Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Three Scenes, and a Parable, on Culture

Scene 1

In an elocution contest in a youth festival, the topic is: "Cultural Policy".  All the participants talk about the importance of culture, and for the need of preserving it.  None talk about the continuum between art and living, what we mean by culture when we talk about it, whether our understanding is from our our life or from a brochure, why the culture is threatened, what is the culture of the threat itself, why the threat seems stronger than what is, whether efforts to preserve are an admission of weakness, whether policy can only preserve the artistic nature or whether it can also preserve a way of life, and whether state intervention or a top-down diktat is really about culture or whether it is about the self-esteem of a fledgling nation.

One of the participants speaking in Punjabi, to my surprise, quotes that (in)famous sentence: "Whenever I hear the word culture, I release the catch on my Browning."  But he doesn't expound on it.

Scene 2

In a series of classical music concerts in a local university, I find almost no connoisseurs who are there for the music.  There are invited VIPs, donors, students and teachers of the organizing department of music.  The university has thousands of students in arts and sciences, and hundreds of teachers.  This event is in a city of a million people.  The artists have come from far away.  But only those are present in the auditorium who have a professional or research or organizational interest in the event.

Some girls leave at 7pm because of the hostel curfew time.

The anchors talk about the "grade" of the artist (apparently signifying how much the artist is paid by public broadcasting for a performance) and which political dignitaries the artist has performed for.  They do not mention the specific interest or inclination of the artist and his/her work, how the music of the artist has evolved over the years, which are some of the stand-out performances or recordings (by the artist) that one could listen to.  The introduction of the artist is performed mechanically, and the artists themselves (except for one) are ill-at-ease introducing themselves and what they are going to present that evening.

Some anchors are teachers in the department of music.  And they refer to the students in the audience as "dear children".

The poster for the event is in Punjabi, but has the words "coordinator" and "convener" in English transliterated in Gurmukhi script.

The artist from Pune does not understand Punjabi.  The head of the music department forgets her name when introducing her.  And he speaks in Punjabi while the artist looks on with confusion.

The anchor instructs the "children" to appreciate the performance properly and not with whistles.

Scene 3

The invitation card of the University youth festival is chock-full of the names of the VIP guests and only as an after-thought mentions the events themselves.  The font for the names of the VIPs is bigger than the event descriptions.

The third page of the invitation reads in Punjabi (translated into English by me):

"Winning students will be fortunate to receive the prizes from the hallowed hands of the esteemed vice-chancellor."

A Parable

The roof had long covered the house but the winds had weakened its joints with the walls.  At present, it scarcely protected the house from rain and dust.  Any minor storm punished the people of the house with the misery of a fresh damage and chaos.

The rainwater came from the heavens above, but due to an old superstition, the house owner continued to build fortifications in front.  He saw the roof as weak, but not knowing the basics of masonry, he continue to add another coat of whitewash to the walls after every storm.

There was intense discord within the family of the house, and they all resented the owner, who they knew was a fool, but who possessed the only gun in that village.

One day  a mendicant came to that village, begging for alms.  The mendicant's loincloth was patched with regular square pieces from his discarded clothes.  As he passed that ugly house (the roof of which was now woefully patched with earthen pots and ramshackle metal pieces), he started singing an old tune: "The leaf is strong.  The rock is weak.  What's alive is well.  Only the dead is bleak."

The perennially annoyed tyrant of that house flew into a rage at hearing this strange song.  He rushed out and kicked the singing stranger, and screamed at him as he fell down: "We are cursed by the storms, and you think of these silly songs?"

The mendicant slowly got up, dusted off his loincloth and his bag, and replied to the angry man: "I have seen many a storm in my life.  But tell me, what are you protecting from the next storm?"

The man blurted: "Why, our possessions and our life itself!"

The mendicant started singing his tune again: "The leaf is strong.  The rock is weak.  What's alive is well.  Only the dead is bleak."

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Purple Rain

The village was in the hinterlands and its inhabitants were simple-minded.  They tilled their land, waited for the rains, and nature was their god.

The village had been ravaged many times by dacoits.  Even its own chief was not known to be kind or generous.  But the village-folks accepted their good and bad times with patience and prayer.

Their life was one of need and survival, and only a few experienced any comfort or luxury.  The rains were infrequent, and good rains led to a good harvest.  Even if the villagers had excess grain, they stored it for a year or two of famine which might befall them in future.

The village priest, like the villagers themselves, was a simple man, given to prayer and simple rituals.  He lived on alms.  He was never in fear of starvation, and he lived in a simple hut with his holy book.  Adjoining his hut was a temple, if it could be called that.  The temple had an ancient and beautiful, but spartan, statue of a mythical God with a few flowers always placed on its feet.

Life continued for the village at a languorous pace.  Nothing had really changed for decades and centuries.  The villagers were mostly content, and their view of the world was limited to their families and their farms.

Presently, it was the season of rains and so far that year the rainfall had been fitful and patchy.  The village-folk were worried and kept awake at night, watching for any sign of the clouds.

