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.

Bad Karma for Rally Drivers

Words for WalesPosted by Akhandadhi das Sun, October 18, 2015 21:27:28

Wednesday Word with Roy Noble

BBC Radio Wales - 12th November 2003

Bad Karma for Rally Drivers

When people drive into Wales these days, the first thing they notice is not the beautiful scenery, but the fact that all the cars are travelling in convoy at exactly the speed limit. They might think: “Aren’t the people of Wales such law-abiding folk!” But, the reality is that many of us are already on nine points and are terrified of losing our license and having to cope on public transport.

So, isn’t it reassuring that our police are so even-handed they’ve prosecuted the rally drivers in last year’s World Championships for speeding during the Wales section of the race. Speeding tickets are a good example of the Hindu concept of karma. You may have heard of Bad Karma or Instant Karma as some kind of punishment for wrong-doing. But, karma is really about personal responsibility and how the happiness and distress we cause others through our choice of actions is returned to us.

Karma isn’t fatalistic, because each one of us is in charge of our own destiny. Hindus believe in free will. We’re not compelled to crime or evil; it is a choice we can resist. So, when we break the speed limit, we’ve only ourselves to blame.

Karma is even more pervasive than Welsh speed cameras. Nothing escapes the universal law of karma. It affects everyone - like gravity– whether you believe in it or not. The rally drivers might have argued that they no longer drive the cars that broke the speed limit. But, that isn’t much of an excuse as it’s the driver, not the car, which must face the consequences. Similarly, karma doesn’t just work within one lifetime. Hindus believe that the soul moves from one body to another through the process of reincarnation in the same way we might change our car. And, sometimes we have to face the consequences for things we did in a previous life. This might seem unfair, as we no longer remember what we did. I bet the rally drivers don’t remember zooming past the cameras a year ago, but it would be even more unfair if both the law and karma overlooked our indiscretions just because we had forgotten them.

It’s been proposed that the rally drivers should be above the law on the basis that they and their cars are safer than most road-users. Maybe…, but we would expect safer drivers to lead by example and to follow the law. There is a parallel in Hinduism; that those who dedicate their lives to God are above the law of karma. That doesn’t mean they are free to misbehave. It means they should live a life of pure love so that all their actions are so pleasing to God that karma becomes irrelevant.

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



Embryology and Scientific Spirituality

Words for WalesPosted by Akhandadhi das Sun, October 18, 2015 21:24:10

BBC Radio Wales – Weekend Word

3rd October 2003

Families and the law are never a happy mix and this week, we’ve witnessed a legal decision possibly ending the chances of two women enjoying motherhood. Natalie Evans and Lorraine Hadley have been told by the High Court that the embryos that were fertilised from their eggs and the sperm of their respective ex-partners must be destroyed on the basis that their former partners no longer wish to become the father of the children.

Even if you disagree with the ruling, it is not the judge nor the court at fault. UK law is clear that both partners must give consent for every stage of the storage and use of embryos, including before an embryo is implanted in the mother.

It may seem at odds with “normal conception” where the decision to fertilise one’s partner is essentially a one-time decision, but the IVF process, as these two ladies discovered, can be fraught with complex issues. Modern medicine, particularly embryology, offers new opportunities but also raises new moral quandaries. Often, that leads people to question the science of IVF as being immoral, dangerous or evil.

But, what is really being exposed is that society does not have a clear moral framework underpinned with scientifically-sound philosophy. Nor do we have a science that is broad enough to embrace all the phenomena of the natural world.

We are very cautious about pronouncing the point of death, but, as yet, there is no consensus on what is the starting-point of life. Science still has no coherent explanation of why a single cell divides into two, four, eight - all the same - and why these cells then decide to be different, becoming muscle, blood, skin, brain, liver and so on, forming specialised organs which work with other organs in an amazingly co-ordinated system – the body.

The Hindu view is that this manipulation of matter is made possible by the presence of something that, itself, must be different from matter – spirit - for want of a better word. Using “spirit” to explain natural phenomena is perfectly rational, if it provides the only logical explanation and also holds the potential for research – which it does on both counts.

If this scientific and spiritual model was adopted, we would then conclude that every embryo holds the essence of life and should be treated as sacred or, at least, deserving of its own rights. Maybe then, when our courts and society face difficulties from medical and scientific advances, the judgements would be based on the welfare and future of these tiny persons.

