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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

On Spirituality-Javed Akhtar and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar both participated in India Today Conclave– where Javed Akhtar delivered this speech. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar responded to it later (not at the conclave)


On Spirituality-Javed Akhtar and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar both participated in India Today Conclave– where Javed Akhtar delivered this speech. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar responded to it later (not at the conclave)

Speech by JAVED AKHTAR at India Today Conclave

I am quite sure ladies and gentlemen, that in this august assembly nobody wouldenvy my position at this moment. Speaking after such a charismatic andformidable personality like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is like coming out of thepavilion to play after Tendulkar has made a sparkling century. But in some weakmoment I had committed myself.

There are certain things that I would like to make very clear at the veryoutset. Dont get carried away by my name Javed Akhtar. I am not revealing asecret, I am saying something that I have said many times, in writing or on TV,in public I am an atheist, I have no religious beliefs. And obviously I dontbelieve in spirituality of some kind. Some kind!

Another thing. I am not standing here to criticize, analyze, or attack thisgentleman who is sitting here. We have a very pleasant, civilized relation. Ihave always found him to be an extremely courteous person.

One is talking about an idea, an attitude, a mindset. Not any individual. Imust tell you that when Rajeev opened this session, for a moment I felt that Ihave come to the wrong place. Because, if we are discussing the philosophy ofKrishan and Gautam and Kabir, Vivekanand, then I have nothing to say. I can sitdown right now. I am not here to discuss a glorious past of which I supposeevery Indian is proud, and rightly so. I am here to discuss a dubious present.

India Today has invited me and I have come here to talk of spiritualitytoday. Let’s not be confused by this word spirituality, you can find two peoplewith the same name and they can be totally different people. Ram Charit Manaswas written by Tulsidas. And the television film has been made by RamanandSagar. Ramayan is common but I dont think it would be very wise to clubTulsidas with Ramanand Sagar. I remember, when he had written Ramcharit Manas,he had faced a kind of a social boycott. How could he write a holy book in sucha language like Avadhi? Sometimes I wonder fundamentalists of all hues and allcolors, religions and community show how similar they are. In 1798, a gentlemancalled Shah Abdul Qadir, in this very city, for the first time translated Quranin Urdu, and all the ulemas of that time gave fatwa against him that how couldhe translate this holy book in such a heathen language.

When Tulsi wrote Ramcharit Manas and he was boycotted, I remember a chowpaithat he had written.

*Dhut kaho abdhut kaho rajput kaho ki julawa kohu*
*Kohu ki beti se beta na biahab, kohu ki jaat bigaar na chahu*
*Mang ke khaibo, mehjid ma raihbo, lebe ka ek na debe ka dohu*

Ramanand Sagar, when he made his television serial, he made millions. I amnot undermining him, but obviously he is much lower in the rung. I will giveyou another example. Perhaps it would be more direct and more appropriate.Gautam came out of a palace and went into wilderness to find the truth. Butnowadays we see, the modern age gurus, come out of the wilderness and wind upin the palaces. They are moving in the opposite direction. We can’t talk ofthem in the same breath. So let us not hide behind names which are dear andrespectable for every Indian.

When I was invited to give this talk, I felt that yes, I am an atheist, tryto be a rationalist in any given situation, Maybe that’s why I have beencalled. But suddenly I have realized that there is another quality that I sharewith Modern Age gurus. I work in films. We have lot in common. Both of us, selldreams, both of us create illusions, both of us create icons, but with adifference. After three hours we put a placard ‘the end’. Go back to reality.They don’t.

So ladies and gentlemen, let me make it very clear that I have come to talkof this spirituality that has a supermarket in the world. Arms, drugs andspirituality these are the three big businesses in the world. But in arms anddrugs you really have to do something, give something. That’s the difference.Here you don’t have to give anything.

In this supermarket you get instant Nirvana, Moksha by mail, a crash coursein self realization, cosmic consciousness in four easy lessons. Thissupermarket has its chain all over the world, where the restless elite buyspiritual fast food. I am talking about this spirituality.

