Gujarat: Life imprisonment for killing cows – Parimal A. Dabhi

Vijay Rupani

NewsChief Minister Vijay Rupani said that while he was “not against any food,” he wanted to make Gujarat “shakahari (vegetarian),” “We do not want Jersey cows, but Gir and Kankreji cows instead,” he said. – Parimal A. Dabhi

The Gujarat government Friday amended the state’s Animal Preservation Bill to entail a maximum punishment of life imprisonment and a minimum of 10 years for cow slaughter after it was passed in the assembly in the absence of the Opposition Congress and with the visitors’ gallery packed with saffron-clad Hindu priests.

Speaking on the amendment, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani said that while he was “not against any food”, he wanted to make Gujarat “shakahari (vegetarian)”, “We do not want Jersey cows, but Gir and Kankreji cows instead,” he said.

Rupani also described Gujarat as a “unique state”, which followed the tenets of Mahatma Gandhi—“non-violence and truth”. “This is Gandhi’s Gujarat, Sardar’s (Vallabhbhai Patel) Gujarat and (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi’s Gujarat,” said Rupani.

The passage of the Gujarat Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill, 2017 came eight months after seven Dalits were beaten by self-styled cow vigilantes for alleged cow slaughter in Una.

The punishment for cow slaughter under the earlier law was imprisonment ranging from three to seven years. The new law also makes offences under the amended Act non-bailable.

The amendment was cleared after the Speaker suspended members of the Congress for creating a ruckus before the Bill was passed.

When the amendment Bill was introduced over a month ago, it had a maximum punishment of ten years imprisonment. On Friday, however, the ruling BJP moved to enhance the punishment to a life-term.

In another major amendment, the Bill included a provision that vehicles caught in transporting cows, beef or beef products illegally will be forfeited to the state government. The maximum fine for the offence has also been increased from Rs 50,000 to one ranging from Rs 1 lakh-Rs 5 lakh.

Besides, the punishment for conviction for illegal transportation of cow, beef or beef products has been increased from three years imprisonment to seven years.

The Act allows transportation of animals of cow progeny with permission, but not between 7 pm and 5 am.

The statement of the Bill reads, “In the year 2011, the State Government had made certain amendments in the said Act for better implementation of the Act. It is, however, experienced while implementing the said Act that still more stringent provisions are required to be made by amending the said Act for curbing the menace of illegal slaughtering of the animals covered under the said Act to provide for more stringent punishment and effectively check the rampant use of vehicles for transporting such animals.”

During the discussion on the Bill, Minister of State for Home Pradeepsinh Jadeja said, “This is not a Bill, but a feeling of crores of Indians. It is my humble attempt to give voice to the cows being killed by butchers. A single drop of cow blood falling on earth pains Hindus. With this law, Vijaybhai Rupani’s government will make Gujarat cow-slaughter-free.”

Jadeja also offered his respects to the “Hindu saints” in the visitors gallery, and said that he was “feeling proud as a Hindu” to introduce the Bill in the House.

One of those present in the gallery, Kaniramji Bapu of Dudhrej in Surendranagar district, an important religious seat of the Maldhari community (cattle herders) in Gujarat, said, “We oppose cow slaughter and believe in its preservation. And so, we came here in support of the Act. Cows should be preserved and their slaughtering must end.”

Another religious figure, Mahant Vikramgiri from Ghela-Somnath of Jasdan in Rajkot district, said, “Around 300 sadhu-sants have come to Assembly. Since the government had announced that they will bring the Bill, we knew it in advance and are here to support it.”

In 2011, when Narendra Modi was chief minister of Gujarat, the state government had imposed a complete ban on slaughter of cows, transportation and selling of cow meat by amending the Act. – Indian Express, 1 April 2017

» Parimal A. Dabhi reports for The Indian Express in Gujarat.

Gujarati Sadhus

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What was it that drew Jobs and Zuckerman to Neem Karoli Baba? – Amitabha Pande

Neem Karoli Baba

Amitabha Pande“I had a wonderful, bantering, irreverent relationship with the baba. While his intuitive abilities and ability to read your mind were literally ‘mind-blowing’—he could floor you completely by telling you exactly what you may have been thinking a moment ago, or a few hours ago or a few nights ago as though it was the most natural thing in the world to be a kind of benevolent thought-policeman—he performed no sleight of hand tricks, or miracles; gave no sermons, expected nothing, accepted no gifts, and was sure to disappoint you if you went in search of magical solutions to your worldly—or even other-worldly—problems.” – Amitabha Pande

Julia RobertsThere is a modest complex of lime-washed buildings, with a modest temple, situated in a modest wooded valley on the banks of a modest stream in a modest part of Kumaon, called Kainchi—so called because of two scissor-like sharp hairpin bends on the road that bring you down to the riverside hamlet. The complex, a small ashram, now given the exalted name of Kainchi Dham, is named after Neem Karoli (or Neeb Karori) Baba who died in 1973. Although the baba was a nomad with no permanent base, Kainchi was the place where he spent a lot of time in the later part of his life.

The ashram has tried hard to preserve its modesty because unlike other ashrams, it is not a part of a religious chain store, nor part of a holy business empire. It does not offer magical mystery tours, or yoga camps or spiritual and religious instruction. It has no mission to accomplish, no overwhelming purpose to fulfil. It would like to stay modest, avoid the glare of publicity and continue, like a poem, to just “be”. Much like the baba who inspired it.

