By Shivi Verma
The Uttarakhand disaster has raised many questions among seekers. Shivi Verma speaks to some spiritual masters in quest of the answers
The horrifying picture of a raging river swallowing up lands, farms, forests, houses, hills and people, as it thundered down the mountains two months ago, is still fresh on our minds. Uttarakhand, with its bare, ravished landscape, is a standing testimony to the havoc unleashed by nature’s vengeful fury. Thousands lost their lives, thousands went missing, and several thousands were wounded and separated.
The irony behind this devastation is that it visited those who were on a pilgrimage to one of India’s most sacred spots. The Chardham yatra, covering Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri, is the annual destination of millions of faithful Hindus, driven by the many reasons that take people to such places – the fulfilment of a vow, to experience the power of such sacred spaces, to perform tapasya, or to win the favour of the gods. And yet the undisputed truth is that disasters often visit pilgrimage spots. Why so, and what could be the reasons that brought about such an unprecedented fury upon Uttarakhand? We sought the help of spiritual masters to throw some light on these issues.
Uday Acharya, a Vedanta teacher, and soft skill facilitator, says that many times people are linked with each other through mass karma. They come together at specific times to reap the results. “We do not know of all the karmas that were accumulated over past lifetimes, but we do know that there was a past and there must have been some accumulated karma that is bearing fruit now,” he reflects.
|The mighty Ganga encroached its boundary and engulfed all that came in its way|
Almost all the masters are unanimous in their view of the tragedy being the fall-out of man’s unbridled exploitation of nature.
Dada JP Vaswani, Head, Sadhu Vaswani Mission, says, “Though man is a part of nature, he regards himself as a master of nature and feels he can treat nature as he likes. He forgets that in destroying nature, he is destroying himself. In the old days, our ancestors had reverence for nature: they actually worshipped nature. Not so now. Man has exploited nature. Perhaps nature is striking back.” Uday Acharya too feels the same, “Most tragedies are avoidable and happen due to human interference or negligence. The Earth is a self-regulating organism represented by Gaia, the Earth goddess. However, there is a limit to its capacity. We need to change our lifestyles and work practices to make living sustainable over the long term.”
Dadashree, a spiritual master and head of Maitri Pariwaar, says, “The disaster was not the act of God but of nature against man. Man has harmed nature to the worst extent possible, destroying it at all levels. Therefore, nature too is responding in an aggressive manner.”
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the Art of Living Foundation, observes, “There are over 200 power and mining projects running in the state of Uttarakhand. The rampant deforestation and blasts led to soil erosion and huge debris accumulation which played havoc in these flash floods, burying people underneath. It’s not that we should not have these projects, but care needs to be taken not to exploit the environment on such a large scale.”
Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev dismisses the whole incident as a natural process. He says, “Everybody is calling it a calamity, but it is a calamity only because of human beings; otherwise it is just a natural process. Things happen in nature. Today, we are too many and we are in the way of everything. Mother Earth is not allowed to shake her back a bit; people will die and call it a calamity. She cannot have a bath; it is a calamity. She cannot splash her feet in the ocean; it is a calamity. She cannot do anything because we are all over the place, and whatever she does, it is a calamity for us.”
All gurus speak of learning from the tragedy in order to avert future repetition.
Says Uday Acharya, “According to Kabir, the universe is like a grinding wheel that breaks us down constantly, and we can be saved if we stick to God, represented by the hub of the wheel. Tragedies are a reminder that our destiny is not to stay in this world but to seek out another world that is perfect and joyful. We are only visitors in this world, and we go through different learning experiences before we depart for our ultimate destination.” Dada Vaswani says, “Mankind needs to learn this one important lesson – to grow in the spirit of reverence. Reverence is of three types – reverence for what is above us, reverence for what is around us, and reverence also for what is beneath us.”
Dadashreeji says, “Until man corrects himself, such acts will continue. Religious places are established to convey messages of truth, righteousness, morals, charity, love, peace, knowledge and devotion. Today, these places have been turned into weekend getaways and picnic spots.” A student of Mahavtar Babaji, the immortal saint of the Himalayas, and privileged to receive his visitations, Dadashree mentions that Mahavtaar Babaji himself had expressed concern for the current status of these divine places.
|Thousands of lives were caught in balance, as the flood raged and the army battled to save the pilgrims|
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar advocates prayers to redress the situation. “The ways of karma are complex and not easy to fathom. There is personal karma, group karma, and karma of a place. But it is not so important to know all that. Our focus must be on prayers. Faith and prayer help keep the mind steady and prevent it from falling into despair and blame. Faith helps us find the courage to face situations like this and move ahead.”
He also talks about being well prepared to handle such occurrences. “We cannot totally stop natural disasters from happening but we can certainly be prepared for them and minimise damage. Many such places, including Kedarnath, don’t have proper roads. The passage to Amarnath also is just a few feet wide and caters to lakhs of pilgrims going up and coming down at the same time. Even the shortest way, through Baltal, is a 14 km-long one-way trek through hilly terrain without a place to rest, or any arrangement to carry someone in an emergency or a blockage. When these places attract people in such large numbers, they need to be developed accordingly with better facilities, medical support, transport and communication systems. For Uttarakhand, we also ignored weather warnings that could have helped us reduce the loss to life and property.” Sri Jaggi Vasudeva talks about respecting nature, both in its strength and fragility, “The Himalayas are the youngest mountains on the planet. Because the mountain is so fresh and fragile, it is like naturally piled-up debris, and will fall off very easily unless it is very carefully handled. What is unstable has to come down and stabilise itself; this is a millions-of-years process that is happening. It is not a natural calamity, it is a natural process, but it is a human calamity. How to avoid the human calamity is human business,” he says matter-of-factly.
In the wake of the mammoth disaster, voices are also going up in favour of leaving these power spots alone. Writer and workshop facilitator, Pradeep Darooka, argues that God, after all, is within man himself and therefore there is no real need to go hither and thither in search of the Divine. This argument is unlikely to cut much ice with the devout, for in many ways an external journey to God parallels the inner journey all have to take to realise Godhead.
Nevertheless, considering the fragile nature of these places, it might be worthwhile to impose self-censorship on oneself and refrain from visiting them.
And what do we have to say to those whose faith has been shaken by this catastrophe? One could argue that faith that is capable of being shaken is not real faith. Life has never given us any guarantees and never will. Life will happen to us in exact accordance to what we deserve, for the law of karma is implacable. And yet, for all we know, there is a measure of mercy in the proceedings. Perhaps the terrible and violent death has wiped off lifetimes of karma and earned for many of those who died, freedom from the cycle of birth and death. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why so many disasters visit pilgrimage spots. Maybe, these faithful have indeed attained salvation. But for those of us who are living, there is only one thing to do in order to honour the memory of the martyred thousands. And that is to ensure that they have not died in vain. To make sure that we learn our lessons. To heal ourselves of the heinous greed that has overtaken our country. To learn the crucial lesson of oneness. To respect and revere Mother Nature. These lessons will probably take us further on our spiritual journey than a pilgrimage would. So let’s learn them, shall we?
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