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Saturday, March 30, 2019

What is Silence for?




What is the purpose of silence in meditation?

Silence means “absence of sound or noise”. It refers to external sound and one’s own speech. In fact, the most common word for silence in Sanskrit is Mauna which means not talking. In fact, all the other words in Sanskrit I looked up suggest absence of talk, speech or sound to define silence. Great. But, even when there is no external sound as on a mountain top on a still night, even when we our mouth is shut, the mind keeps up with its chatter. Since the mind thinks using language, there is talking, an “internal” noise.

We know that some rare individuals can totally stop the mind from thinking. Then what?  What about those who can still the mind from wandering and agitation and even can stop the internal chatter? They can feel the silence. Then what?

The Vedic system says that one should practice “not speaking” in between mantras. That is not silence.

Patanjali’s Yoga sastra says that one should get to the state of Samadhi at which the knower and the known are fully merged. One gets there through the earlier stages of focus (dharana) and intense concentration (Dhyana). In other words, the mind is active in the act of getting there, but focused.

At other places we learn that silence is to “receive the inner light” by emptying the mind of all thoughts.

Ramana asks us to keep asking “Who is the I?”. He says: “Track the I back to its roots”.  He does not say where it will lead to. He leaves it to us to find out for ourselves. The process of getting to the real “I” of Ramana  is not internal silence. It is “deep looking”.

Buddha talks about Nirvana. He asks us to look deeply to realize the impermanence and inter-connectedness of all things and absence of any isolated thing called self.

It is interesting to note that spiritual path emphasizes silence to relate to the mystery and religion emphasizes sound or word to relate to that same mystery. One leads to meditation and the other to prayer.

It appears that silence can help still the mind and focus, reduce distractions and look deeply into questions that really matter – such as “Who am I? and How did this world come about?”.

In other words, for most of us, silence is not really silence. Silence is a finger pointing to self-inquiry and not the end point. I do not see how sitting in silence doing nothing for 1 hour or 1 year can accomplish, if there is no questioning. Even to empty your mind and make it a receptacle for a “message” there has to be mental effort. Mind being what it is, it does its work with thoughts and words.

Internal silence is impossible for most of us. When we try to still the mind, we may end up sleeping or the mind will keep wandering. It will worry about the future, or rehash the past, or imagine the impossible. All spiritual traditions give us another option – focus the mind on some profound questions. That way, silence is the start for internal listening.

Self inquiry and inner listening are activities of an individual. But the questions to focus on should relate to the other lives, the world and the cosmos. In other words, the mind is tuned to the mysteries of vast space and time and not on “me”.

Space is immense. Time is eternal. I can imagine space to some extent. But, time? The remote past is unknowable. It will always be a mystery and ripe for speculation. Yet, I was part of it. Otherwise, how could I exist now? The future is also not fully knowable except for the certainty of death. Death is more assured than birth! What an irony! Thinking about death is meaningless and unproductive. It only leads to fear, imaginative worlds and ritualistic actions to get there.

Calming the mind in silence, we can focus on the mystery of the common origin of everything we see and experience. We can be thankful for the present human life which endowed us with a mind which can ask these profound questions and feel humble about our inability to answer them. We can experience the beauty of the present moment. We can think about and if we can, experience our connections with everything in this universe and inter-dependence. If nothing, this will help us lead a dharmic life. If we are one of the lucky few, we may even reach a state indicated by great souls like Buddha and Ramana in which we can experience the oneness of the knower and the known. In other words, reflections during silence on the mysteries of the past and the gifts of this life with consciousness are more ennobling than acting out of our fear of death and hope for an after-life.

It is the journey that is important. The end is not in our hands. What we find and experience in silence is the essence. But our mind must be open to whatever presents itself and clear enough to grasp. It is the Samadhi of the Yoga, the Nirvana of Buddha and the “vision quest” of the Native Americans.

I wish to close this essay with a note on the importance of silence in the Native American culture.  In his book on The Soul of the Indian, Charles Alexander Eastman whose original name was Ohayesa, writes that his Native American (Indian) culture believes profoundly in silence. It is a sign of perfect equilibrium between body, mind and spirit. To an average Native American silence is the same as “The Great Mystery”. Silence is the voice of that Great Mystery which is this world, this cosmos, this life. When asked what the purpose of silence is, he is apt to say that “silence is he cornerstone of character” that leads to self-control, courage, endurance, patience, dignity and reverence. And, in ancient times everyone, man and woman, was expected to “meet the morning sun, the new, sweet earth, and the Great Silence alone”. That was their morning prayer.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Vedic Gods as Symbols (Concluded)


The cow and the horse often stand for the Vedic dualism of Light and its Power, Knowledge and the Will, and Consciousness and its Energy. 

