Sunday, 29 July 2018

The Vedic view of God

(Based on Swami Paramarthananda’s Gurupurnima talk, 2017)

Lord Krishna classifies Bhakthas into four groups, aartha, artharthi, jijnasu and jnani in Gita (7-16). Of these aartha bhaktha is one who turns to the Lord only when he is in stress and distress.  He is not interested in knowing about the nature of God; any God, any mode of worship will do and if this doesn’t yield results, there is always another God or a different mode of worship or both to turn to.  Artharthi bhaktha is a steady bhaktha whose prayers and worship are mostly for success in material and worldly pursuits. Some of the arthathi bhakthas become disenchanted with wealth and worldly success and turn to spirituality and start enquiring about the nature of God.  They have the basic idea of God as one residing up in the heaven, far away from the universe, is omnipotent, omniscient, compassionate and is the srishti, sthithi laya karanam for the universe.  He now turns a jijnasu bhaktha, who is not praying for worldly wealth but for spiritual knowledge. When his quest for knowledge takes him to a Guru who comes in Vedic tradition, Vaidhika parampara, he learns that knowledge of God can be gained only by the study of scriptures like Gita, Upanishads and Brahma sutras under the guidance of a Guru.  As a teevra Jijnasu bhaktha, he starts the study of Gita and upanishads sincerely under the Guru. When exposed to the scriptural teaching the jijnasu bhaktha learns about the Vedic view of God. With the new knowledge gained his view of the world changes initially and later the view of self as well undergoes a change as he blossoms into a Jnani bhaktha.

Isavasya Upanishad in its opening mantra states “Isavasyam idagam sarvam yatkincha jagatyam jagat “ meaning “All this whatsoever moves on the earth (and those that moves not)  should be covered by Iswara.”  Iswara is Supreme Brahman that is God, is the Creator of this Jagat, the constantly changing universe. So He has karanam status in respect of this Jagat and the universe is the karyam.  Karanam pervades the karyam and karyam is only karanam plus nama, rupa, i.e. name and form and nama, rupa have no substance.  So the real nature of the universe is only Iswara.  Purusha Suktham states “Purusa evedagam sarvam yadbhutam yacca bhavyam” meaning “All that is past, present and future is His manifestation”.  Further the sthuthi Vishnu sahasranamam starts the thousand names with ‘Viswam’ and ‘Viswam’ means ‘the universe’.  So whatever one sees as objects of the universe are all manifestations of Iswara only, in the vision of the Veda. So one need not go in for any mystic experience to have Iswara Darsanam but only have the attitudinal change training oneself to look at all things one encounters with Iswara bhavana discarding the prapancha bhavana. This Iswara dhrishti, vision of Iswara, is what is indicated in the Isavasya Upanishad mantra quoted earlier by the term ’covered with Iswara’.  Lord Krishna as Iswara also declares in Gita (6-30); “He who sees Me everywhere (and in everything) and sees everything (everywhere) in Me, he never becomes separated from Me, nor do I become separated from him".
The artharthi bhakthas’ idea of triangular format; Self, world and Iswara undergoes now a change to binary format; Self and Iswara only, world merging in Iswara. This change in view involves other changes as well as indicated in the latter part of the Isavasya mantra quoted which runs as “Tena tyaktena bhunjitha ma grdhah kasyasviddhanam” meaning “Enjoy that through renunciation.  Do not covet (anybody’s wealth), for whose is wealth?)”.  Tena tyakthena means with a sense of detachment.  When one enjoys the world with Iswara Dhrishti only, one enjoys the world treating whatever one partakes of the world as a blessing of Iswara and with a sense of gratitude to Iswara. As everything is of Iswara only, one doesn’t entertain any sense of possession with regard to persons and things.  In short one functions in this world without getting attached to objects or persons.  As a corollary one does not have a desire for other’s possessions as well, whatever that may be. Dhanam stands for all possessions.  The person may be involved in worldly karmas but then his attitude will be one of detachment and inner renunciation.
Seeing the world as manifestation of Iswara, leads one to Viswarupa Iswara bhakthi as seen in Dhyanaslokam of  Vishnusahasranamam which runs as:
bhuh padau yasya nabhir-viyada-suranila-candra suryau cha netre
karna-vasah siro-dyauh mukhamapi dahano yasya vasteyam abdhihi
antas-stham yasya visvam sura-nara-khaga-go-bhogi-gandharva-daityaih
chitram ramramyate tam tribhuvana-vapusham vishnum isam namami.
[I bow to Lord Vishnu who has the three worlds as His body. The earth is His feet, and the sky His navel.  Wind is His breath, and the sun and the moon are His eyes. Directions are His ears, and the Heaven is His head. Fire is His face and ocean His abdomen. In Him is situated the universe with diverse kinds of Gods, men, birds, cattle, serpents, gandharvas and daityas (demons), all sporting in a charming way.]
Appreciation of Iswara as totality and everything else as belonging to Iswara leads to renunciation of mamakara, the idea that I am the owner of certain things with the new-born understanding that everything belongs to Iswara and I am only the current user of what I regard as my possessions. I am only the present lease-holder using the possessions for a temporary period.   One’s view of ownership is replaced by usership and idea of controllership changes to contributorship.

