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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Mindfulness, Compassion, Non-Violence - Series 2

   

A simplified Mindful Meditation*

 

Purpose:             

It is to silence the “mind” and to expand the “heart”.

Several masters tell us that meditation is not for bliss after death or for immortality, but to experience the immortal in us here and now with compassion and humility. It is to open the heart and the mind and experience the parts in the whole and the whole in the parts.

Method:             

Find a location you are not likely to be disturbed

Sit in a comfortable position on the floor or a chair

Better to keep eyes closed to reduce distractions

Focus on the breath

Just observe the in-breath and the out-breath

Let it be just natural, except you are noticing it. You will be using breath as an anchor to come back to every time the mind wanders away

Every time you realize that the mind has wandered off, gently bring it back to the breath

Bring the mind to basic awareness of just being here and now,

Start with a short meditation – just 5 minutes, for example

Just the fact you devoted this time is great. Congratulate yourself for the effort

We will go into greater details, and for longer periods as we progress.

Goal:                    

NOTHING, no goals to accomplish, no expectations, no grasping.

This sounds contradictory to what we said earlier. Is it not?

In the long run, we wish to reach a state of calmness of the mind and openness of the heart. For this session, for each session, it is best to go with small steps and an open, accepting mind. 

Accepting whatever comes at the sitting without being harsh on yourself, without judging.

Just Let it be

Grasping and reaching are the opposites of what meditation masters teach.

This is the simplest, but not so simple. In the next essay, I will give steps to go from observing the breath to observing sensations in the body associated with breath and to awareness of being alive and awake.

You can start your practice by using the link here and listening to the voice of Rev.Thich Nath Hanh.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CawBsy6-gOw&ab_channel=PlumVillageApp

 ·         A disclaimer: If anyone is looking for meditation techniques that will lead to “bliss” or “nirvana” or some special states of physical feats, they will be disappointed with these blogs.


Sunday, October 18, 2020

Sutra (aphorism) and Twitter

    The second part of the series on Mindfulness, Compassion and Non-violence is ready. But, I plan to share thoughts on other topics also, in between those posts. Thank you.  

I was thinking about the fact that the rishis who “saw” the Vedas, put them down for posterity before there was writing. How did they do it? One of the methods they used was to express their ideas in a condensed form, called sutra.

Common meaning of the word sutra is a thread. It also stands for a tightly woven thread. In English, an equivalent word is aphorism. By definition, a Sutra or an aphorism has to be a condensed cryptic statement. Obviously, these were philosophical statements which will, by nature, require explanation, elaboration.

It is easier to remember a few words in a cryptic sentence such as “satyameva jayate” (Truth alone wins) than a paragraph on what satya is. The sages wanted to express concepts in as few words as possible so that the concepts are easy to remember, recite and pass on to students and future generations.

One definition (?Vayu Purana) in Sanskrit says: Sutra is one which is made of minimum letters, precise, unambiguous, presenting the gist of many thoughts, and faultless that makes sense. In Tamil language it is “சுருங்க சொல்லல் விளங்கவைத்தல்” which means “to explain with the least possible words”.

When thinking about this, it occurred to me that Twitter is a modern version of sutra. But there is a huge difference. Twitter is used for sending messages with emotionally charged words which stimulate the lower parts of our brain and evoke unhealthy emotions. Sutra (an aphorism) was used to express profound thoughts and stimulate the upper parts of our brain and make us think.


Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Mindfulness, Compassion, Nonviolence Series - 1

 Friends, today I am starting a separate series on Mindfulness, Compassion and Non-violence. I have been thinking in the past few years about starting a physical or a virtual center to focus on these topics. I even had chosen a name for it – Gautama Center for Ahimsa, Karuna and Pragna.  Initially I considered the possibility of making it a center on a social media platform. Later I decided to stay with this blog site which I have maintained for more than 10 years and  is easier to maintain. Hope you like this series. More important, hope you find these mini-essays helpful.

Meditation as an English word has several levels of meaning. It stands both for the process and for a state of being, a mental state. Patanjali who wrote the earliest treatise on this subject says that meditation is to control the modifications of the mind (second sloka of his treatise on Yoga shastra). At the end of the treatise he says that it is for reaching a state at which one becomes merged into the supreme cause. But what is the supreme cause? What is meant by merging into it?

Patanjali also gives the necessary steps including control of the body, purification of the mind etc. Several schools of meditation have sprung over the millennia based on this original writing. But many of them, including the tantric schools have caused confusion, with each school emphasizing different aspects of Patanjali’s ideas and developing its own special interpretation. In the process, they have conflated the process with the goal. Most individuals seem stuck with the process such as “how do I sit?”, “do I keep my eyes shut or closed or semi-open?” and “do I breath with the right nostril or left nostril?” etc. As I have mentioned elsewhere, during meditation symbols do not matter, substance does; duration does not matter, intensity and regularity do; rituals do not matter, inner feeling and intentions (bhavana) do.

