Om Tat Sat
Nobody wants to be known as a sinner, but all the same we keep transgressing the bounds of morality and disobey the divine law. We wish to enjoy the fruits of virtue without being morally good and without doing anything meritorious.
Arjuna says to Bhagavan Krsna: "No man wants to commit sin. Even so, Krsna, he does evil again and again. What is it that drives him so? ". The lord replies "It is desire. Yes, it is desire, Arjuna ".
We try to gain the object of our desire with no thought of right or wrong (Dharma or Adharma). Is fire put out by ghee poured into it? . No, it rises higher and higher. Likewise, when we gratify one desire, another, much worse, crops up. Are we to take it, then, that it would be better if our desires were not satisfied? - No. Unfulfilled desire causes anger, so too failure to obtain the object we hanker after. Like a rubber ball thrown against the wall such an unsatisfied desire comes back to us in the form of anger and goads us into committing sin. Krsna speaks of such anger as being next only to desire (as an evil).
Only by banishing desire from our hearts may we remain free from sin. How is it done? We cannot but be performing our works. Even when we are physically inactive, our mind remains active. All our mental and bodily activity revolves around our desires. And these desires thrust us deeper and deeper into sin. Is it, then, possible to remain without doing any work? Human nature being what it is, the answer is "No". "-- It is difficult to quell one's thinking nor is it easy to remain without doing anything-- ", says Tayumanavasvamigal. We may stop doing work with the body, but how do we keep the mind quiet? The mind is never still. Apart from being until itself, it incites the body to action.
We are unable either to efface our desires or to cease from all action. Does it then mean that liberation is beyond us? Is there no way out of the problem? Yes, there is. It is not necessary that we should altogether stop our actions in our present immature predicament. But instead of working for our selfish ends, we ought to be engaged in such work as would bring benefits to the world as well as to our inward life. The more we are involved in such work the less we will be drawn by desire. This will to some extent keep us away from sin and at the same time enable us to do more meritorious work. We must learn the habit of doing work without any selfish motives. Work done without any desire for the fruit thereof is Punya or virtuous action.
We sin in four different ways. With our body we do evil; with our tongue we speak untruth; with our mind we think evil; and with our money we do so much that is wicked. We must learn to turn these very four means of evil into instruments of virtue.
We must serve others with our body and circumambulate the Lord and prostrate ourselves before him. In this way we earn merit. How do we use our tongue to add our stock of virtue? By muttering, by repeating, the names of the Lord. You will perhaps excuse yourself saying: "All our time is spent in earning our livelihood. How can we think of God or repeat his names? " A householder has a family to maintain; but is he all the time working for it? How much time does he waste in gossip, in amusements, in speaking ill of others, in reading the papers? Can't he spare a few moments to remember the Lord? He need not set apart a particular hour of the day for his japa. He may think of God even on the bus or the train as he goes to his office or any other place. Not a paisa is he going to take with him finally after his lifelong pursuit of money. The Lord's name (Bhagavannama) is the only current coin in the other world.
The mind is the abode of Isvara but we make a rubbish can of it. We must cleanse it, install the Lord in it and be at peace with ourselves. We must devote atleast five minutes every day to meditation and resolve to do so even if the world crashes around us. There is nothing else that will give us a helping hand when the world cosmos is dissolved.
It is by helping the poor and by spreading the glory of the Lord that we will earn merit.
Papa, sinful action, is two-pronged in its evil power. The first incites us to wrong-doing now. The second goads us into doing evil tomorrow. For instance, if you take snuff now you suffer now. But tomorrow also you will have the same yearning to take the same. This is what is called the vasana that comes of habit. An effort must be made not only to reduce such vasana but also cultivate the vasana of virtue by doing good deeds.
It is bad vasana that drags us again and again into wrong-doing. Unfortunately, we do not seem to harbour any fear on that score. People like us, indeed even those known to have sinned much, have become devotees of the Lord and obtained light and wisdom. How is Isvara qualified to to be called great if he is not compassionate, and does not protect sinners also? It is because of sinners like us that he has come to have the title of "Patitapavana" [he who sanctifies or lifts up the fallen with his grace]. It is we who have brought him such a distinction.
"Come to me, your only refuge. I shall free you from all sins. Have no fear (sarvapapebhyo moksayisyami ma sucah). " The assurance that Sri Krsna gives to free us from sin is absolute. So let us learn to be courageous. To tie up an object you wind a string round it again and again. If it is to be untied you will have to do the unwinding in a similar manner. To eradicate the vasana or sinning you must develop the vasana of doing good to an equal degree. In between there ought to be neither haste nor anger. With haste and anger the thread you keep unwinding will get tangled again. Isvara will come to our help if we have patience, if we have faith in him and if we are rooted in dharma.
The goal of all religions is to wean away man- his mind, his speech and his body- from sensual pleasure and lead him towards the Lord. Great men have appeared from time to time and established their religions with the goal of releasing people from attachment to their senses, for it is our senses that impel us to sin. "Transitory is the joy derived from sinful action, from sensual pleasure. Bliss is union with the Paramatman. " Such is the teaching of all religions and their goal is to free man from worldly existence by leading him towards the Lord.
The Purpose of Religion
In Tamil, dharma is called "aram"; artha is known as "porul'; and kama and moksa are called "inbam, " and vidu respectively. "Artha" occurs in the term "purusarthas", but it is itself one of the purusarthas? What a man wants for himself in his life- the aims of a man's life- are the purusarthas. What does a man want to have? He wants to live happily without lacking for anything. There are two types of happiness: the first is ephemeral; and the second is everlasting and not subject to diminution. Kama or in barn is ephemeral happiness and denotes worldly pleasure, worldly desires. Moksa or vidu is everlasting happiness, not transient pleasure. It is because people are ignorant about such happiness, how elevated and enduring it is, that they hanker after the trivial and momentary joys of kama.
Our true quest must be for the fourth artha, that is vidu or moksa. The majority of people today yearn for the third artha that is kama. When you eat you are happy. When you are appointed a judge of the high court you feel elated. You are delighted when presented with a welcome address by some institution, aren't you? Such types of happiness are not enduring. The means by which such happiness is earned is porul. Porul may be corn, money, and house. It is this porul that is the way to happiness. But the pleasure gained from material possessions is momentary and you keep constantly hungering for more.
Moksa is the state of supreme bliss and there is no quest beyond it. We keep going from place to place and suffer hardships of all kinds. Our destination is our home. A prisoner goes to his vidu or his home after he is released. But the word vidu also means release or liberation. Since we are now imprisoned in our body, we commit the grave mistake of believing that we are the body. The body is in fact our goal. Our real home is the bliss called moksa. We must find release from the goal that is our body and dwell in our true home. God has sentenced us to goal (that is he has imprisoned us in our body) for our sins. If we practice virtue he will condone our sins and release us from the prison of our body before the expiry of the sentence. We must desist from committing sinful acts so that our term of imprisonment is not extended and endeavor to free ourselves and arrive in our true home, our true home that is the Lord. This home is bliss that passeth understanding, bliss that is not bound by the limitations of time, space and matter.
Lastly, I speak of the first purusartha, dharma. Dharma denotes beneficent action, good or virtuous deeds. The word has come to mean giving, charity. "Give me dharmam. Do dharmam, mother, " cries the beggar. We speak of "dana-dharma" [as a portmanteau word]. The commandments relating to charity are called "ara-kattalai"in Tamil. Looked at in this way, giving away our artha or porul will be seen to be dharma. But how do we, in the first place, acquire the goods to be given away in charity? The charity practiced in our former birth- by giving away our artha- it is that brings us rewards in this birth. The very purpose of owning material goods is the practice of dharma. Just as material possessions are a means of pleasure, so is dharma a means of material possessions. It is not charity alone that yields rewards in the form of material goods; all dharma will bring their own material rewards.
If we practice dharma without expecting any reward in the belief that Isvara gives us what he wills- and in a spirit of dedication, the impurities tainting our being will be removed and we will obtain the bliss that is exalted. The pursuit of dharma that brings in its wake material rewards will itself become the means of attaining the Paramporul. Thus we see that dharma, while being an instrument for making material gain and through it of pleasure, becomes the means of liberation also if it is practiced unselfishly. Through it we acquire material goods and are helped to keep up the practice of dharma. This means that artha itself becomes a basis of dharma. It is kama or desire alone that neither fulfils itself nor becomes an instrument of fulfilling some other purpose. It is like the water poured on burning sands. Worse, it is an instrument that destroys everything dharmic thoughts, material possessions, liberation it-self.
All the same it is difficult, to start with, to be without any desire altogether. Religion serves to rein in desire little by little and take a man, step by step, from petty ephemeral pleasure to the ultimate bliss. First we are taught the meaning and implications of dharma and how to practice it, then we are instructed in the right manner in which material goods are to be acquired so as to practice this dharma; and, thirdly, we are taught the proper manner in which desires may be satisfied. It is a process of gaining maturity and wisdom to forsake petty pleasure for the ultimate bliss of moksa.
Moksa is release from all attachments. It is a state in which the Self remains ever in untrammeled freedom and blessedness. The chief purpose of religion is to teach us how this supreme state may be attained.