Next change comes when one absorbs Lord Krishna’s words in Gita (7-5&6):
bhumirapo analo vayuḥ kam mano buddhir eva cha
ahankara itiyaṁ me bhinna prakṛitir aṣhṭadha
(Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intellect and egoism thus is My nature divided eightfold.)
apareyam itas tvanyam prakṛitim viddhi me param)
jiva-bhutam mahabaho yayedam dharyate jagat
(This is the inferior prakriti(nature), O Arjuna; know thou as different from it My higher prakriti, the very life-element, by which this world is upheld.)
Iswara has two fold nature, Para prakrithi, the higher nature, and apara prakrithi, the lower nature. The pancha bhuthas; earth, water, fire, air, ether, and mind, intellect, ego in short the world that is matter including one’s sthula, sukshma sareera, constitutes apara prakriithiPara Prakrithi is the Chaitanyam or pure Consciousness that makes the matter sentient by its blessing.  Iswara is Para prakrithi plus apara prakrithi i.e. Brahman plus maya.  Vedas through Mahavakhya teach one that the Para prakṛthi, the higher nature of Iswara, called Brahman, the Consciousness, is present in all beings in the form of  'I', the very Self, the witness-experiencer of everything.
Thus, the vedic view is: The whole material universe, including the body and mind, is apara prakṛti, the maya part of Iswara; and 'I', the Consciousness principle, which is not an object of experience, that 'I', the sakṣi chaitanyam is, Para prakṛti.  Para prakrithi plus apara prakrithi is Iswara, the God.  And whatever one experiences, is the lower nature of Iswara; material, changing and mortal.  Whereas, 'I', the experiencer, is the higher nature of Iswara, sentient, unchanging and eternal.  In other words  ‘I' am Brahman, the Para prakṛti;  what I experience is maya, the apara prakṛti.  Both the 'experiencer' and 'experienced'  put together is the 'total' Iswara, God.  In brief, the experiencer 'I' is sentient Consciousness Iswara, the experienced world is insentient matter Iswara and as everything is Iswara you can put it any way; Sarvam Vishnumayam Jagat or Sarvam Sivamayam Jagat, Sarvam Devimayam Jagat etc.  Swami Dayananda saraswathy puts it as:  ‘இருப்பதெல்லாம் இறைவனே (Iruppadellam Iraivane)’  meaning ‘whatever is, is only Iswara’  

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Two types of Bhakthi

(Based on Swami Paramarthananda’s Sivarathri talk, 2018)

Bhakthi comes from the root Bhaj, which means to serve with attachment, here the attachment is to God, whom we shall refer to as Iswara. Those who follow the path of bhakthi are called bhakthasBhakthas have reverential love for Iswara. Even though Iswara as Supreme Brahman is formless and non-dual, scriptures provide for worship, representative forms as deities such as Siva, Vishnu, Devi etc. A bhaktha displays devotion to a chosen deity called his Ishta Devata and his reverential attitude and various acts of worship of Ishta Devata are also called bhakthi. Bhaktha believes that his Ishta Devata is the Supreme God and is omnipotent, omniscient, all compassionate and Jagat Karanam.  Swami Tejomayananda has made the following classification of bhakthas in his facebook remark:
1.     Those who pray to God for material gains, looking upon Him as a wish-fulfiller
2.     Those who pray to God for material gains, looking upon Him as well-wisher
3.     Those who pray to god for spiritual gains, purification of mind, good qualities etc. i.e. in short for Moksha,
4.     Those who pray for the sheer joy of praying, seeking nothing
Type 1 and 2 are called sakama bhakthas and their bhakthi for material gains is called sakama bhakthi, as opposed to type 3 and 4 where the motive for bhakthi is Moksha or pure love of Iswara that is called nishkama bhakthi.  These are the two types of bhakthi .

