Wednesday, 17 December 2014


(I received a few queries regarding Mahavakhya, of which I made a reference in my blog "I AM THAT I AM"  So by way of explanation I am publishing here my article that appeared in Medha, the annual magazine of school of Vedic Sciences, Sydney)

A mahavakhya is a Vedic statement that occurs in Upanishad giving the oneness of Jiva with Brahman, which is referred to as Jiva Brahma Ikyam. Swami Chinmayananda calls the mahavakhya an identity revealing statement. Since it reveals the central teaching of the Upanishads, it is called Tatparya Vakhyam. The Vedic statement that refers to Brahman without dealing with Jiva Brahma Ikyam is called avaantara vakhya. Though there are a number of statements giving Jiva Brahma Ikyam, one mahavakhya only from each Veda is chosen, because of its brevity and directness, to represent all mahavakhyas. These four mahavakhyas are:
1)    Prajnanam Brahma –“Consciousness is Brahman”. This occurs in Aitareya Upanishad of Rig Veda
2)    Aham Brahma Asmi – “I am Brahman”.  This occurs in Brihadharanyaka Upanishad of Yajur Veda
3)    Tat Tvam Asi – “That thou Are”.  This occurs in Chandogya Upanishad of Sama Veda.
4)    Ayam Athma Brahma – “This Self is Brahman”.  This occurs in Mandukya Upanishad of Atharvana Veda.

There is a story connecting all these four Mahavakhyas. A sishya went to a guru and told him “Sir, I want to know about Brahman”. Guru asked him to go and meditate on the vakhya “Prajnanam Brahma”. Since this is a vakhya given for meditation practice it is called abhyasa vakhya. The sishya went and meditated on the vakhya. When he meditated on the vakhya, he was startled by the mind-boggling discovery he made and wondered whether the Consciousness that activates him can be the supreme cosmic force, Brahman. So he came to the guru again for confirmation and guru replied affirmatively “Tat Tvam Asi”. Since this is given as a teaching, it is called updesa vakhya. The sishya went and again meditated for a time and then returned to the guru and told him, “Aham Brahmasmi”. Since this vakhya is uttered after realisation it is called anubhuthi vakhya. Guru agreed with him with this statement “Ayam Athma Brahma”. So this is called sammatha vakhya.

Mahavakhya removes the misconception that Self is different from Brahman.  As Brahman is the source of security, peace and happiness, bhedha buddhi makes one run after these searching them elsewhere and Ikya Buddhi i.e. knowledge of identity, makes one realize them within oneself.  Abiding in this knowledge of Jiva Brahma Ikyam at all times, gives one Jivan Mukthi, i.e. Moksha, while living. In that sense mahavakhya gives one, liberating Self Knowledge.  But we should always remember that when Self is equated with Brahman it is like equating water in the ocean with water in a container in the seashore on the basis that both have the same chemical formula H2O or like equating tiny waves in the ocean with the mighty ocean itself on the basis that both are essentially water only. It is not the individual with the upadhi of sareera triam, equated with the Brahman with the upadhi of prapancha triam. We shall see this briefly taking one of the mahavakhyas for analysis, namely the updesa vakhya.

“Tat Tvam Asi” occurs in Chapter 6 of Chandogya Upanishad, where Guru Uddalaka instructs sishya Svetaketu through examples the nature of Brahman. The importance of this upadesa vakhya can be seen from the fact that it is repeated nine times in the course of the teaching. This statement is in the form of an equation Tat=Tvam.  Equating both sides is not necessary if they are same like, 5 and 5. Again equating both sides is not possible when they are different like, 5 and 8. Equating becomes necessary, only if they appear to be different but, on analysis, they reveal identity like, 5+1 & 8-2. That is what happens in this equation Tat=Tvam, when you take the lakshyartha for Tat and Tvam, instead of the vachyartha.

Vachyartha, which is also called mukhya artha, is the primary meaning and lakshyartha is the secondary meaning. When I say I bought a banana, it means I bought the whole fruit.  But when I say I ate a banana, it refers only to the pulp portion and not to the whole fruit with the skin. In the first instance, we have taken the primary (literal) meaning, vachyartha, for banana i.e. the whole fruit with skin. In the second instance we have taken the secondary (contextual) meaning, lakshyartha, for banana i.e. the edible portion without the inedible skin. For getting the lakshyartha in the place of vachyartha, we employ one of the three following methods:
1)    Jahallakshana – Taking the secondary meaning, excluding the primary meaning. For example when you order takeaway coffee, and you are asked ‘any sugar’ and you reply ‘two spoons’, coffee is given not with two spoons, but with two spoonful sugar mixed.
2)    Ajahallakshana – Taking the secondary meaning, without sacrificing the primary meaning. For example when you order coffee, it is served in a cup which you have not ordered but understood.
3)    Jahadajahallakshana or Bhagatyagalakshana - Retaining certain portion of the primary meaning i.e. primary meaning is partially included and partially excluded as in the case of eating a banana, where only pulp portion is included and the skin portion excluded, while understanding the statement.

