GREETING THE NEW YEAR 2011
Musing by Prof. G. Venkataraman
At the outset, I would like to offer my humble and loving pranams at the lotus feet of our dearest Swami. Loving Sai Ram and greetings from Prashanti Nilayam.
I know it is a bit late but nevertheless, let me begin by wishing on behalf of all of us here in Radio Sai, A HAPPY NEW YEAR to all of you out there, in various parts of the world. For me personally, it is a great feeling to be wishing the entire world, sitting here in Prashanti. Little did I know as late as August of 2001, that one day not far off, I would actually be able to do this. How grateful we all ought to be Swami, for enabling us to be in such close touch!
Radio Sai Still Beams through Asiastar Satellite, Thanks to Him!
May I also take this opportunity to draw particular attention to the fact that those of you who are listening on a WorldSpace radio and via the Asiastar satellite, are getting this blessing entirely due to the grace of Swami. Do you remember exactly one year ago, we were panicking about the shutdown of the WorldSpace company? WorldSpace has shut down and sold off the satellite to another company, which is currently not having any service on the Asiastar satellite. Yet, there is one solitary channel that is coming through, and that is Radio Sai! Can you imagine that? Of the hundreds of channels that once beamed programs via the Asiastar satellite, only one is now functioning, even though officially the new buyer has suspended all channels; and that solitary channel is Radio Sai Global Harmony. If this is not a great miracle, then what is?
Radio Sai is the only channel heard on Worldspace digital receivers today. And it has been so for a full year now!
These days, offering New Year greetings has not only become a pretty routine ritual but in fact a huge industry. That said, kindly remember that when Radio Sai wishes you happiness, it means that it wants you to live with God more than ever before, since it is union with God alone that can bring true happiness. I concede that what I just said was a barely concealed ad for Radio Sai, but then why not? Do we not try hard all the time, to fill your day with love and joy?
Prof. G. Venkataraman
My Musings - The Past and the Future
By the way, there is a specific reason why I made a pointed reference to the role of Radio Sai but before I come to that, here are a few personal notes if I may. Many years ago, I started off the musings program doing individual pieces, one might call them occasional musings. Later, I switched to serials, and as some of you would recall, I have done quite a few of those, the latest being the series on the Ramayana, which was also my longest. God willing, I would like to do one more long serial, this being on the life and teachings of Swami. However, that calls for much more preparation than I have ever had to do in the past. Immersed as I am now in a major restructuring of our activities to meet the various challenges thrown up by modern communication technology, I just cannot get down to this last fling; which means that I have to restrict myself, at least for a while, to the occasional musing on diverse topics. At the same time, I am not too apologetic about this change of gear, because such independent reflections also have an important place in our larger scheme of things. Let me plunge straightway into the topic of the day so that my remarks cease to be vague and make some sense.
A Blog That Caught My Attention Accidentally
Today, I wish to call attention to a small piece entitled WASTING THE TRUTH that appeared in the Times of India in its publication dated September 20, 2010. I should add that this piece is a part of regular feature entitled city city bang bang, authored by one Mr. Santosh Desai. It is probably what they call a blog, with the writer commenting on various aspects of the current scene. Now how did I happen to pick this particular piece of writing, and what was so unique about it to catch my attention? The answer to that requires first a few introductory remarks.
Ever since I came to Prashanti to make it my permanent residence - that was way back in 1992, soon after my retirement - I stopped buying newspapers. Earlier, I was an avid reader of newspapers and could not be without them even for a day - I felt so cut-off. But once I came here, I found that the daily routine was so tight, I simply gave up the newspaper reading habit without thinking twice about it. Sure, if there was a paper lying around somewhere and I had a few minutes to spare, I did not mind glancing through it; but the compulsive must-read feeling that once was so strong in me, was no longer there. It was simply a question of time management, apart from the darshan sessions, I had to prepare for the classes that I taught, besides which I had to study a lot as a junior spiritual seeker. Thus, from a regular and avid reader of newspapers I changed to one who occasionally glanced at the headlines; and when the papers, barring a few, became filled with ads and sleazy stuff, I stopped bothering about newspapers altogether.
You might wonder: That being the case, how on earth did I come to read this piece by Santosh Desai? The explanation for that might amuse you. You see, the dhobhi or washerman who launders my clothes has the practice of slipping in a newspaper sheet into the shirt while folding it, to keep the ironed shirt stiff. By habit, I collect these pieces and store them since there is always some need for waste paper. Having grown up in the Gandhian era, I, like most of my contemporaries, learnt to be frugal and careful in not wasting things that could be reused; I am of course nowhere near Gandhi's Himalayan standards of frugality, but there was this little habit nevertheless. Thus, every time the washed stuff was delivered, I would carefully collect these pieces of paper, fold them neatly and put them away for subsequent use as wrappers or whatever. Usually I briefly glanced over these bits of paper just to see if there was anything interesting in them. However, since the news was almost invariably about movie stars, I did not waste time reading it in detail.