Several Rk mantras are dedicated to Soma who symbolizes Ananda, Immortality. Soma is the Lord of the wine of heavenly delight, the Ananda of Immortality. The soma juice used in the sacrifice is the symbol of this heavenly delight. This is the human counterpart of the amrita of the Devas and asuras.

Brahman is expression of the heart (or soul).  Later the word Brahman came to denote Supreme Soul or Universal Brahman. Vritra is the personification of the opposite of the Conscient Brahman and is darkness, ignorance. Indra slays Vritra to release the conscient, knowledge.

Brahman also signifies the Vedic Word or mantra in its profoundest aspect. This corresponds to the logos in the west.  It arises out of the depth of the being and can be experienced as an intuitive feeling. This Universe is an expression or manifestation of the word, Brahman. The world is a creation by the Word.

Based on the area of activity, Brahman is called dhatru (supporter), Prajapati (the first offspring), Vishwakarma (maker of things), thrathru (protector, savior), nethru (guide), thvashtru (giver of forms) and savitru (animator).

“Brahma is the Creator, one of the three who form the great Puranic Trinity; Brihaspati is a figure of no great importance, spiritual teacher of the gods, and incidentally guardian of the planet Jupiter; Brihaspati is the self-expressive soul, the Purusha, the Bull of the herds. Brahmanaspati, the middle term which once linked the two, has disappeared.” (Aurobindo page 317).

Twashtri is the Framer of things, who gives the physical consciousness of the body in which to experience the delight of existence. The Ribhus are the powers of luminous knowledge who build up the vital, mental and causal/ideal from the material, physical consciousness.

The word Tat to refer to the supreme, beyond Vishnu comes as the first word in sloka 4.

All mythical images refer to planes of consciousness and to fields of experiences say Joseph Campbell and Sri Aurobindo.  According to the Vedic rishis, Prithvi, Bhu is physical consciousness; Bhuvah is Antariksha, intermediate nervous energy, mental consciousness. Swar is the summit of this pure mental consciousness; Dyaus or Heaven of the devas is pure mental consciousness. 

According to the Vedas and Vedic symbols, there are seven principles of existence. They are Pure Existence, Pure Consciousness, Pure Bliss, Knowledge, Mind, Life and Matter (earth). There are corresponding physical or metaphysical worlds (sapta loka) in the Puranic and the Mythical worlds.

According to Sri Aurobindo, the seven Principles of Existence (spiritual, supramental) and corresponding mythical worlds are as follows: 

1. Pure Existence—Sat World of the highest truth of being (Satyaloka)

2. Pure Consciousness— Chit World of infinite Will or conscious force (Tapoloka)

3. Pure Bliss—Ananda World of creative delight of existence (Janaloka)

4. Knowledge or Truth— Vijnana World of the Vastness (Maharloka)

5. Mind – Swar World of light (Swar) Dyaus

6. Life (nervous being)- (Bhuvar) Worlds of various becoming antariksha

7. Matter – Bhur  The material world (Bhur) Prithvi

In the Vedas, the Trinity (Three Divine Principle) consists of Sat – Chit – and Ananda. The link world of Vignana consists of Truth, Light and Vastness corresponding to Sat -Chit and Ananda and connects to the lower world of the human.

In the lower world, Swar is the Heaven (Dyaus) with its Truth, Light and vastness or the Pure Mind; Bhuvar or Antariksha is the life-force and Bhur is Matter or earth.

Rg Veda, Book 1 Chapter 154 on Vishnu mentions his three steps (the three worlds of Bhu, Bhuvah and Swah – Matter, Life and Mind) and of the word Nara. According to Rishi Dirgathamas, the trinity includes earth, heaven and a place called tridatu which is the ultimate step of Vishnu, a place of eternal bliss and light. Tridatu is also the concept behind sat-chit-ananda. Corresponding words in Rg Veda are vasu, ūrj and priyam or mayas.

Earth, heaven and the tridatu world of bliss are the three strides. Between earth and heaven is the Antariksha, the vital worlds of breath and nervous activity. Between heaven and the world of bliss is another vast Antariksha of Maharloka, the world of the superconscient Brahman.

Human draws his life-force and mental abilities from this world, but he is in constant touch with the Truth, Light and Vastness of the Swar world and through that with the Divine world, as seen in the classifications above. In the words of Sri Aurobindo (page 374): “We have subjective faculties hidden in us which correspond to all the tiers and strata of the objective cosmic system and these form for us so many planes of our possible existence.”

