Vairagya (detachment and dispassion towards worldly objects). Just as a Jedi should never use power for selfish purposes, a Yogi is instructed never to hanker for power and never to misuse it.

Regarding the Dark side of the Force, the movie depicts the Jedi Master Yoda as saying: “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” This reminds one of Lord Krishna’s instruction to Arjuna, where he calls lust, anger, and greed the three gates to hell.

The Dark Side masters are depicted as having the same abilities and powers as the Jedi masters, but their powers are driven by passion and anger. In other words, Rajasika and Tamasika qualities predominate in the Dark masters as against Sattvika qualities of Jedi Masters. The misuse of the Force by Dark masters by giving in to desires and passions have many parallels in Hindu mythologies.

The Hindu philosophy calls internal emotions like fear, lust, anger, greed, etc. as ‘internal enemies’ or ‘internal passions.’ It reminds people again and again to transcend the passions and never to give in to them. It further holds that Shakti as such is neither good nor bad. It is up to the people how they decide to use them. They always have a choice to perform actions selflessly for greater good or selfishly to fulfill one’s own desires. This choice was clearly depicted in the movies when Anakin Skywalker chose the dark side and again when Luke Skywalker refused to give in to the dark side.

3. Jedi teacher-disciple training: The Jedi system has many resemblances with the Hindu Gurukula system. It imparts wholesome training that helps young students master themselves and their minds and develop a disciplined, calm, self-controlled, and self-less personality with a strong sense of righteousness. These are clearly the elements of Hindu Gurukula systems.

In the original trilogy, before Yoda trains Luke, he assesses the abilities, and competencies of Luke and only then begins his training. This again is a Hindu concept of Adhikara (competency), wherein a Guru teaches each student according to his competencies. Another point of similarity is the fact that Hindu Gurukulas were far away from the homes of the students and hence they learned detachment. A similar depiction of Jedi schools have been made in the movie.

It should also be noted that just as Hindu philosophy denotes Moksha or the union with God or the Divine Force as the ultimate goal of life, the Star-Wars movie appears to suggest implicitly (though not stated explicitly) that Jedi masters considered getting absorbed into the Force, or a Union with the Force as the ultimate goal.

4. Jedis and Kshatriyas: The institute of Jedi interestingly has similarities with the institute of the Kshatriyas or warrior classes in ancient India. Jedis have the same role in the movie as the Kshatriyas in ancient India i.e. protection of people. Both are trained in a similar manner and are imparted with similar values. Both are also expected to exhibit high spiritual caliber and ethical behavior.

5. Super-human abilities of Jedis and Yogic powers: Though even the commoners depicted in the movie were aware of the Force, only Jedis and few others could actually sense it or perceive it. The Jedis and the Dark masters were also the only ones actually able to use it.

This is very much similar to the Hindu perception of the Universe. Everybody realizes the concept of ’Vasudaiva Kutumbakam’ (the World is a family), but it is only a few who can actually perceive the connections. Everybody knows that the universe is pervaded by Shakti, but only few can control aspects of Shakti after long periods of Sadhana. The system of Yoga and Tantra have been designed to precisely achieve this.

Jedi masters have been depicted as exhibiting many super-human powers including telekinesis, controlling and influencing another person’s mind, perceiving the past and the future, etc. to name a few. The movies again and again depict the use of will power (called as Iccha Shakti in Hinduism). There is a large body of literature in Hinduism regarding superhuman powers and the means to obtain them. Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, for example, speaks about eight major siddhis (abilities) that include telekinesis and controlling the minds of others. Tantrika texts speak about a large variety of powers as well. The use of Iccha Shakti, along with Kriya Shakti (power of action) and Jnana Shakti (power of knowledge) has been given utmost importance in Hinduism.

