Saturday, March 6, 2010

Does He Really Exist ?

Does He really Exist? Or is he a figment of my imagination - a life line created in a weak moment
The world around me is full of disparities. There seems to be relentless suffering. Then why should I believe ?
I don’t need Him! I believe in myself. So I don’t need any prop to support me through tough times.
Faith is meant for the weak-hearted; For those who need a justification for their failures - Blame it on Karma! What else!
How do I know He is there?

I have gone through these questions myself. Today, as I stand on the threshold of my faith, I realize the immaturity and absolute audacity of these thoughts.

Firstly , I’ve understood now that faith is not something that I can intellectualize. It cannot be apprehended by logic. It is not something that can be understood by the mind alone. It is a function of the heart, of feeling, of experiencing what it is like to have someone you can ALWAYS rely on, no matter what. To be able to experience His presence in every moment of your life is a euphoria that cannot be described. It has to be felt. I can explain to you the sweetness of the sugar cube in my mouth and what I am going through. But to really understand, you have to put the sugar cube in your mouth, yourself. Our experience can then be shared but may never be the same. How we comprehend and experience our faith is a factor of our emotions and bonding with Him. What relationship we strike with Him defines our experience.

As years pass, we experience life and often, our faith begins to shake. In this journey, somewhere, our disgruntlement with the so called caretakers of our religion too, has made us disown our faith - we have chosen to throw the baby out with the bathwater! The loss is completely ours and its impact is all around us – from the rudderless butterfly generation that flits from one enjoyment to the other and yet feels empty inside to the insecure elderly who are not sure what they did with their lives except to know that they traveled aimlessly, a long way to a destination that they are now sure they never intended reaching. Life for both has nothing to offer but grief, pain, disillusionment, misplaced anger and frustration. In an attempt to ease all of this, they sink further, holding on to makeshift gurus who have utilized the situation to their personal advantage.

Does God really exist? The answer does not lie outside us. It lies within our introspective thought. So here are my answers!!

Does He really Exist? Or is he a figment of my imagination

Undoubtedly God exists. Just because I don’t see, touch or hear him, doesn’t mean that he isn’t there. Let’s take an example - Someone who has traveled extensively, comes back from his trip to this unknown destination, and tells us of this spectacular place that he visited. He takes out the map and shows us the geographical coordinates and location of the place. He even has photographs. We are struck by the beauty of the place and believe him. Hasn’t this happened to most of us? Well, why am I willing to believe this person, when he tells me that this place exists? On the contrary, why am I unable to believe when a believer says God exists. The believer too, is also able to show me details from the scriptures of how to get there, about what the journey will be like, how the place looks like, what the experience will be like. He also has photographs of the destination & the Lord based on people who have experienced God. Then why this disbelief! The reason is simple. God is not tangible – I can’t in my mundane existence, see or feel him. I cannot understand all of what the scriptures are saying. There are misinterpretations and too much conflicting data. But it is not true that what we don’t understand does not exist, isn’t it?

For those of us who do believe we feel his presence - In the daily events; the answers that come unasked; in the sudden help that comes from an unexpected hand. Most people would agree to the presence of a larger force that drives events and decisions in our life. If you look around you with an open mind, you will be able to see that so much of the world is held by this force. From the planets that don’t collide to the upshoot of a sapling from a dry bark to the power of water and fire. How does one explain why life began? What prompted that chemical composition to suddenly react and begin to grow? Our intellect cannot answer that. Faith can. Intellectualizing and seeking proof for everything maybe greatly rewarding – but after a point, it shakes up your core and fundamentals. I might be able to subject my parents and myself to DNA  testing to prove who my father is – but will that act ever allow our relationship to trust & grow? I think not. Where the intellect ends, faith begins. It is far beyond what our minds can comprehend. It is sufficient to believe that God exists. When we do, then answers fall into place.

The world around us is full of disparities. There seems to be relentless suffering. Then why should I believe ?

