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Written by Guhanatha Swami   
Thursday, 16 May 2013 12:25

My Hindu Page Glossary - A




Aalvar: Meaning, “one immersed in God consciousness.” It is the affectionate title given to the 12 Tamil Vaishnavite saints who lived between the fifth and ninth centuries. These saints revitalized the devotional worship of God Vishnu throughout India. They travelled extensively, composing devotion-inspiring poems to God Vishnu. Their collective works of about 4000 verses are compiled in the Scripture, Divya Prabhandam.

Aarati: The camphor light presented to the deity at the end of the puja ceremony. The light is then presented to devotees present at the puja as a sacrament.

Abhaya Mudra: Mudras are hand gestures that are given specific meaning. Abhaya mudra signifies that, 'all is well' or 'fear not.' The gesture is made by showing the palms of the hand with the fingers outstretched and can be pointing upward or downward. There are many types of mudras. They are often seen on deities and used by traditional Indian dancers during their performances, priests doing the puja ceremony or yogis while meditating.

Abishegam: The bathing of a deity during the puja ceremony. Many natural substances such as milk, honey, rose water and sacraments are used to bathe the deity. Abishegam is a ritualistic act of appreciation of God's Presence.

Adi Shankara: One of Hinduism’s most renowned monk and scholar. Sri Adi Shankara (788-820) is the preeminent guru of the Smarta Hindu sect. He established the Dashanami monastic orders all over India. Monks under Adi Shankara’s lineage are called Shankarachariyars. Adi Shankara is known for his erudite exposition of the Vedas and was the founder and avid proponent of the pure non-dual school of Advaita Vedanta. His still popular writings are the Viveka Choodamani, Brahma Sutra Bhasya, Atma Bodha, Atma-Anatma and Ananda Lahiri

Adivasi: It means “original settlers,” and refers to the aboroginal community in India. They include hill tribes and forest dwellers.

Affirmations: Affirmations are statements of intent or goals that one repeats to oneself to aid in the materialization of the intent. Affirmations exploits the latent abilities of the subconscious by generating confidence, willpower and drive to accomplish a well thought out and planned goal.

Agama: Pronounced Aa-gema. Agamas are Hindu sectarian Scriptures that are regarded as highly as the Vedas. Like the Vedas the Agamas are sruti (revealed directly by God) Scriptures. Each of the Hindu sects has their own set of Agamas. They are called the Saiva Agamas, Shakta Agamas and Vaishanva Agamas. The Smarta Hindu sect considers the Vedas as their Agamas.

Agni / Lord Agni: Agni is fire in Sanskrit. Lord Agni is the ancient Vedic deity of fire. In Hindu cosmology fire is understood to be the essential element of the physical world. The other elements–water, earth, air and space are manipulated by fire in the form of energy and light to make animated life in the physical world possible. In worship Lord Agni is the purveyor of messages from devotees to the heavens, thus fire in the form of the camphor flame, oil lamps and agnihotra (fire ceremony) is ubiquitous in Hindu worship. Lord Agni is the humble servant of God and righteousness and is often portrayed in Hindu epics as a weapon to ward off or destroy the dark and menacing forces of hell.

Agnihotra: The worshipful and ritualistic Vedic fire ceremony, also known as homa. The agnihotra is one of the oldest ritual worship ceremony in Hinduism. It predates the temple-deity style of worship that is central to contemporary Hindu worship. The earliest Vedic verses indicate that agnihotras were done in forest clearings for the purpose of propitiating the nature gods. It was during this Vedic period that metered chanting of sanskrit verses was developed for the agnihotra rituals. At the time the nature deities were worshipped as Gods. It was some centuries later that the discovery of Supreme Godhead, addressed in the Vedas as Brahman, shifted worship from the nature gods to sectarian representation of Godhead (the emergence of the Saiva, Shakta, Vaishnava and Smarta Hindu sects) and lead to development of temple worship tradition known as puja. However the agnihotra ceremony remains relevant in Hindu worship culture as it is incorporated into the puja tradition where the focus of worship is a form of Supreme Godhead or one of the Mahadevas. Some chants dedicated to the nature gods are maintained in the agnihotra to tie it to its ancient heritage of having evolved from the early Vedic period.

