Saturday, April 25, 2015

Secularization or Destruction of Yoga?

Nithin Sridhar

(An edited version of the article has been published NewsGram on April 20, 2015)

In what is being seen as a landmark judgment by some quarters of population world-wide, an appeals court in California, USA has upheld a decision by the San Diego Superior Court that the yoga program in the Encinitas School District is ''devoid of any religious, mystical or spiritual trappings.'' The appeals court has ruled that the said yoga program is secular and it did not had the primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion. It has been reported that in 2013, a lower court in California had ruled that “yoga has become a distinctly American cultural phenomenon”. This judgment has once again raised the question “Is Yoga Secular or Religious?” But, it also raises a more important but often ignored question, “Whether the ‘secular Yoga’ is really Yoga?” The article tries to explore answers to both these questions.

What is Yoga?

Yoga literally means “Union” or “Conjunction”. Patanjali Yoga Sutra (1.2-3) defines Yoga as a state wherein the patterns (vrittis) of the mind has been removed or stilled, so that the “seer” (i.e. Atman, the Witness) abides in his real nature”. Hence, yoga is a state of Samadhi, wherein the Self or Atman has been isolated from the limitations of Non-Self entities like body and mind so that the Atman alone shines. This state is achieved by stilling the mind by causing all the various thought-modifications of the mind to cease. Just as various thoughts and dreams are products of modifications of “manas/mind”. Similarly, from purely subjective perspective the objective universe one perceives is also due to the modifications of one’s mind. The Atman is the witness and the body and the mind are the objects. Hence, when the mind is stilled and the modifications of mind are brought into a stop, the objects merge into the subject and the Atman which is the subject alone remains. This state of Samadhi is called as “Yoga” or “Union” because there is a Union of duality of object and subject giving rise to the non-dual abidance in Atman.

What is the goal of Yoga?

The whole system of Yoga is designed to attain this state of Self-abidance. Patanjali describes an eight limbed process to attain the ultimate Union. These eight limbs are- yama (external discipline), niyama (internal discipline), asana (posture), pranayama (breath regulation), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (one pointed concentration), dhyana (meditative absorption) and samadhi (Ultimate Union). It is to be noted that Asana or practice of various postures and pranayama or the practice of breath regulation are not considered as foundational limbs. Instead they occur as third and fourth limb respectively. The foundation limbs are yama and niyama which constitutes various external and internal disciplines. Yama includes ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truth), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (celibacy) and aparigraha (freedom from avarice). Niyama includes shaucha (cleanliness), santosha, tapah (austerity/control of mind and senses), svadhyaya (self-study) and ishvara pranidhanani (devotion to God).Without a constant practice of these yama and niyama, no amount of Asana can lead to higher limbs of Yoga. The Yama and Niyama aims to purify the mind and impart detachment and dispassion to the practitioner. The aim of Asana is to keep the body healthy and make it a proper instrument for higher practice. The Pranayama aims to regulate the breath which is very much necessary for stilling the mind. It is only by a proper synchronization of all the four limbs that a person is able to withdraw his senses (pratyahara) and attain one-pointed concentration (dharana). If, a person was to practice postures alone then all one will be able to attain is a healthy body. But, developing a healthy body is not the ultimate goal of Yoga. In fact it is not the ultimate goal of human life itself. According to Hindu philosophy, the ultimate goal of human life is Moksha and all other activities and goals be it Kama, Artha or Dharma are to be aligned to make way for an individual to ultimately reach the goal of Moksha. Hence, be it Yoga or Bharatanatyam or Indian Classical music, every aspect of Indian life was conceived as a medium to attain an eternal abidance in Atman i.e. Moksha.

Hence, having a healthy body or a healthy life-style cannot be ultimate goal of Yoga. Instead it can only be a secondary and interim goal that is aimed at turning the body and the corresponding lifestyle into conductive instruments that are then able to attain the ultimate goal of Samadhi.

Is Yoga Secular or Religious?