My view is that the only system which has given simple, practical steps on meditation comes from Buddha’s teachings and is now supported by modern neuroscience. It is not surprising since Buddha focused on how to live this life well and deal with the ups and downs of our lives. These methods utilize what we all know (breath) and experience (agitated distracted mind) and teach us how to focus and look deep inside ourselves. Of course, the roots are in earlier Vedic insights. But the practical methods focus on the known and not on esoteric concepts which may or may not be true.

There are several schools within the Buddhist tradition also. My focus will primarily be on Mindfulness as taught by Rev. Thich Naht Hahn and developed further by neuroscientists into Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy.

Buddhist metaphysics and psychology acknowledge that all of us are capable of experiencing several states of mind (51 by their count), some of them wholesome and helpful (compassion, gratitude) and others not helpful (anxiety, laziness) and some clearly harmful (anger). It acknowledges that all of us are capable of developing our wholesome traits with practice. The methods focus on developing the strengths in every one of us such as attention, awareness and compassion. What is remarkable is that modern day neurosciences give support to the psychology on which Buddhist meditation practices are based.

I plan to write several essays bringing the essence of mindfulness meditation to the digital generation growing up in the age of science, technology and social media. I have been writing about these  topics in these blogs and elsewhere over the past several years. Now, I plan to consolidate and update them.

The reason for starting this series now is my concern for the future. Human civilization is experiencing several stresses all at once with cumulative effects. As I wrote in my essay on Competition, Cooperation, and Collective values on June 29, 2020, humanity has reaped the benefits of science and technology coming out of the empirical approach of western philosophies. Humanity is facing the negative side of those developments. Now is the correct time for humanity to learn from the wisdom of the east which emphasizes inner dimensions and interconnections.

Although these ideas on meditation come primarily from Hinduism and Buddhism, other traditions also had elements of these practices. But Western traditions de-emphasized meditation for various reasons.  Many people in the west considered it as a religious practice. In fact, meditation is a spiritual practice open to all of humanity. It is to do with mind-body-spirit connection.

There is now more openness to meditation all over the world. Meditation is taught in schools, colleges and workplaces as part of holistic health and wellness programs. Most of them are based on mindful meditation concepts popularized by Rev Thich Nath Hahn, Dr. Kabat-Zinn, H.H.Dalai Lama and others.

I am focusing on Buddhist methods, particularly mindfulness, because they do not ask you to suspend rationality. They do not orient towards any religion or personal gods. In fact, Buddhism is classified as atheism in Indian philosophical texts. The practices are in line with objectivity and rationality and supported by neurosciences, particularly  neuroplasticity and neural states of the mind. Any one from any faith can practice mindfulness meditation as part of daily life. The new branch of contemplative neuroscience has developed tools (example: healthyminds innovations) which any one can use.

I plan to write about meditation practices and theories behind them. I also plan to write about compassion and non-violence because I believe in them as the only sure methods for peace on earth. And as Rev. William Sloane Coffin said: “The world is now too dangerous for anything but truth, and too small for anything but love”.

I start with a suggestion for what we can hope to accomplish with meditation. In other words: “why should one meditate?”    

My preference is: Meditation is to calm the mind and to expand the heart. 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Angels, Devils, Devas and Asuras

 Angels, devils and genies are extraterrestrial creatures common in the western literature and myths. In India, there are the devas, asuras, rakshasas, gandharvas and so on. What if one of them arrives on earth and we humans encounter them in real life? This is a great theme for fiction writing and I have read a few of them. I am not counting fables and children stories, but good modern short stories or novels.

I have three suggestions for those of you who are interested. They were written by some of the best writers.

1.      Screwtape Letters by C S Lewis. This is an imaginary conversation between a “devil” in training and his teacher who happens to be his uncle. The elder devil teaches the novice how to play on the weaknesses of the human beings.

2.       The Wonderful Visit – On the Night of the Strange Bird by H. G. Wells. In this mini-novel, H G Wells describes an angel who (which) gets shot by a Vicar. That is because the Vicar mistakes the angel for a strange bird. It is an amazing imagination and hilarious description of  how the so-called “angelic” behaviors and values clash with those of the earthlings.

3.       Kadavulum and Kandasamy Pillaiyum ( கடவுளும் கந்தசாமி பிள்ளையும்)  by Pudumaipithan. Obviously, you have to know Tamizh language to read this. It is based on a wild imagination of God landing in Chennai, India and meeting up with a common man at a Bus Stop. What happens when God wants Kandasamy Pillai to take Him to his home?  

Enjoy!

