Religion and Spirituality

Monthly mail from Navadarshanam for Sep ’09. Please read Ananthu ji’s clarifications below first to avoid mis-communication.

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Dear friends,

These days, many people are making dire predictions that the next War (perhaps in the form of a nuclear holocaust) will take place in the form of a world divided on religious lines – Islam versus Christianity, and that 9/11 was merely a precursor to what is about to happen on a world-wide scale.

The prospect is indeed horrifying – of people killing millions of innocents in the name of God, the one God who is supposed to have given us life in the first place. With the rise of ‘fundamentalism’ in different religions, the chances of this deadly scenario actually unfolding is looking more and more probable

Is there any hope this can be averted? Surprisingly, there is a parallel movement happening in the lives of ordinary people the world over which holds out tremendous hope. Section I in the Appendix to this letter is a reproduction of a recent article in Newsweek which documents the rise of a new kind of consciousness which people are waking up to.

This Newsweek article should not be misunderstood as an indication that Christians are converting to Hinduism. Not at all. What they are doing is searching for the real ‘fundamentals’ of their own religion, which in many cases is diametrically opposite to what the ‘fundamentalists’ espouse.

A good case to illustrate this point is the life of E.F.Schumacher, the well-known economist and author of ‘Small is Beautiful’. In his other book “A Guide for the Perplexed” which he wrote just prior to his death, he has described how he got disillusioned with the Church’s teachings when the Priest at his Sunday mass skirted around the searching questions he had asked. Much later in life, when on a visit to Burma, he got to interact with the then Accountant General, U Baw Khin, whose character impressed him and he concluded that here, at long last, he had met a truly saintly person who knew the deep mysteries of life and death which his Sunday priest was ignorant of. From this person, Schumacher learnt the system of meditation which in Buddhist parlance is known as vipassanna, meaning ‘the ability to see’. As Schumacher has emphasized, this did not make him a Buddhist, but a real and practicing Christian. As he put it eloquently:

“Inner work, or yoga in its many forms, is not the peculiarity of the East, but the taproot, as it were, of all authentic religions. It has been called the ‘applied psychology of religion’, and it must be said that religion without applied psychology is completely worthless. Simply to believe a religion to be true, and to give intellectual assent to its creed and dogmatic theology, and not to be know it to be true through having tested it by the scientific methods of yoga, results in the blind leading the blind.”

It is this taproot, in the form of inner work (purification of the mind), which forms the true fundamental of any and every religion. That is why Pir Inayat Khan had said that you may belong to any religion, but you can live only thereligion – and by living that, you simultaneously become a good Muslim, a good Hindu, a good Christian, a good Jew. Gandhi referred to this inner work as the religion which underlies all religions. Vinoba Bhave used the term ‘spirituality’ to distinguish inner work from institutionalized religion.

One does not necessarily have to go outside of one’s religious circle (as Schumacher did) to discover a teacher of spirituality. For instance, there lived a Christian Jesuit priest recently by name Father Anthony de Mello who taught inner work to those whom he came in touch with. Section II of the Appendix to this letter gives the essence of his teaching. The word he uses for what the Buddhists callvipassanna is awareness – both lead to seeing life, reality, Truth. From both, the promise is the same, put eloquently by Father de Mello thus:

“You will fear no one and you will fear nothing. Isn’t that
extraordinary? You’ll live like a king, like a queen. This is what
it means to live like royalty. Not rubbish like getting your picture
in the newspapers or having a lot of money. That’s a lot of rot. You
fear no one because you’re perfectly content to be nobody. You don’t
give a damn about success or failure. They mean nothing. Honour,
disgrace, they mean nothing! If you make a fool of yourself, that
means nothing either. Isn’t that a wonderful state to be in! Some
people arrive at this goal painstakingly, step by step, through
months and weeks of self-awareness.”

Sections III and IV of the Annexure to this letter contain two of the many beautiful pieces that Father de Mello left behind for his disciples in particular, and for the world at large – one is about Prayer, and the other about Solitude. His writings, especially his books “One Minute Wisdom” and “One Minute Nonsense”, contain many pearls of wisdom.

It is people like Fr de Mello who may be able to rescue the world from what seems like an impending catastrophe.

Yours,

Ananthu

APPENDIX

I
By Lisa Miller | NEWSWEEK
Published Aug 15, 2009
From the magazine issue dated Aug 31, 2009

America is not a Christian nation. We are, it is true, a nation founded by Christians, and according to a 2008 survey, 76 percent of us continue to identify as Christian (still, that’s the lowest percentage in American history). Of course, we are not a Hindu—or Muslim, or Jewish, or Wiccan—nation, either. A million-plus Hindus live in the United States, a fraction of the billion who live on Earth. But recent poll data show that conceptually, at least, we are slowly becoming more like Hindus and less like traditional Christians in the ways we think about God, our selves, each other, and eternity.

The Rig Veda, the most ancient Hindu scripture, says this: “Truth is One, but the sages speak of it by many names.” A Hindu believes there are many paths to God. Jesus is one way, the Qur’an is another, yoga practice is a third. None is better than any other; all are equal. The most traditional, conservative Christians have not been taught to think like this. They learn in Sunday school that their religion is true, and others are false. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.”

