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31 December, 2011

About Fear

       Fear is an instinct common to every living being.  It is universal and can overpower one at any time.  A king is afraid of his enemy.  An academic is afraid of his opponent.  A beautiful woman is afraid of old age.  A lawyer is afraid of the judge and his clients.  A wife is afraid of her husband.  A student is afraid of the teacher.  A frog is afraid of the snake.  A cobra is afraid of the mongoose.  No one is absolutely free from some sort of fear.

       The Sanskrit equivalent for fear is bhaya.  Fear is an emotion or vritti in the mind that is produced when one's life is in danger.  There are various degrees of fear; there is simple fright, timidity, shyness, alarm, and terror or extreme fear.  Extreme fear is characterized by pallor of the face, palpitation of heart, slowing or stoppage of pulse, tremor of limbs, perspiration, expressionless condition of the eyes, and in extreme cases, choking of voice, inability to speak, and so on.  The body becomes like a log of wood and the mind becomes stunned.  The functions of the senses are inhibited and in extreme cases one may die of shock.  In most cases, however, when the cause of fear is removed, one slowly recovers from the morbid symptoms and comes back to one's original state.

       Fear is of two kinds; namely, normal fear and imaginary fear.  The percentage of normal fear in people may be only ten, while imaginary fear accounts for the other ninety percent.  Normal fear is healthy, paving the way for one's progress.  It preserves life.  Imaginary fear causes diseases, depletes one's energy and produces all kinds of feverish excitement, low vitality, uneasiness, discomfort and disharmony.  Whenever there is an epidemic, fear is the predominant cause of death.  Imagination causes serious havoc and one becomes a victim of the actual disease due to stress of fear. 

       Following are some examples of how imaginary fears affect people.  A student prepares himself day and night for an examination.  He has passed all the preliminary examinations with credit, but he develops some kind of imaginary fear - examination fear.  And as soon as he enters the examination hall, he becomes nervous and confused.  His hands tremble and he is unable to answer the questions and fails in the final examination.  Another example: two friends meet after a long time.  Somehow they talk all night about the evil spirits.  These thoughts go deep into subconscious mind of one of them and he began to dream that the room in which he slept was haunted and that an evil spirit tried to do some mischief.  From that day onward he began gradually to lose his health.  This was all due to imaginary fear.  Some imagine and think: "What will be my fate if my husband dies?  What will happen to the children and to me?"  Most of us have some kind of imaginary fear.  There is no end to them.

       Peculiar, irrational and unnatural fears are called phobias.  A phobia is an unnatural form of fear with no objective reality.  There is nothing to frighten people, no threatening situation in their environment that should cause fear in them, yet they cannot free themselves from this emotion and its attendant negative feelings.  Phobias are also endless.  The causes of phobias are nervousness and lack of correct thinking and clear understanding.

       The origin of the most neurotic fear can be traced to childhood.  The seeds of fear may lie dormant in childhood in the subconscious mind.  They sprout forth during periods of crisis or stress.  The minds of children are very impressionable.  Mothers and friends should be very careful when they deal with them and should not tell the children anything that may frighten them.  Instead, they should tell stories of chivalrous deeds that will make their children bold and courage.  During pregnancy, mothers-to-be should read inspiring books like the Ramayana and Srimad Bhagavatam if they wish to bring forth intelligent and brave children.  Parents and teachers should have elementary knowledge of child psychology; then alone can they mold their children properly.

Causes of Fear

       The cause of fear is ignorance.  When we forget our original divine nature, we get caught up in the whirlpool of Ignorance.  The infinite fearless Brahman became the finite Jiva with fear.  Identification of the body is another form of ignorance.  This physical body is an instrument for sensual enjoyment and when we suffer from any disease, we are afraid that we will lose our body, which serve as a vehicle for our enjoyment.  We try our very best to preserve this body.  All other causes of fear are traceable to body identification.

       A feeling of inferiority is another cause of fear.  This negative feeling produces lack of  self-reliance or self-confidence.  One is afraid of those who have superior talents, power, position and efficiency, which makes one feel that he/she is incapable of doing anything.  Some physical deformity or deficiency, lack of physical and mental efficiency, and wrong training in children are other causes of fear.

       Fear in all its different aspects is the greatest enemy of man.  Constant fear saps the vitality and destroys one's ability and confidence, which makes one powerless.  It is a great enemy of success.  What paralysis does to the physical body, fear does to the mind.  It is a most destructive emotion.  It breaks down the nervous system and undermines health.  It creates worry and renders happiness and peace of mind practically impossible.  Clinging to life and body, or love of earthly life, are the main causes of all fear.

