In an age of materialism our dependence multiplies as we identify ourselves more and more with the motto of "Minimum effort, Maximum comfort." How tragic it is that we chose to lose our individuality and become captives of materialism. The soldier that once challenged his opponents on the battlefield of life now raises his arms in submission and not resistance.
When Mahatma Gandhi was battling against great odds, he sought Tolstoy's advice. Tolstoy said, "Go back to your religion."
I believe this is exactly what we need to do to reinforce our spirits. Our holy scriptures like Vedas, Upanishads, Shrimad Bhagwad Gita and many more have illumined our path to human and spiritual excellence. Fenced with moral injunctions, it lays emphasis on worship, love, peace and duty to both God and society. This first episode on Vedic society focuses on character and not indulgence as a means to happy living.
Who is Virtuous?
Two-thousand-five-hundred-years ago Bhagwan Buddha met a Brahmin by the name of Sonadanda whilst walking the streets of Shravasti. They became engrossed in a discussion as to what the characteristics of a virtuous man could be. Sonadanda enumerated five qualities. He said, "One who has beauty, is born of high caste, possesses infinite knowledge, character and profound wisdom is a man of true virtue."
In reply to this Buddha questioned his statement, "It is very rare to find in a man a confluence of all these qualities! Tell me, couldn't an ugly man be virtuous?" Sonadanda was quick to grasp the purport of Buddha's question and replied, "Beauty, birth in a high caste and knowledge are not the essential ingredients of a virtuous man, but the qualities of character and wisdom cannot be dispensed with."
Our rich heritage is chronicled with shining examples of men and women who, by virtue of their character and wisdom, have become landmarks to spiritual excellence.
Sage Ashtavakra, Kubja and Socrates were by no means handsome, yet we respect them and draw inspiration from their virtuous life. Beauty is by no means a measure of character.
The valiant Karna has said, "A person is born in a higher or lower caste by the wish of God." The character of sage Vasishtha, Narad Muni, Prahlad, Shabri, Raidas and many others, though born of low caste, spoke amply about their nobility. Ravan, a Brahmin by caste, was swamped with evil notions and actions. Duryodhan too, was of noble birth but no one today calls their son Duryodhan or Ravan. Hence the belief of one born in aristocracy as an attribute of a virtuous person fails to offer a convincing argument.
Knowledge of scriptures, too, plays a tertiary role while describing a virtuous man. The milkmaids of Vrindavan were by no means pundits yet they have been hailed as Shrutis of the Vedas. We have had many lofty souls who possessed little or no extraordinary knowledge. Pujya Yogiji Maharaj had scant education but he had the power to touch the hearts of thousands by virtue of his profound innocence and divinity. The acclaimed scholar of Shrimad Bhagwad Gita, Pandurang Shastri, voiced his feelings when he met Yogiji Maharaj, "What Yogiji Maharaj has learnt only a handful today have been able to accomplish. He has learnt Brahmvidya."
Source of Virtue – Vedas
The Vedas are divine revelations bestowed upon our ancient seers. They prescribe how man can guarantee happiness here and hereafter. Character and wisdom, that makes a man virtuous, find its source in the Vedas.
Even our modern scientific theories, inventions and discoveries have been found in the Vedas. The science of that age was seen through the eyepiece of spirituality and so it was utilized for peaceful and spiritually elevating purposes.
The late Shri Bharati Krishnatirthji, former Shankaracharya of Puri, discovered mathematics from the Vedas. His book, "Vedic Mathematics" includes 14 fundamental aphorisms through which problems in modern mathematics can be speedily solved. This book is now a standard textbook in several foreign countries.
The Vedas have also thrown light on medicine, astronomy, chemistry and other avenues of science. These subjects were taught in our ancient gurukuls; but emphasis was laid primarily on spiritual knowledge as a means for 'moksha'. Both Aparavidya (material knowledge) and Para Vidya (spiritual knowledge) were taught in our Gurukuls.
Parã yayã tadaksharamadhigamyate
"Para Vidya is that knowledge which merits us with Akshardham."
This had been the prime objective of education during the Vedic times. The inspirations from Para Vidya charged people to fare successfully through the straits of joy and happiness in life. They could effortlessly alienate themselves from the forces of attachment, hatred, jealousy, ego, greed and anger.
After having completed his studies each disciple would part with a lofty message during a farewell convocation. The Guru would place his hands on the student's shoulder and say,
Satyam vad, dharmam char, swãdhyãyãnmã pramdah,
Ãchãryãya priyam dhanamãhrutya prajãtantum mã vyavachchhetsihi l
Satyãnn pramaditavyam, bhutyae na pramditavyam, swãdhyãy pravachanãbhyãm na pramditavyam,
Matrudevo bhav, pitrudevo bhav, ãchãryadevo bhav, atithidevo bhav l
Yãni anvadyãni karmãni tãni sevitavyãni no itarãni,
Yãni asmãkam sucharitãni tãni tvayã upãsyãni no itarãni |
Aesha ãdeshaha l Aesha updeshaha l
Aeshã vedopanishat l Atadanushãsanam avamupositavyam l
Dear child, always speak the truth, be bound morally, never refrain from studying the Vedas, don't offer money earned at the expense of hurting another's conscience to your guru, never be negligent in speaking the truth. Remain alert in matters of personal redemption, recite the Vedas and deliver discourses. Respect your mother and father as gods and likewise behold your Guru and guests. Perform good deeds. Model your life to whatever good you've seen in this ashram. This is my message, the quintessence of the Vedas and Upanishads. This is my loving command, so you must obey."
The students, fortified by this sublime knowledge, entered the portal of family living. Their learning played a major role in striking a balance in life. Their learning was conveyed from generation to generation, not merely through speech but also through example. These sages saw to it that their character was never tarnished by material desires.
India is the repository of the noblest spiritual tradition, the only one in the whole world which has been alive throughout the centuries.
The son of Brihaspati, Kacch, desired to learn the 'Sanjeevani Vidya' (knowledge that merits one with the power to revive a dead man). Shukracharya, their opponent, was the only one who could teach him the 'Sanjeevani Vidya.' Shukracharya agreed. During those years of learning, Devayani, daughter of Shukracharya, fell in love with Kacch. She proposed to him but Kachh refused. He said, "I cannot marry you because a Guru's daughter is likened to a sister to all his students." But Devayani, overwhelmed with love pressed Kacch to marry her. Again Kacch refused and didn't for one moment think of sacrificing his character to please the passions of Devayani. The beautiful Devayani, though hurt, rushed to seek her father's aid. Shukracharya, in a tide of sympathy, ignored his duty and summoned Kacch. He insisted that Kacch accept Devayani's hand in marriage. Kacch politely refused. The guru vexed at his disobedience threatened him, "If you do not marry my daughter you shall forget the Sanjeevani Vidya." But Kacch remained undeterred. He remained firm, saying, "Gurudev! I would rather relinquish my Sanjeevani Vidya than be a stigma to the very order of discipleship." He left the guru's ashram forgetting the Sanjeevani Vidya, but adding a feather to the cap of Gurukul Vidya.
Translated by Sadhu Vivekjivandas