Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Religion, Spirituality and Fate

Part VIII : My Observations of Hindu Spiritualists.

Having talked about the various facets of what I feel religion, spirituality and fate are, I must tell here that these writings have got crystallised after several discussions with people far and wide, in several forums, with people of different religions and culture drawn across the world, having had the opportunity to serve in a multinational environment. Now being a Hindu myself, I felt the need to write my observations on the so called Hindu Spiritualists. We say that Hinduism is a way of Life and not a religion. We also claim that we are the most tolerant among all religions. We fall back to scriptures like The Bhagavad Gita and the Vedas for guidance and reference in times of crisis or doubt. These scriptures are our navigational aids, lighthouses in the vast ocean of humanity.

The instantaneous reaction of most hindu spiritualists to my questions and arguments are two pronged. Either they say I haven’t read enough or they say that my mind isn’t ready and it is in an agitated state. I find both these arguments to be extremely childish and defensive. Is there an end to reading or seeking knowledge? Even in one’s death bed, one cannot claim to have attained complete knowledge. A teacher worth his salt will never curb the student’s questioning. That’s the only way to learn, the only way to get involved in learning and the one and only way to extract what the teacher knows. But unfortunately, the so called defenders of Hinduism or that matter any religion, despise questioning of their beliefs.

Dialectic is a formal method of seeking knowledge and wisdom by placing logical arguments. There is nothing wrong in arguing and discussing. Many term questioning of established belief as ego and in the least offensive term as agitation in mind. Whether we do it for ego or not depends on how one sees it. If they find it unpalatable, it may be because their ego is hurt. We condemn in others what we fear the most in ourselves.

Amongst all followers of any kind of spiritual path and predominantly the Hindu spiriualists, I find one thing common. My incessant questioning of their beliefs and their resultant unsatisfactory answers is assumed as my unwillingness to listen. And worst is when I place my counter question immediately after their loophole filled answers, they feel I haven’t studied or I need to think about it more. I feel it is an unfair allegation. If a person replies immediately, it can also mean that he has infact thought over it for a long period before or must have discussed it in similar lines elsewhere. In fact, this question about religion and spirituality is not being asked by me for the first time, this is not the first forum in which I have asked these questions and definitely I am not the first one to ask these questions.<br>

Following a path and following a path blindly are two different things. One must ask himself the questions I asked about karma theory and rebirth. I wonder if one can get a convincing answer at all other than ones like "we need to read more" or "person who has said this must not be fool" or "some supreme being exists and we have believe in him, other wise you cant explain the randomness" or “It’s a feeling that cant be explained and draws analogies to feeling like love, sadness or happiness!!<br>

If a person like Einstien gives out a new law of physics, will one believe it blindly? Sure, you will have a belief that it may be true but you will nevertheless apply your mind. Why dont we follow this to our religious scriptures? I am sure that Bhagavad Gita or Krishna does not prevent questioning them. It’s the followers of it, who detest people questioning it, who get paranoid when being questioned about the reason for belief. In the end they neither have the answers nor let people seek, because of a blind fanatical belief that our scriptures can’t be wrong. I am not saying that they are wrong. I am too ignorant for that. All I am saying is that they have been said the way it is because of an entirely different and comprehensive purpose of making a man a better human being in all ways. The purpose starts and finish there.

In all paths of spiritualism, there is one thing common. If you cant explain something, attribute it to its profundity. Believe in it. And answer with a counter question which cant be answered by the student in the first place. (that’s why he is the student). Answering a question with a counter question will lead you no where.

Q : Who is god?
Ans : First know who you are.

If I know who am I in the true sense, will I come to that master or teacher in the first place? Does that master or teacher know who he is in absolute terms? Then where is his defense against being an hypocrite?

