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.

Six Billionth Baby

Words for WalesPosted by Akhandadhi das Thu, October 08, 2015 00:39:42

BBC Radio Wales - Word for the Week

15th October 1999

In the film Crocodile Dundee, the hero, Mick Dundee, arrives in New York straight from the Australian bush. His guide tells him that here in New York there are six million people all living together. “Wow,” says Mick impressed, “they must really like one another.”

And that must go for all of us, because we’re now sharing our tiny planet with six billion other folk. This week, the United Nations estimated that the world’s population passed this landmark figure and chose a boy born in Sarajevo to be designated the six billionth baby.

But, we’re told that the growth in population everywhere is slowing and that it’s expected to stabilise at around nine Billion by the middle of the next century. So far, prophecies of doom from over-crowding have failed to materialise. Experts now suspect that, perhaps, the earth can handle the weight of so many humans – but only, if we are sensible towards our environment.

This is also the view of Hinduism’s ancient texts and is illustrated in the story of King Prithu. When faced with his citizens suffering from famine, King Prithu challenged Mother Earth that it was her duty to provide for all her inhabitants. She argued that such provision was possible only if the population treated her gifts conscientiously. They must step on her lightly - taking only what they need, using it carefully and returning the end products back to her. This is, probably, the earliest reference to the concept of re-cycling and zero waste.

And the issue of waste is at the crux of all environmental problems. Nature has a wonderful way of closing the circle in all its systems, such as the food or the oxygen cycles. But, we humans keep extracting resources from Mother Earth, processing them and dumping what we don’t want back into the land, sea and sky.

It may be tempting to consider that the growth in population is someone else’s responsibility. “After all, I was here first, and it would be good if everyone else controlled themselves so that they don’t keep increasing the numbers.”

Perhaps, rather than baby Nevic in Sarajevo, it would be better for me to regard myself as the six billionth person on earth and to realise that I have no greater right to the world’s resources than anyone else. The question then becomes, how can I live lightly on Mother Earth, so that her gifts are amply available to my six billion friends?

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

Working Hours

Words for WalesPosted by Akhandadhi das Sat, October 03, 2015 19:32:22

BBC Wales - Word for the Week

1st October 1998

Good morning. Jerome K Jerome writing in Three Men in a Boat commented, “I like work, I could sit and look at it all day long.” And if you like watching other people work, there’s a grandstand seat to be had in Cardiff at the moment, where they’re working round the clock to get the Millennium Stadium ready for next year’s Rugby World Cup. And all this just when the new EU directives have been introduced with possibly far-reaching effects on our working lives.

Whether or not we actually enjoy work, most of us lucky to have employment do enjoy receiving the fruits of our labour at the end of the week or month. And it’s the thought of what we can buy with that pay-cheque which drives us to work longer and harder in the belief that maximum purchasing power is necessary for a happy and comfortable life.

I won’t comment on the social and economic implications of the EU directive. But, I wonder if, on a personal level, it may encourage us to consider what are the priorities in our use of time. Mahatma Gandhi had a theory that no one should work more than five hours a day. He felt that to work any longer would leave insufficient time to meet the need for family relationships, domestic activities, social duties as well as personal care and spirituality.

The Bhagavad-gita, also, recommends that someone who balances work, rest and recreation is more likely to achieve well-being and harmony. But the pressure to acquire all those things promoted as essential to happiness is incessant and contagious. I remember my home as a child – it seems mediaeval in comparison to today’s standards with all the modern gadgets, facilities and opportunities. My children find it hard to imagine how I survived in a home without a colour TV, video, computer, CD player, dishwasher, central heating and so on.

But when I look back at my childhood, it’s not with a feeling of having been deprived. Our pleasure then, as it is now and, indeed, always has been, was in the quality of our relationships. It’s best described by the Hindu term “rasa” which has a plethora of meanings - sweetness, relish, pleasure, but all in the context of the relationships we enjoy with others. I heard it said once that “happiness is feeling close to someone”. So, however the EU directive may affect us, if we can use our time to connect to friends and family and also to come a little closer to God, our week will contain many more hours of happiness.

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

Nuclear War & Peace

Words for WalesPosted by Akhandadhi das Sat, October 03, 2015 19:30:11

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 be the 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.

Be Consistent and Look after Life

Words for WalesPosted by Akhandadhi das Sat, October 03, 2015 19:27:03

BBC Wales - Wednesday Word

21st May 2008

During the last couple of days our MPs have been busy debating and voting on the many tricky issues regarding human embryos when it comes to research, reproduction and abortion. On Monday, they voted to allow the creation of human and animal hybrid embryos for scientific purposes as well as what are termed “saviour siblings”, the cloning of an identical twin for someone who needs a match of body tissue to cure a disease. And last night, they voted to retain the upper limit for abortions at 24 weeks.

