By Pradeep Kumar
Vedantin Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha speaks to Pradeep Kumar on Self and God, and why he considers the Gita an administrative gospel par excellence
Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha’s (78) life has been one dedicated to Brahmavidya, the science of the Self. He has been expounding the universal truth of Vedanta in India and abroad for over five decades by shedding light on the ancient discipline’s relevance to the modern man of action. His rational exposition of the science of Self-knowledge and its role in refining, strengthening and elevating the human mind, has transformed countless professionals, householders and students. The Swami presents Bhagavad Gita as an ‘administrative gospel’ that inculcates excellence in people entrusted with highly challenging responsibilities.
Born on May 13, 1933 in the village of Paralikad in the Thrissur district of Kerala, a chance meeting in Kolkata with Baba Gangadhara Paramahamsa, a spiritual master of Bengal, led the swami to intense spiritual practices that culminated in sanyas at the age of 23.
His ashram, Narayanashrama Tapovanam is near Trichur. He has also set up the Centre for Inner Resources Development (CIRD) in Delhi, Jamshedpur, Malaysia and North America to help people discover and harness their unlimited inner resources.
Swami Bhoomananda has authored a number of books. His monthly English and Malayalam journal, Vicharasetu – the Path of Introspection, reaches his devotees in various cities in India and abroad. The swami has formed Brahma Vidya Centres that further his mission through social service, jnaana yajnas (lectures on spiritual texts), satsangs (spiritual assemblies) and book publishing.
I met Swamiji at his ashram in Trichur last year in the days leading to Guru Purnima. Though preparations for the big day were in full swing at the ashram and despite his busy schedule, Swamiji found time to interact with the large number of devotees who had come from all over India. He responded to their personal and professional queries patiently like a wise elderly family member. No wonder the devotees felt contented, relieved and happy around him. Excerpts from the interview:
Is there conflict between spiritual and material life? What do you mean when you refer to the spiritual path?
The view that there is conflict between spiritual and material life is not correct.
The purpose of spirituality as also of devotion is to make life easy, comfortable and fulfilling. Whatever the external situation, our lives should be led positively. This is not something that occurs to people who are solely materialistic. However, if there is a good measure of devotion or spirituality in one’s life, one finds all tensions disappearing and one becomes happy. It was the spiritual guidance given by Krishna that cleared Arjuna’s confusion in the battlefield of Kurukshetra and gave him the strength to fight.
Spirituality makes one aware that one is not just a body. There is something in one beyond matter and energy, a spiritual presence that animates and activates the body.
When does one know if one is ready for a spiritual master?
It could be the point where the devotee desires to know the deity he worships and wants to know if he is doing it right, spiritually speaking. It could be a point when several questions raise their head in the seeker’s mind: ‘Am I living right?’ ‘Is worldly life sufficient for a man’s fulfilment?’
When one is unable to answer such questions, one seeks a spiritual master. As long as the invisible distant God is sufficient, you do not seek a spiritual teacher. It is only when questions crop up that one seeks a guru.
How does one distinguish between an enlightened master and a charlatan heading a dangerous sect?
A teacher with a closed heart does not like people probing his mind. On the other hand, an enlightened person is always fond of responding to people. He is there to enlighten those who seek him, to speak to them, and answer their questions, in all simplicity and fondness. He will not want anything from anyone. He possesses an inner abundance or fullness that makes him live and move freely. An enlightened person will be given to enlightening others to the exclusion of all other tasks and interests.
Do we have free will or is fate/God all-powerful?
As embodied beings, we possess free will but the freedom is not absolute. We have two hands and two legs, and these cannot be increased. Free will applies more to the mind and intelligece level than to the bodily level. Sub-human species are ruled by their natures but a human being can rein in his tendencies and thus his destiny. A bad human can change into a good one and vice-versa. We are free, but like a cow tied to a stake, our freedom is limited. Our mind often opposes others, leading to conflict and destruction but in the same manner, the mind can make benevolent choices too. That is why we try to educate people, to civilise and refine their thoughts, speech and actions. There is free will in all walks of life. But it is not absolute. It can never be. The Earth is revolving on its own axis, and it also goes around the Sun. But the Earth has no freedom to change its velocity or trajectory. We are essentially as free as we need to be. The Bhagavad Gita emphasises this basic freedom possessed by humans and teaches how to harness it. Every motivation or urge in us is caused by that inner consciousness, which alone functions as the mind, intelligence and ego.
If by God, you refer to Super-consciousness, I don’t think He rules or dictates to anybody in particular. However, all creation is ruled by law, and just like there are physical, chemical, bio-physical, bio-chemical and biological laws, there are psychological, intellectual and spiritual laws. These laws mould the fate of all beings along with our free will.
Talking of free will, what do you think we should do to halt the destruction of Mother Earth?
Human intelligence needs to be geared towards sustainable living. Mother Earth, with her greenery and ecological balance, should not be disturbed. Her mountains, forests of trees, plants, creepers, insects, birds, reptiles and all animals should be preserved. All that we produce should be bio-degradable and we must ensure that we use bio-friendly products. We should bequeath a better Earth to our successors, not a depleted and polluted one. It is incumbent upon us as rational beings to make our civilisation sustainable.
How can one be happy every moment?
Happiness is an emotion the mind generates. Mind can be taught, disciplined and reformed so it generates and preserves happiness anytime, anywhere, in any situation. That is why so many take to ascetic life. Ascetic life is the fountainhead for ceaseless joy. Though owning nothing, ascetics can still be contented, and felicitous. Spiritual science aims to make the mind self-sufficient, enriched and cheerful. The Bhagavad Gita asks us to discipline our sensory indulgences. This is indispensable for any society that wants to be strong, prosperous and peaceful. One should use one’s intellect to adhere to ethical and societal norms. Do no harm to society and do not let society harm you.
