Tuesday, February 17, 2015

At Christian event, Indian PM Narendra Modi expels all doubts about secular India and freedom of religion in India

Last updated on 18th February 2015 
Non-Indian readers may please note that the term secularism in India is commonly understood to mean equal treatment of all religions by the state. For more please see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secularism_in_India.

At the National Celebration of the Elevation to Sainthood of Kuriakose Elias Chavara, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuriakose_Elias_Chavara, and Mother Euphrasia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euphrasia_Eluvathingal, today (17th Feb. 2015) in New Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, and a couple of other ministers in his govt. spoke. PM Modi's speech in particular, according to the Vote of Thanks speaker, Monseigneur Sebastian Vadakumpadan, a Syrian Christian faith leader, culminated in "expelling all the doubts we had in recent times about the pursuit of the secular India". The faith leader also said, based on the PM's speech, "Everybody will have freedom to profess and propagate his faith. And we are very grateful to you (PM Modi)."

I was very pleased to see the video of this event which resulted in such confidence among leaders of the Syrian Christian community. I think other Christians in India, as well as people of other faiths like Islam, Sikhism, Jainism etc. too may find the words of PM Modi very reassuring. I decided to make a transcript of parts of this video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WXGj0w7ggSk, and have given it below.

[Around 21:40, Dy. Chairman of Rajya Sabha (upper house of Indian Parliament), Dr. P.J. Kurien, of the Congress party and from a Syrian Christian family hailing from Kerala, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P._J._Kurien, speaks (slightly edited):]
Honourable Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modiji, ....

It is a great pleasure and honour for me to participate in this function and say a few words. In fact, I have (had) the great opportunity and fortune of going to Vatican and attending the canonization ceremony of Chavara achhan (father in Malayalam, language of Kerala) Euprasia amma (mother), the two great citizens of this country. I thank the honourable Prime Minister who took (the) initiative in sending a delegation to represent our country, and, of course, he chose me as the leader of that delegation also, which was already mentioned here (by a previous speaker). And I witnessed the canonization ceremony. It was a moment of great joy and satisfaction and also to see that the tricolour, the national flag, flying in Vatican. [Applause. Video shows PM Modi also applauding.]

Dear friends, Chavara acchhan and Euphrasia amma, they are not just saints. They have not become saints because Pope has announced it or formalized it or declared it. They lived in body and flesh as saints. ... And, as it is already mentioned here, it is actually Chavara acchhan who started the educational revolution of Kerala. Kerala is the most literate state today. But the beginning is Chavara acchhan. And it may be interesting to you to know that Chavara acchhan even started a Sanskrit school [applause] because he - it is part of history - he had a vision to understand the greatness of Indian culture. And so, he thought that the study of Sanskrit is important to have a better apprehension of Indian culture. So he started a Sanskrit school. This is perhaps not known to many people. Therefore I would say that both lived for others. And they worked for the betterment of society. ...

Now friends, Andrew ... has already said, Christianity came to India in the first century A.D. itself. It is Saint Thomas, the disciple of Jesus Christ, who reached the Malabar coast in A.D. 52. Yes, some Hindu families embraced Christianity. Not a large number, (but a small) number. But remember, today, the Syrian Christians or the Saint Thomas Christians are the descendants of those small Hindu families. [Light applause] Look how they flourished. How? Who protected them? Who preserved them? Who promoted them? There was no Indian constitution at that time. I tell you, it (was) the Hindu rajas of the Kerala state who protected [Applause] and promoted them.

[Ravi: From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Thomas_Christians: "The most commonly believed tradition of origin among Saint Thomas Christians relates to the arrival of Saint Thomas, one of the 12 disciples of Jesus at the ancient seaport of Muziris ( in present day Kerala) in AD 52. Further, the tradition claims that Thomas converted a large number of Jews who were already present in Kerala that time along with 12 Nambudiri brahmin famililes namely Nedumpally, Pakalomattom, Maliyekkal, Sankarapuri, Kalli, Kalliamkavu, Payapilly, Palakkappilly, Koykkam, Muttodal, Madeipur and Panakkamattom. Most of the modern day Saint Thomas Christians trace their ancestry to these Jewish or Brahmin roots."]

I will narrate a small incident of history which happened in my place, in my own place (in Kerala). 500 years ago, some people were carrying a dead body in a boat to a distant place for (burial). On the side of the river which is Mani... river adjacent to my house, the ruler, a Hindu ruler, saw the dead body being taken to a distant place. He asked, where are you taking the dead body? Then they said for burial to such-and-such a place. The ruler said, Oh! such a distant place! Why do you go there? Come here. I am giving you land. I am giving you place for the church. And 500 years ago [applause], at a place called Kannupa..., my place, that church, 500 years old is still there as an eloquent expression of the protection given by the Hindu rulers to the Christian community. [Applause]. If any one of you are interested I can take you there - that 500 year old church is there. And interestingly that is adjacent to the temple. You from Kerala may be interested. Come and see, adjacent to the temple, the church is there, 500 years ago. That was, and that is, our tradition and culture.

