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Saturday, November 30, 2019

More Examples of Correspondence

Since I wrote the blog on Correspondences earlier this year, I have continued to read various texts on Rg Veda and Satapata Brahmana. After understanding the concepts of equivalence, correspondences and connections, I could see meaning in several more passages of these ancient texts. Now I also understand what is meant by the words “sa evam veda” (One who understands thus) which recurs so often in Vedic texts.

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, between the mental and physical worlds, and between thoughts and actions. The counterparts are defined by similarities and resemblances.

When reading Vedic passages one can see attempts by the rishis to make connections between  corresponding elements on this earth, prithvi, the microcosm and in the world of the Gods, the sky or dyau, the macrocosm. According to the rishis, the orderly functioning of this world (dharma) depends on the order (rta) in the world of the gods. It appears that rituals were designed to make a connection between the cosmic order and the order in this world of nature and in the social structure. The sacrifice was one such ritual.

I learnt that the word Upanishad itself was used in Satapata Brahmana as referring to equivalence. S.B. 10:4,5 says that the function of the Upanishad is to formulate that Agni is the Aditya or the Sun (10: 4:5,1) and Agni is also the year(10:4:5,22). Then it says that “ his head is the spring, his right wing the summer, his left wing the rainy season, his middle body (trunk) the autumn season, and his tail and feet the winter and dewy seasons”. The intent of the rishis in making the connections are clear. In 10:4:5,33, the rishi equates the layers of bricks in the fire altar to the sacrificer and his mind (desires). 

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?

Another example of correspondence refers to the Sapta Rishis (seven seers). Nirukta says that these rishis represent the rays of the sun in the celestial sphere of the deities. In the human sphere they stand for the six senses (eye, ear, nose, skin, tongue and the mind) and the soul (atman). (Lakshman Sarup, on The Nighantu and Nirukta. Motilal Banarsidaa Publishers, Delhi. 2009. Pages 195-196). Sapta Rishis also stand for a constellation (Ursula Major in the western system), seven rivers, seven levels of mind and beyond, seven colors of light and seven notes of sound.

Nirukta tries to decipher the meaning of Vedic mantras and mythologies and often gives one meaning “according to ritualist” and another “according to etymologists”.

One such example can be seen in the commonly used mantra in weddings. It is from Rg Veda 10:80:40 and 41. It says that the bride was first “married to” Soman, then to Gandharvo (two Asvins) and then to Agni before given to the human bridegroom. The meaning in correspondence is to say that a girl is under the protection of Soman or the moon during the early childhood of innocence. Next, she is under the protection of Gandharva during the age of enjoyment and play. When she attains puberty, she is under the protection of Agni, signifying passion until she goes under the protection of a human male.

The links can be made and are indeed made during rituals with postures and gestures. For example, in preparation for the sacrifice in olden days, 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 had to remain awake for several hours before the sacrifice, because Gods are always awake and vigilant.

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. Prajapati and Death are like twins. Prajapati eats mrtyu and makes death part of himself. Satapata Brahmana: 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 using 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.”

Thus it is that meditation as 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 replaced the sacrifices which only the elite, the rich and the kings could perform.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Stories on Prajapati

This essay was informed and inspired by the writings of the Italian scholar Roberto Calasso. His books Ka and Ardor should be required reading for anyone interested in Vedic thoughts.

Purusha of the Vedas, Prajapati of the Brahmanas and the Puranas and the Brahman of the Upanishad are the same. Prajapati is more colorful because there are so many versions about who He is and how He became Prajapati.

Prajapati is the “superabundant” from which everything came and also the “irreducible unknown” (Roberto Calasso).  He was unsure of his own existence since he was made of Sapta Rishis (seven wisemen?). He did not even know who he was when Indra, his son told him “I want to be what you are.” Prajapati asked “Who am I?” (ka aham) Indra said: “You are what you said you are. Ka.” The conversation sounds almost like the famous “Who is on first base?” by Abbott and Costello comedy team.

Prajapati must have come from “asat” because “in the beginning there was nothing” says Rg veda. But, asat is not non-existent. How can something come out of nothing? Asat must have meant “unmanifest” to the seers.

