Puruṣārtha-niścaya, the beginning of the beginning

fernglasWhat is puruṣārtha-niścaya? Of the two words, niścaya has a close English equivalent: certainty, conviction, unshakable clarity. So puruṣārtha-niścaya mean ‘doubt-free clarity and unshakable certainty’ about puruṣārtha. So what is this thing one has no doubt about?

Puruṣārtha is a compound made up of two words: puruṣa and artha. Puruṣa also has a close English equivalent: ‘person’, ‘human being’ (albeit with a lot behind it that reminds us of the true scale of what is indicated by the word – see footnote at the end).

Thus, so far, we have arrived at this meaning: ‘unshakable certainty about human artha’.

Artha is the last word that needs unpacking. Normally translated as ‘wealth’ or ‘meaning’, here it should be read as ‘aim or purpose’.

Puruṣārtha is the purpose of the human life. And puruṣārtha-niścaya is total clarity about what this purpose is – about what defines human life and drives human activity. Continue reading

Īśvara (The Lord), prayer and worship 2/2

worshipSee Part 1

In the previous extract from her talks to London students, Swāminī Ātmaprakāśānanda, laid out a more liberating vision of Íśvara – liberating in the sense that it gets away from the old man in the sky image or some force-field etc. From the perspective of traditional advaita vedānta Íśvara is seen as the sum total of the universal natural law and order.

“Every natural law is Īśvara. The law ordaining grace is Īśvara. Action is Īśvara. The results of actionis Īśvara. Merit is Īśvara. Demerit is Īśvara. Pain is Īśvara. Pleasure is Īśvara. Right and wrong action is Īśvara. Punishment for the wrong action is Īśvara. Good is Īśvara. Evil is Īśvara – don’t say that evil is not God. Everything is Īśvara.”

The universal law and order is what determines the fruits of actions. You can’t see this with physical eyes, but you can understand the laws being manifest. Anything done, knowingly, unknowingly, intentionally, unintentionally – however it is done – any action has to result in a reaction, has to cause some effect.

If this be the case, what is the role of prayer or worship? With simple logic and reason Swaminiji once more breaks down resistance to these activities… Continue reading

Īśvara (the Lord), prayer and worship 1/2

http://earthstation1.simplenet.comOne of the more difficult ideas for some Western seekers to accept is God, the Lord. The usual picture is of a highly judgmental white-bearded figure, sitting in heaven, dispensing punishments and rewards. God, in this picture, is all-controlling, all-powerful and thus I am small and insignificant and a mere pawn in his game. This sort of idea of the Lord is also prevalent in the East. For the godless, prayer and worship obviously have no place, and for the theists, prayer and worship are ultimately to secure a place in heaven or worldly comforts and pleasures. In one of her talks to her London students, Swāminī Ātmaprakāśānanda put all of this into perspective so that anyone with an open mind could get a wider, more liberating vision of these important and vital matters. This part deconstructs the concept of Lord…

What is this world? The world is nothing but a world of objects – different objects, perceptible through different senses. You can reduce the whole universe into five types of objects, perceptible through the five different senses. Every object becomes as good as non-existent if it is not perceived by the appropriate sense organ.

Despite its size, the universe would be as good as non-existent if you didn’t perceive it. The universe has the status of being existent only when it is perceived by you. The Gītā says: “They say the sense powers are superior (to sense objects); the mind is superior to the sense organs; the intellect is superior to the mind. Whereas the one who is superior to the intellect is He (ātmā).” (BhG 3.42) Continue reading

Gita for day-to-day living.

BGKrishnaArjuna-1If one sets aside its key teaching of knowledge of Reality (Brahma vidya) and viewed the Gītā primarily as a manual for right living in preparation for a life committed to self-enquiry (yoga śāstra), we discover how immensely practical it is. What might seem esoteric when clothed in mystical symbolism or religious language turns out to be common sense when stripped to its essence. Below the dialogue from some distant battlefield is viewed as a form of inner dialogue that involves the aspect of oneself that is battling for self-mastery (Arjuna) and that aspect of oneself that is one’s own true nature (Kṛṣṇa). The other players in this battle are aspects of human nature that either obstruct our efforts to be happy or support them.* With this in mind… Continue reading

Are you just happy or really, truly happy?

happy sam2Ānanda is of two types): ātmā ānanda and koṣa ānanda (we will retain the word ānanda without translation because it loses its expressiveness in translation). We need to understand the difference between these two types of ānanda before entering into the enquiry.

Ātmā ānanda means fullness – the very nature of one’s own self. Every individual’s intrinsic nature (svarūpam) is ānanda. Vedānta says: you are happiness, because you are fullness. Just as heat is the intrinsic, inseparable property of fire, so too happiness or fullness is the real nature of the individual. Continue reading

Kaṭha Upaniṣad Review

The Kaṭhopaniṣad with Śaṅkarabhāṣyam
Based on Swami Paramārthānanda’s lecture
Compiled by Divyajñāna Sarojini Varadarājan

The main teaching of the Kaṭha Upaniṣad is Death’s response to the request by a young seeker, Naciketas, for Self-knowledge. Any serious student of advaita will want to know the answer as this is our own question too: using logic we may well be able to arrive at what we are not, but we still need to know clearly what we are. For this reason this book by Smt. Sarojini Varadarajan, based on Swami Paramarthananda’s traditional unfoldment of the Upaniṣad and Śaṅkara’s commentary theron, is a valuable addition to any seeker’s library.

