Loving Sai Ram and greetings from Prashanti Nilayam.

We get many mails starting with the question: “What does Swami say about such and such a thing?” People want to know what Swami says about all sorts of things, ranging from the war in Iraq to the tsunami. And now, reacting to a recent comment of ours about female infanticide, one legitimately disturbed devotee says that there is so much of this going on in India, and that according to his numbers, the number of abortions plus the number of female children destroyed per year far exceeds the number of people Hitler sent to the gas chambers in five years. We do know that such things happen but have no knowledge of its extent; so we cannot comment on the numbers. However, that is not our point. The devotee who has raised this topic wants to know what Swami has to say about abortion. In this Sunday Special, we wish to address the general question of what Swami says about this or that.

Regarding what Swami says concerning various matters, we must make a clear distinction between two categories. Category 1 encompasses statements about the basics of the principle and the practice of Spirituality. Category 2 pertains to comments that Swami might sometimes make, especially in private, to either individuals or small groups of people gathered around Him. We wish to make this distinction because comments made to individuals are often context-specific, and it would not be proper to take those comments and quote them out of context. For example, to one devotee, Swami might say, “Have full faith in Allah. He will then protect you under all conditions.” To another He might say, “Have full faith in Lord Siva. Then your protection is guaranteed.” We just cannot quote these two and ask, “Now I am an orthodox Vaishnavite Hindu with great faith in Lord Rama. How can I be asked to have faith in Allah or Siva? That is impossible!” This shows the need to be careful in dealing with quotes relating to Category 2.

We agree that this is a trivial example with an obvious resolution, but the point we are making is that often, people do tear statements out of context and then start worrying about what exactly Swami said. Where remarks made by Swami to individuals are concerned, we should be very careful, especially because Swami sometimes merely holds a mirror to the person concerned. The person wants to hear something from Swami, and Swami just obliges. As He once said in a Discourse, “God often says amen to the things that man wants to do.” This was His way of saying that when man has already made up his mind about a particular course of action, God merely says, “all the best!” The long and short of it is that we in H2H do not wish to ever get involved with context-specific arguments.

Having said that, we will now move on to the question that we have been asked. The devotee wants to know what precisely has Swami said about abortion. Frankly, we do not know whether Swami has said anything specific about that in any of His Discourses. We doubt it very much. Has He said anything in private to anybody? We are not aware; nor are we not interested in exploring the existence of such a statement that He might have made in private. We would, however, like to deal with a more general aspect of the question regarding Swami’s advice about how to deal with a particular issue. We feel this is important since many, students and devotees alike do want to know: “How do I deal with such and such a difficulty? What has Swami said about that?”

To make our point, we shall start with arithmetic. We all know what arithmetic is – it deals with the manipulation of numbers, manipulations that include addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Let us take multiplication. To help us multiply two numbers, we learn multiplication tables in school. By the way, we hope we are correct in saying that children learn multiplication tables in schools these days! A long time ago, they used to teach such tables. But these days when one has gone beyond hand-held electronic calculators, one wonders! Spelling too has also apparently become a casualty since PC software has ready spell-check! So may be we should say “in the good old days”!

Anyway, let us get back to the multiplication tables. Students were expected to get these by heart, usually up to 16; that is to say, one must be able to say what 16 x 16 is, just off the cuff. If one has mastered all tables up to 16, then, provided one is careful, one can multiply any number by any number. It might take a lot of time if the numbers are large, but in principle, one can find the answer to any multiplication problem by systematically applying the rules of multiplication. That is the point we are trying to make.

You might be wondering: “Everyone knows that. But what have multiplication tables got to do with Spirituality?” That precisely is the point we are coming to! Life always presents all kinds of problems; and to deal with them, one must have problem-solving ability. People who solve problems are often specialists but these days, it is not always easy to get specialists; besides, they invariably charge a lot. It is said that when Einstein went to America to settle down there, he found how expensive plumbers were. Thus, once when asked what he would like to be if reborn, he shot back, “A plumber in America !” However, these days, when we buy an equipment like a computer ink-jet printer say, it comes with a manual that has hints concerning low-level trouble shooting. The manual says that if you have such and such a kind of trouble with printing, then do this. If you have problems with paper feed, then do this and so on. In short, it is a if-then type of do-it-yourself kit. There are similar do-it-yourself medical kits, kits about how to deal with problems young babies face, and so on.

