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Saturday, October 19, 2019

The Essence of Being Human (Humanness) - (manidam)


There have been several prominent writers in Tamizh during the 20th century. Of these, five are my favorites: Subramania Bharathi, Kalki, Jayakanthan, Pudumaipithan (alias Vriddhachalam) and Kannadasan. Under different conditions, each one should have received a Nobel Prize in Literature. I wish everyone can read their writings in Tamizh and enjoy the beauty of the language and the beauty of the writer’s thoughts. Since that is not possible, I will try my hand in translating one piece by Kannadasan, who had the genius to express deep insights in simple Tamizh. Obviously, you cannot get the beauty of his use of the  language. Hope you get the beauty of his thoughts.



From Kannadasan’s book with the title: Andhi, Sandhi, Ardhajamam 


Man invited Mother Nature

She came.

Man asked:

“Mother, give me a boon”

“Son, what boon do you want?” asked Mother Nature

“I want unlimited wealth”

Mother Nature poured wealth on him

She gave gold

She gave property

She gave dazzling mansion

With brilliant lights

And she gave him all kinds

Of vehicles

Wardrobe full of clothes

Mother Nature receded


The man got immersed in his wealth

Spent his money like water

Days passed

Wealth was there

But the man diminished

Roamed around for peace

Wanted love

Invited Mother Nature again

She came

Man asked

“I want something else”

“What do you want?”

“I want love”

Mother gave him beautiful girls

With stunning looks

Like artist’s portraits

Sculptors creations

Mother receded again


Man enjoyed, indulged

Made day into night

Night into day

Forgot the world

Stayed inside the mansion

The body started going down

Mind started to tire

Suddenly

There was no difference between

Touching a girl and touching a handful of sand

Man called for his Mother again

She came

“Mom, I want more”

“Son, what is it you want?”

“You gave me wealth; I enjoyed.

You gave me girls; I enjoyed.

But I am still

An ordinary man.

I want to be a king

I want to rule the land”

Mother gave that too.


Now, the Man is the King

If he hummed a request

Thousands came to serve

If he ordered

More came to obey and follow

The earth trembled at his command

He made people into puppets and peons

Got drunk on power and ego

People got mad

And got together

And shouted:  “Where is the King?”

And started chasing

The King ran

And called for Mother again

“Mother, Mother”

“Son, what is it?”

“My body is shaking; boiling; always angry. Refuses to cool down”

“OK, what do you want now?”

“You gave me everything. But I need one more last thing”

“What is it?”

“The essence of being human; humanness”


The Mother laughed, and said:

“Son, everything other than humanness is inside of me. Humanness is only in you. You have to get it from inside yourself”

And She vanished!












Saturday, October 12, 2019

Connective and Substitutive Thinking


Speaking of Correspondence and Connections, no one has given a better description than Roberto Calasso in the final chapter of the book Ardor. He describes the sacrifice of Soma and describes King Soma arriving with his retinue. The retinue is made of poetic meters (chandas) and the footprint of the cow described in the mantra is speech or vac. These sound silly, meaningless flights of fancy, “meaningless hallucinations” to the secularist and modern ethnographers. “Not so” says Calasso.

Calasso discusses two kinds of thought processes. One is what he calls connective thoughts. The other is substitutive thoughts. Connective thoughts are about continuities and similarities and are based on analogy. Substitutive thoughts are about discrete parts, gestures in rituals and events. Vedic rituals including sacrifices are about resemblance and similarities. They connect the humans with the invisible through symbols and gestures.

 The word symbol itself is not the correct translation of the word used in Sanskrit, because there is no appropriate word in English – just as there is no correct word in English to correspond to the words dharma  (universal process of establishing order, but translated as morals and ethics) and vigraha (that which cannot be contained, but translated as idol).

The word symbol stands for what is called bandhu (that which connects), sampad (equalization of similar things or concordance) in Sanskrit. These Sanskrit words are used in prescribing various rituals in sacrifice as suggestive of similarities between two elements such as agni and gold or corresponding elements in the celestial sphere (moon and Soma) and in this world (mind).