Bhagavan Das & Ram DassYet, every now and then someone discovers the connection between the Kainchi Ashram, the baba and some megastar of the Western world and suddenly all media wants to investigate why 42 years after the baba died, his intangible legacy still holds such sway. Four years ago, when Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died, the media discovered his Kainchi connection and then other names kept scuttling out—Richard Alpert, the Harvard psychology professor who became Baba Ram Das, Kermit Michael Riggs (Baba Bhagavan Das), Jeffrey Kagel (Krishna Das—the kirtan man), Larry Brilliant, Julia Roberts—all of whom owed some or all their inspiration to this modest place. And now it turns out that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg too was sent by his mentor Jobs to Kainchi to find focus and purpose to his own business career.

While I certainly haven’t met either Jobs or Julia Roberts (alas) or Zuckerberg and may have passingly encountered Alpert and Riggs between 1967 and 1973, I am glorying in my connection with all these people through Babaji (as we called him) whom I had known from my early childhood.

Steve Jobs & Steve WozniakI had a wonderful, bantering, irreverent relationship with the baba. While his intuitive abilities and ability to read your mind were literally “mind-blowing” (he could floor you completely by telling you exactly what you may have been thinking a moment ago, or a few hours ago or a few nights ago as though it was the most natural thing in the world to be a kind of benevolent thought-policeman), he performed no sleight of hand tricks, or miracles; gave no sermons, expected nothing, accepted no gifts, and was sure to disappoint you if you went in search of magical solutions to your worldly (or even other-worldly) problems. Your problems would occasionally get solved almost magically if you remembered him hard enough and sometimes he would look you meaningfully in the eye when you met him as though he knew you knew he knew.

Krishna DasHe was nomadic with no possessions and no assets and no property. He seemed to have a horror of any kind of material possession and if you took him a basket of fruits or sweets as a gift he would immediately distribute everything to the assembled gathering treating you as a fielder engaged in catching practice. He carried nothing other than the bed sheet or blanket he was wrapped in. He spoke little, constantly muttering “Ram, Ram, Ram” under his breath. He was often very restless and would just get up and leave a place and disappear, sometimes for months on end, never tried to give you gyan, never insisted on any particular code of behaviour, would sometimes just lock himself inside a room or go into a cave and not speak although his followers would think nothing of shouting at him to come out, would eat anything or not eat anything for days, had no fixed schedules, no particular discipline. He was completely unpredictable: would call you names and be very dismissive one day or make you sit next to him and look at you with such ineffable love that you had to melt on another day. He did not expect you to be religious or pious or believe in anything. He never sat in pooja or followed any devotional rituals, did not genuflect to a deity or visit a temple including the temples in his own ashram because he was in a sense beyond all this.

Larry Brilliant with wife Girija at the TajIn the years when the hippy crowds first started gathering round him, he would sometimes ask me to be an interpreter. This led to very droll results. The admiring crowds of white Westerners in search of oriental mysticism and ancient wisdom would be looking out for deep meanings in his curt, non sequiturs and aphorisms, some of which were really made for no other reason except to break the mood of silent worshipful reverence which he found oppressive after a while. But most of these remarks had no hidden, deep meaning. He would, for example, ask me to tell the crowd that the “mango is a unique fruit” and I would do so. All the lissome, pyjama-clad, bra-less, diaphanous blouse-wearing, dewy-eyed, young things (and inside of me lust would rage) and their scruffy, long-haired, bearded partners with jholas would look up to me sitting beside the baba on his takhat, from their cross-legged positions on the floor with open-eyed wonder and expect me to explain the deeper meaning. The baba would then go on to ask me to tell them that “the mango is unique because it is the only fruit which you want to continue sucking even after you have sucked the flesh and the juice out of it” and this would cause a lot of wonderment as they would keep asking me to interpret the wisdom in this remark and I would tell them, to their great disappointment and suspicion that it meant just that and nothing more. And the baba would find the whole thing very amusing. He had a really puckish, elf-like sense of humour.

What was it that drew all of us to him? I think it was the complete purity of an experience of love in its purest form—selfless, undemanding, unrelated to any purpose or any material, emotional or spiritual transaction—a truly liberating and exhilarating experience of a kind which I have never had with anyone else. Just that. – DailyO, 4 October 2015

Mark Zuckerberg

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar miffed with Pope’s one-upmanship – Shantanu Guha Ray

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Shantanu Guha Ray“In March 2015, Juan Manuel Santos agreed to halt aerial bombing in recognition of a unilateral ceasefire called by FARC on Christmas of 2014. The move by Sri Sri was called ‘Colombia’s biggest breakthrough’ by the Spanish media. ‘The Western nations were nowhere when members of Art of Living worked closely with the rebels, initiating them into daily peace talks and yoga,’ said Gautam Vig, spokesperson for AOL.” – Shantanu Guha Ray

Pope FrancisIndia’s foreign office is keeping itself updated on an interesting, if trifle peculiar, slugfest that’s currently on between the Vatican and Indian spiritual guru, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

The Art of Living Foundation (AOL) founder is miffed at recent attempts by the Norwegian government to hijack his peace initiatives in strife-ridden Colombia. In a year-long effort, Sri Sri managed to broker a peace deal between the Colombian government and left guerrilla outfit FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), mediating on behalf of the latter during peace talks held this July in Cuba. In what was seen as the first breakthrough in three years, FARC commander Iván Márquez agreed to adopt the Gandhian principle of ahimsa while continuing to chase political goals in a new unilateral ceasefire. In June, Sri Sri had conducted a meeting in Bogotá with Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos.

