Friday, April 27, 2012

Who is Guilty?...

This is very special post, that's why it might look very emotional, lengthy or even over the top, many incidents mentioned here are directly or indirectly from my real life experience.

Recently I wrote a post about the book Bhagavad Gita As It Is, I discussed few lines and paragraphs from that book which I found highly objectionable and shallow in their content. I thought those lines were conveying wrong message to its readers. I received lot of positive as well as lot of negative feed back about this post, on the blog and also on Facebook where I share my all posts. People wondered how come I can not ignore few minor comments from the book, many books make these type of comments and people should ignore it. This book is not a novel or any magazine for entertainment purpose, its one of the religious books which people study, read and derive their beliefs from. Some said its great book because it attracts lot of devotees from western world towards Hinduism (I think at the most people can become ISKON member after reading this book but not Hindu, as the book is not about Hinduism). Many also advised me that as a Hindu myself I should feel happy that my religion is spreading in world because of this book. Some said it's a just small black spot on big white paper, I should look at white paper, not the black spot. But I disagree with all of them, any religious book be it Bhagvad Gita, Bible, Qu'ran or their translations or any other book if it preaches hatred or discrimination against women or any section of society should be condemned and exposed in timely manure otherwise consequences can bee disastrous. Many of these small black spots have become big and became black pages of our history like, untouchability, casteism, Sati Pratha (burning of women alive along with her husband after her husband's death), child marriage, forced widowhood, slavery, racial discrimination and many more things.

I mainly objected to the lines from the book which according to me spread message of hatred about non believers and treat women as inferior sex compared to men. I have seen enough hatred and women suppression in my life. As a kid I watched life of my Nani (my maternal Grandma, in Uttar Pradesh from where I come we call Nana and Nani to maternal Grandpa and Grandma). She was a great lady, uneducated but with great courage and great devotion towards God. She became widow at very young age (may be 20 or 22), soon after my mother's birth. Society that time treated widows very kindly but not very fairly. Men after wife's death could remarry within months, but women were not allowed to remarry. At the event of their husband's death first of all they used to get blame for that death (bad omen), then widowhood was forced on them. Their heads used to get shaved, they were only allowed to wear white or any pale colored clothes, no ornaments, no makeup (reason: to protect them, so that other men don't get attracted towards them). They have to behave as if they are not alive, they used to be there as shadow of their bodies, devoid of any color, any desires, just a moving body. My Nani at least had daughter to look after, she devoted all her attention towards her but many are even not that lucky. She was very well respected because of her kind behavior and dedication towards God, she always worked hard. I always saw her doing some work for somebody she never sat quite, as if she doesn't know how to rest, as if her life depended on her usefulness in family. She used to be possessed by a ‘Deity’ or ‘Devi [‘Devi Angat Yene’(in Marathi)] sometimes. [During this condition, the individual completely transforms his or her expression and behavior (personality) to resemble some deity. The person is then supposed (or pretends) to be possessed by a deity during that period. He/she behaves in a convincing manner making appropriate actions and sounds to appear as if he is in a trance and pretends to know answers to all questions posed to him or her by devotees surrounding her/him]. This still happens in many villages and mostly women do it. I knew this was not real her, but I think this was her only chance to command, her only chance to dominate the world around her, only chance to dictate terms, feel in control of something. She never complained about her situation, she believed it was her fate, she saw how other widows are treated in society. Her belief in God was unshaken. She was convinced that it was how God wanted them to live, it was how written in scriptures, what she or people around can do? nothing, it was all her fate. I salute her every time I remember her, its not easy to live life like that, she is the person who gave me inspiration to fight against all these malpractices. She and people around her were not bad people (demons) but were hypnotized by centuries of false propaganda about these scriptures, how men are superior than women, how women are to blame for their misfortune, how women or girl child is burden on family.  Their thinking was paralyzed and society was conditioned to think in particular way. Pundits, many scholars quoted lines from scriptures to authenticate these traditions, to support these beliefs.

She died at the age of ~60, I wonder whether she ever lived her life after her husband's death, she only lived for others after that fateful incident. Sati Pratha was banned decades ago, so widows were not burned alive after their husband's death, but were not allowed to live normal life, widowhood was forced on them. I knew something was wrong, how god can be so cruel with some people for no fault of theirs? But I realized later it was not God, it was God's words, words from Vedas, words from Gita and many other scriptures used to justify these acts. People twisted words, extracted whatever meaning they want, gave references from age old books which have no relevance in today's world and justified these practices. They gave divine angle to their desire to rule, desire to use women and other weak sections of society for their benefit. I saw it happening with many other people, with my neighbors, my sisters, they were suppressed just because they were women. 'God made them women and now they should behave and live as God wants women to behave and live, we cant interfere in this, its God's will' this was the justification offered for these things. We worshiped women in our society but never asked them if they want to get worshiped or not? Qualities like tolerance, patience, selflessness, dedication are good but they were forced on women so that they won't be able to even protest where its necessary to protest. Their wings were clipped so they can't fly and after some time they forgot that they can fly also. They started believing its not meant for them. People of my generation who lived in Indian villages and even in some cities must have seen many women like this, and I hope they understand about what I am talking about.