Lets look at it like this. When we get into a relationship, we don’t necessarily do it for a gain. We form a bond because the person means something to us. Often as a parent or a child, we continue to love despite the frictions or negativity. The reason is simple - we love them. Well, if we gain from that relationship - that’s a bonus. If the person loves us in return , then we are very lucky. But we love them all the same. Our faith in God is also like that. We love and believe in Him because He is our own. That he loves us is indisputable. In fact, we are the ones who spread negativity in this relationship and refuse to love him. He continues to care and nurture.

If he loves and nurtures then why is there so much pain – you may ask. Well, there are 2 reasons –Firstly, its like the mother, who force - feeds bitter medicine to the child in the hope that it will cure the disease. Any person who has gone through repeated hardships in life will be able to see a pattern of events in them. When we don’t learn from our past mistakes and keep repeating them, then God keeps knocking us on our heads in the hope that we will understand and correct ourselves. Often we don’t. We choose the same type of people and situations. We fall into a pattern of emotions that is negative and drives our minds to make decisions that fulfill our thoughts. One negativity drives another.

Secondly, most successful people would vouch for the fact that they have become who they are because they went through untold hardships. Yet as parents today, we want to protect our child and give them a soft life. What God is trying to do is give us experiences that will toughen us for life to come so that we will be stronger and better equipped. He is making sure we succeed.

Pain is not bad provided I choose to channelise it. There are people who have come out of suffering choosing to ensure that others don’t suffer like them – yet others have taken to drugs and alcohol. Did one feel less pain than other? No. The reaction to pain has differed. What we are expected to do with our pain is pretty simple – Use it to gain mental strength and support people around you, use that learning to create a better world - Bear it & bare it!

You don’t stop loving your parent because they make you go through an unpalatable experience. When you trust them, you grit your teeth and bear it - you know that they would never put you through something that would not benefit you in the end. In that faith, you will be sure that the experience will make you a better human being and serve a larger cause.

Seemingly, people who believe seem to have more difficulties and pain to overcome, while the atheists or the unrighteous seem to have an easy life. Why should I believe?  What do I get?

If I look around me, it is what I don’t have that attracts me to the other person. If it is wealth I seek then it is the rich who attract my attention. If I think I don’t look good then I’m drawn to attractive people. It seems to me they have everything that they need to be happy (because that is what I want). However, what is visible need not necessarily be true, isn’t it? What another’s pains are, I don’t really know. However, well endowed a person might be, no one can claim to be completely, undilutedly happy at a given moment. There will always be something missing in their life. But this state of undiluted happiness is possible for those of us who don’t seek anything & are contented with what we have. It might seem like an utopian state to be in. But its possible to get there. That’s where faith helps.

It is implicit faith that helps me to understand that what is given to me and what I am going through, is His will. With that belief, it becomes easier to accept and live through that moment. This is not fatality or an attitude where I don’t do anything. It’s a way of life that helps me to look at events with a sense of detachment.  It helps me to fulfill what  I have to do happily because it is what He wants. Automatically, my thoughts and actions also get tempered by a value system that ensures optimal benefit to me and the world around me.

 So, when I believe, I don’t know if its going to ensure that justice is done to the wrongdoers but its does ensure that I can lead a contented life – one that also makes the world a better place in the process.

I don’t need Him! I believe in myself. So I don’t need any prop to support me through tough times.

Many times, we may have wondered why is it that two people with exactly the same genetic compositions, and calibers, put in the equal effort – one succeeds while the other fails. Why is it that I lead a comfortable life while my neighbour struggles with multiple problems constantly? Why did one person survive a natural calamity or accident while another seemingly more deserving person didn’t make it. The answer is very simple – there are calculations being made that demand that we pay for our actions in the past (both known and unknown). Often then, our confidence and will alone is just not enough to succeed. It takes a larger power to get us there. Faith is not a prop; it’s that fabric on which we paint the colours of life and they show bright because of the deep quality of that fabric.

