Archives for the month of: February, 2015

lord-kapila (1)

SAGE  KAPILA  DISCOURSES  ON  SANKHYA

Sankhya and Yoga are twin disciplines that compliment each other. While Sankhya philosophy speaks of the Soul as Purush, its entrapment by matter (Prakriti) and its eventual release (Moksha) in the context of the human circumstances, Yoga concerns itself with the process by which such liberation can be achieved through disciplines, exercises and modes of meditation.

patanjali

Sage Patanjali father of Yoga

Sankhya philosophy is attributed to the pre-Vedic sage Kapila who stands apart from the galaxy of great Vedic thinkers. There are references to him however in the epic Mahabharata. Historians place him in the period before the sixth century B.C. The discipline and techniques of Yoga are to be found in the Yoga Sutras attributed to the sage Patanjali and the Yoga Bhasya of the legendary poet-sage of the Mahabharata, Veda Vyas.

The indigenous thought of India as represented by Jainism, Sankhya and Yoga bequeathed to Brahmanism which evolved in India following the Aryan advent, ideas about the Soul, Matter and reincarnation, which eventually became firmly embedded in Hindu philosophy as a fundamental premise.

The evolution of the concept of the Soul in Hindu philosophy can thus be traced from the Jain concept of the Jiva to the Sankhya concept of Purush and eventually to the Brahmanical concept of Atman. We saw in the post on Jain philosophy that Jain cosmology was dualistic, conceiving the universe as composed of Jiva the soul force and Ajiva or Cosmic Matter. The process through which Jainism portrays this has been termed as realistic and mechanistic. Both the Jiva and Matter were real not illusory. The Jiva suffered influx of Matter depending on Karmic actions performed. The ideal state of total release from Karmic consequence achieved by the path blazing Tirthankars, by ridding the Jiva of the polluting colours of Matter, led to salvation and liberation in a state of blissful isolation (Kevalam) at the apex of the universe. The components of the universe then were the Tirthankars with other liberated souls, the other Jivas still enmeshed and engulfed by matter and Matter.

In the Sankhya and Yogic view the Soul called the Purush, likewise experienced shrouding by matter, now explained as being composed of three attributes or Gunas – those of clarity (Sattva), passionate activity (Rajas) and inertia (Tamas). In its primal state, the Gunas  of inertial matter were explained as being in a state of equilibrium and at rest. The presence of the Purush created a turbulance of excitement in inert nature on account of the brilliant radiance of these soul forces. Thus stimulated and attracted towards the Purushas, matter acted as iron filings would towards a magnet. Though Purush did not will such an outcome, nevertheless its proximity aroused a consciousness in inert matter in the form of subtle bodies and finally gross bodies which then enveloped the soul force in a material embrace. To use an analogy, the Purush could be compared to fire turning an iron molten. Sankhay does not regard the world as coming into being as a result of the act of a Creator. Creation takes place as a result of  pre-existing matter being thus stimulated by the presence of Purush. Inert matter stimulated by the radiance and proximity of Purush transforms into a subtle body of Mind, Ego, Intellect and Sense Faculties and a corresponding gross body with sense organs.

In Sankhya philosophy the process of the creation of the subtle and gross bodies is developed and presented in immaculate detail in a theory of evolution. This later was adopted in entirety by Hinduism in its explanation of the Soul, Matter and transmigration, making it a major contribution of Sankhya to Hindu philosophy. Briefly, the theory goes thus: the stimulation of Purush’s radiance causes inert matter to acquire consciousness first in a subtle body through the creation of  Mind (Buddhi) from which emerges the Ego (Ahankar) and onwards to the creation of faculties of action (Karmindriya), Intellect (Manas), Faculties of Sense (Gyanindriya), Subtle Counterparts of Sense Experience (Tan-Matra), the Subtle Atoms of the Subtle Body (Param-Anu) and finally a gross body (Sthula-Bhutani) through the interaction of gross elements. As this process of evolution from subtle to gross body takes place, there is a manifold increase in the Tamas Guna, the inert aspect of Prakriti which is responsible for holding together the created entity. In this regard Tamas can be compared to a gravitational force that binds its environment together. When the Yogi through meditation and exercise achieves enlightenment and liberation the Tamas Guna (the glue holding the physicality together) begins to erode and finally dissolves. What then remains is the Sattva Guna of clarity which in the absence of the other two Gunas facilitates authentic understanding, that ones true identity is not the ego personality but the indwelling Purush soul.

However, before such a liberation is reached if the gross body terminates in death, the surviving subtle body retaining the residual traces of many life times of desire, aspirations, potentials, habits, inclinations, patterns of behaviour etc as so many fragrances, odours and scars (Vasanas and Sanskars), determines the nature of a new existence and reincarnates. Reincarnations can continue from one life to another indefinitely. The Purush however remains untainted and pure as ever without attributes, qualities or movement – imperishable, inactive, impassive, indifferent and unaffected though its radiance continues to induce life and stimulate activities. When perfect knowledge of the Purush is gained by a seeker or Yogi, at the end of such a life not only the  gross body perishes at death but the subtle body also dissolves with all its Sanskaras being eliminated and the Gunas of matter are released back to their inert equilibrium, the Purush resuming its isolation from matter as an independent entity. While in this state, in Jainism the Tirthankar though isolated is omniscient, in Sankhya the Purush abides in eternal unconsciousness as one would in the deep sleep state. The Purush in this state is not described as being blissful – it merely is itself. This portrayal of the Purush also contrasts with the Brahmanical concept of the liberated Atman as pure consciousness merging with Brahman, the super-consciousness.

