Saturday, April 29, 2017

Ailing Hinduism - Inversion of Values

 Value is the core of anything that exists. Values are definitely bound by time and space. Things having value at some point in time lose its sheen at another. Some retain value for a short period of time while others hold it for a long time. Apart from these dynamic one, there are eternal values which are standing on par with time. In Sanatana Dharma, many attempts have been made by the Rishis, Vedas, Mahatmas to describe this Paramatma, Parabrahman to us using words like Satyam (Truth), Jnanam (Knowledge), Anantam (Infinite). Many of these esoteric and subtle traits have been brought down to the practical plane as values.

                        All religions, ideologies, -isms have some values at their core. They also have lost many of their core values. Christianity which touts showing the other cheek when insulted never followed it, be it the time when Constantine used it as a political machinery or the Crusades or the active missionary, which is eager to harvest your soul with every deception in the book. Today, Islam, which wants to proclaim itself as the religion of peace, is the dominant vehicle used to kill others, has a dangerous hero worship culture of making martyrs out of suicide bombers of innocent people. Islamists want to claim that their culture treats women with respect, yet no islamist is willing to challenge the use of religion for justifying untold cruelty to Islamic women, be it genital mutilation, triple talaq, nikah halala, nikah muta (which is nothing but prostitution authorized by religion). Despite this, these religions are only fear based (fear of going to hell or violating what was told apparently to that historical one person – prophet). Even the Ten Commandments at the core of Abrahamic religions are not followed by and large.

            Unlike Ten Commandments or Prophet dictates which never give a reasoning for Why to follow a value, Sanatana Dharma makes it easier by reflecting the Paramatmic traits as values to be followed by the human society. For instance, being truthful is not a dictate or a commandment or a cutesy thing, but a value that is practical in the vyavaharic plane, yet its constant practice refines one’s self to mirror the Cosmic one.

            Sanatana Dharma has emphasized many core values - layered and interwoven. This rich tapestry of values is a framework to take a man enmeshed in the vasanas, a creature of habit, to a higher plane, where he is above this bondage. Today, we find most do not understand the idea behind most values, typically followed as a core tenet of Sanatana Dharma. Many values held their place in the society through rituals, stories of itihasas and puranas, family traditions. Today an even more horrible scenario is unfolding before us. The core values treasured by our civilization for centuries and millennia are not only abandoned, but the exact opposite is gaining traction and spotlight. We will refer this phenomenon as Inversion of Values.

            The article aims to merely spotlight this trend by looking at few examples and to trigger a discussion. Let us commence by reflecting on shaucha (Cleanliness). We saw in Hinduism – an inner gaze, how Bhagavatam refers to the four central values of human civilization as Tapah-Shaucha-Daya-Satyam (austerity-cleanliness-compassion-truth) to an allegorical cow with four legs. We also learnt that each Yuga it loses one leg and in Kali, the lowest state it continues to stand on Satyam.  This does not imply that the value will be lost in entirety, but will lose its primacy in the society. As evident, Shaucha was (and is) a core value proposition, begins with the body and eventually antahkarana shuddhi (mind and intellect) that lead to atma shuddhi.

            One of the exciting features of the Saraswati Valley Civilization, also known as the Indus valley or Harappan Civilization, is the presence of modern civic amenities to all its citizens, spread over a million square miles and spanned over 2500 years. The denizens enjoyed access to indoor wells, extensive community water harvesting and sharing options, in-house toilets connected to an extensive city wide sewer network which disposed the sewage far outside the dwelling limits. They also appear to have enjoyed public garbage disposal network. From cleanliness as a central emphasis on every aspect of the society, we are ironically the world’s leading nation in open defecation. A mere photo from any Indian city is sufficient to prove that we are the antithesis of our ancestor’s values. Though within each house, cleanliness still remains, the lack of respect for common areas of society is appalling at best.