In ancient times, people thought that earthly events were influenced by celestial beings and events and that every earthly object and event had a celestial counterpart. For example, myths in Hinduism relate the milky way and the constellations to earthly events and Vedic rituals. For example, the seven rishis and seven sisters of mythology probably correspond to the constellations Saptarishi mandala (Ursa Major in the West) and Seven sisters(Pleiades in the West). The seven steps ceremony in Hindu weddings is a corresponding and connecting act in individual life.

Sacrifices are meant to connect humans with the invisible, using impermanent things to connect with the permanent. They require detachment from our own possessions (na mama, is the mantra meaning “this is not mine”) and destruction (of a plant or an animal). In the process the gestures and rituals are meant to recognize the correspondence between discrete items on this earth and the Completeness of the universe.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Correspondence and connections in the Vedas


Meditation is a mental activity trying to imagine, intuit and experience the links between the visible and the invisible, the immanent and the transcendent, the mundane and the divine and also between different levels of reality.

It appears that the Vedic rituals were designed to make connections between items of correspondence, between counterparts in the celestial world and the human world. Also between the mental and physical worlds, and between thoughts and actions. The counterparts are defined by similarities and resemblances.

The links can be made and are indeed made during rituals with postures and gestures. For example, in preparation for the sacrifice, the sacrificer had to retreat to a lonely hut and lie in a fetal position. He wore a white cloth over his head to “resemble” being hidden in amnion.

Since the sacrificer wants to be like the devas (gods), he has to remain awake for several hours before the sacrifice, because Gods are always awake and vigilant. He has to remain awake during the rituals lest errors creep in and the oblations are taken away by evil spirits.

Another example of correspondence lists Dawn, Sun, Wind and Fire in the earth (prithvi) and the corresponding deities in the celestial world namely Ushas, Aditya, Vayu and Agni.  

The links may even be based on words which sound similar. For example,  Ka is sukha for bliss and/or dukka or shoka for suffering. Ka is also Prajapati.

Since Prajapati is Time, seasons are Prajapati. So is mrtyu or death. So are the gods and the creatures that came out of Prajapati. Since the human who came out of Prajapati performs the sacrifice and sacrifices himself, he is himself Prajapati.

Prajapati and Death are like twins. Prajapati eats mrtyu and makes death part of himself. Satapata Brahmana: 10.5.2.23 says: “Now, that man in yonder orb (of the sun), and this man in the right eye, are no other than Death; and he becomes the body (self) of him who knows this: whenever he who knows departs this world he passes into that body, and becomes immortal, for Death is his own self.”  (purusho mrityur├╗pah)

In the process of performing the rituals, the Rishis saw the incongruities of killing of life. They gradually replaced the killing with chanting of mantras with sticks, clarified butter and grains and with rituals requiring internalization and mental activity. As they moved from the sacrifices of the Brahmanas with the meditations of the aranyakas and Upanishads, they internalized the external fire with internal ardor, tapas, intense mental activity. Satapata Brahmana says (11.2.6):  “He again draws in his breath: thereby he establishes that (fire) in his innermost soul; and that fire thus becomes established in his innermost soul.”

The connections made between corresponding domains are clear in the following description of Asvamedha sacrifice. This section is in the beginning of the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (1.1.1). “The head of the sacrificial horse is the dawn. The eye is the sun. Its vital force is the air. The open mouth is the internal heat (vaisvanara)…. The back is the heaven and the belly is the sky. The hoof is the earth…….The vessels (guda) are the rivers. … the hairs are the herbs…… Its yawning is lightning. Its shaking the boy is the thunder. Its making water is rain. Its neighing is the speech…”.   How much clearer can the connections be established?

We must remember that this is the transition period between the age of sacrifices and the age of metaphysics. The sages were interested in convincing the people that rituals are not as important as an inward journey. They were trying to stop the killings and rituals and move towards meditative practices to see the Brahman inside. In the process they were developing this concept of correspondence between the celestial world and the mental world.