And, if today, there is some semblance of intolerance or some incidents of violence or attack, I would like to say, they are only aberrations, they are only aberrations. And I am sure those aberrations will be dealt with seriously. Our honourable Prime Minister is here. His presence itself is reassuring. I have no doubt about it. [Applause]

Friends, when most of the modern world was groping in darkness, India was shining. We gave to the world the slogan, Vasudaiva Kutumbakam, world is one family. We prayed for the world, Loka Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu (May all the world be happy). Swami Vivekanandaji, the embodiment of Sanathana Dharma, the embodiment of Indian culture, our culture, the embodiment of Indian spirituality, our Bharateeya Aadhyaathmikatha, he has said, all religions are like rivers flowing into the sea. All will reach (the sea). Ultimately all religions will reach the same goal. We may be Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Jains or Parsees or any religion. We are all praying to the same God. We may be any community, caste, creed or religion or may be speaking any language, we are the children of Mother India, Bharatmata. [Applause]. Therefore, where is the place for intolerance and hatred and violence. There is no place for it. Let us all shun violence. Our duty is to work for the welfare of Mother India and serve Mother India.
...
But I cannot conclude my speech without a word of thanks to the honourable Prime Minister. [Dr. Kurien looks at PM Shri Modi who is also looking at Dr. Kurien] Sir, it is very kind of you, it is very gracious of you, and very benevolent of you, that you came here today. I was actually apprehensive that you may be forced to cancel (your) visit because it is such a difficult situation. The president of Sri Lanka is here, so many other ... but yet, you committed and you stood (by) your commitment [applause]. This shows, this shows your commitment to the plurality of India. I have no doubt about it. I thank you on behalf of all the organizers. Chavara acchhan and Euphrasia (amma) - they are actual saints. They lived as saints. His holiness, the pope, formalized and declared their sainthood. This function in the presence of honourable Prime Minister, honourable finance minister and honourable minorities minister and in the presence of all of you, makes that sainthood or articulates that sainthood as a national event and it gives a national acceptance to that sainthood. Thank you very much. Jai Hind! [Applause]
-----------------------------

[Around 49:55 His Beatitude, George Cardinal Alencherry, the Major Archbishop (head) of the Syro Malabar church, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maran_Mar_George_Alencherry, speaks (slightly edited):]
Honourable Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modiji, other honourable ministers, my dear brother bishops, P.J. Kurienji and other distinguished guests on the dais and off the dais, to you all, my Namaskar. As it was already mentioned here, India is a country of sages and saints. We call them by various names: swamijis, sadhus, gurus, sannyasins, acharyas etc. In India, it is the popular recognition that makes a person holy or saintly. In the Catholic church, the life witness of a publicly venerated person will be examined in different ways and his or her holiness will be approved by the church though an official declaration by the pope. This process of declaring a person (a) saint is called canonization. The Catholic church in India has five such canonized saints. They are: Saint Gonsalo Garcia, Saint Joseph Vaz, Saint Alphonsa, Saint Kurikose Elias Chavara and Saint Euphrasia. The latter three saints belong to the Syro Malabar church of which I am the present head.

The (Saint) Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Saint Euphrasia were canonized, as it was said here, recently on November 23rd 2014 and it is to celebrate their memory that we have arranged this national meet of distinguished persons with your esteemed presence. We thank you very much in the name of all the Christians in India for this generous gesture from your part to be with us for this celebration.

The Syro Malabar church is the largest community of Saint Thomas Christians also called Syrian Christians who trace their origins from the evangalization work of Saint Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, in the first century A.D. The Christian churches, in general, practise their faith assimilating the cultural elements of the country where they live. Therefore the allegation that Christianity is a foreign religion in India is not true to facts. [Applause]. We are Indian citizens who love our country and who have contributed very much to the nation building through educational, health-care and social service activities. The Christians in India are only 2.3 percent of the total population, and during the decades of the two previous censuses, the Christians got reduced by point 5 (0.5) percent. It is against this numerically small minority community that some have levelled the complaints of proselytization. The Catholic church, as you know well, is the champion of religious freedom and the Catholics in India wholeheartedly adhere to this principle.

Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara whose sainthood we are celebrating today was not only a person of inestimable spiritual values but also a great social reformer. At a time when universal primary education was not thought of in Kerala or in any part of India, he asked all the churches to establish schools and open their doors to people of all religions and castes. [Ravi: From his wiki page, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuriakose_Elias_Chavara, "In 1864, while he was serving as the Vicar General of Syrian Catholics, he ordered to start a school along with every church (palli) which was successful in making free education available for everyone."]

