All religions lead to same realisation
I have always been a great admirer of Karl Marx and his ideas
I have always been a great admirer of Karl Marx and his ideas. The political parties in India that profess to follow Marx's philosophy are the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) and the All India Forward Bloc (AIFB). And, of course, several revolutionary groups which also claim to be working realise the Utopia dreamt of by Karl Marx.
My own view is that the reason for their failure, lies in the inability to contemporarise the philosophy in the social, political and economic areas. I have, however, never subscribed to Marx's conviction that' religion is the opiate of the masses'. I am not only a true believer in God but also remain firm in my conviction that all religions are equally valid, as paths to realising oneness with the Supreme Being. And thanks to my bringing up in the harmonious and secular ambience of Hyderabad, I believe I have inculcated a truly secular attitude.
I have always believed that a fit body on alert mind and a balanced emotional apparatus are essential for a human being to lead a productive and useful life. As a consequence of that conviction, I have made it a point, especially over the last four decades, to include a session in the gym, periods of prayer and practices that are designed to calm the mind and reduce emotional stress, in my daily routine.
Having started out as an atheist, I became a firm believer in God in my late teens. Since then I have been to Tirupati many a time, sometimes more than once in a year. For a long time I only had my hair cut (a tonsure, a matter of fact) at Tirupati, no matter what period had elapsed since my last pilgrimage. On many occasions I also did what is known as Anga Pradakshinam, a rolling over along the circumference of the temple. In nearly all my visits my friend Dr. Y. Bhujanga Rao invariably accompanied me.
On one occasion, when the gap between one visit and the next became very long, and on account of my decision not to have a haircut until next visit to Tirupati, a photograph of Sharda Mukherjee (the then Governor of Andhra Pradesh state) and I (I was Secretary to the Governor at that time) (taken from behind), left doubts in people's minds as to who was who!
I also made frequent pilgrimages to the shrines at Yadagirigutta, Annavaram and the Kanaka Durga Temple at Vijayawada. And, whenever possible, I made it a point to climb the steps to the top of the hill where the temple was situated. Although not on every visit I also had my head tonsured whenever possible.
A few years ago, when I realised I had become old enough, I decided that I may not be able to climb steps or tonsure my head anymore. It was my habit to visit a temple on every Tuesday in the morning. I observed that ritual for over 25 years, even when I travelled to places such as Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta or Gangtok, including during my visits to places such as Singapore or Hong Kong.
A special experience was having Darshan of Lord Kasi Vishweswara at Banaras, where the striking feature is that, as you enter the temple, there is a mosque in front of you! In the recital by the priest of the Kala Bhairava Temple, at the entrance the main Temple, of the Ashtakam was a rousing and exhilarating experience!
I have finally settled down to the acceptance that my pooja room at home as the ultimate temple, and have, more or less, freed myself of the feeling that visiting places of worship is the only way to seek divine blessings to attain inner peace.
My first audience with Bhagwan Saibaba of Puttaparthi was when he had dinner with Governor Sharda Mukherjee at Raj Bhavan shortly before I left for Delhi for my daughter Aparna's operation. Swamy (as he was popular called by his devotees), asked me whether I would accept some "Vibhuti" and locket. Upon my agreeing (only too readily!), he gave me both - the locket to be worn, and the Vibhuti to be applied on her back for a few days. When I attempted to touch his feet, Swamy said in Hindi, "Man mein, man mein".
My next opportunity to have a 'Darshan' was when I went to Puttaparthi with my mother and Aparna. We were waiting for an audience in a corridor just outside his main house. Just when we were about to give up, thinking that the period for private audience was over, Swamy walked into his room, turned back and beckoned to us into come in. Overjoyed, the three of us went in and had a long chat with him.
The next time I received Swamy's blessings was when Aparna and I had Darshan at White Field, Bangalore, shortly before Aparna's marriage. I made one more trip to Puttaparthi for Swamy's darshan, and blessings, with my son Arvind, just before he was blessed with a son. Sometime later, I became a Member of the Governing Body of Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning (SSIHL) and attended several meetings in that capacity.
As Joint Secretary in charge of International Cooperation in the Department of Agriculture Cooperation (of the Ministry of Agriculture in the Government of India) I traveled frequently to Rome, which was the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
On one occasion I accompanied Kamal Pandey, the then Secretary Agriculture. Our wives were also with us. Somehow, it struck us that we should seek an audience with His Holiness the Pope. Our request was granted, thanks to the efforts of the Indian Ambassador to Italy, Fabian. It was a unique and deeply satisfying experience. We were part of a gathering of several hundreds of people, who were given an exclusive audience in a hall in the Vatican. After receiving benediction, we went individually to the dais and received his Holiness's blessings.
I visited Jain temples twice. Once when, while on a pilgrimage to Yadagirigutta, we took a detour and went to a nearby village called Kolanupaka. Another time when we visited ancient Jain temples while on a visit to Jaisalmer in Rajasthan.
While under training, and during Bharat Darshan, the team of which I was a member, spent a month in Gaya district of Bihar. Our team, visited Bodh Gaya (the place where Buddha attained ('Nirvana'). Subsequently I also went to Gaya to perform the obsequies of my father and mother.
A truly glorifying experience was the visit to Jerusalem the home of the religions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism I also had the privilege of visiting Bethlehem where Jesus is said to have been born. I feel confident that, very soon, my desire to visit a Gurudwara and a Synagogue will be fulfilled.
I derive satisfaction, and solace, from the fact that, in all the religious places which I have been to, I was able to experience a similar sense of calm, peace and tranquility. There clearly is something, after all, in favour of the philosophy that, in the ultimate analysis, all religions lead to the same realisation, of oneness with a single Supreme Being.
(The writer is former Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh)