The Divine days of the month of Ramayanam

     With the advent of the rain-drenched month of Karkkidakam (mid-July to mid-August), the state of Kerala gets serenely devotional. This is the month when pious Hindus recite Ramayanam, the month being designated as ‘Ramayana Maasam’. Ancient scholars looked at this month as the time of passage of Lord 292 Rama. Another understanding applicable to the month is that ‘Ra’ or darkness gets ‘maayanam’ or wiped off. So, it is Rama’s Ayanam (journey) or Maayanam (wiping out) of Ra (darkness) that it signifies .
     Ayanam or the journey of the Lord begins in the first canto or Baalakaandam of the Epic Ramayanam and does not even stop after the Lord’s coronation, but only in the Uttarakaandam (last chapter) when He gets immersed along with his close disciples in the blue waves of the river Sarayu. With that, His purpose of incarnation is completed as ‘Thretha Yuga’ comes to an end. (According to Hindu concepts, one day of Brahma comprises of four Yugas; Satya, Dwaapara, Thretha and Kali. We are into about 5000 years of Kali Yuga)
     Karkkidakam is the last month of Malayalam year, a season when rain and darkness engulf nature, along with unemployment and halted cultivation. It is usually a ‘dark’ time for people. Perhaps for that reason, it is also called ‘Panja Karkkidakam’, the pauper month. During such depressing months only divine thoughts can keep our minds calm, when even the most principled person with the noblest of mind-set gets gloomy and depressed.
     Lord Sri Rama is the incarnation of Thretha Yuga, noted for his ultimate love and compassion. In his life He is God coming to earth as a human being to annihilate demons Ravana and Kumbhakarna. He is above emotions, staying calm when his father wishes for his coronation, or when his aunt orders him to the jungle. Even when he exiles his wife Sita as per the wishes of his citizens, he does not show any emotions. No other great scriptures describe such kindness, respect and love like Sri Rama.
     All Keralites, irrespective of age start reading Ramayana on the first day of Karkkidakam at the entrance hall of the house in front of a lighted traditional lamp, Nilavilakku. The dark, dreary twilight of the Karkkidakam month will get brightened as we recite the serene poetry of Ramayanam. The firm association of Ramayanam and Karkkidakam is thus established.
     The most important canto of Ramayanam is the Sundara Kaandam. It narrates the valiant trip of Hanuman, the ultimate devotee of Sri Rama across the ocean to Sri Lanka in search of Sita, meeting with her and exchanging the ring that Rama has given her with her hair ornament and then burns down a major portion of Ravana’s palace. The canto is believed to relieve sorrow and obstacles in life, and bring in prosperity. It is mentioned that the sacred verses are even capable of dousing the fury of gods and goddesses.
     As per astrology, Karkkidakam is the fourth of the twelve months of the year, starting from Medam. It symbolizes motherhood, family unity and traditions. Sri Rama was born on star Punartham in the month of Karkkidakam. It is also the month which opens the door to prosperity of the month, Chingam. After working hard for eleven months, people take rest during the dark and rainy month of Karkkidakam, building their energy and enthusiasm to resume work in the New Year.
   Karkkidakam is also believed to be the month of our departed ancestors, ‘Karanavers’ of many generations. The full moon day of Karkkidakam (Karkkidaka Vaavu), is the day we observe penance, offering respect to the ancestors. Doing such ‘Kriyas’, we believe in an objective, remembering those who gave us birth and our bodies out of theirs, thus paying respect and showing gratitude for their generosity. It is also a process by which we teach our children and future generations of a culture remembering ancestors, offering them respect and getting their blessings. It is when we pray that our children will live along principles of Dharma, that of honesty, fairness, law and order. Each generation has to live along such paths of Dharma in order to expect their children to follow the same principles and pass on such traditions to their children. This is the essence of the principles of ‘Kriyas’ as we offer our deference to our ancestors
     Let us use the month of Karkkidakam to re-establish and solidify relationships, to forgive and forget, and to respectfully reminisce our ancestors through the reading of the sacred text of Ramayana.

Spirituality of Healthcare.

Human existence is the ultimate Divine endowment, the mind being its celestial connection to cosmic authority. The physical body is the absolute expression and its biologic functioning an undeniable extension of the astounding energy that we call life. The role of mind and spirituality in dealing with health and illness is akin to that of electricity illuminating a city.
The ones who treat can only heal when they realize that critical reality.

Even though there is no universal definition for spirituality, almost all cultures and religions relate to the presence of a ‘living consciousness’, a spirit within every human being that is relevant to life within or beyond the celestial system. In a larger concept of ‘being’ and a broader realm of existence, it relates to the meaning of life, a soul beyond the physical body, an inter- connection between different beings and them with the Reality at large. In Hindu perception, spirituality covers the philosophy of Dharma, Karma, cycles of birth and death and the ultimate salvation (Moksha).
  Brilliant observations and inferences of the several genius philosophers and thinkers have educated us the many basic facts of life through recorded history. As we remain mesmerized by their wisdom and acknowledge their teachings with humility and gratitude, we also develop a certain sense of submission to an inconceivable authority that transcends beyond the reach of human comprehension, making our understanding more pristine and sublime. And such reflective experiences enrich our attitude and mold our minds through assimilation of a certain ‘obscure yet palpable element of spirituality’. As much as we can attribute all our materialistic developments to the courtesy of scientific inventions, when dealing with matters of life and that of mind, we are enforced to transcend our sphere of perception to a much loftier realm. Once we accept an entity that we call ‘soul’ and its nature as 288 justified and explained in our scriptures, we may become more at ease accepting a spiritual dominion beyond our reach. It is common knowledge that we have not even scratched the surface of that metaphysical plane, nor perhaps we never will.
     It is encouraging that modern science is gradually and graciously accepting an intellect beyond their grasp, even granting it to be a concession, facilitating an amicable synchronization between ‘science’ and ‘spirituality’. If human life and perhaps its soul is the ultimate entity in the ever evolving process of creation and evolution, it behooves us to imagine that there may be a vested purpose, a designated destiny, an imaginative intent, established, structured and manipulated by an Ultimate Reality which will always remain inconceivable to the miniscule ability and grasp of human intellect. At the same time, if the wealth of knowledge amassed by the spiritual minds can accommodate and take advantage of the scientific information accumulated through the human socio- cultural enhancement, this global human family of ours stands to benefit immensely. As we approach the subject of healthcare, a common and widespread perception is that of the biologic well-being of an individual, relating to the best possible working of the body under normal environmental conditions. Any disturbance or imbalance to such status of ‘health’ due to internal or external reasons would result in illness and when such cannot be mitigated by treatment or adjustments within the body itself, it will lead to death.
     Many of the old-world countries especially India and other Eastern concepts of health have always emphasized the role of the mind, its importance and of spirituality in the maintenance of a robust status of physical welfare. Western, ‘modern’ medicine for centuries hardly considered such philosophy as of any significance. Perhaps because of the systematic methodology of Allopathy that established its dominance and universal popularity through fundamental and corroborative research data before incorporating a certain modality of treatment, mind and its function was not recognized as crucial in the physiology and pathology of the body. Mind, consciousness, feelings and spiritual attitude not being measurable entities were often excluded as important in a person’s health and well-being. And as the west controlled governing most of the planet, the knowledge and wisdom of the rest of the old-world was pushed aside and often into oblivion. At least until very recently.
     Fortunately for all concerned, and due to a variety of reasons like technology helping to link distant continents and their wealth of knowledge, universal migration of people along with tolerant, unprejudiced acceptance of information have come to the benefit of improved healthcare. Thus the perception that spirituality occupies an integral aspect of human health has been established and is steadily gaining recognition. The dangers of drug-induced complications, the overuse, abuse and mixing of several drugs leading to unwarranted, iatrogenic manifestations have guided the caregivers to exploring safer means of management and harmless alternatives. Perhaps deviating from the subject but nevertheless of grave implications are the overwhelming chemical, nuclear, and several such sinister environmental dangers that impose threatening consequences on human cells leading to diseases. A spiritual approach and modification to adapt and combat such challenges are distinctly bound to enhance the existing health status.
     The incorporation of ‘Alternative Medicine’ as an accepted mode of treatment in the maintenance of health, prevention of diseases and treatment of many illnesses is a welcome addition. The introduction of Ayurvedic practices, the flourishing commercial popularity of yoga, the launching of even an International Yoga Day, understanding that prayer has a distinct role in the mental status of humans and consequently on physical health, institution of meditation as an essential addition and an acknowledged assumption of mind control are ample evidence of the universal approval of spirituality’s unquestionable significance in human functionality. It is established and accepted in the modern scientific field that there is a distinct interaction between the functions of the body and mind, that spiritual and religious commitments do influence our health, and that nature and God, health, illness, treatment and spirituality are all indisputably intermingled.
     In a holistic approach to health that is essentially based on the fundamental inclusion of the tenets of spirituality, the emphasis is on a balanced physical and spiritual well-being in which environmental factors, nutritional observance, as well as cultivating balanced physical, mental and spiritual disciplines are essential. To attain such an optimal global status it is imperative that we incorporate and integrate all the modern scientific understanding and the age-old wisdom that can adequately nurture the needs of the body and mind. Until recent times, practitioners of modern science often ignored the religious beliefs and spiritual practices of patients, considering them as inconsequential or superstitious in the healing process.
     The Institute of Spirituality and Health at the Texas Medical Center, established in 1954, recently commemorating its sixty years of growth, is a glorious example of pride and commitment in its meritorious service with its motto of ‘Faith and Meaning Impact Health and Healing’. Its challenge was to envision and build a religious program at the Texas Medical Center. In 2003, projecting a broader perspective, the name was changed to The Institute of Spirituality and Health. Its fundamental philosophy is based on the proof from research that a strong and consistent spiritual outlook is correlated with various measures of health and healing from physiological measures, to recovery time, and even to longevity. The institute has succeeded in its endeavors to initiate and continue to expand on 290 its efforts to educate the healthcare providers to instil and incorporate the element of spirituality in providing service. I have been very fortunate to be invited to serve on its board.
     And as we gain more information through advancement of scientific knowledge and as ongoing research illuminates intricate interaction between the fluctuations of the mind and its influence on bodily functions, maintenance of health and optimal standard of living are bound to improve. There is also huge potential from the developing fields of Behavioral sciences, Cybernetics, Molecular Genetics, Neuropsychic sciences, cell biology and possibly several more that are not even in the conceptual horizon at present.
     In summary, we are at the threshold of a momentous and promising breakthrough in our healthcare concept, of maintaining an optimum milieu of life, preventing diseases and treating illnesses incorporating the millennia old wisdom of our forefathers, that spirituality is essential and of supreme importance to tame the mind, and that the mind has an essential role to keep the body functioning at its best.

Satsang – how we benefit!

