If Gandhi is the Father of Divided India, then Sri Aurobindo is the Father of Akhanda Bharat or Undivided India. Or shall we call him our Rashtrapitamah? For Akhanda Bharat is truly the vision of Sri Aurobindo. He enunciated this clearly in his message broadcast by All India Radio on August 15, 1947. If Swaraj was a call to arms by Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, Vipin Chandra Pal and Sri Aurobindo, eventually fulfilled on India’s independence, his dream of a united India was the aspiration to ensure that India fulfil her destiny to its utmost. If Swaraj was important because without independence, a nation or a people does not have the honor, self-reliance and self-respect to pursue their own dharma, the breakup of India into several nations yet severely inhibits her completest flowering. It did not matter at all that the demand to be utterly free of the British split the Indian National Congress (INC) into two wings. For, as people often forget nowadays, the highest integrity of the nation was far more important than the integrity of a political party. It also did not matter that this war-cry would turn the British against the political leadership of INC, especially the extremists, and soon their key leaders and activists would be tried, deported, imprisoned or executed. Nor did it matter that after the repressive action of the British government, the revolutionary fervor that was spreading across the nation was quelled and seemingly crushed. For the mantra had been given. Vande Mataram had become our national song. And the word had been planted in the hearts of our people. It is true that it took another 40 years for freedom to become a reality but a decisive action in our national struggle had been taken. The invocation had been inevitable the moment it was uttered. As a seed becoming a tree once implanted and nurtured is only a matter of time, Swaraj too was a realized fact at the moment of conception and enunciation. Gandhi came much later, to be credited for giving us the freedom that was already on its way. In any case, our Swaraj is not complete, Sri Aurobindo says. For this is only a physical freedom, that too precarious and under siege by the gathering negative forces of the world. True freedom will come only when the nation articulates its dharma clearly and starts living it. And it will be facilitated when the partition of India is reversed. And he says, in a modest self-effacing manner, “August 15th is my own birthday and it is naturally gratifying to me that it should have assumed this vast significance. I take this coincidence, not as a fortuitous accident, but as the sanction and seal of the Divine Force that guides my steps on the work with which I began life, the beginning of its full fruition. Indeed, on this day I can watch almost all the world-movements which I hoped to see fulfilled in my lifetime, though then they looked like impracticable dreams, arriving at fruition or on their way to achievement. In all these movements free India may well play a large part and take a leading position.” And then, his first dream that, to me, is the clearest articulation of Akhanda or Undivided Bharat, “The first of these dreams was a revolutionary movement which would create a free and united India. India today is free but she has not achieved unity. At one moment it almost seemed as if in the very act of liberation she would fall back into the chaos of separate States which preceded the British conquest. But fortunately it now seems probable that this danger will be averted and a large and powerful, though not yet a complete union will be established. Also, the wisely drastic policy of the Constituent Assembly has made it probable that the problem of the depressed classes will be solved without schism or fissure. But the old communal division into Hindus and Muslims seems now to have hardened into a permanent political division of the country. It is to be hoped that this settled fact will not be accepted as settled for ever or as anything more than a temporary expedient. For if it lasts, India may be seriously weakened, even crippled: civil strife may remain always possible, possible even a new invasion and foreign conquest. India’s internal development and prosperity may be impeded, her position among the nations weakened, her destiny impaired or even frustrated. This must not be; the partition must go. Let us hope that that may come about naturally, by an increasing recognition of the necessity not only of peace and concord but of common action, by the practice of common action and the creation of means for that purpose. In this way unity may finally come about under whatever form—the exact form may have a pragmatic but not a fundamental importance. But by whatever means, in whatever way, the division must go; unity must and will be achieved, for it is necessary for the greatness of India’s future.” But the dream of United India will not be accomplished until the other conditions are not fulfilled, until we who love India do not realize who She is and do not awaken to who we are. For we are not only her children, we are Her body, mind and emerging soul. And Sri Aurobindo predicts accurately, “Another dream, the spiritual gift of India to the world has already begun. India’s spirituality is entering Europe and America in an ever increasing measure. That movement will grow; amid the disasters of the time more and more eyes are turning towards her with hope and there is even an increasing resort not only to her teachings, but to her psychic and spiritual practice.” And then, he describes the movement he sees happening globally which brings all of it together, which, if it happens, will create the conditions for India’s vast unification and establish Her people in truth. “The final dream was a step in evolution which would raise man to a higher and larger consciousness and begin the solution of the problems which have perplexed and vexed him since he first began to think and to dream of individual perfection and a perfect society. “This is still a personal hope and an idea, an ideal which has begun to take hold both in India and in the West on forward-looking minds. The difficulties in the way are more formidable than in any other field of endeavour, but difficulties were made to be overcome and if the Supreme Will is there, they will be overcome. Here too, if this evolution is to take place, since it must proceed through a growth of the spirit and the inner consciousness, the initiative can come from India and, although the scope must be universal, the central movement may be hers. “Such is the content which I put into this date of India’s liberation; whether or how far this hope will be justified depends upon the new and free India.” It must be said here that lacking this clear vision of the spiritual reality of India, Gandhi erred grievously several times in his political career. His embrace of Khilafat movement, support and appeasement of Jinnah, dismissal of Bose, rejection of Cripps Mission, and, the biggest blunder of them all, making Nehru the Prime Minister of India against the democratic wishes of his own party and leadership. And it is relevant too to note here that Gandhi’s vision is dead. And will soon be smudge on the highway of our bhavishya. His economics were impractical, defense policies immature, unrealistic and enervating, ethics rigid, moralistic and self-righteous, understanding of Sanatan Dharma limited and politics harmful to the nation immediately and in the long run. Much damage was done to the polity by his autocratic policies which were smugly continued by Nehru to our tremendous detriment. It was only the quiet force and tapasya of Sri Aurobindo that kept our nation together through Gandhi’s depredations and stayed focused on the larger picture and the longer duration when India would begin to recover from the hands of true or fake Gandhis. We are here today, free and capable of writing our own fate, due to Sri Aurobindo. And we have it in our hands to give our freedom a greater completion if we heed his message and begin to envision what he had dreamed for all of us.
Sankhya darshana is a distinctive contribution of India to world philosophy. It is a pity that it is not studied globally since it impacts not only metaphysics, but psychology, cosmogony, epistemology and soteriology. And it is one of the singular leaps in human thought that eventually, I believe, led to the flowering of Indic civilization, its world-view, its arts and sciences and its continued uniqueness. Sankhya as propounded by sage Kapila (although we have no extant works from him) see the Universe as the continued interaction of two principles, the Purusha and the Prakriti. The Purusha is the conscious principle, which is inactive, aware and unblemished. The Prakriti is the principle of manifestation, whether in gross or subtle worlds, and all that is mobile and unconscious. There are various theories about its original relationship with Vedanta but it seems to be a precursor, or at least a parallel line of thought, to Vedanta. It is considered by some to be the most ancient Indian darshana that combines all the categories of Nyaya and Vaisesika, its precedent philosophies, into its dualistic framework. It comes to us in its most historical and traditional formulation in Sankhya Karika by Ishvara Krsna, with commentaries later from Gaudapada, Vacaspati Misra and Vijnana Bhiksu as being the most important tikakaars. Sankhya is not only experiential but metaphysical, granular and universal. Prakriti as conceived in its understanding is the eternal, all pervading and uncaused cause, which is subtler than mind and intellect and latent in everything. Prakriti creates mind, buddhi and ego, along with the five bhutas and five tanmatras and the ten senses. Its most important characteristics are that it is unlimited and independent, inherent and unchanged in everything, with same potential in every manifestation, the primal cause of all that exists and of infinite potential in its unmanifest state. It comprises of three gunas, satva, rajas and tamas, which can only be inferred, and are formless and omnipresent. These three gunas interact in each manifestation, change into one another, with the same principles of interaction in the human body as in the mind and the Universe. Rajas can convert satva into tamas and vice versa; satva can bring rajas into balance. Each guna is part of the whole and has its own significance. None may be eschewed, rejected or ignored. Sankhya accepts the principle of Satkaryavada, which means that the effect exists in the cause prior to its manifestation or appearance, says Rajmani Tigunait in his ‘Seven Systems of Indian Philosophy’. And it also accepts the proposition of Parinamvada, which implies that the transformation of cause into effect is real, not illusory. Unlike Charaka, Nyaya, Vaisesika, Buddhism and Jainism, Sankhya does not see Prakriti as comprising of material or subtle atoms but as a subtle cause that is constantly changing in expression. This Sankhya, as originally propounded, was dualistic and atheistic. And it was Sri Krishna, as far as we know, who transformed it with his genius into a Theistic, pantheistic and monistic darshana. Sri Krishna widened the connotations of the technical terms of the original Sankhya and turned its enumerative and analytical approach into a part of his synthetic and vast vision. He saw the description of Prakriti as unconscious to be applicable only to its lower status, the Apara Prakriti. There is yet a higher Prakriti he said, that is conscious, divine, intelligent, wise, nurturing and intimate. And he called this higher status as the Para Prakriti. It is possible that the