“Secularism” refers to the separation of religion from political, social and economic systems and institutions. The creation of this separation is rooted in European history where the concept was used for the separation of the state from the hegemony of the church. But, no such separation ever existed in the Indian concept of life. The foundation of Indian life is Sanatana Dharma and this Dharma dictates every aspect of Indian life. There is no artificial division of sacred and secular in the Dharmic view of life because there was never a conflict between secular subjects and faith-based subjects, between science and religion. Dharma guides both secular and sacred aspects of life. In fact, Dharma harmoniously unites both and helps an individual to work towards the highest goal of Moksha. The Hindu concept of life aims at using even the most secular activities into attempts at reaching the higher goal. The music, dance, martial arts, physical exercises or medicine everything is helpful in equipping an Individual to attain the Moksha.

Hence, to the question whether Yoga is Secular? The answer is definitely not. Whether Yoga is religious in the sense that it is faith-based alone? The answer again is a “No”. When any activity is upheld as being secular, it often means that the activity completely is unreligious in nature without any element of religion or spirituality. Similarly, when any activity is considered as “religious” it means that the activity is only faith based without any scientific or verifiable element in them. But, Yoga does not fit into either of the definitions. It is not secular because it is not a physical exercise regimen that is devoid of any religious value. Instead the ultimate goal of Yoga is the “Abidance in Atman” which is among the most basic tenet of Hinduism. Similarly, it is not entirely religious in the faith sense, because it is a well designed complete system which rests on individually verifiable results and not on blind faith. Yoga is a dharmic life-style system that has both, faith and non-faith elements, both verifiable and ethical elements that aim at imparting the highest goal of “abidance in Atman” to the practitioner. Hence, when a person or an organization attempts to secularize Yoga, it results in serious consequences.

Secularization or Destruction?

In the present case of Yoga programs that were held in Encinitas School District, it is reported that the Yoga program was secularized by removing all the religious elements including the removal of the usage of Sanskrit words like Namaste and Sanskrit names of the postures. The Padmaasana for example was promoted as “criss cross apple sauce” posture. Now the question is, what is the basis of considering the terms like “Namaste” and “Padmaasana” as religious and hence needed to be removed? Padma-asana simply means “lotus-posture”. It is one of the basic postures that help a person to enter a deep meditation. The term “Padma” or lotus is used not only because the asana resembles a blooming lotus but also because, a person retains the grip on his body even after entering deep meditation. Just as a lotus floats in water, staying above water yet being in constant touch with it, a practitioner will remain in deep meditation without casting off his body. But, any such symbolism and understanding is lost when it is translated as “criss cross apple sauce”. That exactly seems to be the goal. The present example clearly denotes that in the name of secularization, a ripping away of Yoga from its Indian and Dharmic roots is being carried out. There is nothing religious about the usage of terms like Namaste or Padmasana that they should be discarded. They are discarded because they are words of Sanskrit and hence indicate that Yoga is a product of Indian Civilization and Sanatana Dharma. This is a clear case of dilution and digestion of Yoga.

Rajiv Malhotra in his Indra’s Net describes a two stage process of this digestion of Yoga. In the first stage, Yoga is reformulated either as a health programme or as ‘spiritual but not religious’ programmes so that the practice of Yoga is diluted and is put into a neutral ground where it can be easily digested into western culture. In the next stage, this digested version is reformulated into Christian Yoga on one hand and into various systems of knowledge like Western cognitive science, neuroscience etc on the other hand. Hence, in two easy steps, Yoga which is rooted in Sanatana Dharma and whose aim is abiding in the Atman is turned into a Christian religious practice. Therefore, a direct result of this secularization of Yoga is its dilution, digestion and eventual destruction of its dharmic teachings. And such a digested Yoga which is devoid of its dharmic teachings is no Yoga at all. Just as a person is considered dead when his soul lives the body, similarly when Dharma is uprooted from Yoga, it will no longer remain as Yoga. It would remain only an outer shell, whose essence has been sucked out.

If it be said that, there is nothing wrong with such digestion of Yoga as it has paved way for Yoga to reach larger number of audience helping them practice a healthy lifestyle. The answer is that, if a diluted version of Yoga can be of such immense help to people, then one can only imagine the various ways in which a genuine Yoga can help in transforming one’s life. Don’t the people have the right for both materialistic and spiritual welfare? Why should any person be devoid of wholesome benefits of Yoga? Further, if a person is only interested in body-building or health benefits, there are other practices like gymnastics, aerobics etc. that they can involve themselves with. And if any person is genuinely interested in Spiritual progress as well, then he or she should have no problem in adopting the Dharmic outlook and philosophy that forms the core of Yoga. Hence, no argument can be used to justify this digestion and destruction of Yoga.