When people who belonged to the upper caste were alone eligible for education, he changed the system by offering opportunities to people of all castes and religions to study in the schools of the church. He also opened a school for the study of Sanskrit as was mentioned by Shri P.J. Kurien. Not only started it, but opened it for all the students of all castes and religions. He was very particular that all the students should study Sanskrit, the classical language of India.

Saint Euphrasia, whose canonization we are celebrating also along with Saint Chavara, was a person endowed with great spiritual strength and values. Christianity whose essence consists in reaching out to the poor and the dispossessed, which values love of neighbour irrespective of caste and creed, was fully alive in the life of Saint Euphrasia. Honourable Prime Minister Modiji [video shows PM looking at his left which would be towards the speaker Major Archbishop Alencherry], we do firmly hold that conversion is a matter of one's personal decision and that conversion cannot be done through fraud or false means. [Applause]

If anyone uses forceful ways to propagate one's religion, he or she is to be taken to task by the laws of the country. Making new anti-conversion laws will pave the way for creating animosity among believers of different religions thereby destroying the peace and harmony that exist today. Christians do not believe in revenge or retaliation. We do not support vendettas. But this shall not be taken by the evildoers as our weakness under which cover they can trample us down. [Applause]

During the past few weeks, five places of worship and a school have been ransacked by people who are led by anti-Christian ideologies. This happened in this capital city. I thank you very much for the action you have taken for the attack on the school and I hope [applause] and I request your honour to take further steps needed to provide protection to our churches and institutions of service.
...

Let our country flourish with the plans and projects of your government. And we are with you for the development of this country in all the way. And let there be peace and harmony among the people of diverse religions, languages and cultures holding on to the principle of unity in diversity. Once again, thanking you for your encouraging presence, I conclude, Jai Ishwar, Jai Hind! [Applause. PM Modi (and Finance minister Arun Jaitley) too is (are) shown applauding]
------------------------------------------------

[Around 59:52, PM Narendra Modi speaks. I have picked up the transcript from the entry titled "Text of PM's address at the National Celebration of the Elevation to Sainthood of Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Mother Euphrasia (17-February 2015)" for February 2015 in this link: http://pib.nic.in/newsite/pmreleases.aspx?mincode=3 (The release ID of the note/document is 115529 but using relid=115529 in the url did not work when I tried it.)

I have also included my comments with prefix Ravi: and enclosed in square brackets, and added applause within square brackets when there is applause.]


Text of PM's address at the National Celebration of the Elevation to Sainthood of Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Mother Euphrasia

Cardinal George Alencherry
Archbishop Andrews Thazhath
Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara
Archbishop Anil Couto
Shri Arun Jaitley,
Dr. Najma Heptulla,
Shri P.J. Kurien, Deputy Chairman, Rajya Sabha
Monseigneur Sebastian Vadakumpadan

I am delighted to participate in this function to celebrate the elevation to sainthood of two great saints of Kerala - Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Saint Euphresia. The whole country is proud of their recognition. [Applause] Their elevation was preceded by that of Saint Alphonsa, who also hailed from Kerala. [Applause]

The life and deeds of Saint Chavara and Saint Euphresia are an inspiration not only to the Christian community, but to humanity as a whole. [Applause] They are shining examples of dedication to God through selfless service for the betterment of mankind.

[Ravi: Clear statement from PM Modi appreciating "shining example" of the two recently canonized Indian Catholic (Syrian Christian) saints.]

Saint Chavara was a man of prayer and also a social reformer. In an era when access to education was limited, he stressed that every church should have a school. He thus opened the doors of education to people from all sections of society.

Few outside Kerala know that he started a Sanskrit school, and also a printing press [Ravi: at that time. Applause]. His contribution towards women’s empowerment was also noteworthy.

Saint Euphrasia was a mystic who dedicated her life to prayer and devotion to God.

Both these saints dedicated their life to God through service of fellow beings. The ancient Indian saying: [Ravi: Sanskrit words in English (Latin) script - "Aatmaano mokshaartham jagath hithaayacha"] – welfare of the world is the way to moksha (salvation) – explains their life.

Friends,

Spiritualism is rooted in India's heritage. Indian saints and Greek sages had intellectual and spiritual exchanges thousands of years back. India’s openness to new ideas is manifest in the Rig Veda: [Ravi: Sanskrit words in English (Latin) script - "Aano bhadraha kritvo yantu vishwataha"] Let noble thoughts come to us from all sides. This philosophy has guided our intellectual discourse since time immemorial. Mother India gave birth to many religious and spiritual streams. Some of them have even travelled beyond Indian borders.

