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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 needed 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.