Monday, 31 December 2018

Purity in Life

(adapted from a lecture of Swami Paramarthananda)

Purity is referred to as soucham or Suddhi in Sanskrit. Purity, internal and external, is emphasised in our scriptures. For instance in Ashtanga yogasoucham is emphasized as one of the five disciplines of Niyama. along with santosha, svadyaya, tapas and Isvara pranidhanam.  Also it is mentioned in Bhagavad Gita as a DaiviSampath in Chapter 16 and also as a requirement for Jnanam in Chapter 13. All Vedic rituals start with aachamaneeyam, which is meant for internal purification. So Purity has been part of Vedic culture and is elaborately discussed at five different levels in our scriptures.  They are, in the increasing order of subtlety: 1) Desa suddhi, 2) Anna suddhi, 3) Deha suddhi, 4) Vak suddhi and 5) Manas suddhi.  

Desa suddhi:  Here the word ‘Desa’ refers to the place one lives i. When one keeps the environs and the house clean, the country also will be clean.  Today in India we have sadly fallen in this regard and the “Swatcch Bharat” campaign started by the Prime Minister Mr. Modi is an earnest step to restore it to its ancient glory in this regard.

Anna suddhi:  Chandogya Upanishad points out that the food we eat has three layers; sthula amsa, madhyama amsa and sukshuma amsa. Sthula amsa caters to taste that is purged as waste; madhyama amsa caters  to physical nourishment and the sukshma amsa caters to our sukshma sareera and thereby to our mind, our personality and character.  So we should take the food that contributes to our mental health as well by helping to build up a satvic personality that aids spiritual progress.  Scriptures not only mention about the type of food but also about the one who cooks the food and also one who serves, the source of food, from where it comes, and says all of them contribute to the sukshma amsa of the food one takes.  Since all these things cannot be controlled always, one should offer the food to the Lord physically or mentally before eating to purify it.  Further for Anna suddi one is advised to use cow’s ghee in one’s food.

Deha suddhi: Deha suddhi means cleanliness of the body.  This needs no elaboration as modern medical science places emphasis on personal hygiene and cleanliness.  An instance in this regard is the insistence on hand-washing before and after visiting a medical ward in the hospital.  Our sages in ancient times were carrying a kamandalu all the time for this purpose.  Taking castor oil regularly in olden days was to maintain deha suddhi by purging the toxic waste from the stomach.  Pranayama is considered as a wonderful practice for cleaning the inner physiological system of nadis.

Vak suddhi:  This is considered an important purity as words have immense influence in raising emotions, good and bad and so one should exercise control to avoid mechanical and impulsive talk and adopt quality control of words coming out of one's mouth.   Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita (17-15) gives four quality parameters in this regard which are; anudvegakaram or verbal ahimsa, satyam, priya and hitam. We shall now see these four in a little more detail. Verbal ahimsa implies that your words do not cause hurt to anybody.  Satyam is speaking truth preferring silence to hurting truth. Priya means one’s manner of communication, the tone of communication, the facial expression during communication, the body language during the communication are all soft and gentle while communicating with words. Hitam means one’s talk is beneficial to others and to oneself.  If one adopts this yardstick, one will not indulge in gossip-mongering or slander-mongering.  The Vak shuddi is considered as extremely important for one’s own well-being as well as the well-being of the surrounding.

Manas Suddhi: This is the most important of the five and the basis of the other four and the most difficult to practice.  In chapter 17 of Bhagavad Gita healthy thoughts are given under daivi sampath and unhealthy thoughts are discussed as asuri sampath.  One key field in this respect is raga-dwesha and their management is an important part of Manas suddhi.  We should here clearly understand that raga-dwesha cannot be completely eliminated and they can only be controlled.  If not controlled we will be affected by emotional disturbance when our raga-dwesha is violated in a situation, as happening of external situations is not under our control.  When we let the emotional disturbance to stay in the mind without nipping it in bud it causes stress and emotional slavery which becomes serious as one’s physical health gets affected that in turn affects adversely the mental health.  The emotional disturbance can be handled through three methods.  The first one is Viveka.  Exercise discrimination to curb emotional disturbance at the early stage remembering the harmful effects of letting it deteriorate to emotional slavery. The second is Sankalpa, resolve to nip the emotional disturbance in the bud and repeat this resolve regularly until it becomes an ingrained habit.  Third is Prathipaksha Bhavana, nurturing positive thoughts in the mind to counter the stress and to prevent mind sinking into emotional dependence especially when thoughts of anger, fear, hate and worry invade the mind, by countering with positive opposite thoughts and avoiding fast hasty reaction.  Having sincere bhakthi and replacing world-dependance with God-dependance helps to develop this prathipaksha bhavana.  To be in satsangha and have some sat purushas as models helps in the practice of prathipaksha bhavana.    This way one can keep the raga-dwesha at non-toxic levels that will give one Manas suddhi.

