Sunday, July 5, 2015

Bhaagavata Dharma

(Original Article in Kannada by Dr. S. V. Chamu. English Rendering by Sri K. Mukundan)

People are born in this world possessing either a Theistic or Atheistic disposition, right from birth. That is why an atheist cannot be transformed into a theist or vice-versa by persuasion. It is this phenomenon that has been confirmed by our ancestors, through this shloka:
Janmaantara sahasreshu yaa buddihi bhaavitaapura |
   Thameva bhajhate jantuhu upadesho nirarthakah ||
{Beings assume only those tendencies that which has been cherished by their intellect through thousands of births. Persuasion is of no avail.}
Our Itihasas and Puranas illustrate this through stories of various theists and atheists. The story of Prahlaada and Hiranyakashipu is an example of this. Hiranyakashipu who is blinded with ego hates divinity in toto. He wishes that his son Prahlaada too should follow his footsteps. But Prahlaada is a realised soul who has experienced the presence of divinity within, right from his birth. Hence all attempts made by Hiranyakashipu to transform Prahlaada go in vain. Enraged by his failure he metes out cruel punishments to his son. However, none of these punishments is able to weaken the resolve of Prahlaada. On the contrary, he unilaterally surrenders to the Lord whom he is able to perceive everywhere. None of the punishments is able to make even a small dent on him in view of his total immersion in the Lord. The same all-pervasive Lord who was sighted by Prahlaada in his heart emanates from one of the pillars, kills Hiranyakashipu and saves Prahlaada.
Vena, who was born to the noble and devout Angaraja was an apostle of atheism right from birth.  Charakacharya says “Paatakebhyah param chaitat Paatakam naastika graha” (the sin of atheism surpasses all sins). We may see such a sinner in Vena.
Even in devout people, the divine disposition is not always of the same type. In most people it expresses itself in a cursory manner. Offering salutations with folded palms to the Lord within while passing through a temple, participation in various temple festivities, undertaking pilgrimages, performing ceremonies for the departed souls-all these are illustrations of the theism in the masses. In many people, we see these practices as a mechanised adherence devoid of any strong faith, understanding or devotion. Such people undertake these ventures to spend their assimilated wealth. While for some it is part of entertainment. They return from their pilgrimage to their daily routines without imbibing the spiritual gains that are to be reaped from these activities. Though theism is superior to atheism, theism devoid of a proper goal and perseverance does not pave the way for a man’s spiritual progress. It thus resembles other activities which are performed as a result of tradition or by force of habit. It is the duty of all those with a theistic bent of mind, to develop their insight in the realm of spirituality. For, the pure state of mind that has given rise to such a theistic disposition is itself a gift of Almighty. This is possible only with dedication and rational effort. In particular, it has to be a whole-hearted effort, cherishing the ideals and following the footsteps of those great men who have achieved the ultimate goal of realisation.
Faiths such as Shaiva, Vaishnava, Shaaktha and so on, that have sheltered the full-fledged development of a spiritual culture in the history of our country, have been existent since times immemorial. There are many Saints who have carved a path for their liberation by following these faiths.
For instance, the names of those who have attained fulfilment following the Paashupata faith are enumerated in the following shloka:
Doorvasa Kaushika Suresha Mrukandu Putra Devejya
Baana Vidhishakthi Dadhichi Raamaan |
Vaamadeva Kavi Kumbhaja Gouthamaadeen
Punyanimaan Parama Paashupataan Smaraami ||
{I pay homage to sanctified saintly Paashupatas such as Doorvasa, Kaushika, Suresha, Mrukandu’s son Devejya, Bana, Vidhishakthi, Dadhichi, Rama, Poet Vaamadeva, Kumbhaja and Gouthama.}
Similarly the names of saints who are foremost in the Vaishnava faith are listed in the following shloka:
Prahlaada  Naarada Paraashara Pundarika
Vyaasaambareesha Shuka Shounaka Bheeshma Dalbhyan |
Rukmaangadaarjuna Baleendra Vibheeshanaadeen
Dhanyaaniman Paramabhaagavathan Smaraami ||
{My tribute to those gratified, extremely divine personalities such as Prahlaada, Naarada, Paraashara, Pundarika, Vyaasa, Ambarisha, Shuka, Shounaka, Bhishma, Dalbhya, Rukmangada, Arjuna, Balindra and Vibhishana.}
In reality, there are innumerable personalities who have attained the apex of spiritual enlightenment following these faiths. The shlokas list only those who are foremost among them.