One morning during that season, they watched with glee as a fierce storm formed itself and the easterly winds brought a dense cover of thick, black clouds.  They had prayed for rains, and the gods had answered.

The clouds gathered above them, there was a deafening roar of thunder and the lightening almost blinded them with its intensity, and they danced as thick dusty raindrops started hitting the parched soil.

It was raining heavily now, but strangely - the villagers watched with some anxiety - the raindrops were purple in color.  It was water, from appearance, but the wet soil did not smell familiar.  There was a weird stench, and they wondered if the "water" was indeed water.  One of them, a man braver than others, gathered some drops in his palm and fearfully licked them.  He started dancing, as if drunk.  The sweetness was beyond what they thought was possible in this world. They got out all their pitchers and pots, and collected as much of this sweet purple rain as they could.

They had a good harvest that year.  But strangely, as they fed on that harvest, their skin turned purple.  Unknown maladies afflicted some of them.  They became lazy, indolent, and fond of that purple drink that now filled their wells and flowed in their rivers.  The skin of many turned itchy, and all the time of those itchy men and women was spent in tending to their skin.

Afraid and uncertain of what was going on, they decided to seek the counsel and blessing of the village priest.  After all, he was known to understand the mysteries of nature and had more experience and wisdom than any of them.

But the rain had fallen on the priest's hut and the temple too.  The priest had taken to drinking that purple sweet soma, and the statue of the God now had at its feet, instead of those simple flowers, a pitcher of soma and some pieces of gold.  The priest too was itchy, and as he prayed and read his scripture, he could not help but constantly scratch his belly and thighs.

Crestfallen, the villagers cursed him as a fallen man and destroyed his hut.

...

Spiritual teachers are not immune to the cultural winds, the parabolic nature of technology and consumerism, and the clouds of gratification.  A Buddha of today would have to be on social media.  Ramakrishna would travel in a Mercedes, and a Krishna would have many models as his consorts.

What we are, what our world is, so will be our teachers.  They may say what is old, but their innards are drenched and flooded with the new.  The rare one who will continue to be old will remain unknown and unheard.

Their sickness is not a rare one, but is part of the epidemic.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Sikhism and Renunciation

Almost all Sikhs are householders, and it is widely presumed that the Sikh Gurus condemned renunciation and advocated being a householder.

If we examine Sikhism as practiced in Punjab and elsewhere, it is indeed true that celibacy, living in a monastery, being a hermit, and other attributes of renunciation (as is practiced in India) are absent. Sikhs do not believe in the monastic attributes as worthy, and instead hold that their Gurus recommended living a normal life of working for one's livelihood, getting married, raising a family, etc. with spiritual salvation as the ultimate goal.

However, that is a bit self-serving and is just not true, if we read and interpret the writings of the Sikh Gurus, especially of Guru Nanak. The Sikh Gurus' (presumed) advocacy of a worldly and family life is a myth. Though the Sikh Gurus (and many of the other contributors to the Adi Granth, the Sikh holy scripture) were themselves married and were not hermits, they never quite glorified family life or outright condemned renunciation. One can only perhaps say that they regarded blind renunciation and asceticism as not sufficient for spiritual salvation.

Whether one was a householder, or an ascetic, the Sikh scriptures condemned hypocrisy and attachment. Since Sikhism was essentially an amalgam and a later development of the Bhakti and Sufi movements, the strength and authenticity of feeling and devotion was emphasized, and rituals, attire or an outward change in lifestyle were considered unimportant.

This is also true, that after Guru Nanak became a preacher, he did not really live a householder's life. After the age of 28 (it was 1497 when Nanak's second child, Lakhmi Chand was born), Nanak had no more children and spent most of his life in a manner similar to a wandering hermit.  Similarly, after their ascension, none of the Sikh Gurus earned their living through their vocation (if there was one), but instead depended on donations from their congregation and lived the life of a preacher.

Polygamy was normal in those times, and many of the Sikh Gurus had multiple wives. Even someone like Baba Farid had three wives and eight children. It is also now widely accepted by historians that Kabir was married.

Since a Guru's own life serves as an inspiration, Sikhs reject celibacy as an aid to spiritual upliftment. But the Gurus also condemned, in no uncertain terms, attachment to family, sexual desire and the pursuit of wealth. It is inexplicable to me how one can reconcile a householder's life with a lack of attachment, sexuality or the desire for prosperity (which is usually pejoratively called greed in most Indian scriptures). In my view, such condemnation of normal human drives leads to a chronic feeling of guilt and fallen-ness which then necessitates compensatory devotion and charity to a church or similar institution.

Considering the writings of Guru Nanak, the following are the major references to a householder's life:

Page 952, Line 13
ਸੋ ਗਿਰਹੀ ਜੋ ਨਿਗ੍ਰਹੁ ਕਰੈ ॥
He alone is a householder, who restrains his passions

(Lest we consider this an advocacy of a householder's life, immediately after this verse, Guru Nanak speaks similarly about an ascetic.)
ਸੋ ਅਉਧੂਤੀ ਜੋ ਧੂਪੈ ਆਪੁ ॥
He alone is a detached hermit, who burns away his self-conceit.

