How do you justify the concept of ‘prarabdha karma’ in Hinduism?

We have no better explanation available than prarabdha karma for the skewed ways things happen in our lives, which do not seem to fit into any logical pattern. The oft repeated question “why good people suffer and evil ones seem to enjoy life and why life is so unfair ?” cannot be answered convincingly without bringing the concept of Karma and rebirth.

In fact, this question has not been tackled in Abrahamic religions. Only Hinduism (and its offshoots Buddhism and Jainism) Karma and rebirth theory has been evolved apparently out of very logical analysis and through the insights of rishis.

And Karma theory offers consolation and a fair degree of resignation to surrender and accept divine will. If I am suffering in my life currently for no apparent fault or mistake or blunders or evil acts that I ever committed in this life, then I can console myself “Okay! I must have done something really evil in my previous births; so, it is God’s wish that I suffer my prarabdha now. God knows when to end this this suffering. I can only pray to him to relieve me from this; let His will be done” Such a surrender brings in peace of mind considerably.

Also accepting karma theory helps a lot in being watchful of our actions. “If I am suffering now on account of my evil acts in previous births, it means I will definitely suffer for any evil acts that I commit now probably much later in this life when I least expect it or in my next births. Why create trouble for myself? Let me abstain from doing this”. We also tend to engage in good and unselfish acts because saints promise us that the punya we acquire this way can potentially lessen the impact of the evil karmas of the past.

Thus a faith in Karma and belief in God as a dispenser of Karma helps us in leading a more peaceful life.

Our Karma cycle will only end when all our actions are done without any expectation of fruits. That is Karma yoga. For a Jnyani, who has realized himself, there are no fetters of karma. But some scriptures say that even Jnyani will have to suffer because of his prarabdha (effects of karma done in previous births) since he has obtained this body basically to exhaust his prarabdha.

But Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi disputes this idea. he says that a Jnani is free from all the three karmas (Sanchita, prarabdha and agamya karmas) . A jnani is one who has annihilated his mind; he is free from the concept that he is the body. Any prarabdha can work on body-mind only and when the Jnani is free from association with them, where is the question of prarabdha working on him? Asks Ramana Maharshi.

So, the final answer is this: The purpose of human birth is to attain oneness with our Atman (or God). Once we succeed in it, we get freed from karma and rebirth. Till then, we are caught in the samsara and come back again and again in new bodies to enjoy and suffer our fruits of karma.

What is the Difference Between Religion and Spirituality?

‘Religion’ has the following elements:

  1. A God for worship. In case of Hinduism, it is a personal God of your liking (Siva, Vishnu, Ganesha, Devi, Rama, Krishna etc)
  2. A belief that the God (‘my god’) is the supreme power, who is the creator, protector and destroyer.
  3. Formal worships, visiting temples/churches/Mosques, following rituals, celebrating religious festivals, chanting stotras/ hymns/ mantras, taking up simple vows (e.g. fasting on Ekadasi days for Hindus)
  4. Praying god for money, wealth, comforts, solving problems, removing ill health, seeking long life, punishing enemies, seeking heaven after death
  5. If a Hindu, worshipping different gods for different purposes (For removing hurdles pray to Ganesha, for good education pray to Saraswathi, for wealth pray to Lakshmi etc). In a more evolved status, believe that my Ishta (personal God) will give everything because He/She is the only supreme God and all other Gods are subservient to Him/Her.
  6. Enjoying worldly life in every way with a mindset that God is providing everything for us, just like parents taking care of the comforts and wishes of children
  7. At times blaming God when things don’t happen as per our wishes!
  8. Advising others that the sect I follow, my way of worship, my religious practices and chanting are the best and nothing more need be done to get divine grace
  9. Arguing and fighting with other believers who say that some other God is the supreme one.
  10. Having staunch belief in whatever the holy books of that religion says is correct and true (reading and understanding them is not mandatory!)
  11. Visiting holy places
  12. If a Hindu, Generally following a traditional family Guru and paying visits and respects to him
  13. If a Christian or Muslim, trying to convert others to their religion (particularly targeting weaker and meeker sections of society in other religions)

‘Spirituality’ has the following elements:

