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V. Worship, spiritual practices, and Gods

Overview

 Most Hindus are bhakta; that is, they practice their religion through bhakti yoga - the worship of and devotion to a god. As already noted, bhakti yoga is considered to be the best path in the present age.  According to Hinduism, the universe goes vast cycles of creation, decline and destruction. Each cycles divides into four stages, each of which is worse than the preceding. We are currently in the final stage, Kali Yuga.

 

A. Puja

This devotion is often expressed through puja - worship that takes place in the home as well as through participation in worship and celebrations at a temple devoted to the deity. Be mindful, however, that when devotion to a particular god does not mean that one does not acknowledge and honor other gods and goddesses. All deities are considered to be manifestations of Brahman, the universal soul. While there are literally thousands of gods and goddesses in Hinduism, there are three major deities that are worshipped.

B. Darshan

One of the main characteristics of Hindu worship is darshan.  Darshan (or darsan) is the process of making visual contact with the divine through an image. Statues and images are extremely important in Hinduism. It isn't that the image is the god; rather the god chooses to make himself present in the statue.  Consequently, images offer the potential of contact with the deity that is present in them. The final goal of most pilgrimages or temple visits in Hinduism is to make darshan - to see the divine through the statue. Because of the deity's presence, statues are treated as an honored guest.  Puja often includes bathing, clothing or offering food and drink a statue.

C. Pilgrimages

Pilgrimages play in important role in Hinduism.  The entire land of India is a sacred place in Hinduism.  Throughout the land are places where the gods and goddesses have made themselves known.  One of the most important manifestations of the divine is the river Ganges.  Hindus refer to the river as Mother Ganga. Bathing in the river is thought to remove sin. Consequently, pilgrimage to the city of Benares to bathe in the Ganges is an important spiritual event in Hinduism. It is through that those who die in the sacred city of Benares are automatically released from rebirth.

D. Life stages

For the upper castes, life is traditionally divided into four stages: the student, the householder, the "semi-retired" and the sannyasin. The sannyasin is one who, having fulfilled his duties to society, now renounces his former life and family and lives as a spiritual seeker.

At any stage in life, one may seek the guidance of a spiritual leader known as a guru.

While Hinduism acknowledges and honors literally thousands of gods and goddess, the text notes that most Hindus can be grouped into three categories.

A. Saktas are those who worship one of the goddesses. Worship of female divine has been associated with worship of Nature. What we call the Ganges River is Mother Ganga. Specific manifestations of the divine goddess include: 
  • Durga: 10 arms, beautiful, 
  • Kali: (image at right) fearsome, ugly, often pictured with necklace of skulls.

 

B. Saivites

  • Worship Siva
  • Siva is often  associated with the destroyer and depicted as dancing

  More about the image of Shiva

 

CVaishnavites

  • Worship Vishnu
  • Vishnu is considered the Preserver
  • The many incarnations of Vishnu include Rama and Kirshna (Krishna is pictured at right).

 

 

   

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