The root cause of all this problem is that most of us have chosen to believe rather than to know. What is the difference between knowing and believing? When you know, you can explain, but when you just believe, many things are beyond your comprehension and you have chosen just to believe. To top it all, right from our birth we are indoctrinated by our Vedas and so called scriptures that we are nothing, we can do nothing, ellam avan seyal, ellam vidipadi than nadakum. (All are HIS actions and everything is as per one’s FATE). These have just stunted our minds and made us into a bunch of mediocre idiots settling for substandard things, for that matter even in virtues. Its OK for us to accept any thing as long as a million others have followed or following it. And when some one wants explanation, he is unfortunately termed as egotist.

What are our scriptures/ spiritual paths afraid of that it cannot satisfy the simple mind of a man, if it claims to be so good? When I asked the same questions to a follower of Sahaj Marg, he cancelled his plans to take me to meet his "master" because he felt I wasnt ready for it!! Ready for what? Only a student asks Questions. Not the teacher. And a teacher worth his salt will answer it. At least he will try to. I haven’t found one single person till now, who at least doesn’t get angry by my questioning!! I wonder who is intolerant. The student or the defenders and followers of spirituality!!

In any case, hinduism being the most tolerant among religions is one of the biggest hypocrisies I have ever come across. We are not tolerant with our own people. We discriminate people with caste and creed and practice untouchability even today in many villages. We can’t even treat our own people equally. We deny them entry into temples. Is there one good reason why doing the religious rites in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple must be a Brahmin domain or for that matter anyone’s domain at all? Then what tolerance are we talking about?

Another aspect of all these spiritual gurus and masters I find ridiculous is their dress sense. Why saffron coloured or white coloured dress is a favourite among them? Can they explain? It all boils down to the fact that they are seeking identity and when they do so, they expose themselves of the fact that they haven’t renounced their self which they so fondly and fanatically advocate their followers to do so. As per me, most of them are making money and nothing more. But as long as people like Sai Baba or Amritanadamayi does something for the world by opening hospitals and schools and serve the poor, personally I couldn’t care less whether they are fooling the public or really liberating them from this world. To me they are just modern day Robin Hoods.


anand said...

In my own humble opinion...your questions are completely valid, but your conclusions are incomplete. It is absoultely correct that none of these so called "truths" must be accepted without some real answers. But in the same spirit of logical enquiry that you have applied to everything else in this excercise, you must ask yourself the following question "what is your goal in this search?" Is it to find the "truth" whatever that may turn out to be, no matter what? Or is it to take whatever conclusions you have already drawn as a result of your life experiences and apply it to the issue of religion? Because no matter how many people one has talked to, life experiences are by definition finite. and so is ones intellect and its ability to apply logic successfully in all situations (especially ones in which the "observer" has a personal stake). This realization is the true starting point for any genuine "open minded" quest if that is your desire. I would be interested in seeing your response.

anand said...

I would like to add a little more to my last comment ...what i am in essence proposing in more "general terms" if that is more palatable, is to throw the "rational thinker" into the analysis mix. The observer can no longer observe the experiment without intefering with it! So let us also include the observer (be he a theist, atheist or agnostic) and the limitations of observability into this thought experiment. You have been analysing a lot of this stuff, through the paradigm of "Descartian (or Aristotlean) objectivity". I further submit that there exisits an equally valid (and logical) paradigm of subjectivity (more like non absoulte objectivity actually!) which forms the basis for the eastern (hindu, buddhist, etc) concept of truth.

The Soul Doctor said...

@ Anand

Thanks for your valuable comment. I completely agree with whatever you have said. Firstly, I must confess that I am nowhere near the answers I am seeking for and hence question whether my conclusions are complete can never arise, simple because they are infact incomplete. Though I have given an impression that I am little on the atheist side, I must clarify that I am not an atheist. I am just being inquisitive and rexamining all my values. These writings are a part of that process and a loud thinking of whatever is going in my mind.

Infact, my epilogue was going to be all about these aspects. All in all, my whole search and the little conlcusions I am being forced to draw is that, why let these things affect your mind when everything is so very inconclusive about it? Why surrender to fate when so called fate may or may not exist? Why hand over the responsiblity of living your life to some third entity?

Having said this, I do agree with you that you cannot question rational thinking by rationally thinking. Please have a look at the comments section of my Part V: My views on atheist arguments.


