Friday, December 26, 2014

Sathya Sai on ways to overcome religious (and other) differences/conflicts

With a lot of heat being generated over religious conversions/re-conversions in India today, and also conflicts in many parts of the world where religious differences play a significant role, though not necessarily the singular or most important role, today's thought for the day at PrashantiNilayam ashram is very apt.

"Embodiments of Divine Love! Adhere sincerely to your faith and traditions. Wherever you may be, do not give room for religious or any kind of differences. When we examine the root cause for differences or conflicts, you will find that the real reason is selfish minds, wearing the garb of religion or any other cause, and inciting conflicts amongst the people. If you desire to secure genuine peace in the world, you must hold morality (neethi) as superior to your community (jaathi). Cherish good feelings as more important than religious beliefs. Mutual regard (mamatha), equal mindedness (samatha) and forbearance (Kshamatha) are the basic qualities necessary for every human being. Only the person with these three qualities can be regarded as a true man. Hence all of you must cultivate these three sacred qualities assiduously. Using these qualities, give up all kinds of differences. Then love will develop in you. When love grows, you will have a direct vision of God." - Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, Divine discourse, 25th Dec 1990.

From http://www.radiosai.org/pages/calthought2.asp?mydate=12/26/2014

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba on Jesus Christ and His teachings

From http://www.sathyasai.org/calendar/christmas.html

Christ determined to make the giving and sharing of love his main objective in life. Such love was met with many obstacles and losses. Christ considered a true man to be one who could face obstacles and move forward in love. Don't give in to losses and pain. Don't be carried away with pleasure. Face everything with equanimity.
Divine Discourse: 25 December 1995

...

As Jesus said, "I and my Father are one." Thus all persons are messengers of God. This means that they should divinise themselves. When can men call themselves sons of God? Recognize what pure actions are done by God, selflessly for the sake of all. There is no trace of self-interest in Him. Everything He does, says, or thinks is for the good of others. ...  Men can describe themselves as "sons of God" only when they are completely free from selfishness and become Godly. To call yourself the "son of God", you have to manifest the qualities of the Father.
Divine Discourse: 25 December 1994

...

Jesus taught that God is love. Instead of recognizing this basic truth, men are allowing hatred, envy, and other evil qualities to pollute their love. Man is gifted with the quality of love not to express it for selfish purposes but to direct it toward God. Jesus declared that there was nothing great about returning good for good. People should do good even to those who harm them.
Divine Discourse: 25 December 1988

...

Jesus. Their duty is to glorify the great message of Jesus. The most important message of Jesus is the establishment of "Peace on Earth and goodwill among men." Without peace, mankind cannot achieve progress in any sphere --material, spiritual or moral. ... There is no use in merely invoking the name of Jesus and praying to Him without regard to His most vital message: "God is in everyone. Do not revile anyone. Do not cause harm to anyone." This was Jesus's greatest message.
Divine Discourse: 25 December 1985

--------

From http://www.saibabaofindia.com/an_exposition_on_jesus_by_sathya.htm

Like most seekers, Jesus first searched for the Divine in the objective world. But He soon realised that the world is a kaleidoscopic picture created by one's own imagination, and sought to find God within himself. ... From the attitude of being a 'Messenger of God', he could now call himself the 'Son of God'. The bond of relationship increased. The 'I' was no more distant light or entity. The light became a part of the 'I'. With body-consciousness predominant, He was a messenger. With the heart-consciousness in the ascendant, He felt greater nearness and deamess. So, the son-father bond seems natural at this stage. Later as the Atman-Consciousness was established, Jesus could declare: 'I and My Father are One'. The three stages may be described as: 'I was in the Light', 'the Light was in me', and 'I am the Light', and may be compared to the Dwaita (dualism), Vishishta-adwaita and Adwaita (non-dualism) stages as described in Hindu philosophy. The final stage is the one when all duality has been shed. This is the essence of all religious disciplines and teachings".
Divine Discourse: 25 December 1978

...

So, when asked by people who He was, He could reply: 'I and my Father are One'. Jesus tried to teach the Fatherhood of God and Brotherhood of man. Tradition-minded and egoistic men considered Jesus a false prophet and they tried by every means to thwart His mission. Jesus, however, did not waver. Faced with opposition, He continued to be an example of living truth, and tried to purify the society.

...

People talk of Christ's sacrifice as evidenced by his crucifixion. But, he was surrounded and bound, and crowned by the crowd who captured him with the crown of thorns, and later, nailed to the cross by his captors. A person bound and beaten by the police cannot say that he has sacrificed everything, for he is not a free man. Let us pay attention to the sacrifice that Jesus made while free, out of his own volition. He sacrificed his happiness, prosperity, comfort, safety and position. He braved the enmity of the powerful. He refused to yield or compromise. He renounced the ego, which is the toughest thing to get rid of. Honour Him for these. He willingly sacrificed the desires with which the body torments man. This sacrifice is greater than the sacrifice of the body under duress. The celebration of His birthday has to be marked by sacrificing your at least one desire or two, and conquering at least the more disastrous urges of ego.
Divine Discourse 25 December 1972

...

Religions arise from the minds of good men, who crave to make all men good. They strive to eliminate the evils and cure the bad. It is therefore appropriate that the birthday of Jesus, who felt the need to save mankind and who strove to achieve it, be celebrated. But the celebration must take the form of adherence to the teachings, loyalty to the principles, practising the discipline and experiencing the awareness of the Divine that He sought to arouse.
Divine Discourse 25 December 1972

...

From http://www.oocities.org/hotsprings/resort/1239/1Jesus.html

Jesus sacrificed His life for the regeneration and welfare of mankind. Today, there are some who exaggerate the so-called differences between different faiths and, for their own selfish purposes, exploit these differences; they thereby bring a bad name to the founders of those religions, who were spiritual giants. No Prophet, or Messiah asked his followers to hate other religions or the followers of other faiths. Every religion has declared that God is One and that the Divine dwells in every being. Jesus also proclaimed the truth that the One Spirit resides in all beings.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Comments on Prof S.N. Balagangadhara's paper, 'What do Indians Need, A History or the Past?'

Last updated on 2nd February 2015

This post became a longish one over time as I added material to the original post. It has been divided into the following sections:

My comments mail to ICHR on Prof. Balagangadhara MAKA paper/presentation
Prof. Harbans Mukhia's comments
Prof. Rajaram Hegde's comments
Prof. Romila Thapar's views on related matters & comments
Chairperson ICHR, Prof. Y. Sudershan Rao's comments

My comments mail to ICHR on Prof. Balagangadhara MAKA paper/presentation

Given below is the text of an email I sent today (22nd Dec. 2014) to the Member-Secretary of the Indian Council of Historical Research, http://ichr.ac.in/

I am a retired-from-commercial-work software consultant, and blogger on spirituality and religion, who found the discussion related to Prof. S.N. Balagangadhara's recent Maulana Abul Kalam Azad memorial lecture convened by ICHR, to be of great interest.

I went through most of Prof. Balagangadhara's paper (37 pages) titled, "What do Indians Need, A History or the Past? A challenge or two to Indian historians", https://www.academia.edu/9462514/What_Do_Indians_Need_a_History_or_the_Past_A_challenge_or_two_to_Indian_historians_Parts_I_and_II, and the comments on the lecture/paper put up on ICHR website. Given below are my comments on those parts of the paper and comments that were of interest to me.

With reference to the paragraph in Page 9 where, Prof. Balagangadhara talks of a "radical disjunction between what the historians think they are doing ('seeking explanations about the past') and what they do (collect factoids)":

I disagree with the above words OR maybe I did not get the right meaning/context related to it. The history books I read including some volumes of Will Durrant's history of the Western & Middle-Easten world certainly gave me some decent explanation about the past of the peoples in these parts of the world. Sure, there could be some flaws in those explanations but they certainly were not simply a collection of (dusty) records/factoids.

...

In Pages 9 & 10  of Prof. Balagangadhara's paper he mentions the different attitudes to history of Peter Comestor and Babbington Macaulay as well as similarly different attitudes of the "European intellectuals (who) looked at the Greek myths during the Italian Renaissance" and the "'heroes' of the European Enlightenment". The former groups viewed the myths 'sympathetically' from which kernels of truth had to be extracted whereas the latter groups viewed the myths as imagination of poets and so not historical facts. I found these sections to be very interesting and informative.

...

With reference to the paragraph on Page 11  of Prof. Balagangadhara's paper dealing with attitudes of Catholics and Protestants towards miracles:

I find the above paragraph to be quite startling. Balagangadhara (Balu) claims that Protestants did not believe (and perhaps his view is that they still do not believe) in miracles outside of what is recorded in the Bible. I tried to check this with some sources on the net.
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/384816/miracle/34104/In-classical-antiquity and http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/384816/miracle/34101/Christianity give some info. on it. The latter link states, "Belief in miracles is thus obligatory in the Roman Catholic Church, although belief in any specific miracle is not necessarily so. Classical Protestantism, however, has confined its belief in miracles to those recorded in Scripture."

So Classical Protestantism may not believe in miracles outside of those recorded in scripture but that may have got diluted over time in various Protestent groups/sects.
From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protestantism:
Pentecostalism, as a movement, began in the United States early in the 20th century, starting especially within the Holiness movement. Seeking a return to the operation of New Testament gifts of the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues as evidence of the "baptism of the Holy Ghost" or to make the unbeliever believe became the leading feature. Divine healing and miracles were also emphasized.
--- end wiki extract ---

So at least one sect of Protestants which originated in the early 20th century, do believe in miracles outside of those recorded in scripture.

