Dhyanavanam – A unique experience

January 1, 2017

An entirely new experience was in store for us last week. We had gone for a training workshop, organised by Dr.Raja and Kalpana, the couple who work in Gandhigram University, and have become close family friends over the last few years. This time, the training was held outside the University campus, at Dhyana Vanam, an ashram nearby.

Dhyana Vanam is run by Father Korko Moses – a saffron-clad Jesuit Priest. He manages the ashram, spread over 6.5 acres, mostly alone and with the occasional help of priests who come for training. It has been 5 years since the area has received decent rains; the adjoining dam is dry; yet, there is a bit of greenery left. The mercy of the small showers that morning had added a glow to the green.

Father Korko lives a simple, monastic life. His bedroom offered a sight that I’ve never come across. In the room, built as a pyramidal structure, there was a cot, over 4 feet tall, and a thin mattress over it; there was a makeshift bathroom at one corner. There was nothing else in that room.

“For the first time, I am seeing a room with no material objects,” I commented.
“A few of my possessions are in the office,” he clarified.

The program started after four girls lighted a lamp, and Mahirl Malar sang a song from Thirumurai.

In the large hall, where the program was held, there were pictures of Dalai Lama, Vivekananda, Francis of Assisi, Rumi, Mahavira and other spiritual leaders. He shared with the children, an outline about each of them. There was a picture of Jesus, seated in Padmasana. He said he sees Jesus as a Siddha saint.

Father Korko considers Swami Sadhananda Giri to be his Guru, and has spent many years in Bengal, learning Yoga from him. This Catholic priest has also assumed another name – Swami Saranananda. He has written a book, Yesu Nama Japam in Bengali, and has translated it into English and Tamil.

There is a separate hall for meditation, set amidst serene surroundings. The wall facing the door, has in its middle, a picture which brings together symbols of 12 different religions. On top of it is, inscribed in bold fonts, the Tamil phrase from Thirmoolar, “There is but one religion, and one god.” In the middle of the picture, the figure of a meditating saint is seen.

Founders of all religions attained an enlightened state after deep meditation, says Father Korko.

In front of the picture, Gita, Bible and Koran, are placed open. On the book shelf in the room, several copies of these scriptures were present.

On the first day evening, the 30 children, aged between 10 and 15, quietly sat through a 1-hour session of bhakti songs, the multi-religious song of Vinoba Bhave, meditation, reading of a passage from Bible (related to the couplets from Thirukkural that we saw that day). Father Korko briefed the children about the 12 religions represented in the central picture. He told stories of Buddha.

The meditation ended with an ‘arati’ for the central picture.

We assembled again, at 6am the next morning. After a few physical exercises, we had another round of meditation and singing for an hour. This time, instead of Bible, Father Korko chose a few passages from Gita, and asked me to read aloud. Dr.Raja sang the song of peace, ‘Shanti nilva vendum.’

Later, when I cited Dharmananda Kosambi, who in his well researched and reverent work on Buddha, disputes some of the popular tales as improbable, Father Korko agreed, “Yes, they are myths. Myths are built around all prophets within a few years. These myths are useful to explain their philosophies.”

In between our training sessions, he taught the children Korean dance. They were thrilled.

When Nedya took a session on birds, the children could easily appreciate the connection between people and nature.

The task of taking classes based on Thirukkural was now simplified. In a way, it seemed redundant. When children could see righteousness and love personified by a simple man, right in front of them, what is there to express through words.

The children were split into small groups and sent into the village, to visit at least 5 houses, converse and mingle with the villagers. At some houses, dogs barked at them; at a couple of houses, people did the barking; but largely, people were friendly, invited them inside and offered them something to eat. Though the drought has robbed them of all revenues and jobs, there is moisture left in their hearts.

There is nobody willing or trained, yet, to take over the Dhyana Vanam from Father Korko, and, though he is not someone to be too fussed about future, his longing for a potential successor can be sensed. He feels that this place will be more ideal for seekers than devotees. Though there is no organisational resistance to his work, there doesn’t seem to be any great support either. He travels abroad every year to conduct meditation sessions, and also conducts retreats at the ashram. He raises sufficient funds for running the ashram through these activities. He also holds alcohol de-addiction camps.

