A View of Santhigiri Ashram

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

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Despairs As Well As Hope before Hindus




In the Rig Veda we find this verse: ‘We are surrounded by dasyus from all sides. They do not perform yagna; they are non-believers. Their observances are different. O’ Slayer of enemies! Kill them, destroy their tribes’. The history of religious intolerance is quite old and unpleasant. Holding a flashlight on this stagnated pool is only to lift up one to a refreshing perspective. The conflicts between devas and asuras in the scriptures are interpreted as the history of conflicts between Dravidians and Aryans. Prior to the Aryan cycle, the Dravidian race dominated. From the accounts in the epics and puranas and other ancient texts, it can be known that the Dravidians were an advanced civilization. Many among them like Bali, Ravana and Mayan were titans of that age possessing superhuman skills. Their technological prowess and architectural skills were superb. They had airplanes and mystical weapons, which could be either a much advanced version or a prototype of today’s nuclear weapons. They had built magnificent palaces and cities. As ages went by, the Dravidian civilization decayed. Great geological changes occurred. There was the great Flood. The Kumari continent (Lemuria) of the Dravidians had gone underneath the deeps. The ice age had set in. Then a new race emerged from the snowy cool mountains and terrains - the white Aryans, may be 10000 - 15000 years ago. They began to conquer the moribund Dravidian civilization – the asuras, daityas, rakshashas, nagas, vanaras and other aboriginal races which inhabited the earth from previous age cycles.

It seems that the Dravidians chiefly worshiped Siva. It has been established from the excavations at Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa that the worship of Siva existed even before the emergence of Aryans. Some historians say that the Aryan, Greek, Roman and Celtic religions developed from the ancient Sumerian civilization in Mesopotamia. The Sumers built their cities and towns dedicated to the worship of gods and goddesses like sun, moon, vayu, water, etc. But, who inhabited Sumeria? It must be a branch of ancient Dravidians, who were spread throughout West Asia in ancient times. According to researchers, the old Sumerian texts mention that people arrived from south by sea and occupied the land. Sumerian seals were one among the artifacts recovered from Indus valley, which establishes the early contact between the two civilizations. 

The Aryan worship was notable for its fire worship and sacrifices aimed to appease various nature deities like Vayu, Yama, Agni, Varnua, etc. Nevertheless, the Vedic seers perceived Truth as an organic whole. God was perceived as a Cosmic Archetypal Person (Purusha) from whose sankalpam emerged the universe including the sun, earth, moon and other planets and all sentient and insentient beings. Although the Rig Veda assigns the creation to Purusha, the Vedic community gave importance to the worship of guardian deities. In the Vedic religion the spiritual authority was vested with a community of priests or purohits, who called themselves as brahmanas. They considered themselves as superior claiming their origin from the face of the Cosmic Purusha. The status of kshatriyas, vaisyas and sudras dwindled according to the limbs from which they originated from the Purusha, such as from his arms kshatriyas, from navel the vaisyas and from the legs sudras although such a theory of genesis is viewed as a clear misinterpretation of Purusha Sukta. The brahmanas who now grouped themselves as purohits became specialized in complex fire rituals, which they conducted for the rulers who wanted to ward off threats from natural forces as well as expiation of sins for their misdeeds. The Vedic priests conducted rituals for the ruling class and the elite who generously gifted cows, land, grains, gold etc. and granted them special privileges. The sudra had no spiritual or social privileges under the Vedic dispensation.  

II

According to few historians, a group among the Aryans decided to migrate to Iran protesting against the corruption of Vedic priests and established the religion of Zarathustra (the Parsi religion). In the Zarathustra religion the devas were treated as unholy spirits. In India too, some wise men were unhappy with the greedy Vaidikas and their pompous rituals and sacrifices. These wise men withdrew to forests and mountain caves and began to meditate on the mystery of life. They received visions of truth and shared their knowledge to the keen disciples who approached them. Their teaching came to be known as Upanishads, which means ‘learn sitting near the master’. They propagated the wisdom path. It is from the Upanishad rishis the ashram and guru-sishya tradition originated. The Upanishad seers saw God as pure Consciousness beyond name and form. However, these rishis lived a secluded life away from worldly pursuits, which they took as mind’s unprofitable diversion. Therefore, their profound and egalitarian ideology could not be developed into a religious culture among the masses. So, they continued to live trapped in the decadent religious practices. 

