Archives for the month of: December, 2013

 

Credit: 123rf.com

 

 

The bowl is brimful

The water sits still

Discreetly level

Like maturity’s will

 

But as you fill the hunger

It overflows,

As you meet desire

It spills beyond the rim,

Never level

When you try to fill

A cupful,

 

Till you learn

to treat the arousal

As a measured signal,

Learning to hold the water

Even as it begins to fill

to the rim,

For a bowl

Just brimful.

 

 

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In a diplomatic and Consular career one sometimes comes across inconsolable tragedy which leaves one shaken to the core. The poem below arose from one such:

 

                                    C  A  B  L  E

 

” Would you be kind enough Sir

To bury our son with all due rites”

The cable plainly said without a tear,

A distant mother’s practical prayer

In queer English.

 

Though the last letter

Still loud and clear

In her shaking hand

From her expatriate dear

Who ventured far

Into an unheard of land

Of promise.

 

And the alarm clock for her

Who would be needing time no longer

And the plastic clips from Japan

She did not want sent,

Like him remained

Unclaimed.

 

All she accepted were the stamped

Certificates proclaiming his name

And the cancelled passport

From which he kept looking up at her

With the same smart smile

Forever.

passport

 

cursusmindfulnessleiden.nl

Credit:
cursusmindfulnessleiden.nl

 

Mindfulness and meditations on ‘Now’ inspired this poem:

                               

                                   P R E S E N C E

 

The moving finger of fact,

Field of focus,

The now of the piano key

As you hear the present melody,

The typewriter’s arm swinging in

To print this one word, 

The calm eye of the storm

at the centre

Of an uprooted beyond,

Like me today

The day after I have been,

The day before a vacuum

Of nothingness,

Like my thought

That turns so quickly

Into a scattered memory,

My will moving like a torch

In the absolute night of my mind

Surrounded by fading peripheries,

Ephemeral

Like the winking city lights

Seen from a satellite

As Gaia turns,

As the present of this Universe

Begins to expire

Ere it arises

Into its impermanence.

 

The rocks have memorized

The ages, as too the trunk of a tree

And we, precipitate of the past,

Our childhood,

Or a sky of long past stars

Registered in the firmament,

And genetic material’s amazing tenacity

And permanence, packaged with memories

Of how we should be,

All the living world that we see,

Archives full of minutest histories.

 

Shall we speak of the seed then

In the past tense 

Or is it in the present?

Is it our past then that has presence

and the present

But a pause

Between what we have been

And what we will be,

Propelled by cause

As the first moment

Of its effect, point of focus,

The past and the present

Just one presence

Igniting outwards to eternity ?

Credit: smittenblog.com

Credit:
smittenblog.com

Credit: creative.sulekha.com
Credit: creative.sulekha.com

The Svetashvatara Upanishad dwells on the nature of Brahman, the universal and individual soul, illusion and  immanence with  soul stirring poetic analogies and has  enthralled, inspired and enlightened me for decades.

The Fourth Chapter ( Adhyaya ) of the Svetashvatara is the most beautiful and enlightening:

 

(excerpts)

 

The One, himself without colour, by the manifold application of his power

Distributes many colours in his hidden purpose,

And into whom, its end and its beginning, the whole world

Dissolves – He is God !

May he endow us with clear intellect!

 

That surely is fire (Agni), That is the sun (Aditya)

That is the wind (Vayu), and that is the moon,

That surely is the pure, That is Brahma,

That is the waters, That is the Lord of Creation (Prajapati).

 

Thou art woman, Thou art man,

Thou art the youth and the maiden too,

Thou as the old man totterest with a staff,

Being born, thou becomest being in every direction.

 

Thou art the dark blue bird and the green with red eyes,

Thou has the lightening as thy child.

Thou art the seasons and the seas.

Having no beginning, thou dost abide with immanence,

Wherefrom all beings are born.

 

With the one unborn female, red, white and black

(i.e. nature, Prakriti with three qualities – pureness, passion and darkness)

Who produces many creatures like herself,

There lies the one unborn male ( cosmic person, father of all being)

Taking his delight,

Another unborn male (the individual soul) leaves her

With whom he has had his delight.