Juan Manuel SantosSources in Delhi say the guru’s annoyance with the Vatican has reached the top echelons of the government.

Pushed by the Vatican, Norway, which was also part of a four nation pack (including Cuba, Chile and Venezuela) acting as guarantors in the talks, released press notes that claim the peace talks came to fruition because of “painstaking efforts undertaken by a league of Western nations”. Last week, on a 10-day trip to US and Cuba, Pope Francis, the Argentine-born pontiff held a mass in Havana, saying in his address, “May the blood shed by thousands of innocent people during long decades of armed conflict … sustain all the efforts being made, including those on this beautiful island, to achieve definitive reconciliation.”

Sri Sri sees Oslo as deliberately sidetracking his efforts, his supporters tell the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “We are monitoring the developments,” a ministry official said in a telephonic conversation, explaining that protocol doesn’t allow him to be quoted. The official clarified, however, that the Colombian government does not ascribe to the views of the four nations. “It [Colombian government] is fully versed with the situation and is highly appreciative of the efforts of the spiritual leader. Ivan Marquez held all his conversations with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and not with emissaries of the Western nations.”

But a recent joint statement released by the four nations requesting FARC not to escalate violence had no mention of the Bangalore-based guru, who was responsible for bringing Colombian government’s top negotiator to the table after he threatened to walk away from peace talks in Havana and rejected rebel calls for a bilateral ceasefire on the ground that the FARC had previously used truces to rearm and return to violence.

Flag of ColombiaIn recent times, FARC’s main target has been the country’s oil and electricity infrastructure, crippling life for thousands. The militant group has been active in the Colombian armed conflict since 1964, and deemed a terrorist organisation by the UN and America. Latin America’s longest war has killed 2,20,000 people and displaced as many as six million since 1964. The Havana talks are seen as bearing the best results toward conflict resolution.

Peace talks between the parties have been ongoing since 2012. A ceasefire was announced by both but lifted last May after which sporadic incidents of violence were reported.

In March 2015, Juan Manuel Santos agreed to halt aerial bombing in recognition of a unilateral ceasefire called by FARC on Christmas of 2014. The move by Sri Sri was called “Colombia’s biggest breakthrough” by the Spanish media.

“The Western nations were nowhere when members of Art of Living worked closely with the rebels, initiating them into daily peace talks and yoga,” said Gautam Vig, spokesperson for AOL.

According to the Colombia government, FARC had 16,000 fighters in 2001, but the number dropped to 8,000 due to desertions. – Midday,  30 September 2015

» Shantanu Guha Ray is the Deputy Editor of India Today.

Ivan Marquez & Jesus Santrich

Swami Dayananda: The Patriot Saint – S. Gurumurthy

Swami Dayananda Saraswati

S. Gurumurthy“The great successes of this great sannyasi, moulded in the ancient traditions of India, is not, however, as well-known as he himself was. That also demonstrated the high point of his personality — humility. Maharishi Aurobindo said that the greatest achievements have been least noisy. This aptly applied to Swami Dayananda’s work and life. In his demise, the Hindu philosophy has lost its greatest exponent of recent times, Hindu religion one of its staunchest defenders, and the nation a great patriot saint.” – S. Gurumurthy

Swami Chinmayananda  SaraswatiSwami Dayananda Saraswati—a master exponent of the inclusive Hindu philosophy who declared there was not ‘ONE GOD,’ but ‘ONLY GOD,’ a teacher of Vedanta who created hundreds of teachers to continue the ancient Indian tradition, a great organiser who founded the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha as the representative body of unorganised Hindu religious traditions, a philosopher who harmonised and validated, from the Hindu perspective of theo-diversity, all forms of worship from paganism to monism, an intellectual who re-articulated and established that religious conversion, regarded as the right of evangelist religions, is itself violence, and finally a patriot saint who, like Maharishi Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda did, saw, in the ancient nation of India, the very manifestation of all that he had learnt and taught—is no more. Indeed he was the latest incarnation in the tradition of nationalist saints of India.

Endowed with unparalleled intellectual skills and unlimited knowledge base, Dayananda first made it a mission of his life to teach and did take Vedanta to a vast elite audience in India and outside, which would otherwise have been half-westernised in world view and as much christianised culturally. He aligned Vedanta to India as a national entity and cultural phenomenon and to Indians as the chosen people entrusted with the sacred duty to live, sustain and protect it not only for them but also for the good of the world. In his exposition, Vedanta was not just a philosophy but it found expression in the culture and life of India founded on the idea of dharma—in its arts and music, literature and sculpture, society and family, and in the Indian traditional respect for elders, teachers and women and ultimately in the reverence for this nation itself as sacred and in the love of the entire creation, both animate and inanimate. Starting off as student and disciple of the redoubtable Swami Chinmayananda, the originator of the contemporary school of exposition of Vedanta, Dayananda Saraswati rapidly grew up as an accomplished scholar and unparalleled teacher.

