Sunday, November 24, 2013

Spiritual Democracy: What it takes for India to Succeed

What does it take for a political leader to succeed in leading India to a glorious future? At a fundamental level, three things:
  1. Eloquence to marshal the fractured public opinion and support in his favor, i.e., create new allies to his mission (Vaak, creation, or ऐम्)
  2. Political acumen to control and steer the politicians and workers in his ranks (many of them crooks themselves) in the right direction (leverage own assets effectively or श्रीम्)
  3. Strength and skill to checkmate and disarm his opposing forces (destroy obstacles, ह्रीम्)
How does one acquire these powers? In these days of democracy, it is the public that must create their leader and infuse in him/her the right strength to steer their nation to glory. In the olden days of the monarchy,  the individual tapas of the kshatriya (and his purohitas) used to give him the necessary qualities of kingship. Perhaps the ritual of abhisheka (अभिषेक) had the same purpose. But in these days of rule of the people, by the people and for the people, it is the collective tapas or will of the public that raises and sustains the instrument/vessel to lead them. This is one of the messages of both the mahisha mardini story as well as that of monkeys helping Rama to kill Ravana. The Divine strength can indeed destroy darkness, but waits to be summoned activated by the collective tapas of the sufferers. This is because It refrains from interfering in their individual freedom to control their own destiny.

If the public relies on the personal capabilities of an individual leader, it is limiting its fate to what can be achieved with the leader's individual strengths and weaknesses. The role of a citizen in a democratic society is not merely to choose among the individuals standing up to lead them (by vote), but also to materialize new leaders and to actively supply the strength to them where needed, for one's own and society's larger good.

But how can an ordinary citizen have the power to create and sustain a leader other than oneself?
This is where Indian spiritual knowledge of Human psychology comes to help.

Now let us examine these aspects of political power and their psycho-spiritual underpinnings.


The True Springs of Political Power

Winning New Allies: The popular belief is that intellectual convincing can sway people in a given direction. But Indian yogic psychology says that people are led predominantly by the manas (referred to as the 'heart' or emotional centre of man), not by the buddhi. Much of the time, a person uses intellectual arguments to defend his/her viewpoint already subconsciously fixed by emotion. Though this is not the ideal state, it is the current state of the semi-developed humanity. It is the emotional layer of man that controls whom one loves. And choice of a leader is mostly about emotional resonance. What people call charisma is emotional magnetism; it makes a person attractive or not. 

Emotional magnetism is the distinguishing asset of a true leader, and can be acquired in oneself or infused in others thru control of spiritual energy - the primal praaNa shakti that is at the root of emotions.

Steering Workers towards a Common Goal: The ability to steer a group of workers with often conflicting ideas and diverging selfish pursuits towards a common overall goal requires deep awareness of the driving motives of each of them and playing them - sometimes with each other, sometimes against each other - to balance all these forces in a way that serves the overall objective. 

Leadership requires keen awareness of and sensitivity to the hidden feelings of others, and knowing what keeps them happy, where they are strong or weak. Only with this knowledge can the leader decide whether saama, daana, bheda or danDa is to be used. Asset/wealth management - the ability to leverage the available resources to achieve an objective is the key. The spiritual force that controls the preservation and correct use of wealth, i.e., the assets/resources at one's disposal is Lakshmi or Vishnu.

Checkmating and Disarming the Opposing Forces: Unlike one's own work force who might obstruct the progress towards a goal due to internal feuds, the opposition's very job definition is to overthrow the leader and take his position and to prevent his reaching his stated goal. Cooperative opposition is an oxymoron. In this case, the right approach is to strike at the very sources of the opposition's strength and disarm it by hitting where it hurts. This also requires endurance and inner will not to get dejected by one's own defeats and setbacks. There is absolutely no scope for appeasement or ahimsa here.  
Strength, endurance, courage and skill along with keen awareness are the chief qualities. The spiritual forces controlling these qualities in the Universe are Durga and Her hordes, and Rudra.