     Thanks to Sri Meenakshi Temple and the visionary organizers for the last several years, each of us has been eagerly looking forward to Sunday mornings, meeting, talking, listening, and deliberating on a variety of topics related to Hindu faith, its scriptures, practices and philosophy. The presenters painstakingly prepare the subjects, and the participants enthusiastically join the discussions. We have heard a lot, understood much, applied some of it into our lives, and overall these meetings have enriched us in ways beyond we can explain. I have taken the liberty of devoting this session assigned to me, to have an open dialog, to analyze, introspect and share our individual experience as participants of years of our Satsangs. With your permission, please allow me to open this up, ask some questions and listen to each other, with an expectation to further our utilization of these meetings
Let us evaluate ourselves; let us share our assessments As we go through each of the following areas of focus, let us have a dialog and perhaps, an appraisal. What have we benefited from our Satsangs? Did these sessions meet our expectations? Personally, do we have any suggestions for ‘improvements’? How have we ‘evolved’ from these, as individuals? Have we??? Let us check it out. Purpose of Satsangs: Satsang is a Sanskrit word that means “gathering together for the truth” or, just “being with the truth.” Truth is what is real, what exists. So, all there is, is the Truth. Whenever something increases your experience of the Truth, it opens your heart and quiets your mind.
     Similarly, the spiritual teachings being shared in satsang are great gifts. But the words being spoken, and the wisdom being shared are not the most important things. While the word satsang implies a gathering or community of like-minded souls, and this community or sangha may be a tremendous support in someone’s spiritual journey, it is still not the most important thing. The most important thing in satsang is you, the ‘Satsangee’. Not the usual egoic sense of yourself, but the mysterious awakeness that is the essence of satsangs. The purpose of gathering is not to provide devotion to the spiritual teacher or to acquire spiritual knowledge or to enjoy the company of others. The purpose of gathering in satsang is to bring us home to ourselves.
     There is a cumulative aggregation of the mysterious awareness whenever two or more are gathered, that can make the ‘presence and awakeness of consciousness’ into a palpable thing. The truest gift of this enhancement of awareness is when it shows you who you really are. It is not just an experience that comes and goes or that depends on a great spiritual teacher or special group of people. It is the essence or the absolute core of you.
Spirituality and Religiosity as it applies to you: Spirituality is when you have elevated yourself from that of a slaved mind to an empowered mind. When you are transformed from one who begs through life to one who is self-reliant. Spiritual people have discovered there is only one true power and that resides within themselves. Spirituality relates to the soul, the little ‘self’ that is an extension of the big ‘Self’.
Religiosity by definition and by practice is to belong to a group, organized by humans and following certain guidelines as instructed by the particular religion. Sanatana Dharma, or Hinduism is not strictly a religion, but a faith based on scriptural teachings and philosophical wisdom that cannot be traced to any origin or founder, while the Abrahamic religions do have such regimentations and books that need to be followed. Religiosity is to follow observances, adhering to the instructions of each faith and BELIEVING that it would take us to the Truth, while spirituality is EXPERIENCING the Truth by reaching out within oneself.
Our concept about God: An unfathomable, incomprehensible, indescribable entity, that each of the followers arrive at their own conclusions, as comfortable and as confident, as they feel, dictated by the evolution of their minds and convictions through the levels of surrender or submission that they are capable of. Satsang, gets us closer to our goal?
Relevance of scriptures, epics and Puranas: We have been covering a diverse collection of the sacred Hindu writings. Hindu sacred texts are classified as either Shruti (“heard,” meaning revelation) or Smriti (“remembered,” meaning tradition). The former is comprised of the Vedas, the oldest and most authoritative of Hindu scriptures, which deal largely with rituals; the Brahmanas, commentaries on the Vedas; and the Upanishads, philosophical and metaphysical texts that have been central to the spiritual development of the tradition. Together, the Shrutis form the corpus of Vedic thought and literature, while the Smritis are the epics, like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata; mythological texts known as Puranas; theological treatises called Agamas; and philosophical texts called Darshanas. Despite being a part of the larger Mahabharata, the Bhagavad Gita is widely considered Smriti, as it is believed to be the tradition’s most powerful condensation of the broad spectrum of Vedic thoughts.
Application into life: One of the most distinguishing features of Hinduism, which is as ancient as the Vedas, is its emphasis upon the quest for self-knowledge as the means to mental and spiritual liberation from its duality, habitual behavior and mental chains by which one can gain true knowledge, mental clarity, peace, stability, and clear perception. Modern psychology also prescribes a similar approach to free our minds from cognitive distortions and perceptual errors. Each time we look at ourselves or at the diversity of life, we must bring freshness into our perception and emptiness into our minds. Only then, our self-knowledge will 282 be illuminated by its own truth rather than the truth that our mind and the perceptual world build for us. Hope our sessions of Satsang has helped each of us in that direction.
Our Path: Follow any of the four paths, alone or in combination, of our choice to attain the objective of Self-realization, the four paths to God. Hinduism recognizes four fundamental human temperaments.
• Bhakthi Yoga, the Path of Devotion. Merging back into God is the simplest and sweetest path.
• Karma Yoga, the Path of Action. The motivation without selfish interest, to be active, to submit totally without expectations, should be the drive-in our nature. • . . Jnana Yoga, the Path of Knowledge, finding God through wisdom.
• Raja Yoga, the Royal Path of Psychological Experimentation, blending all the other three paths and guiding to the ultimate through meditation. What is your preference, what is your practice?
And finally! Are we better human beings? Are we better than what we used to be: Kinder? Caring? Grateful? Accepting? Respectful? Forgiving? Loving? Helpful? Polite?
(July 28, 2019)

