Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Maharaja Libel Case

Pushtimarg has been around for 500+ years now and has witnessed many changes. Any sincere follower of Pushtimarg would have come across the mentions of the Maharaja Libel case. It took place around 150 years ago in the 1860s in a Mumbai court of the British East India Company rule. It is a significant event in Pushtimarg history.

For the first time, a Pushtimargiya Aacharya (aka Gusain/Goswami Baalak) was subjected to a summon to appear in the court of law. There were many charges and countercharges between the parties.

The entire report was published as a book and is available online for reading. It should be read by sincere followers of Pushtimarg to understand the then social context and community practices and be aware of today's context.



Here are some of the quotes of Jadunathjee Brijrattonjee Maharaj examined by Mr. Anstey and Mr. Bayley.
"I am the plaintiff in this action, and am above thirty-five years of age. I have never been in a Court of Justice in my life before. To my knowledge no other Maharaj has attended in a Court of Justice.
In no book written by Vallabhacharya is it inculcated that the Maharajas are to be worshipped as Gods.
It is not inculcated in that commentary or in any other book of the sect, that one should offer his wife and daughter to the Maharaj.

I convened a meeting to discuss the question of widow remarriage; in consequence of a note addressed to me by Narmadashanker. ... Narmadashanker said the Shastras may be followed when advisable, or not. I said we must acknowledge all the Shastras; and my opinion was that, if the Shastras allowed, remarriages might take place, but not otherwise. I have seen no authority in the Shastras for remarriages. But I have no objection personally thereto. In my sect remarriages take place, and I don't prohibit them. 
I am a man, and not a God. I am a man and a Guru to my followers. I am not an incarnation of the Deity and I am not aware that hitherto any of my followers has ever regarded me as a God, or an incarnation of God. The words Agnee-swarup (form of fire) is not applied to us.

The story of the 252 and of the 84 is not considered a book of authority in our sect.
I have never seen the water from a Maharaj's lungotee rinsed and drunk by the Vaishnavas. The "joothan" ( remnants of food ) left by the Maharajas is eaten like that of all other Gurus.
I have not read in "Guru Seva" that all the Vallabhacharya Gosainjees are to be considered as incarnations of God. Ever since I arrived at a proper age I have told my followers not to believe in this doctrine.
I have married two wives. I married before I set out for Beyt, and was away for two years from my second wife, who was then of the age of nine or nine and a half years. She came to live with me at the age of thirteen. 
I have said that adultery is a great sin according to the Shastras of my sect."
These are important points that needed clarifications as even today, some vaishnavs carry the misunderstandings. Though Jadunathji Maharaja made a good testimony, the defendant Karsondas Mulji was not held libel for publishing an outcry against the alleged immoral conduct of the Maharaja. Whenever there is a lack of an oversight or accountability, the mediocrity and immorality creeps in and if the person has high vested power, it becomes a socially undesirable episode. The solution lies in education - the well-learned followers would make the Guru also better and vice-versa.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

MOOCs in Pushtimarg

Education is going through a transformation these days with the help of technology. There are many online learning platforms such as Coursera and EdX that provide us the opportunity to learn almost any subject in higher education from the convenience of our sofa. Because of the large number of students (sometimes 100,000+) registering for their courses, they are also called Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs.

If we take a look at the 500+ years history of Pushtimarg, we can see that Shri Vallabhacharya, his descendants and many learned scholars (Shastrijis) had conducted mass educational programs in subjects of spirituality and religious practices. These programs are traditionally referred to as Katha or Pravachan and generally last a week or so. In today's terminology, they could be called Massive Open Courses (MOCs).

With the rise of the internet, Pushtimarg has also become modern and now we can learn about various topics online from many websites. However, pushtimarg.net has been at the forefront in this transformative time. First, it offered the text material of various precious books, then offered the audio of the various courses conducted by Shri Shyamubava and his team and recently also started offering the video lectures. It is a great service to the Pushtimargiya community spread across the world who can now learn about Pushtimarg through the visual interface of a MOOC.

In the recently concluded spring MOOC on the Sarvottam Stotra (a hymn composed by Shri Vitthaleshji to glorify Shri Vallabhacharya, his father and the founder of Pushtimarg), Shri Shyamubava explained the meaning of the four of the 108 names.

In particular, he explained the name  सान्निध्यमात्रदत्त  श्रीकृष्णप्रेम  (Saannidhya maatra datt Shri Krushna Prem) very well by comparative analysis between Hindu and Persian philosophies. He also quoted the religious philosophers such as Zarathustra, Moses, Buddha, Mahavir, Mohhammad and Christ to explain how they also exhibited the same quality as that of Vallabhacharya of giving love of the Lord to anyone who comes close to them. During the course, Shyamubava also clears the misconceptions and malpractices among some Pushtimargiya vaishnavs and aacharyas of staying away from understanding other religions or even other branches of Hinduism.

