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Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Saiva (Dharma) Neri - Its Spirituality A Perspective

V.Siva Subramaniam

16 October 2005

"..Although the applicability of core moral values are universal and timeless ( i.e.remain relevant over time), the peripheral moral values are added and discarded to meet the changing socio-economic imperatives. When in judging the value of dharmic values the emphasis shifts to the peripheral values (especially those that have passed the use-by date) at the expense of the core values, morality and spirituality suffer...The task for Saivites today is to address the urgent issue of revising the irrelevant peripheral dharmic values to address the challenges arising from the present societal changes..."


Hindu including Saivite scriptures link morality and spirituality. The scriptures explicitly and implicitly enunciate the crucial role that the observance of morality (dharmic conduct) plays when aspirants seek release from samsara or piravamai (moksha). Although the applicability of core moral values are universal and timeless ( i.e.remain relevant over time), the peripheral moral values are added and discarded to meet the changing socio-economic imperatives. When in judging the value of dharmic values the emphasis shifts to the peripheral values (especially those that have passed the use-by date) at the expense of the core values, morality and spirituality suffer. A sharp slide in morality and spirituality is evident at all levels (individual, family, community, national and global) today. Devotees unaware of the distinction between core dharmic values and the changing peripheral values are losing faith in dharmic values as a whole.

This means that observance of the universal and timeless core values have also weakened and morality in society suffers. Furthermore when the peripheral values that have lost relevance still continue to be accepted as authoritative they negate the benefits that the observance of core values produce.

The task for Saivites today is to address the urgent issue of revising the irrelevant peripheral dharmic values to address the challenges arising from the present societal changes. Failure to address this issue will perpetuate the decline in dharmic conduct and spirituality amongst Saivites and Hindus.

According to our scriptures both Saivite and Hindu when observance of dharmic values sinks to low levels and the damage from evil is rampant God takes avatars, destroys ‘evil’ and restores ‘good’.

The unseen hand of God is also evident with saints appearing to restore and revive the faith of devotees in God and Dharma for spirituality, dharma, peace and happiness to reign again. Today’s world cries out for god’s avatar or for the unseen hand of god to redeem the world from the reign of evil. However God has also created man with the capacity to undertake the divine mission to address the malice that afflicts humanity by bringing about the necessary changes to the bring about a better dharmic world.

Saiva Dharma/neri – today’s perspective

The piece “Saiva Spirituality in the present day” in Aum Muruga Journal (Oct/Dec 2003) of Australia analysed some of the reasons for the decline in the observance of Saivite values or Dharma and the commensurate decline in Saivite spirituality compared to that in the days of our saints (Nayanmars). Following the arrival of ideologies that nurtured materialism (especially crude individualism) the very foundations of the core spiritual values (like the faith in dharma and God) that the Hindu (and Saivite) scriptures nurtured over thousands of years were severely eroded. These foreign ideologies created a new set of vasanas antithetical to Saivaite dharma. This led the faithful to stray away from the true Saivaite spiritual path.

The philosophical basis - dharma

A study of the Hindu/Saivite scriptures through out the ages reveal that the natural human urge seeking deliverance (moksha) led man to seek an explanation of his place in the universe and a guide to life and human behavior to improve the quality of spiritual endeavours in seeking deliverance (or moksha).

What the saints sought and what their spiritual endeavours produced was a coherent philosophy based on spiritual experiences that served as the guide to other seekers of spiritual deliverance. The contribution to spirituality of a different kind came from cynics, sceptics, agnostics and pseudo-scientists that drove aspirants away from the core Saivite philosophy and practice into incomprehensible rituals and philosophies. These caused confusion that undermined the faith in religious pursuits and God. However re-visiting our scriptures with devotion and in humility in a search of the fundamentals or basics in spirituality reveals an important truth, namely the intimate linkage between spiritual pursuits and morality during all the stages of the aspirants’ worldly life.

Thus the need to re-focus thoughts and actions on this simple yet fundamental Saivite truth namely re-building an unshakeable faith in God or Brahman or Sivan and leading a dharmic (righteous) life. These have the capacity to reign in the vasanas and create the dharmic climate salutary for aspirants to perform the higher yogas. This piece on Saiva dharma is to remind aspirants of the importance of leading dharmic lives in spirituality.

Observance of Saiva Dharma today

In the worldly sense society witnessed momentous changes in the last few hundred years. To the West it is an unqualified progress! Some in the East (some Saivites included) who witnessed improvements in their living standards were easy converts to this Western view of progress. These easy converts gave undue importance to the prosperity and affluence that materialism produced. The tendency for affluence is to encourage man into excessive indulgence in worldly pleasures.