What is the way forward?

The genuine teachers of Yoga in India and the west must take initiative to counter any attempts at dilution or digestion of Yoga. This can be done by-

1. The Yoga teachers must first become strongly grounded in the traditional practice of Yoga. They must be not only thorough in various aspects of philosophy and practice of Yoga but they must be also aware of basic Hindu philosophy.

2. The Yoga teachings must be imparted only to those students who are competent to have it and it must not be sold like a commercial products.

3.  The Yoga must be taught as a wholesome dharmic system whose aim is both material and spiritual welfare and not as an exercise regimen.

4.  The Yoga teachings should not be diluted for the sake of promoting oneself or gaining more students. The traditional teachings, its terminologies, its meaning and significance etc. should not be distorted.

5.  The Yoga teachers must uphold the tradition and promote the tradition instead of promoting their own self.

6.  Each student must be assessed for his capability and only those teachings that are suitable to him must be imparted. But, this should be done by keeping wholeness of Yoga in mind.

7.  Any specific part or limb of Yoga should not be promoted as a distinct practice on their own. Instead a wholesome teaching of Yoga must be imparted but specific instructions can be based on Individual capacities.

The Hindu parents should become aware about Hindu religion and Philosophy. They must become aware about significance of Yoga in material as well as spiritual welfare. They must learn Yoga in its entirety and practice them as a medium to attain ultimate goal and not just as health regimen. They must teach the same to their children as well. These simple measures go a long way in preserving the authentic tradition of Yoga and protecting it against secularization and digestion.

Why Remove Yoga From Its Roots?

Nithin Sridhar

(An edited version of this article has been published in Swarajya Magazine on April 19, 2015) 

It has been reported in the Economic Times that in the promotion activities being carried out by the Government of India for the celebration of International Yoga Day including the 33 minute “Common Yoga Protocol” that is being prepared to be shown at Indian missions and cultural centers all over the world, any reference to Aum has been deliberately left out. The report further quotes an unnamed official as saying that the action is aimed to keep the effort ‘free from controversy’ as any linkages with religion will undermine the ambitious effort to take Yoga to the global stage. This is a clear case of dilution of Yoga that would eventually result in its death. Hence, it becomes necessary that Modi Government does some soul-searching and ask itself the following questions before going ahead with its disastrous decision of de-hinduization of Yoga for the sake of increasing its popularity.

What does Yoga stand for?
The Government is planning to promote Yoga with the slogan “Yoga for Harmony and Peace”. It’s a good slogan, no doubt but it fails to capture the complete essence of Yoga. Though it is true that Yoga helps in creating a peaceful and harmonious society by improving and enriching the lives of the people, they cannot be considered as the ultimate goal of Yoga. The ultimate goal of Yoga is “Self-Abidance”. It aims to remove the thought-patterns of the mind, so that a practitioner can realize his innermost Atman and become established in it. And in this process it also ends up improving the physical, mental and spiritual health of the Individual and the society. Hence, these physical and social benefits are only a secondary effects that a proper practice of Yoga can accomplish, whose primary goal is Moksha or Ultimate Liberation. Therefore, a better slogan would have been- “Yoga for Harmony, Peace and Moksha”

What is the role of Yoga in Sanatana Dharma?
Sanatana Dharma or Hinduism is standing on a strong foundation of six philosophical systems termed as “Darshanas”. The system of Yoga as propounded by Patanjali, along with Vedanta, Samkhya, Poorva Meemamsa, Nyaya and Vaisheshika constitutes these “Darshanas”. Each of these Darshanas seek to understand the workings of the Universe, its relationship to Man and God and the means by which a Man can transcend the limitations imposed by it. It is for this reason that, at the very beginning of Yoga Sutras, Patanjali defines Yoga as a state wherein Atman or Innermost Self abides in its real nature. Hence, it is beyond doubt that the system of Yoga is an inseparable part of Sanatana Dharma. 

