No one can disagree with Sri Suki Sivam’s argument that the true mark of spirituality is not asking favors from God, like passing examinations, receiving a promotion, arranging a marriage, etc (Sun TV, July 9, 2011), but rather the true mark of spirituality is seeking God Herself and nothing else beyond Her. Suki Sivam quoted several saints like Manikkavasagar, Thayumanavar, and Satya Saibaba, who said that seeking money, gold, and silver is not the true mark of spirituality. He also rightly rebuked the practice of arranging a special prayer for students’ examinations, saying, “simply praying for an examination, God won’t help any student to pass. God may or may not help in passing the examination, rather students should study and be prepared for the examination”.
Unfortunately, the overall mark of spirituality, at least for the common man, is not seeking God and God alone. There are even a few saints who are not a good model for spirituality. Suki Sivam pointed out that asking for two kg of dhal or a few biscuits of gold are not the mark of spirituality, but it never reflects the total view of spirituality, at least in the life of any saint and bhakta. For example, Sundarar, who is even called ‘Tamibran Thozhar’ (Friend of God), asked the same and even went further by asking paddy, gold and even God’s help to have a second wife (Song 3386, p. 218) and also to counsel his estranged first wife (song 3482, p. 264) for which God Thyagaraja (Siva) of Tiruvarur went several times to her door to pacify her anger and to reconcile them (song 3500, p. 274). 1
For the common man, spirituality is not merely seeking God and God alone, but even demanding that God take care of his mundane needs. “Your duty is to uphold me and my duty is to serve you,” says Manickkavasagar. The thought is that the true mark and purpose every avatara of God is to help Her bhaktas in their (mundane) needs and not merely to show the path of spirituality. Even the very word ‘bhagavan’ means “one who shares her bhagas.2 In the same way, many students who pray for their examinations never think that without proper preparation, by mere prayer alone, God will help them to pass the examination. In fact, prayer is not putting any ‘pressure’ on God, but a way of expressing our dependence on Her to remove some of our ‘pressure’. It is a kind of counseling, to use a modern term, to remove our inner anxiety and trust God.
I do not disagree with the main point of Suki Sivam about the true mark of spirituality, but it would be good if he could point it as the culmination of bhakti for everyone—even for sannyasis and Babas who accumulate money, power and authority in the name of serving humanity, then his talk would be more appealing. Particularly, he should take extra caution to quote the saints of the past as examples, because there were several saints who behaved even worst than common bhaktas in the name of their bhakti to God in involving violence (See Periya Puranam for Murka Nayanar, Kotpuliyur Nayanar who used violence to demonstrate their bhakti.3). However, few Hindu apologetics like to explain such incidents, yet the fact remains that not all saints are good models for us to quote or to imitate, particularly for true mark of spirituality.
Dayanand Bharati, July 9, 2011
1. Periyapuranam, Chennai, Varthaman Publishers, 2000.
2. …Bhagavaan has been variously explained, e.g. as `the One who possesses and shares bhaga or bliss, well-being’ or `the One who possesses the six bhagas or attributes’..— Julius Lipner, HINDUS Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, Routledge, London 1994, pp.308-309
…Bhagavan means one who shares with us all the six bhagas. What are those six bhagas? … aiswarya …wealth(p.383) virya – power, energy, shakit…. yasa glory … shri – splendour … gnana … wisdom … vairagya …unfettered freedom.— — Swami Amalorananda, Atma Purna Anubhava, Anjali Ashram, Mysore, 2000, pp. 383-84
…Dispenser (Bhagavan)..—‘The Religious Discoveries of the Vedic Indians’ in, Editors R.De Smet and J. Neuner ,Religious Hinduism, Fourth Revised Edition, 1997, p. 77
3. Murkar: who gambled to get money and stabbed those who refuse to pay when he wins (song 3626, vol. 5. p. 337); Kotpuliyr kills all his relatives, including infants who used the paddy to feed themselves to escape from famine, which he kept to offer to God, song 4141, vol. 6.p. 292 in Periyapuranam, Chennai, Varthaman Publishers, 2000
In continuation with the above topic, here I would like to share my views on prayer. On 26-10-1993 when I had to take some important decision on certain issues, I wrote the following poem as a prayer:
இது வேண்டும் அது வேண்டும்
என நிதம் பல வேண்டாமல்
எதை நான் செயவேண்டும்
என உளம் நீ கொண்டாயோ
அதையே நான் செய்ய வேண்டி
அருளை நீ தருவாயே!
