Creative Writing: Brahmin Self and Other Hindu Teachings

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SAMPLE EXCERPT:

[. . .] I reflected on the youthfulness of those around me and then thought about my own place in my life’s journey and wondered whether I was at a mid-point in the journey or perhaps closer to the end than to the beginning. Having this thought, it is impossible not to begin to reflect on mortality and what it means to die. In India, death seems to be accepted as part of life and the various religions all have their own take on what this meaning of dying is.

The Hindus, for example, believe in reincarnation: a person dies but his soul does not die. Instead it comes back in another form based on the actions the person engaged in during his life. If his actions were good, his next life will reflect that and he will come back as something or someone even better. If his life was bad, his next life will be worse. The goal according to the Hindu religion is to reach the perfect state which essentially is union with the Divine.

This goal of being united with the Divine is also the Christian goal, but the concept of reincarnation is not accepted in the Christian religion. Rather, Christians believe that we all have one life to live and that we should be uniting our lives to Christ so that we can spend eternity with Him in the next world. We are judged when we die and brought into heaven or cast away into Hell. There are no do-overs, so it is important that we get it right the first time around and follow the path that Christ teaches us to follow.

For Buddhists, death is actually part of life and life is like the art of dying. Life is about renunciation of one’s attachments, one’s feelings, one’s sense of self. One aims to reach a state of nirvana—a state in which nothing matters except that one does not harm any other person. This goal is what drives the Buddhist to do good works: doing good for others and being mindful of others helps one in the art of dying and in the practice of renunciation.

There are aspects of this thought in Christianity as well, because the doctrines of the Christian religion focus on renouncing the world and giving up attachments that might cause us to lose companionship with God. This ability to reconcile life with death is very important because it helps one to live in simplicity. The children that we met in India helped us to realize the power of this simplicity. For whatever reason, their innocence and their willingness to come up and sit alongside and be near us gives one a kind of joy at being embraced by them. They do not fear the boundaries that we normally associate with personal space. The concept of personal space is almost non-existent in India. This is another fascinating revelation and perhaps it alone is what especially makes one’s sense of death so palpable. It is though you are continually dying to yourself in India and through this process of dying you are finding the Divine life within yourself, just as is recommended in the Christian doctrines: he who loses his life shall find it (Mt 10:39).

Being

One of my personal reflections on this trip was: “I need to concentrate on being in the moment”—and I had this on Day 19. I was still troubled by the chatter in my mind about my age and my place among my young peers and questions about whether or not I had wasted my life, squandered it. They say that young people always imagine they will be young forever. Yet, in truth, this feeling never really goes away, even as you age. Here I am twice the age of my young peers yet I never think about not being young. In many ways I still feel young. What is this obsession with youth anyway? God does not ask us to be young—what He does ask is that we be like little children. Children grow and become adults, but Christ reminds us that there is a purity and innocence about children that we must possess in adulthood so that we can be near Him, Who is purity and innocence itself. If we do not fill our hearts and minds with this type of purity and innocence, we will not be attracted to the personification of it in Christ.

Thus, the sense of “being” that emerged in this travel course as a major theme is related to that idea of being like a child in innocence and purity, in a willingness to experience life and be near others—a curiosity that is driven by a goodness of will. Age really has nothing to do with it. Being in the moment and appreciating every moment as a gift from God, because it truly is, is part of this idea of “being,” and it is something that struck me as significant during this travel course.

But what else is meant by “being”? Another of my reflections from this same day—day nineteen of the pilgrimage—focused on defining Being for myself. I wrote: “I am having a GREAT time and learning about Being. I have learned that having and being are 2 modes and determine my purpose in life. My observations show me that the reason the Indians are the ‘happiest people on earth’ is because the majority of them practice ‘Being’—because ‘Having’ is really not an option for them. If I concentrate on being will that increase my capacity for love, reason, and possibly make me more productive in a compassionate way?” This question has given me much food for thought. I love the idea that if we focus on just being then we are not obsessed with the distractions that come from “having”—as in always trying to have a good time, or have this or that comfort, or have our own way. When we just focus on being and being one with everything, we rid ourselves of the distractions that fill us with worry and with doubt and fear and irrational concerns. I believe that this is one reason why I have experienced so much chatter in my mind recently about my age. It is a distraction from the truth that is becoming manifested to me here: I should be focusing my energy on being—on being here in the moment and showing love to others—because that is the ultimate point of all this life. To be or not to be, that is the question, as Shakespeare once said. I understand this idea much more deeply now. To be is the ultimate aim, and being is rooted in the action of love, which itself is ultimately rooted in the Divine. Thus, being is connected to the Divine because the Divine is ultimately the truest expression of the essence of Being. After all, did not God say, “I AM who am” (Ex 3:14)?

Part II

The four themes described in Part I may now be considered in light of the authors of the texts used in this course. For me, these authors bring both clarity and new questions.

Age and Self

Clooney states that “fear and loneliness compel the self to comprehend itself from new angles, and then to look outside, to see if there is something more than itself.”[footnoteRef:5] This makes a great deal of sense especially in light of what I was feeling and experiencing during the travel course. I do not know that I necessarily experienced fear so much as anxiety and doubt, but the sense of wanting to comprehend myself from a new angle was definitely involved in the process. I also wanted to look outside as Clooney has suggested and see what it was that I needed to understand to better provide context and stability to my thinking. [5: Francis X. Clooney, Hindu Wisdom for All God’s Children (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2005), 4.]

Dixie and Eisenstadt emphasize the aspect of the Social Gospel in their take on what Howard Thurman learned during his pilgrimage to India.[footnoteRef:6] This reading provides an alternate take on the theme of age and self in that there is not so much a need to see the self anew as there is a need to see the world anew—i.e., through the eyes of the Gospel and the social doctrine that Christ promulgated in His teachings. This is a very concrete and alternative way of thinking about this concept of self in the sense that it takes away the intense focus on self and one’s hang-ups about oneself (such as aging) and redirects that intense focus towards others so that one can see their needs and see ways to help others as Christ did when He walked the Earth. [6: Quinton Dixie and Peter Eisenstadt, Visions of a Better World: Howard Thurman’s Pilgrimage to India

and the Origins of African American Nonviolence (Beacon Press, 2011),… [END OF PREVIEW]

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