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Posted on: Sept 15, 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. Greetings from Prasanthi Nilayam and a warm welcome to this journey through Swami’s immortal classic Dharma Vahini.
I know that Atma Dharma might seem a very difficult subject to grasp. However, this is a perception and not necessarily a reality. We think the topic is difficult because we believe, erroneously I would say, that Atma Dharma is a vague concept, distant from and irrelevant to this day and age. That is what many seem to imagine; I assure you that it is not. Rather, Atma Dharma is not only very specific and concrete but in fact very much needed at the present time to guide us from minute to minute. It is what I should call an indispensable Moral Compass.
I mean, just look around. There are all sorts of problems and if you examine these problems in depth, you would find they are all manifestations of Adharma in some form or the other. Which means, that if these problems and difficulties are to be eliminated or at least even diminished to some extent, then we MUST return to a stricter observance of Dharma; and that exactly is where Atma Dharma comes into the picture. I talked about this last time; but I thought may be a bit of repetition would not hurt, and that is why I am saying it all over again.
I would like to reiterate that although people might feel that Atma Dharma is a remote and abstract concept, it in fact is the touchstone against which we must constantly evaluate all our actions. Whenever I mention this to my students, they then immediately clamour for a ready-made rulebook of do’s and don’ts that they could regularly consult and check out. Sadly, there is no such rule book and in fact, there cannot be any. When I mention this, people tend to get turned off.
Actually, the situation is not as bad as it might seem. Let me give a simple example. Take multiplication. In the real world, we encounter all kinds of multiplication problems. Given that fact, it is evident one simply CANNOT have any book that contains the solutions to ALL the imaginable multiplication problems. However, that is no reason to worry. What teachers in all schools do is something simple. They teach multiplication tables and once one memorises a reasonable number of tables, one can, in principle, do ANY multiplication problem. True, sometimes the problem might be huge but given time and care, the problem CAN be worked out. May be we might not be able to do the problem with pencil and paper; but we can instead, teach high-speed computers to do the multiplication. What it all means is that we really do not have to master the solution to all the imaginable problems. Instead, we must have a procedure that would help us to deal with any given situation. It is the same where actions, adherence to Atma Dharma etc., are concerned.
Swami says that the situation one is faced with might refer to some problem a parent has, or a wife faces, or an elder in the family has to deal with, and so on. The specific situation does not matter that much provided, we ask the right questions to define the nature of the action we contemplate. We should ask: “Is what I want to do right or wrong? Is it selfish or selfless? Is it full of Love? Will it in anyway hurt anyone anywhere? Is it likely to harm Society in any way? Or, is it likely to hurt Mother Earth anyway? Finally, would God approve of what I am thinking of doing?” If we ask those questions and answer them honestly – that is important! – then we can be sure that the nature of the action contemplated has been scrutinised carefully. Tell me, that does not sound so difficult, does it?
Let us move on and hear what Swami now has for us.
"When the waves of egoist fear or greed drive one forward, either into the privacy of the home, or the loneliness of the forest, or to any other refuge, it is impossible to escape suffering. The cobra does not cease to be a cobra, when it lies coiled. Then too it is cobra nevertheless.
In daily practice, when acts are motivated by the basic Principle of the reality of the Atma, every act becomes stamped with the seal of Dharma. But when acts are motivated by convenience and selfish interest, the Dharma becomes pseudo-Dharma. It is a variety of bondage, however attractive it may be. Like prisoners in a jail pushed in a single file by warders, either to the court of trial or the dining barracks, the prompting of the senses pushes the bondsman forward either to a place of sorrow or to a place of relief."
This quote is particularly important for the reason that Swami gives an explicit warning about what would happen if we slip up on adhering to Dharma. Particularly at the present time when many tend to feel that Dharma would not work at all, the warning sounded by Swami assumes special significance. He says essentially, “Skipping Dharma is like courting a deadly cobra!” Swami further reminds us that in the name of being free etc., one essentially becomes a slave to the senses. Actions then invariably become selfish and are at best pseudo Dharma! While Dharma would lead one to Bliss, pseudo Dharma is a sure road to misery and suffering, though it might look pleasurable in the short run.
