DIVINE GRACE OR COINCIDENCE ! (Interactive session on 7.3.2015)
Keynote address by Mr. D. P. Dash
(Other participant speakers: Dr. Kalyan Chakravarty, Dr. Kushal Shah, Mr. Gautam Kanjilal, Mr. N.N. Sarkar, Mr. A.K. Sengupta, Dr. Suhas Majumdar, Ms. Anjoo Chowdhury, Dr. S. K. Gangul & Ms.Nipa Das)
[Devotional song by Ms. Jayanti Dasgupta]
Anchor, Introduction & Conclusive Remarks: Asish K.Raha
Granted that there is God, and He is Omni-present, Omni-scient and Omni-potent or Sat (Existence Absolute), Chit (Consciousness Absolute) and Ananda (Bliss Absolute), as the case may be, the question is whether He is selectively, uniformly or at all graceful.
Before one addresses the above poser, one has to define the word ‘grace’. In Divine perspective, the meaning of the word ‘grace’, as per Oxford Dictionary, is ‘the free and unearned favour of God’. Thus when we accept the above dictionary meaning of the words ‘Divine Grace’, we accept that God dispenses His grace to people unconditionally and irrespective of whether they have earned such grace or not. The underlying proposition is that such grace is not uniform or routinely dispensed as otherwise the word ‘grace’ would no longer be counted as favour.
A question may arise whether the word ‘favour’ implies bias which is a pejorative term. However, those who believe in God, believe in Divine Justice, and from this point of view, God’s favour is to be understood as meant for the ones who deserve it, according to God’s judgment.
The most critical question is how do we make out an event or incident as Divine Grace, and not just a coincidence? While it is not uncommon for a Yogi or a spiritually advanced soul to prceive and envision Divine Grace as also to distinguish It from what we call coincidence, for a commoner this distinction is often blurred and confused.
The thrust of our keynote speaker’s talk today is the Divine Grace that he has experienced time and again, and is unable to explain away as mere coincidence.
DIVINE GRACE IN COMMON PARLANCE
Divine grace is commonly understood as an act of kindness showered by God on a sinner or a person who does not deserve it. But in fact, human life itself is a product of divine grace, flowing incessantly. The problem is, we do not know about it and treat only a few special miraculous incidences of life as divine grace. Then there are some who do not treat anything as divine grace and call them as mere coincidences in life. The fact is that without divine grace there is no life. Even in death or suffering there is grace. It is a matter of faith, belief and trust; it is a matter of individual conviction and decision, whether to accept it as an act of divine grace or a simple occurrence of an incident.
When a person sleeping in his house near Patna airport is killed by a plane crashing into his house or when a python that escapes from its enclosure, enters through the air-conditioning duct into a house on the top floor of an apartment in the US and devours a child sleeping in her bedroom, you do not call it coincidence. There is something which is beyond what our eyes can see, the ears can hear and the brain can reason out. Accepting the phenomena of divine grace is not being superstitious or unscientific in one’s approach to life. In fact in its acceptance one gets an assurance of eternal peace – a state of paramanand. Divine grace does not mean one will conquer death and always lead a happy, healthy and wealthy life. Then what does it really mean? In fact, true divine grace is the supreme realization of the dynamics of life, and its meaning – a life that is full of love, and service; where there is pleasure in giving to others.
Speaker’s personal anecdotes – atheistic childhood & youth
I was born to a Hindu Brahmin family and unknowingly called myself a Hindu. I routinely followed the rituals of a Hindu, without understanding their meaning. By the time I began to question all these, I was already embraced by the so-called sacred thread through a ritualistic function called bratopanayan. However, as days passed by, there was one incident that brought about a major change in my life. The death of a close friend of mine made me an atheist. I considered him nobler than the Mahatma, as he always tried to help the poor and needy. I failed to understand why God was so unkind and took him so early. In this kaliyug, there was certainly a greater need of such noble souls, who spread the message of love and help, wherever they went. I got angry and dared to challenge the existence of the God.
