When I visited Oxford Hindu Centre

– by Bandana Upadhya

Karma Yoga. Jnana Yoga. Bhakti Yoga. Doing, Thinking, Feeling, respectively. This was the presenting paradigm or in other words, a way of thinking that I (at least) have brought home with me from the visit to Centre for Hindu Studies, Oxford University. Later, when I was asked to sum up the day’s experience, two words instantly came to mind: thought provoking. Upon reflection I recognise the inspiration behind my selected words: Shaunaka Rishi Das ji, the speaker, informed us that Oxford University teaches its students to think. Just a few hours at Oxford University and that is exactly what I was doing, thinking. All the while, my father, who was also present at the talk, was trying to convince everyone to study at Oxford.
It was suggested, through the use of this paradigm, that every decision we make must be preceded by an effort to create a balance between doing, thinking and feeling. Thus, if we focus only on the ‘doing’ part, then our actions would most likely result in undesired consequences. Take a simple example of jumping into the deep end of a swimming pool knowing you cannot swim. Shaunaka Rishi  emphasised that even combining two out of the three can lead to disaster. If people begin taking actions on account of their thoughts only, whilst giving no attention to ‘feelings’, then disasters may follow. In cases where compassion or sympathy is absent, and a man allows his thoughts to dictate his actions, he will not even hesitate in taking others’ lives.

Many of us however make most, if not all, of our decisions based primarily on our feelings. The number of times I have decided on buying a new pair of shoes because they make me feel good about myself is endless. Or rather, people tend to get married not because they think it would be a good opportunity to get onto the property ladder, but because they feel something for each other (usually termed love and/or commitment). Why then are so many of the decisions we make influenced by the feelings part? Shaunaka Rishi das drew attention to kama or desire. He informed that our desire for happiness serves as the driving force for all our actions. We work hard to achieve things we believe will bring us immediate happiness. We are always looking for ways to be happy, be this through a new pair of shoes or marriage.

So, will an awareness of the concept introduced above be sufficient in changing the way we do things?  I have been wondering if my decisions are predominantly influenced by desire, or do I think too much about things? But ultimately, I got thinking during the session and am still thinking today.

We then moved on to an even more interesting question and answer session. When asked about how to achieve non-attachment, we were told, that we should in fact aim for becoming attached to the right things rather than total detachment or non-attachment. This is because essentially it is impossible for humans not to be attached. Therefore rather than being attached to material goods for example, we could attach ourselves to God, to Sewa (service to others) and love. Another question addressed to Shaunaka Rishi was how we can teach children good values, and he said that the best way to help children learn anything is by teaching them how to think (and not what to think). It will also be helpful, he suggested, reading the Ramayana and Mahabharata to them.

Again, it seems to be all about thinking or rather, knowing how to think. Back to square one? For some of us, it may take a few more visits to the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies to really get our heads around it. Our thanks to the committee of Nepalese Hindu Forum UK who organised this visit for us.

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