Interview with Swami Nirliptananda by Devi Linda Gumahin
Discussion of Hindu philosophy and its influence on the world’s major religions and cultures.
Q: What is Hinduism?
A: Hinduism is a name given to what Hindus call the ‘Vedic religion’ or Sanatan Dharma which means ‘Eternal Law’, the law that governs man and the universe. It is a modern name for that ancient religion. It is something very scientific, very logical – not a dogma – and when we look at it, we find that it has certain ingredients that psychologists are using today.
The word Hinduism came much later. Hinduism is not a historical type of religion. As far back as we can go we find that Hinduism was already existing. It is the original religion. The Hindus are not converts; they were born into that religion, grow and live in it.
Its basis is Sathya – Truth – and as we all know, Sathya is eternal. So when we talk about Sathya, we talk about wisdom and knowledge as well, because Truth is the basis of knowledge, and in the Hindu religion Truth plays a very important part. It is by Truth that we can become free, that we can liberate ourselves from this world of ignorance. Its original scriptures are known as the Vedas.
Veda is the book of wisdom. Veda means knowledge. In Hinduism, the emphasis is on seeking knowledge, because only knowledge can destroy ignorance and ignorance is the cause of the problems of the world. The more we can attain to that state of understanding, the greater our vision becomes and, therefore, we will be better able to handle the problems of the world. Hinduism is not just a philosophy of teachings about God; it is also a study of man and the world, and it is this study that makes Hindus a very practical type of people.
Q: Can you please explain about Hinduism as regards its being the ‘original religion’?
A: The Hindus believe that in very ancient times – not in terms of civilization which started just recently, as people in the West think – there were civilized people many, many thousands of years ago and that, at that time, Hindu teachers were travelling to different parts of the world, like Mexico and South America, and influenced their thinking. We may wonder how other religions came into existence in this world.
There has been a lot of research about Jesus and there is a strong tendency to think that Jesus went to India where He received His teachings, after which He returned to the western world. Other researches show that, in ancient times, Israel and India were connected. Even though Christianity has a Jewish background, it has been very much influenced by Hindu thought, Hindu religion, and some Hindu teachers are of the opinion that Jesus had brought a teaching like ‘The Sermon on the Mount’ from India: So, Hinduism is reflected through Christianity in the Western world. Islam is a combination of Christianity and Judaism – what we call the Semitic source. There is proof that there were strong contacts between Indian teachers and the people of countries like Arabia, Egypt and Greece, and much of Hindu wisdom came to those countries. We also know that mathematics – for instance, the Indian invention of one to nine and the zero – was brought by the Arabs to the western world.
Furthermore, medical science and astrology, among other things, were invented in India and influenced other parts of the world. A part can never give complete satisfaction. This happens only when the whole is experienced. Hinduism is the oldest religion in the world. The Hindus believe that whatever one is following is part of Hindu principles; they may not be fully grasped, but whatever one is following has some truth in it; it may not be the full truth but even a part is helpful to guide one on the path of God-realization. That is why Hindus are very tolerant. Since they believe that every path leads towards God, there is no need to convert anyone.
Hindus believe that God is One, but the sages – the wise men of the world – call Him by different names. Although the names may differ, in reality we are talking about the same person, the One. Different people may call a man – because of their relationship with him – father, brother or husband, yet he is the same person. In that way God is also One, but people see Him differently according to their ideas about Him, and it is these ideas about God that matter. Some people think that their idea is more perfect than other people’s ideas and some people even fight for them, and so they create a lot of conflict in the world. The Hindus, however, think that because God is One – though people call Him by different names – there is no need for conflict. On the contrary there should be tolerance about the different religions rather than conflicts.
