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#170 - May 06, 2004 04:48 PM Re: Hindu Gems
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CONTENTS - this page


1. Sources of Knowledge

2. Nagarjuna

3. Holi Festival

4. Bhartrhari's Nitisatakam

5. Yamas - Yoga Sutras

6. Santhi Mantra - Taittiriya Aranyaka

7. Japa - Bhagavata Purana

8. Dharma - Bhagavadgita

9. Nandanar

10. Devotion - Mira Bai

11. Theism in Svetasvatara Upanishad

12. Liberty - Subrahmanya Bharati

13. Nirukta

14. Ramcharitmanas - Tulsidas

15. Mira Bai

16. Unity Perspective - Rig Veda

17. Helping Others - Kandapuranam

18. Katha Upanishad Commentary

19. Six Vedangas

20. Life Divine - Aurobindo

21. Aurobindo

22. Asato - Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

23. Good COmpany - Tulsidas

24. Ramayana - Valmiki

25. Poet and Plowman - Tamil Aphorism

26. Nitisatakam - Bhartrhari

27. On Rationality

28. Dishonour - Bhagavadgita

29. Harmony and Unity - Atharva Veda

30. Rabindranath Tagore

31. On Sage Valmiki

32. Divinity - Katha Upanishad

33. Samkhya in Kamban Ramayana

34. Fate & Destiny - Ramcharitmanasa

35. Lokayata - Carvaka

36. Tamil Aphorism on the Crow

37. Manickavasagar

38. Manickavasagar

39. Auvaiyar

40. Seek Wisdom from the Whole World - Atharva Veda

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AcAryAt pAdamadatte pAdaM Sishyah svamedhayA
pAdaM sabrahmacAribhyaH pAdaM kAlakrameNa ca

The teacher gives a quarter, a quarter from the disciple's own essence;
A quarter from fellow disciples, and a quarter with the passage of time.

In traditional Sanskrit learning, one is taught a number of pithy sayings:
mostly maxims and guidelines for life. The above is one such. Leaving aside
the strict proportionality (one-fourth each), the thrust of the statement is
this: We get our knowledge, information, and insights from a variety of
sources. The bulk of the foundation for these is formed during our student
days (early learning period). As much as our teachers, our comrades and
classmates also influence our understanding, as does our own self-reflection
and self-study. But all these are not final. As we grow over the years, we
gather new knowledge and information and insight. This last and self-study
are no less important than what we learn from our teachers.

V. V. Raman



[This message has been edited by Webmaster (edited April 15, 2006).]

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#171 - May 06, 2004 04:50 PM Re: Hindu Gems
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NAGARJUNA

Nagarjuna (2nd century C.E.?) was one of the keenest metaphysicians of the
ancient. He was one of the many scholars associated with the famous Nalanda
University. His views became the basis of a major school of Buddhist
thought, known as the Madhyamika (the Middle Path) School.

The Buddha would ignore questions for which one expected a simple yes or no
for answer. Nagarjuna developed a system based on this, and went on to
explain that no view of the world could be without some inner contradiction.
We can say nothing about reality that would be valid. Reality has no
specific character; nor does it have any general character. The Upanishadic
seers had responded to any characterization of Reality with the phrase
<neti, neti> (Not this, not this!)

Consider the statements about the existence of something: it is; it is not.
The first affirms existence. The second negates it. Or again, one could make
two other kinds of statements: it is and it is not; it neither is, nor is
not. Here the first statement affirms both existence and non-existence,
while the second denies both. Nagarjuna went on to analyze all of these four
possible basic propositions about being and non-being and exposed the
contradictions implicit in each. He thus showed that none of these would be
a valid description of reality.

To illustrate his point, let us take up the notions of cause (C) and effect
(E).
C and E are exactly the same; C and E are quite different;
C and E are the same and different;
C and E are neither the same nor different.

If cause and effect are identical, then there can be no connection between
them. On the other hand, if they are quite different, then how can they be
intrinsically related? Thus neither the first nor the second would hold. If
so, neither the third nor the fourth would make any sense either. In this
manner Nagarjuna (like Zeno of Elea) teased the modes of ordinary logic.

In modern set theoretic terminology, this is equivalent to saying that
reality is neither one of two sets, nor their union, nor their complement
How can that be? The moral he drew from this is that no matter how useful
logic may be in handling matters of everyday interest, it is totally useless
in grasping the ultimate nature of reality. All our concepts and contrived
ideas have only relative value, if any. They are not effective instruments
for fathoming ultimate truths. Ultimately things are insubstantial:
nishvabhava. All is but naught, void: sunya, as Nagarjuna called it.
It was a strange proposition: the declaration that all is just sunya. And
commentators have pounced on this philosophical category ever since it was
propounded. Volumes have been written on this metaphysical nothingness,
which has far greater significance than its conceptual unimaginability.
Contemplating on sunya became a mode of mystical experience. It was related
to Buddhist Nirvana and esoteric wisdom about the Absolute.

All this speculation on the empty is not empty speculation. It speaks loudly
on aspects of the universe not apparent to the superficial observer. The
sunya resulted in the mathematical zero which turns out to be a most potent
concepts. The net amount of electric charge in the universe is zero, there
being equal quantities of positive and negative charges, yet they are among
the ultimate bricks of this tangible world of ours. Physicists reckon that
the material universe emerged out of pure void, and that void was not mere
static inertness.

The deeper implications of present day quantum physic is that all attempts
to tame the complexities of the substratum of reality in terms of
visualizable concepts and definable terms are doomed to failure. There are
models of the quantum mechanical framework where worlds for ever
inaccessible in spatio-temporal dimensions are constantly being churned out.
Nagarjuna's writings are referred to in some of the philosophical
discussions of quantum mechanics.

Theologians, disagreeing on what should be the correct interpretation of
Nagarjuna's sunyavada founded splinter sects of the Madhyamika school in the
fifth century.

V. V. Raman

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#172 - May 06, 2004 04:51 PM Re: Hindu Gems
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Thoughts on HOLI

There is more to religions than God and prayer. Religions provide
opportunities for community gatherings colorful celebrations, and
remembrances of ancient customs.

In the Hindu world which is rich in cultural expressions, every facet of
life and living is linked in someway or another to religion or sacred
history. So the spring equinox which turns the chill of the winter into
sprightly spring, is celebrated in a joyous way through the festival of
Holi.

As with other festivals, the mode of celebration of Holi varies from region
to region, and the manner in which it is observed today is considerably
different from how it used to be done in former times. There was a time when
the revelries lasted for an entire week. Now we have but on Holi Day (March
17, this year: 2003).

Traditional activities during the Holi festivities included the lighting of
bonfires, the erecting of poles, the transplanting of the castor trees,
marching, singing, dancing and the like. It is said that people used to
throw dirt and dung at one another. Often they sang and danced in the
streets, with suggestive gestures and words and motions bordering on the
obscene.

Nowadays, such exuberance has been transformed into more acceptable ways.
But even now, in some parts of the country, it is impossible to step out
into the streets without being drenched in waters of various colors and
smeared with paints and powders that ordinary soap may not easily erase.
Legends are often associated with Hindu festivals. It is said that the
multihued mirth-making is meant to recall the jolly deeds of Lord Krishna in
his boyhood days. Others believe the festival celebrates the death of an
evil giantess at the hands of Krishna. When she was about to die, the
monstrous mischief maker begged of Krishna that she be remembered at the
close of a season. Krishna consented, and this is what Holi is all about.

According to yet another story, the shouts and howls generated during Holi
are to bring back to memory the wailing of Rati, Kama's spouse, when the
latter was burnt to ashes by Siva's third eye. The reckless splash of colors
are to remind one of Kama's eroticism and Siva's disgust when he was
disturbed.

The word holika also means half-ripe corn, and the festivity could well have
originated as celebration of the fields in springtime. The month of Phalguni
when the festival occurs is dedicated to the vernal season. Phalguna simply
means quality of fruit or fructiferous.

Perhaps the most important feature of Holi is that on this day people are
supposed to forget all their caste distinctions, and mingle with one another
in one grand joyous spirit of togetherness, affirming their commonalty as
belonging to the same great and ancient tradition that makes us all brothers
and sisters. If only this spirit could be infused in Hindu life all through
the year, what a great step forward that would be!

V. V. Raman

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#173 - May 07, 2004 01:35 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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jayanti te sukRtino rasasiddhAH kavISvarAH
nAsti yeshAM yaSaH jarAmaraNajaM bhayam

They are wining and fortunate and perfectly wise
Who fear not old age, nor their own demise.

This is one of the many pithy sayings from BhartRhari's NItiSatakam (9.24).
There are stages in one's life when everything seems permanent. We work and
play, share and fight, and are engaged in a hundred things, imagining that
our own lives will last for good. Or, at least the thought of our individual
end rarely crosses our mind. This is good, or else life would become one
long unproductive and colorless waste.

However, as one approaches the evening of one's life the thought of old age
and senility often crosses one's mind, and in what seems to be the final
decade one becomes more and more acutely aware of one's own mortality. These
are the times when one needs to be calm and equanimous, committed to life
and activities, yet even more detached than ever before for inner peace.
Those who have this attitude, says the perceptive poet here, they are indeed
blessed, for they have true wisdom.

V. V. Raman

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#174 - May 07, 2004 01:37 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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ahiMsa satya asteya brahmacarya aparigrahA yamAH

Non-injury, truthfulness, not-stealing,
chastity, giving up of needless things: these are yamas.

This sUtra (II-30) from Pata?i's YogasUtras defines the concept of yama
which is the first of the eight limbs (ashTAnGa yoga) of the yoga system.
[Some scholars believe this is one of the interpolated sections or
quotations in the original work.] It must be remembered that Para?i's
work is a text of the yoga system which had been there for a long time.

The word yama means curbing, reining in, restraint. This line tells us what
these restraints ought to be when one pursues yoga. We must restrain
ourselves from causing pain to others (ahiMsa). Note that this is the first
requisite, for there is no greater ethical principle than not harming
others. This is also the supreme and central virtue in the Jaina tradition.

One should refrain from stealthily acquiring what belongs to others
(asteya). Though asteya simply means not-stealing, we must remember that
people steal, not only by secretly lifting off something from another's
home, but in many other ways, in business transactions, in job
manipulations, in accepting bribes, etc. Brahmacarya (path to brahman)
refers to celibacy which is restraint from sexual desires. Aparigraha means
a variety of things, including renunciation. Here it refers to giving up
everything beyond the barest minimum for living: in other words, leading a
materialistically simple life. Then of course there is the commitment to
truth. One may wonder how this can be classified a restraint. What it means
here is restraining oneself from falling victim to the illusions and
delusions of this world.

Note that these are basic ethical principles. To the extent that one adheres
to them, one approaches closer to leading a spiritual life, and will reap
the ensuing benefits.Taking brahmacarya to mean restraint from obsession
with physical pleasures, all these qualities can be just as valuable for
leading a sane and balanced life.

The root of all civilized behavior is restraint of what our instinct
prompts us to do. Human culture and civilization, and much of ethics, may be
traced to ways of thinking and acting that are contrary to what we tend to
do as biological creatures. That is why, perhaps the most frequently used
word that parents use when they speak to their children, especially in their
early years, is No.

