Book Reviews

Lyrical Portrayal of Religious Life of Humankind

An unusual read it is for a person wanting to travel along the coastline of various religious faiths with a quick plunge into the sea of sacred philosophy, wisdom and vision of various religions, and still wishes to be alone and a solitary walker in a crowd of alien spiritual prophetic visages. One never fully understands the dimensions of human spirit that speaks of its mystery. One goes deep, tries to find out the truth and comes back mystified and befuddled. He jumps into the depth of the indefinite to understand what it really means to an inquisitive mind. Religiously homegrown flavor of lyrics with interpretation and definition of pious thoughts, philosophic and theological inclines, allure. A stupendous job at his age but the subject appears close to his heart.

Rm. Shanmugam Chettiar, a poet, author, editor and translator has nearly fourteen books to his credit, conferred with the title Angilak Kaviarasu –the Prince of Poetry in English by a Savait Mutt Thiruvavaduthurai Adheenam, Tamilnadu. A Botany graduate of Madras University he retired from Rubber Board of India as Deputy Rubber Production Commissioner 2002.

God is a Referee -Poems on Faiths’ is the publication of Authorspress, Delhi 2023 He writes on subjects like –romance, logic, translation, legends and philosophy. He focuses on Vedic Religion, religions from the South, non-Vedic Religions, religions of Overseas, Indian Atheism, Spiritual perspectives, Ethical Viewpoints, Philosophical features, relationships etc. To believe in the existence of God is subjective.

One may say God exists and looks after created beings but the other may differ. Look at the phenomenon from another perspective. God gives the choice to the man to decide what he wants to do. God does not decide for him, and therefore, he is responsible for the consequences of his acts and decisions –good or bad. Here, God is a Referee.

Chettiar gives adequate space to the Vedic Religion, for he is aware of the huge dimensions of Vedic concept of life. Lyrical depiction of religious thoughts and philosophic contours engages. Brief as is expected yet it offers a definite view on Vedic Religious life in one hundred and eight lyrical verses. To start with, he talks of six schools of thought that define the scope of Hinduism. He eloquently speaks of Yoga and its various wings passionately. Atma is the soul –motion, consciousness and matter. He interprets AUM logically it appears and talks of four dimensions, four grades and stages of Hindu life. Created beings are in motion or vibration, the invisible force, the energy inside the body termed as Prana –awareness. Created beings are materialization of the supreme force Brahma beyond existence that is obvious through different organisms, as it exists in all. However, creation is short-lived. Abandonment bestows peace, for every animate or inanimate being merges in the Supreme. In total surrender to the lord, a living being gets deliverance. Know that purification of ‘the self’- the inner self’ is the objective of Jiva. The Vedas and the Upanishads talk of ‘the self’ and exhort man to sanctify it and attain the Absolute through surrender to the Supreme –Brahma …Vishnu and live in bliss, the origin of creation, and finally, dissolve in blissful total devotion.

Burn yearnings bubbling within, cast aside material infatuation, stabilize mind and realize God. Understand that desires cause volatility and calamity. Such thoughts convey Hinduism is beyond any scriptural note or diktat but it is collective wisdom and vision of ages. It is blend of faiths -religious thoughts and philosophies, contains in its region every religion –compound consciousness of humankind –a realization beyond definition and confines, and derives its undying strength and sanctity from its luminous complexity, multiplicity and plurality. Dharma organizes and regulates human intellect and advises him to practice ‘love, tolerance and compassion’.

To ‘control, restrain and discipline’ ‘the self’ is a virtue, a yogic way to attain deliverance. Understand that to gain knowledge, sense of discipline and dedication to one’s acts is a path to liberation. If a man believes that the entire universe lives in him, he finds ‘the self’ in him, establishes a unique relationship and he loves all and hates none, so says the Ishavasya Upanishad. In truth, the entire creation lives in him - the infinite in the finite and he exists in all. Know that Brahma is real and the creation is illusion. In short verses, he enlightens lucidly certain terms relating to Hinduism namely Yoga, Karma, Illusion and Karma theory. He talks about the state of illusion and the mode of indulgence.

If one develops feelings of non- attachment or disconnection for sources of survival, it benefits immensely. Action, activity and hope of reward, is Karma and to stay away –detachment is Karma Yoga. Those born will attain salvation after death, for nothing else like the study of holy books, singing hymns, living austere life and devotion can help attaining liberation. During lifetime, a living being lives in various kinds of fears, but when he meets the lord of death, all fears vanish or perhaps it is the end of all sufferings and conflicts. Sacrilege or talking ill of other religions is unknown to Hinduism. Hinduism is a way of life. It has eternal secular and universal dimensions, and interestingly skepticism is a part of it even as objectivity, reflection and virtues lead to spiritual territory.

