Please visit Thinking Skills for the Digital Generation by Athreya and Mouza at

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Just above Emotions, Just below Reasoning

Calm abiding state in meditation seems to take place just above the level of emotions and just below the rationality of the mind. Meditation at the lowest level of intellect, without reasoning, without inner dialogue, just above the level of awareness of living and breathing where there is just bare awareness and a feeling of awe is a naturally blissful state. A sense of mystery is the abiding attitude at that state.

This is the state Buddha found  when he was a young boy sitting under a rose-apple tree as recounted by him in Bodhirajakumara Sutta. He rediscovered it after going through the pain and suffering of ascetic practices. This state did not depend on pain and suffering and relief from them. This is a natural state all of us have all the time, if only we seek. That is what the Upanishads also point out.

This is what Ramana Maharishi meant when he asked us to keep asking who the “I” is.  He also suggested that we catch the moment of stillness and bare awareness we experience as soon as we wake up from a deep sleep. He wants us to hold on to it.

If in our practice we keep repeating a mantra and keep thinking about it and how not to let the mind wander, or we keep up an inner dialogue asking questions such as “Who am I?”, we have left the realm of mystery and humility and entered the realm of curiosity and reasoning.

With a sense of mystery, our mental functions operate with the centers at the lower part of the brain, just living and being aware of living. With curiosity and deep looking, the higher centers of the brain are functioning with questioning, answering, conceptualizing and imagining. The ego becomes prominent since we need the “I” to ask and answer the questions.

Since this blissful state of  basic awareness is available if we can let the mind be just above and beyond emotions and just below inner dialogue, why not go for it straight? That is what the wise sages say. We are all struggling because we think that it is a supernormal state we can reach only by superhuman efforts. That is because we do not know what we are looking for. That idea of looking for some special state is the hindrance. That is why Buddha says “Let go” of all concepts, including the concept of self and the concept of nirvana.

If the faculty of the “I” and the higher functions of the brain are not needed to experience the blissful state, all the animals must be capable of that state too. They will have to deal with the real world of eat or be eaten struggle. But in between, may be, they are in a blissful state.

If we can stay away from the state of curiosity and stay with the state of mystery, we are closer to the blissful state here and now. Why wait for after-life? That is the spiritual path. That is what the Upanishads and Buddhist teachings say.

We must keep the curiosity alive to live wisely in this world. But we must get back to the calm and peace of bare awareness as often as we can. And stay with that state as long as we can.

This baseline state of calm abiding awareness will come on its own after we work out our mental cobwebs created by our emotions and by constant quest for An answer. We need meditative exercises to remove the cobwebs, but not to touch our own base. It is there all the time glowing and inviting.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Pravaram (Abhivadaye)

I am not one who likes to follow rituals blindly. I like to know the substance. If one can get the substance, understand it, find it relevant to living a useful life and use it wisely, how does it matter if the ritual is not practiced? If the ritual is practiced it should be with mind, speech and action in synchrony. It should be practiced so as to teach the young and show them their spiritual roots. This is what I like to do with some of our samskaras or what is called in modern times as the rights of passage.

Upanayanam is such a samskara and I find it a meaningful rite of passage for boys. We need such a ceremony particularly in modern times with so many distractions, temptations and lack of role-models. For girls, it is relatively easy since nature takes care of it and lets them know they have moved to the next stage.

In preparing my grand-son for upanayanam, I wanted to teach him the Gayatri mantra and the special verse he has to recite when he asks for blessings from elders. It is called “pravaram” (which means line of ancestry) or “abhivadaye” since it is the first word in the verse.

It is customary to say this small verse (sutra) when paying respect to an elder. This verse traces the family tree to its founders, millennia back. It starts with the names of three to five rishis all of whom can be traced back to the Vedas. They were the authors (or seers) of Rk mantras. After mentioning these rishis, the verse mentions the gotra, the name of the codified manual the family uses for performing samskaras (Grahya sutra) and the name of the branch of one of the four Vedas the family follows.