development of Tantra as a powerful flowering of Indian darshana was influenced by the introduction of the concept of Para Prakriti. For Tantra, as it developed, elevated this higher understanding of Prakriti, as Shakti or the Divine Mother, to be adored and worshipped and considered even more exalted than Shiva. Sri Krishna also further enumerated the status of Purusha that is involved in lower Prakriti as the Kshara Purusha. The Purusha that frees itself of Prakriti in the individual is that which can never be destroyed or divided, as the primal unit, the Akshara Purusha. Yet, there is an even higher status of the Purusha, the Uttama Purusha, that is universal, that subsumes all the multiple purushas of traditional Sankhya, into a higher unity. That one eternal and pure consciousness that is behind all consciousnesses of the Purushas, the cetanas cetananam of the Upanishads. The Uttama Purusha and the Para Prakriti as the higher stations of the original principles of Sankhya are yet unified in Sri Krishna’s person as the Purushottama, that supreme consciousness that is each and all, transcendent and universal and yet in each smallest atom of existence. Sankhya and yoga are thus brought together in Sri Krishna’s vast synthesis of the Gita. Sankhya, thus, is a yoga that proceeds by knowledge, as explained by Sri Aurobindo in his ‘Essays on the Gita’. And the intellectual, discriminatory, analytic approach of Sankhya is made inclusive, synthetic and malleable by the great Teacher. This permeation of Sankhya and Yoga into a unity of approach that does not exclude work or bhakti or knowledge is his unparalleled contribution to India. Sankhya became integral, poorna, and its principles applicable not only in intellectual realms that tended towards sannyasa, a detachment and movement away from the world, but also towards adoration and worship in bhakti and intense engagement of worldly activities as karma yoga. This was a significant achievement of Indian thought with far-reaching consequences towards making life richer and giving us an understanding of life that is not exclusionary but comprehensive and all-embracing. The final transformation of Sankhya came when Sri Aurobindo took Sri Krishna’s Vedanta forward and brought into it elements of the higher Tantra. When asked to describe his integral or Poorna yoga, Sri Aurobindo called it ‘advaitic in principle and tantric in execution’. He accepted the darshana of the Gita in its entirety and then brought into it the unity and dynamic aspects of Shakti, the Divine Mother, who is the executrix and makes his yoga truly universal and transformative. This introduction of Shakti into the Vedanta of the Gita is not an intellectual exercise but springs from his realization of Brahman in both its static and dynamic aspects and insight into how the Truth-Consciousness shall act on earth plane. Thus, Sankhya not only became even more poorna, but also an integral part of a more unified darshana, that incorporated all the important darshanas of Indic civilization into a single movement of self-transformation and yoga. And Tantra which had been shunned from Indian society as the leftist path, the vama marga, became established in all its dynamis in our lives as part of its own spiritual evolution. Sankhya has been modified and adapted over the last few millennia by some of our greatest spiritual figures, widened, expanded and deepened in their own more complete adhyatma. And it is to the credit of the Indian mind that these remarkable transformations have grown seamlessly in its own journey towards greater and greater establishment of truth in life, mind and body.
The Divine Mother has been described in various cultures other than the Indic civilization though this has happened not with the fullest understanding of her nature or charitra. We see this in depictions by aboriginal and matriarchal communities and tribes, in ancient Egypt, in the Japanese culture where she is Kwannon, the Goddess of Compassion, but most prominently perhaps in the denominations of Catholicism and Maryism. For she is the Blessed Virgin who brings forth the Divine Child, the new Adam, conceived without sin. She who intercedes on our behalf unceasingly, whose love and grace permeate even the most rational Christological explanations, even among the Protestants. But to Sanatana Dharma, she is self-evident, inevitable, obvious, as the Mother of God, who is Perpetually Virgin and is Assumed into heaven at the end of her life on earth. There are no acrobatics needed by the Hindu to explain away the birth of Jesus, the incarnation of God the Son, the avatar of our psychic being, the sacred heart, who came here to show us how to live out of a new consciousness and bring it alive into the flesh. Jesus thus transformed the commandments of the Old Testament into something radical, spiritual, transformative. And she too is born as a simple woman, yet unique in delivering an avatar into a culture hostile, harsh and dismissive, and presides over his entire journey on earth and thereafter. Her quiet suffering, nay dharana of Jesus’ passion with deep maternal understanding and empathy, her presence through his infancy, adolescence, explorations, trials, crucifixion and resurrection—show her as an avatar of maternal nurture and protection with immense compassion and fortitude in an embrace vast as earth. And she is his true confidante though he has disciples for they are too immature for his depths and who desert him at the slightest appearance of danger to themselves and deny him, though still somewhere somehow learning to love him. As I watched the movie, ‘The Passion of the Christ’, I was moved to see how she holds him as he falls with the crucifix even as he shares with her his last journey. And she protects the body even as he is given up for dead and is there for his victorious re-emergence in a body of light and spirit. As a universal truth established on earth, we see her slowly becoming less and less understood and appreciated as Christianity developed into a religion even though her significance is never truly eliminated. And though there are denominations that still see her as the key intercessor, refuge, advocate, protector and Mediatrix, the new Eve and Co-Redemptrix, she has slowly been relegated to the background in the most theological constructs of the Holy Trinity and the story of the Christ. But if she were not there with the quiet purity of her heart, we would have no Jesus. And an important link in the unfolding of the human spiritual evolution would have been missed. Yes, it may seem strange that a non-Christian honors and adores her. But perhaps this too is a bridge among the various peoples of her earth, in a spirituality beyond religion. It may be time for the more spiritual minds in the West to accept and understand her true universal reality. The Shakti remains unchanged; it is the receiving mind who sees her in images more suited to its conditioning and culture. Without honoring her fully, we remain incomplete as her children. But if she is seen as who she is, in culture after culture, denomination after denomination, perhaps we can prepare the human instrument for her more direct action in the future.
In a recent article in TOI, Chetan Bhagat lamented the fact that Indian liberals are a disappearing species. And he points out four reasons for the same: 1) Failure to express themselves in a way India understands 2) Obnoxious, holier-than-thou, one-upmanship 3) The lack of focus on changing the Congress leadership 4) Modi-Shah obsession. These seem to be largely correct but these are symptoms, not a diagnosis. Being a physician, my approach is: if the right diagnosis is not made, the right treatment plan cannot be followed. So this is my diagnosis: Indian liberals are liberals only in name; they neither have the understanding of liberalism, nor its spirit. In fact, they are some of the most illiberal people I have seen. For what is liberalism? In ‘The Conscience of a Liberal’, Paul Krugman notes that liberalism focuses on political reform primarily to create equity in society and not the other way round. The watershed event for liberals was the New Deal presented by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He focused on the poorest, workers with the lowest wages, and equalized their wages with the help of the National War Labor Board. And I am amused at the obvious confusion that Indian liberals form: Narendra Modi is the most socialistic Prime Minister that India has seen since independence. It is almost as if he has put antyodaya, the raising up of the poorest, on steroids. Almost all his policies, including Jan Dhan, housing schemes, power and water policies, support for farmers and rural women, are ‘political and governmental reform to primarily create equity in society’. Thus, the visceral hatred of Modi that the liberals feel is based not on their liberalism but due a fundamental lack of understanding of what liberalism truly is. Liberalism is not liberal economic policies; nor is it a free pass to be libertarians as they wish to be since they are the cultural and social elites of the society. Nor is liberalism against social conservatism since they could not care two hoots about what the society really is, so far as they are from any connection with the society, its religious and spiritual milieu, its cultural and social needs, its age-old structures and foundations. Nor can liberalism be shallowness, best exemplified in our society by personages such as RG or Shashi Tharoor. Without the slightest understanding of what Bharat or Sanatana Dharma is, they rely on what they learnt in management courses in the US, or lectures in Aspen, or panel discussions at literary festivals or twitter feeds. But the biggest challenge to liberalism today is a fundamental lack of integrity. The unwillingness to take a stand, whether it is against dynasty in politics, or to stand up for inconvenient truths like the exodus of Kashmiri pandits, or the degenerate and pernicious activities in Bollywood, or the inconsistency flagrantly displayed to gain votes by milking Sabarimala. A gratuitous giveaway given to the Nehru-Gandhi family, no matter how atrocious or undemocratic their behavior might be, whether it is matters of National Tribune or Bofors or corruption by Vadra or the disrespect shown by Rahul Gandhi towards the entire cabinet of the country, is a glaring contradiction in terms. Thus, liberalism has become justification for dynasty and cryonism. And has become an instinctive hatred for Modi, even if he accomplishes something great for the country, such as abolition of 370, or allowing farmers the ability to sell wherever in the country they wish to, contract as they please, and no longer depend on doles by powerful middle-men or their minions. Nor is liberalism anti-Hinduism at any cost. Since they did not deem it necessary to read about or delve deeply into Sanatana Dharma, anything that does not seem like good western etiquette is anathema to them, unless of course it translates into returns at the hustings. Nor is liberalism a blind adherence to the Left since the Left in India is beholden to the interests of another country and that country is surely not India. Nor whatever is left of the communists today has anything to do with idealism or social and economic equality. For, if it were so, they would be cheering for Modi today, like they did for Indira Gandhi, the bourgeois product of confused Nehruvian non-alignment and socialism. This is the diagnosis then. The Indian liberals are not liberal. Unless they truly become so, all charades and façades are an illusion and condemned to a slow painful disappearance, as they so fortunately deserve.
