Archives for the month of: November, 2013
manasa

credit: saibharati.com

Parallel to the development of the concept of Brahman as Universal Essence was that of the Soul or Atman also as being the Universal essence. The Atman was in like manner  shown as being both ubiquitous and immanent. This thought derived its inspiration from the Rig-Vedic concept of the Cosmic Person from whose eye emerged the Sun, the Moon from his mind, fire from his mouth, the wind from his breath, the sky from his head, the earth from his feet etc. Thus the Cosmic Person was seen as projecting into the forces of nature and the world.

A further extension of this thought in the Upanishads was to create a correspondence not only to the world in general but to the individual as well. Thus fire now entered the mouth of a person and became speech, wind entered the nose and became breath, the Sun became sight in the eyes, the moon became his mind and so on. While on the one hand creation was shown as emerging from the Universal Essence, on the other the created forces were shown  as producing the faculties of man. Thus the microcosm and the macrocosm were connected.

From the Cosmic Person analogy also arose the thought that the Universal Essence was a Great Soul of which the individual soul was an aspect (Ansha). Thus in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad it is stated:

”Atman is the person in the earth and the person in the body… in fire and in speech; in wind and in breath; in the Sun and in the eye… in truth and truthfulness; in humanity and in the human; in the Self and in the self.”

The idea of the  immanence of Brahman had a cosmic magnificence while that of the extension of the Universal Soul at the core of beings as individual souls, was even more extraordinary with profound spiritual implications. It was philosophically and ethically elevating and deeply significant for the future course of Indian thought and spirituality. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad clearly defines the emerging insight:

”That same thing, namely, this self, is the trace of this All; for by it one knows this All. Just as  ( if it were)a footprint” 

Again in the Svetashvatara Upanishad the same theme is reiterated:

” with the nature of this self, as with a lamp, a practitioner of Yoga beholds here the nature of Brahman”

The cosmic Brahman as an idea and the subtle Atman concept then began to be connected as we see in the Chandokya Upanishad : ”Who is our Atman? What is Brahman? Finally the two concepts merged and Brahman and Atman became synonymous. Thus the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad cleary states:

‘Verily, that great unborn soul, undecaying, undying, immortal, fearless is Brahman.’

And again in the Svetasvatara Upanishad it is affirmed:

‘The Soul which pervades all things…this is Brahman.’

This grand union of two complimentary concepts implied that the unitary cosmic realism of the first was now one with the innermost spiritual essence of the self and the not-self, the great spirit of a supersoul. Furthermore the linkage between the individual self and the Great Self was the ultimate step to an authentic Monism as in the resounding declaration of the Chandokya Upanishad”

‘Tat tvam asi’ – ‘That thou art’

credit:lightworkers.org

credit:lightworkers.org

 

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Credit: Yagya.com

Credit: Yagya.com

The earliest Upanishads (knowledge of the self) arose in the explanations (Brahmanas) of ritualistic sacrifices and the hymns or Mantras attending them addressed to the Vedic gods of thunder, fire, sun and moon etc.The question arose as to where the chants emanated from and where they went in serving to fulfill man’s desires.

In this manner, the earliest somewhat naive speculations sought to explain the origins of the world and its substance, quite incidentally so to speak in the course of performing rituals of worship. The famous Creation Hymn of the Rig-Veda ( see previous post ) had already blazed a path by encouraging speculation in that direction. The earliest speculation was ( as also with the Greeks and Semetics) that the original substance was indeed Water. Thus the Chandokya Upanishad states:

” Atmosphere, sky, gods and man, animals and birds, grass and trees, beasts and worms, insects – all are just water solidified”

The concept of the soul (Atman) had also appeared equivocally, earlier conceived as emerging from water but later as having created the water itself and from its substance created the Cosmic Man and from its limbs created the different parts of the world.

Another postulate which gained currency was that the world arose from Space. Yet another supposition was that it arose from a Cosmic egg. In the beggining it was Non-Being and later turned into an egg. On splitting one part became the earth, the other the sky, its veins became rivers, its fluid the ocean.

Beyond the cosmogenic space and egg theories arose a more abstract and philosophical interpretation. Space arose from the Imperishable – From Non-Being arose Being.

Yagnyavalka the great sage replies his curious and persistant spouse thus:

”Verily O Gargi at the command of the Imperishable the sun and the moon arose…at (his) command the earth and the sky…the moments, the hours, the days, the nights, the fortnites, the months, the seasons and the years…at the command…some rivers flow…to the east, others to the west.”  – Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

Thus speculative theories moving from Water to Space and Golden Egg (Hiranyagarbh) finally arrived at the Imperishable and the speculations began to establish a single origin and connectivity which were the first stirrings of ‘Intelligent Monism’.

Towards the close of the Vedic period (Vedant) these diverse conjectuers were superceded by the emergence of the concept of Brahma or Brahman, a hint of which concept not yet named is already available in the Rig-Veda hymn of Creation:

”There was then neither being nor non-being…without breath breathed by its own power ‘That One’.