What are the fundamentals of spirituality?
The world in which we live is the first concern of the spiritual person. God is the next factor, which in the beginning is a matter of faith and acceptance. The enquiry as to what is the so-called God, who is considered to be the creator of the world, follows. Then comes the third factor: the ‘I’, the Self. Who is the ‘I’ who speaks of the body as ‘mine’, interacts through the body and senses with the world?
|As long as the invisible distant God is suffi cient, you do not seek a spiritual teacher. It is only when questions crop up that one seeks a guru.|
Everything proceeds from this Self. Is it something material or perishable like the body and other things of the world? Thus, the enquiry into the material world, the religious God and one’s own Self are the fundamentals of spirituality.
Are people who have a master more joyful than others?
A master is one who always teaches, guides, inspires and leads his students. Whatever you want to do and achieve – with the right guidance from one who knows, your effort will be easier and more successful. In every field we need a teacher, at least initially. The role of a spiritual master becomes indispensable because the subject to be known by the seeker is neither evident nor perceptible to the senses. No wonder, those who have a master naturally find life easy, comfortable and fulfilling. One should count oneself fortunate if one has a guru.
By what practical method can one become Self-realised?
A method can only be practical. There is a clear definition for the Self: Aham-prataya-gocharah. Whatever is denoted by the term ‘I’ is the Self. Is it then something different from you? It does not denote the second or third person. It is the first person, and hence within your own body.
Self-realisation is realising this ‘I’. The same intelligence which seeks to know the world’s objects and their ramifications, can also know the Self when it is rightly employed. You are the subject that interacts with and observes the objects of the world. Now train your attention on your own Self. Sit alone in your room, close the doors and sit comfortably, preferably in a yoga asana. Shut your eyes and observe your mind. This will make the thought process slower, feebler, lighter, and gentler. If you persist, the very process will cease. That is when the Subject – the Self – is revealed in all its splendour.
What questions do seekers ask you most often?
Seekers who visit the ashram invariably ask me how to retain and sustain the clarity they attain in my presence when they return to the ‘world’ and join the rat race. I tell them that the knowledge of what is desirable and what is undesirable is already with them. They should use their discrimination to embrace the desirable and eschew the undesirable. This two-fold process makes the inner personality strong, stable, effective and resilient.
Critics are of the view that spiritual experiences are subjective and hence not scientific. Are science and spirituality connected?
Science is based on observation and inference. Its observations are made through the senses, and inferences by the mind and intelligence. The observational part is called pratyaksha. For pratyaksha knowledge, senses alone are the ground and proof. Paroksha is beyond the senses. In paroksha knowledge, we arrive at inference by employing our mind and intelligence. In spirituality one’s own body is used as laboratory whereas science uses many aids. But ultimately scientists have to rely on their own senses and mind to draw an inference. The same two faculties are employed in Vedanta. Spirituality rests upon shruti, yukti and anubhava.
|A teacher with a closed heart does not like people probing his mind. On the other hand, an enlightened person is always fond of responding to people. He is there to enlighten those who seek him, to speak to them, and answer their questions, in all simplicity and fondness.|
The Shruti refers to scriptural pronouncements. Scriptures are authentic records of spiritual thinkers and knowers. Spiritual experience, findings and conclusions have thus to be corroborated by scriptures, and supported by logic and reason. In short, the tools employed by science and spirituality are the same. Despite the external instruments and methods employed in science what ultimately works is the scientist’s own mind and intelligence. If science is acceptable, by the same token spirituality also becomes acceptable.
What do you mean when you say that the Bhagavad Gita is an administrative gospel?
The Bhagavad Gita is unique for it emerged in a battlefield as a dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna. Both of them were administrators or rulers and not ascetics. Arjuna suddenly crumbled emotionally and Krishna had to elevate and empower Arjuna’s inner faculties so he could do his duty as a warrior. Arjuna’s crisis was in his mind. Sri Krishna dealt with it dexterously. Explaining his stand and vision, Krishna probes into the very depths of human personality, bringing forth its imperishable and ever-brilliant dimension.
The administrator-knower Krishna gave an administrative gospel to Arjuna the administrator to empower him to perform the administrative task of warfare, with dedication, non-expectation, equanimity and inner abundance.
Swamiji, while many masters advise the seekers to transcend the mind, you always speak of strengthening the mind.
Transcending the mind is a traditional, philosophical phrase. It means rising above the mind’s characteristic likes and dislikes. Mind is made up of two strands, likes and dislikes, attraction and repulsion. Actually, it is three strands: raaga, dvesha and bhaya (attraction, repulsion and fear). If you can sublimate these three, the mind gets transformed. Call it the super-mind! This is what is meant by transcending the mind. I decided that going beyond the mind is an expression that is likely to misunderstood, I decided to describe the mind as an inestimable treasure. After all, is not the mind that experiences infinitude itself infinite? The part we use is just the surface. There are inestimable depths within.
Swamiji, is there a message you would like to give our readers?
Any one given to reading does so to get enlightened and enriched inwardly. It is not the body, but the mind and the intelligence that gets enriched. The purpose of true reading should be to enrich oneself with the inner resources and potential. Our ashrams in Delhi, as well in other cities, are called Centres for Inner Resource Development. They are places where one is made aware of one’s inner resources and taught to harness them. So, dear readers, discover your inner resources – identify and develop them. Do remember that resources are spiritual in character and spiritual resource development alone will make you feel happy, comfortable, harmonious and fulfilled in life.
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