If there is one word that encompasses the mystique of Hinduism, the Indic philosophy, the Indian civilization and its approach to the Universe, it is dharma. A term so often misunderstood even by its most fervent adherents, that it now seems equated with religion. Perhaps an exploration into its nature and roots might be in order. For the word dharma, if correctly understood might give us new insights into who we are and what might be the nature of our journey on earth. Dharma derives its root from the Sanskrit root word, dhri, which means to hold, to bear, to support. Dharyati iti dharma, as an ancient shloka says. What is it that this so-called dharma is supporting? Dharma may be considered as the core, the karana, the causeless cause, the invisible scaffolding that holds any entity together. Realizing this truth of the entity or structure gives us its raison d’etre, its cause for being, its meaning, its purpose, etc. Unique to the Indic world-view is the understanding that as one grows inwardly and spiritually so does one’s understanding of one’s dharma. In a progressive revelation dharma appears self-evident and obvious in an intuitive understanding, that is not just mental, yet not infra-intellectual. For example, the entire Gita is an unveiling to Arjuna of his dharma through the eighteen chapters of instructions by Sri Krishna. If one might say that the Gita is a manual of the progressive unveiling of one’s dharma, one would not be incorrect. But, if I might attempt to reduce this to simple formula, knowing one’s true nature reveals one’s dharma. And the whole journey of India’s spirituality is in finding one’s swabhava or true nature. And the entire set of ethical, moral, social, cultural and religious responsibilities that one endeavors to fulfil is based upon this identification. If I see myself as a social or family man as Arjuna did, then I might see it as my dharma to eschew violence and preserve the kula or community or vansha, family or tribe. Which is how Arjuna does see himself at the beginning of the Gita. But if he sees himself as a Kshatriya, a preserver of truth and uprightness, rectitude and righteousness in the society, then his role changes. This is what Sri Krishna reminds him of, to take his despondency and confusion right away. But this is not the end of the journey. To see oneself as just a role prescribed for one by the society, no matter how noble, too is a conditioned journey and there is no self-exploration or learning involved in such prescribed responsibilities for the individual in this day and age. To see oneself as a student, or grihastha, vaanprashtha or sannyasi: all these are impositions until one is truly free by realizing that one’s dharma constantly transcends one’s bracketed and prescribed responsibilities if one grows in consciousness. Thus, one might adapt various dharmas based on one’s identification. Either with one’s ego, one’s social role, family roles, community assignments, national responsibilities, etc. but at some point one starts noticing that one is oneself formed of various constituents. Whether it is by a preliminary reading of Sankhya or yogic enquiry or through gyana yoga or bhakti yoga, one realizes that one is not who one thought oneself to be, and layers within layers of one’s existence come out that were not so obvious in the past. As one’s true nature is revealed, what happens to the dharma that one had taken as one’s gospel? It necessarily has to change, evolve, adapt, grow, in sync with one’s new insights and understanding. One example of possible question and answer sessions that might be entertained about dharma. We might call it a digital and modernized analog of an Upanishadic dialogue: Q: What is the dharma of a flashlight, my child?A: To give light, I suppose. Q: Why is giving light its dharma?A: Because that is its nature. That is what it is supposed to do. Q: What if the flashlight also had a computer attached to it, along with a calculator and a camera? What would you think its dharma would be?A: Well, its dharma would be to give light, and calculate and take pictures and compute, I suppose. Q: Each depending on the component’s nature, right?A: Yes! Q: What if I added more features to the flashlight, e.g., e mail service, telephone, browsing services, videos, online chats, etc.A: I suppose more dharmas would be added to its repertoire. Q: So then what is its main dharma if you have so many features?A: Difficult to say! Q: What if I told you that you are now holding a smart phone? What is the dharma of the flashlight now?A: Ah! Its dharma is to be a smartphone. Q: Whichever way you define the dharma of a smartphone now, so will it be now? The point was to give you a new perspective on things you take for granted. Or this so-called you that you take as granted by defining your features and nature.A: Dharma then would be nature, ability, aptitude, responsibility, role, etc. Q: Until you identify with them too. But you may discard them at will. When you are ready and transcend to a higher dharma. Perhaps you could call it a greater digital ecosystem. So you think you are a flashlight until you realize you are a smartphone with multiple features, abilities, qualities, possibilities, modules, apps. Then, what are you? In Sankhya, one of the first realizations is that one is the Purusha, the pure consciousness. Thus, one’s dharma arises from that identification, everything focused on living the truth of Purusha. In other yogas, one may realize that one is the jeevatma, the embodied soul, and centering oneself in the jeevatma, one’s dharma then becomes living from that center. And yet, as one’s dharma enlarges, it may not necessarily mean the entire and sudden abandonment of the past but a gradual enlarging. Dharma may not be abandoned without a deeper and higher understanding and insight and a consistent and comprehensive replacement of the less comprehensive truth with the more comprehensive. For as the nature of things becomes obvious to one, one’s own dharma progressively becomes clear to oneself. This cannot be rushed and any attempt to upstage the way of one’s being might be attended with peril if one does not show enough patience to go right through to the end of the exploration of dharma. To identify with the divine, to realize unity with the divine in all manifestations, to reach brahmanirvana, this becomes the highest dharma of the yogi who believes in integral realization, as the Gita explains. Whether as a Vedanti or a Tantric, understanding dharma has been the secret thread through our explorations in Sanatana Dharma. This exploration was fearless, unfettered, though often guided by a mentor or Guru, based solely on Sat and no other prejudices. Dharma is not a religion, a code of conduct prescribed by a prophet, with a book that needs to be adhered to, in a church, with a clear program of reward or punishment afterlife. Dharma has many definitions. It has been variously called as the cosmic law and order, way of living, duties, laws, conduct, virtues, etc. But the truest definition is from the center of one’s own heart, what one knows oneself as, in the light of one’s own consciousness and truth. And that realization makes dharma a revelation to oneself, as knowledge, pramana, and directly perceived, pratyaksha. What is sanatana dharma then? That which is eternal, universal, that upholds the universe, which can never be destroyed. The final dharma then is to find the core that holds the individual and the universal, the causal and the acausal, the momentary and the timeless, the form and formless together, in one seamless unity. That is who we are in truth, that is our true nature, our swabhava, and our swadharma flowing out of our swabhava. Fulfilling that to fullest, living that in entirety, experiencing the Truth and Existence of the Self and the Universe, is thus our truest dharma. Living in unity with That, the Ineffable, the Unknown, that is yet Real and Present, is our highest calling, achievement, possibility and duty. Yuga Dharma Another aspect of dharma is yuga dharma, the dharma of the age, the spirit of the times, the zeitgeist. We can see this beautifully depicted in the lineage of the dasha avatars, each yuga avatar bearing the dharma of the globe and incarnating the manifestation of Truth in a radically new and progressively unfolding spiritual shift. Dharma evolves too as the earth evolves. We see that Parshurama’s dharma is transformed, negated, even pushed back by Sri Rama when he takes over the new avatar. Sri Rama resists Parashurama’s when he tries to impose his old standards and eventually Parashurama relents when he realizes his work and time is over. Similarly, Sri Rama’s dharma of establishing a rule of Sattvic righteousness, mental harmony and rule, order, harmony, the Ram Rajya, is transcended by Sri Krishna when he brings down the light of an even higher plane than that of the mind. Sri Krishna expands Sattva into the light of a higher Truth, harmonizing the truth of Sri Rama in a vaster and more dynamic Truth that encompasses the ideal of Sri Rama. Sri Krishna thus continues the manifestation of the higher Truth, and pushes back on those who are yet stuck in the world of kula-ahankar (pride of the clan) and Kshatriya pratigya (vows of the Kshatriya), without realizing that the dharma of those standards too has been surpassed. Thus, Bheeshma, in following his vow which is of an old order, is no longer being a loyal protector of the rashtra (nation) or his Kshatriya dharma and has become adharmik. Similarly, Drona, despite his adherence and loyalty to the throne, failed to see that his dharma was also to create a future lineage that would help in sustaining the rajya or kingdom in accordance to the dharma of the age. Dhritarashtra, of course, being blind to everything except the love of his own son, is the biggest adharmik and loser. For not only does he lose the kingdom of the earth for himself but also for all his sons, leading to their destruction, while also losing the kingdom of the new rajya that we may call Sri Krishna Rajya. But even as yuga dharma changes, what does not change is the requirement of the nara to have complete devotion to Narayana, to surrender to the Divine completely and to fulfil his part by opening his being entirely to the new teaching. We see this is what Hanuman does and later what Arjuna does. And this leads to the success of the yuga avatar in fulfilling his mission. In our own modern times, we see the foolishness of personages like Gandhi in insisting on old ideals of sattvic harmony while the world had moved on to a new dharma requiring a new set of standards. How many countless lives were lost due to his sattvic ahankara and stubborn ignorance that insisted on being right always. It has taken us decades to recover from him and his side-effects and the damages would have been near-fatal were there not other greater spiritual personalities in India to neutralize his pernicious influence.