What is Aum and what is its role in Yoga?
The Upanishads (Mandukya Upanishad verse 8-12) identify Aum with Atman. The three syllables-A, U, M individually represent the three states of waking, dreaming, and deep sleep and syllable-less Aum represent Atman who is beyond them. Similarly, Yoga-Sutras (1.27) describe Aum as a symbol of Ishwara. It further explain how the practice of Japa (repetitive contemplation) of Aum and its meaning will result in destruction of obstacles likes doubt, sloth, disease etc. and an attainment of realization of Innermost Self/Atman. It is for this reason that Patanjali takes up meditation on Aum while discussing Ishwara Pranidhana (Contemplation and Devotion to God) which is one of the component of “Niyama (internal discipline)” limb of Yoga. Hence, it is clear that contemplation and meditation on Aum is very significant in Yoga.

What are the consequences of de-hinduization of Yoga?
The removal Aum or any other vital elements from Yoga system in order to make it free from religious context will take away its essence. Yoga is a dharmic wholesome system that is aimed to transform an Individual physically, mentally and spiritually so that there is a perfect harmony and alignment in them which would be conductive to attain the ultimate goal of Self-Abidance and Moksha. Taking away the dharmic elements, the elements that define what Yoga is and what Yoga is not will reduce Yoga into a physical fitness regimen without any spiritual value in it. This dilution of Yoga will further open up doors for the forces that are waiting to digest it and re-formulate it as their own system.  Rajiv Malhotra in his Indra’s Net explains that in the first stage Yoga is reformulated as a health programme to bring it into a neutral ground and then this digested version of Yoga is further re-formulated as Christian Yoga. Hence, in two simple steps, Yoga which is one of the “Darshana” of Sanatana Dharma becomes “Christian Yoga”.

Therefore, any attempt at dilution of Yoga or other Dharmic systems will result in its being digested and re-formulated that will eventually cause the death of these authentic dharmic teachings. The Government should deliberate these issues deeply and retract its decision to uproot Yoga from its roots of Sanatana Dharma for the sake of short-term goal of global recognition and instead should make efforts to preserve the authentic teachings and systems of Sanatana Dharma.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Concept of Swacchata in Hindu Dharma

Nithin Sridhar

(An edited version of the article was published in Swarajya Magazine on December 9th, 2014 under the title- "Is Swacchata part of our culture?")

With India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi launching Swacch Bharat Abhiyan to clean up the streets of India on October 2nd, 2014, the concept of “Swacchata” or “Cleanliness” has taken a centre stage in the national discourse. As a result of this initiatives, many people are voluntarily coming forward and participating in efforts to clean up the surroundings. Many celebrities have also pledged their support for such initiatives. There is a large-scale awareness among the masses about the importance of keeping the surroundings clean.

But, this sudden enthusiasm among the people towards cleanliness should not be misconstrued to mean that the concept of “Swacchata” is alien to Indian culture and that the present enthusiasm is only due to modern day outside influences. The stereotype that India is a country of filth, garbage and pollution with no concept of cleanliness and hygiene has been propagated for long enough that people have come to associate uncleanliness with Indian-ness. Though it is true that, the streets of India indeed needs a thorough clean-up and the people should be made aware about the importance of cleanliness and hygiene. But, to even suggest that “Uncleanliness” is inherent among Indians and by implication it is rooted in Hindu Dharma is derogatory to say the least (1). In the face of such baseless criticisms, it becomes vital to understand the concept of cleanliness or “Shaucha” (as it is called in Sanskrit) that is propounded by Hindu Dharma.

Shaucha as a basic duty of all people:

“Shaucha” is considered as one of the vital elements in leading a Dharmic life. The Hindu scriptures time and again stress the importance of Shaucha. Daksha Smriti (2) states that a person should ever try maintain Shaucha in whatever work he engages in and without such an adherence to purity, all actions and works becomes fruitless. “Shaucha” literally means both cleanliness and purity. The Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali describe Shaucha as-

शौचात्स्वाङ्गजुगुप्सा परैरसंसर्गः || (2.41)
सत्त्वशुद्धिसौमनस्यैकाग्र्येन्द्रियजयात्मदर्शनयोग्यत्वानि च|| (2.41)
Shaucha is that from which there arises dislike i.e. dispassion towards one’s body and detachment towards contact with others. Shaucha gives rise to purity of mind, contentment, one-pointedness, conquest of the senses and competency to attain Atma-Darshana (Self-Realization).