Plato in his dialogues has said many a wise thing, and one of them is beforestarting any discussion decide on the meanings of words. Let us try to decideon the meaning of this word spirituality. Does it mean love for mankind thattranscends all religion, caste, creed, race? Is that so? Then I have noproblem. Except that I call it humanity. Does it mean love of plants, trees,mountains, oceans, rivers, animals? The non-human world? If that is so, again Ihave no problem at all. Except that I call it environmental consciousness. Doesspirituality mean heartfelt regard for social institutions like marriage,parenthood, fine arts, judiciary, freedom of expression. I have no problemagain sir, how can I disagree here? I call it civil responsibility. Doesspirituality mean going into your own world trying to understand the meaning ofyour own life? Who can object on that? I call it self-introspection, selfassessment. Does spirituality mean Yoga? Thanks to Patanjali, who has given usthe details of Yoga, *Yam, Yatam, aasan, pranayam*We may do it under any name,but if we are doing pranayam, wonderful. I call it health-care. Physicalfitness.

Now is it a matter of only semantics. If all this is spirituality, then whatis the discussion. All these words that I have used are extremely respectableand totally acceptable words. There is nothing abstract or intangible aboutthem. So why stick to this word spirituality? What is there in spirituality thathas not been covered by all these words? Is there something? If that is so thenwhat is that?

Somebody in return can ask me what is my problem with this word. I am askingto change it, leave it, drop it, make it obsolete but why so? I will tell youwhat is my reservation. If spirituality means all this then there is nodiscussion. But there is something else which makes me uneasy. In a dictionary,the meaning of spirituality is rooted in a word called spirit. When mankinddidn’t know whether this earth is round or flat, he had decided that humanbeings are actually the combination of two things. Body and spirit. Body istemporary, it dies. But the spirit is, shall I say, non-biodegradable. In yourbody you have a liver and heart and intestines and the brain, but since thebrain is a part of the body, and mind lies within the brain, it is inferiorbecause ultimately the brain too shall die with the body, but don’t worry, youare not going to die, because you are your spirit, and the spirit has thesupreme consciousness that will remain, and whatever problem you have isbecause you listen to your mind. Stop listening to your mind. Listen to yourspirit – the supreme consciousness that knows the cosmic truth. All right. Itsnot surprising that in Pune there is an ashram and I used to go there. I lovedthe oratory. On the gate of the lecture hall there was a placard. Leave yourshoes and minds here. There are other gurus who don’t mind if you carry yourshoes. But minds? Sorry!

Now, if you leave your mind what do you do? You need the Guru to find thenext station of consciousness. That hides somewhere in the spirit. He hasreached the supreme consciousness, he knows the supreme truth. But can he tellyou. No sir, he cannot tell you. So can you find out on your own? No sir, youneed the guru for that. You need him but he cannot guarantee that you will knowthe ultimate truth and what is that ultimate truth? What is the cosmic truth?Relating to cosmos? I have really not been able to understand that. The momentwe step out of the solar system the first star is Alpha Centuari. It is justfour light years away. How do I relate to that!! What do I do!!

So the emperor is wearing robes that only the wise can see. And the emperoris becoming bigger and bigger. And there are more and more wise people who areappreciating the robe.

I used to think that actually spirituality is the second line of defense forthe religious people. When they get embarrassed about traditional religion,when it starts looking too down-market, they hide behind this smokescreen ofcosmos and super consciousness. But that is not the complete truth. Because theclientele of traditional religion and spirituality is different. You take themap of the world, you start marking places which are extremely religious,within India or outside India, Asia, Latin America, Europe wherever. You willfind that wherever there is lot of religion there is lack of human rights.There is repression. Anywhere. Our Marxist friends used to say that religion isthe opium of poor masses, the sigh of the oppressed. I don’t want to get intothat discussion. But spirituality nowadays is definitely the tranquilizer ofthe rich.