There was unmanifest energy of vital breath (prana) from which seven rishis came. They were the first creation, neither god nor human. But they could not procreate themselves. Therefore, they combined themselves into a single body, a person, Purusha. Two rishis formed above the navel; two below the navel. One formed the right and another one made the left. One formed the base. There was no head. The rishis extracted all their energies, put them into a pot (kalasam) and that was the head. Now, we have a full person That was how Prajapati was created. But we know that  Prajapati is also the creator.

But Prajapati is not THE creator. He is just the Process of creation. When he looked outward a female appeared. That was Vac. Vac is in a way a daughter. Vac is also water and word.  Prajapati united with Vac mentally and since nothing is external to him, it was he who became pregnant. Thus were 8 vasus of the earth or prithvi , 11 rudras of the sky or antariksha and 12 adityas of the celestial or dhyau  born. Then came the Visvadevas. That gives 32. With Vac, the count becomes 33.

But, Prajapati was left out. He did not even get oblations in the sacrifice in which all his offsprings were worshipped. Even when there was an oblation for Prajapati, the mantra was said in a murmur, not loud. In fact, the reason for silence during offerings for Prajapati is even more telling.  There was an argument between Mind and Word as to which one was more important, mind or word?  They went to Prajapati. He said “mind.” Therefore, word (vac) refused to take part in his oblations!

In creating the Universe, Prajapati wanted to create firm ground on which creatures can flourish. He created earth, sky and heaven. When he started doing penance with his arms raised, stars came out of the vault of his arm-pit. “He held his arms in darkness”. After a thousand years, the “wind” arose. Agni came from his mouth and asked for something to eat, an oblation. Terror struck Prajapati and his greatness escaped from his mouth in the form of Vac, speech. Vac is space. Vac is sound which dwells in space. The sound produced was his own. Prajapati said so when he said: Sva aaha. (sva is self; aaha is spoke). And sacrificed himself into agni.

From Prajapati’s upward breath (apaana) came the gods. From his inward breath (prana) came the mortals. Among living creatures, he created death. Prajapati and death (mrtyu) were like twins. Having been exhausted after creating the creatures, Prajapati himself was frightened of death. So he swallowed death.

Another version says that Prajapati was exhausted after producing all the gods. He became skin and bone. And indistinct, not non-existent. As we saw earlier, he is Complete (Poornam). Even after all the gods were created out of him and even after Indra obtained all his splendor, there was a residue because he could not let go of the “irreducible.”

Prajapati was too feeble to call for help. The gods realized that their “father” needed help and decided to build him back up with sacrifice. But they failed initially because they had all the counts wrong in building the sacrificial altar. When the correct number of bricks (10,800) were laid in proper shapes and layers, they were successful. (Those interested in the geometry and the mathematics of the construction of the fire alter can find several sources on the web. Documentary Education Resources has a 50-minute video on Altar of Fire with a 9-minute preview. Also, the University of Pennsylvania has articles with figures on Vedic Altar at

Prajapati sacrificed himself to create the world. The gods built him back through sacrifice.

In another version, Prajapati did not want to be alone. He “created” Ushas, a female. When he wanted to co-habit with her, she got scared and ran away. She became a mare; he became a mare; they paired. She became a cow and he became a bull and so on. In the process were born all the animals and human.

In yet another version, Manu came from Prajapati. He created the first woman and united with her and thus came man, manusha.

If you think: “This is confusing. How many versions of Prajapati are there?”, you are right. 

We are told that the mind-born rishis were the first. They came from Prajapati. But, Prajapati was not the beginning because the rishis had to combine their parts to create Prajapati, as noted earlier. The rishis could not exist alone either. That is why they built themselves into parts of Prajapati.

 The point seems to be that when we trace back the origin of this universe and particularly the human, we end up in an impasse. Even if IT (tat, in Sanskrit) were a being like a rishi, two questions come up: 1. How did the rest of the animals and humans come without a female? If the first male cohabited with the first female, is it not an incest? 2. That IT had to have a mind first and experience a desire. How did it know about IT’s own desire? In fact, It said “so ham” or “aham asmi” or something to that effect.

