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To demonstrate the commonalities of the Advaita Philosophy with the United Nations Development Goals, and give suggestions of how there can be mutual support.
Guest Speaker: Dr Anantanand Rambachan
Participants: Doctoral Students from E4Life and CWEGE/Ammachi Labs at Amrita University
Anantanand Rambachan Professor of Religion, Philosophy and Asian Studies at Saint Olaf College, Minnesota, USA, where he has been teaching since 1985.
He received his Ph.D and M.A. (Distinction) degrees from the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Leeds, in the United Kingdom. He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine,Trinidad.
Prof. Rambachan is the author of several books, book-chapters and articles in scholarly journals. Among his books are, Accomplishing the Accomplished, The Limits of Scripture, The Advaita Worldview: God, World and Humanity, The Hindu Vision, Gitamrtam: The Essential Teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita and A Hindu Theology of Liberation. His writings include a series of commentaries on the Ramayana. The British Broadcasting Corporation transmitted a series of 25 lectures by Prof. Rambachan around the world.
Prof. Rambachan has been involved in the field of interreligious relations and dialogue for over twenty-five years, as a Hindu participant and analyst. He has contributed to numerous consultations and discussions convened by national and international organizations concerned with interreligious issues. He is very active in the dialogue programs of the World Council of Churches, and was a Hindu guest and participant in the last four General Assemblies of the World Council of Churches in Vancouver, Canada, Canberra, Australia, Harare, Zimbabwe and Puerto Alegre, Brazil He is also a regular participant in the consultations of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue at the Vatican and an educator on interfaith issues in Minnesota.
Below is a transcription of the entire lecture. (the entire lecture was a highlight)
The Bhagavad Gita commends the idea of the universal common good. In Sanskrit ‘Lokah sangraha’ of all the actions that we undertake this must be at the center of our concerns.
Lokah means “all existence”, it is not anthropocentric. One who is concerned about the universal common good values all life. So it includes all life, and all dimensions of life. They cannot compartmentalize life. (Dualists between public, private, religious and secular)
SDG are our most recent consensus about what this common good means. It is the unpacking of the meaning of Lokah Sangraha. Hinduism and Advaitist must assume responsibility and the joint partnerships to realize these goals.
May all be happy
May all be free from disease
May all know that which is good
May no one suffer
Om peace peace peace
ॐ सर्वे भवन्तुसखिुखिनः
सर्वे सन्तुनि रामयाः ।
सर्वे भद्राणि पश्यन्तु
मा कश्चि द्दःुखभाग्भवेत्।
ॐ शान्ति ः शान्ति ः शान्ति ः ॥
Om Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah
Sarve Santu Niraamayaah |
Sarve Bhadraanni Pashyantu
Maa Kashcid-Duhkha-Bhaag-Bhavet |
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||
This is not simply an oral recitation but is an obligation. We cannot stop at merely wishing that all beings be free from suffering, we have also to inquire into the sources of human suffering. And to think and to formulate policies that aim to overcome these basic causes. I think there is no long-term freedom from suffering without sustainable development, as is articulated in the SDGs I think the challenge is not that
we do not have the resources for implementing the SDGs, they are there, natural and human, what is lacking is the will to do it. That is why I believe this topic is so important, what our religious traditions can bring in a very special way is the moral commitment, the moral resources that inspire us to work for achievement of these goals. It is a religious obligation. The Advaita tradition provides deep moral resources and justification for SDG
First of its important to identify the challenges with Advaita :
1. The prominent interpreters of the Advaita tradition throughout history have been renunciates, sunnyasis. They are in the 4th stage. They are free from obligations from work, etc. In fact they have offered themselves to their ancestors. So the interpretation of the Shastras is by people who have renounced and have little interest in materials, social factors. They are likely to be indifferent to social factors. – Economics, law, etc.
So the reading of these texts, which are moksha shastras, liberation is important, but we do not need to limit to only this issue. What are the values, what do they say about relationships what are our obligations to the planet, nature. So a broader reading of the texts is needed.
2. SDG requires that we take life in this world very seriously. The challenges in Advaita and many Hindu traditions is their interpretation of the world. I do not think always emphasizes the significance or the value of life here and now. You may be familiar with some interpretations that liken the world to a sense illusion that we conjure based on experience because of our ignorance of the true reality. So the point is that if the reality of the world is underplayed when life is not treated as significant or important we may not feel drawn to the challenges or problems of life in this world and not want to be affected by them. To respond to the world is to grant reality to the world. (which does not exist, which is an illusion)If we take this to the extremes then we do not take poverty and injustice seriously. See the world as a marvelous outpouring of the Infinite One. The world derives value because it comes from Brahman. It exists within, and has its ultimate destination in the Infinite One. In Taiteryia Upanishad there is a beautiful description about Braham, the one from whom all has come, the one who is the final destination of us all. We can interpret the world positively as an outcome of the intention of creativity of the divine one, expressing the fullness of the Divine One. In other words, I do not think that an Advaita that the world does not necessarily need to be devalued. To take the world seriously while holding onto the fundamental teachings of Advaita.
3. Liberation and Moksha are sometimes expressed as freedom FROM the world, freedom from samsara. Now samsara sometimes carries negative connotations, often with ignorance and suffering, etc. And so when the world itself is equated with samsara then the focus becomes itself to attain freedom from the world, not solving the problems. I think there is a different way of understanding this…to not see the world as world. That it is a mistake to see Advaita as seeing a problem with the world, but a problem of AVIDYA, or ignorance. Seeing everything as separate. So if we put the emphasis on Avidya as a human problem, then we move now we can see Moksha, not as escape from the world, but as a transformation of how we are in the world. We need to UNPACK the social implications of MOKSHA, what are the implications of moksha, I mentioned one already, LOKAH SANGRAHA. Such a person finds delight in working for the wellbeing of all. This opens us up to a more empathetic way of being. Identification of others in suffering and in joy. The BG says the best yogi is one who experiences others joy and suffering as their own.
4. Regarding KARMA, actions that can be traced to performance in past lives. Or even at an earlier point in this life. Such rigid interpretations lead to fatalism. Sees all forms of suffering as somehow justified and deserved. I do not think that is the only interpretation of karma, I argue against it, it offers 2 insights. 1 is we should be very responsible of choices, because choices are consequential. 2. Choices, sometimes it takes time to see the consequence of our actions, but we do see it, like climate change. To see structural issues that are the causes of suffering.
5. Dukha. May be construed as an inner condition that results from avidya, as an individualized and personalized condition. We can expand this understanding. There is no good reason in Advaita of why we would ignore the suffering of others, of human beings when they lack the resources to attain necessities for dignified and decent living. Or when suffering is inflicted through oppression and injustice based on gender, birth, hierarchical race construction. we can expand our understanding beyond the individualized internal suffering. There is no glorification of involuntary suffering and involuntary poverty in the Hindu Shastras/tradition.
4 fundamental goals of Hindu life
So working to overcoming suffering means identifying, enlarging our understanding of dukha and suffering, and identifying those political, social, economic structures that cause and perpetuate suffering.
So my point of identifying these 5 challenges is to be realistic. That there are alternative ways of looking at all these issues. That provide positive, ethical and moral resources for Advaita being relevant our thinking to being social, SDGs.
Attendance /No.of participants: 44
Male- 23 Female -21
List of the participants:
Source of Funding : E4Life PhD Scholarship fund, Ammachi Labs, CWEGE