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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Book 13, Anushasana Parva - Maha Bharatha series 88


Book 13 is Anushasana Parva and it starts with an interesting parable which Bhishma uses to answer Yudhistra’s question.  Yudhishtra’s laments on how wretched he feels for his mistakes. He feels remorse seeing Bhishma on his death-bed of arrows and dejected at the thought that he (Yudhistra) is responsible for this calamity and also for the death of so many of his family members.

Bhishma answers Yudhistra with a parable about a boy, a snake which bit him, the boy’s mother, a hunter, angel of death (Mrytyu) and Time (Kala).

A snake bites a boy and the boy dies. The mother is afflicted with grief. A hunter passing that way catches the snake, ties it and is ready to kill it. The mother says: “Let the snake go”. The hunter says that the snake should not go unpunished. The mother says: “What good will it do to my son? He cannot come back. Let the snake go”.

The snake says that he is not to be blamed because he was merely an instrument of Mrutyu, the agent of death.

The hunter says that “in that case both you and Mrutyu are responsible and you (the snake) was the immediate cause and both of you have to be punished”.

Mrutyu comes in defense of the snake, but says that neither of them are truly responsible because it is the angel of Time (Kala) that decides what happens to whom at what time. Kala comes and says that none of them are responsible because it was the boy’s Karma. The boy’s time had come to pay for his karma and others were only the intermediaries.

The boy’s mother accepts this as the correct attitude to take and does not want to punish the snake. She says that her son died because of his karma and she is also suffering because of her own karma. She also says something very important: “People who carry resentment and revenge in their hearts suffer. Therefore, forgive and release this snake out of compassion”. Modern psychologists will tell you how important forgiveness is for mental health. Buddha also said the same thing. So did Jesus and Mahatma Gandhi.

Bhishma uses this story to convince Yudhishtra that he (Yudhishtra) was not responsible for the death of his relatives and his Grand-father (Bhishma). He says: “All of us go to heaven or hell because of our own karma. Neither you nor Duryodhana were responsible for all this carnage. Time had come and everyone was paying for his or her Karma.”

Friday, August 24, 2018

Sulabha and Janaka - Completed


Sulabha continues: “Although you say you are emancipated, you are still attached to sleeping, eating, dressing and enjoyment. You are the king and yet you can live in only one palace, in only one room and in only one bed. Even that bed you have, you share with the queen. Now you know, how little a king’s share is of his kingdom. The same is true of food and clothes. You are attached to your duties of rewarding and punishing. You are always dependent on others. Even in sleep you cannot have too much freedom since you will have to answer urgent calls. People come to you to receive gifts. But you cannot give to everyone who deserves since you have to be responsible with the treasury. If you do not give, some go away with bad and hostile feelings. Even when there is no cause for fear, a king is always anxious even of those who wait on him. In fact a king is no different from ordinary folks who have also spouses and sons, money and friends and same kind of realities to face.”

A king is also not exempt from fears and grief. Indeed he has causes for more of them. He suffers from consequences of desire and fear like everyone. He is also afflicted by aches and diseases. He suffers from pleasures and pain. Sovereignty does not come with much happiness. How can one who has acquired sovereignty hope to win peace and tranquility? “You think this land and the army and the treasury are yours. In reality who owns them?  Do we really own anything in this world?”

“Things exist not solely by themselves. There are usually several items which make for a functional unit. They depend upon each other, similar to three sticks standing with each other’s support. How can you choose the best among them? When some important function is served by one of them at a particular situation, then that one may be regarded as more distinguished. Superiority is defined by the purpose and the efficacy.” This seems to be Sulabha’s answer to the arrogance of Janaka and the reference to Ksahtriya and Brahmana.

She continues: “ I have no real connection with even my own body. How can I be accused of having contact with the body of someone else? You cannot say that I have brought about mixture of castes (varnas). If you have no attachments, why are you still using the umbrella and scepter? I do not think you have learned the scriptures. You are still bound by the bonds of property and family, like any other person. If you are truly liberated what harm have I done by entering your mind with my intellect? I have not touched you physically. Besides, whether what I did was good or bad, I did it privately. I am staying in  you like a drop of water on a lotus leaf. Are you still attached to physical contact? Just as Purusha and Prakriti cannot truly intermingle, two emancipated creatures cannot make contact with each other. Only those who regard the soul to be identical with the body will erroneously consider intermingling possible. My body is different from yours. But my soul is not different from yours. I realize that my intellect is not staying in your soul although I have entered into it by yogic power.”.

