Sanatana vs. Hindu culture
Indian culture represents a unique all-embracing world-view and a vibrant way of life. The cultural stream of India is very extensive and comes down from eternity. It had never been just a philosophical conception cut off from practicality. India’s spiritual vision leads our awareness to eternity through the rise and fall of civilizations, as revealed by the sages through the concept of Manu cycles or the Manvantara order, spanning billions and billions of years, measuring the age and rhythmic movement of the universe. In spiritual terms, the continuity of this cosmic vision functioned through an all-inclusive spiritual concept known as Sanatana Dharma, which meant an eternal system of dharma in relation to creation, life and existence. This spiritual culture was shared and perpetuated through a line of spiritual masters and their disciples and came to be known as Guru-Sishya Parampara or the Wisdom Tradition - the jnana marga.
We can see that the source of everything related to Indian culture and heritage has been derived from this wisdom path handed down through the Guru-sishya tradition. It had existed as a righteous and sublime way of life inspiring and touching all aspects of life. It nourished Dharma, i.e. the right knowledge and right conduct that enriches and expands the horizon of life. This spiritual vision of India had existed as a life-vision related to the inner transformation of life-force or jeeva, which can be seen as the practical expression of spirituality. The wisdom path of India aims to lift man from his bare emotional existence to the highest pedestal of consciousness and human values through a process of transformation, which ends with mukthi, i.e. liberation from the cycles of births and deaths. This vision of the Indian sages is constituted by the ancient Manu-centric Sanatana Dharma, from which this spiritual culture originated.
When we deliberate on this subject, we have to highlight certain fundamental truths. We can understand it in depth only through a review of Indian culture, which flows in two distinct socio-spiritual streams, i.e. the Sanatana culture and Haindava culture (ritualistic Hinduism), as distinct from each other. We know that the ancient-most culture of India is known as Arsha Bharata Samskara or Sanatana Dharma, which is the rishi culture.
Manu – the Nucleus of Creation
We have to re-examine the eventful history of how Sanatana Dharma could not elevate itself to its desired status and how it has got degenerated into the present day Haindava culture, through its long course over the ages. We cannot understand this history without mentioning about the kaala ganana or cosmic age calculation.
Indian Cosmic Time Calculation
1 Kalpa = 14 Manvantaras
71 Age Quartets = 1 Manvantara
1 Age Quartet = Satya, Treta, Dwapara and Kali = 43,20,000 years
The wheel of time called as Kalpa, Manvantara, Chaturyuga etc. is related to the parinaama or evolution of an atomic life-form into the absolute status of Brahman through the ebb and flow of srishti, sthithi, samhara and moksha i.e., creation, sustenance, dissolution and ultimate liberation. In the duration of a Kalpa, the creation completely merges with Brahman, the Supreme Light. This system of time is determined and ordered for the time-bound evolution of karma and dharma of all life-forms beginning from the microbial life-forms. The history of man’s spiritual quest reveals two types of realities. One is his subjective individuality and the second is its cosmic identity linking him organically to the Cosmic Truth in a parental relationship, God being the Cosmic Father or Creator.
The rishis measured every episode of creation in terms of Manvantara equivalent to the age of a Manu. Every solar system and life cycles originates from the sankalpam (conception) of Manus. In the endless march of time, uncountable Kalpas and Manu cycles have gone by, which would explain the reason behind a vast and expanding universe. For the same reason, the Indian rishis named God as Brahman, its meaning being ‘That which Expands’.
The cosmic phenomenon has got a nucleus, a functional centre from which everything manifests. That nucleus is the Manu, the Absolute in the form of the Archetypal Preceptor God, the instrumentality through whom the Will of the Absolute is carried out, controlling the temporal dimension including karma and dharma. Every yuga in a Manvantara fulfills the law of evolution in a structured way. The wisdom tradition envisions a gradual evolution through various time segments known as satya, treta, dwapara and kali yuga within the time period of a Manu, consisting of seventy one age quartets or chatur yugas. There are fourteen such Manu cycles in a single episode of creation known as kalpa. We can guess the depth of Indian spirituality when we know that the length of a chaturyuga itself has a duration of 43,20,000 years. We are in the seventh cycle of such an episode of creation, initiated by Vaivaswata Manu, the seventh Manu. In the present Manu cycle, this is the Kali yuga of the twenty eighth chaturyuga. There are forty three chaturyugas (28+43=71) yet to pass to complete the present Manu cycle.
