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YOGIRAJ SHRI SHANKAR MAHARAJ
WHAT WE LEARNT
Maharaj was a Sadguru i.e. True Guru. A Sadguru is different from a Guru in the ordinary sense of the word. A teacher is a Guru who teaches you the arts and crafts needed to earn money and in general prepare you for survival in this world. He is generally a qualified person specialised in one or more subjects (like physics, mathematics, chemistry, economics, philosophy), knows more than you in these subjects and is able to teach you what he knows within the limitations of his knowledge. Most such Gurus do this for money as a means of their own livelihood. Or he may be a skilled person able to impart to you his skills (such as carpentry, electrician’s trade, carving etc.) Then there are Gurus who teach yoga, meditation etc. considered as spiritual subjects. The learned among them also give discourses on spiritual matters. Many are highly learned in their subjects. A few of them do this for public benefit but there is class of “Gurus” who do it for money, fame or power or even sex. One hears of many of such “Gurus” peddling yoga and meditation for health; many claim to have developed minor variations of the classical yoga techniques, call them as their own and take patents on them to prevent others from using them unless royalties are paid. Such Gurus cannot have spiritual experience like Self–realisation. Had they had this experience they would not have cared for material benefits like money, fame, power or sex.
On the other hand, a Sadguru or a True Guru is one who has had this spiritual experience and has attained Siddhis (occult powers). He may use them for the benefit of others but generally does not. It is clear from what you have read so far about Shri Shankar Maharaj that he was a Sadguru.
To a disciple, his Sadguru is greater than even God. His feelings for his Guru have been expressed in the following famous shloka:Gururbrahma, Gururvishnu, Gururdevo Maheshwara;Translated it says: Guru is Brahmadeo, he is Vishnu and he is also Shiva. Guru is actually the ultimate entity Brahman; I bow to such a Guru.
Guru sakshat Parabrahma, Tasmai Shri Gurve Namah,
Scriptures say: If God becomes angry with you then Guru can save you; but if Guru gets angry with you then even God cannot save you from his anger. However, a True Guru is like a mother. He will get angry with his disciple only to improve him as parents do.
How a true disciple looks at his True Guru is well described in Guru Gita (Shlokas 93, 94): “I make obeisance to the Guru who, attired in white, body covered by white (sandal or ash) paste, wearing white flower garlands and pearl ornaments, with blissful eyes, occult powers, smiling, kind, himself blissful and imparting bliss to others, with pleasant bearing, whose form is knowledge itself, self-realised, supreme among yogis, fit to be worshipped and is able to remove the afflictions of this worldly life”.
From Maharaj’s activities described in the earlier chapters, it is evident that his benevolence and grace was not limited to his physical lifetime. His appearances in his own form or through the medium of others decades after he left his body prove his continued compassion on this earth plane. Let us discuss the personality of Maharaj as a Sadguru from his interactions with his disciples and devotees described earlier.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF DEVOTEES
People like company of saints. Maharaj was no exception to this. He was not a recluse but spent his time among his devotees and disciples helping them in their spiritual path. A large number of devotees and disciples always gathered around him wherever he went. His activities were not limited to only the state of Maharashtra or even to India. It is strongly believed by his devotees that he had different names in different places e.g. John in the West, Nurmohammad in Middle East etc. But we do not know about his activities in those places. We shall therefore confine ourselves to the discussion about local disciples.
How did they come to Maharaj?
There were disciples like Dr. Dhaneshwar and Major Abhyankar, his son Datta and Janardanswami (Solapur) whom Maharaj himself approached and initiated into his fold.
Then there were those who came to Maharaj by the force of circumstances. Typical examples are Mr. Pradhan, Raosaheb and Taisaheb Mehendale, Mr. V. K. Kulkarni, Mr. V. M. Pandit, Mamasaheb Dhekne, Yellubai Mane, Yogi Dnyananath and Baburao Rudra.
Some went in search of him out of a desire for spiritual guidance. Khansaheb and Sir Chunilal Mehta are among these. Some went to him out of curiosity and stuck to him if impressed and if not then gave up.
A majority however went to him out of personal interests. Most people seek solace from saints when they are no longer able to bear the sufferings in life or when their own efforts fail. There are also those who like to be in the company of saints in the hope that they can hear something spiritually useful or that contact with them might give them material benefits.
Keeping the unwanted away
Maharaj sometimes deliberately behaved repulsively. This included his drinking liquor and showering abuses. The first impressions of an ordinary individual about Maharaj, especially his habit of drinking contrary to the accepted concepts about a spiritual person, his abusive language etc. did filter out the orthodox, hypocrites and snobs as well as those who did not have the capacity to go beyond the first impressions. Mr. V. K. Kulkarni told me about the Chief Administrator of Kolhapur State who wanted to meet Maharaj . He requested Mr. Kulkarni to be informed whenever Maharaj visited his house next. During the next visit of Maharaj the person came to Mr. Kulkarni’s house. Maharaj was inside. As soon as he saw the person at the door he started throwing out vomit right from where he was sitting up to the door. The person left in disgust saying, “What kind of Maharaj is he?”
Perhaps if he had persevered he would have benefitted. Many did, like the tongawalla called by Mr. Pandit whipped by Maharaj. In spite of the severe whipping he did not utter a word. Maharaj liked humility, not hypocrisy or lies.
Individuals differ in their makeup. Some are active, some lethargic; some are honest and some habitually dishonest; some are disciplined while some cannot follow anything routine; some like spiritual subjects and some like nothing beyond entertainment. Not everybody therefore gets attracted to the spiritual path. A Guru (i.e. a Sadguru) must handle every prospective disciple differently depending upon his personal qualities before deciding to grace him and even afterwards.
It is said that in olden days, before starting to teach yoga and meditation, the Guru would make the student sit in lotus position with a water-filled earthen pot on his head. Only when he could sit steady for a long time without the pot falling from his head that the Guru would decide the student was now steady enough in posture and mind. The Guru also would test him further to see whether the disciple was able to practice self-restraint and regularity in behaviour (Shama and Dama). It was only then that the Guru would give him lessons. Some passed the tests early, some late and some not at all. These tests were all right for the Ashram type of teaching by the Rishis in ancient times. In today’s fast world people have to rush and work hard for a living and therefore such tests are not feasible. The Guru has to use his own judgement and intuition to select a disciple and the mode of his spiritual training. Maharaj said (to quote Mr. V. K. Kulkarni), “Many persons come to me. I decide the level to which each one belongs. A dog may be of imported pedigree, but his place is at the door.”
During discussions on this topic Maharaj once said, “When an idol is made the most important thing is the stone. Some stones are hard and require more hammering, some are soft and require less hammering.”
Maharaj gave different spiritual instructions to different people. The instructions are of course an internal matter between the Guru and the disciple. But among the things he advised to his disciples or devotees were: meditation, Japa of an assigned Mantra (e.g. Mr. Joshi), worship of certain yantras (symbols of different deity powers like Durga, Lord Dattatreya etc.) as in the case of Mr. Janorikar; he recommended to many to study Dnyaneshwari in depth and also regular reading of other spiritual works like Gurucharitra or a combination of some of these depending upon the capability of the person. To a few he imparted a boost of spiritual energy by touch or by other means. But though he himself had performed Puja on certain occasions he is not known to have asked anybody to do regular ritualistic worship in the orthodox fashion.
Maharaj only gave
Maharaj only gave. He did not want anything from his devotees except love and devotion. What else can we give to a Siddha who has everything at his command? A dedicated disciple has the conviction that all his possessions are due to Maharaj's grace and offering him a part of that is no sacrifice at all.
Consider what Maharaj did for his disciples. Raosaheb and Taisaheb Mehendale and Yellubai were well to do but mentally depressed due personal circumstances. They obtained peace and spiritual benefits. At the same time Maharaj constructively used their material resources and talents to spread solace to the spiritually needy persons through discourses on Dnyaneshwari and other spiritual programs in Mehendalewada.
Dr Dhaneshwar, with his medical qualifications could have amassed wealth as most doctors do. But Maharaj never allowed him to amass wealth. Until the end he was made to keep only the bare minimum for his family needs.
Mama Dhekne and Mr. Rudra were poor and remained so with their own personal and family problems in addition. Maharaj did not give them wealth. He gave them spirituality, peace and his love. They were content and happy in what they had and even happier in Maharaj's presence. They never asked Maharaj for more. He was as much at home with their tattered furnishings as with the soft cushions of Mehendalewada.
