Ram’s Dharma: Leadership Secrets of the Ultimate Warrior~Sage~Prince

michael sternfeld head shot

-Michael Sternfeld

[Excerpted from the audio-bookRam’s Dharma: Leadership Secrets of the Ultimate Warrior~Sage~Prince— published by Vedic Audio Knowledge (VAK). VAK created by  author, an independent scholar has made a tradition of preserving the essential oral tradition of the Vedic literature with dramatic productions in English. ]

Introduction

Now begins the inquiry into Dharma.  This one line, expressive of much of the potency within all Vedic knowledge, is an apt beginning in our exploration of the epic Ramayana.  The Ramayana can be seen as one grand heroic quest into all the power and subtlety of Dharma.  Dharma means more than just duty, as it is often understood in the West.  At its most comprehensive level, Dharma is the inexorable movement of evolution in the universe. All activity in the universe is orderly because of that inexorable flow of Dharma.

Alignment of Our Dharma With the Big Picture

To the degree that we align our own nature with this grand vision of Dharma, the more we align ourselves with the natural flow of all that was meant to be.  This seems to be the true quest—to move our own consciousness, our own deepening awareness–to become more and more in-tune with Dharma at every step of our evolution.  There is not one “be-all, end-all” state that captures this, because Dharma, as structured in consciousness, is a sequential process of unfolding deeper and deeper levels of order or Dharma in the fabric of our own awareness.

Hierarchies of Dharma

Dharma is structured in layers, or in hierarchies, which reveal more and more comprehensive levels of intelligence in nature.  On one level, we could experience our personal career Dharma–expressive of the work we do to earn a living.  At a deeper level, we can own our soul level Dharma–expressive of our own fundamental nature and the development of higher states of consciousness.  On a more expanded level, there can be a Dharma of a country or civilization, which may express the unique design or “chosen-ness” for a group of people to serve and enrich the world in a particular way.  The Dharma of a star is to spread life-giving light into the world, while the Dharma of the universe may reach to the fields of unfathomable infinity.

Evolution of Dharma

Every level of life has a Dharma that is woven together with all the other streams to create a majestic tapestry reflecting the never-ending flow of life from lesser states to more and more fullness of life and evolution.  From this perspective, all of our growth can be seen as an opportunity to continually deepen our understanding of our own Dharma and how it fits into the larger Dharma of the world.  As we grow and evolve, we find that those values that seemed so significant when we were younger fall away and new doorways open to greater and greater levels of service, authenticity and an expanding sphere of influence to enrich the world.

Ram’s Dharma and the Ramayana

Now this is where the power of Ram and the Ramayana enter the picture.  Ram is an embodiment of the total potential of Dharma.  All different levels and streams of Dharma seem to converge into his comprehensive personality. This power is first expressed on the human level, the level of heroic action. Like all the great heroic figures that have preceded us, we gain so much from following in his epic footsteps.  Ram’s heroic quests become our own; and his journey—imbued with near-impossible challenges as well as great victories and blessed boons–become the cherished guideposts in the journey of our own lives.

But this outer value of Ram is only a projection and expression of the deeper, absolute level of life, from which the full potential of being fully-human emerges—a divine being in human form. Ram is an extraordinary personage in that he is both an ideal man and an avatar. Human and divine. The juxtaposition of these two values stretches our comprehension to span its gulf.

Rama

Why is Ram So Special?

In the pantheon of all great epic heroes, Ram seems to hold a special status. On a human level, his entire life and story are based upon explicitly discriminating and integrating finer and finer levels of Dharma.  Our behavior can be refined at each step of this journey by integrating these deeper values into our lives. But the deepest level of Dharma reveals Ram’s full potential as an embodiment of the Absolute level of life–Ram Brahm Paramarath Rupa.

The great modern-day Vedic sage Maharishi Mahesh Yogi explains this mahavakya by describing Ram as the embodiment of Brahman, the supreme Totality of life. This Totality is not just outside of us as some ruling power, but inside us as well. In this view, Ram represents the essential nature of ourselves and the whole creation, governing and sustaining it from the transcendental level.  Maharishi clarifies: “Ram is the embodiment of pure spirituality, of pure being–totality in its absolute unity. All activity in the universe is orderly because of that eternal law of life, the administration of Ram, which establishes and maintains harmony in all relationships; which harmonizes everything with every other thing in the universe.”

This quote underscores why experiencing the Ramayana yields such profound results. If Ram embodies all the diverse relationships in the universe, then the study of his story is essentially the study of our Self and our evolving relationship with creation—the full potential of Dharma. In this view, the impulses of the Ramayana are the structures of our own consciousness, our own Self, and challenge us to grow towards our own divine status as humans.

This vision may sound quite cosmic, but we must remember that this divine story unfolds on a completely human level, as Ram was born a mortal man–the son of the illustrious King Dasharata in Ayodhya.  The story begins as the wise sage Valmiki pondered the question he had often reflected upon: “Is there a perfect man among us?”.

We now begin our journey following the footsteps of Ram—along with Sita and all the characters of the Ramayana–on an epic quest to discover Ram’s Dharma on all its levels.  Our ultimate goal: to emerge with a profound ownership of that full potential of Dharma that animates the entire universe.

