Hindus believe that after we die, we are reborn. This cycle of being
born again and again is called reincarnation. Most of us cannot
remember anything about our past lives but there are some who can
remember. The most important thing that comes with us when we are
reborn is our character. That is why we see children born in the same
family with such different character traits. That is the reason why
some children are born as geniuses - they had developed their skills in
Can we be reborn as a butterfly? Some think that this would be fun,
but it is highly unlikely. We start off being born as a lower being like
the plant but we slowly evolve and are reborn as higher and higher
beings until we become human. It would be difficult to be reborn as a
lower being after we have developed a human character.
Can we stop being reborn? Yes, only after we find God. That is the
final destination. We have to reach God to stop this cycle of rebirth.
This is called moksha.
Law of Karma
Hindus say that we have to experience the consequences for all that
we do. Just like if we foolishly cut our finger - we immediately feel the
pain and scream. Sometimes what we do now does not bear results
immediately, but catches up with us later on - sometimes in later lives.
This is called the Law of Karma. We reap what we sow. This means we
have to be very careful in what we do. If we do hateful things, we will
have to bear the consequences and pay for hateful things later on. If
we do good things then we will get good results later on. We are
responsible for everything that happens to us. It is our past actions
(karma) catching up with us.
Different ways to reach God
Hindus say that all religions are different ways to find God. They say
that we can reach God through any of these different ways. No one
religion is better than others.
Different ways to reach God within Hinduism
Within Hinduism there are many different ways to find God.
Some are intellectual and rational and like to use their intelligence to
find God - this way to God is called path of knowledge (jnana marg).
Then there are others who just fall in love with God - the method they
use to find God is called the path of devotion (bhakti marg).
There are also some who are introspective and like to use
concentration and find God. This method of finding God is called path
of meditation (raja yoga).
Some people like to be very active. They love to serve others. The
use to find God is called path of action (karma marg).
No one method is better than others. They are not exclusive of each
other. The method we choose should reflect our own character and
Ways to God
There are as many ways to God as there are people. Everyone has to
find his/her own way to God. We have to make the best use of our own
abilities both physical and mental. We can pick and choose any of these
ways, or a combination of any of these major ways. They are called the
four yogas or margs (paths).
Bhakti means intense love for God. This path is suited to people who
feel emotionally drawn towards God. The devotee spends his time in
prayers, devotional music and worship and constant remembrance of
the deity of his choice. His daily routine consists mainly of these
activities. He may read scriptures, sing devotional songs, tell beads and
socialise only with people of similar temperament. He performs
worship with great love and care. He develops a special relationship
with the deity of his choice in order to get closer to Him. Some like to
think of God as their real father or their real mother.
Some think of God as their child.
Some even think of God as their sweetheart. Some may take the
that they are just the servants of God. Others like to think of God as
their best friend. All these attitudes help them feel closer to God.
The greatest advantage of this path to God is that the end product
"Intense love of God" - is also the very instrument used to achieve
that goal. Hence many people consider this path to be the easiest way
to God. The difficulty is that only few people feel such intense love of
God! If the devotee expects anything in return for his devotion, his
love (bhakti) is considered to be unripe. When the devotee wants God
only for the sake of God and nothing else, his love is mature and is
then called parabhakti.
Essentially Raja yoga teaches the path to God through meditation.
Many mistake the word yoga to mean postures and physical exercises.
The term for these activities is - Hatha yoga. Hindus realise the
importance of a healthy body for spiritual progress; hence these
exercises were introduced. Sage Patanjali developed the system of
Raja yoga. It consists of eight steps. The first two are called Yama
and Niyama. These prescribe ten disciplines to be observed in daily life
before we are ready to practice meditation. They require the practice
of truthfulness, celibacy, cleanliness, non-violence, austerities etc. in
daily life. Next comes Asana - suitable sitting posture for meditation.
The main requirement is to sit upright with the backbone kept
straight. The aim of Raja yoga is to develop intense concentration
whereby we are able to become more 'awake' than we are now. It
requires a dramatic change in the level of awareness we experience.
Hindus claim that it is in this higher state of awareness that all
prophets come face to face with God. Spirituality then becomes first
hand experience and transforms the individual into a God-man. The
goal of Raja yoga is to develop one pointed concentration (dhyana) and
thus achieve union with the ultimate reality - God. This is called
Karma Yoga is often called the path of action. Krishna teaches in the
Bhagavad Gita, "Action is better than inaction". This forms the basis
of this particular path. It says that we cannot really avoid action.
Even if we sit in the remotest place our mind will still continue to
conjure up images and be active. The best thing is not to stop acting
but to act in a manner that helps to cleanse the mind. The simplest
method recommended is to continue to act but to offer the fruits of
our action to God. Thus we begin to develop a sense of detachment in
the midst of all activities. The ultimate reality as our true self is
best described as the witness looking out through the body. By
following this practice of non-attachment to our actions we get
closer to our true Self as the witness.
This is often described as the way to God through intellectual ability.
This path states that to find God we need to clear our vision of reality.
We all know that as we develop sharper intellect the same world begins
to appear in a different light. With the advance of science we now view
the world in a completely different way than the ancient man. Jnana
yoga says that this process should be sharpened even further. We
require greater mental evolution in order to see what is really out
there and what we are all about. This can be achieved by using the
tools of discrimination and dispassion. First we need dispassion
towards the world in order to become less distracted. Then we need to
focus on what is real and what is unreal that is called discrimination.
The best example of a Jnana Yogi is perhaps 'Shankaracharya'.
Many Pathways to God
We can look at a few contemporary saints and try to identify which
particular paths they seem to have adopted.
Raman Maharshi - used sharp intellect to see through the apparent
world, and realize the ultimate Reality.
Ramadas with Krishnabai - used constant repetition of the name of Sri
Sri Ramakrishna – used both Bhakti and Jnana.
Vivekananda - master of Raja yoga and yet involved in unceasing
Match each of the four Yogas with the personality shown.