Fear is illusory

       Fear is illusory; it cannot live.  Courage is eternal; it will not die.  Perils, calamities and dangers are the certain lot of every person who is a citizen of this world.  Therefore, fortify your mind with courage and patience.  Fortitude, courage and presence of mind will sustain you through all dangers.  Just as rock on the seashore stands firm against the dashing waves, even so a person who is endowed with courage is not affected by the dark perilous waves of this endless cycle of births and deaths (samsara).

       A courageous person does not tremble in the hour of danger.  He stands adamant in challenging conditions and circumstances and come out victorious.  He is not embarrassed and bewildered.  He does not sink down.  He is not overwhelmed by despair.  He smiles away all dangers and difficulties and blowing the trumpet of triumph attains victory in the end.

       The threatening of fear is a terror to the heart.  Lead a virtuous life.  Live in God.  Be good.  Serve.  Love.  Give.  Meditate.  Then nothing can frighten you and the Lord of Death will be afraid of you.  The terrors, even of death, will be no terror to you.

       Do not terrify your soul with vain imaginary fears.  From fear proceeds misfortune and failure.  The fears of coward expose him to danger.   A coward dies many times before his actual death.  Be bold.  Be cheerful.  Allow not your heart to sink from the fantasy of imaginary tears.  Have self-confidence and faith.  Your birthright is courage.  You are a child of light.  You are an offspring of immortal Brahman.  Claim thy Birthright now.  Rise up!  Roar OM! OM! OM!

Source: An article by Swamy Sivananda

18 December, 2011

Aristotle's Search for Truth

       The question arises, as to what human intelligence can tell us about God.  Therein lies the whole thrust of philosophy and, more specifically, metaphysics.

       Aristotle wants truth.  He wants to establish a science of truth.  Make no mistake; metaphysics is in some respects a very difficult science.  We should not take lightly or oversimplify the means by which Aristotle comes to an intellectual knowledge of God.  It is not an easy process of deduction.  We need a level of intelligence that goes beyond the mere establishment of facts or an investigation of the how.  Metaphysics seeks to go beyond any notions of such-and-such a thing or such-and-such group of things, to grasp the very being of things.  That is why Aristotle says that object of metaphysical study is being in virtue of its own nature and not in its capacity as such-and-such a thing.

       To be convinced of the rigor of Aristotelian thought, we have only to read the Metaphysics, his analysis of substance, actuality, and potency, of the "one" and the "many," of motion, and of the definition of words in Book 5.  Aristotle seeks to penetrate the being of visible things and their movement, from their generation to their decay.  He hopes to come to know the light residing in them, their intelligibility, their capacity to be grasped by human intelligence.  And so he looks at their being, their existence.  But he also recognizes that visible things do not possess their existence; they are things in a state of motion, of "becoming."  From the way they come to be and yet do not have fullness of being in themselves, Aristotle deduces that beyond them there must necessarily be a being that simply is, eternal.  Aristotelian contemplation is the penetrating gaze of reason that sees - not with the eyes, but with the intelligence, a presence, the God.

       How does the metaphysician see God?  On the basis of the reality of movement and becoming, Aristotle seeks the origin of becoming, for all movement implies not only an efficient cause, a mover, but above all, a reason for the existence of the movement, a good that gives rise to the movement, which is the final cause.

      There is therefore also something which moves it [the First Heaven, which is the source of movement in the universe] and since that which is moved and moves is intermediate, there is something which moves without being moved, being eternal, substance, and actuality.  And the object of desire and the object of thought move in this way; they move without being moved.  (Metaphysics 1072a21).

       Aristotle also notes, 'If it were not true, the world would have proceeded out of night and 'all things together' (universal confusion) and out of night and 'all things together' (universal confusion) and out of non-being" (Metaphysics 1072a19-20), a possibility that he considers absurd.  It would be a negation of the intelligence.

       The first mover, then, exists of necessity; and in so far as it exists by necessity, its mode of being is good, and it is in this sense the first principle.... On such a principle, then, depend the heavens and the world of nature.  (Metaphysics 1072b10-14).

       In some very dense texts (Metaphysics 1072b-12-21), Aristotle tries to grasp what this life of God and in God is.  God is the sovereign thought that thinks on itself, for in God "the intelligence and the intelligible are the same."  And Aristotle adds that God always has the immense joy of contemplation - the joy that we possess only for a few fleeting moments.

