Monthly Archives: February 2017

Bhakti Song 78 – Church

I wrote this song when I read American poet Emily Dickinson’s letter to her friend about church. As I have the similar view, I wrote this. My aim is not to criticize or condemn the need and role of church for (traditional) Christians. They need it. But as I never fit into it, I shared my view through this song. My intension is not to hurt anyone.

கீழ்வரும் பாடலை (அமெரிக்கப் பெண்கவி) எமிலிடிக்கன்சன் தன் நண்பருக்குத் திருச்சபையைக் குறித்து எழுதியதைப் படித்த போது, அவரைப்போன்றே என்கருத்தும் இருப்பதை உணர்ந்து எழுதினேன்:

 

தி(தெ)ருச் சபை

கூடுகின்றார் ஒரு சபையாக

ஒருகொள்கை தன்னை அறிவிக்கவே

கும்பலோடு ஓரு “கோவிந்தா”

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Notes from the October Meeting

On my arrival on 14-10-16, in the evening I had a lively talk with Satya. His topic was: Acceptance and Care. He said that while we accept others we do not care about them; or while we take care for them, we don’t accept them.

Though we exchanged some examples for this, I found it difficult to neatly fit any kind of human relationship within these kinds of categories. For example we have to accept our neighbour since there is no alternative, but we cannot give much care for them.

But I pointed out that in between care and acceptance there is a third element which is ‘commitment’. Care and acceptance are possible where there is mutual commitment. This is also too simplistic as human relationships are very complex. My personal view is that we cannot live our life based on any such analyses because they only lead to a paralysis in our life. I try to live life as it comes, making various adjustments as the particular time and context demands. The rest follows automatically.

In the same evening Satya said that I had changed a bit in my approach with others. I said, “That is your wrong perception. I easily accept others as they are and in this process I don’t discriminate against anyone based on any criterion like caste, nationality, ethnicity, faith, etc.”

But one constant problem I have always faced is how to say ‘no’ to some people. In the past I would accept to meet anyone and accept any invitation to teach to any group. It took a long time and learning to say ‘no’ to a few groups, particularly Theological seminaries, full-time workers and hard-core evangelicals. But to any Hindu bhakta I will never say no. At the same time I won’t chase anyone who doesn’t want me to disturb him. In fact, in one or two incidents when close friends asked me not to participate in some meetings, I refused to accept their decision I went and participated. For me, the human relationship is more important than any ideology. In one event when a couple wanted to leave the church and join the mandali (as a home-coming), not listening others, I went and participated in that meeting to encourage them.

However I won’t open my heart and mind to strangers so easily. That is why many of my writings remain buried in my handwritten notes and later in my computer. It was Rajesh who first encouraged me to share my writing with others and he is the one who first edited my article and published in TAMAt. In fact, though I began to write poems back from 1981, I never shared it with anyone for long time—even with my close friend Kannan and his wife. In fact because of her response to my posting by Neha, I began to share my poems with comments as Bhakti Theology.

Another topic that came in our discussion is the responsibility of each member in the body of the Lord.

Again I reiterated my old rhetoric that we neither have ORGANIZATIONAL UNITY NOR WE HAVE ORGANIC UNITY. But we come together to live out our bhakti in the Lord, supporting each other and learning from each other.

Here’s another example from my life. Others can easily see themselves in it.

If my pilgrimage in the Lord is like a train journey, when the destination comes, my co-passenger, however close he has become to me, must get down and leave. I cannot expect him/her to come till the end of my destiny.

I used another example which I already shared in ‘Unity in Spirit’’:

In this movement of Hindu bhaktas of the Lord, there are various circles. Some are at the centre with clear thinking and doing on the same lines. God bless them. And around that individual there will be some keeping touch with that mature person for their need and strength in intellectual and emotional areas in life.

In the second ring there are others who keep in touch with the centre to learn more through the first circle. The next one might be some standing a bit away with much empathy to understand and support by all means. The next one could be the ones who have sympathy but are not in a position to be involved with us in any way. And next to that ring a few will stand to watch, thinking that what we are doing is another evangelical experiment and not really life as Hindu bhaktas. And in the final round some will be there watching with some interest to know all our mistakes and failures to warn others not to attempt “this kind of experiment.” One way or another, we all keep in touch with each other.

