The tradition of Indian saints is the path of selfless service for human welfare. The pontiff of the Juna order, Acharya Swami Avadheshanand Giri, is a spiritual mentor and saint, who won respect and recognition for Indian spiritual wisdom through his knowledge and yogic discipline, through his sermons and service
The study of Indian life and heritage shows that it has survived from the ancient times to the present day because it balances worldly life and spirituality. It is quite evident that even as progress and culture moved towards materialism, there has been an increase in turbulence, violence and unrest. Hindi journalism’s acute observer Prabhash Joshi had said of the thinking and greed of the present age as “the ultimate stage of the maximum consumer”. The irony of the present times is that there is a cry all around for prosperity and pleasure, yet there is such longing for internal peace and happiness that people are once again seeking dharma, spirituality and yoga. There is no other country than India which can give happiness and a satisfactory response to this need of the people.
The teachings of Vedanta and the spiritual heights that India had reached in the past have been kept alive by the sages and gurus even in the present and they have made it the basis of the country even today.
The pinnacle of the heritage
Indian saints and teachers, while showing the way through non-violence, yoga, peace and service to humankind, have at the same time send out a clear message that caught in the whirl of materialism, it is not possible for people to attain meaningful existence, whatever else they may gain.Acharya Swami Avadheshanand Giri belongs to this tradition of saint-mentors who have, through knowledge and meditation and acts of service, spread the message of, and established faith in, India’s spiritual heritage across the world.
The Juna pontiff, who carries the title of Acharya Mahamandaleshwar, Swami Avadheshanand Giri was born into a learned Brahmin family in the village of Pilkhanhari in Bulandshahr district on a full moon day. From very early, his innate qualities became noticeable to his family and to others. At the centre of his psychological bent of mind was his tendency towards spirituality. In the course of conversation, he said, “The atmosphere in the family home was spiritual. Holy men would constantly visit the house. The house would constantly reverberate with sermons, singing of hymns and religious rites. It is because of this atmosphere at home that my interest in spirituality took root.”
He does not say much about his taking sanyas, excepting that “Even from childhood I had this innate proclivity for writing and learning, and the Himalayas held an overwhelming attraction for me. It was a combination of these factors that sowed the seed for my decision to don the saffron robes.”
Consequently, away from the norms of getting educated and getting married, he went off to the Himalayas in quest of spirituality. About his time in the mountains, he says that he had an opportunity to be with great personages and he got to learn a lot from them. He said, “It is a fact that if you have the tendency to be with holy people and learn from them, you have a desire to gain knowledge, and you have the desire to know truth, and if you have the idea to unravel reality, then God will help you.”
It is during his wanderings in the Himalayas that he met Swami Satyamitranand Giri. It is under his tutelage that Swami Avdheshanand Giri learnt the Vedas and the shastras. After being formally ordained, he came out of the Himalayan caves and he entered monastic life. When he entered the Juna Akhada from among the seven akhadas, it was then he was given the name of Avdheshanand Giri. In June 1998, all the monks of the Juna Akhada anointed him as the ‘Mahamandaleshwar’ or the chief abbot. He is now the president of the famous Bharatmata Trust in Haridwar and he is also the president of the Hindu Dharmacharya.
Swami Avdheshanand Giri says that the world is his family. He includes in his definition of family birds, rivers, mountains and farms. For the sadhu, the whole world is his family, and he lives in such a way that every person in the world is part of his family.
Asked what he would have been if he had not taken to the spiritual path, he said that he was interested in education and learning, and that he used to read a lot of novels. “I would have become a teacher and a writer,” he said.
The West’s materialistic thinking
Speaking on this issue, he says, “Our culture has taught the world the idea of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ or the whole world is a family. I do not disrespect the West, but the West has considered the whole world as a market for doing business. In the view of the West, the world is a bazaar. In the view of India, the world is like a single family.”
Speaking about knowledge, Swami Avdheshanand Giri says that knowledge is that which liberates you, and which gives you bliss. Knowledge is that which teaches the truth about life and proclaims the fullness of life. Peace is embedded in knowledge.
Meaning of dharma is service
Dharma is widespread in all ages, but illusions about what it meant arose as times changed. A situation has arisen where there are such views which have no connection whatsoever with what dharma is. When the issue comes up during conversations with Swami Avdheshanand, he not only clears the air about the meaning of dharma and difficulties arising out of the misunderstanding, but also puts forward his views in a natural manner. He says, “Discharging your duties is dharma. Dharma is that which takes us towards the best and rewarding, and which makes the present and future free of risks and difficulties. Dharma is that which offers permanent answers, it is that which makes for continuous progress and evolution. Dharma is the welfare of all, my welfare as that of others, and it is not confined to systems.”
In this age of greedy consumption, it is difficult to understand that sense of service is considered the highest virtue among the best and superior ideals of life. The basis of Indian spirituality and philosophy is the view that it is in the happiness of others that one finds one’s own happiness. In the Bhakti period, poets have written as much about service and charity as about devotion in their popular verses. For Swami Avdheshanand also service remains an important aspect and he presses forward continuously along this path. He says, “Our monks, thousands of monasteries and educational institutions are spread across the country. Simultaneously, we set up relief camps and we also work for the differently-abled. Apart from this, our main purpose is to maintain social harmony. It is for this that you will find monks from sections in the Juna Akhada.”