The History of Spiritual Deviation
When this Manu-centric age calculation was distorted, the karma and dharma to be followed according to each age went wrong. Twenty five chaturyugas have passed in this manner. It would be difficult for us to grasp its magnitude in one word. In the Manu-centric Sanatana Dharma, Manu alias the Cosmic Purusha is the Creator, not the Trimurti gods - Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara. From the time the puranas, the mythological treatises began to explain creation in terms of trimurty gods, changing the time order of Manu as beginning from Brahma, the ancient Sanatana stream of spiritual culture took a diversion and began to flow through a diversified path, fragmenting Indian spirituality into three broad sects, Saiva, Vaishnava and Saketheya with hundreds of sub-sects.
Sanatana Dharma Trimurti System /Hinduism
Creation begins from Creation begins from
Manu alias Purusha Brahma/Vishnu/Siva/Devi
Ashram Tradition Temple Tradition
Guru Centric (wisdom tradition) Priest Centric (ritual tradition)
Navajyotisree Karunakara Guru explains the history of this spiritual diversion in the following words:
‘What we are going through is the time-order of Manvantaras. That is our perspective or cognition of the world. In the Manu-tradition a great spiritual evolute fell from grace (in the third chaturyuga of the present seventh Manvantara). As a result the Brahman initiated a corrective in the seventh chaturyuga (by evolving the Trimurty system) which was brought to a completion in the eleventh chaturyuga. Thereafter astral matters related to mukti were revealed which got codified as Vedas, Sastras and the Upanishads, without changing the old Manvantara order (to reaffirm that order). Since the sages could not transcend those who received these astral matters did not enquire into the reason why they had received such knowledge. They used their intellect in understanding the path shown by the Almighty and charted their version of the Manvantara time-order chaturyugas, manvantaras and kalpas as subservient to Brahma. Thus they could not invoke Manu, the First Guru and grasp the Error and correct it. This is a peril that has befallen us.
‘The Error was repeated again and again as the evolutes, who were the spiritual authorities of revealed knowledge, could not discover the mystery and unravel it in full before us…. The feeling of ‘I’ (Aham Brahmasmi) developed in the line of Manus. In the higher planes of knowing it was seen that all the wisdom and knowledge attained so far have come through it (the Manu tradition). This ‘I-ness’ can be seen in any of the books of Vedanta. You talk to any common person - this bloated notion of a free ‘I’ (ego) can be seen. When this comes up in the circle of ascetics (brahmacharis), then such notions come forth through the master-disciple lineage. In the tradition of deity-worship (devaparampara), the ‘deva’ (god) I am devoted to or the ‘devi’ (goddess) I am devoted to is the greatest and most glorious (is observed). Because of such possessiveness in individuals, all kinds of deities, chamundi, yakshi, pey, maruta, matan, mantramurthi (dark, evil spirits such as succubi, ghosts, ghouls etc.) became the ‘Lords’. This has happened because of people’s selfishness and egoism…..
‘Due to the emergence of Varnasrama, castes and castes upon castes, those who worshiped according to the Trimurti tradition could not function in accordance with the goodness of the Age. Earlier to this, tales were created using the medium of Srutis and Smritis and they were presented as authentic. Before that, as there appeared the creed of ‘materializations’ (siddhi), some sanyasis themselves handled the traditions of siddhi. As it all came up to this, the tradition of Manu faded away even from memory. This degradation of the times is due to the refusal to modify the customs that required a change according to the age and the falsification of the ideology that the abode of Brahman should all the time be with the celestials (devas) and Brahmins’.