We wish to present here a brief introduction to the tenets of Vaishnava faith or disposition of a Bhaagavata in this article.
The Rishis of yore of this country worshipped thirty three deities through complex and arduous yagnas. A spontaneous outpouring of the exalted qualities of these Devas form the body of Vedas. Due to intellectual degradation and other historical reasons the various facets of the Vedic culture were lost in course of time. But few other aspects stood the test of time and have become an invaluable part of our life even today. At the same time many methods of worship centered around some deities, expounded by Vedas, have undergone holistic development providing spiritual support to our people. Especially Vishnu, Shiva, Shakthi, Surya, Ganapathi and Skanda have become the Deities worshipped in especially influential faiths.
Among these faiths Shiva and Vishnu have got the primacy. The great works of Mahabharata, Bhagavadgita, Ramayana and Bhaagavata, that portray Vishnu, one of the two prime Deities and subject of this article, have institutionalised the worship of this Deity. These together with Agama Shaastras that were composed in later days, drawing inspiration from the former, became the life breath of the Vaishnava tradition that got established in all parts of the country. The thoughts, deeds and way of life expounded by them are the Bhaagavata (Vaishnava) Dharma. This Bhaagavata Dharma has imbibed in it the essence of Veda, Upanishad, Yoga and Saamkhya and has continued the task of providing the ultimate peace to mankind. The works published in Tamil and other regional languages based on this tradition, have enchanted the minds of common man and scholars alike. The institutions that have developed based on this tradition, have ironed out the inequities in society, and gone a long way in creating harmony among various groups. Arts like Sculpture and Dance have drawn inspiration from this tradition and added aesthetic beauty to lifestyles. In short, the Vaishnava cult is a glorious evolution of intellectual and emotional development over thousands of years.
Recounting the entire developments is neither feasible nor intended in this short article. Instead, we would like to bring out certain original concepts of the sacred Vaishnava perspective, in this context.
Sacred texts such as Veda, Upanishad and Gita contain the extempore descriptions of the state of that absolute eternal truth realised by the Rishis of this Land, through their penance or spiritual achievements. All these works extol the reality of the absolute truth. For example, the sage who recited Purushasuktha describes his vision of the Cosmic Purusha as follows:
“Purusha has countless heads, eyes and feet. He encompasses the whole of earth and also transcends it. All that is present now is His manifestation. He has existed before and is to manifest in future too. He is the God of immortality. All these are indeed the attributes of His glory. But His glory exceeds all these descriptions. All living beings are just a fragment or a quarter of his personality. He stands beyond the world of darkness, shining with the colour of Sun. I have realised that glorious Divine Purusha”.
Naaraayana Suktha also beautifully eulogises the inner experience of the same Truth by another Rishi by name “Naaraayana” as follows:
“The heart above the navel is the abode of the whole (micro) universe. There is a subtle crevice at the end of this. Everything is embodied in that. There is a big fire enshrined in its centre. Its flame has engulfed the whole Universe. It has traversed in all directions. In its centre is present a tuft of fire pointing upwards. That shines like the streak of lightning present in the middle of the blue cloud in the sky. That is as subtle as the edge of a grain of paddy. It has the radiance, lustre and the colour of Gold. With its subtleness equivalent to the atom, it stands no comparison. Paramaatman is present at the centre of this tuft of fire. He is Brahma, Shiva, and Indra. He is Akshara. He is the Swaraat ruling and staying beyond everything.”
Sacred texts like Gita and Upanishads expound in detail, the same Truths that have been experienced by various sages in the innermost recesses of their hearts.
