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Dr. J.W. Elder's interview with H.H. Kanchi Paramacharya

The following represents a detailed gist of the discussion between Dr. J.W. Elder, Assistant Professor of Sociology. University of Wisconsin, Madison, U.S., and His Holiness

Dr. Elder:

In view of the developments that have taken place in India during the past fifteen or twenty years, such as India's Independence, her development programs and the recent invasion from China, what would you say are those elements within Hinduism that most need to stressed today?

His Holiness:

Prior to India's Independence you might have found not even ten per-cent of the people being dishonest. Most of the Indian masses, peasants, were honest in all their statements and simple in their aspirations. Prior to independence the extent of dishonesty was very little when compared with any other country. With independence all the people attained adult franchise. Adult franchise is given to the masses who are mostly illiterate. The people who stand in elections go and bribe the voters. The voter, illiterate, receives money and votes for somebody else.

With the advent of electricity and with the various developments, everybody is interested in converting one's punjai(dry) lands into nanjai(wet) lands by installing electric motors and pump sets for irrigation purposes. water is not required to such an extent for the dry lands as it is required for the wet lands. Peasants and other poor people were taking maize, ragi etc. and they were cultivating grams and dals from these dry lands. Since everybody has started cultivating rice more for the sake of earnings, apart from the increase in price of these grams and dals after a certain period, the resources for water get exhausted. Further everybody is interested aiming only at a high standard of living. This results in indebtedness to others. Even the poorest man wants to wear trousers. He is unable to discriminate between what is necessary and what is luxury. In the Hindu Sastras there is one aspect which stresses the discrimination between luxury and necessity. If a man does not take coffee or tea he can still survive. What is most essential for a man is a small house in which to live, a shelter from rain and sun and enough clothing and food. Therefore, the man must maintain a standard of living that was existing prior to independence. The Government must maintain the standard of living without enhancing it till the people are in a position to discriminate between what is absolutely essential and what is luxury. If the standard of living is maintained at the pre-independence level till we reach a point of self-sufficiency, by eliminating an discriminating luxuries and necessities, we will reach a stage when we will be a position to offer help to other countries out of affection, without any political string attached to it, just as America or Russia is offering help by diverting its surplus to help other countries. Thirdly, the merchant community, when they are sending goods to foreign countries, show one quality and export an entirely different quality and sometimes they adulterate it. This spoils the name of the country Therefore, the essential aspects within Hinduism that have to be stressed today are 1. Truthfulness, 2. Honestly, 3. Discrimination between the necessities and the luxuries and 4. Non-cheating of others.

Dr. Elder:

In the recent past, Madurai had celebrated Kumbhabhishekam of the Meenakshi Temple. This has required a great deal of effort and an expenditure of more than 20 lakhs. What is you opinion of the Kumbhabhishekam and of the expenditure it was involved?

His Holiness:

Every religion has its own form of religious building. The Muslims have their Mosques, the Christians have their Churches and we Hindus have our Temples with all their Gopurams. These Gopurams are so tall that whenever a man happens to see them, he is reminded of God at least for the moment when he looks at those towers. Non of the scriptures or manuscripts can remind him of God as well as these tall towers. The Sastras call these tall towers as "Sthoola Lingas." If there is any good that always stays with man till the end, it is the moment that he thinks of God. Naturally when these Gopurams become old, they have to be repaired and preserved in good condition. According to the Sastras and Hindu theology, rules are laid to sanctify the repaired Gopurams. The sanctifying ceremony is called the Kumbhabishekam. just as a marriage is being done by the coming together of II the relatives so also the Kumbhabhishekam is being done by the joint efforts of all.

(As this point in the discussion, it began to rain; so the group left the yard and moved, to His Holiness' quarters).

Dr. Elder:

During the past several years, a number of Kumbhabhishekams have been occurring in various cities in South India. With all these renewed interest in temple renovation and restoration, would you interpret this as some sort of religious revival occurring in India at the present time?

His Holiness:

Kumbhibhishekams have been occurring in these temples from time to time, once in every few decades. it happens that each temple had several Kumbhabhishekams in the last several decades. So some of the important temples in the South have been renovated in the recent years and it looks as though there is a sudden renewal of interest in temple restoration. But this something that has been going on for centuries. However, the contributing factors are: 1. Prior to 1947 the people were engaged in putting an end to the British rule. Now after completing settling that question, they have diverted their attention to preserving their ancient monuments. 2. Since Independence, a vast number of people have experimented and experienced the anti-God campaigns and the godless ideologist such as Dravida kazhagam, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagan and communism. Having failed in all their anti-God campaigns, they are returning to God. 3. Now-a-days it taken ten rupees to buy what formerly took only one rupee to buy, due to inflation. So the greater expenditure is partly just a reflection of the fact that it takes more rupees to renovate a temple than it did fifty years ago and people also are contributing liberally.

Dr. Elder:

Ahimsa has sometimes been included as one of the major teachings within Hinduism. In view of the recent Chinese attack on India, what would your interpretation be of the present day application of ahimsa?

His Holiness:

I think you are basing your question on ahimsa as Gandhi interpreted it. Gandhi in turn based his belief and ideas about ahimsa on Lord Buddha.