Audio Sample Link:  http://www.ramayanaudio.com/otherproducts.html#ramsd

Michael Sternfeld, MA, is an independent scholar and  a producer/director, USA 

 

Advertisements

India: A Concept of Nationhood (Part-II)

Continued from Part-I

Dr. Raj Kumar

The Vedic phase is very significant and influential in the evolution of Indian society. It affects its cultural, socio-economic and social-political tradition. Although, there is a prolonged debate on the Aryan influence on Indian society, nothing conclusive could be presented. Some social activists view Aryans as a native of India, whereas several scholars and academic historians’ opinions are opposite. Whatever the view, Aryans evolved the tribal society to a well-developed civilization. Development of civilization provides the people a cohesive environment for discussion, and the people start looking for the answer of the fundamental questions. Every other civilization of the world meditated upon some fundamental questions for a long time; a) how to live life, b) what is the goal of life, and c) what is the way to find happiness. The idea of India provided a unique path to get the answer to these fundamental questions. As an Indian, our traditional goal of life is a virtue (Dharma), live with success and wealth (Artha), to live with pleasure (Kama), but in the end seek enlightenment (Moksha). Vedic philosophy also discussed several ideas; idea of consciousness, idea of humanity, idea of ethics in social life, idea of spirituality, and more importantly the idea of individuality (for example, Shrimad Bhagavad Gita tells your interpretation of life is different from others, but it doesn’t mean you are wrong or others are wrong. Similarly, Ayurveda treats a person based on their personal traits and habits, instead of using any generalization). These ideas influenced the thought process of the people of the region and shaped the idea of India.

The founding concept of India was not just an abstract idea of a plurality or an idea of a common interest. It is an idea of practical understanding of the compulsion and constraints, yet accommodative, between differing ideas and views. Now, let’s examine the characteristics of India as a nation.

Let’s define nation first. In my view, the best definition is provided by Ernest Renan’s. According to him, “A nation is not formed on the basis of dynasty, language, religion, geography or shared interests. Rather, a nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. A spiritual principle is a combination of two things, which in truth are one. One lies in the past i.e. the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories. Other lies in the present, which reflects the desire to live together, and perpetuate the value system and continue the heritage that one has received in an undivided form.” The idea of India exactly fits this definition. So many people of different value system, cultural system, belief system, and interests are coming together to develop an Idea of India. Probably only place in the world where we have preserved the traditions which were practiced thousands of years ago (rich legacy), yet all Indian together try to compete with the modern world (perpetuate the value system and desire to live together). Like any other nation, India also has gone through turbulent times. Even in those turbulent times, instead of hankering for purity, India gave some very powerful ideas to this world….. the idea of accommodation, the idea of incorporation, the idea of inclusion, the idea of embracing, and the idea of mixing without losing the basic character. She sees the moment of mixing as the most creative and imaginative one. She sees the moment of mixing as an opportunity to create the culture of give and take, and ultimately become one. So, the idea of India is not an abstract idea of just cultural pluralism and democracy, it is an idea of amalgamation of different ideas.

c

This amalgamation gave diversity to Indian system. Scientifically speaking this process increases the entropy/randomness, which all the thermodynamic systems aspire to. Energy is constant in an entropy-driven process. So, we need to know how to utilize this energy in a useful way. That is why increasing entropy can be advantageous and disadvantageous, too. Advantageous when you know how to utilize this excess entropy and balance the system, and disadvantageous when you don’t know how to control the randomness. I will use an example to simplify the above statement. Protein folding, a biological process, is a very important event when the linear sequence of amino acid organizes different interactions to devise a biologically functional shape. In this process, entropy is decreasing to create a useful structure. While acquiring a biological function from linear sequence, protein has two very important intermediate stages, molten globule and intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs). These two states are very flexible (higher randomness) and when needed can acquire a biologically functional state (entropically low structure). In another way, randomness is a necessary requirement but to perform function system needs to be organized. Randomness provides flexibility and fluidity, which is a necessary trait of our existence, and the idea of India already have this naturally.

You must have heard this statement ….. India is a very diverse country and its diversity is an asset. But nobody explains what is the meaning of this statement. Diversity means randomness, which is natural tendencies of anything in this world. It brings freedom; freedom of thought, freedom of action, and freedom of expression. Freedom is not the one-way road, it is a two-way path; one way is freedom, and another concurrent way is responsibility/onus/liability. Diversity in scientific terms is a degree of freedom, more degree of freedom more available options. More options mean more ways of doing things. In other words, different things can be done in a coordinated way to achieve the same goal. Therefore, in this sense diversity of India is an asset, but we need to know how to utilize it, we need to know how and where to direct this diversity, and we need to know how to fulfill our responsibilities and contribute to advancing the idea of India. One successful example of focusing diversity is the United State of America (USA). The USA has accepted people from all over the world, which gave her an asset of diversity. She utilized this diversity very smartly and focused to build a strong nation. India needs to do the same.

Thus, the idea of India is not a hypothetical one, it is a geographically, socially, philosophically, and scientifically proven idea. India’s diversity needs to be crystalized, so that the nation can move forward together in a constructive way. We did this very successfully in the past on several occasions, we need to do it again now to solve our current problems.

We are all pieces of the same puzzle.

References

  1. The Vedic Core of Human History by M. K. Agarwal, 2013.
  2. Indian Foreign Policy: Challenges and Opportunities by Atish Sinha, Madhup Mohta and Foreign Service Institute, 2007.
  3. ArunKumar, G., Soria-Hernanz, D. F., Kavitha, V. J., Arun, V. S., Syama, A., Ashokan, K. S., … The Genographic Consortium. (2012). Population Differentiation of Southern Indian Male Lineages Correlates with Agricultural Expansions Predating the Caste System. PLoS ONE7(11), e50269. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0050269.
  4. https://www.ibm.com/solutions/genographic/us/en/geno_story.html

 – Dr. Raj Kumar, Assistant Professor, Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, MA.

Understanding The Tradition of Vedic Recitation [Part-I]

SB Photo

-Dr. Soma Basu

1.1. The relevance of ancient Indian texts on Phonetics –

The purport or relevance of the ancient scriptures (Śāstras) on Phonetics is most modern considering their invaluable importance in the methodical phonetic procedure developed by them, which helped preserve the Vedas without the slightest variants in the most faithful way possible. The Vedas are the most ancient bulk of literature humanity has ever produced. They are not only scriptures, but also the fountainhead of Indian culture and human civilization. Actually, they are the treasure house of knowledge par excellence. They are the source of integral wisdom, science, tradition and culture of a remarkable civilization. They are oral compilations of distilled wisdom of cosmic knowledge survived from the time immemorial. We all know that the Veda has to be studied along with its six ancillary texts, i.e., the Vedāṅgas. They are the last treatises of Vedic literature. The Vedāṅga likely developed towards the end of the Vedic period, around of after the middle of the 1st millennium BCE, These auxiliary fields of Vedic studies emerged because the language of the Vedic texts composed centuries earlier grew too archaic to the people of that time.

