RAVIDASA: PHILOSOPHER OF SOCIAL CHANGE - The Daily Guardian
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RAVIDASA: PHILOSOPHER OF SOCIAL CHANGE

What distinguishes Ravidasa from other Bhakti saints is not only his birth in the lowest caste, but also the fact that he unleashed a frontal attack on the caste-based system of social exclusion and untouchability by using non-violent methods.

Ashok Vohra

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G uru Ravidasa is probably the first crusader after Gautam Buddha who adopted peaceful means to revolt against the age old Brahamanical caste system. Guru Ravidasa, also known as Raidasa, Rohidasa, Ruidasa, Ramadasa, Raedasa, Rohitasa, Rahdesa, Rav Das and Rab Das, was the most influential Bhakti saint in northern India. He was born in village Seer Goverdhanpur near Varanasi in a well-to-do chamar (Kutbandhla) family, engaged in the leather and tanning business, on 30 January 1399. His parents, Mata Kalsi and father Santokh Das, wanted him to join the family business. However, with his inherent craving for spirituality, he left home with his wife Lona in search of God. He set up a small wayside shop to mend shoes for his living.

Like most other saints of the Bhakti tradition, Ravidasa too articulated his teachings in the form of hymns (Bani) in his regional language. Excerpts of Ravidas’s Bani are found in Adi Granth of Sikhs, and Panchvani of the Dadu Panthis. Adi Guru Granth Sahib contains forty hymns and one couplet of Ravidasa.

Ravidasa rejected dualism (dvaitvaad) and argued for monism. According to him, man and God are not two distinct entities but one. Human soul is a minuscule part of the Absolute. The relationship between them is like the relation between an ornament and Gold; water and wave. He holds that the lover and the beloved are one and says, “You are me, and I am You—what is the difference between us?” By using this analogy, he explains the complex Vedantic thesis: “Aham brahmasmi tat tvam asi (I am Brahman, so are you.”

 Ravidasa preached the essential unity of different forms of God, and believed in the omnipresence and omnipotence of only one God. He practised and advocated bhakti of the formless—nirguna God. According to him, reciting the name of Hari (God)—naama jap—is the most effective way of realising the oneness of God and the presence of the divine in everyone and everything. Though a leather-worker belonging to the lowest caste, Ravidasa was elevated to the status of saint through singing incessantly praises of the Lord (kirtan). People of all the four castes bowed at his feet. He says, “It is my occupation to dress and cut leather; each day, I carry the carcasses out of the city. Now, the important Brahmins of the city bow down before me.”

Ravidasa advised his followers not to indulge in slandering, being jealous of others, telling lies, spreading rumors, and harming fellow beings either in word or in deed. He preached love and devotion through his Bani. His hymns have a universal appeal. His preaching and practice persuaded his followers to give up all forms of religious ritualism like taking bath in holy rivers like Ganges, visiting sacred shrines, keeping fasts, and idol worship. Condemning the ritual of taking a holy bath, in one of his verses he says, “Outwardly, he washes with water, but deep within, his heart is tarnished by all sorts of vices. So how can he become pure? His method of purification is like that of an elephant, covering himself with dust right after his bath!”.

Initially, Ravidasa faced many problems in the then prevalent Brahmanical social structure. However, his ability to resolve spiritual doubts of those who held discussions with him in simple language and his authentic lifestyle won him many disciples, including those who belonged to the higher castes. Rajput queen Mirabai regarded him as her guru. She said, “Guru Milyaa Ravidasa Ji…” Among other notable followers were Rani Jhali of Chittor, Prince Veer Singh Dev Vaghela of Rewa and the Prince of Kashi.

As a protest against the insulting and discriminatory behaviour meted out to him and his Dalit followers, Ravidasa dressed like the upper caste Brahmins. He put a tilak on his forehead, wore a janeu (sacred thread) and clad himself in a dhoti. All these were prohibited for the lower castes. Though dressed like an upper caste, he openly declared his caste and continued with his profession of mending shoes. By this act he proved that the lower castes while adopting the dress code and symbols of the upper castes, could still keep their identity intact.

