It was nice coming to know you in Delhi. This note is just to express my gratitude to you for giving me an opportunity to get to know you, while you were here.
I am enclosing herewith a copy of the column based on your views on religion. I was quite happy with the talk I had with you on various issues. You are open and clear on your stand. What is more, your endeavour to remove superstitious practices from the society are praiseworthy.
I am impressed by the way you handle the Gita. I would be happy to make use of your knowledge in my column for the benefit of the readers. My difficulty often is that there is no one single Hindu view on many religious concepts. Take the example of 'sin'. Every brahmin is supposed to recite a hymn asking God to cleanse him from sin before he takes his morning bath, whereas Swami Vivekananda hated all talks about sin. He took it as 'negativism', a sign of weakness. He even proclaimed that it is a sin to call any one a sinner !
On the other hand, Christian faith regards that all men, without exception, are sinners. Christ said that he did not come to save the 'righteous' but the 'sinners'. 'Sin' and 'repentance' are the two important topics in the Christian faith....
Please forgive me for sermonizing to you. Can you please send me a 1000 word piece on "sin and repentance" according to Gita or any other Hindu scripture ?
With warm regards once again,
Yours in the service, X
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Dear and blessed Soul:
Harih Om Tat Sat. The two letters you sent arrived in time. I have read the articles you have enclosed. May your pen flow well and succeed in enriching the inner dimensions of man. After reading your articles and also the letter in which you have raised some points, especially bearing upon 'sin', some thoughts come to my mind, which I present below as I proceed to type.
1. Yours is an Indian newspaper, a leading one, and it has the primary responsibility of presenting and strengthening the Indian ethos in all matters. As news, everything can and should be covered. But in presenting stimulating thoughts in a regular column, any Indian newspaper should beam with love for the Nation and its culture, with critical evaluations no doubt. But is this kept in mind in your writings ?
I find your quotations are mostly from foreign authors and foreign literature. Being entrusted with the sublime task of writing this particular column, should you not faithfully read more and more of Indian thinking, and then guide the readers in that line ? How will the role be fulfilled ? It is true that the Indian thoughts are authentically available only in Sanskrit, but there are adequate translations through which one can access the original thoughts and inspiration.
2. You must be knowing how Macaulay wrote to the British authorities on what he found to be the strong cultural moorings of this Nation, and consequently the dire need to undermine these by a calculated effort. Sanskrit was the language this multi-lingual and multi-regional land evolved, specially for integrating the people. Through that language the Kashmiris and Keralites, the Gujaratis and Orissis, all thought and spoke alike. Each taught the same Vedic vision and values, which even today live intact. This has been the only cementing force for our otherwise widely different people. It is a fact that the struggle for independence derived strength only when the messages from Valmiki's Ramayana and Vyasadeva's Bhagavad Gita were eloquently delivered by the then leaders, with forethought and dedication.
Macaulay wanted to undermine this Sanskrit language and the cultural bonds of the people. English was given the prime, prestigious position and the ancient national Sanskrit was relegated to a primitive status. Giving positions and power to the English-educated and alluring them variously, the other language of the land was made to look archaic and useless. This is a fact recorded in history.
3. Before the world religions sprang up, the Dharma, encompassing every facet of our life on this planet, had been evolved in the Sindhu and Ganga banks and valleys. And Dharma, being the power to sustain life in prosperity and adversity, amongst friends and destitutes, survives even today. Because of its majesty and inevitable lustre, it is sought the world over by thinkers as well as others.
4. Sanskrit language has gifted a mighty literature to us. Some of the great compositions have not seen even the light of the day. In many, human thoughts and reason have been taken to their destined climax and fullness. The final heights revealed by these cannot be outlived either by time or by civilization. Such is the inestimable subtlety and transcendent nature of the ancient thinkers' explorative devotion and excellence.