  1. A sense of discomfort in the way religion is being practised by majority (after following a religion and its formalities for some time); wondering whether the ways and beliefs as followed by the common religious folks are indeed showing the right direction to progress
  2. Getting disturbed by deeper questions about meaning of life, purpose of life etc and earnestly trying to seek better answers from within the religion.
  3. Reading deeper in to one’s own religion’s holy books (Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads/ Bible/ Koran). Trying to read more and more of the explanations and different interpretations by different commentators in order to get better clarity.
  4. If a Hindu, reading the lives and teachings of great Mahatmas/ spiritual masters/ Avatara Purushas
  5. If not getting satisfactory answers from own scriptures, trying to read, understand and grasp scriptures from other religions or to compare and get better clarity and understanding about own religion.
  6. If a Hindu, in communicating with God, trying to understand “I” (self/soul/ Atman) and the relationship between “I” and “you”(God) better.
  7. If a Hindu, gradually understanding the need and purpose of surrendering to a Sadguru for initiation and proper guidance in the quest of higher Truth but not sure enough or humble enough for that surrender yet.
  8. Gradually losing interest in materialism and in enjoying sensual pleasures
  9. Gradually losing interest in praying to God (or multiple God forms) for material and physical comforts and instead trying to pray for a better wisdom to know God.
  10. Getting a better understanding of the concept of Maya and the truth of duality existing for ever (light-darkness, good-bad, dharma-adharma, joy-woe, health-sickness, wealth-poverty, positive-negative, wisdom-ignorance etc)
  11. Developing viveka and vairagya (discrimination and dispassion)
  12. Trying to understand better the form and formless aspects of God
  13. Getting a firm conviction “Ekam sat, vipra bahuta vadhanti”— there is only one truth which is explained differently by different seers/ religions.
  14. No longer interested in arguing and fighting with others saying “My God is the only true and supreme God”.
  15. No longer afraid of not going to the temples and not following the rituals
  16. Learning and practising meditation
  17. Surrendering to a Satguru (a realized master) with humility for spiritual guidance. Truly grasping the importance of the Satguru’s grace in attaining true wisdom.

    Sadguru Mata Amritanandamayi Devi with her Sanyasi Disciples. They were well educated youth of yester years who came to Amma in thirsting for spiritual guidance

  18. Properly ripening in the relationship with God — starting with Dwaita (“You are my lord and I am your servant”) to Vishitadwaita (“You are my indweller — the soul of my soul”) and to Advaita (You and I are one — Aham brahmasmi) in Hinduism.

 

Shruti – The 4 Vedas

Origin of Vedas

The Vedas (inclusive of Upanishads or Vedanta) are the foremost reference scriptures of Hinduism.

The 4 Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sama & Atharva vedas) are the original source of all knowledge and they are not attributed to any specific authors or messiahs. They are considered as originating from God, heard and registered by great rishes (seers) of the yore. Hence they are known as Shruti (as heard). Vedas are also known as apaurusheya (not made of man).

Even though certain hymns and mantras are attributed to certain Rishis in the vedic texts, they are recognized as the seers (mantra Drishta) of those texts and not the authors of the texts. According to Kanchi Paramacharya (Sri Chandresekharendra Saraswathi) it is akin to Columbus identifying America — he is not the creator of America.

It is said in Hindu Puranas that Veda was originally one, but in Dwapara Yuga, Veda Vyasa (Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa), (who is considered an Avatar of Vishnu) split it into four; he did so for the sake of bringing Vedas to logical groups, convenient for transmitting in written form (from the practice of verbal transmission only prevailing in earlier yugas).

Each Veda is broadly said to contain two major parts — the Karma Kandam and the Jnana Kandam. The Karma Kandam deals with mantras and procedural rituals and the Jnana Kandam contains the supreme wisdom — the Upanishads (or Vedanta — The culmination of Veda). While the ritualistic parts got diluted  over the period of time, the Upanishads, the quintessence of Vedic knowledge lives on and they form the basic source of reference for all the supreme philosophies of Hinduism. They serve as guides for earnest seekers and also as reference books for comparing the experiences attained after practice of the spiritual disciplines.

The term ‘shruti’ carries considerable significance because in times of yonder, there was no practice of writing the vedas in scripts, but were only transmitted by chanting and listening from one generation to another.

