Culture is meant to be embodied by sages

Hindustan Times Saturday, April 20, 2002 Meditations/ Mukunda Goswami Culture is meant to be embodied by sages BADARAYANI OR Vyasadeva wrote these words, “The body that at first rides high on fierce elephants or chariots adorned with gold and is known by the name “king” is later, by Your invincible power of time, called ‘faeces,’ ‘worms’, or ‘ashes’.” The ABC of spiritual understanding teaches, “We are not these material bodies.” Words to remember when we’re suffering from a toothache, stomach ache or general stress? Yes, but they mean much more than temporary relief from pain or depression. There’s the same timeless philosophy here that makes phrases like Shakespeare’s “To be or not to be,” or Dylan Thomas’ “Death shall have no dominion” so memorable. Christ was an even greater poet than past and present barde. Phrases like “Judge not?”, “Blessed are the meek?”, “Render unto Caesar?”, “By their fruits?” and many other insights are now part of our everyday language. Even in rock music, the philosophy of life and death sometimes surfaces, as in the lyrics to George Harrison’s, “The Art of Dying” ? “There’ll come a time when all of us must leave here as nothing in this life that I’ve been trying can equal or surpass the art of dying.” Addressing a topic as ostensibly morbid as death is not the sole province of the transcendentalist, but is for everyone. Humanity is meant to strive for higher knowledge. Unfortunately, we are suffering from having sold our souls to the pursuit of maximizing material wealth, an end which is spiritually wrong and practically unattainable. So why do we so persistently do this? At the root of our problem is a conviction that we are these bodies, minds and senses, which the shastras repeatedly tell us we are not. Repeatedly, because although the concept is so simple, it is effortlessly forgotten in favour of more immediate and pressing concerns. It’s all well and good to think we know, “I am not this body,’ but realizing such a profound concept on a day-to-day, moment-by-moment basis is quite another thing. For this reason, sages are poets. They stimulate the human intellect by conceptualizing, and phrasing things in such a way that our minds are challenged and our understanding ‘made real’ and deepened. To say a king is intimately nothing more than faeces, ashes or worms is a brilliant way of expressing a fundamental truth about identity. All culture ? music, song, dance, architecture, drama, fine art, fashion, film, cookery, ritual, hospitality, and, of course, poetry ? has a transcendental quality when dedicated to God. The art of devotional service, revealed in Vyasa’s poetry, is the ultimate cultural achievement.