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Friday, March 25, 2022

Unity and Uniformity

 Lessons from World History is a book Will Durant wrote after completing his 10 Volume History of Civilization. One of the major lessons he learned was that freedom and equality do not go together. If we want absolute equality, we must forego freedom. If we want freedom, we must forego absolute equality.

Therefore, equality in justice in the eyes of the law must be protected in a free society.

The other absolute equality is in a spiritual sense, in the spiritual realm. If we can do this and identify ourselves with all lives and all peoples, we do not have to be fighting for personal identity, social identity, racial identity etc.,

That is why Kanchi Periyaval, a modern-day saint said that we should not insist on uniformity in appearance, language etc, but in the unity of our "hearts".

Friday, March 11, 2022

Journey towards Inner Realization (atma gnana yatra)


Journey towards atma gnana or Inner Realization starts with questions such as “Who am I?” (Ramana Maharishi),  Vignatharam kena vijaniyat?” (Through what should one know the knower?), “yenedam sarvam vijanathitam kena vijaniyat?” (Through what should one know That by which all this is known?) (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad) and statements such as “tat brhmanishkalam aham na butha sangha” (I am that blemishless Brahman and not this aggregate of elements) (Adi Sankara).

Do these questions suggest that there is a transcendental state of Awareness (with a capital A) beyond the state of wakefulness in which there is awareness of division of knower, knowledge and the known? In other words, for me to know something and be aware of it, for me to know my three states of wakefulness, dream, and sleep, for me to know that I know somethings and do not know about some other things, for me to know that I know something now but not before, does a different state of reference exist? Is it necessary to  suggest or imagine that there is a state other than what we know and experience?

If so, how is it that pigeons are known to remember their original home and will take the same path to get there even after 3 or 4 years? Obviously, the bird remembered the home and the path. This was imbedded into that specific bird so that it knew the path and the home as its own knowledge. It was (is capable of) awareness of this meta-awareness, in which it knew its own knowledge, meaning “I”, the home and the memory of knowledge of the path. The pigeon had a “patterned memory” and awareness of that memory which it could access. The only difference is that the pigeon does not have “language memory” and ability to express it. We, humans, have ability to store “verbal memory” and ability to express.

That language ability and our ability to imagine can also trick us into believing that there is (must be) a different state, beyond this state of awareness and motivate us to reach that state. Is this not what we are asked to do in meditation?

If we conclude that there is a state different from our current awareness which is above and beyond our meta-awareness ( which is awareness of awareness), are we not perpetuating the concepts of dualities and multiplicities? Are we not trying to reach that Unity through duality which we say is not true and that it is maya? In addition, if we take the position of the transcendentalist, even at this level of knower of the knower of the knower ad infinitum, how can there be a knower without the known?

Is it not possible that an alternate answer is available? That is to say that meditation is not about the One which is beyond all dualities and multiplicities but realizing that everything we see, and experience are interconnected and inter-dependent. In this universe we live in, the knower, the known and the knowledge make just One Unit. One cannot be without the others. When one of them is, the other two are. Even birds and animals intuitively experience this reality but do not have the ability to express it. This is what Buddha said, I think.

Put it differently, in the macro world (stula sarira) which is visible to us, we are made of elements such as earth, water, fire, air and space or basic elements such as hydrogen, oxygen etc., depending on one’s point of view. In Sanskrit these elements are called bhutas. Therefore, the universe is considered to be made of panca (five) bhutas. Interestingly, the word for the universe is prapancam. In Tamizh, the word moolam stands for the elements. Therefore, the Primordial Force, the root of all these roots is called adimoolam.

In the micro world or subtle world (sukshma sarira) (with our current knowledge base, we should call this the quantum world), the primordial elements are matter, energy, information, space and time. This is my personal view, as I have written earlier.

This approach is compatible with modern scientific viewpoint. I have always thought that matter, energy, information, space, and time are inter-dependent fundamental units of nature. When we go back to the origins of the universe, whether it is the matter of which we are composed or the awareness of awareness of awareness ad infinitum, it appears that the original, Primordial Force has to be a composite of more than one of the five units of nature listed above and not something separate and apart from these units.

In addition, this point of view (darshana) takes me away from reflecting on a transcendental state, different and overarching this reality state, but on this current state of immanent reality, focusing on the here and the now. I can see clearly that I (me) the knower, object of awareness and the process of knowing are ONE. That composite is the Atman and the Brahman, the Primordial One. It makes me see the transcendent in the immanent and gets me engaged in this world. It makes me see the interconnections between all subjects and objects and makes me more open-minded, tolerant, and compassionate. This point of view makes me spiritual.

This approach is easily available to everyone. We do not have to chase dualities and multiplicities as different and above and beyond the One. This composite One is the single intertwined, inter-dependent, immanent reality. It is here and available now. It is atma gnana, the kingdom of heaven on earth, moksha while alive (jivan mukti).

 As Rev. Thich Naht Hanh used to say, the knower, the knowledge and the known “Inter-are”. Body, Mind, and Awareness “inter-are”. Matter, energy, information, space, and time “inter-are”. When one of them is there, so are the others. There is nothing else different and separate from this composite one.

Whatever method we use to understand the origin of this cosmos and by whatever name we call it – “all-in-one”, “transcendent”, “immanent”, “illusory”, “sunyata” , the Primordial Force - it is still a mystery.

Friday, March 4, 2022

Eight Spiritual Qualities (atma gunas)

The word Samskara has two meanings according to Kanchi Periyaval. One is familiar to all of us. It stands for the forty rites of passages in the life of a Vedic Hindu starting with three ceremonies before birth all the way to the final rites.

The other meaning of samskara is from the Nyaya philosophy and stands for something between experience and impression. It is also called atheentriyam. Kanchi periyaval explains it with an example. Let us say we visited Varanasi and had a great experience visiting Vishvanatha temple. We forget that experience after some time. If we go back and visit the temple again after a few years, we remember the prior experience. This interval when the memory is not on our “radar” is what is called samskara. During this period our initial impression of the experience was still there, but dormant. Memory according to the Nyaya philosophy is the initial impression of the original experience.

In the Kalpa sastra in which the forty samskaras are included is meant to link our original impression of our own Divine nature, which lies dormant, with living experience by means of actions we undertake. They are meant to purify our minds, thoughts and action and prepare us for inner realization or atma gnana.

Therefore, it is no surprise that detailed descriptions of how each samskara should be performed starts with a description of eight noble virtues in the texts of dharma shastra. I call them Spiritual Qualities or Properties of Inner Self which should be cultivated for atma gnana or inner realization. They are called atma gunas.

What are those eight virtues?

Daya – Compassion. Universal Love. This is Loving Kindness to all creatures

Kshanti – Tolerance, patience. This is towards those who do not follow dharma. (dama?)

Anasuya – lack of jealousy. This is towards those who are better than us. Also called mudita in Buddhism.

Sowcham – Inner purity. Virtuous thought, speech and action

Anaayasam – calm in action. In Buddhism, this is samatta

Mangalam – Pure and majestic joy.

Akaarpanyam – Generous in giving. Dana.

Aspruha – unattached (to worldly and impermanent things)