The Parallels of Faith

As I’ve briefly mentioned before, I’m co-officiating a wedding next October for a couple of friends who are getting married. While this may not seem like a very odd thing to you — the fact that neither are Jewish or Pagan may start the wheels turning. Actually, the groom is Hindu and the bride is a spiritual person — but very private and non-religious or dogmatic in her beliefs.

What I’ve been finding fascinating is how misunderstood Hinduism is by most of the West. Ask five people on the street and they will probably all say that Hindus are polytheistic. This actually isn’t the case at the heart of it. Hindus have the same concept of “Ein Sof” that Jews have. They practice a very old form of aspected monotheism. Now the rituals and practices are so old that many people focus more on the aspects than the monotheism portion. But at its heart, Hinduism seems to be a monotheistic religion.

After many births the wise seek refuge in me, seeing me everywhere and in everything. Such great souls are very rare. There are others whose discrimination is misled by many desires. Following their own nature, they worship lower gods, practicing various rites.

-Bhagavad Gita 7:19-20

The “idol worship” has been an interesting thing to explore as well. On my recent trip to a Hindu temple with my friends, I experienced a variety of emotions. The first is that I saw why Jews don’t allow this. I get the same feeling walking into many Catholic churches. Such reverence is paid to statues. I understand that for many the statue is just a tool to help them focus, but for so many the statue just is. It is a manifestation of the Divine for them — which for me in incomprehensible. But — Catholics do the same thing. Every time my husband genuflects in front of a crucifix at a church, I’m startled by it.

All that being said, many synagogues and Jewish practices seem to idolize the Torah — that parallel was what struck me at the Hindu temple. We dance with them. We kiss them. We decorate them. We give them beautiful homes. You can tell me all you want about the symbolism — but most people just go through the motions and have no real idea what the point is other than reaching out with a prayer book to kiss the Torah.

The experience of exploring Hinduism has given me new insight into the practices of my own people. Learning and discussing the practices of Hinduism with my friend has opened my eyes. Reading passages from the Hindu texts expands my horizons daily.

As a man in the arms of his beloved is not aware of what is without and what is within, so a person in union with the Self is not aware of what is without and what is within, for in that unitive state all desires find their perfect fulfillment. There is no other desire that needs to be fulfilled, and one goes beyond sorrow.

-Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

I am so grateful that my friends have entrusted me with this task. Working with them to create their ceremony is a wonderful spiritual adventure for me. On so many levels I am growing spiritually because of this adventure. I am learning about the connections between two old faiths. I am challenging my own perseptions and misperseptions. I am seeing the ways of my people through new light. I am seeing my own actions in new ways. I am growing closer to two good friends and learning more and more about them.

Be happy!
For you are joy, unbounded joy.

You are awareness itself.

Just as a coil of rope
Is mistaken for a snake,
So you are mistaken for the world.

-Ashtavakra Gita 1:10

[tags]hinduism, comparative religion, judaism, interfaith weddings, religion[/tags]

2 Replies to “The Parallels of Faith”

  1. I've read that the kabbalistic 'Ein Sof' concept is very similar to the Hindu stream of Advaita Vedanta, or nondualism. Here, the individual Atman is essentially Brahman, that is to say, the ultimate reality. Or basically, what you said. 😉

  2. "I understand that for many the statue is just a tool to help them focus, but for so many the statue just is. It is a manifestation of the Divine for them — which for me in incomprehensible."

    I am thinking about the many idolotry conversations we have had in the past. Perhaps I don't know many hard-core idoloters, but the folks I know who do give homage to statues don't see that physical statue as equaling the totality of their deity. Instead, I see idolotry as another aspect of what we say in Becoming "The Divine abounds everywhere and dwells in everything." If that is the case, then there is an aspect of the Divine in the statue, and the statue is a manifestation of the Divine. Same as for the entire world around us. To me, it is just a difference in scale. Different people need or want different ways to connect with the divine.

    Also, I don't have the same trip-factor over a religion being polytheistic. I like the idea of "aspected monotheism," but see a potential trap in it as well. Most monotheists (and I am generalizing here) tend to see their personal aspect or version of the Divine as the Ultimate, rather than seeing their personal aspect as just that — an aspect or part of the Ultimate. I do not believe that humans have the capacity to really interact with the Ultimate directly. Even we try to conceive of the Ultimate (much less try to honor or worship it), we only conceive of a part of it. The difference of scale between finite and infinite is too great, or at least it is for most. Polytheism allows for human perspective, and most still have the concept of a greater Ultimate beyond the individual deities that are daily worshipped.

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