A View of Santhigiri Ashram

A View of Santhigiri Ashram
Lotus Parnasala and Sahakarana Mandiram , Santhigiri Ashram, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Speech Delivered by Sri ONV Kurup at Santhigiri Ashram

Become Virtuous by Following Guru’s Words
O.N.V. Kurup

This wide auditorium and this enlightened assembly in Santhigiri Ashram are not new to me. I had come here many times earlier. I won’t fail to repeat a thought that I used to mention on those occasions. You reverently utter a hymn before stepping into this good place. You touch this earth on to your forehead. I say this because of Navajyoti Sri Karunakara Guru. I don’t need to explain to the disciples of Guru that how Guru, due to a divine restlessness and inspired by a insuppressible desire to seek some elusive truth came from Cherthala Taluk, north of old Travancore and settled down south in this Ashram ambiance. When Guru took abode here, he had three things in his mind. First is serving of food, second curing the sick and the third spiritual awakening. Based on these three principles, the ashram is established here. Human society requires these three always, everywhere. But many institutions that are in existence today to fulfill this aim have limited themselves to small circles.

There are big healthcare centers here. There are multi-specialty hospitals where any types of disease could be diagnosed and treated. But the common man stands outside its reach. A few years back, when I was standing in the company of a Bengali poet friend in front of the now partially gutted Mumbai’s Taj Hotel, due to the recent attack by terrorists, we saw few chickens hedged in under nylon net behind the hotel lawn. They are clucking, pecking, hackling and cruising across engaged in petty fights and recreation. They are unaware of the fate that awaits them. They do not know what will happen to them tomorrow. While standing thus watching them, my Bengali poet friend said. “Chick, you are fortunate! Tomorrow uniformed men will present you in silver tray on the roof top of this hotel. Then we will stand here down this street”. When I heard this I said. ‘I have two lines to add to it’. “When you go high up, you will be in the form of food that fills the appetite of somebody; but poor we are though, we will stand down as ourselves”. There lies the difference. What would you choose? Do you require that you are carried in silver platter by beautifully uniformed men to appease the hunger of someone or do you want to stand as yourselves, although poor and troubled? We will choose the second.

It is a question of freedom, the freedom of the soul. It is this freedom we have to first protect. We should not hypothecate this freedom to anyone. It is because of this, world famous poet Sri Ravindranath Tagore appended one song in Gitanjali among mystic verses about freedom, giving it a beautiful definition. ‘Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high’…writing few things thus he prays; ‘Unto that heaven of freedom, O’ My Lord, let my country awake and arise.’ Outwardly it’s a prayer but in its depth it defines the meaning of freedom for us. Freedom is a state wherein mind is fearless and our head is held high. While we introspect ourselves whether we have achieved that state even after six decades of freedom, we could realize that ‘we have miles to go and miles to go’, those lines of Robert Frost, Nehru had written in his last days. We have so many miles to go. Here arises a question Quo Vadis, 'where are you going?'. When this question, having reached a cul-de-sac without an answer, we implore the infinity of a way. Then a Guru should be there to disclose it. It is that Guru who becomes the benevolence in the form of food in front of the hungry, medicine and healing at the time of sickness. We should try to seek God thus.

That is what Guru said. God may be worshiped with a symbolic form for the convenience of the devotee. Some people can worship only through such symbols. Most people are unable to conceive an abstract concept. Make the abstract a concrete symbol. Once an Englishman asked Chattambi Swami why the Hindus worship idols, why a portrait is worshiped as God, why the necessity of an image etc. The Englishman did not have the inner wisdom even if an explanation was given. Therefore, Chattambi Swami remained silent. There was a framed portrait of the Englishman’s family. He was a little child and stood with his father and mother in the portrait. Chattambi Swami picked up the portrait and dropped it down. Then the Englishman asked. ‘Hey! What are you doing? This is my father and mother’. Then the swami said, “O’ I didn’t know it was your father and mother. But isn’t it just a piece of paper, just a portrait? If a portrait can remind you of your father and mother, an ordinary man can similarly remember God through a portrait. Thus it was in a practical way the doubt of the Englishman was clarified. There is no use talking to them Vedanta. They would not understand the hymns and prayers in Sanskrit, Latin or Arabic. When the glass-framed portrait was dropped down, the Englishman felt that his father and mother were being insulted. That means the portrait is symbolic. Similarly when a lotus is seen with an Aumkar inside, we are reminded that it represents something. We get the revelation that the primal sound of creation took place in the symbolic thousand petaled-lotus. Bible gives the same revelation – that the hungry man at your door begging food is god; the one begging for clothes is god, but whom you do not recognize. When you are asked to recognize that the hungry man at your doorstep is god or the man standing naked in front of you without clothes is god that gives you the ultimate meaning of Annadanam (serving of free food) and Atmabodhanam (spiritual mentoring).

