Published 27 November 2001
TEMPLES, MOSQUES, churches, and synagogues are sometimes playing fields for the herd of sheep. This is how it works. Someone starts a chain reaction by sitting down, standing up or calling out ?Shanti Shanti Shanti hee,? and everybody follows suit. The whole congregation rises, sits, or chants, following the first ?sheep.?
This tendency has been noted in books of truth as niyamagraha, or blind attachment to ritual. Niyamagraha is a kind of distracted obedience that impels us to act in correct ways.
Religion - as distinct from spirituality - is something we learn at home. At some point early in life we start thinking about the hereafter. As humans grow older they become aware of 30 million devatas and five principal deities (Siva, Visnu, Surya, Ganesh and Durga-with Brahma and Laxmi sometimes thrown in or substituted). They now have a user-friendly, multichoice religious score card, the ultimate options game. But in this sport everyone. is equal, and everyone wins. By devotion to any one god, one can ultimately achieve God realisation.
Devotion to many gods is distracting and opposed to the principles of yoga and meditation. The Bhagavad Gita twice uses the phrase ?vyavascyatmika buddhir.? 1t means "resolute in intelligence" and ?fixed in determination.? The first time the phrase appears, it is followed by the term ?ekeha,? single-mindedness. The essential meaning of meditation is to concentrate on a single object rather than pondering the complexities of life with the hope of arriving at solutions.
The next issue is choice of object. A theory exists that all gods, meditational targets and philosophical points are equal. Freedom presupposes that we have virtually unlimited choices and that each choice will fully satisfy us.
But shastric wisdom informs that we do not possess bundles of sovereignty and unlimited choices. In fact our cherished free will is usually limited to what kind of clothes we buy, who our friends are, our metier and our education. Our choices are far from infinite.
Hinduism is at heart monotheistic, although currents to the contrary run deep. If - as many Vedic precepts assert - oceans can fulfill all the functions of small creeks, wells and ponds, all one's needs, spiritual and material can be fulfilled by the omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent features of parabrahman.
The Gita reminds us to be ?resolute in purpose? such that our ?aim is one.? So, if we're going to meditate, let's keep it simple, and do it right.