Efforts were on to liberate the people from this pathetic condition and spiritual downfall from the time of Sri Krishna itself. Krishna taught humanity the first lessons of religious tolerance and tried to harmonize worldly life with transcendental wisdom.  He initiated the concept of an undivided and eternal Supreme Entity which rules over the universe and whose light guides all sentient and insentient beings remaining in their innermost self. One can find the basic principles of a perfect spiritual science in the teachings of Sri Krishna in Bhagavat Gita. Through the famous verse in Bhagavat Gita ‘yadhaa yadhaa hi dharmasya glaanirbhavati bhaarata, abhyuthanam adharmasya tadaatmaanam srijaamyham’, Sri Krishna was presenting an alternative spiritual path, i.e. the system of an (epochal) spiritual mediator, an avatar or Guru medium, who will lift up humanity whenever dharma is in peril. Krishna said:  ‘Surrender your heart completely to me; love and worship me; bow only before me abandoning all other paths. Then you can see me, this is my promise. I am the one who love you the most; you submit all dharma to me. Find refuge in me and do not fear because I will save you from all sins and slavery’.

Through this exhortation, Sri Krishna was trying to liberate the society from the domination of Vaidikas and Vedic ritualism. According to some thinkers the Mahabharata war was a war between Sri Krishna and the spokesperson of Vedic Dharma, Dhronacharya. Such a pernicious and colossal war in which almost all kshatriyas of the land were perished was not fought just for resolving a family feud. It could have been as well a rebellious war against the hegemony and injustices of a priestly social order, which supported a corrupt regime. When Krishna passed away from the scene with the end of Dwapara yuga, the Vedic religion re-established its supremacy. Krishna’s life and teachings were misinterpreted to suit the tradition. The profundity of Krishna’s teachings was lost in the fanciful tales of the poets who portrayed Krishna as Makkan Chor or Radhe Krishna, who flirted with gopikas. 

Then the Sage Kapila came with Sankhyan philosophy. The Vedic religion had become unpopular with the masses. The philosophy of Sage Kapila freed the concept of God and Creation from the ritualistic framework of Vedic religion. Sankhyan philosophy can be said as a refinement of the philosophical discourse of Upanishadic Rishis and their jnana path. Buddhism and Jainism were influenced by the Sankhyan philosophy. People suffering from an oppressive religious and social order wanted a Savior. Buddha was that Savior. Buddha’s religion was egalitarian and based on right action, human love and compassion. There was no place in it for meaningless rituals and caste discrimination. The whole of India and many other nations in Asia accepted the ideology of Buddha. 

III

The period of Buddhism between 600 B.C– 800 AD was the golden period of Indian history. Chandragupta Maurya, Asoka, Vikramaditya, Harsha and Kanishka were the great emperors of this age. It was during this period several other great souls like Patanjali, Sree Sankaracharya, Kautilya, Aryabhatta, Charvaka, Susrutha, Kalidasa, Amarasimha, Vararuchi, Bhairavi, Varahamihira, Dandin, Banabhatta, Subandhu, Bhathruhari, Bhavabhuti and others lived spreading the glory of India around the world. The great growth of Buddhism was intolerable to the Vaidikas although the Buddhist Sangha constituted a large number of Brahmins. Buddhism and Jainism which came as protest movements against the Vedic religion were depicted as Atheists and their followers were ridiculed and persecuted. It was another chapter of religious intolerance. Buddhism was soon split into two sects - Hinayana and Mahayana, incorporating the very practices which the Buddha abhorred such as the veneration of deities, animal sacrifice and inclusion of mantric and tantric rituals into the Buddhist canon. Soon Buddhism weakened and migrated outside its land of origin.

During the Gupta period, the Vedic religion regained its upper hand. The Indian society under Vedic religion was highly segmented on the basis of caste. Each caste, tribe or guild had different gods (kula devata), mostly lesser and unholy spirits compared to the beautiful gods of higher castes. This crippled the spiritual and social solidarity of Hindu masses. Eventually, the Gupta dynasty declined and foreign intruders began to mount attacks on India. The local rulers who were in mutual enmity went to the extent of seeking assistance from these foreign intruders in order to defeat their enemies in the neighborhood. India had fully degenerated socially and politically after the decline of Buddhism. It was at this moment in history Islam made it entry into India. The kings of India bent their knees in front of the ferocious sultans. Thousands and thousands were massacred and all wealth looted. Thousands were forcibly converted. Those who refused were put to the sword. Their womenfolk were raped. Some jumped into fire. Many thousands were taken as slaves to die in the enemy lands. Hindu temples and Buddhist viharas were razed to the ground. The holiest of holy temples of Hindus at Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi were demolished and masjids built in their place. The world famous Buddhist library at Nalanda was burnt to ashes. Islam inflicted horrendous pain not only on Hindus but also on Christians and Jews. Islam was born out of a historical frustration in the area of spirituality. Despite the efforts of many earlier messengers like Sri Krishna, Buddha, Mahavir and prophets like Moses and Jesus Christ, people had not yet accepted the true path and relapsed again and again to the faith in many messiahs, gods and demigods. Some among the early persecuted Christians believed that the ferocious power of Islam was the curse of God on them for deviating from the true faith. 

