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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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