Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The science of inner investigation - a Story from the Upanishads

Philosophy is often criticized to be an esoteric affair of Men who have no active life to pursue. So much so, that the essence and meaning of religion as a study of truth about ourselves has lost its relevance in the mists of time. The matters of the spirit (so to speak) in this modern age are relegated to indulgent pastimes that are exercised only as a distraction from the daily business of living. This is a profound tragedy because religion is probably the most practical science ever practiced; and to not understand the value of this pursuit undermines the entire intellectual heritage of Mankind across ages and civilizations. By Religion, obviously, I do not refer to Institutionalized faiths , but a living, dynamic, intense inquiry into the reality of one self.

During my research the other day, I came across a wonderful story in the Vedas (the lore of Aryan tribes) that smacked of practical wisdom and investigative rigor. Here it goes :

A learned sage walks into a palace and demands to know from the King if he worships the Sun, the moon, the earth , the skies and all other natural phenomena to be the true divine principle of godhead (referred to as ’Atman’ or ‘Brahman’ in Advaita). The King politely acknowledges that he does indeed venerate all of them, but humbly points out to the sage that none of those external manifestations really points to the imperishable truth stated in the scriptures. The sage is annoyed and challenges the king to prove his point. Both of them walk to a nearby shade and find a shepherd sleeping. The king calls out his name, but the shepherd barely moved; and continued in his blissful state of sleep. The King then yells out to him, but again of no avail. He then leans forward and gently taps the shepherd on his shoulder, and the man wakes up with a start.

The king smiles pleasantly and asks the now awakened young man “is your name Jabali?’.

The Man answers in the affirmative. The king continues:” Where were you, Jabali, when I called you several times”.

The shepherd answers quite innocently “I was sleeping, my king”. And then comes the profound question and answer from the enlightened king to the sage:

“Which is the real “I” ? : is it the “I”, that was sleeping and not responding to the name Jabali, or the “I” which now attaches itself to the sound Jabali on being woken up. Tell me Oh! Great sage, which ‘I’ is the true ‘I’. This young man was cognizant of his blissful state of sleep, but was unattached to this name and form in it, and now when he wakes up, he still remains aware, but now only through the prism of identification to a particular personality. This subtle ” I’ness” that underlies the three states of his Waking, Dream and Deep sleep is truly the untainted, unmodified reality of Godhead that our scriptures refer to; all others are mere pointers to this sublime and self-evident truth, and I, Oh learned one; worship, acknowledge and dwell in that reality”…..

What an incisive, scientific and practical demonstration of a subtle intangible fact… True Mysticism begins and ends with an investigation into oneself. Sanity can only come when the mind is turned inward and faces the illusion of its separate existence. This is the true purpose of religion, not the verbiage and semantics that it has come to be…….

God Bless…..

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The book - Bhagavad Gita

The second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita is in my opinion, the finest treatise on self confidence and the imperative need to get on with life, no matter what the consequences are. Arjuna is in a terrible state of psychological indecision. His whole life has been a preparation for this day of War. Every sinew in his body has been chiseled to wield the bow with an artistry that is unparalleled ; educated in the finest traditions of the age, under the most prolific masters available: this is his moment of truth; and lo!, the Gandiva slips from his fingers , his psyche is paralyzed and he stands before the lord completely bewildered. Then begins one of the greatest lectures ever delivered to a man in utter confusion : Sankya Yoga (the Book of doctrines), In Seventy two verses, Krishna summarizes the entire philosophy of existence clothed in a language and style that is poetic, deep, mellifluous and pregnant with practical wisdom.

The 37th verse is my personal favorite. After taking Arjuna through a labyrinth of explanations and clarifications, at one point, Krishna says:

"hato va prapsyasi svargam 
jitva va bhoksyase mahim
tasmad uttistha kaunteya 
yuddhaya krta-niscayah"

Freely translated , it means " hey Arjuna, why the heck do you worry. If you are killed in battle, you will achieve heavenly abode; or if you kill instead, the bounty of this beautiful earth is yours. Either way, you are covered. So just get up , and get on with the job that you came her to perform with joy and gay abandon".

What a wonderful message for a man in indecision. A fit prayer to begin our day, everyday. It is not the lack of skill or expertise that we normally suffer, but the terrible demon of justification and outcome that deludes the mind and cripples the body. The author of the Gita understands the tenuous state of the mind that is wallowing in self pity and misplaced ethics, and this verse offers the right dose to restore the equanimity and inner poise of Arjuna. Action is all that we have got. Emotions and false intellection takes us away from reality of performance..........