For instance, the deity vaaraahi (वाराही) is described as the force that blinds (अन्धिनि), obstructs (रुन्धिनि), strikes (जम्भिनि), confuses (मोहिनि) and arrests (स्तम्भिनि) the dark forces that prevent progress. How does She do it? By arresting (स्तम्भनम्) the faculties of intuition (वाक्), thought (चित्त), perception (चक्षुः), expression (मुख), action (गति), and control (जिह्वा) in the opposing forces.


Spiritual Democracy

It is well-known that for a democratic society to flourish, the public must be active. Physical and intellectual activism are signs of a healthy democracy. But these are only surface movements. Veda declares that the prime forces governing human behavior are spiritual in nature with emotions as their steeds or puppet strings. Balanced all-round growth of society is a chimera unless these forces are recognized, understood and harnessed. Just as intellectual activism means to influence governance via triggering widepsread public discourse and debate, spiritual activism means to influence governance via marshaling the psychological forces behind human behavior in the intended direction. A spiritual democracy employs spiritual activism to guide politics in addition to physical and intellectual activism. 

Through spiritual saadhana, a citizen can summon the spiritual forces to manifest the above qualities in a leader to help him/her guide the nation effectively. Even if an individual by oneself does not have the physical/intellectual means to change the society/government, collective saadhana can trigger the right higher powers and invoke them to guide their leader. 

That is the responsibility of the citizens of a nation when caught in the web of an oppressive regime that is hampering nation's all-round growth - spiritual activism thru collective tapas and saadhana in addition to physical and intellectual activism.


Practising Spiritual Activism

We Indians are instinctively spiritual at a personal and family level, but when it comes to social and political issues, we shy away from spiritual outlook, equating it with religion (a.k.a. belief system) and hence unsecular. But the main idea of secularism is to prevent the imposition of a single belief system on all, not to shun all belief systems. Shunning spirituality is like shunning science and truth, which is to our own detriment [Atheists will not agree, but this article is not for them].

Spiritual activism is highly individualistic. If you believe in a higher power guiding your life, how can you deny that the same power is guiding the elected leader, the electing public and the opposing forces? If so, your prayer has a say in how your leader is chosen, sustained and guided. Hence prayer can influence politics at a much more fundamental level than sloganeering and intellectual debates. But prayer is only as effective as the intensity, sincerity and selflessness of the individual praying. Hence spiritual activism means to pray for the forces that you think are good for the country to win and their opposing forces to lose. The responsibility is not just that of the leader standing up to fight the dark forces, but also the people who he's going to govern.

Call to Action

If you believe in this, please pray for the leader you want to lead India.

Here are some suggestions.
  • If you do regular anuShThaanam, please do sankalpa every day for your chosen leader to gain power and use it to protect dharma.
  • If you have received a mantra upadesha, please do extra japam at least once a week with the sankalpa - dharmasya jayaartham, adharmasya naashaartham (धर्मस्य जयार्थम्, अधर्मस्य नाशार्थम्)
  • If you do meditation or Yoga, please will strongly at the end of meditation for the victory of dharma.
  • Perform rudraabhisheka or satyanaaraayaNa vratam at home or in a community with the same sankalpa, not for family well-being.
  • Please get puja done at your nearby temple at least once a week, exclusively for the victory of dharma, not for your family's well-being.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Understanding the Terms of Ancient Indian Social Organization

Below are excerpts from "The Renaissance in India" by Sri Aurobindo, where he explains clearly the terms used within India for various units of social organization and their distinction.

In summary,
varNa = color i.e., Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra
Jaati = caste, e.g., Vaidika, Niyogi Brahmin, Reddy, Kamma, etc.
Kula = vamsha (clan), e.g., Kuru, Yaadava, Panchala, Rajput etc.

varNa is a concept that is based on svabhaava and distinct from birth, whereas jaati is determined by birth.
Originally, jaati came from varNa and later got subdivided.
i.e., within a varNa there might be multiple jaatis (e.g., subdivisions of brahmin caste).
Within a Jaati, there might be multiple kulas.

For each, there is a dharma - varNa dharma, jaati dharma and kula dharma.