            There was immense respect for Water. There were strong edicts and cultural practices instructing the masses with DOs and DONTs. Today most Indian urban areas witness the repurposing of water bodies as dwelling areas. Even a river cannot have its free flow. To make it worse sewage and pollutants get dumped into most water bodies degrading their quality even further. The misery cannot be more glaring than the case of the Ganga – a river that has been central to the Indian civilization after the Vedic period. The holiest of rivers is the most abused and filled with the most ironical treatment when one sees the same river witnessing millions of devotees not just for Kumbh Melas in Haridwar and Prayag or even daily at Rishikesh or Kashi.

            One gains most Punya by digging wells, planting trees as these nishkamya karmas are very powerful cleansing tools that help large masses over time. Many Kings and wealthy people took pride in building tanks, dams, lakes, wells. Today the callous attitude with which people abuse these resources is horrendous. We are raising a generation where kids do not know even where their food comes from. A nation that venerated its animals, not just cows, today is battling amongst its own dominant community as to why not exploit it as a resource. Jokers of the left leaning masses, media and the Breaking India forces like Arundati Roy, John Dayal make it political and communal at the drop of the hat.  

            The inversion of values is very evident in case of snakes. Nagas have been worshipped throughout the millennia. It is very possible the reference was allegorical, yet it is nothing short of shocking to see how we mercilessly kill any snake in sight without any provocation. Still we have the shamelessness to go and pray to Shiva, Vishnu, Amman (form of Parvati in South India) all adorned with snake. The compassion and ability to see the larger picture of all life forms as a representative of Brahman is almost lost. Tokenisms like merely following western Environmentalism or Green Peace or having Blue Cross shelters for animals will not suffice.  The core attitude towards all living beings must be restored.

            The irony is most evident when we see women. From a society where no grihastha can even qualify to perform rituals without the presence of his wife (even Rama had to make a golden Sita as a substitute when he conducted Asvamedha and other yagnas) and where we had great women rishis like Gargi and Maitreyi of the yore to great women poet saints like Avvaiyar or Karaikal Ammaiyar, we have fallen to a society where there is such great abuse of women. The girl struggles right before her birth with gender bias. Sanatana Dharma is buried deep when we ill-treat women at every step of the way. This cannot be solved by a western style feminism, which has very ulterior motives and displays lack of holistic understanding.

            The four purusharthas – Dharma-Artha-Kama-Moksha are at the core of Sanatana Dharma like no other value. A simplistic understanding tells that a human has to balance the societal (relationship) – resources (monetary) – psychological (emotional) – rise above the influence of all the above pressures in life. This comprehensive model helped our ancestors to not only evolve in all aspects of life, but also in a balanced way. It was only due to the emphasis on Dharma and Moksha, we were the wealthiest nation in the history of mankind during most pre-British era. Today we have imbibed the western model of materialism which centers on money and desires – Artha and Kama; both are anchored around “I-Me-Myself”. We see the calamities how a society that never knew divorce a hundred years ago is filled with one.

            This also has accentuated the corruption in the society as wealth is deemed supreme and gaining desires in any mechanism can be justified. Along with the loss of emphasis, we also see how the varnashrama dharma has collapsed. Today we do not have a kshatriya class to defend dharma. The vestigial brahmana class is struggling and barely connected with the riches of the past knowledge. The forces eager to see the destruction of Sanatana Dharma values from outside apart from the intellectual retards within complement each other.  The West, even China has introduced Yoga in its schools and society, yet in the land that gave birth to it, the ruling junkies have made it a communal issue.

Everytime, anything remotely considered Hindu is aggressively attacked by the Hinduphobic forces be it the Western lens providers like Sheldon Pollock, Wendy Doniger or sepoys like Arundati Roy, Romila Thapar or openly left leaning media like The Hindu or NDTV. These characters define the nation as dominant radical and communal Hindus and the poor minorities, though it has been evident that the society has been deliberately fractured along these lines. These Breaking India (an idea identified first by Rajiv Malhotra) forces first inoculate such worthless refuse through academics. The media, instead of challenging it, aid in fanning the flames of such blatant lies. This is due to the fact most Indian publications are controlled by left and communist leaning forces, which dub any neutral one as right wing to intimidate them. The political class in India has specialized in exploiting the fissures for retaining their vote banks. To leverage it completely they deliberately foment dissent and mistrust between the different groups, thereby replacing the core values that made this civilization great for millennia.