Page 1013, Line 11
ਧਨੁ ਗਿਰਹੀ ਸੰਨਿਆਸੀ ਜੋਗੀ ਜਿ ਹਰਿ ਚਰਣੀ ਚਿਤੁ ਲਾਏ ॥੭॥
Blessed is such a householder, Sannyaasi and Yogi, who focuses his consciousness on the Lord's feet. ||7||

Page 1169
ਜਾਮਿ ਨ ਭੀਜੈ ਸਾਚ ਨਾਇ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
if you are not drenched with the True Name. ||1||Pause||

ਦਸ ਅਠ ਲੀਖੇ ਹੋਵਹਿ ਪਾਸਿ ॥
One may have the eighteen Puraanas written in his own hand;

ਚਾਰੇ ਬੇਦ ਮੁਖਾਗਰ ਪਾਠਿ ॥
he may recite the four Vedas by heart,

ਪੁਰਬੀ ਨਾਵੈ ਵਰਨਾਂ ਕੀ ਦਾਤਿ ॥
and take ritual baths at holy festivals and give charitable donations;

ਵਰਤ ਨੇਮ ਕਰੇ ਦਿਨ ਰਾਤਿ ॥੨॥
he may observe the ritual fasts, and perform religious ceremonies day and night. ||2||

ਕਾਜੀ ਮੁਲਾਂ ਹੋਵਹਿ ਸੇਖ ॥
He may be a Qazi, a Mullah or a Shaykh,

ਜੋਗੀ ਜੰਗਮ ਭਗਵੇ ਭੇਖ ॥
a Yogi or a wandering hermit wearing saffron-colored robes;

ਕੋ ਗਿਰਹੀ ਕਰਮਾ ਕੀ ਸੰਧਿ ॥
he may be a householder, working at his job;

ਬਿਨੁ ਬੂਝੇ ਸਭ ਖੜੀਅਸਿ ਬੰਧਿ ॥੩॥
but without understanding the essence of devotional worship, all people are eventually bound and gagged, and driven along by the Messenger of Death. ||3||


Page 1329, Line 15
ਜਿਸ ਤੇ ਹੋਆ ਸੋਈ ਕਰਿ ਮਾਨਿਆ ਨਾਨਕ ਗਿਰਹੀ ਉਦਾਸੀ ਸੋ ਪਰਵਾਣੁ ॥੪॥੮॥
We come from Him; surrendering to Him, O Nanak, one is approved as a householder, and a renunciate. ||4||8||

Reading these verses, it is clear that Guru Nanak did not especially recommend the householder role, but was instead an advocate of true devotion, no matter what one's circumstances.

The prime distinction between a householder and an ascetic is the vow and practice of celibacy. Passion (kaam) is considered one of the five vices/bondages according to Sikhism, the other four being krodh, lobh, moh, and hankaar (anger, greed, emotional attachment in a human being, and arrogance, respectively).

But there is a slight problem.  The other worldly activities can be carried out perhaps without desire, out of a sense of duty, but I fail to imagine how the sexual act can be performed without passion or desire. If a Sikh indulges in sex, which is impossible without desire and passion, he thereby must feel like having failed to follow their Guru's teachings. There is no place in Sikh scriptures for a moderate indulgence in sexual pleasure, and a pleasure it is. For a man, sexual arousal (which is a function of desire and is to a large extent psychological) is essential for the intercourse to occur.  This presents quite a predicament. Fortunately or unfortunately, it is easier for women to indulge in (or rather, allow) sex without arousal.

My point is, how can Guru Nanak be against sexual passion but also at the same time be against celibacy. Did he mean for Sikhs to have passionless sex? Did he mean monogamy, when monogamy was not the norm and as I stated earlier, many Sikh gurus and other mystics were married to multiple wives?  The Sikhs have resolved this predicament, quite realistically, by concluding that the Gurus advocated restrained passion, which meant having sex with one's own wife or wives, as a matter of duty rather than pleasure.

Guru Nanak had this to say about sexual pleasure:

Page 152, Line 11
ਕਾਮੁ ਕ੍ਰੋਧੁ ਜੀਅ ਮਹਿ ਚੋਟ ॥
Sexual desire and anger are the wounds of the soul.

Page 1041, Line 14
ਕਾਮੁ ਕ੍ਰੋਧੁ ਪਰਹਰੁ ਪਰ ਨਿੰਦਾ ॥
Leave behind sexual desire, anger and the slander of others.
Page 1110, Line 19
ਧਾਵਤ ਪੰਚ ਰਹੇ ਘਰੁ ਜਾਣਿਆ ਕਾਮੁ ਕ੍ਰੋਧੁ ਬਿਖੁ ਮਾਰਿਆ ॥
The five restless desires are restrained, and he knows the home of his own heart. He conquers sexual desire, anger and corruption.