Thus we find that the evolving speculation arising from ritualism moved to philosophical and mystical interpretations which appeared to be heading towards  Monistic conclusion. While the ritualism and its theology was concerned with the extrovert physical world, propitiating the gods through sacrifice for earthly empowerment and mastery over the forces of nature, the transcendental philosophers had turned inwards, seeking and discovering the real source of that power rather than its superficial external evidence. Rather than channelizing this force externally for human use through magical rituals and incantations, they preferred to seek to discover its secret nature and in the process began a process of devaluing the ritualism and the gods which focussed on the external physical world, its goals and ambitions in favour of their quest for the innermost and fundamental truths.

The cosmological theories of Water, Space and Egg when compared with the emerging idea of Brahman as the source had a fundamental difference. Brahman unlike them had consciousness. Yet the concept of Brahman largely remained inconprehensible and unexplained. ( Brahman in Sanskrit loosely translated means Holy Power). While the old cosmologiies of Water, Space, Egg and even an Imperishiable entity were merely a source or origin from which  creation emerged, the new concept of Brahman became much more. The earlier theory of Brahman as the holy power had merely supplanted Water, Space and Egg. Then Brahman too while procreating the world ( procreating because Brahman felt lonely and willed that he had a consort and thus his female aspect appeared with whom he procreated the world) remained quite distict and apart from it.

But now suddenly according to the Taittriya upanishad ” having created it, into it he entered” and again we see in the Chandogya Upanishad ” That divinity thought to itself – ‘come let me enter these divinities( heat, water and food)” – thus from being the ‘One’ he progressed to being the ‘All’ No longer was Brhaman merely the creator but now he entered his own creation and became inseperable from it. We see this immanence of Brahman in the Chandogya Upanishad: ”Verily the whole world is Brahman.” This finally established the pantheism of the Upanishads which earlier had been only a latent concept. Later this was made more explicit in the Mundaka Upanishad:

” Brahma, indeed is this immortal, Brahma before,

Brahma behind, to the right and to the left,

Streched forth below and above,

Brahma, indeed, is this whole world, this widest extent.”

Again in the Manddukya upanishad:

”For truely, everything here is Brahma.”

Now, from the goals of extrovert ritualism to gain physical advatages and empowerment, the Upanishads moved to the Monist and Pantheistic conceptions of merging all objective phenomena into one unity.

The concept of Brahman had yet to take another leap in its transformation into a comprehensive concept, that of a Soul, on the one hand embracing all physical and spiritual realms as one immanent, ubiquitous supersoul and on the other as the individual soul within man. Of that, more in the next post.

Credit: revwaltermwambazi.com

Credit: revwaltermwambazi.com

credit: scienceblogs.com

credit: scienceblogs.com

Before we continue from my last post to witness the evolution of Upanishidic thought let us savour the speculative poetry on Creation of an earlier scripture the Rig – Veda, the earliest Indian treatise known which would give one an idea about the nature of speculative enquiry in that dawn of history of man. The Rig – Veda is estimated by Western scholars to have been composed between 1700 to 1100 B.C. and would therefore be man’s earliest efforts at coming to grips with the mysteries of the world in which he finds himself:

                                           C R E A T I O N

“Then was not non-existent: there was no realm of air, no sky beyond it.

What covered it, and where? and what gave shelter? Was water there,unfathomed depths of water?

Death was not then, nor was there ought immortal, no sign was there, the day’s and night’s divider.

That One Thing, breathless, breathed by its own nature: apart from it was nothing whatsoever.

Darkness there was: at first concealed in darkness this All was undiscriminated chaos.

All that existed then was void and formless: by the great power of warmth was born that unit.

Thereafter rose desire in the beginning, desire, the primal seed and germ of spirit.

Sages who searched with their heart’s thought discovered the existent’s kinship in the non-existent.

Transversely was their severing line extended: what was above it then, and what below it?

There were begetters, there were mighty forces, free action here and energy up yonder.

Who verily knows and who can here declare it, whence it was born and whence comes this creation?

The gods are later than this world’s production. Who knows then whence it first came into being?

He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not form it,

Whose eye controls this world in highest heaven, he verily knows it, or perhaps he knows not.”

I have yet to come across a more moving poem ( when I read this, over three thousand-year old poem, believe me my hair stands on end) as earnest uncomplicated and uninhibited and with no presumptions whatsoever yearning for an answer ( He verily knows it, or perhaps He knows not! – can any latter day believer dare ask such a question??)  – that for me was the spirit of ancient India’s quest and enquiry, fearless in its scepticism,  which eventually produced first the intense speculations of the Upanishads and later the crystalized and focussed efforts of the Gita to reply that pristine query, which for me it did.

