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Saturday, June 27, 2020

Beginner’s mind

“Beginner’s mind” is an important concept in Buddhism. This is opposite of an expert mind. Beginner’s mind imagines infinite possibilities, since it has an innocent, uncluttered mind, is curious and is open to all ideas.

In contrast, an expert mind is full of what it has learnt which is useful and practical. At the same time, to an extent, it is a closed mind and has a restricted view.

We need both. Expert mind is helpful to deal with the physical universe. An innocent mind is helpful to imagine and relate to other lives and the cosmos.

In their book on Instructions to the Cook, Glassman and Fields compare this to a child learning to walk. The child takes a few steps and falls. Gets up, takes one or two more steps and falls. But she does not go into a funk and says: “I am so clumsy and will never be able to walk”. If children develop that mental attitude – thank goodness, they do not – they will never walk.

It is so with meditation. You will fall, fall again and again. You just have to get up and walk.

You must do so with an open mind and curiosity. That comes only if you let go of all pre-conceived notions of what you are and what meditation is. You have to ask with curiosity – Is that so? Is that who “I” am? Am I sure?

Curiosity is the first component of the Beginner’s mind.

Then comes faith, in yourself, as you are with all your defects. It is self-compassion.

And, determination to practice – in the form of intention to let go of concepts and to meditate every day.

Then comes Attention, initially to breath. Later, to whatever you are doing.

Attention is Focus.

Then comes Awareness, awareness of your breath first.

Then, awareness of whatever is happening to you and in you.

Awareness of what you are, what your strengths and weaknesses are.

Those strengths and weaknesses are compared to the kitchen pantry by the authors of the book on Instructions to the Cook. You may not have all the ingredients in your pantry. You have to cook the best dinner with what you have.

You can replace your weakness with one of your strengths. But you can also use your weakness as a strength, just as you may “use one of the spices to change the flavor of your meal”. 

You may wish to read the book on Instructions to the Cook to understand what meditation is and what it is for.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Cooperation, Collective Welfare, Common Good and Common Purpose

Dear Family and friends,

                just like all of you and so many others, I have been thinking about the stresses piling up on common folks, and particularly on the poor and the vulnerable, all over the world. I summarized the many lessons I learnt during this epidemic about humanity in general and about individuals and nations. If you agree with these ideas, please help spread the message. If you have additional ideas, please share them with everyone.

We, humans, are vulnerable. We, humans, depend on each other for survival. This virus does not care where you are from, whether you are a male or a female, white or colored, or whatever category you want to “pigeonhole” people into.

Some other lessons I learnt were 1.the recognition of who the essential workers are in a society; 2. that most of these workers are women and minorities; 3. This pandemic is taking an undue toll among the poor; 4. The socio-economic divide is made glaringly obvious by this small virus and 5. The most altruistic people of the society are the front-line essential workers.

I also made a list of things I would like to change, if only I had the platform to change. Then, I realized that listing problems and writing solutions are not adequate, if we, as a society, do not agree on a vision. 

Several factors during the past few decades have driven our civilization to a critical point in history. Scientific developments, technological advances and, education of  professionals in every field have contributed immensely to the uplift of millions around the world out of poverty. Rewards for contribution to the society and encouragement and recognition of individuals for such contributions have benefitted humanity in general. More recent developments including rapid travel and instant communication have brought peoples of the world together more than ever before.

At the same time, the social and economic divides have become wider. All kinds of “…isms” are driving people into corners and polar positions, thanks partly to social media. In addition to contending with rapid spread of infections such as the coronal virus, we have to deal with endemic “mental viruses” such as racial bias, gender bias, color bias, caste bias etc.,

This is a good time for the civilization to rethink its purpose, refocus on priorities and reimagine the future. What  should a broad and bold vision look like?  What are the values that should guide our remedies? Can we create a vision we can all agree on?

Here is a personal  point of view

Humanity has reaped the fruits of  socio-political philosophy emphasizing primacy of the individual (personal effort and success, in other words competition), pursuit of happiness and legal rights. It is time we turn our attention to and balance them with a system which emphasizes common purposes of collective welfare, cooperation, spiritual happiness, morality and ethics.

We live in a period in history when competition and pursuit of happiness are emphasized, may be overemphasized. When we compete, the emphasis is on the individual. In our desire to “win”, some of us are likely to use “unfair” means. Even if we win “fair and square” someone else loses. That someone will wait for his/her chance to get even. There will be inequality  and unhappiness. There is bound to be disharmony.

Add to this sense of competition, the fact that the competition is for physical possessions in the “pursuit of happiness”. The word “happiness” is connected in the minds of most people and most often with material happiness. Competition begets more competition because “I want to get what she has” and “I want build a house bigger than his”. More emphasis on individual happiness and individual success leads us to our own private islands. It leads to social isolation, suffering, sadness, depression, jealousy and anger in one group. It leads to anxiety, restlessness, fear and moral torpor in another group. In essence, there is misery all around.

On further thinking, I believe that one other cause for social disharmony is the primacy given to legality over morality and ethics. In settling disputes coming out of competition, conflicts in individual rights and injury caused by relentless pursuit of profits and happiness, the current ethos among a number of people, particularly in business and politics, seems to be that as long as one can get away with the “fine prints” of law, it is acceptable even if it is immoral. Morality and ethics do not seem to matter.

How can we escape this cycle? What are some principles which should form the basis of  a vision for the future?

For a peaceful and just society, competition must be moderated by cooperation.

The word happiness should include collective happiness and spiritual happiness. Individual happiness must be moderated by universal welfare. Pursuit of happiness should include not only  pursuit of material happiness but also happiness of others and spiritual happiness.

Morality and ethics should matter and, morality must take precedence over legality. Even if the law allows, one should not practice what the “inner light” says is immoral.

Responsibilities and duties of the individuals, organizations and the government should be considered covenants, in which the more powerful in the transaction takes care of the welfare of the weaker participant; and not mere legal contracts, buried in small prints and disclaimers, which can be manipulated by the rich and the powerful.

Great civilizations need lofty ideals to aim for and noble values to be guided by.

Friday, June 12, 2020

More lessons learned

While translating Asya Vamasya Sukta, I used several dictionaries and texts. I also read two interpretations. As you can see, I was trying to translate the great rishi and my main aid was my imagination of his state of mind at that time in history. I did not try to interpret. In the process of learning about the rishi and his suktas, I learnt a few other tit-bits. Here they are.

The cock is a symbol of Vac (speech) in the Vedic writings because the sound a cock  makes, which is ko, koh, Kowh is said to resemble the short, long and protracted vowels in Sanskrit. This is according to Panini himself.

Seven male children of Agni represent the seven principles of manifestation, namely Mind, Life, earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space.

The wheel is a symbol of Dharma (dharma chakra) and, also a symbol of Time because dharma is a counterpart of rta or cosmic order and it is driven by time. One horse chariot is a symbol of time.

Seven sisters may be the same as seven divine mothers, seven rays of the sun (colors), seven scales in music.

 Self-existent creator is called Svayambhu. He is the father principle – dyau, Prajapati, purusha. He projects himself into the female principle – prithvi, viraj, prakriti.

There is a woman principle in each male and vice versa.

Mind is cosmos. Brahman is mind.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Asya Vamasya Sukta - 18

            This is the final segment of Asya Vamasya Sukta of Rishi Dirghatamas. I cannot close without paying the highest respect possible to this remarkable ancestor of ours. It is a privilege to be able to say that we are his heirs.  

One other remark. In Mantra 46, I did not give the well-known Sanskrit version of the statement that "There is only one Truth; the wise call it by different names". It is "Ekam Satyam, vipra bahudha vadanti". 

Mantra 48: “The wheel is single. There are twelve fellies (segments of a wheel to which spokes are attached). There are three naves (axles). Who has understood this? Three hundred and sixty spokes are fixed together, and they cannot be loosened.”

The wheel stands for time – cyclic, rhythmic and for a year with 12 months, 3 seasons and 360 days and 360 nights. They cannot be altered; they move with no variation. The poet is struck with the mystery of time and its cyclic occurrence.

Mantra 49: “O Sarasvati, you feed us all the best things from your breast which cannot be exhausted;  giver of wealth and riches and knower of Vasus, please nourish us.”

I think, the rishi is referring to the river Sarasvati, which was an important river in the Vedic days. It must have been a rich source of food and the site of a great vedic civilization at one time. We know that it dried over a period of time and it is believed that people moved east towards Ganga after this major event.