Sakama bhakthas have the false notion that Iswara in the form of their Ishta Devatha being omnipotent and compassionate will respond to their prayers positively and help them get their wants fulfilled and also get rid of their unwanted things. This arises from a limited study of scriptures and from stories they hear from pauranikas and others. Swami Paramarthananda calls this type of bhakthi as apply-supply bhakthi, because of their belief that they need only apply and Iswara will supply.  This sort of understanding is not correct as scriptures do not talk of sakama bhakthi but only talk of sakama karmasahita bhakthi which means that relevant karma or actions as prescribed by scriptures, must accompany their bhakthi.  Even then they should bear in mind that Iswara being karma phala dhata grants only in conformity with the laws of karma which takes into account all karmas, past and present.   If one does not have this understanding then one is likely to get emotionally upset when his prayers and worship do not yield the desired fruits. This may make one do deity-hopping or doubt the scriptures and in the extreme cases turn a nasthika. Further in sakama bhakthi, scriptures prescribe elaborate regulations as to the nature of worship depending on the deity chosen for worship, the detailed procedure to follow in rituals down to the minute detail of naivedyam to be offered, that one has to follow to achieve his desires. Even then getting the desired results is subject to limitations discussed earlier and so the uncertainty about the results; may get, may not get or partially get, is always there.  In sakama bhakthi worship is offered in many cases out of fear rather than out of love and so they are emotionally disturbed and lose peace of mind when their expectations are not fulfilled.

Nishkama bhakthi does not suffer from these drawbacks. Love is the motive and there is no element of fear and as no material gains are sought there are no expectations and so there is no tension and no disappointment.  Nishkama bhakthi helps the bhakthas to gain a strong mind free from emotional disturbances both from inside and outside, assure the scriptures.  Further no rigid procedure is prescribed as can be seen from Lord Krishna’s words in Gita (9-26); “Whoever offers Me with love a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or water, I accept that (gift) of the pure-hearted person which has been devotionally presented.”   Lord Krishna also says in Gita (2-40):” In this path of (disinterested action) there is no loss of effort nor is there fear of contrary result, even a little practice of this discipline protects one from great fear.”   In Nishkama bhakthi the baktha offers worship and prays for a strong mind that can accept choiceless situations without resistance and can stand the strain of adverse situations caused by prarabhdha karma. Yogabhyasa involving karmayoga, upasana yoga and jnana yoga is also a form of nishkama bhakthi that helps to purify the mind and keep it strong.  Keeping the mind pure and strong is important as mind alone is responsible for bondage as well as liberation.

Most of the bhakthas start as sakama bhakthas.  Swami Paramarthananda says that in view of its drawbacks scriptures strongly recommend to all spiritual seekers who are sakama bhakthas that they adopt nishkama bhakthi, gradually giving up sakama bhakthi.  Initially a sakama bhaktha can practice nishkma bhakthi along with sakama bhakthi,  as sakama pradhana bhakthi.  As a first step in this process a sakama bhaktha can change to sakama pradhana bhakthi by adding a strong mind to his list of demands in prayers and changing his perception of Iswara from apply-supply dhata to karma phala dhatha.  The strong mind he prays for must be one that can accept willingly whatever comes his way in answer to his prayers, be it favourable, unfavourable or mixed, depending upon his prarabhdha and present karma.  He should also take to scriptural study (at least Gita) under the guidance of a competent acharya for a length of time in a systematic manner. This prayer and scriptural study will add maturity to his bhakthi, increasing his love for Iswara, reducing the fear and changing his apply-supply perception of Iswara. Gradually his bhathi also will change from sakama pradhana to nishkama pradhana.  This nishkama pradhana bhakthi when supported by scriptural study and Yogabhyasa, starting from karma yoga, will help one to grow to be a jijnasu bhaktha when the change to nishkama bhakthi is complete.  As jijnasu bhaktha, one is well on the way to Liberation, pursuing with sustained sadhanas his quest to gain Athma Jnanam.