I have written the same answer in reply to the comment by lakshmi narasimhan.

Finally, the goal of this search is to be a better human being by shunning all my hypocrisies, however bitter they may be while doing so. Nothing more, nothing less. As a theist or as an atheist. It doesnt matter what route I take. Even the destination isnt important to me. But this journey is. Thats all.

Thanks for dropping by Anand.

anand said...

Thank you very much for the candor and patience in your response. You are absolutely right, that theism or atheism are quite irrelevant when the goal is to be a better human being...and that it is the journey that makes one so. By the term a "better human being" I assume you mean a being who is true to his "principles" whatever he may choose them to be. I shrink from the term "good" human being, because this ties into the concept of what is "good". That is in itself a concept that is subject to the tides of time, place and society. As society changes, so does ones concept of the "good". In fact within a single society there are a multitude of such dialectics based one a persons life, reading habits or even simply as a reaction to upbringing. If one is indeed searching for some "absolute good principle" that he or she would stick by, thereby becoming a better person, then you get back to the age old search for absolute good/truth/meaning/god.

I guess what I am trying to say is that, the search for absolutes is tied rather intimately to the human psyche, much more so than initially seems apparent. So, even the most a-religious or a-spiritual goals are often at a deeper level this same search for absolutes. It is just that each seeker attaches different meaning, motivations, names to this fundamental search. So I submit that this is what is meant (not by all the crazy kooks or rigid “believers”, but by the few wise individuals one comes across), when the aspirant is asked to examine “who he is”. An analysis of ones own subjective self, replete with all its motivations, goals and baggage, can be a very fruitful exercise, in determining the underlying concept of absolute that is being sought. If such an analysis, does lead one to conclude that ones goal in life however a-religious or a-spiritual it might seem is a quest for some absolute (principle/good/truth etc), then a lot of the analyses in philosophical texts (be they bAdarAyaNa’s Brhamasutra, or Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics or the Bhagawad Gita ) now become valid and applicable.

Of course the other option is to start with the assumption that it is all randomness (as you have mentioned in a previous blog), in which case its not necessary to subscribe to any goal in life, and live it to its fullest in the glory of your own random behavior as well, fully accepting that one day all this will end, and one simply ceases to exist. That is a personal choice.

I just realized that I may be using this comments section of your blog to actually initiate a detailed discussion! So please feel free to stop responding to my comments at anytime, if they get too verbose for this forum/uninteresting/or simply a big bore!

Thank you again for your patient response

The Soul Doctor said...

@ Anand

What a clarity in thought!! Or is it the similarity with my own, that overawes me?

You rightly said about searching for the absolute. The good is in itself relative. There is a good because there is a bad. And also, good is different for different people dictated by various factors that you mentioned. But there are somethings of Good that transcends all religion, culture and cuts accross all man made barriers. For example, some deep concepts of ethics like fairness, honesty, integrity, loyalty, hardwork, lack of greed and such like qualities which stand as very base of this edifice of humanity over which we have painstakingly built these progressive societies. Also one can very easily see that these qualities are not man made, but one can see in varying degrees in animals too. Especially, fairness, group intergrity, not being greedy etc. These are and must not be dynamic though this society has made them appear so.
For example, stealing must under no circumstances be acceptable. One cannot say that the world is changing and hence it is ok to steal Rs 10 as it has very little value today. One cannot apply the principles of dynamism, culture, religion etc to such absolute qualities.

Next coming to searching as who one is, in its subjective form. In science, a point can be plotted once we know the XYZ and the time coordinates. But for that we need to know the origin, the zero, relative to which one can plot. Now, tell me where is that origin, the absolute, the zero for mankind, from which we can plot ourselfs? Everything is relative. Every human being has a different zero. The reality is that you cannot find yourself untill you know the absolute. which means that the search for the absolute must preclude the search for yourself. Its the absolute which decides who you are and not the other way around. And that absolute unfortunately as now is beyond common human knowledge. How will I know how good I am untill I know what constitutes good in subjective form? How will I know what constitutes good until I know what bad is?