Ahamkara:Personality, ego, self-consciousness. Ahamkara is a term in yoga psychology that names the element of the mind that emerges as oneself to others and oneself. To put it simply it is ones ego. The ego encapsulates one personality including ones subconscious personality (which is usually hidden from others). In yoga philosophy the goal of spiritual evolution is to refine the ahamkara until it becomes spiritually refined and reflects ones soul. This process involves learning self-control over the harsh and destructive impulses and desires of the body and mind; becoming kind, humble and considerate. Thus in yoga philosophy the ego is not bad or a representation of negativity, rather it is a fluid element of the mind that is able to evolve (over lifetimes) from being crass to becoming spiritually refined. Ahamkara is an evolute of anava which a foundational element that is part of the soul's body. Anava individuates the soul from the being of God. Anava evolves into ahamkara with the development of the subconscious mind and shows itself as ones personality.

Ahimsa: Nonviolence. One of the cardinal virtues of Hinduism. Ahimsa is practicing love toward all by refraining from hurtful thoughts, words or actions. The practice also includes being vegetarian. Ahimsa is known as the most important virtue to uphold on the path to moksha. ( Moksha: Liberation. In Hinduism the salvation of the soul is defined as freedom from the cycle of reincarnation on the physical plane, or Earth. After moksha the soul abides eternally in heaven. Before moksha the soul will enter heaven or hell temporarily between births, depending on the merits or demerits it accrues in the form of karmas during it’s life on Earth. Moksha is in a sense a graduation from having to live life on Earth anymore. It is achieved after the soul has fulfilled all of it’s desires for life on Earth and has Realized God. It is synonymous with mukti.)

All-Pervasive: The quality of being present everywhere and through all things and beings. One of the divine qualities of God, Who is simultaneously present in the entire universe.

Amends: To correct mistakes made by asking for fogiveness and, or improving the situation that had gone wrong.

Amman, Godddess: Short for Mariamman, She is a form of Goddess Shakti as the healer. She is especially attributed to healing devotees with the deadly small pox disease. Temples to Mariamman are usually built by farmers next to their farms. The neem tree is closely attributed to Her worship. Bunches of neem branches with leaves are usually part of Her worship and neem trees are sometimes used in place of a Mariamman deity to worship  Her in outdoor shrines.

Amorphous: A state of being without a clearly defined shape or form. Used to describe God’s forms as Divine Energy, Pure Love, Light and Truth.

Ananda Tandava: God Shiva’s dance of bliss which He performed thousands of years ago to an audience of preists and sages at the hallowed Shiva temple of Chidambaram. God Shiva danced through 108 poses. Bharata Muni, one of the sages who witnessed the ananda tandava, compiled these poses and used them to create the traditional Indian dance bharata natyam. God Shiva’s form of Nataraja, the Lord of Dance, is God Shiva doing the pose of Grace during the ananda tandava.

Anava: Anava (pronounced aanava) is 'the individuating principle.' It is one of the three bonds that bind the soul to the world preventing it from experiencing its inherent spiritual unity with God. The three bonds are anava, karma and maya. Loosely translated as ego, anava is the principle that gives the soul individuality and creates its sense of separation from God. Anava is a nuetral principle that is necessary for the soul to exist apart from God. Though it is the main reason for the soul's spiritual ignorance anava's quality of generating ignorance gives way over lifetimes as the spiritual maturity of the soul deepens. As the soul matures, the ego of its personality ( known as ahamkara in Hindu philosophy; an evolute of anava) reflects ever deepening levels of humility. At the pinnacle of spiritual evolution on Earth the anava becomes so pure that all it is is a sheath (skin) that separates the soul from God. The external ego at this point becomes so refined and humble that it beams the spirituality of the soul. Anava is the last bond to dissolve when the soul finally merges in total union with God (vishvagrasa).

Animal-like forms: In the context of these lessons, animal-like forms refer to forms of God as Paramatma that are partly or entirely based on an animal. There are a few forms like this such as in the avatars of Lord  Vishnu where he appears at different times as a fish, a turtle and a boar. Lord Shiva too in a story has appeared as a boar to suckle a litter of piglets that lost their mother. The animal forms of Paramatma are seldom used for worship. They are more often depicted in the wall carvings of temples, or as ornaments of elaborate temple towers. The most worshipped animal like form of Paramatma is Lord Vishnu as Narasimha, who is part animal and part human. Narasimha has the head of a lion and body of a human with multi-arms holding weaponry. He is worshipped as the protector of the virtuous.