Proper Chanting essential

Vedas carry significance not only in their contents, but also in the right pronunciation and  intonations with which the chanting of the mantras are to be carried out. The Vedic mantras carry subtle vibrations and these vibrations were essential to invoke the Gods of nature and get their blessings. The rishis did not want to allow any change in the contents of the Vedas nor in the way they were to be chanted; hence they devised extremely systematic and strict procedures and guidelines for chanting as well as teaching them.

Only Brahmins were allowed to propagate Vedas because extreme austerities involving physical and mental purity, sacrifice, simple living, intellectual capacity, memory capacity,  devotion to God and ability to handle an extremely difficult language of Sanskrit etc were fundamentally essential for the task. Brahmins were nurtured traditionally across generations to possess those qualities.

Vedangas

At the later periods of propagation of Vedas, a properly formulated system of ensuring that Vedas were preserved and passed on generation after generation without errors, 6 Vedangas (Veda Angas, meaning limbs of Veda) were  developed. They deal with outlining and explaining systematically the grammar (Vyakarana), meter (chandas), phonetics (shiksha), etymology (Nirukta), astronomy (Jyotisha) and rituals (kalpa).

NOTE: The Vedangas are NOT part of Shruti, but they are part of Smriti texts.

Parts of Vedas (classification of contents)

Karma Kanda  —  Samhitas (hymns) & Brahmanas (rites)

Vedas prominently contain mantras, hymns, chants and rites which were/are essential to worship Celestial Gods of nature (Varuna, Vayu, Indra, Rudra etc) in order to satisfy them and get cattle, good harvest, progeny, gold, wealth and possessions for happy living in this world without being troubled by natural calamities. Whatever activities (karmas) and rites vedas ordain for these purposes are classified into Karma Kanda. It must be noted that each of the 4 vedas do contain Karma kandas with Samhita and Brahmana classifications under it.

For convenience sake, the Mantra, hymns and chanting part of Vedas (under Karma Kanda) were grouped in to Samhitas.  The procedural aspects, rites and rituals were explained in prose under Brahmanas.

Conducting a Yagya (Fire sacrifice)

Samhitas and Brahmanas are primarily concerned with invocation of Gods and conducting fire rituals and sacrifices connected with the 16 samskaras (healthy vedic practices and ordained rituals to be done at various stages in life right from conceiving a child, birth, naming ceremony, beginning of education, marriage, death ceremonies and ending with post-death remembrance ceremonies. At the larger picture, there were elaborate yagnyas (Grand fire sacrifices) conducted by kings like Ashwamedha yaga, Rajasuya Yaga, Vaishnava Yaga etc.

Kings conducted such yagas to establish their supremacy over  other kings, to conquer more  powers through boons to be obtained from celestial Gods, to ensure life in heaven post-death, to bring prosperity to their nations and so on. Such yagas involved lots of materials, elaborate procedures, plenty of gifts to be given to poor people, invited guests (including other kings)  and Brahmins, variety of mantras to be chanted to invoke celestial Gods and so on.  Samhitas and Brahmanas essentially contain all these details.

The Jnana Kanda

The Aranyakas (theology)

The Aranyakas contain the Vedic practices, and contemplative analysis and aspects of them related to forest life. In some vedas and in the assessment of some scholars, the Aranyakas appear to be an extension of Brahmanas only and some times they are treated as part of Karma Kanda only.

As per the Ashrama dharmas (Brahmacharya, Grihasta, Vanaprastha and Sanyasa)  prevailing in vedic period, once the duties of family life (grihasta ashrama) are over, middle aged husbands and wives shifted to forest for living a life of austerity and divine contemplation. As per vedic tradition, they get so much used to doing their vedic karmas with necessary fire sacrifice rites, they tend to continue with those practices in the forest too. The Aranyaka portion of the Vedas contained the necessary scriptural guidelines for them. Procedures and materials for such sacrifices have got to be simpler to suit the simpler lifestyles of forest dwellers.

A relaxed life in the forest without worldly desires also means there was scope for review and contemplation of the vedic practices, finding out better interpretations and meanings of them, questioning their significance, need for search of better knowledge about divinity other than seeking sops from Gods for happy living. The Aranyakas contain the contemplative aspects of the Rishi’s thought process in these matters.