This custom of paying respect is called “abhivaadaye”, which is translated to mean “I pay respect to you”. For my specific Athreya family, the words are:

                Abhivaadaye, athreya, archanaanasa,  shyaavasva thraya risheh pravaraanvitah

                Athreya gotrah, aapasthambha sutrah, yajussaaka adhyyayi

                ………….(say your name) sharma naama aham asmi bhoh

In our family tree, when we say “abhivadaye” we mention Athreya, Archanaanas and Shyaavaasvas. All of them descended from Atri and have written Rk mantras in the Rg Veda.

Since these words have been transferred from father to son uninterrupted and unchanged over the millennia, we can be sure that these three rishis were our documented ancestors. We know that Atri was a major seer and author of several mantras in Rg Veda. The name Athreya means “one who is the progeny of Atri”. In fact, among the 180 or so rishis mentioned in the Vedas, there are several Athreyas.

Atri is mentioned in several sutras in Rg veda. Athreya Punarvasu was probably the first link (or the latest one from the original rishis) because he lived in historical times and taught medicine at Taxila. His book Athreya Samhitam was the forerunner for Caraka Samhitam.

Archanaanas is the seer of only one mantra in Rg Veda on Mitra-Varuna in Book 5, sloka 64. It is shown below.

Please look at the names in Sanskrit (in red font) to help pronounce the names properly. 

Rg Veda  Book 5: Sloka 64 by Rishi Archanaanas on Mitra-Varuna

वरुणं वो रिशादसम रचा मित्रं हवामहे |
परि वरजेव बाह्वोर जगन्वांसा सवर्णरम ||
ता बाहवा सुचेतुना पर यन्तम अस्मा अर्चते |
शेवं हि जार्यं वां विश्वासु कषासु जोगुवे ||
यन नूनम अश्यां गतिम मित्रस्य यायाम पथा |
अस्य परियस्य शर्मण्य अहिंसानस्य सश्चिरे ||
युवाभ्याम मित्रावरुणोपमं धेयाम रचा |
यद ध कषये मघोनां सतोत्णां च सपूर्धसे ||
आ नो मित्र सुदीतिभिर वरुणश च सधस्थ आ |
सवे कषये मघोनां सखीनां च वर्धसे ||
युवं नो येषु वरुण कषत्रम बर्हच च बिभ्र्थः |
उरु णो वाजसातये कर्तं राये सवस्तये ||
उछन्त्याम मे यजता देवक्षत्रे रुशद्गवि |
सुतं सोमं न हस्तिभिर आ पड्भिर धावतं नरा बिभ्रताव अर्चनानसम ||

Shyaavaasvas is the seer of several mantras. They are Book 5:52 on Marut, Book 5: 81 on Savitr, Book 8: 35 on Asvins, Book 8:37 on Indra and Book 8:38 on Indra/Agni. I copied only one of them as shown below.

Book 8: Sloka 81. Rishi Shyaavaashvas  on Savitr

युञ्जते मन उत युञ्जते धियो विप्रा विप्रस्य बर्हतो विपश्चितः |
वि होत्रा दधे वयुनाविद एक इन मही देवस्य सवितुः परिष्टुतिः ||
विश्वा रूपाणि परति मुञ्चते कविः परासावीद भद्रं दविपदे चतुष्पदे |
वि नाकम अख्यत सविता वरेण्यो ऽनु परयाणम उषसो वि राजति ||
यस्य परयाणम अन्व अन्य इद ययुर देवा देवस्य महिमानम ओजसा |
यः पार्थिवानि विममे स एतशो रजांसि देवः सविता महित्वना ||
उत यासि सवितस तरीणि रोचनोत सूर्यस्य रश्मिभिः सम उच्यसि |
उत रात्रीम उभयतः परीयस उत मित्रो भवसि देव धर्मभिः ||
उतेशिषे परसवस्य तवम एक इद उत पूषा भवसि देव यामभिः |
उतेदं विश्वम भुवनं वि राजसि शयावाश्वस ते सवित सतोमम आनशे ||

It gave me a special thrill and joy when I found the names of the three rishis among the mantras of Rg Veda dating back to 3,000 years or more.  What visionaries they were. What a heritage they left us. And, how cleverly they developed a way of making sure that the future generations knew their roots.

