Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Deeply touching divine saga of elephant daughter Sai Geetha and Sathya Sai Baba

The deeply touching, utterly fascinating and Divine saga of an elephant daughter (Sai Geetha) of Sathya Sai Baba (Swami) and their love for each other shared by Sai Geetha's loving caretaker, http://media.radiosai.org/journals/vol_13/01JUN15/Commendable-Servitors-Of-The-Lord-3-Pedda-Reddy-caretaker-of-Sai-Geetha-part-01.htm.

Some points [in square brackets prefixed with Ravi:] & extracts (usually in quotes):

[Ravi: Pedda Reddy garu telling us about Swami coming to see the passed away body of Sai Geetha]

“I cannot forget that day ever. It was not even seven in the morning and Swami's car was already there. As He alighted eagerly, His eyes were only searching for the body of Sai Geetha that now lay silent and still. The moment He saw her, Swami clasped my hands and broke down. He started weeping like a baby. Seeing Him in that stage, the dam within me also burst. I just could not hold myself any longer and succumbed to a sea of tears.

“Swami held on to my palms just as a best friend would hold you and cry in a moment of intense grief, somehow to lessen the sense of loss and find some solace. At one point, His grip grew tighter and then He looked into my eyes and shaking with anguish said, ‘We have lost a great devotee... I have lost My great devotee’."
[Ravi: The daughter knew that the father's time to give up the body was close which she could not bear to see and so quit her body before (in May 2007), which knowledge her father (Swami) later confirmed to some physically close persons; How the daughter revealed her light body to her loving caretaker.]

"In fact even I was startled when this happened to me for the first time sometime in 2002-03. One night after I finished her work and was about to leave, I heard a voice calling out to me in Telugu. It was soft, serene, warm and welcoming. I wondered who was calling me and looked around but there was no one. When the call was repeated, I paid attention towards the direction of its source and can you imagine what I saw? It was not Sai Geetha anymore. Instead, where she stood, I saw a resplendent halo of bright light. It was this light that began to speak to me. Since that day, I have had many conversations with this Bright Light, generally during the nights.

“Actually when Swami had His first fracture in 2003, I asked her if Swami would walk again and she clearly said, ‘No, He is never going to walk normally. Swami has decided to slowly conclude His earthly sojourn’. And then, she stated something that completely shook me. She said, 'I too do not want to live long. I cannot stay here if He is not here.’
[Swami:]‘When I mention Sai Geetha, I am not deeply grief-stricken. In fact, I have no sorrow. I am never worried. I am not remorseful at all. It is only Vatsalyam – Supreme Maternal Love. When she arrived, I applied honey to my finger and put it in her mouth and she went on sipping. Later, I fed her milk through a feeding bottle, and from then on she forgot about her mother. I christened her Sai Geetha.’

[Pedda Reddy:] “So true. She is His daughter,”
[Ravi: Radio Sai author is describing Swami's words on the day Sai Geetha was buried, May 22nd 2007]

“That is exactly what Swami said to the boys that morning,” I added, “After revealing how she was waiting for Him, Swami became intensely emotional and physically tired too. So He took to His chair. His voice then grew feeble. But then He said something that rattled everyone within earshot. It was so disturbing that Prof. Anil Kumar too did not want to translate it. So only a few people actually understood what He said. Fortunately we have that video and now when we see the recording we can watch Swami clearly saying in Telugu - ‘Sai Geetha left because she did not want to live when I am not here.’”

“That is precisely what she told me,” Mr. Pedda Reddy continued, “She just could not imagine her life without Swami. Her connection with Swami was so solid and her love for Him so intense, so pure and so potent."
“I must tell you this,” Mr. Pedda Reddy went on, “At the time of the inauguration of the Indoor Stadium, Swami brought Dr. Narendranath Reddy in His car. Seeing the love that Swami had for Sai Geetha, he asked, ‘Swami, what will she be in her next life?’ Swami replied, ‘No rebirth for her. This is her last life. No more birth or death for her.’ I remember how Dr. Reddy rushed to me later to share these prophetic words.”
From the second part, http://media.radiosai.org/journals/vol_13/01JUN15/Commendable-Servitors-Of-The-Lord-3-Pedda-Reddy-caretaker-of-Sai-Geetha-part-02.htm:

[Ravi: The loving caretaker's tyaagajeevi saga who gave up a lecturer job (he has a Masters in Science degree) to provide Seva in Prasanthi Nilayam and lived as an ideal frugal tyaagajeevi servant of the Lord]

“Were you getting any salary?” I could not resist asking this question.

“No, I wanted to serve freely. When I came I had brought with me Rs. 3,000 [Ravi: In 1972]. I had planned to manage with this as long as I could, with basic self-cooking. But Swami told me to keep this amount in the bank and gave instructions to Mr. Kutumba Rao on the first day itself that I should always be given free food in the canteen. For what else do I need money? Bhagawan gave me clothes a couple of times or more in a year along with stitching charges. So I never had the need to buy my dresses. In fact I have not bought a single piece of cloth in the last 45 years that I have stayed in Puttaparthi. The only other expense is soap and razor, which cost less than Rs.50 per month. I cut my own hair with two mirrors and do my own laundry. My brother used to send me some money and that would last the whole year. So why do I need salary?

“However when the University came into being in 1980 Swami asked me to work in the library too. I was now given a honorarium of Rs. 400 per month. I accepted this for a few months but later when the college officials objected to me working anywhere else I declined this offer. So I continued to serve in the canteen and in the library in the early '80s.

[Ravi: I think this frugal Tyaagajeevi of Puttaparthi, Pedda Reddy garu, is really an inspiring role model for serious spiritual aspriants/sadhakas even if their path may not involve leading such a challenging work schedule along with such a spiritually heroic frugal lifestyle.]

[I have presumed that Radio Sai would not mind me sharing some extracts from their article as this post is free for interested readers, without any financial profit motive whatsoever.]

Muddenahalli subtle body claims - biggest spiritual test in post-Mahasamadhi phase of Sathya Sai mission

Last updated on 1st July 2015

What can Sai orgn. leaders do if some Sai devotees (including Sai university alumni and former teachers, warden & vice-chancellor) choose to not listen to them when the Sai orgn. leaders share Swami's words/instructions (not their own words, but SWAMI'S WORDS/INSTRUCTIONS) given in public discourses, to Sai devotees to ignore claims of mediums (and communicators)?

In a recent FB post sharing Dr Narendranath Reddy, Prasanthi Council chairman (international org. chairman)'s, June 2014 message to Sai devotees sharing Swami's words/instructions to ignore mediums (and communicators), http://www.sathyasai.org/files2014/20140610FollowtheDivineMaster.pdf, I made the following comment which I felt appropriate to share as a Facebook post itself (slightly edited):

I recall this from last year. Dr. N. Reddy has categorically and unequivocally condemned Muddenahalli (MDH) chosen communicator and subtle body claim using Swami's own words from public discourses. I think that is a very clear signal from Dr. N. Reddy as PC chairman to all Sai devotees who care to listen to him. Perhaps the problem in the international Sai orgn. is that some Sathya Sai devotees are choosing to ignore Swami's own words from public discourses, as stated above by Dr. N. Reddy (and elsewhere by other leaders of the Sai orgn. including Prof. Anil Kumar Kamaraju, Prof. G. Venkataraman (Radio Sai) and Shri V. Srinivasan (All India chairman, and trustee, SSSCT)). Now I honestly think that it perhaps has been and continues to be the destiny of some Sathya Sai devotees to get caught up in the MDH false belief. Their Karma, as we say in India. In fact, I now feel that MDH subtle body claims have been a very big spiritual test in the post-Mahasamadhi phase of Sathya Sai mission. Those who had a good understanding of Swami's teachings in this regard and/or followed the words of the official Sai orgn. leaders mentioned above, were able to reject MDH claims and stay away from it.

