Introducing one of the greatest thinkers, philosophers, teachers, and writers is no easy task, particularly when the person concerned is none other than Pujya Swamiji Dayananda Saraswati. From humble beginnings in a small hamlet on the banks of the river Kaveri in 1930, to a world renowned spiritual leader, master of Vedanta, is in itself no small achievement. Compound that with taking centre stage at the United Nations and many other international forums, with a singular contribution of over 150 disciples dedicated to the teaching tradition, “parampara”, of Vedanta, founding many Arsha Vidya Gurukulams in India and the US, and many more students spread across the world – from Australia to South America, from Canada and the US to the Reunion Islands - and the list would by no means be exhaustive – we would have to cover the entire page with his achievements and still fall short of presenting a complete picture of one of the most versatile personalities of today. (Pujya Swamiji attained mahAsamAdhi on the banks of the sacred river Ganges in Rishikesh on 23-Sep-2015.) - shraddhAnjali here ! What an epitome of wisdom he was !! Listen to it in a poetry form as Sri Dayananda Panchakam here, rendered by Master Pranav Sriram, one of youngest students at AVB, and by a renowned singer, Ms ViditA Kanniks !
Impeccable logic, brilliant analysis, erudition, precise use of language, together with a child like humour, make him the greatest living master of Advaita Vedanta. There is none to match his ability to make the audience see as clearly as he does. He says, unequivocally, “There is not one God; there is ONLY God. Therefore there is nothing secular; all that is here is Isvara.” Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati likes to call himself a traditional teacher of Vedanta, a link in a long unbroken tradition, from Adi Shankaracharya to the present day. Rooted in the richness of tradition, yet contemporary in his thinking and approach, he continuously edits his teaching style to ensure that the vision of Vedanta is communicated with clarity.
His message is the ancient wisdom of the Vedic Rishis: You, the self, are the whole, and you need to know yourself to understand the truth. For which you need a teacher who knows the texts and who can use the words deftly like a master artist who reveals the vision stroke by stroke, swiftly but precisely covering the canvas. Swami Dayananda is a master of masters - he teaches the most profound truth in such simple language that keeps the audience spell bound as he drives home the concepts.
He is at home with people of all ages, of all cultures. Swamiji’s genius does not restrict him to teaching Vedanta, but leads him into spheres that impact humanity as a whole. It is precisely his humaneness, an empathy for all cultures, that makes him emphatically declare that all civilizations, all cultural forms, need to be preserved, nurtured and appreciated. The mosaic of human civilization enriches life as a manifestation of the universal spirit. His anguish at the loss of great civilizations of the past such as the Egyptian, Greek, Aztec and others, makes him intensely aware of the need to preserve and nurture the diversity of human culture. He is more certain than ever before that there is no place in the scheme of things for aggression in religion/culture. All cultural forms are equally valid and need to be respected – which led him to declare in July 1999 that religious/cultural conversion, in any form, is violence. It was an epochal statement, one that was to find echoes in universities and among other spiritual thinkers and leaders.
From 1999, Swamiji has expanded his teaching into expounding the richness of the sanatana dharma by bringing together all the traditional mathaadhipatis and mandaleswars under the umbrella of the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha, a first of its kind in the entire history of Sanatana Dharma. Both as convenor of the sabha, as well as in his independent capacity as a thinker, writer and master of Vedanta, he has spoken at various international forums, including at the Millennium Summit of World Religions, UN in the year 2000.
The year 2000 witnessed a further expansion of Swamiji’s activities into the area of community and social development. November of the year he founded the All India Movement for Seva, a nationwide movement to bring value based education and healthcare to the least privileged sections of Indian society. It is a movement based on his conviction that only people with self esteem can contribute, to their personal growth and to the growth of their nation. And people can have self esteem, self worth, only if they appreciate and are proud of their culture - in all its richness and variety. The programs of AIM for Seva are designed, therefore, to validate the culture of the people from inaccessible areas. So powerful was the vision that within a span of 9 years, AIM for Seva has reached out to more than 10 Million people across 15 states of India. It is today one of the largest NGOs in the country with 100 student hostels, 18 educational institutions and 5 hospitals.
Yet another initiative from Swamiji is the Hindu Dharma Rakshana Samiti that helps to spread awareness of the richness of Vedic culture. Swamiji firmly believes that a strong presence and appreciation of sanatana dharma is sine qua non for world peace and understanding, religious and cultural harmony.
