(The following article was posted in the "Meditations" column of the Hindustan Times, one of India's largest English language daily newspapers, on 24 February 2003.)
THE WAR in Iraq (which has a population of 23 million) could mean millions of civilian deaths both there and maybe worldwide. No matter how you slice it, war is hell. Is there a solution? Maybe.
The lives of acknowledged saints like Vyas Muni, Ramanuja and Madhvacharya indicate a concern for suffering humanity. Interestingly, the English affix 'muni' stems from the Latin 'munus', meaning gift, as well as duty, while the term 'munificent' derives from 'munificus', meaning bountiful. The six goswamis of Vrindavan, apparent retirees and renunciants, wrote voluminously in isolation. But they did so with the express aim of relieving 'the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to' -- in the early sixteenth century and what they foresaw beyond.
Nevertheless, it is known that spirituality and saintliness are private and personal activities. Internal development is key to transcendental advancement. Without hours of daily private meditation and personal study, how can one achieve high levels o? any kind of learning? Meditation can mean adopting a laissez faire attitude toward the world. But should we be blissfully aloof, and praise those who make caves in the rock face? If saintly symptoms are all hidden, how are we to cure the world's ills? Both positions have merit according to the Gita, and if we cast our glance back through history, we see how the protection of citizens was a natural consequence of well-ordered religious life.
Godliness is not the sole property of hermetic saints, but a gift meant for all. It's overly judgmental, callous and decidedly unspiritual to think that the millions who die in natural disasters, unjustly under political leaders, in the womb and in wars get what they deserve by suffering the results of their karmic destiny. We live in a time when violence is commonplace, and tragedy immanent. If and when disaster strikes, only one thing will remain, spiritual reality. Whether things get better or worse, the self and God will remain untouched. That's not an argument for disinterestedness, it's a reminder of what's important. God is not a cheap purchase. Many charlatans know how to appear generous, liberal and kind. And fanatical evangelists should be barred from the category of spiritualists.
Alternatively, those who generously advocate the supremacy of God and kindly awaken the self are actually compassionate. They have the potency to remedy distress and are truly munificent!