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buddha1

Buddhist teachings and sermons were presented by Gautam Sakyamuni more as a therapy to heal the human condition than as a creed to explain and disseminate eternal metaphysical truths. Buddha the enlightened one, held that suffering was the ailment afflicting the human condition and the prime purpose of his teachings was to find a method and a way to alleviate and heal that condition. Anything that did not directly address this goal was not relevant to his concerns. The Buddha was not therefore interested in Metaphysical issues and refrained from commenting on them. Concepts such as God, Universal Spirit, Supersoul, an eternal universe, divinity and the nature of the Soul were therefore not commented upon. The Buddha implied to his disciples that discussion of such metaphysical questions ( aplenty at the time) did not in any way help in meeting his primary concern that of relieving mankind of its suffering and was therefore beyond the scope of his teachings. His only practical intent was to help people overcome their suffering rather than to propagate a grand creed or proselytize fundamental metaphysical truths. His teachings were also not intended for the disinterested masses but meant to help the few who genuinely desired to benefit from his methods to alleviate suffering. His sermons were therefore like a therapy only for the interested and he acted more like a physician than an apostle, concerned only with removing pain.

Thus emerge the Four Noble Truths: (1) All life is sorrowful and full of suffering. (2) The cause of suffering are ignorance (avidya) and desire (trishna) that follow from the fact that human existence is transitory and ephemeral. (3) the assertion that suffering can be removed. (4) The method of removing suffering and cessation of pain was the path to liberation – the Eight Fold Path : right view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, endeavour, mindfulness, and contemplation or meditation. The method was pragmatic and psychological with no philosophical explanation being provided about man and the universe. This method was also called the middle path, avoiding extremes of sensual indulgence and asceticism, also the path which avoided both skepticism and dogmatic metaphysical assertions. The Eight Fold Path led to liberation from suffering and pain, helping in attaining Nirvana. Nirvana is understood as a transcendental state where suffering, desire and the ego have been overcome and there is release from the effects of Karma and the cycles of death and rebirth. In essence this path entails adoption of the right attitude where egoistic feelings are eradicated, the resultant renunciation arouse in man love for all creatures. This altruism and compassion make for a righteous life. Non violence in action speech and thought are also enjoined with emotional equilibrium, friendliness, compassion, cheerfulness and impartiality.

The Buddha denied the authority of the Vedas and rejected the ubiquitous caste system. His teachings found favour with the highest in the land and a succession of great emperors, Ashoka and Kanishka converted to Buddhism and sought to propagate his teachings at home and in distant lands. Ashoka arranged great Buddhist councils for discussion of Buddhist tenets. In succeeding centuries great emissaries would come from China and carry back the message and teachings of the master, spawning indigenous sects in China, Central Asia, Mongolia, Tibet, Japan, Indo- China and the Far East. Nalanda near Patna became a great centre of Buddhist learning under the patronage of the Gupta Empire in the 5th century A.D. and continued to attract scholars and pilgrims right to the 12th century.

Buddhism was influenced by the Upanishadic concepts of Karma and rebirth and assimilated into its theology. Yet the concept of the Soul was at variance with the Atman of Brahmanism. The entity which suffered rebirth time and again was no divine essence as in the case of the Atman concept, nor was it a pure crystalline life-monad called Jiva polluted by the effects of Karma as with the Jains, nor again did it approximate to the concept of pure consciousness, Purush as in Sankhya philosophy. The Buddha himself had asserted that ” all things are without a self (an-atta)”, denying any permanent reality as of a Soul force to the entity that gets reborn. What then in Buddhist thought is that which gets reborn from life time to life time experiencing suffering? It is explained as a kind of continuum of transient events that arise and dissolve following one another in a continuous chain of cause and effect of recurring ephemeral moments. No permanent entity exists. What appears as a unit is an aggregate of brief realities. There is no substance as individual or Soul, only a continuum of  ephemeral entities following one another, that give the impression of a unit. The process is phenomenal rather than substantial. Nirvana results in the recognition of this truth about oneself, the termination of the delusion that one is an ego entity.Unlike Brahmanism therefore there was no preoccupation with the concept of a Soul as a spark of divinity arising from the Universal Essence embedded in matter and being, for neither was there any discussion of such a divine essence nor of its corollary, the soul as a spiritual presence in the heart of man. This implied atheism arose from a pragmatic approach of being concerned only with man’s plight, here and now, and the method of finding a way to heal his condition of suffering.

buddha-nirvana-mediatationNirvana, enlightenment, is the realization that all phenomenality which appear as real are in fact a chain of fleeting momentary episodes. With such realization end desire, hopes and anxieties which are based on the erroneous thought of their substantial reality. Those gaining enlightenment are freed of the delusion of name and form. According to the Hinyana school’s version these brief episodes are real and substantial though ephemeral and instantly perishing, extending over several births but terminating with the dawning of the realization and ending with Nirvana. Nirvana itself was not substantial or a state of being. It consisted merely in the negation of the illusion. Enlightenment was not a state of being.