Friday, 20 July 2018

Manisha Panchakam

Manisha’ means conviction and ‘Panchakam’ means a collection of five.  Manisha Panchakam is a work of five verses by Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada, whom we shall refer to as Sri Sankara, in which all the five verses end with the phrase ”Manisha mama” meaning ‘My conviction”.  This work that gives out concisely the essence of Advaita Vedanta, starts with two preliminary verses that contain the question, the response to which are these five verses.  The incident that gave rise to this work is stated thus in “Sankara Vijayam”, Vidyaranya’s biography of Sri Sankara.  One day during his stay in Kasi, Sri Sankara was going to the temple with his disciples after the morning bath in the river Ganges. On the way to the temple in a narrow lane they encountered a sweeper with his wife, the sweeper holding dogs on leash. The hunter and his wife were coming from the opposite direction towards them.  One of the disciples told the hunter harshly to go away as he feared the contact with the hunter, an outcaste, will pollute them, so strong was their belief in untouchability. The hunter did not move away but posed a question in two verses. The hunter’s question and Sri Sankara’s reply forms the work ‘Manisha Panchakam’. The hunter was no other than Lord Siva and the encounter was apparently a ploy staged to expose and explain the incompatibility of the practice of untouchability with the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, to the disciples and others.

Swami Chinmayananda describes the incident of the outcast questioning Sri Sankara as “The Divine Sweeper tickles the Super-Acharya with piercing satire”.  In the first verse the hunter asks as follows:  “O great Brahmin, When you say “Go, Go (Gachcha, Gachcha)”, what do you want to move away, one body from another body or one Consciousness from another Consciousness?”   For if the reference is to body, body being matter and impure in all cases, there can be no difference between one body and another in the matter of purity and so there is no need to move away.   If the reference is to Consciousness, it is not possible as one and the same Consciousness is permeating all bodies and so one cannot move away from another.  In the second verse the hunter quotes the examples of sun and space to illustrate that Consciousness cannot be polluted by the impurities of the matter.  He points out that there is no difference between the reflection of sun in the pure waters of Ganges and its reflection in the putrid water of the gutter in the slum inhabited by outcasts and also that the space in mud pot is no different from the space in a golden pot.  In the same way in the Chaitanyam that is the Real Self of all individuals and is of Satchithananda svarupam, there is no differentiation as brahmana Chaitanyam or chandala Chaitanyam. 

Sri Sankara replies to hunter’s question in five verses, that forms the work “Manisha Pachakam”.  In the first of the verses which is illustrative of the Mahavakhya Prajnanam Brahma” meaning ‘Consciousness is Brahman” that occurs in Aitareya Upanishad of Rig Veda, Sri Sankara states:  “If a person has attained the firm knowledge that he is not an object of perception, but is that pure Consciousness which shines clearly in the states of waking, dream and deep sleep, and which, as the witness of the whole universe, dwells in all bodies from that of the creator Brahma to that of the ant, then he is my Guru, irrespective of whether he is an outcaste or a brahmana. This is my conviction.”

All human beings undergo the three states of waking, dream and deep sleep. Consciousness is present in all the three states illumining them.  Waking state experience, dream experience and the remembrance on waking, of knowing nothing in deep sleep, are all made possible by the Consciousness only.  Consciousness with the subtle body constitutes the life force which is present in all living things from creator Brahma to creatures like ant. Consciousness is ever the subject and never the object.  This Consciousness is the ultimate Reality, Brahman.   Sri Sankara states that one who has realized that one’s true Self is this Consciousness that is Brahman and not the body-mind complex is an enlightened Jnani and that he will revere this Jnani as his Guru irrespective of that person’s caste and creed. 

In the second verse illustrating another MahavakhyaAham Brahmasmi”  meaning ‘I am Brahman” occurring in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad of Yajur Veda, Sri Sankara says:  “He who has attained the firm Jnanam ‘I am Pure Consciouness (Brahman) and this entire universe is only an expansion of  the Pure Consciouness which is bliss itself, eternal, supreme and pure and all this is only something conjured up by me because of avidya (Maya) which is composed of the three gunas (satvam, rajas and tamas)’  is my Guru, irrespective of whether he is an outcaste or a brahmana. This is my conviction”

In the third verse illustrating the Advaita MahavakkhyaBrahma Satyam; Jagan mithya; Jivo Brahmaiva na para.” meaning ‘Brahman only is Satyam, World is only apparently real (mithya) and Jiva is Brahman only, not different’ Sri Sankara states: “He who has come to the definite conclusion, under the instruction of his Guru, that the entire universe is always perishable and only Brahman is eternal, and has burnt the past and future karmas in the fire of knowledge through constant meditation on Brahman with a calm and pure mind and has submitted the present body to the operation of prarabdha karma (is my Guru, irrespective of whether he is an outcaste or a brahmana).   This is my conviction.