Spiritually speaking it was a dangerous form of maya that over-shadowed the role that dharmic values played in the morality of man and human kind. Under the influence of this maya, human urge shifted towards material success (wealth accumulation, career success and high living) neglecting spiritual pursuits. More damaging spiritually was that this maya of affluence fed destructive individualistic egos and nurtured a vicious cycle of craving for more and more worldly desires and aggrandising tendencies.

This meant that to many adharmic acts in pursuit of success are unavoidable. (Some Saivites began to believe as the Westerners did in Darwin’s survival of the fittest theory forgetting that it was solely about the material world, in postulating which the damaging effects on spirituality was not given due consideration). The maya of affluence also encouraged egoism as a desirable motivation for human progress.

The importance that Western thought especially gives to ego is evident in the managment motivator (Maslow/Herzberg) motivator model. Ego is elevated above economic rewards as the key motivator driving human striving after success (material). Ego, Swami Ramana Maharishi identified as the malice that afflicts spirituality and for the human suffering in the world. Accordingly, the Swami urged aspirants to tear the veil of ego first to realize the real (good) self within man and discover soul’s identity with Brahman. In effect the Swamis’ teaching reminds man of the paramount mission (moksha) for man being born on earth by removing his ignorance (avidya) of the damaging role of ego.

The consequence, damaging negative emotions amongst others like envy, hate, speaking untruth drive man into adharmic acts in words and deeds. In the Vedic dharma a spiritual pre-requisite is truth (satyam); its observance occupies the top most position in the hierarchy of moral codes for spirituality with rituals occupying a much lower position in the spiritual hierarchy for practicing Hindus. Diksha (which includes austerity, prayer and other rituals) are philosophically spiritual endeavours directed at the realization of the truth (satya) equated to (Brahman) god. Vedic dharma as it evolved gave an important place to prayer and yagna. Yagna or sacrifice in the material or worldly sense is offerings to the sacrificial fire; in the spiritual sense it is the spiritual discipline of tapas that aspirants perform to burn or destroy the sensual desires that interferes with spiritual pursuits. Thus elevating Satya to a plane higher than performing yagna emphases the importance of observing of such a dharmic value for spirituality. Satya is the biggest casualty in the present economic and social milieu.

Scriptures on dharma (the kural and the puranas)

Saivites quote chapter and verse from the Kural that enshrines the core dharmic codes of the Saivites. To the Saivites the Kural occupies a position similar to the Dharmasastras in the Sanskrit scriptures. After the epics or ithihasas, the puranas also serve as dharmic scriptures for Hindus and Saivites. For the Saivites the Periyapuranam occupies a unique place. Puranas are dharma based scriptures and a source of spirituality. It develops gnana removes avidya and shows the pathway to moksha.

 The Bhakthi expressed in the form of love, service, and being absorbed in the thought of god are also important themes in the puranas. Bhakthi is another pathway to Moksha. Some commentators characterize rituals as expressions of love of god. Done in the spirit of the scriptures, gifts, almsgiving, pilgrimages and helping others) are spirituality in action (karma yoga). But the scriptures also prescribe that spirituality from these come only when the rituals and yagna are done not in the expectation of reward but strictly in the name of the divine.

If there is expectation of reward it becomes dhanam not dharmam. The kural on the surface may appear to many as a manual of practical ethics. In substance it is a scripture whose core message is spiritual. That there is spirituality in the Kural, becomes self-evident when one looks into the Kural deeper. Aspirants living by the teachings in the Kural will not miss the effect (transformational) in their attitude to life. Such aspirant are gradually drawn out of the worldly concerns into the real incorporeal realm of spirituality.

The teachings of Kural deal with the individual and also societal morality; the Kural’s spirituality has both a personal and social dimension implicit in the sum total of its teachings. Saivite philosophy views Moksha (vidu) as the paramount spiritual goal. For Moksha spiritual perfection is a must for aspirants. This occurs when the attitudinal transformation away from worldly concerns occurs in the aspirant (internally). Making appearances of spirituality is a mockery of spirituality. The Kural enunciates the moral codes to bring about such an attitudinal transformation as the aspirant moves nearer and nearer to the reality of moksha.

 The theme of the Kural is in essence a preparation for aspirants seeking a state of spirituality. Accordingly as in other Hindu scriptures the broad sweep of the couplets in Kural almost follow the dharma, artha, kama moksha equation in the Vedanta except for very minor variations in the order and emphasis given to these variables. In the Hindu (Sanskrit) scriptures the progression towards transformation to Moksha starts with Dharma. The Kural similarly lists the order of progression for Saivites as aram, porul, impam and vitu.

