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.

Wilderness Experience

ThoughtsPosted by Akhandadhi das Fri, October 09, 2015 22:40:48

BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day

24th August 2001

My heart goes out to the family of Ellie James, the teenager who perished on Mount Kinabalu this week. After days of anxious searching in the hope that she may have survived, this was such a tragic conclusion to a family holiday in a spectacular natural setting.

The mountain is climbed by tens of thousands of people every year but fierce storms created fatal conditions for Ellie. The incident has raised the issue of whether or not Mount Kinabalu should be so accessible to general tourists. I can’t comment on the safety arrangements in Borneo or what guidance should be offered to hikers ascending into rarefied conditions. But, I am in favour of preserving the sort of “wilderness experience” that, I suspect, was part of Borneo’s attraction to the James family.

I remember a trip to India when my family stayed at a friend’s farm high in the Shayadri mountains of Karnatak. One day, we trekked down through the uninhabited forests to a sacred site of rock pools and waterfalls said to have healing powers. It was so beautiful and enjoyable, that we lingered too long. Darkness was descending and we had a three-hour return hike to escape the dangers of panthers prowling at night. As I tramped up the forest paths with my two year-old son on my back, I was aware, probably for the first time in my life, that we were in the middle of nowhere with no possibility of getting help from anyone else.

I am torn by the paradox that, on one hand, the situation could quite easily have become a terrible disaster, but, at the same time, I felt it was invaluable to have been able to feel alone and void of human assistance in the face of untamed nature. It seemed to strip away the façade of human invincibility we try so hard to cultivate in our every-day lives? Yes, of course, we must make our roads safer, improve health care, and introduce sensible safety measures in the workplace – but as the Hindu scriptures say “padam padam yad vipadam” – for all mortal creatures there is danger at every step.

There is no need to be fool-hardy or reckless, but I believe that the experience of wilderness and the realisation of our fragile existence invokes humility to counteract the arrogance of mankind’s supremacy. It offers a depth of emotion that modern theme-parks with all their thrill rides cannot match. And it invites a moment to contemplate our place in the universe and where we stand in our relationship with our creator.

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

Sugar in the Milk

ThoughtsPosted by Akhandadhi das Fri, October 09, 2015 22:37:16

BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day

17th August 2001

The question of how Britain can cope with the influx of asylum seekers seems to exercise some parts of the printed media - perhaps inordinately in the light of other current events.

It is, of course, an important issue for any society to consider. After all, the influx of new-comers suggests competition for jobs and resources and an inevitable altering of the background culture forever? We may think we have enough trouble dealing with all sorts of existing interest groups without the addition of more communities with their specific needs. But, perhaps this is all part of the on-going responsibility in managing our society and its evolution.

Many Hindus fled to Britain for refuge in the early 70s. Despite successes in business and education, the community has not had the easiest time establishing itself culturally. For many years, I was at the heart of a major conflict involving worship at a temple in Hertfordshire. Last weekend, I was back there to celebrate Janmashtami – the annual festival commemorating the descent of God as Lord Krishna 5000 years ago.

But, for over 20 years the temple and these festivals were the focus of dispute as worshippers, neighbours and the authorities wrestled with the conflicting issues of religious practice and local amenity.

The matter was finally concluded with a common-sense idea and some give-and-take all round. So, for the past five years the festivals create minimal disturbance and have become a cheerful part of the local scene.

The whole episode added to my belief that issues can best be resolved by building upon on mutual respect, understanding and compromise and then formulating a win-win solution.

Many centuries ago, a community of Parsees arrived in western India hoping for asylum from the persecution it had suffered in Persia. The King of Gujarat was initially cautious of their plea and asked their leader, “My country is fully populated, why should I let your people in. What will you do for us? How will you fit in to a different way of life?” The Parsee spokesman asked for a cup brimming with milk. He sprinkled some sugar into the cup and gently stirred it. Only then did he reply, “we will be like the sugar.”

Fitting in is a two-way process – it requires the newcomer to adopt the subtlety of the sugar and for the host to be as accommodating as the milk.

Unexpected guests have a special status in Hindu culture and are referred to in Sanskrit as “atithi-bhagavan” – literally translated as “God who comes to us without an appointment”. The idea is that they are to be welcomed and treated with grace.

