Since time immemorial, India has been the land of great saints and sages who have contributed immensely towards ‘the philosophical and spiritual knowledge of mankind. The book, Eminent Indians: Saints and Sages, contains, in addition to a detailed Preface highlighting the contributions of divine figures over the years, an exposition of the philosophical and spiritual contributions of ten prominent saints and sages.
Among them, Gautama Buddha advocated a moderate way of life to human beings; Mahavira, the most well-known Jam teacher, emphasised the observance chastity; Sankaracharya, the founder of maths (monastic orders) worked towards safeguarding India’s cultural unity based on Advaita; Sant Kabir, the great mystic and lyric poet, believed that God transcended both Islamic monotheism and Hindu polytheism; Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, laid stress on inward devotion and brotherhood as the basis of love for God; Swami Vivekananda, a great crusader for the cause of Vedic Hinduism, was the founder of the Arya Samaj; Sal Baba of Shirdi who, even today, symbolises the spirit of communal harmony and humanism; Swami Dayanand Saraswati recognised divinity in man and put service to humanity above self; Ramana Maharishi, a south Indian sage, embodied the very image and essence of humanity; Mother Teresa epitomised all that is pious and pure by conveying the message of love, compassion and selfless service.
Recipient of Janseva Sadbhavana Award (2006) and Bharat Gaurav Award (2007), M.L. Ahuja, MA, DLL, DCS, is the author of over twenty books. He is associated with book publishing as well as distribution of books and journals. He has travelled extensively both within and outside India and has presented a number of
papers at several national and international seminars. He has also contributed a number of articles to journals and books, which are mostly on publishing or marketing of books and journals.
India has undoubtedly been one of the major sources of philosophical knowledge and wisdom since the time of the Vedas. Innovative and creative ideas have brought many Indians into the forefront of different spheres, winning for the country tow Nobel Prizes in literature, three in science, one in economics, and another for peace. Ancient Indian thinkers and authors made fundamental contributions in different areas of human thought-both spiritual and material. Panini, Kalidasa Aryabhata, Patanjali and others are regarded as pathfinders. Indian genius has found expression in literature, religion, philosophy, social science, law, administration and various other cultural fields. In the domain of polity itself, the greatest Indian work written in the third century A.D. is the Arthasastra by Kautilya. The innate pragmatism of Kautilya’s maxims is in contrast to thoughts of ancient Western thinkers like Plato and Aristotle. To then, political power was the means to achieve high ends-the ends of the State. The ideas and actions of such people determine the future of a country and a society.
In the sphere of religion and philosophy, while Sankaracharya founded the maths (monastic orders), known to safeguarded India’s cultural unity based on Advaita, the anti-ritualistic trend in the Upanishadic doctrines and the prevailing socio-economic factors facilitated several religious and philosophical movements or thoughts like those of the Buddha and Mahavira. Indian wisdom had its greatest manifestations in devotional literature, which emerged from the new religious movements, viz. Bhakti, headed by the mystic saints. The teachings of these saints may be regarded as the wisest messages India had ever conveyed in a situation when major communities and cultures faced each other.
The foremost of them is Kabir who did not acknowledge caste distinctions, nor did he make any difference between Hinduism and Islam. Ignorance, according to him, is at the root of communalism. Among others who exercised deep influence on the people, was Guru Nanak. He envisaged a casteless and classless society and his dream was the equality of human beings. The teachings of Baba Farid, a Sufi saint and poet, which emanate from three basic principles (the love of God, the purity of mind and detachment from wealth and worldly advancement) are included in Guru Grandth Saheb in the form of slokas (verses).
Swami Dayanand Saraswati, the founder of Arya Samaj, liberated the Vedas from the custody of the Brahmins (priests) and made them accessible to all other castes, including women. Sai Baba of Shirdi, a crown jewel among saints, devoted his life to bring about fellow feelings among the followers of different castes, communities and religious groups. Acharya Vinoba Bhave is regarded as a great Rishi whose compassionate and devout heart made an impact on the people. Mother Teresa, the recipient of Nobel Peace Prize, endeared herself to humanity at large by helping the poorest of the poor and by giving them courage and a worthwhile reason to live.
