this as 'Debated Dialogue.' Dialogue is rightly called 'samvad' (sam
+ vad) where we come together (sam) to discuss (vad) a topic of common
interest. In such a dialogue, each side remains humble enough to
acknowledge their own limitation and never tries to impose their own
view on others. The main purpose of dialogue is to learn from each
In a debate, however, we try to defeat the other through our skillful
talk and method of presentation. This is also not wrong, but in both
Dialogue and Debate, what we all need is the patience to listen to
others' point of view before we give our view. It will never serve
any purpose if we fail to listen to others and, instead, react quickly
without giving others opportunity to share their view. This often
happens in life, and we can see this in many political debates on T.V.
Anyhow, whatever might be life's lesson, we learn only from such
During my recent visit to Delhi, I got an opportunity to have a
dialogue on 'avatara rahasya' (the secret of avatara). It was not
actually a dialogue meeting, but a puja arranged by one of my
shishyas. However, considering the presence of people belonging to
two faiths (Christians and Hindus), after the puja I shared a bit
about the meaning behind every avatara. First, I shared about the
meaning behind the avataras of Rama--Krishna and then about Jesus
Christ. Though we started well in a cordial atmosphere of dialogue,
soon it became a heated discussion, leading to debate and ending in
To come to the point of the discussion—debate—argument, I have to
mention a bit of the message that I shared, so that what we discussed,
debated and finally argued will make some sense.
To begin with, I said that giving answers is very easy but asking the
right questions is a difficult task. For this I quoted Arjuna's
(good) question in Gita which in one way helped us to get the answer
that we most need through Krishna. But the most difficult part in
asking any question is that for which you already know the answer.
Most of the time in life, 'when the questions itself becomes the
answer' and then any kind of answer becomes unnecessary. Out of
life's desperate situation, we ask some questions for which no answer
is coming. This we find in the life of Jesus Christ, when He asked
the question, 'God why have you forsaken me?' He didn't get the
answer, because He already knew the answer.
'Dushta nigraha; sreshta paripalana' (destroying the evil one and
protecting the noble ones) is the meaning behind the avatara of Rama
and 'For the protection of the good and the destruction of the wicked
and for the establishment of dharma, I am born from age to age,'(Gita.
4:8) is the meaning behind the avatara of Krishna. Whereas, though
orthodox view of Christ avatara is to 'save the sinner and destroy the
sin,' yet for me more than that, the avatara of Jesus portray the
self-emptying work of God to set an example for us to remove our'aham'
As both Rama and Krishna remained true to the purpose of their
avatara, Jesus (or in Jesus, God) remained true to His avatara. We
often keep ourselves at the centre of our life and view others from
our point of view. For example a person always says, 'This is my
wife, my children, my home, my parents' (my policy, principle and
ideology) etc. He will never say, 'I am her husband.' their parents
etc. As we view life from our point of view (keeping our interest at
the centre) others also do the same ('my husband,' 'my parents,' etc.)
and hence we cannot avoid tension and friction in relationships. The
best way to overcome any friction in relationship is to think from the
other's point of view, viz., 'I am her husband,' 'I am their parent'
etc'. Then when we feel that others are not accepting our view, not
showing respect to us and even abusing us, the realization that once
belongs to them (viz. I am her husband; I am his wife etc.) when
others abuse us or go against our interest, they hurt themselves more
than us. For example, when a husband abuses his wife, the wife begins
to realize that her husband is not abusing her, but he is abusing that
which belongs to him. In the same way when a husband feels that his
wife is not showing or giving the respect that he deserves as a
husband (which he
has to earn rather than demand), he realizes that what his wife is
actually disrespecting is not him as an individual but her own
husband, which will hurt her more than him. In this way throwing
ourselves at the disposal of others, instead of claiming or fighting
for our (legitimate) right will help us to overcome our aham and will
set others an example.
