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Posts Tagged ‘hinduism’

Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding: 147                                      Days Blogged: 131 

New Mileage: 8                                                     Total Trip Mileage: 1023

Bidding Farewell!

As I climbed on the bike this evening I did not have a blog topic in mind.  There are always ongoing world events and articles in the paper with spiritual themes.  Of course I could always return to the scene along the beach as we head up the coast. 

 I am amazed at how often topics appear as I go about my blog business on the internet.  I recently made Facebook friends with a young man from Bali Indonesia.  He is a Bali Hindu and I was intrigued to find that he had photos from a “Royal Bali Cremation Festival.”  This led me to research these festivals and discover some intriguing facts about the Bali Hindu cremation ritual.  It is like nothing I have come across in my studies and explorations. 

Parade of Gift Giver!

It seems that in Bali, like with many Hindu communities, cremation is the preferred form of interning deceased family members.  However, the ceremony appears to be complex and costly, as one source noted a family has to be quite rich to afford the ceremony.  So when someone dies they are temporary buried and then once every 5 years, at celestial auspicious times the departed are dug up, rewrapped and carried to a large communal funeral pyre.  It was noted that as many as 100 individuals may be cremated with each festival.  One author noted: “that strange as it seems, it is their cremation ceremonies that the Balinese have their greatest fun! “

Royal Bull and Tower!

A cremation is an occasion for gaiety and not for mourning, since it represents the accomplishment of a Hindu’s most sacred duty: the ceremonial burning of the corpses of the dead to liberate their souls so that they can thus attain the higher worlds and be free for reincarnation into better beings.  A large and choreographed ceremony is conducted.

First there is a parade of gifts for the families of the deceased.  In turn the family feeds everyone and entertains all with band music.  During this time a large bull statue is constructed out of bamboo and velvet along with a tall bamboo temple.

The bull and the tower are then carried to the cremation site.  The road is washed before them and all are sprinkled with holy water.  The path they travel is uneven causing the carriers to “shake” the bull and tower, as a means to “shake of evil spirits.”  Then the bodies are moved to the site and the cremation takes place.  The next morning the ashes are collected and carried to the ocean where they are cast into the water.

Carrying the Bull!

Several tourist guides noted these ceremonies as “must see” events!  I often tell my students that there is a great deal of variation on the surface or form level of funerals.  Cremations are less common in my culture as are joyful celebrations.  But the functions served by funerals in Bali or the USA are much the same: to bring together family and community, to share the memories of loved ones, and to release the loved one spirit.  It would appear to be similar to what you might find in New Orleans or an Irish wake.  The approach toward the event is one of joyful celebration instead of focusing on the “woe is us, how can we survive without them” attitude.  The focus is on the joy and the memory that they graced their lives.  I like that idea!  I guess I would like to think that when the time comes to have my ashes spread that people will not so much grieve at what is lost, but celebrate the seeds I have planted.  I wrote the following poem a number of years ago after attending a “spreading the ashes” ceremony at my church:

 

 

The Bull Burns!

Recipe for my Burial

Place my ashes

   In a large mixing bowl:

 Add one cup

     Of coffee beans

     Dark and oily

     Heavy with fragrance

          (Bavarian Chocolate would do nicely)

 Add one cup

     Of Flower Petals

     Assorted colors

     Soft hues

          (irises, daylilies, and roses too)

 Add a quarter cup

     Of Wild Flower Seed

          (any assortment will do)

 Add a half cup

     Of my Poetry

     Finely chopped

         (works as an odorless fertilizer)

 Add one pinch

Of Blackboard Chalk

 Add one heaping teaspoon

Of color pencil shavings

Ashes to the Sea!

Stir vigorously

With a wooden spoon.

 Find a sunny spot

     Which is easily seen,

     But not heavily trodden.

Apply mixture liberally

     To the dampened earth.

 Assist the rains

     With frequent watering.

 Think of me

   In every wild flower

      In the scent of coffee,

         In the fragrance of colorful blooms.

 Think of me

   In each poet’s word,

      In each artist’s vision.

 I hope you enjoyed the poem and that you will join me tomorrow as we near St. Augustine and several new pilgrimage sites.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Days Riding: 139                            Consecutive Days Blogging: 121

Today’s Mileage: 10                                          Total Trip Mileage: 978

Sacred Colors!

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, today we have the opportunity to wish our Hindu friends a happy Holi Day!  This holiday is celebrated in India and around the world wherever ex-patriots from India have gathered.  It is best known to the non-Hindu world for rituals which involve the throwing of a colored powders or the squirting of colored water on the various celebrants like a giant water and/or powder fight.  I heard about a Holi gathering at Stanford University which started with only a few dozen participants several years ago and has now swollen into thousands of celebrants, many of them non-Hindus who wish to join in the festivities.

A Joyful Mess!

The origins of the holiday speak directly to some of Hinduism’s sacred stories.  The Holi Holiday story starts by noting that the King of the Demons had been granted the gift of apparent immortality.  For it was said to be impossible to kill him: “during day or night, inside or outside his house, not on earth or in sky, and neither by a man or animal.” Consequently the Demon King grew arrogant and attacked the heavens and the earth and demanded that people stop worshiping the Gods and start worshiping him.  The story goes that his own son, Prahlada , was a devote of the Lord Vishnu and in spite of several threats, and attempts by his father to have him killed, continued to resist his father’s orders.  Finally the Demon King ordered Prahlada to sit on a fire pyre in the lap of his sister Holika.  His sister could not die by fire because she possessed a shawl which would prevent fire from affecting her. The son followed his father’s orders and prayed to Vishnu to keep him safe.  When the fire started everyone watched in amazement as the shawl flew off of Holika and covered Prahlada.  Holika then burned to death while Prahlada survived unharmed.  The burning/destruction of Holika is commemorated with this festival.  The story goes on to note that Lord Vishnu later came to earth in the form of a Narasimna (half human and half lion being) and killed the Demon King at dusk (which was neither day or night, on the steps of his house (which was neither inside the house or outside) by restraining the demon king on his lap (which is neither in the sky nor on the earth).

