INTERVIEW WITH SWAMI PREMANANDA
1. What is the purpose of being born as a human being? Why were we born on this earth?
The purpose of human birth is to discover our own reality. Our real Self is not the body. It is not our minds nor our intellects. You may call this reality as Soul, Light, Higher Self or any other name you like. Our bodies and our personalities will pass away, but we still survive in a subtle manner. This subtle being takes many lives. It is like changing clothes, discarding one life for another.
Why do such lives come into being? We created a need for this when we took our first birth. If we had realized our real Self when in a spiritual form and experienced human life with detachment, we would not have suffered any difficulties. However, when we lost touch with our spiritual state of being we were led to believe that our life with our body, mind and intellect was the real Self. We committed acts, which had corresponding effects that made their impressions on the mind. Such mental residue prompts our real Self to take life after life to atone for any wrong that may have been committed. So the purpose of life is firstly to pay off your debts and that you created in the present and past lives. Secondly, it is to live an untainted life so that you don’t have to take any more lives.
2. Most religious leaders claim that only within their religion or confession one can achieve salvation or liberty. What is your view on this matter?
Salvation or liberty is not a place you visit from time to time. It is a change in perception. Suppose you are an infant prince who had, by accident, found yourself being brought up in a group of very poor people. If I tell you that you are a prince and you are not a poor man, you will not accept it. As long as you don’t accept your real Self, you will continue to be a poor young man amongst poverty stricken people. Only when you realize your true origin, will you become free of the bondage of your environment. That freedom brings with it your salvation.
Let us say you are travelling and your destination is Mount Kailash in the Himalayas in the north, but you are taking a route towards Kanyakumari in the south of India. The more you travel south, the further you are from Mount Kailash. So I tell you not to travel south – travel north, then you will reach your destination. The change of route gives you a solution to your problem. All religions are like that. They show you the path to salvation or liberty. The journey must be taken by you. You are the creator of your own future. Any religion that says that it alone holds the key to salvation might have misunderstood some statement made by a saint or a sage who started or promoted that religion.
Suppose Lord Jesus Christ said “I am the path.” It means that “If you understand your “I” that “I” will lead you to salvation”. It is not personal to the human being called Jesus but personal to every human being. So these claims to exclusivity are made by the devotees who have misunderstood the statements of how the spiritual teachers perceive spirituality.
3. What can you offer to the world? How can you help people in their problems and being lost?
Firstly I must be a person who is fit enough to offer guidance to others. If I am a confused human being I can only offer others further confusion. You could help others with wealth, advice, service, love, concern, education and so on. But in order to truly help others, you must be devoid of financial problems and devoid of confusion. You need to have a healthy body, mind and intellect, have a loving nature and be truly concerned about others’ welfare and education.
If you are to wait for such a change to happen in your lives it may not be possible to help others during your lifetimes. So you may do your helping as well as getting educated at the same time. In the Indian way of life, a student goes to his Guru to learn everything – whether it be offering to the world, helping other people with their problems or salvaging the lost. While learning transformation in one’s own life, one also offers what is good for others very naturally. Selfless service offers to others what they need. At the same time it purifies you so that you can develop spiritually.
4. Is it necessary to become a Hindu if one wants to be your disciple and get benefits from your spiritual guiding and advice?
Certainly not! Hindus and Hinduism are the names given by the Persians and Westerners to the people who lived to the South of River Indus and to their religious beliefs. Hinduism has no founder, no strict dogma nor texts, nor basic beliefs. It has no single religious organization as such.
A Hindu is free to believe in whatever path he wishes that will take him or her to the Truth. If the center of a circle is Truth, then each and every human being, whatever belief he may cling on to, is placed on the circumference. According to the radius the distance from the circle to the circumference is measured. All human beings of whatever country, whatever nature and whatever belief are evolving towards the center. Many lives are taken in this process of evolution. The radius might be short in one life but long in another. However, ultimately, the radius will shorten and the circumference and the radius would both become one with the center. Therefore, it is not necessary to convert to Hinduism. Understanding is sufficient.