The ritualists were aware of the residue whether they were talking about Bhu, bhuvah and svah as in the Brahmana, or about earth, sky and heaven as in the purana or about wakeful, dream and awake state in the Upanishads. They always wondered whether there was a world not touched by these three. What if there is a fourth, unseen world? That uncertainty existed always. That was Prajapati, the one they meditated on, the one to whom oblations were made in silence.

In other words, the First Entity said: I am. So, there is an I and something else lurking behind saying I am aware of my I. What is that? That is Prajapati. Roberto Calasso calls it the “id of what happens; a fifth column that spies on and sustains every event.” (Ardor. Page 94)

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Course correction for the Future (concluded)

The Future
How do we look to the future and make it safe for our children and grandchildren?
We need a new Dharma for this age of “Information Disorder”. Elements of this new Dharma should include Positive Values such as Compassion, Open-mindedness, Commitment to collaboration and cooperation, Forgiveness, Humility, respect for the dignity of the individual, justice, Truth-telling, sharing  of wealth and knowledge and Caring for the welfare of others, the society, other lives and the entire planet.
Each one of us will have to learn to separate useful information from useless and harmful information, learn to think on our own, find our own bliss and pass it on. There is no One Way. But we need to be humble since our way may not be correct and often unsuitable for someone else.
Our knowing and learning in the past few centuries  have been analytical and empirical. In science, we use sensory system to observe and measure. We use the collected data to analyze and synthesize using reason and logic. We then interpret and explain. This approach to nature's phenomena has enriched humanity. We need to build on science.  
In science we broke the whole into parts to study.We know lots of details. Now we have to put the parts together in the context of the "whole". We must connect to the “whole”, spiritually.
We have loads of information, too much sometimes. We must learn to transform that into wisdom. Wisdom is defined by its humility, ability to see the bigger picture, thoughtful and beneficial actions and above all to knowing the limits of one’s own knowledge.
Emotions and subjective knowledge have been de-emphasized  for obvious reasons. Emotions can mislead reason. But we cannot ignore them totally. We have to be objective. But the subjective factor in knowledge is equally important provided we acknowledge that our  knowledge may be wrong and the subjective knowledge of others is bound to be different. We need to be humble, open-minded and compassionate.
We cannot forget or ignore the fact that the subject is part of the thought itself. In spiritual matters  “the seeker is the sought”.
We need to supplement analytical knowing and thinking with Contemplative knowing and thinking. This allows one to be objective and at the same time help look at the object deeply with curiosity and without judgement. This allows letting go of habitual patterns of thinking, bias and dogmas and open the mind to new insights. It allows us to look at the part and the whole and recognize connections not known otherwise.
Contemplative knowing can lead to insights, intuition and inspiration. 
Every one of us will have to get out of the isolated island we live in and connect with others and with the world in compassion and with compassion.
We need new mythology and new symbols. The old ones have lost their relevance and not their importance. We need new world mythology. That is possible if we visualize the picture of the earth our space-scientists have given us.  One unit. Blue planet hanging in mid-air. It shows no borders. Only one border, between water and earth.
Joseph Campbell wanted us to use the ancient buildings and temples and cathedrals to talk to us about their spiritual information. We need cultural heritage tours of such sites to look at the substance behind the symbols.
We need to use Spirituality and Science similar to the way we use different lenses of the camera. We need spirituality for the mystery and science to understand reality.
We need to emphasize that morality is even more important than legality. That is to say that an action considered to be within the prevailing system of law may still be immoral. 
We need new symbols. May I suggest a few to choose from?  Earth seen from space; Exploding supernova; Wheeler’s Universal Eye.
We need new rites of passage (called Samskara in Sanskrit). It is particularly important for children entering adolescence. This should be more than a graduation party, or giving them a car key or cell phone.  But something to tell the child as suggested by Joseph Campbell: “you are ready to enter adult life; Go find your hero; go find your inner bliss. I am here to help you.”
We need a new motto such as those suggested by Joseph Campbell: “kill the inner dragon” and “Find your own bliss” and “Let others find their bliss” and “Love, everyone, unconditionally; Share; Forgive; Be Humble; Seek: Be Brave.”
We need common universal celebrations – for example, Thanksgiving Day and Mother’s (Nature’s) Day.
We must share  these thoughts and more with future generations so they grow up with respect for their tradition and at the same time respect for other traditions; so that they live in harmony with nature and with others in a peaceful world.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Course correction for the Future