The other startling issue in the above paragraph is the poor view of History that Protestants are claimed to have. I will not accept that view unless there are other established sources of knowledge which supports that view.]

...

With reference to paragraph in Page 12  of Prof. Balagangadhara's paper dealing with Macaulay being a child of the Protestant attitude to the human past:

Balu claims that European enlightenment thinkers 'merely reproduced' in secular garb (Balu's view of) the Protestant attitude to the human past! I wonder whether this claim is backed by leading authorities of history.

Balu then states that Macaulay was a child of (Balu's view of) the Protestant attitude to history. I looked up wikipedia on Macaulay, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Babington_Macaulay,_1st_Baron_Macaulay#Historian, which notes that he was also a historian. I could not spot any mention in the above wiki page, of Macaulay having the kind of attitude towards history that Balu claims Protestants had/have.
Interestingly, Macaulay is referred to as a "Whig historian". From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whig_history, "Whig history (or Whig historiography) is the approach to historiography which presents the past as an inevitable progression towards ever greater liberty and enlightenment, culminating in modern forms of liberal democracy and constitutional monarchy. In general, Whig historians emphasize the rise of constitutional government, personal freedoms, and scientific progress. The term is often applied generally (and pejoratively) to histories that present the past as the inexorable march of progress towards enlightenment." ... 'While Macaulay was a popular and celebrated historian of the Whig school, his work did not feature in Butterfield's 1931 book. According to Ernst Breisach "his style captivated the public as did his good sense of the past and firm Whiggish convictions".'

So I find it hard to accept that Macaulay had the attitude to history that (in Balu's words) "Human history does not edify; at best it disappoints. Any human flourishing that we might want is not provided by stories about the past."

The next claim of Balu is that today's 'historical attitude' is solidly rooted in (Balu's views of) Protestant Christianity. Really? Second half of 20th century and early 21st century historians' ideas about why study the human past and how it ought to be done, are not based on sound rational lines! I find this very, very hard to accept as I am quite sure that leading historians from the world over would be able to provide a very good rebuttal to this claim of Balu.]

...

With reference to the first two paragraphs under section 'The common end' in Pages 12 and 13  of Prof. Balagangadhara's paper:

I think, as Indians, we have to accept that Western science & technology, and so its military hardware, was way, way ahead of what Indians had, when India came under British rule. The British rulers naturally would have been able to dictate terms to Indian intellectuals by policies of favouring those who accepted the British views and ignoring or even punishing those who dared to challenge British views. After independence the Indian intellectuals would have been able to start the process of getting freed from the deeply embedded British influences. I guess that would have taken a few decades. But, say around the last quarter of the 20th century and early 21st century, wouldn't some Indian historians have taken an independent (free from British imposed views) view of Indian history?

Prof. B.P. Sahu and Prof. Harbans Mukhia in the comments to Prof. Balagangadhara's lecture, http://ichr.ac.in/comm.doc, argue that over the past fifty years or so, at least some Indian historians have taken a non-Eurocentric view of Indian history. Further their comments state that Indian epics and puranas also contribute in some way (though not as historical events) to this understanding/view of Indian history.

Regarding Ramayana and Mahabharata (traditionally accepted versions of these epics in India), I personally believe that they must be largely truthful accounts but with some inaccuracies/variations perhaps. Specifically I believe Rama and Krishna to have been superhuman/divine figures who accomplished superhuman tasks. But these are my beliefs. I do not view them as scientifically/historically established facts as I have the impression that historians have not been able to find incontrovertible proof regarding Rama and Krishna having been historical figures and having accomplished the superhuman tasks that the epics & puranas state. So I can understand Indian historians not being willing to accept that Rama and Krishna definitely were historical figures. Some Indian historians may even take a stand that they may be fictional figures created by imaginative poets of the past. I will not agree with the view of the previous sentence but, in the absence of scientific/archaeological data that proves historicity of Rama and Krishna, I think they are entitled to have such a view. However, if they state that it has been established that Rama and Krishna are not historical figures (like an American professor of religion claims, in the case of Rama), I will vehemently disagree with them. Absence of scientific evidence is not evidence/proof of absence.]

...

With reference to the paragraph in Pages 18 and 19 of Prof. Balagangadhara's paper describing the distinction drawn by a young Indonesian between a story and history:

This angle of Balu's paper, namely, 'historicity of epic (e.g. Ramayana) is irrelevant to its truth', may be a crucial part of the paper. However, this angle does not interest me as I believe that most of (the widely accepted versions in India of) the Ramayana and Mahabharata are truthful accounts. I also realize that many Indians, including rationalists/intellectuals/historians, will not agree with my beliefs in this regard, and so this angle of Balu's paper may be of great interest to them.

...

With reference to paragraph in Page 32 of Prof. Balagangadhara's paper giving his understanding of adhyatma:

In my belief based on my understanding of Hinduism including Advaita, 'Ananda' is one aspect of (the goal/fruit of) adhyaathma. Perhaps the more important aspects are knowing from experience (or experiencing) that one's existential reality is an unchanging truth felt in one's being ('sat') separate from the changing mind and body, and, at a higher realization level, experiencing that one is in all of creation/life and all creation/life is in one. The latter involves experiencing feelings of others like joy, sorrow, hunger, pain etc. Even higher levels of realization involve knowing (intuitively, I guess) the past and cause-effect karma of oneself and others, within a life and across multiple lives.

Now, I realize that my above beliefs would not be acceptable to many, especially in the intellectual and academic community. Specifically, Indian history will not treat such beliefs as the (established) truth. That's fine by me.

----------------------------- end (main) text of mail sent to ICHR --------------
[An update on 2nd February 2015:
I was quite pleasantly surprised to note that the Indian Council of Historical Research, http://ichr.ac.in/, updated its comments document, to include comments from me (and others). The document link is available on the home page link given in earlier sentence. The document link url is http://ichr.ac.in/comm.doc, and my emailed comments provided above appears from page 3 onwards. Another email of mine which has extracts from Prof. Balagangadhara's paper as well as Prof. Mukhia and Prof. Sahu's comments is also included later on in the document.]
I thought it appropriate to include some extracts from Prof. Harbans Mukhia's comments titled, 'The Changing Face (and Fate) of History' (http://ichr.ac.in/comm.doc, Pages 4 & 5) on Prof. Balagangadhara's paper/lecture. I have also included some comments from me within square brackets [].

[Ravi: Please note that I tried to get the email id. of Prof. Mukhia to take permission from him for putting up the extracts below on my blog but was not successful. Mail to his JNU email id listed in his jnu profile page, http://www.jnu.ac.in/FacultyStaff/ShowProfile.asp?SendUserName=hmukhia, bounced back. I have presumed that he will not mind me putting up the extracts below from his comments which are freely available on the above mentioned/linked comments document put up on ICHR website without any copyright notice on it.]

During the 18th, 19th and much of the 20th century, History, much like other science and social science disciplines, was dominated by the Positivist/Marxist paradigm which had posited an objective reality out there amenable to recovery through incremental knowledge of facts which would ultimately reveal the truth.
...
The embedded certitude of the existence of a singular,unambiguous Truth and its recovery was premised here, emulating the methods of natural sciences. ‘Scientific History’ was the elevating phrase used by its practitioners. It also had a clearly European provenance.

[Ravi: 'provenance' is defined as place of origin and/or chronology of ownership.]

Over the decades the realization grew that unlike the facts of the natural sciences which are given and immutable, social ‘facts’ resulting from human action are malleable. History as a social science does not have the luxury of a single Truth, but diverse truths, open to a variety of interpretations.
...
In lieu of a Euro-centred history, the consensus among professional historians all around is that the world we inhabit was made up of contributions from all societies, civilisations and cultures throughout the past, whether in the arena of crops, techniques, astronomy, mathematics, philosophy, ideas, cultural mores, whatever.

[Ravi: That's very good.]
...

Positivism, by emphasizing the singularity of Truth, had differentiated between history as the embodiment of the Truth and mythology as its opposite, implicitly fictitious. The use of ‘myth’ for mythology was especially conducive to this misunderstanding. The evolving vision, however, looks at mythology too as comprising ‘facts’, although of a different order than the facts of historical events. Mythology actually has a much wider reach in all human societies than historical facts have and requires a much subtler comprehension. Thus the study of mythologies of different societies and cultures brings to the surface a whole range of values they had imbibed over the millennia underneath the overarching good vs evil syndrome.

[Ravi: Positivism viewed mythology as implicitly fictitious! That seems to be the problem with some historians who say that it is "established" that Rama is not a historic/real figure! How can that be "established"! Ridiculous! All they can say is that they do not have scientific evidence to establish that Rama was a historical/real figure, like Jesus has been "established" as a historical/real figure even if the miracles attributed to him in the New Testament are not "established" as genuine/true in the academic field of history.]
...
For long history had a mono-causal explanation: conflict between civilisations embodied in religious difference. The Christian crusades against Muslims; the ‘Muslim’ rule in medieval India and so forth. All other facets that contribute to social and historical change were subsumed in it. Today, religion is one among a milieu of facets which constitute historical causation and historical change, important but not determinist. Indeed, no single facet is given the determinist status.