ṣaḍaṅgo vedo’dhyeyo jñeyaś ca.

1.2. The function of the auxiliary disciplines of the Vedas (Vedāṅgas) –

The necessity of the Vedas and precisely the limbs or auxiliary disciplines of the Vedas (Vedāṅgas) will never die out, in as much as these are the most dependable source to look up to for answers to many a query that invoke intricate exploration. Understanding Vedāṅgas is a pre-requisite to understanding the Veda. The function of the Śikṣā (i.e., the foremost of the six limbs – [The other five being Kalpa or ritual, Vyākaraa or grammar, Nirukta or etymology, Chandas or meter and Jyotia or astronomy.]) is to fix the parameters of Vedic words. Phonetics is most important in the case of the Vedic language; because we see that a mere change in sound leads to change in results and effect. The ancient Indian science of phonetics, which is taught so meticulously in the Śikṣā texts, is the ultimate knowledge discussed in such an ancient time regarding construction of sound and language for synthesis of ideas, in contrast to grammarians who developed rules for language deconstruction and understanding of ideas. We are astonished to know the content of the major treatises of this particular branch which are most relevant in today’s perspective since they analyze sound, vowels and consonants, rules of combination and pronunciation to assist clear understanding, to avoid mistakes and for resonance pleasing to the listener. The methodology found in the Śikṣā texts has been not just highly technical, it has strong aesthetic “sensuous, emotive” dimension, which foster thinking and intellectual skills in a participatory fashion. The reciter’s mind and body are engaged, making language and sound as an emotional performance. In theNāradīya Śikṣā, it has been expressed beautifully, –

Just as a tigress takes her cubs tightly in her teeth without hurting them, whilst fearing that she might drop them and injure them, so one should approach the individual syllables (2.8.31). (transl. by Annette Wilke and Oliver Moebus, (2011). Sound and Communication: An Aesthetic Cultural History of Sanskrit Hinduism. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11-018159-3. [Source :Internet]

1.3. Some information –

1.3.1 From the ancient texts –

In the Atharvaveda (12.1.45), there is the unique realization janaṃ bibhratī bahudhā vivācasaṃ nānādharmānaṃ pr̥thithaukasam |

which means, “Let the earth, bearing in many places people of different speech, of diverse customs (-dharman) according to their homes…” [Trans. W. D. Whitney.  Atharvaveda Saṃhitā. Cambridge , Mass.1905 (1st Edition), MLBD : Delhi 1962, 1971, 1984 ( rpt.) Vol.8, p. 668.]

In the ancient texts like the Taittirīya Saṃhitā (2.4.12.1) and the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa (1.6.3.8) there is a well-known story narrated where it has been described how Tvaṣṭr̥ repeating the words ‘indraśatrur vardhasva’ in wrong accents caused the fire to be extinguished instead of inflaming it against Indra as he intended. The legend is all about how Tvaṣṭr̥ wanted to pronounce the word ‘indraśatruḥ’ (meaning ‘destroyer of Indra’) as a Tatpuruṣa compound (in which the last syllable of the compound has the udātta accent), while he actually pronounced the word as a Bahuvrīhi (meaning ‘whose killer would be Indra’), in which case the first word of the compound has the udātta accent (as in ‘indraśatrurḥ’) [P. V. Kane. History of Dharmaśāstra.  Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Poona, 1941. vol. II, pt. I, p. 347.]. Pāṇini says, ‘samāsasya’ (6.1.223) – samāsa-niṣpaṇṇa-śabdasya anta-svaraḥ udātto bhavati and ‘bahuvrīhau prakr̥tyā pūrvvapadam’ (6.2.1) – bahuvrīhi-samāse, udātta-svarita-yuktaṃ pūrvvapadaṃ prakr̥tyā bhavati… etc.

1.3.2  From the Bible –

The story of the Tower of Babel in the Book of Genesis (11:1-9) offers an explanation for the many different languages spoken on earth, though on the surface, otherwise it carries deeper meaning too. According to the story, all the descendants of Noah spoke a single language. They began to spread eastward as they increased in number. After finding a fertile area called Shinar they settled there and instead of setting up a society that fits God’s will, they decided to challenge His authority and build a city with a tower that could reach Heaven. They wanted the tower to be a proud monument to themselves and a symbol that would keep them united as a powerful people. However, God thought it otherwise. Unhappy he came down and looked at the city and watching the tower said, if as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other. (Genesis 11:6-7) God, recognizing their arrogance, regained control over them through a linguistic stratagem. Therefore, God made the people speak many different languages so as not to understand each other and work together on building the city and tower. He scattered the people around the world and the city was abandoned. After that incident, the number of languages increased through diversification, and people started to look for ways to communicate.

(to be continued…..)

Dr. Soma Basu, Associate Professor, School of Vedic Studies, Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata

Day of Rama-Janma : Chaitra Shukla Navami (29 November 12240 BCE)

Nilesh during debate in New Delhi

– Mr. Nilesh Nilkanth Oak

As we celebrate the birth day of Shri Rama, we will ponder on various aspects of Maryada-Purushottma Rama and of our Adi-kavya – Valmiki’s Ramayana. One of the significant and curious aspects, for many, is the history and chronology of Shri Rama and thus Ramayana.

Valmiki Ramayana presents us with more than 500 specific astronomy and chronology references. Some of the specific references from this list allow us to determine broad timeline for the chronology of the Ramayana while some other allow us to nail down timing for the specific instances of Ramayana, and the remaining references allow us to check if our assertions are correct.