(Photo: www.starwars.com)

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Sins in Hinduism: Facts, Meaning,Philosophy,Types & Atonement

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The sins in Hinduism can be washed away with devotional means. Pixabay.
  • Sin is regarded as an impurity arising in one’s body as a consequence to his own evil deeds. It is an effect that can be neutralised through various practices to lead your life into Moksha or liberation.
  • A liberated being or Jivanmukta is purified of all his sins who does not have to go through any further sins and rebirth. In order to make your soul pure and sinless, practice every deed with God’s grace.
  • The Sins in Hinduism, sinful conduct and their remedies have been referred to in Hindu Scriptures such as in Upanishads, Bhagavadgita, Yoga Sutras, Manu Smriti and Garuda Purana. 

As stated about sins in Hinduism, sin may form up with disobedience to God’s divine laws of Dharma. It may however be difficult to follow, but is considered obligatory for humans. The sins in Hinduism can be forgiven if Dharma is upholded as a service to God through self-effort and pure devotion to God.

Sins in Hinduism
Meditation is considered as the easiest from of removing sins in Hinduism. Pixabay.

What is the meaning of Sins in Hinduism?

The word Pāpam (paap) is often used to describe sins in Hinduism as mentioned in the Vedas and Hindu scriptures. Punyam (punya) is the opposite (antonym) of sin. It does not acquire an equivalent word in English since the concept of sins in Hinduism is different in western culture and Christianity.

Separating the word, ‘Pa‘ means to drink, inhale or absorb. ‘Apa‘ means water, combinedly meaning consuming or drinking impure water or poison. Pāpam also denotes evil, wicked, mischievous, destructive, inferior, corrupt and guilt.

It is believed that the sins of Hinduism manifests in the body with the impurities of worldliness (vishaya-asakti). The human body becomes subject to various poisons (visham) such as egoism, greed, ignorance, selfishness, desires and so on, which emerge with our attachments with worldly things (vishayas). These poisons of sins make the humans to take rebirths and deaths until they are removed completely. In the Hindu culture, Lord Shiva is regarded as the destroyer and the healer who gets invoked by devotees prayers and can remove or destroy such poison or sins to grant them liberation.

Sins in Hinduism
The sins in hinduism have been depicted in the scriptures. Pixabay.

What is the Philosophy of Sins in Hinduism?

The sins appear from physical, mental or oral actions, due to the impurities or poisons pertaining to Dharma and Hinduism. The poison of sin is stimulated if one harms intentionally to others or oneself by way of pain and suffering continuing the cycle of rebirth and death.

The repurcussions of sinful acts or karma are fault or mistake (aparadha), worry or anxiety (cintha), impurities or imperfections (doshas), evil intentions (dudhi), evil qualities (dhurta lakshana), immorality (adharma), demonic nature (asura sampatti), chaos or disorderliness (anrta), mental afflictions (klesha), destruction (nirtti), karmic debt (rna), sorrow (shoka), darkness or grossness (tamas) and suffering (pida). Others include: inferior birth, birth through demonic wombs, downfall into hells, increased suffering to ancestors, adversity, loss of reputation.

Sins in Hinduism
Visit Pilgrimage shrines to erase your sins in Hindusim. Pixabay.

What are the types of Sins in Hinduism?

The Dharmashastras of the Hindu scriptures denote sin as Pātaka which represents the causes of one’s downfall or destruction (patanam).The following are the three types of sins in Hinduism: Mortal Sins (Mahapatakas), Secondary Sins (Upa Patakas) and Minor Sins (Prakirna or prasangika Patakas)

The Mahapatakas

These are the gravest and darkest sins in Hinduism leading to the worst downfall of the mortals into the darkest of hells. They can neither be neutralized or washed away without suffering. Some Puranas and Vedas indicate to devote oneself purely to God to remove such sins. The Dharmashastras have stated such five gravest sins termed as the Pancha Mahapatakas. In Hinduism,the company of sinners is also not advisable as associating with sinners will lead you to the same consequences.

The Upa Patakas

These secondary sins may emerge out of minor offenses that include incompetency to perform sacrifices regularly, displeasing the Guru, selling harmful and intoxicating drinks, disbelief in God, giving false witness, making false acclaims, and performing a sacrifice for an unworthy person or unworthy cause and engaging in illicit sex.

