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30 April, 2011


All human beings have three distinct and different personalities: bhokta, karta and jnata meaning experience, doer (or performer) and knower (or learner).

Bhokta: Right from birth we experience a world around us through our sense organs and mind. This experience, called bhokta, goes through varieties of experiences, both pleasant and painful.

Karta: Initially, as a baby one does not do deliberate actions but as the organs of action (called karmendriyas) and intellect (budhi) develop, a human being is able to plan and execute deliberate actions. This doer or performer is called Karta.

Jnata: Every human being is provided with a set of instruments of knowledge (jnanendriyas) by which he can learn. A knower, called jnata or pramata, is one who is capable of learning or knowing from the world.

Each personality as a vast field to operate in. If we want to be a learner, we will soon discover that one lifetime is not sufficient. Similarly if we want to be a doer or experience we will realize that there are infinite actions we can perform and innumerable experiences we can go through. Thus jnanam (knowledge) is endless for the jnata, karma (action) is countless for the karta bhogas (experiences) are limitless for the bhokta.

Unfortunately life is short. And so we have to prioritise the three personalities. Which should be given prominence and which merits only secondary importance? Sastra or scriptures come to our rescue. And sastra poses a question – Which do you consider most important – experiencing, doing or knowing? In other words are you a bhokthr-pradhana person where experiencing is dominant? Or a karthr-pradhana person where doing is prominent? Or a jnathr-pradhana person where learning is predominant? If we go by our nature or instinct, we will choose only the bhokta-personality as most important. Our education system caters to a bhokta-personality even through education itself is a means of knowledge. We strive for a good education (a degree in a preferred discipline from a reputed college) only because it enables us to get good jobs. Better the job, higher the salary. And higher the salary, the more comforts of life that we can enjoy. A successful person is considered to be one who has the best ‘infrastructure’ at his command – big house, premier brand of car, ornaments, clothes, etc., Thus a successful human being is considered to be a successful bhokta.

Sastra calls this materialism – a system in which bhokta is worshipped as the most important personality; karta and jnata rank next in importance. According to sastra, bhokta should not be at the top. A human being is a human being only when he is karthr-pradhana or jnathr-pradhana.

Why does sastra say so? The scriptures ask us to observe animals. How many personalities do they have? Only one – bhokta. Animals can neither be doers nor learners. Here we must note that doing means performing a deliberate action. No doubt animals perform actions but they are governed by instinct. Animals have no free will. They are born with only one purpose – to experience.

Since human beings share only the bhokta-personality with animals, the experience in us is the animal in us. No doubt this is a harsh word to use but if we think about it, we will accept it as appropriate. If we keep bhokta as the prominent personality, our life is like an animal’s. Sastra says that to live up to the status of a human being we must make the bhokta in us less dominant and bring karta and jnata to the fore. It is what we do and what we know that makes us successful and superior. In the Bhagavadgita Lord Krishna strongly criticizes bhokta-predominant people – ‘There is no fixity of mind for them who cling to pleasure and power and whose discrimination is tolent away’. (2.44) They are as good as non-human beings.

Once we decide to become a successful kart and successful jnata, sastra is only too willing to lend us a helping hand in our pursuit. Let us consider the karta personality.

How can we excel as a karta (experience)?

Taitriya upanisad gives us certain tips – ‘Shraddha surely in his head; ritam is his right wing; satyam is his left wing; yoga is his trunk; and mahah is his support and foundation. (2.4). The mantra lists five principles or factors for excellence in the field of karthrthvam or doership.

1.Shradha (Love):

Shradha means reverential love for the action that a karta undertakes. We must never dislike any action we do. Neither must we do any action reluctantly or half-heartedly. Actions can be those that we choose to do or those that we have to do. In the next stage we must learn to love any action we do and this includes actions thrust upon. It is a question of developing the right attitude. There are many actions that we dislike, but others like, e.g. mountain climbing (liked by mountaineers) or looking after sick people (nurses). If we learn to like the karma or action, the karma itself gives ananda or joy. The karma phalam (result of the action) may not necessarily be to our liking or expectation. Unlike karma-phala-ananda (which may or may not fructify in this birth), karma-ananda is instantaneous. Thus we can derive joy from karma (action).