Fun & Frolic aspect of young Sathya Sai Baba

I think this photo captures the fun & frolic aspect of the young Swami. By the time I came into His fold (around 1993 when I was in Mumbai, and moving to Puttaparthi in late 2002), it was a more mature Swami who used to love humour (as could be seen by me even though I was not physically close to Him) but was not really into fun & frolic then, at least publicly.

Thanks to brother Roshan S. Sai for sharing this photo on Facebook. I have presumed he would not mind me putting it up on this free blog for the benefit of interested readers, without any financial profit motive whatsoever.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Isn't ethics by itself, religion?

In a Facebook post comment exchange I had responded:

I think India needs to have more of religion and ethics in the public sphere but in such a way that all religions including ethical people who do not follow any religion feel honoured. That may be easier said than done.
That resulted in a question being posted to me:
Don't you think that ethics by itself is religion?

I responded as follows:

No brother. Religion, IMHO, necessarily involves belief in life after death (of the body) and a divine power (an "unseen" power) which in some sense judges people (e.g. Karma in Hinduism (and also, I guess, Jainism & Buddhism)). As an example of "ethical people who do not follow any religion" you may want to see the British Humanist Association (BHA) website, https://humanism.org.uk/. I think a few top scientists in India working in institutions like Indian Institute of Science, especially those that did some higher studies in the West (e.g Ph.D. in science), are very supportive of ideas & lifestyles promoted by BHA.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Is religion when only a consolation, a hindrance to true faith? Issues with reading scripture with an atheist lens

In the context of a quote of Simone Weil given below, I made the comments given after the quote:

"Religion in so far as it is a source of consolation is a hindrance to true faith; and in this sense atheism is a purification. I have to be an atheist with that part of myself which is not made for God. Among those in whom the supernatural part of themselves has not been awakened, the atheists are right and the believers wrong.", Simone Weil, in "Faiths of Meditation; Contemplation of the divine" as translated in The Simone Weil Reader (1957) edited by George A. Panichas, p. 417, https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Christian_atheism

Slightly edited comments of mine follow without the comments of others. I have tried to edit the comments to make the flow reasonable without comment responses of others.

I looked at the above Simone Weil quotation twice, with a break in between, but I am not able to relate to it. The issue of doubt coming into the spiritual path, whether it be the devotional path or the wisdom path, is a different matter. I think doubt is quite common in spiritual journeys, no matter what the religion/tradition/sect/path. But, atheism, especially when it is taken to mean as a conviction that there is no divine power/no God, is different from doubt. Doubt holds the possibility of the divine being there, but wonders why the divine is not doing something that the doubter expects it to do. .... So that's my humble take on the matter. Maybe I did not understand the context of Simone Weil's words well - anyway, I am afraid I don't have the time now to read up her full document.


In this context, I would like share that Sathya Sai Baba is reported to have said 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, http://ravisiyer.blogspot.in/2014/03/sathya-sai-baba-said-atheists-can-also.html. I think these words are true. My belief is that the ultimate issue is the matter of identification changing from the mind-body complex to the inner changeless awareness/consciousness, which is projecting the whole drama of creation.

About religion when being only a source of consolation being a hindrance to true faith OR a part of oneself having to be atheist: Now, for a deeper discussion of the matter, one will have to get Simone Weil's definition of the terms 'true faith' and 'atheist' and then do some hair-splitting kind of logical analysis. Maybe it is not worth spending time on such hair-splitting.

In our times, the term atheist is typically understood to be somebody who is convinced that there is no divine power (and, typically, that on death of the body everything is over for that person). [However, some, especially some of the top rationalists & scientists who oppose religion, hold the view that atheist should be understood as not theist i.e. not a believer in God. In other words, atheist should not be understood to mean that a person is convinced that there is no God.]

My strong belief is that all is God, even the rational faculty that we possess is a manifestation of God. Exercising the rational faculty within certain spheres of life (like my former profession of software development) does not mean that we are using an atheist part of ourselves. And a deity like Jesus Christ being a source of consolation may actually strengthen that person's faith and take him/her closer to merging with God even though the person may not have a proper logical understanding of the concept of God. It has been my experience in my spiritual journey over the past two decades & more, that deep faith in God is a far more powerful spiritual capability/feature than a powerful logical analysis faculty. When the situation becomes a real test, I have invariably found that the person with deep faith eventually passes the test, even if that person may be seen to have failed from a material perspective. I mean, the person may lose money or even health but he/she still has faith and is able to lead a fairly peaceful and loving life due to that unshaken faith. Whereas the powerful logical analysis faculty person with limited faith can simply lose his/her faith and become a psychological wreck, when he/she is put to a severe test.


To my mind, part of your response raises a question, "Does consolation alone, in Christ or the Virgin Mary or any other deity/formless divinity of any other religion, have the power to obliterate the Ego?" I believe the answer to be Yes, as somebody who surrenders completely to the will of the Lord (via chosen deity or formless divinity like Allah) and becomes, so to speak, a slave of the Lord, accepting anything and everything that happens to him/her as the Will of the Lord, does obliterate the ego. The path to obliteration of the ego may be different from a wisdom/analytical path but the result is achievement of the same goal.

An atheist lens to interrogate scripture like the gospels is something that I am very uncomfortable with today. As a youngster under the influence of science (I am a Physics graduate by academic training though my work/profession was not related to Physics at all), I used a similar agnostic lens to read Hindu scripture about the Avatars like Rama and Krishna, and tended to agree with a lot of skeptic Indian intellectuals that the miracles reported there are more of poetic imagination of the authors rather than real incidents.

It was much later, a decade plus later, due to certain challenges in life that really shook me up, that I joined communities which had faith in these accounts of Hindu Avatars, and so started reading such Hindu scripture with faith. The experience of reading it with faith was a very different one from the "agnostic lens" reading I had done as a youngster! Later, as I came under the influence of a great contemporary spiritual master, I saw and experienced enough paranormal power incidents to strengthen my faith that, yes, miracles/paranormal events, are certainly possible. Divine Grace DOES have the ability to intercede in human affairs!

Today, if a rationalist skeptic reads the gospels through an "atheist lens" they will surely arrive at a different conclusion than Weil, at least on some aspects, and not agree that the teachings of Christ are worth following. I speak from experience of having privately discussed the accounts of Jesus Christ, as given in the New Testament, with a leading contemporary scientist, who is a nice guy, and is a die-hard rationalist, and is quite critical of most religions, including Christianity. Not only do the rationalist skeptics contest the miracles of scripture (of various religions), they strongly contest the view that belief in God (like what was taught by Jesus Christ) does good for society! And these guys are brilliant, just brilliant, in their logical analysis.

I agree entirely on most people of faith experiencing doubt. I certainly have had my fair share of doubt, and who knows, may face doubt in future too. Though I do earnestly pray to Almighty God that I be spared any further scary and painful experience(s) of doubt.


How race relations were in USA South around the 1850s; Treatment of Hindu Dalits around same time; Sai Baba: There is only one caste; the caste of humanity

Some extracts from the article about USA South view about race just before USA civil war (around 1850s), http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/06/what-this-cruel-war-was-over/396482/:

... in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations;
Free Society! we sicken at the name. What is it but a conglomeration of greasy mechanics, filthy operatives, small-fisted farmers, and moon-struck theorists? All the Northern men and especially the New England States are devoid of society fitted for well-bred gentlemen. The prevailing class one meet with is that of mechanics struggling to be genteel, and small farmers who do their own drudgery, and yet are hardly fit for association with a Southern gentleman's body servant.
--- end extracts ---

I decided against more extracts as I felt it may be too painful for readers!

