Questions & Answers

What are the characteristics of Hinduism?
  • One God, but different names – The Truth (God) is one, but wise people call by different names.
  • One God, but different forms – Brahman (God), the formless, is assigned forms only for the convenience of the aspirants. Whatever form any devotee with faith, wishes to worship, God manifest in that form.
  • One God, but different paths – Just as rain water irrespective of the place where it falls, ultimately reaches ocean, the worship rendered to all deities of whatever description (name or form), ultimately reaches the Supreme Reality (God).
What are the Classifications of Religions?
  • Religions of Semitic (Jewish) Origin – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
  • Religions of Indian Origin – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism
  • Religions of China and Japan Origin – Confucianism, Taoism, and Shinto
  • Other Religions – Bahai, Scientology, and Zoroastrianism
  • Non-Religions – Atheist, Agnostic, and Secular
Hinduism & Evaluation

Hinduism has taught that evolution is God’s natural plan for growth and change throughout this world. We are taught that evolution is truth through the avatars of Lord Vishnu, known as the Dash avatars. We find that the theory of evolution has been explained in a very subtle manner as Lord Vishnu appears upon the earth.

  • As we are given to believe, life first started in the great oceans. Lord Vishnu appears as a fish (Macha-avatara).
  • There was then a progression and life that was in the oceans evolved and started moving towards land. This happened because the oceans began to recede from land masses. Now came a life sustaining not only in water, but also progressed to land to some extent. Lord Vishnu appears as Koorma-avatara or a Terrapin (tortoise).
  • This gradual moment towards the land masses continued, while at the same time retaining the original support of water. And what we had at this stage was an animal in swamp and slush – so the Lord appeared as a boar, or Varaha-avatara.
  • The evolution of man is depicted in discrete steps. The first man was short, and then he evolved into something like the Stone Age man and then reaching our view of man today.
  • This progression led to a half-human half-animal. Lord Vishnu appeared as Narasimha-avatara. Lord Narashima is seen as a half-lion, half-human figure, denoting that stage in evolution where man was more ‘animal’.
  • As evolution proceeded, the path took the half-human to full-human shape. The next avatar of the Lord was that of a Dwarf (Vamana). Evolutionary scientists all agree that mankind was quite short in its early stages, mostly due to a hunching posture.
  • It is natural that dwarf will progress to a full human, but still one of a wavering mind – man with more ‘animal’ in him. Someone like a Stone Age man would be. This avatar was called Parasurama.
  • Slowly the man became perfect. A man who was in full control of his senses, dutiful, responsible, so on. He was Lord Rama.
  • And then the perfect human form evolved with cleverness and ability to think and win. A person of intelligence, wits, taking decisions to suit the situation. The Lord was Krishna. Ready to mediate, and ready to love and ready to be loved. This avatar is more like the ideal man of today.
  • (Some Hindus consider Buddha as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu while some do not, considering his rejection of the Vedas; this only furthers the Lord’s lesson of evolution, but many will be happy to leave such progression at Lord Krishna). Tranquillity, submission, passion for peace is the next step from achieving everything. He was Buddha.
  • For those whom believe, Kalki avatar will be the last in such a progression. The cycle has to end, so that it can start again. Kalki will come to destroy the world, ending the Kali Yuga and beginning the age of Satya Yuga.
What is the other name for Hinduism?

Hinduism is also known as “Sanatana Dharma”. Sanatana means Eternal, Dharma means Righteousness or Virtue.

What are the characteristics of a Religion?
Any organized religion has three main characteristics:
1) God
2) A Prophet
3) A holy book

However, Hinduism has only;
1) one Supreme God (Paramatma), but different names and forms
2) No prophet, but many philosophers
3) No one holy book, but many scriptures.

Is self harming/suicide a sin in Hinduism?

Self-harm is directly against the very important Hindu doctrine of ahimsa. Ahimsa, or non-harm towards all living beings, includes the self and especially the self. Self-harm can be induced by cutting, bruising or beating the body and is usually brought about by extreme passionate feelings of sadness, anger, confusion or frustration. Hinduism teaches that these feelings must be conquered due to their very life-threatening effects. Self-harm can even be brought about by harming the body in seemingly non-painful ways that unknowingly cause great internal damage such as alcohol consumption, over-eating, inhaling smoke or injecting non-medical substances.