Sarasvati comes from saras meaning water and the word saras comes from the root word sru, to flow. We are also told that in Vedic days, the river Indus was called Sindhu, which means “to flow”. An earlier name for Indus river was susoma. The land of Sindhu became Hindustan in Persian.

Mantra 50: This is an exact reproduction of  Purusha Sukta 10:90:16. Therefore, scholars will argue whether Asya vamasya Sukta was an earlier one, or Purusha Sukta.

Either way, here is the translation of the hymn. “The devas performed yagna by means of yagna. They were laid as the earliest duties or law (dharma). Those great sages attained higher abodes where Sadhya devas dwell.”

The idea of yagna performing yagna or the “egg or chicken” riddle was always part of the Vedic ideas. “Prajapati sacrificed himself in the beginning from which Devas came” say the puranas which came later. Purusha sukta says that. But the seeds of this idea were there earlier, it seems. The rishis also wondered about how the first life started. “Fire is produced from fire; life from life” says Aitreya Brahmana 1:16.

By the time devas attained higher abode or heaven, and the rishis got there, it was already the abode of the Saadhya Devas. Who were they? Sādhya (साध्य) are  devatās who  play important roles in Purāṇic stories. They  were the grand-children of Dakṣa-prajāpati. It is said that ten of the  sixty daughters of the Prajāpati  were married to Dharmadeva. Dharmadeva’s sons by his wife Visva were the Viśvadevas  and the sons by Sādhyā were the Sādhyas. In other words, these devas were already in the higher abode when the rishis were performing sacrifices.

Mantra 51: “The same water moves up and down with the passing of days. The clouds (from above) give life to earth and the fire (from earth, below) give life to heaven.”

The poet seems to emphasize the mutual relationship between humans and the devas (deities). Humans perform sacrifice (agni) and feed the devas. In turn, the devas give rain to earth so humans can grow food for themselves and to send to the devas through agni in sacrifice. This mutual relationship is mentioned in many Vedic and Puranic text.

Mantra 52:  “I pray to/invoke Sarasvan (Surya), who is celestial, golden-winged (rays) bird (Suparnam, divyam, vaayasam), who is growing (bruhantam)  and who is born of waters (apaam garbham) for protection.”

Every word in this hymn can be easily understood. In Vedic Sanskrit, ocean of this earth is arnava and the celestial ocean is sarasvan.  Sarasvan is the sun because he is one who stores water. Vedic texts mention the understanding the rishis had of the sun drying up the oceans by taking the waters up and giving  back as rain.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Asya Vamasya Sukta - 17

Mantra 45:  “Speech has been determined to be made of four parts. Intelligent/ wise/ learned Brahmanas know them. Three of them do not move and are hidden. Man speaks only the fourth part.”

In the Vedas, Vac is next in importance to Brahman. It is not surprising since it is speech that made it possible for the rishis to express their thoughts and imaginations. If Brahman is the male (or Purusha of later philosophies), Vac is the female part (or Prakriti of later concepts).

But, what does Dirghatamas mean by “four parts” of speech? In later philosophies, speech is said to be an outcome of paraa, pashyanti,madhyama and Vaikari. In fact, any sound is made of these parts. Vaikari, which means articulated utterance, is the only the final outside part.  Paraa is the first stage when it is just a thought. Pashyanti is the stage when the thought gets activated to produce sound (naadam). Madhyama is when the effort to produce sound comes against the throat, mouth, tongue and teeth to make the actual sound/ or speech. Finally comes vaikari.

The problem is that I do not know whether these ideas were known at the time of Dirghatamas. If not, what did he mean by “four parts”? He still could have thought of several stages  between the time one wants to make a sound and actually makes it.

In addition, he refers to Brahmana, which is the name for one of the four priests of sacrifices in those days. Three of them (Hotr, advaryu and saman) were performing the sacrifice, when the Brahmana was always practicing silence, just observing and making sure the rituals were performed correctly and no mistakes were made in recitation or practice. Did Dirghatamas refer to these four?

Mantra 46:  This is one of the most famous passages from all the Vedas. The well-known statement "Ekam satyam, vipra bahudha vadanti" is from this mantra. It reads as follows:

“They call that Divine Golden Wing Garutman (Dictionary meaning of garutman includes bird and fire), Indra, Mitra, Varuna and Agni. The sages speak of the One by many names such as Agni, Yama and Matarishvan (Vayu).”

(“He is one; the sages call Him by many names” is the famous quote from Rg Veda)

Garutman, if interpreted as Fire can be correct since Agni is considered the primary deva, the leader of sacrifice in the Vedas. If interpreted as bird, I do not know what it might have meant to the poet. Did he imagine Brahman as a golden-winged bird?

Mantra 47: “The cow-pen (niyaanam) is dark. The rays are golden. (or the birds are golden-winged). Robed in waters they fly to heaven. From the region enveloped by Vrtra (aavavrtran)  they come again and again following cosmic order( rta). The earth is moistened with sprinkles (ghrta).”

Is the poet referring to the clouds  when he says “cow-pen” since it  is symbolically referred to as the place where  cows were hidden by Ila and Indra released them? The golden colored bird may be the sun. The second line seems to suggest the seasonal return of rainclouds and rain. One meaning of ghrita is sprinkling and Rg Veda itself refers to pouring ghee into Agni as similar to rain.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Asya Vamasya Sukta - 16

Mantra 42:  “The oceans flow from her; The four regions of space (cardinal directions) are sustained by her. The imperishable akshara becomes kshara; the cosmos is sustained.”

Akshara suggests alphabets and therefore the entire hymn may be addressed to Vac, speech. But, it is more logical to see this hymn being addressed to Divine Mother, or Brahman from whom/which all of the waters and the space came. Also, akshara means something from which nothing can be removed; something that does not diminish. That can be only Brahman, the Primordial Force. And, kshara is the material world, which can decay and diminish.

Some interpreters consider this hymn being addressed to vac, speech. But the explanations they give to explain words such as akshara and kshara and Samudra seem farfetched to me , considering that Dirghatamas lived long before such explanations were possible.

Mantra 43:  This is a puzzling hymn, difficult to understand. For one thing, the rishi uses the word “shakamayam”. The only meaning I can find is that it stands for something coming out of excretion. Therefore, two interpreters translate it to mean “cow dung”.

He uses other words which are also difficult to grasp. For example, the word Ukshana means sprinkled, consecrated. Prushni may mean spotted as an adjective; but as feminine noun this word may mean ray of light, earth, cloud, milk and the starry sky.

The hymn translates as follows, according to my non-scholarly understanding. “ I see smoke from afar, coming out of excretion. It is smoldering between (or at the center of) heaven and earth. They cook the spotted bull or they see (not apachyanta; apashyanta) the consecrated cloud (or earth or the rays of light). That was the custom in the beginning.”

 What is the poet referring to? May be, he is talking about the appearance of the sun in the sky from amidst smoke and clouds? Or, is he talking about a sacrifice in which the “divine person” comes through in the middle through smoke and fire? How do we make sense of the word “shakamayam”, if the meaning is really cow dung?  May be, the poet has used some other word and it got corrupted?

My note: I woke up one morning and realized that I should look for internal consistency and continuity of ideas to understand this puzzling hymn number 43. The preceding Hymn 42 refers to the cosmos and mentions oceans, earth, imperishable and the cosmos. The next Hymn 44 mentions(rather, implies)  components of cosmos such as agni, apah and vayu and probably Aditya or surya. Therefore, going back to hymn 43, it is possible that the poet was referring to the sun seen through the clouds and the rays (prishni) coming through the clouds(ukshana). Or, the fire in the sacrificial altar seen through the smoke in this world and the sun’s rays coming through the clouds in the sky.

Mantra 44: “Three deities with matted hair appear in ordered seasons. One of them sows (or cuts) (vapati) in these yearly cycles (samvatsare). With his powers one sees (supports) the universe. By its activity (shachibih) and its impulse or power (dhrajih), one is seen; but not His form.”

One meaning of Samvatsara is the first year in a cycle of five years, which might have been the custom in the days of Dirghatamas.

This hymn probably refers to the rta or rhythmic cycles of season and years and the three deities with matted locks may refer to agni-apah-and vayu or to Aditya. In some places agni-apah-and vayu are referred to as Aditya. Aditya also meant the Sun and his rays are often referred to as his hair. In specific seasons, which depend on the sun, people sow seeds or reap the harvest.

The hymn also implies that behind this visible universe is an unseen force which drives. We know of its presence by its activities and its powers, but we do not see his form. This must imply the Primordial Source of it all, Brahman.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Asya Vamasya Sukta - 15

Mantra 39: “All the gods have taken their seat upon the Supreme, Imperishable One (akshare) in the Veda. What will one who does not know this do, with the Veda? But they who know have assembled.”

