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Saturday, June 29, 2019

Consciousness at the Base


A book by Rev.Thich Naht Hanh with the title "Transformation at the Base" is the stimulus for this essay on Consciousness.

My life is impermanent. So is my body. Time is unidirectional and linear as we experience it. It is cyclic according to some systems of philosophy. But this moment I am experiencing will be over by the time I strike the next letter on the keyboard. My thoughts come and go and therefore, are impermanent.

The only thing I can see stable in this body and mind is my consciousness. (Breath too is constant. Otherwise how can I be conscious?)It is always there, even when I am asleep. It will be there even if I go under anesthesia for 6 hours. It is constant and continuous, not changing even though my body is undergoing changes and the mind keeps changing its contents.

Consciousness is as close to a constant, if not to a permanence, as we can get. The other unique feature of consciousness is that it can be both a subject and an object. Everything else in this universe is an object of that consciousness. My body, mind, objects of my mind and even my mind are objects of my consciousness. Consciousness makes it possible to be aware of everything else including itself and the breath. That is amazing, puzzling and mysterious since it is a product of the brain and the mind.

Consciousness is like light – shines and makes other things visible. That is why Light is an important sacred object in all traditions. That is why Vedas use the metaphor of light to indicate knowledge and consciousness. Consciousness illuminates everything, including itself.

But, is there something called universal consciousness? And Universal breath? And, why consciousness at all? Why life at all? What about inanimate objects without consciousness?

We realize the impermanence of all created things at every moment. We see changes all around and in ourselves and with our own thoughts. We see births and deaths. Therefore, we look for permanence of life (specifically the present one). We start talking about our Soul which we think can live even after death and about rebirth.

We see happiness and misery and ups and downs. We, therefore, look for permanent happiness, a state of Bliss. We think we can get to that state of eternal happiness by one of many ways such as Faith and Prayer, meditating and “merging” and leading a life of asceticism.

How many mental gymnastics we are going to try to escape the inevitable? Is it not easier and more pragmatic to accept the reality as is? The body IS impermanent. Life, mind and our thoughts are all impermanent. Life will be full of surprises with ups and downs. Instead of thinking about another life or next life of which we can not be sure of, why not focus on this life, as suggested by several wise elders starting with Buddha?

And why not live a life of humility in the face of awe-inspiring mysteries? Why not live a life of equanimity with cheerfulness, usefulness, and a life filled with compassion?  Why wait for eternal happiness when it can be had here and now by meditating on the  state of Basic Awareness, a state of consciousness which creates the sense of I and shows it to us as on object of that Consciousness.

If we reach the stage of Buddha or Ramana, we may even be able to reach a stage at which we will be aware of the subject only, the Bare Awareness, without any object. That is probably the closest to eternal bliss we humans can reach.  

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Maha Bharata foretold



Rg Veda Book 6, Section 75 is dedicated to implements of war including bow, arrows, quiver, armguard, chariot, reins and a special  implement which is used to goad the horses. Even the battlefield has a Rk (Number 17) dedicated to it. The seer/rishi is Payuh-Bharadwaja. They are written in different meters.

A translation of Sloka 6 reads as follows: “A skillful charioteer, standing in the car (chariot), guides the strong horses to whichever direction he desires.
See and admire the command of those controlling from behind.”

रथे तिष्ठन नयति वाजिनः पुरो यत्र-यत्र कामयते सुषारथिः |
अभीशूनां महिमानं पनायत मनः पश्चादनु यछन्त

The entire Section 75 which deals with the battlefield and war paraphernalia is probably the base for Maha Bharata. What is more, the famous scene in which Lord Krishna is the Charioteer and Arjuna is the warrior, was probably inspired by this one sloka in Rg Veda. It also becomes a metaphor for human actions and divine control. Also, for the control of the senses by the mind.


Sunday, June 16, 2019

Creation Myths - Part 4



Now, let us look some creation myths from other traditions.

According to the Maori myth, there was Te Kore, ( which stands for Nothing) in the beginning. Just silence. Nothing lasted for a long time. Then there was Te Po, the Long Night , dark and silent which lasted for a long time. There was nothing to see and nothing to hear – just darkness and silence. From the Dark and the Silence emerged Papa Tu Anku or mother earth and Rangi Nui, father sky. They loved each other and embraced each other so close there was no space between them. There were many off-springs but none of them could escape the darkness. They were trapped between Tu Anku and Rangi Nui.

The children decided that they must separate their parents and start living. Tane, a son who was to become god of the forests, placed his feet on this father and slowly pushed him out. The parents were separated. Tane took some earth and made a woman, Hine Ahu One, the earth-formed maiden. She gave birth to Hine Titama, a Dawn maiden. The children of Hine Titama and Tane became the men and women of the world.

