Last week, I had shared with you one of the examples that we stumble upon regularly in advaita philosophy as it attempts to explain non-duality. Many of you had also shared with me how simple and hence stunning this example is. Though the philosophy attempts to explain the highest principles, as great teachers, our vedantic masters understood they have to take the help of simplicity to explain the complex of complex principles. Sharing below another example which more recent masters use to explain non-duality.
To understand the identical nature of Atman and Brahman one can observe the impact of electricity on various bulbs. When electricity (consciousness) passes through the 10 watt bulb, the illumination is that of 10 watts (microcosm). When the same electricity passes through a 1,000,000 watt bulb, the illumination is so many times bigger (macrocosm). The differences in the light produced by the two bulbs is because of the nature of the bulbs (upadhis) and has nothing to do with the electricity (consciousness principle). In a similar manner the microcosmic (jiva) and macrocosmic (Isvara) are due to their respective conditionings (upadhis) of the microcosm (three bodies) and the macrocosm (cosmos). But just like the constant electricity the underlying Sat-Cit-Ananda principle remains the same and unchanged.
In a satsang last week – a question was asked. And as the question came from the realm of the world – it seemed very practical, till the time the speaker gave the answer. The question was: ‘You say our Soul enlivens the body. Without Soul body cannot act. So all the acts of the body should be logically attributed to the soul. So soul should be responsible for the acts of the body – and in that manner get impacted. But you say at all times our Atman/Soul/SELF is complete and unblemished’
Not only was the person asking the question clear on his doubts, the way his doubts was phrased made us all start our own branches of questioning on these lines. Many of us felt we had the speaker foxed with a tough question. Some had a small smile as they were mulling at the possible discomfort this question has created for the expert. And as always the master was also smiling. The answer that was given is what I am sharing below:
‘The body is made of inert elements. By itself our body is like any other mineral or matter. The closeness to the Atman is what enables the body to acquire sentiency and dynamism. However we cannot hold Atman responsible for the activities of the body. Also, though it is said that the Atman bestows consciousness and life, it cannot be treated as an activity of the Self.
This can be understood by a simple analogy. By the virtue of being close to the sun, earth receives warmth. The warmth and light trigger a lot of action on earth. Sun bestows life on earth by its presence. But can we say this is Sun’s duty? Can we hold the Sun for subsequent actions that happen on earth? Similarly the Atman enlivens the inert conditionings by its very presence. But it is external to all that happens in, of and through the body’
This conversation gave me some points to think around understanding better the difference and distinction between the transient body and timeless soul.
However it also taught me a far more valuable lesson – one that I am sure will help me in my further studies. As logical sceptics, we may have many queries. Our ego could lead us to believe that the query itself is an intellectual first of its kind. But let us not forget that sceptics and intellectuals have been around since the birth of Vedas. The deep wisdom born out of clear understanding was able to answer them then – answers us now and are sure to continue answering any questions that we pose in the future. While asking questions is key to learning – it gets completed only if we are willing to listen and contemplate on the answers. This is true for any study that we undertake – be it on science or be it Vedanta!
The very fact that one has come so far depicts a blessing of the Lord. Without his grace we would not have reached the stage where we are even made aware of where we are on the path of evolution. Now that we are here, there is a navigator’s chart following which we can be reasonably sure to get closer to the state of perfection. The path has nine milestones – and the attempt of this blog is to introduce them to the readers
- Human Birth (nara-janma) Among the multitudes of beings present in the world, to receive the chance to be a human being is indeed a great blessing. This is because only as a human being one has the faculty of self-awareness to make choices on our responses to situations. All other beings are pre-programmed. We also are blessed to be able to follow the spiritual path or divine pursuits if we make a choice. Hence on our path to perfection, this is the first milestone. And if you are reading this – You are already here!
- Manhood (Pumstvam) Among the human beings, those born with masculine tendencies are even more blessed. Many of these qualities also come only by practice, not endowed simple by birth. It is only when we have these qualities of courage, constancy of purpose and steadfastedness that we can continue on our path to realization. The reference to manhood/masculine tendency is not with respect to one’s gender. Hence it should not be misunderstood as man being superior to woman. The reference is only with respect to temperament. If we are able to develop the listed masculine tendencies more strongly then we can safely assume that we have come to the second milestone in our path to perfection.