Let us continue with Swami and listen to what He has to say next. This time, we really have to be really attentive, because Swami would be bringing up a very crucial point.
"People refer to various duties, rights and obligations, but these are not the basic Sathyadharma; they are only means and methods of regulating the complications of living. They are not fundamental. All these moral codes and approved behaviour are prompted by the need to cater to two types of creatures and two types of natures - viz., masculine and feminine."
The important and interesting thing about the above quote is that for the first time we are having a reference to gender, to men and women. In the scriptures, the specific rules meant for men and women are referred to as Purusha Dharma and Stri Dharma respectively; and clearly they have, among other things, a lot do with married life. But, says Swami, both working packages, that is to say, Purusha Dharma and Stri Dharma, HAVE to conform to Atma Dharma – that is the important point of the quote just offered.
Reference to gender issues might possibly make many listeners, especially the young ones, become quite apprehensive. They might feel that we are now in the 21st century and that sometimes, what is written in the scriptures is irrelevant to the modern times. I am conscious of such fears and that is why I wish to leave the entire issue of Stri Dharma to be covered for Radio Sai by a lady devotee who has critically examined Swami’s teachings on this subject. By the way, I do hope we can find a volunteer for this job! For my part, I would like to comment on just the following:
• What women represent in the general scheme of Creation, and,
• what role desires play in the lives of ordinary people, especially the desire associated with physical attraction that brings men and women together.
Let me start at a rather abstract level. If we look at Creation at a basic level, there are two fundamental entities - Consciousness and Energy. These entities are patently manifest in all living beings, irrespective of whether one believes in God or not; nor is the presence of these two fundamental entities something that depends on which religious faith one follows. The fact of the matter is that Consciousness and Energy are empirical realities, and we DO have to come to terms with them in some form or the other.
Next, if we consider inanimate matter, the question is: “Can one associate Consciousness with inanimate matter at all?” Here, there are two quite different points of view. Scientists of today simply dismiss the idea that there can be any trace whatsoever of Consciousness in inert matter; and that is that. Thus, for them, matter is matter with properties and attributes of various kinds. And, after Einstein’s epoch-making discovery in 1905, it is now universally accepted in the scientific community that 1) energy is just another aspect of matter and 2) energy and matter are inter-convertible. However, believers in Vedanta maintain, that Consciousness is present even in inanimate matter, though largely in a passive form. Swami has reiterated this and sometimes narrates the story of the weeping sarees, documented also by Dr. John Hislop, who was a witness to that incident.
I shall not go into all that but confine myself to humans; in their case, everyone including atheists accepts that Consciousness and Energy are both present. The big difference of course is with respect to what exactly Consciousness means, and its fundamental significance. Naturally, I shall here adopt the Vedantic view, and make my remarks drawing upon various things said by Swami in His Discourses.
I shall start on this part of the talk by drawing attention to the fact that in the Indian tradition, it is usual to associate Consciousness with Siva and Energy with Siva’s consort Parvathi. At times, Siva is considered to be the symbol of the Higher Spirit, and Parvathi to be similarly the symbol of matter. Symbolically, Siva is hailed as the Universal Father and Parvathi as the Universal Mother. In such a representation, clearly, Siva and Parvathi are visualised as male and female respectively and considered to be distinct. Yet, sages and seers have always noted that though in a biological sense, males and females are distinct, both have Consciousness as well as Energy. Thus, humans are often portrayed via a form that is half-male and half-female. The deity that symbolises such a “joint representation” is called Ardhanareeswara. May be, I will return to this a little later.