Friday, October 2, 2020

Reading Ancient Texts

  In my book on Our Shared Sacred Space I devoted a chapter on how to read sacred texts. Some of those points are relevant to reading any ancient text. If we read with an open mind, we can learn many things about the history, geography, language, customs and so much more. This is true particularly to Indian literature. It is only through these texts that most of Indian History has been reconstructed, since our ancestors did not leave many monuments behind. Even what they left were ravaged by the weather and the invaders. Even the bodies were cremated and there are not many funerary relics either.

I re-learnt this lesson when I studied Silappadikaram, a literary Tamil classic written sometimes before the 6th century CE. The text suggests that it was influenced by writers from earlier generations and the grammar. Obviously, the south had already felt the influence of the north particularly the four Vedas, Samkhya philosophy and of the language, Sanskrit. Jainism and Buddhism came from the north.

The first fact I discovered, re-discovered was, that the Tamil language was very advanced. It had a vast amount of literature already. Its grammar was as advanced as that in Sanskrit. Music and dance were very advanced with their own grammar and structure. The port city of Poompuhar was a major center for foreign trade. The culture of the people of Poompuhar was probably so advanced that they were the envy of other city-states. 

Indeed, there was a settlement of foreigners – the name used was yavana, referring to people of Roman and Greek origin. It is a term suggesting the origin of these people near the Ionian Sea. Some of you may know that there is an archeological site near Puducherry called Arikamedu where there was a Roman settlement in the 1st century of CE.

I re-learnt the classic description of Tamil land as consisting of seashore (neydal, நெய்தல்), countryside (marudam,மருதம்), forest and pastoral land (mullai,முல்லை), mountain (kurinci,குறிஞ்சி) and arid land (paalai, பாலை). From the descriptions of these lands I learnt about the trees, flowers , birds and animals common in those lands. Some of them are familiar and some seem to have become extinct. Various deities specific to each of these five lands are given. It appears that early temples were already existent at that time because temples of Tiruppati and Srirangam are mentioned.

We know that the Goddess of the waste land was named Korravai, who may be the forerunner of Durga and Kali in our days. It also appears that those who worshipped her lived in waste lands and lived essentially by robbing travelers and that they probably practiced human sacrifice. 

I was amazed at the depth of knowledge the author (Ilango, a prince turned Jain monk) had of music and dance. Indeed, he must have been a scholar and teacher. I learnt that many of the ragams (melodic scale) we hear now and the taalams (rhythmic structure) that are used now had their forerunners at that time in history. It could not have been imported idea because the ragas and taalams had their own unique Tamil names with no hint of phonemic similarity. He also knew how the music instruments were constructed and how the strings were attached.

Finally, there are names of several food items (அப்பம், பிட்டு, எள்ளுருண்டை for example), various ornaments women dancers wore in the arms, legs, waist, and hair. 

Some new words in Tamil I learnt are:  கங்குல் (night, darkness), யாக்கை (body), வெகுளி (anger), குரவன்           (one worthy of respect, could be a parent), கடம் (path, specifically a path in an arid land) and              வாரணம் ( may mean elephant, a rooster or a pig). And many more words, some of them we still use.

Finally, even though I do not have any knowledge of ancient classic Tamizh, I still could enjoy the beauty of this classic. 

I also learnt that Tamizh is the oldest continuously used language in the world. (https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/gk-current-affairs/story/oldest-languages-839038-2016-12-20)

Friday, September 25, 2020

Even deeper understanding of meditation

While preparing for a talk on evolution of concepts in the Vedic period, something struck me as odd. We have adequate historical evidences for what went on before the Vedic period in the Indus Valley civilization. But we have no artifacts, buildings or human and animal remains from the Vedic period. We only have words and fire sacrifices to reconstruct the era of the rishis.

Who are these rishis? Did rishis create the devas or is it the other way around? Their writing suggests that mind preceded sat, that something came out of asat which means nothing. It had desire to create something. A desire before there was a body and a mind to occupy the mind?

Then there was the consciousness as an aspect of the mind. Nothing in physical nature suggests the presence or a need for a mind. How did this mind come about? And, Consciousness needs nothing but itself! It knows and everything we know is possible because of it. As suggested in Kena Upanishad (1:6), “That which does not think with mind but through whose power the mind thinks”.

And what does the mind do? It is in the interphase between the external and internal worlds. Looking outward, it revolves in the famous Samsara. It is driven to or away from external objects out of desire, fear, and curiosity. It lives in the realm of objects of senses, sense organs, mind, intelligence, ego, awareness and rarely into the awareness of awareness itself.

