SankaracharyaWho is a Guru? Is he a teacher, a counsellor, a guide, a master, a spiritual leader? What defines a Guru? The fact is, he is a combination of all of these.

Advayatāraka Upaniṣad:16, a part of Guru Gitā, says:

गुशब्दस्त्वन्धकारः स्यात्‌ रुशब्दस्तन्निरोधकः।
अन्धकारनिरोधित्वात्‌ गुरुरित्यभिधीयते॥ १६॥

“The syllable gu means darkness, the syllable ru, he who dispels them,
Because of the power to dispel darkness, the guru is thus named.” A Guru is someone who takes us out of our cage of ignorance and leads into the light of knowledge. He takes away from māyā. In the ancient Gurukul system, śiṣyas used to stay with him, to learn from him, in an experiential way. He used to be a ṛṣi, a wise and talented sage, who used to take students from large variety of community, under his tutelage. He used to guide them not only by explaining to them everyday things and wisdom to judge things and people, but also philosophy and the larger meaning of life. He used to be personally involved in them. Thus, Vivasvān delivered his knowledge about the Supreme to Manu.

Over time, this system started getting distorted and only certain children started getting preferences. This can be best explained by the example of Eklavya and Dronācharya. And as we moved ahead into a more westernised world, the connect between students and teachers was lost. The crucial element of paying exhausted attention to the one who would usually carry your legacy forward, became infeasible.

But I consider myself lucky that I was in the midst of great personalities who have moulded my life in a significant way. They have been truly involved in my well-being and development. I have seen Guru in the form of my parents, my grandparents, my school and college teachers, my guide, my counsellor. And it is great to be working and learning under great professors now in this B-school.

Guru Gitā thus states:

गुरुर्ब्रह्मा गुरुर्विष्णुर्गुरुर्देवो महेश्वरः ।
गुरुरेव परं ब्रह्म तस्मै श्रीगुरवे नमः ॥१॥

“The teacher is creator Brahmā; he is preserver Viṣṇu; he is also the destroyer Śiva and he is the source of the Absolute. I offer all my efforts to that great teacher.”

And I do.

– Sameer Mandge

Photo by Raja Ravi Verma

What Freedom Means To Me

FreedomWhat is freedom to an Indian? Is it the freedom from rulers who reigned in this country? Or is it the freedom as defined in the Constitution of India? Or more recently, is it the freedom from the grasp of anyone who is trying to control us – be it parents, relatives, society, boss, company? Rather, is it a state of being? Trying to define it is like trying to define breathing.

For me, in today’s world, it is the freedom of thought, feeling and will of a human that matters intensely. This allows everybody to reflect, investigate, enquire and cogitate. It is the absolute freedom to the rational mind of man, the freedom of consciousness. It never demands any undue restraint upon the freedom of human reason. Naturally, it encompasses speech, expression, travel, settle, practice and what-not. Freedom is sanātana, ever so eternal. It cannot be taken be away. I believe it is this freedom that is ingrained in the DNA of every Indian. And it is this freedom that got us independence. It is this freedom that made us stay who we as Indians are, when in invasion and when not. It has sustained our culture. If not, we would have been slaves to the wish of others long back. It is this freedom that makes us go ahead in life. It gives us hope. It spreads kindness and love in our surroundings. It brings in all good things together in the community. It helps thrive different ideologies together. It maintains harmony in the society. It helps the nation grow.

Does that mean it is unrestricted? Obviously not. According to me, it should be restricted in some cases. That might include instances of defamation, indecency, immorality, offence, security and what-not. The following story from Mahābhārata gives us an idea about the violation of freedom:

After the dice game, Draupadī challenges the men by asking, if Yudhiṣṭhira lost himself first, then by what right did he wager her freedom, being a slave himself? When even the wise Bhima cannot resolve the question, she says, “I think time is out of joint. The ancient eternal dharma is lost among the Kauravas.” [Mahābhārata]

I believe it is a very difficult term to describe since it would encompass a lot of ideas. Ultimately, to me, freedom is being an Indian. I am a proud Indian and that should be enough for any fellow Indian.

