Thursday, October 30, 2014

Pope Francis on imagining God creating the world with a magic wand - it is not so

The recent statements by Pope Francis at some Pontifical Academy of sciences function, on creation, big bang and evolution, has been highlighted by the media. A correspondent had forwarded a link titled, Pope Francis declares evolution and Big Bang theory are real and God is not 'a magician with a magic wand',

Here is a slightly edited extract of what I wrote back in response:

Here's a (the) relevant article from the Vatican,

The exact and full quote related to Creation in Genesis is:

"When we read in Genesis the account of Creation, we risk imagining God as a magus, with a magic wand able to make everything. But it is not so. He created beings and allowed them to develop according to the internal laws that He gave to each one, so that they were able to develop and to arrive and their fullness of being."

So clearly he is not supporting a literal interpretation of the account of creation in Genesis. But, at the same time, he does not mention anything that rules out miracles like those mentioned in the New Testament. The belief in miracles i.e. a God who intervenes at times in the material world by doing paranormal acts in response to the devout's earnest call/prayer for help as against a witness God who does not ever intervene, is crucial to the Christian faith (and many other faiths like Islam and traditional forms of Hinduism).

While I think he has done a very courageous and much needed act by clearly showing that he does not support Young Earth Creationism (literal interpretation of Genesis account of creation, type of views, perhaps he could have avoided using the 'magic wand' words. His words can be interpreted in a twisted fashion by some people to say that Pope Francis thinks/believes that God's powers are limited!

I think a more toned down statement on the lines of not literally interpreting account of Creation in Genesis, and some support expressed for scientific view today of Big Bang and evolution, would have achieved the goal of upholding the scientific view in these matters, without upsetting too many Christian preachers. Sure, some preachers may still have been upset but perhaps lesser number of them than now.

On the pope's Big Bang view, "The Big Bang, which nowadays is posited as the origin of the world, does not contradict the divine act of creating, but rather requires it", from a scientific perspective, I don't think all scientists will agree that Big Bang requires a creator. I think it is more a matter of belief (as the scientists cannot say that it is proved that Big Bang does not have a creator). Pope Francis' sentence prior to the earlier statement is, "The beginning of the world is not the work of chaos that owes its origin to another, but derives directly from a supreme Origin that creates out of love." That clearly is a matter of belief and not scientific fact.

On the evolution part of pope Franicis' quote, "The evolution of nature does not contrast with the notion of Creation, as evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve" as well as what I read in the rest of the vatican article link given above, I don't think it clarifies his stand on Intelligent Design,, - for or against.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Human nature and different paths/ways for motivation and happiness/joy in life

I recently had a mail conversation with a correspondent, part of which touched upon human nature and different paths/ways for motivation/happiness in life. A slightly edited version of the exchange is shared below (with approval from the correspondent):

As the concluding part of his response a correspondent wrote:

However, human nature does not change easily.

I responded:

I entirely agree on your human nature point (does not change easily). I have elaborated on it a little below.

One of the aspects of ashram life (Sathya Sai Baba, Puttaparthi ashram) that I experienced as a free service spiritual aspirant is that one's human weaknesses (as well as strengths) comes to the fore in the small village type of environment of the ashram. And the royal battle then is with conquering, or at least subduing, one's weaknesses. [Note that now there are well paid (sixth pay commission salary scales)/reasonably well paid employees of the ashram system, some of whom may be serious spiritual aspirants but some of whom may not be so much into spirituality and may be mainly interested in the salary.]

This is where, from a Hindu perspective, the Ramayana and Mahabharata become very good teaching material especially in an ashram environment (but also in regular society environments) as the characters in it have a great mix of good and evil, human strengths and human weaknesses. Sathya Sai Baba used to frequently refer to key incidents in these epics where Rama and Krishna as well as their staunch followers/supporters like Lakshmana, Sita, Hanuman, Yudishtra, Arjuna, Draupadi etc. show how to overcome adversity and one's human weaknesses. He would also point out the key incidents showing the negative traits of the other characters like Kaikeyi+Manthara (as well as some failings of Rama's father Dasharatha), Ravana, Kauravas etc., and teach us to not fall into making the same mistakes as them. Such teachings of Sathya Sai Baba has put the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics in a significantly different and very positive light for me. It may sound very simplistic for many of us modern age people, but actually they contain the crux of the human battle over good and bad tendencies that all or most of us have.

One key learning for me from Sathya Sai Baba's teachings about Rama was that, according to him (and perhaps according to the well known versions of the epic too), Ravana was far more accomplished in scripture (Veda) than Rama. Ravana was also a great devotee of Lord Shiva and had won boons from him. So, generally speaking, Ravana was far more accomplished than Rama. The key difference between them, according to Sathya Sai Baba, was that Rama wanted to be good (was focused on being good) (and was not bothered about achieving greatness), whereas Ravana wanted to be great (from a worldly perspective). That desire for greatness led to Ravana's downfall, whereas Rama showed that he wanted only to be good (Rama declines to rule over Lanka after winning the war and prefers to go back to far more humble Ayodhya). Then Sathya Sai Baba would teach us to be good (like Rama) and not to aim for greatness (like Ravana).

