Saturday, January 25, 2014

Differing Views on Indian Culture and Modernity

Last updated on Jan. 30th 2014

A correspondent passed on this article on Indian culture and modernity by a Prof. Jain,

I have given below a slightly edited version of my responses to him.

Interesting article.

My take is somewhat different on some of the topics touched. However, my views have been formed by experience and my general reading, and not systematic and intensive research. Specifically I do not have data to back up my views whereas Prof. Jain has given some data to support his views. [I must also say that the data provided by Prof. Jain does not mean that he has to be right. Ideally these views must be critically examined by researchers in the field who can state whether the data references are accurate, appropriate and substantial enough to make the case and whether there are other important pieces of data not considered by Prof. Jain which argue otherwise.]

Social Equality: "One of the popular assumptions is that modernity provided equal status to downtrodden sections of the masses." and then Prof. Jain mentions the Swadhyaya initiatives concluding, "Just a small example to show how social equality can be achieved by Hindu cultural values." My view is that even a few centuries ago Hinduism was quite unequal as compared to Hindu society in 21st century India today. It seems to me that Kshatriya (warrior) and Brahmin (priestly) castes together physically and mentally ruled over the majority of the population during the Hindu rule days prior to Muslim/British rule. The remnants of that mindset are visible even today in many parts of rural India notwithstanding the supposed equality before the law.

Hinduism seems to have undergone tremendous reform over the past few centuries, some of which was initiated by Hindu saints, some perhaps by the challenge of other religions like Christianity and Islam, and some by democratic and science-minded reformers. I am very comfortable with most of what I see of  and read about 21st century Hinduism in South India (I don't know enough about it in other parts of India).

[To ensure that I do not get misunderstood I must mention my view that all humanity (and other lifeforms too) from a deep spiritual view point are one/equal. Further, I think spiritual evolution, especially in today's easily available knowledge world, is not the prerogative of any caste or creed/religion.

Regarding material differences between Hindu castes/groups in the 21st century, I think the future clearly is a society where castes may only play roles related to traditions and not have any superiority/inferiority stuff. Further, Indian society already provides opportunities for people from any caste or creed to rise up in society, at least till middle-class and upper-middle-class levels. That, it seems to me, will surely continue in the future.]

About the Swadyaya innovative experiment - Amrutalayam and its achievements: I think this is wonderful to know. I think other spiritual groups in India do something similar in their village oriented projects. But I don't know about the scale issue - it is great to have a few successful/demonstration experiment villages but it is quite another matter to replicate it in many villages. That needs dedicated teams of such workers and leaders - I think that is where NGOs and spiritual organizations are coming up short.

One must also mention the power of such working-experiments/demonstrations being lighthouses to inspire others to better ways of living even if they are not able to reach the level of the lighthouse itself. I think this lighthouse of harmonious village life aspect is vital. It shows that it can be done and is not just a pipe-dream of an armchair idealist.

About democracy in ancient India: Well, there may have been some examples of republics here and there but even those may have been on the lines of Greek and Roman republics where only the privileged classes were entitled to vote and the lower working classes and slaves were not entitled to do so, if I recall some of my readings correctly. In under developed rural villages of India one can see remnants of India's millenniums old history with washermen washing clothes at the river, bullock carts etc. The life of these working classes - washermen, marginal farmers or agricultural workers, etc. - is very, very tough. Back-breaking work, man, back-breaking!

Fortunately India today has very subsidized ration and free govt. medical services, even free plots of land to build houses for such poor people of villages. I believe that labour in the USA in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were leading a very tough life like the villagers in some parts of India. I think it was similar in the UK during some parts of the nineteenth century till the industrial revolution and UK being the leading colonial power in the world gave it enormous wealth which was distributed partly to the working classes.

With that background I think democracy as we see in India today, where rural votes can bring state and central governments to power or remove them from power (due to which governments are forced to provide them livelihood support in the form of heavy subsidies and even freebies), was just not there earlier (before Independence or perhaps before rural India woke up to the real power of voting collectively which may have been a few decades after independence). I think India then was a feudal setup like Europe had a feudal setup prior to the French revolution. That does not mean that the working classes - tradesman, farmers etc. - did not have any voice. They must have had their guild-equivalents (some of which probably continue to this day in fields like temple sculpting which may be the domain of a caste-based group) and the rulers would listen to the guild-leaders. Similarly the rulers would have been dependent on farm produce and so the farmer-leaders would have a say. But that would have been nothing like the power the working classes have in modern democratic systems both in the Western world and in India.

