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“How to Treat ‘The Spiritual’ in a Non- denominational Language”
A Paper presented by Dr M M Verma
at
The National Convention on Promotion of Value Education
at
The Sathya Sai International Centre on Human values, New Delhi
on 12-13 December, 2009

Mr. Chairman, the fellow panelists, learned participants, ladies and gentlemen. The language of the topic allotted to me is somewhat abstruse and if I have correctly understood the meaning of the topic, my task is threefold. (1) To explain the meaning of the words used in the topic. (2) To analyze why the custodians of different religious sects insist on the use of denominational languages in interpreting and teaching their respective Holy Scriptures. (3) I am expected to make a strong case for using non-denominational languages to explain and interpret the Holy Scriptures, so that every interested person could take the benefit of the knowledge of spiritual issues.

The first thing first. The term spiritual issues refer to Truth i.e., The Supreme Spirit, the omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient Reality. Guru Nanak says: this truth existed before the existence. It is timeless. It was, it is and it will always be. The Truth is one, the wise call it by many names said Yajur Veda. The Rishis have given name to the nameless.

Koi bole Ram naam, Koi bole Gusaiyan. Some call him parmatma, Ishwar, Lord, Allah and Waheguru. But the names do not change the nature and contents of the term Supreme Reality. The Holy Scriptures tell us that God has created the whole Cosmos, all beings and non- beings. He is the cause of all creation and the cause of all causes. He creates, preserves and destroys. He has created man in his own image. As Hegel has beautifully put it: “Man is the march of God on Earth.”

 The Vedas taught us to respect elders, help the needy, live at peace and harmony within the family and the society and learn from all sides. A sage is one who is at Home both in East as well as in the West. This implies peaceful coexistence among states.

The Bhagwad Gita is the finest Scripture of Spiritual philosophy. It teaches the importance of doing one’s snatana dharma i.e., performance of one’s duty according to one’s natural gunas. And doing action without the desire for fruit. Buddha gave the best spiritual teachings by showing the noble eight fold path, which, if followed in letter and spirit, will lead to the righteous kingdom. Zorathustra taught: Help the needy rather than build a Temple. The Gita teaches: Worship Me in the well being of all (Chapter XII).

Christianity teaches that service of mankind is the service of God. Love all, hate none, because Love is God. The Holy Quran preaches peace and brotherhood , unity in diversity, casteless society, tolerance and righteous conduct, which Buddha had earlier advocated. Guru Granth Sahib is the best example of ecumenism, eclecticism and secular religion. It advocates casteless and classless society. The composition of Guru Granth Sahib makes it the most voluminous and a unique Spiritual Pothi (the Granth). It’s the only Granth in which six Sikh Gurus and thirty bhagats, from diverse castes and professions from all over India have contributed to its Bani. The contributions of the Gurus and the Bhagats are considered equally sacrosanct. We appreciate that all denominational scriptures pray and sing the glory of God, seek his grace, advocate emancipation of the soul through Tap, Jap and good deed.

Mr. Chairman, I wholeheartedly accept teachings of Sukhmani Sahib, (composed by Guru Arjan Dev, the 5th Sikh Guru). It says: The subject matter of all religions is the same (Canto 24). His worship and worshippers are of the same hue (Canto 17). Mandir, Masjid. Church and Gurudwara are the same. Prayer, Namaz and Ardass are the same, said Guru Gobind Singh.

All Holy Scriptures generally speak of the ultimate goal of life as self – realization. Different prophets have advocated different paths to reach the same goal. It is said: Allah has sent 1 lakh 24 thousand prophets to different people at different times. About 20 of them are mentioned in the Quran by name. Out of 114 Holy Scriptures, some are mentioned in the Quran by name.

II. With the passage of time, the followers of different prophets organized separate religious sects, according to their understandings of the teachings of their prophets as enshrined in the Holy Scriptures.

The birth of a religious denomination around the spiritual aura and teachimgs of a prophet is grounded in history. These various sects became rigidified, inflexible and insisted on distinct denominations. No wonder, many a time, these sects fought pitched battles in the name of saving and propagating the presumed superiority of the teachings of their respective prophets.