Hence, Shaucha not only refers to the cleanliness of the surroundings but also to the purity of body and mind. In fact, Shaucha refers to those qualities (with respect to purity) that make an object or a person competent for a specific use or a specific task as the case may be. For example, Shaucha of a utensil may refer to whether its clean or dirty that will decide whether it is suitable or not for kitchen use. Similarly, Shaucha in context of a Brahmachari (a student learning Vedas etc.) refers to all those actions like bathing daily (3), abstaining from liquor, meat, sex etc. (4) that are prescribed for him. It is practice of these tenets of purity and cleanliness in thoughts, speech and action that will lead a person to purify his mind and attain Self-Realization. It is for this reason, the Yoga-Sutras prescribe Shaucha as one of the four Niyamas (5) or duties that is to be practiced every practitioner of Yoga. The same sentiment has been expressed in Manu Smriti that declares-

अहिंसा सत्यम् अस्तेयं शौचम् इन्द्रियनिग्रहः |
एतं सामासिकं धर्मं चातुर्वर्ण्ये अब्रवीन् मनुः || (10.63)
Non-Violence, Truth, Non-Stealing, Cleanliness/Purity and Sense-Control are the duties that are common for all four classes, so declares Manu.

Hence, Cleanliness or Purity- whether it is cleanliness of the surroundings or the hygiene of the body or the purity of speech and mind, they are all considered as an obligation, a basic duty of all human beings. And if any person is violating this tenet of Shaucha through his thoughts, speech or action, then he is violating Dharma (Righteousness and Obligatory Duty). Such an adharmic action is termed as Paapam-a sin that would result in sorrow for that individual.

External and Internal Shaucha:

The Hindu philosophy divides the concept of Shaucha into two types- External Cleanliness and Internal Purity. Veda Vyasa in his commentary on Yoga-Sutra (6) describes External Shaucha as removing the impurities of objects using clay and water and Internal Shaucha as removing the impurities of mind. Hence, External Shaucha refers to cleanliness with respect to a person’s body, various objects a person comes into contact with and cleanliness with respect to the surrounding environment. On the other hand, Internal Shaucha refers to the purity of actions, speech and thoughts of a person.

Shaucha regarding Environment:

The environment is given utmost importance in Hindu philosophy. This becomes clear if one goes through the Bhoomi Sukta of Atharva Veda that considers the Earth as a Mother, a Living force and praises her beauty and existence. It describes her as having many slopes and plains and bearing various plants with healing powers (7). It even calls the Earth as a Mistress of four quarters (8) who is all-sustaining, treasure bearing mother who is home to all moving life (9) The Sukta also expresses concern about over-digging of the earth when it says “Whatever I dig from thee, may that have quick growth again. Oh purifier, may we not injure thy vitals or thy heart” (10). This verse clearly speaks against indiscriminate mining and other such activities that are done with no regard for environmental consequences.

Hence, Hindu scriptures have always given utmost importance to the health and cleanliness of environment. The Yajnavalkya Smriti (11) says that the (unclean) ground can be cleaned by sweeping, by burning, by digging, by the lapse of time, by the walking of cow and by the sprinkling of water. Similarly, the flowing waters like a river gets purified by the current of its own flow and unclean objects can be cleaned by mud and water (12).

The Manu Smriti dictates that one should not throw filthy substances like urine, faeces, saliva, cloths defiled by impure substances, blood, poisonous things and any other impure substances into water (13). Such, unclean substances should not be thrown into fire as well (14). A person should not urinate on roads, on ashes, in a cow pan, on ploughed land, in water, in fire, in a ruined temple, in ant hill, in holes inhabited by living creatures or on a hill top (15). It further suggests that, one should void urine or faeces by covering the ground with sticks, grass, leaves, clod etc. (16). This is suggested because, faeces are organic matter and when covered by mud, grass etc. they naturally decompose without causing any pollution. And for this reason, the Manu-Smriti says that one must dispose of urine (and faeces as well), remnants of food and the water used for bathing far away from dwelling place (17). Another verse (18) advices the disposal of food made impure by birds, insects or hairs falling into it by putting mud over it. That is, such food must be buried in ground so as to allow for natural decomposition.

These assertions present in the Hindu scriptures makes it clear that, a person is obliged to keep his surroundings clean. And all such activities that cause pollution of water, air, earth or fire are considered as Adharma and hence must be avoided.