Further, as we can learn from Ramayana, great Rishis like Vishwamitra conducted special fire sacrifices with some grander purposes (for the welfare of the world perhaps  to counter the evil forces like asuras and rakshasas) . Some of them could be secretive too. Suspecting this secrecy, Asuras came to destroy those Yagnas  and thats’ how we find Vishwamitra taking the help of Rama and Lakshmana to protect the yaga. Naturally, the secretive part of rituals too are contained in Aranyakas.

Vedanta – The Upanishads (philosophy)

Having experienced the worldly life with its joys and sorrows and having understood the benefits as well as the limitations of totally relying on vedic karmas, there were indeed doubts and questions in the minds of the rishis. Procedures were too many, disciplines were too demanding, material needs to conduct rites were imposing and there could be so many lapses leading to failure of the intended purposes of conducting yagas. Desires don’t seem to get satiated, expectations are not always met and dissatisfaction still remains in life.

The rishis of yonder started thirsting for better spiritual knowledge; through deep meditation, they  inquired into the cause of birth, death, jiva (soul), God, how God is related to soul, what is the true nature of God and so on. Through their tapas, the rishis acquired the supreme knowledge related to all these queries. They experienced that God called by them as Brahman is beyond name and form but inclusive of everything in the creation; it is smaller than an atom but as all pervasive as infinity and it is no different from Self. It is not just a theory but something experienced and never explicable by words.

The rishis tried their best to teach this transcendental experience of Brahman in whatever best way they could — by verbose explanations, through poetically expressed hymns, by cryptic but grand statements (‘maha vakyas‘), through examples and similes, by stories and so on. Such part of the documents is Upanishads or Vedanta (the culmination of Veda) and those parts of vedas containing these teachings are called Jnana Kanda. In some vedas and in the assessment of some scholars, the Aranyakas appear to be a prelude to the Upanishads; Upanishads in some vedas seem to naturally culminate as an extension of Aranyakas.  Hence Aranyakas too are considered parts of Jnana Kanda.

Upanishads thus form the very core and crux of the highest knowledge of spirituality in Hinduism. They are one of the three authentic philosophical reference scriptures of Hinduism viz Prasthana Triya (Brahma Sutra and Bhagavad Gita are the other two).  More details on Upanishads are covered in a separate chapter here:  <> UPANISHADS.

Several portions of Vedas have been lost across time

It is only natural that a scriptural tradition existing and propagated across countless generations  only through verbal transmission from time immemorial, several parts and segments of Vedas have been lost. More than hundreds of Upanishads were said to be existing, but primarily about a dozen of them are existing.  Only a very small portion of Sama Veda is reportedly existing alive now.

The significance of Karma Kanda has also been considerably diluted in present times. Yagas like Ashvamedha or Rajasuya have totally lost their significance since several centuries. However, the crux of Upanishad philosophy is still available intact and whatever existing definitely contain the very essence of the ultimate spiritual knowledge.

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Are Both Shruti as well as Smritis authentic scriptures of reference for Hinduism?

Both Shruti (Vedas) and Smritis (covering Puranas, dharma shastras, Tarka shastras, Itihasas, Bhagavad Gita, Agamas/ Pancharatras  and so on) are indeed parts and parcels of Hindu sacred books of reference.

Most Smritis invariably claim their allegiance to Shruti. Smritis are derived works of and supportive additions to Vedic knowledge. Smritis came up to spread the Vedic knowledge in a simplified and easily comprehensible manner to people cutting across all varnasramas. Some Smritis may also contradict with each other in interpreting Vedas/ Upanishads.

In Brahma Sutras, Sage Vyasa asserts many points on the essence of our Upanishadic philosophy by stating that it is confirmed in Smriti.

However, the authority of smritis is not total or all-encompassing.

For example, dharma sastras like Manu Smriti, Parasara Smriti etc are rather time bound; there are certain things in them that are suited for specific period of history and culture of the society, which may not be applicable to a society a few centuries later to their period.

If some smritis contradict in some ways the conclusions of Upanishads, then those contradictions may not be acceptable as authentic conclusions. For example, The existence of God or supreme being is not directly asserted, nor considered relevant by the Samkhya philosophy (a Smriti).  Since this contradicts with Upanishads (that affirms existence of God beyond name and form as Brahman)  this particular notion in Samkhya is not considered authentic.