Without the presence of a surviving ego, the question arises how could the suffering be experienced. This is explained as arising not from an external source but a series of thoughts about suffering arising on their own  out of ignorance of the fleeting nature of reality. There was no thinker, only thought, no feeler only feelings, no actor only actions, no individual only minute consecutive units which created the illusion of an ongoing reality. There was no suffering ego, only the thought of suffering. Another school of Hinyana Buddhism attributed the suffering to actually arising from the external world despite the absence of an enduring individual. While the Hinyana schools held that the experience was ephemeral but real, the Mahayana school of Buddhism held that the phenomenality was not real but like a mirage or the waves of the sea. Like the sea there was a reality beyond the waves. The universe was both phenomenal and enduring. What was enduring alone contained the essence of existence, while the phenomenal was merely relative. Mahayana theology thus began veering towards the non-duality of Vedantic thought.

buddha-mindHere we become acquainted with the Buddhist concept of Void (Sunyata). The only truth, the essence of existence was the Void, a state of ‘suchness’ (tathata). Sunyata was the innermost essence of all things as contrasted with the ephemeral ever-changing illusion of being. The concept of the Void as innermost essence , though couched in negative terms was not nihilistic and appears to have a remarkable resemblance to what the Upanishads had termed as Brahman. We therefore see that despite the Buddha’s reluctance to engage in metaphysical discourse, later Buddhists eventually got involved in intense debate on metaphysics. The greatest proponent of the concept of Sunyata was the 2nd or 3rd century A.D. philosopher and metaphysician Nagarjuna to whom is attributed the laying of the foundations of Mahayana Buddhism. The concept of the void was the ineffable truth.   Nagarjuna describes this highest goal of enlightenment in negative terms thus:

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Chinese painting of Nagarjuna

”It cannot be called void or not void, or both or neither, but in order to indicate it, it is termed void” 

Sunyata has no cause, is beyond thought and conception, unborn and immeasurable. This absolute is neither existent nor non-existent, nor both existent and non-existent, nor different from both non-existence and existence. It is neither being nor non-being. Sunyata is identified with pure consciousness, pure thought and true wisdom.

Whatever appears to exist arises from imagination. All thoughts arise from an eternal source which is a kind of repository of all images and ideas. This is called the Abode of Consciousness (Alaya-Vijnana), the ‘suchness’ (tathata), the Void. This Alay Vijnana repository is beyond conception and imagination holding the potentiality of all thought. We can liken it to the nuclear physicist Bohm’s Implicate Order, the bio-chemist Sheldrake’s Morphogenetic field and Quantum Physics’ Zero Point field. All apparent phenomena arise like waves from this ocean and disperse again immediately into its infinite vortex. Upon contact with it through enlightenment the individual ceases to exist, the mental state of the self-aware ego dissolves in it. The concept of Alay Vijnana, Sunyata and Nirvana are interchangable. It is evidently the Buddhist equivalent of  Brahman.

nagarjuna-qpAn important metaphysical question arises when pondering the concept of Alay Vijnana. If it is the pure repository consciousness, pure thought abiding in itself, peaceful and tranquil and quiescent how or why does its essence get stirred to produce a phenomenal world full of the imperfections of Karma, producing every kind of pain and suffering. Do the attributes of ignorance and desire pre-exist in that repository like seeds and therefore produce the phenomenal world as it is? In such a case rather than non-dual, the Void would have the quality of duality, with an active principle (avidya) and a passive principle (Alay). this troubling enigma was sought to be explained in the 5th century by the masters Asanga and Vasubandhu when they asserted that the repository contained both good and bad. This was strikingly similar to the Hindu view that the Universal Essence through the Godhead Vishnu and Shiva produced both demons and gods, malevolent and benign beings having their origins in the Essence. The pairs of opposites proceeded from the same source while indeed surpassing them. Thus the Alay, the repository, germinates both good and evil while transcending them. The seeker after enlightenment  clears away the gross and views the perfection of the jewel. The gross was in any case a result of ignorance and when that was dispelled the jewel shone. This however appears as an irreconcilable paradox. Karma then becomes the seed in the Alay and the source of creation of the phenomenal world. But this is relative to the level of ignorance of the unreal individual. Both the individual and his Karma having their source in Alay, including the hells he experiences, are unreal; Karma is an imaginary seed embedded in Alay producing an imaginary world – the one attaining enlightenment realizes this and the paradox is resolved.