Mr. Pradhan and Mr. Asher prospered in their business apparently by their own acumen. With their faith and devotion to Maharaj they prospered in the spiritual path. In their case the two activities did not clash. It was the Nishkama Karmayoga or path of action without desire for fruits for them. Their talents were used for bringing spirituality to common man through books. The two novels by Mr. Pradhan have done more for spreading the importance of spiritual life than a hundred dry preachings. Perhaps Mr. Kulkarni and Mr. Shelar were the only two disciples who prospered to some extent materially but not to affluence. Maharaj handled everybody according to his makeup and according to what was good for them. No one complained. And love from them he always had. Even today, more than five decades after the samadhi, some of them are in emotional tears whenever a topic involving Maharaj comes up in discussions. The same persons do not shed any tear at the memory of even their parents.
Maharaj gave vision of Lord Vishnu to Sir Chunilal who was a Vaishnav while to some others, (e.g. people attending Shivaratri celebrations at Mehendalewada) he gave a vision of Lord Shiva and of Lord Hanuman. For the sake of Mrs. Asher, who had deep faith in Maharaj, he himself took the form of Lord Shiva and got worshipped by her. On Mr. Pradhan’s request he gave the vision of Lord Krishna telling Gita on the Kurukshetra battlefield of the Mahabharata war between the Pandavas and Kauravas.
ROLE OF MIRACLES
Maharaj did perform miracles to help his devotees. The miracles ascribed to Maharaj include making a small quantity of tea or food suffice for a large number of people (Kulkarni, Mama Dhekne), curing people by yogic powers, being in two places at the same time (Kulkarni), appearing suddenly at a location in order to save a person from calamities (Pandit, Bhattacharya), reading people’s thoughts, having intimate knowledge about persons whom he had never met before and so on.
It may be realized from the past chapters that Maharaj was close to Navnaths, especially to Gahininath, Chauranginath and Meenanath. For the sake of Dr Dhaneshwar he made Yogi Meenanath visit his home.
Such miracles are not unique to Shri Shankar Maharaj. Life of every saint is replete with stories of similar miracles and they are not confined to the Indian scene. One should go through the autobiography of Donald Walters, a New York boy who became a disciple of Swami Paramhansa Yogananda in California, to learn about how the latter could telepathically learn about any transgressions from the disciplined path set for them (like avoiding liquor and nonvegetarian food). It also describes how he saved his disciples from disasters by his yogic powers even from a distance.
But what Maharaj himself said about Siddhis and miracles was, “Things do happen as I say but I am not after Siddhis. One should not go after Siddhis. Enjoy what you have. Being born as a human being itself is the greatest Siddhi.”
Maharaj never preached or gave sermons. He himself could not speak clearly but he spread the spiritual message (of Dnyaneshwari) through his disciples like Taisaheb Mehendale. Wherever Maharaj went, he organised festivals or programs of Kirtans, Bhajans, discourses etc. through his devotees in order to turn people’s attention towards God. Maharaj used to give advice, if asked. He used to quote from books from other religions like Koran and Bible.
Maharaj never encouraged anybody to take up spiritual path at the cost of one's worldly duties. For example, he never allowed Dr Dhaneshwar to leave his dispensary during his consultancy hours for participating in the group that gathered around him at Nagar. He said, "Duty first". He encouraged people to carry out their worldly duties and simultaneously progress spiritually.
He also said, “You must not give up efforts. If you have to appear for an exam then it is you who have to prepare for it.” Even if a Guru gives guidance and strength it is only the disciple’s own spiritual efforts (Sadhana) that make him progress.
Some people once asked him about which Guru they should follow. His reply was: If you want to find truth then be your own Guru. Do not run about searching for a Guru. When Sattva attribute of your mind has grown sufficiently then your Guru will automatically come to you. But do not expect your Guru to solve your material problems.
He also told, “Serve your parents who have given you birth and taken care of you since childhood. That will guide you in your life and make you happy. Also serve the family deity. The family deity takes care of your family. Worship regularly. This will bring regularity in your life. Your nature will change and the Guru designated for you will come to you.”
He warned, “Do not go after Tantric practices. Such people waste their life and finally resort to cheating. It is much better to achieve success through your own efforts than through the Tantric techniques.”
Some people asked Maharaj about fear that they felt about many things like body, death etc. Maharaj said, consistent with Dnyaneshwari, that everything in this world is destructible therefore there should not be any fear about that. One should realise that you are not the body but the soul and the soul is indestructible. Once this is realised bliss will replace fear. One should also be confident that God is your great saviour.
Maharaj explains Dnyaneshwari
It is obvious that what Maharaj advised was not different from what is advised in Dnyaneshwari. Maharaj himself knew Dnyaneshwari thoroughly well. Mr. N. K. Barve from Nagar has written his experience regarding this as follows: Sardar Nanasaheb Mirikar, a devotee of Maharaj used to give excellent discourses on Dnyaneshwari. The discourses were held between 5 and 6 PM in the evening and were attended by 25-30 people. Maharaj who was camping there for 5-6 days also attended. One day, while the discourse was going on Maharaj signalled to a devotee named Mr. Nisal to bring him a liquor bottle. This was immediately brought. Maharaj asked him to bring one more bottle, which also Mr. Nisal did. To the astonishment of all Maharaj put both the bottles to his mouth at the same time and emptied them in one go. Then he got up and sat near Sardar Mirikar. Saying, “What do you understand in Dnyaneshwari?” he himself began a discourse and explained a particular Ovi in forty different ways. Normally Maharaj used to lisp and his speech used to be indistinct but now it was extremely clear. Mirikar prostrated before Maharaj. Unfortunately, Mr. Barve writes, nobody remembers which particular Ovi Maharaj chose for the discourse.
TEACHINGS FOR THE WORLD
Maharaj was a world saint as might be seen from his mysterious visits world over (using his yogic powers). Not much is known about what Maharaj did in these foreign places. Evidently, he could not prescribe the study of Dnyaneshwari and its practice in such places. But though the teachings of Dnyaneshwari appear outwardly to be relevant only to Indian or Hindu environment they can be easily adapted anywhere in the world provided we adjust the meaning of Dharma to fit the local socio-ethical norms.
Maharaj had disciples in many religions. But he was never bound by the boundaries of a religion. We already know about some of his Muslim devotees and his deep knowledge of Koran. But he was against the limits and restrictions implied in the religious dogmas or rituals enforced by religious institutions. This is evident from the advice given in the two novels by G. K. Pradhan viz. “Towards the Silver Crest of Himalayas” and his second posthumous novel “Know Thyself”. In both novels Maharaj’s views are presented thorough the characters Gurudeo and Swamiji respectively. You have already read the summaries of the plots of the two novels in Chapter VI.
A summary of teachings in Silver Crest
In this novel Gurudeo explains the proper approach to life through the answers to the questions put to him by members of the audience. These should be read in original, but a humble attempt to summarise these teachings is made below. The presentation is not in the chronological order of their appearance in the novel.
Pursuit of Happiness:
Everyone has for his goal happiness and peace in life. He tries to get these through wealth, power etc. But he is never satisfied with what he has achieved. Desires go on increasing in dimensions and intensity as they are fulfilled. In other words he is never satisfied and happy because his desires are never satisfied.
There are natural desires arising out of physical and biological needs. They are temporary and have no lasting effects. But this is not so for desires arising out of the projection of the mind, heart, intellect, ego etc. These desires arise because we are bound to factors like religion, dogmas, cult, social, economical and political ideals etc. which force us to follow certain patterns of thinking and behaviour. This leads to our developing ambition, desire for gratification of ego, need for security, desire for affluence or wealth, possessions or monopoly, position or leadership etc. We strive to attain the goals of achievement in life set by these desires, which are never satisfied, and we continue to be unhappy. If we avoid being a slave to these patterns then we are very much free from factors that disturb the peace of mind. To be free we must find out root cause of our desires. If you do some honest thinking you will find that you have wasted your time and energy on worthless things as far as your happiness and peace are concerned.
About himself, Gurudeo says, “I have no possessions to lose nor objectives to gain. I have no caste, creed or religion or dogmas to follow or to propagate. I do not feel any barriers between me and the creation of God. I have no fears because I have nothing to be afraid of. A thing that is perishable is something not worth worrying about. Everything is perishable sometime or other. The lack of fear has brought me satisfaction as well as peace”.
Love and Expectations:
All your efforts and labours are made with the idea of gratification and expectations from your wife and children, friends and others. Even visiting temples or praying to God is not without the idea of gratification. They arise from ambition. You feel disturbed, angry and let down if the expectations are not met fully. This comes in the way of enjoying the pleasure of love. Love is sublime, pure and simple.
Abstract and concrete knowledge:
Abstract knowledge or spiritual knowledge is Knowledge or realisation of the Self, Brahman or God. This knowledge is not an attainment but an experience that cannot be expressed in words.
All the concrete knowledge requires a teacher. Progress in attaining concrete knowledge has a time factor and it can be assessed from time to time. Concrete knowledge never leads to experience or to abstract knowledge but only to ego. Even yoga in any form is a factual attainment. It may give you proficiency in yogic feats but it cannot give you any experience or realisation, while a man without even an idea of yoga might have attained it.
