Sunday, 30 July 2017

Desire and its control

Gita essays – 4 

Lord Krishna observed in His concluding remarks on karma yoga  that one who follows karma-yoga attains spiritual success and one who does not is spiritually lost. Arjuna now has a doubt as to why people do not follow karma yoga even when they know that karma as yoga uplifts leading to liberation, while as mere karma it is binding one to samsara.  So he asks a question generalising this paradox as a problem of choosing between punya and papa. His question runs as (3-36):
अथ केन प्रयुक्तोऽयं पापं चरति पूरुषः। (Atha kena prayukto’yam paapam charati poorushah)
अनिच्छन्नपि वार्ष्णेय बलादिव नियोजितः।। (Anicchann api vaarshneya balaad iva niyojitah)
Oh Krishna! Prompted by what, does a person commit sin, even against his wishes, as though he is constrained by force?

“Everybody knows what is right and what is not right, what is good and what is bad. Yet when it comes to action why some people invariably choose the wrong?”  is the question.  In the context of Lord’s advice the question can be rephrased as “What is the obstacle to the pursuit of karma yoga; in spite of knowing its superiority; what prevents people from following karma yoga?”  Lord Krishna has earlier stated  that raga-dveṣha (likes and dislikes)  born of vasanas (habits) pull a person astray and now Lord amplifies the statement and goes to the roots and says that the preventing factor is kama-krodha (desire-anger) born of the quality of Rajas. When a person's desire is not gratified or thwarted, it turns into anger against those whom he sees as obstacles and so anger can also be classified as a variation of desire. When the quality of Rajas is dominant, a person is constrained to seek satisfaction of his desires and that becomes the dominant motive overriding other considerations.  If the intellect is infected by the virus of desire one loses his discrimination and has no qualms of conscience to make compromises with higher values. Therefore Sri Krishna says desire is the man's greatest enemy on the earth because man commits sin only at the command of desire against his will and better judgment and desires are insatiable and cannot be completely satisfied, as one fulfilled desire fuels another.  One can get rid of this virus only through the constant practice of detachment. 

Desires fall under three categories  Satvic, Rajasic and Tamasic.   Of these Satvic desires veil the discrimination just as smoke envelopes fire.  The veiling is thin and hence it requires only a little effort to remove it, like the rise of the slight wind  dispelling the smoke.  For the Rajasic desires where intellect is covered by desire prompted agitations, the example given by Lord is one of dust on a mirror.  Dust blocks completely the reflection in a mirror and requires more time and effort for removal and it is the same way with the efforts for the removal of the dirt of Rajasic desires from the mind. In the case of a Tamasic desires higher virtues are shut out by baser instincts as in the case of a foetus in the womb covered with amnion fluid.  As the covering can be removed only after lapse of a definite period of time the low desires can be removed only after a longer period of spiritual efforts by the Tamasic person.

Lord also diagnoses senses, mind and intellect as the seat of desires.  The sense organs transmit the stimuli received from the objects of enjoyment to the mind which working in close collaboration with the intellect starts living in the experience of sense enjoyments and nourishes further desires. So the problem is to be tackled at source i.e at the level of senses, mind and intellect itself.  This is done through the control of senses, mind and intellect through sama, dama and viveka. Sama is control of senses. Dama is control of mind and viveka is discrimination. Through sama one takes care to filter the external stimuli that enter the mind.  Through dama one exercises control over the thoughts as thoughts initiate action.  Through viveka one acquires the wisdom that any amount of acquisitions will not add to security and that desire oriented agitations are an impediment to one’s personal spiritual experiences as well as to one’s acquiring spiritual knowledge through the study of scriptures. The last two verses (42&43) that conclude the third chapter of Gita reveal the superiority of Self, Atma, over senses, mind and intellect and the final step in anger-control  as Self-knowledge, Athma Jnanam.
इन्द्रियाणि पराण्याहुरिन्द्रियेभ्यः परं मनः। (Indriyaani paraanyaahur indriyebhyah param manah)
मनसस्तु परा बुद्धिर्यो बुद्धेः परतस्तु सः।। (Manasastu paraa buddhir yo buddheh paratastu sah)
They declare that the senses are superior (to the body); superior to the senses is the mind; superior to the mind is the intellect; and one who is superior even to the intellect is He—the Self.
एवं बुद्धेः परं बुद्ध्वा संस्तभ्यात्मानमात्मना। (Evam buddheh param buddhwaa samstabyaatmaanam aatmanaa)
जहि शत्रुं महाबाहो कामरूपं दुरासदम्।। (Jahi shatrum mahaabaaho kaamaroopam duraasadam)
O Arjuna! Thus, knowing Him who is superior to the intellect and restraining the (lower) self by the (higher) Self, slay thou, the enemy in the form of desire, hard to conquer!