The reason I can't tolerate such attitude towards women or weaker sections of society lies in all these experiences. I can understand Dr. Ambedkar's anger when he said 'I was born as a Hindu but will never die as a Hindu'. I can understand when in spite of being women she doesn't want to give birth to a girl child, even willing to kill her, she is scared to bring her into this world, did we ask why?. Its not only her who is responsible for this, its the society, its ages of discrimination, its justification of male dominance and preference, its the belief that women are inferior to men, and yes, holy books, they have their share in this crime too. If these books get the credit for all the good things which are in our society, these books should share the blame for these bad practices also. This prejudice, fear is rooted deep in heart of society, unless we remove this we can not stop any of the above, laws can only be effective to limited extent, we need to reform thinking of society. 

This article is not against Hinduism or any society or culture or country. I was born in Hindu family and lived my most of life in India, that's why my most experiences are from there. Its my motherland, a beautiful place and lovely country. I am sure people from other religions and countries must have faced or seen similar situations in their life and might have felt similar pain. Lot of things have changed now, situation is now much more improved in urban areas of India but still lot needs to be done, and we can not allow wheels of time to go backwards by neglecting such texts, as you never know which holy book might become authoritative in future and people start following it.

Its not only about my grandma and her life but its about countless women (and other social classes like untouchables) who suffered and are still suffering because of this prejudice. We all can point fingers at each other, each generation will point finger to its previous generation and say they started it, we just followed. I am sure this long trail of blame will end to some person (or a group of people) who twisted the meaning of texts to preach their own philosophy, or even they also might point their finger to some book...whose authors we are not sure about, they are long dead and that book can't defend itself, so who is guilty here?. Are those women guilty, just because there were born as a women? Is society guilty, which watched this happening and even participated in crime actively? Are those males guilty who believe that women are inferior to them? Are we guilty who still can't convince people to correct mistakes if they find them in scriptures or in any holy book? The book becomes important because of its readers, the movement becomes popular because of its followers, so we all are part of this crime, we can not escape the blame.  Now it's our chance to rectify it, so lets not do the same mistake.

If people can't understand after reading this the reason behind my reaction to the certain lines from 'Bhagvad Gita as it is' then they may never understand it. I share my views on blog, so I thought I should also share the reason behind those views. Its a very long post, but the topic is very important and close to my heart. Thanks for reading and your patience, please share your views.

(Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing) 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Satya Sai Baba: Guru or magician?


Exactly one year before (in 2011) on this day Satya Sai Baba died  (April 24th) and as expected news of his death made headline in almost all national news papers and web sites. Even foreign news channels also took notice of his death they called him as Hindu god man?? I don't know what the term 'Hidu God man' means.

Satya Sai Baba was unique personality according to me, man with noble intentions but trapped in his own image. One can find many people specially in India who believe that he was god, incarnation of Shirdi wale Sai Baba, they believed his magic tricks were real and at the same time there are many people who criticize him for fooling innocent people by showing cheap tricks and taking advantage of their devotion (I am one of them). I totally don’t believe in his magic tricks and also criticized him for using those tricks to gain polularity whenever there used to be discussion related with him in my group of friends. Recently when I listened to his speeches and some of his interviews, I realized that whatever message he wanted to give to his followers was really sensible and useful. He never preached any religion or started any society rather he encouraged his devotees to keep their original faiths, he told about importance of love and how love is the ultimate thing, not to hurt anybody and many things like that. Many of his teachings are really wonderful and relevant in today’s world where we see hatred and jealousy as a major problem. Even many people who follow him don’t seem to be interested in real meaning of his messages. I think they were overwhelmed by his personality and got amazed because of his tricks. They felt happy that they saw God’s avatar and felt relieved to share their grievances with him. They also believed that he will solve all their problems with his divine power (after all who else can solve if God himself can't). They thought his magic tricks were possible because of his divine power. In this entire process the real message given by him got lost and only remained was his magic and God like personality for his devotees. 

Satya Sai trust established by him has done great philanthropic work by setting up many educational institutes and medical centers for poor people. I think that his disciplines forced him to continue with his magic tricks because producing ash, diamond ring, expensive Rolex watches, gold ornaments from thin air  became his identity. Whenever people attended his gathering/satsang they expected some trick from him and I think he was very well aware of that and has to live to his image and satisfy his devotees expectations. This happens with many great people and actors, they get trapped in some public image and people (their devotees or fans) always want to see them in that role, doing same thing over and over again. People don’t allow them to break that mold. 

Hopefully people will get over with the argument whether Satya Sai Baba’s magic trick were genuine or not? Whether he was incarnation of Sai Baba or not? I think we all know the real answer to these questions. And will remember his message and teaching which are definitely more important than any of his tricks.

Thanks for reading and please share your comments.

(Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing) 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Bhagadvad Gita-As it is or As it is NOT..