We are employing one of the three methods regularly for finding lakshyartha, when the vachyartha does not fit in. Only we are doing it automatically, without our being even aware of it. In the case of the statement, Tat Tvam Asi, when we take the vachyartha of both, we cannot equate the Jiva who is mortal and has all types of limitations and Brahman who is eternal and transcends all limitations. So we go to the lakshyartha of both on the basis of sastras, which is the pramanam for all matters concerning Self and Brahman, that cannot be objectified or conceptualized. Employing bhagatyagalakshana method and taking out the unequal upadhis ie sareera triam in Jiva and prapancha triam in Brahman we are left with Consciousness on both sides of the equation and that is identical. The same is done in anubhuthi vakhya, Aham Brahma Asmi, understanding Aham as standing for the Self , which is consciousness and not as referring to the individual as such with the body mind complex. The other two mahavakhyas, Prajnanam Brahma and Ayam Athma Brahma are much more straightforward as Consciousness is Athma, as per sastras. 

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Master and Disciple

 In an earlier blog “Swami Vivekananda, the dynamic Jeevanmuktha” I had briefly described the meeting between Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, referred to hereafter as Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Narendranath, referred to as Naren hereafter, and how the latter blossomed into a spiritual giant, Swami Vivekananda, under the nurturing of the former.  Now I propose to deal in a little more detail on their unique relationship in which the Master, Sri Ramakrishna, had great faith in the potential of the disciple, Naren and the disciple in the spirituality of the Master but would not accept anything that did not satisfy his reason and who also believed in the philosophy of Brahma Samaj that there is no need for intermediary to realise God.  How young rationalistic Naren blossomed into a spiritual dynamo who took the Western world by storm and became the beacon light of spirituality for Young India, under the guidance and grooming of Sri Ramakrishna is well documented in the biographies of  both.  The incidents narrated are based on those biographies.

One day Sri Ramakrishna in the Samadhi state had a strange vision. He was soaring high in a luminous path. He soared higher and higher and came to a point where no one was seen, but only seven sages seated in deep meditation.  As he was gazing at them, a portion of undifferentiated light took the portion of a child, went to one of the sages, clasped his neck with its lovely arms and told him “I am going down.  You too must come with me”. The sage in meditation opened his eyes and gazed at the child with love and tenderness and again closed his eyes. But now a fragment of the body and mind of the sage started descending down to earth as a ball of light.  When Sri Ramakrishna came out of the Samadhi, he realized he was the child in the vision and now he began looking for the sage.

When young Naren came to him with his friends in his quest for meeting someone who had seen God, Ramakrishna realised that he was the sage in his vision. So he felt intensely drawn to him, and in the first meeting itself he took the bewildered Naren aside, took Naren’s hand in his and said with tears flowing from his eyes “I know you are the ancient sage” among other things.  Naren who was expecting to receive some private instructions, was completely baffled by his strange words and behaviour but heard him fully and allowed himself to be fed sweets by him and also promised to visit him again.  As they came out of the room Sri Ramakrishna asked Naren whether he sees a light before falling asleep.  When Naren replied in the affirmative, Sri Ramakrishna declared before others that Naren was a Dhyana Siddha, an adept in his meditation even from birth. As Naren loved to meditate even as a child, these remarks convinced Naren of his deep spiritual powers but left him confused as to his rationality in view of his eccentric behaviour. In this first meeting only, Naren popped his usual question “Sir, have you seen God?” and received the now world-famous reply “Yes, I have seen God.  I have seen Him more tangibly than I see you.  I have talked to Him more intimately than I am talking to you”. 

So when Naren returned alone next month, it was with the opinion that Sri Ramakrisna was a monomaniac.  This time another strange thing happened. Sri Ramakrishna moved slowly near him and placed his right foot on Naren’s chest. Then whole world including the walls of the room seem to whirl around as he drifted into a void. In a state of panic Naren cried aloud ”What are you doing to me? I have my parents at home”. Sri Ramakrisna laughed aloud and stroked his chest stating everthing will come in time and Naren became normal.  Naren thought he had been hypnotised but he wondered how a man of strong will like him could be hypnotised against his will.  So the next time he went with a resolve that he will not relax his guard even for a moment.  This time Sri Ramakrishna took him for a walk in neighbour’s garden. After a walk when they sat down in the parlour, Sri Ramakrishna looked at Naren strangely and fell into a state of trance. And in that state of trance he touched Naren and Naren lost consciousness and knew nothing until he regained consciousness, when he found Sri Ramakrishna stroking his chest.  Sri Ramakrishna later revealed that he questioned Naren in his unconscious state and got the confirmation that Naren was the sage as he surmised and that Naren will give up the body in yoga the day he realised by himself the truth about his self.

Thereafter Naren gave up doubting whether Sri Ramakrishna was a hypnotist or a monomaniac, but he still retained his scepticism of image worship and he also did not accept totally Sri Ramakrishna as his Guru. Rather he openly laughed at Sri Ramakrishna’s visions and talks with Divine Mother as hallucinations. But thereafter there was no doubt in his heart regarding Sri Ramakrishna’s sincerity, renunciation, selflessness and integrity and he responded with equal measure the special love that Sri Ramakrishna bore him.  If Naren did not turn up for a few days, Sri Ramakrishna will enquire others about his health or ask them to convey that he is missing Naren.  On one occasion, he went to Naren’s house looking for him and on another occasion went to Brahma Samaj meeting where Naren sang in the choir. Naren felt embarrassed by all this attention and once remarked that like Jada Bharatha, whose love for the deer dragged him down from his spiritual heights to be born as a deer, Sri Ramakrishna may be dragged down to Naren’s level because of his excessive affection for him.  Sri Ramakrishna felt so distressed by these remarks  that he straight went to Divine Mother for guidance and then came back to Naren with these words “You rogue, I won’t listen to you anymore.  Mother says I love you because I see God in you, and the day I no longer see God in you I shall not be able to bear even the sight of you.” 