       We say therefore that God is a living being, eternal most [the supreme] good, so that life and duration continuous and eternal belong to God; for this is God.  (Metaphysics 1072b26-30).

       Finally, Aristotle asks himself in what way the universe contains the good, the sovereign good:

       ... whether as something separate and by itself, or as the order of the parts.  Probably in both ways, as an army does; for its good is found both in its order and in its leader, and more in the latter; for he does not depend on the order but it depends on him.  And all things are ordered together somehow, but not all alike - both fishes and fowls and plants; and the world is not such that one thing has nothing to do with another, but they are connected.  For all are ordered together to one end. (Metaphysics 1075all-18).

       Obviously, the wise the philosopher becomes, the more this capacity to philosophize and contemplate takes root in him, the more this activity of looking at God, in and through visible things and their movement, becomes a source of joy.  It becomes the happiest, most blessed, most joyous activity and the source of  immense - I dare even say ecstatic  - pleasure.  This activity is not then intellectual investigation, a laborious labor, but leisure.  It is as if the intelligence has finally attained its principal object.  It rests in this object.  Of course the word "leisure" does not mean here what we commonly use it to mean, the opposite of serious activity.  It is the perfection of intellectual activity, which pauses and marvels in the greatest and finest of its objects:  God.  Thus the wise man extricates himself from the law of becoming and movement, from that of stress and political activity, to attain the eternal: the prime, unmoved mover.  Through contemplation, he takes his place, for a brief moment, outside of time.

Source: Excerpts from the Book on Made for Happiness, Discovering the Meaning of Life with Aristotle by Jean Vanier.

Jean Vanier is the son of a former Governor General of Canada, George Vanier.  Vanier wrote his doctoral thesis on Aristotle and taught philosophy at the University of Toronto.  In 1997, he received the Paul VI Prize for his work on behalf of human development and progress.  Jean Vanier lives in France. 

17 December, 2011

Listening to Your Inner Voice

       Over a century ago, Ralph Waldo Emerson stated,        The key to tapping the inner voice lies in becoming quiet, stilling the mind, and allowing intuition to bubble up into your awareness.
"There is guidance for each of us, and by lowly listening we shall hear the right words." 

       You can achieve this stillness through any process that relaxes you and slows down your thoughts - meditation, visualization, long walks, exercise, driving on a country road, and so on.  In the midst of this silence, your intuition will speak to you in any number of ways -- through words, a bodily, a gut feeling, a picture, or just a general sense about things.  Be open to the way that is right for you.  Trust your own response.  In time and with practice, it will become clearer and easier to recognize.

       Like all great spiritual truths, the idea of listening to yourself is simply in theory, but difficult in practice.  This is because the higher voice is not only voice seeking your attention.  We have inside us a false voice, also known as the voice of the ego.  While the inner voice gives expression to who we really are, the false voice focuses on who we think we should be.  The inner voice supports our essential nature; the false voice denies it.

       Each of these voices is accompanied by a number of clear signs.  By recognizing these signs, we can learn to discern between the two. 

       The primary experience that emerges from listening to your inner voice is the presence of inner peace.  This is the "peace of God, which passeth all understanding," an inner tranquility that emerges from a place deep in the soul.  From this refuge, you can literally rise above any turmoil or chaos that surrounds you in the outer world.

       The second sign that accompanies the inner voice is that of joy.  The path of the spirit and the path of the heart are one and the same.  When you go through life with an open heart, you are truly blessed.  This is why mythologist Joseph Campbel advised his students, "Follow your bliss."

       Following the inner voice also bring abundant energy and vitality.  Have you ever wondered why certain people seem so enthusiastic and alive?  Aligning ourselves with our Higher Power allows the life force to flow through us more easily.

       Finally, you will be supported by invisible hands.  There is no doubt about this.  When you follow your heart's desire, life will support you.  When you do your share, God will do His.  When you reach out for what you want, the universe will reach back and meet you half way.  Take a moment to review your life or the lives of your friends.  You will find examples of how the universe assists us when we are being faithful to the calling of the inner voice.

Signs of the False Voice

       Just as the universe provides clues when we follow the inner voice, it also lets us know when we follow the false voice.  Following the false voice brings anxiety instead of peace, burden instead of joy, judgement instead of love, confusion instead of clarity, blocks instead of flow.