[Ravi: I was so happy to read the above. Many conflicts around the world today, which are painted as purely religious conflicts by some sections of writers, politicians and the media, seem to me to be rooted in socio-economic issues. While extreme interpretations of religion may be an important factor in these conflicts, the socio-economic issues may be the real driving factors for the conflicts.]

--------------------------

The small extracts given below are from Prof. Rajaram Hegde's comments titled, What have we gained by "Historical Consciousness?", (http://ichr.ac.in/comm.doc, pages 6 to 11) on Prof. Balagangadhara MAKA lecture/paper and discussion (involving Prof. Rajan Gurukkal). I have also included some comments from me within square brackets [].

Unless we have theories about the cultural differences between the West and India, social sciences in India will not advance beyond the colonial era. As a part of this exercise, one has to understand what these Western terms and concepts mean, and build hypotheses on Indian culture to explain the meanings of Indian terms and concepts. Balagangadhara has initiated such a task. A basic ground work is needed to make any further propositions about Indian history and culture.

...

The early colonial scholars who tried to reconstruct Indian history had noticed the lack of a sense of history or historical consciousness in Indian culture. This very fact made them initiate the project of writing a history of India. Our Itihasa and Purana corpus was labeled as myths. Some scholars argued that these myths also contain historical information. Since then a further debate has come into existence: do Indians really lack a sense of history? Due to the lack of sources, Indian history was reconstructed on the basis of these so-called myths too. Today Indian Historians believe that these myths are disguised histories. [Ravi: From http://faculty.gvsu.edu/websterm/ways.htm, (In the context of Greek mythology being viewed as disguised history) "Early philosophers tried to rationalize the fantastic events in myth by claiming that they were distortions of historical fact."]

...

I find Balagangadhara’s paper a significant step forward, in the right direction,in this context. His arguments account for my intuitions of Indians who are brought up with the itihasa-purana tradition. Answers to questions like, ‘What do Indians mean by Itihasa?’, 'What is its role in our life?', 'How can we rediscover our accessibility to this tradition?', are important for him.
[Ravi: I fully support Indians rediscovering accessibility to the tradition of Hindu itihasas and purunas. I have had fair level of exposure to a system (not as a student but as an observer and as a software lab. course teacher) where the itihasa-purana traditions were and are taught as Sunday School (for students in regular schools/colleges) or as a kind-of religion-moral subject as well as extra-curricular activity (for schools/colleges/campuses following regular board/university syllabus but in a strong multi-faith with Hindu faith being dominant environment). It seems to me that the teaching of history in the schools and colleges/campuses referred above, was and is as per the syllabus of the associated educational board/university and was separate from the teaching of/exposure to itihasas and puranas. But, as I was not directly associated with teaching of history, I am not sure if my presumption is correct.]

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Views of Prof. Romila Thapar, one of India's distinguished historians, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romila_Thapar, on Itihasa-Purana 'historical consciousness' and related matters:

From http://www.amazon.in/The-Past-Before-Historical-Traditions/dp/0674725239

The Past Before Us - Historical Traditions of Early North India Hardcover – Import, 8 Nov 2013
by Romila Thapar (Author)

[Book Description]
The claim, often made, that India--uniquely among civilizations--lacks historical writing distracts us from a more pertinent question, according to Romila Thapar: how to recognize the historical sense of societies whose past is recorded in ways very different from European conventions. In "The Past Before Us," a distinguished scholar of ancient India guides us through a panoramic survey of the historical traditions of North India. Thapar reveals a deep and sophisticated consciousness of history embedded in the diverse body of classical Indian literature. The history recorded in such texts as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata is less concerned with authenticating persons and events than with presenting a picture of traditions striving to retain legitimacy and continuity amid social change. Spanning an epoch of nearly twenty-five hundred years, from 1000 BCE to 1400 CE, Thapar delineates three distinct historical traditions: an Itihasa-Purana tradition of Brahman authors; a tradition composed mainly by Buddhist and Jaina scholars; and a popular bardic tradition. The Vedic corpus, the epics, the Buddhist canon and monastic chronicles, inscriptions, regional accounts, and royal biographies and dramas are all scrutinized afresh--not as sources to be mined for factual data but as genres that disclose how Indians of ancient times represented their own past to themselves.

--- end extract ---

Ravi: Terrific! Going by the above description of her book, Prof. Romila Thapar has taken a non-Eurocentric view of ancient Indian history. That, if true, disputes the view that all leading Indian historians of today suffer from/have British colonial attitudes to Indian history. Yes, she may not view (any single version of) Ramayana and Mahabharata as a factual account but then I guess the academic field of history will need decent evidence before (any single version of) Ramayana and Mahabharata can be accepted as factual/historical accounts. However the description states that she "reveals a deep and sophisticated consciousness of history embedded in the diverse body of classical Indian literature" and I presume that this literature would include Ramayana and Mahabharata. If so, the influence of Hindu versions of Ramayana and Mahabharata on the 'historical consciousness' of the majority Hindu population of India, as well as on the non Hindu population but to a lesser extent perhaps, may be an accepted 'social fact' in Indian history. [BTW I plan to read this book in the near future.]

From http://www.governancenow.com/news/regular-story/making-sense-past-and-present-romila-thapar

[Prof. Romila Thapar in an answer to a question:] There is a tendency to assume that if as a historian you are studying the ‘Mahabharata’, you are doing it because you are treating it as sacred literature. But you are not. As a historian you are treating the text in the context of its society and you are analyzing it in a secular, rational fashion. This creates problems because for the person of faith, these are events that happened and these are the people who actually lived and taught and so on, whereas for the historian whether the persons and events are historical is not the prime historical concern. What matters is to ascertain the broader historical context that the texts describe and their function as literature encapsulating society. We have no actual evidence that these people lived. Till we find that actual evidence, we can’t make a judgment on it. These are two separate realms but unfortunately what is happening today is that there is a tendency on the part of people speaking for faith – not everybody but a small fraction – to demand that the historian concedes historicity to that which the people of faith believe to be history. This the historian cannot do. History today has to be based on a critical enquiry, not on faith.
--- end Prof. Thapar answer extract ---

Ravi: I tend to agree with Prof. Thapar on this. Till historians find evidence that the persons mentioned in Mahabharata (one of the well accepted versions of it in India) were real people, historians can't say that they were historical figures. I would like to add that neither can they say that they are fictional as the absence of evidence (so far) is not evidence of absence. Now I have faith that most of the Mahabharata (well accepted/popular version(s) in India) is true mainly because my spiritual master, Sri Sathya Sai Baba, said it is true. I believe that Sri Sathya Sai Baba had (mystical) knowledge of actual events related to Mahabharata and Ramayana. But that is a matter of my faith in Sri Sathya Sai Baba's mystical powers - I cannot expect a historian to go by such faith and accept (most of) Mahabharata as historical fact. However, the same historian may, in the belief/faith and intuitive aspects of his/her personality, accept (most of some version of) Mahabharata to be a truthful account (but still not historical fact as that needs rational evidence).

The article, Fallacies of Hindutva Historiography by Romila Thapar, dated Jan. 3rd 2015, http://www.epw.in/discussion/fallacies-hindutva-historiography.html, seems to be a response to Prof. Balagangadhara's MAKA lecture.

I found the following extract from her article to be very relevant for this post:

These (historiographical) changes have occurred primarily in India but also in universities outside India that teach and research Indian history, such as in Japan, Europe and the United States. Historians of the 19th century may have been searching for “the truth” about the past, but we no longer do so. We cannot arrive at the ultimate truth of what is not fully accessible to us. This is even more so in the study of ancient history. What we try to do is to analyse the evidence that we have and attempt to understand and comprehend what the many pasts of a complex Indian society may have been, and how they may have been interrelated.

--- end extract ---

Ravi: Thapar's clear statement that we cannot arrive at the ultimate truth of ancient history of India as it is not fully accessible to us, must be applicable to Ramayana and Rama. So, it seems to me, historically it may be virtually impossible to establish whether Rama is a historical figure or a non-historical/fictional figure. It is just too far back in the past!

I submitted the following comment (slightly edited to fix a typo) to the article web page (comment under moderation now):
As a person who is not a scholar of history, I find this article by one of India's leading historians to be quite informative and thought provoking with regard to the challenges involved in scientifically/rationally determining (to the extent possible) the history of ancient India related to Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas. However, it seems to me that a largely common core set of events and characters across multiple Hindu versions both of Ramayana and Mahabharata, has got embedded in the consciousness of many Hindus and is viewed as a 'religious' truth by them (including me). How does one balance the approach of scientific history with accepted versions of Ramayana & Mahabharata among religious Hindus in India today, seems to be the big challenge for Indian historians now. I wish them all the best and hope that the debate & the arguments remain civil and do not become a mini Mahabharata war :-).

--- end submitted comment ---
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Chairperson ICHR, Prof. Y. Sudershan Rao, on Balagangadhara MAKA lecture and Ramayana & Mahabharatha as truths

Short extracts from, and comments on, http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2014-11-17/news/56174738_1_ramayana-history-indian-council, dated Nov. 17th 2014:

[Prof. Y. Sudershan Rao [YSR]:] Professor Balagandhara is a very well known philosopher and theoretician. I invited him to speak because he's neither Marxist nor Rightist in his approach. His question to Indian historians was that do Indians need a history or a past and whether historiographical methods can be applied to our Itihasas and Puranas.

