Ground Zero Mosque Thursday, May 27 2010 

Against:

  • “I think it’s despicable. That’s sacred ground. It’s a slap in the face. How could anybody give them permission to build a mosque there?”
  • “What I’m frightened about is that it’s almost going to be another protest zone — a meeting place for radicals.”

For:

  • “to establish a vibrant and world-class facility in New York City that promotes tolerance and pluralism that will strengthen relationships and attract those of other faiths to integrate and learn about Islam”.
  • “Religious intolerance, demagoguery, and fear-mongering have no place in the discussion about development on and around the World Trade Center site.”

From here.

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Faith-based Investment Thursday, Feb 21 2008 

Have you heard of religious faith based investing? Those of you who are good at making money in the stock market or working in the management or the financial sector may have.

But I haven’t until I came across this story in Businessweek. I was really surprised to read it.

I knew that in Islamic countries they follow or try to follow economic practices based on Sharia.

But Dow Jones pioneered an Islamic market Index in compliance with Sharia in 1999.

In line with Islamic market Index, they’ve now launched Indic (especially Hindu and Buddhist) religion based Dow Jones Dharma Indexes in partnership with Dharma Investments, an Indian firm. (there are four country specific indexes: India, the U.S., the U.K. And Japan).

The move is aimed at helping people invest in stocks that are in sync with their religious beliefs!

The stocks of the companies that uphold opposition to animal slaughter, protection of environment and good corporate governance are Dharmic.

To measure dharma-compliant stocks The Dow Jones Dharma Indexes “track more than 3,400 companies globally, including about 1,000 in the U.S.”

IBM, Apple and Intel are examples of Dharma compliant companies in the U.S.

Infosys, HDFC, ICICI, L & T, etc., are some of the 254 Dharma compliant companies in India.

Three boards of experts, gurus and academicians supervise the screening of companies.

  • The Advisory Committee provides guidance and establishes the principles for the methodology.
  • The Supervisory Board interprets the principles and creates and implements the screening criteria in accordance with the methodology.
  • The Dow Jones Dharma Religious Council ratifies and endorses the established guidelines and methodology.

All companies are reviewed quarterly.

Many companies are excluded from the indexes because they “are deemed unacceptable due to the nature of their business activities and operations…” and they “have exposure to unacceptable business practices.”

Aerospace and defense, casinos and gaming, tobacco, alcohol, adult entertainment, etc., are businesses/companies excluded!

Predictably several spiritual leaders and scholars in India have welcomed the initiative and sent their blessings and support.

One typical message said:

“Trust is the breath of business, ethics its limbs, to uplift the spirit its goal.”

(Other links: Hoovers, Washingtonpost.com, The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.)

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Monday, Feb 18 2008 

The death of the Transcendental Meditation Guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi recently had global coverage. The media coverage underscored his celebrity status.

The Yogi was ushered into stardom when celebrity disciples like Beatles flocked to him in 1960’s. Since then he had become a star in his own right and continued to attract the limelight through his various yoga programs and pronouncements.

I’ve read obituaries by two of his illustrious disciples who went on to become very famous like their Guru.

1) Deepak Chopra: The new age fusion guru of alternative medicine and spirituality. He attributes his success to the blessing of his Guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He said:

Maharishi began the spiritual renaissance. He was one of the most significant figures of the century. Personally, I owe everything to him. Everything I have learnt, I have learnt from him. He has influenced some of the most important people of this century. The Maharishi had grandiose ideas — sometimes even impractical — but he was a great man. …It’s enough to say I am who I am because of my Guru. I’m grateful that I was part of his dream. If there is such a thing as ‘devaloka’, they must surely be celebrating and welcoming a great sage. (Link)

2) Shri Shri Ravi Shankar: The Art of Living Foundation guru who has a huge following world wide. He credits ‘Maharishiji’ with his own spiritual advancement.