[A relevant extract from Satyopanishad – Upanishad Of Sri Sathya Sai – Part 6 (Questions by Prof. Anil Kumar Kamaraju),

Question) Anil Kumar: Swami! Kindly tell us how to achieve greatness in life?

Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba: Never allow this sort of idea to get into your head. You are mistaken if you think that you have achieved something very special and unique by becoming great. No, not at all. Becoming great in life should not be your aim. There are several great people in society. I don’t think this is important or that this matters most. Goodness is superior to greatness. Instead of aiming to be great, try to be good. It is far more important to be a good man than a great man.

What is the difference between the two? A great man sees man in God, while a good man sees God in man. Ravana, as portrayed in the Ramayana, was undoubtedly a great man. He considered Rama, the Lord, a mere man. But, Rama was an ideal good man. Rama saw divinity in a bird like Jatayu, in squirrels, and even in rakshasas like Vibhishana. Women like Sabari, illiterate people like Guha as well as saints appear to Rama like his own reflections. So, Rama was good. So, you should try to get the reputation that you are a good man and not a great man.

--- end extract from Satyopanisad ---]

From a spiritual point of view I think that is a very valuable and very effective teaching of Swami. I have benefited greatly from it. However, from a material point of view, such attitudes in today's competitive world may result in one being characterised (rightly) as lacking (material) ambition. That's what happened to me during the last decade or so of my software industry career (from around 1992-93 to Aug. 2002) when I had turned strongly towards the spiritual path. But I was OK with it as I still made enough money to take care of my responsibilities & needs.

On another comparison note, I wonder whether you were fond of Agatha Christie's books. I was very fond of them. While I enjoyed the Hercule Poirot ones more as a youngster, over time I realized that the Miss Marple ones were more educative and insightful about human nature, which is so similar in its core aspects, whether it be Agatha Christie's UK village(s) of the early 20th century (I guess) or Puttaparthi village (now town) in the early 21st century :).

The correspondent responded:

In my kind of life, competition is important to get the best out of oneself. Often, the competition is with oneself, sometimes with people you do not know and may never meet.

Since I run a bit, I enter races where there may be hundreds or thousands of others. I am not trying to be among the first few (or the first many) but I always try and improve on my timing for that kind of race. During the course of the race, I set small goals (like overtaking the guy with a grey shirt, or not drinking water until I have reached the top of the climb). 

A lot of my life has been like this. Each year, I try and improve on my lectures to a class (and sometimes fail miserably), or write a research paper that gets many citations, or a newspaper article that people will talk about. I find it helps me improve whatever it is I am doing and it has its own rewards (sometimes rewards that no-one else will even notice).

I can envisage a life removed from all this but, for me, I worry that I will fail to realise what I am capable of. Of course, I am talking about material things but I wonder if I would not keep trying to do better whatever it is I was doing.

I wrote back:

I think I understand the competition part, especially the competition with one's past records/performances, as a means to improve oneself (materially). My view is that the efforts made to improve one's performance is good even from a spiritual perspective. IMHO, where it lands into some spiritually undesirable territory is when one has a strong desire for improved performance as then one becomes unhappy if that desire is not achieved/satisfied.

What I do is to put in efforts to improve myself but try to reduce my emotional attachment to the success (or failure) of the efforts.

[This is on the lines of the message of the famous Bhagavad Gita shloka, Chapter 2, Verse 47 related to activity/work (in the world) - Karmenyeva Adhikaraste Maa phaleshu kadachana ..., as interpreted by Sathya Sai Baba. Please note that, IMHO, the text below, which would have been translated from Telugu to English, uses the word, happy, to indicate short-lived and perhaps shallow joy, as compared to deeper and more lasting joy(s).

From Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba's Gita Vahini,

If you have an eye on the fruits of your actions, you are liable to be affected by worry, anxiety and restlessness. The question may arise: if the fruits have to be given up, how can one manage to live? But why this weakness of heart, this nervousness? He who has assured, 'Yogakshemam vahamyaham,' will certainly look after that. He will give the wherewithal and the means. All you have to consider is (whether) a happy life is important or is liberation from the cycle of life and death more important? Happy living is only of short duration; the joy of liberation is eternal, unshakable.

On this point many commentators have exercised their intelligence and written differently. Many have said that the giving up of Phala or fruit is advised because there is no right or authority for the doer to desire for the fruit.

This is a great blunder. The Lord has said in the Geetha, 'refuse the fruit' (maa phaleshu), that is to say: the deed yields results, but the doer should not desire the result, or do it with the result in view. If Krishna's intention was to say that the doer has no right for the fruit, He would have said, 'It is fruitless', 'na phaleshu,' (na, meaning no). So if you desist from Karma, you will be transgressing the Lord's command. That will be a serious mistake.

