Sringeri Shankaracharya Takes Our Questions
The sage speaks about child-rearing, the guru, reconversion to Hinduism and more
Interview by Choodie Sivaram, Bengaluru
How can parents instill spirituality in their children?It is the duty of parents to inform and educate their children about our culture from a tender age. For example, as children, we were regularly told stories from the Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavata. We took in these stories and their morals and ethics. The glory of God, how He saved and elevated His devotees, the way devotees sought Him--these were etched in our minds. It made us resolve to live the same way, carrying these values, as our ancestors had done before us. Thus, whenever any Western hero is highlighted, we were certain that nobody could be greater than our own Rama. And not just at home. These stories were taught to us in our textbooks when I was in school--Ramayana, etc., as well as stories of the great pilgrim centers of our land. I don't think there are any lessons in our textbooks today that highlight and showcase our culture. This is a very serious setback. If an environment to understand our culture is created at home and school, then elevating our children and making them worthwhile citizens is possible. But the situation is now the diametric opposite. Children do not learn our culture at home or school, and are being instead exposed to alien and contrary cultures through TV and cinema. Under these adverse influences, they are becoming rebellious and treating their parents with disregard.
What is your advice for Hindu parents in other countries?Haven't these parents come from here, India? Whether they are in America or in London, our culture does not change--praying to God, keeping a tulsi plant in front of the house, touching the feet of parents--these are simple things. The parents have grown up in Hindu culture and should carry it and inculcate it in their children wherever they are.
Can the guru's grace be received by darshan, sight, alone?That depends on the power of the guru. Some gurus speak to devotees. Some of them are in such an elevated state that the mere sight of such a guru makes our life fruitful. These great gurus can transform lives and cleanse people of all sins by just their glance. Chandrasekhara Bharathi Mahaswamiji (1982-1954), the 34th pontiff of Sringeri, is proof of this. Sixty years ago, there was a publication called The Searchlight, published from Patna. Its editor, M. S. M. Sharma, was an atheist who would ridicule anyone who had faith in God. In 1926, one of his friends, a devotee of Sringeri, brought him to have darshan of Guruji. Refusing to adhere to protocol of wearing a dhothi and veshti, he insisted on coming in Western attire. Upon his arrival, Chandrasekhara Bharathi had come out to give darshan to people. Sharma was standing behind him, amused at people's stupidity in bowing to a person simply because he was wearing saffron robes. Guruji turned around, and the moment his eyes fell on Sharma, some intense transformation happened in him. Sharma fell to the ground and prostrated, not knowing what was making him do so. As he wrote later of this experience, "Then the miracle happened. The very glance of the guru in a second removed all my atheism. I fell in surrender and could not get up. Guruji asked me to get up and enquired who I was. I told him I was a sinner and had sought him to elevate me. He asked me to come the next day and I went. It was only then I became a human being. Till then, I was an animal. He did not do anything, just a glance."
What is the proper way to approach a guru?Once, when Guru Chandrasekhara Bharathi was on a tour, a Muslim police officer came to see him. He asked the Math officials who received him about the appropriate protocol. The Math officials told him, "You can meet him the same way you would meet your religious head." One approaches the guru in the same way your culture guides you when meeting a respected elder person.
How can one avoid being misled by some gurus?There is a difference between the old days and now. In ancient times, the guru was without duplicity or deceitful motives. He would impart knowledge to the disciples with a pure heart. Thus, there was no room for any suspicion. Now, there is a proliferation of gurus, some of whom wear the saffron robes with the very intent of cheating those who come to them as seekers. It is not wrong for people to be cautious and alert with such people posing as spiritual teachers. Adi Shankaracharya said, "One who has complete knowledge of the scriptures, one who ceaselessly yearns for the good of others, such a person is a guru."
What is your view on re-conversion to Hinduism?"Reconversion" is a misnomer. Say, for example, that our child leaves home out of some misunderstanding or bad judgment and goes to someone else's house. If we bring him back home, we have just brought him back where he belongs. How can this be reconversion? His leaving home was wrong, but bringing him back home is not wrong.
