Ignore Guru Culture And Perish

Published: Wednesday, Dec 12,2012, 23:33 IST
westernized education, Indian philosophies, Adi Shankara, monism, Buddhism, Advait philosophy, Ramanujam, Kashmir Shaivism, Maharishi Vyas, Brahma Sutra, Jainism, Advait, Samkhya, Indigenous philosophies

My sister and I were discussing spiritual and existential questions in the Indian context. However her westernized education and limited exposure to Indian philosophies hindered her ability in grasping its concepts. Exasperated she threw her hands in the air and exclaimed, “There are so many scriptures, so many opinions! How can I know which to follow?”

Her statement should delight any right thinking person grappling with political and economic problems of the world! Most of our problems revolve around ambitious war mongering right wingers, motivated enough to hog large chunks of national budgets.

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Therefore, the facts that my sister takes her right to choose any spiritual path for granted, and that mountains of literature are available on the subject speak a lot about the Indian culture of Gurus!

Understanding that the ancient Indian term for philosophers was “Gurus” might help political and religious thinkers understand issues better. They need to study this aspect of Indian culture before trashing it in their uninformed, intolerant yet condescending style.

In fact the culture of finding a personal Guru is contrary to organized religion; it strikes at its very base. Organized religion actively seeks political patronage. It easily becomes dogmatic. Suppressing secular knowledge,it extends its life cycle through entrapment and intolerance.

However, the culture of Gurus allows for debates, direct challenges, universal appeal and renewal, failing which the Guru himself becomes marginalized. It also demands that the polity foster a culture of tolerance. This was the case in India where, for example, battles were not fought either when Buddhism replaced ritualism or when Adi Shankara’s monism routed Buddhism from India.

Even earlier, in Krishna’s time, his brother Neminath Ji gave up princely life to become a non-violent Jain ascetic and a venerated Tirthankar! Krishna’s elder brother Balram stood by Krishna in his exploits but before the start of the war of Kurukshetra, he renounced all to strive for Moksh. Krishna himself was unperturbed and gave spiritual knowledge to Arjun in the battlefield.

Jain, Samkhya, Advait, Atheists, etc. philosophies co-existed. Gurus expounded paths and one could follow any. This was the case of Chandragupt Maurya, the illustrious king. He renounced violence, becoming a Jain ascetic.

Despite Adi Shankara’s Advait philosophy’s success over Buddhism, later day philosophers like Ramanujam digressed from it without a violent fallout and even later Madhava almost denied Shankara’s conclusions and developed his dualist philosophy! Side by side Adi Shankara’s Advait was further expounded by Kashmir Shaivism’s philosophers.

Maharishi Vyas, much before Adi Shankara, wrote “Brahma Sutra” in which he opined on different streams of thoughts like Buddhism, Jainism, Advait, and Samkhya. It was a work that did not spew fire but debated merits and limitations of different philosophies!

In India it is traditionally recognized that questions of identity, duty and mysticism are not the exclusive domain of straight-jacketed cults founded on names of God or prophets. They belong in the wider domain of philosophy. Thus while mysticism was routed in dogmatic West, it has thrived in East’s culture of debates and experience. “Nyaya” purely deals with application of logic and is honored by Indian Gurus.

This is the achievement of Gurus. Guru culture helps India come out of the clutches of dogmatism without violence. Despite its darkest moments in history India renewed itself on the basis of indigenous philosophies and philosophers.

Islamists who tried to convert India found peace in the mysticism of Sufi Gurus and in praying before their graves in stark contradiction to its original teachings!

The name and legacy of Christ, usurped by organized Church, led Western nation’s to commit fratricide, killing believers that differed and genocides in Africa and the Americas! Similarly Shias and Sunnis are at each other’s throats even today. Both religions play dirty politics in non-believing nations and have never acted in the interest of peace and tolerance.

In stark contrast, despite centuries of slavery, India continued to produce a Tulsidas, a Gandhi, Ramakrishna Paramhansa. We see Amma hugging people world over spreading her message of peace; Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Sudarshan Kriya technique provides relief to millions including Kashmiri militants, Maoists and criminals! His trauma relief camps are held in riot and war hit areas disregarding religion or sex. He tries to unite a better evolved, connected world, with a fresh perspective of Spirituality, rising above religion yet honoring it. In fact sometimes, when Sri Sri is asked to preach, he says sit now and meditate! The proof is in eating the pudding!

The world needs the culture of tolerant Indian Gurus that can dive into the secular knowledge of Vedas and skim organized Religions for the same; Gurus that rise above dogmatism to logically discuss knowledge of the Secular Spiritual domain instead of making blinkered demands of unquestioning faith from perplexed seekers.

Indian Gurus have expertly dealt with, through centuries, the complexities of human nature, of faith and of a God whose name itself has caused wars! Unlike many mullahs and priests it is they that stride the pathways of Philosophy like giants, abhorring violence and irrationality, offering renewal repeatedly.

Therefore one must ask, “Why should we not have more Gurus?”

— Anand Mathur (Views are personal) Follow the writer on twitter.com/anand153

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