The Kural gives as much or more importance to aram compared to its apparentVedic equivalent “dharma” to move away from worldly concerns. Porul and inpam are the equivalents of artha and kama for which the Kural prescribes moral codes to temper against excessive indulgence (which turns immoral) in non-essential economic and desire driven pursuits. The codes of aram is given precedence over the codes in porul and imbam.

The scriptures (Kural also) accept the reality of man’s economic and pleasure needs, but prescribe that morality serves as the foundation to transform attitudes for aspirants’ vutu or moksha spirituality. The couplets in the Kural are addressed to the aspirants as individuals per se but they also implicitly address aspirants conduct as members of the society. The couplets in the Kural do cover in depth the codes for porul and inbam but it is significant that the aram codes underpin and implicitly reinforce the moral codes in the porul and imbam couplets. Under aram the Kural emphasises the purity of mind for aspirants' inner happiness.

This frees aspirants from envy, lust, anger and harsh speech. In dealing with vitu briefly the Kural seems to suggest that rectitude in aram porul and imbam transforms an aspirant to achieve vitu. In the Vedanta aspirants reach moksha after the vanaprasatha and sannysa stages but according to the Kural with its emphasis on attitudinal transformation aspirants may accomplish vitu as a household thuravi observing the aram, porul and imbam moral codes. Aspirant realise vitu through a transformation of inner life.

The codes in the Kural go into detail on aram, porul, imbam with the implicit suggestion that the ideal of spiritual perfection (vitu) can be realized by living up to the values postulated in the relevant dharmic codes. Aram is given such importance that the values in porul and imbam become mere extensions of aram. Porul and imbam are worldly values; the values in aram are universal and timeless. According to the Kural the ideal vitu can be attained through attaining a state free from narrow attachment, a state in which the individual overcomes the egoistic feeling. According to the Kural anpu (love) is to be practiced in illaram, arul (piety) takes the place of anpu in thuravaram. In illlaram the aspirant has responsibilities as a member of the family; in thuravaram the responsibilities widen to society and the divine.

Again Kural’s thuravaram is not the absolute equivalent of sanyasa (meaning leaving all worldly concerns) but essentially an ego-less attitudinal detachment to worldly concerns.Thus the Kural through its exposition of the principle of aram postulates the aspirant’s individual and societal aspects of spirituality and the exposition under vitu deals with higher metaphysical aspiration for the spiritual perfection of aspirants as individuals. Accordingly when aspirants as individuals are spiritualized (purified) the morality of society as the sum total of individual’s morality transforms and improves the community’s spirituality. Hence the effects of the pursuit of aram on spirituality is felt at both the personal and social level in life.

Dharma – philosophically a necessary pre-condition for spirituality

Dharma according to the Upanishad doctrine accepts the observance of dharmic codes as long as aspirants renounce the fruits of work in enjoying the worldly (Artha/Kama) pleasures. The dharma, artha, kama moksha equation gives a moral dimension to moderate human urges. This position is also stated in the Nishi karma doctrine (Bhagavad Gita 11.34) when Lord Krishna urges “therefore do the work you have to without attachment. By such performance of duties without attachment, man attains the Supreme.”

The reference to the “Supreme” divinises work. Thus work/duties performed righteously become a form of worship of God or Yoga. “Do your duty” without attachment tempers aspirant’s human behavior in performing duties to the family and society. In the present social economic milieu to most Saivites to tag on the element of detachment to performing duties in the professions is extremely uncomfortable. Honesty (integrity) or truthfulness is the casualty, despite the vociferous praise given to man-made professional codes of conduct (ethics). The scriptures by repeatedly linking morality and spirituality do recognize the need to re-state the importance of dharmic values to meet the challenges of societal spirituality.

Aspirants in the bramacharya and grahasthaya stages of life have amongst others duties to earn a livelihood, provide for the family and serve the community. By observing dharma the motivation is the basic survival urge not an ego urge. The scriptures in urging aspirants to view these as duties performed in the name of the divine divinise these duties. Similarly in the changed world circumstances eminent commentators urge aspirants to perform the higher yogas but omit mentioning the vanaprasatha and sannyasa disciplines. Aspirants by observing dharma and performing the higher yogas become household thuravis. The best examples are the Swamis of the distinguished orders today who live and interact with the worldly and yet perform yogas of a very high order.

