Saturday, 28 October 2017

The knowledge of Nirguna Brahman

Gita essays – 15

Knowledge of Nirguna Brahman is called Para vidya in Mundakpopanishad, as this is the knowledge of unchanging eternal Reality and this knowledge is also glorified as one knowing which everything else becomes known. It is the teaching of this knowledge that Lord Krishna takes up as a means of Liberation here and now, Sadyo mukthi or Jivan mukthi, at the start of chapter 9 of Gita.  He introduces this knowledge by describing it glowingly to keep Arjuna interested in the teaching in verse 2.
This is the greatest knowledge, the greatest secret, the most sacred, directly experienceable, unopposed to dharma, very easy to pursue and imperishable. (9-2)

The glory of this knowledge is lited as:
1)    This is the greatest knowledge because it deals with the only absolute Reality, Nirguna Brahman and it also gives Liberation with its fruits of fulfilment and bliss even during one’s life time. 
2)    It is the greatest secret as this is the knowledge about the Self indwelling in the body and about the identity of the individual Self with the Supreme Self that is to be realized by oneself after learning sastras from a competent teacher.  
3)    It is the most sacred as it purifies destroying all the accumulated karmas on realization, like a lamp that destroys darkness immediately.
4)    The benefit can be immediately experienced
5)    It is in keeping with Vedic teaching as the teaching is taken from upanishads.. 
6)    Gaining through this knowledge, Liberation as Jivan mukthi, is much easier as compared to the process of gaining Liberation through krama mukthi
7)    The benefit of Liberation, obtained through this knowledge, is eternal. 

To acquire this knowledge and get out of samsara, the seeker should have shraddha in the scriptures and the teacher as well, warns Lord in the next verse.  Then he starts describing Nirguna Brahma swarupam as:
1)    He is avyaktha, formless i.e. not available for perception by any sense-organs.
2)    He is all-pervading, sarvagatha, and has no spatial limitation;
3)    He is Jagat aadharam or Jagat adhishtanam, the resting place of the entire universe.
4)    He is asangha, unattached. 
5)    He is the srishti, sthithi, laya karanam of this entire universe
6)    He is not a kartha or bhoktha but only a mere sakshi.

Let us see in detail each aspect of His Swarupam.   Firstly He is stated to be avyakthah, formless.  Mundakopanishad (1-1-5) describes Nirguna Brahman as “invisible, ungraspable, ----- without attributes; has neither eyes, nor ears, nor hands, nor feet”.  Kathopanishad (1-3-15) also describes Him as “soundless, touchless, colourless,--- tasteless, eternal, odourless” etc.,  Since He has no form, He has no space limitations and is all-pervading, Sarvagataha.  Just as the wind rests in space, the entire universe rests in Him.  But as the universe is mithya and not Satyam, He is not in the Universe though Universe is in Him.  We can see it through an example.  In the semi-darkness a rope is mistaken for a snake. Here the snake is mithya and rope is satyam. Here we can say that the mithya snake is in the Satyam rope but not the Satyam rope in the mithya snake.  So Nirguna Brahman is mithya Jagat adhishtanam.  He is asangha, unattached like the space, which is the resting place of the wind that is not attached to any of the odours, pleasant or unpleasant, the wind carries.  Further as space sustains the wind, He also supports the Universe. So He is the sthithi karanam.  As the night falls at the end of one day time of Brahmaji,, which is equal to one chathur yuga and called kalpa, the entire created world dissolves into unmanifested condition in His Prakrithi, Maya, and is thrown again into manifest condition as new creation when night, of another kalpa duration, ends and a new day dawns in Brahmaji’s life.  This process of creation and dissolution goes on eternally in a cyclic process. So He is also srishti, laya karanam.  Putting together this and the previous space and wind analogy, we can say He is the srishti, sthithi, laya karanam of the entire universe. Though we say He is the karanam of creation and dissolution of the universe, He has no karthruthvam or bhokthruthvam and is only a witness to this cyclic process. It is His inseparable power Maya that keeps the cycle of srishti and laya going in His presence.  So He is not a kartha or a bhoktha but a sakshi only.