Of course, Hindu upper caste treatment of the Dalits and so-called backward castes was perhaps as bad around the same time (1850s).

Thank God for Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba very clearly making and strongly supporting/disseminating statements like:
There is only one caste; the caste of humanity.
There is only one religion; the religion of love.
There is only one God, He is Omnipresent.
[Ref: http://www.srisathyasai.org.in/pages/his_teachings/Unity_of_Faiths.htm]

Forgiveness has nothing to do with the other person

"The act of forgiveness takes place in your own mind. It really has nothing to do with the other person." - Louise Hay, http://www.louisehay.com/forgiveness/

I think the message above is the truth, howsoever hard it may be for us to accept it. Forgiving somebody who caused hurt to us, and does not show remorse, IMHO, does not mean that we need to trust him/her again. We can simply avoid such persons (who do not show any remorse for their hurtful actions against us in the past), and also take adequate precautions & actions to prevent being hurt by them again. But we should give up, or rather try to give up, any desire for revenge, any desire to see them get their comeuppance. Let the Lord take care of that.

USA President Obama in Charleston eulogy: God has visited Grace upon us

Transcript of a snippet from around 14:42 to 21:12, in "President Obama Delivers Eulogy at Charleston Shooting Funeral of Clementa Pinckney [FULL SPEECH]", https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RK7tYOVd0Hs, 37 min. 36 secs, published on Jun. 26th 2015:

We do not know whether the killer of Rev. Pinckney and eight others knew all of this history (Ravi: of this Charleston church), but he surely sensed the meaning of his violent act. It was an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random, but as a means of control; a way to terrorize and oppress [applause]. And acts that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination, violence and suspicion. And acts that he presumed would deepen divisions that would trace back to our nation's original sin.

Ohhh! But God works in mysterious ways! [Applause] God has different ideas. He didn't know he was being used by God. Blinded by hatred the alleged killer could not see the Grace surrounding Rev. Pinckney and that Bible study group. The light of love that shone as they opened the church door and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle. The alleged killer could have never anticipated the ways the family of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court in the midst of unspeakable grief with words of forgiveness. He couldn't imagine that. [Standing applause]

The alleged killer could not imagine how the city of Charleston under the good and wise leadership of Mayor Riley, how the state of South Carolina, how the United States of America would respond, not merely with revulsion at his evil act, but with big hearted generosity. And more importantly, with the thoughtful introspection, self-examination that we so rarely see in public life.

Blinded by hatred he failed to comprehend what Rev. Pinckney so well understood. The power of God's Grace! [Applause] This whole week I have been reflecting on this idea of Grace. The Grace of the families who lost loved ones, the Grace that Rev. Pinckney would preach about in his sermon, Grace described in my favourite hymns, the one we all know.

Amazing Grace!
How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind but now I see!

[Ravi: See below for the timestamp of him singing the song later]

According to the Christian tradition, Grace is not earned, Grace is not merited, it is not something we deserve. Rather Grace is the free and benevolent favour of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners, in the bestowal of blessings. Grace (in) a nation out of this terrible tragedy.

God has visited Grace upon us, for He has allowed us to see what we have been blind (to see). He has given us the chance where we have been lost to find our best selves. We may not have earned it, this Grace, with our rancour and complacency and short-sightedness and fear of each other. But we got it all the same. He gave it to us anyway. He has once more given us Grace. But it is upto us now to make the most of it. To receive it with gratitude, and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.

---- end transcript of snippet -----

[Around 35:20 USA President Obama sings the words of the Amazing Grace song given earlier]

Ravi: I am just bowled over by the spiritual fire shown by USA president Obama and the congregation at the Charleston church which saw tragedy a few days ago, his spiritually uplifting way of viewing the tragedy, the magnificent forgiveness shown by some of the victims' families, and how all of this resulted in a stronger city of Charleston (and beyond) completely defeating the killer's savage objectives. Readers may want to view a related blog post : "The awesome Christian act of forgiveness by the families of the Charleston, USA shooting victims", dated June 20th 2015, http://ravisiyer.blogspot.in/2015/06/the-awesome-christian-act-of.html.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

One is Lucky if one's mind is fed up of worldly objects; Sannyaasa Yogam (good fortune to be a renunciant)

In a Facebook post the following quote (and an accompanying photo) of Siddarameshwar Maharaj, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siddharameshwar, (I do not know of him) was provided: "Consider yourself lucky if your mind becomes fed up with worldly objects. The 'Goddess of Sensuality' is very fond of human sacrifice, and she likes it fried alive!"

I made the following comments (slightly edited) on the post:

Terrific! Vairaagya or Vairaagyam (detachment) does not come easy, the wise say. Some knowledgeable people even say that, many times, Vairaagyam in a person is due to previous birth activities/efforts. BTW, did you know of the term, 'sannyaasa yogam', used by Indian astrologers? Roughly translated it means the 'good fortune to be a renunciant'. I know of one case where a loving female relative took the traditional Hindu, South Indian style, horoscope of a male relative of hers, who was not yet married, to a South Indian astrologer asking about his marriage prospects. The astrologer studied the horoscope and said, something to the effect: Marriage for this man? There must be some mistake. As he has 'sannyaasa yogam'. .... True to the astrologer's prediction the man stayed unmarried (he is in his 50's now and still unmarried).
In the traditional Indian context, the biggest thing in life, when it comes to attachment to the world, is marriage. Many times, the Hindu male marries for family reasons - to take care of elders, even for very prosaic stuff like food being cooked at home, and the home being taken care of. In course of time, usually, children arrive, and the male is well and truly into 'grihasthaashrama' (family householder mode of life), and is expected to follow grihasthaashrama dharma (code of conduct for the householder as laid down in Hindu scripture and as interpreted by Hindu religious heads/community heads; though this is in quite an informal setting as Hinduism is not that strongly organized a religion as say Islam or Christianity). I think that it is a pretty good system. BTW I expect it to be somewhat similar for other religion males in traditional India - like Muslims and Christians, but there would be some variance. I am not writing about the females part as I prefer to leave it to Hindu females to write about it.

Fascinatingly, in traditional Hindu marriages there is a kind of warning issued to the male, prior to him getting married, as part of the marriage ritual itself. In South Indian Tamil Iyer marriage rituals (which I have seen many times as I come from that group) the man, prior to the marriage getting solemnised, acts as if he is going on a pilgrimage trip to Kaashi (Varanasi)! From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iyer_wedding#Kashi_Yatra : "The groom is dressed in the traditional “Panchakatcham” veshti. He also holds an umbrella, a fan, a walking stick, and a towel containing dhal and rice tied to his shoulder. He then sets off on a mock pilgrimage to pursue further religious studies, and renounce worldly pursuits. As he steps out of the wedding hall, the bride's father intervenes and advocates for the superiority of married life to an ascetic life. He also promises to give his daughter as companion to face the challenges of life. The groom accepts and returns to the mandapam to get married. The umbrella is to remain with the groom, to remind him in the future of this advice."