After having worked for decades and succeeded in his mission to teach and create teachers of Vedanta, he turned his attention to some critical issues of contemporary importance which would have long-term and adverse implications for the very purpose and soul of this ancient nation. With this new turn, in the late 1990s a paradigm shift took place in his entire course of thought and action and this led to his founding of the Dharma Rakshana Samiti in Chennai in 1999. It was in that unique event, a confluence of some highly regarded saints, spiritualists, and intellectuals, that Swami Dayananda made one of his most memorable speeches where he declared that the very concept of religious conversion itself was violence—a spiritual, mental and cultural violence. This redefined the very notion of conversion which till then had some acceptability among non-Gandhian secularists as a right of religions—which in effect meant only the proselytising religions—to convert others to their faith. Gandhiji’s contempt for religious conversion is too well-known for the secularists to appropriate Mahatma Gandhi to support conversion as integral secularism. This is amongst the greatest contributions of Swami Dayananda to global inter-religious discourse. The redefinition of religious conversion as violence robbed the concept of conversion of benignity and exposed its malignant character.

In 1999 when the then Pope visited India, Swami Dayananda constituted and led a group of multi-religious scholars and intellectuals and welcomed but asked him to declare that he was happy to visit a nation which has respected all faiths and that he also respected all faiths. But the Pope preferred not to accept Swami Dayananda’s suggestion. However, with his unmatched intellectual prowess Swami Dayananda took the battle against conversion in world fora. He proposed self-discipline among faiths in the Millennium summit of the United Nations in the year 2000, calling upon religions to respect each other, not to abuse one another and not to convert the faithfuls of other religions by force or by inducement to one’s fold.

There was consensus on his view but finally the proselytising faiths did not agree and the Millennium harmony proposal therefore did not succeed. But it took just eight more years for Swami Dayananda to convince the world religious leaders of the need for trans-religious self-regulation.

In the human rights declaration of world religious leaders in Amsterdam on December 10, 2008 on the 60th anniversary of the UN Human Rights Declaration, all world religious leaders, including the proselytising faiths, accepted the Dayananda approach—namely that religions should mutually respect and accept each other, that they should not abuse or trivialise one another’s faiths or symbols, that they should recognise the right of a person to be in the religion of his birth, and that there should be no conversion by force or by inducement—and signed the historic declaration. It is the substance of the Amsterdam declaration which Prime Minister Narendra Modi adopted as the approach of his government to different faiths when he addressed the Christian religious meet in Delhi to celebrate the canonisation of saints from Kerala.

In this period from 1999 to 2008, Swami Dayananda undertook some far-reaching initiatives, which included the constitution of the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha—one of his greatest achievements and equally a great contribution to the Indian civilisation. The Acharya Sabha has given the diverse and unorganised Hindu religions, which had long suffered disadvantage relative to the organised and proselytising faiths, a platform to come together as Dharma religions and participate in the global discourse. Till then, any secularist masquerading as a religious person would sign on the dotted line on behalf of Hinduism in the global fora.

His next big move was to bring together elders of all indigenous faiths—whether from South America or North America, Africa or Europe—at Delhi. Swami Dayananda declared that all faiths are sacred and valid and no faith can and should be allowed to claim to be superior to other faiths. He articulated religious diversity, which is the strongest point of Hinduism, in the most acceptable, rational and logical manner and challenged and debunked the claim that some faiths are only true faiths and others false faiths, which, he argued, is the cause for the widespread hate and violence today.

The great successes of this great sannyasi, moulded in the ancient traditions of India, is not, however, as well-known as he himself was. That also demonstrated the high point of his personality—humility. Maharishi Aurobindo said that the greatest achievements have been least noisy. This aptly applied to Swami Dayananda’s work and life. In his demise, the Hindu philosophy has lost its greatest exponent of recent times, Hindu religion one of its staunchest defenders, and the nation a great patriot saint. – The New Indian Express, 25 September 2015

» S. Gurumurthy is a commentator on political, economic and cultural affairs in Chennai. E-mail: guru@gurumurthy.net

Swami Dayananda & Narendra Modi

Swami Dayananda & Narendra Modi

Remembering Anandamayi Ma – Maria Wirth

Maria Wirth“Behind all the different, perpetually changing names and forms in this universe there is only ‘one thing’—Brahman, Bhagwan, God or however you like to call it. That alone is eternal, ever the same. All appearances are contained in it, like in a mirror. That is the I of our I. Life is meant to realise this—to realise who we really are and drop the wrong identification with our person.” – Maria Wirth

Anandamayi MaNext to the Ramakrishna Mission in Dehradun, there is a small ashram where 33 years ago, on 27th August 1982, Anandamayi Ma left her body. Anandamayi Ma, who was born in 1896 as Nirmala Sundari in what is now Bangladesh, was and still is revered all over India for having being extraordinary saintly and wise right from childhood. Devotees still come to her samadhi in Kankhal, even though many of them have never seen her in person. I was fortunate to meet her and would like to share some of those precious memories.

During the Ardha Kumbh Mela in Haridwar in April 1980, some foreigners asked me to join them to receive their guru, Anandamayi Ma, at the railway station. I was curious, because I had seen a photo of her in Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi. The photo was taken in the 1930s and showed a beautiful woman. Almost fifty years had passed since then and I was surprised that she was alive and anyone could meet her.

At dawn we went to the railway station. A group of Indians were conspicuous by their well-groomed appearance. They were devotees of Ma. Then the train from Varanasi pulled in. Four young men in spotless white dhotis entered and carried Ma out on a chair, to which four handles were attached.

Ma looked delicate, was wrapped in white cloth and her black hair fell over her shoulders. She looked at us with calm eyes. There was no reaction on her face, no sign of recognition of her devotees, many of whom she would have known for decades. She simply looked and her eyes moved slowly around the group. It was pleasant, and I had the strange feeling, that nobody was there behind those eyes.