To “look” outwards, it needs light. Light that shines and that illuminates things. (tameva bhantam anubhati sarvam, says the rishi)

To get to that awareness of awareness, the mind must look inwards. It has to work through distractions, ignorance, laziness and mental traps. It has to recognize the common mode that underlies wakeful state, dream state and the deep sleep state. In deep state, there is life and calmness. But one is not aware of life itself or of the awareness. One must reach a state underlying the other three states. Rishis call it the turya state. At that level, consciousness is aware and is aware of its awareness.

Just like light, consciousness illuminates and is itself illumination.

That is why rishis are always comparing light and knowledge. They move from seeing to knowing seamlessly with words and metaphors which are confusing to a casual reader. They also tell us that whatever is thought of or imagined by the mind gets accomplished. (Varaha Upanishad: मनसा चिऩता कार्याम़ मनसा ऐव सिध़यते).

All the meditation methods use one or other of these stages as a focus and teach how to go from one layer to the other. In the process they may ask us to use images such as a deva or a chakra or a sound or combinations. My concern is that many of us get stuck on the way, overinvolved with the steps. The teachers themselves are so carried away by their method, they let go of the mark. Everyone is looking at the finger pointing to the moon and not at the moon.

Looking outward, meditation asks us to see the ground of all that is, the unity in multiplicity, the Brahman. That is the order out of chaos.

Looking inward, meditation asks us to visualize the knower of all that is known at all levels of consciousness, the ultimate subject without object. We are asked to do so first with forms and sound and finally as formless. The rishi says “let go of that by which you are trying to let go”. (येन त़यजसि तत़ त़यज)

 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Pancha Mantra of Jainism

 

In Silappadikaram, a Tamizh Classic, there is description of a Jain monk who accompanies the main characters (Kovalan and Kannagi) to the city of Madurai. He is said to have minimum possessions to take with him, namely a begging bowl, a peacock feather and one other item called aiyagai (ஐயகை). I looked up the last item and the great scholar who resurrected this classic, Sri Swaminatha Iyer says that the word aiyagai refers to the Pancha mantra of the Jains. In Tamizh, they are: அ,ஸி,ஆ,உ,ஸா. So I looked up the Pancha mantra and it is referred to in the Jain literature as The Namokar Mantra.

Here it is, the Namokar Mantra from JAINA, the website for the Federation of Jain Associations in North America. (https://www.jaina.org/page/NamokarMantra)



 Namo Arihantanam - I bow in reverence to Arihants

Namo Siddhanam - I bow in reverence to Siddhas

Namo Ayariyanam - I bow in reverence to Acharyas

Namo Uvajjhayanam - I bow in reverence to Upadhyayas

Namo Loye Savva Sahunam - I bow in reverence to all Sadhus 

Eso Panch Namoyaro - This five-fold salutation

Savva Pavappanasano - Destroys all sins

Mangalanam Cha Savvesim - And amongst all auspicious things 

This part is followed by a section on definitions of Arhat, Siddha, Acharya, Upadhyaya and Sadhu according to Jainism. At the end, there is a description of the five major vows of a sadhu or sadhvi, as follows:

“When householders become detached from the worldly aspects of life and get the desire for spiritual uplift (and not worldly uplift), they give up their worldly lives and become sadhus (monk) or sadhvis (nun). A male person is called sadhu, and a female person is called sadhvi. At the time of Deeksha, the sadhu or sadhvi voluntarily accepts to obey following five major vows for the rest of his/her life:

 1. Commitment of Total Ahimsa (non-violence)-not to commit any type of violence.

 2. Commitment of Total Satya (truth)-not to indulge in any type of lie or falsehood.

 3. Commitment of Total Asteya (non-stealing)-not to take anything unless it is given.

 4. Commitment of Total Brahmacharya (celibacy)-not to indulge in any sensual activities

 5. Commitment of Total Aparigraha (non-possessiveness)-not to acquire more than what is needed to maintain day to day life.”

 

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Manava Dharma Shastra and Manu Smriti

 

I am reading Manu Smriti now. As is my habit, I start with an authentic sutra by sutra translation in English or Tamizh and then go to the original in Sanskrit for significant passages. In Manu Smriti, there are so many significant passages.  

First, I find that Manu Smriti is probably one of many Dharma Smritis and probably is derived from an extinct Manava Dharma Shastra. I understand that the suggestions from the Shastras are condensed into sutras. Sutras get modified by metric and versification into Smriti. And, then a follower writes an explanation with elaboration and that is called Nibhandana.

Manu Smriti 2:10 says that shruti is Veda and smriti is shastra and these two should not be questioned on matters relating to dharma. (shrutis tu vedo vigneyo; shastram tu vai smrithih)

Next, I learn that  an injunction as sutra is followed by stanza in metric or chandas (such as anushtup) and then a supporting Vedic statement. Elaborative texts then explain the actual performance of the ritual and include mantras, which come from the Vedas (for example, the mantras for weddings).