Mahasarasvati is perfection in action, at the most granular level. The extreme detail and microscopic accuracy with which the atom is held together. With which quantum interactions occur in the Universe. With which the cells of our bodies function. And how each cell synergizes with other cells, in minuscule countless interactions each moment, to ensure that our entire body is functioning as one coherent system. Each cell working in the tissue and the organ system, and each organ system combining with other organ systems, for example, the circulatory system working closely with the respiratory, nervous and endocrine systems. Could our best systems reach such intricacy, attention to detail and perfection in living entities across the globe in millions of species? The best Chief Operating Officer at a Fortune 500 company would like to emulate this action. Our body is completely autonomous as a fully functional ecosystem where each tissue covers for the other. The skin keeps the inside tissue safe. The skeleton holds the internal organs and limbs together and gives them a dynamic scaffolding. The red cells carry oxygen from the lungs to each cell, each moment. The white cells swallow and destroy all invaders. The platelets plug and seal any breaks in the lining of the arteries or membranes or skin. The heart pumps the red blood and white blood cells and platelets through an intricate network of arteries through the corpus. And the muscles contract and relax to ensure that the lungs get the oxygen they need to pass on to red blood cells. The mouth chews and swallows. The food pipe takes it to the stomach. The stomach breaks it down with acid. The liver produces bile to digest it; the pancreas releases enzymes into the intestine. The small intestine absorbs the broken-down nutrients. The colon draws water. The rectum holds and evacuates. And the liver as factory cleans the blood and processes all the nutrients absorbed. And the kidneys excrete the waste. And the eyes see. And ears hear. The tongue tastes with the help of the nervous system. And we can go on and on describing the fabulous arrangement and management of this fully independent active living entity, that is you and I. This is the perfection of Mahasarasvati. And we have not even scratched the surface of this Mahasystem. There are systems within systems, ecosystems within ecosystems, each interlinked, interdependent, enhancing the other, in a vast supersystem. And we barely begin to glimpse the minutiae with which she works when we study the infinite knowledge the cosmos provides. At every level, every scale, every detail. She is here, working out with immeasurable patience, with the surgical precision of a surgeon, with the plier of a mechanic building a satellite, with the brush of a painter creating works of great art, with the pen of a student elaborating what he has learnt with years of labor. Those who love detail and particular attention adore her and emulate the perfection that she sets up in everything she does. Pure, sacred, noble, the patient Mother that smiles over our difficulties and addresses the smallest need of the devotee. The smallest bindu in this vast universe does not escape her, even an electron in her elaborate consistency and method. Never looking down upon our littleness, she inspires us to create great cities and supercomputers and aircrafts and nanotechnology and mastery of the arts and humanities and sciences. To her we turn as we seek to achieve mastery over our subjects, and eventually ourselves, as students, as technicians, as professionals, as yogis. To ensure that whatever we do does not fail and abides. To make our smallest attempt a worship to her infinite being. To know that when we work on the smallest dot with her Force, we transform the Universe.
The dearest, the closest, because of earth, because human as us, Sri Radha makes the divine possible, real and achievable to all bhaktas. She is not vast and transcendent, distant or formidable, but frail and vulnerable. For she is the salt of earth. Nor is she a pundit, or an intellectual, or a philosopher, or even a poetess, but simple, surrendered, giving. And we can emulate her. We can live like her and as her. For she is the incarnation of the psychic being, the nature and essence of our soul outwardly and inwardly. She teaches us how to love the Divine, and to adore so much in an unaffected and straightforward manner, that one is transformed into the Divine itself. She holds Sri Krishna in her heart and because she holds him in her heart, she holds the Universe within. And she ascends to the highest and greatest of yogic realizations with this undemanding love, in the most natural manner, sahaja. The two crowning siddhis are hers, that of living in the atman eternally, and that of becoming the utmost flowering of the human heart. And her heart is not turbulent or troubled by vicissitudes as ordinary human love that is often vital and sentimental. But she is still, her flame is white, no less intense and far purer than the dense clouds of smoke we see in our transactional relationships in the world. And there may be many others who maintain that she is a myth of dreamers and poets who came centuries after the great Mahabharata. For if so, she is our own subliminal longing and archetype, our aspiration to experience love and unity in life and relationships. And there may be many who maintain that the entire description of the gopis and raas-leela in vrindavanam is a legend out of fertile minds, fed on poppies and ganja. For if so, she is yet real and tangible to anyone who has loved the Divine with all his soul and her experience, if not in person yet in principle, is available to all, to each, if we were only to understand the beauty and glory of her being. For the divine dance of nara and Narayana does not happen in a local place in certain parts of North India, but it is eternal and happens in worlds far too subtle for our senses. But those who have eyes can see and those who have hearts can feel the realization that Radha Ji and Sri Krishna made possible on earth with their play of absolute joy and purity in self-abandonment. For she is no puritan, nor is she perverse. She is unstained and nirmala, and her love only makes her purer in mind, body and heart. And so it does for those who invoke her love in their hearts, seeking to love with their souls the Divine intensely, selflessly, unconditionally. She is an incarnation, not yet sufficiently understood, or realized. She is a trail-blazer, in her grace and feminine allure, stronger and swifter than all of us. And yet, somewhere in our collective mind, we realized who she is and worshipped her. We need now more than worship. We need her direct presence in us. If she is an avatar of the soul, come here to show us how to love, to dedicate, to surrender to the Divine and only to the Divine, then she is indeed the most practicable and the most emulatable. But most, it is her bliss of union, ‘abandoning all dharmas unto Him alone’, giving up everything, in intense oneness that transforms one’s yoga. Nothing is impossible to the one who touches that intimacy with the Divine if even for a moment, for then the seed of light has been planted within oneself eternally, and the final victory of constant and unbroken unity certain. To her we turn in collective prayer and aspiration to teach us, inform us, mould us and guide us in the journey that was hers. That she clears up in us.
The world appears alien. At least on first look. It is the other, that stares in our face, inanimate, unfriendly, harsh. It is outside ourself, moves to its own laws like a vast ‘machine’. And we feel separated right from birth from this unknown entity, our adversary, whom we need to control and conquer. And yet, all our attempts to master this absurd antagonist are vain and doomed to failure. For even our own mind and body belong to this perennial ‘alienness’. Our mastery over it is impermanent, fleeting. And eventually, each of us gives in, dissolving and disintegrating in its impersonal flow, death its final seal of victory. And yet, there might be another way of looking at this vast enterprise. If we observe closely, we see a vast intelligence, working out with intricate detail and perfection all its operations and processes. From the most microscopic to the grandest scales, it shows a coordination and coherence that puzzles our limited mental probings. The vast impersonal suddenly becomes alive as we approach it with silence and appreciate its mystery. Down to the cell, with its membranes, mitochondria, Golgi bodies, nuclei, and extremely fine and systematic coordination of the various organelle. Down further, to the atom and then to the quantum world, where our laws collapse, there is yet a secret consistency. And as we study the galaxies and solar systems and the pulsars and black holes and quasars and dark matter and dark space, we are further intrigued at their immaculate synchrony. And yet, this tremendous perfection and intelligent will, is not antagonistic to us but sustains us at every moment. If even one thing went wrong, we would immediately cease to exist. If the Sun were just a little closer (in terms of proportions in distance) or a little further, there would be no life on earth. If there were not the right mix of oxygen in our atmosphere, or the right percentage of water on our planet, if it were not comprised of the ‘right’ materials, we would not be. Each moment, it seems, there is something intimate, personal, protecting us, nurturing us, holding us, as a mother carrying her infant all the time in her arms, showering with all her attention and care, and nourishing with exactly what is needed for it to grow. The ancient Hindus called this Presence and Force with various names, Adya Shakti or Ishwari or Para Prakriti. But the best name, to my mind, is simply Ma, or the Mother. What was seen as the other is actually the Divine Mother in their darshana. And this touch is not an abstraction or a concept, it is felt as an intimate sensation by the yogi, the spiritual seeker. This Motherly succor that is mind-boggling to our understanding is the protector and guide who responds to the simple prayers of the heart. This power that is so infinite and minuscule is more personal than one’s own physical mother. And if one learns and begins to see with the eyes of our ancients, one suddenly notices a diffracted and fractured world suddenly coalesce into a wholeness. It is almost as if one had never left the security and oneness of the womb. And this realization of the power of the Sacred Feminine came way before our modern exertions in ecology and the Gaia hypotheses, and integral medicine and feminism. And it balances the Father-like God who sits aloof in the heavens like a schoolmaster or a policeman meting out assignments and handing out tickets in certain ways of looking at the world. And it is not as unique to the Hindus as it might seem to the Western mind. For the maternal principle has existed since the earliest preoccupations of mankind with divinity. Even in Christianity (at least some denominations), the Virgin Mother, who gave birth to the divine child is honored and worshipped. This principle is expressed in various depictions in our archetypes such as the Earth Mother, our nation as Motherland, our own language or alma mater, or the entire Universe as a nurturing and pervading Might. This is the Being we adore and devote ourselves to, whom we see as Mahakali or Mahalakshmi, or Saraswati or Maheshvari. And this is the Force we invoke in our lives as the secret of self-transformation and discovery. To translate poetically an ancient Sanskrit mantra that describes the Shakti in her various emanations : “She who is all, who is the Power in each action. She who is all, embodying Peace. She who is all, as our own Mother. To whom we bow, in perfect surrender. And offer all we are and all we have. For all is She. There is none other.” This is the Yin we might need to balance the overpowering of Yang in our world today, a realization that our God too is incomplete without a true understanding of this ancient Indian revelation. October 17th marks the commencement of perhaps the most spiritual period of the Santana calendar: the Navaratri, or the nine nights of the Divine Mother, culminating in Deepavali and the Night of Mother Kali. This is a period that is most auspicious for the spiritual aspirant and most conducive to spiritual sadhana. — Editors.
In Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, there is an incident where Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Technologies, advised Apple to sell all its assets and pay out its shareholders. That, in his opinion, would be Apple’s biggest service to the owners of the company. Infuriated, Steve Jobs, had a large image of Dell projected on a screen in the Board Room with a big target sign on it. And when he would end a meeting, he would point at the picture of Dell, and say gleefully, “We are coming after you, Buddy!” This was Jobs’ way of motivating his teams. Identify the enemy. Focus relentlessly on him and with a laser-sharp intensity, go guns-blazing. This, more than anything, created what Apple is today. The ability of its founder, greatest leader and visionary, to zero in on one or two things and pursue them with singular passion. Such is the moment in front of India today. Again. It blew its chances when Tibet was annexed by China. In 1962. In 1971. After 2003. It must not do so again. A clear identification is needed. And then the articulation. It needs to be stated unequivocally, “China is the enemy.” Or rather, the Communist Party of China (CPC), that controls the country with undemocratic hegemony, is the enemy. We need to enunciate this in our ministries and secretariats and in boardrooms and in the town squares and the village chaupals. It is time that India stood up for its dharma. And stop giving in and giving up, mistaking weakness for harmony, spinelessness for a higher calling and cowardice for spreading world-peace. Quietly, firmly, as it did at Doklam, it needs to tell the bully, “We will not be cowed down. And we will reverse the salami slice on you.” The bluff needs to be called, systematically, methodically. Such a process has already begun. Almost a hundred apps have been banned in India. Huawei is out of the reckoning. Investments and imports from China are being held in great Indian tamasic strategy. Self-reliance is being pursued, in manufacturing as well as pharmaceutical industry, in defense as well as in technology. The process must continue. And India must do much more. It needs to take a stand. It must demand that China return all the land it has illegally annexed since 1947. Nothing less than that will do to restore normalcy in bilateral relations among the two countries. Until then, keep hitting where it hurts. Cut the head of the dragon. And the head of the dragon is its economic monopoly. India must unequivocally demand that China stop supporting Pakistan in international forums, whether at the Security Council or with Financial Action Task Force shielding it from repercussions against its exported terrorism. And India must insist that China return Tibet to its people and withdraw from its territory. This is the toughest ask it must make but this is where the men will be separated from the boys or nations from have-been civilizations. In the same breath, it must assert that China withdraw from South China Sea, abandon the artificial islands it has created and stop appropriating resources illegally. Finally, it must demand that China give up its claim on Taiwan and follow through on its promises to UK when it took back Hong Kong. This is bound to infuriate CPC but the whole country must learn to stand its ground, no matter what the consequence. India must dismantle completely the insidious structure that China has built in India through supply chains, Confucius Centers and political and socio-cultural influence. The tentacles need to be chopped off. All this does not need to happen at once. Slowly, by investing in the security quadrangle with US, Japan and Australia, by supporting the countries in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea, by supporting the Dalai Lama, slice by slice. But this cannot happen unless India stays strong and keeps building its core. It should spend all the money in defense on indigenous production as it seems to be wisely doing. Unessential imports can be slowed, banned or held with immediate effect. Essential items can be sourced from other countries. New opportunities can be created. New challenges like the one that was recently made in app developments for the entrepreneurs among us. Covid and China have been shots in the arm for us. From the same source. We need to harvest this bounty for the next few decades.
A recent article in a national newspaper titled ‘Covid Fight: Govt system in front, private hospitals do the distancing’ has highlighted that the large-scale battle with Covid in India is being fought by Government hospitals and health institutions. Two-thirds of the hospitals beds and 90% of the ventilators in India are privately owned and yet they are handling less than 10% of Covid patients in the country. It is as if a firefighter were preparing to fight a conflagration and was only allowed to mobilize a highly restricted amount of poorly maintained equipment and material and poorly trained personnel. Calls have been made from various sections of media and leadership to nationalize all private health care enterprises in India immediately. And yet, this is not an optimal solution. The Covid epidemic has only brought to light the extremely neglected state of health care in the country and the slow deterioration of every medical institution. In my opinion, fixing this diseased health care system requires a comprehensive approach that would be consistent and systematic and not knee-jerk. A wider, non-partisan and disinterested discourse is needed involving the various sections of the system. Yet, bold reforms are needed. Some, though not all, interventions could be among these: Strengthen medical schools and graduate medical education (GME): Education has deteriorated even from the days I did medical school. We had great teachers who were dedicated and caring and drilled the knowledge in us, rigorously and sometimes painfully. Unfortunately, now the students are focused on preparing for multiple-choice questions for entrance exams and do not gain the clinical experience and expertise that is critical for any doctor. Teachers are busy with their own private practice and students are missing out on the most essential aspect of learning. This is not just in India. I recently taught a group of residents from various parts of the world; none of them knew how to hold an ophthalmoscope. I had to take a class on just how to hold the instrument properly and learn how to look in the eye of a patient. Better screening and aptitude tests before students are admitted to educational institutions might be considered.Strengthen primary care: Primary care is looked down upon; specialists are in high demand. The basics of engaging a patient are forgotten; how to listen, diagnose, ask, talk, examine are not emphasized. Primary care providers are paid less and have little influence in the care of their patients. Without a strong network of primary care, perhaps like in Cuba, we will not be able to provide quality, reduce costs and create a strong bulwark against such epidemics in the future. Better community and public health, education, nutrition, hygiene, sanitary services, clean water and air, and public safety are essential. The end-point is health; everything affects our inner and outer states of equilibrium or homeostasis. Enhance rural care: Rural health is in shambles. Doctors do not like to live in the villages. Basic services are not available. Ambulance and trauma services are minimal. The referral process to secondary or tertiary system is disconnected and uncoordinated. Perhaps a Rural Health Corp can be constituted to ensure health care to our villages. Or doctors can be incentivized to live and practice in the villages. Support Ayush: The indigenous systems of health care should not be shunned. They should be encouraged and integrated with the vast network of health care practitioners in the county. Ayurveda, yoga, unani, naturopathy, siddha and homeopathy can be effective if used appropriately and in the right hands. Medical tourism can be encouraged with the help of Ayurveda and yoga hubs across the country for wellness and chronic conditions. The goal eventually should be use to the concept of holistic health and ‘svasthya’ to reach an optimal state of individual development where each person’s true potential is allowed and facilitated to grow and reach its utmost fulfilment. Improve and expand government hospitals: Just like ‘Make in India’, we should have ‘Treat in India’. The politicians, senior bureaucrats and leaders need to get treatments in India. This is the only way they will take health care seriously and work towards improving it.Remove politics and commercial interests from health care: Big pharma and lobbyists need to be extricated from the health care system. The insidious problem of kickbacks, referral fee and cuts needs to be resolved if any meaningful reform is envisaged. This is the true virus; Covid is only a symptom. Enhance emergency and trauma service: A comprehensive approach to this is needed including education, traffic reforms, better roads and railways, ambulance services and trained transportation and evacuation personnel, and advanced trauma centers. Advanced facilities for research: Indians needs to become self-reliant in this field. Our research facilities are anemic and dilapidated. We need to bring the best scientists to the country and establish a culture of academic excellence and research. When we are talking about being ‘aatma nirbhar’ we need to do so in maintaining our state of wellness and ‘aarogya’.Use of technology: As information technology grows, medical education, rural health care, medical record keeping, primary care, urgent health care, research and diagnostics can be improved. Telehealth, extended reality, artificial intelligence, Internet of things, advanced data analytics, nanotechnology, cryo-technology, and genetic interventions and therapeutics can selectively increase the reach and improve the skills of our workforce while improving quality and utilization of services.Reform Insurance: Ayushman Bharat focused on an incidental approach to treatment; the next step should be towards prevention, improving population health while reducing waste, improving metrics and patient and provider education. The money spent on Ayushman Bharat which is mostly going to private entities might be better spent on public health care and rural health care systems. The entire nation has been mobilized on a warfront. It is the time when our neglect of education and health is addressed on an emergent basis. Without the backbone of a strong health care system no country can be truly advanced. And if India needs to reach a GDP of 5 billion by 2024-5, this might be the most efficient and effective way to do so. A great nation needs a very healthy population.
