Friday, 27 April 2012

Tao and Brahman

Lao Tzu

The Tao that can be told 
is not the eternal Tao;
The name that can be named 
is not the eternal name, 
The nameless is the origin of heaven and earth;  
     (Tao Te Ching)

Tao Te Ching (The way and its power) was composed by Lao Tzu, as a record of his teachings, at the request of a guard.  Lao Tzu was a Chinese philosopher, who lived in the sixth century B.C.   He was the keeper of archives at the Imperial court. At one time he got disillusioned with people around him, quit his post and set out for the western border of China.  At the border gate, a guard, Yin Xi requested Lao Tzu to record his teachings for the benefit of people like him and that is how Tao Te Ching was born.  It is really a compilation of paradoxical poems.

Reading these poems one is struck by the similarity between Tao of Lao Tzu and Brahman, as revealed by the Upanishads.  Tao, meaning ‘Path’ and Brahman, meaning ‘Big’ are only just terms of reference for the Cosmic Supreme.  Both are only names given and not the name of the Eternal.

Lao Tzu’s statements are also in paradoxes like the Upanishadic truths.  One reason why paradoxes are employed is that they jolt our usual thinking process and make us pause and ponder.  They are pointing the finger the Supreme’s way and they want you not to look at the finger but in the direction it points.  For the Cosmic Supreme is not a thing or object of comprehension but one of realization by oneself following the path shown.   Guru and scriptures can only show the way; one has to travel that way and realize the Cosmic Supreme for oneself. 

Brahman is the cause of the Universe, both the material cause and the intelligent cause, as per Mundakopanishad.  Kena Upanishad states clearly that the one who feels or thinks he knows Brahman well, does not know Brahman at all.  So we can say even of Brahman:

The Brahman that can be told 
is not the eternal Brahman;
The name that is given 
is not the eternal name,
The nameless is the origin of heaven and earth;
In verse 15, Lao Tzu states:

Look, it cannot be seen - it is beyond form.
Listen, it cannot be heard - it is beyond sound.
Grasp, it cannot be held - it is intangible.
These three are indefinable;
Therefore they are joined in one.

Kathopanishad speaking of Brahman says it is beyond the perception of all our senses; beyond form, beyond sound and beyond grasp, verbally and physically.  So Brahman is beyond all description in a positive way and hence undefinable.   We can only say of Brahman as it is said of Tao further in this verse 15:

The form of the formless,
The image of the imageless,
It is called indefinable and beyond imagination.

 In verse 26, Lao Tzu states:

Something mysteriously formed,
Born before heaven and Earth.
In the silence and the void,
Standing alone and unchanging,
Ever present and in motion.
Perhaps it is the mother of ten thousand things.
I do not know its name
Call it Tao.
For lack of a better word, I call it great.

The expression, ‘ten thousand things’, stands symbolically for all things created.  Not only are they created by Tao but also nourished by Tao and they all get back to Tao as given in verse 35:

It nourishes the ten thousand things,
And yet is not their lord.
It has no aim; it is very small.
The ten thousand things return to it,
Yet it is not their lord.
It is very great.

This means that Tao is not only the creator but also the nourisher and also final refuge for all things created  and Brahman is described as the srishti, sthithi, laya kartha for this universe, in Taittreya Upanishad.  Tao is described in this verse as very small and very great and Brahman is also described as smaller than the atom and greater than the greatest in more than one Upanishad.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Gita Jnana Yagna

Swami Swaroopananda conducting the Yajna

From 30/3/12 to 8/4/12 Swami Swaroopananda  conducted Gita Jnana Yagna on the last chapter of Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18, under the caption “Transform and let go”.  Each day’s discourse had its own caption, namely, “Learning to let go”, “A view to perfection”, “Freedom in action”, “Win the mind, win the world”, “Success without stress”, “Gateway to the soul”, “Tune up and transform”, “The power of devotion”, “Serve and deserve”.  In view of this division into topics, Swamiji’s style also changed from a leisurely trot at the initial stage with a burst of speed at the closing stage, to a uniform one of coverage of almost eight verses a day, except in the penultimate day where the literally last verse of Lord Sri Krishna’s teachings, verse no.66, was discussed in depth and in detail.