Family and society were at the core of Indian prosperity and values. Today the core idea of family and riches through mutual cooperation within the society is seriously threatened by the western idea of individualism. The western model which is not only defunct, but also dangerous and not organic to our subcontinent is being glorified through media, school, movies and eventually global integration. From an idea where the King took pride in being a representative of the Vishnu, so held himself to the highest idealistic standards, we have come down to the worst corrupted politicians. Following the dictum, yatha raja thatha praja, the common masses try to excel these corrupt politicians in their badness. 

Let me assure the readers that this article is not a rant about the society. We are merely attempting to trace the philosophical bedrock behind the deteriorating Indian society. I merely want to highlight the fact devoid of the values and ideals that characterized this great civilization; the inversion of values is default. Darkness is not some existing entity, it is merely absence of light; the same way coldness does not exist, except that it is a mere absence of heat. Devoid of the core values of Sanatana Dharma, the inversion of values is evident.

So what is the remedy? 
  • Reviving the values is the only response. Reintroduce these values in schools, reinforce it at home. Parents must work on themselves and raise the bar for their kids. Every individual has the responsibility to stretch and grow in this aspect. Hiding their character flaws by claiming I am no Gandhi is the most ridiculous animalist mindset we seem to have bought into. Just because we speak TRUTH and be COMPASSIONATE, we do not become a swamiji, instead we start becoming HUMANS. To shed the animalistic mindset one MUST embrace these idealistic human values.
  •  Apart from this, we have the best HOW TO and STEP by STEP MANUAL for DUMMIES on how to live a good human life in the BHAGAVAD GITA. Krishna labors out of kindness to outline the various aspects that elevates every human to the level of Supreme Consciousness. We saw in detail in the three part series – Whom Does God Love – part 1, part 2 and the concluding part. Of course Krishna has given lots more in other chapters. 
  • Another change we can make is to read our Itihasas – Ramayana and Mahabharata not through stories alone but also including the conversations, discourses discussed in the text. Yaksha Prashna is a good example, as also the conversation between Rama and Sugriva on why he must accept the surrender of Vibhishana. It will also help immensely to avoid seeing these through the TV Soap Operas model as they distort them tremendously to get TRP ratings. Involve these ideas with your kids, friends. 
  • Periodically not only read the scriptures and ponder about them. Listen to good pravachans, not the New Age Gurus and Swamis that are popping up everywhere telling that they discovered some idea. Stay away from the ones who do not give the Vedas, itihasas, puranas as Shastra Pramana. Such egotistical gurus can do more damage to one’s spiritual progress than it appears.
  • Let us all make Bhagavad Gita as our guide for better living. Anyone who has cracked it open and with a decent commentary, be it from Swami Chinmayananda, Swami Sivananda or Swami Tapasyananda, any that is not cultish, will realize that Bhagavad Gita is perhaps the most practical, structured manual that can cater to sadhaks of all statures. Only decision is to read and follow it.
May we all strive to set a good example to others by focusing on our own values. Let us deliberate on the loss of values and the inversion as a starting point to fix the ailments plaguing Hinduism. The real name of these ideas is called Sanatana Dharma, which means eternal. Only by personally upholding these values, by leading by example, these values will get passed on. Every day, every single effort counts.