When man has a right for engaging in Karma, he has a right also for the fruit; no one can deny this or refuse his right. But the doer can, out of his own free will and determination, refuse to be affected by the result, whether favourable or unfavourable. The Geetha shows the way: "Do... and deny the consequence." The desire for the result of your action is a sign of Rajoguna: the giving up of action since you cannot benefit by the fruit is a sign of Thamoguna. To engage oneself in Karma, to know that the result will follow; and yet not to be attached to it or getting concerned with it - that is the sign of Sathwaguna.

The Karmayogi who has learnt this secret of "Karma combined with Phalathyaga" should have Samabuddhi, more than Sangabuddhi. For the Sangabuddhi draws him into attachments and entanglements. "This Karma is mine; its results are due to my endeavours. I am the person entitled to it," such are the thoughts which bind the doer. Krishna advises that one should rise above this Sangabuddhi. He declares that Samathwam is the genuine Yoga. (Samathwam yogamuchyathe).

--- end Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba's Gita Vahini extract ---]

That (reducing my emotional attachment to success (or failure) of my efforts) has helped me become more contented. But I must also acknowledge that such reduction of attachment to/desire for material success has lessened my level of material success/performance, as compared to earlier days when I was not so much into such spiritual practices/stuff. However, for me now, the most important thing is being in a state of love, peace and/or joy as far as possible (and to try to spread that to others when feasible/receptive), and from that spiritual goal point of view, I think I am more successful than my earlier more-material days.

The correspondent responded:

The big danger for me is to enter what people call 'a comfort zone' and stop trying. I do much better, physically and mentally, when I feel there are challenges. I am mentally better composed, far less liable to be upset or angry, when I try and push myself a little more physically: to run a little further, or faster, to exercise a little more. I am sure there is a physical effect on my body that makes my mind more relaxed. 

It's well known that exercises like running produce a burst of endorphins which give a feeling of well being. Perhaps the same effect is produced in different ways with yoga when done properly.

It's also well known that limits are what one accepts, rather than what one is capable of. There is always a little more that one can do ...

None of this is a reflection on what you said in your messages. It's the way I get motivated.

I wrote back:

Very interesting.

I think there is a huge variety in attitudes and interests in life, and so there are a lot of different paths/ways for motivation and happiness in life. One needs to explore these paths/ways and get to know what is best suitable for one. Perhaps many times it is a combination of elements of different paths.

In this context, I think it is appropriate to mention the three major paths/ways of life expounded by Hindu philosophy: Karma (action/work), Bhakti (devotion) and Jnana (knowledge/wisdom). As I understand it, these are the major categorizations but they certainly are not mutually exclusive. So Hindu believers would typically be following some mix of these three paths. However, the dominant element at a particular stage in one's life, may be one of these three.

What you have written about seems to be in line with most of the Karma marg (path) approach, which is what well-intentioned and active members of society are comfortable with. The specifics you provide regarding a 'comfort zone' leading to a person not trying to improve/excel, and the need for challenges to keep one motivated and happy (feeling of well being) are interesting, and may be the experience of some people following the Karma marg too.

Of course, faith in God is an important aspect of the Hindu Karma marg, and so it differs in that important aspect from an atheist's/agnostic's approach to an active and challenging material life. The Karma marg person is advised to do his/her actions as a humble devotional offering to God and treat the results of the actions as the will of God. That perhaps provides mental balance to handle success and failure with some degree of equanimity, even when one is deeply involved in an active material life.

The vast majority of Hindus, especially the family based ones (grihastas), seem to be following a path having a mix of Karma and Bhakti. Their devotion to God is of the type that praises God, thanks God for His gifts, asks for worldly help from God to assist them in their material lives (a lot of the Karma Kanda (ritual part) of the Vedas deals with praying for such specific worldly help from God), and also earnestly requests, usually towards the end of one's life or at times of great physical and mental suffering, spiritual refuge. But it is this grihastas group that reveres and helps saints and fosters spiritual ashrams as well as spiritual aspirants, as they believe that such attitudes and actions will be of material as well as spiritual benefit to them. So this grihastas group is a very vital part of the Hindu system. Also it is from these grihastas that some become deeply attracted to spirituality and become attached to spiritual gurus and/or become members of spiritual ashrams.

When followed with a lot of intensity, the Bhakti and Jnana paths, I think are more suitable to detached other-worldly type of people who do not give much importance to material success and are more concerned about their spiritual success/progress. Very interestingly, most mystics fall into this category. But the movements some of them initiate needs missionary kind-of active workers to spread the teachings and demonstrate its practice! So that's where Karma margam people become vital even for spiritual missions. [In this context, I think Ramakrishna was the mystic deeply into Bhakti while his disciple Vivekananda was the Karma marg type.]

BTW the Sathya Sai Puttaparthi setup (at least since I came to Puttaparthi in late 2002) is heavily into action oriented (Karma) path towards God. In this setup, the heavily quoted teaching of Swami is, "Hands that help are holier than lips that pray". People like me who are more into Bhakti and Jnana are exceptions. But my impression, based on my experience of some Maharashtra Sathya Sai samithis (devotee groups), is that the Sathya Sai samithis spread over India (a large fraternity) have a decent mix of people from Karma, Bhakti and Jnana paths.