"There are two classes of men, namely the devotee and the demonThis is what Prabhupada writes about non believers in this book Bhagavad Gita As It Is, it is a translation and commentary by Prabhupada who was founder of International Society of Krishna Consciousnesses (ISKON). This book is one of the many translations of Bhagavad Gita available in English and has been translated in almost 60 or more languages. In complete editions of this book (almost 900 pages), for each verse from Gita it includes, the verse in Devanagari script, a Latin transliteration, word-for-word meanings (Sanskrit-English) and English translation of the verse. This is followed by extensive commentary by Prabhupada for most of the verses (purport). This book is extensively distributed by ISKON and is a central theme of their teachings and beliefs. ISKON members also believe this book to be authoritative and literally true. I started reading this book when I was looking for some reliable translation of Gita in English because my Sanskrit knowledge is very limited. Lack of knowledge of Sanskrit language can not be a hindrance to study and understand most of the Vedik knowledge today. There are many translations of these works available in English and many other languages, many of them are from very reliable sources, one can read them and compare to get essence of Vedik teachings (or any ancient philosophy).

This particular book about which I am writing today was recently in news; a group linked to Christian Orthodox Church had demanded a ban of this book. They claimed that the text was "extremist" literature full of hatred and insult to non-believers which promoted social discord. The case had drawn a flurry of criticism from Hindus across the world, even Indian parliament took note of this case and expressed its concern over 'ban on Gita'. Russian court finally dismissed that petition seeking a ban (very proper decision according to me). But I was not surprised to see this news of request a ban on this book. I am personally against the ban on any book or article or movie etc. Some how India (even though a democracy) has history of banning some books which carry some sensitive matter against some religion or iconic figures (like Gandhi, Ambedkar, Shivaji Maharaj, popular politicians, religious leaders, etc.). List of banned books include, The Satanic Verses, The Polyester Prince, Shivaji-The Hindu King in Islamic India and few more. I decided to study this book to see what people found 'extremist' or 'full of hatred' in this book. I knew that Bhagavad Gita is not in any way extremist or full of hatred, people can agree or disagree with things mentioned in Bhagavad Gita, but this is true with any religious scripture. So I was wondering how come people got this impression (that it propagates hatred) from its translation and that too translation by a person who founded society like ISKON which claims to teach Bhakti, love, non-violence and does some great philanthropic activities.

From preface itself I started to feel the aggressive tone of the author and his total dismissal of others work in same field. Prabhupad writes “Before my presentation of Bhagavad-gita As It Is, almost all the English editions of Bhagavad-gita were introduced to fulfill someone’s personal ambition.” I have nothing against aggressive tone or author praising his/her own work, but dismissing others work totally without any substantial evidence is completely wrong according to me, even great scientists or Nobel laureates don’t have such attitude towards their competitors. He further writes “Unfortunately, mundane wranglers have taken advantage of Bhagavad-geeta to push forward their demonic propensities and mislead people”

This was just beginning as I read more I found many more views like this expressed in this book. As I said nothing wrong in praising your own work, or highlighting good aspects of your philosophy/ideology but I don’t think it’s right to demean your fellow writers like this. Let’s see what views are expressed about women in the book,

Prakriti is female, and she is controlled by the Lord just as the activities of a wife are controlled by the husband. I am sure many husbands wish that this was true..:) now let's look at his other comment about women.

In purport of Text 1.40 (chapter 1, verse 40) he writes,
As children are very prone to be misled, women are similarly very prone to degradation. Therefore, both children and women require protection by the elder members of the family. By being engaged in various religious practices, women will not be misled into adultery. According to Chanakya Pandiita, women are generally not very intelligent and therefore not trustworthy. So the different family traditions of religious activities should always engage them, and thus their chastity and devotion will give birth to a good population eligible for participating in the varnäsrama system. On the failure of such varnäsrama-dharma, naturally the women become free to act and mix with men, and thus adultery is indulged in at the risk of unwanted population.”

Seriously? Are you kidding me? in what way women are more prone to degradation than men? On what basis he agrees with the opinion that they are not very intelligent and trustworthy? Prabhupad might have had some bad experiences with women in his life but that doesn’t give him right to comment something like this about all women, that too in a book where he claims to teach Gita as it is. I am surprised that feminist people and groups are not up with arms against these statements (normally they are very good at it), may be they think it's not worth their attention.

Now let’s see what he writes about non-believers of his philosophy,

Purpot of Text 3.3
There are two classes of men, namely the devotee and the demon. There are a number of editions of this great book of knowledge. Some of them have commentaries by the devotees, and some of them have commentaries by the demons. Commentation by the devotees is real, whereas that of the demons is useless.
(So the world is conveniently divided in two type of people, one who believe in his teachings and philosophy and others DEMONS, very kind way to address your fellow human beings)

Purport of Text 3.4
That Krishna is the supreme authority is accepted by the whole world, not only at present but from time immemorial, and the demons alone reject Him.
(text 3.5) a nondevotee or a demon cannot understand this transcendental nature. Consequently these descriptions in the Gita cannot be understood by demonic brains.

If this is not Hatred about non-believers then I wonder what is it? World demon is used for non believers (even for other translators of Bhagavad Gita), it appears many times describing non-believers in this purport and also at different places in the book.