He was painfully aware of the humiliation suffered by the members of his caste. That is why besides adoration, boundless love and longing for formless God, his hymns are also about the “hope for a better world and a fight against exploiters, power-holders and oppression going on under the name of religion”. Though his Bani is full of humility and devotion, yet it is replete with reformatory zeal and concern for the downtrodden. For the improvement of the condition of the oppressed and exploited, he did not expect any help from anyone else. So, he advocated selfhelp for eliminating sufferings of fellow Dalits and their upliftment. They themselves have to struggle peacefully for their human right and civic liberties.

 In the ideal state of his dreams, there would be no discrimination on the basis of caste and religion; there would be no graded system of hierarchy; there would be no untouchability; everyone would be free from the burden of taxes and worries of food. In his Bani he envisages an ideal society: “In such a society there will be equality and freedom for all. It will be a city without sorrow and fear./There is no second or third status;/all are equal there”. Everyone in the ideal state would engage in kirat (manual work). To such a state he gives the name Begumpura—city free from sorrows. Incidentally, this was also Mahatma Gandhi’s idea of bread labour. In such a state, as Rabindranath Tagore says, “Mind is without fear and the head is held high.”

 What distinguishes Ravidasa from other Bhakti saints is not only his birth in the lowest caste, but also the fact that he unleashed a frontal attack on the caste-based system of social exclusion and untouchability by using the unique non-violent method of Bhakti to contest the oppressive structures of social domination. To re-establish the dignity and fraternity of the Dalits he wanted to dismantle the age old varnashram vyavastha (four-fold division of society based on graded rank system in caste hierarchy) by showing that lower castes were not beyond the pale of spiritual knowledge, and that Brahmins were in fact “hollow figures pumped up with false pride and hypocrisy”.

To do so Ravidasa adopted a unique method. Instead of “bluntly snubbing the arrogance of higher castes, he undertook to raise the dignity of his own caste and profession, so that the higher castes could come to realise the shallowness of their self-imposed superiority”. This method synthesised the paths of radical separation and assimilation.

 To condemn the division of mankind on the basis of caste, he argued that if God created all human beings and resided in all of them, and if the same God pervaded the entire humanity, then it is foolish to divide the society on the basis of caste. In one of his hymns he said, “Whoever is my fellow citizen, is my friend.” Even the notion of God conceived by Ravidasa is not humble at all in the typical sense of the term, He is graceful; He is not indifferent to the downtrodden; He elevates and purifies the so-called untouchables. The God of Ravidasa is rather bold who is not afraid of anyone.

The writer is former Professor of Philosophy, Delhi University, Delhi.

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WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE MERCIFUL?

B.K. Geeta

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All religions have their own beliefs and principles, but they have one thing in common — their adherents seek compassion or blessings.

Compassion is regarded as the essence of every religion. If someone is lacking in kindness, or is not compassionate, they are not considered religious. Religion is equated with compassion.

The foremost quality of a spiritual or religious person is kindness — towards the self, the people they come in contact with, and the world at large. We need to ask ourselves if we are always kind and merciful with everyone, or does our kindness vary from person to person.

Who needs kindness? One who is weak, deprived, or in some kind of bondage. Such persons wish to be treated kindly and mercifully, and even if they have no such desire, a generous person will have good wishes for them.

A kind and charitable attitude can melt even a stone-hearted person. It can turn enemies into friends. But for that one must have compassion, a quality that is very much in need today.

The sign of a compassionate soul is that they will be virtuous and humble. They will also be generous. Being kind and merciful with others when they need it can resolve many interpersonal issues.

Those who are magnanimous do not expect anything from others; they give love and respect unconditionally. They do not count how many times they have been nice to someone. “They were rude to me, so I responded in kind”, “They did this, that is why I reacted that way” — these are not the words of a large-hearted soul.

Being merciful means to be kind to everyone regardless of what they are like or how they speak or behave.

