Q. Hinduism believes in one God, one consciousness that pervades everyone and everything. What is the relationship between this one God which Hinduism believes in and the thousands of deities whom Hindus actually worship?
A. The power of the government is one, right? But there are many ministers and officers through whom that one power in expressed. In an ocean there are many waves, but all the waves are just different manifestations of the one ocean water. In the same way, there is one God, one infinite power and all the various deities are simply different manifestations of that one power.
Q. And how does one reconcile the fact that there are so many gurus and swamis often suggesting completely different and seemingly contradictory routes to salvation?
A. The same disease may be there, but one patient decides to go to an allopathic doctor, another decides to go to an ayurvedic doctor, and a third trusts a homoeopath. For some people allopathy may be beneficial, and for others ayurveda may be more beneficial. So even though there are different kinds of doctors practising different systems of medicines who appear to be prescribing different things, the goal is one and the same — that the patient should get cured. In the same way, when you have so many different kinds of people with different natures and aptitudes, you need a variety of different methods and spiritual teachers to cater to them all. But the end goal — peace and happiness — is the same.
Q. Some sceptics argue that India has seen more religious masters than any country in the world and yet we have so many social, economic, political and communal problems. How do you explain this?
A. It is because we have so many problems that we need so many masters! You see those people who have followed the teachings of the scriptures and the masters have attained nobility and peace. It is not the scriptures or the masters that will change the world, but whether people follow them or not.
Medical science has become so well developed. Yet why is there so much disease and illness even in the most advanced countries? Those who live clean lives and take their medicines are fine. But those people who don’t follow any diet and live totally unnatural lives fall ill. It’s not the fault of medical science! It depends on whether people choose to follow medical science or not. Nowadays many people are just mechanically going to temples, praying, doing a few rituals — but the spirit of religion and the spirit of what religious masters have been saying is not being followed. And that is why problems are there.
Q. How relevant can scriptures written thousands of years ago be in 1999?
A. The nature and cause of the world and the reality behind it hasn’t changed over the years, you know! Man is also the same now as he was then in terms of his likes and dislikes, anger, ambitions, frustrations, love, struggle, etc. And scriptures talk about man and his struggle. Therefore, they are as relevant today as they were then. In fact, more relevant today because man’s problems have multiplied and his freedom has decreased.
Q. What is this freedom? In your lectures, you talk about attaining freedom, and that, that is the goal of life. Freedom from what? Are we not free people?
A. Ha! You think you are free? Think for yourself! You wake up in the morning and if hot water is not available for your bath, you become miserable. Then if you don’t get the right cereal for breakfast, you are angry. At office, if the cleaner has disturbed the papers on your desk, you feel frustrated. When you get back home if your wife doesn’t smile at you, you get depressed. If she smiles too much, you are worried. See how delicately poised our happiness is? Where is the freedom?
The outside world of things and people is perpetually dictating our happiness and sorrows. We are slaves to the outside world and to our mind and senses. When you see some delicious chocolate mousse, are you free!? Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying don’t have chocolate mousse. But do you have the mastery over your mind so that whenever you want to employ your mind or senses in a given field, you can do it; and whenever you want to stop and withdraw, you can? The freedom our scriptures talk about is freedom from the slavery to our own mind.
Q. About Chinmaya Mission — could you briefly describe the objective of the Mission and the work it does?
A. Chinmaya Mission was founded in 1952. The Mission’s main objective is to disseminate the knowledge of Vedanta to the people. Vedanta is the philosophy of the Vedas. It is the science of life. It enables people to know themselves and to lead happy and successful lives. Chinmaya Mission has over 250 centres in India and around the world from where the great knowledge of Vedanta is spread to the people by our swamis and brahmacharis. Besides this, we also have more than 80 schools where approx 80,000 students are enrolled. In these schools the normal curriculum is substantiated with value-based education. We also run many management courses, child and youth development programmes, hospitals, old age homes, training programmes for village nurses, income generation schemes for village women and rural environment projects. We also organise cultural programmes, research into ancient texts, and have a vibrant audio-visual division and also a books division that publishes spiritual books in several Indian languages.
Q. Finally — most people are fearful of death. How can one learn to face death more confidently?
A. Fear arises only where there is attachment. Death in itself is actually not so frightening for us. It is death as a cause of separation from our near and dear things and beings that is frightening. If death was to say that you can take with you your wife and kids, house and servants, cars and money — I don’t think people would then be so afraid of death! The more we are attached to the outside world of things and beings, the more fear there will be of death.But if we are devoted to the Eternal Truth, then there is no question of any fear.