V. V. Raman

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#175 - May 07, 2004 01:38 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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pRthivI SAntiH antarikshaM SAntiH
dyAuS SAntiH diSaS SAntiH
avAntaraiSAS SAntiH agniS SAntiH
vAyuS SAntiH AdityaS SAntiH
candramAS SAntiH nakshatrANi SAntiH
ApaS SAntiH oSadhayaS SAntiH
vanaspatayaS SAntiH gauS SAntiH
ajA SAntiH ashvaS SAntiH
purushaS SAntiH brAhmaNaS SAntiH
SAntireva SAntiH SAntirme astu SAntiH
tayA'haM SAntyA sarva SAntyA
mahyam dvipade catushpade ca
SAntiM karomi
SAntirme astu SAntiH

May peace reign on earth - Peace in the atmosphere
Peace in the all-pervading region - Peace in the (spatial) quarters
Peace to the intermediate deities - Peace in Fire
Peace in the Winds - Peace in the Sun
Peace in the Moon - Peace among the Stars
Peace in the Waters - Peace in the Plants
Peace in the Woods - Peace in the cattle
Peace in the goats - Peace in the Horses
Peace in Humanity - Peace in who realize Brahman
Peace, Peace, may Peace there be!
May that Peace be in me, the Peace in All
In bipeds and in quadrupeds
I affirm that Peace
May only Peace dwell in me

This version of the SAnti mantra occurs in the TaittirIya AraNyaka (42:4).
[Other versions are in the Yajur and Atharva Vedas also.]
Perhaps the two most widely used mantras in the Hindu world, aside from the
gAyatri, are oM and a version of SAnti mantra. This reflects the two basic
principles on which Indic civilization rests: First, a spiritual
undercurrent in the universe which we must strive to get an inkling of: this
is what meditation on oM is meant to bring about. Secondly, living in
harmony with the world around: this is what the SAnti mantra is meant to
inspire.

We note here that by peace one does not mean simply absence or strife and
war. Rather, it is a harmonious balance of everything in our immediate
surroundings (air and water, plants and animals) and in the world beyond:
not just the visible and palpable world of sun and moon and stars, but the
deities and intangibles as well. This is an all encompassing vision of
Peace, for ultimately peace cannot be partial or localized. It has to be
universal.


V. V. Raman

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#176 - May 07, 2004 01:38 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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aj?d athavA j?d
uttama Sloka nAma yat
saMkIrtitam aghaM puMso
dahed edho yathA nalaH

Unwittingly or with knowledge
The Supreme's name in hymn who
chants: the sin of (such a) man
Burns away like a fuel of reeds

These lines from BhAgavata PurANa (VI, ii, 18) remind us of the value of
japa. In the Hindu tradition, aside from chanting the glories of the Divine
in hymns, the mere repetition of God's name (japa) countless times is
expected to endow a person with spiritual powers. It is also stated that
even if one does this inadvertently, the effect will be there. There are
stories in Hindu lore to illustrate this point.

We may see two insights here. People often do good acts intentionally, for
which they will be appropriately rewarded as per the law of karma. However,
one may also do something that is helpful to someone else, without one's
knowledge or intention. For example, one might throw away some unwanted
thing on the curb which turns out to be very useful to another person who
picks it up. One may write a letter to the editor in the local paper which
inspires a reader to something positive. We may not always be aware of the
consequences of our words and deeds. Here it is suggested that whether we do
something consciously or not, it will be taken note of.

The second insight is that those who cultivate certain good (or bad) habits,
will engage in it often without even thinking about them. The repetition of
God's name without even reflecting is not uncommon, not unlike greeting a
stranger with a smile. To say that this will burn away the sins is
equivalent to saying that any good act we do will erase the impacts of the
bad ones we might have done. Such automatic and unplanned behavior will also
have its effects.


V. V. Raman

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#177 - May 07, 2004 01:39 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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Sreyan svadharmo viguNaH
paradharmAt svanushthitAt
savbhAvaniyataM karma
kurvan nA'pnoti kilbisham

Better (to do) ones own dharma (even) imperfectly
Than another's dharma perfectly.
When actions prescribed by one's own nature
Are done, one surely gets not any sin.

These lines (XVIII-47) from the Bhagavad GIta are among the more frequently
quoted lines of the work. They have been interpreted by commentators in
different ways.
First, as was probably originally intended, they could be taken to mean that
one should practice the profession of one's ancestors (caste-dharma), for
each caste involves its own prescribed duties (which is one meaning of the
word dharma). If a Brahmin tries to be like a Kshatriya ,or a Vaishya like a
Brahmin, they would cut awkward figures. At least, this was the case in
ancient societies where people were taught and trained in specific jobs and
social responsibilities in accordance with their family backgrounds.

Taking dharma to mean religion, one may take these lines to mean that it is
inappropriate to change the religion into which one is born. Some have taken
this statement in the Gita as an injunction against conversion from one
faith to another. This idea is quite contrary to the tenets and efforts of
proselytizing activities of religions.

A third interpretation is very different, and certainly universal and more
appropriate: We are all born with some intrinsic talents and limitations.
Our efforts in life should be to live up to our inherent aptitudes. We must
also recognize the limits of our capacities. Actions circumscribed by one's
inherited abilities define one's svadharma. Sin is any action that will
result in pain to oneself. To say that the practice of svadharma will not
result in any sin means that one will be spared frustration and sense of
futility if one does not try to emulate someone who has entirely different
in-born capabilities. Thus, for example, if one who has talents for writing
tries to become a singer, or one who is scientifically inclined attempts to
be sculptor, the results will not only be awkward, but one would also be
frustrated and demoralized. Adoption of paradharma means acting in
accordance another person's inborn qualities, and this is not wise.

V. V. Raman

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#178 - May 07, 2004 01:40 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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NADANAR

In the hagiography known as PeriyapuANam in Tamil Saiva SiddhAnta
literature, there shines the name of NandanAr. He is said to have been a
devout Siva bhakta, but because of his very low caste he was no allowed to
enter the precincts of any temple.

It is said that he was a tanner by trade, dealing in cow hides, which meant
that he was a much marginalized paraiyan . The leather was also used for
making drum-heads. The word paraiyan literally means one who beats a certain
type of drum called parai. There was a time, it is said, when a paraiyan
had to beat a drum to warn the upper caste people of his polluting presence
in the vicinity, so that the latter could protect themselves by moving away.
It is unbelievable that such blatant racism once persisted, and this may
well be an exaggeration, but who knows! The word pariah has found its way
into the English dictionary to mean anyone who is contemptuously excluded
from society.

NandaNar became an ardent worshiper of Siva. His love for Siva was intense
and he longed to visit the temple in TiruppunkUr. But he was also a serf
under the a Brahmin lord on whose fields he toiled. His Vediar
(Vedas-reciting Brahmin) master would not give him permission to go. When
the lowly serf kept begging for this again and again, the angry Vediar said
that leave would be given if he tilled all the forty acres of land
overnight: a humanly impossible task. Deeply depressed, NandanAr prayed to
Lord Siva and retired to bed.

The next morning when he went to the fields he found to his utter amazement
that all forty acres had been well plowed, as required of him to make a trip
to the temple. When the pious Vediar saw what had happened, realizing at
once that his laborer was no ordinary man, he fell at the feet of the lowly
serf and gave him permission to go to the Siva temple in TiruppunkUr.
When NandanAr stood at the gate of the temple, the imposing statue of Siva's
bull (nandi) was there between him and the lord's mUrti. It is said that
Siva in the temple was even more eager to see his devotee, and he ordered
the nandi to move slightly. The Nandi may be seen to this day in that
displaced position in that temple. It is this episode that gained for him
the name of NandanAr (The One of Nandi). We do not know what he actual name
was.

He returned to his village, and kept saying to everyone that next he would
be making a pilgrimage to Chidambaram to see Siva in the NatarAja aspect.
Every time he was asked when he would be doing this, he used to say
"tomorrow," which earned him the teasing title of TiruNALaippOvar (Mr.
Will-go-Tomorrow). Finally when he did reach Chidambaram, he knew he would
be treading on sacred soil, for it was unbecoming for a paraiyan to go to
that temple. He is said to have sought permission for entry into the street
by loudly asking, "May I come here?" Whereupon the Brahmins scurried into
their homes and locked the doors. Siva appeared in their dreams that night
and instructed them to light a bonfire to enable NandanAr to be purified
before he could enter the temple. This they did the next morning. NandanAr
walked through the blazing fire, came out unscathed and with a sacred thread
on his body which was smeared with holy ash, and he entered into the temple.
NandanAr never come out, for he merged into the divine icon himself.

This version of NandanAr's life is based on the 19th century Tamil writer
GopalaKrishna Bharati's play which was an adaptation of SekkizhAr's
PeriyapurANam. The play is poignant and was relevant to the 19th century
when an awakening was occurring about the injustice and oppression of
casteism. Many people who cannot accept that there is or ever was anything
wrong in Hindu society felt very uncomfortable with this play. Rather than
take Bharati's work as an allegory to reflect the evils of casteism, some
Brahmins criticized him for having deviated from the original.

As I see it, the moving story of NandanAr reveals several aspects of
traditional Hindu culture. It shows the low regard that the upper castes had
for pariahs at one time. It reveals the devotion that even the lowliest of
the lowly could have for God. It tells us that in the Hindu framework God
comes to the aid of even of the lowest strata, and reminds the so-called
upper castes that there is really no difference among people, no matter what
their proclaimed caste is, for we are all God's children. It also informs us
that there have been saintly souls in the Hindu tradition from every caste,
including the avarNas. Vediar's prostration to NandanAr is a symbolic
gesture to affirm that when the oppressors realize the truth and recognize
their errors, there will be enlightenment, apology, and reconciliation.


V. V. Raman

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#179 - May 07, 2004 01:41 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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rAma nAma rasa pIjai manuAm
rAma nAma rasa pIjai
taja kusanga satsanga baiTha nita
hari carcA suna lIjai
kAma krodha mada lobha moha ko
bahA citta se dIjai

Imbibe essence of Rama's name, O humanity!
Imbibe that essence of the Divine's name!
Shun evil groups, be among the good
Listen to talks on the Divine.
Lust, anger, vanity, greed, and infatuation:
Cleanse your mind of these!


These lines (in Rajastani) are from one the great 16th century Rajput saint
Mira Bai whose devotion to Lord Krishna has become legendary. Like many
other visionaries of the bhakti tradition, her love of God found profuse
poetic expression, often as powerful music.

The intense love of God which characterizes the bhakti mode is experienced
through repeating the name of God in one manifestation or another. This is
often done in groups. The experience will be denied when one falls in the
company of those who sneer at or decry such gatherings, and can be achieved
only when one is in the company of fellow bhaktas who sing the Divine's name
and listen to its repetitions. Mira also reminds us here that a prerequisite
for the spiritual path is that we rid our minds of the base passions of
desire, anger, pride, and attachment to sensual things.