In an extreme sense, suicide only accelerates the intensity of (bad) karma, bringing a series of immediate lesser births and requiring several lives for the soul to return to the exact evolutionary point that existed at the moment of suicide, at which time the still-existing karmic entanglement must again be faced and resolved. Thus turns the slow wheel of samara. To gain a fine birth, one must live according to the natural laws of dharma and live out the karma in this life positively and fully.

Hinduism is not absolutely black and white. Rather, it takes into account the broader picture: How will this affect the soul? How will it affect humanity? How will it affect future incarnations? All that must be taken into account if a wise and compassionate, a right, decision is to be made on so serious a matter.

Suicide, or pranatyaga, “abandoning life force” is intentionally ending one’s own life through poisoning, drowning, burning, jumping, shooting, etc. Suicide has traditionally been condemned in Hindu scripture because, being an abrupt escape from life, it creates unseemly karma to face in the future. However, in cases of terminal disease or great disability, religious self-willed death through fasting – prayopavesa – is permitted. The person making such a decision declares it publicly, which allows for community regulation and distinguishes the act from suicide performed privately in traumatic emotional states of anguish and despair.

When loved ones leave, a divorce is imminent or any other emotional traumas occur, killing the body is not the way. Actually, it is against the law of most lands to even try. If you are young and not at all ill, then Hinduism does not permit it either. Just realize that what you are experiencing is what you justly deserve because you gave it out abundantly in a former birth. Live on. Don’t die.

How old is Sanatana Dharma?

There are several closely allied opinions on this subject. Scholars of South Asian religions are – at the very least – of the opinion that Sanatana Dharma represents one of the oldest spiritual traditions known to humanity. Most of these scholars go as far as to say that it is probably the oldest spiritual path on earth. Dharmis would certainly agree with this latter view. The oldest writings known to humanity are the Vedas, the revealed scriptures of Sanatana Dharma, which date back to perhaps 3800 B.C.E. This is when they were first put into writing; these sacred scriptures are known, however, to have been transmitted orally from generation to generation for an extensive period of time previous to even this date.

Followers of Sanatana Dharma themselves hold the view that this spiritual tradition, known in the ancient, sacred language of Sanskrit as “Sanatana Dharma,” is an eternal and ever-present (even if not ever-visible) way of life. No one actually knows when Sanatana Dharma was first started. Both practitioners of Dharma spirituality, as well as all academicians, agree that there was no one specific time in known history when the path of Dharma was founded. Additionally, there was no one individual – a prophet, saint or priest – who can be claimed as the founder of the religion. As far as followers themselves are concerned, Sanatana Dharma was never actually founded. It is an eternal spiritual phenomenon that is as old as the Earth herself.

Moreover, Dharma (God’s Natural Law) is the sustainer of the Earth. This is indicated by the meanings of the two words that constitute the very name of this culture: sanatana means “eternal” and dharma means “natural law or way.”

Sanatana Dharma is thus: The Eternal Natural Way.

Sanatana Dharma is a way of life and world-view that is also trans-geographical.  Sanatana Dharma does not pertain only to India.  It is not the “religion of India.”  Rather, concrete evidence of Sanatana Dharma are to be found in many of the ancient cultures of the world. We see ideas and practices that are very similar to Dharma philosophy, not only in ancient India, but also in Chinese culture, Native American, Celtic, Greco-Roman, Nordic, Egyptian, Mayan, Mesopotamian, and Persian cultures, as well as many others.

The concept of “Dharma”, as the natural law inherent in our cosmos, is found in almost all ancient civilizations.  In Chinese, Dharma is translated as “Tao”. In Ancient Egyptian, it is known as “Ma’at”.  In Latin it is called “Liga Natura” (Natural Law).  In ancient Persian Dharma is known as “Asha”.  The great Twentieth Century Italian philosopher, Baron Julius Evola, refers to this concept as “Tradition”.  There is a word for Dharma in almost every ancient language on earth.  So when we speak of “Dharma”, we are not just referring to some sect, denomination or creed.  Rather, we are referring to those eternal spiritual principles that serve as the very foundation of all authentic religious experience.