The eternal codes of life, the Sanatana Dharma has been witness to the teachings of thousands of saints and sages for thousands of years. If you understand what was said by one saint or sage and would like to fashion your lifestyle according to his or her teachings, you are most welcome. You don’t have to become a Hindu to do so.
5. What is Hinduism? Western people think that there are many gods in this religion and not one God. Hindus claim that it is a monotheistic religion and that God is one. Can you explain this?
In my earlier reply, I gave you some ideas of what Hinduism is. Let me explain further: Hinduism has existed for thousands of years. The human race has also been on this earth for thousands of years. For example there was a continent called Lemuria, which existed from the present Western Australia to South Africa, engulfing the present Indian Ocean. That entire human civilization is now under the sea. If you travel to the central part of India, you would see it consists of bundles of rocks, which must have been under water at some pre- historic time. The history we are used to extends, at most, to about five thousand years. There have been many civilizations prior to our so-called stone age. Hindu Puranas (ancient histories) refer to many such ages and civilizations. Hinduism also refers to many sages and saints. There is a golden thread that connects the sayings and writings dealing with the philosophies of such saints and sages. This is the basic truth that there an omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent God. The ancient scriptures of India, the Vedas, call it Parabrahman. It exists at all times. It is in all things animate and inanimate.
Then why do you have so many Gods and Goddesses, you may ask. God is One but its functions can be many and varied. When you view the single Divinity I mentioned earlier from a functional standpoint, that functional entity is given a name and a form and attributes. For example, the Inspector General of Police has several Deputies, Superintendents, Inspectors and ordinary policemen under him and they all perform various functions. Likewise, when the single God’s functions are performed, the Hindus give each functional entity a name, a form and attribute. Yet it is a basic tenet of Hinduism that all the fundamental entities are representatives of that one God. The Vedas refer to it as Parabrahman, the Saivites (who worship Lord Shiva) call it Shivam, the Vaishnavites call it Vishnu, the Goddess worshippers call it Adi Parashakti and so on. God is one, but saints and sages have many names for the Divine. The various functions that the Divine performs also have as many names.
6. Is vegetarianism helpful in spiritual development?
Our environment conditions our minds and bodies. A peaceful environment soothes your mind and relaxes your body. So too various types of food have a corresponding effect on your body and mind. When you pick a bean from a creeper, the creeper allows such an act to be performed. In fact it brings forth more and more beans for you and others to pick. You don’t hurt the plant. But when you take a life, whether it be an animal or bird or reptile you do hurt these beings. This pain taints the environment. When you eat such non-vegetarian food you imbibe the qualities of the animals. You consume them and sometimes when you see animals being slaughtered for consumption your inner being begins to feel guilty and thereby suffer. All these are negative facts when you are interested in spiritual development. Also one of the important steps in spiritual development is the withdrawal of your inner being from identifying itself with one’s body, mind and intellect. If you always eat just what you like, you will find it hard to stop this continual identification and you will find it hard to let go.
7. Swami, probably, we are all afraid of death, but what really happens to our soul after death? Where are we going?
Once the body taken by the soul, or higher self, dies or gets destroyed, the soul returns to its original dimension. However, it cannot stay there forever. According to its desires and aspirations it needs to take another birth until it has no desire nor inclination to be born again. Some true saints and sages out of their love for humanity may take a life of suffering to help others. They do so not because of karma but out of the generousness of their hearts.
8. And what will happen when we achieve salvation, liberty?
Salvation or liberty is not a state towards which we travel. It is the change of perception, which gives you recognition of the Truth. What happens when one is in a deep sleep without dreams? You have no thought for recognition of your Self but you are in heavenly relaxation. The need to know what will happen does not concern you in deep sleep.
The key to spiritual advancement is for you to ask yourself the question, who seeks to know “What will happen when I achieve salvation” etc. You must earnestly try to find out who it is, who is the being who is questioning.
9. Do you feel hatred towards people who fabricated false allegations against you and led to your imprisonment?
Every act of ours has a corresponding reaction in us. Even if I don´t know the consequences, if I put my hand in the fire my fingers will burn. Therefore, if someone has fabricated false charges against you, whether on purpose or not, their acts themselves would bring consequences in their lives or even the lives of their children. Why should I feel hatred? I feel sorry for them because they will have to pay for every act of theirs.