Note that she pleads with humanity at large to follow the divine path. Those
who are awakened to enlightenment know that true religious experience is not
the prerogative of one group or class or caste.

This is the refrain in the framework of practically every saintly teacher in
the Hindu world. What makes each one different is the unique manner in which
the various poet-sages articulate the idea.

Every text on any branch of science says more or less the same thing, but
each one conveys the information in a different way. So it is with the
message of spirituality.

V. V. Raman

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#180 - May 07, 2004 01:42 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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yo deva agnau yo apsu
viSvam bhuvanam AviveSa
yo oshadhIshu yo vanaspatishu
tasmai devAya namo namaH

The God Who is in fire, Who in water
Who permeates the whole world,
Who is in the plants, who is in the woods:
To that God I bow down and offer my homage.

This Sloka is from SvetASvatara Upanishad (II-17). The literal meaning of
SvetASvatara is: one with a white mule; metaphorically, one with pure
senses. It incorporates a variety of worldviews and includes Vedic texts. It
stresses, not the abstract Brahman as do some other Upanishads, but rather
the monotheistic vision in which Brahman is manifest as one God. The essence
of this Upanishad is that there is a unity beneath the diversity, and that
the cosmos is a single Supreme Realty.

In passages like this we notice the blending of metaphysics and mantra,
profound reflection and prayer. The sages of the Hindu world were
enlightened souls no doubt, but they were poets and theologians as well.
In this verse, we find an interesting synthesis of the Divine as abstraction
and of the Divine as Omnipresent. God is recognized in every aspect of the
natural world, but God is not simply the spiritual substratum who is to be
realized through yogic means. Rather God is one Who is to be adored and
worshiped, and to whom one plays homage.

This Upanishadic verse is as much a prayer as a philosophical statement.


V. V. Raman

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#181 - May 07, 2004 01:42 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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paRaiyarukkum inGu tIyar
pulaiyarukkum viDutalai
paravarODu kuRavarukkum
maRavarukkum viDutalai

To the pariahs and to the tIyars here,
And to the tribals (may there be) liberty!
To the forefathers of the parava caste
And to the loggers (may there be) liberty!

This is the opening stanza of a nationalist song entitled ViDutalai:
Liberty! by the fiery 20th century Tamil poet Subramanya Bharati. All
through the ages, a great many sages in the Indic tradition have spoken out
loudly and passionately against the iniquities of the caste system. But here
Bharati calls for the emancipation of the outcastes. We notice that there
were/are not just one class of the pancamas (fifth caste), but a whole lot
of them, bearing various names. One group was known as tIyars: the evil
ones. Bharati also refers to the so-called tribals.

It is interesting that he asks for the liberation of the ancestors of the
outcaste. This is to convey his anger at the treatment of avarNas by past
generations of caste Hindus.

The visionary poet who wrote songs demanding national independence from the
British who had colonized the peoples of India, also called for the
liberation of the lowest of the lowly of Hindu society. This shows his
enlightened humanism. It is only those saints and sages whose bhakti and
meditation open their hearts to the human condition, to the injustice and
iniquity that have always colored human society: it is only they who speak
out in no uncertain terms against caste and oppression.


V. V. Raman

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#182 - May 07, 2004 01:45 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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yad gRhItaM nigadenaiva Sabdyate
anag?iva Sushkaidho na taj jvalati karhicit

What is received and articulated as mere sound
Without any understanding:
Is like parched wood without fire, it will never glow.


This is a very profound observation from Nirukta (1.18). The Nirukta is one
of the Vidyas, which expounds the significance of technical words. It is a
little known fact to the world beyond that ancient Hindu thinkers were among
the first in the history of civilization to treat language (phonetics,
grammar, etymology, etc.) as a systematic field of study.

The statement from the Nirukta may be considered from two perspectives.
From the spiritual perspective, it tells us about the power of the mantra. A
mantra is not just any word or verse. It is rather a powerful word or phrase
which embodies spiritual and esoteric meaning. Its proper articulation
endows the individual with occult capacities. However, for this impact, the
practitioner needs to be appropriately initiated by a competent guru. And
the meaning and purport of the mantra should be grasped by the disciple. If
this is not done, the mantra will remain totally ineffective.

The simile of dried wood is very interesting. Consider gasoline, coal, or
even a matchstick. They contain considerable amounts of chemical potential
energy which can be turned into fire or flame. We generally think that all
we need are vast quantities of oil and petroleum to solve our energy needs.
This is only partially true. No amount of wood or gasoline can be turned to
fire on the moon, because we also need oxygen for this. If a mantra is like
a matchstick, understanding is like oxygen, for without it, the mantra will
remain inert, passive, and useless.

In our every day life, we see the power of words. By raising our voice, we
can frighten children away. With consolatory words we can bring solace to
people. Politicians and charismatic leaders can ignite the passions of the
mob, for the good or for the bad, by the mere use of words. Likewise,
mantras are meant to be effective in the spiritual realm.

A student preparing for an exam may learn whole chapters by rote, but unless
he or she understands the material, the mere regurgitation of sentences will
be quite useless. This line reminds us that similarly, even in the
non-religious context, words are utterly useless if there is no
understanding of what they mean. And that understanding is of an altogether
different category than the physical sound of words.

It should be noted that in the context of mantras understanding is not
always an intellectual grasp. There are mantras which are dictionary-wise
meaningless sounds, but whose significance is grasped by the initiated one.
From these considerations, it is not that everyone should have the right to
chant a mantra, but that everyone, irrespective of caste or gender, should
have the privilege of being initiated into some mantras of the tradition.

V. V. Raman

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#183 - May 07, 2004 01:47 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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hari vyApaka sarvatra samAnA
prem te prakaTa hohiM maim jAnA
deSa kAla diSi vidiSahu mAhIM
kahahu so kahAM jahAM prabhu nAhIM

The Divine is always present everywhere
Through love is he manifest, this I know.
Which place and at what time, in which cardinal direction or in between,
Oh say, where the Lord is not.

The epics of the Hindu tradition have multiple aspects. They embody history,
philosophy, culture, ethics, theology, mythology, and more. That is why they
contribute richly to Indic civilization. In Tulsidas's SrI
RamacaritramAnas we read these lines (Book I-185).

In very simple terms, in language intelligible to the common folk, these
lines affirm the eternity and omnipresence of God. Here, in an assembly of
deities, the question is posed rhetorically if one can find any spot in the
world, at any time at all, where and when God is not present.

We are told not only about the universality of God, but also that we can see
God in no matter what direction. This is a rather interesting concept which
is not expressed in other theologies. The idea of directionality may be
interpreted to imply this: No matter how we look at the world, no matter
what aspect of it we consider, the Divine can always been recognized.
However, for that we need to understand that God pervades the world as love.

This is a very important statement. In much of Hindu religious writings the
emphasis is on the spiritual dimension of life, on self-realization, on
Brahma as the undergirding principle, etc. It is not often that love is
proclaimed as a manifestation of the Divine. In this respect, this is a very
significant verse. It reminds us that no matter how we think about God, we
can experience the divine in every act of caring and compassion, in every
expression of love in the world. Indeed one may say that a life that does
not include love of others will always be blind to what is truly divine.


V. V. Raman

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#184 - May 07, 2004 01:48 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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MIRA BAI (1498-1547)

Mira Bai was a Rajput princess who was deeply drawn to a pious devotion to
Lord Krishna. Her extraordinary bhakti found magnificent expression in
musical outpourings which have been sung and celebrated during all these
centuries because they have touched the hearts of millions. She has come to
be regarded as a great saint in the Indic tradition.

It is said that when Mira was young, a passing ascetic once handed to her an
icon of Krishna. The little girl took an instant fascination for it, saw
divinity in its compact form, and kept it close to her heart for many
years. When, in her teens, she was wedded to a prince she would worship only
her dear Krishna, and not the goddess Kali of the Rajput Ranas.

Unfortunately, only five years after her marriage to the heir apparent, the
young prince died in a battle. The widowed Mira grew even more attached to
the divine, and spent long hours in song and devotion to Krishna. When her
husband's brother became king, things got to be more difficult for the
God-intoxicated Mira, for she was perceived as a downright embarrassment for
the royal family. It has been said that there were also political
motivations for the king's dislike of the other-worldly princess.

Many moving stories have been told about how the king conspired to get rid
of her. According to one, the scheming monarch once hid a venomous snake in
a basket of flowers that Mira was to receive. Lo and behold, when musical
Mira opened the present, the secret serpent had turned into another icon for
her to worship. On another occasion, a poisonous potion was sent to her,
camouflaged as a refreshing drink. Gentle Mira drank it calmly, but the
poison did her no harm. She sang to the king:

That it was poison you sent me
I knew, though not told.
But I shine brighter by it
Like fire-treated gold.

But the persecutions continued, and Mira could not take it much longer. She
moved to Brindavan and then on to Dwarka, places where, according to the
Puranas, Krishna had lived and loved in his mortal frame.

Legend also describes her mysterious disappearance in the Krishna
(Ranchorji) temple in Dwarka. Apparently, she was summoned to come back to
her kingdom by Rana Vikramajit. This was the same king who had once ordered
her to be drowned. At that time the waters would not gobble her to their
depths, though she herself made no effort to swim or sink. Now Mira refused
the invitation to return. Upon the messenger's threatening insistence, she
agreed, but only on condition she could spend the night in Krishna's temple.
This was granted. However, when morning came she was not to be found in the
sanctum sanctorum. Some thought that she probably left the place overnight
in search of a peaceful retreat, away from the bullying envoys of the Rana.
But most of the people, aware of Mira's mystic ways, were convinced that she
had merged with the idol at the altar. Mira's saintliness was confirmed even
more.

Through her countless songs of devotion Mira Bai has brought spiritual joy
and piety to millions of people of the Hindu faith. She was a supreme
example of the bhakti path, intensely feeling the pangs and pleasures of
love for a personal god. It was not like the attachment of a child to a
parent, but rather like that of a beloved to her mate. Her songs sometimes
implore for virtuous qualities. She asks that evil and vicious thoughts be
put away from her mind. Sometimes she wonders at the absurdity of it all,
reflecting over the fact that while men of wisdom wander penniless, the
fools of the world hold all power and pelf.

Most of all, Mira's songs convey her deep conviction of a real Krishna with
whom she was in love. She feels she had known him in previous births. She
fantasizes sporting with him in Brindavan, his teasing her, and her
jealousies at Krishna's attentions to other women. In other words, she
imagines herself as one of the gopis in whose company the Puranic Krishna
indulged in love play. But, unlike Jayadeva's, her songs never move into
erotic paths. Here, for example, are some lines from one of her songs:

Unto Thy care did my parents entrust me.
Thou knowest best what's for my good.
No other master will I dote on excepting Thee
Thou art the perfect Brahma, Oh Lord.
Oh let me share Thy seat!
Make Mira Thine own, Oh Lord!
She is bewildered in her separation from Thee.

Few other cultures have been so enriched, both aesthetically and
spiritually, by sages and saints as the Indic. Many women in the Hindu
tradition have attained significant spiritual heights by their devotion to
God. Mira was one of those among them whose devotion found expression in
music and poetry, and these have made her name and memory immortal in the
Indic cultural landscape.

