Points to Ponder

To a practicing ‘mild’ Hindu in our country, modernity presents multifarious challenges. South Africa, being a rainbow nation, is particularly, in a unique position, where society with diverse races and religious beliefs, is trying to balance tumultuous lifestyle changes with the traditional family values. How problematic ‘parenting’ can actually be is anybody’s guess.

The present Post is reproduced from a booklet on ‘Parenting – A Hindu Perspective’, containing articles on many interesting Hindu ideas on parenting skills. It was freely distributed to the delegates who attended a seminar hosted by Sri Sarada Devi Ashram, Asherville in commemoration of Holy Mother’s 156th birth anniversary celebration at KZN University on Sunday, 13 December 2009. It was a great success with 500 delegates from even distant places attending with enthusiasm. I was given the honour of releasing this booklet on that important occasion. My grateful thanks to Sister Pravrajika Ishtaprana mataji.

Healthy balance?

First let us see the dynamics of parenting with regard to individuals who constitute a ‘family’. The adults in very many cases make themselves the focal point of their attention. Parents who are prisoners of their own predilections such as careers, extra-marital relationships, or just in their own heads all of the time, often have lonely, depressed children who doubt their parents’ love and affection.  Studies have already shown a very high percentage of teens experimenting with drugs and alcohol are from homes where the parents are too self-absorbed to notice or to pay attention to what is happening with their own kids.

On the other hand, let us consider the sacrificing parents whose uppermost aim is the greater good of the family. This dynamics becomes the breeding ground to resentments and underlying tensions found in most households. In their enthusiasm, the adults often give up their dream jobs, drop out of higher education, or stop having a social life outside of the family. Because, at some point along the way, it perfectly seemed to provide the probable answer to some predicament. For whatever reason, there is no time, energy, or money left for the adults even to visit temples and ashrams when all is said and done. The parents unwittingly try to become martyrs to their kids or ‘The Family’.  Indeed, It is very difficult for the parents to find a healthy balance between these two extremes.

Inter-connect disrupted?

Take another scenario. How many times we hear that the children should always come first – at any cost. Well, this has too a negative effect. Children who are raised to be the blue-eyed favorites, grow up to be adults with a firm belief that they have a rightful place as the center of everyone else’s universe too. Is it fair to teach the children that they are more important than everyone else?  Don’t they become self-esteemed monsters and bullies? The world out there is going to teach them a very different lesson. People will not like them no matter how special Mommy and Daddy think they are. What is at stake here is everyone is equal in regards to needs, hopes, dreams, responsibilities, and other aspects of getting along in the world. Madhu’s need to jump, run and play is in no way less than Mommy’s need for mental peace.

Now what happens when families start focusing on each individual’s needs, schedules, etc.? Parents are busy conducting their own lives while the teenagers are living independent lives – dropping by the house to eat and sleep, communicating only through emails or cellphones. And lo! the little ones are so busy with soccer leagues and music lessons and play ‘dates’ with their friends that they have no real sense of what family is all about. Everyone is happy, busy, flourishing individuals, but ‘The Family’ as a unit has almost completely disappeared; the inter-connection among the members of the family is absolutely lost!

Safe and Secure?

Is there any remedy? In comes the Hindu perspective of parenting. Though copious examples can be quoted from the vast scriptural literature, I would in brief, like to stress on the first three verses of the glorious Gita as contained in Chapter 16. These verses give us a behavioral dictum that can make every member of the family enriched with the necessary tools to face the challenge of about-turn modernity versus abiding old values.

Bhagawan Sri Krishna enumerates a total of 26 noble qualities (see box) that can lead each and every one of us to be a responsible citizen of the society. The spiritual view of parenting includes not only the elaborate preparation of wedding, giving birth to children but also the manner in which the children are brought up. Children start learning from the womb. It is essential that would-be-parents adapt their life as per the 26 noble qualities. Then only they would be able to transmit them to their children. These three verses should be read on a daily basis by both parents and children and be given to byheart. Children learn by example, therefore the role of parents is vitally important in their upbringing. A home that radiates love and warmth will automatically make children feel safe and secure.

Pray and stay?

I have seen some parents very reluctant to talk certain religious subjects and make the children feel that these topics are taboo! Healthy discussions amongst children and parents should be the keynote to every family life. Collective living-in should be cultivated and to begin with, a common daily prayer is of utmost importance in every household: A family that prays together stays together as they say.

Parents as devotees of the Ashram must ensure that children take note of the activities and allow their children to be familiar with them. They should be encouraged to assist adults in providing meals, clothing, gifts, medical help, etc to the less privileged. A feeling of compassion with humility, and at the same time an overwhelming sense of joy in serving the poor will contribute to the furtherance of the social fabric that will ultimately lead to universal love.

It is the duty of parents to present a bright and shining example of a morally well-balanced and spiritual living to pave the way for their children to follow.