Shaucha regarding various Objects:

In everyday life we make use of various objects for various purposes. We use many utensils for cooking and eating, we use clothes to cover over body, we use house to live in etc. As people are in constant contact with various objects, it makes essential to keep the objects in a clean and hygienic condition. The Smriti’s suggest that unclean objects can be cleaned by water and mud (19). They give a long list of various objects and methods of their purification (20).

The golden and silver vessels can be cleaned with water. For the oil-vessels, the cleaning is effective with warm water. Silken or camlet clothes can be cleaned using salt-earth, water and cow-urine, whereas the sack-clothes can be cleaned using bilva-fruit. The linin cloth is cleaned using mustard seeds and an earthen vessel that is stained with liquor, blood, urine etc. can be purified by baking it again in fire. Similarly, various vegetables can be cleaned by washing them with water. By adopting these measures, a person can ensure the purity of the objects that he is using.

Shaucha regarding the body:

The human body cannot be considered clean and pure as it not only becomes dirty due to dust etc. from the surroundings but also due to secretion of various impure substances like sweat, urine etc. The scriptures speak about twelve impure substances that are secreted by the human body (21). They are: Oily exudes, Semen, Blood, Bone marrow, Urine, Faeces, Nasal mucus secretions, Ear wax, Phlegm, Tears, Rheum of the eyes and Sweat. These secretions, if not cleaned may cause various infections and allergies. Hence, a person who wishes to keep his body clean must wash his body thoroughly with water and mud (22). The water that is used for bathing and drinking should be clean and pure. A water is considered pure if it possesses proper smell, colour, and taste and is free from any other impurities (23). It is for this reason, the scriptures advice people to bath daily in waters of rivers, ponds, lakes etc. (24)

Further, texts like Hatha-Yoga-Pradipika prescribes Shat-Kriyas or Six activities (25)- dhauti, basti, neti, nauli, trataka and kapalabhati that help one to purify one’s body especially for those who are fat and phlegmatic (26). These purification exercises will help in cleaning the throat, oesophagus, lungs, stomach and bowels and getting them rid of all their impure secretions.

Another aspect of bodily hygiene is the kind of food that is consumed. The scriptures suggest that the food that has been touched by feet, smelt by cow, touched by dog, in which hairs or insects are found, which has turned sour or has been kept over-night, which has been sneezed over by another person etc. should not be consumed as they have been contaminated (27). By implementing the above mentioned exercises and food habits, a person can maintain bodily purity and hygiene.

Shaucha regarding the mind, speech and actions:

Internal Purity refers to purity with respect to thoughts, speech and actions. A person may be clean externally, but if his thoughts and deeds are impure then he cannot be considered as adhering to Shaucha Dharma. Manu Smriti declares that among all the kinds of purity, the purity in the wealth attained is the highest (28). It further adds that, the cleanliness obtained from mud and water is not real purity at all. That is, only a person with clean character who earns wealth through honesty and hard-work can be considered as being “pure” because only the purity of mind is the real Shaucha. A person who is pure in his mind, will invariably be pure in his body, speech and actions.

But, it is not very easy to purify the mind. The mind is afflicted with various impurities. The scriptures classify these impurities into six types collectively referred as “Arishad-Vargas/Internal Passions” or “Shad Ripus/Six enemies”. They are kama (lust), krodha (anger), lobha (greed), moha (attachment), mada (pride) and matsarya (jealousy). In Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna describes Kama, Krodha and Lobha as three gates of hell (29). People who cave in for these mental passions commit various sins (paapam/adharma) through their thoughts, speech and actions.

The scriptures speak about three kinds of sins that a person who is in control of his passions commit through his mind. They are- desiring for wealth and objects that belongs to others, desiring to cause hurt or injury to others and adherence to falsehood (30). Similarly, the four kinds of sins committed through speech harshly and vulgarly, speaking falsehood, speaking ill about others and speaking incoherently and idly (31). The three kinds of sins that a person commits through his body are taking forcefully or stealthily the wealth and objects that belong to others, committing violence and having sexual intercourse with another person’s wife (32). A person can prevent himself from committing these sins, only by purifying his mind by getting rid of his internal passions. He can do so by practising Dharmic tenets in his thoughts, speech and action. For example, by speaking truth in a pleasant manner always, a person will be able to keep his mind and speech in a check. Similarly, by destroying any unpleasant thoughts (be it due to lust or due to anger) by a process of self-examination and discrimination (vivekna), one can prevent oneself from committing these sins. A practice of charity can likewise prevent one from lusting after others wealth.