Both of them were in my opinion failures. This is my viewpoint. When Nehru sent the Indian Army to Kashmir in 1947, he said that he was sending the army after consulting and taking instruction from Gandhi. Hence Gandhi's failure in ahimsa. There is one version of Lord Buddha's death according to which he ate pig's flesh and dies as a consequence. Most of the Buddhist monks are non-vegetarians in the Buddhist countries such as Ceylon, Burma, Malaya and China. Therefore, Buddha's ahimsa has also failed. I think the correct interpretation of ahimsa is that it is virtue applicable only to the highest asrama of the highest caste, the brahmin sanyasi. When he has renounced the world he should do no violence at all, not even pluck a leaf from a tree. If anybody beats him, he should do nothing to defend himself and he should receive them with joy But this doctrine of ahimsa is not meant to be applied to nations or the leader of the nations. Some feel that ahimsa brought India here independence. This is not actually the case. The English had their own reasons for setting India free, whether or not we had been practicing ahimsa.

According to Sastras, the rigid of ahimsa are not applicable to the Government or to the leaders. Our Sastras make it clear that a ruler who does not defend his country fails in his duty. The rules of defending the country are not only for China, but for the nation. Of course, a leader should not wage an aggressive war. Nor should he refuse to defend his country if it is attacked. If a citizen is attacked by another citizen, our Sastras make it clear that it is the duty of the Government to protect its citizen even if it means capital punishment for the offender. Further the Sastras have made it clear to what extend everybody should follow ahimsa.

Mr. Agarwal: (One of those present at the interview): You mentioned that ahimsa as a virtue should be practised only by a sanyasi. Do you feel that the question of being a Brahmin is something determined strictly by birth, or anybody can become learned enough to be considered a Brahmin?

His Holiness:

According to Sastras, the Hindu community is divided into various castes. A particular duty is assigned to a particular caste. By heredity people come into a caste. The duty assigned to a Brahmin will always be in search of knowledge which is beneficial to the other caste people. It is the duty of the other cast people to look after Brahmins. That is why everything is offered to a Brahmin: Godana(offering of cow), Bhomidana, (offering of lands). Therefore, it is the duty of the other case people to preserve Brahmins who are always dedicating their lives in pursuit of knowledge. When he once enjoys the fruits of the knowledge, he reaches the highest asrama, sanyasa. There is no bondage for him. He need not defend anybody. He becomes spiritually elevated. Just to maintain himself, a sanyasi begs for food. If a Brahmin fails in his duty, by not pursuing knowledge, he is considered to be an outcaste. he is not converted to any other case. But if the other people also dedicate their lives in pursuit of their dharma they can also reach the highest goal of becoming Jnanis. Everybody including a Brahmin is benefited by the Jnani and even a Brahmin worships him, though he may belong to another caste. Thereby a Jnani has reached the highest knowledge just like ma a Sannyasi the highest caste. Lord Rama and Lord Krishna, both born as Kshatriyas, are worshipped by all including Brahmins. They did the duty enjoined on their caste and thereby attained greatness. When anybody reaches the level of the Jnanis, equating with the highest asrama of the highest caste, he would automatically follow the highest principles of ahimsa as he realises his own self manifest in every being in the universe.

Dr. Elder:

You mentioned that leaders should be guided by the Sastras. In the Artha-sastra, Kautilya states that a king has the responsibility to continue expanding his nation's boundaries. Would you say that contemporary leader should follow his advice? Or is there some other standard that determines how one should decide whether or not follow a particular statement in a particular Sastra?

His Holiness:

Just as Machiavelli said one thing and Christ another, so one sometimes find contradictory statements in the Sastras. I would not subscribe to the principle given in the Artha-sastra, because I do feel that it does not agree with the principles laid down in the Dharma Sastras. However, if the country is ruled in tyranny, in absolute poverty and misery, subjecting the people to all manner of troubles, then it is the duty case of the neighboring ruler to go and depose the king and bring happiness, peace and prosperity to the citizens there. Only under such circumstance can a country expand his kingdom. This is a helpful move. The ruler would be keeping in the mind the needs of people of the country and we would be following the principles of the Sastras.

Dr. Elder:

Do you feel, then, that India's present leaders should be following the prescription laid down for rulers in the Dharma-sastras?

His Holiness

Today India is a secular state. It would not be possible for the Government to follow the principles of Dharma-sastras. Therefore, it is the duty of the religious institutions to remind the people and to educate the people in the principles of Dharma-sastras, and as a result of this, the people who form the Government will bear in mind the principles of Dharma-sastras. Since the leaders of the state cannot see to these matters, it places all the responsibility on the religious uplift of the society.

Dr. Elder:

Then for India's present leaders you would say that they should follow the Sastras. Where there are contradictions among the Sastras they should follow the Dharma-Sastras. And where there are contradictions between the Dharma-sastras and the Constitution, they should follow the Constitution. This then makes the Constitution something like a final Sastra for India's leaders.

His Holiness:

(Laughing) Yes, I suppose this does make the Constitution a contemporary Sastra for India's rulers.

Dr. Elder:

Well, I have taken up a considerable amount of your time. Thank you very much for giving me this chance to meet you and I very much appreciate the answers you have given to my questions.

His Holiness:

It is true that Americans have migrated from England to America. After setting in America they have undergone hardships and troubles in various ways. They have fought against the Britishers. And they finally brought peace and prosperity to their country. As a result of this, I am happy to note that an American by inborn nature has taken up the task of finding out the troubles and sufferings of others. I am extremely happy about this.

God bless you all.

 


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