The Nordic creation myth also contains elements of void, chaos and many coming from dismembering parts of one body (akin to the story of Prajapati). Initially, there was nothing except a deep dark silent chasm called Ginnungagap between the lands of fire and ice. The heat and the cold of these worlds met at Ginnungagap. When the ice melted drops of water made themselves into a giant called Ymir. The name Yamir means “a screamer”. When Ymir slept, many giants came out of his sweat and his armpits.

As the ice melted, a cow by name Audhumla emerged. She fed on the salt-licks and nourished Ymir with her milk. Her licks uncovered Buri (means Progenitor) who had a son named Bor. Bor had three sons by Bestla, the daughter of a giant named Bolthorn. The first of these sons was Odin who became the chief of the Aesir gods.

Odin and his brothers killed Ymir and fashioned the world from different parts of his body. The ocean came from his blood, the earth and soil from his skin and muscles, plants from his hair, cloud from his brains and the sky from his skulls. Later the gods made a man and a woman from the trunks of two trees, Aska and Embla.

In the southern old kingdom of Egypt, it is said that initially there was nothing but dark water in which eight gods of power lived. They were like frogs and snakes and contained within themselves water, floods, darkness and energy. After a long time, their energy broke through the water and benben, the primal mound, rose out of water. Thoth, the Ibis god flew in with the cosmic egg and laid it on benben, the mound. Atum was born from this cosmic egg and Atum, the sun god contained the life force for all living beings and the potentiality for all non-living matter. He created his spouse from himself and all the gods and human. This myth also resembles the myth of golden egg in the puranas.

There are hundreds of Native American tribes with several different creation stories. However, the themes are common. First, these tribes do not have a word to describe “religion”. There are no dogmas or scriptures either. In other words, there is no organized religion. The emphasis is on the harmony of life between plants, animals and humans on this earth, the sanctity of earth and respect for ancestral spirits. World existed from time immemorial and man came later, after the plants and animals. The plants, animals and birds know more about the earth than we do. We are here to take care of the earth we live in; not to trample upon it and just use it.

In his sensitive firsthand experience, Charles Alexander Eastman (Indian given name was Ohiyesa) writes in his book on The Soul of the Indian as follows: “The elements and majestic forces in nature, Lightning, Wind, Water, Fire and Frost were regarded with awe as spiritual powers, but always secondary and intermediate in character. We believed that the spirit pervades all creation and that every creature possesses a soul in some degree, though not necessarily a soul conscious of itself. The tree, the waterfall, the grizzly bear, each is an embodied Force, and as such an object of reverence”.

There is a Great Spirit from which everything came; which blew its breath into all living creatures. There are references to sacred hills (Turtle Hill, Black Hill), World Tree (in the Sundance ceremony) and floods akin to these elements in other mythologies.

Two ideas struck me as very similar to the Vedic thoughts. One is from the Lakota tribe who have the word combination Wa-Ka which means That which is That it is. It is literally the same as Thou art That or Tatvam asi. The word Ka also has a meaning similar to Brahman.

The other is the Hopi story about Four worlds before the current one. It sounds very much like the four yugas of the puranas with increasing breaking down of virtues in succeeding worlds.

One other creation story from the Natives of the Plains such as Sioux calls the first human as The Man Who Was The First Created (same idea as Prajapati). He had one younger brother who was killed by a “monster of the deep. In order to revive him, the First Man dug two holes at the banks of Great Water. He filled one with the bones of his brother. In the other he placed four stones and fire and chanted. He then sprinkled water on the heated stones. With the steam, “life appeared”. When the First Man sprinkled water a second time the bones rattled. When he sprinkled water third time there was some sound coming from the hole. When he sprinkled water the fourth time, he heard his brother’s voice saying: “Let me out, brother”. Thus came the first man on this earth from under the ground.

In this myth, the stone is sacred and revered. It is called Tunkan and represents grandfather. Number four stands for the Four Winds, Four Directions and also the foursome of water, wind, fire and other elements.

In the Inuit (Eskimo) tradition, Raven is the Primordial Life. Raven is a trickster or one who behaves against the customs of the society.

The Raven made this world and its waters by beating his wings. He had the powers of a man and a bird and can switch from one to the other by simply dipping his face in the water and taking it out. In the beginning the earth was dark and silent. The Raven made mountains and fields and created peapod plants over the land. On the fifth day, a man came out of one of the peapods. The Raven was surprised that such a creature can come out of the plant he had created. The man was dizzy and confused and drank water from a pool. The Raven was flying above and observing the man. Neither was talking.