Anu: Translated to English as atom, the word anu (or paramanu - primal anu) first appears in the Vedic Vaisheshika school of philosophy's seminal scripture the Vaisheshika Sutras by Sage Kanada. Anu is matter at its most basic / causal form. Vaisheshika philosophy proposes that all matter, their properties and nature are caused by infinitesimal coalition of energy called anu. Anu cannot be seen but its existence is inferred from its effects. It is also postulated that the anu is indestructible and therefore eternal. At the end of Creation's cosmic cycle and just before its beginning the anu exist in stasis and energyless state, but when infused by energy the activity of the anu begins and Creation appears. While the word anu is popularly translated to mean atom, (Indic languages translate english references of atom to anu); the theory of the anu and atom differ in their depth of understanding of the formation and characteristic of matter. However given that the theory of the anu was developed more than 2,000 years ago purely from the observation of nature with nothing but the naked eye makes it a remarkable feat of Vedic philosophy. Vaisheshika's understanding of the properties and activity of the anu is an important base of Ayurveda–India's traditional medical system. The theory of the anu is widely accepted as part of Hindu cosmology and its usage can be found in Hindu scriptures usually to poetically refer to infinitesimal size or the most basic unit of Creation.

Anugraha: God's Action of Revealing Grace: This is God’s activity of teaching and discovery of knowledge (spiritual and material). It is through anugraha that God grants boons and propels the the spiritual evolution of the soul. Anugraha is embodied in the forces of karma and dharma. There are no deities that specifically represent anugraha. The symbol that represents revealing grace are God’s Feet.

Archana: Supplications. Archana is part of the puja ceremony. During the archana the devotee presents offering to God. These offerings are taken by the priest and the name, nakshatra (birth star) and gotra (lineage or sect) of the devotee is chanted by the priest as he places the offerings at the deities feet. After the archana the priest returns some of the offerings back to the devotee as blessed by God along with sacrements (vibhuti - holy ash, tilak - red powder, tirtham - holy water). Archana's are usually done to mark special occasion in the devotees life, such as anniversaries, as thanks giving for prayers answered and or as part of a prayer.

Ardhanarishwara, Lord: The Half-Female Lord. The form of Ardhanarishwara, is the conjoined forms of God Shiva and Goddess Parvathi.  God Shiva on the right side of the body and Goddess Parvathi on the left side of the body. This is a purely symbolic form of God. It is a mystical representation of God as Parashakti, whose amorphous forms include Pure Love, Divine Consciousness, Truth and Bliss. Ardharishwara is also a meditative representation of the perfectly balanced state of being. When such a state of balance,  that is when the dualities of life are in equilibrium, is achieved, the meditator experiences God as Sat-Chit-Ananda (Truth-Pure Consciousness-Bliss). This meditative state is called Savikalpa Samadhi and is one of the states of God Realization or enlightenment.

Artha: Wealth. Hindu philosophy's perspective on wealth is that it is a legitimate goal of life if its accumulation is in line with ones dharma. It is in fact codified in the purusharthas as one of the four goals of life worthy of pursuit. An important condition to the legitimacy of the pursuit of wealth is honesty and ethical means of earning. If these conditions are fulfilled no limit is put to an individual's capacity to accumulate wealth. Doing charity with such accumulated wealth is highly encouraged as important in fulfilling the ecology of wealth and is also seen as a means of earning merit (good karma). However earning money illegally or through deception, cheating and crime is condemned as bad karma; even doing charity with ill gotten gains is bad karma in Hindu philosophy. The only way to cleanse oneself off bad karmas from ill gotten gains is to return the wealth and repent for the misdeed. The other three purusharthas are: dharma–the pursuit of a virtuous and ethical life, kama–the pursuit of happiness and pleasures in life and moksha–the pursuit of God Realization and spiritual liberation.

Asana:Asana in the context of yoga refers to a pose of hatha yoga. Hatha yoga is a kind of physical exercise that is incorporated into the yogic effort toward spiritual enlightenment. Hatha yoga exercises are designed to harmonize the physical body with its spiritual energies. When done correctly hatha yoga is able to remove stress, lethargy and depression from the mind. It is also a form of physical exercise for the body to keep it fit and healthy. All hatha yoga exercises are synced with breath modulation techniques and sometimes colour visualization to bring about amazing mystical and health benefits for the body and mind, including enhancement of concentration. Asana also carries the meaning of a highly venerated seat, such as the throne of a king, the seat of a spiritual leader or a deity in a temple which forms a representation of the seat of God in the temple.