All of us would have experienced those intuitive moments when at a turning point in our life , we took the un-trodden path – it just felt right at that moment. That was the guiding hand of providence. Social Scientists too, studying profiles of successful people have mapped clearly, that it is those who factored in the unexpected into their plan & action for success were the ones who really made it to the top.

So confidence in oneself is essential; action orientation is equally necessary, but faith in His will is what will get us to our destination

Faith is meant for the weak-hearted

Actually putting your implicit faith in God is an act of courage & wisdom. It requires that you put aside your pride and place your complete trust in another being knowing that He will take care. It takes a certain emotional mettle to be able to decimate your faith in your own intelligence and prowess and believe implicitly that there is a power greater than you in your life.

A gurgling baby being tossed high by her father, not scared. She is happy because she believes implicitly  in the fact that her father loves her and has the ability also to catch her. Hence since he can and he wants to protect her – she is sure that she will not be dropped. That child like faith is what we miss as adults. Even to lean on a expert friend or hold his hand on a treacherous path, we find it hard to let go of our judgment and abilities and intelligence. 

Faith is certainly not for the weak and immature. It is a strong person who can trust

How do I know He is there?

For those of who want to believe, you can  feel his presence in every moment of your life. To those who still question, everything seems a fallacy. I think Swami Ramakrishna Paramahamsa put it beautifully, when he explained faith:

A man standing outside the market place hears the general buzz; nothing is distinct. But his perspective changes as soon as he enters the market. The transactions are all clearly heard & understood. Similarly, when a man is away from Iswara, his enquiry is all in confusion. There is no end to his search into cause & effect, to his cogitating over the why & how of things, to his debates, arguments and counter-arguments, to his theorizing. On realization of Iswara, all these speculations and conjectures come to an end. The mystery of nature becomes an open book to him
From the commentary by Swami Chidbhavananda
Ramakrishna Tapovanam

Ultimately, if you want to feel his presence, just look around you, you will see him all around you. Take that one step toward Him – even if it is just to say with honesty and faith, “I don’t know what to believe, You help me !”. The answers will fall into your lap – just like that!

Goswami Tulasidas - Composer of Ramacharitamanas

This is a very touching story of a small boy called Rambola, who became a great devotee of Rama and wrote the entire Ramayana in Hindi.

Tulasi as he was later commonly known was born in 1554 in the Shravan (August) month  on Shukla Saptami in Rajapur, Uttar Pradesh. His father’s name was Atmaram Dubey and mother was Hulasibai. They were a very god-fearing and conservative couple.

As soon as Rambola was born, to everyone’s astonishment, the baby had 32 teeth intact!! Also, instead of crying like all other babies, he chanted “Ram, Ram”!! Hence his parents named him Rambola. His father was a very superstitious man. “A new born baby chanting Rama’s name, is not natural. This is sure to bring some misfortune”, he thought. Rambola’s mother too was sad by the strangeness of her baby. Expecting that the father may cause harm to the baby, mother Hulasi, sent away her baby with her servant Muniya. Muniya took the baby to her village called Haripur and lovingly brought up this baby. As luck would have it, Rambola’s mother soon died within a few days of his birth, confirming Atmaram’s worst fears.

Sadly, soon Muniya too died and the young child Rambola was orphaned. He brought up by the people of the village. He lived in the Hanuman temple just outside the village. Worshippers would bring offerings of fruits and sweets for the Lord and would also bring milk and food for the child.  So Rambola grew up on the affectionate offerings that the village people made to Lord Hanuman.

Some years passed. When Rambola was a young boy of about  5 years or so, a great saint Swami Naraharidasji came to the village. Swamiji stayed in the village and recited the Valmiki Ramayana at the Hanuman temple. The little boy was totally mesmerized by the epic work and thus Rama touched his soul!