...

[YSR:] History writing in India is just about 300 years old and is not exactly reflective of our past. The first generation of history writers in India was European, the second generation was nationalist and the third generation in the post-Independence era was dominated by Marxists, who use European tools of analysis. The Europeans have not considered Puranas and Itihasas as historical sources and simply called them myths. If Rama's story is not true then how has he survived in the collective memory for so long? People do not care whether Ram is historical or not. He is truth for them. India's need is a special study of its past and the truth of its past cannot be denied. We need to Indianise our history writing.

[Ravi: I find this to be very interesting. However, it seems that some leading Indian historians are concerned about this effort. As just a reader of history and not a history academic, I find this debate fascinating.]

[Interviewer:] You say Ramayana and Mahabharata are "truths", but we have many versions of both in our country. So what is the real truth?

[YSR:] I am not here to question the beliefs of people. The content of one Ramayana may be different from the other but the existence of Ram, Sita and Ravan is consistent. That's the truth. I might not know anything about my great great grandfather but I can't deny his existence for lack of evidence or how else would I be here? Similarly Rama's existence need not be proved by historical procedure. What benefit are you (historians) going to get if you deny the existence of Rama? Why do you want to try to prove he is not there?

[Ravi: Can simply the existence of multiple versions of Ramayana and Mahabharata in India make all the versions completely false? Is it not possible that over centuries and millennia after the actual events of Ramayana and Mahabharata (according to Sri Sathya Sai Baba, Sri Rama was living around 20,000 years ago and Sri Krishna was living around 5,000 years ago, http://ravisiyer.blogspot.in/2015/01/sathya-sai-on-historicity-of-rama-and.html), the accounts of events took various forms as they were passed on from generation to generation and moved from one region to another? Is it not possible to extract a largely common kernel of persons and events from some well known versions of these epics in India? I must also mention that such a largely common kernel of the epics may still need supporting evidence for it to be considered as established historical truth. But, it seems to me, that this largely common kernel cannot be viewed automatically as historical falsehood if supporting evidence is not available - it would have to viewed as not resolved whether it is true or false.

Even the gospels including the non-canonical gospels related to Jesus Christ have some differences in their account of events about Jesus Christ and his disciples. Does that mean all the gospel accounts, including the non-canonical gospels, are completely false? I believe the historian view is that it is not established that all the common parts of the gospel accounts are historical truths. Neither has it been established that they are historical falsehoods.

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_reliability_of_the_Gospels:
"Almost all scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed, but scholars differ on the historicity of specific episodes described in the Biblical accounts of Jesus, and the only two events subject to "almost universal assent" are that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and was crucified by the order of the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate. Elements whose historical authenticity is disputed include the two accounts of the Nativity of Jesus, the miraculous events including the resurrection, and certain details about the crucifixion."

I am quite shocked to know from Prof. Y.S. Rao's comments that some historians seem to deny the existence of Rama and are trying to prove that Rama was "not there". How can they "prove" that Rama was not existent!  I think such efforts need to be strongly challenged academically and, outside academia, intellectually. For an example of such views and my criticism of it, please see my post: Criticism of (non) Historicity of Rama content in Harvard Religion Prof. Diana Eck's 2012 book, India: A Sacred Geography, http://ravisiyer.blogspot.in/2015/01/criticism-of-harvard-religion-prof.html.]

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Comment on The Hindu article "Bring back all converted Hindus, says RSS chief"

The Hindu, dated Dec. 20th 2014, carried this article, "Bring back all converted Hindus, says RSS chief", http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/enact-law-against-conversion-says-rss-chief-bhagwat/article6711131.ece. I submitted the following comment to the above web page:

In my view, converting people to another religion using material allurements is doing a great disservice to the prophets, mystics & founders of various religions. If proselytising organizations, no matter what their religion (even Hindu proselytising organizations), offer material allurements as a prize for religious conversion then such proselytising organizations should be strongly discouraged from such activities as these kind of activities will not only disturb the delicate harmony between followers of various religions & sects in India, it will also wreck the religious & spiritual life of those converted in this fashion.

However proselytising organizations that win converts from other religions by the teachings & practice of their religion/sect should be free to do so. Freedom to choose & change one's religion/spiritual path is a fundamental freedom which should not be denied to any Indian, and I believe this freedom is enshrined in the Indian constitution.

--- end submitted comment ---

I later got an email from The Hindu that my above comment has got rejected! No reason was provided for the rejection.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Very interesting trust-building broker role by Pope Francis in restoration of US-Cuba diplomatic ties

Some short extracts (in quotes) from, and comments on, "Under Francis, a Bolder Vision of Vatican Diplomacy Emerges", http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/19/world/europe/pope-francis-vatican-diplomatic-mediator-cuba.html

* So Pope Francis stuck his neck out for amity and trust between USA & Cuba. Perhaps, like in business, it is the calculated risk taker who achieves great success, even in religious/spiritual movements. And, like in business, there will be failures which the religious/spiritual leader has to take in his/her stride, and perhaps learn from it.

"Just as John Paul, the first Polish pope, had a unique credibility as a voice against Communism in Eastern Europe, so, too, does Francis — the first Latin American pope — now benefit from a unique credibility in the developing world."
Ravi: Fascinating comparison! It seems to be quite valid. With a Latin American pope, are we in for a resurgence of faith in God in communist/socialist countries of Central and Latin America, like the Polish pope ushered in a resurgence of faith in God in communist Eastern Europe? For theists like me, that would be a wonderful and exciting change.

* "The papacy is one of the world's great opinion formers"! Hmm. Interesting.

* The rapport with world leaders is the critical thing. I think that's where Pope Francis has done very well.

* “Francis has brought back the Holy See on the international stage”
Ravi: The Holy See coming back on the international stage under the very humane and loving, or to put it in simple terms, nice guy, Pope Francis, is a very good thing for the world, IMHO.

--- end extracts & comments ---

An extract from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/the-pope/11300391/Pope-Francis-brokered-US-Cuba-deal-at-secret-Vatican-meetings.html

Announcing the thawing of relations between the two countries, President Obama said he wanted to “in particular” thank the Pope, who happened to celebrate his 78th birthday on Wednesday.
Mr Obama praised his “moral example, showing the world as it should be, rather than simply settling for the world as it is.”

[Ravi: "moral example" - that's what religious & spiritual leaders ought to be. Nothing like teaching by example in spirituality and religion. Everybody knows the theory of doing good and being good - the hassle lies in the practice of it. A 'moral example' spiritual/religious teacher inspires people to try to follow his/her 'moral example'. Pope Francis has taken the world by storm on this aspect of his life & leadership.]

An extract involving criticism from http://www.cruxnow.com/church/2014/12/17/pope-francis-helped-broker-the-restoration-of-us-cuban-relations/

US Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican whose parents immigrated from Cuba in 1956, blasted Obama for not securing more concessions from Cuba in exchange for restoring diplomatic relations, and also took a swipe at Pope Francis’ role.

“I would … ask His Holiness to take up the cause of freedom and democracy, which is critical for a free people — for a people to truly be free,” Rubio, a Catholic, told Talking Points Memo. “I think the people of Cuba deserve the same chances to have democracy as the people of Argentina have had, where he comes from; as the people of Italy have, where he now lives.

“Obviously the Vatican’s its own state, but very nearby,” the senator said. “My point is I hope that people with that sort of prestige on the world stage will take up the cause of freedom and democracy. The Cuban people are the only people in this hemisphere that have not been able to elect a leader in more than 55 or 60 years. That’s outrageous.”

[Ravi: Well, my humble view is that US Sen. Rubio is taking too much of a hard line on this. I think, in today's world, USA (or any other country/institution) cannot really impose democracy on other sovereign countries. The people of those countries have to struggle for it if they desire it strongly. A revolutionary-type of imposition of democracy in some parts of the Arab world a few years ago (Arab Spring) does not seem to have worked out well. Let each country chart out its own form of governance and its own destiny.]

Simple but very insightful words from Sathya Sai about human instincts and techniques for sense control

An extract from thought of the day at Prasanthi Nilayam (Puttaparthi ashram):

Generally people get drawn to sense objects, for they are victims of instincts. And instincts come along with the body and aren’t derived by any training. The infant seeks milk from the mother, no training is needed for this. However for the infant to walk and talk, some training is necessary, because these actions are not automatic but are socially prompted, by example and by imitation of others. Training is essential even for the proper pursuit of sense pleasure, for it is the wild and untrained search for such pleasure that promotes anger, hatred, envy, malice, and conceit. To train the senses along salutary lines and to hold them under control, certain good disciplines like repetition of the name, meditation, fasts, worship at dawn and dusk, etc. are essential.

