The Hindu Religion – A brief Introduction and A Developmental Perspective
The philosophies of the Hindu religion have fascinated me since I read the book by Houston Smith, “The Religions of Man”. Being interested in the feelings and attitudes of being human, I am, of course, drawn to the psychological and spiritual development of man.
“Man Can Have What s/he Wants”
In terms of psychological and spiritual development, the Hindus believe that there are four stages. They call the first two stages the “Path of Desire”.
The Hindus wisdom recognizes that nothing can possibly be gained by repressing what we want wholesale, or by pretending that we do not have our desires. And a person doesn’t need to evolve through all four stages in a lifetime (reincarnation takes care of that). A person at age 40 can still be happily driving for pleasure and success, while another person at 40 has moved on to searching for greater meaning in life. No shame in either, and, ideally, no sense of superiority.
So what is it that human beings want?
He begins by wanting pleasure, and India says, “Go for it”.
After all, the world holds immense possibilities for enjoyment. It is awash with beauty and heavy with delights for our senses. Wanting pleasure also goes with the avoidance of suffering. Addictions are born here, along with the desire to control our environment, as well as the people in our lives.
Of course hedonism, like everything else, calls for good sense. Not every impulse can be followed; small immediate goals must be sacrificed for the sake of greater future goals. And our desire for pleasure must be checked if for no other reason than to avoid hurting others or hurting ourselves. Only the inexperienced will lie, steal, or cheat for the sake of pleasure. But as long as the basic rules of decency are observed, you’re free to seek all the pleasure that you want. Far from condemning pleasure, Hindu texts give pointers on how to get the most from it! If Pleasure is what you want, says India, don’t suppress this desire. See instead that it is fulfilled as richly and aesthetically as possible.
We moved to the second stage when we realize the pleasure isn’t enough. It’s too narrow and trivial to satisfy our full nature. And it always, eventually, loses its luster.
According to Hindus, people then move to the second great goal of life: The desire for worldly success, with the three aspects being: wealth, fame, and power. Many people feel that satisfaction lasts longer in this stage, for unlike pleasure, success is a social achievement substantially interconnected with the lives of others. In this respect it commands a scope and depth that pleasure alone can’t achieve.
Certainly, enough worldly success is necessary to sustain society – to care for a family, to participate in social culture, and pay for living quarters and food. But in the end these too are found wanting. With all forms of worldly success, we find the following limitations:
- With fame and power, there is constant competition. We can never be certain that our accomplishments will not be overpowered by another competitive person. Security is never reached.
- A person can never get enough worldly success. Hindus tell us it’s because they’re not the things that we really want. People can never have enough of what he or she does not really want. As the Hindus say, “to try to extinguish the drive for riches with money is like trying to quench the fire by pouring butterfat over it.”
- The desire for worldly success leads to the eventual realization that it is too small for the hearts search for meaning. In the end everyone asked for more from life than a home in the suburbs, two cars in the garage, and a plush annuity.
The next two stages are called, “Path of Renunciation. “
Renunciation to many people seems like a negative, prompted by disillusionment and despair. But what the Hindus mean by renunciation can be quite exhilarating. It’s devoting one’s self to a higher calling, and the existence of values beyond what we can experience in the present. This is not a false renunciation, like those who enter the monastery at 20 something years old because of some personal inadequacies. These are the people who come honestly to the conclusion that the values of the finite are no longer worth living for, and then he/she will believe in the infinite – or die.
The third stage is one of duty, it’s passing from the wish to win to the wish to be of service, beyond the wish to gain to the wish to give.
As with previous stages, duty yields notable awards, but in the end, fails to satisfy the human heart completely. Faithful performance of duty brings praise and appreciation. More gratifying than this, however, is the self-respect that comes from having done one’s part, having contributed. But in the end even this realization cannot provide joy adequate to our desires, because there is no way to reach perfection.
Is This All?
As Simone Weil said, “There is no true good here, that everything that appears to be good in this world is finite, limited, wears out, and once worn out, leaves necessity exposed in all its nakedness.”
Whether life does or does not hold more is probably the question that divides philosophers more sharply than any other. But the Hindu says, “Yes!” Life holds so much more, but we were answering the question too superficially. Pleasure, success, and duty are never man’s ultimate goals. At best they are the means that we assume will take us in the direction of what we really want. What we really want are things that lie on a deeper level.
Mans True Desires
We want to live. We are curious – We want to be aware. We want joy. And we want these things to be limitless, to endure infinitely.
And now we come to India’s staggering conclusion. Infinite being, infinite awareness and joy are within our reach. Not only are these things within our reach, Hinduism argues they are already inside of us!
We have the Godhead inside of us that is never exhausted, never dies out, and is without limit in awareness and bliss. This infinite center of every life is what the Hindu calls Brahman,or God.
The Hindu further says that this eternal is buried under our distractions, false ideas, and self-regarding impulses that comprise our surface being. We need to cleanse the dirt and dust that hides the light of our being so it can point to the infinite center and fully manifest.
As in the prior stages, Hindus have massive texts to help us get there.
That leads to tenants on non-attachment, and a real connection with everything in the cosmos.
For me, this is where my work as a therapist comes in. Suffering is optional. If we understand our coping mechanisms and why they were created, it’s easier to let them go. Then, as new stressors arise, I teach detachment – from the belief, judgements, or any other misalignment with the reality of love and goodness.