They who know must mean all the rishis and the devas such as Indra, Varuna etc.,

Mantra 40: “She became glorious (bhagavati) because of the sacrifice (suyavasat; suya also means soma). O, Divine Cow, (aghnye) eat the grass and drink the water at all seasons, roaming at will.”

This mantra seems to be addressed to the Divine Mother to bestow us with riches. Also refers to sacrifice as a way to please her. And to endow us, her children, with food and water in plenty.

Mantra 41: The mantra is: “Gowri has fashioned out of water (or, making sounds with water), has formed one-footed, two-footed, four-footed, eight-footed and nine-footed. She is thousand-syllabled (sahasrakshara) in the highest heaven (parame vyoman).”

Gowri has several meanings: a young virgin, wife of Varuna, earth and speech (vac). Later, this term was also applied to Parvathi. Is the word Gowri applied to Divine Mother or to Mother Earth who has given birth to all kinds of creatures and as one who has become thousands?

May be, the poet is using the word Gowri to apply to Vac, Goddess of Speech (later became Saraswati). In that case the two footed, four-footed etc., may apply to the meters (chandas) of Vedic hymns and to speech in general with thousands of letters and syllables.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Happy Mother's Day

Wishing all the mothers a Happy Mother’s Day. 

During my first year of residence in this country, two celebrations attracted my attention. One was the Thanksgiving Day (1958). The other was the Mother’s Day (1959). Following the ideas of Scott Momaday, I have wondered about a shared festival for all of humanity, one that any one from any nation and any faith tradition can celebrate. Mother’s Day and Thanksgiving Day fit the bill perfectly: One to celebrate and thank our own mothers and the other to celebrate and thank Mother Nature.

Did you know that one Ms. Anna Jarvis of Philadelphia started it all in 1905?  Due to her efforts, the first state to adopt it was West Virginia followed by Pennsylvania. In 1914, a resolution was passed by the Congress to observe Mother’s Day throughout the United States. Ms. Jarvis lived to see it happen, but we are told that when the day became uncontrollably commercialized, she felt bitter for having started it all.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Asya Vamasya Sukta - 14

Mantra 36: “ The seed of the universe is made of the seven sons of the half (ardha). They maintain their functions through Vishnu’s command. The omnipresent ones, endowed with wisdom, surround us on all sides through their intelligence and thought.”
What does ardha, or half mean? Most likely, it means the invisible, the transcendent half. Who are the seven sons? Most likely, they represent matter with five elements, life and mind.  Vishnu, as we know now was not the same in those days. Vishnu was one of the 12 adityas and may stand for Sun, the Aditya. Or, is the poet referring to the sapta rishis, sons of Angirasa?
Mantra 37: The poet says: “ I do not know who or what I am”. Actually, the words can be interpreted to mean “I do not know whether I am the same as cosmos” (yad idam yeva asmi). The poet goes on to say: “ yet I am wandering around tied to this mystery (ninnyah samviddho).”
“When the first-born rta reached me, then I obtained a portion of Vac”. May be, he is saying that “when the consciousness reached me, or when I got endowed with consciousness, I obtained the power of speech.”
Rta is universal order. The rishi is recounting the appearance of human life and the associated powers of consciousness and speech that makes it possible for him to express his doubts and sense of mystery in words.
Mantra 38: The meaning of this hymn is straight forward and refers to the rta.
“ Driven by its own energy, the immortal which shares a common womb with the mortal, moves rhythmically, ceaselessly. They see the one but not the other.”
It appears that the rishi is talking about the rhythmic nature of phenomena such as sun rising and setting, life coming and going endlessly. He also suggests that life and death are part of the same rhythmic order. We see this visible world, this impermanent matter. We fail to see the force behind it – the immortal, the invisible.
Birth and death are parts of individual beings. Life and Consciousness as phenomena are parts of the Cosmos. It is the natural order. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Living in Day-tight Compartment

In my post on Mental Health Tips for All Times (April 11, 2020), one of the items I included was “Live in Day-tight compartments”. Here is an explanation for that quote.

“Live in Day Tight Compartments” was the advice Dr. (Sir) William Osler’s gave in his famous address to the graduating medical students at Yale in 1913. Dr. Osler who became the Professor of Medicine in four major universities modernized the practice of medicine and medical education.  In this address, he advised young physicians to practice their skills consistently, one day at a time in Day Tight Compartments. He also said that he learnt this from Thomas Carlyle who said:

Our main business is not to see

What lies dimly at a distance

But to do what lies clearly at hand.

In Mindful Living, it is called Living in the present moment, Calming the mind and Expanding the heart. And, just today I realized that the present moment is the intersect between my historical dimension as an individual (the part) and the Universal dimension, the Whole, the Essence.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Asya Vamasya Sukta - 13

Mantra 32: “He who made this (cosmos) does not comprehend it. The creation is hidden from him  who saw (could have seen) it. He, the source of many lives (bahupraja), is enveloped by the mother’s womb (matur yona) and has entered the world of nirriti.”

This is an expression of the mystery of the origins of the universe and of life. Sounds similar to the Nasadiya Sukta.

The Vedic meaning of the word nirriti is “the world of the vasus and the rudras” in  other words, the earth, the mortal world.

 Mantra 33: “Dyau (the sky or heaven) is my father. Prithvi (Earth) is my mother. They are tied by kinship (by my navel). They are like two bowls laid together (one upon the other) making a womb. The father deposited the seed in the daughter’s (duhithuh garbham) womb.”

The second part may jolt a few. But, questions about the origin of the many from the one, the origin  of the first male or female, the origin of the two sexes and the unavoidable doubt that the first child was born out of brother-sister or father-daughter union were thought of by these wise ancestors of ours. They expressed their ideas bluntly and openly. This became the source for later mythologies about how the human race began when Prajapati or Manu cohabited with their daughters and was looked down upon. 

Mantra 34: “I am asking: What is the farthest limit of the earth? What is the center of the universe? What is the fertilizing power of the stallion? What is the highest abode/station/reach of Vac (speech)?”

The rishi answers his questions himself in the next mantra.

Mantra 35: “This altar is the farthest limit of earth. The sacrifice is the center of the universe. Soma is the essence of the  stallion. Brahma is the highest reach of speech.”

The first three answers make it clear that the rishi was speaking about vedic sacrifice which was the essence of Vedic teachings, suggested in the rk mantras and formalized into rituals in the Brahmanas, which is one part of the Veda samhitas. The word Brahma deserves some explanation. Brahma may stand for Prajapati (and not Brahma as we know today). Or, does it stand for Brahmana? What is written in English as Brahmana , may be with Brah in short form or Braah in long form. Brahmana with short forms also stands for one of the four priests in Vedic ceremonies. His duty was to just observe the conduct of the sacrifices and make sure they are done properly, recognize any errors and make a remedy immediately. He practiced silence - the other end of chanting and doing. Some scholars say that his role was the starting point for the development of meditation as an approach to the Brahman. Speech and Silence are certainly the reaches of Vac.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Positive Message from H H Dalai Lama

As you know, I am mixing positive messages with my usual posts on Asya Vamasya Sukta.
Here is a message from the Charter for Compassion   April 3, 2020 with an excerpted message from the Dalai Lama dated 30 March 2020.

My dear brothers and sisters, 

...[A]ncient Indian tradition describes the creation, abiding and destruction of worlds over time. Among the causes of such destruction are armed conflict and disease, which seems to accord with what we are experiencing today. However, despite the enormous challenges we face, living beings, including humans, have shown a remarkable ability to survive.

No matter how difficult the situation may be, we should employ science and human ingenuity with determination and courage to overcome the problems that confront us. Faced with threats to our health and well-being, it is natural to feel anxiety and fear. Nevertheless, I take great solace in the following wise advice to examine the problems before us: If there is something to be done—do it, without any need to worry; if there’s nothing to be done, worrying about it further will not help.... 

...[I]understand that as a result of the necessary lockdowns across the world, many people are facing tremendous hardship due to a loss of livelihood. For those with no stable income life is a daily struggle for survival. I earnestly appeal to all concerned to do everything possible to care for the vulnerable members of our communities.

I offer special gratitude to the medical staff—doctors, nurses and other support personnel—who are working on the frontline to save lives at great personal risk. Their service is indeed compassion in action.

With heartfelt feelings of concern for my brothers and sisters around the world who are passing through these difficult times, I pray for an early end to this pandemic so that your peace and happiness may soon be restored.