5. Vedas occupy a distinct place in our Sanskrit literature. Vid, the root, means to know, and Vedas denote Knowledge as well as its Source. Rig-veda, the first of the four Vedas, has declared in its mahavakya: PRAJNANAM BRAHMA, and by this the might and superiority of the Vedic thinkers and their thought processes stand distinguished even today. Brahman signifies the Ultimate or Supreme Reality, the quest of all philosophies. Prajnanam implies 'well-developed or well-founded knowledge'. Rig-vedic mahavakya would thus denote that the Ultimate Reality, when actually sought and comprehended, would be found to be proper knowledge itself.
Dear X, can you imagine our ancients coming out with a statement that Knowledge is itself the Ultimate Reality - the ultimate source of the entire creation, the universe surrounding us!
Between matter and materiality that encircles man, and Knowledge that he conceives within himself, Rig-vedic thinkers eloquently state even today that Knowledge, and not matter or energy, is the Ultimate Reality. Materiality as a whole is obviously perishable and hence cannot be given the status of Supreme Reality !
6. In Yajur-veda the concept is taken up further to give it an additional forceful implication. It says: Aham Brahmasmi. Aham means 'I'. What we denote by the expression 'I' is itself the Supreme Reality, Brahman. 'I' is a constant revelation in man; in fact, the only changeless thing that we know of. This self-revealing Presence or Source is itself the Ultimate Reality.
To declare that Knowledge is the very source of all creation is verily to assert that one need not and should not search for the ultimate source within the infinite visible creation - within the objectivity as such. The Source is always in the subjectivity, the Subject sphere. Can you imagine the keenness and confidence necessary to make such a declaration ? Our Sages displayed this unique note of excellence at a time, when the pen of history had not yet begun to move ! Equally so, even when the world religions had not emerged on the surface of the earth !
7. The entire Vedic compositions reveal Knowledge and Knowledge alone. To begin with, it has a religious connotation. Thus we have Hymns of Prayer and Praise constituting the first phase of Vedic literature. Following this, impelled by religious zeal and motivations, the Vedic thinkers invented and designed sacred ceremonies invoking the holy fire to consume whatever they piously offered. This ceremonial or ritualistic part is the second phase of Vedic thinking as well as life.
8. As a significant contrast to these two as well as a natural evolution therefrom, they took up the contemplative facet, outliving praise, prayer as well as rituals. The entire pursuit became mental and intelligential, involving contemplation, reasoning and discoveries. In this, the extrovert man became introvert, the external objective involvement ceased, taking the thinker to inward absorption. Thus emerged the last phase - the pinnacle of Vedic thinking - called Upanishads, in which questions are set for the enquiring intelligence and answers are revealed as an inevitable sequence. In any field of human life, it is dedicated seeking or enquiry that leads to unfailing knowledge. The Upanishads lead the practitioner to the sphere of supreme knowledge and fulfillment.
9. All other texts of Hinduism come behind Vedas, striving faithfully to serve the fundamental purport of Vedic life. We have thus two epics - Ramayana and Mahabharata. Besides, there are also 18 puranas, mythological compositions. There are again 18 upa-puranas (sub-puranas)
Mythological compositions are a science and narration of myths. The contents are obviously not facts and truths as such, but everything is built upon facts and truths of life and to serve their cause alone. Through these mythological themes, the common mass is taught, inspired and compelled to adhere to a course of restraints, disciplines and discrimination, to ensure all-fold harmony and welfare of the world.
What the Indian society has as its common heritage and legacy is the net effect of this mythological education. There is a celebrated verse, which summarizes the whole message of the puranas :
अष्ठादश-पुराणेषु व्यासस्य वचनद्वयम् ।परोपकार: पुण्याय पापाय परपीडनम् ।।
In all the eighteen puranas, Vyasadeva, their author, has only two statements to make: Paropakara (serving others) is punya (virtue), and para-peedana (harming others) is papa (vice).
See, the entire mythology, related generally to the unseen gods and goddesses, now suddenly summarily descend to the earth and to the day to day life of man, to point out to him that selfishness and destructive tendencies are unholy, and selflessness and constructive traits are the most holy and godly !