In Puranas, there are different prime Gods eulogized as the Ultimate God in different Puranas. Sects of people accepting one God form as their Prime God may not accept the statements contradictory to their beliefs cited in other Puranas.

Vedic Chanting

Vedic knowledge was primarily restricted to Brahmins and Sages. Though Kshatriyas and Vaishyas too had access to it, they were not permitted to chant and propagate Vedas. Vedas were not accessible to Shudra class and also to ladies, including Brahmin ladies.

It is said that Maharshi Vyasa wrote Mahabharata with a purpose of making dharma shastras, upanishadic knowledge and other valuable guidelines for the welfare of the people at large, particularly to ladies and Shudras who had no access to them otherwise. Itihasas and Puranas carried the essential wisdom in a simplified way explained through stories and parables.

Shruti (originally in Sanskrit language) which was strictly restricted for propagation through qualified and disciplined Brahmins who had to follow a life of strict austerities; Shruti was bound by rigids rules, chanting procedures and restrictions to ensure their propagation through verbal chanting retaining their pristine nature without giving scope for distorsions and mutations.

On the other hand, Smritis (originally in Sanskrit language) had scope for easier propagation, for copying and spreading, accessible for translation to other languages and so on even in olden days. As a consequence, Smriti texts, as times passed, had scope for manipulation, distortion and insertion of additional texts by scholars and pundits whose knowledge and also caliber got diluted and narrowed in course of time.

A Pauranika (Bard) explaining Purana.

Smritis (particularly puranas and ithasas) were allowed to be propagated widely by Pouranikas (bards / exponents of puranas who had knowledge of Sanskrit) and Pournikas were not restricted to Brahmin caste. It appears that some pouranikas were Sutas (person born from Kshatriya father and Brahmin mother) who were not permitted to propagate Shruti.

How does a seeker get his right guru? How to seek him? How to approach him? How will you know that he is the right guru?

For some people, Guru comes on his own in their life. They are blessed. They have done their homework in their previous births!

Others tend to search for a Guru. They may finally find a Guru of their liking, but only time can tell whether they have ended at the right place, or it is only a temporary shelter till they find the permanent one. The reality is that when the search is earnest, the right Guru actually finds them, sooner or later, in first attempt or later attempts!

A serious seeker, intentionally and consciously searching for a Guru should sincerely answer many queries.

Each of us have different tastes, temperaments, capacity of intake w.r.t. religion and spirituality.

  • How much of spirituality do you want?
  • How much of worldly life do you still want to enjoy?
  • Is your search of a guru or a saint simply for finding solutions to your current worldly problems and to get His blessings to escape from them?
  • Or is it higher and more purposeful to understand the goal of life and just not materialistic?
  • If you want both, how much of balance between the two is acceptable to you?
  • How much of sacrifice are you prepared to do to acquire real spiritual knowledge?
  • What is your mental inclination towards Bhakti? What is our taste towards Jnyana? Are you attracted by yoga?
  • If you have bhakti, are you confined to a specific God form or sect only (like emotional bonding to Shiva/ Vishu/ Shakti and tend to think other Gods as lesser Gods?).
  • Would you be more comfortable and content to follow rituals, do formal worships, chant slokas and so on as a devotee rather than read scriptures and break your head with matters like soul, Atman, Brahman, Nirvikalpa Samadhi and so on?
  • Do you have a family Guru by tradition? Do you have liking and respect for him? Would you be contented to follow him or you want something better?
  • What is your exposure to spiritual books? How much of exposure do you have towards our scriptures in general? Have you read Ramayana and Mahabharata reasonably well?
  • Have you read Bhagavad Gita? Do you find its teachings making an impression in you or having an influence on you?
  • Have you got any idea about the Hindus ideologies like Advaita, Vishistadvaita and Dvaita?
  • Have you got exposed to any of the life and teachings of Avatara Purushas, Mahatmas and saints like Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Sarada Devi, Swami Vivekananda, Bhagwan Ramana Maharshi, Kanchi Maha Periyaval, Shirdi Saibaba, Satya Saibaba, Ma Anandamayi, Swami Shivananda, Papa Ramadas, Swami Chinmayananda, Shringeri Shankaracharyas, Nisarga Datta Maharaj, Mata Amritanandamayi or any such saints of recent history?
  • Do you feel highly attracted or influenced by any of their lives and teachings? Do you feel like surrendering and seeking their guidance (even if they are no longer alive)?
  • Would you be happy to follow the living disciples of any of the above Gurus who are not alive now? Or do you wish for a living Sadguru’s guidance only?
  • Do you know the difference between a Guru, Acharya and a Sadguru?