[Additional point not in my FB post comment: I always viewed the Kaashi Yatra ritual in these Iyer weddings as a clear sign that the elders and the wise in the community, have great respect for those who choose to pursue religious efforts/religious studies further and renounce worldly pursuits, and that those who took to that life were not only to be respected and revered, but were also lucky to have escaped 'samsaara saagaraa' (the difficult sea/ocean of worldly life). But it was also understood that very, very few would actually be able to do it (i.e. most would get married). Now as a 50+ years old guy, I feel that it is truly wonderful that through this Kashi Yatra Iyer wedding ritual, the elders of that community have beautifully and subtly conveyed to youngsters, a comparison between renunciant life and married life.]
[In response to a comment referring to Swami (Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba) saying "you have two legs, (after) marriage, 4 legs, (after) children, 6,8 10,12, legs. then you become a centipede."]
That was the typical and frequent quote of Swami. I will never ever forget it. So simply put and yet so powerful in terms of conveying the meaning - 2 feet, 4 feet, 6 feet, 8 feet .... :-). One must also mention that Swami would not oppose people who either strongly desired to get married or were willing to do so, for family reasons. I mean, he was not against marriage. He just put out the pros & cons of it clearly, and then left it to the individuals' choice (and perhaps destiny). And for those who were married (or wanted to get married), here is a May 2010 short discourse of his, having simple but superb advise to the husband/husband-to-be and wife/wife-to-be, http://www.saibabaofindia.com/SRI-SATHYA-SAI-BABA-DISCOURSE-18-may-2010.htm.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Sathya Sai Baba: "Why Fear When I am Here" - My interpretation of it

Last updated on 24th June 2015

Taking Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba's (Swami's) statement of "Why fear when I am here" to mean that we should aggressively counter each and every injustice that plagues the world, is NOT the right interpretation of Swami's statement, IMHO. I think it applies more to situations where one is following the principles of Sathya, Dharma, Shanti & Prema (which implies the vital principle of tolerance), but one is still faced with terrible threats. At that time, one should pray to Swami and be assured that He will protect us. One should not forget that Swami has also asked us to avoid bad company. Swami did not tell us to aggressively mix with bad company and force them to change their bad ways.

[This seems to be in line with the famous saying: Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. So, IMHO, spiritual people including Sai devotees following principles of tolerance (sahanamu) should not get provoked into doing something foolish by somebody calling them cowards, or their behaviour, cowardly. Just by somebody calling spiritual people, including Sai devotees, who practise tolerance, cowards, does not make them cowards. Being confronted by serious aggression which harms or threatens to harm oneself or one's loved ones is another matter altogether, of course, IMHO. At that time, IMHO, one should pray to Swami, be courageous, and fight the aggressive opponent(s) as needed to prevent them from inflicting harm or further harm.]

About fear (being scared) itself, I certainly have fear and am not fearless. Further, I think having some fear is wise. One must know one's strengths, weaknesses and limitations, and counter threats and face problems using a strategy suited to that.

In this context I would like to add that Swami would say that sometimes His devotees would get scared (have Bhaya) and that He is there to remove that fear/Bhaya (and make them fearless/Abhaya). BTW Swami's famous blessing hand gesture is called the "Abhaya Hasta" gesture (in Sanskrit, I presume) literally translated as "Fearless Palm". Here's a nice pic of Swami showing the Abhaya Hasta gesture, http://www.saibabaofindia.com/june2011/mother-ma-sri-sathya-sai-baba-blessings-abhya-hasta-mudra.jpg.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Visionary & Inspiring words for the world from Indian PM Modi on 1st International Yoga Day, 21st June 2015

Extracts from Indian PM Modi's remarks at International Conference on Yoga for Holistic Health, held on 1st International Yoga Day, 21st June 2015, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx?relid=122667 [Release ID :122667]

Today we are celebrating the first International Day of Yoga. When I spoke at the United Nations General Assembly on 27 September, 2014, urging the world community to adopt an international day of yoga, little did I know the kind of unprecedented response our proposal would receive.

The community of nations responded as one. On December 11, 2014 the 193-member United Nations General Assembly approved the proposal by consensus with a record 177 co-sponsoring countries.
As I stand here today the International Day of Yoga is being celebrated across the world.
I am grateful to the international community for the support. I acknowledge with all humility that this support is not just for India. This support is for the great tradition of yoga, the tradition that helps individuals and societies to discover a sense of oneness with the self, with each other and nature.

The reach and spread of yoga spans continents, cuts across differences of colour, class and creed. I am told that there are communities of yoga practitioners in almost every country in the world.

From the banks of the river Indus to every continent in the world yoga has spread harmony between man and nature and a holistic approach to health and wellbeing.
In order to benefit fully from yoga, to understand yoga in its entirety, we must understand who is a yogi.

A yogi is a person who is in harmony – with herself, her body, with her surroundings, with nature. Yoga is the means to achieve that harmony.

From the Upanishads, comes the idea of Yoga to transform human consciousness through control of body and senses through constant practice. The body is the vehicle for the realization of the Supreme Being.
People often think that yoga is just a set of exercises. Yoga is a philosophy of discipline and meditation that transforms the spirit and makes the individual a better person in thought, action, knowledge and devotion.

The problems of modern lifestyles are well known. People suffer from stress related ailments, lifestyle related diseases like diabetes and hyper-tension. We have found ways to control communicable diseases, but the burden of disease is shifting to non-communicable diseases. Young people who are not at peace with themselves seek refuge in drugs and alcohol. There is ample evidence that (practising) yoga helps combat stress and chronic conditions. If the body is a temple of the mind, yoga creates a beautiful temple.

The benefits of yoga are manifold. When practised correctly and with discipline, Yoga leads to:

Perfection of our body’s potential in strength, skill, and general well-being, peaceful and stress-free living.
Control and mastery of our life-energies (प्राण) leading to health, long and disease-free life, capacity for full enjoyment of life.

Opening and refining of the heart’s emotions leading to greater compassion, mutual understanding, and sensitivity to the needs of others.

Full development of our mental powers, leading to heightened concentration, intelligence, creativity, intuition.

Liberation of our spirit from ignorance, suffering, incapacity, leading to freedom, equality, constant joyfulness and inner strength to overcome all challenges of life. It awakens the deeper sense of unity and oneness with the whole Universe and all living beings.

Together, these lead to the realisation of our highest divine Perfection.

At a community level, the evolution of the individual through yoga results in:

Reduction of greed, coarseness and violence in thought and action.

Enormous reduction in the cost of healthcare and social support.

A dramatic reduction in conflicts and misunderstandings within families, communities, and between nations.

Increased collaboration and effective teamwork in businesses and communities

Compassion towards all beings: plants, animals and humans and long-term and ecological thinking in all socio-economic planning.

Increased power of innovation, technology and knowledge; deeper impact of art, music, poetry, dance to uplift the quality of life and an overall increase in the pace of human development and evolution.

To sum up, in a world of excess, of seeking after materialism, yoga promises restraint and balance. In a world suffering from mental stress, yoga promises calm. In a distracted world, yoga creates focus, creates concentration. In a world of fear, yoga promises strength and courage. A healthy body and a disciplined mind are the foundations of a world free from fear. In crafting a new self through Yoga, we create a new world.

We live in a world that is divided, in a world in conflict over material gains. A world in conflict over failures to understand each other. How shall we understand each other, if we do not understand ourselves?

Swami Vivekanand says in his book on Rajyoga – “Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this Divinity within by controlling nature, external and internal. Do this either by work, or worship, or control, or philosophy – by one, or more, or all of these -- and be free. This is the whole of religion. Doctrines, or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms, are but secondary details.”

It is this freedom that will free us from misunderstandings, from doubt, from conflict, and lead us towards world peace.

We are at a point in history, where global warming threatens the world as we know it. The world’s ecology is threatened by human greed and excess. Yoga shows the way to consumption that is healthy, balanced, and in tune with nature.

We will need to raise a generation that lives according to these principles if we want to leave the world habitable for future generations.

Sri Aurobindo said “Indian Yoga is potentially one of these dynamic elements of the future life of humanity. it is now emerging from the secret schools and ascetic retreats in which it had taken refuge and is seeking its place in the future sum of living human powers and utilities.”

The spread of yoga, therefore, is the symbol of a changing world. In the past, yoga was the preserve of a select few saints. Today, it is available to all - in the words of Patanjali, “सार्वभौम” or a universal culture.