I can go on like this; there are many sentences in the book, which will make one wonder, whether author want to teach love or hatred towards other communities? How come Indian Government which is so sensitive towards minority's feelings didn't find this book offensive towards them who don’t believe in Krishna and his superiority? The objection (or demand of ban) was not on Bhagavad Gita as it was projected in media but was on this book which is more than 90% purports by Prabhupad but the book claims to tell us real meaning of Bhagavad Gita (very clever marketing trick). It’s the purports which constitute most of the book in complete edition (>90%). Translation part given in this book is good and mostly comparable with all other translations of Gita, but his interpretation of Gita verses in Prabhupad’s purports is the real problem. He propagates his own views and ideas in the name of Gita very aggressively (the same thing for which he blamed others). I request readers of my blog to read the book themselves and decide if I am right or wrong. It's definitely not Gita as it is but what Prabhupada wants it to be, his purports spoil this book completely. This book is not only about Gita but it’s mostly a promotion of Hare Krishna movement’s cult beliefs. Bhagavad Gita doesn't teach such fundamentalist sectarian narrow view, but if I am wrong please correct me.

Thanks a lot for reading and please share your comments. 

Links:
1. http://vedabase.net/bg/ (for Bhagavad Gita- As it is)

[Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

Friday, April 20, 2012

Which way to go...mono, poly or atheism?

Theism, in the broadest sense, is the belief that at least one God exists. Most religions believe in existence of God and describe God as a changeless, formless, ever-perfect, all capable entity. It’s good to see that there is some common thread between all these philosophies.  Most religions even believe that God is a creator of our universe, but then they face conflict with the theory of evolution (if it was perfect creation then how come we are evolving and if it was not then how come God can create something imperfect). Our world is continuously evolving, things look perfect only if you look with respect to the era they existed, dinosaurs fit perfectly in the era they lived and then the time came when they became extinct. I think now we understand that it's not God who makes some species go extinct or cause some natural disaster, or cause suffering, so many factors contribute to it. The term ever-perfect doesn’t exist, whatever is perfect today many not be perfect tomorrow as every living creature evolves.

Some religions believe there is only one creator or superpower who controls everything in this universe (monotheism). Hinduism is known for idol worship and for having many Gods (polytheism). We humans have unique gift of imagination and this unique quality differentiates us from other animals. Once people started believing in the concept of God they used their imagination to give it some form, shape and image. It was obvious next step, as we humans like to be creative and like to bring our imaginations in reality. All these images of God are created by various artists, they are not photographs or potraits and people see what they want to see in them. In India (which is one of the oldest civilizations) we have so many Gods, I think once India's population was less than or equal to the number of Gods which they believe in. We like to have choices in our life, I think people thought, why not to have choices when it comes to select our own God. Polytheism is like vending machine from which one can choose whichever God he/she like and worship it, many options are available and choice is yours. If people don't see anything wrong in worshiping God as formless entity, equally it should be OK if anyone wants to worship it in some form. If people want, everyone can have their own God. I don't see any difference in monotheism and polytheism, once you are theist then it doesn't matter whether you believe in one God or many. The problem starts when people want to force their choice of God on others.

The argument about God's real form or existence/nonexistence is useless as it's endless and doesn't lead to any conclusion. Expecting whole world to believe in one religion, one God is as insane as to expect all countries to merge and become one country ruled by one president, it will never happen. So why don’t we concentrate on teachings that help us to realize the inner truth and try to solve our difficulties, that was the whole purpose of God and religion (to unite people and teach kindness and love but many people are doing exactly opposite). 

I know many people who don't believe in any religion or God (atheist). They live very noble, happy and peaceful life. For some reason almost every religion doesn't say very kind words about non believers of that religion and atheists. Atheism (and related philosophies) is very attractive option available for people who don't want to associate themselves with any religion or don't believe in existence of God. Its interesting to see that percentage of non-religious people is growing very fast in developed world.


Once we know our destination (self realization), we can choose whatever path we like to reach there, all these books (scriptures) and philosophies are like flash lights, only to help us, some people need it and some don't. Monotheism, polytheism, atheism or whatever you want to name it, doesn't matter, don’t worry who is using which flash light let them find their way. It's our right to choose our path and find our way, let's respect each others choices (mono, poly or atheism) and continue the journey. Which path we take is not that important, we can change it anytime. It’s the journey of self discovery which is special and everyone’s journey is unique and interesting, so value the journey. God as a external entity is result of our imagination and our imagination doesn't have any limits, we humans will keep on producing new Gods or its avatars as long as human race exists.

Thanks for reading. Your comments are welcome.

(Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing) 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Krishna.....(Part-II)

There are many facets of Krishan's personality which attract me. I think Krishna lived his life in totalness, he didn't reject or get attached to anything. He lived his life as it is, accepted whatever came his way, didn’t try to run away from anything, let it be love, mischief, embarrassment, war, politics, wickedness, criticism or even death. He enjoyed his life to fullest and remained calm and cheerful during most of the epic, even during the war also. 

