SAVE YOUR CULTURE, By Stephen Knapp

After touring the area of Northeastern India in late 2002, I can more easily understand the value of the culture of that region, and the need to protect and preserve it. The people of the area are some of the nicest, simplest, and most friendly people I have ever encountered. They show a high degree of respect toward others and for life itself. It would be a real shame if that should ever change.

On the other hand, I come from America, a land rich in facility, technology, wealth, business, global enterprises, and the desire in most everyone to climb the social ladder to increasingly better positions and higher pay. It also has the high crime, the pollution, as well as the selfishness, competition, lack of respect for others, and the impersonal relationships that come with such an environment. Now I ask you, is this real progress? Is this the kind of progress we should be making? Obviously, as we can see from the results of the economic difficulties the whole nation is facing in 2009, it does not always provide the kind of results we expect from it.

We have to have the foresight to see that opulence without culture and time for introspection leads to a shallow life, even a meaningless life. These days in the West, people look for culture, but since America is so young, we have to look for it from outside our borders. And people in the East may be surprised that Westerners often look toward them for culture. Westerners often look to the East for a deeper understanding of life, of who they are, and to learn what is their connection with the universe and God. There are more Westerners than ever before who practice yoga, study Eastern philosophy, and who are adopting dietary and health disciplines of the East for improving their lives. So the people of India should not think that giving up their own culture or spiritual path to adopt some new technology or Western religion is going to be the answer to their problems. That is not the way it works.

As I have traveled all over India, I have seen that one of the prime reasons for many of the social and environmental problems of the country is not the culture itself, but it is the distancing or even a disconnection from it. Remaining fixed in the true principles of your own indigenous culture, which has gone on for thousands of years, is often the means of keeping social problems to a minimum. But that also means staying educated in what your culture actually teaches and handing that knowledge down to younger generations so that it never becomes lost.

This is something that is important to understand. The Vedic and indigenous cultures of India are the oldest in the world. They have been developed by some of the wisest sages the planet has ever seen. This culture has given some of the most profound knowledge and deepest insights and understanding of life that mankind has ever known. It has existed for thousands of years. So who is to tell me that it is not good enough to last for another several thousand years? Who is to tell me that its philosophy is backward or not up with the times? Do not accept another person coming to tell you that your own culture is not good enough, especially a foreigner who mostly wants you to convert to his Western form of religion, or who tells you that what you do is evil. Since when did it become evil? Who is he to tell you this when his own culture or religion does not have the many years of development as your own?

So don’t think you have to give up your own culture in order to meet someone else’s definition of being “civilized”. Some of these Western religions have been a part of some of the worst wars and most brutal carnage in world history. And so many are divided into numerous sects, like the Catholics and the Baptists, all of which fight among themselves for converts. This should make you ask, how can unity come from such disunity? How can social harmony come from such disharmony? How is this a sign of advanced civilization?

So do not give up your culture or feel that you must convert to some other religion. Do not be tempted to think that your ways are backward. As my own spiritual master, Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami would say, and as Vivekananda has also said, that we only need to combine the Western technology with the Eastern philosophy. This is what helps makes for a progressive society. Develop yourself on all levels, the material and the spiritual. Simply broaden your education. You don’t have to give up your culture or spiritual path to do that. Merely learn and keep up with the modern developments in the world, and use the latest technology when it’s applicable to further enhance your development in your economy, ecology, agriculture, transportation, communication systems, construction of roads, and in your health systems. But there is no need to become so influenced by it that you should feel that you need to give up your own culture, your own values, or your own spiritual practices in the name of progress.

So what should you do?? These are some of the solutions that can be followed not only by the people of Northeast India, but by people of the indigenous cultures from around the world.

 

SOLUTIONS

 

  1. Practice your own culture and spiritual path. Be proud of what it offers.
  2. Learn it deeply. Stay familiar with your traditions, rituals, and holy days, and pass it along to the youth.
  3. Make sure the traditions and stories are recorded in books so they can be studied, remembered, practiced, and handed down through the generations.
  4. Compile the books of prayers, songs, and stories, and with translations, and make them available to everyone.
  5. Make the proper and benevolent images to worship where and when it is helpful.
  6. Construct centers for prayer, worship, and practice. Such centers are the basis of preserving the culture and offering education in them.
  7. Congregate together regularly, and be supportive toward one another.
  8. Celebrate and enjoy your festivals, and know and discuss the meaning of them so they are not lost, and be willing to share the beauty and joy of them with all others.
  9. In a friendly way, encourage others you know to participate as the basis of a united community.
  10. Recognize the need to be pro-active in working to keep your culture. Join or form the organizations that help you preserve and protect your culture.
  11. Establish the means or campaign that will assist people to realize the value of their own spiritual heritage.
  12. Form political action committees to (A) make sure politicians are aware of your issues, (B) to make sure that they are representing you properly, and (C) to unite voters to bring in a better political representative for the indigenous culture or vote out those who are ineffective.
  13. A group should be established in every town and village, if possible, to encourage people in this way.
  14. Come together in groups regularly to participate in and discuss your culture, and develop the ways of defending it, especially when it is under attack or threatened by conversion groups who are under a foreign influence.
  15. Also recognize the need for true harmony and unity, and know that a true religion or spiritual path does not create disharmony by dividing people into the “sinners” and the “saved” simply because of following different religions or spiritual traditions.
  16. There must also be the maturity to balance the old traditions with any new modifications.
  17. Unite with other organizations, groups, or village tribes who have similar interests and concerns for cultural preservation, and share information and support with other groups.
  18. Start your own schools. Write or compile teacher’s guide books on ways to teach children and others the culture. In this way, the culture will more likely be preserved and passed down through the generations.
  19. Work on ways for economic self-sufficiency to be free from the need of support from organizations or religions that actually disdain your own original culture.
  20. Followers of Vedic Dharma, Hindus, must be ready and willing to stand up and distribute knowledge to overcome misconceptions, false media reports, the false history of India, and any social or religious injustices that take place toward its people.
  21. All foreigners who enter India, especially under a tourist visa, and are seen to be engaged in converting people from their own culture, traditions, and religions, which is illegal in India, must be reported to the government or other groups who will do something about this.
  22. Know how to work within the legal system and do not be afraid to take organizations and people to court in order to resolve issues, or delay their activities of denigrating and distorting the truth of your own culture. Bring in lawyers who are willing to help you and who share your concern.
  23. Approach the wealthy who will help contribute to do something about these wrongs, and assist in various projects to facilitate the spiritual development of all Sanatana-dharmists and people everywhere.
  24. Acharyas or local spiritual elders must also reach out to the villagers and tribals to show them welcome into the Vedic family, and that they are respected as members of the Global Vedic Community.
  25. Encourage all Hindus and people of the indigenous traditions to participate in politics as a vote bank to oust the politicians who improperly represent the Hindu/Vedic community, and to vote in and support those political leaders who will. This must never be taken for granted. Also, learn how to run for office and get involved in politics to better defend your culture and bring particular issues to the fore.
  26. Report or write to newspapers immediately when errors or unfairness or discrimination appear in their reports. Also, learn to write to the editor on these issues, some of which may get published to offer a different view.
  27. When the government or politicians provide laws that favor minorities, or add holidays to the calendar year at the expense of the majority population in India, or refuse to recognize the holidays or traditions of the growing Indian community in countries outside India, then act in ways that will show support for your view and cause in order to make the government realize the importance to change what it is doing, and to provide more support for your own community. Be ready and willing to take such cases to court if necessary.
  28. Learn to use and control the media to defend against any misconceptions of the culture. Be ready and learn how to establish radio stations, or radio and television shows and programs to broadcast what is of interest to the community, along with spiritual knowledge that is of interest to everyone. You may be surprised at how many people become regular listeners, or how you become the connection between people and the Vedic and indigenous tradition. This is a strong way to present correct conceptions and understanding of the culture, or keep people informed regarding what is actually happening in the district.
  29. All Hindus and people of indigenous cultures must become more united in this way, and show their unity. They must also take a stand on important issues together, such as the Rama Sethu issue and others. I have often said, if the Hindus or Sanatana-dharmists could ever really unite, they would be a force that could change the world, and keep India as the homeland of a dynamic and thriving Vedic tradition. Remember, that the Global Vedic Community represents one billion people. That is no small number.
  30. Hindus, Sanatana-dharmists, Vedic devotees, and people of the indigenous traditions must be proud to be what they are. They should not feel afraid or embarrassed to be Hindu, or from India, and must be able to defend their culture and correct misconceptions that other people may have. They must become a collective voice of one billion strong and join in the Global Vedic Community.
  31. They can also participate in community activities, and open their temples to the increasing number of Westerners who are curious and interested in the Vedic culture and its traditions. The Vedic community is looking for support and new participants, and the West is the biggest marketplace for their culture than anywhere else right now. So, why not work together to provide enhanced spiritual knowledge for everyone? If we want punya or spiritual credit, there is no way of getting it faster than assisting others in their spiritual development. So, what are you waiting for?
  32. Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) must also do their part to preserve, protect, and promote the true understanding of Vedic Dharma, especially in India, and contribute toward the well-being of India’s future. They must also help support those who are working in a similar way, such as writers, lecturers, or Swamis who can help create awareness of current issues and find resolutions for them, and help wake up Hindus of India to become pro-active for the protection of Vedic Dharma. It is not enough simply to work for enlightenment, but NRIs most also help to preserve the freedom so that we can continue to follow the path of enlightenment without obstacles.