“Think this way. I have a pot in my hand. There is milk in the pot. And, on the milk is a fly. Although the hand and the pot, pot and the milk and the milk and the fly exist together, they are different from each other.  The condition of each is dependent on itself and is not altered by something else with which there is a temporary association. Same way, varna ( you being a kshatriya) and the practices (holding a scepter or an ascetic’s stick) do not really attach to an emancipated person. How can  intermingling be possible.”

“All of this should have been discussed in private between the two of us. By publicly talking about in this court you made it public. Is that correct?”

“I am not superior to you in varna, because I am also a kshtriya by birth (Janaka assumed otherwise, just out of habit and not thinking).  My name is Sulabha. In the sacrifices performed by my ancestors, no suitable husband could be found for me. Having been instructed properly I wander over the earth practicing ascetism. I do not practice hypocrisy. I know the duties of different ashramas and I practice mine faithfully. I did not come here without thinking through. Having heard that you have great understanding of the “religion of emancipation” (Samkhya system) I came to learn more. I did not come to glorify myself or humiliate you. One who is truly emancipated will not indulge in intellectual disputation for the sake of victory”.

Now that our discussion is over I will follow the ways of the mendicant and stay just for this one night in your person, which is like an empty chamber to me. You have treated me with honor like you should any guest. I will leave in the morning”.

Now Bhishma ends with the following words: “having heard these well-chosen words full of meaning and based on reason, King Janaka said nothing in reply”.

This episode touches on the role of women in society in ancient days, the varnahsrama dharma, semantics and logic in reasoning, details of Samkhya philosophy and of moksha dharma. The only good scholarly discussion of this episode is in the reference* given below.

* Vanita, Ruth, "The Self Is Not Gendered: Sulabha's Debate with King Janaka" (2003). Liberal Studies Faculty Publications. Paper 1.  http://scholarworks.umt.edu/libstudies_pubs/1


Thursday, August 16, 2018

Sulabha and Janaka (Continued)


First, Bhishma introduces Sulabha’s response with the following words: “ Although rebuked by the king with harsh words, Sulabha was not perturbed. She replied with the following words which were more handsome than her person”.

Sulabha starts with the fundamentals of  proper speech. She says that “a speech should be free of nine verbal faults and nine faults of judgment. It should also possess 18 merits. What are they? It should not be ambiguous. Faults and merits of premise and conclusion should be ascertained. The relative strengths of those merits and faults should be defined. The conclusion must be stated clearly. The conclusion has to be arrived at by persuasive reasoning”. Classical logic was not defined better than this even by Aristotle and Gotama (of Nyaya Sastra)

 “There are several ways of interpreting words. Based on their merits and faults in context, one may have to make tentative meanings. Proper sequence of words in a sentence will have to be taken into account. The tentative meaning has to be related to the conclusion arrived at and also compared with the conclusion of others. Then there is the purpose”. That is Semantics.

“What I am about to say will be sensible, free from ambiguity, logical, free from tautology, agreeable, sweet, truthful, agreeable to virtue, wealth and pleasure and with specific objective. I shall not say anything prompted by desire or fear, deceit or shame or pride. For the meaning to come out clearly the speaker, the hearer and the words have to be agreeable and be congruent. If the speaker uses words whose meaning is known to only himself, they are of no use however good they are. So are words that elicit erroneous impression in the mind of the hearer. Hear now to what I say without those errors in speaking”.

“You asked who I am and where I come from. Just as dust and water exist when brought together, so do all creatures exist”. Sulabha means to say that everything in this world are made of the same five elements (pancha bhuta). It is the same consciousness (chit) which pervades the five great elements and all creatures. This implies that Janaka does not understand this basic fact by asking the questions he asked, since both he and she are made of the same substance and endowed with the same consciousness. To think they are different is not worthy of one who claims true knowledge.

Then Sulabha  describes the elements of Samkhya philosophy in detail. She lists the five sense organs, five senses of action and the mind first (total 11). The mind creates doubts. Then comes understanding (buddhi) to settle the doubts. Sattwa is the thirteenth element followed by ahamkara (not arrogance; but identification of self as opposed to the other). The fifteenth element is desire (kama) and then avidya (spiritual ignorance). Prakriti (maya, illusion) and vyakti (clarity) follow. The world of opposites (birth and death; gain and loss; likes and dislikes) come next. The all important Time (kaala) which determines births and death is the 20th principle. All these 20 elements exist together, says Sulabha.