Sri Sankara is talking here of a jivan muktha, awaiting videha mukthi.  On his attaining Athma Jnanam, sanchita and present agami karmas were burnt away and as he has no karthruthva bhava, he does not incur agami karma in future.  Only the prarabhdha karma remains and on its exhaustion he attains videha mukthi.  Swami Paramarthananda states that this verse is indicative of the MahavakhyaTat Tvam Asi” meaning ‘That thou art” occurring in Chandogya Upanishad of Sama Veda, as Guru’s instruction is through revealing to student that he is that Brahman, the eternal only and not the perishable body-mind complex.

Sri Sankara states in the fourth verse, which illustrates the Mahavakhya “Ayam Athma Brahma” meaning ‘This Athma is Brahman’ that occurs in Mandukya Upanishad of Atharvana Veda: “The pure Consciousness that is experienced clearly within by animals, men, and Devas as ‘I’, and by whose light the mind, senses and body, which are all insentient, appear to be sentient is also clearly evident within me as the witness, in and through every experience. The illuminator, pure Consciousness, is concealed by the illumined organs, mind, senses and body, just as the sun is covered ‘as though’ by the illumined clouds.  The yogi who, with a calm mind, always meditates on this Consciousness and is ever-contended is my Guru, (irrespective of whether he is an outcaste or a brahmana).   This is my conviction.

Pure consciousness is that which enlivens the mind, sense, etc., which are insentient, and making the animals, men and Devas sentient, enabling them to function. They all experience it as ‘I’. Though that Consciousness is evident in all, in and through every experience as witness of presence or absence of thoughts, it is not recognised because it is obscured by the pancha kosas. When the sun is covered ‘as though’ by the clouds, the solar disc is not visible but the objects illuminated by sunlight can still be seen by us.  Similarly even though the illuminator, pure Consciousness, is apparently concealed by the illumined organs, all the worldly experiences take place with the blessings of pure Consciousness.

The fifth verse of Sri Sankara reads as the Mahavakhya phala sthuthi and it states:  “The Self, which is Brahman, is the eternal ocean of supreme bliss.  Even the Gods like Indra enjoy only a small fraction of this Brahmananda (as Bimbananda).  By meditating on the Self with a perfectly calm mind the sage experiences fulfiiment (immersed in this bliss).  Such a sage who is immersed in Brahmananda is no longer a Brahma Jnani but Brahman Himself.  Such a person, whoever he may be, is one whose feet are fit to be worshipped by Indra himself.  This is my definite conviction.”

The Upanishads say that the happiness experienced by all living beings, including the Devas, is only a minute fraction of the supreme, infinite bliss of Brahman (Brihadaranyaka, 4.3.32, Taittiriya, 2.8).   Knowing that one’s real Self is Brahman only and not the body-mind complex is called knowing Brahman. Knowing Brahman one becomes Brahman Himself, says Mundaka upanishad (3.2.9). Thus attaining the knowledge that one is not the body-mind complex but Brahman only, one becomes Brahman Himself.  In fact this is not attainment of a new state as everyone is in reality Brahman only, even when he looks upon himself as a limited human being in bondage.  Liberation is nothing but the removal of the wrong identification with the body-mind complex by the realization of one’s real nature as the infinite, eternal Brahman.  When a rope is mistaken for a snake in dim light and on examination with a light it is found out that it is only a rope, no one would say that there was a snake previously and that it had gone away. Similar is the case, when a person realizes that his true Self is not the body-mind complex, but Brahman only, and his ignorance only is removed as a result of sravanam, mananam, and nididhysanam..

Thus comes to an end a powerful message from Sri Sankara that exposes the incompatibility of the practice of untouchability with the Hindu philosophy. But unfortunately it is a matter of regret that in spite of such powerful messages from Sri Sankara and others like Swami Vivekananda, this blot on Hinduism is still practised in pockets even today and is not totally eradicated.

