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

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Isavasya Upanishad: Mantra 1


Om Isavasyam-Idam Sarvam
yat-kimcha Jagatyam-Jagat
Tena Tyaktena Bhunjeethha
ma Gridhah Kasyasvid-dhaman


The Lord inhabits all this (that is perceivable)--whatever moves in this moving universe. Therefore by renunciation, you can enjoy all things. Do not covet any one's wealth.


1) The Isavasya Upanishad begins with the word "Isa". Isa is the name of the Lord in this particular Upanishad. From the Vedantic point of view the Lord is both saguna or with qualities and nirguna or without qualities. This means that the Lord is not simply the underlying Essence of all things. The Lord is also totally separate from the "self" that we may believe ourselves to be due to avidya or ignorance.

2) "Vasyam" can be understood by looking at the root word "vas" which means to be covered, to be clothed, to be enveloped, to be pervaded, and to be permeated. It is a word rich in meaning--and the Rishi is using it to teach that the Lord is clothing, pervading, etc. all of existence.

3) If we are considering this word carefully, we may easily question, "How can the Lord be outside of all things at the same time that He is pervading them and inside them?" We can ask this question because the meanings of the word "vas" are related to both the inside and the outside of things.

4) The answer to the above question is that this is an assertion from the Upanishads and from this particular Rishi. The Rishi doesn't explain how. He is simply teaching what has been revealed to him by the Lord. An assertion is not something that needs to be explained. The hearer is welcome to take it or leave it. For someone to take it does not make it truer. And for someone to leave it does not make it less true. Either way is no skin off of the Rishi's nose!

5) But I always like to reflect on why he says "vasyam". It seems to me that he is teaching that the Lord is inside and outside for a reason, which is this: the Lord is inside all things and pervading each one of us as the Atmic Essence which is One with the Brahmanic Essence--and the Lord is also outside of all things because He is not limited to any particular thing or person. The Essence of the Lord is pervading even a person who is doing terrible actions. We do not want to say that the Lord is doing these actions. The Lord is not doing any action. He is simply present in the action and with the action in the same way sunlight is present to illuminate all things without being those things.

6) "Idam sarvam" means "all this (that is perceivable)." There two types of things that we can perceive: external things and internal things. We perceive external things through the jnanendriyas or organs of perception. These are srotra (hearing), tvac (touch), caksus (sight), rasana (taste), and ghrana (smell). We perceive internal things through the inner organ or the antahkarana. The antahkarana is made up of manas (mind), buddhi (intellect), ahamkara (I-thought), and citta (consciousness). In order to determine for ourselves whether or not the Lord is pervading and inside of us, we turn within to our buddhi (intellect) and then we begin to experiment with turning it away from the external things it has been identifying with and toward the light of awareness within ourselves.

7) Next we come to the phrase "yat-kimcha Jagatyam-Jagat" which means "whatever (yat-kimcha) moves in this moving universe (Jagatyam-Jagat)." "Jagat" means "change of state" or "world" and here we can reflect on why it is helpful to realize our unity with the Lord and the Lord's unity with all things. In the middle of a world that is none other than ceaseless "change of state" we easily feel the chaos that is inherent in this and long to know what is permanent, abiding and steady. But only the Lord in His Essence which He shares with us is permanent. So when we are in Jagat and do not realize Isa then we believe Jagat to be heavier and more bewildering than it is.

8) There is an example that draws together the points that we have considered so far. It is the example of waves, the ocean and water. If we envision each human being as being like a wave on the ocean and the Lord in His saguna form as Ishvara as being like the ocean, then we can see that there is difference within the vyavaharika (empirical level). Some waves are bigger than others as some people have a greater role to play in life than most others. Yet every wave, regardless of how big or small it is exist due to the existence of the ocean. No ocean, no waves. But there is also the matter of Essence. All waves are nothing but water. The ocean is also nothing but water. When we are considering water as a substance we can not measure it. Whether it is a small amount, a larger amount or all water, we can see no difference. The small amount is not less as water than the larger amount; and neither of these are less as water than all water. Water is water. To look from the angle that all waves depend on the ocean is relevant to the vyavaharika and to look from the angle that water is water is pointing to paramartha or the Being-Essence shared by all.

9) The second part of the mantra begins with the word "Tena", which means "therefore". In his excellent book on this Upanishad Swami Chinmayananda points out that Sri Madhavacharya has given us a beautiful new understanding of this word. Madhavacharya understands it to mean "by Him"--this is to say "by Isa". Since "Tyaktena" means "that which is renounced" or "that which is left, after all things have been renounced", then we can understand from this phrase that all things belong to the Lord, and we only have them on loan from Him.

