Monthly Archives: April 2017

The Best Religion

What are the qualities, aims of a good religion? There are many religions; what makes sanatana dharma stand out of the rest and be the best? I don’t mean any disrespect to other religions by this, but I’d like to hear a clear-cut answer (I usually get a diplomatic answer to this!). Your answer is going to count a huge deal for me because from the answers you gave previously I’ve developed a trust in you and by guiding me at this juncture you would save me from travelling half the distance in a lesser good path.

 

I think by reading my previous response on Truth, etc. you might easily guess what would be my response to this question also. First of all, every religion is man-made. Even this sanatana dharma is our own construction particularly in the context of facing the western (or Oriental) criticism about our indigenous faiths which they wrongly called ‘Hinduism’.

As I was born a Hindu, which is now accepted even by our Constitution as a (personal) religion, I am happy to be a Hindu, even without understanding all its various precepts. So my attitude with others religions are the same: each one has the right to remain in the religion in which they were born, or choose to go out of it.

Thanks for your encouraging words; I’m happy that at least there is one person on this earth who thinks that he trusts me. But I warn you not to do that. We don’t know each other and by reading a few responses if you come to this conclusion I need to be blamed for brainwashing you within a short time period with my responses which can be refuted easily by others.

How do you know the other paths you might want to travel are “lesser good paths”? This sounds like an absolute statement to me.

The first thing that you need to do as a young man is to have patience. If you want to become a body-builder, can you do it overnight? Similarly in this spiritual path you cannot decide by reading some responses to your questions by an unknown stranger like me.

Here, my humble advice would be: If you believe in God, wait upon Him/Her patiently. Continue to pray that He/She would send the right guru to guide you, gradually taking you along with him/her for maturity slowly but steadily.

This is also my experience. When we seek sincerely and honestly, God will send the right guru in our life. Then we need to have the discerning spirit to know that he/she is the guru for whom we are longing for. Then TRUST him/her and make an initial commitment—though you may not understand what all s/he says to you or feel comfortable with it. Trusting, making an initial commitment, and being ready to follow the teaching are the first steps to not become a ‘jack of all trades’ when it comes to spirituality.

But how do we know he/she is the right guru? One small tip: Anyone not keeping any personal interest with any selfish motive, but keeping only your need and interest and wishing to serve you for your own good could be that guru.

Self-Interest

Now to your other question:

Do you agree with me that anything done for promoting survival chances is good (with long-term prospects considered)?

 

My response is a big NO. Your question comes in the context of your statement, “We sacrifice something because we are likely to receive something back and anything that promotes ones survival chances is good.”

Only keeping your personal interest at the core and sacrificing something to receive something back either for short-term or long-term prospects never brings personal satisfaction. At the end of Mahabharata, Vidura clearly states, “For the sake of a family, a member (of that family) may be sacrificed; for the sake of a village, a family may be sacrificed; for the sake of a town, a village may be sacrificed; and for the sake of one’s own soul, the earth may be sacrificed. [Vidura to Dhritarastara] (62:11)— M.N.[Manmatha Nath] Dutt, Mahabharata, Delhi, Parimala Publications, 1988. P. 401

But when we read such statements in any scripture out of context then we will misinterpret and misunderstand them. For example, when a sannyasi sacrifices this world (with all its pleasure) for the personal need of mukti, he becomes selfish. The Upanishads clearly prescribe that “Neither by work, nor by progeny, nor by wealth one attains mukti but only through renunciation.” {Brhad-aranyaka Upanishad, 4.4.22)

But the same sannyasi dharma also demands that once a sannyasi claims that he found his mukti through his sacrifice (not coming back to this world by rebirth etc.), he is under a moral or spiritual obligation to serve others ‘selflessly’ to help them to find the same TRUTH. This is one of the main teachings of Buddhism also (as Bhodisatta comes back to the society to help others).

As a sannyasi I never agree with this dictum that only by renouncing everything one can attain mukti. Our same Indian tradition points that to attain mukti there is not only one way.