Buddhism and Jainism were basically protest movements against the Vedic religion, against its caste segregation and priest-craft. However, Buddhism and Jainism had never posed a threat to India’s fundamental culture and unity. Even when there were differences, the undercurrents of culture remained the same. Buddism and Jainism never ‘de-nationalized’ the people of India, as a well known westerner put it. The Indian religions never displayed religious hatred or bigotry as seen today in a manner that would tear away the very unity of the country and its cultural foundation. India was always known for its religious tolerance compared to other nations. The Indian society was not politically segmented on the lines of race, class, caste and tribe as it is seen today. However, changes took place in the fabric of Indian society after India was colonized by the British. Although during the rule of the Muslim Sultanate and Mogul kings, a lot of Hindus were forcibly or otherwise converted to Islam, it had not affected the pan Indian Hindu identity and culture. It was difficult to convert the majority Hindus, who were spread across the length and width of the country from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. With the end of Mogul rule the advance of Islam came to an end. During the British period also serious efforts were made for the conversion of Hindus. However, Hinduism outlived all these attacks while the Islamic conquests and European colonialism had uprooted the native cultures and beliefs in the continents of America, Europe, Africa and other places. They forced their religion on the conquered people and thus Christianity and Islam became the biggest religions in the world.

It was in South East Asia Islam and Christianity failed because Hinduism and Buddhism strongly resisted the efforts of global religious conversion. At the time of independence, the Hindu population in India was more than 85%.  Nevertheless, the thousand year long Islamic and British rule had greatly affected the Hindu society politically and socially. Several social evils and superstitions in Hindu society were demolished. The reform movements began by Ram Mohan Roy, Dayananda Saraswati, Swami Vivekanada, Aravind Ghosh, Mahatma Gandhi, Ambedkar, Sri Narayana Guru and others helped. There was a constitution which ensured social justice to the deprived classes in order to prevent the hegemony of a Brahmanical social order. Concepts such as freedom of religion and secularism were included in the Constitution. When the hold of religion was separated from the political system after independence, the Hindu religion was not accepted as the state religion, although the Hindus were in majority.  At the same time, two theocratic states came into existence dividing India - Pakistan and Bangladesh. This caused big distress to the majority of Hindus. The efforts of the British succeeded to restrain Hindu religion politically and socially. In one way, the partition of India was unavoidable, because both the British and Indian leaders had realized that it was impossible to restrain and make the Muslims live under a democratic set up among the majority Hindus. Whenever and wherever Muslims form the majority, they would opt for a theocratic society under Islamic laws. This is inbuilt in the Islamic theology.

IV

Behind the British occupation of India, there were not only political and economic aims; one of their main objectives was to convert the people of India into Christianity. The British saw the Indians and their religion as primitive. They strongly believed that only through Christianity the Indian souls could be saved. Several missionaries from Europe arrived in India for this purpose.  The British administration extended all assistance to them. However, they soon realized that it was almost impossible to convert the Hindus. This fact has been mentioned in the book ‘Letter on the State of Christianity in India in which the Conversion of the Hindus is Considered Impractical’, written R. Abe Dubois, a missionary in India during the British period. The British administration and the missionaries who arrived in India changed their tactics when they understood that it was not easy to convert the Hindus. First, they began to study about the religion, philosophy and culture of India. They were surprised to find the history of a very ancient and profound culture. They thought that a people who was so much degenerated and colonized could not be the heirs to this great culture and philosophy. They picked up the theme of conflicts between deva and asura in the Puranas and described it as the racial conflicts between Aryan and Dravidian population. It was William Jones, Max Muller and other Indologists who propagated this concept first. Sri Rajiv Malhotra has done a detailed study of this subject in his book ‘Breaking India’.

The Indians who were living for centuries in unity and brotherhood suddenly became Dravidians and Aryans, hill tribes, dalits, etc. They defined Indian society as a conglomeration of isolated groups which had no common bonds. Through this they aimed to divide Indian society on the basis of race, caste, language and region and held Hinduism responsible for all these evils. The missionaries thought that they could convert more and more Hindus into Christianity by exploiting and aggravating this situation. The Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu is a big example for this. During the British period, Christian missionaries in India like Bishop Robert Caldwell and others provided ideological fire for this movement. They spread the idea that the Aryans, after coming to India, destroyed Dravidians, their religion and culture and therefore Aryans were the enemies of Dravidians. The books and articles written by these missionaries and their preaching raised a cloud of racial hatred. Thus the Hindu religion, language and culture were seen as the enemies of Dravidians. In 1916 an organization was founded by the name Justice Party. It is this organization which has become the Dravida Munnetta Kazhakam (DMK) in the political scenario today. During this period there was a big tide of religious animosity in Tamil Nadu. A lot of people in Tamil Nadu converted to Christianity. Sanskrit and Hindi, the language of North Indians were opposed. The Hindu face of Tamil Nadu underwent change like that of Kerala. The Aryan-Dravidian racial conflict spread to Sri Lanka also. The European colonialists adopted the method of polarizing the people of India on the lines of caste, class, religion, race and language, which kept them alienated from the national mainstream through social and political confrontations. Thus religious intolerance is perpetuated in the form of political and social protest movements.