Rediscovering the Wisdom Path
The Manvantara time-reckoning was thus re-charted bringing it under the trimurti tradition, giving it a new definition. It distorted the Sanatana spiritual culture that followed the Guru-centric jnana path respecting the age-specific dharma and karma. Moreover, the status of Guruhood was substituted by the temple tradition involving priest-craft and worship of devi-devas. Guru-hood in the Sanatana culture transcends the statuses of all spiritual entities including the trimurti gods, devi-devas as well as the planes of rishi, sanyasi, etc. above the trimurtis. This deviation fragmented the Indian society spiritually as well as socially. As already mentioned, this mistake gave India two contradictory spiritual characteristics. We can identify these two spiritual characteristics in terms of the Arsha Bharata Samskara guided by the guru tradition, and the Haindava culture, which has grown through the popular temple tradition with all sorts of superstitions, caste restrictions, untouchability and so on. The Haindava culture was strongly established here in which different spiritual entities with different identity, naama-rupa – names and forms and rituals were installed in temples and worshipped in order to appease them through tantric and mantric rituals with the intermediacy of priests. Along with this, the practices of blessings, performance of siddhi, miracles and exorcism also emerged.
The jnana path tried to nourish the qualities of truth, love, compassion and humility through right thoughts and deeds and strived to earn punya - virtue through the ways of karma and dharma and bhakti for attaining spiritual sublimity. In contrast, for the fulfillment of desires and other objectives, when people began to adopt a faith system based on the worship of spiritual entities beginning from trimurtis, demigods, yaksha, gandharva, kinnara, bhuta ganas and other angelic beings as well as all types of demonic and disturbed spirits roaming the earth’s atmosphere, these meritless spiritual practices resulted in the physical deformity as well as mental degradation of the populace. They were further made to suffer confined in the ghettos of caste, religion, clan, tribe, with each caste, clan and tribe owing allegiance to different gods, occupation, customs, rituals, etc. Such a degrading and retrogressive culture was perpetuated in the society through mythology, language, arts and literature, religious edicts, etc. as well as through the wondrous tales of siddhi and through the scholarly discourses about maya, dvaita and advaita. This spiritual diversion has been the root cause for the subsequent spiritual fall and cultural degradation of Indian society. The concept of age-specific spiritual reformation is resisted by the orthodoxy substantiating the chaturvakyas (four great enunciations) in the Vedas, all of which try to imagine the individual soul as equal to Brahman, the Supreme. ‘Aham Brahmasmi’, one of the chaturvakyas means that ‘I am Brahman’. The individual soul is only part of Brahman, not Brahman itself, said Navajyotisree Karunakara Guru.
Vedas are bound to Yuga Dharma, i.e. they are age-specific. The sages in every age receive the revealed 'word' from Brahman, which becomes the Vedas. The wisdom tradition worked through the Guru-sishya order. Guru is the highest symbol of perfection, the connecting link to the Absolute Truth. Such a Guru would be the spiritual authority of the age, of karma, dharma, jnana and mukthi. The wisdom tradition is a knowledge related to life and its fulfillment. With the advent of Vedic ritualism, this pure life-culture became defunct. The graceful Guru fathoms the threefold time and the cause-effect background of life-experiences. This inner fathoming or mental absorption of an omniscient Guru is to be known as Smriti. The word Smriti means Guru’s perception of those karmic entanglements, which are behind the emotional swings in life, in the form of sorrows and happiness, and the advice Guru gives to the disciple for overcoming such hurdles is to be considered as the Veda or Sruti. When one approaches a Guru in order to liberate the soul from its emotional and karmic entanglements, such process of learning sitting beside the Guru is Upanishad. Such a culture of learning from the Master and living by his guiding words was the essence of the Wisdom Tradition of Indian spirituality. When the spiritual guidance of such a Guru embodiment was unavailable, people began to lead life unaware about the evolving course of dharma, accepting the Vedas and Upanishads - the pre-historic catalogues of dharma, as the inviolable source of wisdom.