 

Two birds, fast-bound companions,

Clasp close the self-same tree,

Of these two, the one ( the individual) eats sweet fruit;

The other ( Brahman) looks on without eating.

 

On the self-same tree a person, sunken

Grieves from his impotence, deluded;

When he sees the other, the Lord contended,

And his greatness, he becomes freed from sorrow.

 

Now one should know that Nature is illusion

And the mighty lord is the illusion maker

The whole world is pervaded

With beings that are parts of Him.

 

More minute than the minute, in the midst of confusion

The creator of all, of manifold forms,

The One embracer of the universe –

By knowing Him as kindly (Shiva) one attains peace forever.

 

That God, the All worker, the Great Soul

Ever seated in the heart of creatures,

Is framed by the heart, by the thought, by the mind –

They who know That become immortal.

 

When there is no darkness ( of illusion and ignorance),

Then there is no day or night,

Nor being, nor non-being, only the kindly One alone (Shiva),

That is the imperishable, That is the splendour of the sun (Savitr)

And from that was primeval intelligence created.

 

His form is not to be beheld,

No one soever sees Him with the eye,

They who thus know Him with heart and mind

As abiding in the heart, become immortal.

ardhnareshwar2

Shiva – Ardhnareshwar – both male and female

Credit: sringeri.net

Adi Shankaracharya
Credit: sringeri.net

Upanishadic thought culminated in the non-dualism of Advait philosophy of Vedant ( appendix to Vedic hymns). Its greatest proponent was the brilliant sage-philosopher of the 8th century AD who sought to consolidate trends of thought on the subject present in different treatises (see my post/page on Adi Shankaracharya).

The concepts of Karma and Rebirth had already formed in the Upanishads but had now become sophisticated concepts well entrenched in Hindu thought. Karma and Rebirth were features of the illusory world whose only reality was the self (Atman). This self however was hidden deep in the mirage of the world and could only be discovered by getting rid of Ignorance which made the physical world and the ego appear real. This could be achieved in stages through righteous actions without desire for reward, yoga, and meditation. Devotional worship was also only a preliminary stage on ones journey to realization of non-duality.( Advait techniques were prescribed by shankeracharya, followed to this day in his Muths or monastries throughout india, as study, Reflection, Postures, contolled Breathing, Withdrawal of sense functions, concentration, Meditation, absorption, dual and non-dual – a complcated series of regimes to the final goal)

Another aspect of ignorance was to conceive of a personal divine being worshipped as the creator, maintainer and terminator of the cosmos with form and characteristics . Such a being was to be regarded as the emergence of a magnificent super-ego much like the individual ego and was equally illusory. This omniscient, omnipotent, magnificent Being could never truly correspond with Brahman the essence without attributes. At best it was a mask which we had placed on the face of Brahman to understand him better, one which had to be cast away when the adept in Advait Vedant had ascended beyond the need for one – the personality of the highest and magnificent godhead would then disappear. Both the illusion of the godhead and his created world would then vanish leaving him with the reality of self, truth (Sat), consciousness (Chit) and bliss (Anand) which was an aspect of Brahman within him. (This position of Vedant challenging the reality of godhead was of course furiously opposed by Hindu devotional cults and saints of popular Hinduism who were more concerned with the object of their devotion as the godhead or his Avatar (incarnated godhead) rather than so called esoteric truths. In fact the devotional movement began to have a moderating influence on absolute Monist beliefs.)