The physical body is gross, external and limited. As compared to this the senses are superior because they are subtler and more internal and have a wider range of activity.  Superior to the senses is the mind as it can direct the function of the senses. Superior to the mind is the intellect because it is endowed with the faculty of discrimination and decisiveness; when the mind doubts, the intellect decides. But the Self is superior even to the intellect because the intellect draws its power to illuminate from the Self alone. The Self is the in-dweller in the body, the witness of the activities of the body, senses, mind and intellect.  So when one gets established in Self-knowledge, one looks upon oneself not as a doer or enjoyer but only as a witness of the play of life and is also free from the influence of gunas.  As a gunatheetha, one is also free from raga-dvesha and kama-krodha.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Advice on Karma yoga


Gita essays - 3  

Lord Krishna’s advice to Arjuna on Karma Yoga spans two chapters.  After talking about Athma in the second chapter, Lord starts talking on Karma yoga as practice of Karma yoga makes the intellect subtle and enables one to grasp the advice based on Jnana yoga.  After a brief introduction (2-39) Lord glorifies Karma yoga in six verses (40 to 46).  Then He enunciates an important principle of Karma yoga(2-47):

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन। (Karmanyevaadhikaaraste maa phaleshu kadaachana)
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि।। (Maa karmaphalahetur bhoor maa te sango’stwakarmani)

You have a choice over action alone; never over results. So let not the results of action (alone) be your motive.  May you not have any inclination for inaction (on this score)

One can only choose the action but not the result which is dependent on other factors of the world known and unknown including the law of action.  Nor should he lapse into inaction because he has no control over the results. Also action done with the expectation of fruits brings bondage. So one should engage in action hoping for the best, while simultaneously conditioning his mind for the worst.  This way success or failure does not catch him unawares and he faces both with equanimity and equanimity in action is termed  yoga.  Actions which are normally of binding nature, lose that binding nature when performed with equanimity of mind, without emphasis on results.  When actions are done without desire for the fruits, one gets purification of mind and at a later stage, knowledge of the Self as a pure, tranquil mind in course of time, shedding its false values attached to the world, turns to Athma and Self-knowledge that leads to liberation and immortal bliss. 

At this stage Arjuna wants to know in detail about the man of steady wisdom who is firmly established in Self-knowledge and Lord Krishna explains in detail about Stithaprajna.  Arjuna has now another doubt as to why he is asked to engage in action and not in seeking Jnanam as Jnanam appears to be superior to action. Posed with this question in the third chapter, Lord Krishna enters into a detailed discussion on Karma yoga.

He first makes it clear that choice is not between Karma yoga and Jnana yoga,  but only between two life-styles called Karma-yoga-niṣṭha, active lifestyle of  a householder and Jnana-yoga-niṣṭha, contemplative lifestyle of a monk.  The path of knowledge is prescribed for the intellectual, whereas the path of action is the best for the physically dynamic.  But it should be born in mind that action by itself cannot be the end. It is only the means to achieve the final goal of Realization of the Self.  So whatever lifestyle one chooses, one has to follow relevant karma for obtaining purity of mind and then pursue Jnanam to discover the freedom that is one’s true nature as Athma. The path of knowledge is not the proper one for Arjuna as he, being a Kshatriya, does not belong to the meditative and intellectual type. His natural aptitude is for action and he can purify himself only through action.  So he has to discharge his duties in a selfless spirit of pure devotion without attachment to fruits of such action. If one understands the art of performance of actions without selfishness, one is already in the path of knowledge as these two paths are not contradictory but complementary.