According to Sankhya what obstructs liberation and helps to consolidate the subtle and gross bodies and their tendency to falsely identify with ego are the afflictions (Klesh). The afflictions consist of ignorance (Avidya), false impressions of ego, attachments, aversions, the wish that life goes on forever – in a word ones personality. Whereas Jain philosophy spoke of the soul being infiltrated by matter, Sankya’s emphasis (being psychological rather than material) is on ignorance (Avidya) as the main cause for soul’s entrapment. Here there is no actual influx of Karmic matter which needs to be resisted and repelled, rather there is the need for the Yogi to overcome his ignorance caused by the Gunas of action (Rajas) and inertia, slothfulness, dullness, and indiscretion (Tamas) and then with the remaining Guna of clarity (Sattva) to behold and discern the truth of ones reality. As the Gunas of action and inertia wash away the radiance of the Purush shines forth and the realization dawns that one is not the personality, that ones essence is the luminosity within which was hitherto shrouded by the body and its personality. Now finally one becomes aware of ones true identity. This is called the discrimination of insight (Vivek) which alone overcomes ignorance (Avidya) and frees one from the entrapment of the Gunas of Prakriti (Nature). The insight takes one to the state of isolation (Kaivalya) which truly reflects the state of the Purush (Soul).

The Dualistic and atheistic philosophies of Jainism and Sankya being pre-Aryan and indigenous, treat the soul forces as being plural and the field of nature as substantial rather than an illusion generated by Maya as in Vedanta Hinduism. Brahmanism on the other hand being Monist and non-dualistic emphasizes that there is only one essence Brahman which creates a mirage of numerous souls that regard themselves as individuals when there is nothing other than Brahman though each soul entity experiences that Brahman as its Self. The mechanistic and materialistic approach of Jain Philosophy and the psychological approach of  Sankhya thought was superseded by the deeply metaphysical and spiritual interpretation of Brahmanism in a grand synthesis in contemporary Hindu thoughts and beliefs.

powercoverg_600x450

 

 

 

wild dogs

To see the yelping pack upon the fox,

The foaming deer or bloodied ox,

Hanging from the rump, the chin and ear

And having felled dismember

Without care or fear,

Fluid fiend afore and to the rear,

Tearing apart the hapless victim,

Limb from living limb;

 

Is to see the spirit of a mob

Pursue its quarry

Blood-shot with delirium,

And feel the indiscriminate animal stir within,

To merge with the primitive collective will

And join as one for the frenzied kill,

The mind benumbed of any compassion,

The sum a myriad hidden passions,

Invisible in the friendly dog

Before he joins the beastly mob.

 

jains

One of the most remarkable creations of Indian civilization is the philosophy and religion of Jainism.

The Jain community in India today is an esoteric group of no more than about 4 million, yet wielding considerable influence despite its small numbers and with a literacy rate of over 90 % for both males and females. They are also a prosperous and united community. Unlike Buddhism which spread to Afghanistan, Central Asia, China, Japan and South East Asia, Jainism remained confined among small sections of India’s population without feeling the need to proselytize its teachings beyond its congregation. Their largest presence is in the state of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. Their ascetic traditions are however ingrained in Indian culture and their customs and way of life are  well-known. The orders of Jain monks and nuns are ubiquitous and most Indians are familiar with their curious traditions.

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Jain monks and disciples

Gandhi’s Non-Violence is a tenet that finds its origins in Jain philosophy and patterns of behaviour. Their monks and nuns are at pains not to cause harm even to bacteria through the practice of wearing masks on their mouths so that their breathing may not inadvertently cause the death of microorganisms. Their practice of sweeping the floor before taking the next step is to avoid stepping on an unwary insect. Indeed Non-Violence or Ahimsa is practiced to such an extreme as to encompass even the inanimate world. A monk must abjure violent movements so as not to disturb the equilibrium even of atoms. For the same reason he must not snap his fingers, squeeze objects  or vigourously fan the air. If he should fall from a boat he should drift gently with the current rather than make for the shore with violent flailing strokes so as not to disturb the atoms of water. Nor should he briskly dry himself but allow the moisture to evaporate. Insects and bugs that annoy him must be allowed their freedom and not be brushed away and never killed. The principle axiom of Non-Violence and non-killing of any life form has its corollary in the universal observance by monks and the lay order of strict vegetarianism for all Jains. The vegetarianism is of an extreme kind in that even root vegetables ( onion, garlic, ginger, carrot, potato etc) are all prohibited because they may harbour organisms under the earth.

jain-diksha-500x300

Diksha: the ordainment of a Nun

The Jain practice of seeking periodical forgiveness from all acquaintances through sending letters and cards is another example of the extreme Non-Violence observed. The practice of renunciation by Jain householders is also legendary. Forsaking family, wealth, home and individual identity to join the ranks of monks and nuns is not uncommon. Often one is invited to such ceremonies. Even young men and women adorn themselves as brides and grooms only to renounce every vestige of ownership, personality and family links, much as when Christian nuns are dressed as brides to wed Christ. Rich businessmen give away their wealth to charity and join the orders of monks penniless. Extreme renunciation involving giving up food and water in an eventual suicide is also practiced by some elderly Jains who wish to forsake all physical bondage for ultimate salvation. This starvation unto death (Santhara) is practiced despite being against the law. Indians are more than familiar with these esoteric and curious practices of the Jains.

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Mahavir

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The Tirthankars

Vardhaman Mahavir, a contemporary of the Buddha is considered the founder of Jainism – like the Buddha, he was also a prince who renounced the world as a youth, not to attain a novel enlightenment but to follow a pre-existing religious discipline to attain to the state of a Tirthankar ( a maker of the river crossing) provided for in that ancient discipline. The concept of a Tirthankar allows for an individual to go beyond the material physical state and even beyond the ethereal and heavenly realms into a supernal zone at the peak of the Universe, into a kind of splendid isolation of total release and salvation. Mahavir according to the Jains was not therefore the founder but the last of 24 such super humans who achieved that pristine state of release and bliss.

