by M. K. Kaw
Friends, 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
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
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
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
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 !