Sri Ramakrishna tried to initiate him into Advaita philosophy by asking him to read aloud Advaithic scriptures like Ashtavakra Gita. Groomed as he was in Brahma Samaj doctrines, Naren rebelled against the concept of Jiva-Brahma Ikyam calling it a blasphemy akin to atheism.  But Sri Ramakrishna persisted with his efforts arguing that Naren should not try to limit God’s infinitude and he should try to pursue the path of Truth, praying to the aspect of God that appeals to him without rejecting other views off-hand. On one such occasion Naren left the room and went to the relative of Sri Ramakrishna in the next room and said with a big laughter “How can this be? The jug is God, the cup is God and we too are God; nothing can be more preposterous!” Sri Ramakrishna then entered the room in a state of semi-trance and touched him saying “Hallo! What are you talking about” and went into a state of Samadhi. What effect it had on Naren can better be described in Naren’s words, as given in his biography. 

“That magic touch of the Master, that day immediately brought a wonderful change over my mind.  I was stupefied to find that really there was nothing in the Universe but God!  I saw it quite clearly but kept silent to see if the idea would last. But the impression did not abate in the course of the day. I returned home, but there too everything I saw appeared to be Brahman. I sat down to take my meal, but found that everything-the food, the plate, the person who served and even myself – was nothing but That. I ate a morsel or two and  sat still. I was startled by my mother’s words “Why do you sit still? Finish your meal”- and began to eat again. But all the while, whether eating or lying down or going to college, I had the same experience and I felt myself always in a comatose state.  While walking in streets, I noticed cabs plying but I did not feel inclined to move out of the way.  I felt that the cabs and myself were one stuff.  There was no sensation in my limbs which I thought were getting paralyzed.  I did not relish eating, and felt as if somebody else were eating” This lasted for few days and his mother started worrying about him.  In a few days this state slightly changed and he started seeing things as if in a dream. He will periodically knock his head against something to assure himself that he was not dreaming. In another few days he became normal.  This experience convinced him of the truth of Advaita philosophy and transformed him to see Brahman in all.

Now there came a crisis in Naren’s life. Naren’s father died suddenly, leaving no money but heavy debts.  Naren had to go without food on some days. He gave up studies and started looking for a job.  One day he came to Sri Ramakrishna and asked him to pray to the Divine Mother to remove his poverty.  Sri Ramakrishna asked him to do it himself.  He entered the shrine of Kali and as he stood before the image in a prayerful attitude he saw not an image but a living Goddess of liberating wisdom and he prayed for renunciation and liberation and came back to Sri Ramakrishna.  When he narrated what happened, Sri Ramakrishna rebuked Naren for forgetting the purpose for which he went there and asked him to go again and pray for the removal of poverty. Second time also he forgot the purpose in her presence and asked only for knowledge and liberation. This happened a third time also and then in a flash he realised that this was the work of Sri Ramakrishna and so straightaway asked Sri Ramakrishna to remove his poverty and was assured that his family will not suffer for basic necessities like food, clothing and shelter.

After this Naren was convinced about personal God in the relative plane and also that Divine power can flow through image.  Now the transformation of the philosopher to devotee was complete and this delighted Sri Ramakrishna in no small measure.  Shortly after this Sri Ramakrishna remarked to a devotee pointing first to himself and then to Naren, who silently agreed with him,  ”I see I am this and again that.  Really I feel no difference.  A stick floating in Ganges seems to divide water; but in reality the water is one.----- Well, whatever is, is the Mother” 

Tuesday, 21 October 2014


The story of Moses comes in Bible.  At the time of Moses’ birth, Hebrews were slaves in Egypt.  The king of Egypt, Pharaoh, was afraid the rising population of Hebrews will pose a future threat to the kingdom and so he decreed all the male Hebrew children should be killed at birth. Moses’ mother hid him in a basket and let him float in river Nile.  As it happened, Pharaoh’s daughter, found the floating child, took it to the palace and prevailed upon her father to let her bring it up.  Moses grew under her care as an Egyptian prince. But he did not forget his Hebrew lineage. As the slaves were whipped and beaten, he watched helplessly with disgust and in anguish.  One day he lost his temper, when he watched a slave being brutally beaten to death by a guard.  In his fury he killed the guard and buried the body in the sand. When the body was found out, he left Egypt and fled into the desert to escape the punishment of death. There he married a shepherdess by name Zipporah and lived with her.  One day as he was looking after the sheep he saw a burning bush that burned but was not consumed.  When he looked closely at the burning bush wondering what it was, God spoke to him from the bush revealing His name as “I AM THAT I AM”.  What interests me in this story is God’s declaration “I AM THAT I AM”

In the statement “I AM THAT I AM”, there are two parts “I AM” and “THAT I AM”. In our usage the expression ‘I am’ is followed by a defining statement, that spells out the identity or the physical, mental, intellectual status.  So here “THAT I AM” is the descriptive statement spelling out the identity of the voice from the burning bush. ‘I am” by itself without any defining statement, is a simple statement of existence applicable to any entity in the universe, if it could articulate. So the ‘I AM’ statement without any qualifications stands for pure Existence, the Sat principle which is the intrinsic characteristic of Brahman, the Cosmic Supreme, here referred to as God. Further “I AM”, by itself without any defining statement is also a statement of unconditioned awareness, pure Awareness, Chit principle, the intrinsic characteristic of Brahman. This “I AM” is also always here and now, and suffers no limitation of time and space.  So ‘I AM’ plain and simple refers to Brahman/God. (Pl. refer to my earlier blog “I am Brahman” uploaded in Nov.2012)

