Mystic Manthra: Ek Maalik, Many Margs

Truth: Where is it?

Deccan Chronicle | Francis Gonsalves | October 23, 2015,

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(Note: Jesus presented himself as the way, truth and life. Apostle Thomas who came to India in 52 AD called his followers: Margam Koodiyavar. Followers of Jesus were called Christians first in Antioch around AD 100. So technically Thomas didn’t bring Christianity to India. At his trial Jesus told Pilate: “For this I have come into this world, to bear witness to truth” and Pilot retorted: “What is truth?” Jesus didn’t answer him. “I am the truth” he had said of himself earlier. Rig Veda proclaims: "Ekam Sat, Viprah Bahudha vadanti” (There is only one truth, the wise call it by different names.) Truth is not something that can’t be locked up in one word. The whole world is still in frantic search for it. This is the unfinished treasure hunt. God is truth eternal and infinite. How can the puny human mind comprehend it/her/him? James kottoor, editor)

To an admirer who asked to become his follower, the master said, “You may live with me, but do not follow me.” Surprised, the admirer asked, “Whom then shall I follow?” He replied, “No one. The day you follow someone, you cease to follow truth.” As Indians, we’re understandably proud to follow myriad margas. But, sometimes, it would help to reflect: where is my/our marga leading me/us?

Etymologically, marga derives from the root mrg, meaning to pursue, to chase or to strive. It implies searching for or striving after — a restlessness that seeks something/someone who satisfies one’s deepest longing. A marga is a deer; and a psalm suggests what marga implies: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God!”

Hinduism speaks of three margas — jnana, bhakti and karma — loosely translated as the paths of knowledge, devotion and action, respectively. Through devoted and disciplined pursuit of these three margas, one attains peace, here-and-now, and eternal moksha/mukti.

Buddhism endorses the Eightfold Path — the atthangika magga in Pali — that leads to enlightenment, nirvana. Islam exhorts devotees to build their faith upon five “pillars” — faith in Allah (shahada), prayer (salat), almsgiving (zakat), fasting (sawm) and pilgrimage to Mecca (haj).

Before his death, when Jesus preached pathways to God and prophesized to his disciples that he would be leaving them, Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going; so, how can we know the way to God?” Jesus replied, “I am the way, the truth, the life.”

Soon after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the community of his disciples was called “The Way”. Jesus’ disciples understood that they must walk along the path he had proposed: of love, compassion, joy, peace, fellowship and self-sacrifice. The “way” that he was mapping was one that necessarily entailed difficulties and hardships — a way of the Cross, so to say, that would involve sacrifice and death, but ultimately resulting in new life.
Since we travel by different paths as human beings, we have many limitations. First, our knowledge will always be limited; second, our spiritual sadhanas and dharma — disciplines will always fall short of perfect praise and worship due to the absolute being (called by any and every name); third, our actions inevitably fail to be totally egoless and oriented towards that supreme maalik. So, as citizens striving for a just and peaceful society, we can at least be margis for truth, love, peace, justice, harmony and compassion.

One old bhajan that unfailingly touches me is: “Aye maalik tere bande hum, aysein hon hamaare karam, naykee par chalein aur badhee se talein…” — “Lord, you are our creator; whatever be our deeds; may we walk the path of righteousness and refrain from evil.”
(Francis Gonsalves is a professor of theology. He can be contacted at


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