If Hindus can work together in this way, this can certainly and quickly change the view and the support the world will have toward Hindus at large.

India’s civilization is the oldest in the world. It has withstood the test of time when others have crumbled. It has weathered the onslaught of many foreign invaders and has still retained its religious and spiritual values, along with its original customs and traditions, which are unique in nature. It is the Eastern culture which has shown itself to be the most respectful and tolerant, allowing all forms of deities and spiritual paths to remain, and permitting the expression of every form of spirituality. It has given liberty of individual thought as the ultimate freedom, which other tyrannical civilizations have denounced, which has also brought about their own demise. Therefore, you have every reason to value what you already have and continue practicing it.

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Becoming a Dharmic Leader, By Stephen Knapp

Becoming a Dharmic leader, or one who truly represents the Vedic path of Sanatana-dharma, is similar to becoming the ultimate revolutionary, but a spiritual revolutionary. It is being an agent of reality in a world that still lacks reality, meaning the genuine basis of what is our true spiritual identity. This is beyond politics or a violent revolution against the typical establishment construct, or anything like that. But it is working to bring in a new dimension, a higher consciousness, and a loftier awareness of who and what we are. It is like the saying by George Orwell: In a time of deceit, telling the truth itself becomes a revolutionary act. In this way, in this age of Kali-yuga, a time when the basis of most business transactions, politics, or relations in general is deceit and dishonesty, becoming truthful enough to speak the deeper truth of spiritual reality and following Vedic Dharma itself becomes revolutionary.

Of course, “revolution” is a word which invokes many images or ideas. But in the sense in which we are speaking, it has nothing to do with promoting some kind of uprising against the present establishment, government, dictators, or the like. It is much more refined. It is an internal quest of an individual to reach one’s real identity as a spiritual being and then assist others in doing the same. It is a matter of reaching the ultimate freedom a person can attain. Only after becoming truly free can a person help others also become free. You cannot free others if you are tied up or confined in the same trap of ego and ego-based conceptions that are promoted and perpetuated in much of society. In the end truth prevails, thus the main endeavor of a Dharmic leader is to never stop finding the ways to present the real truth and meaning of the deepest spiritual knowledge, which is the Vedic philosophy, for this is what can overcome all obstacles in time. Therefore, Dharmic leaders must operate on many different levels and help others in many different ways.

Therefore, Dharmic leaders and Agents of Reality are:

  1. Always working to be in touch with their higher spiritual realizations and perceptions. A Dharmic leader, teacher or guide always makes sure that he works on his own spiritual development in order to stay in touch with the spiritual dimension. That is his foundation, his inspiration, and the basis for his insights and his motivation in helping all others. Without that he knows that he cannot be free enough to lead others to the same freedom.
  2. A Dharmic leader must know how to free others from being a prisoner of the false aims and perspectives that are commonplace in materialistic life. Because a true Dharmic leader has a connection with the spiritual realm through his own spiritual development, he naturally wants to give the same to others, and works for that purpose. This kind of freedom cannot be fully appreciated until it is experienced. And that is the object of everything that a Dharmic leader does. Through this process, a Dharmic leader works to help free others from the illusions, the bodily concept of life, and find the ways to deliver the higher perception of the purpose of life in a way that others can understand. This must include everyone so that no one is left behind. Thus, he lives for the benefit of others.

As Dharmic leaders, we are trying to free others from this limited dimension of existence and bring them to a higher level of spiritual reality, at least for those who are acceptable to it. Here the material existence is like a temporary dream from which we need to awaken and of which to be free, and we must know how to maneuver our way through it.

  1. A leader also has to fully understand the importance of the Vedic spiritual knowledge and its culture, follow it appropriately, and show by example how others can also benefit from it.
  2. A Dharmic leader must also be properly educated in the Vedic spiritual knowledge and to work to spread that genuine spiritual information and culture for everyone’s well-being. When questioned about Vedic philosophy and culture, he must know how to answer with an equipoised mind and with proper responses. He must know how to deal with practical issues, both in the temples and how they operate and are managed, and also in regard to social issues, like casteism, caring for the poor, dealing with discrimination, and other matters that are often found in India.

He must know how to educate others so that they also understand, in whatever way is best for them, the importance of this information and how to apply it to their lives. It cannot be given in a way that appears overly lofty, impractical or too unapproachable by the average person. The point is that if a person does not understand this knowledge, they will never be able to remember it, and if they cannot remember it, they will never be able to apply it to their lives. Thus, the importance of receiving this spiritual knowledge from a Dharmic leader who has the cultivated knowledge from proper references and is also experienced or realized and knows how to explain it in practical terms is most important.

Furthermore, Dharmic leaders must know how to explain the customs and their purpose to others, not merely go through the rituals without describing the reasons for them or what is going on. He must be able to explain the objective of the rituals and the benefits of performing them so that people comprehend their purpose. Otherwise, if such rituals do not make sense, or if people do not appreciate their purpose, soon they will be given up and forgotten.

  1. A Dharmic leader must not be afraid to be inventive and look at and try to use new ways to infuse the message of Vedic Dharma that can be fun, enjoyable and entertaining for both the young and old in order to invoke their desire to learn more. There are so many ways to do this. Otherwise, the message can seem to get old and boring, and then people lose interest. Another problem with many Hindus is that they think they already know all they need to know, and there is no longer any reason to learn, study, or take guidance. But when it comes time for them to explain the Vedic culture to someone else, they are at a loss for what to do. This means that, if they cannot even remember enough to repeat or present to others, then actually they have a long way to go, but may refuse to admit it. A Dharmic leader, however, can even invent new ways of teaching the message, while maintaining the proper and traditional standards. The fact is that there will need to be new variations in the approach of teaching it for each succeeding generation to make it interesting.
  2. A true Dharmic leader knows that all religions are not the same. Dharmic leaders must understand the profound and deep nature of the Vedic philosophy and not resort to some wimpy idea that all religions are the same. They are not, and you will know that if you seriously study each one. They all take you to different levels of consciousness and understanding of who you are, the purpose of life and the universe, what is God, what is the soul, and so on. Some consist mostly of moralistic principles and rules for living, and hardly touch the higher principles of deep spiritual realization. Others are more like forced dogmas which must not be questioned too much, whereas the Vedic system is to guide a person to their own ability to perceive their spiritual identity and the higher dimension, not to merely depend on blind faith. Thus, all religions are not the same, and a Dharmic leader must know how to distinguish the differences between them.
  3. Dharmic leaders understand the need to bring in the spiritual energy and infinite love that is so essential for us to become complete while living in a world that is increasingly ruled and controlled by the darkness of materialism and all the negative qualities that come with it, such as anger, jealousy, envy, prejudice, competition, hatred, etc. Infinite love is the love coming from the Supreme Being. We must be clear mediums through which that love may come so that it can be received and experienced by others.
  4. A Dharmic leader will also help free others from false or misleading political views and its corruption, and from sham economic strategies and promises that are often promoted by the agents of this ignorance that misleads the general masses in a way that benefits the few for profit and power at the expense of the many. This is part of the false aims of life that distract one from the spiritual goals that are the real purpose of human existence.