One way of approaching this Upaniṣad is to note that Naciketas standing at Death’s door (literally) remained steady-minded enough to press his request for Self-knowledge – in spite of Death’s initial resistance to answer. And, by the end of the Upaniṣad, after Death finally gave in to the young man’s request, Naciketas ‘became pure and immortal’. Is it really possible that we can also reach the same point by closely following the teaching that Naciketas hears, especially as we are living lives grounded in fear? Continue reading

Discussion on chidAbhAsa

In the comments following the Question and Answer on the subject of mAyA and Ishvara – Q.325, Peter and I began the following exchange on the subject of ‘reflection of Consciousness’ (between the <<<  >>> marks below). We continued this discussion off-line. Now that this has been concluded, we are posting the discussion so that others may, perhaps, benefit from the clarification that ensued.

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PB: 2. The easiest misunderstanding to resolve is the distinction between ‘original consciousness’ and ‘reflected consciousness’: there is NO difference. To explain this we are given the analogy of light. Any opaque object is seen because it reflects light. One can say that the light reaching our eyes from the object is ‘reflected light’. But what is the difference between ‘reflected light’ and ‘original light’? There is no difference: light is light. ‘Reflected light’ is merely the name given to ‘original light’ seen together with a reflecting medium (the object). In the same way, ‘reflected consciousness’ is the name given to ‘original consciousness’ seen together with the reflecting medium of the perceptible gross and subtle universe. ‘Original consciousness’ is given the name Brahman. Continue reading

Can you accept that the world is mithyā? – 2/2

It is extremely difficult to accept that what we see, what we experience, what we take to be real is not quite real. Even Swami Dayananda wrote of his utter shock on realising that the solid universe is made up of nothing but words and meanings. I personally remember the first time I saw his demonstration of close-up magic when he held up a clay tea cup in the meeting hall, one hot afternoon in his Gurukulam in Anaikatti. “What am I holding?” he asked and then answered for us: “You say cup, I say clay. Tell me which bit of this is cup? My fingers touch clay, the weight of what you call cup is the weight of clay. The feel of the cup is the feel of clay. The colour of the cup is the colour of clay. Where is the cup? Is it on the clay? If it is I can remove it. Maybe it is in the clay?” In this way, as we watched, the thing called ‘cup’ vanished in front of our very eyes. ‘Cup’ is nothing but the name given to a particular form of clay for the sake of distinguishing it from other things made of clay and all other things as well.

Now extend this to all objects that can be traced back to a common cause: even science supports this view. Then at each stage we just have names: Shirt is the name of a form of material, material is the name of yarn, yarn of cotton, cotton of fibres, fibres of atoms, atoms of sub-atomic particles, etc till we arrive at a single cause. (Vedānta śāstram goes one step further than science in stepping from the perceptible to the non-perceptible world.) Continue reading

Can you accept that the world is mithyā? – 1/2

As long as I believe in the absolute reality of the things around me, as long as I believe in the absolute reality of the body-mind amalgam, and further, as long as I believe that the body-mind amalgam is Me, I will be insecure and unhappy. Why? Because, if the world is real and this body-mind amalgam is real then threat and danger surround me: the treat may be to my life and wellbeing but, more often than not, my fragile ego is vulnerable to outside events and circumstances.

There is always someone richer or cleverer or wiser or more beautiful or more influential than me. In their presence I am unworthy and powerless. Poor unworthy me could lose all my friends to more attractive people, to cleverer people or to richer or more powerful people. I live my life dreading the moment that I will be found out to be a fraud or lose my job. Deep down I believe I am unlovable and that I will end my days sad and lonely. My fragile body-mind amalgam is not really up to the onslaught from the more powerful forces of the universe. I am not good enough to gain all the security I need to cushion myself from ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ (as Shakespeare’s Hamlet puts it). My life (or the life of loved ones) can be wiped out in an instant by a monster wave or powerful wind or fire or earthquake, or a drunk behind the wheel of a car or a mugger or a mentally deranged person or by a tiny bug invisible to the naked eye. And even if the threat doesn’t come from outside, my very own biology can suddenly conspire to pack up: cancer, dementia, palsy, blindness, deafness, a blockage in the artery, stroke. Continue reading

Moving beyond mithyā

The aim of my previous blog on this topic was to clarify the term mithyā and thereby bridge the apparent gap between everyone’s perception of a diverse and ‘real’ universe and the advaita teaching that says that there is only one single non-dual Reality. Mithyā is that which cannot be dismissed as unreal nor can it be accepted as absolutely real. Due to a mistranslation of the word, many declare the mithyā universe to be an illusion and consequently act as though it can be discounted as if it was absolutely non-existent. Through the analogy of water and wave we are led to understand that, whilst still perceiving the wave, we nevertheless know that what we’re seeing is nothing but water. Similarly when looking out at the mithyā universe the wise person knows that what’s being seen is nothing but Brahman, pure existence-consciousness without limit.

This is not such an easy achievement. Continue reading