The word ‘shradha’ is used here to indicate the dedication of action to someone we love and respect including the Lord. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna says – ‘Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer in sacrifice, whatever you gift away, whatever austerity you practice, O Kaunteya (Arjuna) do it as an offering to me’. (9.27). A man found it very difficult to look after his invalid mother. He had to bathe her, clothe her, feed her etc., He changed his approach and considered his mother as divinity itself. He looked upon bathing his mother as performing abhishekam to the Lord and even chanted Rudram while doing so. The same tasks no longer seemed difficult. In fact, he enjoyed doing them.

2.Ritam (Kknowledge):

Ritam means proper knowledge of the action – what to do, how to do, how much to do, when to do, where to do. We must learn about the action thoroughly and not be ignorant of what we have to do. It is for this reason that scriptural study is very important for a religious person.

Every role we play in life is a karma. A man enters wedlock. He must thoroughly understands the role of a husband. If not, he will become miserable and further he will make his wife miserable. Parents must know what is parenting. If not, they will let loose terrible children into the society. When a husband ill-treat his wife, his children get a message. When we play a family role, it affects three generations. Ritam is knowledge about every role we play.

3.Satyam (Implementation):

Whatever we have learnt about karma is not just for learning but meant to be put into practice. We should implement what we know. Studies of major accidents show that often they were caused, not by natural causes, but by the concerned people not doing what they should do. They knew, but they did not do it due to indifference, callousness or sheer laziness. This is emphemistically referred to as ‘human error’. Satyam means there is no knower-doer split.

4.Yoga (Focus):

Yoga must be understood as focus. When a karta does karma with focus, the very karma becomes meditation. In the Bhgavad-gita, Lord Krisna glorifies action by glorifying the grhastha (householder) – ‘He who discharges his duty without seeking its fruit, he is the sanyasin, he is the yogi, not he who is without sacred fire and without rites’. (6.1). It is the grahastha who by his actions (and thereby earnings) supports the other three asramas, viz., brahmacharya (student life), vanaprastha (retired life) and sanyasa (renunciate). A grhastha may not get time for meditation but he can convert every action into meditation by applying himself totally to the task at hand. The biggest advantage of yoga or focus is that every action becomes deliberate. There is no mechanical action. Deliberate actions save time and energy.

5.Mah (Expansion):

Mahah literally means Hiranyagarba, the total karta (the sum total of all kartas). The individual karta must learn to identify with the total karta. Expansion means broadening our outlook. Consequently our actions will benefit s many people as possible. Rather than ask the question ‘what will I get by doing this action?’ we ask ‘How many will benefit by this action?’ This is called paropakara.

If we follow these five principles, i.e., if we love, learn, implement, focus and expand, the excellence in action itself will give us joy. We will not yearn to become a bhokta. If we learn to excel as a karta, later, we will also learn to excel as jnata. This will help us gain spiritual knowledge and this in turn will enable our spiritual growth.

Source: From the Talks given on 01.01.2004 by Swamy Parmarthananda.

03 April, 2011

In Indian Culture Why we do wear marks on the forehead?


TILAKA is the mark of red powder or sandalwood paste that is applied on the forehead. It is used by the Hindus. It has become practically a symbol of Hinduism.

To a Hindu the daily bath carries a lot of sanctity. It is a part of his prayer and worship. Immediately after bath the Hindu performs his daily prayer usually in his temple or in his own house. After his prayer is over, he takes a little red or sandal powder or sacred ash placed at the feet of the Lord and applies it to his forehead. The ladies usually make a round mark and that is called tilaka. Men are more accustomed to use it in the form of a straight line. Whatever way these marks are made the Hindu retains it through the day.

