“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
This is true not only for aesthetic experiences, but in our approach in every field of human activity. For example, if any one approaches a religious scriptures only to dig out some anthropological, sociological, political, historical, ethical or moral issues or message, she will miss the very spirit of the Scripture in which it is written. If one wishes to read or research for things other than spiritual issues, there is nothing wrong with it and she will definitely get it. But if any votary of any sampradaya wishes to find things other than what is required for her faith/bhakti, she will miss the very spirit of the Scripture for which it is recognized in her sampradaya. The author(s) of any particularly scripture never wrote keeping all these other needs of human being in mind other than what is required for the faith/bhakti of the followers of that particular sampradaya.
This trend to dig out all sorts of messages in a scripture aside from the original purpose is not new. But a supra-rationalistic follower of any faith with her dry intellectualism will miss the very spirit of the scripture. Just read few poems in Divyaprabandam, Tiruvasagam, Surdas, and Meerabai or in our case Muktiveda1. If a votary cannot find any teaching and guidance for her faith, she cannot claim to be a sincere and serious followers of that particular sampradaya.
The worst scenario is when these people advocate and promote their rationalistic expositions in the name of guiding and teaching others who are trying to understand the scripture. It will only further harm and complicate their understanding. We cannot stop such supra-rationalists who approach their respective scriptures like this, but those who seek their advice and counsel should be sensible enough to understand their mind and try to guard their new faith.
We have all heard about the Dead Sea in Israel. It is still water in appearance, but has lost the quality of any natural water unless one swims or sails on it with a support like a boat or ship. Originally it might have been like any other normal water body. But it failed to have its freshwater escape from the supersaturated condition. Even a little bit of natural water that comes from rain disappears as it mingles with the ‘dead’ water.
Those supra-rationalists are in a similar condition. They claim to be the follower of a particular sampradaya and even might read the particular scripture of their sampradaya, but they fail to get the fresh natural resource which alone can sustain their bhakti. Soon, they dry and they begin to become supra-rationalist like the supersaturated water of the dead sea. They will be the best intellectuals we have met and know how to analyse and present their case in a beautiful way as the Gita says in a different context of approaching Veda for temporary heaven and earthly pleasure other than to know God through bhakti:
Arjuna, those who are obsessed by desires, who look upon heaven as the supreme goal and argue that there is nothing beyond heaven and pleasures and who are devoted to the letter of the Vedas, are unwise. They utter flowery speech recommending many acts of various kinds for the attainment of pleasure and prosperity with rebirth as their fruit. Those whose minds are carried away by such flowery speech (viz. who are attracted towards pleasures) and who are deeply attached to pleasure and prosperity, can’t attain the determinate intellect concentrated on God. 2:42-44.—Swami Ramsukhadas, Srimad Bhagavadgita Sadhaka Sanjivani, Gorakhpur, Gita Press, two vols., vol. 1, p.114-15 [year not mentioned]
However one cannot rationalize scripture, when it comes to faith/bhakti, particularly when that very bhakti is based on a scripture. Its essence is beyond rationalism. Those who promote such sampradayas as only a book containing information other than the bhakti itself are like the Dead Sea.
You can see this in other areas of life. For example, if one views his/her mother only as a human or woman, he will miss the real beauty and spirit of a mother in her. An anthropologist’s approach to her will be as human, a psychologist as a person, a feminist as a woman, but every children will know her only as their mother. We can try to use language to express that joy of the mother-child relationship in human terms, but that feeling and experience is beyond human language, even rationalism.
The same is the case with faith/bhakti. It is not merely an emotional feeling or experience, though definitely there is a legitimate place for them in every bhakti/faith. But it is personal relationships which alone sustain that bhakti/faith and continue to receive the fresh supply of spiritual nourishment from God through that scripture.
Those who reject it as mere emotionalism or experience and assign it as a book of history, ethics, or anthropology will miss that personal relationship with their respective God or Gods and will soon become supra-rationalists and will only have a dry intellect like that Dead Sea.
- I am giving one example from Tevaram, Divya prabandam, Surda and Muktiveda. I won’t add many comments other than that are require pointing out the beauty in them as a scripture and not a poem or book of anthropology, psychology, politics, ethics or history. I found one thing very interesting for me. In none of these poems, I can feel the original spirit in which it is written in the English translation. Though the translation gives the meaning aptly, it never catches the spirit. For example the last line by Tirunavukkarasu can be understood only by a Tamilian who can read it. Others can catch the meaning but not the spirit. The same is the case with the Surdas. Though I marvel at the way Hawley has wonderfully translated it, doing due justice to the meaning, his translation cannot catch the spirit of Surdas and only those who can understand it in the original can empathize with Surdas in his cry for mercy. The same is in Muktiveda. Though I never read it in the original and though Tamil is only a translation, yet the way I empathize with the spirit while reading in Tamil, I cannot feel in other translation. Here the Supra-rationalist will jump and say that this is nothing to do with the spirit of the scripture but the affinity with one’s mother tongue. There is some truth in it, but those who can read and understand the original will agree with me that while reading scripture more than the language the spiritual message and nothing else is more important than any other thing that one could find useful in it.