Definitely he has taken a trick or two from his Guru Mahesh Yogi himself to found his own outfit. His trademark product, like the Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation, is Sudarshan Kriya. Practise the Kriya and you’ve found the key to personal fulfillment and the secret of universe! Shri Shri said:

Maharishiji was a unique combination of emperor and ascetic, perfect disciple and Jagadguru, modern scientist and deep traditionalist. He respected all sadhus alike. In the body he was Brahmastha, now he is Brahmaleen. (Link)

He laid the foundation for a new world based on the knowledge of Vedas and spirituality. There was none like him and none shall ever be. (Link)

Mahatma Gandhi and Books Thursday, Jan 31 2008 

Mahatma Gandhi fell to an assassin’s bullet 60 years ago. It was gandhiji’s death anniversary yesterday (30 Jan 2008).

I’ve been thinking of the influence of books on his life since I posted ‘bibliotherapy‘ about self-help books and reading.

Gandhiji was not a voracious reader, yet books played a crucial role in the making of the Mahatma. The role of two of them was more radical than that of others. 

The two books were the Bhagavadgita, probably the most famous and influential of Hindu scriptures, and Unto This Last, four essays by John Ruskin.

The Bhagavadgita (the Gita)

Gandhiji read the Gita in England during his years there as a law student. He was reading the Gita for the first time and in English.

He felt the Gita was a book of “priceless worth” and years later he called it “the book par excellence for the knowledge of Truth.” A few years later the Bhagavadgita became a book of daily reading and “an infallible guide of conduct” for Gandhiji. He said:

“Just as I turned to the English dictionary for the meanings of English words that I did not understand, I turned to this dictionary of conduct for a ready solution of all my troubles and trials.” (Link)

He went on to write his own translation of the Gita in response to the earnest requests of his followers. He called it ‘Anasaktiyoga (the Yoga of Detachment/Desireless Action)’.

The Bhagavadgita was like a mother to Gandhiji, because he would turn to it whenever despair and confusion assailed him and like a mother the scripture never failed to give him solace and guidance.

Until his last day Gandhiji strived to attain the perfection of the man of god realization that the Gita speaks of. He would often tell that he was far from his goal!

But it is interesting to know how he learned the Bhagavadgita. He had found his calling and become a hugely popular leader in South Africa. Public work occupied all his time. Gandhiji would never allow even the study of the Gita interrupt the work to which he was devoted, so he devised a curious method for the study of the scripture:

“I employed the time of my morning ablutions. The operation took me thirty-five minutes, fifteen minutes for the tooth brush and twenty for the bath. The first I used to do standing in western fashion. So on the wall opposite I stuck slip of paper on which were written the Gita verses and referred to them now and then to help my memory. This time was found sufficient for memorizing the daily portion and recalling the verses already learnt.” (Link)

Unto This Last

Gandhiji read Ruskin’s essays in South Africa in 1904. It brought “instantaneous and practical transformation” in him. Gandhiji describes his encounter with the book in his autobiography. The chapter is titled ‘The Magic Spell of a Book‘ and it is very famous.

Gandhiji read the work in 1904 during the course of a 24 hour train journey from Johannesburg to Durban. He was deeply stirred by the three principles he discovered in it and decided to change his life in accordance with them. By the time he got off the train he was a changed man!

The three principles as he understood them were:

  1. That the good of the individual is contained the good of all.
  2. That a lawyer’s work has the same value as the barber’s inasmuch as all have the same right of earning their livelihood from their work.
  3. That a life of labour, i.e., the life of the tiller of the soil and the handicraftsman is the life worth living.

He founded The Phoenix Settlement on the ideals of Unto This Last. It was the first Gandhian Ashram.

Later Gandhiji paraphrased Unto This Last into Gujarati and published it as ‘Sarvodaya (Welfare for All)’.

‘Many years after, stressing what he owed to Great Britain, Gandhi wrote: “Great Britain gave me Ruskin, whose Unto This Last transformed me overnight from a lawyer and city-dweller into a rustic living away from Durban on a farm, three miles from the nearest railway station.”‘ (Link)

A Mega-fair: Kumbh Mela Monday, Feb 5 2007 

The ongoing Ardh Kumbh Mela at Allahabad (Prayag) in India is a one and a half month long (3 Jan – 16 Feb) bizarre show of piety and belief by ritual loving Hindus. It is expected to attract 70 million people for the ritual bath in the holy waters at the ‘Samgam’ (confluence of three sacred rivers).