B.K. Geeta is a senior Rajyoga teacher at the Brahma Kumaris headquarters in Abu Road, Rajasthan

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MAHA SHIVRATRI: THE MOST MOMENTOUS DAY IN THE CALENDAR

Jane Kay

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Festivals of all kinds are days of celebration. However, religious festivals are also memorials. They are a reminder and a celebration of greatness, be that of an event or a person. To someone from the west, India seems like the very land of festivals! A cornucopia of colour, joy, music and even reverence and sometimes solemnity. However, to the discerning eye, one festival shines like a beacon above all of the others, Maha Shivratri.

It is a festival of hope. It is a festival bringing the promise of light and the end of darkness, the beginning of spring, and renewal.

Most cultures across the world have some way of welcoming spring after the desolation of winter, but in India it is very different. This particular festival is celebrated by Hindu communities, wherever they may be, but the memorial is of Shiva, the Supreme Father of all souls, first making Himself known in Bharat. Perhaps those who grow up celebrating this day never question the wonder of that. To someone from the west it is astonishing, because it means that this incorporeal Father Shiva, the Supreme Benefactor Soul, the Father of all of us souls, must have definitely come at some point, or this memorial would not exist.

This Supreme Soul must have actually appeared here on Earth, and that too in India, to bring an end to a world of darkness, of suffering, of sorrow, of confusion, and bring forth a world of peace and beauty.

The world we live in now could hardly be darker than it is or hold more suffering than it does. There could be no time more in need of the reappearance of such a Divine Being.

It could be said that this festival has been celebrated since ‘time immemorial’, that it began so long ago that no one can remember how it began. Of course, if time is linear, then casting the mind back to recall an event of this magnitude would be almost, if not certainly, impossible. However, if time is cyclical, the end will reach the beginning, and scenes that have only been remembered will actually be witnessed again.

Could it not be, that it is now that the most significant and powerful event in the whole wonderful story of humanity is re-enacted? It seems like a very good time to consider that possibility.

Jane Kay is a university teaching fellow in the UK, and a Rajyoga teacher.

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TRUTH, COURAGE BRING THE POWER TO FACE CHALLENGES

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There are so many things we have to face in our lives each day. Situations which feel insurmountable and beyond our control, fear of what might happen, attacks and insults. Then there is the inner weakening – feeling a lack of self-worth, and doubt in the self’s ability to deal with things. Yet when we invoke, awaken and develop the power to face, then no situation becomes too fearsome to handle.

The power to face sees the emergence of the feeling that, no matter what, I will be able to overcome this and transform through this. It can be called faith, and behind it is courage and truth. Courage is a close companion of truth. If there is truth, I can sustain a high level of courage. If there is no truth, there is no courage; if there is no courage, there is no power to face and then I become overwhelmed with worry, stress, anxiety. Eventually, illness develops.

The challenges that we have to face in life are, in fact, tests of our resolve, our limits and the boundaries of our capabilities. For external situations there are skills we can develop to handle them; ‘hard skills’ or ‘sub-skills’ and ‘soft skills’ as they are often referred to.

However, these skills are also rooted in how we feel about ourselves. This is where one of the most difficult terrains to negotiate lies; that of the internal. If I do not recognise that my feelings of unworthiness, self-doubt and self-criticism are weaknesses, then they will rob me of my dreams.

I need to understand that challenges are like test papers at school — and when I pass the exams, I graduate. So, I need to reframe the context of life; understand that everything is accurate, the cards I am dealt are the cards that I have.

So, where is the truth? What is the meaning within what is happening right now?

These are tough, important questions to ask the self and it needs the power to face. The power to face also has a companionship with many other powers; it cannot work alone. For example, if I do not have the power to discern, I cannot see what is true and what is not true. If I cannot see what is true, then I cannot employ the power to face. Cultivating the other spiritual powers enhances the capacity to face.

This is why meditation is so important. Meditation gives us deep understanding of the self and is often referred to as a kind of fire. This fire ignites the faith to be able to bring the answers to those questions out into the open so they can be looked at with compassion and honesty and can be cleaned and transformed.

It is in this fire of courage and truth that dark can become light and alloy become gold. I will also be able to see my weaknesses and strengths. Recognising these strengths will help me resolve the weaknesses.

