Experiencing Divine light and supreme bliss is not only well recognized in Hinduism, but is one of its ultimate goals. From Hinduism we gain a clear and abundant sense of the value that this tradition places on the subject at hand. Hindus discovered very early in their history the presence of this divine phenomenon, and have written about the sublime encounter extensively.

Hinduism derives its name from the inhabitants of the Indus River valley in Northwest India, and are therefore known as (H)-indus. Around 1500 BC, Aryan invaders from the north conquered the Indus valley. They brought with them the language of Sanskrit, which is used throughout the voluminous literature of classical Hinduism. This literature includes the mythical stories of the gods in the Rg Veda; the sacrificial rituals in the Brahmanas and the Sama, Yajur, and Atharva Veda; epic accounts in the Mahabarata and the Ramayana; the mysticism of the Upanishads; and the synthesis of all these in the Bhagavad-Gita. The Gita is the latest of the collection, and was completed in the 2nd century BC.

Hinduism is a remarkably versatile religion, and for the most part very tolerant of differing religious views. The ultimate goal in most forms of Hinduism is to achieve liberation (moksha) from the material world. This can be accomplished in several ways. The way of karma, or action, emphasises exercises that are designed to physically untangle the spirit from the body. The way of jnana, or knowledge, would have one consider the true nature of reality in order to gain the ultimate goal. Lastly, the way of bhakti, or worship, allows one to pray either to a specific God or any number of gods, depending on the person and the situation.

However, in classical Hinduism, it is only appropriate for the priestly class, the Brahmins, to achieve moksha in this life. Otherwise, if one is born of a lower class, then one must properly perform the duties of that class, and the caste within the class, in order to be reincarnated into the next level above. Failure to do so could result in one being reincarnated lower in the social order, or even into the animal world. The righteous Sudra, or working class, would then aspire to ascend to the Vaisya, or Mercantile class; the Vaisya to the Kshatriya, or ruling class; and the Kshatriya to the Brahmin class. The Brahmin who performs all the duties that can be expected might achieve this final release from an otherwise endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.

Hinduism has several major schools of thought. The Nyaya and Vaishesika schools hold that a personal Creator has arranged particulate forms of matter (atoms, if you will) to form the cosmos. The Mimamsa school emphasises the role of ritual, and familiarity with the Vedic scriptures. The Sankhya system emphasizes the achievement of liberation through proper thinking. Yoga emphasises proper action, through exercises and meditation, to achieve moksha. Vedanta sees a divine reality that transcends the everyday world of the senses, and deals with the relationship between God (Brahman) and the soul (Atman).

Within Vedanta, views differ considerably about what the relationship between Brahman and Atman means. The 9th century philosopher Sankara maintained that Brahman and Atman are ultimately identical. Ramanuja, in the 12th century, held that the two are at once distinct and united, just like the body and the soul. In the 13th century, Madva proposed that Brahman and Atman are completely distinct.

The 19th century saw several outstanding Hindu philosophers and reformers. Ram Mohan Roy re-emphasized the importance of religious devotion and worship. Ramakrishna saw a single divine reality underlying all of the world's faiths. Mahatma Ghandi sought to reform the social order through non-violent revolution. Aurobindo, after having been imprisoned for taking part in violent attacks against the British in Bengal, had a religious experience which inspired him to wed Hindu spirituality with modern science.

As far as Hindu mysticism is concerned, one does not need to look far to investigate the experience under examination. The Hindu scriptures themselves, particularly the Upanishads, are rich with such literature. The encounter with light and ecstasy is as deep and profound in this tradition as one can find in any other, modern or ancient.



Divine Encounters

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