When do you know that a nation’s soul is dead? When it can look at falsehood with full awareness and call it truth. When do you know that a leader has sold his soul to the Devil himself? When he can look at the night staring him in the face and call it day. India is at such a crossroads. The moment when it can look at itself and call things as they are. Yatha bhootam darshanam. To see things as they are. To state a fact. Is the first step towards freedom. Perhaps the only one. There was a time when India could do it. That was the secret of its civilization and magnificent achievements in culture, arts, literature, science, medicine, music, architecture, commerce, communities, philosophy. The golden bird was not made of a metal. But something else that was an aspiration and a realization. Today the hour of reckoning is here again. To not state a fact. Because it is inconvenient to say so. Out of fear. Or favor. Due to considerations. Is falsehood. Greater than the one that has been perpetrated. And the last religion is Truth. India has always stated That. Testified to That. There is no other religion. At least for India. “They carried the virulence.” Across the length and breadth of the country. Across the globe. They defecated in wards. Ran naked in front of women who were their nurses, who were trying to heal. They filled bottles with urine. As infectant. They carried the virulence. With pride. With insouciance. With conviction. With faith. Fact. They prayed to God to infect the ‘other’. They invoked the Highest to hurt the ‘nonbeliever’. Fact. The soul-keepers of the nation are silent. The aiyars. Tharoors. Roys. Mehtas. Fact. We have found the real covid. And it is in us. Well, as a doctor, let me state it. If for nothing else, my own repentant soul. At the risk of annoying others. While my friends are endangering their lives in the trenches. Giving their all to fight on our behalf. Dying by the dozen. We throw stones at them. We call them names. And it is ok. Fact. We justify it. We call it a mistake. An honest one. We call India intolerant. Hundreds of writers and artists must have returned their awards due to this virus, I am certain. The virus that is in our hearts. When we have made our tolerance itself a perversion. A fetish. A means to hide from our own dishonesty. Fact. I have only one question now. What would China do? The paradox of paradoxes that I have to look up to someone else to find out who I am. Would they have blamed the administration for the lapse? The authorities for the snafu? Equated operational failure with spiritual hypocrisy? Would we like to be tolerant to falsehood? Would we like to state that every religion is flawed and we should spread harmony? Peace. Our discourse has been corona-ed. Our tolerance for the virus is itself covid. Is there any way to awaken the soul of India now? To adhere to Sat, the Truth? To state it for all to hear. And perhaps, even listen? Can we say this as an Indian? Free of division in our heart, yet with calm and clarity? Can we accept this as human beings with a basic sense of decency towards each other? Otherwise, do not expect the doctors and nurses to lay their lives for you. Do not expect them to use one mask for a week exposing all their loved ones to your virulence. What standards remain for them to aspire to? To fight for? All else is immaterial. In the battle for the soul of a nation, this is the real dharma-yuddha. If we can be together in seeing our falsehood, then our soul might still live. Then there is the thread, the ray of light which we can follow towards the End. If not, our soul is dead. And we must accept this too. State it the way it is. Without screens. Perhaps this might be our only chance. Our path to redemption. Fact.
The Guru is a unique symbol and understanding of Indian spirituality. In no other culture is a seemingly-ordinary human being held with such reverence and devotion. The Guru is one who leads the student from darkness to light. Such is the literal meaning of the world. But what kind of light? It is not a physical or mental or emotional or pranic learning that the Teacher imparts but a spiritual transformation that yet encompasses all these in one sweep and curve. The Guru is the representative of the Divine on earth, nay, he or she is exalted as the Divine itself manifesting in form and name, as the vyakta roopa of the ineffable and eternal. In a famous doha, Kabir says that if given a choice between God and the Guru, he would bow before the Guru first for without the Guru he can never find God. There is a poetic truth in this verse but one might add that the Guru is God itself come here to guide and teach, to mentor and assist in one’s inner journey and explorations. And yet, there is no Guru but the Divine seated within. That is the final Guru, the true one, who once discovered is a sempiternal assurance of one’s spiritual destiny and fulfilment. It is in one’s heart that the true Teacher resides, the outer name and form of the Guru only the impetus and the assistance one needs to realize that the Divine is always within oneself, as oneself, in an evolution one calls yoga. Even so, the Guru in human form is seen as the reflection of one’s own higher self, as a mirror in the sky of one’s best and the true potential latent in each of us. It is the Guru that sustains us through all difficulties, who guides us and leads us through darkness and establishes in us the living certainty that one is in essence always pure, sacred, untouched and unharmed. The Guru imparts insights and understanding not just with verbal instructions but by his or her presence. Verily, sitting at the auspicious feet of the Master, one is enlightened without effort, if one learns how to just sit and imbibe spontaneously and with immediacy. Such is the import of the Sanskrit word ‘Upanishad’, one of the highest expressions of Vedanta in Indian spirituality. It is also true that the age of Guruvada might be over in modern times at least in the traditional sense. The ritualistic bending of one’s knee or bowing to the man in ochre is passé. Now the mind does not surrender so easily and needs more refined and nuanced understandings. Rare is the Guru who gives absolute freedom to the disciple and student to discover his or her own self, yet pours his quiet love and benediction upon them without expecting any return. There have been Gurus who have not only influenced a collection of disciples or a population but an age. Such Gurus capture the essence and the spirit of the times in their being and message. These are the jagat Gurus, the Teachers of teachers, who come at every significant cycle of human evolution and guide it with their vast and subtle influence. As one grows in yoga, love and adoration for the Guru grows spontaneously. This love is the secret for one’s future growth, the seed of one’s own divinity and the mentor and guide for all endeavors to come. To be one’s own light, atma deepo bhava, is an ancient dictum given us by the wisest of teachers; yet, this inner light is the same as the light of the being we call the Guru. The Guru can pour his or her energy into the disciple if necessary in a process called Shakti Paata; yet, the greatest imparting of strength and intensity to the disciple is not in terms of power but in terms of Truth and Consciousness and Bliss. This is the secret of the Guru: the Divine within and without, the formless taking a human form, the one who is our own self and nature calling us back to ourselves. To the Teacher the highest honor and the highest station with the clear awareness that there is no Self other than the Guru; nor is there a Guru other than the Self.
Who is Shiva? Is he a puranic god, member of the trinity, who destroys even as Brahma creates and Vishnu preserves? Or is he the first yogi, who sat on top of Kailasa, smeared with ash, snakes round his neck, hair matted, lost in the reveries of dhatura and bhaang? Or is he the lingam seen in ubiquitous temples in India with a yoni reflective of some pagan symbolism? To my understanding, Shiva is our highest possibility. Hinduism has always maintained that not only is it possible to experience and live the Divine, Divinity is our inherent nature. That Shiva is pure consciousness, without any attributes, other than absolute stillness upholding intensest activity, the ineffable, the formless and the all-pervasive. In one definition, Shiva means nothing. This is a beautiful understanding. For the God who has no attributes, who is beyond thoughts and concepts, is everything because nothing. Similar to the Shoonya of the Buddha, Shiva is thus timeless, spaceless and causeless and is the origin and summit of the Universe. Hinduism teaches us that he is also the origin and summit of each of us, individually, and that it behooves us to discover our highest potential and be it, manifest it and become its living expression. Hinduism also explains that there are various levels of manifestation, starting from the grossest to the subtlest to the causal. And Shiva is represented in various ways by various adorers. But, eventually, Shiva is an experience and a reality, a revelation and the Truth of existence. How shall we reach him? He has taught us countless ways, including Sankhya and Vedanta, Buddhism and yoga, bhakti and advaita. But, above all, to understand that he is beyond any quality we try to describe him with is an auspicious beginning. And Shiva also means an auspicious start. The two beeja sounds of Shiva are Shi and Va according to the Shiv Rahasya. Shi means stillness and that in whom all things rest. Va implies movement and creation. He is the nothing from whom the Universe springs. He is the utmost and the untainted in us. He is hidden, though clearly visible to the loving eye. He is that without whom this cosmos may exist not even for a moment. The stillness of the mind in dhyana. The quiet love in our hearts without desire. The greatest teachers such as the Buddha, Sankaracharya and Vivekanada are his emanations. All we need to do is peel the blinds of our eyes and he is everywhere and everything. Hinduism exalts the formless and the transcendent. But it does not reject form and the immanent. For what is form if not a manifestation of the formless? What is that which is clear and vast as the sky but is also not the minutest and smallest grain? It is he who I am. And just this realization is enough to tear off all the veils of ignorance from the eyes of the seeker. One of the highest realizations of Vedanta is Shivoham, that Shiva am I. It is only appropriate that he who is nothing, is also the dance of the cosmos as Nataraja, and the fourth state of awareness beyond waking, sleep and dream, known as turiya. And his oneness with Shakti gives us one of the profoundest symbols of male and female complementarity in the ardha-nareeshvara. And it is fitting too that Sankaracharya’s famous Nirvana Shatkam ends with this stanza, “Aham nirvikalpo nirakar roopo … Chidananda roopah Shivoham Shivoham.” Free of duality, form of the formless … The form of consciousness and bliss, that Shiva am I, that Shiva am I.