Religious concepts and commands are thus always used to make the interactive man good and benign. Human mind is notorious in its selfish notes of greed, hate, intolerance and fearfulness. Propelled by these, it instigates the individual and society alike to indulge in all kinds of degenerative moves. To restrain such a mischievous mind, any effort and means will not be excess. Mythological concepts and influences are a very powerful and effective means to subdue the rebellious mind and its pet ways. That is why through the imagery of post-death rewards and punishments, the checks and balances provided by the puranas are found to be immensely effective even today.
Punya is a word given to virtuous conduct, and papa is the opposite, bad conduct. These two, described variously in Hinduism, are made to rest upon a host of imaginations or postulates like heaven and hell. But good and bad originate and rest upon the human mind and conduct alone.
Any other concepts and speculations are, at best, concoctions, imaginations. The discreet mind will be able to understand that life is pratyaksha for us and the explanations given must also be pratyaksha. No proposition or reasoning, contrary to the pratyaksha facts and figures, can become acceptable. In a celebrated statement, our thinkers have set a norm for accepting any information or knowledge :
युक्तियुक्तं प्रगृहणीयात् बालादपि विचक्षण: ।अन्यत तृणवत् त्याज्यं अप्युक्तं ब्रहम्योनिना ।।
Whatever is reasonable, even when stated by a child, should be accepted. Any other statement, even if ordained by Brahma, the Creator, is to be discarded like a blade of grass.
In another such proverbial saying, the exhortation is very clear :
पुराणमित्येव न साधुसर्वं न चापि काव्यं नवमित्यवद्द्यम् ।सन्त: परीक्ष्यान्यतरान् भजन्ते मुढ: परप्रत्ययनेय बुद्धि: ।।
Simply because something is 'ancient', it is not entitled to be regarded as good and acceptable. Similarly, if a poetic composition is written recently or currently, it does not become less adorable on the ground of not being ancient. Wise people are always given to examine critically the facts of each instance and arrive at the right course of action. Only fools will mortgage their wisdom and will to be led by what others say.
Hindu thinkers, from time to time, have lived these declarations and inspired the society to follow the right spirit. It is such fundamental and ultimate statements that have remained the guidelines of the Hindu society. As happens in any other field, here and there, quite possibly, lack of timely leadership and guidance occurs, and the resultant degeneration also creeps in. But that is, however, not the standard for our judgement of Hinduism.
10. The orthodox position about religious and spiritual life is that puranic concepts and traditions, when properly thought, will be found to embody contradictions. When the mind, assailed by these contradictions, looks for the more reliable truths, it is led to the epics and smritis. There also the thinker will face contradictions, and the enquiring mind will not be able to rest in peace and clarity. The enquirer then is led to Vedic texts. There too contradictions will be met in the first two sections. But the last and the crowning portion, the Upanishads, dissolves all contradictions and presents lucidly the whole subject with reason, precision and compulsion.
11. The Upanishads make the clarion call that the seeker should constantly look into his own personality. Relentless effort must be there to purify, refine, sublimate and integrate it. The process should start from right knowledge and then derive inspiration and compulsions from such knowledge. When the personality begins to respond to the dictates and corrections of knowledge, then and then alone, does human life become enriched and integrated.
12.God is only a preliminary concept of religious minds. The Reality behind is verily the Self of man himself. This Self, which is undeniably present in everybody and is constantly revealed to him effortlessly, is alone spoken of as Brahman by the philosophers, andas Paramatma or Bhagavan by others. And this Self is the advaya-jnana (non-dual knowledge). Sreemad Bhaagavata mentions this right in the beginning:
वदन्ति तत्तत्वविद: तत्त्वं यज्ञानमद्वयम् ।ब्रह्मेति परमात्मेति भगवानिति शब्द्यते ।।
13. Gita is practically a commentary by Krishna on the Upanishads. The Upanishadic theme of the single universal Self alone is the subject of discussion in Gita. But in dealing with the subject, Krishna has made the discussion as comprehensive and integral as possible, by incorporating all the systems of thought prevalent at the time. In Gita, you find Arjuna suddenly apprehends sin and fear in the war, for which he had been preparing zealously for the previous thirteen years. How can one suddenly change his view ? But this is what Arjuna did ! Krishna instantly questioned his stand and exposed the fighter to the proper perspective, taking stand on the Upanishadic Soul, which is birthless and deathless.