We know for certain that ordinary people do not achieve eternal happiness. The purpose of any religion is to lead them towards such happiness. Everlasting blessedness is obtained only by forsaking the quest for petty pleasures. The dictates of dharma help us to abandon the pursuit of sensual enjoyments and endeavor for eternal bliss. They are also essential to create a social order that has the same high purpose, the liberation of all. Religion, with its goal of liberation, lays down the tenets of dharma. That is why the great understand the word dharma itself to mean religion.
Man and Beast
In one sense it seems to me that Isvara has not endowed us with the same advantages that he has endowed animals with. We are not fitted with weapons of defense. If a cow feels threatened it has horns to defend itself. The tiger has its claws. We have neither horns nor claws. Sheep have hair to protect them from the cold of winter, so too other animals. But man is not similarly equipped. So he cannot repulse an attack; nor can he run fast like the horse, which has no horns but is fleet-footed. Against all these handicaps, man has the advantage of being more intelligent than all other creatures.
In order to protect himself from the cold of winter, man removes the hair (fur) of animals and weaves it into rugs. When he wants to travel fast he yokes a horse to his cart. God has furnished man with this kind of skill; though he has neither claws nor horns to defend himself, a human being can forge weapons on his own. With the strength of his intelligence he remains the master of all other creatures and also rules over the entire world of inert matter.
All species of animals have their own habitats. Some types of bear that are native to the cold climes do not thrive in our country. The elephant is a denizen of the forests of India and some other countries of South-East Asia and Africa, but it does not flourish in a cold climate. But man inhabits the entire earth. He uses his brains to make any part of this planet fit for him to live.
But, even with his superior intelligence, man suffers. All hardships stem from the fact of birth. How can one save oneself from being born again? But, then, what is the cause of our birth? The wrongs committed by us are the cause of our birth and we have taken this body of flesh and blood to suffer punishment for the same. Suppose a certain number of whiplashes are to be administered according to the law. If the body perishes after ten lashes, we take another birth to suffer the remaining strokes. The sins we commit in satisfying our desires are the cause of our being born again and again. If there is no "doing", there will be no birth also. Anger is responsible for much of the evil we do and desire is at the root of it. It is of the utmost importance that we banish desire from our hearts. But it is not possible to remain without any action after having cultivated so many attachments. If the attachments were done away with we would cease to sin.
What is the cause of desire? Desire arises from the belief that there is something other than ourselves and our being attached to it. In truth it is the one Sivam that manifests itself as everything.
The cow sees its reflection in the mirror and charges it imagining it to be another cow. If a man sees his own image thus, does he think that there is another person in the mirror? He is not perturbed by his image because he knows that it is himself. Similarly, all that we see is one and the same thing. Desire springs from our belief in the existence of a second entity, and it causes anger, which, in turn, plunges us in sin. A new birth becomes inevitable now. If we are enlightened enough to perceive that all objects are one, there will be no ground for desire. There must be an object other than ourselves, a second entity, to be desired. No desire means no anger and no sin. In this state there will be neither any "doing" nor any birth. And, finally, there will be no sorrow.
How do we obtain such enlightenment or jnana? Our body is sustained by our mother's milk. It is Amba who nourishes us with the milk of jnana. She is indeed the personification of jnana. We will be rewarded with the light of wisdom if we firmly hold her lotus feet and dissolve ourselves in her. One who does so becomes God.
The first step in this process of enlightenment is to make a man truly a man, by ensuring that he does not live on an animal level. The second step is to raise him to the heights of divinity. All religions have this goal. They may represent different systems of thought and philosophy. But their concern ought to be that man is not condemned as he is today to a life of desire and anger. All religions speak in one voice that man must be rendered good and that he must be invested with the qualities of love, humility, serenity and the spirit of sacrifice.
Devotion Common to all Faiths
Devotion in the Advaita system implies adopting an attitude of non- difference between the worshipper and the worshipped; that is the devotee must look upon Isvara as not being different from himself. It might be asked: "The devotee who worships the omnipotent and omniscient Lord has only very limited strength and knowledge. How can the two of them be the same? " But the question also arises: "Does God regard us as being different from himself? If there are objects, entities, different from God how did they originate? If they came into existence as entities separate from Him how can He hold sway over them? ".
If we think on these lines it will become clear that the one and only Paramatman exists in various forms: if the ocean stands for Isvara we have in contrast the pond, the well and the little quantity of water contained in a spoon and soon that stand for diverse living beings. The water in all is the same. There maybe differences in the strengths of the various entities. But if you go to the base, the ground or root, you will discover that they are the same. If we go to the root we will become one with the root. This is liberation according to Advaita. Merely to talk about non-dualistic liberation is nothing more than an Intellectual exercise and will serve no purpose. The truth of such liberation must become an inward reality. In other words the quest must culminate in actual experience and it can be had only with the grace of Isvara. Great sages proclaim that it is only with the blessings of that Power which keeps us in a constant whirl of action that the whirl will stop and that we will have the Advaitic urge to seek the ground. "Isvaranugrahadeva pumsam Advaitavasana. "
Even in the initial stages when we feel that Isvara and his devotee are separate, we must try to cultivate the awareness, albeit to a small degree, that the Paramatman who appears as Isvara is the same as the Paramatman that has become "us". If such be our approach, our love for the Lord will become more intense. After all, is there anything or anyone we love more than ourselves?
Isvara awards us the fruits of our actions. If we become more and more devoted to him, as recipients of his grace, we will get closer and closer to him. He will himself reveal to us who he is and there will be no need for us to inquire about him or into him. In response to our devotion he will deign to reveal his true nature to us. He declares so in the Gita: "Bhaktya mam abhijanati yavan yascasmi. . . . " (By devotion he comes to know who in truth I am. . . ).
Countless are the attributes of Isvara that bespeak his surpassing beauty and auspicious qualities. Devotees find constant delight in contemplating them. But for the jnanin, the enlightened one, the ideal is the Godhead that has no attributes and it is in his Godhead that he is finally absorbed. Sagunopasana (worship of Isvara with attributes) is the first step towards this end. For it our religion has evolved the concept of "istadevata" ("the deity of one's choice", "the deity one likes").
What is special about sanatana dharma or Hinduism as it has come to be called? Alone among all religions it reveals the one and only Godhead in many different divine forms, with manifold aspects. The devotee worships the Lord in a form suited to his mental make-up and is thus helped to come closer to the Lord with his love and devotion. These different forms are not the creation of anyone's imagination. The Paramatman has revealed himself in these forms to great men and they have had close contact, so to speak, with the deities so revealed. They have also shown us how we too may come face to face with these divinities, given us the mantras to accomplish this and also prescribed the manner in which the divine forms, whose vision they have had, are to be adored.
Bhakti or devotion is common to all religions whatever the manner of worship they teach. It is not exclusive to our faith in which different deities are reverenced
The Unity of Religions
The temple, the church, the mosque, the vihara may be different from one another. The idol or the symbol in them may not also be the same and the rites performed in them may be different. But the Paramatman who wants to grace the worshipper, whatever be his faith, is the same. The different religions have taken shape according to the customs peculiar to the countries in which they originated and according to the differences in the mental outlook of the people inhabiting them. The goal of all religions is to lead people to the same Paramatman according to the different attributes of the devotees concerned. So there is no need for people to change over to another faith. Converts demean not only the religion of their birth but also the one to which they convert. Indeed they do demean God.
"A man leaves the religion of his birth because he thinks there is something wanting in it," so you may think. 'Why does the Svaamigal say then that the convert demeans the new religion that he embraces? " I will tell you why. Is it not because they think that God is not the same in all religions that people embrace a new faith? By doing so, they see God in a reduced form, don't they? They presumably believe that the God of the religion of their birth is useless and jump to another faith. But do they believe that the God of their new religion is a universal God? No. No. If they did there would be no need for any change of faith. Why do people embrace a new faith? Is it not because that the continuance in the religion of their birth would mean a denial of the blessings of the God of the new faith to which they are attracted? This means that they place limitations on their new religion as well as on its God. When they convert to a new religion, apparently out of respect for it, they indeed dishonour it.
One big difference between Hinduism and other faiths is that it does not proclaim that it alone shows the path to liberation. Our Vedic religion alone has not practiced conversion and the reason for it is that our forefathers were well aware that all religions are nothing but different paths to realise the one and only Paramatman. The Vedas proclaim: "The wise speak of the One Truth by different names. " Sri Krsna says in the Gita: "In whatever way or form a man worships me, I increase his faith and make him firm and steady in that worship. " And says one of the Azhvars: "Avaravar tamatamadu tarivari vahaivahai avaravar iraiyavar". This is the reason why the Hindus have not practiced- like adherents of other religions- proselytisation and religious persecution. Nor have they waged anything like the crusades or jehads.
Our long history is sufficient proof of this. All historians accept the fact of our religious tolerance. They observe that, an empire like Srivijaya was established in the East, people there accepted our culture and our way of life willingly, not because they were imposed on them by force. They further remark that Hinduism spread through trade and not through force.
In my opinion the Vedic religion was once prevalent all over the world. Certain ruins and relics found in various regions of the planet attest to this fact. Even historians who disagree with my view concede that in the past people in many lands accepted Indian culture and the way of life willingly and not on account of any force on our part.
All religions that practice conversion employ a certain ritual. For instance, there is baptism in Christianity. Hinduism has more ritual than any other religion, yet its canonical texts do not contain any rite for conversion. No better proof is needed for the fact that we have at no time either encouraged conversion or practiced it.