The Raven asked the man: “Who are you? Where did you come from?”. The man said that he came out of the peapod. The Raven was surprised. He asked the man whether he has eaten and the man said “no”. The Raven flew away and came back after four days with two raspberries and two heathberries. The man devoured them in one gulp. The Raven realized that the berries were not enough and so he created two sheep out of clay and waved his wings over them. The sheep came alive. The man had more food now.

The Raven created more sheep and let them graze far away so the man not eat them all at once. Soon more men came out of the peapods. The Raven made fish, birds and other animals and placed them away from these men, so they do not kill them all. The Raven also created a huge bear to make sure that men knew fear.

After a few days, The Raven noticed that the man was lonely. Therefore, he went to a place where the man could not see and created a clay figure and waved his wings over it. Out came a beautiful, soft creature. The Raven took her to the man and said: “ This is woman, your helper and companion.” Man was pleased and together they filled the earth with their children.

Conclusion: A review of these creation myths shows that the common questions are: 1. after the first human being came, how did the others come? 2. Even if the first pair of male and female begot children by incest, where did the children get their spouses?

Common themes are: a void and darkness or chaos in the beginning; Water, tree, bird or a snake in the creation story; the word as a powerful force; and many come from one by dismemberment of the first-born or splitting of the first one or by incest.

References:
Rg Veda
Satapata Brahmana
Eighteen Puranas
Isabella Price. In the Beginning. Creation Myths Across Cultures. Kindle edition. One Truth Many Paths, 1st Edition 2014
Joseph Campbell. The Mythic Image . Princeton University Press, 1981

Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. 3rd Edition. New World Library. 2008

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Creation Myths - Part 3



Creation Myth in the Bible

What is the creation myth in the Bible? In one version of the Bible (New International Version) the creation story is given as follows:  (https://www.biblestudytools.com/genesis/1.html)

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

6 And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.  This is the end of Genesis 1 – 31.

Genesis 2 starts here:

1.Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.

3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

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The original theme of darkness and water are like what we read in the Vedic version also. The Creator God created the world out of water or imposed order in the chaos of darkness. There is an intention (“Let there be light) and with these Words He created the world and its inhabitants.

In this version, both man and woman came at the same time. In another version God created human from clay and blew his breath into him. God created the Garden of Eden with the Tree of Life and Tree of Knowledge and asked the man to work the soil. But he warned the man not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. The man was lonely. After several attempts, the woman was fashioned from the rib of a man. A serpent is now inserted into this narrative. The serpent is human desire which tempts Eve to eat the apple from the Tree of Knowledge and Eve tempts Adam to eat the apple. God arrives (He is immanent) and banishes Adam and Eve from the immortality of Garden of Eden to earth with its dualities and mortality. This version has several implications for the development of societies in Christianity.

In another version, Gospel according to John (https://ebible.org/kjv/John.htm), the narrative is different, and the emphasis is in the Word of God. This version is like that of  the Jewish tradition and the first book of Talmud, as follows:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The same was in the beginning with God.

All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.

In reading this version, the similarity to the idea of OM as the eternal sound from which everything came is obvious.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Creation Myths - Part 2



Before reviewing creation myths from other traditions, let us look at a superb summary of the Indian Vedic thoughts given by Bal Gangadar Tilak in his book on Gita Rahasya (Volume 2: page 1027). I have added a few points of clarification and examples to Sri.Tilak's remarks.

There are four points of view on cosmogeny (creation of this universe) in the Vedic tradition. They are:

1.       All things which exist in this world  evolved out of five primordial elements (mahabhutani) of Prakriti energized by contact with Purusha. This is the adibhouthika view of Samkhya philosophy.

2.       All of this was created out of a Prajapati or Yagnapurusha in the process of fire-sacrifice or yagna according to Rg Veda and Satapata Brahmana.  That sacrificer-sacrificed is Yagnanarayana or Parameshwara says Bhagavatam. This is the adiyagna school.

3.       Various activities seen in this universe are caused by an active agent, a deity or a deva. These deities are responsible for making the Sun to shine and give light, for making the cloud to give rain and to energize the functions of our organs. This deva is a variant of the purusha of Samkhya. This is the adidaivata school of bhakti marga.

4.       Just as atman exists in every one of us, there exists in everything some subtle form of that primordial Brahman (tat). This is the adyatmika school of the Vedas and Vedanta.

My own take on this is that if we have several different points of view  on the same issue, we really do not know which one is or any of them are true.

I prefer the humble and honest view of the Nasadiya Sukta of Rg Veda.