Meanwhile, a question now arises: “Of the two, namely, Consciousness and Energy, which is primary?” This is an interesting question because at the argumentative level, one can reduce it to: “Who is greater? Is it Siva or is it Parvathi?” There have been any number of debates dealing with this, and naturally, no resolution. There is the solidly Siva camp, the staunchly Parvathi camp, and the thoroughly confused camp making up the rest. Thus it is that today you find that while some focus on the worship of Siva, others concentrate on Devi. And of course there are folklores that make one or the other entity primary. There are yet others who play it safe by worshipping both Siva and Parvathi! Those who think deeply about such matters sometimes wonder: “What’s all this? What’s really going on? What exactly am I supposed to believe in?” Fortunately, the deepest aspects of Vedanta provide all the answers and I am drawing attention to all this so that one gets a better perspective of the so-called gender issue.
In Vedanta, there are two fundamental levels – (i) the level that is ABOVE Creation and (ii) the level that is BELOW. Below Creation refers to the Universe that we live in, and it is here that Consciousness and Energy have [apparently] distinct meaning and connotation. Above Creation, when God is all by Himself, there is no such duality. He is Pure Consciousness, with the so-called Energy aspect latent and embedded within Him. In other words, above Creation, Parvathi “fuses” into Siva and becomes one with Him while below Creation, Siva and Parvathi have individuality but function jointly to play a role larger than their individual aspects would imply. All this might sound quite fuzzy and rather vague but shortly, I shall amplify them with more remarks.
At this stage, it is useful to make a brief reference to the many mythological tales that relate to Siva and Parvathi. There are many versions of this tale and I am not going to discuss which of these different versions is the most authentic one, etc. My own view is that the author of each version was trying to communicate one important message relating to how the male and the female of the human species must, together, work in partnership to uphold Dharma, here on earth. I admit this is a rather unconventional approach; however, on listening to my point of view, I am confident that many would concede that there is some merit in my presentation.
Getting back to the folklore concerning Siva and Parvathi, although, as I said there are many versions, there is something common to all these. Those core points are the following:
• In the beginning, Siva is in deep meditation and Parvathi tries to attract the attention of Siva with her charm and beauty. She fails, because Siva, lost in meditation, ignores her.
• Parvathi then seeks the help of “the god of romance” who tries to disturb Siva by shooting the arrow of love.
• Siva comes out of His meditation and reduces the one who disturbs Him into ashes with a fierce look; having done that, Siva goes back into meditation.
• Her plans to smother Siva with her beauty and charm having failed, Parvathi realises that romance is not the way to win the attention of Siva.
• She then begins to live the life of a hermit, performing various austerities.
• Through this she attains spiritual maturity, learning to rise above the body without rejecting it.
• In due course, Siva accepts Parvathi as His consort and they become united in marriage.
• As a married couple, both Siva and Parvathi play complimentary roles, necessitated by their distinct “human forms”; however, their family life is towards a larger Cosmic purpose.
• Together they demonstrate how one goes through life not by vainly trying to annihilate desires and aspirations all in one go, but by gradually rising above worldly desires and attachments through a process of constant sublimation.
I shall soon offer some more comments on all this, but in the meantime, I have to point out that when one studies in depth the remarks addressed by Swami in Dharma Vahini specifically to women, it would greatly help if the above remarks are kept in view.
Let me get back to the story of Siva and Parvathi, and describe how I see it. Let me start at the beginning when Siva is in deep meditation while Parvathi tries to attract Him with her charm and beauty. Siva rejects her attention and indeed “burns the god of romance” whose aid Parvathi seeks. The question might be asked: “If Siva was all that serious about meditation, why did He later marry Parvathi and become a householder?” A good question and my own interpretation of this folklore is as follows.
