Arsha Vidya Pitham, Saylorsburg, PA

A Sage for All Ages

Tributes by T. R. Jawahar

Should a liberal person, a journo at that, oppose conversions? Does religious freedom include right to convert others? This and many more. To me, the truth was obvious, as revealed by my spontaneous aversion to the Pope’s call, but it defied articulation and worse, acceptance, at least in the mainstream. This was when the Swamiji came out with stunning arguments against religious conversions. His declaration that conversion ‘tantamount to violence,’ at one stroke, dismissed all self-doubt and actually emboldened me to make it a matter of conviction, personal,  professional and patriotic. And I was just one in a crowd of many who were wallowing in the same self-defeating muck of foolish tolerance of the intolerant and coy acquiescence to their mischief. And the impact was not confined to individuals like me but created world-wide ripples.

For the first time, Om challenged Rome in the language it understood and the message has truly gone home. Shorn of the semantic sophistry and the secular smokescreen, conversions were shown up for what they are: cheap marketing tricks to enlarge the flock and through that, enhance political control. While it is puerile to believe that the attempts to convert, which is deemed a religious calling by expansionist, exclusivist faiths and their followers, will abate, Swamiji has certainly legitimized the opposition to it, lent the issue voice and vocabulary, reversed the debate and brought it to the global intellectual table. His formulation that conversion is an assault on human rights is a  masterstroke that gives a perspective in the modern idiom and no surprise therefore that even the UN has taken note of it. But better still, several ‘pagan’ faiths world over which were wiped out by the onslaught of evangelizing, aggressive religions, are now trying to stage a comeback and reclaim their lost, rightful place, in history and geography too. In that, Swamiji’s campaign can be compared to Swami Vivekananda’s US Parliament of Religions coup last century.

But to dub Swamiji as a mere agitationist against conversions is to trivialize his real worth. His opposition flowed from a larger dharmic world view that Īśvara can be attained by many ways by any seeker and He has no ‘particular address nor any sole franchisee’. Swamiji’s mantra: ‘There is not one god; there is only God!’ It is with this unassailable wisdom that he unapologetically convinced an influential Jewish forum in Israel recently that ‘Hindus were not idolaters but saw, and therefore, worshipped divinity in all forms’. To the familiar question on everyone’s lips ‘Should I believe in God’, Swamiji’s nonchalant reply always is ‘Not unless you want to lend him five hundred rupees’! For Swamiji, the almighty is not a matter of belief, but understanding. Reason why he teaches and others listen!

While Swamiji is at the vanguard in protecting and promoting sanātana-dharma, his concern for the ‘dharmī’ too is abiding. This spiritual master is a man ‘for’ the world too: For him, service to society also is Īśvara and the organizations he has spawned, like Aim for Seva, render stupendous services in the fields of education, healthcare, vocational training, women’s emancipation, tribal welfare etc. The Acharya Sabha that he launched a few years back seeks to bring various sampradāya, traditions on a single platform on issues concerning the Hindu society and faith. This Sabha, for instance, is in the forefront of a movement to extricate temples from the grip of a ‘secular’ State. He is the moving spirit behind many such auspicious ventures and physically moves around a lot too.

He is a ceaseless globe-trotter and has ashrams and audiences in Bharath and beyond. But he relishes Rishikesh on the banks of the Ganga the most. Swamiji recently turned 80 and was feted. For a spiritualist on an eternal quest, age 80 is a minor mortal milestone. But for the legions of his admirers and disciples it was an occasion for rendering guru-dakṣiṇa, not of material things, but as an emotional acknowledgement of a man whose message lent meaning to their lives. Sages like him have always sustained and enriched this ancient land. They carry in their soul the undying torch of truth and the undying spring of compassion. Blessed are those, ‘objective’ journos included, who come into their orbit! śrī gurubhyo namaḥ.

(The author, a chartered and cost-accountant by qualification, is one of the top journalists in India. Jawahar is the Editor-in-Chief of Talk Media Publications and the Chairman and Managing  Director of News Today and Maalai Sudar. He is devoted to the cause of Hinduism and its traditions.)

Lord Daksinamurti

In the vision of the Veda, this creation is a manifestation of the Lord. Being the cause, he is all knowledge, especially spiritual knowledge. We have a name for that Lord Daksinamurti.

The Lord presented in this form as Dakṣiṇāmūrti is the one who has eight aspects. The first five aspects are thefive elements. In the Veda the world is presented in the form of five elements—ākāśa, space,which includes time; vāyu, air; agni, fire; āpa, water; and pṛthivī, earth.

In this Vedic model of the universe, the five elements are non-separate from the Lord. In fact, these five elements constitute the Lord’s form, which is this universe.

The next two aspects are represented by the sun and the moon.

When, as an individual, I look at this world, what stands out in the sky are the sun and moon.

The moon represents all planets other than earth, and the sun represents allluminous bodies.

The eighth aspect is me, the jīva—the one who is looking at the world.

These eight aspects are to be understood as one whole. This is the Lord.

When we look at the form of Dakṣiṇāmūrti, we can see representations of the five elements. Space, ākāśa, is represented by a ḍamaru, a drum, in his right hand. In order to show space in a sculpture, it needs to be enclosed.

Empty space is enclosed in the ḍamaru, enabling it to issue sound, or śabda.

