Hinduism, as it comes across in this book, is a robust, joyful religion, amazingly in step with the most advanced thinking of modern times, in love with life, deeply human as well as humane, delightfully aware of your personal life’s needs–or so it seems, for the teaching in this book is no abstraction: It is down-to-earth and pressingly immediate.
Swami Kriyananda’s inspired, entertaining, energetic writing style make this book delightful reading for anyone interested in spirituality and the deeper meanings of religion. A master of word imagery, he brings order to the seeming chaos of symbols and deities in Hinduism. This book reveals the underlying teachings from which the symbols arise, truths inherent in all religions, and their essential purpose: the direct inner experience of God.
Part One: The Revelation
Chapter One: What Is Revelation?
Chapter Two: What Are Symbols?
Chapter Three: The Power of Symbolism
Chapter Four: Symbolism in India
Chapter Five: Dating It All
Chapter Six: Symbolism: Truth, or Imagination?
Chapter Seven: Philosophy, Religion, Science, or—What?
Chapter Eight: The Hindu Revelation, Part One, Sanatan Dharma—the Eternal Religion
Chapter Nine: The Hindu Revelation, Part Two, Duality in the Interrelationship of the Sexes
Chapter Ten: Symbolism—or Idolatry?
Part Two: The Symbols
Chapter Eleven: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva: The Trinity of AUM
Chapter Twelve: The Symbolism of Brahma
Chapter Thirteen: Brahma’s Secret
Chapter Fourteen: The Garden Door
Chapter Fifteen: The Importance of Satsanga (Good Company)
Chapter Sixteen: The Avatara: Revelation, or Return Voyage?
Chapter Seventeen: The Avatara and Human Evolution
Chapter Eighteen: Symbolism in the Bhagavad Gita
Chapter Nineteen: Tantra—the Way of Confrontation
Chapter Twenty: The Divine Mother
Chapter Twenty-One: Unity in Diversity
Hinduism is often omitted from rosters of the world’s great religions. Everyone knows, of course, that Hinduism exists. Even so, it is confused in many people’s minds with what they think of as Buddhism. For Buddhism fits into their concepts of what a religion ought to be. For one thing, it was founded by one individual, Gautama Buddha, who was a historic personage like Moses, Jesus, Lao Tse, Mohammed, and Zoroaster. Buddhism, moreover, like most other religions, has an organized structure (divided, like the others, into a number of sects), a set of specific dogmas, and an officially recognized Way. Moreover, like the other religions, it has its own set of clearly defined, “noble” principles for better living.
Hinduism, by contrast, seems to have merely “happened.” Foreigners see in it such a bewildering array of gods and goddesses, of complex and seemingly incomprehensible ceremonies, and of confusing “explanations” for everything that most students of the subject end up merely bewildered.
A friend of mine years ago, a long-time devotee of yoga meditation practices, was able upon retirement to fulfill a lifelong dream by traveling to India. On arrival in Calcutta, he enthusiastically asked a guide to show him the spiritual sights. The man took him first to Kalighat Temple, where he was shown a goat being sacrificed to the “Divine Mother.” So great was his shock that he returned immediately to his hotel, and expressed no further interest in seeing any further “spiritual” sights. When I encountered him a week later, I found him completely disillusioned with Hinduism, although still faithful to his meditation practices.
Even if the Westerner holds good intentions toward India—and my friend was certainly one such person—he may see Hinduism as containing some of the worst examples of paganism. Small wonder, then, that many people look upon Buddhism as the noblest representative of India’s religion, and turn to it when wanting an Indian religion to place among the great religions of the world. For not only did Buddha found a religion: He was a religious reformer. Moreover, he offered a common-sense approach to self-betterment to which the modern mind can relate easily.
While Buddhism is relatively simple, Hinduism is complex. Hinduism recommends the worship of countless deities, many-armed, many-headed, with animal bodies or animal heads, dancing, playing on a variety of musical instruments. What, the foreigner asks, is going on? When he sees a goat being sacrificed in bloody ritual, is it any wonder he dismisses the whole show as idolatry in its most debased aspects?