His wide ranging interests include Indian Classical music; he has composed many “Kritis” in simple Sanskrit rendered by eminent Carnatic musicians. Rich in content and spirit of devotion, the words reveal the vision that is Vedanta. He has instituted an award Arsha Kalaa Bhushanam to honour musicians who have significantly contributed to the promotion of Carnatic music. So far, 13 senior musicians have been honoured with this award.
Concerned with the environment and ecology, he has addressed the global warming issue by pointing out the negative impact of rearing animals for human consumption – the production of methane in particular among cud-chewing animals, ending with a plea to reduce, if not completely eschew, consumption of red-meat. Be it planting trees, growing herbs, organic gardening, providing water and electricity to remote areas, women’s self help groups, vocational training, together with his specialized field of teaching, speaking and writing, the genius that is Swami Dayananda is a rare phenomenon. He does not seek publicity nor does he encourage his disciples and devotees in that direction. Alert to the needs of people, he always finds ways to help, no matter how small or serious their problem. A true leader, he works behind the scenes, gently encouraging the talents and skills of people who come into contact with him.
Pujya Swamiji travels extensively spreading the message of the ancient rishis of this country, convinced that the Vedic vision is as essential and valid today as it was thousands of years ago.
"As all of you know, Dayananda Saraswati Swamiji has been taking lot of efforts towards spreading the Advaita Siddhanta and Sanatana Dharma. I need not therefore elaborate on that. I have a lot of abhimaana (loving respectful affection) towards him; it is this abhimaana that has led us to give him the award (Adi Shankaracharya Award) today, nothing else. Kaalidaasa made a statement in his play, Shaakuntala - sarvassagandheshu snihyati. It means that everyone likes to be around those who are samaana-manaskar, like-minded, of similar dispositions as oneself. Here, Swamiji is my samaana-manaskar (of the same mind as Myself). Certainly not samaana-vayaskar, not of the same age as Me, but indeed samaana-manaskar. He is not of the same age as Me, he is older than Me by 20 years. But we are of the same mind. He has exactly the same attitude of shraddha-bhakti towards Adi Shankara Bhagavatpaada, as do I. He is ever intent on communicating to everyone the messages of His (Shankaracharya's) Bhaashyas, and always interested in strengthening the shraddha of the people towards Bhagavatpaada. He wishes to convey the message of Advaita to everyone. While I am trying to do all these within Bhaarata, keeping with certain niyamas (rules for Peethadhipatis), Swamiji is doing the same even outside Bhaarata. Therefore, the thought came to Me to give this Award to Swamiji, and today the opportunity has come for that, and for this I am very happy. Swamiji also made Me content by accepting this Award with gratitude and pleasure. It is my earnest desire that the work of spreading the message of Advaita continue unabated through Swamiji. May he always have the grace of Bhagavatpaada."
A Tribute to Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati
– By SwAmi SvAtmAnanda
Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati was a great visionary and global leader who transcended the confines of a sect, religion, or a nation. His many contributions in various arenas will be analyzed and appreciated as time goes on. Swamiji (as we affectionately call him) will be remembered for his bequests to India and the world during the last 15 years of his life: he founded the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha — a platform uniting all Hindu sampradayas (traditions) so that they can speak with one voice; he started the Aim-for-Seva movement —a unique social enterprise bringing free education and healthcare to the children living in rural and tribal areas of India; he challenged proselytizing institutions by rendering that ‘religious conversion is violence’ — which resulted in a United Nations resolution that called upon all religious organizations to mutually respect each other and to cease proselytization practices. Pujya Swamiji also initiated the Hindu-Jewish and the Hindu-Buddhist Summits — both transformative theological dialogues; he steered the rescue of Rama-Sethu bridge from certain desecration; and he was a tireless champion of Hindu and Vaidika Dharma through countless other initiatives and projects.
However, above and beyond all of these contributions, Swamiji was an outstanding teacher. He loved to teach. For more than 50 years, those who have listened to Swamiji’s discourses and those who have been his students and disciples, knew Swamiji at his best — when he was teaching. His profound lectures and eminent writings have been published in more than 60 titles in English, and some of them have been translated to other languages of the world.
Those who studied and grasped his teachings will recognize that Swamiji’s unfoldment of Vedanta as the most profound and irrevocable gift to mankind in centuries. His emphatic exposition that Vedanta is a pramāṇa — “a means of knowledge,” provided the pivotal shift needed to inquire into and understand the nature of the Self through the mirror of Vedanta. It became the crux of his teaching. It changed everything both for him and his students. It fundamentally transformed the study of Vedanta, and changed the spiritual landscape for all sincere seekers of the truth.