The tradition of welcoming, respecting and honouring all faiths is as old as India itself. [Applause] As Swami Vivekananda said: We believe not only in universal [Ravi: tolerance], but we accept all religions as true.

What Swami Vivekananda had said a century ago holds good and will, for ever, not only for this nation but also for this government or for that matter any government in India, run by any political party. This principle of equal respect and treatment for all faiths has been a part of India's ethos for thousands of years. And that is how it became integral to the Constitution of India. Our Constitution did not evolve in a vacuum. It has roots in the ancient cultural traditions of India. 

[Ravi: Clear and completely unambiguous declaration by PM Modi of his BJP govt's support and commitment for religious pluralism in India.] 

Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore had inspired us to dream of a land where the mind is without fear and the head is held high. It is that heaven of freedom we are duty bound to create and preserve. We believe that there is truth in every religion. [Ravi: Sanskrit words in English (Latin) script - "Ekam sath vipraha bahuda vadanti" (Truth is one; sages call it by different names)] 

Friends,

Let me now come to the issue which is central and critical for peace and harmony in the contemporary world. The world is increasingly witnessing division and hostility on religious lines. This has become a matter of global concern. In this context, the ancient Indian plea of mutual respect for all faiths is now beginning to manifest in global discourse.

This long felt need and urge for mutually respectful relations led to the interfaith conference on 'Faith in Human Rights' at the Hague on tenth December, 2008. This was coincidentally also the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations.

Religious leaders representing every major world religion - Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Baha'i Faith, Buddhism, Islam, Taoism and indigenous religions met, discussed and pledged to uphold the Universal Declaration and of freedom of religion or belief.

In their historic declaration, they defined what constitutes freedom of faith and how it is to be safeguarded.

We consider the freedom to have, to retain, and to adopt, a religion or belief, is a personal choice of a citizen. [Applause]

[Ravi: Crisp and unambiguous support for religious freedom including adopting (converting to) a religion from PM Modi. Of course, it is understood that such religious conversion is not under coercion or under inducement of material gain.]

The world is at cross roads which, if not crossed properly, can throw us back to the dark days of bigotry, fanaticism and bloodshed. [Ravi: Very well said by honourable PM. This seems to be the plain and unvarnished truth given the events in some parts of the Middle East and even incidents in Europe.]

This harmonious convergence among religions could not be achieved even when the world entered the third millennium. And now it has been [Ravi: ?; perhaps it should be read as: And now we have been in the third millennium for some time]. This shows that the rest of the world too is evolving along the lines of ancient India. [Ravi: I did not get the connection with the preceding sentences.]

Speaking for India, and for my government, I declare that my government stands by every word of the above declaration. [Applause] My government will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable right [Applause] to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion [Applause] or undue influence.
[Ravi: What more does anybody want as statements from PM Modi in support of freedom of religion!]

My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly. [Applause]
[Ravi: The intent is clear. However, very unfortunately, some acts of religious/communal hate speeches and even violence, have been occurring in the past decades and even now. But, at the top level in the govt., the intent is very clear that there should be no incitement of religious/communal hatred. That's very good.]

Mine will be a government that gives equal respect to all religions. [Applause]

India is the land of Buddha and Gandhi. Equal respect for all religions must be in the DNA of every Indian. [Applause] We cannot accept violence against any religion on any pretext and I strongly condemn such violence. [Applause] My government will act strongly in this regard. 

With this commitment, I appeal to all religious groups to act with restraint, mutual respect, and tolerance in the true spirit of this ancient nation which is manifest in our Constitution and is in line with the Hague Declaration.

Friends,

I have a vision of a Modern India. I have embarked on a huge mission to convert that vision into reality. My mantra is Development - [Ravi: Hindi words in English (Latin) script - "Sabka saath sabka vikaas" (All being and contributing/participating together; all progressing)]. [Applause]

In simple terms it means food on every table, every child in school, a job for everybody and a house with toilet and electricity for every family. [Applause] This will make India proud. We can achieve this through unity. Unity strengthens us. Division weakens us. I sincerely request all Indians, and all of you present here to support me in this huge task. [Applause]

Let the elevation to sainthood of Saint Chavara and Saint Euphrasia, and their noble deeds inspire us:

-to maximize our inner strength
-to use that strength for transforming society through selfless service
-to fulfil our collective vision of a developed and modern India.

THANK YOU [Ravi: VERY MUCH].
[Applause]
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[Around 1:13:50, Vote of thanks by Monseigneur Sebastian Vadakumpadan (slightly edited) ]
Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modiji, ...