And those who pretend that they don’t keep in touch with us directly are doing so in a different way, as ‘…disengagement being merely a form of engagement one may choose….’— Narendra Subramanian, Ethnicity and Populist Mobilization: Political Parties, Citizens and Democracy in South India, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, (1999), second impression 2011, p. Xvi.

For some reason, sometimes the person who is in the first ring touching the centre might move to another ring and the person who is in the outer ring might come much closer. For me, each bhakta is that centre in her own right and others will be around her according to their rapport with her.

 

On Saturday (16-10-16) when Satya’s three cricket friends came to see me (two Tamil Brahmins and one from Varanasi) in response to the question about my spirituality, as usual I began with a joke: What is spirituality?

Then I shared my journey seeking some questions in life and finally ending up in finding Muktinath as my Guru. As it is the same old sharing, I don’t want to repeat it here. But on 16th night, when Satya raised the question that now he learnt one new technical language that ‘I am a Hindu and integrating all the good values in Muktinath/Muktiveda’. However my point is not that here. Because Satya said that in the west there is a difference between ‘integrating’ what is good in Muktinath/Muktiveda as a Hindu and becoming a ‘follower’ of the Lord.

In my response I said to Satya, ‘I find it difficult to have any such difference based on some English words like ‘integrating’ and ‘following’. For example for me ‘anuyaayee’ (follower) is the easy Hindi word which includes all these. My question is how one can be a follower without integrating the teaching of his guru?

Then I continued: Tell me anything from Muktiveda and I can say where a similar thought exists in a Hindu worldview. As Mahabharata says, “Whatever one can find anywhere in the world, one can found in Mbh. And what one cannot found Mbh., one cannot find other places.”1 The context is teaching. This equally applies to Hinduism. All the major themes and concepts of Muktiveda, one can also find in Hinduism. Of course there are some unique teachings and concepts slightly different from Hinduism.

But a different version of it would be there in Hinduism about which we don’t know. For example all the major themes in Muktiveda like prayaschitta, forgiveness, grace, etc. are there in Hinduism too. Even mandali, belonging to the body of Lord is there in some traditions like Srivaishnavites. Even Dasaratha reappeared to Rama after the battle at Lanka. We have covenant promises in Muktivea as God chose a nation. Similarly Brahmins believe that they are chosen as the physical deity on earth for others.2

Satya also said that unless one become a Madhava he cannot attain mukti. So if one does not become Madhava now, in next or future birth unless he born as a Madhava he cannot attain mukti. So Madhava is chosen as a means for salvation. According to Sankara only a twice-born is qualified to attain mukti. But among the twice born only those who become a sannyasi are qualified for that. But among the twice born only a Brahmin can become a sannyasi. So only a Brahmin who becomes a sannyasi is qualified for mukti.3

Does this mean that now I don’t need Muktiveda anymore as all these concepts are there in my tradition? No. God made me to be born in such a tradition, which allows me to make Muktiveda/Muktinath as part of that inheritance without compromising theologically. Hinduism gives space for co-existence without compromising in core theology.

So as Muktinath became my guru, I need not ‘integrate’ what already belongs to me as a Hindu in doing my bhakti in or to Him. As I allowed the Lord to incarnate within my worldview, He transformed all that was necessary and belongs to me and helps me live as His bhakta as a Hindu.

Now the question that comes is: do I selectively integrate that which serves my purpose from Muktiveda and leave all the rest? Or do I do the same with my own Hindu worldview? This is a big subject and I cannot do justice to this on my own.

However as I allow the Lord to incarnate in my worldview, I need not embrace all that is within my Hindu world without having any critical appraisal about them—particularly related to religious areas and rituals. About this already I shared in ‘Going overboard’. As each sampradaya upholds exclusivism, the same Hindu worldview also gives space for me to be exclusive in my bhakti to the Lord. And in this process, in order to prove my Hindu identity I need not go overboard beyond what I can do naturally and spontaneously, avoiding all kinds of artificiality.

Let me give one example from the Hindu worldview itself. Some of you have heard about ‘Varalakshmi Puja’. According to the Smarta tradition, unless it is done by the mother-in-law, which she inherited from her mother-in-law, a daughter-in-law cannot and need not do the same. Her mother might have done it in her home and the girl might have participated in it. But once she is married in another family, if the same puja is not done by her mother-in-law she need not do it. This is the case with my mother. Her mother had done it, but as my grandmother (her mother-in-law) never inherited, she cannot do it.