But as per me, one need not search elsewhere, ask anyone else, for this absolute. It is simply because one knows it. Its that one needs to follow it. We all know what we are in our naked honesty. I know the real "me". I also see the projected "me", facade for this world. The difference between the two images can be termed as hypocricy. The more the hypocricies, the more is the internal conflict and less is the peace of mind. We know it, deep inside our heart, in naked honesty, what is right and what is wrong. What is good for us and what is bad for us!! Thats why I feel, the search must be inwards. The search for good, the search for absolute, the search for peace of mind.

But I always wonder, In an ideal world, if there is only good, that how good that good would be, unrelative to anything else? Stale. Isnt it?

In a random world, what finally matters is our mind, and how we feel what we feel. Thats why I said, one must be true to oneself, try to reach the absolute, the good. Thats god. rest all goals are superficial, relative. And how we reach does not matter. By following someone who claims to know the path, or by searching ourselves.

I enjoy discussing with you as much as you enjoy posting your comments. Thanks for spending a lot of time in my blog. I shall cherish your valued comments. Dont you have a blog or email?

Sailesh Ganesh said...

Hi, I do not profess to be an all knower here, I'm not one. But does this explanation of why even Hindus do not want anyone to question their beliefs strike you as valid? Hinduism in its purest form is open to reason, in fact it demands reason. Which means there is no strong external belief system that binds a person to Hinduism. Compare this with the brain-washing and threat tactics of Christianity and Islam, and the risk of conversion is very high. Can this be the reason why Hindus too do not want their beliefs questioned? This strategy works at lower intellectual levels, on people do not have the ability to reason. But surely, if one is extremely knowledgable and wise, no one stops him/her from seeking answers beyond what is generally available to the masses?

Does this make any sense to you? It does strike a slight chord with me, but I am not entirely convinced by my argument.

anand said...

Thanks for keeping the discussion going. I do enjoy it immensely also. My email address is anand28_00@yahoo.com. Plz feel free to write to me there as well. Unfortunately I don’t have a blog of my own.

Anyways, I think the discussion has arrived at an eternally debated but very critical question. I refer of course to the definitions or lack thereof, of good and bad, both on an absolute and relative scale. Let me humbly put down some thoughts. Firstly, I completely agree, that there are certain fundamental concepts such as honesty, respect for life, integrity etc which form the basis of any progressive society. No society can exist and thrive in the absence of these fundamentals. However, ethics is also a practical matter, which is applied by every human on a daily basis. So a complete ethical system is one in which a human being must be able to trade-off not only between right and wrong, but also between two rights or two wrongs!

Let us take for example the act of stealing. It is true that if stealing were condoned, it would lead to complete anarchy in any society. But then let us consider a specific situation. Consider a man, who due to some circumstance is faced with a particular choice. He can steal a piece of bread to feed his dying children, or he can let them die and not steal. What is the greater good, value for human lives which are his responsibility or value for the principle of honesty and integrity? Irrespective of what his past actions were, that led him to this situation, he is now faced with choosing between the better of two wrongs (two equally debilitating moves in your infinite chess board!). So what does he choose? Does this choice take him further along the path of being a better man or away from it?

So it seems like, even among these fundamental ethics there must be a hierarchy established. So let us say for the sake of argument that the hierarchy in the above situation from good to bad is 1) Value for other lives 2) Stealing. So this means that the man must steal to save lives. But I am sure you can conversely think of a situation where the reverse is true. Where stealing and destroying a hundred people to save the lives of his children may in fact be bad! So even though there may be concepts that are absolutely good for society (and in most general situations they may hold true for most individuals at most times), however their applicability to some very specific extreme situations may be variable. On the other end of the spectrum there are certain social ethics that are very much a function of the needs of a particular society at a particular point in time (for example, monogamy versus polygamy as a function of male to female ratio).