We always in our ignorance regard Brahman, that is God, as not only separate from us but also distant from us. In the Mahavakhya ‘Tattvamasi’  that spells out the identity of individual self with Brahman, the Cosmic Self, Brahman is indicated by the phrase ‘That’.  Putting these together we find ‘THAT I AM’ stands for Brahman. So what the voice from the burning bush said is only the upanishad Mahavakhya  ‘Aham Brahmasmi’ (I am Brahman) with the difference that in upanishads this declaration is made by the individual self on realization while here God/Brahman Itself reveals Itself with this declaration.

Reasoning from ‘I AM THAT I AM” backwards, now some Western philosophers also arrive at the identity of one’s Self with Brahman, only their idioms and expressions are different.  It is stated that  ‘I’ refers to our ego, the lower self and “I am” stands for our Higher Self, God, which is also referred to as Presence and Being among other things. To quote two instances:
1)    David Allen in the foreword to the book “The Power of I AM”, quoting the statement “I AM THAT I AM’ states, “I AM is the name of God” and also “I AM” is “who you are”.  When we put these together we arrive at “God is who you are”, same as “Tattvamasi”.
2)      Dr. Wayne Dyer in his Program “I AM”  quoting the statement “I AM THAT I AM” says “’I am God’ is not blasphemy, it is your birthright”, conveying the same idea of  “Aham Brahmasmi” 

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Spiritual Journey

In response to my status in the Face book regarding my blog “True happiness”, Kumar, my young nephew in U.S. commented “--- when the blood has vigour it becomes difficult to comprehend these sayings”.   Happy that he has taken an interest to read through the blog and comment on it, I commented back as follows giving the gist of the blog. “In simple words what it says is "the happiness that comes of inaction (Tamas) and the one that comes of action (Rajas) are transient and so not true happiness. But the happiness that comes of inaction in action i.e. wisdom (Satva) that your Real Self is not the doer or enjoyer but only the witness is permanent and so is the True happiness". Pat came back his further comment with a question “Thanks for the explanation.....getting it...true happiness is possible only when we get enlightenment. how does a common man get enlightened and what are the different milestones....I believe there is no destination point for that journey”  I replied back as “One can start on the spiritual journey by moving from being world-centred to God-centred slowly. God here is any Ishta devata, on which you can focus without effort. Once you choose, stick to it without being fanatic about it. Just be sincere and serious in your effort and leave the rest to Him.”  But I did not feel satisfied as the expressions ‘God-centred and world-centred’ were too general.  So I decided to write a little more on spiritual journey in this blog.

First thing is to make clear what ‘being spiritual’ means, as more often than not it is mistaken for ‘being religious’.  Both are based on strong faith in God or the Divine principle behind the world, also referred to as Brahman, but they are of different dimensions due to areas of emphasis. In ‘being religious’, the emphasis is on observance of rituals and procedures of worship and so there is a body orientation, with do’s, don’ts, rules and regulations with regard to food, dress marriage and other social disciplines.  ‘Being spiritual’ is of a different dimension where the focus is on knowing about God and His creation, seeking Him and experiencing Him.  And so the emphasis here is on disciplines that ensure purity of mind, subtlety of intellect and the resultant jnanam and attitude change and so there is more of a mind orientation, mind including intellect, as both are two phases of Anthakaranam, inner organ. 

Before embarking on spiritual path we are all world-centred.  Our main interest is on worldly pleasures, possessions and relationships.  Our ego defines our individuality and our actions and thoughts are governed by ego. God is in our life, but only for a brief moment during prayer at home or in occasional satsang or during a visit to temple, where we seek something for us or for people close to us or where we seek to avoid something for us or for people close to us.  We blame everybody else including God, for things going wrong with us.  We want to change everything else and everybody else except ourselves.  In contrast when we become God – centred, God-consciousness underpins all our thoughts and actions. In fact the priority shifts away from material pursuits and our prayers also reflect it.  We seek His Grace only at all times for our spiritual advancement.  Even the material benefits we seek are to equip ourselves better for pursuing the spiritual interests.  The ego is defanged as dehabhimana takes a back seat, yielding place to God-consciousness.  We take responsibility for our actions and inwardly blame ourselves only and not blame others for things going wrong with us. We understand that when we change, the world also changes for us, and so any change should start from us only.

Our efforts to achieve the shift in priorities constitute the spiritual journey.  Karma yoga, Bhakthi yoga, Upasana yoga, Raja yoga are the various sadhanas in this path.  But the journey does not stop with one becoming God-centred.  It is continued until one realizes through Jnana Yoga that his true Self is God only and that all of us in creation, though separated by body-mind-complexes are in essence one only i.e. God only.  When emphasising separateness we are thinking like the wave that thought that it was different from other waves because of its height and depth, time of rise and fall without realising that all waves and ocean are one only in essence, the essence being water.  So all of us in the world, whatever be our colour, sex and religion are one only in essence, essence being God.  When this realization dawns one accepts everything that happens to him with equanimity, judging no one and blaming no one, not even himself for anything going wrong. 