Monday, 9 July 2018


Sri Aadhi Sankaracharya’s question to Hasthmalaka in their first meeting, enquiring about his name and details forms first verse of Hasthamalakeeyam. In his reply the boy who had been keeping silence until then states first what he is not and then goes on to describe the Real status of the Athma that he is, in twelve verses.  In his question Sri Aadhi Sankaracharya, hereafter referred to as Acharya, stated “I am happy to meet you.  Please tell me who you are and your name and also wherefrom you are coming and where to you are going?”   The boy in the first verse of his reply stated that he is not a  human being  nor a deva nor a yaksha and none of the classifications made in respect of human beings like caste labels or ashram labels apply to him and he is of the form of innate knowledge meaning pure Consciousness (nija bodha  rupa).  This pure consciousness, the Athma in all, is elaborated in verses 3 to 14.  The refrain of all these twelve verses is: I am the Athma which is the eternal consciousness (nityopalabdhisvarupo’ ham atma.), while the content of these verses contain  the description of Athma as the elaboration of “Thou” in the MahavakhyaThou art That” (Tat Tvam asi).  We shall now see the description of Athma, one’s true Self, as given in these verses.

Athma like the sun which inspires all the activities in the world, inspires all activities of the body, internal and external, i.e. of the mind, intellect and all other sense organs. Though it is intimately associated with every organ of the body it is free from any links to the organs.  It is free of the limiting adjuncts of the body; gross,subtle and causal and it is boundless like space.  But unlike space, which is insentient, created, an object of knowledge, Athma is not an object of knowledge and it is sentient and uncreated.  Athma is drik while space is drisyam (verse 3).  Consciousness is the very nature of Athma and not its property like heat which is the very nature of Agni.  There is no cold Agni.  Mind and other sense organs like eye are insentient by themselves and derive their sentiency from Athma only, like the hot water getting its heat through association with Agni. (verse 4).

The face seen in the mirror is only a reflection.  It has no independent existence.  It has only dependant existence i.e. mithya.  Similarly Jiva is only a reflection of Athma i.e. Chitanyam, in the mind.  This reflection called Chidabasa along with subtle body is called Jiva and Jiva has no independent existence and is mithya.  While Athma is non-dual and one only, Jivas are many.  The plurality of Jivas is only an appearance whose timeless truth is the non-dual Athma (verse 5).  The empirical plurality of the Jivas is due to the superimposition, on the non-dual Athma, of the manifoldness of the modes, in which this Athma is reflected.  When the mirror is removed the reflection only vanishes but not the original face which is in intact.  Reflection while reflecting the original, suffers from the defects and deficiencies of the medium of reflection, while the original is not affected by the flaws in the medium.  So while Jiva is samsari, karta and bhoktha, Athma is asangha, unaffected and pure. (verse 6)  Athma can be called the mind of the mind, the eye of the eye etc, as mind and all the sense organs derive their respective power from Athma only through its reflection, chidabasa while Athma stands aloof from them, beyond their powers of perception.(verse7). 

Like the shining sun which is one only but appears many through its reflections in numerous vessels, the self-luminous, pure Athma appears many, reflected in various anthakaranams (verse 8)  Like the sun blessing all eyes with vision simultaneously, the ever-shining Athma blesses all the minds simultaneously with sentiency.  Blessing the mind with sentiency is not an event in time, involving order and Athma is self-manifested, ever-luminous and Pure intelligence. (verse 9)  The sun illuminates objects and makes them fit to be cognized but the sun gets illumined by the Athma and the sun cannot do the illumination of the objects without the blessings of Athma.  In other words, exactly like the sense organs the sun, too, derives its characteristic energies and capacities from the sole self-manifested source of all light and power namely Athma, called light of all lights (Jyothishamapi Jyothihi) in Gita.  As the Athma is the mind of the mind, eye of the eye etc., it is also the sun of the sun as well. (verse 10) As the one sun reflected in different ponds appears to be many and affected by the agitations in the water, so the one infinite Athma appears many and affected by the disturbances in the various upadhis. (verse 11)

 An observer whose eye-sight is obstructed by clouds is apt to imagine that the sun is engulfed by the clouds. Similarly ignorance clouds one intellect only and not Athma. Athma is ever experienced Consciousness and so Athma Jnanam and Athma ajjnanam refer only to jnanam and ajjnanam in the intellect and not in the Athma.  Athma appears to be bound due to ignorance.(verse12)  Athma is like the space associated with all and polluted by none.  The transcendence of the boundless Athma is to be seen together with its immanence in all phenomena.  On it, but without, in the least, affecting its wholeness and purity, are strung the phenomena constituting the cosmos (verse 13). 