Re-establishing Sanatana Culture
The saying that ‘Guru Sakala Dharmata’ is based on this exalted vision of the absolute truth of God. The absolute truth of God self-manifests and gets activated through Guru and his Word, which is to be followed by the family - the mother, father, children and others. The divine Word revealed through the Guru becomes the guiding force behind the institution of family - the Grihasthashram and Grihasthashrama Dharma, orienting life and culture to a pedestal of absolute purity and sublime truth. It is this lost guru-disciple ashram culture which we have to re-establish as the highest aspects of Indian culture and spirituality. Today, unfortunately, the householders are totally cut off from this ashram-centric spiritual culture. The individual as well as family life is affected by the good and bad deeds of ancestral souls. There are also the negative influences because of the distorted worship of maligned spiritual entities, followed by the families as mentioned earlier. The Guru parampara of Navajyotisree Karunakara Guru strives to unburden the individuals, families and gotras from the negative karmagati and spiritual influences, through a way of life that follows the word of Guru vigilantly by mind, word and deed, keeping only the Atmajnani Guru in the heart. Only the realized and divinely authoritative Guru can perceive the karmagati of a person and guide one to the Absolute Truth through ultimate bhakti, the surrender in devotion, realizing that ‘Guru Saakshaat Parabrahm’, i.e. Guru is the very embodiment of Brahman.
We can thus see that this guru-sishya tradition is the essence of the spiritual soul of India, which strives to evolve the human spirit from the status of a human to the many dimensions of the divine such as deva, rishi, sanyasi, jnani, bhakta and muktha leading to ultimate liberation. These spiritual embodiments are related to expanding levels of human consciousness related to spiritual evolution. Guru Margam or the wisdom path combines jnana, karma, yoga and bhakti in order to nourish dharma and through that one’s success in life by way of enhanced punya and through that, fortune and wealth. Navajyotisree Karunakara Guru reminds us that we have lost this wisdom tradition. The history of the degeneration of this wisdom path is very old as it began twenty five chaturyugas ago in the present Manu cycle.
The spiritual view of India is a path that strives to fulfill dharma, i.e. the duties and purpose of life,
artha, the earning of wealth etc. required for attaining material and spiritual well being, kama, exhausting or fulfilling all desires and finally, earning mukthi, getting release from the cycles of births and deaths. It is essential that we realize when and why this wisdom tradition was lost to India. The backbone of Sanatana culture was to realize the path of evolution in a natural and rational way and moreover, in accordance with the will of God. It was intended to actualize this knowledge in life and evolve oneself to the path of jnana. We should be able to understand that the prayer ‘Loka Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu’ as the essence of this spiritual culture. The Indian spiritual concept is the path of fulfilling the purpose of life through karma according to dharma and the concept of parinama or evolution through the wheel of time. It is a complete life-vision in which from an atom to the Absolute attains perfection undergoing transformation. It is in this manner that the Indian spiritual concept had existed as the richest spiritual path in the world. We have to realize that our present spiritual, cultural and social situation is very pathetic. The spiritual guidance of Navajyotisree Karunakara Guru sheds light on the cause-effects of this spiritual degradation, which is both ironic and distressing.
The Guru’s is a path of spiritual renaissance to redeem the society from this spiritual degradation and value erosion. Guru brings to our focus the deviation occurred in the transformational path of spirituality relevant to the age and to dharma and karma. It is an indisputable fact that Guru’s movement of spiritual renaissance, as a correction to this situation, is able to impart to the modern world a new light and inspiration, brilliance and strength. Guru presents before us a new path of karma and dharma respecting the yuga dharma in order to rectify the situation taking into consideration the spiritual as well as material aspects. In Santhigiri, Guru has begun to develop it as a liberating culture without the restrictions of caste, religion, class, gender etc. to fulfill the dictum ‘One Caste, One Religion and One God for Humanity’.
(Paper presented in the National Conference on ‘Guru Tradition, Cultural Creativity and Social Change’ at Santhigiri Ashram, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India on 8th and 9th April, 2015. by Honorable Swami Navananma Jnana Tapaswi, Director, Santhigiri Ashram, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India)