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Sunday, March 29, 2020

Positive Thoughts for Difficult Times - 1

These are difficult times. These are times of isolation and "loneliness". All of us have more free time. We spend that time being in touch with our family and friends using modern technology. That is great. We are also spending more time on the internet, which carries useful information together with whole lot of misinformation, false information, dangerous information and useless information. The news, e mails and phone calls tend to focus on how bad the situation is and how restricted life is etc., We should, of course, stay informed. But do have to dwell on negative news all day long, true as it may be? It is not good for mental health.

With that in mind, I plan to write blogs as often as I get inspired, definitely more often than my usual cycle of once a week. After all, I have more free time too. I hope to share positive messages, ennobling and spiritual thoughts, famous quotes and hopefully some humor. I plan to maintain the series on Asya Vamasya Sukta once a week and add others in between. And hope you will not consider it an imposition on your time and patience. Thank you.

Here is the first one. I think, it is Gov. Cuomo who suggested the idea of being “Socially distant; Spiritually connected”.  

Next, I received a newsletter from the Charter for Compassion in which I read an anecdote about Margaret Mead. Here it is:

Years ago, anthropologist Margaret Mead was asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture. The student expected Mead to talk about fishhooks or clay pots or grinding stones. 

But no, Mead said that the first sign of civilization in ancient culture was a femur (thighbone) that had been broken and then healed. Mead explained that in the animal kingdom if you break your leg, you die. You cannot run from danger, get to the river for a drink or hunt for food. You are meat for prowling beasts. No animal survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal. 

A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with the one who fell, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety and has tended the person through recovery. Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts, Mead said."

Finally, I gave a talk to the residents at Cokesbury Village, where I live, about deciding when to give up driving our own personal auto as we get older. During the preparation of the talk, I came across this joke at a couple of websites. It is about a senior citizen telling someone: “I must be a bad driver because the other day the GPS in my car said: “Stop in 300 yards and let me off ”. 

Friday, March 27, 2020

Asya Vamasya Sukta - 10

Mantra 23:              Before explaining hymn 23, a word about meter or chandas in Sanskrit poetry. The fact that several meters were existent at the time of Dirghatamas says that the language was already well-developed. It also appears to me (many scholars have pointed this out) that rishis who “heard” the Rg Veda used the meters of the hymns as metaphors for linking the mortal with the immortal, the world with the heavens. In several places they have talked about speech (vac) as divine (Saraswathi) and compared words to rays of the sun.

According to one source, there are 27 different types of meters, some of them with sub-types. The three most commonly used meters in the Vedas are gayatri, trishtup and jagati. Gayatri has 8 syllables in each of three “feet” (lines). Thrishtup has 11 syllables in each of four feet. Jagati has 12 syllables in each of four feet.

Now to Hymn 23. “Gayatra (the mortal) is supported on the gayatra (immortal); traishtupba (the mortal) is supported by traishtuba (the immortal) and jagati (the mortal) by jagati (the immortal). They who know this have won immortal life.”

This verse is very clear about linking the visible universe to the invisible support of the universe. What do those three meters stand for? Do they stand for bhu, bhuvah, svah (earth, heaven and antariksha or the intermediate); or matter, life and mind; or the three states of wakefulness, dream state and deep sleep state; or agni, vayu and apah (fire, air and water)?

Mantra 24: It is clearer now that Dirghatamas is talking about various meters of the hymns and how they are constructed . He is, therefore, talking about Vac (words or speech) as is seen in the final part of this hymn.

“ He measures the arka with gayatri mantra; measures the Sama with arka; and vak with traishtuba. He measures the vaka with vakas of two feet or four feet. And measures the seven meters (vani) with alphabets (akshara).”

Arka is said to be one section (or kind of recitation)of Sama Veda. There are elaborate explanations of the word vak as representing the five elements (pancha bhuta) and gayatri prana etc. I am not sure and I do not understand. Therefore, I stay with what seems to be easily evident reference to the Vedic meters. The seven meters, sapta vani mentioned probably stands for the seven most common  meters used in the Rg Veda. They are gayatri, ushni, anushtup, bruhati, pankti, trishtub and jagati.

Mantra 25: This hymn refers to gayatri and jagati meters, sama (refers to chanting, singing or Sama Veda) and rathatntara. I have read somewhere, (forgot the source) that rathantara refers to mantras that simulate sound during a chariot race.

The hymn says that he (the rishi) established flood or rain (varuna) above (sky or heaven) using Jagati meter and the sun (surya) in the rathantara saman. Gayatri with its three sticks is full of majesty and vigor.