We are mentioning these problem-solving kits because many want a similar compendium that has solutions to spiritual problems. They say that when they face a spiritual problem, they must have a ready-made manual, by consulting which they can get answers to their particular problems. In short, they want a book of worked examples. Unfortunately, where Spirituality is concerned, there is no such guide manual that we know of. And even if one tries to write it, it would be useless for an important reason, which is that problems are often individual-specific. Hence the solution that might apply to A need not necessarily apply to B though both A and B might have similar problems. To illustrate, let us say that two persons go to a doctor with similar ailments. One person might be allergic to antibiotics and the doctor cannot use them in the treatment; he has to do something else. The other person might be a diabetic and that might rule out some treatment possibilities that are applicable to the first person. In Spirituality also things are like that; solutions are often individual and context specific.

So what does one do? Does one simply throw up one’s arms in the air in desperation? Is there no way out? Yes there sure is, and that precisely is where the analogy of the multiplication table becomes very relevant. When God comes down as man, He teaches “spiritual multiplication tables”; we are supposed to learn them and then use them for problem solving! Devotees do not like to hear that! They say it is all unfair; we must have solutions to all our problems, explicitly. All we should have to do is to look it up, like looking for information in an encyclopaedia! Unfortunately, life is not like that!

If you look at textbooks of mathematics and physics published in America , they invariably give a set of problems at the end of the book. The student is expected to try and solve these problems. According to the teachers in America , this is the only way students can fully absorb the main lessons expounded in the various chapters. Fine. Does the author provide answers to the problems? American authors usually provide the answers to alternate problems. The Japanese also have problems at the end of their books but interestingly, they do not give any answers. Once there was a dialogue between a famous American mathematician and an equally famous Japanese mathematician. The American professor asked, “Why don’t you people provide any answers at all at the end of your text books?” The Japanese professor smiled and replied, “You see, life presents so many new problems to which we have no ready answers. When confronted with those problems, we have to find the solution for the first time. By not providing answers to problems in our books, we are merely conditioning our students to get ready for life!”

We do not know whether you agree with the Japanese professor, but in Spirituality, each of us has to discover the answer to the spiritual problems and moral dilemmas we face using guidelines, which are like the multiplication tables! There is nothing crazy about this. Take for example, tough and highly competitive examinations, like the famous qualifying examination in America , which one must pass before being accepted as a candidate for Ph.D research. Chicago University is known for its very tough qualifying exam, and people have compiled all the questions asked over fifty years and prepared solutions for all them. Does that mean that if one masters all these solutions, then one can breeze through the qualifying exam? Not necessarily, because one usually faces new questions. However, the drill of going through the Chicago Problem Set thoroughly might make solving new problems a bit easier. Where Spirituality is concerned, it translates as: “Learn the ‘multiplication tables’ properly. And study how people have used them in the past. That can certainly help.” In other words, by getting the basics right and going through a number of “case studies”, one would be well equipped to find answers to the questions that one faces.

We wish to point out that many a time, the question that one faces can be quite sticky and difficult. Here is an example, and it concerns para-medics involved in rendering medical assistance during infantry war. Let us say there is a para-medic who comes on the battlefield and sees two soldiers wounded. Both of them are crying for help. One of them is badly wounded and would die soon. The other also is badly wounded but has a chance of surviving if given help immediately. What is the para-medic to do? This is an example of a knotty question.

With all this background, we now return to our basic question: “What does Swami say about this or that?” Swami is basically concerned with teaching us “spiritual multiplication tables” so that we can solve problems on our own, if and when we face them. Our focus should thus be always on the “multiplication tables”. The Lord taught the Gita to man in precisely that spirit. Swami’s Discourses are invariably an elaboration of the Gita, making its message more accessible, and they too are offered in the same spirit – absorb the basics, go through drills to learn how to apply them, and then use them in life.

In summary, we try, in our Sunday Specials, to draw attention to various aspects of the basic teachings of Swami, so that readers can understand at least some of the nuances, which in turn might come in handy when faced with difficulties.

The nuances are innumerable, but as we go along, we shall do our best to deal with at least some of the important ones. You can help us in this task by raising questions! We do not guarantee answers always, but we can assure you that we would always give your questions a good try.

Thank you for allowing us to be with you this Sunday, and till we meet again, may Swami guide and protect you and all your loved ones.

Jai Sai Ram. H2H Team