16. Mahavira omniscience

Vardhaman Mahavir’s enlightenment

This would indicate an antiquity going well beyond the first millennium B.C. Historically, Mahavir, a contemporary of the Buddha, died in 526 B.C. Parasvanath the Tirthankar before Mahavir would have lived in the 8th or 9th century B.C. though there are no historical records to prove it. If some allowance is given to at least some of the remaining 22 Tithankars as being not purely mythological, it would take the Jain religion even further into remote antiquity.

According to some occidental scholars, particularly Heinrich Zimmer, the Jain religion therefore is perhaps the oldest religion of India and must pre-date the Vedic and Brahmanical Hindu traditions. Zimmer asserts that Jainism was an indigenous faith already existing before the Aryan invasions into India which took place between 2000 and 1000 B.C. and therefore pre-dating the Vedas which emerged around 1500 – 800 B.C., followed by the Upanishads. Jainism was therefore pre-Aryan and non-Vedic. Jainism denies the authority of the Vedas and the orthodox traditions of Hinduism, though Hindus generally regard the Jains to fall within the broad definition of Hindu. According to Zimmer Jainism belongs to the body of indigenous Indian thought reflected in the philosophies of Sankya, Yoga and Buddhism which are the other non-Vedic Indian systems. It would appear that their indigenous Indian thought re asserted itself after the Aryan invasions and succeeded eventually in integrating its thought to produce a synthesis in the Bhagavad Gita, becoming the foundation of modern Hindu thought.

Jain_Cosmology

Jain Cosmic Man

Jain cosmology conceives of the universe in the shape of an anthropomorphic Cosmic Man not unlike Emanuel Swedenborg’s Christian notion of God as a giant human form as expressed in his visions. Jainism like Buddhism does not speak of God. It does not allow for a moment in creation or for that matter a creator. The universe has always existed without a beginning or without an apocalyptic end. Brahmanism on the other hand speaks of cycles of creation and dissolution (Pralaya). Yet it is not atheistic, rather as Zimmer asserts it is transtheistical.

Jain_Tirthankara_Relief_at_Padmakshi_Gutta_02

Tirthhankar

The Tirthankara is portrayed as a life denying monolith whose posture (Mudra) of Kayotsanga indicates inner absorption and dismissal of the body as reflected in his limp limbs on either side of the hips. They display no individuality, no personal mask, in a state of mystic calm and anonymous serenity and perfect isolation, aloof, nude ( no vestige of ego) and majestic and beyond any earthly solicitude.

The Jain conception of the Universe as a Cosmic Man is neither spirit nor matter but both together – Spiritual matter or materialized spirit. This unit contains souls (Jive) and Karmic matter ( A-Jiva). The pure and pristine souls are overwhelmed by the Karmic matter and engulfed and infiltrated by it. Any violence pollutes the crystal soul by colouring it in dark shades of matter. Any action whatsoever provokes an influx of Karmic matter into the soul, brighter shades for good deeds, darker hues for evil. Release from the bondage of matter is achieved by shutting off action of any kind, particularly violence against others, above all non-killing of any being – that can produce the very darkest colouring. Thus the seeds of further Karma have to be denied lest their fruit ripen to produce further Karmas in the form of suffering and physical experiences – gradually with the denial, the colors of all shades dissipate and disappear and the crystalline originality of the soul force is restored in all its purity. The heat of asceticism burns up all pleasures and pains and the Karmic seeds already present finally extinguish.

images (17)The Jiva (soul) and the Ajiva (matter) are distinct within the body of the Cosmic Man. The Jain concept is a kind of Materialistic Dualism of the two. The Jiva here is not the same as the Atman of Brahmanical Hinduism. Whereas the Atman is a manifestation of Brahman, the Universal Essence, and therefore has divine essence, the Jaina Jiva though eternal and unborn is not divine even though in its original state it has a perfect clarity. There is no divinity in the Jiva because there is no original God as creator or super spirit, embracing His creation. The Jiva is not any divinity , it is just itself. Neither does the Jiva upon liberation from Karmic bondage merge with any Universal Essence from which it emerged like in the case of Hinduism’s Atman. It does not merge upon liberation but merely ascends to the highest realms, the apex of the cranium of the Cosmic Man, there to abide with other liberated Jivas as separate entities. At that apex of the Cosmic Man reside the 24 Tirthankaras in their splendid isolation. As against this Materialistic Dualism of the Jain concept, the Brahmanical concept is that of the unity of matter and spirit, two sides of the same coin of Brahman (rather than a Cosmic Man) which constitutes the Monism of Hindu thought.

Brahmanism and Jainism however share the concept of the soul with the above major differences. They also share the concept of entrapment and entanglement of the soul by Karmic matter as a shroud or the mask of personality. Reincarnation is also a common theme in Jain, Buddhist and Hindu theology. If we regard Jainism as the original or aboriginal Indian faith (Zimmer) then it would appear that it bequeathed the concepts of Karma, the soul and reincarnation both to Buddhism and Hinduism. In fact reference to reincarnation only appears in the later Upanishads. The early Vedic Age makes no clear reference to it. It is only in the first millennium B.C. that transmigration became fused into Brahmanism, thereafter becoming a central doctrine of classical Hindu philosophy.

The Jain Cosmic Man comprises the whole Universe; the highest celestial regions where the Tirthankars reside, the lower celestial regions of the Indras (gods), the girdle where the Jiva assumes the mask of humans and as we proceed downwards, the masks of beasts, microorganisms and even the mask of the  atoms of inanimate matter, each as a shroud covering the Jiva or soul in the ongoing process of evolution or devolution.