Recently my mother was talking to my sister about celebrating Navaratri and arranging the ‘golu’ (in which several toys of deities are arranged in few steps). But she told my sister, “Don’t do much by arranging too many toys for the golu. Who has time and energy for all that? Just keep a few toys and keep one or three steps. No body has time or interest nowadays for that. We too need to move along with the times.” Interestingly my sister also said that when she invited her neighbour for the golu, her neighbour will come and request to send her quickly as she does not want to miss her serial. It will be interesting to read what she said in Tamil:

வீணா இழுத்துவிட்டுண்டு அலையாதே. யாருக்கு நேரமும் தெம்பும் இருக்கு. ஏதோ பேருக்கு கொஞ்சமா கொலுவச்சா போதும். கொலுவச்சாலும் யாரு வந்து பாக்கவரா அல்லது வந்து பாட்டு பாடரா. சும்மாவானும் ஏழுபடி ஒன்பது படின்னு வச்சுண்டு கஷ்டப்படாதே. அப்பரமா எல்லாத்தையும் நீதான் இழுத்துப்போட்டுண்டு கஷ்டப்படனும்.

This does not mean that such celebrations have come down drastically. On the contrary, more people are doing it with much enthusiasm. Now even several festivals are celebrated collectively in the schools and colleges like Pongal, Onam, etc. At the same time those who do not do it regularly won’t do it. For example when I called Uma, Prakash’s wife (brother of late Prasad) to enquire about the ‘golu’ she said that they never had golu in their family and won’t do it. In our neighbourhood one Brahmin family did it every year and invited my mother. But her other neighbour, though Hindu, will never do it in her house as it is not part of her family tradition.

In the same way, any Hindu bhakta, in order to prove her Hindu identity need not go overboard, particularly related to religious events and rituals. There are so many other means for us to prove our Hindu identity, such as encouraging children to learn Indian arts (music, bharatanatyam, etc.).

But to prove one’s Hindu identity by artificially going overboard, that too in religious and ritual areas, cannot be sustained for a long time. Anything that we try to do artificially to prove any particular identity cannot be sustained. Particularly doing anything with a negative and reactionary attitude cannot be sustained for a long time. Soon they will become tired of it and one’s own family members won’t stay involved very long, as they may have sympathy but cannot have empathy. If certain festivals and events are part of your family tradition, do it. But don’t introduce them artificially to prove your Hindu identity.

I would like to present this in a different way. In order to prove that I am human, I must behave like a human being. By behaving on the extremes of good or bad, I can either become an angel or devil. But to remain human, I need not do anything beyond what it is required of me. In other words, I need not go overboard to prove my human nature and it is enough for me to be a normal human being. Above all, people will believe I am human only if I behave normally.

Returning back to the topic of ‘integrating’ Muktiveda as a Hindu, I cannot do it selectively. Once I become a bhakta of Muktinath, the entire Muktiveda becomes part of my inheritance. As I often say, we cannot limit God within the frame of Muktiveda. But without Muktiveda we cannot understand and follow Muktinath. Of course no bhakta can claim that she has understood the entire teaching of Muktiveda in its totality. As it comes from a different cultural and social environment, she has to take time to learn it. And it is a lifelong commitment and nobody can say that ‘I have read enough Muktiveda and I don’t need to do it anymore’.

At the same time I need not follow every aspect of Hinduism without having any critical appraisal about it. My bhakti in the Lord helps me to evaluate my own tradition in a new way. And this is true even within various Hindu sampradayas. Similarly my Hindu worldview helps me to understand Muktiveda in a better way than in its original setting. And the best example is ‘bhakti’ which goes beyond faith which is a unique concept of Hindu tradition.

Let me give one example. Sri Ramanuja was a smarta Brahmin who later become a Vaishnavite. I am not sure whether he managed to ‘convert’ his own parents as Sri Vaishnavites. Though some modern Vaishnavites either hide it or claim that he has done it, as per my limited knowledge I never found any evidence about it. It is interesting to note that while giving any talk about Ramanuja particularly about his birth and upbringing, they will show him with ‘Tripundara’ or ‘Namam’ the three lines on the forehead of every Srivaishnavite as a sectarian mark even as a child and boy before his initiation as a Srivaishnava. This I noticed in Sri Ramanuja Vaibhavam regularly broadcasting in Podigai by Dr. Sri Anandapadbanabacharay. And nobody notices or questions it.