On learning about our ancestors who lived more than millennia back, my only regrets are 1. Wish I had learnt it when I had my upanayanam. 2. I wish women have a method like men have, to find their root-saints (moola rishi). But, if they know their family gotra name, they can find it too, although only through paternal lineage. 3. I wish every one had a custom similar to abhivadaye so they can trace their lineage too. My guess is that everyone in India should be able to trace back to one of the 180 or so rishis mentioned in the Vedas.


The Secret of the Veda by Sri Aurobindo  -

Saturday, April 13, 2019

More Poetry and Mythology in the Rg Veda

When I started reading portions of Rg Veda with an eye to symbolic meanings and how they were interpreted later in the form of myths and puranas, I came across these three examples. These mantras were used by Yaskacharya in his book on Nirukta. He is looking at the meaning of the words from their verb roots. He is also explaining synonyms and homonyms.

The first example which impressed me was from Rg Veda 10:71:2 addressed to Brhaspati and Knowledge. In fact, the entire 10:71 is an amazing source of poetry with hints about the origin of the Vedas as “heard” by the rishis  and not “written”. This section is so important that Adi Shankara quotes this section in support of his assertion that the words of the mantras were heard by the rishis.

The word Vak which means both word and also Saraswathi is the central theme.

सक्तुमिव-तित-उना पुनन्तो यत्र धीरा मनसा वाचमक्रत |
अत्रा सखायः सख्यानि जानते भद्रैषांलक्ष्मीर्निहिताधि वाचि ||

In the second line you see the word Lakshmi, which is used here to indicate a “mark”. Yaska says that the word Lakshmi is so called because it is to be obtained (laabhaat) or it indicates a desire to obtain (lakshanaat) or marking (lapsyanaat). The root sound is lash meaning to desire or lag to cling or lajj meaning not to praise. A further note says that men who have Lakshmi do not praise themselves.

The meaning of this mantra is as follows according to one translation: (T H Griffith)

Where, like men cleansing corn-flour in a cribble, the wise in spirit have created language,
Friends see and recognize the marks of friendship: their speech retains the blessed sign imprinted.

In this we can see the poetic comparison of a mundane activity such as cleaning a food item with the way the wise rishis process words and language and give them to us.

Finally, we can also see the seeds of ideas for later mythologies of Saraswathi as the goddess of knowledge and Lakshmi as the goddess of wealth.

The next example is from Rg Veda 3:47:1  addressed to Indra

मरुत्वानिन्द्र वर्षभो रणाय पिबा सोममनुष्वधं मदाय |
सिञ्चस्व जठरे मध्व ऊर्मिं तवं राजासि परदिवः सुतानाम |

Prof. Griffith translates it as follows:

DRINK, Indra, Marut-girt, as Bull, the Soma, for joy, for rapture even as thou listest.
Pour down the flood of meath within thy belly: thou from of old art King of Soma juices.

The connection between the words and mythology are to be seen in the word vrishaba. Nirukta says that this word is derived from varshita apaam, that which brings down rain. The same word is also used to denote Indra. As mythology goes Indra killed the demon Vritra and brought rain to the dried-up earth. The word vrtra also stands for the cloud. Marut represents the wind. One can easily see the connections between Nature and mythology.

The final example is from Rg Veda 1:115:4  addressed to Surya

तत सूर्यस्य देवत्वं तन महित्वं मध्या कर्तोर्विततं सं जभार |
यदेदयुक्त हरितः सधस्थादाद रात्री वासस्तनुते सिमस्मै ||

This is the Godhead, this might of Sūrya: he hath withdrawn what spread o’er work unfinished.
When he hath loosed his Horses from their station, straight over all Night spreadeth out her garment.

The rishis imagine the world covered in darkness by a garment which is lifted when the Sun rises and rides on his chariot.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Vedic Rishis as Poets

In his book on The Artful Universe, William Mahoney points out that our rishis considered the universe as an artifact of Divine imagination and the gods themselves were the artists. The gods in turn express themselves through the imagination of the poets/seers who “know” the mystery intuitively through their “hearts and minds”.  This reciprocal relationship, the concordance between the cosmic, divine and the human runs through the entire Vedic mantras.