(from Bhagavatha Vahini, Ch 1, “The Bhagavatha)

The full thought for the day is available here: http://www.radiosai.org/pages/calthought2.asp?mydate=12/19/2014

SALT-II 1979, Brezhnev to Carter:'God will never forgive us if we don't succeed'; Russian cosmonauts in 2014 openly show faith in God

Yesterday I had sent a mail to some correspondents as follows:
Around 27:50 in the video, Cold War 19 out of 24: Freeze (1977 - 1981), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7qFJQPjqPw, former USA president Jimmy Carter says, while reminiscing about a Vienna meeting in June 1979 to sign the SALT-II treaty, between him & his team and former USSR president Leonid Brezhnev & team, "When I proposed that we make these changes in nuclear weaponry he (Brezhnev) said, 'God will never forgive us if we don't succeed.' Coming from a leader of an atheistic, communist country, this surprised everyone. I think the most surprised person at the table was Gromyko who looked up at the sky like this (raising his hands with outstretched palms) and did his hands in a peculiar way as though this was a shocking thing for Brezhnev to say."

Ravi: I find it utterly fascinating that the Soviet leader Brezhnev referred to God in this super-powers meeting. So even before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, belief in God was making inroads in Russia. Today, in post-Soviet Russia, one gets the impression that faith in God has made a powerful comeback. Wonderful turn of events, IMHO.

--- end mail main contents ---

A correspondent, in his response, passed on this very interesting link, "Faith, the Final Frontier: Russian Spaceships Blessed by God", http://www.vocativ.com/world/russia/russian-space-program/, dated July 2014. The initial part of the article shows a Soviet Russia propaganda picture of a cosmonaut floating in space and has the slogan, "There is no God". The article goes on to say that Russian spacemen today have a very different take. Here's the pic put up by a Russian cosmonaut around a week before the article was written (24th July 2014), http://instagram.com/p/qoIa5BwKG2, which shows around half a dozen religious (mostly, if not all, Christian) icons put up inside the multi-billion dollar International Space Station with two of the three cosmonauts in the pic having a religious icon attached to their uniform/body as well. The article also mentions that priests regularly sprinkle Russian space rockets with holy water prior to launch.

Ravi: What a dramatic change in Russia! Sure, there would be many atheists and opponents to Russian cosmonauts putting up religious icons in their/international space stations. But from a 'There is no God' cosmonaut poster in Soviet Russia, to religious icons put up by Russian cosmonauts in the international space station, is truly a dramatic change.

I am reminded of the current head of Indian Space Research Organization, ISRO, which is the main organization handling India's space program, frequently visiting Tirupathi Balaji temple to get the blessings of Lord Venkateswara prior to important space/satellite mission launches, and also to give Thanks for successful mission launches/other operations. To read about one such visit in Oct. 2014, see http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/isro-chairman-prays-at-tirumala/article6500911.ece.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Harvard Prof. Diana Eck on land of Krishna and relationship of love (bhakti) between young Krishna and devotee-villagers

Given below are short extracts from, and comments on, Harvard Prof. Diana Eck's book India: A Sacred Geography, Chapter 8, The land and story of Krishna:

And they (village folk of Braj) were saved-as are those who love Krishna even today-not by the wisdom of the scriptures, not by the asceticism of the renouncers, not even by the ritual ministrations of priests, but simply by their unwitting and unconditional love for Krishna, by the relationships of love called bhakti. This word bhakti and all it represents in expressing human relatedness to God is surely one of the most important words in the Hindu vocabulary. The stories of the love of Krishna and Krishna's reciprocating love explore and expand the meanings of bhakti. The villagers of Braj, like Devaki and Vasudeva on the night of Krishna's birth, recognize, in one sense, that Krishna who lives among them is extraordinary. They glimpse his divinity in a religious world in which divine "incarnation" is not so uncommon. They even glimpse the full majesty of Krishna as Supreme, creator and sustainer of the whole universe. But such glimpses cannot be sustained; for the whole point of the love of Krishna is to expand the spontaneous and natural love of the heart.

[Ravi: What a superb and enlightened understanding of the love of gopis and others who came in contact with Krishna and loved him! I find the last sentences in the above paragraph to be very, very insightful - not possible to sustain glimpsing/viewing Krishna as the Supreme, creator and sustainer of the universe. I don't know about the expanding of spontaneous and natural love of the heart but what was possible to sustain which the gopis (and some other Krishna contemporary-devotees) achieved and are revered for, and sought to be emulated in this regard, is "their unwitting and unconditional love for Krishna, by the relationships of love called bhakti". Of course, "Krishna's reciprocating love" would have helped the gopis (and some other Krishna contemporary-devotees) to deepen and solidify their bhakti towards Krishna.]

...

The lives of Jesus, the Buddha, and Krishna were larger than life, to be sure, and yet these lives are mapped on a landscape that lends itself to the memory and the pilgrimage of ordinary people.

[Ravi: The paragraph having the above sentence has a lovely and concise expression of the commonality between the devotion/worship of the "holy land" associated with Krishna, Jesus and Buddha! The above sentence is an insightful gem of spiritual understanding of pilgrimage - lives of the divine figueres being larger than life yet their human form lives were associated with a holy land that ordinary devotees can relate to.]

...

Gokul calls to mind and heart one of the strongest forms of devotional love: the unconditional love of parents for their children. Perhaps pilgrims to Gokul will tell one of the traditional accounts of Mother Yashoda and her love of Krishna that remind them that the baby was the Supreme Lord, and yet a baby nonetheless.

[Ravi: While I am no expert in the study of devotional life, the fair bit of devotion to various forms of God by many devotee friends & family that I have been privileged to witness and be deeply touched by, leads me to tend to agree that the unconditional love of parents for their children is one of the strongest forms of devotional love. But then some of the famous tests of devotion to God by God in scripture of some religion(s) have involved testing the willingness of the parents to give up even their child(ren) for God!]

...

In the love of baby Krishna, the utterly spontaneous, selfless, joyful love of parents for their children becomes a paradigm for the kind of love we might have for God. It is called vatsalya, a term our Braj pilgrims certainly know. It means, literally, the mothering love of a cow for her calf, her vatsa. The mother cow's milk flows spontaneously in the presence of her calf. Vatsalya is that kind of love. Although Yashoda glimpses Krishna in his fullness, she is mercifully enabled to forget the cosmic vision so that she can simply love Krishna, naughty and playful, with the full force of a mother's love. So it is that those who come to Gokul might buy for their home altar the most popular of all images of Krishna, the crawling baby with a ball of butter in his fist. This is the mischievous child, the butter thief, who constantly steals Yashoda's freshly churned butter, and, of course, her heart.


[Ravi: The butter thief baby Krishna is an image that I have seen so very often in Hindu homes. It certainly is a very popular image of Krishna.]

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A few short quotes from Bhagavan Sathya Sai Baba on Himself

I tweeted a few short quotes of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba on Himself from "Who is Sai", http://www.srisathyasai.org.in/Pages/SriSathyaSaiBaba/Who_is_Sai.htm. I felt it appropriate to make a short blog post of them too. Please note that I added a few English words (translation) for Sanskrit words in the extracts below.

Here are the quotes that I tweeted (https://twitter.com/RaviSaiIyer):

* I can solve any problem however knotty. I am beyond the reach of the most intensive inquiry and the most meticulous measurement.

* Only those who have recognised My Love and experienced that Love can assert that they have glimpsed My Reality. For, the Path of Love is the Royal road that leads mankind to Me.

* Only those who have dived deep and contacted the underlying principle of Love can visualize Divinity with some clarity.

* I am Ananda, Shaantham, Dhairyam (Bliss/Joy, Equanimity/Peace and Courage). Take Me as your Aathma thathwam (principle of your spirit/being); you won't be wrong.

* Resolve from this day to see only the good in others, to develop the good in yourselves. That is the best Saadhana (spiritual practice).

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The power of Namasmarna (remembering name of the Lord) to keep the mind under control in today's busy world

Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba said:
Keep the Name of the Lord always radiant on your tongue and mind. That will keep the antics of the mind under control. When the lamp is burning, darkness will not spread its fumes around you. When the word for Brahman (Supreme Universal Reality), Om, is spelt with the last breath by the one dying, they attain the Divine. To make that final utterance of Om, just as the flower blossoms on the creeper of life, you need to dwell upon Om all through the years of your current life. The Geeta advocates the process of continuous meditation in a neat little formula: mam anusmara yuddhya cha! - "Keep Me in your memory and fight!" The cue here for you is to fight the battle of life, have God in your consciousness as your Charioteer at all times. This is not merely a direction for Arjuna; it is a prescription for all humanity.
- Divine Discourse, June 9, 1970. From http://media.radiosai.org/sai_inspires/2014/SI_20141209.htm.

Ravi: In today's busy world, I think the above words are very, very valuable. Of course, one should also have faith in the power of Namasmarna. That faith can come from reading teachings of contemporary/near-contemporary spiritual masters and other holy scripture. Perhaps the most famous example in Hindu scripture, of spiritual transformation by chanting the name of the Lord is that of Valmiki who turned from a hunter to a saint by chanting the name of Lord Rama (in an unusual way - Mara rather than Rama), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valmiki#Early_life.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Very compassionate, Christian brotherhood message of Pope Francis to brutally persecuted Iraqi Christians

I saw a recent short video message (1 min 17 secs) from Pope Francis on his twitter account, to Iraqi Christians, which touched me very deeply, https://twitter.com/Pontifex/status/541260856915292160. Truly, the holy father, Pope Francis, is an inspiring religious leader whose compassion and Christian brotherhood for the suffering and the persecuted show us how genuine he is, as a true follower of the teachings of Christ. His words, taken from the English captions in the video, are as follows:

"I wish I could be there with you. But since I'm not able to travel there, I am here with you this way. I am very close to you during these difficult times. When I returned from my visit to Turkey, I said that Christians are being driven out of the Middle East and undergoing great suffering. I thank you for the witness you are giving. And I know how much suffering there is in this witness. Thank you. Thank you so much. It seems like they do not want the presence of Christians in these places, but you are there giving witness to Christ."