The earth is man’s (man and woman, the human) material or physical existence. The life in the mind is man’s heaven. His life with passions and desires is his mid-world of antariksha. Heaven is the mental consciousness. Dyaus or Heaven is the pure mental principle not affected by the reactions in the body and the mind. He can reach the world of Truth and Sat when he is no longer the thinker but the Seer. It is possible to go from the world of the mortal to that of Sat Chit Ananda, since they are inherent in him.

When we move from the inspirations of the Vedic poets to the era of rituals and worship of the images of God we notice that the idea of vastness leads to spirituality. The idea of multiplicity leads to gods and religions. Although names of many gods such as Indra, Varuna, Agni are mentioned in the Vedas, they are many godheads invoking only one Godhead. It is one with many aspects, has many names, and reveals Itself to man with many personalities.  It is the one Existent to whom the seers give different names, Indra, Matarishwan, Agni, (Rg I.164.46). It can be realized through any one of the aspects of the One with any one of the names and forms.

Rudra, Vishnu and Brahmanaspati of the Vedic mantras are the forerunners of the Puranic Trinity of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. They are the forces behind the other gods such as agni, vayu, surya etc who are active in the everyday world, physical and mental.

At the mental level, Brahmanaspati, as Brahma creates the universe by his Word. He brings Light out of darkness and speeds the formation of conscious beings. Rudra is the force behind the upward evolution of the conscious being. In this process he is benevolent and healer when asked to help. He is also the destroyer of all evils and obstructions. Vishnu provides the static elements such as the earth and the space for the Word of Brahma and the Forceful actions of Rudra.

Finally, our rishis did not think that wickedness is natural to man, since he has the Divine in him. Sin is not a part of Vedic philosophy. Ignorance is.

In one parable, Rishi Shunahshepa is the victim tied to a sacrificial post by Ignorance with its triple cord of “limited mind, inefficient life and physical animality (passions)”. It is because of lack of perception of Truth and Light, or lack of acceptance or just insufficient effort to follow the Truth. It is also because of man’s natural instincts which tend to follow its desires and immediate pleasures. Sri Aurobindo quotes from Vasishta’s prayer to Varuna as follows: “It is from the poverty of the will we went contrary to truth, O Pure and Puissant one…………. wheresoever by the Ignorance we have put away thy laws, smite us not O God.”    (concluded)






Thursday, March 14, 2019

Vedic Gods as Symbols - Part 2


(Now back to Vedic Gods as Symbols from 2/23/2019)

The following comments on the Vedic gods and how they relate to the physical, mental and “supramental” realms are based on my understanding of Sri Aurobindo’s writing.

Word is the expression of thought in mind. Mantra is the power of the word in its expression.

In the tenth chapter of Rg veda (10-72), it is mentioned that  Aditi, the Divine Mother had eight sons. They are called the Adityas. The first seven are Indra, Varuna, Mitra, Aryaman, Bhaga, Dhatru and Amsha. Martanda was the eighth and it is said Aditi shunned him and set him aside for death.  He is mentioned as a form of Surya. Later  Martanda was equated with Vivaswat. Later still, Adityas included 12 members including Vishnu and Rudra.

One system lists 10 Adityas. They are: Dhatru, Mitra, Aryama, Rudra, Varuna, Surya, Bhaga, Vivaswan, Pusha and Savita. Later additions of Thvastru and Vishnu made the total of Adityas to twelve.

Indra represents the power of Pure Intelligence. Indra is also denoted by the word, vrushaba or Bull, and Indra is the Lord of Thoughts, the bull of the herds leading the mind towards Bliss. He is the Lord of the Swar loka or the realm of luminous intelligence and the male power presiding over the energies of Nature. In later systems of philosophy, he metamorphosed to Purusha of the Samkhya Philosophy (the female power is known as gna, to know)

Varuna, the soul of vastness and purity (sat of sat chit Ananda). He is the Lord of all the Waters, of the Ocean, the rivers and the rain, vast and pure. “The rivers journey to the Truth of Varuna” according to Sri Aurobindo. As water, he is the purifier. He is the guardian of Truth.

Mitra is the soul of love and harmony; light and knowledge (Ananda). He is the builder, sustainer and harmonizer of Truth. He is the Divine friend of the humans, the most beloved of the gods. Often interchanged with Surya.

Sri Aurobindo quotes a prayer to the twin-gods of Mitra and Varuna by Madhucchandas from Rg Veda as follows: “Mitra I call, the pure in judgment, and Varuna, devourer of the foe. By Truth, Mitra and Varuna, Truth-increasers who get to the touch of Truth………….”  (page 509)

Aryaman is the force behind the light of Divine Consciousness, the aspirer for Divine Knowledge. No hymn is specifically dedicated to him. He is always mentioned in conjunction with Mitra and Varuna. Aurobindo points out that in the Puranic tradition, there are two kinds of Fathers – one Divine and one human. The human ancestors are the manes. The first of the Divine Fathers who attained immortality is Aryaman. Like Mitra and Varuna, Aryaman makes men follow the path of Truth and Light.

