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.

Voting for Moral Authority

Spiritual PoliticsPosted by Akhandadhi das Sun, October 18, 2015 21:20:28

BBC Radio Wales - Wednesday Word

30th April 2003

Assembly elections tomorrow – and, yes, I’ll be turning out in our village hall to do my bit as a good citizen. When you think of all the fuss about bringing democracy to Iraq, it’ll be interesting to see how many folk here in Wales choose to vote in the Welsh national elections.

We hear criticism of a lack of democracy in some Islamic countries, but really none of the world’s religions is big on democracy. There’s no major religion that allows all of its followers to vote who should be the head of that religion. Can you imagine the campaigning? Vote for me and I’ll downgrade the Ten Commandments to just “Half-a-dozen Guidelines to think about”. Or, “Let’s cut tithing down to 9%!”

The ancient texts of Hinduism describe a type of democratic voting – but only to chose a person from amongst one's peers to represent the views of the whole group. Voting for representation is one thing. Voting for someone to govern the group is another…because what we are actually doing is choosing someone to be a higher moral authority over us. I suspect that many religions have a deep-rooted feeling that universal suffrage isn’t necessarily the best way to ensure the instatement of a moral authority for a country, but most do recognise that it’s probably better than having non-elected governments.

You might think that moral authority has nothing to do with the Welsh Assembly or your local council. After all, the issues are practical. They consider the allocation of resources and don’t usually involve ethics and morality. But, any decision by anybody can only be made on one of two grounds – either it is based on pure selfishness, or it’s based on considering the effects on others – and that is a moral judgement. How we spend money on schools shows how we value the younger generation and their future. Our systems of social care speak volumes about our attitudes to the old, sick or needy. These are moral issues and we need truly moral people to be in government at all levels.

If there is a democratic message from the world’s religions, I think it is that we must cast our vote wisely – not choosing the person or party that promises the most for me – but electing those wise souls who will selflessly serve the needs of all their constituents – people we have confidence in to be a moral authority.

© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Weekend Word” on BBC Radio Wales.

Hiss, but don’t strike

Spiritual PoliticsPosted by Akhandadhi das Sun, October 18, 2015 21:15:57

BBC Radio Wales - Weekend Word

31st January 2003

It’s been yet another week of increased temperature regarding possible military action on Iraq, culminating today with a summit at Camp David. Perhaps, Messrs Bush and Blair have felt the need to issue extra doom-laden justifications to stop public opinion sliding away from war.

There is a story in Hinduism about a cobra who decided to renounce his life of wanton killing and become a religious hermit. The reformed snake was tormented by local hooligans who thought he had gone soft. So, he asked his guru what to do. His teacher advised him: “Next time, raise your hoods, hiss, but do not strike.” Sure enough, the boys were no longer certain of the cobra’s passivity and they left him alone.

Of course, a threat has no teeth unless there is full intention to follow it up with the use of force. I don’t, therefore, object to our country threatening and intending action under the auspices of a UN resolution. But, because war is the ultimate sanction, we must be extremely cautious upping the ante too early, or for nebulous, possibly wrong, reasons.

In the Hindu text, Bhagavad-gita, Arjun presented the case for holding back from war. His words seem relevant today. “How strange it is that we are preparing to wage war and commit the sin of killing for no grander reason than our own self-interest. Our opponents may be cruel and avaricious and see no fault in war and terror, but why should we, with knowledge of the sin, engage in the same acts.”

We failed the Iraqi people twelve years ago when we enabled Saddam to quell resistance and retain his oppressive regime. They may still need our help, but I don’t think that’s the motive behind an assault on Iraq. We hear of a “preventative” strike – but the proposition that one country can attack another just in case it might start a war seems hideously medieval and is surely a rejection of the values of modern democracy and internationalism. Moreover, it sweeps aside the premise that all human life is equal and sacred. It’s saying it’s OK for the hapless residents of another nation to die in our quest for a safe and comfortable existence.