The main injunction (dharma) for the wedding says: “ let mutual fidelity continue until death, this may be considered the highest law for husband and wife”. (Manu 9:101). The actual mantra for the wedding comes from Rg Veda 10:85; 36-47.

Topics included in Manu Smriti are: sacraments, householder’s duties, marriage, daily rites, laws regarding acceptable and forbidden food, impurities and purification, duties of hermits and ascetics, judicial procedures, recovery of debts, sales and ownership, sale and purchase, disputes regarding boundaries, theft, violence, adultery, gambling and betting. It is interesting that there is a section on other Doubtful Points of Law!

As a comparison, Talmud of the Jewish tradition is like the Dharma shastras in the subjects covered.

The final chapter (12) of Manu ends with some general comments. Sloka 12:119 is practically the same as many of the Upanishads. “The Self alone is the multitude of the gods, the universe rests on the Self” . Manu asks us to meditate on space as identical with the cavitation of the body, on the wind as identical with the organs of movements and touch, on light as the same as digestive organs, on water as the body fluids and on the earth as solid parts of the body etc.

Manu refers to the Supreme Purusha as male and says: “some call him Agni, others Manu, Prajapati, others as Indra, Prana and also as Brahman”. He concludes with “he who recognizes the Self through the Self in all created beings becomes equal-minded towards all and enters the highest state, Brahman”.  This is the same as sloka 6 of Isa Upanishad.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Liberation from what? And, what for?

 

 One point of view asks us to seek eternal happiness and immortality. Another view says that there is nothing called eternal bliss or non-death. It says: “just deal with this reality of impermanence by living this life well”. One other view says that this life with all its problems and miseries is not worth bothering about and asks us to renounce everything. Yet another view says that there must be an abstract primordial “something” out of which “all we see and experience” have come  and says: “just merge with it”.

Bhakti (Faith based) method suggests choosing a personal God whom you should love and dedicating your life serving that chosen God. It is possible to merge with that “God” say some. Others say that we can never hope to become one with God and that we will always be separate. The best we can hope for to be near Him and enjoy his nearness. Even to obtain that joy “you have to put in your effort” say some. “No, you do not have to do anything. Just surrender and He will take care of you” says another. Two subdivisions of the same sect have different ideas of what moksha is.

“Realize that Purusha is aloof, untouched by material things. Realize that your material body is not the real thing. It is all maya. Keep reflecting till the real reveals Itself” says another. “Karma” says one; “Samsara" says one; “maya” says one; “lila” says one.

Reach it by action says one; by devotion says another. One says that It is attainable through “yoga” and another says it is through “bhoga”.

“Only direct perception can show you what reality is” says one. Perception and inference say some. Perception, inference, and scriptures say another. Non-perception is also an evidence says one system. None of them will do; the only way to realize Reality is to experience It says the Vedas.

“Believe in me because I am the only way” say some.  All rivers lead to the same ocean says another.

This cosmos, this life and human consciousness are  all mysteries. They are for experiencing with humility. Why not keep reflecting? Why not keep asking and seeking with an open mind cleared of all cobwebs.

Because, liberation is ultimately liberation from all dogmas, from all attachments including attachment to dogmas, from all attachments to academic classifications of points of views and from personal blinders and prisms through which we observe the world.

Everything we see and experience is impermanent. Is that a sufficient reason to keep searching for a permanent thing? Why not accept the reality as is evident and live a life of loving-kindness and compassion? That way, if there is another world of permanent life, you will get there. If there is none, you had the satisfaction of living a noble life.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Desire and Fear

  

The vigrahas (wrongly called idol or icon in English) of all the Hindu pantheon of Gods will have one hand in abhaya hasta (do not be afraid) mode and the other in varada hasta (I will protect you) mode. It makes sense because two driving forces of life are desire and fear. Desire because of need to seek food and mate leading to exploration and fear needed to save oneself from becoming food and escape death.

The problem with desire is that it is often unreasonable, always asking for more and leads to attachment. The desire to save oneself and escape death leads to fear which may result in running away (physical escape) and to imagination (mental escape). That is why Buddha advised us to let go of everything including desires and fear. Upanishads went one step further and suggested that “we let go of that by which we are trying to let go”. (In Sanskrit, it is a beautiful command: yena tyajasi tat tyaja). This means letting go of the mind itself, which is not possible.

The best we can do is to control the mind. That is also a difficult task. That is where meditation comes in. We are also asked to let go of the attachments by looking at our emotions such as desires and fears, looking deeply to understand the source and the seeds of suffering. We are asked to observe our inner landscape without judgment and  as a witness. A witness is not part of the scene. A witness is an impartial observer from outside to report to the judge. She is not the judge.