Om Tat Sat

Friday, April 14, 2017

Sudama - a paragon of friendship

 Many great characters that used to be wonderful role models for the society have been reduced to caricatures. Narada perhaps has been the worst hit. Shortly behind on that list will be Sudama. In Friendship - Does it matter with whom, we studied that Sudama as an exemplar friend to Krishna, only to be excelled in magnitude by Bhagwan Sri Krishna.
We will dive into this wonderful story in Bhagavatam, Skandha X, chapters 80 and 81 to unearth one of the most heartwarming and inspiring examples for all of us to emulate. The article aims to counter the cartoonish approach to our puranic stories, which are not only hinduphobic, but also get amplified due to the modern media coupled with the masses being reluctant to crack open the scriptures or even listen to authentic traditional scholars' upanyasams or pravachans.
Sudama, a.k.a Kuchela, a.k.a Sridama, a highly evolved mahatma well versed in Vedas, shining with a strong renunciation for sense objects and mastery over it. His original name was Sridama, but as penury was a badge of honor for brahmanas practicing great austerity, he wore only dirty rags, hence acquired the name Kuchela. His wife, Kshutkshama, was an ideal match for his piety who looked famished for the want of food. They lived on limited alms or whatever food came their way. There is no reference to the common narrative of Sudama having numerous children usually numbering over two dozen. One must make a big difference between the way brahmanas lived on dhana and yachana and the modern evil of begging as a social menace. Unchavritti is a highly purifying way of life where one’s ego gets sent to the cleaners and made to realize the true nature of atman. We have millennia of this way of living which has been reduced to an exact opposite in the twentieth century.
            To appreciate the vastness of the character of Sudama and his wife, let us peruse the verses directly from Vyasa.
kR A iShNasyAsItsakhA kashchidbrAhmaNo brahmavittamaH
virakta indriyArtheShu prashAntAtmA jitendriyaH
            BrahmaVittaamah - One who is versed in Vedas not from a scholarly perspective, but one who has realized the subtle truth.
            Virakta Indriyartheshu – One who has completely renounced the influence from sense objects
            Prashantatma – Peaceful
            Jitendriyah – One who has mastery over senses
In other words, all the qualities of Whom Does God Love series(Whom Does God Love – Part 1, Whom Does God Love – Part 2, Whom Does God Love – Final part) are summarized in terse verses and personified as Sudama. Sudama’s wife is described as:
yadR A ichChayopapannena vartamAno gR A ihAshramI
tasya bhAryA kuchailasya kShutkShAmA cha tathAvidhA
pativratA patiM prAha mlAyatA vadanena sA
daridraM sldamAnA vai vepamAnAbhigamya cha
            Let us note one adjective used to refer her – daridra. She is characterized as pativrata, one who was akin to Sudama in all qualities be it looks or character. Then why is Vyasa referring only her as Daridra. Normally translated as poor. If both were living under the same thatched hut, living on alms, why is she alone called as Daridra. One must understand that Daridra refers to the mindset of lack. Sudama raises above the senses and is not bothered by the BMI or OET. His wife on the other hand, despite all her stellar attributes seems incapable of rising above the world of objects. She perceives a clear lack in her life which also affects her mind, hence Vyasa seems to have chosen this adjective to instruct us on how contentment is the key to our inner evolution.
Under extreme pressure of poverty, Sudama's wife entreated Sudama to approach Sri Krishna. Being the Lord of Dwaraka and as one famed to grant wealth to sincere seekers, and whom her husband repeatedly kept claiming as a very close friend, she saw Krishna as the only possibility to get out of deep poverty. As noted in the character analysis above, though both were under the same circumstances, Sudama's mind was immersed in paramathma, whilst being a devoted wife,Sudama's wife nourished a want. This want makes Vyasa tag an adjective Daridra, while introducing her. The literal meaning is poverty, but Vyasa chose this word to explain that small lack perceived in her mind.
She repeatedly pleads her husband to approach Krishna, the sole refuge. While poverty elimination was on the minds of his wife, Sudama was enamored by the fact he could meet his long lost friend Krishna. Sudama asks his wife to provide some offering to Krishna. Never meet a Guru or Bhagwan or any athithi without a gift. Though it appears a mere tradition, there is lot of significance. When visiting a Guru, offer what (s)he likes, when offering others, give what you can afford, but for Bhagwan give anything with pure love. Kshutkshama went to four houses to beg one handful of flattened rice (poha), made a bundle with a piece of cloth and handed it to Sudama for offering. Note: there were strict rules even if one lives on unchavritti. This is not the same as modern begging, which is a social menace.
Sudama went wondering how he might be able to meet Krishna as he walked to Dwaraka. He goes past the different military barricades and approaches Krishna's main palace. As he went closer, Krishna, who was on his cot with his consort, got up and ran to greet Sudama and embraced him tightly. Seeing Sudama brought tears of joy and memories in his bosom. He made Sudama sit on his own cot and washed his feet. He honored him with gifts, applied him fragrant unguents, did dhoopa-deepa aradhana, offered him betel leaves and offered him a cow. Offering a brahmana a cow is regarded very highly for all varnas. Athiti satkara and also veneration of Brahmana (not due to birth, but by their karma) has been the hallmark of Sanatana Dharma. Krishna again sets a very high example for us to emulate.
Krishna repeatedly welcomed him, while Rukmini Devi, an incarnate of Sri Devi, herself fanned the tired, and famished, unclean Sudama in rags. Onlookers in the palace were stunned to see Krishna himself performing these acts on a poor Brahmana and wondered how much punya he must have done to be treated so by Krishna. A real friendship is not dependant on status of the ones who become friends, nor is it their mutual participation in each other’s welfare. When both are bonded by a common cause which is noble, only then the value of friendship gets enhanced. That is why Karna and Duryodhana, despite being great friends, do not become an example of ideal friendship. Karna, despite knowing all the flaws of Duryodhana, feels himself indebted to his love, rather than aid in showing the right direction. Contrast this with Krishna and Arjuna or Krishna and Sudama.
Krishna and Sudama engaged in their memories of Gurukula. Krishna spoke very highly of the austere nature of Sudama and how much above worldly desires his mind was. Krishna excitedly recalled many events of the past. During one incident, Krishna and Sudama were tasked to procure firewood by Sandipini(Guru)'s wife. In the dense forest, they got lost and were overtaken by fierce rains. Unable to find directions and in the darkness of night, they were stranded. One must remember this happened when Krishna was perhaps 11 to 13 years of age. The next day Sandipini himself came in search of the children and praised their steadfastness to service (Guru Seva). Krishna recalled the blessings of Sandipini that it is Guru's grace that makes one attain the fulfillment of one's aspirations in life and find peace within. Sudama's heart was brimming with love for Krishna. He considered it as a good fortune to have stayed with him in the Guru's abode. Sudama said, for Krishna, the one whose body is constituted of the Vedas, staying at Guru's place for education was to merely conform with human ways. This clearly shows how advanced Sudama was even during his childhood.
Sudama was so spiritually evolved that not a second thought existed in his mind about Krishna's true nature. Ever immersed in those thoughts, Krishna's proximity merely swelled the intensity to tsunami proportions.
Sri Hari, who is aware of the minds of all beings, smilingly inquired Sridama, if he had brought anything to offer him. He reminded Sudama that any offering be it a leaf or flower or fruit or water, given in pure devotion, He cherishes. Sudama became even more shy and hesitant in offering the flattened rice. Krishna who is behind every thought of everyone pondered, "Sudama has never worshipped ME for wealth and even this trip is at the instance of his wife. I will grant him wealth beyond his wildest dreams".  
Let us recall Bhagavad Gita sloka, Chapter 9, Verse 26.
| | पत्रम्́ पुष्पम्́ फलम्́ तॊयम्́ | यॊ मॆ भक्त्या प्रयच्छति |
तद् अहम्́ भक्त्य्-उपह्ड़्तम् | अश्नामि प्रयतात्मनः | |
patraḿ puṣpaḿ phalaḿ toyaḿ yo me bhaktyā prayacchati
tad ahaḿ bhakty-upahṛtam aśnāmi prayatātmanaḥ
Whoever offers Me with devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit, water, that I accept, offered by the pure-minded with devotion.