‘VASANAS’ and their meaning in life

Vasanas are a bundle of tendencies or desires that drive a man to think, feel and act according to the nature of the Vasanas. Thus, it would be perfectly right to say that a man is what he is because of his Vasanas. Vasanas create desires in the intellect. They are the subliminal inclinations and habit patterns that, as driving forces, color and motivate one’s attitudes and future actions. Vasanas are subtle impressions, which the individual soul will carry with them when the soul separates itself from the physical body upon the death of a person.
Vasanas are actually the continuation of poorva janma, (previous births). When a person’s desires remain unfulfilled in life, the same becomes his Vasanas on rebirth. Vasanas could be defined as the automatic, mechanical, or habitual ways we have of responding to situations. They could also be thought of as our unpaid bills in life, our debts, our accounts payable.
     Vasanas are ‘Karmic imprints’ or ‘Karmic residue’, the precipitate of what is left over from our perpetrations in life. Vasanas influence the behavior of a person and we’re seldom aware they’re operating. Vasanas are the main obstacle to our well-being and happiness in life. They derive from decisions made in response to earlier incidents or episodes in life that involved shock and loss, which convinced us to never do some things and always do others. In some way, we shut down life, stop responding spontaneously, and became a robot.
Vasanas are desires = Guna or nature = Samskara = tendencies/qualities
     Usually, our vasanas do not subside. They are persistent and their influence on us grows over time as we commit fresh perpetrations when they erupt in situations of upset or crisis. When early childhood incidents occur, we often make decisions about how to be and how not to be in life. I’m never going to love again. I’m always going to be cautious. We become creatures of habit, predictably, and faithfully following our vasanas.
     We close ourselves off to spontaneity and become sclerotic, petrified, fossilized, or calcified. We become the walking dead, lacking any impulse to just be and enjoy. Every time we become inflamed, or angry, express resentment, we are responding to our vasanas. And, what’s worse, they grow and grow with each fresh explosion.
     Swami Shivapadananda: Vasanas are latent impressions in the mind, part of one’s innate nature. Samskaras are the operative impressions that form part of a person’s character and already operating. There is not much difference between Samskaras and Vasanas. Samskaras are well-established traits brought to the forefront. Vasanas are that which are still latent. Vasanas are the subtlest form of action and action is the grossest form of vasanas. So, a person acts according to his Vasanas. By studying his actions, one can judge which type of vasanas a person has.
     According to Gita (chapter 15), a soul at the time of death of the body takes with it all the 5 senses and re-incarnates in another body. They get a fresh body, but it carries the old Vasanas. So, a person is born with a particular kind of nature or Vasanas or desires carried on from the past life. शरीरंयदवापोित यचापुतामतीशर: |
गृहीतैतािन संयाित वायुगरनािनवाशयात्|| 8|| śharīra yad avāpnoti yachchāpyutkrāmatīśhvara
grihītvaitāni sanyāti vāyurgandhānivāśhayāt As the air carries fragrance from place to place, so does the embodied soul carrythe mind and senses with it, when it leaves an old body and enters a new one.
शोतंचक: ुसशरनंच रसनंघाणमेव च |
अिधषाय मनशायं िवषयानुपसेवते|| 9||
śhrotram chakshuhu sparśhanam cha rasanam ghrāam eva cha adhishtthāya manaśhchāyam vishayānupasevate
Using the sense perceptions of the ears, eyes, skin, tongue, and nose, which aregrouped around the mind, the embodied soul savors the objects of the senses.
Predetermined Destiny and Free Will
Some desires are predominant, and some are dormant. At the time of death, there may be many desires, but the predominant desire and the fruits of his past actions decide the direction of the life of next birth. The soul ‘chooses’ the kind of life, body, parents, and environment such that his predominant desires can be fulfilled. This is his predetermined destiny.
     God has also given us the ‘free will’. Human beings can use the power of discrimination and can choose to act wisely. This can shape his future. But he has to pass through some incidents and phases of life, whether he likes it or not, because of pre-determined destiny.
     Free will could be the culprit, but if the free will is surrendered to God, then things become easier and the person can excel in spirituality. The tendency of free will is to increase the ego, while the surrender of free will to God decreases the ego. A person, who has surrendered his free will to God, does not have any expectation of the results of his works. So, he remains unattached to the results and stays calm. Such a person is a true Karma Yogi.
Vasanas or Gunas can be broadly classified into 3 types.
Satva guna: pure intelligence and goodness, quality of renunciation, love for God, and other divine qualities. Saints have more percentage of Satva Guna. Rajas guna: the fire of desire or spiritedness, demands attention and credit, are egoists, looking for glory, etc. Tamas guna: dullness or inertia. Negative qualities like laziness, inertia, revenge, hurting and killing of innocents, etc.
     Most of the people have a mixture of the three gunas, and consequently, their personality would reflect the essence of what guna predominates.
     The percentage of these Gunas keeps changing. While sleeping Tamas Guna is predominant, while working in the daytime, Rajas Guna is predominant and just after the sleep is complete and work is not yet started, there is Satva Guna (in the early morning). When one is attending a spiritual discourse/retreat/ Satsanga, his mind is calm and temporarily, he is receptive and accepts good teachings. But later, after the discourse is over and we are again engaged in our worldly activities/duties, rajas guna may get pre-dominant. At this time, if a person again thinks of the teachings, his ego reacts, and he may reject the teachings.
     Ramana Maharshi distinguishes between good and bad vasanas. Good vasanas, like tending to our parents’ needs, loving all people, being charitable, all of which promote the laws of nature, do not harm, but bad vasanas, which go against the laws of nature, do. We are meant to evolve in life until we realize God and life is designed so that bad vasanas leave bad residues and good vasanas promote our spiritual evolution moving us on towards enlightenment.
     And most of us have seen people like this – innocent, blithe, spontaneous, uninhibited. They resemble children and pass easily through the eye of the needle.
     Swami Sivananda: Vasanas (desires in subtle form) are waves in the mind lake. They are latent in the Antahkarana and the Karana Sarira (seed-body). Like new flowers blossoming out daily, Vasanas blossom one by one, come out to the surface of the mind, generate Sankalpas in the mind of Jivas, and goad them to strive to possess and enjoy the particular objects of enjoyment. Vasanas cause actions and actions to strengthen the Vasanas. This is a Chakra, vicious circle. On the advent of the knowledge of Brahman, all Vasanas are fried out. Our enemies are the Vasanas within us, and they are inveterate (long-established and unlikely to change!).
Vasanas cause Restlessness and Bondage
     Vasana is the cause of restlessness of the mind. As soon as a Vasana manifests, there is an intimate connection between the mind and the object. The mind will not retrace its steps until it gets the object and enjoys it. The restlessness will resurface even after the object is enjoyed unless one resorts to measures to annihilate its origin. The common run of men cannot resist or suppress any Vasana owing to a weak will. It is the Vasana in the mind that causes bondage; with the disappearance of Vasanas, bondage naturally vanishes. There is no pain from Isvara-Srishti (objects created by the Lord). Water quenches your thirst. Breeze gives you comfort. Sunshine enlivens you. Fire gives warmth. It is Jiva-Srishti that brings about bondage. Ahankara, anger, Abhimana, attachment is all Jiva-Srishtis. We need to make an attempt to cultivate Suddha Sankalpa, but no Vasanas.
Therapies and Processes for Reducing Vasanas
      There are many ways of reducing or modifying vasanas. Anything that relaxes us helps. Undergoing bodywork relieves us of muscular tension in the body. Hypnosis or meditation can help. Listening to music, walking in nature, taking a vacation all help. To erase the vasanas, we must eventually re-experience the earliest similar incident that created them until our experience is freed from all shock and perception of loss.
     By mere ethical training, jealousy, Raga, Dvesha, Krodha, Kama, etc., can be suppressed, though not eradicated completely. These impure, Asubha Vasanas can be considerably attenuated by moral culture. They attain a subtle condition and may not harm the individual.
     Sama: Sama is a determination on our part to be always calm and quiet under any kind of condition, even aggressive conditions. Hate does not cease by hate. Hate ceases by love. The reaction is not the way in which we have to conduct ourselves towards an action. Two persons are necessary to quarrel, and we need not be a party to that. Restrain our minds with the help of the understanding that we have already exercised through Viveka and Vairagya.
     Dama: Dama is the restraint of the sense organs. As Sama is the restraint of the internal organ, which is the mind, the Antar-Indriya, Dama is the discipline of the organs outside, the Bahyakaranas (external instruments) such as hands, legs, eyes, ears, etc. The internal entity is called the antakarana chatustaya, the psyche. Mano buddhi ahankara Chitta: the mind that thinks, buddhi or intellect that decides and determines ahankara that identifies everything with itself, and Chitta or memory that remembers past things. Dama supplements Sama in the control of mind being an auxiliary for the complete eradication of Vasanas.
     Uparati: Uparati is the cessation of all worldly longings. Why do we go on wanting more and more nice saris, good diet, homes and such material possessions? Desire cannot be quenched by the fulfillment of desire. Desire increases by the fulfillment; it does not make it cease. Yoga Vasishtha says all the wheat and the rice and the delicacies and the wealth of the whole earth cannot satisfy even one person completely. Such is the vastness of human desires. Know this and be calm. This is Uparati.
     Titiksha: Titiksha means a kind of endurance and toleration that we have to exercise. We cannot expect everything to take place as we want. Where it is possible to change a thing, we can change it, and where we cannot, we have to bear it. There is an old saying, “Give me the power to change what I can, the will to bear what I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
     Conquest of Ahankara: If we destroy egoism (Ahankara, this false little ‘I’) and control the Indriyas (the senses), the Vasanas will die by themselves. The root cause for all troubles is Ahankara. Just as the dependents of a family hang upon the chief of the house, all Vasanas hang upon Ahankara, the chief of this house-body. It is only when we eradicate the painful Ahankara of the mind and conquer the foes of organs (Indriyas) that the ever-waking Vasanas will subside.
     Svadhyaya: Svadhyaya is a Niyama, one’s own reading, or self–study. It emphasizes the central importance of one’s pursuit of Reality, Truth, Self-restraint, Perseverance, Tranquility, and Inner Peace, Relationships with others, and performing the Rituals. Svādhyāya is one of the key elements in the practice of yoga. The practice of svadhyaya requires Satya (honesty), Tapas (discipline), and Ahimsa (nonviolence) which remind us to look upon ourselves without judgment or criticism.
     Meditation: By meditation, we learn how to become absorbed in the stillness of concentrated awareness. Thus, the mental energy becomes calm and quiet. There will always be a current of manas shakti and even waves, but they are transformed into tranquil harmonious Vasana associated with self-awareness rather than the turbulent unstable qualities of the mind. There is no Vasana in Brahman. Complete annihilation of the Vasanas takes place only in Nirvikalpa Samadhi, when the mind becomes almost free from all activities, melting in the inner Self, and into the Reality of Brahman. Through the knowledge of Brahman, there will be an extinction of all Vasanas, and the undaunted mind will get 278 quiescence like a ghee-less lamp. Normally mind either selects or rejects. Meditation takes the mind into a third attribute or direction, that of stillness/calmness into a state of being just an observer. I am SAT-CHIT – ANANDA. SAT is Existence (Truth), CHIT is Consciousness and ANANDA is Eternal Bliss.
Swami Chinmayananda:
     “Unless we are ready to renounce the low animal values of material life and replace them with the noble values of the truly religious life, we cannot hope to gain the blessings of religion. A study of a cookbook, however thorough it might be, will not satisfy our hunger. No matter how long we meditate upon and repeat the name of the medicine, we cannot get the cure we need until we actually take the medicine. Similarly, the blessings of religion can be ours only when we are ready to live the recommended values. “ 

Take home message: “As of now, I am not free of my vasanas. I must work hard every time they go off to get to the bottom of them. And being aware of it, each and every time I go off track, I will consciously make an effort, and eventually, when I leave this life and arrive at the next one, my vasanas would have reduced, improved. And I hope I would continue the process with each of my ‘births’ until I am no more reborn until I blend with the………. Absolute Consciousness.”

The Concept of ‘MAYA’ – the Cosmic Illusion

      Maya, (Cosmic Illusion, for want of a better word in English), is a fundamental concept in Hindu philosophy, notably in the Advaita (nonduality) school of Vedanta. Maya originally denoted the magic power with which God can make human beings believe in what turns out to be an illusion. By extension, it later came to mean the powerful force that creates the cosmic illusion that the phenomenal world is real. For the nondualists, Maya is thus that cosmic force that presents the ‘infinite Brahman’ (the supreme being) as the finite phenomenal world. Maya is reflected on the individual level by human ignorance, ‘ajnana’ of the real nature of the self, which is mistaken for the empirical ego but which is, in reality, identical with Brahman. Maya is used in various connotations, implying a principle, power or process. Since in Hindu view non-existence can never be the source of creation (just as a plant can never sprout without a seed), Maya is the metaphysical principle that is used in Hinduism to explain the projection of the phenomenal world by Brahman, the Cosmic Self.
      There are two views among Hindu scholars relating to the concept of Maya. In some philosophical systems, Maya refers to the mysterious power or the cosmic energy of the Supreme Being with which He projects the universe from Himself. In other philosophical systems, Maya is the thought of a cosmic illusion or ignorance, avidya, that deludes the individual soul (atman) into forgetting its own divine nature. This forgetfulness of its true nature further causes the soul to mistakenly identify itself with the body and mind, assume individuality, and thus subject itself to pleasure and pain in the phenomenal world.
      This mistaken identity of the soul with the body and mind is said to be, in Hindu scriptures, analogous to mistaking a rope for a snake in dull light. In this the rope – snake analogy, the rope represents the soul, the snake denotes the individual or individuality, and the dull light represents Maya. Thus there are two powers associated with Maya. The first is the power of veiling the truth, and the second is the power of projecting the truth as something else.
     Maya may be explained yet in another way. In the Hindu view, atman provides sentience (sensitivity) to a sentient (conscious) being and gives rise to faculties to the mind and intellect in a human body. In the absence of a body, atman does not say “I”. In the absence of atman, the inert body does not say “I” either. However, when the two meet, mysterious power in the form of “I- thought” appears. This mysterious “I – thought”, also called ego, is the result of Maya. This aspect of Maya is explained by Paramahamsa Sri Ramakrishna, “Maya is nothing but the egotism of the embodied soul. This egotism has covered everything like a veil. All troubles come to an end when the ego dies.
      This Maya, the ego, is like a cloud. The sun remains in the sky, but a dense cloud cover prevents us from seeing it. When the clouds disperse, we become aware that the sun has been there all the time. Our clouds—Maya appearing as egotism, selfishness, hatred, greed, lust, anger, ambition—are pushed away when we meditate upon our real nature, when we engage in unselfish action, and when we consistently act and think in ways that manifest our true nature: that is, through truthfulness, purity, contentment, self-restraint, and forbearance. This mental purification drives away the clouds of Maya and allows our divine nature to shine forth.
      According to many schools of Hinduism, the world is an illusion, a play of the supreme consciousness of God. It is a projection of things and forms that are temporarily phenomenal and sustains the illusion of oneness and permanence. The illusion of the phenomenal world is created and sustained by stand-alone objects thrown together either by an act of randomness or through the deliberate choice of conscious will.
     Death is the end for us – of life, of beauty, of wealth, of power, of virtue. Irrespective of status, everyone dies, and yet, this tremendous clinging on to life exists. We cannot give it up. And this is Maya. Knowledge of happiness brings knowledge of unhappiness. Material prosperity is reflected in misery elsewhere. The strong prey upon the weak. Desire is never satisfied with the enjoyment of desires; it only increases. The more we progress, the more avenues are open to pain as well as pleasure. All this is Maya. Our feelings, thoughts, and aspirations are all integral to our life; the core of life is the march towards perfection. When we take life as we experience it to be all that we perceive, we forgo perfection. It is life minus that ‘ideal component’; the differential, that is Maya.