We need to work to set up a life of simplicity as an alternative to the oncoming crisis of peak oil, water shortages, environmental collapse, or other economic or political disasters, the likes of which few are working to prevent. However, if a Dharmic leader becomes successful at receiving large donations of money or land, he shows the proper example by using it for the highest good to help others both spiritually and materially, while he lives a simple life. This leads to the next point:

  1. Any Dharmic leader must be beyond suspicion of inappropriate activities or association. They must act in such a way to be free from any rumors or the appearance of any improprieties.

Especially if one is wearing saffron, which is the color of renunciation, he must be free from the association of women. (If such a leader is a woman, then she must be free from unnecessary association with men.) A person wearing saffron should never be alone with a woman. That is the proper etiquette, but also because there may be those who are simply looking for a reason to spread accusations, or who try to bring an important person in the Vedic community down and ruin his or her reputation, influence, position, or life, which thus reflects back on the culture or tradition he represents in negative ways. Therefore, Dharmic leaders must be pure in all of their actions so that they do not become vulnerable to false appearances and so that they may lead by example.

Nonetheless, a Dharmic leader knows the spiritual equality between the sexes, that both men and women are spiritual beings inside different material bodies that are like various costumes or appearances. He realizes and knows the different roles that they can play in family life, temple management, and the importance of women role models in the community and in temples. But he also knows he must never exploit others or use his position to his advantage, and, thus, is never seen in situations that can be controversial, or become food for rumors. He must be beyond suspicion of any kind.

  1. Dharmic leaders must know how to collaborate with those who are from various Vedic affiliations so they can all work together to achieve the protection and preservation and practice of the Dharma. Then we can join together as one unit by using each other’s various experiences and talents for reaching something extraordinary.

In this way, unity amongst other Dharmists is also extremely important because there is strength in numbers. And the more who work together, the more force there is for the preservation and proper promotion or defense of the Vedic culture from those who try to unnecessarily criticize it or even try to bring about its extinction. The more we work together, the easier everything becomes.

Therefore, collaborating with the larger community, and with other Vedic organizations, temples, etc., and working with the power of the collective as opposed to small groups, much more can be accomplished. Dharmists in general must let go of their ego and show how to work together. The entire Vedic community, when working in a united way, can more effectively help pass laws, institute changes to suite their needs, get the attention of politicians, and show that their vote can and will make a difference. That will provide much more influence when dealing with local government agencies. This can also help provide assistance for the whole community in times of need. Working with the collective with proper leadership will always show much more efficiency, power, and speed at getting things done than merely working alone or as only one temple or one small group.

  1. A Dharmic leader must be able to delegate duties and activities to others who are also enthused to participate in working for Sanatana-dharma. Such people can then become enlivened to continue in their work and endeavors with confidence.

In this regard, a Dharmic leader must also know how to enhance the Hindu/Vedic Community through the temples. This means to understand the importance of uniting the community with festivals, holidays, customs, and through the performance of seva. This seva or service that can be performed by other Dharmists in the community can include helping manage the temple, serving the deities in the temples, providing the means for making the temples more effective and useful to the community, and so on. Community services, such as health fairs, or prasada and food distribution, distribution of clothes to the needy, or so many other programs, can be parts of that seva in the mood of service.

Dharmic leaders must know how to coordinate activities for the protection and promotion of the Dharma, whether it is writing letters, establishing promotional campaigns, doing radio shows, television programs, or producing videos, newsletters, websites, and so on. Each leader may not know all of the ways or details to do each endeavor, but he should know how to coordinate and inspire those who do in order for everyone to work in unity for the ultimate goal.

In this way, a Dharmic leader should recognize and unite people around a common set of Vedic values, concepts and traditions that can be the universal uniting factors between all Hindus or Dharmists.

  1. A Dharmic leader must also know that many people everywhere are looking for a higher level of spiritual perception and experience, but they simply do not always know where to look. This may include Indians and westerners alike. Many are those who are looking for deeper spiritual knowledge to which they can feel a stronger connection, and many are those who become attracted to the Vedic spiritual path once they know what it is and learn more about it. It is not proper for Hindus to feel that they are some exclusive group that few others can join. Such an attitude is but a prescription for a slow extinction of Vedic culture, at least in this world. Sanatana-dharma includes everyone as spiritual beings. So a Dharmic leader provides the means and openness so others, meaning non-Dharmists, can learn about the Vedic tradition, its spiritual knowledge, temple rituals and customs, or even attend yoga classes, instruction on meditation, temple festivals, and so on, to see what it has to offer, and how it may assist them in their own spiritual progress, or even bring them a deeper level of joy and happiness. There have been many instances when such people have taken a strong attraction to the Vedic culture to lend much support to other Dharmists and the tradition itself, or who have fully taken it up in their lives and now recognize themselves as Hindus or Dharmists. Such access has often lead to greater degrees of harmony and understanding with the local community.

From this mind-set, from this perception, and from the infinite love that manifests in a true Dharmic leader’s heart, comes the attitude as summarized by the phrase “No Hindu left behind.” No Dharmist or devotee should be left behind. A true Dharmic leader will feel this in the core of his heart. He knows that he is merely mirroring the love of God to all others in the life he leads and in the actions he performs, and in the love and patience he shows to everyone. He is concerned for all living entities, but especially for those who are already following the Dharmic path. Thus, it is in his heart where he feels that no Hindu can be left behind. There is space for everyone, just as there is space for everyone in the spiritual world. No one can be left behind. Everyone is a part of the whole, the Complete. We merely have to awaken that completeness within ourselves. When everyone shares this vision, when it is shared amongst the whole community, that community becomes extremely powerful. When everyone is imbibed with such spiritual unity, concerned for the welfare of all, then the spiritual vibration is no longer something to acquire but it is something to witness, to experience, and to bring together through all like-minded people who work in that unity to expand that spiritual vibration, that higher energy that exists within us all.

The key to this love is in everyone, but a Dharmic leader knows how to draw it out and provide the means for everyone to focus on it and perceive it as their own ultimate value, self-worth, and their own offering to God and the community. Everyone in the Vedic community must see all others as Dharmic brothers and sisters who are eligible to make the same spiritual progress as anyone else.

No Hindu left behind. Actually, we do not want to leave anyone out. That means everyone is eligible to enter the temple, everyone is eligible to participate in the rituals, the sadhana or spiritual practice, and the core identity of being a Hindu, Dharmist and devotee. Everyone should feel they have a place and are valued and have something to contribute. This is the basis of enthusiasm, which everyone should feel. This is the power a united Dharmic community. When this is established, it creates a most positive atmosphere in all who participate, it creates a very positive future, and it creates a winning team in which many others will want to join. Who would not be attracted? Everyone wants to be in a warm and loving environment, and there is no reason why Hindus cannot create that for the whole community. And if someone cannot accept this, if someone cannot see the unity that we all share spiritually on the Vedic path, then they have not yet understood the basic Vedic principles of Sanatana-dharma. It means that they are still in the illusion, they are in the depths of maya. Yet, no one should be left in such a condition. Everyone should be taught and shown how to raise their own vision, consciousness and spiritual perception of who they are and the spiritual unity they share with everyone else. We must raise everyone up to higher and higher levels of consciousness, higher and higher levels of perception. Then we all become very powerful in our ability to change this world, and bring in the spiritual vibration for one and all. That is the purpose of the Vedic philosophy and its peaceful and joyful traditions.

With that ideal of no sincere Hindu left behind, the Dharmic leader knows how to instill the unity for everyone to take a stand, to defend and preserve the Vedic culture and all who participate in it. The usual apathy amongst Hindus is what must be given up and cast aside as we all gather momentum to make sure we all have our freedom to follow the principles, the customs, and the traditions of the Vedic path well into the future.