The Jiva gets coloured by Karmic influx and only when all doors block out the Karmic ingress through abstaining from action, asceticism and penance that the Jiva begins to lose by burning off the colorization dispelling the effects of Karma and attaining to its original clarity. The adept shuns all temporal masks, sub-human, human or celestial – resisting the temptation to become even a god in the higher realms of the cosmic body by shunning even good deeds which are associated with good Karma – he allows no fetters whatsoever, no garb of elements, plants, animal, human or superhuman. In the Cosmic Man the Jivas are like the cells in a body, even the meanest atom has the capability to raise itself to the next realm of being.

The Jiva’s engulfment and colouring by Karmic matter is in the nature of a mask of personality. In Latin persona means the mask over the face of an actor through which he plays his part rather than the real nature of the actor. According to Christian philosophy the soul assumes a mask of personality which then stamps the wearer for ever, becoming fused with his essence. Thus Dante in his Divine comedy on his journey beyond the grave tours the spheres of hell, purgatory and heaven, meeting souls clearly identifiable with their personalities during life. Souls in Indian heavens and hells however do not retain the personalities from their lives. The mask which the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain souls wear during life are particular to the role they are playing in that life alone. The soul as actor remains anonymous. the aim of life is to get rid of the mask to get to the true nature of the wearer. At death the mask is set aside and during rebirth a fresh mask is donned.The final release involves casting away all masks and emerging pristine and untainted by Karmic consequence and defilement.

gunasthanas

Ascent of the Jiva

The released Jiva ascends like a buoyant bubble to the dome of the universe, no longer restricted by Karmic gravity. He then enters the highest realms where there are no more any Karmic masks to wear. This highest sphere is ” whiter than milk and pearls, more brilliant than gold and crystal and has the shape of a celestial umbrella” (Jain scriptures). The Jiva now no longer dies with one personality nor does it get born with another because reincarnation has ceased. He joins other Jivas to reside in the cranium of the Cosmic Man, forever in an immaculate state of bliss. The Hindu Atman on the other hand does not merely cast off its last mask of personality but loses its separate identity as well in a final merger with the Absolute, like a drop falling into the ocean. The Jain Jivas who have won liberation are aware of the ultimate truth and while being omniscient with infinite knowledge are indifferent, unfeeling, unresponsive and in a state of ultimate bliss beyond earthly cares and concerns.

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Blissful Tirthankar

These liberated souls are in a state of total isolation. this is unlike the Hindu Brahman whose supreme divinity Vishnu incarnates periodically with compassion through a portion of his divine essence as Avatar to redeem the world or in the Buddhist case as a Bodhisattva for the amelioration of human suffering. The Tirthankara does not engage in such a descent. He remains cut off in a state of sublime unattached bliss (Kevalam). As we observed earlier worship of the Tirthankars is not undertaken to invoke their presence but merely to become inspired to the highest good which they have achieved beyond the joys and sorrows of the physical and even the celestial worlds.

The ideals of Non-violence (Ahimsa),non-killing and the consequent strict vegetarianism emerging from the Jain beliefs and faith appear most remarkable for the first millennium B.C. when constant warfare, violence, bloodshed, murder and mayhem and slaughter of animals for consumption would have been the order of the day. It is surely one of man’s profoundest assertions and a unique civilizing force embracing both humanitarianism, compassion towards animals and concern for ecology through respect for every atom of creation leaving us with profound admiration and awe for the unique event in world religious history that is Jainism.

I would like to conclude with two quotes from Heinrich Zimmer who in my view is the most eminent, brilliant, knowledgeable and incisive scholars of Indian philosophies, culture and civilization, whose writings have so impressed me in revealing the fathomless depths of my own culture.

We of the Occident are about to arrive at the crossroads that was reached by the thinkers of India some seven hundred years before Christ. This is the real reason why we become both vexed and stimulated, uneasy yet interested, when confronted with the concepts and images of Oriental wisdom. This crossing is one to which the people of all civilizations come in the typical course of the development of their capacity and requirements for religious experience, and India’s teachings force us to realize what its problems are…….The basic aim of any serious study of Oriental thought should be, not merely the gathering and ordering of as much detailed inside information as possible, but the reception of some significant influence…..Then we will join, from our transoceanic distance, in the world-reverberating jungle roar of India’s wisdom.”

”The supreme and characteristic achievement of the Brahman mind ( and this has been decisive, not only for the course of Indian philosophy, but also the history of Indian civilization) was its discovery of the Self (Atman) as an independent, imperishable entity, underlying the conscious personality and bodily frame. Everything that we normally know and express about ourselves belongs to the sphere of change, the sphere of time and space, but this Self (Atman) is forever changeless, beyond time, beyond space and the veiling net of causality, beyond measure, beyond the dominion of the eye. The effort of Indian philosophy has been, for millenniums, to know this adamantine Self and make the knowledge effective in human life. And this enduring concern is what has been responsible for the supreme morning calm that pervades the terrible histories of the Oriental world – histories no less tremendous, no less horrifying, than our own. Through the vicissitudes of physical change a spiritual footing is maintained in the peaceful-blissful ground of Atman; eternal, timeless, and imperishable Being.

bahubali-gomateshwara-statue-shravanabelagola-karnataka

Collosus of Sranvanbelagola – Gomteshwar

 

 

Safety-Hawk-i

T H E   L E S S O N

 

Winged terror now sweeps over 

This grove of mango.

Hen scuttles under bush with its brood;

Then as he sees the significant shape

Manoeuvre

 

Top the tallest branch

Cock’s quick warning in the briefest call

Repeats and thrills

Deep instinct in the tiniest bird

Untaught.

