Friday 27 May 2016

“Om Shantih Shantih Shantih”

An advice to chant “Om” and a couple of shlokas at the start of yoga exercises on the International Day of Yoga on June 21 has triggered angry reactions from the so called secular parties, which have accused the government of pushing a “sectarian agenda”.

The government has released a Common Yoga Protocol to be followed by the participants on June 21. The protocol says yoga exercises should be preceded by a prayer that begins with the chanting of “Om” three times, and ends with “Om Shantih Shantih Shantih”. While resisting this move some people have even suggested that OM should be replaced with a suitable word which will be acceptable to all (read pseudo secularists). But one wonders how this can be done as it is an integral part of Yogic practice. Yoga as popularly misunderstood is not just a physical exercise nor just a regimen to get rid of our physical ailments. It is a Holistic Spiritual practice which helps in synthesizing our various layers of personality. Postures help in tuning our body, but it’s the mantras which help us in tuning our mind. Before crying foul that this is an attempt to foist the belief system of Hindus on others, one should understand what these mantras mean and what their effects are. Om is not just a sound but the primal sound of the universe that comprises of all the sounds within itself. Chanting OM brings a degree of peace and purification to the mind. Medical studies have found that chanting OM with concentration enables you to reduce the adrenaline levels that in turn helps in reducing the stress levels. Since chanting OM segregates you from the world and the associated tensions, you tend to find peace without the distraction and you feel pious and serene. 

Few years ago, scientists conducted an experiment in which participants who had never chanted Om mantra were asked to chant it for few minutes and each of their chants were recorded. The time frequency analysis of it showed irregular waveforms which indicated unsteadiness in the mind. They were asked to chant the mantra on a regular basis and after few days, the experiment was repeated. The time-frequency analysis this time had some startling revelations. The waveforms were improved with regular spacing, had almost perfect symmetry and harmony. Not only had these participants witnessed dramatic improvements in focus, concentration & steadiness, but found themselves to be in peace, witnessed reduction in mental stress & could remain calm all the time.

One should not forget that irrespective of the faith all Indians belong to this great old tradition and culture. It is this culture which gave Ayurveda and Siddha medicine to this world. The medicines are prepared by invoking lord Danvantri, a god of Medicine. If people can take those medicines without any qualms why should there be any resistance to Yoga with mantras? Such protests are not coming from any other theocratic states. In fact many of those countries are taking to Yoga as they see the inherent benefit in it. It’s only the pseudo secular politicians from our land who are crying hoarse. 

Yoga is the panacea for the problems which the modern world is facing. Yoga is the answer to the religious fundamentalism which is threatening to push the humanity into extinction. Yoga teaches us the vision of oneness which makes one feel that he is a part of the creation and not distinct from it. A vision which endears one to nature and to all other beings. It highlights the need to uncover all the wisdom found in traditional knowledge systems to find clues to the contemporary problems faced by humanity. It is a philosophy in action. 

Every Indian irrespective of the faith he or she is following now is a rightful legatee of this ancient wisdom. But at the same time it belongs to those and only those who are proud of their cultural heritage and cherish the rich tradition. Not to those who are ashamed of their ancestry and live in denial.  Any attempt to delink yoga from Hinduism should be condemned.

Wednesday 4 May 2016

Emancipation through Bhakti

This month marks the beginning of the 1000th anniversary of the great saint and philosopher Sri Ramanuja. The history of Hindu society is replete with lot of churnings to inundate the social and cultural stagnation which the society has begotten into. This becomes essential as the philosophy and culture entwined with it has to be refurbished to suit the needs of people in every century. This is even more essential as this condition befalls on a society because it weans away from the Dharma.  Hence branding this society as one which has stagnated with evils and lack of social mobility is an accusation designed with a motive to deride it by the colonialists. It was done to make the society believe that it needs an overhaul with a culture and belief system totally alien to the people. Simply a design to proselytize our people. If we look at the past and through the lives of great seers we can see that our society had indigenous methods to clean itself from the cobwebs. The bhakti movement is one significant example of such a mass social emancipation when it was needed. 

Many a great seer has come in the past to remind our society its destined path. One such seer was Sri Ramanuja. He was a spiritual leader, a social reformer, a builder of Institutions, a reviver of the eternal spirirtual spring called Sanatana Dharma and a great Philosopher. Sri Ramanuja was an institution by himself. Emperumanar (as he is fondly called by Sri Vaishnavas) just arrived at a juncture when Islamic invasions were in full force attempting to rip apart the Hindu civilization, and posing a great threat to the integrity of Bharat. Sri Ramanuja’s contribution must be understood in the broader context of the civilizational challenges, and how he acted as a bulwark against insidious and external threats. One Incident will bring to light the compassion he had towards the fallen and downtrodden people. After establishing worship procedures at Srirangam, Ramanuja approached an elderly spiritual master Thirukkottiyur Nambi to learn the most sacred of mantras. He introduced himself to Nambi as the servant of Lord Varadaraja. Nambi took him as his disciple and taught the sacred mantras, but instructed him not to share with anyone as they were the most sacred mantras. He also warned him that he would go to hell if he shares the mantras with others.  After learning, Ramanuja was not contended with that soul ennobling mantra. He wanted to share the wonderful secret to the society so that everyone can attain liberation. So he shared them with everyone irrespective of the caste, creed, sex and social status. The next day he climbed up the gopuram of the temple and taught the mantras to all those who gathered there. He also advised them to chant that sacred mantras all the time to attain liberation. Ramanuja’s teacher Nambi called him and threatened him that he would go to hell for sharing the secret mantras with everyone. In reply Ramanuja told his teacher that he would be happy to go to hell at the expense of many people getting liberation for chanting the sacred mantras. At this response his teacher Nambi realised his mistake and Ramanuja’s greatness and decided to become Ramaunja’s disciple. This compassion and inclusiveness is the need of the hour in the present society too. Let us mark the thousandth birth anniversary of this great seer by taking a vow to rekindle that spiritual wisdom of seeing Vishnu in every being and to embrace everyone.