- Brahminhood (Viprata) The next milestone is to consistently display the sattvic abilities of brahminhood. These have been detailed in the Bhagavad Gita as the qualities of serenity, self-restraint, austerity, purity, forgiveness, uprightness, knowledge and belief in God. Brahminhood is a state of living, not a sect or something that is again endowed at birth. A person has to consciously understand and practice these qualities and live it. Only when one lives these qualities consistently can we say that we have reached the third milestone on our path to perfection.
- Steadfastedness in the path of Dharma (Vaidika Dharma Marga Parata) Many of us can somehow live our life as prescribed in the Vedas at isolated times in our life. But it is the steadfastedness to live it consistently that makes the difference between people who reach this stage of evolution or development. The path of Dharma is to be lived as prescribed so as to develop purity of mind and single-pointedness of intellect. Once we are able to have a pure mind, a single pointed intellect – we can say that we have reached the fourth milestone in our path to perfection.
- Understanding this Knowledge of Vedas (Vidvattvam) People who practice the spiritual disciplines suggested can move on to understand the intent behind the practices. It is like the spirit behind the practice. Just knowing the spirit does not serve any purpose and just being disciplined also does not help. Hence a person should make an effort to get to the spirit behind the practices. Once a person does the practice with an understanding of the intent or spirit – the practice itself becomes more joyous and fruitful. When we start engaging in activities with a clear understanding of the spirit behind the action, we would have reached the fifth milestone on our path to perfection.
- Understanding the difference between Self and Not-Self (Atman-Anatman vivecanam) The next step in our journey is to understand the difference between the self and the not-self. The aim of the spiritual seeker at this stage is to understand the inert matter and the consciousness behind them. Once we become convinced of the difference between the two, we are on a fairly advanced stage of spiritual evolution. Once we reach this stage we would have reached the sixth milestone on our path to perfection.
- Direct Experience (Svanubhava) This stage of our journey has to do with experiencing the message that we intellectually understood in the previous stage. The direct experience of difference between self and not-self is a very highly advanced stage in our spiritual evolution because it brings about a great transformation in us. The moment we experience that we are not the inert matter that we are so attached to, we will look at ourselves and the world so differently. Once we reach this level, we would reached the seventh milestone in our path to perfection.
- Establish firmly the concept of Brahman and Atman (Brahmatmana samthiti) The next step is to experience the self at all times and also understand that it is the same self that exists in everything that is in the world. When one validates this understanding through experience, not occasionally but perennially – such a person is called Jivan-mukta or Liberated while Living! Even to have a self-realized or God-Realized person in our midst is our great fortune and blessing. Once a person reaches this stage, the eight milestone, we can safely say that this person is already a perfected being.
- Liberation (mukti) The perfected human being now has to wait for servicing his accumulated past desires or prarabdha, upon which the body drops dead and the soul escapes from the cycle of birth and death (called samsara). This complete liberation from samsara is reached only upon living a hundred crore lives intelligently. This is the final milestone on the path to perfection. Such a soul has no birth again and remains in eternal bliss.
All of us just by having been born has taken the first step. All that is left are eight more – and every journey however easy or tough begins with just one little step!
In today’s world intelligence is valued over intellect. The manifestation of this is the acknowledgement of somebody being more successful than the other as per the worldly yardstick. This thought when delved into deeper will explain the reason why selfishness is prevalent even in the most unselfish act. The moment we begin to compare or start fixing reference points in the external world or in other people, for measuring our success – we start unconsciously acknowledging ourselves as different from the other. This idea leads to people becoming more attached at the physical and emotional level.
In the last week’s post we spoke about a fundamental concept of advaita philosophy called SELF or ATMAN. Advaita means non-duality. The idea when believed that there are no two makes living life extremely simple and easy. But believing in the concept and living it is seems unimaginable. It is very rare to find people who act selflessly for a higher cause. Even the so called renunciants of the world let go only of things that do not matter to them anymore. The moment we start seeing US in others it becomes very difficult to act selfishly. While practice of overcoming selfishness, being more empathetic, giving charity, sharing with others thereby giving up things is not only difficult to sustain but almost unimaginable. This is because running towards these qualities is the same as running away from them. It is just a shift in direction.
The only way to live peacefully and be most productive in life is by making the effort to develop one’s intellect so that the concept of advaita can be understood and internalized. It is only on internalizing this concept that it will become natural for one to start seeing the one BRAHMAN manifested as number of ATMAN. The moment we let go of relative comparisons amongst individuals enables the human being to focus on their purpose on earth; and thereby make their fullest contribution.