Basically, folklores of ancient India all had a hidden meaning. I tend to think that the hidden meaning of Act I of the Siva-Parvathi alliance is as follows: In ancient India, boys at a very early age were left by the father with a Guru, who, after performing the Upanayanam ceremony, initiated the boy into Brahmacharya. While Brahmacharya is often translated as the practice of celibacy, the more significant aspect of is that the one initiated meditates deeply on Brahman. It was felt that without such a deep contemplation, the student would not be able to appreciate the subtle nuances of Vedic teachings into which he was drilled year after year by the Guru. It is through a combination of constant chanting and contemplation as well as meditation that the young aspirant shed his spiritual ignorance; and as his ignorance diminished, he understood better the implications of and the necessity for Dharma in day-to-day life.
In this phase of life therefore, the young aspirant, who in physical age would be approaching the age seventeen-eighteen, was expected to not yield in the least to any temptation to seek sense gratification. Like the meditative Siva in the folklore, he was expected to be ruthless in not giving any quarter to physical desires.
This part of the folklore also gives the hint to young maiden that they for their part, would do well not to distract young Brahmacharis while they are still undergoing their training with their Guru. On the other hand, through the observance of appropriate austerities, they must not only transform their mental outlook but also equip themselves to play a rightful role alongside men, when the time came.
We now move to Act II, when Siva, shedding His earlier isolation, is willing to accept a now evolved and spiritually mature Parvathi as His Consort. The message for ordinary mortals is that after gaining a thorough grounding in the scriptures and thus completing studies with the Guru, the Brahmachari gets ready to enter life, meaning he prepares to get married and lead the life of a Grahastha or householder.
Many, especially in the West, might find all this a bit perplexing. They might wonder: “Why the rigid insistence on rigorous celibacy and then a sudden turnabout?” Actually, there is no turnabout; rather, it is a case of everything at the right time and in the right manner. While in earlier times all this was well understood and did not require any elaboration, the present age is such that I must add some explanation.
In ancient India, Dharma was always given the highest importance, and placed above everything else. Incidentally, that is why Swami speaks ever so often about Dharma, wrote the Dharma Vahini many years ago, and so on. It was accepted in those times that life was a gift given by God mainly to elevate oneself through steadfast adherence to Sathya and Dharma. The first part of this life-long drill involved getting ready for being a householder by becoming proficient in the scriptures and the practical aspects of the observance of Dharma. The second stage of life began with marriage.
This raises many questions. Does not married life involve conjugal relations etc? Does not such relationship involve physical desires? Whatever happens then to sense control drilled so intensely during the Brahmacharya phase and so on.
Indeed, without adequate understanding, it might appear that the Indian way of life is full of contradictions. On the contrary, the ancients had delicately choreographed the various stages of life so that in every stage, one was in constant tune with Dharma in a manner best suited for that phase of life. Life was defined in terms of four stages, with detailed goals and objectives for each stage. These were codified mostly for men, and they were as follows:
Stage 1, Brahmacharya [this I have already mentioned];
Stage 2, Grahastha – the man gets married and leads the life of a householder;
Stage 3, Vanaprastha - the couple having reached old age, [and their children having grown up and entered family life themselves], retire to the forest. What it really means is that a) the couple substantially decrease their attachments to things material as also to the family, thus mentally preparing to focus more and more on God and seek to merge with Him when the time came.
After all this comes Stage 4, when the man becomes a complete renunciate; this is technically described by saying that the man embraces Sannyasa. As a Sannyasi, the man leaves home and makes the entire world his home, and in a sense, the whole world his family. He is supposed to have absolutely no attachment of any kind, including to his wife and children. Don’t ask me what happens to his wife! I do not know the answer; I guess the children were supposed to take care of her.
Seen from the perspective of today, all this might seem odd, meaningless and even wrong. I submit that we should not rush to judge the life style of people who lived four thousand years ago. More important is the question: “What is the fundamental basis for structuring such a four-stage road map?” The answer to that question is well known; in fact, Swami Himself has spelt it out, and that answer is the Purushaarthas.
Purushaarthas is a topic in itself and may be I should deal with it next time. Meanwhile, let me thank you for being with me.
God bless, Jai Sai Ram.
- Radio Sai Team
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