Let there be more MOOCs spreading the knowledge and love and let us all keep learning.

Monday, January 07, 2013

The Nature of Existence

At some point or the other we experience the ultimate inquisitiveness about our real form, the nature, the god, the cosmos, the consciousness etc. It is very important to take such an opportunity and ponder over these topics and if possible learn from the experts. That is precisely what Roger Nygard did and produced the documentary movie called The Nature of Existence.

He selected the most difficult 85 questions and set out to find answers by interviewing people from different spheres of life. These interviews include a wide variety of religious, scientific, and spiritual subjects: from Christian preachers and priests, to Jewish rabbis, Taoists, Buddhist monks, Indian spiritualists, a Sikh, a Jain teacher, a Gandhian, atheists, an astrophysicist, an evolutionary biologist, a string theorist, a neurotheologist, a psychologist, an anthropologist, some friends and even a waitress. He presents the content in an easy going way in a conceptual as well as chronological order as his journey takes him to different places during 2005-2009. Some of the quotes from the movie:

"Happiness seems to be related to several different neural transmitters such as dopamine and serotonin." - Dr. Andrew Newberg, Director of Clinical Nuclear Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, author of Why God Won’t Go Away
"Sometimes people pray hard for miracles and a miracle happens. Miracle being something very very unlikely, but the truth is that the most unlikely thing of all would be if no unlikely thing happened." - Leonard Susskind, Professor of Theoretical Physics, Stanford University.
"One of our purposes is to witness the universe." - Sylvester James Gates, Professor of Physics, University of Maryland
"The one thing we can say about God is that he exists. He is. He exists in a state of absolute-isness." - Rabbi Boruch Kaplan, Jerusalem
 It is a documentary directed and produced by Roger that was intriguing, funny and challenging for him. He succeeded in getting the sound bites from a large number of relevant people. However, there are even larger number of people whom he might not have been able to reach out. The conclusion he reached for the answers to his quest was that it is a journey and not an absolute state. Similarly we should continue the exploration and in the process enrich our cognition about the spirituality and improve the quality of our lives.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

"Anu" in Anubhashya and Vedic Models

Anubhashya is one of the foundational scriptures of the Shuddhadwait school of philosophy and Pushtimarg branch of Hinduism religion. It was written by Vallabhacharya as a commentary on the Brahmsutra which was composed by Badarayan Vyas to summarize the various Upanishads.

What is the meaning of "Anu" in the Anubhashya? There are three different possibilities:
  1. Brahm is omnipresent but is also saakaar and so can be atomic ( अण्वपि ब्रह्म व्यापकं भवति कृष्ण यशोदाक्रोडे स्थितोऽपि सकल जगदाधारो भवति I ). To signify the atomic nature of Brahm, the commentary is called Anu-Bhashya.
  2.  Vallabhacharya used to compose his work in two forms - a sutra (small) form and an expanded form. He might have referred the sutra form commentary on Brahmsutra as Anu and the expanded form as Bhashya. Over time the two forms got merged and was called Anubhashya
  3.  Vallabhacharya had studied under a Madhva guru. Madhvacharya originited the hierarchical summarization analysis (summaries of the whole Brahmsutra, each Adhyay, each section, each Adhikaran and each Sutra). He had called one of the summaries as Anubhashya and since Vallabhacharya had incorporated some of his verses in the commentary, out of respect for Madhvacharya he called his commentary also Anubhashya.
This is explained by Shri Shyam Manohar Goswami in the ongoing discourse on Anubhashya available from pushtimarg.net. He also explains nicely the Adhikaran thought process for Vedic literature composition consisting of five stages - Vishay(subject), Samshay(doubts), Purva Paksha(prior disagreeing views), Uttar Paksha(the views put forward) and Sangati(contextual relevance). The classification system used for subdividing a Vedic work has four classes - Samanvay(co-ordination), Avirodh(non-contradiction), Saadhan(means) and Fal(result) and in Pushtimargiya literature, we find Samanvay=Pramaam(basis) and Avirodh=Pramey(theorem).