Sri Krishna’s description of satvic renunciation as not the abandonment of one’s duties but doing them in a focused way, to the best of one’s capacity without being preoccupied with the results, served as the backdrop for explaining the philosophy of “Let go”.  One should let go of the lesser ‘I’, the ego, to realize the true ‘I’, Athma, as one should let go of the regrets and remorse of the past and anxieties and fears for the future to have peace and happiness in the present, Swamiji emphasised.  In any action, be it good or bad, the five contributory factors leading to accomplishment are alien to Athma, that is neither a doer nor an enjoyer and the Jnani, the man of perfection, who always acts with this knowledge, without ego, is untainted by the karmic effects of his action, was the theme of second day’s discourse.   Seeing oneness in the diverse manifestations of the pluralistic world is the hallmark of satvic vision explained Swamiji, while describing the three components of action, knowledge, the doer and the act itself, in their satvic,rajasic and tamasic aspects, on the third and fourth day. This vision should be backed up by satvic intellect, that discerns correctly between what is to be done and what is to be avoided, and satvic fortitude, that flows from the control of mind and the sense-organs of perception and action through Yoga.  This will enable one to attain a controlled refined mind and such a mind alone can realize one’s own true Self, Athma and its identity with Universal Self, Brahman.  This knowledge gives one fullness and out of this feeling of fullness, flows pure bliss, which we all aim to achieve, though unconsciously, through all our activities.  This pure bliss is termed satvic pleasure, which is very painful in the initial stages of pursuit but is permanent, total and divine in the end. As contrasted with this the rajasic pleasure, that comes from contact with sense objects, which may be euphoric, but is only temporary and brings pain and sorrow sooner or later.  As for tamasic pleasure, as it is born of ignorance and delusion is no real pleasure at all. This knowledge of the manifestation of these three qualities of satva, rajas and tamas in individuals in the various spheres, is not for judging others but for one’s self-examination and self-improvement from tamasic to rajasic and from rajasic to satvic, Swamiji pointed out in the next two days. These three qualities are present in every individual, only the proportion varies.  Swamiji next day explained in detail, how the ratio of the qualities was the basis for the fourfold division of work in the Vedic times, which later degenerated into division of work on the basis of birth and lost its validity.

The gist of the talks on rest of the days is as follows: -  Treating one’s work as worship of Lord, who has created the world and pervades it through His power of Maya, one attains perfection and this perfection reaches its pinnacle of actionlessness in action, when done in a satvic spirit of renunciation.  In that state of perfection, one realizes one’s oneness with Brahman, in essence, and this realization makes one a Jeevanmuktha, free of samsara.  In nutshell, one’s duty itself when done as karmayoga with total devotion to the Lord, will give one the sreyas which Arjuna pleaded for, while confessing his inability to decide the right course of action due to sorrow and delusion. If either out of  arrogance or ignorance, Arjuna chooses not to fight, his nature will not let him retire but make him  take up arms sooner or later. “Surrender to me totally, as the Lord who resides in everyone’s heart and dictates their actions according to their karma, and do your duty as a warrior in the cause of dharma and no sin will attach to you”, is the final assurance of Lord Krishna.  Then Arjuna, with his confusions cleared and transformed from the deluded, sorrow-stricken deafeatist to a determined, disciplined warrior for the cause of dharma with no hangover of 'I’ and ‘my', asserts that he will act as per Sri Krishna’s instructions.  With this  assertion of rejuvenated Arjuna and the closing words of Sanjaya, the book of Geeta comes to an end.  And also this series started by Swamiji in Sydney, 15 years ago with discourse on chapter 1.
Chinmaya mission, Sydney had made elaborate arrangements befitting the occasion.  On the first day Swamiji was brought into the hall in a chariot drawn by Yuva Kendra youngsters accompanied by another youngster dressed as Arjuna, who enacted beautifully Arjuna’s plight, before the start of Sri Krishna’s opening words of teaching , to the accompaniment of battlefield noises in the background.  The last day began with a presentation in which members from various wings of the mission recounted briefly how Swamiji’s talks on Gita had inspired and transformed them.  The day ended with Swamiji being felicitated with temple honours by the priests of Helensburg temple, who were accompanied on the dais by two youngsters, one dressed as Lord Ganesha and the other as Maharishi Veda Vyasa.  Indeed it was a fitting climax to this devout campaign!

Ganesha,Veda Vyas and temple priests on the dais