Saturday, May 29, 2010

Chapter 1 - The Despondency of Arjuna

2.1 This week we will look at two questions. Firstly, what is the setting for the events that transpire in the Gita? Secondly, since we do not live in ancient India, how is this setting relevant to us?

2.2 Considering our first question, in verse 1 we learn that Sanjaya “one who has conquered likes and dislikes” is narrating the events of the Gita at Dritharashtra’s request. Dritharashtra means “he by whom the kingdom is held” and he is the blind king of the Kuru’s. We also learn that these events take place on “dharmakshetre kurukshetre” – “the field of duty, the field of the kurus.”

2.3 Next, in verse 2, king Duryodhana, who is the leader of the Kauravas “vacanam abravit” – “gave a speech” or “said words”. This phrasing, instead of the usual “uvaca” – “spoke”, indicates that the king is not being entirely straightforward in what he is saying.

2.4 As we might expect, Duryodhana’s gives a speech (in verses 3 through 11) in which he boasts about the strength of the Kauravas. (The Kauravas are the clan that will be opposing Arjuna’s clan which is called the Pandavas.) Duryodhana is telling his teacher Drona how well-prepared they are to enter into battle with and claim victory over the Pandavas.

2.5 Once both sides are lined up and facing each other, verses 12-19 explain, the Kauravas blow conchs and beat drums, etc., to intimidate the Pandavas. The Pandavas then respond with some deafening noise of their own. They even have names for some of the conchs they blow. By mentioning these names, Sanjaya, who is using the siddhi of psychic vision to give this account to blind Dhritarashtra, is indicating that the Pandavas are better prepared to enter this battle. We find great significance here when we consider that the Pandavas represent our intention to be on the spiritual path and that the Kauravas represent our external, materialistic nature. Encouraging as they are, these verses contain a warning about how dangerous it is to presume that we are more spiritually mature than we are. In light of this we can see that it would be safer to presume the opposite by preparing ourselves as well as we can to have the Pandavas overcome the Kauravas.

2.6 In verses 24 and 25 Krishna draws the chariot between the two armies and says to Arjuna, “O Arjuna, see these assembled people of the Kuru dynasty.” Here Krishna is indicating that the Kauravas, although they are called by a different name, are originally of the singular Kuru dynasty. This is because our outer way of being is an extension of our inner way of being; they are two ways that we exist on the relative level, which in Vedanta is called vyavahara. We also have an Absolute level which is called paramarta. But to realize the paramartika level we have to accomplish what Krishna will be teaching Arjuna throughout the rest of the Gita.

2.7 In verses 28-34 Arjuna expresses sorrow, fear and bewilderment over the prospect of fighting this war. He begins to make the case to Krishna that he can not fight since he would be fighting against teachers and relatives. Who could do such a dreadful thing?

2.8 Then in verse 35 Arjuna addresses Krishna as Madhusudana. By doing this, Arjuna is indicating that Krishna, being the founder of the Vedic path, can therefore not ask him to fight in an un-Vedic war.

2.9 Finally, in verses 36, Arjuna calls Krishna “Janardana”, which means “agitator” – “ard” of “jana” – “man”. Killing relatives is sinful, so by using this name Arjuna is indicating that if Krishna killed them instead, He would incur no sin, since He is an Avatara of Vishnu and is always creating, preserving and destroying things. The Kauravas, under the rule of their leader Duryodhana, have committed atrocities against the Pandavas so it is actually not sinful to kill them. However Arjuna argues that it is sinful regardless, because these are his own relatives.

2.10 Now we are ready to consider our second question, which is how is the setting for the events of the Gita relevant to us? At the end of the chapter (in verse 47) Sanjaya narrates that Arjuna, in sorrow, sits down on the chariot - right in the middle of the battlefield - and pitifully tosses aside his bow and arrows. This is an expression of complete despondency, and now we can see why this setting is relevant to us. Like Arjuna, we must wage a battle upon the Kurukshetra within ourselves.

2.11 At this point, if we wish to get out of our terrible despondency, we will have to come face-to-face with our competing commitments. There are many aspects and abilities we have worked hard to develop over the course of our lifetime, which have served us well in various circumstances. But not all of these aspects and abilities are helpful on the spiritual path. Now we must get rid of unhelpful abilities which are symbolized by the Kauravas. At times anger has served us and desire has served us and even greed has served us. Although these are the very gates of hell, we are hesitant to deny their value so that we can set foot on the spiritual path.