It has been emphasised by almost all such spiritual gurus, that the satiation of physical needs including those of carnal desires, is not the aim of human life. Human beings have a much higher and nobler goal to achieve. Lasting peace, equanimity and equipoise of the mind can never come from worldly attainment. Happiness obtained from worldly accomplishments is transient. True happiness lies in spirituality, if taught by a preceptor and learnt by a seeker, as a science of experience of the inner world, commonly known as the realisation of God. Mere oral sermonising is not realisation by any stretch of the imagination. It is an instant and spontaneous supra-mental experience of inherent divinity by a worthy sage. It is upon this super-sensorial experience that our quest of peace, happiness and perfection can be put to test.
Scriptures, of course, are the other means to attain spirituality. India is blessed with immense spiritual philosophical wisdom derived from the ancient Vedas, and other religious scriptures such as the Mahabharata, Ramayana, Bhagavad Gita, Bible, Koran and Guru Granth Saheb. They are understood and even followed by people in many countries. At a time when science and technology have ushered in all kinds of comforts and a materialistic approach to life, tension, distraction, deviation and friction in family life leading to a large number of crimes in society and broken marriages, it is only the proper spiritual gums who can guide mankind. Through trials and tribulations these spiritual gurus have endeavoured to explore the truth. Their lives and teachings guide us on the path of peace of mind and divinity.
Holy scriptures are essentially considered to be the communication of God to humanity through sages and holy people. They contain words of wisdom that guide the life and activities of human beings. The more we read the scriptures, meditate on them and act on their teachings, the more we are attuned to communion with God. They are not just means of communicating certain information, but they are meant to transform the lives of those who come in contact with them. They speak to the heart of those who care for their inner life, and they can bring about a change of heart. Those who understand the message of the scriptures are thus transformed.
Examples of sages and saints vouch for the fact that they have been drawn by the power of the words of scriptures. Mother Teresa was influenced by the Bible. That is the reason why she could live life that saved many who otherwise would have been neglected. She could withstand the most spiteful slur by those who opposed her because she was influenced by the power of the words of the Bible. Mahatma Gandhi was absorbed by the words of the Bhagavad Gita and the Bible. That was why he could follow a different path in life. Even amidst intense pressure to follow the path of violence, he exercised restraint and exhorted others to steadfastly follow the path of non-violence. The words of scriptures, thus, have sometimes brought the best out of people. Drawing on the strength of the words of scriptures, people have made supreme sacrifices, built immortal monuments, erected magnificent temples and left wonderful legacies behind for humanity.
Thus, when a saint preaches that we must see and experience God within to fulfill the purpose of human life, promptly comes the reply in the guise of a question: ‘I read many Holy Scriptures daily and am able to commune with God. Is it not enough for enlightenment?’ Holy scriptures of all religions are, no doubt, repositories of eternal truths and knowledge to inspire and guide us. But we learn a lot from the writings of enlightened saints. Reading scriptures has exhortative value. They lift us up from abysmal lows. But precious pearls await us if we move beyond mere ritualistic reading. Scriptures can be compared to a Will that a father leaves for his children. The Will provides details of apportionment of property bequeathed to us. But, let’s think of the children whose father did not write a Will. Human beings in that case would be directionless.
But we must remember that the Will itself is not wealth. It is just a document that defines the property and wealth to be inherited by the heirs. The mere ritual of reading the intricate language of the Will would not grant us of our share of inheritance. Thus, we can benefit from the momentous message of our scriptures only when we implement the teachings of the saints and sincerely follow the ordained path. Mi Sankara says in the Vivekchudamani, ‘Without taking the medicine and by repeating the name of the medicine, no disease can be cured; merely repeating the words, none can attain salvation.’ The medicinal value of a doctor’s prescription is realised only when the pill is swallowed. We all know it, yet the same principle is not applied to scriptural reading. All scriptures point towards the common medium of the divine eye for a direct and instant perception of God It is this divine eye—the eye of the spirit—that initiates the process of enlightenment. The saints, sages, yogis and spiritual gums help us in development of the divine eye for leading to the proper path.