Significance of wearing Tilaka on the forehead.

This practice has a significance. The Hindu believes that the purpose of the life is to realize the infinite Reality. This is achieved by reflection and contemplation which he practices in his prayer-room. But he cannot continue his prayer all day long since his duties and obligations compel him to go into the world and work. He therefore leaves his prayer room with the idea of coming back to it after fulfilling his obligations. While leaving he takes a little powder from the Lord and applies it to his forehead, with an idea to remember that all his actions in the external world are dedicated to the achievement of this supreme Goal of Realisation. The forehead is the seat of memory. Applying the tilaka on the forehead symbolizes the retention of the memory of the Lord in all his activities. That is to remember, to reflect and contemplate upon the Reality in and through his activities throughout the day.

In earlier times, the four castes (based on varna or colour) – 1. Brahmana, 2. Kshatriya, 3. Vaishya and 4. Sudra – applied marks differently. The Brahmin applied a white chandan mark signifying purity as his profession was of a priestly or academic nature. The kshatriya applied a red kumkum mark signifying the valour as he belonged to the warrior races. The vaishya wore a yellow kesar or turmeric mark signifying prosperity as he was a businessman or a trader devoted to creation of wealth. The sudra applied a black bhasma, kasturi or charcoal mark signifying service as he supported the work of the other three divisions. Also Vishnu worshippers apply a chandan tilak of the shape of “U”, Shiva worshippers a tripundra (of the shape of ‘=’) of bhasma, Devi worshippers a red dot of kumkum and so on.

The chandan, kumkum or bhasma which is offered to the Lord is taken back as Prasad and applied on our foreheads. The tilak covers the sport between the eyebrows, which is the seat of memory and thinking. It is known as Aajna Chakra in the language of Yoga. The tilak is applied with the prayer – “May I remember the Lord. May this pious feeling pervade in all my activities. May I be righteous in my deeds.” Even when we temporarily forget this prayerful attitude the mark is thus a blessing of the Lord and a protection against wrong tendencies and forces.

The entire body emanates energy in the form of electromagnetic waves – the forehead and the subtle spot between the eyebrows especially so. That is why worry generates heat and causes a headache. The tilaka or pottu cools the forehead, protect us and prevents energy loss. Sometimes, the entire forehead is covered with chandan or bhasma. Using plastic reusable “stick bindis” is not very beneficial, even though it serves the purpose of decoration.

This custom is unique to Indians and helps to easily identify us anywhere.

When a Hindu meets another Hindu the first thing that strikes them both is the mark on the forehead. It constantly reminds each other of the purpose of their existence, their dedication to the realization of the supreme Reality. They confirm this understanding by greeting each other with folded arms. This gesture is called namakara. The gesture of namaskara is to join the palms together in front of him and bow his head to the joint palms.

Significance of Namaskara

Each palm represents the separate individuality. Each palm supports the five fingers. Similarly, each personality has five sheaths called the five kosas. The five different parts of the personality are called pancakosas, five sheaths. They are: 1. annamayakosa – food sheath, 2. pranamayakosa – vital-air sheath, 3. manomayakosa – mental sheath, 4. vijnanamayakosa –intellectual sheath and 5. anandamayakosa - bliss sheath. These five sheaths are supported by the Atman, the supreme Self which is the eternal Reality. The five sheaths are different from individual to individual but the Reality that supports them all is one and the same in all individualities. This truth is declared when the Hindus greet each other with namaskara. The two palms joined together as one indicates that the Reality or Atman is both is one and the same. To this unifying Infinite Atman, the Hindu bows in reverence when he does namaskara.

1. Excerpts from the book on “The Symbolism of Hindu Gods and Rituals” by A Parthasarathy.
2. Excerpts from the book on “In Indian Culture.. Why we do we…” Swamini Vimalananda & Radhika Krishnakumar.