In the concluding verse 14, the boy explains with the example of crystals and moonlight the fallacy in Acharya’s question “Who are you” as both of them are one only as non-dual Athma, with different upadhis. Just as the pure crystal appears endowed with different colours when associated with different flowers the Jivas having different upadhis also appear different though essentially they are one only, the eternal infinite Athma. Just as the reflected moon appears to move and flutter in running waters,  Acharya appears to be different from the boy in that he is wandering and the boy is not.  The psycho-physical organisms are multiple and varied in form and posture and Athma in empirical association with them appears to imbibe their forms and movements.  Thus the boy points out to Acharya that both of them are the same transcendental non-dual Athma in spite of all their differences, external and internal. Sri Adi Sankaracharya was so much impressed with this boy Jivanmuktha that he gave him the name Hasthamalaka and took him into his entourage. He also wrote a commentary for Hathamalaka’s words, Hasthamalakeeyam and nominated him later as the first Jagatguru of newly established Dwaraka Math.

Friday, 6 July 2018


During his travels in south India Sri Aadhi Sankaracharya, whom we shall refer to as Acharya Sankara, visited a village called Sri Bali (now called Shivalli) near Gokarn in Karnataka.  In that village lived a wealthy Brahmin called Prabhakara. His only son was quite handsome in appearance but behaved like an idiot. He was aged thirteen but he did not talk to anyone, study anything or play with anybody and did not get even angry, when teased or hurt by others.   Prabhakara performed the boy’s Upanayanam with great difficulty with the fond hope that this will at least bring about a change in the boy’s behaviour and attitude but that effort also failed as he continued as before only.  He did not take to studying the Vedas as expected but continued to sit idle doing nothing as before.  When Prabhakara learnt about  Acharya Sankara’s visit, he went to see Acharya Sankara  along with his son.  Prostrating before Acharya, Prabhakara also made his son prostrate before him and narrated his problem, explaining that his son sat idly all through the day without reacting to anything.  He prayed to Acharya Sankara that he bless his son and restore him to normalcy.  Acharya Sankara looked at the boy straight in the eye and asked the boy ”Child, who are you? What is your name?”  Prabhakara was surprised to see his son, who had been remaining silent upto now all his life, stare back straight at Acharya Sankara and pour out in reply twelve verses in chaste Sanskrit expounding the nature of his true self as eternal infinite consciousness.  As the essence of Advaita Vedanta had been lucidly explained by the boy in these twelve verses making it as clear as a gooseberry in one’s palm, Acharya Sankara called the boy Hastamalaka; amalaka meaning gooseberry.  Acharya Sankara also wanted to give the boy sanyasa and take him as his disciple as he was not suited for the life of a householder and would fit in better as an ascetic in his entourage.  Prabhakara willingly consented and Hasthamalaka joined Acharya’s entourage as a sanyasi.  The twelve verses of his reply was known as Hasthamalakeeyam and had the distinction of being commented upon by Acharya Sankara himself.

Hasthamalaka left with Acharya Sankara, accompanying him on his travels.  He later became one of the four chief disciples of Sri Sankaracharya, the other three  being  Suresvaracharya,  Padmapadacharya and Totakacharya.  Later when  Acharya Sankara established four Mutts in four corners of India i.e. at Joshimath near Badrinath in northern India, Sringeri in southern India,  at Puri in eastern India and at Dwarka in western India, he placed  Hasthamalaka now called Hasthamalakacharya in  charge of Kalika Mutt at Dwaraka.

But unlike  Suresvaracharya and Padmapadacharya,  Hastamalakacharya did not take to writing any Advaitic works or commentaries on other Advaitic works and he is revered more for himself only.  In fact even earlier when he attended the classes held by the Acharya Sankara, it was more to verify his own experience than to gain proficiency in dialectics. It was suggested to the Acharya Sankara that, by reason of his realisation of the Self, Hastamalaka was pre-eminently competent to write a commentary on the Sutra Bhashya and should do so.  Acharya Sankara negated the suggestion by pointing out that Hastamalaka’s plane of consciousness is different from rest and it always dwelt on the Higher Divine Self and he would not bring himself down to the mundane level to write books. Seeing Acharya Sankara placing him on a higher level than those engaged in dialectics, the other disciples were curious to know how one who was not known to have devoted any attention to learning the sastras could have attained the supreme realisation. Acharya Sankara explained to them Hasthamalaka’s background.  On the bank of the Jamuna, a great sage was seated in contemplation when some brahmin girls came there to bathe. One of them had an year-old baby which she was carrying on hand.  She placed the baby by the side of the sage and requested him to have an eye on the baby till she returned from bath and went to the river. The sage who was in a state of samadhi at that time saw nothing, heard nothing.  The unattended toddler slowly crawled, entered the river and was drowned. The mother coming out of the bath was aghast. She took out the dead body of the child, placed it before the sage and wept bitterly.   The sage, who had been in samadhi and quite oblivious to the happenings around him, was moved to pity for the grieving mother when he came out of his samadhi. Using his yogic powers, he left his saintly body and entered the body of the child. The dead child came to life, to the delight of its mother. That child is Hastamalaka, Acharya Sankara explained to reveal  how Hasthamalaka came to have such a complete, comprehensive knowledge without any apparent instruction. The set of twelve verses in which Hasthamalakacharya gave his reply to Acharya Sankara’s initial question in their first meeting and is known as Hasthamalakeeyam, we shall see another time.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Three important questions