There is no doubt that these are complex matters and there’s a wide range of opinions. Many religious leaders have claimed that tampering with human and animal cells to create a hybrid is a step too far. Whilst I agree that we should be extremely cautious in meddling with new life forms, the Hindu faith isn’t against IVF or even the idea of “saviour siblings”. However, it does recommend that we always give proper regard to the sanctity of life in all its forms and at every stage of its existence.

Last Saturday, we commemorated the foolishness of King Hiranyakasipu who was obsessed with warding off disease and death. He followed a rigorous lifestyle; he protected himself from all danger and he had minsters and doctors working to look after him. Sure enough, he prospered and seemed invincible. But, in his paranoia and obsession, the king began to believe he was in danger from his own son and he tried to have him killed. It was this madness that led to his inevitable downfall.

In trying to improve and save himself, he could no longer see the value of his own child’s life.

I worry that we might be in the same situation. I’m all for scientific and medical research – it has brought us enormous benefits. But, let’s be consistent: making progress shouldn’t be at the expense of any life. How can we improve the quality of our own lives, if we fail to honour and respect life in its most vulnerable condition – the newly-formed embryo, the child in the womb?

The brilliance of human life is not in our ability to know and discover things; it is that we have a developed spirit – an ability to understand the needs of others and a willingness to try to help them. If we keep that principle in front of us, then I’m sure we can find a way to carry out whatever research is necessary so that it not only brings us scientific and medical innovation, but it also promotes the best of our human qualities – kindness, compassion and a respect for all life.

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

The Millennium Experience

Words for WalesPosted by Akhandadhi das Sat, October 03, 2015 19:24:20

BBC Wales - Word for the Week
26th February 1998

Greenwich - the place to be on New Year’s Eve 1999? “The most exciting day out in the world”? The government is certainly trying to entice us with the delights to be enjoyed within the massive structure of the Millennium Dome.

Mr Blair wants “today’s children to take from it a experience so powerful and memories so strong that it gives them an abiding sense of purpose and unity that stays with them through the rest of their lives”. To achieve that objective, the Dome will contain exhibitions of all aspects of human life, including what for me is the most intriguing - the Spirit Level.

Despite the humorous title, this section is not meant to be a flippant portrayal of spiritual values. Indeed, the description of gardens inspired by several religious traditions sounds rather nice. I like the idea of an “oases of calm and reflection” - especially in the midst of an attraction with 12 million visitors a year.

Certainly, the date 2000 must be of particular importance to Christians, and I hope there will be many specifically Christian events to mark it. But, as a Hindu, I’m glad that there is also to be an all-inclusive celebration. The Millennium will be a time for all communities to think ahead and pray that the next thousand years is happier than the last.

One of the main criticisms of religion is that it has spawned so much war and conflict. It may be argued, though, that it is not religion that causes fighting, but our lack of tolerance towards people of a different group, whether it be religious, racial or national. I am, therefore, delighted that tolerance will be the central message of the Spirit Level exhibit.

Now, I’m all for the teaching of comparative religion, but not the style that over-emphasises the differences among the religious traditions we have in Britain. So, I do hope that the Millennium Experience will promote the common themes. We all share a wonder of the natural world; we marvel at the intelligence and power that must lie behind it; we ponder our destiny; and we have an intuitive awareness of the soul - that part of us we know to be eternal.

Yes, we may favour differing answers and explanations; but it would be a promising start to the next millennium if we can accept that the various faith traditions together are the richest resource that human society has to help each one of us discover a higher purpose and sense of unity.

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

Bank “Holy”day

Words for WalesPosted by Akhandadhi das Sat, October 03, 2015 19:21:33

BBC Radio Wales - Word for the Week

25th August 1997

Yesterday, my family joined the streams of cars on the roads for the Bank Holiday outings. We weren’t off to the sea-side or the theme parks. It was our annual pilgrimage to celebrate Janmashtami - one of the most important Hindu festivals of the year. Janmashtami, like Easter, falls on a different date each year according to the lunar calendar but, this year, it was convenient that it coincided with the Bank Holiday.

Janmashtami is the day Hindus celebrate the birth of Krishna who appeared in northern India about 3,200B.C. As Hindus, we believe there is only one God, but that God constantly reveals Himself to the world in various ways. He may do it through the lives and teachings of prophets and sages; through miracles; or through the personal guidance we receive within our hearts. And God may also choose to incarnate on Earth in whatever form and circumstances He feels are appropriate to the needs of the time.

Each incarnation offers some special vision of our purpose and responsibilities in life. In the incarnation of Krishna, God spoke the message of Bhagavad-gita, which is now revered as the “Bible” of Hinduism. Even more importantly for me, Krishna revealed a particularly attractive side of God’s personality - soft and compassionate; playful and humorous; poetic and artistic; loving and surrendered to His intimate devotees.

The origin of the word “holiday” is Holy Day from the times when the only days off work were for religious celebrations. Now, we have “Bank Holy Days” - which reflects how society’s interests have changed and money has become our worshipful icon.

