Author’s Veda Practices
Author’s Involvement with worship, pilgrimages, Vedic yajnas, dissemination of Vedic heritage and teaching of Vedas and Vedanta and Veda Mantra chanting
R. Narayanaswami is a Sanatana Dharma and Veda practitioner since childhood. From about 7 years of age, he remembers going to the Sree Poornathrayeesa Temple of the Tripunithura town with his parents to worship Lord Poornathrayeesa (Maha Vishnu). He had his Upanayanam ceremony when he was 11 years old. His father taught him to perform the family Shiva Puja including the Salagrama idols for Vishnu. From that time onwards to the present time, except interruptions of about 15 years or so during his graduate and post-graduate studies and time of settling down in family setting, he has been performing nitya karmas, chanting Veda Mantras for Shiva, Vishnu and Shiva Puja daily.
He participated in yajnas of major import performed in USA. Few of these yajnas are mentioned below for the benefit of the Veda lovers and readers of the Veda Books.
- Participated with members of the community in the building of the Malibu temple in Malibu, California. – volunteering, installation of deities, Puja services (1977-1992)
- Participation as Ritwik in the first Ati Rudra Mahayajna organized by Dr. Yejna Subramanyan in New Jersey (11-day event in New Jersey, USA during Aug-Sep 1997). Considered as perhaps the first outside-India organized Ati Rudram. Participated as a Ritwik for the 11-day event. This was a high-energy and transformative religious experience for me.
- 3-day Parikraman of (walking around) Mount Kailash (16-day round-trip from Delhi – July 2002). This 16-day travel for worship of Lord Shiva was another transformative experience that required high altitude adjustment, pilgrimage travel, 52 KM walk at high altitudes of 15,500 feet to 18,650 feet in 3 days and worship of Lord Shiva in His abode in the Kailash Mountains.
- Char Dham yatra – to Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath Temple and Badrinath temple – This 15-day round-trip in July 2006 for pilgrimage to holiest places of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu in the northernmost parts of India involved walking large distances watching nature at its stunning beauty of hills, valleys, mountains, dense forest-like trees and vegetation.
- Attended 2-day Maharudra Mahayajnas in 3 cities in USA (2007-2010)
- Lead yajamana (Vedic performer on behalf of, and representing, the community) and Chairman of Veda Circle which organized the 11-day Atirudra Mahayajna in Cerritos, CA (May 2011). Click here to view the event details
- Attended 2 days out of 11-day ceremonies of Ati Rudra and Sahasra Chandi Mahayajna at Pocono Mountains, PA organized by Dr. Yegnasubramanian in 2008 and the Ati Rudra and Sahasra Chandi Mahayajna at Kalady, Kerala, India organized by the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetha in January 2011.
- Attended 1 day out of 11-day ceremonies of Ati Rudra and Shatha Chandi Mahayajna at Atlanta Temple, Atlanta in November 2015 and the Ati Rudra and Shatha Chandi Mahayajna at the Livermore Shiva-Vishnu Temple in March 2018.
- Awarded ‘Veda Kamala’ award by SAKSHI, Bengaluru, in public function in Bengaluru in January 2016
- Guided and edited the translation to the Malayalam language of four English books of Prof. R. L. Kashyap, SAKSHI Trust, in Bengaluru with the titles of Essentials of Rig Veda, Essentials of Yajur Veda, Essentials of Sama Veda and Essentials of Atharva Veda.
- Served as Chairman, Veda Circle, 100-member group in Cerritos, CA, with mission to spread education, dissemination and awareness of the Vedas among people from 2010 to 2017. As part of its activities, special yajnas like Ekadasa Rudram, Maharudram, Ati Rudram, Homams for Ganapathy, Navagraha, Rudra, Chandi, Vishnu’s Sudarshana Chakra, Lakshmi and yajnas for other gods and goddesses. These yajnas known as Ganapathy Homam, Navagraha Homam, Rudra Homam, Chandi Homam, Sudarshana homam, Sri Suktha Homam were all organized and conducted for the prayaschitha (forgiving of known and unknown errors committed by people), welfare and all-round prosperity and happiness of all people (Loka Kshema and Loka Kalyana). Other whole day events like 9-day Valmiki Ramayana Yajna in 2013 and 7-day Srimad Bhagavatha Sapthaha Yajna by eminent pravachaka from Bengaluru, India, Dr. Rengan Ji, to spread the messages and meaning of our Itihasa epic and Purana were organized.
- Writing of short articles on Veda and Vedanta topics in local Souvenir publications.
- Taught the dashopanishads (ten major Upanishads) to interested persons, free of costs, every Sunday for 2 hours each in a 4-year period (2004-2007).
- Taught ‘Surya Namaskar’ (Prostrations to Sun) in the 12- step Yogic way of doing the namaskar with Rig Vedic Mantras after initial 15-minute yoga steps for stretching of arms and legs.