About Feminism: I think in cultured upper classes (Brahmin and Kshatriya), Indian Hindu women were given some prominence but they were typically not treated as equal to men. In the working classes, womens' position seems to have been horrifying and that very, very unfortunately and very, very shamefully, can be seen in some economically and socially backward villages of India even today. Yes, in Indian history, we do have examples of women leaders in various fields including spirituality but they seem to be exceptions. Male dominance seems to have been the norm. Even today males tend to block women from rising up, especially to very powerful positions, in India. Those women that reach top positions do so, from their innate capability, rather than absence of male prejudice against them. [I am not talking about corporate India which is a small fraction of India, population wise - I am talking about rural and semi-urban India and poor parts of urban India] I think the Western world is way, way ahead of India, in general, in terms of the laws and culture they have, as of today, to allow women to rise up in society and protect the rights of women.

I think the point about women being over-loaded to earn money (by working at a job) as well as run a home is a valid point too. I think a home-maker wife who may work part-time and is educated leads to a more wholesome and happy family than a full-time working wife (and working husband) family. But I think this should be a matter of choice. I also have to state that dependence of a wife on a husband for money seems to be a primary source of husband ill-treating the wife. So many women may not want to have such dependence on their husband.

About Science/Technology and Rationality: "It is true that modern science has added tremendous inventions for human society but to claim that tradition or culture was non-scientific will again be misleading." Well, here perhaps one needs to be very careful about jargon. I am not a scientist but my readings have led to my view that hard sciences like Physics or Chemistry have very clear principles and norms like measurability, objectivity, repeatability and the need for a theoretical explanation for phenomena. When compared to ancient history of mankind, such principles and norms have been astonishingly/mind-blowingly successful in showing some traditionally held beliefs and explanations of phenomena to be false, and given the correct or more correct explanations in their place. They have also led to unbelievable innovation and technology that have made life far, far more pleasant than it was for millenniums prior to such hard sciences. I think a lot of Hindu traditional knowledge like astrology and spirituality are non-scientific but that does not mean they are false and do not have validity. It is just that they do not conform to the principles and norms of hard science. Other Hindu traditional knowledge like metallurgy may have been very accomplished for their time but I don't think they followed the principles and norms of hard science and so they being termed as non-scientific may not be wrong, IMHO.

Environment protection: I agree with the author's statements about it being sad that viewing rivers and trees as divine are ridiculed. But I am not sure whether an attitude of worship towards rivers and trees necessarily implies effort to protect rivers and trees. I think most people may do the worship once in a while and leave the task of protecting the rivers and trees to somebody else. And, unfortunately, such somebody-else protectors are very, very rare in Indian society today. I think India seems to be facing ecological challenges of immense proportions. Just reading about pollution in the holy Ganges itself gives one the hard-truth-picture about current Indian ecological damage. From the wiki on Ganges, "The Ganges was ranked as the fifth most polluted river of the world in 2007, Pollution threatens not only humans, but also more than 140 fish species, 90 amphibian species and the endangered Ganges river dolphin. The Ganga Action Plan, an environmental initiative to clean up the river, has been a major failure thus far, due to corruption and lack of technical expertise, lack of good environmental planning, and lack of support from religious authorities."

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Cultured Lady Devotee's Experiences of Shirdi Sai and Its Similarity to Sathya Sai Devotee Experiences

Shri B.V. Narasimha Swami has provided the experiences of a lady devotee under a penname. In the preface to his book, Devotees' Experiences of Sri (Shirdi) Sai Baba, available (in part) as a pdf here, he writes, "The only other pseudonym in this volume (Part I) is "Mrs. Manager." Indian readers would naturally expect and respect this feeling of delicacy in a lady at appearing before the public with her statement. The pseudonym given correctly indicates her status and that of her husband. These are regarded by all who know them as eminent devotees worthy of credit."

