Friday, September 11, 2009

A tryst with Shankaracharya

Adi Shankaracharaya is an epitome of Hindu wisdom and a pristine guru. Continuing my quest to speak with masters and prophets, I thought I would consult him to clarify the doubts that still persist in my mind.

Swamiji, Pranam. I am born a Hindu and am enamoured at your story and teachings. Sometimes, however I am confused by some of the tenets that prevail. Could you help me understand these better in today’s context ?

Of course. I will be happy to.

In your time, the caste system was sacrosanct. Today there is more openness but many people still do feel each group has slightly different traits and so there was an order created through the caste system. What is your opinion?

Of course, there are differences as humans are bound to be different. But, this is no way means one group is superior to another. Further, birth is not the deciding factor. Each person is who is his because of so many factors. So, I feel and have stated also that caste system is a stumbling block to realization. In my own case, when I happened to see a Chandala as one of a lower caste, I was jolted to realize it is highly contradictory to the principles I espouse.

Similarly, not accepting others because they are different in any one aspect, such as the God they pray to, is also one such stumbling block.

Only if we see all people as part of the same cosmos can we be true followers of Vedanta.

Why then do we have different Gods?

Just as there are different colours in the rainbow, different notes in music, there are different Gods and deities. The seven colors of the rainbow are actually manifestations of pure white light. But, doesn’t a rainbow look beautiful because of the different shades? Just as there is no reduction of harmony in nature with these differences, there should not be any disharmony because of differences. Sameness is not unity. Understanding is.

Some claim idol worship is not a good practice. And yes, there are some sacrifices undertaken in front of idols that even I don’t understand. Even the ecological damage during Ganesh festivities clearly create too much pollution. How do we understand these?

If through idols, you are able to connect better with a higher power, then do continue but remember to understand the symbology.

If Ganesh’s symbology is understood, none of you will create so much ecological damage in his name. A simple prayer to give more determination and persevere on the right path despite obstacles would make the vignaharta much happier.

Similarly, pray to Lakshmi for abundance (not excessive wealth but ample for your needs), Saraswati for wisdom and Durga for a sense of right and wrong and supporting justice.

With people of other faiths, how best must we understand the differences?

Each has evolved in a particular mileau in a particular context. Even Hinduism which we say is the oldest is not static but dynamic. It is necessary to grow with times while keeping the principles of oneness, compassion and both inner and outer peace as the goal.

Inner and outer peace?

We end each chanti with Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. First for inner peace, second for the environment around us and the third for the entire world. Only the approach of bringing change through a change in our own selves can ever wok, be it in one’s family, one’s environment or in the entire world.

Still, if others create violence, what should we do ?

The other you speak about, is obviously also a part of the same cosmos. Approach him with an attitude of understanding and peace. If nothing, at least don’t foster hatred.

If you do wish to make a difference, ask, why is this violence happening? What can I do to prevent it and bring about better understanding? All this obviously can be done only in a non violent way. .

However, would non-violence succeed?

Of course it will but you would need to continue your efforts not remain passive. See, the satyagraha of Gandhi almost succeeded but not completely only because of people not being able to understand oneness in the complete sense. Remember, the seed he has sown is not dead yet. Foster it to bloom completely.

As I bow and take leave of the Shankaracharya, I offer my gratitude and seek his blessings for all of India and indeed the world to move towards this pristine understanding of each other as part of a single cosmos.