Four references from four different kanda of Valmiki Ramayana (Ayodhya 3:34, Aryanya 16:12, Kishkindha 53:9 and Yuddha 4:48) place lower limit of 10,000 BCE as the boundary for the chronology of Ramayana, i.e., the incidents of Ramayana did not occur even a day later than 10,000 BCE. These four independent observations of seasons and astronomy phenomenon also create upper boundary of 17,000 BCE, for the chronology of Ramayana.

A solitary observation of a comet afflicting nakshatra Mula was key to determine 12209 BCE as the year of Rama-Ravana yuddha. This year (12209 BCE) as the year when Shri Rama went to Lanka, along with Laxman, Sugriva, Hanuman and other Vanara warriors and Vanara army, can be combined with chronological narrations of Valmiki Ramayana to determine timing for numerous instances of Ramayana, such as 12240 BCE being the year of Rama-Janma, 12223 BCE as the year when Rama left Ayodhya, along with Laxman and Sita, for 14 year-long Vanavas. These dates were further corroborated by hundreds of additional seasonal and astronomy observations of Valmiki Ramayana.

Ram-Navami-2015-Images-HD-1024x768

(Source of Image : http://yepindia.com)

A question may be raised that if Rama was born in the month of November as per Julian/Gregorian calendar computations, how come we celebrate it in the month of March/April (Gregorian calendar) in our times? The answer to this important question is the astronomy phenomenon known as ‘Precession of Equinoxes’. One of the key consequences of this phenomenon is that seasons shift by about one lunar month every 2000 years. Thus, while Valmiki Ramayana descriptions of lunar month of Chaitra are that of Sharad rutu (season); after about 14,000 years, lunar month of Chaitra falls during the second half of Vasanta rutu (season) and thus during end of March and beginning of April.

In fact, this fact was lost on dozen plus Ramayana researchers who were curious to determine the timing of Ramayana and this resulted in their proposing a timeline that cannot match with the descriptions of Valmiki Ramayana. For example, Late Shri Pushkar Bhatnagar proposed 10 January 5114 BCE as the day of Rama-Janma. This day falls during the peak of winter and thus the problem with this day is that it neither agrees with descriptions of Valmiki Ramayana nor it agrees with mistakenly assumed time of Vasanata rutu by Shri Pushkar Bhatnagar. And this wrong starting point resulted in erroneous chronology.

We can learn from Valmiki Ramayana that star Brahmarashi, also known as Abhijit or Vega, was the north pole star at the time of Ramayana as described by Laxman, or the lunar month of Ashwin occurred during the Vasanta rutu. Thus, if we compare the timing of seasons and Indian lunar months of our time, we realize that the seasons have shifted with respect to lunar month by about 6 months, i.e. exactly halfway through 26000 years long cycle of the precession of equinoxes.  This means we have documented records of Indian civilization going back to about 14000 years.

Further, we can combine narration of King Trishanku from Valmiki Ramayana and from Mahabharata and combine it with knowledge of astronomy to determine 13000 BCE as the timing of King Trishanku.  This means our Indian history has documented chronology of at least 15,000 years.

Of course, one may wonder if it is reasonable to make such claims, based on one stream of evidence, i.e., chronology of Ramayana. Fortunately, this is not the case.  We can combine evidence from various branches of scientific disciplines – geology, hydrology, anthropology, genetics, genealogies of Kings and genealogies of Rishis that are responsible for various ‘suktas’ and ‘mandalas’ of Rigveda to present additional clues to this deep antiquity of Indian civilization.

For example, descriptions of river Sarasvati from Rigveda, Valmiki Ramayana and Mahabharata allow us to trace the changes in the condition of river Sarasvati that matches very well from what we know today via geology, hydrology and climatology. Geology evidence tells us that river Yamuna separated from river Sarasvati as early as 50,000 BCE and before 9000 BCE, and this evidence is consistent with descriptions of rivers not only for Yamuna, but also for river Sarasvati and river Sutlej (Shatudri).  Modern discoveries in genetics also tell us that the Indian gene pool is very old and practically unchanged for last 20,000 plus years. Indian civilization and its narrative tradition has cleverly amalgamated science, history, art, adhyatma, medicine and peaceful living in a single tradition without any strains among its various pursuits.

Indian civilization combined these multifaceted aspects of civilization around numerous festivals it celebrates. We glean from even stray references of Valmiki Ramayana and Mahabharata of a tradition of Indra-dhwaja festival that was celebrated during the Vasanta rutu (season) and during the lunar month of Ashwin in Ramayana times (13th millennium BCE) and that was continued to be celebrated through Mahabharata times and it is also celebrated in our times with both its old and new names. Whether it is Tamil Sangam literature or the living ‘natha’ tradition of Nepal, both refer to it as Indra-dhwaja (Indra Viza) festival. And, while tradition of Nepal continues to celebrate it during the lunar month of Ashwin, as was done in Ramayana times, state of Maharashtra celebrates it on the first day of lunar month of Chaitra with ‘Gudhi (Dhwaja) Padava’. The times and style may change with changing times; however, the age-old tradition is preserved and celebrated throughout this land of Bharata-varsha.

It is in this very spirit, let’s celebrate 5 April 2017 CE, as the birth day of our dear Shri Rama.  Jai Sri Rama!

– Mr. Nilesh Nilkanth Oak, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, USA.

 

Navaratri as the Celebration of the Female Shakti Culture of India

Dr. Bal Ram Singh, a Professor and Director of Botulinum Research Center, Executive Mentor of School of Indic Studies, Institute of Advanced Sciences, a former Professor of Biophysical Chemistry and Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar, and Founding Director of the Center for Indic Studies at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, writes on value of ancient Indian traditions for the modern times.

 “Feminine force is that inner strength, that power, that will to face down any negative circumstances in life and defeat them.” -Georgette Mosbacher

India as a culture faces most negative attention, especially from the Western media and intellectuals, including political leaders who unceremoniously lecture India on things they need to learn from this ancient civilization.