Rambola sat right in the front row during all the discourses. At the end of the entire Ramayana discourse, Swami Naraharidas ji called Rambola to him and asked , “Son who are you?  I have been observing you all these days. You have sat through the entire Ramayana discourse and I can see that you have been moved by it!” Rambola replied with tears in his eyes, “Swami, I am Rambola. I don’t have any parents and I live here in this temple. Hanumanji takes care of all my needs”. Swamiji further smiled and asked, “Is that so? Who gave you this name, son?” Rambola replied, “Lord Ram himself gave me this name when I was born. They say that as soon as I was born, I chanted Rama’s name.” “Oh! So what do you do now?” asked Swamiji. “Well, I chant Rama’s name sometimes. But I also want to learn about Rama, Swamiji,” said a tearful Rambola. Swamiji immediately took the young child along with him to his ashram at Sookar. There he initiated Rambola into the devotion of Rama by teaching him to chant the Rama nama. He also recited the Ramayana to him many times. Soon the bright child learnt the scriptures, Vedas and all there was to learn very quickly. Since he was given the responsibility of taking care of Swamiji’s Tulasi garden, swamiji named him Tulasidas, and the name stuck!

As he years rolled by, Tulasidas, became absorbed in chanting Rama’s name all the time and tending to his Tulasi garden.  He also traveled with Swamiji to all the places and helped him all the while listening to swamiji’s discourses. He soon began to write small couplets in local Hindi dialect.

As time passed, with swamiji’s blessings, Tulasidas was married to a very beautiful girl called Ratnavali from a nearby village. Ratna’s father was a very rich business man. Since Tulasidas now needed a source of income, his father-in-law setup a shop for him to manage at Sookar itself. Days passed by very happily for the newly wedded couple. However, it became embarrassingly apparent to everyone and to Ratna that, Tulasidas could not stay without seeing Ratnavali even for a few moments. He would follow her to the ghat when she went to wash clothes and fetch water! Or would leave the shop unattended just to come and see her. It disturbed Ratnavali that her husband was so besotted by her. She was often upset that her husband, a great scholar, who had till then been such a devout Rama devotee had now all but forgotten Rama in his love for her!

One day, when Tulasidas had gone to the market to purchase goods for his shop, Ratnavali’s brother suddenly arrived at their home. He had come to take Ratnavali home for the annual festival. Besides, their father too was unwell and wanted urgently to see Ratna. It was obvious that Ratna had not visited her parents home in a long time since Tulasidas never gave her permission to go. Ratna asked her brother to wait since Tulasidas was not at home. Ratna’s brother suggested that they leave a note for Tulasidas and leave immediately, since a storm was brewing and they had to cross the river to go home. Ratna agreed reluctantly and left a note for Tulasidas, packed her clothes and left for her parents home with her brother.

As night came, Tulasidas reached home to a darkening sky and heavy rains. He entered his home to find it pitch dark and not a soul in sight. He called out to Ratna but there was no answer. Suddenly his eyes fell on the note left by Ratna. As he read that Ratna had left for her parents’ home and would be away for a week, he broke out in cold sweat! How could he bear to be without her for a week? Dazed by sorrow, he went to the river ghat in the hope that he could be ferried across. But the river was already in spate and no boat was in sight. In the darkness, Tulasidas saw something floating by. It looked like a log of wood. He jumped into the water, held on to the log and swam across to the other end, against the current. Only when he left the log, he looked back to find that it was actually a dead body that had come floating down from the burial ghat! Focussed as his mind was on meeting Ratna, this didn’t shock him. He walked to Ratna’s house. It was already late night and the household had retired for the night. Not knowing what to do, he went around the back of the house and stood under Ratna’s balcony. He saw a rope hanging down. He caught it and climbed up to the balcony. He knocked on the door. As Ratna opened the door she saw her exhausted husband standing at her doorstep, completely drenched with a snake in his hand. Tulasidas had in his anxiety to reach his wife, mistaken the snake for a rope! She was so shocked, she asked, “How did you come in this storm? Why did you bother to come – I would have come back in a week isn’t it? I had left a note for you.” Tulasidas, stood there petrified that his wife could stay away for a week. He answered, “Yes I saw that note. But Ratna, how could I stay away from you for such a long time? You shouldn’t have left me like that. That’s why I decided to come and stay here with you. I braved the storm and crossed the river on a dead body to be able to see you! I love you so much!” A shocked Ratna was speechless. Such madness! She turned around in anger and lashed out at Tulasidas, “ What is this madness that you have? So much attachment just for this bundle of bones and flesh? If only you had shown even a part of this madness and devotion to your Rama then you would have become immortal by now!”  The harsh words pierced Tulasidas’s heart and he stood shell-shocked. For a moment, it was like he had turned to stone. Then he just quietly turned around and went out of the house into the raging night , never to return.

