Monday, February 23, 2009

Reflections on VIP darshans

Our family boasts an Uncle who, besides having occupied positions of power and influence in his heydays, is now on the management board of almost all the big pilgrimage centres in South India. Just as one would make travel reservations when embarking on a pilgrimage, it is equally the done thing in our family to notify Uncle and request him to make arrangements for our visit. He takes care of our being met at the station, escorted to well-appointed rooms, then escorted to special VIP darshan, and finally dropped back to the station - in short, a pilgrimage on a bed of roses. Of course, it is very sweet and benevolent of him to extend his special privileges to his family. We made a trip to Mantralaya this past weekend, having dutifully notified this Uncle before starting, and subsequently enjoyed the ensuing royal treatment.

There are 3 courtyard layers around the brindavana - and the general public is allowed only upto the second. The innermost courtyard right around the brindavana can be penetrated only by priests and VIPs. After the darshan, I asked my mother and hubby if they felt any unease about receiving special treatment in front of God when the rest of the people were packed like sheep in the next courtyard, craning their necks trying their best to catch a good glimpse of the brindavana and offer their prayers. My mother subscribes to the argument that it is our own good merit accumulated from past births that allows us to get closer to the shrine, so there's nothing wrong in using it, since we have "earned" it. My hubby assauges his conscience by thinking that since God has extended a privilege to us by granting closer darshan, it is our responsibility to translate that gift into being better people and a greater force for good in this world. I happen to be currently reading Eknath Easwaran's presentation of the Bhagavad Gita and the insights I have been gaining from there do not let me dismiss the issue so easily. The whole war scenario that the Gita is set in is a reference to the battle within, between the forces of selfishness and the forces of selflessness. Right after the darshan, I opened my book for a blessed afternoon reading interlude when my toddler is out of the way napping, and this is what I read:

"Anything we can do to subordinate our profit, our pleasure, and our prestige to the welfare of those around us naturally results in the reduction of I-consciousness, ahamkara, which is the Sanskrit word used for separateness and selfishness."

It struck me that we had been doing just the opposite, however indirectly. We had been using our clout and power and prestige to muscle our way into the best darshan spot available, unheeding of the welfare of those around us. Baba says in His inimitable style, "Love is selflessness and self is lovelessness." We had been trying to get closer to the Lord of Love through our lovelessness. Can it ever be? We might have got physically closer to the shrine but I'm sure we were very far from God in ways that really count. What an irony!

In an effort to identify himself with the lot of the comman man in our country, and to express his solidarity, Gandhi took to wearing a homespun loincloth and travelling only in third class. He saw himself in all and refused to put himself apart or make himself special in any way. We might not be able to imitate the moving example of the Mahatma but we can at least learn from our experience and avoid doing things that make our conscience uneasy. You will not catch me in a VIP darshan again!

3 comments:

  1. Interestingly, these very thoughts crossed my mind at the Tirupati darshan I went to. I was in angst over it for a long while. I understand and had contemplated the arguments your mom and husband gave.

    I have a looong response to it though, and perhaps one day I will compose a post on it. For the time being, I just wanted to bring attention also to other things that come to mind - what about eating food when there are others who starve? Isn't access to funds a luxury, a privilege? And what really distinguishes between this privilege and that, at the end of the day? I can guess what anyone's first response would be to that, but what if we went still further?

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  2. Penetrating questions! As regards food or money, those are things that can be used selfishly or selflessly, as we discussed on another post. The best attitude, from what I have gathered, is to consider ourselves a trustee of whatever prosperity we have and use it in wise stewardship for the welfare of all. In the Sai center I used to attend, there's a poster put up called the "9 point code of conduct". One of the points in it is "Practice placing a ceiling on desires - consciously and continuously strive to eliminate the tendency to waste time, money, food and energy - and utilize the savings for service to mankind." Here's a discourse elaborating on that point http://sathyasai.org/search/volume16/sss16-03.pdf

    This is basically what I'm guided by.

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  3. Just thinking out loud - can this prosperity not also include the 'good' we seek to get from darshans? You know what I mean? To seek in prayer the strength to be able to serve in ways we believe in, because truly at the core of our existence we were made for this service, and prayer helps us get there too?

    I'm exploring these questions, and those involving darshans, going to temples in general, etc. for myself, and wonder if there is a fine line where 'maya' stops, or if we're just within this web, arguing and questioning about this web, and not able to extricate ourselves or look beyond...

    I am sure I make no sense anymore. I will try to be more articulate in future :).

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