- Taught Veda Chanting of Suktas (Purusha Sukta, Narayana Sukta, Vishnu Sukta, Sree Sukta, Bhu Sukta, Medha Sukta, Durga Sukta, Navagraha Sukta, Nakshatra Sukta, Mrityu Sukta), Mantras of Ganapathi Atharvashirsha, Namaka and Chamaka Mantras (Krishna Yajur Veda Taittiriya Samhita Kanda 4, Prapathakas 5 and 7), Mahanyasa, Shanthi Panchakam, Narayana Upanishad, Krama Paatha chanting of Namaka and Chamaka Mantras, Ghana Patha chanting of Ganapathi Prarthana Mantra, Chanting of Taittiriya Upanishad, Mahanarayana Upanishad, Rig Veda 1st Mandala, Suktas 1 to 4, etc. from (2000 – 2019).
- Taught introductory course on Astrology. Click here to view it.
- Delivering special and invited lectures as needed on Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads and the Vedas.
It is my belief that each of the above listed activities was a source of utmost joy and happiness in the transformative feelings experienced and enjoyed by me. The involvement in community activities and the teaching of the Vedas to his friends helped me in sharing with others what I have studied and understood. All these experiences have strengthened my deeper understanding of itihasa epics, purana, yoga and karma aspects of worship and Vedic yajnas and helped me to write this book by adding practical and experiential learning from participation and conduct of Vedic yajnas and worship besides and beyond my theoretical grasp, perspective and understandings of the works of Sri Aurobindo, T. V. Kapali Sastry and Professor R. L. Kashyap.
Author’s involvement in Temple building and consecration
Malibu Temple Construction, installation of Deities, Organization of Puja activities:
I and my family moved from Newport News, VA to Los Angeles, CA in early 1977. The local India community leaders of Los Angeles had started plans to build a Temple since 1973 or so. In 1975 to 1977 period, they purchased a good site in Malibu to build the temple. I became a volunteer with the group from 1977 onwards. Few hardworking and dedicated families (about 100 or so) from the community along with many volunteers and their families worked for many years to build the temple. Experts like Sthapathiar (one who knows Vaastu shastra and details of building temples) along with a team of shilpis (who also know the Vaastu shastra of temples and who help the Sthapathiar in the actual construction, building and sculpturing of the gopuras of temples) spent here a few years building the temple according to prescribed traditions. The President and members of the Board of the Temple worked long hours and persevered to raise the funds and oversee the temple construction over a period of many years, the last seven (7) years since the author and family joined as volunteers being 1977 to 1984. Expert Priests from India like Navalpakkam Varadachari, Thankom Bhattar of Madurai Meenakshy temple along with other expert priests arrived well in advance of consecration date of Temple set for May 13, 1984. Four of the priests stayed in our house for the duration of the weeklong special consecration related homams and Pujas. I was requested to serve as the yajamana, the person on behalf of the community performing the functions with the help of the priests, for the weeklong pujas. On May 6, 1984 the ceremonies began with 3 hours of puja in the evening. From May 7 to May 12, 3 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the evening for a total of 6 hours of homam and Puja were performed to complete all pujas prescribed for temple consecration per the Shaiva and Vaishnava Agamas. The ‘shudhdheekarana pujas’, meaning cleansing the idols of impurities and preparing the idols for installation, like, jaladhi vaas or putting the idols immersed in water, dhanyadivaas, or putting the idols with grains all around, and other aspects of decorating the idols like applying sandal paste and flowers etc. with special pujas and Veda Mantras were performed during the week long ceremonies. On the evening of May 12, each of the idols was taken to the particular temple site, with special pujas, with the yantra for that idol along with the nava ratnas (nine gems like pearls, emeralds and the like) first and then the idols temporarily installed so that later that night the Sthapathiar and the team of silpis can apply ‘ashta bandha choorna’ around the base of the idol and the concrete base set up for the idol for firmly fixing the idol are completed. On May 13, the Pujas started at 5 am. At each temple site of each idol, the first ceremony was the ‘nayanonmeelanam’ religious ceremony or the ‘opening of the eyes’ of the idols. The shastras prescribe ‘dasha darshanam’ (10 sights) for the idols as the first 10 items the Gods or idols must see after their ‘eyes are opened’ physically by the Sthapathiar and team of shilpis and Vedically by the yajamana with the help of the priests. The ten items first seen by the idols after their eyes are opened include the seeing of cow, elephant, horse, brahmachari, young girl before she attains maturity. For elephant, horse etc., pictures of photos were shown. After the ‘opening of the eyes’ ceremonies were completed of all the 8 idols installed that day, the kumbhabhishekam ceremony began at 8 am. This ceremony consisted of pouring of the water in the kumbhams (or big brass containers known as kodam filled with water with the one week of Veda Mantra japa and homams conducted the previous week from May 6 to May 12) on the top kalashas of each of the 8 mini-temple sites where these deities are installed. The ceremonies lasted till 10:30 am when the kumbhabhishekams of all 8 idols were completed. The vast crowd of community members and other visitors from near and far witnessed the whole ceremony from early morning to 10:30 am and started the worship from 10:30 am onwards at all the 8 sites where the 8 idols were installed that day. The dream of establishing the temple in Los Angeles that began as an idea in the early 1970s by the hardworking persons and their families of the Indian community of Los Angeles became a reality on May 13, 1984. I consider myself fortunate and blessed to have moved to Los Angeles in 1977 and to have served as a volunteer for the temple for 7 years and to have served as a Member of the Temple Board for 2 terms from 1984 to 1992. With the help of the other members of the Board and the Puja Committee volunteers from the early days and the priests of the temple, we set up many of the daily and special Pujas at Malibu Temple during this period that are followed at the temple even today. For all the community members of Los Angeles who worked as volunteers or helpers or office bearers or Members of the Board from the early 1970s to 1984, it was a rare opportunity and privilege to be part of the team of temple building and consecration of the Malibu Temple.