When a passenger arrives at a station by train he is besieged by the driver of the horse-cart, by the rikshavala, by the cabbie, and so on. He hires the vehicle in which he likes to be driven to his destination. It cannot be said with reason that those who ply different vehicles are guilty of competing with one another for the fare. After all it is their livelihood. But it makes no sense for the adherents of various faiths to vie with one another to take a man to the one and only destination that is God.
There is a bridge across a river, consisting of a number of arches, each of them built to the same design and measurement. To the man sitting next to a particular arch it would appear to be bigger than the other arches. So is the case with people belonging to a particular religion. They feel that their religion alone is great and want others to join it. There is in fact no such need for anyone to leave the religion of his birth for another.
That the beliefs and customs of the various religions are different cannot be a cause for complaint. Nor is there any need to make all of them similar. The important thing is for the followers of the various faiths to live in harmony with one another. The goal must be unity, not uniformity.
Qualities of Religious Teachers
But, on reflection, the question arises as to whether all people do indeed subscribe to non-dualism. The world over people follow so many different religions, subscribe to so many different philosophical systems. People belonging to the same country go from one faith to another. During the time of the Buddha many adherents of the Vedic religion embraced his system. In later centuries many Hindus became converts to Christianity or Islam. Jainas have become Vaisnavas with the name of "Pustimargins". During the time of Sri Ramanuja a number of people went over to the Visistadvaita (qualified non-dualism) fold. Similarly, Sri Madhva's school of Dvaita or dualism also gained many adherents. When Adi Sankara held sway, non-Vedic religions like Buddhism and Jainism suffered a decline. Those following the path of karma then- the karma marga is a part of the Vedic religion- returned to Advaita, which indeed is a wholly Vedic system.
Why did religions that had flourished at one time go under later? Do people really follow a religion or subscribe to a philosophical system after making a proper inquiry into the same? Perhaps only thinking people embrace a religion after an assessment of its doctrines. The same cannot be said about the generality of people who any faith. If it is claimed that the common people accept a religion for its concepts, they must be able to speak about them and tell us how these doctrines are superior to those of other religions. The fact is that the vast majority of the followers of any faith know precious little about the beliefs or doctrines on which it is founded.
I believe that the growth or expansion of a religion is in no way related to its doctrines. The common people do not worry about questions of philosophy. A great man of exemplary character and qualities appears on the scene- a great man of compassion who creates serenity all round- and people are drawn to him. They become converts to his religion in the firm belief that the doctrines preached by him, whatever they be, must be good. On the other hand, a religion will decline and decay if its spokesmen, however eloquent they are in expounding its concepts, are found to be guilty of lapses in character and conduct. It is difficult to give an answer to the question why people flock to religions that have contradictory beliefs. But if we examine the history of some religions- how at one time people gloried in them and how these faiths later perished- we shall be able to know the reason. At the same time, it would be possible for us to find out how at the first place they attracted such a large following. If you find out how a religion declined you will be able to know how it had first grown and prospered.
The decay of a religion in any country could be attributed to the lack of character of its leaders and of the people constituting the establishment responsible for its growth.
When we listen to the story of the Buddha, when we see again and again his images that seem to exude the milk of human kindness, compassion and tranquility spring in our own hearts and we feel respectful towards him. People must have been attracted to him thus during his time. How, in later times, there was a moral decline in the Buddhist monastic establishments will be seen from MattaVilasam written by Mahendra Pallava. This work shows how Buddhism came to be on the decline and demonstrates that the rise or fall of a religion is dependent on the quality and character of its spokesmen.
After the Buddha came AdiSankara to whom people were drawn for his incomparable goodness and greatness. Later appeared Ramanuja and Madhva who, in their personal lives, stood out as men of lofty character. They too were able to gather round them a large following and extend the sway of their respective systems. Recently came Gandhiji as a man of peace and sacrifice. Millions of people accepted his teachings, which indeed came to constitute religion, "Gandhism". If a system owes its growth to the excellence of the philosophical principles on which it is based, Gandhism ought to be at the peak of its glory today. But what do we see in reality? The Gandhian way of life as practiced now is all too obvious to need any comment.
The question here is not about the religions that try to draw people to themselves either through force or the lure of money. It is but natural for ignorant people to become converts to a new religion through rites like baptism after receiving various inducements and "social rewards". It was in this manner, they say, that Christianity extended its influence during times of famine. It is also said that Islam was propagated with the sword, that masses of people were forced to join it by force of arms. Here again there is proof of the fact that that the common people do not adopt a religion for the sake of any principle or out of any interest in its philosophical system. There is one matter to consider. The padres [Christian missionaries] converted mainly people living in the ceris [that is people on the outskirts of a village or town]. Their usual procedure was to tell these poor folk that they were kept suppressed in the religion of their birth and offer them inducements in the form of free education and medical treatment and the promise of a better status.
Not all, however, fell to such lures. However much they seemed to be suppressed in the religion of their birth, many of them refused to be converted, ignoring the advantages held out. Why? One reason was their good nature and the second was respect for the great men who have appeared in our religion from time to time. They told themselves: "Let us continue to remain in the religion of our forefathers, the religion that has produced so many great men."
We must not censure those who convert people to their faith. They believe that their religion represents the highest truth. That is why they practice conversion by compulsion or by placing various temptations before people belonging to other faiths. Let us take it that they try to bring others into their fold because they believe that that is the only means of a man's salvation. Let us also presume that they believe that there is nothing wrong in carrying out conversion either by force or through the offer of inducements because they think that they are doing it for the well-being of the people they seek to convert.
If religions that resort neither to force nor to money power have grown, it is solely because of the noble qualities of their teachers. Outwards guise alone is not what constitutes the qualities of the representative or the spokesman of a religion. Whatever the persuasion to which he belongs he must be utterly selfless, bear ill-will towards none, in addition to being morally blameless. He must live an austere life, and must be calm and compassionate by nature. Such a man will be able to help those who come to him by removing their shortcomings and dispelling the evil in them.
Producing men of such noble qualities from amongst us is the way to make our religion flourish. It is not necessary to carry on propaganda against other religions. The need is for representatives, for preceptors, capable of providing an example through their very life of the teachings of our religion. It is through such men that, age after age, sanatana dharma has been sustained as a living force. Hereafter too it will be through them that it will continue to remain a living force.
If a militant proselytizer appears on the scene, I shall not be able to gather a force to combat him. Nor can I spend crores and crores like those religious propagandists who build schools and hospitals to entice people into their faith. Even if I were able to do so, conversions carried out in such a manner would be neither true nor enduring. Suppose a group comes up that has more muscle and money power; it will undo my work with its superior force and greater monetary strength. We should not, therefore, depend on such outward forces to promote our religion but instead rely on our Atmic strength to raise ourselves. In this manner our religion will flourish without any need for aggressive propaganda or the offer of inducements.
At present many intellectuals abroad talk in glowing terms of Advaita, may be because of its lofty character as a philosophical system. They come to the school of Vedanta after examining it and after being inwardly convinced of its truth. But the common people need the example of a great soul, a great life [not abstract principles].
A man of peace and compassion, a man of wisdom and self-sacrifice, must arise from our midst.
The Religion without a Name
In none of our ancient sastras does the term "Hindu religion" occur. The name "Hindu" was given to us by foreigners. People from the West came to our land across the Sindhu river which they called "Indus" or "Hind" and the land adjacent to it by the name "India". The religion of this land came to be called "Hindu". The name of a neighbouring country is sometimes applied to the land adjacent to it. Let me tell you an interesting story in this connection.
In the North people readily give alms to anybody calling himself a bairagi. The bairagis have a grievance against Southerners because they do not follow the same practice. "iIlai po po kahe Telungi" is one of their ditties. "Telugus do not say "po, po" but "vellu" for "go, go". "Po" is a Tamil word. Then how would you explain the line quoted above? During their journey to the South, the bairagis had first to pass through the Telugu country (Andhra); so they thought that the land further south also belonged to the Telugus.
There is the same logic behind the Telugus themselves referring to Tamil Nadu as "Arava Nadu" from the fact that a small area south of Andhra Pradesh is called "Arva". Similarly, foreigners who came to the land of the Sindhu called all Bharata beyond also by the same name.
However it be, "Hinduism" was not the name of our religion in the distant past. Nor was it known as "Vaidika Mata" (Vedic religion or as "sanatana dharma" ( the ancient or timeless religion). Our basic texts do not refer to our faith by any name. When I thought about it I felt that there was something deficient about our religion.
One day, many years ago, someone came and said to me: "Ramu is here. " At once I asked somewhat absent-mindedly: "Which Ramu? " Immediately came the reply : " Are there many Ramus? " Only then did it occur to me that my question, "Which Ramu? ", had sprung from my memory of the past. There were four people in my place bearing the name of "Ramu". So, to tell them apart, we called them "Dark Ramu". When there is only one Ramu around there is no need to give him a distinguishing label.
It dawned on me at once why our religion had no name. When there are a number of religions they have to be identified by different names. But when there is only one, where is the problem of identifying it?
All religions barring our own were established by single individuals. "Buddhism" means the religion founded by Gautama Buddha. Jainism was founded by the Jina called Mahavira. So has Christianity its origin in Jesus Christ. Our religion predating all these had spread all over the world. Since there was no other religion to speak about then it was not necessary to give it a name. When I recognised this fact I felt at once that there was no need to be ashamed of the fact that our religion had no name in the past. On the contrary, I felt proud about it.