The symbol OM visually consists of three curves, one semicircle, and a dot.
The large bottom curve symbolizes the waking state, A.
The middle curve signifies the dream state, U.
The upper curve denotes the state of deep sleep, M.
The dot signifies the fourth state of consciousness, Turiya
The semicircle at the top represents Maya and separates the dot from the other three curves. It signals to us that it is the illusion of Maya that is an obstacle to the realization of the Highest.
     Our scriptures declare that creation is the play of consciousness. It differentiates itself into diverse things and in the end withdraws everything into itself. Says the Yoga Vasishta, “The world is nothing but a mere vibration of consciousness in space. All this is but Maya: for here there is no contradiction between the infinite consciousness and the apparent existence of the universe. It is like the marvelous dream of a person who is awake.”
     In an ordinary sense, the word ‘Maya’ means, trickery, fraud or deceit. In the spiritual parlance, Maya means unreality, distinct from the reality represented by God or Brahman. God in His eternal and absolute aspect is pure consciousness and His creation is a mere formation within that consciousness. It exists so long as 270 there is an experienced distinct from the experience.
     Maya is that which arises from Prakirti (nature) or Pradhana (primal energy). ‘Ma’ means the source, the cause, and ‘Ya’ means that which proceeds, goes, walks, or spreads out. Thus, literally, Maya means that which issues forth, expands, or arises from the source, ‘Ma’, the universal mother. Maya is also described in the Hindu scriptures as the play (lila) of God enacted through his creative and dynamic energy or force (shakti). It is the web of deception weaved by the universal spider (Brahman) to envelop the worlds in delusion (moha).
     An illusion is the appearance of things differently from what they are actually. It is part of our normal existence. We do not have to be spiritually inclined to notice it. For example, everything in the universe is in constant motion, but we think as if we live in a stable world because we do not perceive the motion unless we pay particular attention to the planets and the stars and the movement of time. The sky has no color. But to our eyes, it appears as blue, because of the reflection of the light by the molecules in the air. This is an illusion, which we see every day but do not acknowledge mentally unless we begin to think about it consciously. Even at night, we remember the sky to be blue! We consider the milk to be a white liquid. This is also an illusion because in reality milk is a combination of several atoms and molecules that come together to give the appearance and taste of milk. The appearance of a person as a combination of the mind and the body is also an illusion because man is more than the mere union of the two.
Is the world ‘really’ unreal?
     Hinduism considers the world to be false or unreal not in a physical sense but in an eternal and absolute sense. The world is an illusion not because it does not exist, but because it is not what it appears to be all the time. Our scriptures say that we should not be misled by this ordinary sensory experience of ours. We should pay particular attention to our perceptions and go beyond the appearance of things to know the truth. We can arrive at the truth by understanding the various states of our consciousness. (awake, dream state, deep sleep).
     Why this is important for an individual? How does it matter whether the world is real or unreal? No one can dispute the fact that, at any given moment, the world in which we live is real. It does exist in some specific form and state, independent of whether we exist or not. It is real in the physical sense. It is also tangible to our senses. We experience its existence in innumerable ways in our minds and through our senses all the time. Right now, at this very moment, we are in the real world. We cannot say the world is an illusion unless we have literally lost our minds. This does not mean it is not an illusion. This is the paradox, the real truth, to understand which we have to go deeper into ourselves to discover our true nature and the meaning of self-absorption.
Overcoming Maya
    Maya disappears only when our minds and senses are fully stabilized, and we are able to experience things without the division of the seer and the seen. The only way to steer clear from Maya is to be able to see the truth as it is, which is possible only when our egos yield place to our real selves. Maya is something that separates us from the divine power called GOD. An Individual’s true nature is divine, but through Maya, or ignorance, that divinity in us is covered.
If by the grace of God, one’s ego vanishes, then one sees God.ैवी &ेषा गु णमयी मम माया दरु0यया |
मामेव ये 1प34ते मायामेतां तरि4त ते || 14||

daivī hyeṣhā guṇa-mayī mama māyā duratyayā
mām eva ye prapadyante māyām etāṁ taranti te
BG 7.14: My divine energy Maya, consisting of the three modes of nature, is very difficult to overcome. But those who surrender unto me cross over it easily.

     Maya cannot be overcome without a fundamental shift in our awareness and inner conditioning. Where there is duality, the sense of separation, there is Maya. When our minds and senses are active, we remain under the influence of Maya. When we perceive things in a state of duality, we remain in the domain of Maya. Maya disappears only when our minds and senses are fully stabilized, and we are able to experience things without the division of the seer and the seen. Even the gods are not free from the influence of Maya because they also experience duality 272 and plurality. Truly no one is ever free from Maya, till one has lost all sense of duality forever. The only way to steer clear from Maya is to be able to see the truth as it is, which is possible only when our egos yield place to our real selves.
     Sri Aurobindo discusses the concept as follows: “The one thing that can be described as an unreal reality is our individual sense of separateness and the conception of the finite as a self-existent object in the Infinite. This conception, this sense is pragmatically necessary for the operations of the surface individuality and are effective and justified by their effects; they are therefore real to its finite reason and finite self-experience: but once we step back from the finite consciousness into the consciousness of the essential and infinite, from the apparent to the true Person, the finite or the individual still exists but as being and power and manifestation of the Infinite; it has no independent or separate reality.”

Food for thought: Is Maya a mirage, or like a mirror image? Is it like seeing through a cataract or experiencing a dream? If all we see and experience is an illusion, what is so-called life, if we ‘conquer’ Maya? If it is an illusion, why is it the same for everybody? Why we all see the same sun rising, stars twinkling, rains falling, hurricane flooding, people dying? What is the purpose of the creator to so ‘fool’ all his creations?

Sensible Religion!

     Seven decades of my living has prompted me to write about this particular thought. It is an expression of my experience of watching my fellow humans and the influence of religions on their behavior. It is the product of my understanding of the good and the bad authority of faith that molds some of our actions, individually and collectively. The design is to be seen mostly as a reflection of my observation rather than an account of judgment or verdict based on any authority.
  During my long career as a physician and my intimate communications with patients and people connected to patients from various faiths, I have been exposed to and have experienced the power of the belief in the Ultimate Glory that comforts the ones in agony. It does not take a genius to figure out that the same supreme power cannot be any different than the one that is behind the cosmic balance and the enormity of existence of all that is around us and within us. It may be the whole reality or perhaps just a perception that influences our thought process and makes it appear to give us an impression that it is all for real.
     Religions are undeniably the strongest establishments in the world. They command more respect, profess more unity, and access more power than any political philosophy; they enjoy emotional camaraderie and economic authority than any imaginable entity. They have withstood the test of time, transcended the geographic boundaries of landmasses, and surpassed the emotional restrictions of cultures and languages. They have more than upheld the purpose for which they 264 were created and profusely added substance and momentum than their founders conceivably have ever imagined.
  Conversely and sadly, religions have generously subscribed to controversy and conflicts between factions and nations. As much as they have helped the progress of societies and cultures in promoting fields from arts to philanthropy, they have harmfully exercised their might in separating human groups.
  Origins of religions are often obscure, but their purpose and objectives have presumably been to promote noble intentions. Followers of all religions unquestionably believe that the beginning of their respective faiths is heralded by divine destiny, ordered by God. Available records of historical and mythological accounts establish the founders of religions as divine personalities, souls with supreme spiritual capabilities. Having been established, such institutions have gradually evolved and transformed, based on the visions of the leadership and the demands of the followers. An analysis of such progression leading to the effective utilization of their original purpose should make interesting yet sensitive topics of discussion.
     I was born into a Hindu family and was brought up with the values of its traditions. I grew up fascinated by its voluminous mythological stories and was guided to follow its abundant philosophic fundamentals. I was exposed to and was enchanted by the many rituals and festivals of Hindu customs. Perhaps of that opportunity and because of the freedom that it allowed and preached to accept the entire humanity as one family, I got increasingly curious about the role of religions in shaping human character and behavior. As I admired the tenets of the great saints and philosophers guiding their followers to be nobler human beings, I also felt disturbed by the observation that often, such celebrated information offered by their magnificent teachings were misconstrued, leading to conflicts and separation of the human family.

I noticed the painful irony that in the process of applying god’s profound principles and reflective instructions into practice, there was often animosity and hatred generated between people of different identities. If one truly believes in the concept of an ultimate power that is God, it should be logical to assume that such a power would be all-encompassing, enormously indomitable and beyond the trivial limitations of human definitions and dictated guidelines. Such a power would be further from easy human comprehension and free from the shackles of organized religious restrictions and manipulations. But it is disturbing to observe that instead of such celestial convictions promoting the concept of the accord, the resultant collective actions of many groups often go against the divine indoctrination and the universal harmony it can generate.
     I have come to some convictions that such negative outcome may be due to ignorance or lack of interest to understand a different philosophy, perhaps even some trepidation from fear of the unknown. Such limitation may be further aggravated by restrictive influences promoted by vested interests. I am also convinced, optimistic and confident that human nature is basically that of compassion and tolerance if there is a concerted, organized attempt to evoke the glory of creation and its profound purpose, it should be possible to recapture that intent. There should be enough goodness in the ultimate nature of the human mind that such an outcome should be attainable if it is undertaken with total sincerity and dedication. An ideal scenario would be to dream of a human family adapted, comfortable and contented to accept and respect the various pathways and modalities designed to attain the ultimate reality that is defined as the god principle.

     I propose also to reflect on the brilliant observations and inferences of the genius scientific minds as they have educated us through recorded history. As I feel immensely mesmerized by their wisdom, I sincerely wish that many of them could attempt to make a humble, even a ‘devotional’ submission to an inconceivable authority, at junctures beyond the reach of human comprehension. It will be desirable if science could graciously accommodate an intellect beyond their grasp if such a privilege could facilitate an amicable acceptance and even synchronization between ‘science’ and ‘religion’. At the other end of the spectrum, 266 some uncompromising convictions dictated by religions without allowance of rational use of common sense and scientific knowledge, act detrimental to their own progress, even existence. Somewhere in between the above two groups, the dictations of atheists, shamefully uncomfortable to act even with remote accommodation of a god-concept, seem to attract the attention of a significant number of intellectuals, who find solace in overlooking any supernatural involvement. They turn to science and modern proofs to discredit the power of any mystical elements without exact evidence.
     If human life or perhaps its soul is the ultimate entity in the ever-evolving process of creation and or evolution, it behooves us to imagine that there may be a vested purpose, a designated destiny, an imaginative intent, established, structured and manipulated by an Ultimate Reality which will ever remain inconceivable to the minuscule ability and grasp of human comprehension.
    This narrative is an unpretentious attempt to analyze the implication of religions on human life, past and present, their enriching contribution and their injurious influence. Instead of dwelling on the differences and unhealthy waste of the wealth of such knowledge, civilization could have gained enormously if it concentrated on the possibilities of the cohesive effect of such profound information. It is the writer’s wish to guide the readers to explore and utilize the many profound teachings of the great religions of the world and apply the rewards towards the benefit of humans as a single-family. The readers are invited to be imaginative in opening up avenues with an ecumenical approach to the divinity that can accommodate larger groups of humans than alienating them. If the wealth of knowledge amassed by the scholarly minds behind all the religions can accommodate and take advantage of the scientific information accumulated during the past millennia of human socio-cultural enhancement, this global human family of ours stands to benefit immensely.
     This is neither a scholarly treatise nor a claim to be any dazzling dissertation on the nebulous concept of the purpose of life or its spiritual connotations. It is neither intended to be for arguments nor for establishing the dominance of any philosophy or value system over any other. It is my conviction that an inclusive understanding of various religions and a realization that they all intended to enrich the human mind, the process will promote better mutual respect and enhanced human relationship.
     If the reader accepts my notions objectively with an open mind and an unprejudiced concept of one human family, then my humble aspiration would stand fulfilled.