By contrast, Buddhism seems, to Westerners especially, to offer a benign and palatable form of the Indian religious experience. Most students of religion know that Buddha tried to reform some of the ancient practices; they think of him as having brought order and sophistication to primitive chaos. When they prepare lists of the great world religions, they think of themselves as demonstrating respect for the religion of India by calling it Buddhism. Most of them are not even conscious of their mistake.
Buddha’s position relative to Hinduism is similar, in a sense, to Martin Luther’s relative to the Roman Catholic Church.* Both men were reformers, and the structure reformed by each was not supplanted by his teachings. The Catholic Church survives to this day, and has in many ways been strengthened by Luther’s reforms. Hinduism, similarly, was purified and strengthened by the teachings of Buddha, and was in no way replaced by them. Most Hindus today look upon Buddha as one of their own avataras, or divine incarnations.
There are two aspects to Hinduism, as there are to every religion. One is outward and concerns ritual worship, traditions, and patterns of social behavior. The other is inward. This other is essential in both senses of the word: It contains the essence of that religion; it is, moreover, essential that this essence be understood for Hinduism really to be understood at all. This second, this essential aspect of the Hindu religion concerns the individual’s relationship to God, and to higher truth.
In their inner aspect, the ancient teachings of India are so broad-based that it seems almost a contradiction of the vastness of their vision to identify it uniquely with any specific religion. Hinduism, in its plethora of symbols and images, is endlessly complex and therefore endlessly misunderstood, but its true mission is both simple and universal: soul-enlightenment. The way to understand this mission is to realize that it is goal-oriented, not way-oriented. In other words, its focus is the ultimate attainment, Self-realization in God. It is not focused on the outer rituals, which are intended merely to remind one of God. The outer teaching of Hinduism, which I call the Hindu Way of Belief, developed out of an inner vision of this universal goal of all life. To understand the outer way is not possible without first probing the inner.
The purpose of this book, then, is primarily to clarify certain deep teachings that lie, like the ocean, beneath the bewildering profusion of surface waves.
The secondary purpose of this book is to analyze a few of the symbols people commonly encounter from their very first exposure to Hinduism. I don’t propose to explain those symbols in exhaustive detail, but rather to give an over-view of them in the hope that foreigners and “modernized” Indians alike may come to appreciate the Hindu Way of Belief, also, for the deep truths it contains.
For even today, thousands of years since they were first expounded by the ancient rishis (spiritual sages), the religious teachings of India nourish what continues to be the most spiritually grounded civilization in the world.
* A better comparison might be the example of Jesus Christ, who was a great master. Jesus, however, unlike the others, never founded anything, but remained throughout his life a loyal Jew. Many commentators have claimed that the first actual Christian was St. Paul of Tarsus.
Chapter One: What Is Revelation?
Revelation is a sudden and complete knowing—usually of some spiritual truth, though not always so. The certainty that revelation suggests comes not from any process of reasoning, but as a direct inspiration from the superconscious, or, more exactly, in a state of superconsciousness.
Revelation may also be less purely spiritual in nature. Composers, for example, have spoken of receiving their inspiration from higher realms: from God, as some of them have put it. Scientists, too, have sometimes had sudden glimpses into the nature of material reality for which they could not account in rational terms. The physicist Albert Einstein stated that the Law of Relativity came to him in a flash. After that experience, he labored for ten years to present it understandably to his fellow scientists.
Mahatma Gandhi’s uncanny knowledge of just the right tactics to follow in the crises he faced during his struggle to free India from English rule cannot have been due to political astuteness alone. His decisions were more than intelligent: They were intuitive; as such, they were, at least to some degree, born of revelation.
Paramhansa Yogananda, a born leader of men, was approached in Calcutta when he was young by persons who wanted him to lead a revolution against the British. Demurring, he replied, “India will be freed during my lifetime, by peaceful means.” His inner certainty in this prediction may also be classed as a kind of revelation.
Any flash of certainty that enters the mind with sudden clarity, and that is neither clouded by imagination nor merely formulated as a reasonable hypothesis, is, in its own way, a revelation.