In Hinduism, experience is important, not belief. Experience is more profound than belief because only experience can transform us and make us into a different person. The emphasis in Hinduism is on knowledge because, as we all know, ignorance is the cause of our problems. Therefore religion should emphasize knowledge. If we want to find out about knowledge we need freedom, and unless there is individual freedom to seek God, the Hindus think that the liberation we are aspiring to cannot be realized. So religion according to Hinduism cannot take us to a very high level. This is more a personal thing and means that we have to search for a genuine spiritual teacher and when we find him he will instruct us on that higher path towards the realization of God.
Q: What is your comment on the expectation of the coming of a World Teacher?
A: Today most people are conscious of the fact that there is a need for a Teacher and many people of different religions have been expecting a World Teacher coming into the world to change the world, to change man’s mind and to make him a more divine being. In Hinduism, it is believed that a Divine Incarnation comes from time to time to help the world. We, in our own organization, recognize our Guru Maharaj – Acharya Pranavanandaji Maharaj – as one of the teachers of modern times Who has done a great deal to improve human conditions and understanding.
Suffering in the world is due to a lack of proper understanding. This understanding we can get only through meditation, through Self-culture. Religion without Self-culture cannot bring about that refinement in men. To be able to maintain a balanced mind is so important for us. And therefore, our Acharya emphasized self-control very strongly, because only when we are able to overcome our instincts, we can have that inner peace, and through that we can have outer peace as well, like Shiva – meaning peace – sitting in meditation.
Likewise, our Acharya used to sit in meditation in the early morning for three to six hours when He was a child and at a later stage He would sit in meditation the whole day or night. In this way we are taught how important meditation is to our spiritual well-being, inner harmony and harmony of the whole world. So, this is the role of the teacher. A teacher is one who is detached from worldly temptations. Without a teacher, the followers are left in a state of blindness and so teachers play a very important role to guide the followers of religion. Hinduism, therefore, has never been without teachers and that is why – in spite of being a very ancient religion – it is still very dynamic, with a great sense of purpose. Today, the different religions are awaiting the coming of the Buddha, the Christ, Krishna, for example. Everyone is expecting a teacher, because we think that we are at a junction or crisis, and unless a teacher comes our world will be destroyed.
However, it is important to remember that while we are waiting for this World Teacher, this Master, we have to take care ourselves of whatever we have, and that is: to follow the teachings and to try in our own way to help overcome the problems we are facing in our present-day world – with the help of the teachers that are there to help us to remain conscious of our pure Being. When we are ready and prepared, the World Teacher and the Masters will, no doubt, come.
It is essential to understand that contact with our spiritual Masters is very important for us to be able to have that higher realization of the unity of life and the unity of the world. The Masters have transcended the world of diversity into a world of unity, harmony and oneness. Our spiritual teachers told us that we are coming to an age of universal unification and universal emancipation and that we should work towards that by spreading the message, the words of wisdom, to elevate the mind of people, to enlighten them, so that they can understand there is a greater purpose in life than all the conflicts that are so obvious. Life in this world should be lived in such a way that there can be harmony, peace and progress in a collective sense, not in an individual or personal sense. In this way we will have a world that the Masters can be proud of when They come. But if we still maintain a state of conflict, hoping that the Masters are going to come, we might be disappointed because they will only come when we are prepared for Them, when we are ready for Them. This readiness calls for a lot of austerity, preparation and discipline, and once these are there, there is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that the Masters will appear.
Q: What is the relationship of Guru Maharaj to Lord Shiva?
A: Shiva is not an Avatar. Shiva is one of the Trinity in the Hindu religion. In the Trinity, Shiva is the Lord of Regeneration and of Yoga: Acharya Pranavanandaji Maharaj is an Avatar of Shiva: He was born in 1896. During that time the world was [in] a warring mood – each nation trying to subjugate the other and there were sectarian conflicts with creeds and beliefs; He came with a message saying that this is an age of universal unification, of universal harmony, of universal emancipation. He was not emphasizing differences, but the need for harmony, unity and co-operation for the salvation of humanity.