Isn’t this worth working for? Isn’t this worth fighting for? What else is the purpose of life other than to benefit the spiritual well-being of others?

  1. Finally, a Dharmic leader must create the means so that others can become future Dharmic leaders. It is not enough to be a leader, but such a person must also encourage and provide the means, the example and inspiration for others to become Dharmic leaders. We all grow old and eventually leave this world. So there must be those who are younger, who are trained, educated, experienced, and inspired to take up the cause and the position as a new Dharmic leader who can also work to preserve, protect and promote the Vedic tradition well into the future.

Naturally, not everyone may have the qualities, characteristics, or even inclination to be a Dharmic leader, but everyone can instead be a “Vedic Ambassador,” for which there is also a huge need. Everyone can join forces in the ranks of being a Vedic Ambassador, and all work together to show the benefits and advantages we all had the fortune to acquire through the practice and development of the Vedic tradition in our lives. How to do this is easy, and has been described in my article, “A Call to be Vedic Ambassadors,” which can be found on my website at www.stephen-knapp.com.

Dharma Rakshati Rakshitah, and Jai Sri Krishna.

WHAT WE SHOULD BE THANKFUL FOR ABOUT INDIA, By Stephen Knapp

    Recently I read some reports on a conference in which India’s history was discussed with the conclusion that there is little reason to be proud of India’s past 1000 years for what some people call the enslavement by invaders. But I have a different view.

Of course, we know and recognize that India has been attacked and in many ways dominated over the past 1000 years by invaders of all kinds. It has cost India millions of lives and the loss of the great esteem that India had been known for. But now things have changed. We do not have to live in those memories, nor base India’s identity on those times. We can be thankful for the tolerance, durability, perseverance, and flexibility that India and its people are known for, and that the culture of India still exists, and the intellectual character of its society is not only still intact but is blossoming now more than ever.

It was only a matter of becoming free again from the dominance of outsiders, those invaders and the exploitation they imposed on India’s people and its resources, to finally allow India to again flex its intellectual wings to become a major force with which the world must recognize and engage and reciprocate. As we can see, even India’s economy is surpassing the economy of England, which was one of India’s dominating forces for a few centuries. It was only a matter of time when India’s superior culture and the ingenuity and intellectual capacity of India’s people would again shine forth.

Therefore, I say there is much to be thankful for to be where India is now. But there are lessons we need to remember. India needs to remember that one of the prime reasons for the last 1000 years of attacks and dominance by outsiders was the lack of unity among the princely states to defend themselves from the invaders. When the Muslims first entered India, they were repelled. By they returned with a bigger force and cut through. But if other princely states would have joined in to help, they could have easily fought off the invading forces. But that did not happen. So, one by one, the princely states were attacked and defeated, which lead to the domination over India by outsiders for so many years. This should not be allowed to happen again.

Other lessons we should learn is to make sure we do not become apathetic to the need to defend India’s culture. Apathy is one of the most dangerous symptoms that allows you to be defeated by those who hate you or want to exploit you. Secondly, the divisions among the Indians should be viewed as superficial, and not very relevant to the ongoing existence of the  cooperation and respect we need to show each other for our future development. Thirdly, the secular media, when secular in many cases means to be anti-Hindu or even anti-India, needs to be recognized as a major challenge to our unity and to the future well-being of India and its people. To have a press which amplifies or magnifies anything that can be interpreted as anti-Hindu is obviously working against the very culture and vibrancy and unity of Indian society.

India was one of the greatest and most developed and wealthiest countries in the world, and gave the planet inventions and developments for which the world enjoys the fruits of today. These were such inventions as in metals, textiles, medicine, surgery, rhinoplasty, and mathematics, and on and on, which were way ahead of the rest of society, and without which the world would be devoid of many of the developments that came from these inventions. (Anyone can read more about these in my book, “Advancements of Ancient India’s Vedic Culture.”) Furthermore, we should recognize how the Vedic philosophy and its spiritual understanding and the wisdom of India’s great rishis and sages were so well accepted and respected that it influenced many other cultures throughout the world. (Anyone can read my books “Proof of Vedic Culture’s Global Existence” and “Mysteries of the Ancient Vedic Empire” for lots more information on this point of view.) As a foreigner, I constantly count my blessings that I came across the Vedic philosophy and culture of India.

So, now that India is again free to chart its own course and destiny, Indians should be proud of what it has offered in the past and use that as a sign of what it can offer in the future.

However, we should dedicate ourselves to what works now. We can see how well India gave contributions to society in the past, but also how the invaders interfered with India’s continued progress, because if the last 1000 years of slavery, as some call it, did not happen, who knows how much farther ahead in progress India might be today. So, we should also reject those foreign influences that have the power to be a hindrance to what India and its people were and what they are today. We should reject the foreign influences and recognize the way they slaughtered so many Indians and destroyed so many of its temples, and forcefully converted so many people, and imposed such events as the horrible Goan Inquisition, and still today inflict the feeling and politics of division. (My book, “Crimes Against India” describes much more of this history.)

We should reject those cultures or religions that are outrightly opposed to Vedic and Indian values, or that have a history of slaughtering millions of Indians or destroying thousands of temples, or forcefully converting people to foreign or invader’s religions. If they have had such little respect and so much disdain for us in the past, that is not likely to change any time soon. They may, in fact, simply look at what they do now as conducting unfinished business–the continued conquest of India.

What benefit is there to cater to these outside, anti-Indian and anti-Hindu forces and organizations? At the time of this writing, the ex-CM of Mizoram wants to declare it as a Christian country that should separate from India. How many more times is this going to be allowed to happen?

We should also reject things like communism and see it as an outside force that does not and has never worked, and which in India is now only a distraction in its attempted implementation.

Am I proposing nationalism? No. I am only proposing that India depend on what actually works, what actually benefits all of India as a people. And we can find that what actually produced the higher consciousness, intellectual capability, flexibility, etc., is what had always been a part of India’s Vedic lifestyle and culture.

That does not mean we reject everything that comes from the west or outside of India. We can take whatever actually benefits India. But we take the best and leave the rest. Nonetheless,  we should use the proven formulas of what comes from India, what we know works best for India.

Actually, India should try to become as self-sufficient as possible, especially agriculturally, technologically and philosophically.. That is what India was over 1000 years ago, which attracted so many people, including all of its invaders, to come to India. But if India becomes more self-sufficient, then whatever difficulty happens to the rest of the world, India is least affected by it. It remains a contributor to the world, not a taker, and remains in control of its own destiny. The more you depend on others, the more you depend on their approval, and then their dictates. India should be above all that. This will really show the flexibility and versatility of India, which Indians should value. It’s India’s system, culture and lifestyle that has protected it all these years, and that is what we must be thankful for.

A good lesson in this regard is Britain. It was once a great empire, but now has become reduced to a small island. And even what is left of its own culture is gradually disappearing and changed by the inflow of immigrants into the country that are not assimilating. We need to make sure that does not happen to India. We should have learned our lessons very clearly from the last 1000 years to plan India’s destiny wisely, and for that we should be very thankful.

Adding Innovation, Wisdom and Holistic Human Development to Our Universities, by Stephen Knapp

(Written for my presentation at the World Parliament of Science, Religion and Philosophies in Pune, India, October, 2018)

A long time ago, back when I was about 20 years old, and when I had already been studying such books as the Bhagavad-gita, the Upanishads, and other Vedic texts of India, I saw an article in my local paper by the principle of my local high school in which he said that when students come to school, they should already have an understanding of what they want to accomplish and what they want to get out of their education. When I saw this, I thought it was rather odd, because is not that what education is supposed to give you, the understanding of who and what you are, and how to reach your highest potential? But if the principle says that he expects the student should already have such insight before he or she arrives at school, this would seem to mean that there must be some kind of supplemental education that the student should have before he goes to school.

So I wrote a long letter to the editor of our local newspaper pointing this out, that there must be some kind of preliminary education that would provide the student with such insight. Otherwise, if he does not get that from school, from where is he expected to acquire such understanding? So, I mentioned that books like the Bhagavad-gita in the Vedic tradition could provide some of these insights, if people would take advantage of it.

