Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Protecting and preserving Madhva Siddhantha in the 21st Century

(Prize winning essay in the Essay Writing Competition organized by IT Madhva Sangha, Hyderabad, in August 2008)

In today’s materialistic world, we see culture and values being tossed aside. Replacing a belief in God and Shastra is the belief that material wealth alone can bring happiness. Indeed, such misplaced notions are being fed to today’s youth through internet, tv, as well as their peers. More often than not, parents cannot or choose not to guide their children along a spiritual path, carrying on the great traditions of our ancestors. It is imperative that we change, and we instill in today’s youth, not only a respect for and eagerness to preserve our Madhva sampradaya, but also make Bhakti towards Sri Hari & Vayu, Jnana about our siddhanta, and Vairagya, dispassion towards the material pleasures around them the 3 cornerstones of their day to day lives.

From a young age we instinctively want something to hold onto. A small child will feel completely lost and helpless without its mother. Growing older, he develops attachment to his friends, and eventually spouse. But throughout all this, we fail to develop such an intense attachment to the one who resides within us controlling our life breath – Mukhya Prana. Many of us recite and hear songs like “Hanuma namma thaayi thande Bheema namma bandhu baLaga, Ananda Theerthare namma gati gotravayya”, without actually understanding and feeling that sense of Bhakti towards Hanuma-Bhima-Madhva, let alone the omnipresent and Supreme Controller Lord Hari . Once such a sense of Bhakti is instilled in an individual, as the Dasaru Pada goes “nambi keTTavarilla”, one who believes in Shri Hari & Vayu cannot go wrong, because they themselves will guide us. Through devotion in the Lord, the individual will develop a sense to follow those scriptural injunctions which take him closer to the Lord. Instead of wasting time pursuing material pleasures, religious activities will become a source of pleasure for him. At the same time, he will not give up his duties in life. Rather, he will perform his duties as a service to the Lord, as Krishna himself stated in the Gita. It is this sort of individual that today’s youth should strive to model.

How does one develop such a sense of Bhakti? The means are already there “shravaNave modalaada navavidha bhakti”. Hearing about the Lord, thinking about the Lord, etc. are the various forms of Bhakti. There is a misconception in today’s society that listening to pravachanas are only for the elderly. Should one wait until the end of one’s life to engage in hearing and learning about Itihasas, Upanishads, etc. The purpose of these scriptures is to instruct mankind and tell us how to lead our lives following Dharma. The purpose is lost if this starts after raising children and after most of one’s life has passed. Instead, children should be exposed to devotional stories from a young age. If the parents are interested in Madhva Sampradaya, it will be natural for their children to also develop the same interest. Of course, some lectures are on difficult philosophical topics, and it is not expected that young children will understand this. But throughout India, and nowadays, even abroad, there is the opportunity for people of all ages to listen to Bhagavata lectures. Through this process of hearing-”shravana”, today’s youth will start thinking-”manana” of the Lord and thus their Bhakti will gradually develop.

Bhakti alone is not enough. If it becomes blind faith, it won’t stand up to the various tests in our life. As today’s youth grow up, they ask questions which they seek answers to. Why do good people suffer? What is the purpose of doing pUja, reciting stotra, etc? There are so many deities, whom do we approach? If parents are not able to understand concepts of prarabdha karma, moksha, Vishnu sarvottamatva, taratamya, and the basics of our Siddhanta, then they should learn it themselves. Then they will be able to answer their child’s questions. Better yet, there should be programs available to youth where they learn about Madhva Siddhanta, how it differs from other schools of thought, and answers to the questions they may have. Instead of a focus on blind memorization, such workshops or interactive lectures should have the goal of educating today’s youth. Only then will they have a deeper understanding of our sampradaya. Furthermore, as they get answers to their questions, as they learn more about Madhva philosophy, they will develop both an appreciation for it, and a desire to continue along the path. They will be less likely to be lead astray.