Later on her identity got revealed. states "Mrs. Tarabai Sadasiv Tarkhad was the wife of Sadasiva Tarkhad, brother of Ramachandra Atmaram Tarkhad (R.A.Tarkhad). R.A.Tarkhad was the Secretary of the famous Khatau Mills, Bombay." And later, "When she was interviewed by B.V.Narasimhaswamiji in 1936, she was also called as ‘Mrs.Manager’." So we now know that Mrs. Manager in the above mentioned book is Mrs. Tarabai S. Tarkhad.

Mrs T.S. Tarkhad's account in the above book is dated 21st May 1936 (related section pdf is available here). She writes on page 64, "One's first impression of Sai Baba was derived from his eyes. There was such power and penetration in his glance that none could continue to look at his eyes. One felt that Sai Baba was reading him, or her, through and through. Soon one lowered one's eyes and bowed down. One felt that He was not only in one's heart, but in every atom of one's body. A few words, a gesture would reveal to one that Sai Baba knew all about the past, present and even future and about everything else. There was nothing else to do for one, except to submit trustfully and to surrender oneself to Him. And there He was to look after every minute detail, and guide one safe through every turn and every vicissitude of life. He was the Antaryami, call Him God or Satpurusha in Sahaja Sthithi or what you like. But the overpowering personality was there, and in his presence no doubts, no fears, no questioning had any place and one resigned oneself and found that was (the) only course, the safest and best course. From one's first entry into His pres­ence, one went on getting experience of His power. His all-knowing and all-pervasive personality, His protecting care that shielded one, wherever one went and at any time what­soever.

I shall give some instances of his Antanjamitva that I personally got or learnt of in the early days of my stay at Shirdi."

[Ravi: I think a lot, if not all, of the above applies to Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba as well. Many devotees who have experienced Him at physical level (Darshan, interaction, interview etc.) felt Him to be Antaryami. From, "Antaryami means "the controller within" and refers to God residing within the hearts of all beings." I certainly felt, based on some experiences, that Sri Sathya Sai Baba knew everything about me and that I could hide nothing from him. My mind and its current thoughts as well as its memories of past deeds were an open book to Him.

And, in my experience of Sathya Sai Baba at physical level, it was His eyes that were the vital interaction medium. A few months ago (in 2013) a lady devotee of Puttaparthi, in a chat with me, talked about how during Darshan she felt as if Sathya Sai Baba was scanning each person with His eyes in second(s)/fraction of a second while His wheelchair would be moved around (this is during the last years of His Darshan). I think she expressed it quite well - it was like a split-second/second(s) scan with His eyes. And then His eyes along with a facial expression to match would show joyous approval, quiet approval, no expression, disapproval, disgust etc. All over in second(s). But it needed spiritual/emotional sensitivity to appreciate many of His subtle eye-and-facial-expression messages (though some of such messages were not-so-subtle and so easy to understand for anybody).

I had read somewhere that the eyes are the window of the soul. To be a little more precise, I would say that the eyes are the window of the subtle mind-body form/sookshma shareera. To go a little further in this vein, I have heard on TV, the current Indian Lok Sabha (crucial lower house of Parliament) speaker, a lady, Meira Kumar,, announce the positive outcome of voice votes by saying, "The ayes have it". I think in spirituality one could say, "The eyes have it"!

I must also say that in my experience, Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba was willing, at times, to maintain long eye contact with devotees who wanted to have that experience. But perhaps most of His devotees preferred not to maintain long eye contact with Him.]

In page 66 we have Mrs T.S. Tarkhad saying, "When we had difficulties to get over, we never had to speak. We had merely to go and sit or stand in his presence. He at once knew what the matter was and gave a direction exactly meeting our requirements." She goes on to give details of a few such experiences.

[Ravi: Once again, this has been the experience of some Sathya Sai devotees. I personally have had one clear-cut experience of such mind-reading/clairvoyance followed by directions being given by Sathya Sai Baba, and a couple of other such experiences where I am quite convinced that He was specifically answering queries in my mind in His discourse given after finishing Darshan during which (or shortly before) I was thinking/having these queries. But then there have been many who went up to Sathya Sai Baba and explicitly stated their problems and asked for directions.]

