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The Three Levels Of Consciousness {Sanaatan Dharm Series}

Published August 20, 2017 by vishalvkale

This is the next in the series on Sanaatan Dharm; these articles are my reflections as I attempt to understand myself, my religious affiliation, and the world around me – it is the chronicle of my path of self-discovery… I make no assertions on a collective scale


WHY DO WE PRAY?
This is one question that has come to my mind only very recently; it is one of the triggers for penning this article. Why do we Humans pray? For what purpose? I can make no assertions for you – but I can examine and analyse myself, and try to determine why I pray. What is it that drives me to prayer? In my case, I can truthfully state that prayers started as a means, an effort, to get divine assistance to smoothen my rather difficult, or rather uncertain life and its attendant problems. That is how it started out – and it would probably have remained at that level, had life not had other ideas.
That is the best way I can put it – for I can find no other reasons for the sequence of events that has lead to this deep self-examination that I subject myself to in writing this chronicle of self-discovery. Being a person with deep seated, strong belief systems based on values – Integrity, Honesty, Loyalty and so on; living in a world which thrived on “gamesmanship”, selfishness and materialism – not having a coping mechanism meant I had to build one of my own. My response – building my mental ability to disconnect; my hobbies, which have enabled me to keep afloat, even achieve a lot despite being rather strict in my values, was one aspect; but, in difficult times – the answer I had usually had was a combination of my hobbies and being able to disconnect, and prayer to deal with the resultant stress.
FEAR
That brings me to what I can call the first level of consciousness – Fear. Fear is can be said to be a driver of action – this is well accepted by science. Fear is also what drives humans towards Prayer, as uncertainty raises worries, anxieties and stress levels.  That drove me increasingly towards Prayer – something I almost never did right till my late 20s, despite not having a Job, or any career clarity. I wasn’t built that way. Well-wishers, family advised me and directed me towards Prayer – thus, Prayer is also a learned response, it would seem. One does need a Guru, a Guide to set a person on the right path. Praying kindled hope, it also kindled action, as somehow I acted much better with the confidence of a firm hope behind me.
DESIRES
Life went on; I advanced in age, in my career, in my personal life; this kindled in me my desires. Initially, these desires were materialistic in nature. However, it needs to be noted that Fear outpaces, outdistances Desire; fear is a far stronger emotion. Desires and ambitions lie dormant, and are drivers of longer term action, whereas fear-driven responses are shorter term, in my experience. These never drove me to prayer; Desires and Ambitions spurred me to action – in my life, in my career.
These operate at two different levels, as I have observed keenly over the past 2 years – fear is always on the top of the mind, whenever present; and desire lies dormant, together determining life choices and decisions. In good times as well as bad, this hold true. These drive what you are today, what you want to be tomorrow… not what you will be tomorrow, which is the result of a combination of your actions & your circumstances and your decisions. Understanding how, why to take these decisions is a life hunt for each individual. The gap between what you want to be and what your direction is taking you towards stress, kindling, once again – fear and desire, taking you back where you started. Fear keeps you on your toes in the real world, while desire enables action and response mechanisms, together leading towards your life materialistic goals. These are thus two different levels of consciousness!
TOUCHING DEEPER INTO YOUR CONSCIOUSNESS
Most of us go through life in these levels of existence – fear & desire. So far, we are in safe territory even from a perspective of psychology and known science. And yet, I have always looked out into the sky at night, wondering why we are here; why we are alive; who am I; what is life; and having a deep dear of dying – as long as I can remember. I have no idea why I had these thoughts. I have always wondered who is God, how did this Universe come about – maybe all Humans do have these thoughts. Assuming that is so, I, like other humans, did nothing about these except suppress them.
THE THIRD LEVEL – SELF CONTEMPLATION AND EXAMINATION
I have no recollection or idea what drove me towards reading The Bhagwad Geeta in several translations, The Upanishads, or The Vedic Texts; but it was connected to my habit of reading, when I came across an excellent book – What India Should Know, the 2nd half of which was based on The RugVed and YajurVed. I have always been a voracious reader; so that wasn’t a surprise. But till this day I have no answer to why I picked up my first Bhagwad Geeta translation, or my first Upanishad. Maybe it was God’s hint; I don’t know – but I was lucky to pick up the one by Geeta Press.
And it is through studying these scriptures, which I have been doing for 3.5 years now, repeated alliterations of the same, that I can arrive at a faintly glimmering look at the 3rd Level of Consciousness, a level deeper than these above 2. From a perspective of Psychology – fear & desire cant answer your value system, which is the core of human personality. Lying dormant, but the determinant of all actions as well as deep thoughts is your core value system.
What is the connect? Simply this : I have always wondered how I can stay cool, calm and reasoned even under extreme stress and difficulty, of which I have seen far more than my fair share? This isn’t my observation, by the way – several friends have observed this in me, and it is they who brought my attention to this factor. If fear & desire are the two levels, then there has to be a third level of consciousness that determines your behaviour, attitudes and your actions, which has to be the bedrock of your nature & your personality.