Krishna not only preaches theory of Karma in Mahabharat but he is also an ideal example of it. He accepted consequences of all his actions without any remorse. War was not result of his actions; he was not responsible for starting the war. But still at the end of war Gandhari (Duryodhan's mother) blames him for not doing enough to prevent the war and killing of her 100 sons, he listens to her patiently. She curses him that his family will also meet the same fate and everyone will get killed like her sons. He accepts her curse without any complain, because he knew that some of his actions during the war were responsible for her pain and suffering. He is the perfect example of theory of Karma, everyone including him has to face consequences of their actions (good or bad). No one can escape the result of their actions or karma. One can see shades of all traits found in human nature in Krishna's personality, he is all inclusive, may be that's why they call him God.  Kuru army was much stronger than Pandav army and Krisha has to use tricks, magic and deceit on Pandavas behalf to defeat them. Mahabharat teaches us many lessons like, just being on right side doesn't guarantee victory we have to earn it ourselves, we should not underestimate our enemy at any stage, evil is not always weak and every action will product its results, sooner or later.

In the epic he is seen as reliable friend, lover, cleaver politician, cunning and ruthless war strategist, intelligent foreign policy maker, spiritual guru, peace maker, etc. He is the one powerful character in the story who had capacity to dictate course of events using his charm, intelligence and if necessary, force. He was the one who protected Pandavas whenever they were in danger and needed his help, but failed to protect his own family from destruction. He is the person who fights with king of Gods, Indra and to save villagers of Vrindavan from Indra's wrath by lifting Govardhan mountain and this is the same Krishna who is accidentally killed by a hunter in the forest at the end of the epic. He did not die a heroic death of the warriors; he died like any other creature in the forest. We can call it the meanest death of a hero in the history. 

I think he is the one among all Gods to whom humans can relate very easily and this might be the reason of his popularity. We all see parts of Krishna (and many characters from Mahabharat) in us at different stages of our life. That is why I like this story as we can easily relate with it. It's impossible to understand Mahabharat completely without understanding all aspects of Krishna's personality; he is heart and soul of this epic. It would have been easy for epic's authors to make Krishna a perfect and ideal God, who always upholds dharma and uses his unlimited powers to achieve his goals, but they didn't. They preferred to give us a character which is very much like all of us, with limitations. They showed us how dharma is subtle and many times its difficult to differentiate right from wrong. As I wrote in one of my previous post, we all face situations in real life like Arjun's dilemma in the beginning of war and many times wish to have someone like Krishna to advise us.

I don’t think two or even ten posts are enough to describe Krishna's character completely. I will keep coming back to him in my future posts whenever it's necessary but for right now I will stop here and would like readers to study and understand all aspects of his character, may be it will help us to live our life in better way.

Thanks for the reading and please share your thoughts.

(Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing) 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Krishna: Man or God? (Part I)

Arguably Krishna is the most complex character from great epic Mahabharat. I was always fascinated by complexity of Krishna’s character since my college days. He is a multidimensional character; one can see all shades of human nature in this single character. There are many characters in Mahabharat which display one or two traits of human nature brilliantly but in Krishna's character one can see everything, all in one, thats why people often think who is he? God, man, hero or villain? In Mahabharat Krishna is present as God himself, he is incarnation of Vishnu, book clearly mentions divinity of his character. But in epic not all his actions match with his character of God. In fact to many his character may seem to have dual personality, one who preaches the highest morality and another which doesn't hesitate to use dirtiest tricks to win the war. His presence was very essential for Pandava’s victory in war. Krishna didn’t fight in war using any weapon but he was brain behind Pnadava’s war strategy and played key role in killing of all commander-in chief’s of Kuru army. Despite all his faults and mistakes almost all characters in epic admire him. His popularity has grown over time even after people know all these contradictions about him. Krishna is one of the most popular Gods in India; maybe he has most number of followers among all Gods in India.

Krishna tried his best to avoid war, he even made very generous offer to Duryodhan on behalf of Yudhishthir (to give him just five villages instead of half of kingdom). He tried very hard to convince Duryodhan that war is not good for both the sides but he failed. Once his all attempts to avoid war failed.  Once war was declared, he believed in winning the war at any cost. He believed that Pandava’s cause was right and only thing mattered to him was their victory. It’s not unusual for a hero to win the battle using cunning ways there are many examples in history, but we don’t expect this type of behavior from God. If God is all powerful and all knowledgeable then why can't he fight the war by fair means? That means in epic he is also a human or God is not omnipotent (all powerful). Actually Mahabharat shows us many instances where it challenges the concept of omnipotent God. 

During war we see altogether different side of Krishna, his darker side is exposed during crucial moments of war. He wanted Pandavas to win and was ready to pay any price for that. He has to use all his charm, power and intelligence from the first day of war itself. First he has to use his power as a God to convince Arjun to fight war. He has to reveal his divine nature to Arjun to convince him that whatever he is telling is the right thing (Bhagvad Gita was delivered in this process).  He is also seen as opportunist who teaches honest man (Yudhisthir) to tell a lie (about the death of Ashwathnama), the only lie he told in his all life. He even advises hesitant Arjun to strike down Karna who was in helpless and defenseless state. Because of these acts as the war progresses and Kuru army’s commanders fall one by one, we somehow begin to sympathize with Kauravas. Even Duryodhan before dying on the battlefield lists Krishna’s many misdeeds during the war and accuses him for not fighting fairly. People might think that end result of his actions justified the means he used, but I don't think he himself thought like that. After winning the war, Krishna who is cheerful throughout the epic becomes serious and gives very sobering message to victorious Pandavas, he says that Kauravas were great warrior and they could not have defeated them in fair fight, that's why he had to use magic and deceit on their behalf. It seems that epic’s morality is subordinate to Krishna, the God.  