One lives a pure life socially and personally when one practices with diligence these five suddhis i.e. Desa Suddhi, Anna suddhi, Deha suddhi, Vak suddhi and Manas suddhi. 

Monday, 17 December 2018

Fate and Prayer

(Adapted from a lecture of Swami Paramatmananda)

We  have a saying in the scriptures:
harinapi  harenapi  brahmanapi  surairapi I
lalata  likhita  rekha  parimarshtum  nashakyate II
(Even Vishnu, Siva, Brahma and Gods cannot erase (or change) what is written on the forehead)
Tamil poet Tiruvalluvar echoes this idea in Thirukkural (38-10):
ஊழிற் பெருவலி யாவுள மற்றொன்று
சூழினும் தான் முந்துறும்
(Is there anything mightier than fate? It cannot be defeated by any means (It prevails over all efforts to conquer it))

But we have in our scriptures instances where through prayer fate has been overcome.  The classic instance is that of Markandeya who through special prayer to Lord Siva conquered death and lives even to this day as Chiranjeevi.  We have also the famous instance of Savithri outwitting Yama and securing a fresh lease of life for her husband, Sathiavan.  So we have a doubt whether fate can be changed through sincere prayer or cannot be changed through any amount of earnest prayer.  Swami Paramathmananda says that if one understand the true meaning of the term fate then one will discover the answer to the question, “Whether prayer can change the fate?” as “Yes and No” and not as “yes” only or as “No” only.  This will become clear when we understand the term ‘fate’ properly.

Fate is translated in Tamil as Vidhi (விதி), standing for the happening of events outside a person's control, regarded as the writing of Lord Brahmaji on the person’s forehead at the time of birth.  Even if this is true, Lord cannot write arbitrarily whatever he chooses to on the head of anyone for that will make him a partial Lord. In fact fate is a general term for Karmaphalam that influences the happenings in one’s life, both good and bad. Karma means action and action varies both qualitatively and quantitatively from individual to individual.  Karmaphalam means result of past actions and include the ones that which come from previous births as well known as prarabdham.  As karma varies, among individuals, karmaphalam also varies qualitatively and quantitatively. They are broadly classified into two groups; durbalaprarabdam or durbalavidhi and prabalaprarabdam or prabhalavidhiDurbalavidhi is the weaker karmaphalam based on a milder action and prabhalavidhi is the stonger karmaphalam based on powerful action.

Now we will revisit the question “Can fate be changed by prayer?”  In case of durbalavidhi we can say yes, as durbalavidhi can be weakened and altered to manageable proportions or even be eradicated by sincere prayer with devotion. But in the case of prabhalavidhi prayer will not mitigate or nullify the ordeal but gives one the mental fortitude and strength to go through with the difficulties that fate subjects one to, with mental resilience.  So in the case of prabhalavidhi the answer to the question “Can fate be changed by prayer?” is ‘No’ , a qualified No as prayer gives one the mental strength to absorb the shocks of adverse fate.

So prayers that form part of our religious tradition are useful in the case of both durbhalavidhi and prabhalavidhi.   As we cannot know whether any problem is due to durbalavidhi or prabhalavidhi, let us pray in addition as follows while praying for His Grace and help to tide over the problems presented by fate.
 “Please let me have the skill and effort to solve the problem if I can, and the strength and faith to bear with the problem cheerfully, if I cannot”