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Bodhisattva Padampani Ajanta caves

The Bodhisattva is an important concept in Buddhism. A compassionate being like Jesus and Krishna. The Bodhisattva is one who on the verge of gaining enlightenment renounces Nirvana until such time that all beings are able to gain it before him. This is an expression of supreme compassion for all beings and the ultimate sacrifice for the salvation of the world. The quality of compassion (Karuna) is epitomized in the Boddhisattva and reflects his understanding of the Void. Compassion is indeed a fundamental reflex of Sunyata. In fact it is on account of a Bodhisattva’s compassion that a Buddha comes into this world. Compassion is indeed present in all creatures as an indication of their potential to be Bodhisattvas. It is through compassion that things become manifest. The universe is compassion and this is also known as Sunyata, the Void. the primary attributes of the Bodhisattva are compassion, generosity, total absence of ego, absolute wisdom and omnipotence. the bodhisattva is a reflection of the Void.                                                                   

 yab yum 2The compassion of the void is best represented in Mahayana Buddhism in the Tibetan icon of Yab-Yum. The male and female form in intimate embrace highlight metaphysical non-duality and the sexual act brings the individual to experience that non-duality of the Void. Contemplation of  the Icon helps the seeker to a realization of the essence of the Void. This is the Mahayana doctrine of Mahasukh or Great Delight.

Buddhism is not a faith in the sense that following the Buddha’s precepts one becomes a ‘Buddhist’. For the Buddha there was no such category. In his Majjhima Nikaya the Medium Length dialogues he asserts that the doctrine becomes meaningless and is to be cast away much like a ferry-boat that has helped you reach the ‘other shore’ is allowed to drift downstream without a backward glance. It is only relevant for the passengers who are still journeying to the other shore. Having reached the ‘other shore’ there is neither a ferry-boat nor a river, nor the far shore of worldly existence that has been left behind. Indeed there is not even a ferryman, the Buddha either. The dualistic perception of two shores must end with enlightenment. The streams of rebirth along the way, the worldly life of Samsara and even the attainment of enlightenment, Nirvana are no longer there. The dream vanishes with the awakening, the rainbow of effort, striving, journey and realization all disappears. All submerge in the void. The long journey of causation, Karma has no longer any reality. Nirvana itself on attainment becomes meaningless. the concept is only relevant so long as the journey is not complete as an aid to understanding. Thereafter there is only the silence of the Void. The Buddha refused to discuss nirvana except as the goal to be attained. Nirvana means extinction and was an aid to ending delusion and could not be said to be a state of being. The boat of Buddhism did not exist after reaching the ‘other shore’, neither did a boatman, the Buddha. The question of worshiping such a boatman simply did not arise. The doctrine was not to become a foundation on which a great and elaborate creed could be erected. The paradox of Buddhism is that on reaching the other shore there was nothing, neither shores nor river nor passengers not ferryboat nor boatman. There was no longer anyone seeking enlightenment or attaining enlightenment – indeed there was no longer Nirvana – there was only the Void.

Early Buddhist sculpture do not depict the Buddha and only show an empty space under the Bo-tree emphasizing his state of ’emptiness’. In Mahayana metaphysics it is sometimes asserted that no Buddha ever came to enlighten a world which in any case only existed in the imagination.

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The Mahayana text Prajnaparamita carries a dialogue between the Buddha and his disciple which revealingly epitomizes the paradox;

The disciple Subhuti said: ”Profound O venerable One is the perfect Transcendental Wisdom.”

Said the Venerable One; ”Abysmally profound, like the space of the universe, O Subhuti, is the Transcendental Wisdom.”

The disciple Subhuti said again:” Difficult to be obtained through awakening is the perfect Transcendental Wisdom, O Venerable One”.

Said the Venerable One; ” that is the reason ,O Subhuti, why no one ever attains it through awakening”.