Krishna reached for the small bag which Sudama was hiding. Krishna is perhaps the greatest actor. Acting surprised at the contents of the rag bundle, he expressed pleasant surprise at the thoughtfulness of bringing his favorite food. He took one fistful followed by another. As he was about to take another Rukmini, who was Sri Devi herself, held HIS hand and reminded that due to Krishna's love he has given everything in the universe and beyond already. One must note Sudama’s dilemma – to offer Krishna, whom he has already realized as Paramatma, Supreme Being, paltry handful of flattened rice would be insulting. He also felt it will be like a bribe or request. He had no requests or wishes in his mind. We saw the same traits exhibited when Dhruva and Prahlada were confronting the Divinity. Unless one’s mind gets purified and rises above wants and desires, it is impossible to approach Divinity. We find Arjuna filled with questions, Duryodhana wanting to even imprison Krishna. Yet the highest devotee when facing Hari merely enjoys and relishes HIS presence. This truth is very evident in all our daily lives. Most of us reach out to the Universe with wishes. Depending on the intensity and the level of our effort in achieving it, we get the objects of desire, either now or later. But the most highly evolved ones do not chase the objects, rise above its influence. At the very highest levels, we find superlative examples like Sudama, Dhruva and Prahlada.
Sudama enjoyed Krishna's Supreme hospitality as if it were heaven and spent the night. As he departed, Krishna accompanied him to some distance. On his way back, he wondered that he is returning home with paltry wealth and hoped what he will tell his wife. On the other hand he experienced extreme bliss at the experiences of meeting Krishna.He repeatedly felt blessed that Supreme Krishna himself hugged him and served him along with Rukmini. To Sudama's mind more than all the wealth, the way Krishna treated him fondly was more than heaven, be it washing his feet or applying sandal paste or his wife fanning him with chowry, was Supreme. One cannot fathom the purity of Sudama’s mind. Despite being sent on a single purpose of seeking wealth, Krishna giving him demonstration of his charitable nature and also eagerness to give anything he might have sought, Sudama does not even get a single thought of seeking a favor. His mind is extremely grateful and awe struck at the way Krishna and Rukmini set the standards of hospitality. Approaching Divinity with a want may fulfill the wish, but leaves a bigger hole of the Vasana.
Reminiscing all the wondrous experiences, he reached home to find huge towers and mansions. A dazed Sudama was greeted by his wife who was dazzling like a celestial and the house looked akin to Indra's abode. Sudama began to think how this wealth has come to him when he did not deserve it. It was only due to the fortunate meeting with Krishna, who cherishes giving away abundance like the sudden cloudburst. Sudama repeatedly thought about the blessings of meeting Krishna.
After incessant reflection, Sudama felt more intense devotion to Krishna and desired to renounce the world immediately. Still to please his wife, he lived in this world, partaking only objects sanctioned by scriptures and never entangled even mentally with any sense objects. He spent his time in continuous meditation till he attained Vaikunta, Mahavishnu's abode. 
Krishna, who cannot be conquered by others is easily conquered by pure devotion of the devotees. One who listens and narrates this story of Kuchela Brahmana and understands the nature of Krishna's love and strong affinity for mahatmas will attain the love of Krishna and get liberation from Karma bandhana.
Sudama’s episode is deeper than what meets the eye. Most of the folks who hear or narrate the story limit it to the story aspect. But let us aspire to only read in between the lines.