From a young age, kids should be taught the basics of Madhva Siddhanta. As they get older, they can be introduced to deeper philosophical works. Reading BNK Sharma’s books on Dvaita philosophy is what kindled my interest and made me (author) want to learn more about it. I’m sure if others are introduced to it, it will have the same effect. Part of the difficulty of learning about our philosophy is that there are so many books out there, and one may not know where to start. Here it is up to the elders and leaders of our community to show the way and point out which literature would be most helpful in educating today’s youth, keeping them interested, and enabling them to continue our tradition. It’s tricky because for a starter, the book shouldn’t be so overwhelming that he’s turned away. At the same time it should contain enough information to make a student appreciate the greatness of our philosophy and want to learn more about it.

Today’s youth need to not only learn Madhva Siddhanta, but also the nitya-naimittika karma that one is expected to do as a follower of Madhva sampradaya. These also are best learnt at a young age, like daily Sandhya vandane, Ekadashi upavasa, etc. We must not just focus on the boys, though. Girls should be encouraged to sing Dasara Padagalu and taught Stri Dharma. The importance of deha and manas shuddhi (purity of mind and body) cannot be emphasized enough. Someone who outwardly practices rituals, recites stotras, or sings bhajans, but internally does not possess the qualities of Satya, Ahimsa, Dama, etc. is not really following Dharma. A description of the divine and demoniacal qualities can be found in the 16th chapter of the Gita. Role models for following Dharma can be found in Mahabharata, such as Bhimasena and Draupadi. For our society to change and tread the path of Dharma, people need to not only understand how to lead a Sattvik life, but also put that into practice in their daily lives.

All too often we find that people are swayed by greed, lust, and passion for material objects and pleasures. One must cultivate vairagya. Of course, trying to be like Purandara Dasa, giving up all of one’s possessions to lead life as a Haridasa, is beyond our grasp. But still, to the best of our ability, if we divert our mind from material pleasures, it will naturally think about higher, more spiritually fulfilling things in life, like meditating on Sri Hari. Trying to satisfy oneself with material comforts is like trying to control a fire by pouring ghee into it—the more you pour, the stronger it gets. Someone who has vairagya will not continuously feed this sort of fire. If today’s youth learn the true meaning of verses like “maatraasparshaastu kaunteya…”, that one needs to give up abhimana over the senses, they will not be carried away like a ship off course in this samsara saagara that we live in.

Making Jnana, Bhakti, and Vairagya a part of one’s life is the way for today’s youth to stay on track. As we have seen, vairagya will keep us spiritual and less materialistic. A spiritual life is not possible if one does not have the desire to learn, thus jnana is important as well. Ultimately though, it is the grace of the Lord that will protect us and guide us. This is only possible if one has devotion, or bhakti in Him.

The culture and traditions of India are unique in the world. Whereas the Western world has continuously placed value on gratification of the senses and material comforts, our Indian culture has taught us the importance and value of spiritual pursuits. If we abandon our culture and simply copy the Western world, the unique culture of our ancestors will not be preserved for future generations. Of course we do find Western philosophers who have looked past material pleasures and sought a spiritual life, but authoritative texts like the Mahabharata and Upanishads which serve as moral guides are unique to Indian culture. If Indians don’t preserve these texts and the profound messages taught by them, who else will?

Among the various philosophies found in India, that of Sri Madhvacharya alone achieves a synthesis between the philosophy taught by the scriptures and our day-to-day life. Whereas other philosophies dismiss the world as being illusory or that knowledge alone leads to salvation, there is no need for bhakti, etc., Shri Madhvacharya has taught us that the good deeds we do in this world are not mithya, they are real, and they must be done with the understanding that Shri Hari is the doer. The highest among the Jivas has shown us devotion towards the Lord through works such as Dvadasha Stotra, the true spiritual import of texts through commentaries on the Upanishads and the Mahabharata, and how we must lead our lives through works such as that on the Gita and his Sadachara Smriti. When today’s youth see and appreciate the greatness of Shri Madhvacharya and the legacy he has left us in the form of his works, which is also captured in the vernacular by the Haridasas, it is but natural to want to continue and be a part of such an amazing tradition. All we have to do is give today’s youth a taste of this sweet nectar and they will themselves want more of it.

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