 

 

 

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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

 

 

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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.

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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

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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

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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)

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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.

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painting by Swaroop Roy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Festival_of_Faiths

Some believe that ‘Oneness’ of God is an essential basis of belief because none can share his uniqueness (Monotheism). therefore creation is only a product and a reflection of His omnipotence (Dualism – of the creator and his creation being distinct). Others believe that divinity is manifested as many (Polytheism). Yet others believe that divinity is ubiquitous, the divine force being everywhere in the smallest atom and the largest cosmic construct(Pantheism) – It is within us as our soul, our innermost essence (Monism). For them the creator and his creation are not separate but one unity ( Non-Dualism).

These are interesting distinctions over which wars can and have been fought through history and people have been put to the sword or bullet or crucified. What do these views have in common? Whether ones faith consists in bowing to an external entity or to an internal essence, essentially the nature of the prayer remains the same – a process of purification, communion and spiritual experience.

Then there are beliefs in a  Day of Judgement or in  rebirth and transmigration of the soul. In the one case, after death the soul remains in a kind of limbo till the end of time and the arrival of all souls before the throne of the Almighty for judgement, when rewards and punishments will be meted out – heaven, Hell or Purgatory. In the other, there is the dynamics of Karma, automatically taking care of this process, with reaction precisely matching your actions from life-time to life-time – Heaven and Hell and all in between, are meted out in the incarnations you earn. For the latter, the bliss of the ultimate Heaven consists in the disappearance of Ego and merger with the true Essence of the Almighty at the termination of the illusion of being.

Again, Angels and Archangels are also common, though they may assume different cultural forms. Angels with wings or without. In the one, he may be Gabriel, whispering the words of God. In the other a monkey-faced ‘Hanuman’, the devoted worshiper of his Lord Rama the divine incarnation. He too is there to guide and protect one from evil, like Gabriel.

There is the conception of ‘Avatar’ or divine incarnation when the Almighty suffers descent into the material world, incarnating as a human and subject to all the laws of material existence from birth to death, pleasures and pains and all the ‘pairs of opposites’, for a purpose – to stand out as an example when evil and anarchy have crossed certain limits. On the other hand, there is the concept of prophet. Now if you were a theologian, you could split hair about conceptual differences but if you wish to recognize how similar the purport of the messages are, you would say there is hardly much difference between the concept of the supreme spirit reincarnating or being born to man through an immaculate conception as son of the supreme spirit.

The point is that the hereafter or spiritual concepts are nothing really to fight about. You may look at the truth from many angles and it still remains the truth, much like the same thing said in a foreign tongue may sound different. The same thing that is being said is that we are more than our physical selves, that we have responsibility for our actions and will reap the consequences. All faiths speak of the importance of overcoming our egos and our selfish preoccupations, in order to expand our consciousness into something larger and nobler than merely catering to our desires. 

The Ego is tested in tolerance. Claims to great spirituality and faith are hollow or imperfect when the faith is dogmatic and worse when one is bigoted  When one feels impelled to kill in the service of faith, the providence in whose name we perpetuate such atrocity, doubtless must shudder, much like one would if one’s son were to return home with bloodied hands and say ”father, I have just killed to protect your honour”. 

No one should have the arrogance to claim that his faith is the only divinely ordained one and imagine that he alone is therefore God’s chosen one. To feel superior with the beliefs one holds over the beliefs of others and to hold others in contempt as inferior, to scorn and belittle others and mock them, is the true sign of an inferior. On the other hand to listen and appreciate and seek out the gold in the belief of others with the awe and wonder of an explorer of diverse horizons, is the mark of a superior spirituality.

Religions are great ideologies that civilize, that teach us humility and restraint. From religions arise morality, law, art and ideals.

Religions are different, not because some got it right while others have not. They are different because the circumstances of peoples and cultures differ and their needs for corrective action differ.  Different faiths serve the needs and circumstances of different peoples and cultures in the regions they inhabit and at the level of spirituality best suited to them with which they are comforted and feel comfortable. They all serve the same divine purpose of giving solace to man in the trials and tribulations of physical life. They all try to help him become more civilized and less egotistical. If one wishes to move from one faith to another that is his right provided there is no coercion or compulsion. 

Finally let us not insult spirituality by pitting religious beliefs, one against another. Let us believe that God himself created the difference for a reason – roses here, chrysanthemums there and just green leaves and grass over there. Let us respect spiritual diversity even as in the natural order. Remember, no two faces were created alike, no two fingerprints.

