The Sastras are the final authority for deciding what one should do or should not do. It is our duty to understand the sastras and follow the injunctions contained therein.
All religions guide us towards salvation, the ultimate goal of life. In fundamentals like devotion to God, speaking the truth and helping others, there is no difference between one religion and another. The difference between religions is mainly in regard to certain doctrines and practices, which are the outcome of the varying experiences (anubhava अनुभव) of each religious teacher. That is why Hinduism does not advocate conversion. We believe that if a person faithfully follows the teachings of his religion, he will obtain salvation; which is the goal pointed out by all religions. There is, therefore, no need for extolling one religion or decrying another; wisdom lies in developing the spirit of tolerance (samarasam, समरसम् ).
The doctrine of equality has begun to invade every aspect of our social behavior. Modern reformists seek to obliterate all differences between man and man, and, in their zeal, they seek to decry the orthodox practices observed by those who wish to adhere strictly to the injunctions contained in the sastras. In support of their stand, they quote the authority of the following verse from the Gita:
विध्याविनयसम्पन्ने ब्राह्मणे गवि हस्तिनि
शुनि चैव श्वपाके च पण्डिता: समदर्शिनि: ॥
Vidyaa vinaya sampanne braahmane gavi hastini,
Suni chaiva svapaake cha panditaah samadarsinah.
- The meaning of this verse is that a pandita views alike a Brahmin endowed with knowledge and humility, a cow, an elephant, a dog, and a person who eats dog’s flesh. This enumeration comprehends all grades of creation. But those who quote this verse for their own purpose conveniently ignore the significance of the two key expressions, panditaah (पण्डिता:) and samadarsinah (समदर्शिनि:). Panditaah are those who have attained aatmajnaana. In their eyes, all are one. It is only such realized souls that are able to “see” the one Brahmam (ब्रह्मम्) which is not affected by satva and other gunaas or their effects, in all the creations mentioned in the verse. This position implies that, before one claims to treat all things as equal, one must have realized this aatmajnaana, entitling one to the title of panditaah. It is, therefore, unwarranted to conclude that this verse provides a clue as to how ordinary mortals should act.
Samadarsana comes in naturally to an aatmajnaani (आत्मज्ञानि). What is possible for him will not be possible for others. He may eat anything; he may take a plunge in a drain with as much unconcern or reverence as when he takes a plunge in the Ganges; he may drink a cup of molten lead with as much ease as when he drinks a cup of water. Others cannot do the same. Therefore, a panditaah, or the perfect one, alone can have samadarsana, and not the ordinary mortal. What is applicable to a panditaah cannot obviously apply to an ordinary person.
It is also significant that the word used in this verse in question is samadarsinah and not samakaarinah (समकारिण:). The samatva or advaita (non-difference) referred to in the verse pertains to attitude and not to activity. The verse speaks of looking at all with an equal eye; not acting equally or identically in all cases. If the reformist’s interpretation of samadarsana, advaita or non-difference in action also is pursued to its extreme, absurd consequences will follow. We can have the same feeling of tenderness towards the mother, the wife and the daughter; but we cannot treat them identically. The advocacy of equality on the wrong interpretation of the Gita verse in point will result in inconsistency, to say the least. That is why it has been laid down, and very properly too, that Bhaavaadvaitam sadaa kuryaat, kriyaadvaitam na karhichit – भावाद्वैत सदा कुर्यात् क्रियाद्वैतम् न कर्हिचित्. In our attitude we should develop advaita bhaava; but behavior patterns should differ according to difference in objects. In fact, the adoption of kriyaadvaita will make difficult the development of bhaavaadvaita, which is most vital. There must be distinction in kaarya, even as there must be no distinction in bhaava.
So long as we are caught up in the whirl of samsaara and are subject to feelings like kaama, krodha and dvesha and are afflicted by pain and sorrow, we cannot venture to adopt advaita in action. Such a course will only lead us to grief. But this differentiation will get automatically extinguished and bhaavaadvaitam will develop, as we acquire jnana, by refraining from evil thoughts and deeds, and by thinking of and practicing only good deeds. When we become truly aatmajnaanis, both our outlook and conduct in regard to all men and things in all the three worlds will become advaitic in content and character (advaitam trishu lokeshu – अद्वैतम् त्रिषु लोकेषु). But there is one exception, and that is, na-advaitam guruna saha नाद्वैतम् गुरुणा सह (Do not practice advaita towards your guru). That will take away the very foundation of upadesa and anugraha उपदेश:, अनुग्रह:) .
The next question is how to determine what to do and what not to do. Some people say, “let your intelligence be your guide” in this respect. As no two people hold the same view, and as the views of the same person change from time to time, we cannot adopt the shifting criterion of buddhi (intelligence) in such a vital matter. That is why Lord Krishna says later on in the Gita:
तस्माच्छास्त्रम् प्रमाणम् ते कार्याकार्यव्यवस्थितौ ।
ज्ञात्वा शास्त्रविधानॊक्तम् कर्म कर्तुमिहार्हसि ॥
Tasmaat saastram pramaanam te kaaryaakaarya vyavasthitau,
Jnaatvaa saastravidhaanoktam karma kartum ihaarhasi.
Our sastras are without beginning. They are the final authority in respect of human conduct. They embody the anubhava (अनुभवय:) of humanity and are firmly established in verified human experience. They have survived the onslaughts of hostile criticism and the vicissitudes of doubt and defection. The mark of prudence is to rely on the inviolate injunctions of established sastra, than on the inconstant intimations of our little minds. If we lead our lives with this faith in sastra, we shall not come to grief.
Some people advance the argument that, though there are some good things in our sastras, they are encumbered by weeds, which should be removed. This process of removing weeds is a dangerous one. No two people are agreed on what is weed and what is crop. What is crop to one may be weed to another. So, in the name of removing weeds, there will be indiscriminate uprooting of everything, and there may be nothing left which we can call religion.
And so, in the craze for a false equality, let us not obliterate every difference. Do not twist scripture to suit your views. Understand it properly and act accordingly, with faith and devotion. Do the duties prescribed by sastra, not to the extent possible, but “wholly”. If inevitable, you may do so gradually. “To the extent possible” is a dangerous concession to the faltering and the faithless. It will lead, in their cases, to “nothing”. Even if you apparently come to grief by allegiance to sastra, it does not matter. For, you can be sure of one thing, namely, that you have not done anything wrong. The practice of the sastraic injunctions will remove our sins and cleanse our hearts. In the heart so kept clean, God will manifest Himself and guide us to the higher realms of realization, when all differences will automatically drop off.
May 25, 1958