As far as my understanding goes, many Hindu spiritual setups broadly have two main divisions:

a) The Math/Mutt: This is the seminary type part of the spiritual setup. Here, I believe, the Jnana and Bhakti margam types are dominant. This group is not so visible to the public at large, though its top leader being the public face of the Math/Mutt may be well known. I mean, a person needs to go to such centres and locate people from the group, some of whom may be very reclusive and even avoid general outside contact. [The leader would be accessible to the public during public functions in some limited way.]

b) The Service Mission: This is usually the more well known part of the spiritual setup as it interacts with the public at large through its service activities in spheres of education (secular and spiritual including teachings of the founder), medical service, welfare activities for the poor including food, clothing, and even shelter at times, disaster relief etc. In terms of number of people involved, this service mission part of the setup is typically far bigger than the math/mutt part. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A recent Deccan Herald article - (Sathya) Sai Baba on wrath of God

Here is an article dated today (14th Oct. 2014) in Deccan Herald, Sai Baba on wrath of God,, by a Terry Reis Kennedy, who seems to based in Puttaparthi.

Some short extracts and comments:

Many people who know I am a devotee of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba ridicule me.  They insist that he was nothing more than a magician.  They consider those who still take comfort at his Abode of Peace, Prasanthi Nilayam long after he left his body in 2011 must be deluded.

Because Swami taught me not to re-act to such statements in an unkind manner, I just keep quiet.  This, of course, is difficult for me because it is as if someone is insulting my own mother.

[Ravi: She is echoing how many Sathya Sai devotees feel when they encounter uninformed and malicious criticism of Swami and his devotees/followers. Informed and constructive criticism is a different matter - I can take that and engage in a discussion giving my view of the matter. But the uninformed and malicious criticism types seem to have already made up their mind and seem to be interested in "converting" Sathya Sai devotees into skeptics and critics like them, rather than even listen to, forget about accept, a different point of view.]


Though charismatic and forgiving, nurturing and protective, our Sai Ma often showed his Shiva side.  He could give you a look that would make you shake with fear.  I was very careful in Darshan not to ask for ridiculous things.  Once, I asked if he could help me with a love relationship problem and his look was so fierce I understood that no relationship was as important as the relationship I have with God.

[Ravi: I too have tasted Bhagwan's Shiva fury side which scared the 'hell' out of me! However, later analysis has shown me that every time I faced such fury from him, it was the right "tough love"/bitter medicine that was needed for me to bring me out of my errant ways, and so I am deeply grateful to my Guru, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, for this "tough love". Of course, I have received his "soft love" too.]


He (Swami) also said, “I behave like you, moving, singing, laughing, journeying, but watch out for the blow I inflict ALL OF A SUDDEN to chastise and to warn. I shall scorch the wrongdoer for his wrong, and soothe the virtuous for his righteousness. Justice shall be meted out to all.”

--- end extracts and comments ---

Ravi: I find it quite interesting that Deccan Herald,, which seems to have a significant readership in Bangalore and some other places in Karnataka, has published this article.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Notes of selected parts of 1995 Romila Thapar lecture: The Theory of Aryan Race and India: History and Politics

Last updated on October 10th 2014

I recently read "The Theory of Aryan Race and India: History and Politics", a paper based on a lecture given by leading Indian historian Romila Thapar,, in a conference on eastern studies in Tokyo in 1995, It does provide an interesting overview of the Aryan race theory as related to India, from what I presume is a mainstream academic history perspective.

However, please be warned that Romila Thapar's talk/paper goes by evidence (archaeological, linguistic & textual) without treating scripture or any spiritual seer/master/mystic's words as holy truth. As an example she goes by 1500 BC as the date for the Rigveda and treats the 4500 BC date for Rigveda as an extreme and unwarranted by evidence date. Whereas people like me who believe in spiritual seers' words consider Rama to have been a real figure around 20,000 years ago i.e. 18000 BC! And Vedic sacrifices are mentioned in Valmiki Ramayana, which we believe to be largely, if not wholly, factual. So people like me believe that the Veda including Rigveda would be older than 18000 BC!

But then mainstream academic historians will go by evidence and I think it will be helpful for people like me to be able to understand/know their view even if I do not agree with their conclusions. My initial impression is that ancient India/Hindu history dating work is not an authoritative one. It is more like a theory based on evidence gathered/available so far. If new evidence becomes available then the ancient India/Hindu history dates may change dramatically. The lack of solid irrefutable evidence like archaeological evidence for Rama's life and reign perhaps is key to academia (or mainstream academia) not being willing to accept Rama as a real historical person, let alone date his life to around 20,000 years back.