The Prakirna Patakas

These type of sins in Hinduism form the minor offenses committed intentionally or unintentionally out of ignorance or carelessness which can be removed or washed away by performing sacrifices (prayaschitta) or by punishments and requesting forgiveness. The law books regard more than fifty minor sins in Hinduism such as selling the wife, making salt, studying forbidden Shastras, killing a woman, marrying the younger son before marrying the elder one, killing insects and other creatures, ignorance to parents, accepting gifts without performing sacrifices,adultery etc.

What are the solutions to overcome Sins?

Fines and punishments

The Dharmashastras render both corporeal and monetary punishments for various offenses or sins in Hinduism, apart from the sufferings in hell or rebirth. According to Hindu scriptures, the ancient era saw immense difference in the application of punishments from caste to caste.

Confession

The best path to deal with sins of Hinduism is to surrender yourself infront of God and seek forgiveness with your own confession of the sin committed. The king was regarded as a similar figure to God who demanded a public confession (abhishasta) from the sinner.

Austerities and Atonement

By performing Vedic traditional rituals, the sins in Hinduism are removed by fasting, virtuous conduct, self-control, practice of nonviolence, truthfulness, austere living, practice of silence, concentration and meditation.

Sins in Hinduism
Your sins in Hinduism can be removed by Devoting yourself to the grace of God. Pixabay.

Rituals and sacrifices

The Vedas have recommended various rituals or sacrifices to wash away the the impurities (dhosas) arising from one’s birth, karma, relationships, place or direction related issues, vastu defects, dangerous diseases and evil conduct.

Prayers and Mantras

Vishnu Purana of the Hindu scriptures pronounce the effective importance of the continuous chanting of names of God (japam) in the Kaliyug. Some mantras and hymns are considered more significant than meditation and sacrifices to clean the impurities of the body.

Recitation of the Vedas and other Sacred Books

Knowledge (jnana) has the eternal power to remove the sins in Hinduism. It can be derived with regular reading up and learning from the scriptures of sacred importance.

Visiting pilgrimages

To grant your devotion and gratitude, Hinduism seeks to commit to Dharma by visiting holy pilgrimage place. It is a divine form of self-cleansing and experiencing peace and happiness.

Bathing in the sacred rivers

The sacred pilgrimages are mostly located near the banks of the rivers that are also treated as purifiers. Hence, bathing in those rivers lead your life into devotional worship as a purification rituals to overcome sins in Hinduism.

Yoga and Meditation

Pranayama and meditation are the suggested methods to practise peace and overcome past sins. They also form a major part of the austerities to cleanse the internal mind and body.

The blessings of saints and gurus

Saints, sadhus and mahatmas have been given a special status in Hinduism because of their respectful purity and virtue. They acquire divine knowledge and supreme powers, with which they cleanse those who approach them for blessings.

Sins in Hinduism
Worshipping the saints remove the sins in hinduism. Pixabay.

Virtuous conduct

Sinful karma can be countered with huge efforts into virtuous karma. The sins in Hinduism are washed away with kind and healthy conduct to everyone equally.

Charity

Dana (gift giving) or charity is very significant in Hindu Dharma. By conducting sacrifices and spiritual practices one must conduct charity as well. As a part of Vedas, the higher castes are under obligation to perform five daily sacrifices including offer food to gods, ancestors, sages, humans and creatures.

-Prepared by Bhavana Rathi of NewsGram. Twitter @tweet_bhavana

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Hinduism is Not an Official or Preferred Religion in Any Country of The World, Says a New Report

Though Hinduism is the third largest religion of the world, it is not the official state religion of any country according to a Pew Research Center Report

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Hinduism is not an official religion of any country in the world. Instagram.
  • No country has declared Hinduism as its official state religion – despite India being an influential Hindu political party
  • Hinduism is not an official or preferred religion in any country of the world, according to a Pew Research Center report.
  • 53% of 199 nations considered in the study don’t have an official religion
  • 80 countries are assigned either an “official religion” or “preferred religion”

Nevada, USA, October 16: Hinduism is the primeval and third largest religion of the world with about 1.1 billion followers of moksh (liberation) being its utmost desire of life. India is among the category of nations where the government do not have an official or preferred religion.

Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank headquartered in Washington DC that aims to inform the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.

The report states that a country’s official religion is regarded as a legacy of its past and present privileges granted by the state. And a few other countries fall on the other side of the gamut, and propagate their religion as the ‘official religion’, making it a compulsion for all citizens.

It adds up on the context of allocation that more than eight-in-ten countries (86%) provide financial support or resources for religious education programs and religious schools that tend to benefit the official religion.

Hinduism
Islam is the most practiced official religion of the world. Instagram.

Commenting on Hinduism, the report states:

In 2015, Nepal came close to enshrining Hinduism, but got rejected of a constitutional amendment due to a conflict between pro-Hindu protesters and state police.

Although India has no official or preferred religion as mentioned in the Constitution,it was found by PEW that in India the intensity of government constraints and social antagonism involving religion was at a peak. “Nigeria, India, Russia, Pakistan and Egypt had the highest levels of social hostilities involving religion among the 25 most populous countries in 2015. All fell into the “very high” hostilities category,” the report added.

As per the 2011 census, it was found that 79.8% of the Indian population idealizes Hinduism and 14.2% practices to Islam, while the rest 6% pursuit other religions.

While Hinduism stands up with the majority, Article 25 of the Constitution of India contributes secularism allowing for religious freedom and allows every Indian to practice his/her religion, without any intervention by the community or the government.

Distinguished Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, President of Universal Society of Hinduism, applauded the Hindu community for their benefaction to the society and advised Hindus to concentrate on inner purity, attract spirituality towards youth and children, stay far from the greed, and always keep God in the life.

According to Pew, these are “places where government officials seek to control worship practices, public expressions of religion and political activity by religious groups”.

-by Bhavana Rathi of NewsGram.  She can be reached @tweet_bhavana

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Paintings Which Beautifully Depict Scenes From Ramayana

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Ramayana
Ram lifting the bow during Sita Swayambar. Wikimedia Commons.

Ramayana, the ancient Indian epic which describes the narrative of Ayodhya Prince lord Rama’s struggles. The struggles include- exile of 14 years, abduction of his wife Sita, reaching Lanka, destruction of the evil. It is strongly ingrained in the Indian culture, especially, the Hindu culture since a long time. Hindus celebrate Diwali based on the narratives of Ramayana.

The story of Ramayana gives out the beautiful message that humanity and service to the mankind is way more important than kingdom and wealth. Below are five paintings describing the scenes from Ramayana:

1. Agni Pariksha in Ramayana

Ramayana
Agni Pariksha. Wikimedia.

When Lord Rama questions Sita’s chastity, she undergoes Agni Pariksha, wherein, she enters a burning pyre, declaring that if she has been faithful to her husband then the fire would harm her. She gets through the test without any injuries or pain. The fire God, Agni, was the proof of her purity. Lord Rama accepts Sita and they return to Ayodhya. 

2. Scene From The Panchavati Forest

Ramayana
scene from the panchavati forest. wikimedia.

The picture describes a scene from the Panchavati forest. It is believed that Lord Rama built his forest by residing in the woods of Panchavati, near the sources of the river Godavari, a few miles from the modern city of Mumbai. He lived in peace with his wife and brother in the forest.

3. Hanuman Visits Sita

Ramayana
Hanuman meets Sita. Wikimedia.

Hanuman reaches Lanka in search of Sita. At first, he was unable to find Sita. He later saw a woman sitting in Ashok Vatika, drowned in her sorrows, looked extremely pale. He recognized her. After seeing the evil king, Ravana making her regular visit to Sita, he hid somewhere in the Vatika. After Ravana left, Hanuman proved Sita that he is Rama’s messenger by showing her his ring. He assured her that Rama would soon come to rescue her. Before leaving Lanka, he heckled Ravana. Agitated by Hanuman’s actions, Ravana ordered to set Hanuman’s tail on fire. With the burning tail, Hanuman set the entire city on fire.