Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Taking a vow is both a spiritual and moral commitment. But without having any moral conviction and commitment, when we take any vow, then it becomes worse than a ritual and sheer hypocrisy.

Taking a vow is called ‘sankalp’ in our land. However, in a worldview where pluralism and relativism are dominant, these sankalpas also could be violated according to the need—based on time and place. Well my point here is not to discuss the merits and demerits of such vows, but to point out the need to take them seriously. Almost every religious cum social sanskar (ritual) has its own sankalpa to make. But as those vows are chanted by the priests (mostly) in Sanskrit and people only need to say ‘tatastu’ to it, people performing those sanskars neither know the meaning nor take it seriously, as it too has become part of the ritual. For example, almost in every marriage a kind of vow is taken both the by the boy and girl. But none know what they took. However, suddenly in the post-Independence India, taking vows in public become part of our social activity. Nowadays we have many vows, particularly taken on the death anniversaries of some popular political leaders (like Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi etc.) I don’t remember if people ever take any vow on the birth and death anniversary of great leaders like Gandhiji and Nehruji.   However as Gandhiji Jayanti is celebrated as International Ahmisa day, definitely there too will be some kind of oath ceremony, as no birth or death anniversary of leaders in India is ever complete without such a ‘vow’ ritual.1

Well, added to such politicized vows, nowadays taking other kinds of vows in public also has become part of our social need. For example, almost every year, several hundred couples gather in a particular ashram to take vows—that too holding their hands together and repeating what is read out for all. It is an encouraging sign and shows some kind of maturity and progress showing the affection and commitment in marriage publicly. In a land, where holding the hand of a wife in public place is not considered proper, these kinds of activities definitely show a great change in the mindset of the people. However, if this is done to imitate other kinds of vows or values, then this too will become a kind of social entertainment for publicity.

The sad fact in our Indian societies is that without making a personal moral commitment we take several vows. For example, school and college students take vow against the use of plastic and polythene bags and covers. But in real life, they rarely remember to strictly implement it. So what is the best way to help our people to remember and implement any vow? Let me return back to the same marriage vow (sankalp). Without knowing the meaning of the sankalp which they took in their marriage, almost all the couples keep their commitment to each other till the end of their lives. Exceptions are there, but thankfully they never decide the general rule. The main reason for this is that marriage commitment is not verbally expressed in our land but implemented strictly, as it is related with our sentiment. This is one good value on which we Indians can take pride. Our relationship with each other—of every kind, is mostly based on sentiment, and it helps us to commit to each other without any need to repeat or remind ourselves of the bond through any vow or celebrating those relationship as an event (like Father’s day; Mother’s day, Valentine's day etc.) This is well said by some one: Marriage is an entertainment in France, commitment in England, agreement in America and SENTIMENT in India. Our literature, dramas and even many cinemas demonstrate this well. And most of the (Tamil) films are based on this sentiment. Implementing this sentiment not only in our relationship with people but also with nature can better equip our young generation to take the vows seriously rather than merely make it as another public entertainment.

Dayanand Bharati, Gurukulam, September 10, 2009. Notes
1. In this context I remember a famous joke (which was shared by many).  In a big institute when any dignitary visits, they will ask him to plant a tree seedling to celebrate the event as well as a grow a tree remembering his visit.  But each time a dignitary visits, they will plant another seedling again in the same place.  When someone questioned about it, the response came with a satire, ‘it is a lucky place’.  This means that they never take the visit seriously or the event seriously but it has become part of a public ritual, like our public vows.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Call in Life