Alexander Pope

Alexander Pope

Credit: hinduism.iskcon.org

Credit: hinduism.iskcon.org

The Upanishads are among the world’s oldest metaphysical treatises representing the philosophical inspirations and conclusions of Indian sages deep in their forest hermitages regarding the nature of reality. Scholars universally hold that they could not have been composed later than the 7th century B.C. and predate the glorious 6th century when a sudden spate of thinkers and prophets like Confucius, Buddha, Zoroaster, Homer and Pythagoras propounded new philosophies and launched great religions.

Thus at the dawn of history these pioneering and extraordinary thinkers pondered answers to fundamental questions about the nature of existence, the cosmos, man and nature and their inter-relations. From their early insights they advanced to profound philosophical and spiritual revelations  which eventually crystalized into the Monism of Hindu beliefs, the concept of the unity of the created universe, integral with the metaphysical world of the spirit, the concepts of the Soul at the heart of physical reality and the immanence of the spiritual essence in all we behold – and finally the nature of the supreme Universal Essence, the supersoul and Godhead.

Further introspection produced the fundamental philosophical premises of reincarnation through transmigration of the soul, the doctrine of Karma, the concept of Illusion and their ethical and moralistic implications. The development and crystallization of the thought has determined indelibly for millennia the belief systems, spirituality and ethics of the Hindu mind right down to the present day.

All Indian philosophical and religious traditions, whether theistic, pantheistic, materialistic or atheistic derive their ultimate inspiration from this seminal body of introspection of the thinkers and sages of yore, ruminating without any inhibitions or constraints on questions about the origin, nature and destiny of man and the universe, seeking to find answers to grasp the essence of a universal truth.

The verses are presented in Socratic fashion through dialogues between seekers after knowledge and their mentors, eminent sages, who attempt to answer  questions with questions of their own, prying, so to speak, answers from the questioners themselves. The dialogues are between the sages and their wives, kin, or disciples who present theories and propositions of their own which are either inadequate or only partially true. Thus the arguments move back and forth as the intuitive knowledge enhances and evolves. Then finally the seers who have arrived at their conclusions through insight and intuition present their vision of the truth, which has continued to inspire Hindu thoughts and beliefs to this day.

What is remarkable and wonderful in all this is that there is no  predetermined assumption nor a preordained dogma but a rare and exhilarating freedom of thought which succeeded in  grasping the truth which later crystallized as established theory or dogma. It is like a clear slate suddenly filling up with extraordinary and seminal unheard of propositions dispelling confusion and untenable and naive assumptions of pre-history.

Thus in a sense the Upanishads expose the genesis and creation of Hindu beliefs and dogma. One becomes as it were, a witness to the very process whereby a body of beliefs developed and matured. Such a vision of evolving thought is rarely available generally. It is as if in studying the evolution of man one encountered the fossils of dinosaurs, apes and our immediate ancestors the Neanderthals and Homo-erectus.

This evolution of Hindu thought witnessed in the Upanishads ( ending ignorance through knowledge in Sanskrit) is replete with numerous aphorisms and superb Sanskrit poetry and mystical insights.

The Upanishads themselves form part of the Vedas, considered by Hindus in general as the repository and fountainhead of all knowledge and religious and spiritual inspiration. Emerging from the inspirational womb of the Upanishads was the primary Hindu scripture the Bhagavad Gita.

Thus an examination of the evolution of Upanishadic thought would prove invaluable for the scholar of metaphysics in general and Hinduism in particular in witnessing the progression of man’s quest to unravel the mysteries of the universe of which he is a part.

I shall limit this post merely to introducing the Upanishads in the interests of brevity, taking up the review of the evolution of its thought in the next post. However in closing I wish to underline that what informs the dialogues are infectous and refreshing arguments and counter arguments between curious scholar – sages and students seeking to fathom the mysteries of temporal and spiritual existence transcending limiting frontiers of understanding through an unrelenting quest for truth, which is finally presented in their verses.  The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad hails that extraordinary journey from ignorance to enlightenment:

” From the unreal lead me to the real

From darkness lead me to light

From death lead me to immortality” 

( Asato ma sat gamaya

Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya

Mrityor ma amritam gamaya )

credit: ancientindianwisdom.com

credit: ancientindianwisdom.com

 

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                                  THE  WORLD  OF  SMELLS

 

The world of smells

Orange or apple

The difference tells.

 

Danger and corruption

Of putrid wells

And cadavers.

 

Odorous intrusions

Upon one’s space

Like a gratuitous slap on the face.

 

Uncovered crystal tops,

Rare fragrance

From shop to shop.

 

The cat sprays

 A territorial trail,

Dogs for eternity

 Upon a spot.

 

Lost calf in the herd

Discovered,

Ant on its unerring trail

To the honey-pot.

 

Fragrant flowers

For bees and wasps,

Like the urge to procreate.

The world of smells

Beyond sight and sound,

A new dimension

 From within

impels.

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