There is always a hue and cry over women in India for one reason or the other, be it political leaders like Indira Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Smriti Irani, Mayawati, Mamta Banerjee, Jaya Lalitha, etc., object of atrocities like Nirbhaya, Phoolan Devi, and many other rape victims throughout the country, activists like Vandana Shiva, Medha Patkar, Teesta Setalavad, etc., the spiritual leaders like Ma Amritanandamayi in Kerala, Anandamurti Guruma in Haryana, the Brahmakumaris in Rajasthan, Mother Teresa in Kolkata, Dr. Niruben Amin in Gujarat, and Didi Ma Ritambhara, who have millions of followers throughout the world.

As this is Navaratri and Dussehra time, we could use this festival to highlight some of the traditional ways in which India’s deep philosophies are practiced in regards to women. If we talk about the Navaratri goddess Durga, a word that comes from durg or fort. Durga is a symbol of fortitude, which comes to women naturally but men need to seek. Fortitude is a mental power, not necessarily the physical one.

durga-maa2

In a recent study, scientists found women’s brain is more resilient – “Women are able to carry higher levels of genetic defects without getting brain development disorders such as autism, supporting the possibility of a ‘female protective effect’, according to the study as per a news in Australian Broadcasting News (February 28, 2014).The study published in The American Journal of Human Geneticsgives clues as to why fifty per cent more males typically have an intellectual disability than females, and why boys are four times more likely to have autism than girls.

Traditionally, women in India under ideal conditions have high place in the society – Durga, Saraswati, and Laxmi, the goddesses of strength, knowledge, and wealth, respectively. Even 30-40 years ago, at least in eastern Uttar Pradesh, the place where Nirbhaya’s parents come from, girls names had Devi added as a suffix. It reflects what society perceived and professed for women’s high place. Kanya puja is still common throughout the country. The points reflect that women in general reflect the sattvic thoughts and action. And, society prospers when that sanctity is maintained.

Manusmriti (3.56), an ancient book of memoir, states that –

yatra nāryastu pūjyante ramante tatra devtā 

यत्र नार्यस्तु पूज्यन्ते रमन्ते तत्र देवता:

This is wrongly translated as  – where women are worshipped that becomes god’s abode. The real translation would be that where women raise themselves to the level of being worshipped, gods make that place as their abode. The onus here is on the women to raise their level with their knowledge, practice, management, and caring of the society. Worshipping Monica Lewinskys of this world will not make this world abode of gods.

Women in Sanskrit are known as stree, which means they can possess satva, rajas, and tamasic gunas at the same time in their role of mother, sister/daughter, and marriage partners. They are capable of performing these functions concurrently, as in multi-tasking today. Multitasking is women’s second nature, and neuro-scientific studies will be enriched by such analysis.

According a recent report published in CBC News (March 03, 2016) quoting Dr. Apostolos Georgopoulos, the director of the Brain Science Centre at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center “What we have found is that women, in many different tasks, process information about five times faster than men, and use much less of their brain to do identical cognitive performance.”

Man, on the other hand, is known as purusha (someone who pursues), because what women can accomplish/understand innately with their intuitive and perceptive power, men need to toil through learning, experiencing, and serving.

How is this difference possible? Women are right brain dominating individuals, whereas men are generally left brain dominated persons. Right brain performs intuitive functions such as art, literature, music, etc. whereas left brain is more analytical and performs math, language, technology type of operations. Right brain believed to operatefaster due to its parallel processing, and provides women with intuitive power much better than men. In India queens always sat along with kings to provide management to the kingdom, and in fact ruled their kingdoms in the absence of kings, and did well, including in battlefields.

In today’s intellectual world India as the rest of the world with few exceptions are considered as patriarchical as opposed to matriarchical society. This is not correct historically or practically, although men may have been assigned to manage the society more due to the foreign attacks the society faced in the past thousand years or so. Over five years ago, Tulsῑ Rāmayan stated that mother’s place is higher than that of the father. In Ayodhyākand Kaushalyā says –

‘jaun keval pitu ayesu tata। tau jani jahu jani badi mata’ 

जौं केवल पितु आयसु ताता। तौ जनि जाहु जानि बड़ि माता ,

which means if only father had given orders to Rām, then he did not need to go to the forest, since as a mother she holds higher position.

In Indian tradition a child is considered the most fortunate whose father is dharmatmā (righteous) and whose mother is pativratā (devoted to the husband). So, it is not easy to be an ideal mother and father. One has to work hard to reach that level, and ideal traits come from the sanskārs (values) of the family and society.

India’s daughters make majority of female graduate students in most US engineering graduate schools. That shows the true treatment of the daughters by a society, Nearly half of the Indian banks are headed by women, and have not defaulted unlike western banks. India’s housewives contribute most to the Indian economy, and Indian space programs, including its mission to Mars, is full of Indian women engineers. These are the true cultural reflections of India’s daughters, something Western world could easily learn.

In summary, women are naturally empowered, and have been accepted in Indian society as such, but it requires hard work to maintain the empowered state. They need to realize both their empowered state and the cost to maintain it. It will not come from government or modern feminist movements, which are based on ego, control, and division of the society.

The Idea of God (Part-II)

– Dr. Koenraad Elst

Continued from Part-I

Mono- versus polytheism

The Sumerian ideogram Dingir was read as ElIn neighbouring Akkadian, a Mesopotamian dialect of Semitic. We know this word very well through Hebrew, a northwestern (Levantine) dialect of Semitic. Thus the names Uriel, “my light is God”; Gabriel, “my strength is God”; Michael, “who is like God?” But as we shall presently see, these names now carry a meaning of “God” that has resulted from a revolution, viz. from poly- to monotheism.

