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Friday, September 25, 2020

Even deeper understanding of meditation

While preparing for a talk on evolution of concepts in the Vedic period, something struck me as odd. We have adequate historical evidences for what went on before the Vedic period in the Indus Valley civilization. But we have no artifacts, buildings or human and animal remains from the Vedic period. We only have words and fire sacrifices to reconstruct the era of the rishis.

Who are these rishis? Did rishis create the devas or is it the other way around? Their writing suggests that mind preceded sat, that something came out of asat which means nothing. It had desire to create something. A desire before there was a body and a mind to occupy the mind?

Then there was the consciousness as an aspect of the mind. Nothing in physical nature suggests the presence or a need for a mind. How did this mind come about? And, Consciousness needs nothing but itself! It knows and everything we know is possible because of it. As suggested in Kena Upanishad (1:6), “That which does not think with mind but through whose power the mind thinks”.

And what does the mind do? It is in the interphase between the external and internal worlds. Looking outward, it revolves in the famous Samsara. It is driven to or away from external objects out of desire, fear, and curiosity. It lives in the realm of objects of senses, sense organs, mind, intelligence, ego, awareness and rarely into the awareness of awareness itself.

To “look” outwards, it needs light. Light that shines and that illuminates things. (tameva bhantam anubhati sarvam, says the rishi)

To get to that awareness of awareness, the mind must look inwards. It has to work through distractions, ignorance, laziness and mental traps. It has to recognize the common mode that underlies wakeful state, dream state and the deep sleep state. In deep state, there is life and calmness. But one is not aware of life itself or of the awareness. One must reach a state underlying the other three states. Rishis call it the turya state. At that level, consciousness is aware and is aware of its awareness.

Just like light, consciousness illuminates and is itself illumination.

That is why rishis are always comparing light and knowledge. They move from seeing to knowing seamlessly with words and metaphors which are confusing to a casual reader. They also tell us that whatever is thought of or imagined by the mind gets accomplished. (Varaha Upanishad: मनसा चिऩता कार्याम़ मनसा ऐव सिध़यते).

All the meditation methods use one or other of these stages as a focus and teach how to go from one layer to the other. In the process they may ask us to use images such as a deva or a chakra or a sound or combinations. My concern is that many of us get stuck on the way, overinvolved with the steps. The teachers themselves are so carried away by their method, they let go of the mark. Everyone is looking at the finger pointing to the moon and not at the moon.

Looking outward, meditation asks us to see the ground of all that is, the unity in multiplicity, the Brahman. That is the order out of chaos.

Looking inward, meditation asks us to visualize the knower of all that is known at all levels of consciousness, the ultimate subject without object. We are asked to do so first with forms and sound and finally as formless. The rishi says “let go of that by which you are trying to let go”. (येन त़यजसि तत़ त़यज)


Saturday, September 19, 2020

Pancha Mantra of Jainism


In Silappadikaram, a Tamizh Classic, there is description of a Jain monk who accompanies the main characters (Kovalan and Kannagi) to the city of Madurai. He is said to have minimum possessions to take with him, namely a begging bowl, a peacock feather and one other item called aiyagai (ஐயகை). I looked up the last item and the great scholar who resurrected this classic, Sri Swaminatha Iyer says that the word aiyagai refers to the Pancha mantra of the Jains. In Tamizh, they are: அ,ஸி,ஆ,உ,ஸா. So I looked up the Pancha mantra and it is referred to in the Jain literature as The Namokar Mantra.

Here it is, the Namokar Mantra from JAINA, the website for the Federation of Jain Associations in North America. (

 Namo Arihantanam - I bow in reverence to Arihants

Namo Siddhanam - I bow in reverence to Siddhas

Namo Ayariyanam - I bow in reverence to Acharyas

Namo Uvajjhayanam - I bow in reverence to Upadhyayas

Namo Loye Savva Sahunam - I bow in reverence to all Sadhus 

Eso Panch Namoyaro - This five-fold salutation

Savva Pavappanasano - Destroys all sins

Mangalanam Cha Savvesim - And amongst all auspicious things 

This part is followed by a section on definitions of Arhat, Siddha, Acharya, Upadhyaya and Sadhu according to Jainism. At the end, there is a description of the five major vows of a sadhu or sadhvi, as follows:

“When householders become detached from the worldly aspects of life and get the desire for spiritual uplift (and not worldly uplift), they give up their worldly lives and become sadhus (monk) or sadhvis (nun). A male person is called sadhu, and a female person is called sadhvi. At the time of Deeksha, the sadhu or sadhvi voluntarily accepts to obey following five major vows for the rest of his/her life:

 1. Commitment of Total Ahimsa (non-violence)-not to commit any type of violence.

 2. Commitment of Total Satya (truth)-not to indulge in any type of lie or falsehood.

 3. Commitment of Total Asteya (non-stealing)-not to take anything unless it is given.

 4. Commitment of Total Brahmacharya (celibacy)-not to indulge in any sensual activities

 5. Commitment of Total Aparigraha (non-possessiveness)-not to acquire more than what is needed to maintain day to day life.”