Why should we follow Sanatana dharma?

Lord Narayana created Brahma, and taught him the Vedas. With the help of the Vedas, Brahma began to create. The Upanishads say that the Lord revealed Himself to Brahma and also reveals Himself to those who study the Vedas. Those who desire moksha worship Him.

The Vedas have no beginning. Likewise, The Supreme One has no beginning either. Santana Dharma talks about the Vedas and the Supreme One, and also about the ways to reach Him, said Velukkudi Krishnan, in a discourse.

Unique beliefs: There are certain beliefs which are basic to Santana Dharma. The belief that the atma is superior to the body, the conviction that the atma must strive for moksha, the belief in repeated births until the atma is finally liberated, the belief that God alone can liberate us, the belief that the liberated soul is never reborn.

Ways to reach God: All jivatmas are born due to their karma, and what they face in life is a result of their karma. Every atma must resort to a way to reach God. God Himself has given us many choices in this respect. We can resort to karma yoga, bhakti yoga or gnana yoga, or Saranagati, to reach Him. And this should be our aim in life. Moksha is the goal we should work towards.

We often say that we have studied the Itihasas and the Puranas and we think this is sufficient to get us across the ocean of samsara. But how have we studied these works?

Have we studied them with a view to adhering to the morals they give us? Do we ignore abuse, or do we lose our temper when confronted by someone inimically disposed towards us?

Speak the truth: Do we have equanimity of temper? Do we follow at least a portion of what the Lord asks us to? We could make a small beginning by resolving to speak the truth always. This will slowly lead us to a desire to help others.

From the stage of dharma, we graduate to the next stage and so on. What is difficult is for us to take that first step. Once we do it, the rest will follow.

Santana Dharma shows us that the Lord can be reached, if we try to reach Him.

From Surya Namaskar to Surya Kriya

Through the practice of Surya Namaskar, if one attains a certain level of stability and mastery over the system, one could then be introduced to a more powerful and spiritually significant process called Surya Kriya. Surya Kriya is the fundamental process. Surya Namaskar is a “country cousin” of Surya Kriya, and there is another process called Surya Shakti, which is a far-off relative. If you want to just use the process as a physical culture to build muscle and become physically strong, you do Surya Shakti. If you want to be physically fit but also want some spiritual element in it, you do Surya Namaskar. But if you want a strong spiritual process, you do Surya Kriya.

How to Maximize the Benefits of Surya Namaskar?

Hatha yoga is about creating a body that will not be a hurdle in your life but a stepping stone towards blossoming into your ultimate possibility. There are a few simple things you can do to prepare your body and get the most out of your practice.

Bathe in cool water to charge the cellular structure: Before starting your practice, take a shower or a bath using water that is a little cooler than room temperature. If a certain volume of water flows over your body, or your body is immersed in water that is cooler than room temperature, the epithelial cells will contract and the intercellular spaces will expand. If you use warm or hot water, the pores of the cells will open up and absorb water – that is not what we want. For the practice of yoga, it is important that the cells contract and the intercellular spaces open up, because we want the cellular structure of the body to be charged with a different dimension of energy. If the cells contract and allow space in between, practicing yoga will charge the cellular structure.

Why some people seem to be far more alive than others is essentially because their cellular structure is more charged. When it is charged with energy, it will remain youthful for a very long time. Hatha yoga is a way to do that. In South India, tap water is generally just a little cooler than room temperature. If you are in a temperate climate, the regular tap water may be too cold. Three to five degrees centigrade below room temperature would be ideal. A maximum of ten degrees centigrade below room temperature would be acceptable – the water should not be colder than that.

Rub sweat into the skin to retain energy: Whether you practice asanas, Surya Namaskar or Surya Kriya – if you start sweating, do not wipe off the sweat with a towel – always rub it back, at least into the exposed parts of your skin. If you wipe off the sweat, you drain the energy that you have generated with the practice. Water has the capability to carry memory and energy. That is why you should not wipe off sweat with a towel, drink water, or go to the bathroom during practice time, unless there is a special situation that makes it absolutely necessary.

