Sunday, August 30, 2015

No Kidding - Follow this child - Part 1 - Dhruva

            The Indian subcontinent has been specially blessed throughout its history with an unbroken spiritual connection since antiquity. No other civilization can boast of such a foundation. The socio-economic-political events pretty much had no impact on this aspect until the last century when we have proactively started distancing ourselves from the high values that formed the core of our civilization. There is a sustained influence from the West in the form of perverted academic works by the likes of Wendy Doninger, Sheldon Pollock. Not only that they have their Sepoys like Mihir Sharma and the heavy communistic bent historians, media people who consistently twist Hinduism in the name of secularism. Even these would not have a dent, if people stuck to the core values. The values that guided the freedom fighters like Mahatma Gandhi are not even heard of today. We all are passionate about the next generation having a greater future. But this will be a fantasy, unless we take individual responsibility. This may mean more self discipline, reaching for higher goals than having a routine Tamasic indulgence.
            We will be looking at some of the ancient stories with the objective of squeezing few more drops than the nectarine story. I believe, this will be interesting to the younger readers who are following this blog. There have been wonderful examples of children who have raised the spiritual consciousness of generations. The standards set by them are so high that one wonders how disciplined one must be even as an adult to follow even a fraction of the spiritual rigor exhibited by these kids. We will kick off this series with Dhruva.

Dhruva – Shining like the Pole Star named after him
Dhruva, maybe a legend or a story based on remote human history, we may never be able to verify. True to the Pole Star, named after him, Dhruva has inspired innumerable children with a stellar example defying his young age of five.  Every cycle of humanity repopulating in every epoch, mahayuga, is initiated by a Manu. Svayambhuva Manu has two sons Uttanapada and Priyavrata. The King tended to favor Suruchi openly, which she took full advantage by abusing Suniti and Dhruva. One day, seeing Uttama on Uttanapada’s lap, Dhruva was overcome with the desire to sit on his father’s lap. An enraged Suruchi snapped at Dhruva, telling that though he is born as the King’s son, he doesn’t get that privilege of enjoying his father’s lap, as Dhruva is not born of her womb. She advised him that maybe he should pray that he be born to her womb in his next birth.
Dhruva’s anger and pain knew no bounds. His helpless mother, unable to console the child, advises him to think of the Lotus Feet of Narayana. She hopes a spiritual thought can soothe the burn in Dhruva’s heart caused by his Stepmother and an irresponsible father trapped in the beauty of Suruchi.
The purposeful words of his mother galvanized Dhruva, who leaves the house with the determination to meditate upon Narayana. He encounters Narada, the divine sage, mind-born son of Brahma, the creator of the universe. Narada tests the child’s determination by explaining the daunting task is beyond the reach of even the highest sadakas. Narada dissuades that a child must not take these small things to heart. Dhruva says that he being a Kshatriya, his pride is wounded and he cannot tolerate anyone insulting him like that. It was his birth right to yearn for his father’s love. Dhruva displays amazing maturity in immediately pleading Narada to counsel him on the easiest path to reach the lotus feet of Narayana, as he wants to attain the most superior position in the three worlds. My humble pranams to the wisest change agent of spiritual evolution, an embodiment of compassion, Sage Narada. (I hate how we portray this great soul as a comic character in the media and books of today).
Narada initiates him with the dvadasa-akshara mantra, Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya and guides him to go to Madhuvana, on the banks of river Yamuna. He initiates him in simple techniques of taking bath in the river, sitting in one place and regulating the breath, Pranayama (controlling and watching the ingoing, outgoing and balanced breath). The fire of determination burning as bright as his heart melted in devotion to the Lord brings the best student in Dhruva. Narada goes to the grieving, remorseful Uttanapada and tells him that the Supreme Godhead will guide and protect him.
Eating frugally on what the forest offered, Dhruva follows the spiritual prescription to the last letter. His heart dwelling on the mantra and his thoughts fully absorbed in the thoughts of Lord Narayana. His bhakthi grew from strength to strength with every practice. For the first month, he eats fruits and berries in the mornings, every three days, spending all the hours of day and night, in the thoughts of the Lord. In the second month, eats only once is six days, partaking only grasses and dry leaves. In the third month, he drinks only water, once in nine days. In the fourth month, he breathed once in twelve days with no food or water to accompany. In the fifth month, he stood on one leg with his breath totally controlled.
For people with little initiation to meditation, these austerities look like a fairy tale. But for a person on such an inward journey, their consciousness keeps expanding. Wish such a fiery intensity, all vital air in the universe was stalled by the wonderful feat of a little boy’s innocent devotion. The Devas unable to perform their duties in the blinding blazing fire of tapasya of this little boy, who could not be tempted by Indra’s failed attempts, thanks to the guidance of Narada, plead Narayana to bless him.
The intensity of Dhruva’s meditation was so intense that even Lord Narayana ‘s appearance could not shake him. Asakening from such a meditation, Dhruva prostrates at the lotus feet he had been seeing in front of his mind all along. He bursts in praising the Ocean of Mercy, which is famously known as Dhruva Stuti. The Lord praising the pure devotion of the child, whose heart is filled with no desire, immortalizes him by naming the Pole Star after him. What great souls take several births to purify their mind and achieve, Dhruva achieved it in six months of intense focus. Lord Narayana grants the entire world to Dhruva, who has already risen above desires. HE blesses him of Narayanapada after his long life of service to humanity.
Dhruva returns to the kingdom. Uttanapada is overjoyed to see his son return from the jaws of certain death. Suruchi has a total transformation of heart is amongst the first to rush and invite the child. The joy of mother Suniti knew no bounds to see her son back in flesh. The subjects expressed their happiness in different ways. Uttanapada takes his opportunity to crown Dhruva as the next King, as he found his more than worthy to guide the subjects and also hasten his retirement to the forest.
Satchitananda’s microscope
  • Whenever one is distressed by mundane sorrows of the world, one has a choice to chase the ephemeral material objects or to revitalize the mind to a higher goal. Dhruva takes the higher path to the lotus feet of the Lord instead of brooding of the issues of the lower plane. Krishna offers a clear direction in this sloka.
उद्धरॆत् आत्मना आत्मानं आत्मानम् अवसादयॆत्
आत्म एव हि आत्मनः बंधुः आत्म एव रिपुः आत्मनः