This seems to refer to Varuna (flood above) and Surya. The three sticks of gayatri stands both for its three lines and also for probably Varuna (could be Indra), Surya (could be agni) and Indra.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction during the Corona Virus crisis

Dear friends,
I sent the following note to residents who attend Mindful Living sessions which I lead twice a month at the Cokesbury Village, a senior home where I live. The response was good. Therefore, I am sharing this with you. If you think it will be useful to others, please feel free to share.
Faced with bad news day after day and increasing restriction of activities, I was wondering how to keep a positive attitude. As if on request, I received a form-letter from Dr. Richard Davidson of the Center for Healthy Minds of the University of Wisconsin on this topic on what we can do during this corona virus pandemic. I liked his idea and therefore I added a few more items to his list and modified some to write this piece.

Dr. Davidson points out that “social distancing “ is actually an act of compassion, because its purpose is to prevent us from infecting others, in case we are infected but do not have symptoms. That made me reflect on several related practices we are taught in Mindful Living (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction or MBSR).

Instead of giving in to negative thoughts, fear and feeling helpless, we are taught to practice “Positive Psychology” techniques. You may be practicing these already. If not, here is a suggested list.

With all the noises around us in abeyance (no sports, no theatres) and nothing to do, we now have time to slow down and reflect. To be in the present moment.

Although I cannot visit people physically, this age of technology allows me “to visit with them” face-to-face. Let me use this technology to keep in touch with family and friends, particularly with those who live alone.

May be, I can read a book I have been wanting to but, have not. May be, I can listen to a new genre of music I have been wanting to explore.

May be, I can write a letter to someone I care about, realizing that in this age of Twitter we have forgotten how to write a letter.

I can take a walk in the local park.

May be, I can send a message of gratitude to all those in the medically related field who are risking their lives to take care of all of us.

May be, I can send a message of gratitude to all those in the grocery store, pharmacy, transportation and other essential services to keep the society running.

May be, this is the time to send a message of loving-kindness and compassion to all those all over the world who are suffering from this disease.

This is certainly the time to send a message of loving-kindness and compassion to families who have lost someone in this pandemic.

This is the time to pray for courage, strength and hope in the face of this crisis.

An invisible microbe has shown us how vulnerable and how interconnected we humans are. It has shown us that this small microbe is an “equal opportunity” attacker and can affect people of any age, any sex, any nationality and any faith tradition.

We are all in this together.

"May you be well; May you be safe; May you be free from suffering."

Friday, March 13, 2020

Asya Vamasya Sukta - 9

Mantra 19: This is addressed to Indra and Soma.

 “They say that things that are coming down are going up and vice versa. Indra and Soma, what you made are being born as if yoked to a single pole.”

“They” probably refers to the elders, the ancestors. Are the references to things going up and down refer to the cycles of time, or to the sun going up and down, or to lives appearing and disappearing? Since Indra is also called Aditya in some places and Soma is directly related to the moon, may be the rishi is referring to Indra and Soma as the father and mother and comparing them to steeds or oxen pulling a car. If so, the rishi is wondering about life on this earth (microcosm) and its counterpart in the other upper half (macrocosm). 

This interpretation will go well with the next well-known poem.

Mantra 20:  Three hymns starting with mantra 20 which refer to two birds sitting on the same tree, of which one is eating the fruits and the other is a mere witness, are famous. This metaphor is repeated in both Mundaka Upanishad (3:1:1) and Svetasvatara Upanishad (4:6). Several commentaries have been written about these  two birds by several scholars including Adi Sankara. The birds have been compared to the immortal and the mortal, paramatman and jivatman and to individual soul and transcendent Brahman. My preference is to imagine Rishi Dirghatamas living before philosophical elaborations. Therefore, comparing the birds to the immortal (contemplating) and the mortal (experiencing) makes sense to me.

Mantra 20 says: “Two birds bound by companionship take refuge on the same tree. One eats the fruits and the other does not eat, just looks on.”

Does the bird with fair wings refer to a person (human) with a body and a mind (two wings)? Is the tree the tree of life? Does the bird that eats stand for the individual living in this world bound by the needs of the body and the desires and therefore bound? And, if so, the other bird is the Universal Life Principle which is not bound by the needs and desires of this world and therefore free. One is the ego; the other is the Self. (You may wish to look at a video at )

Mantra 21: In this continuation, the rishi says: “ Where the fair-winged birds and the sages ceaselessly pray (in praise) for portion of the amritam (eternal), there are the mighty guardians of the Universe. He, the wise, has entered into me, of the immature mind.”