Chettiar looks at Hinduism from various perspectives with love, compassion and authority while he maintains secular, universal and multi-ethnic spirit alive expected from a man giving no signs of religious man. That reflective attitude is his strength that speaks of immense catholic outlook. Six Yogas teach man to live life meaningfully while renunciation of worldly bondages is a way of life of hermit. He ingeniously speaks of engaging life of man and woman, a moment of bliss where no feeling works and everything appears abandoned to reach a state of Nirvana! Body is the house of senses, mind, intellect, the substance of all originating from the Supreme consciousness. How people of secular outlook pay tributes to ancestors and seek blessings reverently but surprisingly wish to get rid of the cycle of transmigration or rebirth. He talks about ten incarnations of the lord, who descend on earth as ordinary men to teach humankind the art of living a noble and effective life on earth for the wellbeing of human beings.

The decline of Hinduism worries, and therefore, it is necessary that Hindus open up and adopt liberal attitude toward all. Whatever is good in other religions, it should imitate with grace. Hindu mythology is archaic and not in tune with times, he opines and it requires reformation. Perhaps, he reflects on the radically changed mindset of modern man. To add to the miseries, superstitions obstruct the path to virtues and grace.

Hinduismdoes not boast of universal god despite inherent contradictions and illogical notions, and tending ideas of many gods and goddesses with tribal roots and upshots, Vedic worship and principles. Intensity of feelings and thoughts take a man to spiritual area that carries no fruit or reward but exhibits love for man and it is also devotion and service to humanity -the essence of being spiritual. Spiritual identity sanctifies. If you think of others, the acts carry the outcome with goodness and sins –punya and paap. Every Hindu has a personal temple and public temple. One finds the poet in Chettiar realistic, perhaps justified when he observes some acts of sacrileges and destruction around. He wants Hindus to look within and think of makeover, resurrection or transformation.

He thinks of god, soul and world, and the principles when he takes up Saiva doctrine for analysis. Saiva says god is Siva –the truth, consciousness and divine joy. He is uplifting and exists in each particle of the universe. Soul within the body is in bondages, needs liberation. Attachment to the world if one cuts asunder releases the captive soul. South India worships Siva and adores beliefs of Saiva. Saivism believes in monastic way of life but Saiva doctrine is dualistic. Shiva’s angry images are Bairava, Rudra and Shiva. Siva is energy-Sakti, and Linga and the Yoni symbolize. Ash smeared body metaphorically speaks of severity in living. Devotees wish deliverance from life of suffering. He is symbol of destruction and death. He is male and as Shakti is female –matter and energy, and thus is ‘one’, ‘the self’ the part of both.

God blesses only for he is consciousness, realization, self-illuminating and omnipresent. He talks of Tantrayana philosophy - thought a path to awareness or illumination and tells about Tantra a mode of learning with a rational approach and throws light on Mahayana Buddhism. It increases energy in the body and life. If energy is utilized it brings joy and happiness. Tantra –the mode of study, if used for constructive purposes it benefits. Tantra is negative but through the Vedas, one moves on the path to spirituality and Moksa.

Shiva Tattva is supreme the eternal principle, from which originates everything, and at last, dissolves into it. Serenity and sense of self-control bring divine joy. Creation is dormant in the dissolution or annihilation. He talks about Vaishnavism –the worship of Vishnu who descends on earth to teach man the art of life and existence, and establish law of truth and righteousness –dharma. Ajivika school of Indian philosophy is very old and exists no more. Sage Makkali Gosala is the founder. This faction lives life of ascetics, stays naked, and does not believe in god and believes in destiny, karma and if one finds change, it is illusory. Destiny, Nature, change and evolution are the principles of Ajivika, the poet says.

Buddhism wants man to live life of truth, love, compassion, detachments, liberation and non-violence. Pursue these virtues. Prayer is not obligatory. That grants him supreme joy. If a man adheres to the essence of the teachings, he attains the objective of life. ‘Maitri Bhavana’ is the essence of Buddhism. If a man nurtures feelings and thoughts of helping others in whatever state of suffering they are, it relieves the stress, and with this principle of living one enjoys the ‘cyclic existence’. In Dharmakaya Buddha speaks about the conflicting aspects of human life that a man lives between the opposites –good and bad, the limits of life. Doing something noteworthy fills with wisdom. In Brahmavihara –the Supreme abode one deeply meditates on the four states of mind –Maitri, Karuna, Mudita etc. The purification of mind keeps it calm and serene and it carries ‘effect of Nirvana.’ Zen Buddhism educates people to observe how Buddha resigns to ‘the self’ and lives in peaceful impassiveness. He talks about Jains who believe in non-injury. Jainism believes in the existence of the opposite in organisms. It is the principles of Anekanda… know that love and hate the contradictory merge. In Jainism, ten days long festivals contain the program of self-purification, a way to rededicate to the laws of dharma. It does not approve of rituals of Hinduism. Jainism tells, ‘Don’t inflict pain or cause sorrow that you cannot bear.’