uddharEt AtmanA AtmAnaM na AtmAnam avasAdayEt |
Atma eva hi AtmanaH baMdhuH Atma eva ripuH AtmanaH || Bhagavad Gita 6.5 ||

By means of the mind, one should lift up the soul, but should not ruin the soul; because mind alone is the friend of the soul, mind alone is the enemy of the soul.

  • Suniti, despite her resignation to a state of misery is able to guide the child with words of wisdom, because she herself is tuned to that frequency, in an effort to console her own mind. Association with right person can lead in right direction. In this case, the mother role comes secondary to her wisdom.
  • A Guru is critical for making the path to Self-Realization. A Guru may test the mettle of the student like Narada did. A Guru also customizes the path based on the student’s temperament. Guru’s environs provide a stable, safe environment to the sadak.
  • What if I do not have a Guru? Narada appeared only after Dhruva did little purushartha, self-effort by leaving the comforts of the Palace and going into a forest. We have enough wisdom left in the form of preparatory aides like so many scriptures. By raising our self effort, we will attract the right Guru into our lives.
  • Like Dhruva, single minded focus and emphasis on increasing preparedness is vital for us to achieve success in any aspect of life. Dhruva showed that maintaining a purity of purpose, one can achieve even the highest human goal in the shortest span of time and age has no barrier.
  • Dhruva transmuted his one desire to a desireless state, by following his Guru’s instructions. Our effort based on the sage guidance of the wiser predecessor, can make the impossible to be within our reach.
  • Nama Japa is a simple potent tool, which anyone can practice and reap potent benefits.

May we follow the exemplary footsteps of Dhruva to achieve the higher human ideals in this very birth. May the compassion of great Gurus like Narada continue to guide mortal selves like us.
Om Tat Sat
Suggested Reading:

Friday, August 28, 2015

Varnas - A journey to its roots

            We see divisions all around us - in Nature, in society, within government, within our own body. Even an ant or honeybee colony seems to have division of labor. Interestingly even in socio-economically evolved west we see such patterns are strong and even run in families. We see doctors marrying doctors, engineers run in families, needless to say software consultants marrying another one. A simple insight into William Sears1 family of doctors is sufficient to prove that human beings build their success based on their family roots. Even in US, though there may be not many recognizable patterns, serving armed forces usually runs in the family for many. 

            So if it is natural for humans to gravitate to comfortable patterns, then why does casteism in India has become a monster. In fact, casteism is not Varnashrama. We saw in Fourfold Hinduism, that four Varnas exist. Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. In this article, we will definitely stay away from the socio-econo-political aspects of Varnas, in their current form of Casteism. We are going to challenge the traditional thought of Varna as a birth-right. Our gaze is going to be centered more on the spiritual angle. This will enable us to get rid of some of the common misconceptions, some deliberately mischievously propagated by West. Many well-funded proselytizing agencies from West are deepening the fractures invented by the British legacy we have inherited. 

            Mahatma Gandhi was one of the strongest champions of Varnashrama2.

I believe that every man is born in the world with certain natural tendencies. Every person is born with certain natural tendencies. Every person is born with certain definite limitations which he cannot overcome. From a careful observation of those limitations the law of Varna was deduced. It establishes certain spheres of action for certain people with certain tendencies. This avoided all unworthy competition. Whilst recognizing limitations the law of Varna admitted of no distinctions of high and low; on the one hand it guaranteed to each the fruits of his labours, and on the other it prevented him from pressing upon his neighbours reputed. But my conviction is that an ideal social order will only be evolved when the implication of this law are fully understood and given effect to.
The Modern review, Oct’35, p.413

Varnashrama Dharma defines man’s mission on this earth. He is not born day after day to explore avenues for amassing riches and to explore different means of livelihood; on the contrary man is born in order that he may utilize every atom of his energy for his purpose of knowing his Maker. It restricts him, therefore, for the purpose of holding body and soul together, to the occupation of his forefathers. That and nothing more or nothing less is Varnashrama Dharma.
Young India, 27-10-‘27

            We have to accept the saddest fact. If one were to go merely by the number of critics quoting and studying our scriptures and the number of hindus who study to understand and practice, we are far outnumbered. A practicing Muslim or Christian, follows the recommended scriptures. But as Hindus, we give numerous excuses that even outnumbers the wonderful scriptures we have. With that melancholic thought, let me urge the practitioners to dust off and pick a scripture, not to understand Hinduism, but themselves through the vehicle called Sanatana Dharma, Hinduism.

