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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. (

 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.