This is where we diverge from accepted Psychology so far as I am aware; and paradoxically, this is where Psychology and our scriptures also come together. As we shall see in the next part of this series, whenever I get around to penning it, this 3rd level is extremely hard to put into words, let alone understand. And yet – it is there, it is present, as you yourself have no doubt realized in the quiet contemplative moments of your life. This is a level that transcends fear, desire and existence; and goes to the core of the intersection of Psychology and Scriptures – as we shall see in the next part of this series of personal thoughts on Sanaatan Dharm…

Sanaatan Dharm And Hinduism – Questions & Comparisons

Published August 3, 2017 by vishalvkale

MY SILENCE

It was a discussion over Whatsapp that spawned a series of thoughts in my mind, given that the topic was: Hinduism… or as I like to call it – Sanaatan Dharm, which may well be the rightful name for our religion. The topic hinged around the concepts of our religion as it is given in the scriptures vis-à-vis as it is commonly understood. I normally prefer to keep silent on such matters, as they are matters of faith, and I refrain from forcing my beliefs on other people. There is, in fact, solid basis for this in our scriptures as well, as I have pointed out earlier.

Hinduism
Hinduism / Sanaatan Dharm
While the discussion was on a tangent that is not relevant to our hunt here – which is a hunt to understand Sanaatan Dharm, as I have documented earlier on my blog. To reiterate, I will use my blog as a tool to document my thoughts as I try to come to terms with my identity, my self in totality. This current article is the next in the series, and has been brought to my mind by two or three people who deserve a mention – my childhood friend Aparna, and my college senior, strongest critic, and strongest supporter – Amitabh D Sinha Sir. Without these two, I would very likely have not come to these thoughts, and these realizations. I must also mention Sandipanda – who inadvertantly guided me to the next point in my hunt, namely Swami Vivekanand.
SANAATAN DHARM OR HINDUISM?
Anyways, to come to the point : the discussion veered around to Hindutva, Hinduism and the concepts of Sanaatan Dharm; my confusion relates to correlating these, and my complete inability to see them as part of the same whole. How do you reconcile these – and a reconciliation is essential – for the perfectly simple reason that the society I live in does not recognize a difference between Sanaatan Dharm, and Hinduism. But my problem has always been that while the latter is around specific Gods, the former is amorphous in content; the latter is specific & vivid with clear imagery and identities you can relate to; while the latter is philosophical, intense and seemingly vague.
How can these two diametric opposites be part of the same, and indeed the identical same? That even lead me to exclaim in resignation :  “My Religion is not Hinduism – it is Sanaatan Dharm” to Amit Sir, Da and some others. I would like to claim that I don’t identify with Hinduism as it is understood in some minority niches, while I do identify completely with Sanaatan Dharm; but there is an issue in that proclamation, as we shall see later in further articles. That said, I do find some of the practices among the public & some beliefs to be beyond my comprehension. Thus, since I straddle both boats, Hinduism and Sanaatan Dharm, and given the centrality of Religion to a human personality, a reconciliation between these two diametric opposites becomes essential.
And it is in this reconciliation of these two extremes that I feel learnings can be hidden for my readers – just as by the mere act of penning these words in free-flow, I am also realizing through contemplation. On the one side, we have a specific, definable set of identities, imageries and figures that we relate to on a deep personal level – be it Sai Baba, Hanuman, Lord Ramchandra, Saraswati, Ma Durga, Bholenath, Shri Krushn {Krsna} etc. On the other hand we have the amorphous Parabrahm of the Upanishadic texts. While on the one hand we have Lord Ganesh, on the other we have the infinite wisdom of The Geeta.
RELATING THE TWO…
I find myself relating to on a successively deeper level with each iteration of The Geeta that I read; with each iteration of the Upanishads I read; and now, with the writings of Swami Vivekanand. And yet, I feel an equal pull & attachment towards the specific identities given above, known to be Avatars of the Lord. These are the ones I have grown up with, these are the ones I have prayed to, and these are the ones I have sought solace in and thanked, as the occasion may be. They are as much a part of me as my Atma is, they are central to me and my very existence. And it is this which gives an incorrect impression to outsiders – that our religion is amorphous, has  many dieties, and so on.