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The 26 divine qualities that should be cultivated by every one:
sri-bhagavan uvaca
abhayam sattva-samsuddhir jnana-yoga-vyavasthitih |
danam damas ca yajnas ca svadhyayas tapa arjavam ||
ahimsa satyam akrodhas tyagah shantir apaisunam |
daya bhutesvaloluptvam mardavam hrir acapalam ||
tejah ksama dhrtih shaucam adroho nati-manita |
bhavanti sampadam daivim abhijatasya bharata ||

“The Lord said:
1 – Fearlessness;
2 – purification of one’s existence;
3 – cultivation of spiritual knowledge;
4 – charity;
5 – self-control;
6 – performance of sacrifice;
7 – self-study;
8 – austerity;
9 – simplicity;
10 – non-violence;
11 – truthfulness;
12 – free from anger;
13 – renunciation;
14 – tranquillity;
15 – not fault-finding;
16 – compassion for all living beings;
17 – free from covetousness;
18 – gentleness;
19 – modesty;
20 – steady determination;
21 – vigour;
22 – forgiveness;
23 – fortitude;
24 – cleanliness; 
25 – free from envy and
26 – free from the passion for honor —
these divine qualities, O son of Bharata, belong to godly men endowed with divine nature.”

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Glory of Gita

Gita Jayanti – What it means to us?

The Gita as Nectarine drink

Vaikuntha Ekadashi on 17 December 2010

All over the globe the Hindus celebrate ‘Gita Jayanti’ on the 11th day (Ekadashi) of the bright fortnight (shukla paksha) of the month of Agrahayana (December – January). This month is also referred to as ‘Margashirsha’. Of the twelve months, Sri Krishna says in the Gita that He is Margasirsha. (X.35) It is seen that people generally attribute this day as the “Birthday of the Bhagavad Gita”. Well, can there be a birthday i.e., beginning for Divine Wisdom? As God is eternal (nitya) His knowledge is also ever present (sashwat). One cannot really say that the Song Divine has a birthday.

Ancient Muni Veda Vyasji

Actually, Gita Jayanti is the anniversary of the day, nearly 5000 years ago, when Bhagwan Shri Krishna spoke rather ‘sung’ to Arjuna, on the battlefield in Kurukshetra. Sanjaya, the Minister,  recited those words for the blind King Dhritarashtra. When writing Mahabharata, this Divine Song was ‘threaded into’ the great epic by ancient Maharishi Veda Vyasji for the benefit of humanity. (vyasena grathitaam puraana muninaa madhye mahaabhaaratam – First verse of Gita Dhyanam)

But it is nowhere to be considered as an ‘interpolation’ as some misguided modern scholars opine. The internal evidence shows that there is homogeneity running all through language, diction and development of the subject ‘Brahma-vidya’ – the knowledge of Brahman, the Supreme. The entire story of Mahabharata, when condensed into philosophy becomes Gita. What the heart is to the human body, the Gita is to this Great Epic, says Swami Chidbhavanandaji in his English Translation of the Gita.

Swami Vivekananda

What is Bhagavad Gita? As the great ‘cyclonic monk of India’ Swami Vivekananda has once said in the West, ‘Everything goes to show that this Vedanta philosophy must be very practical; and later on, when we come to the Bhagavad-Gita…..it is the best commentary we have on the Vedanta philosophy — curiously enough the scene is laid on the battlefield, where Krishna teaches this philosophy to Arjuna; and the doctrine which stands out luminously in every page of the Gita is intense activity, but in the midst of it, eternal calmness. This is the secret of work, to attain which is the goal of the Vedanta.’

“Bhagavad Gita” literally means Song of God or rather Song of the Spirit.  Since it is a Divine Song, the language of the original lyrics and the religion of the original singer do not have much relevance. For once, it has been ‘sung’ and written down to posterity, the song itself gets life, travelling across oceans and mountains, breaking all barriers of caste, creed and nationality.  Such is the influence of a divine song.  However, as Bhagwan Shri Krishna, Himself being the original ‘singer’, Bhagavad Gita gets the status of being the holiest and most sacred of all the songs of God. Therefore, What is its power? The lives of the lowly change, the world-disease afflicted gets healed, the morale of the depressed is uplifted. The results are as limitless as the Singer.

charming painting on Brahma-Vidya (Supreme knowledge) 'sung' to Arjuna by Sri Krishna

Mahatma Gandhi said, “When disappointment stares me in the face and all alone I see not one ray of light, I go back to the Bhagavad-Gita…I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming tragedies and my life has been full of external tragedies.  If they have left no visible, no indelible scar on me, I owe it all to the teachings of Bhagavad-Gita.”

The Gita consists literally 18 chapters with 700 verses (shloka). It has been said that all the Upanishads are the cows, the Milker is Krishna, the cowherd boy,  Arjuna is the calf, men of purified intellect are its drinkers and milk is the supreme nectar of the Gita.

sarvopanishado gaavo dogdha gopaala nandanah | paartho vatsah sudhir bhoktaa dugdham gitaamritam mahat || (4th verse of Gita Dhyanam)

We have cows of varying sizes and in different colours. But the milk yielded by them is the same. Most of us do not even know how to maintain the cows. Neither are we adept in the laborious art of milking the cows. But to drink milk everyone is eligible. So also Gita is accessible for everyone, while studying the Upanishads is not for common people. However Gita is not just any milk.  This milk is nectar that flowed from the Gods. What is in it for the humanity? The magical power to heal the sick, comfort the lonely, guide the lost, uplift the fallen and bring peace to the troubled.  The milk is gentle and pure enough for a baby, and at the same time, strong enough for a soldier.