Bhagavad Gita asks us to do the same thing in relations to our actions. Since we cannot help but act, Lord Krishna asks us to “act but let go of your attachments to the fruits of action”.   He did not recommend sitting idle. (ma tey sangostu akarmani)

Friday, August 21, 2020

Diversity and Inclusion

 

It is interesting that when you are thinking about some topic, your eyes and ears are primed to pay attention to so many articles and books on the subject. That is what happened to me about Diversity. The first lesson I learnt last week was that this topic is now referred to as Diversity and Inclusion – not just Diversity. This is a conceptually important point.

In his book on Ten Principles of Free Speech, T.G. Ash includes Diversity as a crucial element. He further explains that “we should be able to express ourselves openly and with robust civility about all kinds of human differences”.  During the past several decades, there has been vast movement of people across nations and continents for various reasons. We are told that almost half of the population of Toronto is foreign-born. In the city of London, three hundred different languages are spoken. It is predicted that by the year 2042 there will be no ethnic majority in the United States – only plurality. Ash points out that we are living in a “Cosmopolis” and we need to learn to live with differences.

We need more than tolerance to live with differences. We need acceptance of differences. Some differences are immutable such as sex and color and some which we are born into or choose, such as language, political belief, and religion. Both  sex and skin color have been vexing problems. That  should not be since they are immutable. We cannot do anything about them. We are told that a group of individuals in Brazil were asked to describe their skin color in their own words. There were 134 different descriptions. We know that all our organs underneath that skin look the same. So why this hang up?

To live in a civilized society, we need to emphasize uniformity of “hearts” and not identical skin color or eye color or belief systems. Can you imagine how dull this world will be if everyone looks the same, dresses the same, speaks the same language and eats the same kind of food? Besides, if everyone is alike, it does not require much effort to live in “peace”. It requires effort and maturity to enjoy the variety and live a life that is peaceful to oneself and to others.

In the book I referred to earlier on Free Speech, T G Ash suggested that “we express ourselves openly and with robust civility about all kinds of differences”. I suggest an addition to this statement: “we also concede freedom to others to be themselves with their immutable and mutable characteristics and express them with robust civility”.

Civility is not just acceptance to be politically correct. It is not just politeness and good manners. It is  deep acceptance capable of aligning one’s thoughts, manners, and actions. If not accepted deeply at the mental and spiritual level, the intolerance will show up sooner or later. It will also make it difficult to teach the younger generation what true acceptance is. They will see through our hypocrisy.

Ash defines civility as: “respect for the dignity and the desire for dignity of the other person”.

The need for full acceptance of diversity and the need for inclusion is upon us right now, in this 21st century “cosmopolis”.  We should be able to have open and civil conversation on this important topic and preserve the freedom of speech which is so essential for such conversation.

 

 

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Dealing with feelings and emotions

 

In Hinduism, we are taught to meditate to a point at which we become witness (sakshi) to our own thoughts. It is part of gnana marga to merge with the divine.  A witness is an observer and a reporter. He does not judge. At that level, the mind is the subject and, also an object of perception. The idea is to reach a point at which there is only the Subject.

Buddhism expanded on it and applied it to living in this world. Starting with Buddha himself, Buddhist monks developed methods to deal with human feelings, emotions and “mental formations”. They said “when feelings arise, just observe them without judgement . Do not fight them. Do not get carried away by them either”. That is being a witness to our thoughts, but with a different purpose.

Buddhist teachings advise us to acknowledge the feelings and emotions. Instead of fleeing from them, name them, experience them without judgment, and even embrace them. If you do so, you realize that “you are not afraid”, but “fear is in you”. You are able to see fear as apart from you. You are able to see that fear is not controlling you but that you are in control of fear by observing it, naming it and looking at it as a witness rather than as a participant.

Behavioral psychologists have started using this approach. In fact, I heard Mr. Tristan Harris say the same solution in dealing with social media which control our lives. He says: “Instead of saying I am a victim”, take the approach “I am being victimized”. That may or may not be true, but makes you think differently. Who is in control?

Guided meditation exercises which teach us how to deal with our emotions and feelings, accepting their presence without judgment will be helpful in dealing with emotions such as fear, anxiety, sadness etc. Living without fear, anxiety, anger is a bliss by itself.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Skin, the outer cover

 

 

The other day I was peeling off the sheaths covering a cob of corn. For no reason, it became a mystical experience – the mystery of its design and beauty. I almost felt guilty boiling it, leave alone eating it. The overlapping sheath, the arrangement of the pearls inside and the silky tuft require more than genetics, physics and chemistry to be explained.

Today, I was peeling a cucumber admiring its beauty with similar feeling. Later in the day, I was reading about the color of human skin as an immutable reality.

All these are covers. They are covering something essential inside. The cover (sheath, cover or hide or skin) is the limiting structure, margin between one individual life structure and its surroundings. It sets limit to the contained. It separates. It separates one from the many and from the whole.