Well, now once Ramanuja became a Vaishnavite, he had to naturally inherit Nalayira Divya Prabhandam as a part of his bhakti tradition. And he didn’t write any commentary on it; he asked his cousin Pillan (Vasudha Narayanan, The Vernacular Veda, Columbia, University of South Carolina, 1994, p.83)4 to write the commentary on Divya Prabandham. Coming from a smarta Brahmin family, he need not and cannot have the same allegiance to his old sampradaya where Shiva and Shaivite scriptures are part of that heritage.

Now as a bhakta of Muktinath, I need not merely ‘integrate’ selectively only those teachings of Muktinath acceptable to my Hindu identity. Now Muktiveda is part of my bhakti heritage. And those parts of Muktiveda which I cannot understand or even accept do not change my allegiance to it. For example as I am reading I Chronicles, I don’t find chapters 23 to 27 very useful for me to grow in my bhakti. Of course it helped me to understand the way Jews recorded their history related with the temple. Beyond that it does not serve any purpose for me. The same is the case with many Hindu scriptures and spiritual writings. What am I going to gain by reading the entire Satapata Brahmana (though I read it) or Tantric Agamas (I never read even one among them)? But as they belong to my common Hindu heritage, neither am I going to despise them nor am I going to venerate them. At the same time as I also read Sur Sagar (poem of Surdas) I found it very useful and helped me to write even few poems.

As a digression I would like to also mention one thing. No matter how experience is held as the supreme after Vivekananda and Neo-Hinduism, (sectarian) scriptures are fundamental for every sampradaya. I cannot imagine any Sri Vaishnavite neglecting Divyaprabandham and Saivites Panniruthirumurais, particular Tevaram and Tiruvasagam. Kabir pantis need Kabir poems and Sikhas venerate Guru Grandsahib and Lingayas cannot neglect Vachanas by Basavanna and other acharyas of their tradition.

In this context Satya used an illustration of reaching the base camp of a mountain. But he couldn’t continue it due to some break in the conversation. Perhaps he can share it elsewhere.

But using that ONLY AS AN EXAMPLE as a later reflection (on 17-10-16) this is what I would like to say:

One time I watched an Everest climbing program. There the leader said that till they reach the base camp they must co-operate with each other. But climbing to the peak and returning back is an ‘INDIVIDUAL’ RECORD as well an achievement, each one is COMPLETELY RESPONSIBLE FOR HERSELF and even in case of emergency, none will step to help others giving up their target. In this process one may get killed. But others are helpless.

Taking this only as an example this is what I would like to say: in our bhakti in the Lord we all help each other, following the command of ‘let us carry one another’s burden’. But when it comes to our personal mukti and bhakti each one has to carry her own burden.

Of course I warn that this is only a limited illustration. As it contradicts what I often say, that ‘We don’t have a PRIVATE BHAKTI or a PRIVATE GOD. Or our mukti/bhakti is not a ONE MAN OPERATED CORPORATION.

In another discussion I said:

In our journey in the Lord, God will send three kinds of fellow bhaktas: one to help and co-operate with us to continuously walk in the Lord; another group to challenge us in our bhakti and a third group to warn us not to follow their example. But all these three are important for us and we cannot neglect anyone. The third category are more special and important as God uses them to warn us not to do that and sometimes He will use a very strong or mature person to teach that lesson for us. Then I shared the example of Rev. Theodore Williams of WEF (World Evangelical Fellowship). Finally he was humble enough to confess his sin openly and repent, which I wonder how many can or will do?

