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Light from the east, fruit from the west

india Updated: Aug 30, 2015 16:25 IST
Renuka Narayanan


Waiting for Janmashtami, the anniversary of Sri Krishna's advent, a clever Latin saying by American philosopher HD Thoreau (1817-62) pops up: 'Ex oriente lux, ex occidente frux (From the east, light, from the west, fruit).' Thoreau was paraphrasing another writer, Guyot, to say that Eastern light, meaning the culture of Europe, could and should reap rich material fruit out west in America.

Were we to pull the 'oriente' further east to the spiritual legacy of Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, we may find a point or two to reconcile the way we are with the way 'they' are. 'They' may have made a good life through their ill-gotten gains from Africa and Asia. But 'they' also know how to live in cleanliness and order. So, in fact, so do the countries even more to the East. We Indians are the only dirty people in the middle of Eurasia (I refuse to count Pakistan and Bangladesh; they are sovereign, independent nations and it's not my job to nag them).

Wash away your sins: Being clean has become a foreign thing in India, which is so ironic given our purity-driven traditions. (Photo: iStock)

Basically, being clean has become a foreign thing in India, which is so ironic, isn't it, given our purity-driven traditions? Out here, whole social groups are impure, women, of course, are impure, somebody's jhoota is impure (not a bad idea, that, since there are no guarantees about oral hygiene), somebody's religious denomination is impure, this metal is impure, that glass is impure, the colour black is terribly impure, the colour white is pure, the colours orange and green are pure, the colour mauve is not, and so on, until our brains are fried trying to keep up with it all.

The Bhagavad Gita, chapter 13, verse 8, has a long list of what is considered 'true knowledge'. Of these things, saucham, cleanliness, is number seven. Most commentators fail to satisfy me on this point. They usually begin with the grand geste of stating that cleanliness is absolutely necessary for spiritual advancement. Then they pull in an Upanishad or two to reinforce the obvious point that there are two types of cleanliness, external and internal. Then they gobsmack you with the shattering disclosure that there is a difference between external cleanliness and internal cleanliness; that external cleanliness is so easy, all it means is taking a bath. But internal cleanliness, aha, that is achieved only by taking the name of God, and not in vain, but always thinking of God and saying 'His' name. But what about follow-up action?

If I were Sri Krishna (forgive me, Lord, for the presumption), I would want to chuck away my Sudarshan chakra in a snit (that's why I'm not Sri Krishna, there, I said it first). All these centuries since our blue Bhagwan went through the nuisance of taking yet another avatar to tell us what's what, and this is all we come up with? A bath, and God's name as a jharoo for our minds? Do our pravachanists ever tell us to look beyond our own little selves and not throw kachra for someone else to pick up?

This Janmashtami, don't you think God would rather we distributed dustbins, not laddoos, in satsang?