When you've trusted God and walked his way,
When you've felt his hand lead you day by day, But
your steps now take you another way...
When you've made your plans and they've gone awry,
When you've tried your best and there's no more
When you've failed yourself and you don't know
When you've told your friends what you plan to do,
When you've trusted them and they didn't come
through; And now you're all alone and it's up to you...
When you've prayed to God so you'll know his will,
When you've prayed and prayed and you don't know
When you want to stop 'cause you've had your
When the year has been long and successes few,
When December comes and you're feeling blue,
God gives a January just for you...
Guru Nanak: Prophet of Unity
(Reprinted from Prabuddha
Bharata April 1969)
Swami Vivekananaa said in a lecture delivered at
Lahore: `Here it was that ... the gentle Nanak preached his marvellous love
for the world. Here it was that his broad heart was opened, and his arms
outstretched to embrace the whole world, not only of Hindus, but of
A gem of numerous facets, Guru Nanak shone as a
messenger of peace and love, unity and brotherhood, an apostle of the
essential unity of religions and a social pioneer. Brighter and brighter
became his luminosity in the spiritual firmament as he came face to face
with truth. He disseminated it dauntlessly and founded Sikhism. This living
faith has stood the test of time and engendered in its votaries a virile
attitude of hard work and the worship of One God, a militant defiance of
injustice and a strict adherence to righteousness, humility and dynamism, a
tight bond of brotherhood and a well-organized, casteless community,
disseminating goodwill and charity to mankind. It was his genius to have
drawn from the scriptures of both Hinduism and Islam and to have harmonized
them happily to formulate a new faith.
Endowed with a heart broad enough to embrace
Hindus and Muslims, he strove to bring them together. This was not an easy
task in the prevailing climate of intolerance and bigotry. For instance, as
history bears out, Sikandar Lodi put to the sword the Brahmana Budhan for
the sole offence of stating in the presence of some Mohammedans that the
religions of both the Muslims and Hindus, if acted on with sincerity, were
equally acceptable to God. It therefore stands not a little to the credit of
Nanak to have given to India a religion which could satisfy both communities
-- Hindus and Muslims -- and which was free from casteism, priestcraft,
ceremonialism, miracles, superstitions, and accretions of both Hinduism and
Islam. That he was able to endear himself to both communities is evident
from the fact that `at his death Hindus and Mohammedans quarrelled as to
which sect should perform his obsequies'.
The popularity and esteem that he won were the
natural outcome of the feeling of the brotherhood of man emerging from his
realization of God. His love for man manifested itself in his long ministry
for dispelling the encircling darkness of his day and redeeming man from
misery and ignorance. In his view none was high or low and all were equal.
As such he condemned in strong terms the exploitation of the lower or
under-privileged classes by the higher castes or influential sections. His
solicitude for the welfare of the downtrodden and despised masses led him to
identify himself with them, as he voiced his feeling in the following words
`I am with the lowest of the low. What have I to
do with the great? God's eye of mercy falls on those who take care of the
lowly.' Service was his religion. He opened the portals of truth to one and
all irrespective of caste, creed or colour.
Prophet of truth that he was, Guru Nanak
laid emphasis on the supremacy of truth -- truth that is fundamental in all
religions. Hence he seldom asked anyone to give up his own faith. What is
more important for an aspirant according to Nanak is truthful living.
Religion degenerates into meaningless formality without moral foundation.
Guru Nanak was not only a mystic but a poet par excellence. His profound
thoughts and teachings flowed in rythmic notes striking a responsive chord
in the hearts of the audience.
The achievement of Guru Nanak will be appreciated
when we consider the age in which he was born and that he faced overwhelming
odds. It was an age of dark crisis and constant strife, appalling atrocities
and inhuman persecution. Nanak saw with his own eyes Babar's cruelty to the
inhabitants of Saiyidpur; both he and his attendant were taken prisoner and
obliged to work as slaves. The Guru gives us an idea of the Mohammedan
rulers and the state of India in his time :
`This age is a knife, kings are butchers; justice
hath taken wings and fled.
In this completely dark night of falsehood the
moon of truth is never seen to rise.
I have become perplexed in my search. In the
darkness I find no way. Devoted to pride, I weep in sorrow. How shall
deliverance be obtained?'
Deliverance was indeed far off when there was
political disruption and moral decadence, when in Guru Nanak's words `men
nowadays are men only in shape and name; in action they are dogs', when in
matters of religion, form totally supplanted spirit. The extent of the
hypocrisy and falsehood of the Hindus can be gauged from the following words
of Guru Nanak :
`Thou performest the Hindu worship at home, thou
readest the Quran in public, and associatest with Mohammedans. Lay aside
hypocrisy, repeat God's name, and thou shalt be saved. They who have strings
on their necks eat men, recite the Mohammedan prayers, and use knives to cut
men's throats. Although the Brahmans sound shells in their houses, And enjoy
their viands as they do themselves; Yet false is their capital and false
their dealings. By uttering falsehood they maintain themselves. Far from
them is the abode of bashfulness and honesty. Nanak, falsehood everywhere
Thus at the time of the Guru, there was no
religion. If there was one, it was an intriguing and intricate maze of
observances and formalities, hiding the tyranny of heart and emptiness of
devotion or knowledge. Where there was no devotion or knowledge, there was
endless strife and wrangling. In the place of the worship of God - One God
who is the common feature of both the Veda and the Koran - there was the
worship of numerous deities, pirs (holy men) and dargahs (holy places).
Instead of uniting men, religion divided them into hostile groups, each one
trying to exterminate the others. However, the dark cloud was not without
its silver lining. The wave of Muslim invasion and oppression of Hindus
leavened Hinduism, and powerful religious reformers arose, not only to
defend the faith, but to restate its catholic, cardinal principles in a
popular manner and to make good the deficiencies at the social level. The
fact arrests our attention that Muslims too were attracted to the teachings
of Ramananda and became his disciples, Kabir being notable among them. In
the oft-quoted words of Cunningham:
`In the beginning of the sixteenth century, the
Hindu mind was no longer stagnant or retrogressive, it had been leavened
with Mohammedanism, and changed and quickened for a new development.
Ramanand and Gorakh had preached religious equality, and Chaitanya had
repeated that faith levelled caste. Kabir had denounced images, and appealed
to the people in their own tongue, and Vallabha had taught that effectual
devotion was compatible with the ordinary duties of the world.'
The message of these Hindu reformers, called
Bhaktas, had close affinity with the tenets of the Mohammedan Sufis. The
closer the Bhaktas and the Sufis drew to each other, the narrower became the
gulf between Hinduism and Islam. The gulf was not very wide and it was left
to Guru Nanak to bridge it.
Guru Nanak was born in the year AD 1469 in the
village Talwandi, about forty miles from the city of Lahore, now in
Pakistan. His father, Kalu by name, was a Hindu belonging to the Khatri
caste and made his living by working as an accountant in the village. Nanak
was precocious even as a child. When he was seven years of age, he was
admitted to the village school. After the schoolmaster wrote the alphabet on
a slate for Nanak, the latter astounded the teacher by composing an acrostic
on the alphabet - a hearty discourse on God, man, and education; a message
of hope, joy and deliverance. The acrostic begins as follows :
`The one Lord who created the world is the Lord of
Fortunate is their advent into the world, whose
hearts remain attached to God's service.
O foolish man, why hast thou forgotten Him?
When thou adjustest thine account, my friend, thou
shalt be deemed educated.' Having thus demonstrated his scholastic
proficiency, he left school and took to private study and meditation.