Ashram / Ashrama: Traditional learning institutions of Hindu society. An ashram is usually the home of the preceptor or the teacher of the teaching institution. It usually provides room and board to the students. While these days it mainly refers to spiritual learning institutions and Hindu monasteries, before the British education system became the standard in India students went to ashrams for formal study. There were ashrams for many branches of study such as health (ayurvedic), astrology, architecture (vastu), priesthood, royal arts, politics, warfare and so forth along side purely spiritual ones. Ashrams were the formal schools of ancient India. Students who are accepted by the head teacher are provided room and board in return for gaining knowledge and performing chores in the ashram. Students are usually enrolled after their 12th birthday.

Ashrama Dharma: The third division of dharma. There are four divisions of dharma; each division provides guidelines of living in relation to ones external and personal environment. Ashrama dharma are guidelines of life based on maturing of the physical body. These guidelines reflect changes a person goes through physically, in the mind and spiritually as on ages. There are four divisions withing ashrama dharma (bhramachari–student, grihasta–householder, vanaprastha–elder advisor and sannyasa–spiritual renunciate). Each of these ashramas are important in Hindu community organization since each ashrama is enjoined to take on different responsibilities which have the dual purpose of fulfilling naturally tendencies that occur as ones body and mind age; and to take advantage of this maturing process by giving matching responsibilities that benefit the community.

Ashtanga Yoga: Ashtanga Yoga, is the original and complete yoga system devised to enhance the spiritual growth of its practioners. It is the precursor to all other yoga and yoga based systems past and present. Ashtanga yoga was first codified as a system for spiritual development by Sage Patanjali in the scripture that he wrote–Yoga Sutras more than 2,000 years ago. Meditation and yoga exercises are the most common representions of yoga systems. While these practices are central to the practice of ashtanga yoga, it also contain worship, virtuous living, performance of penance, charity and scriptural study. Ashtanga yoga contains a philosophy of life that can be defined as the science and art of knowing God (God Relization, Enlightenment, etc.). Most Eastern religions and their cultures such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism and other mystically inclined cultures evolved directly from the base of ashtanga yoga or through correlating with ashtanga yoga. Ashtanga yoga defines eight steps that gradually train a yoga practitioner to realize his or her innate unity with God through mystical means. These steps are:
Yama–moral restraints; these moral restraint are non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, sexual purity, patience, steadfastness, compassion, honesty, moderation in appetite and purity in body mind and speech. Niyama–religious observances; observances include striving for joy and serenity, being modest and showing remorse for misdeeds, being generous and charitable, having faith in God, doing personal worship, studying scripture, seeking wisdom from the wise, observing religious or cultural traditions, reciting scriptures or hymns to God and doing regular spiritual disciplines.
Asanahatha yoga exercises; hatha yoga is an exercise system that harmonizes the physical body with its spiritual energies.
Pranayama–breath modulation techniques; pranayama are breathing techniques that can enhance concentration and effect physical health positively. Pranayama can focus the mind into deep states of concentration.
Pratyahara–sense withdrawal; pratyahara are techniques that concentrate the subconscious minds into a singular focus. There are many varied techniques in pratyahara to achieve concentration of the subconscious.
Dharana– super-concentration; dharana are techniques of sustaining concentration of the conscious and subconscious mind for prolonged periods until the true state of meditation, dhyana, is achieved.
Dhyana–true state of meditation; a state of consciousness that is achieved through sustained concentration of the mind upon which new knowledge and insights are discovered on the subject of concentration. Samadhi–God Realization; the goal of the practice of ashtanga yoga, wherein the state of oneness or undifferentiated union is achieved between the meditator and God's Consciousness and Being.
Ashtanga yoga is also known as raja yoga.

Aspects / The Three Aspects: The different perspectives of understanding something. In this case it refers to The Three Aspects of God. By understanding God as The Three Aspects, all the different experiences of God a devotee can have is explained. The Three Aspects of God are Paramatma–The Primal Soul, Parashakti–God's Pure Consciousness and Parabrahman–God's Transcendent Ultimate Reality.

Astral Body: In Hindu philosophy the astral body is a component of the the body of man. This body is known as the body of the mind because it is the source of thoughts and the seat of the intellect, all mental abilities (including memory), emotions, personality and ego. The astral body also gives the soul the ability to create attachments to people, things and places. It can absorb knowledge through listening and reading; and formulate opinions based on experience and intellectual ability. Human ingenuity is born of these bodies, so also is the sense of timing and purpose in life. While the physical body is the vehicle through which one expresses his or her life on Earth, it is through the astral body that ones personality, desires and ambitions are developed. In Hindu Cosmology, the astral body has two parts, the manomaya kosha (which generates emotions and stores memory generally known as the astral body) and the vijnamaya kosha ( which holds the faculties of the mind such as the intellect, willpower, concentration also known as the mental body). These two koshas are fused together to create the astral body. The astral body is more durable and longer lasting than its physical counterpart however it is not a permanent part of the soul. The astral body is sloughed off between births on Earth, upon which a new astral body is generated through the growth of the physical body and fruition of karma. The soul, which is different from the astral body is the immortal being of oneself, the astral and physical bodies come and go with the cycles of reincarnation. (Click here to go to the Hindu Philosophy Lesson on The Soul to learn more about the five bodies of man)