Arjun was no wimp. Ultimately, he fought one of the bloodiest battles in ancient history. But, he did so only when every alternative for peace was thoroughly exhausted, when the crimes of the opposition so massively out-weighed the ramifications of war and when he was ready to be held personally accountable to God for every injury and death, for every widowed wife and for every orphaned child.
© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Weekend Word” on BBC Radio Wales.

Election fever

Spiritual PoliticsPosted by Akhandadhi das Fri, October 09, 2015 22:29:17

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 winthis” or “we won that”. It just doesn’t seem appropriate to claim credit for winningsomething 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.

Capitalism & quotas

Spiritual PoliticsPosted by Akhandadhi das Thu, October 08, 2015 21:52:16

BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day

2nd May 2000

As a vegetarian, I can’t count myself as one of McDonald’s more frequent customers, but neither can I support damage to one of its outlets – for any cause. Yet again, a militant minority has hi-jacked a protest demonstration and focused the news on the confrontation with police rather than on the issues.

The opportunity to protest is an important right in a democratic society. It offers an alternative view and can often help in addressing imbalances and injustice. But, just as important as freedom of expression is the freedom to do business and to profit from effort, investment and risk. If the protestors are hoping for a world without capitalism, the Vedic scriptures of Hinduism warn that they are likely to be disappointed. Even its most ancient texts glorify businessmen as one of the key roles of human society - having the vital responsibility for the efficient production and distribution of all material goods.

But the “guerrilla gardeners” are probably not alone in worrying about the effects of unfettered capitalism. These days, multi-national corporations wield greater power and have far greater impact on the world than many small countries. If bottom-line profits are the only guiding principle for businesses, then other human considerations can be eclipsed … at the expense of employees, consumers, and, regularly, the environment.

Here there is agreement with the Vedic texts. Capitalism though necessary, must be kept in check, and the Vedas recommend two forms of regulation. The first is by the government to control excess profiteering, and hoarding of crucial supplies and, also, to ensure the welfare of employees.

The second form of regulation stems from the spiritual dimension. The Isa Upanishad begins, “everything within the universe is owned and controlled by God”. Never mind Microsoft, there’s a case for the Monopolies Commission. The Upanishad continues that each of us should accept only those things which are necessary and specifically set aside as our personal quota.

The Mayday Celebration protestors may argue that many fat-cat businessmen have well exceeded that provision. Indeed, it is difficult to determine what is an individual’s quota, because it is not simply a question of equal distribution to everyone. Rather, quota depends on ability, effort, circumstances and Providence.

As a rough guide, the Vedas suggest that one’s personal quota is what is received from a responsible endeavour at work to which we are suited, and which has been carried out as a service to society without exploitation of people, animals or Mother Nature. And, if that makes you a millionaire, then there is no scope for protest.

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

Nuclear war & peace

Spiritual PoliticsPosted by Akhandadhi das Thu, October 08, 2015 01:10:38

BBC Wales - Word for the Week
4th June 1998

There may have been fire-crackers and rejoicing in the street, but the rest of the world is troubled by India and Pakistan’s atomic tests and sabre-rattling. Despite their delight at becoming a nuclear power, their future is now less secure than ever before. And, probably, so is ours.

One phrase which I read at school still haunts me:- “war is the ultimate product of a society based on competition”. And what competition could be more likely to spawn war than the contest to have the most deadly arsenal?

But, the West may claim that having its own nuclear capability during the years of the Cold War helped to maintain peace. If that’s so, where is the logic, even the sincerity, in complaining when other countries want such arms in the face of their own cold wars?

I believe that it is tragic that any country - rich or poor - should divert so much of its wealth to so-called defence. Every nation has more important priorities. It is also tragic that we allow ourselves the illusion of security based on our ability to destroy countless thousands of civilians elsewhere.

However, the greatest tragedy I see in this case is that, by our own attitudes and policies in the West, we send a message to other countries to want to join the club of nuclear powers. If we truly believe in non-proliferation we need a different approach.