Next, vāyu, air, is represented by Dakṣiṇāmūrti’s hair with the bandana, the band, holding his hair in place against the wind. Bandana is a Sanskrit word which comes from the root band, to bind.

In his left hand, you will see a torch, which represents agni, fire.

Āpa, water, is shown by the Gaṅga, in the form of a Goddess, which you can see on Dakṣiṇāmūrti’s head.

Pṛthivī, the earth, is represented by the whole idol.

Then there are people, the jīvas, Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanātana and Sanatsujāta, who are the disciples of Dakṣiṇāmūrti, sitting at the base of sculpture.

The sun and moon are also shown in this form of the Lord.

On the left side of Dakṣiṇāmūrti you will find a crescent moon, and on his right side there is a circle, representing the sun—a whole circle.

So we see five elements, two planets and the jīva constituting the aṣṭa-mūrti-bhṛt, the Lord of these eight factors that are the whole.

You can worship Dakṣiṇāmūrti as the Lord, the one who is aṣṭa-mūrti-bhṛt, or you can invoke him as a teacher, because he also is in the form of a teacher.

His very sitting posture, āsana, is the teacher’s āsana. What does he teach? Look at his hand gesture. That shows wha the teaches. His index finger, the one we use to point at others, represents the ahaṅkāra, the ego.

The other three fingers represent your body, deha, mind, antaḥkaraņa and sense organs, prāņa.

They also may be seen as the three bodies, śarīras, the gross, subtle, and causal. This is what the jīva mistakes himself to be. The aṅguṣṭha, the thumb, represents the Lord, the puruṣa. It is away from the rest of the fingers of the hand, yet at the same time, the fingers have no strength without it.

In this gesture, mūdra, in Dakṣiṇāmūrti’s right hand, the thumb joins the other fingers to form a circle, teaching that the jīva, who takes himself to be the body, mind and senses, is the whole. The circular hand gesture visually states the entire upadeśa, teaching: tat tvam asi, “You are That.” Just as a circle has no beginning or end, you are the whole. That is the final word about you. Nobody can improve upon that vision; no culture can improve upon it.

Even in heaven, it cannot be improved upon, for the whole includes heaven. Therefore, you have the final word here, because you are everything. It is better that you know it. That teaching is contained in the Veda, represented by the palm leaves in the left hand of Dakṣiṇāmūrti. And to understand this, you require a mind that has assimilated certain values and attitudes and has developed a capacity to think in a proper and sustained way.

This can be acquired by various spiritual disciplines represented here by a japa-māla, The fact that the Lord himself is a teacher, a guru, means that any teacher is looked upon as a source of knowledge. And the teacher himself should look upon Īśvara, the Lord, as the source of knowledge. Since the Lord himself is a teacher, the first guru, there is a tradition of teaching, so there is no individual ego involved in teaching.

Dakṣiṇāmūrti is seated upon a bull, which stands for tamas, the quality of māyā that accounts for ignorance. This is the entire creative power of the world and Dakṣiṇāmūrti controls this māyā; Then, there are bound to be obstacles in your pursuit of this knowledge. Dakṣiṇāmūrti controls all possible obstacles.

Underneath his foot, under his control, is a fellow called Apasmara—the one who throws obstacles in your life. This tells us that although there will be obstacles, with the grace of the Lord, you can keep them under check and not allow them to overpower you. There is no obstacle-free life, but obstacles need not really throw you off course; you keep them under control.

Thus, the whole form of Dakṣiṇāmūrti invokes the Lord who is the source of all knowledge, the source of everything, the one who is the whole, and who teaches you that you are the whole. He is Dakṣiṇāmūrti, the one who is in the form of a teacher, guru-mūrti.

We invoke his blessing so that all of you discover that source in yourself. If this self-discovery is your pursuit, your whole life becomes worthwhile. This project of self-discovery should be the project of everyone. That is the Vedic vision of human destiny

Arsha Vidya Gurukulam was founded in 1986 by Pujya Sri Swami Dayananda Saraswati. In Swamiji’s own words,

“When I accepted the request of many people I know to start a gurukulam, I had a vision of how it should be. I visualized the gurukulam as a place where spiritual seekers can reside and learn through Vedanta courses. . . And I wanted the gurukulam to offer educational programs for children in values, attitudes, and forms of prayer and worship. When I look back now, I see all these aspects of my vision taking shape or already accomplished. With the facility now fully functional, . . . I envision its further unfoldment to serve more and more people.”

Ārṣa (arsha) means belonging to the ṛṣis or seers; vidyā means knowledge. Guru means teacher and kulam is a family.  In traditional Indian studies, even today, a student resides in the home of this teacher for the period of study. Thus, gurukulam has come to mean a place of learning. Arsha Vidya Gurukulam is a place of learning the knowledge of the ṛṣis.

The traditional study of Vedanta and auxiliary disciplines are offered at the Gurukulam. Vedanta mean end (anta) of the Veda, the sourcebook for spiritual knowledge.  Though preserved in the Veda, this wisdom is relevant to people in all cultures, at all times. The vision that Vedanta unfolds is that the reality of the self, the world, and God is one non-dual consciousness that both transcends and is the essence of everything. Knowing this, one is free from all struggle based on a sense of inadequacy.

The vision and method of its unfoldment has been carefully preserved through the ages, so that what is taught today at the Gurukulam is identical to what was revealed by the ṛṣis in the Vedas.