Thursday, January 8, 2009

Hinduism: Answering a friend's questions

My friend had the following questions.
> In Muslims and Christianity, person from any caste can be a priest...
> In Muslims and Christianity, any body can enter any church and reach the "Altar" or
"Main pooja" place.
> But in Hindusim, I was told SC / ST can't be a priest (poojari)
> In Hinduism, certain temples are restricted for certain caste people .
I tried to answer him this way:
Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, well all religions of the world, have their positive & negative points. Most of the time, we all forget the gud points & focus only on the negative points Thats human nature, we are drawn towards evil more easily than goodness, is it not so?
Well, answering your questions:
Coming to enter the altar or the main pooja hall (We call it the Garbha Griha), nobody, even upper caste people except the priests, are allowed there. The garbha griha is sacred. Priests too have to enter under strict conditions, they should not have eaten food till the puja is completed, they should maintain personal cleanliness, etc. Infact, the priests, once they enter the garbha griha should not move out till the puja is completed.
You have to be clean, in body, in mind. Whoever does not meet this criteria, will be turned away, upper caste / lower caste.
Well, this is not restricted to Hinduism only. Even Islam prescribes it. Have a look outside the mosques, you can see people wash their feet, hands & feet before entering.
The purpose of these things is not merely to maintain tradition. You worship God with clean and focussed mind. Other things should not interfere your worship. So, these things are prescribed. Cleanliness starts from outside, clean body, clean clothes, clean surroundings==>clean mind, is it not so.
Frankly, there are no restrictions for people to enter temples, neither caste, nor religion. Recently, the Prime Minister of Turkey & his family visited a Hindu temple in Bangalore. This itself proves it, right?
Coming to being a priest, its not easy to being a priest in Hinduism. Priest's role is not merely to perform rituals or be a conduit for God. He has to live as an example for the others, he has to be a guide for people to attain God. He has to know the Agama shastras (how to perform puja), Vedas, Upanishads etc etc. The training itself takes about 15 years. He has to be rigorously trained from childhood ( training will be nothing less severe than that of a Marine commando. Only, the training is for the mind).
Whoever can take this training & successfully pass, is welcome to be a priest! Well this is same with all religions, is it not?
Coming to the basic question of castes, the division was based on skill, physical ability, mental make up of the person(s) in question. Ask any child psychologist, he will counsel not to force the child. We should consider the child's ability (mental, physical makeup), interest and choose the right vocation for him. The same was followed in Hinduism too. Certain people were more capable of being soldiers, some were more capable of being priests, some were more capable of being in business, so were capable of service jobs. They were assigned accordingly. Asking people to do jobs against their skills makes them squirm, uncomfortable & underperforming (remember the ad!). The present degeneration is our mistake, not the mistake of the system.
I admire & honour all the religions of the world, their prophets & their followers. Hinduism proclaims the same. Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita proclaims " Whichever way(religion) you take, ultimately you will reach ME (God)" So, for us, all the religions are the same, since God is one & the same, for each religion claims their God to be Omnipotent, Omniscient, loving n caring. If the characteristics are same, then God should also be same.
What do you say people?

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