Association with the Ascetics
He retired into the dense forests that surrounded
the village and sought association with the ascetics and anchorites. He
learnt of them the religious and philosophical literature as well as the
reforms and revivals of the age. What was more important than this learning
was his own undisturbed communion with nature, with his own soul and with
his Creator. `The voice that had spoken to many a seer again became vocal in
that wilderness, and raised Nanak's thoughts to the summit of religious
exaltation.' Alarmed at their son's frequent visits to the forest anchorites
and discourses with itinerant fakirs, Nanak's worldly-minded parents
arranged for his study of Persian - a knowledge of which was essential for
employment at that time - and also for his marriage later. As at his first
schooling, he is said to have astounded his Persian teacher with another
acrostic on the Persian alphabet to boot. However, Nanak's use of numerous
Persian words and some Persian verses in the Granth Sahib, the Bible of the
Sikhs, shows that he became a fair Persian scholar.
Investiture with the Sacred Thread
The next important incident in the life of Nanak
was his investiture with the sacred thread (janeu) at the age of nine years.
When the family priest put it on the boy's neck, the boy Nanak caught hold
of it and asked the priest for an explanation of the ritual. Not satisfied
with the explanation, Nanak composed the following song:
`Make mercy thy cotton, contentment thy thread,
continence its knot, truth its twist.
That would make a janeu for the soul; if thou have
it, O Brahman, then put it on me.
It will not break, or become soiled, or be burned
Blest the man, O Nanak, who goeth with such a
thread on his neck.
Thou purchasest a janeu for four damris, and
seated in a square puttest it on;
Thou whisperest instruction that the Brahman is
the guru of the Hindus - Man dieth, the janeu falleth, and the soul
departeth without it.'
Nanak was married at the age of fourteen to
Sulakhani, daughter of Mula, a resident of Batala in the present district of
Gurdaspur. In course of time two sons were born. But his spiritual pursuits
continued as before and he seemed to become unfit for all secular
occupation. His indifference to worldly pursuits became a serious source of
anxiety to his parents. They tried their best to get him interested in some
worldly occupation. His father, Kalu first tried him in the capacity of a
herdsman, then in that of a cultivator and finally attempted to make him a
merchant, but all to no purpose. His mother attempted at the worldly
reformation of her son. She even requested him to forget even for a few days
his devotions and go abroad so that the neighbours might be assured that
Kalu's son had recovered his reason. Finding no change in Nanak's way of
life, the family grew sad that he had become mad. A physician was sent for
treatment of his insanity. On being asked what he himself thought his
illness was by the physician, Nanak replied in the following manner:
`I first feel the pain of separation from God,
then a pang of hunger for contemplation on Him.
I also fear the pain which Death's powerful
myrmidons may inflict.
I feel pain that my body shall perish by disease.
O ignorant physician, give me no medicine.'
Thoroughly disgusted with his son, Kalu became
despondent until a ray of hope shone in the form of a proposal from Jai Ram,
husband of Nanaki, elder sister of Nanak. The proposal was that Nanak should
be sent to Sultanpur and enter Government service there. It was at Sultanpur
that Jai Ram was employed in the revenue department and resided with Nanaki.
So Kalu agreed to the proposal and Nanak went to Sultanpur to join his
sister and brother-in-law.
Work and Worship in Sultanpur
Sultanpur is cherished in the hearts of seekers
after Truth as the seat of the great turning-point in Guru Nanak's life,
which we shall relate shortly. To continue the narrative, on Jai Ram's
recommendation the Governor Daulat Khan Lodi appointed Nanak as a
store-keeper. Surprisingly enough, Nanak discharged his duties to the entire
satisfaction of his employer, who was much pleased with his new servant. Out
of the provisions which Guru Nanak was allowed, he devoted only a small
portion to his own maintenance and gave the rest to the poor. He used
continually to spend his nights singing hymns to his Creator. The minstrel
Mardana subsequently joined Nanak in Sultanpur and became his private
servant. Other friends too came, whom Nanak introduced to the Governor and
procured employment. Their daily routine was as follows: `At dinner-time
they came and sat down with him, and every night there was continual
singing. A watch before day, Nanak used to go to the neighbouring Bein river
and perform his ablutions. When day dawned, he went to discharge the duties
of his office.'
Divine Vision and Mission
Now we come to the blessed moment which changed
the course of Nanak's career and charged him with the authority to preach.
One morning, as was customary with him, he bathed in the waters of the Bein.
After bath he disappeared from view and was therefore considered drowned.
According to the biographers, he was taken in a vision to God's presence and
God said to him, `I am with thee. I have made thee happy and also those who
shall take thy name. Go and repeat Mine, and cause others to do likewise.
Abide uncontaminated by the world. Practise the repetition of My name,
charity, ablutions, worship, and meditation.' At that time, Guru Nanak
uttered the following words:
`There is but one God whose name is True, the
Creator, devoid of fear and enmity, immortal, unborn, self-existent, great,
The True One was in the beginning; the True One
was in the primal age.
The True One is, was, O Nanak, and the True One
also shall be.'
Immediately a voice was heard: `O Nanak, to him
upon whom My look of kindness resteth, be thou merciful, as I too shall be
merciful. My name is God, the primal Brahm, and thou art the divine Guru.'
This mystical experience of God, the primal Brahm, decided the mission of
Nanak as Guru, the divinely ordained teacher. The illumination is said to
have taken place in the year 1499 when he was in his 29th year.
`There is no Hindu, no Musalman'
After the lapse of three days and nights, Guru
Nanak came out of the river. He then went home and gave all that he had to
the poor. After observing silence for one day, he uttered the pregnant
announcement, `There is no Hindu and no Musalman'. The Sikhs interpret this
to mean generally that both Hindus and Mohammedans had forgotten the
precepts of their religions. When the Governor questioned him as to the
meaning of the announcement, the Guru uttered the following:
`To be a Musalman is difficult; if one be really
so, then one may be called a Musalman.
Let one first love the religion of saints, and put
aside pride and pelf as the file removeth rust.
Let him accept the religion of his pilots, and
dismiss anxiety regarding death or life;
Let him heartily obey the will of God, worship the
Creator, and efface himself -- When he is kind to all men, then Nanak, shall
he be indeed a Musalman .'
In reply to further questions, the Guru sang the
following songs suited to Mohammedans :
`Make kindness thy mosque, sincerity thy
prayer-carpet, what is just and lawful thy Quran,
Modesty thy circumcision, civility thy fasting, so
shalt thou be a Musalman.
Make right conduct thy Kaaba, truth thy spiritual
guide, good works thy creed and thy prayer,
The will of God thy rosary, and God will preserve
His words carried so much conviction that
everybody present there was amazed and saluted him. As there was no Hindu
present, his songs did not refer to Hinduism. However, his significant
utterance, `There is no Hindu, there is no Musalman', brought him to the
forefront and created a great stir in Sultanpur.
Beginning of Travels
The next part of Guru Nanak's life was spent in
travelling as a preacher. He finally resigned his post, abandoned worldly
life, and after a short stay with some Fakirs, set out in the garb of an
Udasi (monk) with Mardana as his companion. His travels abounded in
instructive incidents. We shall mention two of them which illustrate his
keen insight into the character of persons and his saving power. In
Saiyidpur of the Punjab, the Guru accepted the poor food prepared by Lalo, a
carpenter, in preference to the rich feast of Malik Bhago, steward of the
Pathan who owned Saiyidpur. When Malik Bhago, feeling insulted at Nanak's
action, charged him with dining with a low-caste carpenter, it is said that
Nanak sqeezed the coarse bread of Lalo in his right hand and milk came out
of it, whereas blood issued from the dainty bread when sqeezed by Nanak in
his left hand. The meaning was that Lalo's bread had been obtained by honest
labour and was pure, while Malik Bhago's bread had been obtained by bribery
and oppression and was therefore impure. Guru Nanak met his first notable
adventure when he came upon Shaikh Sajjan, a notorious robber. The robber
had built a temple and a mosque for his Hindu and Mohammedan guests
respectively, and provided every comfort for them. When darkness set in, he
dismissed his guests and then threw them into a well in which they perished.