In page 67 Mrs T.S. Tarkhad says, "As was frequently said, he was not confined within the three cubits length of flesh, bone and blood that people called Sri Sai Baba. He was in every dog, cat, pig, man and woman. While we cannot shake off the idea that we are this physical sheath or the attachment we feel to things connected with it, he was ever free from such narrow ideas or attachments. He seemed to be in or to be the Oversoul, the Super-consciousness, Sahaj Samadhi,or Jnanamaya Sharir by whatever name we choose to refer to that higher state of his."

[Ravi: These subtle spiritual matters have been so well articulated by the lady. I think the above would completely apply to Sri Sathya Sai Baba as well. The lady then talks about double consciousness (individual and divine) of Shirdi Sai Baba which I have already captured in a previous blog post here: An Avatar has both Divine Consciousness and Individual Consciousness - Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. It gives me great joy to see how knowledgeable about these subtle spiritual aspects, the Indian lady, Mrs. T.S. Tarkhad, was in the early part of the 20th century. I think this clearly shows that spiritual understanding is gender-neutral. It just may so happen that human society, or maybe I should say human life, being what it is, ladies, especially Indian ladies, usually have a tougher path to get close to enlightened male spiritual masters and then achieve spiritual understanding of the kind Mrs. T.S. Tarkhad achieved. It must also be said that India today has many female spiritual masters/mystics as well, some of whom are quite famous. I do not know enough about them to comment on their accessibility to female spiritual aspirants/devotees.]

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Many Statements of Shirdi Sai Devotee in 1936 Appropriate for Sathya Sai Devotees Today

Last updated on 19th January 2014

I found some of the statements of a lawyer (pleader) devotee of Shirdi Sai Baba said in the year 1936 to be very appropriate for many devotees of Sathya Sai Baba today!

From Devotees' Experiences of Sri (Shirdi) Sai Baba by Narasimha Swami pdf file here - pages 28 and 29:

16th October, 1936, Nasik
& 28th October, 1936, Shirdi

RAO BAHADUR S.B.DHUMAL, B.A., LL.B, Pleader, Brahmin, aged 63, Nasik, says:
I have one great difficulty in answering the question "What are your experiences of Sai Baba?" All hours of day and night, I am having experiences of Baba. There is no incident or event in my life which I do not connect with him - however trivial it may appear to be. I firmly believe that everything in my life is swayed by Baba. What then is to be mentioned as my experience? Of course, the outside world will not be ready to accept my belief as correct or well-founded. But that matters nothing to me. In fact, that very disbelief of people seems to be a reason for refusing to disclose one's experience. Every devotee feels that his experiences are his own, and are given to him for his own spiritual and temporal benefit and not for ventilation or publication to the general public which, of course, includes masses of ignorant, irrelevant carping critics and scoffers. Yet ardent biographers are anxious to ferret out one's innermost secret and sacred experiences to embellish their work. But the devotee whom they delve into feels that in the very act of dragging the secret experience into light, its reality and life are destroyed. The anatomist anxious to examine the living organism inch by inch cuts out what he wants and places it under his microscope, but in that very act, life is destroyed and what he examines with his instrument is dead tissue and not the living organism. The best way of understanding Baba is to experience him oneself. Where is Baba gone? He is still alive and active - more active, if that were possible, than he was before his Mahasamadhi. In downright earnest can get into touch with him, today and at once. But if one will not do that, but wants experiences, second hand, third hand or even fifth hand, he will get but poor stuff. I feel also very strongly the regrettable facts that experiences which get their significance and full force when expressed in our vernacular are to be now expressed to you and by you in English and that the loss in transition will be serious.

--- end extract ---

After the above words, Shri Dhumal does share his Shirdi Sai Baba experiences which, I am quite sure, give Ananda (joy) to as well as strengthen Bhakti (devotion) of most of its readers. It certainly had that effect on me. I must also mention that the articulate and exquisite English used to describe his experiences show that Shri Dhumal (I presume he authored that part) was a very knowledgeable and well educated man of those times (pre-Independence India) and so lends more credibility to his account. In those days, it seems to me that, many of the educated Indian elite became lawyers. Many of the well educated devotees of Shirdi Sai Baba who went on to write about their experiences with Him were from the legal profession.