It represents a world where knowledge flows, without restriction of country, creed or class. It represents a world where people come together across boundaries, for causes and concerns that unite the planet.
As we work to make the benefits of yoga accessible to the whole world, we will also work to keep barriers to knowledge down, to ensure free flow of knowledge and information across boundaries. We will work to maintain an open world free of prejudice and discrimination.

I greet all present here today, my fellow (travellers) in spreading the message of yoga. I greet all my fellow practitioners in different countries who are present here in spirit. Yoga is our collective gift to humanity. It may have originated in India, but it draws its energies from the millions who practice it around the world. International Yoga Day is not the brainchild of a government or of the United Nations. It is a reflection of the largest knowledge based peoples’ movement the world has ever seen. A movement of people whose lives have been touched, been changed by yoga. We will take this movement forward to aim for better health, more fulfilled lives and more connected communities.

On this day, I also pledge the spirit of India, the collective energy of our people, to the creation of a more equal world, a world without fear, a world of peace. We will build on the foundations of the Indian spirit and its creative genius to reach out and foster a culture of inclusiveness, of fraternity, of one global family – वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम.

I will end with the grand invocation of good health and peace – the Shanti Paath,
Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah
Sarve Santu Niramaya
Sarve Bhadrani Pasyantu
Ma Kascit Dukkha Bhagbhavet

May All Be Happy
May all be free from illness
May all see that which is auspicious
May no one suffer 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sathya Sai Baba on Advaita Darshanam Jnaanam (experience of non-dualism is wisdom/knowledge)

Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba on Adi Shankara lecturing on Advaita, as a young man to a conference of scholars in Kasi (Varanasi, India) (Please note that the English translation of Jnaanam below uses the words wisdom and knowledge interchangeably):

Many scholars started asking him (Adi Shankara) questions, "What is the principle of Advaita"? "It is nothing but the vision of oneness. Advaita Darshanam Jnanam (experience of non-dualism is wisdom)". What is this knowledge? Is is physical knowledge, worldly knowledge or secular knowledge? None of these. It is the knowledge of the Self. That is the fundamental knowledge. But no scholar is making efforts today to recognise this fundamental principle. Understand this truth clearly. Jewels are many, but gold is one. Likewise, the fundamental principle of the entire creation is only one although it manifests in various names and forms.
The above extract is from Bhagavan's discourse on 7th September 1996 as reported in Sanathana Sarathi (English), June 2015.

Ravi: For me, "Advaita Darshanam Jnanam" is a deeply held and cherished belief but I have not had any such experience of non-dualism (and so I am not "wise" or a "Jnaani"). Further, as of now, to be frank, I am not interested in having such experiences as I think I will not be able to handle such experiences, and the great changes that such experiences will, I am quite sure, bring to one's life.

Bhagavan, I deeply believe, lived in that experience of oneness, and his divine powers of knowing what others have done or are thinking seems to me to have some relation to the Advaita oneness experience that He lived in.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The awesome Christian act of forgiveness by the families of the Charleston, USA shooting victims

Transcript of this CNN video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIRcGwBrdbE, 1 min. 46 secs., where the victims' families are saying their forgiveness in court, via video, to the shooter:

"I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you.”

“I forgive you and my family forgive(s) you. But we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters the most: Christ. So that He can change you and change your ways, no matter what happens to you, you’ll be okay. Do that. ...”

“We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms. You have killed some of the most prettifullest (beautiful)  people that I know. Every fiber in my body hurts and I’ll never be the same. Tywanza Sanders was my son. But Tywanza was my hero. Tywanza was my hero. But as we said in the Bible study, we enjoyed you.… May God have mercy on you.”

--- end transcript of video ----

USA president Obama tweeted, https://twitter.com/POTUS/status/611993830980747265, "In the midst of darkest tragedy, the decency and goodness of the American people shines through in these families." giving this ABC news tweet having pic of shooter in court, https://twitter.com/ABC/status/611972235079741441, with the text, '"I forgive you," family member of #Charlestonshooting victim tells alleged gunman in court'.

Ravi (I put the following comment on the youtube video as well): I am awed by these Christian acts of the African-American families of Charleston, South Carolina, USA, whose relatives died due to the senseless act of violence by the young 21 year old boy shown in the video. I hope to learn from these great Christians of our current times, about forgiving those who hurt me even if they have no feelings of repentance for their hurtful & wrong actions. What a great example these African-American families have set which is so in keeping with the words of Jesus Christ on the cross, as per the Bible, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do", https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+23%3A34&version=KJV!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Twelve paragraphs from Pope Francis' encyclical on urgent need to address pollution and climate change

Last updated on June 20th 2015

These paragraphs are from Pope Francis encyclical (circular letter), sub-titled, "ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME", http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html, shared with the public around June 18th 2015 (the official date of the document given towards the end of it, is 24th May 2015). I read the initial parts of the long document and then quickly browsed through the rest.

[As this post is free for interested readers with no financial profit motive whatsoever, I have presumed that the Vatican authorities would not mind me putting down a few extracts from it, below.]

Saint Francis of Assisi

10. I do not want to write this Encyclical without turning to that attractive and compelling figure, whose name I took as my guide and inspiration when I was elected Bishop of Rome. I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically. He is the patron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecology, and he is also much loved by non-Christians. He was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast. He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.
My appeal

13. The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home. Here I want to recognize, encourage and thank all those striving in countless ways to guarantee the protection of the home which we share. Particular appreciation is owed to those who tirelessly seek to resolve the tragic effects of environmental degradation on the lives of the world’s poorest. Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded.

14. I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all. The worldwide ecological movement has already made considerable progress and led to the establishment of numerous organizations committed to raising awareness of these challenges. Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity. As the bishops of Southern Africa have stated: “Everyone’s talents and involvement are needed to redress the damage caused by human abuse of God’s creation”. All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents.
18. The continued acceleration of changes affecting humanity and the planet is coupled today with a more intensified pace of life and work which might be called “rapidification”. Although change is part of the working of complex systems, the speed with which human activity has developed contrasts with the naturally slow pace of biological evolution. Moreover, the goals of this rapid and constant change are not necessarily geared to the common good or to integral and sustainable human development. Change is something desirable, yet it becomes a source of anxiety when it causes harm to the world and to the quality of life of much of humanity.

19. Following a period of irrational confidence in progress and human abilities, some sectors of society are now adopting a more critical approach. We see increasing sensitivity to the environment and the need to protect nature, along with a growing concern, both genuine and distressing, for what is happening to our planet. Let us review, however cursorily, those questions which are troubling us today and which we can no longer sweep under the carpet. Our goal is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.

20. Some forms of pollution are part of people’s daily experience. Exposure to atmospheric pollutants produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor, and causes millions of premature deaths. People take sick, for example, from breathing high levels of smoke from fuels used in cooking or heating. There is also pollution that affects everyone, caused by transport, industrial fumes, substances which contribute to the acidification of soil and water, fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and agrotoxins in general. Technology, which, linked to business interests, is presented as the only way of solving these problems, in fact proves incapable of seeing the mysterious network of relations between things and so sometimes solves one problem only to create others.

21. Account must also be taken of the pollution produced by residue, including dangerous waste present in different areas. Each year hundreds of millions of tons of waste are generated, much of it non-biodegradable, highly toxic and radioactive, from homes and businesses, from construction and demolition sites, from clinical, electronic and industrial sources. The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish. Industrial waste and chemical products utilized in cities and agricultural areas can lead to bioaccumulation in the organisms of the local population, even when levels of toxins in those places are low. Frequently no measures are taken until after people’s health has been irreversibly affected.

