The other day a friend, American, asked me what faith I followed? Or was I just spiritual. I reluctantly replied to him Hindu faith. I know at my intellectual level that is somewhat true and those following my thoughts here on this blog would have expected me to have said “Spiritual”. But I did not. I have been wondering why?
Why was I reluctant to leave off the label and go out in the open as alone.. without label? Or was it that there is something that has been “labelled” as Hindu that I do consciously relate to and get attracted to. I probably would have explained myself better if I had sometime but I did not. So, I wanted to spend sometime to understand my own mind for myself. And maybe in that process share my thoughts so my kids could understand what I thought of this question when they grow up and in this multi-colored world start looking for and searching for their identity.
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The plane had reached the magical 10,000 feet so everyone could take out their stuff and start listening, working etc. He took out his Bible and started reading. The first class is a great help in the mornings when you travel everyweek and the breakfast that one gets there is worth it. After the breakfast, he opened his book again. I looked on interested. He introduced that he was a pastor. “Do you know about Jesus” he probed. “Yes”, I said, “infact I love him. I think he was a revolutionary soul, as great as Buddha was in his time”. “Hmm interesting”, he avered “have you ever gone to a Church?” I smiled and said “No”. “Maybe you would want to think of coming to the Jesus, the Savior” he said nicely. “You mean converting?”. With practiced hesitation he said “yeeahh.. well … you could learn more and then if you feel.. ” he left it off with a certain mystery.
“You know, Sir, I don’t need to convert my religion to love Jesus. I can love Jesus as much as I love the concept of Buddha or Osho or Krishna. You are stuck because you can’t see beyond Jesus. Your love for one makes you necessarily demote others’ importance or greatness. That is why you have one whom you have given pre-eminence. I have no such restrictions”. The conversation ended abruptly.
So, for one, I love my freedom. Since there was and is no such thing as “Hindu way”, I am free. This freedom is difficult to explain. Other people have called this Island I dwell upon as Hinduism so let it be so. But to me it leaves me independent of any one influence. A friend was worried that Hindus should have “a” way of life that the kids can follow, so they would not convert. That is the least of my concerns. If I can relate the freedom of thought – of being able to listen to a Sufi, to praying to Buddha, to going to a Gurudwara to bow my head infront of Krishna and meditating on his consciousness – then I would have set them free. At least it is easier for me to relate to the other person without tom-toming the primacy of my “God” or “Savior”! If ONLY I could teach my kids to be free then they would never want to jump into another box. There is an ethos which has come through the open-ness of my “faith” that is difficult to explain. It is not the Hinduism of Shiv Sena or any political institution. It is the freedom of thought of Swami Vivekananda. I want to pass on that freedom.
He was emphatic that Vedas were THE only word that was complete. With its ritual and the more profound word (within the Upanishads), Vedas are undoubtedly very exhaustive. But for the life of me, I would not admit its the ONLY complete text possible! Surely, if you could combine the wisdom of Nanak, Jesus, Buddha, Mahavir, and many Sufis, you would get a similarly profound text, I argued to myself. So Vedas greatness can’t be that.
In fact, the greatness of Vedas was that all such thoughts CAME together. That all those enlightened and wise Masters I just mentioned could not dissolve their ego to pour their words into one cauldron to amalgamate to create more Vedas was their biggest failure. The Vedas reflect the cauldron where many….probably hundreds of enlightened minds simply poured their wisdom without any tag or name attached. Today, it is impossible to say who wrote the Vedas. One can clearly say they were written over a period of hundreds of years, but there is NO evidence of the writer/s! Is that bewildering? Something that was so profound could have been contributed by someone without any urge for credit? How incredible would those teachers be? In modern world, anybody and his brother, who thought that God talked to him in his sleep, or a cave, or on a hill came rushing to proclaim to the world about his distinction and why that was THE only way! And to think so many folks would simply throw stuff in that which is by far one of the most profound text is mind-boggling to me!!