V. V. Raman
March 29, 2003

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#185 - May 07, 2004 01:49 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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yo viSvAbhi vipaSyati
bhuvanA saM ca paSyati

He who sees all from above and from aside
Sees all living things together.

It would seem that these lines were spoken by an astronaut in the twentieth
century. Actually they are the thoughts of a Vedic Rishi who lived millennia
ago. Through these lines the sage is transporting us to the lofty regions
high above from where our planet would seem like a speck on which countless
creatures crawl, swim, and fly within the bounds of land, water, and air.

But it not just in physical terms that we should see the meaning of this
statement. Even without taking a spacecraft, we can elevate ourselves
mentally to a grander perspective from which the planet would appear like
home to billions of entities in which life is throbbing. From the universal
perspective, our particular differences would fade away. Even with all the
squabbles and rivalries, wars and mutual hurt, the enlightened one would
see the world as a swarm of creatures struggling to stay alive.

Such an over-arching recognition will enable one to view our deep
differences in more humane and sympathetic modes.
Religious writings generally give a special place to human beings, putting
other creatures on another plane. Few works of traditional religions
transcend anthropocentric perspectives such as Vedic visions do. These
lines from the Rig Veda (III.62-90) illustrate the point. They are meant to
describe the perspective of the gods, by which is meant cosmic perspectives
which each of us is capable of attaining.

V. V. Raman

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#186 - May 07, 2004 01:50 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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ennAnum Or udavi yAdoruvan yArkkeninum
tannAl muDivadenil tAnE muDittaltalai
connAl muDittal iDaiyAgu?lluginum
pannAL maRuttup puridalgaDaip pAnmaiyadE.

If one can help another,
And does so without being asked
That is the best thing to do.
Helping one on being asked,
Is the next best thing that one may do.
Refusing at first, helping many days later,
Is the lowest thing that one can do.

These lines are from the magnum opus known as KandapurANam (I-536) composed
by the eminent Tamil poet SrI Kacciyappa CivAcAriyAr (9th-10th century?).
Based on the Sanskrit Skanda PurANa, this is the saga of Murugan, whom Tamil
Saivites worship as their principal deity. Rich in allusions and magnificent
as poetry, this great work consists of six books with 10,346 verses in all
in chaste classical Tamil. It is said Skanda Himself composed the first
verse of this immortal work. Though deeply religious in theme and sacred
historical in content, the work also propounds many ethical principles, as
in the stanza quoted. Traditionally, this work (or passages from it) are
sung in the Tamil world on Skanda ShasTi day in the month of Aippasi
(usually in October or November).

For each one of us there arise many opportunities in life to be of
assistance to others. We must seize them, and give help without a second
thought: that would be the noblest thing to do, says the poet. If we bring
help only after being asked, as lawyer gives advice, that is fine too,
though not as noble. But sometimes people hesitate or refuse when asked for
help, even when they can; and then sometime later, come to give assistance.
This, says the poet, is the worst thing to do, for it not only allows the
recipient to remain helpless for a time, but is also demeaning to him.
The more we delve into classical Indic literature, the more we discover the
ennobling values and insights that lie interspersed in them, often presented
in the format of grand poetry.

We may note in passing that the Roman writer Cicero expressed a very similar
idea when he wrote: Hoc maxime office est, ut quisque maxime opis idigeat,
ita et potissimum opitulari: It is our greatest duty, if someone greatly
needs our help, to help him to our utmost power.


V. V. Raman

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#187 - May 07, 2004 01:51 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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ahaM ca nityena amRtena abhayena
kuTasthena acalena dhruveNa
arthena arthI
na tat vipatitena.

That which is eternal, undying, fearless,
Unchanging, the unmoving, and the fixed,
I wish to seek.
Not what is contrary to these,

Normally we accept whatever is visible, tangible, and perceptually perceived
as real. This common-sense notion of reality has been questioned by
philosophers over the ages. A systematic study of the roots of this
perceived reality is what science is all about. Hindu sages, while granting
the existence of this common sense reality, recognized an inimportant
characteristic of perceived reality: that is is not permanent. Practically
everything we see around us changes its nature and location, dies and
disappears sooner or latter. When a life principle is associated with any
entity, its also experiences fear, often of its own eventual disappearance.
[Incidentally, modern physics tries to explain phenomena in the physical
world by uncovering the unchanging principles in it such as the totality of
matter-energy, the totality of electric charges, the totality of spin of
elementary particles, etc. Here, however, unchanging refers to quantitative
aspects.]

Given this, Hindu thinkers wondered if there was indeed some reality that is
not subject to any of these impermanent characteristics. Such an Ultimate
Reality is what they described as Brahman: the unchanging eternal substratum
of the universe.

Next they went on to discover that while we can understand the existence of
this Ultimate Reality with our minds, consciousness can become aware of it
through spiritual modes. Such an awareness brings us to heightened levels of
experiences, and transforms our worldview and purpose in living.
The line quoted above is from the commentary on the KaTha Upanishad by the
illustrious philosopher-sage of the Hindu tradition, Adi SankarAcArya.
Philosophy was not an arm-chair or an ivory-tower discipline for most Indic
thinkers. It had a practical experiential dimension.

V. V. Raman

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#188 - May 07, 2004 01:51 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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SikshA kalpI vyAkaraNaM
niruktaM chando jyotisaM

Phonetics, rituals, grammar
Etymology, prosody, astronomy.

This mnemonic used to be learned to remember the six VedAnGas of classical
Hindu scholarship. These are regarded as the limbs of the Vedas and are part
of smRiti, i.e. not part of Vedic (SRuti) knowledge.

In Indic culture, every field of human endeavor and concern has been linked
to the spiritual dimension of life. The significance of this is to remind us
that even as we engage ourselves in worldly joys and chores, we should never
forget the spiritual backdrop. That is to say, there is a cosmic background
to our local preoccupations. Such a worldview enriches the human experience,
gives meaning to life, puts matters in perspective, and enables us to cope
with difficult situations that life may bring.

In this listing of the VedAnGas we see the importance that was given to
words and language in Indic civilization. Phonetics, etymology, prosody, and
grammar are included. All this contributed to the maintenance of the oral
tradition. The importance of ritual (the praxis aspect of religion) is also
included. Finally, there is jyotisha which is astronomy, which is very
different from astrology. There is ample evidence that in Vedic times,
astronomy was well developed. Astronomy includes the observation, recording,
and computing the positions, movements, and periodicities of stars and
planets. Associated with this was division of time and reckoning of
appropriate hours which become very relevant in fixing times for the
performance of rituals.

The VedanGas reveal the intellectual vigor in a robust civilization. Such a
civilization must have been blessed with economic abundance, for it could
not have afforded the luxury of concerning itself with grammar, etymology,
and star-gazing if a majority of its people were facing hunger and poverty.

V. V. Raman

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#189 - May 07, 2004 01:52 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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"This is the monstrous thing, the terrible and pitiless miracle of the
material universe that out of this no-Mind a mind, or, at least, minds
emerge and find themselves struggling feebly for light, helpless
individually, only less helpless when in self-defense they associate their
individual feebleness in the midst of the giant. Ignorance which is the law
of the universe. Out of this heartless inconscience and within its rigorous
jurisdiction hearts have been born and aspire and are tortured and bleed
under the weight of the blind and insentient cruelty of this iron existence,
a cruelty which lays its law upon them and becomes sentient in their
sentience, brutal, ferocious, horrible. But what, after all, behind
appearances, is this seeming mystery? We can see that it is the
Consciousness which had lost itself returning again to itself, emerging out
of its giant self-forgetfulness, slowly, painfully, as a Life that is
would-be sentient, half-sentient, dimly sentient, wholly sentient and
finally struggles to be more than sentient, to be again divinely
self-conscious, free, infinite, immortal...."

This quote from Sri Aurobindo who was an unusually gifted modern sage,
endowed with poetic gifts. It is from his work, "Life Divine."
The passage explains in a clear and powerful way the central message of the
Upanishads: tat tvam asi. . In this passage the sage-poet is also expressing
the central thesis of Darwinian evolution in metaphysical terms, and he goes
much beyond. For he describes how from brute matter mind evolves, not as an
outgrowth, but rather as the final emancipation of an inner principle that
had all along been implicit and imprisoned, as it were, in the very core of
brute matter. He goes on to say that we have forgotten our cosmic origins,
and in the ignorance of our roots we are struggling like pitiful creatures.
He prompts us to reflect that we are like insubstantial rays of light from
the brilliant sun that know not that their glorious source.

There is deep wisdom here, as much profound truth as grand poetry. In the
hectic age in which we live, few people have the time or interest, or the
wisdom, to read through the voluminous writings of Sri Aurobindo. Moreover,
Sri Aurobindo's writings are not within easy reach of everyone because they
are stylistically abstruse and philosophically sophisticated. Also, the
crass rationality of science tends to blunt our sensitivity for matters
metaphysical at the experiential level.That is why scholars, professors, and
philosophers rather than spiritual aspirants tend to read Sri Aurobindo's
erudite language and metaphors, and recognize him as one of the most
original thinkers of the modern era.

V. V. Raman

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#190 - May 07, 2004 01:54 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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SRI AUROBINDO (1872-1950)

Sri Aurobindo Ghose was an extraordinary thinker who moved from deep
meditation to sublime philosophy, from poetry to politics with incredible
ease. Born a Bengali, his early formation was in schools in England. There
he absorbed the very best of Western thought and literature, besides
mastering Greek and Latin; successfully competed for the Civil Service exam
(ICS), except for the horse-riding part which he persistently flunked four
times.

Upon returning to India he taught English for a while. Then he became an
activist in the nationalist movement for which he served term in a Calcutta
jail where he experienced a mystic vision. In a revealing letter to his wife
from prison he confessed to three "madnesses": first the conviction that it
was his bounden duty to share the wealth and knowledge he was blessed with,
reminding one of Albert Schweitzer's famous motto: le bonheur oblige (good
fortune imposes on us a moral obligation); secondly, that he must realize
Divinity in this birth; and thirdly, that his country was not just a land
with rivers and mountains, but a living mother who was to be worshipped,
adored, and served. We are reminded of Bankim Chandra's Ananda Math here.
When he came out of prison he retired to the (then) French settlement of
Pondicherry in the South to found a hermitage (ashram) where he set out to
discover the life divine. This ashram, in which Mira Richard (a French lady
who came to be called 'the Mother') collaborated, continues as a dynamic
spiritual center to this day.

From this center, Sri Aurobindo wrote grandly on themes ranging from the
Gita and the Yoga to literary criticisms and political philosophy. These
writings began to appear in 1914, and continued for many years to come, in a
monthly journal called Arya. It was thus that Sri Aurobindo's masterworks,
such as The Life Divine, A Defense of Indian Culture, The Essays on the
Gita, etc. were published. His writings are of a very high caliber, within
grasp only of the intellectually sophisticated.