10) Because all things given by the Lord are gifts, we can "enjoy" all these things. And "you can enjoy all things" is precisely the meaning of the next word in our mantra which is "Bhunjeetha". The important point being made here is that we can not enjoy a thing if there is a string running between the thing and our heart. If we think we are tied to anything after we find it then we will be distressed when we no longer have the thing or when it changes. To illustrate this point, here is a story that I heard recently from a friend. He was telling me that for a long time his mother wanted a convertible. He watched happily as she looked over different information on new convertibles that were available for a long time. Then one day he heard that she had finally settled and purchased her dream car. On his way out of his parent's home he went over to share the excitement with her. Only as he approached the shiny new car in the driveway, he saw that his mother's head was down as she sat inside it. And when he asked "So how do you like your new car, Mom?" she said "It's okay. But I thought this thing would be bigger and this feature would be different than it is." So my friend was not able to share some excitement with his mother because she was already not happy with the car! This is because there was an invisible string of presumed ownership and exaggerated expectation running between her heart and her new convertible. This is an extreme example of a dynamic that can emerge for anyone.

11) "Ma" means "do not" or "don't" and this word might have some of us cringing a bit--and wondering, "Is the Rishi trying to tell me what to do?" Of course the answer is no. This word comes after everything that has been taught previously in the mantra. So the Rishi is saying the word "don't" to those of us mature enough to appreciate the next facet of teaching. If we can't handle the word "don't" then it may be helpful for us to go back and reconsider the previous teachings.

12) "Do not" what? Do not "Gridhah"--"covet" "kasyasvid-dhaman"--"any one's wealth". Here we encounter a very direct teaching and the value of this teaching is in its clear focus on greed. According to Jagadguru Sri Abhinava Vidyatirtha Mahaswamigal, the late Jagadguru of Sri Sringeri Sharada Peetham, "Sri Krishna describes desire, anger and greed as the triple gates of hell. These are man's worst enemies and one must never succumb to them. Desire can be overcome by dispassion. Anger is a result of frustration of desire. Thus by conquering desires completely one can conquer anger. An attempt must be made to control greed by impressing upon the mind that in reality everything belongs to Ishvara alone and that one is but an instrument in the hands of Ishvara." Of these three, greed is the most contrary to the cultivation of renunciation--the fruition of which is authentic "enjoyment".

om tat sat

Friday, March 13, 2009

Peace Chant


Om Poornamadah poornamidam
poornaat poornamudachyate
Poormasya poornamaadaaya

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti


That is Whole and this is Whole; from the Whole the world (mithya) becomes manifest. From the Whole when the world (mithya) is negated, what remains is the Whole. Om Peace Peace Peace


Study of this particular Upanshiad begins with the Peace Chant or Peace Prayer, which is spoken aloud by both the teacher and the student(s). In the seemingly simple and unglamorous act of articulating this chant, we are reminding ourselves exactly why it is that we are devoted to the spiritual life. In the Western Tradition there is a term "anamnesis" which means: (an • am′• nē • sis) n. [Gr. ἀνάμνησις remembering < ἀνά up, again + μιμνήσκειν to call to mind, attend] a recollective ascent or ascensional recollection. It, also, is the practice of turning to the whole within, as a point of departure from which to realize the Whole of Divine Being.

The triple repetition of the word Shanti is, according to the late Swami Chinmayananda, to aid us in overcoming all of the obstacles coming from three sources that may hamper our study of scripture at the feet of a teacher. These sources are the unseen, the seen and what is arising from within us (due to our karmas and vasanas).

om tat sat

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra

Namskar Friends,

Here is a wonderful mantra. It is called Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra or also Trayambakam Mantra. It is already on this blog in a video explaination on a post from last year. You can find it in the archives.

Happy chanting!


tryambaka yajāmahe
sugandhim pushti-vardhanam
urvārukam iva bandhanān
mrtyor mukshīya māmrtātat

Translation (by Arthur Berriedale Keith)

"OM. We worship and adore you, O three-eyed one, O Shiva. You are sweet gladness, the fragrance of life, who nourishes us, restores our health, and causes us to thrive. As, in due time, the stem of the cucumber weakens, and the gourd is freed from the vine, so free us from attachment and death, and do not withhold immortality."


tri-ambaka-m "the three-eyed-one" (accusative)
yaja-mahe "we praise" (1st pl. middle)
sugandhi-m "the fragrant" (accusative)
pusti-vardhana-m "the prosperity-increaser" (accusative)
urvaruka-m "disease, attachment, obstacles in life, and resulting depression" (accusative)
iva "-like"
bandhanāt "from attachment stem (of the gourd); but more generally, unhealthy attachment" ("from the stem", ablative)
mrtyos "from death" (ablative)
mukshīya "may you liberate"
mā "not"
amrtāt from immortality (ablative)

om tat sat