Abstract knowledge however requires practice of making the mind thoughtless and still, free of past memories and expectations of the future. A still mind lives only in the present. When the mind is still the subject gets an experience that is without reference to anything. It is an experience giving immense joy and creates unparalleled state of pleasure that cannot be expressed in words. Thus, unlike concrete knowledge the abstract knowledge is not an attainment but an experience.
But mind cannot be made still by a mantra or worship or other practices. These are merely escapes or excuses. What is required is an introspection of things actually going on within yourself because the problem is within and not without. You must observe how the mind works, how a thought arises, what activities within your mind create ambition, greed, ego etc. This analysis requires honest thinking. Honest thinking also takes place without the past memory, future considerations and with no reference to anything such as how it affects you or will be interpreted by others or whether the solution will be acceptable or not by others. In other words, the thoughts must not be associated with any idea of satisfaction, expectations or gratification or as the outcome of an ego. With honest thinking and observation of internal activity, you will be conscious of the causes and the effects. “I” or the ego will melt and when it vanishes completely your problems as to why there is unhappiness and lack of mental peace will be solved by virtue of your own efforts. This solution cannot be obtained through worship, prayer etc., nor can a guide or a Guru provide it though he may inspire and assist you in your efforts. The idea that Guru will provide the solution is based upon a desire to escape the efforts through outside help. The moment you realise and be convinced that it is the greed, ambition etc. that come in the way of your happiness and find their source through introspection you will keep away from them as you keep away from poison.
Role of Books etc:
Books may be read for information and factual knowledge and scholarship. They may help to attain certain status in life and society. They are necessary for professional attainments to gain proficiency in various subjects, scientific or otherwise. But books cannot guide you towards happiness and peace. Books serve only as references; they have no power to guide anybody. Many saints and philosophers have tried to record their own experiences but they are useful only to seekers who may get similar experiences. Peace and happiness is a condition within. Words are inadequate to describe their experience. That experience cannot be obtained by outside efforts such as reading books.
A large number of people, with some motive or objective in mind, practice processes like worship, recitation of mantra, observe austerities etc. It is all right to practice these but you must understand that it does not lead you to the experience or realisation of truth.
Today a Guru is being sought for an escape or relief from worries of daily life generally by means of some process (worship, mantra etc.) Often, you search for a person whom you call a Guru, who will assign to you a process like mantra. You do this because you have heard that someone else had a success with that Guru. If you do not reach your goal after following the process for some time you feel cheated. You then abandon that process and search for a new Guru. This approach is simply an escape to avoid facing realities and understanding the problem yourself. Thus Guru has become a marketable commodity.
One need not search for or choose a Guru. It is he who chooses his disciples and imparts them knowledge or rather removes their ignorance. The so fortunate disciples consider their Guru to be above everything and would make any sacrifice to please him. Their confidence in their Guru is implicit and firm and they do not care to judge his knowledge capacity or calibre. Guru in turn knows how to handle his disciples and has no expectations from them. Also there cannot be a fixed course, for he treats each disciple separately fully understanding his or her calibre and mettle. One rarely comes across Gurus and disciples of this nature.
In giving guidance to his disciples the Guru neither imparts any of his physical or his physiological powers nor can such guidance be considered as a miracle or a cure though a True Guru (Sadguru) is able to perform them. It is therefore obvious that the capacity of giving guidance is not limited by the number of disciples but by the time limit of his physical existence. A person who has attained truth and knowledge can rightly be called a Guru. He has no limit for giving guidance. A question may arise in your mind why different disciples of the same Guru do not attain the same level. The simple way to understand this is by the following simile. It rains everywhere while there exist differences in crops and quantity of yield. Even with the same quantity of rain nothing grows on rocks or unfertile soil. Every human being is moulded with different kinds of ingredients. The physical as well as mental structure of everybody differs from person to person. Therefore, the development of each disciple under the guidance of the same Guru is different from others.
The meaning of the term Guru has changed over time and unfortunately for the worse. World is advancing towards materialism at the cost of other values which would have made life more peaceful. Economics has become a sort of religion overriding everything else in life while things conducive to happiness have completely lost their meaning, value and importance.
Guru cannot be an institution, fad or creed. Any person who identifies himself with these is an ignorant person and one ignorant person cannot teach or educate another. You think you need of a Guru in order to get an outside help for relief from your problems without taking the trouble to understand them yourself. You yourself are responsible for creating various obstacles in your path towards happiness and peace and you alone are competent to remove them. In fact you can become your own Guru by trying to understand your problems yourself. Books will not serve you in any way except as a reference. Any process like worship, mantra etc. will become an impediment to your own progress.
Faith is something that is unshaken, without expectations or ideas of gratification of any kind. If you have faith in God, who you believe to be omnipotent and omnipresent, capable of giving justice, upholding the righteous and punishing the wicked and fulfilling your desires ambitions etc., then you cannot have faith in any deities or demi-gods. A person having faith in Almighty need not approach anyone else for relief, physical or otherwise. If you do so then you have not understood the meaning of faith. Faith is never lost. If you have understood what God is then you will find that there is nothing like displeasure in Him. He is not required to be flattered, bribed, offered presents, worshipped in a particular way, prayed or to be met at a particular place. But people do it all the time without proper thinking or understanding. But one need not bother about these things. Instead, one should be a keen observer of one’s mental or psychological processes as a sure means of finding the truth.
Over the millennia, various yoga techniques have been devised to attain the thoughtless condition i.e. a still mind and attain a harmonious condition of mind and senses. If there is any discord between the two then the subject will feel disturbed and will not experience the stillness of the mind. While listening or observing, all other senses are in perfect harmony with your power of listening and observation, i.e. the power or energy of other senses is concentrated in your power of observation or listening. If this is not done then you will not be able to observe or listen. Similarly, your body, mind and senses must be in perfect harmony and tuned together in such a way as to create a condition or atmosphere helpful in all respects to create a thoughtless state of mind. However great a singer you may be, you will not be able to give a performance if your health is not good, or you are not in good mood or instruments are out of tune or the atmosphere is not conducive to the desired effect. Similarly everything must be in perfect harmony or in tune to have desired results.
Similarly, the physiological and mental harmony is necessary and helpful for thoughtless condition. Once this is attained and the subject gets an experience the experience by itself is so rich, complete and absolute that the stillness of the mind remains a permanent state not dependent upon anything and undisturbed by any of the factors stated above. It has therefore been found necessary that a subject who desires thoughtless condition, stillness of mind, has got to create an harmonious atmosphere around him conducive to the thoughtless condition. In the absence of any other suitable alternative, yogic methods, samadhi, concentration, devotion etc. have been found to be the best methods to create such an atmosphere. It has been found by experience that yoga, particularly the samadhi and particularly the nirvikalpa samadhi lead the subject to the thoughtless condition and definitely to the atmosphere wherein he may get the above experience.
As mentioned earlier, yogic feats by themselves cannot give you any experience or realization. But the yogic practices are definitely helpful. They help to maintain excellent health, peaceful physiological condition, create immense physical and mental energy and help in spiritual progress.
Why different religions are founded:
Individuals, who may be called avatars, messengers of God etc. have attained clarity, knowledge, and truth. In a few cases this understanding has dawned upon them accidentally and in many cases it is the result of their sincere search for the truth and the efforts in that direction. In almost all cases the experiences and findings based upon it remain the same while the methods of approach are different.
The individual methods differ because of circumstances, environment, atmosphere, social set-up and many other factors. What is important therefore is the problem of understanding and not the matter of approach. Unfortunately, we see that the methods are given more importance than the problem itself and that is why there is confusion. The teachings and the broad principles advocated by saints are practically the same. It is their followers who give more importance to the methods and practices thereby masking the main objective and creating confusion. The great men had no idea that their followers would confuse the real issue and give prominence to forms and formalities, practices and methods.
Unfortunately, everyone thinks that only his own religion or creed is correct and the best and tries to establish his own superiority by insisting that it should be followed by all by force or otherwise. This leads to continuous conflicts, small and big.
Role of saints:
Though every individual has to make his own efforts to experience Self-realisation, a saint or master can help him to attain a stage wherein the experience of may be possible. For attainment of knowledge or ultimate realisation, three factors are necessary. Something must happen in the life of a subject, which would completely transform him from the state of sleep to wakefulness i.e. from ignorance to ultimate realisation. This has happened in the case of a fortunate few but such cases are exceptions.
The second factor is an outside help, particularly from saints, who are there to help humanity in general and in particular those who are in search of Self-realisation. Their success depends upon the degree of ignorance and nature of the seeker. Those who have benefited by the teachings and the guidance from the saints would naturally be grateful to them while others may consider them as nuisance. The judgement given by the latter type of persons is therefore absurd.