Astral / Astral Plane:Anything astral is related to the non-physical realms or states ofexistence. In Hinduism the astral world is divided in to many realms catagorized by the quality of consciousness from the very gross (hell) to the very subtle and causal (heaven), the highest plane of the astral is considered another category altogether, the plane of God and the Gods, where souls exist in their purest form without an astral body.  The astral body is more durable and longer lasting than its physical counterpart. The astral bodies include the most subtle being the soul oratma, which was created out of the likeness of God to the astral bodythat contains our personality and emotions. Hindu Cosmology defines three levels of existence within God's Creation. 1.Bhuloka-the entire physical universe 2. Devaloka-the astral plane orthe realm of the ancestors and devas 3. Brahmaloka-the highest heaven-the realm of God and the Mahadevas.

Asura: Demonic beings that inhabit hellish realms of the lower astral plane. Their actions are not guided by virtue and they are given to mischief making. In Hindu myths asuras are depicted as greedy and tyrannical beings who oppose the positive and good forces of the devas who live in heavenly realms.  (Devas: Angles. They are mostly discarnate souls living and resting in the heavens between births on earth. Devasare helpful and loving beings guided by virtue. They are given toperforming service for others without the need of reward.)

Atheists: Person who do not believe or outright dismisses the existence of anything supernatural beyond the realm of the physical and the laws of science that govern the physical world. Hinduism has always recognized atheism as a philosophy of life; it does not condemn nor condone its practice since most Hindu schools teach the need for personal discovery of the supernatural as the foundation of belief in the supernatural and paranormal. Thus there are Hindus who follow the religious codes of conduct and ritual practices to be part of the culture of their community but declare themselves atheist. The Sanskrit term for atheism is naastika. Many Buddhists also claim that they are atheists because they do not believe in a Supreme Godhead or a Creator with a form.

Atma: Sanskrit for soul. The atma is our immortal spiritual being that lives and reincarnates on earth. It is our true and undying being that was created by God. The process of creation of the atma is akin to a spark (the atma) emitting from fire (God). The body of the atma is luminous and filled with blissful vibrations. It is not harmed nor affected in anyway by sorrow, injury or disease. The atma grows in strength with each life lived on earth. The goal of the atma is to reunite with God, just as a  drop of rain returns to it’s source the ocean.

Aum: Same as Om. It is a mystic syllable or mantra of Hinduism, placed at the beginning of most sacred writings and hymns. Aum represents the divine and is known as the first vibration to be issued forth from God in the creation of the Universe. Aum is also an important mantra that is used for meditation.

Awareness: An individual’s ability to perceive an object, subject, situation or fact. The sanskrit word for awareness is saakshin (the witness). In Hindu mystical texts, saakshin is described as the perceptive ability of the soul. Awareness is the witness because it perceives all physical and mental activities in the body and mind. When teaching Hindu mysticism in english, gurus will often use the word awareness instead of consciousness to define an individuals ablitity to perceive. Awareness has the power to control the mind and emotions, or it may be controlled by the mind and emotions. According to Hindu mysticism, spiritual growth or evolution is the result of the gradual ability of an individual’s awareness to gain mastery over the mind and emotions. (Consciousness: To be conscious. The ability to be aware of oneself and one's surroundings. In mystical Hindu writings, there are two main levels of consciousness. One is the awareness of an individual, through which a person is able to maintain indviduality or personality. This conciousness is usually translated into english as individual consciousness or awareness. The sanskrit word for this consciousness is saakshin, which means witness. The second level of consciousness, is the All-Pervasive consciousness of God. This is God's Omniscient mind that forms the foundation of Creation. In sanskrit, this level of consciousness is called chit, as in Sat-Chit-Ananda. In english it is often translated as universal consciousness, divine consciousness or pure consciousness. Awareness or individual consciousness (saakshin) arises from the universal consciousness (chit) as part of God's creation of an individual.)

Ayurvedic: From Ayurveda. It is the Hindu (or traditional Indian) medical system.



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