When I saw her like this, tears were rolling down my cheeks. There was no reason for tears and yet they didn’t want to stop. “That’s normal, when one is touched by a great soul”, someone next to me, who had noticed it, reassured me. And indeed I felt being touched by a very pure soul.

Anandamayi Ma went to her ashram in Kankhal and we followed. At the ashram gate, flower vendors awaited us. Everyone entered the ashram with flowers or fruits in his hands. In the centre of the courtyard, a chair was placed for Ma. She sat down and we, about thirty people, were standing around her.

Now she asked some of her devotees about how they were doing, whether “sab thik hai” and so on. The questions were commonplace, and yet there was a sense of sublime grandeur in the air. I noticed it again: her gaze was different. It touched the heart and widened it. Because of this short, fleeting gaze, I went from then on every evening to Kankhal.

Was Ma enlightened? I did not know, but felt it was possible. Melita, a journalist from Germany, who had been with Ma for many years, explained to me what enlightenment meant.

“Ma sees in everything and everywhere only the one Brahman, that is, her own Self. For her, ‘others’ don’t exist. She herself has said that only because of convention she differentiates between herself and others. In truth, she doesn’t see a difference and there is no difference.”

So basically, an enlightened being and we ordinary mortal differ only in one aspect: an enlightened being feels this oneness of all as real, whereas we think we are separate and even prefer this illusion, though we, of course, are also at home in the oneness. Oddly, we even want to be separate; we are fond of our person, our thoughts, feelings, relationships, memories, hopes. Why should we give up this feeling of being separate? Just because it is not the truth?

Few are ready for it in spite of the assurance that truth is heaven, and illusion compared to it hell. Our suffering originates from our imaginary isolation and is unnecessary, claim the sages. I tried to imagine what Anandamayi Ma perceived, while she looked at us. Did she see our bodies and her own body merely as transitory waves on the one ocean, while feeling blissfully immersed in its depth and vastness?

Concepts like truth and God, which, so far, I had not considered relevant, seemed in the Indian context important, relevant and natural. Ma formulated the essence of Advaita Vedanta in clear terms.

Behind all the different, perpetually changing names and forms in this universe there is only ‘one thing’—Brahman, Bhagwan, God or however you like to call it. That alone is eternal, ever the same. All appearances are contained in it, like in a mirror. That is the I of our I. Life is meant to realise this—to realise who we really are and drop the wrong identification with our person.

When Ma’s mother had died and was laying out in the ashram, Ma had laughed her hearty laugh as usual. Her devotees felt that her behaviour was not appropriate for the occasion. Ma reacted surprised: “Why? Nothing has happened!” For her dying was like changing a dress. Who would be sad over losing an old dress, when one is still fresh and alive?

While waiting for Ma’s darshan in the evenings, we were singing bhajans. Once, a girl of about ten sat next to me. She sang full throatily, yet a little out of tune. Her clapping was also slightly out of rhythm. When I heard her singing like this, my heart suddenly went out to her and was overflowing with love.

Just then Anandamayi Ma appeared, supported by two women. Even before she reached the cot, she briefly stopped, half turned and looked sort of irritated into my direction. When she finally sat down on the cot, her glance settled on me for a long time. In all likelihood Ma’s glance was attracted by the love that I felt for that girl, and she really did not perceive us as separate persons. After all, she often said that it is a mistake to consider oneself as separate from others. But almost certainly all of us, as we were sitting there on the veranda, wished that she appreciated us personally….

Ma didn’t oblige. A genuine guru can see that the ego is the culprit who makes life difficult. Naturally she or he is not interested in flattering the ego—on the contrary.  “The association with an enlightened being consists in getting blows for the ego”, Anandamayi Ma once remarked.

Ma had a cure for all worries:  “Trust in Bhagawan. He certainly will look after you and all your affairs, if you really put full trust in him and if you dedicate all your energy to realise your Self. You then can feel completely light and free”, Ma claimed and it sounded convincing. By ‘Bhagawan’ she meant the formless essence in everything. Yet this essence is not something abstract and cold. It is love and can be experienced as the beloved. “You are always in his loving embrace”, she claimed.

Feel Bhagawan’s presence in you 24 hours a day. Be aware he moves your feet, he makes your eyes see, he makes your mind think’, she advised us.

I wonder whether she, in her elevated state, knew that this is not that easy for us. It may have been so obvious and natural for her. – Maria Wirth Blog, 31 July 2015

» Maria Wirth is a German psychologist and author who lives in Uttarakhand.

Anandamayi Ma's Samadhi Shrine

Remembering Swami Chinmayananda – Maria Wirth

Maria Wirth“Swami Chinmayanda was an exemplary teacher – clear, convincing and with a lot of humour. On one of his Jnana Yajnas I took notes and wrote a long article for a German magazine. Later I gave its English translation to him. Swami Chinmayananda read through it and acknowledged that I had conveyed the teaching well, “but”, he added gravely and then broke into a smile “your English is very German.” – Maria Wirth

Chinmayananda- SaraswatiSwami Chinmayananda’s 100th birthday is on 8th May. He was born in Ernakulam in Kerala in 1916. Those who had the good fortune to meet the Swami in person, surely treasure his memory. He was a towering personality, who stood up for the Hindu tradition once he had realised its worth. He was a man on a mission – the mission to acquaint his countrymen, especially the English educated class, with the profound insights of the ancient Rishis, which were in danger of being forgotten. He started a revival of Hindu Dharma in independent India by translating the ancient knowledge into a modern idiom and teaching it all over the country and even abroad.