In making the Soul the focus of life and contemplating upon it in all crises and confrontations, one has to go forward with resoluteness and fervour. Soul means interminable strength, unshakeable resolve, unending enthusiasm and joy. Soul and Soul alone will be a full answer to all world-conflicts and confusions.
14. Gita describes worldly life as a coursing through dvandvas (pairs of opposites): sin and virtue, joy and sorrow, big and small, friend and enemy, profit and loss, heaven and hell, success and failure etc. To realize the joy of freedom and peace, one has to rise above dvandvas, their conflicting influences. One has to know the uniform Soul which transcends transitoriness and all contradictions. Hence, nirdvandva, says Krishna, is the path, safest and the best. From dvandva to nirdvandvatva is, in fact, from the conflict-ridden world to the clarity-full Soul.
In this process, Krishna has made many clarifications, provided many helps, and also offered a number of significant assurances. All these are aimed at the diffident and fearful mind to help it gain its right focus, its own but unknown magnificence.
15.You particularly sought to know the Hindu view on sin and virtue, and hence their outcome, hell and heaven, which are generally regarded as destinations to be reached after one dies here on the earth. Gita's clever comment and elucidation on the subject is quite bold and direct : Three are the doors which lead to hell - kaama (passion, lust), krodha (anger, intolerance) and lobha (greed). The doors always are openings to a room or residence. There is no separation between the doors and the buildings they lead one to. So the hell to be entered through these doors is right here, upon the earth ! Is not the subject clear from this ?
In Sreemad Bhaagavata, Krishna makes a striking description of heaven and hell, upholding the same spirit :
Ascent of satvaguna in man brings heaven, and the upsurge of tamoguna, hell.
As sin and virtue abide in man, so too the outcome these bring about is felt within man himself. He does not have to go anywhere else, to meet the outcome.
16. Every prohibition or injunction is to be adhered to only to be outlived and transcended in the process. Human life is meant to be civilized at all times. Hindu view of civilization is the inner unfoldment and achievement. It inevitably brings about purity and sublimity. Disciplines and denials form a natural and enriching part of the whole process.
To help self-discipline, scriptures have divided matters into good and bad, virtuous and vicious. By so doing, the aspirant is trained to keep away from bad and thereby to take loyally to the good. But what actually takes place in this process, knowingly or unknowingly, is the building up of the strength and habit of avoiding one set. The mind trained and used to avoid some will also, by that very discipline, be empowered to let go the other too in the end. Imagine the quality and excellence of the mind which is able to remain poised and free, unaffected by any attractions or repulsions. Is this not the freedom and joy that every one will be looking for any time ? Health and wellbeing of a lasting nature can emerge only from independence and poise in oneself.
Every word of eulogy about the reward for virtue and the curse for vice is in fact meant to attract the ordinary mind towards good and help it to repel the bad. Eulogism is like adding syrup to make a bitter medicine tasty.
A cultured mind will take to goodness naturally. It does not need the syrup of eulogism (artha-vada).
The scriptures at every stage insist upon man to be discriminating, and to employ his own will and choice judiciously. Man alone is the cause of his elevation. He indeed works for his degeneration as well. It is the duty of the right-thinking human to elevate himself and not to downgrade himself.
Dear and blessed X, I am sorry that I am not able to sit and write any kind of a general article. At the same time I do want you to have some material to help and shape your thoughts on the land's heritage and dharma. I would like you to familiarize yourself more with the Indian thoughts and present them in your writings, which have a good degree of appeal. If the purpose is to present religio-spiritual thoughts, you should definitely read such books, preferably the original ones for which translations are available, and deepen your vision and insight. At this stage it is a necessity, and will have good appeal to your readers.
The monthly 'Vicharasetu', the Ashram has been publishing for more than 30 years, deals with only spiritual subjects. I am writing a series on Essential Concepts in Bhagavad Gita. Hope you are reading it.
We are planning to land in Delhi by February 28th.
With love, regard and ashirvad,
Your own Antaratma,