Excerpts from "The Renaissance in India" by Sri Aurobindo pp. 417-419 available for download from

The Indian political system was still maintained for many centuries in the south, but
the public assemblies which went on existing there do not seem
to have been of the same constitution as the ancient political bodies,
but were rather some of the other communal organisations
and assemblies of which these were a coordination and supreme
instrument of control. These inferior assemblies included bodies
originally of a political character, once the supreme governing
institutions of the clan nation, kula, and the republic, gaNa.
Under the new dispensation they remained in existence, but lost
their supreme powers and could only administer with a subordinate
and restricted authority the affairs of their constituent
communities. The kula or clan family persisted, even after it
had lost its political character, as a socio-religious institution,
especially among the Kshatriyas, and preserved the tradition of
its social and religious law, kula-dharma, and in some cases its
communal assembly, kula-sangha. The public assemblies that
we find even in quite recent times filling the role of the old general
assembly in Southern India, more than one coexisting and
acting separately or in unison, appear to have been variations
on this type of body. In Rajputana also the clan family, kula,
recovered its political character and action, but in another form
and without the ancient institutions and finer cultural temper,
although they preserved in a high degree the Kshatriya dharma
of courage, chivalry, magnanimity and honour.

A stronger permanent element in the Indian communal system,
one that grew up in the frame of the four orders—in the end
even replacing it—and acquired an extraordinary vitality, persistence
and predominant importance was the historic and still
tenacious though decadent institution of caste, jaati. Originally
this rose from subdivisions of the four orders that grew up in
each order under the stress of various forces. The subdivision of
the Brahmin castes was mainly due to religious, socio-religious
and ceremonial causes, but there were also regional and local
divisions: the Kshatriyas remained for the most part one united
order, though divided into kulas. On the other hand the Vaishya
and Shudra orders split up into innumerable castes under the
necessity of a subdivision of economic functions on the basis
of the hereditary principle. Apart from the increasingly rigid
application of the hereditary principle, this settled subdivision
of function could well enough have been secured, as in other
countries, by a guild system and in the towns we do find a vigorous
and efficient guild system in existence. But the guild system
afterwards fell into desuetude and the more general institution
of caste became the one basis of economic function everywhere.
The caste in town and village was a separate communal unit, at
once religious, social and economic, and decided its religious,
social and other questions, carried on its caste affairs and exercised
jurisdiction over its members in a perfect freedom from
all outside interference: only on fundamental questions of the
Dharma the Brahmins were referred to for an authoritative interpretation
or decision as custodians of the Shastra. As with
the kula, each caste had its caste law and rule of living and
conduct, jaati-dharma, and its caste communal assembly, jaati sangha.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Inconvenient Concepts in Indian Puranas: Daampatya Dharma

Dharma vs. Vedanta

It is easy for us modern Indians to accept Vedantic ideas, but not Indian Dharmas because Vedanta makes intellectual sense and we can get away by debating and doing nothing else, whereas Dharmas often go against our individual freedom and don't explain why. The inconvenient truth is, there is no recourse except to follow Dharma to realize Vedantic truths. True, there are gurus who'll give you simpler-looking bypass routes initially, but the deeper you go, the more your life looks like that of orthodox brahmins. Look at Brahma Kumari followers.

However, Dharma has two aspects - the concept or the essence (tattva) that is eternal, and its form or manifestation (aachaara) that changes with time. What is commonly referred to as Dharma is mostly the form. In very few instances is the essence explained or the distinction made. This is where Indian Dharmic concepts are hard to crack by moderns. It demands a lot of viveka (discriminative acumen), shraddha (faithful diligence) and sampradaaya jnaanam (deep knowledge of the context) to isolate the essence from the form and apply it differently without loss to the core. We in India have been so accustomed to shallow thinking on deep subjects especially when it comes to original Indian ideas. In such matters, we get into the mode of either defense or offense instead of deep thought and assimilative innovation.

Dharmas need viveka to interpret and reformulate for the present circumstance.

Daampatya Dharma

I'd like to deal with one Indian dharma which is increasingly brushed aside as inapplicable to modern times - daampatya dharma (the law of conduct in married life) as laid out in our shaastras.