QUESTIONS… AND THEIR SOURCE
The question then arises – why should I find it a question, and why cant I leave well enough alone? Why should I be concerned if my religion has two aspects – one specific and one seemingly amorphous? The source of my discomfort are many; viz – the ideological usage of our Gods & Avatars, the political intermingling, the rising need of cohesion in a section of my fellow-religionists, and so on. On a deeper, more personal level, my readings and my life experiences have lead me to ask some hard questions, which weren’t so easily answered by my then-existing belief systems.
One – the hunt for peace of mind. No amount of success, happiness, sadness or any emotion could give me  my peace of mind; even in a temple, I was full of thoughts – (nay, desires – as I now realise); the inability of existing prayer to enable me to de-stress; I was full of either desires & ambition, or fear. Going further, existing belief systems simply failed to answer basic questions – who am I? Where did I, we, this world come from? Why am I here? What is the purpose? The fear of death would always be paramount & everpresent, whenever it arose.

A REALISATION
Out of all this arose a rising and absolutely stunning realization – this inability to answer & cope had nothing to do with my external situation. The more I introspected, the deeper the realization that my discomfiture had precisely nothing to do with  my personal ambition and needs. My rising discomfiture was due to the prevalent politicization of an intensely personal topic; it was due to my own unanswered internal questions & fears; it was due to my inability to understand how & why praying, or temples would exterminate the evil I had perpetrated – and many other similar questions and observations.
GOING DEEPER INTO QUESTIONS…
When I looked around, I spotted a pantheon of Gods; so who do I pray to? I feel no special connect with any over another God; and I cannot believe Lord Ganesh would mind if I pray to someone else, so long as I do it properly! So, who do I pray to? Is it wrong if I pray to only one? And so on and so forth. Not only  that, I also cannot fathom that if our Gods are Gods, what, then are the Gods of the other religions? The prevalent theology present simply failed to answer this. If my Gods made me, who then has made the Muslims, The Christians, The Parsis, The Sikhs? And if that is indeed so, that the one true God made us – what are the humans? And if they are praying to their Gods, aren’t their prayers being listened to? Don’t they believe? These and many many other questions came crashing into my mind with a gale force every so often. Questions to which I was not able to formulate any answer.
I am a man of science; I have studied evolution, and in depth. I have a hobby of Genetics, and once fancied an MSc – PhD in Genetics. I am aware of the theories of Astronomy as well – well aware. Nothing – not religion and certainly not science answered my question, my most basic question – who am I? Where did I come from? Where did this world & this Universe come from? Many other questions hurtled through my mind on a daily basis – why this poverty and inequality all around us? Every time I saw a poor person, my heart would stop, and I would cry, quite literally. Every time I saw a heated discussion over Religion, I would wonder how and why can someone fight or argue over that?
CONCLUSION…
Putting all of these questions together into one coherent whole, – or incoherent whole, depends on your POV – took all of 4 – 5 years of thinking. This is as far as I have got, or rather had gotten, before a chance discussion with the 3 aforementioned people led to a series of thoughts, learnings and realisations. And while some people insisted on coherence among co-religionists, across religions,  this gave rise to further questions, as the breadth, scope of what was called Hinduism simple overwhelmed me. People said it was a way of life, a path; if that is so, what is that path? And how should I follow that path? Am I currently following that path? This question is what I tackle next, insofaras it pertains to me… do stay connected with my thoughts. If you have found this rambling & confusing, the reason is that it is both. My apologies for the same, as well as any hurt I may have caused, which was not intentional.

