INDIA TODAY CONCLAVE -
Saturday, February 26, 2005
halo or hoax.
SPEECH: JAVED AKHTAR
I am quite sure ladies and gentlemen, that in this august assembly
nobody would envy my position at this moment. Speaking after such a
charismatic and formidable personality like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is
like coming out of the pavilion to play after Tendulkar has made a
sparkling century. But in some weak moment I had committed myself.
There are certain things that I would like to make very clear at the
very outset. Don't get carried away by my name - Javed Akhtar. I am
not revealing a secret, I am saying something that I have said many
times, in writing or on TV, in public... I am an atheist, I have no
religious beliefs. And obviously I don't believe in spirituality of
some kind. Some kind.
Another thing. I am not standing here to criticize, analyze, or
attack this gentleman who is sitting here. We have a very pleasant,
civilized relation. I have always found him to be an extremely
One is talking about an idea, an attitude, a mindset. Not any
I must tell you that when Rajeev opened this session, for a moment I
felt that I have come to the wrong place. Because, if we are
discussing the philosophy of Krishan and Gautam and Kabir,
Vivekanand, then I have nothing to say. I can sit down right now. I
am not here to discuss a glorious past of which I suppose every
Indian is proud, and rightly so. I am here to discuss a dubious
India Today has invited me and I have come here to talk of
spirituality today. Let's not be confused by this word spirituality,
you can find two people with the same name and they can be totally
different people. Ram Charit Manas was written by Tulsidas. And the
television film has been made by Ramanand Sagar. Ramayan is common
but I don't think it would be very wise to club Tulsidas with
Ramanand Sagar. I remember, when he had written Ramcharit Manas, he
had faced a kind of swiss replica watches a social boycott. How could he write a holy book
in such a language like Avadhi? Sometimes I wonder fundamentalists
of all hues and all colors, religions and communities... how similar
they are. In 1798, a gentleman called Shah Abdul Qadir, in this very
city, for the first time translated Quran in Urdu, and all the
ulemas of that time gave fatwa against him that how could he
translate this holy book in such a heathen language.
When Tulsi wrote Ramcharit Manas and he was boycotted, I remember a
chowpai that he had written.
"Dhut kaho abdhut kaho rajput kaho ki julawa kohu
Kohu ki beti se beta na biahab, kohu ki jaat bigaar na chahu
Mang ke khaibo, mehjid ma raihbo, lebe ka ek na debe ka dohu"
Ramanand Sagar, when he made his television serial, he made
millions. I am not undermining him, but obviously he is much lower
in the rung.
I will give you another example. Perhaps it would be more direct and
more appropriate. Gautam came out of a palace and went into
wilderness to find the truth. But nowadays we see, the modern age
gurus, come out of the wilderness and wind up in the palaces. They
are moving in the opposite direction. We can't talk of them in the
same breath. So let us not hide behind names which are dear and
respectable for every Indian.
When I was invited to give this talk, I felt that yes, I am an
atheist, try to be a rationalist in any given situation, Maybe
that's why I have been called. But suddenly I have realized that
there is another quality that I share with Modern Age gurus. I work
in films. We have lot in common. Both of us, sell dreams, both of us
create illusions, both of us create icons, but with a difference.
After three hours we put a placard - the end. Go back to reality.
So ladies and gentlemen, let me make it very clear that I have come
to talk of this spirituality that has a supermarket in the world.
Arms, drugs and spirituality - these are the three big businesses in
the world. But in arms and drugs you really have to do something,
give something. That's the difference. Here you don't have to give
In this supermarket you get instant Nirvana, Moksha by mail, a crash
course in self realization, cosmic consciousness in four easy
lessons. This supermarket has its chain all over the world, where
the restless elite buy spiritual fast food. I am talking about this
Plato in his dialogues has said many a wise thing, and one of them
is - before starting any discussion decide on the meanings of words.
Let us try to decide on the meaning of this word spirituality. Does
it mean love for mankind that transcends all religion, caste, creed,
race? Is that so? Then I have no problem. Except that I call it
humanity. Does it mean love of plants, trees, mountains, oceans,
rivers, animals? The non-human world? If that is so, again I have no
problem at all. Except that I call it environmental consciousness.
Does spirituality mean heartfelt regard for social institutions like
marriage, parenthood, fine arts, judiciary, freedom of expression. I
have no problem again sir, how can I disagree here? I call it civil
responsibility. Does spirituality mean going into your own world
trying to understand the meaning of your own life? Who can object on
that? I call it self-introspection, self assessment. Does
spirituality mean Yoga? Thanks to Patanjali, who has given us the
details of Yoga, Yam, Yatam, aasan, pranayam... We may do it under
any name, but if we are doing pranayam, wonderful. I call it
healthcare. Physical fitness.