Who is Hanuman? In Ramayana he is depicted as a vanara who helps Rama defeat Ravana and win Sita again. Often shown with the face of an ape in usual depictions with other monkeys. But if one were to go deeper into the true import of Sri Rama and his avatar, one might gain a new understanding of Hanuman. If we understand the avatar as a descent of Godhead to aid the earth at a crucial moment in its evolutionary spiral, to give an impetus to a shift in its universal consciousness, then Sri Rama is an avatar of Satvik or righteous mind. The lineage of avatars as described in Hinduism uncannily reflects the evolutionary ascent of life on earth. Darwin would have been proud had he known of them. Beginning from the Fish to the Tortoise to the Boar to the Narsimha (half lion half man) to the small man (Vamana) to the Kinetic and Rajasic man and then to the Satvik man is the journey of the avatars to Sri Rama. Rama is here to establish a baseline of social and human standards. Only after he has created this standard called Ram Rajya can Sri Krishna or the Buddha follow after. Rama is not transcending the mind to a new global consciousness like Sri Krishna or reaching nirvana like the Buddha. He has to prepare the conditions on earth so that the avatars to follow will have a ground ready and open to their influence. And to aid Rama in this venture is Hanuman, ‘the evolutionary man’, as the Mother from Pondicherry called him. Two things stand out about Hanuman: his utter devotion and surrender to the Divine and the fact that he has forgotten who he is. Hanuman is the Nara to the Narayana that Sri Rama is. Without Hanuman, Rama is unable to fulfil his mission on earth. He needs Hanuman as his partner, his general, his servant, his adorer and his guard. And Hanuman is the incarnation of the adoration free of desire, the psychic love that surrenders completely to the Lord, demanding nothing but the feet of the Beloved and the Ishtadeva. This aradhana gives him the immortality and superhuman strength that is at the service of Narayana as Sri Rama. In the heart of Hanuman reside Sita and Rama eternally, and this gives him access to the siddhis spontaneously needed for the work. To me, if we can live with the same love for the Divine, with the same intensity and purity, we will embody the strength and purity that Hanuman is. The second unique revelation about Hanuman’s story is that he has lapsed into self-forgetfulness, lost all his powers because he no longer remembers who he is. And yet, he recovers all his energy and Shakti, the moment the realization of his true nature hits him. Now he can fly at the speed of thought, lift vast mountains, and change his size at will. He is now the ideal yogi who has mastered the eight unique siddhis that would aid him in his service of Rama. Awakened to himself, he completes the equation between the human and the Divine. So too can we. Our fall is not ordained as permanent; nor is it irredeemable. Hanuman is a representative not just of the ape-man but any worshipper, any lover of God, no matter what his species or tribe might be. Hanuman resides in the human heart, as our own flame of still indestructible love for the Divine. He is us. We only need to discover perhaps our own inner Hanuman, and then live him to the utmost. That is the one crucial element needed that may fulfill the mission of the avatars on earth once again.
Is Swami Vivekananda important? To some, he is an apostle of Sanatana Dharma, a stalwart for the ‘Eternal Philosophy’ who led the Indian renaissance from centuries of hibernation. To others, mainly from the Left, he is a right-wing Hindu reactionary who attempted to disguise India’s backwardness and Brahminism with unscientific spirituality. It is possible that his celebrated address at the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago on September 11, 1893 did not have the effect that has been claimed by his apologists. For in those days, one did not go ‘viral’, nor had a marketing strategy for social media or Twitter handles with a huge following and likes. But it is definitely true that he had a greater impact on the Indian psyche and our self-confidence and belief in our own culture and darshana. His own letter about the event mentions that there were more than ‘five to seven thousand in the audience’. That seems to be a significant number. If we look at his tireless efforts in reaching out to the West, it does appear that he was able to create an awareness about the Indic civilization and values in Europe and the US. To me, it seems like the beginnings at the Gangotri, where drop by single drop, a glacier melts to gather eventually into the vast Ganges that nourishes almost 500 million people in its plains today. We were thirsting for any kind of relevance or recognition, relegated to the dust-heaps of history by the white sahibs. He stood up to them. Spoke in their own language with authority and conviction. Agreed that they had something great about their civilization but we had something greater. More importantly, he stood up for Sanatan Dharma, without compromising on its core principles. Fearlessly. Evoking our own truths and greatness. If one looks at him objectively, he does not seem to be a reactionary. After all, he was hardest on our own laziness and superciliousness, our own institutions such as casteism, gender bias, ritualism and social structures and our own refusal to grow and learn. He broke our taboos and, we are told, even asked an aspiring youth to play football and eat meat so that he could be strong and manly. So that we would stand for ourselves by discovering who we are. Whenever I think of Swami Vivekananda, I see the image of a lion roaring in the jungle. But this was a lion who also worked hard and wrote, travelled, lectured, taught, mentored. He met tremendous resistance, more from our own pundits and fossilized leaders. And yet, he was tireless in his efforts to awaken us. This, to me, is his biggest contribution to India. When I was growing up, I did not study him much. I was more influenced by Sri Aurobindo, J Krishnamurthy and Maharishi Ramana. Even now, I find him hard to read and it is true that I am inspired more by his vision than his writings. He had a dream that was at once ancient and modern, eternal and radically new. He was a true Indian in outlook, world-view and thought, and yet, he was global and truly inclusive. In reading about him in a new book by Makarand R Paranjape, I realize how much we owe to him. There is so much we did not know about the Swami and are still learning. For example, his meeting with Nikola Tesla, the great scientist, and their discussions about prana and akasa which Tesla quoted years later marveling at the Indian understanding of the cosmos. Or Swamiji’s meeting with Jamsetji Tata and their initiative to establish an institute of science in India. Makarand has shared some new insights about India’s first spiritual-activist with well-researched documentation. We need more such scholarly works about our great leaders and teachers in this world of alt-news and fake feeds. Makarand, an educator, poet, essayist and litterateur, has explored the character of Swami Vivekananda with sympathy, objectivity and careful review of information about the foremost exponent of Hinduism. It is critical that we understand the true depths of Sanatan Dharma, free of fundamentalism, and yet not devoid of intensity and clarity, by studying Swamiji. For today, the very significance of our dharma and truth is being questioned and challenged once again. It seems to me that even though Swami Vivekananda is gone and not fully appreciated even now, his dream about a great and advanced India continues. We are part of the unfolding of that dream, whether we realize it or not. Perhaps in this manner, Swami Vivekananda has created what we are today. To aspire for purity and wideness and heights like him, to live a life burning with that vision, would be our greatest homage to our first modern Rishi. Who spoke in English, held discussions with Western women and men, smoked and travelled in liners and was thoroughly modern in outlook. And yet, so ancient at the same time, that he defied his age and time. It seems to me sometimes that we are still catching up to Swamiji’s grand vision. As only subliminal characters in a dream who have yet to wake up. To discover the trail he blazed literally, in a short life and a shorter public career.