2.12 Before concluding our reflection upon this chapter, we want to also consider that spiritual instruction does not properly begin in the Gita until we get to chapter 2, verse 11. This may lead us to wonder, what, then, is the point of these first 57 verses? As we have seen, the answer to this question can be found in the obvious parallels between these verses and our own life prior to our entering upon the spiritual path. Our life is basically mechanical and seems, upon consideration, to be quite meaningless.

2.13 Further still, our life is riddled with bewildering confusions and overwhelming complications. These confusions and complications are not only internal; at this point we find them to be primarily external. We live as if caught within the clutches of a great wave of karmas that endlessly threatens to carry us into oblivion. In this state of being, even regarding those things we know we ought to do, we nonetheless remain confused. It is as if we are paralyzed and can not see the way forward. Fortunately, we will find help with these matters as we begin to study the next chapter.

om tat sat om

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Introductory Notes to the Bhagavad Gita

1.1 Before we begin our examination of the Bhagavad Gita, it will be helpful to consider a few preliminary questions. Firstly, in light of the three quintessential yogas, what is the structure of the Gita? Secondly, if we are meditating upon the mahavakya (Aham Brahmasmi – from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10 of the Yajur Veda), how does this structure relate? And, lastly, is there any superiority between these three yogas?

1.2 Regarding our first question, we first of all want to note that the three quintessential yogas are karma yoga, bhakti yoga and jnana yoga. It is because the Gita addresses each of these yogas that it is the most beloved scripture for Hindus in general and for Vedantins of every variety. Advaitins see in it verification for their precious advaita doctrine. Vishishtadvaitins support for their middling course. And dvaitins, too, find justification for their striving toward unity with Krishna amid the chaos of the world.

1.3 This being said, the structure of the Gita, which consists of 18 sublime chapters, is as follows: chapters 1-6 cover karma yoga, chapter 7-12 cover bhakti yoga and chapters 13-18 cover jnana yoga. As already mentioned, it is this beautiful inclusivity (but not only this!) that has endeared so many souls to this unparalleled Scripture.

1.4 Now we want to look at the relation of this structure to our mahavakya. First of all, however, we want to look at the meaning of the words “Aham” and “Brahmasmi”. “Aham” means “I” and “Brahmasmi” means “Brahman am”. We can translate this from the Sanskrit into English with the more euphonious phrase “I am Brahman”. But to relate our mahavakya with the Gita’s structure, we want to keep in mind the order of the Sanskrit.

1.5 “Aham” correlates with karma yoga, which is to say, the yoga of action. This is because karma yoga has to do with “I”, with myself. Since the world is a confusing place, how do I navigate through it in a beneficial manner? How do I improve myself? How do I make myself suited for the spiritual path? These kinds of questions are answered in the first section of the Gita.

1.6 “Brahmasmi” correlates with “bhakti-jnana”, or love-knowledge. In the view of Vedanta, love and knowledge are both considered valid means for realizing the Self, whereas action, important though it is, is not such a means. This is how the structure of the Gita relates to our mahavakya. In this very deep way.

1.7 We have already learned that karma yoga is not a valid means for realization. In this sense we can rightly say that it is inferior to both bhakti yoga and jnana yoga. Be that as it may, we do not want to say it is irrelevant in relation to these other two yogas. All of our work, on the spiritual path, toward increased goodness and truthfulness, is important, including, of course, our actions toward such ends. In fact it is basically impossible, generally speaking, for us to grow in love or knowledge if we are behaving in a tamasic manner, for example, in our daily conduct. As a result, we can safely say that karma yoga provides the necessary foundation for our engagement in either bhakti or jnana yoga.

1.8 Regarding the two yogas which are valid means to realization, can we say that one or the other is superior? The answer to this question is no. It is a matter that is between God and the individual as to which yoga is appropriate, since God (as Ishvara) is the Creator, Sustainer and Destroyer of all. However, we can say that bhakti yoga is the means for the many and that jnana yoga is the means for the few.

1.9 Nonetheless, it is to some degree acceptable for each of these yogas to affirm superiority, but this is only the case for individuals who adhere to the given yoga. For example, in Narada Bhakti Sutras sage Narada states, “(Devotion is superior to other paths) because even God hates pride and loves humility.” Similarly, Adi Shankara has declared in Atma Bodha, “Knowledge alone is the direct means for liberation.” As we might expect, both of these sages are correct.

