A LEAF FROM SPEAKING TREE ‘Religion is so personal’ By: NARAYANI GANESH- Editor Speaking Tree on Dec 28, 2014 KESHAV MURARI DAS, president, Iskcon Temple in North Delhi, is leading a rath yatra today in the Capital. He talks to NARAYANI GANESH about the Gita controversy, conversions issue and need for religious harmony He likes to describe himself as kirtan singer and philosopher who expounds on universal vedantic truths. The 39-year-old came to the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Iskcon) in 1995 when he was barely 20, studying chartered accountancy, and enrolled as brahmachari-member 10 years later. He loves lecturing, singing and creating awareness of Krishna Consciousness, speaking on the oneness of all faiths and masters. He points to the deities to whom evening aarti is being offered, three replicas of those at Jagannath Temple, Puri, and says, “The altar is right now a work in progress; later we will include the main deities of Radha Krishna and others, so that visitors can enjoy darshan and participate in satsangs, singing and dancing as well as listen to lectures here.” The hall we are in can hold at least a thousand people and there is another adjoining room that has space for 500 persons. Das recollects his favourite session with inmates of Tihar jail. He led a lilting kirtan session but found that most prisoners were unresponsive, when the DIG informed him that they were Muslims. “I asked them, do they not believe in Allah, who corresponds to the Hindu Krishna and Christian God? They said, ‘yes’. Then I explained to them how similar all religions were — if Islam had jannat and jahanum, Christianity had paradise and hell, and Hindus had the concept of swarag and narak, were they not all the same? I pointed out that the life source, energy, was provided by what Hindus call Surya, Muslims call Suraj and Christians, Sun, all the same, is it not? They said ‘yes’. And while Islam talked of Ruh, Hindus of Atman, Christians called it Soul, is it not? They said ‘yes’. Then what was the difference, I asked, were we not all addressing the same thing? We are all souls in different bodies — Krishna only says ‘you are all part of me and I am the Supersoul.’ After, that, all barriers were broken and everyone joined us in singing,” says Das. When he distributed the Bhagwad Gita everyone wanted a copy for Das had elaborated on Gita’s universal nature, and how nowhere in the text was there any mention of caste, creed or religion. So, does Das agree with external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj that the Gita should be the national scripture of India? Das laughs. “Why call the Gita a national book and confine it to one country when it really speaks a philosophy that is universal to everyone, regardless of country, race or belief? You can say that the Gita is a universal book.” Should the Gita be made compulsory reading in schools? He says, “All scriptures of all religions speak of oneness and each have their own way of explaining fundamental truths.” He says why not constitute a national team of inter-faith scholars that can cull out similar passages — that speak universal truths — from all scriptures and compile them in a simplified manner for school children so that young minds are exposed to the inherent unity of all faiths? This way they would acquire knowledge of all great minds and grow up knowing that there is absolutely no difference in the ultimate goal of all religions, so there is no reason for any kind of conflict or disharmony. “I read the Gita regularly, but currently, I am also reading the Quran,” he adds. “Prabhupada, Iskcon founder, would say, ‘Religion without philosophy is mere sentimentalism’ — we need to grow beyond individual religions and embrace universal truths; that way India can become a real superpower!” Das points out, the Gita does not belong to any one religion or nation, what it says can apply to anyone, anywhere in the world. His mantra is: Give knowledge to all so that ignorance can be overcome and the world can become a happier place where people are aware and are inclusive instead of becoming frogs in a well. “According to the Gita, there is only one dharma or faith — chanting the name of God. It is the foremost of the Ten Commandments in Christianity. Guru Nanak advocated Naam Simran, remembering the name of God. The name or form is your individual choice. All these ‘love jihads’ and conversions and reconversions must stop. In a secular country like India there are bound to be several faiths — moreover, an individual is free to change his mind any time and so might choose to follow one faith or other at different times. “A National Registry might list out the demographics of different religions, but I really don’t see how any government is concerned with who is following which religion; better to focus on good governance by following the Constitution, because religion is so personal. What works for me might not work for you.” Keshav Murari Das has a suggestion: First, political leaders should get to know the meaning of religion and strive to be rajrishis by acquiring spiritual knowledge through education to remove ignorance. “See, in the past, so many forced conversions took place — through Aurangzeb, Christian missionaries and so on. All this is part of history. In the current (democratic and secular) scenario, we need to move on and leave religious belief to individuals.” What is the significance of organising rath yatras? Das explains how it all began. Once Prabhupada, along with visitors from other countries entered the Puri Jagannath Temple where the panda, priest, declined to admit ‘foreigners’. “That was it, Prabhupada decided to organise his own yatra where everyone would be welcome, for did not Jagannath mean ‘Lord of the Universe’? Then, why do we discriminate?” Iskcon has been continuing this tradition by organising more than 500 rath yatras annually across the world to bring people together without any discrimination. In fact, Das informs that an American marine in Iraq celebrated the rath yatra with fellow soldiers with the permission of his General. Das says in a rath yatra they take care not to disrupt traffic on roads nor litter them. They have a band of 1,000 youth volunteers who follow the rath, cleaning the road behind it and some of them are on duty to ensure smooth flow of traffic while others distribute chappan bhog (56 dishes) in eco-friendly earthenware, cooked by devotees. In today’s yatra, jhankis or floats will also feature one with a rock band playing Hare Krishna kirtan. “We are all souls in different bodies and whether Hindu, Muslim, Christian or of any other persuasion, we need to go beyond all identities. So, let’s strive to evolve to soul level by rising above body and identity — then you will find we fight no more.” &&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&


Popular posts from this blog



The King of Ragas: Sankarabharanam