Children are growing up without learning basic tenets of Hinduism, and challenges of the modern world are driving them further away from their roots. The problem is exacerbated by collapse of the Gurukul system, disappearance of household rituals, and oversimplification and falsification of scriptures. The remedy lies in providing a firm grounding in authentic interpretation of scriptures through traditional commentaries – Jneyam’s mission
One of the great ideas in post-modern education is that no concept is complex. Thanks to the ubiquitous smartphone, there has been massive democratization of information, combined with shrinking attention spans. Be it gleaning information at a high level or drilling down to details, you can absorb as much as you feel like depending upon your comfort or requirements. However, if you’re unable to comprehend, then it is assumed your source is being unnecessarily abstruse. This is seen not only in matters of religion but also in several other areas, because brains are hardwired to accept information that follows path of least resistance.
We refuse to entertain the notion that dumbing down of Hinduism is meeting the “needs of the market”. Just because the answer is simple and applicable to a given scenario, it does not make it right. Gurukuls in India have decreased from over 300,000 during India’s independence to less than 300 today, and the Guru-Shishya heritage has lost its influence in the development of Hindu theology, making room for self-styled Gurus and arbitrary interpretation of scriptures . The disappearance of both daily kirtans and recitation of epics in our houses means that children are no longer learning the basic tenets of Hinduism.
Modern education has reduced Shastras to little more than superstitions, and has promoted the belief that learning about Hinduism will not help prepare children for the real world. This has led to proliferation of rudimentary and vestigial versions of scriptures accessible online, leaving us with a “cut and paste” Hinduism, with each “expert” peddling his own Hindu worldview. This practice does not do justice to any Guru-Shishya heritage, but instead harms both the Child who learns from these versions as well as the Hindu society at large.
At Jneyam, we are all for unstructured learning without an authority figure to check on your progress, but can oversimplification be at the cost of gross falsification? The vast corpus of primary texts on Hinduism do not make the job any easier. So, we are left to Bhagavan’s anugraha when you come across concepts articulated in brief with reference to authoritative books. But is it really working for or against the individual?
Recently, in midst of a spiritual discussion, we were referred the story of Ajamil published in Speaking Tree, a portal to get your daily fix of “spiritual” dosage. The abridged but correct version of the story goes that Ajamil, a pious Brahmin, went astray when he encountered a prostitute. He abandoned spiritual activities and engaged in sinful ones. However, he was very fond of his son Narayana (another name for Lord Vishnu) and would think of him constantly. At the time of Ajamil’s death, Yamadoots came to take his soul to hell. But Ajamil could feel the bond severing with his son, and repeatedly took His name in distress. Vishnudoots, on hearing the Lord’s name being taken without offense and in anxiety, immediately rushed to the scene and released Ajamil from shackles. They discussed with Yamadoots as to why he shouldn’t be punished. Ajamil could hear the conversation and realized his mistakes. When he got back his life, he mended his ways and spent the rest of his life serving Vishnu with full devotion, and finally went to Vishnu’s abode after death.
Indeed, the idea of chanting Vishnu’s name to save oneself from hell is quite intriguing. As one ponders deeper into it, it leads to questions such as under what circumstances are sins are wiped out by chanting Vishnu’s names? Does it imply one can repeatedly commit sins and all will be forgiven just by taking name of Vishnu? While Speakingtree correctly refers to Srimad Bhagavatam’s Skanda 6 Chapters 1 to 3 for the detailed story, it neither raises these questions nor encourages the reader to do so. However, to get the answers to these questions, one also has to delve into sources like Bhagavad Gita and Skanda Purana:
antakāle ca māmeva smaran muktvā kalevaram |
yaḥ prayāti sa madbhāvaṃ yāti nāstyatra saṃśayaḥ ||Those who relinquish the body while remembering Me at the moment of death will come to Me. There is certainly no doubt about this – Bhagavad Gita, 8.5
omityekākṣaraṃ brahma vyāharan māmanusmaran |
yaḥ prayāti tyajan dehaṃ sa yāti paramāṃ gatim ||One who departs from the body while remembering Me, the Supreme Personality, and chanting the syllable Om, will attain the supreme goal – Bhagavad Gita 8.13
Ajamil’s story is consistent with Bhagavad Gita. However, one should not conclude that for attainment of the ultimate goal, one can easily meditate upon Vishnu at the time of death. At the time of one’s death, one’s mind naturally gravitates towards one’s inner nature. It is crucial to note that only something practiced with conscious effort continuously over a lifetime is manifested as part of one’s inner nature. Further, the article seems to promote the idea of repeated sinning and seeking atonement, which gives an incorrect message to children, and is absent in Hinduism as per Skanda Purana.
