Here is an email I received from a listener of my radio interview on 2/9/2013 on 104.9 FM. “Doctor Garu, I have been listening to your speech in radio show. Our elders preach many traditions but they do not give justifiable answer, where can we find an answer. There are many traditions ex: a menstrual woman is prohibited in devotional/regular activities, make them untouchable completely. I do not want to comment but does it harm if we violate, for ex: we know for sure if we touch fire it is going to hurt/injure, like in a similar way are there proofs so we follow certain traditions?? Sorry for bothering. Naresh Bhaskara Panthula”
These are the most common questions we have and also our young generations of Hindus have. Naresh just verbalized one such question. Hindu leadership has to squarely address these questions. If you ask the orthodox Hindu leadership they will confuse this generation of Hindus more with their orthodoxy that is not based on rational thinking.
Hinduism is based on Vedas which are revelations as inner voice on the pure hearts of the sages. These are no different than some of the scientific revelations that occurred to the scientists. Hinduism unlike some of the other religions is scientific and evidence based by direct experience by the seekers. It is not dogma or here say.
Each scriptural statement has levels or layers of meaning. The deepest meaning is the Veda or the intent, spirit or essence. On this intent the rest of the description is built. For every story there is an intent or central theme that it conveys. This is like that every idol has an ideal behind it. If we lose this ideal and hung on the idol then we are making God into a stone. But, if we see the ideal and worship the idols with that ideal then we convert the stone into Divinity. Even in criminal justice system intent only matters. The sentence varies for murder depending on the intention of the culprit if it is done in self defense or with willful criminal intent. The intent of societal practices and norms are of utmost important.
Similarly if we lose the intent or essence of a puranic story and only caught on to the external details of the story, we lose the purpose of the story. Here is an example. We are all familiar with the Sathyanarayana Vrata Katha from Skanda Purana. The story’s intention is this. Our life runs between MARAPU (forgetfulness) and ERUKA (realization). When we forget who we are (Swaswaroopa Jnana) we have troubles and when we remember (realize our true nature) we are trouble free. This essence is conveyed in the 5 chapters of the story. If we do not get this essence, this story generates fear of reprisal from a vicious God and makes God as a bribe seeker for granting boons. We can conclude that we need to do favors to God in order to get blessings. This is contrary to its intended meaning. Fear should have no place in faith.
Similarly several of our practices, traditions are mis-understood and mis-interpreted by even the scholarly. Even scriptures and religious books were similarly mis-interpreted by these scholars. It is not scholarliness that is needed, it is the purity of heart (CHITTA-SUDDHI) that is needed to interpret or understand the intent of our scriptures. In the first place, practices, traditions, clothing, are part of the culture, not of religion. Culture is defined as the practices of a large group of people over a long period of time that becomes their second nature. This culture is wrongly attached and attributed to the religion. The religion has a positive effect on the culture of the land but the contrary is not necessarily true. Each of these rituals, practices has an inner purpose. Wise separate the inner purpose with the actual practice and follow the inner purpose. It is like eating the Banana and discarding the peel. Those who practice without understanding the purpose also accumulate this garbage that causes further confusion. Wise know what to take and what to discard. This is the purpose of our intellect (BUDDHI).
On the specific question of Menstruation and why women in menstrual period are forbidden (not by religion-but by culture) is to give them rest during that period. Women continue to work long hours for the sake of the family. This kind of forbidding them from activities is intended to give them rest during this time of need. In today’s day and age where modern conveniences are available and women running marathons in menstrual periods, this prohibition should not be taken literally by the wise. It goes without saying that the orthodox Hindus may disagree with me. Similar is the ban on women and Sudras to chant Gayathri. Gayatri is a powerful mantra that is available for the benefit of mankind. Some in their selfishness restricted its learning and use only to themselves. Selfishness should have no place in a religion that desires and preaches LOKA SAMASTA SUKHINOBHAVANTHU.
Thus in every issue related to practices, we need to probe into the intent. God is Bhava Priya not Bahya Priya. Our purity of intent is the one that will take us to our destination. Not the mere meaningless practices with no connection to the intent. Bhava is the Essence. Essence is the one that will take us to the destination.