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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Maha Bharata - Some Hidden Gems - 4 (Sanat-Sujatiyam)


                (Editor's note: Although this is out of sequence, I decided to bring this out now since I want to share this classic sooner than later)

Sanat-Sujatiyam is a little known masterpiece of philosophy which occupies Section 41 to 49 of Book 5 of Maha Bharatha. Immediately following Vidura’s discourse on moral and ethical aspects of worldly life, Dhrithrashtra asks Vidura about spiritual knowledge, knowledge about Brahman. Vidura says that he is not qualified to talk about that topic (this itself is a lesson in humility) and asks Sanat-Sujata to talk about that topic. This is one of the three great treatises within Maha Bharatha – the other two being, Bhagvad Gita and Vidura Nithi.

This discussion between Dhrithrashtra and Sanat-Sujata repeats several of the moral teachings covered in earlier episodes (such Vidura’s discourse). It also goes into the question of Death, Karma, rebirth, Truth, realization and emancipation (?moksha) and the nature of the most Original – the Supreme, also known as Brahman. In this piece I will summarize mainly the discourses on Brahman.

One major point I wish to emphasize is the use of three words by Sanat-Sujata to refer to the Supreme Consciousness, Promordial, also known as Brahman. The words used are Mahat Yashas, which means Great Glory. The words Yashsas has several ordinary meanings – lovely, agreeable, worthy, honorable. The Vedic meaning is Splendor or beauty. The other words used are tat, translated in English as That. Please note that the word is not he or she. One other word is Sanatana. The meaning of this word includes perpetual, constant, eternal, permanent, all seem to imply time. Other meanings are fixed, firm, settled – all refer to space.

The word bhagavan is also used in the beginning. The roots are bhaga  which means good fortune, wealth, power, splendor, excellence, love, virtue and omnipotence.  Vaan stands for one who has those qualities. In Vedic texts, bhagavan is defined as one who possesses six qualities: knowledge (gnana), strength (bala), lordship (aishwarya), potency (Shakti), virility (virya) and splendor (tejas)

This is important because if we use the word Supreme Consciousness, the question of the owner of the consciousness arises. That is the problem of translation, not of the concept as originally expressed in Sanskrit. Sanat-sujata explains clearly that this  Mahat Yashas, Tat, Sanatana is beyond words and descriptions because That is the cause of everything, That which is perpetual and fixed, as opposed to the worldly or universal time and space limited phenomena. To refer to space and time, we need a referent which is not bound by these two and on which these two depend. Just accept that exists, or must exist and go for it says Sanat- Sujata.

The word bhagavan however implies a source person, and not an IT. Bhagavan also is used synonymous with Ishwara and the gods of the Hindu pantheon.

In his first question on Death, Dhrithrashtra asks whether there is something called death or not. If there is no death, why do asuras and devas perform austerities to overcome death? Sanat-Sujata says that both are true – there is death and there is no death. Death is not like a tiger which swallows. No one even knows whether it has a form. But, some people imagine death in the form of Yama. Yama exists only in the realm of pitris (ancestors) where people fall in their cycle of birth and rebirth due to their own ignorance.

Ignorance is death; once you conquer ignorance, there is no death. But what is ignorance? Ignorance is not realizing the Brahman in one’s own self. When we follow human desires and passions, that lead to anger and to errors in our actions we enter the cycle of births followed by death. Those who do not get excited by their ambitions and desires understands their true self through self-knowledge. To those who have conquered their self, death does not pose any terror.

“Attached to external forms many practice rites and rituals for virtue’s sake and not for the development of the inner self. They need our respect but they are wasting their time. In order to attain wisdom, one need to pursue truth, uprighteousness, modesty, self-control, purity of mind, good conduct and knowledge of the Vedas”.

The next question is: Can one attain emancipation (moksha) through prayers and sacrifices and religious acts? Sanat-Sujata ‘s answer: “Yes, of course. But if one renounces desire (thereby attain true knowledge through an understanding that one’s true self is the Sanatana, That Supreme) emancipation is immediate. If he is unable to get rid of his desires, he can follow these other routes. But he will end up with life again due to accumulated karma”.

“If you say that the Unborn, Ancient One has entered into everything (He is in every one of us and everything), how is it so since He has no desires? What would He do this for and where is the need for His happiness since he is by definition embodiment of bliss?”

The answer given by Sanat-Sujata: “The Supreme and the individual self are different. Creatures emerge from the union of conditions from That which is beyond conditions and conditioning. They are not identical.”

The question: “Vedas say that the Supreme, That Sanatana, is this universe consisting of mobile and immobile things. Some say that there are four gods; some say three and two and some say only one. Some say Brahman is the only existent object and there is nothing with separate existence. Which one of them is the correct view?”

The answer: “There is but one Brahman, which is Truth itself. It is from the ignorance of not knowing that one, many gods are conceived. Therefore, they have deviated from the Truth and depending on their state and purpose perform sacrifices, meditate, do japa and offer prayer. But the one who has conquered desires and seeks Brahman through knowledge does not need them. There is no use obtaining knowledge about Brahman by reading and reciting Chhandas without seeking and realizing the subject matter of that knowledge. By mind alone one cannot acquire the knowledge of the self. The Vedas are comparable to the finger pointing to the moon. Look at the moon and not the fingers. (These words were used by Buddha also). Vedas only indicate highest attributes of the Supreme. But by the practice of yoga meditation one can realize that Supreme in oneself”.

There are passages similar to those in Buddhism which talks about the “suchness” of things. Things not as they appear to be, as they are perceived by us, but as they really are. 

Sanat-Sujata goes on to say that Brahman exists within ourselves and manifests Itself in one who casts off all desires and seeks a guru with whom he serves his period of brahmacharya. He defines the duties of a Brahmachari and my reading suggests that the process of acquiring the knowledge of the Supreme Brahman from a Guru is to be called brahmacharyam. The knowledge of the Supreme becomes manifest in one with pure intellect and who practices brahmacharyam.

The object of Brahmacharyam, namely the knowledge of Brahman comes with time. But one needs a Guru, his own intellect to understand and proper discussion and yoga practices.

Dhrithrashtra asks how Brahman who resides in one’s soul looks like. What is His true form?
Sanat-Sujata says: “ IT may appear in any color or form. But you cannot find anything like It anywhere in the universe. It is as thin as razor’s edge (this comparison comes in one of the Upanishads and Somerset Maugham who admired the Upaishands wrote a novel with that title) and as big as a mountain. It is the basis on which everything else depends. Everything springs from It and returns to It. It is free of all duality and all pervading. This Maha Yashas is pure knowledge. It is eternal and self-luminous”.

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