22. These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish. To cite one example, most of the paper we produce is thrown away and not recycled. It is hard for us to accept that the way natural ecosystems work is exemplary: plants synthesize nutrients which feed herbivores; these in turn become food for carnivores, which produce significant quantities of organic waste which give rise to new generations of plants. But our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products. We have not yet managed to adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations, while limiting as much as possible the use of non-renewable resources, moderating their consumption, maximizing their efficient use, reusing and recycling them. A serious consideration of this issue would be one way of counteracting the throwaway culture which affects the entire planet, but it must be said that only limited progress has been made in this regard.

Climate as a common good

23. The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it. It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity. Concentrated in the atmosphere, these gases do not allow the warmth of the sun’s rays reflected by the earth to be dispersed in space. The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system. Another determining factor has been an increase in changed uses of the soil, principally deforestation for agricultural purposes.
25. Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades. Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited. For example, changes in climate, to which animals and plants cannot adapt, lead them to migrate; this in turn affects the livelihood of the poor, who are then forced to leave their homes, with great uncertainty for their future and that of their children. There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever. Sadly, there is widespread indifference to such suffering, which is even now taking place throughout our world. Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded.
29. One particularly serious problem is the quality of water available to the poor. Every day, unsafe water results in many deaths and the spread of water-related diseases, including those caused by microorganisms and chemical substances. Dysentery and cholera, linked to inadequate hygiene and water supplies, are a significant cause of suffering and of infant mortality. Underground water sources in many places are threatened by the pollution produced in certain mining, farming and industrial activities, especially in countries lacking adequate regulation or controls. It is not only a question of industrial waste. Detergents and chemical products, commonly used in many places of the world, continue to pour into our rivers, lakes and seas.
44. Nowadays, for example, we are conscious of the disproportionate and unruly growth of many cities, which have become unhealthy to live in, not only because of pollution caused by toxic emissions but also as a result of urban chaos, poor transportation, and visual pollution and noise. Many cities are huge, inefficient structures, excessively wasteful of energy and water. Neighbourhoods, even those recently built, are congested, chaotic and lacking in sufficient green space. We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature.

------------------ end extracts from Pope encyclical------------------------------------

Update on June 20th 2015

A USA based scientist wrote me in response to the above post, over email, which he was OK with sharing publicly (I have also given my response inline below): It may be worth noting that tens of thousands of scientists (maybe hundreds of thousands) have worked for decades to gather the facts and build the models that underlie our understanding of this. Many also worked hard to alert the world to these problems (and most people would prefer not to know). Some suffered persecution (ridicule, personal attacks, and loss of funding and/or jobs) for their science and/or advocacy.
Ravi: Hmm. I did not know this aspect that well. I mean, I thought that yes, the scientists telling the world about climate change would have not been taken seriously in the past decades, but did not realize that some even faced persecution in terms of personal attacks, loss of funding etc. I think the world owes these scientists' a ton of gratitude for persevering in their efforts to inform/educate the world about climate change. Thanks for pointing this out to me.
USA scientist: Many (of the above mentioned scientists), possibly most, are atheists.

It is good, very good, that people (minus right-wing US politicians, of course) are listening to the pope, but he is not saying anything we have not heard consistently and loudly for more than a decade.
Ravi: I think that the Pope endorsing these views so unequivocally and with a sense of urgency, may have some impact in some countries like Brazil, which I believe has a lot of Catholics. If Brazil, an emerging economy, takes some tough action on this front, then other emerging economies like India, may follow.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Parallels between Vedanta & Bhakti in Hinduism and Sufism in Islam

I have given below mainly my comments (slightly edited) in a conversation related to Vedanta and Sufism. The conversation starts on something related to Brihadaranyaka upanishad. While the absence of relevant comments from others may make the flow a little odd, I think it still may be of some interest to some readers and so decided to put it up as a post. If you find the flow too odd just stop reading the post.

Ravi S. Iyer wrote:
I believe it is well accepted among Hinduism scholars (both academic and religious) as well as enlightened Hindu masters, that the God (Atman/Self) of the Upanishads is without fear and without desire. Here are a couple of extracts from the wiki page associated with one of the Upanishad Mahavakyas (Great pithy statements), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tat_Tvam_Asi (Tat Tvam Asi - You/Thou are That):
The meaning of this saying is that the Self - in its original, pure, primordial state - is wholly or partially identifiable or identical with the Ultimate Reality that is the ground and origin of all phenomena.
'Thou' stands for the inherent substratum in each one of us without which our very existence is out of question. Certainly it is not the body, mind, the senses, or anything that we call ours. It is the innermost Self, stripped of all egoistic tendencies. It is Ātman
--- end extracts ---

The Upanishads also explain how man is deluded into thinking he is the illusive (and so ultimately false, like in a dream) mind-body, instead of the unsullied pure Atman that is his reality. I think it is in this context that the Brihadranyaka Upanishad quote given in the post, referencing fear and desire, should be understood. These primordial instincts (fear and desire) cloud man's experience/awareness of his ultimate reality and lead him to get caught up in the Great Illusion (MahaMaya) created by the Lord Himself (who/which is the ultimate reality within each of us).

That's my take on the matter. However, there could be some flaws in it. I mean, I am neither an academic scholar on religion nor a religious scholar smile emoticon . But I think I should mention that I am a Hindu Brahmin ... so Veda including Upanishads (which is Vedanta i.e. end of the Vedas) have been an important part of the traditions of my family upbringing & social milieu.


Ravi S. Iyer wrote:
I am not so knowledgeable about the distinctions in Hindu philosophy terms like Ishvara, Brahman and Parabrahman. The general impression I have is that the usage of these terms can vary a lot depending on the context. I mean, its not so well defined across the rather huge amount of Hindu scriptural texts. ...
What I have understood quite reasonably, IMHO, is the, at least seemingly, different approaches of Jnana marg (wisdom path) and Bhakti marg (devotional path). Ramana Maharishi or Nisargadatta Maharaj seem to be good examples of near contemporary spiritual masters of the Jnana marg, with its emphasis on self-inquiry (Who am I? ... Am I this body? Am I this mind? ... deep contemplation on it leading to the answer felt in one's being that I am not the body and not the mind but something more fundamental - an unchanging, deathless and ever peaceful awareness - the Atman or the Self). But this path appeals to only a very few.

The overwhelming majority of Hindus are primarily on the Bhakti path (devotional path). I think the core aspects of the Bhakti path are that the devotee has deep faith in an interventionist God, with scripture having celebrated accounts of such a God intervening and saving devotees, and the devotee loves & worships his God. He believes that his God is taking care of him and will come to his help in some fashion in his time of need. I think these core aspects of the Bhakti path are similar to devotion in Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity & Islam), if one leaves out the idols & images (so, many Gods, even if they are viewed as lesser Gods in comparison to the ONE universal & all powerful God/Brahman) of the Hindu Bhakti path. And, for the great devotees in Hinduism, like great devotees of Abrahamic religions, they love their God with great intensity and are willing to face all sorts of difficulties and 'tests' of material life, without letting go of their love for the Lord. And, in this context, the point of wanting to taste the sugar rather than be the sugar comes in. In other words, these great devotees of the Bhakti path prefer to be great Lovers of the Lord and enjoy being in that state of love & worship, rather than experience that they are (their essence is) the Lord themselves ("become" the Lord themselves).

Ramanuja, I believe, was one of the great teachers in South India who blended Bhakti/devotion and Vedanta. From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramanuja: "From a young age, his intelligence and ability to comprehend highly abstract philosophical points were legendary. He took initiation from Yadavaprakasa, a renowned Advaitic scholar. Though his new guru was highly impressed with his analytical ability, he was quite concerned by how much emphasis Ramanuja placed on bhakti." But his guru was not able to stop Ramanuja and Ramanuja seems to have been the founder of the Visishtadvaita school of Vedanta, which seems to be some blend of Bhakti and Advaita.