At a multitude of places, the Adi Granth, like Bible, prohibits and condemns a desire for another man's wife, though it never condemns having multiple wives of one's own.

For an average Sikh, the Gurus' teachings are therefore understood to be for sexual fidelity, which is a matter of morality and moderation, rather than freedom from sexuality, which is a form of transcendence.  But that is a convenient interpretation and ignores quite flagrantly the Gurus' condemnation of sexual desire in itself.

And nowhere does the Adi Granth advocate love and attachment toward one's own family.  In fact, quite the opposite, it asks the Sikh to remain detached from them and perhaps treat them as a responsibility or a duty.

Page 63
ਮਨਮੁਖੁ ਜਾਣੈ ਆਪਣੇ ਧੀਆ ਪੂਤ ਸੰਜੋਗੁ ॥
The self-willed manmukh looks upon his daughters, sons and relatives as his own.

ਨਾਰੀ ਦੇਖਿ ਵਿਗਾਸੀਅਹਿ ਨਾਲੇ ਹਰਖੁ ਸੁ ਸੋਗੁ ॥
Gazing upon his wife, he is pleased. But along with happiness, they bring grief.

Page 556
ਕਲੀ ਅੰਦਰਿ ਨਾਨਕਾ ਜਿੰਨਾਂ ਦਾ ਅਉਤਾਰੁ ॥
In this Dark Age of Kali Yuga, O Nanak, the demons have taken birth.

ਪੁਤੁ ਜਿਨੂਰਾ ਧੀਅ ਜਿੰਨੂਰੀ ਜੋਰੂ ਜਿੰਨਾ ਦਾ ਸਿਕਦਾਰੁ ॥੧॥
The son is a demon, and the daughter is a demon; the wife is the chief of the demons. ||1||

To conclude, Guru Nanak's teachings never go so far as to recommend the life of a householder. At the most, we can say that the Guru equates the life of a householder with that of a renunciate, preferring neither, and praises them equally for their obedience to the Guru, for their devotion and for having attained freedom from passion and other vices, and condemns them equally for not having those qualities.    This equation of an ascetic and a householder is common in Bhakti and Sufi narratives, and not something new from Guru Nanak or other Sikh Gurus.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Guru, Shabad, Naam

The Adi Granth, the scripture of the Sikhs, has many a hymn which sing the glory of divine oneness and of the way to realize it.  The path is not entirely self-focused, but insofar as it is (to guide the soul to the realm of bliss, to avoid rebirth, etc.) it asks the seeker to (a) serve and be guided by the Guru, to (b) contemplate his teachings (shabad), and to (c) chant and meditate on the "naam" to realize or achieve the soul's union with the Lord.

In this essay, I would like to shed some light on these three important words/concepts which recur in the Adi Granth: Guru, Naam, and Shabad.  These terms are important but not well-understood by most Sikhs.  Many scholars have opined on the meaning of these terms.  They have tried to clarify what the original authors truly intended.  I am going to cite only from the hymns of Guru Nanak, though the hymns of later Gurus are more or less in the same vein.

It is perhaps misguided to carefully analyze the hyms and poetry to form a clear and consistent idea of the Guru's teachings as they pertain to the spiritual path.  Since it is all poetry, meant to be sung in a congregation, the teachings are perhaps not supposed to be philosophically rigorous.

The hymns are also generally quite absolutist, as is to be expected in devotional texts.  Examples of absolutism in Sikh hymns are quite numerous: that there is "no salvation without guru/shabad/naam", or that one "forever wanders if one doesn't do this" or there is "only darkness without xyz".

Absolutist assertions are not nuanced, but they do facilitate surrender.  If there is no other way, and if there is a grave fear of going astray, then the devotee feels impelled to dedicate himself wholeheartedly to the given path.

Sikh spirituality, being an offshoot of the Bhakti and the Sufi movements, is devotional and feeling-oriented.  The Sikh scriptures appeal to the emotions, and there are plenty of instances where the punishment of an agonizing death, of hell, or of a painful series of rebirths are mentioned.  The fearful consequences of not following the spiritual teachings are contrasted with the everlasting bliss and orgasmic feeling of union that will result if one follows the path.  The contrast is not at all vague.  While the loyal and obedient devotee is promised protection and deliverance, all kinds of hell-fire and suffering is predicted for a heathen or a self-willed man.

It is also a misconception that doubt and inquiry is encouraged in Sikhism.  In devotional paths, doubt is considered a grave impediment.  Sikh scriptures, being overwhelmingly devotional, exhort surrender and total dedication rather than intellectual inquiry or self-reliance.

Page 153, Line 10
ਰੇ ਮਨ ਮੇਰੇ ਭਰਮੁ ਨ ਕੀਜੈ ॥
O my mind, do not give in to doubt.

Page 145, Line 6
ਸਤਿਗੁਰੁ ਸੇਵਿ ਨਿਸੰਗੁ ਭਰਮੁ ਚੁਕਾਈਐ ॥
Serve the True Guru fearlessly, and your doubt shall be dispelled.

