Monthly Archives: May 2017

Seeing God in all beings

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Great learning brings great humility, for it exposes the extent of one’s ignorance. That is why Lord Krishna extols the vision of a true bhakta who is endowed with the knowledge of the infinite greatness of the Lord and of His all-pervading presence that inheres in the entire creation, pointed out Sri B. Damodhara Dikshitar in a discourse.

There are as many kinds of devotion as there are individuals. The average devotee is generally compassionate and affectionate to all beings, but feels a sense of differentiation between friends, enemies and so on.

The beginner in the path of devotion worships the Lord in the form of a deity or some form, but fails to accept His presence in other beings. But a true bhakta sees the Lord in all beings and also sees all beings in His Self. This vision is the culmination of jnana and bhakti and a bhakta never slips from this awareness.

It is said that once Saint Eknath, when retuning from Kashi Yatra, was moved to see a donkey almost dying of thirst on the way.

Without any hesitation, he opened a vial of Ganga water and poured it into the parched mouth of the donkey. He saw only the Lord in the soulful eyes and not the donkey.

In the case of Saint Namadev, he once chased a dog that had taken away the bread given to him by his wife, only to offer it the sugar and ghee as well which it had left behind. The dog became the Lord in front of him.

When Lord Shiva is said to have come in the form of a chandala to grace the yagna of Somasi Mara Nayanar, the Adiyar unhesitatingly offered the same hospitality he would offer others.

The Lord wants to show that in the eyes of a true bhakta, where Truth alone is revealed, there is no need for Him to come disguised.


Quotes by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore

* “If you cry because the sun has gone out of your life, your tears will prevent you from seeing the stars.”

*  “You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.”

* “Love’s gift cannot be given, it waits to be accepted.”

* “I seem to have loved you in numberless forms, numberless times, in life after life, in age after age forever.”

* “Love is an endless mystery, because there is no reasonable cause that could explain it.”

* “Music fills the infinite between two souls”

* “Let my thoughts come to you, when I am gone, like the afterglow of sunset at the margin of starry silence.”

* “Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man.”

* “Real friendship is like fluorescence, it shines better when everything has darken.”

* “We cross infinity with every step;
We meet eternity in every second.”

See temptation as an attack, not as a defeat

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Suppose soldiers guarding the national border against a hostile neighbour find bullets whizzing past them. Naturally, they will see the bullets as signs of attack and start counter-attacking.

When we start practicing spiritual life, we enter into a war against the forces of illusion, which attack primarily with the bullets of temptation. So, the rising of temptation inside us is an attack. Unfortunately, if we don’t understand the dynamics of the inner war, we see it as a defeat. We think, “I am so fallen as to have this desire. Its presence shows that I can’t follow spiritual standards. Now that the desire has come, let me just give in to it.” By so doing, we become like soldiers who lay down their arms at the sight of the first bullets.

But such capitulation is utterly unnecessary. The Bhagavad-gita (05.23) urges us to anticipate the lifelong presence of desire and anger. Rather than deeming their presence as a spiritual disqualification, it exhorts us to tolerate them by yoga practice.

Just as gallant soldiers determinedly return hostile fire, we can become spiritually gallant when temptation attacks and return fire by striving to intensify our bhakti practice, thus becoming absorbed in Krishna. Such absorption provides higher satisfaction, thereby increasing our resistance to the pleasure with which temptation allures and attacks.

Moreover, bhakti-yoga grants satisfaction not just through absorption but also through connection. That is, we can taste spiritual satisfaction not just at the end of the war when we are fully absorbed in Krishna but also in the thick of the war when we strive to connect with him through remembrance and service.

If temptation spurs us to increase our focus on Krishna, then it becomes not the precursor of defeat, but the prompter to victory.