 

In an attitude of a semi-fold of wings,

It pauses over the clearing

Watching one foolish bird

Not trusting its mother’s sense

Dash forth to find a securer shelter;

 

Then, 

Falling from the air

As if it would strike the very earth,

It strikes the racing bird in mid-step

In a kill

And lifts unexpectedly

Even as the whole grove breaks;

 

Away it rises to the distant blue

Carrying one chicken with native skill

And a new dimension comes 

To the tender breasts

Where hens and cocks have formed anew

hawk and chick

 

 

ascension-and-rebirth-alex-polanco

I have often wondered whether the ethical assumptions of Original Sin in Christianity and Hinduism’s Karmic consequences are not similar.

Adam and Eve losing their primordial innocence in the Garden of Eden incurred the Original Sin which was inherited by all their progeny – Mankind. Christian ethics thus burdens mankind with this original guilt and the consciousness of that guilt. The manner in which individuals deal with that guilt by engaging in righteous behaviour or then by adding further sins during the course of their lives will earn rewards and punishments on the Day of Judgement.

Karma is the accumulated and unfolding effect of good and evil deeds over several lifetimes, including the present one, producing our present circumstances as rewards and punishments. Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism subscribe to this Karmic determinism.

Both concepts of Original Sin and Karma share a fatalism and determinism in explaining the cause of suffering. The shadow of a primordial loss of innocence in the one case and Karma in past lives, in the other, determines our present fate. Both in that sense are judgmental and dwell on penal outcome or rewards for errant or good behaviour. Though their theology and dialectics are different, with variations in regard to beliefs on reincarnation and a final day of judgement, in the final analysis both are judgmental and fatalistic in accounting for suffering in the world. The premise in both imposes on the individual, a guilt from the past and salvation consists in accepting such guilt and then working to redress it through reform.

Often individuals rebel against such ethical impositions and assumptions of past wrong doing of which they have no knowledge and for which they may not feel in any way responsible

Individual circumstances of birth and the course of lives are so varied that people wonder, at least those who believe in providence, what is the justification for this inequitable diversity. One may be born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth whereas another as a slum dweller in squalour and poverty. Some enjoy untold riches without a care in the world while others struggle from birth to death. Some are born with disabilities while others are the perfect beautiful models we admire. Some are afflicted by calamities and tragedies while others sail through life with every conceivable happy circumstance one can think of.  Some experience fame while others never rise above the mundane, common or ordinary. The question arises whether fate is random or is it bound by Karmic effects. Do our sufferings and circumstances have an explanation beyond Karmic consequences or a random fate?

New Age thinkers have sought to address such questions to arrive at an answer which is neither judgmental and fatalistic nor relying on a random explanation. New Age thinking reconstructs an ethical framework by borrowing elements from the Karmic theory and restructuring it in a unique manner. While they allow for rebirth and reincarnation, dismissing the idea of a final day of judgement, they introduce the element of Choice, at variance with both random fate and inexorable Karma, to explain individual circumstances of life.

They hold that the Soul at the conclusion of one lifetime begins a process of deep introspection in the ethereal realms, assisted by peers, ‘guides’, angels, and ‘masters’ to analyse the pros and cons of the life just past. It then concludes that it needs to reincarnate in certain clearly defined circumstances to work out accumulated negativities to help in its further evolution. It is not any Law of Karma that determines time, place, and circumstances of birth, the shape and form, abilities and disabilities at birth and any fatalistic circumstances of life – rather it is the reincarnating Soul that does all this. It combines certain positive elements with other negative ones through its own pre-programmed Choice, drawing a detailed road map of the life ahead. The purpose of the rebirth is to work out persisting negativities of the previous life or lives and thereby achieve liberation from those negativities in the course of its own evolution. Such a premise clearly implies that there is no judgement. For instance when we see someone in dire straits or in unhappy circumstances,or with poverty and deformity, we can no longer assume ( as in the Karmic consequence formulation) that these may have arisen from previous wrong doing – being a choice of the Soul, there is no judgement. Equally events both positive and negative are not deemed to be resulting from fatalistic Karmic Laws but are the product of choice for the Soul’s experience and evolution.

I have sought to flesh out this New Age concept in two previous posts (1) A Valiant Choice (2) A Valiant Choice dramatized. Two of my poems are also influenced by this New Age thought (1) Visitor at Divali (2) Astronauts of Ether.

There is however a similarity in the concept of Karmic consequence and New Age choice of reincarnation. Both provide for negative and positive elements in one’s life not as punishment and reward but as experiences for the incarnating Soul’s liberation.

For those who are not comfortable with the judgmental branding of Karmic Law or the burden of guilt of Original Sin, the New Age idea that we have indeed chosen our life’s circumstances (as Souls prior to birth) is more appealing and acceptable. Yet there are some who think that the idea of choosing ones terrible plight is an abnoxious idea and they would far prefer to think that it is the result of Karmic fate. The only option if one rejects both Karmic consequence and the New Age alternative of choice, would be to believe that the circumstances of life arise from a random fate devoid of any ethical or metaphysical considerations.

 

shiva

The Godhead in Hinduism is comprised of a trinity of divine forces – those of creation, sustenance and annihilation. Brahman  the Universal Essence embarks on creation through Brahma,  sustains it through Vishnu and dissolves it through Shiva. The created universe is called Brahmanda, the egg of Brahma the creator, or the cosmic egg. The Puranas have numerous legendary stories in respect of each of the major deities of the Hindu pantheon – colourful mythical tales that seek to project ethical norms and symbolic interpolations of metaphysical verities and philosophical insight to enable the common man to grasp the essence of Hindu thought and beliefs.