1.10 With these points in mind, we are ready to begin our reflection upon the sublime and unparalleled Bhagavad Gita, which is to say, the Song of Lord Krishna.

om tat sat

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Value of Practice

"Realization takes time to steady itself. The Self is certainly within the direct experience of everyone but not in the way people imagine. One can only say that it is as it is. Just as incantations or other devices can prevent fire from burning a man when otherwise it would do so, so vasanas (inherent tendencies impelling one to desire one thing and shun another) can veil the Self when otherwise it would be apparent. Realization takes time to steady itself. Spasmodic Realization is not enough to prevent re-birth, but it can not become permanent as long as there are vasanas." --Sri Ramana Maharshi

In Advaita Vedanta there are two schools: vivarana and bhamati. We can call vivarana the talking school and bhamati the practicing school. The talking school is focused on intensive study of the Upanishads and the practicing school is focused on the removal of vasanas.


Of these two schools, vivarana is the most popular--even in India. This popularity of the talking school underscores something I believe is quite common for any thinking person: the thinking person may easily presume that he or she has not resolved a certain problem or issue, because he or she has not thought well enough about it. Talking gives us food for thinking.

Of course, the main idea with vivarana is that what we think about is to be the Truth revealed through the Sruti and other scriptures. For example, if we think about "Aham Brahmasmi"--"I am the Supreme Reality" then this helps us to realize "I am the Supreme Reality". Yet we can ask, "Is this really how things work? Does thinking about how I already am the Self, help me to realize that I already am the Self? Does thinking make it so? If not, what does?"


If we turn to the bhamati view we find the teaching on vasanas. So we may ask, "What are vasanas?" They are inherent tendencies in our karana sharira or deep sleep body. What we see as human beings are things that manifest within our waking or dreaming states. We can not see the things within our karana sharira because they have not manifested yet. But the bhamati teachings on vasanas say that our inherent tendencies are seeds of good or bad that will manifest into our dreaming and/or waking states if the appropriate conditions arise.

A simple way to understand the karana sharira and our vasanas is to rely on the metaphor of the ground. We all know that the ground is filled with many kinds of seeds. Some of the seeds will grow into fruit-bearing plants, and other seeds will grow into weeds. Everything starts with the seed and once there is a certain kind of seed, then the outcome is simply a matter of time and circumstance. In order to not have weeds grow up from the ground, that ground has to be purged of its bad seeds. It has to be purified.

We many wonder, "How do I transform the vasanas in my karana sharira when they have not yet manifested?"

In the outer world a seed can not be transformed, but in the inner world a seed can be transformed. In the spiritual world our vasanas are transformed from bad to good through practice. Therefore practice is important because practice is what changes the quality of what manifests.

In a transformed life experience it is not only easier for us to live in harmony with others, it is also more probable that we will be able to meditate on and realize the Self.

om tat sat

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The 108 Holy Names of Ganesha