Ati Rudram in 1997 in the Pocono Mountain area
In 1997, Mr. Ravi Subramanian and Dr. Yegnasubramanian organized Ati Rudram with the blessings and cooperation of the Sringeri Mutt in Sringeri, Karnataka. Conducting Ati Rudram required enormous planning and financial resources. For starters, nearly 135 trained Ritwiks who can chant the namaka and chamaka mantras are needed to do the japa. Enormous planning about the conduct of the ceremonies, the food arrangements, the travel to and from the site, the parking facilities, the housing for all Ritwiks most of them are new to the area and who at a minimum required housing for about 2 weeks etc. and the list goes on and on. The organizers did excellent planning and conducted the functions well.
About 80 to 90 priests were brought from India and the remaining 45 to 60 Ritwiks were assembled from different parts of USA. I was fortunate to be selected as one of the Ritwiks from USA. The ceremonies are conducted for 11 days continuously. Taking leave of absence from work for nearly 14 days (including travel from West Coast to East Coast and back) from the software engineering company business that I was involved in at that time was difficult. The opportunity to serve as a Ritwik in one of the biggest Mahayajna, perhaps the first outside-India conducted Ati Rudra Mahayajna, made the decision easier for me. I accepted and served as Ritwik for the full 11 continuous days of the ceremony.
The function was conducted extremely well under the leadership of Dr. Yegnasubramanian and Mr. Ravi Subramanian. From morning 7 am till 9 pm every day for 11 days there were Veda Mantra chanting, homam, talk on religious topics by expert speakers, the priests over 75 to 90 of them from India well respected and knowledgeable, the parayana or reading of all 4 Vedas, shatha chandi parayana and chandi homa besides the main event of 14,641 namaka and 1,331 chamaka chants by 121 Ritwiks for 11 days and the Rudra Homa every day in 12 homa kundas. This was a great treat for the thousands of devotees who witnessed the event. The vibrations of the chants, the energy, the sattvic assembly of such large number of Veda learners and together continuously for 11 days was a deeply satisfying and transformative experience for me and for almost all Ritwiks. Dr. Yegnasubramanian and Mr. Ravi Subramanian and their vast supporting team require the deep debt of gratitude of all Veda lovers to have planned and conducted the Ati Rudram excellently.
Nearly 14 years later, I was blessed to be able to serve as lead yajamana and Chairman of the Veda Circle group of members who conducted Ati Rudram in Cerritos in May 2011. Detailed discussions of Ati Rudram ceremony are provided as part of the 2011 Atirudram write-up elsewhere in this section and hence not detailed here.
Char Dham Yatra
Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath Temple and Badrinath temple
This was a memorable 15-day round-trip in July 2006. For details, please see www.rnarayanaswami.net
Sun Salutation or Prostrations to Sun
Surya namaskar also known as Sun salutation or prostrations to Sun is a yoga-based exercise that is considered as one of the best exercises that persons can perform daily. Exercises of breathing and full stretching of the arms and legs are part of the Surya Namaskar protocol. The Surya Namaskar taught by the author to his friends include Veda Mantra chanting as well bringing in the benefits of Veda Mantras to the performer of Surya Namaskar. For details, please see www.rnarayanaswami.net
Brahma Satyam Jagath Mithya
Dr. R. Narayanaswami – Los Angeles, CA.
(Originally published in the Athirudram Souvenir published by VEDA Circle, Norwalk, CA as part of the Athirudram 2011 event conducted during May20 – 30, 2011)
All Vedantins and students of Vedanta are familiar with this vedantic statement and are likely to have accepted and understood this statement in an academic or intellectual sense. Vedanta does not want us to simply grasp its precepts as an intellectual exercise, but, instead, wants us to fully understand and internalize its teachings, commands and precepts. Herein lies the irony, and difficulty, of vedantic study. On one hand, Vedanta repeatedly emphasizes the need for students to develop full and complete understanding of all ideas and concepts enunciated therein by means of sravana, manana and nidhidhyasana. On the other hand, many of the students of Vedanta do not spend the required time for manana and nidhidhyasana, but pursue intellectual means of understanding as they do for study of secular subjects. The result is that many students of Vedanta make only little or slow progress in Vedanta. This paper examines the manana and nidhidhyasana aspects involved in understanding the full and complete meaning of vedantic statements by considering in detail one such statement, ‘Brahma Satyam Jagath Mithya’.