While Brahma has become more or less marginalized with only a single temple in India dedicated to him at Pushkar, an important pilgrimage spot in Rajasthan in North East India, Vishnu and Shiva over the ages became the major deities with large followings. sheshnag_vishnu_wb23smThe marginalization of Brahma became complete with his depiction as sitting on a lotus arisen from the naval of Vishnu. He thus became a subsidiary deity, reliant on Vishnu for his creation, leaving only two poles, that of Vishnu and Shiva as contenders. Creation then proceeds from the naval of Vishnu, much like an umbilical chord and the fetus is Brahma. Thereafter as a mother nurtures its offspring in the womb, Vishnu devotes himself to nurturing his creation, symbolized as Brahma. Brahma then proceeds to create primal beings (like the Biblical Adam) representative of the sense organs and the organs of action. but that is another story. Creation proceeds from the stem of the lotus from Vishnu’s naval, extending like an umblical chord with Brahma as the fetus in the lotus. Thereafter as the mother nurtures the fetus in the womb, Vishnu too devotes himself to nurturing and sustaining creation.

Vishnu and Shiva after the marginalization of Brahma, over the ages have become the major deities with large following. Those regarding Vishnu as the primal force are called Vaishnavites while those that regard Shiva as the primal creator are termed Shaivites. In modern times the distinction between the two sects have become eroded and generally Hindus worship both with equal ardour, though each individual may have an emotional preference to the form that appeals to him more. Ascetics and Tantriks are generally devotees of the informal and rustic deity Shiva. The Shakti sect of the goddess also finds common cause with Shiva since that cult arises from Shiva’s consort.

Despite his lonely slumber on the coils of the celestial serpent Shesh, deep in the cosmic ocean ( Sur Sagar ), contemplating the destiny of the created physical universe and material existence, he is not quite as remote as one may imagine. His incarnations on earth, the most popular being Rama and Krishna, bring him into intimate contact with living beings on the physical plane and help him experience every facet of their triumphs and woes, their trials and tribulations from which his Avatars are not exempt. Vishnu thus succeeds despite his remote transcendence to become an intimate god through his earthly incarnations. 

 

SHIVA  THE  ASCETIC  GOD

 

 

Shiva_meditating_Rishikesh

Shiva the great mystic god is in a category of his own. He remains otherworldly, secluded, unconcerned and virtually inaccessible in the remote reaches of the Himalayas at Mount Kailash, contemplating not the created world but the essence of reality and truth. He is the ultimate ascetic, muscular, white as the snows, unadorned and rustic, smeared with the ashes of abnegation, rather than the sweet smelling sandalwood paste of Vishnu’s romantic creativity. His eyes are closed in inward meditation and only to be disturbed or distracted from his depths at your peril.

197944_159650527425094_100526190004195_370094_3595663_n_thumbLegend has it that the god of love Kama Dev, defiantly sought to awaken him from his meditative trance with his seductive flower-arrows of love. The gods had deputed him on this risky and delicate mission to awaken Shiva to enable him to wed Nature incarnated as the goddess Parvati, daughter of the mountains. His blissful peace thus shattered he opened his third eye located between his brows in fury. Kama Dev perished, burnt to ashes by the destructive rays unleashed from the third eye, though he was later revived by the pleadings of the gods so that the world woulod not become bereft of love and romance necessary for procreation.

SHIVA IN ANTIQUITY

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Mohenjodaro seal

The evolution of Shiva may also be seen in pre-Vedic India in the seals of the Indus Valley civilization where he is depicted as Pashupati, Lord of animals, around 2500 B.C. He is portrayed as an ascetic seated in Yogic posture with an erect phallus. He is surrounded by the figures of a tiger, a rhinoserous and a buffalo. Other seals depict a deity holding a trident accompanied by a bull.

dionysus

Dionysus

The Greeks who came to India with Alexander in 300 B.C. noted similarities between Shiva and their god Dionysus. Both are associated with fertility, and protection of animals. Both are shown wearing animal skins and residing in the mountains and the forests. The bull, the snake and the phallus are common features in their portrayal. Both are priapic gods while the vine leaf is a favourite of Dionysus the Beil leaf is sacred for Shiva. Temperamentally also both are depicted as being alike – strident, abrupt and irritable.

RUDRA

Mahadev Rudra-002

Rudra

Lord Shiva’s renunciation is absolute, his disinterest and disengagement, total. He is the monolith and epitome of primal energy, a one without the need of a second. In this state he is forever in bliss. His only adornments are the crescent moon on his hair knot,  the river Ganges bound in his locks flowing out into the Himalayas, and the cobra with open hood coiled around his neck, while other lesser cobras form anklets and bracelets. The beads of the sacred Himalayan berry the Rudraksh adorn his wrists and ankles. The Rudraksh when worn as a garland repels negative energies and takes its name from Rudra, his pristine Vedic manifestation as the fearsome howler and lord of the thunderbolt adorned by a garland of skulls – one who frequents cremation grounds as the extinguisher of life.

NATARAJ THE COSMIC DANCER

if-nataraja2He is also portrayed as the dynamic primal force of divinity Adideva engaged in the cosmic dance of cyclical creation and devolution, the Nataraj, lord of the cosmic dance (Tandav). The image of Nataraj is immensely symbolic. One hand holds a resonating rattle drum emphasizing the noisy and repetitive rhythms of material existence, complimented by the raised and revolving left leg again a symbol of the flux of nature ever on the move, forever changing, unstable and precarious. The left hand also moving to the right aligned with the left leg, points to it to indicate how ephemeral material existence is. The right hand rises just above it in the gesture (Mudra) of a blessing urging one not to fear the material instability and evolution of transient nature but to rise beyond it in introspection and meditation to attain enlightenment and bliss. That state is described in scriptures as Satyam Shivam Sundaram, Truth, Consciousness, Beauty or Sat-Chit-Anand, Truth-Consciousness-Bliss. The left side is the physical while the right is metaphysical. The movement of the left hand and foot towards the right signifies the importance of moving away from the physical towards the spiritual  Another hand holds the fire of introspection which can lead to enlightenment. It burns like a sun through its own force without need of any fuel. The right leg signifies the stability and solidity of the spiritual, planted firmly and unmoving, crushing the demon of the ego and illusion (Maya) , seeking to extinguish it. The fires of creation and dissolution blaze in a circle around Nataraj’s dynamic form. The intense activity of this force is highlighted by Shiva’s swirling locks and the rhythmic and graceful assertive movements of limbs at contradictory angles of the body.

