DISCUSSION AT NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY
April 06, 1999
Evanston, IL: Northwestern University

Dinkar Uncle and Bapu visited Northwestern University as guest speakers for a discussion with OM/HSC (Hindu Students Council). The meeting was attended by over 80 college students and primarily consisted of a question/answer session.

The first inquiry came from Raj, who asked, "What are the minimum requirements necessary to consider oneself a Hindu?" Dinkar Uncle explained that when people from the Indian subcontinent had satisfied their material needs, they turned their attention to an inward journey. These truth-seekers, history's first sages, probed the fundamental purpose and goal of life. Such inquiries initiated an inner journey and inner progress. Through such inner exploration, they discovered other bodies besides the sthula deha (gross or physical body). The sukshma deha (subtle body) is composed of the mind, intellect, chitta, and ego. The kaarana deha (causation body) is what causes the soul to continue in the birth/death cycle. It became evident that when humans die, their progress does not stop. Only the physical body dies, but spiritual information is stored and reassumed with the inhabitance of a new body. This idea is now known as reincarnation. The Hindus thus came to understand the idea of the soul. The world is home to countless souls, in their unpurified state, and these are called jeevas. As souls tread the path of spirituality, and come to know their real identity, they are called atmaa. Elevation from the level of atmaa introduces a new level, that of the devataas (demigods). If an atmaa takes part in moral activities, it gains poonya (good deeds) and elevates to the demigod level, called eeshvara. When that poonya is spent, the eeshvara falls back to the atmaa level. This cycle continues for an infinitely long time and is kept into place by a force called maayaa or illusion. Maayaa encompasses everything that surrounds us and keeps jeevas and eeshvaras from understanding the real bliss of God. Above maayaa is the level of brahma. The goal of the jeeva is to break out of the cycle of birth/death, transcend maayaa and achieve the state of brahma. This is true liberation. Bapu added, "Brahma is a crystal-clear state of the soul in which God is reflected. God speaks through you and acts through you." Above brahma, is the final level, that of Parabrahma (supreme God), which is only one. Though He has a form, it is inexplicable by our human interpretations. So finally, in order to be a Hindu, one must accept the existence of the three bodies, sthula, sukshma and kaarana, and the existence of the five eternal entities: jeeva, eeshvara, maayaa, brahma, and Parabrahma. In order to summarize all of this, Dinkar Uncle said: "In order to be Hindu, one must elevate oneself from the physical to a spiritual consciousness."

After hearing this explanation, another student asked, "Can you explain liberation further?" Dinkar Uncle replied that when all other desires are dissolved with the exception of the desire to be in the service of God, that is liberation. That is transcendence above maayaa. A leader in Hindu philosophy, Adi Shankaracharya, once outlined the four basic desires of a jeeva. The first is the desire to survive and continue living (jeejeevishaa). The second is the desire to know or the instinct of curiosity (jeegnyaasaa). The third is the desire to be free and independent or without any controller (svatantrataa). The fourth, contrary to the third, is the desire to dominate or be the controller (shaashitum). These are four characteristics inherent within every jeeva, from the smallest insect to a human being. The elevation above these four attributes is also liberation.

The next question, asked by Amanda, was "What is the role of meditation in an individual's relationship with God and what is the role of prayer in meditation?" Dinkar Uncle answered that there are two things involved here, the act of meditation, and the act of prayer-meditation, the latter being stronger and more effective than the former. Meditation is simply a concentration of one's senses, but prayer-meditation involves the concentration of one's power and senses into God. Just as a small child calls out, "Mummy, mummy!" when it is threatened, and the mother comes running, God also responds to our prayers. We simply have to develop and understand the two-way communication. On the topic of prayer, Dinkar Uncle elaborated on two types of prayer, an open prayer and a closed prayer. An open prayer is a prayer to God, such that we leave it up to God to generate the outcome, while a closed prayer is such that there is a definite reason for prayer and an anticipated outcome. Both prayers, however, bring us closer to God. One process outlined in Hinduism to achieve God is that of ashtaanga-yoga, an eight-fold technique consisting of yama, niyama, praanaayama, aasana, pratyaahaara, dhaaranaa, dhyaana and samaadhi.