These saints, sages and spiritual gums are enlightened people. They talk in terms of practical perception. They preach and restore eternal verity. They gratuitously impart eternal knowledge to lift mankind out of body-mind consciousness to remove layers of ignorance that envelope our being. They do not state any new doctrine. Kapildeva, son of Devahuti, believed to be an incarnation of Lord Krishna, said, ‘The symptoms of a sadhu are that he is tolerant, merciful and friendly to all living entities. He has no enemies, he is peaceful, he abides by the scriptures and all his characteristics are sublime.’ He is most compassionate towards all fallen souls. 1-le is a well-wisher of all creatures, human beings and animals alike. According to Padma Purana, there are 8,400,000 life forms and the soul (atma) is the same in all of them. Lord Krishna says in Bhagavad Gita, The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle Brahman, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater.’
Such saints and sages should play the role of our teacher. A true guru, in fact, has been equated with God. It is said:
‘Gurur Brahma, Gurur Vishnu, Gurur Devo Maheshwara, Gurusakshat Parabrahma, Tasmeye Shri Gurudev Namaha’ (The guru is Brahma, Vishnu and Mahadeva. The guru is indeed the very Brahman, the Impersonal Absolute form of God). Looking at the importance of guru, a special day in a year is marked in the Hindu calendar to remind the succeeding generations of the vital need of gurus in our lives. The day is known as Gum Purana. For ashrams and maths and the spiritual centres, it is a great day. Gum denotes a person who causes a shift in perception and consciousness. Some people are suddenly traumatised. Something happens that shocks them and they ask, ‘Why me?’ And the guru tells them that this is their karma. One guru will tell us that he will take us to paradise where there is no pain. But there is no such paradise. Life will always have a quota of pain. A true guru is one who makes us realise this reality.
They have taught us that human beings are fundamentally and essentially divine in nature. However, the divinity in man is shrouded and veiled by the endless chain of thoughts and desires. From among the different ways suggested by each religion to reach the divine, the one that has truly endured the test of time is meditation. The tranquility that one experiences in meditation is not to be treated as a mere psychic phenomenon. It is an inner experience affecting the cognitive, affective and the appetitive aspects of the human person. It leads one to be in touch with the inner core of one’s being, the source of one’s strength and vitality, the antarayamin or the inner spirit as the religions would sustain one’s life against all odds, to view reality in a holistic perspective and to interact with each other in more humane manner.
Although the higher purpose of spirituality taught by all such saints, sages and spiritual gums is to attain moksha (liberation), on the practical side it teaches one tolerance and forbearance, to accept more readily life as it comes and to cope with adversities and tragedies. It also brings us peace by helping us control our mind, senses, desires, greed and attachments and freeing ourselves of negative emotions. The quality that we emulate most from them is to be compassionate to one and all. Such enlightened people are supposed to lead us to the right direction, otherwise we can deviate.
After a carefully study of the lives and teachings of many saints and sages, I have selected ten to make this book, Saints & Sages in the series Creative’s Indians, handy and affordable to people in general. The essays reflect the creative thinking of different religious faiths to tell us that we are off springs of the same Almighty and it is essential to live in peace and harmony. I bow to them all and believe that by presenting their lives and teachings I should be able to disseminate their message further to people at large. If I succeed in this mission, I should feel myself greatly rewarded as compensation for the efforts made by me in putting them together. I would like to thank Rupa & Company for undertaking this publication with a view to help me in disseminating the message of these holy people. My wife, Mrs Asha Ahuja, also deserve my thanks for cooperating with me. My thanks are also due to various other people who helped me in one way or the other in my endeavours.
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