A derivative of El is Eloha, “a deity”, “a god”. We know it mainly through the plural form Elohim, “gods”, “pantheon”. Strangely, this form has survived the theological revolution described in the Bible book Exodus under the leadership of Moses, ca. 1250 BCE. Here, the many gods were replaced with a single jealous god, yet the plural form Elohim remained but with a singular meaning: God. Thus, the Bible, which received its definitive form only under the Persian empire ca. 500 BCE, when this usage was well-established, starts with the sentence: “Berešit bara Elohim et ha-šamaim ve-etha-aretz”, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The connection with the stars was severed, at least for the Israelites, not all the other nations: “Pay attention lest ye lift your eyes up to the sky for seeing sun, moon and stars, that ye be led astray and adore and serve them, those whom the Lord your God hath assigned to all the nations under heaven.” (Deut. 4:19)

A synonym of Elohim, referring to the same jealous God, is Yahweh. Moses himself introduced this god-name into Biblical tradition. Though new to the Israelites after centuries in Egypt, it must have existed earlier among the Arab (South-Semitic) Beduins as well as among the Northwest-Semitic people of Mari. Moses, when a fugitive from Egyptian law after he was found out to have committed murder, stayed with a Beduin tribe. They had a storm-god Yahweh, best translated as a causative participle of a verb meaning “to move in the sky”, whether “to blow” or “to stoop like a bird of prey”, from an Arab root HWY later attested in the Quran (22:32), but not in the Bible. This meaning is confirmed by the fixed expression Yahweh Sabaoth, “he who causes the motion of the heavenly hosts”, i.e. of the majestic procession of the stars across heaven. Here again we find a stellar meaning associated with a god-name.

Moses saw an apparition of this god in the burning bush. When Moses asks the god who he is, the god expresses his total sovereignty: “I am who I am”, ehyeh ašer ehyeh. Theologians and translators have contemplated this sentence profusely, until in ca. 1900, the German Orientalist Julius Wellhausen hit upon its probable original meaning: it elaborates a pun on the name Yahweh, which the Hebrews misinterpreted folk-etymologically as a causative participle of the verb HYY, “to be”, hence “the being one”, “he who is”, or more philosophically, “he whose essence is existence” “he who necessarily exists”, “he who causes existence to exist”. This edifice of profundities is entirely built on a folk-etymological pun, nothing more. Or to put it more positively: a new conception of the divine was grafted onto an old god.

The Arab form of the originally polytheistic term ha-eloha, “the deity”, is al-Ilāha, also “the deity”. A contracted form is Allāh, “thé deity”, “the god par excellence”, hence “God”. Originally it could refer to any earlier-mentioned god. Thus, Mohammed’s Pagan father was called Abdallāh, “servant of the deity”. Mohammed, in a bid to establish monotheism among the Arabs, reinterpreted Allāhas a synonym of Yahweh. He saw himself as the latest (and even last) one of the line of the prophets of Yahweh, renamed Allāh in Arabia. This way, the star-god El, the Semitic form of Sumerian Dingir, ended up shedding his connection with the stars and becoming the disembodied extra-cosmic Creator-god Yahweh/Allāh. The Quran (6:78, 22:18, 41:37) simply and strictly prohibits star worship.

In the footsteps of the reform movements Brahmo Samaj and Aryan Samaj, many anglicized Hindus claim that “Hinduism too is monotheistic”. This is a very defensive stand, and it is simply not correct. If the Hindu wealth of gods and of ways of worship were not polytheistic, what other religion would be? It seems to us that they are using a word they don’t understand. Monos does not mean “one”, it means “alone”, “one and no other”. Monotheism accepts only Yahweh or Allah, and considers all others as false gods, only good to be destroyed and discarded: Marduk, Ba’al, Osiris, Ahura Mazda, Śiva, Buddha. By contrast, Hinduism is inclusive. The Vedic verse: “The wise call the one essence by many names”, means that the different gods are not false but are essentially the same as your chosen god. There are no “false gods” in Hinduism. Reality is both one and manifold, and Hinduism is not bothered with the question whether the divine is single or many.

This also counts for other Pagan civilizations. When Protestant missionaries set up shop in China, they discovered that a native term roughly meaning “God” was Shangdi, so they appropriated this term as name of the Christian God. (Catholics preferred Tianzhu, the “Heavenly Boss”.) What they did not know, is that the Chinese language mostly does without the separate category of a plural, so the same word can be both plural and singular. Shangdi does not so much mean “the Sovereign on High”, as rather “the Powers on High”. In Chinese, even the grammar militates against the contrast between one and many. To monotheists this numerical matter is all-important, worthy of the iconoclastic destruction of all the “false gods”; but to regular people such as Hindus or Confucians and Daoists, it is just not an issue.

Širk

Heaven-worship is truly the universal religion, rivalled only by ancestor-worship. And even then, these two are intertwined. Deceased ancestors are deemed to be in heaven, often actually associated with a specific star. When your father has died, you take your child on an evening walk, and when the stars appear, you point out one of them and say: “There is grandpa, watching over us.” In a Vedic ritual, a zone in the sky, in the Scorpio-Sagittarius area, is designated as the destination of the dead.

For famous people, who had become part of the collective consciousness, the procedure could be to “elevate them to godhood” (Greek: Apotheōsis) by associating them with a specific star or constellation.A case in point from antiquity is Antinoös, the lover-boy of the Roman emperor Hadrian, who drowned himself and was given a star in Aquarius, still named after him. When in the 17th century the southern sky was mapped, one constellation was named after the protection given to Vienna by Jan Sobieski against the Ottoman siege: Scutum Sobieskii, “Sobieski’s shield”, now simply Scutum.

This practice was first attested in writing in Ugarit, Syria, where in ca. 2000 BC famous people upon their deaths were identified or “associated” with a star. In the native Semitic, this practice was named Širk, “association”. The term ought to be well-known today, but with an evolved meaning. When Islam imposed monotheism, it denounced polytheism and idolatry as Širk, i.e. the “association” of a mortal, a creature, with the Supreme Being, the Creator.