It is the ignorance of Nirguna Brahman, the higher nature of Brahman as Para prakriti, who is beyond time and space and attributeless, that is the cause of samsara, Lord Krishna points out in verse 11.  Not knowing His higher nature, Para prakrithi, people know of Him only through His lower nature, apara prakrithi, as Saguna Brahman only, with form and attributes. Apara prakrithi is subject to time and space and so cannot give eternal release from bondage and so these people cannot escape from samsara.  Then he talks of two sets of these people.  One set of people driven by their dominant rajasic and tamasic tendencies are possessed of the delusive nature of Rakshasas and Asuras, with wrong knowledge, vain desires and vain hopes and act without viveka.  Kathopanishad describes such people as “Living in the midst of ignorance and considering themselves intelligent and enlightened, the senseless people go round and round following crooked courses, just like the blind led by the blind”. (1-2-5)

The other set of people who are of satvic nature worship Him with a single-minded devotion.  Knowing He is the source of all things in creation, they see Him in all persons and objects of creation, as a knowledgeable person sees gold in all golden ornaments.  They constantly sing His glory and prostrate before The Lord with total detachment, surrendering all false identifications arising out of the ego-consciousness.  Lord calls these people with divine nature whose life is a continuous worship of Him as mahathmas.  There are yet other people with wisdom who engage in jnana yajna and offer worship in many ways knowing Him as one and as distinct.  Just as oblation is offered in fire in yajna, in jnana yajna, false knowledge and wrong knowledge is offered (destroyed), in the fire of correct knowledge.  Here Lord describes Himself as “Viswathomukham”, who has faces everywhere, as a  revealation of His Viswarupa.   To show He is everything and there is nothing apart from Him, He lists as a sample the following 36 items as Himself only in the next four verses.  They are:
kratu, the Vedic ritual; yajna, the sacrifice; svadha, offering to the departed; aushadham, herbage and food grains; mantrah, sacred chanting; ajyam, clarified butter; agni, fire; pitha, father (of the world); matha, mother (of the world); dhatha, sustainer (of the world); pithamaha, grandfather (of the world);vedhyam, the one to be known; pavithram, purifier; Omkara, the syllable Om; Rik, Sama, Yajur Vedas; gatih, supreme goal; bharta, supporter; Prabu, Lord; sakshi, witness; nivasah, abode; saranam, refuge; suhrit, well-wisher; prabhavah, origin; pralayah, dissolution; sthaanam, substratum; nidhanam, storehouse; avyayam beejam, imperishable seed; tapami, radiate heat (as the Sun); varsham, rainfall; amritha, immortality; mrityu, death, sat, being and asat, non-being.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

The path of no return and return

Gita essays 14

Lord Krishna assured Arjuna that a person who is sincerely committed to the constant practice of meditation of Lord, with single minded devotion, can reach Him easily.  Here we should remember that when Lord refers to Himself in first person singular using term ‘I” and “Me”, He is talking as Paramathma, Akshara Brahman.  He also explains to Arjuna why attaining The Lord is the most desirable goal for one. People of the world seeking permanent peace, security and happiness have either Paramathma or world, as their goal.  Those virtuous people who have Paramathma as their goal and meditate on Him sincerely with single-minded devotion praying for His Grace and Grace only, reach Him after death, totally freed from samsara and the cycle of birth and do not return to earthly existence at all.  They have attained Moksha, the ultimate goal.  On the other hand those seeking worldly goals, even if they go to heavenly lokas after death due to their punya, return to earth and the life of sorrow and samsara at the exhaustion of punya and continue to struggle.  This cycle of birth and death continues until they change their goal and seek Lord and Lord only in their earthly life and attain Him through meditation and single-minded devotion. This is true even of the virtuous people engaged in ritualistic worship and Sakama upasana as well, who go to any one of the higher lokas other than Brahma loka, after death, be it bhuvar loka, suvar loka, mahar loka, jana loka, tapo loka, or satya loka, declares Lord Krishna.  In these lokas they enjoy, no doubt, the joys and comforts of the higher lokas, free from the miseries of disease, death and old age, but it is only as long as their stock of punya allows them and get shunted back to earth to continue in the cycle of birth and death in struggle and samsara.  

