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, 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.