Om Vinayakaya Namaha
Adoration to the Peerless One
Om Vighnarajaya Namaha
Adoration to the Ruler of Obstacles
Om Gauripatraya Namaha
Adoration to the Son of Gauri
Om Ganesvaraya Namaha
Adoration to the Lord of Categories
Om Skandagrajaya Namaha
Adoration to the First-born, Skanda's Elder
Om Avyayaya Namaha
Adoration to the Inexhaustible One
Om Putaya Namaha
Adoration to the Pure One
Om Dakshaya Namaha
Adoration to the Skillful One
Om Adhyakshaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who presides
Om Dvijapriyaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who is fond of the twice-born
Om Agnigarbhachide Namaha
Adoration to Him who contains fire within
Om Indrasripradaya Namaha
Adoration to the Bestower of Power to Indra
Om Vanipradaya Namaha
Adoration to the Bestower of Speech
Om Avyayaya Namaha
Adoration to the Inexhaustible One
Om Sarvasiddhipradaya Namaha
Adoration to the Bestower of All Fulfillment
Om Sarvatanayaya Namaha
Adoration to the Son of Siva
Om Sarvaripriyaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who is fond of night
Om Sarvatmakaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who is the soul of all
Om Srishtikatre Namaha
Adoration to the Creator
Om Devaya Namaha
Adoration to the Resplendent One
Om Anekarchitaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who is worshipped by multitudes
Om Sivaya Namaha
Adoration to the Auspicious One
Om Suddhaya Namaha
Adoration to the Pure One
Om Buddhipriyaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who is fond of intelligence
Om Santaya Namaha
Adoration to the Peaceful One
Om Brahmacharine Naamaha
Adoration to Him who is celibate
Om Gajananaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who has an elephant's face
Om Dvaimatreyaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who has two mothers
Om Munistutyaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who is praised by sages
Om Bhaktavighnavinasanaya Namaha
Adoration to the Destoyer of Devotees' obstacles
Om Ekadantaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who has one tusk
Om Chaturbahave Namaha
Adoration to Him who has four arms
Om Chaturaya Namaha
Adoration to the Ingenious One
Om Saktisamyutaya Namaha
Adoration to the Powerful One
Om Lambodaraya Namaha
Adoration to Him who has a large belly
Om Surpakarnaya Namaha
Adoration to Him whose ears are like winnowing fans
Om Haraye Namaha
Adoration to Him who is lion-like
Om Brahmaviduttamaya Namaha
Adoration to the foremost knower of Brahman
Om Kalaya Namaha
Adoration to the Embodiment of Time
Om Grahapataye Namaha
Adoration to the Lord of Planets
Om Kamine Namaha
Adoration to Him who is love
Om Somasuryagnilochanaya Namaha
Adoration to Him whose eyes are the sun & the moon
Om Pasankusadharaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who weilds the noose and goad
Om Chandaya Namaha
Adoration to Him whose actions are rhythmical
Om Gunatitaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who transcends qualities
Om Niranjanaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who is without blemish
Om Akalmashaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who is without impurity
Om Svayamsiddhaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who achieved fulfillment by himself
Om Siddharchitapadambujaya Namaha
Adoration to Him whose lotus feet sages worship
Om Bijapuraphalasaktaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who is fond of pomegranates
Om Varadaya Namaha
Adoration to the Bestower of Boons
Om Sasvataya Namaha
Adoration to the Unchanging One
Om Krutine Namaha
Adoration to Him who works incessantly
Om Dvijapriyaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who is fond of the twice-born
Om Vitabhayaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who is free from fear
Om Gadine Namaha
Adoration to Him who weilds the mace
Om Chakrine Namaha
Adoration to Him who wields the discus
Om Ikshuchapadhrite Namaha
Adoration to Him who holds the sugarcane bow
Om Sridaya Namaha
Adoration to the Bestower of Wealth
Om Ajaya Namaha
Adoration to the Unborn One
Om Utpalakaraya Namaha
Adoration to Him who hold the blue ltus blossom
Om Sripataye Namaha
Adoration to the Lord of Wealth
Om Stutiharshitaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who rejoices in praise
Om Kuladribhettre Namaha
Adoration to Him who supports the mountain ranges
Om Jatilaya Namaha
Adoration to the Intricate One
Om Kalikalmashanasanaya Namaha
Adoration to the Destroyer of Kali's Impurity
Om Chandrachudamanaye Namaha
Adoration to Him who wears a moon on his head
Om Kantaya Namaha
Adoration to the Beloved One
Om Papaharine Namaha
Adoration to the Destroyer of Wickedness
Om Samahitaya Namaha
Adoration to the Attentive One
Om Asritaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who is our refuge
Om Srikaraya Namaha
Adoration to Him who manifests prosperity
Om Saumyaya Namaha
Adoration to the Pleasant One
Om Bhaktavanchitadayakaya Namaha
Adoration to the Grantor of Devotees' Desires
Om Santaya Namaha
Adoration to the Peaceful One
Om Kaivalyasukhadaya Namaha
Adoration to the Bestower of Absolute Happiness
Om Sachidanandavigrahaya Namaha
Adoration to Him whose form is Existence/Knowledge/Bliss
Om Jnanine Namaha
Adoration to the Wise One
Om Dayayutaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who is full of compassion
Om Dantaya Namaha Adoration to Him who has self control
Om Brahmadveshavivarjitaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who is free from aversion to the Supreme
Om Pramattadaityabhayadaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who is feared by power intoxicated men
Om Srikanthaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who has a beautiful throat
Om Vibhudesvaraya Namaha
Adoration to the Lord of the Wise
Om Ramarchitaya Namaha
Adoration to the God worshipped by Rama
Om Vidhaye Namaha
Adoration to the Controller of Destiny
Om Nagarajayajnopavitavate Namaha
Adoration to Him who wears a cobra as a sacred thread
Om Sthulakanthaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who has a stout neck
Om Svayamkartre Namaha
Adoration to Him who acts independently
Om Samaghoshapriyaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who is fond of the sound of Sama Veda
Om Parasmai Namaha
Adoration to Him for whom there is no other
Om Sthulatundaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who has a stout trunk
Om Agranye Namaha
Adoration to the First-Born
Om Dhiraya Namaha
Adoration to the Courageous One
Om Vagisaya Namaha
Adoration to the Lord of Speech
Om Siddhidayakaya Namaha
Adoration to the Bestower of Fulfillment
Om Durvabilvapriyaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who is fond of durva and bilva
Om Avyaktamurtaye Namaha
Adoration to the Manifestation of the Unmanifest
Om Adbhutamurtimate Namaha
Adoration to the Wondrous Form
Om Sailendratanujotsanga Khelanotsukamanasaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who is fond of playing with His mother Paravati, daughter of the mountain Lord
Om Svalavanyasudhasarajita Manmathavigrahaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who is a vast ocean of sweetness more charming than the God of love
Om Samastajagadadharaya Namaha
Adoration to the Supporter of All the Worlds
Om Mayine Namaha
Adoration to the Source of Illusory Power
Om Mushikavahanaya Namaha
Adoration to Him who rides the mouse
Om Hrushtaya Namaha
Adoration to the Rapturous One
Om Tushtaya Namaha
Adoration to the Content One
Om Prasannatmane Namaha
Adoration to the Benign One
Om Sarvassiddhipradayakaya Namaha
Adoration to the Bestower of All Fulfillment