There is the story of Mahatma Gandhi who was approached by a distraught mother. “My son suffers from diabetes”, she pleaded, “but he continues to eat sugar. You are respected as a great man, please tell him to stop.” The Mahatma simply told them to come back the next week. When they returned, Mahatma Gandhi then asked the child to give up eating sugar. The boy immediately responded to the Mahatma’s concerned request. The mother was delighted, but asked Gandhi why he had made them wait a whole week. The Mahatma replied, “a week ago, I was still eating sugar.”

As the Hindu scripture, Bhagavad-gita, says “whatever great people do, others follow in their footsteps and whatever standards they set by exemplary acts, the whole world pursues.”

The Gita also offers its peace formula based on the understanding of the oneness of all humanity as children of the same Supreme Being. As long as we languish in sectarian groups of nationality, race and religion we will fight over selfish interests of power, land and money. However, the Gita claims that peace is deserved by those who recognise God to bethe person who is the real proprietor of the world and to whom we all must answer and yet who is our best friend and shelter in the face of all danger.

© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Word for the Week” on BBC Radio Wales.

Different strokes for different folks

Spiritual PoliticsPosted by Akhandadhi das Thu, October 08, 2015 01:09:15

BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day

20th October 1999

Pakistan has been ejected from the Commonwealth. The idea is to put pressure on its leaders to get in line with human rights and to implement democracy.

In contrast, yesterday began the state visit of the president of China, who was welcomed with a state banquet at Buckingham Palace. Why? Because it seems the right way to convince him to get in line with human rights and to implement democracy.

There are those who think that a ban from international sports or an embargo on pop music and fizzy cola would carry more weight. But, it’s not for me to comment on the effectiveness of a particular political measure. What is interesting is the use of “different strokes for different folks” to achieve acceptance on the universal principle of human rights.

Such a seeming contradiction has precedent. For one, it is found at the heart of Hindu theology. In the Bhagavad-gita, it is said that, “Everyone follows God’s path in all respects.” The same verse then says, “And yet God responds to everyone according to their specific relationship with Him.”

Human rights are principles we would wish to be universally accepted. They are a common theme promoted by the world’s faith traditions. The Hindu scriptures say that exploitation of another is a great sin. No one has the right to disturb the life of any living being. If we receive a benefit from anyone, we must repay them with service and gratitude.

Yet, even when there is a common principle, the application of it varies according to time, place and circumstances. It would be a mistake to think there are repeatable, easy solutions in dealing with life’s complex conundrums. Certainly, the task to influence others to accept such ideals must take into account the different situations and tendencies of all the individuals involved.

But, whatever the chosen method of persuasion – sanctions, warnings, diplomacy or aid - it will be effective only if it is consistent with the objective – a point illustrated in the fable of the wind and the sun when they each try to remove the man’s coat. Despite all the bluster of the wind, the man wraps his coat ever tighter around him. But the sun understands that a little warmth will convince him he no longer needs an overcoat.

A sanction calling for the implementation of democratic rights must be democratic in nature. That goes beyond simply passing a resolution in someone’s absence. It involves dialogue, an effort to understand the specific circumstances and a willingness to contribute to the sacrifices and changes that are asked for. Because that, after all, is how God deals with us

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

N.I. and the Cycle of Karma

Spiritual PoliticsPosted by Akhandadhi das Thu, October 08, 2015 01:07:13

BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day

3rd July 1998

N.I. and the Cycle of Karma

Good morning. The Good Friday Agreement, the referendum Yes vote and Wednesday’s fragile start to the Assembly all auger well for a new future for Northern Ireland. In stark contrast, the arson attacks on ten Catholic churches were an evil attempt to rekindle the worst of Ireland’s past - a ploy to stir up anger and retaliation on the eve of the marching season.

