vedantathoughts

vedantathoughts

About this blog

I hope to offer some of the ideas of Vaishnava Vedanta which have particular application in revealing the bigger picture of life and the universe as well as many of the simple things of life.

Decisions and Inner Guidance

ThoughtsPosted by Akhandadhi das Sun, October 18, 2015 21:11:25

BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day

29th October 2002

As the death toll keeps rising, more questions will be asked about the Russian government’s handling of the hostage crisis in Moscow – the negotiations, the storming of the theatre and, particularly, the after-care of the survivors, even though the American Embassy may now have identified the gas used.

This was undoubtedly a no-win situation for President Putin. Given Russia’s policy on Chechnya, there was no room to reach a settlement with the terrorists’ demands. With the deadline for the threatened executions looming, what else could he have done? It was inevitable that, in sending in the special forces, there would be casualties. As the Bhagavad-gita says, “just as you can’t have fire without smoke, all human endeavours contain some kind of fault.” But, it is a terrible burden for anyone to have to take such a life-and-death decision.

Where does one find the inner strength and conviction for such moments? I have no idea if Mr Putin has a personal faith to draw on, but I would wish to think that the situation was so grave it would impel anyone to reach deep into his soul to divine some clarity and assurance. Because, when we reflect deeply, we are accessing the source of our being. In planning any strategy, we need all the relevant information. We should think through every option and outcome. But, even though our intellect has reached a conclusion, to know if it is beneficial, we must consult the Lord of the Heart.

The Gita explains that it is not a question of belief or adherence to a particular religion. God is situated within our heart and is constantly offering guidance and direction to everyone. Sometimes, we are aware of this as instinct, gut feeling, conscience or inspiration. However, the more we practice contemplation with a humble and open mind, the more we become in tune with the Lord within.

The Gita’s advice is that we must put aside any selfish motivation when reaching a decision affecting others. We can’t count on this noble behaviour all the time, but in the face of a major crisis like the Moscow siege, we should expect our statesmen to make their decisions for the benefit of their people rather than their political agenda. Considering the ramifications of their original decision, Mr Putin and his government need to apply deeper introspection in how best to care for the survivors.

We know that the world is facing and will face many more conflict and terrorist situations – this means more life and death decisions. The Gita warns that any leader who decides on the use of force for their own political ends must take the full responsibility for the ensuing suffering. Public approval ratings, mid-term elections, commercial gains, international status and influence cannot be the drivers. By looking deep within, every world leader should recognise that these are paltry considerations in comparison to what is at stake.

© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Thought for the Day” on the Today programme Radio 4.



Decisions and Inner Guidance

ThoughtsPosted by Akhandadhi das Mon, October 12, 2015 23:27:58

BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day

29th October 2002

As the death toll keeps rising, more questions will be asked about the Russian government’s handling of the hostage crisis in Moscow – the negotiations, the storming of the theatre and, particularly, the after-care of the survivors, even though the American Embassy may now have identified the gas used.

This was undoubtedly a no-win situation for President Putin. Given Russia’s policy on Chechnya, there was no room to reach a settlement with the terrorists’ demands. With the deadline for the threatened executions looming, what else could he have done? It was inevitable that, in sending in the special forces, there would be casualties. As the Bhagavad-gita says, “just as you can’t have fire without smoke, all human endeavours contain some kind of fault.” But, it is a terrible burden for anyone to have to take such a life-and-death decision.

Where does one find the inner strength and conviction for such moments? I have no idea if Mr Putin has a personal faith to draw on, but I would wish to think that the situation was so grave it would impel anyone to reach deep into his soul to divine some clarity and assurance. Because, when we reflect deeply, we are accessing the source of our being. In planning any strategy, we need all the relevant information. We should think through every option and outcome. But, even though our intellect has reached a conclusion, to know if it is beneficial, we must consult the Lord of the Heart.

The Gita explains that it is not a question of belief or adherence to a particular religion. God is situated within our heart and is constantly offering guidance and direction to everyone. Sometimes, we are aware of this as instinct, gut feeling, conscience or inspiration. However, the more we practice contemplation with a humble and open mind, the more we become in tune with the Lord within.

The Gita’s advice is that we must put aside any selfish motivation when reaching a decision affecting others. We can’t count on this noble behaviour all the time, but in the face of a major crisis like the Moscow siege, we should expect our statesmen to make their decisions for the benefit of their people rather than their political agenda. Considering the ramifications of their original decision, Mr Putin and his government need to apply deeper introspection in how best to care for the survivors.