The Yugas – evolving character of dharma

Before the advent of Kali yuga according to the Vedic scriptures aspirants’ spirituality began with leading an ordinary life with human consciousness comprising the mind and body initially regulating their worldly conduct. When the aspirants lived a true moral life and their body and mind perform rites and rituals yet their consciousness does not rise to a level to realize their true self and identity with the divine (god or Brahman). These aspirants led a religious life (dharma-jivana).

Aspirants next progressed to lead a spiritual life (adhyatma jivana) when a change in consciousness removed the ignorance about the real self and realised the soul’s identity with the divine (god or Brahman). Aspirants in most yugas pass through these stages and those in the spiritual life stage achieve moksha depending on the degree to which the yugas were conducive to spitituality. The yugas also influenced the yoga marga that successful aspirants took to achieve moksha. According to the scriptures the observance of dharma was in its pristine glory in the Kriti yuga that it produced the saints of the scriptures. Aspirants in the Kali yuga tossed about without the dharmic rudder are captives to destructive egos chasing after shallow worldly desires, missing the divine spark that visited the saints in the other yugas.

Accordingly household aspirants today who consciously strive to observe Saiva dharma mellow their worldly thoughts and acts with the consciousness of Brahman/god. This is a necessary pre-condition for today’s aspirants to perform the higher yogas and prepare the soul for the spiritual life phase (adhyatma jivana) to realize one’s real self and union with the divine. This elevates the aspirant to a Jiva mukta. In Saivaism too the observance of morality as prescribed in the Saiva dharma is a preparation for aspirants to undertake higher forms of yoga for achieving moksha.

What the sages and seers developed in the vanaprasatha and sannyasa stages present day aspirants may reasonably achieve them in the religious phase as a householder (thuravi) as long as they recognize that spirituality is essentially about attitudinal transformation. Once aspirants pass into the spiritual life phase when the aspirant’s inner divine command takes over and the guidelines of the dharmic codes become redundant. Thus aspirants relying on the dharma-artha-kama-moksha (or aram, porul, inban, vitu) progression expect their spiritual transformation (“becoming”) to realise God (“being”) within.

For this reason Dharma is referred to as moksha in the making or the divine light that lights up the path to spirituality. Morality in the dharma deals with the issues of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and aspirants pursuing spirituality should respect the sanctity of dharma in such issues. Hinduism (Saivaism included) is a living philosophy that has evolved to remain relevant throughout the ages.

When the sanctity that was accorded to the codes dealing with the ritual and social dimension of dharma continue long after the societal conditions have changed their sanctity evaporates and these codes acquire the character of malignant overgrowths masking the essential message of Saivaism and its dharma.

A classic example of such a malignant overgrowth is the varna dharma which powerful sections of the Hindu community despite its iniquity still jealously cling on to and practice. The sanctity of the varna dharma suited a feudalistic agrarian society that has disappeared long ago. Social mobility, spread of education and urbanization eroded it relevance. The consequence of dharma varna’s overstay was the loss of a substantial section of the faithful to Christianity. The Hindu revival since the 19th century reduced its malignancy substantially.

The overhang of other similar practices like sati, animal sacrifice in temples, polygamy, prejudice against divorcees, widow marriage, untouchability and the caste system that are still justified by some in the name of dharma has to be surgically and totally eradicated for the purity of Saivaism and Hinduism. This will remove the polluting stenchful stain of these practices to restore the purity of dharmic values.

How such practices gained the sanctity of the dharma is in the first place inexplicable. Some eminent commentators claim that even the Dharmasastras allows for changes in dharmic codes to cater for social progress. Hence Mahatma Gandhi quoted the dharma in his campaign against the iniquitous caste system. It is said that every age has its own dharma. Although the core values are rooted in tradition the peripheral values that are added and removed need constant review for Saivite dharma to remain relevant and clean for Saivaism to move forward.


Hence the call goes out to Saivite aspirants at act as catalysts to reform and re-vitalise Saiva dharma to meet the challenges of the present day society. The foundations of the Saiva dharma were laid by Thiruvalluvar (Kural), Avvaiyar and the Nayanmars ( puranas). The likes of Navalar and Swami Ramana and a host of others re-vitalised Saivite dharma by revising some of the codes to restore the purity of Saivite dharma. The present day generation is urged to carry forward this process to keep all crucial aspects of the Saiva dharmic message relevant. As an initial step forward Saivite devotees as a whole are urged to seriously strive to live by the high moral codes of Saiva dharma for social peace and harmony and for humanity to progress spiritually.



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