Monday, March 31, 2014

Sathya Sai Baba said atheists can also get self-realization; Sai Baba's words about Sai-Baba-speaking-through-somebody-else claims

Last updated on 1st April 2014

A couple or so days ago I saw a couple of videos of a Sai devotee's recent talks in the USA, on saicast, IMHO, both of them are very good and will help in Bhagawan's mission. Thanks to the Sai devotee speaker for the talks and thanks to saicast for making the videos available.

Some particular points:

In the Boston talk (Part 1), (at around 36 min. 36 secs), the speaker-devotee, who served Sathya Sai Baba at a close personal level for many years, mentions about Sai Baba (paraphrased) correcting the view that atheists who are great social workers, have strong ethics and morality (but who don't believe in God) will not get self-realization in this birth but will be blessed by a next birth in a good devotional family with a smooth path to self-realization. (At around 38:42)The speaker said that Sai Baba categorically stated that atheists too most certainly can achieve self-realization (in this birth itself) and that anyone (including atheists and agnostics, I guess) who gives up body consciousness - for them, self-realization is inevitable.

I think this is a very important aspect of Sathya Sai Baba's teachings about self-realization that does not seem to be well known. Perhaps such teachings  would get appreciated by leading atheists of the world today like Sam Harris,, who seems to be quite a popular writer and speaker in the USA (and elsewhere) especially among scientists, technologists and intellectuals.

I think Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are perhaps the most prominent anti-religion scientist-atheists in the world today.

However Harris does acknowledge the reality of spiritual experiences. An interesting extract of Harris from the part-transcript is given below:

“The reality is, it is possible for a person to close their eyes and use their attention in a certain way such that they no longer feel separate from the universe, say. You know, they felt it was just me a moment ago and then all of a sudden there’s just the world. Okay. That is an experience that is replicable, that we can all have, that many of us I’m sure have had. Most people, most of the time have had these experiences in the context of a religious tradition and they have interpreted them by the light of their religious tradition. The problem with this process is that it is not in the scientific spirit encouraging of rigorous honesty. It is encouraging of dogmatism and metaphysical speculation and … Yes, there are diamonds in the (---abusive word snipped---) of religion. You know, Rumi and Meister Eckhart are attesting to a kind of experience that I think we should all be desperate to have. The problem is we need to talk about it honestly …”

So Sam Harris may well agree with the philosophy of Advaita. But he may not believe that intense prayer can result in miracles that break laws of material sciences like physics & chemistry (materialization miracles) or knowledge of medical science (healing miracles).

--- end extract ---

I (Ravi) also wanted to share Sai Baba's words to a long-term devotee and servitor, which the latter kindly shared with me - Dehaabhimaanamu undinanthavaraku sakala saadhanamu avasarame. i.e. So long as the body consciousness continues (in other words, identification of oneself as (only) one's body-mind complex) all the saadhana(s) (spiritual/religious practice(s)) are necessary. Which implies that once one gives up/loses body consciousness (in other words, directly experiences that one, at the core of one's being, is a separate entity/reality from one's body-mind complex) then one does not need to do any saadhana(s) (spiritual/religious practice(s)).

In the Santa Ana talk (at around 40 min, 18 sec) the devotee shares his vivid experiences of Sathya Sai Baba strongly rejecting the claims of people who said they were mediators between Bhagawan and the devotee. One devotee tells Swami about claims of a young boy that Swami speaks through him, and asks Swami (Sai Baba) whether it is true (the devotee almost presumes that it is true). Sai Baba then intensely rebukes this devotee saying (according to the speaker-devotee):

You have been here close to me for so many years. How could you even bring this up in my presence? Don't you have any common sense or not? Buddhi Unda Leda Neeku? Naaka em pattindi vaadu paada shariramulo cheradaniki? What business (need) do I have to enter that dirty body? If I want to talk to somebody else I can figure out a way. Nenu mataladadante nenu mataladathanu. Neerega mataladathanu. If I need to speak to somebody I can (will) speak directly.

This was the rebuke - the strong reaction - from Swami at that point of time (when Swami was in His physical body).

The speaker-devotee continues: But somehow these kinds of things are so enamouring - you normally tend to feel that okay this is an easy way out. People tend to believe these kinds of things and want to believe these kinds of things. ... The speaker-devotee then goes on to say that one should not get caught up in these things and instead go for a direct relationship with God.