The third factor is that a seeker may have to wait till eternity till he realises that life is a dream state and only when he comes out of it can he reach the wakeful state of Knowledge that he is the Soul and realize the Truth. The teachings of saints, the intensity of their message and the influence created by them directly or indirectly on the atmosphere around helps the seeker to attain the truth.
The supposed confusion about the teachings of the saints exists due to the misinterpretation of their teachings, which is wilful in some cases while in others to suit a particular cult a religious propaganda etc. The teachings of the great men are profusely quoted to suit the purpose of the exponents, propagandists and others who are interested in the cause. The object behind this is obviously to enlist the support of the general public or to effect mass conversions. At such times the teachings of the great are generally misinterpreted to suit the purpose. It would therefore be unwise to accuse great men for the confusion created by the people interested in creating such confusion.
Brahman and Maya:
Maya and Brahman, both being in a sense unreal, can be understood verbally only by similes and metaphors. Maya and Brahman can understood is only through an experience, which is beyond words and goes with the individual.
Everything that has birth and death, beginning and end, perishability and destruction is Maya. Maya is caused by the living force called Chaitanya or Brahman or Purusha and has existence only when the living force is at its best. The entire creation of Maya disappears when Brahman is not active. Brahman is a living force that has neither birth nor death but that is not so with Maya. However, creation of Maya has never been the object of Brahman who is the power and life all pervading. Knowledge and experience are the only things that can dispel Maya.
The energy or power or Chaitanya is present either subjectively or objectively and may or may not be perceived. There cannot be any space or void without it. Maya is the exposure (manifestation) of Brahman. Objects created by Maya and indicative of the manifestation of Brahman are definitely perishable in time. Brahman is perfect, constant and has no variation.
What is important is not the perishable object (created by Maya) but the power. Thus, created objects, animate or inanimate have little value in the context of power or energy that keeps them living or that pervades through them.
Capacity to expose energy or power depends upon the material of which the object is made and this capacity may vary with different objects. Even in the creation, persons who expose more of this pervading power are called Avatars, Saints etc. The capacity to expose more naturally depends upon the finer material of which the object is made. In the case of human beings the exposure of Brahman etc, depends upon their experience, knowledge and understanding.
A summary of teachings in Know Thyself
Now let us discuss the teachings in Pradhan’s second novel. In this novel, Swamiji is portrayed as being conversant with Hindu scriptures and philosophy as well as with Christian, Muslim and Buddhist religious texts and philosophy. Mr. Pradhan has provided an appendix entitled "Guide to the Journey to No-where" summarising these teachings. Following is a condensed version itemised by different topics given in the book “Know Thyself”:
The word religion is loosely used and not well understood. True religion is an internal evolution that completely liberates and frees the mind. It is to be lived and not propagated. It means consciousness and duty including humanity and love for society, country etc.; internally it includes frustrations and tragedies which make one turn to a Guru or God; Personal troubles are due to projection of his mind and ego. Once he understands this he can take steps for liberation from the slavery of the mind.
Principles of religion have been destroyed or misinterpreted and the ignorant are exploited using the fear of miseries and hopes for better life in the future rather than the present one. Priests or books do not make a religion.
Laws are meant to improve man. They do not bring an inner evolution. In an organization we forget the purpose for which we are organized and we stick to rules and regulations. Then comes the power politics of organization posts like chairman and secretary. We forget the real purpose of the laws completely and become their slave.
God does not require an interpreter or broker. You may doubt the existence of God but it does not affect Him in any way. God or truth is unknown. Claim of knowing God is either a deliberate lie or imagination of the intellect of the so-called great men. Infinite cannot be finite. It is an experience of realization and it varies with individuals from moment to moment.
Books, lectures give you information and scholarship over various subjects. They serve no purpose in finding God or truth. On the contrary they create unnecessary confusion in the minds of a person who has not undergone an inward development.
I am not a Guru and I do not encourage a following. Guru is a liberating factor and not a binding one. One who is completely free and is liberated can only liberate others. I do not give Mantra to anybody because mantra-japa dulls the mind.
Meditation is a movement in silence, in attention, without any choice or conclusion. It is the action of silence and not of the mind. Attention is clarity. It is not any thought that has its roots in past memories. Meditation or living in the true religious life is the freedom from thought and a movement in the eternal living or in the bliss or ecstasy of truth.
Meditation is not an escape from the world; it is the comprehension of the world and its ways and the ways of our mind, which is self-knowledge. It is freeing of the mind from the known, the detachment from the society and the world and living in it while being totally an outsider. Your real study starts with the study of your own mind. Observation of your thought would lead you to the source of the thought, the thinker.
Your personal self-realization is more important than forms, formalities and rituals, prestige, wealth and property. Your troubles and tribulations are the creations of your own mind and ego as well as ambition and fear.
There is a difference between liking and love. Liking is a concept of mind with a give and take in it. In love there is no expectation or gratification. Even people who harm you are loved.
You are all great souls. Your love for truth and fearlessness will be your guide towards meeting your Lord. The rest will follow automatically. You all would be completely changed during the transformation.
Living the present:
Change of the mind is possible only when we deny the past. The past is gone and you cannot bring it to life again. Only the present is in your power. When you try to escape from the present to live with reference to your past and in the hope of the future you totally neglect the present, which alone is the most important and most valuable.
Being and becoming:
Being good, virtuous, joyous, peaceful or really happy and becoming good or better are two different states of life. Being good is religious life. Becoming good is not religious as it depends upon wish, effort, greed, ambition and envy. Becoming religious is denying religion. Becoming good is denying goodness.
Attachment or detachment:
Attachment or detachment is only a mental phenomenon. If you know attachment and live with it, don't escape from it, then without any effort or pain, detachment comes about.
Belief and reality:
Belief is one thing and reality another. Belief leads to bondage, and truth or reality is possible only when there is freedom from belief and fear. The philosopher or the theologian spins theories about God, saviour, avatar or Guru according to his own conditioning as a Hindu, Christian, communist etc. The believing mind is not an enquiring mind and is limited by the principles.
Death and living:
Death is inevitable but to die fighting, to die to the past memories is very good for living in the present or from moment to moment. One has to face the trouble without being disturbed. Death is of two types: physical and psychological. You can experience psychological death while living. To die to everything one knows or all memories is mental death. To live in the present completely is to experience death. Then there is no gap between life and death. Death is living and living is death. One has to die to death, only then innocence is born and the timeless new comes into being.
Nature does not adjust itself to our timetable but we try to adjust our time calculations as per natural occurrences.
I do not believe in doing miracles. There is nothing like miracles. Everything occurs in normal way as cause and effect. Out of our ignorance we call it a miracle.
Note that the advice in the two novels is on similar lines. Both clearly bring out the selfish, sectarian character of the disciples of the founders of the religions that has led to disputes throughout the world. The first novel gives a more practical advice to a seeker as to how to proceed if one has no Guru. For those who have a Guru it shows the degree of his importance in the life of the disciple.
A short discussion
Mr. Pradhan presents spiritual philosophy through the character of Gurudeo in the first novel and that of Swami Ram in the second, both characters being modelled on the personality of Maharaj. Both have travelled extensively. Both aver that they do not belong to any cult or sect. While only Hindu disciples of Gurudeo are mentioned in the first novel, Swamiji has disciples from Hindu as well as Christian faiths. The latter are exposed to the broader aspects of spiritual philosophy after meeting Swami Ram.
When one examines the history of any religion one realises the truth of what Gurudeo tells about the disciples misinterpreting the teachings of their spiritual leaders and Gurus after their death. They distort them to suit their own purposes shadowing the original advice of the founders. In the course of time the religion becomes an establishment, rules and regulations are framed and these bind the follower in that framework. Swamiji brings out clearly how these rules and regulations prevent the seeker from the very freedom that was the original aim of the religion. Religious organisations exploit the ignorant followers using these rules. The rules and regulations are prescribed for worship, prayers, observation of certain days for austerities and participating in prescribed festivals. Social behaviour gets entwined in the religion thus enabling to gain a control of the society. For example restrictions are put on marriages outside the community and in some cases they are banned. Disobedience to the rules is considered as a sin punishable by miseries in hell after death, while following the rules gives merit entitling them for a place in heaven. The merit is also supposed to give a better life in future births. But none of the religious “authorities” seem to offer a better life in the present lifetime itself. The religious authorities usurp the power of God to condone the sins and even try to restrict the freedom of mind to think. The priests are ready to perform rituals for atoning the "sins" and collect money as fees or donations. Thus, God is made merely an instrument in the hands of the religious authorities to keep the followers in line, amass wealth and gain power.
Gurudeo and Swamiji prefer introspection and meditation to processes like worship, austerities etc. (See advice in Dnyaneshwari later) These processses however have been part of the religious practices since time immemorial. Most people do not understand clearly or even think about what the relative advantages and disadvantages of meditation and ritualistic worship are. On the other hand those who practice yoga, meditation etc. are not that ardent about ritualistic worship.