Attaining Paramathma is obtaining the Ikya Jnanam through which one is unshakeably established in the firm knowledge of the identity of one’s Athma with Paramathma.  So only those who have got the Brahma Jnanam whether on earth or in the Brahma loka, are freed totally from the cycle of birth and death.  Only Paramathma who is eternal is not subject to time.  To drive home this point firmly Lord points out in verse 17 that even Brahmaji, as we shall refer to Lord Brahma to distinguish Him from Brahman, is subject to time.

 Those who know the day of Brahma, which is of a duration of one thousand chathur Yugas, and the night, which is also of one thousand chathur Yugas’ duration, they know day and night. (8-17)

One chathur yuga consists of four yugas. They are Krita yuga, Threta yuga, Dvapara yuga and Kali yuga. Together they run for 4,320,000 years.  Brahmaji’s  one full day consists of daytime of 1000 chathur yugas and night-time of 1000 chathur yugas, i.e. in total 2000 chathur yugas.  365 such days make Brahmaji’s one year. Brahmaji’s lifetime consists of one hundred such years.  So His life runs much much longer but still it is also limited.  When night falls for Brahmaji, all the lokas except Brahma loka dissolve into Maya, in what is called pralaya and manifest again when Brahmaji’s day starts which is called creation.  At the end of Brahma’s lifetime all the lokas including Brahma loka are dissolved into Maya and later spring back into manifestation as a new creation.  In the case of jivas this cycle of manifestation and unmanifestation goes on eternally until the jivas exhausting their karma totally through Athma Jnanam attain the Lord. So in verses 18 & 19 Lord Krishna states:

From the unmanifested all the manifested (worlds) emerge at the coming of the “day”; at the coming of the “night” they dissolve merging into that itself which is called the unmanifested. (8-18)

This same multitude of beings, born again and again, is dissolved, helplessly, O Arjuna, (into the unmanifested) at the coming of the "night", and comes forth at the coming of the "day"! (8-19)

Thus the worlds and beings go in a cyclic form of manifestation and unmanifestation.  When Brahmaji’s life time ends, all the worlds without exception i.e. including Brahma loka also dissolve and Akshara Brahman  is the only survivor at the end of Brahmaji’s life which is called Mahapralaya.  If we designate Maya as unmanifest then it is lower unmanifest and Paramathma, the Akshara Brahman who is beyond Maya is higher Unmanifest and the lower unmanifest  merges with the higher Unmanifest  at the time of Maha pralaya. That is why Lord Krishna states in the next verse:

But higher than this unmanifested, there exists another Unmanifested Eternal Being, who does not perish when all beings perish. (8-20)

Reaching This Unmanifested Eternal Being, who is also called Paramathma and Akshara Brahman, a Jiva is Liberated from the cycle of birth and death.  Jnani attains this Liberation as a videhamukthi involving no travel after death; nishkama upasaka travels to Brahma loka and attains Liberation there as krama mukthi and sakama upasaka and other karmis travel to other lokas only to return to earth and its pleasures, pains and sorrows.  The other lokas are the lokas between bhu loka and Brahma loka and all these intermediary lokas are referred by a general name swarga loka.  The path nishkama upasaka takes to Brahma loka after death is the path of no-return and is called Sukla ghathi and the path sakama upasaka and other virtuous people, including karmi, take to swarga loka after death is the path of return and is called Krishna gathiSukla gathi, also called bright path by the Lord, the path of no return, is guided by five devathas.  They are agni devatha, jyothir devatha; ahar devatha (devata presiding over day time); sukḷa pakṣha devatha; uttarayaṇa devathaKrishna gathi, also called dark path by the Lord, the path of return, has four devathas as guides.  They are dhumaḥ devatha (devata presiding over smoke); ratri devatha (devata presiding over night time);  kṛiṣhṇa pakṣha devatha and dakṣhiṇayana devathaThese two paths, the bright path and the dark path are also considered to be eternal.  As Lord Krishna concludes this topic, He glorifies Nishkama Saguna Brahma upasaka, calling him a Yogi.   He says Yogi knowing the limitations of various rituals, study of Vedas and charitable acts,  pursues steadfastly Nishkama Saguna Brahma upasana and attains Moksha, through krama mukthi and He also advises Arjuna to become a Yogi and attain the Supreme Lord.