When we close our eyes and think of any self-realized master – the image that we conjure up is almost always a person in an ochre robe, thin, maybe bearded, with intelligent eyes, no family ties, no friends, no cell phones and definitely no twitter account. We also know they were very contended and happy. But then the description for many of us is far from the happiness we know of. The price that we need to pay – moving away from family, giving up business, senseless chatting, the air conditioner and the branded shirts, etc seem quite high in comparison with a ‘probable state’ of happiness in almost assured obscurity. This is what if one would notice keeps many of us from embarking on the journey to discover our inner selves. The journey that seemingly says you need to trade everything of your today for not so assured tomorrow – will NOT entice many.
Having started the baby steps on reading Vedantic texts and listening to some of the masters (ochre robed and otherwise), I have just begun to understand the ignorance associated with our seeking of SELF.
It is not necessary for us to become a person of austerity. It is not necessary for us to stop reading paper backs and start reading large voluminous terse texts. It is in fact not even necessary for us to stop anything. You don’t have to join a course, leave your family or enrol under a realized master so that you can become realized. All you have to do is to decide that you want to take this journey.
If from your day at your convenience you even take out 15-20 minutes just to sit by yourself and contemplate on what is the purpose of life – you will be surprised at where you reach. If you decide to dedicate amidst all your commitment – one listening of even a soothing chant like the Bhaja Govindam, everyday as you drive or walk – you will be surprised at the calmness that it will bring.
This is one road trip where there is no preparation required for the traveller. The road adjusts its contours to match your heart beat. It is one walk where the milestones pace themselves to encourage you. It is a journey where fellow travellers join you from nowhere and leave you more enriched, moving away from you as quietly as they came – in the form of books, people, CD, dreams and even your own thoughts.
Start the journey of your search for the self and enjoy every bit of it!
In the greatest level of abstraction Vedanta means knowledge of the absolute reality. Vedanta espouses that such knowledge is not gained by symbolic practices, consumption of voluminous scriptures but through direct experience. In the physical manifestation, Vedanta – represents the end portion of the Vedas – ‘Veda-anta’.
Thought to have been composed over thousands of years, the Vedas are as per religious tradition considered to be created for the benefit of humanity by the supreme Being – ‘Brahman’. They contain within them the eternal truths and become manifest as per the need of the age.
Each of the Vedas is considered to be made of four distinct sections.
- ‘Mantras’ – the collection of hymns and prayers through which one can seek almost everything that is conceivable in the physical world from the numerous gods and goddesses.
- ‘Brahmana’ – collection of rituals, rules and details for performance of various sacrifices and conduct of yagnas. It interprets the word of Mantras and how they are to be understood in the conduct of sacrifices.
- ‘Aranyaka’ – is the beginning of the purely spiritual elements of the Vedas, where one moves from the performance of sacrifices to understand and inquire about their context and meaning.
- ‘Upanishads’ – following the Aranyakas represents the repository of spirituality. It is in Upanishads that one finds the inquiry into ultimate reality, where oneness of Atman and Brahman and the universal implications are recorded as seen by sages. The journey from Mantras to Aranyakas through Brahmana prepares the mortal mind to grasp this truth.
Upanishads – as sacred texts are called Vedanta – the end portions of the veda. Situated physically at the end of each Veda, they hold within them the eternal truth that is found by powerful internal inquiry, with the power to liberate us from bondage.
Upanishads poised at the end of each of the vedas propound the oneness of Atman and Brahman. Aitareya Upanisad of the Rigveda states “Prajnanam Brahma“ (The Brahman means realising the jnana that is the highest ), ” Aham Brahmasmi” (I am the Brahman) is stated in the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad of the Yajurveda., “Tat tvam asi” (The Paramatman and you are the one and the same) is from the Chandogya Upanisad of the samaveda and “Ayam Atma Brahma” (This Self is the Brahman”), is from the Mandukya Upanisad of the Atharvaveda.
The structuring of these ageless scriptures, all based on the concerted note of oneness is a strong indication of the singular view of the universal truth.
While trying to grasp and experience what is contained in these texts is akin to emptying ocean with our cupped palms ; every dip one takes, however brief – has a cleansing effect that is undeniable!