According to Hindu belief, our universe was created by Maha Vishnu, who in his deep sleep continues respire, and in his process of doing so, creates and destroys universes. As he inhales, a universe is created, but as he exhales, one is destroyed. Science, on the other hand, offers another explanation for the inception of the universe through a postulated incident referred to as the Big Bang. The Big Bang is an event said to have occurred 13.5 billion years ago that created space and time, and then gave rise to the first single-celled organism amidst an organic solvent.
However different the two hypotheses may seem, scientific thought and Hindu belief find common ground in the concept of evolution. Science states that the first living organism continued to evolve physically until it could optimally adapt to its surroundings, ultimately resulting in man, while Hinduism believes organisms evolved in order to grow higher in the spiritual hierarchy so that one day they could reach a point at which spiritual liberation could be achieved. Man, in both thought processes, is considered the highest form of evolution, physically or spiritually. It is believed that man is alone capable of achieving liberation, or moksha1, by merging with God.
Along with this superior capability, our species has inherited two additional qualities which make achieving moksha1 challenging: the ability to make choices and the ego. Unlike all other animals in nature which obey and respond to natural instincts, humans have the unique capability of making their own choices. Animals such as geese or fish all respond to nature as they obey the rules of season; during certain times of the year, they all follow the same pattern and must follow the same path together. Although we as humans have been said to originate from a common place in Africa, we have all separated and established our own settlements while forgetting our common and ultimate goal of life. In our attempts to find financial success and ensure a life of comfort and grandeur, we have immersed ourselves in materialistic desires, completely neglecting the spiritual aspect of life as well as forgetting that when our current life ends, another begins. Human life will continue in the cycle of samsara2 until the truth behind human life is realized, and we chose to go back to the natural path from which we have strayed.
Truthfully, it is our ability to make our own choices that has caused us to lose sight of what our true goal in life should be. We all can choose to pray, to meditate, to go to church or the temple, or we can choose not to. Our choices and actions are said to be what make us who we are, and they build upon each other and accumulate in a person; this is what is commonly referred to as karma3. Karma exists in both good and bad forms- as one does good deeds, one will accumulate good karma, while one who commits bad deeds will accumulate bad karma. As the soul is what transcends the material world and continues through the cycle of reincarnation, karma is thought to be associated with the soul; by this, the karma that a person has accumulated during their life will determine the quality and setting of their next life. It is a common misconception, however, that one should aim to only accumulate good karma so that the circumstances of the next life will be better than the current life, but it is important to keep in mind the true reason for our being.
A fundamental concept in Hinduism is that humans are nothing but deviations of God himself, and each person has the same amount of His light within them. Through this relationship with God, we are all connected with each other and with everything else living in the universe. However, because the laws of nature dictate that what leaves must return, the diverted souls are to ultimately come back to the origin, God himself. Therefore, the ultimate goal is thought to be to merge the God within, referred to as athman4, with the God who is external of us, but not separate, known as the brahman5. As the soul finds its way back to its spiritual home, liberation from samsara is achieved and the final stage of human spiritual evolution is reached. Therefore, the objective should not be to accumulate only good credit, but to arrive at a stage in which no credit is associated with the soul, thereby allowing the immaculate to merge with the Ultimate upon death.
The ego, on the other hand, can be interpreted in various ways. Fundamentally, the ego can be understood as something which allows a person to consider themselves an individual unit, separate from the God who exists within and connects us all. Often, we unconsciously state our independence by using the word “I” to refer to ourselves, indicating the presence of the ego; statements such as “I was able to..” or “I am smart” or even “I am lonely” show individuality and neglect to acknowledge what is said to be the core of our existence, or the real fuel of our lives: God who is within us at every moment. By lacking to acknowledge His ubiquity, we unknowingly distance ourselves and make it harder to reach our spiritual destination.
It is on the basis of reincarnation that Hinduism is founded, and where the belief in many Hindu deities, traditions and rituals originates. Often, amongst the annual celebrations and the pujas6 which we conduct, we forget the purpose behind our worship, what our true goal is and what we should be striving for. Is it to strive to conduct the perfect puja, or is it to strive to connect the God within you to the God we see outside? Should it be to build big and expensive mandirs7 in our homes, or should it be to build and strengthen your relationship with God to such a level that no forces can penetrate that bond? As beneficial as these things may be, we often get caught up in the technicalities that we forget to build and strengthen our relationship with God from within. There are many ways through which a Hindu can chose to connect with God, express their faith and conduct their worship- pujas are done, mandirs are built, seva8 opportunities are given, ancient and holy texts are available to read, etc, but it is important that we realize that all these forms of worship should be done in order to become closer to God. Without realizing the true meaning behind our worship, finding the way to our ultimate destination can be challenging; we must work to build our relationship with God, regardless of our chosen method of devotion, and only then can we seek to achieve the real goal of human life.
1moksha: the state of being liberated from reincarnation, or the cycle of life and death.
2samsara: cycle of life and death.
3karma: the sum of one’s actions in the current and past lives which determines the possibility and circumstance of future lives.
4athman: the self or the essence of a human life, subject to the karmic cycle.
5brahman: The Supreme Being, the One self-existent power, the Reality which is the source of all being and all knowing.
6puja: Hindu prayer service to one or more Hindu deity.
7mandir: Hindu temple.
8seva: volunteer work in offering to God.