            At the outset let me clarify that the two words Jaati and Varna, both used to indicate Caste, have different meanings. Interestingly the currently followed usage of Caste is never even sanctioned. Jaati comes from Janam, birth. Varna has numerous meanings like color, but its root word means to choose.

            Critics often quoting our scriptures, selectively, which we never open, is at the root cause of misinterpretations. Both critics and defenders quote this sloka in their favor.

चातुर्वर्ण्यं मया सृष्टं गुणकर्मविभागश: |
तस्य कर्तारमपि मां विद्ध्यकर्तारमव्ययम् ||
chātur-varya mayā siha gua-karma-vibhāgaśha
tasya kartāram api mā
viddhyakartāram avyayam (Bhagavad Gita Chapter 4, Verse 13)

According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And, although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.

            Since Krishna, himself, confessed that Varnas as His creation, critics go salivating that Caste problem stems from Krishna or GodHead itself. What a ridiculous conclusion. If they patiently read the second part of the same verse they often quote, HE clearly declares that HE is a non-doer.

Nādatte kasyacit pāpaṁ na caiva sukṛtaṁ vibhuḥ (5.15): Neither is God responsible for the good that we do, nor is He responsible for the bad that we do. We are automatically rewarded or punished by a ‘computer system’ which He has set up in the form of these cosmic forces; and as the law automatically acts, our actions automatically act in the form of pleasure and pain. – Swami Krishnananda

            If critics are able to quote and hold on to one verse wrongly for their argument, will they be charitable enough to think the same about the other verses that share more insights? There are numerous internal cross-references within Bhagavad Gita that one needs to study to have a better insight.

            Let us go back to that sloka again. Krishna says Guna-Karma Vibhagashah. According to the Gunas and Karmas, divisions happen. Hindus believe that birth is a consequence of Karmas (past).  There are Three Gunas in nature. Sattva(Purity, Balancing), Rajasic(Dynamic, Activity) and Tamasic(Inertia, Darkness). Modern science at this stage is able to appreciate Statics and Kinetics, but yet to understand or include the Balancing phenomenon.

            Gunas are dynamic and will vary from person to person and within the same person with time. Very easy to understand that as a child one may be very active, but with age, they may tend to get more calm or even inert. Early wakers may be active as they rise from bed but sleepy early night, but night owls love late nights, but are sleepy early morning. Just to indicate that. (We will see in later article more in depth about Gunas.) For now it is suffice to reckon that the entire universe is an admixture of the three Gunas.

            No one will ever have 100% of one Guna. Though the Guna composition is always in a flux, there is a predominant Guna that characterizes each individual. Through Purushartha, self-exertion, one can modify this pattern. The great Sages saw that humans tend to follow some basic patterns. They found that some of us have Sattva as the dominant factor, followed by Rajas and little Tamas. Needless to say these are people who are very spiritual, intellectual and active people in society. They were called Brahmanas. The best example that comes to my mind is late Dr. A.P.J. Kalam. In Kshatriyas, we find Rajas as the dominant factor, followed by Sattva and little Tamas.  Needless to say that great politicians of our times like Narendra Modi, Indira Gandhi come to our mind, irrespective of their policy outlook. Their focus need not be warfare. One can see this spirit through even in sports like Sachin Tendulkar or M.S.Dhoni. The fighting spirit is predominantly Kshatriya. We see that many are motivated by money. Their relationship with the world is through the world of finance. Needless to state Vaishyas have their dominant Rajas backed by Tamas and little Sattva. Be it Bill Gates or the roadside Kirana owner, one can easily match this patterns. The bulk of the society will be dominated by Sudras, their mindset dominated by Tamas, supported by Rajas and where Sattva doesn't play major role. In society, the majority of the folks are employees. They want 9-5 jobs, content with pension. They do not want risks like Vaishya. Nor do they want to stand up for something right and go after it with a winning attitude. Needless to mention, their mind doesn't dwell on subtle aspects of spirituality.

            We already observed in Fourfold Hinduism, the four Purusharthas, Dharma-Artha-Kama-Moksha, the four ways humans exert themselves, namely, Social-Financial-Psychological-Spiritual. (Hope to expand on this in later article). These are not like steps or levels that one peels like layers of onion. These are all the dimensions one has to be observant simultaneously. The understanding is on the foundation of Dharma, earn Artha (all sorts of wealth, not just money), enjoy without sacrificing the bounds of Dharma, Kama (not merely carnal pleasures, as most commonly misinterpreted) and raise oneself in Consciousness, Moksha.

            Despite the emphasis that all the four, in an orderly society, people predominantly tend to gravitate towards one major Purushartha. In a typical society, most of the people are just living by the laws of the land, minding their own job, centered around their families or values they believe in. The maximum most people follow any law is to not to be in violation. This level of thought process is pain avoidance. Shudra, by one definition, means pain avoidance. 

janmana jayate shudrah samskarairdvija uchyate - (Mahabharata)

All are born Shudras, it is only through certain rites or inner training that one becomes a Dwija or twice-born.
(Vaishyas, Kshatriyas and Brahmanas are referred as Dwijas or Twice born, as they have risen from a animal-man mindset to start moving higher. Why animal man, because at this level the higher  faculties or aspirations are not at play)

            By this internal cross-reference in Mahabharata, it is very clear that, unless one makes a conscious effort to raise higher inwards, one may be revolving around the conditions in which one is born. They may acquire more material wealth, but their mindset may not be evolved. Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs is sufficient proof that even scientific outlook concurs with this eastern observation.