Tarkeshwar Mahadev : Pune Hidden Gems

Published July 15, 2017 by vishalvkale

What do you do when you have something good, something that is praiseworthy, and something that can be an attraction? Answer, if you are in Pune – keep silent about it, tell no one. This is seemingly exaggerated – perhaps it is exaggerated; but I am flabbergasted by a series of unbelievable locations that I have visited in Pune City – within main Pune City, mind you. These are not well known – at least not one single localite informed me, even on asking. At least those I talked. If I didn’t talk to the right people, perhaps I am in the wrong.



But – if you expand your vision to TV, Cinema, Popular opinion, hotels – the situation above gets proof. I earlier visited Pune on a family holiday, stayed in a good Hotel. Not one Hotel informed me of these; not one person – Taxi, Tour Guide – even mentioned these. Thus, it seems to me that Puneites don’t realise how lovely a city they have, how mesmerizing are its many, many tourist-worthy places, how rich and unspoiled, unaffected by commercialism and popularity – making them lovely family visits.



I am referring to the many, many locations not mentioned usually, unlike the ever present Shaniwar Wada and Sinhagad etc. Sure, these are noteworthy; these are lovely and stupendous in themselves, they are the crowning Jewels of the city of Pune. But the people here forget that it has many other places – that deserve greater attention, like Pataleshwar Caves, Southern Command War Memorial {shared on my blog earlier} and the current one being reviewed – Tarkeshwar Mahadev, Yerwada, Pune



I did not even know of the existance of these three; Pataleshwar Caves I discovered on my own, as I was visiting JM Road on a market visit with team. The key account we were visiting was out, and I had time; I noticed something across the road – and walked. To my stunned and shocked surprise, I walked in on an ancient Temple cum cave complex, one of the loveliest locales it has been my luck to see. But more of that in the appropriate place when I document and review Pataleshwar… let us look at Tarkeshwar today in this review



Tarkeshwar, like Pataleshwar, is my discovery, insofaras not one single Puneite told me of its existance. I happened to notice a tall Shivji statue on my way from Bund Garden to Yerawada; I just walked in -yet again, to be stunned out of my wits – I was slam-bang right in the middle of one of the loveliest, and extremely holy sites, with a beautiful mesmerizing view and climb, and an even lovelier beauty of a temple  complex, with the primary deity being Shivji.

There is no indication of its heritage, or of its historicity – none that  I saw, at any rate. One of the pilgrims there told me that it is a very ancient temple {that is apparent from the construction etc}, and that it has linkages to the Pandav Brothers. I hunted on the internet – I could not spot anything on any site, save for a small article from January 2016 of its renovation being planned. I don’t think this said renovation has actually happened by the way, judging from the article and the temple. Only on tripadvisor and other such aggregator sites and one or two blogs is there a mention so far as I could see.


So tell me, Puneites – why should this be so? Look at these mesmerizing snaps, and tell me that this place isn’t worth a visit, even without the connected holy temple! Look at the images, dear readers, and decide for yourselves whether this place deserves a visit or not for yourselves. As regards the Temple, I can only say it is clearly very old, and is an immensely calming presence with Shivji as the primary deity, and smaller temples dedicated to other dieties in the Temple complex, like Renuka Mata and including clearly newer addition like one dedicated to Saibaba. Please look at these enclosed photographs, and decide for yourselves that this place deserves at least one visit or not… 




Book Review : The Rise Of The Sun Prince {Ramayan Book 1}

Published April 25, 2017 by vishalvkale

||Shri||

Book Review : The Rise Of The Sun Prince

Ramayan : The Game of Life Book One

By : Shubh Vilas

This is a story that never grows old; a history that has been and will be told millions of times in the past 7000 years; and a practice, a tradition that will remain with us Sanaatan Dharmis as long as there is life on Earth. This is the story, the History of the Lord Ram himself, and his undying and mesmerizingly lovely story of his time of Earth with his lady love, Goddess Sita. That makes it a hard, an exceptionally hard story to re-tell; something to be taken up with great caution, tremendous knowledge – and above all, utmost devotion.

Any retelling of The Ramayan that is taken up with the above 3 characteristics will be enticing, beautiful, lovely and fascinating. This is not a tale that can be anything less; not with its sublime beauty; this is a tale like no other – never has history been so enchanting, so beautiful as during the events of The Lord Ram’s life. Such is the towering beauty of this magnificent historical event that it captivates the mind, draws it in, leaves you enchanted, and leaves you richer for the experience. We are truly lucky to be able to savour the awesome delectable pull of this lovely tale in all its resplendent glory! 

And when this sublime story is taken up with the additional flavours of completeness, intellectuality, and connection with modern life – it rises above the ordinary, making its reading an experience to be relished, moments spent reading it as special moments to be treasured in your memory. This current re-telling of this timeless story is in this category – a very, very special re-telling that elevates it into the pantheon of being among the finest modern books written!
The first part of the seven-book series starts, quite literally, from the beginning – from the time Narad Muni narrates The Ramayan to Valmiki Muni, and contains details of Lord Ram’s Ancestors; and the full story of the Ikshavaku Dynasty leading upto King Dasharath in its pages. It tells the story of the birth of Lord Ram, of his growing up years, and of his experiences with his Guru Vishwamitra. The book also paints a stunningly beautiful and detailed portrait of life in Ayodhya, as well as of the qualities that made Lord Ram so special.
It also narrates the full tale of the Janak Dynasty of Goddess Sita, and of the confluence of the two majestic Satyug Dynasties- The Solar and The Lunar Dynasties, giving names of the ancestors of each lineage. And it also introduces the third major player on the scene -Ravan, and gives his history, as well as the story of the rise of the Island of Lanka from Mount Meru. But above all, second only to Lord Ram, this book is the book of Maharshi Vishwamitra – of the way he rose above his passions, failures, anger and learned-struggled-studied-sacrificed his way to the high status of being a Maharshi. This is something that gives all of us tremendous hope, and which drives us to work ever harder in rising above our own sins!
Similarly, there are so many small and big mini-stories, all critical to a full understanding of this Holy Tale, that are detailed within the pages of this book that mentioning them all here is not feasible; I can only state that this is a unique and remarkably detailed narration of The Ramayan, that is recognizably true to The Ramayan History that we all know so well; and yet – it is far more, as it gives full details of a lot of events and things we were not aware of earlier.
The current, first book starts, as stated above, from the beginning, with Narad Muni and Valmiki Muni; and completes at the Marriage of Lord Ram to Lady Sita, concluding at the confrontation scene between the two Avatars of Lord Vishnu : Lord Ram and Lord Parshuram. It covers the birth, education of Lord Ram under both Maharshi Vashisth and Maharshi Vishwamitra, on to his marriage to Goddess Sita, adding quite a bit of details that at least I was not fully aware of.

But the icing on the cake is the connect with the Modern World, and the applicability of the learning from this Timeless, Ageless Tale of The Lord Himself in a modern context. That is what makes this series truly special, giving it a deep connect. This approach makes this series of books an experience, and a self-development effort as well as a mesmerizing tale- giving its breathtaking scope and details enclosed within each book of this series. This series is an experience to be experienced, and a learning to be enjoyed!  

