Thursday, July 07, 2016

Unity in Diversity

A clich├ęd title but the reason for blogging is the fact that this is something we smugly believe and take pride in. Scratch beneath the surface and remove the veil, even slightly and the truth is often different, mostly unpleasant and even at times ugly.

A man is a social animal with a behavior pattern which is usually consistent with genetic and experiential factors. Therefore, often there is kind of typecasting associated with a person who is identified by gender, class, caste, religion, nation and profession. All of these seem to create impressions on an individual affecting his behavior. Therefore, this also, in turn, leads the persons who come in contact with each other to slot the person in front of them into any neat slot that seems fit.

Vedantic teaching and all scriptural teaching agree that the real nature of man is Sat Chit Ananda which in Sanskrit means Existence or isness (Sat), Consciousness or Perception (Chit) and Bliss (Ananda) all of which are eternal and everlasting. However, man is born with a baggage of his impressions in the form of mental and psychological imprints which get carried forward in the various manifested forms of existence. These are called samskaras. Then we are subjected to a barrage of experiences which are bombarded towards us from womb to tomb. These are faced by each one of us based on the social norms, customs and behaviors and add to the impressions we already have. So our natural state is hidden by our conditioned state over which it seems from the above reasoning we have not much control. 

Men are from Mars and Women from Venus, suggests differences based on gender, Caste, class and nationality create their own subsets of identity leading to the rich looking down on the poor, the higher castes oppressing the lower caste, nations conquering and subjugating other nations as in white collar jobs looking down on menial tasks. So all of this begs a question about Unity in Diversity, whether it is even possible or worth striving for? Many of us, in fact, the vast majority living in the present materialistic world would accept this fact and carry on without reflecting on this issue. Some of us would live in denial and like the blind stork who buries it head at the sign of danger would say we are all one, literally parroting the slogan of unity in diversity. 

However, despite our perceived differences, the basic nature of our true Self is one of Sat Chit Ananda or existence, consciousness, bliss and our journey in life and that of every life is to unveil this basic nature of ours. So a few of us can question these differences and search for the seemingly unattainable Self. The enormity and difficulty of this task can be elucidated by the tale of Astavakara a sage with a deformed body in eight places thanks to a curse inflicted by his father while the child was in his mother's womb. This was the punishment for contradicting and correcting his father's utterances from the scriptures. The story goes that the legendary King Janaka, a realized soul and the father of Sita, mistakenly looked at Ashtavakara and showed disdain due his ugly form. However, this was momentary and when he realized his error Janaka became a student of Ashtavakara and their dialogue is called the Ashtavakara Gita, an exposition on Unity or Advatism. 

In our journey of life,we go through all these stages and bit by bit we come to the realization that amidst all our perceived differences and divisions we are one. This is true Unity in Diversity. While it may seem impossible to make this leap of faith and transcend the barriers and differences which exist and are being reinforced every moment, we can start somewhere. This can be done in all our actions done selflessly in the service of others. We are all one and the concept of nature or prakriti pervaded by purusha or the universal consciousness propounded in the Vedas can be the true basis of Unity.

Therefore, I feel that we must start with ourselves and try and ensure that every action of ours is ethical which means based on the truth, ecological which means enriching the universe and empowering which means enabling us to reach for the real Unity in Diversity.

My association with the differently abled, mentally challenged persons as a father and responsible individual has given me this realization of oneness,which I strive to achieve. I am a humble seeker of this truth and amidst my many frailties and failings, I continue to work to achieve this ideal of Unity in Diversity.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Religion: Birth, Death and the Intervening Period

Amidst the causes underlying the raging conflicts of the earth since time immemorial, religion ranks as probably a single most triggering factor. So then why do religions thrive, prosper and, in turn, consume the very same persons, they sat out to save in the first place.

Every human birth into a family is a natural phenomenon governed by the laws of nature based on factors of which we have limited understanding and knowledge. However, the commonality of birth and evolution is the life principle imbued in the cell which replicates and specializes and creates forms of life from the unicellular amoeba to the evolved man, whom we arrogantly refer to as the highest form of life. The man has through his discoveries tried to unravel the vastness of the universe and as yet the expanse of the universe is beyond the scope of his imagination, It is inconceivable that equal or more evolved forms of life are not existing. In the midst of these facts, I feel that man's continuous  attempts to conquer nature leads to either frustration on failure and elation on success.