God bless.........

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The symbolism of a Superhero

As a young boy, I remember watching the classic fantasy movie “The clash of Titans” - a beautifully crafted Grecian mythological film : The Hero Perseus, a mortal battling all odds against demonic forces, aided in unexpected ways by forces unknown; eventually banishing Hades, the Lord of the underworld to his rightful place; and rescues pretty Andromeda from the jaws of death. A simple story, often told and repeated in cultures across the globe in flavors that are local to it (Ramayana is one such story). As a child we were reared with these immortal heroes at our bedsides. They dominated our dreams, and in a subconscious manner, we aspired the same glory as them. The Superman’s, Spiderman’s and the Batman’s are then externalizations and manifestations of this inner need to transcend and extend ourselves, beyond the limited little self, that we are. They are our modern day heroes. We relish the accomplishments, miracles and physical impossibilities of these 'larger than life' characters. Deep down, we want to be like them and live out of our skins, literally speaking…

Somehow as we grow older, we lose this awesome sense of wonder and the ability to dream without restraint. We are advised by society to be “grounded” in reality, to be practical; not realizing that doors of infinite possibilities only open up when the mind loses itself in the stratosphere of impossibilities. By the time we are adolescents, we are half dead to life, and the remaining half is spent “making a living” . The energy and imagination that we had a child is crushed, mutilated and relegated to some remote corner of our brain, which every now and then peeps out to remind us of what we have lost or forgone in this business of living.

Today afternoon, I was watching the remake of “The clash of Titans’, released in 2010; and I was riveted to the screen for two hours lost in the magical world of mythological heroism. In the very last scene, Perseus dismisses Hades from his presence by telling him “That gods are not needed in the world of Men”, the ultimate proclamation of Man’s heroism and his tremendous sense of self belief and courage to challenge the order of Universe and fiery resolve to chart his own destiny.

The Movie had a cathartic effect on me. I was washed in the imagery of myths and symbols; and for some time basked in my own immortality, before a cruel phone call woke me from my reverie. The Fragrance still lingers though…….

God bless……

Monday, October 14, 2013

The twice Born - a symbolic expression

The Upanishadic texts often refer to man of spiritual temper as a “Dvijotthama” (translated as “twice born”) and the Christian texts to the birth of Jesus as “Virgin birth”. It is interesting that across cultures the same metaphorical motifs point to the same meaning, though, their symbolism's tend to get distorted and misdirected within the narrow contexts when used in different institutionalized faiths. Let me explain:

All primitive mystical traditions speak of a physical birth through a mother’s womb and after a period of intellectual and cultural incubation within the social boundaries of the tribe, the young adult physically and psychologically is wrenched free from attachment to the mother and initiated into a larger role that he has to play in society, with new rules that are in consonance with observed laws of nature, procreation and the Universe as they knew it. A “Dvijotthama” then, is one who has shed his filial attachments ,puerile sense of individuality, and moved into a larger dimension of his inner self, where personal separation becomes blurred and his acts and words reflect the vibrations of a Cosmic tune. Like a butterfly breaking through the Chrysalis or a snake shedding its skin, the Twice-born is one who is begotten afresh, not physically this time, but inwardly with fresh intuitive wisdom and intelligence. The Christian metaphor of Christ being of “Virgin birth” points to the same meaning and interpretation. So, it does not undermine the spiritual significance of Jesus in any way to have been born of a physical mother, but his relinquishment of his narrow parochial, individual identity to embrace the cosmic self that makes him CHRIST : his ‘Virgin Birth’ into a newer, wider and deeper reality. In fact ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Babylonian civilizations in the near east as well as Aboriginal cultures in Africa and other parts had myths and rituals where this “subjective inner rebirth” was celebrated each time a young male reaches adolescence or a girl attains puberty. An interesting observation here would be that in a female: the physical change at the time of puberty brings along with it an inner maturity as a consequence; but not so with the male, who need to cleansed and molded anew through a ritualistic act of symbols to make up for lack of any great physical change in his appearance.

So these terms are universal symbols for physical birth and subsequent inner transformation. To lock them up in straight jacketed historical episodes and build theologies around it is a sure way of misinterpreting the deep inner significance of this ancient myths and motifs. My study gives me a great opportunity to look at these traditions with fresh eyes, and it amazes to me that these words and symbols have so much been twisted, turned and distorted in its symbolic relevance, that we have almost lost the virgin purity of these ancient motifs……

God bless…..