Book Review : Saraswati’s Intelligence

Published January 29, 2017 by vishalvkale

SARASWATI’S INTELLIGENCE
Part 1 of the Kishkindha Chronicles
Author – Vamsee Juluri
A Word About The Publisher
This book is published by Westland Books, to whose products I was first exposed to 2-3 years ago; since then, I have been noting the consistently high quality of their products – both in terms of variety, content as well as external finishing. They have branded themselves through unmatched quality, and attained a level of performance and  a place for themselves in this highly competitive industry. Yet again, we get treated to an excellent book; keep up the good work, Team Westland!
THE PLOT
Image result for saraswati's intelligenceThe book is a work of fiction;  a very interesting, fascinating re-telling of a part of The Ramayan : The Story {fictionalized} of Lord Hanuman. This is the first part of a series; a series which focuses on Lord Hanuman {or someone so closely resembling Hanuman that there can be no doubt who the author is referring to}. This is an important distinction to make – as I connect up in the review portion. The series is around Kishkindha, the Kingdom of King Vali {Bali in the real history of The Ramayan}
The book describes an almost mesmerizing, fantastic and completely believable land of total peace {which one can readily equate to Satyug}; a land in which there is no bloodshed, no evil and total harmony. Fittingly, it becomes clear from literally the first page that the series describes the descent of humanity from that high and haloed perch. Again, this is in keeping with the established history of The Ramayan. The extrapolation from history to recreate that time has been superbly done, making for a really fascinating and captivating read.
The story starts from a young Hanuman {I will Jettison the word Lord, since the book refers to fictional characters, not the Lord Himself} playing with the elder Vali and Sugreev. It chronicles how Sugreev and Hanuman fall out of favour when they break the law of peace and bloodshed by pure accident; how they are banished from the society, and traces the path they take. It traces the coming of age of Hanuman, and how he starts to become the all-powerful hero that the Real Lord Hanuman is known to be. The parallels to the real story are near-flawless, and well executed.
The story revolves around the start of fighting in this peaceful land, as the noble people are overcome one by one, until they come face to face with the now-angry peaceful people of Kishkindha in the climax of this part of the series. The enemy is a primordial enemy, less cultured, less civilized, almost animalic in behaviour. It has a rather interesting take on Lord Ganesh {This is an assumption; the name may be coincidental – the further story will tell}; in the book, The Land of Ganesh is populated by Elephants; there is a take on Naraklok as well, with flesh-devouring birds, loosely represented by and named Jatayu. All in all, it contains every element of The Ramayan; and yet is sufficiently different to make it an original fiction story that is at best loosely based on historical events from our ancient history.
THE REVIEW
First things first : the book is a very interesting, mesmerizing and fascinating re-imagination of our history. The treatment of all characters is tender, well thought out, and does not incite any passions. Now this is a tremendous achievement, given that you are dealing with The Ramayan, a book that is closest to the heart of every Sanaatan Dharmi. Playing fiction with characters as real and powerful as Lord Hanuman, Goddess Saraswati etc is no joke; and the Author successfully manages to keep the two separate in our minds. These have powerful contemporary relevance to the modern follower of Sanaatan Dharm, wrongly called Hinduism, hence the tasteful, tender and logical treatment is welcome.
I have to admit – at no point did the book incite any objection or passion whatsoever, even from a person like me; an ardent reader of our ancient scriptures as well as history, and a devoted Sanaatani. Not only that, the book is written very well indeed from a novel or fiction perspective as well; it is a fast, rapid read, is fun and without any needless side-lines and twists. The author had of course, one powerful advantage – he had no need for detailed characterization, as he could simply build on public memory; this has been skillfully achieved.
The upshot of this, which I call a massive advantage {though Westland and Mr Juluri will differ, quite obviously} is that this is a book specifically targeted at the Sanaatani reader. If you are not a Sanaatan Dharm follower, then this book may not make much sense to you, or may not have much of a connect with you. Make of that what you will; that is my recommendation. The immediate connect the material has is due to the patkatha, the background which we can immediately  recognize. That this connect has been properly nurtured through a host of cultural clues and similarities is a tribute to the skill of the author, who has assiduously built an excellent story based on our cultural history
The biggest aspect of the book lies elsewhere; though this will be clear only to ardent readers of our ancient literature, people with a relatively deep reading of that ancient time. The re-imagination of that time is so logically done, so in keeping with what is stated in the historical literature, that one easily imagines that this is how it could have happened. The Ramayan clearly describes a far long gone time, almost pre-historic; there are many indications of that. And the re-imagination of that society, of the life through small hints, like how the Gadaa came into being seem very logical. This is what impresses deeply in this re-telling or re-imagination. All in all, rated 4 stars out of 5!