However, some would say that this is spiritual knowledge, or even religious information, and how is that supposed to be provided in schools that are meant to be completely secular? The point is, as mentioned in the Sri Ishopanishad (Mantra Eleven), that to reach perfection in life, one must learn material knowledge side by side with spiritual knowledge. It is not enough to learn some craft or trade skills to make a living, but a person must also know the purpose of life and why we are here and who we are.

When we forget or do not know who we are, we also lose sight of the moral standards we need to accumulate to develop ourselves into decent and law abiding citizens, human beings who can make a substantial and uplifting contribution to the community and the world at large. Instead, we may fall to the platform of only trying to live at whatever cost, even if it is by trying to take advantage of others, rather than trying to better ourselves along with everyone else.

In this light, when I’m traveling and lecturing about the traditions of India, it is not uncommon that some people will ask me why there is often so much corruption, cheating and bribery in India. I often tell them that the fact is that people are forgetting their own culture, their own traditions of moral standards that the Dharmic principles are meant to teach them. In fact, it is often said that the problems you find in India are caused by India’s religion. But actually, wherever I go I find that it is not the case at all, but it is the result of forgetting, the distancing from, and the misinterpretation of the Vedic tradition that leaves the gaps in society and in the character of humanity that cause the problems of which we see so much.

The fact is that if we really understood and followed the culture that is the legacy and inheritance of this country, many of the social problems we see would simply disappear. Therefore, we need to continue to teach our children the basic principles of moral standards and character building that India’s Vedic tradition promotes. So, my advice was that we need to continue to spread the understanding of the Vedic Dharma traditions in order to show the proper example of truly noble character, not only in the teachings in such traditions, but by the example of the great character of the personalities and heroes that are described in the great epics of India.

Actually, I also put this question about the corruption of India to M. Rama Jois, the retired Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court when I had met him on one of my tours while visiting Bengaluru several years ago. He had written a book called “Dharma: The Global Ethic.” In this book, he shows the many ways in which Vedic Dharma is not a religious teaching, but a moralistic code that can provide advice for people of all standings, and in all kinds of situations, and especially for the children which can use a standard of insight that they can take with them for the rest of their lives. He also showed, as I also say, that present-day problems are due to the neglect of Dharma. And that with Vedic Dharma, there would be a reduction of evil, confusion in society, the propensity for selfish motives and cruelty to others, and how an orderly society is an incarnation and manifestation of Dharma, and how Dharma does not mean religion, which is the means of worshiping God. But Dharma is a code of living by good conduct, respect for the law and our traditions, and the means to sustain society and the world, and propel them to a higher grade of living and refined consciousness. Without that, we can see what is happening.

Dharma is conformity with the truth of things, while adharma or vice is the opposition to it. On a national, ethnic, or racial level, Dharma is an instrument of unity, not divisiveness. That which helps unite everyone and develop love and universal brotherhood is Dharma. That which causes discord or disharmony or provokes hatred is adharma.

Dharma is also said to be the force which maintains the universe. Where there is Dharma there is harmony and balance individually, socially, and inter‑galactically. So the path of Dharma brings about the harmony and contentment that is also another aspect of what we are seeking. In this way, we want harmony inwardly, in our own consciousness, but we also cannot have individual peace unless there is harmony or cooperation socially, among the masses. So, where there is no Dharma, there is disharmony and a state of being that is out of balance. And socially it means that without Dharma, there is a lack of cooperation, along with escalating quarrel, fighting, corruption, and dishonesty.

When we act against the law of Dharma, we disrupt the very harmony and cooperation that we want. In other words, we create a life for ourselves in which there is stress, confusion, discontent, and frustration. And when we feel that way, that becomes our contribution to the general social condition. It is the exact opposite of what we wish to attain. Thus, to live a life outside of Dharma means to work against ourselves.

Rama Jois explained to me that years ago, before India’s independence, it was common that children would be taught before they went to school about the moral standards and character of the heroes of Vedic culture. Sometimes the schools also would include the Dharmic teachings to imbibe in children the character and principles of being a good and decent human being, and, thus, also a good student, which the children would then take with them for the rest of their lives.

Unfortunately, once India became independent it also became a secular nation, which meant that all such early teaching about human development, and moral standards based on the heroes and characters within the Vedic epics of India, could no longer be taught in schools or any government affiliated institution. It was considered religious teachings, and therefore was not allowed. With this, as M. Rama Jois explained, came the distancing of the youth from the Vedic culture and the high moral standards that went with it. And from this came the ever-increasing corruption that has infected much of the country.

These days, only through private schools, or in families that teach the Vedic culture, or I have also seen families who hold weekend classes in such topics for the neighborhood children, do the youth still learn of this type of knowledge that helps instill in them pride in their heritage and the principles of high moral standards, and the means to acquire insights into character-building for their own development, either before they go to school or even after they have already started their education. On the other hand, if secularism means a state without Dharma, then we will see a lawless state, a lawless country. Surely, the Indian constitution did not mean that we become a State of Adharma. Dharma regulated the mutual obligations and what is beneficial for individuals and society. Therefore, it was stressed that the protection of Dharma was in the interest of both the individual and the society. And the best way to protect it is to train youngsters in Dharma from the beginning of their lives.

Therefore, the concluding point I am making is that the basis of knowledge, wisdom and holistic human development is to not only offer the necessary classes in material studies, sciences and skills, but to include the basis of human refinement that has been a part of India’s traditions since time immemorial, which includes that of Dharmic studies. Such could and should be part of the curriculum, or extra-curricular classes that students could take. This would transform India’s universities into true centers of innovation, wisdom, ethics, holistic human development, knowledge, and balance for the student’s life. This would add to the beneficial contributions such a student would offer to their family, society and the country. This would change the direction of India, and provide an example that the rest of the world should follow.

Stephen Knapp (Author/Writer of over 40 books on various aspects of India and its Vedic culture. http://www.stephen-knapp.com)

United Hindu Identity, United Hindu Cooperation

By Stephen Knapp

(Sri Nandanandana dasa)

(Written for the 2nd World Hindu Congress in Chicago, September 7-9, 2018)

            As we look at Hindus today, we have so many organizations that work for the sake of the Dharma traditions. We have such institutions as the RSS, HSS, VHP, HSC, HMEC, Kalyana Ashrama, or Swadhyaya, Iskcon, Gaudiya Math, the World Vaishnava Association, RamaKrishna Mission, Chinmayananda Mission, Vedanta Society, Self-Realization Fellowship, and many others. And I am happy to say that I have worked with many of them or still have friends in them. But some of these groups seem to be more exclusive than others. They may work hard for their own interests, yet these are often similar to the work and goals of other institutions. So, what if we were more united, more cooperative with each other? We know that there is strength in numbers. So how much stronger could we be if we could cooperate in a single force, at least when needed?

It seems that right now we cannot easily unite and become a strong federation, a powerful force that can determine the fate or future of India and the preservation of its Vedic culture. If anything, so many of these associations in India still fight with or are indifferent to one another and, thus, weaken each other to the point of becoming incapable of performing any worthwhile actions that will make a real difference for the unity and future of India and its traditions. More divisions mean more disunity. This means the less unity we will have for defending our culture.

This was the same sort of weakness of the past 1000 years when invaders came into India, sometimes few in numbers, but conquered and took over parts of the country without much resistance. It was this lack of unity amongst the princely states, and their inability to support each other or come to the aid of another, that allowed for such a poor defense system in which they could not repel their invaders. So, we have to ask ourselves, are we going to continue the same pattern? Are we going to sit back and criticize others and what they have or have not done while we have yet to do anything of real significance? If we do, then there is no doubt that we, Hindus in general, are already finished. It is only a matter of time when we and the Vedic system will become so diminished that it will fade from the world, like other cultures that have been reduced to mere museum pieces. We have to rise above that.