  • Never meet anyone, especially Bhagwan, without something to offer.
  • Never approach Divinity with a begging bowl. Our Karmaphala comes to us, what comes from Krishna is Grace. If we settle for our cheap trinkets, the best imagined ones from our mind fertile with vasanas, they merely block the uplifting Grace to rise above these vasanas. Bad bargain.
  • Spend time with scriptures, live the life by it and this makes not only meeting divinity a possibility but propels us to live above the influence of OET (Objects, Emotion, Thoughts)
  • Krishna never even claims what he gave to Kuchela, nor did Sudama seek any. The highest blessings are the ones that come unsought.
  • There is no change in Sudama before and after Krishna's meet / blessing, except perhaps his incessant meditative intensity on Paramatma. Sudama never went with a want, nor did he get trapped in the sense pleasures offered by Krishna, after his visit.
  • In a sense,  the only feast for Sudama was for his senses, as his mind was always immersed in Hari smarana before and after his visit.

May our minds follow this wondrous example of Sudama. Though we may not be able to rise immediately to such exalted heights, we can at least imitate his attitude in our daily lives, be it in regularly reading scriptures, reducing a vasana driven approach, make some time to connect with the inner Divinity, never approach a friend with a want, behave like Krishna in treating our friends by sharing generously without a request or even their knowledge. May we learn to train our mind to humble its ego a bit by offering that which was only HIS by shedding our mamakara, I-ness. Krishnarpanamastu.

Om Tat Sat
  • Srimad Bhagavata - Swami Tapasyananda translation