Therefore, the logical way to go about establishing a framework of ethics would be to create a hierarchy. At the bottom of the pyramid lie actions that may seem good to a specific individual. Superseding that are actions that lead to progressive societies (as you have very rightly pointed out). But these too may at certain times be overruled by specific extreme circumstances. At the top we arrive again at our search for a general set of actions that must be good for all people at all times irrespective of social norms or personal situations. So does such a general set of actions good for all people in all situations really exist?

Interestingly, this brings me to your second point. That is the inward search for the absolute point of reference (or the absolute zero of any frame of reference as you put it). I submit that this action and others in its class (search for absolutes known by different names) could lie at the pinnacle of the ethical pyramid. On further examination (and after some life experience!) it seems that the pursuit and application of this class of actions, actually contains within itself the lower forms of moral behavior as well! So you are right, this may indeed be the worthiest goal however one may choose to pursue it!

I will end this set of comments, by disclosing that this logically consistent, hierarchical system of ethics is obviously not my invention :-).You are probably very familiar with the often used and massively misunderstood names for this hierarchy. From base to the pinnacle of the ethical pyramid we have, vaiyaktika dharma (personal), samaja dharma (societal) (sometimes overruled by vishesha dharma (extreme situations)) and finally at the pinnacle sanatana dharma. I introduce these terms, only to be used in their purest form (undiluted by their usage by cults, sects, swamijis or modern day robin hoods), as described in the original texts in the Rig Veda and the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, which incidentally defines sanatana dharma in a form very close to your own definition. It pains me to mention, how twisted in connotation these simple and elegantly logical concepts have now become, in the dense fog of “organized modern Hinduism”.

So to respond to Sailesh Ganesh’s comment, yes there already exists a formal framework for logical analysis in Hinduism, but even its most basic terms have now become twisted far beyond recognition. But wait!!...Isn’t that the judgment we “Hindus” always pass on other religions?

The Soul Doctor said...

@ Sailesh

Thanks for stopping by.

Hinduism doesnt prevent questioning. All I am concerned is that the followers of hinduism have started to detest being questioned. Simply because he have no answers. That is because they have either chosen or being told to just believe and not seek. Thats my whole point.

The Soul Doctor said...

@ Anand

How can you establish a common set of hierarchy applicable accross the board? Each action has a reaction. the cause and effect concept of karma from bhagavad gita. If indeed one has stolen to save someone else's life, it wont justify the action of stealing though it would defenitely save life. Here is where I wish to point out another contrast.

Say the there are two persons (observed independently) A, B, C, all from similar background, society, social strata and so on. At the same of time, all the three find that their sons have cancer and need a large amount of money to save the life by giving treatment.

Now, A decides to do more hardwork, earn the money legally and save his son. He does so but not enough untill there reaches a point after three years where it is a hobson's choice for him to steal the bank and save his son, else the son would lose his life. Also, during these three yrs, the son underwent extreme pain due to improper treatment, irregular doses of medicine etc. And then, unable to bear the pain of seeing his son in pain, A steals, then saves his son's life.

But B as soon as he come to know of this, he plans, he quickly calculates that he cant afford to earn so much money and within a week, robs a bank, gives treatment to his son and saves his son the pain, the trauma that A's son underwent all these yrs.

And finally C, tries, fails and loses his son.

How would you rate the people here in your heirarchy? What credit will you give A for atleast trying to be honest and ethical, but causing great amount of pain to the young kid?

What credit would you give to C, who stood by his principles but lost his son?

Ofcourse, I can guess B would have the highest rating from you because you ranked saving lives higher to stealing.

And finally, when viewed through the lens of karma, previous birth and rebirth, what conlcusion you would draw for the child's life itself?? Why wont you agree that it was fated to suffer, or die or survive and just leave it at that?

Like this, every man, even when confronted with the same situations, draws the line at different places where he decides to cross over to unethical. It all depends on how much he can live with it. Its all in the mind, in his mind. So it would be futile generalise and create a general heirarchy. Each man decides whats wrong and right, based on the two broad framework. And each of the A, B and C would reap the benefit of actions. They may or may not be caught by lawmakers. But the greatest law is their own conscience. They would have fallen in their own eyes. EVery time they see their son, alive, they would be reminded that they were infact theives. This is their greatest punishment. The effect of their action which they caused to happen.