So, it seems we still do not have a unified identity in which we can all work together. I was the president of the Vedic Friends Association for 15 years in which we are still trying to create such a united force here in America. Nonetheless, in my view, one of the greatest attempts to do this in India was the Acharya Sabha as organized by Swami Dayananda Sarasvati, which joined together over 200 spiritual leaders of the major paramparas and spiritual lineages to discuss the common issues that affected all of them, and then make plans on how to deal with such concerns.

So, in this regard we need to reach a singleness of purpose in which we feel that if any part of the Vedic tradition or any group is under attack or being challenged by outside forces, then we are all under attack, and we all must be ready to stand up for the cause. We should be willing to be a united force to be reckoned with, the kind that makes people think twice before persecuting or attacking any Hindus or any part of the Vedic tradition. But this is a call to be active. And many Hindus are not.

Once while giving a talk at a Krishna temple in Mumbai, I began discussing the need to be protective of our culture and try to elect those politicians who are pro-Hindu, or show why they should be pro-Hindu. So, I asked the audience of over 1200 people how many had participated in the last election. Not one hand went up. This is why some people ask whether Hinduism is destined to become extinct. I hope not, but that depends on what we do. Which means we all have to be pro-active.

If we were a stronger and unified force, politicians would know that they need to get our approval. They would take the needs of Hindus more seriously if they want our vote. They would not simply be concerned with vote bank politics that often cater to non-Hindus. Such strength would also mean there would not be the persecution of Hindus that often seems to be sanctioned by politicians in states such as Kerala or West Bengal, or love jihad as found in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere. They would know that Hindus will react and defend themselves, or even go after the politicians who neglect them or even work against them.

Some say that Sanatana-dharma means that it is eternal, so there is no need to worry. But that means they do not even know that Lord Krishna said in Bhagavad-gita (4.1-3, 7-8) that one of His purposes was to re-establish the Vedic traditions that had become lost. This lack of familiarity is a sign of such fading away of knowledge of the Dharmic culture, and the importance of understanding the part we need to play. Arjuna also had to fight for Dharma, so why should we not think that we also need to do something to protect Vedic Dharma?

India must remain the homeland of a thriving and dynamic Vedic tradition. This is essentially based on the universal spiritual truths and knowledge that can be applied by any person at anytime, anywhere in the universe, so they can reach their highest potentials. That is Sanatana-Dharma. If Hindus, Dharmists or Sanatanis, whatever name you want to use, can stand united, there is no threat we cannot handle. History has shown that. But history has also shown that when we are fragmented, then bits and pieces of our culture and even our Mother India get chopped off and taken away from us. This cannot go on.

Therefore, the need of the hour is to find the means wherein we can stand together for the cause of Sanatana-Dharma, the basis of our Hindu culture.

If we can do this, the youth would also be more proud of being a part of something in which reasoning is sound, stable, and in which the participants, such as their parents, are not shy about sharing it or defending it. Nonetheless, the children have to be guided by proper training and association, and proper observance of Vedic traditions. This also is part of forming the proper samskaras in the minds of the children. And isn’t this what we are meant to do anyway? But for this to happen, the parents must also be educated in our Dharmic traditions.

We also need to realize that America is a prime location where we can work together for cultivating as well as protecting and preserving the Vedic tradition. Why? Because there is less emphasis amongst Indian Hindus on local ethnicity or caste. In other words, it is easier to simply be an Indian Hindu or American Hindu rather than a Rajasthani Hindu, Maharashtrian Hindu, or Tamil brahmin, and so on, which thereafter can bring out so many distinctions. If we are going to become united, our identity should first start with being a Hindu, Dharmist or Sanatani: a follower of Sanatana-Dharma. Anything else can be added after that, no matter whether we are Indian, Nepali, Malaysian, Fijian, or from Mauritius, Bali, or America. We are first Hindus or Dharmists. In order to create greater cooperation and a powerful association, we need to have and accept a more unified identity. Then in that light, we can work together and assist each other for the Vedic cause, and form a united federation that can more powerfully take on any threats to our future. There is no reason why we cannot do that if we actually live by the spiritual principles of Sanatana-Dharma, and, thus, Think Collectively, Act Valiantly.

Kurukshetra: A Short Visitor’s Guide

by Stephen Knapp

Kuruksetra is a spiritually important and peaceful town which no pilgrim should miss. It is 118 kilometers north of Delhi, or about a four hour train ride or three hour auto ride away. It is most noted for being the place where Lord Krishna sang the Bhagavad-gita, which means the “song of God,” to his friend Arjuna. Therefore, this town is considered the cradle of Vedic culture, part of the battlefield of the Mahabharata war, and the birth place of the Bhagavad-gita. The Bhagavad-gita is a classic text of India and Vedic thought. Every December there is the festival of Gita Jayanti, which is the celebration of Krishna relating the Bhagavad-gita when thousands of pilgrims visit Kurukshetra. The name of the town is believed to have come from King Kuru, the son of Samvarana and Tapati, and the ancestor of the Kauravas and the Pandavas.

Not only was the Bhagavad-gita sung by Lord Krishna in Kurukshetra, but other spiritually important events also took place here. Krishna met his friends and residents of Vrindavana here during an eclipse while He was living in Dwaraka. He also took bath in Brahma Sarovara and the Sannihit Sarovara water tanks. It is said that the Brahma Sarovara tank is one of the most important in all of India, and that all the holy waters of India are found in the Brahma Sarovara during an eclipse, which is why millions of pilgrims come here to bathe during such an event. It is also said that those who bathe here, live here, visit, or die in Kuruksetra go to heaven after death. In the Kurukshetra Mahatmya of the Mahabharata the sage Pulastya says that even the dust of Kurukshetra will cause one to reach the highest goal. This is the benefit for all who died in the battle of Kurukshetra 5,000 years ago, and one reason why the battle took place here. It is another reason why every pilgrim should visit this holy place. It is also explained that if a person walks eight miles along the Ganga River, he will acquire the merit of performing one ashwamedha ritual. In Kashi (Varansi) one gets the same result by walking only four miles, and only two miles when walking in Kurukshetra.

Furthermore, it is said that Manu wrote the Manu-samhita here. Some people also believe that Vyasadeva wrote some of the Vedic texts, such as the Mahabharata, at his ashrama along the banks of the Sarasvati River when the Sarasvati used to flow through Kurukshetra. This is not to contradict the premise that he also wrote Vedic texts in his ashrama near Badrinatha. The Rig and Sama Vedas may have been written here as well. Even Lord Buddha is said to have visited Kuruksetra.

While we are here, there are several places we want to visit. First of all, Jyotisar is the place where Krishna related the Bhagavad-gita to His devotee Arjuna. This is about 10 kilometers north of town. It is a pleasant motor-ricksha ride away, and it provides a time to meditate on the occasion when the huge armies gathered on these plains thousands of years ago. Jyotisar is now a small park with a central banyan tree over a small marble chariot that marks where Krishna sang the Bhagavad-gita and showed Arjuna His universal form. The banyan tree is said to be the same tree as when Krishna and Arjuna were present and, thus, the only living witness to the event. There is a large pond of water here that provides for a refreshing atmosphere. There are also a few other small shrines, like an old Shiva temple. It is most pleasant to sit and meditate on the significance of the area and read some of the Bhagavad-gita while visiting.

The history of the Battle of Kuruksetra and the speaking of the Bhagavad-gita can be told briefly. The five Pandava brothers, born of King Pandu, were the legitimate heirs to the kingdom of India. However, when the Pandavas were still young, Pandu died untimely and Dhritarashtra, the head of the Kuru family, assumed control until the Pandavas were grown. However, due to his love for his own sons, Dhritarashtra engaged in many plots and intrigues to eliminate the Pandavas so his sons, the Kauravas, could inherit the kingdom. After many years of tribulations, close escapes from death, and fourteen years of exile, the Pandavas returned to reclaim their rights to the throne. However, the Kurus were not inclined to honor the Pandavas in any way. Even after asking for only five villages, one for each of the Pandavas to rule, Duryodhana, the chief of the Kauravas, said he would not give them enough land with which to stick in a pin.

