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Turn to God -- Rejoice in Hope: Reflections from the Hindu Tradition

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The phrase, "Turn to God," is profoundly suggestive. It conjures, for me, the image of standing or sitting somewhere and not being aware of someone who is close because my attention is focused elsewhere. When a friend draws my attention to the person next to me, or when I become aware of her presence, a turn of my neck is all that is necessary for me to recognize the one who is at my side. In turning, I do not have to bridge a barrier of space since the person is not in another building or room, but next to me. I do not have to look to a future moment, since the person is standing here and now. In order to discover and to see the person, I must simply turn my gaze which is directed elsewhere. The metaphor of turning is very helpful in understanding and describing the human predicament of separation from and finding God. The infinite God, in the understanding of Hinduism, is not to be thought of and imagined as one of the many objects in space. If we imagine God to be like an object in space, even if we locate God spatially higher than we are, we would be conceptually limiting the limitless God, since the space that contains God must be larger than God. From the standpoint of Hinduism, space and time are not naturally and eternally existing realities. God does not start off as a being who exists in one part of space and creates universes in other parts of space. Space and time are part of the created order, coming from God and existing in God. The Bhagavadgita (9:6) teaches that just as everything exists and moves in space, space and all things within it rest in God. God exists in all things and all things are in God. Yet God is not limited or bound by anything. God is not one object in space, but the One in which everything exists. This means that God is not a reality somewhere out there to be known. If we are in God and God is in us, as the Bhagavadgita (6:) puts it, we are never separate from God in space or time. This does not mean, however, that a process of turning is unnecessary. While we are inseparable from God, we are afflicted by a deep ignorance, comparable to a trance-like slumber, because of which we are unaware of the reality of God. The poet-saint Kabir compares us to a washer man standing in the midst of a flowing river and dying of thirst! When we discover God, we discover that God has already found us and has always been with us. In our spiritual blindness we did not recognize God's presence. "I am the same in all beings, " says Krishna in the Bhagavadgita (9:29), "there is none disliked or dear to Me. They who worship me with love are in Me and I am also in them." The Svetasvatara Upanishad (4:6-7) uses an interesting analogy to describe the human separation from and discovery of God. It describes two beautiful birds who are inseparable friends residing on the same tree. One eats the fruits of the tree with relish while the other looks on without eating. Sitting on the same tree, one bird becomes sad, entangled and deluded. But, when he turns and sees the other, the contented Lord and the Lord's majesty, his grief disappears. The two birds are the human being, and God and the tree is the life itself. God's attention is always on the human being, but the human being, absorbed in the world, ignores God. He is unaware of the divine who is close by and patiently waiting. Human ignorance and inattentiveness to God, however, is the fundamental cause of misery which ends only when one turns round and recognizes God at one's side. Ignorance of God is the source of our suffering and from this we must be awake. Awakening to God is consistently associated in the Hindu tradition and texts with freedom from sorrow and the attainment of joy. "Only when people shall roll up the sky like a piece of leather," says the Svetasvatara Upanishad, "will there be an end of misery for them," often used to describe the absolute. "The Infinite Itself is joy. There is no joy in the finite. The Infinite alone is joy," says Sanatkumara to Narada in the Chandogya Upanishad (7.23.1). On a particle of the bliss of God, teaches Yajnavalkya in the Brhadaranyana Upanishad (4.3.32), other beings live. Knowing God and the bliss which is God ought not, in the Hindu tradition, to lead to selfish absorption in oneself. This is where the Assembly theme challenges us as Hindus. One cannot and ought not to turn to God without, at the same time, turning to creation and to all human beings with love and reverence. To turn to God is not to turn away from the world, but to see the world as infused by God. Hinduism has emphasized, perhaps more than any other tradition, God's immanence in the world and in all beings. Paradoxically, however, we have understood and lived our tradition in ways which imply that we can turn to God and ignore the world. Our tradition is loud and consistent in its call for us to turn to God. The Assembly theme may, unfortunately, be read in ways that reinforce the disconnection between spirituality and social reality in Hinduism. The theme of turning to God and rejoicing in hope becomes relevant and radical for us only if it requires us to wrestle with the implications of this for our life in the world. If it does not, it simply becomes a theology of narcissistic escapism and we have enough of these. In Hinduism to know God is to discover God as living in all beings and to be drawn into a life of love and service of others. It is, as the Bhagavadgita puts, to identify with others in their joys and sorrows and to take delight in their well being. It does not mean that one is personally liberated from all encounters with sorrow and tragedy. Turning towards and discovering God provides a perspective and an unfailing source of support and strength which ensures that, as the Bhagavadgita (6:22) puts it, one does not succumb to the heaviest of sorrows.

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1 Enakshi Ganguly = "The Universe is an extension of the Supreme Being, That did not create it, but is It. It exists right here, next to you, and exists light years from you. The Supreme Being exists everywhere. It can decide when to unfold the existence of this Universe, us, this world, and can also fold it up again, ending the pralaya, or manifestation of the Universe."
2 Enakshi Ganguly = "A short part of the Mahabharata, the epic involving the cousin families Pandavas and Kauravas, fighting for what is good, right, and the rest of the Bharat (present-day India, Pakistan) kingdom. "
3 Cary W = "Ephesians, from Paul, says that all things are from Him, through Him, for Him and By Him, and nothing exists except it be through God."
4 Enakshi Ganguly = "Maha Maya, or the great Illusion, is what keeps us from realizing the Self, the Atman. We are distracted from the Ultimate Truth because we are entangled in the temporary, the thing that will serve us for a short period of time and will disappear. We are discontent because we are constantly relying on this instability as a source of strength. When we begin to align the Self, our inner being, to the Atman, to God, or whatever name you prefer, we realize the Oneness in all. The one Truth, and we find eternal peace in that. We see God, and our blindfolds are untied only through His glory. "
5 Cary W = "When we finally do get around to acknowledging Him in all our ways, He makes the path straight, clears up any delusion, and brings us into an elevated view of life as a whole."
6 Cary W = "Jesus last set of instructions were simple: love God with all your heart, mind, soul and body, and love each neighbor as oneself, as part of oneself.  Loving God first simply allows us see that world is indeed always infused by God."