Sri Aurobindo quotes the following Rk in support of this interpretation: “Aryaman of the unbroken path, of the many chariots, who dwells as the seven-fold offerer of sacrifice in births of diverse forms.”

Bhaga is Ananda as creative enjoyment.  Bhaga is Surya, as the Lord of Enjoyment. He is the divine enjoyer in man. Sri Aurobindo quotes the following Rk in support of this interpretation: “Let it be the divine Enjoyer who possesses the enjoyment and by him let us be its possessors; to thee every man calls, O Bhaga; do thou become, O Enjoyer, the leader of our journey.”

The four Kings, namely Varuna, Mitra, Aryaman and Bhaga together with their mother Aditi find themselves fulfilled in the minds of the human beings with the help of the vastness of Varuna, guided by Mitra, achieved by Aryaman and enjoyed by Bhaga.

In another interpretation, Varuna stands for Sat; Mitra stands for all-uniting light of Chit; Aryaman for the force of Tapas (or penance, ardor); Bhaga for Ananda. They emanate from the One and each possesses the essential quality of the other three. All of them exist in every one of us. We are both divine and human at once.

Agni is the mediator between the human and the gods. The Rg Veda starts with the word Agni. He carries our oblations to the gods and returns with light and knowledge. He is more a Force of the gods than a god. He is the “heat of life and the sap of things.”   He is the force behind both Light and Heat (denoted by the word bhama).

Other gods mentioned are: Maruts who represent the power or force of Thought. The power of thought is different from the thought itself. (They are also the Lords of wind, storm and rain)

Sarama is the name of a female hound and she represents the power of Intuition. Like a hound she sniffs out true knowledge hidden inside a rock or a cave in the form of light.

Cow is the symbol of Light from above. The Sanskrit word goh means “cow” and also dawn, cattle, and word. By connotation it stands for “rays of light” particularly when referred to as a group of cows, a  kine.

Vayu is Wind-god. He is the Master of life and Breath-Energy or Prana. Vayu is the Lord of Life. (the word vatapramiya is used) and Prana is the universal breath of life, responsible for all the vital and nervous activities of humans.

Savit (ta, ru),  Divine  Creator whose creation is the Truth, whose outpouring of His Ananda into the human soul during sacrifice helps the human elevate himself to the Divine Bliss.

Savitri: “Creator, especially in the sense of producing, emitting from the unmanifest and bringing out into the manifest.”  (Aurobindo page 302/314)

Surya is the illuminator, Master of Truth; also called Savitri, the creator; also called Pushan, the increaser.

Usha(s) is the Dawn, daughter of Heaven, the medium of awakening preceding Surya Savitri – the Illuminator of the Truth and Creator energy. When we wake up from the darkness of sleep and ignorance, the first step in seeing the world and the universe is being awakened. Without that state of awakening, there is no awareness and no new knowledge. Surya symbolizes this concept as the light of the Truth arising in the human consciousness at Dawn.

The finite, impermanent individual can reach the Infinite Universal. As individuals, we hold both Aditi, the Eternal Light and her sons, devas and also darkness in the form of Diti and her sons, danavas or asuras.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

What is meant by Letting go of the Mind




Soon after I wrote the piece last week, more ideas on this topic flooded my mind. Let me share them with you before I forget.

The word Kavi has come to mean a poet in common usage. But it has several other meanings including wise, intelligent, prophet, thinker, seer and enlightened. It is in the latter sense our ancient rishis who wrote the mantras of the Vedas are denoted by the word kavi. In addition, they expressed their visions in a poetic form with words full of imagery and hidden meanings.

It is with awe I was thinking about the words of our rishis such as “How can you know that by which you know?”, “Let go of that by which you are trying to let go” and “Cut off the mind with the mind.” What do they mean? How can I be a human without the mind? The essence of being a human will be gone? How can I reflect on such noble and mysterious things without the mind? What were they saying?

Here is what these statements mean to me at my current level of understanding.

 1. Desires are of the mind. Let go of unreasonable and unending desires. This will help get over frustration, anxiety and attachment.

2. Let go of unreasonable and imaginary fears. This will get rid of fear of death since it is an unreasonable one. Imaginary fears are what Buddha refers to as the “second arrow.”

3. Let go of dogmas and bias.

By letting go of these aspects of the mind, we are letting go of the hindrances of the mind. That is as good as letting go of the mind.

Finally, if possible, imagine a subject to which my mind itself becomes an object.  This was probably   what was meant when the rishi said in Kena Upanishad “He who does not think but by whose power mind thinks is Brahman.”