We know that the world is facing and will face many more conflict and terrorist situations – this means more life and death decisions. The Gita warns that any leader who decides on the use of force for their own political ends must take the full responsibility for the ensuing suffering. Public approval ratings, mid-term elections, commercial gains, international status and influence cannot be the drivers. By looking deep within, every world leader should recognise that these are paltry considerations in comparison to what is at stake.

© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Thought for the Day” on the Today programme Radio 4.



Great Britons and Philosophers

ThoughtsPosted by Akhandadhi das Mon, October 12, 2015 23:23:20

BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day

22nd October 2002

Here’s one more thing to worry about:- “Who is the Greatest Briton”. We’ve been introduced to the Top 100 and now we have to choose from the top ten. But, it’s not too serious. What is meant by “greatness” is left open. And so, we have royals and generals rubbing shoulders with anarchists and rebels; and scientists, engineers and explorers mixed with sportsmen and entertainers. The common factor seems to be that they all demonstrated some genius; they have touched lives and made a difference.

But, is it a reasonable cross-section of Great Britons? In India’s ancient texts, the Vedas, there is a model for analysing the inter-dependent contributions from the various sections of society. It notes that, in all human civilisations, there are four powers operating:- labour, economic, military and intellectual. They must function together like the human body. The labour section of society is like the legs and includes craftsmen, artisans, architects and painters. The Top 100 list ignores the cultural contribution of this group

Economic power is compared to the stomach distributing nourishment throughout the body. But, there’s only one business entrepreneur on the list. Surprising, considering how much we worry about money! The arms protect the body and military power is well represented with monarchs and politicians who have shaped the country, saved it from invasions and extended it as an empire.

Then there’s intellectual power characterised by the head. We have an amazing number of scientists, boffins and inventors who have all contributed towards the paraphernalia of modern life. But is this the only form of intellect that we value? Yes, we identify a few of our world-class writers and also some philanthropists. But, where are the philosophers and theologians? Would other countries omit their thinkers? Or, is there no one we esteem for helping to develop our collective world-view?

It seems we like our brainy folk to devise useful gadgets and regard philosophising as an impractical irrelevance. But, philosophy is never irrelevant. Even if we claim to have no philosophy or we cannot articulate it, everything we think or do is governed by what, deep down, we hold to be the truth about life.

This Top 100 list may contain some amazing personalities, but it questions how much we value a philosophical vision of life? We are busy creating new technologies and new social models, but our moral and ethical framework is lagging ever further behind. Without philosophy, we have no foundation. We need to discuss and debate the big issues of existence and purpose. Far from being an irrelevance, philosophy is crucial to underpin our social, scientific and political progress – that is if we want to keep our country truly great.

© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Thought for the Day” on the Today programme Radio 4.



The Most Intimate Witness

ThoughtsPosted by Akhandadhi das Mon, October 12, 2015 23:19:55

BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day

8th October 2002

I now know how to advise my children for their future. Don’t bother swotting for dodgy A-levels. And, why get into debt at university? No, the best way to make a fortune and leave your mark on society is … to keep a diary. Whether you’re in government or in prison, it will serve you well. Embellish it, drop names and, if some of it is true, so much the better.

I think that every life is full of fascinating drama, but some folk are better at making capital from their own and others’ stories. Perhaps, that’s why there has been such upset over Jeffrey Archer’s prison diary. OK, society may benefit from an insight into the hell of life behind bars; and yes, this might highlight issues to be addressed, debated and reformed.

But, we do feel unease when anyone unashamedly reveals the secrets of their personal experiences with others – especially with scant regard for the consequential impact. It seems a betrayal of trust, particularly if the motive appears to be selfish gain. In gaol, the loss of privacy and dignity is part of the punishment, although perhaps counter-productive to the process of rehabilitation. Even so, it’s hard not to feel that, in chronicling day-to-day incarceration, Mr Archer has exploited something delicate in the lives of his fellow inmates.

Absolute privacy is a myth. Modern technology with its security cameras, internet cookies and shopping-lists from our loyalty cards ensures that we are now more highly monitored than ever before. But, more vitally, we share intimacy and secrets amongst our families, friends and communities. These are crucial to our connections as a society and provide strength and support to us as individuals. As one Hindu saint said, “revealing one’s mind and honouring that confidence are the most important symptoms of love.” Sometimes, an issue must be opened up, and it is then a test of our humanity how we resolve matters whilst being considerate and true to one another.

On the spiritual plane, there is certainly no privacy. In the Bhagavad-gita, God says, “I am situated in the heart of everyone and I am watching over every thought and action.” The exact word used is upadrashta, which translates as “the most intimate witness”, and this is coupled with His assertion that “I am also your dear-most friend”. All our foibles are known to God. He may keep a diary, but no secret will ever be exploited. In the Gita, there is no mention of judgement - only the invitation to share in the love of God – to express our fears and hopes and to receive guidance in perfect confidence.

© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Thought for the Day” on the Today programme Radio 4.



Mistakes, apologies and U-turns

ThoughtsPosted by Akhandadhi das Mon, October 12, 2015 23:16:41

BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day

20th June 2002

How refreshing! David Blunkett apologises for getting it wrong over the plans to allow various public bodies the right of access to telephone and internet records. His apology has been as much a story as the actual policy issues involved in these controversial proposals.

I remember hearing one management consultant rather cynically advising that bosses can always apologise for two things without fear of losing face – one is for appearing to have been insensitive and, the second is for a lack of communication. But, Mr Blunkett was actually saying sorry for making a mistake and pursuing a badly conceived plan. Admitting any error in today’s political climate takes guts. We don’t make it easy for our politicians to change tack when we deride them with phrases such as “U-turn” and “humiliating climb-down”. As he said, “when you are in a hole, you should stop digging.” Dithering and contrariness are not endearing qualities in leaders, but a genuine ability to reassess how a particular idea might have negative effects is valuable for everyone.

The narrative of the Bhagavad-gita is an exercise in reassessment. It tells of Arjuna and his brothers who were on the brink of a civil war to settle their claim to the throne. But, on seeing the opposing armies ready for battle and realising the consequences of the impending conflict, Arjuna was overcome with remorse and vowed to stop the fight.

Considering everything that had led to this point, this would have been the mother of all U-turns. The Gita relates Arjuna’s personal dialogue with God, who first off tested Arjuna’s commitment to peace saying that, considering his phenomenal fame as a warrior, if Arjuna left the battlefield then, he would be ridiculed as a coward and would have to live in disgrace for the rest of his life. God taunted him by warning “that for someone who has been honoured, dishonour is worse than death”.

But Arjuna was resolute – no one should suffer on account of his ambition. The depth of his introspection has made Arjuna’s example so inspirational for generations of people struggling to cope with life’s moral complexities. To Hindus, he epitomises soft-hearted compassion and concern for how one’s conduct might affect others; he revealed genuine humility and a willingness to re-evaluate what must have seemed an inevitable course of action. But, more importantly than just feeling sorry for the situation, he demonstrated the courage of his convictions and the willingness to make an about-turn even at the expense of his own reputation.

Oh, and speaking of errors, I’d better apologise for my dreadful blunder last week attributing the quote about the importance of football. It was, of course, said by Bill Shankley and not Jock Stein. I’m sorry for any confusion or offence caused……Now, that wasn’t so hard, was it?


© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Thought for the Day” on the Today programme Radio 4.



Football Fever

ThoughtsPosted by Akhandadhi das Mon, October 12, 2015 23:08:47

BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day

13th June 2002

Like many others, I organised yesterday around the England-Nigeria match. Although delighted that England are through to the second round, there wasn’t quite the rush I experienced the day before when Ireland beat Saudi Arabia.

Call me a football romantic, but I think the beautiful game is a powerful force for world unity. There are more nations affiliated to FIFA than the UN. And this World Cup competition has seen small and developing nations competing on a par with the old dominant teams making the world seem a smaller and fairer place. Issues between countries, if not resolved on the football pitch, at least have an outlet. And if you could distil down all of mankind’s tribal and nationalistic aggression to a few outbreaks of hooliganism, we’d be making progress.

As Bill Shankley said, “football isn’t a matter of life and death – it’s much more important than that.” Hence, its attraction – it’s both important and yet not important. Still, it’s incredible how we indulge ourselves in such an emotional rollercoaster ride - dismay after Sweden, euphoria after Argentina and a sort-of-OK-job-done after Nigeria.

The ancient text, Bhagavad-gita, provides no clarification of the off-side rule, but does warn us that although these see-saw emotions give life a sense of excitement and purpose, they can easily carry us away – the riots in Moscow last Sunday are an extreme example. It’s not just football, all day long our feelings go up and down with every little incident, comment, news, gossip, fear and anticipation.

Allowing such minor things to determine our state of happiness or distress is called Maya or illusion. At best, we are in a constant state of emotional flux. At worst, it can drive us insane.

Hinduism offers a choice of two paths. The way of the ascetic claims that happiness with a cause is actually misery. One should try to be like a lake which, although fed by streams of desires and feelings, is always calm and still – think Sven Goran Eriksson on Valium. On this path, happiness is found not by achieving, nor by doing, but by “being”.