If ours is primeval religion, the question arises as to who established it. All inquiries into this question have failed to yield an answer. Was it Vyasa, who composed the Brahmasutra, the founder of our religion? Or was it Krsna Paramatman who gave us the Bhagavad-Gita? But both Vyasa and Krsna state that the Vedas existed before them. If that be the case, are we to point to the rsis, the seers who gave us the Vedic mantras, as the founders of our religion? But they themselves declare: " We did not create the Vedas. " When we chant a mantra we touch our head with our hand mentioning the name of one seer or another. But the sages themselves say: "It is true that the mantras became manifest to the world through us. That is why we are mentioned as the 'mantra rsis'. But the mantras were not composed by us but revealed to us. When we sat meditating with our minds under control, the mantras were perceived by us in space. Indeed we saw them (hence the term mantra-drastas). We did not compose them. "[the seers are not "mantra-kartas". ]
All sounds originate in space. From them arose creation. According to science, the cosmos was produced from the vibrations in space. By virtue of their austerities the sages had the gift of seeing the mantras in space, the mantras that liberate men from this creation. The Vedas are apauruseya (not the work of any human author) and are the very breath of the Paramatman in his form as space. The sages saw them and made a gift of them to the world.
If we know this truth, we have reason to be proud of the fact that we do not know who founded our religion. In fact we must feel happy that we have the great good fortune to be heirs to a religion that is eternal, a religion containing the Vedas which are the very breath of the Paramatman.
The Universal Religion
About 75 per cent of the names of places in Madagascar have a Sanskritic origin.
In the Western Hemisphere too there is evidence of Hinduism having once flourished there. In Mexico a festival is celebrated at the same time as our Navaratri; it is called "Rama-Sita". Wherever the earth is dug up images of Ganapati are discovered here. The Aztecs had inhabited Mexico before the Spaniards conquered that land. "Aztecs " must be a distorted form of "Astikas". In Peru, during the time of the holy equinox [vernal? ] worship was conducted in the sun temple. The people of this land were called Incas: "Ina" is one of the Sanskrit names of the sun god. Don't we call Rama Inakula-tilaka?
There is book containing photographs of the aborigines of Australia dancing in the nude (The Native Tribes of Central Australia, by Spencer Killan, pages 128 & 129). A close look at the pictures, captioned "Siva Dance", shows that the dancers have a third eye drawn on the forehead.
In a virgin forest in Borneo which, it is said, had not been penetrated by any human being until recently, explorers have found a sacrificial post with an inscription in a script akin to our Granthas characters. Historians know it as the inscription of Mulavarman of Kotei. Mention is made in it of a sacrifice, the king who performed it, the place where the yupas was installed. That the king gave away kalpavrksass as a gift to Brahmins is also stated in this inscription. All such details were discovered by Europeans, the very people who ridicule our religion.
Now something occurs to me in this context, something that you may find amusing. You know that the Sagaras went on digging the earth down to the nether world in search of their sacrificial horse. An ocean came into being in this way and it was called sagara after the king Sagara.
The Sagaras, at last found the horse near the hermitage of Kapila Maharsi. Thinking that he must be the man who had stolen the animal and hidden it in the nether world they laid violent hands on him. Whereupon the sage reduced them to ashes with a mere glance of his eye. Such is the story according to the Ramayana. America, which is at the antipodes, may be taken to Patala or the nether world. Kapilaranya(the forest in which Kapila had his hermitage), we may further take it, was situated there. It is likely that Kapilaranya changed to California in the same manner as Madurai is something altered to "Marudai". Also noteworthy is the fact that there is a Horse Island near California as well as an Ash Island.
Another idea occurs to me about Sagara and sagara. Geologists believe that ages ago the Sahara desert was an ocean. It seems to me that Sahara is derived from sagara.
Some historians try to explain the evidence pointing to the worldwide prevalence of our religion in the past to the exchange of cultural and religious ideas between India and other countries established through travels. I myself believe that there was one common religion or dharma throughout and that the signs and symbols that we find of this today are the creation of the original inhabitants of the lands concerned.
The view put forward by some students of history about the discovery of the remnants of our religion in other countries- these relating to what is considered the historical period of the past two or three thousand years- is that Indians went to these lands, destroyed the old native civilizations there and imposed Hindu culture in their place. Alternatively, they claim, Indians thrust their culture into the native ways of life in such a way that it became totally absorbed in them.
The fact, however, is that evidence is to be found in many countries of their Vedic connection dating back to 4, 000 years or more. That is, with the dawn of civilization itself, aspects of the Vedic dharama existed in these lands. It was only subsequently that the inhabitants of these regions came to have a religion of their own.
Greece had an ancient religion and had big temples where various deities were worshipped. The Hellenic religion had Vedic elements in it. The same was the case with the Semitic religions of the pre- Christian era in the region associated with Jesus. The aborigines of Mexico had a religion of their own. They shared the Vedic view of the divine in the forces of nature and worshipped them as deities. There was a good deal of ritual in all such religions.
Now none of these religions, including that of Greece, survives. The Greek civilization had once attained to the heights of glory. Now Christianity flourishes in Greece. Buddhism has spread in Central Asia and in East Asia up to Japan. According to anthropologists, religions in their original form exist only in areas like the forests of Africa. But even these ancient faiths contain Vedic elements.
Religious and philosophical truths are often explained through parables, stories, so that ignorant people can understand them easily. Since metaphysical concepts are difficult to grasp, either they have to be told in the form of a story or they have to be given the form of a ritual, that is they must find expression as religious acts. For the common people the performance of a rite is a means of finding the truth present in it in the form of a symbol. I do not, however, agree with the view that all rituals are nothing but symbolic in their significance and that there is no need to perform them so long as their inner meaning is understood.
Ritual as ritual has its own place and efficacy. Similarly, I would not say that stories from the Puranas are nothing but illustrations or explanations of certain truths or doctrines. As stories they are of a high order and I believe that they really happened. But, at the same time, they demonstrate the meaning of certain truths. As for rites, their performance brings up benefits. But in due course, as we learn to appreciate their inner meaning we shall become purified in mind. This is the stage when we shall no more yearn for any benefits from their performance and will be rewarded with supreme well-being (that is, liberation).
It is likely, though, that, with the passage of time, some stories or rites will become far removed from their inner meaning. Or, it may be, the inner meaning will be altogether forgotten. So it must be that, when new religions took shape abroad, after the lapse of thousands of years-religions not connected with the Vedic faith that is the root-the original Vedic concepts become transformed or distorted.
You must be familiar with the story of Adam and Eve which belongs to the Hebrew tradition. It occurs in the Genesis of the Old Testament and speaks of the tree of knowledge and God's commandment that its fruit shall not be eaten. Adam at first did not eat it but Eve did. After that Adam too ate the forbidden fruit.
Here an Upanisadic concept has taken the form of a biblical story. But because of the change in the time and place the original idea has become distorted-or even obliterated.
The Upanisadic story speaks of two birds perched on the branch of a pippala tree. One eats the fruit of tree while the order merely watches its companion without eating. The pippala tree stands for the body. The first bird represents a being that regards himself as the jivatman or individual self and the fruit it eats signifies sensual pleasure. In the same body (symbolized by the tree) the second bird is to be understood as the Paramatman. He is the support of all beings but he does not know sensual pleasure. Since he does not eat the fruit he naturally does not have the same experience as the jivatman (the first). The Upanisad speaks with poetic beauty of the two birds. He who eats the fruit is the individual self, jiva, and he who does not eat is the Supreme Reality, the one who knows himself to be the Atman.
It is this jiva that has come to be called Eve in the Hebrew religious tradition. "Ji" changes to "i" according to a rule of grammar and "ja" to "ya". We have the example of "Yamuna" becoming "Jamuna" or of "Yogindra" being changed to "Joginder ". In the biblical story "jiva" is "Eve" and "Atma" (or "Atman") is "Adam". "Pippala" has in the same way changed to "apple". The Tree of Knowledge is our "bodhi-vrksa". "Bodha" means "knowledge". It is well known that the Budhha attained enlightenment under the bodhi tree. But the pipal (pippala) was known as the bodhi tree even before his time.
The Upanisadic ideas transplanted into a distant land underwent a change after the lapse of centuries. Thus we see in the biblical story that the Atman (Adam) that can never be subject to sensual pleasure also eats the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. While our bodhi tree stands for enlightenment, the enlightenment that banishes all sensual pleasure, the biblical tree affords worldly pleasure. These differences notwithstanding there is sufficient evidence here that, once upon a time, Vedic religion was prevalent in the land of the Hebrews.
Let me give the another example to strengthen the view that however much a custom or a concept changes with the passage of time and with its acceptance by people of another land, it will still retain elements pointing to its original source. Our TiruppavaiT and TiruvembavaiT are not as ancient as the Vedas. Scholars ascribe them to an age not later than 1, 500 years ago. However it be, the authors of these Tamil hymns, AndalT and ManikkavacakarT, belong to an age much later than that of the Vedas and epics. After their time Hindu empires arose across the seas. Even the Cola kings extended their sway beyond the shores of the country. More worthy of note than our naval expeditions was the great expansion in our sea trade and the increase with it of our foreign contacts. As a result, people abroad were drawn to the Hindu religion and culture. Among the regions that developed such contacts, South-East Asia was the most important. Islands like Bali in the Indonesian archipelago became wholly Hindu. People in Siam (Thailand), Indochina and the Philippines came under the influence of Hindu culture. Srivijaya was one of the great empires of South-East Asia.