Saturday, September 12, 2020

Manava Dharma Shastra and Manu Smriti


I am reading Manu Smriti now. As is my habit, I start with an authentic sutra by sutra translation in English or Tamizh and then go to the original in Sanskrit for significant passages. In Manu Smriti, there are so many significant passages.  

First, I find that Manu Smriti is probably one of many Dharma Smritis and probably is derived from an extinct Manava Dharma Shastra. I understand that the suggestions from the Shastras are condensed into sutras. Sutras get modified by metric and versification into Smriti. And, then a follower writes an explanation with elaboration and that is called Nibhandana.

Manu Smriti 2:10 says that shruti is Veda and smriti is shastra and these two should not be questioned on matters relating to dharma. (shrutis tu vedo vigneyo; shastram tu vai smrithih)

Next, I learn that  an injunction as sutra is followed by stanza in metric or chandas (such as anushtup) and then a supporting Vedic statement. Elaborative texts then explain the actual performance of the ritual and include mantras, which come from the Vedas (for example, the mantras for weddings).

The main injunction (dharma) for the wedding says: “ let mutual fidelity continue until death, this may be considered the highest law for husband and wife”. (Manu 9:101). The actual mantra for the wedding comes from Rg Veda 10:85; 36-47.

Topics included in Manu Smriti are: sacraments, householder’s duties, marriage, daily rites, laws regarding acceptable and forbidden food, impurities and purification, duties of hermits and ascetics, judicial procedures, recovery of debts, sales and ownership, sale and purchase, disputes regarding boundaries, theft, violence, adultery, gambling and betting. It is interesting that there is a section on other Doubtful Points of Law!

As a comparison, Talmud of the Jewish tradition is like the Dharma shastras in the subjects covered.

The final chapter (12) of Manu ends with some general comments. Sloka 12:119 is practically the same as many of the Upanishads. “The Self alone is the multitude of the gods, the universe rests on the Self” . Manu asks us to meditate on space as identical with the cavitation of the body, on the wind as identical with the organs of movements and touch, on light as the same as digestive organs, on water as the body fluids and on the earth as solid parts of the body etc.

Manu refers to the Supreme Purusha as male and says: “some call him Agni, others Manu, Prajapati, others as Indra, Prana and also as Brahman”. He concludes with “he who recognizes the Self through the Self in all created beings becomes equal-minded towards all and enters the highest state, Brahman”.  This is the same as sloka 6 of Isa Upanishad.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Liberation from what? And, what for?


 One point of view asks us to seek eternal happiness and immortality. Another view says that there is nothing called eternal bliss or non-death. It says: “just deal with this reality of impermanence by living this life well”. One other view says that this life with all its problems and miseries is not worth bothering about and asks us to renounce everything. Yet another view says that there must be an abstract primordial “something” out of which “all we see and experience” have come  and says: “just merge with it”.

Bhakti (Faith based) method suggests choosing a personal God whom you should love and dedicating your life serving that chosen God. It is possible to merge with that “God” say some. Others say that we can never hope to become one with God and that we will always be separate. The best we can hope for to be near Him and enjoy his nearness. Even to obtain that joy “you have to put in your effort” say some. “No, you do not have to do anything. Just surrender and He will take care of you” says another. Two subdivisions of the same sect have different ideas of what moksha is.

“Realize that Purusha is aloof, untouched by material things. Realize that your material body is not the real thing. It is all maya. Keep reflecting till the real reveals Itself” says another. “Karma” says one; “Samsara" says one; “maya” says one; “lila” says one.

Reach it by action says one; by devotion says another. One says that It is attainable through “yoga” and another says it is through “bhoga”.

“Only direct perception can show you what reality is” says one. Perception and inference say some. Perception, inference, and scriptures say another. Non-perception is also an evidence says one system. None of them will do; the only way to realize Reality is to experience It says the Vedas.

“Believe in me because I am the only way” say some.  All rivers lead to the same ocean says another.

This cosmos, this life and human consciousness are  all mysteries. They are for experiencing with humility. Why not keep reflecting? Why not keep asking and seeking with an open mind cleared of all cobwebs.

Because, liberation is ultimately liberation from all dogmas, from all attachments including attachment to dogmas, from all attachments to academic classifications of points of views and from personal blinders and prisms through which we observe the world.

Everything we see and experience is impermanent. Is that a sufficient reason to keep searching for a permanent thing? Why not accept the reality as is evident and live a life of loving-kindness and compassion? That way, if there is another world of permanent life, you will get there. If there is none, you had the satisfaction of living a noble life.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Desire and Fear


The vigrahas (wrongly called idol or icon in English) of all the Hindu pantheon of Gods will have one hand in abhaya hasta (do not be afraid) mode and the other in varada hasta (I will protect you) mode. It makes sense because two driving forces of life are desire and fear. Desire because of need to seek food and mate leading to exploration and fear needed to save oneself from becoming food and escape death.