We must look deeply and look past the separation our “skin” creates between what is inside us and inside the “cover” of others. As was pointed out several centuries back, a pocket of air inside a pot is the same as the air outside. Break the pot and see the wholeness of the interior landscape.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Information and Consciousness

While reading Roberto Calasso’s book on The Unnamable Present, I was thinking about collective consciousness and group knowledge. It is amazing that there is no proper definition of information as applicable to consciousness. There is no acceptable definition of consciousness either. Calasso’s comments made them clearer for me.

To me, definition of information must state that it is the content of consciousness. Calasso points out that information is discrete, refers to individual fact and can be digitized. Consciousness is continuous, global and an analog. Just like what we know about recorded music in the modern world, digitized music is crisp and clear, sanitized. But, does not have the nuances and subtle noises of the original which gives the full flavor.

“Information by encircling thought, basically suffocates it…” says Calasso. Yet, without bits of information based on experiences and perceptions woven into memory, there will be very little or no content for thought. Consciousness is the light that shines by itself mysteriously in a living body and also lets us know we are alive and make us aware of our own  thoughts.

What do I mean by “group knowledge”?

When I saw a group of birds flying in formation, I noticed that two birds from the rear of the formation came over to the front to take the lead. This is a well-known observation and I have seen it many times, particularly when we were sailing in the waters of the Galapagos.

I asked myself: “ is group knowledge activating individual minds”? Birds do not have language to think “I have to go and relieve those guys in front” etc., The birds in the back probably do not know the concepts of back and front as we do either. But they must have some neural representation in their brains to know that they are in a cluster of “many” with some of their kind  visible in the field of vision (which has to be presented as in front, if they think like us). Why not call it “group knowledge” or “group mind”? If so, that should be able to affect the “individual minds” of members of the group and their knowledge. This group mind transcends the individual mind and affects it. The individual mind does not make the group mind; but knows it and operates through the group mind.

Is this similar to Universal Consciousness (Brahman) inherent in and influencing individual consciousness? As the famous Upanishad (Kena 1:6 )  says: “Brahman is not the mind that thinks, but it is that by which mind thinks”.


Friday, July 24, 2020

Meditation and Mandala Brahmana Upanishad

There is no end to learning about meditation.

The Mandala Brahmana Upanishad gives an excellent definition of Meditation. It says: “Meditation is the contemplation of unity of consciousness within all bodies”. Knowing the identity of the individual self (?soul) with the universal self (universal consciousness) and therefore, of the self of all lives is the goal. Meditation is the process of knowing that connection.

In learning to meditate, we have to learn to make the connections at the physical level, the mental level and the metaphysical level. In the Buddhist tradition this connection is learnt as meditation on the five elements, namely earth, water, fire, air and space. In the Hindu tradition, it is meditation on the five sheaths of the body – of food (anna), of life (prana), of mind (mano), of knowledge or wisdom (vignana) and of Bliss.  At the mental level, it is meditation on the different states of consciousness – wakeful (jagra), dream (svapna), deep sleep (sushpti), and the background on which all of these are known (turya). At the metaphysical level, it is learning to meditate on the senses (indriya), mind (manas), intellect (buddhi), unmanifest (avyakta) and purusha (the source of being). One can take any one of these paths which often happens to depend on the teacher (guru) one encounters.

Katha Upanishad (1:iii:13) says: “merge speech and mind into the consciousness, merge consciousness into wisdom, wisdom into the Superior Intelligence of mahat and mahat into peaceful atman”.  This is the internally directed homa, as opposed to the yagnas with fire preferred in the Brahmanas.

One learns to use these steps to practice. The process of integration into higher and higher state is called yukti. In one interpretation, liberation or mukti/moksha is seeking this integration , not escape from death, which is impossible anyway.

Another point about meditation is about the word yoga. The dictionary definition is union. Upanishadic scholars tell us that yoga is the effort to attain union, not the result.

Finally, dissolution of the physical body of one individual does not terminate the universal life force.

The intensity of contemplation is the equivalent of fire in the external homa, sacrifice. This is tapas, or penance, or what Roberto Calasso calls Ardor. This, in turn, requires restraint or control  of the senses, reduction of distractions and focus on just one thing, steady and unwavering. This is what is called “laser – focus” in modern usage. This focus is what we are told in Maha Bharata Book 1, Chapters 134-15 in which Drona is testing his pupils. Drona asks them to aim at the eye of a bird (toy bird) placed on the branch of a tree. When each one comes up to take the test, he asks “What do you see?”. Each one says that he sees the tree, branches of a tree, a bird and then finally come to mention the eye they were supposed to strike. When Arjuna comes and Drona asks “What do you see?”, he says: “The bird’s eye”. That is focused attention, laser-focus. 