On the other hand, a person becomes impure by committing various sins intentionally or unintentionally. Hence, in such a situation, the scriptures prescribes various methods of repentances/prayaschita, by which he can attain purity. A person who has done prohibited actions can become pure by Charity (33). A person who has committed some sin secretly (i.e. in his mind) can become pure by the practice of Japa (34). A learned person becomes purified by forgiveness (35), a knower of Vedas by austerities (36), women who have committed mental sins are purified by their menses (37) and a twice-born by taking renunciation (38). The scriptures further state that, the intellect is purified by knowledge, the mind is purified by Truth and the Atma is purified by Tapas/Austerity and Jnana/Self-Realization (39). Hence, it is only by the practice of Dharmic tenets like Satya, Asteya, Tapas etc. that a person is able overcome the lust and other internal passions and attain Chitta-Shuddhi (Purification of the mind) that is necessary to attain Self-Realization. And this Self-Realization is the ultimate goal of the practice of Shaucha.


Therefore, a thorough reading of Hindu scriptures will not only make it clear that Shaucha or Swacchata constitutes an important tenet of Dharma, but it also expands the concept of cleanliness from being just limited to defecation practices of people to a broadened concept of purity that addresses purity at all levels of human existence- ecological, physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual.

  1. “Poor Sanitation in India May Afflict Well-Fed Children With Malnutrition” by Gardiner Harris, The New York Times (Jul 13, 2014) -
The final frontier, The Economist (Jul 19, 2014) -
  1. Daksha Smriti 5.2
  2. Manu Smriti 2.176
  3. Manu Smriti 2.177
  4. Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali 2.32
  5. Vyasa Commentary on verse 2.32 of Patanjali Yoga-Sutra, also refer Vadhula Smriti Verse 19, Daksha Smriti 5.3 “Purification is of two types- external and internal. External purification is achieved through water and clay. Internal purification results from cleansing of ones inner thoughts (and emotions)”
  6. Atharva Veda 12.1.2
  7. Atharva Veda 12.1.4
  8. Atharva Veda 12.1.6
  9. Atharva Veda 12.1.35
  10. Yajnavalkya Smriti 1.188
  11. Yajnavalkya Smriti 3.32
  12. Manu Smriti 4.56
  13. Manu Smriti 4.53
  14. Manu Smriti 4.45-48
  15. Manu Smriti 4.49
  16. Manu Smriti 4.151
  17. Manu Smriti 5.124
  18. Manu Smrti 5.108 Yajnavalkya Smriti 3.32
  19. For details regarding the cleaning of various objects refer- Manu Smriti 5.110-125, Yajnavalkya Smriti 1.182-188
  20. Manu Smriti 5.135
  21. Manu Smriti 5.134
  22. Manu Smriti 5.128
  23. Manu Smriti 4.203
  24. Hatha Yoga Pradipika 2.22
  25. Hatha Yoga Pradipika 2.21
  26. Manu Smriti 4.207.209,211
  27. Manu Smriti 5.106
  28. Bhagavad Gita 16.21
  29. Manu Smriti 12.5
  30. Manu Smriti 12.6
  31. Manu Smriti 12.7
  32. Yajnavalkya Smriti 3.32, Manu Smriti 5.107
  33. Yajnavalkya Smriti 3.33, Manu Smriti 5.107
  34. Yajnavalkya Smriti 3.33, Manu Smriti 5.107
  35. Manu Smriti 5.107
  36. Manu Smriti 5.108
  37. Manu Smriti 5.108
  38. Yajnavalkya Smriti 3.34, Manu Smriti 5.109

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Society & One-Legged Dharma-Part 6- How Spiritually Right is Discontentment in Politics?

Nithin Sridhar

I will pen-down my comments and opinions on various social issues under the title "Society & One-Legged Dharma" pointing out how most of the ills of the society has been caused due to forsaking of Dharma by people. In Hindu scriptures, the Dharma represented by a Bull is said to stand on four legs in Satya Yuga, when most people practiced and lived life by Dharma. "Four-Legs" denotes that Dharma was firmly established in society. On the other hand, it is said that,in Kali Yuga, Dharma stands only on One-Leg. We have been witnessing this in our society, where qualities like truth, non-violence, compassion, honesty have lost their value and replaced by untruth, deviousness, corruption, violence etc.

