Sunday, 30 April 2017


Sri Adi Sankara declares in Bhaja Govindam (verse 9):
सत्सङ्गत्वे निस्सङ्गत्वं  (satsangatve nissangatvam)
निस्सङ्गत्वे निर्मोहत्वम् (nissangatve nirmohatvam.)
निर्मोहत्वे निश्चलतत्त्वं  (nirmohatve nishchalatattvam)
निश्चलतत्त्वे जीवन्मुक्तिः   (nishcalatattve jiivanmuktihi)

Association with the good people leads to non-attachment, non-attachment heralds freedom from delusion, freedom from delusion brings steadfastness, from steadfastness comes jivanmukti (liberation in life).  

Sri Sankara has in the previous verse asked the serious sadhaka to contemplate on  “Who is your wife? Who is your son?-------- Of whom are you? From where have you come? Brother, ponder over these truths here ” (kate kanta kaste putraḥ --------- kasya tvam kaḥ kuta ayataḥ tattvam chintaya thadiha bhrataḥa).  So Swami Chinmayananda commenting on this sloka states that in this sloka Adi Sankara has given a ladder of progress in the spiritual field to beginners in devotion.   For spiritually interested devout neophytes, keeping Satsangh is very important as it gives them an opportunity to keep themselves engaged in divine centred thoughts and actions and remain focussed in spiritual path.  Further the powerful, cleansing thought vibrations generated in the Satsangh can be uplifting to the earnst participants. So Sri Sankara has put Satsangh as the first step of the ladder of spiritual progress. 

Satsangh literally means "being with the Truth."  Truth is what is Real, what exists. So all there is, is Truth only.  In common usage Satsangh means "being in good/righteous company."  So it refers to an assembly of religious or spiritual people who gather to listen to a spiritual discourse or a meeting with a Guru as in a retreat or to participate in some religious or spiritual activity like chanting scriptures, singing devotional songs or meditation etc.  Philosopher J.Krishnamurthy calls Satsangh “association with the good”.  The conduct of Satsangh is popular among devout Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs. The significance of Satsangh can be seen from the following statement of Mata Amritanandamayi:” though the breeze blows everywhere, coolness will be felt more if we sit in the shade of a tree. In the same way, although God is all-pervading, this presence will clearly shine in certain places more than others. That is the greatness of Satsangh. Satsangh is the best thing for spiritual advancement.”  Thinking of God, study of scriptures, reading spiritually inspiring books, going to a temple or on a pilgrimage are also other forms of Satsangh

So the ladder of progress shown by Sri Sankara in this verse can be spelt us:

1.     Keep the company of “good”, the divine centred people who are seeking and spreading the knowledge of “Truth”, as proper environment and company is necessary to start the process of detachment. .. (satsangatve)
2.     Through that knowledge and in the company of good try to renounce the sensual and worldly pleasures. (nissangatvam)
3.     With the growing knowledge and detachment, gradually remove the delusion that the worldly objects and associations provide happiness. (nirmohatvam)
4.     With the delusion gone, one can develop the firm understanding of one’s true Self  as Sat-Chit-Ananda Athma that is Brahman (nishcalatattve)
5.     Established in Self Realization get liberated-in-life (jiivanmuktihi)

On a much deeper level Satsang means to be associated with the inner quality of  Satva that manifests in human beings as knowledge and contemplativeness.  Satva dominant people are usually drawn towards devotional and spiritual way of living and they lead God-centered lives with Moksha as their goal.  Such a person whether he is alone or in company he is in Satsangh only.  For people with either Rajas or Tamas dominant, we can say that by by mixing with Satvic people in a Satsangh they can increase Satva and reduce Rajas and Tamas.  And Satsangh can help in stabilizing their minds in divine thoughts while developing Satva, thereby helping them achieve inner growth, that is emotional cum intellectual cum spiritual growth which distinguishes human beings from rest of the living beings.