Page 414, Line 12
ਭਰਮਿ ਭੁਲਾਨਾ ਫਿਰਿ ਪਛੁਤਾਨਾ ॥
Deluded by doubt, he later regrets and repents.

Now I will quote some verses by Guru Nanak, part of the Adi Granth which talk of the spiritual path in Sikhism:

1. To serve and be guided by the Guru

Page 57, Line 10
ਐਸਾ ਸਤਿਗੁਰੁ ਜੇ ਮਿਲੈ ਤਾ ਸਹਜੇ ਲਏ ਮਿਲਾਇ ॥੩॥
If one finds such a True Guru, the Lord is met with intuitive ease. ||3||

Page 58, Line 3
ਬਿਨੁ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਨਾਉ ਨ ਪਾਈਐ ਬਿਨੁ ਨਾਵੈ ਕਿਆ ਸੁਆਉ ॥
Without the True Guru, the Name is not obtained. Without the Name, what is the use of it all?

Page 221, Line 7
ਗੁਰ ਸੇਵੀ ਗੁਰ ਲਾਗਉ ਪਾਇ ॥
I serve the Guru, and I fall at the Guru's Feet.

Page 223, Line 6
ਸਤਿਗੁਰਿ ਮੋ ਕਉ ਏਕੁ ਬੁਝਾਇਆ ॥੫॥
The True Guru has led me to understand the One Lord. ||5||

Page 227, Line 4
ਕਾਲੁ ਨ ਛੋਡੈ ਬਿਨੁ ਗੁਰ ਕੀ ਸੇਵਾ ॥
Death cannot be avoided, without serving the Guru.

Page 228, Line 16
ਗੁਰ ਸੇਵਾ ਪ੍ਰਭੁ ਪਾਇਆ ਸਚੁ ਮੁਕਤਿ ਦੁਆਰਾ ॥੪॥
Only by serving the Guru is God obtained, and the true gate of liberation found. ||4||

Page 229, Line 3
ਬਿਨੁ ਗੁਰ ਪੰਥੁ ਨ ਸੂਝਈ ਕਿਤੁ ਬਿਧਿ ਨਿਰਬਹੀਐ ॥੨॥
Without the Guru, the Path cannot be seen. How can anyone proceed? ||2||

It is without a doubt that the Guru in Guru Nanak's hymns is a living human being.  There may be an occasional verse asking one to recognize the guru in one's heart, but most verses describe the Guru as a persona whose teachings are to be followed, who "gives" naam, and who is to be served.  Reference to the guru's feet is a clear indication as well.

2. To chant and meditate on the Naam, which only the Guru can provide

Page 57, Line 16
ਜਿਨੀ ਨਾਮੁ ਵਿਸਾਰਿਆ ਅਵਗਣ ਮੁਠੀ ਰੋਇ ॥੭॥
Those who have forgotten the Naam are plundered by evil; they weep and wail in dismay. ||7||

Page 57, Line 19
ਹਰਿ ਜਪਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਧਿਆਇ ਤੂ ਜਮੁ ਡਰਪੈ ਦੁਖ ਭਾਗੁ ॥
Chant and meditate on the Naam, the Name of the Lord; death will be afraid of you, and suffering shall depart.

Page 58, Line 1
ਮੈ ਧਨੁ ਨਾਮੁ ਨਿਧਾਨੁ ਹੈ ਗੁਰਿ ਦੀਆ ਬਲਿ ਜਾਉ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
The Guru has given me the Treasure of the Wealth of the Naam; I am a sacrifice to Him. ||1||Pause||

Page 59, Line 10
ਗੁਰ ਭੰਡਾਰੈ ਪਾਈਐ ਨਿਰਮਲ ਨਾਮ ਪਿਆਰੁ ॥
From the Guru's Treasury, we receive the Love of the Immaculate Naam, the Name of the Lord.

Page 57, Line 15
ਚਹੁ ਜੁਗਿ ਮੈਲੇ ਮਲੁ ਭਰੇ ਜਿਨ ਮੁਖਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਨ ਹੋਇ ॥
Those who do not have the Naam in their mouths are filled with pollution; they are filthy throughout the four ages.

Page 1285, Line 7
ਤਿਨ ਮੁਖਿ ਨਾਹੀ ਨਾਮੁ ਨ ਤੀਰਥਿ ਨ੍ਹ੍ਹਾਇਆ ॥
The Naam, the Name of the Lord, is not on their lips; they do not bathe at sacred shrines of pilgrimage.

Page 243, Line 11
ਤਿਸੁ ਬਾਝੁ ਵਖਰੁ ਕੋਇ ਨ ਸੂਝੈ ਨਾਮੁ ਲੇਵਹੁ ਖਿਨੁ ਖਿਨੋ ॥
Other than this, I can think of no other merchandise. So chant the Naam each and every moment.

Page 993, Line 9
ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤੁ ਨਾਮੁ ਸਤਿਗੁਰਿ ਦੀਆ ॥
The True Guru has blessed me with the Ambrosial Nectar of the Naam.