And, after practicing yoga, wait a minimum of 1.5 hours before taking a shower – three hours would be even better. Sweating and not showering for two to three hours could be a bit of an olfactory challenge – so just stay away from others!

Learn to consume the right amount of water: After practicing yoga, wait a minimum of 1.5 hours before taking a shower.

Learn to just drink as much as the body needs. Unless you are in a desert or you have habits that dehydrate you – such as excessive consumption of caffeine and nicotine – there is no need to constantly sip water. About 70% of the body is water. The body knows how to manage itself. If you drink according to your thirst plus an additional 10%, it will be enough. To give an example – if your thirst is gone after two sips of water, drink 10% more. That will take care of your body’s need for water. Only if you are out in the sun or trekking in the mountains, sweating heavily and losing water rapidly, you need to drink more – not when you are doing yoga under a roof.

As I already said, rub back the sweat as much as possible, but you need not do that all the time. It can drip a bit – just don’t use a towel. Push it back because we don’t want to drain energy – we want to build it up.

Benefits of Sun Salutation

Each of the steps in surya namaskar has benefits for the body.

The advantages of surya namaskar stretch from the mind to the whole body.

  • The muscles are strengthened and become well-toned (Steps 1-12).
  • Blood circulation is improved and irregular menstrual cycles are regulated (Steps 3, 5, 7).
  • Surya namaskar is effective in reducing the weight of individuals. Abdominal muscles get well-toned and excessive fat around the waist is lost. Extra calories are lost and flexibility is improved. Digestion is improved (Steps 3 & 7).
  • Depression is alleviated and anxiety is reduced (Step 5).
  • Sleep and concentration are improved (Step 1).
  • Functioning of the endocrine system, including thyroid, pituitary glands, adrenal gland, parathyroid, testes, and ovaries are improved (Step 4).
  • Maintains good posture (Steps 2, 4)

Surya Namaskar and Weight Loss: It has been observed that surya namaskar aids in reducing weight of individuals. A study, by the Defense Institute of Physiology and Allied Science, showed that 1 round of surya namaskar burns 13.91 calories in an individual who weighs 62 kgs. Another study, by Bhavanani and others, has shown surya namaskar performed at a slow pace, improves the tone of muscles, enhances the functioning of internal organs, decreases diastolic pressure, improves hand grip endurance, and reduces hyperactivity. On the other hand, surya namaskar at a fast pace (similar to aerobics), significantly increases systolic pressure, improves pulmonary function, alleviates depression, improves hand grip endurance, and is a good form of cardiovascular exercise.

Benefits of Surya Namaskar for Men, Women, and Kids: There are many advantages of surya namaskar for children. With the guidance of a yoga teacher, children can perform surya namaskar with easier steps compared to that performed by adults. Performing surya namaskar improves the efficiency of children. There is an elevation of energy levels and physical stamina. Concentration, memory, and the functioning of the nervous system are improved. The mind becomes calm through this exercise. Children show improved sleep cycles and metabolic functions. Their muscles become flexible and well-toned. A study by Thakur, regarding effects of surya namaskar on the psychology of school boys, observed that a regular regimen improved the self-confidence levels, self-perception, and the general attitude to life.

Women who show severe cramping, lower back pain, and severe loss of blood during menstruation, are advised to wait till the period of menstruation is over before attempting the exercise. Surya namaskar can be performed during the first trimester of a pregnancy, but should be discontinued during the rest of the pregnancy. Surya namaskar promotes easy delivery during pregnancy. Following delivery, surya namaskar can be resumed immediately based on the health of the individual. It has been observed that surya namaskar aids in the involution of the uterus.

Surya Namaskar for Skin: A regular regimen results in a clear complexion and glowing skin. Muscles are toned and flexibility is improved.

Yoga at Home: Surya namaskar can be performed at home, either in the morning or in the evening. The method of performing surya namaskar should be learnt from a proper guide. Those with complications such as arthritis, slip-disk, and heart disease should take medical opinion before attempting surya namaskar. Surya namaskar should be performed facing the sun or if in a room, in the direction facing the sun. It should be performed on a mat and not on the bare floor.