“We were conducting seminars on HIV/AIDS in schools between Borivali and Bhayandar (suburbs of Mumbai) and found that the majority of students didn’t know about venereal diseases,” said Dr. Ajay Sankhe, director of the Bhaktivedanta Hospital situated at Mira Road, Mumbai. Pointing out that youngsters between the age group of 14 and 24 were falling prey to HIV/AIDS, Dr Sankhe decided to do something about it.
At a seminar he was attending, Dr.Sankhe found that the UNICEF-sponsored teaching module simply taught the hazards of unprotected sex. During the lunch break he asked the participants whether they agreed wholeheartedly with the recommendations. Surprisingly they responded that they did not have anything that inculcated traditional higher values.
Dr.Sankhe took the lack of awareness of the seminar participants about spiritual solutions as an opportunity to spread his message. He explained to them the vision behind the Spiritual Care department of the Bhaktivedanta hospital. More than just catering to the needs of the body, a true doctor also needs to cater to the needs of the undernourished spirit soul that inhabits the body. The participants agreed that this was a much better alternative than the prevalent approach.
The hospital then sent out letters asking school and college principals to depute mature students to become HIV/AIDS resource persons for the hospital. “The response has been overwhelming. Over 100 students have shown interest, and we expect more to join soon,” says Dr. Sandhya Subramnian (Sita Devi Dasi), chief coordinator for the training program. Surprisingly, even parents, who would have otherwise avoided discussing the issue with their wards, have supported their wards in this endeavor. One enthusiastic participant is Pankaj Upadhyaya, a Std. IX student. He puts his eagerness for the training program in the following words, “Being a resource person will not only broaden my horizon, but will also help me reach out to my friends. My mother was also happy that I was gaining more knowledge.”
Doctors teaching the students are not shying away from using the word sex while discussing HIV/AIDS with students. “Right at the start of our program, we made it clear to the students that sex is not taboo,” said Dr.Dhaval Dalal, chief physician at the hospital. “While we tell students that sex is a basic element of human existence, we also tell them that indulging in sex at a young age is not a part of our culture,” said Dalal.
“So while the World Health Organization propagates the use of condoms to prevent HIV/AIDS, we are educating the students about the dangers of this disease and telling them that the best way of preventing it is to go back to our Indian culture and tradition of abstinence rather than indulgence,” said Dr. Subramanian.
Education has always been an important tool in the hands of those who are mature. In the midst of ever-increasing problems, it is rather tempting to dish out stop-gap solutions. Instead of following the herd, however, the spiritual doctors at Bhaktivedanta Hospital are trend-setters in their own right. If only the rest of the world would pay heed.
Meet Mahishasura's Descendants
Seven-year-old Anand hates lions. “It’s a nasty animal,” he says playing with a bunch of plastic animals a camel, a horse, a cow, and a headless lion. “I wrenched its head off the moment I laid my hands on it,” says the child, eyes blazing in anger. “I am an Asur. I can’t stand lions. This animal killed the buffalo during the war between Mahishasura and Durga. This is why we hate it and don’t want to see its face.”
Anand Asur is a member of the 8000-strong Asur tribe which believes that it is in the bloodline of Mahishasura, who conquered heaven and earth and drove the demigods out of heaven until he was vanquished by Durga-devi. The rest of the world celebrates this occasion as the triumph of good over evil, but for the Asurs it is the darkest period in their collective consciousness.
While the rest of the country celebrates, Anand Asur, his family and about 8000 others like them in scattered communities in North Bengal and the Chota Nagpur region prepare for mourning. All of them bear the surname Asur and do not worship any god. With anger and anguish that has not diluted in generations, these people will lock themselves in from dawn to dusk for the five days of Durga-puja. The elders stay away from every sliver of daylight. Windows are barred and pasted over to keep away the sun. Everything that needs to be done is done after sunset.
What makes someone a demon or asura like Mahishasura and another into a deva or demigod? Are we hardwired to forcibly choose one of the two options? The Vedas say yes. In the Padma Purana it is mentioned:
“There are two classes of men in the created world. One consists of the demonic and the other of the godly. The devotees of Lord Vishnu are the godly, whereas those who are just the opposite are called demons.”
Interestingly, this verse clearly defines a deva: He who accepts the rulings given by the Supreme Lord is a deva. Personalities like Indra, Chandra, Varuna etc. respect the authority of Lord Vishnu and carry His orders in this material world. In return they are awarded a fantastic array of material boons in lieu of their work. These devas enjoy temporary posts and after their tenure may again find themselves to be ordinary living entities. Not bothering itself in defining an asura, the Padma Purana merely states that anyone who is not a deva is an asura. Asuras too are interested in material boons and the urge to dominate, control and enjoy, but there is a small glitch: they want it without the authority of the Supreme Lord. While the devas want to satisfy the laws of Vishnu, the asuras will have none of that. Superficially both classes may appear to work in the same way, but their purposes are completely opposite because of a difference in consciousness. Asuras work for personal sense gratification, whereas devas work for the satisfaction of the Supreme Lord. Both work conscientiously, but their motives are different.
Quite predictably both parties come to opposite conclusions on almost every issue under the sun. Vedic history relates the story of the churning of the milk ocean, a sort of joint undertaking project of the devas and the asuras. Since the asuras had won the previous battle they dictated the terms of churning. As the devas caught hold of the front portion of Vasuki (the celestial snake, who was assisting as the churning rope) the asuras thought they ought to get the front portion as they were the victors. The demons thought that the front of the snake was auspicious and that catching hold of that portion would be more chivalrous. As a result they fight for the front part and ultimately when the snake starts emitting poisonous fumes regret their decision. Therefore asuras must always do the opposite of the demigods. That is their nature.
For example: Vedic culture advocates cow protection and encourages people to drink more milk and eat palatable preparations made of milk. The demons, however, just to protest such proposals, claim that they are advanced in scientific knowledge. They say that according to their scientific way, they have discovered that milk is dangerous and that the beef obtained by killing cows is very nutritious.
This difference of opinion will always continue. Indeed, it has existed since days of yore.