Sanaatan Dharm Explained : My Personal Path; The Basics

Published January 22, 2017 by vishalvkale

I am an ardent student of the Ancient Literature of our Religion, Sanaatan Dharm. The following article is the first in a series in an honest attempt to consolidate my readings in my mind, and represents a continuing hunt, a search and a struggle to understand. This article is basis two years of studying the following Sanaatan Dharm Literature repeatedly : The Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta, Ishavasya Upanishad, Mundak Upanishad, Mandukya Upanishad, Ken Upanishad, Kathh Upanishad, Prashna Upanishad, Aitareya Upanishad, Taittriya Upanishad and Shvetaashwar Upanishad.
My thanks to Naveen Nawathe & Amitabh D Sinha, without whose discussions I would never have crossed the rubicon, so to speak, and started writing on religion. It was these two gentlemen who first raised the issue and stated, what is the point of your reading if you selfishly keep it to yourself? Further, why don’t we Sanaatanis take our literature in a more friendly form to people? To them, my rejoinder – I am not an expert, just a student. There is a long way to go for me, many many years of study. But yes, I can use my writing in an effort to consolidate what I have learnt, by writing from memory thereby firming the information stored through my readings.
UNDERSTANDING THE PATH
Sanaatan Dharm, also & in my opinion wrongly called Hinduism, is more of a path, a path the basis of which is individual choice. Many people have noted lack of doctrinaire trends in our path; it goes far beyond that. There is actually no precedent, no tenet and no concept of collective action of any sort in the path that we have to follow; the path is a highly individual choice. Many other writers, more knowledgeable than me, have underlined the importance of Karm and Dharm; to be honest, even after reading the Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta four times, and the other books twice, I cannot be sure of what is Karm, and what is Dharm.
I have honestly no inkling of God, nor do I have the vaguest idea of my path, or indeed what it should be, beyond a vague idea. Suffice it to say the day I truly find my path, my hunt will be over. That, to me, is the eternal path, Sanaatan Dharm… my interpretation. The reason is that it is extremely hard to be specific about each person; the definition {if there is such a thing} will vary with the individual. At the current level of my study, I think it would be perfectly feasible to have 1 billion definitions from 1 billion people. That is the true nature of what everyone likes to call Hinduism; it is a highly individualistic faith, with many levels and layers.
This makes sense if you consider that each human is different, a fact that has been proven by psychology.  Thus, it makes perfect sense to have different interpretations depending on the individual. Since individual strengths, weaknesses, attitudes, values and behavior is  bound to be different, so too the belief systems and what one takes from the path is bound to be, and should be, different. It is dependent on one’s mind, one’s thoughts, experiences, learnings, attitudes, behaviour, conscience, values etc. Frankly, to understand Sanaatan Dharm fully, you will have to understand life itself– for that is what our religion is all about, at the absolute core : understanding life. And, to understand life, one first has to understand oneself… the day you do that, you are at peace, and one with the Lord… you attain, as we call it, Moksha…
FREEDOM OF THOUGHT IN SANAATAN DHARM {HINDUISM}
The concept of an all-powerful Single God, strange though it may seem, actually is the base of Sanaatan Dharm. It is a gross fallacy that we have multiple Gods; but more of that later. Further, this goes to the core of our path, our religion; and is one of the most complex facets that can be stated, with no easy explanation, and with certainly no easy way of putting it in writing for a student like me. Hence, let me start with my sights set smaller. I think we can all relate to the reality that all people are different, that each of us is a wonder in ourselves, no pun intended. Each person has a different reality, a different mindset, and cannot be so very easily put into a mould. The net result is that each person has different perceptions of the world, and varied desires & ambitions.
And that is why individualism is hard-coded into our path; in fact, the Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta is categorical : the path is not to be revealed at all, except to those who are genuinely interested and deeply passionate in their hunt; and that you require a Guru, a Guide to take you forward on that path. This immediately closes expansionism and proselytization; it also lays the hardwired code of individual interpretation and effort in the path. This also clarifies another important, critical aspect: not everyone wants to go on the path, or realizes the value of the path. However, in a stunning factor – if a Sanaatani is not on the path {or what you perceive as the path} it does not mean he is wrong!
It just means one of several alternatives : he or she may have self-realised; he or she may have different priorities; he or she may not yet value the path – which is perfectly acceptable so long as no evil is committed; or something else that I have not realized yet. Simply put, his or her reality is different to yours, and you cannot force your interpretation of the path upon him or her. Given that each mind is different, how each mind perceived the world and God is bound to be different. And that is one of the reasons why idol worship is practiced in Sanaatan Dharm. Not everyone can develop his or her existence to such a level as to be able to conceive the Lord in his or mind; idols help channelize the energy inside you, by the simple expedient of unlocking your faith and belief…   
This actually encourages individual freedom, thought, interpretation, as you are free to think for yourself. Over time, it helps develop the person and consequently the society naturally, as well as acting as a rock-hard belief base that is near-impossible to crack, as other religions have found over time, as India time and again proved the final frontier for them… enabling the path to survive unchanged for nearly 7000-10000 years, despite many inroads and invasions even on our Religion. This individualism is also why it has been so easy for us to accept other people, realities, belief systems and even incorporate it in us.

What is the path? I have used this word many times, but how do I define it for myself? What are the psychological or behavioural attributes on a broad sense that define perception in Sanaatan Dharm?  How does one perceive, and what does the religion say about that? This is a continuing series, and other articles will appear as I try to come to terms with, realize and imbibe my path within me. I shall continue to document my experiences in this series – feel free to read if you find it giving value. I shall document and try to answer these questions and more in the coming articles….