In this way he robbed them of their belongings. But next morning he appeared
religious with a pilgrim's staff and rosary in the true spirit of an ancient
Pharisee. He tried the same trick with Nanak, but failed miserably. It was
his good fortune to have contacted the Guru, for he admitted in a mood of
open confession a long catalogue of his most heinous crimes and ultimately
turned over a new leaf. On the Guru's instruction he distributed all the
property of his victims to the poor and became a follower of the Guru. It is
said that the first Sikh temple was constructed on the spot where this
transformation had taken place. (to be continued)
Spiritual Training of the Mind (continued)
Control is necessary.
That is the training of all the religions of the world. The mind has to be
controlled. The yogis argue that the more mastery you have over yourself,
over the vagaries of your own mind, the better you are placed for enjoying
even this normal world - even if you don't have any spiritual hankering. Of
course, without a little spiritual hankering, it will be difficult to
control the mind. If all the time you pursue your desires, to bring the mind
to a quiet position is difficult. That is why the mastery of the mind is
necessary, for gaining enjoyable experiences from the world, and also the
later spiritual experience which is the ultimate goal of life. Many of our
problems arise because of a sense of boredom, monotony, pressure,
unfulfilled desires. These are some of the basic causes why the mind is
often thrown off its balance, even if there is no major external situation.
A major external situation can be there, but temporary in effect. You are
going along the road, somebody comes and insults you, and you become very
agitated, become angry, and probably fight. But that is a temporary
experience -- you recover soon. But if you are a very touchy man, it may
take a longer time to recover. There are many people, especially introverts,
who go on suffering within. Extroverts are in that way better. For a few
minutes they react and then regain the balance. Children are good in that
respect. They become upset very easily, but they are also pacified very
easily. They don't have the after effects of the painful experience that
they passed through. A change of attitude is necessary to get a grip over
the mind. If the attitude is changed, you get better results. You are going
down the road. A man comes and insults you -- says some bad things,
unnecessarily. You become angry. Then a friend of his comes up behind him,
and indicates that the man is not all right mentally or emotionally.
Immediately you cool down. That man may go on reviling you, but the moment
you know that this is not a normal man, your anger vanishes -- you feel pity
for him. That effect has happened by your change of attitude.
Suffering cannot be
avoided, painful experiences cannot be avoided -- even a Buddha can be
scolded. Even a Socrates can have enemies. Even if you are a sage, there may
be revilers. In an objective situation you cannot expect that there will be
no bad experiences in life. So the minimal thing a man has to learn is how
not to be too much affected by these experiences. In normal life, any
average man will be affected a little. But we are trying to go above the
average. We must have a technique available by which we can learn to recover
from these experiences as quickly as possible. Ideally speaking, we should
be able not to react at all, to possess inner calmness. Now many people say
that if you do this you will become inert. Somebody comes and scolds you, or
gives you a blow, and you don't do anything. The religious training is
there: if you are slapped on one cheek, you are to give the other cheek --
that attitude. Normal people feel that it is too much. True, it is too much.
But if you feel that you have to fight for something, fight for it. The
yogis have no objection. The Gita had no objection -- go and fight. If the
objective situation requires that you must be angry, that you must fight,
then go and fight. But why should you be internally angry? You are to
control an objective situation, which requires a little harshness, a little
firmness, but internally why should you get upset? You know it is the
external situation which demands this behaviour. You do it as a witness, as
an onlooker. Deal with the situation without getting emotionally involved.
That is the ideal state -- to react without getting emotionally upset. Of
course, the modern explanation is there, the physiological explanation: if
you get upset, your blood pressure will shoot up, your heart beat will
increase; then you will have to go back to your medicines, or to the modern
method of meditation -- quieting the nerves, creating the alpha waves and
all that. Very good, but the whole idea is, that if you have a grip over
yourself -- if you don't become internally agitated, then none of these
effects will come. The mind will remain calm, and at the same time you can
Swami Brahmananda, a
disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, used to say that even activities which require
much effort can be done with 25% of our energies. Most of us spend much of
our energy in fretting and fuming. To make decisions we take days and days.
When we work we have our worries, our anxieties. The actual effort that we
give for a purpose is very little. Thinking about pros and cons is all
right, but uselessly we waste away much of our energy.
So that is the idea.
A calm, quiet man, once he decides something, can quietly do it without
losing his mental poise and balance. And the more poise he has, the better
will be his work. A man who is not agitated, a man who is not thrown off his
balance easily, and keeps his mind clear, can do a thing more easily. At the
same time he is not mentally affected. Many people feel that unless they
have got some special zeal, or special love for their work, how can they
have energy to do the work? Our work will not be good if we are not
dedicated to our work with great zeal. Swami Vivekananda said that he also
used to think like that when he was young, that without great excitement and
zeal we cannot do things. But how can we utilize our zeal often when we
waste the major portion of our zeal in unnecessary things? A directed zeal
will produce a much better result. Then he said that as the days went by, he
learned this lesson: that the calmer a man is, the more turnout there will
be of his efforts. A determined, calm kind of work will come, because he is
not agitated by situations; more calmly, quietly, and doggedly he can do the
work. We are not talking here about detail work, but there also, lack of
planning and other factors can lead to a waste of time.
For this type of
mind, which can control the vagaries of the moods, which can keep one in a
very controlled, peaceful condition, some practice is necessary. This
explains why the idea of meditation is so popular. Most of the Indian
children, from early age, are given one training, called Gayatri japa. The
Gayatri mantra is given to them for recitation, along with certain things to
do. The mantra means: `May my intelligence be directed towards the Good."
Which man will object to that type of training? It is not a doctrinaire
method of training. It is the basic training for making the mind purer,
along with sitting quietly and calmly daily, and trying to think that
thought. Now if a boy learns from his early days how to sit quietly,
compared to a man who has never controlled himself, he will be much better
placed. A certain grip over himself will automatically come. And that is how
a character is formed, by daily practice. What is a character? If a man is
good today, and the next day he is bad, he is not a good man. If he is good
most of the time, he is a good man. Or if we say he is a very sweet man,
then he is sweet most of the time. If most of the time he has an outburst,
or even every now and then, we don't call him a sweet man. Swami Vivekananda
said that character is known by the continued expression of our behaviour.
Character is formed by repeated habits. An action is ethical when you opt
for the right course. Instinctive behaviour doesn't involve moral struggle.
All the spiritual teachers have stressed the idea that when a man has
progressed spiritually, these troubles fade away. The conscious moral
struggle at every turn is the preliminary stage. Then a stage comes when he
instinctively behaves in the right way. Somebody comes and asks him
something, and a truthful man instinctively replies truthfully. He is not
face to face with the problem of whether he ought to tell the truth or not
tell the truth. He instinctively does it. As they often say, that
instinctive goodness is there in people who live with nature. And that is
why it is said that people in the farmlands are simpler. So all the humane
qualities are more germane to the people in agricultural societies compared
with people in industrialized societies. Probably the industrialized society
is more artificial; man acquires or is exposed to bad influences more
Life will bring
varieties of experience -- good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant. We want to
avoid the unpleasant and the bad experiences. The good and the pleasant
experiences don't require any philosophy or training. You just enjoy them.