– Sameer Mandge

Photo by Sikeaux / CC BY 3.0

Again & again, here & there, now & then


When it was time for Rāma to die, Yama came to the gates of Ayodhyā, but was unable to enter the city because Hanumāna was guarding the city. Hanumāna loved Rāma so much that he didn’t want him to die. But Rāma knew that death was certain & imminent. So he distracted Hanumāna by dropping his ring into a crack in the floor and asked Hanumāna to fetch it. The crack led Hanumāna to another realm of Nāgas. There he found countless number of rings similar to the one wore by Rāma. The guardian of Nāgaloka, the serpent king Vāsuki, explained thus, “Whenever a ring falls here, a monkey follows it and we know it is time for that Rāma to die. Such rings have fallen from above for as long as I can remember, and will continue to do so in the future. As long as the wheel of existence rotates, old worlds die and new ones are reborn. In each world, there will be a Hanumāna, a Rāma, and a Rāma’s ring.” [Rāmāyana]

I believe, as do many, that the world is a wheel. Everything repeats itself. History will happen again, and the future has already happened. There is neither a beginning, nor an end, nor any middle. The world is reborn. What goes around, comes around. The above story from Rāmāyana strengthens that belief.

But it is not just time that can repeat itself. So can space. Yes, I also believe that there are alternate worlds. The universe is limitless and boundless, with unimaginable potential and possibilities. The following story from Brahmavaivarta Purāna explains it better.

Indra once asked Viṣwakarmā to build him a palace befitting his stature. ‘For I am the overseer and lord of the three worlds’, he said. Viṣwakarmā built him one, with magnificent gardens and lakes. But this did not please Indra. ‘This is good’, he said, ‘but not good enough. Build me something grander befitting my stature. For I am the overseer and lord of the three worlds.’ So Viṣwakarmā built him another one, more magnificent than the one before. But even this was not enough for Indra. He wanted more, and so he asked for more. An exasperated Viṣwakarmā went to his father, Brahmā, for help. Brahmā invoked Viṣṇu, who presented himself to Indra as a boy. Indra welcomed his guest and asked him the purpose of his visit. ‘To see if your palace is better the palace of other Indras’, said the boy. ‘Other Indras? What do you mean by “other Indras”?’ Indra asked, clearly perplexed. The boy replied, ‘The other Indras. Those who existed before you. Those who will come after you. And those who exist right now in parallel worlds. There have been countless Indras in the past, and so will there be in the future. So there are in the present. You are but a grain of sand in a beach of Indras. Each and every Indra rules the sky and is a king of the Devas. Each one wants his Viṣwakarmā to build him a palace befitting his stature. I have visited them all.’ Thus humbled by this information, Indra stopped making his palace grander. [Brahmavaivarta Purāna]

So every time you get a feeling of déjà vu, think on it. Has it already happened? Is it going to happen? Is it happening right now somewhere else? Time and space is infinite and has no bounds.

Courtesy: Devdutt Pattanaik

– Sameer Mandge

Photo by Shannon / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Great Divide


We all grew up hearing stories. And we loved them, didn’t we? From Pancatantra to Jatākā Tales to Vikram & Vetāl, we have heard them all, haven’t we? But how many stories did you hear from our mythologies? Stories of Ṛṣi (sages) and devatā (gods) and Deva (Gods)?

Bhārata-varṣa is full of stories. Our mythology is truly vast. From Hinduism to Buddhism, Jainism, all have their share of tales. But how much do we really know about these stories? In fact, why were they even created? Were they true? What significance did they have? And what importance do they hold today? What do they represent? What hidden meanings lie in them? I would like to get into these things into detail by bringing up the festivals, their stories, their significance and their representation from time-to-time. Though one thing must be cleared up. The wisdom of these tales must not be overshadowed by their entertainment value, complexities must not be oversimplified by well-meaning narrations, leading to ruptures in the traditional discourse.