I was born in Belfast and in mid-teens when the troubles began. At school in the centre of town we would hear the bombs going off around us. One day, I was outside the Europa Hotel and a bomb blast sent glass pouring on to the footpaths injuring shoppers either side of me. Thankfully, I walked on unscathed. But, I often wonder how my attitudes might be different if I, or someone I cared for, had been maimed in that incident.

In those days, school education separated our communities, so did the sports and social clubs. Even before the troubles began, prejudice was rife. In addition, after over 30 years of troubles, there can be few families who have not suffered loss or injury to their loved ones. And so the hatred and division continue. As Shakespeare said in Macbeth “and blood shall have of blood.”

In Hindu terms, this is the cycle of karma. Previous events have led to our present circumstances. They also shape how we react to these circumstances and that, in turn, determines our future - and so on.

Justice, principles and fairness are surely important matters for politicians, but sometimes when they are considered in a narrow or personal context, they simply perpetuate the karmic process. Injury creates hurt, which spawns a need for justice and recrimination, which so easily slips over the line into retaliation and greater injury. Those politicians struggling with the complexities of the issues of Northern Ireland must view what is just, fair or right in a broader agenda – that which will cut through the cycle of karma, end the feuding and bring peace to the community.

Karma is considered a universal law, but it is not inviolable. It affects us only in the absence of our dependence on God. If we want to overcome the power of karmic forces, the Hindu scriptures say that we must take shelter under God’s guidance and protection. I believe that the people of Northern Ireland must already be doing just that to have made so much progress in recent times.

May they and their politicians recognise and avoid confrontations which are symptomatic of old and dangerous patterns. And may they continue to work for a peace which will once and for all end the historic cycle of violence and retribution.

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

Unity in Diversity

Spiritual PoliticsPosted by Akhandadhi das Thu, October 08, 2015 01:06:04

BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day
11th June 1996

Good morning. Last week, I was in Bangalore where the papers speculated on the chances of local man, Mr Deve Gowda, keeping afloat a national government based on an alliance of thirteen political parties. That’s an unenviable task which will sorely test the phrase often quoted in Indian politics - “Unity in Diversity”.

From India back to Britain, diversity for me was re-donning my winter vest. The similarity was hearing about the same issue - Unity in Diversity - in Europe and, particularly, in the hopes for achieving some semblence of unity within the diversity of politics in Northern Ireland.

I worry that western philosophy and science favours reductionism. It has broken down life and compartmentalised its constituents. Everything is viewed from the standpoint of the essential differences. Oriental thought comes from the opposite direction. It analyses life so as to understand the oneness of all reality.

In India, there are both dualistic philosophies and those which expound that only undifferentiated oneness exists. Perhaps, the best synthesis of these was provided by Chaitanya in the 16th century in his treatise of “acintya bhedabheda tattva” - that the absolute truth contains simultaneous commonality and distinctions. Chaitanya considered different religions in terms of their common efforts to express revelations received from a single absolute source.

Human endeavours must balance this oneness and difference. The spectators of Euro 96 differ in the team they support, but all share a love of football. Too great a focus on team identities may lead to ugly scenes on the pitches and on the terraces. Whereas, a balanced view enables us to enjoy the sportsmanship of all the teams.

We are not to be blind to differences. Amongst the Irish nationalist groups, the specific difference of Sinn Fein’s approach is significant enough to exclude it from the Stormont talks.

But, when we do analyse our differences, let it be done to understand the underlying connections, rather than what separates us, so that our disparate viewpoints coalesce, or at least can be accommodated with mutual empathy.

Centuries of history have defined that Irish politics is based on sectarian differences. Yet, now there is one aspiration in Northern Ireland which is almost unanimous - to have a permanent cease-fire. Perhaps, the people of the province can acknowledge more aspects of their oneness and be inspired to transcend the in-bred separatism, seeing each other as children of the same God with the same longing for a life of peace.

Living as one community, whether in Northern Ireland or elsewhere, requires sacrifices from each person - sacrifices you can make only when you put yourself in the other’s shoes, knowing them to be really no different from yourself.

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