India too has known this practice. The stars of the Great Bear are named after the Seven Sages who composed most of the Ŗg-Veda. There are different variations of this list of seven, but one of the Sages who returns in all of them is Vasiṣṭha. He and his wife Arundhātī are associated with the twin stars Mizar and Alcor. In a moderate way, they did graduate to godhood, with a few temples in Himachal and Uttarakhand dedicated to them. Another sage who made it to heaven is Agastya, the Sage who went to the South, and therefore has the southern star Canopus named after him.

 Conclusion

At the dawn of history, and practically since the birth of mankind, star worship, partly overlapping with ancestor worship, was the main religion worldwide. With the development of civilization, conceptions of the divine grew away from their referents in nature. India generated a spirituality implying renunciation, and the gods followed suit. The Upanishads signalled a break with the Vedic focus on the gods and reoriented mankind’s attention to the spiritual path. A kind of relation with a kind of gods was restored, but adopting the new focus on Liberation.

Star worship remained alive, as “nothing ever dies in India” (in the words of the late Girilal jain), but that old layer was overlaid with new levels of abstraction. The highest of these was the abstract concept of the Absolute (Brahmaṇ) that appeared in the Upaniṣads and remained, in various guises, in the mai sects of Hinduism. But the lower levels, including the naturalistic, star-related levels did not disappear; it was an organic evolution.

A roughly similar evolution took place in the Greek world and then in the Roman empire. The elites outgrew the colourful pantheon and, mainly through Stoicism, accepted a more abstract and more unitary concept of the divine. In Neoplatonism, which may have been influenced by Indian developments, everything was thought to emanate from “the One”. In China too, “the One” was the name of a unifying abstract concept transcending the many natural gods of everyday religion.

Unfortunately, in the Roman empire, this natural evolution was interrupted and forcibly driven in a particular direction by the imposition of Christianity. However, at the same time, to better insinuate itself in the Greco-Roman culture, Christianity also took over much from Stoicism and Neoplatonism, which appear mainly in Christian morals c.q. theology.The breakthrough of monotheism followed the same pattern as the conceptual development in Hinduism to a some extent, but was unnecessarily brutal and destructive regarding the earlier religion. The same scenario repeated itself even more abruptly with the advent of Islam.

The resulting concept of divine unity (in Islam: tawḥīd) was also much cruder than a what gradual development would have made possible. While superseding the colourful old gods, Yahweh or Allah were much like them in their negative aspects: all too human, too personal, not nirguṇa, “beyond qualities”. As India has shown, it was perfectly possible to move from a naturalistic to a more abstract conception of the divine without destroying the earlier conception.

 

The Idea of God (Part-I)

– Dr. Koenraad Elst

koenraadMarxDr. Elst, born in 1959 in Leuven, Belgium, studied Sinology, Indology and Philosophy and did his Ph.D. on the ideological development of Hindu Revivalism. He worked as a political journalist and as a foreign-policy assistent in the Belgian Senate, but mainly as a independent writer. He became fairly well-known in India with his argumentation in favour of the Ayodhya temple, now vindicated, and with his work on the Aryan homeland question, still controversial.

All known civilizations have a thing called “god”, plural or singular. They are a category of beings deemed endowed with far more power and a vastly larger longevity than us human beings. For the rest, their characters and functions may vary.

In writing, the idea of “a god” is first attested in the Sumerian ideogram Dingir, which has the physical form of a radiant star. It certainly has the meaning “god”, for it is used as the common determinative for a whole class of names signifying gods. That, indeed, was anciently how a divine being was conceived: as a radiant heaven-dweller. In Babylon and in Harran, each planet was worshipped in a temple of its own.

The pre-Islamic religion was also largely star worship (next to ancestor worship and the worship of special stones like the Black Stone in Mecca’s Ka’ba). Thus, the three Meccan goddesses of Satanic Verses fame, al-Lāt, al-Uzza and al-Manāt, are roughly the Sun, Venus and the Moon. The Ka’ba was dedicated to the moon-god Hubal, and housed a stone fallen from heaven.

Stars were explicitly recognized as gods by prominent philosophers like Socrates and Plato. Some dissident freethinkers however, like the philosopher Anaxagoras and the playwright Aristophanes, thought stars were only burning rocks. After Christianization, when all divinity was invested in an extra-cosmic Supreme Being, the planets were desacralized and reduced to cogwheels in a cosmic machinery set in motion by the Creator and operated by his angels. Though numerically, a large part of humanity now espouses this desacralizing view, it is rather exceptional in the history of religions. The association of gods with stars was pretty universal.

Other properties of a god

Because a star is radiant and stands in heaven, near-permanently visible to all, it is a part of our collective consciousness, our shared frame of reference. This, then, is the operative meaning of “a god” in human life: the personification of an important collective factor difficult to negotiate, and which you have to take into account in the things you plan to do. Thus, Dyaus = heaven, Agni = fire, Indra (“the rainer”) = storm; Vayu = wind, Pṛthivī (“the broad one”) = earth. This principle is then generalized, and gods can be personifications of any category of beings. Thus, Śiva is the personification of the renunciants, unkempt and living in the mountains.

A god is powerful in that he can impact your life. But he is not all-powerful, because he has to share his power with other gods. Rarely if ever is he seen as “the Creator” who stood outside the universe and fashioned it from nothing. Rather, he himself is a part of the universe. Creation is normally seen as only a transformation from formless matter to the present world of form, and in that process, gods may play their part. In that limited sense, the Vedas and Puranas have plenty of “creation” stories. Yet they also assume that the universe as a whole has always been there, though it cyclically becomes unmanifest, only to reappear again. It is an exclusively Biblical-Quranic belief, further propagated by thinkers who elaborate the Biblical or Quranic assumptions, that a single Supreme Being, in a single moment never to be repeated, created the whole universe from nothing.

Gods are imagined to be endowed with personalities befitting the element of which they are the personification. As such, they are also sensitive to gifts and flattery, and may thus be influenced into exercising their power in a partisan, friendly way. That is why people who would never think of appeasing the stormy sea, do devise rituals to appease the sea god, hoping that he will guarantee smooth sailing.

Finally, a star or god is also, as far as a mortal can tell, eternal: it existed before we were born and goes on existing after we have died. As suggested by the extreme longevity of the physical stars, gods are proverbially deemed immortal. Hence the binary: us mortal earthlings versus the immortal heaven-dwellers.

star1

Deva

The same meaning of “star”, “radiant heaven-dweller”, is present in Vedic Sanskrit Deva, “the shining one”, hence “a god”. It is also etymologically present in cognate words like Latin Deus, “a god”. One of the Sanskrit terms for “astrologer”, at least since its mention in a 4th-century dictionary, is Daiva-jña, “knower of the gods”, or in practice, “knower of destiny”. Another is Daiva-lekhaka, “gods-writer”, “destiny-writer”, i.e. horoscope-maker. Obviously, the stars here were seen as gods regulating man’s destiny.

A parallel development, but omitting (or only implying) the original link with the stars, is found in Slavic Bog, “the share-giver”, “the apportioner”, “the destiny-decider”, related to Sanskrit Bhaga, and hence to the derivative Bhagavān. Other god-names are more derived from the practice of worshipping, such as the Germanic counterpart God, “the worshipped one”, Sanskrit Huta; or the Greek counterpart Theos, “god”, related to Latin festus, “festive”; feriae, “holiday”, i.e, “religious feast”; and to Sanskrit dhiṣā, “daring, enthusiastic”, dhiṣaṇā, “goddess”, dhiṣṇya, “devout”. But even here, a stellar connection reappears, for the latter word is also a name of Śukra / ”Venus”.

More examples of the personification of heavenly phenomena as gods are found throughout the Vedas. The deities Mitra and Varuṇa represent the day sky (hence the sun, here remarkably called “the friend”) c.q. the night sky, with its stable sphere of the fixed stars, with its regular cycles representative of the world order. The Nāsatyas or Aśvins (“horse-riders”) are thought to represent the two morning- and evening stars, Mercury and Venus, who “ride” the sun, often likened to a horse. Uśa (related elsewhere to Eōs, Aurora, Ostara, and hence to “east” and “Easter”) represents the sunrise.

The Vedic gods were personifications of natural forces, with whom you could do business: do ut des, “I give to you” through sacrifice, “so that you give to me” the desire-fulfilment I want. That type of relation between man and god is pretty universal. That was the ancient worldwide conception of gods. But in auspicious circumstances, religion was to graduate from this stage, and the gods would go beyond the stars.

Transcending the stars

Hindus often react to the above-mentioned view as insufficiently respectful to Hinduism. They insist that it is a Western “Orientalist” fabrication to see the gods as mere personifications of natural forces. In foreign countries, perhaps, but not in India. They think it treats religion as essentially childish, for in children’s talk, or in that by mothers towards children, there is a lot of personification. Yet, we insist that in the Vedic stage of civilization, this conception of gods still prevailed; perhaps already as a rhetorical device built on top of an earlier more primitive stage, but still sufficiently present to leave numerous traces. It shows a deficient sense of history to project the newest insights of Hinduism back onto its past, and to deny the amount of change that has taken place in the conceptual history of Hinduism.

But then two things happened. The first is that from the Upanishads onwards, in a distinctively Indian development, the notion of Self-Realization or Liberation arose. The way to this goal, the Sādhana or what is nowadays called “the spiritual path”, is not about the fulfilment of desires; instead, the point is to decrease your desires, to renounce, to abandon. This was initially conceived as a process in which no god or other being played any role (whether they were deemed to exist or not), making way for a focus on the Self (ātman), equal to the Absolute of pure consciousness (brahman). This Absolute was conceived as being above the pairs of opposites, as devoid of characteristics (nirguṇa). Gods were relegated to the background, to the world of desire-fulfilment through rituals. Self-Realization implied renunciation from desire-fulfilment, and hence a distance from the gods and their favours.

The second development is that the gods persisted or were revived, but in a transformed role. Stellar references are explicit in the case of Sūrya, the sun, and of Soma Candra, the moon; but less so in the case of Viṣṇu, “the all-pervader” (like the sun’s rays), though he has a solar quality; and Śiva (“the auspicious one”, an apotropaeic flattery of the terrible Vedic god Rudra, “the screamer”), the Candradhāra or “moon-bearer”, the Somanātha or “lord of the moon”, has a lunar, nightly quality. The classical Hindu gods Viṣṇu and Śiva represent a revolution vis-à-vis the Vedic worldview. You don’t bring sacrifices “for Liberation” to the Vedic gods, a notion presupposing renunciation from those desires. By contrast, the later “Puranic” gods of classical Hinduism take some distance from the naturalist meaning in which they originate, and do integrate Liberation. Very soon, devotional-theistic movements adapted this new notion to their cult of Viṣṇu, Śiva or Śakti (or elsewhere, Amitābha Buddha or Avalokiteśvara), gods with a distinct personality (saguṇa) but more spiritual. In Kashmiri Shaivism, Śiva gets abstracted as pure consciousness, Śakti as pure energy. With these gods, you could “unite” so as to terminate your susceptibility to worldly suffering, to delusion, to the karmic cycle. They would grant you Liberation, just like the Vedic gods would grant you wish-fulfilment.

But that doesn’t mean Hindus have given up on wish-fulfilment. They still perform rituals to help them get what they want, and often this involves explicitly stellar gods, but conceived as lower gods or “demi-gods”. Astrologers instruct their clients to say prayers before the planet that disturbs their horoscope. The client will get advice on what ritual to practise, when and how and for which god, to ward off the negative influences of the stellar configurations indicated in his horoscope. This will remove the obstacles to his well-being and the fulfilment of his desires. The navagraha or “nine planets” (sun, moon, their two eclipse nodes, and the five visible planets) as a whole are a normal object of worship.

To be continued….