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Swami Dayananda in Spain

For anyone who may be able to attend, Sri Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati will be in Granada, Spain on the 13th and 14th of October. For details, click here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Devotion to Ishwara

In a gnostic tradition such as Advaita, it is easy to conclude that Ishwara is unimportant. This, however, is not what the Upanishads reveal. They teach that Brahman is both saguna and nirguna. In Advatic teaching, nirguna Brahman is described as 'higher' than saguna Brahman (Ishwara) because nirguna Brahman is beyond comprehension.

This said, there is something else to consider. Just as no wave can create another wave, much less the sea from which it arises, all human beings are created, sustained and dissolved by Ishwara. It is for this very reason that we see even jivamuktas expressing devotion and worshiping the Lord who gives life to all.

Just as the vyavaharika and paramarthika levels are not-two, so, upon final analysis, we find that Brahman is One-without-a-second.

om tat sat

Saturday, September 5, 2009

On the Fact & the Study of Consciousness

Scientists have discovered that matter is nothing but a manifestation of cosmic energy. So there exists a single cosmic energy or force which is infinite in capacity and takes on the form of matter under certain conditions. Our holy scriptures also make the same assertion. But the universe is not mere matter which we can trace to atoms. You and I exist. Apart from our physical bodies which are, of course matter, there is the spark of intelligent consciousness in us which cannot come under the category of matter and that also has to be explained if a complete explanation of the universe is attempted.This universe is a vibration of consciousness and cosmic energy. It is created, sustained and dissolved in the infinite ocean of consciousness and cosmic energy. Scientists must concern themselves with consciousness. Only through a comprehensive study of consciousness can a complete explanation of the cosmos be found. --Jagadguru Sri Chandrashekhara Bharati Mahaswamigal

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Chatushtaya Sampatti

“The tendency to neglect the doctrine that Vedantic study is intended only for the competent is responsible for the confused thinking of modern days. Even simple crafts such as masonry or carpentry, require a preliminary course of training. But in the field of Brahma-Vidya, the science of Value of the Self, the highest and the most difficult of all sciences, everyone thinks himself competent and entitled to study the system of Advaita and even to sit in judgement over it. This attitude must go and must be replaced by earnest endeavour to secure first the necessary competence.” --Jagadguru Sri Chandrashekhara Bharati Mahaswamigal

"Some rivers flow directly into the ocean. Others first join bigger rivers and then merge with the ocean. So also the paths of devotion, meditation and desireless work lead by stages to the ultimate Realisation. The path of Knowledge is a direct means but it is difficult. To follow it, an aspirant requires the four-fold qualifications namely viveka, vairagya, sama and the like and mumukshutva." --Jagadguru Sri Abhinava Vidytheertha Mahaswamigal

Chatushtaya Sampatti


saadhanaanyatra chatvaari kathitaani maniishhibhiH .
yeshhu satsveva sannishhThaa yadabhaave na sidhyati

aadau nityaanityavastuvivekaH parigaNyate .
ihaamutraphalabhogaviraagastadanantaram.h .
shamaadishhaT.hkasampattimumukshutvamiti sphuTam.h
(Vivekachudamani verses 18 & 19)


Here is the text we will be meditating on, as it has been translated by an Italian Master who goes by the single name Raphael.