The distortions don’t stop there – we were taken aback by the impunity with which liberties were taken with the story, and we’re not referring to the number of Ajamil’s children differing from Srimad Bhagavatam. The following paragraph introduced in the Speakingtree version doesn’t even exist in the original:
“When Ajamil’s wife was carrying this child, a few saints visited their house. They took pity on their situation and said to Ajamil’s wife, “We are very pleased with your hospitality. Now you must do us a great favor. Your tenth child will be a boy, name him Narayana.” She agreed with a smile. They did not realize that the saints had planted a seed of holiness in their home.”
The above assertion is wrong at so many levels; it is hard to start pointing out the mistakes! A basic reading will indicate that the sole basis for Ajamil getting relief in the end was because his wife was hospitable to these saints. In other words, if it was not for her hospitality towards these saints, the entire sequence of events would not have taken place. Do you see where this is leading to? For those with a materialistic bent of mind, the above paragraph makes absolute sense. After all, because Ajmail’s wife was hospitable to saints she received blessings – quid pro quo at its finest. Make no mistake – We are all for revering saints, but the true message is lost as a result of this arbitrary assertion
Another instance of misleading the readers comes at the end. The article cites Bhagavad Gita 10.25 incorrectly, stating, “Of all yajnas, chanting is the most special”. The original Shloka states:
maharṣīṇāṃ bhṛgurahaṃ girāmasmyekamakṣaram |
yajñānāṃ japayajño’smi sthāvarāṇāṃ himālayaḥ ||I am Bhrigu amongst the great seers and the transcendental Om amongst sounds. Amongst chants know me to be the repetition of the Holy Name; amongst immovable things I am the Himalayas – Bhagavad Gita 10.25
While the verse indeed glorifies Lord Krishna, it doesn’t even come close to asserting Japa (chanting) being the most important yajna. This is not to belittle Japa. As a matter of fact, it is the prescribed method to reach Vishnu’s abode in this day and age, but to assert it is special and universally applicable is gross distortion. But why does Lord Krishna equate himself with Japa? The context being – as the four Yugas progress, spiritual strength decreases and Adharma (evil) increases. To help people who can no longer perform rigorous spiritual activities such as Yajnas, Japa is prescribed as an easier method to obtain equivalent benefits. . This is how Veda Vyasa describes the ‘silver lining’ of Kali Yuga in Vishnu Purana:
The fruit of penance, of continence, of silent prayer, and the like, practised in the Krita age for ten years, in the Treta for one year, in the Dwápara for a month, is obtained in the Kali age in a day and night: therefore did I exclaim “Excellent, excellent, is the Kali age!” That reward which a man obtains in the Krita by abstract meditation, in the Treta by sacrifice, in the Dwápara by adoration, he receives in the Kali by merely reciting the name of KeshavaVishnu Purana Book 6 Ch 2 , Translation by H.H. Wilson 1840
Our intention is certainly not to single out Speakingtree – There are numerous websites, blogs, podcasts and social media pages giving their own spin on stories from scriptures and making false references, not necessarily with mala fide intentions. However, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Some have tried to position Hinduism as a ‘rational faith’ vis-à-vis Abrahamic faiths by interpreting everything solely on the basis of logic, stripping off all divinity from the scriptures in the process. Belief in divinity is integral to Aadhyaatmika (‘related to the spirit’) journey and while Hinduism can be termed an unorganized religion, it in no way implies that one can offer one’s own set of fundamental values and propositions. It is one thing to have multitude interpretations but what we see in popular discourse are interpolations supported by false references.
Some may argue it’s better to provide a diluted, simplified theology that appears logical on surface, even if distorted, than to losing the spiritually-inclined altogether, but such an approach is self-defeating. After all, avenues that prepared Hindus to dive deeper into faith and build a vigorous understanding have gone missing. Generations of Hindus have now grown up believing propaganda such as Hinduism required reforms to tackle issues such as caste system, child marriage, oppression of women etc. . We have become complacent about our faith and have left theological discussions to Pundits alone, restricting personal involvement to socializing during festivals and coordinating with Pujaris for weddings and funerals. Inevitably, when harshness and inexplicability of life hits us and we are offered a chance at spiritual awakening, we are left with searching answers amongst the multitude of distorted, agenda-driven perspectives that lack scriptural basis. Needless to say, these perspectives lack the rigor to withstand critical inspection, and we are further driven away from faith.
At Jneyam, we are cognizant of the above challenges plaguing Hindu samaj. To address these challenges, we’ve developed our vision appropriately – “to guide individuals on the path of Dharma by providing carefully curated content from Hindu scriptures”. We take pride in being able to back our assertions from scriptures and traditional commentaries. At the same time we understand that being correct is not sufficient for changing status quo, and it involves challenging the pre-conceived notions and cultivating of right mindset. For our patrons, it is an equally uphill task as the task requires as much unlearning as learning. But we are hopeful of success as our approach will be in a systematic manner guided by scriptures and Dharma. We extend a warm welcome to you for joining us in this much-needed noble endeavor.