In this New Era, we are the least bit concerned about these things. We are so far out of touch of our own foundation that we are just plain lost. We have been following some things blindly. These things might include certain festivals, a few rituals and a little bit of blind faith. To say the truth, even I am unaware of a lot of tales from our mithya.

So how do we get in touch with what we are, what our whole community of Sanātana followers stands for? I suggest reading. There are tons of books and reading materials available. Take it up and know your culture! Every time I read a new story, or revisit an already read one, I find something new, I learn a few lessons. And I am surprised by the amount of knowledge that we have at our disposal. The wisdom of our ancestors is with us and yet we are unable to use it. There is too much to take examples from, to apply them our real life situation, use the experience and be successful. I would certainly like to dive deeper into these and try to learn as much as possible. It is truly applicable, what Devdutt Pattanaik says, that:

“Within infinite myths lies an eternal truth
Who sees it all?
Varuna has but a thousand eyes
Indra, a hundred
You and I, only two”

How has a great civilisation like ours remained so far behind? Why have we relied on principles of other faiths? Out of inconvenience? Strict norms? Inexplicable superstitions? Yes, certain traditions have become corrupted over time; believing blindly and not thinking for ourselves has increased by every moment. But that does not mean that we abandon ours completely. Study it and find faults. Bring balance. Change is reluctant, but happen it must! Even nāstikas are welcome in Sanātana Dharma.

The ultimate aim of any human is self-actualisation, self-realisation, and our mythologies take us a step closer to that. Believe in them, take a leap of faith, for hope is the only thing that keeps us alive.

– Sameer Mandge

Photo by Sonny Abesamis / CC BY 2.0

Bitter Work


For advancement in spiritual life, tapasyā is essential. Tapasyā means voluntarily accepting something which may be painful. For instance, no intoxication, no gambling, no meat-eating. So those who are accustomed to these bad habits – for them, in the beginning it may be a little difficult. But in spite of this difficulty, one has to do it. That is tapasyā. To rise early in the morning – for those who are not practiced, it is a little painful, but one has to do it. So according to the Vedic injunctions, there are some tapasyās that must be done.

It is not “I may do it or not do it.” These austerities must be done. For example, in the Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad, it is ordered that if one wants to become self-realized, one must approach a spiritual master: tad-vijñānārthaṁ sa gurum evābhigacchet [MU 1.2.12]. So there is no question of “optional”; it must be done. And one must carry out the order of the spiritual master and the order of the śāstra, or scripture. When you follow without consideration of whether it is convenient or inconvenient, simply because it must be done, that is called tapasyā.

Ṡrimad-Bhāgavatam [SB 5.5.1] states:

ṛṣabha uvāca
nāyaṁ deho deha-bhājāṁ nṛloke
kaṣṭān kāmān arhate viḍ-bhujāṁ ye
tapo divyaṁ putrakā yena sattvaṁ
śuddhyed yasmād brahma-saukhyaṁ tv anantam

“Lord Ṛṣabhadeva told His sons: My dear boys, of all the living entities who have accepted material bodies in this world, one who has been awarded this human form should not work hard day and night simply for sense gratification, which is available even for dogs and hogs that eat stool. One should engage in penance and austerity to attain the divine position of devotional service. By such activity, one’s heart is purified, and when one attains this position, he attains eternal, blissful life, which is transcendental to material happiness and which continues forever.” Like other great spiritual authorities, Ṛṣabhadeva orders that this human life is meant for austerity aimed toward realizing God. Therefore in our Vedic civilization we find so many rules and regulations.