This is what we find in the avatara of Jesus. This avatara violated
all the expectations of His nation and disciples. They all were
expecting a 'deliverer' (Messiah) to give them freedom from the tyrant
Roman occupation and give back their own power and authority. So when
He was doing miracles, healing the sick and feeding the hungry, they
thought that the long-expected Messiah had come. But, contrary to
their expectation and even to their shock, He refuse to fight back,
telling them very clearly that His Kingdom does not belong to this
world. He even refused to use His power against those who wanted to
get rid of Him and silently submitted Himself to them. Here God set
an example for us to learn. The sovereign God emptying Himself threw
Himself at the disposal of His own creation. He was standing before
the earthly authorities as if telling, 'Here I am. Do whatever you
want to do to me. I am not going to deal with you as if you are my
creation. But now I throw myself to you as your creator.' And they
have done what every egoistic person would do. Yes they crucified Him
on the Cross. But as He emptied Himself of His Godhead, identifying
with His own creation, He could even say from the Cross, 'God forgive
them as they don't know what they are doing.' Such a prayer is
possible only for a person who completely annihilated his/her ego.
Though Cross is traditionally considered as a symbol of suffering, yet
for me suffering is there in every form even before the death of
Christ on the Cross. But what I found there is the self-emptying
process of God not only to save humanity but set an example for all of
us to get rid of our ego (aham).
So, the purpose of reading and learning about all these avataras is
for us to imitate them and not just worship them through some rituals.
For example the main purpose of reading Ramayana is that we should
strive to become like Rama. By merely worshipping and doing puja to
please Him to fulfill our earthly needs will never help anyone to
teaching of Ramayana in personal life. Upholding (personal) dharma is
the main teaching of Ramayana, and Rama set as example for it in his
relationship with everyone. While most of the man expect their wives
to be like Sita, they themselves do not want to be like Rama. Then
their wives too will be like Surpanaka (Ravana's sister), not like
Mandodhari the wife of Ravana who is the enemy of Rama. Only a Rama
can create a Sita, and that is the purpose of Ramayana.
Bhakti comes from the root 'bhaj' which means standing in personal
relationship. It is not merely a concept, ideology but relationship.
So unless we too stand in personal relationship in our bhakti with our
God by developing relationship with Him by learning the values which
He wants to impart, then our bhakti will also become blind, and our
worship will end up as mere ritual. Unfortunately, most of the time
we expect God to dance according to our tunes through rituals. Then
such rituals become mere superstitions and bhakti--instead of
remaining a relationship--becomes a blind faith.
There I stopped, and after waiting all this time to question,
immediately one of the participants said, 'Even bhagavan Krishna
danced for a cup of porridge.' Then another person, endorsing him
said, 'God even accepts our mere rituals and fulfills all our prayer
for mundane needs. Salvation is not possible for everyone, and He
allows majority of the
people to be trapped in this maya samsar: desiring, demanding and
praying only for earthly needs. But God even accepts such kinds of
bhakti and rituals'.
For this I said, 'Yes. God will not say "no" to our daily needs.
"Give us today our daily bread," Jesus taught His disciples. He also
said, "Seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these
things shall be given to you." So seeking and asking for our mundane
needs is not wrong. But God never expects us to stop there alone.
With proper knowledge (jnana) of Him, He expects us to progress more.
As soon as I used the word 'Jnana' (knowledge) immediately
several--all at the same time--began to argue, 'Jnana is not important
in bhakti. Several bhaktas attained mukti only by their bhakti and
not because of their knowledge. Taking the name of their God is more
than enough to have all kinds of jnana'. Agreeing with this I quoted
said, 'While Rama was alive, He could hardly save a few individuals
like Sabari, Jatayu, Ahalya, Vibhishna (all are the characters in
Ramayana who attained mukti through Rama). But when He went away, now
His Name saves millions and millions. So who is greater "Rama" or His
"Nama" (name). But merely repeating the name of God without knowing
His nature and purpose of His avatara, most of the time leads to blind faith.'