She adds few more principles and points out that the “atheistic” Samkhya system considers that all these elements evolve out of Prakriti, whereas the Vaiseshika system of Kanada considers all these to come out of atoms. Whatever the interpretations, she says: “Myself, you the monarch and all others came out of that Prakriti. We first get formed as embryo called “kalala”, then into “budbuda” (bubble),and then reach the stage of “pesi”. Later still appear the limbs with nails and hair. Only when the child is born do we know the sex. Things keep moving and the body keeps changing as the baby goes through childhood and adult life into old age. Each part of the body of every creature changes every moment but are so minute that they cannot be noticed. Can one see the changes taking place in the flame of a burning lamp? When that which is called body is changing all the time how can you ask where I come from, to whom I belong?”

“You can see your body and can see your soul? (If you have truly attained knowledge as you claim), how come you do not see your body and your soul in the bodies and souls of others? If you do truly have reached a state when you see yourself in others and others in yourself, why do you ask who I am? If you have really conquered the idea of duality and gone past the stage of identifying things as mine and that of others, why do you ask who I belong to? You pretend to be emancipated and you are unworthy of it since you do not truly understand and practice higher knowledge.”  (to be continued)

Friday, August 10, 2018

Sulabha and Janaka - Maha Bharatha Series 87


In my eagerness to move past Book 12, I almost missed one of the most important dialogues in this book (section 321). Some would say it is one of the most important discussions in the entire Maha Bharata.

This is a remarkable dialogue between Sulabha an unmarried, female ascetic and Janaka (not the same as the Janaka of Ramayana), a philosopher-king and a ruler-saint who had broken all attachments and still performing his duties. Janaka was a male, a king (therefore must be a kshatriya) and a husband. He is considered to have attained liberation by pursuing Vedic teachings such as controlling the senses and desires and pursuing ultimate philosophical truth. Sulabha, on the other hand was a female, leading an ascetic life, defying all conventions by not marrying and thus not under “the guidance and protection” of a male. She was also pursuing philosophical truth although she was a kshatriya (not a brahmin).

It is amazing that very few commentators elaborate on this conversation. Some even pass her off as “a maverick and nothing more” although Sulabha is one of the very few women philosophers mentioned and documented  in the Vedic literature. Amazingly the only elaborate analysis of this dialogue is by an American academic scholar from the University of Montana. (May be, because of the influence of Dr. Diana Eck and Dr. Wendy Doniger. Both of them had lived in India and are great scholars in Sanskrit and Indian philosophy)*

As the story goes, Sulabha was an ascetic mendicant practicing yoga and was wandering all over the earth. She heard about the philosopher King Janaka, well versed in the Vedas and scriptures devoted to moksha and was practicing the religion of renunciation. This suggests that Sulabha represents the school of Patanjali Yoga and Janaka represents Samkhya yoga. She wanted to personally meet with Janaka. Using her yogic powers she took the “form” of a beautiful maiden AND of a mendicant and arrived at the presence of the king. The king was in his court with his ministers and several scholars, all obviously males.

The king was puzzled to see this young beautiful lady as a mendicant. So, he asked her: “Who are you? Who do you belong to? Where did you come from?” She said that she wanted to know why he was following the nivritti doctrine of moksha (emancipation). She doubted that he had indeed attained the state of emancipation he professed. Therefore, by her yogic powers, Sulabha entered the mind of Janaka. That hurt the pride of the monarch and he in turn entered the mind of Sulabha.

Now, something symbolic happens. Janaka loses his royal umbrella and the scepter and Sulabha loses her triple staff of a mendicant. The conversation starts taking place in the “gross” (stula) plane and not the mental plane, in the presence of the court where everyone can hear the conversation. This is an important point as you will see later.

Janaka asks: “Who are you? What is the nature of your business? Where did you come from? Where will you go after this visit?”. The implications, according to some scholars, are that the king doubts the sincerity of Sulabha. He thinks that a woman cannot be an ascetic and a mendicant and that she belongs to some man (as a virtuous woman has to, according to Manu dharma). He suspects that she is a spy from another king as he reveals it himself later in the discussion.