You see that the clientele is well heeled, it is the affluent class.Alright, so the guru gets power, high self esteem, status, wealth (which is notthat important), power and lot of wealth too. What does the disciple get? WhenI looked at them carefully I realized that there are categories and categoriesof these disciples. Its not a monolith. There are different kinds of followers.Different kinds of disciples. One, who is rich, successful, doing extremelywell in his life, making money, gaining property. Now, since he has everythinghe wants absolution too. So guru tells him – whatever you are doing, is *niskaamkarma *you are playing a role, this is all *Maya*, the money that you aremaking everyday and the property that you are acquiring, you are notemotionally involved with it. You are just playing a role. You come to mebecause you are in search of eternal truth. Maybe your hands are dirty, butyour spirit and soul are pure. And this man, he starts feeling wonderful abouthimself. For seven days he is exploiting the world, and at the end of the sevendays when he goes and sits at the feet of the guru, he feels I am a sensitiveperson

There is another category. That too comes from the affluent class. But he isnot the winner like the first one. You know winning or losing that is alsorelative. A rickshaw-wallah if he is gambling on the pavement and wins hundredrupees will feel victorious, and if a corporate man makes only 300 milliondollars, while his brother is a billionaire, he will feel like a failure. Now,what does this rich failure do? He needs a guru to tell him who says that youhave failed? You have other worlds, you have another vision, you have othersensibility that your brother doesn’t have. He thinks that he is successful,wrong. The world is very cruel, you know. The world tells you honestly, no sir,you have got three out of ten. The other person has seven out of ten. Fair.They will treat you that way and they will meet you that way. There he getscompassion. There he plays another game.

Another category. And I will talk about this category not with contempt orwith any sense of superiority, not any bitterness, but all the compassionavailable one that is a very big client of this modern day guru and today’sspirituality, is the unhappy rich wife. Here is a person who put all herindividuality, aspirations and dreams, and her being at the altar of marriageand in return she got an indifferent husband. Who at the most gave her a coupleof children. Who is rather busy with his work, or busy with other women. Thiswoman needs a shoulder. She knows that she is an existential failure. There isnothing to look forward to. She has a vacuous, empty, comfortable yetpurposeless life. It’s sad, but it is true.

Then there are other people. Who are suddenly traumatized. They lose achild. The wife dies. The husband dies. Or they lose the property, they losetheir business. Something happens that shocks them and they ask why me? So whodo they ask? They go to the Guru. And the guru tells him that this is Karma.But there is another world if you follow me. Where there is no pain. Wherethere is no death. Where there is immortality. Where there is only bliss. Hetells all these unhappy souls follow me and I will take you to heaven, toparadise, where there is no pain. I am sorry sir, it is disappointing but truethat there is no such paradise. Life will always have a certain quota of pain,of hurts, a possibility of defeats. But they do get some satisfaction.

Somebody may ask me if they are feeling better, if they are getting peacethen what is your problem. It reminds me of a story that I have read. It’s anold Indian story told by a sage, that a hungry dog finds a dry bone and triesto eat it and in the process bites its own tongue. And the tongue is bleedingand the dog feels that he is getting nourishment from the bone. I feel sad. Idon’t want them, these adults, to behave like this because I respect them.Drugs and alcohol are also supposed to give mental peace and serenity, but isthat kind of piece or serenity desirable or advisable?

The answer is no. Any mental peace that is not anchored in rational thoughtsis nothing but self-deception. Any serenity that takes you away from truth isjust an illusion, a mirage. I know that there is a kind of a security in thiswhich is like the security of a tri-cycle. If you are riding a tri-cycle youcan’t fall. But adults do not ride tricycles. They ride bi-cycles. They caneven fall. It is a part of life.

There is one more kind. Like everybody who is the member of the golf club isnot fond of golf. In the same way everybody who is seen in an ashram is not aspiritual person. A film producer who is an ardent follower of a guru, whoseashram is about two hours from Delhi once told me that you must go to my Guru.You will see the who’s who of Delhi there. Let me tell you my Guruji is anotherChandraswami in the making. Now this is a contact point for networking. I havegreat respect for people who are spiritual, or religious, and in spite of thisthey are good people. And I have a reason. I believe that like every emotion orfeeling, you have a limitation.