Today we have been enriched by this meeting. I would say that all the speeches (were) an extended speech or an integrated speech, culminating in the words of our Prime Minister expelling all the doubts we had in recent times about the pursuit of the secular India ... It is a landmark and in unequivocal words the Prime Minister has made it clear, India will remain secular. [Applause] Everybody will have freedom to profess and propagate his faith. And we are very grateful to you. ... We have been enriched (on) various aspects of secular India. ... All (speakers) have spoken about various aspects of secular India. It culminated in an excellent speech expelling all doubts of everybody here [applause] and all the Indians, in all the parts, in all the remote parts of India and abroad. This was an excellent occasion for our Prime Minister to expel our doubts and give us confidence. Thank you very much. [Applause. PM Modi also applauds.] I also extend grateful thanks to all the dignitaries who have spoken homogeneously and have promised to work together with the Modiji government. [Applause]. I thank all the media persons and all who have attended the meeting - I don't want to say any particulars about that. And I want to say a word of thanks particularly for all the departments related to the Prime Minister's office. They have been very kind, ...,  very gentle and generous (when) we went to meet them ... to get everything done so easily. It was a pleasure to work with them. Thank you. [Applause] Thank you for all those who are here to make this meeting a success. Thank you.

[Ravi: PM Modi (and Major Archbishop Alencherry) stands up with folded hands and looks towards the audience. PM is given a standing ovation by the participants. PM Modi shakes hands with Archbishop Alencherry and prepares to leave.]

===============================
Some relevant information about numbers and percentages of various religion followers in India, from http://censusindia.gov.in/Census_And_You/religion.aspx:

At the census 2001, out of 1028 million population, little over 827 million (80.5%) have returned themselves as followers of Hindu religion, 138 million (13.4%) as Muslims or the followers of Islam, 24 million (2.3%) as Christians, 19 million (1.9%) as Sikh, 8 million (0.80%) as Buddhists and 4 million (0.4%) are Jain. In addition, over 6 million have reported professing other religions and faiths including tribal religions, different from six main religions.

[Ravi: In a table just above the earlier extract, the entry 'religion not stated' has numbers of 727,588 (persons) and 0.1 percent (actually it should be < 0.1 percent). Atheists & agnostics would be part or this, perhaps a significant part. Therefore openly declared to census, atheists & agnostics in India as per 2001 census is less than 0.1 percent!]

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Not YOLO man, YAALA man; And Karma man, Karma!

Last updated on 15th Feb. 2015

I enjoyed watching this light-hearted short video (1 min 58 secs) of Obama which has gone viral and was even talked about in Indian national TV news channels, https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=1631492713658271.

Towards the end of the light-hearted video which shows the US president doing goofy "Things Everyone Does But Doesn't Talk About" (quoted words are the title of the Buzzfeed video), a co-actor in the video acts as if he is shocked at Obama acting as if he is taking a basketball shot in a room which seems to be a room in the White House. Obama then acts a little sheepish and then says, "Can I  live?" He follows that by saying "YOLO, man" with a broad smile. From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/YOLO_%28motto%29, 'YOLO is an acronym for "you only live once"'. Perhaps the most important political message in the short video is about the USA new health insurance system (Obamacare).

I loved the video as it showed how human even an in-office US president is.

But later, the YOLO thing stayed in my mind. I had watched the video yesterday evening. Today morning I somehow felt I should respond to YOLO as a way of life. Hindu belief related to this, which has been confirmed by Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, is about reincarnation/rebirth (unless a person gets moksha/liberation/merger with the divine) and karma (typically, good acts result in good reactions and bad acts result in bad reactions, that have to be experienced by the person-doer in the future, in the same birth or in a future birth).

Now, the response to YOLO is not really a response to Obama's light-hearted video. The YOLO there has to be taken in a light-hearted way.

As I played around with a short response to YOLO, I came up with YAALA (You Almost Always Live Again) :-). So now the line I have is:
Not YOLO man, YAALA man; And Karma man, Karma!

I also plan to tweet the following:
Not YOLO (You Only Live Once) man, YAALA (You Almost Always Live Again) man; And Karma man, Karma!

[Update: Here's the tweet url: https://twitter.com/RaviSaiIyer/status/566828956691607553.]

------------------------------------------------------------------------------
An update:

I was fascinated to later come across another very similar response to YOLO. In late 2013, the singer-rapper, Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam aka M.I.A., http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M.I.A._%28rapper%29, of Sri Lankan heritage, responded to YOLO with YALA in a song of hers. From http://www.rollingstone.com/music/videos/m-i-a-answers-yolo-with-y-a-l-a-20131022 dated Oct. 22nd, 2013: "M.I.A. is not so sure about this YOLO business: "If you only live once, why we keep doing the same s***?" she asks on new song "Y.A.L.A.," which stands for "you always live again." After teasing a snippet of the new tune last week, she posted the full track online today. It's also available as a download for those who pre-order her upcoming record Matangi, out November 5th."

