FAQ: Important Terms

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What does 'namaste' mean?

According to the book, 'Why Do We', by Sw. Vimlanandaji:

Namaste is a combination of two words: namah and te. It means “my salutations to you.” Nama can be split into na and ma, which means “not mine.” The spiritual significance by saying that is to reduce ego in another’s presence and to recognize the divinity that exists in all. When we say namaste, we are really saying “let our minds meet.” That is why we fold our hands, and bowing the head is a sign of love, friendship, respect, and humility. It is a sign of looking within and recognizing the divine Self.

What does reincarnation mean in Hinduism?

Reincarnation refers to the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. After the body dies, the unmanifested desires and ego travel to take birth in a new body, so that they may be expressed. One is freed when all of these are expressed and one is able to identify with that Infinite Consciousness that is ever present.

Source: https://www.vedanta-seattle.org/articles/hindu-concept-of-reincarnation/

What is yoga?

The word “yoga” today is usually associated with physical exercises that shape the body and mind. But that is not actually the true definition. Yoga means to live an inspired life. Yoga is essentially that which consciously elevates the mind and intellect to a state of steadiness, balance, and poise. Yoga, as defined by the Bhagavad Gita, is to live in complete and flawless unison with that divine Self. That Self is who we really are. The paths such as Karma Yoga (the path of action), Jnana Yoga (the path of knowledge), and Bhakti Yoga (the path of devotion) all have the same purpose-to seek out the higher and live in absolute happiness and harmony.

Source: Holy Geeta by Swami Chinmayananda

What is karma?

Karma, loosely defined, translates to “action.” The idea of the law of karma is that we are the products of our past actions. It is essentially saying we sow that which we reap and that every action causes a reaction.

The Bhagavad Gita, one of Hinduism’s most famous texts, has a full chapter called Karma Yoga, the Path of Action. This does not just mean any action. Karma Yoga is those good actions which will make us and society as a whole better and prosperous, in every way possible. It is one path to attain Moksha, and it is encouraged for those with that particular mindset to apply themselves in an action oriented way.

There are three different kinds of karma, as defined in Swami Tejomayananda’s commentary of Adi Shankaracharya’s work Tattva Bodha (a book which expounds the essence of Vedanta and its various terminologies). Agami karma is “results of actions performed, good or bad performed by the body of the Realised soul after the dawn of knowledge.” Sancita Karma, or accumulated karma, is “results of actions performed in (all) previous births which are in seed form and giving rise to endless crores of births (in future). Prarabdha karma translates to those actions which result in either happiness or sorrow, and can only be destroyed by enjoying or suffering said happiness or sorrow, respectively.

What does the Self mean?

The Self is described as the nature of Existence, Consciousness, and Bliss. Existence is that which does not change in the past, present, or future. Consciousness is the nature of absolute, supreme Knowledge. Bliss is the nature of absolute, permanent happiness. In Advaita philosophy, I do not distinguish myself as separate from the Self. I am that Self, which means my nature is infinite. Upon knowing it, there is permanent happiness and liberation. To know It, I must listen, reflect, and meditate on It. That can only happen with a pure mind, which can come through means such as Karma Yoga (selfless actions) or Bhakti Yoga (single pointed devotion). The Self is beyond understanding at our intellectual level, but we may realize it once we transcend body, mind, and intellect.

Source: Swami Tejomayananda's commentary on Adi Shankaracharya's Tattva Bodha

Today the caste system is very misunderstood. What does it really mean?

According to Hindu Culture by Swami Tejoymayanada ji:

There was actually no such thing called the caste system. The true word is actually called varna, which means to describe by color, name, form, quality, etc. The reason for this is because humans have lots of variety in these attributes. It is Krishna who says in the Bhagavad Gita that this four-fold system was created by Him according to quality and action. The Brahmins are the thinking class (those of an intellectual nature who have a mind suited for studying and teaching). The Brahmin quality is mostly sattvic (calm, peaceful and able to work without passion and tension). The Kshatriyas are the leader class (those who can act on certain ideas, look after people, and fight courageously when necessary). The Kshatriya quality is mostly rajasic (passionate, action-bound, and ambitious) but also somewhat sattvic. The Vaishyas are the business class (those who can produce wealth for both themselves and society as a whole and have a business mindset). The Vaishya quality is mostly rajasic, but unlike the Kshatriya quality, it has more Tamas (dullness, inertia, laziness, etc.) than Sattva. The Sudras are the labor class (those who do not have ideas, the qualities to lead, or the business mindset to produce wealth, but can do what they are told to do and do so in Seva, or service). The Sudra mindset is mostly Tamasic.

The caste system that came about manifested from believing that the Brahmins are the most superior and the Sudras are the lowest. It is believed that birth and not actions determine who a person is. Hence the caste system and all the misunderstandings and discriminations exist today. The truth is that all four varnas are equal to one another, and each person has these four varnas in some way. We need them, depending on where we are. For instance, Brahmins can become Sudras, and vice versa. It would not be good, for instance, to have a Brahmin mindset in a field where immediate action is required, with little to no room for thinking.

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