You can see up to a point. And you can’t see further. You can hear up to apoint, but beyond that you won’t be able to register sounds. You can mourn upto a point and then you will get over your mourning. You will feel happy up-toa point and then you will be through with your happiness. Same way, I am surethat you have a certain capacity for nobility also. You can be as noble and nomore. Now suppose if we count this capacity for nobility in the average man asten units, now anybody who goes to pray in a mosque five times is consuming hisfive units, there anybody who goes to the temple or sits in the feet of theGuru, he is consuming his quota of nobility there. And in a totallynon-productive manner. I don’t go to pray. I don’t pray. If I don’t go to anyguru, or mosque or temple or church, what do I do with my quota of nobility. Iwill have to help somebody, feed somebody, give shelter to somebody. People whouse their quota in worshipping, praying, adoring religious figures andspiritual figures, in spite of that, if they are left with some nobility, hatsoff to them.

You may ask me, that if I have this kind of ideas about religious people,why should I show such reverence for Krishan and Kabir and Gautam? You can askme. I’ll tell you why I respect them. These were the great contributors in thehuman civilization. They were born in different points of time in history, indifferent situations. But one thing is common in them. They stood up againstinjustice. They fought for the downtrodden. Whether it was Ravana, or Kansha orthe pharaoh or the high priests or the British Samrajya in front of Gandhi orthe communal empire of Firoze Tughlaq in the times of Kabir, they stood againstthat.

And what surprises me, and confirms my worst feelings, that today, theenlightened people who know the cosmic truth, none of them stand up against thepowers that be. None of them raises his voice against the ruling classes andthe privileged classes. Charity, yes, when it is approved and cleared by theestablishment and the powers that be. But I want to know which was that guruwhich took the dalits to those temples which are still closed to them. I wantto know which was that guru who stood for the rights of the Adivasis againstthe thekedaars and contractors. I want to know which was that guru whospoke about the victims of Gujarat and went to their relief camps. They arehuman beings too.

Sir, It is not enough to teach the rich how to breathe. It is the rich man’srecreation. It is the hypocrites pretension. It is a mischievous deception. Andyou know that in the oxford dictionary, mischievous deception is a term that isused for a word, and that word is HOAX.

———————————————————————————————————

… and the response by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (of Art of Living)

——————————————————————————————————————————————

It is funny that in a country like India spirituality is talked about as ahoax. How can something which is so obvious, which is part of millions ofpeople, be taken as a hoax? Spirituality is not a halo of the few, it is thebreath of every human being. Have people forgotten that freedom was achievedthrough spirituality as the prime means by Mahatma Gandhi?

It has become a fashion with journalists to blindly continue the colonialtradition of calling Hindu spiritual leaders a hoax. They called MahatmaGandhi, Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo godmen and hoaxes, and theircontemporaries continue to do so. Would they say this to Mother Teresa or theDalai Lama? No! Only Indian spiritual leaders are singled out.

The India Today Conclave offered a basis for a discussion on spirituality,“Halo or Hoax?” Javed Akhtar joked, “In movies we create an illusion and thenafter three hours we put up a sign, The End, and make people step back intoreality, whereas spiritual people also create an illusion but they do not putan end to it.” The audience applauded. I smiled within and thought, yes, whatthis man says is correct, all that is created comes to an end. If somethingdoes not end then it is not created! Perhaps he didn’t even realise theprofound truth of what he was saying.

So in some way he tacitly accepted that the love and drama he creates in themovies does end, but the love and transformation created by spiritual peoplenever end. Yes, this whole world is an illusion that never ends. I drew Adi Shankarafrom his sarcasm. What an enigma: the perception and the reality. So Mr Akhtaris actually saying that his reel love songs are false. If only he knew thereality: that his lyrics express the genuine feelings of thousands of youthwhen they come and sing his marvelous songs before me, with that spark of lovein their eyes. Real-life love never ends; it moves from life to lifetimes.

Spirituality is intoxicating. Only those who step into it will know. Beforecriticising we need to do our homework. Has one visited ashrams, like theRamakrishna Ashram, Ananda Mayi Ma Mutt, Brahma Kumaris’, Gayatri Parivar,Pandurang Shastri, Sri Aurobindo Ashram or Art of Living? Has one spent timewith saints? Only then does one’s views carry weight, else they remain simpleaccusations only, a distorted perception, not reality.