With my prayers,

 [H.H. Dalai Lama]
Let me follow it up with a link to an audio on eight pillars of Joy based on a book by H H Dalai Lama and Rev. Desmond Tutu with the title Book of Joy. This came to me in an email from IdeaArchitects who published that book.  Here is the link:

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Asya Vamasya Sukta - 12

Mantra 29: This and subsequent hymns make it clear that Dirghatamas is explaining the origin of this earth and various forms of life in it. But the symbolism eludes me.

This hymn says that “he who had covered the cow sneezes to expel her. She is mooing from her station with rain (the clouds). She has created the mortals with her mental power. Shining as lightning, she has stripped the veil.”

Does the  “he who had enveloped the cow” stand for the Primordial One (later Brahman or Prajapati)? And does the cow stands for life? And sneezing refers to His breathing life into the “cow”? Does it also stand as an answer to the insolvable puzzle, namely the gender of the first human? If the first human was male, how did the female come about? If the first human was female, how did the male come about?

The cow (Aditi) , the first female whose life was breathed into her by the Primordial, then made the others. She made them by her mental power (chittibhih), may mean that just like Prajapati she desired to have off-springs. Or, it may mean that Aditi made mortals with mental powers.  And the symbol cow can also stand for the clouds and rain and that is why the rishi says that she was mooing from the clouds (thunder) and the lightening discharged the rain from the clouds.

It may also mean that the cow stands for light which dispels the darkness of the “cloud” and of ignorance.

Really, I do not know.   

Mantra 30: The ideas from the previous hymn on the origin of life flow into this one clearly. It says: “That which has breath (anat), fast movements (turagathu) and stirring of the mind (ejat) is established firmly in the midst of the abode. The immortal  move with the mortal by the self-generated power. (Or, the living move with the power of the immortal?). The mortal and immortal are born of the same womb (sayonih).”

This seems to define life as one with breath, movements and a mind. It also says, in essence, that life and death are part and parcel of life. There is a suggestion of continuity with the dead which may explain the later development of rituals to please the ancestors (pitru).

Mantra 31: “ I have seen the cowherd (gopa), who is steady, and who comes and goes along determined pathways. Invested with brilliance/splendor, he travels within the worlds (plural, bhuvaneshu) in all directions.”

The rishi seems to be clearly talking about the sun with its brightness and his rhythmic appearances every morning. In the Nighantu (Vedic dictionary), the word “gow” is given several meanings. One is “cow”; and another is “ray”. Therefore, the sun with his rays becomes the cowherd, who takes his cattle for grazing every morning and brings them back in the evening. The poet is referring to the rhythm, natural order, which is the rta of the Vedas.

One interpreter considers the word cowherd to mean Prana and gives interesting explanation. Sounds too far-fetched to me.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Mental Health Tips for All Times - From several sources

                                Good sleep


                                Time with Nature


                                Daily Routine (not too strict)

                                Writing journal (diary)

Finding something you like to and, doing it daily


                                Read (not only what you always like to read; but something new and different. Some humor; classics)

                                Music – listen or better still, sing or play

Write letter(s)

Send a note of gratitude or send a gift

Better still Volunteer  

Indulge yourself a little, not too much

Build and maintain relationships with unconditional love and compassion

Avoid competitions and comparisons

Stay informed from reliable sources

Avoid 24-hour news channels

“Live in day-tight compartments” 

Be detached without getting disengaged, if you can (this is particularly for the seniors)

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Asya Vamasya Sukta - 11

Mantra 26:  This hymn refers to a cow, one who milks, to savitr who produces some distilled, (or is it purified or clarified), liquid and a reference to boiling something.

“ I invoke the cow (or is it Cow with a capital C?) so that the one who milks with blessed hands can milk her. May Savitr give us excellent sava; it is (made) warm (hot).” (or is it warm and shining milk, because the word abhidh means shining or inflamed and gharma is warm or hot)

The rishi is now clearly using the metaphor of cow and the Sun to point to something. The cow may refer to Aditi, the Universal Mother, from whom all the Adityas came and all the Universe. She is Mother Nature. She is the wish-fulfilling cow, kamadhenu. Rishis, Devas, humans and asuras obtain their needs (milk) from her. Therefore, savitr probably refers to a father figure, the Sun.

There are references in the Brahmana portion of the Veda which consider the cosmos and the individual body as vessels to warm or as receptacles of heat (gharma or gharam).

Mantra 27: She (the cow), the guardian of riches, has come here making hinkara sound yearning for her calf. May we get her milk to feed the Asvins. May she prosper for our benefits.

This is obviously a prayer to Aditi, the mother of all the riches. Asvins , the twin sons of the Sun by a nymph named Saranyu. They are celebrated as physicians to the devas since they restored youth to the old and decrepit sage by name Chyavana. According to Nirukta, the Asvins may represent day and night, or heaven and earth. In one Vedic commentary they are supposed to represent transition from darkness to light and thus related to Ushas, or dawn.

Mantra 28: "The cow calls (bellows, hinkrnoti) her calf standing there with blinking eyes and licks his forehead. She calls him to her warm udder and feeds him while mooing gently."

To me, this is  just a beautiful description of a mother feeding her baby. Dirghatamas is a poet and describes a scene. I remember such scenes from my childhood in India because we had a cow in our house. I also saw it recently in Galapagos Island when a sea-lion came out of the water, made noises and located her baby from among dozens running around and when her baby came, she just lied down and let her baby feed. It is just beautiful because life is mysterious, it is natural, it is universal, it is nurturing. One never gets tired of admiring although this scene has been repeated billions of times.

I find it inappropriate  when one of the interpreters hoists his ideas based on later developments in philosophy onto this simple hymn. Here is a sample: “ Why should the mother kiss on the forehead with himkara? Because it is a Bijamantra, with the syllable hym standing for both mind and matter in which “ha” as the consonant stands for Matter and “I” stands for the Mind and the nasal sound for the prana. Why kiss on the head? Because the head is the symbol of heaven, the immortal devas" etc.,

This is  a problem I see all the time when I read interpreters.  Why put words in the author’s mouth and use them as support for our own personal bias?

Why not just enjoy this simple hymn as is? At the most, we can say that the Cow symbolizes Universal Mother and we are all her children. She is a loving mother and will take care of us. I may add that the poet could have called the calf a female but did not. This may mean  something; may be, not.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Golden Rule Day on April 5th

The Golden Rule and the Charter for Compassion

I received a message recently  from the Charter for Compassion announcing that they plan to celebrate a world-wide day of awareness of the Golden Rule on April 5, 2020.

Here is their message: 

As an ambassador we ask you to help us promote Golden Rule Day to your networks. 

You can share the following:

our website:

Facebook page: 

YouTube page:

You can share the videos posted there, and any content you may find in our facebook page.

We are celebrating Golden Rule Day on April 5th, and anyone can join in and watch all the fun and interesting videos we'll be showing.

Hope you will join.

Thank you

I agreed to spread the message.  I hope you will join in sharing the message of the Golden Rule. You can find more details about this movement and about this special day at the website mentioned above.

May I add that I have signed on to the Charter for Compassion? As a charter member of this movement, I received the note referred to at the beginning of this message.

Hope you will join this circle of compassion.

But I should first tell you what the Golden Rule is, what the Charter for Compassion is and who is behind this movement.

First, what is the Golden Rule?

The Golden Rule is the principle of treating others as you would like to be treated by others. Or, put it in a negative sense, not doing to others what you would not like done to you.

This principle is enshrined in all religions and traditions for millennia. But the name Golden Rule to refer to this principle seems to have originated in the 17th century in England. It was endorsed by leaders of major faiths of the modern world in 1993 by being included in the “Declaration towards a Global Ethic”. The exact words were: “We must treat others as we wish others to treat us.”

There are websites which list examples of this Golden Rule in all the major faiths. The ones I am most familiar with follow:

“What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”  Hillel, The Elder. Babylonian Talmud

“Do unto others what you want them do to you.”  Matthew 7:12 The New Testament

“Do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.” Maha Bharata Shanti Parva 167:9

Thiruvalluvar, the famous Tamizh poet, whose book Kural has been translated into all the  major languages of the world, has devoted an entire chapter (Chapter 32) to this topic. The title of this chapter is “Innaa Saiyamai”, which means “Not hurting others”. Verse 316 in this chapter reads as follows: “Do not do to others what you know has hurt yourself.”

Next, what is the Charter for Compassion and who is behind this movement?