The next question was asked by Vinay: "Since our lives as students are very busy, what are the initial steps we should take toward becoming more spiritual?" Dinkar Uncle replied with a question of his own, "How many of you have an intense desire to spend at least fifteen minutes to make your life more spiritual?" After a show of hands, he explained that aside prayer at morning and night, we can learn to incorporate prayer into our daily routine. We should chant God's name during any normal activity. For example, clerks at a bank should chant "Swaminarayan," or "Hare Krishna," or "Jesus Christ" to themselves every time they process a transaction. Another initial step in spirituality is to start thinking from the angle that I am not this physical body, but the immortal soul.

Another student, Vijay, then brought up a question related to a 60 Minutes program that he had seen recently. "Why are untouchables treated in such a way in India and does Hinduism advocate such a practice?" Dinkar Uncle responded by explaining the background behind the class system in India and the events leading up to present-day thinking. In the preliminary stages, Hindu society divided themselves into four categories. The first was that of the brahmina, which consisted of teachers, preachers, saints, and scholars. The second category was kshatriya (warriors), which included the royalty and soldiers. The next category was vaishya (merchants), which was composed of shopkeepers, farmers, etc. The fourth category was that of the shudra (janitorial staff). These categories were created in order to facilitate society and the system was essentially good, except a problem began to arise when the fourth category were not as clean. They began to carry diseases and became a danger to others. Finally, unofficially, the system of untouchables was instituted to protect the rest of the society. The mistake was not the fault of the shudra class, but the rest of society - the shudra were not provided with enough education, technology and facilities (and instead shunned) that led to today's misguided treatment. But, now, people are realizing this and things are changing in India.

Ami then asked, "What is the meaning of Aum/Om and what is the Hindu take on moorti-poojaa (moorti-worship)?" Aum is actually made up of three Sanskrit characters, A, U, M. The whole world is made up of trios, such as electron, proton, and neutron; gross, subtle, and causation; creation, sustenance, and destruction. The structure of a trio creates a totality and the sound Aum is considered the original sound omitted during creation.

Then Dinkar Uncle went on to answer the second part of the question. There are two religious philosophies, one advocating the worship of a moorti, and one against it. This is known as saakaara and niraakaara philosophy, respectively. The first believes that God has a definite form, while the second believes that God is formless. Dinkar Uncle then gave the example of a group of people that had never seen the sun but could experience the sunlight. They believed that the sunlight was the sun. But, when they saw the sun, they realized that the sunlight was only the power emitted by the sun. In the same way, those believing God is formless are praying to the sunlight without realizing that the source of the light is God Himself. The owner of the power has a definite form. Saints in ancient Hindu times achieved God's energy in meditation and assumed that the pleasantness was God, but in reality it was coming from a definite source, God, who has a form. Naturally, many people choose the niraakaara philosophy because it is something that is inexplicable. We also underestimate saakaara philosophy saying that because it is explicable, it must be wrong. But with saakaara philosophy we are able to worship while picturing God. In the same way that hunger cannot be dispelled by licking the air, one must picture God to derive happiness from Him. Also, if God again comes down to earth, a niraakaara person would doubt Him and then nothing would have been achieved. For that reason, we have to start practicing to see God in all.

Then Shonak asked, "What is the place of astrology in Hinduism?" Dinkar Uncle responded that astrology is a branch of science, revealed in the Vedic scriptures, and thus going back many years. Today, it is mainly used as a source of income for many people - which is fine, as long as the astrologer realizes the larger purpose of his work. Those who do practice astrology need to keep that purpose in their hearts. Astrology, like any other branch of science, can become very useful, if developed.

A final question was asked, "What is Hinduism's belief on premarital relationships?" Dinkar Uncle responded that there are many types of relationships, such as a friend, which is admired in all religions. The system of dating in this country was instituted to find a final mate. In the same way, Hindu culture arranges marriages with the same intention. During our youth, we all have responsibilities to our studies, our own development and that of our career, so a relationship should not interfere with these responsibilities.

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