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



Voting for Moral Authority

Words for WalesPosted by Akhandadhi das Sun, October 18, 2015 21:19:58

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

Words for WalesPosted by Akhandadhi das Sun, October 18, 2015 21:14:07

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.

Was God Guilty?

Words for WalesPosted by Akhandadhi das Mon, October 12, 2015 22:57:36

BBC Radio Wales - Word for the Week

4th November 2002

Who could resist the headline – “The Butler Didn’t Do It!!”? And what an opportunity to analyse the minutiae of royal interactions and motivations. Paul Burrell has walked from court a free man, but the collapse of the case against him has raised far more questions than have been answered.

Deeper questions hang over the more serious catastrophe in San Giuliano, where 26 children perished when their schoolhouse collapsed. It is eerie that only the new part of the school was destroyed, when so much of the medieval village around it remained intact after the tremor. To many who witnessed the joint funeral ceremony yesterday, this must seem like specific targeting by Providence. Such mysterious disasters raise the accusation – “Did God do it?”

It’s an allegation that must be understood in a philosophical perspective. According to Hinduism, we live in Martya-loka - the world of death. As the ancient Hindu scripture, Bhagavad-gita, says, “for one who is born, death is certain and for one who dies, rebirth is certain.” Before challenging God, we must appreciate that He views life on earth as the eternal journey of souls moving through one life situation to another – a process of transmigration that is facilitated by death and birth. Death is an agent for change, not oblivion.

Even so, Hinduism claims the natural order is that children outlive their parents and the untimely demise of a child is so unwarranted that the rulers of the land can be challenged as liable. The point is that the fault will tend to lie in human failings, rather than the vicarious hand of God. In 1966, I remember the one-minute silence we held for the child victims of Aberfan – still one of the most poignant memories of my life. Was God to blame then, or was it our idea to create a slagheap overshadowing a village school?

Apparently, in San Giuliano, some local people knew of the weaknesses in the school building. Nature had issued the warnings of minor tremors the day before. Perhaps, no particular people were culpable, but it does seem to be another reminder that, when it comes to disasters, human society may be the main contributor to the misfortune.

It would be sad to sanitise life of all fun and adventure in our efforts to protect the young and vulnerable. Better we live life as a balance of human aspiration in harmony with the natural world and in communion with our Lord, who is the benefactor of all.

Achieving that balance is a challenge, but as today is the Festival of Diwali and tomorrow brings in the Hindu New Year, what better resolution to make?

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



Who’s Says Life’s Fair

Words for WalesPosted by Akhandadhi das Mon, October 12, 2015 22:54:57

BBC Radio Wales - Weekend Word

10th May 2000

Listening to the news this week, I noticed a recurrent theme of concerns for the application of fairness in society. There’s been more debate about David Blunkett’s plans to make the sentencing of offenders fair in all areas. There should be fair pay for public sector workers. There are calls for the US to be fair in its approach to the Middle East.

But “Who says life is meant to be fair?” Where does this idea of fairness spring from? Because, when we analyse it, fairness is hardly a logical proposition. For instance, it’s not supported by what we see going on around us. Life very rarely seems fair at all.

Nor does the concept of fairness fit into the notion that we are the product of eons of survival of the fittest - where might is right.

And, it’s also contrary to our human tendency to be selfish. The case for putting our own interests first was best articulated by Yossarian, the star of the book, Catch-22, when he proclaimed “From now on, I’m only going to think about myself.” His horrified friend challenged, “but what if everyone thought like that?” Yossarian responded, “then, I’d be a fool not to.”

But despite such logic, somewhere inside us, we still feel that we should moderate our self-interest and try to be as fair as possible. And so, the questions about where the concept comes from and why we should be fair at all remain unanswered. I’m left to conclude that fairness must be a feature of spirit – something that is inexplicable from the material viewpoint, but which exists at our deepest level - like hope, trust and love.

The ancient spiritual text, the Bhagavad-gita, says that each of these qualities has its source in the personality of God. And it quotes God as saying:- “I am equally disposed to all living beings. I am neither vengeful nor negligent towards anyone. Nor am I partial to anyone.”

The Gita claims that we all have the ability to hear God speaking within our hearts. Most of the time we aren’t paying much attention, but occasionally God’s voice comes through as what we call conscience, intuition and inspiration. Our sense of equality arises from our awareness of the innate fairness of God towards His creation. And our effort to be fair is an attempt to model ourselves in the image of God.