The problem with desire is that it is often unreasonable, always asking for more and leads to attachment. The desire to save oneself and escape death leads to fear which may result in running away (physical escape) and to imagination (mental escape). That is why Buddha advised us to let go of everything including desires and fear. Upanishads went one step further and suggested that “we let go of that by which we are trying to let go”. (In Sanskrit, it is a beautiful command: yena tyajasi tat tyaja). This means letting go of the mind itself, which is not possible.

The best we can do is to control the mind. That is also a difficult task. That is where meditation comes in. We are also asked to let go of the attachments by looking at our emotions such as desires and fears, looking deeply to understand the source and the seeds of suffering. We are asked to observe our inner landscape without judgment and  as a witness. A witness is not part of the scene. A witness is an impartial observer from outside to report to the judge. She is not the judge.

Bhagavad Gita asks us to do the same thing in relations to our actions. Since we cannot help but act, Lord Krishna asks us to “act but let go of your attachments to the fruits of action”.   He did not recommend sitting idle. (ma tey sangostu akarmani)

Friday, August 21, 2020

Diversity and Inclusion


It is interesting that when you are thinking about some topic, your eyes and ears are primed to pay attention to so many articles and books on the subject. That is what happened to me about Diversity. The first lesson I learnt last week was that this topic is now referred to as Diversity and Inclusion – not just Diversity. This is a conceptually important point.

In his book on Ten Principles of Free Speech, T.G. Ash includes Diversity as a crucial element. He further explains that “we should be able to express ourselves openly and with robust civility about all kinds of human differences”.  During the past several decades, there has been vast movement of people across nations and continents for various reasons. We are told that almost half of the population of Toronto is foreign-born. In the city of London, three hundred different languages are spoken. It is predicted that by the year 2042 there will be no ethnic majority in the United States – only plurality. Ash points out that we are living in a “Cosmopolis” and we need to learn to live with differences.

We need more than tolerance to live with differences. We need acceptance of differences. Some differences are immutable such as sex and color and some which we are born into or choose, such as language, political belief, and religion. Both  sex and skin color have been vexing problems. That  should not be since they are immutable. We cannot do anything about them. We are told that a group of individuals in Brazil were asked to describe their skin color in their own words. There were 134 different descriptions. We know that all our organs underneath that skin look the same. So why this hang up?

To live in a civilized society, we need to emphasize uniformity of “hearts” and not identical skin color or eye color or belief systems. Can you imagine how dull this world will be if everyone looks the same, dresses the same, speaks the same language and eats the same kind of food? Besides, if everyone is alike, it does not require much effort to live in “peace”. It requires effort and maturity to enjoy the variety and live a life that is peaceful to oneself and to others.

In the book I referred to earlier on Free Speech, T G Ash suggested that “we express ourselves openly and with robust civility about all kinds of differences”. I suggest an addition to this statement: “we also concede freedom to others to be themselves with their immutable and mutable characteristics and express them with robust civility”.

Civility is not just acceptance to be politically correct. It is not just politeness and good manners. It is  deep acceptance capable of aligning one’s thoughts, manners, and actions. If not accepted deeply at the mental and spiritual level, the intolerance will show up sooner or later. It will also make it difficult to teach the younger generation what true acceptance is. They will see through our hypocrisy.

Ash defines civility as: “respect for the dignity and the desire for dignity of the other person”.

The need for full acceptance of diversity and the need for inclusion is upon us right now, in this 21st century “cosmopolis”.  We should be able to have open and civil conversation on this important topic and preserve the freedom of speech which is so essential for such conversation.



Sunday, August 16, 2020

Dealing with feelings and emotions


In Hinduism, we are taught to meditate to a point at which we become witness (sakshi) to our own thoughts. It is part of gnana marga to merge with the divine.  A witness is an observer and a reporter. He does not judge. At that level, the mind is the subject and, also an object of perception. The idea is to reach a point at which there is only the Subject.

Buddhism expanded on it and applied it to living in this world. Starting with Buddha himself, Buddhist monks developed methods to deal with human feelings, emotions and “mental formations”. They said “when feelings arise, just observe them without judgement . Do not fight them. Do not get carried away by them either”. That is being a witness to our thoughts, but with a different purpose.

Buddhist teachings advise us to acknowledge the feelings and emotions. Instead of fleeing from them, name them, experience them without judgment, and even embrace them. If you do so, you realize that “you are not afraid”, but “fear is in you”. You are able to see fear as apart from you. You are able to see that fear is not controlling you but that you are in control of fear by observing it, naming it and looking at it as a witness rather than as a participant.

Behavioral psychologists have started using this approach. In fact, I heard Mr. Tristan Harris say the same solution in dealing with social media which control our lives. He says: “Instead of saying I am a victim”, take the approach “I am being victimized”. That may or may not be true, but makes you think differently. Who is in control?

Guided meditation exercises which teach us how to deal with our emotions and feelings, accepting their presence without judgment will be helpful in dealing with emotions such as fear, anxiety, sadness etc. Living without fear, anxiety, anger is a bliss by itself.