But a bad experience we don't want. If we don't want the bad experience, if
we can change the external situation, that is best, but it is not easy. The
best thing to do is to strengthen the mind itself. By this process external
situations cannot throw us off our balance. Training of the mind is
necessary. With what attitude do you take the painful experiences in life?
The devotees try to believe that God has given them this suffering. For
them, God does everything, good and bad. They say, `God has given me this
suffering to test me, to strengthen me." Or, they think, `Better days will
be coming later." The devotee tries to put his trust in God, and accept that
the experience was necessary for him.
For every bad
situation you later find some explanation, some good side. It ceases to be a
suffering in comparison with a greater suffering, probably. The spiritual
attitude is, to find a meaning for every suffering. The moment you have
found some explanation, some meaning, that suffering becomes less.
Take the example of a
person behaving wrongly. You feel uncomfortable, but you analyze his
situation. Probably he has got some trouble, physical trouble, or trouble
with his family. Immediately you become sympathetic, and know that the way
he is behaving is really not his nature, but because of external conditions.
You become more sympathetic. As a result, your suffering also lessens. These
are varieties of the mental technique in life situations. But the main
purpose of the whole training of the mind, is to take the person, stage by
stage, towards higher realization. For increasing the happiness in the
world, there are so many agencies. Religions need not be a particular agency
for that. Religion's special field is to show man the way towards higher
realization, which will give an enduring meaning to his life. Once you have
got control over your mind, you can then go into the deeper experiences. But
for bringing in that control, and for peace of mind, in which real
meditation is possible, practice this: controlling the vagaries of the moods
-- by developing certain attitudes, by developing certain techniques of
concentration and one-pointedness. And then, if you have a final
metaphysical conviction, the best results will be achieved, which will pave
the way for your highest realization.
A conviction about
the real nature of man, the attempt to find meaning in all experience, the
development of certain attitudes, control of the moods, and giving direction
to the moods are ways in which to face the problems of the mind. This way,
in the earlier stage, we acquire efficiency. A fund of energy is there, and
a desire must be there to do a certain thing, a strong will to pursue it and
that strong will ought to be a good will for the good of society -- along
with that, if the spiritual awareness of the divine nature of man is there,
he is a well-rounded, practical, efficient, spiritual man. That is the ideal
type of person often referred to by Swami Vivekananda.
Suffering and Spirituality
Vedanta tells us that
the world we live in is a world of duality; life and death, light and
darkness, pleasure and pain, good and evil constitute the very fabric of
life. But when we look at the world it seems an embodiment of evil.
The suffering is
unimaginable. Pestilence, famines, floods, earthquakes, cyclones, and other
natural calamities take away untold lives, and leave millions doomed to a
living death, especially in the developing countries. These, however, pale
into insignificance before modern wars. The terrible devastation of fields
and cities, the cruel murder or maiming of thousands of innocent men, women
and children, whose only fault is that they are poor and helpless, dragged
into war, the unwilling victims of war-lords! Is it possible to find a
sensible reason for the miseries and sufferings of these innocent people?
Neither Hinduism, nor Christianity nor Buddhism nor any other `ism' has been
able to stem the suffering that has deluged and is still deluging poor
humans, struggling to live their lives in a world into which they seem to
have been thrust willy-nilly. No wonder that millions in modern times are
losing faith in God or any Supreme Being ruling the world. If God cannot
allow us to live a happy life here, what guarantee is there that in heaven
life is going to be happier?
Suffering has always
evoked an outburst of protest from men since time immemorial. In a world
created and controlled by a just and merciful Creator, why so much of
suffering? Why should there be suffering and sorrow at all? Many religions
promise that after death good people will land in heaven and enjoy long-time
happiness. But why should a compassionate and omnipotent God create this
earth for humans and other beings with its fleeting joys and sorrows and its
Vedanta says that
man's suffering stems from three sources: adhyatmic or resulting from one's
inner nature; adhibhautic or resulting from causes traceable to the outside
and visible world; and adhidaivic or resulting from causes supramundane. The
adhyatmic suffering results from our identification of ourselves with our
physical bodies and minds. This is the root of all suffering.
Suffering is the lot
of every creature, especially the saints. Buddha gave suffering a
metaphysical status and made it the corner-stone of his philosophy. He
taught that all is suffering in the world to a discerning and sensitive
soul. He said :
`This, O monks, is
the sacred truth of suffering. Birth is suffering, old age is suffering,
death is suffering, to be united with the unloved or unloving is suffering,
to be separated from the loved one is suffering, not to obtain what one
desires is suffering; in short the fivefold clinging to the earthly is
Holy Mother says: `Do
you notice this human body? Today it is and tomorrow it is not. And the
world is full of misery and pain."
So also Swami
Vivekananda: `That we are all miserable, that this world is really a prison,
that even our so-called trailing beauty is but a prison-house, and that even
our intellects and minds are a prison-house have been known for ages upon
ages. There has not been a man, there has not been a human soul, who has not
felt it some time or other, however he may talk..."
A question that crops
up often, especially among devotees, is why should good people suffer and
evil doers thrive? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do devotees
and spiritual people suffer? Have they not surrendered themselves to Him and
are they not trying their best to lead good and unselfish lives? Look, for
instance, at the lives of Christ, Buddha, Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother,
Swami Vivekananda, St Francis, St Teresa, St John and a host of others. How
much suffering and persecution they had to undergo! Many good people do not
find any cause, at least, in this life that justifies this suffering.
Pain and suffering is
a great mystery. There is no rational answer to this question. Like it or
not suffering is a fact of life.
Yet man's mind does
not rest satisfied and longs to have some sort of an answer. Here are some
of the views:
The sceptic believes
that all life is accidental, there really is no answer, so do your best to
cope with it. A materialist says life is a splendid opportunity to test our
mettle. A stoic says good and evil are woven into the very fabric of life,
so enjoy it while it lasts and when sorrows befall bear them all with
gritted teeth -- it is a test of your manhood. A devotee claims that
everything happens by the will of God with a purpose, and it must surely be
a good one, and so cheerfully carry on with total faith in Him. A jnani
believes that he is Brahman, God Himself, and disdains this world as an
illusion, a mere appearance without substance.
We may choose any of
these explanations that reasonably satisfy our minds. Yet the pain, the
suffering remains. Every creature longs to avoid misery by all means and
strives to obtain unending happiness. Is there a way out of this duhkha or
suffering? Is it possible to transcend suffering and obtain eternal
happiness? If so what can we do about it? All religions, in fact, provide
solutions to these questions.
Here are some of the
solutions that can help us.
First, awareness and
acceptance of suffering. The first step in coping with evil, pain and
suffering is to be aware of it and accept it whole heartedly. Though
suffering is our common lot, yet surprisingly few of us are aware of its
nature. This world is a world of duality, there cannot be life without
death, good without evil.
There are some who
believe we are all progressing towards a better life and eventually all evil
will be eliminated and only good remain -- a veritable paradise on earth! It
is a noble albeit an irrational wish. The world will always be as it is, a
world of duality. According to Vedanta it is neither good nor bad. But
according to our Karma we experience pleasure or pain. Only when we are
aware of this dualistic nature of the world are we really in the position of
accepting it. So long as we are in the world, identified with body and mind,
so long we have to undergo both pain and pleasure. It is useless to seek
only one side of a coin.
not mean mere recognition of pain and suffering. It means accepting it and
actively seeking ways and means of coping with it cheerfully, and then
transcending it by taking to spiritual life. Again when we accept pain and
suffering with equanimity we begin to see another, brighter side to it. Pain
is not all bad. In fact, many embrace it willingly in order to attain a
higher purpose in life.
