One of the five great sayings (mahavakyas) of Vedanta which proclaims the highest truth of Non-Duality or Advaita is “Thou art That” – Tat Tvam Asi, occurring in the Chandogya Upanishad in 6.8.7. Here “Tat” refers to Brahman/Self. So in the most common sense rendering of the statement, it means – “You are Brahman”. This saying is not saying, “You must ‘become’ Brahman”. What it says is that one is already Brahman. Such is the case and one just has to know it to be so.
I had to bold and italicize the last lines of this paragraph because even when it is clearly stated, people are not able to overcome this notion of “becoming”. This is seen in the most advanced ‘practitioners’ of Advaita. In fact this notion of “becoming” is actually Maya, which keeps one tied to doership. This Maya is extremely hard to overcome, a fact which was anticipated and stated, both by Gaudapada and Shankaracharya, whom I shall be quoting in articles coming subsequently in this series.
In fact, this sense of Maya or “becoming” or “doership” is so powerful and so blinding that even after the Mahavakya says this to be the case; even after I shall show that all forms of doing are Maya; after giving all forms of quotes, logic and arguments: the notion of Maya/becoming/doership is very hard to root out. The Bhagavad Gita gives words to this predicament in the verse,
Among thousands of men, one perchance strives for perfection; even among those successful strivers, only one perchance knows Me in essence
Whatever may be one’s understanding and knowledge, surprisingly and embarrassingly, simple questions can sometimes throw off one face down flat on the ground. You want to hide somewhere. One such simple question used to be an outstation visitor asking me in the small place I lived in India: “What is the best place to eat in your town?” What can I say when I myself never ate anywhere outside, having been brought up in a family where it is considered that it is a despicable thing to eat out? (Of course, this was much prior to the IT and DINK (Double Income No Kid) culture made its worldwide invasion!)
I faced a similarly embarrassing question in Vedanta the other day. A friend on one of the ubiquitous social networks first appreciated my ability to answer lucidly on Advaita related questions. I naturally got inflated. Then she enquired if she could ask a question on Bhagavad-Gita. I readied myself to brace any challenge feeling inside me that BG cannot be a problem. When I expressed my willingness to answer, she shot at me: “What is the best Bhagavad-Gita translation that does not deviate from the original in its meaning I would recommend to her.” There were two limiting conditions. She was a Westerner studying Advaita Vedanta on the Direct Path; and two, she did not know Sanskrit. Though I read many BG translations, I had not read any BG version without Sanskrit. Further, Bhagavad-Gita is commonly taught in the Traditional Path of study as it is one of the three canonical texts (prasthAna trayI). I did not know any of the Western Advaita teachers who melded BG verses into their teaching. I was totally deflated. I literally had to run for cover and hide my face. Fortunately for me, a few good friends came to my rescue. I share the information I got from them here as others may find it useful. Continue reading →
It was over two scores and a half years ago. I remember an experience when I was living in that part of India venerated by the name AryAvarta, the holy land. The cows and other cattle had a right of way even on the so-called main roads, affectionately christened ‘M.K. Gandhi Marg’ ‘P.C. Chatterji Panth’ or some such tongue twisters by the locals. The citizens or rather the bodies of the inhabitants have a natural agility and ability to automatically adopt all the tricks of an expert contortionist in walking on the road avoiding the animals or their heaps and spurts of fragrant fresh just-in-time deliveries – made, as though, just for you. When you are all focused on keeping your balance as you never know where your next step may have to land, a hearty greeting jolts your auditory senses. You take time to locate the source of that sound, because there is obviously no face visible nearby. You see at a distance a half raised single hand, as a mark of showing respect for you. Adept practitioners of Zen may not know the clap of a single hand, but every one over there knows a salutation by one hand. Their shout says ‘su prabhAtaM,’ a literal translation for “Good Morning.” Continue reading →