Again the first person started to say that God even accepts such blind
faith, and no jnana is important for bhakti. For this I said, 'When I
used the word "jnana" you took it for chanting Sanskrit slokas,
quoting from Upanishads and other Sanskrit sources. But jnana is not
this but to know and understanding the character and nature of God.
Bhakti without such a knowledge of God will become blind faith; and
(mere bookish) knowledge without proper bhakti (personal relationship
with God) will become arrogant. Both bhakti and jnana are the two
sides of the same coin. One cannot exist without other.'
Then many began to talk at the same time. And some time after one
asked the question, before I give answer another person started to
argue. So with a smile, I listened them and then said, 'I listened
when you talked. Now would you please allow me to respond?' Though
they said 'yes,' yet before I could complete my answer, again they
began to argue. For example, in the context of bhakti is all
sufficient one person after quoting Sudhama (1) (Kuchelan in Tamil),
who even didn't ask his friend Krishna for help. His wife pestered
him to go and ask, but he said he "felt shy even to ask Krishna" who
was his bosom friend. So for him bhakti alone is important, and he
did not even use his bhakti and
friendship for his earthly needs.' For this I said, 'Every story has
a central theme. And if we began to stretch it beyond its limit, then
we will lose the main teaching and end up what they call in English as
"allegorization." In Sudhama's story, the central theme is
that bhakti as true relationship is enough for God even to realize our
need without even asking. Here in this story the central message is
Sudhama's true bhakti as a relationship. But if we began to debate on
side issues like "He felt shy," "He didn't ask," etc., then we can go
on to stretch the illustration and debate over it. Then you can prove
my points wrong, and I can prove your points wrong, and there won't be
an end to it. For example, we can take the side issues like whether
he asked or not, when he left his home with an intention to ask, he
already had done it in his mind.'
Before I could complete this, the same person said, 'Sudhama came
under the pressure of his wife; that is why he even decided to go to
Dwaraka to seek Krishna's help.' Again, responding to him I said,
'Now we are beginning to debate over side points. Why should a wise
person like Sudhama even come under the pressure of his wife? If his
bhakti was that strong, he did not even need go to Dwaraka. He could
have stayed back at his home and thought about Krishna, and the latter
also realizing the need of His bhakta could have fulfilled all his
needs. But these are not the main points of this story. And on every
small detail, if you want to argue, I am also ready for it. We can
continue it for several days and there won't be an end.'
Then another person, who had kept quiet all this time asked, 'Swamiji,
do you accept that there are many ways for "mukti" (salvation)?'
Another person (who asked about Sudhama) quoting Gita said, 'para
dharmo bhayavaha' (the dharma of others is dangerous). Thankfully he
didn't interpret it wrongly but rightly said that doing one's own
dharma viz. swadharma is good. I endorsed his view and quoted the
entire verse in its context. Knowing that the dialogue had turned
into a discussion leading to a debate and ending in argument, I didn't
want to confront them anymore, as I was not feeling well. So I said
'yes,' but continued, 'A thing which we bought to give some one will
become a "gift" only when it is accepted by him. If he rejects it,
then it will remain merely a thing that we bought. In the same way,
unless we too accept the mukti which God wants to give, He too cannot
do anything about it.'
This is not the first time for me to meet such people, and it won't be
the last one, but as usual I learned the principle that by turning a
dialogue into a debate, no one will be benefited.
1. Sudhama and Krishna studied together at Gurukulam. They were very
close friends. After their studies, Krishna went back to his kingdom
and became the king at Dwaraka and Sudhama married and got 26 children
and was suffering because of poverty. Then his wife often told him to
go and ask his friend Krishna some help. Though he hesitated, yet he
finally went taking a handful of puffed rice which his wife gleaned
from the harvested field. Though he was cordially received by
Krishna, yet Sudhama didn't ask for help. But, realizing his need,
Krishna--after taking the puffed rice and eating it--gave all kinds of
wealth to Sudhama's wife back at home. Without knowing this Sudhama
returned but found the blessing that Krishna had given him.