Faith versus Science

     Many of the available reading matter seems to pitch ‘Science’ and ‘Faith’ on diametrically opposite ends of the field, two philosophies or concepts that cannot match or merge. Faith is built purely on belief and submission, without any solid evidence yet with powerful convictions based on subjective intuitions. Science, on the other hand, is based on accumulated knowledge, tested out and proven by reproducible hypotheses and applied in various situations. The products of science can be duplicated, modified as needed and are made available for the benefit of all. Experience is very individualized, purely personal and practiced in an exclusively private manner.
     Exploring to establish similarities between science and religious faith is perhaps within reasonable postulation. Scientific knowledge and the information derived from educated analysis and inference is available in the open, yet is utilized by only a limited circle, which can comprehend and understand such information. Even though such knowledge is profusely used in a variety of applications for the benefit of humanity, a deeper understanding of science is not required or sought for by most of the consumers. Their lack of curiosity or level of education may be the reason behind such indifference, which nevertheless is a reality that exists. The fact that Newton discovered Gravity or Einstein postulated the theory of Relativity, may not necessarily make an impact to most humans who remain not inquisitive to dwell on those facts in their daily lives. Such a statement can also be made of the religious convictions of those who revere such faith yet do not subscribe to an analysis or inquiry of the details. Scientific theories make only little sense to those who are unable to comprehend them just as much as the religious beliefs make no relevance to those who do not subscribe to accept an entity that is the existence of a god concept. In further explaining the issue, the knowledge that water is a chemical product from the union of two Hydrogen and one Oxygen atoms does not have any impact or importance to someone consuming water to quench his thirst. The radiance of flowers or the greenery of the foliage that embellish our nature can be graciously appreciated even without a trace of understanding of what contributes to the greenness of the leaves or the brilliance of the flowers.
     As we dig deeper into the laws of Physics as they apply to and manipulate our lives, it has been mentioned that these laws as we have been taught and understood as absolute, may not be the whole truth after all. It is brought up by the newer findings that the physical laws that we consider ‘universal’ may be more like ‘local’ bylaws, governing the planet or the surroundings that we inhabit; that these laws may be different from place to place when they are applied on a megacosmic scale. If we can ever visualize a mammoth patch of the cosmos, stretching beyond the limits of our comprehension, then it may be conceivable to have different sets of physical rules that control those different territories. Such a concept, if it can be termed ‘multiverse’, may be subjected to a variety of laws that are controlling various regions of the colossal puzzle. By the same laws, we were chosen and sent to a speck in the whole gigantic game where our life, the human existence, is protected and supported by a certain set of guidelines. Who decides about such an outcome and who manipulates the different crumbs similar or diverse from us in the various corners of the spread of such existence, is for anyone to brood over and come up with own answers?
     In the book ‘Evidence of Purpose’, edited by John Marks Templeton, it is stated that as we pay attention to and become complacent about our limitations as restricted creatures in a vast universe of immeasurable complexity and obscurity, perhaps we can be released from our prejudices of scientific, philosophical or religious nature and open our minds to the ‘great plan’ of which we are all a part. As science has discovered with amazing clarity, the myriad of fundamental explanations about life and the immensity that it is part of, it has also come up with revelations of its own limitations. As more is revealed about scientific rationalizations, more also comes to light about its limitations. Whether there will ever be a convincing, scientific explanation of spirituality and faith that molds our minds to believe in a supreme entity, is beyond anybody’s comprehension at this time. Arguing along the same lines of thought, it will be beyond our guess or even the grasp of scientific concepts, whether evolution will ever take us beyond humans or homo-sapiens to another level or species. For that matter, no science at present can convincingly make a statement as to the existence of such living units in any remote corners of the cosmos.
     If one is able to appreciate the findings of science as it explains the physical and chemical reasoning behind many objects and events as we perceive them, the same courtesy should be offered to admire the existence of a different dimension which donates to such marvels that we are blessed to benefit from. It will be desirable to go further and accept science as which explains the ‘what’ about the happenings as much as the faith consoles one to offer the ‘why’ of the same issues. Perhaps it is conceivable that a day will arrive as human brains continue to gather information will come up with answers about more objects around us and happenings that we perceive. Yet it may elude us that we ever can elucidate all the ‘whys’ about the precise patterns of our existence and the enormity of its significance and purpose.
     A symbiotic application of all the scientific understanding to augment our convictions about religious teachings and in turn, a submission to humble acceptance of the limits of human comprehension will be a comfortable situation amicable to the different factions of the human race. In a similar line of approach, it can immensely benefit humanity and human relationship, if we can instruct our probing minds to adapt and accept the various religious instructions from the diverse philosophies just as we tend to tolerate the ever-changing scientific understanding. As much as we endure newer findings of science, which repeatedly refute and modify old knowledge, it will be so desirable if we are able to bear and even respect the various lines of religious doctrines and preferences.
     No amount of passionate theological submission and no attitude of scientific wisdom and even its proud postulates can distinctly and conclusively explain and establish the precision and legitimacy about life, about the universe, about evolution or creation, about a soul or meaning of life. In fact, we know an infinitesimally small fraction of the truth. What we know or claim to know is mostly conjecture and faith, along with the reports from science that keep changing and adding new knowledge.

Monopolizing Divinity

     In dealing with an obscure subject based exclusively on belief and subjective experience, such as the concept of an ultimate source that is a god, human beings have been exceptionally creative and resourceful when that experience is transferred and structured as organized religions. If an interested individual takes the trouble to research and analyze the formation of religions, their progression, growth, and multiplication into different ideological segments, they are bound to come up with fascinating findings. It will become incredibly apparent that behind the various theories and teachings propagated by all the religious establishments, exists a very fundamental intent, the advancement of the human mind and behavior.