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

Letting go

ThoughtsPosted by Akhandadhi das Fri, October 09, 2015 22:35:11

BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day
23rd May 2001

Good morning. My American-born wife is eager for us to go and hear Bill Clinton at the Hay-on-Wye Festival next week. I have resisted for pecuniary reasons, but I do admit to a sneaking desire to find out how the former leader of the free world is coping with life after the White House. Quite nicely – it seems – with his lucrative programme of tours and speeches. But still, it must be a far cry from the heady power and influence of being a US president.

Meanwhile, our own former leader, Lady Thatcher, has been involved as part of the Conservative Party’s election strategy.

But, for me the issues regarding the planned departure of Sir Alex Ferguson from Manchester United are even more interesting. What is the future role for someone after being such a phenomenally successful manager? Is it possible for him to provide input to his old club whilst not interfering with the initiative of the new incumbent?

All of us, in some aspect of our lives, have roles as leaders - whether in our families, our jobs or in our social circles. Inevitably, a time comes for us to adjust that role – children grow up; employees become partners; and others are more eager and able to take up the social duties.

Of course, we owe it to them to provide the best circumstances for continuity and progress, but how can we best achieve that? Hinduism’s Bhagavad-gita stresses that we must carefully analyse our motives. If we are affected by a desire to perpetuate our prestige or position of power, we may fail to act in the best interests of those we claim to care for.

And, it’s important to recognise that no longer being active does not mean we are no longer concerned. Action is not the only way to express our care. Sometimes care (or love) may be better demonstrated in recognising that our charges have matured, or that there are others who have now the skills and energy to carry on where we left off.

India’s ancient literature, the Puranas, recommend that we learn from nature’s examples. It says, “Birds rear their offspring by touch; fish do it by looking at them; and turtles lay their eggs in the sand, return to the sea and raise their young just by meditation”.

At different times, we all have to apply these processes in dealing with our responsibilities. Sometimes, we must be pro-active, hands-on and fully involved. Sometimes, we are the witness, perhaps offering advice and support from the sidelines. And, sometimes, all we can do - or should do - is to think lovingly of them and offer our prayers and best wishes.

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

Techno Morality

ThoughtsPosted by Akhandadhi das Fri, October 09, 2015 22:32:28

BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day

16th May 2001

The story this week of the thirteen-year-old boy placed on the sex offenders register for downloading and storing child pornography must have worried any parent of teenagers with internet access. Maybe our little darlings are upstairs in their bedroom, conscientiously researching their geography project. But, perhaps they are accessing web-sites with some other dreadful - even illegal - material.

While other internet entrepreneurs have seen their fortunes crash, Pornography Providers are, unfortunately, the success stories of the World Wide Web. But it is nothing new that amazing technological facilities should be so well exploited for such base interests. It seems to me that generally new technology serves military purposes first – for example, America’s Son-of-Star-Wars - then recreation - and then business, usually exploiting the leisure interests of entertainment sports, sex and gambling. The advancement of humankind, health and welfare, I think, comes a long way behind. It's no wonder that many folk find new technology suspect. For Hinduism, technology is neither good nor bad. It is a neutral tool and how well it serves society depends on the use to which it is put.

There is a story about two men stranded by a river which they desperately needed to cross. However, one of them was blind and the other, lame. They concluded that neither of them could possibly negotiate the treacherous stepping stones and would probably be swept away by the current. So, they decided to co-operate. The lame man climbed on to the back of his partner and together they crossed the river. This is the fruitful combination of resources and vision. We need both the ability to do things and the clear understanding of what to do.

As a society, we are eager to invest in the development of new technologies, but each discovery raises profound questions. How do we use our new powers? What are the acceptable boundaries of cloning; the use of embryos; genetically modifying our food; storing information on the public; building greater arsenals that our rivals? These are not questions for the scientists who create the technology, or for the businesses that sell it. They are questions for us all.

Surely, along with our investment in scientific development, we need to invest a concomitant amount of time, energy and money into devising a coherent moral framework to maximise the benefits of our discoveries. As the Isa Upanishad says:- "a society that cultivates science and spiritual knowledge side by side enjoys the greatest progress and happiness." With all our material resources and technologies, we are certainly not lame. And with our abundance of intelligence and wisdom traditions, there is no reason why we should be blind.