Why are hatred and conflict increasing, despite our affluence?Because desire is increasing, there is no contentment. As long as man does not have satisfaction, there is no peace. When our wants keep increasing, where is the room for peace? People believe the myth that money can make them great. What use is a big bank account, if there is no peace? Even if I am a millionaire, I can only eat so much. In that case, why employ wrong means to acquire wealth and harm others? If people realize this, they will not take a wrong path. Adi Shankara said, "Take not pride in your wealth, position, power or vitality. None of this is permanent. Believe only in God. Resort only to God."
What is your advice for sannyasins?The primary reason to take sannyas is for the monk's own spiritual development. The seeker, wishing to be free from the bonds of this material world, realizes that sannyas is the only path to attain liberation. Thus, he becomes a mendicant and proceeds along this path by practicing self inquiry and meditation on God and the Self, with dispassion and repetition of the syllable Om. His first aim should be to achieve spiritual elevation. Thereafter, if he gets an opportunity to convey a good message to someone, he should. If someone comes to him with a doubt, and he has the capability to ease their troubles and relieve their doubt, then he should do so. But beyond this, he should not indulge in or get drawn into any material matters. Else, the very purpose of his taking sannyas, to end the cycle of birth and rebirth, is defeated. The renunciate must be completely detached from the material world.
What is your message to the readers of Hinduism Today?First, give up hatred towards the other. Look at everyone with love and affection. Help others; if not, at least do not harm others. Secondly, never lose faith and belief in God. Believe in Him through whichever name you choose, but never stop believing. Worship God with dedication and devotion, and you will receive His Grace. My complete blessings to Hinduism Today. You have been able to deliver righteous thoughts to people through your magazine. With God's grace, may Hinduism Today prosper.
In My Opinion
Steps of Faith
How climbing Tirupati hill helped me realize the driving force behind our accomplishments
By Meghana Pisupati
Being an athlete, I was able to easily walk the first couple of hills--each step, a means of exercise. Truth be told, I had not come to fulfill a pledge or to mindfully take each footstep in the name of God. Two hours later, when the hard surface of the stone started making my legs sore, and fatigue had hit my body, I wanted to stop; but some unknown force compelled me to make each step, aiding me throughout my journey until the very end.
At the end of the day, it was not my own journey that baffled my mind but the journey of others who had climbed beside me. The countless native Indians who ascend these steps each day have probably never walked such a distance before, nor must they have heard of the concept of stretching or doing exercises in preparation for the trek. I watched with a certain shock as Indians of all ages hiked along, sweat trailing down the sides of faces, some bent over at each step to coat the stone in the precious red and yellow powders, while others were burdened with heavy sacks placed upon their backs or heads. There were elderly people who struggled with each step, grasping the railing for extra support; while at the same time, children quickly walked up as if the task was not at all difficult.
I wondered about the motivation of these countless people, how they were able to do all that they did. I began to realize that despite the differences in region, wealth and personality, they all had faith in common. Whether theirs was faith in Lord Venkatesha or another God, in accomplishment of a promise or faith in their own ability to complete the task, I could see it shining in the spirit of each individual beside me. I doubt any believer could clearly explain why or how he believes; but I suppose that when you have faith, you no longer require proof or answers. I think only faith could enable one to endure waiting in an excruciatingly long line that snakes around the temple for twelve hours only to lay eyes on the Lord for a rushed ten seconds, and still come away from the pilgrimage with the euphoric, content feeling typical of these devotees. And then, despite the countless distractions during that brief ten-second darshan, the only thing on a devotee's mind is God and nothing else.
Because of this life-altering experience, it has become clear to me why people are so determined to accomplish a task. I have come to realize that throughout the visible universe of material things and in the invisible universe of the human soul, there is only one thing powerful enough to fully control the body, mind and consciousness. I have found that this force is one which is predominant in each and every one of us. Despite whether people call it faith, God or potential, it is the sole reason that drives humans to accomplish infinite feats. One of the many demonstrations of this force is found within each and every step taken by a faithful pilgrim upon that tall mountain.
British Army Gurkha BhaktiOur Hindu Gurkha brothers in Afghanistan set an example for the whole Hindu diaspora with their tent temple in Lakshar Gah, Afghanistan. Members of the 2nd Battalion of the British Royal Ghurka Rifles, originally from Nepal, set up the temple on their second tour, the only one of its kind among Gurkha units. The soldiers perform an arati every morning, with occasional visits by Hindu and Buddhist chaplains. "This is the Goddess Durga," says Lance Corporal Prithvi, pointing to the temple's main Deity. "She represents power. At this moment we pray to Her because we think She gives us power to defeat evil forces."