At the very beginning of life one must be a brahmacārī. He must go to the spiritual master’s place and act like a menial servant. If the spiritual master says “go and pick up some wood from the forest,” one may be a king’s son, but he cannot refuse the spiritual master’s order. He must go. Even Kṛṣṇa was ordered by His spiritual master to go and pick up some dry wood from the forest. So He had to go. Although His father was Nanda Mahārāja, a village vaiśya king, and although Kṛṣṇa was the Personality of Godhead Himself, still He could not refuse. He had to go. Nicavat – just like a menial servant. This is brahmācārya, spiritual student life. Tapasyā is so essential that one has to do it. There is no question of an alternative.

After brahmacārī life, one may marry. This means he enters gṛhastha life, household life. People do not follow any tapasyā at the present moment, but human life is meant for tapasyā – regulative principles. Even in ordinary affairs – let us say you are driving your car on some urgent business, and you see a red light. You have to stop. You cannot say, “I have to be there in a few minutes. I must go.” No. You must stop. So tapasyā means following the regulative principles strictly, according to the higher order. And that is human life.

Tapasyā applies to diet, to personal behaviour, to dealings with others, and so on and so forth. In every aspect of life, there is tapasyā. That is all described in the Bhagavad-gītā. Mental tapasyā. Bodily tapasyā. Verbal tapasyā – controlling vaco-vegam, the urge to talk loosely or whimsically. You cannot talk nonsense. There is also tapasyā in connection with krodha-vegam, the urge to express one’s anger. If one becomes angry and wants to express it by beating someone or doing something very violent, tapasyā will restrict him – “No, don’t do it.” There is also tapasyā with regards to the tongue, belly, and genitals. One cannot eat anything and everything, or at any time he pleases.

So one should practice tapasyā in every way – in body, mind, words, personal behaviour, and dealings with others. That is human life. If you want to simply be a human being, and especially if you want to make progress in spiritual life, you must act according to the sastric injunctions. Before Brahmā could take part in creation, he had to undergo tapasyā. It is stated in the śāstra. So tapasyā is essential. You cannot avoid it.

Now, in today’s educational institutions, who is teaching this tapasyā? Where is the school or college? The students are even smoking in front of their teacher, and it is tolerated. What can you expect from such students? This is not human civilization. No tapasyā, no brahmacārī life. Real civilization means tapo divyam, godly austerity. And this tapasyā begins with brahmacārī life, learning to control the senses – that is the beginning of life. Not “A-B-C-D” learning, and maybe your character is less than an animal’s, though you have a degree from the university. “Never mind. You have become a learned man.”

Even from the standpoint of basic moral instruction, we must ask, who today is educated? In Bhagavad-gītā [BG 5.18], Kṛṣṇa also describes the paṇḍita:

brāhmaṇe gavi hastini
śuni caiva śva-pāke ca
paṇḍitāḥ sama-darśinaḥ

“The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brāhmaṇa, a cow, an elephant, a dog, and a dog-eater.”

That is a learned man. A degree-holder who has no tapasyā and no character – Kṛṣṇa says he is māyayāpahṛta-jñānā, “his knowledge is stolen by illusion.” Although he has learned so many things, nonetheless, māyā has taken away his knowledge. This is the perspective of Vedic civilization.

Courtesy: Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement

– Sameer Mandge

Photo by Ian Burt / CC BY 2.0

The Beginnings

Brahmā_BeginningThe duration of the material universe is limited. It is manifested in cycles of kalpas. A kalpa is a day of Brahmā, and one day of Brahmā consists of a thousand cycles of four yugas, or ages: Satya, Tretā, Dvāpara and Kali. The cycle of Satya is characterized by virtue, wisdom and religion, there being practically no ignorance and vice, and the yuga lasts 1,728,000 years. In the Tretā-yuga, vice is introduced, and this yuga lasts 1,296,000 years. In the Dvāpara-yuga, there is an even greater decline in virtue and religion, vice increasing, and this yuga lasts 864,000 years. And finally in Kali-yuga, (the yuga we have now been experiencing over the past 5,000 years) there is an abundance of strife, ignorance, irreligion and vice, true virtue being practically non-existent, and this yuga lasts 432,000 years. In Kali-yuga, vice increases to such a point that at the termination of the yuga, the Supreme Lord Himself appears as the Kalki avatāra, vanquishes the demons, saves His devotees, and commences another Satya-yuga. Then the process is set rolling again. These four yugas, rotating a thousand times, comprise one day of Brahmā, and the same number comprise one night. Brahmā lives one hundred of such “years” and then dies. These “hundred years” by earth calculations total to 311 trillion and 40 billion earth years. By these calculations the life of Brahmā seems fantastic and interminable, but from the viewpoint of eternity, it is as brief as a lightning flash. In the Causal Ocean, there are innumerable Brahmās rising and disappearing like bubbles in the Atlantic. Brahmā and his creation are all part of the material universe, and therefore they are in constant flux.