Then Lord discusses inaction and condemns it as it cannot lead to knowledge or purity of mind which can lead to liberation.  Further due to one’s natural tendencies, governed by the three gunas, Satvam, Rajas and Tamas one is driven to action. Where his natural desire is for action and he keeps thinking of sense objects prompted by desire without engaging in action it is only hypocrisy.  And when one does actions for the sake of the Lord, he is not bound by the actions and his heart is purified by performance of actions for the sake of the Lord.  But if this spirit of unselfishness does not govern the action, then such actions become binding, however good or glorious they may be.  When we follow the teachings of the Lord it becomes a gesture of our appreciation for all the gifts and blessings that the Lord has bestowed upon us.  When we follow the teachings of the Lord as given in Vedas and do our work selflessly it becomes a worship or yajna to Lord and it purifies the mind as well.  The working of the universe is a cyclic process, with the human beings as its important link.  Yajna creates conditions for rain; Rain is responsible for food and food nourishes all living beings including human beings who express their gratitude through yajna.  Thus Karma yoga is necessary to maintain the harmony of the Universe upon which one is dependant. One who does not discharge it lives in vain, wasting his life. 

The Lord cites the example of people like Janaka who had successfully pursued knowledge while remaining in Karma yoga and gives His own example of engaging Himself in activities continuously although it is immaterial for Him whether He acts or not. The reason for this is that the common people with limited intelligence imitate the great and so if The Lord remains inactive, they will also remain idle leading to indiscipline.  So also Arjuna has to fight the war, this being kṣaṭriya's duty, to set an example to others. Else, he will be sowing the seeds of anarchy in his own time as well as in the future, as any person with a higher status or knowledge (śreṣṭha), can influence others positively or negatively.  Thus, both the wise and the ignorant should act; the former for teaching others, and the latter for purity. The only difference is that the former will be detached while the latter won’t be.

The ignorant think that they perform, they succeed etc. while actually the actions are performed by the play of the three Gunas of one’s nature that creates desires which prompts their actions.  In their ignorance they think they are the doers and get attached to results and develop anxiety for the fruits of their actions.  Even the wise person, who is not attached to the fruits of action as he knows that he, the Self, is not the performer of actions and that it is only the play of Gunas of Nature at work should set an example to the ignorant by sticking to the path of action rather than trying to change them as it is likely to be misunderstood by the ignorant resulting in the cessation of action by them.  And then Lord summarizes his advice thus in 2-30

मयि सर्वाणि कर्माणि संन्यस्याध्यात्मचेतसा। (Mayi sarvaani karmaani sannyasyaadhyaatma chetasaa)
निराशीर्निर्ममो भूत्वा युध्यस्व विगतज्वरः।। (Niraasheer nirmamo bhootwaa yudhyaswa vigatajwarah)

Dedicating  all actions to Me, engage in the battle with the mind centred in the Self  and free from expectations and egoism and anxiety.

In this summary Lord Krishna mentions five salient points of Karma yoga which can be stated as-

1)    Keep a spiritual goal as primary goal.

2)    Convert your work into worship by offering all the actions to the Lord.

3)     Be prepared to accept the result, be it favourable or not by looking upon the results as Prasada from the Lord.

4)     Have humility in success and acceptance in failure, shedding egoism.

5)    Maintain equanimity (samathvam) at all times.

Lord Krisna concludes his advice on Karma yoga in this chapter with the observation that one who follows Karma-yoga attains spiritual success and one who does not is spiritually lost.  Even though likes and dislikes (raga-dveṣha) born of habits (vasanas) pull a person astray, still a person should not fall a prey to them, shunning them as against his spiritual interests.  He should always go by what he has to do as his duty even if it involves difficulties and not by what he likes to do however tempting it may be.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Vision of God

(based on Swami Paramarthananda’s Guru Purnima lecture 2017)

Lord Krishna classifies bhakthas into four categories In Gita (Ch.7 verse 15). They are Aartha, Artharthi, Jijnasu and Jnani bhakthas.  Aartha bhakthas are the devotees in distress who worship God seeking freedom from their problems.  Artharthi bhakthas are the devotees who worship God seeking success in their various material pursuits. Both see God as a means for achieving their material goals and their prayer is aimed at getting things they want or getting rid of things they don’t want.  To this end they choose any means of worship to any form of God and they don’t mind shrine shopping and temple hopping with no interest in enquiring about the nature of God and the underlying philosophy about His/Her form.  For these bhakthas God is different from them and also distant from them having His/Her abode in heavens.

Jijnasu bhakthas are those who want to understand the nature of God they worship and also seek the vision of God.  To this end they seek guidance from spiritual books and spiritual Gurus.  Most of them speak of the path of meditation and mystic experiences.  Those who follow it expect the vision of God to bless them in meditation or in dreams or God to appear in guise as is depicted in various stories.  But there are a few who seek guidance from a traditional Guru who has himself undergone training and studied the scriptures under a Guru of Vaidhika parampara  and also lives according to it.  This blog only deals with such Jijnasu bhakthas.