Swami Paramarthananda classifies Satsangh into three levels depending on the meaning of the word Sat.  At the first level of Satsangh, the word Sat means a person who has got noble values. He is a Dharma Purusha or man of values who does not compromise with values.  Jnanam is not emphasized; only adherence to Dharmic values is necessary. And by sheer association with such a Dharmic person one will effortlessly imbibe these values. But a Dharmic person has not grown up fully. He is nobly ignorant with regard to the Self. And when ignorance is there one has not reached the fullest growth.  So though this Satsangh at the first level will help one gain values in life, one’s inner growth is not complete as values by themselves alone are not enough to gain Moksha.  Therefore, one must go the next level of Satsangh.  In the second level of Satsangh, the word Sat means Jnana Purusha or Jnani.  As every Jnani has values, the association with a Jnani has two fold benefits. The first benefit is one will imbibe values and the second benefit is one will get an opportunity to imbibe knowledge also.  It is not enough to do just pada puja or garlanding or some seva to the Jnani, but the association has to be in the form of learning. Learning the scriptures from a Jnani sat purusha is the second level of Satsangh.  In the third stage of Satsangh, the word Sat means Brahman itself.  Association with Brahman itself means removal of ignorance that I am away from Brahman, through the knowledge gained from scriptural study that I am Brahman, “Aham Brahmasmi”, i.e. Brahma Prappti or Brahma Ikyam.  As philosopher Mooji says “Satsangh is the invitation to step into the fire of self-discovery. This fire will not burn you, it will burn only what you are not.” 





Wednesday, 26 April 2017


(adapted form Swami Paramarthananda’s talk)

Surrender to the Lord taking the Lord as our refuge is called Saranagathi in our scriptures.   Though this is a popular term with all devotees, it is also beset with a few misconceptions. We know surrender is not just prostrating in full, falling at the feet of an image of the Lord in temple or in performing a ritual at home. For that is only just a physical act of surrender where the individuality and desires are not given up. Surrender is an act of devotion where the offeror becomes the offering himself.  True devotion is possible only with complete surrender and true surrender flows from renunciation. Now the question arises as to what is surrendered to the Lord. The popular misconception here is that we surrender our free will to Lord’s will. But it is only through the exercise of free will we can choose the purusharthas of artha and kama to conform to third purushartha of dharma and pursue the fourth purushartha of Moksha.  It is through the free will we exercise our discrimination to make informed, intelligent choice between right and wrong, Dharma and adharma and it is this power of discrimination that distinguishes us as human beings from animals.  In Kathopanishad, Yama makes it clear to Nachiketas that a spiritual seeker makes a choice of Sreyas, the good, over Preyas, the pleasant ( sreyo hi dhirobhi preyaso vrinite (1-2-2)).

Another popular misconception is that we should transfer all our responsibilities to Lord and Lord will take care of everything. But scriptures say that we have to take responsibility for our actions as we as human beings have the ability to make choices through free will. Lord Krishna says in Gita (6-5) that one should lift oneself through one’s own efforts (Uddhareth athmnathmanam).  In Kathopanishad, we have the allegory of a chariot which states among other things: Body is the chariot and intellect is the charioteer and mind the reins. ----------- He who possesses right discrimination, whose mind is under control and always pure, he reaches that goal from which he is not born again. (1-3-3 to 1-3-8). 

Stories from puranas are quoted in support of these misconceptions, where devotees get their problems solved without any effort on their part to attempt a solution except to keep praying and looking to Lord for solution to problems. These stories when analyzed amount to different type of miracles only and taking the stories literally true turns one’s faith in Lord into faith in Lord’s miracles.  When miracles do not happen, sometimes the faith in Lord itself gets eroded. To support the argument that no action is needed on our part when we surrender to the Lord, Lord Krishna’s closing words of advice to Arjuna in Gita is quoted (18-66):

सर्वधर्मान्परित्यज्य मामेकं शरणं व्रज। (Sarvadharmaan parityajya maamekam sharanam vraja) 
अहं त्वा सर्वपापेभ्यो मोक्षयिष्यामि मा शुचः।। (Aham twaa sarvapaapebhyo mokshayishyaami maa shuchah.) 
Relinquishing all Dharmas, take refuge in Me alone; I will liberate you from all sins; grieve not.