In the material universe, not even Brahmā is free from the process of birth, old age, disease and death. Brahmā, however, is directly engaged in the service of the Supreme Lord in the management of this universe—therefore he, at once, attains liberation. Elevated sannyāsīs are promoted to Brahmā‘s particular planet, Brahmaloka, which is the highest planet in the material universe and which survives all the heavenly planets in the upper strata of the planetary system, but in due course, Brahmā and all the inhabitants of Brahmaloka are subject to death, according to the law of material nature.

This is stated in Bhagavad-gītā [8.17,18,19]:

ahar yad brahmaṇo viduḥ
rātriṁ yuga-sahasrāntāṁ
te ‘ho-rātra-vido janāḥ

avyaktād vyaktayaḥ sarvāḥ
prabhavanty ahar-āgame
rātry-āgame pralīyante

bhūta-grāmaḥ sa evāyaṁ
bhūtvā bhūtvā pralīyate
rātry-āgame ‘vaśaḥ pārtha
prabhavaty ahar-āgame

“By human calculation, a thousand ages taken together form the duration of Brahmā‘s one day. And such also is the duration of his night.
At the beginning of Brahmā‘s day, all living entities become manifest from the unmanifest state, and thereafter, when the night falls, they are merged into the unmanifest again.
Again and again, when Brahmā‘s day arrives, all living entities come into being, and with the arrival of Brahmā‘s night they are helplessly annihilated.”

In the Mahābhārata [Śānti-parva 348.51-52], we can trace out the history of the Gītā as follows:

tretā-yugādau ca tato
vivasvān manave dadau
manuś ca loka-bhṛty-arthaṁ
sutāyekṣvākave dadau
ikṣvākuṇā ca kathito
vyāpya lokān avasthitaḥ

“In the beginning of the millennium known as Tretā-yuga, this science of the relationship with the Supreme was delivered by Vivasvān to Manu. Manu, being the father of mankind, gave it to his son Mahārāja Ikṣvāku, the king of this earth planet and forefather of the Raghu dynasty, in which Lord Rāmacandra appeared.” Therefore, Bhagavad-gītā existed in human society from the time of Mahārāja Ikṣvāku.

At the present moment, we have just passed through five thousand years of the Kali-yuga, which lasts 432,000 years. Before this there was Dvāpara-yuga (800,000 years), and before that there was Tretā-yuga (1,200,000 years). Thus, some 2,005,000 years ago, Manu spoke the Bhagavad-gītā to his disciple and son Mahārāja Ikṣvāku, the king of this planet earth. The age of the current Manu is calculated to last some 305,300,000 years, of which 120,400,000 have passed. Accepting that before the birth of Manu, the Gītā was spoken by the Lord to His disciple the sun-god Vivasvān, a rough estimate is that the Gītā was spoken at least 120,400,000 years ago; and in human society, it has been extant for two million years. It was respoken by the Lord again to Arjuna about five thousand years ago. That is the rough estimate of the history of the Gītā, according to the Gītā itself and according to the version of the speaker, Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa. It was spoken to the sun-god Vivasvān because he is also a kṣatriya and is the father of all kṣatriyas who are descendants of the sun-god, or the sūrya-vaṁśa kṣatriyas. Because Bhagavad-gītā is as good as the Vedas, being spoken by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, this knowledge is apauruṣeya, superhuman. Since the Vedic instructions are accepted as they are, without human interpretation, the Gītā must therefore be accepted without mundane interpretation.