In stead of asking for this and that; whatever you want me to do; give me your grace only to accomplish that.
But I am not the only person who offered such prayer. Several centuries before Manikkavasagar, the leading Saiva Saint of Tamilnadu wrote a beautiful poem which I always considered as the TRUE PRAYER:
வேண்டத்தக்க தறிவோய்நீ வேண்டமுழுதுந் தருவோய்நீ
வேண்டும் அயன்மாற் கரியோய்நீ வேண்டி என்னைப் பணிகொண்டாய்
வேண்டி நீயா தருள்செய்தாய் யானும் அதுவே வேண்டினேன் அல்லால்
வேண்டும் பரிசொன் றுண்டென்னில் அதுவும் உன்றன் விருப்பன்றே.- குழைத்தப்பத்து, -6
–you know what my need is; you will provide what all I need; you are rare indeed for Brahma and Vishnu; you voluntarily called me for your service; voluntarily you gave me your grace; I too requested the same; if there is something I need, I will leave that too for your choice. (Kuzhaitapp pathu, 6).
Though such prayer could be the mark of total surrender of a bhakta, yet seeking God and Her will alone is not all that is recorded in so many poems by saints. This is true even in other scriptures also. So it will be an interesting study if we could do it based on the topic of prayer. Though it is a big subject, knowing my limitation, I would like to limit it with the Muktiveda and few Hindu scriptures.
Dayanand Bharati,July 21, 2011.
Regardless of your faith, after a long struggle with the spiritual discipline of prayer, there is one secret: Live one day at a time. Of course this has never been a true secret as it is the experience of many saints. ‘Each day’s concern is enough for that day’ says Muktiveda. Though we know this, living it on a day to day basis is the real challenge and tapasya. By living such a life I have learned that God will not allow me to face any challenge which I cannot handle with Her help. When it looks like it is beyond my ability, then She sends the help, but I should have the discerning spirit to see that help and make use of it. However, my ego and self-dependence could blind me to see the help that God has arranged. Therefore, an important thing in ‘living one day at a time’ is : TRUST GOD, DO YOUR PART, GIVE UP EGO AND ACCEPT THE HELP THAT WHICH GOD HAS ARRANGED.
The next important part of prayer is to not run ahead of God or doubt Her. For example: I have prayed for a particular need. Then, I must wait for God’s Time to receive it. After doing my part of praying and waiting, I should not run ahead of God to make my own arrangements. Here we should not confuse our planning with making arrangements before God will act.
I can best illustrate from my current experience: Narayanan, who is working here, couldn’t continue his seva, as he has to take care of his cattle. He said that he will sell some of them and keep minimum (two) and then will come back and do the work. Until that time I have to manage on my own. Getting laborers is not an easy thing in a rural area, particularly after the MARAGA scheme in which a minimum of 100 days work is assured; people get easy money without much strain. They work for two to three hours and then get around Rs. 100/-. They also get around 30 kgs of free rice through the public distribution system in Tamilnadu. So, when we ask them to come for work, they say “no”. If you compel them, then they ask for double the amount. Even if you are ready to pay double, there is no guarantee that they will do the work to your expectations. Whatever they do you have to accept and you should not make any complaint about their work. If you do, the next day they will not come. In such a scenario, without someone to help, it is difficult to manage such a big property. However, I prayed about it and trusted God. Though often I am tempted to find some other alternative, I have to resist that temptation. I myself asked Narayanan to sell the cattle and then come for work as he find it difficult to manage both. And I also gave him some time (I told him one week, but I have decided to give one month as selling cattle is not easy). The main help that I need is to buy vegetables from Thally and some other provisions. But Viji is coming once in two weeks and bring things from Hosur. And Santanam is also helping. Above all, Narayanan is also coming twice in a week to buy vegetables and other things from Thally. The milkman is also ready to help me to get vegetables from Thally. And as some rain is coming I do not need to water the plants. And my mother manages her own things (washing her cloths) and doing the rest is not a big issue for me. Even if Narayanan comes, we do most of the household work.