As life moved on, I became aware of the strength of my muscles, the power of my brain and the utility of my intellect. Success was my own and failure was lack of adequate preparation, there was nothing divine about anything including the special feats that brought laurels to me. I lived in my own glory. The youthful ego took over and controlled my life; I removed the sacred thread, which was no more sacred to me, stopped going to temples and even if I went, I hardly believed in those stone statues as the creator, preserver and destroyer of life – The Trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwar. I asked to myself, ‘Can these small stones, decorated in colourful dresses and crowns, really manage the Universe from the precincts of these small temples? ’ Promptly came the answer – obviously in the negative. I started believing that the very purpose of the creation of the God is to opiate the masses with a blind belief to follow a treaded path, not to deviate, and not to question. The life of a religious person, according to me, was predestined and everything in his life was the handiwork of the God or guru. I felt it made people lose their scientific temper and creativity and killed their energy.
During this phase of atheism, I also tried to test the limit up to which my atheism could stretch, but could not get myself to spit on God’s image or stamp it with my feet. I realized, that God and Godliness was still within me, it had not died. As I meandered through the lanes and by-lanes of my life, another death confronted me head on. It was the death of my beloved father, who was a friend, philosopher and guide to me. I could not accept the metamorphosis of this man, made of flesh and blood, into a photograph, hung on the walls of the very house he had built to live in. I passed through a vacuous state and felt suffocated breathing the air of nothingness. I could not hear the sound of the soul. It was beyond me to comprehend the mystery of death. I was scared of losing, bewildered with the happenings around me. Suddenly, I felt my muscles melting away, the balloon of my intellect, energy and my bloated ego all collapsing in midair. I fell but slowly got up to walk again.
As days passed by, I tried to rationalize things and accepted the changes in life as natural occurrences. There were no miracles though and everything had a causative explanation. There was no grace of anybody, divine or otherwise. Life was simply a journey on a highway and the little incidents, both good and bad, passed by as milestones of coincidental occurrences. In crisis, I turned to the Gods in their million avatars, beseeched Him or rather Them to be kind to me and forgive me for the wrongdoings. But as the cloud passed over, I smelt the freshness of wet soil, forgot the gracious help which He had so kindly rendered to me and took it as a mere coincidence in the journey of life.
Finally, a time came in my life, which opened my eyes. After getting opportunities to travel around the world, representing the country, the Commonwealth of Nations and the UN Security Council, I suddenly got a big jolt in my life. The light of my eyes threatened to switch off. I got terrified, the black clouds reappeared again. I was literally forced by my boss to go and meet a saint, whom I hardly knew. But reluctantly, I went there, during the waiting period I harboured all kinds of doubts about the saint but soon all that disappeared when my eyes met his and I felt an electric current passing through my body. He raised his hand to bless me from a distance; I got greedier and prayed for a closer darshan. As if he heard my whispering wish, he came to me and blessed me again with a smile on his lips. I felt blessed as I was the only one among thousands of devotees who got this special treatment. It was this divine grace through which I continue to see this beautiful World for the past six years. It helped me connect the hazy dots of my yesteryears.
In yet another instance, the biopsy report of a close acquaintance of mine was positive for cancer and the doctor had advised against surgery. On hearing this, a friend of mine advised me to perform Maha Mrutyunjay puja at the Divine Life Society’s Ashram in Rishikesh. The day the puja started, the treating surgeon suggested to go for the surgery. It was a very risky surgery, a rare one in India. The five-hour long surgery went off well and the patient’s biopsy report showed negative for cancer. God touched me with His soft hands.
A few years later, I had forgotten this grace and had suspected the initial biopsy report to be wrong. But in retrospect I realised the grace to be truly magical and not a coincidence.
On yet another occasion another close acquaintance of mine suffered from a serious ailment and lost his vision. His relative was told about an incident by his colleague. His colleague’s brother had suffered a brain stroke and was paralysed. He took him to Puttaparthi in a stretcher to seek blessings from Sai Baba. On seeing him, Baba called him towards him but since he could hardly move his body, he gave a blank look to Baba. But still Baba asked him to stand up and go towards him. The person stood up and went forward and got his blessings. Remembering this incident, this person prayed to Baba and next day his relative could get back his vision.
In another case, a close acquaintance became very sick and bedridden. The biopsy report came positive for cancer. This time, instead of conducting puja at Rishikesh, I decided to offer my prayers. Weeks of prayers were answered and he became all right again. I decided to stop testing God and stopped forgetting the miracles as coincidences. I thought enough was enough. God does not need to create miracles to convince me. I need to change my attitude towards Him.