Sri Nochur Venkatraman narrates an incident in Ramana Maharishi’s life, which can be recalled here.  Once one householder came to Maharishi and was narrating his woes for nearly an hour. Maharishi was silently listening, without speaking a word.  Then another devotee tried to console him by remarking that the householder is like a person standing on the banks of Ganges and crying he is thirsty.  Maharishi immediately corrected the devotee by saying it is like Ganga itself crying it is thirsty, implying that the householder is as much divine as Maharishi himself.  If one after realization of his inner Divinity can stay steadfast like this in the inner conviction of the essential Divinity of one and all at all times as well, then that person can be said to have arrived at the end of the journey:
Journey from Aham, aham –---> Daso’ham –---------> So’ham.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

True happiness

We all have different pursuits in life.  The goals of these pursuits appear different, like position, fame, fortune etc.  But in the end-analysis all of them will converge in the happiness of our ego self, the self that identifies with body-mind-intellect referred to as BMI in Swami Chinmayananda’s lectures.  This happiness Lord Krishna grades into three categories Satvic, Rajasic and Tamasic in Bhagavad Gita (Ch.18). We shall see them starting from Tamasic happiness.

Tamo guna is characterized by inertia, both mental and physical. Tamasic happiness is one which begins and ends in self-delusion that comes from sleep, procrastination and misapprehension (18-39).  The happiness that one appears to derive in the state of intoxication, whether with drinks or drugs also falls into this category.  Here the sense organs or/and mind and intellect are either not functioning or handicapped in their functions due to a deranged mind. This happiness is achieved by detaching oneself temporarily from reality and as this state wears off whatever unhappiness one escaped temporarily returns back with added vigour.  In sleep we are not conscious of the happiness; only we can realize for a moment after we wake up that we had been happy forgetting our cares and worries, and again these cares and worries surface again.  In procrastination we are only postponing what we fear as the pain/discomfort of action for us extending our illusion of being happy for awhile. So in all these cases happiness is not permanently achieved.

Rajo guna is characterised by activity.  The Rajasic happiness is one derived from the contact of a sense object with sense organ/s (18-38).  Here Lord Krishna sounds a note of caution that though it may appear to be nectar initially, it will prove to be a poison in its effect in the end i.e. pleasant initially but unpleasant later. For instance if one neglects studies in the student days spending time in entertainment and recreation, he may feel happy then, but as he grows into a nobody struggling to make a living, his life will be one of regret and frustration. Lord Krishna refers to these pleasures which are derived from external contacts, be they objects or relationships in another place (5-22) where He points out that these pleasures have a beginning and an end and also they are sources of unhappiness, which surface sooner or later.  

Satva  guna is characterised by wisdom.  Satvic happiness is one in which one enjoys a tranquillity of mind as a result of gaining and staying in Self-knowledge, Athma Jnanam (18-37). Lord Krishna here warns that the path to Self-knowledge is a difficult one.  Here the simile employed in the case of Rajasic happiness is reversed; deterring like poison in the beginning but uplifting like nectar in the end.  It is deterring because to acquire Self-knowledge one has to have the four fold qualification of discrimination, dispassion, disciplines numbering six and desire besides engaging in the study of sastras under the guidance of a competent guru and complementing it with reflection on the teachings, to make it doubt-free. It is uplifting because when one acquires Self-knowledge and is able to stay in that knowledge without doubt and without effort, he is in a state of peace and bliss that passes all understanding. For he realises that his real Self is not the mortal samsara-afflicted “ego-self” that gives him the sense of individuality, giving him the identity of BMI but the eternal, ever blissful Cosmic Supreme, Brahman, with this BMI as upadhi. With this realisation comes the spiritual awakening that the ego-self is only the virtual self whose role is limited to transacting with the world during the stay with this upadhi. With Self-realisation one rises to the state of Jeevanmuktha, where he is not affected by opposites like pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow etc. as he considers all these are for BMI, which is only a dress worn in this birth.  As he considers himself one with all in the creation, he has no sense of fear as fear arises only where you cognize a second thing.  So this Satvic happiness, the happiness of Jeevanmuktha, is the only true happiness.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Old age and Brain power

As one gets older, one is haunted by some vague fears.  One is fear of death.  More than death, one fears the suffering before death either physically where one is not able to attend to one’s basic functions without assistance or mentally where one does not remember about oneself, let alone others.  This fear gets accentuated when physical organs start non-cooperation with one and the memory plays tricks with him.  Let us look into the memory aspect.  As we grow older we keep forgetting names, dates, incidents and also cannot recollect where we placed things like keys, mobile phone etc.  Forgetting wife’s birthday can be absent-mindedness, but forgetting wife’s name itself is not. As one gets older, reaction time becomes longer and also the time to retrieve information from one’s memory.  Sometime we suffer from the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon when the word is almost there but we cannot articulate it. The reason for this memory lapse is attributed to steady loss of brain power in critical areas such as the hippo campus- the area where memory is processed.

But the brain power can be retained and even improved upon even as one gets older, says Dr, Peiris, a neuro-scientist in an article in Tattvaloka.  Since he has some positive things to say on aging and brain power, let me share the positive ideas through this blog.  Some brain functions improve with age, it is said.  As we age, we more easily get the gist of arguments.  Even our judgement of others improves.  We also get better at knowing what to ignore and when to hold our tongue. More than all these, there is no loss of neuroplasticity due to old age.