He wanted to learn the song on Shiva (Oli valar vilakke) that Mahirl had sung. He asked her to sing again, and recorded it, and noted down the lyrics. He opined that the raga of the song must be Ananda Bhairavi. We didn’t know for sure, who the author was (Thirumaaligaithevar). He took us to his library. The library had the entire collection of Thirumurai in over 20 volumes. He also had the complete collection of Max Muller’s works on Eastern sacred texts. Having left for Bengal at the age of 18, and having spent 38 years of his life there, he felt that he couldn’t gain sufficient exposure to Tamil works.

At the end of the two days, during the feedback session, one young girl mentioned, “I asked the Father if Hindus can read Bible. He said yes. I liked it very much.”

That openness and appreciation for other thoughts is one of the key insights the children would have gained in those two days.


The end of religion and of God

December 27, 2007

We have enough religions and we have had enough of religions. Doomsayers, since Nostradamus times, have been predicting the end of man. Let me, for a change, predict the end of God.

After all, what will God do without men to pray, without men to sin, without men to punish, without men to create religions and perform rituals. Without man, God cannot exist. She (let me balance my male-chauvenist repeated-usage of the word ‘man’ by attributing femininity to ‘God’ – no, it is not meant as an insult to femininity or to God; it is quite common in most non-Judaic traditions) will be bored to death fixing the fate of monkeys and mangroves.

It is disgusting to see religion cause disruption to every form of decent civilised life. Global  anti-Islam campaign masquerading as anti-terror campaign, Gujarat bloodshed given complete legitimacy by repeated electoral victories, anti-Sikh riots still remaining unresolved, Taslima Nasreen and MF Hussain on the run for offending left-wing and right-wing politicians – oh, the list is endless. Why all this tragi-comic tussle over something that doesnt exist. If God was there and if She was as sensible as religions make us believe, would She have scripted such horrendous bloodbaths in her name. Creating a Hitler and Modi and Osama and Bush would not have been my idea of fun. A sensible God could not have presided over such foolishness for centuries.  Existence of an insensible God is difficult to rationalise, even for the hardcore irrational believers.

For the rational mind, the solution for this conundrum is simple – there can be no God, sensible or insensible. The truth is simple but hard to believe and impossible to prove. The castle of lies built over millenia is so impregnable and has been unconquered. The very lie that the rational mind wants to annihilate, consumes and obsesses the mind so much that there is no escape from it for believers and non-believers both. The rational mind is also fickle – in times of adversity or death, when the fear of unknown overcomes it, it takes the escapist route and surrenders in the castle of lies. The known lie is easier to digest than the unknown truth.

Education has no correlation to with rationality. There are doctors and scientists who not only believe in God, but also submit themselves to religion, rituals and riots. Increased levels of literacy and education, as we know it, do not guarantee the end of superstition and religion. But still, I hope, with a certain sense of irrational strength of belief, that there will be a day when man will run out of patience for religion, religion will run out of its utility for mankind and Gods will cease to exist. That day, a new humanity will bloom and man will advance to the next stage of evolution.


Confessions of an atheist

November 6, 2007

An atheist confessed to me, whenever he was in a depressing situation, he wished he was not an atheist. How easy is life for the spiritually inclined…all you need to do is to leave everything to God and trust he will take care of them. But having admitted the truth to oneself – that there cant be any God, it is difficult to disbelieve that truth and leave it all to God. The atheist has to arduosly harbour the burden of his own difficulties. He knows he has to sort it out himself. There will be no divine intervention.

Oh – if only God exists! You can always believe that you will get what you deserve. You just have to be good. As if being good at heart is the end-state (why not). And trust me, it is not difficult to be good. It is much easier than what an atheist believes he needs to be to succeed (in material terms) – hard working, smart, intelligent,…,there is an endless list.

In good times, the atheist doesnt know how long it will last and he knows he has to be constantly striving hard to make it last longer. In bad times, the atheist doesnt know where to turn to. He has to continue to trust himself and his abilities to wriggle out of the bad times. The joy of good times is lost in the effort to sustain it and prolong it. The agony of bad times is compounded by the inability to turn away from it. Paradise lost can be regained. But belief lost is lost forever.

There is a certain serenity in believing in serendipidity and the atheist is forever deprived of it. No wonder man made Gods. And religions to keep the myth alive.