The talk/paper is quite dense for a non-historian like me. I have made short notes of selected parts which cover ancient history and some other parts (like politics) of her talk and which is not so dense. Some of the notes below may put some readers off - but that's how mainstream academia views ancient Indian history, like it or not! A few short sentences from Thapar's paper are also given, in quotes.

* Notion of biological race was seriously considered in the latter part of the nineteenth century. An Aryan identity, used both for language and race, was considered.

* The Aryan identity was applied to Indian origins. Max Mueller's work on Rigveda and other Sanskrit literature played a role in this. Max Mueller held the view that there was a common central Asian homeland for all Aryans, from which a group migrated to Europe and another to Iran and India. [BTW Max Mueller never visited India! So his views were based on his study of Hindu Sanskrit scripture and literature, and perhaps second-hand information about India from others who had visited India.]

* Many variations of this Aryan theory were proposed later by historians as well as others.

* The Aryan Race theory "received a jolt with the archeological discovery of the Indus civilisation" in the 1920s. The Indus civilisation was urban while the Vedas described a pastoral-agrarian society.

* From, "The Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) was a Bronze Age civilization (3300–1300 BCE; mature period 2600–1900 BCE) extending from what today is northeast Afghanistan to Pakistan and northwest India (see map). Along with Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia it was one of three early civilizations of the Old World, and of the three the most widespread, covering an area of 1.25 million km. It flourished in the basins of the Indus River, one of the major rivers of Asia, and the Ghaggar-Hakra River, which once coursed through northwest India and eastern Pakistan." ... "The Indus Valley Civilization is also known as the Harappan Civilization, after Harappa, the first of its sites to be excavated in the 1920s, in what was then the Punjab province of British India, and is now in Pakistan. The discovery of Harappa, and soon afterwards, Mohenjo-Daro, was the culmination of work beginning in 1861 with the founding of the Archaeological Survey of India in the British Raj. Excavation of Harappan sites has been ongoing since 1920, with important breakthroughs occurring as recently as 1999."

* Rigveda has been dated approximately as 1500 BC (by mainstream historians like Thapar). Indus cities had declined before 1500 BC. In which case, Indus civilisation was prior to Vedic culture.

* Others date Rigveda as 4500 BC (which Thapar thinks is unlikely based on linguistic evidence). In which case, the Vedic civilisation would precede Indus Valley Civilisation/Harappan Civilisation.

* Notion of Aryan invasion destroying Indus Valley cities has been questioned due to lack of archaeological evidence.

* The (gradual) decline of Indus civilisation & cities happened in early second millennium BC. Environmental changes, Persian gulf trade closure and political authority collapse are considered now as the reasons for the decline.

* Vedic texts mention the horse and horse sacrifice. So, Thapar argues, if Indus valley cities were Vedic then significant amount of horse bones should have been found in the Indus valley city archaeological sites, which is not the case. So, she argues, that Indus Valley civilisation was not Vedic.

* "The notion of an Aryan race identified on the basis of an Aryan language has now been discarded. Language and race are distinctly different categories. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to discard the term 'Aryan' as well, using only Indo-Aryan to identify the language, or else staying strictly within the definition of arya from Sanskrit texts where it is a linguistic and social qualifier, without the overlay of nineteenth century theories."

Comments on New York Times article: False Teachings for India's Students

Here is a recent article (dated yesterday, 8th Oct. 2014) in the New York Times (NYT) by its editorial board, False Teachings for India's Students,

Some comments of mine on it:

* Mr. Dinanath Batra's role in influencing Indian education policy under PM Modi seems to be the main concern of the NYT editorial board.

* On the Wendy Doniger book withdrawal issue: I spent a lot of time understanding this Doniger book pulping affair and have blogged (& mailed) and publicly commented on forums like The Hindu website on it. [Interested readers can view this blog post of mine on Doniger's book, Book having Baseless Criticism of Hindu Divine Figures Blocked from being Distributed in India,] I think the NYT has not been fair by not mentioning that the issue was fought in an Indian court. In my view, Doniger's book (I read some parts of it) had some pretty nasty and outrageous views on Hinduism which could easily have inflamed religious passions and led to communal riots. So I think if Penguin India had continued to fight the case in court, in the interests of maintaining communal harmony and saving lives, the court would have ruled against Penguin India quoting laws related to preventing religious/communal inflammatory material from being published. Now, some Indians (and some readers of this post) may feel that such laws should be changed but the fact of the matter is that these are the laws that are current now, and have somehow enabled India to survive as a country where various religions and sects thrive.