If you earnestly get the answers to these queries from your heart, you will at least know where you stand and what you expect.

If you seek help and suggestions from people who already have gurus, you will invariably end up listening to a sales-promotion talk recommending their Guru for you too! It is exactly like people offering free medical advice when you tell them about some ailment you are having!

In olden days, people were less informed, had better humility, faith and sense of surrender. Spiritual knowledge or ideas were not freely available. Like arranged marriages, people easily accepted their traditional Gurus and got better. Only earnest Mumukshus (ardent seekers of Moksha – liberation) went around searching for Gurus. But times have changed now.

It is better to acquire some spiritual basis by reading books or listening to their talks/ videos unless you are blessed with a Guru who comes on his own in your life. Personally, I got my spiritual fundamentals firmed up by reading books. I was immensely influenced by reading Deivaththin Kural (Tamil, from Kanchi Paramacharya), The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, Life and teachings of Ramana Maharshi, Swami Shivananda, Exposition of vedanta from Swami Chinmayananda and so on.

The more and more I read them, the more I got a clearer picture of my own mental leanings, tastes, strengths and weaknesses, idiosyncrasies and limitations. And I would say divine grace started working on me to guide me to seek my Guru. I found my life being lead from one step to another to lead me to my Sadguru.

I am just sharing what happened to me. Divine grace is the real thing and it acts differently in different people. I know that there are umpteen ways and inscrutable happenings through which so many others have come and landed at the feet of my Sadguru.

The same is true for those who have found their own living Gurus in the present and in the past.

Bhagwan Ramana with his western disciple Sadhu Arunachala

If you get a feeling that such-and-such person could be potentially your Guru, visit him and offer yourself there with humility. He may or may not be your final Guru. Sri Ramamaharshi gives one indication – If your mind finds total peace when you are at the sannadhi of the Guru, he is most likely to be your Guru.

If disturbances and doubts are there, perhaps he is not your Guru. May be his grace will guide you further to end up at your right Guru’s feet. May be he could still be your Guru, too but your time has not arrived!

 

 

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa

You don’t have to break your head too much on the correctness of your judgment. The earnestness and humility are the vital needs. Sri Ramakrishna used to say “Suppose a person goes on a pilgrimage to Puri by walk from his village; he is not familiar with the directions and roads; somewhere he might have turned a wrong direction and missed his path. But as he inquires, somebody will always correct his mistake and redirect him to the right path. Quickly or belatedly he is sure to end up in Puri. Don’t worry”.

Search – earnestness – humility – surrender –grace . This is the working reality of getting the right guru.

If Vedas (Shruti – meaning as heard) were transmitted only by word of mouth across several centuries, how come their pristine originality was maintained?

The following explanation comes from Kanchi Paramacharya (Sri Chandresekharendra Saraswathi) — translated and abbreviated from his discourse available in Tamil book ‘Deivathin Kural’ – Part 2 pages  244-249.

Our Ancestors had created very judicious ways to safeguard the Vedas and transmit them without giving chance for mistakes creeping in, even without any written source. In the formal verbal teaching,memorizing and chanting of vedas, they created so many rules so that not even a single word is miss-spelt nor wrongly intonated.

There was a time measure called ‘matra’ which is used to stipulate how long or short each syllable in the vedic mantra should be chanted. The Vedanga called Siksha had guidelines as to how to use one’s breath to cause vibration in a particular part of the human body so that the pronunciation of that word or sylable in the mantra is done to go with that vibration to get the correct sounding. The siksha gives details by comparing the swaras (notes) in music with the tonal aspects of chanting vedic mantras and identifying similarities and dissimilarities; it compares them with the sounds produced by animals and birds and give guidance through examples.

One of the greatest techniques to ensure that the words and syllables in the vedic mantras are not altered was the various chanting methods that the ancient rishis devised. They created chanting procedures that involved combining the words in the mantras in different permutations and combinations. Vakyam, padam, kramam, jatha, mala, shika, rekha, dvajam, dandam, ratham, ghanam — these were the chanting techniques followed.