The lyrics of the rap song are available here: http://www.metrolyrics.com/yala-lyrics-mia.html. I am not into rap and so am not able to appreciate the lyrics so much. But I am able to relate to the last part of the song where YOLO is questioned and reincarnation and Karma are mentioned as a response to it. Here's the last part (one word is partly starred):

YOLO?
I don't even know anymore
What that even mean though
If you only live once why we keep doing the same s***?
Back home where I come from, we keep being born
Again and again and then again and again
That's why they invented karma

--- end extract ---

Of course, I don't agree with the view that Karma was invented. I believe that Karma is a reality that can be "seen" by genuine mystics/"seers". Also, she omits mention of the very important possibility of Moksha/liberation from the birth-and-death (or death-and-birth) cycle.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Swami (Sathya Sai Baba) made Jesus, Rama and Krishna real for me

A Sai devotee told me that Swami, i.e. Sathya Sai Baba, made Jesus real for him. He had read parts of the New Testament earlier but it was not with faith that Jesus was a real person. It was after he came to Swami that Jesus (of the New Testament) became real for him.

I think it is similar for me. In my youth I had doubted the reality of divine powers attributed to Rama and Krishna. Reading about Swami and becoming part of the Sathya Sai fraternity gave me some degree of faith in the reality of not only Jesus, but also Rama and Krishna. Later, as a teacher in his university at PrashantiNilayam, I had direct experiences of Swami's divine/paranormal powers, which has convinced me that Jesus, Rama and Krishna were real figures with divine/paranormal powers. So Swami has made Jesus, Rama and Krishna real for me.

I am now reading leading historian of ancient India, Romila Thapar's book, "The Past Before Us. Historical Traditions of Early North India", http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674725232. I just finished reading the chapter on Mahabharata. The next chapter is on Ramayana. What is striking for me about the Mahabharata chapter is that divine powers of Krishna are not considered to be real, even if she considers some part(s) of Mahabharata like the Kurukshetra war to be a historical event. As a historian, I guess, she cannot go by belief like me. What a great difference faith makes in readings of epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata. The same is the case for the vital book for Christians, The New Testament.

Indian PM, Shri Narendra Modi, appalled at the news of temple being built in his name

From http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=115368 dated 12th February 2015:

PM appalled at the news of temple being built in his name

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, has said that he is appalled at the news of a Temple being built in his name. 

"Have seen the news about a Temple being built in my name. I was appalled. This is shocking and against India's great traditions. Building such Temples is not what our culture teaches us. Personally, it made me very sad. Would urge those doing it not to do it. If you have time and resources, please devote the same towards fulfilling our dream of a Clean India," the Prime Minister said. 

--- end PIB text ---

This is picked up from the following three tweets of PM Narendra Modi:



An update:
The latest news is that the Modi statue/idol inauguration in the temple is cancelled, http://www.oneindia.com/india/narendra-modi-temple-s-inauguration-cancelled-after-pm-expressed-displeasure-1651325.html.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Why Sathya Sai Baba insisted on service (seva) in Prashanti Nilayam, Puttaparthi?

Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba was famous for his insistence on worshipful service to fellow man/woman (Manava Seva is Madhava Seva) as the main spiritual sadhana (practise/discipline) to be followed for all those who came to him. Yes, Namasmarna (devotional chanting/ remembrance of the name of the Lord) and Bhajan (devotional songs/singing), were important too, but his advice was that most of one's time must be spent in service activities, singing bhajans while doing the work, if feasible, or even silently chanting the name of the Lord, if feasible. For Kali Yuga, this was the best spiritual practise according to Swami, the Kali Yuga Avatar.

Today's thought for the day in Prashanti Nilayam ashram throws some further light on why Swami insisted on service for all who came to Prashanti Nilayam (Puttaparthi):

You have worked very hard in your life discharging worldly duties and come to Prasanthi Nilayam, seeking rest for the body and peace for the mind. That being so, it might look strange if you were asked to undertake some kind of work here also. In the olden days the Guru would collect his disciples in the forest and give them different types of work, sometimes for 10 to 12 years. This was done with a purpose. One important object of work is purification of the Chittha (heart). Once the heart is purified one is ready to receive the teachings of the Guru. Therefore in earlier times the disciples were given work in the beginning so that they slowly get purified. Only when the teacher was satisfied regarding the student's ripeness for receiving spiritual instruction, would he start teaching Brahma Vidya (the supreme knowledge). (Divine Discourse, 7Jul 1985)
From: http://www.radiosai.org/pages/calthought2.asp?mydate=2/8/2015
I think the above message has helped very much to improve my understanding of why Swami insisted on service activities, and also given me vital background information on how Gurus of the past ages would train/discipline spiritual aspirants who came to them. 10 to 12 years of service to the Guru/ashram as a process of Chitta shuddhi (purification of heart/mind OR inculcation of right attitude as a spiritual aspirant/student) before Brahma Vidya was taught to newcomer spiritual aspirants! Well, spiritual knowledge (Brahma Vidya), was and, IMHO, typically still is, not for the faint hearted or quick results oriented person. Shraddha and Saburi i.e. faith and patience, as Bhagavan Sri Shirdi Sai Baba would say, are the vital attributes to inculcate and foster, for the spiritual person.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

