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Posted on: Mar 13, 2015
We live in times when more than one billion women, or one in three women, around the world do not have access to safe sanitation while one in ten women do not have access to clean water. Today dirty water kills more women than cancer. Half of India's 445 rivers are too polluted for drinking. Presently the richest one percent of the world own more than the rest of humanity combined. A Mumbai-based medical second opinion services center has revealed that 44 percent of suggested surgeries were needless. One third of the food produced in the world is wasted while 870 million go to bed without food everyday. Indiscriminate human action is showing up as environmental crisis like never before, and technology and globalization has made us so interconnected that acts of avarice in one corner of the world seems to affect the poor man in the other.
This does seem to be a real pickle we have got ourselves into. We generally tend to look for new solutions for new crises, and in the process we create new issues. Any reference to values, austerities or spirituality as solutions is often mocked at as regressive. In a sense it is not completely right to blame the younger generation for such contempt, for what has been lacking is the presenting of this time-tested wisdom in the modern context. We do teach our children that the solution for all problems lies in Bhagawan's message, but what we need to do is help them see that message in the background of the modern day happenings. And that is where the works and writings of Prof. G. Venkataraman have always stood out. With his immense knowledge of history and current affairs, and his passion to point out to the relevance of Bhagawan's message in this time and age and for the future, his writings always make for inspiring and interesting reading.
If we were to define in one phrase the problem we face in the world today, we could probably say 'decline in Dharma' - Dharma being a word pregnant with meaning and wisdom. No wonder Bhagawan wrote an entire book explaining this one value. 'Dharma Vahini', which was a series of articles written by Bhagawan for the Sanathana Sarathi and later compiled into a book, describes and dilates on the various nuances of Dharma. And Prof. Venkataraman's musings series on this Vahini presents in modern context this wonderful book's timeless wisdom. This series we begin today is the transcript with illustrations of the musings series aired on Radio Sai in 2007-08. You can look forward to a new part of this series on the 13th of every month. This too is part of the Radio Sai offerings for the 90th year of the Divine Advent. For how can the celebration of the life of our Divine Master be complete without a sincere study of His message. So let us with prayers, join Prof. Venkataraman in this journey through the Dharma Vahini.
Loving Sai Ram and greetings from Prasanthi Nilayam. For quite some time, I have been thinking about revisiting the famous Vahini series of books written by Swami decades ago. In the early years when books on Swami were very few, people took eagerly to those written by Swami Himself and, as a result, the Vahini series became quite popular. However, as the years rolled by, books written by devotees began to appear in large numbers, and since these invariably contained the ever-popular “experiences”, slowly devotees began to forget the Vahinis. And soon there came a time when people did not even know that such books existed!
Over here, we made sure that at least our students did not suffer through such ignorance. This we ensured by anchoring the so-called Awareness Classes for the undergraduates to the various Vahinis of Bhagawan. But where the wide world was concerned, the ignorance about the Vahinis not only persisted but in fact grew to astronomical proportions.
I am personally concerned about this unfortunate development because when people sideline the direct teachings of the Avatar even when He is not physically amidst us, then it is something pretty serious. What is even more disturbing is the growing belief that teachings of Swami need not be taken seriously, except those convenient to us. Particularly where Dharma is concerned, this coolness is alarming.
I often check with various people about what they feel concerning corruption, a problem that afflicts massively not only India but many parts of the world as well. Almost always, the response I get is very depressing. Some, especially the young, say, “Listen, this is a different day and age; corruption is here to stay; we just cannot do anything about it. No point wasting time trying to fight it; just learn to live with it; that’s much simpler!” We also get mail along similar lines from devotees working in big companies. They write, “In our company, we call it speed money, paid for services rendered. In business such things are required you know!” So the feeling seems to be, “If you cannot fight it, ignore it!”
The 'Slippery Slope' in the Path of Practising Dharma
This is what is called the slippery slope. First you shrug off paying bribes, even though you do not like it one bit. Then you try to legitimise with it with suitable arguments. In many cases where direct corruption is not involved but some kind of unethical action is, powerful lobbies try to see if money power can be used to get legislation passed so that illegitimate and immoral activities get legal sanction. If you look carefully at many of the issues connected with intellectual property, patents, and even international trade laws, you would find there is amazing and blatant one-sidedness.
I do not want to get embroiled in a debate on these kinds of issues; but this much I shall and will say: No matter what, we simply cannot afford to be a party to the violation of Dharma, indeed, under any circumstances. This of course is likely to raise hackles, and this precisely is where I wish to bring in the Vahini series. Through the present series of broadcasts, I wish to recall in simple language, to listeners young and old, some of the things Swami wrote and spoke about passionately in former years.