What does the statement mean to the beginning Vedantins?
Based on ‘sravana’, the meaning of words understood by non-vedantins or beginning vedantins are: Brahma (or Brahman) – literally means ‘grows’, grows unbounded in all directions, ‘brhathi iti brahman’, used to refer to the ‘Ultimate Reality’, ‘The One’ etc.; Satyam – Truth; Jagath – the phenomenal world, the world as we see it; Mithya – This Sanskrit word has no exact equivalent word in English with the result that many people understand the word as best as they are able to. Meanings like ‘not real’, ‘imaginary’, ‘illusion’, ‘delusion’ etc. are usually assigned by many. Thus, ‘Brahma Satyam, Jagath Mithya’ is taken to mean that ‘Brahman or the Ultimate reality is Truth, the only thing that is Real, and, the world, the phenomenal world, as we know it, is not real or is an illusion’. The beginning vedantin finds it difficult to accept this statement as is, because, the world, where we live, is known to the student as, and believes the world to be, ‘real’ whereas the Brahman or Ultimate Reality appears to the student more as a concept and perhaps as ‘not real’. In other words, the beginning vedantin wonders how to accept such a statement, when, the natural impulse is to accept the world as ‘real’ and to wonder whether such an entity as Brahman exists or not, let alone whether such an entity is ‘real’ or ‘truth’.
What does Vedanta mean by the statement?
With our ability to dwell deeper to understand its meaning, to start cognizing about it, to re-capitulating it again and again, and from our continually putting out all efforts to understand all that is written about and said about mithya, we slowly but surely understand the meaning of the word, mithya, as provided by Dayananda Saraswati, the outstanding teacher of Vedanta and Sanskrit Scholar: “That which is not separate or independent from its own material cause”, or defined in Sanskrit as, “adhistanam ananyaath”. With this understanding, and meaning, of the word ‘mithya’, the Vedantic statement means:
Brahman, the Ultimate Reality, is Truth. The phenomenal world, as we know it, is not separate or independent from its own material cause.
This meaning of the vedantic statement definitely seems plausible. It appeals to beginning vedantins and non-vedantins alike, even while the terms used in the statement are not fully comprehended by them without further deep and detailed inquiry.
Nidhidhyasana, another Sanskrit word not easily defined by a word or group of words in English, refers to tapas: concentrated single-minded effort with a view to fully understand; deep contemplation; sadhana or experimentation to prove our understanding; or all these explanations rolled into one. If we concentrate on, and pursue, the latter half of the “Brahma Satyam, Jagath Mithya” statement, leaving the former half to be taken up separately later, we encounter questions like: What is meant by the statement, ‘the phenomenal world is not separate or independent from its own material cause’? How do we know whether the world has a material cause? What is the world made of and where did the world come from? What is its material cause? Only if we know its material cause will we be in a position to say whether the world ‘is or is not’ separate from ‘its material cause’.
As we begin the nidhidhyasana phase, or intense, single-minded inquiry of the Upanishad teachings, we note many examples provided in Upanishad texts of ‘products made out of materials like clay and gold, for example, clay and clay pots, and, gold and gold ornaments’. The teachings in such cases (for example, the dialogue between Uddalaka and Svetaketu in Chandogya Upanishad) are used to illustrate the answer to the basic question whether there is “such a knowledge by knowing which everything else is known (or, as well known, or some commentators have stated it)”. Examples are used to communicate to us that while many products can be, or are, made out of a material, there is no need to consider each and every product as distinct and separate when in reality knowledge of the material will help us understand, as well as possible, the various products. In other words, the differences between the products are due to names and forms (nama-rupa) but that ‘the non-difference’ is the truth. For example, we can make a pot or a cup out of clay. We may call them names like pot or cup, the ‘nama’ or name given to them based on the ‘rupa’ or form and perhaps its function or utility. While we may say that the pot is different from the cup, and certainly they are different looking and used for different purposes, both pot and cup have no existence, or being, other than the fact that they are made of clay but having different forms. Their beingness belongs to ‘clay’. In other words, the ‘truth’ about pot or cup or hundreds of pots or cups or other differently-formed entities made of clay is nothing but clay. Vedanta says that ‘clay is the truth’ (mrittika eva satyam). Similar is the case of gold and gold ornaments. Whether we make a gold chain or gold ring or gold bracelet, the chain, ring or bracelet may have different forms and different uses or functions. In that sense we may think they are different but the chain, ring or bracelet has no separate or independent existence, or being, other than that they are gold. Vedanta says that ‘Gold is the truth’. Vedanta goes on to add that once we understand clay, all things made of clay are known (pot, cup or plate – whatever things are made of clay). Similarly once we understand gold, all things made of gold are known (chain, ring or bracelet – whatever things are made of gold).