After all peaceful negotiations were exhausted, the Pandavas agreed that there was no other choice than to fight. Even Lord Krishna went and personally asked the Kauravas to settle the matter in a peaceful way, but this was not what was destined to be. Each side then amassed huge armies from all over India and beyond. In fact, the Kurus had a much larger army and far greater warriors than the Pandavas. However, the greatest ally of the Pandavas was their great moral and spiritual character, and their friend Sri Krishna, the most powerful personality.

When it was time for the huge armies to face each other on the plains of Kuruksetra, there were many millions of warriors, horses, chariots, and elephants ready to fight. Before the battle, Krishna, who was serving as Arjuna’s chariot driver and advisor, drove Arjuna’s chariot between the two great armies. Seeing the number of friends and relatives on each side ready to fight each other, Arjuna hesitated and felt much grief over the situation. He felt it was useless to fight. He preferred to retire to the forest and live as a recluse and meditate. It was then that Krishna took the opportunity to sing the Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna to show him that action for devotional service and to protect Sanatana-dharma is a higher standard.

The Bhagavad-gita is the essence of all Vedic philosophy and is composed of 700 verses and explains such topics as the nature of the soul, God, the material universe, activities and karma, reincarnation, the process of yoga, the purpose of life, and more. After all this was explained to Arjuna, he took courage with proper understanding and fought. Thereafter, the war of Kurukshetra lasted for 18 days in which several million warriors died in the fierce fighting. Then the Pandavas were rightfully established in their kingdom, and Sri Krishna had provided His eternal instructions in the form of the Bhagavad-gita for all of humanity. This is all elaborated in the Mahabharata which is composed of 100,000 verses, making it the longest poem in literary history.

When we leave Jyotisar, our next stop is at Bishma Kund, also called Bana Ganga. This is where Grandfather Bhishma fell on the tenth day of the battle of Kurukshetra, but remained laying there until the sun entered the northern hemisphere. The battle was so fierce that Bhishma’s back was covered with arrows. Finally, he fell on his back and laid on what appeared as a bed of arrows. Then Krishna and the Pandavas, hearing the news, gathered around him as he prepared to leave this world. Bhishma was one of the greatest and most respected of the warriors on the battlefield. As he lay there, he became thirsty and Arjuna shot an arrow into the ground from which sprang Ganges water to quench Bhishma’s thirst. This later formed into what is now a small kund or water tank called Bana Ganga, or Bhishma Kund. Bathing in it is said to give the benefits of bathing at all the holy tirthas. This is also where Bishma gave the teachings of Rajadharma (statecraft) and Anushasana (discipline) to Yudhisthira. Bishma also sang the Vishnusahasranama (The Thousand Names of Vishnu) to Lord Krishna before he departed this world.

Next to the kund is a small temple that has images of Bhishma on the bed of arrows surrounded by Krishna and the Pandavas in the act of listening to Bhishma as he instructs Yudhisthira on the path of dharma, or spiritual merit. There is also a deity of Krishna in His universal form. At one end of the kund is also a huge 26-foot tall deity of Hanuman. There is also a little temple here of Sita-Rama, Lakshmana, Hanuman, and Durga. When we are finished here, next we’ll go to the large Brahma Sarovara tank.

There is another place called Bana Ganga southwest of Kurukshetra in Dayalpur. This is a small kund where Arjuna had stopped to rest his horses on his way to fight with Jayadratha. In order to quench the thirst of his horses, he shot his arrow called Parjanyastra into the ground which generated the necessary water. There is also a temple of Goddess Bala Sundari on the premises, and a large Hanuman image.

Brahma Sarovara is one of the holiest tanks in India and is where millions of pilgrims gather to bathe during an eclipse. One who bathes here is said to receive the merit of performing an ashvamedha ritual, and one is freed from all sins by bathing here during an eclipse. This is where Lord Brahma performed a large sacrificial ceremony and also from where he manifested the earth planet in the process of creation. Legend has it that Brahma Sarovara was excavated first by King Kuru long before the epic battle of Kurukshetra. It is a huge tank (half a kilometer wide and one kilometer long) with an island in the middle connected by a road that cuts through it. On the island is a water well called the Chandra Kupa Well, one of the oldest sacred wells. Tradition has it that in ancient times the water in the well would change to milk during the solar eclipse. Next to the well is a small Radha-Krishna temple where Yudhisthira is said to have built a victory pillar after the successful culmination of the war. This lake is also where Krishna, His brother Balarama, and His sister Subhadra came from Dwaraka to bathe during an eclipse. Along the side of the tank is a smaller island with the Sarveshwar Mahadeva (Shiva) temple on it.

The streets nearby have a number of other temples that we can visit, such as the Birla Gita Mandir. This has a deity of Krishna in the act of explaining the Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna. Outside is a chariot with images of Krishna and Arjuna on it. Down the road along Brahma Sarovara are other temples and ashramas, many of which are quite nice. You can simply ride down the street and stop to see the ones you want to visit.

Nearby is Sannihit Sarovara, another lake or water tank that is very significant. It is not as large as Brahma Sarovara, but it is fairly big (1500 by 450 feet). Sannihit means the assembly of the entire range of holy tirthas or sacred sites, which is said to happen every Amavas, or eclipse, especially the Somavati Amavas (lunar eclipse). It is also said that all of the sacred holy places gather here on the new Moon day, and that this is where the seven sacred Sarasvatis meet. Performing the shraddha ceremony for the benefit of the ancestors and bathing during the eclipse is said to purify you of all your sins and give you the merit of having performed 1,000 ashvamedha ceremonies. Lord Krishna also bathed here and met the gopis and residents of Vrindavana when He was present. It is also accepted that it was here where Lord Indra accepted the bones from the great sage Dadhichi, which were so powerful that they were used in making a Vajra or thunderbolt for killing the demon Vritasura.

On the eastern end of the tank are several small temples to Vishnu, Dhruva, Hanuman, Durga, Lakshmi-Narayana, Surya, etc. Across the road is a large, beautiful temple to Lakshmi-Narayana. There are also numerous sadhus found here, and those who merely look like sadhus. In fact, as I walked around the lake on one occasion, I came upon a group of sadhus who, instead of engaging in meditation or reading scriptures, etc., were sitting and playing a game of cards. When I asked them if I could take a photo, a few instantly said no. Playing like a naive tourist, I asked why not, and one answered, “What do you think?” They thought I was going to take a photo and then give it to the newspapers. Of course, I knew why they didn’t want their photo taken: They didn’t want to be seen that way because they would lose their credibility. This made me realize how few real sadhus actually exist.

Not far from here is a very impressive, government operated Krishna Museum. Every aspect of this museum is related to the pastimes of Krishna and the various ways to express devotion to Him. The museum has a wide assortment of brass, metal, and wood deities of Krishna, Jagannatha, along with paintings, drawings, sculptures, and artwork from all over India. There was also a life-size image of Mother Yasoda with Krishna and Balarama. It also has an assortment of costumes and dress from different eras of Indian history. This museum is very nicely done and well worth the visit, but don’t take any photos or, as I was told, they may take away your camera. There is also a Multimedia Mahabharata and Gita Gallery for all those who are interested. Altogether it is an especially nice exhibit. Also, do not miss the Kurukshetra Panorama & Science Centre, which brings to life the epic battle of the Mahabharata with special acoustic effects. Exhibits are also related to various branches of science like astronomy, medicine, chemistry, botany, and zoology.

Our next stop is Kamal Nabha or Nabhi, which is a water kund said to mark the place where Brahma was born out of the lotus flower that arose from the nabhi or navel of Lord Vishnu. This is located in the old town of Thanesar. The water tank here is not that large and is green with algae, but is very significant. There is only a small shrine with Lakshmi-Narayana deities and a picture on the wall of Vishnu with Brahma on the lotus coming from Vishnu’s navel. In the entranceway are a few other small deities.