The video is also available on youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=htY0l2HaWY8.

I earnestly pray to Lord Jesus Christ to help the Christians and others who are being brutally persecuted in Iraq and elsewhere.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Tributes pour in for Late Supreme Court Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer; Justice Iyer about Sathya Sai Baba

Last updated on 8th December 2014

Ex-Supreme Court justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V._R._Krishna_Iyer, passed away yesterday (Dec. 4th 2014) at 99 years of age. Tributes have poured in for him from across the political spectrum and from many legal luminaries.

PM Narendra Modi tweeted:

Fine lawyer,eminent jurist,incredible philosopher & above all a phenomenal human being.I bow to Justice Krishna Iyer

and

My association with Justice Krishna Iyer was special. My mind goes back to our conversations & the insightful letters he would write to me.
---

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar tweeted:

Justice VR Krishna Iyer was a man of unparalleled integrity & vision. (1)
When I was reluctant to start an organisation,he insisted & was founder trustee of Ved Vignan Mahavidyapeeth(1st Art of Living Ashram).(2)
My association with Justice VR Krishna Iyer goes way back to 1978.We would have hours of discussion on ethos,philosophy & future of India(3)
I have seen Justice VR Krishna Iyer turning from a non-believer into a sincere seeker.(4)

From http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/krishna-iyer-death-a-phenomenal-human-being-says-modi/article6662399.ece :

CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat said, “Throughout his life, Krishna Iyer stood for the cause of justice, equality and socialism. With his moral stature and deep compassion for the downtrodden, he played the role of a people’s tribune till the end of his life.”

RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat said, “It was only recently I had an opportunity of meeting him, which was an invigorating experience for me. What appealed to me the most was his sense of purpose and unadulterated love for all. An erudite scholar, he was content with simple living.”

“As a lawyer, legislator, jurist, judge and campaigner, he was a unique phenomenon, never lured by power, position or temptations of any kind,” Kerala Governor and former Chief Justice of India P. Sathasivam said in a statement.

Ex attorney general of India, Soli Sorabjee writes in this article, He took human suffering seriously, http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/krishna-iyer-death-he-took-human-suffering-seriously/article6662400.ece. Small extracts from it:

Krishna Iyer had all the attributes expected of a judge: erudition, quickness of mind, good memory for decided cases and patience in deciding cases. Above all, Krishna Iyer possessed one outstanding quality. He took human suffering seriously, an indispensable requirement in the dispensation of justice. That is what made him not only a great judge but also a human being par excellence.

Krishna Iyer’s life was spent not in hankering after fame and fortune with pomp and glory but in the service of humanity with transparent sincerity.

...

One outstanding human quality of Krishna Iyer was compassion. Compassion, not pity. There is a marked difference. Compassion is whereby we make others’ misery our own and which moves us to the relief of those who are in distress.

---

The article, Leaving a light, Justice Krishna Iyer passes away, http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/justice-krishna-iyer-passes-away/article6661758.ece, gives a bird's eye view of his life & career.

An interesting thing about him was that he started out as a communist in Kerala, and was a minister in a communist Kerala govt. before going back to the legal profession, eventually becoming a judge in Kerala High Court and then Indian Supreme Court.

An earlier article, on his 100th birthday (i.e. completion of 99 years of age), A unique blend of judicial virtues, http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/comment-on-justice-krishna-iyer/article6600153.ece, by a senior advocate of the Supreme Court gives a very interesting account of Justice Krishna Iyer's judicial achievements. A couple of short extracts and my comments on the article then, are given as points below:

[Ravi: That's very interesting. I must confess that till a few years back I was not having much idea about the great contribution by such supreme court judges in changing the India that I lived in, to give more "relief to the disadvantaged and underprivileged". The Indian constitution's text is one thing but how it gets interpreted in administration of the country is another. Today I have a far better appreciation of the role the Indian Supreme Court has played, and continues to play, over the past few decades in ensuring that governments at the centre and the states interpret the constitution in a way that favours the common citizen of India. Hats off to these supreme court judges who have made such great contributions to the nation's well being as a whole. That Justice Krishna Iyer had played a very important role in steering the Indian Supreme court to this positive direction is something that I did not know. Now I better understand why he is treated as a revered figure by some top lawyers and politicians (especially lawyer-politicians).]

[Ravi: Fascinating Supreme Court history related to one of the blackest periods of post-independence India, the period of Emergency declared by Indira Gandhi. My God! What power and what impact these judgements of the Supreme Court judges have. And Krishna Iyer had to keep at bay one of the most brilliant lawyers, I believe, of independent India, Nani Palkhiwala!]

[From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Emergency_(India), "In India, "the Emergency" refers to a 21-month period in 1975–77 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi unilaterally had a state of emergency declared across the country." ... "The order bestowed upon the prime minister the authority to rule by decree, allowing elections to be suspended and civil liberties to be curbed. For much of the Emergency, most of Gandhi's political opponents were imprisoned and the press was censored. Several other atrocities were reported from the time, including a forced mass-sterilisation campaign spearheaded by Sanjay Gandhi, the Prime Minister's son. The Emergency is one of the most controversial periods of independent India's history."]

Justice Krishna Iyer’s crowning glory and finest hour were after retirement. He spurned the lure of pelf and power and governmental patronage and became an unrivalled champion of social justice, constitutional values and the rule of law. He blossomed into an iconic and inspirational figure both nationally and internationally.

[Ravi: That's what seems to have made him a really loved figure by the people at large.]

The renowned Australian Judge Michael Kirby, a former President of the International Commission of Jurists, described him as “incontestably one of the great spirits of the common law of this century.”

[Ravi: Really! It gives me great happiness to know that one of India's former judges has achieved such eminence internationally.]

--- end extracts and comments ---

A correspondent passed on this tribute article by former Solicitor General, Harish Salve, titled, Justice V R Krishna Iyer: Man who rescued Supreme Court from supreme shame, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Justice-V-R-Krishna-Iyer-Man-who-rescued-Supreme-Court-from-supreme-shame/articleshow/45380178.cms.

Two small extract from it:

Some eminent lawyers of the generation before us had mixed feelings about the man who led the revolution in jurisprudence which helped a then-floundering Supreme Court find its identity . He challenged the status quo and thus had his share of critics and followers. The gen next has his judgements to read. For my generation, he was the architect of the Supreme Court, post Emergency . As Professor Upendra Baxi said, from the Supreme Court of India he made it the Supreme Court for Indians. He defined fundamental rights as well as charters of freedom, not just to acquire and hold wealth, but freedom from poverty and misery.

...

Post Emergency , the Krishna Iyer jurisprudence breathed new life into what was seen as a listless institution. Supreme Court today stands tall and is the most powerful institution of its kind in the world and its work has shown that it is sui generis. India needs such a court even if other countries do not have or need such a court.

[From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sui_generis, Sui generis is a Latin phrase, meaning "of its own kind/genus" and hence "unique in its characteristics".]

--- end extracts ---

Justice Krishna Iyer and Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba

From http://vahini.org/sss/iv/loveon-d.html

The summer course in Indian Culture and Spirituality in 1979, laid emphasis on the Bhagavad Gîtâ.

...

Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer of the Supreme Court of India, while inaugurating the month-long course in the presence of Bhagavan, said, "It is time that we wean our colleges from becoming houses of vice and violence, with students getting addicted to drugs and cultivating only materialistic desires. Baba's balm of Prema must penetrate Karma, kindle Jnana and sublimate into Dharma." He spoke on the inadequacy of science and its inability to restore peace, morality and brotherhood. He stressed that India must discover her soul and listen to the voice of the sages. Bhagavan pointed out that leaders of today had no will to promote moral and spiritual excellence in their people, while the people themselves had no urge to warn their leaders of the disasters that lay ahead when this foremost duty was neglected.

From page 273 of Wandering in Many Worlds: An Autobiography By V. R. Krishna Iyer [Google Books link: http://books.google.co.in/books?id=A4FKhMcmpdQC&pg=PA273]

My judicial preoccupations put limitations on my occult travels, but on superannuation I became a freer agent. Among the most sublime spirits I have come across in my temporal life is Bhagavan Satya Sai Baba, whose presence and performance are unusually divine. I was once his critic but in my evening mood I did seek darshan of this great soul preserving my scepticism and refusing to jettison the test of verified testimony before coming to any conclusion. I was uplifted and felt myself humble before his lofty personality. He did perform what others could never have done. I have received more than one ring as Baba waved in the air and produced the golden product. He gave gold chains and other wonderful objects to those who came as established devotees and had the privilege of darshan. But while these miracles were far more than magic and were utterly real beyond the laws of nature as we understand them, I have been stunned by his profound speeches. But my purpose was different. What is death? Where are we after death? Is there a communicable link between the living and the dead? What divine process can materialize this life-death continuum? Satya Sai Baba has not yet taken me through this threshold. Message is for the living. They say that he can and indeed, if I can trust Dr. Malini of Madras, she has spoken to her deceased father at the instance of Baba himself. I suspend judgement, although, I have conducted my pursuits in other directions with mediums and met with some success in the field of communication with the dead.