Thus it was that one day a few weeks ago I picked up a sheet of the Times of India packed into my shirt, and in it I saw this piece that I referred to. I paused and decided to glance at this piece before putting it away. As I skimmed through the piece, I realised that I must cut this one out and preserve it for a careful reading because it seemed to be a window on today's world, and I was keen to know what intelligent young people in India feel these days about important social matters. From the stamp size photo accompanying the piece, it seemed that the writer was possibly in his mid to late forties. He obviously had good writing skills - he was clear in expression, adept in packing punch and sarcasm, clever in making arguments and caustic in his criticisms.
Sting Operations - Do They Really Work? The Blogger's Views
I am sure you have become quite impatient with all this introductory stuff, and so let me get down to what this writer had to say. His blog is about 800 or so words long, and begins as follows:
Last week a television channel carried out a sting operation on Indian Godmen, which established what some people had always suspected, that owning an alleged hotline to God comes along with certain material benefits on the side.
So that's how the writer begins. Contrary to what you might be expecting, the writer was not interested in this particular sting operation but on such operations themselves and goes on to say the following:
The sting as a method of uncovering truth has gained enormously in currency in the past few years and has served to convert into pictures what were doubts in our minds, and in doing so, has provided a new way of bringing dishonesty to book.
Mr. Desai is correct. A few years ago, stings were rare and hence considered stunning but it would seem that of late, not a day passes without some media person stinging someone or the other, somewhere or the other. That's why the writer raises the question whether stings have had any effect in curbing dishonesty in public life. Answering the question, he says,
In a majority of cases, when we look back on some of the most sensational stings, we see little evidence that they had any significant long-term impact.
I am sure that observation must come as a surprise to you; to me at least, it certainly did. The question now becomes, if stings don't do any good, then why waste time and money on them? Is it just to grab public attention with the latest scandal and boost ratings if it is a TV channel that is involved or improve sales if it is a newspaper or a magazine that is engaged in stinging? Quite possibly it is the ratings game that has made stinging into an industry. Keeping that point aside, let's find out what more Mr. Desai has to say. He continues:
Systematic dishonesty does not get dismantled just because we become aware of it.
Well, I can agree with that because instead of exposure of corruption causing a sense of shame and controlling the disease, the number of corruption cases being exposed has in fact increased - reminds me of a famous French saying 'the more things change, the more they remain the same'. According to Mr. Desai, what has happened is that people are gradually turning to the view that it is OK to be dishonest! To put it differently, his view seems to be that while it may perhaps be useful to have honesty as an ideal, there really is no need to take honesty seriously!
Is Honesty the Best Policy in These Times?
Maybe I have not quite got right what Mr. Desai is trying to say but just consider the following remark of his:
Society depends on the APPEARANCE of moral order rather than its actual practice. Honesty is useful in homeopathic doses for then we consume its INTENTION rather than its reality.
I don't know what you make of it, but to me it seems that this gentleman seems to be saying that being occasionally and marginally honest is all that is called for in today's world. Rest of the time, we can sanctimoniously preach honesty, while not being serious about it in our own lives. If you think I am in error, then please consider the following remark of the writer, also made in the same vein:
Perhaps we need to maintain the illusions about the better side of life. The more we become aware of the fact that no cow is holy and that all feet have a bit of clay in them, the easier it is to accept the dismantling of any standard of behaviour.
Let us pause for a moment and try to understand what has been just quoted. Mr. Desai says we must maintain the illusions about the better side of life. Honesty in life would, in my opinion, be one of those things that make up the better side. Is demanding honesty to be taken as merely as an act that sustains the illusion of honesty? Is honesty not important in itself for us to clamour about its decline? To me it seems that Mr. Desai thinks not - at least that is how I understand him. If I am right, then I sure am rattled. Considering that just recently I completed a long series on the Ramayana, I have to ask whether both Saint Tyagaraja who constantly held a musical conversation with Rama and Gandhi who not only chanted the name of Rama all his life but actually breathed his last chanting the name, whether these two historic and saintly figures were chasing nothing but an illusion?
Let me take you back to the quote where Mr. Desai talks about the holy cow, etc. Just to remind you, the essence of that quote is the following:
- There are no holy cows.
- All of us have feet of clay.
- In view of the above, 'the simplest thing to do would be to accept the dismantling of any standard of behaviour.'