I would like to share some more details about Shri Dhumal from page 29 of the same book link given above.

Dhumal writes, "I was first (in 1903) devoted to Gajanan Maharaj whom I took to Srimant Gopal Rao Buti. About 1907 I went to Sai Baba. From my very first visit, I was greatly impressed with his extraordinary personality. At his unspoken com­mand, I took Buti to him and at once Buti also became his devoted follower. Among the services of the latter to Baba, perhaps the most momentous and memorable is his allowing his huge stone-pile (Dagdiwada) to be used as the temple for the reception of the mortal remains and the worship of Baba."

[Ravi: So the Nagpur millionaire Buti, who constructed today's Shirdi Sai Mandir building, was brought to Baba by Dhumal (at worldly level, of course; at spiritual level Dhumal would have just been the instrument - the wire-puller would have been Shirdi Sai Baba in a subtle form).]

Dhumal lost his wife when he was 36 years old and without any issue. His father-in-law and others were after him to get re-married. But Dhumal surrendered to Shirdi Sai Baba on this matter. So his father-in-law approached Baba on the matter. Dhumal writes (page 32), "When I told him that I could never act without a direction from Baba, he took me to Shirdi and then went to Baba without me. He came back in five minutes and inti­mated to me that he could read Baba's negative reply from his eyes and told me not to marry without Baba's express con­sent or order. Of course, I never acted without Baba's con­sent. Up-to-date, Baba has not made me marry and I have continued my life of "single blessedness". Alike from the temporal and spiritual view point Baba has settled this course for me and after a fairly happy and successful tempo­ral life, Baba is developing in me a slow but sure detachment from the temporal comforts and I am surrendering my self to his guidance without the faintest fear for my future here or hereafter inspite of the fact that his ways are mysterious, highly puzzling and really inscrutable in many matters. As for temporal success, it is not vain glory but a desire to set down the actual truth that makes me inform you that almost invariably my professional efforts were crowned with success and from their financial or personal aspect also, I had noth­ing to complain of, as my income tax would clearly indicate. It was all due to Baba's help and grace. Yet despite all this temporal success, he keeps me free - more and more free, from worldly shackles and ready for retirement when he gives the signal."

[Ravi: Dhumal was 63 when he wrote this account in 1936. How much parallel do we find in our direct & indirect experiences of Sathya Sai Baba and Dhumal's experience of Shirdi Sai Baba! Uncanny, isn't it?]

How Baba dissuaded Dhumal from going to England for further studies (pages 36 and 37): "Amidst the innumerable instances of Baba's help to me at every turn or crisis of my life I may select a few. In 1910, my intimate friend, Srimant Gopal Rao Buti, was anx­ious to help me. He agreed to lend me the necessary sums to maintain me in England for my study at the Bar and my family in India during my absence. We had settled in full detail all parts of this scheme and went to Baba for his ap­proval. When Madhav Rao Deshpande put him the question "Should not Bhav (i.e. myself) be sent to Vilayat (i.e., Eng­land)?"
Baba asked "What for?"
M.Deshpande:   To study for the Bar.
Baba:   No. His Illayat (natural aptitude) and Vilayat (will of heaven) are not in Bilayat, but in this country. Why should he go to England?

I realised then that, 
'The best laid schemes of mice and men
Do often go astray'."

[Ravi: Bilayat and Vilayat in Hindi means foreign land. But Vilayat may also have the archaic other meaning given above - will of heaven. ]

[Ravi: Once again we see the parallel between the two Sai Babas in their general reluctance (with certain exceptions) to approve of devotees under their physical-level care going abroad (Western countries typically) for long periods of time!]

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

An Avatar has both Divine Consciousness and Individual Consciousness - Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba

In Amruta Vahini, August 2013 issue, Sri B.N. Narasimha Murthy writes that Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba Varu said (sang in Telugu) the following which explains what an Avatar is, "What do you mean by 'God Incarnates'? Out of love and affinity for humanity, God comes down to their level on earth with 'Divine Consciousness' (Daivaprajna) juxtaposed with 'Individual Consciousness' (Jeevaprajna)".

