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Tuesday, 22 November 2011

How I Became a Hindu ?

Book Review:
How I Became a Hindu
By David Frawel
Dr. Hari Nair

We live in the age of science. The frontiers of our knowledge are receding everyday. The method of science is empirical: it uses experiment to verify or to refute. Science has dispelled miracles from the physical world and it has shown that physical laws are universal. Technology had made astonishing advances and a lot that was the stuff of religious imagination has been brought under the ambit of science.  Why should we then be interested in the subject of conversion to Hinduism? Isn't this the age of questioning old-style religion in the manner of Why I am not a Christian by the great British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, or the more recent Why I am not a Muslim by Ibn Warraq?

The  book unfolds an intellectual and spiritual journey from the West to the East such as a number of people have traveled in recent times. This journey moves from the western world of materialism to the greater universe of consciousness that permeates India and was the basis of her older civilization.
As an inner journey it is more pilgrimage to the spiritual heart of India than an outer visit. Yet it is also a story marked by meetings with important people, friends and teachers who connected me with deeper teachings and guided me along the way. This journey is not only through space but also through time, into the ancient world and its spiritual culture, such as India has maintained better than any country. It is a reencounter with the spiritual roots of humanity that we have long forgotten or denigrated.
The book shows how the ancient Vedic world can come alive and touch us today, not only as a relic of the past but as an inspiration for the future. It is a return to the formative stages of humanity, before we directed our energy to the outer world and were still connected with our cosmic origins.
David Frawley's remarkable spiritual autobiography answers this question and many more. In a fascinating narrative, he walks us through his own discovery of how the stereotype of Hinduism presented by schoolbooks as a tradition of worship of many gods, social inequity, and meaningless ritual is false.
Not that there are not social problems in Hindu society, but these problems are a result of historical processes, India's political and economic vicissitudes of the last few centuries, and not central to the essence of Hinduism. Apart from this and, more significantly, he provides us a portrait of living Hinduism as mirrored by his own life experience.
Just as there can be only one outer science, so there can be only one inner science of the spirit. One can only speak of levels of knowledge and understanding. The dichotomy of believers and non-believers, where the believers are rewarded in paradise and the non-believers suffer eternal damnation in hell, is naive.
Also, since the physical universe itself is a manifestation of the divine, the notion of guilt related to our bodily existence is meaningless. Modern science, having mastered the outer reality, has reached the frontier of brain and mind.
We comprehend the universe by our minds, but what is the nature of the mind? Are our descriptions of the physical world ultimately no more than a convoluted way of describing aspects of the mind –the instrument with which we see the outer world? Why don't the computing circuits of the computer develop self-awareness as happens in the circuitry of the brain? Why do we have free-will when science assumes that all systems are bound in a chain of cause-effect relationships? Academic science has no answers to these questions and it appears that it never will.
On the other hand, Vedic science focuses on precisely these conundrums. And it does so by gracefully reconciling outer science to inner truth. By seeing the physical universe to be a manifestation of the transcendent spirit, Hindus find meditation on any aspect of this reality to be helpful in the acquisition of knowledge. But Hindus also declare that the notion that the universe consists of just the material reality to be false.
Here Hindus are in the company of those scientists who believe that to understand reality one needs recognize consciousness as a principle that complements matter. We cannot study the outer in one pass; we must look at different portions of it and proceed in stages. Likewise, we cannot know the spirit in one pass; we must look at different manifestations of it and meditate on each to deepen understanding.
There can be no regimentation in this practice. Hinduism, by its very nature, is a dharma of many paths. Thomas Jefferson would have approved. He once said, "Compulsion in religion is distinguished peculiarly from compulsion in every other thing. I may grow rich by an art I am compelled to follow; I may recover health by medicines I am compelled to take against my own judgment; but I cannot be saved by a worship I disbelieve and abhor.'' Not a straitjacket of narrow dogma, Hinduism enjoins us to worship any manifestation of the divine to which one is attuned.
Yoga is the practical vehicle of Hinduism and certain forms of it, such as Hatha Yoga, have become extremely popular all over the world. This has prepared people to understand the deeper, more spiritual, aspects of Yoga, which lead through Vedanta and the Vedas to the whole Hindu tradition.


How I Became a Hindu
By David Frawely