That is why we feel that His message is so relevant to our modern times. Sri Krishna granting full vision of His Divine Being to Arjuna
Q: What is the difference between Hinduism and Christianity?
A: All teachers, like Jesus and Krishna, came for a particular reason with a message relevant to their time, whereas other teachers came with messages relating God to Man. Guru Maharaj emphasized the problems of mankind. He said that there are enough teachings already, that each teacher had given something that was relevant for the world at the time, to the people of that time, and that in the present age we need something more practical, something whereby man realizes that without harmony and peace our existence is at stake. Krishna is an Avatar of Vishnu, the Preserver of the world, and Jesus – as Christians say – is an Avatar of God. The Islamic religion has no teachers but – as Mohammed is called – the Messenger or the Prophet. When we look at our present day, we see the need to work for harmony and unity, which is so much emphasized by all genuine seekers today and what Acharya Pranavanandaji Maharaj declared, with foresight, in 1920. His prophetic vision was that we ultimately will have to work, not for our own salvation, but for the salvation of humanity.
His main teaching is that we must culture our life along the lines of renunciation, celibacy, self-control and adherence to the path of Truth. Without these disciplines religion cannot refine man. They are the basic principles of religion, and following them can transform us from human beings into Divine Beings. These principles elevate and refine the human mind, make us more Self-conscious and create a sense of harmony with other beings. His emphasis on seva – selfless service – to the poor, the ignorant, the destitute, is still a fundamental principle in the Sangha [Community].
We must look at human suffering in all its forms and we must try to elevate people from a low to a very high intellectual and spiritual standard. Only then – by developing the common people who ordinarily cannot transform themselves – can we have a world where everyone respects the other, one world, a perfect world – and this is the main teaching of Guru Maharaj. When we look at it within the context of our everyday life, we will find that unless we adhere to the path of Truth our life cannot become sublimated, because falsehood is the basic cause of the conflicts in the world. We all have something to hide and that is why we have to speak the untruth. But Guru Maharaj emphasized that following the path of Truth will help man to realize that without Truth we cannot have harmony in the world. Renunciation means giving up selfishness and greed, for they are the causes of conflict.
We have many things in the world; when we develop contentment and self-satisfaction we will not covet anyone’s wealth or anything of this sort. Guru Maharaj’s emphasis on celibacy is very relevant to our modern time where people have become promiscuous, having illicit sex, with AIDS – among other things – as a result. Therefore, unless we refine ourselves, unless we live a regulated and disciplined life, we cannot really have peace of mind, neither can we have peace in the world.
Prophets came at different times to emphasize a particular message, even though there were valuable teachings already, but They emphasized something specific at a particular age. Acharya Pranavanandaji Maharaj did not deny what the Prophets and Divine Incarnations had taught – all being true – but that we should practise the inner principles of these teachings because we have forgotten the spirit of these teachings and as a result of that we fight on a sectarian basis, on beliefs and concepts, rather than trying to experience what They taught us. His main emphasis is that we must strive for experiencing the teachings and not just following them.
In Christianity, suffering is almost the central teaching, being acceptable as a part of life, something we must accept and take for granted. Jesus on the Cross is central to Christianity. In Hinduism the basic principle is quite different, for Hinduism emphasizes that happiness and joy are the fundamental values of life and that we must strive for them. Hinduism is a meditative culture and in meditation we cannot really contemplate suffering, but happiness, joy and peace. If we contemplate suffering, it will affect us psychologically and in such a way that we will become very frustrated. When we meditate on joy, our mind gradually starts to adjust itself from this world of suffering to the world of harmony, of peace, and the experience of joy. To give that impression of happiness, joy and peace, we find on the Hindu altar many beautiful pictures of various characters – aspects of the Godhead – decorated beautifully with lights and flowers.
On the contrary, we find in most Christian churches Jesus on the Cross, representing suffering. So, this is the basic difference between Christianity and Hinduism.