Here’s what I’m trying to say: no religion promotes sacrificing for the sake of keeping your personal interests in mind, or even just for survival. A normal human being who has a conscience can never do that and still remain happy or survive. That is why we are called ‘social animals’. This is completely different from individualism and an individualistic approach to life.

Discerning the Truth

“How can we know we are on the right path”?

This is a relevant question and issue. What is right or wrong is very relativistic and we cannot give any absolute uniform answer to this. What looks right to one person may be wrong for another person. For example, arranged marriage is considered wrong in western society, but it is considered correct one in our society.

The question of right and wrong is decided by the respective worldviews of the societies. For example in Indian (and other Asian) societies, for the sake of the welfare and interest of the family, the individual has to sacrifice personal desires in his life; and a family should do the same for the sake of the community; and a community should do it for the sake of the society; the society should do it for the sake of the nation. In the west, it is quite the opposite where individual rights get priority.

Though every society is influenced by the worldview of other societies, the basic worldview doesn’t disappear easily or radically. One society may integrate both good and bad views from another society, but it will take a long time and the society has to pay a cost.

For example, due to the outside influence of Islam, Christianity, and the west, Indian society has received many new aspects in its worldview, but it has not given up its core values quickly. That is why even today most of the youths who go outside Indian to earn money, still do it keeping the need of parents and siblings in mind, even sacrificing personal interests and needs.

At the same time, he is also influenced by the values of those societies and countries where he migrated. He cannot overcome his conscience overnight and become a non-Indian completely. Even if he tries to do, his conscience will prick him and won’t allow him to enjoy his life based on the new values which he tries to adopt from another society.

So right and wrong is relativistic and we cannot give a uniform solution. But as change and continuity are the basic tenants of our Indian worldview, we also receive new values while keeping the old ones—both good and bad. Here each individual has to work out her own creed to decide what is right or wrong.

 

In response, the student wrote:

There can be many relativistic rights and wrongs but there can only be THE TRUTH. What should be the aim of our actions. I think it should be survival. We sacrifice something because we are likely to receive something back; anything that promotes one’s survival chances is good. That is why IMMORAL acts like murder, treachery, etc are wrong as they are likely to render trouble when people do it. Do you agree with me that anything done for promoting survival chances is good (with long-term prospects considered)?

 

Dear Sherlock

Again the so-called TRUTH is relativistic. What is true to one need not be true to another and what is true in one situation need not be true in another time. And this truth, if it is related with ethics and moral issues, definitely becomes relativistic. Each situation demands its own assessment. But if it is related with God, religion or spirituality, there is no shortcut and clear-cut one time answer to this. If there is only one universal TRUTH, then why all are not following it?

Killing a person is murder and will receive punishment. But if it is done to defend oneself or one’s nation (like in war) then it is not considered murder but self-defence. But can self-defence always be decided from the person’s point of view? For example all the claims about so-called ‘fake encounters’ by the police cannot be decided by common people. The courts can decide about them, based on the evidence and arguments presented before it. Several war-time crime trials in international courts are not acceptable by others according to their self-defence. How we are going to judge about the killing of several thousands of Tamilians in Sri Lanka? Though I am against all kinds of militant activities, war-time crimes cannot be justified in the name of opposing militants.

This is a big subject and we two cannot resolve it.

Now to come to the question about Truth in religion/spirituality. Every religion/sect claims that what it promotes is the only absolute truth and the rest are not. But how can we judge this? My solution is to make some serious commitment which convinces you. Then travel in that path with single-minded devotion to see whether that particular claim is true or not for you.

At the same time I have to warn you that you should not think that I am promoting some kind of ‘situation ethics’. I am dead against it. And this is also a big subject for two of us to discuss and decide. However I can say out of my personal experience how I found my absolute TRUTH.

This I can explain by giving a personal example. As a sannyasi I am not suppose to take care of anyone. But for the last twenty years I have been taking care of my mother she has been living with me permanently for the last seven. Though my other siblings literally begged her to come and stay with them, she refuses to go and only wants to stay with me as I take care of her 24×7. That is why I cannot even go out much and am confined within the house. I only see three people in a day: my mother, one of my shishyas who lives on the first floor, and the domestic help. My everyday life is confined within the four walls of my room, hall, kitchen and bathroom. Rarely do I go outside even the gate.