In Vaishnava Sampradaya this is an important Mantra and is called Charama Mantra and along with Dvaya Mantra (SRIMAN NARAYANA CHARANAU SARANAM PRAPADYE SRIMATE NARAYANAYA NAMAHA) and Ashtakshara (OM NAMO NARAYANA) constitute the three divine Mantras for initiation by an Acharya at the time of Samashrayanam.  But the Mantra is narrowly interpreted to mean surrender to Lord Vishnu only, to whom one surrenders all responsibilities. Hare Krishna sect followers interpret this still more narrowly to mean surrender to Lord Krishna alone.

Here Lord Krishna should be considered as speaking of Himself as the One without a second i.e. as the non-dual Brahman. And Dharmas he speaks of include adharmas as well and that means all actions. But relinquishing all actions physically is not possible, as Lord Krishna Himself has pointed out earlier that everyone is helplessly driven to action by nature-born qualities (Kaaryate hyavashah karma sarvah prakritijair gunaih(3-5)). So what Lord Krishna advises must be taken as relinquishing the actions mentally i.e. relinquishing the karthruthva bhava and bhokthruthva bhava in all actions.  This is possible only when one surrenders one’s ego and gives up one’s identification with body-mind complex as one’s Self.  This step can come through easily when one acquires Athma Jnanam and gets established in it as a Brahma Nishta.  Then he uses ego as a tool only for interacting with the world and he never forgets his essential identity with Brahman.  Further a Brahma Nishta is a Jeevan muktha as well. So he attracts no more papas and he attains videha mukthi, on exhaustion of prarabhdha karmaAthma Jnanam itself liquidates all papas has been earlier stressed by Lord Krishna (4-36): 
अपि चेदसि पापेभ्यः सर्वेभ्यः पापकृत्तमः। (Api chedasi paapebhyah sarvebhyah paapakrittamah)
सर्वं ज्ञानप्लवेनैव वृजिनं सन्तरिष्यसि।। (Sarvam jnaanaplavenaiva vrijinam santarishyasi.)
Even if you are the worst sinner among all sinners, you will still cross over all the sins with the raft of Knowledge.

Further Lord Krishna, speaking of Atma Jnanam earlier had also said (4-35): 
यज्ज्ञात्वा न पुनर्मोहमेवं यास्यसि पाण्डव।( Yajjnaatwaa na punarmoham evam yaasyasi paandava)    
Knowing that, O Arjuna, you will not come under delusion again.

It is the sorrow born of delusion that had been the cause of Arjuna’s grief and this delusion can go only through Jnanam.  Lord Krishna has laid the foundation for this Jnanam all along by talking about Karma, Upasana, Bhakthi, and Jnana Yogas and now as a final stroke exhorts Arjuna to surrender his ego through Jnanam and act as per Dharma without grief.
So Lord Krishna’a final advice can be interpreted as: “Acquire Athma Jnanam and through that surrender your ego and relinquish mentally doership and enjoyership in all actions. Thus surrendering your ego through Jnanam all your sins will get washed away and you will acquire Videha Mukthi.  Through Jnanam give up your grief”.  

As Sastras impart this Jnanam, Swami Paramarthananda interprets Saranagathi as Sastra agathi I.e. surrender to Sastras (that give this Jnanam).  Sastra itself means “that which protects” (sasanath trayathe iti sastram) and Sastras protect us by providing solutions to our problems through the teaching of:
1.     Dharma – We can steer clear of most of the life’s problems by adopting a lifestyle based on Dharma and values as given in chapters 13,16 and 17 of Gita.
2.     Special remedies – For special problems we encounter in life, Sastras provide for special remedies in the form of Prayaschita and Paihara karmas.
3.     Proper attitude –  In facing choiceless situations, Iswararpana Buddhi and Prasada Bhavana along with the attitude of tithiksha and tolerance is prescribed.
4.     Self-knowledge - It rescues us from Samsara by revealing that we are in essence Sat-Chit-Ananda Swarupa Brahman.