‘Good bye’ to our Saints

Sharad Bedekar

India is a considerably large nation with a huge population of over a billion people spread into a number of provinces, speaking numerous languages, belonging to different religions and yet an important secular nation in the world. It is necessary therefore that we ought to solve our problems of the day with the help of science of the day coupled with human virtues (that sustain a civilized society.) Searching their solutions in the thoughts of our kind and caring saints of the past is futile

No doubt we owe a lot to these saints for they were the ones who led the movement of enlightening the downtrodden masses that was essential at that time. This they did most effectively. The Bhakti movement that they propagated to achieve this purpose is popular even today among the masses. However to my mind we have failed to discern wherein does their greatness lay. We are told that they were great because god revealed himself to them and miracles happened around them; God used to converse with Namdev and other saints like him; a special plane was sent for Tukaram to ascend to heaven in his material body, a feat impossible to any other mortal, etc. But today in the 21st century- the age of Science, we should be wise enough not to believe that such miraculous incidents did occur. It is also not true that these saints relinquished their entire worldly affairs and denied the flesh; or even that they taught people merely how to ensure a happy existence in the other world after death. In fact they were quite dedicated and tried to educate people to be happy, satisfied and moral in this world. So denying the miracles attributed to them or emphasizing their involvement in ‘this worldly affairs’ does not belittle their greatness in any way. Because their greatness emanates mainly from their incessant struggle against the wrong religious tenets and evil customs and traditions in a very hostile circumstance, bearing the brunt of their adversaries’ wrath; and we choose to ignore this very aspect of their strong character.

The saints, believers of devotional way, denied all orthodox rituals as useless and emphasized simple honest conduct and pure mind. They refused to succumb to any customs, rituals, including observances, pilgrimages, etc. And as the necessary psychological support that people need, they offered a simple god, easier to attain through devotion. One should admit that this was necessary and appropriate to those days. The saints condemned all pretence of religiosity and thwarted the deterioration of (due to the wrong ways of the Tantriks) in the name of worship. Similarly they exposed the futility of irascible ways of worship and customs. They preached that instead of burning valuable eatable items in the Yadnyas one should burn out one’s own anger and excessive desire and purify one’s mind. They also urged people not to show off their riches to help each other and adopt the correct path together. They gave very important messages like futility of vows to people, such as; if one can beget children by vows, one need not marry and have a husband; make your mind clear and pellucid and you will accomplish everything that you want. In short all saints were involved in the work of eradicating superstitions that prevailed in their own times.

They also declared that the higher class people’s learning the Vedas by heart without understanding their meaning is useless. They refused to accept the undue importance of Sanskrit as ‘the language of the gods’ and brought the dialects of various languages used by the masses to prominence. This rebellion of theirs was not just restricted to language but it touched the life of the people. This served two purposes.1. They could condemn the perverse rituals adopted by the masses out of their belief in mean deities, and 2. They could show people deprived of the education that the higher classes could get, the way to emancipate themselves. Thus these rebellious saints have obliged us by exposing the self styled religious hypocrites and also emancipating the masses.

Yet the saints could not demolish the caste system or the insurmountable walls between castes, or the evil custom of untouchability, or the unjust discrimination against women. Because although they were courageous rebels, yet they were only human beings, constrained by the limits of time and place and the then prevailing circumstances. It is quite possible that they were simply not able to reject the discriminating but fundamental concepts like-Atma, rebirth, Karmavipak (accumulated fruit of deeds of previous births), etc. and introduce the new ideas of equality. That is why they were unable to eradicate the discriminating caste system.

  1. From today’s vantage point in our completely changed life style, we can detect quite a few defects in the thinking of our saints.
  2. As already stated the saints denied all caste discriminations and untouchability in their spiritual thoughts; and yet they did not try in any way to bring equality among the castes or bring the ugly system of untouchability to an end.
  3. Similarly they did not try to put their liberal views regarding women’s education and inferior status into practice. Our society opposed women’s education till the beginning of 20th century.
  4. In their religious framework, the saints retained all the unreasonable concepts of demigods and goddesses, daemons, heaven and hell, the theory of sins and their sure products in after births, rebirth, Atma, the almighty god, final emancipation, etc. and regarded them as essential for our life in this world.
  5. Although the saints rejected worshiping or appeasing ghosts-devils-spirits etc., they did not refute their very existence and let superstitions regarding them prevail.
  6. They preached ‘know thy self’, easy way of emancipation etc., but never talked about the foreign aggressors at our doorstep.
  7. Some of the saints’ literature contains despicable descriptions of human body, family life, sex, pregnancy, etc. We surely cannot accept these thoughts today.
  8. They taught the masses the need of emancipation of self. But the only way to achieve this was according to them worshiping god. If we remove worshiping god, Moksha, relief from the cycle of death and rebirths, and all such illogical concepts nothing commendable remains in their thoughts.

Finally our main objection to the teaching of the saints is that they made us Indians utterly faithful and thereby hindered our ability to think independently. They now firmly believed that visiting the temples, repeating god’s name constantly, singing god’s praises and spending life in his worship is what a human being should aim at. We spend days and months in these useless and meaningless tasks. It seems we have embraced faith and thrown reason to wind.

We are now in the 21st century when the situation is completely changed. World population has crossed the 7 billion mark. Out of those 7billions over one billion people are crowded on an inadequate piece of land. Half of them live in the big cities and towns, in a much polluted atmosphere, eat and drink unhygienic food and water, gulp medicine pills and somehow manage to carry on their life in congested areas. Natural balance is no more maintained as forests, water, vegetation, species of animals and birds are disappearing from the face of the earth. We are already putting an unbearable pressure on the earth and yet foolishly advocate that each woman should give birth to at least four children. Instead of doing anything on our own, we expect god to reincarnate himself and save us from the impending calamity.