Even I abandoned my ashram for the sake of my mother, though I prefer to go and live there with my own quiet and calm life as a recluse. It is situated in a beautiful quiet and calm place near the national forest in a cool place. Now I’ve come and live a city for the sake of my mother. When others hear about it, they were really surprised to see how I manage to survive.

Here comes the Indian worldview in which mother is even worshiped more than God.1 But as a sannyasi I am not expected to take care of her as there are other relatives who are ready to take care of her. At the same time I cannot fulfil my other dharma as a sannyasi: to serve my shishyas. They also request me to come and visit them, which I cannot do as I have to take care of my mother. In such a scenario, I found my dharma and truth in Muktinath.

As a bhakta of my guru Muktinath, whom others call Jesus, He helps me to understand my dharma based on His absolute Truth: love God and love your neighbour. If you cannot love those whom you see and serve, you cannot love and serve God whom you cannot see.

For the last 35 years I have chosen my path as I found my Truth in Muktinath. Then I made a personal commitment and gave some time to prove that He is the guru whom I was searching to found answer to my questions in life (as you ask now). When I was convinced that He is the one, I never made a permanent commitment to Him, but gave Him a chance to prove Himself that He is that TRUTH. Then it was a long but very difficult journey. It took several years for me to understand to make a final total commitment to Him—even with several mistakes along the way.

To give a short summary: Truth is not absolute; but once you find the TRUTH which you are searching for then it becomes absolute for you.

So this is my long response to your one line question about Truth.

 

Endnotes

  1. Greater than ten teachers is the preceptor: greater than ten preceptors is the father: and greater than ten fathers is the mother. The mother is greater than even the earth. There is no guru greater than the mother. [Anushasana-parva, 105.14-5; also Shanti-parva, 108.16-7.]— Chaturvedi Badrinath, The Mahabharata: An Inquiry in the human condition, New Delhi, Orient Longman, 2007, p.360

It is only the mother who gives comfort and heals those in distress. Only that long does a person feel protected as long as the mother is alive; without her, he feels he is unprotected wholly. [Shanti-parva, 266.26]—ibid. p.361 [There is a Tamil Proverb that says, “Once mother is gone, one won’t get welfare”]

maybe poor, he is still rich on entering his home, calling out to his mother.[Shanti-parva, 266.27]—ibid. p.361

Himself now a father, and a grandfather too, and of age one hundred, he behaves with his mother as if two years old.[Shanti-parva, 266.28]—ibid. p.361

Therefore, in the Mbh., and in the dharmashastra-s too, there is nothing more reprehensible than to disregard one’s mother.[See Shantiparva, 108.13,28-30] The father may be repudiated but never the mother.—ibid. p.361

Enlightenment

Another question:

What is your understanding about so-called ‘enlightenment’? How you will translate that word in Telugu or Hindi or Sanskrit or Tamil? In post-independence India, our life has become complicated as we try to understand so many aspect of our life based on the wrong translation of our own worldview through English words.

 

My Response:

For me ‘enlightenment’ is ‘adyatmikta’ which could also mean ‘understanding about one self’. In English, there is another similar word, introspection.

But one blessed thing that we Indian have is that we don’t have so many counselling centres like the West does. There, for everything there will be counsellors or counselling centres. Too much time and money is spent on psychiatric analyses and treatment. Though this trend is also slowly creeping in our country, a majority of the people live a relatively calm and quiet life, in spite of the stress and problem, as so-called ‘religion’ or ‘spirituality’ helps them to overcome them.

Of course here I have to also warn you about one of the weak points in our worldview – fate, in which people take refuge for not accepting personal moral responsibility for so many issues in life, particularly created by themselves. But that is entirely a different and very complicated topic, in which we need not go at present.

However, according to my understanding we all need that enlightenment to live a relatively peaceful and meaningful life which will help all of us enjoy it. God, religion, reading, meditation, sadhana, music, art, etc. can help one search that enlightenment. So my humble suggestion is: never limit enlightenment with some religious ritual or mental/physical sadhana.

 

A Response:

But people who are not stressed, do not have any need for spirituality? How does being spiritual change one’s lifestyle? Does it have any impact on his/her life?

 

My Response:

For me, leading a normal human life is spirituality. But we have allowed it to be hijacked by spiritual gurus and sannyasis who claim to be the sole owner and promoter of this ‘spirituality’. At the same time one may not feel stress in life, but it will be decided by our relationship with others. Even if you behave as a normal human being (viz., as a spiritual person according to my definition), when you fail in other’s expectations, it brings some stress in them, which will reflect in their relationship with you. This will cause a subtle stress in us however we fail to recognize or refuse to accept. Of course this very word ‘stress’ has a negative connotation. But how about substituting it with ambition, expectation, goal, target, etc. When we were young boys, we didn’t hear much about terms like tension and stress which are now commonly used by everyone, even those who do not know English. Now this English word has become our own!

For example, your parents’ expects you to do the puja etc., as per your family tradition, which you refuse to do. And as a son you failed in their expectation which will definitely reflect in their relationship with you. You may ignore their demand and fail to notice their stress, but it will come out in different form.

Stress/expectation/ambition is part of human life. As we grow it will come in different forms. No one ever lived about her creed, definitely one’s own creed or expectation will bring some stress in life. Passing exams with good marks, getting a good job, a life partner, settling down, are part of human reality. Even a sannyasi cannot escape from anxiety and stress in his life, as the famous proverb says, “We cannot avoid a bird flying over head, but we shouldn’t allow it to nest on our head.”

So the so-called spirituality is a sadhana to help an individual lead a normal human life, which is denied to her due to so many other factors which are not under her control. Here the sadhana helps. But the worst scenario is refusing to accept that we failed to lead a normal human life viz., we became unspiritual in many ways. And unless we recognize this, we won’t accept any remedy to become a normal person. And that is spirituality for me.

Why Can’t All People Think This Way?

Another question from a Hyderabad youth:

Why should I choose to find enlightenment? In religion or God? Or anything for that matter. If I choose to believe/follow some religion or god, nothing changes. The sun would still rise in the east and set in the west. I wake up daily and mind my own business. I am born into a typical Brahmin family and my parents pursue me to follow religion and do puja. My views on this matter are a little different. I don’t follow any religion or god, and I don’t pursue others to do what I am doing. Why don’t people just understand that? Someone wants to follow a religion or god, by all means they can, I am not stopping them or against them, why cannot people think in the same way?

 

My Response:

Good question. But this is not new and from time immemorial the same question was asked in different times by different people in different ways. And we Hindus have a long tradition of Charavakas (also called ‘materialists’) and in the ancient time (in Greek I think) Epicureans (‘eat, drink and be merry; tomorrow you are going to die’).

The first thing that we need to understand about religion is that it is not the correct word to translate ‘dharma’. It is a not the correct English word for particularly translating any of our Indian sampradayas. Similarly ‘philosophy’ doesn’t fit our term ‘dharshan’ as western philosophy is completely different from Indian (though I am not competent to talk much deeper about this).

So I agree with you that choosing any religion, thinking about Hinduism as another religion, is very difficult. At the same time we have to live with the reality that Hinduism has also gained this new identity and we have a place for using it in similar way. So according our Indian tradition (also according to our Constitution, about which I am not too familiar) following Hinduism is not following some religion. It is a worldview, culture, tradition, way of life, civilization, etc. So when you remain or follow the so-called Hindu religion, you are not following or remaining a Hindu because of its ‘religious’ identity or connotation but with all its various meanings and scope.

Regarding the sun rising and everything going on routinely, it has nothing to do with religion or spirituality. (I prefer to use the word ‘spirituality’ to religion, though that too is not so simple.) It is a search for our own personal need as a ‘human being’ who is in so many ways different from the rest of creation (provided if you still believe in ‘creation’).

So with a God or without a god, you can still search for some spiritual truth that will help you first to remain a human to yourself and to others so that you can relate to them in a more meaningful and useful way for both you and others.