Meditation helps us to build reserves of patience, tolerance, compassion and mercy that allow transformation to happen safely and quietly. It gives insights and helps the soul to fully understand the eternal.

I am a soul having a human experience, and the more this becomes a fully realised truth, the more I experience deep stability, and fear finishes. The fear created by the false ego, the identification of the self as a physical body, disappears, because it is not real.

I need to practise this awareness of being an eternal being of light in meditation every day, and at various times during the day. This practice of silence will bring honesty, and a loving and compassionate heart to be able to exercise my power to face.

Gopi Patel is a spiritual educator and senior Rajyogi meditator with the Brahma Kumaris, specialising in spiritual pragmatism in all areas of life.

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WE GET RESPECT ACCORDING TO OUR BEHAVIOUR

Dadi Janki

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People like to be shown respect; many believe it to be a right. However, as in the case of most rights, there is responsibility attached to it. This responsibility needs to be understood in order for us to become worthy of respect.

True respect does not come from what we do, as much as how we do it. This means that we are shown respect according to the virtues and qualities revealed though our behaviour.

Respect is not a matter of supply and demand. On the contrary, if people pick up that we are even slightly in need of respect, they will usually turn away from us completely. This is because the need to be respected indicates a gap somewhere in our sense of self — and most people are so busy trying to fill their own gaps, they get annoyed at the prospect of having to fill someone else’s.

Be suspicious of any desire on your part for respect. Indeed, such thoughts are a sure sign that no one is going to give it to you anyway. The very act of trying to get respect from others proves you to be unworthy of it.

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Spiritual growth depends on awareness

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Spiritual growth is a journey, and it is dependent on the experiences, either momentary or prolonged, of spiritual awareness, or it could be called enlightenment. These experiences are essential for growth and yet sometimes we do not even acknowledge them, or they pass us by, unexplored. Sometimes of course, they have an extraordinary impact, and instantly move us forward on our journey.

Spiritual enlightenment has a purpose; it is for the introduction to the soul, the real being, the loving and peaceful self. It is also for the union of the soul with the Supreme Soul. In this connection the soul is free from fear, darkness and pain. Finally, it is for the realisation of the role I play on this world stage, the drama of the circle of life.

So, we need to make ourselves open to and aware of the moments of spiritual enlightenment that come our way, often based on the efforts we make, but often like a powerful gift and message, unasked for.

When we are open and become aware of these moments, or even the sustained experiences in meditation, we need to be curious about what is happening. We need to explore the experience, initially on the level of thought.

For example, there may be the thought that I am experiencing deep peace of a kind different from that which I have been aware of before. Then I can absorb this thought into a deep feeling of peace and let it emanate from me, as this is what I really am. I become that experience.

Once the soul begins to have experiences of this kind and becomes aware of its own light and power, then there is a growing understanding of the source of all spiritual energy, the Supreme Soul, God.

This awareness deepens the connection, in meditation, with that being, the Parent, the Teacher, the Guide, and the deeper and more frequent the connection, the more the experiences of enlightenment and the more the spiritual growth.

Experiences of enlightenment then, bring the realisation of the soul, of God, the Supreme Soul, and the further, the understanding of the role the soul plays. I realise I am an actor on this world stage. The body is the costume, and the director is the Supreme Soul. Then I become a true star of light and peace.

Gayatri Naraine represents the Brahma Kumaris at the United Nations in New York.

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GREED BEGETS MORE GREED AND ONLY LEADS TO TROUBLES IN LIFE

Greed makes man run after profits in life but end up only with a sense of loss each time. In order to truly earn riches and live to the fullest, we must learn from Buddha and not be motivated by greed in life.

Arun Malhotra

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When man is born, he is born in the fullness of his own being. Size does not matter because it changes with time. But the very reason that man is born is because he lacks something. His desire wants him to live. His birth lends him the opportunity to accomplish what he yearns for. But most men end up creating more unfulfilled desires which keep on lending them new births, making them go in circles. Eventually, most men die unfulfilled and dissatisfied.

