Whether people are interested in spirituality or not, they certainly care for the wellbeing of their families. Many times we feel that our thoughts and lifestyles won’t affect anyone, but they do affect our families – and society is comprised of a group of families. We have advanced technologically and come closer to the West but we should also be aware that the sociological dimensions affecting western society will soon also affect us.
While on a tour in America, I was giving a talk in Ohio where a student walked up to me and started speaking in Hindi. He was an American speaking fluent Hindi. Completely bewildered I asked him, “Are you American or Indian?”
With a proper bhaiya accent he confirmed that he was an American.”
“Then how are you speaking Hindi?” I asked.
“I grew up in California and my multimillionaire father gave me everything in life. I had a Mercedes at my disposal, a huge house next to the beach, a tennis court and everything else. Whatever. You name it, I had it. But when I was seventeen years old, I told him – Dad you still didn’t give me one thing.’
‘What is that, son?’ He asked.
I said, ‘Dad, you didn’t give me the meaning of the word family.’
Shocked, the father said, ‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, when I was growing up, you were divorced. I was only 3 years old. After that I grew up alone, just with the dogs and television. So I don’t know what it means to reciprocate with brothers and sisters and a mother, or sitting at the dinner table with family members and exchanging various feelings and emotions. I’m totally bewildered and lost. I feel a great vacuum within me and I don’t know how wealth, money or economic development is going to fill that.”
The father said, ‘I’m too old now to fulfil that desire. Better you forget about it. But I can tell you something, since you brought it up. There is probably only one country in the whole world where family culture still exists to some degree, and that’s India. Why don’t you go there? ”
So he came all the way to Varanasi. While travelling there he met a family with three children, a father and a mother. This boy went to the family and said, “Please allow me to stay with you for two years and experience what it means to exchange emotions in a family. I have never had that experience, and I am keen to experience it. I can stay as a paying guest if that’s fine.”
The family said, “Stay forever. Why only two years?” And they added, “If you have other friends who want this experience, bring them as well.”
So we may think, what’s the big deal about having a family and such exchanges? It’s nothing extraordinary. But we forget that there has been a strong spiritual culture over several centuries. Because of this, people have managed to tolerate each other’s differences, and still they’ve stayed together and have loved each other. There is a certain foundation on which this entire rasa, or experience is based.
Vedic scriptures describe families as being of 3 types. The first type is where relationships are based on parthiva-rasa and are based on selfish interests. Parthiva-rasa means gross. Long ago I met a boy who had just suffered a break-up. He was sad but his ego was too tall to admit it. After talking to him for a while I understood where the problem lied. As long as all interests are fulfilled, the relationship will stay. As soon as another existence threatens self-interest, the relationship will end. That’s called parthiva-rasa. As long as relationships are inspired by convenience, people will be less tolerant towards each other. That is when we have a society filled with rising divorce rates.
I met the same boy many years after, once again. He was married then, with a family. He seemed more settled with himself. In his maturity, reflected the second kind of rasa called svargiya-rasa. Svargiya-rasa means where importance is given to a person’s emotions and feelings, or bhavana. When families stay together in a way that others’ feelings and emotions are taken into consideration, there is an atmosphere of care, concern and affection. In India we are fortunate that even till date, practically all families experience this kind of exchange. When you extend acceptance towards others and prioritise collective wellbeing over self, that is when flamboyance is replaced by restraint, an ever volatile nature attains grace.
What we forget is that these emotions rise from a third type of rasa called vaikuntha-rasa. For Vaikuntha-rasa, spirituality is the central focus, where we harmonize each other’s relationships based on our relationships with the Supreme. That is a complete circle which brings us back to self, without being selfish. Vaikuntha-rasa inspires us to find our God within our soul.
If I had to summarize the message of the Gita in one word, it would be harmony – the state in which our relationships with our father and mother are in order. Our father is the Supreme Lord and our mother is nature. Only in such a state do our relationships with all our brothers and sisters gradually fall into place. It is this concept of harmony, both within and without, that attracted me to this path twenty-two years ago.