It is difficult to explain this selflessness. Even the most charitable can give away their belongings, but even the most enlightened have had the urge to “uplift” and to preach. Even those high souls could not get past the lure of their last vestige of mind. That last “mile” of ego did them and their ideas in.
Over the years, I have lost all loyalty/allegiance to any messenger. So, I can see the contradictions in the concept (that’s how I now look at the Spiritual Masters – they are merely concepts) of Nanak, of Jesus, of Osho, of Krishnamurti, or Krishna himself. Maybe I am judging but the flaws in each concept and their greatness are very apparent. And it is the flaw of human existence.
Swami Vivekananda once said that Krishna did not make Gita great. On the contrary, the greatness of the message of Gita added weight to Krishna’s name. Message is more important. Messenger has limited or no use at all. That irrelevance of messengers and saviors is what I find very refreshing. I do not have to owe my learning to any ONE entity. I can clearly see the thread of a concept all through the different messengers. Although different philosophers gave their own twists and their interpretation and, unfortunately, quite often cloaked in their own “brand name”, but I can disregard such megalomaniacs and just learn from their interpretations. The irrelevance of messenger also underscores one thing… you are not concerned with the hierarchy of the messenger. He could have been a cobbler like Kabir or one with thousands of followers and numerous Rolls Royces like Osho. I let the messages seep my soul and enrich it. It helps.
Quite often one concept is articulated by one philosopher and is not so clear but when you are free to go through words of numerous messengers – suddenly the questions that plagued your mind and dis-satisfactorily answered by others gets clarified and you move forward to the next question. This has helped my quest and exploration tremendously. I can throw my questions to the Universe and somehow the Consciousness works to provide some answer to me through different people.
Now, all that goes on in the name of Hinduism is far from perfect or even basically good. Like, Swami Vivekananda, rued how Adi Shankara lost the opportunity to dissolve the menace of caste system and combine his unparalleled intellect with the compassion of say, a Buddha. But alas, he was limited by his ego. And this caste question is one that brings the imperfection and the mess created by the urge to formalize teachings/analysis so clearly to the fore. Vedantic Rishis were fond of making analytical inferences. The greatest of the minds of Vedic pantheon rarely ever gave prescriptive statements. They were, as a rule, not normative in construction. They were analytical. How is it different? Let me give you an example of how it can be different:
One philosopher says that the people living in the world comprise of four Varnas – those pursuing Learning, those pursuing statecraft, those indulging in commerce, those doing maintenance work. All this is correlated to what role one finds himself/herself in. This is an analytical view.
Another teacher says – Everyone HAS to fall in one of the four Varnas and it is dependent upon and decided by one’s roles.
What was an inference – a correlation statement – is suddenly converted into an edict – a solid cause and effect statement.
The lesser minds were never able to fathom that the analytical statements of the earlier philosophers were not pronouncements on how the world should be, but were merely analytical inferences as to how the world seems to be. You may come up with another inference quite contrary to the earlier one, and there would be no fight over it. So, while the entire tradition of what is now known as Hinduism is not above this curse of “Prescriptive Preachers”, the history does betray a tradition that was very different to start with. That urge to analyze and doing one’s own homework to understand the world is what baffles me and excites me most.
Karma theory is very misunderstood paradigm. Most of the world is messed up in Moralistic pronoucements where if you do “good” you could reach salvation (whatever that means). Now, when you look at this urge to “do good” a little deeply you realize the nonsense of it all. What does mean by “doing good”? That I am going to take an Action that will yield a result that will be “good”. So, is “Good” an adjective of the Action or the Result? Does the Action in itself have any qualification (or adjective)? If you look carefully, the answer is obviously.. NO! So, what am I saying by claiming I want to “do good”. That I precisely and unequivocally know the Actionsthat will necessarily and definitely lead to good result! Now, this playing “God” flies in the face of the claims that most of us make of our “Gods” – creator, the Omnipotent, the Omniscient etc. Little do we realize that Morals are simply useless pegs that, on the one side, strengthen one’s ego and on the other hand, they are relative based on context/space/time combinations.