Returning to Advait –  ‘Ignorance’ and its product ‘Illusion’ were not nothing – indeed it was ‘something’ which appears as a passing reality which has the form of becoming (Bhavarupa) – if it were real beyond change  (Sat) it could never be dispelled.  Ignorance the source of Maya or illusion was  not merely a negative principle, like lack of insight or understanding but a positive force (shakti – energy) which creates the illusion of the world and the five sheaths covering the eternal soul. It has two aspects – the negative which covers and hides the soul and in its positive aspect creates the multiplicity of phenomena – desires, fear, loathing, fulfilment, suffering and infecting our consciousness with notions of euphoria and delight.     (in my personal view the concept of illusion is connected in relative terms to the transient and changing form of the physical world where under the inexorable march of time everything changes from instant to instant – we are not what we were a moment before – so what is our reality – there is nothing unchanging, not even the sun – nothing has absolute stability – therefore it is a bit of an illusion from which we need to extract ourselves and anchor our minds on something which has permanence – a kind of fleeting reality which in the Hindu philosophical thinking has earned itself the extreme nomenclature of unreal or illusion, without qualification.)

In that so called illusory world on the physical plane, however  Karma and Rebirth held sway. Both concepts had fully evolved from their preliminary references in the Upanishads into mature doctrines in the Gita which had far reaching influence on the daily life styles, beliefs and ethics of the common man. According to Vedanta the self, remained hidden deep within the illusory world covered by five sheaths. The first was the gross body  (the waking state of the Mandukya Upanishad – see previous post ). The second the vital forces, the third, mind, the fourth, intellect – these three formed the subtle body ( the dream state of the Mandukya). While the fifth (deep dreamless sleep of Mandukya – the equivalent of the godhead) was the causal body. All these sheaths according to Advait Vedanta are illusory, including the state of realizing godhead and arose from Ignorance (avidya). Beyond it is the Silence which is the only Reality – that of Brahman( beyond the sound of Om the total silence).

The soul entrapped in these sheaths of Ignorance keeps hopping from one life to another ( after death of the gross body) carrying with it the subtle body full of Karmic traces and effects of past lives, till the subtle body is finally cleansed and refined and pure without Karmic effects whereupon the Ignorance is shed, the sheaths fall away and the soul is free to ‘merge’ back into the universal essence of Brahman. This in a sense is all a divine illusory play (Lila) which ends when the mirage of Ignorance has dispersed or been dispelled. Ultimately it can be called Brahman’s dream or again his play for which there is no audience. For after all the individual soul and Brahman the universal Soul were never separated, were always One.

The Syllable Om Credit: hinduterminal.org

The Syllable Om
Credit: hinduterminal.org

The somewhat incompatible outcome of the efforts of Upanishadic thinkers to reconcile the contradictions in the concept of Brahman through the dialectics of Realism had left disciples confused regarding the manner in which they were to conceive and meditate on the essence of Brahman. This was brilliantly resolved with the extraordinary intuitive discovery that the truth was not out there but right here within in the self.

Disciples were told that there was only one way the search for unity of Brahman could be successfully experienced – not by looking for it outside in the illusory world of diversity or through strenuous intellectual acrobatics by trying to fathom  and comprehend the qualities and nature of Brahman which was without qualities and incomprehensible. The only way was to look within, for the self was itself the unity they had long been searching for elsewhere.

The Chandogya Upanishad declared:

”As far verily as this world-space extends, so far extends the space within the heart… everything here is contained within it.” This going within to grasp the nature of unity occurs either in dreamless sleep or deepest meditation:

”When one is sound asleep, composed, serene and knows no dream – that is the self.” the unity with Brahman is a blissful state of consciousness in which individuality and all distinctions are overcome.

The short Mandukya Upanishad was the culmination of all Upanishadic thought – it explains in 12 verses the four aspects of the Self (Atman):

The first is the waking state – the individual moving and living in the phenomenal world. It enjoys and consumes gross matter.

The second is the ”Shining One inwardly cognitive” when in dream filled sleep. It enjoys subtle dream objects which arise from dream memories.

The third is the deep sleep state ”just a cognitive mass, consisting of bliss and feeds on bliss”. Here the self becomes undivided in dreamless sleep and is pure blissful consciousness. This indeed is the Lord of All ( Sarveshvar), the Omniscient ( Sarvagyana ), the indweller ( Antaryami), the source of all (Yoni – the great womb), this is the origin and the end of all beings ( an apt description of what we generally term as God ?).