Regarding God I have only one thing to say. As J.I. Packer said in Knowing God, “Your god is too small.” All our conceptions about God are our own making. I often say that if we can comprehend God or express about Him/Her/It without the limitation of our human mind, then He/She/It still will remain less than our mind.

Finally I agree with you that one should not interfere in the freedom or right to choose any path or sadhana that best suits a person. But if you ask “Why can people not think in the same way?” then you are doing the same thing you are blaming others for. What I mean here is this: you expressed your view that you don’t like others to impose their view upon you or anyone. Similarly you cannot expect them not to do what they think is correct according to their understanding. For example your parents have every right to teach and guide their son in what they think is best for him. But they cannot superimpose it on you. If you, as their son expect them to do their ‘dharma’ to give all the best for you from their lives, this too is part of that package. They have every right to share their view about their tradition and think that it will helpful for a son to follow his ‘dharma’ (putra-dharm=dharma as a son). How they do it is a different question, but as their son you cannot question their motives, as that is their dharma as parents.

More later. And here I would like to end this with a quote that will go well with our questions on so many things:

Fish gotta swim
Bird gotta fly
Man gotta sit and say
Why why why

— Thomas McEvilley, Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies, Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, (2002), First Indian Edition, 2008. Foreword. pp. xxxi-xxxii.

Chasing Cars

Another question from a youth in Hyderabad:

Hello sir. I have been following your posts since I joined this group.

The ‘hear and say’ way has been the mode of propagation for Vedas and Upanishads. One cannot question everything and say it isn’t true till you envisage it. Some things have to be taken for granted.

I am in a pursuit of enlightenment. So far I have been a stray dog chasing after every car on the road that claims enlightenment. I believe in the fact that one has to look at all roads when he doesn’t know which road takes him to his destination. So I am very receptive to the words you say.

 

My response:

Your response really made me laugh! The present generation is smarter than us and you are more mature than we were at your age. I am so happy that the future of our country is in the secured hands of youths like you—who believe in chasing something rather than completely giving up.

My first response would be: in our Indian tradition, we always ‘take something for granted’ in life. At the same time, we continue to probe it, not ‘granting’ that something to it. For example, though the Upanishads belong to Sruti (which are heard) and have final authority (as they are part of Veda viz., Sruti), all the great acharyas (teachers) never took them for granted and began to write commentaries on them. For example Badrayana wrote Brahma Sutra (or Vedanta Sutra) to give a systematic teaching on the various Upanishads on the Vedanta. If he ever took them for granted he would have never attempted to do so.

Similarly, other great acharyas like Sri Adi Sankara, Sri Ramanuja, Sri Madhava, Sri Vallabha and Sri Nimbarka (the five major Vedantian acharyas) wrote commentaries on Brahma Sutra, as they could not take it for granted. Then their successors (disciples) wrote digests (tika in Hindi) on those commentaries. And this trend continues till this day.

So this would be my initial response to your thought-provoking views. I know some modern youths are not familiar with these words and terms. But as they are part of our rich spiritual heritage, I hope some of you will take pains to learn about them.

Regarding ‘one has to look at all roads when he doesn’t know which road takes him to his destination’, I completely agree with you. But some people continue to chase after cars that don’t even offer enlightenment, but just some ‘instant bliss’ for a cost. So after some initial persuasion, when any one path gives us some hope or suits our aptitude, we should give some time to further travel on it, rather than chasing every car. Dogs often return back to their place after chasing cars for some distance and then are ready to chase another. After some time they become tired and go to sleep on the street.

The moral of this story is: search some path. Then when you are convinced that a particular path might serve your purpose, give some time to probe it deeply rather than superficially attempting to know something from everything. Particularly in spirituality, ‘sraddha’ faith/trust is the first step that will help any sadhaka (one who searches) who continues to probe till the end of the life. Otherwise we will become a ‘jack of all trades.’

 

His response:

I agree with you completely Swamiji. Consciousness is the foremost thing before committing to a faith else faith can easily turn to superstition. That is the beauty of Hinduism. It lets one explore while giving guidelines.