There are some poems on Taoism, Islam, Baha’i, Christianity and Judaism, and from other countries. Based on metaphysical concept Taoism is about the natural order of the universe. It speaks of the cyclical continuity of the world. Taoism obtains its cosmological or planetary basis from the school of naturalists –naturalistic philosophy considers that natural law and forces work in the entire cosmos. The accepted principle is that natural laws work and no other unnatural or spiritual functions. It is study of nature. Nature is the reality. Its main components are Yin (female energy) and Yang (male energy), which are contradictory but constitute all unified facets and happenings of life’s energies. Know that female part is frosty and inactive whereas male is virility and warmth. These contrasting forces form harmonizing sum –a whole. Good health depends up the harmony between Yin and Yang. Ultimately, the end and destruction come to everything and greet man but man endeavours to defy or confront it, and finds peace in the end or death or destruction. Taoism enlightens here. He talks of six Taoist’s ethics. To find ‘the self’ as a part of others is good and it serves egoism. Tao holds knowledge limited where future is indefinite and so the world remains mysterious.

Languages, regions and ethnic or cultural disparities and identities bring conflict. If one ignores these flaws, imperfections like intolerance or hatred create fissures among communities but Faith of Baha’I wants human beings to live without these identities. Call for prayers in places of worship appears obsolete. Baha’I’s think in a different way. Soul and body form human beings. It does not enter or dwell in any space it associates at the nascent phase. It is a reflection of light, the soul. Identity is nothing. Allahu Akbar uttered in a chorus tells God is great. It fills a devotee with humility who forgets identity, form or existence.

‘The self’ is a huge wall separating man from god. Virtue of self-sacrifice guards the deprived. Social equality pervades after throwing away ‘the selves’ –the true religion of man. If the intention (Niyyah in Arabic) is gracious and anything given is without motive, it purifies. Prayer sans reason or favor is good. To forgive is a godly virtue. Jesus forgave his prosecutors and never thought he was a victim. Worldly affluence never gives joy. He extols Lent Time, for it is occasion of remorse, asceticism or dumping of sins. Be good, worthwhile and spread truth and integrity, and seek absolution for the sins.

Single soul is the origin of bad or good affects. The wise live at the inner and the outer level. Inner life reflects through love, virtues and compassion and it is path to repent for aberrant living whereas outer or external life exhibits aura of wealth and living styles tells Judaism. If one obeys Ten Commandments, one gets salvation. The righteous souls attain resurrection. Christ forgives everyone and wants man should learn to pardon. Love and Pardon are the guiding principles of Christianity. Camus tells life is sheer absurdity –sans objective or significance. It is illusion. To worship God or evince faith in the unfamiliar entity brings no reprieve whereas Spinoza avers that god is not the creator but he is part of the world.

Contemporary man pursues Charvaka’s thought when Vedic faith triumphed three thousand years back. It wants total freedom. Live life as one may wish sans caring for ethics, any code of life, rules, laws, any decree, scriptures etc with no thought of good or bad, charity or sin, it tells. It is life of enjoyment, indulgence, material gains, and no pains and of uncertain or vague inference. Charvaka does not recognize Soul –Atman. Its conclusions have no legitimate basis. It recognizes no belief in liberation, karmas or undying soul. Sex gives the greatest pleasure, it holds. Material joy is real, all else is illusion.

He dwells on the concept of religion, faith, death, birth and god men and writes about spiritual aspect of life. If a man thinks that he can reform or transform a society, he cannot do it. Nature takes care of the animal world but none knows the force that works and organizes the activities of the world. He plans, maintains, holds and guides. Truth suffers when dispute arises. It suffers with the power of money and power. The poet believes that religion does not reform, guide or refines. It only unites men with an ulterior motive. Despite centuries of living, man has failed to know or represent God because his knowledge or wisdom remains fractional or flawed. A sense of interaction and sharing strengthens. Faith in the external world is cause of mutilation of qualities and strengths.

Questions always require reasonable clarity and elucidation of the religious faith and belief that carry imprint of feelings, unproved beliefs and view of rationalists. There exists a subtle clash between traditions and cultural inclines and prejudices. An undeclared war of supremacy continues between the classes and castes with religious intrusion. Poet is aware of human behaviour requiring certain restrictions. He maintains equilibrium of emotions and thoughts. The poet is indulgent and wants all to participate in what he thinks of life, and its open or secreted message amidst restrictions, cultural proviso, and obligations to society, happenings internal and disturbing trends external.