Neuroplasticity is derived from two words Neuron and Plastic.  Neuron refers to a nerve cell in our brain. Each individual cell is linked to another by a small space called the synapse. Neuroplasticity refers to the power of brain to create neural pathways to meet new needs. In short the ability of the brain to change in face of new challenges is called neuroplasticity.  It had been earlier held that the brain which has around 86 billion cells cannot regenerate new cells  but it is known now that this is not true in respect of certain areas of the brain and that there is cell growth in brain throughout life. So the age related cognital decline is not due to neuronal death but due to synaptic alterations.. Further the earlier notion that after age forty no new neural pathways are created is now discredited. It is now discovered that new neural cells and new neural pathways are created throughout life.  In fact certain areas of the brain increase in size with usage. So the brain can continue to learn in old age; in fact the brain never stops changing through learning throughout life.  So whatever be the age we can try to lead a brain-healthy life, even viewing the changes in fast thinking area of the brain to our advantage as it helps to avoid impulsive actions and quick judgement of people. To maintain the brain power in one’s old age, one can take the following steps as suggested in the above article and in various others. 

 1) Physical activity
Regular physical exercise aids better brain function and reduced risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Exercise gives the brain a healthy boost.  Physical exercise increases blood flow to the brain, stimulates the growth of brain cells and the connections between them, and is associated with larger brain volume.  This is more so in the case of persons with high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol, as these are associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia.  A combination of stretch and muscle building exercises of moderate intensity and outdoor-walking exposed to sunlight for a minimum of 300 minutes or five hours a week is recommended. Movement of the body in a variety of ways challenges the brain to learn new muscle skills, estimate distance and practice balance.

  2)   Healthy diet
Studies have revealed that a high intake of saturated fats, such as those found in meat, deep fried foods and takeaway food and trans fats often found in pies, pastries, cakes, biscuits and buns are associated with an increased risk of dementia. A higher intake of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats or 'good fats', such as those found in fish oil and olive oil, is associated with a reduced risk of dementia. Foods that are high in antioxidants such as tomatoes, kidney beans, pecan nuts, cranberries, blueberries and oranges also seem to be good for brain health.  So having a diet regime with an emphasis on beneficial foods, and avoidance of high risk foods is helpful in maintaining brain health until the last days.  As heart health is very much connected with brain health, any food affecting the heart health must be avoided.

   3) Regular challenge to brain 
This is very important as ‘use it or lose it’ is very much true of the brain.  Scientists have found that challenging the brain with new activities helps to build new brain cells and strengthen connections between them. There are many ways in which this can be done.  We shall see a few of them. One is to change our routine activity in an unexpected nontrivial way like changing the walking route, using the left hand to open a door or brush your teeth. Another popular one is doing crosswords, sudoku or doing puzzles that involve logic, word skills, maths and more.  Learning a new skill like painting, cookery, dancing, learning a new language, engaging in creative activity, updating existing skills, cultivating a new hobby; all these engage multiple areas of the brain. 

  4) Meditation, prayer and positive thinking  
Meditation not only relaxes the mind but gives the brain also a workout.  The creation of a new mental state engages the brain in new interesting ways besides increasing the brain fitness.  Positive thinking involves not lamenting that you are getting old and keep forgetting things, when you do not remember or recall or when there is a memory lapse.  Accept it and take necessary corrective steps for future like committing things to paper, repeating a few times mentally things you want to remember and checking it after few minutes to fix it firmly.  Regularly trying to memorize a passage and recalling it later also helps.  Focussed prayer, with a feeling of surrender to the Supreme, gives one a sense of peace that prevents depression and anxiety which in turn helps brain health. Neurological studies have shown that there is increased activity in the front lobe of the brain of believers to whom prayer is a platform to communicate with God.

  5) Social activity 
Man being a social animal, prefers the company of others rather than existing in isolation.  To help look after your brain health it's important to be social with people whose company you enjoy and in ways that interest you. It is mentally stimulating and may contribute to building brain reserve which then contributes to a lower dementia risk.  Participation in satsang with prayerful attitude, learning works of prayers like Narayaneeyam and Tiruppugazh, group yoga and group exercise combine social activity with other beneficial activities. 

Saturday, 23 August 2014

The greatest tapas

The great Sanskrit scholar Kavyakanta Ganapathy sastry approached Ramana Maharishi with the pleaAll that has to be read I have read; even Vedanta sastra I have fully understood; I have done japa to my heart’s content; yet I have not up to this time understood what tapas is. Therefore I have sought refuge at your feet. Pray enlighten me as to the nature of tapas.”  Ganapathy Sastry has made a number of ‘I statements’  in his query and  Maharishi’s simple reply was “If one watches whence the notion ‘I’ arises, the mind gets absorbed there; that is tapas.” In his work 'Upadesa Undhiyar', Maharishi says in verse 19:
“For the one who continuously enquires” wherefrom does this ‘I’ arise, the ‘I’ notion drops.  This is the path of Self-enquiry, the best path for acquiring Athma Jnanam.” 
In the last verse of this work, he states:
“The destruction of Ahamkara leading to the realization of Athma Jnanam is indeed the greatest tapas.”
Putting these together we can say that Maharishi considered the enquiry into the source of ‘I’ notion resulting in destruction of Ahamkara as the greatest tapas.