Scriptures teach that God is not only intelligent cause but also the material cause for this Universe.  That means that God not only created the Universe but also pervades the Universe as gold pervades all golden ornaments. The ornaments are only gold with different names and forms.  Same way everything in the Universe is only God with various forms and names. When once this idea is imbibed, jijnasu bhaktha’s attitude to the world undergoes a change.  Now he understands that vision of God as per the scriptures involves only a change of attitude towards the objects of the world and not a vision of God in any particular form.   In short, he understands that the vision of God only involves Iswara bhavana  replacing  prapancha bhavana i.e.God perception displacing world perception.  
Isavasya Upanishad opens with the line which echoes this idea.
ईशा वास्यमिदँ सर्वं यत्किञ्च जगत्यां जगत् (Ishaavaasyam idam sarvam,Yad kincha jagatyaam jagat.)
Whatever moves here in this world, everything is pervaded or covered by God.
Everything in this world is pervaded by God. Whatever we see is manifestation of God alone. God here means the Supreme Brahman who is of the nature of pure Consciousness.  So whatever a person sees is only pure Consciousness with a name and form. 
A verse in Thirumandhiram, tamil work of saint Tirumoolar illustrates it beautifully.
மரத்தை மறைத்தது மாமதயானை (Maraththai maraithathu maamadha yaanai)
மரத்தில் மறைந்தது மாமதயானை  (maraththil marainthathu maamadha yaanai)
பரத்தை மறைத்தது பார்முதல் பூதம் (paraththai maraithathu paarmudhal bhootham)
பரத்தில் மறைந்தது பார்முதல் பூதம் (paraththil marainthathu paarmudhal bhootham)
The elephant (toy) hides the wood (with toy vision).  The elephant (toy) disappears in wood (with wood vision).  Pancha bhuthas hide the supreme (with world perception).  Pancha bhuthas disappear in the Supreme (with God perception)
Thirumular gives the example of toy elephant made of wood here.  A child is given a toy elephant made of wood.  The child only sees the elephant and not the wood and enjoys playing with it as elephant. But a carpenter who comes there sees only the wood and comments on the quality of wood and he has no eye for the elephant.  In the same way when you have the world vision you see only play of Pancha bhuthas and not the Supreme pervading it, while with God vision you see only the Supreme pervading the world and not the pancha bhuthas that make up the world. So if one replaces prapancha bhavana with Iswara bhavana, world vision is replaced by God vision.  Then that Jijnasu bhaktha sees God in every object of creation itself.
As the Jijnasu bhaktha blossoms into Jnani bhaktha with the study, doubt-free understanding and absorption of import of Mahavakhyas, he realises that for his vision of God he does not look elsewhere apart from himself  as his true Self is God, and  it is His prescence as Athma that makes him sentient as revealed in Kenopanishad (mantra 1-2)
श्रोत्रस्य श्रोत्रं मनसो मनो यद्वाचो वाच्ँस प्राणस्य प्राणः । चक्षुषश्चक्षुः----  (strotrasya strotram manaso mano yad vacho ha vacham sa u pranasya pranaha I Chakhusas chakshuhuh--)
He (God) is the Ear of the ear, the Mind of the mind, the Speech of speech, the Prana of prana, and the Eye of the eye.
As Athma, God i.e Brahman animates all senses. For the indriyas, prana and mind which are made up of pancha bhuthas are material only as the pancha bhuthas themselves are material only. Kenopanishad goes on to point out in 2-4, प्रतिबोधविधितं मतं (pratibodhaviditaṃ matam)  meaning It (Brahman) is realised in every state of mindThat means knowledge of Brahman is the knowledge of the factor which is common to all experiences which again means knowledge of the pure Consciousness that is present in all three states of Jagrat, Swapna and Sushupthi.  So a Jnani knows that wherever he is and whatever he is doing he is always experiencing God.  In other words all his actions, physical and mental constitute Brahmanubhava only.  So with this understanding and realisation “இருப்பதெல்லாம் இறைவனே.” (iruppathellam Iraivanae) i.e. whatever is there is God only, he now realises that God as Nirguna Brahman cannot be seen, as one cannot see one’s own eyes except as a reflection, while God as Saguna Brahman can be seen in every object of creation.