Swami Chinmayananda was the ideal person to do this, as he knew from own experience the mindset of the ‘modern’, English educated Indian who wrongly believes that he has no use for his heritage, mainly because he does not know it.

Balakrishna Menon, as he was called, was born into a pious household, but he himself was not inclined towards religion or spirituality. Nobody guessed that he would become a sannyasi. He was the proverbial left liberal youth, got involved in the freedom struggle and studied literature, law and journalism. His first job was with the National Herald newspaper. He wanted to make a story on the so called holy men in Rishikesh. In 1947, he reached Swami Sivananda’s ashram – not to learn from him, but to find out how these sadhus and swamis manage to bluff people. He planned to expose them.

Swami Sivananda SaraswatiHowever, things took a different turn. Obviously, Balakrishna Menon was greatly impressed by what transpired between Swami Sivananda and him, because two years later on Maha Shivaratri, he was back in Rishikesh and took sannyas. He became Swami Chinmayananda.

From Rishikesh the new sannyasi went to Tapovan Maharaj in Uttarkashi deep in the Himalaya, and studied Vedanta as his disciple.

Discipleship, however, was not always easy, Once he even packed his bags determined to leave. His guru had accused him of having torn his cloth while washing it. Chinmayananda had denied it. Yet from that time onwards, Tapovan Maharaj called him ‘liar’, often in front of others. Chinmayanda felt hurt and decided to leave, never to come back. An older ashramite saw him packing and explained to him that the accusation was just one of the guru’s ways to hit at his ego, which was in his best interest. Chinmayananda got the point and stayed on.

Tapovan MaharajWhen he saw his guru the next time, the guru laughed, “Why are you so touchy when I call you a liar? Aren’t we all liars as long as we don’t know the truth? Do you know the truth already?”

After several years with his teacher, Swami Chinmayananda felt the urge to share his insights into Vedanta – by now convinced that the happiness that all look for cannot be found where it is generally sought. Everyone searches outside in the world among other persons and things, while it is hidden deep inside.

In the early 1950s, he left the Himalayas for the dusty, hot plains and started teaching his fellow countrymen mainly about the Bhagavad-Gita and the Upanishads as even after Independence the education system inexplicably ignored those great Indian texts. The modern Indians had no idea that India once was the cradle of civilisation. Even the most popular of India’s sacred texts, the Bhagavad Gita, was hardly known anymore, nor the Upanishads which form the last part of the sacred Vedas and deal with profound philosophy.

Until his death in August 1993, Swami Chinmayananda hardly took off for a single day from his tight schedule. After reaching a town, that very same evening, he started his weeklong Jnana Yajna, as the camps were called. The Chinmaya Mission that he founded still exists, and trained Vedanta teachers still take classes all over the country.

I attended several of his camps, including a course in his retreat centre in Siddhabari and am grateful for that. Swami Chinmayanda was an exemplary teacher – clear, convincing and with a lot of humour. On one of his Jnana Yajnas (it was his 389th camp in 1983 in Trichy) I took notes and wrote a long article for a German magazine. Later I gave its English translation to him. Swami Chinmayananda read through it and acknowledged that I had conveyed the teaching well, “but”, he added gravely and then broke into a smile “your English is very German.”

Since my memory of that camp in Trichy is still fresh in my mind thanks to this article, I will give here a glimpse of it:

A big tent had been put up for the camp. Chants from the Bhagavad Gita were played in the background from stalls where cassettes and books were sold. About thousand people gathered at dusk, sitting on rugs on the floor.

When Swami Chinmayananda entered the stage, people welcomed him with heartfelt clapping. He looked stately, was tall, had long hair and a long white beard, sparkling and a little mischievous eyes and a roaring laughter. He was completely at ease and made us truly enjoy the class with his great sense of humour.

“Do you know the essence of Vedanta?” he asked in a booming voice and himself gave the answer, “The essence is: Undress and embrace” he thundered. People were nonplussed. He chuckled and explained, “Undress body, mind and intellect. What remains is automatically in intimate embrace with OM, the pure awareness.”

All our suffering stems from identifying with our body, mind and intellect, or in other words, with our thoughts and feelings, he claimed and gave an illustration: “You go and watch a movie. The persons on the screen experience happiness and suffering. You also experience happiness and suffering. Why? Because you identify with those figures. You sit in the theatre and cry into your handkerchief. And you even pay for it!”

It was easy to stay attentive for the two hours. He kept asking us not to believe him but to use our reason and common sense well, and analyse the human situation intelligently. For example ask yourself:

“Man has body, mind and intellect. If he has body, mind and intellect, who is he?” Certainly a good question! Usually a question that we have never asked ourselves. Amazing!

He gave the analogy of electricity: “If you believe only what you see, than each light bulb surely shines all by itself, since some shine brightly and others dimly and some red and some green. Does it not follow that each light bulb has its own, independent light?

Yet whoever inquires more deeply, will laugh at such ignorance. He knows that the one electricity is solely responsible for the light in all bulbs (and even for the sound from loudspeakers). The different colours and forms of the bulbs account for the variety in the lights, yet would there be any light without electricity? No!