Vedanta continues its emphasis further. Before the pot was made, it was clay. During its seeming existence as a pot, it is known as a ‘clay’ pot (though we do not prefix the ‘clay’ and simply refer to it as pot), that is, while serving as a pot also, it was clay. After the pot’s life span, or seeming existence, is over (that is, when the pot is broken or has no more use of being used as a pot), it goes back as clay. Thus, we can say, the pot is ‘born of clay, has its being in clay during its seeming existence, and goes back to clay when its life span is over’. The ‘clay is the truth’ (before, during or after its existence). Yet, we need to find a word for the clay pot during its seeming existence (or its life span) as a pot. The word used to refer to pot during its seeming existence is ‘mithya’. In other words, anything that has its existence in something else is ‘mithya’. In this case pot has its existence in its material cause, clay (made of clay). Clay is truth, pot is mithya.
Summarizing our understandings thus far, we are ready to state, without reservation and with full clarity of understanding, that all pots or cups or plates made of clay, hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands or more of these clay pots, cups and plates, of different sizes, shapes and color, may have different utility value and may be used for different purposes, but their beingness is clay. Absent clay, there is no pot made of clay. In other words, the pot is ‘mithya’ or we can say that pot has its existence in its material cause, clay, or we can say that pot is not separate or independent of its material cause. We can even make a ‘limited’ statement in the context of clay pots that relatively speaking ‘clay is truth’ (of entire class of earthenware), ‘pot is mithya’.
We have only scratched the surface of fully understanding the vedantic statement, ‘Brahma Satyam Jagath Mithya’. By concentrating on the ‘Mithya’ part, we now have a better understanding of what the word exactly means and why the ‘pot’ is mithya and the clay is ‘satyam’ (relatively speaking). We now need to understand about Jagath, ‘the phenomenal world, the world as we see it’ part, for which we must ask questions of where/how the world has come about etc. This task of understanding (not in an intellectual sense but becoming fully convinced in all its practicality and in fully experiencing it) in all its aspects this vedantic statement may be a life’s work for many of us. The example of the clay pot and the analysis therein that relatively speaking ‘clay is the truth’ and ‘pot is mithya’ leads us to accept that if the world has come out of Brahman, owes its seeming existence to Brahman and merges into Brahman when it has expended itself, we will then be justified to state that Brahman is Truth and Jagath is Mithya. That is to say that ‘before the world came into being, during the world’s seeming existence and when the world has completely merged back into Brahman, there always existed the Ultimate Reality, the Truth. We have not proved the validity of the preceding statement but our task is simplified, namely, to understand completely, by ‘manana’ and ‘nidhidhyasana’ the terms Brahman, Jagath and the connection between Brahman and Jagath before we are able to understand the vedantic statement ‘Brahma Satyam Jagat Mithya’. This is left as an assignment to all of us – a life-long assignment, so let us get started right now and devote our time to the pursuit of this knowledge!
Study of Vedanta requires sravana, manana and nidhidhyasana. Hearing the vedantic pronouncements, and reading, study and comprehension of Vedanta books and understanding the meaning is only the first and basic step, sravana. Full and complete efforts to cognize, dwell deeply into it, re-capitulate again and again, questioning it again and again are some of the things that we undertake during the manana phase. Deep contemplation, single minded concentration (tapas), sadhana or experimentation until the Vedanta statements, ideas and concepts are fully understood and internalized is the decisive nidhidhyasana phase – one’s lifelong and ongoing efforts. Preliminary explanations to understand one vedantic statement “Brahma Satyam Jagat Mithya’ are provided in this article.
Dharma by Dr. R. Narayanaswami
(Originally Published in the Onam Souvenir, 2012, published by OHM, Organization of Hindu Malayalees, Los Angeles, CA, USA)
Almost everyone the world over would have heard the word ‘dharma’, yet few people understand what precisely is meant by the word, ‘dharma’. This has less to do with people’s ability to understand meaning of non-English words like ‘dharma’ but has more to do with the difficulty of translating this Sanskrit word, dharma, into English and other world languages. An attempt is made in this write-up to explain the meaning of dharma and its centrality for success in civilization and peoples.
Dharma is a Sanskrit word derived from its root, dhr, and the meaning expressed in the Sanskrit expresion, ‘dharayathi iti dharmah’, which gives the meaning of dharma as ‘that which upholds’. This also does not take us very far. It means to ‘uphold (the truth)’ and can thus be used to explain the word as requiring us to ‘do the right thing’, ‘to be righteous in our thoughts, word and deed’ etc.
The Indus valley Civilization and the people living in the Indus Valley have used this concept for over thousands of years. They used the ‘dharma’ principle in their everyday life and even named their way of life as ‘sanatan dharma’ or ‘eternal righteous living and conduct’. A fuller meaning and understanding of the meaning of ‘dharma’ is thus possible by learning from the examples provided in the lives of the masters of sanatan dharma. The very original book of knowledge ‘vedas’, ‘vedanta’ as well as the ‘puranas’ and other hoary literature of ‘sanatan dharma’ also explain dharma and the righteous conduct of people of those times.