Human mind is an amazing creation of nature. It demands an answer for the mystery of its own existence and even attempts to answer. Thanks to my medical profession and my own interest in diagnostic challenges, I have been thinking about the mind and its mechanisms for most of my adult life. In addition, immersion in meditation extended the realm of my thinking to another dimension. More recently my life in a senior home has given me yet another perspective, because of contact with residents with different levels of dementia.  Finally, information technology and its influence on our thinking at every level have given me an urgency to share the following thoughts. You are most welcome to offer corrections and other suggestions. 

Humanity has come a long way and thanks to the advances in science and technology in the past 100 to 150 years, so many lives have been enriched. So much more is possible, if only we can reflect every day and use the gift of our awareness and thinking to direct our lives and set a model for the future generations. We need to take stock of where we came from and where we are now. We should look at what we gained and what we lost in the process. A course-correction is in order right now in this era of information overload and "Information Disorder".

Let us look at the Then and Now.

Then, early humans probably lived as small tribes, very much like the few hunter-gatherers, who still live in the Andaman Islands and remote regions of the Amazon river basin. Survival of the individual required being part of groups, small clans. They gave up (Individuals had to give up) some personal choices and freedom for the safety and survival of the group, which in turn protected the individual.  

They lived in harmony with nature and respected it for what it gave. They led a more collaborative life. They were better connected with others and with nature and were aware of those connections, intuitively. They expressed them in group ceremonies, festivals, arts and poetry. Tight community bonds kept them loyal to their group and kept them accountable for their moral and ethical conduct. Of course, all the love and kindness to fellow human beings were let go when other clans encroached on their territory and their properties.

Later, with the release from the demands for obedience from the religious institutions and monarchs, individuals learnt to think for themselves. Authorities were challenged. Individuality started flourishing. Individual curiosity and creativity started innovations. Science flourished and led to a more reliable understanding of the universe. Technology made it possible for more people to exit poverty and lead a safer life. But technology came with its own set of problems.

Now, with the focus on the individual, individual success and happiness have become the focus of our lives. Individual is trying more and more to be the center of the cosmos and of attention. Therefore competition has become part of our lives. When we compete, someone succeeds, and someone loses. Empathy,  humility and compassion take a back seat. Individuals feel as if they are on their own in this competitive world. They forget that it is their own making. They lose their connection with others, even with one’s own kith and kin, and with the cosmos.

We live inside concrete and glass and not amidst nature.
We live in a world of noise-pollution. It is very difficult to find a quiet place in any city. It is difficult to listen to oneself in the middle of all this noise and the constant interruptions.
We live in a world of light pollution. We are living in light all through day and night. It is difficult to see the milky way from most cities.
To use the words of T.S Eliot, we live in  the “wasteland” of others’ lives.
We have only sites for amusements. We do not have a sacred place to retreat to. Joseph Campbell asks: “Where is your bliss station?” 
We have shopping malls and entertainment complexes. Where is a quiet place to retreat to and experience what we are and imagine what we want to be?
Nothing seems to be sacred. We do not have any shared sacred symbol to relate to. We do not have any sacred relationships – not even marriage.
Marriage has become a contract and not a covenant. The ritual is there in excess and with added layers of show and pomp. The substance is gone.
Even the places of worship are not safe any more. We have to go through security points to enter major shrines of the world. 
We have national heroes and national loyalties. But no universal heroes or Peace Warriors.
Instead of taking part in the journey of life, we have become “consumers” and passive spectators.
The old myths made for old times have lost their relevance. We are still clinging to them and trying to merge science and myth.
What can we do to face the future and help the future generations? 

I am an optimist and care about the future generations. Here are a few ideas for The Future……… (in the next blog)