       One of the key ways to recognize the voice of the ego is through the presence of fear.  Going against family tradition, David dropped out of law school to pursue his passion for music.  Initially, he felt a surge of joy and excitement as his authentic self came to the surface.  Then suddenly a series of doubt flooded his awareness - "What if I fail?"  "How will I get the money?" "What will people say"  This was the voice of FEAR speaking - fear of failure, fear of poverty, and fear of criticism.

       Or perhaps you have just had an argument with your mate. You go within and still small voice says, "Take the first step towards reconciliation."  You feel a deep peace about this when suddenly the false voice pipes in, "It's too risky.  What if I am rejected?  I'm going to wait for the other person to reach out first."

       Moreover, while the inner voice is committed to the truth, the false voice preaches dishonesty.  Let's say that a bank has mistakenly credited you with a large sum of money.  The ego says. "I don't have to report the error.  They don't need the income as much as I do.  I think I will keep my mouth shut."  These fearful words express a belief in scarcity - for me to have more, others must have less.  The voice of love, on the other hand, lives in a consciousness of abundance.  It says, "I gladly share what I have, for I know that there is enough to provide for all."

       These voices can be further discerned by paying attention to the sensations in your body.  For example, you might be trying to decide between two job opportunities.  Become quiet and visualize each situation in your mind's eye.  Pretend that you have begun working in each location, and then focus on your body's cues.

       In seeing yourself in the first job, you may notice a heaviness or depression in the chest, rapid breathing, churning  in the stomach, or some other sensation of discomfort.  The presence of these sensations is telling you that something is amiss.

       In contemplating the second job, you may experience a warm sensation in the chest or stomach, a lightness in the heart, a feeling of enthusiasm, or a peace and tranquility.  This is your spirit's way of telling you that the second job is better choice.

       Try experimenting with these cues until you find the ones that work for you.  Over time, you will become skilled at discerning between the two voices and will choose the inner voice as the one to guide you.

Getting Off Track and How to Get Back On

       What happens when we choose to follow the false voice?  Consider the story of an elementary school teacher named Joan.  At the  beginning of the school year, she was offered a new teaching position.  Although she was happy in her current classroom, the new job offered more money, responsibility, and prestige.  "May be I should take it," she thought.

      Immediately after accepting the position, Joan had a dream in which she was just barely holding onto the top ledge of a thirty-five-story skyscraper.  As the week unfolded, her anxiety increased until she decided to become still, go inside, and ask for guidance.  The inner voice responded loudly and clearly, telling her that she was not ready for the new job and needed to remain in her present position.

       The next day, Joan nervously called her principal, fearing that she would be reprimanded for reneging on her contract.  But her guidance did not let her down.  The principal was understanding and said she would hire a different teacher.  As Joan hung up he phone, a week's worth of tension dissolved from her body; she experienced a deep inner peace.  Spirit was speaking.

       This story illustrates a number of important principles.  First, by listening to the voice of "should", Joan succumbed to the false voice.  In almost all instances, the "should" voice represents a parental or societal message about obligation and duty.  The inner voice, on the other hand, pursues a path for its own sake, for its own joy.

       Second, Joan was able to turn her situation around because she used her pain as feedback to obtain a greater understanding of her situation.  If she had denied or repressed her distress, it would have returned at a later point, perhaps as a physical illness.  Ignoring the pain only creates more pain and leaves the original problem unsolved.

       Third, Joan did not make the "wrong" decision.  When we view every action as increasing our self-knowledge, there are no failures, only learning experiences.  No matter what choice we make, we can grow through it if we remain open to the teaching that is presented.

Keys to Supporting the Inner Voice

       At each moment in time, we are asked to make a choice - a choice between following he inner voice of truth or false voice of separation.  Here are some qualities that will help you to remain faithful to the highest that is within you:

1.  Courage - the ability to feel yours fears and move forward inspite of them.

2.  Patience - the capacity to wait for your good and give yourself praise and acknowledgement, even when it is not coming from the world.

3Commitment - the willingness to do whatever it takes to pursue your vision, including the making of necessary sacrifices.

4.  Faith - the willingness to trust in an invisible means of support.  At times you may be called to leave a known situation (a job, home, relationship, and so on) for the unknown.  Your guidance may go against logic and reason.  this is when you need the faith to trust in the process.

       But here is the paradox.  Those things we think of as secure exit in the world of form and are therefore subject to change.  On the other hand, the one thing we think of as insubstantial, the world of spirit, is really the only secure place we have to stand.  It is your connection to your spiritual nature, to your Higher Power, to God-in-you, that constitutes your real security, your ultimate grounding.