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

Election Fever

ThoughtsPosted by Akhandadhi das Fri, October 09, 2015 22:28:45

BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day

9th May 2001

They’ve been under starters’ orders, but now they’re off - and we can look forward to four weeks of election campaigning. The main challenge facing the political parties is how are they going to get us excited enough to vote on the 7th of June?

Now, I’m sympathetic to politicians. They’ve got a tough, if not nigh impossible, job and I for one don’t envy them. But, if there is one thing that does fuel apathy in me, it’s a certain type of electioneering language. It’s the type of statements that go “we will win this” or “we won that”. It just doesn’t seem appropriate to claim credit for winning something if it is not all our own doing.

It’s one thing if you are Arsenal or Liverpool slugging it out in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium. Whoever lifts the FA Cup on Saturday can at least claim they did it themselves.

However, a political candidate or party wins by the rest of us casting our votes in their favour. So, I would prefer to hear speech recognising that their victory is conferred by our grace, rather than being some independent achievement.

The Hindu scriptures are quite concerned about our preoccupation with notions of success – and particularly our conviction that we are the cause of any result – whether in politics, sport or life in general.

The Bhagavad-gita tells the story of Arjuna, a statesman who was facing a civil war, but had become confused about his political duty. Whichever way he acted, it seemed that the only result would be misery for many.

Lord Krishna then advised him: “Perform your duties to the best of your ability, but don’t be fooled into thinking that you are the cause of the results that seem to come from your actions. So-called success or failure is not your responsibility. The only thing that is within your power is your desire to act with integrity.”

We tend to judge if something is successful according to how it matches our expectancy; but God judges the intention. In the saying - “Man proposes, God disposes” - there is scope for our initiative and determination. But when God has weighed up all the factors of what, how and why we proposed something and how it connects with all the other issues in the universe, the end result should be accepted with humility.

I would be really impressed if politicians vying to become our leaders would lead us to a better understanding of a culture of gratitude by using language which recognises that the grace of others has much more to do with the outcome than one’s own efforts. Such an approach might help reduce my apathy. And, if I feel like it, it might even win my vote.

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

Lack of Pleasure Dome

ThoughtsPosted by Akhandadhi das Thu, October 08, 2015 22:09:50

BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day

7th September 2000

Forty-seven million. That’s a lot of money to salvage the operation of the Millennium Dome for the rest of the year. It’s certainly difficult to put that quantity of cash into perspective when we can think of lots of good causes and projects which could be transformed by a fraction of the amount.

The main issue for the Dome is simply a lack of attendance. I suppose I’m partly to blame since, like many others, I haven’t bothered to visit it. I may well be missing out on a great experience but, somehow or other, it hasn’t enticed me enough to make the trip to Greenwich.

There’s a salutary lesson in this. Something may be worthy, educational, even enriching, but it has to be able to attract us naturally – like bees to nectar.

There is a story of a Hindu guru challenging his students: “Why are you following spiritual life?” Each tried to give a philosophical response – “Because, we are all the servants of God.” “NO!” “Because we must fulfil our religious duties.” “NO!” And so it went on – until one tentative voice said, “Because I like it.” “YES!” the guru confirmed.

This principle of enjoying what we do is there in every field of human endeavour. We work better when we enjoy it; we give more to our relationships when we feel reciprocal appreciation; we can move mountains when there is inspiration and satisfaction from the effort.

This drive for pleasure is not a defect of human nature. According to the Hindu texts - anandamaya-bhyasat – the nature of the soul is to enjoy unlimited bliss. In the embodied state in this world, the soul’s need for pleasure is still the critical impetus behind every activity. We may fear that justifying people’s desire for pleasure undermines the principles of acting out of duty and obligation. But the Bhagavad-gita warns us that unless we are enjoying, what it calls, “a higher taste” from observing our social and religious duties, we are unlikely to stick to them.

And, it says, there is no higher taste than loving and being loved.

The most valuable advice I ever received in relating with others came from my wife. It applies to everyone – whether they be family, friends, colleagues, employees, whoever. All we have to do is to convey - “I like you, I value you and I need you.” It’s a heart-warming message to give and it is wonderfully inspirational to receive.

And what attracts us into spiritual life? Hearing these words from God.

