Today I attended a meeting; normal, routine, always pleasant on a Friday morning. This time though we were interrupted after an hour or so by the arrival of Swami Swatantrananda Saraswati, based in Rishikesh, and closely linked with the NGO I am with.
n pl -mies, -mis –(Non-Christian Religions / Hinduism) (in India) a title of respect for a Hindu saint or religious teacher, [from Hindi svāmī, from Sanskrit svāmin master, from sva one’s own]
He sat and talked with us for a while, and it was interesting…
And then… I got really interested when I heard him say he did not understand how people could believe God was in a stone idol in a temple, and worship it, and then walk past the beggars and the poor in the streets outside the temple. Was God not in them also? I agree completely, and started paying a lot more attention… and took notes as I knew a friend of mine would love to be hearing this. So here’s a bit of a reconstruction of what I thought some sound teachings. For you ‘Can-You-Hear-The-Bombs’, with love!
Dancing. Used as a metaphor for living a right life, compassion, love, inner peace. If we are happy, we jump up and dance happily. If we are sad, we might not feel like dancing, but once we get up and start dancing, we will feel happier. We should try to find compassion, and joy, through service to others – an act of selfless and compassionate love… Gandhiji’s quote really, ‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others’. Sadhna, worship as service. Or just dance.
The Swami was asked a question – did he think that all the young people you see here in India thronging the temples and participating joyfully in all the festivals had a true spiritual purpose in their actions, or was it simply a ritual to them? I loved his answer to this, and I hope I’m transcribing reasonably correctly…
He started with the assertion that every person is born with love and compassion in their soul, and is looking, consciously or unconsciously, for a way to express it. He equated rituals with the toys we play with as children, comforting, familiar, safe. But if we grow, they are no longer enough – we seek meaning instead. So the people who still play with the toys are child-like, using the temple, the church and so on like Lego blocks to build something with, but we should truly mature and realise this; that God is not found in a stone statue, but in life – and he talked about Swami Vivekananda who famously prostrated himself in front of the mendicants and untouchables outside a temple rather than in front of the statues of the Gods within.
Similarly, people use religion as a political tool, to divide and thus conquer, like children fighting over Lego blocks. We should not combine politics and religion, as it is this which divides people more than anything. There is no love or compassion in politicised religion, only cruelty, where people will leave offerings of good food inside a temple for a stone idol which cannot eat them but refuse to feed the hungry poor, hate one another, commit dreadful acts.
So, a little bit of ritual is fine, like spending your childhood playing with Lego. But spend your whole life playing with Lego and there will always be something missing – like being a grown-up.
And finally, he was asked a question on meditation. He replied with a question – “Is there any substitute for sleep? Meditation is the same, we need to meditate in the way we need to sleep, to find the calm inner self, even if its just thirty minutes of concentrating on nothing but your breath. It’s not about doing, it’s about simply being. In sleep we are unconsciously being, but in meditation we are consciously being.”
I think I got most of that right, or close… I hope so anyway. I certainly haven’t covered everything he spoke of. It was certainly powerful, and all very thought-provoking. Personally I have not believed in an external God since about the time I discovered Father Christmas wasn’t real, but I have always believed in the inherent goodness of life; the closest I have ever come to quasi-religious excitement was listening to a podcast by Brian Cox which finally explained the Boson-Higgs particle to me, the so-called God particle, which is in and around everything. Hardly a sermon, but it had the effect on me that I imagine the listeners at the Sermon on the Mount felt. I’m beginning to see the point of Hinduism once you move past the colour and noise and ritual… their inner light, or atman, concept feels right. For me anyway. When my children were small and asked me about God, I described it as an abbreviation of the word good,and that there is good in everybody. I think I like this Swami’s thinking!