[BTW I am from the Iyer community of Tamils from South India, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iyer, for whom Adi Shankara is the big philosophy man :-), whereas the Iyengar community of Tamils from South India, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iyengar, has Ramanuja as the big philosophy man. Historically there has been quite some rivalry between Iyers & Iyengars. Thankfully, that has all but disappeared in today's South India.]

Another BTW :-). Ramanuja is credited with being one of the main persons who popularized the famous South Indian temple of Tirumala/Tirupathi, which has a blend of Bhakti & Veda (rituals part of the Veda mainly, I believe), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tirumala_Venkateswara_Temple. Its wiki page states that this temple is now the most-visited place of worship in the world! Surely the annual Hajj in Mecca would have a higher number for the period of the Hajj, I think. [Wiki confirms it. From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hajj, "The gathering during Hajj is considered the largest annual gathering of people in the world."] But perhaps over the year, the total number of visitors (Bhaktas/devotees) to Tirumala/Tirupathi temple would be higher.

Hope my response is not too long. But I felt it necessary to make it this long to clearly convey my take on the matter.


Ravi S. Iyer wrote:
Interesting observation of you & your friend about Sufism being like the Bhakti path. India has had, and perhaps continues to have, great Sufis, who have demonstrated the great similarities of Sufism with the Bhakti path, specifically their intense devotion to God, surrender to His Will, and also usage of the mystical powers some of them acquired for the good of people at large, irrespective of religion.


Ravi S. Iyer wrote:
Interesting to know about Hazrat Inayat Khan. Perhaps he is more well known in the West as he founded a Sufi order in the West (according to his wiki page). I am not so sure about Vedanta impact on well known Sufi orders in India. One contemporary Indian Muslim theologian said that the difference between Hinduism and Islam is an apostrophe s (apostrophe followed by s): Hindus say all is God, Muslims say all is God's! I think he captured that quite neatly :-).

Two very famous Indian Sufi shrines and their associated orders too, I guess, are the shrines of:
a) Moinuddin Chisti, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moinuddin_Chishti - A 12th & 13th century Sufi saint originally from the regions northwest of India (Afghanistan/Iran) and who founded the Chisti order of Sufism. This Chisti order had various Mughal emperors as its followers. [That would mean lot of material support for the order over centuries of Mughal rule in north & west India]. His shrine is in Ajmer, called Dargah Sharif, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dargah_Sharif, and is, I think, the most popular and most revered Sufi shrine in India.
b) Nizamuddin Auliya, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nizamuddin_Auliya - A 13th & 14th century Sufi saint of the Chisti order (founded by Moinuddin Chisti), who was based in Delhi. His shrine is in Delhi, called Nizamuddin Dargah, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nizamuddin_Dargah, and is quite well known in India.

I very much doubt whether the Chisti order of Sufis would accept the Vedanta view that all is God.

A more recent saint, who is a favourite of mine, and who is viewed as a Sufi by some, is Shirdi Sai Baba, a 19th & 20th century saint, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sai_Baba_of_Shirdi. He wore the dress of a Muslim fakir (renunciant) and is said to have frequently uttered, "Allah Maalik" (God is the master). He had both Muslim and Hindu devotees, and was also willing to accept Hindu forms of worship. He is famous for his saying, "Sabka Maalik Ek" (The master of all is one), which essentially meant that there is only one God for all Muslims, Hindus and people of all other religions. As far as I know, he did not talk about the Vedanta teaching that all is God. After his passing away, over time, his Hindu devotees seem to have heavily outnumbered his Muslim devotees leading to the current worship in the temple of Shirdi Sai Baba being a very Hindu type of worship. I view that as rather unfortunate - it would have been better if like when he was alive, Muslim forms of worship of God like chanting of the Koran, Namaaz etc. co-existed with Hindu forms of worship.

Given the above background, I have the impression (though I could be wrong as I have not studied this area well enough) that Indian Sufism today cannot be viewed as having been significantly influenced by Vedanta. But the influence of Bhakti as well as the music of Hindu Bhakti may certainly have influenced Indian Sufis. .... Of course, Sufi orders elsewhere like the one associated with Hazrat Inayat Khan may be different from most Indian Sufi orders on this Vedanta influence aspect.


Ravi S. Iyer wrote:
My earlier comment was limited to the Indian Sufi orders. Let me first share a little I got on the Sufi Chisti (Ajmer, India) order's view on this. From http://www.chishti.org/11_veils.htm, 'The tenth Hijaab (veil) is that of mushaheda, that is, coming face to face with the Divine Light. Hazrat Ali Hujwari thinks that "Hajj is the only place of mushaheda for a Sufi." Hazrat Abul Abbas says: "Mushaheda means a Sufi's unswerving faith surcharged with overwhelming love for Allah; the devotee sees nothing else except the Light of Allah all around." Hazrat Shaikh Shibli says: "In everything I saw, I found the Light of Allah in myriad colors and forms,"' I think this could be interpreted as saying that God (Light of Allah) is all pervasive but I don't think one could interpret it as all is God. I know I am splitting hairs here :-) but I think it is an important point from a theological understanding point of view.


I think, in terms of real spiritual progress and spiritual experience, whether one has the view that All is God or the view that All is God's, may not matter so much. Far more important would be the depth of the love that one has towards what one views as God/manifestation of God OR as belonging to God. It is unconditional & deep love towards all that come to them/are around them that is the hallmark, IMHO, of both the great Hindu Bhakta or the great Muslim Sufi (or great saints of other religions). Such pure love is beyond the realm of differences in theological understanding, and names and outward practices of various religions. I think one gets a taste of the divine/of God when one experiences such unconditional love.


Ravi S. Iyer wrote:

I very much like (writings about) the universality of the spiritual experience. I guess I am more into religion nowadays as understood by mainstream interpreters of religion who are essentially teachers of religion to the masses. So I tend to read more about what, say, the learned Maulvis/Mullahs approved by the authorities at Mecca, say about certain contemporary issues, and how such views may help make the world a more tolerant and vibrant multi-faith world, rather than intricate spiritual aspects conveyed by Sufi masters. So I think my comments in this post have been somewhat influenced by this background of some limited exposure to current mainstream Islamic religious authorities' interpretation of holy scripture of Islam.


[Ravi: A user provided the following poem of Ibn Arabi, which is available here: http://www.ibnarabisociety.org/articles/treasureofcompassion.html]

"O Marvel! a garden amidst the flames.
My heart has become capable of every form:
it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks,
and a temple for idols and the pilgrim's Kaa'ba,
and the tables of the Torah and the book of the Quran.
I follow the religion of Love: whatever way Love's camels take,
that is my religion and my faith."

'Tarjuman al-Ashwaq'. Theosophical Publishing House, 1911. Poem XI.


Ravi S. Iyer wrote:
Thanks a lot for the Ibn Arabi quote. I think that is very similar to the oneness of Hindu Vedanta and experience of great Hindu mystics of both Vedanta/Jnana (wisdom) & Bhakti (devotion) paths (I am in all and all is in me kind-of view/experience).


However, from my interest in how the majority of the religious faithful view such matters, I think it is notable that the wiki on Ibn Arabi states, "Muslim scholars have often held strong, polarized views regarding the viewpoints and character of Ibn Arabi. Many have declared Ibn Arabi to be the foremost spiritual leader and Sufi master in Muslim history. Others regarded him as a heretic or even an apostate. Very few have had neutral or lukewarm reactions."