Murugan Still Strong in LankaWhen ethnic civil war broke out in Sri Lanka in 1983, the government put a moratorium on Hindu festivals in the capital city of Colombo as a security precaution. In 2009 it lifted the ban, and in 2010 the Vel Festival was celebrated for the first time in 26 years. It was celebrated again in 2011, much to the joy of Tamil Hindus, who have suffered profoundly during the conflict. The Vel procession in Colombo has special significance as it is conducted with participation of the head of state. Muruga's Vel goes from one temple to another, stopping along the way to bless the president and the whole country.
Ganesha Moksha in EnglandThe popular festival of Ganesha Visarjana continues to grow worldwide as more and more Hindus gather each year to immerse their beloved Elephant-Faced Deity into the water. It is a powerful moment, a magical metaphor for liberation into the Oneness of Being. One of the biggest events outside of India is held annually 64 kilometers east of London in the popular resort borough, Southend-on-Sea. Feasting and garbha dances fill the day with joyful celebration.
Little Sisters Capture ArmyIndia's raksha bandha custom is spreading all over the world. Literally it means "protective binding." The simple ceremony involves a sister tying a rakhi (woven cord) on her brother's wrist. This symbolizes the sister's love and prayers for his well-being, and his lifelong vow to protect her. Over time the custom has broadened to include young women tying a rakhi on the wrist of other males with whom they have a brotherly relationship. In a world where war is perpetrated by men, often at the expense of innocent women and children, Raksha Bandha carries a powerful message about the way men should conduct themselves: protecting the innocent, the helpless, the vulnerable.
US Mission Preys on IndiaIf you think concern about Christian missionary aggression is paranoid exaggeration take a look at "Mission India," based in Michigan, USA (missionindia.org). One of many similar efforts, it is a sophisticated, multi-million-dollar operation aimed at India and her children. Slick videos contrast a dark picture of India's illiteracy, social injustice, poverty and suffering with a vision of a happy Christianized nation: "God is mobilizing His people in India, using their passion for Jesus to change lives and transform an entire nation."
The business has three products: for us$1 you can pay for Bibles that will be used to form Children's Bible Clubs: "Many children in Children's Bible Clubs make a decision to follow Jesus. And these children are bringing their parents to Christ! Every year new churches grow out of Children's Bible Clubs."
For $30 you cover the cost of materials and training for Adult Literacy Classes: "Illiteracy is an epidemic in India. Bible-based Adult Literacy Classes are bringing hope of a brighter future to India's poor." For the record, since independence, the acceleration of literacy in India is unparalleled in history. Today 82 percent of Indians between the ages of 15 and 24 are literate. For us$2,500 you can "launch a Church Planter on a lifetime of mission work,... providing Indian believers with training and materials to effectively reach their nation for Christ." For insights into the psychology of such invasive campaigns, read "Fraudulent Mission," by David Frawley (bit.ly/fraud-x).
Herbivores Rarely Get Alzheimer's"I'm Rudy Tanzi, a professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School at Massachusetts General Hospital. What is the one thing that we know from epidemiology studies that reduces the risk of Alzheimer's? It is exercise, movement. Keep moving, keep blood flow going to the brain. This is the best thing you can do. And there is healthy diet. I happen to know that in the animal kingdom, if you look at which animals get Alzheimer's pathology, it begins with carnivores. All such mammals, tigers, lions, bears, etc., that get old enough will get placques and tangles in their brain. Herbivores don't. Donkeys, giraffes, hippopotamuses--they don't get Alzheimer's pathology. In the animal kingdom, at least, we see this link between eating animal products, animal fats and the inevitability of Alzheimer's pathology. I am a vegetarian. I'm hoping for the best.
"And it is going to get worse because we are living longer and longer. If we cannot treat this disease at its roots and stop it, this is a tsunami coming. By 2015, Alzheimer's will single-handedly begin to collapse Medicare and Medicaid. That's how prevalent it is. So, we need to do something fast."