Similarly, we should not take the sense perception that we all are ‘obviously’ separate at face value and enquire who we really are. What makes our body, mind and intelligence function? What mysterious power makes us feel alive as the subject, as “I”? Is it the same pure awareness which is responsible for the ‘light’ in all of us?” Yes, it is.

Swami Chinmayananda SaraswatiSwami Chinmayananda, too, like all sages, advised us to direct our attention inwards to that essence that alone is absolutely true. He advised to meditate on that mysterious OM and to develop love for it. He himself must have done it for innumerable hours in those long years in the Himalayan ashram of his guru. And he may have tapped into the source of all energy, love and joy which gave him the strength and enthusiasm to continue till the very end with his mission to make his countrymen see sense.

A bulb won’t be able to discover the electricity in itself, yet we humans can discover pure awareness, as we are already aware. We only need to drop the content of awareness to discover pure awareness which is our real and blissful nature.

The more we become aware of our real nature, the less we will be attached to the world. Desires will become less automatically. They simply drop off. The world does not bind anymore. Love and joy are not sought outside anymore. They are felt right here inside. Meditation and bhakti become natural.

Swami Chinmayananda gave again an example in his typical, humorous style, how a drastic change in attitude comes about naturally when the time is ripe:

“One day, the elder brother calls his younger brother, shows him all his toys and tells him, ‘it is all yours. If you don’t want it, throw it away.’ The younger one is convinced that unfortunately his elder brother has gone mad. Yet the elder one is not bothered. He has discovered a better toy, and knows that it is better. The little brother cannot see it as long as he is so small. One day he will understand….”

On the last evening, it became obvious that the Swami had done us a great service. Long queues formed, and slowly and silently moved in an almost sacred atmosphere to the carton boxes that had been put up near the dais for envelopes with donations. We were grateful for the many valuable insights that he had prompted us to have.

Now we only need to take them to heart. If we do, we can live life in a meaningful and fulfilling way – in tune with the eternal Dharma that flourished in India since ancient times. It is through people who live according to Dharma that it flourishes. – Maria Wirth, 4 May 2015

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Preview: An Atrocious Biography – R. Y. Deshpande

Peter HeehsR. Y. DeshpandeThis is a book critiquing Peter Heehs’s attempted biography The Lives of Sri Aurobindo published by the Columbia University Press, US, in May 2008.

There are any number of acceptable and authentic biographies of Sri Aurobindo, but it is also true that none can come to the expectation rising to the greatness of the person they are trying to portray. Can a life-account of an exceptional Mahayogi be really grasped and presented by anybody? It cannot. Sri Aurobindo himself had said that his life was never on the surface for men to see. If a biography had to be written he himself would do it—he would write an autobiography. And indeed he has done it through his symbolic epic Savitri.

Yet we have a few accounts which are in a general sense not only adequate or satisfactory but also inspired and intuitive. Sri Aurobindo’s own long associate and personal attendant A. B. Purani writes about early life-accounts which had appeared at places: “I had occasion to An Atrocious Biography by R. Y. Deshpanderefer to Sri Aurobindo all the doubtful points of these books for correction or corroboration. This gave me the correct ground for his biography. I had been collecting material myself since 1923.” This was as early as 1958, but indeed it was inspiring.

Then Sri Aurobindo—His Life Unique by Rishabhchand written during the decade from 1960 carries in it the seal and sanction of the Mother herself. It restricts itself entirely to the pre-Pondicherry period up to 1910.

M. P. Pandit’s Sri Aurobindo in the Builders of Modern India sponsored by the Government of India is to record the story of struggles and achievements of the eminent sons and daughters of India who have been mainly instrumental for our national renaissance and the attainment of Independence. In it if there are miracles of the human side they are also cherished, cherished to kindle our hearts and souls to the possibilities that we possess.

Srinivasa Iyengar’s official Sri Aurobindo—a biography and a history as the fourth edition of 1985 is a monumental story essentially giving facts after facts in the life of Sri Aurobindo, giving them with the deep and sensitive touch of a deeper and more sensitive perception. The book runs into 800 pages and proclaims that Sri Aurobindo’s writings are not isolable from his life. Does one then need to go anywhere else to read his life if not in his writings?

Georges van Vrekhem’s very extraordinary Beyond Man has as its frontispiece a quotation from Sri Aurobindo: “The changes we see in the world today are intellectual, moral, physical in their ideal and intention: the spiritual evolution waits for its hour and throws up meanwhile its waves here and there. Until it comes the sense of the others cannot be understood and till then all interpretations of present happenings and forecast of man’s future are vain things. For its nature, power, event are that which will determine the next cycle of humanity.” The next cycle of humanity opening into the spiritual—that is the true penetrating sense of insight we get from this European’s account of Sri Aurobindo.

An opening into the dynamic spiritual—that is what we experience in Satprem’s Sri Aurobindo or The Adventure of Consciousness. It looks as though Sri Aurobindo himself was standing behind this Adventure. The author says: “This book has been written from a Western point of view and for those who yearn for a truth of Life and not only a truth with eyes closed.” Perhaps in it one will find “perfect harmony of inner freedom and outer mastery”. If the luminous intuitive can be the possible way of presenting the Yogi’s ‘life’, then it is here.