     The genesis of different religions from different parts of the world resembles that of the nations in general. Formation of entities, philosophy of faiths and their spread beyond geographic and ethnic boundaries vary, but essentially the principle of expansion and their acceptance are based on certain common interests and reasoning. Paying attention to recorded history, religious expansions follow parallel paths similar to the formation of empires. If nations acquired boundaries because of geographic, ethnic and linguistic similarities, religious groups originated and expanded following certain common belief about god and their methods of approaching the divine principles. Centuries of control by regional dictators like kings and emperors and their dynastic descendants over regions of earth gradually evolved into nations as we see them today. Following similar progression, it is quite conceivable and almost a certainty that we can visualize a totally different map of the world in the next millennium or even sooner. As the geophysical changes happening through millions of years have gradually altered the historical delineation of the world similar alteration took place along the boundaries of nations as well. Such changes have happened within periods of hundreds of years and often, even within much less of time span. If we extend such a concept and apply it to the evolution of religions, a few thousand years of human history can provide us the essential nature of our present religions, their spread, and character.
     On the premise of our understanding that all religions originate from the notion of an ultimate entity that is god and if we can patiently imagine the plight of humans of the past, way prior to the design of modern religions, we should be able to arrive at some probable concepts. The formation of all the presently practiced religions can be traced to a few thousand years, with the exception of a very few without any definite origin. What our ancestors before that time accepted and practiced as their religion, if they ever did, is up to anybody’s imagination. Perhaps by the same token, if we stretch our imagination into the future, say another million years if humans existed that far, we may envisage a totally different scenario if we are comfortable to visualize.
     And if we are honest and humble about such a line of thought, we should be able to entertain some possible scenarios affecting the way religions may be practiced in that distant future. If we contemplate on the insignificance of human life span in the context of history, it should not be difficult to conclude about its fragility and frugality. When I mention about religions, it is absolutely not about the god principle, but only the structured, regimented institutions that propagate and thrive on the divine industry.
     Most of us who believe in the god concept, who practice within certain guidelines dictated by our chosen faith, cultivate unquestioned allegiance to the dictations of our particular religion. Such practice is absolutely splendid as long as it is focused on our quest to attain the realm of divinity. Our adherence to faith and our attempt to practice it should be to make us better human beings with respect and reverence to the entity we believe that is in charge of it all. As long as we respect the freedom and the right of every individual to choose and practice a certain method to attain the ultimate, we remain within the universally accepted norms of human decency. As we step outside that boundary and as we start criticizing the freedom of others to choose, we deviate from the god principle, precisely what we attempt to accomplish.
     Perhaps many open-minded, curious, even concerned people may have questioned the reason a million times, as to why there has never been a broader, concerted effort to create a global movement to bring in mutual respect and camaraderie between the various religious groups. It is disappointing to realize that the various, presumably spiritually oriented organizations have not felt enough graciousness to understand and communicate with religions of a different philosophy, which have apparently similar claims towards divinity. As strange as it may sound if the institutions promoting dealings with God are not able to accept all humans as same, irrespective of their faiths, it has to be an apparent blemish in their basic understanding of godliness. There have to be many reasons beyond the obvious, behind such hostility and refusal to accept others.
     Ignorance about other faiths may be one of the fundamental reasons that promote the wrong attitude and hence apprehension in accommodating others as they are. Obtaining wrong information from authorities and even refusing to learn about others lead to distorted understanding and even detestation of any faith other than one’s own. Instead of limiting the religious teaching to singing the glory of God through their prescribed avenues, the pulpits may be preaching wrong information about other faiths, not totally out of ignorance, but orchestrated from vested motivations. Warnings and scare tactics admonishing followers who may be inquisitive and open-minded to understand about others are not uncommon practices in many sections. Those who are blind believers of such establishments cannot be blamed for cultivating and propagating wrong information and unfriendly attitude towards beliefs other than their own.
     Ignorance also is from total lack of or distorted understanding of the concept of god. If our perception about the god principle is other than one of totality which applies to everything that we see and perceive, it is very easy to be misguided into a limited, even conceited viewpoint. If our vision of a higher power is not grand enough to contain everything and if one tends to believe that such energy can be controlled or manipulated by a group of people or limited philosophy, then it can lead to the disturbance that we witness around the world. Sadly, the powerful and knowledgeable religious organizations that are capable of creating generous minds through a global approach to god-concept are often doing much of the damage by diverting that opportunity for certain other purposes, only known to them. Such exposure and training are what limits the followers to a constricted understanding of divinity and the misconception of its monopoly. More damaging is the inculcation of a conviction that any other modality of approach other than their own, any other philosophy to reach out to the absolute consciousness other than what they sermonize is totally futile and even blasphemous. The fear of such a thought in an irreverent, sacrilegious direction is what scares many from attempting to expand their knowledge and secludes them within the comfort of a false sense of monopoly of divinity.
     Out of such ignorance often arises uncertainty and uncertainty give rise to skepticism. Easiest escape out of skepticism is avoidance, and the route taken to avoid is through generating an aversion. Aversion is often accompanied by a sense of fear, rather intimidation of the unknown. The chain reaction eventually surfaces as detestation and even abhorrence, which is countered again with a false sense of superiority and a claim of monopoly. An incident which happened at one of the Junior high Schools in Texas abundantly illustrates the dismal attitude of ignorance, fear and even hatred of the community towards other religions than their own. The Principal of a predominantly Anglo Christian school arranged for a presentation, described as ‘Islam 101’, by an Islamic group, which he thought would be a good way for the students to learn about other cultures. Over eight hundred seventh and eighth grade students of the school attended a presentation given by two women with the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Houston, according to the school district. The principal organized such a meeting consequent to a complaint from a Muslim father who said his son was physically attacked at the school because he was Muslim. After the presentation, there was a flood of complaints from concerned parents that their children were subjected to a presentation, without their consent. As we try to analyze the situation, it becomes obvious that the anguish came from fear of allowing young minds to be exposed to information from a different group of believers, which the parents felt would be dangerous to their children. The superintendent of the school seemed to agree with the parents and apologized to them while the principal was asked to resign and later was reassigned to another administrative position. While the presenters said that they simply discussed facts about Islam and not any religious sermons, the concern of the parents need to be understood from their own perspective and attitude towards an alien faith. While this is an example of outrage by lessons in tolerance and diversity and not by religious persecution, the premise from which the controversy arose is the concern they were trying to establish. This is just one example of the shallow nature of understanding between two religious groups, but such conflicts and concerns prevail throughout the entire world because of a lack of respect and refusal to accommodate each other. After the acute phase was over and more parents found out and analyzed the issue, many of them realized it would have been an opportunity for the Christian students to get to know about another faith.
     When we believe in a particular faith and follow its guidelines and practices, we do it because of certain convictions that appeal to us and because its doctrines attract us as a mode to take us to the ultimate concepts. It is imperative that we cultivate loyalty to that faith and devote our absolute commitment to it just as we would dedicate to any worthy cause that we subscribe to. Using the same yardstick of respect that we would expect from another person towards our faith, we should entertain the common courtesy in return to another individual’s choice of devotion. Especially when one is dealing with a concept beyond any distinct definition, when the enormity of such transcends restricting boundaries, simple civility should guide us to offer a respectful acceptance to that alien belief. We should consider the alternate how such a declaration would offend and alienate us if others were to claim the monopoly of divinity and proclaim that their particular path is the sole means to attain the ultimate.
     At this context, it may be worthwhile to analyze historical accounts as well as present-day movements like ‘Crusades’ and ‘Jihad’ aimed at conversions or destruction of masses of ‘non-believers’. These examples of misguided devotion perhaps even endorsed by their respective leaders and undertaken passionately by loyal followers in the name of God is in reality, the curse of humanity. The Crusades of the medieval times by the western Christendom was reportedly organized to fight against religious persecution of Christians and reclaim the holy land of Jerusalem. Many such crusades were fought between the eleventh through the fifteenth centuries which pitched Christians against Muslims and others who opposed them, like the Pagans, the Jews, the Mongols and various political enemies of the Pope. The atrocities done in the name of and claims of god had farreaching economic, political and social ramifications apart from the religious intentions such movements originated from. The fear of the crusades was recently revisited when President Bush made the reference to use such tactics against the terrorists, reminding the world that such philosophy may be entertained even by the modern politicians. It is perhaps quite appropriate for us to be anxious about the reality of a contemporary clash of civilizations, global warfare between Christians and Muslims, re-enacting the barbaric scenes of medieval times. Definitely more frightening and perhaps much more threatening is the realistic possibility of the present world facing the ‘holy war’ or ‘Jihad’, which is aimed against the infidels and the infidel countries. Some hard-core Muslims are incensed against the tyranny and oppression they face from non-Muslims with military and economic powers. ‘Jihad’ is the movement they fervently subscribe into, with an agenda to expand the territories ruled by Muslims, convert others to follow their faith and achieve Muslim domination over the entire globe. The present-day terrorist activities around the world can mostly be traced to the violent agendas orchestrated by such groups. Those who die fighting the infidels become martyrs and are guaranteed a place in heaven with special privileges. Unfortunately, the moderate, peace-loving majority of Muslims are not effective in rescuing the glory of their religion from such extremists, outwardly and basically giving an impression that they condone the philosophy of the ‘Jihad’. One would be tempted to think that sensible, modern day human beings would make an honest attempt to salvage the good name of their god from preaching and prompting their followers to destroy human beings belonging to other faiths.
     Perhaps not as organized and maybe not as effective, are there factions of believers from almost every religious group who subscribe to the attitude that their particular faith and its methods and philosophy are superior to others to attain the ultimate goal of reaching the Almighty. Many of such people also firmly believe that those who do not follow their path to glory are doomed to be lost and may end up in the horrors of hell. For someone who has approached the essence of divinity 259 in its enormous form, understanding it beyond the restrictions of human imagination and felt His glory in everything around us, such a notion will remain absurd, making absolutely very little sense.

