Indian culture, the Hindu religion, and how their influence is affirmed in Unity teachings

I grew up in the Britain of the 1950s and 1960s so I was familiar with the influx of immigrants from India, Pakistan, and other south Asian countries happening at that time. They brought a cultural diversity that included a new and exciting cuisine.

As teenagers we’d often go for a curry at one of the local Indian restaurants after a drink in the pub. My focus on all things Indian grew exponentially when the Beatles became involved with Hinduism and the hippie era’s focus on the exotic and alternative.

It wasn’t until I traveled overland to India in 1976–77 that I truly became fascinated with Indian culture and spirituality. India can be both enchanting and exasperating. The scents of incense, marigold flowers, and curry mingle with dirt and dung.

All of life seems to be played out on the streets. The magnificence of the architectural wonders stands side by side with the appalling poverty of the shantytowns. Yet, no matter what level of wealth, each person displays a certain natural dignity and presence.

33 Million Gods = One

The Hindu religion is a similar blend of forces, a multiplicity of philosophies, ideas, practices, and beliefs. It is said that there are 33 million gods and goddesses in Hinduism, yet fundamentally each is but a facet of the One True God. This is encapsulated in the phrase, “God is Formless but takes many forms,” from Hindu mystic Ramakrishna.

The term Hinduism itself is a Western creation from the 19th century onward, an attempt to put a neat label on such a disparate and sometimes contradictory set of traditions. Indians themselves prefer to call their spiritual path Sanatana Dharma, which translates as the Eternal Truth or Eternal Way.

Like the early Christians, who called themselves the Followers of the Way, and Unity students who dare to embody the truth of oneness, each path, at its center, shares a mystical core that includes but is not limited to a doctrinal or philosophical framework …

So where do we begin to unpack such a complex and varied religion as Hinduism? It is almost futile to try to sum it up in a few words. There are, however, some dominant beliefs and normative practices that are common to the majority of Hindus, and these can be compared and contrasted with the Unity principles and approach …

God Is All There Is

First, let’s explore the nature of God in Hinduism. From the multiplicity of gods and goddesses in the pantheon, three dominant deities emerge, along with their female counterparts.

There is Brahma, the Creator God, whose consort Saraswati is the river goddess of knowledge, music, and the arts. Second is Vishnu, the sustainer and preserver, and his consort Lakshmi, who is the goddess of wealth and provision. The third element of the Trimurti is Shiva, the auspicious God of destruction and transformation, and his consort Parvati, who has both light, peaceful aspects and dark frightening aspects like the Durga and Kali forms.

This trinity encompasses the creative, sustaining, and dissolving aspects of creation …

We could say Hinduism is a treasure house of prayer and meditation practices. It is one of India’s gifts to humanity …

All these gods are aspects of the Godhead Brahman, who is ultimate transcendence. Although these gods have many seemingly human characteristics and are portrayed vividly as larger than life characters, they are in fact archetypes of truths inherent within creation and within our consciousness.

Their images and qualities can provide portals by which we can commune with the Divine in us. From a Unity perspective, each god is a divine idea, illuminating one or more aspects of God’s infinite power.

I Am That

Most Hindus would subscribe to the concept of panentheism, God in everything and everything in God …

There are many paths up the spiritual mountain, many Gods to choose, but in the end, there is only one summit and one Presence. At its most sublime this ultimate presence is simply called That, and powerful mantras used in Hinduism reference that word, such as, I am That, and You are That.

That has an inscrutable connotation that is hard to define but has the strength of stating something without a clear-cut definition. Like Yahweh in the Torah, God resists being pinned down. “Who are you?” asked Moses, and God replied, “I am that I am.”

It is not only God who says, “I am That.” Once the seeker realizes he is one with the One, as we say in Unity, there is the deep awareness of recognition. The seeker truly knows, “I am That.” The Bhagavad Gita puts it this way:

He who sees that the Lord of all is ever
the same in all that is, immortal in the
field of mortality—he sees the truth …

The second principle of Unity, that there is the spark of divinity within all, is affirmed over and over in Hinduism. The individual soul, jiva, is none other than the Atman, the Spirit of God expressing through form. Indeed, all beings, in varying degrees, have the same spirit within them.

Humankind, then, has ultimate self-worth. The concept of the fall, of the power of evil or a devil, is absent from Hindu philosophy …

Karma and Consciousness

The third Unity principle of mind action, which is the formative power of thought and the creative process, has been examined and refined in Hinduism. The subject of karma in all its forms has been articulated from many points of view. Many conclusions have been drawn that range from strict dualism to uncompromising, unitive teachings and everything in between …

According to most systems, however, it is clear that we reap what we sow. The power of our consciousness is paramount in determining our karma and therefore our life experience. We may have inherent tendencies and conditions brought from past actions and past lives, but we are ever free to choose again …

Gifts of Prayer

When we turn our attention to the fourth Unity principle of prayer and meditation as ways to connect with God-mind and bring forth wisdom, healing, prosperity, and good into our lives, we could say Hinduism is a treasure house of prayer and meditation practices. It is one of India’s gifts to humanity …

Many sects of Hinduism, including the tantric, have created sophisticated systems concerning the arising of energy within the body-mind. Kundalini yoga focuses on this and describes certain energy wheels or chakras throughout the body.

Charles Fillmore was interested in this system and the possibility of regeneration, as he termed it. He refashioned the seven main chakras into the 12 powers of man, basing them on divine ideas and on an association with Jesus’ disciples. It is possible to benefit from the mutually supporting insights of both the Hindu system and Fillmore’s ideas.


Excerpted from Unity and World Religions.

About the Author

Rev. Paul John Roach is a longtime Unity minister based in Fort Worth, Texas, and hosts World Spirituality on Unity Online Radio.

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