Karen Armstrong, the celebrated scholar of world religions, noted that Compassion is emphasized in all world traditions. Yet, extremist views have overshadowed the application of this simple idea of compassion which is the essence of the Golden Rule. Therefore, she started a movement to encourage the application of the Golden Rule all over the world. She wanted to create a Charter for Compassion. Organizers of TED programs supported her efforts initially and now this has become a world movement. Several cities have adopted this Charter and initiated programs based on Compassion.

At this time in history when there is  more intolerance, violence and negative news cycles, let each one of us counteract their influence by spreading positive messages of Compassion and Golden Rule to bring harmony and well-being to all.  We owe it to the future generation.

Here are a few links to the Charter for Compassion movement. These links are worth sharing with members of our family and friends – particularly the younger generation.  

When I thought about what we can do now, particularly during this pandemic and the health-related global crisis, here are a ideas to consider:

1. Send a message of Gratitude to the Health Care Workers all over the world. They have put their own lives at risk to serve their fellow human beings.

2. Send a message of loving-kindness and a prayer to support all the mothers who are giving birth during this pandemic  without the support of their families.

3.Send a message of loving-kindness and compassion for all those patients who are seriously ill and, in the ICU, fighting their battle alone without the presence of their family

4.Send a message of loving-kindness and hope to the immigrants in limbo in several countries (I am told there about 22 million of them) who are left alone to fend for themselves in this moment of crisis

5. Finally and most importantly, do something tangible, something within our ability, to back up our wishes and prayers.

Thank you for reading

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Positive Thoughts for Difficult Times - 1

These are difficult times. These are times of isolation and "loneliness". All of us have more free time. We spend that time being in touch with our family and friends using modern technology. That is great. We are also spending more time on the internet, which carries useful information together with whole lot of misinformation, false information, dangerous information and useless information. The news, e mails and phone calls tend to focus on how bad the situation is and how restricted life is etc., We should, of course, stay informed. But do have to dwell on negative news all day long, true as it may be? It is not good for mental health.

With that in mind, I plan to write blogs as often as I get inspired, definitely more often than my usual cycle of once a week. After all, I have more free time too. I hope to share positive messages, ennobling and spiritual thoughts, famous quotes and hopefully some humor. I plan to maintain the series on Asya Vamasya Sukta once a week and add others in between. And hope you will not consider it an imposition on your time and patience. Thank you.

Here is the first one. I think, it is Gov. Cuomo who suggested the idea of being “Socially distant; Spiritually connected”.  

Next, I received a newsletter from the Charter for Compassion in which I read an anecdote about Margaret Mead. Here it is:

Years ago, anthropologist Margaret Mead was asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture. The student expected Mead to talk about fishhooks or clay pots or grinding stones. 

But no, Mead said that the first sign of civilization in ancient culture was a femur (thighbone) that had been broken and then healed. Mead explained that in the animal kingdom if you break your leg, you die. You cannot run from danger, get to the river for a drink or hunt for food. You are meat for prowling beasts. No animal survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal. 

A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with the one who fell, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety and has tended the person through recovery. Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts, Mead said."

Finally, I gave a talk to the residents at Cokesbury Village, where I live, about deciding when to give up driving our own personal auto as we get older. During the preparation of the talk, I came across this joke at a couple of websites. It is about a senior citizen telling someone: “I must be a bad driver because the other day the GPS in my car said: “Stop in 300 yards and let me off ”. 

Friday, March 27, 2020

Asya Vamasya Sukta - 10

Mantra 23:              Before explaining hymn 23, a word about meter or chandas in Sanskrit poetry. The fact that several meters were existent at the time of Dirghatamas says that the language was already well-developed. It also appears to me (many scholars have pointed this out) that rishis who “heard” the Rg Veda used the meters of the hymns as metaphors for linking the mortal with the immortal, the world with the heavens. In several places they have talked about speech (vac) as divine (Saraswathi) and compared words to rays of the sun.

According to one source, there are 27 different types of meters, some of them with sub-types. The three most commonly used meters in the Vedas are gayatri, trishtup and jagati. Gayatri has 8 syllables in each of three “feet” (lines). Thrishtup has 11 syllables in each of four feet. Jagati has 12 syllables in each of four feet.

Now to Hymn 23. “Gayatra (the mortal) is supported on the gayatra (immortal); traishtupba (the mortal) is supported by traishtuba (the immortal) and jagati (the mortal) by jagati (the immortal). They who know this have won immortal life.”

This verse is very clear about linking the visible universe to the invisible support of the universe. What do those three meters stand for? Do they stand for bhu, bhuvah, svah (earth, heaven and antariksha or the intermediate); or matter, life and mind; or the three states of wakefulness, dream state and deep sleep state; or agni, vayu and apah (fire, air and water)?

Mantra 24: It is clearer now that Dirghatamas is talking about various meters of the hymns and how they are constructed . He is, therefore, talking about Vac (words or speech) as is seen in the final part of this hymn.

“ He measures the arka with gayatri mantra; measures the Sama with arka; and vak with traishtuba. He measures the vaka with vakas of two feet or four feet. And measures the seven meters (vani) with alphabets (akshara).”

Arka is said to be one section (or kind of recitation)of Sama Veda. There are elaborate explanations of the word vak as representing the five elements (pancha bhuta) and gayatri prana etc. I am not sure and I do not understand. Therefore, I stay with what seems to be easily evident reference to the Vedic meters. The seven meters, sapta vani mentioned probably stands for the seven most common  meters used in the Rg Veda. They are gayatri, ushni, anushtup, bruhati, pankti, trishtub and jagati.

Mantra 25: This hymn refers to gayatri and jagati meters, sama (refers to chanting, singing or Sama Veda) and rathatntara. I have read somewhere, (forgot the source) that rathantara refers to mantras that simulate sound during a chariot race.

The hymn says that he (the rishi) established flood or rain (varuna) above (sky or heaven) using Jagati meter and the sun (surya) in the rathantara saman. Gayatri with its three sticks is full of majesty and vigor.

This seems to refer to Varuna (flood above) and Surya. The three sticks of gayatri stands both for its three lines and also for probably Varuna (could be Indra), Surya (could be agni) and Indra.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction during the Corona Virus crisis

Dear friends,
I sent the following note to residents who attend Mindful Living sessions which I lead twice a month at the Cokesbury Village, a senior home where I live. The response was good. Therefore, I am sharing this with you. If you think it will be useful to others, please feel free to share.
Faced with bad news day after day and increasing restriction of activities, I was wondering how to keep a positive attitude. As if on request, I received a form-letter from Dr. Richard Davidson of the Center for Healthy Minds of the University of Wisconsin on this topic on what we can do during this corona virus pandemic. I liked his idea and therefore I added a few more items to his list and modified some to write this piece.

Dr. Davidson points out that “social distancing “ is actually an act of compassion, because its purpose is to prevent us from infecting others, in case we are infected but do not have symptoms. That made me reflect on several related practices we are taught in Mindful Living (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction or MBSR).

Instead of giving in to negative thoughts, fear and feeling helpless, we are taught to practice “Positive Psychology” techniques. You may be practicing these already. If not, here is a suggested list.

With all the noises around us in abeyance (no sports, no theatres) and nothing to do, we now have time to slow down and reflect. To be in the present moment.

Although I cannot visit people physically, this age of technology allows me “to visit with them” face-to-face. Let me use this technology to keep in touch with family and friends, particularly with those who live alone.

May be, I can read a book I have been wanting to but, have not. May be, I can listen to a new genre of music I have been wanting to explore.

May be, I can write a letter to someone I care about, realizing that in this age of Twitter we have forgotten how to write a letter.

I can take a walk in the local park.

May be, I can send a message of gratitude to all those in the medically related field who are risking their lives to take care of all of us.

May be, I can send a message of gratitude to all those in the grocery store, pharmacy, transportation and other essential services to keep the society running.

May be, this is the time to send a message of loving-kindness and compassion to all those all over the world who are suffering from this disease.

This is certainly the time to send a message of loving-kindness and compassion to families who have lost someone in this pandemic.

This is the time to pray for courage, strength and hope in the face of this crisis.

An invisible microbe has shown us how vulnerable and how interconnected we humans are. It has shown us that this small microbe is an “equal opportunity” attacker and can affect people of any age, any sex, any nationality and any faith tradition.

We are all in this together.

"May you be well; May you be safe; May you be free from suffering."

Friday, March 13, 2020

Asya Vamasya Sukta - 9

Mantra 19: This is addressed to Indra and Soma.

 “They say that things that are coming down are going up and vice versa. Indra and Soma, what you made are being born as if yoked to a single pole.”