The advice in both the novels seem to be directed towards educated readers and intellectuals who are familiar with the spiritual philosophy at least through reading and know the importance of yoga and meditation. Maharaj does not prohibit or discourage worship rituals. Maharaj himself had performed or participated in Satyanarayan Puja (See Chapters on Dr Dhaneshwar and Mr. V. K. Kulkarni). He had also initiated the Gokulashtami festival in Mehendale Wada, which went on for more than two decades. Also, devotees sometimes worshipped Maharaj himself just as an idol is worshipped.
Worship rituals, though they are instruments of binding people to "processes" mentioned by Gurudeo have a definite role for a person both in his religious and social life. Not everybody is capable of following the path of yoga and meditation. Nor does everybody think of matters like salvation or liberation (Moksha) in his practical life. Even for those who think of these matters Dnyaneshwar Maharaj proposes (based on Gita) not one but four alternate spiritual paths.
Dnyaneshwari proposes four paths: Path of Knowledge, path of action, the yoga path and the path of devotion.
We have seen earlier in this chapter that Maharaj gave advice according to the personality and character or rather the spiritual status of the concerned person. Some persons are spiritually elevated since birth while some others develop the spiritual status in time; and there are many who do not develop any spiritual status until the end. There is another aspect based upon modern psychology. Modern psychology (Re: Carl Jung) classifies persons broadly as introvert and extrovert. The former can be further classified as intellectual introvert and emotional introvert. The path of knowledge is suitable to the intellectual introvert, the path of action to the extrovert and the path of devotion to the emotional introvert. The introvert seeker, through the grace of his Guru, controls the mind through discipline and yoga and gradually gives up desire and ego, until they no longer interfere with the development of the higher consciousness. Thus we see that which of the four paths would be more suitable for a seeker is not quite in his hands. It is decided by the qualities he is born with.
Path of Knowledge Path of Knowledge requires the seeker to search for answers to various basic problems about God, the universe, his own place in it etc. He must enquire within himself answer to the question "Who am I?". He must meditate on topics of spiritual philosophy and look for his answers by pondering analytically on these topics until he finds the answers. In this he may be guided by writings of the people of Knowledge and discussions with them. This must go on until he experiences Self-realisation. Dnyaneshwari says, “One should not tell about this profound spiritual path (Dnyanayoga) to an ignorant person who, ignoring the fact that all actions are caused by Maya, thinks, because of the ego and narrow thinking, that he is the doer”. (3:178-179). A seeker of this path is a thinker and often may not have devotion for deities. But at some stage in his development the devotion to the Supreme is bound to develop. Such a person will not generally have cravings for sense pleasures therefore he does not have to make efforts to control them. He must also avoid ego about his knowledge, both from books and experience. But it is rare to find a person of these qualities.
Path of Yoga The path of Yoga is based upon controlling the mind by practicing restrictions on behaviour and attitudes (Shama and Dama) until he the mind becomes calm. For this he may have to practice meditation (sometimes supported by Hathayoga techniques) until his mind is still and is able to experience Self-realisation. In some paths the seeker gets his Kundalini force awakened by own efforts or by the power of his Guru. With practice he takes it to the uppermost Chakra (Sahasrara) when he experiences Brahman. The seeker has to control his desires, use discrimination in all his actions and develop detachment towards worldly things. He may attain Siddhis as a result of his efforts but he must be detached towards them and apply discrimination in their use. Most important thing is not to develop ego due to his achievements. This path is difficult, subjects the body to all sorts of stresses but is practiced many. A person practicing this path generally tries not to get exposed to public and those who have perforce to mix in society practice it secretly. Many persons become renunciates (sanyasis). The seeker may or may not be a devotee of some deity but at some stage he is bound to develop love and devotion for God.
Path of Action The path of action is probably the most difficult of the four paths. The seeker has to perform his duties with a dispassionate mind. He does all his actions as his duty and does them without expectations of fruits. He offers all the fruits to God. He never feels that it was he who did the action. He becomes a non-doer by considering that the task was done by God with him only as an instrument. This way he eliminates his ego and does not contribute to his account of Karmas because he becomes a non-doer. He does not become a sanyasi but lives a normal family life in this world. when we think of all the social constraints and the exposure to the evil forces in the society one can realise how difficult it would be for him to perform his duties by remaining just and moral, practice self-control, and keep away from the temptations of this world. A seeker following this path must be a deep believer in God and love and be devoted to Him. Without this there cannot be a path of actions. One does not find many persons following this path because in this world it is extremely difficult to be dispassionate and detached in the face of the social constraints.
Path of Devotion This seems to be the path of the majority. The follower of the path of devotion must bear inside him the feelings of devotion. The feelings of love and devotion are intrinsic. One cannot say "I am going to be devoted to this or that particular deity". Many people are born with the feeling of devotion. Many develop it by association with others. A family devoted to a particular deity will have almost every person in that family devoted to that deity due to association since childhood. Others develop it by circumstances e.g. when his own or his friends' prayers to a particular deity get fulfilled. Sometimes he may develop the love and devotion as a result of his routine worship of a deity by continued familiarity.
The goal of the seekers following the first three paths is to experience the formless, attributeless Supreme Entity Brahman. The follower of the path of devotion however must have some image before him as a deity he can worship and give his devotion to. This image has a definite form. The form may have been handed over to him by tradition or he may have taken it in by looking at pictures and idols. He assigns human attributes to this deity. That allows him to talk and deal with the deity as if it is a person and offer his devotion and love as he would give it to another human being. Superhuman attributes are often assigned, e.g. Vishnu is depicted with four hands, one of them carrying his weapon SudarshanChakra and a bed of the snake Shesha to rest upon; Shiva is supposed to have five heads but only one is depicted in the pictures and idols. He is considered to be an ascetic and a great yogi and consistent with this description he is depicted as wearing tiger skin for clothes and garlands of snakes. He carries moon on his head from which the river Ganga also flows. His main weapon is a trident. Mother Durga is depicted as a destroyer of demons and rides a tiger or a lion. She has many hands and her main weapon is trident. and Ganapati or Ganesh is depicted with a head of an elephant and having four hands and riding a mouse.
The path of devotion follows from the ancient Pancharatra philosophy. It is traditionally associated with Vaishnavaites or worshippers of Vishnu and his avatars, usually Shri Rama and Shri Krishna. The devotee worships an idol with all the elaborate procedures. He will dress the idol in beautiful colourful attires and offer fifty-six types of food preparations to him as "Naivadya". He will assign all the daily human routines like sleep, eating, waking up, taking rest etc. to the deity. He will bathe the idol, apply sandal paste and Haldi-kumkum, offer flowers and Tulsi leaves, perform arati, recite Stotras (praises) and offer food. He will perform Kirtan or attend them to hear the praises of the deity. He will sing Bhajans to please the deity. Even if he does not do the above rituals he will have the name of the deity continuously on his tongue and in his mind. Many recite continuously the mantra of praise to Vishnu "Aum Namoh Bhagavate Vasudevaya" or recite the thousand names of Vishnu (VishnuSahasranama). Ekadashi (eleventh day of lunar fortnight by lunar calendar) is considered as a very important day when he observes fast. Birthdays of Shri Rama and Shri Krishna are observed with elaborated rituals as for a new-born baby. In the course of time this continuous association and sacrifice makes him one with the deity whom he considers to be the highest entity or a form of the Brahman. But even after that oneness he prefers to remain somewhat separate because otherwise he will have nobody to worship. This is why a Vaishnavaite is considered as a Dwaita (dualistic) devotee and the highest entity for him is Narayana of whom Vishnu etc. are visible forms.
The activities of Shaiva devotees are somewhat different. Their temples are austere and simple. Instead of idols of Shiva a Shivalinga is worshipped as his symbol with Bel leaves and white flowers. Abhisheka i.e. a continuous drip of water or milk on the linga is typical in Shiva worship. The mantras "Aum Namah Shivaya" or "Shivaya Namah" are recited. Monday is observed as Shiva's day when many people fast. Shivaratri which falls on the fourteenth day of the dark fortnight in the month of Magha (eleventh month) by Hindu calendar is the greatest festival observed by the Shiva worshippers. This is the day of complete fast and ceremonial worship at night. A worshipper of Shiva is an Adwaita (non-dualistic) devotee. His aim is to be one with the Shiva principle and finally be one with the Shiva principle, which is the same as Brahman of the Vedantis or Narayana of the Vaishnavaites.