What Karma theory does is to set one free one from the quagmire of arbitrary morals and codes of conduct. You can be a Bhishma who fights Krishna himself and YET be the hightest Karma-yogi of the century. You could be a butcher who kills animals everyday for meat honestly and without any ego and yet be celebrated by a Vyadha-Gita. All ways to tellingly bring forth the message that ACTION has NO COLOR! Action, in itself, has no qualificaton! So, if you just do your action honestly as a duty that you have to discharge without any judgments as to what is right or wrong, then things will take care of themself.
The letting go of playing “God” is what seems intriguing. That dissolution of the highest aspirations can give one actual shot at being “God” is what I find most ironic.
“God and Guru is irrelevant, only self effort (purusharth) can lead you to enlightenment” said Vasistha to Ram in Yoga Vasistha. And then he went onto explain Prahlad’s enlightenment “By Vishnu’s grace, Prahlad achieved enlightenment”. Ram was obviously bewildered, just as I was and probed his teacher “Sir, but you said Guru and God is irrelevant and now you are extolling Vishnu’s grace?” At that time, Vasistha gives the most potent explanation and one that left me just wondering at the profoundness of the thought. “Vishnu” Vasistha says “is just semantics. Prahlad is no different from Vishnu at that level of consciousness. There was no entity called Vishnu. There was just consciousness. You and I can call it Prahlad or Vishnu”. Consciousness and what we call “divinity” is just a label! It is an orbit where one moves from one to another. There is no entity or God sitting who will promote or demote you by his grace or otherwise! It is you and you only! That I am God consciousness with a shot of reaching the highest levels of consciousness is very empowering.
Is the moon blue or red? asked a physicist and explained through Quantum Mechanics in a celebrated paper of theoretical physics that moon is BOTH, blue and red if I am not observing. It takes on one color when I observe it and inquire for the answer. Manifestation of the world, is therefore, a play of my mind. The quietening of my mind should therefore, lead me to experiencing the infinite.. or in this case, moon as both, blue and red!
It is consciousness at the end of the day. This power of defining “myself” through dissolution of “myself” is the most powerful message I have come across. And although many philosophers tried to explain this, they fell short constantly, and it takes accessing the minds and teachings of many to get it clarified.
But then if what I seeking is freedom and irrelevance of any pegs, then is it really a religion? And that is precisely my question. If a tradition inherently promotes freedom of thought in its most profound form then why should it have a label? Can someone “convert” to be a “Hindu”? I don’t think so. It is a state of being.. a state of consciousness. You cannot say that today I “became” a Hindu!
When you abandon all labels and can be open to access the wisdom of all and also have the freedom to question everything relentlessly, then you can say you are a Hindu. Almost all the scriptures of the world are simply instructions. But the Vedantic traditions promoted questioning. Vasistha was grilled by Ram no end.. as was Krishna by Arjun. There was no insistence on “just believe what I say”. The teacher was as much part of that learning process as the student was. And just as the teacher could choose a student.. the student could also choose a teacher. Such a scenario obviates any belief system. It was only when lesser minds took over the reigns of learning in Vedic society that such practices were replaced by supertstition and one sided traffic in schools.
Truth is an experience and a journey that one has to take individually. The conditioning of every mind is unique and so its dissolution will also be unique. The traditional learning enforced by a belief system can only take you so far. After a certain distance you have to let it go. And that is where most belief systems of the world fail. Leaving the confines of a belief system is considered blasphemous and damning.. when the reverse should be true!
So to leave the “Hindu” belief system while looking afresh at the world with the inquisitiveness of a child is what it means to be a “Hindu” for me.
It is abandoning the belief in Vishnu to be Vishnu consciousness myself!
And that is the journey I see for my kids when they grow up. A personal journey for self realization reliving the experiences of the Highest minds that gave up ego even when they were contributing the most profound thoughts to the world.
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