Often pain is a great
teacher instilling in us noble lessons of life. It sometimes acts as a
catalytic agent turning us to a higher life. If only we are open we can
discern a higher purpose behind it. When we look at history we find that
almost without exception people became noble or spiritual as the direct
result of intense pain and suffering. Experience of suffering also makes us
kind and sympathetic and prompts us to serve others. Pain is a great
benefactor. Hence Swami Vivekananda writes:
came - and Wealth and Power went Đ And made him kinship find with all the
human race In groans and tears, and though his friends would laugh, His lips
would speak in grateful accents Đ `O Blessed Misery!' (Angels Unawares)
Then there is
the law of Karma and self-effort. Many Eastern religions firmly believe in
the law of Karma. Buddha never talked about God but believed in the law of
Karma and its corollary rebirth. He said that the result of one's past Karma
inevitably follows one as a cart follows the foot-steps of oxen. One way of
coping with Karma, then, is to accept responsibility for one's happiness or
suffering. Though often the belief in Karma degenerates into fatalism, it
really gives hope and courage, for if my suffering is of my own making then
I can through my present actions build a heaven in future. Says Swami
none for your own faults, stand upon your own feet, and take the whole
responsibility upon yourselves. Say, `This misery that I am suffering is of
my own doing, and that very thing proves that it will have to be undone by
me alone.' That which I created, I can demolish; that which is created by
some one else I shall never be able to destroy. Therefore, stand up, be
bold, be strong."
For those who do not
have faith in God this philosophy of life is very suitable. The aspirant who
treads the path of knowledge cultivates tranquillity and equanimity in the
midst of trials and tribulations. The last verses of the second chapter of
the Bhagavad Gita enumerates the virtues of equanimity. The jnani considers
this world an illusion, the reality being Brahman. Hence this life is a mere
passing phase to be lived peacefully and undisturbed. We find in the life of
Swami Turiyananda, a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna this attitude fully
illustrated. So too in the life of Sri Ramana Maharshi and others.
We can be helped by
the way of devotion. A devotee believes firmly that all happens by the will
of God. He accepts (or ought to accept) joyfully both pleasure and pain as
the grace of God. If God is allowing him to suffer then it must be good.
Perhaps it is to purify him and make him fit to attain a higher state of
life. The devotee does not blame God. On the contrary it gives him joy to
suffer. Many Christian saints joyfully meditated on the Passion of Jesus and
voluntarily embraced His Cross in the form of self-affliction, torture and
martyrdom. We find all over the world people who practised super-human
We said earlier that
according to Vedanta suffering stems from three sources. Then there is a
fourth source from which only a devotee suffers. This suffering is not due
to past Karma. Paradoxical though it may seem, the source is God Himself.
When God is pleased with a devotee and wants to bestow His grace He sends a
special type of suffering to uplift the devotee. There is a verse where Lord
Vishnu says to Brahma, the creator: "O Brahma! Whomever I really wish to
bless, I first take away his wealth. For wealth makes a man proud and
arrogant, as a result of which he is led to insult the world and myself." (Bhagavatam
8.22.24) It is difficult to understand this play of God. One usually expects
God to reduce the suffering, especially of His devotees, and not to create
more! A true devotee surrenders himself fully to God. Like Job, whatever
happens to him is accepted as `prasada' i.e., a gift from God.
Once a disciple asked
Holy Mother: `If there is a God, why is there so much misery in this world?
Does He not see? Or hasn't He the power to remove these evils?"
replied: `The creation itself is full of grief. How can one understand joy
if there is no sorrow? People complain about their griefs and sorrows and
how they pray to God but find no relief from pain. But grief itself is a
gift from God. It is the symbol of His compassion. ... Tell me, who is there
in the world who has not had to bear sorrow? Vrinda once said to Krishna,
`Who said you are merciful? As Rama you filled Sita's life with sorrow; as
Krishna you fill Radha's life with sorrow. In Kamsa's prison your parents
weep for you night and day. Yet we call upon you, because he who takes your
Name has no fear of death."
A devotee has
unshakable faith that God has accepted his responsibility and He knows what
is good for him, and will lead him in the shortest possible route to His
Feet. Often the shorter route might be rough. But never mind, God will give
him the needed strength and courage. In the end the devotee finds himself
Lastly there is
the way of a knower of God for whom this world is nothing but God's joyous
sport. Realising full well that God only has become this world the sage
lives out his life fully participating in the Lila (the game). Sri
Ramakrishna used to call this the state of a Vijnani.
once met a wandering monk who appeared to be mad. Street urchins were
pelting him with stones. Chasing away the boys, the Swami while washing the
monk asked him why he did not drive the boys away. `Thus plays the Father',
replied the monk all the while laughing uproariously.
Blessed are the souls
upon whom God bestows the gift of misery. It is a sure sign of His grace.
A Visit to Russia's Northernmost
As one of a group of
pilgrims, I recently visited two monasteries in the far north of Russia.
The first of these
monasteries is located on some islands about four hours sea journey from Kem,
on the shores of the White Sea. These islands are called the Solevetski
archipelago. The Solevetski monastery is located on one of these islands.
During the winter months it is isolated amid the frozen waters of the
surrounding sea and is thus a perfect location for pursuing the monastic
ideal of withdrawal from the world.
The monastery was
founded in the first half of the 15th century by the monks St. Zosimas, St.
Sabbatius and St. Herman. In the course of the following century the
monastery became, under the abbot St. Phillip, one of the best-known
monasteries in the Muscovite kingdom.
With the church
reforms of Peter the Great in the seventeenth century the Solevetski
monastery found itself in opposition, but nevertheless the brotherhood were
able to live exemplary spiritual lives in the peaceful island surroundings.
By the beginning of
the 20th century the monastery possessed 6 hermitages, 3 monastic retreats,
19 churches and 30 chapels, schools and many other facilities. It received
and fed up to 20,000 pilgrims a year.
Then in 1920, after
the Russian revolution, the Soviet authorities closed the monastery and
organised a special prison camp there, to which priests in particular were
sent. The conditions were so harsh, the food so scarce, that to be sent
there was equivalent to a death sentence. Not content with starving the
prisoners to death, the prison guards devised refined tortures to hasten
their deaths. As the Patriarch has described it, `Many new martyrs and
witnesses to their faith, so many that the exact number is not yet known,
were confined here and put to death. The very ground in Solovetski is red
with blood and tears."
In August 2001 the
Patriarch once again consecrated the monastery cathedral, and monastic life
has now begun there again. Many volunteers are working to reconstruct the
buildings and refurbish the churches. A steady flow of pilgrims has once
again begun to make the four-hour voyage by ferry from the mainland to visit
this holy monastery.
After leaving the
Solevetski archipelago, we proceeded to Lake Ladoga to visit the second
monastery on Valaam islands. The Valaam archipelago is located in the midst
of Lake Ladoga in the Karelian Republic of the Russian Federation, to the
Northeast of St. Petersburg. Lake Ladoga is an immense stretch of water. The
archipelago is about thirty miles from the shore.
Tradition has it that
the monastery was founded in the twelfth century by St. Sergius and St
Herman. In subsequent centuries wars between Sweden and Russia brought
devastation to that part of Karelia and the monks were sometimes forced to
flee. In the 18th century monastic life revived, and the rebuilding of
Valaam monastery began in 1715. Its proximity to the Russian capital, St.