One usually refers to one’s body, mind or intellect by the first person pronoun “I”. When one says ‘I am not well’, ‘I’ refers to the body.  When one says ‘I am happy or sad’, ‘I’ stands for the mind.  When one says ‘I find the problem tricky’, ‘I’ refers to intellect. But one also says, my body, my mind, my intellect implying that they are one’s possessions and not the real Self which is beyond all the three. By enquiring "Who am I", one is enquiring into the notion of ‘I’. This is enquiry about the nature of one’s real Self  and is called Self-enquiry. Maharishi’s prescription for this exercise is to turn one’s attention inward and enquire wherefrom the ‘I’ thought arises. By asking continuously in a focused way “Who am I” the mind can be made to look inward, towards the source of ‘I’ thought, the Self, which is pure Consciousness.

This pure Consciousness is none other than Supreme universal power, which is one without a second, eternal, infinite, and indivisible and which is also called Brahman at cosmic level and Athma at the level of individual.   It pervades all beings living and non-living in the universe and is the same in all; only the upadhi in each case is different.  Kena Upanishad in Mantra 2 calls it “The Eye of the eye, the Ear of the ear, the Prana of prana, the Mind of mind, Tongue of the tongue”.  It also further states in this mantra that the wise man knows the Source, the Athma, separate from these faculties.  The process of separation and transcending the identification with senses, prana, mind and intellect is achieved through Self-enquiry and leads to Self-Realization i.e. realizing Athma only is one’s Real Self. This knowledge that only Athma, which is same as Brahman is one’s Real Self is Athma Jnanam.  Maharishi calls this Athma, which is the source of ‘I’ thought, also as the heart, not the physical heart which is a muscular organ on the left side pumping blood all through the body but the spiritual heart on the right side, two digits to the right from the median, which is the core of one’s being. It is the place where one, young or old, involuntarily points his finger when he says ‘I did this or I did that” or makes some such similar statement.  Maharshi said “Call it by any name, God, Self, the heart or seat of Consciousness it is all the same…. It is by coming down to the level of ordinary understanding that a place is assigned to the heart in the physical body".

All our thoughts arise and resolve in the mind and if we analyze the mind, we find it is nothing but the flow of thoughts.  When the thoughts are arrested as in Nirvikalpa Samadhi there is a stillness of mind and direct communion with one’s real Self is achieved.  This state of stillness of mind is called the state of Manonasa.  The philosophical meaning of Manonasa is the vision that everything other than Athma, including the mind and the perceived universe, is all mithya.  Anathma can be experienced and anathma has utility; but it is only apparently real and not absolutely Real.  Further all our thoughts revolve around the ego ‘I’ thought.  So when one enquires into the source of this ego ‘I’ thought under the guidance of a competent Guru, one realizes the Athma as one’s true Self.  On this realization, deahabhimana drops off, Manonasa occurs and one feels totally fulfilled, enjoying the pure bliss of one’s divine Self.

This idea Maharishi conveys in verse 20 of Upadesa Undiyar:
When this ‘I’ notion drops i.e. the ego is destroyed, the Real ‘I’ reveals itself  as eternal,  whole, self-evident shining Pure Existence. This is the self evident eternal whole Self, the Athma. (20) 
Maharishi always lived in this state of Manonasa.  Whether he was talking to disciples, or  was alone; whether he was doing work in the ashram or walking around the mountain, he was always conscious of his identity as the eternal, infinite Chaitanyam and was fully aware that all his experiences involving  the world at large and the various people were only relatively real. It is as though his mind was blissfully singing ever, in the midst of activities or no activities- 
नाहम देहम्! (Naaham deham), I am not the body
        कोहं? सोऽहम्॥ (Koham? Soham) Who am I? I am He only

For this internal enquiry, he did not prescribe any path.  As he once told a questioner, “Guru, who is God or Self incarnate, works from within and helps the man to see the error of his ways, and guides him in the right path until he realizes the Self within …….. The Master is both ‘within’ and ‘without’, so He creates conditions to drive you inward and at the same time prepares the ‘interior’ to drag you to the Centre”. So the external Guru turns your attention inward and the internal Guru draws you to Himself and makes you realize that as Athma, you were never bound nor were you ever in samsara. So in this tapas of Self-enquiry that is started seeking something  that one considers as outside oneself, he ends up with the discovery that what he sought externally was all along with him only, with its mind-boggling corollaries,  waiting to be discovered.  So this indeed is the greatest tapas that one can undertake.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

City of Vancouver

The 11 day Denali discovery cruisetour ended in Vancouver city on the morning of 7/7/14. We disembarked, collected our luggage that has been brought to the Customs hall by the cruise lines, cleared the Customs and took a taxi to the Hotel. The hotel was Century Plaza Hotel & Spa, which we have booked earlier through   The hotel was in downtown, close to the market, shops and restaurants.  As the check in was at 3 pm only, we left the luggage in hotel care and went about exploring the city of Vancouver. Vancouver city is called officially as city of Vancouver to distinguish it from the Vancouver Island and incidentally the Vancouver city is not located in the Vancouver Island. We went first to the Lookout, which was only at a walking distance from the hotel, to have a bird’s eye-view of the city. It is located on the top of the office buildings of Harbour centre and the viewing platform is only 551 ft, above street level, but it gives a good 3600 view of the city and surrounding landscape.  The revolving restaurant on its top is another tourist attraction.  Close to the harbour centre is the waterfront mall, which has a nice food-court.  From there we came down to Hastings Street and took the bus to Stanley Park.