            So we can safely conclude that a good man who merely observes the social laws and believes in moral codes due to the pressures of the society is a Shudra. We now look at the person who is oriented towards the materialistic aspects of life. This need not be only money, but also expressions like fashion, collecting the trinkets of pleasure. These folks are also, not in violation of Dharma. We will continue to use the word as Social Order, for this article. They need not be only businessmen, but by our standards, one whose action is always centered around wealth, Artha - Vaishyas. 

            There are amongst others who are power centric. They want to influence. In a positive way, it is called leadership and in a negative connotation, world over it is called politicians. Of course, all military will have to be part of this definition. There is an immense psychological idea to dominate, overpower, conquer, stand tall. Again, if we get over the twisted highly limited definition of the word, Kama. Kama is desire, which is again a psychological pressure in the Self to exert in a certain direction. This must not be misconstrued that the other varnas do not have desires. Similarly it doesn't mean non vaishyas never touch money or some silly notion. Kshatriyas need not be only in the power. We see lots of media hungry NGOs who will nev er get elected but busy influencing. This is a good example that we must understand the varna concept with a subtle alert mind.

            Brahmanas, by that definition, are ones who are totally immersed in either intellectual or spiritual excellence. So this will cover Einstein and also all the great swamijis we know of. Again, as we refine our mind in a higher plane, the varna also changes.

            Is there any definitive proof in our scriptures or this is a made up account ? In VishnuSahasaranama Stotram portion that is found in Mahabharata, sung by Bhishma in front of Krishna, in his death bed, he provides a definitive clue.

वेदान्तगो ब्रह्मणः स्यात् क्षत्रियो विजयी भवेत् |
वैश्यो धनसंर्द्धःस्यात् शुद्र सुखमवाप्नुयात ||
vedāntagō brāhmaṇaḥ syāt kṣatriyō vijayī bhavet |
vaiśyō dhanasamṛddhaḥ syāt śūdrassukhamavāpnuyāt ||
The Brahmin will get knowledge, The Kshatriya will get victory.
The Vaisya will get wealth, The Shudra will get pleasures.

            By the above account, it is clear that based on the Gunas and Karmas, one's Varna will be defined. But as science today tells us that our birth environment plays a critical role through out our life, though we retain the power to break that shackle all the time. Again some scriptural reference can comfort us here.

एकवर्णं इदं पूर्व विश्वं आसीद युधिष्टिर कर्मक्रियविशेसेन चतुर्वर्ण्याम प्रतिष्ठितम
eka varnam idam purvam vishvam Asid yudhisthira; karmakriyAvishesena chAturvarnyam pratisthitam  (Mahabharata)

The whole world was of one class, and the four groups became established on account of their conduct.
            Though this argument sounds nice, is there proof that such an interpretation was ever followed during the Vedic times. Again, we have to go back to the scriptures to validate this article. We see many accounts that will remove the faintest doubt from any skeptic, as long as they are true to the research. A few are listed below:
  • Vishwamitra, a born Kshatriya, became a Brahmin, a Brahma Rishi, by his Purushartha. All his sons became Shudras and further generations rose back as Brahmanas.
  • In Mahabharata, King Shantanu, marries Satyavati, who is a fisherwoman. Satyavati, also has a child, Vyasa, who is born to Parasara, both were Brahmanas by their actions. Vyasa sires Kshatriya sons - Dhritarashtra to Ambika and Pandu to Ambalika. But Vidura, fathered by Vyasa to Parishrami, a royal maid, shudra, ends up as a Brahmana.
  • Parasurama, Drona, Aswaththama all born as Brahmanas end up living as Kshatriyas for most of their lives.
  • In Vedic times, Satyakama Jabala, Chandogya Upanishad, is born to a prostitute, but is recognized as the highest varna, due to his actions.
  • Aitareya Rishi, born of a daasi, shudra, is the original composer of Aitareya Bramana and Aitareya Upanishad portions of the Rig Veda.

The following is a quote culled from Chaitanya Charnamrita, Prabhupad3. In the Mahābhārata, Vana-parva, Chapter 180, it is stated:
śūdre tu yad bhavel lakṣma
dvije tac ca na vidyate
na vai śūdro bhavec chūdro
brāhmaṇo na ca brāhmaṇaḥ
"If the characteristics of a brāhmaṇa are found in a śūdra and not in a brāhmaṇa, that śūdra should not be known as a śūdra, and that brāhmaṇa should not be known as a brāhmaṇa."
Similarly, in the Vana-parva, Chapter 211, it is said:
śūdra-yonau hi jātasya
ārjave vartamānasya
brāhmaṇyam abhijāyate
"If a person born in a Sudra family has developed the qualities of a Brahmana, such as Satya[truthfulness], sama[peacefulness], dama[self-control] and arjava[simplicity], he attains the exalted position of a Brahmana".
            What is the outlook one should have amongst the different Varnas? Mahabharata provides the answer.

अन्त्यजो विप्रजतिश च  एक एव सहोदरह एकयोनिप्रसुतस  च एकसखेन जायते

antyajo viprajātiśa ca eka eva sahodaraḥ ekayoniprasūtas ca ekasākhena jāyate

            Treat everyone, irrespective of the varnas, as Sakodaras, brothers, and as one. So the Brahmana and the Sudra was to be treated as one.

           Varnas are mere classification of  humans based on their dominant outlook towards work. As humans we have different dimensions. Some of us focus on the intellectual angle, some on the emotional or control side, some are money oriented whilst others are focused on pain avoidance. Varnas are external, social, outward, while Ashramas (Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanaprastha and Sannyasa) refer to the inward graduated ascent of the spirit to higher and higher dimensions of comprehension4. So what is the inward attitude one should have towards Varnas. Krishna solves the puzzle. It is not the social focus. But a spiritual one. Let us treat all with respect, irrespective of the Varna, as the same divinity shines in all of us.

उद्धरॆत् आत्मना आत्मानं आत्मानम् अवसादयॆत्
आत्म एव हि आत्मनः बंधुः आत्म एव रिपुः आत्मनः

uddharEt AtmanA AtmAnaM na AtmAnam avasAdayEt |
Atma eva hi AtmanaH baMdhuH Atma eva ripuH AtmanaH || Bhagavad Gita 6.5 ||

By means of the mind, one should lift up the soul, but should not ruin the soul; because mind alone is the friend of the soul, mind alone is the enemy of the soul.

            Society is a representation of our mind. Just as Krishna wants us to use the higher mind to raise the lower one, Varna is just a mindset. A higher Varna must reach out to raise the consciousness, despite the odds of natural tendencies.

Om Tat Sat

Suggested Reading:

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Vāsanās - A key to understand our past, present and future

            Vāsanā (वासना) is a key Indian concept and its understanding has great import in our daily lives and also can revolutionize our spiritual thinking. A proper insight into Vāsanās is critical to peeking in at other related ideas like Karma, Janmas (rebirth), fate, free-will. This article is an attempt in demystifying this core idea.

            Most sanskrit words are very difficult to translate, as concepts like dharma, karma are not found in other languages. The latest scientific terms coined in English, usually are very difficult to translate in other languages as such ideas may be alien to that language.
            For our discussion, let us understand Vāsanās as imprinted volitions of the mind. Latent Tendencies that keep bubbling in the mind. Thinking or longing of, with an expectation. Knowledge derived from memory. Past impressions that influence the present conditions or thinking. Simply put Vāsanās are the channel of thoughts created by past actions and thinking that determine contour of our present thinking, our outlook, attitude, behaviour and current inclinations that will influence our future by guiding our present thoughts and actions. In other words.. Fate!!!

            To understand better, let us turn our gaze to our normal lives. We hear that Mozart started composing at the age of five. It is so classical that we find it so hard to have other great musicians to scale to even fraction of such heights. We hear about many child prodigies. This is not an occasional thing of the past. This century witnessed Andre Rieu introduce a three year old musician, Akim Camara1 to the world.  How did children gain such an insight and talent at such an early age? We hear children having memories from past lives2. But most parents can vouch for observing the tendencies of the children from very early age. It may not have to be drastic like a prodigy, but many of the adult qualities which the child will grow up to exhibit like being friendly, easy to anger, being picky on certain foods are demonstrated so early. If it's like science attempting to explain that all is learnt from one's current experience, where did these early tendencies arise from? If it is from the environment, parents with multiple children can testify that each child is different from very early age. This goes against the explanation that it is learnt experience coupled to environment.  

            Kahlil Gibran, perhaps, took a cue from the mystic east when he wrote that children come through you and not from you.

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

- Kahlil Gibran3

            Before we go beyond a single life, let us understand how Vāsanās get formed. Is there something like a brand new experience? Perhaps NO. Because even if someone were to give us a new food or fruit to try which we may have never heard of, we immediately correlate with our mental files and reckon something closest to it. Let us assume that we have a brand new experience, where we had a favorable outcome. For instance, I might be visiting a far off city for the first time in life like Beijing. My existing Vāsanās of being vegetarian will drive me searching for vegetarian options. Either by research or recommendation or luck, if I chanced upon a decent restaurant with some good vegetarian options, though it may not be the same cuisine, it goes as a memory in my databank. Next time I visit Beijing, my mental guidance system informs me that a good choice exists for my food. Let us take two scenarios. If I visit the restaurant and get one more favorable experience, my tendency to like that eatery goes higher. But on the other hand, if I chanced to go to another restaurant. Immediately my mind does a mental comparison subconsciously and informs me if this new experience can supersede the old or if the old one was a better one.

            Just like rain water that keeps collecting, tends to follow the natural lowest draining points, eventually forms deep gullies and ravines and canyons, depending on the intensity and repetition of Vāsanās being reenacted, it can keep deepening. Modern psychologists and scientists have definitely made a strong correlation with the neural network paths and repeated experiences.

            Based on one one's Gunas - Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, one's approach, understanding, manifestation of Vāsanās will alter. Vāsanās have no morality. They are attributes foisted based on the Gunas that express in space and time. For example, many high school students try smoking. Usually succumbing to peer pressure, they may try it for the first time. If the Vāsanās to pick smoking are high, they rapidly transition into a regular smoker. For others, this serves as a memory not to go that path again. The same is true for alcohol or drugs. Some develop binge eating to counter their psychological pressures. In case of addictions, besides a mental inclination, there is a strong physio-psychological emotional trigger that gets built-in while the Vāsanā deepens. In other words, one may understand it as addiction.

            Let's take a more benign example. Kids from same class, same teacher, develop different ideas and impressions of the subject or teacher. This memory also morphs over time as later ideas can either reinforce the existing ones or may be counter to the prevailing mindset. There may be people who may have Sastr Vāsanā and want to keep reading all the time, perhaps no time to apply it.

            Vāsanās  are the birthplace of desires that bubble in our bosom. Owing to our gunas, the presentation may appear to be different. Whether it manifests or not, these mental impressions keep bubbling in our mind. We all have certain attitude to it. Some may take it as day dreaming, some do not even watch themselves close enough to understand that the Vāsanās are strengthening subconsciously. Upon manifestation, either Vāsanās can get stronger or weaker due to the current guna composition of the mind. Hence Yogis, Rishis and great sages have always advised on being alert. Even engaging in a flight of fantasy in the secret recess of the mind, is enough for keeping the Vāsanās alive and burning for a future opportunity to express. This state is called Tanu Avasta or suppressed tendencies.

            How do we deal with Vāsanās? Not all are bad. So the good ones and  beneficial ones can be cultivated more like a good habit. This will make the subconscious reinforcement process to be beneficial in our favor. This can be like a positive self talk, which can keep highlighting the good ones we want to keep. But the vast majority are mundane and distracting ones. How does eating a laddoo be a good or bad Vāsanā ? So eating one laddoo may not be bad, unless one is diabetic, where self-restraint can definitely help. But eating laddoo in every meal or daily may not a healthy choice. If one has eaten a  full stomach, laddoo may not appeal, but it can reappear at the next instance of hunger. So don't be surprised if the laddoo becomes a to-go item, though one may be satiated. Aplication of discretion via Buddhi is key for materialization of Vāsanās. But Vāsanās seem to have a vice grip on our mind, effectively silencing our Buddhi.

            Vāsanās are the fabric of the mind. If all the threads of Vāsanās are removed slowly or destroyed(Vāsanā kshaya), one will find the mind merge automatically to the higher. Vāsanās are the vestige from our past Karmas. They like to germinate. Just like a pathogen causing a disease, they want to also breed, thus forcing us to be bound to the past. The repetition of past patterns in the present keeps us bound to the past, even in our future. One must effectively overcome this barrier, if one thinks of evolving to the next level. An iron piece would like to go back to its native state, which is what we call as rusting. But it is its tendency. If one were to break that cycle, one can introduce some carbon to the iron and make it steel which does not rust. In our case, we can raise some Saatvic qualities and be vigilant to the old Vāsanās. Being detached in our attitude to the negative Vāsanās, we can effectively neutralize. Chanting the Lord's names is an easy defence for a Bhakta.

            Suppression of Vāsanās is not a way to raise above it. Try holding a big ball under water in a pool. The minute your force reduces or not balanced, the ball will raise to the top. This of course is due to buoyancy, but in our case it is Vāsanās. Forceful suppression can sometimes lead to violent consequences, be it behavior or actions or even on the mind. Transmuting the Vāsanās by giving proper channels to have suitable outlet may being us to a civilized moral state. But is that really enough to win against Vāsanās. One may live in total isolation from society in Himalayas. There may be no opportunity for the Vāsanās to manifest and it may be easy to think that one has risen above it. How many stories keep popping up on fallen aspirants in spirituality or aged men falling victim to their Vāsanās by making big follies? We hear renounced sannyasis coming back to society as householders. What is the way out when great sadaks have been cast aside by the power of Vāsanās?

 Storytime: A mouse shows the way

            Long ago, there was a highly regarded sage, Yajnavalkya. One day, as he was doing his morning rituals in a river, a hawk dropped a mouse on to his hands. Out of compassion, he made the mouse into a beautiful girl child, with his Tapas. He and his wife devoted all their love and time in raising this amazing girl.  Yajnavalkya's wife reminded that the girl is attaining marriageable age and of their responsibilities to get her married. After a long thought, the sage summoned Surya, the sun God, as he was the strongest, and asked him to take his daughter's hands. Seeing the reluctancein the girl, Surya said that he was not the strongest and a black cloud can cover his radiance. The dark clouds appeared in front of the sage, noticing the disinterest in the damsel, recommended that Mountains can easily block their path, are more powerful. The sage took his daughter to the biggest mountain and asked if he was the strongest and if he can marry his daughter. The mountain, though proud of its strength, pondered and though he may be strong, there are so many mice that live in him by tunneling and how helpless he was. The sage brought the King of mice in front of the beautiful girl. She bowed her head out of modesty, indicating her liking and pleaded her father to make her back into a mouse. She said nothing will make her happier than being with the mouse king. Yajnavalkya realized that the Vāsanās of the girl are too strong and will continue to guide her. Needless to say, the mice lived happily ever after, per their Vāsanās.

Moral of the story is, Vāsanās are strong  and powerful. If not properly channelized will continue to influence our future, just as it has shaped our present. It continues to exert a strong influence on our present thoughts, actions, mindset and attitude. But it can never take away our ability to use freewill. Vāsanās will continue to taint our vision. In this tug of war, the VIGILANT MIND has an upper hand . An unsuspecting mind, which  is at the mercy of the Vāsanās.

 Krishna solves our conundrum

            How do we get out of this rodent race? In Bhagavad Gita, Krishna comes to mankind's rescue with this masterly wisdom.

उद्धरेदात्मनात्मानं नात्मानमवसादयेत्
आत्मैव ह्यात्मनो बन्धुरात्मैव रिपुरात्मनः

uddhared ātmanātmānaḿ nātmānam avasādayet
ātmaiva hy ātmano bandhur ātmaiva ripur ātmanaḥ (Chapter 6, Verse 5)

A man must elevate himself by his own mind, not degrade himself. The mind is the friend of the conditioned soul, and his enemy as well.

            This above appears like a vicious trap to an untrained mind. How can the mind help itself if it is at the mercy of the Vāsanās? Krishna advises to use the higher mind to elevate the lower mind. The mind has a tendency to chase the sense objects. The five jnana indriyas (sense organs) constantly keep reporting to the senses. Due to the Vāsanā pressure, the mind attaches itself to the sense objects, thus dragging the intellect (buddhi) along with it. This in short is the definition of materialism. But if we follow Krishna, we are aware of the Vāsanā pressure and we let the Buddhi (higher self) guide the lower mind. But this buddhi has to be centered in Atman (Self) for it to tap the full potential, else it may be a secular level of focus where one may be a disciplined successful good person. It is a good start, but hardly scratches the surface of our Atmic potential. The mind instead of being subject to Vāsanā pressure, remains in a state of contentment (santosha) as the sense organs and objects do not trigger the Vāsanās. This is spiritualism. In Katha Upanishad, Yama advises the path of Preyas(Pleasure) and Shreyas(Good).  

            Krishna patiently explains us about the importance of Karma Yoga. In this technique one is detached to the outcome of one's actions. Having a Prasada (gift from God) buddhi bestows the ability to take on Vāsanās headlong. A vigilant mind watches the bubbling of Vāsanās with detachment, instead of jumping impulsively on the next bubble to go on a ride. This practice over time exhausts the Vāsanās. Also new Vāsanās or the renewal of the old is impossible, as our attitude has altered, due to our being vigilant. Doing this also gives Jnana (wisdom) and Jnana roasts the seeds of remaining Vāsanās. Just as roasted seeds cannot germinate, the past will cease to have any impact on our future, because we take total control of our present by freeing the power of Vāsanās on us. Doing Purushartha will liberate us from the clutches of the Vāsanās. Let us pray to Krishna to give us enough good buddhi to follow the greatest benediction has already given to mankind in the form of Bhagavad  Gita.

 Om Tat Sat
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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Fourfold Hinduism

            In Hinduism, it appears there is a consistent pattern to reduce our understanding of Nature into simpler numbers. Definitely, nobody sat and classified things based on numbers. But it is interesting that lots of these seem to coalesce into basic numbers. In this article, we are going to take the look at FOUR. This will be restricted to Hinduism concepts as even several other Indian dimensions also have brush with numbers. We have Chaturanga (Chess) and four fold army divisions –Infantry, Cavalry, Elephant and Chariot. In the modern world, we have four door car, four tyres/wheels. FOUR seems to be continuing with us. We are fascinated with FOUR in cricket and Lincoln also commenced his famous Gettysburg address speech with FOUR score and seven years. I hope to elaborate on some of these contents, outlined below, later separately. For now, we will stay with the theme here.

            Vedas, yugas, varnas, ashramas, major paths in spirituality, Purusharthas, levels of consciousness and even Mahavakyas all seem to be FOUR.

            FOUR Vedas – Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharvana. The foundation of Indian spirituality and Sanatana Dharma. They are also called Shruti. It appears many of these came from the Sarasvati Valley civilization, or predating it. Veda (वेदा) means Knowledge. Vid (विद) means to know. The seers understood Vedas as occurring in nature. That’s why it is not like a literary composition, having one author. The Seers, as simple as a person who sees, a realized one, is called Drshta (दृष्टा). According to Indian tradition, lots of these Drshtas identified this wisdom and it remained in the families scattered. Thanks to VedVyasa, who compiled, classified and codified the Vedas. Vyasa means one who classifies, collates, compiles. We are eternally indebted to him because he also gave the 18 puranas.

            Vedas subdivided into FOUR each. Each Veda is made up of Samhitas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads. There is a strong correlation to the type of text and whom it resonates with. It also correlates with the type of spiritual practice.  Samhitas, literally means joined, putting together, is predominantly made of mantras, hymns, prayers, benedictions. A spiritual beginner needs some sort of hope, guidance. If you do this, it will work for you kind of assurance. That’s Samhitas. The famous Gayatri mantra is also in Samhita portion. Aranyakas, Forest Treatises, belonging to Wilderness also has insights into rituals and sacrifices. The emphasis is external. Brahmanas aide the seeker to turn the gaze inwards. They define the foundational pillars of Indian culture, including Karma, Asramas etc Famous examples include Shatapatha Brahmana, Aitareya Brahmana. Upanishads, also commonly referred as Vedanta, is found at the end of the Veda portion. Also it can imply the end of Knowledge or ultimate knowledge. Thanks to the Muktika Upanishad, we know there are 108 Upanishads catalogued, of which 10 are referred as Mukhya Upanishads. ( Isa-Kena-Katha-Prasna-Mundaka-Mandukya-Taittriya-Aitareya-Chaandogya-Brhadaaranyaka). One can see a transition from Subjective-Objective-Universal or External-Internal-Universal.