People have different calls in their lives--to live as a family man or
a sannyasi (or single in modern context). Though one can learn from
another, yet it is wrong to take one as the example for another to
live his/her life.   One T.V. speaker (Tenkasi Swaminathan, Sun T.V.
in July 2009) proved this by telling a story of a sannyasi.   Before
I share further, I have to acknowledge that he is a very good speaker
sharing more practical teachings on various subjects.
One time a sannyasi went and stayed with a king for few days.   And he
received the best hospitality even enjoying the food, dress and
ornaments and other facilities of the palace.   After a few days the
king came with confusion and asked a question, 'While we both are
enjoying the same food etc., why do I always feel sad whereas you
always remain happy?'    The sannyasi replied that he was waiting for
such a question and promised to give an answer after a few days.
Finally one day the sannyasi told the king that he wanted to go and
asked the king to come along with him for a distance.   When both
reached the border of the kingdom, the sannyasi said to the king, 'Now
I am going to leave everything that you gave.   And if you want to be
happy, leave everything and come after me.'  For this the king said,
'How can I leave behind my family, kingdom and responsibility?'   Then
the sannyasi said, 'This is the secret of my happiness.  Though I
enjoy all your hospitality, yet I am ready to abandon everything and
walk freely, as I am not attached to it.  Whereas though you too enjoy
it, as you are attached to it, you feel the burden more than the joy
you get from it'.
And the moral of the story, according to Swaminathan, is that while we
enjoy the things of this world, like that sannyasi we should not have
attachment with them.  And like that sannyasi, we too should be ready
to give up everything and walk away freely.
Certain illustrations, though they are good in themselves, still
cannot convey the correct teaching that is relevant for every
situation.  It is wrong to say that sannyasis don't have any
attachment.  In fact some 35 years before I wrote a song in which I
said, ' "Renounce the world," says a sannyasi, but he too renounced
the world with a DESIRE for mukti (moksha)' (ulahai turandu nee
vazhunduvidu yendru turanda jnanee solipponan; anda turanda jnanim
veedu petreya virumbiye turavu kondan).  What a sannyasi gave up is
his responsibility towards a family (but not to the society).  Here
too, he has some kind of responsibility towards his mother.  Whereas
for a family wo/man 'responsibility' comes before her/his legitimate
rights to enjoy the pleasure of life.  And those who tactfully manage
to keep a balance between 'responsibility' and 'privilege' can even
enjoy that 'responsibility' joyfully rather than treating it as a
burden.  Whether a sannyasi or a family man, no one can run away from
responsibility.  But a sannyasi could never be a best model for a
family man to understand and accept his responsibility.  King Janaka
of Mitila should be the model for a family man and not any sannyasi,
however great they might be.
Here I have to share my personal view as a sub point.  The so called
'nishkamyakarma': 'Do your duty but never seek its fruits' often
consoles a person who failed after sincere efforts in any endeavor.
Though the context of the sloka in Gita (2:47) is different, yet it is
often used out of frustration than with a true spirit of
nishkamyakarma.1.   One can have the spirit of renunciation but none
can give up responsibility which accompanies like a shadow every stage
in life.
Notes. 1.  I am not an expert on Gita.  However the main context of
this sloka in Gita (karmanyevaadhikaaraste maa phalesu kadaacana; maa
karma phala hetur bhuuma te sangostvakarmani. Your right is to perform
your duty only, but never lay claim to its fruit. Let not the fruit of
action be your object, nor let your attachment be to inaction'—Gita
Press, Gorakpur) is based on the doctrine of 'karma' which binds every
one.  As the fruit of karma binds one, better do your duty but never
seeks its fruit.  But this word 'nishkamyakarma' (which is not in
Gita) has often become a scape goat for all our frustration in life.
If I remember correctly, N.T. Ramarao (the late C.M. of Andhra) when
he lost his elections, then quoted this word and even the Gita sloka.
Whereas the best attitude to accept failures and defeat should be 'At
least I tried; though I failed'.  This will help one to learn some
good lessons from that failure and defeat than any frustration in
Gurukulam, July 21, 2009.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

What is Seva?

What is seva?

When a thing needs to be done but there is no one to do it, if I do it
without expecting any recognition, reward, acceptance or award, then that is
called seva. Other actions are only some kind of transactions done with some
expectation behind them.

