Saturday, March 24, 2007


'Meditation is meaningless if it does not bring about a complete
transformation, if it does not purify your thought or alter for the better
your whole approach.' Because, 'True meditation helps you go beyond like and
dislike, craving and aversion, to awaken in you a state of dispassion.
Meditation which fails to develop equanimity is no meditation'. And those
who merely seek such meditation from some meditation center but return the
same as before, it is 'no more than sleep or unconsciousness'. It is like an
evildoer while harbouring evil inside, 'but outwardly at least he does no
harm while asleep'.

After giving these valuable (and many more) tips, Acharya Mahaprajna, in his
article 'Meaningful Meditation, Greater Understanding' (The Speaking Tree,
The Times of India, Bangalore, Feb. 20, 2007, p. 16) concludes by saying,
'The approach is all important. And inculcating the right approach, you must
go into what thought is and what transcends thought'.

The way he criticizes seeking meditation from some meditation centers,
without aiming for 'complete transformation,' is noteworthy. These
meditation centers are 'limited by time and space;' beware, those who seek
readymade and instant solutions through meditation, yoga etc. in some
commercial centers. Meditation is meaningless unless it is implemented in
practical life. Because 'equanimity' (stitap prajnata) comes from a stable
mind. When you are in a meditation center, as you are focused without much
outward disturbance, you may feel that finally you have attained it. But the
real testing ground is what you are when you began to rub shoulders with
people again.

But what exactly to meditate on comes to my mind when I read any article on
meditation. Considering the fickleness of our minds, giving some formulas in
the form of mantra, slogans, chants, etc., may discipline our brain for some
time, but the mind, as the center of our personality, needs to be trained by
reflection and analysis of our thoughts and works as often as possible to
asses our progress towards that transformation.* Because transformation is a
continuous process which involves many factors. Without considering these
important factors, mere meditation even with 'right approach' and going
'into what thought is and what transcends thought' won't help much. However,
as Acharya Mahaprajna says, one must take meditation seriously rather than
merely seeking it without aiming for transformation.


*.in ordinary, normal conditions the mind is master of itself-perceives
justly, reasons soundly, acts rationally-behaves, in every respect, as a
sane mind should. The question is not, how will the mind act in the absence
or disturbance of the appropriate brain conditions? But, how does it act
when these appropriate conditions are present, and reason is securely seated
on its throne?- - James Orr, God's Image in Man, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing
Company, Grand Rapids Michigan, 1948, p. 76.

Text and Interpretation

Bhakti, coming from the root baj denotes the relationship of a bhakta with
god. This relationship is not one sided, as bhagavan, which means one who
shares, reciprocates this relationship. Therefore, in order to save his
bhakta, god would do anything for him. In the same way, once saved by god,
the bhakta, because of his sakhya (friendship) bhakti, can demand anything
from his god.

There are some stories in our Puranas, which considering other human rights
and values, will question some of the errands which a god has done for his
bhakta in the name of (sakhya) bhakti, however the context is to glorify the
concept of bhakti.

In one regional Purana, as per the request of his bhakta, god arranges a
second marriage with another woman when his bhakta already has a wife. When
this man broke his promise to his second wife that he wouldn't leave her, he
became blind as per the condition set by that woman to god. But, still
because of his friendship, when the bhakta earnestly prays, god restores his
sight. And then when the first estranged wife refuses to take her husband
back due to his marrying another woman, the same god goes to her house, that
too at midnight, to convince her to receive her husband back. When another
bhakta came to know about all this, he become upset with the first bhakta,
who now was a friend to god. So in order to show his friend's bhakti to the
other bhakta, god gave the latter severe stomach pain, which was only cured
by the first bhakta, the friend of god.

I have not mentioned here the name of the bhakta or the Purana, as some may
have hurt feelings even from what I have already shared. My intention is not
to hurt anyone, but we do need to notice that when we use such old stories
among modern young people, they (particularly women) question such acts of
god and bhaktas, who, according to them, violate fundamental human
(particular women's) values. Of course when such stories were told or
recorded in our scriptures, their context and worldview was completely
different. Their aim was not to degrade others or to justify violations of
human rights or moral principles. Every story and illustration has one main
theme which it wants to highlight; if we begin to interpret them based on
our present worldviews and values we will miss the main teaching of the

However, we have to agree with one point; most of the mainline religious
scriptures, however they may glorify woman in theory, yet when it comes to
reality of life are male oriented and male dominated in their nature. So
perhaps present day speakers, instead of using such stories to explain a
concept (in this case sakhhya bhakti), should use some other stories, like
that of Arjuna with Krishna, to communicate their thought. But I know of an
incidence where the above story was told, both to illustrate the sakhya
bhakti and also to explain the structure, content, background etc. of that
Purana. The question raised was why god never thought about the rights and
feelings of the second wife? When the bhakta broke his promise, though he
temporarily lost his eye sight, his second wife was punished permanently, as
she had to live the rest of her life alone. (The story never makes any
mention of any children, either.)

Of course the response to this criticism is that both the bhakta and his two
wives were really celestial beings. One day the "man" fell in love with the
two girls when they came to fetch flowers, and since they fell in love with
each other, they were sent to live on earth to fulfill their desire.
Accordingly they came to earth and got married and after their time on earth
ended they went back to their celestial world. (There is no point in asking
why, if gods were allowed to marry and live happily in their celestial
abode, his assistants were denied such right and had to be sent on earth.
Such criticism is not critical, but what we call vidanta vaad-argument for
the sake of argument itself.)