Until Swamiji brought this brilliant teaching to the forefront, Vedanta, and Veda for that matter, remained comfortably misunderstood and camouflaged in the dense forest of mysticism and magical fancies. For too long, spiritual teachers and their acolytes have been entranced with, and falsely profited by vague, unverifiable claims, and have transfixed themselves and others with attestations and seeming manifestations of a separate reality. In the extreme, many of the inhuman atrocities of wars, terror, famine, slavery of all forms, and colonization were perpetrated under the guise of belief systems or in the name of a fraudulent spiritual teacher or a personified god. Instead of such religious institutions emancipating humanity, they inadvertently became instrumental in perpetrating untold human suffering throughout millennia. Given this plight and the history of religious violence, many a modern existential thinker, armed with scientific reasoning, view religion and other forms of belief systems with forlorn skepticism and relegated them to the realms of superstition and meaningless ritualism. Science became the de facto standard with which everything had to be empirically substantiated or logically explained. Humanity meanwhile, remained caught in a seemingly irreconcilable schism between Science and Religion.
Instead of cursorily dismissing the demand for “scientific verification” Swamiji rationally demonstrated the limits of Science. Any scientific proof remained limited to the realms of the five senses and thus limited in scope and domain, thereby ostracizing science as an ill-suited means of verification. Moreover, by the mere fact that there exists a valid means of knowledge for understanding the spiritual realm, the basis of blind-belief which many religious institutions depend upon, became inconsequential. Unfolding Vedanta as a pramāṇa, that is, a means of knowledge, was Swamiji’s ingenious stroke that made both the demand of empirical scientific verification, as well as the demand for implicit and unquestioning belief, superfluous and inconsequential.
This method of teaching Vedanta has far-reaching and astonishing implications. It goes beyond presenting Vedanta as the testimony of realized beings of the past, whose realization has to be verified by one’s own experience of enlightenment here and now. It repositions Vedanta as a self-sufficient means of knowledge that neither requires scientific or empirical verification nor implicit and blind belief.
Vedanta’s objective or Swamiji’s for that matter, was not to shatter scientific inquiry or to repudiate belief systems, but essentially to enable bona-fide spiritual seekers to legitimately embark upon the pursuit of mokṣa — freedom from self-inadequacy by knowing the nature of reality. Vedanta unequivocally mandates that the ultimate goal for any human being is the pursuit of mokṣa. By introducing this pivotal-shift in looking at Vedanta as a pramāṇa, Swamiji made a process of guided self-inquiry accessible to thousands around the world, regardless of religious or cultural background. Thousands have been enthralled by Swamiji’s enlightening lectures interspersed with humorous story-telling and hilarious anecdotes. Hundreds of his students became teachers in their own right, some of whom continue to teach what he taught. Rather than build a hierarchical organization of teachers, he created a movement, by producing hundreds of independent teachers around the world, who in turn, continue to teach and change the thinking paradigm of future generations around the world.
Furthermore, looking at Vedanta in the light of pramāṇa equips those embroiled in existential, epistemological, or ontological inquiry, with a valid tool for their investigation. Establishing Vedanta as a pramāṇa made such investigations plausible and in fact verifiable. Swamiji, in his understated manner, would say, “you have to give a chance for pramāṇa to work.” “It ‘works’ when the student sees what the teacher sees,” he would add. A student had to employ pramāṇa, to see what Swamiji saw. Then and only then, the vision of Vedanta became real. The teaching became real: it came alive, validating not only the pramāṇa and the methodology that pramāṇa would rope in along with it, but also the teaching tradition (sampradāya), and ultimately, the Guru.
Swamiji was that extraordinary quintessential Guru as described by the Veda, who said with unpretentious humility that he was a traditional teacher. Endowed with rare insight, Swamiji made Vedanta accessible to the wider world, by seamlessly integrating contemporary English and ancient Sanskrit - which is a highly complex and refined language. Demonstrating great wizardry with words, Swamiji’s synthesized the two mismatched languages with such versatile dexterity without tampering or dumbing down the meaning of Sanskrit terms. He remained true to the teaching and to the teaching methodology, without compromising the tradition. He found it unnecessary to use any kind of props — no bombastic verbiage, no acronyms, no boards - black or white, no charts, no power-point presentations and no gimmicks. Just an earnest unadulterated dialogue between a Guru and Shishya (disciple), and in that dialogue Swamiji relied entirely upon the Śastra pramāṇa to work. If the pramāṇa is skillfully handled by a traditionally trained teacher, there is no need to resort to auxiliary tools or techniques for the student to see what the teacher sees. Simply ingenious!