At the cosmic level Shiva is engaged in the devolution of creation; at the personal level he symbolizes the destruction of the ego and the illusion of transitory existence (Maya) for the realization of the core, the soul or Atma, the transcendence from Prakriti (Nature) to Purush (Primal Essence of reality) which is reflected in the Self within. The imagery urges the devotee to press his spiritual leg firmly on that dwarfing illusion or ego to unveil the essence which is the Soul, the only truth. The devotee then seeks to look upon the complex symbolic representation in a trance aided by Sanskrit hymns that configure and hail the image. He glimpses the cardinal truth, poetically and metamorphically projected through the imagery and seeks to assimilate its meaning through introspection while worshiping this adorable dynamic form that reveals its secrets.

India is a land deeply devoted to symbolism. Numerous arms and heads with which Hindu deities are depicted, are not intended to create monstrous and fearsome entities but merely to emphasize additional attributes with a kind of poetic license. The many armed and headed images convey to the worshiper an entity with multiple capabilities and attributes symbolized by the objects held in the hands and the diverse expressions of each head. It is similar to allowing timing in a camera shot to get a skyfull of moons as the moon transits the heavens or to capture the movements of ones arms in a dance as multiple arms as they traverse a circle.

SHIVA AND SHAKTI

Sati_shiva_bishnu (1)Nature symbolized by the goddess however cannot leave this impersonal god of Yoga alone and must engage him, combining the male and female principles in divine union. The goddess also symbolizing the primal energy of creation then incarnated as Sati the daughter of Daksha the arrogant Lord of the Temporal realms. Her desire to marry the lonely God of the mountains was forcefully rejected by her father who considered Shiva as no more than a naked barbarian with a retinue of equally despicable tribals, gnomes and goblins, unfit for any alliance with his royal lineage. Sati defying him persisted and pursued  Shiva till he finally succumbed to her entreaties. Daksha however spurned and insulted the rustic God time and again till finally Sati unable to bear her husband’s humiliation at the hands of her father, immolated herself. Shiva’s anguish and fury knew no bounds and after decimating Daksha he carried her corpse inconsolable from place to place, unleashing havoc on the physical plane with his sorrow. When the very annhilation of the world was threatened, Vishnu intervened to save the world from his wrath. With his discus he dismembered the corpse casting its limbs far and wide, spots which today are revered as centres of energy (Shakti Sthals) for pilgrimage by worshipers. Shiva then stabilized and resumed his lonely meditations cutting himself off completely from the physical world as was his wont.

lord_shivas_familyBut the spirit of the goddess refused to give up her paramour and reincarnated as the daughter of the Himalayas, Parvati. We have already seen what happened to the god of love when he sought to awaken Shiva from his meditations to wed Parvati at the behest of the gods. Parvati was wary of repeating such a mistake and instead sought to woo him by herself undertaking severe penances and austerities finally impressing him with her single minded resolve and dedication. Their union produced two sons, Kartik and ganesh. Kartik became renowned as a slayer of demonic forces that had been plaguing the demi-gods and he became their commander-in-chief whiloe Ganesh, the elephant headed god became the most popular deity of the Hindu pantheon, the remover of all obstacles and the one to be worshiped before all in any ritual prayer. The shaivite family are worhipped in temples across the land. ardhnareshwar2Shiv and Parvati were then conjoined as a single principle of metaphysical reality in the form of Ardhnareshwar, half male and half female running down the middle. the remote primal essence no longer separated from its natural physical counterpart.

shiva poison

 

 

 

 

 

NEELKANTH

Shiva also has a phosphorescent blue throat and is therefore called Neelkanth. This derives from the pot of poison he consumed to save the world from its toxic effect when the poison emerged from the churning of the cosmic ocean by the gods and the Titans in a celestial tug of war. The churning produced many exquisite objects including the elixir of immortality, the goddess Laxmi, the white elephant Airavat and many jewels. Vishnu claimed Laxmi as his consort, Indra the premier demi-god took Airavat as his steed, the nectar of immortality was shared by all the gods after denying the Titans an equal share. Shivathe mediator of the churning exercise wanted nothing for himself but when no one claimed the deadlypot of poison he volunteered to consume it lest it percolted into the cosmos destroying creation. The poison was confined in his throat and he thereby heroically saved the world from apocalypse but acquired a blue throat.