The fourth which is beyond the realms even of deep sleep and beyond the beginning and the end of all beings is the real self to be realized ( through meditation) and is termed Turiya. The qualities of this final level of self is described thus:

”neither inward nor outward turned consciousness, nor both; not a dormant omniscience; neither knowing nor unknowing, invisible, ineffable, intangible, devoid of characteristics, inconceivable, undefinable ( all this because being the only subject there is no object and therefore no comparison to give it any shape,colour, form or attributes) – its sole essence being the assurance of its own Self, the cessation of all development ( differentiated existence), tranquil, peaceful-blissful, without a second (Advaitam) – this isAtman, the self which is to be realized.”

However, all four aspects together constitute the whole of Brahman/Atman.

Furthermore, according to the great Madukya Upanishad ( and specially intended for those who wish to meditate on the self) these aspects together can also be discerned in the sphere of sound ( Hindu creation myths begin with the resonance of sound rather than the unleashing of light) as the syllable Om ( A U M ), each of the states corresponding to one of the letters and the fourth to Silence – A is the waking state, U the dream state, M the deep sleep state and the fourth is silence within which the resonating sound of OM arises, vibrates and subsides. This is a manifestation of Brahman-Atman as a syllable. This resonating sound is the whole of this visible universe, past, present and future and the fourth, silence is what is beyond time. All stages of the sound are as important as the silence which precedes and follows its utterance as it is their totality that constitutes the universal essence of Brahman-Atman.

Practitioners of Yoga  are told that with this resounding sound they can begin to sense the unity of Brahman.

We see that thus was the final unity of Reality reached by the Upanishads, moving from Realism to Idealism.

The syllable Om symbolizing Brahman-Atman has today come to represent Hinduism as the Cross has Christianity, the Crescent Islam,  Yin Yang the Tao and the Menorah and Star of David, Judaism.

I recently happened to come across an excellent series of  five videos on U Tube on meditation which clearly were inspired by Upanishadic concepts though there is a liberal overlay of some New Age concepts also. However to get a vivid idea of the Self within and how accessing it can lead to enlightened states, through the medium of excellent and imaginatively created video footage, it may be worthwhile for those interested to go have a look:

As I said it is on U Tube and is titled – ” HOW TO ACCESS YOUR SUPERCONSCIOUSNESS’ ‘  – really worth a visit.

body_soul1-249x300

credit: amandafroelich.com

The concept of the unity of Brahman was further examined and developed by Upanishadic seers. Brahman was both transcendental and immanent. Brahman was both physical and spiritual. Brahman was both phenomenal ( capable of being discerned through senses) and noumenal ( capable of being only intuited and not perceived by the senses). Brahman was therefore a conglomerate of the physical world and the non-physical or spiritual reality.

The Upanishads however make a distinction between the two, calling the physical as the lower aspect of Brahman and the spiritual the higher aspect. While the physical could be discerned through the senses, the noumenal was beyond descriptions or characteristics and the only attempt at defining it had produced the aphorism Neti, Neti or ”not this not that”.

Thus in  the Maitri Upanishad it is stated:

” There are assuredly two forms of Brahman: Time and the  Timeless. that which is prior to the Sun is the Timeless, without parts. But that which begins with the Sun is Time, which has parts.”

The two forms of Brahman envisaged were the formed and the unformed, the mortal and the immortal, the stationary and the moving, the actual and the Real.

The logic of Upanishadic Monism however encountered a serious problem in explaining the diversity of the manifold universe. How was this abundant diversity to be reconciled with the unshakable and uncompromising faith in an absolute unity, which was the fundamental characteristic of Brahman? Furthermore the idea of two aspects of Brahman also inclined towards a Dualism.

Thus as a corrective evolved the doctrine of Illusion or Maya, which then became a permanent feature of all Hindu thinking to the present times. The so called lower aspect of Brahman, the physical universe was declared to be a mirage, an illusion because the Upanishads had always held that ” there is only one Brahman, without a second.” The thought was then developed that Reality was indeed One and the diversity was an appearance arising from the ‘ignorance’ of the perceiver. Thus it is finally pronounced in the Maitri Upanishad:

”There are, assuredly, two aspects of Brahman; the formed and the formless. Now that which is the formed is unreal; that which is the formless is Real.”