Tulasidas abandoned his home and for the next fourteen years, he wandered as an ascetic, from one sacred place of  pilgrimage to another. While he was at Kashi, everyday after his ablutions, Tulasidas used to pour the water from his pot at the foot of a tree. It so happened that there was a spirit that lived in that tree. Pleased with this kind act of Tulasidas, one day, the spirit asked Tulasidas to seek a boon from him.  Tulasidas said with tears in his eyes, “Sir, give me the darshan of my Rama”. The spirit then said, “I don’t have that power. But I can tell you how to get the darshan. Ask this boon of Lord Hanuman. He comes in the guise of an old leper to listen to the Ramayan at the Hanuman temple everyday. You will recognize him easily. He will be the first to come and last to go” Overjoyed by this, Tulasidas, thanked the spirit and ran to the temple. That evening, as predicted, an old leper came and sat down to listen to the Ramayan discourse. Throughout the discourse, Tulasidas, did not take his eyes off the leper. Much after the discourse was over, the leper got up slowly and painfully to leave. Tulasidas ran and fell at his feet and cried, “Master, I know who you are! I have recognized you. Please give me darshan of my lord Rama!” The leper cringed and said, “Son, what are you talking? Have you mistaken me for someone else? I am only a poor leper. Don’t touch me!” When Tulasidas held on to his feet even more tightly and cried bitterly, then a smiling Hanuman showed himself and blessed Tulasidas, “I am pleased with your devotion. Come to Chitrakoot, where you shall have darshan of your Lord”. Overjoyed at the prospect of being able to see Rama, Tulasidas immediately rushed to Chitrakoot where he waited for that beautiful moment.

One day at Chitrakoot, while he was doing parikrama at Kaamadgiri (a hill in Chitrakoot where Lord Rama had stayed), he saw 2 very handsome young men riding towards him, on horseback. One was dark complexioned and another was fair. He was mesmerized by their beauty and kept looking as they passed by, without realizing that he was actually seeing his chosen idol. When Hanuman told him later, of what he had missed, he was very upset. He pleaded with Hanuman for another opportunity. Hanuman promised him that he would see the Lord again. So Tulasidas  began his chanting of Rama nama all over again, this time with greater fervour.

A few days later, one morning as Tulasidas sat at the Ram ghat on the banks of the Mandakini river  rubbing sandalwood, two young boys came to him. They very beautiful to look at. The darker of the boys smiled at Tulasidas and requested, “Swamiji, please apply tilak on our foreheads.” Tulasidas asked them to wait a bit, ground some more fresh sandalwood and chanting all the while, he offered  the paste to the boys.  The dark boy applied the paste on His own forehead, and  his brother’s. Then he took some more paste and applied it to Tulasidas’ forehead. Tulasidas was mesmerized by the boy’s touch and beauty. As he watched transfixed, Hanuman in the form of a parrot on a nearby mango tree, sang this popular doha pointing out to Tulasidas, that these two boys were none other than his Rama & Lakshmana
चित्रकूट के घाट पर भइ सन्तन की भीर |
तुलसिदास चन्दन घिसें तिलक देत रघुबीर ||

Immediately Tulasidas cried out and fell at Rama’s feet. His heart filled with Rama, Tulasidas spent a few more days at Chitrakoot chanting and praying.