Many scholars, in particular many in the West, few in the East and many the world over, equate dharma with ethics and morality. Clearly, leading one’s life based on ethics and morality is excellent and high living indeed. However, we must understand that dharma includes ethics and morality but it is used to mean much more. To uphold, to do the right thing and to live by righteous conduct requires much more broader perspective than mere legality, ethics and morality.
If the stated meaning of a word is not fully clear from the meanings provided by the words defining the word, our recourse then is to follow examples from the lives of our masters that illuminate their adherence to dharma. This allows us to understand what it takes to lead a dharma way of life.
The first example is from the purana, ‘Mahabharatha’, the story of cousins Pandavas and Kauravas fighting a battle for what each believed to be their rights to the throne. In an incident discussed therein, the Pandavas were exhausted after a hard day’s work and sought water to quench their thirst. Sahadeva went to fetch water from a near-by pond when he was told that failure to answer the queries from a mysterious unidentified source before taking water from the pond would result in his death. Without paying any heed to such threats, he tried to take water from the pond and he fell dead as predicted by the source. Soon followed the other Pandavas, Nakula, Bhima, Arjuna in that order who also met with the same fate. Then came the eldest Pandava, Yudhishtira, who decided to answer the questions, all 100 of them, from the unidentified source. Satisfied with the answers, the source asked Yudhishtira one final question, namely, if only one of the four dead brothers lying over there – Sahadeva, Nakula, Bhima or Arjuna – are to be brought back to life, which one would Yudhishtira want that to be. This is a great test for anyone when one is asked to select one brother among the four to be brought back to life – but not to Yudhishtira, known as ‘dharma raja’, the king who practices, and lives by, dharma. Bhima’s strength or Arjuna’s superior valor were essential for Yudhishtira and Pandavas to have any chance of winning the impending war with Kauravas and thus would have been natural choices for the one brother to be brought alive but Yudhishtira’s straight-forward and immediate reply was ‘Let Nakula be brought back to life; dharma requires that one son of each mother, Kunti and Madri, stay alive’ (Yudhishtira, Bhima and Arjuna are children of Kunti; Nakula and Sahadeva are sons of Madri). Ethics and morality would have allowed Yudhishtira to choose any one of the four brothers to be brought back to life whereas his adherence to dharma dictated that he select Nakula to be brought back to life.
The second example is from the purana, ‘Ramayana’. King Dasaratha, the queens Kausalya (mother of Rama), Kaikeyi (the mother of Bharatha) and Sumitra (mother of Lakshmana and Shatrughna) and the people of Ayodhya were all happy and in festive moods as they were preparing to crown their beloved prince, Rama, as the future King of Ayodhya. Based on the suggestion from her maid Manthara, Queen Kaikeyi decided to request King Dasaratha for the twin boons promised her earlier and to seek, by the first boon, Rama’s exile to the forests for a period of fourteen (14) years, and, to seek, by the second boon, the crowning of her son, Bharatha, as the future King. As King Dasaratha lay unconscious by the shock he felt on hearing of such demands from his favorite queen Kaikeyi, Rama decided to go to the forest. Lakshmana told Rama that there is no need for him to go to the forest, that he has every right to the throne and that his claims to the throne are valid legally, ethically and morally. Lakshmana stated, furthermore, that he will fight, and defeat, single-handedly, any and all who stand in the way of crowning of Rama even if armies are arrayed against him. Rama’s decision to go to forest in spite of Lakshmana and others entreating him to assume his right to the throne informs us that dharma requires that he go to the forest and uphold his father’s word (by letting Kaikeyi’s request for fulfillment of the boons); his ethical and moral right to be crowned as future king must remain secondary to the primary requirement of dharma. This again illustrates that dharma implies aspects including, but more than, legality, ethics and morality.
The third example is a direct quote by Lord Krishna from the Bhagavad Gita:
“yada yada hi dharmasya glanirbhavathi bharatha
abhyuththanam adharmasya thadathmaanam srijaamyaham”
(Meaning: Whenever there is decline of dharma or righteousness, and rise of ‘adharma’ or unrighteousness, O Arjuna, then I manifest myself).
From among many explanations possible for this verse, at least two are worth noting in this context. First is to learn about the situations prevalent at places, and times, during Vishnu’s various avatars, which situations imply, by this verse, the decline of dharma and the rise of adharma at such times, thus helping us understand dharma. Second is to learn about the importance of maintenance and preservation of dharma that Lord Krishna attaches; that it requires His manifestation as an avatar or incarnation to defeat the forces of ‘adharma’ or unrighteousness and establish dharma or righteousness. No greater emphasis is required to instill in us the absolute need and imperative of leading a dharma based living style and eschew adharma or unrighteousness. If direct words of Lord Krishna, the ‘bhutha bhavya bhavath prabhu’ , synonym of Vishnu as stated in Vishnu Sahasranama, (meaning: the Lord who knows the past, present and future), telling us that dharma living is all that matters, establishment of dharma is all that matters, the removal of ‘adharma’ is all that matters, what further proof or advice or admonition do we need before we commit ourselves to the practice of dharma in our daily lives?