Sri Aurobindo stated that the object of his study of the Gita "Will not be
as a scholastic or academic scrutiny of its thought, nor to place it the
history of metaphysical speculation," but "for help and light."
Unfortunately the level of lofty discussions in the work are such as cannot
be reached by the average Gita-reader of the bhakti marga.
Then came the grand epic Savitri, running to some 24,000 lines, the longest
in the English language. The ancient story of the devoted wife who fights
with the Death-God for her husband's life is a symbol for a deeper truth,
too complex to be told in a paragraph or two. Savitri is "the incarnation of
the Divine mother." She is equally the Mother of Sorrows and the Mother of
Light.

In many ways Sri Aurobindo was like an ancient Rishi, imbued in peaceful
meditation, his spiritual experiences finding expression in lofty poetry and
sublime philosophy. He saw divinity in the Universe at large, and spoke of
the merger of man with the Cosmic Spirit. He theorized that the Supreme
became a Supermind, which in turn descended to become mind and matter; and
that now a process of ascent was underway, by which matter has become mind,
and will evolve into a Supermind before being transformed into the Supreme
once again. "The past must be sacred to us, " he said, "but the future must
be still more sacred." As he declared in Savitri,

A mightier race shall inhabit the mortal's world.
On Nature's luminous tops, on the Spirit's ground;
The Supreme shall reign as a king of life,
Make earth almost as the mate and the peer of heaven.

This interpretation of evolution, which foresees even higher stages of human
consciousness in ages to come, inspired some of his followers to call Sri
Aurobindo the prophet of a new age. Unfortunately, his message was too
abstract to be understood by the masses.

The supermind-state, Aurobindo contended, would be reached by the practice
of Integral Yoga (purNa yoga). It must be noted that, like other modern
exponents of the Hindu framework, Sri Aurobindo rejected the notion that the
practice of yoga implied renunciation, as also the idea that the world is an
illusion. Rather, a spiritual dimension must be added to the general
cultural and social activities of man. Then will God descend into our
personal experiences and eventually mankind will be raised to the higher
level of divine consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo was deeply read in Western thought also, and like many other
ardent lovers of India's heritage, he was convinced that Vedic wisdom
embodied everything of significance that is worth knowing, including facts
and insights of modern science.

Sri Aurobindo also felt that there was something unique in India's capacity
for spirituality, and that Hinduism would answer to the spiritual needs of
the whole world. His ideal of India's future was not of a country of
"Anglicised oriental people, docile pupils of the West and doomed to repeat
the cycle of the occident's success and failure, but still the ancient
memorable Shakti recovering her deepest self, lifting her head higher
towards the supreme source of light and strength and turning to discover the
complete meaning and a vaster form of her Dharma."


V. V. Raman

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#191 - May 07, 2004 01:56 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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asato mA sad gamaya
tamasomA jyotir gamaya
mRtyomA amRtam gamaya

From the unreal, lead me to the real;
From darkness, lead me to light;
From death, lead me to non-death.

These lines from Yajus verses appear in the BRhadAraNyaka Upanishad
(I.3.28) which is the last part of the Satapatha BrAhmaNa. Scholars regard
it as the oldest of all the extant Upanishads.

In this section it is prescribed that while the priest is reciting mantras
during a sacrifice, the sacrificer should be chanting this.However, in our
own times it has become the most widely chanted Sloka in the Hindu world,
recited by one and all in temples, at the opening of functions, and even
prior to dinner in some homes.

We may interpret the asad (unreal) as an illusory understanding of the true
nature of reality, as taking the ephemeral for the permanent and the
perishable for the never-decaying. The prayer is to enable us to understand
the deeper aspects of this passing world of experience, for in that
recognition we become wiser and more balanced in our perspectives.
Likewise tamas (darkness) may be interpreted as ignorance, not just of the
nature of physical reality as of moral rightness. The joyoti one asks for is
not just physical light that enables us to see things, but enlightenment: a
vision of life and society that respects others, that is caring and
compassionate, that is guided by reason and understanding more than by
unthinking adherence of outworn practices.

Finally, the plea to be taken from death to immortality may be seen as
wanting to be released from the cycle of birth and death and become one with
the Cosmic Whole.

I should add that these are my own interpretations of this Sloka. In the
Upanishad itself it is explained that both unreal and darkness mean death,
and both real and light mean immortality. In other words, the essence of all
the three lines, we are told, is to obtain release from death and attain
immortality.

V. V. Raman


asato ma sad gamaya
tamasoma jyotir gamaya
mrtyoma amrtam gamaya

From the unreal, lead me to the real;
From darkness, lead me to light;
From death, lead me to non-death.

Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (I.3.28)

If I may most humbly add additional views from a different dimensional
point of view. For this simple verse is also one of the most
misunderstood, as the meaning lies in the esoterics and not on the
words and meanings itself. Most vedic verses have several layers of
meanings and so does this verse too. Being an aranyaka, forest esoteric
knowledge, it is a yogi's prayer and experience. This verse alone
affirms the existence of meditation in vedic times.

The verse says, "Lead me". These words convey an attitude of surrender
to the Lord, and asking for his grace. It affirms that we cannot by
ourselves and our own willpower achieve moksha. This verse affirms
the grace of god for spiritual progress. As long as we say we know the
truth, we know the way, then it shows that we dont know! It would be
the blind leading the blind. I have always held that only one who has
seen the light must lead.

By this verse alone, most of the philosophical shools of thought that
do not stress 'surrender to the Lord' and 'asking for His Grace',
falls. Those are dead schools.

The three lines makes clear that all of us are in the (relatively)
unreal impermanent world, in darkness not knowing our true nature and
destined for rebirth; and that we should surrender our efforts and
instead implore the lord to lead us to light and moksha. Implore is
worship.

Take a moment to close your eyes. What do you see? We see blackness, or
darkness. Not so for the realised person. He sees the inside of his
forehead bright with light. Even when sleeping at night with the
lights out, he will see the inside of his head bright with light. In
the beginning few weeks after 'seeing the light', he will have problems
sleeping.

This seeing of the light heralds that a person has reached an early
stage of satchitananda. It is not yet moksha. At the beginning stages
of meditation, a person sees whirling clouds of colors on the inside
of his forehead corresponding to the place where we apply the sandanam
and kumkumam. Color is light and affirms the verse above. Later he sees
many signs and visions which I cannot disclose. After a few months or
years, see sees flashes of white light inside his head, behind the
forehead, sometimes even with the eyes open. It first appears like
someone is taking a photograph of us. These flashes are like lightning
flashes.It happens spontaneously and cannot be strived for. This light
and the bliss and knowledge it brings, as well as the signs and other
worlds and beings/gods/devas/monks that we see in our meditations will
appear more real to us than this world.

Later these flashes of white light lasts longer and finally a clear
white light appears continuously. At anytime, whether walking or
watching TV, all we have to do is close our eyes and we are 'lit up'
inside our head. This produces a feeling of bliss, anandam. Finally,
the clear white light become a brilliant white light, like a thousand
suns within our head. I will not go any further on this.

But this is the esoteric meaning of the verse. First an attitude of
surrender to the lord, then asking and getting his grace, then seeing
the true reality thru meditation, of seeing the colors, flashes, clear
white light, then the beilliant white light and thereafter achieving
moksha. Thus there is worship, then meditation.


Pathmarajah Nagalingam

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#192 - May 07, 2004 01:57 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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sAt svarga apabarga sukha dhari-a tulA ek anGa
tUla na tAhi sakala mili jo sukha lava satsanGga.

If we weigh the bliss of seven heavens
With salvation combined,
All together they are worth but a bit
Of being with the saintly kind.

Many sage-poets of the Indic tradition understood very well the influence of
the cultural environment on our thinking. By cultural, I do not mean here
the different cultures of the world, but the particular values and
worldviews to which groups are subject. If one is often in the company of
skeptics, for example, one is likely to become a skeptic. If one is often in
the midst of artists, one will be conditioned to think as artists do. If one
often rubs elbows with conservatives/liberals, one is likely to become a
conservative/liberal also. This is especially true in the earlier stages of
one's life. That is the significance of the notion of satsanG is the Hindu
world. The term simply means a coming together of pious and righteous
people. Today the word is often used to denote such an assembly which signs
devotional songs.

In this stanza, Tulasidas (SundarkAnd, caupAt 4) is very emphatic about the
value of satsanG. He goes so far as to say, with poetic hyperbole, that the
company of virtuous people is far greater than the bliss of seven heavens
and of moksha itself, meaning perhaps that it has the potential for leading
us to such spiritual liberation.

Incidentally, this is part of perennial and universal wisdom, and has been
expressed in different ways by various thinkers in various cultures over the
ages. Solon of ancient Greece said, "Mi kakaois omilen: Shun evil company."
Plautus wrote in Latin: "Quam ad probos propinquitate proxime te adjunxeris,
Tam optimum est: The more closely you associate yourself with the good, the
better." In Don Quixote of the Spanish writer Cervantes we read: "Juntate a
los Buenos y seras uno dellos: Keep the company of the good, and you will
become one of them." Shakespeare said, "That noble minds keep ever with
their likes."

V. V. Raman

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#193 - May 07, 2004 01:58 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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Thoughts on the day of Sri Ramanavami (2003)

On this auspicious day when the Hindu world celebrates Sri Ramanavami, we
may recall the ideal realm of Sri Ramachandra as pictured by Indic poets.

RamrAjya (Adapted)

It has been said by VAlmIki sage
That when the great Rama ruled,
No disease was there, nor early death,
Nor persons there unschooled.

No man did die in a fruitful phase,
Leaving behind a wife.
Nor mothers wailed the loss of babes
That died in early life.

No thieves there were, nor cheats nor crooks;
All did just what they should.
People loved and cared for those who lived
In their neighborhood.

Plants and trees did richly grow,
Yielding fruits and grains,
The earth itself enriched the land
With breeze and regular rains.

No lightning, thunder or blazing fire
Did bring to hearts alarm,
Nor gale or hale or quakes that would
Cause to people harm.

With valleys green and flowing streams
All Nature smiled so well,
Men toiled hard and produced goods,
Traders things did sell.

There was law and order and justice fair
In that ancient realm:
That was the kingdom which had the great
Rama at its helm.

This is the utopia of the Indic tradition: the ideal kingdom ruled by the
divine incarnation: King Rama. (My verse is based on various versions of The
Ramayana.) The Ramayana is the oldest epic in the Sanskrit language, and one
of the two major epics of the Hindu world. We know little of historical
authenticity about its date of composition. Authorship of the work is
attributed to the poet Valmiki, referred to as the Adi-kavi (The First
Poet). VAlmIki himself appears in the work, lending historical veracity to
the epic.

On the question of whether the characters of the Ramayana actually lived and
whether the incidents narrated in it actually took place, scholars and
laymen have debated and disagreed. No matter who is in the right, few who
are affiliated to the Indic tradition have not heard of the name and glory
of Rama and Sita.

In the Hindu framework, whenever ethical havoc comes about as a result of
disruptive forces, the Cosmic Sustaining Principle incarnates here below to
rid the world of evil. Whatever the original historical roots of the
Ramayana, eventually Rama (often referred to as Sri Ramachandra) came to be
regarded as the seventh avatar of Vishnu. This interpretation is now an
integral part of Indic traditions.