 

Endnotes

  1. ‘yad ihaasti tad anyatra yan nehaasti na tat kvacit (whatever is here is also elsewhere; whatever is not here is extant nowhere. (Adi ch. 65. )….— Mahabharata, M.N. Dutt, Delhi, Parimal Publicartions, 1988, 7 vols. Vol. 1, p. 1
  2. …The Visnu Dh.S. [19.20-22] says ‘the gods are invisible deities, but braahmanas are visible deities; the worlds are supported by braahmanas; the gods stay in heaven by the favour of braahmanas; words spoken by braahmanas never come to be untrue’. Manu [I.100] declares ‘whatever wealth exists on this earth–all that belongs to the braahmana; the braahmana deserves everything on account of his superiority due to his descent [from the mouth of the Creator]’. Manu IX. 313-321 contain a hyperbolical eulogy of the power of braahmanas, two of which may be set out ‘who would prosper if he oppresses braahmanas that, when angered, might create other worlds and other guardians of the worlds and that might deprive the deities of their position as deities’ [315]; ‘a braahmana, whether learned or not, is a great deity'[v. 317]. Manu XI.84 is ‘a braahmana by the very fact of his birth is an object of honour even to the deities.’ [p.135]…Vanaparva [303.16] says ‘a braahmana is the highest light, he is the highest tapas; the sunshines in heaven on account of the salutations made by the braahmanas.’ This and similar dicta closely follow what was expressed in the Vedic period long before e.g. ‘the sun would not rise if the braahmana did not make sacrifice’ [Satapatha Brahmana II.3.1.5] [p.136]….—P. V. Kane, History of Dharmasastrs, Pune, Vol. II. Part. I. Ch.III. High eulogy of braahmanas. pp.135-36
  3. In his commentary on the BrhadarnyakaUpanishadiii.5.1 and iv.5.15, Sankara carries this argument one step further and insists that only Brahmins have a right to become a ascetics (sannyasis), a view not shared by his disciple and sub-commentator Suresvara.  Since sannyasa is, in practical terms, a prerequisite for Brahma-knowledge, Sankara is here virtually limiting the possibility of salvation to Brahmins alone.

…The Shudra cannot have Brahma-knowledge because he is prohibited from receiving an initiation ceremony and therefore from studying the Vedas.  Kshatriyas and Vaishyas are technically eligible for Brahma-knowledge but their ineligibility for sannyasa puts it practically beyond their reach.— David N. Lorenzen, Who Invented Hinduism: Essays on Religion in History, New Delhi, Yoda Press, 2006 p. 123

It is interesting to note that even Swami Vivekanand also endorses the view that brahmajnana cab be attained only by sannyasin:

 

…Sankara did not challenge the orthodox position of the right of only the three upper castes to study the Vedas.  The suudras were debarred.  Vivekananda adopted the position that there was no bar of sex, race, or caste to realization.  He severely chastises Sankara for his lack of liberality in this respect and accuses him of fanatical brahmin pride (CW, &;117-118).  He seems, on the other hand, to support Sankara’s position that only the sannyaasin can attain to the fullness of brahmajnaana….— Anantanand Rambachan, The Limits of Scripture:Vivekananda’s Reinterpretation of the Vedas, Sri Satguru Publications A Division of Indian Books Centre, Delhi., 1995, p.52

Shankara said that sannyasa is absolutely necessary, whether it be vividisha sannyasa or vidvat sannyasa.  Without perfect renunciation, it is impossible to pursue the path of Brahmajnana….— Paramahamsa Niranjanananda, Sannyasa Darshan, published by Sri Panchdashnamm Paramahamsa Alakh Bara, Deoghar, Bihar, India. p.285

 

But this concept of election that too a sannyasi is qualified is not exclusive property of Hinduism, as one can find similar view in Jainism also:

Mette: …Emancipation, mukti/moksa is only attainable in a life as a human, more precisely, as a man. In Jainism, but also according to early Buddhist doctrine, a monk’s way of life (not a nun’s) is the precondition. An example here may be the famous Jinist legend of the pious Princess Malli, who, after her gender was spontaneously transformed into that of a man became one of the 24 founders of salvation [Heilsstifter] of the Jains.—Man in the Cycle of Samsaric Existences, George Chemparathy, pp. 127-[149]; 189, in, Andreas Bsthe (ed.), Hinduism questioning Christianity: Christian Faith in the Encounter with Hinduism, vol. 1, Modling, 2007, St Gabriedl Publications, originally first published in German: A. Bsteh (ed.,), Der Hinduismus als Anfrage an christliche Theologie und Philosophie (Studien Zur Religionstheologies; 3). Modling, 1997, Translation by Ingeborg Bogensberge, Vienna, in cooperation with John MMercer and Adrianne Nagy DaPonte, Boston, p. 181

  1. Tirukkurukai Piran Pillan (late 11th-early 12th c). The commentary was called the Arayirappai, or Six Thousand-patti….—ibid. p. 101