CHANDRACHUD

Also emerging from the cosmic ocean was Chandra, the Moon, who had been banished there, his radiance diminishing every moment till all that was left of him was a crescent. Daksha the overlord of the temporal realms had once again proved himself to be an infamous father-in-law. We have already seen how his humiliation of Shiva had led to his daughter Sati’s suicide through self-immolation ( the word Sati later came to be synonymous with the heinous Hindu upper caste practice of immolation on the pyre of a widow’s husband). Chandra had wed all Daksha’s remaining 27 daughters represented by asterisms, called Nakshatras, around the Zodiac. His preference for only one, Rohini, to the neglect of all the others had incensed Daksha who in characteristic manner cursed his son-in-law Chandra to lose all his radiance.. On emerging from the churning of the cosmic ocean Chandra besieged Shiva to absolve him of the curse. Shiva well known as Ashotosh or one easily moved, took pity on Chandra and placed him on his head. Thus all portrayals of Shiva show him adorned with a crescent Moon. Chandra thus honoured by the primal lord succeeded in having the curse modified. Henceforth he would wax and wane over the month. Having learnt his lesson , now Chandra spends a night with each of his wives, waxing as he approaches his favourite Rohini and waning as he moves away from her. On no-Moon night he is with no wife but on the night before that he is a crescent and in dedication to Lord Shiva for having saved him, that night is celebrated as Shiv Ratri or the night of Shiva when prayers are addressed to him.

AYYAPPA

ayyappa

Lord Ayyappa

When the elixir of immortality emerged the Titans grasped it as theirs. Lord Vishnu then assumed the form of a divine damsel of unequalled beauty to charm and outwit them. She succeeded in stealing the pot from them giving it to the gods. The beauteous form of Mohini aroused great passion in Shiva who unable to resist her charm embraced her and from his spilt semen arose Lord Ayyappa, worshiped in Kerala in the South. Ayyappa is regarded as the unlikely issue of Shiva and Vishnu ( as Mohini). At Sabarmalai a temple built in his honour has become one of the great pilgrimage spots of South India where the sects devoted to Shiva and Vishnu have a common product of the two streams of Hinduism to worship.

 

 

SHIVA LINGA (PHALLIC WORSHIP)

shivalingam

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Amarnath Kashmir

Generally Shiv temples do not focus on portraying the ascetic god in anthropomorphic terms. Rather, the Sanctum Sanctorum at the heart of the temple has an abstract portrayal of him as a primordial phallus (Linga) arising from a Vagina (Yoni). The phallus and Vagina represent the creative force of the universe. The temple phallus is generally a monolithic rock discovered in a river bed or elsewhere, a crystal or as in the famed temple of Amarnath in Kashmir as an icicle which grows with the waxing of the Moon into a gigantic icy phallic shape, fluctuating with the seasons. Hundreds of thousands flock each year for pilgrimage to the shrine when the form has reached its apex. This phallic worship appears contradictory to the depiction of Shiva as an ascetic god who is devoid of desire or any inclination whatsoever for physical and therefore sexual contact. For the uninitiated it becomes a popular misconception that he is an erotic deity. Nothing could be further from the truth as we have already seen how he reacted to Kama Dev’s provocations to arouse his lust. Paradoxically therefore, the erect phallus in worship does not signify lust – rather quite the contrary  The auto erotic phallus in ascetic and Tantrik tradition, arises from no external stimuli, rather it is evidence of deep states of meditative euphoria involving a contrary flow of semen in the reverse direction ( inwards as against outwards) when one glimpses metaphysical truth, consciousness and bliss ( Sat-Chit-Anand). The phallus in worship represents such a form, the product of the arousal of metaphysical truth, consciousness and bliss which is the opposite of physical desire, lust and pleasure. The worship  of the phallus is a metaphysical exercise for bliss rather than any physical indulgence for pleasure. One may well call it a sublimation of sex. Shiva in the ultimate analysis is the antithesis of carnal desire, the obverse of lust, the very transcendence of love.

In the 19th century European theologists and intellectuals were appalled and shocked by what appeared to them to be the barbaric practice of phallic worship. Hindu intellectuals and sages like Vivekanand when confronted by criticism and condemnation at the Paris conference of world religions of such practices, sought to present a defence. Christian puritanical mores of the 19th century did not allow for any acceptance or theological justification and explanation for the practice. Thinkers like Vivekananda and Shivananda then resorted to denial that the Lingam represented the phallus and explained that in Vedic times it was the practice to erect sacrificial pillars (Sthambas) representing the Divine Essence, Brahman and it was only later that these pillars came to to be represented as an abstract symbol for Lord Shiva.

According to some thinkers the Linga and Yoni symbolize the eternal union between the static and dynamic aspects of absolute reality, the communion between the masculine and feminine principles from which all physical diversity originates. Shiva is the static changeless essence while Shakti is the dynamic ever changing power that produces the phenomenal world. The symbolism of Linga and Yoni in fact help the devotee to rid himself/herself of all sexual thought in a sublimation of sex. Devotees as far as I know never contemplate the sexual when they worship the Linga.

BHOLENATH

Shiva is also portrayed as naked, totally uninhibited, simple, asocial,unconcerned with cultural sophistication, etiquette and ritual , with no awareness of shame, egoless  and not the least self conscious.He therefore appears naked, except for a tiger skin around his girdle. These qualities and apparel make his followers call him the simple lord, the divine simpleton (Bholenath). Devotees sing and dance with unrestrained ecstasy and passion to the beating of rhythmic rattle drums and symbols with wafting clouds of incense smoke, to invoke such a primal god, in the process themselves losing all vestiges of culture, social inhibitions, taboos and self consciousness, like the Lord they adore, admire and love, step by step allowing the ego to slip away in a frenzy of detachment. In several Shiva festivals, marijuana is freely consumed to allow a metaphysical ‘high’, as devotees pour urns of water and milk on the Lingum bedecked with toxic Arka flowers (milkweed) and Bail leaves of the wood apple tree and the poisonous Dhatura nut, all sacred offerings to Lord Shiva, wild and toxic matching his unorthodox nature, the nature of the universal essence. Through the glow of ritual and worship, song and dance, arises resplendent the Linga to paradoxically banish their lust and inhibitions alike and raise them to a more enlightened state, devoid of ego.

rudra_2_by_swarooproy-d3dwkl7

painting by Swaroop Roy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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