It is important to recognize two fundamental elements in the epic: First,
that its hero was here on earth as an embodiment of the Divine. Secondly,
that he was essentially human in that manifestation.

Over the centuries, the Rama-principle has uplifted the hearts of countless
millions, given joy and solace to innumerable people in many generations.
Aside from the reverence the name invariably evokes, it has provoked great
art, magnificent music, and graceful dance, as well as philosophical
discussions, literary analyses, and profound piety. It has also infused the
fabric of Hindu culture with an extraordinary unifying power.

The saga of Rama has spread beyond the shores of India. In Java and
Malaysia, in Laos and Kampuchea and Vietnam, in China and Tibet, the
Ramayana has been rendered in varying versions, invariably stressing the
great and ancient theme of dharma in local settings.

Parts or the whole of the Ramayana have been translated into Latin,
English, French and German. Practically all Indian languages have their own
Ramayana, each different in some way or another from the original, but all
composed by the greatest of poets in each literary tradition. The following
statement in the second canto of the Bala Kanda is certainly true: "As long
as the mountains and rivers shall continue on the surface of the earth, so
long shall the story of the Ramayana be told in the world."

We bow in reverence to the Rama-principle because it stands for
truthfulness, righteousness, compassion, and respect for the elderly: values
which, theoretically, are cherished in the Indic culture.

V. V. Raman

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#194 - May 07, 2004 01:59 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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OduvAnellAm uzhuvAndRalaikkaDaiyil
The reciter of scriptures stands at the backdoor of the plowman.

This saying is from an ancient (anonymous) Tamil poet. In classical Tamil,
the word OduvAn refers to a Vedic scholar: it literally means one who
recites scared works. By extension, it refers to any teacher, and also to a
Brahmin. The word uzhuvAn means one who plows, in other words, a farmer or
any worker in the field, hence also to a Sudra. The poet succinctly says
that the scholar is ultimately dependent on the labors of the farmer, and
not vice versa. After all, it is possible for the farmer to live quite well
by the fruits of his labor, and without the benefit of the knowledge and
recitations of the Vedic scholar. However, the latter cannot even survive if
the worker does not plow the field.

It is an important truth that those who labor with their hands, who
construct homes, make roads, and mend shoes are more essential for the
survival of society than priests and pundits. And of all these, the
cultivator in the field is perhaps the most important since there can be no
existence without food.

It must be noted that this saying does not denigrate the scholar, but merely
points out the relative importance of each in society, thus reminding us of
the absurdity, not to say injustice, in a hierarchical system that assigns
to the scholar and the worker in the field positions which are exactly the
opposite of their relative worth.

V.V. Raman

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#195 - May 07, 2004 02:01 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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dAnaM bhogo nASas
tisro gatayo bhavanti vittasya
yo na dadAti na bhumGkte
tasya tRtIya gatir bhavati

Being given away, enjoyed, destroyed:
these are the three (possible) states for (one's) possessions.
What is not given away or enjoyed,
That becomes the third state.

Here is a simple and insightful idea presented by BhartRhari in his
NItiSatakam (64) on what could happen to one's wealth. The sage is saying
that only three things can happen: We can enjoy it, we can give it away as
charity, or it can be totally lost by doing neither of the first two. Of
course, the first two are not mutually exclusive: it is possible to do both.
One can enjoy part of one's wealth, and give away another part to the needy.

We notice that BhartRhari is not preaching here that we should be doing
charity. What he is saying is that if we neither enjoy our resources
ourselves nor give them to others, the whole thing will turn to complete
waste. Thus, he is speaking to the very miserly people who store everything
they have with benefit to no one, like the dog in the manger.

One may extend this idea beyond money and wealth to all the blessings that
one has received in life. They are to be experienced in a wholesome way and
shared with others. Keeping it all to oneself without reaping their full
benefits would be quite wasteful indeed. We are reminded of the Latin writer
Juvenal who said that "some people make fortunes, but not to enjoy them.
They live to make more fortune."

V. V. Raman

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#196 - May 07, 2004 02:02 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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Rationality

The Vedic seers heard and saw the truths, and expressed it in a sense
of wonder, shock and awe, bewilderment, fear and love. It is poetry.

Later in the upanishads, the truths are discussed based on nyaya
(logic) and vaiseshika (anology). Logic and anology means rationale.
The agamas are encyclopedias or manuals of instructions. Mostly they
are injunctions, except for the jnana part.

We are told that the truths/gods cannot be explained, cannot be
known; if realised it cannot be explained. We are also told that in
the final analysis, the rationality of our minds itself is an
impediment towards spiritual progress. The superconscious mind, or
satchitananda is beyond rationality. Rationality which lies within the
conscious and subconscious mind. Rationality lies within time, space,
the law of causation as well as points of references in our world.
When the seers said that it cannot be known, it implies it is 'not
rational' or cannot be understood or cannot be explained in our words
and in our points of references. As sage Yogaswami said, "Naam
Ariyom".

At some point in our spiritual evolution, our bakti and faith must
set aside (overcome) rationality. We have examples from Shankara
himself, when he told his disciple, 'Padmanabha, walk across the
river', and yes.., he did walk on water! Valluvar told his wife,
Vasugi that milk is black and she readily agreed, and when given sand
and told to cook 'this' rice - she did as told and yes.., the sand
turned to rice! Harischandra (I love this guy) and Rama in their
devotion to duty were 'irrational'. Or rather, there was a higher
purpose. Most parents are 'irrational' when it comes to their
children. Love Suprecedes.

These are examples where love of god, knowledge of truths, and duty
overcame rationality.

However in secular matters, and in the matter of chariya or virtues,
no doubt rationality must stand supreme.

Pathmarajah Nagalingam

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#197 - May 07, 2004 02:03 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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sambhAvitasya ca akIrtiH
maraNAd atiricyate.

And for a man of high honor,
Disgrace becomes more than death.

This line is from the Bhagavad Gita (II-34). One's status in society is
determined not only by the wealth one wields, but more importantly, by the
respect one enjoys from the community. A highly regarded person needs to be
far more careful in his or her conduct than other more ordinary people.

Throwing a common thief into prison for a crime, even if it is for a year,
may not bother him very much. However, if one who is held in high esteem is
incarcerated for a week even for a misdemeanor, the resulting disgrace can
be excruciating. For a person of honor, says the Gita, such a disgrace can
be more unbearable than death. We are reminded of Shakespeare's words in
King Richard II:

Mine honour is my life; both grow in me;
Take honor from me, and my life is done.

For one who is dedicated to truth and righteousness, deviation from these is
a dishonorable thing, and that is as terrible as dying: i.e. it is
equivalent to putting an end to one's participation in society.

Beyond that, we may also read an important social comment here. All
enlightened societies subscribe to the view that justice must be the same
for one and all. But sometimes one tends to equate justice with punishment.

Here the Gita implies that punishment should correspond not only to the
crime committed, but also to the one who commits it. For the same crime, the
same punishment will not affect two different individuals in the same way.
For a violation of the law, for example, if a certain amount is levied as a
fine, that amount could mean great hardship to a person of modest means, and
could be paltry for a multi-millionaire.

V. V. Raman

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#198 - May 07, 2004 02:04 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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jyAyasvantaS cittino mA yaushTa
saMrAdhayantaH sadhurAS carantaH
anto anyasmai valgu vadanta
eta sadhrIcInAn vaH sammanasas kRNomi

Following our elders, may we be mutually supportive,
Moving in harmony as if yoked together,
May we speak nicely to one another
May we be led to our goal with minds united.

This is a prayer from the Atharva Veda (III-30.5). When a group has a task
to be completed, it is important for its members to be clear about their
purpose and to work in harmony. This is much more than the physical strength
that comes from unity, such as the rope acquires by the blending of many
threads. Here the plea is for unity of purpose. That unity requires mutual
support and understanding. It cannot be achieved by harsh language, even
when there is disagreement. When a people are united in their goal, they
will certainly act together in ways that will bring them success.

It is interesting that there is also reference to elders here. This is a
reflection not only of respect for age, but it also of the fact that one
always associates wisdom with elders in the tradition.

It is an unhappy fact of Indic history that the profound truth embodied in
this Sloka has often been ignored. The enormous intellectual, moral, and
spiritual resources of the Indic people have seldom been put to full use
because often common purpose and unity have been lacking. Conflicts and
rivalries among splinter groups, let alone the caste system which
transformed division of labor into hierarchical oppression, have stunted the
full actualization of Indic potential. Diversity of perspectives is
strength, but divergence in goals and internecine bickering can be
debilitating for a group or a people.

V. V. Raman

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#199 - May 07, 2004 02:05 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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"The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs
through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.
It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in
numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and
flowers.

It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and death,
in ebb and in flow.

I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life. And my
pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment."

This passage is from Rabindranath Tagore, a giant among twentieth century
writers, a poet both in Bengali and in English. We may look upon this
reflection as conveying the message implicit in the pithy pearl of wisdom:
aham brhamAsmi.

Some interpreters of Indic sages formulate their views in the same ancient
mode, faithful to the terms and framework of a distant age. Others go so far
as to argue that the insights of the original seers ought not to be
commented upon, and should left in their pristine glory. But there are also
some who, like Tagore here, cast the vision and the wisdom of Indic seers in
terms relevant and intelligible to a modern mind and in beautiful English
too.

The question is not which mode is proper, and which one should adopt, but to
rejoice in the multiple approaches that people of the Indic tradition take,
for, as always, it is pluralism and diversity of paths that enriches and
enhances a culture.

V. V. Raman

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#200 - May 07, 2004 02:11 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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On Sage Valmiki


Who was the master poet who wrote the story of Sri Ramachandra in Sanskrit?
When did he live and where? What were his other interests? How old was he
when he composed the work? How was his family like? Who was his guru? How
did he put down thousands of poetic lines long before the invention of paper
and pen? How did the first listeners and readers of the work react to the
work? How was the epic conveyed to distant places in ancient times?

Alas, very little of any reliability is known to quench our curiosity on
these matters. Among the lost treasures of humanity's heritage are the
details of the lives and doings of the creative minds of the ancient world.
We know next to nothing of the geniuses who first contrived the wheel and
the pulley. Our knowledge of the architects of the Pyramids and the
Stonehenge, of the authors of the Vedas and the epics is just as meager.

Tradition ascribes the Ramayana to sage Valmiki, surely the most prestigious
name in all of Sanskrit literature. He is referred to as Adikavi: the first
of poets. As per the Balakanda, at the sight of a bird which had been
cruelly killed by the arrow of a hunter, Valmiki exclaimed in sorrow. Then
he said, "May this utterance (with its prosodic measure) issuing from sorrow
become the Sloka mode and none other!" SokAtarsya pravRtto me Sloko bhavatu
nAnyathA. [This has become a legendary etymology for the word Sloka which,
actually, is a hymn of praise for the glory of the Divine in the Indic
tradition.]