Devotees of mother Durga worship her somewhat differently. She is a mother having many forms or attributes. Different people worship different forms of mother Durga. Some worship her ferocious form as killer of the demons. Others worship the soft motherly form. worship of Durga is full of ritualistic honours one offers to a married lady, like offering of Haldi-Kumkum, flowers, coconut and clothes. Worshippers of the ferocious form perform animal sacrifices and the meat is cooked and eaten as "prasad" or grace. Friday is considered as Her day and the greatest festival in Her honour is Navaratri, the first nine nights in the beginning of the month Ashwin. Worship of Durga is more common among the devotees belonging to the Tantric path. Some worship Yoni (Female reproductive organ) as her symbol since she is the origin of all creation.
Devotees of Ganapati perform the worship with the usual procedures of applying Chandan, Haldi-Kumkum, flowers, Durva grass, incense sticks, flowers, Arati and Naivadya. Devotees recite Ganapati Atharva Shirsha, a composition in Sanskrit praising Ganapati. He is the God who removes all obstacles and is worshipped in the beginning of every ritual.
Other commonly worshipped deities are Hanuman, Lakshmi the Goddess of wealth and Saraswati Goddess of learning and knowledge. Worship of Kartikeya or Subramahnyam (Ganapati's brother according to the Puranas) is common in southern part of India. The ritualistic details may vary but the feeling of devotion behind the worship is the same. But in this regard Dnyaneshwar Maharaj says,
"I grace people according to the manner by which they express their devotion to me. It is the natural tendency of man to do my upasana (worship). But through ignorance or due to delusion, most people think of me in many different forms though I am one and the only God. I am without name but they assign different names to the different forms, which they consider as deities. I am all pervading but they qualify my forms as superior or inferior. (4:66-70). With desire in their minds they worship these deities. They gain the fruits therefrom but actually that is the fruit of their actions, there being nothing other than actions that can give fruits. (4:71-73). I am the witness to the worship of all these deities but each worshipper gets the fruits according to his attitude. (4:76)
Adjusting to climate in foreign lands
Note that the ritualistic worship procedures mentioned above are possible only in tropical countries like India, Mauritius, and Jamaica etc. Flowers, Tulsi or Bel leaves, Durva grass and other ingredients for worship are easily easily available in these regions. Prescribed cleanliness can be observed by taking bath or washing hands and feet before entering the worship room or touching the idols or photos because water is not very cold. One can easily burn incense, camphor etc. without fear of smoke nuisance because houses are relatively open and well ventilated. One can ring the temple bells and sing Bhajans loudly without many people complaining about the noise pollution. One can build a small temple anywhere, even on a footpath. In fact all the Hindu social and religious customs and procedures were evolved in the Tropics based upon the climatic conditions and availability of ingredients there.
But the large number of Hindus settled in USA, UK, Europe etc. that are located in the temperate zone cannot follow these customs and procedures in toto. First of all, the climatic conditions are severe. Very cold temperatures do not permit one to go barefoot or take bath or wash hands and feet with water as oine can do it in India. The kind of flowers used for worship are not available in plenty while Tulsi or Bel leaves or Durva grass are not available at all. There are strict rules for construction of any structure. Fire safety and pollution rules prohibit burning of incense and camphor except in places with specially provided vetillation systems because houses are made of wood. There are restrictions even on keeping a burning lamp unattended. There are rules against noise pollution. There is no Chaturmas, the four monsoon months in which most of the major festivals fall. Rains in these areas are almost evenly spread over the year, only difference being that it snows instead of rain during winter. There are few holiday forcing people to observe festivals like Navaratri to spread over several weekends.
There is another problem, which the makers of the Hindu calendar must solve. Because of the time differences between India and those countries there is confusion about when a tithi starts or ends. Thus one does not know when a certain religious festival begins. Here the sun never rises in the east but in the southeast. So in which direction does one establish the idol? Or where does one face during a Gayatri Mantra recital, which should be done facing the sun? In winter the length of the day is only about eight hours with sunrise at about eight AM and sunset about four PM. In summer the sunrise is around five or six AM and sunset at about nine or ten PM. So how does one carry on with the rituals to be performed at dawn, morning and evening? But people seem to manage without bothering too much about these things. That only goes to show that the man-made procedures for the rituals are not universal and what is not universal cannot be divine. The fear that if one would commit a sin if one does not follow elaborate rituals prescribed by the priests is therefore misplaced, As Shri Krishna says in Dnyaneshwari, even a drop of water or a leaf offered with love and devotion pleases Him more than all these elaborate rituals. It is the power of this love and devotion that binds and keeps together the overseas Hindu community, even in the Muslim ruled countries where Hindu worship is not tolerated.
WORSHIP AND MEDITATION
We have seen above that the spiritual path suitable for any person depends upon his internal makeup. The advice given in the two books by Pradhan seems to be mainly for intellectual persons who have for their goal Self-realisation. But not everybody can be an intellectual or have this goal. What should other persons, who constitute a majority, do? They are interested in having a power entity to which they can bow their heads, to which they can pray to give them success and better life, to whom they can look up to for taking them out of their difficulties and which they consider as the One who controls their destiny. They are not ready yet to take up a spiritual life and may not even have thought about it.
Dnyaneswari mentions four types of devotees. The “Jnani” (having spiritual knowledge), The “Jidnyasu” (curious) devotee who is curious about God and develops devotion. The jnani devotee has already tread the path of devotion and become one with Him. Or he may be from one of the three other paths who has developed devotion after attaining Knowledge. This is the devotee God likes best.
A jnani devotee has gone beyond the thought of the miseries of life. But most persons are troubled by them and would like to escape from them. They are too far from the qualities that make one worthy for spiritual path. Such persons approach deities and Gurus for relief from miseries and to gain success in life when their own efforts in this regard fail. Such a devotee is an “Arta” (distressed) type of devotee. One can well understand his problems. But there is also another class of persons. They are greedy and ambitious and though well-to-do, desire for more wealth, success, children and other amenities of luxurious life. People of this class seek benevolent Gurus and propitiate different deities for fulfilment of their desires. Such a devotee is an “Artharthi” devotee (desirous of wealth).
A person belonging to these two classes is not spiritually elevated enough to practice meditation. Spiritual practice requires the seeker to be detached, desireless and without ego. He worships for the love of God. But the above two classes worship for gains to themselves. This is what Dnyaneshwar Maharaj has to say about such devotees.
“He reaches the height of happiness when he gets the thing he likes and he sinks due to sorrow when he gets what he does not like. However highly intelligent one may be, if he worries because of favourable and unfavourable circumstances, then in reality he is an ignorant person. (13:805-806). He may be devoted to Me but that devotion is with a material objective in mind. He makes a show of My devotion but keeps his sights on pleasures. If he does not get them after being devoted to Me, then he gives up the devotion saying that the talk of God etc. is all lies. Like an ignorant peasant he sets up different deities and after failing with one he goes to the next. He joins that Guru tradition where there is a great pomp and show, receives Guru-mantra from him and considers others as ordinary. He behaves cruelly with living creatures but showers special love on a stone idol. But his love is not steady in one single place. He makes my idol and installs it in one corner of the house and he himself goes on pilgrimage to places of other deities. He offers devotion towards his family deity and on auspicious occasions he worships other deities. After installing me in the house he makes vows to other deities. On the day of Shraddha he belongs to the forefathers. He worships cobras on Nagapanchami day as much as he worships me on Ekadashi day. On Chaturthi day he becomes a devotee of Ganapati and on Chaturdashi day he avers, "Oh Mother Durga, I am a devotee of only you." He leaves the daily rituals and incidental actions during Navaratri and sits for the reading of Navachandi and on Sunday gives an offering of Khichadi to the deity Bahiroba. Then on Monday he rushes to Shivalinga for offering Bel leaves and thus he somehow manages to perform the worship ritual of all deities. That devotee performs the worship ritual of all deities without taking rest for a moment just like a prostitute who demonstrates her love for all the people in the town. Such a devotee who rushes every now and then to a different deity is ignorance reincarnated. (13:810-823).
But getting material gains is not the only reason for performing worship. Some do it because they are afraid they may suffer due to God’s anger if they do not perform worship. In his conception God is the almighty one that controls the affairs of the world. He has hardly read the Upanishads, but is familiar with Puranic stories depicting the power of various deities to do good or bad to people. In effect, his worship is either because of tradition or out of some desire or a fear of punishment. He considers any deviation from the prescribed rituals as a sinful karma punishable by rettributes in this life itself or by being sent to hell after death.
If only he can cross the barrier of this misunderstanding and enter one of the prescribed four paths in Dnyaneshwari he would become a “Jnani” (having spiritual knowledge) or “Jidnyasu” (curious) devotee and tread the path of liberation. The worship rituals, fasts, austerities etc. are like starting the engine of your car but letting it idle rather than move forward by putting it into gear. And just as a car produces maximum pollution when it idles, so does the class of people who stop at the rituals create social, religious and economic barriers within mankind. If only they could put the car into gear they would march forward towards the ultimate reality i.e. the Brahman.