The english word `Husband' has dozens of connotations in Samskrit, each referring to a specific role played. Raadhaa explains those words and their import in the Devi Bhagavatam thus:

Samskrit words for husband and their connotations.

bhartaa = bears, supports (bibharti)
pati = takes care, protects (paalayati)
svaamii = lord over her body
kaantah = fulfills her desires (kaamanaaM pUrayati)
bandhuh = provides all comforts
priyah = pleases (priyam karoti)
iishvarah = bestows wealth and lordship (aishvaryam dadaati)
prANeshvarah = Lord of her life force (praaNaanaam prabhuH),
ramaNah = shares the pleasure of union (rati sukham dadaati, physical, emotional, aesthetic)

These words indicate how rich, precise and pregnant with culture Samskrit language is. A husband should cross check which title he deserves before expecting from his wife. Unless you bear the burden of the house, you're not a bhartaa. Burden is not just money, but also emotional cushioning for the family. Unless you can control your wife's excesses, you're not a svaamii or iishvara but a daasa.

But these concepts look like so archaic and B.C. era isn't it? They don't apply today, or they only apply to Gods. These are typical reactions we hear to such concepts. We cringe at the words svaamii and praaNeshvara. They look much like words of grandmother generation. Is there anything in those concepts that we can learn from and apply today?

Interpreting Daampatya Dharma for Today

If you look at those appellations closely, they are describing the various roles that a husband plays in married life. There will be a similar list for the wife as well. For instance, one of them is 'jaayaa' one produces progeny. But how to reconcile them with today's life where a female also earns and supports the family? How to reconcile with gay marriages?

If you decouple the male vs. female partner from their roles here, then they are listing the basic ingredient roles for a happy, fruitful, well-oiled married life. Any deficiency in any role play will lead to difficulties. Which partner dominates in which role is an implementation detail and may vary by era and social circumstances. Both may play a given role equally, some higher and some lower, or 
distribute. In some cases, physical body's nature or innate svabhaava forces the choice of role.

For instance, when I was doing PhD, my wife supported me for some time. During that time, she was bhartrii and I was bhaaryaH :-), and now our roles are reversed.

Dharmic Concepts: Separating Form and Essence

That is at a high level. Now delving a little deeper into the import of some "inconvenient" words. Take praaNeshvara, for example. Literally, praaNeshvaraH means lord of one's life (praaNa) which stands for vital force that is the seat of passion, impulse and living itself. Philosophically, only God can be praaNeshvara, but that's another discussion. Said another way, it is one in whose hands she has kept her entire life as its ruler/guide. What is the most precious for a human being? It is his/her life. When will I keep my life in the hands of someone? When I trust that person completely. When I am travelling in an airplane, who is my praaNeshvara during that journey? The pilot, and the air traffic control :-).

Complete, implicit trust is the corner stone of family life, unlike business life where the word is "trust but verify". If I don't want my partner to look into my bank or phone records, there goes the family for a toss.
That's why praaNeshvara is such an important word. If a wife hesitates to call her husband praaNeshvara, it means she doesn't trust him. There's something wrong. If the husband doesn't like to call his wife praaNeshvarii, it's time for a marriage counseling session.

My point is, whenever we hear Samskrit words, we squirm uncomfortably, feel embarrassed, cringe, dismiss, offend or defend. But we don't inquire deep. Traditional Indian thought is very deep, and deals with the very fibre of our personality. So do not dismiss Indian thoughts lightly. Find the essence and see how to give it a new form.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Practicing Success from First Principles

Recently, I have conducted two 6-episode workshops of sorts on practicing holistic success from first principles, in which about 30 people took part. Our objective was to get people habituated to skilful action and taking up tasks that expand their circle of "mine".

Topics of the Session:

  • SUCCESS without BURNOUT: Holistic definition of Success and steps towards its achievement.
  • WILL-POWER: First-principles approach to understanding and overcoming difficulties (internal).
  • SELF-ANALYSIS: Psychological reasons behind shortcomings and how to overcome them,
  • COUNSELING: How to counsel those in chronic difficulties (including themselves) and form an emotional support network.
  • CHILD CARE: Yogic approach to child psychology, and conducive environment for child growth. [we did not get to discussing this due to lack of time].
Here is a mindmap of topics and practice items we covered during the workshop.
Mindmap of practicing holistic success