V

Western culture or Arab culture is incapable of leading the human race towards peace and spiritual fulfillment. Today, the influence of western materialist culture has led humanity to all types of vulgarity, family breakdown, health hazards and environmental damage. There is disillusionment and disquiet everywhere. The murderous jihadi groups are slowly digging the grave of Islam, which has grown through a history of bloodshed. Majority of its followers are blind to any other truth, therefore, are confined to their self-imposed ideological isolation. The world is in need of a new spiritual path to forge ahead, which would form the basis of the faith of future humanity. Navajoythi Sree Karunakara Guru said that only the wisdom tradition (jnana path) of the rishis provide such a unitive spiritual view, which has been developed through ages of spiritual enquiry and culture. Guru mentions that all religions, sages and prophets have their own place in the historical march of humanity. Therefore, we should not berate any religion or prophet. What we can do is to pray for a good transformation with a benign vision and largeness of heart. The slogan of mere religious harmony is not enough. The human race has to be guided to the path of one Supreme Godhead, who is not Hindu, Christian or Muslim. God rules over His entire creation equally. Although God is formless, Guru said that God has a shape. A formless God has no necessity to create a world full of forms and names. Manu Smriti provides a rational view of creation thus:

‘This universe was enveloped in darkness- unperceived, undistinguishable, undiscoverable, unknowable, as it were, entirely sunk in sleep. The irresistible Self-existent Lord, undiscovered, creating this universe with the five elements and all other things was manifested dispelling the gloom. He who is beyond the cognizance of the senses, subtle, un-discernible, eternal, who is the essence of all things and inconceivable, himself shown forth. He desiring, seeking to produce various creatures from his own body, first created the waters, and deposited in them a seed. This (seed) became a golden egg resplendent as the sun, in which he himself was born as the progenitor of all worlds. The waters are called Narah, because they are the offspring of Nara; and since they were formerly the place of his movement (ayana), he is therefore called Narayana… That Lord having continued in the egg divided it into two parts (male and female) by his mere thought. Its (the egg’s) womb, vast as the mountains of Meru, was composed of the mountains and the mighty oceans were the waters, which filled its cavity. In that egg were the continents, seas and mountains, the planets and divisions of the universe; the gods, the demons and mankind'. 

The male creation of God is the Manu of Manvantara cycles, who is not be confused with the author of Manu Smriti with the same name. The female part is known as Satarupa. The echo of this idea of a Cosmic Person is also reflected in the Semitic religions. The word Adam is said to have originated from the Sanskrit root ‘Adi’, which means the beginning. The great Rishis taught us that Guru Principle is the qualitative transformation, the creative intent of the formless Brahman. (Brahman is different from the god Brahma. Brahman denotes to Almighty God). The Tantra texts mention that God exists in the form of Guru (Primal Guru, the Cosmic Purusha) in the middle of a thousand-petalled lotus. The solar system is created by the sankalpam of this Cosmic Preceptor, known as Manu. Thus Manu is the authority of a solar system. 

The Indian sages calculated the age of universe in terms of Manvantara after the name of Manu. We should remember that the words ‘manushya’, ‘manava’, ‘manuja’ and even the English word ‘man’ is derived from the root Manu. There is an interpretation that the word Bharat is derived from Manu. Manur Bharata Iti Bharata, i.e. the land governed by Manu is Bharat. One wheel of creation (kalpa) is set to the time periods of fourteen such Manus. In the long duration of a Manu age partitioned by cosmic ages such as Satya, Treta, Dwapara and Kali, several spiritual authorities manifest age after age. It is this spiritual view of Indians which makes them tolerant to other religions, sages and prophets. Only through such a cosmology, the human race can be united and liberated from religious intolerance. Only a Guru who comes as the authority of the age within this cosmology can lead all people to a unitive spiritual path. Navajyotisri Karunakara Guru has not brought a new religion; He has only reinterpreted the Sanatana Dharma concepts in tune with the age. During this age of religious conflicts only such a unitive spiritual ideology can save us. 

Mukundan P.R.
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