In the second part of this series, Rajesh Vaghela recounts his experiences as a wayward young Hindu trying to grow up out of what he describes as ‘a life of vice’. Click here to access part-one.
Most of the time, being drunk promotes stupid behaviour. But there are exceptions. Sometimes you end up having the deepest and most profound discussions under the influence of alcohol. At least that’s the way it was with me.
After hearing me in a drunkard state discussing the meaning of life and the solution for third world poverty (or so I thought), a friend suggested that I meet up with a group of people he knew who held similar discussions.
It turns out that there was a group of Hindus who used to meet up every week or two to discuss stuff (not in a drunk state). The guy who used to run the discussions was himself quite young, and used to live like a sadhu, but at the same time was quite down to earth and had experienced the ups and downs of life in a way I could relate to. I used to call him ‘Street Sadhu’.
A group used to meet up regularly and discuss stuff, discuss everything. Sometimes we would discuss incidents from the Mahabharata, or even parts of the Vedas. And on other occasions we would take up random philosophical questions, such as: “Why did God bother creating the universe” and, “To what extent do we have free will”?
But even while I attended these discussions and was starting to learn about Hinduism, life was becoming increasingly complicated – or perhaps I was making life increasingly complicated for myself. My time was spent getting drunk, getting into fights, going to parties, chatting up girls and trying to make a quick bit of money in ways that were outside the bounds of the law. Needless to say, my GCSE and A-Levels didn’t go too well, which made me into a bit of a black sheep in the family.
The discussion sessions were like an escape from everyday life. I began to look forward to them. The best thing was that there was no pressure to abandon freethinking. We were encouraged to look at alternative perspectives, including those of other religious or philosophical systems. Street Sadhu explained that thinking freely without any limitations is perfectly in tune with Hinduism and that we should never feel bad in questioning anything he says. This was reassuring, as being a teenager with strong opinions on almost everything, I wasn’t going to sit around being told what think or do.
But what I gradually came to see is that my mental capacity to philosophise and rationalise was quite limited. It was nice to think for myself, but even the most brilliant minds can only reach the realm of advanced speculation, which is very different to decisively knowing the truth.
I realised that a person could spend years thinking about questions like: Was there a God? Had he created this Cosmos? Why had he made such a mess of it? What was the goal of human life? Was man free to pursue that goal? Or was he predetermined or predestined or fated for a particular goal by forces beyond his control? And so on, but not necessarily be any closer to the truth!
Having discussed this with Street Sadhu, he explained to me that using the mind to think for oneself is important, but ultimately the quest has to go beyond the mind, into the realm of spirituality. There is something in us greater than the mind that can expand in awareness, and and decisively experience higher knowledge.
This sounded strange to me at first, but with a lot of explaining, I eventually started to see what he meant. And it was only then that the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita (which I had read once) began to make sense to me. I began to see the value of meditation and other spiritual practices, which I had previously thought of as just a bit of relaxation or escapism.
Now this probably sounds very deep, and quite far removed from how I have been describing life up until now. And that is absolutely right – it was an a total contradiction.
The understanding of Hinduism that I was beginning to acquire helped me regulate myself. I started to get less worked up about little things, and began to evolve a moral or ethical framework for what I did or dilemmas that I faced. First of all, I knew that I had to, where possible, try to make right what I had blatantly done wrong in the past. I also needed to think about my direction in life. Was I going to try and get my studies back on track or should I leave it and try something different? And my friends of years – how would they react to my attempt at reform?