“The Sages have said that for realization it is necessary to practice four qualifications, without which the attainment of Brahman could fail (18). The first one is discernment between the real and the non-real; the second is detachment from the fruits of all actions in both this world and other worlds; the third consists of the group of the six qualities, such as mental calm, and so on; and the fourth one is a firm and yearning aspiration for enlightenment (19).”

Nityanitya vastu viveka indicates discrimination between things permanent and transient.

The principle way that viveka comes about is through accumulated punya (meritorious deeds). Here we might note that papa (sin) is the opposite of punya. Papa is bad action that we do as a result of our fundamental avidya (ignorance). If we have been doing sin for a long time, we will probably need to do punya also for a long time to counteract the effects of our bad behavior. Only then will we have the clear hope of succeeding in our viveka.

What ethic can we follow to correct our bad behavior? In the Gita Krishna teaches us a pristine ethic known as nishkama karma. He says, “Do whatever you like, but offer the fruits of all of your actions to Me.” If the best we are able to offer is another cigarette or a lie to our co-worker, this does not matter to Krishna. He will still accept our offering nonetheless. However we may not feel such things are the best we have to offer. After all, we are making an offering to the Lord of creation. Gradually we will work to change our behavior, so that it is in harmony with what the scriptures and wise teachers recommend.

Ihamutraratha phala bhoga vairaga means renunciation of the enjoyment of the fruits of action in this world and in the hereafter.

Vairagya is the result of successful discrimination. The more we understand that the world (and everything in it) is impermanent, and therefore not where we look to find lasting happiness, the more dispassionate we become with regards to the things of the world.

Strong attachments cause us to take the view that there is some combination of things we can do--or figure out--to realize the Self. Such attachments also prevent us from realizing that Ishwara alone acts.

From Sringeri Jagadguru Sri Abhinava Vidyathirtha Mahaswamigal: “People are often devoid of dispassion. The reason for this is the lack of discrimination. Dispassion may dawn due to some calamity but that dispassion is only temporary. Only that dispassion that results from discrimination is lasting. The importance of burning dispassion can never be over-emphasized. It would not be wrong to say that much of the trouble which people encounter in controlling the mind is due to want of Vairagyam.”

Shamadi shatka sampatti means the six behaviors. These are as follows:

Shama means tranquility of mind, which is to say control of the antahkarana (the inner organ comprised of manas, buddhi, ahamkara, and chitta). Shama is the result of viveka and vairagya.

Importantly we want to consider that control of the mind is nothing to do with suppression. Shama is the fruit of healthy self-education.

Dama means self-control or control of our indriyas, our senses. If we see a new car or a nice outfit and deeply understand that by possessing it we will not have greater peace of mind or happiness, then we are exercising dama.

Katha Upanishad gives us a beautiful metaphor in which buddhi (the Intellect) is represented by a charioteer, manas (conventional mind) is represented by the reins and the indriyas are represented by the powerful horses drawing the chariot.

Our senses include the five jnanendriyas and the five karmendriyas.

Uparati means introversion or inwardly absorption. Uparati is the result of correct shama and dama. When we exercise both shama and dama in relation to the things of the world, we discover our own inner poise.

Titiksha means forgiveness and forbearance. The obstacles we encounter on our path are the result of our parabdha karma. Rather than blaming others or feeling sorry for ourselves we might instead think, “This obstacle is the result of my own bad conduct. Because Ishwara is an Ocean of Grace, He is allowing me this experience so that I may understand why I do not want to do sin, which causes undue hardship for me and for others.”

To paraphrase Jagadguru Sri Abhinava Vidyathirtha Mahaswamigal on the topic of encountering obstacles, “When tendencies nurtured in the previous birth are the same as those in the present birth then obstacles to a course of action are negligible. On the other hand, when past and present trends are at variance the one that is more powerful decides the course of action. If we try hard enough, we can certainly overcome past tendencies. How hard we must try cannot be determined beforehand. When obstacles are encountered we must try harder and harder till we succeed.”

Shraddha means faith in the scriptures and the guru. Without shraddha it is impossible to grow spiritually.

We have two questions here. Why faith in the scriptures? And who is a guru?

To answer the second question first, a guru is a brahmanistha (knower of Brahman), a shrotriya (versed in the scriptures) and a good teacher. It is not enough for the guru to be a jnani. The guru must also be able to wield a pramana or valid means of Knowledge.