How 'Dharma Vahini' Came About
May be at this juncture, I should say a few words introducing the Vahini series itself. Soon after the present Mandir was established and devotees started coming in larger and larger numbers, Swami founded the Sanathana Sarathi. For decades, it was the lifeline and the umbilical cord for devotees to get spiritual nourishment, once they left this place. Apart from a presentation of the Divine Discourses in print form, an activity that continues to form the core of Sanathana Sarathi to this day, Swami, in response to numerous requests, including from late Mr. Kasturi, started writing articles on specific themes, like Dharma, Prema and so forth. In due course, these individual articles were compiled and packaged into books, and that is how the Vahini series came into existence.
Naturally, the original text of each and every one of these books was in Telugu. It was left to Prof. Kasturi to translate these into English so that these wonderful books became accessible to a much larger audience, especially international. It is pertinent to quote Kasturi himself at this point. This is what he says in the preface to the volume Dharma Vahini:
This little book contains the articles written by Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba in the series "Dharma Vahini" for the "Sanathana Sarathi," the monthly journal published from Prasanthi Nilayam. They are given here in English, but it must be said that the original Telugu is simpler and sweeter. It is difficult to express in English the fundamental ideas of Indian Culture, for English is strange to the translator and perhaps to many a reader; the English vocabulary does not offer satisfactory equivalents to many words that form the common currency of Indian languages.
It is the authentic Voice of the Divine Phenomenon, that is setting right the moral codes and behaviour of millions of men and women today.
Baba's Love and Wisdom know no bounds, His Grace knows no obstacle. He is no hard taskmaster; His solicitude for our welfare and real progress is overwhelming. May this book reveal to you the Mother's love which has made Baba write it, the Father's authority which backs every junction therein, the Teacher's illumination that lights up every statement, and the Lord's sublime Universality, that invites you to expand your personality into a great Instrument of Service.
That was what Kasturi said of the Vahinis, and that also concludes my general introduction. Let me now tell you what exactly I am planning to do. Basically, I am going to present a selection of passages from the book Dharma Vahini, written in Telugu by Swami Himself and translated into English by Prof. Kasturi. From the copy of this book that I have, I am not able to find out when exactly the first edition of this book was published; however, that is not so very important. Dharma is eternal, God is eternal and when God in human form speaks about Dharma, we had better sit up and take serious notice; that is what motivated me to doing this particular musings series.
Where Dharma is concerned, I can go to town since I feel so passionately about it! However, that is NOT my objective here. Rather, I wish to bring to your notice, what Swami said in His classic, Dharma Vahini. As I mentioned earlier, I am offering only select extracts; I do hope this series would induce at least some of you to go to the book itself and read it carefully. As far as I am concerned, I have selected a few passages that I personally feel are important and simply cannot be ignored. Clearly, such a preferential selection does involve a bit of bias but then this way, I have the flexibility of offering additional comments without making the entire exercise pretty heavy for today’s audience. I do hope you would accept this rationale of mine.
With that preamble, let me go to work. We all pray, “Swami, please shower Your Grace on me!” Swami says, “Sure Bangaru, nothing would give Me greater joy. But you know, there is something you must do to earn My Grace!” What is that? Well, this is what Swami Himself says, right at the beginning of His book:
Man must dedicate himself to Dharma and be engaged always in Dharma so that he may live in peace and the world may enjoy peace. He cannot acquire real Peace, nor can he win the Grace of the Lord through any means other than the Dharmic life.
I hope you get the message. To be eligible for Divine Grace, we must all follow Dharma!
You might wonder: “What is this Dharma you are talking about? How do you know I am not already following Dharma?” Good questions! In answer to the second question let me say, I honestly do not know who is following Dharma and who is not. All I am trying to do is bring to your notice what Swami wrote a long time ago. Sure I have not yet explained what precisely Swami means by Dharma; but then, that is what this series is all about!
Let us get back to the basic question, which is: What exactly is meant by Dharma? For this we turn to Swami Himself:
Dharma is the foundation for the welfare of humanity; it is the truth that is stable for all time. When Dharma fails to transmute human life, the world is afflicted by agony and fear, and also tormented by stormy revolutions. When the effulgence of Dharma fails to illumine human relationships, mankind is shrouded in the night of sorrow.