Many of the religious gurus keep themselves away from the issue of social differences, but this is not so in the case of Swami Avadheshanand. In his view, service of society and the nation is also a meritorious deed. That is, he places special emphasis on the issue. He says that the attitude towards all castes is respectful and inclusive. Under the inspiration and leadership of the Swami, awareness workshops are organised, and engineering and medical colleges are run. To know about the food, literacy and health care programmes he runs is to understand the universality and sacred responsibility of his undertakings.
Speaking about the attitudes and tendencies that can be seen in the spread of nuclear families in India, he says that the effects of nuclear family have not been good even in the West. In Europe, one can see the tragic social consequences of a nuclear family. With people losing interest in raising families, the familial and social traditions are getting destroyed. Family is a meeting point of community and society, in which the individual is anchored and there is mutual benefit for all those in it. In his words: “The family serves as a refuge for each other, sustenance for each other, protection for each other, and an assurance for each other. This makes life both simple and smooth.”
The manner in which the Indian lifestyle is changing, and it is turning more individualistic, is not for the good of the society. The compulsions of urban life make it both necessary and attractive to adopt to the ways of a nuclear family. He emphasises the fact that at the end of the day what will keep the individual rooted is Indian values, traditions and culture. A human being cannot live without these social ties. It is for these reasons that our traditions, rites, lifestyle, mores and ideas which draw the whole world towards us. There is happiness and peace, well-being, beauty, self-respect and a sense of identity in the Indian view of life. The truth is that the flowering of life is within the confines of these values. That is why Vedic culture remains relevant, contemporaneous and life-giving today as it was in its own time.
Respecting your parents
About the old age homes that are spreading because of the increasing number of nuclear families, he says, “It is not a good omen that old age homes or vriddh-ashrams are being built in the country. There was the system of vaanprasth in this country and even today old parents are venerated. There should be this sentiment that the older members of the family are gods of the home. In our culture there is the thought that mother is a divinity, father is a divinity, which is to say that among the divine beings the ones to be worshipped first are mother and father.
The internal journey
There is a big difference between materialism and spiritualism. While materialism will leave your consciousness without meaning and in ruins and it turns your vision away from the internal to the external and inspires you to go out, spiritualism will make your consciousness discriminate between the true and false, between the deeps and the shallows, and it motivates you to undertake the internal journey. It is possible to know the internal world and discover its ultimate truth despite living in the world surrounded by external trappings. Swami Avadheshanand too feels this to be the case. He says, “It is possible to achieve everything in life if you maintain equanimity. Even I try to keep my equanimity. Our spiritual discipline, the rites and fasts of our spiritual path help us keep equanimity then we can keep up our quest for truth.”
Authorship and reflection
Acharya Swami Avdheshanand Giri has written many books which show society the path of human welfare. About the inspiration for writing books, he says that if a person is on the path of reflection, then thoughts, books, study and reflection are of help. I feel that the intoxication of study is death and even the shastras or books of wisdom say so. Therefore, progress, ascent and fulfillment are all inherent in study. He says, “My companionship with the great masters has given me the opportunity for study and reflection, and this has motivated me to reflect and write books.”
Ancient tales or myths?
India’s venerable past is often described as a myth. Clarifying on this point, he says anything that is very old or ancient has been termed mythology or legend, but is a part of history. Our culture is hoary. The oldest text of human civilisation and history is the Rig Veda. This is why, Indian civilisation is thousands of years old. How ancient the river Ganga is or the river Saraswati is well-known. Mohenjodaro and Indus Valley civilisation, all go to show how venerable India’s past is.
He says, “Whether it is Takshashila or Pataliputra, people from all over the world used to come here to study. People here have understood life in a better way. It seems to me that it is for this reason that people call very ancient things mythological. But our history is not such that we exaggerate about it. That is why, our things are credible and scientific. It is only after studying it that we understand the worth of Vedic civilisation where there is assurance and safety of life. At the same time it is scientific and valid. In every way it is both new and contemporaneous. We are proud of the fact that culture of which we are a part is timeless, ancient and Vedic. Our culture has lived from ancient times to the present. Our culture speaks of the immortality of the soul. This is why, it is timeless. India’s culture teaches the message of truth.
The stars and the lessons of life
There is an interesting aspect about how knowledge, devotion and dedication are part of Swami Avdheshanand’s spiritual life. He says, “Everyday at dusk, I salute the constellations of stars and the moon. While on the one hand, at dawn I bow to the sun, at dusk I bow to the nebulae, the stars and the Milky Way. I am not just a worshipper of light. I am also grateful to night that it brings to us the teachings of the stars. When I pray to the evening stars, I experience the truth of life that life too has to set one day.”
In the same way, he is also a worshipper of food. He says, “We consider food to be Brahm or the ultimate principle. We relish food. All beings which are dependent on food are divine. For the sadhu, food is God. Food is not different from God.”
Progress through blessings
People who set out on a big enterprise seek the blessing of the guru. Even at home, we first seek the blessing of mother and father before we set out to do something new or big. Acharya Swami Avdheshanand says, “If an individual for his progress is able to get the blessings of mother and father, of learned people, of virtuous people, of respected scholars, then he should obtain it. This is what our culture is about.”
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