Worship by Arta and Artharthi is ancient
People from the world over have, from ancient times, been praying to God for personal benefits, like riches, having children, getting well from an illness, saving from social, economic and legal problems etc. The appeal to God for such mercies takes various forms e.g. simple prayers, animal sacrifices, Yajnas, ritualistic worships of certain deities or saints, offering of lights (Hindus use oil or ghee lamps, Christians use candles, many offer incense sticks), saying grace, rosary (Japa), observing fasts, giving donations, building temples and other charitable institutions and so on. But all this is a sort of give and take: I pray and You give. Sometimes this goes to ridiculous extent: Let me win a lottery of a million and I will perform a ritual or make an offering (which costs five rupees!). People do not realise that by making such demands and prayers they are asking the Almighty to serve them whereas it should be they serving Him.
Praying for worldly benefits has been a part of human behaviour in all communities and has been going on since the evolution of man. The hymns in Rigveda, the most ancient of the Indian texts were towards this end. In the early Rigveda age Aryans worshipped 33 deities, most of them being the deified forces of nature like the Sun and the wind. People realised that the sustenance of their life was through the mercy of these forces. But they were also afraid of their ferocious form, which led to storms, thunder, floods, droughts and earthquakes causing large-scale destruction. Almost all Rigveda hymns are prayers to these deities for getting children, good crops, wealth, victory in war, protection from the ferocious form of the elements and attaining a place in heaven. So were the yajnas in which offerings were made to these deities.
As centuries passed, these deities lost their importance and new deities came into prominence; Indra, a general of the Deva Aryans came to be recognised as a deity after his death. He had defeated Vritra the general of the Asura Aryans who had settled in Persian region and were always at war with Deva Aryans. (Just as in Hindu understanding Devas are good and Asuras are bad, understanding in the ancient Persian literature is just the opposite i.e. Asuras are the good people and Devas are the bad ones.) After some centuries Aryans settled and wars were relatively infrequent. There was no need for a war God like Indra. He lost his position to Vishnu, one of the Adityas, who was until then considered as subordinate to Indra and was known as Upendra, a name that still exists for him. With the inevitable integration with the original non-Aryan civilization the Aryans accepted the non-Aryan deity Lord Shiva and began to worship it. This lasted even in the times of Krishna who, as Mahabharata mentions (Anushasana Parva), propitiated Lord Shiva for getting sons for his wives Rukmini and Jambavati. As centuries passed, people began to consider Shri Rama and Shri Krishna as avatars of Vishnu and worshipped them. Mother Durga also began to be worshipped. Over the centuries many deities like Hanuman and Ganesh became part of the Hindu pantheon and began to be worshipped. But there was one thing that did not change. Most people worshiped and prayed for personal worldly benefits.
But this worship always had the feeling of devotion to the concerned deity, a feeling that continues even today. There is no doubt that the feeling of devotion is a very powerful force that gives courage to a person in life and especially during his days of calamities. It is this courage that enables him to face and overcome all sorts of difficulties in life. It is his final support. It is also his link to others in the society who are similarly devoted. It brings him and others together for singing Bhajans, listening to Kirtans and perform participate in the religious community festivals and even help each other. All this does not require knowledge of the Brahman or even a curiosity to know about it.
To the above list of deities we must add the names of the various Sadgurus (like Maharaj, Swami Samarth of Akkalkot, Saibaba of Shirdi etc.) who are no less than a deity to their devotees and to whom the devotees worship and surrender in the same way they does to the deities.
Development of philosophies
Actually, in the Rigveda times, before Upanishads were written, concept of Brahman as an Ultimate entity was implied but did not occur explicitly. It evolved in more definite form in the Upanishads composed towards the end of the Vedic era. This Brahman is considered as imperishable, without form and attributes and one that pervades the whole universe. By the time Bhagvadgita was written (in about 450 BC by Sauti) the concept that the imperishable soul in the perishable body was the same as this Brahman came to be established. Historically two distinct philosophies came to be established: The Dwaita philosophy followed by the Vaishnavaite and the Sankhyas and the Adwaita philosophy followed by the Shaivaite and the Vedantis. The Vaishnavaites considered Lord Krishna as Bhagwan, the Supreme Being who is the personification of the Brahman. Shaivaites considered Lord Shiva as supreme and identified Brahman with Shiva principle. But in both the streams the idea of rebirth being determined by Karmas etc. also came to be established. The worship and prayers extended now to the aim of getting liberated from the birth and death cycles.
But such seekers were and are still one in a million. In Dnyaneshwari Shri Krishna (as Bhagwan) tells Arjuna “Only one in a thousand longs for this Knowledge. And even among those it is rare that somebody will know Me. (7:10). There are millions of people who jump in the flood waters of desire for Knowledge of the Brahman, but rare is he who manages to swim across to the other bank (7:13) ”. An advanced seeker may be chosen for further advancement by the Supreme itself based on his achievements in past lives. Such a seeker will eventually come across a True Guru and rise spiritually.
But for an ordinary person with a limited understanding of the spiritual path, it is difficult to grasp the significance of the Brahman. He has to pray to somebody like deities and saints in order to for get relief from his many worldly problems. Many saints alleviate the material problems of their devotees at the same time giving spiritual advice to those who are worthy. Shri Saibaba of Shirdi, Swami Samarth of Akkalkot, Gajanan Maharaj of Shegaon and Our Maharaj himself are well known examples of such generous saints.
We see two types of persons: those who pray to a single deity and those who pray to different deities as per his convenience and needs. People who pray to many deities as per their needs generally are far away from the spiritual path but those who pray to a single deity may be considered to have entered the spiritual path. The regular worship of a deity opens the door to the path of devotion. The prayers and worship rituals discipline their mind and thoughts. This is the beginning of his spiritual path, which starts as devotion to the deity. If his prayers are fulfilled then it deepens the faith in the deity. Once he is sufficiently developed spiritually then he will meet his Guru who will choose the proper path for him.
In summary, the ritualistic worship path is for simple persons while that of Yoga and meditation is for the spiritually advanced ones.
ROLE OF SAINTS IN LIFE
We have already seen what Gurudeo in Silver Crest had to say about the role of saints in society. People often ask, “Why are there wars, terrorism, murders, thefts, poverty and disease, with God or Brahman looking after the welfare of the earth?” Common man associates with the Divine only those things leading to what we think as happiness. He prays for his own happiness irrespective of what it may do to others. He has been conditioned from his birth to associate happiness with luxury and wealth. An educated Indian of today is very much influenced by western thoughts, which are based on Christian beliefs. In the latter, the evil is associated with Satan and the good with God. In Indian thinking both are considered as handiwork of God and therefore inseparable.
What one must realise is, life is always a struggle as well as a co-existence. Nature is very diverse. It is nature's way that some species support each other and some live off the others. Ecological balance among various forms of life is critically dependent on predation and the predated. Tigers must live on deer or cattle; cattle live off vegetation and vegetation lives on the organic fertilisers produced by the animals. Big fish live off the small fish. Birds live off worms that eat smaller organisms. Even inside our body different germs live at the cost of one another. Thus, strife is a part of life leading sometimes to happiness and sometimes to sorrow for a given individual or creature or a plant. But neither happiness nor sorrow is permanent.
Too much of a comfortable living can cause diseases, which lead to unhappiness, and too much unhappiness drives people to a struggle for betterment of their lot. When people are not too busy struggling for food, they get ideas, which may sometimes be beneficial to mankind, but often they also lead to mischief or intrigues. Idle mind is the Devil's workshop that generates unhappiness.
There is a belief in India that wars start when mother earth cannot bear her burden. In today’s language this means wars and diseases are stabilising factors for population control and control the exploitation of the earth resources. But of course this does not condone the atrocities caused in the wars. As we have seen in Chapter V, spiritual powers do take note of this and act accordingly. When we consider the phenomenon of rebirth, it is natural that persons like Hitler and Stalin should be born and reborn and it is also natural for the Divine to counter them through rebirth of good and capable people or in extreme case an Avatar.
The wisdom of the Indian spiritual system lies in the fact that it considers both good and evil as the two impermanent aspects of the Divine. Some sort of balance is always maintained but the point of balance may fluctuate somewhat from time to time. But if at anytime the evil surpasses certain limits then Divine interference becomes necessary. This is what Lord Krishna said in Gita “Whenever the evil forces dominate, then to establish order, to save good people from the evil ones, I take Avatar from time to time”.
Advances in science and technology have given us better living standards, and longevity but have also resulted in population explosion which in turn has created the unhappy situation of job scarcity and resource crunch and consequent local and global conflicts. One must therefore conclude that things we consider bad are the outcome of the things we consider good and vice versa. Good and evil can only be considered as situations or events giving feedback to each other and regulating each other. They are neither absolute nor permanent.
While in the extreme case an Avatar is born to save the world, it is evident from history that great spiritual masters like Shri Swami Samarth, Shri Shankar Maharaj and the other saints mentioned earlier are born to maintain the balance on a smaller time scale.