[Here the Paramaguru briefly touches upon the stages representing the emergence of various religions]. In primeval times the Vedic religion was prevalent everywhere: this was the first stage. In the second stage new religions emerged in various parts of the world. In the third stage these decayed and their place was taken by Buddhism, Christianity or Islam. In the subsequent stage the Hindu civilization became a living force outside the shores of India also, particularly in South-East Asia. This was the period during which great temples reminding us of those of Tamil Nadu arose with the spread of our religion and culture: Angkor-vat in Cambodia; Borobudur in Java, Indonesia; Prambanan, also in Java. Now it was that our Tiruppavai and Tiruvembavai made their passage to Thailand.
Even today a big festival is held in Thailand in December- January, corresponding to the Tamil Margazhi, the same month during which we read the Tiruppavai and Tiruvembavai with devotion. As part of the celebrations a dolotsava (swing festival) is held. A remarkable feature of this is that, in the ceremony meant for Visnu, a man with the make-up of Siva is seated on the swing. This seems to be in keeping with the fact that the Tiruppavai and Tiruvembavai contribute to the unification of Vaisnavism and Saivism.
If you ask the people of Thailand about the Pavai poems, they will not be able to speak about them. It might seem then that there is no basis for connecting the that festival with the Pavai works merely because it is held in the month corresponding to the Tamil Murgazhi. But the point to note is that the people of that country themselves call it "Triyampavai- Trippavai".
Those who read the Bible today are likely to be ignorant about the Upanisads, but they are sure to know the story that can be traced back to them, that of Adam and Eve. The Thais now must be likewise ignorant about the Pavis but, all the same, they hold in the month of Dhanus every year a celebration called "Triyampavai - Trippavai. " As part of it they also have a swing festival in which figures a man dressed as Siva. Here the distortion in the observance of a rite have occurred during historical times- one of the distortions is that of Siva being substituted for Visnu. Also during this period the Thais have forgotten the Pavis but, significantly enough, they still conduct a festival named after them. Keeping these before you, take mind back to three thousand years ago and imagine how a religion or a culture would have changed after its passage to foreign lands.
It is in this context that you must consider the Vedic tradition. For all the changes and distortions that it has undergone in other countries during the past millennia its presence there is still proclaimed through elements to be found in the religions that supplanted it.
How are we to understand the presence of Hindu ideas or concepts in the religious beliefs of people said to belong to prehistoric times? It does not seem right to claim that in the distant past our religion or culture was propagated in other countries through an armed invasion or through trade, that is at a time when civilization itself has not taken shape there. That is why I feel that there is no question of anything having been taken from this land and introduced into another country. The fact according to me, is that in the beginning the Vedic religion was prevalent all over the world. Later, over the countries, it must have gone through a process of change and taken different forms. These forms came to be called the original religions of these various lands which in the subsequent period- during historical times- came under Buddhism, Christianity or Islam as the case may be.
Distinctive Features of Sanathan Dharama
What is the karma doctrine? For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. There is an ineluctable law of physics governing cause and effect, action and reaction. This law pertaining to physical phenomena our forefathers applied to human life. The cosmos includes not only sentient beings endowed with consciousness but also countless insentient objects. Together they constitute worldly life. The laws, the dharma, proper to the first order must apply to the second also. According to the karma theory, every action of a man has an effect corresponding to it. Based on this belief our religion declares that, if a man commits a sin, he shall pay the penalty for it. Also if his act is a virtuous one, he shall reap the benefits thereof.
Our religion further asserts that one is born again and again so as to experience the consequences of one's good and bad action. "Do good. " "Do not do evil, " such are the exhortations of all religions. But Hinduism (and its offshoots) alone lay stress on the cause-and -effect connection. No religion originating in countries outside India subscribes to the cause-and-effect connection, nor to the reincarnation theory as one of its articles of faith. Indeed religions originating abroad hold beliefs contrary to this theory and strongly oppose the view that man is born again and again in order to exhaust his karma. They believe that a man has only one birth, that when his soul departs on his death it dwells somewhere awaiting the day of judgment. On this day God makes an assessment of his good and bad actions and, on the basis of it, rewards him with eternal paradise or sentences him to eternal damnation.
Some years ago, a well-known writer from Europe came to see me nowadays you see many white men coming to the Matha. This gentleman told me that the Bible stated more than once that God is love. He could not reconcile this with the belief that God condemns a sinner to eternal damnation without affording him an opportunity for redemption. On this point a parade had told him: "It is true that there is an eternal hell. But it is eternally vacant. "
The padre's statement is difficult to accept. Let us suppose that the Lord in his compassion does not condemn a sinner to hell. Where then does he send his soul? Since, according to Christianity, there is no rebirth the sinner is not made to be born again. So he too must be rewarded with heaven (as much as the virtuous man). This means that we may merrily keep sinning without any fear of punishment. After all, God will reward all of us with heaven. This belief implies that there is no need for morality and truthfulness.
According to our religion too, Isvara who decides our fate after death on the basis of our karma is infinitely merciful. But, at the same time, he does not plunge the world in adharma, in unrighteousness- that is not how his compassion manifests itself. What does he do then? He gives us another birth, another opportunity to reap the fruits of our good and bad action. The joys of heaven and the torments of hell truly belong to this world itself. The sorrow and happiness that are our lot in our present birth are in proportion to the virtuous and evil deeds of our past birth. Those who sinned much suffer much now and, similarly, those who did much good enjoy much happiness now. The majority is made up of people who know more sorrow than happiness and people who experience sorrow and happiness almost in equal measure. There are indeed very few blessed with utter happiness. It is evident from this that most of us must have done more evil than good in our past birth.
In His mercy the Lord gives us every time a fresh opportunity to wash away our sins. The guru, the sastras, and the temples are all his gifts to wipe away our inner impurities. That Isvara, in his compassion, places his trust even in a sinner confident that he will raise himself through his own efforts and gives him a fresh opportunity in the form of another birth to advance himself inwardly- is not such a belief better than that he should dismiss a sinner as good for nothing and yet reward him with heaven? If a man sincerely believes, in a spirit of surrender, there is nothing that he can do on his own and that everything is the Lord's doing, he will be redeemed and elevated. But it is one thing for God to bless a man who goes to him for refuge forsaking his own efforts to raise himself and quite another to bless him thinking him to be not fit to make any exertions on his own to advance inwardly. So long as we believe in such a thing as human endeavour we should think that Isvara's supreme compassion lies in trusting a man to go forward spiritually through his own efforts. It is in this way that the Lord's true grace is manifested.
That God does not condemn anyone to eternal punishment in hell is the personal opinion of a particular padre. It cannot be said that all religions like Christianity which believe that a man has only one birth agree with this view. They believe that God awards a man hell or paradise according to the good or evil he has done in one single birth. Since sinners who deserve to be condemned to hell predominate, the day of judgment has come to be known by the terrible name of doomsday. Here we have a concept according to which the Lord's compassion seems to be circumscribed.
There is strong evidence to support the reincarnation theory. A lady from the West came to see me one day and asked me if there was any proof of reincarnation. I did not have any discussion with her on the subject. Instead, I asked her to visit the local obstetric hospital and find out all about the children born there. There was a learned man who knew English where we were camping then. I asked him to accompany the lady. Later, on their return from the hospital, I asked the woman about her impressions of the new- born children. She said that she had found one child plump and lusty, another skinny; one beautiful and another ungainly. One child was born in a comfortable ward [that is to a well-to-do mother] and another to a poor mother.
"Leave aside the question of God consigning a man to eternal hell after his death, " I said to the foreign lady. "We are not witness to such a phenomenon. But now you have seen with your own eyes how differently the children are born in the hospital that you visited. How would you account for the differences? Why should one child be born rich and another poor? Why should one be healthy and another sickly? And why should one be good-looking and another not so good looking?
"If you accept the doctrine that men are born only once, you cannot but from the impression that God is neither compassionate nor impartial- think of all the differences at birth- and that he functions erratically and unwisely. How are we to be devoted to such a God and have the faith that he will look on us with mercy? How are we to account for the differences between one being and another if we do not accept the doctrine that our life now is determined by the good and the bad we did in our past births. " The lady from the West accepted my explanation.
Such an explanation is not, however, good enough for people in modern times. They demand scientific proof of reincarnation. Parapsychologists have done considerable research in the subject and their findings are in favour of the theory of rebirth. During the studies conducted in various parts of the world they encountered people who remembered their past lives. The latter recalled places and people they had seen in their previous birth-places and people that have nothing to do with them now. The parapsychologists verified these facts and to their amazement found them to be true. The cases investigated by them were numerous. Most of us are wholly unaware of our past lives, but some do remember them. According to the researchers the majority of such people had been victims of accidents or murder in their previous lives.