But in contrast to all this what do we have in The Lives of Sri Aurobindo authored by Peter Heehs and published by the Columbia University Press in May 2008? It is utter falsification of the vision and work of Sri Aurobindo. It revels in lurid details. About spiritual experiences it voices half-truths. It calls Sri Aurobindo’s main work Savitri a “fictional creation”. There is the constant doublespeak in the biography. Everywhere the intention is to denigrate the Master-Yogi. Peter Heehs travels Freud’s royal road deeper into the unconscious. In this presentation he is actually toeing the line of the Chicago School of Wendy Doniger to downgrade Indian tradition and all that is noble and Indian. Its objective seems to be to offer to a certain brand of intellectuals sleazy soap-operas that can provide aberrant entertainment. Yet why should one like Mr Heehs? ‘Cause he can cause more drama than a “naked chick in the Vatican” or, for that matter, in the editorial room of Auroville Today. It is regrettable that a certain type of American scholarship should have fallen into such a terrible pit of rationality that always keeps itself shut from things noble and creative and elevating. By becoming too rational it becomes vitalistically infrarational when the new horizons are trying to stretch into the suprarational for the growing soul of man, when post-human destinies are awaiting with new faculties of cognition.

“Sri Aurobindo is one of the greatest thinkers of Modern India,” said Nobel Laureate Romain Rolland. He is “the most complete synthesis achieved up to the present between the genius of the West and the East…. The last of the great Rishis holds in his outstretched hands, the bow of Creative Inspiration.” But disappointingly this fallacious American scholarship is not aware of that bow of Creative Inspiration. That is perhaps its misfortune.

In contrast to this Times Literary Supplement, London, looks at Sri Aurobindo as follows: “Of all modern Indian writers Aurobindo—successively poet, critic, scholar, thinker, nationalist, humanist—is the most significant and perhaps the most interesting…. In fact, he is a new type of thinker, one who combines in his vision the alacrity of the West with the illumination of the East. To study his writings is to enlarge the boundaries of one’s knowledge…. He is a yogi who writes as though he were standing among the stars, with the constellations for his companions. Sri Aurobindo is no visionary. He has always acted his dreams…. So from individual self-discipline he has gone to the life of humanity. The Psychology of Social Development, Ideals and Progress and The Ideal of Human Unity should be carefully considered by all those who are busy preparing blue-prints for the future.” Can by any stretch of imagination this be called hagiographic, as the author of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo would rush to broadcast?

If the Indian Renaissance as a large collective began in the early decade of the last century in it Sri Aurobindo had a major part to play. For holding the principle of free speech as his right and the Doctrine of Nationalism he had to suffer the ignominy of an undertrial prisoner for one year, 1908-09. But good sense of justice prevailed in the colonial masters and he was acquitted. His defence lawyer C.R. Das perorated: “Long after this controversy will be hushed in silence, long after this turmoil, this agitation will have ceased, long after he [Sri Aurobindo] is dead and gone, he will be looked upon as the poet of patriotism, as the prophet of nationalism and the lover of humanity. Long after he is dead and gone, his words will be echoed and re-echoed, not only in India, but across distant seas and lands.” For Sri Aurobindo India was always the Mother to whom he would adore and worship. He had even the certitude that he would redeem her fallen lot. God had sent him to this world to accomplish that great mission, he wrote in the confidence of a god.

If a biography of Sri Aurobindo takes a perfunctory view of these outstanding events it would only go to show the dark and calamitous malaise that is present in the soul of the biographer. In fact his whole intention seems to denigrate all that is noble and Indian. An Atrocious Biography critiques systematically and with incisive scientific thoroughness this misgiven Lives of Sri Aurobindo. Running into 700 + pages it covers a few aspects to establish the deep-rooted predisposition and prejudice the author—a school dropout—of the Lives holds towards India and things that belong to the noble traditions of its civilisation and spirituality. This is symptomatic of a certain brand of American erudition and American learning which in fact is causing a much greater harm to its own psyche than these perpetrators of values would realise. If the Atrocious Biography can drive that message home its purpose will be more than served, served in the possibilities of post-human destinies that are waiting for us to dynamically live in and progress. – Savitri Cultural, 13 September 2014

About R.Y. Deshpande: Born in 1931 R.Y. Deshpande did his science studies from Osmania University, Hyderabad, India, and joined as a research physicist at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai in 1955. Later he worked at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, Berkeley, California USA, and the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai. He has some fifty research papers published in national and international scientific journals. In 1981, Deshpande joined Sri Aurobindo Ashram Pondicherry where he taught physics and a few other subjects such as Astrophysics, Savitri, The Future Poetry, Science and Society for thirty years. During the same period he was for eight years the editor of Mother India, a monthly review of culture, published by the Ashram. During 2007-2008 Deshpande was a senior editor of Science-Culture-Integral Yoga Web-Magazine, SCIY founded in Los Angeles. Presently he runs two websites [Savitri & Mirror of Tomorrow] devoted specifically to Sri Aurobindo’s epic Savitri and cultural matters of national and international interest. He gave on different fora, including radio and TV, interviews, talks and seminars dealing with social, spiritual, scientific and literary aspects. Deshpande’s literary activities include writing poetry, essays, articles, book reviews, comments which have been published in a few cultural periodicals. He is a published author of some three dozen books of poetry, literary criticism, Aurobindonian philosophy and culture, two reflective books on science and related social matters. 

Get the book here

An Atrocious Biography
Price Rs 750.00
First Edition 30 August 2014
ISBN: 978-93-82547-71-6
Published by Savitri Foundation
10, Jorbagh, New Delhi – 110 003
Ph: 011-43001448
E-Mail: info@savitri.in
Websites: Savitri & CreateSpace at Amazon

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