       To summarize, in listening to your inner voice, you -

       1.  First ask for inner guidance.

       2.  Then, get quiet and listen.

       3.  Finally, act upon what you hear.

       Step out in faith, and give life the opportunity to support you.  If you keep your focus on that benevolent Higher Power, not only will you be guided, but also your life will unfold more beautifully than you ever could have imagined.  The universe will open doors for you that you did not even know existed!  When Joseph Campbel left a prestigious university to pursue his passion for mythology, he had no idea that nearly sixty years later he would be sharing that passion with millions of people on television.  But he trusted his intuition, took it a day at a time, and his life unfolded in perfect Divine Order.  The same can be true for you when you listen to and follow your inner voice.

Source: Excerpts from the book on Listening to your Inner Voice: Discover the Truth Within You and Let It Guide Your Way by Douglas Bloch.

About the Author Douglas Bloch:

Douglas Bloch, M.A., is an author, teacher and counselor who writes and speaks on the topics of psychology, healing and spirituality.  "Listening to Your Inner Voice" grew out of quest to have his life directed by the Higher Power within.  He is also the author of many inspirational books.  A former radio talks show host and popular public speaker, Douglas has given hundreds of lectures and workshops to businesses, schools, church groups, recovery centers and national psychology conferences.  He has also appeared on radio and television shows across the country.  Douglas makes his home in Portland, Oregon, with his partner Joan.

07 December, 2011

The vision of God

       In our tradition, Isvara aradhana or Isvara-puja (worship of God) is considered a nityakarma, meaning a compulsory duty.  It is one of the five daily compulsory duties prescribed by sastra or the scripturesIsvara-puja is compulsory because it is an exercise, daily exercise in which we invoke our relationship with the Lord. 

       As we go through life, we foster numerous relationships, including relationships with our family members, relatives, neighbours, colleagues, etc.  Every relationship is important and necessary.  Our scriptures however consider one relationship to be primary and fundamental  - the most important of all relationships and that is our relationship with God.  Why is this so?  Our relationship with Isvara is a continuous one, a permanent relationship.  It spans from janma to janma to janma.  For, Isvara is the creator and we are the created.  So there is a karana-karya (cause-effect) relationship.  All other relationships are ephemeral.  Since people are mortal we can never hope to have a permanent relationship with individuals.  These individuals are compared to logs of wood that come together for a brief period while floating down the river or to passengers in a  train who interact for a short period of time before going their respective ways.  By its very nature, a temporary relationship can only give temporary benefit.  If we want permanent benefit, we need a permanent relationship.  Hence, our scriptures advise us to keep our relationship with God alive and well nourished.

       We maintain temporary relationships by performing some action or other.  We wish our family members on their birthdays, visit friends, take part in community activities and so on.  We spend a lot of time and effort to develop and maintain these relationships.  Should we not spend a little time everyday nourishing and nurturing our permanent relationship with the Lord?  We invoke and sustain this relationship by doing puja to Isvara.

       Here we face a problem.  How can we worship God who is formless and all-pervasive?  God is not an tangible object available for worship.  As if to address our predicament, sastra or scriptures comes to our rescue.  For the sake of puja, scriptures attribute a form to God.  Sastra says, "The description of the Lord with attributes is given out of consideration for those who are incapable of comprehending the attributeless God."  Thus, a form is given to the formless god.  This is the uniqueness of the Vedic religion. 

       Since the human mind seeks variety and since tastes differ, sastra prescribes numerous forms offering a wide choice to choose from: Siva, Visnu, Devi, Rama, Krsna, man and woman combined (Ardhanarisvara), man and animal combined (Ganesa, Narasimha), animal (Hanuman).  We can choose a picture or idol to represent the form which is useful; not only for puja but also for upasana or meditation.

       Can any other benefit to be gained by Isvara-puja and  Isvara-upasana?  These activities infact represent the first step in the spiritual path.  Regular and consistent Isvara-puja and upasana give chitta-suddhi (a pure mind) and citta-ekagrata (a one pointed or focused mind).

       The next step, after having attained a pure and focused mind, is Vedanta-vicara, meaning a systematic study of the scriptures.  A bare minimum of the study of Bhgavad-gita because it is condensed form of the entire sastra.  A dhyana-sloka (invocatory verse no. 4) of the Bhagavad-gita says that, 'If all the Upanishads are the cows, the milk is the supreme nectar of the Gita.'  In his hymn 'Bhaja Govindam' (verse 21) Sankara advises every householder, 'Let a man read from the Gita'.