Let us try to digest what we have just heard. Swami says that Dharma is the very foundation of humanity. He adds that if this foundation becomes weak, the world becomes afflicted with agony and fear, and is tormented by stormy revolutions. That last bit sounds familiar, does it not? I mean you look around, there are problems everywhere - in Asia, in the Middle East, in Africa, in Latin America, and even in Europe and North America – wherever you look, there are all kinds of problems. So we do have every reason to pause for a moment and ask, “Hey, could it be that the problems that humanity is facing today are in any way due to the observance of Dharma becoming weak?”
The Changing Contours of Dharmic Practice Today
This leads to a supplementary question: “When does one say that the observance of Dharma has become weak?” Swami Himself gives the answer. He says that Dharma APPEARS to become weak, when man fails to be inspired by it and transmute his life by tuning it to nobler principles. That is when Dharma appears to lose it effulgence and people start saying, “Oh, the days of Dharma are over.”
Let us pause and ponder a bit.
I shall start with rather ordinary circumstances. I have had many people come to me and say, “Sir, I want to stay here and do some service. I am no longer in service and have retired. My pension is meagre and I cannot afford to live in Hyderabad, Bangalore or Chennai; those cities are too expensive. Over here, life is still manageable, and added to that, one can be in Swami’s presence and have His Darshan daily. While living here and having Darshan, I also want to be of some use. Please can you fit me into some kind of a service activity?”
As I am expected to do, I ask, “Sir, but you must be having a family, sons and daughters. Don’t you want to be with them?” A silence prevails and I quickly get the picture. Many a time when I ask such a question, the person I am speaking with breaks down, and weeping like a child says, “Sir, my sons are all in foreign countries and they do not even bother to see me, much less send me some money for sustenance.”
I am not making this up; this phenomenon of parental neglect is quite common. It is almost a fact of current life. I am sure the sons and daughters would have their own side of the story, but I am not concerned with individual stories; I am concerned with Dharma and what Swami has to say about it.
How many times has Swami told youth in general and His students in particular: “Remember what the Vedas say: 'Mother is God, and father is God.' Take care of them in their old age.” Sometime back the college boys staged a drama in Sai Kulwant Hall, centred around the mythological character Sravankumar, and his immortal service to his parents. Both his parents were old and also blind, and this young boy had to take care of them. One day, he gets killed while fetching water, the killing being due to an arrow shot carelessly by a hunter who happens to be none other than Emperor Dasaratha. I leave you to track that sad story and find out all that happened. But today, this is what I want to say. Swami was deeply moved watching this play being enacted. Watching from nearby, one gets the feeling that He is asking: “Why is it that our young people and for that matter the old too, are forgetting the basics of Dharma?”
This anguish and concern on the part of Swami reflects the fact that Dharma, which once was taken for granted and regarded as part of our moral genes so to speak, has now been almost forgotten. What is even more alarming, I find that many people, especially the young, tend to feel that Dharma, while nice to talk about, will not work.
Listen now to what Swami says in Dharma Vahini about Dharma and its importance:
God is the embodiment of Dharma; His Grace is won by Dharma. He is ever fostering Dharma, He is ever establishing Dharma, He is Dharma Itself. In the scriptures of the various religions, Dharma is elaborated in the language familiar to the adherents. The stream of Dharmic activity should never run dry; when its cool waters cease to flow, disaster is certain.
The message is loud and clear: we just cannot afford to forget the practice and sustenance of Dharma for even a second because Dharma is nothing but God Himself, a fact asserted by Swami Himself.
Who is on the Path of Dharma
I know you are getting a bit impatient, wondering why I don’t explain what exactly this Dharma is so that you can get a better idea of what it is that you are supposed to swear by. So here it comes!
What is meant by Dharma? What is the essence of Dharma? Can man, common man, lead a happy life and survive if he sticks to Dharma? These doubts confuse the mind of man naturally in the course of his life. Solving them is necessary, even urgent. As soon as the word Dharma is mentioned, the ordinary man takes it to mean: The giving of alms, feeding and providing lodging to pilgrims, etc., the adherence to one’s traditional profession or craft, law-abiding nature, the discrimination between right and wrong, the pursuit of one’s innate nature or the freaks of one’s own mind, the fruition of one’s fondest desires, and so on.
Heard that? Well, that is what most of us think Dharma means, namely that it boils down essentially to giving charity, giving alms, and the usual righteous action. In a limited practical sense that is indeed correct. But you know something? Dharma means much more! Listen now to what Swami says in Dharma Vahini about all this:
Whoever subdues his egoism, conquers his selfish desires, destroys his bestial feelings and impulses and gives up the natural tendency to regard the body as the self, he is surely on the path of Dharma; he knows that the goal of Dharma is the merging of the wave in the sea.