Yet all questions about the stories in the Puranas and epics cannot be set
aside as mere objections from women. True, in the past most women were
voiceless; now being educated, they challenge certain traditional values
which kept them suppressed. However, for this reason alone we cannot ignore
past stories. But when we interpret a text, we should not merely impose our
own interpretation due to contemporary need. And speakers using such stories
need to honestly acknowledge problems that are present.

One time a scholar on the Ramayana, after listening to arguments from both
sides about Rama's killing of Vali, referring all the text in their proper
context clearly gave his judgment that what Rama did to Vali was wrong. I
had never before heard such a verdict, as most of the speakers keep faith
and bhakti first rather than the context of the text. This does not mean
that the scholar who accused Rama is not a bhakta of Rama. In his analysis,
he remained faith to the text rather than to the traditional view about

We need more such scholars and speakers who will do proper exegesis of texts
and stories rather than speaking with mere sentiment.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

Reality versus Idealism

Every system has its own idealism. But generally idealism is created by
later followers of a system who, in order to make sense of their views,
create an idealism by systematically arranging some of its precepts. For
example, here in India we talk about Vedic, Upanishidic, Vedantic, bhakti,
etc., idealism, as if there exists any one single idealistic trend in them.

In general, most systems start by addressing the needs and reality of life.
If one reads the Vedas, the Vedic people are down-to-earth realists in their
outlook and approach to life. In several of the Vedic hymns one reads their
poetic excitement (produced by Soma juice) about real issues which they were
facing in real life. Contemporary modern poems are the best equivalent. They
are appreciated not for their forms, but for the content as they address
real issues of life. The same is true of the Upanishads. In their
contemplative meditation, the sages thought through the real issues of their
life. It could be atman or brahman, but for them it is not some intellectual
talk or thought but rather the core of their struggle in their spiritual
life. However, later commentators and teachers created idealistic philosophy
out of it-like advaita by Sankara.

The same can be applied to non-religious systems-whether political, social,
or economic. Over the course of time, what the originators of system created
for their own understanding became, through the process of systematization,
an idealistic view of that system which the originators neither intended nor
were aware of. But now we who live in the modern era take that idealism as
the reality of those systems, and try to promote and apply that to our life,
which is completely different from the reality of those times from which
that system and idealism evolved.

Caste is one such Indian reality. Though traditionally brahmins were blamed
for 'producing, propagating, promoting and preserving' that ideal for their
selfish end, yet a sincere student of history will realize that in such
analysis 'reality bites'. My intention is neither to defend the brahmin not
to blame others. However, some people, who want to promote some kind of
'casteless' Hinduism, suddenly want to create another kind of idealism, even
confessing the sin of 'promoting and preserving' casteism all these
centuries in India, and now they want to repent and produce another
idealistic Hinduism of brotherhood and sisterhood (see the note below). But
reality in India bites again. This morning in CNN-IBN morning news (Feb.
16th, 2007) they showed several Dalit families in Haryana living in an open
field for the last few months, even braving the cold, in order to protest
the atrocity of high caste people in the Gandhian way of ahimsa.

To such people, the type of confession in the note below, particularly with
an international audience in mind, has no relevance. Even the high caste
people against whom these Dalit families were protesting will have their own
genuine issues related to some conflict or land dispute, etc. The reality
here undoubtedly is again an economic problem. All these centuries what the
so-called suppressed people faced was not some idealistic humiliation from
the upper castes, but they struggled first on an economic level and then on
the social level. Or, the economic reality of those times created that
social discrimination. Then for all these centuries they remained 'faceless,
voiceless, powerless, moneyless,' and continue to remain so even now. Mere
ideological slogans calling for a casteless utopian Hinduism by confessing
some past sins without addressing the reality of life may perhaps satisfy
some elitist Hindus, especially those sitting somewhere in their promised
land. But we Indians are going to have to struggle with our reality in
life-in which caste is a permanent issue.

Having said this, I am not against such confessions and calls for 'reform'
in Hinduism. Something is better than nothing. Whether 'idealistic' or
'reality', we have to begin from somewhere and I see this apology by Navya
Shastra as a good beginning with all sincerity and seriousness. But the
reality in life here is that even the so-called suppressed people want to
keep their caste identity, as it is now beneficial both for economic
advantage through reservation and political advantage through voting power.
Thus the call to give up that identity will be ignored by the people for
whom reality is more important than idealistic slogans or confessions.


Note: "Hindu Organization Apologizes for Untouchability." [From Hindu Press
International,, Dec. 21, 2006] TROY, MICHIGAN, December
20, 2006: (HPI note: The following appeared as a press release written by
Navya Shastra and sent out through Religion News Service.) Navya Shastra,
the international Hindu reform organization, has issued an apology to the
Dalit communities of India (see The organization issued
the apology after consulting with Hindu activists and its own Dalit members.
It reads: We, at Navya Shastra, deeply regret and apologize for the
atrocities committed on the sons and daughters of the depressed communities
of India, including the tribals, the "untouchables" and all of the castes
deemed as low.