Dr. Rudoph Tanzi on CNN.See the entire interview: bit.ly/alz-vegy
Bill Clinton: "I'm a Vegan."In 2004 former president Bill Clinton, underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery in 2004. He made moderate changes to his diet and lifestyle, but in 2010, at age 64, his clogged veins required stent surgery. At that point, instead of just managing his heart disease, he made a decision to work on actually reversing it. Inspired by leading doctors in the field, including Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. John Campbell, President Clinton researched 25 years of evidence showing that 82 percent of those who switched to a plant based diet were able to reverse their heart disease. In a CNN interview (youtu.be/R3ied_AD4iE) he explains his decision and tells how he lost 24 pounds in preparation for the wedding of his daughter Chelsea. He says, "I decided to join this group and put myself into the experiment." It was a big change for a man who loved cheeseburgers, chicken, pork, pizza and cigars. He hopes his new diet will lead to self-clearing arteries and a long life that will include enjoying his grand children.
President Clinton's decision is a big hit with vegan and vegetarian advocates. Just Google "Clinton Vegan" for an adventure in the celebrity vegan health world.
Plant-Based Diet GainsGround in USASince 1917, when the us issued its first official food guide, meat and dairy have been prominent components of recommended food groups. In the 1956 nutrition guide, they took prime place as two of four food groups, along with fruits and vegetables and grain products. The guide was strongly influenced by pressure from the food manufacturing industry, which began in the late 1800s. In 1977, when fat/cholesterol was officially deemed the bad-health culprit, new Dietary Goals for Americans called for less fat and increased carbohydrates, again with a lot of input from the processed food giants. Between then and 1992, heated debates over the dietary causes of the heart disease, along with on-going lobbying by the dairy, meat and processed cereal grain producers, led the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to adopt Sweden's food pyramid as its official guide. That guide still did not reflect scientific research. Sweden, in fact, has a higher heart disease death rate than the US. Fruit and vegetables were minimized, making up a third or less of recommended consumption. This model for nutrition was promoted all over the world.
Then vegetarians and vegans entered the fray with their own pyramids, pushing for a higher percentage of fruit and vegetables in our diets. The Internet opens up a whole new world of greater choice paralysis. Look up "food pyramid," and you find 300,000 images.
In 2010 the USDA revised its pyramid again with the food industry still hard at work to secure a prominent place for their products. Milk, cheese, meat, fish, eggs, bread, cereal, rice and pasta still won a two-thirds share. Meanwhile, the epidemic of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other diseases widely acknowledged to have roots in our diet, continues unabated.
In a surprise move in early 2011, advocates for a more balanced, healthier diet, with support from Michelle Obama, replaced the food pyramid with a simpler model: the ChooseMyPlate icon. Vegetarians may take note that the words meat, fish, eggs do not appear. Fruits and vegetables take up 50 percent of the real estate, with dairy set apart as a side dish. Sweets or desserts of any kind are not included, sending an important messages about the proper place of sugar in our diet: no place at all.
BrieflyA religious school holidays debate is heating up across America. Secularists lean to the view that the state cannot teach or support any form of religion. This has led some states to remove all religious holidays form their annual calendar. Other school districts have added more holidays to reflect their multi-ethnic base, and still others are sticking to holidays for only the Abrahamic majority community.
The California-based Institute of American Religion released in April what it calls the first every census of Hindus in America. It discovered some 1,600 temples and centers with an estimated 600,000 practicing Hindus. The growth of Hinduism in American is attributed to quiet, steady advancement of the Indian Hindu immigrant community. That number could easily rise up to the estimated 1.2 million who self-identify as Hindus in national studies by adding in the mostly Indian Americans who limit their involvement to private spiritual practices or celebrations of semi-secularized holy days such as Diwali. Westerners who openly declare themselves Hindus form a small fraction of the number.
Om Tat Sat
(My humble salutations to Sadguru H H Sri Bharati Teertha Swamy ji Sringeri Sarada Peetham for the collection)
(My humble salutations to Sadguru Sri Sivaya Subramuniyaswami ji, Satguru Bodhianatha Velayanswami ji, Hinduism Today for the collection)
(The Blog is reverently for all the seekers of truth, lovers of wisdom and to share the Hindu Dharma with others on the spiritual path and also this is purely a non-commercial blog)