       When we study the seventh or eleventh chapters of the Bhgavad-gita, we discover a very very important teaching that every spiritual aspirant should understand.  In verse 7.6, Krisna says, 'Know that these two (Consciousness and matter) are the wombs of all beings.  I am the origin and dissolution of the entire universe.'  Bhagvan is jagat-karanam, meaning cause of the creationIsvara becomes the panchabhutas (the five elements viz., space, air, fire, water and earth, which are the basic building blocks of the universe.)  and the (panchabhautikams) the products formed by the mixture of the five elements.

       Thus Isvara (God) alone in the form of Consciousness and matter has evolved into this wonderful creation.  The world that we see and experience is nothing but a manifestation of God.  In verse 7.8 - 9, Krishna says, "I am the sapidity in water, O son of Kunti, I am the radiance in the moon and sun, I am the syllable 'Om' in all the Vedas, sound in ether (space) and manliness in man.  I am the sweet fragrance in earth and the brilliance in fie; I am the life in all beings and the austerity in ascetics.' 

       World darsanam (the vision of the world) is Isvara-darsanam (the vision of God).  When we see the sky, it is not a akasa-darsanam but Isvara-darsanam.  When we enjoy the breeze blowing against us, it is Isvara-darsanam and when we see fire, even if it be the kitchen stove, it is Isvara.  And every interaction is Isvara-interaction.  When we drink water, it is Isvara.  When we pluck flowers, it is Isvara.  When we breathe, it is Isvara-anugraha.  We interact with Isvara all the time.  By the study of scriptures our bhavana (attitude) changes and we have Isvara-darsanam not at one time but at all times, in and through all our interctions and experiences.  Thus, for a Vedic student, Isvara-darsanam (which Bhgavad-gita calls visvarupa-isvara-drsanam) is not a momentary event but a moment to moment business.  Sastra says, "O Mother Earth, who has the ocean for your dress and the mountains as the breasts, I salute you!  May you forgive me for steeping on you."

       When we appreciate Isvara as the very universe, we recognize that every experience that we go through - pleasure or pain - is given to us by Isvara.  Consequently, there is a transformation in our lives.  We have no raga-dvesa (likes and dislikes) towards any part of the creation.  When this attitude develops, spiritual progress becomes faster.  We drop negative traits mentioned in the scriptures (anger, greed, etc.) and develop the positive attributes like compassion and generosity.

       Chapter eleven of the Bhgavad-gita portrays God as having thousands of heads, arms, feet etc.  This does not mean that Bhagavan (Lord) has a human form with thousands of arms hanging from the shoulder joints.  The idea is that the arms, feet, etc., of all living beings belong to GodThis is the vision of God we should strive for

       Rudram says, "Look at the tree as Siva, the leaf as Siva, the flower as Siva, the root as Siva."  In fact, the entire Rudram is visvarupa-varanam - description of Isvara.  Whatever we see is Bhagavan, I, the seer am also Bhagavan - aham Brahmasmi' - I am Brahman (God).  This is the ultimate, the culmination of our spiritual quest.  Thus the spiritual path, prescribed by the scriptures is as follows:  Isvara-puja (worship of God) and Isvara-upasana peforming rituals for God), citta-suddhi (purification of mind) and cita-ekagrata, Vedanta-vicara (spiritual enquiry), Isvara-darssanam (vision of God), Isvara-aikiyam (oneness).

       One serious obstacle in the spiritual path, however, is a particular misunderstanding of Isvara-puja (worship of God).  Many people think that if we do Isvara-puja regularly, sincerely and diligently, God would appear before us in person.  If we do Siva-puja, one day Lord Siva would appear in front of us with a blue neck, matted locks and so on.  Believing so, Rama worshippers seek Rama as a person, Krishna devotees look for Krishna as a human being.  This is a misconception because the scriptures do not highlight the vision of God as a 'person'.  Seeing our favourite God in person is not considered a big event in our scriptures, it is not given any value and is not a goal of life. 

       Anything finite and limited cannot be the ultimate and cannot be the goal of a spiritual seeker.  Kena Upanisad (1.5) says, 'Know that alone to be Brahman which cannot be described by speech and by which speech becomes a vehicle of expression.  It (Brahman) is not the limited deity that people worship.' 

       Mandukya-karika (3.1) says that whoever looks upon a personal God (i.e. God as a person) as the ultimate goal is an unfortunate person.  A personal God is required for Isvara-puja.  But the purpose of Isvara-puja is not to attain the vision of one's personal God, but, as stated earlier, to maintain our relationship with God and to gain citta-suddi (purification of mind) and citta-ekagrata.