Design of Religions

     Evolution of notion, motivating focus, developmental milestones, the establishment of structure, stretching out the reach and progressive modification may all be lumped together under the title of ‘Design’ of religions. Centuries prior to present day modes of communication and with limited movement of people between areas of land set apart by geographic limitations, religious tendencies and adherence to practices originated and evolved to far corners of the world. Fundamental motivation and impetus to cultivate distinct practices which we can now group as religions are almost exclusively based on a universal focus that is a god. Whether it originates from a blind belief and respect of something unforeseen or is born out of a primitive acceptance of the forces of nature being dictated by a supreme power, is a debatable issue. Perhaps it is a combination of both.
     When human intelligence started analyzing what they observed around them, happening with precision and dependable accuracy, it was obviously attributed to a higher power which eventually has been accepted as God. Perhaps out of respect, reverence, fear and most likely recognition of its overwhelming presence, the human mind might have decided to relate all that is around them and their own destiny to the intimate, indomitable control of such power. They must have been convinced that such power having so much control over the enormous nature must obviously be able to control their minute life and all that is happening to them.
     Such ideas about an ultimate universal power must have been recognized and analyzed by intelligent leaders who must have logically and sensibly inferred the concept of god and passed on such perception to the people around them. These leaders with wisdom and vision must have convinced groups of followers and guided them towards a practice of life beyond the basic animalistic existence. In order to abide by certain doctrines and follow the set guidelines to respectfully adhere to the principle, it must have required creating regimented formulas and ritualistic practices to keep the groups of people in similar mindset. Such practices indoctrinated as coming straight from divine sources would appeal to the masses as legitimate and consoling to guide them along noble paths of life. Assuming that such movements would have developed and progressed to take shape as today’s religions, it becomes possible to understand the present practice and to refer back to their origins.
     As distinct and different as they seem to be, in their behavior and beliefs, human beings from all corners of the earth and all walks of life share a certain commonality of culture. Their taste and their conduct exhibit a certain predisposition and penchant to perform alike in matters of functions which are collectively needed to exist and survive as communities and societies. As much as habits related to food, recreation, procreation and appreciation of arts and other niceties in life evolve, the basic human tendency towards accepting and adhering to a divine presence also seems to have flourished in almost similar patterns. (Development of Religion –from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
     There is a lot of discussion from different sources as to the development of many religions. There has been recorded, the gradual emergence of religious behavior during human evolution, the different models being not mutually exclusive, but with a lot of overlap between them. Religions are a universal phenomenon found in all human populations. Isolated from Australia, the Tasmanians have been found to have had practical religious behavior, 40,000 years ago. Using the principle of a cultural homology, scientists explain the ubiquity of religious behavior. It is mentioned that religious evolution follows a course similar to the evolution of the human mind.
     There have been suggestions that religion is hardwired into the human condition. One hypothesis refers to a God gene, identified as VMAT2, the presence of which in humans that are born being predisposed to episodes interpreted as ‘religious revelation’. Scholars suggest that the evolution of languages is a prerequisite to the development of religion. Ancestral humans in some African populations may have exhibited certain religious behavior as early as 50,000 years ago. A recent discovery even mentions a ritual site in South Africa as old as 70,000 years, which may indicate that certain religious rituals may have been practiced by certain groups prior to the origin of languages.
      Human mind always has remained interested in the affairs of other humans. This attitude may create a tendency for them to interpret all the events on common ground and may be tempted to attribute such events on a ground of commonality, influenced by supernatural agents. Religious and ritualistic behavior may have originated from such concerns and out of fear as preventive penance to please the heavenly powers and ward off such damaging influences.
   In larger groups, certain skilled individuals were capable of conducting rituals and gradually becoming leaders. As societies grew and encountered other similar groups, the fitter ones survived and gradually evolved to modify their practices and provide more abstract and more widely acceptable versions. Such a process eventually established systems that started imposing their version on wider sections of the population, using political clout and power manipulations.
     Anthony F. C. Wallace proposes four stages in the emergence of organized religion: out of individual experience from the most basic concept of divine influence, to a Shamanistic, healing application and acquiring religious authority, into a communal application of the belief into wider areas of knowledge and spirituality; most often practices which combine all of the above three.
      Rodney Stark and W. S. Bainbridge’s book ‘Theory of Religion’ and subsequent works present four models playing in the origin of religions. Psychopathological model, founded creating a theory to resolve personal problems; Entrepreneurial model, wherein the religion is created as a new product collecting concepts from different groups to appeal to consumers to follow them; Social model founded by means of social implosions with bonding between people in the group who develop new theology and rituals to go along with their accepted theory; Normal revelations where the founder interprets and ascribes natural phenomena as supernatural and attracts groups of people to accept and join the belief.
      Throughout the development of religions, charismatic figures have been instrumental in creating and propagating the philosophy which explains and establishes the connection with the god. These leaders may have been either the central teachers and founders of religion like Jesus, Muhammad, or Gautam, who gradually became the revered figures and often representing the god concept or becoming the only intermediary. Many others who have been intellectually elevated and charismatically influential, played significant roles in modifying and reforming the original concept about their religions. Such leaders include Sri Sankaracharya, Swami Vivekananda, Saint Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther King and the like who created glorious examples in reforming their religious philosophy and practice.
      Organized religion periodically goes through adjustments between traditional tendencies and personal spirituality. Thus Buddhism and Vedanta were reforms of the Vedic Brahminism, Zoroastrianism evolved from Iranian Gnosticism, early Christianity subverting Greco-Roman Paganism, Medieval Catharism subverting Roman Catholicism and Pentecostalism subverting mainstream Protestantism. The people involved in the organized religion support the exercise with a prescribed set of beliefs often resembling a legal entity. The concept of religion is used interchangeably with the terms faith or belief system.
     From a strictly religious standpoint, several accounts can explain the historical development of religions. Many Abrahamic religions are founded by enlightened figures establishing a doctrine based on revelations to them. Ethnic religions are primarily based on traditions and spiritualistic guidelines. We can surmise on a concept of progression of revelation regarding most world religions. The patriarchs and prophets played a significant role in Abrahamic religions, the Rishis in Hinduism, the Bodhisatvas in Buddhism, the Tirthankars in Jainism, the Saoshyants in Zoroastrianism and so on. In the Bahai view, religion develops through a series of divine intervention from God.
     Religions are often developed as a cultural matrix which combines a conceptual set of ideas, values, and experiences, which are closely entangled with the feelings, attitudes, and sentiments of the group of people following the religion. There is often a question of whether the concept of a god figure or ‘transcendent absolute’ is instrumental in the organization of religion or not; whether a complete dependence or awareness of a ‘divine’ entity is a necessity or it could be just a set of value system which guides the conscience in a particular prescribed fashion. Such discussions are meaningful in deducing the nature of the social, cultural and psychological behavior of the adherents.
      When we use such a broad definition to explain religious conduct, it may be surmised that almost every culture exhibits a certain degree of ‘religious’ tendency, a certain regulation, conscious or imprecise guiding, and providing models of acceptable behavior. When patterns of activities are built around such dimensions of approved directives, the structure, in the long run, could assume and constitute the historically acceptable form of religion. Most of such organized entities center around designated concepts of god or spiritually transcendent ultimate.
     It is a constant practice for religious believers who subscribe to a certain faith to label others as ‘non-believers’ and many of their actions as ‘superstitious’. The act accompanies a declaration of possessing the essence of knowledge about the ultimate and a statement that anything outside their philosophy is unfounded. The tendency often reflects a certain amount of audacity to assume superiority and exclusiveness of their status and thus viewing the others with ignorance and even irreverence. The concept of god is purely a faith and devotion in the unknown which comes with an obvious assertion and acceptance of superstition, a subscription, and submission to a superior existence. One who truly understands the generosity of that spirit should have reverence to similar belief in whichever fashion it is subscribed. Perhaps the statement can be modified to label certain practices as ‘superstitious’, when they excessively and exclusively embrace and promote a ‘perverse excess of religion’, stressing the importance of miracles, omens, incantations and the like beyond a certain limit. Even then, faith being such a private issue, the sanctity of one’s personal, intimate belief should not be questioned or ridiculed, especially on a nebulous issue as worship.
     Development of religions may be classified as happening in three phases: The ‘Axial Age’, wherein there was very little recorded communication between regions, but religious philosophies emerged based on the profound influence of charismatic thinkers. Examples include the development of religious practices in India, China, Greece, and the ancient Near East, like the notion of Atman in Vedanta philosophy, Platonic realism, and Neo-Platonism in Hellenistic philosophy and that of Tao. The ‘Middle Ages’, found the present day world religions establishing themselves; Christianization of the western world, Buddhist missions in East Asia, rise of Hinduism in the Indian subcontinent, the spread of Islam in the Middle East, central Asia, North Africa and parts of Europe and India. The ‘Modern Period’, perhaps from the 15th century found European colonization and spread of Christianity to northern Africa, Australia, and the Americas. In the twentieth century, the communist regimes in Eastern Europe and China were antireligious. The world population remains more than 75 % as religious, where about 15% identifies as non-religious.
     The Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam originated in the Middle East and form the largest group of adherents, comprising over 53 % of the world population. The Indian religions, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism have about 20% of the world population as followers and the Far Eastern religions which hold about 6.5% and the rest belong to irreligious and other smaller groups. The Abrahamic religions are widely spread around the world mainly because some of them are vigorous proselytizers. Hinduism dates back to many thousands of years with no founders and based on the concept of dharma and karma. The different Indian religions have a common origin, mostly based and deviated from Hindu philosophy and founded by leaders who impressed many followers with their philosophy. Far Eastern religions consist of many concepts like Taoism, Shintoism, Chardogyo, Caodaism, and Yiguandas. Far Eastern Buddhism and Confucianism are included in this group. Apart from these, Iranic religions like Zoroastrianism, Sufism, and Bahia faiths along with African religions form another section of followers.
     In general, a multitude of religions sprouted from far corners of the earth gained popularity and practicing followers based on the fundamentals of their principles, influence of their intellectual leaders, the verve of their proselytizing philosophy and the ease and practicality of observing their principles. Essentially ,they all amount to convincing the believer in the basic concept of the ultimate, controlling power through their particular viewpoint and value systems. The virtues and interests of all the faiths remain to enhance human behavior and motivate them to function through the path of righteousness. The followers mostly directed by the leaders often go beyond the prescribed functions and tenets of their faith and its intentions to promote a variety of self-serving agendas. As human nature has ascertained such of its tendencies through recorded history, consequential changes have resulted in social reorganization to business promotions to mass conversions to the annihilation of cultures and wars. Cultivating a culture of mutual respect, accepting others as they are, and accommodating differences would benefit humanity in tremendous ways.
Intelligent Design: As we cover a topic such as ‘Design of Religion’, we cannot exclude the new entrant into the arena, the ‘Intelligent Design’. The terminology is creating ample confusion as well as controversy in the already rebellious arena of religions and providing tasty fodder for people in the field who can see nothing but black and white and no trace of gray, and they are convinced that their side is all white.
     Intelligent Design theory is based on the hypothesis that life cannot happen by chance but has to be based on some ‘intelligent’ agency putting together certain pieces to have come up with the complex living organisms as we experience around us. As it sounds like a logical explanation which should appease the proponents of creation as well as evolution, it seems to have given rise to more debates than agreements. The natural question which has followed the theory behind such an entity as Intelligent Design is whether it is a religion or not. If it does not fit into the definition of a religion, then how do we accommodate the concept within the discussion where only religious dialogs are allowed? According to definitions of ‘religion’, a supernatural power such as a creator, a god, has to be accepted and revered as in ultimate control where the followers subscribe to an unquestionable entity as in charge. If we receive that entity as anything less, like the term ‘Intelligent Design’, the concept leads to the realms of science manipulated by humans and less ‘sacred’ to earn reverence.
     It is obvious that such a discussion or controversy is based on a concrete belief that ‘religion’ and ‘science’ are two distinct entities traveling perfectly parallel to each other and never having a chance to meet or merge at any point, now or in the future. It seems that the proponents of the two belief systems have unshakable confidence and conviction in their stance that the two viewpoints are mutually exclusive and cannot be argued or accepted as overlapping. Ironically and unfortunately, either science or religion has not been able to conclusively establish the exact nature of life, its origin, its variations, and its purpose. If religions command that the higher power, respectfully recognized as god figure is in total control, all the existing religions in the world only possess certain statements and dogmas that demand to be blindly followed by its believers; no questions asked, no doubts expressed. The scientists, on the other hand, remain dogmatic that there is always an explanation, there are only happenings which can be proven by scientific hypothesis; even if such is not presently available, they are bound to come along, sooner or later. They are adamant that all that is around us can be explained on a logical basis using physics, chemistry, biology and the like. The missing point in the discussion between the two opponents seems to be the answers to the two questions, ‘Who’ does it and ‘How’ it is done! If our simple minds can accept the answers to the above questions as ‘god’ and ’science’ without a blind assumption that the two are not mutually exclusive, that ‘god’ may be something outside our limited understanding and that ‘science’ has come up with answers to many things. Once we can figure it out and modify it with a humble acknowledgment that such matters will ever remain above the reach of human comprehension, at that point we may have an amicable understanding, a consoling perception. Many of us, sadly, may never reach that point.