Swamiji’s teachings and the magnitude of this particular contribution will continue to reverberate across the globe, and across generations, transcending cultures and civilizations, to profoundly transform mankind for the better. He shall therefore, I believe, be better known as the Swami who changed the world. OM TAT SAT
(Swami Svatmananda Saraswati is a disciple of Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati since 2003, and completed an intense study of Vedanta in a traditional three-year course in 2007. Swami Svatmananda has devoted his life to Vedic knowledge. He studied Vedic disciplines in India and the U.S. and traveled great distances in order to learn from the foremost experts in each of the following specialties. He counsels individually and lectures to groups worldwide on Hatha yoga, Meditation, Jyotisha (Vedic astrology), Ayurveda (Vedic medicine), Vaastu (Vedic architecture), Sanskrit language and Vedanta. Swami Svatmananda’s experiences of living and working in four different continents gives him an exceptional ability to connect with people from varied backgrounds during his lectures. His rare combination of innate skills, broad life experiences and dedicated study translates into a uniquely comprehensive approach to counseling, teaching and applying Vedic wisdom in modern times.)
Swami Dayananda, The Patriot Saint
By S Gurumurthy
Swami Dayananda Saraswati — a master exponent of the inclusive Hindu philosophy who declared there was not ‘ONE GOD,’ but ‘ONLY GOD,’ a teacher of Vedanta who created hundreds of teachers to continue the ancient Indian tradition, a great organiser who founded the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha as the representative body of unorganised Hindu religious traditions, a philosopher who harmonised and validated, from the Hindu perspective of theo-diversity, all forms of worship from paganism to monism, an intellectual who re-articulated and established that religious conversion, regarded as the right of evangelist religions, is itself violence, and finally a patriot saint who, like Maharishi Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda did, saw, in the ancient nation of India, the very manifestation of all that he had learnt and taught — is no more. Indeed he was the latest incarnation in the tradition of nationalist saints of India.
Endowed with unparalleled intellectual skills and unlimited knowledge base, Dayananda first made it a mission of his life to teach and did take Vedanta to a vast elite audience in India and outside, which would otherwise have been half-westernised in world view and as much Christianised culturally. He aligned Vedanta to India as a national entity and cultural phenomenon and to Indians as the chosen people entrusted with the sacred duty to live, sustain and protect it not only for them but also for the good of the world. In his exposition, Vedanta was not just a philosophy but it found expression in the culture and life of India founded on the idea of dharma — in its arts and music, literature and sculpture, society and family, and in the Indian traditional respect for elders, teachers and women and ultimately in the reverence for this nation itself as sacred and in the love of the entire creation, both animate and inanimate. Starting off as student and disciple of the redoubtable Swami Chinmayananda, the originator of the contemporary school of exposition of Vedanta, Dayananda Saraswati rapidly grew up as an accomplished scholar and unparalleled teacher.
After having worked for decades and succeeded in his mission to teach and create teachers of Vedanta, he turned his attention to some critical issues of contemporary importance which would have long-term and adverse implications for the very purpose and soul of this ancient nation. With this new turn, in the late 1990s a paradigm shift took place in his entire course of thought and action and this led to his founding of the Dharma Rakshana Samiti in Chennai in 1999. It was in that unique event, a confluence of some highly regarded saints, spiritualists, and intellectuals, that Swami Dayananda made one of his most memorable speeches where he declared that the very concept of religious conversion itself was violence — a spiritual, mental and cultural violence. This redefined the very notion of conversion which till then had some acceptability among non-Gandhian secularists as a right of religions — which in effect meant only the proselytising religions — to convert others to their faith. Gandhiji’s contempt for religious conversion is too well-known for the secularists to appropriate Mahatma Gandhi to support conversion as integral secularism. This is amongst the greatest contributions of Swami Dayananda to global inter-religious discourse. The redefinition of religious conversion as violence robbed the concept of conversion of benignity and exposed its malignant character.