Mr Akhtar thundered again: “All modern-day spiritualists are hypocrites”.Many people froze as he dismissed the present-day gurus. Today there aremillions of people who follow spirituality: are they all hypocrites? Iappreciated that he could express his feelings boldly, without pretension. Butthe contempt that was exhibited for gurus was alarming. The hatred andfrustration were obvious from his body language. It’s not just Mr Akhtar. Manyjournalists, communists, atheists and naxalites live in that state of mind, ofbeing anti-religious, anti-rich, anti-famous, anti-business.

Should I argue and put him down? No! I have never put anyone down. I can’tdeviate from my nature. So I simply said, everyone has the right to beignorant.

A flash of Aurangzeb, who butchered thousands of gurus and would not listento any reason or logic, came to mind. An intelligent man would look into allthe avenues before he makes a comment or accusation. It is necessary to standup for justice and expose the misdeeds of the world. Instead the so-calledactivists only engage in accusations. Blaming the entire modern-day spiritualguru and sadhu community is as foolish as branding the entire Muslim communityas terrorists.

It is the medieval brahmanical mindset to always put down business andpolitics and the colonial mindset to denounce gurus. As a result we neverexpanded our political influence nor globalised our business until veryrecently.

Then came his next statement that Buddha went from the palace to the forestand today the gurus come from the forest to the palace. I said to myself, ‘Comeon! Buddha went to the forest when he was unhappy and miserable, and he cameright back when he became a guru’. Any high school student knows this. Besides,every palace had a rajguru. Last year hundreds of sadhus were evicted from thecaves and hermitages of the Himalayan region, near Haridwar, by the forestdepartment. People generally think sadhus should live in forests with tornclothes but the forest department wanted to send them to the city!

The atheists have always fought with spiritual people. In those situationswe should know how to act. It is pointless to argue with them. What do you sayto a man who has never stepped into the realm of spirituality yet calls it ahoax? One cannot make a blind man see the light through his nose.

Unfortunately atheists are just fearful and good dramatists. A man whoequates arms, drugs and spirituality is not going to change his opinion immediatelyand anyway his opinion is not going to matter for what is and what will be.Come on, I thought, sing a new song. My compassion grew.

Often activists seem to create rage and revenge in the victims; they cannotbring solace and creative action. In the name of justice they fume with hatred.This can lead to acts of violence like the recent killings of 19 sadhus inUttar Pradesh. It has been an old tradition to glorify the dead, and call theliving a hoax. Kabir had to put up with this as did Meera, Buddha, Jesus, AdiShankara and many more. the wise do not mind the outburst of a few.

Spirituality is not a matter of the head, it is a matter of the heart. I hadtwo choices: to argue and turn the conclave into a conflict or to keep silence.I chose the latter.

3 comments:

  1. first listen to both arguments,….any normal mind fellow can agree that javed just did dirty illogic arguments with lots of hatred in mind , generalization is very dangerous in this country….it is used by many ignorant persons……………………….like all politicians are bad……all sadhus are bad. or all doctors are bad(if 2 or 3 doctors stole kidneys) this kind of thinking is as similar to the “all musilm community are terrorists.”……….experience or practice spirituality then it is wise to comment………otherwise we will be the best fools if we agree to this fellow javed…..

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  2. first listen to both arguments,….any normal mind fellow can agree that javed just did dirty illogic arguments with lots of hatred in mind , generalization is very dangerous in this country….it is used by many ignorant persons……………………….if all politicians are bad……all sadhus are bad.this kind of thinking is as similar to the “all musilm community are terrorists.”……….experience or practice spirituality then it is wise to comment………otherwise we will be the best fools if we agree to this fellow javed…..

    ReplyDelete
  3. Javed intiated his talk,"Dont get carried away by my name Javed Akhtar...I am an atheist..." His maiden name must have been given by his parents and his branded surname has links with his ancestors. Yet, he calls himself an atheist.But he is correct when he says that these spritual gurus never come up with a solution to ugly acts of the mighty and the powerful.

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