In the case of Vedanta, that valid means of knowledge is the scriptures. However the scriptures are basically incomprehensible without the aid of a guru (or the grace of Ishwara!) to unfold them for us. It is because of this incomprehensible nature of the scriptures that we need to have faith in the guru as well.

In Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (II, 4, II-IV) we find one of numerous examples of an adhikari approaching a guru: “(2) Maitreyi said, ‘Blessed one, if I had this whole earth, filled with riches, would I become immortal by it?’ ‘No,’ said Yajnavalkya. ‘Your life would be as the life of the wealthy, but there would be no hope of immortality through riches.’ (3) Maitreyi said, ‘What use to me is something by which I cannot become immortal? Blessed one, teach me what you know.’ (4) Yajnavalkya said, ‘Ah, you have always been dear to me, and now you speak what is dear too. Sit down here and I will teach you: but, as I explain, meditate upon it.’”

In this passage, Maitreyi is a picture of shraddha.

Samadhana means singleness of vision or focus. Our biggest obstacle on the spiritual path is often our own lack of focus. We hold to a manas or hive mind point of view and feel supported in our rational reasons for not digging for the spiritual by observing the lifestyles of family, friends, colleagues, and the society in general. Breaking this hold that we have is tantamount to a rocket breaking free of the gravitational pull of the earth.

In Phaedo, 99, Plato describes breaking this hold as the “second navigation”, which is to say, one begins to be guided by the noetic mind (nous, buddhi) rather than the sensible mind. The noetic mind is capable of meditating on Ideas, whereas the conventional mind offers nothing more than opinions. As a result of this “second navigation”, one becomes a true philosopher, a true lover of wisdom.

Mumukshutvam means the burning desire for spiritual freedom.

Lastly, we can consider what it is that we are to focus on. We are to focus on the possibility of our own realization and enlightenment.

It is not likely that we will have a burning desire for enlightenment minus some basic familiarity with each of the above points and qualifications. These all serve to strengthen our desire for enlightenment, allowing us to receive the vidya which brings our fundamental avidya to an end.

om tat sat

Friday, March 27, 2009

Karadarshana or Morning Prayer


Karagre Vasate Lakshmi
Kara Mule Saraswathi
Kara Madhye Tu Govindah
Prabate Kara Darshanam


On the tip of my fingers is Goddess Lakshmi; on the base of my fingers is Goddess Sarasvati; in the middle of my fingers is Lord Govinda. In this manner, I look at my palms.


"Kara" means "the palm of the hand" and it symbolizes the five karmendriyas or organs of action. Our hands are our primary way of connecting with our external environment and doing actions or "karmani". In this practice we meditate on our palms and fingers before beginning each day. While this practice is simple it is nonetheless valuable. Notably "sama" or "internal self-control" is one of the requisite qualities for the study of Vedanta.

om tat sat

Friday, March 20, 2009

Isavasya Upanishad: Mantra 2


Kurvanneveha karmani
jijeevishet chatam samaaha
Eavam tvayi na-anyadha-itha-asthi
na karma lipyate nare


By performing actions (as enjoined by the scriptures) here in this world, you will desire to live a full life. There is no way apart from this. In this way actions will not bind you to the "doer".


13) While renunciation is emphasized within the tradition of Advaita Vedanta, for those individual suited for its pursuit, karma or action is recommended for the majority of aspirants. Many individuals feel the impulse to do actions in the course of their spiritual quest and in a manner similar to the teachings on "nishkama karma"--"doing actions and surrendering their fruits to the Lord" laid out in the Bhagavad Gita, the Rishi in this mantra elucidates the path of karmani (actions).

14) He begins with the phrase "Kurvanneveha", which means "performing"--"Kurvan" "only"--"eva" "here"--"iha". The next word is "actions"--"karmani". Taken together, we have the phrase "by performing actions (as enjoined by the scriptures) here in this world". But if we recall the beautiful teaching from the Bhagavad Gita on nishkama karma we are saved from imposing upon ourselves innumerable rules. For Sri Krishna teaches us only one principle: "Whatever you do, do it for My pleasure, and offer everything to Me." It is a pristine ethic that can be carried deeper as one matures within oneself. Whereas one person may happily offer to Sri Krishna a glass of whiskey, another person may offer Him a life of selfless service to humanity and to life. While the latter one is preferable, both are accepted by the Lord.