10. What spiritual practices do you recommend to your devotees?
Devotees are not all at the same level. You cannot recommend the same practices for each and every person. However, I have described a basic practice of Abishekam to statues, forms of the Divine. Abishekam or the process of cleansing divine forms with certain items, starts a process of self-cleansing. Such a cleaning is necessary for us to progress in spirituality. If you say “these are not for me” – then you would have to question yourself “why not?” If you feel very superior and therefore look down upon such worship, then your ego is bloated. Reducing your ego is very necessary and so to learn humility I have prescribed Abishekam.
11. What will happen to devotees when you leave this world and take Mahasamadhi?
I will continue to be with them unless they discard me. Destruction is to one’s body only.
12. Will you lead someone who has faith in God and you to liberty, if he or she puts your instructions and advice into practice and performs practices given by you?
That is my mission. I certainly would.
13. What is your attitude towards Christianity and other religions and spiritual paths?
Hinduism believes Truth is one but paths are many. In a spiritual journey we are all pilgrims, whatever name our group may prefer to have. I have no need to convert you to my way of religious worship. But if you ask me I shall explain my religion to you and will I listen to you if you explain your religion. However, I would certainly not want to join your religion on account of any material or spiritual benefit you may offer. I prefer Christians to be better Christians, Muslims to be better Muslims and Hindus to be better Hindus rather than Hindus becoming Christians or Muslims.
14. Can we achieve liberty living a family life, having a wife / husband and children?
Most certainly yes. But the odds are against you. Attachment and the need to be responsible towards your loved ones would drag you towards mundane life. If you can live a family life and yet be detached in your attitudes towards your family, spiritual development will happen. King Janaka the father of Rama’s wife, Sita, was in a royal family life with all its pageantry and responsibilities, yet he was a liberated soul.
15. Many people tell about coming enormous natural disasters, which are to happen within next few years. Should we be afraid of that? Is it really going to happen?
We have hurt nature in a very big way. We have hurt nature to obtain personal benefits for us. Though Mother Earth is a very patient and tolerant planet, she too has her limitations. The recent tsunami is only one such disaster, showing her displeasure. Many are to follow. Your being afraid cannot change it. What is to take place? If you open the gate, water is sure to flow until the damned area is full of water. Mother Earth is now full of anger. You have destroyed her children. Many species are now extinct thanks to the selfishness of man.
Instead of being afraid, try to retrace your steps. Put right the wrongs you have done. Atone for the wrongs you have committed. Purify the environment. Make Mother Earth feel happy. Maybe you might decrease her anger.
Helping the less fortunate is another way of pacifying Mother Earth.
16. What is your message for our country? What is the future of our country?
Your country is not separate from the rest of the Earth. You are part of Mother Earth. Your future is tied up irretrievably with that of the rest of the world. I have had some devotees in your country from very early days. My blessings are with them and all of you.
My message for everyone is the same. This world has become very small now. Any act in any part of this world has its effect in other parts as well. So the human community is becoming more and more interdependent and interconnected. Nationalities, colour, language, caste, sex, creed, which kept human being in tight compartments are slowly losing their hold on people. However, the new way of life, which is catching on fast all over world, seems to be selfishly oriented. On one side, men is breaking up his shackles and on the other side he is building walls around him. Helping others in whatever way you can – financially, educationally, professionally, physically and so on, will instill the idea that we are all children of Mother Earth. Our feelings of brotherhood towards the less fortunate might make Mother Earth happy. So I ask all to be of service to humanity as a whole. Service to ones brothers and sisters would make Mother happy.
17. Many people have experienced that you know their past and future. How is it possible?
Past, present and future are facets of time. Just as much as length, breadth and height are dimensions. Time is also a dimension. Even growth in time has a past, present and future depending on where you are standing in time. Time is relative. It is not constant. If you could skip out of the limitations of time, past, present and future would stand before you without any barriers. If you try, even you could achieve that facility. Primarily you must know and realize yourself as separate from your body, mind and intellect. If you are tied to that entity you are subject to time and therefore limited by considerations of past, present and future.
Jai Prema Shanti!
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