A yet more important point in doing seva is that if my seva is in fact doing
damage to the person I intend to serve, then however humbly I claim to be
doing seva, it won't be appreciated with the same spirit and attitude by the
receiver. And the tragedy is that in real life most so-called seva is done
for publicity or personal satisfaction and never serves a true purpose. And
those who are in need continue to suffer, in fact more than before such
selfish seva was done to them. Once example will suffice to prove this.
People living in huts are moved to temporary shelter to construct permanent
houses for them. But after the inauguration and publicity, no one pays any
attention to the project. So, losing their huts and living in temporary
shelter camps, their life becomes even more miserable than it had been
living in huts. Instead of serving their needs, they are exploited by
selfish people.

As also mentioned in discussing dana and charity, we should never do any
seva to satisfy our ego or just to feel good. In such seva, we are more
exploiting others who are in need, with a goal to satisfy our need. And
exploitation done in any name or form is sin against God and humanity.

Dayanand Bharati, Gurukulam. August 31, 2009.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friendliness and Friendship

Differentiating 'friendship' from 'friendliness', the former being mean,
selfish and even like raw mutton (borrowing the words from Osho?), Suki
Sivam on July 5th again gave his usual type of talk on Sun T.V. After
quoting from the life of Buddha, who never had any 'friend' but had
friendliness towards everything, he concluded that everyone should have
friendliness than friendship.

But to my consolation on July 12th in Vijay T.V. in a programme 'Neeya
Nana,' Gopinath led the lively discussion (rather debate and friendly fight)
about the GREATNESS of friendship.

We all need idealism in life as it motivates us to rise from our limited and
narrow perspective of life and try to achieve more than what we can actually
do. It is like raising the bar to achieve greater height. However, real life
cannot be lived based on idealism alone. Because without gaining from real
life experience, all idealism will remain mere talk.

Friendliness is an ideal but friendship is very important even to be able to
talk about that idealism. Friendship is based on relationship which needs to
be cultivated and nurtured. As human beings any noble idealism could be
effective when it is implemented based on relationship. For example, we can
be friendly with everyone, but to carry on with it, we need personal
relationships with others. However we like, we cannot have friendship with
animals or even with nature, because they cannot reciprocate our
relationship to further develop it. Whereas we can be friendly towards them.

For example, Suki Sivam shared the experience of a Swamiji (Ram Theerth?)
who went to England on a ship without knowing anyone there. On his voyage
when one Englishman asked him where he was going to stay in England etc. he
answered 'I don't know'. Later in the course of the talk when the Englishman
asked who is the friend that he knows in England, that Swamiji said that he
is standing in front of him. And when he turned back, he didn't see anyone.
To make the story short, Swamiji said that he is that friend and finally
stayed with him in England. After saying this Suki Sivam said that as that
Swamiji (like Buddha) had friendliness with everyone, he easily became a
friend with that stranger.

But my question is: what happened after that visit? In our life we meet
several people and move with them in a friendly way. But we soon forget them
in our life. What happened to those school and college friends with whom we
even ate off of one plate? But real friendship is not like that, as it is
based on relationship. Friendship, like all other relationships, demands
personal commitment, whereas friendliness like any other idealism can
inspire and motivate but can remain only an idealism if it is not
implemented through friendship. Without a friend, friendship will remain
merely a concept and without friendship friendliness will remain mere
idealism. Friendliness and Friendship is like 'rta' and dharma. Rta is the
macro-cosmic order whereas dharma is the micro-cosmic order. And following
dharma (duty) is essential for the maintenance of rta (cosmic). Most
literature glorifies 'friend' and 'friendship' and not 'friendliness.' So
for me 'Friendship' is more important and valuable than the noble idealism
of 'Friendliness'. Therefore have real friends and develop deep personal
relationships with them through friendship. Otherwise our life will remain
barren without bringing any fruit as human beings.

Dayanand Bharati, Gurukulam, July 13, 2009

Friday, August 14, 2009

Western and Eastern Worldviews

While the Western system of elementary education is based on materialism, theIndian elementary education is based on 'human values,' says Suki Sivam (Sun T.V. July 26, 2009). To show this, he points out the way the children were taught in the Western system of education using 'A for Apple,' whereas in India (in Tamil particularly) they were taught, 'A for "aram seyya virumbu" (have desire to do charity/dharma).' Though my aim here is to take further what he said about Einstein and the value of education based on humanitarian consideration, yet I cannot resist pointing out the inconsistency in such an example. Athichudi (from which he quoted 'have desire to do charity') was written not to teach alphabets to the children, but ethical values were written in a poetic style in which the lines were written in alphabetical order. So, when we want to teach children alphabets we cannot use long sentence (however pregnant with human values they may be) but only small words like 'A for amma' (replacing apple). Well my intention is not to take the secondary matter and point out the contradiction but to show that when we take any example to present our view, we should be careful about any inconsistency in it. Whether West or East, while teaching alphabets, only small words are used and not long slokas or aphorisms with high ethical values., Now to show how such materialistic ways of education have done huge damage to humanity, he shared about Einstein who deeply regretted his invention of atomic energy, which was used by the USA against Japan in World War Two. When he was asked about it, Einstein said that he spent sleepless nights with remorse with a guilty feeling of committed some sin., Though we need to promote an education based on humanitarian values, and however we may claim that India showed the best example for it, yet we are in no way less than anybody else in upholding materialism and unethical ways of life. But the one thing lacking in our moral values is the sense of 'remorse' and daring to confess sin and immorality openly. Of course, we have the highest ethical teaching in all our literature. It pervades in our worldview through various forms of stories, poems, slokas, sutras (aphorism) and mantras. However, what our worldview forgets to promote is the sense of 'guilt' and 'confession,' though that is also insisted upon by our literature.  Whatever might be the system of (basic) education in the West, they too have their own ethical and moral values taught to them through their scriptures and literature.  But one main reason for the lack of such 'guilt' and '(open) confession' is the way we Indians justify all our ethical and moral lapses by taking refuge in 'karma' theory. In general, the Western worldview is more dominated by the biblical teaching of 'sin-remorse and confession,' in spite of their materialistic attitude to life (we are no way less than anyone else in this too).  While we point out our strengths in comparison to others' weaknesses, we can also learn from others' worldviews in order to demonstrate our own values more strongly in practical life., I have seen some Westerners doing their given jobs without need for anyone to supervise them - because of their guilty conscience.  Whereas unless we stand along with the workers, we cannot expect Indians to do their work with the same spirit of guilty conscience (i.e. that we have to do our job sincerely for the amount that we charge).  When we are caught red-handed, then with a sense of shame we will try to explain or hide or oppose rather than to accept. The best example is President Clinton; finally he confessed his affairs with Monika Lewinsky. But when is even one politician going to confess his corruption here? Another recent example is Hansie Cronje, the South African cricketer who confessed his involvement in cricket scandals; whereas our Indian cricketers are either hiding or defending themselves, perhaps waiting for our legal and political system to save them without their having to confess their transgressions., If we too began to teach our children some level of 'guilty' conscience (which is there in our texts) along with ethical values, we will be better able to boast about our value system., Dayanand Bharati, Gurukulam, July 26, 2009.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Dhana and Charity

One time I gave some money to help a person for his heart surgery. And
immediately after giving, before he could say anything, I said, 'thanks for
accepting the gift'. A bit embarrassed, he said, 'I am the one who has to
thank, not you'. Then as a joke I said, 'do you know what Kambar says in
(his) Ramayana? There is no one to give dhana (alms) in Ayodhya, because
there is no one to receive it. As all are content and have abundance in
their lives, there never comes an opportunity for the citizens of Ayodhya to
do dhana'. (I don't know the exact reference, as I only heard this Tamil
line by Kambar: "Kolvaar oruvarm illayel kodupparum illaye"). So in doing
dhana, the person who gives is not much important but the person who is
willing to receive it'.