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Now is it a matter of only semantics. If all this is spirituality,
then what is the discussion. All these words that I have used are
extremely respectable and totally acceptable words. There is nothing
abstract or intangible about them. So why stick to this word
spirituality? What is there in spirituality that has not been
covered by all these words? Is there something? If that is so then
what is that?
Somebody in return can ask me what is my problem with this word. I
am asking to change it, leave it, drop it, make it obsolete but why
so? I will tell you what is my reservation. If spirituality means
all this then there is no discussion. But there is something else
which makes me uneasy. In a dictionary, the meaning of spirituality
is rooted in a word called "spirit". When mankind didn't know
whether this earth is round or flat, he had decided that human
beings are actually the combination of two things. Body and spirit.
Body is temporary, it dies. But the spirit is, shall I say,
non-biodegradable. In your body you have a liver and heart and
intestines and the brain, but since the brain is a part of the body,
and mind lies within the brain, it is inferior because ultimately
the brain too shall die with the body, but don't worry, you are not
going to die, because you are your spirit, and the spirit has the
supreme consciousness that will remain, and whatever problem you
have is because you listen to your mind. Stop listening to your
mind. Listen to your spirit - the supreme consciousness that knows
the cosmic truth. All right. It's not surprising that in Pune there
is an ashram and I used to go there. I loved the oratory. On the
gate of the lecture hall there was a placard. Leave your shoes and
minds here. There are other gurus who don't mind if you carry your
shoes. But minds?... sorry.
Now, if you leave your mind what do you do? You need the Guru to
find the next station of consciousness. That hides somewhere in the
spirit. He has reached the supreme consciousness, he knows the
supreme truth. But can he tell you. No sir, he cannot tell you. So
can you find out on your own? No sir, you need the guru for that.
You need him but he cannot guarantee that you will know the ultimate
truth... and what is that ultimate truth? What is the cosmic truth?
Relating to cosmos? I have really not been able to understand that.
The moment we step out of the solar system the first star is
Alpha.Centueri It is just four light years away. How do I relate to
that!! What do I do!!
So the emperor is wearing robes that only the wise can see. And the
emperor is becoming bigger and bigger. And there are more and more
wise people who are appreciating the robe.
I used to think that actually spirituality is the second line of
defence for the religious people. When they get embarrassed about
traditional religion, when it starts looking too down-market, they
hide behind this smokescreen of cosmos and super consciousness. But
that is not the complete truth. Because the clientele of traditional
religion and spirituality is different. You take the map of the
world, you start marking places which are extremely religious,
within India or outside India, Asia, Latin America, Europe...
wherever. You will find that wherever there is lot of religion there
is lack of human rights. There is repression. Anywhere. Our Marxist
friends used to say that religion is the opium of poor masses, the
sigh of the oppressed. I don't want to get into that discussion. But
spirituality nowadays is definitely the tranquilizer of the rich.
You see that the clientele is well heeled, it is the affluent class.
Alright, so the guru gets power, high self esteem, status, wealth...
(which is not that important), power... and lot of wealth too. What
does the disciple get? When I looked at them carefully I realized
that there are categories and categories of these disciples. It's
not a monolith. There are different kinds of followers. Different
kinds of disciples. One, who is rich, successful, doing extremely
well in his life, making money, gaining property. Now, since he has
everything he wants absolution too. So guru tells him - whatever you
are doing, is "niskaam karma" - you are playing a role, this is all
"Maya", the money that you are making everyday and the property that
you are acquiring, you are replica watches not emotionally involved with it. You are
just playing a role. You come to me because you are in search of
eternal truth. Maybe your hands are dirty, but your spirit and soul
are pure. And this man, he starts feeling wonderful about himself.
For seven days he is exploiting the world, and at the end of the
seven days when he goes and sits at the feet of the guru, he feels -
I am a sensitive person.
There is another category. That too comes from the affluent class.
But he is not the winner like the first one. You know winning or
losing that is also relative. A rickshaw-wallah if he is gambling on
the pavement and wins hundred rupees will feel victorious, and if a
corporate man makes only 300 million dollars, while his brother is a
billionaire, he will feel like a failure. Now, what does this rich
failure do? He needs a guru to tell him - who says that you have
failed? You have other worlds, you have another vision, you have
other sensibility that your brother doesn't have. He thinks that he
is successful... wrong. The world is very cruel, you know. The world
tells you honestly, no sir, you have got three out of ten. The other
person has seven out of ten. Fair. They will treat you that way and
they will meet you that way. There he gets compassion. There he
plays another game.
Another category. And I will talk about this category not with
contempt or with any sense of superiority, not any bitterness, but
all the compassion available one that is a very big client of this
modern day guru and today's spirituality, is the unhappy rich wife.