Many Critics and intellectuals have studied his character in very much detail but these books are not very popular in general public as they put you in very uncomfortable position. Krishna's role in Mahabharat forces us to confront a moral dilemma. It puts us in difficult situation, where it’s difficult to differentiate between good and bad. Both the sides in war engage in good, bad and even ugly deeds and there is greatness on both the sides. Krishna's character is also like that, it contains shades of all characters in epic, he is Karna, Arjun, Yudhisthir, Bhishma, Shakuni, Drona all in one. One must accept all sides of Krishna, no matter how contrast or opposite they are. But people divided his personality in many pieces, took the piece which they like or are comfortable with and totally neglected all other aspects. Some only accepted him as an adorable child, some are happy with his raas leelas, some took his image as a lover, some want only his Bhagvad Gita, some see him as villain and criticize him for his actions during war. Many bhakti movements only accept him in portions and present only one dimensional image of him. They glorify only certain aspects of his personality and keep mum or give some vague explanations about other aspects which they are not comfortable with. As I said, one can find whatever they want in his personality, so all these movements have taken bits and pieces of his personality and used them to propagate their own philosophies. I feel this is the great tragedy that people never tried to accept and understand him totally.

Thanks for reading and please share your comments.

(Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing)

Friday, April 13, 2012

What are desires?


We all constantly battle with our desires, many times don't know how to deal with them. After all what are desires? Why they come to us? From where they come? How to deal with them? Is it bad to have too many desires? Are there good desires and bad ones? There are so many questions like this related to just one subject 'DESIRE'. Technically desire is defined as 'conscious impulse toward something that promises enjoyment or satisfaction in its attainment'. They are supposed to bring happiness upon their fulfillment, that's why we all chase them. But if we can't fulfill them then same desires bring unhappiness and depression in our lives. Most of the time whatever bad things (and good things also) happen to us is blamed on desires we carry. Desire is one of the strong motivators for our actions (good or bad). Motivational aspect of desire has been very well documented in philosophy, human desire is considered as fundamental motivation for most of human actions.

Our culture and general education trains our brain (mind) to differentiate between good desires and bad (or amoral or unethical) desires. We get trained to differentiate between them but no one can stop them from coming to our mind. Desires come to us automatically, its a natural phenomenon. They don’t ask for our permission before entering in our mind. Since our entry in this world knowingly or unknowingly we desire something or the other. We desire for food when we are hungry, sleep when we are tired, water when we are thirsty, even our basic needs are also linked with our desires. Generating desires is a sign of active and functional brain or mind. People in unconscious state or in coma though alive don't desire anything because their mind is not in active state.

Path of renunciation blames our desires for all material attachments, according to Buddha we should cut the flow of our desires to achieve liberation. But how to cut the flow of desire? To stop desiring (or not to have any desire) itself is an desire, so technically we can not have desire free stage. Our mind is such that it likes to move around, it's curious about many things. We have physical needs and then mental or psychological needs, one needs to fulfill them to live a healthy life. It's also true that there is no limit for desires, they are endless, they keep on coming. Our needs are limited but desires are endless. I think the best way to deal with desires is to let them come and learn to deal with them. If we try to suppress them unnaturally then they will bounce back with stronger force (like Newton’s third law every action has equal and opposite reaction). We can ignore them if we feel they are unwanted desires, or even store them somewhere in deep closet of our mind and eventually they will get lost or go away. Active desires need constant attention, they overpower our mind, take total control over it and then start dictating our behavior. We should be in control of our desires, they should not control us.

If our mind is at peace and full with good thoughts and then only (or mostly) good desires will come to our mind because bad desires wont find any attention and won't survive long. They might come (as I said we can't stop them) but wont stay or survive there. I think the stage of ultimate happiness  is not when you are free from all desires but when you have total control over them. You neither resist them nor run after them, they come and go like people around you. We meet many people in our life but not all of them become good friends, desires are like that, we get many of them but not all stay with us, it's up to us to decide, choice is ours. If we learn to do this, then we can learn to take life as it is with thankfulness and enthusiasm.

Thanks for reading and your comments are always welcome.

(Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing) 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Karna and his fight with destiny


For me Karna is the one of the two most exciting and complex characters from the epic Mahabharat. If anyone matches the complexity of Krishna’s character I think it’s Karna’s character. Story of his birth is also  very interesting. He was born to Kunti much before her marriage to Pandu when she accidentally invoked Surya to test the boon given to her by sage Durvasa. It was too late when she discovered that boon really worked and was left with an unwanted child. Ashamed of the baby and scared about social reactions she set the infant afloat on the river praying for his safety. This baby was picked up by Adhiratha, a childless charioteer, he and his wife Radha raised this child like their own son.  He had inborn attributes, his earrings (hence name Karna) and breastplate which make him invincible. 