There are so many views and guidance regarding giving and receiving dhana.
But one important aspect in it, particularly for those who give dhana, is
that she should remain more grateful to the person who is willing to receive
it than expecting thanks from the receiver. Because when we buy a gift for
someone else, if she refuses to accept it, then it cease to be a gift, but
will remain a thing that we bought. So in dhana, the person who is willing
to receive is more important than the one who gives it.

When I first time went to Kedarnath, on the way some pilgrims were
distributing some money to several beggars who were sitting on the way, and
also to some sannyasis. So when I was walking, a woman, who was going on a
'Palki' stopped on seeing me and gave some money. As I never used to accept
money in that way, I refused it. Then with much humility she said, 'Maharaj,
by refusing to accept it, you are stopping me to get rid some of my sins and
also earn merit. Above all it is my dharma to give and your dharma to
receive'. A simple housewife taught me the good lesson. Because of western
influence, as we learnt the habit of saying 'thanks' for every form of seva
(service) done to us (even without intending to say thanks in a real sense),
when someone gives something in dhana, then some kind of 'humiliation' on
the part of the receiver and 'feeling good' on the part of the giver has
entered in our collective conscience. Whereas our Indian tradition has some
other worldview in this act of dhana-which is not mere charity. Dhana, at
least in India, is closely linked with 'dharma' (duty) in which mutual
respect and more gratitude on the part of the giver towards the person who
is willing to receive is important. To say in other words, 'dhana' is not
mere charity, which in one sense is giving something to the needy out of
surplus. But the true mark even of charity (which is not 'dhana' ) is, as
someone well defined, 'throwing a bone to the dog is not charity, but
sharing in the same bone when you are as hungry as the dog' (from Readers
Digest, quoted from memory). And Mahabharata portrays this through the
story of the small fox whose half gold body cannot be turned completely
gold, even at the Rajasuya performed by Yudhistira, as his dhana is not that
much great as the poor Brahman who fed the guest even at the cost of his
life, where it got its half body turned gold as the leftover flour from the
cottage of that Brahmin touched its body on one side. Even Jesus appreciated
the poor widow who gave in the temple all she had for her livelihood, more
than the rich people who gave from their abundance.

In every way both 'dhana' and 'charity' can never be done just for the sense
of 'feeling good' on the part of the giver alone.

Dayanand Bharati, Gurukulam, June 23, 2009

Friday, June 19, 2009

Listening is Doing

Listening is 'sadhana,' and it needs single-minded concentration.  When we began to (negatively) react or (positively) respond while listening, then actually we are not listening.  Then quoting Osho, Sukisivam (Sun T.V., 31st May, 2009) as usual very nicely explained how to develop the art of 'listening'. 


But after his talk, while I was thinking on this subject I realized how it is practically impossible for most of us to listen without reacting or responding to it simultaneously.  Of course there are many who can do it, but I am talking about ordinary people like me.  The reality is that while listening to others, not only do we think of various things related what is being said, but we often fail to allow others to listen by passing our comments on it.  As a digression I would like to mention here the way some people irritate others by passing comments while they listen the news or to some other programme.  Some during a T.V. debate or panel discussion, we comment on some point, and we began our debate and argument without listening the entire programme ourselves or allowing others to listen.  It is like changing the T.V. channel without seeing one programme properly.  Some have this sickness which often irritates me and others also.

Well, coming to the point, as Arjuna rightly says, 'The mind is so fickle that sometimes it is easier to hold the wind in our hand than to control our mind' [Gita 6:34] (enabling it to listen without any deviation).  And Krisha, agreeing with Arjun that the mind is so fickle says, 'By practice and determination (vairag) we can train it'(Gita 6:35).  But, what is the evidence that we have achieved some success in this sadhana? If asked, I would say, 'By doing or implementing what we listened to.' Yes for me the real test of any TRUE LISTENING is practicing it, once we agree with it.  Otherwise all our listening will end like hearing any other sound.