“They” probably refers to the elders, the ancestors. Are the references to things going up and down refer to the cycles of time, or to the sun going up and down, or to lives appearing and disappearing? Since Indra is also called Aditya in some places and Soma is directly related to the moon, may be the rishi is referring to Indra and Soma as the father and mother and comparing them to steeds or oxen pulling a car. If so, the rishi is wondering about life on this earth (microcosm) and its counterpart in the other upper half (macrocosm). 

This interpretation will go well with the next well-known poem.

Mantra 20:  Three hymns starting with mantra 20 which refer to two birds sitting on the same tree, of which one is eating the fruits and the other is a mere witness, are famous. This metaphor is repeated in both Mundaka Upanishad (3:1:1) and Svetasvatara Upanishad (4:6). Several commentaries have been written about these  two birds by several scholars including Adi Sankara. The birds have been compared to the immortal and the mortal, paramatman and jivatman and to individual soul and transcendent Brahman. My preference is to imagine Rishi Dirghatamas living before philosophical elaborations. Therefore, comparing the birds to the immortal (contemplating) and the mortal (experiencing) makes sense to me.

Mantra 20 says: “Two birds bound by companionship take refuge on the same tree. One eats the fruits and the other does not eat, just looks on.”

Does the bird with fair wings refer to a person (human) with a body and a mind (two wings)? Is the tree the tree of life? Does the bird that eats stand for the individual living in this world bound by the needs of the body and the desires and therefore bound? And, if so, the other bird is the Universal Life Principle which is not bound by the needs and desires of this world and therefore free. One is the ego; the other is the Self. (You may wish to look at a video at )

Mantra 21: In this continuation, the rishi says: “ Where the fair-winged birds and the sages ceaselessly pray (in praise) for portion of the amritam (eternal), there are the mighty guardians of the Universe. He, the wise, has entered into me, of the immature mind.”

Now the rishi speaks of birds in  plural, possibly referring to the humans (the multiple coming out of the One) sitting on the tree of life. They are singing hymns of praise. And the One enters the many as mentioned in the final part of the hymn.

Mantra 22: The rishi says that "the birds living on this tree eating its fruit, roosting and raising a family do not realize that there are luscious sweet fruits at the top of the tree. He who does not know the Father does not get it."

It appears to me that the sage says that most of us live in this world like the bird who is eating the unripe fruits of this world mentioned in mantra 20, attached to worldly needs and cares and not realizing that it is possible to taste the amritam of immortality if only we reach out to the top.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Asya Vamasya Sukta - 8

Mantra 16: This is an intriguing and mystical hymn. It reads as follows: “They tell me that this is male although it is female. He who has eyes can see it. The blind ones do not understand (discern). The son who is a sage understands that he is the father of the father.”

The first sentence may indicate the rishi’s innocent question: How did the male and the female come from each other? May be this sentence is the root of later development of the idea of ardhanareeswara? Also, does the rishi suggest that having eyes to see is not adequate. You have to understand. Is that way he says: “He who has eyes can see it. The blind ones do not understand (discern).”

Does the second sentence mean that one’s progeny is the continuation of oneself and one’s progenitor? (Death of an individual is real. So is continuation of life in general ?)

Mantra 17:  Direct translation reads as follows: “Beneath the upper realm and above the lower realm, the cow has appeared with a calf tied to her foot. What is her destination? Towards which half is she going? Where did she deliver the calf? Not amidst this herd? “

Does the upper and lower realm indicate the immortal heavens and the mortal world of ours? What does the cow stand for and the calf? Does cow indicate the Primordial Principle and the calf indicate life? Is the poet asking how life and the multiplicity of life came about?

One interpreter suggests that the cow and the calf stand for the body and the mind and that cow stands for knowledge and the calves stand for thoughts. I am not so sure considering that the emphasis on consciousness was more developed in the Upanishadic period.

Mantra 17 also seems to be connected to the next hymn in these thoughts.

Mantra 18: This hymn asks: “Who knows the father of this calf between the upper realm and the lower realm?” and in the second line asks: “ which sage was able to declare the origin of this god-like mind by putting his thoughts into verse?”

Amazing thoughts again. My guess is that the rishi is asking about life, life in general, visualizing it to be a calf, because he is asking who the parents of this calf are. In other words: “How did this life (and lives) come about? How did the mind come about?”

This is supported by the second sentence where he is asking about the origin of the god-like mind. Given my bias, there can be no “mind” if there is no life. It is also interesting to note that in Atharva Veda, mind is said to be something and ALSO “not something”.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Asya Vamasya Sukya - 7

Mantra 13: This mantra says that all the worlds (bhuvanani) are supported by (on) this (revolving wheel) with five spokes. The second sentence says that its (the One which supports) although ancient and heavily laden never breaks down.

This seems again to refer to the Primordial Force imagined as a car or the Sun with one wheel representing one year (samvastara) with five seasons. The idea of five seasons was explained earlier. Not only Aitrya Brahmana, but also Satapata Brahmana refer to the aggregates of five. Since these two brahmanas are parts of the Vedas, may be we should consider that these categories composed of five items represent the five spokes of the wheel.

The aggregates of five may refer to : five yagnas, five seasons with 72 days each, cosmic patterns with svayambhu, Prajapati, sun, moon and earth, five animals used for sacrifice in Vedic days etc., I am not for including pancha kosha (five sheaths of annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, vignanamaya and anandamaya) because this idea comes in Taittriya Upanishad which was probably compiled later in the Vedic period around 500 BCE. I am also not for including pancha buthas (pritvi, apa, agni, vayu and akasha) which is from the Samkhya philosophy with the first definitive text by Isvarakrishna coming around 300 BCE.

The wheel has been used to represent the sun, the rta or dharma in Indian Vedic art and sculpture.  

Mantra 14: “The wheel revolves without any decay drawn by 10 horses yoked to uttana. The sun’s eyes which are encompassed by rajas, move. All the worlds are supported on it (by him).”

We know what the wheel is.  Number 10 probably refers to 10 months with 36 days each (or 36 days plus 36 nights X 5 seasons). One interpreter says that 10 refers to 10 principles of Viraj and that Viraj is the first principle to emerge. (He quotes Gopatha Brahmana and lists the names of the 10 principles of Viraj as loka, deva, devagana, chandas, dik, rtu, stoma, veda, hotru and indriya. I have no idea what these mean, nor am I sure these ideas were known at the time of Dirghatamas).

But what is uttana? One interpreter says it is the car-pole. The other says it refers to a recumbent position. Or does it mean uttara meaning “above” and not uttana? A spelling error could have occurred over the centuries! Stretched out or recumbent seem the most common translation. So, it must refer to the sun (and indirectly Aditya or the Primordial) stretched out over the sky and the universe.  

What is rajas of the sun? Does it refer to Sun’s energy? Most likely so.

Mantra 15: “Of the seven who were born at the same time, the seventh is called ekajam (single born). Their desires are placed on their proper abodes. They are of various forms and move on a fixed substrate. (I am not sure of my understanding of the final sentence).”

 This hymn refers to seven who were born simultaneously (saakamjana).  One was a single born (ekaja) and the others were twins, and rishis born of devas.

Who are the seven born simultaneously of whom six are twins and one is single born? One reference is to rishis born of devas. There is this word dhamasha in the second sentence. The closest meaning of this word I can get to is something related to Agni.

If the seven refers to the seven rishis (sapta rishi), how do we interpret the 3 pairs? And the one left out? If we consider Agni as the one left out of sacrifices (as is known in Vedic writings), who are the other six, particularly as pairs? I have seen interpreters talking about agni with his flames as counterpart of/correspondence for the mind and its levels in different planes.

 If I imagine a mystic rishi who does not care for all kinds of philosophical speculations, my bias is that he was talking about the following three pairs: earth and sky (heaven); sun and moon and light and dark. The seventh one is Life itself. I can be as correct or as wrong as everyone else. But, why not, particularly since the rishi refers to male, female and progeny in the next hymn?

Monday, February 24, 2020

Addition to earlier posts on Asya Vamasya Sukta

During my continuing search for meaning of these Suktas I came across texts which may give clues to some of the numbered items in poem 3 of Asya Vamasya Sukta. I decided to post them now. The additions are in italicized letters.
The addition to Mantra 5 is just an intuition that hit me soon after my morning meditation today.

Manta 3: In this mantra, poet Dirghatamas imagines a chariot which he says has seven wheels and drawn by seven horses on which are seated seven sisters praising with words in which seven names are hidden.

