Our 'young' Gurus speak on Shastras

I did not anticipate that I would be listening to Neema speak on our scriptures, 'shastras' as she terms them, just a month after writing my blog 'pilgrimage thoughts'. Neema and Surya are both 'young' scholars who took a break from their working lives to learn 'Vedanta' and Sanskrit in India.

Neema has a Master's degree in Economics from Columbia University and Surya has a Ph.D in Pharma from Paris. Neema Majmudar & Surya Tahora have studied with Swami Dayananda Saraswati, renowned scholar of Vedanta. Both have gone through intensive course of Vedanta studying texts such as Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, etc with the commentaries of Sankara, and the Panini system of Sanskrit grammar. They have been teaching Vedanta in India and abroad for several years.

It is fortunate for us that Neema and Surya have returned to Bangkok. She is working as a Social Affairs Officer, Gender and Development Section at the UNESCAP in Bangkok and Surya continues to devote his time to the study of Vedanta.

When they dropped in at our place one day, we spoke about their quest and about the retreat on vedanta they had arranged in India. They said that the retreat went very well. Tara asked them if they would speak to a group of friends on Vedanta at our place. They agreed and Tara wasted no time in collecting a group friends who were keen to listen and learn.

We inquired about the arrangements that were to be made. They said there were none! There was no need for a picture of a deity or a guru, no lamp to be lit and no flowers. No 'Preeti Bhojan' and not even a cup of tea! The discourse would be for an hour, thrice a week and Neema would speak on 'Shastras' for a total of about ten hours. There was no need for any specially decorated seats for them and that they would sit with us on the floor.

In just three days, we started with the series of lectures. As I listened to Neema, I realized that it was a very 'personal' experience for me. I was taken back to my childhood as 'what I am now' depended a lot on what I experienced and learnt then.




I think I need to ‘ramble’ a little and talk about my 'pilgrimage' blog. It was my intention to include in my blog, but missed, the 'simpler' pilgrimages we made as kids to our family deity. Normally it would be a day or a overnight trip to a village or a town nearby. Often we were the only ones visiting from out of town. The priests at the temple knew our family well and there was no queue, no security and no tickets to enter the temple.

The pooja would be a long drawn affair, at least for a couple of hours (felt longer for us kids). Some of us, the restless ones would manage to sneak out and play in the village pond, skipping thin stones on the surface of the water. We would however slink back just in time, avoiding the glares of elders, who were not too pleased, for the aarthi and the substantial prasad .

My mother would go ecstatic about the grand 'aarthi'. How beautiful was the 'alankara' of the Idol and so on. But she would also find time to lecture me for not being like some of my better behaved cousins who stayed put for the whole length of the pooja. In fact she was worried, more than angry, that god would not be too pleased with me.

I would go round the garbha gudi three times to please her and appease the Lord, who according to her would be very upset with me. I would also fall at the feet of the priest and be blessed by him. Some of the priests were quite theatrical and to be honest, we kids used to find them funny and would laugh at them behind their back. We did not mean any disrespect , but we were just kids anyway.

Sriram while commenting on the pilgrimage blog, reminded me about the temples we would frequent in our own area. I remember our daily visit to the Rama temple. We as kids had more allegiance to Hanuman. We believed that we would become strong like him and that he would help us in our cricket. But I think we also went because the water coming out of the temple tap was the coolest, very welcome after our hectic activities while playing.

Very young, we were taught to bow before our own deity at home, morning and evening. God was very much a part of our life. He was a not such a big deal normally, but it was different on festival days. We were told that he was there for us, as long as we followed the rituals that were taught to us by our elders. We also felt that he would be sympathetic if we missed going to the temple once in a while, because of the circus that came to town or the cricket match that we could not afford to miss.

We learnt very early in our life that it was God who created everything. We also knew that every action of ours was recorded for him by his scribe Chitragupta, even our thoughts. Our rewards in this life and in our after life entirely depended on this record. We were very careful about what we said as god had empowered lizards in our homes. If the lizards went 'click-click', the moment we said or thought a bad thing it would become a reality. Of course, grandmothers could ward it off if they uttered 'krishna-krishna' immediately after the clicking of the lizards. I remember my grand mother would invariably do this every time the lizard went vocal, just in case! Obviously she knew human nature well enough to be careful!