--- end extract ---

A correspondent passed on this youtube video, Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer, (1915-2014) Speaks on Sathya Sai Baba, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRhMytWj4tI, 3 min. 26 secs.

Here's a transcript (slightly edited) of Justice Iyer's short talk:
"Sathya Sai Baba whom I have visited several times is Himself Divine. To my mind, he is not mundane but he is Divine. Humanity has to be salvaged. And that can be done not by material prosperity but by Divinity. And here is Sathya Sai Baba - Divinity personified. He has given messages. There have been sages and sages but (for) modern times there is one saint called Sathya Sai Baba. His teachings are profound, profound. And you will never find a similar sage anywhere you go around the world - you will not see that divine class of person. His main message is: (Manava) Seva Madhava Seva. Whenever I see him, he gives a message which is great.

He was running a teaching institution (which) had an annual day - he took me in. And then I told Baba people do not believe me when I tell them that education is totally free in your institutions. He called a boy.
He asked him (which class) are you (in)? I am in the fifth standard.
What is the fee you pay? Nothing.
Then he called another man, an African.
What do you do? I am doing Ph.D.
What is the fee you pay? Nothing.
Are you satisfied? Yes, I am satisfied, Baba.
Everything is free. Surgery is free. One of the finest hospitals but free. Free medicine. Free hospitalization.
Free salvation of the mundane man and making him feel what he is - spiritual being that he is. This is the great teaching. So he says, Madhava Seva (Manava) Seva. Serve man, serve man. And that is the way you can serve God. Humanity through divinity. This is Sathya Sai Baba's teaching.

I have nothing more to say, except to say that I have not seen a greater humanitarian than him. See the God within you, he said. You are searching for God in all kinds of places. But remember there is God within you. So see that God which is within you. Realize what you are. And then you will truly become what you should become, namely, a divine human being.
Namaste!"
--- end transcript ---

Ravi: Wonderful words about Swami from a champion of justice, especially for the poor, in Indian judiciary. I am so glad to see such powerful recognition of and support for Swami and Swami's message.

Sathya Sai Baba on ages-old conflict between atheists (& agnostics) and theists

Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba has said,
"The conflict between persons who accept God and deny Him, those who declare that God is to be found in this or that place and those who affirm that He can be found nowhere, is never ending; it has been continuing throughout the ages. Remember that it is unnecessary to awaken a person already awake and it is easy to awaken a person who is asleep. You cannot awaken, however much you try, a person not wanting to awaken! Those who do not know, can be taught by means of simple illustrations what they do not know. But those afflicted with half-knowledge and proud of that acquisition are beyond any further education. Your two eyes give a picture of a vast expanse of space, but they cannot see your whole body! For that, you need two mirrors – one in front of you and one behind. So too, to know your reality, you need the mirrors of Self-confidence (Atma-vishwas) and Divine Grace."- Divine Discourse 23rd Nov 1976, From http://media.radiosai.org/sai_inspires/2014/SI_20141205.htm.

I find the above to be a superb capsule of theistic wisdom relating to this ages-old conflict between atheists (& agnostics) and theists. I think there is a lot of truth in the words that those who are proud of their half-knowledge are beyond further education (unless something happens that breaks down their pride), and that they are like people who don't want to awaken to spiritual knowledge/wisdom.

Ancient India certainly had active atheism philosophers. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism_in_Hinduism lists some philosophies of ancient India like Mimamsa and Samkhya which border on atheism, I understand. The Brahma Sutra, which is a Vedanta school doctrine, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahma_Sutras has sections arguing strongly against Samkhya philosophy (yoga), if I recall correctly. At least, Adi Shankara's interpretation and commentary on Brahma Sutra, which is what I read/studied (as translated to English by somebody but having the original Sansksrit text also), argues strongly against atheist-type philosophies like Samkhya, if I recall correctly.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

One cannot hide anything from Swami; Sathya Sai Baba, the Dharmaadhikaari i.e. Great teacher/giver/authority of Dharma (Ethical living)

"Always remember, Swami knows everything. I am always watching - not just from yesterday or day before. From several crores of years; from several past births of yours. Do not think you can cover my eyes and get away with doing whatever you want." - Sri Sathya Sai Baba, from http://sathyasaiwithstudents.blogspot.in/2013/04/i-am-watching-over-you-from-several.html.

I would like to share that, in my slightly over eight years of serving in Prashanti Nilayam campus of SSSIHL (university founded by Bhagawan) when Swami was in physical form (Jan. 2003 to April 2011), and having quite regular darshan of Swami whenever he was in Prashanti Nilayam, there were many occasions when there was eye contact between Swami and me. It took me some time to become sensitive to Swami's facial expression when he looked at me. Over time it became very clear to me that when he looked at me even if it was just for a few seconds, he somehow knew what I was thinking then and what I had done earlier. It was not a face-reading kind of effort - he would just know. If I had done something really good he would smile, he once even showed an Abhaya Hasta specifically to me, and once has told me, 'very happy'. If I did something bad, something he did not like, his expression was dismissive - unmistakably dismissive if one has the sensitivity to understand such facial gestures, and on a rare occasion or two, furious. [I vividly remember Swami's fury and, I will be very honest here, even today I am afraid of Swami's fury though I have not had any dream or other interactions with Swami after his Mahasamadhi. I am very thankful for that fear as it keeps me from doing stupid and bad things.] The facial interaction experience would occur at darshan usually and when I would analyze it, after getting to the peaceful solitude of my room/flat later on, I was almost always able to correlate his expression with something that I had recently done. Later, it reached a point where I simply knew that Swami knows everything about my activities and that I cannot hide anything from him. So if I did something stupid & foolish/bad then the next darshan experience of Swami was not going to be a pleasant one for me. As simple as that and as effective as that - from a spiritual discipline point of view.

Once at Darshan time when I was angry about something with him (quite foolish of me and due to my misunderstanding of his teachings, but I was then in the grip of a deep emotional problem), he accepted the angry thoughts I directed to him (nothing spoken and from a distance of ten to twenty feet perhaps), and gave me a 'caught you'/'got you'/'Aha' kind of facial expression which was quite suitable given the emotional problem I had created myself. To my shock, after he finished the round of Darshan, he gave an unscheduled discourse - mike(s) and translator had to be hastily arranged. It was crystal clear to me that this unscheduled discourse was in response to my angry thoughts at him. You may not believe me - that's fine. It is difficult to believe such experiences one has of Swami. Here's the text of the discourse he gave on that day, 18th May 2010, in Sai Kulwant Hall, Prashanti Nilayam, as given in sssbpt website, http://sssbpt.org/pages/Prasanthi_Nilayam/dd18052010.html:

REALISE  THAT  YOU  AND  I  ARE  ONE

Everybody is afraid of Yama, god of death. He goes about in every corner of the world and takes away the life principle of those whose life sojourn on earth comes to an end.

Chastity  Endows  Women  with  Immense  Power
When he took the life of Savitri’s husband Satyavan, Savitri was full of grief and prayed to him to bring her husband back to life. She said, “Either you give back my husband’s life or take my life also. I cannot live without my husband; we are one”. When Yama wanted to go away after taking the life of her husband, Savitri blocked his way and did not allow him to move. Yama had no choice but to listen to her prayer. He asked her, “Mother! What do you want”? “Give my husband back to me because it is not possible for me to live without him,” said Savitri. Ultimately, Yama had to yield to her prayer and revive Satyavan. Yama not only brought Satyavan back to life, but granted many boons also to both Savitri and Satyavan, happy as he was with the chastity and determination of Savitri. It was because of her power of chastity that Savitri could bring her dead husband back to life.

Chandramati was another great woman of the sacred land of Bharat who set a shining example of chastity in the world. When she along with her husband Harischandra and son was crossing a forest, it was suddenly engulfed in wild fire, which threatened their life. Then Chandramati prayed, “If I am truly a chaste woman and have been adhering to Dharma all my life, let this wild fire be extinguished”. And lo and behold, the fire was extinguished in a trice and the entire forest became calm and serene. So great is the power of penance and chastity of a chaste woman! But she was always humble and expressed gratitude to God, saying, “It is by the grace of God that I have been able to uphold the Dharma of a chaste woman”. She always followed her husband and could never bear separation from him even for a moment. That is the hallmark of a chaste woman. Both husband and wife should live together in harmony whole of their life. (Here Bhagavan narrated the story of King Harischandra and his chaste wife Chandramati, who in spite of undergoing untold sufferings upheld the virtues of truth and righteousness and set a shining example of virtuous life.)