Gurukulam, May 31, 2009.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Instant Satisfaction

Instant satisfaction is the curse of this age. Though many people are aware
of this fact, very few speakers have the courage to rebuke both the fake
gurus who promise to give it for a certain fee and the seekers who claim to
have it within a week or two through some workshop or class. But thankfully
Sri Suki Sivam challenged such instant satisfaction, particularly on
'enlightenment' etc. on May 16th 2009 on Sun T.V.

This is not the first time as he always takes up certain issues which are
very sensitive and boldly asserts his view. Particularly the way he exposes
hypocrisy among lay people as well as religious leaders is remarkable. Well,
my intension here is not merely to support Suki Sivam but to point out how
we should know the difference between 'detractor' and 'reviewer' on such
issues. When we share our views, sometimes very critically, then we are
blamed as 'fault finders'. 'Some people derive their pleasure by always
finding fault in everything that others do. Instead of appreciating all the
good aspects in it, they can see nothing but mistakes and failures. That's
why people often ignore such critics and continue to do what they think is
good for them. At least, irrespective all the shortcomings, more people are
seeking spirituality. Particularly as young people are showing much
interest, rather than finding fault, such speakers should encourage more',
is the counter comments on such speakers.

When we see a doctor, her prime duty is to diagnose the disease and provide
treatment for that particular problem. And a 'reviewer's' duty is also the
same. We do not derive any pleasure just by 'commenting' negatively. A fault
finder is one who has an inferiority complex and in order to hide her own
shortcomings and failures always comments negatively. Whereas a speaker like
Suki Sivam's aim is to steer the boat rather than allowing it to drift by
every wave and wind. The very next day, he also spoke about facing failures
courageously and encouraged those who feel defeated in life (I am not sure
whether he spoke in light of the election results) while living or fighting
for any cause.

Adding to his comments, here I too would like to say one more thing about
seeking instant spirituality through shortcuts. Many youngsters who seek
such 'experiences' do it as a kind of 'therapy' to escape from the stress
which they themselves created through their busy life. These days even a
lazy person does not have time for anything. As many youngsters want
'progress' and 'satisfaction,' they seek them quickly by using all kinds of
shortcuts. They think that such 'instant nirvanas' will provide the needed
therapy to overcome stress and the problems that have resulted due to their
lifestyle. Well, nature's law cannot be altered in everything. And seeking
true spirituality is a part of that natural process within us, not available
through any busy outward activities, workshops and classes. Thankfully, as
nature never fixes a price for its generous gifts, spirituality cannot be
bought at any price fixed by readymade gurus.

Gurukulam, May 20, 2009

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Imagined Interpretations

Reading scripture for its own sake is one thing and reading it for what one
wants to find in it is entirely different. But traditionally
'systemization' and 'interpretation' have been tools for 'text torture.' As
a (sincere) student of scriptures, while it always amuses me when I read or
hear speakers impose their own message on certain texts of scripture, yet it
also always causes concern for those who read or listen to such teachers
without any critical spirit. Without interpretation we cannot understand the
scriptures, but if we ignore the context and impose our personal views it
become more an 'imagined interpretation' than real exegesis.

This morning (May 15th, 2009) I heard an interview with a Vaishnavite
speaker about Divyaprabandam (Sri Varadhacharyiyar on Jaya T.V.) He, as
others also do, claimed that everything that other religious scriptures say
is already found in the Bhagavadgita. Then he quoted the Gita, saying
'Krishna is fire (agni)', and suggested that 'this is what Jesus says in
Geneses 1:14, "let there be light"'. At the end of the programme he
expressed his desire to write comparing other religious scriptures with
Divyaprabandam also.