       Thus we do Isvara-puja, we should keep in mind the God is not a person, but the cosmos itself.  Can we remember so?  We need only to reflect upon the Dhyana-slokas (Meditation verses) that we chant every-day.  A Dhyana-sloka of Visnusahasranama says, "Lord Visnu's feet are the Earth, His navel is the space, His breath (Prana) is the air, eyes are the sun and moonEars are the directions, His head is the heaven, fire is the mouth, lower abdomen is the ocean.  Within Him obtains the universe consisting of gods, human beings, birds, cows, serpents, Gandharvas, asuras who dance about in wonder."  A Dhyana-sloka of Rudram says, "The dome of space is Siva - lingam.  The earth is the base (of the lingam), the clouds are the water pot, the stars are the flower garland.  Clusters of planets are loose flowers.  The moon, the fire and the sun are the eyes.  The seven oceans are the belly.  The Himalayas (the Meru Mountain), is the bed, the seven lower worlds are the feet.  The Veda (scriptures) with six limbs is the mouth.  The face is turned in all the ten directions, I salute this divine lingam."

       May the Isvara-puja that we do on Sivaratri especially remind us that everything is Bhagavan (Lord).

Source: From the Talk delivered by Swami Paramarthananda on Sivaratri, March 8, 2005. 

04 December, 2011

Validity of Vedas

In our tradition we give a lot of importance to knowledge (jnanam), be it material knowledge or spiritual knowledge. Knowledge is revered as Goddess Sarasvati Herself. This importance is given because our entire lifestyle and the course of all our actions are governed by knowledge. We can study or analyse any of our activities and we will find that it involves three stages.

1. Jnanam (I know something)

2. Iccha (I desire something)

3. Kriya (I work for something)

The three are intimately connected. We can ever work for something for which we have no desire. And we can never desire for something we do not know. Thus every action is backed by desire and every desire is in turn backed by knowledge. Jnanam, iccha and kriya are the warp and weft of human life. That is why we worship these three factors as the three powers (saktis): janana-sakthi, iccha-sakti and kriya-sakti.

Since knowledge (jnanam) plays a very important role in every one of our activities - secular, religious or spiritual - it is given great importance and occupies a high status. A question arises: How can we gain the relevant knowledge? This issue arises because jnanam does not happen by itself? We are all born ignorant. Knowledge is acquired over a course of time.

We acquire knowledge through sources of knowledge called pramanam. Thus every knowledge pre-supposes a pramanam. Since knowledge commands a high status, it follows that pramanam must also have the same status since knowledge comes from pramanam, the source.

In our tradition, pramanam is given a great importance. When we include the role of pramanam, the three-stage process mentioned above becomes four steps: pramanam, jnanam, iccha, kriya. Thus pramanam produces knowledge which gives rise to iccha, iccha leads to kriya. And it is kriya or karma alone that determines our future; immediate future, distant future and even future birth and births. Although our tradition gives great importance to sources (pramanam): we have not understood its importance. In ancient times, books were written analysing pramanam - the nature of source of knowledge (pramanam), the field in which it functions, the validity of the knowledge gained through that pramanam, etc.,

Traditionally, pramanams are broadly classified into two types:

1. Primary source of knowledge.

2. Secondary source of knowledge.

All sense organs come under the category of primary source of knowledge and are generally known as pratyaksam (which literally means direct perception). Sense organs are considered primary sources of knowledge because each sense organ has its own field of functioning which is exclusive - knowledge gained by using one sense organ cannot be acquired by other means including the use of other sense organs. The eyes function in the field of sight. We know the colours of objects through the eyes and this knowledge cannot be obtained by using the ears or nose. We can identify sounds only through the ears, smell only through the nose, etc. Every primary source of knowledge has a unique fields in which it function. It gives a knowledge which is independent and which cannot be verified by other sources of knowledge. The colour revealed by the eye cannot be confirmed or contradicted by the ear. Thus knowledge gained though a primary source is unique, independent and unverifiable. Therefore, it is final knowledge. And it is considered prabala meaning strong. We accept such knowledge as a fact not requiring confirmation or corroboration.

A secondary source of knowledge depends on a primary source of knowledge. The knowledge is not gained directly. Anumanam or inference is a secondary source of knowledge. The example that is usually given to understand anumanam is fire and smoke. We infer fire through smoke. We see smoke and conclude or infer that there is fire. Even though we have not seen the fire, it is considered knowledge.

