Sagely advice on the media, youth, family and how to remain a Hindu
BY SWAMI PARAMATMANANDA SARASWATI
During the 2019 Kumbh Mela at Prayag, Hinduism Today interviewed Swami Paramatmananda, present convenor of the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha (arshasampradaya.org/activities/acharyasabha), an apex body of religious leaders founded in 2003 by Swami Dayananda Saraswati.
TO USE HARSH WORDS, I WOULD SAY HINDUS ARE orphaned today. There exists such an atmosphere in electronic and social media that if one talks of dharma, one is labeled a fundamentalist, one is labeled as intolerant. Such is the environment that exists today. The challenge is to improve perception of our own selves in our own country. This has not been discussed during the Kumbh or on any other platform, because there is a belief that politics should not be discussed by the mahatmas. Mahatmas should only talk of dharma-related matters. A discussion of how Hinduism is perceived in India is not even on the agenda.
The media today are acting like opinion makers rather than presenters of facts upon which people can decide for themselves. I give a simple example. If any Hindu is asked who abducted Sita, the answer would be that a demon named Ravana came dressed as a saint and deceived her. This is the correct way to present the facts. But today if someone wearing saffron robes does something wrong, then for days the media will be saying that a saint did this or that. After many days they will finally state that the person in saffron was not a saint but a criminal wearing saffron clothes. But by then the damage has been done, and the impression left with the public is that a sadhu has done something wrong.
The media has to report things in a fair and responsible manner. The effort should be to increase the faith, or at least not to break the faith. Why should we break the faith of someone? Why should we try to break or damage the cultural heritage of someone? If there is a serious problem with someone’s character, then it is okay to report, but in general the traditions and culture should be respected. Those who have faith should be encouraged to follow their faith. Media’s role should be such that it inspires even our coming generations to follow their faith. Things should be presented in a way that the younger generation do not get alienated from their cultural roots. Our youth should be proud of belonging to this tradition and continuing with this tradition. The media must not denigrate somebody in the name of modernization. They are hurting people.
Some of our youth are connecting with Sanatana Dharma, and others are not. It is a worrisome situation. My message for the youth is not to throw out the baby with the bath water. They dismiss things without thinking, without a proper rationale. They have a tendency to disown the tradition, cultural values, religious values. I wish they would at least study the culture thoroughly before they disown it. The beauty of our culture is that it offers the freedom to choose. But the right choice can only be made once we sincerely try to understand it. Influenced by news and opinion, the youth end up knowing neither Western culture nor Indian culture.
Parents need to connect with their children emotionally and spend quality time with them. Unfortunately, everyone is running after their own professional advancement, and in the process, the family is suffering. Today there are few siblings. Many families have only one or two children. When we were young, families had at least three or four children, and getting together a volleyball or even cricket team was not uncommon. There was an emotional infrastructure to fall back upon for support. Today, that is missing. Today, there are no playgrounds and no friends on the street and no friends in the school. The only focus is on study or work.
Husband and wife will have to set their priorities. Once they become parents, they have a responsibility towards their children. They should manage their time to be sure they are available to their children, especially the wife. I think today technology and gadgets have benefitted women. Women had to work very hard in olden times. Today we have ovens, pressure cookers and washing machines, etc., reducing the burden of women in a big way. Now we have nuclear families, which require less time for food preparation. If the husband is cooperative, it is possible more time can be spent together as a family.
With regard to the question about couples living together who are not married, I feel this is wrong. Such a live-in relationship is very different from gandharva vivaha, where a couple in love get married on their own [with just the exchange of garlands]. Marriage is making a home, making a family. It is sustaining a family and fulfilling all duties. Even after a gandharva vivaha, the duties have to be fulfilled and a home has to be made. It is easy to marry but it is difficult to make a home. A live-in arrangement is not a marriage. There is no home. It is living like animals. It is living for one’s sexual fulfillment or emotional fulfillment for a period of time and rarely lasts.
My message to the Hindus in India and all over the world is that they should remain Hindus. They were born as Hindus and they should be Hindus in thought as well as word and deed. We become Hindus by thought when we study our own scriptures, but today we are neglecting scriptures. We must take time out to study the Upanishads and the Gita. Then only you will be a true Hindu. Being a Hindu by birth is one thing; living a Hindu lifestyle after one has studied and understood it is a different thing. Try to become a Hindu by conviction, by clarity, by cognition, not simply because someone tells you something and you follow that. The educational infrastructure is not teaching children what Hinduism is. The media keeps sending the message that Hinduism is old, backward and incorrect. This needs to change.