The doctrine of the incarnations of the Lord- avataras- is another unique feature of our religion. The Reality (Sadvastu) is one. That It manifests itself as countless beings is one of our cardinal tenets. It follows that it is this one and only Reality that transforms itself again and again into all those beings that are subject to birth and death. Also it is the same Reality that is manifested as Isvara to protect this world of sentient beings and insentient objects. Unlike humans he is not subject to the law of karma. It is to live out his karma- to experience the fruits of his actions- that man is born again and again. But in birth after birth, instead of washing away his old karma, he adds more and more to the mud sticking to him.
If the Lord descends to earth again and again it is to lift up man and show him the righteous path. When unrighteousness gains the upper hand and righteousness declines, he descends to earth to destroy unrighteousness and to establish righteousness again- and to protect the virtuous and destroy the wicked. Sri Krsna Paramatman declares so in the Gita.
Isvara is to be known in different states. That the Lord is all- that all is the Lord- is a state that we cannot easily comprehend. Then there is a state mentioned in the "vibhuti yoga"of Gita according to which the Lord dwells in the highest of each category, in the "most excellent" of things. To create the highest of excellence in human life he sends messengers to earth in the guise of preceptors (acaryas), men of wisdom and enlightenment (jnanins), yogins and devotees. This is another state in which God is to be known. Not satisfied with the previous states, he assumes yet another state: he descends to earth as an avatara. The word "avatarana" itself means "descent". Isvara is "paratpara", that is "higher than the highest", "beyond what is beyond everything". Yet he descends to earth by being born in our midst to re-establish dharma.
Sindhanta Saivas do not subscribe to the view of Siva having avataras. Nor they agree with the belief that Adi Sankara and Jnanasambandhar were incarnations of Siva and Muruga (Subrahmanya) respectively. Their view is that if Isvara dwells in a human womb, in a body of flesh, he makes himself impure. According to Advaitins even all those who inhabit the human womb made up of flesh are in substance nothing but the Brahman. They see nothing improper in the Lord coming down to earth.
All Vaisnavas, without exception, accept the doctrine of divine avataras. Philosophically speaking, there are many points of agreement between Vaisnavas and Saivas though the former are not altogether in agreement with the view that it is the Brahman itself that is expressed as the individual self. When we speak of the avataras, we generally mean the ten incarnations of Visnu. Vaisnavas adhere to the doctrine of avataras because the believe that Visnu descends to earth to uplift humanity. Indeed it is because of his boundless compassion that he makes himself small [or reduces himself] to any degree. In truth, however, the Lord is neither reduces nor tainted a bit in any of his incarnations because, though in outward guise he looks a mortal, he knows himself to be what in reality he is.
Altogether the Vedic dharma that is Hinduism accepts the concepts the concept of incarnations of the Lord. Saivas too are one with Vaisnavas in believing in the ten incarnations of Visnu.
That the one and only Paramatman who has neither a form nor attributes is manifested as different forms with attributes is another special feature of our religion. We worship idols representing these forms of deities. For this reason others label us polytheists. There view is utterly wrong. Because we worship the one God, the one reality, in many different forms it does not mean that we believe in many gods. It is equally absurd to call us idolaters who hold that the idol we worship is God. Hindus with a proper understanding of their religion do not think that the idol alone is God. The idol is meant for the worshipper to offer one-pointed devotion and he adores it with the conviction that the Lord who is present everywhere is present in it also. We see that practitioners of other religions also have symbols for worship and meditation. So it is wholly unjust to believe that Hindus alone worship idols- to regard them with scorn as idolaters is not right.
That ours is the only religion that does not proclaim that its followers have an exclusive right to salvation is a matter of pride for us Hindus. Our catholic outlook is revealed in our scriptures which declare that whatever the religious path followed by people they will finally attain the same Paramatman. That is why there is no place for conversion in Hinduism.
Christianity has it that, if a man does not follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, he shall be condemned to hell. Islam says the same about those who do not follow the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed. We must not be angry with the adherents of either religion on that score. Let us take it that Christians and Muslims alike believe that followers of other religions do not have the same sense of fulfillment as they have. So let us presume that it is with good intentions that they want to bring others into their fold (Christianity or Islam as the case may be) out of a desire to help them.
Let us also assume that if they resort to means that seem undesirable, it is to achieve what they think to be a good objective, luring others into their faith. It was thus that they carried out conversions in the past, by force of arms. Islam, particularly, expanded its sway in this way. It is often said that Christianity spread with the help of money power. But Christians also used their army to gain adherent, though with the force of arms was associated the philanthropic work of the missionaries. White men had the advantage of money that the Muslims of the Arabian desert did not possess. Christian missionaries built schools, hospitals and so on to induce the poor to embrace their faith.
We may not approve of people being forced into a religion or of conversions carried out by temptations placed before them. But we need not for that reason doubt that those who spread their religion in this fashion really believe that their work will bring general well-being.
We cannot, however, help asking whether their belief is right. People who do not follow either Christ or the Prophet, are they really condemned to hell? A little thinking should show that the belief that the followers of Christianity or Islam have an exclusive right to salvation cannot be sustained. It is only some 2, 000 years since Jesus was born and only about 1, 400 years or so since the birth of the Prophet. What happened to all the people born before them since creation? Are we to believe that they must have passed into hell? We are also compelled to infer that even the forefathers of the founders of Christianity and Islam would not have earned paradise. If, like Hindus, all those who lived before Christ or the Prophet had believed in rebirth, we could concede that they would have been saved: they would have been again and again until the arrival of Christ or the Prophet and then afforded the opportunity of following their teachings. But if we accept the logic of Christianity and Islam, according to which religions there is no rebirth, we shall have to conclude that hundreds of millions of people for countless generations must have been consigned to eternal hell.
The question arises as to whether God is so merciless as to keep dispatching people for ages together to the hell from which there is no escape. Were he compassionate would he not have sent, during all this time, a messenger of his or a teacher to show humanity the way to liberation? Why should we worship a God who has no mercy? Or for that matter, why should there be any religion at all?
The countries are many and they have different climates and grow different crops. Also each part of the world has evolved a different culture. But the Vedas encompassed lands all over this planet from the very beginning. Latter other religions emerged in keeping with the changing attitudes of the nations concerned. That is why aspects of the Vedic tradition are in evidence not only in the religions now in force but in what we know of those preceding them. But in India alone has Hinduism survived as a full-fledged living faith.
It must also be added that this primeval religion has regarded- and still regards- with respect the religions that arose subsequent to it. The Hindu views is this: "Other religions must have evolved according to the degree of maturity of the people among whom they originated. They will bring well being to their adherents. " "Live and let live" has been and continues to be the ideal of our religion. It has given birth to religions like Buddhism and Jainism and they [particularly Buddhism] have been propagated abroad for the Atmic advancement of the people there.
I have spoken about the special characteristics of Hinduism from the philosophical and theological points of view. But it has also another important feature which is also distinctive- the sociological.
All religions have their own philosophical and theological systems. Also all of them deal with individual life and conduct and, to a limited extent, with social life. "Look upon your neighbour as your brother. " "Regard your adversary as your friend. " Treat others in the same way as you would like to be treated yourself. " "Be kind to all creatures. " "Speak the truth. " "Practice non-violence. " These injunctions and rules of conduct relate to social life up to a point- and only up to a point. To religions other than Hinduism social life or the structure of society is not a major concern. Hinduism alone has a sturdy sociological foundation, and its special feature, "varnasrama dharma", is an expression of it.
Varna dharma is one and asrama dharma is another (together they make up varnsrama dharma). Asrama dharma deals with the conduct of an individual during different stages of his life. In the first stage, as a brahmacarins, he devotes himself to studies in a gurukulas. In the second stage, as a youth, he takes a wife, settles down in life and begets children. In the third, as he ages further, he becomes a forest recluse and, without much attachment to worldly life, engages himself in Vedic karma. In the forth stage, he forsakes even Vedic works, renounces the word utterly to become a sannyasin and turns his mind towards the Paramatman. These four stages of life or asramas are called brahmacarya, garhasthya, vanaprastha and sannyasa.
Varna dharma is an "arrangement" governing all society. It is very much a target of attack today and is usually spoken of as the division of society into "jatis". But "varna" and "jati" are in fact different. There are only four varnas but the jatis are numerous. For instance, in the same varna there are Ayyars, Ayyangars, Roas, etc - these are jatis. Mudaliars, Pillais, Reddiars and Naikkars are jatis belonging to another varna. In the Yajurveda (third astaka, fourth prasna) and in the Dhamasastra a number of jatis are mentioned- but you do not meet with them today.
Critics of Varna dharma brand it as "a blot on our religion" as "a vicious system which divides people into high and low". But, if you look at it impartially, you will realize that it is a unique instrument to bring about orderly and harmonious social life.
The Vedas - the Root of All
Christianity too has two major divisions but people belonging to both conduct worship in the name of the same God. In Buddhism we have the Hinayana and Mahayana streams but they do not make two separate faiths since both are based on the teachings of the same founder, the Buddha.
Do Saivas and Vaisnavas worship the same god? No. However it be with ordinary Vaisnavas, their acaryas or teachers never go anywhere near a Siva temple. Their god is Visnu, never Siva. In the opinion of the worshippers of Visnu, Siva is also one of his (Visnu's) devotees. There are extremists among Saivas also according to whom Visnu is not a god but a devotee of Siva. How then can the two groups be said to belong to the same religion?