Page 1029, Line 11
ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤ ਨਾਮੁ ਗੁਰੂ ਵਡ ਦਾਣਾ ਨਾਮੁ ਜਪਹੁ ਸੁਖ ਸਾਰਾ ਹੇ ॥੧੦॥
The Guru is the Great Giver of the Ambrosial Naam, the Name of the Lord. Chanting the Naam, sublime peace is obtained. ||10||

Page 1041, Line 9
ਮਨਿ ਮੁਖਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਜਪਹੁ ਜਗਜੀਵਨ ਰਿਦ ਅੰਤਰਿ ਅਲਖੁ ਲਖਾਇਆ ॥੧੨॥
Chant the Naam with your mind and mouth; know the unknowable Lord, the Life of the World, deep within the nucleus of your heart. ||12||

Page 1127, Line 10
ਰਾਮ ਨਾਮ ਬਿਨੁ ਮੁਕਤਿ ਨ ਪਾਵਸਿ ਮੁਕਤਿ ਨਾਮਿ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਲਹੈ ॥੧॥
But without the Lord's Name, liberation is not obtained. As Gurmukh, obtain the Naam and liberation. ||1||

Page 1170, Line 3
ਗੁਰਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਦ੍ਰਿੜਾਇਆ ਜਪੁ ਜਪੇਉ ॥੨॥
The Guru has implanted the Naam within me; I chant it, and meditate on it. ||2||

Page 1170, Line 12
ਫਲੁ ਨਾਮੁ ਪਰਾਪਤਿ ਗੁਰੁ ਤੁਸਿ ਦੇਇ ॥
They obtain the fruit of the Naam, when the Guru's favor is bestowed.

3. To contemplate the Shabad

Page 17, Line 19
ਪਿਰੁ ਰੀਸਾਲੂ ਤਾ ਮਿਲੈ ਜਾ ਗੁਰ ਕਾ ਸਬਦੁ ਸੁਣੀ ॥੨॥
We meet with our Beloved, the Source of Joy, when we listen to the Word of the Guru's Shabad." ||2||

Page 23, Line 4
ਨਾਨਕ ਮਨੁ ਸਮਝਾਈਐ ਗੁਰ ਕੈ ਸਬਦਿ ਸਾਲਾਹ ॥
O Nanak, instruct your mind through the Word of the Guru's Shabad, and praise the Lord.

Page 55, Line 1
ਹਰਿ ਜੀਉ ਸਬਦਿ ਪਛਾਣੀਐ ਸਾਚਿ ਰਤੇ ਗੁਰ ਵਾਕਿ ॥
Through the Shabad, they recognize the Dear Lord; through the Guru's Word, they are attuned to Truth.

Page 55, Line 17
ਤਿਥੈ ਕਾਲੁ ਨ ਅਪੜੈ ਜਿਥੈ ਗੁਰ ਕਾ ਸਬਦੁ ਅਪਾਰੁ ॥੭॥
Death does not reach that place, where the Infinite Word of the Guru's Shabad resounds. ||7||

...

The teachings of the Sikh gurus were not meant only for the elites.  On the contrary, their appeal was in their simplicity and accessibility.  When one considers the language used (Gurmukhi), the idiom and poetic form, as well as the non-complicated philosophy, it is evident that the Gurus did not want to propagate something which was esoteric or meaningful only to a select few, but rather, wanted to reach the masses.

It would be therefore a mistake to attribute exotic and abstruse meanings to the various simple words used in the hymns.  The straightforward and mostly literal meaning is what should be emphasized.  If the verses are complicated and need careful analysis, it would be in contradiction to the fact that Sikh gurus and the other mystics/poets whose writings are included in the Adi Granth, enjoyed immense popularity with the illiterate and lower-classes of society.

The Radhasoami sect, which follows the teachings of the first five Sikh Gurus (in addition to the various other saints), ascribes the following meaning to the three religious terms:
  • Guru is the living Guru of the sect, or the past Guru who initiated the devotee.
  • Naam is "given" by the guru during the initiation.  It means the blessing of the guru and the method: repetitive practice to be followed by the devotee.  "Naam-daan" is what the initiation ceremony is called.
  • Shabad is the internal "sound" that the meditator might hear.  It is similar to the Hindu concept of brahm-naad (the universal sound) or anhad-naad (the endless sound).  The meditative practice of Radhasoamis is called "Surat-Shabad Yoga"Shabad in Radhasoami teachings does not refer to the scriptural teachings but to this inner experience of sound.
Radhasoamis claim, not without some justification, that their interpretation is correct.  But their main spiritual practice is definitely a silent meditation which goes counter to the congregational aspect of Sikh gurus' teachings.  It might well be that both congregational and solitary practices are encouraged by the Sikh Gurus, but the history of Sikh religion does not lend much importance to solitary meditation.  In Gurudwaras for example, all activities are collective, except perhaps a solitary reading of the scripture.