The Gita as palm of hand

Let us see what was the scenario when the Gita was ‘sung’. Arjuna, the third son of Kunti,  surveyed the battlefield of Kurukshetra. The armies of Pandavas and Kauravas are standing on the opposite sides. Seeing the vast army, suddenly the great warrior was overcome with despondency and he laid down his arms. He told Krishna that he would not fight. “I do not see any good in slaughtering my own people in battle. O Krishna! I desire neither victory, nor kingdom not even pleasures.” (I.31)  Thus begins the Bhagavad Gita.

The teachings of the Gita were indeed applicable on a battlefield as in the end, we see in Mahabharata that Pandavas come out victorious. Can the Gita’s teachings be made applicable to our ‘inner battlefield’ also? Can we get a clear vision of our life, its pitfalls and its progress as a palm of hand? Through the story of Arjuna and the battle, we also derive lessons for our lives from Bhagavan Sri Krishna. The ‘real’ Kurukshetra is not to be sought somewhere outside rather ‘within’ us. Each of us is Arjuna, not knowing what is right and wrong, teared down with temptation, fallen with fear and feeling forsaken due to frustration. Our bodies are our chariots, being driven all too frequently by our senses as the horses. The mind, ego, desires, lust and greed are the evil Kauravas with whom we must do righteous battle, from whom we must not shy away in fear. If we give the reins of our lives to God (as Arjuna made Krishna his divine charioteer), we will surely be victorious.

Gita in the palm of hand...

The Gita as a ‘palm of hand’ clearly shows us not only the destination but also in clearest terms the varying paths to reach there. One is free to select any path that suits well. Or one can even combine one with another. Throughout the Divine Song, Bhagwan Sri Krishna explains how – through devotion (bhakti), through knowledge (jnaana), and through action (karma) – one can reach the ultimate destination of union (yoga) with God. For different temperaments He lays out different paths, all the while reminding us that true, earnest  yearning and pure, surrendered love for God are the surest and simplest way to attain one with the Eternal.

You don’t need to be a great scholar or a learned philosopher to understand the lessons of the Gita. Nor does the Gita demands decades of exacting penance to earn God’s favour. Rather, Bhagwan Sri Krishna offers infinite and eternal comfort by His words, “He, who is full of faith and zeal and is the master of the senses attains knowledge. Having attained knowledge one immediately attains supreme peace.” (IV.39)

The Gita as the Guidepost

Is the Gita relevant to the West today is an oft-repeated question. We can unequivocally say that yes, it is to West as it was and has been to the East. Not only for Hindus it is relevant but also for people professing any other religion. It teaches Hindus how to be better Hindus; it also teaches Muslims to be better Muslims, Christians to be better Christians, and Jews to be better Jews. For, if something is really “truth,” it must be universal. Truth is not limited to a religious framework. If it is truth, it must pertain to all.  Such is the profound truth of Bhagwan Shri Krishna’s words.

Sun and Ganga - courtesy: matthieu-aubry

The Bhagavad Gita is verily like Mother Ganga or the Sun; they do not discriminate.  Mother Ganga does not bring water to only Hindus’ farms.  The sun does not shine only on Christians’ gardens. Similarly, the Gita does not provide light and inspiration to only selected souls.

Aldous Huxley said, “The Gita is one of the clearest and most comprehensive summaries of the perennial Philosophy ever to have been made.  Hence its enduring value, not only for Indians, but for all mankind.” Sometimes, it seems that the West actually needs this wisdom even more than people of the East. Why? It is often seen that the West seem to hold even more tenaciously to their agendas, their expectations and their desires. The message in much of the West is “If you work hard, you will succeed, you will become prosperous.”  So, people don’t work for the sake of being God’s hands.  They work to reap the benefits, and when the benefits don’t come or don’t come quickly enough, they are frustrated.

It is the Karma Yoga of the Gita is the best answer to the problems engulfing the humanity in the West. People everywhere need both the message and the comfort of the Gita. With the ongoing assault of senses leaving indelible scars in the human psyche, the Gita stands as the harbinger of peace and harmony; it comes as the remover of pain; it bestows light dispelling the darkness of ignorance.

The Gita as the Reflector

digital painting - Courtesy : Dr S Adhinarayanan, New Delhi

It is remarkable that how Gita shines as the reflector for a practical spiritual life. What we see in the life of Sri Ramakrishna reiterates this point. The Paramahamsa never cared about the relative merits of religions. Neither did he entered into intricate differences of systems of philosophy. Verily he followed the footsteps of Sri Krishna. The unquenchable thirst for God and undying love for God’s name were the hallmark in Ramakrishna’s life. By his prolonged and intense spiritual practices, Sri Ramakrishna’s unique life that was transformed from an ordinary temple priest to paragon of spiritual values can best be clarified under this Gita Reflector.

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