Who are the seven sisters? Whom are they praising? It is possible that the seven sisters refer to some constellation or to the seven rivers on whose banks these ancestors lived in those day. Are these same as the seven matrikas (Divine Mothers) of later texts?  Worship of Divine Mothers seems to have originated in the Indus Valley civilization, before the Vedic period. But the earliest epigraphic reference is from the 5th century CE. Rg Veda mentions seven mothers; but this idea is developed more in the Puranas and Tantric texts. The names are: Mahesvari, Vaishnavi, Brahmani, Kaumari, Indrani, Yami and Varahi. They are supposed to represent anger (krodha), covetousness (lobha), pride (mada), illusion (moha), fault-finding (matsarya), tale-bearing (paisunya) and envy(asuya) respectively. Varaha Purana adds one more named Yogesvari (representing kama, desire).

It is also likely that these are the female counterparts of Vedic deities and puranic gods, as the names suggest. For example, Indra and Indrani, Yami and Yami, Brahma and Brahmani etc.,

What is the chariot with seven wheels (earlier it was one wheel) and seven horses? Rg Veda refers to sun’s rays in 7:66:15 and therefore it may refer to the rays of the sun or to seven days of the week. It may refer to seven colors of the rainbow. Indeed, there are references to the colors as kaala (violet), neela (indigo), dhumla (blue), harita (green), peeta (yellow) and soma(red). May be, they refer to the sapta rishis (sages) in the constellation.

Why seven wheels? Does the chariot refer to the human body with seven orifices?

Mantra 5: “I, who am young, simple and ignorant (paakah), with undiscerning mind ask thee (the sage, referred to in Mantra 4; please tell me) the whereabouts of those who are referred to as devas (deities). When the calf becomes grown, the sages spread seven threads to weave a web.”

I do not know what the last portion means. Does the poet say that when the student matures, the sage will show him the “threads that form the web of this universe”? But what are the seven threads? It could mean the five elements which they were aware of in those days plus two more. What were those two? Body and mind? Heaven (dyau) and earth (prithvi)?

Or, does it refer to 4 cardinal directions, up, down and Time which can easily correspond to the threads that form the Universe?

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Asya Vamasya Sukta - 6

Mantra 10: The hymn refers to the ONE who is supporting three fathers and three mothers without getting tired. The next line says that “they” deliberate on that divine one and discuss with Vac (goddess of speech) who “knows the cosmos” about the unknown.

“The One is standing without getting tires holding up 3 fathers and 3 mothers. Standing on the edge of Heaven they recite Speech (vacam mantrayante) about Cosmos which reaches beyond cosmos.”

Who are they? Probably the rishis. Who is the One holding up three fathers and three mothers? This One is the same as the one referred to in hymn 6, it probably refers to the Primordial One (known later as  Brahman or Prajapati) supporting the three corresponding aspects of the physical and mental world in the context of the universe.

Could this be Aditya, or the divine aspect of the earthly sun? I think this is possible because the next hymn refers to the sun and the reference to a beautiful bird also seem to imply the sun. In those days, even now, we know how critical the sun is for life on this planet.

More likely, the One is Brahman. Actually, one of the deities mentioned in Rg Veda is Aja who was later known as Aja-ekapada, an aspect of Shiva. I have seen a sculpture of a Deity with one leg and two deities coming out of the one leg.

Mantra 11: This is clearly addressed to the Sun. The text says they address agni, who is also the sun in the middle world (antariksha). “The wheel with 12 spokes revolves around in this cosmic order. O Agni, on this wheel are established 720 sons of yours joined in pairs.”

This is probably one of the earliest astronomical documentation of the sun’s yearly cycle of 360 days and 360 nights. And the spokes must refer to the months.

Mantra 12: “They call him who is the father with 5 feet and 12 faces and who is rich in water (purishinam)  in the upper half called heaven. Others call him, of deep vision, on seven wheeled, six-spoked car.”

 It is very difficult to fathom the mind of Dirghatamas. Is he referring to the cycle of time and seasons as related to the movement of the sun? Some books say that there were only 5 seasons identified in those days and twelve faces refer to the months of the year. (In the Indian calendars six seasons are recognized as opposed to the 4 seasons in the west. The six are: shishir, vasantha, grishma, Varsha, sharad and hemantha . Sometimes, according to the Aitreya Brahmana, hemantha and shishir are counted as one)

The seven wheels of the car refer to the seven days. What does six mean then? May be the same seasons with six count?

Friday, February 14, 2020

Asya Vamasya Sukta - 5

Mantra 7: The sage challenges whoever knows the original source of the “beautiful bird” (vamasya veh) to come out and declare it. Then he says: “cows drink milk from the head and draw water with the feet”. What might the beautiful bird be? And what is meant by milk and water and the cow drinking from the head and drawing from the feet?

Is it possible, the bird refers to the Sun, giver of life and light? Since the word “gow” means not only “cows” but also rays, it is possible that the poet is referring to the sun.  The sun is giver of life in the form of milk and the sun also dries up the water as it shines.  In fact, the sun sucking up water and giving it up as rain is referred to in many hymns of the Vedas.

Some interpreters think that the beautiful bird refers to humans with mind and body imagined as two wings.

Mantra 8: This mantra speaks about father and mother; about sharing or dividing; about courtship(babhaja); about conception (garbha) and about something disgusting (bibhatsam). What was the mystery being visualized by the innocent, deep-looking mind of the rishi?  What was disgusting?

The hymn reads as follows: "In Rta (Universal Natural Order), the mother separated from the father. In the beginning (agre) she wedded him in mind and spirit. She was filled with the essence of the fetus (garbharasa). The whole world came to her in adoration."

This is a remarkable statement. Not a statement as much as a speculation trying to understand how the first human came into existence. It is an expression of mystery as can be found in many ancient texts in all cultures. The first human, if male, begot a female out of his own body by dividing into a male and female (ardhanareeswara) or made a female out of a body part (Adam and Eve). If so, we cannot escape the conclusion that the first human came out of incest. The story of Prajapati elaborates on this mythology. May be, this was what Dhirgatamas called disgusting.

Whatever the interpretation, mother is adorable, and all the devas and humans come to adore her.

Mantra 9: This mantra eludes my capacity to fathom. It says: The Mother Cow of Dakshina (daughter of Prajapati) was yoked to the pole. All the daughters conceived(?). The calf mooed and looked up. It followed the mother for a distance of three yojanas and saw the One who is the form of the Universe (vishvarupyam).
Dakshina may mean south or gift during yagna or the name of Prajapati’s daughter according to the Dictionary. Given the previous hymn, the best possibility is Prajapati’s daughter. Who can be her mother other than Universal Mother? The daughters then give birth to humanity. What does the word three yojana mean? Yojana in Vedic times meant about 8 or 9 miles. Since what the calf saw was the One who is the Universal form, does it mean the Sun (or Aditya) and the three yojanas refer to the three periods of Day, Night and twilight or the morning ,afternoon and evening or the heaven, earth and intermediate worlds?

Friday, February 7, 2020

Asya Vamasya Sukta - 4

Mantras  4, 5 and 6 are responsible for all my adoration of Poet Dirghatamas. The poet asks with boldness and honesty.

Mantra 4: “Who has seen the primal being at the time of (his) being born? How does a boneless substance cover the bones? (meaning what is it that sustains this body?) How did this life (asu), blood (asrik) and spirit (atma) appear on this earth? Who may approach the sage who knows to ask about it?”

Interpretation of this mantra is unnecessary and disrespectful.

Mantra 5: “I, who am young, simple and ignorant (paakah), with undiscerning mind ask thee (the sage, referred to in Mantra 4; please tell me) the whereabouts of those who are referred to as devas (deities). When the calf becomes grown, the sages spread seven threads to weave a web.”

I do not know what the last portion means. Does the poet say that when the student matures, the sage will show him the “threads that form the web of this universe”? But what are the seven threads? It could mean the five elements which they were aware of in those days plus two more. What were those two? Body and mind? Heaven (dyau) and earth (prithvi)?

Mantra 6: Dirghatamas asks; “I, the ignorant, ask the sages who know. Since I do not know I ask for the sake of acquiring knowledge. Please tell me. Who is that mysterious unborn who has established these six regions?”

Does he mean the six aspects of the manifest universe – namely, four cardinal direction, up and down? Or does the six refer to six lokas of  bhu, bhuvah, svah, mahah, janah and tapah as suggested in the Nirukta and Satapata Brahmana? In this scheme, the first three represent the physical universe and the last three represent the mental universe, according to Aurobindo. Were these ideas present at the time of Dirghatamas?