Are they to be regarded as belonging to the same faith by virtue of their having a common scripture? The divisions [sects] of Christianity have one common scripture, the Bible; so too is the Qur'an the common holy book for all divisions of Islam. Is such the case with Saivas and Vaisnavas? Saivas have the Tirumurai as their religious text, while Vaisnavas have the Nalayira-Divyaprabandham as their sacred work. For Saivas and Vaisnavas thus the deities as well as the scriptures are different. How it be claimed that both belong to the same religion?
Though divided into Saivas and Vaisnavas, we have been saved by the fact that the white man brought us together under a common name, "Hindu". But for this, what would have been our fate? In village after village, we would have been fragmented into separate religious groups- Saivas, Vaisnavas, Saktas, worshippers of Muruga, Ganapati, Ayyappa, and so on. Further, in these places followers of religions like Christianity and Islam would have predominated. Now two regions of our subcontinent have become Pakistan, Had we not been brought together with the label of Hindu, the entire subcontinent would have become Pakistan. The very same men who created Pakistan through their evil design and sowed the seeds of differences among us with their theory of two races- Aryans and Dravidians- unwittingly did us a good turn by calling us Hindu, thereby bringing into being a country called "India. "
So are we one religion or are we divided into Two faiths? The belief that Saivas and Vaisnavas have separate deities and religious works does not represent the truth. Though the present outlook of the two groups suggests that they represent different faiths, the truth will be revealed if we examine their prime scriptures. The saints who composed the Tirumurai of the Saivas and the Nalayira-Divyaprabandham of the Vaisnavas never claimed that these works of theirs were the prime religious texts of respective sects. Nor did they regard themselves as founders of any religion. Vaisnavism existed before the Azhvars and so too there was Saivism before the Nayanmars.
The original scripture of both sects is constituted by the Vedas. Saivas describe Isvara thus:
Vedanathan, Vedagitan, aranan kan
Similarly, the Vaisnava texts proclaim, "Vedam Tamizh seytaMaran Sathakopan. "If we pay close attention to their utterances, we will discover that the Vedas are the prime scripture of both sects. The Tevaram and the Nalayaira-Divyaprabandham are of the utmost importance to them (to the Saivas and Vaisnavas respectively); but the Vedas are the basis of both. The great saint-poets who composed the Saiva and Vaisnava hymns sing the glories of the Vedas throughout. Whenever they describe a temple, they go into raptures, saying, "Here the air is filled with the sound of the Vedas and pervaded with the smoke of the sacrificial fire. Here the six Angas of the Vedas flourish. " In the songs of these hymnodists veneration of the Vedas finds as much place as devotion to the Lord.
The Vedas reveal the One Truth to us in the form of many deities. The worship of each of these divine beings is like a ghat on the river called the Vedas. Sekkizhar says the same thing: "Veda neri tazhaittonga mihu Saivatturai vilanga. "
Apart from Saivism and Vaisnavism, there are a number of sectarian systems like Saktam, Ganapatyam, Kaumaram, and Sauram (worship of Sakti, Ganapati, Kumara or Subrahmanya and the Sun God). The adoration of these deities is founded in the Vedas, according to the Texts relating to them: "Our deity is extolled in the Vedas, " each system contains such a declaration.
Thus we find that there is but one scripture as the source common to the different sects and schools of thought in the Hindu religion.
This source includes the Upanisads. On ten of them (Dasopanisad) the great teachers of the Saiva, Vaisnava, and Smarta traditions have written commentaries. The Upanisadic texts proclaim that the Brahman is the one and only Godhead: In the Kathopanisad it is called Visnu; in the Mandukyopanisad it is called Sivam. All the deities mentioned in the Samhitas of the Vedas- Mitra, Varuna, Agni, Indra and so on - are different names of the same Truth. So it is said in the Vedas: "Ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti. "
It emerges that for all the divisions in our religion there is but one scripture- a scripture common to all- and one Godhead which is known by many names. The Vedas are the common scripture and the Godhead common to all is the Brahman. Thus we can say with finality, and without any room for doubt, that all of us belong to the same religion.
The Vedas that constitute the scripture common to all and which reveal the Godhead that is common to us also teach us how to lead our life, and- this is important- they do us the ultimate good by showing us in the end the way to become that very Godhead ourselves. They are our refuge both here and the hereafter and are the source and root of all our different traditions, all our systems of thought. All sects, all schools of our religion, have their origin in them. The root is one but the branches are many.
The Vedas are the source not only of various divisions of Hinduism, all the religions of the world may be traced back to them. It is our bounden duty to preserve them for all time to come with their glory undiminished.
The Vedas in their Original Form
After composing his Kural Tiruvalluvar went to Madurai for its arangetram. There, in the city, was the pond of the golden lotuses and the seat of the learned (the Samgapalagai). The poet placed his work on this seat. At once all the learned men seated on the Samgapalagai fell into the pond but the book remained on it. It was thus that the Kural was presented to the public. Many distinguished poets and savants have sung the praises of this work and its content. In Tiruvalluvar-Malai which contains these praises one poet says:
Ariyamum centamizhum araynditaninidu
Vedam udaittu Tamizh Tiruvalluvanar
"I thought about the question, which is superior, Sanskrit or Tamil. Sanskrit and Tamil are equal in their greatness. We cannot say that the one is superior to the other. The reason is that the Vedas are in Sanskrit and now in Tamil we have the Kural. If there were nothing equal to the Vedas in Tamil, Sanskrit should have been said to be superior. Now the Kural is present in Tamil as the equal of the Vedas. Both languages- Sanskrit and Tamil- are now seen to be equally. "
Why is Sanskrit considered a great language? In his praise of the Tirukkural here the poet gives the answer: it is because the Vedas are in that language. Some do not seem to attach any special significance to the fact that the Vedas are in Sanskrit. They think that these sacred texts could be known through translations.
Nowadays a number of books are translated from one language into another and in this process the original form or character is changed or distorted. The words spoken by a great man on a particular subject may not be fully understood today. But if they are preserved in the original in the same language, there is the possibility of their meaning being fully grasped at some future date. You use a beautiful word to convey an idea in your language, but its equivalent may not be found in any other tongue. Also, it may become necessary to express the same in a roundabout way.
There is also the possibility that the opinion expressed first, in its original context, may not come through effectively in a translation. We must consider the further disadvantages of the translation being circumscribed by the mental make-up of the translator, the limitations of his knowledge and understanding of the subject dealt with. The translation done by one may not seem right to another. When there are a number of translations of the same work, it would be hard to choose the right one We shall then be compelled to go back to the original.
This is the reason why I insist that the Vedas must be preserved in their original form. They are the source of the philosophical systems associated with the great acaryas. These masters evolved their doctrines from their own individual viewpoints, without making any modifications in the Vedas to suit them; nor did they establish any religions of their own outside the Vedic tradition. The source, the root, of their systems of thought is one and the same- the Vedas. It is because this source has remained unchanged in its original character that thinkers and teachers have, from time to time, been able to draw inspiration and strength from it to present new viewpoints. But these viewpoints have not meant the creation of new religions. The reason is that all of them- all these systems- belong to the larger system called the Vedic religion.
Division of Labour
We need rice, all of us, don't we? Also salt, clothing, books, and so on. Would it be possible - or practicable - for each one of us to grow rice or wheat, to make salt or to produce clothing and books? The tiller grows crops not only for himself but for the of the entire community. The weaver weaves for all of us. Some carry on trade for the sake of the entire society. And some wage war on behalf of all of us to defend the country
What about the Atmic well-being of mankind? Well, some people are charged with the caring of such well-being: they practice meditation, perform puja, conduct sacrifices and carry out the ordinances of the sastras that are meant for the good of all mankind. Our dharmasastras have cut out an ideal path of happiness for us by creating a system which is to the advantage of all and in which different sections of people are allotted different occupations.
How has this allotment been made? Is it according to the capacity of earth? If so there is the risk of everyone having an excessive idea of his own ability. If work is assigned according to the predilection of each individual, everyone will claim that he is suited for jobs that are "prestigious" and, in the end, no one will come forward to do other jobs. How should a system be devised in which people fill vocations in a manner that ensures the smooth functioning of all society? It must be one that works not only for the present but for all time. This is not possible if everyone competes with everybody else for every kind of job. It is as an answer to such problems that varna dharma in which vocations are hereditarily determined came into existence.
The principle behind this arrangement is that a man must do the work handed down to him from his forefathers - whatever such work be - with the conviction that it has been ordained by Isvara and that it is for the good of the world. The work he does in this spirit itself becomes a means of his inward advancement.
The religious observances meant to free people from worldly existence vary according to their callings. We cannot expect a man who does hard physical work to observe fasts. Those who do intellectual work do not need much bodily nourishment. They are enjoined to perform many a rite and to observe a number of fasts so that they will learn not to take pride in their body. There would be no room for disputes and misunderstandings among the various sections of people if they realised that the differences in the observance of religious practices are in keeping with the different vocations.
If we keep performing the rites prescribed even without understanding their meaning, It will stand us in good stead in later life when we do come to understand the meaning. It would indeed be commendable if each one of us carried out the duties prescribed and helped others to carry out theirs. ":Why do you pursue that vocation, that dharma? Why don't you do the work that I do? Or shall I take up your dharma, your duties? " We must not give room for such feelings of rivalry or become victims of the competitive spirt. When a man thinks of abandoning his dharma - the duties allotted to him by birth - you must persuade him not to do so and impress upon him that he must remain loyal to his dharma since it serves not only him individually but all others.