The fourth example is a quote from Mahanarayana Upanishad:
Aruni, son of Prajapathi Aruna and his wife Suparna, approached his father Prajapathi and asked him, “What is it that is declared as the supreme means (of moksha or liberation) by revered teachers?” Among the various things declared as ‘supreme means’, Prajapathi talks about ‘dharma’ as follows:
“dharmo viswasya jagathah prathishta lokey, dharmishtam praja upasarpanthi, dharmena paapam apanudhathi, dharmey sarvam prasthishtitham, thasmaad dharmam paramam vadanthi” (Meaning: dharma is the support of all this universe. All people approach a person devoted to dharma. Through dharma, a person gets rid of sin. Everything is established in dharma. Therefore they say dharma is the supreme means).
It is instructive to note here that no less a person than Prajapathi is stating that ” dharma is the support of all this universe” and that ” Everything is established in dharma” – instructing us to fully understand these two statements to fully understand ‘dharma’. If dharma is the support of all this universe, consisting of billions of galaxies, of which our galaxy, the ‘Milky Way’, is but a tiny part, it behooves each, and every one, of us to do our part in adhering to ‘dharma’ in our daily life including in everything we do.
Many more of such examples from our scriptures can be provided to illustrate ‘contextual’ meanings of dharma which help us understand the dharma concept much more clearly but not attempted here for want of space. The Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras and our puranas extol the virtues of dharma and the need to observe dharma in our day to day living. Even to the believers, these explanations may not be enough; to the rationalists, atheists, scientists and non-believers, these explanations may not mean much without physical proof. Such physical proof is provided by our examining the past and is discussed in the next section.
Centrality of Dharma:
The Mesopotamian, the Greek and the Roman civilizations have all disappeared today. Each, in its own heyday, looked like that is the only civilization that is everlasting and will last forever. But we know it didn’t happen that way and we presently only read about these civilizations in history texts. The Indus Valley Civilization, on the other hand, alone, was founded on principles of truth (‘satyam‘) and dharma (‘righteous way of living‘) and as the oldest civilization, with origins at least five thousand years ago or more, exists today as the only civilization that has withstood the test of time. In spite of being subjected to external attacks, the Indus valley Civilization and the ‘sanatan dharma way of life’ survives even today serving as a beacon to the world as the custodian of spirituality and peaceful co-existence between people’s of differing and different faiths. Other civilizations did certainly emphasize legality, ethics and morality, but perished after a period of time. The ‘centrality of dharma’ is the core of Indus Valley Civilization, and survives even today, thus, demonstrating again, in practical terms, that dharma contains legality, ethics and morality but means much more and emphasizes ‘righteousness’ as its essential nature. Sanatan Dharma’s teachings like ‘ekam sad viprah bahudha vadanthi‘ (truth – reality – is one, men call it by many names), ‘satyam vada‘ (tell the truth) and ‘dharmam chara‘ (live by dharma precepts and concepts) proclaim to the whole world a path that allows its peoples to realize their full potential and live a life of peaceful co-existence.
Loud cries of ‘fiscal deficit’, ‘trade deficit’, ‘trust deficit’ are heard spoken by economists, academia and politicians from capitals all over the world. The author wishes to publicize the term, ‘deficit of dharma’ or ‘dharma deficit’ (first pronounced by my good friend, Kalyan Viswanathan of Dallas, recently in a private meeting) as the single most ‘deficit problem’ facing governments all over the world. The solution to this problem, naturally, is easy to suggest, namely, restore dharma in everyday administration. Yet, for such a solution to get implemented, such dharma based living has to happen from the bottom up. In other words, fiscal deficit may be able to solved by the treasury departments of governments, trade deficit may be solved by the government and trade groups of the country and so on, whereas problems of ‘dharma deficit’ will only be able to be solved by all peoples of the country contributing to its solution. That is, if people follow dharma-based living and demand that their political leaders also live by such tenet, then, and then only, will there be a chance for the leaders to embrace dharma based living and governing. Dharma must thus proceed bottom up all the way to the top if it has to become part of governing. Herein lies the challenge for all – whether western, eastern, Indian, Chinese, African or wherever people face the dharma deficit. This is the hardest thing for people – to change from our present ways of living that has contributed to the ‘dharma deficit’ and to embrace actions that contributes to dharma and the common good of the people at large. It is the task of each and everyone all over the world to re-learn this simple concept, to start leading a life based on dharma – we must move to higher levels from just only meeting the legal requirements to ethical, moral and righteousness levels in all our actions. However long it may take, by such individual efforts, we will be able to help each and everyone in our community to follow dharma so that from the bottom up we can contribute to erasing the ‘dharma deficit’ and restore our community and society to a life of peace and happiness.