Now the rishi speaks of birds in  plural, possibly referring to the humans (the multiple coming out of the One) sitting on the tree of life. They are singing hymns of praise. And the One enters the many as mentioned in the final part of the hymn.

Mantra 22: The rishi says that "the birds living on this tree eating its fruit, roosting and raising a family do not realize that there are luscious sweet fruits at the top of the tree. He who does not know the Father does not get it."

It appears to me that the sage says that most of us live in this world like the bird who is eating the unripe fruits of this world mentioned in mantra 20, attached to worldly needs and cares and not realizing that it is possible to taste the amritam of immortality if only we reach out to the top.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Asya Vamasya Sukta - 8

Mantra 16: This is an intriguing and mystical hymn. It reads as follows: “They tell me that this is male although it is female. He who has eyes can see it. The blind ones do not understand (discern). The son who is a sage understands that he is the father of the father.”

The first sentence may indicate the rishi’s innocent question: How did the male and the female come from each other? May be this sentence is the root of later development of the idea of ardhanareeswara? Also, does the rishi suggest that having eyes to see is not adequate. You have to understand. Is that way he says: “He who has eyes can see it. The blind ones do not understand (discern).”

Does the second sentence mean that one’s progeny is the continuation of oneself and one’s progenitor? (Death of an individual is real. So is continuation of life in general ?)

Mantra 17:  Direct translation reads as follows: “Beneath the upper realm and above the lower realm, the cow has appeared with a calf tied to her foot. What is her destination? Towards which half is she going? Where did she deliver the calf? Not amidst this herd? “

Does the upper and lower realm indicate the immortal heavens and the mortal world of ours? What does the cow stand for and the calf? Does cow indicate the Primordial Principle and the calf indicate life? Is the poet asking how life and the multiplicity of life came about?

One interpreter suggests that the cow and the calf stand for the body and the mind and that cow stands for knowledge and the calves stand for thoughts. I am not so sure considering that the emphasis on consciousness was more developed in the Upanishadic period.

Mantra 17 also seems to be connected to the next hymn in these thoughts.

Mantra 18: This hymn asks: “Who knows the father of this calf between the upper realm and the lower realm?” and in the second line asks: “ which sage was able to declare the origin of this god-like mind by putting his thoughts into verse?”

Amazing thoughts again. My guess is that the rishi is asking about life, life in general, visualizing it to be a calf, because he is asking who the parents of this calf are. In other words: “How did this life (and lives) come about? How did the mind come about?”

This is supported by the second sentence where he is asking about the origin of the god-like mind. Given my bias, there can be no “mind” if there is no life. It is also interesting to note that in Atharva Veda, mind is said to be something and ALSO “not something”.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Asya Vamasya Sukya - 7

Mantra 13: This mantra says that all the worlds (bhuvanani) are supported by (on) this (revolving wheel) with five spokes. The second sentence says that its (the One which supports) although ancient and heavily laden never breaks down.

This seems again to refer to the Primordial Force imagined as a car or the Sun with one wheel representing one year (samvastara) with five seasons. The idea of five seasons was explained earlier. Not only Aitrya Brahmana, but also Satapata Brahmana refer to the aggregates of five. Since these two brahmanas are parts of the Vedas, may be we should consider that these categories composed of five items represent the five spokes of the wheel.

The aggregates of five may refer to : five yagnas, five seasons with 72 days each, cosmic patterns with svayambhu, Prajapati, sun, moon and earth, five animals used for sacrifice in Vedic days etc., I am not for including pancha kosha (five sheaths of annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vignanamaya and anandamaya) because this idea comes in Taittriya Upanishad which was probably compiled later in the Vedic period around 500 BCE. I am also not for including pancha buthas (pritvi, apa, agni, vayu and akasha) which is from the Samkhya philosophy with the first definitive text by Isvarakrishna coming around 300 BCE.

The wheel has been used to represent the sun, the rta or dharma in Indian Vedic art and sculpture.  

Mantra 14: “The wheel revolves without any decay drawn by 10 horses yoked to uttana. The sun’s eyes which are encompassed by rajas, move. All the worlds are supported on it (by him).”

We know what the wheel is.  Number 10 probably refers to 10 months with 36 days each (or 36 days plus 36 nights X 5 seasons). One interpreter says that 10 refers to 10 principles of Viraj and that Viraj is the first principle to emerge. (He quotes Gopatha Brahmana and lists the names of the 10 principles of Viraj as loka, deva, devagana, chandas, dik, rtu, stoma, veda, hotru and indriya. I have no idea what these mean, nor am I sure these ideas were known at the time of Dirghatamas).