On the second day of the discourse, he explains the modeling framework used in the Vedic times which appears to be similar to the modern scientific modeling. Since the Vedic literature is so vast, how can we create Samanvay( or Avirodh) for many different verses. If we can have a model of a specific type of Avirodh, then we can account for similar verses encountered later without having to establish the Avirodh for each different instance of the same model. A model in this sense is a generalized encapsulation of the common properties pertaining to the different instances of a subject matter of interest. In the modern science, we develop different types of models for analysis( and synthesis) of a natural phenomenon. These models can be mathematical, computational, statistical, dynamical, chemical or biological and represent the real phenomenon upto an error threshold. Today we can possibly develop a computational linguistic model of Vedic verses that can perform syntactic, semantic and pragmatic analysis of the verse to decide if it qualifies for an Avirodh established earlier and therefore mimic the Vedic modeling approach, only faster!


Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Spirit Molecule

Society, Science and Spirituality - these are the three fundamental building blocks of human existence.

Society : We are social animals. We long to interact with and serve other human beings and enrich our lives.
Science : We have the curiosity to understand the nature and its elements and make best use of it to advance our existence.
Spirituality : We have experienced at some point in time the deep inquisitiveness to understand what is our real form, what is our connection to the reality and what and how are the higher realms of reality?

The goal of our life should be Socio-Sciento-Spiritual advancement.

Recently a movie called The Spirit Molecule was released. It is a documentary with many scientists explaining/conjecturing the role of Di-Methyl-Tryptamine (DMT) drug to facilitate the experience of higher levels of consciousness. It is based on a very exciting but limited research, nonetheless promising one. We are due for a paradigm shift in our understanding of the connection between science and spirituality. We would need many more hypotheses researched in this century and hope some breakthroughs are achieved.

Most of our religions and religious texts are outdated given the scientific contexts in which they were written. Most of the practitioners - preachers and followers - are either semi-literate or follow out of social respect and not with a firm conviction. The scientific context has changed and today we have access to better tools to probe nature and natural phenomena, however we should also remember that humanity is an extremely tiny force compared to the vastness of the spatio-temporal cosmic context in which we exist. Be humble but committed in the pursuit of the Socio-Sciento-Spiritual advancement.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Great Books on Shuddhadwait Philosophy available online

It is very important for any philosophically inclined person or a follower of a school of thought to revise the fundamental knowledge from time to time. There are a number of books written on the Shuddhadwait philosophy in the past 5 centuries. However many of them remain in the confines of private libraries of some individuals, temples or trusts of the descendants of the original founder of Pushtimarg, Vallabhacharya. It would be really nice if these books are made easily accessible to the scholarly community for study and research - as the knowledge increases by sharing.

There is a hope though. Thanks to the internet, digital technology and goodwill of people behind Pushtimarg.net site, a large number of such valuable books as Anubhashya, Vidvanmandan, Subodhini, Tattvarth Dip Nibandh, Shodashgranth etc are now available on their website's Books section. The books are freely downloadable (a very kind gesture), so you can read them at your convenience.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Upvaas

Tomorrow is Vallabhacharya's appearance day as it happens on the 11th called Varuthini Ekadashi. So if you are doing  a fast, by all means do it, but most importantly do an Upvaas by either visiting one of his 84 Baithaks or studying his books and feeling close to him. It should be interesting to understand how this Upvaas (उपवास) phenomenon came into existence and then decide what is its relevance today.

In ancient times, the daily activities people used to do were very limited and time consuming - a bit of farming or hunting, cooking the meal, a bit of socializing and repeat the cycle before it gets dark. Since there was no refrigeration, they depended heavily on grains as "stored" food and since there wasn't electric motor controlled flour mills, they needed to manually stone-grind the grains to make flour or burn lot of firewood to boil them in open air. This cooking was real time consuming process of the largely illiterate folks depriving them any opportunity to listen to the discourses from Brahmin (ब्राह्मण = a learned person) and acquire higher knowledge about life.

So Brahmins came up with a formula called Upvaas. Once in a fortnight, you should not spend time on cooking the grains and instead eat fresh fruits and vegetables which needed no or very little cooking. And also eat only once on that day. This process will save you some time that you can use to "Up+vass" (nearby sit) to a learned man and listen attentively to his teachings about higher aspects of life that will help you live a better, more fulfilling life. The side benefits would be learning of self-control and detachment, a good stamina building exercise for hard times and cleansing the stomach of any irregularity thus improving your health. The folks were sold on this and thus started the Upvaas tradition on 11th of every fortnight. The Brahmins would also receive gifts (food grains etc) in return from the people, so it was a win-win situation.

Fast forward to today. 1) People are not illiterate (at least the ones reading this blog) 2) The cooking activity is not that much time consuming - grain or no grain and 3) People no longer need to "sit nearby" physically to a learned person to receive his/her teachings thanks to the scientific advancements. That is to say, you can continue to do physical Doorvaas (दूर:वास) and still acquire knowledge by mental Upvaas or instrument-facilitated Upvaas (उपकरण-साधीत उपवास). (e.g. you can do Upvaas of Mumbai-based Shyamubava by listening to his online pravachan or by making a phone call or a video chat). In fact we can choose whom to listen and whom not, as well as verify their teachings with respect to the original and modern scriptures that are available in text form (digital or physical) compared to the verbal only form of ancient times.

Where does that leave us with regard to Upvaas? The answer will come from its definition explained above. Upvaas is not a discrete phenomenon as set at the beginning, it is a continuous phenomenon. Right from the time we are born to our last breath, we stay somewhere or the other i.e. we do Vaas. It's up to us to make that an Upvaas (staying at a good place) or Apvaas (staying at a bad place). Upvaas can be performed any time for any period e.g. you can say "today evening I'm gonna do Upvaas of Shree Vallabhacharya by studying Anu-Bhashya" or "Wow, we did Upvaas of Shrinathji for 3 days at Nathdwara." Better than Upvaas is Antahvaas (अन्तःवास or अन्तेवास) meaning staying inside a divine environment. If you perform Gruhseva (house worship of a deity), you are covered for Upvaas all the time, it could even become Antahvaas if your consciousness is such that it is the Lord's house in which you are living as a servant.

Upvaas has very little to do with food - just eat Sattvik food and you are good to go. The word Falahar (फलाहार) was used to suggest eating only fruits, but today it means all kinds of fancy food preparations that "conform" to the food-standards of doing an "upvaas" e.g. flour of some grains, salt of certain kind and many other on-the-edge items. Lest you eat outside the standard, your Upvaas is gone! Give me a break, people. It is also an old joke now that many a people would do Upvaas to have a delicious sumptuous meal.

So, in conclusion, Upvaas is not a synonym for fast. A fast can have many benefits, but the main one was supposedly to be able to do Upvaas. On the other hand, Upvaas doesn't need a fixed date, it could be done any time, however brief or long. Main goal of Upvaas is to uplift your consciousness with higher knowledge and understanding, primarily about the Supreme. Upvaas is nothing but an education process.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Compatibility of Religion and Science

Religion and Science have been at odds since long in Europe. We know from the medieval history about the famous Galileo controversy where the Catholic Church prosecuted him and forced him to disown the heliocentric theory. To counter the brutal persecution of scientists by religious groups, some illuminati(enlightened) retaliated violently as depicted in the movie Angels and Demons starring Evan McGregor and Tom Hanks.

Well, today is the birth anniversary of Galileo Galilei (Feb 15, 1564 - Jan 8 1642), one of the earliest modern scientists. As if timed for the occasion, 3 days ago Church of England's Synod passed a motion calling the Church leaders to emphasize the compatibility of belief in God and science, reports BBC :
Dr Capon's motion has come in response to what many in the Church perceive as a growing pressure on the public to choose between the merits of either religion or science.

A former lecturer in computer science, Dr Capon said atheists were misleading the public when they claimed science and religion are incompatible.

He believed that some popular science and nature programmes also repeated this line too easily, ignoring the fact that many scientists hold spiritual beliefs.
While this attempt is appreciated, one important difference remains is that the Western culture still maintains the duality between Science and Religion while the Indian spiritual traditions maintained the pure non-dual perspective on these and other issues as evident in Vallabhacharya's famous definition of devotion (Tattvartha Dip Nibandh Shastrartha Prakaran Karika 45):

माहात्म्यज्ञानपूर्वस्तु सुदृढः सर्वतोऽधिकः ।
स्नेहोभक्तिरिति प्रोक्तः तयार्मुक्ति: नचान्यथा।।

As per this verse, Science is the pre-requisite for devotion (love for God) which is the highest form of Religion. While some shallow devotees might argue that he is referring to only the scriptural or religious knowledge, the fact is if they truly believe in Vallabhacharya's philosophy of Shuddhadwait Brahmvaad, everything that is there is nothing but a manifestation of that Pure Supreme and thus even the modern science can and should be understood and appreciated and in fact in most cases it leads to better devotional steadfastness. By the same argument, even the religions other than one's own are His manifestations and thus can and should be understood and appreciated within one's capacity. Those who fight in the name of religions, can't be called religious fundamentalists as they know nothing about the 'fundamentals', they are religious shallowists!

Back to science and religion debate, here is a nice TED talk delivered by the evangelist Rev Billy Graham on Technology and Faith. It falls a little short on the compatibility of the religion and science though, as he goes overboard on evangelizing Christianity and resurrection than unifying the duality.