Petersburg, helped the monastery to develop, as it was in a position to gain
support from the court of the Tsar and from State authorities. Monastic life
has never been able to flourish without spiritual growth, and it was with
the appointment of Abbot Nazary in 1781 that a long period of inner building
and stabilisation began in Valaam. Abbot Nazary established in Valaam the
tradition of hesychastic prayer as well as the strict cenobitic style of
monastic life, which lays strong emphasis on community living.
officially a part of Finland when Karelia was joined to the rest of Finland
in 1812. During the nineteenth century monastic life flourished throughout
Russia. Valaam monastery was one of the communities that expanded most. It
became a great centre of pilgrimage. In 1840, for instance, it had more than
8,000 visitors, including 4,612 pilgrims and 3,862 beggars.
The war between
Finland and Russia, known as the Winter War, in 1940 led to the evacuation
of the monastery and the long hard journey began to Kannonkoski in central
Finland. As soon as possible a search was begun for a new location, and in
June 1940 the leaders of the monastery acquired land at HeinŠvesi and the
whole brotherhood was able to move to its new location in the autumn of
1940. At this new location a monastery was founded and called New Valaam (Uusi
Valamo in Finnish).
When Lake Ladoga came
into Finnish hands again during the second phase of the war in 1941-1944,
the brotherhood did not move back to the old Valaam monastery. Only a few
monks went there to look after the monastery buildings and make the
necessary repairs after the damage done in the war. During the war the
buildings had been bombed several times. Among the things that were removed
from the monastery was a miraculous icon. In 1992 a copy of this missing
icon was solemnly brought from St. Petersburg to Valaam for installation in
the monastery cathedral.
Today work is
continuing on the rebuilding and renovation of the damaged and neglected
monastery buildings. Monks can be seen going about their duties and there is
once again a flow of pilgrims visiting the holy shrines. An atmosphere of
peace and spirituality once more envelopes this island retreat.
To visit these
monasteries, our party of pilgrims flew first from London-Heathrow to
Helsinki in Finland. From there we had a very long drive by minibus to the
New Valaam monastery in HeinŠvesi. The monastery, which is now entirely
Finnish, supports itself by, among other things, running a Lay Academy where
iconography, theology and environmental studies are taught. After our stay
there, we proceeded by minibus to the Russian frontier, driving on to
Kalevala, famous for its association with the Finnish national epic. On the
next day we reached Kem on the White Sea coast. The journey from there to
Solovetski was by boat, fortunately on a very calm sea. We reached the
islands in the evening, to be greeted by a wonderful view of the fortress,
with its walls six yards thick and thirty feet high -- a formidable prison
for the unfortunate victims of Soviet rule. I could not help being reminded
of Solzhenitsyn's `Gulag Archipelago", which took its name from the
Solovetski archipelago. After our stay on the islands, we returned to Kem
and then proceeded by minibus down through Karelia, visiting churches and
monasteries on the way, until we eventually arrived in Sortavala, from where
we sent off by boat on Lake Ladoga for the Old Valaam monastery. The final
stage of the pilgrimage was to go on to St Petersburg and from there back to
Helsinki and home.
The life of the monks
in these northern monasteries is particularly hard. During the winter months
the temperature falls to minus 40 degrees Centigrade, the lakes and even the
sea are frozen -- the monasteries become almost inaccessible. No wonder
therefore that there is no piped water supply. How could normal plumbing
resist such temperatures, given that there is no central heating? Living
conditions are also of the simplest. I was a little taken aback, when, as a
guest in one monastery, I was shown to my sleeping-place -- a narrow plank
bed without a mattress.
The monks have very
simple food. Even as guests, we were given only a small piece of bread and a
cup of tea (without milk or sugar) for breakfast. The monks get no better,
you can be sure. Many of the monks live away from the main monastery
buildings, in what are called sketes or hermitages. The All Saints Skete on
Valaam Island, for instance, is well known for its strict regime. Women are
allowed to go there only once a year, for the feast of the patron saint.
Another skete is located on a separate island, forming part of the Valaam
archipelago. There the monks do not drink milk and do not eat fish, although
fish are plentiful in the surrounding lake. Women are not allowed on the
island. This skete is famous for being the hermitage where the Elder Ioann
was abbot, who later migrated to Finland to found the New Valaam monastery
The Patriarch of
Moscow and All Russia, along with the Russian Government, have acknowledged
the importance of these northern monasteries for the spiritual life of the
whole of Russia. In August 2001 the Patriarch for the third time visisted
the Solovetski monastery and carried out the re-consecration of the St
Philip Church. Another visitor to the Solovetski monastery was the President
of the Russian Federation, V.V. Putin. In a speech on 20 August 2001 he
spoke of the role adopted by Russia in assuming the title of `Holy Russia".
He said that in the very assumption of this title Russia voluntarily took
upon itself the role of custodian of true Christian values. The rebirth of
these formerly abandoned monasteries is a witness to Russia's continuing
commitment of the maintenance of those values.
The most encouraging
sign of this is the ever increasing number of young men, who feel drawn to
join these monasteries, where all that awaits them on a physical level is
hard work and harsh conditions. They are prepared to endure these for the
sake of their spiritual awakening and the re-awakening of Russian
spirituality after seventy barren years of Communist rule.
These monasteries are
located in beautiful surroundings. The primordial view of nature, the beauty
of the locations and the peace and quiet of the surroundings have always
attracted writers, artists and composers. Among those visiting Valaam in
times past were the painters Shishkin, Kuindzhi, Gine and Jogin; the Finnish
scientist and poet Elias Lennrott; the poets Tyuchev and Apuchtin; and the
writers Muravyev, Nemirovich-Danchenko, Leskov, Shmelev and Zaitsev. Besides
these intellectuals there have been a large number of ordinary pilgrims. As
a result of this, the monasteries have provided guesthouses to accommodate
visitors. It must also have created an enormous amount of extra work for
monks and volunteer workers.
In recent times the
flow of pilgrims has grown, so that now there are even cruises on Lake
Ladoga, visiting the various monasteries and hermitages. Although the
devotional, religious aspect is well provided for, this great influx of
visitors is beginning to become more like tourism. In this connection
museums have been established at the Solovetski and New Valaam monasteries.
Other facilities are libraries and, in the case of New Valaam, a `summer
shop", where souvenirs may be bought. It is a far cry from the days of the
Russian pilgrim, proceeding on foot and carrying a bag of rusks to provide
The monasteries are,
however, not just staging posts for pilgrims. They also provide work for the
local population, not only in the maintenance and running of the buildings
and services, but also in the provision of agricultural land. Local peasants
can work these monastery lands and sell the produce on a co-operative basis.
In this way the monasteries form part of the country's agricultural
industry. With the end of soviet rule, many collective farmers have gone
over to working these lands as they find this work more profitable than
seeking to own their own plots of agricultural land The main task of the
monasteries nevertheless remains that of providing spiritual support in the
gradual revival of Russian religious life.
The Limitations of Mental Models
Jon Monday is a devotee of the Ramakrishna Vedanta
The ability to form
mental models is perhaps a defining milestone in the development of human
consciousness, although it is not an exclusive human trait; it has also been
demonstrated in other higher primates as well. It's my conclusion that
mental models help form worldviews, and thereby govern what people believe
and how they should lead their lives. However, I also believe that mental
models are limited -- and the impact of those limitations, if not
recognized, can lead to narrow and erroneous worldviews.