Revelations must be in some way verifiable. That is, they must be able to withstand the test of objective reality. If they really are soul-intuitions, they will be superconscious and as such will belong to a higher, not a lower (such as subconscious), level of reality. The products of fantasy or of wishful thinking have a different quality. They might be described as tentative. Revelation doesn’t merely “make sense.” The deep inner certainty it conveys is absolute. It comes not as a “conclusion” to some process of thinking or reasoning, but fully developed, like the goddess Athena from the brow of Zeus.
There are, as I said, many levels of intuitive insight. By intuition one may gain access even to trivial knowledge—solutions, for example, to every-day problems. Normally, however, revelation refers to the highest order of intuition, and concerns especially the soul’s relationship to God, the Absolute. Indeed, the more clearly a superconscious inspiration reveals the Divine Will, the more it deserves to be classed as revelation.
An important feature of revelation is that it is always personal; it is not public. A genuine revelation may be declared in scripture and accepted as the truth by millions, but what those millions understand of it is not their revelation. It is only what they have read about someone else’s experience. Scripture itself can only echo revealed truth.
Words are but symbols. They do not present: They represent. Even when multitudes receive a revelation directly, as has in fact happened occasionally, it remains personal for each member of the crowd. If an entire nation were born blind, then suddenly given the gift of sight, the experience would be personal for each citizen. Sensory in nature, the thrill would of course diminish in time as novelties always do, but even accepting that this experience was a “revelation” of a sort to each of them, it would still be personal, and would depend on each person’s ability to see.
Einstein’s intuitive recognition of the Law of Relativity was a revelation in a more valid sense of the word, for it was (indeed, it could only have been) inspired by the superconscious. For us, the beneficiaries of his discovery, his revelation is not our own. Nor does it extend to those few scientists who have been able to understand it intellectually. It is a revelation only for that rare person, if such a one exists, who has been uplifted in awareness to the same degree as Einstein was during his moment of discovery.
Revelation is not static. It brings an outwardly expanding awareness, which bestows more and ever deeper insights. Einstein, after that first revelation, continued throughout his life to receive further, often amazing, insights into cosmic reality. It wasn’t intellect alone that brought him those perceptions: It was the fact that he had, even if only once, touched the hem of Infinity. As he was to write many years later, the essence of scientific discovery is a sense of mystical awe before the wonders of the universe.
Meanwhile, others have been left with the mere effects of his revelation. Indeed, all he could give them was, in a sense, its symbols. The revelation was his alone.
Revelation is wisdom as distinct from intellectual knowledge. The intellect analyzes and separates, then painstakingly reassembles the parts in the hope of making them fit together again. The intellect is like a child who, after taking apart a watch, tries to put the pieces back again as they were. The intellect, though gifted at analysis, lacks the understanding necessary for anything more thereafter than synthesis. But revelation transcends reason; it perceives the essential truth of a thing in its entirety, and in a flash.
St. Teresa of Avila, in Spain, wrote, “The soul in its ecstatic state grasps in an instant more truth than can be arrived at by months, or even years, of painstaking thought and study.”
Superconscious revelation perceives an underlying unity, whereas the intellect perceives only diversity. Superconscious revelation may come in an instant, whereas the intellect must plod slowly over muddy fields, its boots gathering heavy clods of definitions. Superconsciousness is solution-oriented; ordinary consciousness is problem-oriented. Theology, for example, reaches learned conclusions by careful deliberation, sometimes by heated debate, and always by a process of laborious intellectual refinement.
Revelation is ever new and ever dynamic. Intellectual definitions of revelation, on the other hand, are formulated to remain forever fixed and immutable. Revelation is expansive: theology’s definitions are contractive, in the sense that they deliberately exclude other points of view but that one. The authoritative pronouncements of theologians are designed to resist challenge. Revelation is the source of all true religious inspiration. Dogma, though purporting to derive from revelation, does its best to discourage any more revelations lest they upset its carefully erected structure of reasoning.