Once I see all of the blessings and other arrangements that God has arranged for me, I need to wait patiently for God to answer my prayer for a worker. I can keep in mind that, at present, I am in good health and that these works give me some exercise that I very much in need. Sweeping, washing and other works help me more than they make me tired. Above all, as I have to do these works, I do them at my own convenience and plan and have begun to enjoy them. So don’t experience any mental tension or irritation in completing these works, which I strongly feel is the work of God. This is illustrates my feeling that God won’t allow any trial which is beyond my ability to handle. The first ability is mental strength, then physical strength. As long as these works give joy and do not become a burden, then I feel that God is in control of things and I need not worry too much about the need of a worker. The day I become tired and feel the work as a burden and do not find joy in them, but rather do them out of compulsion, God will interfere and will make proper arrangements. Until that time, I need to trust God and wait patiently for Her Time and Way to resolve the issue.
This is what I mean by living One day at a Time.
Note: Narayanan returned back to work after five weeks, but without selling his cattle.
August 7, 2011.
I never read Quran. So I have to limit my thoughts on prayer within the worldview of Hinduism and Muktiveda (Bible). For a common Hindu, the life is centered on four ‘purushartas’ aims of life. Though we Hindus never use those terms in everyday life or punctuate our talk referring always with scriptures, yet our life is based on this. They are: Dharma, artha,kamaand moksha. And they are not isolated concepts but interlinked with each other. So to attain them we seek the grace and ‘help’ of God. And what all the means to achieve them is part of our prayer. Even the ritual done to deities (to please, appease, in gratitude etc. etc.) is part of that prayer. That is why the ritual portion of the Veda viz., ‘brahmana’ means ‘prayer’. So prayer is not only to seek God and God alone but also to seek Her help to get all that we need for a proper life. At the same time we have to remember here that all these aims of life can be also sought and exercised without the need of God. And those Hindus who do not believe in God or do not want to disturb Her, could still carry these aims in life. Then ‘prayer’ is meaningless to them. But such Hindus are only a insignificant minority. Many Hindu saints expressed their needs to their respective deities in their poems. Of course their list is not limited only with the need of the body alone but also that related with other aims of life like: dharma, and moksha. I like Sri Ramalinga Vallalar’s one song in this respect:
ஒருமையுடன் நினது திருமலரடி நினைக்கின்ற
உத்தமர் தம் உறவு வேண்டும்
உள்ளொன்று வைத்துப் புறமொன்று பேசுவார்
உறவு கலவாமை வேண்டும்
பெருமைபெறும் நினது புகழ் பேசவேன்டும்
பொய்மை பேசா திருக்க வேண்டும்
பெருநெறி பிடித்தொழுக வேண்டும்
மதமான பேய் பிடியாதிருக்க வேண்டும்
மருவு பெண்ணாசையை மறக்கவே வேண்டும் உனை
மறவா திருக்க வேண்டும்
மதி வேண்டும் நின்கருணை நிதி வேண்டும் நோயற்ற
–திருவருட்பா, மூலமும் உரையும், உரையாசிரியர்: ஓளவை துரைசாமிப் பிள்ளை, சுத்த சன்மார்க நிலையம், வடலூர். முதல் தொகுதி, பாடல், 8, p. 82
In this song Vallalar seeks the fellowship true bhaktas, one is honest in speaking the truth; only to talk about the glory of God; never tell lie; following the true path; should not have religious fanaticism; forget lust for woman; but not forgot God; need of a good mind; God’s grace; life without sickness etc.;–Tiruvarutpa, with commentary by Ovai S. Duraisamip Pillai, Suddha Sanmarga Nilayam, Vadalur. Vol. 1. song 8. p. 82 Vallalar’s life and teaching mainly centered on ‘Jeevakarunyam’ showing compassion to all living creatures. So when he wrote such songs, he never sought them for his personal life or need, but representing the need of others he wrote this and all other songs. So his prayer is not just to seek God and God alone but super imposing other’s need on him, he earnestly prayed to God for so many things that are in need for a normal and healthy life here and also for eternity. Bhakti is not only total surrender to God