CHAPTER 1: The Guru and the Pandit

by M. K. Kaw

M.K. KawFriends, I welcome you to this Seminar jointly organized by the Kashmiri Education, Culture and Science Society and the N.S. Kashmir Research Institute. The theme of the Seminar is quite appropriate and will enable us not only to remember Lal Ded, but also examine her thoughts and teachings to cull out those nuggets of wisdom which are relevant in the modern context.

As there are many learned scholars here, I will desist from either giving direct quotations from the Lallavaakhs or from explaining in great detail as to what Lal Ded actually said. I would like to concentrate on the essence of her teaching in order to delineate what I think her message is for Kashmiri Pandits living at this stage of human history and indeed for the whole of humanity.

Let me begin by taking up her constant refrain that spirituality is not something which is significant because it is useful to us after we die. Although in common with all Hindus she believed in the theory of re-birth and karma, and considered moksha to be the desideratum of life, the release was best obtained while one was living, that was to be achieved as a jivanmukta. This is a teaching which should be an eye-opener for those who consider spirituality to be an enterprise fit only for old age, when one is thinking of what will happen after death. The obvious implication is that spirituality is an activity on which one should embark while still in one's youth, so that one attains the fruit thereof in this life itself.

In fact, Lal Ded also took the revolutionary intellectual leap of going beyond the theory of moksha, when she saw the eternal nature of Shiva and the fact that there is an never-ending play going on here. It is we who have been here in the past and it is we who have to be here in the future. It is only we who have been here since the beginning of time. Shiva will never cease to rise and set. It is an obvious hint that the play of the Lord is eternal and unceasing. What we, in fact, refer to as moksha may only turn out to be a release from various kinds of bondages. It may be moha-kshaya, that is, the end of delusion. It may be that we are rid of the vaasanaas and negative mental attributes. It may be that we need not assume the physical body in a regimented way but attain the power to assume the kind of body we wish in order to achieve whatever divine purpose is assigned to us or we assign to ourselves. It may be that we are released from a lower region of bound souls to rise to a higher region of partially released souls. There are many possibilities but the implication is that Paramashiva being the only reality, the universe is only His play and we are the instruments of His play. The play has ever been and will ever be. In that sense, moksha is itself not the end but the beginning of an eternal adventure where the individual soul awakens into greater and greater wakefulness, awareness and bliss. The possibilities are endless.

Having made these two contributions that spirituality is a prime objective of this very life and that spirituality is a never-ending adventure, Lal Ded then moves into the realm of modalities, is it that any particular religion has the monopoly of truth ? Far from her claiming that Hinduism or Kashmir Shaivism represents the only truth, she lashes out at all organized religions. Spirituality is not something that can be achieved by outer activities. All religion is mainly composed of outer actions. She cannot see the logic in worshipping a stone, which is indistinguishable from the temple. Rituals are meaningless, pilgrimages to holy places useless, fasting serves no purpose, beads and rosaries are mere plaything. Obviously, the entire facade of outer ceremony that all organized religions create is a mere commercial enterprise which helps to fatten the merchants of religion. It has nothing to do with true spirituality, which is a purely internal enterprise.

Here I would like to refer to Lal Ded's constant refrain that she is grateful to her guru and that the pandit has to be shunned. She has drawn an intriguing distinction between the guru and the pandit to which we must pay more attention. Indeed, I feel that if the difference between the two becomes clear to us, it will remove all the cobwebs of our thinking as far as religion is concerned.

As far as I have understood, spirituality is not different from other knowledge-related activities. What is involved here is a science of spirituality, a technology of spirituality and a commercial exploitation of the science and the technology. If we analyze the way in which any of our organized religions has evolved, we find that there is an original person-whether we call him incarnation of God, or a prophet, or a messenger or a Buddha or the Son of God or whatever. He enunciates some eternal truths, which constitute the science of spirituality.

Then, there is an attempt to work out the practical implications of the theoretical concepts and these become the outer manifestation of spirituality in terms of meditation techniques, breath control devices, physical postures, rosaries and fasts, vigils and pilgrimages, worship and prayer, songs and psalms, aasanas and dances. These could be called collectively as the technology of spirituality. The last stage is when the intellectual property is commercially exploited by the merchants of religion by prescribing ceremonies and rituals, feasts and festivals, confessions and repentances, sacrifices and havans, all of which involve a transfer of financial benefits from the laity to the clergy.

The avatara is the person who enunciates the science, the guru is the one who devises the technology and the pundit is a merchant who sells the science and the technology for personal profit. We should be beholden to Lal Ded for having pointed out the sharp distinction between the guru and the pundit.

What we have to learn from her in the modern context is that this whole primitive idea of individual traditional religions taking out a copyright law, the proponent can claim a monopoly for a limited period of time, not exceeding 5060 years. Traditional religions hold their monopoly for centuries and their copyright never ceases. The unfortunate fall-out of this phenomenon is that the intellectual property never becomes part of the public domain, with the result that we have fragments of truths strewn here and there, but no facility of picking up the universal truths of each religion in order to build a common science of spirituality for the whole of mankind.

Lal Ded's philosophy was an attempt to break these monopolies and create a universal science of spirituality. In her we find an eclectic spirit so broad and expansive as to cover Shaivism and Shaktism, Vaishnavism and Sufism, Christianity and Islam. She zeroed in on the rajayogic technology of arousing the kundalini through breath control, management of the pranic energy, meditational techniques and a simplified model of living.

Friends, today if we need anything more than everything else it is the transcendence of traditional religions so that we all believe in a universal science of spirituality. It is only when we do this that we can be brothers and sisters in the true sense of the word, breathing the same air, drinking the same water, basking in the same light, sharing all the strengths and weaknesses of our bodies, minds, intellects arid souls. Only then can we be tolerant towards one another. Only then shall we cease to propagate our own brands and start collecting all the known spiritual truths into a single theoretical framework. Only then shall we stop killing one another. Only then shall we stop consuming the earth's resources in an euphoria of greed and consumerism. Only then shall we stop spreading chemical poisons into our food, air and water, and stop committing collective suicide. Only then shall we discontinue the maniac attempt to convert all others to our particular brand-name so as to give ourselves a disproportionately large share of the national economic cake.

Let us resolve today as we proceed to analyse Lal Ded vaakh by vaakh that we shall propagate her approach to spirituality, that we shall contribute our bit to the building up of a universal science of spirituality which will be acceptable to all, that we shall be able to accommodate the disparate spiritual technologies as being different paths to the common divine, and that we shall be able to keep at a reasonable distance both the commercial as well as the political exploiters of religious sentiment.

May Mother Lalleshwari smoothen our path and lead us to understanding wisdom and bliss !

Lal Ded: The Great Kashmiri Saint-Poetess