R. Narayanaswami hails from Tripunithura, and is a former NASA scientist. He is a graduate from the College of Engineering, Trivandrum, M. Tech. from I. I. T. Chennai, and Ph.D. from Texas Tech University. He founded and sold the software development company CSAR Corporation (that developed the industry-leading CSA/NASTRAN software used by major automotive and aerospace companies), and presently is Chairman & Managing Director of CSM Software with offices in India, Germany, and USA.
He has taught Vedas, Bhagavad Gita and Upanishad, and frequently writes, and lectures, on business and Vedic topics. Part of the original Founders of Puja Mandali (1980), and founders-directors-patrons of the Hindu Temple at Malibu, Dr. Narayanaswami & Sarasa live in Westlake Village, California.
Postscript by Dr. R. Narayanaswami
written in January 2013 to the
“Onam August 2012 Special Souvenir article on ‘Dharma’ by Dr. R. Narayanaswami”
Extracted from the ‘rnarayanaswami.net’ website
In the last paragraph of the article on “Dharma”, I had stated that “Dharma must thus proceed bottom up all the way to the top if it has to become part of governing”. One of my friends after reading the article on Onam celebrations day, 15 September 2012, in Los Angeles, California, told me that he does not wish to pick a fight with me but nonetheless wants to say that my suggestion of “Dharma having to proceed bottom up” will not work. I maintained that I am convinced that only by ‘each and every one of us re-learning this simple concept of dharma and leading a life based on dharma will we be able to demand that those who govern us follow governance based on dharma’. A real-life example in support of my above contention took place within 10 days of my discussion with my friend and that is described below.
The national sports of US, the National Football League professional games beginning in September of every year and concluding with the Super Bowl in February of the following year is one of the most-widely watched professional sports in US. The referees manning these games, about 150 strong, decided to strike for better terms of service for themselves at the beginning of the season in August 2012, so ‘temporary referees’ were officiating when the 2012 season started on Sunday, 9 September 2012. About 15 to 16 games every week were played and in the 3 weeks ending Sept. 24, 2012, about 45 games or so have thus been officiated by the ‘temporary referees’. Many mistakes did take place in some of these games during the 3 weeks the temporary referees were officiating but the National Football League Owners Association did not budge and did not try to bridge the gap and come to agreement with the striking referees association. On Monday, 24 September 2012, the temporary referees made many mistakes in a nationally televised game and watched by about 20+ million football fans, one such mistake made on the last play was so egregious that it cost the Green Bay Packers the game, the beneficiary being their opponents, the Seattle Seahawks, who were awarded a touchdown, with time running out. The 20+ million fans and others who watched the game and many others who read later about the game where the temporary officiating crew made such a crucial game-costing error took to newspapers, airwaves and the social media like Face-book, Twitter etc. to criticize the ‘greed of the owners’ and their unwillingness to negotiate ‘in good faith’ and concede the legitimate demands of the striking permanent referees. Lo and behold, the Owners association met and within couple of days after Sept. 24 settled the strike conceding the demands of the striking permanent referees. From the following week onwards, the temporary referees were gone, the permanent referees were back officiating the NFL games and normalcy was restored.
Why did the owners not settle with the striking referees after the first week or the second week or the third week of the game when errors by the temporary officiating crew were occurring? Where these demands of the striking referees not as just then as it was when it was settled within couple of days after the game on Sept. 24? The answer to the first question, in my view, is “pure and simple ego on the part of the owners, almost all of whom are billionaires with a ‘b’ as the first letter or worth hundreds of millions of dollars, not wanting to grant the reasonable demands for better wages and service terms of the striking referees”. The answer to the second question is that the demands of the striking referees were reasonable and could have been settled at any time. That the many mistakes by the ‘temporary referees’ during the first weekend or second weekend or even on the Sunday of the third weekend ought to have forced the owners to accede to the demands of the striking referees but did not is, in my opinion, due to the attitude of the owners, the ‘my way or the high way’ arrogant attitude, contrary to fairness, dharma and common sense. But, the fans and masses had the fair-mindedness and moral and dharmic approach to the situation. While the fans were vocal in their support of the right cause of the striking referees, they were helpless to do much other than appeal to the goodness of the owners to settle the matter. The ‘egregious’ error by the ‘temporary referees’ who were officiating the Monday night’s game changed everything and the millions of fans spoke with one voice against the delay of the owners in acceding to the fair demands of the striking referees. In other words, the righteous indignation of the vast majority of the fans, 20 million + or more, is something that the owners or the powers that be could not ignore. Dharma prevailed not because the owners, the top deciders, wanted to be dharmic but the power of the dharmic voice of the 20+ million strong fan-base forced the top deciders to follow dharma and settle the strike. This justifies my “Dharma” paper’s central contention and my response to my friend that “Dharma must proceed bottom up all the way to the top if it has to become part of governing”.