Letter to Howie re: 10/15/9 Mtg on Hinduism

From Gary


Dear Howie,

I hope you are catching some color in New England. Fall has always been my favorite season, at least on the east coast.

Our topic this past week was “Understanding Hinduism.” It is the third time we have had the topic. The first time two young Hindu men showed up to talk to us. I remember that session about 5 years ago because they started out by having all of us chant “om” to break the ice as it were. The second time we had the topic a businessman showed up who had just written a book on Hinduism. His job was to facilitate the transfer of jobs to India from the U.S. The main point I remember from that meeting was his pride on a middle class being developed in India thanks to this outsourcing of jobs.

For this third meeting I am afraid I was a bit lax on contacting a speaker. I called three contacts I found on the internet three days before Thursday’s meeting. Needless to say it was not much notice so I ended up doing the presentation on my own. When the group was started I did almost all the presentations and rather enjoyed it. It was a way to make me study topics of interest. All the topics turned out to be interesting to me since I also picked the topics. Now we are more democratic but I still enjoy the presentations.

I will skip the Hindu 101 outline as I presume you know the basics. There are over one billion Hindus today. What is interesting is how informal the religion is. In fact it kind of reminds me of Taoism where the “religion” is so entangled with the ethnic culture it is hard to separate the two. One of the new things I learned in preparation was that it was the British who essentially summarized Hinduism as being a major religion. The fact of the matter is that the practices are so diverse that your average Hindu in reading the British summations of their religious practices would probably not recognize it as their religion.

It was brought out in the following discussion that the caste system was still practiced even though it was banned. This points out that it is very difficult to change a culture whose practices are over thousands of years old. Jim in the group, who is giving a talk on Max Weber in a few weeks, pointed out that “culture counts”.

What always interested me about Hinduism is that of all the religions it seems to come closest to Western Sciences definition of the universe’s dynamic. For example, regarding time they recognize the indefinable epoch of the universe’s existence and destruction in a charming metaphor. In this example they speak of a bird flying over the Himalayas. In it’s beak it holds a silk scarf. Every ten years the bird fly’s over the highest peak brushing the top of it with the scarf. The universe’s history would take place over the amount of time it took for the brushing of the silk scarf to wear down flat the mountain. When the universe collapses back into “the one” we will recognize that we’re all part of the one and that our individuality was but an illusion or Maya. The problem today with this comparison is that the western theory de jour is that the universe will keep on expanding with the weakest force of gravity not being able to summon it back. Thus the universe will just go cold.

Another interesting view for me is that the stories of the various gods and their personalities come in the form of marvelous tales. This kind of acknowledges our observations that man loves to communicate via a narrative where story telling carries the day. Mankind wants to be enthralled with marvelous tales and sensational adventures. This in itself explains the nature of western television. It is market driven, give the people what they want and they want gossip and tales of human dilemmas where voyeurs feed on a daily menu of Schaden Freude. The more sensational the tale the better. Why shouldn’t a god have 8 arms?!

Next week is “Thomas Jefferson and the opening of the American West.” We have decided to add one history discussion along with one religion and one philosopher review each schedule. It should be interesting. take care. Gary.


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