Since inference is not an independent source of knowledge, it can be verified. We can go to the source of the smoke and see for ourselves. And we may very well find that there is no fire at all. Thus inference is subject to confirmation or refutation by a primary source of knowledge. Secondary sources of knowledge are dependent, verifiable and yield knowledge that is not final - they are called durbala or weak.

Before using a pramanam to acquire knowledge, we must analyse the sources (pramanam) - is it a primary source or secondary source of knowledge? Is it prabala or durbala? That will decide our approach to knowledge, desire, action. Our tradition gives great importance to the analysis of the status of a source of knowledge. This is unique to our tradition and we do not find this approach any where else in the world.

Is a book a primary or secondary source of knowledge? Consider a book on Kailas-Manasarovar. We gain knowledge reading the book - description of various places, climate, hardships involved in visiting these places and so on. The knowledge gained is oly secondary since it is subject to verification. We can visit Kailas-Manasarovar and learn for ourselves. A book is a non-final source of knowledge; it is durbala or weak. For the author of the book, however, it is primary knowledge.

Before we begin our study of Veda or scripture, we must have a clear understanding of whether Veda is a primary source of knowledge or a secondary source of knowledge. Here we find differences between various schools of thought - called darsanamam - all of whom have analysed Veda.

Indian philosophy and teaching is classified into twelve categories:

Sankya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisesika, Purva-mimamsa, Uttara-mimamsa (or Vedana), four types of Buddhism, Jainism and Carvaka. The later six (Budhism, Jainism and Carvaka) have rejected Veda outright and claim Veda is not a source (pramanam) at all; Veda is not a source of knowledge. We call these schools nastika darsanams. The former six (Sankya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisesika, Purva-mimamsa and Uttara-mimamsa) accept Veda as a source of knowledge and are called asthika-darsanamams. Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya and Vaisesika accept Veda as primary source of knowledge having secondary status while Purva-mimamsa and Uttara-mimasa consider Veda as primary source of knowledge and accord Veda primary status. If Veda is primary source of knowledge, it is comparable to a book on Kailas-Manasarovar giving durbala-jananam or weak knowledge. If Veda is primary source of knowledge, it is comparable to pratyaksam (direct perception), the sense organs, giving prabala-jananam or primary knowledge. In such a case we look upon Veda as the sixth sense organ.

Veda can be broadly divided into two sections: karma-kanda and jnana-kanda. Karma-kanda contains elaborate details on rituals (meant for our well-being) while jnana-kanda discusses the nature of Jivatma, nature of Paramatma and the relationship between the two (for our spiritual evolution). Our very study of Veda depends on our approach. Do we consider Veda as a primary or secondary source?  Many people consider Veda as a primary source of knowledge. To them the knowledge gained by studying Veda is non-final and subject to verification. So the teaching of Veda has to be proved or corroborated by some other pramanam (source of knowledge). Such people scientifically analyse the various aspects of a ritual to determine its validity. Thus karma-kanda requires scientific validation. In the spiritual field (jana-kanda) these people look for mystical validation. They wait for a mystical experience.

What should be our approach to Veda? all our acaryas (Gurus or Masters) says we will be committing a fundamental blunder if we consider Veda as a primary source of knowledge. The very nature of Veda is primary source of knowledge. Our acharyas emphasize: accept Veda as primary source of knowledge or be a nastika and reject Veda as a source itself; do not consider Veda as a primary source of knowledge. Once we look upon Veda as primary source of knowledge, we perform rituals without bothering about scientific validation. It is quite possible that science is in a position to validate a ritual or aspects of a ritual like fasting is good for health, homam will cleanse and purify the atmosphere, and so on. But that is only incidental to us, not the main purpose of doing the ritual. We perform rituals because Veda says we will get positive benefits called punyam. We also accept the teaching of jnana-kanda without waiting for mystical experiences - a flash that will come one day or the other.

While karma-kanda gives material benefits, jnana-kanda gives knowledge leading to liberation. It is quite possible that we accept Veda as a primary source of knowledge; we understand the teaching yet we do not feel like a liberated person at all. The fault lies not in the Veda, but in us. Vedas prescribes certain qualifications for its study called Sadhana-catustaya-sampatti, the four fold factors. Perhaps we lack that. We need to focus on acquiring those qualifications while continuing our study of Veda at the same time.

Sources: From the Talk delivered by Swamy Paramarthananda on Guru Purnima day on 21.07.2005.