Ravi: In this post-Mahasamadhi phase of Bhagawan's mission I think the above warning about Sai-Baba-speaking-through-somebody-else claims is a very important one. Of course, Swami appearing in the dream of a devotee and advising the devotee could be a very genuine spiritual experience - but that is a personal matter between Swami and the devotee. The problem crops up when somebody tells others that Swami has appeared in a dream and given instructions for other people to follow - that is when that somebody takes on a role of almost a prophet-like person acting as an intermediary between Sai Baba and the devotees. IMHO, from whatever I have heard in Swami's discourses and read in Swami's writings, Swami has strongly discouraged belief in such prophet-like intermediaries between Swami and the devotee. Instead, Swami has advised intense prayer to Swami/other forms of God/formless God/one's-inner-self-as-God to get a direct response from God without any intermediaries clouding the matter.

Another small point. Perhaps the reader is already aware of the term 'intercessory prayer'. But just in case the reader does not know about it, intercessory prayer is a common term in English language religious literature. See, for some descriptions and background on it. I think one must clearly distinguish between the mediator types that the speaker-devotee referred to in his Santa Ana talk mentioned above, which Swami strongly disapproved of, and intercessory prayer, which, IMHO, Swami encouraged. As an example of the latter, the prayer Samastha Loka Sukhino Bhavantu can be viewed as a broad universal kind of intercessory prayer where we pray to God for the well being of all worlds (as Swami instructed/explained, if I recall correctly) or all the world, if one wants to put it that way.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The "Historical Jesus" and the Gospel of Mark

Some days ago I finished reading Reza Aslan's "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth", I think it is the first book that I have read about the "Historical Jesus" though I had somewhat casually read some articles and viewed some videos on the Internet on the topic earlier.

This was my first serious look at how some academics of history of religion examine and view Jesus of Nazareth. The first thing that struck me was that while the author is quite sensitive in his writing about Jesus, perhaps this academic field is such that he and other academics are forced to be skeptical about scriptural accounts, which in this case is the New Testament. They dig deep into inconsistencies between the gospel accounts. Very importantly they look for other records like Roman records to corroborate events related in the New Testament. If there is no corroboration from other records they bring in the possibility of the the scriptural account being fictional.

This is so different from the believer reading the gospel (New Testament) with an attitude of faith. I read the Gospel of Mark here, (I read only the gospel part and skipped the meditation typically), which is the shortest gospel of the four (the others being Matthew, Luke and John). [I had read the New Testament a few decades earlier but then I was an agnostic.] Having experienced some of the miraculous/supernatural powers of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, and having belief in the experiences of other devotees who come across as truthful people, I was able to read the Gospel of Mark with faith and, by and large, it seemed to me to be a very believable account. Yes, I can imagine that some details may be a little inaccurate but overall I find it to be a very believable account of a Divine figure endowed with supernatural powers.

But do the academics who study the New Testament have the benefit of such experiences of divine power and so belief that the Gospel accounts, by and large, are truthful accounts of experiences of people who lived with Jesus during the period of his ministry? Well, I am not so sure. Some seem to have belief but it seems some, or maybe most, don't.

Why do I say that? Here's the wiki page for the Historical Jesus, Some short extracts and comments:

"The term Historical Jesus refers to scholarly reconstructions of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, based on historical methods including critical analysis of gospel texts as the primary source for his biography, along with consideration of the historical and cultural context in which he lived. These reconstructions accept that Jesus existed, although scholars differ about the beliefs and teachings of Jesus as well as the accuracy of the accounts of his life, and the only two events subject to "almost universal assent" are that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and was crucified by the order of the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate."

[Ravi: Only the baptism and the crucifixion are almost universally accepted (as facts)!]

"The Christ myth theory (also known as the "Jesus myth theory" or "Jesus mythicism") is the proposition that Jesus never existed in any form but was invented by the Christian community around 100 CE."

[Ravi: An invention by the (early) Christian community! My God! This, in some ways, is in line with Prof. Doniger's views about Rama!]