But before embarking
further, let's define some terms:
A mental model is the
ability to picture situations in the mind and predict outcomes. I saw a
graphic demonstration of this in an experiment to show exactly when, in
normal human development, this ability arises. Young children under age 4
are shown a scale model of a room with furniture. They are shown a miniature
Coca cola can, and the researcher `hides" it in a miniature cupboard. The
child watches carefully, and seems to understand the game. The child is then
taken into the real room, and is asked to find the real can of Coca cola,
which has been hidden in the cupboard. The child looks everywhere, under
cushions, behind chairs, and eventually finds it in the cupboard. A
7-year-old, equipped with a mental model of the room, will look in the
cupboard first -- so will a mature chimpanzee. Mental models are the mind's
way of analogizing the world, but a word of caution here, it is said that an
analogy is like a leaky bucket: it can carry water, but only so far.
A worldview has been
defined as the overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the
world or a collection of beliefs about life and the universe held by an
individual or a group. Most people acquire their worldview through their
formative environment. A person's family or community will usually instill
it in them as a part of growing up. A few people will form their own
independent worldview through analyzing their personal experiences.
In a biography of
Neils Bohr, one of the founders of quantum physics, I was surprised to learn
that he had a great deal of difficulty accepting the implications of his own
discoveries, specifically the wave-particle dual nature of matter. He
struggled for nearly twenty years trying to find a satisfactory mental model
that would help him fully understand and accept it. He finally came to
acknowledge that it was just true and that there was a fundamental reason
why he could never find an appropriate mental model: reality on the
Newtonian physics level does not provide us with any experience of quantum
conceptual obstacle that Bohr had to overcome was that Newtonian physics
works so well in explaining how the observable universe operates. It seemed
unlikely to him that it would have to be abandoned at the quantum level.
But, higher truth is built upon lower truth. Aristotelian worldview was
replaced by Newtonian physics, which was then replaced by Quantum physics.
Aristotle and Newton weren't wrong, but they only carried truth to a certain
Our mental models can
only be formed by the experiences gathered on the plane of existence that
our minds and bodies inhabit. Consider a mathematical point: we have
difficulty thinking about a thing having no size, yet it exists. Or try to
think of the universe in total; it must be very large, but what is outside
of it? Our experiences in day-to-day life do not provide us with the proper
tools to form a competent mental model of certain things that are beyond
what we perceived from birth through our senses. Aldous Huxley put it this
way, `Man is an intelligence, not served by, but in servitude to his
organs". Shakespeare said it more succinctly in Henry IV, Part One, `Thought
is the slave of life."
scientists (those who believe only in the observable universe) and dogmatic
religious fundamentalists both have a common failing in that their mental
models work so well to explain and support their worldviews that they extend
the interpretations to extremes that are beyond reasonable limits. They
carry the leaky bucket long after the water has completely run out.
religious typically come to believe that since their faith is rewarded and
confirmed by their subjective experiences, their way must be the one true
path for all people. If they are literal fundamentalists, they will ignore
and even resent all evidence that seems to contradict their dogmatic
beliefs. Their worldview will often lead them to see science as the enemy of
religion. The purely materialist scientist will find such comfort in the
predictive power of the scientific method and its great discoveries that he
will believe that all questions about the universe and its origin can be
explained by his worldview.
But, if we only rely
on our normal senses, mental capacity, experiences, and beliefs, what can we
logically make of questions like, `Since the universe exists, who or what
created it?" To a mystic, the question does not arise because God is defined
as the Uncaused Cause, but on a Newtonian level, it's just the final
question in a string of causes and effects going back to the moment before
the Big Bang.
It is an
understandable failure of all humans that we cannot form a competent mental
model for God. Nothing we experience in normal consciousness provides
information about what mystics call the transcendental state. It is beyond
the material plane of existence, the senses, and the mind. We are told that
it is ineffable, and yet we hear from mystics of every age, from every
religion, the analogies they use to describe it. Here is but one example
from Hinduism (which names that part of God who dwells in the body Atman;
Christians call it the Soul; and the name used for God is Brahman):
Beyond the senses is
the mind, beyond the mind is the intellect.
Higher than the
intellect is Atman. Higher than Atman is Brahman.
Like the levels of
physics -- going from Aristotelian to Newton to Quantum -- the mystics
report their rise in consciousness from the material senses, to the human
mind, to the individual Soul, and finally to the ultimate source. And what
analogies do the mystics give us of the actual experience of the highest
level of reality? Here is one report, again from Hinduism:
As rivers flow into
the sea, and in so doing lose name and form, so even the wise man freed from
name and form, attains the Supreme Being, the Self-luminous, the Infinite.
He who knows Brahman becomes Brahman.
foundation for a proper mental model for God, some people may scoff at all
this as just unfounded speculation or self-deception. However, as richly
documented in Huxley's The Perennial Philosophy, the fact that by so many
different paths, a person can arrive at the same mystical state should at
least give some credence to the idea of a universal and absolute
transcendental experience. Plus, there is a unique advantage of mysticism
over theoretical quantum physics or cosmology (or dogmatic religion for that
matter) -- mystics do not have to settle for mere acceptance of beliefs or
theories. They insist that each of us can experience it for ourselves --
verify the truth of it through personal experience. The controlled
experiment is going on everyday, here and now, all over the world.
Religion and Life (continued)
Are Atman and
Brahman one and the same?
When you say that the
atmarama escaped from the cage of the body, you mean something about the
Reality. That refers to the Atman. Brahman, again, is ever-existent and
omnipresent. He or It cannot go anywhere. For He or It alone exists. Now, He
who pervades your true `I' is your Atman, your mind, and everything. That
which is saying `I', `I' is in truth the Atman.
They say that it
is the jivatma or the limited soul that says `I', `I'. Can we call that also
is not something different. It is all the same. When jivatma becomes pure,
it becomes paramatman. That paramatman is Brahman.
Maharaj, I have a
question. If the knowledge of Brahman is everyone's right, cannot we women
Have women come
flowing along with the tide-water? I have heard that the law has allowed the
right to property to women also. Brahma-jnana or the knowledge of Brahman is
everyone's right. This is your personal property from birth to birth.
Are Brahman and
Sakti one and the same?
By `Brahman' Vedanta
means the formless (nirakara) and without attributes (nirguna). `Sakti', on
the other hand, is that through which everything is controlled.
What is Brahman?
all-pervading. All-pervasiveness implies self-revealed. Brahman has no form.
It is the ultimate Reality. The universe has been superimposed (adhyasa) on
Brahman. To the knower of Brahman, all that he sees is Brahman itself. Who
is a brahmin? He who knows Brahman is a brahmin. However, he who walks along
the path of knowing Brahman is also a brahmin. Again, the son of a brahmin
is a brahmin.
Who controls human
Who else but the Lord
Himself? The fruits of actions (karma-phala) are inert, how can they control
us? Who gives the fruits of your actions when you die? It is the Lord
Himself. He is the Controller and Ruler.
innumerable objects of enjoyment all around us. Is this the reason for our
running after them?
Enjoyment does not
need objects. It is not that the mind is becoming restless because there is
enjoyment. Samskaras are there in the mind and they remind about pleasures.
A beggar, who does not have anything at all, also dreams of numerous
What is mahat?
Mahat is the gross
material (upadana) of creation. Akasa and prana are the subtle elements (tattvas).
But know that akasa too is Brahman, prana too is Brahman, and mahat too is
Maharaj, today is
Sri Sankara's birth anniversary (pancami). What shall we learn from his
The attainment of
brahmajnana, the knowledge of Brahman! God Himself is the jagadguru. Why
then is Sri Sankaracarya called jagadguru? This is because Sri Sankaracarya
was an incarnation of God.