Chettiar’s thoughts are varied and shares what he obtains from various perspectives. He leaves it to the reader to derive his conclusions. A man wishes to stay in transient bodily casing, structured or bloated history, masked memoirs etc… sans inconvenient truths and efforts to live in oblique ingenuous lies, obvious nonsense, and transgression. He fortifies the point, ‘…when things fall worst, /That it would get a turning point.’ He concludes, ‘Thus, the optimism drags me down/While the events might still worsen to doom’. A thought that celebrates end with optimism it is.

A vague hint a modern man, who recognizes religious faith, throws at expectant humanity. Designs of god are mysterious. Hindus pursue unverified rituals and flattering ceremonies. One feeds specially invited guests on Sraddhas and is happy. To keep manes (pitres) –happy in the other worlds blesses, Hindus believe. He writes short verses on rituals, death, the dead, fate, faith, truths, soul, sin, ego etc. He understands the subject but does not find a sound or rational explanation. He observes that ‘religions are built on hypothesis. The poet looks at the compound spiritual aspect from different viewpoints. He does justice and each short lyric engages an inquisitive mind imparting meaning to the text.

Thought provoking poetic journey invokes strange feelings of love and adoration for the poet for his zeal to traverse fields unfamiliar. Through the verses, he explores many regions of human activity, feelings, thoughts, philosophy and relations. He touches depth of experience imbued with insight. In four-line verses, he calls life unprincipled, and challenges man’s idea of a good life. He relates the valor and wisdom of heroes to the quality of sperms and ovum. Ethical lyrics are merely four-line rhymes but speak truth of morality one notices in the behaviour of elites. He talks about the spirit of right and kindness. Kindness is good. If one rejects ‘self-importance’, joy fills. Research is bad for it harms or destroys. He wants men to take care of the morals and ethics. Pragmatism and actuality are dear to him. The concept of hell, post-life, a moment’s joy, ego, and atheist’s fears…are his areas. The poet has experienced and imagined life in several perspectives in different locations, time and conditions. The thoughts little poems contain chastened outcome of a seasoned mind. Despite knowledge and wisdom, man is a beast, because in a position of authority, he becomes cruel –almost an animal. Old age does not make him wise.

In this way, he continues to reflect over numerous shades of deliberations that emerge from within and from outside. However, he makes genuine efforts to define the arising inconsistencies. He classifies problems, explains and tells man to understand the purpose and live properly. To reach destination, man ought to live in peace, reconcile with the warring internal and external forces. He should evade issues fanatics create. Each segment pursues its narrow region of thoughts, psyche and philosophy, and thus, restricts man to grow freely. Such thoughts invade in many rhythmical expressions. At last, man deliberates over the objective of life inwardly, and hesitantly at times with belief indefinite in the existence of god, he arrives at a stage when he realizes the end and the waste of momentary life of created things even as penitence and apologies fill…and he feels death brings relief.

To know the real essence of religion also necessitates unvarying inquest into ‘the self’, and everyone must formulate his path to reach the finale that grants peace, awakens and stimulates consciousness.

A man struggles with ‘the self’ to know and realize the truth about life, and deliberates seriously. He analyses his embryonic thoughts and shares. He thinks about the five elements, wisdom, gods and the various codes the weak frame to govern. Indirectly, he tells that the weak are sneaky fellows who construct laws where people live sans dissent. Philosophy is the exclusive domain of man. He thinks about whatever he feels, sees, hears and says. He nurses feelings and thoughts of love, hope, hate, anger, jealousy, fears, desires, denials, ego, pride, joy, suffering, charity or giving. He tries to understand what heart conveys. He thinks of knowledge, mind, heart, body, destiny, providence, power, conflicts, war, nature, destiny, wealth and everything else that makes life comfortable and challenging. He understands the borders of his acts and freedom, and works within a system even if not good. Visions and concepts engage and repulse.

He reflects over all thoughts and variations in ‘the inner self’ or ‘the other self’, and subsequently, he evaluates and reviews what he attained in life. He thinks of god, who bestows life and blessings, and in return, he tries to please him through prayers, worship or building a house! In a long verse, ‘Instinct, Emotional and Rational’ he tries to find the relevance and meanings of these words with bearing on life.

A thought-loaded poetic discourse in blank verses carries philosophic tensions and twists but is quite motivating, true and teasing, and contributes significantly to man’s existence. A memorable, ever-fresh and timeless offering carrying eternally religious and literary value it is. A great mythical souvenir indeed!


More by :  P C K Prem

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