Aside from a reference to his name in the Mahabharata, what little we know
about Valmiki's life is gathered from the Ramayana itself, and from assorted
writings that blend fact and fancy with the same teasing indifference to
physical possibilities as many other ancient episodes.
In the opening canto of the Bala Kanda we are told of how the sage Narada,
in answer to a query, revealed to Valmiki the entire epic, and how the
Creator Himself appeared before the poet and induced him to compose the work
as magnificent poetry.

In the Ayodhya Kanda we meet Valmiki in a hermitage which Rama and Sita
visit along with Lakshmana. In the Uttara Kanda we read that it was in
Valmiki's hermitage that Sita spent her years after being renounced by Rama
on the suspicion that Ravana had violated her. Lava and Kusha, the twin sons
of Rama and Sita, are said to have been under Valmiki's care and guidance in
their boyhood years.

True or symbolic, there is also a legend to the effect that this noble
author of the saga of Rama was once a highway robber who plundered innocent
travelers to add riches to his family. In the Adhyatma Ramayana there is a
passage to the effect that the great Valmiki confessed to Rama: "I was born
in a family of a Brahmin, but kept myself in the company of thieves and
hunters. I lived their life. My wife was a Shudra woman and I had many
children from her. I knew of no other profession and was therefore turned
into a waylayer and a bandit..." His victims asked him if his kith and kin
would share the consequences of the sins he was accumulating. When the
robber put this question to his wife and children, they frankly told him
they would take a share of his loots, but certainly not of fruits of his
sins.

Having thus learned the bitter lesson that we alone are responsible for our
actions, even if their beneficial byproducts are used by others, the robber
went back to the sages for counsel. They asked him to repeat the disyllable
"ma-ra" countless times and tirelessly. This he did, little realizing that
in the process he was interminably invoking the name of Rama. He is said to
have been in a meditative posture for so many years that his whole body was
eventually covered up by a huge anthill. The sages now came back to the
scene and named him Valmiki, which is Sanskrit for anthill.

It would seem that we are so much the poorer for knowing so little of
historical value on the author of our great epic. But not really. For if we
knew too much about Valmiki as a mere mortal in flesh and blood, if we had
his notes, preliminary drafts, and revised versions, the early reactions to
the work, etc., the Ramayana may never have acquired its spiritual
grandeur. Rama and Sita would not have become gods in temples, and swinging
monkeys would not be considered sacred today. There would be no Ram leela or
Ramanavami, no music of Thyagaraja, no devotion of Tulsi Das, and no serene
melody of Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram. Hindu culture would be very different
today if Valmiki is recognized only as another Sanskrit writer like Kalidasa
or Bhavabhuti.

The Ramayana has a divine dimension that Gilgamesh or the Odyssey do not,
which is why we of Indic heritage have a reverence for our sage poet than
Homer and Ariosto, Dante and Milton never enjoyed. His gift of the Ramayana
is not just a majestic epic: it is one of the sturdy pillars of Indic
civilization, and will remain alive and sturdy for as long civilization
lasts on the planet.

V. V. Raman

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#201 - May 07, 2004 02:11 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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na tatra sUryo bhAti na candra tArakaM
nemA vidyuto bhAnti kuto'yamagnih
tameva bhAntam anubhAti sarvaM
tasya bhAva sarvamidaM vibhAti

There the sun shines not, nor the moon nor the stars,
Nor lightnings shine. Where is this fire?
From that effulgence shines everything
From its being all the world is bright.

There is difference between the religious mode which guides us in our
efforts at communion with the Supreme Spirit and the mystic mode which
recognizes the splendor of the transcendent. In the religious mode we pray
for good health and happiness and longevity, and sing the glories of the
Divine in Its various manifestations. But in the mystic mode one experiences
the sublime effulgence in all its splendor.

In this verse of the KaTha Upanishad (II.2.25), the mystic sage-poet conveys
to us what Divinity is all about. It is not the sun or the stars and all the
perceived sources of light and illumination. Rather, it is that which causes
these to be what they are. Just as the person is not the eyes and the ears
and even the brain, but something deeper that activates it all, the Divine
is not any of these manifestations, but that which fuels it all.

We may interpret this verse as telling us that when we see the grace and
spiritual grandeur in the mUrtis in our temples, we must recognize that they
are the channels through which we may reckon the Divine, but they themselves
are not.


V.V. Raman

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#202 - May 07, 2004 02:12 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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mUvagai ulagum Ai - guNanGaL mUndRum Ai
yAvaiyum evarum Ai - eNil vERupaTTu
Oval il oru nilai oruvan ceivinai
dEvarum munivarum uNarat tEyumO?

Who is manifest in the three kinds of worlds,
Who is manifest in the triple qualities,
Whatever and whoever, Who has become,
In innumerable variations, Who is manifest
Unceasingly everywhere, Whose actions are:
Can even deities and sages ever know Him?

This stanza is from a section of KamparAmAyaNam (YuddhakAnDam: 3-63). It
occurs in the narration of the story of PrahlAda and HiraNya which is
elaborated in the Padma PurANa. Here, the Daitya prince PraHlAda, son of
the atheist King HiraNyakasupu and fervent devotee of Lord Vishnu,
describes in twenty one stanzas the nature of the Divine. This set of
verses, with references to the SAMkhya, Yoga, and the Upanishads,
constitutes a succinct theological text in itself, and deserves to be read
as a separate piece.

Here we note that aside from the narration of events and episodes, our epics
also reflect the framework of Indic values and worldviews. They present to
the reader and listener the subtle aspects of Indic philosophy and
metaphysics in laymen's terms.

The three kinds of worlds refer to the triloka (three principal lokas) of
(one version of) Hindu cosmology, consisting of heaven (svarloka), earth
(bhUloka), and the nether world (talaloka). The triple qualities refer to
the sAMkhya classification of the ultimate components of PrakRiti (the
source of the material-physical world) into sattva, rajas, and tamas , by
whose combinations the world arises.

In this verse the poet reminds us that every conceivable aspect of the
universe is regarded as a manifestation of the Divine. But Divinity is
unfathomable. Not even supernatural beings or the most enlightened sages can
grasp it in its entirety. Here again, he echoes the Vedic seer who exclaimed
about Creation:

When and how did creation start?
Did He do it? Or did He not?
Only He up there knows, maybe;
Or perhaps, not even He.

The passage from which Kamban's quote is taken shows, like many others,
that Kamban was not only a supremely gifted poet, but a profound scholar,
thinker, and philosopher no less. In that sense he was as much a rishi as a
bard.

V. V. Raman

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#203 - May 07, 2004 02:13 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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sunahu Bharata bhAvI prabala
bilakhi kahe-u muninAtha
hAni lAbha jIvana maraNa
yaSa apayASa vidhihAtha

"Listen, Bharata, destiny is mighty,"
Sobbingly said the chief sage (VaSishTa),
"Loss, gain, life, death
Glory, infamy, (are all) in the hands of Fate."

This is from a very moving scene in (Tulsi Das's RAmacaritramAnasa: II.170).
King Dasaratha had died, and Rama had gone to the forest with Sita and
Lakshmana. Bharata had to do the obsequies. He is overwhelmed with sorrow,
and sage VaSishTha is there to console and guide. But the eminent rishi
himself is feeling the acute grief. In that height of emotion, when the
chain of events had transformed a potential joyous event (Sri Rama's
coronation) into a tragic event (King Dasaratha's demise), the rishi doesn't
know what to say, and asks Bharata to resign himself to Fate.

When joy is transformed into pain, life into death, there is no point in
analyzing the situation, and talking of karma and God. What is one to say
when all is lost and one faces an irrevocable occurrence, except to
recognize the power of destiny? To grant that all is in the hands of Fate is
essentially to accept whatever has happened and about which nothing can be
done to recover the past state. If intelligence consists in doing
everything one can to prevent an unhappy thing from happening, if and when
the event has happened, wisdom consists in accepting it and moving ahead. No
amount of wailing and moaning will put the clock back and revert the world
to the past.

There are two ways of interpreting the experience of an unhappy situation in
an individual's life: Through the law of karma or as the actualization of
the script of destiny. Traditionally, in the Hindu framework one considers
the matter in terms of the karmic law. It would appear here that the great
rishi is moving from the law-of-karma explanation of the event into the
it-was-ordained-to-be-so mode. The law of karma certainly accounts for
situations, but it is not as effective as pre-destination in the context of
facing an unpleasant experience. It is wisdom to know which to adopt in
which context. And that is the lesson we learn from here.

V. V. Raman

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#204 - May 07, 2004 02:14 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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pRthvi ap tejo vAyur iti tattvAni
Earth, water, fire, air: These are the ultimate principles.

This quote is attributed to Carvaka, which is the name of an unidentified
thinker of the lokAayata or materialist school of Hindu philosophy.
Pure materialism as a belief system, i.e. one that maintains that ultimately
there is only matter in the universe, and rejects anything supernatural or
spiritual, has been there in many cultures, ancient and modern. Ancient
Greece and Rome and China had their materialists. So did classical India.

Contrary to mainstream Brahmanical Hinduism the Carvakas openly rejected a
spiritual realm, including a divine principle. They pooh-poohed the Vedas
and the Upanishads, and denied post-mortem states. Their fundamental thesis
about reality was that the world was nothing more than variable
configurations and transformations of the primordial elements of ancient
science, namely: earth, water, fire, and air, very much like what modern
physics sometimes holds. They did not believe in AkASa, the fifth elemental
principle accepted by many ancient Hindu systems, because they adhered to
the principle: pratyaksham evaikaM pramANam: perception is the only measure
(of truth). AkASa cannot perceived, and only that which can be directly
perceived was real for them. All else, they said, was imagination at best.

Even consciousness was regarded as a byproduct of the elemental groupings,
jivAtman and paramAtman were mere sounds at worst and poetic concoctions at
best. [Or, as one says in current science, an emergent property.] LokAyatas
were not only marginalized, they were severely condemned by many. Lord
Krishna refers to them in the Bhagavad Gita (XVI.8).

People holding on to religious-spiritual perspectives have generally looked
down upon LokAyatas, and even regarded them as non-Hindus. Since some of
them, like BRhaspati (often regarded as the originator of this school) and
KambalASvatara. were not avarNas or mlecchas, nor Buddhists, nor Jains, it
is difficult to say how they can be categorized. Another writer by the name
of KRSNa MiSra wrote: "LoyAyata is the only SAstra." In the 19th and 20th
centuries there have been quite a few LokAyatas, some of them eminent (like
M. N. Roy, Nirad C. Chowdhury, Debiprasad Chattppashyaya, S. Chandrasekhar,
and a number of Tamil purists, to mention a few). According to some
scholars, there have been more closet-LokAyatas than most temple-going
Hindus would like to think. Since Hinduism has not practiced
ex-communication (thus far), LokAyatas have lived and died as Hindus.
Perhaps this is not surprising when we realize that Hinduism is a cultural
complex much more than a religion with a historical founder, and its
reflecting members are highly individualistic, accepting only worldviews
that are most appealing to them.