Not every writing accepted as scripture has been founded on revelation. Friedrich Nietzsche would have been a good example of a false prophet, had anyone thought to accord him the dignity of prophet in the first place. His book, Thus Spake Zarathustra, has some of the ring of authentic scripture, at least in its portentous self-assurance. But although it is good literature, and is even impressive to read in brief segments, it soon betrays itself as lacking in the one essential ingredient of all scripture: consistency with the oft-stated truths of the ages. It is, rather, the raving of an ego-maniac whose life ended in madness because his human brain was not equal to the strain of his presumption.
Nietzsche’s greatest fallacy was his belief that the function of philosophy is not to interpret and appraise values, but to create them. “The real philosophers,” he wrote, “are commanders and lawgivers; they say: ‘Thus shall it be!’ . . . Their ‘knowing’ is creating, their creating is a lawgiving, their will to truth is Will to Power.” This, clearly, is not revelation but, as I said, presumption. Revelation cannot be invented. The truth itself, as Paramhansa Yogananda wrote in Autobiography of a Yogi, can only be perceived.
One of the hallmarks of true revelation is consistency. I don’t mean a rubber-stamp sameness, for revelation is always, in its own way, fresh and new. Yet revelations never contradict one another.
If two travelers were to describe a city in exactly the same terms, it might be fairly safely assumed that one of them was echoing the other. Again, if they flatly contradicted each other—one of them perhaps describing the city as being surrounded by a high wall, and the other insisting that it was open on all sides to the surrounding countryside—we would assume that one of them, at least, was wrong. In either case, until we went there and saw the city for ourselves we could do no more than guess which of them had really seen the city. Only if their descriptions, though different, were not inconsistent might we assume that both of them had been there.
Some writers are adept at describing things that “eye hath not seen nor ear heard.” A profane, rather than scriptural, example is the story, Anna and the King of Siam, about an English governess in the king’s court in Thailand during the Nineteenth Century. Westerners, lacking good reason to doubt its veracity, found the story delightful. The Thais, however, familiar with their own country and knowing a fair amount about their former king, are outraged by the book’s innumerable outright inventions.
Who is to know the truth of any report, including reports of mystical revelation, if he lacks direct personal knowledge? One way of knowing at least inferentially would be if everyone writing on the subject agreed on certain essentials. Hence the importance of consistency.
Where divine teachings are concerned, however, consistency with other high teachings is not enough to prove that their inspiration came from revelation. For one thing, people sometimes base their writings on the reading they have done. A well-written account of mystical experiences, such as one might encounter in a novel on the subject, might be consistent with the truth and yet not in itself be born of personal experience. The reader who lacks experience himself would need guidance to be sure whether it was really born of revelation.
There is a saying, “It takes one to know one.” Usually meant derogatorily (it takes a thief, for instance, to know a thief), this saying can be applied equally well to spiritual experiences. The higher a person’s own spiritual realization, the more instantly he will recognize true spiritual experience in others.
There are also objective criteria, which can be applied by everyone. And there is a direction of spiritual development that is relatively easy to discern: increasing inner peace, expanding awareness and sympathy, growingly impersonal love, deep soul-joy. Many are the signs—too many, indeed, to list them all here. Someone standing on a low mound would find it impossible to estimate the relative heights of Mt. Everest and Mt. Kanchenjunga, the highest and the third highest mountains in the world. From that little mound, indeed, the distinction would not even matter. Where the purpose is to rise higher, what matters is to find any hillock that is higher than the mound on which one is standing.
Considering the scriptures from this point of view, even a false scripture or one that is not born of true revelation should not be condemned, provided people draw inspiration from it. The important thing is that the inspiration they feel doesn’t lower their present state of consciousness, and thereby diminish their degree of awareness. Many so-called spokespersons for spirituality delude others into imagining that some new “truth” has been discovered, one unavailable earlier during less enlightened times. Consistency through the ages is one of the surest guidelines for avoiding this error.