I must humbly accept that I have not studied neither I have any idea about what these great scriptures of hinduism you mentioned. I am looking forward to get hold of them one by one, to get away from this organized hinduism as you so very rightly termed it. I believe in culling out the good things from where ever I can.:)

anand said...

I think I did a poor job of explaining what I meant by a hierarchical system of ethics. I must first apologize for that! I completely agree that any rigid hierarchy of rights and wrongs would be meaningless in addressing individual situations. You are right of course that every man must deal with his own actions and their resultant consequences, which may vary significantly based on the background that led to them. So I, by no means, believe in a rigid framework that would advocate simply that one action is better than the other in absolute terms. That would be no better than any rigid code of ethics, similar to those seen in some extremist sects of various modern religions today.

The point that I was trying to make, is that for every individual, the concept of good and bad functions hierarchically at these different levels, from the societal to the personal to something possibly eternal. And in that vein I suggested that for the seeker (and not everyone is a seeker!!), the search for absolutes often constitutes the pinnacle of his own system of ethics. So while most human beings seem to simply refer to actions as good or bad from their point of view..I submit that the situation is actually more complex. That during the course of deciding the “right” course of action for a specific individual in a given situation, the individual is actually responding to a variety of mandates, between which he must prioritize (societal, personal, spiritual etc).

Finally, by pointing out the Vedic scriptural terms for these hierarchies, I simply wanted to provide an example of a logical, self consistent and subtle concept that has been described, discussed and debated in original Vedic scripture. I think that original vedic thought, was not about rigid rights and wrongs and ugly impositions that insulted the intellect and stifled debate. It in fact thrived in an atmosphere of constant philosophical debate and exhaustive study of the existential question. Again, the aim is not to claim my superior knowledge of these vedic texts (actually the truth is far from it!!) or to claim the vast superiority of the Hindu religion, which modern day “Hindus” love to do!. In fact it is my belief that to a large extent modern day Hinduism is far more divorced from original vedic philosophy than some other eastern religions like Buddhism.

Having said that, it is my humble point of view, that many of the questions we ask ourselves in the post-modern context today, were asked (and discussed and debated) in our forgotten ancient past as well. As you said, there is no sense in rejecting a good thing no matter where it comes from. I personally don’t believe that true knowledge can come purely from written words, no matter what their source may be. Knowledge in my humble opinion comes from the examination, application and subsequent deep rooted assimilation of these words. But I do believe that one may derive some information, clues and points to ponder from past analyses of similar philosophical questions. And it is in this light, that I suggest the re-examination of any of these texts (in as undiluted a form as possible) such as the Upanishads, or the Brahmasutra, any of the six schools of vedic philosophy or even simply the Bhagavad Gita.

The Soul Doctor said...

@ Anand

I suggested that for the seeker (and not everyone is a seeker!!), the search for absolutes often constitutes the pinnacle of his own system of ethics.

Very well said. I agree with you.

As far the way hinduism has been skewed from what it is supposed to be or originally intended to be, I cant agree more when you said we need to have a re examination of what it is.

But, personally I reserve that comment for the time being because i have no fair idea about the majority of these scriptures. I am looking forward to read some more deeply in the future and then analyse for myself.

thanks for your valued comments.:)

cutespn said...

This regards with your comments on Sahaj Marg. I am quoting your words

I haven’t found one single person till now, who at least doesn’t get angry by my questioning!! I wonder who is intolerant. The student or the defenders and followers of spirituality!!

I guess may be u met a person who doesn't have a proper understanding of Sahaj Marg. I can help you in meeting a person who doesnt get angry by your questioning.

God Bless you!!!

The Soul Doctor said...

@ Sudheer

Firstly thanks for stopping by.

No offence meant to Sahaj Marg. But I am not interested as of now to follow any master or guru. I intend to be my own guide. Thanks for the offer.

I am not an atheist neither am I an agnostic. Not to worry. I am blessed as you wished.