We may lament how commercial life has become, but economics are a fact of human existence. What we can do is to recover some time amongst everything else to dedicate to our spiritual aspirations. That’s the benefit of religious festivals and Holy Days. In the words of a Bengali song - “Madhava-tithi bhakti janini” - Holy Days are the mother of devotion, because they nurture our spiritual faith.

Driving 300 miles yesterday with the kids in the back of the car was not my idea of fun, but the chance to visit our favourite shrine and offer our prayers and gifts gave us a surcharge of devotion that, hopefully, will carry us through to the next Holy Day.

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

Traffic Survey

Words for WalesPosted by Akhandadhi das Sat, October 03, 2015 19:18:57

BBC Wales - Thought for the Week

16th June 1997

During the last couple of weeks researchers on behalf of the Welsh Office have been stopping motorists for a survey to determine travelling trends for the future.

Every week I drive up and down the M4. But so far, I’m disappointed that I haven’t been accosted by someone with a clip-board asking for my opinion - especially on such crucial questions as “Where are you coming from?”, “Where are you going?” and “What is the purpose of your journey?”

The issue is coping with the ever-increasing demand of the “infernal combustion engine”. But you can’t blame the cars, it’s their human masters who decide when and where they go. That’s why the Welsh Office wants to understand our minds.

As a Hindu, I believe my body is a vehicle carrying me as its driver. Without a conscious driver, a car goes nowhere. So, although the body is a fantastically complex machine, I believe that it requires to be activated and given direction by the soul.

From childhood to now, my body has changed. My personality and outlook has also varied, but I am the individual who has experienced the pains and pleasures at each moment of my life. The ancient scripture, Bhagavad-gita, asks me to consider that if my body and mind is constantly changing but I, as the person experiencing life, don’t change, then perhaps the real me is something distinct from my body and mind. In Hinduism, I, therefore, identify myself not in terms of the body, but as the atma or the soul.

This observation that I remain unchanged despite the changing body I inhabit, suggests that I may continue to exist even after the demise of the body. And it follows logically that I existed prior to the formation of this particular body, perhaps inside another body in some previous life.

So, I see myself as a spiritual being moving from one body to another in the same way as I might buy a car, use it until it disintegrates and then get a new one. In this scenario, questions such as “Where have I come from?” have greater significance than “Where did I start out from this morning?”

And “What is the purpose of my journey?” Am I simply burning up and down life’s motorways, driving one car after another, never finding the exit? Or do I read the signs and find the right direction towards my destination as an eternal spirit soul.

Now, I don’t know if the Welsh Office would accept this as an appropriate response to its survey. It probably won’t fit on the questionnaire sheet.

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

Speak the truth pleasantly

Words for WalesPosted by Akhandadhi das Thu, January 10, 2013 10:45:15

Some years ago, I was part of a high-profile planning case involving the largest Hindu temple in Britain. There must have been over a hundred articles in both local & national newspapers. Although I didn’t expect always to agree with the line these articles took, I did get annoyed that many of them contained simple errors of names, facts and figures. I remember one day thinking: I know the actual story behind this article on the temple and I can see that some things are reported incorrectly. Does this mean that there might be mistakes in all the other stories in the paper?

Even so, I do agree with Lord Justice Leveson that the British press has served the country “very well for the vast majority of the time”. In his long-awaited report, Lord Leveson proposes that the press should establish a new and tough regulator backed by legislation to ensure it is effective. This hopes to balance the need to protect the public, but stops short of any measure that might be seen as state control of the press.

No doubt, there will be plenty of debate on the various conclusions and measures of the Leveson report. However, I think the proposals fit broadly into an approach that might be supported by the Hindu tradition.

There is a statement from one of the oldest Hindu scriptures that could be a useful guideline for press reporting: It goes: Only say what is both true and pleasing. Don’t try to speak the truth if you can’t say it nicely. And, under no circumstances say that which is untrue just to please or interest people.

For Hindus, these principles are not rules or laws. They are intended to inspire us to choose better behaviour. But, although self-discipline is seen as the best way to lead us towards more ethical conduct, there still needs to be a back-up if we behave badly. So, I think it’s wise that the Leveson report recommends that there should be statutory legislation to ensure that the self-regulation of the press is independent and effective.

There was no mass communication or social media opportunities available at the time the ancient Hindu texts were written. But, whether we address one person or a thousand, the principle is the same: our words carry the power to affect others – for good or for bad. Our words can inspire, encourage, offer support and enlighten. They can also mislead, corrupt and hurt.

Hinduism believes in personal free will - but it says that freedom must always be balanced by the responsibility to behave well towards others. In particular, the Bhagavad-gita recommends that we think about every word we say and ensure that it passes three tests: Is it true? Is it beneficial? And, is it kind?

Weekend Word on BBC Radio Wales 30th November 2012

« Previous