Please note that the phrase 'accept the dismantling of any standard of behaviour' is not mine but that of blogger Desai. I am not certain whether Desai actually means what he says, but frankly, I am terrified to hear or read such a thing. Let me explain why I say so, so that you do not feel that I have gone nuts.
Should Integrity be given only Lip-service in the Present Times?
Now when a person like the President of a country or Judge, etc., is sworn to a high office, that person takes an oath. Similarly, officials appointed to high and responsible posts are supposed to sign a document while assuming responsibility that binds them to maintaining official secrets, uphold the rule of law, truthfulness in the discharge of their duties, etc. These are solemn promises meant to be taken seriously, and this custom of taking an oath is followed in almost all countries. Indeed even professionals like doctors and lawyers in particular, are expected to take an oath at the time of their graduation. The idea behind all this oath- taking is that oaths are supposed to be taken seriously. However, if I understand correctly what Desai is saying, oaths no longer have any meaning, the process itself being a mere routine, a social function, at the end of which everyone smiles, there are hand shakes all around, etc; in short, it is just a photo-op. If that is what oath is supposed to mean these days, then I am absolutely rattled.
In earlier times, things were quite different. Yes, here and there one came across petty corruption and nepotism, but on the average there was not only probity in public life but one could also point out to any number of people in all walks of life who were utterly honest. Back then, a majority of people in India believed in the supremacy of moral law.
Modernisation and the Decline of Morality
However, in a few short decades, all that seems to have changed altogether, plunging us into a topsy-turvy world where morality has no meaning, except perhaps as a fig leaf to be used when convenient. Analysts may have detailed explanations for all this, but to me it seems that globalisation and the consequent rapid economic growth has a lot to do with the equally rapid erosion of morals. As I see it, it is all due to the eagerness and the enthusiasm of people in the middle and upper class, being in a tearing hurry to adopt current Western values.
Lest I am misunderstood let me make it very clear that in earlier times, people all over the world did have a largely common set of moral and ethical values, including in the West. However, when technology began to impact life in a massive way, people found it convenient to sideline many norms of behaviour accepted up to then. Since modern technology took root in the West first, dilution of morality also started there. And when the East began to catch up with the West, the same sort of dilution of moral values began to occur in Eastern countries also, starting with Japan and spreading later to South Korea, China and Thailand. And now, India is in the grip of the modernisation fever. So, the problem is not in the West or East per se, but rather in the way people get swept by the attractions of modernisation.
I must at this point freely admit that there are many pluses in modernisation. At the same time, modernisation imposes a life style which also forces people to give up precious value systems built up over thousands of years. Thus, gone is the idea that parents must be looked after in their old age - instead we now have the nuclear family, and believe me, though I had studied nuclear physics and kept abreast of developments in it, until recently I simply did now know what a nuclear family meant. That might give you some idea of how rapidly change has overtaken us here. In a sense therefore, the question before us thus becomes: "Can we moderate the modernisation process without, shall I say, throwing the baby with the bath water?" We need to discuss that in detail, later maybe.
Getting back to this issue of rapid modernisation, once people began to get sucked into the world of iphones, frequent air travel, dining out, buying the must-have even if it meant borrowing, constantly checking e-mails and what not, they also begin to lower the moral bar in one aspect of life after another. And so it has come to pass that people have begun to think that corruption is inevitable, is here to stay, is even OK to indulge in, and the only thing that is important is not to get caught. If others are caught, one must roundly condemn the culprit and lament loudly, "Oh my God, what has this country come to!" In other words, we have slowly begun to acquire the art of double standards, which is a polite phrase for hypocrisy.
At this point, let me catch up with Mr. Desai who says,
When we start evaluating actions primarily on the basis of their effectiveness rather than their appropriateness, we create a culture of pragmatism that is assertive as well as bottomless. The opposite of dishonesty in all probability is not honesty but brazenness. Hypocrisy bridges the gap between who we should be and what we are.
I hope you followed that last quote carefully. As I see it, the two points that Desai makes are: 1) The opposite of dishonesty is brazenness, and 2) hypocrisy is the best way of covering up dishonesty. Now tell me, even though our friend seems to doubt about the efficacy of the virtue of honesty, would you like to live in a world bereft of honesty and integrity? Is this the kind of world you would like your children to grow up in?
Before I take this further, let me take a minute off to quote for you the sentence with which Mr. Desai ends his short piece. He says:
The need for pretences is our saving grace for, in doing that, we acknowledge the moral standard to which we are held. Of course, this is arbitrary and even dishonest, in that it turns a blind eye to our many failings, but it keeps the necessity of honesty alive.