but equally demand Her with equal right as Her child. As I quoted above from Manikkavasagar, ‘Upholding is your duty and serving is my duty’(’தன் கடன் அடியேனையும் தாங்குதல்; என்கடன் பணிசெய்து கிடப்பதே’). A bhakta strongly feels that she came to this world as per the will and grace of God, however all other facts like karma etc. too play important role. Desire of parents with the grace of God a child is born. So she came to this world not on her own will or desire. Once she was brought to this world then it is the duty of both her parents and God to provide all that she needs to grow and live this life. And true bhakti will also help one to see this very life also a gift from God. So demanding the needs for life is not against bhakti but become part of bhakti. And true bhakti is not seeking God alone but also asking for the needs for our life according to the will of God. Any scripture that promote true bhakti will never deny this. And Lipner rightly said: “…the divine avatara is made not only to help man towards some ‘other-worldly’ salvation but also to take account of legitimate, if lesser, worldly, desires, such as ‘wealth’ and ‘desired objects’. Thus the divine avatara is a tribute to the Lord’s compassionate accessibility.”. (Julius Lipner, The Face of Truth: A Study of Meaning and Metaphysics in the Vedantic Theology of Ramanuja. Albany, State University of New York Press, 1986, p. 103) And few more songs by other Hindu saints are sufficient to show this fact (which I will give later). So I would like to quote them without adding any comments, as the songs themselves speaks more clearly and loudly about what they asked God in their prayer. This is what Sundarar asks Siva at Nagai, not just for himself alone but also to his beloved wife:
பண்மயத்த மொழிப்பரவை சங்கிலிக்கும்
எனக்கும் பற்றாய பெருமானே!
மற்று யாரை உடையேன்?
உண்மயத்த உமக்கு அடியேன் குறைதீர்க்க வேண்டும்,
கண்மயத்த கத்தூரி, கமழ்சாந்தும் வேண்டும்
— Beloved lord both for me and (my wife) Paravai, whom else I have other than you. You have to remove the shortage of your bhakta. I need pearls, jewels, silk cloths , flowers, Kasturi and other scented items.—[T. M. Baskarat Thondaiman, Venkatam Mudal Kumari Varai [from Venkadam to Kumari], Chennai, Nallarappadippagam, 2009, 6 vols. Vol. 3. p. 141. Not only here but Sundarar asked so many times gold, paddy and other things from the Lord in different pilgrimage centers. July 23, 2011 Prayer in Muktiveda Though there are many similarities between Muktiveda and other scriptures (particularly in Hinduism) on the topic of prayer, yet there is some unique distinction between them. One important uniqueness in Muktiveda regarding prayer is that it depends upon our relationship with God and fellow human beings. Simply having faith in God one cannot ask anything in prayer. This very seeking for our need in life is primarily related to our relationship and attitude with our fellow human beings. To say in other words, without having right kind of relationship with our fellow human beings we cannot even ask any favor from God. God won’t listen and answer our prayers unless we first mend our relationship with others, forgive our offenders, seek reconciliation etc. So without adding any comment here I give certain vachanas from Muktiveda which will speak themselves these points: Our Mother in Cosmos; hallowed be your name (9); your rule come, your will be done among us as it is in the Universe (10) Give us today our daily food (11); Forgive us our shortcomings as we also have forgiven our offenders (12); And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew Ch. 6: 9-13, my own rephrasing) Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; she who seeks finds; and to her who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if her daughter asks for rotti will give paper (to eat); or if she asks for rice, will give her sand? If you, then though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Mother in Cosmos give good gifts to those who ask her. (Matthew 7: 7-11) This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to her will, she hears us. And if we know that she hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of her. (1 John 5: 14-15)
March 30, 2012