The most profound peace message in any of our scriptures, in Vedas and in Upanishads is the peace invocation also knows as Shanti Mantras. All Vedas and their studies begin with the invocation of peace, Shanti. Therefore the most fundamental or essential teaching in the Vedas is that of peace or Shanti; wherein peace is sought for ourselves and for our surroundings. One such peace invocation is very popular, between the Teacher and the taught.
Om Sahanavavatu sahanau bhunaktu
Tejasvinavadheetamastu ma vidvishavahai
Om Shanti Shanti Shantihi ||
This is an invocation to the almighty God, by both Teacher and student, before the commencement of their dialogue. The Teacher and student pray for peace in the surroundings as well as peace in the minds of teacher and student. That this knowledge should shine forth in our understanding and our lives and that it should not remain as book knowledge. This peace invocation also dispels any unwanted dislike for each other in the hearts of the Teacher and student. Therefore peace and harmony are the fundamental principles taught in our scriptures. This peace that we seek, our scriptures say, can be gained by understanding and inculcating the concept of Advaita or non-daulity (oneness). Simply put, by eliminating perceived divisions and differences from our minds. Physically differences cannot be removed as people and objects are different; however in understanding, know that all that is perceived and seen is none other than Truth alone. That Truth alone is the Reality, everything else is an appearance of names and forms or an effect of that Ultimate Reality. The world as we perceive is filled with differences, whether it is names forms or attributes. Moving away from this world of perceived names, forms and differences will bring us closer to the ultimate Reality which alone will allow the internal peace within us to shine forth. Consequently there is no real reason for conflict when we understand that the name-less, form-less, attribute-less is none other than our own true Self.
Satyam, Jnanam, Anantam, Advayam, Anandam.
That which is the Truth is knowledge and shines forth as non-dual infinite bliss. This is to be sought within: Nihitam guhayam, so-ashnute sarvan Kaman saha (taittiriya Upanishad). We often wonder about existence of God and where to locate him? Here I have an anecdote. There was a class for children where the teacher asked them, “ where is God ?” One answered that God is in the temple, another said God is everywhere and yet another that God is in our hearts. One child however declared “God is in my bathroom. My father gets up every morning and knocks on the door and says “Oh God, you are still inside”! So God is everywhere, but if we do not cognize this fact, we will say He is somewhere. In our childish nature we may limit God who is unlimited. Therefore unless we have the right understanding of God (Reality), we will never be able to see the truth as it is. That is why it is said that in order to know the Truth at absolute plane, we should have peace and harmony in our relative plane also. We should have goodness. Those are the values.
The Yoga Vashishta says: Shivam sarvatragam shantam bodhatmakam ajam shubham. The purpose of the gathering here today is to underline peace and harmony in scriptures. If we look at Vedantic scriptures and the four factors that tie the student, subject and purpose, they all have Peace as their common factor. The adhikari – a qualified student or a listener should have peace in his mind to listen to teachings. One with disturbed mind will not be able to comprehend the subtle Truth. The topic or subject matter of the scriptures – vishaya is “shaantam, shivam, advaitam” which is Absolute peace. In other words, the Truth revealed is of the nature of peace. And the purpose of such scriptural study – prayojanam is to attain peace, both at individual and total level. There is not a single idea in any scripture or religion that talks about cheating someone, being violent or hurting anyone and giving them grief. The message of any scripture is peace and how to gain that peace whereby we can live in harmony at individual and total level. In fact the scriptures advise
Ahimsa paramo dharma.
Ahimsa, Non-violence, is to be practiced at the physical, mental and speech level. We should not hurt anyone with harsh words. Mentally also we should not entertain thoughts of violence. So it advises, may we practice non-violence at all levels. That is the real peace and harmony. Compassion and love for all sees the essential Oneness and therefore builds a network of peace and harmony. Atmaupamyena sarvatra samam pasyati – do unto others what you want others to do unto you. Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma is the scriptural teaching supported by logic behind such a vision.