Autobiography of a Yogi – the game changer
I was given a copy of ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ by a friend of mine some thirty years ago. I remember having flipped through a few pages of the book before discarding the book as a chronicle of imaginary visions. But after thirty years, I was gifted the same book by a colleague of mine. This time, I read it cover to cover and surprisingly started believing every story narrated by the author. It was a game changer for me and I advised every person to read this book. A relative of mine was given this book but he did not read this. One day his costly mobile phone fell into water, and stopped working. Helpless and desperately thinking of all the important data stored in the phone, his eyes fell on the book nearby and was mesmerized by the captivating eyes of Yoganandji. He silently sent a prayer to Yoganandji that if he showed him his powers and his mobile would be all right then he would read the book from cover to cover. He had not disclosed this to anybody. After a few days, I was given the task of getting the same mobile phone repaired. I got it done and it started working. When I returned the mobile in working condition to him, I also gave him a copy of the book to read. He had goose bumps all over his body – Yoganandji had won. He could no longer take this as a coincidence and read the book from cover to cover, as promised. I heard about this much later.
In another incident, my mother, who is very old and ailing, wanted to see Lord Jagannath in Puri. It was very difficult for her to climb the 22 steps of the temple leading to the sanctum sanctorum. While my sister was standing beside her, thinking how to take her inside during the heavy rush of devotees, who had almost choked the entrance, suddenly from nowhere appeared a dark complexioned boy of weak physique, who took my mother’s hands and took her inside the temple. Mother, who could barely stand, almost ran with him and returned after a good darshan. It was not the case of a priest doing this job for money as the boy disappeared within minutes of leaving her in the safe hands of my sister. You may call this coincidence or divine grace. But many years later, my mother again desired to see Lord Jagannath during his boat ride, called ‘Chapa Khela’, in the holy temple pond in Puri. All the roads leading to the pond were blocked by the traffic police and our car was not allowed to move. We were stranded and felt bad that mother could not see the boat ride. Suddenly, the palanquin carrying the idols of the God appeared on the road, approached towards our car and stopped next to the window of the car, where my mother was sitting. She had her eyes full of divine tears, with the reflection of God’s grace. Want to call this coincidence? Choice is yours and grace is hers!
Need for self-tuning to receive God’s grace
Divine grace is showered on all, all the time. One has to open one’s eyes to see it, open one’s heart to feel it. One has to tune one’s body, mind and soul to feel the grace. Once I was given an explanation about the existence of God by a Vedic scholar from Chennai. Answering my question which doubted the impossibility of the omnipresent God, he said that when the newsreader of BBC, sitting in the studio in London could be seen and heard by all in every house, in every corner of the world, why can’t God be seen and heard everywhere. As a TV set requires to be tuned to capture the image and sound from the air of the room, the body, mind and soul of a person should be perfectly tuned to feel the presence of God and receive His grace.
There are many instances of miracles narrated by Paramhansa Yoganand in his book, “Autobiography of a Yogi’. He has narrated how Babaji had materialized a palace for Lahiri Mahasaya in 1861 in Ranikhet and how Swami Pranabananda surprised Yoganandji with his clairvoyance and appeared in two bodies. Resurrection of Swami Yukteswara before Yoganandji after his mahasamadhi may not surprise those who believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yoganandji has mentioned about the story of Leo Tolstoy, ‘’The Three Hermits’’ in which the three Hermits used to show miracles by just saying a simple prayer, ‘We are three; Thou art Three – have mercy on us’. These Hermits walked on water and performed many miracles. Paul Brunton in his book, “A Search in Secret India’ has also mentioned many such miracles witnessed by him during his visit to India, including the appearance of Shankaracharya before him in his room. Sri M’s book, “Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master: A Yogi’s Autobiography’ has stories of many such miracles. Unlike other saints, Sri M is in India, available to the seekers of truth.