Frankly, I am not sure if the writer is merely trying to be provocative and make us think seriously about the moral collapse that is currently engulfing us, or he is actually suggesting that the rules we have to live by should be different. In other words, maybe he is telling us: "Folks! The name of the game now is: 'Might is right; and corruption, cheating, looting and grabbing as big a piece of the cake as possible is how one gets along in life, provided one can get away with it. Of course, when a person is caught as happens once in a while, we should cry foul as loudly as possible.'"
If you look around, that exactly is what is happening during all the so-called sting operations that go on literally non-stop these days. I must add that in the West, when people are caught, the rule book is thrown at them with plenty of force. In India, on the other hand, that kind of retribution is still far away, and on the average people seem to get away with impunity, especially when the crimes are big and the accused have deep pockets. Which is probably why Desai wonders whether the stings do not mean much and that at the end of it all, there is a lot of hypocrisy, with people proclaiming rage but privately shrugging their shoulders saying, "Well, this is how the cookie crumbles these days!"
Is it Our Responsibility to Act?
What I am speaking about would not come as news to many of you; and yet here I am, trying to make a lot of noise about it. Why? That is the point I now wish to turn to. You see, the current situation is such that all of us who call ourselves devotees of Swami, need to pause, take a deep breath and reflect deeply about what we should be doing under the circumstances. The answer is clear and let me put it in as simple a way as possible. Suppose someone near and dear to us is in great difficulty, what would do? We would run to help that person, and do whatever we can, would we not? Well, if you agree on that, what if I say to you: "Dear Listener! Sathya and Dharma are being attacked. Should we not rush to help?"
Were I to say something like that, most people would immediately react and mutter, "What's happening to this fellow? Has he gone bonkers? Is senility catching up?" May be even harsher comments would be made. And let me tell you if people were to speak like that, it would be quite normal in the ambience in which we live. Part of the reason for that is that we all seem to think that it is the Avatar's business to fix those problems. "Has He not said so as Krishna?" - that would be the immediate retort.
But let's go back to the example I gave; I said, if someone dear to us is in trouble, would we not rush to help? I now ask: Are we trying to say, being dear applies only to friends and relatives and not to Sathya and Dharma which are truly the abstract forms of God? Do we not sing the bhajan: Sathyam, Jnaanam, Anantham Brahma? Has not Swami Himself led us on that bhajan many times in the past? Does it not mean we should play some role in protecting Sathya and Dharma instead of leaving it all to the Avatar, as if He has come down on a turnkey contract and that it is His job to fix problems in the world, which, after all is His Creation? There are of course people who might say: "Stop talking nonsense! The problems are huge and we are insignificant. God alone can fix this problem; leave it to Him and do not interfere, etc."
Indeed, many do pass the buck back to God in that manner, but if we and He are One, as we often proclaim in front of Swami, then we should also share in the problem-solving. I have run out of time today, but next time, I do hope to offer some suggestions about how, all of us together, we here in Prashanti and some of you dear listeners out there, could join forces and try to help.
Just to boost your morale, let me draw attention to the fact that quietly over the years, the anti-Swami rhetoric has more or less disappeared. Do you know why? In part because, Swami's teachings and missions have now become more and more accessible to people all over the world via various media outlets. Thus, people can see for themselves how Bhagavan is helping the poor and the needy all over the world in various ways. And how does He do it? Using ordinary people like you and me as His instruments. And how does the good word spread? Through the use of modern communication tools.
The Sai Tidal Wave
So, now is a good time to join the Sai Tidal Wave and create a huge tsunami of love, peace, harmony and goodwill, which would make more and more people shed their fear and who can deny fear is gripping so many people these days in all parts of the world?
Dear reader! Swami often says: "Why fear when I am here?" And yet there is so much fear everywhere, fear of insecurity, and so on. Why? Because people are not yet feeling His proximity in large enough numbers. And that exactly is where, you and us, joining forces can do a lot to bring cheer and hope everywhere, in some measure at least.
I really must wind up at this point, but please do not fail to join me next week, when I shall try to offer some specific suggestions about how we could work together. Technology can be a curse if misused; but if used for a good cause, it could also be a powerful tool. So, why don't we form a Sai Techie Club for proactively spreading His Message? What do you think? Write back please!
Sorry if I have used a provocative article to be a bit provocative myself; at least I have tried to be positive in the process, trying to show what we need to do to take the Divine message further. I trust you would concede that.
That's all for now and I shall be with you again next week. Till then, all the best.
As always, I offer this talk to our Beloved Swami, who motivates all good actions by everyone, everywhere and all the time. Jai Sai Ram.
Dear Reader, did this article help you in anyway? Please share your feelings with us by writing to [email protected] mentioning your name and country. Thank you for your time.