So we have a holiday that: celebrates the death of a demoness and the eventual defeat of the Demon King;   glorifies the Lord Vishnu; and serves as an example of a devoted follower who because of his faith was saved from death.  The rituals of the of holiday appear to vary somewhat but typically involve food preparations that began days in advance as various kinds of snack items are typically served to the festivals guests, the night before a bonfire (the Holi Fire) is lit which is said to represent the burning of evil.  It was noted that in the United Kingdom coconuts are often thrown into the fire and then pulled out and broken open.  The burnt husks are said to represent the demoness who died in the fire the white inside represents faithful Prahlada who was alive and unaffected.

I noted in a discussion with a friend that I am struck by the wide variations in sacred stories and rituals within a month we will have major festivals in three of the world’s religions.  These holidays commemorate the destruction of evil, the birth of a prophet, and the death and the rebirth of a Savior.  Clearly the substance and form of these celebrations vary considerably, however, from a functional standpoint they meet many of the very same needs. They bring together the respective communities with rituals involving food, joy and laughter.  These festivals grant the celebrants a sense of purpose, of guidance and a connection with the divine.

Some people might say that a story with a Demon King and a half human God, and rituals involving colored powders sounds strange and unbelievable.  However I would caution these people in their statements of disbelief, that for many people in the world would find it odd to have children running about the spring grass collecting colored eggs deposited by a rabbit, or enacting the tortuous death and resurrection of a savior God.  

I would like to comment on an incident that points to a need for caution when we look at other faith belief systems.  I was visiting a national bookstore chain and I came across a display of books produced by the bookstore chain entitled “Mythology of the World.”  There were dozens of volumes including everything from Babylonian, Australian Aborigines, Native Americans, Greeks, Buddhists, to Hindu.  After studying the selection I was puzzled and asked myself: “Where is the Jewish and Christian mythology?” Where is the volume that talks about: parting the Red Sea, burning bushes, loaves and fishes, a God rising from the dead.  I shook my head, disappointed by the book chain’s apparent slight to so many of the world faiths. To call their faith beliefs Myths and not sacred stories is an affront to these believers.  These stories are based on faith and passed down through word-of-mouth and sacred scripture, no different from the stories of the Judo-Christian traditions.

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 Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 37                               Consecutive Days Blogging: 38

Today’s Mileage:  5                                             Total Trip Mileage: 321

 stage6

   Today we will be visiting the Shiva Vishnu Hindu Temple of South Florida.  Before we pull up to the gate and enter the temple I would like to share with you my personal experiences with the Hindu faith.  I have never travelled to India, but I have been lucky to have crossed paths with Hindu beliefs and practices and to have been changed forever by these encounters.

 paramahansa     How does a young man from the plains of the Dakotas come to experience Hinduism and its teachings?  The answer is in California!  During my time in the US Navy I was stationed in southern California, a fascinating place for a wide-eyed youth.   Every other street corner was inhabited by a new religion or cultural group! 

     I developed a deep friendship with a fellow sailor who had grown up in the LA area.  He looked every bit the part of a beach bum surfer, but he was a vegetarian and a Hindu convert.  He attended the Self-Realization Fellowship in LA.  At his suggestion I read the book Autobiography of Yoga, by Paramahansa Yogananda.  This opened up a fascinating new world of religious thought.  I began to read the teachings of various sects of Hinduism. 

AYCover070503_NoBorder      This caused me to wonder about what other belief systems existed in the world which the nuns who directed my Catholic education had failed to mention.  While intrigued by the fellowship’s teachings, especially the pluralistic nature of Hindu beliefs, I did not join the movement.  I was a pilgrim on a new and fascinating journey, checking out the different paths and only sampling their offerings!

      Change was in my future, as I returned from my first tour overseas.  While in Thailand, I became acquainted with Buddhism and began to wonder about meditation.  I got a call from my friend asking if I wanted to learn Transcendental Meditation.  “Sure why not!”  No three words have ever changed my life to the degree these three did (“I do” comes close, but in a totally different way)!

home_mmy

Maharishi Yogi founder of TM

     With no preparation, no afterthought, I entered a simple suburban home and a dimly lit room. I stood before a flickering candle and the portrait of a bearded foreign face and entered a new world!  My first meditation produced what is called a Monist mystical experience, a mind blowing state of nothingness and bliss (see yesterday’s posting for more on mystical experiences).  I walked out of that house profoundly changed forever! 

     I meditated religiously twice a day for seven years.  My anxieties and fears dissolved away, my awe and appreciation for the world around me deepened, and my growing compassion and concern for others pointed me in the direction of a helping profession.  I do not view meditation as a “cure all” that works for everyone. Rather, it is a valuable tool on a path to physical, mental, spiritual health and happiness.  Meditation became an integral part of my journey and reverberates within me still today!

“We are all part of the One Spirit. When you experience the true meaning of religion, which is to know God, you will realize that He is your Self, and that He exists equally and impartially in all beings.”
                                      –Paramahansa Yogananda

     I hope you enjoy this Pilgrimage Site visit (click on the tab at the top of the page to travel there).  If you wish more information about Hinduism, please visit the temple website. Trust me: it is a complex faith!

 

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