This land of Bharat has given birth to many noble women like Damayanti who reduced an evil-minded hunter to ashes with the power of her chastity and Sita who proved her chastity by coming out of blazing fire unscathed.  (Telugu Poem)

Life  Finds  Fulfilment  when  Husband  and  Wife  Live  in  Unity
When Sita was put to fire test, the fire god himself manifested out of it and told Rama, “Sita is a woman of great chastity”. There were many women of chastity in the sacred land of Bharat like Sita, Chandramati, Damayanti and Savitri. People are afraid of Yama, the god of death, but Yama is afraid of the women of chastity. Just as Savitri could bring her dead husband back to life by the power of her chastity, Sita could also come out of blazing fire unscathed by the power of her chastity. All these examples of chaste women of Bharat set the ideal that for a woman her husband is God. These ideals set by such chaste women made India a teacher of the world and leader of all nations. Except in Bharat, in which country of the world do you find examples of women who brought their dead husbands back to life? Even if you search the entire world, you cannot find such chaste women. Such is the sacredness of this land of Bharat. That is why God loves to incarnate in Bharat. Just as women should observe Pativrata Dharma (Dharma for a chaste woman), men should also adhere to Sativrata Dharma (Dharma for an ideal husband). A woman must be a Pativrata (chaste woman), so also her husband, a Sativrata (ideal husband). The wife should never go against the command of her husband, similarly, the husband should conduct himself according to the wishes of his wife and should look after her with great love. But, unfortunately, there are only a few men today who observe Sativrata Dharma though a large number of women adhere to Pativrata Dharma. God is pleased with those women who observe Pativrata Dharma. When there is unity between husband and wife, they can achieve anything and find fulfillment in life. Draupadi had five husbands and she considered them as her five life-breaths. Women today should observe chastity like Sita, Savitri, Draupadi and Damayanti. It is the sacred land of Bharat where you find such a large number of Pativrata women and nowhere else. People who leave such a sacred land and go to other countries waste their life.

You say, my body, my handkerchief, so on and so forth. But who is this ‘my’? That is the Self or I. I means Atma. Without realising the Atma, all spiritual practices like Yajnas and Yaga are of no use. You say, this is mine and that is thine. What is the use of doing any spiritual practice unless you give up the feelings of mine and thine? Get rid of the narrow feelings of mine and thine and realise that you and I are one.

--- end divine discourse text ---

Bhagawan struggled to speak during this discourse. I was completely bowled over by Bhagawan's willingness, despite his many physical body problems then, to teach me, and others, through a discourse about the dharmic way of life, a significant part of which was related to my angry thoughts directed at him. I am very, very deeply grateful to Bhagawan for having been such a dedicated spiritual teacher even to a foolish & angry fellow like me then. To me it was clear that while giving the discourse, Bhagawan was playing the role of the Dharmaadhikaari (the authority, the giver of Dharma i.e. ethical code of living). Whether one wants to accept it or not is a different matter. He did his role of teaching Dharma. After this experience that I had with Bhagawan, I became much more dedicated to him and his mission, even if I was & still am not able to follow all his teachings - but I certainly try. He did not care about his own physical body suffering at 84 years of age - he was far, far more concerned about delivering his teaching about Dharma. What a shining example of a teacher of Dharma! I offer my humble, loving and very respectful obeisance at the feet of my great spiritual master & teacher of Dharma, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Sathya Sai Baba on Truth from 1958 discourse

I think today's thought for the day from Prashanti Nilayam is something that is very close to my heart.

Have faith that Truth will save you in the long run; stick to it, regardless of what might befall. For if you are true, the sense of guilt will not gnaw your insides and cause pain. It is cowardice that makes you hide the truth; it is hatred that sharpens the edge of falsehood. Be bold and there is no need for a lie. Be full of love and there is no need for subterfuge. The easiest habit is speaking the truth, honesty; for if you start telling lies, you will have to keep count of them and remember how many you have told to whom, and be always alert not to contradict one lie with another! Love a person and you need no longer deceive the person with a lie; you will feel that the loved one deserves the truth and nothing less than the truth. Love saves a good deal of bother. (Divine Discourse, March 3, 1958)

From Thought for the day for Nov. 28th 2014, http://www.theprasanthireporter.org/

Sathyam Naasti paro Dharmaha - there is no dharma (right conduct) greater than truth. Sticking to the truth always is not easy though. Not speaking the unpleasant truth is not difficult - that is not indulging in untruth. But, at times, one slips into the convenient lie rationalizing that it is just a 'white lie' which will not harm anybody. Anyway, I think the above extract from Swami's 1958 discourse (4 years before I was born!), is a great gem of a spiritual teaching which serves as a lighthouse of inspiration even if one cannot achieve it always.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Need for haves to do some direct service of the have-nots, for social harmony

Last updated on 30th Nov. 2014

In a mail exchange, a correspondent mentioned (includes a small later clarification from correspondent), "a small distance can separate a poor area (like a slum) from a wealthy area, yet people can live for years in the wealthy area without ever seeing a poor area." To this I (Ravi) add, or rather elaborate: without ever spending time in that poor area and understanding the challenges of living in that poor area (slum).

I agree on the comments of the correspondent about living in a wealthy area without ever seeing a poor area. I think it is a great problem which exacerbates the rich/poor disconnect and which perhaps is a big factor contributing to social tension and strife, whether the country be a materially developing one like India or a materially developed one like USA. My experience in a spiritual organization with a lot of focus on service to the poor (Sathya Sai Seva Samithi), for nearly a decade, while I was in working in the software industry in Mumbai (around 1993/94 to 2002), was that its weekly or fortnightly service activities for the very poor in the slums and elsewhere, not only helped the better off in the spiritual organization have some understanding of the challenges faced by the very poor, but also the understanding of how essentially human both the very poor and the better off are. It helped in establishing a connect/common bond between the very poor and the better off. I think such efforts are greatly appreciated by the poor and it contributes to reducing social tension. Instead of a spiritual organization doing such stuff, it could be a non-faith-based NGO. But the essential point is human interaction between the better off and the poor, with the poor being served by the better off, even if it is just once in a fortnight for a few hours. Government welfare schemes, even if they deliver some money/services to the poor, cannot create this human bond in the community between the haves and the have-nots.

In this context I should also mention that my first exposure to such social service was in a non-faith-based environment, when I was a Physics undergraduate in Mumbai's Ruia college, http://www.ruiacollege.edu/ (in the early 80s when I was in my late teens/early twenties). The Indian academic system then had, and perhaps even now has, a special scheme called National Service Scheme which encouraged college students to participate in it, and provided some sort of academic credit for participation. From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Service_Scheme, "The National Service Scheme (NSS) is an Indian government-sponsored public service program conducted by the Department of Youth Affairs and Sports of the Government of India. Popularly known as NSS, the scheme was launched in Gandhiji's Centenary year, 1969. Aimed at developing student's personality through community service, NSS is a voluntary association of young people in Colleges, Universities and at +2 level working for a campus-community linkage. The cardinal principle of the NSS programme is that it is organised by the students themselves, and both students and teachers through their combined participation in community service, get a sense of involvement in the tasks of nation building."

I have fond memories of my interactions via NSS with rural India, with health related activities in slums, with a school focusing on specially-abled children (deaf and/or dumb children), family planning related efforts of Indian government then ... Even though my family at that time was facing quite some economic challenges and I was having only enough pocket money to get by, it was clear to me that I was far better off than many others in my city (Mumbai) and country.

I think the world at large i.e. countries of all types: under-developed, developing and developed countries, should have more of such human contact between haves and have-nots where the haves serve the have-nots, even if it is a once-a-month kind of affair.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Does Swami recommend using "harmless" lies for the common good, at appropriate times?

A recent mail exchange with a correspondent triggered this post.

My view is that Swami's (Sri Sathya Sai Baba's) public teaching, from Sanathana Dharma, is:
Sathyam Bhruyath (Speak the truth),
Priyam Bhruyath (Speak that which is pleasant/loving),
Na Bhruyath Sathyam Apriyam (Don't speak the unpleasant truth).

Now this is a general rule and, surely, there will be some exception cases. For example, when questioned in any investigation of fraud, it is far better to be truthful about any fraud one knows of, related to the investigation, than not speak about it as that will amount to concealing fraud in an investigation, and could land one into significant amount of trouble.

But what about "harmless" lies used for the common good? Well, the danger is that what one views as harmless may not be viewed as harmless by others. Lying to get out of difficult situations is a common failing. So one could get into the spiritually very bad habit of lying to escape out of problems, and rationalize that lying by telling oneself that it is "harmless" and that it is for the common good.

I have been a victim of such lies from some senior administrators in an ashram institution. It was convenient and useful for them and they perhaps thought it is a "harmless" lie for the common good. But it certainly did not do good for me and was not harmless for me! When I found out about such lies I took the senior administrators to task, and quit the institution that I was involved with. The senior administrators did not even have the decency to apologize for their lies! I then lost all respect for the people who indulged in such lies and used it for their benefit, and did not want to associate with them any more.

But then I was offering free service and so could walk away from the place where I was offering service. For people who depend on salary from the institution they are working for, they may not be able to walk away from the institution. For them, the challenge may be to safeguard one's good character traits from the bad influence of some fellows who could even be in senior management/administrative positions. Like when Krishna came, we had Pandavas as well as Kauravas. So even in ashram systems, and the world at large, there are good Pandavas like Yudishtra and bad Kauravas like Shakuni and Duryodhana. I guess one can view one's field of work & home life as a Kurukshetra (some cynics spell it as crook-kshetra) where one has to learn from Krishna's teachings to Arjuna and other Pandavas, and somehow survive materially and somehow progress spiritually too :).

BTW there could be some/many mistakes in what I have written above. I am not perfect and do have my human flaws too. But I can say that I very rarely indulge in even "harmless" lies. I think that adherence to Sathya (truth) helps me overcome my flaws, at least to some extent.