The real problem arose when a handful of religious persons established their monopoly on these Holy Scriptures, mainly due to their knowledge of the denominational languages. In fact, they became the beneficiaries of such traditions.

I t is sad affair that different religious sects emphasize too much on the sanctity of their respective languages. Arya samaj prefers that its devotees should have the knowledge of Sanskrit and at least speak in chaste Hindi. It is said that the Holy Quran can be appreciated best in Arabic. Mr. Chairman, if I was to use the stereotypes and old phrases of Sanskrit, Arabic, Chinese, or Greek for presenting my paper, there would be few takers in the present august assembly. How many of us in this assembly know Pali to appreciate Dhampad of Buddha, the original Hebrew to appreciate the Bible; lecture only in Arabic to teach the Quran and possess the knowledge of Gurumukhi to know Guru Granth Sahib. The one reason that the Sikh community has not grown big in number is the language barrier as Gurumukhi is taught mainly in Punjab.

III. I humbly plead that we care for the contents more than we emphasize the original languages in which these scriptures were written. So much has changed. Let’s also change our perspective and teach and learn spiritual issues in non – denominational languages. Let’s show respect to the teachings of all Spiritual Masters by understanding their messages and sharing the same with others.

Saints- The saints of the Bhakti movement such as Baba Farid, a Muslim from Punjab, Namdev, an untouchable from Maharastra, Ravidas, a cobbler from UP, Kabir, a Muslim weaver from UP, Bhagat Sain, an untouchable from MP, Bhagat Sadhna, a butcher from Sind treated the spiritual issues in non – denominational languages i.e., in their local languages, which were best understood by the simple village folk. “If there is any low caste, I am the lowest of the low.” Guru Nanak hit hard the denominational language of the Hindu Scriptures. Guru Nanak said: there is nothing wrong in Ved and Puran. It is we who are wrong. He blamed the greedy Pundits and Mullahs who presumed that it was their birth right to interpret the scripture written in Sanskrit and Arabic. Nanak said: that the denominational languages were responsible for keeping spiritual issues away from the people.

If we insist on using the denominational languages to teach spiritual issues, most of us are bound to remain ignorant. Especially, in view of the Public School Education and globalization, it is high time we impart the knowledge of spiritual matters in commonly understood languages. Mr. Chairman, in multilingual and pluralist society like ours, we
must respect the teachings of all prophets not as a last resort but as the first option. Harmony
among faiths is essential for sustained economic development. Let us use a language that binds and does not divide. If we have to survive as a united society, we should understand the contents of Holy Scriptures by using non – denominational languages and overlook the differences at the level of rituals and outer symbols. Without pure heart and good deeds, no one will go to paradise, said Guru Nanak. Languages are less important than the contents and deeds.

Mr. Chairman, if spiritual messages as enshrined in the Holy Scriptures were to be taught only in stereotypes and gorgons, we will be deprived of the fruit of their teachings. Therefore, the spiritual issues be explained in simple and non – sectarian language so that we can reap the fruit of the teachings of all the Spiritual Masters. Lets rise above denominational languages to impart the knowledge of our Scriptures to as many people as possible.

The meaning of Gayatri Mantra, Arti, Mul Mantar and Namaaz be taught to all students in languages which they can understand. The most important thing is not the intellectual understanding of the spiritual issues but assimilating the spirit and living them in our day to day life. In all the religions, the crux of spirituality is love, peace, harmony, human brotherhood, righteous deeds, charity, humility, compassion and fellowship. All this be taught to parents, teachers and students in non – denominational languages.

Conclusion

What we need today is not the denominational language but the pure heart of Mohammad, the loving care of Jesus, the pure mind of Buddha, the devotion of Guru Nanak, the simplicity of Kabir, and the Vedic teachings of the law of Rita (the moral law, the natural law) later emphasized in Confucianism and Taoism in Chinese and Shintoism in Japanese. The voice of conscience needs no language. Let’s promote human values and spiritual messages in non – denominational languages, which are understood by the people.

 
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