We are fully aware of the sacredness of the material we have come to handle with and also of our limitations. This is not a critical survey of religious histories or philosophical concepts. Nor do we attempt any comparative evaluations. Never, even in our dreams, we have made efforts to thrust our opinions or comments on the life stories of these great personalities or exaggerate details. However, when we go to the sources, there are claims and counter-claims; often the details are missing or the information is vague. To the extent possible we have carefully considered the trustworthiness of our available resources and worked accordingly. We have restricted ourselves to the mere presentation of the available facts.
Errors in reporting, be it in the facets of life history or the presentation of philosophy, are entirely our own and we seek to be pardoned and are always open for correction. Omissions might have arisen due to paucity of information or total lack of knowledge about a particular saint or organization or our inability to access information. We would only be too happy to make amends for this by incorporating new information and corrections in future editions.
In the case of individuals, each account concentrates on the following aspects of the life history of a saint: name, period of existence, parentage and place of birth, early life and education, middle and later life, the turning point, if any, the wanderings, the choice of a guru, details of sannyasa, where applicable, the sadhanas, the days of full bloom, the literary and social work connected to the saint, the essence of teachings and works, disciples, miracles performed, the mahasamadhi and lineage.
In the case of organizations, attempts have been made to trace their history in an unbiased manner. In addition to highlighting the salient aspects of the organization, efforts have been made to present the succession list and such other details where applicable and available.
Volumes and volumes can be written on many of these topics (in several cases they had been written already), which would certainly be a feast to the intellect of the readers and aspirants. But, in a large and diversified work of this kind, we had to be necessarily brief in presentation except on a few occasions. We had to keep an eye on the swelling volume of the work, and size it at certain levels. The length or brevity of an account does not reflect on the importance of a saint or organization. All have been treated at the same level for the simple reason that it is impossible to do anything more!
Why present such a large collection of information under one heading, is a likely question. The answer is simple. It is like a mela or feast! There are so many things spread over and to be visited and inviting the indulgence of a sincere reader, that the choice or selection, if need be, is the privilege of the reader. Also, going through one history and pondering over it, is something. Having an opportunity to go through hundreds in succession, at a time, is a different experience altogether. It would make one understand, the more common aspects and the unity in diversity. It may lead to the conviction that all roads lead to the same Truth!
We sent letters of 'appeal seeking information, to various agencies and sources for compilation of data. Very cold reception greeted us many a time. In many cases we made even personal appeals with no effect. Some never responded to our requests. Some grew even suspicious of our intentions, even though we had made it clear that this is only a simple, unbiased attempt aiming at a compilation which would be useful to the aspirants and posterity. At the same time, many were also highly enthusiastic and supportive and they infused new energy and dynamism by encouraging us and supplying information. But for them, we would not have sustained our interests to this fructification.
The grand vista opens up with an account of rishis and winds up for the time being, presenting an assorted collection of histories of a larger number of these great souls.
The present compilation rendered in Four Volumes cannot be said to be a complete account of the subject matter. In fact, the subject matter is so vast and varied that we are convinced that there can never be a "complete" work on this subject, for two reasons: i) the sheer volume of the material which remains hidden and so widely scattered all over the country and all over the centuries, not to say about their inaccessible nature, and) the growing nature of the subject. Existing organizations continue, multiply and undergo reforms. New ones are also born. It is an on-going process. We have worked for nearly over thirteen years and we felt that a final stage has been reached for consolidation and completion. A lot of improvements, corrections and additions are possible, which when brought to our notice, as said earlier, would be thankfully acknowledged and incorporated in future editions.
Social reformers talk about equality among human beings. Vedantic religion approves of this and in fact, precedes one step further, in postulating equality among all living being in terms of Atman! Any religion must be understood in its true spirit. We must learn to perceive unity in diversity. It is not as though we should forge such a unity with great efforts. It is already there around, waiting to be discovered!
All are equal in the eyes of Vedantic religion. There is democratization about it. It may be argued that Vedanta is not the religion practiced by the common man in India. True, often the common man here needs a personal God; but, that would soon pave for him the way to soar high and high in spirituality. Ultimately, it will end up with a flawless principle.
There is no dogmatic thrust in a true religion, like Vedanta. It displays certain concepts; it unfolds some philosophy; it projects its own arguments; but it always expects one to weigh for oneself the pros and cons, evaluate the ideals by putting them to practice, and reach enlightenment in due course. There is no emphasis on blind faith, although sometimes, it is known to have produced desired results.
As Swami Vivekananda puts it, "there is great religious freedom in our country; but social freedom is highly restricted!" In society one has to abide by the time-honored and cherished traditions. But in religion, one must have freedom to experiment with one's ideas, if one so desires. In India, in Hindu philosophy, this freedom is abundant. But the more multiple the ways of approach become, the stronger it emerges ultimately that the Truth is but one. Exam sat viral bahudha vadanti, declares the Rig Veda. So why complain about the multiplicity of methods? It is better that it is left to the convenience of the seeker. Logic and emotions should finally yield to the Absolute Truth. When virtues like kindness, universal love, unselfishness and tolerance are cultivated and practiced earnestly, the Absolute Truth is not far to seek.
In India, the visible symbols of religious value are the venerable streams, the holy mountains, famous places of pilgrimage, magnificent temples, sacred scriptures, mighty establishments, the holy men and women, and places of religious fairs. These are scattered all over the country. No particular part of India can claim monopoly in spiritual development. Every region and religion is associated with some philosophy and with a number of saintly personalities.
All religions have at one time or other, been pampered, or persecuted by political and social forces. And the Hindu religion (nay, a way of life) is no exception. During such times, the floods of fanaticism unleashed, tend to wash away the common man and uproot his moorings. To provide him with a strong hold, to revive religion and to infuse a new life into it, are born - the saints.
The terms, saints and sages may need to be distinguished. According to Swami Sivananda of Hrishikesh, "A sage is a sustainer of the world; he is a source of perpetual inspiration; he is an instrument through which divine Grace is transmitted to the unregenerate men...he is the salt which preserves the society from decay, and degeneration; he is the torch-bearer of wisdom; he is the beacon-light or light-house that guides humanity in the dark ocean of samsara."
"When one is absolutely desire less, when all his senses are withdrawn, when his intellect is centered in the Inner self, then he is a sage... He grows neither great by good actions nor small by evil actions... Sin does not touch him."
"A sage is one who has fully realized his essential oneness with Brahman or the Absolute... He, to whom the eternal identity has become a certainty, knows something great in this world, but the world understands him not... He is a Rishi, a Muni, the all-enlightened one. He is the Redeemer, the Saviour." "He is one of the many mansions in my Father's house!..." He sees the Atman in all... and therefore loves all as his own self. Time kills all; but a sage is timeless. He lives in Eternity. Time dreads to approach him... His consciousness is cosmic... He is perfect and has freed himself from all pairs of opposites... Often he has no consciousness of the external world; he is always drowned in the ocean of bliss and wisdom... He is Brahman Himself..."
"The essence of saintship is Divine Illumination, and immediate vision and knowledge of things, unseen and unknown... He is full of gentleness, grace, profound humility and compassion..: He yields not to anger... He holds others' sufferings as his own. He radiates love and joy to all around... He is an impenetrable rock... but his heart is more soft than butter..."
"A yogi sees, hears, tastes, smells and feels his oneness with creation without the use of sensory organs..."
"The seer, sees and yet does not see... To them all things are friendly, sublime and sacred, all events are good and evil profitable, all days are holy and all men are divine..."
Book's Contents and Sample Pages
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