15) The late Jagadguru of Kanchi Kamakoti H. H. Sri Chandrasekarendra Saraswati Swamigal points out that the Vedas contain both karmakanda (the way of action) and jnanakanda (the way of knowledge). He notes that many believe the Buddha and Mahavira were the first to attack the karmakanda teachings of the Vedas. However this is not so because Sri Krishna says in the Gita, "The Vedas are associated with the three qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas. You must transcend these gunas (qualities). Full of desire, they long for paradise and keep thinking of pleasures and material prosperity. They are born again and again and their minds are never fixed in samadhi, these men clinging to Vedic rituals." The Vedas also turn against themselves, Swamigal says, in that "the jnanakanda constituted by the Upanishads ridicules the worshipper of deities as a dim-witted person no better than a beast." This can be appreciated in a simple way by holding the view that karmakanda teaching is prerequisite to jnanakanda. In this mantra karmakanda is not being belittled. On the contrary the Rishi is encouraging us to take up this path if we are not yet suited for jnanakanda. Also the Gita itself contains an entire chapter on the gunas (as we will explore below, in point 17) and another on karma yoga--so it includes karmakanda teachings similar to those it chastises the Vedas for including.

16) "Jijeevishet"--"you will desire to live" "chatam"--"one hundred" "samaaha"--"years". For those of us on the path of action it is important that we be engaged in and committed to our actions. To quote once again from Jagadguru Sri Abhinava Vidyatirtha Mahaswamigal, "When tendencies nurtured in the previous birth are the same as those in the present birth then obstacles to a course of action are negligible. On the other hand when past and present trends are at variance the course of action is decided by the one which is more powerful. If one tries hard enough, one can certainly overcome the past tendencies. How hard one must try cannot be determined before hand. Only when obstacles are encountered one must try harder and harder till one succeeds."

17) When considering action, there is another beautiful teaching from the Gita. It is that of the three gunas or qualities, which are tamas (inertia), rajas (passion) and sattva (purity). And, as Swami Chinmayananda explains in his commentary on this mantra, action as related to the gunas can be described respectively as inaction, action and unaction. It is common that only two categories will be noted; either action or non-action. But Swami's distinction is legitimate. For, while inaction and unaction are both outside of the spectrum of action, unaction is actually engagement in the most refined action possible. Unaction is of the same substance as renunciation (which is not achieved by simply refraining from action) just as heat is of the same substance as fire.

18) But here we are talking about action and the path of action. So why do I mention unaction? Because as the qualities tamas and rajas reach certain limits within us, they turn into the next guna--as ice melts into water and water rises into vapor. It is the fulfillment of action for it to go beyond itself and become unaction. And according to Advaita Vedanta this is achieved through sadhana chatushtaya sampaatti or the fourfold qualification. This sadhana involves necessary preparation of the mind and heart so that Vedanta teachings can effectively awaken the akhandakara vritti, which is the inner pramana of authoritative intuition or knowledge. These qualifications are: viveka (discrimination), viragya (dispassion), samadishatkasampaatti (the six disciplines), and mumukshutva (unshakable desire for liberation). It is precisely through the accomplishment of these qualities that our action is transformed into unaction.

19) The second part of our mantra begins with the word "eavam". "Eavam" means "in this manner" or "in this way". It indicates that even an enlightened person works--albeit by way of unaction. In many cases such a person has realized the Self but still has work to do if they are going to incarnate jnana phalam or the fruit of knowledge. Such fruit does not emerge automatically with enlightenment. Also, not everyone who has Self-knowledge is able to communicate effectively through their quality of life or verbal expression.

20) "Eavam tvayi na-anyadha-itha-asthi"--"There is no way apart from this." This teaching speaks empathetically into the twilight of samsara--and offers a way out. In order for this to be possible, however, the "fact" of this samsara and the advidya (ignorance) that produces it must be accepted. We have all had the experience of being lost, and from it we know the significance of that moment when we realize we are lost. From then on it is simply a matter of persisting to find our way until we do find it. Differently, the person of inaction does not yet know it is possible to be lost (which is considered in mantra 3 of this Upanishad). Only a person of action can recognize this and then engage in appropriate sadhana so that action can be carried beyond itself and transformed into unaction.

21) In conclusion, the Rishi says, "na karma lipyate nare". "Na"--"no" "karma"--"action" "lipyate"--"clings to" "nare"--"the man (person)". I translate this with the sentence "In this way actions will not bind you to the "doer"." What the Rishi means is that actions at first chaotic and selfish are harnessed through ritual practice and then tamed through the gradual practice of nishkama karma. The fruition of all this is our abiding realization that the Lord is the Doer of all actions.

om tat sat