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Credit: backtothechoir.wordpress.com

Everything can be reckoned as a gift of God, from oxygen to flowers to oceans to planetary homeostasis, the tilt in the Earth’s axis, its spinning on it, and its circulation around the Sun, which together produce our congenial life supporting atmosphere, our days and nights and seasons. But there are some gifts that are more noteworthy than others, though there is no end to the gratitude we should feel and which is due to God.

I have often pondered on those gifts that may be really special and finally put together a handful of such extraordinary gifts which we tend to take for granted. Gravity is at the top of that list. The force which attaches us to the planet, prevents the oceans and the atmosphere from escaping, gives us weight and defines our physicality. We know what happens to astronauts in space denied gravity. Here of course you jump and land firmly back to earth and your substance begins to have meaning. All the labour-saving miracles of wheels are entirely on account of gravity. Often when I take a trolley full of purchases in a supermarket, I thank gravity ( and the Earth) for lifting the weight which otherwise I might have had to carry. We can go to the Moon and back because of that gravity, and now the Rosetta has landed a lander from its probe on a comet because of the gift of gravitational pulls. No wonder the word gravitas has been coined to indicate a charismatic personality with admirable qualities – a person having his own gravity. Poetically we can thank gravity for waterfalls, flowering, rainfall, flowing rivers, ball games, finding things where we left them, swallowing – the list is endless. But you are warned not to misuse, or be careless with the gift – no jumping from skyscrapers, no dropping of bombs.

Another rare gift is sexual procreation. There are organisms like the amoeba, bacteria and virus that can multiply without need of a partner through asexual reproduction. But the sexual kind is a gift of a higher order which creates empathy, attraction affection and love which otherwise may not have been necessary. It makes beings less hedonistic. If we could all procreate without a partner, happily producing clones identical to ourselves (a narcissistic act if ever there was one), we would be chasing one another not out of attraction but for elimination, out of hate not love. Imagine a world full of ego maniacs concerned only with their own survival, not even concerned for their cloned progeny. From asexual to bipolar love comes compassion, caring, sacrifice, art, culture, civilization and humanity, though its misuse as with jumping from a skyscraper can also be equally disastrous with crimes of self-serving passion. But that is not why it was created – equally true for sexuality as for gravity.

Another rare gift is the deeply embedded maternal instinct which creates the best examples of humanity and altruism we know of. The instinctive maternal compulsion to preserve, protect and nurture progeny is a vital implant and gift. It produces the rarest altruism in all species of living beings, even the extreme sacrifice of life itself for the sake of progeny and that wonderful word mother, which is perhaps the most beautiful noun in any language. It ensures that there are no natural orphans among living things – can you think of a better gift? The maternal instinct improves upon the sexual instinct in raising life to a higher order of altruism. From birds rearing their chicks to mothers suckling their young, it makes living beings fully worthy of existence as admirable and beautiful as opposed to hateful and disgusting, when hedonism alone is at play.

Life of course is the ultimate gift, the infusion of matter with soul. Imagine being a block of stone or metal. Even that is actually quite dynamic, if one looks at atomic structures whirring and being condensed into packets of energy with some form. A form that is neither able to be aware of its existence nor its environment. A form without consciousness. The gift of life enables material forms to experience, move and interact with its environment. Thus organic matter has a gift greater than the inorganic.

But the human form has the greatest gift, that of intelligence and not merely consciousness but self-consciousness. That gift enables it to know itself, not merely sense its environment but to harness it and finally to look beyond at the stars, the universe and creation itself, if not the creator. That gift enables it to seek the creator, much like a child is constantly assisted with skills by its parent to begin a relationship with the parent.

The final gift is the gift of death. Mortality is a subtle and less appreciated gift of finitude, which infinite and ethereal beings must envy.Startling change from moment to moment, from when you first crawled to when you first walked, from when you first grew pubescent hair to when it turned grey, from when you began to read to when you began to write, from love for a mother to love for a partner, from love of a child to love of a grandchild – yes, from infancy to youth to senility, constant experiential  changes from moment to moment, which neither a stone nor an ethereal entity  can experience. Mortality within a given time-frame becomes another rare gift to cherish. An ageless coming into being would be dour, full of endless routine and with a scary changelessness. Who wants to be a vampire. No wonder souls incarnate and reincarnate.