We can therefore dispel with the aspect of the meditative practice of the Radhasoami sect as a later development, not quite the norm during the time of the Sikh gurus.  The Radhasoami meditation involves, with one's eyes closed, imagining the Guru's face in between one's eyes, and this finds nary a mention in the Sikh scriptures.

However, the interpretation of Guru and Naam does seem accurate.  In many Hindu traditions, initiation of a monk by a teacher usually involves giving him a new name (starting with the title "Swami", for example).  That obviously is not the case in Sikhism, where the initiation is more about the Guru's blessing and being considered as one of the Guru's followers.

If we agree that Sikh teachings are meant to be accessible, then we must conclude that the simplest explanation of these words is the correct one.  If we agree (as is widely accepted by historians) that Sikh gurus intended their teachings to be understood and followed by all sections of the society, and not just high-IQ or educated folks, then only a simple interpretation does justice to their intent.

Therefore, contrary to most modern Sikh scholars who perform convoluted analysis to come to a conclusion about the meaning of these terms (to be consistent with the later development of considering the scripture, instead of a living human being, as the Guru, etc.), I hereby state that the meaning of the words Guru, Naam and Shabad, as used by Guru Nanak, is simply as follows:
  • Guru is the human being who claims (or is claimed to have) enlightenment and offers initiation and guidance to the followers. 

    In Guru Nanak's verses, the Guru word referred to Guru Nanak himself (which seems odd and a bit egoistic, but can be palatable if we accept that enlightenment dissolves the sense of self as a separate entity, and that Guru Nanak after his enlightenment did not think of himself as an individual self anymore.).  Or it could refer to Nanak's own Guru, of who little is known.  At least Guru Nanak does not give any indication about his own teacher and neither is there any historical mention of Nanak's guru finding a prominent place in Nanak's community.  On the face of it, it is an unusual notion - the Guru advising his followers to surrender to the Guru (himself) - but it is actually quite common in spiritual circles.
  • Naam is the initiation, most likely involving the simple practice of a chant, given to the devotee by the Guru.  References abound in Sikh scriptures (see above) about ensuring that the naam is forever on one's lips.  It is doubtful whether the chant was the modern one of "Sat Naam Wahe Guru" or some other mantra.
  • Shabad is the Guru's teaching or his poetic verses, which would include those of earlier Gurus in the lineage.
In the Adi Granth, one can find some references to "shabad" being the inner sound and not an audible chant, and some verses where the Guru is considered equivalent to the Lord himself, and some where the Naam or Shabad itself is considered the Guru, etc.  But these references are in a minority and perhaps involve a poetic license.  Sikh scriptures, for example, also occasionally encourage reading the Vedas and going to pilgrimages as well, but the main thrust of the teachings is to avoid bookish knowledge and holy travels.  We have to consider the meaning as is apparent in most of the verses.  I consider that the vast majority of hymns in Sikh scriptures are consistent with my simple interpretation.

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Curse of Jaggi Vasudev

Jaggi Vasudev is a charlatan, a fraud and though he will eventually have his downfall, it will take time.  History teaches us that charlatans like him go through a period of glory and gushing admiration from fools who flock to him like sheep while they peddle the snake oil of bliss, transformation and divine energies.  Like in any Ponzi scheme, these fraudsters exploit gullible, impressionable, weak minds to invest themselves in the service of greed, in this case spiritual greed, while the charlatans snicker from their high pedestals, and enjoy the ride.

Egoistic, immoral and cunning salesmen like Jaggi Vasudev and Deepak Chopra speak erudite nonsense and act holier-than-thou while verbally bullying their feeble critics and amateur spiritual seekers with their voice full of undeserved authority and condescension.

Hifalutin aunties and "I've read Eckhart Tolle and Rumi" kurta-wearing-westernized-idiots might think that they are better than the followers of Ram Rahim who, they say, shaking their heads, must have been blind not to see his garish lack of depth.  But they themselves are in the psychological vice-grip of better-dressed expensively-environed imposters.

People who flock to these fraudsters for emotional relief are those who are justifiably stressed and suffering from the circumstances of their own lives.  These people have genuine questions about life, love and happiness.  But when you are in emotional trouble, you are seeking comfort, not truth.  Truth is harder to accept.  These charlatans are professionals when it comes to bamboozling these dumb seekers with their pseudo-scientific talk of subtle energies, mystical cause and effect, quantum consciousness, the realm where the sun don't shine, and the effectiveness of "inner" engineering.

Well, of course, a disciplined life handed down from the master will help some to shed their drug addictions and distracted life.  But at the cost of emotional servility.  For some, it will definitely bring about stress relief.  But at the cost of superstition and an abdication of intellect.  Just because a quack's remedies occasionally work does not thereby mean he should be awarded an MD.

The problems faced by modern humans are diverse, and are in many cases, psychological in nature.  They seek an authority figure to tell them to be better human beings.  The authority figures are only too happy.

