My Tuppence Worth

tuppenceIt 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

dUra

VenicedUra

Continuing the reposting of blogs from Advaita Academy, here is one from 2010. It is interesting to note that I have not further encountered this word since then! So it was a one-off. Nevertheless, it remains an interesting one and has a useful message.

I encountered a new Sanskrit word recently and its use and interpretation are quite enlightening. No doubt we are all familiar with those statements in the Upanishads which extol the extreme virtues of brahman. For example, in the Katha Upanishad, we have “the self is lesser than the least, greater than the greatest” (I.ii.20). And in the Isha Upanishad, we have “Unmoving, it moves faster than the mind” and “unmoving, it moves; is far away, yet near; within all, outside all” (verses 4 and 5). (These quotes are from ‘The Ten Principal Upanishads’ by Shree Purohit Swami and W. B. Yeats – a poetic rendering.) Then again, in the Kaivalya Upanishad (v.20), it is said “I am smaller than the smallest; I am the biggest, I am everything…Continue reading

Creator and Created

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am the light that is above them all, I am the all,

and the all came from me and the all attained to me.

Cleave a piece of wood and I am there;

lift up the stone and you will find me there.

You can find thousands of sayings like this in the Upanishads, in the Gita, in Buddha, but you cannot find a single parallel in the Old Testament. So which scriptures has Jesus come to fulfill? He has come to fulfill some other scriptures, some other traditions. This saying is absolutely Vedanta, so try to understand first the standpoint of Vedanta, then you will be able to understand this saying.

Jesus was born as a Jew, lived as a Jew, died as a Jew – but this is only as far as the body is concerned; otherwise Jesus was a pure Hindu. And you cannot find a purer Hindu than Jesus, because the base of Upanishadic religion is his base. He created the whole structure on that base, so try to understand what that base is. Continue reading

Appearance and Reality – As Properties

“In order to understand a new material, one has to understand its Intrinsic properties as well as its Assumed (Transient) properties.  The intrinsic properties of Brahman are Sat (Reality), Chit (Consciousness) and Ananda (Bliss).  His transient or assumed qualities are Creation, Sustenance and Dissolution.  One should know both these qualities of Brahman in order to understand him.  It is very difficult to directly comprehend or talk about the intrinsic qualities of Brahman.  That’s why, at many places, the Vedas firstly talk about the assumed, temporary or transient qualities of the Brahman and then explain Brahman in terms of his natural intrinsic qualities.

The following quote from Taittiriyopanishad is very pertinent in this context among all the statements in the Vedas about the transient qualities of Brahman:

यतोवा इमानि भूतानि जायन्ते
येन जातानि जीवन्ति
यत्प्रय्त्यभिसंविशन्ति ||    —   III-1-i,  taittirIya upanishad

It means: “Brahman is that from which all the five major elements like the sky are born, by which all that were born are sustained and into which all those sustained finally enter and unify with it.”

The properties of creation, sustenance and dissolution do not always adhere to the Brahman. Therefore, they are to be called as temporarily assumed characteristics.  Both Vasishta and Valmiki Maharishis prepared the scope of their teachings in YogavAsiShTha keeping this fact in mind. ”  — From: p: 1-2, Yogavaasishta, Part III – Sustenance, K. V. Krishna Murthy, (English translation Dr. Vemuri Ramesam), Avadhoota Datta Peetham, Mysore, India, 2006.

The transient qualities are the Appearance.

The intrinsic qualities are the Reality.

Sanskrit for Seekers

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Since you are reading this blog, you are presumably a spiritual seeker interested in Advaita. It is also very probable that your knowledge of Sanskrit is minimal or non-existent. I receive occasional complaints about the use of ITRANS – the transliterated ‘English’ form of Sanskrit words – so even that causes problems for many, let alone the original script (called Devanagari) which Sanskrit uses. So why would you want to learn anything at all about the language? Well, if you really are interested in Advaita (or Buddhism, if it comes to that), it is a fact of life that most of the original material from which these teachings derive was written in Sanskrit. Without any knowledge of the language, without even the ability to look up a word in a dictionary, you are forced to rely upon the abilities, and the integrity, of whichever author happened to ‘translate’ the original text on which he or she is commenting. I am currently writing a book on the Mandukya Upanishad and Gaudapada kArikA-s, and this has involved me in referencing many different translations of the original text. [Note that this is a good example why you need to know some Sanskrit. The word kArikA means ‘a verse, commentary or treatise’ but if you ignore the capitals and write this as ‘karika’, it means ‘an elephant’!] And it would amaze you how it is possible to render quite different meanings. Whether this is because of language ability or because the author has a vested interest in propagating a particular point of view is not always possible to say. What I can say, is that is essential to be able to check specific words from time to time to ensure one gleans original intent rather than a modern, possibly biased interpretation. And, before I continue, here is a confession from the introduction to the book: Continue reading

Origin and Meaning of the word mithyA

mithya_head

Seekers often ask questions about the meaning of the word mithyA. It is, after all, one of the most important concepts in Advaita. Someone has just asked about the usage of the word itself: Did Shankara use it? Does it occur in the Upanishads? I had to do a bit of research on this one and thought others might be interested in what I discovered.

The dictionary definition of the word gives: 1) contrarily, incorrectly, wrongly, improperly; 2) falsely, deceitfully, untruly; 3) not in reality, only apparently; 4) to no purpose, fruitlessly, in vain. According to John Grimes, it derives from the verb-root mith, meaning ‘to dispute angrily, altercate’.

It seems that it only occurs in one Upanishad – the muktikopaniShad. This is the Upanishad which tells you which Upanishads you need to study in order to obtain mokSha or mukti. It says that you can, in theory, get away with studying only one – the Mandukya, with its bare 12 sutras. If this alone does not enlighten you, then you need to study the 10 major Upanishads (Isha, Kena, Katha, Prashna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Chandogya and Brihadaranyaka). If you still haven’t got it, there are a further 22 making up the main ones. Failing that, you are doomed to have to study the 108 commonly recognized ones. (After that, you start again!) Continue reading

A popular mantra unfolded

Om sahanāvavatu sahanaubhunaktu sahavīryaṃ karavāvahai
Tejasvināvadhitamastu mā vidviśāvahai
Om śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śānti

This mantra, found in the Taittiriya Upanishad, is most propitious for recitation before study with the teacher.

Here is one translation:
May He protect us both together. May he nourish us both together. May we both acquire strength together. Let our study be brilliant. May we not cavil at each other. Om! Peace! Peace! Peace!
(Translated by Swami Gambhirananda).

Unfolded by a traditional teacher, these simple statements reveal their inner meaning. Continue reading