Friday, June 15, 2012

Guru - Pandurang Shastri Athavale (Swadhyaya)

Pandurang Shastri Athavale, lovingly knows as Dada (elder brother), founder of Swadhyaya (swa-di’-a-ya) movement, is the recipient of the prestigious Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.  Based on Vedanta philosophy, Swadhyaya literally means the study, knowledge and discovery of the “Self.”

Swadhyaya is based on the philosophy of the Bhagawad Gita. Tat twam asi (That thou art) and Aham-brahma-asmi (I am divine) are the twin principles of the Vedanta on which the Swadhyaya movement is founded.
Dadaji's philosophy is as follows:

·         God exists.

·         God exists within me.

·         That makes me divine and worthy of self-respect.

·         That makes others divine and worthy of respect.

·         Since God exists, and exists within me, it follows that God also exists within the whole universe.  Everything in this universe is therefore divine and to be reverenced.

·         This means that my attitude towards myself, others and the universe is one of respect and reverence.

·         It also means I am related to everything in the Universe by virtue of having a common creator.

·         The above two points motivate me to care for the welfare of others, for I am related to them.  And respect pre-empts me from damaging them in any way.

·         Over and above this, the central reality of my existence is God, and my only aim in life is to realize the God within me.  How may I do that?  Through the three Vedic paths of jnana, bhakti, and karma.  Jnana is the path of knowledge or self-study (Swadhyaya) which indicates not only introspection but knowing the self through knowing others.

·         Bhakti is an understanding of God’s nearness to me and my relation to Him.  Such an awareness fills me with love and gratitude to Him for looking after my welfare, and motivates me to do something for him, which is to look after His universe.

·         The path of self-realization through karma lies in selfless action, when one does one’s duty with no consideration for profit or loss.

·         All three paths to self-realization, therefore, lead me towards humanity and the universe, which motivates me once again to have its welfare at heart.

In Dadaji’s scheme of things, therefore, contradictions do not exist.  The spiritual and the material aspects of life are perfectly welded, as are individual and collective welfare.  His vision of man is that of a perfectly integrated being, who is linked through bonds of respect, devotion and brotherhood to himself, to others and to the universe.  Such a man has confidence and self-respect.  His awareness of divinity fills him with heroism, courage and the determination to live life to the fullest.  His ideals are noble and unfaltering, for he never loses sight of his ultimate aim of self-realization.  And his commitment to the welfare of humanity and the universe is unshakeable.  Such a man not only leads a joyful. Full, successful and noble life, he does so through helping others realize it.  He is also highly rational.  For his self-respect frees his mind of slavery and enables him to discriminate good from bad.

All in all, Swadhyaya recognizes that what human beings need, besides food, shelter and security, essentially consists of the following:

·         Self-dignity and esteem for one’s cultural heritage,

·         a sense of becoming,

·         a sense of pursuing worthy ideals,

·         a sense of belonging to a worthy group

·         a sense of being in command of one’s destiny,

·         a sense of wholeness, and

·         a sense of justice in the larger order.

Dada is a supporter of Varnavyavastha (four-fold division of ancient Indian social order), but he gives it an entirely new meaning.  For him, everyone who does God’s work is a Brahmin since God resides in him.  An asprashya (untouchable) is one who has been deserted by God.  Cultivators are bhumiputras (sons of the soil); fishermen are sagarputras (sons of the sea), with allusion of their linkage with Matsyavatar (the first of Vishnu’s incarnations).  Even the lowly coolies (porters) become Vasudev sena (army of Vasudev), alluding to the mythological story that Vasudev had carried his son, Krishna, in a basket on his head across the flooded river Yamuna.  The idea is that, in keeping with the heritage of the people, each group must be imbued with a sense of pride in its occupation, thus empowering them to discard the traditional docility that was associated with their lowly avocations.

Born in 1922 into an erudite family, “The Maharashtrian saint” of Brahmin upbringing, Dada does not reject tradition as part of building a new social order; he uses it to bring far-reaching changes to the existing order. He probes the whyness of Hindu tenets rather than blindly accepting thoughts held sacred by traditionalists or dry scholarship.

The 1991 movie “Antarnaad” (Hindi: अंतरनाद) ("Inner voice"), made by Shyam Benegal, is based on the Swadhyaya Movement by Pandurang Shastri Athavale. The lead actors are Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Girish Karnad, Shabana Azmi, Om Puri.

Revered as an Activist Philosopher, Dadaji died on October 25, 2003 at the age of 83, in Khetwadi in South Mumbai, India.

(Excerpts from The book “Vital Connections : Self, Society, God – Perspectives on Swadhyaya” .  Edited and with an introduction by Raj Krishan Srivastava)


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