For if anyone should be so bold as to challenge the time-honored wisdom of the ages, as Friedrich Nietzsche did with his flash-in-the-pan philosophy, he should be ignored as a charlatan. No spiritual master has ever contradicted timeless wisdom.
Only in the spiritual field, indeed, do we encounter a fundamental consistency. Nowhere else. Where abstract principles are concerned, especially, who is there in any other field to speak for them authoritatively? Whom have innumerable “schools” of art produced to determine authoritatively the nature of good art? Whom, in business? In the field of science, “breakthroughs” are made every few years, many of which contradict tenets that long seemed firmly established. Only in the field of deep spiritual revelation is consistency the norm. Indeed, it is from superconscious insights gained into Divine Law that lesser laws have been discovered also—in art, business, science, and the humanities.
In revelation there are no surprises: There is only confirmation. Divine truths, though ever new in the sense of ever-newly inspiring, are at the same time changeless and eternal. Their expressions may change, but their central essence remains ever the same.
Consistency, then, is one of the hallmarks of true revelation. As waves are united by the ocean underneath them, so underneath all our restless ideas and beliefs there lies a deep stillness. And within that stillness lie soul-perceptions that have been experienced since time immemorial by the great mystics of all religions: divine love, bliss, wisdom, light, cosmic sound, and an extraordinarily heightened awareness known as ecstasy. Great saints everywhere have attained these states, regardless of their own systems of belief. In the realm of spirituality, unanimity transcends time, space, and every merely human perception of reality.
Christian writers have emphasized the progressive manifestation of God’s will through history. Their view is focused on a very limited time span, culminating in events that transpired 2,000 years ago. It ignores altogether the histories of Europe, Asia, Africa, and of North and South America, as well as of other parts of the world, and is narrowed to a very small portion of the Near East.
Their focus may have a certain validity for all that, for God does also participate in human affairs, especially through the instrumentality of divinely awakened saints. There is no reason, then, to assume a radical separation between Absolute Consciousness and the relative universe. A stage play is not necessarily autobiographical, but its playwright is not therefore indifferent to the plot. Non-attachment is very different from lack of concern. Nevertheless, the essentials of revelation transcend all human realities.
Revelation is the perception of that which ever was, and ever shall be. The religions of the world, in their systems of belief, concentrate too often on that which in their eyes makes them unique: on the special ways in which their prophets, saints, or masters are different from all others; on the one special grace that animates them alone; on their own way of salvation as the surest for winning divine favor. They describe as “revelation” those truths which, they believe, set them apart from—and of course above—all other religions. Even the explanation of a revelation, however, is not the same thing as the experience of it. Though the explanations be many and diverse, the revelation itself can be only one.
One hallmark of revelation is its innate power. There is nothing vague or mystifying about its experience. The entire universe was projected from Divine Consciousness. Scriptures born of revelation project an almost palpable aura of divine power. Ordinary books are sometimes written and offered to the world as scripture that are merely mind-born, not superconsciousness-born. Some of them even become widely accepted as scripture. If they lack that aura of divine power, though, they must be classed as human inventions, merely. They are not expressions of true revelation.
In divine power there is another quality also: a vibration of expansive joy. Scriptures based on true revelation are never melancholy, pessimistic, or depressing. True scripture conveys a spirit of infinite hope. For such, through the ages, has been the experience of everyone who has been blessed with the experience of revelation.
The insights on which the Hindu teachings are based were revelation in the highest sense of the word. That revelation is not unique to any religion. No experience of the Absolute may be claimed as the possession of one person or one religion.
An aspect of the greatness of the Indian scriptures, indeed, lies in their own claim to universality. In this, Vedic revelation is, in the words of the American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, “sublime as heat and night and a breathless ocean. It contains every religious sentiment, all the grand ethics which visit in turn each noble poetic mind . . . eternal necessity, eternal compensation, unfathomable power, unbroken silence.”
A fundamental tenet of Hinduism is that all paths lead to the same goal. God is the one Source of everything in existence. Some people, however, have drawn from this tenet in Hinduism the conclusion that all paths, therefore, are equal. This is no more true than it would be to say that it makes no difference whether one wants to travel from Switzerland to France by going directly, or going in an eastward direction around the world, coming to France by way of the Atlantic. Both ways will get you there, yes. The eastern route may even have the advantage of affording you with broader experience in the process. It should not be said, however, that the two ways are equal.