However, Buddha was different. Buddha was born to the wealthiest family in the land. His parents were warned that the boy would become an ascetic and all precautions were observed accordingly. But when Sidhartha Gautam saw an old, diseased man and a dead man, he left the kingdom in search of the truth and went on to be blessed with all that man desires.

Desires lead to thoughts. You become part of the rat race. You want money so you can fulfil desires in the future instantly, so that poverty does not create a gap between desire and its fulfilment. This makes you greedy. Greed becomes an innate state of the mind. One begins to look at everything in life with greed. Life becomes a game of profit and loss. You start thinking that life would be easy when your desires are fulfilled instantly, but this only aggravates your worries and suffering, causing a sense of loss. Thus, your greed will always land you in losses.

Greed is an obsessive and excessive longing for the undesirable desire for money, power, fame, etc. The world has enough to satisfy everyone’s needs but our greed is what is making the world fall short of things now. A sense of saving up in a time of scarcity and spending in a state of abundance is natural. But the kind of greed which makes you feel like you can never have enough has become the biggest problem in the world. Humans have not learnt when to hit the pause button and that is taking a toll on our environment, their air and water around us, and everything else that is priceless, including our life. Greed is the reason for other problems in the world too, like climate change, poverty, resource gap, racism, discrimination, inflation, power struggle, corporate empires, high interest rates and terror.

A sense of greed is like a permanent sense of loss because one has already assumed profits in everything he does. The profits you earn out of greed will also run you into losses. And when you want to get rid of greed, you actually want to get rid of the sense of loss because greed has taught you to loathe loss. It is a very delicate situation. If greed had given you great peace and not worries, would you have wanted to give it up? But because of greed, which makes you fear losses, you end up never ridding yourself greed, instead clutching it firmly.

firmly. Greed can show you big dreams. It can create a dream world. But it can give you neither loss nor profit. You have to wake up to your greed. It is nothing but a state of intoxication, which leads to chaos. In greed you make new friends, family, bonds and networks which take a toll on existing friendships, family and social order. Greed thus brings only a sense of loss in life.

When you do some work or business, the obvious result is either profit or loss. It is natural. But your greed does not let that happen – it turns all profits into losses. In fact, a sense of greed cannot make you wealthier, more popular or more powerful. It can make you neither poor nor rich. It yields no profits or losses. It is an empty word.

In business, there is a motive of earning profit and reducing loss, but businesses should be run without being greedy. If you do it right, profit is likely to come. But greed has no place in business. Profits or losses do not come by greed—in fact, chances are that your worries will actually lead you to make more mistakes. And since greed is an assumption of profit earned in advance, chances of experiencing loss are the highest.

The greedy mind then wishes to change the definition of success. If in this momentary world, the greedy mind looks up to building permanent assets in the heavens, remember that those heavens will only be a creation of this greed.

A sense of greed indicates the absence of your being. Your arrival into your being should prompt the departure of greed. Greed is like darkness and the moment the light of your sense of being is lit, that darkness disappears.

But greed is precious to you. To understand greed, you have to look at greed in its naked state. Don’t think of ridding yourself of greed from the vision of avoiding losses or suffering. Greed does not give you worries—you are worried because of your thoughts which make you greedy. Greed itself is an empty shell. It cannot kill your ego. Your ego will keep on postponing life for tomorrow in the guise of greed. Then death will come to cut your long story short and you will blame it on greed. But it was not greed which wanted to win, it was your mind and your own ego.

So, don’t look at life with greed. It can deliver neither profit nor loss. It is an impotent desire. Understand that greed is nothing. Don’t give it any importance. If you do that, greed will change directions. Just accept greed for what it is. It is there—don’t fight it. See greed wakefully. One day when wakefulness emerges, you will find that greed was nothing but unconsciousness. Remember life is not made of greed. We should plan to earn as much as is required for us to lead a life as per our free will and learn to sense the danger of greed and hit pause.

The author is a spiritual teacher and an independent advisor on policy, governance and leadership. He can be contacted at arunavlokitta@gmail.com.

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