The ultimate goal of Vaishnavite tradition is to realise the Supreme Divinity that is being addressed by various names like Vishnu, Naaraayana, Vaasudeva, Paramaatma and Akshara. Our ancestors attained that effulgent state through Yoga and Penance. But the path of Yoga is not suitable for everybody. Everyone cannot realise the core of their being by ascending the steps of Ashtanga Yoga. The Vaishnava tradition or Bhaagavata Dharma hence attempts to transform the ordinary lives of men into an exercise in Yoga which culminates in the same fulfilment. It shows a systematic and special path of Bhakti (devotion) to attain the same cherished goal of Yoga. This is illustrated by Bhaagavata as below:
Ye vai Bhaghavataa prokta Upaayahyaatmalabdhaye |
Anjah Pumsaamavidushaam viddhi Bhaagavataan hi taan ||
{Whatever simple practices are prescribed by God for the ignorant to attain Him, recognise them as the “Bhaagavata Dharma.}
When a person identifies himself as a celestial being or a mortal, having distanced himself from God, he is engulfed by illusion and amnesia by the Maya of God. In order to avoid this state, a wise man should worship God with a firm belief that his teacher is a Celestial Being. Just as a thought process causes dream and mental desires that are virtual, in the same way, the mind is affected by resolution and restlessness, as a result of the past actions of life. A wise person should control these mental states. This paves the way for Divine support-this in essence is the core of Vaishnava Faith.
In case a man wants to escape from delusions, by controlling his mind, he should submit all his worldly actions to the Lord. He should not own any of the actions.
One of the invaluable advices of the Bhaagavata Dharma enunciates:
Kaayena vaacha manasendriyairva
Budhyaatmanaava Prakrutheh Swabhavaat |
Karomi yadyat sakalam parasmai
Naraayanaayeti samarpayaami ||
The same idea as in the above shloka is enunciated by Shri Krishna in the following:
Sarvadharmaan parityajya maamekam sharanam vraja |
Aham tvaam sarva paapebhyo mokshayishyaami maa shuchah ||
{After renouncing all the tendencies that are triggered in a man due to the senses, mind, intellect etc., approach me as the sole refuge. I will protect you against all sins. Do not be disheartened.}
Relinquishing the influence or disposition of senses, mind and intellect you seek refuge in Me alone.  As you cannot do away with all this paraphernalia of the material world, don’t own these actions but submit them to Me.
Listening to the stories of the Lord, Reciting His Names, singing His stories without any inhibitions, wandering with total renunciation, laughing and crying being overcome with His Devotion, dancing like one intoxicated under the influence of divine bliss, being fully unaware of the world around, are some the characteristics of a true Bhaagavata. We have heard that Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had all these attributes.
From all this it may be inferred that to follow the Bhaagavata Dharma it requires a more emotional predisposition as against a predominantly intellectual one. But there is also a certain inherent outlook behind this. The verse of Purusha Suktha “Sa Bhoomim Vishvato Vrutva“ is very much applicable to the Bhaagavata Dharma as well. He worships the Lord by beholding the Sky, Air, Fire, Water, Earth, Jyotis, Sathvas, Directions, Rivers and Seas as comprising the Body of the Lord and prostrating to the same. In short all the three attributes Bhakti, Jnaana and Vairaagya (devotion, experience of Divinity, and lack of interest in the material world) are to act simultaneously on his personality.
Bhakti, Jnaana and Vairaagya manifest in him who walks in the path of Bhaagavata Dharma, having immersed in the Divine Feet of Achyutha. Bhaagavata declares that he attains incomparable peace through this. In a way, Vaishnava faith appears to be simple. On the contrary, as Vaishnava Faith prescribes, the same unalloyed dedication is needed to realise the truth as Yoga. Bhaagavata Dharma is as difficult to practice as the Yoga. Vaishnavism is advocated in essence by various shlokas of Bhagavad Gita. An example is this Shloka:
Ananyaaschintayantho maam ye janaah paryupasate |
Thesham nithyaabhi yuktaanaam Yogakshemam vahaamyaham ||
The Raasapanchaadhyaaya of Bhaaghavata beautifully illustrates the stories of the followers of this Bhaagavata Dharma.
We do not foresee any region of our country where Vaishnavism is not practised. This faith has especially cherished the lives of people in the Dravida region, Maharashtra and Gujarat, by assuming the form of dance and festivities. This is a beautiful manifestation of the Bhaaratiya Tradition and Lifestyle.