According to the MahAbhArata (Salya Parva 64), a man named CArvAka was burnt
to ashes by Brahmins. Whether we agree with the LokAyata view or not, it is
part of Indic cultural history. From the point of view of the history of
Indian philosophy, LokAyatas who were sometimes allied to the tAntriks, were
a very interesting group in that they proclaimed a philosophy that was
diametrically opposed to the establishment, often at some risk to
themselves. Some scholars have suggested that if the LokAyatas had not been
snubbed and silenced, modern science might have germinated in the Hindu
world rather than in Western Europe: a thought that is very unpalatable to
the spiritualist/orthodox upholders of Hindu civilization.

V. V. Raman

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#205 - May 07, 2004 02:15 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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Tamil Sayings

kAkkAikku tan kunju pon kunju:

To the crow its little one is a golden little one.

It wisely does not say <EVEN to a crow,> because that would imply a lowly
status to the crow.

Great wisdom is enshrined in these simple words. There is a difference between <To a Muslim, his religion is the best> and
<Even to a Muslim his religion is the best.>

V. V. Raman

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#206 - May 07, 2004 02:15 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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MANikkavAcakar


1. Vatavurar (7th century C.E.?) was a great thinker and writer of the
Pandya kingdom who served as prime minister for King Arimartanan. His gifts
as a poet earned him the honorific of MANikkavAcakar: One with speech like
pearls (of beauty and wisdom). He was among the Tamil poets who resisted the
spread of Buddhism and Jainism in the South through his inspiring and
devotional poetry. His best known work is TiruvAsakam: a magnificent
composition of Tamil Shaivite hymns whose prosodic beauty and spiritual
intensity cannot be translated into any other language without diluting
both. They embody sophisticated esoteric truths also. The work has had
enormous influence on the Tamil Shaivite world, and is sung with piety to
this day. Some miracles are attributed to him, and he is among the eminent
saint poets of the Hindu world.

[It should be remembered that because of the impact of Sanskritic culture,
Tamil Shaivites first split into two groups: simple Shaiviites and Vedic
Shaivites. Those who actively combated the Vedic Shaivites became Veera
Shaivites. This last mentioned group, under Basava, became the LingAyats.
They have great reverence for MANikkavAcakar.

2. It is a sad fact of reported/recorded history that at one time during the
reign of the Pandya King NedumAran (6250645 C.E.), several thousand Tamil
Jains who refused to re-convert to Hinduism were impaled: a tragic and
shameful episode that used to be observed as a festival in Madurai for many
long years.

3. One mindless act, perpetrated by one group or generation during a phase
of frenzy, can spell a permanent blot of shame on the history of a people.
Not all Tamils/Hindus would commit such a heartless and heinous crime, but
because of what happened then, we all have to carry the burden as part of
our history.

V. V. Raman
April 25, 2003

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#207 - May 07, 2004 02:16 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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MANikkavAcakar

To add to the info;

It was a time when jainism and buddhism were gaining strenght in Tamilnadu and
India. Some
scholars say that they probably accounted for nearly half the tamil population
at that time. And they
were aggressive and condescending as christians today in their conversion
campaigns. They were
seeking dominance. And along came the saivite saints; first Appar who converted
to jainism, then
reconverted back. He along with several other saints travelled throughout the
region, singing their
hymns of love of god, performing miracles, winning the hearts and minds of the
people and challenging
the buddhists and jains, and showing the superiority of Saivism with their
miracles and rationale.
They cured the sick, brought the dead to live, walked on water, changed wolves
into horses, etc.

Later came Manickavasagar, who also followed this tradition. He called them
heathens and athiests,
scorned and ridiculed them. Enraged, the jains, and buddhists from Sri Lanka
challenged Manickavasar
to a debate, and the king ruled that the loser will be put to death. Both
parties accepted. The
buddhists and jains lost, and Manickavasar stood by not protesting when the king
staked them. It is
the Nayanars and (later) the Alvar saints that brought and end to Buddhism and
Jainism, not only in
Tamilnadu, but all over India. If not for them India today may have been a
Buddhist nation like
Myanmar of Thailand, with ancient temples in ruins like Angkor. All Hindus are
deeply in gratitude and
indebted to them.

The nayanars and alvars are also remembered to this day due to their
compositions of hymns in tamil
that equals the Vedas and Upanishads in poetry and philosophy. I do not say this
in jest. It took these
hymns and these saints to defeat buddhism and jainism (who had a free run for a
thousand years in
India), not the Rig or Upanishads.

That Madurai temple should continue the tradition. Once the BJP comes to power
on its own, I will
write to them and ask them to declare that festival day as a national public
holiday.

He is a Hindu hero, and he taught us how to deal with enemies of Hinduism, and
who are the enemies of
Hinduism too. We see clearly that Hinduism is not that eclectic, it has limits
and can be defined. His
life and actions has parallels in the BG where Krishna goads Arjuna to kill his
kin; worse still even if
they are Hindus. Parallels in ramayana too. But nobody calls these itihasa
characters as nazis,
traumatised lunatics, committing genocides over family fueds and wifes.

Now you know why Buddhism and Jainism can never, EVER, be in the Hindu fold.
Instead or arguing and
debating endlessly, we simply follow the 'way of the ancients', the masters, the
rishis and saints. If
Jains and Buddhists are enemies to be evacuated from the planet, what more of my
lists.

Manickavasagar's times has parallels today; dangers from the evangelists and
enemies that I have
enumerated. New Manickavasagars are arising, and have arisen, and will arise in
future too, like
Vikekananda, Aurobindo, Prabhupada, Subramuniyaswami, RSS, BJP (dont fight me on
this), etc. who
challenged the enemies, spoke out against them forcefully, restoring pride in
the religion and are
bringing the people back into the fold as faithful devotees. They are
reappearing again, as promised.

No such events between Hindus, except that silly one in Prayag 300 years ago.

Pathmarajah Nagalingam

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#208 - May 07, 2004 02:18 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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AUVAIYAR

The poetess par excellence of the Tamil-speaking people is a wise old woman.
There is a legend to the effect that she was a child prodigy who spoke
poetry when barely four, and had the blessings of Lord Ganesha. She was
fully devoted to the Divine principle from that tender age. When she matured
to a good-looking damsel, her father began to negotiate a suitable groom for
her. She had no wish to marry and become a routine housewife. She prayed to
the Lord to turn her into an old woman, wrinkles and all, so no youth would
want to wed her. All she wanted was to pursue the poetic path. Her wish was
granted, and that is how this immortal doyenne of Tamil wisdom is
remembered: as a grand lady of mature years.

We don't know what her real name was. But she came to be called AuvaiyAr, a
word which means mother or matron There is probably no Tamil speaker with
cultural self-respect who has not heard the name of Auvai, as she is
sometimes known affectionately. Few writers in any culture have enjoyed such
reputation for more than a millennium.

The Tamil world boasts of two AuvaiyArs. The first one whom sacred history
regards as the oldest of four sisters of the great TiruvaLLuvar has left
two memorable masterpieces in the "A is for Apple and B is for Boy" mode by
which children learn the alphabet. Except that in the Auvai-inspired
tradition, the letters introduce the young to values and wisdom rather than
to apples, cats, and dogs.

The first of these collections is called AtticcUDi. The name means one who
is adorned with the flower from the Atti (Bauhinia racemosa) tree, and is
one of many epithets for Lord Shiva. It is known for its capsules of
perennial wisdom. Nowhere is the Shakespearean phrase "brevity is the soul
of wit (wisdom)" more tellingly illustrated than in this immortal collection
which used to be (perhaps still is) learned by rote by youngsters before
they learn to read and count. The very first lesson it teaches is:
aRam ceiyya virumbu: Desire to do the righteous thing!

The Tamil word aram corresponds to the Sanskrit dharma. We are reminded of
the Upanishdaic dhamaM cara: Follow the path of dharma! AuvaiyAr does not
simply ask us to follow that path. She advises us to want to do it. The
poetess reveals an astounding understanding of psychology. Once the desire
to do good in implanted in heart and mind, action would follow
spontaneously. This is somewhat like the Chinese saying that it is better to
teach a hungry man to fish than to give him the day's portion. In the same
work she also urges us to cool our temper, and never to give up zest for
life.

A companion work is called KondRaivEndan, which is another honorific for
Lord Siva. This too is a mound of maxims, each a string of four pithy
words. The genius of the Tamil language sparkles in these precious nuggets,
all formulated with just four words and in rhythmic meters. The work begins
by declaring that Mother and Father are the first Gods to be reckoned. Then
we are reminded that it is very beneficial to worship in a house of prayer.
In the same work, we are advised to forget promptly an unattainable desire,
to dwell in a town where water is readily available, to not keep moping
about a lose but to get back to work again, and so on.

Many kings were AuvaiyAr's patrons. She traveled from region to region.
There are many stories associated with Auvaiyar's life. Once she was told
by a priest not to sit in a place of worship with her legs pointing in the
direction of the Almighty. He should have said, the icon. AuvaiyAr asked him
to show her a direction which pointed to a place where the Almighty wasn't
present.

What makes AuvaiyAr an extraordinary poetess is her ability to condense
weighty insight in very few words. She was not a pompous pedant quoting
scripture, nor a secluded swami, but one devoted to VinAyaka (Lord GaNeSa).
Her teachings were not about God, karma, moksha, and such. She was a
down-earth teacher who spoke with simplicity and intelligence on matters
that help us become decent, sharing, and compassionate. She was humble too.
"What is learned has the measure of a fistful of mud, " she reflected, "what
is not learned is as vast as the entire world."

Some three score of Auvai's poem's are extant, enshrined in the Tamil
anthologies called PuranAnUru and AganAnUru. AuvaiyAr, who is considered to
be an incarnation of Sarasvati, stands tall among the women-poetesses of
the world, though she is seldom recognized as such.


V. V. Raman

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#209 - May 07, 2004 02:18 AM Re: Hindu Gems
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janma vibhratI bahudhA vivAcasaM
nAnAdharmANaM pRthivI yathaukasam
sahasra dhArA draviNasya meM duhAM
dhruvEva dhenur anapasphurantI

May the earth that supports lives which speak in many ways
And where different dharmas are in different places,
Enrich me through a thousand streams
Steadily like a cow that never denies.

The author of this Sloka from the Atharva Veda (XIV. 1-45) is clearly aware
that there are many peoples in the world speaking many languages. The rishi
also recognizes that there are various dharmas. What is relevant in this
awareness, as of the multiplicity of languages, is that they are described
as being supported by the earth which, in this context, is invoked with
reverence. This reflects a profound insight into the complexity of human
cultures. Furthermore, the appeal to be enriched through a thousand streams,
after referring to different languages and dharmas, could be interpreted to
mean that the seeker wishes to benefit from the variety. He is not so much
eager to spread his own language and dharma all over the world, as to be
enriched by them. Indeed India herself has never sought to spread her
dharma, but has been enriched over the centuries by the dharma and languages
of other peoples. For, even though we may rightly reject and condemn the
forcible conversion of our peoples to other religious modes, we cannot deny
that in at least some ways, Indic culture has been made all the richer by
alien intrusions. Above all, what needs to be noted in this vision is the
wisdom that seeks to learn from the multiplicity in the world, rather than
be afraid or resentful of it.

V. V. Raman

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