In 1999 when the then Pope visited India, Swami Dayananda constituted and led a group of multi-religious scholars and intellectuals and welcomed but asked him to declare that he was happy to visit a nation which has respected all faiths and that he also respected all faiths. But the Pope preferred not to accept Swami Dayananda’s suggestion. However, with his unmatched intellectual prowess Swami Dayananda took the battle against conversion in world fora. He proposed self-discipline among faiths in the Millennium summit of the United Nations in the year 2000, calling upon religions to respect each other, not to abuse one another and not to convert the faithfuls of other religions by force or by inducement to one’s fold.
There was consensus on his view but finally the proselytising faiths did not agree and the Millennium harmony proposal therefore did not succeed. But it took just eight more years for Swami Dayananda to convince the world religious leaders of the need for trans-religious self-regulation.
In the human rights declaration of world religious leaders in Amsterdam on December 10, 2008 on the 60th anniversary of the UN Human Rights Declaration, all world religious leaders, including the proselytising faiths, accepted the Dayananda approach — namely that religions should mutually respect and accept each other, that they should not abuse or trivialise one another’s faiths or symbols, that they should recognise the right of a person to be in the religion of his birth, and that there should be no conversion by force or by inducement — and signed the historic declaration. It is the substance of the Amsterdam declaration which Prime Minister Narendra Modi adopted as the approach of his government to different faiths when he addressed the Christian religious meet in Delhi to celebrate the canonisation of saints from Kerala.
In this period from 1999 to 2008, Swami Dayananda undertook some far-reaching initiatives, which included the constitution of the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha — one of his greatest achievements and equally a great contribution to the Indian civilisation. The Acharya Sabha has given the diverse and unorganised Hindu religions, which had long suffered disadvantage relative to the organised and proselytising faiths, a platform to come together as Dharma religions and participate in the global discourse. Till then, any secularist masquerading as a religious person would sign on the dotted line on behalf of Hinduism in the global fora.
His next big move was to bring together elders of all indigenous faiths — whether from South America or North America, Africa or Europe — at Delhi. Swami Dayananda declared that all faiths are sacred and valid and no faith can and should be allowed to claim to be superior to other faiths. He articulated religious diversity, which is the strongest point of Hinduism, in the most acceptable, rational and logical manner and challenged and debunked the claim that some faiths are only true faiths and others false faiths, which, he argued, is the cause for the widespread hate and violence today.
The great successes of this great sanyasi, moulded in the ancient traditions of India, is not, however, as well-known as he himself was. That also demonstrated the high point of his personality — humility. Maharishi Aurobindo said that the greatest achievements have been least noisy. This aptly applied to Swami Dayananda’s work and life. In his demise, the Hindu philosophy has lost its greatest exponent of recent times, Hindu religion one of its staunchest defenders, and the nation a great patriot saint.
The author is a commentator on political, economic and cultural affairs - email@example.com
Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati (1930 - 2015) - "A Committed Life"
by Kalyan Viswanathan, President, Sanatana Dharma Foundation and Executive Vice President, Dharma Civilization Foundation
In the passing away of Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati, the divine has given up one of its most excellent forms of its myriad manifestations - the form and spirit of an extraordinary Guru. On a Gurupurnima day in a year past, Swamiji made the following observation - "There is no Guru without a Sishya". In other words, the Guru and Sishya arise together, in relationship with each other. The readiness of the student, and the willingness of the Guru, is what makes the relationship flower. In Pujya Swamiji's own words, the Guru is one who brings light into an area of darkness in the Sishya's life. In the presence of a Guru, a Teacher, what was previously vague and unclear to the student, lights up with a brilliant clarity. Bharat has been blessed with many Gurus from many different Sampradayas, throughout its ages. And each Guru has addressed himself or herself to the needs of the people of their own time and age. In this lineage, some Gurus stand out, for their brilliance and eloquence, and Pujya Swamiji will be remembered as one of the finest among the Gurus of the various paramparas of Sanatana Dharma.
I began my association with Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati in the year 1994 in earnest, when I attended a series of his lectures titled - "Relationships and Freedom", in Mumbai. At a time when I was a graduate student at Ohio State University, and dealing with existential questions about my own life - such as "Who am I?"; "What is my life for?"; "What is the purpose of this existence?"; and so on - I encountered Pujya Swamiji, and have maintained a close association with him, for over 21 years now. Every encounter with him, whether it was for a short period of time, under an hour, or for a protracted period of time, over several days or weeks, has been a meeting of transformational significance. What made this possible?
Swami Dayananda Saraswati's unique gift lay in his constant seeking of how to communicate truths known to ancient Rishis to modern minds, pre-occupied with modern complexes and challenges. And perhaps even more importantly, his greatest gift was in his ability to speak to each person, in a manner that was most relevant and appropriate to that individual that addressed his or her most pressing spiritual need of the moment. At least, he seemed to speak to me, personally, whether he was addressing a whole audience, or just me in a private room, where there was no one else but just the two of us.
I arrived at the Ashram, in Saylorsburg, in 1994, somewhat bewildered by Hinduism, its seeming incoherence, and its seemingly myriad and often conflicting expressions, and its relevance to the questions that were engaging my mind at the time. It was a time in my life, that science and engineering held primacy of place, and everything had to be scientifically and logically explained and better still, empirically verified through experimentation and demonstration. For over a year, I challenged him, intellectually, rationally and scientifically. I was not prepared to accept him as a Guru, unless he met my own internal standard of acceptability, even though I myself was not clear what that "test" was. I was mostly skeptical; not willing to believe; not willing to accept anything at face value; I was irreverent; I was not filled with a manifest Shraddha in the traditional manner appropriate to a young Brahmin man; I was not even sure what it meant to be a Brahmin in today's age and time. I had a deep disillusionment with the whole domain of Ritual and its pomp and circumstance - It lacked meaning and significance for me.
I had already deeply studied J. Krishnamurti, (1895-1986) whose austere life had held a special place in my heart. J. Krishnamurti's singular and dramatic rejection of all tradition and Sampradaya, also held a tremendous value for me. I found Krishnamurti addressing himself to the moment, in current time. He seemed fresh every moment at every occasion - and nothing of the past seemed to cling to him. He seemed to be speaking from his own enlightenment, not from the authority of a scripture that codified someone else's enlightenment. He was almost constantly mocking the lack of value of someone else's enlightenment to one's own life and its challenges.
The private dialog that I began with Pujya Swamiji, first took the shape of interrogating J. Krishnamurti, and to my tremendous surprise, I discovered that Swamiji himself had been a great admirer of J. Krishnamurti in his younger years. One would not discover this easily, because Swamiji has spoken very little of J. Krishnamurti publicly. I would take passages from Krishnamurti's speeches into his room, where he and I would privately engage with that passage for 30 to 40 minutes even as a crowd of people gathered outside his room, patiently waiting for his Darshan. We spoke about Krishnamurti, Ramana Maharishi, Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Mahatma Gandhi, and Swamiji would patiently answer my questions and engage with me, as though it was the most important thing to do at the moment. This kind of accessibility and relationship with a teacher had never existed for me, until this moment. Even as we were dealing with abstract ideas, a personal relationship was also taking shape.
The Shastra is a Pramana - A Shabda Pramana, and must be understood as that - he would say. I knew not what a Pramana was, let alone a Shabda Pramana. A Pramana is a means of knowledge; a means of communication - he would say, that allows a Guru to communicate to a Sishya. Without a Pramana, and the ability to utilize the Pramana, communication will always remain vague and unclear - he said; and we discussed the lack of a Pramana manifest in the life of teachings of J.Krishnamurti and Ramana Maharishi, and many others like them. I became intensely curious about what is a Pramana? Pramana is what makes a Parampara possible - he would say; it is the building block of reliable inter-generational transmission of the knowledge i.e. the Atma Jnana or the Brahma Jnana which was the subject matter of the Shruti. It is not a surprise that neither J. Krishnamurti nor Ramana Maharishi have a Parampara of any significance.
What is Jnana? Does knowledge not need the validation of personal experience? I would ask. In fact, it seemed to me, the personal experience of a J.Krishnamurti or a Swami Vivekananda, or a Ramana Maharishi, held a greater value for me at that moment, than the conceptual framework of Vedanta, once I began to grant the possibility that there was such a thing called "enlightenment". So many times, we discussed the distinction between concept and experience, and how our experience validates our concepts, and how our concepts in turn give rise to our experiences. For those who have taken courses with Landmark Education, this is a central proposition in their programs - By simply transforming our concepts, we can bring into being entirely new experiences. However, Pujya Swamiji, insisted that our experiences can be deceptive. In fact, what we experience as solid, liquid and gaseous in the physical world, is nothing more than groupings of atoms and molecules, organized together in various densities - in fact the entire reality of this world as we experience it, is subject to re-interpretation. Even our physical bodies are mere assemblages of compounds and chemistry, subject to change and disintegration. What is real here? He would ask. Even the Sun only seems to rise in the east and set in the west. What is really going on is entirely different! I would come away from the conversation more bewildered about "Reality" - Satyam.