Dimensions in Devotion

     ‘Divine devotion’, perhaps the closest word in English language, meaning ‘Bhakti’ in Sanskrit, is the sentiment experienced and expressed by religious people who believe in God, the concept of the Ultimate Superior Power. To define or describe ‘devotion’ is complex; it is to be felt, it needs to be sensed. The feeling is different to different people and the experience could be entirely diverse as one submits to it in their own personal manner. To some it may be reverence, to others it may be fear or love, but to most, it is a combination of emotions. The sense of devotion also varies as they face different situations and at different stages of life. Devotion affects or influences people to various degrees, extending from extreme submission to a customary, even convenient adaptation to situations. For most, it is a constant, subconscious understanding and acceptance of the existence of a higher power, which they believe must have authority or influence in whatever happens around them, within them and to everything that affects them. Such a presence and conviction dictates them to follow the guidelines instilled in them, depending on the circumstances they were brought up and what they have compiled within them through their exposure to their religious beliefs.
     But if one truly believes in the existence of a decisive higher power, such an enormous entity which manifests itself and manipulates all that is there to be seen or felt, then it should make sense that such power shall be beyond the confines of anyone’s mind, way beyond human comprehension. That extreme concept has to be exceeding the limits of any religious definitions and dictations. Such an immense power cannot be contained by all the scriptures available and will surpass 241 the most superlative human imagination. The insignificance of a human being in comparison to its role or importance in the colossal context of the cosmos has to be obvious to even the least imaginative of our comprehension and consequently, any grandiose intent that anything can be altered by our effort will simply be ludicrous. If we are humble, convinced and comfortable with that reality, it behooves to establish that even the most ardent effort by the most profound means of devotion or prayer may not be able to alter the eventual ‘plans’ of the master architect. Nevertheless, sincere devotion and total submission with commitment can and should be able to bring in peace and salvation from mental misery to someone who chooses to focus in that direction. Even with less than total adherence, a belief in the ultimate power and the acceptance of our own limitations can be a major asset in tolerating the vicissitudes of life.
     If we extend such a philosophic discussion and apply it to the approach by the various religions to claim superiority of controlling such an enormity or declare to possess the unique means to attain it, such argument should not be appealing to logic and common sense. Such proposals should naturally be questioned by sensible minds and intelligent leaders. The very fact that even an attempt in that direction is seldom seen is ample evidence of the sensitivity and exclusiveness of the subject.
     How do we examine the issue of devotion as it applies to devotees from the different faiths and the role it plays in their daily lives? For those who have unquestionable belief and unwavering acceptance of a Universal Power dictating and determining everything imaginable, ‘devotion’ is the biggest and best commitment they can live on. The ultimate, complete submission and surrender without a trace of doubt in the concept of God is the confidence and assurance that irrespective of the fluctuations in life, the mind stays anchored in the destiny dictated by that concept. During crises, such belief protects them and strengthens their resolve to meet the challenges. During happier times, the same belief enhances their conviction and moderates their actions to behave in certain principled ways of life. Ideally, those who subscribe to such belief and mold their life along the doctrines dictated by higher religious principles should turn out to be the model citizens. Such individuals who have reverence to the power of the creator and accept the enormity of and in all what He does, appreciating the spark of divinity in whatever is around them, there should be obvious respect and acceptance to all that He has created. They should be able to see such formations only as extensions of Him, the creator. When there are doubts and argument that while one has total reverence for the creator, they do not feel compelled for a need or logic in extending the same respect to all what He has created. As one respects the producer, the argument is that similar respect is not needed to be extended to the product. It will be desirable to cultivate a philosophy that what comes out of the divine should share a certain degree of divinity with its origin and consequently everything that surrounds us is a reflection of such holiness and thus demanding respectability. Such a philosophy inculcated into and practiced by the believers can generate and propagate a sense of appreciation and acceptance of all that is around us, be it humans, animals, plants or planets, a certain universal affiliation, respect, and love.
     Unfortunately, many of the conflicts that consume us and clashes that destroy us originate from the differences of values set in humans based on religious convictions and understanding of false superiority over others. As much as acceptance of divinity and following its glory can and should elevate human behavior, the opposite is often observed, mostly out of ignorance or misinformation. Sadly the structured leadership available to provide guidance and inspiration in matters of spirituality and theology are geared to concentrate on propagating own assumptions which consequently glorify a particular methodology over others. If we study the way religious institutions originated, have grown and prospered, it is easy to understand the present state of affairs where each of them remains competitive in proving superiority and often trying to degrade others.
     The majority of believers are content with the glory of their own faith and the potency in their devotion without ever getting caught up in the controversy. Such people, convinced and comfortable with the Supreme the way they understand, approach and accept Him and the practice of any other group should be totally inconsequential to them.
     Devotion to God is perhaps the most pristine of emotions if applied and practiced as it is prescribed by the sacred scriptures. The ideal application should be a total surrender to the ultimate reality, with complete willingness to devote one’s life in the most glorious manner as it is offered, since human life is perceived to be the highest form of creation. That kind of devotion also bestows on the devotee a certain requirement of acceptance of responsibility to be of service to god and all that are reflections of God. It comes with a generous implication that one should be willing and eager to devote one’s life to the highest form of service to support, nurture and provide all that is expected of human life. That we are capable of such submission implies an expectation of a character possessing the best of human values; kindness, compassion, respect, generosity, dedication, willingness to serve and the most sublime of emotions, unconditional love. Entirely and merely devoting life to pray for salvation and deliverance, totally submitting to the mercy of God without kindness and open acceptance to serve the causes and needs of humanity will not justify the definitions of divine devotion. Prayer without dedication to duties shall satisfy only selfish gratification, appealing to personal gains.
     If Divine devotion is practiced and applied in the majestic way it is meant to be, such a deed should translate into the benefit of fellow human beings and all the worthy causes pertaining to nature in general. Misguided diversion without a proper understanding of the essence of the concept or its improper application to promote vested, limited interests defeats the magnanimous intent for which it stands.
     Being such a potentially powerful entity, Divine devotion should be utilized and diverted for creative application. Religious leaders should influence their followers and instruct them in the constructive use of their devotion and apply it for humanity in general. Even though many religious institutions are doing monumental work in helping a variety of humanitarian situations, if we could envision a structure where there is a concerted effort of the various factions compiling their energy and resources together, the results can be phenomenal. Quite often charitable endeavors pursued by religious entities are donated with a requisite of subtle benefits in return. Instead, if we could envision and invent universal methods and processes where all the religions unite and work in the name of God, such endeavors can be enormous. The outcome of such measures can provide incredible impetus and assets to the human family and their common causes.
     Utilizing the respective religious values as prescribed by their individual teachings and dictated and propagated by their creditable saints and prophets, each group can formulate guidelines and collectively provide the human family with prosperity in terms of their spiritual and materialistic needs. Similar to the energy we consume, irrespective of its nature whether it is hydroelectric, thermal, nuclear, solar or something else, the religions can unite and divert their spiritual energy towards the benefit of all the humans together. What is unfortunately found in today’s world is that such energy, such power generated through religious philosophic entities competes with one other, each claiming supremacy over the others and trying to undermine each other. The amazing potential of the sacred treasure, while capable of splendidly enhancing the human race if it were used symbiotically, is often diverted and spent on extinguishing the competition with a different philosophy, if given a chance and if it were ever possible.
     Perhaps the most painful and pitiful insult to all of us belonging to the human race is that the moderate, sensible, intelligent and tolerant majority of us are watching and allowing such occurrences surrounding us to this modern day and age. If even a fraction of us with a conscience and morality deep within our minds, can sense the injustice and feel a certain obligation and motivation to oppose such destruction, much can be accomplished to reverse the trend. Unfortunately, as events of our history can attest, the passionate performers have mostly believed in the wrong philosophy and often succeeded, whereas the honorable and righteous majority remained to be the meekly silent witnesses.
     As we examine the influence of Divine devotion in the daily life of an average individual, it becomes obvious that a good majority admits acknowledging its presence in them. In reality, if such acceptance does not influence their decisions or actions even to a degree of semiconscious expression, then the claim remains irrelevant and inconsequential. But fortunately to most, there is a recognizable element of discipline dictated by such beliefs which guides their moral conscience and diverts their actions within a certain acceptable and approved realm of ethical codes. The splendor that we generously witness and enjoy in the nature of human behavior can be attributed to their upbringing, instilling the value system born out of their respective religious philosophies. If there is a universal movement initiated to expand such a sphere of religious influence and explore avenues to accommodate teachings to embrace everything under the mercy of the one magnificent supreme power, the benefits can be universal. Such a broad acceptance by the human mind is what is needed for us to step into the future which can be claimed as true progress in terms of civilization.
     As we are discussing divine devotion and analyze how different sections approach the focus of reaching out to god, it may be prudent to look into the many methods and practices instituted by the numerous religious teachings. Prayers are structured into almost all religious worships, an integral part of their devotional approach. Based on the core belief and the ingrained values propagated by each faith, the methods, the meaning, and significance may vary, but essentially there is generous similarity in the philosophy of prayers. Essentially the source of prayers or practice of worship is established based on how each faith identifies the relationship between god and the believers of that particular faith. The connotations and the significance of prayers vary between religions, but the essence of the practice remains about the same with all. Prayer is basically an attempt to communicate with God, establishing a relationship between the divinity and the devotee. It may be in the form of an appeal, a request or even a commitment acknowledging a higher presence and submission of one’s soul to the mercy of the Almighty. Prayers are offered often with the purpose of attaining some gains, either relieving the burden of suffering or emotions of guilt or duress of daily life, shifting the devotee’s load onto a focus they can confide. Prayers essentially are wishing for mercy and favors from a benevolent and powerful superior.
     The practice of worship, its methods, formats and what it means to the worshipper vary tremendously even within the same system of belief and faith. It can be a silent communication with the god, whether at a designated time and place or it may be ingrained into the very existence of the person, supervising his every thought and action. Many devotees perform worship in an organized fashion 245 following certain elaborate, ritualistic process, incorporating recitation or chanting or observing other penances. Many do it privately, either individually or along with family members, in a chosen area of the homes. Collectively prayers are organized by religious groups in elaborately created ‘abodes of gods’ like churches, mosques, temples, synagogues and other institutions. Depending on the prescriptions of their particular theological authorizations, prayers are conducted with assistance from the appointed priests. According to the beliefs, such places are assumed to exude divine presence, meeting the demands and requirements of the devotees who congregate there and collectively appeal to divinity. The practice of each religion varies according to their spiritual traditions and includes many different devotional routines; the common practices include reading of scriptures, singing the glory of god or chanting from certain prescribed texts.
Judaism: Traditionally, Jews are supposed to be praying three times a day and more often on special religious days. They universally use the prayer book ‘Siddur’, containing a set of daily prayers. Jewish prayer is of two aspects, namely Kavanah, the intention and Keva being the ritualistic aspect. The important Jewish prayers are the Shema Yisrael, ‘Hear O Israel’ and the Amidah, the ‘standing prayer’. Jewish people prefer communal prayer to individual prayer, usually about ten adult males congregating to pray.
Christianity: Depending on the sects of Christians, prayers vary to a great deal. The most common of Christian prayer is the Lord’s Prayer, which is said to be how Jesus taught his disciples to pray. Christians pray to God in general or to the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit. Catholics pray also to the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. Usually, the prayers end with ‘Amen’ or ‘In Jesus’ or ‘In the name of Christ’. The prayers are usually organized in churches on Sundays, guided by a priest or minister who also gives a sermon explaining virtuous living. Prayers also are done at home collectively by family members or as preferred by individuals.
Islam: Muslims have a brief, ritualistic prayer, five times a day, facing the Kaaba in Mecca, the birthplace of Mohammed. The prayer is called Salah in Arabic. They do it individually from wherever they are during the designated prayer time or collectively at the mosques, where the muezzin supervises them. While praying, Muslims cover their heads and sit on folded knees, kneeling and touching their forehead on the ground, following certain prescribed movements. They also pray at other times and for certain special reasons.
Buddhism: There is often meditation accompanying Buddhist prayers. It is also a supportive practice to study of scriptures. According to Gautam Buddha, human beings can be liberated and enlightened through meditation and contemplation. Prayer is seen as having a supportive role in enhancing ones attempt in helping other beings. Even though Buddha emphasized on individual discipline and did not insist on prayers as a modality, many of the followers pray to Buddha, pleading for favors.
Hinduism: Hindus have many forms of prayers, collectively at the temples conducted by the priests or at the prayer rooms set up at homes. Hindus pray on the ultimate Brahman or to the trinities of creation, preservation or destruction, to their incarnations, or to any or many forms of their personal gods (ishtadevathas). Prayers include a variety of ritualistic customs, chanting of time-honored mantras from their Vedic traditions, invocations of bhajans in praise of gods, or through deep meditations focusing on the Ultimate. Their ritualistic dictations vary according to the many traditions of their regions, their sects, and the philosophy they have been following for generations.
There is also the so-called rationalistic and experimental approach of prayers focusing on divinity through philosophy or contemplation, enabling the praying person to gain direct experience. Many religions incorporate meditation as part of their prayer process, wherein the mind is focused intensely to attain a higher level of consciousness. Meditation is more or less a mental inquiry and achieved through the process of reaching a state of peace with oneself. Methods of meditation vary but essentially it is a spiritually oriented religious practice, which is claimed to take the perfect practitioner to higher levels of understanding and tolerance. The ideal philosophy of meditation is to get the mind into a consistently contemplative status, which can elevate our existence to a level beyond the turbulence of common worldly sufferings.