 


Friday, July 17, 2020

Courage to live with nature : Compassion and Love to live with people


(An earlier version had some mistakes. This is the corrected version)

That title is from an essay on the Tamil classic Thirukkural. Before I get into the topic of courage, compassion and love, a word about phonetics.

The alphabet l in the word Tamil is not pronounced the same way as in the word Thirukkural. The alphabet l in the so-pronounced Tamil does not have a corresponding alphabet in English. The closest is the combination zh. Tamizh with a sibilant sound is a little better than Tamil. Even that does not make it.

Here is what the mouth and the tongue must do to pronounce the zh in Tamizh. The tip of the tongue has to bend backwards (called retroflexed), go to the back of the palate (roof of the mouth) and gently move towards the front without touching the palate while outgoing air makes the sound. Here is another way to compare. If you do the same movements with the tongue but with the tip of the tongue touching the palate, you will get the sound “sha”.

Now, in English, the letter l in the word Thirukkural may stand for the sound l as in the word lake or for the sound l as in clay.  The correct way to pronounce this l in the word Thirukkural is as in clay. If we go to the mechanics of making the sound, it is similar to the other two sounds we discussed, namely “sha” and “zha”. The tongue bends backwards and touches the back of the palate but stays there while making the sound. The tongue does not slide forwards. In making the sound l as in lake, the tip of the tongue touches the root of the upper front teeth.

If anyone thinks that I am making too much fuss about nothing, grammarians of both Tamizh (Tholkappiam) and Sanskrit (Panini) did not think so. It is amazing to read the original texts in which these authors tell us in the very beginning how to use the lips, tongue, teeth, palate and the voice box to make specific sounds. According to the classification in Sanskrit, the l of lake belongs to the Dental group of semivowels. And  “sha” belong to the Sibilant group. The l of clay is aspirant lingual in Sanskrit. I do not know where the zh of Tamizh will come in Sanskrit since this sound is not part of Sanskrit. My guess is that it will also be lingual aspirant.

Grammarians of Sanskrit and Tamizh were way ahead of time.

 Thirukkural deals with what in Tamizh is called “aram”, which is equivalent to “dharma” in Sanskrit. The word stands for natural order of things and what is right conduct in life. It stands for custom, law, morality and ethics.

The author of the essay I read refers to poems written in Tamizh before the period when Thirukkural was written. They were written when the people followed Nature’s rhythm and its bounties and the subject matters were family life and regional conflicts. Those poems were called “puram”, which means “outside” conflcits. There was also “aham” literature, on the inner life of man and woman.

 Thirukkural emphasizes yet another aspect, namely “aram” or dharma.

In an earlier version of this post, I made the mistake of confusing “aram” with “aham”. A reader pointed out that error. I went back to the source. The author uses the word “puram” as opposed to “aram” of Thirukkural. He did not call it “aham” literature.

Based on the essence of the subject matters of these kinds of poems, it should become obvious that Courage is needed in dealing with Nature and external forces. Love and compassion are need for living an ethical and moral life. Although I have been aware of this literature and have read a few of them with meaning, I did not realize the significance until now.

Poets of these ancient classics make it clear. The “puram” poems talk about “veeram” (meaning courage, boldness) and aham emphasizes life of man and woman and their relationship in specific geographic and seasonal settings.  It is more about physical love.

But, Thirukkural is an “aram” poem which emphasize “arul” (this l should be pronounced as in clay, means compassion). One other embellishment to these thoughts is given by another writer. He says that arul is the term for outward action (loving acts of kindness) that indicates the inner state of karunai or compassion. 


Friday, July 10, 2020

A simplified Mindful Meditation

Purpose:              It is to silence the “mind” and to expand the “heart”

 

Method:              Focus on the breath

                           Every time you realize that the mind has wandered off, gently bring it back to the breath

                           Bring the mind to basic awareness of just being here and now,

   Being aware of the subject of the thoughts themselves and of the mind

   Being an observer of thought, a witness without judgement, not chasing after, not pushing off either

  Just accepting as is

Goal:                NOTHING   

No thoughts

No grasping

Just Letting go

Grasping and reaching are the opposites of what meditation masters teach.  

Spiritual goal is commendable. But I do not know what it means, after almost 50 years of practice. Several texts tell us that bliss and moksha (release from samsara) are to be experienced in this life and not something to attain after death. Also, death is not opposite of life, but opposite of birth. Therefore, meditation is not for bliss after death or for immortality, but to experience the immortal in us here and now. It is to open the heart and the mind and experience the parts in the whole and the whole in the parts.

Buddha and JK tell us to keep the mind open, like windows in a room, after letting go of all kinds of dogmas and let whatever comes, come. That is bliss and not a special state to work for.

Just let go and surrender to whatever is.


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.