Again in the Svetashvatar Upanishad the first word on the Maya doctrine is pronounced:

” This whole world, the illusion-maker projects….and in it by illusion the other is confined,

Now one should know that Nature is illusion and the Mighty Lord is the illusion-maker”

We then find that Brahman on the one hand, in its lower aspect becomes an illusion and in its higher aspect as unknowable  ( Neti, Neti)  The path to an appreciation of the concept of Brahman through realism had thus arrived at a frustrating impasse for seekers. those who had wished to immerse themselves in contemplating Brahman were left dissatisfied and confused in advancing any further on their metaphysical quest.

How the Upanishadic sages overcame this outcome and how the concept of Atman came to the rescue, putting the train back on the track,  we shall study in the next post.

photons1

 

 

In that epoch sages and seers sought to convey complex philosophical and metaphysical concepts to their disciples and lay folk through parables, similes, analogies and metaphors. The idea of Brahman was conveyed through numerous metaphors that became popular and are used to this day.

In my view the most apt metaphor explaining creation and immanence is that of the spider which spins out silken threads from its body and creates a web after which it goes and sits at it heart much like Brahman creates the phenomenal world and enters it:

”Just as the spider pours forth its thread from itself and takes it back again; just as herbs grow on the earth and hairs from living man, even so the universe grows from the imperishable” – Katha Upanishad

” Just as there shoot out from a blazing fire sparks by the thousands, resembling the fire, so do the various beings ( or states: bhava) proceed from that imperishable; and into It, verily, they return.” – Mundaka Upanishad

” Like the butter hidden in milk, Pure Consciousness resides in every being. It is to be constantly churned, with the mind serving as the churning-rod” – Amrtabindu Upanishad

Two Birds on One Tree Metaphor:

” Two birds close companions, reside in intimate fellowship on the same tree. One of them eats the sweet fruit of the tree; the other, without eating, watches”. – Mundaka Upanishad

The bird that eats the fruit is the individual personality, the tree is life and  the one that watches is the soul an aspect of Brahman.

Artist: Jeffery Courtney Credit: courtneyart.net

Artist: Jeffery Courtney
Credit: courtneyart.net

 

Credit; urday.in/shandilya.htm

Sage Sandilya
Credit; urday.in/shandilya.htm

Sandiliya the great sage in the Chandogya  Upanishad sought to explain and speculate on  the difficult concept of Brahman they had intuited in the following manner for disciples and followers:

MY  SELF  WITHIN  THE  HEART

All this is Brahman. let a man meditate on the visible world as beginning, ending and breathing in it, the Brahman…… The intelligent, whose body is spirit,whose form is light, whose thoughts are true, whose nature is like ether, omnipresent and invisible, from whom all works, all desires, all sweet odours and tastes proceed, he who embraces all this, who never speaks, and is never surprised, he is my Self within the heart, smaller than a corn of rice, smaller than a corn of barley, smaller than a mustard seed, smaller than a canary seed or the kernel of a canary seed. He also is my Self within the heart, greater than the earth, greater than heaven, greater than all these worlds….. when I shall have departed hence, I shall obtain him ( that Self). He who has this faith has no doubt; thus said Sandiilya, yea, thus he said.

Another sage Svetashvatara ( owner of a white mule) speaks of Brahman in the Svetashvatara Upanishad thus:

Those who know the high Brahman, the vast, the hidden in the bodies of all creatures, and alone enveloping everything, as Lord, they become immortal. – I know this great person (Purusha) of sunlike lustre beyond the darkness. …. This whole universe is filled by this person to whom there is nothing superior, from whom there is nothing different, than whom there is nothing smaller or larger, who stands alone like a tree in the sky.