It has been stated in Bhagavad-gītā [4.1]:

śrī-bhagavān uvāca
imaṁ vivasvate yogaṁ
proktavān aham avyayam
vivasvān manave prāha
manur ikṣvākave ‘bravīt

“The Personality of Godhead, Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa, said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvān, and Vivasvān instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikṣvāku.”

Courtesy: Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement

– Sameer Mandge

Photo by Swaminathan / CC BY 2.0

Ordained Castes

Caste_SystemThe Vedic system of religion – the varṇāśrama system created by Kṛṣṇa – is not to be confused with the present-day caste system – determination of social divisions by birth. Kṛṣṇa Himself says in Bhagavad-gītā [4.13]:

cātur-varṇyaṁ mayā sṛṣṭam guṇa-karma-vibhāgaśaḥ

“This system of four social divisions, according to quality and work, is ordained by Me.” But the difficulty is that this so-called caste system has come in, on account of the false notion that in order to be a brāhmaṇa, one must be the son of a brāhmaṇa. It is said “according to quality and work.” It is never said “according to birth.” So this so-called caste system in India is a false notion of cātur-varṇyaṁ, the system of four social divisions. The real system of cātur-varṇyaṁ means guṇa-karma-vibhāgaśaḥ, determination of the four social divisions according to quality and work. One must be qualified.

And how does one become qualified? That is also described. For instance, in Bhagavad-gītā, Kṛṣṇa describes the qualities of a brāhmaṇa as follows [18.42]:

śamo damas tapaḥ śaucaṁ kṣāntir ārjavam eva ca jñānam vijñānam āstikyam

“Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge, wisdom, and religiousness.” So people who want to become brāhmaṇas must be educated to acquire these qualities. It is not enough simply to abolish the caste system, which is contaminated by the false conception of qualification by birth-right. Certainly, this wrong caste system should be abolished. Also, educational centres should be opened for teaching people how to become genuine brāhmaṇas and kṣatriyas.

The benefit will be that the whole social body will function harmoniously. The social body must have a brain and arms and a belly and legs to be complete. If there is no brain, no head, then what is the use of these arms and legs and belly? It is all dead. So in human society, if there is not a class of learned, truthful, and honest men – men with all the brahminical qualifications – then society is ruined. That is why people are perplexed. Today almost everyone is trained to be a śūdra, a labourer: “Go to the factory.” That’s all. “Go to the factory and get money.” You cannot make society classless. If you try to make it classless, naturally people will all be śūdras, fourth-class men, and worse. Then there will be social chaos.

Guṇa-karma-vibhāgaśaḥ – according to their qualities and work, people naturally belong to different social groupings. In any event, you cannot avoid the natural occurrence of various social divisions. Nature’s caste system will remain. Take, for example, the brahminical quality of truthfulness. All over the world, wherever you go, you’ll find at least one person who is truthful. Does anyone say, “Oh, his father was truthful – therefore, he is truthful”? No! The father may be Hiraṇyakaśipu, a big demon, but his son can still be Prahlāda, a great devotee of the Lord. It is not that one will inevitably become exactly like one’s father. Of course, it may be; there is every possibility. But still it is not a fact that the son unavoidably becomes like the father. The point is, wherever you go, you’ll find a first-class man who is truthful. Now, wherever you find a truthful man, you can classify him as a brāhmaṇa and then train him to serve the social body in that capacity, as a spiritual teacher and advisor. So, you take some men and put them in the brahminical class, others in the kṣatriya class, still others in the vaiśya class, and the rest in the śūdra class.

Courtesy: Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement

– Sameer Mandge

Photo by Saylor Foundation / CC BY 3.0