But what is uttana? One interpreter says it is the car-pole. The other says it refers to a recumbent position. Or does it mean uttara meaning “above” and not uttana? A spelling error could have occurred over the centuries! Stretched out or recumbent seem the most common translation. So, it must refer to the sun (and indirectly Aditya or the Primordial) stretched out over the sky and the universe.  

What is rajas of the sun? Does it refer to Sun’s energy? Most likely so.

Mantra 15: “Of the seven who were born at the same time, the seventh is called ekajam (single born). Their desires are placed on their proper abodes. They are of various forms and move on a fixed substrate. (I am not sure of my understanding of the final sentence).”

 This hymn refers to seven who were born simultaneously (saakamjana).  One was a single born (ekaja) and the others were twins, and rishis born of devas.

Who are the seven born simultaneously of whom six are twins and one is single born? One reference is to rishis born of devas. There is this word dhamasha in the second sentence. The closest meaning of this word I can get to is something related to Agni.

If the seven refers to the seven rishis (sapta rishi), how do we interpret the 3 pairs? And the one left out? If we consider Agni as the one left out of sacrifices (as is known in Vedic writings), who are the other six, particularly as pairs? I have seen interpreters talking about agni with his flames as counterpart of/correspondence for the mind and its levels in different planes.

 If I imagine a mystic rishi who does not care for all kinds of philosophical speculations, my bias is that he was talking about the following three pairs: earth and sky (heaven); sun and moon and light and dark. The seventh one is Life itself. I can be as correct or as wrong as everyone else. But, why not, particularly since the rishi refers to male, female and progeny in the next hymn?

Monday, February 24, 2020

Addition to earlier posts on Asya Vamasya Sukta

During my continuing search for meaning of these Suktas I came across texts which may give clues to some of the numbered items in poem 3 of Asya Vamasya Sukta. I decided to post them now. The additions are in italicized letters.
The addition to Mantra 5 is just an intuition that hit me soon after my morning meditation today.

Manta 3: In this mantra, poet Dirghatamas imagines a chariot which he says has seven wheels and drawn by seven horses on which are seated seven sisters praising with words in which seven names are hidden.

Who are the seven sisters? Whom are they praising? It is possible that the seven sisters refer to some constellation or to the seven rivers on whose banks these ancestors lived in those day. Are these same as the seven matrikas (Divine Mothers) of later texts?  Worship of Divine Mothers seems to have originated in the Indus Valley civilization, before the Vedic period. But the earliest epigraphic reference is from the 5th century CE. Rg Veda mentions seven mothers; but this idea is developed more in the Puranas and Tantric texts. The names are: Mahesvari, Vaishnavi, Brahmani, Kaumari, Indrani, Yami and Varahi. They are supposed to represent anger (krodha), covetousness (lobha), pride (mada), illusion (moha), fault-finding (matsarya), tale-bearing (paisunya) and envy(asuya) respectively. Varaha Purana adds one more named Yogesvari (representing kama, desire).

It is also likely that these are the female counterparts of Vedic deities and puranic gods, as the names suggest. For example, Indra and Indrani, Yami and Yami, Brahma and Brahmani etc.,

What is the chariot with seven wheels (earlier it was one wheel) and seven horses? Rg Veda refers to sun’s rays in 7:66:15 and therefore it may refer to the rays of the sun or to seven days of the week. It may refer to seven colors of the rainbow. Indeed, there are references to the colors as kaala (violet), neela (indigo), dhumla (blue), harita (green), peeta (yellow) and soma(red). May be, they refer to the sapta rishis (sages) in the constellation.

Why seven wheels? Does the chariot refer to the human body with seven orifices?

Mantra 5: “I, who am young, simple and ignorant (paakah), with undiscerning mind ask thee (the sage, referred to in Mantra 4; please tell me) the whereabouts of those who are referred to as devas (deities). When the calf becomes grown, the sages spread seven threads to weave a web.”

I do not know what the last portion means. Does the poet say that when the student matures, the sage will show him the “threads that form the web of this universe”? But what are the seven threads? It could mean the five elements which they were aware of in those days plus two more. What were those two? Body and mind? Heaven (dyau) and earth (prithvi)?

Or, does it refer to 4 cardinal directions, up, down and Time which can easily correspond to the threads that form the Universe?