In South India, we call some of the vedic pundits as “ghana baadikaL”. What does it mean? Baadam means lesson. Ghana bhadi means the level to which he has studied (i,e, upto Ghanam level) in the chanting technique of the Vedas. When you hear them chanting, you can grasp that he is chanting a segment of Veda by playing around with the same words in a phrase by combining them in different permutations. Even to listen to such a ghanam chanting is very pleasing to the ears. The natural majesty that we can feel when vedic chanting is done seems to get accentuated when we hear it as a ghanam chanting. The same phenomenon can be observed when listening to vedic chanting in other modes like jata, shika, mala, krama etc.

But the real purpose of these exercises is to to ensure that the vedic mantras are not misspelt or interchanged or jumbled up, so that the pristine nature of mantras are maintained impeccably.

The chanting of the the vedic texts in the same order in which the words are formed into sentences is known as Vakya Badam or Samhita Badam. When two sentences meet, the last word of the first and the first word of the second sentence are normally combined together. This practice exists in many Tamil verses; it is the common practice sanskrit verses too but the combination will be far more cryptic in sanskrit, there by creating scope for wrong splitting when detailing is needed. To avoid such error, there is Pada Badam technique, in which the individual words in the joints are clearly and distinctly spelt.

Thus, the Samhita Badam comes first; next is the Pada Badam. Next comes krama badam where the chanting is done by combining first and second word, second and third word, third and fourth word and so on.

The permutations and combinations will vary (in a more and more difficult way) as one progresses from Krama to jata, to chika and so on. Ghana is the most complicated of all techniques.

In the video below, an example of Krama, Jata and Ghana mode of chanting of Gayathri Mantra are explained:

 

Let us listen some Vedic Chanting in Kramam mode in this video below:
Let us listen to some Vedic chanting in Ghanam mode in the following video:

We know how safely life-saving medicines are preserved in laboratories by using various techniques. In a similar way, our old rishis have painstakingly created such complicated techniques in order to ensure that the Vedas which are so essential for protecting the world were kept preserved without losing their pristine purity and originality even when there was no writing involved and word-by-mouth transmission was the only method available.

When all the words and syllables of  vedic mantras tally perfectly across each of these techniques, it is a clear indication that the original texts are transmitted without any error generations after generations.

The vedic rishis also stated that considering the significance of the various chanting techniques, each upper and complicated technique of chanting has twice the value or benefit of chanting over the lower one.

Western researchers try to fix the time periods of origin of ancient texts by trying to observe the changes that could have happened in the words’ form, format or sound over long periods of histories. But such so called scientific techniques will not come to the help of determining when Vedas (which are known to be beginningless) originated because, the chanting techniques have been so meticulously crafted in order to ensure accuracy of transmission.

 

 

If everything happens by God’s will, where does free will come? What is the need for punya and papa, heaven and hell?

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa says that as long as we believe we have free will, we have to own up the consequences of actions done by us with our free will.

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa

But it is indeed true that at the exalted level of comprehension, everything is God’s will. A person who attains this conviction firmly is the one who has attained God realization or self realization. Only such a person becomes the perfect instrument of God. Sri Ramakrishna says that whatever that person does is simply the acts of God and it will only be perfect and right.

If ordinary people do whatever they want to do by saying that they are doing it as God’s instruments they are only deluding themselves.

Suppose a person, out of a very reasonable justification (in his own assessment) kills another with anger and vengeance. He may say, “I have delivered the right justice this fellow deserved for his actions. I have acted as God’s instrument . His ‘prarabdha’ is such that he gets killed by me in this birth. So, I have not committed any sin.”

If his argument is really true, what happens if police arrest him and the court orders a judgement that he should be hanged? Should he not accept that it is also by God’s will and the judge acted as God’ s instrument and punished him?

That’s why Sri Ramakrishna says that along with the ‘idea’ of free will, the concepts of punya and papa too shall coexist. If not, there will be total anarchy. Without fear of punishment based on papa, people will keep doing all sorts of atrocities.

With all the puranas containing so many weird stories about Gods, don’t you think that Hinduism is a religion of fantasy which is just like fairytale?