Emperor Ashoka on free speech

Source : Rajeev Bhargava ;

Civility in public speech is a perfect antidote to the mutual estrangement between communities creeping into our society

Should members of one religious community have a right to freely criticise other religious communities? Why not? Indeed, they must. Should this right be absolute? No right is absolute, but if our speech never upsets other groups, then why have it as a right? So, does discussion on the subject end here? No, because having a right is different from exercising it. So we need to ask if there are circumstances when it is wise not to, when it is better to waive its exercise instead? And if we feel compelled to criticise others, to ask in what form we should do so?

Should there not be some informal social norms, an ethos that helps us judge when and how to exercise the right to criticise other groups?

One thinker who squarely addressed the issue of norms of free speech was Emperor Ashoka in third century B.C.E. This should not surprise us. For a start, there was great religio-philosophical diversity in his time (followers of Vedic Brahmanism, Upanishadic philosophers, Jains, Ajivikas, Buddhists, to name just a few groups).

Message for the ages

These included those who made ritual sacrifice central to their ethic and those who didn’t; those who believed in gods and goddesses and those who did not; those who thought ritual sacrifice was sufficient for a good life and those who differed; those who believed in the theory of karma and others who didn’t; those who evaluated karma negatively (to act is to acquire demerit) and those who did not; those who affirmed and those who denied radical asceticism; those who linked self-fulfilment to compassion towards others and those who did not. This deep diversity must have generated conflict, particularly because Ashoka tried to ensure that all these groups lived together, sharing the same public domain, rather than live separately in ghettoes.

What form did conflicts take? In Ashoka’s time, writing was virtually non-existent. Everyone lived in a vibrant oral culture. The entire complex of Art, Philosophy, and ‘Religion’ — poetry, our deepest metaphysical thoughts, acts honouring gods and goddesses — were spoken, composed, recited, sung, chanted and heard. Words were believed to have magical potency. They could beckon gods to help us tide over problems, create something out of nothing, empower or disempower others, turn them into stone, even kill them. They could be weapons or an elixir — soothe or cause grievous hurt, bring us together or pull us apart.

In such a strong oral culture, social conflict frequently took the form of verbal duels, speech fights, word-wars, verbal tongue-lashing of adversaries in intellectual combats. Moreover, vitriolic reciprocal name-calling existed alongside fulsome expression of self-praise and excessive bragging about one’s own prowess.

Managing the tongue

If words fall off the tongue effortlessly, tumble out inadvertently and, what is worse, carelessly, it is imperative that unguarded speech be checked, that words be enunciated with great care and thought in public.

And that is exactly what Ashoka advised — free speech must be regulated by vācāgati (the artful management of the tongue), a social norm of a specific kind of samyama (self-restraint). While coexisting religious communities might invariably find each other irksome, this negative response, Ashoka argued, must not be privatised or repressed. It may enter the public but only on meeting certain conditions.

To begin with, speech critical of others may be freely expressed only if there are good reasons to do so. Second, even when good reasons exist for criticism, one may criticise only on appropriate occasions. And finally, even on an appropriate occasion, one must never be immoderate. Critique must never belittle or humiliate others. Only moderate criticism on appropriate public occasions is justified. Thus, there is a multi-layered, ever-deepening restraint on negative speech against others — self-restraint for the sake of others.

With this, Ashoka had evolved an original norm of civility, but he did not stop here. He further asserted that one must not extol one’s religion/philosophy without good reason. Undue praise of one’s community is as morally objectionable as unmerited criticism of the other.

Moreover, even when there is good reason to praise one’s own perspective, it too should be done only on appropriate occasions, and even then, never immoderately. Excessive self-glorification is a way to make others feel small. Indeed, blaming other groups out of devotion to one’s own world view and unreflective, uncritical self-praise, argued Ashoka, damages one’s own community. By offending and thereby estranging others, such speech undermines the capacity for mutual interaction and possible influence. Thus, there must an equally be a multi-textured, ever-deepening restraint on oneself — self-restraint for the sake of one’s own self.