Well, he is not the first and won't be the last in such an endeavor. Such
people are there in every religion. For example, in a television talk a
Tamil Christian went to the extent of saying that Adam was a Tamilian (Dr.
Daivanayagam's speech in Podigai channel, April 16th, 2007, 11.00 pm to
11.15 pm). He was not the only Tamil Christians as there are a few like
him. What is really shocking is that during the time of Ram sethu
controversy (see for details)
one Tamil Christian went to the extent of saying that 'Ram sethu is another
evidence to show that Adam was from South (Tamil) India as his descendant is
also called "Seth".' (I either read or heard this, but I don't have the
evidence at hand.) But he forgot the fact that 'sethu' in Hindi means
'bridge'. So 'Ramsethu' is actually what we call in Tamil 'Ramar Paalam'
and has nothing to do with Seth, the descendant of Adam.

When through Arjuna the Gita says that Krishna is 'fire' (11:39) it has
nothing to do with the Bible saying 'let there be light' (as per
Varadhachariyar, Jesus said this!) What Arjuna says after seeing Krishna's
vishvarupa (universal form) is part of worship, whereas what is said in
Genesis 1:14 is in the context of the creation story. Similarity of
'words', '(ethical and moral) teaching', 'terms', 'doctrines', even
'philosophies' doesn't mean that one scripture borrowed from another or one
influenced the other. When even within one scripture a single word can mean
different things according to the context, it is over simplistic to say that
one particular scripture is the foundational from which other people
borrowed all views. As there are several similarities to the longing and
need of humanity, irrespective of place and time, we expect to find several
parallel expressions through terms and words. But reading one's own message
into them merely exposes our limitation in understanding other scriptures
rather than serving any positive purpose. The following one will
demonstrate this even more clearly:

'Oak is best known, perhaps, for his continued efforts to prove that the Taj
Mahal was originally a Siva temple. Oak's books attempt to argue that
everything of value in the world originally came from India or was part of a
greater India. His etymologizing and general level of scholarship are
astounding, even in the context of this genre of literature; for example,
(Oak, p.343) England was originally pronounced as Angulisthan, since
"ancient Hindu explorers and administrators who fanned over a virgin Europe
looked across the English channel and called the British isles 'Anguli'
('sthan' or 'desh') i.e. a finger-size, finger-length land. If one imagines
Europe to be a palm-size, palm-shaped continent Great Britain appears to be
'anguli' namely the (extended) finger" (Oak P.N. 1984. World Vedic Heritage.
New Delhi 984, p. 842). I was informed by a professor of history at
Jawarhal Lal Nehru University that even the RSS, which previously had
cultivated Oak, has since completely distanced itself from his views. Oak's
insistence that all other cultures from all over the world in all historical
epochs ultimately originated in Vedic India, however, does parallel some of
the scholarship of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century in
Europe. Attempts were made to accommodate the newly discovered Eastern
traditions within a biblical narrative by suggesting etymologies such as
Brahman being the Sanskrit for Abraham and Sarasvati for Sarah.'

--Edwin Bryant, The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration
, Oxford University Press (2001) 2002 Indian edition, notes 6,
pp. 343-44.

Gurukulam, May 21, 2009

Friday, May 22, 2009

Giving Thanks

When I was staying with an American family for few days at Varanasi, it amused me a bit whenever they said thanks to each other in the family. For example when they sit for breakfast, they will say thanks to each other for everything they have done for each other. Even when one needs a spoon, then she has to ask, ‘a spoon please’ and when it is given then ‘thanks’ will automatically come on her lips.

After a day or two, when we were talking on various cultural and social issues of both India and America, I asked why they behave so formally by often giving thanks to each other. Even the husband will says ‘thanks honey’ when he receives a glass of water, etc. For this my friend’s wife said, ‘in our culture, only very close people say thanks to each other. By saying such a word we appreciate their service and love for us. But when one’s boss give instruction to do a work and when his subordinates does it, the latter won’t expect any thanks and the former often won’t say thanks for it. Whereas among close relatives and friends when we say “thanks” it is not a word of formality, but an expression of closeness’. This really surprised me. Because in India rarely a husband will say thanks for the wonderful food served by his wife, or wife for the best gifts given by her husband.