Stanley Park is a sprawling urban park spread over 1000 acres and there is a rose garden, rock garden, aquarium, totem pole corner besides the sea walk along the seawall which runs round the park and is 9 km long.  There is a hop-on hop-off shuttle service covering important points of interest besides horse drawn carriage tours.  Our interest was in totem poles and so we made a bee line to that corner called Brockton point.  It has a number of poles of different heights, with different animal figure carvings. Totem poles are carved out of the trunks of trees by indigenous people of pacific region of North America and the designs and figures stand for cultural beliefs, clan lineage, notable legends etc.  But they were not symbols of worship.  The animals represent the belief that one is associated with one of nine different types of animals in one’s life.  It was good walk from the bus stop to this point and after we walked back to catch the bus and walk again to the hotel to check in, we had all the exercise to compensate for the lack of it in the last few days.  Our room was in the 27th floor.  It was spacious and had a kitchenette, with all the gadgets, but there was no plates or bowls and so could not be made use of. But there was a good conveniences room in the 5th floor of the hotel, with a coin operated laundrette, free internet facilities, free Wi-Fi hotspot. We made good use of it as in the ship there was no laundry and internet connection was quite slow and costly. 

We had pre-booked on-line tours for two days with West Coast Sightseeing. The first one was to Whistler and Shannon falls. We left on this tour next morning. Whistler is a popular resort town in Whistler Mountain.  Whistler with Vancouver hosted the winter Olympic games and Para Olympic games of 2010.  A platform with Olympic rings is in Whistler Mountain top and in Whistler Plaza in commemoration of the event.  The route from Vancouver to Whistler is a scenic route which is called Sea-to-Sky Highway. It is a winding mountain road with spectacular ocean, mountain and rain forest views and roaring falls.  On the way to Whistler there were halts at Horseshoe Bay Park, Porteau Cove and Squamish village centre. In the first two we enjoyed wonderful views of sea and mountain, while in the third of forest and mountain, a foretaste of things to come at Whistler.

Whistler and the adjoining Blackcomb mountains are popular ski resorts in winter.  We did not spend much time in the Whistler village.  We had our lunch in the Subway restaurant and made a bee-line to Gondola station. First we went up to the  Whistler Mountain-top in a gondola. You have the option of reaching the peak through Gondola or through a chair-lift or else by bike or walk in the respective trails.  After a visit to the Roundhouse Lodge at the top, we made to the Olympic platform for a photo session.  As we were taking in the magnificent scenery all around at the height of 6000 ft. above sea- level, we were joined by another South Indian family, settled in Seattle U.S. and holidaying in Canada. In their company we took the peak to peak gondola service between peaks of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. This Gondola journey is the longest and highest of its kind as it spans a distance of 4.4 kilometres at a height of 1430 feet.  We travelled in a glass bottomed gondola, which is run at half-hour intervals.  The view of the rain forests below and the view of the towering volcanic peaks on the sides made it a memorable experience. In the Blackcomb Mountain we could walk up to the edge of a glacier and even in that summer there was skiing activity going on in an adjacent glacier. We left Blackcomb peak with its stunning scenery rather reluctantly as we had to catch the tour coach. 

On the way back there was a halt at Shannon falls. With water falling from a height of 1105 ft. from the ground, it is the third highest fall in British Columbia. As we were tired, we were content to rest near the base and watch the falls from a distance. We returned to the hotel at around 6 pm and had our dinner in a nearby Indian restaurant where the Indian chef, Mani, who is from Tamilnadu, obliged Rajam with a glass of hot water with pepper and crushed ginger as Rajam had developed mild dry cough. We had a good rest and carried on so leisurely next morning that we missed the booked tour to Grouse Mountain and Capilano Bridge and the company was good enough to offer an alternative tour i.e. Vancouver City and Capilano Bridge, which started late.

In this tour we had time to explore Stanley Park and its seawall and sea walk as the coach stopped there for a time before proceeding to the Bridge.  The Capilano Suspension Bridge is 460 ft. long and 230 ft. above the Capilano River.  The walk across shaky bridge is fun but a bit scary as we swing sideways, sometimes a little violently, when people rush for a view or a photo.  After going to the other end of the bridge we went on tree-top adventure walk where we wander through chain of seven suspension bridges 100 ft. above the ground. At the end of each bridge there is viewing platform around the trunks of the big Douglas fir trees from where we can view below and around, the sprawling rain forest. After this walk, we crossed the bridge to take the Cliff walk.  This is described as “heart-stopping cliff side journey” as we walk over suspended walkways jutting out of the granite cliff above the Capilano River.  It is high and narrow and in some places only the thick glass at our feet alone separates us from the canyon far below. These two walks, cliff walk and treetop adventure walk we took as a challenge to test our fitness and as we did them slowly admiring the view all around, we did not have time to visit the Raptor’s ridge.  There is a totem park and also a cafeteria, which was selling hot samosas besides sandwiches etc. in the bridge park.

After leaving Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, the coach went round the Chinatown and made a final stop at Granville Island.  Granville Island is not an island but a peninsula separated by a creek from downtown Vancouver.  It is a busy shopping district and has a big market.  It is also an art centre with a few galleries. As tour ended by 5’oclock, we took time to walk around the busy Robson Street.  To our surprise we found a section of the street closed to traffic to help people watch a street performance.  The next day we left for Sydney by United Airlines, bringing to an end a memorable tour. I have uploaded photos of Vancouver in the Flickr album “Vancouver”: