Friday, August 19, 2005

Our Scriptures

All the religions of the world have holy books called the scriptures. These books inspire the followers and guide them in their spiritual journey through personal and collective life. The ‘Sanatana Dharma’ (more popularly known as Hinduism) also has scriptures related to all mandatory aspects of spiritual life: The revelation (reference books), the rationality (intellectual conviction and reasoning) and the experience (application of the truths). But one distinct factor which stands out from the rest is their unique blend of conviction and open-minded approach. They boldly assert that ‘these are the Truths, Do’s and Don’ts etc, but your aim should not be to be bound by these, but should be to go beyond these scriptures with the help of scriptures. This can be roughly visualized as a road map for going to someplace. Now your job is not to sit there and praise the map. Your job is to go according to the directions in the map, and reach the destination. Once you reach the destination, this is no longer of any use to you. (But only after you reach the destination)

There is another notable fact about our scriptures. The sheer bulk of them, with their varied contents are so overwhelming that one, who is a casual visitor, gets lost in the labyrinth of the injunctions. Considering the difficulties that the theoretical scholars might face later, the great patriarch Veda-Vyasa, son of a fisherwoman, organized the whole lot of books. They can be broadly classified as Shrutis and Smritis.

Shrutis are eternal in nature. These are truths which are not dependent on time, place, or person, but are universal in nature. They contain the revelations of the Rishis (Upanishads) and also logical support for these (Brahma sutras). Upanishads, Brahma sutras and Gita are the Shrutis.

Smritis are elaborations on the ethical, moral and spiritual contents of the Shrutis through popular stories, etc. These depend on time, place, person and can be subjective to change. The Itihasas (Ramayana, Mahabharata), 18 Puranas, Agamas, Dharma Shastra’s, Manu smriti etc fall under this category. The general public may not be well versed in Sanskrit, logic and philosophy of the primary authorities. So these are books written for making religion easier to understand and practice, with the help of stories and a set of Do’s and Don’ts. It may be noted that much of the customs practiced by us today are from these Smritis only.

The idea of Smritis has gone so deep that each and every practice in the society is thought to be mentioned in them. This may not be true always. Here we have to understand that even though society and religion are very much interlinked, they are still different. Religion always tries to make man more and more ‘Divine’ with the help of a set of do’s and don’ts. But due to the inherent weaknesses, man (or society) tries to find ways of misusing them.

Many critics of our culture lose no opportunity and volunteer to find faults with Manu smriti, sati etc. Many of them may even be ignorant of the fact that ‘Manu’ is not a person but a post and the present Manu is ‘Vywaswatha’; nor do they know that the smriti for Kali Yuga is ‘Parasara Smriti’ and not ‘Manu smriti’. It is not just in India that we see social discrimination. It is there every where. But in India, it happens in the name of religion. So with many other things.

I am not at all suggesting that practices like caste system are good. They are no doubt bad, and have to be removed, but the approach should change. Not by shunning scriptures as a bunch of superstitions, but taking them up as guides and hints for better life. Its true that the tree is known by its fruits. But is it of any use to pick up bushels of the worm-eaten, unripe, fallen fruits from the ground and write hundreds of most learned volumes on them? Pluck a luscious, full-grown juicy one from the tree, and you know what the tree is. In the same manner, it is of no use to repeat day and night that we are fools, our scriptures are bad; and we should throw them away and be good. Rather try to say “My dear, you have done great things, but do not stop. Try doing greater things”. Let’s be proud of our scriptures, and try to derive maximum benefit from them. Not with a dogmatic approach, but with a questioning mind determined to know the truth. In this way we can stop their misuse and use them in constructive manner, relevant for our times.


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