Drunkenness may in fact take one to God, eventually, through lifetimes of suffering and disillusionment. As the part of a bone that has been broken becomes, once it heals, stronger than the original bone, so drunkenness may eventually give one a distaste for evading one’s responsibilities (as alcoholics usually try to do), and make one more firmly devoted than most people to doing what is right. Thus, it may be said that while the fundamental truth of religion—namely, that God is one, and that it is man’s duty to know Him—is the same everywhere, it cannot be said truly that all religions, and all sects within those religions, are equal. There is, in fact, much error practiced everywhere in the name of religion: much bigotry, much intolerance, much hatred, and much persecution. “Ignorance,” Paramhansa Yogananda used to say, “both East and West, is fifty-fifty.”
Indeed, the eternal truth that the goal of soul evolution is oneness with God is nowhere taught so unequivocally or so definitely as in Hinduism. Jesus Christ taught it, to be sure, but almost no so-called Christians believe in that kind of liberation. Their idea of perfection—which Jesus counseled also—is eternal life amid heavenly surroundings.
Buddha taught that highest state, certainly, but almost no Buddhists believe that the state of oneness entails eternal, blissful, conscious awareness. They think of nirvana as nothingness. An official Buddhist document I read in Thailand many years ago equated nirvana with total cessation of consciousness. The document was written as an answer to the Hindu concept of Satchidananda: ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new Bliss. “It is true,” the document conceded, “that there is, at first, a fleeting experience of bliss. After that, however, there ensues a state of absolute nothingness.” Who would devote his whole life—indeed, lifetimes—with full sincerity to achieving nothingness? Impossible! I can only imagine people, once that dread moment of truth arrives, exclaiming in dismay, “Hold off a little! I’m not quite ready for that!” Nirvana, when truly understood, means the cessation of everything except bliss. Divine Bliss is the only eternal reality. And blissful compassion is what the Buddha showed throughout his mission on earth.
I’ve been dismayed to see Hinduism either discounted altogether in Western thought, or else equated with Buddhism as the true flowering of ancient Hinduism. Buddha was, in fact, a Hindu, just as Jesus was a Jew. I learned from my great guru, however, how extraordinary is the legacy of India’s ancient religion—how all-embracing, how thrillingly right and true. No other religion in the world, as understood by its own adherents, presents as the goal of life the state of moksha: liberation in oneness with Satchidananda.
“Swami Kriyananda’s inspired, entertaining, energetic writing style makes this book delightful reading for Hindus and non-Hindus alike. He brings order to the seeming chaos of the vast symbols and imagery one encounters in Hinduism and brings forth the underlying teachings from which these symbols arise. . . . Kriyananda does a superb job not only in deepening our understanding and appreciation of the Hindu religion, but of encouraging us to expand our awareness to include an appreciation of truth in all religions.”
“In a scholarly and thorough manner, Kriyananda explores the true meaning of self-discovery through the various ways of Hindu religions. He places the Hindu way not only in history within the contexts of the psychology and spirituality of symbol, but also directly demonstrates how it participates in the revelation of the ultimate human destiny.”
—The New Times
“The Hindu Way of Awakening demonstrates that Hinduism is a robust, joyful religion, amazingly in step with the most advanced thinking of modern times, in love with life, deeply human, as well as humane, delightfully aware of the individual’s personal life needs. [The book] gives hope for life and for the future. It points to that essence of eternal truth that animates every great religion in the world, and amply demonstrates the necessity for all men and women of good will to interact together with a mutual respect for the sake of their own personal well-being and for the benefit of future generations.”
—Midwest Book Review
“The book provides an understanding of Hinduism as the inner Way that all souls tread, characterized by profound wisdom and devotion, and with a genuine toleration and appreciation of religious diversity that is so much needed in our world.”
—Light of Consciousness magazine