Thus the special gifts of God are, gravity, sexuality, maternal instinct, life and death. Please do share your thoughts about any other such rare gifts that may occur to you.

 

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When Matter tries to multiply, seeking to ape the Spirit, to become eternal, it appears most attractive and appealing. Generation after generation it revives afresh but  suffers degradation, for Time will not leave it alone. It dies and is born again, while the Spirit looks on amused as it vainly tries to drink from the mortal cup, the elixir of immortality. This cute effort gives rise to mortal love, bringing two material poles together to regenerate, revive and reproduce, defying its stern master Time, putting on a new fresh face, even as the older ones atrophy.  That is why mortal love has an ethereal quality as it replicates the beauty of the Spirit’s immortality and that is also why the Spirit appears as if it is perpetually in love.

The intense attraction, the passionate kiss, the deep embrace are the material urges to become eternal and therefore when consummated,  the poles fall apart and become ordinary matter again, losing their gloss but having in that moment assured eternal continuity, while the Spirit looks on amused at this extraordinary effort to follow in its footsteps. Thus Matter’s efforts to copy the Spirit becomes the very reason for living, and the very meaning of life – Love.

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Credit; news.bbc.co.uk

O prince among men

Standing tall,

So full of your magnificence

Good fortune all,

That with subtle arrogance

Are moved to pity

 Yonder beggar’s

 Karmic consequence and fall

From grace,

As she sits with palm extended

And pleading face;

 

But be not so sure

That she is not

Your very peer from another plane

A Guru seeking answers

In material disgrace.

 

So as you slip a coin,

Cast down your haughty gaze

Abjure all blame

With humility and shame,

 Let the charity return

In a boomerang

 To your own elevated place,

As nothing more

Than a kindness to yourself.

 

For the Goddess in legend

Is known to rest

At the portal of kings

In a miserable garb disguised

To test their arrogance

And when turned away,

Withdraw her grace.

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Credit: artoflegendindia.com

 

 

ketu - alberthalljaipur.gov.inKetu is the lower severed half of the demon who sought immortality ( see previous post on Rahu). In astrological terms he is the southern Lunar Node, or the descending Node. While he is sometimes portrayed with a serpent’s head generally in keeping with myth and legend he is shown as headless with a serpent or fish-dragon body. The portrayal in ancient European texts also depicts the northern Node as having a serpent’s head. If uninfluenced by other planets he displays the qualities of Mars for the horoscope.

Like Rahu it too is inherently a malefic, yet it is paradoxically a significator of liberation, which can have multiple implications. It can signify liberation, through death, the liberation of ‘Moksha’, the enlightened stage reaches by the soul force, after which it does not need to reincarnate. Thus it is the antithesis of Rahu, which impelled the soul force to incarnate and materialize. It signifies the return of the soul force into the spiritual world. Thus it is an indicator of spiritual development and the desire for spiritual evolution. Likewise it is also the significator of the occult, magic and witchcraft, the non material realms of reality. Ketu is also the repository of ones Karma – a force for transformation which gets magnified during eclipses – then Ketu impels the transformation of the ego, creating awareness of the conscious Self within. While in India most traditionalists dread the eclipse as a harbinger of evil, the more erudite look upon it as an opportunity and astrologers and Pundits devise special occult ritual prayers for the spiritual evolution of their clients to be performed during an eclipse. Certain Brahmanical orders trace their lineage to Ketu.

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Credit: rudraksha-ratna.com

If Rahu is the factor for separation ( see previous post), Ketu represents obstruction and impediments. At the psychological level he may induce manic depression, pessimism, addictions and violence. Sudden death from accidents are also attributed to Ketu effects. Other effects include sexual perversion. Yet when beneficial for a chart it enhances the spiritual and mystical potential of the subject to the extent of conferring extra-sensory perception ( ESP) and even supernatural abilities. It confers special powers of spiritual healing through Tantrik practices.However the manner in which it is likely to create spiritual awareness and detachment is through material adversity, sorrow, pain and loss. Ketu governs magicians, astrologers and the medical profession. 

ketu1Ketu is also associated with being bitten by snakes, reptiles and dogs, in life threatening circumstances. In my first post on Stellar India I referred to the popular practice to have ear lobes of infants of both sexed pierced ( and adorned with ear rings) to ward off such Ketu effects. The piercing replicates the snake bite and therefore fulfills the astrological prophecy in advance, like a prophylactic. Prayers and incantations to Ketu are believed to cure those who have become poisoned by snake bites or otherwise. A favourable Ketu indicates luxury, wisdom and intuition. there are several temples in India dedicated to Ketu.