* On Mr. Batra's books being made part of Gujarat state curriculum: I have not read Mr. Batra's books. However, I am not in favour of Akhand Bharat ideology,, as current India's neighbours would not like that ideology. I further hold the view that such ideologies should not be part of mainstream Indian education. Regarding aircraft existing in ancient India, I am of the view that it is fine to mention that epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata mention them but it should not be presented as established facts. Essentially I prefer to follow the middle path in this kind of matter. One approach, which seems to be well established in some Indian education circles, is to view Ramayana and Mahabharata as completely fictional, just stories. The other extreme approach is to view well known versions of Ramayana (e.g. Valmiki Ramayana) and Mahabharata as established facts. My middle ground approach is that Ramayana and Mahabharata have not been historically established to be either fictional or factual (non-fictional). They could (i.e. a probability) be based on real-life figures. Some, including me, believe well known versions of Ramayana and Mahabharata to be largely based on real life figures of Rama, Sita, Ravana, Krishna, Pandavas, Draupadi, Kauravas etc. But it is a matter of belief and not historically established fact. This is very much like the miracles attributed to Jesus Christ in the New Testament are beliefs and not historically established fact. I think the Indian education system should follow such middle ground approaches and follow it not only for Hindu religious figures but also for Christian, Islamic and other religious figures.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Sathya Sai Baba Lingodhbhavam and his views on Shiva Linga worship

The Lingams (Lingas) that Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba would create/manifest were ellipsoid in shape (photograph links given below), different from the traditional pillar shape of shiva lingams in Shiva temples.

Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba Lingodbhavam quotes Shri Kasturi, first editor of Sanathana Sarathi, on the phenomenon of Lingodbhavam in/by Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba as follows:

“Until 1956, the Shivaratri all-night vigil and Bhajan could be held in the Prayer Hall itself. Sai Baba sat on the silver chair placed on over a tiger skin on a low platform. When the slower hand of the clock hovered near eight, the Linga or Lingas indicated the desire to emerge and Baba showed signs of physical struggle to smoothen their way out. Year after year, I have stood on His left, holding silver jug of water. Seshagiri Rao stood on the right with a silver plate to receive the Linga as it fell out. At predetermined moments, proceeding through the gullet, the Linga presented itself for public view and personal use. One year eleven Lingas emerged in a row, one behind the other. Another year, there were nine. He has given me one of the nine. It is worshipped with Mantras prescribed in the scriptures. The Linga miracle does happen annually on every Shivaratri day wherever Baba happens to be.” (Prof Kasturi, SS, 3/99, p.81)
--- end quote ---

The same link above has some wonderful photographs of the Lingams created/manifested by/in Swami:

The official Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust website has the following on Lingodbhavam,

The Sacred ‘Lingodbhavam’ Wonder
How Baba materializes and brings forth Lingas from His mouth

During the festival of Maha Shivaratri, the festival dedicated to the worship of Lord Shiva, Baba usually performs the sacred miracle of Lingodbhavam, the emergence of the Linga (an ellipsoid object symbolizing divinity) from Him. Howard Murphet, who had the privilege of witnessing the event from close quarters, gives a detailed account of this awe-inspiring miracle in his book “Sai Baba: Man of Miracles” thus:

I had been told that every year, one or more Shivalingams have materialised in Baba's body at this sacred period of Shivaratri. He ejects the lingams through His mouth for all to observe. They are always hard, being made of crystal clear or coloured stone and sometimes of metals like gold or silver.

At six o'clock Sai Baba, accompanied by a small group of disciples, came onto the Shanti Vedika and soon after that the speeches began. It was about eight-thirty, powerful electric lights illuminating the group on the platform, when Sai Baba rose to His feet. First He sang a sacred song in His sweet celestial voice that touches the heart. Then He began His discourse speaking, as He always does on such public occasions, in the Telugu tongue.

On the platform Mr. Kasturi was busy making notes of the address which would be published later in both Telugu and English. Sai Baba's eloquence had been flowing in a steady stream for some half-hour when suddenly His voice broke. He tried again but only a husky squeak came. Bhajan leaders among the devotees, knowing what was happening, immediately gave voice to a well-known bhajan and then the great crowd joined in.

Baba sat down and drank from a flask of water. Several times He tried to sing, but it was impossible. Now He began to show signs of real pain. He twisted and turned, placed His hand on His chest, buried His head in His hands, plucked at His hair. Then He sipped some more water and tried to smile reassuringly at the crowd.

Some men around me were weeping unashamedly and I myself felt a flow of tenderness towards the being suffering there before us. I could not grasp the full significance of the event that caused the agony, nor perhaps could most of the great crowd watching, but to understand a thing with the mind is one matter and to feel its meaning in the bones and blood is another. Inwardly I felt that I was sitting at the very heart of something profoundly significant to mankind.

So, instead of blurring my eyes with the tears of sympathy, I kept them fixed on Baba's mouth; my whole attention was glued to that point so that I would not miss the exit of the lingam.

After about twenty minutes, I was rewarded. I saw a flash of green light shoot from His mouth and with it an object, which He caught in His hands cupped below. Immediately, He held the object high between His thumb and forefinger so that all could see it.

A breath of profound joy passed through the crowd. It was a beautiful green lingam, and certainly much bigger than any ordinary man could bring up through his throat. Sai Baba placed it on the top of a large torch so that the light shone through its glowing emerald-like translucency. Then, leaving it there, He retired from the scene.