(adapted from Sri OmSwami’s article in Tattvaloka)

Once a king wanted to know
1)    The most important person
2)    The most important time
3)    The most important karma
He posed it as three questions to his ministers and other courtiers.  He got varied answers like King, God etc., for most important person; death, birth etc. for most important time and charity, serving one’s religion etc., for most important karma.  King was not satisfied with the answers he got.  Then his chief minister suggested that the king take his questions to the sage who lived in solitude in a cave on the top of a nearby mountain.  The king agreed with the idea and went to see the sage. After a few hours of steep climb, he came to the mouth of the cave. He left his sword and costume outside and went in a simple dress and prostrated before the sage.  The sage asked the king for the purpose of his visit. The king told the sage about his quest and posed the three questions.  The sage took him to a cliff of the mountain overlooking the kingdom and left him there to contemplate in silence on the questions and retired to the cave. As the king was surveying his kingdom in silent solitude soaking in the serene atmosphere from the cliff-top, he heard a voice behind commanding him to turn back. Startled the king turned back and found himself looking at his sword pointed at him by the sage standing a few feet away. Taken by surprise the king stood in silence staring at the sword when the sage broke the silence and asked him whether he knew now, who is the most important person, what is the most important time and what is the most important karma.  As the king looked back into the eyes of the sage, a calm feeling swept over his entire being and he bowed in reverence signifying affirmation.  The sage handed back king’s sword and the king bowing once again in gratitude left the place and went back to the palace.

His chief minister who was waiting for him there asked him whether he got the answers and the king said “Yes” with a smile. The chief minister was eager to know them as well. The king said that he got the answers from the sage not directly but indirectly and started explaining them, after telling him what took place at the mountain top. When the king was surveying silently his kingdom he realised that he was a king because of the subjects, and the most important karma for him was to love and care for them. When he was staring at the sword held by the sage and was feeling he was a few moments away from death, he realised that the most important time was “Now”, the present moment. When the sage was speaking he realised that the most important person is the person who is with him at the moment.

After narrating the story, Sri Om Swami comments that if one could remember these answers all the time one’s life would undergo a change for the better and explains these answers in detail in a general context.  The important time in life at any stage in life is “Now”, the present moment because that is the only time one can act in.  That is the time one will ever have because past is gone and does not matter and future is not yet born and has no influence.  Giving attention to the present moment is the principle of mindfulness.  To be mindful all the time is the key to success in any action. So one should make “Now” the primary focus of one’s life.

The person one is with, “Now” is the most important person for the one at that time. One gives sole attention to that person, making the other person feel important, boosting the person’s self-esteem. The other person feels cared, feels respected and this makes for positive relations and positive feelings all around. When adopted in respect of members of one’s family, it promotes harmony in the family.

To bestow love and care is the most important karma.  It is the most worthwhile thing one can do not only with others but also with oneself as well.  When one is with someone else one should show one’s love and care through undivided attention. When one is alone with oneself one should not waste one’s thoughts and energy in nourishing the anxieties for the future nor keep nursing the grievances of the past. One should not give room to negative thoughts at any time.

All these; treating the present as the most important time, holding the person one is with as the most important person and having love and caring attitude to one and all, could be cultivated and sustained only if one keeps one’s mind calm and peaceful all the time, which is the case when contentment rules the mind.  When one is contented, one feels calm and peaceful, love and compassion overflows, struggle, anxiety and agitation disappears and one radiates happiness.  This gives room to acceptance of life’s situations, good or bad, beneficial or adverse without judging them or others, when one combines it with a prayerful attitude which, in short, is called the attitude of a karma yogi.   Eckhart Tolle author of “The Power of NOW” states “The moment that judgement stops through acceptance of what it is, you are free of the mind. You have made room for love, for joy, for peace.”