Anyone who isn’t Sehrish Miss, please ignore
A connection towards God is something that all religions feel, and we got to experience that emotion yesterday at the Mandir. We experienced special prayers and significant aspects of the Hindu faith, and through this, we strengthened our own beliefs as well. While we have learned many concepts in STEP, those concepts can be translated to their faith as well, and can give us a deeper understanding of them as well.
In the story of the six blind men and the elephant, the first man describes the elephant as a pillar after touching its leg, the second man after touching the elephant’s ear describes it as a fan, the third man described it as a wall after touching the side of the elephant, the fourth man described it as a spear after touching the elephant’s tusk and so on. The story goes on and ends with the six blind men learning that all of the features they touched were all apart of something greater which in the story was the elephant. Just like this in reality, when it comes to god, Hindus are like the men in the story. They perceive god in whatever attributions they like (such as a mother, father, friend, or a teacher) as they don’t know what god (Brahman, the highest absolute) actually looks like.
Hindus consider themselves as atman or soul and god as Brahman. In their lifetime, they are a subject to illusion (the material world/pleasures) and laws of karma, but once they achieve freedom from all of this, they are able to tap into the depth of their mind and regain their true nature/self which is when they can rejoin Brahman or exist externally in its purest state. Currently, there are ongoing debates going on the interpretation of the relationship between the atman and Brahman. The Advaita school believes there is no difference between the two. It insists that God is the only truth, and the world is an illusion. They believe that because Maya (illusions), the Brahman appears as different souls and ultimate goal of every individual soul is to use knowledge as a weapon to be free from ignorance and return to one’s original nature. However, another school called Dvaita believes that the distinction between the individual soul and God is real and eternal.
Some of the ways of ibadat that we experienced was aarti, bhajan, and meditation. Aarti is a part of puja and is a religious ritual of worship. It is when the a wick is lighted on a aarti plate and then circulated in a circle in front of a deity thus expressing one’s complete and unwavering love towards God. A bhajan, which is a devotional song or hymn, is also sang during aarti with a deep sense of reverence, adoration, and meditative awareness. Once aarti is finished, the priest passes the plate to all those present so they can receive the blessings infused within the flames. This is done when members cup their down-turned hands over the flame and bring it to their head and eyes. The purificatory blessing, which passes from the deities to the flame, is then passed on to the devotee. The last form of ibadat is meditation. Meditation is when one is relaxed and is empty of all thoughts. Meditation allows us to contact and connect to their deepest spiritual center, which is the Divine essence. It involves freeing oneself from all illusions, so they can get to the spiritual truth. Not only that, but meditation also helps one find happiness that cannot be found in the material world.
Before we entered the mandir and learned about Hinduism and its different rituals/practices, I thought that whenever aarti was performed, the one who was holding the aarti plate rotated it around a deity because he/she and the other devotees were praying and asking for forgiveness. This was my understanding of what aarti looked like in its zahir form. However, once I learned and experienced their ritual, I understood that the batin understanding of this ritual was much more than just rotating a plate around in front of an idol. A traditional aarti plate has 5 elements included. There are flowers which represent the earth element, the water represented the water element, the candle represents the fire element, the peacock fan represents the air element, and the yak fan represents space, but when we went to the mandir only some of these elements were on the aarti plate.
The next thing is the aroma of the flowers and the candle represented one’s purified state of mind and the aarti flame that is circulated around the deity represents the divine aura which helps the members have a unclouded look of the idol. When aarti is being performed, the one that is holding the aarti plate looks and concentrates directly in the idol’s eyes. The aarti is rotated in a clockwise manner and in every circle, when the plate is at the bottom, the performer bring it backward while staying at the bottom and then continues in a clockwise manner. This represents the fact that everything they do (their daily activities) revolve around god, that he is in the center of it, and that all material activities are secondary in importance (so one should remember god at times of happiness and have strength when they are faced with grief). Aarti also reminds one that he or she is below godhead so he or she should keep their ego down and stay humble in spite of they rank or wealth. The last understanding is that one should be watchful of the material pleasures so it can’t overcome them. In short, performing arti shows one true and complete devotion and love towards god. Once it is complete, one is purified through the deity’s blessing. In this, divine love is expressed by believing firmly in the fact that god exists and loves all no matter what. Divine love was also expressed by the devotees complete devotion and love towards god when they were singing along to the hymn and concentrating only on god.
Later in the day another form of ibadat we experienced was meditation. The zahir understanding of this was that it helps one clear his or her mind and relax, but the batin understanding was that it helps one connect to their divine self and find the key to permanent happiness which can’t be found in the material world. During this, divine love was expressed by connecting to our inner spiritual center. This is when you will stop creating images in your mind and talking to yourself. Instead of this, God will be talking to you. He will be the one that will create images and words. Meditation will bring you closer to god as you move from the state of meditation to the state of contemplation.