The words we have just heard are very important and so let us try and digest them slowly. The first thing we learn is that for our actions to be truly righteous, certain conditions MUST be fulfilled. To start with, there must be no trace of ego in the action performed. Next, there must not be any trace of selfishness either. If we put these things together, it adds up the following simple formula: “Dharmic action is that which is free from body-consciousness.”
Now of course, for simple folks like us, this might sound like replacing one confusion with another! You might well ask, and rightly so, “What is all this thing about body-consciousness?”
Well, if we pay careful attention to the many Discourses of Swami, we would find that a good many of them revolve around the dangers of body-consciousness and why we should avoid it meticulously.
The Purpose of Life
Many years ago, speaking to students, Swami asked: “What is the purpose of life?” Several answers were given but Swami kept on shaking His head as if to say, “No, that is not the correct answer.” After a while when everyone gave up, Swami smiled and said slowly: “The purpose of life is simple; from God you have come and to God you must return. That is what you must be preoccupied with in life.”
I am sure you would be taken aback to hear that but that is what it is! And this is where the entire issue of body-consciousness comes into the picture. We all think we are the body. Sure we have a body and the body is very important; otherwise, God would not have given it to us. At the same time, we must realise that the body has been given so that it can be an instrument to achieve the purpose of life, as spelt out for us by Swami. In other words, we should not think the body is given for pandering to it and as an instrument for the pursuit of sensual pleasures, etc. Such aberrations occur when we become obsessed with the body and give it far more importance than it merits.
If you are hearing all this for the first time – and it is likely that many of you indeed are – you might ask: “Listen, what is all this about body-consciousness? What else is there? Life is all about the body, is it not?” So it might seem to us, but those who know better say, “We are NOT the body! We are SOMETHING else!!” You might possibly not buy that but let me tell you that exactly is what Krishna told Arjuna five thousand years ago.
Krishna said, “Arjuna, you are not the body but the eternal Atma or the Universal Self. The body is just a kind of dress worn by Atma for the purpose playing a role in the Cosmic Drama of God.”
That is what Swami reminds us of again and again. He adds that we should, realising that we are the Immortal Atma, act accordingly. In turn, this implies that while going through life, we must constantly strive to give up excessive attachment to the body, because such attachment would get us too much tied to the external world.
With that rather long background, I guess you would able to appreciate the quote I now offer.
The aim of Dharma is to make the individual give up the attachment to external nature and the illusion that the external world causes. Dharma must make the individual realise his or her True Reality or rather, un-realise what the individual has now taken as real, so that the life-principle may stand revealed in its genuine identity.
May be that quote appears difficult to understand. It requires detailed explanation and may be I shall postpone the explanation to the second article.
Meanwhile, before I wind up, allow me to make the following remarks by way of recalling some of the points made earlier:
1. The human being is really the Atma but with a dress called the human body [along with which, by the way, comes the all-important Mind].
2. God gives us the opportunity of birth in
human form not for frittering away life but for spending it such that we merge once and for all in God. The simple rule is: From God we have come and to God we must return; that, you will recall is how Swami describes the purpose of life.
3. If we accept that statement about the purpose of life, it immediately follows that every action of ours on earth must be tuned towards moving in the Godward direction.
5. Although we have the compass, we not only forget to look at it constantly but even forget totally that it is available to us every single moment, and is meant to be used. When that happens, we get into deep trouble for sure.
6. What is it that causes such dangerous forgetfulness? In one word, it is body-consciousness. In practical terms, it means excessive preoccupation with the curios and fakes offered by the external world. For example, these days, many people, especially the young seem so preoccupied with telling all and sundry all about themselves via one of the numerous web sites created just for this purpose. They spend so much time sending text messages to each other, checking e-mails and what not. Do they spend even one minute thinking of God, their true nature and the purpose of life?
You might wonder what’s wrong with all this. At the level of one individual, nothing catastrophic might happen but if indifference to Dharma spreads to millions and billions, then there can be trouble for all!
These are some of the things that Swami said and wrote four decades ago. The book may be forty years old but Dharma, the subject on which Swami wrote, is eternal and ever relevant. In fact, I would say, mankind has never needed Dharma so desperately as now; and that is why I have ventured to offer this Musings series.
So please do stay with us here in Radio Sai, as we slowly navigate through this most precious of Vahinis, the Dharma Vahini of Bhagawan Baba.
Take care and may God be with you always. Jai Sai Ram.
- Radio Sai Team
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