The same idea is expressed in Bhagavad Gita and in Yoga Vashishta, that Truth is beyond all divisions, non-dual Reality. Differences as defined technically are differences of similar kind in the same and different species and within itself. Sajatiya vijatiya swagata bheda rahita. This is the truth that is revealed. Where is the scope then for any division or disagreement? Especially as long as we can understand that this is the real message of the Shastras. In sanskrit there is a Subhashita (saying) that there are people with narrow and broad minds. Ayam nijaha paro vetti, ganana laghu chetasam. Udaara charitanam tu vasudhaiva kutumbakam. People with narrow mind have divisions in the mind and their thinking is limited and those that are large hearted have the capacity to embrace all : udaara charitanam tu vasudhaiva kutumbakam. We can see that the whole universe is in fact ‘my’ family. No matter how much disagreement we may have in a family, we will never think or have negative feelings and will ultimately move beyond those disagreements. This is a successful family structure. Once the world is seen as ‘my ‘own family, then the understanding that all members of ‘my’ family are actually not that different from me, tolerance and patience for moving beyond differences and disagreements will be easier. Vasudhaiva kutumbakam, the whole earth, world is my family. With this kind of vision, harmony is but natural. Generally in our thinking, whenever we focus on differences between cultures and religions and the different upbringing of individuals, we will only focus on how we differ from each other; whereas if we see Oneness, the focus is automatically on what is common. Differences are only needed in a society for transactional purposes. Differences need not be stretched too far. I can quote from my personal experience: I have shared stage with many leaders of different faiths and have participated in interreligious programs. I can say that we have a lot to learn from each other and we realize there are so many similarities in all teachings. Harmony and peace are natural. All disturbances are either provoked or artificial. I am very happy that this kind of dialogue is taking place. May this project bring forth better results, may everyone benefit at large throughout. I would like to now mention about the Vedanta course of which I am the resident teacher. We have a two year intensive residential program on Vedanta at the Chinmaya Mission Sandeepany Sadhanalaya in Powai.
For the present course underway, we had applications to the program from 18 countries including Israel, Bangladesh, US, UK, Russia etc. In every course that we conduct, we do have people from diverse cultural backgrounds, religions and races. In this current batch we have a couple of students who are Muslim by faith and 4-5 students from Christian background. They have all deemed it important to learn the Vedic teachings and they take this teaching back to their countries, cultures and their people and apply this in their life in whatever best way they can. And this confluence of cultures was envisioned so many years back by our Pujya Gurudev, Swami Chinmayananda. Some interesting facts I would like to share: in every batch around 10 -15 students are from different culture. When people come from abroad they have no idea of Sanskrit and the habit of vegetarian food every day. It is a significant sadhana that the students take up. Imagine if we have to live and study in a foreign land and study something that is totally strange in a foreign language and make it our lifestyle. There is a sense of respect for this. I have respect for them as their teacher and feel their sacrifice is significant. Even otherwise, with the huge outreach of our mission programs worldwide, we do see enough people of diverse backgrounds who attend our programs. It is now quite popular to use meditation at the basic level to quieten the mind and is accepted worldwide as an effective practice. This is the starting point of their interest and slowly they graduate to the deeper essence and teachings of our scriptures. In our ashram there is a temple and the main pillar, the entrance gate has writings in Urdu language. The message inscribed is “You are now entering this holy temple, where you are facing God in his expressed, manifest form”. It was donated by an Arabian and our Gurudev, without hesitation, installed it at the entrance of Shiva temple atop the main arch. We have one institution in Kerala, CIF (Chinmaya International Foundation) which works on International research projects. The foundation stone says, the first seed money was received from a church in Europe to conduct this religious international discussion forum for scholars. That is the main theme of their work. If there is purity and harmony in intent, good things will result. That is the main idea. Our Gurudev’s message is also very clear. His popular chart known as BMI chart is very elucidating. There is no mention of any God and the Reality is indicated by Om. Body, mind and intellect are common to all of us and perceiving, feeling and thinking is common to all beings. This commonality is focused throughout. In our mission, we also run Vidyalayas (regular schools), a nursing school , a school for classical music and dance, colleges for post graduate education as well as a hospital. Many of our students of the nursing school are from Kerala and are Christians. Oneness has to be seen at all levels. Scriptures enunciate all values and truth is imparted, values to be practiced at the individual level in interactions with people. Our teaching of Truth is one of Non- Duality as the substratum. We study Vedanta, Sanskrit, the different darshanas (philosophies), Pramana (epistemology) and Cosmology and how to apply these concepts in our day to day life. Even in our teachings of other scriptures like Mahabharata etc., the role and objective of peace and harmony is the consistent message. This is ever so valid in contemporary society. Thank you for the invitation to have me as a speaker at the Valedictory function of this conference. I invite you all to visit our Vedanta school and looking forward to greater dialogue between the two institutions. Peace.