How I experienced divine love was by having blind trust in god existence and in the fact that he is the only one in the world that truly loves us. Knowing this I let go of all doubts that I had and just let the thought of unconditional love towards god take over me. When aarti was being performed, I personally felt awkward in the beginning, but later I felt happy and warm inside because the thought of understanding and experiencing someone else’s religion felt as if it brought me closer to god. I felt as if I somewhat had a better understanding on who god was and why he was there.
You can foster connections through a focus on divine love by meditation, gratitude, prayer, having a caring affection towards others, through our five senses, appreciating and caring for god’s creation (nature), through a balance in our lifestyle, through intentions of divinely love, and through visualizations incorporating divine attributes.
In class, we have discussed this concept before. We discussed what divine love is and looks like, the four different states of divine love, and how sufis interpret divine love. When we were discussing what divine love was we made a venn diagram between physical/human love and divine love. Divine love was qualified as ishq, unity, oneness with god, unconditional, private, spiritual, and something that was built upon ethics/morals. When we made a small book about the states of divine love we looked at the concepts of oneness with god, unity, blind trust, and ishq through stories, poems, songs, and ginans.
When we discussed how sufis interpret divine love we talked about five different sufis. The first sufi, Rabia Al Adawwaiya, was the first to introduce the concept of divine love. She had a passionate love for god and believed that he showed himself though love. Through Hazrat Ali’s teachings, she believed that love could not be greedy; One could not love god because of their fear of hell, no reward, or the desire to go to paradise, but only with pure intention towards god (meaning loving god without asking for anything in return). The second Sufi was Al Junayd who believed in the physical aspects, such as the Quran. He believed that one should respect and obey religious laws and the Quran. What he also believed in was that one should love all what god loves and reject all what god doesn’t love.
The third sufi was Mansur Al Hallaj who claimed to the the absolute truth. May misunderstood him and believed that he was claiming to be god himself, however what Hallaj really meant was the state of spiritual unity between the soul and God (the Divine). It was the state where Hallaj no longer existed and became one with god. The fourth was a group of sufis called the Ikhwan Al Safa who developed a theory about love. They wrote several books and devoted an entire epistle to the subject of love.They believed that ishq was the highest level of love and seeked to acquire knowledge which would lead them to their final destination. The last sufi was Ibn Al Arabi whose theory on divine love known as “Unity of Being” was the most influential. He believed that to be with god is to be with everything else. Going of the the previous statement, he also believed that everything around us (the material world) is an illusion and that only god is reality or the truth.
The mandir displayed zahir with it’s intricate decorations and paintings, and as we went around, we could see the time and effort put into it. That outer devotion is also a type of ibaadat, because people spent time in order to makes God’s place better and created an environment where they can feel closer. It also represents batin because each thing had a spiritual connotation to it, like the ceiling design and the paintings on the walls. The park had zahir because they recreated some of the main sites in the religion and it contained things important to the religion, which showed how they want to stay connected to their faith, and with these representations, they can feel like they are closer. The batin is the meaning behind all of the items. Each one has a meaning illustrated in their holy book, and through this, they can also gain a deeper understanding of their God. The creation of this park represents divine love because they created a place where someone could go and be without any distractions so that they can meditate better. The whole area also must have cost a lot of money, and the devotion to create everything and do it intricately says a lot about their love.
Sufi’s usually focused on physical creations and actions representing their love. They would learn dances and create designs and calligraphy in order to express devotion. Even if these things were material, the time and effort put into it showed how much they cared, and even if they didn’t rely on meditation to concentrate and talk with God, the way they danced and acted felt like they were communicating. The batin behind this is the meaning behind it. For example, with the dance , they show the relation with God, the sky, and the earth, while representing the role of humans in this large cycle. This meaning shows the deep thought that goes into these dances and the revelations that come with it. Shia’s usually focus on helping others and creating experiences. For example we learn more about our world to understand God’s creation, and we create Ginan’s in order to express that love as a group. While it may seem like a song, the meaning behind each line shows the amount of poetry and devotion that goes into it. The ginan’s can also show other the way if they don’t know how to connect to god. We also use those songs to show others the way our faith works, which increases pluralism. Nowadays, we can express our devotion through many different forms. We can create songs, like Salim-Suliman, or we can help other in our Jamat, like in volunteer. But, there has to be a spiritual meaning behind it. We have to remember that when we help God’s creation, He is happy too, and show our devotion by helping Him be happy. For example, I volunteer, but I do it because it brings me closer to the Jamat and God. It’s not just about helping others, it’s about making connections.
To conclude, we have the same foundations of faith as the Hindus, it’s just that they express it in a different way. The main concept of ibaadat is evident throughout, and by looking in the past,we can see the Sufi’s had the same ideas as well. All religions have the basic concepts, and we need to remember that we aren’t so different after all.
Here are the pictures that we took and a slideshow of the location