But in our culture we use difference means to express our love and affection. Though nowadays in the city children have begun to say thanks to parents, and even husband and wife to each other (and even good morning in the homes), yet in our traditional culture we express our love and affection through our actions and reactions. For example, a husband (or the guests or others) to appreciate good food says, ‘today my stomach is really filled; I ate up to my nose (in Tamil) etc.’ In the same way, instead of asking whether the food is tasty or not most of the time the women will say, ‘is there enough salt; I hope it is not too hot, etc’. In response, the guest (or family members) will say, ‘perfect. The food is very tasty today. How did you cook it? What is the masala that you added today, etc.’ (Immediately the woman/cook will start to give the recipe as well as the method of cooking).

So, though there is nothing wrong for us to offer ‘thanks’ to others and even to God to ‘appreciate the here and now,’ yet as Vaswani rightly said, ‘Some people even say "thanks" automatically, without so much as looking up at the person they are giving thanks to, or even meeting her eyes’. Because ‘Normally, the act of saying "Thank you" puts a certain distance between the giver and the receiver.’ (“Appreciate the Here and Now,” 18 Feb 2009, 0800 hrs IST, J P VASWANI, ‘Speaking Tree,’ Times of India, from website.)

There is nothing wrong with learning new manners which we think good for us. But instead of preserving the best (old) values which we have we began to imitate others just for the sake of aping some aspect of their culture which best serves their purposes, then artificiality cannot be avoided. At the same time, considering the influence of multiple cultures in our global village, even if we don’t like it we cannot avoid the influence of other cultures on us. So at least when we try to imitate certain new manners let also understand the ‘value’ which is behind them.

For example, I have observed that most westerners look into each others’ eyes when they exchange their love, care and concern, while we Indians rarely do so. Even while we talk (or argue and fight) we most of the time avoid eye contact. I think this is part of our Indian mannerisms. Rarely will a doctor look at a patient while checking her. She will mostly look at the report or old prescription rather than having eye to eye contact with the patient. When we go to the temple to worship, most of the time we close our eyes while stand before the deity (thankfully in our iconography, the eyes of the deities will remain wide open as ‘darshan’ means not only that we see the deity, but also that we are seen by the deity). Even in romantic scenes in films after some initial eye contact both the boy and will girl will talk (mostly sing and dance) without looking at each other very much. Even in romance the girl is expected to be shy (and not directly look at the boy), whereas the boy can express his love openly. This is even endorsed by Tirukkural, as the boy (man) says, ‘Yaan nookunkaal nilam nokuum; nokkakaal thaan noki mella nahum’ (when I see her she will look at the earth and when I don’t see she will see me and laugh gently).

As the life of the people cannot be divided in water tight compartments like cultural, social and religious, etc., what Vaswani says about the historical background for Thanksgiving Day in America make sense for us to understand their social world view (of thanksgiving). This could also be one of the reasons for the lack of such practices in our civilization. Though there might be several bhajans and poems of thanksgiving in our religious and secular literature, I cannot remember any of them immediately. Whereas in the Bible one can see several poems (particularly in the book of Psalm) and prayers of ‘thanksgiving’ to God. It would be interesting to collect all the ‘thanksgiving’ poems and bhajans in our Indian literature.

Though Vaswani has written with a positive note that, ‘Every day in India is a Thanksgiving Day for we have to thank God for all that we are and all that we have, every day of our lives!’, yet considering the corruption, lack of civic sense, lawlessness in every level, ‘We cannot, indeed, confine our thanksgiving to any single day. Ideally every day, every moment of every day should be an occasion of thanksgiving. The spirit of thanksgiving should so infuse our life that it should transform our life into a constant remembrance of His infinite mercy on us.’

In spite of all the shortcomings that we have, yet I am thankful to God that I was born in India. But if we Indians begin to adopt all the best things from other cultures, it is also important for us to understand the ‘value’ behind them. In the same way, not giving up the best traditions among us will help us to ‘appreciate the here and now’ in our life, too.

Gurukulam, May 13, 2009.