When we teach rudiments of Hinduism to kids (like Gods, worship, praying, getting boons, morals, right and wrong, good habits and bad habits etc) we teach them with stories of Gods, puranas, itihasas etc. All the stories may look like fairy tales.

How many of us who have heard Ramayana and Mahabharata stories as kids have bothered to re-read more elaborate versions of these stories after we became adults? If and when we read them, we grasp so many things related to dharma, adharma, right and wrong conduct in actual situations in life. Mahabharata will turn out to be a real story for adults and hardly a fairy tale for children! One will be wonder-struck by analyzing the various characters, how we see many people in real life similar to those characters in attitude and behavior!

We see how dharma can be wrongly interpreted by many people to suit their own whims and fancies; how deep wisdom about life and living is so intrinsically woven with the story and characters.

Then comes the bombshell – The Bhagavad Gita in Mahabharata! Does it not totally shake up our whole perception about God, religion and spirituality? Does it not turn the ‘fairy tales’ to one grand discourse to grasp the intricate and profound spiritual wisdom of Hinduism?

Unfortunately, so many of us are still kids when it comes to sticking to the fairy tales part of Hinduism and refuse to grow up. Like little kids fighting to establish that their favorite cinema Hero is the greatest, we keep still fighting about supremacy of Shiva over Vishnu and so on!

For those who refuse to grow up from the shackles of ‘fairy tale’ part of Hinduism and for those who never get exposed to the great saints and sages of Hinduism and their teachings, Hinduism will only look like a fantasy.

Is karma endowed with intelligence? Has it free will to judge our souls?

This is what Bhagwan Ramana Maharshi states to answer your question in his poetic work Upadesa Saram:

கன்மம் பலன் தரல் கர்த்தனது ஆணையால்
கன்மம் கடவுளோ உந்தீபற
கன்மம் சடமதாம் உந்தீபற

Kanmam palan tharal kartthanathu aaNaiyaal
Kanmam kadavuLO untheepaRa
Kanmam jadapathaam untheepaRa

Meaning: “Karma is just jata — insentient. Do you think it is God?! Karma’s fruits are effected only by the will of God.”

This concept had been endorsed in the distant past by both Shankaracharya and Ramanujacharya.

To understand more in detail on how Karma concept works, you may please read this —-> Understanding the concept of Karma & rebirth in Hinduism

How can one become a devoted Vaishnava, Shaiva, or Shakta at the same time?

Different forms of God are conceived in Hinduism to meet the different tastes and temperaments of people. While God as Brahman/ Parabrahman is one and is amenable for worship in different forms, saints and sages always advise seekers to concentrate and worship one God whose form is ishta – the most dear to the heart. That way focus will be far better instead of fritting away energy in different directions.

Here is a story narrated by Satguru Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma) which is quite apt to answer your question:

Dig deep at one place

Once there was a famous devotee. A man from the next village heard about him and therefore came to see him. The visitor waited outside the front yard of the house as the devotee was performing his worship inside the house at that time.

The man peeped inside and noticed that the devotee was sitting in front of his pooja shrine and doing the worship of Lord Ganesha. The visitor, seeing this dug a hole in the ground. The devotee then started worshiping his Guru. The visitor, now dug a second hole. After finishing the hymns praising the Guru, the devotee then started worshiping Lord Muruga. The visitor dug a third hole.

As the devotee then proceeded to worship Lord Vishnu, Goddess Lakshmi, Lord Shiva, Goddess Kali and so on, the visitor too dug one hole each corresponding the the God worshiped.

After finishing the puja, the devotee came out and he was surprised to see so many holes at his yard. He shouted at the visitor: “What is this? Why have you dug so many holes in my yard?”

The visitor said, “I wanted to get some water and so I dug one hole. Since I didn’t get water there, I dug the next one and the next and so on. I have dug everywhere but could not get any water. Had I dug at one place deep enough, I would have got the water by now and need not have wasted my time”.

The devotee understood immediately. Had he surrendered to  any one of the Gods wholeheartedly and concentrated worshiping him, he could have become a liberated soul by then.

[Amma: The Gods and Goddesses have diverse forms, but in reality all are one. The various names and forms are only to help us in our spiritual practice to suit our diverse tastes. Each one can choose a deity according to his taste and mental make up which will serve as the ladder to reach the supreme.]