In the hospitals I mentioned, multi-speciality healthcare facilities are available only to a small segment. The healthcare Guru envisioned was for everyone. Wherever man is affected with disease, medicine should be available to all sick people. There is a vision behind this. I had mentioned it in the Siddha College here on a previous occasion. I have to repeat it again. What is an idealistic life? There are three types of nature. This also is an ancient Indian concept. First there is plant life beginning from shrubs, creepers and grass to the giant sylvan tree. Guru cultivated a herbal garden which resembles a thick forest. It is the beautiful home of herbs and flora. The second nature is of animals which includes birds and other animals. Third is the human world. We are with many temperaments as it is in human nature. A plant or a creeper angles toward light. Man also does the same. There can be men who love darkness, like some plants that grow under the shade of trees. So an idealistic life is the most appropriate harmony or concordance of vegetable, animal and human natures. This was the vision of Guru, as I have understood it.

It is because of this a herb stands there silently speaking to us, “use me, press and extract out my essence and give to the sick man”. It may be njavara or a tulasi or some other herbs Guru finds out in his eagerness to cure. When a person is tested less Hemoglobin, the Tazhutama is found which silently agrees to be the concoction for providing relief to that person. There is somebody with swelling in his liver or suffering from yellow fever. There is the poor Keezharnelli in the house yard which beseech you to make it a medicine and give to the suffering man. This is what the plant life gives us. There are villains also among them. There is a tree known us cheru maram. If you stand with your back on this, the whole body will itch. If you get itched like this, there stands another tree beckoning you to embrace it to give you relief from itching. The Allopath would say that when you embrace that tree what occurs is a phenomenon called antihistamines. It is true. It is antihistamines what is given as a cure for allergy. Thus when the biological world opens its bosom to us, a new science is born in the area of health care. It is based on this science of India the college is established here. Siddha medicine depends more on animal nature while Ayurveda draws more from plant life. Guru has discovered both of this and established colleges for it.

There is a question that by doing only Annadanam and Aturasevanam would you be a human? No. With only this, one cannot become human. In the camps of terrorists also food is served. Plenty of food is given. When they become sick they have their own hospitals for treatment. But in the matter of humanism they stand four neighborhoods away. It is because they have no self knowledge. Why a terrorist does not have this? He is trying to change the world as per his own perspective, but he does not have self- knowledge. One may have some dreams, desires or expectation based on some concepts that my country should be in this way or that. But he is a fascist who is deluded into thinking that what he thinks is the sole and indivisible truth.

Swastika is a symbol that had gone from India. Hitler committed heinous genocide imprinting swastika on his hand. He sacrificed human beings in gas chambers. The values for which India stood were not even in the neighborhood of his conscience, because he was a fascist. What ultimately is self consciousness? When I sit in meditation with closed eyes, I do not know any others except myself. My subtle nerve awakens. When I sit like this people may think that I know myself, but this is not true self knowledge. What we say as Atman is the whole universe. I find my self when the sorrow of Palestine, the sorrow of Sri Lanka and of the children and mothers who were driven out as refuges, the sorrow of innocent people being burnt by terrorists and the sorrow of all people enter my mind as my own sorrow. My self knowledge becomes actualized only when I realize the sorrow of the world and find a solution to it.