Little by little, he introduced me to the concept of "Mithya", an order of reality that is intermediate between that which is wholly real (Satyam) and that which is wholly unreal (Asatyam); He gently questioned my attachment to scientific verification; Science concerns itself with objects that it can apprehend through the senses; Vedanta deals with the Subject who wields the senses and since the Subject cannot objectify itself - therefore the whole quest for scientific proof was illegitimate since it does not apply to the realm of the Subject; he would say. And I would come away reeling with a whole new dimension of inquiry. Vedanta and Science are orthogonal to each other - he said. The domain of Science is not the domain of Vedanta; (or the Veda); the domain of the Veda is nor accessible to Science; he would say. The people who are trying to demonstrate that the Veda is scientific, are missing the point - he would say. And I would walk away with a sense of awe about these conversations.
Vedanta was an investigation into the realm of Reality - Satyam. In that sense, its approach was more or less similar to the approach of a Scientist. However, the methods of science did not go far enough. As I listened to his discourses on "Reality", different orders of Reality came into existence for me - the Ultimate Reality, the "Paramarthika" order; the seemingly Real i.e. the "Vyavaharika" order; and then there was also the imaginary reality - the "Pratibhasika" i.e. all that one imagines to be true, but is not really so. Science and the Scientific method was useful in distinguishing the Vyavaharika and the Pratibhasika orders - in fact much of the scientific critique of Hinduism as superstition arose from its commitment to empirical verification of propositions, which were largely confined to the Vyavaharika order of Reality. Science almost had no access to the realm of the Subject, the Spirit or Consciousness i.e. the Paramarthika order of reality. It could not comprehend it, measure it, and make observations about it. Science even today is unable to grapple with the phenomenon of consciousness, and assumes that it is merely a by-product of the physical body. If the Veda says something that is contradicted by scientific verification, then we must reject the Veda - Pujya Swamiji would say. That made sense. But on the other hand, if the Veda asserts something that cannot be disproved by Science, you must at least entertain the possibility of the Vedic propositions being valid - he would say. As this began to sink in, I gained a new measure of regard for the Veda, Vedanta and the Teaching tradition embodied in the Shruti, as it related to the domain of Science.
One day, he looked at me with great compassion, and said to me "I want to draw your horoscope and see what is in store for you". I responded by saying "I don't believe in horoscopes". He asked me "Why not?" I said it is not reasonable to assume that the positions of planets and stars at the time of my birth somehow influence the trajectory of my life. It is in fact so absurdly unscientific that it seems to me only the extremely superstitious would believe in such things. He smiled at me, and said to me, "the planets and stars do not cause how your life turns out. But there seems to be a correlation between the positions of the stars and planets and the way a person's life unfolds". As I looked bewildered at him, he said "you know there is a difference between correlation and causality". Even as I pondered that sentence, he said "These correlations are a matter of the Rishis' knowledge - We may not understand it, but we must respect it - It is in fact Arsha Vidya - the knowledge of the Rishis". That sentence rang in my ears for years to come. On the same day, in the classroom during Satsang, he proceeded to tell the story of how he himself at one time did not believe in horoscopes and how he came to believe in their power, through the predictions of a brother Swami who lived near Purani Jhadi in Rishikesh during his days of seclusion.
On another occasion, he said "Why don't you start a Bhagavad Gita Class in Columbus, Ohio?" And I did. And this class went on for some six years or so. I went deep into the Bhagavad Gita, and began to enter into the mind of Adi Shankara. Since Adi Shankara wrote everything in Sanskrit, and we live in a time and age, where Sanskrit has largely gone out of fashion, Adi Shankara has become inaccessible to our current day humanity. The other Sampradayas, keep contending with Adi Shankara, without adequately either understanding or representing his positions and perspectives accurately. Through Swamiji's words and teachings, I gained a new respect and regard for the brilliance of Adi Shankara.
