अन्धं तमः प्रविशन्ति ये अविद्दामुपासते
ततो भूय इव ते तमो य उ विद्दायां रताः
andham tamah pravishanti ye ‘avidyam upasate
tato bhuya iva te tamoya u vidyayam rataha
Into blinding darkness proceed those who are attached to ignorance (darkness- heedless, lost pursuing materialism)
Into greater darkness, as it were, sink those who are wrapped up, steeped in and revel in ‘knowledge’ (ritualistic letter of the Vedas/repetitive spiritual process/activity/rituals). An upasak is a follower/worshipper who is often bereft of objectivity
–The Isha Upanishad
This confusing verse appearing in the Isa Upanishad is a riddle. How can absorption in knowledge be seen as worse than absorption in wealth? Has it not been the case of wisdom literature to prefer spiritualism to materialism? This is a question the student of Vedanta may raise.
Knowledge; is an amalgamation of seeking, learning, rationale, disciplined practice and experience coming together in the form of wisdom or intuitive understanding. But individually none of these constituents by themselves, amount to knowledge.
Therefore revelling in any one aspect assuming it to be knowledge is misguided.
Many Hindus today see the religion as a mere collection of rituals which have to be intensified in their visual, public and volume form to achieve material or spiritual benefit. This verse states that ‘reveling’ in knowledge is worse than material pursuit. Indeed this is so. It is easy to see that our attachment to a car is less abiding than our attachment to a loved one, which is less abiding than our attachment to an avowed principle or ideology. It is easy to deduce that greater the attachment, lesser the chance of our being able to operate objectively
It is difficult for a human being to be freed from attachment altogether and it is therefore important that that one examines with care what one is attached to.
Hindus have been a ritualistic people. They still are. Despite warnings by their primary philosophical texts- The Upaniṡads, the indulgence of people in rituals and superstition has been endemic. The Bhagvadgita too, points to this disease (Ch 2- 42, 43)
The highest tenets and philosophical underpinnings of the Upanishads and the brahm sutras have been ignored while other dated rituals have been cast in stone by ritualistic Hindus. This behaviour has worsened in the light of pop nirvana made possible by larger disposable incomes. More education has curiously led Hindus to sink more than ever before into rituals, superstition, fortunetelling and wasting their precious time and money in unfocussed ritualistic activity.
This attachment to religious rituals as a panacea for ills or as a path to acquisition of more wealth is dangerous because it leads to failure in achieving the very objectives that the practitioner sets out to achieve. He will certainly fail and will sink deeper into a world misapprehended by a distorted mind. Human potential is realised by progressing from the gross to the subtle. This noisy and garish public display of rituals is just the reverse. If at all this is culture, instead of deepening its significance we are magnifying its meaninglessness.
Blindly following rituals brings neither fame, nor wealth nor Moksha. Personal growth requires a keen intellect and a sharp mind and a commitment to a higher ideal. A ritual can serve as a regular reminder of an objective but is useless in the absence of an objective. Ritually numbing the individual mind and intellect with noise and high intensity optics is nothing but a waste of time, resources and mental ability. The Bhagvadgita insists that human beings employ their intellect (Buddhi) to move from knowledge (information/empirical) to wisdom (applied, intuitive). In other words, use sight and tuition, to arrive at insight and intuition. (Chapter 8 – Jnanavijnana yoga)
A brief examination of incessant whatsapp messages, social media posts, and nonsensical TV programmes highlighting silly folklore pulled out of discredited or non – existent ‘ancient’ documents is keeping people’s minds occupied without any sensible purposes in mind. Concocted occult practices are advised on social media on a daily basis and an aspiration filled people are not applying reason or logic and instead allowing them self to be led by the nose into wasting their time and money. What is worse they are wasting their own true potential.
This is a culmination of what has been building up for some time and over the years Hindus have become extremely noisy and disruptive in public space. Not a month passes without a mass and hysterical display of religion and not a day passes without some local noise filled religious function.
For days on end kanwarias disrupt the highway. Every year, hordes of people on foot, cycles, motorbikes & loaded on trucks, play loud music, go rampaging across the countryside and make trouble for fellow citizens and travellers. Fetching Gangajal is only an excuse for this raucous jamboree.
While no one can argue with the right to be privately superstitious, a heedless public display through the entire year is a tamasha of visarjans, jagratas , mata ki chowki , chatt puja , holi, diwali, dahi handi , and whatever other noisy public expression one can find of in an ‘in your face’ display of mass ritualistic behaviour
Scores of other festivals have delirious crowds blocking traffic, sullying the rivers, bursting crackers, making noise till late night and screaming on loudspeakers forcing the unwilling to suffer this idiotic and medieval behaviour.
A vast majority of people believe this indulgence in rituals to be a spiritual activity or dharma. This notion is misguided and silly. There is nothing spiritual about superstition, noise and sullying the neighbourhood and destroying hundreds of productive hours in noisy public rituals. All religions define the spiritual quest as one meant to seek out the truth. That journey cannot begin with or be sustained by andhavishwasa
Stressed out with seeking happiness from ideas, emotions, objects and substances, people think that getting away for a few hours/days/week in to prayer and ‘dharmic’ pursuit via religous rituals, pooja-path & Yatras will help is not higher knowledge or vidya.
Shrimad Bhagvad Gita Ch3:Sh4
na karmanam anarambhan naiskarmyam puruso ‘snute
na ca sannyasanad eva siddhim samadhigacchati-Not by merely abstaining from work can one achieve freedom from reaction, nor by renunciation alone can one attain perfection.
The argument that Hindus are a religious people and therefore this behavior should be found acceptable is the height of laziness. This is not religion. This behavior must be challenged for the sake of religion.
Rituals are meant to set the stage, to establish a state of mind and collect mental energy and focus it towards a higher goal, a nobler ideal and objective. The ritual is a means to an end. It is not an end in itself.
The Bhagvad Gita’s doctrine of committing oneself to performing obligatory duties and choosing a higher ideal is very useful. Hindus can use rituals, even create new ones or discard the old ones and commit themselves on religious occasions to their personal growth, their environment, seek education, follow the rule of law, be sensitive to public health and hygiene. These are all noble goals that Hindus must commit themselves to, and act dynamically to achieve, in a spirit of sacrifice towards a higher ideal. Even if the goal is unalloyed personal gain, then too, the ritual can only play a limited role and the aspirant has to commit himself to proper action directed towards a pure material goal (Bhagvadgita Ch-8)
Each festival can be converted to a larger human purpose in actuality and not merely symbolically. It is then that Hindus will live up to the tenets enshrined in their highest spiritual texts.
Lao Tsu the famous Chinese Philosopher once said that ‘If you do not change direction, you will end up where you are headed’. If Hindus do not consider this seriously they will become a populous community of the pompous. They will continue to be treated casually & with disrespect, and the phrase ‘Proud to be a Hindu’ would have no meaning even among the faithful.
Ashutosh Dikshit 2015