Religion is an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods. It stems from man's desire to explain and control nature and phenomenon which he is unable to explain scientifically. On the one hand, it seems that man is an insignificant speck in the expanse of the universe, yet he is effectively a miniature embodiment of the universe. This power makes man capable of reaching infinite highs and plummeting down to infinite lows. Over the years, at different times, a few men have risen above the mundane existence and propounded thoughts and beliefs to benefit and uplift his brethren from the morass of pain suffering and misery. They tried to show them a pathway to permanent joy. All of this was relevant to the time and era it was propounded and while some of it were in the form of universal truths, the rest was subject to change which was not in conflict with the fundamental truths which seem to be the same in all religions. The common man's ability to grasp these truths was limited and therefore, the pronouncements were subject to interpretations and needed to be explained. These led to rituals, ceremonies, rules and customs to regulate society and behavior. While this was done a majority of religions sought to impose these on the masses without allowing a choice or freedom to reason out these choices. This led to conflicts and some religions tried to actively seek followers by reasoning, coercion, and bribery. So the purpose of religion, which was to enlighten the people and give them a way out of their misery was completely negated by this fanatical zeal.

Therefore to my mind, even as man has no choice in choosing his parents and religion at birth, he should be given complete freedom and a choice to follow a path which appeals to his reason without crossing swords or opposing anybody who does not agree with his beliefs. The purpose of a life for any creature is to realize his true Self and his connection to the universe. While living to satisfy one's senses will lead to happiness, one soon realizes that this happiness is temporary and is followed by sadness. A man reaches for help when he realizes that his suffering cannot be explained or understood. Based on his evolution understanding and thoughts he will find an answer, either in the religion in which he was born or in another religion. A free choice is the essence of man's existence and there seems to be no logic in preventing a man from exercising this choice.

I belong to the Parsi Zoroastrian religion, which never actively converts others nor does it permit conversion to another religion. However, this insularity has led to declining numbers and an old forward-looking religion has reached the verge of extinction. Should the Parsis change and seek converts or should they allow those who have sought to marry outside the community and their children to  retain their religion?

Parsis historically migrated to India to escape religious persecution from Islamic forces and their welcome in India was subject to terms and conditions, one of which was not to seek conversions. However, much water has flowed under the bridge and the contribution of the Parsis to their adopted homeland has been such that they are loved and respected by a majority of Indians. Their philanthropic skills and ability to create and build institutions of excellence have made them a confident secure community. It, therefore, is but logical for them to allow peaceful and voluntary conversions and permit those who have married persons of different communities to retain their faith. Matters of free choice and human advancement cannot become the monopoly of a chosen few. I do not claim to be a religious scholar nor a revolutionary out to upset checks and balances of society, but I claim to be a humble seeker of the truth as I see it. In my life, I have made choices and have sought and taken help from many religious scriptures which have appealed to my reasoning and conscience. In the broad sense of the word I convert myself often and choose what seems to be the best, in order to enable me to fulfill the purpose of my life to realize my true Self.

Today, I have written this in a spirit of sharing and caring and this piece is my humble attempt to resolve conflict and usher in peace, which is the true purpose of any religion.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Dr. Vijaya Venkat

The fact that she is no more is yet to sink in. For every question of yours I have twenty answers. From cold to cancer the body is capable of reversing and healing disease. Celebrate health not disease. Connect with Mother Earth. Add Life to Life. This was what she lived for and will live as long as there is life on Mother Earth.

My association with Dr. Vijaya Venkat started many years ago, in fact so ingrained are her principles that I don't remember when I really started. Initially l had met  Mr. Bhasker Save an organic farmer who opened my eyes to natural farming and living with nature. He was the first person to make me aware of the ill effects of the five whites refined salt, white sugar, white milk, white rice, white flour and refined oil. I read about Dr. Venkat in the papers and decided that I would need her help to avoid and if possible eliminate the five whites from my diet. I joined her course and saw her for the first time at the Dadar centre. She came across as an energetic passionate woman, totally in command of her subject and domain knowledge. With her able assistants Anju and Vaishali along with Gita she was unperturbed by every query l had. I played the devils advocate and tried my best to find flaws in her reasoning but she was able to defeat all my arguments using scientific knowledge and native wisdom at most times and rarely if these failed her, she used faith and spirituality to counter reason. Healthy food could br very tasty was demonstrated by the THAC in a manner unsurpassed by anybody I have known. She was copied and imitated by many but respected as the first person to adopt healthy food to modern lifestyles. A sure sign that she was agenius meant that she had her critics who lampooned her and labelled her as a crazy woman. The link between food  and sustainable existence was emphasised and l realised it only after I met her.

Dr. Venkat and her daughters, mainly Anju along with her staff gave me and my wife Daisy the strength and encouragement to walk the path of healthy lifestyle. The transformation in my life and diet has largely been sustained and barring some lapses l have been able to walk the path. In fact l feel that Vijaya Venkat lives through her followers and the ideals of natural living. Anju, Preeti and Dimpi along with the kitchen ladies and all the other staff past and present will surely continue her legacy. May the Lord give them strength to carry on Dr. Venkat's work. May her soul rest in peace.