There were also stories as to why we had to wash our feet, as soon as we entered home. We had no problem accepting this and many more beliefs that prevailed. We also had no problem with multiple gods, as well as different deities for other families. We ignored those irritating kids who claimed superiority for their own diety. Again, as Sriram had pointed out, our elders also had different approaches to deal with religion and beliefs. Some went more into rituals as they grew older, while others seemed to get less and less involved. None of them were real issues while we were young.

With all this variety, it was not such a problem, as our horizons widened, to accept the Christian and Muslim boys into our play groups. Often it was the food they ate that kept us apart rather than the difference in their ways and the very different churches and mosques.

It did get complicated as we got older. There were discoveries by scientists, doctors which would make us wonder about our notions about the universe and our beliefs. But, we could still get back to our 'comfort zones', with our rituals. We had our routines of daily pooja, weekly visits to the temples nearby and occasional pilgrimage to far off locations. Places, which had a reputation of being a powerful 'khestras' where our desires were fulfilled, only if we had faith in the residing diety and were devout. Anyway, the equations were rather simple and direct.

Well, listening to Neema meant, as she put it, a paradigm shift. While it was very refreshing for us to learn the logical approach of shastras, it was not easy for us to assimilate it as we tended to get back to our old opinions.
Applying logic to understand the meaning of 'I' and the nature of 'God' would obviously take a lot more effort on our part if any realisation is to come to us. Obviously, we need to make a choice between continuing in our old ways or try to grasp and navigate our lives through the new thoughts and ideas that have occured after listening to Neema.

She also reassured us by saying that there was a logic in believing in different gods and there was a place for prayer in the shastras. While I try to dwell on how this discourse has affected me, I hope others who were present will tell us about their comprehension and their perception after these ten hours of discourse and dialogue.

I appreciated Neema's approach, which was more of sharing than laying down precepts. It was very refreshing to see this attitude from a person who had studied the shastras and had learnt sanskrit. There was humility and joy as she spoke to us of the very exciting discoveries she made for herself as she studied the shastras.

You learn more about them and their thoughts from their web site .
http://www.discovervedanta.com/difference-bw-religion-spirituality.htm
I am very happy to include Marisa's comments here in the Main Blog:
"Dear Nidhi, How true your blog is.......If you can add mine on I would appreciate it as I do not know how to do it. Spending a few sessions with Neema only confirmed what I have been feeling as a child - that "goodness" exists within us and we do not have to look at the external for answers. Our answers are all within us.
I grew up as a child who rebelled against all the traditions that were taught to me. I always asked "Why, Why, Why" and it tired my mother a great deal because the answers she gave were not satisfactory to me. I believed that a lot of it were superstitions, but when I got married, I became "part" of all that I did not believe in - just to fit in with society, and my my in-laws.
This made me an unhappy person within as it was in conflict with my values. I set out searching and sometimes found answers but not as clearly as Neema explained it. Her teachings have only confirmed to me that life is indeed simple - if we so choose it to be; that we design our own karma; that we are responsible for all that happens in life (whether we like it or not) and that we cannot blame others or circumstances in our life. We must be responsible for our paths and our choices create the direction we head. Life is indeed simple, but as human beings we do tend to make it complex.
Thank you Neema and Surya for these very enlightening sessions and for making me realize that all I required in life was one simple prayer "Give me clarity of thought".....how true - as this short and simple prayer applies to every aspect of our life. Thank you for touching all of us so deeply. Marisa"
Here are a few earlier blogs I wrote as I pondered on our 'human' condition! You don't have to, but I have included them in case you feel like reading them. You will at least learn how confused a mind can get!
http://nidhiramblers.blogspot.com/2008/02/pilgrimage-thoughts.html
http://nidhiramblers.blogspot.com/2007/03/alpha-males.html
http://nidhiramblers.blogspot.com/2006/09/should-god-apologise.html
http://nidhiramblers.blogspot.com/2006/08/we-could-have-vaulted-to-israel-acorss.html

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