The path of devotion, however, says that the reason for being is to love. Rather than isolating ourselves from the world or being bewildered by it, we can let life’s events enrich our connections to others. This is spiritual life with passion, but without the jingoism. There is still pleasure and pain, but the difference is that in love, your pleasure is what gives me joy and your pain is what causes me to grieve. So, as much as we may appreciate the heart and skills of the England and Ireland teams, we’ll feel a twinge for Argentina, France and all the others on their long journey home.

© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Thought for the Day” on the Today programme Radio 4.



Mediation by Example

ThoughtsPosted by Akhandadhi das Mon, October 12, 2015 23:03:27

BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day

6th June 2002

My wife was to attend a conference in India last week, but we decided that this was no time for a woman with an American passport to be wandering around Mumbai. And, yesterday the Foreign Office urged British Nationals to leave India immediately. Even so, most of us cannot imagine that India and Pakistan would be so foolish as to start a war with such terrifying potential for escalation. But, in the sub-continent, there are too many people who see it as an inevitable, even beneficial, outcome.

It’s sobering to note that when Robert Oppenheimer witnessed the first test of an atomic bomb, he quoted the voice of God recorded in the Bhagavad-gita at Kurukshetra, just a few hundred miles from Kashmir: “I am Time, destroyer of the worlds.”

This week’s invective at the Asian summit showed both sides trying to justify their stand-off to the world. They certainly need outside help to pull back from the brink. And it’s great that there are offers of mediation from several quarters. But, can we be effective mediators if there are questions about our agenda, impartiality or the consistency of our own behaviour?

We may lament that nuclear proliferation has provided India and Pakistan with the Bomb, it is surely the natural result of our own commitment to nuclear arms for strategic defence. The recent treaty between the USA and Russia is welcome, but it seeks only to store rather than destroy part of their arsenals. This will hardly dissuade developing nations from wanting to join the club.

And consider the relevant ease of conscience with which the West has bombed and invaded Afghanistan in the search for justice following September 11th. Whether or not it was right, successful or good, it stands as an example of behaviour for other flash-points around the world.

There is a story of a mother who begged Mahatma Gandhi to convince her diabetic child not to eat sugar. Gandhi told them to come back after one week. When they returned, he asked the child to refrain from sugar. The mother was delighted but asked the Mahatma why he had delayed giving this advice. He replied, “because last week I was eating sugar.”

As the Gita says, “Whatever action is performed by great leaders, common people follow in their footsteps. And whatever standards they set by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.” Considering the world as one family of nations, it is our duty to support brothers and cousins in resolving their quarrels. But, if we really want to make a difference in these intractable disputes, we cannot rely on the slogan of “Do as I say, not as I do”. We need to walk the talk.

© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Thought for the Day” on the Today programme Radio 4.

Anger management

ThoughtsPosted by Akhandadhi das Fri, October 09, 2015 22:43:08

BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day

31st August 2001

Why? Seems the only response to the news of a father’s frenzied attack on his family. Pc Karl Bluestone bludgeoned his wife and three of his children with a hammer before hanging himself in the garage of their home. It is an unbelievable act for someone respected in his community as a conscientious police officer and a loving father.

We ask Why? But, inside, we are all aware of the terrible power of anger - a force that can overcome our rational thinking and impel us to thoughts, words and deeds that shock us. A force that we know we must constantly guard against.

Of course, we’d never expect to be so overwhelmed that we would ever cause real injury to our loved-ones. But, in the incidental events of our daily lives, anger is often let loose and, when it is, it sours relationships. How many times as a parent, friend, lover or when at work do we have to apologise and make amends for having given vent to our temper?

Hindu ascetics warn that anger is the most insidious of all emotions. It is deeply rooted, yet so close to the surface. When the sages wanted to compare the relative greatness of the personalities of Brahma, Siva and Vishnu, they did so by testing their ability to control their anger whatever the provocation.

And there is probably no greater impetus to anger than frustrations in family life. With our desire to love and be loved, families have potential for such great joy, but also for great sorrow. As one Hindu teacher said, “It is easier to bear the arrows of the enemy than the callous harsh words of our family.”

A text in the Bhagavad-gita explains the source of anger: “While contemplating objects of desire, we become evermore attached to obtaining them. When our desire is frustrated, anger takes over our mind and obscures our intelligence. When intelligence is lost, we succumb to our lower self.”

The Gita does not promise any easy relief from the power of anger to overcome us. Nor does it say that we need to become devoid of a passion for life in order to escape its clutches. But it does suggest that the more our desires are fixed on material goals, which by nature have a finite beginning and end, the more likely we are to suffer deep disappointments which may give rise to anger.

Pleasures based on getting tend to be frustrating. Pleasures based on giving are more likely to touch the soul and perhaps allow us that breathing space to bite our lip and count to 10.

© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Thought for the Day” on the Today programme Radio 4.



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