It is driven by sorrow of the self, a man who was born in Kapilavasthu long ago, forsook his beautiful wife and newborn baby looking at them for a last time. It was the place where Buddha spent his time (vihar) came to be known as Bihar today. He received enlightenment sitting under a sylvan tree there. That self illumination came from a Guru two thousand five hundred years ago while searching for a solution to the distress of the world. It is in the same Guru lineage, after five centuries, another man was born in the land beside the Sea of Galilee. He satiated the hunger of poor people with five loafs of bred and a fish. He transformed water into wine when there was no wine at a marriage. This is not magic. A European poet explained it thus beautifully. When the creator looked upon this water, seeing the face of the creator, water blushed. When little children see people their cheeks become blushed, isn’t it? Like wise, when water saw in it the reflected face of its creator, it became absolutely excited. That is how it became wine. There is a flame of subtle truth in this metaphor.

It was after five centuries of Buddha another Guru was born – Christ. The symbol of that culture today is the cross in which he was crucified. I have not put it on my chest or pinned it on my shirt. But it should be there in my soul. Thrust on a cross, every nerve torn by unbearable pain, a man was suffering great pain for the sake of whole humanity. Death was creeping in every atom of his body, inch by inch, as torture. The Christ who thus died through torture and endurance has not died in me. He lives in you and in me though crucified umpteen times. That is what is known us self illumination. There is a song of African people sung by Paul Robson. “Our Christ is a black, black, black old man”. Christ is a Jew. Jews are white like milk. For a Negro, the Christ who dwells in his heart, the Christ who struggled on the cross for his liberation from sorrow, could only be a black Christ. He envisioned a Christ who is Negro. Then he exclaims and jumps in joy. “Yesterday that Christ was crucified by somebody but he woke up this morning, he woke up this morning”. That Christ was one among them for the Negro. A Christ with iron nail- wounds in his hands. Almost like their Mandela. It was in Africa, Gandhiji had first commenced the training for the struggle for freedom, much before he became the symbol of freedom in India. His initiation in the liberation struggle in Africa was by his two front teeth. That happens because of self awareness.

What we could see in politics are only the parties and party manifestos and their pitched battle. It is all normal in politics. I am not detesting or deriding them, however. Beyond all this, remaining in whatever party they are, they should become knowledgeable about the Self. That self knowledge is nothing else but the realization that God stands in front of my gate hungry and naked. It has been said that “concern for the other person is the starting point of civilization”. When do I become civilized? I don’t become civilized if I wear beautiful shirt and dhoti and spray perfume. Becoming civilized is not like companies such as Raymond declare “feel great with Raymond”, displaying the image of some well dressed people.

What makes me civilized is the concern, attention and anxiety that I have for the other person in the world outside of me. So it is not by dress or perfume. Now there are beauty shops. Men also go there and get their hair styled. He does not become civilized by this also. Here the other person is a multitude - the hungry for food and the sick without a means for treatment. Do you not read in newspapers about uncared people who have nobody to take them home from the cancer ward or from Ward No. 9 of the General Hospital? Several aged people, sleeping naked on the floor. Then there are children employed in America who send 100 dollars for the cremation expenses of their parents. These people are not civilized.

It is for this illness treatment is required. The Aturasevanam meant by Guru is that. What is mentioned here is not just for recording it down. But the disciples of Guru should understand its inner and in-depth meaning and should impart it to others. When you go to tell this, somebody may oppose. Long back, when the disciples went to convey the teachings of Buddha, they were driven out by some twice borns, the Brahmanas, wearing sacred thread. The disciples then went back to Buddha and said; “when we were talking about your ideology sitting down in the lawn of that temple, they drove us out and beat us. What should we do?” Then Buddha said. “You can sit down wherever there is earth. You can talk to all men who are there as men. But you should speak in the language that they understand’. Therefore, know that Christ, Gandhi and Vivekananda are all from this great Guru linage of Buddha, who instructed to talk to all men that are men, sitting down wherever there is earth, but speak only the language they understand. India is like a great pyramid. If you want to see that great pyramid fully, you should illuminate it. A lamp would be lit at every corner. When all the lamps are lit you could see the structure in its full view. There are many such lamps that had lit up the great spire called India beyond the horizon of this world. The Gurus are those lamps.