For Hindus Allahabad is ‘Tirtha Raj’ (the king of Hindu pilgrimage centers). It’s believed that a bath in the holy waters here on auspicious days during Kumbh Mela can wash away all sins and lead one to release from ‘samsara’ (the cycle of birth and death). This release, this breaking away from the seemingly unending cycle of birth and death, is ‘parama purushartha’ (the highest goal, the ultimate fulfillment, of human life) for a believing Hindu. Hindus have invented numerous gods, devised complex rituals and worships and faithfully followed any number of practices for this purpose.

Hindu legends say that it was here at Prayag that ‘amruth’ (nectar/elixir) fell from the ‘kumbh’ (pitcher) that demons carried away by duping gods when it emerged as they together churned the mythical ‘Ksheerasagara’ (the ocean of milk). This mythical incident has made the place holiest of all holy pilgrimage centers of Hindus. Since then Hindus from all parts of India have been gathering at Prayag for a holy dip on auspicious days accurately fixed by expert Hindu astrologers by studying the precise movements and positions of heavenly bodies.

The point is: Kumbh Mela has its origin at a time in the mythical past; it is as old as Hindu myths!

(But a young Australian scholar has challenged this notion. She says that the first reference to Kumbh Mela is found in a government document in 1868. On the basis of her research she confirms that it’s only 150 years old! The weekly news magazine Outlook, dtd. January 29, 2007, had an article on this topic).

The bathing ritual itself must be really old. Its transformation into the staggering mega-fair that it is today

may not be so old. 

The Ardh Kumbh falls half way between two Maha Kumbh Melas. A Maha Kumbh Mela is held once in 12 years. The last Maha Kumbh at Allahabad was in January-February in 2001

After visiting the Kumbh Mela of 1895, Mark Twain wrote:

“It is wonderful, the power of a faith like that, that can make multitudes upon multitudes of the old and weak and the young and frail enter without hesitation or complaint upon such incredible journeys and endure the resultant miseries without repining. It is done in love, or it is done in fear; I do not know which it is. No matter what the impulse is, the act born of it is beyond imagination marvelous to our kind of people, the cold whites.” (Quoted in the Wikipedia article on Kumbh Mela).

Read another essay on the Maha Kumbh Mela of 2001.

See pictures of Ardh Kumbh Mela, 2007:1) ABC News. 2) BBC News.

 

The Visa Temple Sunday, Aug 27 2006 

We went to Chilkur Balaji Temple on Sunday, 8th Jan 2006. My wife had suggested the trip and I agreed right away.

The temple, which is said to be over five centuries old, is some 50km away on the outskirts of the city from our place.

I had heard of the temple and its popularity among the ambitious young people seeking higher education in foreign universities or better careers abroad. For this reason the Temple is nicknamed ‘Visa Temple’!

It’s said that anyone praying to the reigning Lord Balaji (Vishnu)at Chilkur Temple for a visa to a preferred foreign destination is granted their wish. The aspirant-devotees whose wishes have beenfulfilled offer ‘pradikshan (circumambulation )’ around the temple by chanting the Deity’s praise. A round of 108 times is the minimum. Some do ‘sayana pradikshan’ (rolling oneself on the ground around the temple), an extreme offering expressing their gratitude and devotion to the wish-fulfilling Deity.

Chilkur temple is without any Hindu temple architecture or art work.It’s just a small concrete structure with compound walls. Another small shrine close by devoted to Lord Shiva shares the compound and the devotees pray there as well.

It’s said that 75,000 to 100,000 devotees visit the temple in a week. Fridays and Sundays are the busiest days at Chilkur .

On our return, after a few kilometers, I saw two huge hoardings of ‘Higher Education in Foreign Universities’ and ‘Visa Counseling Services’ erected prominently on both sides of the road meeting the main road ahead.

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The Birthday of a Deity Thursday, Aug 17 2006 

One of Hinduism’s most beloved Gods, Lord Krishna had his ‘birthday’ celebrated yesterday by his devotees in some parts of India. Others, like the state of Kerala in the South, celebrate the ‘birthday’ today. Since the tradition tells us that Lord Krishna was born at night, fixing the exact day for ‘Krishnashtami’ is sometimes tricky for the pundits. It depends on the almanacs they chart based on the Hindu calendar.

