(Written by Him)
We learned to pray with the relatively tiny community of Caodaism in Da Nang - Vietnam, sat in contemplation in the Chinese Buddhist temples of Hoi An - Vietnam. We togged out to visit the beautiful mosques of Islam in Borneo and Brunei and donned our sarongs to trek amongst the Hindu sites in Bali. We stood bare foot in awe of the community Hindu temples in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Our tribal long-house excursion to remote Northern Borneo revealed an ancient form of Animalism practiced by the jungle dwellers who worship local predators such as the crocodile. Even within the same religion we have seen practices differ dramatically depending on the country from strict no alcohol Muslims in Brunei to the optional-hijab liberals in Java and from the temple attending Hindus in Kuala Lumpur to the house-alter Hindus in Bali.
We have learnt so much about so many things we previously knew nothing about since we left Ireland. Among them all, Hinduism has stood out for us as being perhaps the most complicated and nuanced belief system so far. Luckily for you we have the basics down and are happy to share...
The Gita tells the story of Arjuna, a Indian warrior and his conversation with Krishna, the supreme Hindu God who poses as Arjuna's charioteer on the battlefield. Throughout the Marabharata a disagreement has been brewing between two sets of brothers. Arjuna's father was the King but he died very early and so the King's brother was appointed in his stead and not Arjuna's older brother who would have been the natural successor. Now that the new King has also died there is a question as to who should rightfully succeed the throne, Arjuna's older brother who is the original King's son, or the latest King's son, Arjuna's cousin. The Gita takes place on the night before the battle when each side has assembled their respective armies on the battlefield. Arjuna tells his charioteer (Krishna) to ride his chariot into the middle of the battlefield so that he can look at the faces of those standing opposite him.
There are many themes explored throughout their conversation but the essence of Hinduism can be discerned from an understanding of two concepts, "Dharma" and "Karma" which are core topics of Krishna's advice.
Dharma has a complex meaning but it will do to say it is the essence of each and every living thing, their nature and the thing that makes something what it is. We watched a Hindu snake handler interviewed on television after receiving a bite while working in a small Indian village. The man almost died and the interviewer asked if he held any resentment towards the snake. The man said, "No, it is the snake's nature to bite". It is the snakes Dharma.
With the terms out of the way let's take a look at Krishna's advice to Arjuna on the night before the battle.
Arjuna asks, "How can I ever bring myself to fight...If I killed them, every pleasure I found would be tainted...Even power over men and Gods or the wealth of an empire seem empty."
Krishna tells Arjuna that just as there has always been rulers and wars there will always be and that now is fleeting. "There is neither slayer nor the slain...you do not die when the body dies."
This perspective if born out in ones actions will in turn dissuade one from producing negative karma. "The ignorant work for their own profit, Arjuna; the wise work for the welfare of the world, without thought for themselves...What the outstanding person does, others will try to do. The standards such people create will be followed by the whole world...Those who live in accordance with these divine laws without complaining, firmly established in faith, are released from karma. Those who violate these laws, criticising and complaining, are utterly deluded, and are the cause of their own suffering." Lord Krishna's advice in respect to selflessness and karma lead into his advice about the other primary principle of Hinduism, dharma. "Even the wise act within the limitations of their own nature...Nothing is ever lost in following one’s own dharma, but competition in another’s dharma breeds fear and insecurity."