Karna’s official entry in the epic is also very dramatic. He enters the public arena as a stranger where sons of Pandu and Dhritarashtra were displaying their martial art skills. He openly challenges Arjuna and even claims that he can put better show  of skills than Arjuna, and to everyone’s surprise this stranger fulfills his promise. Then he challenges Arjuna for duel and from here his conflict with Pandavas begins. Kripacharya, the match referee asks Karna to reveal his identity to confirm his lineage as it seems only Kshatriya can fight with another Kshatriya. Karna’s face fades, this was not the first time his lineage blocked his way.  Mahabharat takes place in very feudal society, where social status or lineage matters a lot. Karna faced  this problem of lineage when he tried to become student of Drona or when his Guru Parashuram cursed him for not disclosing his true identity. Kunti his biological mother recognizes him as her abandoned son but doesn’t show enough courage to accept him. Bhima insults him as ‘sutaputra’ just because he is a mere charioteer’s son. He stands there as defenseless victim questioning whether a person's social position should be defined by birth or by some other criterion. Duryodhana seizes this opportunity and comes to rescue him as he sees that this warrior might come in handy in his fight against Pandavas. Similar incident is repeated many years later in Kuru assembly where Draupadi gets insulted when Dushasana drags her in assembly and tries to disrobe her. Karna was also disrobed in public (not literally but the way he got insulted because of his lineage is like getting disrobed in public). In both the cases victim was targeted for no fault of theirs (Daraupadi at least insulted Duryodhana and Karna in past but it seems Karna overstepped his limits just by challenging Arjun who was from higher cast than his). If Kauravas would have been victorious in war I am sure Karna's insult would have been equivalent to Draupadi's vastraharan.

I am not trying to justify any of Karna’s future actions like his role in Draupadi's insult or killing of Abhimanyu or his loyalty towards Duryodhana. Karna made some mistakes in his life and got punished for each of them. Karna's story is a story of double standards by our society. He was wronged by his teachers, mother, brothers, friends, seniors (Bhishma) and even by Gods (Indra).

Krishna tried to pursue Karna to switch sides by offering him the kingdom by disclosing his true identity as eldest son of Kunti. Karna not only denied his offer but even requested Krishna to keep truth about his true identity as a secret till his death. Krishna didn’t try to deliver something like Bhagvad Gita to Karna as he knew that Karna didn’t need it. I think most of celebrated warriors from Kuru army already understood the principle of Nishkam Karma from Gita, they did their duty without worrying about the results or end product. I think every one of them knew what their destiny was and even had an opportunity to change it but they didn’t. One can not understand Mahabharat and its characters if we assume in the beginning itself that one side is right and other is wrong. It’s not simple story of victory of hero over villain, but its a tale of continuous tussle between right and wrong attributes, they are not associated with any particular side or character and there is no clear winner. 

Karna is one of my favorite characters from this great epic.  He refused to give up even after so many setbacks and defeats, stood by his friend till end, fulfilled his promises, fought with all the odds. He made mistakes and paid for all of them, at the end of his life his slate was clear, he didn't owe anything to anybody. Even people who killed him, hated him also came to pay homage after his death because of his bravery, honesty and loyalty. For me he will always remain a symbol of mans fight with his destiny.

Thanks for reading and your comments are welcome.

(Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing) 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Ashtavakra Gita: A Hidden treasure


While surfing on net to search some information about mythology related topics I stumbled on Ashtavakra Gita accidently. I never heard about this book before. Almost everyone (in India at least) knows or at least heard about Bhagvad Gita and many other scriptures (like Ramayan, Mahabharat, Vedas, Upanishads, etc), but I never heard about this book from anybody. When I read this book (it's English translation, original book is in Sanskrit) I wondered why no one ever mentioned about this to me. Even in today’s Hindu religion this book doesn't have equal status like Bhagvad Gita and others and believe me it deserves to be there right with all these books. I think it’s largely ignored because of its simpleness and straight to the point approach. It doesn't give any promises, doesn't have any interesting characters, supernatural powerful creatures, engaging story line, no scope for any interpretation, not attributed to any celebrated author. It’s also very short text compared to other scriptures, delivers its message directly without any complications.

There is no doubt that this work is very old, may be older than Mahabharat and Ramayan. It’s not that this work was not known or studied but somehow it always remained under utilized and ignored by masses and popular bhakti movements. It was appreciated, and quoted by Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Osho as well as some other scholars like Radhakrishnan refer to it with great respect (even Sri Sri Ravishankar wrote about it recently).

This text documents dialogue between King Janaka of Mithila and sage Ashtavakra. In the first verse itself King Janaka asks that important question which troubles most people “How is one to acquire knowledge? How is one to attain liberation? And how is one to reach dispassion?” and discussion starts from there. As I said no formalities, no drama straight to the point. This Gita explains in very simple terms what knowledge is, how to attain liberation and other stuff. This book is not about any religion, not about any God or it's super powers, doesn't threatens you or promises you any incentives but I think still its's very effective. It's so simple in its approach that it makes you think why other texts try to deliver similar message in much more complicated way. I think we love complicated stuff that's why other books are so popular compared to this one. 

The Ashtavakra Gita says that one is already free once one realizes one is free.
You are the one witness of everything and are always completely free. The cause of your bondage is that you see the witness as something other than this. (1.7)
If you see yourself as witness of things not as a doer or beneficiary of your actions then life becomes simple (for people who are troubled by their actions and attachments).    
If one thinks of oneself as free, one is free, and if one thinks of oneself as bound, one is bound. Thinking makes it so. (1.11)
So to be free or to be attached all is in our hand, no book or Guru can help us in this unless we help ourselves. He doesn't say to pay anybody, beg for mercy with any super power as we are that power who can make ourselves free. That's why no organized religion touch this text there is nothing to sell as this book is not offering any product to sell.