Americans are no longer buying it. According to a 2008 Pew Forum survey, 65 percent of us believe that “many religions can lead to eternal life”—including 37 percent of white evangelicals, the group most likely to believe that salvation is theirs alone. Also, the number of people who seek spiritual truth outside church is growing. Thirty percent of Americans call themselves “spiritual, not religious,” according to a 2009 NEWSWEEK Poll, up from 24 percent in 2005. Stephen Prothero, religion professor at Boston University, has long framed the American propensity for “the divine-deli-cafeteria religion” as “very much in the spirit of Hinduism. You’re not picking and choosing from different religions, because they’re all the same,” he says. “It isn’t about orthodoxy. It’s about whatever works. If going to yoga works, great—and if going to Catholic mass works, great. And if going to Catholic mass plus the yoga plus the Buddhist retreat works, that’s great, too.”

Then there’s the question of what happens when you die. Christians traditionally believe that bodies and souls are sacred, that together they comprise the “self,” and that at the end of time they will be reunited in the Resurrection. You need both, in other words, and you need them forever. Hindus believe no such thing. At death, the body burns on a pyre, while the spirit—where identity resides—escapes. In reincarnation, central to Hinduism, selves come back to earth again and again in different bodies. So here is another way in which Americans are becoming more Hindu: 24 percent of Americans say they believe in reincarnation, according to a 2008 Harris poll. So agnostic are we about the ultimate fates of our bodies that we’re burning them—like Hindus—after death. More than a third of Americans now choose cremation, according to the Cremation Association of North America, up from 6 percent in 1975. “I do think the more spiritual role of religion tends to deemphasize some of the more starkly literal interpretations of the Resurrection,” agrees Diana Eck, professor of comparative religion at Harvard. So let us all say “om.”

II
Come Home to Yourself

[By FR. Anthony de Mello SJ, a Jesuit Priest]

There’s the story of the disciple who went to the master and said,
“Could you give me a word of wisdom? Could you tell me something
that would guide me through my days?” It was the master’s day of
silence, so he picked up a pad. It said, “Awareness.” When the
disciple saw it, he said, “This is too brief. Can you expand on it a
bit?” So the master took back the pad and wrote, “Awareness,
awareness, awareness.” The disciple said, “Yes, but what does it
mean?” The master took back the pad and wrote, “Awareness,
awareness, awareness means — awareness.”

That’s what it is to watch yourself. When you talk to someone, are
you aware of it or are you simply identifying with it? When you got
angry with somebody, were you aware that you were angry or wereyou
simply identifying with your anger? Later, when you had the time,
did you study your experience and attempt to understand it? Where
did it come from? What brought it on? I don’t know of any other way
to awareness. You only change what you understand. What you do not
understand and are not aware of, you repress. You don’t change. But
when you understand it, it changes. If you’re lucky and the gods are
gracious or if you are gifted with divine grace you might suddenly
understand who “I” is, and you will never be the same again, never.
Nothing will ever be able to touch you again and no one will ever be
able to hurt you again.

You will fear no one and you will fear nothing. Isn’t that
extraordinary? You’ll live like a king, like a queen. This is what
it means to live like royalty. Not rubbish like getting your picture
in the newspapers or having a lot of money. That’s a lot of rot. You
fear no one because you’re perfectly content to be nobody. You don’t
give a damn about success or failure. They mean nothing. Honour,
disgrace, they mean nothing! If you make a fool of yourself, that
means nothing either. Isn’t that a wonderful state to be in! Some
people arrive at this goal painstakingly, step by step, through
months and weeks of self-awareness.

But I’ll promise you this: I have not known a single person who gave
time to being aware who didn’t see a difference in a matter of
weeks. The quality of their life changes, so they don’t have to take
it on faith anymore. They see it; they’re different. They react
differently. In fact, they react less and act more. You see things
you’ve never seen before.

III

PRAYER

[By FR. Anthony de Mello SJ, a Jesuit Priest]

The Master never ceased to attack the notions about God that people entertain.

“If your God comes to your rescue and gets you out of trouble,” he would say,”it is time you started searching for the true God.”

When asked to elaborate, this is the story he told:

A man left a brand new bicycle unattended at the marketplace while he went about shopping.

He only remembered the bicycle the following day – and rushed to the marketplace expecting it would have been stolen. The bicycle was exactly where he had left it.

Overwhelmed with joy, he rushed to a nearby temple to thank God for having kept his bicycle safe – only to find, when he got ou of the temple, that the bicycle was gone!

IV

SOLITUDE

[By FR. Anthony de Mello SJ, a Jesuit Priest]

“ I want to be with God in prayer.”

“What you want is an absurdity”

“Why?”

“Because whenever you are, God is not. Whenever God is, you are not. So how could you be with God?”

Later the Master said:

“Seek aloneness. When you are with someone else, you are not alone. When you are ‘with God’, you are not alone. The only way to be with God is to be utterly alone. Then, hopefully, God will be and you will not.”

.


T.S. Ananthu & Gopalan- Shobha & Nagarajan-Padmini, Navadarshanam Trust Ganganahally hamlet Gumalapuram Village Thally block, Krishnagiri Dist T.N. 635118
www.navadarshanam.org

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