Evil, all evil, my race, evil my qualities all,
Great am I only in sin, evil is even my good.
Evil my innermost self, foolish, avoiding the pure,
Beast am I not, yet the ways of the beast I can never forsake.
I can exhort with strong words, telling men what they should hate,
Yet can I never give gifts, only to beg them I know.
Ah! Wretched man that I am, whereunto came I to birth?
- குலம்பொல்லேன் குணம்பொல்லேன் குறியும்பொல்லேன்
Tirunavukkarasu, F. Kingsbury, and G.E.Phillips, Hymns of the Tamil Saivite Saints, Calcutta, Association Press, 1921, song 35, p. 44
மொய்த்துக் கண்பனி சோர மெய்கள்
சிலிர்ப்ப ஏங்கி இளைத்து நின்று
எய்த்துக் கும்பிடு நட்ட மிட்டெழுந்
தாடிப் பாடி இறைஞ்சி என்
அத்தன் அச்சன் அரங்கனுக்கு அடி
யார் களாகி அவனுக்கே
பித்த ராமவர் பித்த ரல்லர்கள்
மற்றையார் முற்றும் பித்தரே.
–குலசேகராழ்வார்., பெருமாள் திருமொழி
நாலாயிர திவ்வியப் பிரபந்தம். உரையாசிரியர்: இரா. வ. கமலக்கண்ணன். சென்னை, வர்த்தமானன் பதிப்பகம். வருடம் குறிப்பிடப்படவில்ல. பாடல், 666, ப. 974
பொருள்: “ஆனந்தக் கண்ணீர் இடைவிடாது சொரியவும், உடல் மயிர்க்கூச்செரியவும், நெஞ்சு தளர்ந்து களைத்துப்போய் நிலை தளர்ந்து கூத்தாடி, நின்ற விடத்து நில்லாமல் ஆட்டங்களாடிப் பாட்டுக்கள் பாடி வணங்கி, எனக்குத் தந்தையும் தலைவனுமான அரங்கநாதனுக்கு அடியவர்களாய் அவனுக்கே பித்தேறித் திரிகிறவர்கள் பைத்தியக் காரர்கள் அல்லர், பக்தியிலாத மற்றவர்கள் எல்லாம் பைத்தியக் கார்கள்தாம்” என்கிறார் ஆழ்வார்.–ப. 974, பாடல், 666
Letting the tears of joy to pour continuously; and the hair stand still on the body; heart melting and becoming tired and dancing; not stopping on the same place but dancing, singing songs and worshipping, only those who become slave to my Lord Ranganatha are the only one who are not became lunatics; rest who are live without bhakti are lunatics indeed.—my own translation—Kulasehara Azhvaar, Nalayira Divya Prabandham, Commt. By R.V. Kamalakkannan, Chennai, Vardaman Press, year is not mentioned, Perumal Thirumozhi, song 666, p. 974
सो कहा जु मैं न कियौ
सोइ सोइ चित धरिहौ
पतित पावन बिरद प्रगट
कौंन भांति करिहौ
जब ते जग जनमु आइ
जीव नाउं पायौ
तब ते अपराध बिना
और न करि आयौ
सुकृती जनु सेवक सुचि
काहि न जिय भावै
प्रभु की प्रभुता इहै जु
भीत सरन पावै
स्याम सुंदर कमल नैन
विनित कहा करै सूर
कूर कुटिल कामी—song 397, p. 688
What did I ever not do?
Think of my actions one by one
And tell me how you can advertise yourself
As Purifier of the Fallen.
Ever since I was born into the world
And called a living being,
Aside from the evils and errors I’ve done,
I’ve simply done nothing at all.
Those who are virtuous, obedient, pure—
How can you help but be drawn towards them?
But to shield someone burdened with fear
Proves the lordliness of the Lord indeed.
Oh beautiful dark one, lotus-eyed,
Who knows us all inside,
What kind of prayer can be made to you by Sur,
Who is cruel, who is crooked, who craves?— Sur’s Ocean, eds. Kenneth E Bryant, trs. By John Stratton Hawley, Massachusetts, Murty Classical Library of India, Harvard University Press, Song 397, p. 689 [italics original]
Read from Romans 11:33 to 12:1-2; I Cor. 13; Phil. 2:1-11.