An Indian's view of USA President Obama speech at (USA) National Prayer Breakfast meeting 2015

Extracts from and comments on, Remarks by the (USA) President at National Prayer Breakfast, dated February 5th 2015, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/02/05/remarks-president-national-prayer-breakfast. [The video is available here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/photos-and-video/video/2015/02/05/president-obama-speaks-national-prayer-breakfast, 24 min 08 secs.]

Many times as President, I’ve been reminded of a line of prayer that Eleanor Roosevelt was fond of. She said, “Keep us at tasks too hard for us that we may be driven to Thee for strength.”  Keep us at tasks too hard for us that we may be driven to Thee for strength.  I’ve wondered at times if maybe God was answering that prayer a little too literally.  But no matter the challenge, He has been there for all of us.  He’s certainly strengthened me “with the power through his Spirit,” as I’ve sought His guidance not just in my own life but in the life of our nation.
[Ravi: Fascinating and actually, quite inspiring for guys like me!]
...
[A large extract:]
But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge -- or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon.  From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it.  We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism  -- terrorizing religious minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions.

We see sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic, a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion.

So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities -- the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious for their own murderous ends?

Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history.  And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.  In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.  Michelle and I returned from India -- an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity -- but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs -- acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation.

So this is not unique to one group or one religion.  There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.  In today’s world, when hate groups have their own Twitter accounts and bigotry can fester in hidden places in cyberspace, it can be even harder to counteract such intolerance. But God compels us to try.  And in this mission, I believe there are a few principles that can guide us, particularly those of us who profess to believe.

And, first, we should start with some basic humility.  I believe that the starting point of faith is some doubt -- not being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us, and doesn’t speak to others, that God only cares about us and doesn’t care about others, that somehow we alone are in possession of the truth.

Our job is not to ask that God respond to our notion of truth -- our job is to be true to Him, His word, and His commandments.  And we should assume humbly that we’re confused and don’t always know what we’re doing and we’re staggering and stumbling towards Him, and have some humility in that process.  And that means we have to speak up against those who would misuse His name to justify oppression, or violence, or hatred with that fierce certainty.  No God condones terror.  No grievance justifies the taking of innocent lives, or the oppression of those who are weaker or fewer in number.

And so, as people of faith, we are summoned to push back against those who try to distort our religion -- any religion -- for their own nihilistic ends.  And here at home and around the world, we will constantly reaffirm that fundamental freedom -- freedom of religion -- the right to practice our faith how we choose, to change our faith if we choose, to practice no faith at all if we choose, and to do so free of persecution and fear and discrimination.
[Ravi: I chose not to break up the above extract into smaller pieces so that readers can clearly see the context in which Obama makes the much-discussed and much-cricized in India, reference to India, "Michelle and I returned from India -- an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity -- but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs -- acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation." Given the context where Obama is mentioning various countries in the world where acts of religious intolerance have occurred (including USA in the past), in my humble opinion, as an Indian I think we should not make such a fuss about his comment. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, one of India's noted contemporary spiritual leaders, had tweeted, "Isolated incidents doesn't mean India is intolerant. Obama should have met religious leaders while in India for better understanding.", https://twitter.com/SriSri/status/563397472358105088. Perhaps Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is right. Obama, as the USA president, has his view and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar disagrees with that view and has openly expressed his disagreement. Let's just leave it at that and not get offended at Obama's statement above.
Rather, the lines we Indians (and others) should take from the above extract of Obama's speech are gems like these:
* So this is not unique to one group or one religion.  There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.
* I believe that the starting point of faith is some doubt -- not being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us, and doesn’t speak to others, that God only cares about us and doesn’t care about others, that somehow we alone are in possession of the truth. 
* And that means we have to speak up against those who would misuse His [God's] name to justify oppression, or violence, or hatred with that fierce certainty. [Ravi: It is this 'fierce certainty' that makes some of the misguided faithful so powerful.] 
* No God condones terror.  No grievance justifies the taking of innocent lives, or the oppression of those who are weaker or fewer in number.
* And so, as people of faith, we are summoned to push back against those who try to distort our religion -- any religion -- for their own nihilistic ends.] 
...