In this context, Dr Radhakrisnan states in his introductory essay to Gita that the theory of avatar expresses the spiritual law requiring God to save man from evil. For this He must manifest Himself, whenever the forces of evil threaten society. By taking avatar it is God that descends into man, man does not rise to be God. That happens with a liberated soul such as a saint. Man can become an instrument of divine life. The Divine Consciousness uses human life and body for Its purpose. An ordinary unrealised human consciousness does not have similar absolute control.
Another question that people, especially the so-called rationalists often ask is, if a saint is capable of performing miracles then why can he not generate food for the starving millions? Why can he not stop wars and destruction? Why can he not remove poverty? These questions are asked because of irrational thinking that only good is divine, as discussed earlier. As mentioned above, war and peace, poverty and riches, good and bad are all part of a natural order and equilibrium. A saint would not like to disturb it. A miracle concerning a single or a small number of persons does not affect the natural order significantly but anything that affects a large number would destroy the order and equilibrium. Free food would reduce people to level of domestic animals like cats, dogs and pigs. In the long run it will make then unfit for the struggle for survival in this world, where only the fittest survive. What happens to a sheltered non-competitive society has been very well demonstrated after the downfall of the communist regime of Soviet Russia.
In this world of strife it is necessary to keep a check on people becoming greedy and unethical and turning evil. It is the task of saints to use their powers and influence to bring out the good in whomsoever they come in contact with, so that the positive good vibrations prevail over the negative evil vibrations in the world. This is the secret of Satsang or the company of good persons.
We see the importance of the Saints from another angle. when one worships a deity he does not reach the stage of Self-realisation because a deity has form compared with the formless Brahman. Sadguru Saints are Brahman personified and such a Sadguru can lead the disciple to Self-realisation better as compared with deity worship.
Maharaj was born in Maharashtra, which was also his area of work for the few decades of his life prior to samadhi. However, in the true spirit of Naths he belongs to all and that is why his advice and teachings summarised in the last sections are very relevant for everybody.
In the era Maharaj was born the society in India as well as abroad was extremely orthodox. In India the four-caste system was well entrenched in the society and since it was presented as a divine plan it had also formed part of the religion. The traditional caste system has four main castes: Brahmin, Kshatriya (warrior), Vaishya (trader) and Shudras (menial, serving the other three). In this system as practiced today, the caste is determined by birth. Brahmins beget Brahmins, Kshatriyas beget Kshatriyas and Shudras beget Shudras. The sub-castes formed by the progeny from the union of different castes are also defined. Where the mother belonged to a higher caste and father to the lower the children are classed as the belonging to the lowest and even untouchables caste Chandala, forced to live outside the villages in miserable conditions. Initially, the Vedas were open to the first three castes but slowly they became the exclusive territory of Brahmins who got lost into rituals of Yajurveda. In fact, the greatest philosophers like King Janaka to whom even great rishis went for guidance was a Kshatriya. But the caste bias was reflected in the predominantly brahminical strata from which most yogi saints came. This is not surprising because the kind of self-discipline and determination needed for a sadhak (seeker) was possessed mainly by Brahmins due to the strict ethical and ritualistic standards expected of them for centuries, inculcated in them since childhood. In the Vedic times they were considered as good as Gods and even kings feared and respected their words, principally due to the power of self-discipline and ritualistic rigid austerities reflected in their personality. (These observations apply only to those Brahmins whose vocation was learning and spiritual pursuit. Not that every Brahmin led a life of austerity and self-discipline and a few even pursued other economic activities like fighting, trade and farming.) Also, having had no chance for better life and access to education, which in those days consisted only of scriptural subjects, the lower castes had no opportunity to develop that kind of discipline.
We find that the yogis, except those belonging to the Nath Panth who did not care for the caste system or even for the religion and to the Mahanubhava Panth (in Maharashtra) were mostly from the Brahmin caste and to a lesser extent, from the Kshatriya caste. Bhakti (devotion) path of course was open to all castes, (after all a devotee is guided only by his heart!). But barriers between man and God are internal; outsiders cannot create those barriers. What the lower castes lacked in yogic discipline, many of them made up through their devotion and there is a long list of devotees all over India who were in union with God, e.g. Kabir, Namdeo the tailor, Gora Kumbhar the potter, Sanvata Mali the farmer, Chokha Mela the outcast, Narahari Sonar the goldsmith, Sena the barber and many more. None of them were Brahmins but they had experienced union with the Ultimate.
In the fifth century BC, Buddhism lifted the caste barriers. Bhikkus came from all castes who had no base of self-discipline. History tells us that in the course of time moral corruption ate through the Bhikku system. With the revival of Vedic religion by Adi Shankaracharya, the caste system also got revived and continued for many centuries until the British rule. It was in a way necessary as a protection against the Muslim regimes that oppressed the Hindus. But the British rule made basic changes in the society by exposing it to (even then) modern world influenced by progresses in science and technology. Since then the developments in science and technology and new inventions have progressively changed all the family, social, national and international lifestyles.
How the saints of this era adjusted to these changing times will be clear from the example of the four avatars of Lord Dattatreya. The first avatar was Shri Shripad Shrivallabh (1320-1350 AD) born at Pithapur in Andhra Pradesh during a period when Muslim rule had just extended towards southern India. Though he followed orthodox rules like the caste rules, he extended his grace to all. By his boon his washerman devotee was reborn as a Muslim king.
The second avatar, Shri Narasimha Saraswati (1378-1458AD) was contemporary of the above king. He also followed orthodox rules such as those prescribed by Manusmriti and Parasharsmriti. However he was kind and benevolent to all, irrespective of the caste and even to the Muslim king mentioned above.
The third avatar was Shri Swami Samarth of Akkalkot (? – 1878), Guru of Maharaj. The political and social situation changed during his lifetime. It is not clear when he was born or whether (as is largely believed) he is the same person as Shri Narasimha Saraswati after samadhi. But we know that after travelling all over India under the name Chanchalbharati he finally settled in the year 1857 at Akkalkot near Solapur in Maharashtra until he left his physical body in 1878. This was the time when the British rule was established in most parts of the country and the new rulers offered jobs in the army as well as in the lower level of administration to Indians. They opened education to all irrespective of the caste. This changed everything. Though caste system was practiced (and is still being practiced) the strictness became slowly diluted. In this age Swami Samarth of Akkalkot was free with persons of all communities and religions. Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Parsis received his blessings alike and he even had Muslim disciples. He did not bother about the orthodox system any more. For example, Balappa, his principal disciple, used to be very obsessed about cleanliness, caste-based untouchability etc., exactly opposite to what Swami Samarth used to be. To cure him of this Swami Samarth asked him one day to bring water from a house that was temporarily considered as impure due to a death in the family. To another devotee (Madhavji Govindji), Swami Samarth instructed that the food they had brought for offering to him should be given to a Muslim fakir and his dog living in the mosque on the outskirts of the town and later asked them to eat the leftovers touched by the fakir and the dog.
Shri Manik Prabhu (1817-1865) is considered as the fourth avatar of Lord Dattatreya. He was born in the erstwhile Muslim state of Nizam and his work had the royal support. His sect is called SakalmatSampradaya (looely translated as the sect of universal thinking). The basic tenets of this sect are: If we ignore the differences due to time and geographical location, the basic principle of all religions is the same. All have considered attaining God and liberation to be the main aim. The differences do not affect equality and brotherhood.
Besides these Avatars, many other saints like Saibaba of Shirdi, Gajanan Maharaj of Shegaon, Shri Shankar Maharaj and Shri Chile Maharaj (Kolhapur) who came into light did not go by the orthodox rules at all, though many other saints like Shri Vasudevanand Saraswati (Tembeswami) and his disciples continued to follow orthodox trend and extolled the Vedic tradition and the rules set in the Smritis. They were particular even about the caste of persons from whom they received the daily alms (Bhiksha) in contrast with the Auliyas who never bothered about what and where they ate. Swami Samarth used to ridicule his orthodox visitors who used to look down upon him and until they realised his powers refused to eat with him because he did not observe the untouchability rules of those days, .
Shri Shankar Maharaj also, in the true spirit of a Nath Panthi and a Siddhayogi, did not observe any caste bias. This is quite evident from the experience of Mrs Maniben Asher who wanted to worship Lord Shiva. For her benefit Maharaj himself took the form of Lord Shiva but for the form of his consort Parvati he chose the low caste sweeper woman. Maharaj went anywhere, ate anywhere and had followers from all strata of society as the reader may have seen from his biography. We have seen how the Supreme Power does look after the welfare of the earth and its creatures through saints like Maharaj. As long as these great saints are born to guide humanity we can keep profound hope in its future.
Offered at the feet of my Guru Shri Shankar Maharaj.
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