Ketu is exalted in Sagittarius and Scorpio and debilitated in Gemini and Taurus. It is friendly to Mercury, Venus, Saturn and Rahu, neutral to Jupiter and inimical to the Sun, Moon and Mars. Its gemstone is the Cat’s Eye and metal, Mica. His steed is the vulture.

 

 

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Cats Eye

Credit: yogananda.com.au

Credit: yogananda.com.au

yoga nanda

Yogananda was a remarkable Indian sage who took upon himself  the arduous task of introducing Hindu mystical thought and esoteric practices in Yoga to the West. He traveled to America in 1920 to attend a Congress of Religious Liberals in Boston but stayed on for over 30 years spreading his message from coast to coast. He founded the International Centre for Self Realization Fellowship (SRF) in Los Angeles to disseminate his teachings and practices. A large following of disciples developed over the years with numerous celebrities. Yogananda thus became the first pioneering Indian mystic to set up base in the USA and spread the teachings in the USA rather than in India. The second notable personage to do so was Prabupadh who founded the Hare Krishna movement with branches all over the states and thereafter in most parts of the world including India.

Yoganand’s ‘’The Autobiography of a YOGI’’ ( First Edition Copyright Paramhansa Yogananda) is an extraordinary story of his mystical life full of incredible miracles that gives one a fresh perspective of reality and shakes to the roots our settled beliefs about the ‘Natural Material Order’’. The book relates incredible accounts of Great Master Yogis materializing and vanishing, healing miraculously incurable ailments, bringing back people from death, walking on water, bringing trains to a halt through sheer will power, levitating and even resurrecting themselves.

What particularly struck me in the book was his explanation of our material reality as a grand illusion whose veil has to be penetrated to arrive at the true nature of reality. The Indian Master Yogis and sages appear to have succeeded in piercing that ‘veil’ and learned to become one with the quantum reality thereby performing what appear to be incredible feats. He quotes from Sir James Jeans’s book ‘The Mysterious Universe’ – ‘’the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine.’’ An analogy he made impressed me deeply. Holding that the material world and we with it are aspects of light, he likens our ‘real world’ to the projection of images by a projector on a cinema screen . He relates his mystical experience in which his body lost its grossness and acquired an astral quality. While the walls and furniture remained gross, the ceiling of the room  became a blinding mass of light. From within the light a voice appeared to speak out saying ‘’ This is the cosmic motion picture mechanism …. It is producing the picture of your body…. Your form is nothing but light’’.

yogananda youthIn the book Yoganand as a youth refuses to conform to an ordinary life despite his father’s every effort and barely graduates before he continues his avid search for masters and Gurus. In the process he finds strange and amazing beings in remote corners of India engaged in their incredible and ‘magical’ feats which appear to give the lie to our settled beliefs about the nature of the reality in which we live, and the natural physical laws which appear to govern us.

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

Credit: marymademe.com

Credit: marymademe.com

Change is a fundamental fact of life. The Buddha observed that everything changes all the time and this is a cause of sorrow. If we remain equanimous while experiencing change sorrow will not afflict us. We ourselves change from moment to moment. We are not the same person which we see in a photographs of the past – childhood, youth, maturity, yesterday, five minutes ago. They are all different persons seemingly connected. It is as if we reincarnate from moment to moment not merely at the end of a life. We are able to observe this phenomenon more acutely in our children – they keep changing quite remarkably and if we were not conscious of it the child who you knew scarcely resembles what he is now  – with varied experiences of life transforming him every moment. This thought is not a sophisticated intellectual excercise but a vivid realization which all parents have known even if they did not put it down in words. My poem seeks to capture such a feeling, difficult to explain, like a rare visual caught suddenly on your camera:

 

            THE   CHILD   I   KNEW

 

Where is the child I knew,

Merged now in my grown son’s face ?

As if he just left the stage

And moved behind the wings

Allowing another to take his place.

Where his high voice has gone

Never to return, his little face ?

Another person I love well

Now inhabits that space,

Till I meet him again and another

Man has replaced the one I knew,

Now standing face to face

Like someone holding a baton in a race

As the others fade into the distance

And then even he moves on

As someone sprints ahead keeping pace

With my latest son. bearing my face.

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