Who says “life is meant to be fair?” God does. And I think a lot of us agree: It should be.

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



Diwali stories

Words for WalesPosted by Akhandadhi das Fri, October 09, 2015 22:24:58
BBC Wales - Weekend Word

12th November 2001

Good morning. This week Hindus celebrate Diwali – the Festival of Lights. For me, one of the joys of this time of year is discussing the story behind the festival - how Rama’s wife, Sita, was kidnapped by the evil tyrant, Ravana, and how Rama defeated Ravana at the great battle of Lanka.

Contained in this epic are wonderful messages about fidelity, duty and devotion to God. But, this year, as I reflect upon the Diwali story, I feel uncomfortable, because, when a religious story appears to be a simple good versus evil tale, it’s so easy for people to draw out all sorts of questionable conclusions to suit their political motivations. Considering world events at the moment, I think it must be hard to hear a story from any faith without seeing the danger of it being misinterpreted for malevolent purposes.

Individuals, groups and nations can portray themselves as victims of wrong-doing and claim that they are the good guys on God’s side fighting the tyranny of the baddies. They can then find scriptural justification for the use of force, violence or even terrorism to combat the perceived evil.

Unfortunately, their adversaries may also be doing the same thing by drawing on their own scriptures. But, the real truth is never so clear cut.

No wonder some folk feel that religion is the cause of too many wars. Even without religion, people will find something to fight about; but religion does add spiritual authority to the rightness of a cause. It then seems to allow a mandate for the use of almost any means to achieve so-called God’s purpose. That’s a dangerous mixture.

As my spiritual teacher told me: “Religion without philosophy is at best sentimental; at worst, it is fanatical”. There is, therefore, a real onus on the leaders and teachers of all religions to promote responsible spiritual attitudes in the followers of their faith. And perhaps, we could apply the old Sanskrit proverb:- “phalena paritiyate” – which means that the value of an idea can be gauged by its fruits.

I believe we should prove how our religion or ideology makes the world a better place - here and now – and not just for us! Does it help people outside our own community feel more secure, more understood and more cared for? If so, we may be on to something.

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



Abuse of Trust

Words for WalesPosted by Akhandadhi das Thu, October 08, 2015 19:05:03

Weekend Word

Friday, 18th February 2000

There have been few inquiry statements more chilling than “Lost in Care”, the Waterhouse report into the abuses carried out in children’s homes and foster care in North Wales during the 70s and 80s. And few that prick our social conscience more. How was it that the provision our society made for the welfare and betterment of children in dire need should have gone so incredibly wrong?

Institutional care for children has progressed from the Dickensian days of the 19th century. The aim is not simply to provide practical necessities of food, shelter and clothing, but also comfort, security and happiness – and more! Those of us with children of our own will know the efforts we make to nurture in them the intangible, yet vital, qualities of belonging, faith in others and optimism in life – things that we strongly believe will help them meet the challenges of life.

So, naturally, we hope that institutional care will also strive to provide those same qualities in the absence of a functioning family situation. But, Paul Murphy, the Welsh Secretary summarised the events in Clywd and Gwynedd as “appalling misdeeds, wickedness, and total abuse of trust”. It hurts the heart to hear of any abuse of a child – what to speak of such rampant and prolonged evil as catalogued in the Waterhouse report.

Emotional damage and relationship difficulties are the main permanent wounds cited by the victims. These will have undoubtedly diminished their quality of life. Most Hindus, like myself, will have been distressed at what they heard this week because Hindu culture is often praised for its strong sense of family values. The reality has its flaws, but there is an underlying appreciation that the essential ingredient for a healthy relationship is commitment – whether in the context of friendship, marriage or business. And, commitment is possible only when we can trust others and offer ourselves to be trusted.

Trust is said to be a fragile seedling. Seedlings are plentiful, yet it’s rare that they are allowed to reach maturity. We enter this world with an open sense of trust, but it gets constantly battered and tested as we age. When that ability to trust is shattered in an adult mind – it is a tragedy. How much more so for a little boy or girl alone in the world and totally reliant on a system that punishes, belittles or abuses them?

We owe them an abject apology, a commitment to ensuring that it can never happen again and a prayer that, despite such mistreatment, they may find the capacity to trust and the opportunities to love and to be loved as they need and as they surely deserve.


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



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