Here is a person who put all her individuality, aspirations and
dreams, and her being at the altar of marriage and in return she got
an indifferent husband. Who at the most gave her a couple of
children. Who is rather busy with his work, or busy with other
women. This woman needs a shoulder. She knows that she is an
existential failure. There is nothing to look forward to. She has a
vacuous, empty, comfortable yet purposeless life. It's sad, but it
Then there are other people. Who are suddenly traumatized. They lose
a child. The wife dies. The husband dies. Or they lose the property,
they lose their business. Something happens that shocks them and
they ask - why me? So who do they ask? They go to the Guru. And the
guru tells him that this is Karma. But there is another world if you
follow me. Where there is no pain. Where there is no death. Where
there is immortality. Where there is only bliss. He tells all these
unhappy souls - follow me and I will take you to the heaven, to the
paradise, where there is no pain. I am sorry sir, it is
disappointing but true that there is no such paradise. Life will
always have a certain quota of pain, of hurts, a possibility of
defeats. But they do get some satisfaction.
Somebody may ask me if they are feeling better, if they are getting
peace then what is your problem. It reminds me of a story that I
have read. It's an old Indian story told by a sage, that a hungry
dog finds a dry bone and tries to eat it and in the process bites
its own tongue. And the tongue is bleeding and the dog feels that he
is getting nourishment from the bone.
I feel sad. I don't want them, these adults, to behave like this
because I respect them. Drugs and alcohol are also supposed to give
mental peace and serenity, but is that kind of piece or serenity
desirable or advisable? The answer is no. Any mental peace that is
not anchored in rational thoughts is nothing but self-deception. Any
serenity that takes you away from truth is just an illusion - a
mirage. I know that there is a kind of a security in this which is
like the security of a tri-cycle. If you are riding a tri-cycle you
can't fall. But adults do not ride tricycles. They ride bi-cycles.
They can even fall. It is a part of life.
There is one more kind. Like everybody who is the member of the golf
club is not fond of golf. In the same way everybody who is seen in
an ashram is not a spiritual person. A film producer who is an
ardent follower of a guru, whose ashram is about two hours from
Delhi once told me that you must go to my Guru. You will see the
who's who of Delhi there. Let me tell you my Guruji is another
Chandraswami in the making. Now this is a contact point for
I have great respect for people who are spiritual, or religious, and
in spite of this they are good people. And I have a reason. I
believe that like every emotion or feeling, you have a limitation.
I am feeling slightly pressurized about time, can I get another five
six minutes please... may I sir... Rajiv Mehrotra "yes you can"
You can see upto a point. And you can't see further. You can hear
upto a point, but beyond that you won't be able to register sounds.
You can mourn upto a point and then you will get over your mourning.
You will feel happy upto a point and then you will be through with
your happiness. Same way, I am sure that you have a certain capacity
for nobility also. You can be as noble and no more. Now suppose if
we count this capacity for
breitling replica nobility in the average man as ten units,
now anybody who goes to pray in a mosque five times is consuming his
five units, there anybody who goes to the temple or sits in the feet
of the Guru, he is consuming his quota of nobility there. And in a
totally non-productive manner. I don't go to pray. I don't pray. If
I don't go to any guru, or mosque or temple or church, what do I do
with my quota of nobility. I will have to help somebody, feed
somebody, give shelter to somebody. People who use their quota in
worshipping, praying, adoring religious figures and spiritual
figures, in spite of that, if they are left with some nobility, hats
off to them.
You may ask me, that if I have this kind of ideas about religious
people, why should I show such reverence for Krishan and Kabir and
Gautam? You can ask me. I'll tell you why I respect them. These were
the great contributors in the human civilization. They were born in
different points of time in history, in different situations. But
one thing is common in them. They stood up against injustice. They
fought for the downtrodden. Whether it was Ravana, or Kansha or the
pharaoh or the high priests or the British Samrajya in front of
Gandhi - or the communal empire of Firoze Tughlaq in the times of
Kabir, they stood against that.
And what surprises me, and confirms my worst feelings, that today,
the enlightened people who know the cosmic truth, none of them stand
up against the powers that be. None of them raises his voice against
the ruling classes and the privileged classes. Charity, yes, when it
is approved and cleared by the establishment and the powers that be.
But I want to know which was that guru which took the dalits to
those temples which are still closed to them. I want to know which
was that guru who stood for the rights of the Adivasis against the
thekedaars and contractors. I want to know which was that guru who
spoke about the victims of Gujarat and went to their relief camps.
They are human beings.
Sir... It is not enough to teach the rich how to breathe. It is the
rich mans recreation. It is the hypocrites' pretension. It is a
mischievous deception. And you know that in the oxford dictionary,
mischievous deception is a term that is used for a word, and that
word is... HOAX.