Mr. Kasturi, who had been present on the platform of the Shanti Vedika when it was produced, described it thus later, in print: "An emerald lingam, three inches high and fixed on a pedestal five inches broad that had formed itself in Him (Baba), emerged from his mouth to the unspeakable joy and relief of the huge gathering."

Reference: “Sai Baba: Man of Miracles” by Mr. Howard Murphet. Page: 43-49 (Paperback Edition). Published by Macmillan India Ltd, 1972.

--- end extract from Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust website link ---

Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba on Lingam and Lingam worship gives excerpts from a 1974 Shivarathri discourse of Bhagawan. An extract from that:

The manifestation of the Lingam is a part of My Nature. Spiritual Scholars explain it as reminiscent of an epochal event in the past when Shiva challenged Brahma and Vishnu to gauge the height and depth of the Lingam Form He assumed. The two Gods failed and had to accept defeat – that is the usual folklore. Truly speaking, however, the Lingam emerges as a result of prayer by devotees and Divine Grace. You have to recognise in this event a glimpse of Divinity and a sign of Infinite Grace. Just as Om is the sound symbol of God, the Lingam is the Form symbol or the visible symbol of God, the most meaningful, the simplest and the least endowed with the appendages of attributes.

Lingam means That in which this merges or dissolves. Eventually, all Forms have to merge in the Formless. Shiva is the Principle of the Dissolution of all Names and Forms, of all entities and individuals. Thus, the Lingam is the simplest sign or symbol of Emergence and Mergence.

[Ravi: Simple but superb explanation of the spiritual & religious significance of the Lingam, IMHO. I loved the conclusion, "Thus, the Lingam is the simplest sign or symbol of Emergence and Mergence." As simple as that!] 

--- end 1974 Shivarathri discourse extract ---

From a spiritual shopping website:

‘The Lingam’ is just a symbol, a sign, an illustration of the beginingless, the endless, the limitless – for it has no limbs, face, feet, front or back ,no beginning or end. Its shape is like the picture one imagines of the ‘Nirankara’ (Formless) to be.’  Quote Sathya Sai Baba, Prasanti Nilayam on 23 February 1971.

--- end extract ---

From, which is by Late Shri G.V. Subba Rao ("a distinguished diplomat who retired as the Head of the Energy Division in the United Nations",

This is the story of an extraordinary materialization by Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba of an unusual picture signifying the true form of Shree Sathya Sai.

On one Shankara Jayanthi day Swami asked my late revered father, Sri Ghandikota Subrahmanya Shasthri, to address a large gathering of devotees in the spacious Poornachandra Auditorium. My father, a master of Vedhic learning and practice, dwelt at length on the divine qualities and powers of Swami. He compared the divine glory of Baba with several Vedhic divinities e.g. Gayathree, Datthaathreya, Vishnu. By a slip of memory, my father forgot to mention the Shiva aspect of Baba, although Shiva happened to be his Ishta Devatha or favorite form of Divinity. All through the rest of the day he regretted this omission.


The next morning, after the regular bhajan was over, Baba called us inside and graced us with a memorable interview. The discussion centered on the triple Vedhic paths of, Karma, Bhakthi and Jnaana (Work, Worship, and Wisdom) and the triple divinities: Brahma, Vishnu, and Rudhra. At the end, Baba led us into the Bhajan Hall and showed us around the new decorative installations in the Bhajan Mandir. Baba then stopped in front of the Shiridi Baba painting and lovingly materialized an unusual color picture (shown below), declaring to my father: "Idhi naa nija svaroopam " (This is My True Form). This electrified my revered father and also astounded me.

[Ravi: The photo link is Swami's image is shown within a pillar lingam.]

The first astounding feature of this created picture is that Baba's bust image is at the heart of the Linga form of Maheshvara. Saayeeshvara is thus Lingeshvara, the force pervading the universe. Sadhashiva Linga represents the ever auspicious Aatma beyond all duality. The Lingam is the symbol of creation and the Godhead.

--- end G.V. Subba Rao account extracts ---

Ravi: I would like to add that I was greatly blessed to observe, from a distance of around fifty to hundred feet (I don't recall the distance very clearly) almost straight in front of him (in the students & staff block), the emergence of lingam from Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba's mouth during a Shivarathri maybe in 2003 (I don't recall the year clearly so it could be one or two years later). My experience of that Shivarathri Lingodbhavam (and later ones too though I viewed the later Lingodbhavams from the side and from a greater distance, sometimes on closed-circuit TV put up in the packed and overflowing Sai Kulwant darshan hall) was similar to Mr. Howard Murphet's description (book published in 1972) - the physical discomfort and strain that Swami exhibited prior to Lingam emergence, him sipping water frequently, devotees (including me) feeling sad at Swami's discomfort and strain, the Bhajans picking up tempo (with fast-paced Shiva bhajans and the percussion instruments like tabla as well as the crowd singing in chorus, including me, getting into a great excitement kind of mode) as the bhajan leaders and the crowd spotted these signs of imminent lingam emergence, the devotees' eyes (those who could see Swami directly) focused on Bhagawan's face and mouth, the joy and celebration when the linga emerged (I clearly saw the emergence and felt that I had witnessed a great holy event), and, very importantly, the happiness of Bhagawan with the lingodbhavam and the resultant triumphant and celebratory joy of his devotees.


