Monday, November 22, 2004

Of ascetics and heartaches

Much as I hate to talk religion in a supposedly techy blog, I can't help it. This whole Shankaracharya arrest episode has actually shaken my psyche. The drivel dished out by politicos and the media has left me utterly confused and dazed. Talk about FUD - the media - they are of the meanest kind of FUD generators around. Responsibility is not a word in their dictionary it would seem. But they have succeeded in making me question my basics tenets. Sometimes I wish I didn't have to read everything they throw-up, but alas, my right-index finger has its own brain it seems, from the obsessive way it clicks every link that I see on the topic.

Sanatana Dharma says that you pay your respects to Mata, Pita Guru, Deivam - in that order exactly - and that has been drilled into us in childhood. The Guru, or the Acharya, takes a place even before the Lord himself. Can such a man do wrong? Would a "holy" man who lives a life of complete abstinence and celibacy, a man who supposedly has all his "indriyas" under control, a man of no emotion, completely detached from all material possession, a man who has no desires, who has forsaken pleasure and family life, a "gyana margi" who lives for the pursuit of "Knowledge of God" and its dissemination, a man who for the past 50 years has only had a kaavi vasthra and loin-cloth, danda (staff), vibhuti and a rudraksha mala, and drinks only self-cooked kanji (porridge), a man who epitomizes virtue in all ways - Can such a man commit a dastardly crime? Can such a man have someone murdered? Is the very foundation of my belief - and therefore everything that I ever believed in - wrong?

I vividly remember going to Kaladi in Kerala many many years ago, maybe as an eight year old kid. It was a long ride (at the time) from Ernakulam to Kaladi. My Dad rode the Lambretta scooter (KLF 8451) with my mom in the pillion and I was seated in a wide carrier in the rear. My little brother was standing in the front enjoying the thrill of the wind in his face as lorries buzzed past us on NH47. When we got to Kaladi we went to the temple and the Sankara madom and the "puzha" (river). I remember seeing picture stories of the young Adi Sankara along the walls of the madom. While we were sitting there taking in the serene sights, and eating packed lunch, my mother, who is a full-blown Sanskrit scholar now, had narrated to us the story of the crocodile and Adi-Sankara. I remember listening with rapt attention as she described little Sankara's deepest desire to renounce family life and become a Sanyasi. And how Sankara's mom was not too pleased with that idea. And then as Sankara and his mom bathed in the river, the Crocodile caught little Sankara's leg and began taking him down. By this time in the story I was tense with anticipation, and I couldn't wait for the climax...amma appuram ennachu...sollu.... Then when Sankara calls out to his mother saying "Give me permission to become a Sanyasi amma, and I assure you the crocodile will let me go". Sankara's mom, concerned only with the immediate well-being of her child agrees to his request. And lo and behold! The crocodile lets go of Sankara!! And my mom goes on to relate the moral of the story - basically about the power of Faith. At that age, the moral went in one ear and out the other but I was quite happy with the story itself, thinking... wow this Sankara is so cool....getting nasty crocs to let go of him with just a word, he didn't even have to fight the beast!

Now I am a lot older and supposedly wiser. I now understand the moral of that story. However, my own faith is not that strong - after all I am only an ordinary human being and not an Acharya. My mind is fickle, as opposed to the Acharya's. Unholy thoughts cross my mind all the time. I am steeped in materialism. I have a nice car and a house and everything, yet I want more. I am greedy. I have little control over my desires or emotions. I get angry, irrational and stubborn at various times. I can't tell you about the Shankaracharya's case, but I can tell you that irrational thoughts (like murdering someone) HAVE crossed my mind. Heck even the other day I thought Ganguly should be killed because he didn't play Irfan for the Kanpur test. OF COURSE I dismiss these thoughts instantly. I realize I am irrational, though I don't seem to be able to do anything about it. So I am the exact opposite of the acharyas in all respects. In other words "virtue" shouldn't be a word that one would associate with me.

But of late I am really disturbed. I am getting these contradictory thoughts these days. Tell me, Am I really that hopeless? Seriously, am I really that bad? Is it not being virtuous to take care of your family? I don't think about God all the time, but I do pray every now and then. Is that bad? Is it not being virtuous to work hard for your money? Is it not being virtuous to spend it wisely for your family and the community? Is it so bad to maybe indulge a little bit every once in a while? And the most taboo thought of all - are the modern day Sanyasis really more virtuous than I? Yes, I get these thoughts, I admit it. Feels like I got a big weight off my chest, just to have said that.

But wait! How can I even entertain such thoughts. Doesn't it go against everything that I ever believed in? Man what an utter state of confusion and contradiction. Reductio-ad-absurdum. Reduced to absurdity.

There seem to be no answers. Its dark everywhere....can someone turn the light on?


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