Friday, January 31, 2020

Asya Vamasya Sukta - 3

Mantra 1 (also called hymn or rk) starts with the words “asya vamasya palithasya” and is the reason for scholars designating this 164th subsection of Book 1 as Asya Vamasya Sukta. The meaning is “of this young and grey-haired….”. The rest of the hymn suggests that there are three brothers, one young and one old and there seems to be a middle one who is referred to as ghruthaprishta meaning well-oiled (ghee on the back is the literal translation). The word brhata meaning “brother” is used.

“Of the benevolent deity who is the object of invocation” there is the young one, the grey-haired one and a well-fed one. So, who are these three brothers?

Given my bias that we should place ourselves in the poet’s context, in his time and place, my guess is that he is referring to the three worlds – dyau, prithvi and antariksha. Dyau is the grey-haired old brother. The young one is the earth. The one well-oiled middle brother is antariksha with the clouds since pouring of grutha or ghee on agni in sacrifice is referred to in the Vedas as akin to rain pouring from the cloud. 

The hymn also refers to seven sons (sapta putram). It says: “I behold the Chief with seven sons”. Who are the seven sons?

The poet may be referring to the seven stars in the Milky Way or to the Sun with its rays and seven days of the week as suggested in the next hymn.

Mantra 2: This hymn refers to a chariot drawn by one horse with seven names. The chariot is said to have one wheel with three navels.

 The hymn also refers to vishva (universe) and bhuvana (earth). Therefore, the poet is thinking about heaven (dyau) and earth (prithvi). Connecting them are the cyclic days and nights due to the movement of the Sun. The chariot is the Sun. The single wheel represents the rotation in one year (?) and the horse with seven names represents the days of the week. Or, since folks in those days had seen and admired rainbow, may be the rish is referring to the seven colors (?). What are the three navels? Did the poet mean three seasons or day-night-twilight? Or, may even be the past, the present and the future!

I can see how difficult it is to put myself in the poet’s place centuries ago and try to figure out what he might have been thinking. It is best to be humble and not hoist our theories,dogmas and biases on the sages.

Manta 3: In this mantra, poet Dirghatamas imagines a chariot which he says has seven wheels and drawn by seven horses on which are seated seven sisters praising with words in which seven names are hidden.

Who are the seven sisters? Whom are they praising? It is possible that the seven sisters refer to some constellation or to the seven rivers on whose banks these ancestors lived in those days? What is the chariot with seven wheels (earlier it was one wheel) and seven horses? Rg Veda refers to sun’s rays in 7:66:15 and therefore the rishi may mean the rays of the sun or seven days of the week. It may refer to seven colors of the rainbow. Indeed, there are references to the colors as kaala (violet), neela (indigo), dhumla (blue), harita (green), peeta (yellow) and soma(red). May be, the reference is to the sapta rishis (sages) in the constellation.

Why seven wheels? Does the chariot refer to the human body with seven orifices?

Friday, January 24, 2020

Asya Vamasya Sukta - 2

Before I share with you my own translation, a few more words about translations and interpretations of the original texts. All ancient texts were interpreted by several followers. Many of them were also translated in other languages. Each interpreter and translator often claims that his version is the more authentic. When there are several such versions, the followers get into heated arguments as I have written in my blogs and in the book on Our Shared Sacred Space. I do not claim any such special insight particularly since I did not learn the Vedas in the proper way.

I said to myself: Why not go to the original and understand these classics for myself? I will need to use dictionaries and grammar books and also some books on linguistics to understand the meaning. I need to approach this task with: 1.humility; 2.curiosity; 3.Ability to place myself in a historical and geographical context with the original author and 4. Ability to not let my knowledge of later philosophies and what I have heard and learnt cloud my attempt  to understand this master.

When I started reading the interpretations of Asya Vamasya Sukta by two scholars I found that they were using concepts from Samkhya Philosophy and other systems of philosophy to interpret the hymns. How can they do it since these philosophies came later than the days of Sage Dirghtamas? I thought that the interpreters were putting words into the mouth of Dirghatamas to explain their own beliefs. The understanding may be valid, of course. But how do they know Dirghatamas thought that way. Who can ever know for sure what any author was thinking when he or she wrote a piece? I certainly do not claim to know.

I would rather imagine Dirghatamas standing in awe at the foot of the Himalayas, on the banks of one of the rivers at dawn, looking at the water and the snow, and listening to the sounds of birds and wondering how all of this came to be. Imagining what life would have been three thousand years back, the kind of knowledge our ancestors possessed at that time and how they dealt with and related to nature, it appears that Dirghatamas was a mystic and a poet. His 52 hymns suggest that. 

I can imagine him looking at the night sky and imagining the milky way to be some kind of river in the sky. He probably saw the seven stars and imagined them to be celestial wise men and the nearby constellation of six stars to be beautiful maiden. He probably saw a group of stars which brought to his mind a hunter shooting at a deer. After all, are we not imagining a rabbit on the moon?

 I would rather interpret the words of Dirghatamas cautiously without attributing all kinds of theories which were developed in later centuries. His days were days of keen observation and deep questioning. His days were also days of explaining the primordial “It” (tat) with its invisible forces by looking at the multiple forces visible in nature which we experience everyday.

With that introduction, let me start with the actual Asya Vamasya Sukta. 

Friday, January 17, 2020

Asya Vamasya Sukta - 1

Asya Vamasya Sukta. What is it? Who imagined it or heard it? What is it about? I am ready, with some trepidations, to tackle this profound text within the Rg Veda. But before we get there, a few words about Rg Veda itself.

It is obvious reading several portions of the Rg Veda that the rishis who “heard” or composed the hymns were worshiping devas (deities) related to various aspects of nature such as the sun and the rain and the clouds. The three major deities to whom a vast majority of hymns were addressed are agni (fire), Indra (?mitra-varuna), and surya. The request or appeal to the deities were for mundane worldly things like food, water, wealth and cattle, and occasionally to defeat the enemy or win a game of dice. The rishis were aware of immortality, but they were not asking for immortality for themselves.

Instead they, the wise ones, were in awe of nature. They marveled at the dependable rising and setting of the sun, cycles of season - particularly the rainy one - so essential for agriculture, appearance and disappearance of the moon, the starry sky and the milky way. They wondered how all of this came about, particularly LIFE.

Temples were non-existent then. Yagna or fire-sacrifice was the mode of worship. Vishnu and Shiva were not major deities at that time although their prototypes were present in the Vedas. The modern pantheon of gods came later with the puranas and emphasis on devotional approach (bhakti marga).

The wise seers, the sages of the Vedic religion gave us their intuitive insights in the form of hymns using simple words. As the language developed, they used different meters. They described the names, accomplishments of the deities, their physical qualities and personalities. It so happens that every deity had several functions and several names. For example, Agni has 34  names and Aditya or surya has 37 names as listed in Amarakosha. Surya or Aditya is addressed by different names depending on the time of the day. The names include Ushas (dawn), Savita (light is clearly there), Pushan (rays are breaking out), Vishnu (rays fully spread out),Vrishakapi (height of heat), Saranyu (evening) and Ratri (night).

They used simple words and simple language to describe what they saw and what they inferred. They saw a connection between the visible and the invisible, intuitively. They described them as metaphors and as corresponding elements in the world (prithvi) and the celestial world (dyau). They also imagined an intermediate world (antariksha). When they described fire (agni), it was agni in this world and the sun in the celestial world. In the middle world, it was lightning (vajra, Indra’s).

Asya Vamasya sukta is section 164 in Book 1 of Rg Veda and consists of 52 hymns. It is dedicated to several deities and is written in different meters. The authors name is Dirghatamas Auchatya; so says the text at the beginning of this section as codified by Sayanacharya. Sayanacharya lived in the 15th century as a minister in the Vijayanagara kingdom. His compilation and interpretation are the definitive texts for most of the recent translations.

This takes us to the way Rg Veda is arranged. Rg Veda has more than 1028 suktas, sub-sections of hymns with over 10,000 stanzas. They are arranged in different ways; the one I followed was arranged into 10 mandalas (circles), with subsections or anuvakas and then the suktas. Sukta, the Sanskrit word means “well-said”. Each sukta has several hymns which in Sanskrit is called Rk. It is also called mantra. When the word Rk is combined with the word Veda, Rk is written and pronounced as Rg, according to the rules of Grammar.

Each Sukta starts with a list of the name of the Rishi (seer) to whom it is attributed to as the originator, the meter or chandas in which it is written and the name of the deity to whom the sukta is addressed. Some suktas are addressed to several deities and written in different meters. This is what we see with Asya Vamasya Sukta, addressed to different deities in different meters by the rishi Dirghatamas.