We should propagate the concept of Guru in a language that would be understood. What does it mean by understandable language? Now nobody understands if it is said in Malayalam. There are some people who teach lot of treachery and stratagem. I will tell you an example. We go home and ask our mother; “Mother, I am hungry. Is there something to eat?” When you ask thus, “Son, there is nothing here’ or ‘I will prepare something for you fast’, or ‘you sit down, there is some rice left which I will give you’. These are all straight forward answers. It is said as truthful musings of truth. That is truthful language. On the contrary, suppose a mother speaks the language of some literary critique or political speech: “Hunger is a global phenomenon. How this global phenomenon has affected us, it will be analyzed and an expert opinion sought. Necessary arrangements would be made after examining the issue’. This is what is said as teaching language falsehood.

You should understand that Gurus do not teach falsehood to language. Political leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Lenin and Washington did not teach language any falsehood. That is why Buddha said you should speak to all men that are men and at all lands whatever is land, but in the language they understand. Sri Narayana Guru was a great Sanskrit scholar. One may read his work Daiva Dasakam. It is in a language mixed with old Tamil and Malayalam. You know when he said ‘aaraayukil’, the meaning is ‘if you enquire’. You should speak in a language that could be understood. If it is asked whether there is God, I would say that I do not know. Once, a saint by the name St. Augustine gave a reply like this; “If you ask me whether there is (God) I do not know. If you do not ask, I know”. So how do we answer if it is asked whether there is God or not. If you ask me thus, I do not know. I cannot prove the existence of God going into a laboratory, pouring something in the test tube. All people are like this.

When the sorrow of all people becomes the sorrow in ones mind, when that sorrow becomes his own, it is that person who is civilized. When I visited Rajghat last time, I saw in the Gandhi Museum the blood stained cloths of Mahatma Gandhi which he wore when he was shot dead. He was running a newspaper by the name Young India. This was an answer given by him to the questions of some young men. ‘Your mind falls into an unreasonable pensive mood. You ask me that we should do in such occasion. This is what we call as one type of existential sorrow. When you are caught with such type of intellectual sadness, you remember the face of the most pathetic and saddest man you have seen on the street you traveled that day. You introspect yourself whether you have done anything for him. Your sorrow will disappear.

People talk about some loneliness–depression related sickness. If we want to remove this sickness, we must remember the face of the most depressed and saddest person we have seen on the roadside. In Tamil they say ‘sabhai arinthu pesh’. You speak after realizing who is the people you are talking to and where do they stand. Then in relation to India, the time for a renaissance is late. It is a matter of pride that we still have democracy. There are two countries like two ears of India, to its east and west, which gained freedom along with India. One is Bangladesh and the other is Pakistan. These two are not secular. There all citizens are not alike. The important citizens are only people belonging to a particular religion, the rest are secondary citizens. Taslima Nazreen wrote that the life of a woman is shameful in such a Bangladesh. And today she is hunted down by many without having a place to reside. She said that she should be shameful for being born as a women living in Bangladesh. During the time of Indira Gandhi, we shed much blood to free this Bangladesh. But when Mukthi Bahini had won, they turned against India. We should remember that while there is no democracy in these two countries, it is both the greatness of India and its entire people that democracy still exists in India.
We should feel proud of India in this respect. If it is asked why it is so, it is because there were great souls in the bosom of India whom I mentioned earlier such as Buddha, Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, Vivekananda and also some great people who respected work utmost. What for Vivekananda swam over to that rock? It was not for exhibiting his health. Swimming across to that rock and sitting there, he saw stretched in front the great land that is India. It is said that a great multitude was seen as expanding from a point. Try to figure out mentally how seen from Kanyakumari India diverges rising from a point.

It is thus internally visualizing India he said, ‘Awake, Arise and Stop Not until the Goal is achieved’. We should protect the light given by such a Guru linage. There is no relevance here for the discussion whether it is idealism or materialism. On the contrary, perhaps one factor both the materialists and the atheists could agree upon is the inner unity in the heart of this people. Thus you are ever conscious to assimilate and work for the concept of Guru through Annadanam, Aturasevanam and Atmabodhanam in its true depth and meaning and become a glorious people. You are duty bound to do this. I conclude my weak sounding words reminding you of this duty.

(Speech delivered by ONV Kurup, famous Malayalam poet and writer, at Santhigiri Ashram, 'Thiruvananthapuram,  translated from the original Malayalam by Mukundan P.R.)
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