The scriptures utilize many stories and metaphors to coax the mind towards an understanding of Brahman – after all, this is one of the few ways this can be done since Brahman cannot be described. One that is rarely encountered is the myth of rAhu.
According to Monier-Williams (Ref. 179), the word ‘rAhu’ means ‘the Seizer’. It refers to a story in the Hindu purana-s (sacred books of mythology and cosmology), although the myth also occurs in much older Buddhist texts. The fable has the gods ‘churning’ the ocean in order to extract the ‘nectar of immortality’ (amRRita). One of the demons who are watching this, disguises himself, steals a portion and drinks it, thereby becoming immortal too. The sun and moon gods witnessed this and told Vishnu, who subsequently cut off the demon’s head. The head became known as rAhu and the rest of the body (with the tail of a dragon) as ketu. They were then evicted from the earth, from where rAhu continually tries to wreak revenge on the sun and moon by eating (‘seizing’) them. We see these attempts when eclipses take place. Continue reading →
This is the first of a 3-part blog that I originally posted to Advaita Academy, on the subject of the pa~ncha kosha prakriyA, probably better known to most as the metaphor of the ‘Five Sheaths’.
Simplistically, this is the idea that there are various levels of identification of ‘Who I really am’ with aspects of the body-mind and that these have to be recognized and dropped so that I can realize my true nature.
However, because of the way that this idea is sometimes presented, there is often a serious misunderstanding on the part of the seeker who, taking the metaphor in a more literal sense, mistakenly believes that the self is literally ‘covered over’ by these ‘layers’ and somehow has to be ‘uncovered’, like some Russian doll. This misunderstanding may be reinforced by the notion of the Self being ‘hidden in the cave of the heart’ – another potentially misleading idea that I have discussed before. Continue reading →
Simply wanting to become enlightened is of no use unless one understands that this means the acquisition of Self-knowledge. Swami Dayananda explains this:
“With so many concepts of mokSha available, a mere desire for mokSha is not good enough. It must be converted into jij~nAsA, a desire to know. This is very important. This conversion means recognizing the fact that mokSha is in the form of knowledge, which is to be gained here in this life. So mokSha is not later or elsewhere.
“Conversion of one’s desire for mokSha into jij~nAsA implies a certain cognitive change. To begin with, one has some idea about mokSha, which may not be more than a belief. When one thoroughly exposes oneself to the teaching, there is the possibility of discerning that the mokSha is in the form of knowledge alone and not in any other form.” [vivekachUDAmaNi – Talks on 108 Selected Verses, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Sri Gangadharesvar Trust, 1997. No ISBN. Purchase from http://books.arshavidya.org/]
As I have put it elsewhere:
“The Self is already ‘enlightened.’ There is nothing that can or need be done to alter this fact. The problem is simply the mind and, in its ignorance, the identification with something limited, be it mind, body, role or whatever. Accordingly, to remove that ignorance, knowledge is needed and this process is all at the level of mind in the phenomenal world. When sufficient knowledge has been acquired, the ignorance is dissolved and the mind realizes that already existent truth. But nothing has actually changed. Continue reading →
I first encountered this term many years ago in discussions on the Internet with people who were influenced by Ramana Maharshi. The context was that, in order to attain enlightenment, it was not simply to do with gaining knowledge, or some key experience, but to do with breaking down some sort of emotional or psychological barrier. Maybe this is a peculiarly Western problem, whereby anything to do with the heart is equated to emotions. At any rate, the concept did not ring true for me at the time!
Also, prior to this, I had encountered the concept of the self or Atman living in the ‘cave of the heart’. This is an ambiguous and unhelpful phrase, if ever I heard one! If you read my review on the Mundaka Upanishad, you will have seen that I addressed this particular concept. As far as the literal idea is concerned, it is the vishiShTAdvaitins who believe this. They claim that the jIvAtman is aNu parimANa – atomic in size, as opposed to vibhU parimANa – all pervasive. (Note that the word parimANa should not be confused with pariNAma, meaning ‘transformation’, or pramANa, meaning source of knowledge!) Their idea is that the jIvAtman is minute and occupies a tiny space in the body, with its attribute of consciousness somehow radiating out to all parts of the body. There are many jIvAtman-s and only one paramAtman. Needless to say, these ideas are systematically refuted by Vyasa and Shankara. Continue reading →