The United States is one of the most religious countries in the world -- far more religious than most Western developed countries.  And one of the reasons is that our founders wisely embraced the separation of church and state.  Our government does not sponsor a religion, nor does it pressure anyone to practice a particular faith, or any faith at all.  And the result is a culture where people of all backgrounds and beliefs can freely and proudly worship, without fear, or coercion -- so that when you listen to Darrell talk about his faith journey you know it's real.  You know he’s not saying it because it helps him advance, or because somebody told him to.  It's from the heart.

That’s not the case in theocracies that restrict people’s choice of faith.
[Ravi: I think the above words are very important for today's multi-faith (including no faith) reality in most countries of the world including India. Whether one likes it or not (I like it), this multi-faith (including no faith) reality will continue to be around in the foreseeable future in most countries of the world including India.]
...
And, finally, let’s remember that if there is one law that we can all be most certain of that seems to bind people of all faiths, and people who are still finding their way towards faith but have a sense of ethics and morality in them -- that one law, that Golden Rule that we should treat one another as we wish to be treated.  The Torah says “Love thy neighbor as yourself.”  In Islam, there is a Hadith that states: "None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”  The Holy Bible tells us to “put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”  Put on love.
[Ravi: I love the last sentence, 'Put on love' :-). I feel it appropriate to mention Sri Sathya Sai Baba's teaching, "Love is God. Live in love.", from 15th December 2007 discourse of Sri Sathya Sai Baba, http://www.sathyasai.org/discour/2007/d071215.pdf. Some more quotes from it:
"There is no greater God than love. Love is God."
"People call God by many names such (as) Rama, Krishna, Jesus, Allah etc. But all names refer to the same God. If you call Him Allah, He responds. Similarly, if you call Him Jesus, or Zoroastra, or Rama, He will respond. All these names were given by man. God is not born with these names. Original name of God is only love."]
Whatever our beliefs, whatever our traditions, we must seek to be instruments of peace, and bringing light where there is darkness, and sowing love where there is hatred.  And this is the loving message of His Holiness, Pope Francis.  And like so many people around the world, I’ve been touched by his call to relieve suffering, and to show justice and mercy and compassion to the most vulnerable; to walk with The Lord and ask “Who am I to judge?”
[Ravi: Inspiring!]
...
His Holiness expresses that basic law:  Treat thy neighbor as yourself.  The Dalai Lama -- anybody who’s had an opportunity to be with him senses that same spirit.  Kent Brantly expresses that same spirit.  Kent was with Samaritan’s Purse, treating Ebola patients in Liberia, when he contracted the virus himself. And with world-class medical care and a deep reliance on faith -- with God’s help, Kent survived.  (Applause.)

And then by donating his plasma, he helped others survive as well.  And he continues to advocate for a global response in West Africa, reminding us that “our efforts needs to be on loving the people there.”  And I could not have been prouder to welcome Kent and his wonderful wife Amber to the Oval Office.  We are blessed to have him here today -- because he reminds us of what it means to really “love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Not just words, but deeds.
[Ravi: Awesome!]
Each of us has a role in fulfilling our common, greater purpose -- not merely to seek high position, but to plumb greater depths so that we may find the strength to love more fully.  And this is perhaps our greatest challenge -- to see our own reflection in each other; to be our brother’s keepers and sister’s keepers, and to keep faith with one another.  As children of God, let’s make that our work, together.

As children of God, let’s work to end injustice -- injustice of poverty and hunger.  No one should ever suffer from such want amidst such plenty.  As children of God, let’s work to eliminate the scourge of homelessness, because, as Sister Mary says, “None of us are home until all of us are home.”  None of us are home until all of us are home.

As children of God, let’s stand up for the dignity and value of every woman, and man, and child, because we are all equal in His eyes, and work to send the scourge and the sin of modern-day slavery and human trafficking, and “set the oppressed free.”  (Applause.)
[Ravi: This man is some speaker! I find it truly inspiring to see a democratically elected politician holding the world's most powerful political position, speak words that one normally hears only from inspired preachers!]
If we are properly humble, if we drop to our knees on occasion, we will acknowledge that we never fully know God’s purpose.  We can never fully fathom His amazing grace.  “We see through a glass, darkly” -- grappling with the expanse of His awesome love.  But even with our limits, we can heed that which is required:  To do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

I pray that we will.  And as we journey together on this “march of living hope,” I pray that, in His name, we will run and not be weary, and walk and not be faint, and we’ll heed those words and “put on love.”
[Ravi: Amen.]