This is made possible because of the structure of the Sanskrit words based often on a root which is a verb. This is well-explained in the world’s first text on etymology, Nirukta. For example, the root verb for the name Vrtra is Vr to cover, or to grow. Therefore, it refers to the cloud. When the Vedic chants mention Vrtra, the rishis refer to the cloud according to the etymologists (nairuktas). Later came the pauranikas and aithikasikas, who imagined a serpent demon in the word Vrtra and wrote legends about that demon.

If we stay with the etymological interpretation, Rta is of the cosmic order. Brahman is of the divine, the intellect. They are mentioned in the Vedas. Prajapati is of the world and the body and came out of later ithihasa and purana (epics and legends) interpretations.

The Vedic seer is the rishi. The Vedic priest is agni. In the practice of the sacrifices (yagnas) explained in the Brahmanas, the advaryu is  for reciting the mantras, the udgita for the singing, the hotr for the performance of the ritual and the brahmana for silent supervision and for correcting errors. 

An example of relationship between the magic of the mantras and poetic structure, William Mahoney refers to Chandogya Upanishad 3:16:1-5. It says that man is indeed the sacrifice, just as Prajapati was. To reconstitute Prajapati who was broken up, one has to perform yagna every day. In the morning one has to use gayatri with 24 letters to correspond to the first 24 years of his life. In the afternoon trishtup mantra used with its 44 letters to correspond to the middle life. In the evening it is recitation of mantras in the jagati meter with its 48 letters. 

In a hymn addressed to Varuna, the rishi-poet shows his gratitude and respect in the following words:  (Rg Veda 5:85:2).

SING forth a hymn sublime and solemn, grateful to glorious. Varuṇa, imperial Ruler,
Who hath struck out, like one who slays the victim, earth as a skin to spread in front of Sūrya.

 In the tree-tops the air he hath extended, put milk in kine and vigorous speed in horses,
Set intellect in hearts, fire in the waters, Surya in heaven and Soma on the mountain.

पर सम्राजे बर्हद अर्चा गभीरम बरह्म परियं वरुणाय शरुताय |
वि यो जघान शमितेव चर्मोपस्तिरे पर्थिवीं सूर्याय ||
वनेषु वय अन्तरिक्षं ततान वाजम अर्वत्सु पय उस्रियासु |
हर्त्सु करतुं वरुणो अप्स्व अग्निं दिवि सूर्यम अदधात सोमम अद्रौ ||

Another example is in Rg Veda (10:69:10) which says metaphorically that the poets hold lights in their mouths.

When he had won him every sort of booty and gone to heaven and its most lofty mansions,
Men praised Bṛhaspati the Mighty, bringing the light within their mouths from sundry places.

यदा वाजमसनद विश्वरूपमा दयामरुक्षदुत्तराणिसद्म |बर्हस्पतिं वर्षणं वर्धयन्तो नाना सन्तोबिभ्रतो जयोतिरासा ||

Another poetic observation in Rg Veda 6:9:5 addressed to Agni as follows:

A firm light hath been set for men to look on: among all things that fly, the mind is swiftest.
All Gods of one accord, with one intention, move unobstructed to a single purpose.

धरुवं जयोतिर्निहितं दर्शये कं मनो जविष्ठं पतयत्स्वन्तः |
विश्वे देवाः समनसः सकेता एकं करतुमभिवि यन्ति साधु ||

The following examples show the seers comparing the art of making poetry to weaving and to building a chariot. From Rg Veda 2:28:5 to Varuna

Loose me from sin as from a bond that binds me: may we swell, Varuṇa, thy spring of Order.
Let not my thread, while I weave song, be severed, nor my work's sum, before the time, be shattered.

वि मच्छ्रथाय रशनामिवाग रध्याम ते वरुण खां रतस्य |
मा तन्तुश्छेदि वयतो धियं मे मा मात्रा शार्यपसः पुर रतोः ||

From Rg Veda 5:2:11 to Agni

As a skilled craftsman makes a car, a singer I, Mighty One! this hymn for thee have fashioned.
If thou, O Agni, God, accept it gladly, may we obtain thereby the heavenly Waters.

एतं ते सतोमं तुविजात विप्रो रथं न धीरः सवपा अतक्षम |
यदीद अग्ने परति तवं देव हर्याः सवर्वतीर अप एना जयेम ||