On another day I asked him, what is the value of knowing something without being it? He replied that the word Jnana represents both knowing and being - it is in fact an ontological word. He proceeded to deliver a talk that day that the Teacher is the Teaching. Jnana fuses knowing and being together. The talk was so brilliant, that for the first time, I began to sense that Jnana is not knowledge, in the sense that we understand the word knowledge in English. There is more to that word. Sanskrit has many layers of meaning - often veiled by our own rendering of that word into English. He said that there are many lamps, and many flames - but there is only one Agni. Similarly, while there are many waves, puddles, lakes and rivers, there is only one water. Even as there are many electrical appliances such as a TV, Microwave, A light bulb, a fan and an air-conditioner, there is only one electricity that brings them all to life. Thus even as there are many bodies, the Atma is one. Thus your Atma and my Atma are non-different. And the Atma is untainted by the content of our minds and their afflictions, just as the Sky remains untainted by the clouds that gather within it. The Clouds and the Sky belong to different orders of Reality, just as the physical body and its shadow belong to different orders of Reality. One can enter into an argument with another man or woman, but not with their shadows. I would go home, with the words "different orders of Reality" ringing in my ears. Shravanam and then Mananam.
I had loved the 'Being-ness" of J. Krishnamurti. He was a being with a great presence. But so was Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati. One abhorred the Shastra, and the other embraced it fully. And I began to see that the Shastra had nothing to do with it. But I also began to see, that without the Shastra, the medium of communication that generates clarity for the student, is somewhat impaired. But even if the Shastra provides the medium i.e. the pramana, the individual Guru also brings something to the Party. The extreme degree of fun and amusement that Pujya Swamiji could generate, even while unfolding the seemingly profound verses of the Upanishads, was extraordinary. I once took my father to a talk by Swamiji, and we laughed non-stop for ninety minutes. Pujya Swamiji was better than any stand-up comic that I have listened to - and far cleaner with his jokes. And boy, could he deliver a good story with a terrific punchline!
As our relationship evolved, I observed him launch a variety of new initiatives - the Aim for Seva movement, the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha; and many other projects. I saw his close involvement in the Rama Sethu Court Case; his angst at the condition of the Hindu temples in India; his involvement in ensuring that the seven hills of Tirumala remained with Tirumala; his engagement with the Saraswati River conference and so on. I started going to him with my own propositions. Shall I help you launch the Web Site for the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha? Of course, he said. And for a while, we managed that web site. I am going to launch an organization called Sanatana Dharma Foundation and a program called Vidya Daanam. Swamiji blessed it, and even gave a few words of blessing. One of the most remarkable aspects of our relationship is that Swamiji never imposed anything on me. He never asked me to do something, that he wanted me to do. In fact, it was almost always the other way around. I would ask him, "May I do this?" and he would readily bless the endeavor. In the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18, Verse 63, Bhagavan Krishna says to Arjuna - "yathecchasi tatha kuru"- Do as you please.This has been Pujya Swamiji's governing philosophy. After all the teaching, after all the hours and hours of discourse, and questions and answers and Satsang - these have been his final counsel - "Do as you please". I must regard this as his greatest gift to his students - he has never imposed his own choice or will on his numerous students, but rather allowed each one's life to unfold and flower in its own unique way.
In the last two and a half years, I have been very involved with Dharma Civilization Foundation, Los Angeles, California, and the project that Pujya Swamiji initiated at the Graduate Theological Union, (GTU) Berkeley. I have discussed this initiative with him, on five different occasions in both Coimbatore and Saylorsburg, and on each occasion, he has grown more and more enthusiastic about this initiative. He has provided specific counsel, and very specific direction on how to move forward. His last wish to me was that we establish an "Adi Shankara Institute for the Study of Vedanta and Sanskrit" at the GTU, as an affiliate institution under the auspices of an independent, autonomous Graduate School of Hindu Dharma Studies which would function as the equivalent of a Hindu Seminary in the west. Evoking the same spirit with which Arjuna said "Karishye Vachanam Tava" i.e. "I shall act according to your word", I too shall rededicate myself to the fulfillment of this vision, i.e. the creation of a Graduate School for Hindu Dharma Studies, and the Adi Shankara Institute within it. I can see no more fitting a tribute to the singularly committed life that Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati lived, than the dedication and devotion of our own energies to an initiative that he envisioned as worthy of our effort.
Pujya Swamiji Dayananda Saraswati’s books, CDs, and DVDs are available at the following addresses:
Arsha Vidya Bharati, 2918 Renoir, Sugar Land (Houston), TX 77479, USA
Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, P.O.Box 1059, Saylorsburg, PA-18353
Arsha Vidya Research and Publication Trust, Srinidhi Apts, 32/4, Desika Road, Chennai 600004 - +91 44 2498 7131
Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, Swami Dayananda Ashram Road, Purani Jhari, Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, +91 135 2430769
Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, Anaikatti P.O., Coimbatore 641108, Tamilnadu, +91 422 2657001