I feel bad for the seekers.  Like the followers of Baba Ram Rahim, they venerate their Baba as the all-knowing who has the answers to every question, be it scientific, emotional, ecological, social or political.  But they scarcely realize that these charismatic sons of bitches are professionals in the business of conning amateur wannabe philosopher-seekers to depend on them as their tickets to nirvana.  Ask these criminals any question, and they will answer authoritatively.  These greedy, gaudily-dressed men of paunch will prescribe humility and inquiry, but one look at them and you know that if there was a Nobel prize for arrogance and hubris, the prize must surely go to them.  The weak-minded followers will lap up their answers without scrutiny and will regard any rigorous analysis of their bullshit as faithless suspicion and the evil intellectual opposition from the inexperienced-in-divinity.

"You have to attend his course, only then you will see."  "Try it once."  "If you haven't felt it, you won't understand."  "You are only talking from your intellect, which is limited."  "Without tasting honey, how can you critique its taste?"  Oh please!

Though I condemn without hesitation these long-bearded fakers, I am more appalled at their followers.  After all, a conman stands a chance only if his target is himself greedy and gullible.  These politically-connected usurpers of public resources residing in their five-star fragrant abodes are just milking the opportunity presented to them.  If the followers are willing to be sucked dry, these reptilian milkmen have no compunction doing so.

Like any astute businessman, Jaggi Vasudev is now advertising with all cylinders firing, be it on social media, in the newspapers, on YouTube, on roadside billboards, in airports, ...  He is calling you.  The guru has finally appeared, and you, the seeker, must have been ready, that's why.

Otherwise educated men and women, but those who have little grounding in modern physics, cosmology, philosophy, analysis, human psychology, the scientific method and all else, see Jaggi Vasudev as the modern messiah who, with his polished lingo and his charismatic gestures, has finally descended from heaven to offer them the release from their ignorance and sorrows.  Thank God for Jaggi, they say.

Fatal error.

The followers will be eventually left high and dry, but in the meantime, what a waste.  I would probably not be as bothered if these charlatans and their sheep were indulging in their ugly internal circle-jerking orgy of surrender and "take me, oh master.  yes of course dear soul." while the rest of the world continued as it did.  After all, there is all kinds of malfeasance going on in the world, so why single out these specialists of speciousness?

But when they start indulging in harming the society at large, murdering journalists and encroaching on public lands, planting trees while also planting their seed in their women followers, rallying for rivers and the mother-nature while incestuously raping that very mother by destroying sensitive ecosystems and having a cavalcade of gas guzzling vehicles (but they need comfort while they save nature, you see?), ignoring the laws of the land, getting their children settled abroad while they ask their followers to work tirelessly for a pittance, having their mistresses order everybody around in their "ashrams", getting grants and patronage and legal immunity from vote-bank politicians who are only too happy to associate with these nirvana-peddlers, offering garlands to murderous ministers, and causing immense collateral damage on the families of their followers, then it is the solemn duty of normal citizens to speak up and ask: Just who the hell do these emperors-with-no-clothes think they are?

Have they no shame?  But of course they don't.  But have their followers no sense?

From Reddit:

  • Was Jaggi accused of killing his wife Viji by her parents? Yes
  • Was there another women involved in this matter? Yes
  • Did this women divorce and leave her family? Yes
  • Was she the closest disciple of Jaggi in a previous life time? Yes
  • Is she a Brahmachari/Sanyasi now? No
  • Is her life opulent in the ashram just like Jaggi’s? Yes
  • Did Jaggi initiate his young daughter into Brahmacharya? No
  • Is he initiating other young girls/boys into Brahmacharya? Yes
  • Did his daughter ever do volunteering? No
  • Did she ever go through long term/permanent ashram life in her teens like Samskrithi kids? No
  • Is there any objective proof/witnesses of Jaggi solidifying mercury? No
  • Is there an objective proof that he learned and practiced yoga from Malladihalli Swami? No
  • Is there an objective proof that he was student of Rishi Prabhakar for more than a year? Yes
  • Is Jaggi and his colleagues are teaching the same yoga, meditation and BSP with minor differences? Yes
  • Did Jaggi ever gave credit to/confessed about Rishi Prabhakar? No
  • Did Jaggi’s contemporary/colleague Ravisankar Mysore Ramakrishna commented about Jaggi’s plagiarism and lies? Yes
  • Is there an objective way to confirm Jaggi’s enlightenment before taking his programs? Yes
  • Is he a self confessed liar? Yes
  • Does Jaggi have political tie-ups? Yes
  • Does he shadow celebrities and crave media attention? Yes
  • Did Isha ever disclose their social outreach program details/numbers to public? No
  • Is Isha a 100% volunteer run organization? No
  • Did Isha use/is using immoral tactics to usurp land? Yes
  • Are Isha fanatics waiting for an utopian mass enlightenment never explicitly promised by Jaggi? Yes
  • Are they dangerously delusional/hypocritical? Yes

India will remain a land of suffering, superstition and sycophancy as long as these wolves-in-robes continue to have their way with their millions of sheepish followers.  These godmen are not the ones who will remove the curse of servility and backwardness from this fallen motherland of mine.

These godmen are themselves the curse.