Someone has to call it the way it is. Let me do it. As a doctor. As a lover of India. As one who has great Muslim friends to whom I am loyal and indebted. I risk annoying them. But if I do not, I will be doing them a great disservice. Every country has a TJ moment. Which defines its future for the next few centuries. America had the Civil War. Russia had the revolution. Germany had WWII. India has its covid moment. When she should realize who she really is. But, first things first. Let us stop sweeping things under the rug. Let us face things upfront no matter how painful they are. Let us agree to call a tablighi a tablighi. This is not about being secular. Or diplomatic. Or walking on left-liberal egg-shells. Or being an alt-right reactionary. This is about humans. And health care. And the law. And basic sense and concern for others. This is about protecting each other and being my neighbor’s keeper. Let us agree that this is unconscionable. And condemn it unequivocally. We do not need a Nasiruddin Shah or Owaisi or Ramchandra Guha to save our conscience. We do not even need a Dattatreya Brahmin doing Shiva Bhakti with a janeu on. Nor do we need an LK Advani to take us on a rath yatra to build a temple. Or a Bhagavat katha. The temple this time is here. It is our ground. It is our people. And we have allowed it to be desecrated. Where are the officials who allowed it? Why are they not suspended? Why is the leader of the Jamaatis not being tried for attempted murder and sedition? Why is TJ not proscribed and banned as an organization? This is one time I would advocate for the Old Testament proscriptions to be applied against them. The Sharia for Sharia! Where are the Muslim leaders? To stand up to this disgusting congregation of virulent carriers of God-knows what kind of denomination. I think we have created a group of entitled people who have been coddled, appeased, sucked-up-to for the sake of politics and special interests. They are rude, crude, arrogant, uncivilized, an abomination. It is time for India to reject them and their untruth. No matter what religion you belong to, we will not tolerate this desecration. Whether it be Nizamuddin Markaz or Shirdi temple assembling against the law and, more importantly, common sense and decency. Whether it be in the name of religion or some political hack with his cronies sloganeering Corona to go back. Who will enforce these standards? As always, it is something that moves silently among people, as a wave, as a will. When collectively we choose to reject what is false and distorted or disharmonious. It is time for India to awaken. And realize its soul. And discard what is munaafiqat and fitna. What is tamasik. What is asat. Tablighi or not tablighi – that is the question. Recommended for further reading:
An Approach and a Paradigm A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the President of India, identified five important areas to transform India from a developing country into a developed country: education and health care, agriculture, information and communication, infrastructure and critical technology. He traveled around the world and presented his vision for the future of the country. I feel this is a very good start for a conversation on how India can be developed and transformed not only as a developed nation, but as a leader of the world. To my mind, a country can be approached as one would an organization or even as an individual. If that can be tentatively agreed upon, I find Maslow’s pyramid useful to talk about the holistic development of the organization or the nation. While I say this I am aware that a nation-state is a relatively modern phenomenon and that India is a relative new-born in terms of political independence. India as a civilization is perhaps the oldest surviving one on earth. As Iqbal poignantly noted, ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece could not sustain their original inspiration and unifying idea. Perhaps only China can be said to be sustaining somewhat its original civilization in some ways today. Be that as it may, let us proceed with our exercise. If we apply the five layers of Maslow’s pyramid we can see it thus, moving from bottom to top: 1) Physical (security): This would be the most primal need of the country, not only externally but internally. That also means a structure of protection for its citizens and ensuring basic justice equally to all. 2) Higher Physical (infrastructure, utilities and necessities): These would entail an infrastructure of roads, highways, ports, airports, waterways, storage facilities, housing, rural and urban development, water and food supply, waste management, internet and broadband, etc. 3) Social and Psychological Development: As gross or sthoola needs are met, one moves to the subtle body of the nation. Here one would place health and education, development of natural resources in a recyclable manner, development of a civil discourse, communication and information systems along with learning management systems, etc. 4) Cultural and Individual Development: Here the individual is optimized, advanced, facilitated and given the environment so that his or her highest potential can be fulfilled. Civil discourse evolves to transparency, society develops a character and integrity, a deep-rooted civic sense and togetherness, higher technical advancements made available and researched with world-class systems and education, advanced disaster recovery and a state of physical and psychological health is achieved. 5) Self-Actualization: Every nation has a soul, as Sri Aurobindo pointed out. This is when the highest possibility of the nation, its guiding principle, its fundamental ‘idea’ begins to manifest as a reality and truth, its ritam. Here the leaders are awake to the nation’s soul and responsive to its people selflessly and consciously. Such a society becomes creative in tackling its challenges and turns its failures into opportunity, looks towards a wholesome and comprehensive transformation of every element of its constitution, secular or spiritual. Innovation becomes the norm and enterprise is organic. Citizens are happy, anandmaya, and there is a quiet but egoless pride or gaurav in one’s existence. Here, one has perhaps moved to what is called the kaarana, the causal nature of one’s existence, one’s svabhaava and svadharma, or what I call the core. 6) Self-Transcendence: Maslow, in his later years, modified the apex of his pyramid, inspired by Indian spirituality. [Having met our basic needs at the bottom of the pyramid, having worked on our emotional needs in its middle and worked at achieving our potential, Maslow felt we needed to transcend thoughts of ourselves as islands. We had to see ourselves as part of the broader universe to develop the common priorities that can allow humankind to survive as a species. — Robby Berman] Every state or nation has an underlying theme. We see this when we study Greece or Rome or Japanese culture. Same applies for India. While India may be defined as not one nation but many nations that are joined by a deep oneness, a connection that defies the intellect, it is also clear that many Western institutions cannot be imposed on our civilization without being India-genized. The parliamentary democracy is one such institution where mobocracy or illiterocracy or corruptocracy has replaced meritocracy and sapio-cracy. Our present education is another that does not bring out our natural genius. Same for our health care and rural and urban development along with architecture and leadership development. While this model is not fool-proof or perfect, I find it Indian in the sense that it mirrors that Upanishadic concept of three layers of our being, the gross, the subtle and the causal. Or, if we drill down further, we have five bodies, the annamaya or physical, the pranamaya or vital, the manomaya or mental, the vigyanamaya or higher or super-mental and the anandamaya or blissful. Each body needs proper attention, care and expression. But it is by realizing the highest and deepest body that our superficial or gross layers reach fulfilment and completion, poornta. This then is my hypotheses, which should be openly critiqued and beat up. Perhaps in doing so we will realize that no single leader of the nation can single-handedly change us or elevate us. The potential lies in each one of us and until we are corrupt, selfish, petty and ignorant, we shall fail in being transformed. Then no Kalam or Modi can help us and we do not deserve them. It might be well to remember that if any layer is compromised at any time, the whole nation or society no matter how elevated shall revert to it immediately. For example, when Uttar Pradesh was taken over by goonda-raj recently, there could be no talk of self-actualization or even a proper psychological or social discourse. The whole state reverted to a very basic survival mechanism where girls could be molested in daylight and goons could threaten shopkeepers for belonging to the wrong religion. Or when the Manmohan Singh government was wracked by one corruption scandal after another, there could be no consideration of citizen being anandamaya or vigyanamaya. If physical security is attacked then all talk of evolution to higher layers collapses. For India to truly reach its self-realization, it will need to realize the spiritual in secular, the highest actualization in the external. No layer of development can be eschewed or ignored. India cannot retire in a post-Buddhistic phase of looking the world as dukkha-samsara or maya. It will need to undergo an integral transformation if it is to find its natural place in the world order. Pariksith Singh is a practicing doctor, entrepreneur, writer, poet and philosopher and is the patron and co-founder of Satyameva.
Thol Thirumavalavan, I seek to respond to your diatribes against Sanatana Dharma on twitter lately and, perhaps, assist you in your mission. I am very sympathetic to your self-avowed goal to destroy it. See, this is the secret! The more you strip away all the accretions that have gathered over Sanatana Dharma, the more you strengthen it. I hope that those who seek to live Sanatana Dharma in its truest and intensest light are inspired by you to drop any falsehood that they might have accepted consciously or unconsciously over the years. To purify their hearts and souls of any darkness or ill will. But coming back to you, Thol! I never cease to be amazed at the caliber of the leadership chosen by our population to represent itself on such a large scale. What does it tell us about ourselves? That we deserve you. We have earned you. And until we keep choosing the ‘lowest common multiple’, this is the best we can expect. But to eviscerate Sanatana Dharma, you will need to do more, my Genius! And this is where I come in. For to eradicate something so pervasive, you must first understand it, must you not? So I will try to help. With you I see some hope. For in the high-puffed vanity and hubris you have shown to take on the very scaffolding of our existence and that of the Universe, you have displayed some chutzpah. I admire it. At least you have the courage to state something you believe in, even if it is to consolidate some votes from your groupies. They will surely lick your feet for the next couple of election cycles. I wish we had seen the same courage of conviction from Sitaram ji whose heart is redder than CPC, with nary a tinge of Indian blue. Or from the last dynast of the Mughal Sultanate who leads your coalition in New Delhi, that center of Hindi-speaking, women-hating adharmiks. And, pseudo-atheist MK who wishes to ride your popularity and vitriol to win the next election. And the great Tharoor, who is contemplating his next book already, “Why I am not a Hindu?” What is the point being a Hindu anyway, since it will all be soon exterminated by the great Thol? Anything to sell a few more copies at the next literary festival though. So, my friend! When you say you will destroy Sanatana Dharma, it is akin to saying I will destroy the ocean because the waters are getting polluted with plastic. Or that I will decimate the entire atmosphere since the farmers are burning too much stubble in Punjab and Haryana. Or that I will wipe out the sky since there is too much light pollution at night. To understand Sanatana Dharma, you will first need to soften your tongue and your heart, Thiru! And then you will need to cleanse them. Wash them not with the acid that you are spewing lately but with the soap that mom should have used when you were growing up. And then, drop the sly disguises and deceptions of your mind. For one may not know the ‘Eternal Philosophy’ until one lets go of one’s ego. That may be almost impossible for you, I know. But if MK can go visit temples for some extra votes, anything is possible to his minion. To also understand that Manu Smriti is not Sanatana Dharma. It never was. It is a stick to beat Hinduism with by certain sections of society and to polarize the electorate when convenient. And who is to blame for that? The Hindus themselves, for they gave you this opportunity to whip them with. They definitely need to get their act together and use the wounds inflicted by you to repudiate all that we are not. And to be what we truly are. I must be confusing you, Thiru! More thought than you might have had in the last 50 years, I understand. But bear with me. If you wish to go deeper in your understanding, we can proceed further in our journey through the barbed wires of your brain. Or we can leave you be in the heaven of your own partial and distorted untruths. Either way, I think you are doing a great service to Sanatana Dharma through the sulfurous clouds emitted via your nostrils. It is cleansing our view for sure. Did all this help you in any way, my communist God-loving women-exalting Hindu-denigrating brother? I suspect none of this did. But I confess to you. It helped me for sure. You have cleansed my heart of all anger even as I turn your vitriol lovingly right back to you. Appuram Parkkalaam!