That which is beyond this world is without form and without suffering. …. he dwells in the heart of all beings, he is all pervading, therefore he is ..omnipresent…. the person, not larger than a thumb, dwelling within… in the heart of man, is perceived by the heart, the thought, the mind, they who know it become immortal……

He is the one God, hidden in all beings, all pervading, the Self within all beings, watching over all works, dwelling in all beings, the witness, the perceiver, , the only one, free from qualities. … the wise who perceive him within their self, to them belongs eternal happiness…

Credit; shivadarshana.blogspot.com

Sage Svetashvatara
Credit; shivadarshana.blogspot.com

Credit: speakingtree.in

Credit: speakingtree.in

At the dawn of history, Indian sages sought to explain their profound esoteric insights not through academic discourses but through parables and simple analogies, succeeding splendidly thereby in imparting knowledge of their insights more convincingly than would have been the case with the pedantic verbiage of philosophical concepts. Svetaketu was thus instructed by his father Uddalika in the knowledge of the Self or Soul in the Chandogya Upanishad, making him understand a central truth through the aphorism ”That thou art” – Tat Tvam Asi, which appearing in this parable became famous: ( excerpts )

THE    EDUCATION    OF    SVETAKETU

There lived once Svetaketu Aruneya…to him his father Uddalika said: ” Svetaketu go to school; for there is none belonging to our race, darling, who not being studied in the Veda (knowledge of the scriptures), is, as it were, a Brahmin ( learned priestly class) by birth only.”

Having begun his apprenticeship with a teacher when he was twelve years of age, Svetaketu returned to his father when he was twenty-four, having then studied all the Vedas- conceited, considering himself well read and stern.

His father said to him: ” Svetaketu, as you are so conceited, considering yourself so well read, and so stern, my dear, have you ever asked for that instruction by which we hear what cannot be heard, by which we perceive what cannot be perceived, by which we know what cannot be known?”

” What is that instruction, Sir?” he asked.

…. ” If someone were to strike at the root of this large tree here, it would bleed, but live. If he were to strike at its stem, it would bleed, but live. If he were to strike at its top, it would bleed, but live. Pervaded by the living self the tree stands firm, drinking in the nourishment and rejoicing; but if the life (the living Self) leaves one of its branches, that branch withers; if it leaves a second, that branch withers;…if it leaves the whole tree, the whole tree withers. In exactly the same manner, my son, know this. The body, indeed withers and dies when the living Self has left it, the living Self dies not. That which is the subtle essence, in it all that exists has its self. It is the True. It is the Self, and thou, O Svetaketu, art it.

“Please , sir inform me more” said the son.” ” Be it so, my child,”  the father replied.

” Fetch me thence a fruit of (yonder) tree.” ” Here is one, Sir.” ” Break it.” ” It is broken, sir.” ” what do you see there?” ” these seeds, almost infinitesimal.”              ” Break one of them.” ” It is broken, sir.’ what do you see there?’ ” not anything, Sir.” The father said: ” My son, that subtle essence which you do not perceive there, of that very essence this great tree exists. Believe it, my son. That which is the subtle essence, in it all that exists has its self. It is the True. It is the Self, and thou, O Svetaketu, art it.’

“Please , Sir, inform me still more,” said the son. ” Be it so, my child,” the father replied.

” Place this salt in water and then wait on me in the morning.”

The son did as he was commanded.

The father said to him:” Bring me the salt which you placed in the water last night.” 

The son having looked for it, found it not, for, of course, it was melted.

The father said: ” Taste it from the surface of the water. How is it?” the son replied: ” It is salt.” ” taste it from the middle. how is it?” the son replied: ” It is salt.” “Taste it from the bottom. how is it?’ The son replied: ” It is salt.” the father said; ” Throw it away and then wait on me.” He did so; but salt exists for ever. Then the father said: ” Here also, in this body, forsooth, you do not perceive the True, my son, but there indeed it is. That which is the subtle essence, in it all that exists has its self. It is the True. It is the Self, and thou, O Svetaketu, art it.”……..ENDS  – ( after many more analogies Svetaketu’s education regarding the nature of the soul was completed).

Thus through a parable and analogy was the learned yet ignorant  Svetaketu imparted the knowledge of the Soul. The Upanishads throughout employ such dialogues to convey their message.

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