Readers may also want to view this post of mine, Harvard Prof. Diana Eck on Shiva Linga worship,

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Harvard Prof. Diana Eck on Shiva Linga worship

Last updated on 5th October 2014

Note: This post has small excerpts related to Shiva Linga worship from Eck's book, India: A sacred geography. In my considered opinion, her treatment of Shiva Linga worship (in these excerpts) is sensitive, spiritually wise and balanced. However, she does mention some insensitive and inappropriate interpretations after which she provides the spiritually wiser and sensitive interpretation. Some readers, especially devotees of Lord Shiva, may find the insensitive and inappropriate interpretations to be offensive, and so, I request such readers to consider skipping reading the rest of this post.

Excerpts from India: A sacred geography by Prof. Diana L. Eck, pages 203 & 207-209 - paperback, are given below. I have also provided some comments of mine.

[Ravi: The excerpt below is part of a summary made by the author (Eck) of a beginning section of Shiva Purana]
Suddenly, between them, the ground of the cosmos opened and there appeared a fiery shaft of light. It rose up from the depths below and extended upward through space as far as the eye could see. This was the jyotirlinga-the linga of light. It was a column of fire too brilliant to look at, inexpressible in its glory.


Shiva's second boon was the linga itself. He says, "This pillar, without beginning and end, will become small in size so that people may behold it and worship it, dear sons." [Ravi: The reference for this quote is Siva Purana, Vidyeshvarasamhita 9.19] The myth, then, ascribes to that fiery theophany of light the origin of the symbolic linga to be found at the center of Shiva's worship and in all of Shiva's temples. With such splendid origin, it is no wonder that many Shiva lingas in temples large and small are said to be svayambhu, "self-born" or spontaneously manifest, rather than established by human hands.
[Ravi: That's the origin of the term jyotirlinga! And the linga in the temple is a symbolically small version of this infinite pillar of light! Very interesting for me, as I am utterly fascinated by Shiva worship nowadays.]

The self-limitation of the cosmic, the shrinking of the immense to be accessible on a human scale, is a theme played on with brilliance in the mythic lore of many Hindu temples. In one sense every temple contains small images that represent a vast and unfathomable reality. This is the very meaning of the symbolic sensibility at the core of religious life everywhere.
[Ravi: Terrific! Hats off to Prof. Diana Eck for her superb understanding and expression of the core Upanishadic/Vedanta type beliefs in the imagery and mythology associated with Hindu temples.]


The divine expands, evolving as if from seed, and stretching into the immense, indeed infinite reality of the cosmos, which lives and breathes. And, in tum, the divine withdraws that vast complexity into the seed of Being itself. This dynamic streams through the vivid symbolic realms of Hindu thought and image, and the linga in this world is the symbol par excellence. The infinite contracts and is concentrated in image and form so that the sacred may be present to human sense and vision.
[Ravi: Awesome, man, awesome!!!]


Unfortunately, even in the 1970s, the translators of the first English edition of the Shiva Purana decided to translate linga as "phallic emblem," perpetuating this symbolic distortion. Such a translation is not completely erroneous, but it does not in the least convey what Hindus have seen and understood in this symbol. It is as inadequate as would be an interpretation of the Christian eucharist that saw the rite first and foremost as ritual cannibalism, eating the body and drinking its blood, and could not get beyond such an interpretation to any deeper and more complex understanding.

[Ravi: From The Eucharist, also called Holy Communion, the Lord's Supper, and other names, is a sacrament accepted by almost all Christians. It is reenacted in accordance with Jesus' instruction at the Last Supper, as recorded in several books of the New Testament, that his followers do in remembrance of him as when he gave his disciples bread, saying, "This is my body", and gave them wine saying, "This is my blood."
--- end wiki extract ---

What a fantastic comparison (Eucharist) to show to those Christians who look down upon linga worship! BTW Prof. Diana Eck was raised as a Christian, and seems to now have an interfaith approach.

It seems to me that a vital aspect of spiritual enlightenment involves broadening the mind and transcending mundane bodily realities (and the body does have quite a few unpleasant mundane realities). It is all in the vision. If one chooses to look at a religious object/image only from a narrow-minded worldly perspective then one gets trapped in that perspective. Instead if one chooses to view it from a spiritually and/or religiously broad perspective (infinite contracted to smaller form so that humans can worship the sacred) then one gets higher spiritual/religious benefits from that worship.]


But the linga, as is clear from the myth of the jyotirlinga, is the symbol or emblem of nishkala Shiva -the fractionless, transcendent, and supreme Lord. The linga is the emblem of Shiva's unfathomable presence.

---- end excerpts from Prof. Diana Eck's India: A sacred geography ----

Readers may also want to view this post of mine, Sathya Sai Baba Lingodhbhavam and his views on Shiva Linga worship,