One night, Lord Siva came in his dream and asked him to write the Ramayana in the local language.  The next morning, Tulasidas, left for Ayodhya to pay homage to the lord. As he sat in meditation there , the whole Ramacharitamanas came to his mind as an inspiration. Over the next 2 years and more, he wrote the 7 chapters of the Ramcharitamanas (in Maithili and Avadhi language) while traveling between Ayodhya, Kashi and Chitrakoot.

Soon the Ramacharitamanas in its simple poetic beauty, charmed its way into the hearts of the people. However, some learned scholars objected to the Ramayana being recited in any other language other than Sanskrit. With the aim of testing this new scripture, Ramcharitamanas was put at the top of all scriptures in the temple of Shri Vishvanath in Kashi. The door was closed for the night. Early the next day, when the temple door was opened, to everyone’s astonishment and joy, Ramcharitamanas was found lying at the bottom of all scriptures. Its first page had the signature of Lord Vishvanath Himself- "सत्यं शिवं सुन्दरं" (Satyam Shivam Sundaram). This incident forced everyone to accept the greatness of this epic and of Swami Tulasidas.

After this many events happened in Tulasidas’ life, that proved that Rama was a constant presence in his life. 

Once a gang of thieves heard that Tulasidas had some wealth and that he lived alone. So in the stealth of night, they came with the objective of taking it all away. They assumed that there would be little or no resistance. To their shock despite repeated efforts over many nights, they just could not enter his hut. They found 2 princes with bow and arrow were guarding the hut from all sides. They kept moving wherever the thieves moved! The next morning they came and fell at Tulasidas’ feet and asked to be forgiven. Tulasidas wept to think of his Lord working to protect him. He immediately gave away whatever little wealth he had.

While he was at Varanasi, one day a beggar came to Tulasidas’s home and pleaded, “Swami, I am a murderer. No one is willing to give me any food. I am sorry for my act. For the love of Rama, please forgive me and give me some food.” Tulasidas called the beggar in, helped him have a wash, and gave him the sacred food that had been made for Rama. Tulasidas believed that since the man had repented, and he had taken the sacred food of Rama, his sin had been washed away. The Brahmins of Varanasi were very upset with this. They demanded, “How can such a serious sin as murder be washed away by just eating your food. No! no! We shall only believe you if the stone bull at the Shiva temple eats grass from his hands. And lo! When the man gave grass to the stone bull, it actually ate the grass! All the men who had objected now apologized for not trusting Tulasidas and his bhakthi.

Once Tulasidas brought back to life the dead husband of  a woman. The Moghul emperor heard of this and ordered Tulasidas to be brought to his court. When Tulasidas came, he ordered him to show him a miracle else he would put him in jail. Tulasidas pleaded, “I don’t have any powers. I know only how to chant my Rama’s name.” But the emperor would not leave him. Not knowing what to do, Tulasidas prayed to Hanuman to help. Suddenly, the palace began filling with monkeys of all shapes, colours and sizes. The emperor got very frightened and begged forgiveness!

Such was the greatness and humility of this great saint. Sant Tulasidas died at the age of 126 in Varanasi. In his lifetime, he wrote 12 major works. Other than Ramacharitamanas, the other important work is Vinaya Patrika.  Other scriptures composed by him were Kavitaavali, Hanumaan Baahuk, VrihadBarwai Ramayana, LaghuBarwai Ramayana, JaanakiMangal, PaarvatiMangal, Dohaavali, VairaagyaSandiipanii, Tulsi DohaaShatak, Hanumaan Chaalisaa, Geetaavali Ramayana, Krishna Geetaavali,

He is considered by many as the incarnation of Valmiki since it was Lord Shiva’s desire that Valmiki Ramayana be written in the local language.  His life was one of devotion, love & implicit faith in Rama – his chosen idol.