Janaka goes on to say (boast?) that he is free from all vanity as can be seen by his not having a scepter and umbrella. He says that he can reveal the secrets of moksha dharma to her like no one else can. He had learn it from Panchashika of the Parasara lineage. He says that Panchsika taught him the Samkhya system and several ways of attaining moksha without giving up his kingdom. Instead he was taught to be free of all attachments and to fix his atman on the supreme Brahman and not be moved by any other.

Janaka continues and says that renunciation is the highest means for moksha and that renunciation has to come from knowledge. Knowledge leads to effort and through effort one reaches a knowledge of the supreme self.  This in turn leads to a state that is beyond joy and sorrow. Nay, one transcends death itself. “I have acquired knowledge of self and transcend all pair of opposites. I have no attachment to objects of senses. I do not experience love for my wife; nor do I feel hatred towards an enemy. A lump of clay and bag of gold are same to me. Although I am ruling a kingdom I am free from attachment of any kind. Therefore, I am more distinguished than an ascetic”.

He then almost justifies his status by saying that the external marks do not indicate who is a truly liberated soul. One can carry an umbrella and scepter and be still a liberated soul, whereas someone carrying the three sticks of a mendicant be too attached to worldly desires. The insinuation is clear.He then starts accusing Sulabha of unworthy behavior.

Janaka says: “O rishika, I do like you. But your behavior does not match the life of an ascetic you have taken upon yourself. You are young and beautiful; yet you follow the niyama (control of senses). I doubt you can. (We can see the chauvinism in this remark. Women are not supposed to be capable of control of senses and therefore are loose!) Using your yogic power, you have “entered” me to ascertain for yourself whether I am truly emancipated.  By doing so you have shown a desire and therefore you are not fit to carry the triple stick of an ascetic. Besides how can you a brahmin woman enter a kshatriya? You have committed a sin of  mixture of varnas. (An assumption on the part of the king) I am a householder and you are an ascetic. That is another vile thing you have done. Besides we do not know each other’s gotra. Therefore, by entering my body you have produced another evil. If your husband is alive, you have added one more evil. Are you doing all this out of ignorance or out of perverted intelligence? Or, are you spying for a rival king?”

He adds even more: “You have shown your wickedness by trying to show your superiority over me with the use of your yogic powers. By asserting victory over me you are also trying to show you are superior to all those wise men in my court. Do not continue to touch me. Know that I am righteous. Now, tell me why you are here and what your motives are.”. There is one set of statements here which is intriguing. “The power of king is in their sovereignty. The power of Brahmins is in their knowledge of the Vedas. The power of women is in their beauty and youth”. 

Now it is time for Sulabha to respond. Boy, did she respond! You will see.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Brahman and Knowledge are One - Maha Bharatha series 86

Book 12 tested my patience. I had to plod through because I kept finding gems buried between repetitions and outmoded ideas. This is the final post from this book called Shanti Parva. There are six more books to cover.

 In one passage, Brahman says that for this universe and the world to exist four things are needed: Knowledge, Action, Cause and Effect. Brahman says that He is ALL FOUR. 
The Universe is made of matter(Prakriti and the Five elements, namely space, air, fire, water and earth) called Pancha Bhutas. We all know that Time (kaala) is another item needed for something to appear from something else. This was well-recognized in Maha Bharata and other ancient texts.
Our mind also asks “who did it?” and “why?”. Majority of the humanity will say “God” and then will fight to establish that “their god” is the real one. Leaving that apart, that “God” has to have a “desire” to do something. That becomes iccha shakti in the Vedic writings. He or It needs “Knowledge” and that becomes gnana Shakti and the action itself becomes kriya Shakti
And what is “knowledge”? One passage says that when the one and only Brahman dissolves the universe into Himself, He was “alone with knowledge as my only companion”. This is very profound because of my intuitive feeling that information is one of the most fundamentals of this universe. Just, replace the word “Knowledge” with the word “Information”. It becomes the sixth element. 
If we update this knowledge to our understanding of the universe in the 21st century, we should replace space, air, fire, water and earth with the following: matter, energy, space, time and information. 
As I have written in earlier blogs, to make anything we need matter (prakritit). For performing an action and to make something, we need energy (Shakti). To desire and to know what to make, we need knowledge and Information. As Seth Lloyd pointed out in his book on  Programming the Universe:"To do anything requires energy. To specify what is done requires information". 

Information is inherent in matter. This seems to be the modern equivalent of samavaya of Vaiseshika  philosophy.