No doubt this must have influenced the adherence to these two different religions. The emphasis in Hindusim is to strive for knowledge, liberation and happiness because the Hindus believe that happiness is the Source of our Being and striving for happiness is, therefore, very important. Suffering is not really a characteristic of our Being. Suffering is the cause of ignorance and happiness comes through knowledge. The Hindus know that knowledge will make them happy, that it is going to break down all the barriers of life, all the differences that exist in society, and that is why they strive for it. And meditation is that part through which we can attain that state.
Q: How do Hindus believe in God?
A: Hindus believe in the Blessings and the Grace of God, and that they come through the Guru. The Guru plays a very central part in the Hindu religion and the Blessing that we get from God is the knowledge that we receive. That when we get this knowledge, we can recognize a holy man, we can recognize Truth from falsehood, and that recognition is very important for a Hindu because when we mistake the untruth for Truth and the Truth for untruth, that confusion leads to a lot of problems in life. As a result we find that we do not progress in any real sense.
It is very important to recognize the good in people and even more important to recognize the Spiritual Master or Teacher as God on earth, that he is the representation of God’s Blessing on earth. That contact with Him is very important, because the moment we get in touch with Him our lives become different. He is an example of which the scriptures speak. He is the wise man, the holy man, the free man, the happy man. When we find these characteristics in Him, the grace flows from God through Him to us and when we surrender ourselves to the holy man, the Guru, we will find that we are receiving God’s Grace, because that happiness and joy transmit from God, from the Divine Being, through the guru to the disciples and devotees. In the Guru we have faith and we approach Him with reverence; we prostrate in front of Him and we serve Him. That close connection with Him helps us to receive that Divine Vibration which emanates from His very Being. It is something we cannot describe in words, that kind of communication cannot be verbal – it is something that is intuitive, that we experience within. So when we speak about God’s Grace in the Hindu religion, we find that God’s Grace comes to us through the Guru, through the saints, through the spiritual Masters.
It is through this that we find satisfaction and fulfilment. It is a fact – even in our secular life in the world – that the teacher plays a very important part, for without a teacher it is very difficult to learn anything. And it is more so in our spiritual life. When we come in touch with a spiritual Master, He is like a mother: He will take care of us, guide and protect us, and do whatever is necessary for us – He will help us all the way. Contact with Him is like completing 90 per cent of the journey and we have to walk only 10 per cent ourselves. When we, as aspirants, are frustrated, rejected, forlorn and feel that we cannot achieve our goal, the Guru will urge us at that moment, encourage us and help us on our way, and so, gradually we will get back on our feet and proceed on the journey. The Guru is like a cat carrying its kitten. Likewise, the guru takes the disciple to a certain distance and when he reaches there, he will understand the greater values of the inner life. Then he himself will walk the path towards Self-realization. Detachment plays an important part in Self-realization, knowledge and liberation, because when we are attached to the world we become bound by the world of cause and effect. The Guru – in His way – attracts the ‘child’, the aspirant, to Him, away from the world, onto the spiritual path. As soon as the aspirant comes near the Guru, he will sense the spiritual value in the teacher’s life. The spiritual vibration that emanates from the teacher attracts the disciple.
This attraction is not a form of attachment. Attachment refers only to the material world. When we are away from the source of Our Being, the attachment to the Guru or that Divine Source will bring us back home from where we have come. In one we find our existence; in the other we lose our existence. This is the difference between attachment to the Guru or to the world. So, attachment to the world and attachment to the Guru are quite opposite. When we get attached to the world we lose our identity, we lose ourselves, we lose our being. The Guru will bring us back on our path, till we find our way back home: when we discover ourselves.
Om Tat Sat Hari Om.
Reprinted with the kind permission of Share International Magazine.
Authors Details: Swami Nirliptananda
Swami Nirlipananda is a senior Swami in one of the temples of the Asian community in London