Myth, legend, faith and devotion combined with religious scholarship have gone into the making of the Krishna cult. Whether Krishna was a historical figure is not a question that troubles devotees. For them the divine personality of Krishna described in mythological narratives, devotional songs and other sacred literature, lived and redefined by saints and savants through ages matters most.

There are many temples, big and small, dedicated to Krishna. Though the deities in these temples are representations of Lord Krishna (or Vishnu, of whom Krishna is an incarnation), they are known by many different names. In fact, each deity has many names and different devotees prefer one or other names of their choice to make their supplication to the Lord. Vishnu Sahsranama celebrates one thousand names of Vishnu and devotees chant these names as part of their daily worship.

There are many modern movements and cults built around the divine personality of Lord Krishna. ISKCON is probably the most famous among them.

It is customary for devotees to dress and deck up their baby boys like Baby Krishna on ‘Krishnashtami’ and seek blessings from the Deity for the kids and the whole family. This is done as a part of the puja (worship) which consists of decorating the Deity, lighting lamps and incense sticks before the deity, offering many sweets, chanting prayers, etc.

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Conversion and Punishment Wednesday, Mar 22 2006 

Abdul Rahman, an Afghan, converted to Christianity 14 years ago, but he was arrested last month when his family and relatives reported the matter to the authorities. Rahman is in a prison in Afghanistan awaiting the death penalty for the unforgivable ‘crime’ of denouncing Islam and embracing Christianity.

A convert is considered a traitor, despised and denounced by all and condemned to death by Islamic law (Sharia).

“We will ask him if he has changed his mind about being a Christian,” Presiding judge Ansarullah Mawlazezadah says. “If he has, we will forgive him, because Islam is a religion of tolerance.”(!!!) (Link).

“They want to sentence me to death, and I accept it,” Rahman told reporters last week, “but I am not a deserter and not an infidel.” (Link).

(Photo source).

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Riot And Reward Saturday, Feb 25 2006 

Yesterday was Friday and there was considerable anxiety and apprehension among the public and the police alike in Hyderabad. The police were nervous but on high alert fearing a repetition of last Friday’s incidents after Friday prayers.

In my last post I said the cartoon controversy received only a mute reaction from Indian Muslims. But last Friday (17 Feb 2006) the Muslim community in Old City (the stronghold of Muslims) of Hyderabad indulged in violent protests.

The riot broke out as a protest meeting and procession that was planned for the afternoon (after the usual Friday prayers) went out of control and spread to the neighboring areas. There were attempts at widening the conflict by attacking Hindu temples. The police did a commendable job by bringing the situation under control by evening.

The riot claimed no lives but caused considerable damage to public and private properties and sent shock waves throughout the city. Somprominent politicians and others have been taken into custody.

Old City of Hyderabad is one of the worst violence prone spots in India. Since any communally sensitive issue can plunge the region into violence, the police always keep vigil and remain ready to prevent a flare up.

The same day a minister in the North Indian State of Uttar Pradesh announced a reward of 51 crore rupees (11491427 USD) for beheading the Danish cartoonist. (Apparently he believes that the caricatures were by one cartoonist). He was speaking in an after prayer meeting in the city of Merut. The minister instructed his listeners to be true to their faith by going after the cartoonist’s head.

His outburst provoked widespread condemnation even from Muslims. The government should have thrown him out of the ministry and arrested him for attempting to instigate violence and preaching death. Instead the U.P. Government made light of it by saying, “The minister’s reaction was the voice of someone whose religious sentiments have been hurt”.

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We Are the Cause Sunday, Feb 5 2006 

“The world has come to believe that Islam is what is practiced by Bin Laden, Zawahiri, Zarqawi, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafis, and others who have presented a distorted image of Islam. We must be honest with ourselves and admit that we are the reason for these drawings. Any harm to the Prophet or Islam is a result of Muslims who have come to reflect the worst image of Islam and certain Arabs who have not conveyed faithfully the life and biography of the Prophet.”

–Muhammad al-Hamadi, writing in the United Arab Emirates’ Al-Ittihad

Link

It’s interesting to see how Arab Press has reacted to the cartoon controversy. The quote above clearly shows that there are some who dare shout that the king has no clothes on him.

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