Sankaracarya referred to as a crypto-Buddhist?
Sri Sankaracarya was
a monist and not a mayavadin -- a propounder of the theory of illusion.
Critics of Sankara refer to him as a mayavadin. And it is these people who
call him a crypto-Buddhist or pracchanna bauddha. The followers of Sankara
do not refer to him thus. Like the Buddhists, Sankara also believed in the
nirguna aspect of Reality. Sankara was the propounder of the reality of
Brahman, he was a brahma-vadin. Brahman is not air, not space, not gross,
not subtle, not long, not short, not shadow, not smell -- all these are the
ways of explaining Brahman.
We read in the
Brhadaranyaka Upanisad [3.8.8.]: `Brahman is neither gross nor minute,
neither short nor long, neither red colour nor oiliness, neither shadow nor
darkness, neither air nor ether, neither savour nor odour. It is unattached,
and without eyes, ears, voice or mind. It is non-luminous, without the vital
force or mouth. It is without inside or outside. It is not a measure. It
does not eat anything.'
This is the
explanation of Brahman. But this conforms with the Buddhist nihilism. The
Buddhist nirvana and Hindu brahma-svarupata are almost similar. There is no
duality anywhere in both. So critics call Sankara a crypto-Buddhist.
Sankara says that
duality melts in supreme Reality, while the Buddhist approach is that
everything gets eliminated (laya). Sankara, however, does not speak of the
elimination of everything; he only speaks of the elimination of duality.
That is, he speaks only of pure knowledge -- the knowledge of non-duality.
He says everything gets merged in That through which we have knowledge. The
Buddhists on the other hand say that all knowledge is annihilated.
Though Sankara was
the propounder of non-duality, why did he retain the ego of knowledge?
He did so in order to
teach us. Sankara says [cf. Carpata-panjarika-stotram]: `People visit
Ganga-Sagar, perform various rituals and good deeds like almsgiving. Such
things may give everything. But unless one has knowledge, one can never be
liberated.' Sankara also gives an illustration. Both sand and the sesame
seed are Brahman. But you do not get oil by pressing sand -- you will have
to press the sesame seed. When we are in the relative plane, we have
accepted this duality and difference. Please keep this in mind.
has spoken about Sankara's brain. What does he mean?
By `Sankara's brain'
is meant the philosopher's brain. He was the propounder of such a grand and
unique philosophy. He was the establisher of the theory of Brahman, the
adorer of non-duality. Sankara says that by depending on the body, there is
only misery. Hold on, therefore, to the Self.
not given any teaching for women. Were women low in his estimation?
How much Sankara
respected and revered his mother. His mother was a woman!
Maharaj, if I
consider myself to be the eternally pure, immortal, and ever-blissful Self (nitya-suddha-mukta-atma)
can I have the knowledge of Brahman?
Oh yes, you can! If
you can think of yourself as nitya-suddha-mukta-atma you can certainly
attain the knowledge of Brahman. Whatever you wish, you can get.
today is the sacred Aksaya Trtiya day. There are many trtiyas; but why is
this one aksaya?
This is because, they
say if you perform some meritorious act on this trtiya day, that is, the
third day of the month of Vaisakha, the fruit of that act will become
everlasting. The scriptures ordain that the fruit of good deeds done on this
day are all stored up.
What is svadharma?
svadharma or natural and customary duty is the garhasthya dharma, the duties
of the householder ordained by scriptures. For a monk, however, holding
firmly to the vow of renunciation is the duty or svadharma. That is, in
whatever station of life you may be, you should follow the rules of that
particular way of life strictly; this is the following of one's dharma.
What is dvaita or
philosophically Isvara and the universe as real is dualism.
Visistadvaitins (qualified dualists) devotees?
Of course! They are
most certainly devotees. And they are also jnani-bhaktas. That is, since
they have a philosophy (vada), they think and discuss; so they are also
What is Samkhya?
Sam, that is,
`perfectly'; khya, that is, `to know', to know the Reality or Truth
perfectly. According to the followers of Sankhya, the tattva or reality or
philosophy is called samkhya.
What are the
tattvas the twenty-four cosmic principles are meant. According to the
Sankhya philosophy, the materials of creation are meant. In the
Tattva-samasa [1-3], it is said Mahat, buddhi, ahamkara and the five
tanmatras -- these are the eight prakrtis. The five organs of action (karmendriyas),
the five sense organs (jnanendriyas), the five elements (mahabhutas), the
mind, and the eight prakrtis go to form the 24 cosmic principles or
catur-vimsati tattvas. Tattva means the fundamental elements of the
Maharaj, what is
To superimpose the
qualities or dharmas of one thing on another is called adhyasa. Or to see
something which is not there is called adhyasa. It is like seeing a piece of
rope and saying that there is a snake. But there is no snake there. Though
there is no snake, I am seeing the snake. This is adhyasa.
We hear so much
about superimposing a snake on the rope. But we confuse a rope for a snake
only because there is a snake. Is it not?
You see, there is no
snake at all where you confuse rope for snake. Even though you see a rope as
a snake, there is no snake there -- let there be a thousand snakes
elsewhere. The universe has no existence though we see it as the universe.
If what we are
seeing is not the universe, what is it then?
Brahman! There is a
rope, and you are superimposing a snake upon it. Similarly you are
superimposing the universe on Brahman.
What is susupti?
When the mind stops
functioning naturally, it is called the state of susupti. They say the mind
is without function in that state.
Maharaj, what is
Veda is the ocean of
What do the Vedas
The Vedas primarily
teach you about your true nature. You can see a conglomeration of different
kinds of thoughts in the Vedas. But the uniqueness of Vedic thought is this:
it tells us that the Reality is one and It is manifesting as the universe
and jivas. So Brahman resides within every jiva or individual soul as that
fundamental Reality. This is the speciality of the Vedas. The Vedas also
contain numerous rituals and sacrifices; these are useful to sadhakas at
different stages of their evolution. In fact, you will find everything --
dharma, artha, kama and moksa ideals -- in the Vedas. Whatever suits your
temperament, that you can accept and follow.
In the Vedas there is
mention of many gods and goddesses. Again, it is said there: `Ekam sat,
vipra bahudha vadanti, Truth is one, sages call it by different names.' In
the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad there is a remarkable statement. How many gods
are there? `Thirty-three thousand three hundred and thirty-three.' Again,
how many gods are there? Three thousand three hundred and thirty-three.' In
this way, it comes to one alone.
Maharaj, is the
Gita also a Veda?
No, it is not. God
incarnated and broadcast the eternal Vedic truths through the Gita. These
truths are called smrti and not Veda.
Is the idea of
smarana, manana, and nididhyasana found in the Vedas?
Oh yes, it is! The
Self is `to be heard about, thought about, and meditated upon`. You must
hear about the Atman, think and cogitate about it, and then contemplate on
In the Gita,
Bhagavan Sri Krishna says that he has created everything through his maya.
Is such an idea there in the Vedas too?
Yes, it is. `Indra
appears to have numerous forms owing to maya'[Rg Veda, 6.47.18]. In the
Vedas, it is said: `I am Manu, I am Surya,' and so on. Much of the Vedas is
lost. We must check to see if any statement is against the Vedas.
Sri Krishna says
that he makes every soul perform action. If so, why is each individual
different from the other?
He may be making each
one of us act in a different way. It is all his sport. God is like a little
child; as Sri Ramakrishna says, he does not give to one even though the
latter begs, but gives to one who does not want it. He is beyond all rules;
he is not bound by any condition. (to be continued)