The book also talks about renunciation, attachment and detachment . The book talks about desire-less person in following verse,
Those who desire pleasure and those who desire liberation are both found in this world, but the person who desires neither pleasure nor liberation is rare indeed. (17.5)

There is no meaning in accepting or rejecting any religion or any material things. It explains futility of doing these things, people might think he is trying preaching atheism here in following verses, 
It is only the noble-minded who is free from attraction or repulsion to religion, wealth, sensuality, and life and death too. (17.6)
A fool often shows aversion towards his belongings, but for him whose attachment to the body has dropped away, there is neither attachment nor aversion. (18.62)

About places like heaven and hell he says,
There is neither heaven nor hell nor even liberation during life. In a nutshell, in the sight of the seer nothing exists at all. (18.80)
about dispassion he says,
The dispassionate man does not praise the good or blame the wicked. Content and equal in pain and pleasure, he sees nothing that needs doing. (18.82)

I am not going to discuss about the whole book here, I just wanted to introduce it to readers of my blog. It’s a good book to read (not sacred or anything), my recommendation is just read it once and then see if it suits you or not. I found this one to be most direct and straight forward among all scriptures I read. I don’t say that follow everything whatever written in this book (and I don’t say this about any other book also), just take it what you feel relevant to you and leave the rest. I can assure you that if you are looking for answers about questions life and it's meaning, liberation, etc. you won’t regret reading it.

Thanks for reading and please share your views.

Reference:
http://www.realization.org/page/doc0/doc0004.htm (I used this translation in my post)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashtavakra_Gita

(Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing) 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Is casteism racism?


Casteism is very sensitive topic in India, we claim that it doesn't exist in today's Indian society but we still have cast based reservation policy, inter cast marriages are still not very well accepted and many more things like this which indicate that it still exists. I often wonder how it all started? Is casteism different form of racism? Was their any need to divide society in different sections and label them? Should our profession decide our social status? If we say all humans are equal then why we discriminate? I already discussed how religion divide us but within same religion also we find may reasons to discriminate each other, interesting, isn't it.

There are different theories for origin of castes in India. There are religious, biological and socio-historical theories about its origin. Religious theory is most popular and many people (who still practice casteism) like to believe that there is some religious significance attached to their superior or inferior social status based on their caste.

Social division of ancient Indian society into four sections can be traced back to Manusmriti. The book is in the form of discourse given by Manu to a group of seers. Manu is considered as ‘progenitor of mankind’ (I think Moses is similar character in Abrahamic religions). This text became the standard reference for all future related texts (or Dharmashastras). When social division was originally created in four sections or varnas (Vaishya, Brahman, Kshudra and Kshatriya) to run the society smoothly I believe there was no hierarchy or they were not ranked in any particular order. Every section’s work or job was equally important in smooth functioning of society. Varnas or these professions were not inherited but were acquired by merit. I think original intention of this division was good but it also gave opportunity to divide society which resulted in different groups (casts) who started caring for their own interests rather than caring for society and its welfare. It turned out that side effect of medicine was more harmful than the benefit it offered.

I would like to believe that any religion in its original form doesn’t teach any type of discrimination within or outside that religion. So called intellectuals got special status in society (because of their knowledge); this status also gave them some powers and privileges. They failed to realize the responsibility that came with that special status. Selfishness and greed prevented them from implementing actual code of conduct which was recommended (selection by merit not by birth). They wanted to hold on that power so that their future generations also can enjoy the same status and privilege. Only way to stop others to get empowered was to inhibit their ability to acquire knowledge. This was achieved by creating rigid boundaries between sections of societies (or varnas) which were difficult to cross. They manipulated the meaning of scriptures, misused their position for this. As generations passed they gradually started feeling more superior or privileged than others and eventually they started believing that it’s their birth right to rule others and they exploited certain sections of society for their benefit. This resulted in cast system, untouchability, social discrimination, inhuman treatment to so called low cast people. According to me its not in any way different than racism. This mentality hampered human progress of Indian society (on spiritual level as well as material level) for centuries. In similar manure women from all casts were suppressed and forced to live very restricted life, to me it looks like they created separate caste named 'women' and no one even realized this. That is why I raised the question in the beginning that was it necessary to divide society like this based on professions? Today also we see this type of mentality in our society, even after achieving so much progress in all fields we are unable to get rid of this mentality totally.

Discrimination in some form exists even today in almost all societies or countries in world, in some countries it's based on caste or religion, in some countries based on race, color, nationality, etc. Casteism or any sort of discrimination is against humanity; nature doesn’t discriminate based on caste, color or race. This monster of discrimination has survived too long and some elements of our society are still protecting it for some unknown reason. Any type of discrimination should not have any place in civilized society. Lets pledge not to discriminate anyone based on color, religion, nationality or anything else.

Thanks for reading. Your views and comments are welcome.

(Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing)