June 2016

Religion becomes dead and ineffectual if the seekers are not ready to live its ideals. – Chinmaya

Every religion contains two aspects – the philosophical and the ritualistic. Every ritual symbolizes a spiritual ideal. Every ritual – be it worshipping an idol, the cross or the crescent – is but a gross visible dramatization of a deep subtle philosophical truth.

But many a times, people get engrossed in the ritual so much so that they forget the spiritual message. They worship the idol but forget the ideal. Such a religion which loses touch with the higher ideals and remains merely ritualistic and mechanical, becomes dead and ineffectual, says the quote.

This story is about one of the greatest saints of Karnataka, Kanakadasa. Once he went to have darshan of the Lord Sri Krishna at Udupi. It was an era when discrimination on the basis of caste was at its peak. The brahmin priests did not let him enter the temple as he was from a low caste. Using abusive language, they turned him back.

A dejected and sad Kanakadasa returned to his hut. He took his tamburu and started singing songs in praise of the Lord. He did this for weeks camping outside the temple and cooking his own food. With a heart burning with an intense pain of separation, he pleaded to shower His mercy and grace on him.

And lo! There was a sudden earthquake. The western outer wall crumbled, and a few slabs of stone in the inner wall of the sanctum sanctorum cracked open. The idol of Sri Krishna which was originally facing east turned around and faced Kanakadasa, who was sitting absorbed in samadhi on the western side of the temple.

With tears streaming down his face, Kanakadasa beheld the idol of his Lord beaming at him. The brahmins who had denied entry to this great devotee were shellshocked to see this wonder. They came running and fell at his feet seeking forgiveness. Even today, the idol of the Lord Sri Krishna in Udupi temple faces west. The crack that appeared on the wall of the sanctum sanctorum has been replaced with a window (commonly called as “Kanakana Kindi”). Devotees visit this temple to behold the Lord who had turned around, away from the priests blinded by manmade distinctions of caste, to show His beautiful image to His dear devotee who had nothing but pure unadulterated devotion for Him.

Pujya Gurudev used to say, “Shastras are always right; it is only the Shastri who is wrong!”

Vittalpant was a Sanskrit scholar and religious minded. He had taken sannyasa; but seeing the deplorable condition of his wife Rukmabai, his Guru Sripad Yati (Ramanand Swami) instructed him to go back to householder-life. Obeying his Guru, Vittalpanth resumed his householder’s life.

Nivritti, Jnanadev, Sopan and Muktabai were born to Vittalpanth and Rukmabai eventually. But the brahmins refused to perform the thread ceremony of the sons claiming that children of a sannyasi were prohibited by the scriptures to have thread ceremony. As an act of atonement, the parents gave up their lives in the hope that the brahmins may out of pity perform the thread ceremony of their children.

Jnanadev with great hopes then approached the brahmins of Alandi to fulfil his father’s wish. Though the brahmins assented, they wanted them to bring an authority letter (certificate of purity) from the Brahmins of Paithan. The four children, therefore, went to Paithan.

All the children of Vittalpanth were well versed in Vedas and scriptures. Reaching Paithan they recited the Vedas before the brahmins but were stopped as they were not entitled to recite the sacred Vedas owing to their father’s wrongdoing.

To prove that anybody could recite the Vedas, Jnanadev made a buffalo continue to recite the Vedas from the point where they were asked to stop! Struck with wonder and recognizing their spiritual learning and greatness, the brahmins gave them the required certificate of purification.

It is indeed a shocking fact that in the history of mankind, religious fanaticism has killed more people than every other kind of organized crimes.

Chokhamela, another great Marathi saint lived in near Pandharpur in Maharashtra in the 14th century. He was born in the lower cast called Mahar. The Mahars were supposed to remove the dead animals from people’s homes and farms and dispose them off beyond the village limits. Chokhamela worked to eke out a living but through his every waking moment he had the Lord’s name on his lips. Chokha used to constantly chant the name of Panduranga and clean the temple premises daily.

However, he was not allowed to enter the sanctum sanctorum due to his birth in the lower cast. One day someone questioned the futility of his devotion to Lord, as he would never be able to see God. Humiliated and deeply hurt Chokha abstained from taking food and wept inconsolably when Panduranga appeared before him, embraced him, took him inside the temple and talked to him.

The temple priest was outraged as he felt that the temple was desecrated by Chokha and ordered him to stay across the river Chandrabhaga. Chokha’s pleas fell on the deaf ears and at last, Chokha went to stay across the river. However, Lord started to visit Chokha daily and both of them used to take lunch together.

One day the priest was passing by Chokha’s hut when Chokha was taking lunch with Panduranga. Soyara (Chokha’s wife) was serving. The priest could not see Panduranga as his mind was impure. Soyara spilt the curd on Panduranga’s yellow silk robe by mistake. Chokha exclaimed, “Oh Soyara! You have soiled Panduranga’s dress!” The priest felt it was a deliberate attempt by Chokha to show his devotion and slapped Chokha across his face.

Later he bathed in the river and ferried across the river. Inside the sanctum sanctorum, the priest was stunned to see Lord Vitthala’s swollen cheek! He went to Chokha, asked for his forgiveness and requested him to pacify the Lord. Later Chokha’s prayers alone could pacify Lord Vitthala.

A religion dies when the non-essentials become important and the essentials are ignored. It becomes ineffective when the ‘pointer’ is valued more than the ‘pointed’ when the letter is followed but the spirit is forgotten.

The head of the family while doing the puja found that the pet cat of the house was eating the Naivedyam kept for the Lord. Hence before commencing the puja he would cover the cat with a basket to prevent its mischief. Years passed by. The head passed away and the son continued the tradition of worshipping the family deity. The son remembered how father used to tie the cat before beginning the worship. Assuming it to be part of the ritual, he brought a cat from the neighbourhood as their pet cat was no more. Over a period of time chasing the cat and covering it became the most important part of the worship!!

When thus the orthodox religion decays with its superstitions and confusions, a spiritual giant comes up to clean up the mess. Every spiritual master faces these three stages: ridicule, opposition and acceptance. How many obstacles Pujya Gurudev had to face from the orthodox class for expounding the scriptures in English and for giving the knowledge of the Upanishads for the general public!

In the flow of time, even the holiest of religions with all its great ideals gather scum. Great saints and sages incarnate time and again to re-interpret the ancient scriptures and to revive the religion, and if needed create a new religion, so that they become the guiding light even in the modern times.

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Posted in: Chintana

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