Namaste everyone, and welcome to Day 5 of Project Conversion: Hinduism. As promised, this post will give you an idea of my daily routine as I continue to immerse myself in the deep and majestic faith that is Sanatana Dharma.
Wake up. Many Hindus begin their day at pre-dawn with a bath or shower (usually said with a prayer to the holy rivers of India) and welcome/praise the sun (embodied as the deity Savitur). This is done with the Gayatri (Guy-ah-tree) Mantra (the mantra itself is personified as the goddess Gayatri Devi, the wife of Brahma) and is usually accompanied by a brief Hatha Yoga (asana or pose-based) form. The Gayathi Mantra is one of the oldest and most sacred in all of Hinduism and is thought to be highly beneficial for all aspects of one’s day. Typically, it’s recited at the three “junctions” of the sun’s path across the sky: dawn, noon, and dusk. Here is the Gayatri Mantra with an English translation:
AUM BHOOR BHUWAH SWAHA,
TAT SAVITUR VARENYAM
BHARGO DEVASAYA DHEEMAHI
DHIYO YO NAHA PRACHODAYAT
“Oh God! Thou art the Giver of Life,
Remover of pain and sorrow,
The Bestower of happiness,
Oh! Creator of the Universe,
May we receive thy supreme sin-destroying light,
May Thou guide our intellect in the right direction.”
Breakfast. Nothing is consumed or done without first acknowledging Brahman (or your deva ishta–personal deity), so no food or water before the morning rituals. Now with that out of the way, I can eat up. Many, if not most, Hindus are vegetarian. That means no meat or meat products (including eggs). This is mainly due to two factors: the concept of ahimsa (the philosophy of non-harming) and that food is placed in one of three gunas (dispositions) of Nature: Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas. Sattva food includes vegetables, nuts, fruits, and rice and is thought to produce positive, non-aggressive energy. Rajas includes red meat and produces apathy. Lastly, Tamas includes hot, spicy foods that, along with Rajas, is thought to produce negative/aggressive energy, anxiety, and restlessness. The reasoning behind this is attributed to the stresses placed on an animal as it is slaughtered being transferred to our bodies in the form of negative energy as we consume its flesh.
This means I have to be a vegetarian…all month. I’ve never done that before because I love meat. How will I survive?!
Actually, it’s not that bad. I’ve done this for 5 days now and I can honestly say that I feel lighter, rejuvenated, and less anxious than usual. My life is pretty hectic with all the projects I have going, not including being a student, a father, and a husband, but here lately the stresses of life have simply rolled from my mind like water off a duck’s back. This is partially due to constant chanting of simple mantras such as Om Namah Shivaya. Something else that helps, in case you just have to have that meat taste, is buying soy “meat” products like this:
There’s a soy “meat” alternative for just about every piece of dead animal you can think of. I had a soy chicken pattie sandwich last night and I kid you not, I couldn’t tell the difference.
Rest of the morning and afternoon:
Huh? What? Don’t sweat it. Sounds complicated and strange…and that’s because it is, however once you throw yourself into the process without reservations, things begin to clear up fast. When I first recieved my “Shiva Puja for Beginners” book I thought my brain would melt out of my ears. It was that complicated–and for beginners! I contacted the author and asked for his advice. His instructions: “Don’t worry. Keep it simple. Do what is comfortable and move on from there.” So I did.
Apart from the noontime recitation of the Gayatri Mantra with some yoga, most Hindus (except the ascetics who hang out in the woods to chant) function like many non-Hindus. If there are any differences, they are culturally based. In Hinduism, knowledge is sacred and seeking it is seen as a form of yoga (union with the divine) called Dnyana. Because Brahman, the Supreme Reality of everything, is in fact all, seeking this Reality through Dnyana Yoga in conjunction with Bhakti Yoga (devotion to a deity) is noble and holy. So, most of my day is spent in the study of Sanatana Dharma by reading holy texts like the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, practicing the mantras in Sanskrit, exercizing Ashtanga Yoga (a pose/philosophy- form of yoga based on the “eight limb” philosophy. More on that later), and listening to Hindu mantras set to modern music. Like this one of the Tandava Stotram, a hymn dedicated to Lord Shiva (in the form of Nataraja–the lord of the dance) as he performs the dance of creation and destruction:
Dusk to bedtime:
After performing the dusk Gayatri Matra with Sun Salutation asanas, my family eats dinner. I say my prayers dedicating the food to Brahman while my family say their Christian prayers. Once the kids are tucked into bed, I read more of the holy texts, practice my mantras, and try to clear my mind of the day by focusing on my murti (image, idol) of Shiva. Then, off to bed.
So there you have it: a day with me living as a Hindu. Even just five days in, my wife has noticed a positive difference in me. She might not let me switch-up faiths by the end of the month!
As the month progresses, I will also attend organized communal puja at a local temple and hopefully have some photos and interviews for you to enjoy. But for now, this is me living Hindu, and so far I’m lovin’ it.