[Ravi But, thankfully, the above view is not an academic scholar mainstream view. The academic scholar mainstream views are (I say academic scholar as most, if not all, of the current day scholars mentioned as holding these views are academics):]

  • "Apocalyptic prophet: The apocalyptic prophet view primarily emphasizes Jesus preparing his fellow Jews for the End times."
  • "Charismatic healer: The charismatic healer portrait positions Jesus as a pious and holy man in the view of Geza Vermes" and Jesus as a healer. [Ravi: That's the kind of view that I am somewhat comfortable with.]
  • "Cynic philosopher: In the Cynic philosopher profile, Jesus is presented as a traveling sage and philosopher preaching a cynical and radical message of change to abolish the existing hierarchical structure of the society of his time." [Ravi: I think this view is a sceptical view of scripture which misses out on the mystical power, grandeur of the miracles, and compassion of the Divine Jesus Christ.]
  • "Jewish Messiah: The Jewish Messiah profile of N. T. Wright places Jesus within the Jewish context of "exile and return", a notion he uses to build on his view of the 1st-century concept of hope." 
  • "Prophet of social change: The prophet of social change portrait positions Jesus not as an eschatological prophet, but primarily as someone who challenged traditional social structures of his time." 

--- end short extracts and comments ---

My view is that unless Jesus Christ had divine powers which, as is written in the Gospel accounts, he demonstrated to his followers, they would not have been inspired to continue his mission after his crucifixion in the face of horrendous persecution.

In future additions to this post (or new posts) I plan to share some historical background details about Jesus Christ and the early Christian church which I learned from my reading of Reza Aslan's book and other sources.

India: A sacred geography - by Harvard Prof. of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies, Diana L. Eck

A couple or so days ago I received the copy I had ordered of India: A sacred geography by Prof. Diana L. Eck. I flipped through the pages of the 559 page book published in 2012 and was awestruck by its sweeping coverage of Hinduism in India.

Some quick points:
  • Banaras, Pandharpur, Badrinath, Girnar, Kanyakumari, Tirupati, Ujjain, Haridwar, Somnath, Ramesvaram, Tiruvannamalai, Madurai, Srirangam, Simhachalam, Vrindavan, Mathura, Dwaraka, Udupi, Guruvayur, Puri, Ayodhya and Nasik are some of the holy cities covered. Char Dham and Jyotirlingas are covered.
  • Sacred rivers covered include Ganga, Yamuna, (and Triveni), Kaveri, Narmada, Krishna and Godavari
  • Gods mentioned include Shiva, Shakti (Kali, Mahadevi, Lakshmi, Parvati/Gauri), Rama, Krishna, Vishnu (Narayana) and Narasimha.
  • References and quotes are given from various holy Hindu scripture including Mahabharata, Ramayana, Atharva Veda, Puranas (Shiva Purana, Linga Purana, Skanda Purana, Devi Bhagvata Purana, Bhagvata Purana), Shatapatha Brahmana, Rig Veda, Upanishads, Shilappadikaram (Tamil epic), Tiruppavai and Ramcharitmanas
  • The photographs in the book reflect the sanctity of the holy land of India.

It will take me awhile to read this book. But, based on this flipping through the pages of the book effort itself, I have no hesitation in recommending this contemporary (2012) book on sacred India by Prof. Diana Eck whose knowledge about sacred Hindu India has just blown me away. It is a matter of great pleasure for me to know about such foreign (USA) professors of religion who are so knowledgeable about Hinduism in India. If you are into Hinduism or interested in it, even if you don't get time to read the book right away I suggest you consider keeping a copy around so that you (and others at your home/friends) can read it in parts whenever you get the time. Further, it may be a great book for visitors to your home to leaf through.

For India folks, here's the amazon India link:

For those who do not know of Prof. Diana Eck, from, "Diana L. Eck (born 1945 in Bozeman, Montana) is a religious scholar who is Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies at Harvard University, as well as a Master of Lowell House and the Director of The Pluralism Project at Harvard. Among other works, she is the author of Banaras, City of Light, Darsan: Seeing the Divine Image in India, Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras, and A New Religious America: How a Christian Country Became the World's Most Religiously Diverse Nation. At Harvard, she is in the Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, the Committee on the Study of Religion, and is also a member of the Faculty of Divinity. She has been reappointed the chair for the Committee on the Study of Religion, a position which she held from 1990 to 1998."