The series of writings under this title is my humble attempt to revive Dharma by making people become aware of them.
-Nithin Sridhar

How Spiritually Right is Discontentment in Politics?

The ugly face of discontentment and opportunistic tendencies among the politicians gets exposed every time there is elections. The same was the case in the recently held Lok-Sabha elections as well. One Sunil Choudhary of Aam Aadmi Party reportedly shaved one half of his moustache and beard and toured around Allahabad on a mule to express his anger and displeasure against the party for denying ticket to him. Another example is ex-BJP leader Jaswant Singh, who filed his nominations from Barmer, Rajasthan as an Independent candidate after he was denied ticket from BJP. He had criticized the BJP leadership saying that one must differentiate between real and fake BJP (2).After his subsequent expulsion from BJP he went on record to state that he never supported Ram Janmabhoomi movement (3).

This phenomenon of discontentment is not localized to a specific party or a specific region. This phenomenon is not even unique to this election. After the announcement of every elections, one can witness the ugly battle of words, allegations and theatrics coming from those people who were denied tickets, or who were sidelined in the decision making process. The same people, who would be praising the party and the leadership till one day earlier, would start making noises and allegations the moment they are denied tickets. The allegations can range from frivolous charges of personal rivalry to serious charges of corruption and lack of internal democracy. Even if one were to assume that those allegations are true, it raises serious questions about the integrity of the candidates as such sudden U-turns clearly expose greed and opportunism. If a politician is really genuine and selfless and has service to people as his only goal, then why would such a person be discontent at being denied to fight an election? Lord Krishna in Gita (4) clearly instructs Arjuna, that one has only a right to perform his duties but never over the fruits of his action. Hence, a genuine and selfless politician whose only intention is to serve nation and its people will never become discontent. He would find other ways for serving people.

On the other hand, the very act of discontentment on the eve of elections exposes the presence of anger, frustration and jealousy. Manu Smriti clearly states that, a ruler should practice “Indriya-Nigraha (control of mind and the senses)” 24X7 (5). It further advices the rulers to avoid vices that arise from lust and anger (6). It states that the vices that arise from anger are eight in number- Tale-bearing, violence, treachery, envy, slandering, (unjust) seizure of property, reviling, and assault (7). One can easily witness few of these vices as being present in discontent politicians.

The root cause of this entire political discontentment, frustration and opportunism is the presence of Greed. This greed makes one to act against his own better judgment. It clouds the mind and hampers the faculty of discrimination (viveka) that differentiates between rights and wrongs. Hence, such actions that arise from greed are not only harmful to that particular Individual but also to society as a whole. It is for this reason Lord Krishna (8) describes Lust, Anger and Greed as the three gates to hell. Similar sentiments have been expressed in Manu Smriti that makes a comparison between choosing vices and choosing death. It declare that death is a better option as a person who lives a Dharmic life, upon death attains Heaven and enjoys peace whereas a person who lives through vices attains hell and suffers even after death (9). Hence, a person who is weak, ignorant, greedy, without discrimination of right and wrong and attached to sensual desires is declared to be unfit to govern (10). And if a nation is governed by such a person who is afflicted with lust, anger and greed, then it would only lead to destruction (11). This phenomenon is very much evident from the current state of affairs in India. The nation is afflicted with social problems be it rape, corruption or poverty. The political atmosphere is no better. The financial systems have been completely dismantled. The very word “culture” has been made an untouchable. At the very root of this crisis is the presence of Incompetent political class that has neither the vision of a statesman nor competencies of a good administrator. Much of the political class is filled with self-serving people who always put their own political ambitions and self-serving goals before growth and development of the nation and its people. They are devoid of any Intellectual and Spiritual competency that are necessary to effectively govern this country and take it on the path of progress and prosperity. And this section of political class becomes exposed every time they are denied tickets in the elections. 

  4. Bhagavad Gita 2.47
  5. Manu Smriti 7.44
  6. Manu Smriti 7.45
  7. Manu Smriti 7.48
  8. Bhagavad Gita 16.21
  9. Manu Smriti 7.53
  10. Manu Smriti 7.30
  11. Manu Smriti 7.27