So, from a viewpoint of finding common ground among the religious faithful of various religions, Ibn Arabi may not be a welcome choice. Yes, he, like many other great mystics of various religions including Hinduism, was controversial because the scholars of his religion could not handle his expressions of his deep mystical experiences. Perhaps that is why well known Indian Sufi orders like the Chisti (Ajmer) order may not be willing to go so far as the Ibn Arabi quote given earlier, in their public teachings & writings. [Of course, individual Indian writers, Muslims or non-Muslims, may surely be quoting such unity of being quotes of Ibn Arabi. But that may not have much impact on the Indian Sufi followings.]


Ravi S. Iyer wrote:
I will certainly make the time, a few days down the line, to read up on the great Ibn Arabi using that link (http://www.ibnarabisociety.org/index.html), and let you know of my views. And, yes, we certainly must not reject Ibn Arabi sufism just because he is viewed as controversial even today by some schools of Islam. I certainly will not reject Ibn Arabi or any such great mystic on such grounds, as I will simply be losing out on learning about and benefiting from knowing about a great mystic.

However, unity of faiths or rather common ground among faiths, is an important interest area of mine, where I do have to note the dissenting views of mainstream schools of a religion about a leading religious/mystical figure of the past.

Interesting info. about dimensions of Taj Mahal being received by Ibn Arabi while in Mecca. I did not know that. Thanks.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Afghan writer's article on Sikhism & Sufism showing the way for peace and harmony

A relevant and very interesting article from The Hindu, a mainstream South Indian newspaper, today, by M. Ashraf Haidari, deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in India, "For peace and harmony in South Asia, some lessons from Sikhism and Sufism", http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/for-peace-and-harmony-in-south-asia-some-lessons-from-sikhism-and-sufism/article7319033.ece.

[I have presumed that the author of the article would not mind me sharing a few extracts of his article on this free post for interested readers, without any financial profit motive whatsoever.]

A few extracts from it:
The relationship between Sufism and Sikhism dates back to the time of Guru Nanak, who led a modest life of profound, spiritual devotion, focussed on building bridges of love, tolerance, co-existence, and harmony among peoples of diverse faiths and socio-economic status. He was so immersed in piety and teaching his disciples to live spiritually, honestly, and harmoniously that many of his Muslim contemporaries, especially Sufis, called him a true Muslim.
Guru Nanak left behind many Hindu and Muslim disciples, and each claimed him as theirs for he had lived with them so harmoniously and treated them so equally, so respectfully and so sincerely that neither side was willing to give up his body to the other. Today, the shrine of Guru Nanak is visited not only by Sikhs but also by Hindus and Muslims, each seeking his blessings in their own ways.
The Chishti Order of Sufism — which influenced the thinking and teaching of Guru Nanak — interpreted religion in terms of human service, inviting its followers “to develop river-like generosity, sun-like affection, and earth-like hospitality”.

To implement these universally good deeds, the followers of Chishti and other Orders of Sufism set up khanaqas, community centres with feeding and lodging facilities, which were built throughout rural India. The Chishti Order khanaqas welcomed anyone, regardless of faith, race, or caste, and offered them food and shelter, spiritual guidance, psychological support, and counselling. By creating egalitarian communities within a stratified society, the Sufis spread their teachings of love, spirituality and harmony. It was this example of Sufi brotherhood and equity that drew people to Islam.

In order to restore peace and harmony in South Asia today, we do not need to look further afield. We simply should revisit the basic precepts of Sufism and Sikhism for lessons to be learned. In a shrinking, inter-dependent world, nations should tear down walls of hatred, hostility, and self-defeating, zero-sum designs to undermine each other. These artificial human obstacles to their collective progress should be replaced by honest, result-oriented efforts to achieve regional integration for peace and prosperity. That is what the great Sufis and Gurus of Central Asia and South Asia preached and promoted so that human tragedy was replaced by human harmony through universal human service and fraternity under one beneficent, merciful God and its many different, beautiful manifestations.
--- end extracts ---

All I can say (or rather need to say) is Amen! Really great to see such a wonderful article from an Afghan, as perhaps Afghans are the people who have suffered the worst among all peoples of the world, in the past few decades. I pray to Almighty God to shower His Grace on the Afghan people and enable them to live in love, peace and harmony.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sathya Sai Baba's Advaita Teachings By John Hislop Ph.D. - youtube video crosses 5000 views over 105 countries in around 19 months

I was updating my Table of Contents page in this blog, when I came across a post I had made a year ago giving stats. of a Dr. Hislop video on Swami's Advaita teachings which I had picked up from saicast.org, uploaded to youtube, titled it differently, manually added subtitles (so people can choose to view English subtitle text as they see the video) and provided some bubble boxes giving some info.

I felt it appropriate to share with readers the current stats. of this video, "Sathya Sai Baba's Advaita Teachings By John Hislop Ph.D.", https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dl9izOvsUJg, 1 hr. 26 min., published on Nov. 7, 2013.

Given below are copy-pasted date from youtube analytics for the above video:

Lifetime (Nov 3, 2013 – Jun 10, 2015)


1,095 (21%)
17,712 (27%)
1,091 (21%)
8,866 (14%)
348 (6.7%)
5,464 (8.3%)
287 (5.6%)
4,314 (6.6%)
242 (4.7%)
4,174 (6.3%)
178 (3.4%)
2,488 (3.8%)
171 (3.3%)
2,294 (3.5%)
150 (2.9%)
2,244 (3.4%)
94 (1.8%)
1,985 (3.0%)
93 (1.8%)
578 (0.9%)
80 (1.6%)
1,037 (1.6%)
72 (1.4%)
563 (0.9%)
64 (1.2%)
520 (0.8%)
57 (1.1%)
685 (1.0%)
54 (1.0%)
531 (0.8%)
49 (0.9%)
492 (0.7%)
49 (0.9%)
524 (0.8%)
48 (0.9%)
539 (0.8%)
45 (0.9%)
584 (0.9%)
42 (0.8%)
793 (1.2%)
41 (0.8%)
339 (0.5%)
38 (0.7%)
730 (1.1%)
37 (0.7%)
319 (0.5%)
37 (0.7%)
486 (0.7%)
36 (0.7%)
1,001 (1.5%)
33 (0.6%)
146 (0.2%)
32 (0.6%)
315 (0.5%)
31 (0.6%)
341 (0.5%)
31 (0.6%)
232 (0.4%)
29 (0.6%)
267 (0.4%)
28 (0.5%)
327 (0.5%)
27 (0.5%)
80 (0.1%)
27 (0.5%)
160 (0.2%)
26 (0.5%)
474 (0.7%)
24 (0.5%)
236 (0.4%)
22 (0.4%)
148 (0.2%)
18 (0.3%)
222 (0.3%)
18 (0.3%)
210 (0.3%)
17 (0.3%)
311 (0.5%)
16 (0.3%)
184 (0.3%)
14 (0.3%)
171 (0.3%)
14 (0.3%)
63 (0.1%)
14 (0.3%)
257 (0.4%)
13 (0.3%)
20 (0.0%)
11 (0.2%)
72 (0.1%)
11 (0.2%)
53 (0.1%)
10 (0.2%)
84 (0.1%)
126 (0.2%)
187 (0.3%)
42 (0.1%)
186 (0.3%)
11 (0.0%)
222 (0.3%)
111 (0.2%)
150 (0.2%)
16 (0.0%)
30 (0.0%)
130 (0.2%)
38 (0.1%)
147 (0.2%)
79 (0.1%)
13 (0.0%)
51 (0.1%)
76 (0.1%)
21 (0.0%)
47 (0.1%)
15 (0.0%)
19 (0.0%)
64 (0.1%)
31 (0.0%)
89 (0.1%)
89 (0.1%)
16 (0.0%)
13 (0.0%)
14 (0.0%)
10 (0.0%)
77 (0.1%)
18 (0.0%)
29 (0.0%)