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

The Culture Guide

ThoughtsPosted by Akhandadhi das Thu, October 08, 2015 22:05:29

BBC Rdio 4 - Thought for the Day

31st August 2000

In 1977, I was part of a group gathered outside a Hindu temple to bid farewell to a renowned spiritual leader returning to India. The mood was sombre. We were all aware that, because of his age and recent illness, this would be his last trip to Britain. Suddenly, someone pushed through the crowd to reach him and vigorously shook his hand. “How are you, Prabhupada?” he asked. Srila Prabhupada smiled and simply responded, “Thank You.”

That man was the local home-beat policeman – on duty. If he were still active today, he’d be receiving The Culture Guide, the Met’s new booklet on London’s ethnic communities. He probably ignored all its good advice – but, at the time, no one minded. The warmth of his feelings made up for any transgression of cultural protocol.

In the mid-eighties, at the Hindu theological college where I was principal, we regularly hosted police trainees from Hendon touring the college and its temple as part of their community liaison week. Although some of our customs and beliefs were totally alien to them, they sincerely tried to understand what it was all about. The objective was not to provide an in-depth education on Hindu culture, but to confront these trainees with the reality that some sections of society, quite legitimately, believe in and do things very differently from the “norm”.

We don’t have to fear a different way of thinking. Neither are the customs of various traditions in competition with each other. For one to be right, it does not follow that anything else must be wrong. Every religion has certain theological axioms that are considered universal and inviolable. But, often, the customs that support and nurture those beliefs are geared to particular people in particular circumstances.

That doesn’t make them less valuable to the adherent – nor to the observer. Enquiring about the outward behaviour of another person’s religious tradition is a great way of discovering their core beliefs. For instance, the Met’s handbook says that most Hindus are vegetarian. Perhaps, this is less radical now, but back then, the trainee policemen would always ask: Why? For Hindus the answer isn’t to do with BSE, but an issue of respecting the life of an animal.

The Hindu text, Rig Veda, says “Let noble thoughts come to us from all directions”. Our society is enriched by appreciating one another’s way of thinking. The police Culture Guide is part of this process; a process that can benefit us all. And, what better example than that home-beat bobby who burst through the crowd. He had evolved from respectful curiosity, through familiarisation, to a warm connection. And that is why Srila Prahbupada thanked him.

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

Hope Against Hope

ThoughtsPosted by Akhandadhi das Thu, October 08, 2015 22:00:59

BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day

24th August 2000

So, no Jackpot yesterday for the Lottery bidders. But, Richard Branson at least won the opportunity to prove his ability to take over this national institution.

And in the new era of the People’s Lottery, the promise is that there will be a millionaire created every day. This sounds like a good thing, but I thought we were meant to be worried by the widening gap between the few rich and the many poor – a gap that only increases when - week in week out - money passes from many pockets into just one.

But, the allure of the Lottery is that it could be any of us who scoops the top prize. Compared to the slog (or luck) of making it big in business or whatever, at least with the Lottery, we all have the same chance to strike it rich. Even if we never win, the idea that one day we just might is enough to fill our week with hope – all our money troubles solved and a chance to live life as we always dreamed. If I have a concern over the whole concept of a major lottery, it’s that it is a distraction – for many it seems to be the one cure-all hope; and we do need look no further for salvation.

My spiritual teacher, Bhaktivedanta Swami, used to say that when you have a million pounds, all your ten-pound problems disappear, but I don’t think he had the jack-pot in mind. What he explained was that our fears and insecurities arise from the incompatibility of the eternal soul adrift in a temporary material world. But, when we re-connect with God and gain the greatest treasure of divine love, we enjoy a completeness and inner happiness that tends to resolve our day-to-day problems – or at least to put them into perspective.

Yesterday, Hindus throughout the world observed Janmashtami – the appearance of Lord Krishna , 5000 years ago. This festival celebrates a vision of God as the All-attractive – someone we can personally relate to. We call Janmashtami “the Mother of Devotion” because it is an opportunity to consider our deepest hopes and aspirations and to remind ourselves that some of them can only be fulfilled within a loving relationship with God.

But, in any relationship both parties have to try hard to make it work. The Late Rabbi Hugh Gryn would tell the joke of the man complaining to God that, despite his repeated prayers, God had never helped him win the Lottery. At last, God wearily replied, “meet me half-way – buy a ticket!”

© 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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