A shared ethos

For Ashoka, our duties towards others cannot be neatly separated from the virtues we cultivate in ourselves. Our moral concern for others can’t be hived off from our ethical regard for ourselves. So, if Ashoka were alive today, he would argue that a crucial precondition of exercising one’s right to the free criticism of other groups is a robust ethos of self-restraint. A social norm of civility in public speech is a perfect antidote to the mutual estrangement between communities now creeping into our society.

In the war of egos, the winner is the bigger loser

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When people disagree on an issue, the disagreement sometimes degenerates into a war of egos, where the issues are pushed into the background. People obsess on proving that they are right, not on determining what is right. In such arguments, the winners often end up as bigger losers.

Those who lose such an argument may be seen by the world as losers. But in the long run, those people grow and flourish who are ready to revise their understanding when necessary, who have the humility to learn what is right. The Bhagavad-gita (13.08) indicates that humility is the first of the twenty characteristics of those in knowledge. This implies that humility is the doorway to knowledge – those who have humility learn and grow. Those who prove that they are right even when they aren’t, bang shut the door of humility. They lock themselves outside the house of knowledge, in the arena of illusion.

The notion that one can do no wrong, that one’s view is the right view, that one’s view is, in fact, the only right view – that is essentially the notion that one is God.

So, when discussions start becoming ego issues, best to bow out and thus stay out of illusion.


The Lord’s kindness

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In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna talks of three yogas that lead to moksha — karma, bhakti and jnana. But the Gopikas did not observe any of these paths, and yet were liberated. That is because of their intense love for Lord Krishna. The Lord did not take into account their lack of jnana, but was impressed by their attachment to Him, said M.A. Venkatakrishnan in a discourse. The Lord is kindly disposed towards everyone. But we are so undeserving of His kindness that despite His efforts to reach out to us, we still remain unliberated.

In His abode, the Supreme One is waited on by all those who have attained liberation and yet the Lord is unhappy, because there are many more on this earth who haven’t yet been liberated. So He searches out people to whom He can grant liberation under one pretext or another. If someone utters His name in one of the towns where a temple of His is located, He takes that as worship of Him and looks favourably upon that person. Or if someone accidentally does some good to a devotee, that too begins to count in his favour.

Suppose a devotee is out on the road and there is an unbeliever walking beside him. The unbeliever is armed with a stout stick. Suppose a man who had planned to waylay the devotee is frightened, supposing that the non-believer is there to protect the devotee, then the non believer gets a merit simply by having saved the devotee, albeit unintentionally!

Suppose you rub gold to test its quality and decide to gather the resulting gold dust. It will take you a long time to get some substantial gold from the accumulated dust.

In the same way, the Lord patiently gathers points in our favour to ultimately liberate us, like a man who collects gold dust.

The four-legged protectors: 4 stray dogs save baby girl in dumpster in Bengal

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Over the past couple of months we have come across many incidents of stray-dog menace and dogs being attacked in retaliation. The debates about dog culling in Kerala to Union minister Maneka Gandhi appealing for action against dog killers, have been sad and disappointing.

But, here’s something positive that cheered people on social media — a report on four stray dogs saving a newborn found in a dumpster. The news was reported in Purulia district of Bengal. According to Times of India, the four dogs not able to do much after discovering the child, sat in guard and protected her from crows and patiently waited for help.

On November 5, a schoolteacher identified as Ulhas Chowdhury, on his way to school, heard the wailing of a baby. He started looking around and trailed the cry coming behind the bushes. Suddenly he saw a small baby wrapped in pink cloth crying aloud, with four, four-legged protectors.

Discovering the little one, Chowdhury alerted people of the neighbourhood and asked for help. The report adds that Chowdhury’s neighbour Parveen Sen rushed to the spot and picked the baby from the bin and even feed her milk.

When the baby girl was brought to Chowdhury’s home before taking her to the hospital for initial examinations, her rescuers followed the people to his home and ensured she was okay.

The Purulia Sadar police station was informed and they informed the incident to 24-hour child helpline. The baby is current in a local hospital and has jaundice but doctors say there is nothing to fear. The doctors also said that the abandoned baby girl is 7-10 days old and weighs 2.8kg.