Bhagavan further made a clarification to Sri Narasimha Murthy about God having Jeevaprajna ('Individual Consciousness') like other human beings, "When I feel 'I am Sathya Sai Baba', it is Jeevaprajna; when I am 'I' that is Daivaprajna! I can move from one to the other at My Will!"

Bhagavan also said, "Either Daivaprajna or Jeevaprajna are put on by me at My will. In fact, both of them are in Me, but I am not in them; I am beyond both!"

Sri Narasimha Murthy writes that Bhagavan also said, "In My physical body (sthoola shareera), I am confined to this room; in My subtle form (sookshma shareera) I can go anywhere in the universe; in My higher subtle form (ati sookshma shareera) I can appear in the dream or meditation of any person; and in My super subtle form (para sookshma shareera), I pervade the whole universe!"


Additional sources on Swami's Avatarhood:
1) The Avatar on Himself,

2) Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba - Introduction,


Here's an account of a devotee of Shirdi Sai Baba where she gives her view of the double consciousness of Shirdi Sai Baba - Sri Sai Baba Ego and Universal Soul or Ego.

"One noticeable difference between Sri Sai Baba and other saints struck me. I have moved with other notable saints also. I have seen them in high Samadhi or trance condition entirely forgetting their body and course) (sic) effacing the narrow notion of the self confined to the body; and I have seen them later getting conscious of their surroundings, knowing what is in our hearts and replying to us. But with Sri Sai Baba, there was this peculiar feature. He had not to go into trance to achieve anything or to reach any higher posi­tion or knowledge. He was every moment exercising a double consciousness, one actively utilizing the Ego called Sri Sai Baba and dealing with other Egos in temporal or spiritual affairs, and the other-entirely superceeding all Egos and rest­ing in the position of the Universal Soul or Ego; he was exercising and manifesting all the powers and features inci­dental to both the states of consciousness. Other saints would forget their body and surondings (sic) and then return to it. But Sri Sai Baba always was in and outside the material world. Others seemed to take pains and by effort to trace the contents of others' minds and read their past history. But with Sri Sai Baba this was not a matter of effort. He was in the all knowing state always."

Lovely video about Islam in America from a (true) Christian perspective

Recently I saw, what seems to me to be, a very balanced video about Islam in America from a Christian perspective (published on youtube in 2012). I consider this to be a true Christian perspective which is based on the teachings given in the Gospel. It covers the impact on Muslims in USA of the horrific and despicable 9/11 attack. I was very happy to see the efforts made by Christian and Jewish leaders and others to provide solidarity to good peace-loving Muslims in America, as well as efforts made by Muslims of America to reach out to Christians (and Jews) of the USA. Towards the end of the video a Christian leader talks about how he played a role in convincing Pastor Terry Jones to give up his plan of burning the Holy Koran in 2010. [Unfortunately Pastor Terry Jones continued with such efforts in future.]

Here's the youtube link,, 53 min 18 secs. I have copy-pasted an extract of the youtube page description below:

Published on Sep 14, 2012
Is Islam incompatible with democracy? Is Islam a violent religion? "Islam in America: The Christian Truth" tells the truth about American Muslims. Through intimate portraits of both immigrants and lifelong US citizens, viewers will come to know Muslims as they truly are: peace loving, responsible members of society who bring culture and beauty to the places where they live as well as jobs and economic empowerment. You will hear the struggles and triumphs of those who came to America seeking a better life for their families. You will be surprised by persons who encountered Muslims with suspicion, but found instead life-long friends.

--- end youtube page extract ---

As a lover of religions I am very impressed by the freedom of worship laws of USA, and the willingness of people to support such peace-loving worship. I liked the confidence of a young and articulate US Muslim lady in this video who covers herself (with a hijab that covers her body & head and not the full burqa). [For more on hijab please see:]

The video has been produced by an Evangelical church of Tennessee, USA,

I pray to Almighty God to shower His Grace on such efforts to bring harmony, love, joy and peace among people of different religious faiths.