Arsha Vidya Pitham, Saylorsburg, PA

The Patriot Saint

Tributes by S. Gurumurthy

Swami Dayananda Saraswati — a master exponent of the inclusive Hindu philosophy who declared there was not ‘one God,’ but ‘only God,’ a teacher of Vedanta who created hundreds of teachers to continue the ancient Indian tradition, a great organizer who founded the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha as the representative body of unorganized Hindu religious traditions, a philosopher who harmonized and validated, from the Hindu perspective of theodiversity, all forms of worship from paganism to monism, an intellectual who re-articulated and established that religious conversion, regarded as the right of evangelist religions, is itself violence, and finally a patriot saint who, like Maharishi Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda did, saw, in the ancient nation of India, the very manifestation of all that he had learnt and taught — is no more. Indeed he was the latest incarnation in the tradition of nationalist saints of India.

Endowed with unparalleled intellectual skills and unlimited knowledge base, Dayananda first made it a mission of his life to teach and did take Vedanta to a vast elite audience in India and outside, which would otherwise have been half-westernized in world view and as much Christianized culturally. He aligned Vedanta to India as a national entity and cultural phenomenon and to Indians as the chosen people entrusted with the sacred duty to live, sustain and protect it not only for them but also for the good of the world. In his exposition, Vedanta was not just a philosophy but it found expression in the culture and life of India founded on the idea of dharma — in its arts and music, literature and sculpture, society and family, and in the Indian traditional respect for elders, teachers and women and ultimately in the reverence for this nation itself as sacred and in the love of the entire creation, both animate and inanimate.

Starting off as student and disciple of the redoubtable Swami Chinmayananda, the originator of the contemporary school of exposition of Vedanta, Dayananda Saraswati rapidly grew up as an accomplished scholar and unparalleled teacher. After having worked for decades and succeeded in his mission to teach and create teachers of Vedanta, he turned his attention to some critical issues of contemporary importance which would have long-term and adverse implications for the very purpose and soul of this ancient nation. With this new turn, in the late 1990s a paradigm
shift took place in his entire course of thought and action and this led to his founding of the Dharma Rakshana Samiti in Chennai in 1999. It was in that unique event, a confluence of some highly regarded saints, spiritualists, and intellectuals, that Swami Dayananda made one of his most memorable speeches where he declared that the very concept of religious conversion itself was violence — a spiritual, mental and cultural violence. This redefined the very notion of conversion which till then had some acceptability among non-Gandhian secularists as a right of
religions — which in effect meant only the proselytizing religions — to convert others to their faith. Gandhiji’s contempt for religious conversion is too well-known for the secularists to appropriate Mahatma Gandhi to support conversion as integral secularism. This is amongst the greatest contributions of Swami Dayananda to global interreligious discourse. The redefinition of religious conversion as violence robbed the concept of conversion of benignity and exposed its malignant character. In 1999 when the then Pope visited India, Swami Dayananda constituted and led
a group of multi-religious scholars and intellectuals and welcomed but asked him to declare that he was happy to visit a nation which has respected all faiths and that he also respected all faiths. But the Pope preferred not to accept Swami Dayananda’s suggestion. However, with his unmatched intellectual prowess Swami Dayananda took the battle against conversion in world fora. He proposed self-discipline among faiths in the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in the year 2000, calling upon religions to respect each other, not to abuse one another and not
to convert the faithfuls of other religions by force or by inducement to one’s fold. There was consensus on his view but finally the proselytizing faiths did not agree and the Millennium harmony proposal therefore did not succeed. But it took just eight more years for Swami Dayananda to convince the world religious leaders of the need for transreligious self-regulation. In the human rights declaration of world religious leaders in Amsterdam on December 10, 2008, on the 60th anniversary of the UN Human Rights Declaration, all world religious leaders, including the
proselytizing faiths, accepted the Dayananda approach — namely that religions should mutually respect and accept each other, that they should not abuse or trivialize one another’s faiths or symbols, that they should recognize the right of a person to be in the religion of his birth, and that there should be no conversion by force or by inducement — and signed the historic declaration. It is the substance of the Amsterdam declaration which Prime Minister Narendra Modi adopted as the approach of his government to different faiths when he addressed the Christian religious meet in Delhi to celebrate the canonization of saints from Kerala.

In this period from 1999 to 2008, Swami Dayananda undertook some far-reaching initiatives, which included the constitution of the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha — one of his greatest achievements and equally a great contribution to the Indian civilization. The Acharya Sabha has given the diverse and unorganized Hindu religions, which had long suffered disadvantage relative to the organized and proselytizing faiths, a platform to come together as Dharma religions and participate in the global discourse. Till then, any secularist masquerading as a religious person would sign on the dotted line on behalf of Hinduism in the global fora. His next big move was to bring together elders of all indigenous faiths — whether from South America or North America, Africa or Europe — at Delhi. Swami Dayananda declared that all faiths are sacred and valid and no faith can and should be allowed to claim to be superior to other faiths. He articulated religious
diversity, which is the strongest point of Hinduism, in the most acceptable, rational and logical manner and challenged and debunked the claim that some faiths are only true faiths and others false faiths, which, he argued, is the cause for the widespread hate and violence today. The great successes of this great sannyāsī, molded in the ancient traditions of India, is not, however, as well-knownas he himself was. That also demonstrated the high point of his personality — humility. Maharishi Aurobindo said that the greatest achievements have been least noisy. This
aptly applied to Swami Dayananda’s work and life. In his demise, the Hindu philosophy has lost its greatest exponent of recent times, Hindu religion one of its staunchest defenders, and the nation a great patriot saint.

(The author is a finance and legal professional turned investigative journalist, writer, academic and activist. Gurumurthy teaches economics and management integrated to culture at IIT and Legal Anthropology at SASTRA University, India.)

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.