As I said earlier there is no gradation among people doing various kinds of work: the man who does one type of job is neither inferior to the man doing another kind of job nor superior to him. It is to ensure that society functions properly that the sastras have divided jobs into a number of categories and assigned them to different groups of people.
If we are guided only by our likes and dislikes in the choice of our occupation - or if we are engaged in work according to our sweet will - the common purpose of society will suffer. You see today that everyone is intent on filling his pockets with other people's money. If there were no principle to guide us in the fulfilment of the common good, the only concern of people would be that of finding such work as can bring them a lot of cash. There is no place for any division of labour in all this and so also no concern for the well-being of mankind in general.
If everyone does his hereditary work and performs the rites that his forefathers performed, there will be no cause for feelings of rivalry or jealousy. There is the further advantage that life in the community will go on smoothly without any hindrance to the common work and, at the same time, each individual will feel pure inwardly. All this must be taken into account if, in the name of carrying out reforms, society is not "deformed".
The government has the obligation to provide food, clothing and housing to all irrespective of the work they do. Jealousies and rivalries will develop if people hunger for things beyond these essentials. All the trouble today arises from the fact that the satisfaction gained from money is greater than that gained from anything else. This attitude must change. With maturity of outlook a man will come to realise that the fulfilment he obtains from doing the work allotted to him properly is itself his God.
You see such a variety of eatables in front of you. The ragas (musical modes) you listen to are numerous. And many and varied are the types of work essential to the smooth functioning of society. You add salt to your rasam to give it the right flavour. But if you add it to a sweet drink the result will be rasabhasa (the drink will not be palatable). Similarly there would be rasabhasa if the svara (musical note) of one raga were used in another [the music so produced would be cacophonous, not pleasing to the ear]. People today are lacking in taste. While narrating a moving incident from a puranic story the Bhagavatar tells cheap jokes which the audience relishes immensely. When there are so many delectable things to eat, people smoke tobacco which is injurious to health. These are all instances of rasabhasa on a small scale. The rasabhasa on a big scale is the confusion created in the varna system [making a mess of it], a system that has contributed so much to the welfare of our people through its enunciation of different codes of conduct for different sections of the community
What is Varna Dharma?
Our reformers want to do away with varna dharma so as to make Hinduism no different from other faiths.
In this context, I must ask you: What is religion? Religion is like a therapeutic system meant to cure the ills contracted by the self. The physician alone knows about the disease afflicting the patient and how it is to be treated. Our sanatana dharma is the medicine prescribed by our sages and creators of the dharmasastras who never sought anything for themselves and who, in their utter selflessness, were concerned only about the good of mankind.
In other countries other physicians have prescribed medicines in the form of their own religious systems. Would your doctor like to be told that he should treat you in the same way as another doctor treats his patient? There are several systems of medicine. In one there is a strict diet regimen, in another there is not much strictness about the patient's food. In one system the medicines administered taste sweet; in another they taste bitter. To be restored to health we have to follow strictly any one method of treatment, not insist on a combination of the various therapies.
Other religions lay down only such duties as are common to all their followers. In the Vedic religion there are two types of dharma, the one being common to all and the other to individual varnas. The duties common to all Hindus, the universal code of conduct, have the name of "samanya dharma". Non-violence, truthfulness, cleanliness, control of the senses, non-acquisitiveness (one must not possess material goods in excess of what is needed for one's bare requirements, not even a straw must one own in excess), devotion to Isvara, trust in one's parents, love for all creatures - these form part of the samanya dharma. Then each varna has its own special code of conduct or "visesa dharma" determined by its hereditary vocation.
If the special duties (visesa dharma) of the various varnas were made common to all (that is made part of the samanya dharma) a situation would arise in which no one would observe any dharma. To illustrate, I shall give you an example. Abstaining from meat was laid down as a common dharma in Buddhism. But what do we see today in countries where that religion has a wide following? There almost all buddhists eat meat. In contrast to this is what obtains in our religion. Our seers and authors of the dharmasastras had a profound understanding of human nature. They made abstention from meat applicable to a limited number of people. But others follow the example of these few, on days of fasting, on special occasions like the death anniversaries of their parents, on days sacred to the gods.
The religions that flourished once upon a time in other countries- religions that had one common code of conduct for all its adherents - have become extinct. In Europe the Hellenic religion is gone. So too in West Asia the prehistoric Hebrew faiths no longer exist. And in the East only a residue remains of Confucianism, Shintoism, etc. Religions like Buddhism, Christianity and Islam too have but one code of conduct for all their adherents. Their followers in various countries now find less and less inner satisfaction. The number of people who have lost faith in their religion is on the increase in all these lands. They become either atheists or turn to the yoga, bhakti or jnana schools of Hinduism.
It is difficult to say how long people will continue to owe allegiance to the religions that arose in various countries during historical times. I say this not because I happen to be a representative of Hindus nor is it my wish to speak in demeaning terms about other religions. My wish is indeed that people following different religions ought to remain in their respective folds and find spiritual fulfilment in them. I do not invite others to embrace my faith. In fact I believe that to do so is contrary to the basic tenets of my religion. Nothing occurs in this world as an accident. People with different levels of maturity are born in different religions: so it is ordained by the Lord. I believe that a man grows inwardly by practising the tenets of the religion of his birth.
I speak about what I feel to be the worthy features of Hinduism- features that are not found in other religions - it is neither to speak ill of the latter nor to invite their followers to our side. Non-Hindus attack these unique aspects of our religion without taking the trouble of understanding them and some Hindus themselves are influenced by their views. That is why I am constrained to speak about the distinctive doctrines of our religion. Acceptance of concepts like karma, the Lord's incarnations, etc. will in no way weaken their [of non-Hindus] attachment to the basic beliefs of their own religions. What is the fundamental concept of any religion, its living principle? It is faith in the Lord and devotion to him. For others to view these special concepts of Hinduism sympathetically does not mean that their faith in God or devotion to him will be affected in any way.
I say all this not because I think that other religions are in any trouble nor because I have reason to be happy if indeed they are. I echoed the views of distinguished students of religion like Toynbee, Paul Brunton and Kostler. I merely repeated their view that lack of faith in religion - indeed atheism - is growing day by day everywhere and that all religions are struggling for their survival.
This trend is seen to be on the rise in our own country. But foreigners who have made a study of religious beliefs all over the world are unanimous in their view that in comparison with other countries things are better here. "The religious urge has not yet reached a lamentable state in your country, " They tell us, Sadhakas, seekers, keep coming to India in large numbers. A little thought should show without a shadow of doubt that if religious feeling is on the decline and atheism on the rise in India it is due to the fact that we have become increasingly lax in observing varna dharma and have come to believe that all Hindus should be made into one without any distinction of caste.
When a religion divides its followers in many ways, we think that there will be no unity or integrity among them. It also seems to us that such a religion will fall apart as a result of internal squabbles. Since the time of Alexander, India has been invaded by wave after wave of foreigners belonging to other faiths. Considering the divisions in our religion and the series of foreign invasions, Hinduism should have ended up in smoke. But what we actually see is different. Religions which have no distinctions of caste and which prescribed the same duties and rites for all their followers have disappeared in the flow of time. Similar systems still surviving today are faced with danger, as is attested to by the intellectuals amongst their own followers. But Hinduism with its many divisions is still breathing. We must try to understand the secret of its survival without being carried away by emotions.
We have practised varna dharma for millennia and it has continued to be a living force. What is its secret? Or think of this. It is the special duty of Brahmins to preserve the mantras. But have they ever been in a majority? No. Have they enjoyed the power of arms? No. Have they had at least money power, the advantage gained from wealth? The answer again is "No". (Brahmins acquiring the habit of accumulating money is a recent phenomenon. It is of course quite undesirable). How or why did other castes accept the divisions laid down in the sastras created by the Brahmins who did not have the strength derived either from money or from numbers?
A great man like the Buddha or the Jina arose to proclaim: "We do not need the Vedas, nor do we need the sacrifices prescribed by them. Let us have one uniform dharma for all people. We do not need Sanskrit either. Let us write our new sastras in Pali or some other Prakrt, in a language understood by the common people. "It is true that some people were persuaded to embrace these new religions, Buddhism and Jainism, but the attraction of these faiths was momentary and the two gradually declined. The old Vedic religion emerged again with new vigour.
A great man has sung thus: "It is needed a wonder that life remains in this body with its nine apertures (nava-dvara or nine gates). If it departs it is no matter to be wondered at. " Likewise, it would not have been a matter for surprise if Hinduism had perished with all its constant exposure to attack from outside. It is indeed a miracle that it is not dead.
If some faiths in India itself and outside have declined and if our religion alone has survived for ten thousand years, does it not mean that it has something that is lacking in others? This something is the varna system. Our present-day reformers argue that the varna division is responsible for the disintegration of our society. The fact is it is precisely this division, varna dharma, that has sustained it and kept it intact. It follows that this dharma has features that are superior in character to concepts like equality, features that are vital to the very well-being of people. Our society is divided on the basis of it, but it must be noted that this division has helped our religion to preserve itself successfully against all onslaughts.
(My humble salutations to the lotus feet of Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Mahaswami ji and my humble greatulness to Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and great Devotees , Philosophic Scholars, for the collection)