Another short ride to a different part of town takes us to the Sthaneswara temple and tank. This is also quite interesting and is where the Pandavas prayed to Lord Shiva for blessings to be victorious in the war of Kurukshetra. The water from the tank is considered sacred and to have healing powers. A few drops of the water from the tank is said to have cured King Ban or Vena of leprosy. The temples around the tank have very beautiful deities of Krishna, Radha-Govinda, Sita-Rama and Lakshmana, Shiva, Durga, etc., and an ancient Shiva lingam. The present temple is said to be constructed by Sadashiva Rao Bhau, the commander-in-chief of the Maratha forces, to commemorate his victory over Ahmed Shah Abdali in the battle of Kunjpura, near Karnal. According to the Vamana Purana, the tirthas of Shukra, Soma, Daksha and Skanda are located in the north, east, south, and west parts respectively of this Sthanu tirtha, but one who visits the linga of Shiva here gets moksha or liberation. The Vamana Purana also says that whoever enters this Sthanu temple, with or without desires, gets emancipation from all karma and attains the supreme seat.

Down the road is the Bhadra Kali temple. This is another Shaktipeeth, or empowered place related to Devi, which marks the place where Sati’s ankle fell when Lord Vishnu cut her dead body into pieces as it was being held by Lord Shiva. This was after she left her body when she had been insulted by her father, Daksha, in Haridwar for having Shiva as her husband. A marble sculpture of a right ankle is placed over the well where Sati’s ankle fell. It is visited by a large number of devotees.

The Iskcon Krishna temple is in the bazaar in the older part of town. If you can get there in the morning you can have darshan of the beautiful Radha-Krishna deities, which stand about two feet tall, and the smaller Gaura-Nitai deities. You can also attend the arati and have a nice prasadam breakfast. The temple is quite nice and expanding. They also have guest quarters on the top floor where visitors can stay. The number of devotees is small, but they are very friendly and helpful. In fact, they helped arrange my motor ricksha transportation to see the holy places in town the first time I came to visit Kurukshetra. However, they are building a new and very large temple on the road on the way to Jyotisar, which will be in the shape of a chariot. So many people will be stopping to see this new temple.

Another place to see is the Dharohar Haryana Sangrahalaya, established in 2006, which houses a variety of objects like agricultural and domestic implements and art and craft items from the state of Haryana. It also has archaeological artifacts, manuscripts, wall paintings, folk music instruments, ornaments, weapons, etc., to highlight the culture and rich traditions of Haryana.

There is also the Kalpana Chawla Memorial Planetarium named after Dr. Kalpana Chawla, India’s famous astronaut and space scientist. This has been set up by Haryana State Council for Science & Technology for imparting non-formal education in astronomy so anyone can learn more about this form of science. However most shows are run in Hindi language, but when needed, they are shown in both Hindi and English.

There is an assortment of other noteworthy places around Kuruksetra, some of which you may want to visit if you have time. Altogether there are still about 134 important pilgrimage sites that are still known today, of which we will describe a few. For example, the mound called Amin, eight miles outside of town, is where Arjuna’s son, Abhimanyu, was caught in the Chakra Vyuha military formation and killed during the battle of Kuruksetra, as described in the Mahabharata. And the Karna Vadha trench is where Karna, the Pandavas half-brother who fought against them, was killed when his chariot got stuck there.

About 40 kilometers from Kurukshetra is the place of Pehowa where the ancient Sarasvati River is commemorated, and is famous for the performance of the shraddha ceremonies for the ancestors. The tirtha of Prithudaka is mentioned in the Puranas and Mahabharata, where Matinara, a king in the Puru lineage, performed many rituals here on the bank of the Sarasvati River, which is now mostly dried up and no longer flows through Kurukshetra as it did during the times of the Mahabharata.

Jind and Safidon are towns where you will find such tirthas as Ram Hridaya where Parashurama performed a spiritual ceremony. At Birhi Kalan near Jind is Varaha Tirtha where Lord Varaha appeared in order to save the earth. Sarp Damam, in Safidon, is where Janamejaya, the son of Maharaja Pariksit, performed a fire sacrifice in order to destroy all the snakes after his father was bitten by the snake bird Takshaka from a curse by Shringi, as described in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. This is in connection with the holy town of Shukratal. If you have the time to do some research, the library at Kuruksetra has a good collection of Vedic literature in Sanskrit and English.

Many of the sites mentioned herein will likely change greatly in their appearance over the next few years because the government plans to spend a lot of money to make these sites more tourist and pilgrim friendly. They plan to make a “Krishna Tour” for the many pilgrims so they can easily see the sites connected with Krishna and India’s history. This will include Kurukshetra and many other places in Haryana, but also places like Vrindavana which will also be a part of this tour.

In this way, Kurukshetra has much to offer the sincere pilgrim and also elaborates the significance of the Bhagavad-gita. Some people stay for a day, but Kurukshetra deserves a few days to see and absorb all it has to offer.

 

Gotras: A Simple Explanation

Whenever you go to visit a temple in India, and participate in the doing pujas or rituals, the priest will often ask you to which gotra your family line belongs. Then you tell him your gotra, and usually the names of your father and mother, and he puts that into the recitation of prayers to offer to the deity you are worshiping, and to get blessings from that deity. In other cases, a person introduces himself to elders by stating one’s name and gotra. This is a form of acknowledging one’s ancestral ties and all that has been given by one’s ancestors.

How the system of gotra works can be explained like this. First of all, the original spiritual knowledge was given by the Supreme Being to Lord Brahma, the secondary creator of the universe. From Brahma came the powerful rishis who were capable of receiving this knowledge and preserving it, and then spreading it throughout the universe, and down through the generations of humanity.

So, after the universal creation under the guidance of Lord Brahma, it is recorded that he had 27 sons who were also progenitors for mankind, called Prajapatis, who were the seeds of humanity which spread throughout the world. The familial line from each of these Prajapatis is called a gotra. So the names of the gotra carries the name of each one of these sages. In this way, the 27 sons of Brahma were also the beginnings for the 27 gotras.

These sons of Brahma were also learned sages called rishis. These seers came to be known as the mantra-drishtaraha, seers of the Vedic mantras. The main seven sages, called the Saptarshis (Seven Rishis), are Kashyapa, Vashistha, Bharadwaj, Kapila, Atri, Vishvamitra, and Gautama. It is also these Saptarshis which help preserve and propagate spiritual knowledge to humanity for everyone’s benefit. Additional sons of Brahma include Svayambhuva Manu, Adharma, Praheti, Heti, Aristanemi, Bhrigu, Daksha, Pracetas, Sthanu, Samshraya, Sesha, Vikrita, Kardama, Kratu, Pulaha, Pulastya, and Agiras, along with Marichi, Bhrigu, and Agastya.

The gotra also helps establish your identity as part of the Vedic tradition, and that your family lineage can be traced back to one of the original great rishis or sages from whom the knowledge of Vedic culture has descended. We all belong to one of these gotras, whether we know them or not. But it is a great insight to know your gotra.

However, these gotras have since increased through time to include many others. There are now two hundred and forty-nine gotras, of which approximately forty are common today. Of these forty include: Vatula, Atreya, Garga, Kaundinnya, Kaushika, Gautama, Naidhruva-kashyapa, Harita, Bharadvaja, Shandilya, Maudgalya, and Shrivasta.

Gotras are further classified into five groups, depending upon the number of rishi descendants in a particular gotra. These groups are:

1. Ekarsheya-pravara-gotra, having one rishi descendant.

2. Dvayarsheya-pravara-gotra, having two rishi descendants.

3. Treyarsheya-pravara-gotra, having three rishi descendants.

4. Pancharisheya-pravara-gotra, having five rishi descendants.

5. Saptarisheya-pravara-gotra, having seven rishi descendants.

One example could be a Treyarsheya-pravara-gotra of Vatula, Atreya, and Kaushika gotras, or another line of three (treya) rishis.

Another point about this is that in India, one’s gotra is important because they help avoid what would be called inbreeding, or families marrying within their own gotra. In fact, sometimes they avoid four gotras, including your father’s gotra, your mother’s, your paternal grandmother’s, and your maternal grandmother’s. Marrying someone outside of these four mentioned gotras is said to help prevent birth defects or deformities in their children by keeping people from marrying within the same genetic roots.

In any case, this is a Vedic tradition that seems to be traced back to the beginning of time.