We may dismiss their stories as unrealistic, hallucinations, mental illness or explain them with scientific reasoning. But from my experience, I am convinced that these miracles are possible and keep happening every moment, every day, and everywhere. We need to completely surrender to the divine power like Draupadi did and then we can see similar lights of the three Hermits that followed the local Bishop. It is up to a person to call Him God or energy or divine power or by any other name. One need not go to the temple to pray to God, one can feel God by looking within. God is everywhere and inside every person. As we breathe in and out, we get connected to the divine energy. God and we are one and connected intimately. Look within yourself. Make a beginning by listing out all the wrongs you have committed in this life. All the sufferings in our present life should not be attributed to the wrong deeds of one’s past life, about which one pretends to be unaware. There are enough wrongdoings committed in this life and one should be prepared to accept it, get the courage to confess before others and seek the forgiveness of the person who was at the receiving end of your wrongdoing. Make a beginning and you will start feeling better. From the stage of fear and suffering, one will move to the next phase of anand and from there the ultimate phase of paramanand. It is through, introspection, faith, belief and complete surrender that we can realize the divine grace which is Life.
The question raised by the speaker as to how do we make a distinction between Divine Grace and coincidence needs to be addressed carefully and critically. We find substance in the contention that our belief in Divine Grace may make us over-dependent on such supernatural phenomenon, instead of making us self-reliant, striving to resolve our own problems. It is not denied that the sages and the spiritual Masters of yesteryears and present time might have acquired supernatural power through their Yogic practices and austerities which cannot yet be explained in scientific terms as modern science is primarlily focussed on the phenomenal world and not on consciousness. Viewed as supernatural, Divine Grace remains undefined as a spiritual phenomenon and hence, a matter of subjective perception and speculation. A sceptic mind is, therefore, at liberty to explain away any inexplicable phenomenon as nothing but coincidence.
Is there any proof of Divine Grace?
We have no hesitation in accepting that our individual consciousness ought to be sourced to cosmic consciousness or Super-consciousness as it cannot sprout from nothing. That cosmic or super-consciousness being a reality is perceived as God or Divine. Since individual consciousness is logically sourced to cosmic consciousness, there must be a connection between our consciousness with its source which we call Divinity or God. To stretch this link a little farther, the attributes of our sense organs such as eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin are sourced to our consciousness as without it, those attributes become non est. Thus it would stand to logic to find a remote connection between our sense organs at one end and the cosmic consciousness through our individual consciousness, at the other end. Hence it is not unlikely, even without scientific validation, that the grace of the Super-conscious or God may come down to us through the channel of individual consciousness.
As to the question why God should do so selectively, we have no answer. A plausible explanation for that is that a person whose consciousness is attuned to its source is a possible recipient of God’s grace. A question may arise whether by positing that a mind in tune with its source, viz. God, is a better candidate to receive God’s grace, are we not suggesting that God is biased toward those who are in touch with God and is indifferent to the rest? A possible explanation for that is, only those whose channel of consciousness is unfettered to receive God’s grace are capable of receiving the same, even though Divine Grace is avilable to one and all. This would also pre-suppose that one should endeavour toward self-awakening so as to render one’s channel of consciousness free of obstacles to receive God’s grace directly, rather than looking for external help or aid.
This would bring us to the last puzzle: whether man is created by God, or God has evolved into man. The former proposition perceives a duality by distinguishing man from God, while the latter postulates non-duality as the ultimate reality. In the former case, Divine Grace is pertinent as there is the Dispenser and there is a recipient of the grace, while in the latter case, such concept is unreal as the Dispenser and the recipient are one and the same in reality. However, from a phenomenal perspective of our three dimensional existence, Divine Grace appears to be a reality. Only those whose consciousness has transcended the dimensional barrier of self-consciousness and has merged into the Source-consciousness, realize identity with God. But then that is a different subject altogether. In an ultimate analysis, whether an individual is a recipient of Divine Grace, or the relief in question is just a coincidence, is a matter of perception depending on his level of understanding. In olden days, natural phenomena such as rain, good harvest etc. were ascribed to Divine Grace, owing primarily to our ignorance. With advancement of science, we now know the reasons why such things happen. In the near future, with advancement of our knowledge in spiritual science, we may find a better explanation for the inexplicable phenomena called ‘Divine Grace’ and will perhaps be in a position to clearly distinguish it from natural phenomena, called coincidence. Till then, our search for Truth must continue.