            FOUR gets into even our pantheon of Puranic Gods. Since most of Vedic and vedantic ideas were more esoteric, the puranic times saw a translation of this knowledge into Trinity. Brahma sports FOUR heads. Usual explanation or visualization is one for each of the FOUR cardinal directions. When it comes to FOUR, the graceful hands of Vishnu comes to our mind. Vishnu holds Shanka (conch), Chakra (discus), Gada (mace) and Padma (lotus) in each of his FOUR hands. In Ramayana, the FOUR children of Dasaratha are Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrugna.

FOUR Yugas - Satya, Treta, Dwapara and Kali. Hindus perceive the world/universe as cyclic. The FOUR yugas follow one another in the pattern in a cycle. They find there is a progressive decline in dharma, wisdom and even human life span over the yugas in that order. Yugas are personified as a cow in Srimad Bhagavatam. Parikshit Arjuna’s grandson and ruler, finds a cow on one legs being harassed by a person. It is understood that the four legs of Dharma being  Tapah-Soucham-Daya-Satyam1 “austerity, cleanliness, mercy and truthfulness”.  In Kali yuga, Dharma is standing on only TRUTH. Hence Satyam is very core of human righteousness, progress, evolution. When Satyam is lost, nothing exists. Only Mutual Assured Destruction. Depending on different calculations, the mathematics behind the four yugas is also fascinating, but all revolve around FOUR.

FOUR Varnas were central to establishing order in ancient Indian society. Brahmana-Kshatriya-Vaishya-Shudra, namely intellect oriented, power oriented, wealth oriented and labor oriented. The seers felt that these four if integrated in one place can lead to bad consequences. There are lots of controversies around this due to the twists in time and many (mis)interpretations. This has also polarized the society due to the motivated (mis)interpretations deliberately fed and amplified from both within and without India2. For now it is suffice to note that Varnas are not assigned due to their birth, but due to their karmas. Raavana though a Brahmin by birth is considered as Raakshasa, Vishwamitra though a Kshatriya is considered as a Saptarishi, a Brahmana. Depending on the ratios of the three gunas – Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, one gets the varna. Varna is more about the profession, but also the outlook of the person.

FOUR Ashramas – Brahmacharya-Grihastha-Vanaprastha-Sannyasa, namely Childhood-Married life- Detached life-Renunciate. The life of an individual is said to follow this pattern. Ashrama is not restricted to any one Varna. A Brahmachari uses his time to expand his knowledge base while a Grihastha uses his knowledge to expand his wealth, relationships etc. As observed Grihastha, usually thought of as the lowest spiritual (wrongly) is the main and only support for the entire Ashrama system. Even many sages and rishis had ashrams. A system that was having vestigial survival even upto the British colonial times. Though we do not follow in the modern times, we follow education phase and married phase and in many cases empty nesters. What is lacking is the purpose behind. Vanaprastha or detached life is something we have sacrificed resulting in various societal ailments. Sannyasa is not running away from society, but an intense attachment to detachment, so that there is no distraction in the path of realization. As noted in, Why Rama is my best friend, the essence of life is Tyaga. Tyaga is not of the objects, but that of doership and ownership. Hence a Sannyasa attitude is the need of the hour, irrespective of our Varna or Ashrama.

FOUR Roads to Spirituality – Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga – Path of Devotion, Selfless Action, Meditation and Knowledge.  Just like the Meenakshi Temple, four major streets leading to the four entrance towers, which all lead to the sanctum santorum, these four major roads lead to emancipation. Today we can see that not all are having equal strengths in aspects of life. If one were to just take a school as example, some kids focus on studies, some in sports, some in dedicatedly following the set of guidelines, some are a mixed bag. In adult life, one can see some are physique oriented, some are intellectual oriented, some are into emotions, few are not defined clearly. To the biggest group, which is emotion or heart oriented, Bhakti is a prescribed path. The intellectual definitely fewer in number (our self-certification from ego university doesn't count) are head oriented. They prefer the path of Knowledge or Jnana. Many of us are active workers. It may be easy to believe in one’s efforts. So if one can fix the attitude towards working, it can easily put us on the path of Karma Yoga. To the ones who cannot be classified easily, the path of meditation, Raja Yoga, gives an edge.

Despite all the four roads seemingly being different to a novice or a non practitioner, the paths are intertwined. One's temperment (which is not static) guides us to certain path. One may need a highly qualified Guru to identify a specific path. Narendra had the grace to Ramakrishna Paramahamsa  and blossomed into Swami Vivekananda. But how many of us are even qualified to meet such a great Master. Are we actively seeking on improving our qualifications is the BIG Question?  The genius and grace of Swami Sivananda made it easier for all of us calling it integral Yoga, which is to follow a little bit of all. A little bhajan, a little reading of scriptures, a little of this and a little of that. This ensures that without having to guess, anyone can make progress on all fronts.

FOUR comes again when in Bhakti major places of worship are listed as Char Dham – Badrinath, Dwarka, Puri, Rameshwaram. It is suggested that as a Hindu, one can gain immensely by visiting these shrines in four corners of the country. Also Adi Shankara, in an effort to revive Hinduism, established FOUR mathas – Sringeri Sarada Pitham, Dwaraka Pitha, Puri Govardhana Matha and JoshiMath/Jyothirmath  and assigned one Veda to each matha for posterity.

            In Sanatana Dharma, as known to us as Hinduism, FOUR Purusharthas – Dharma-Artha-Kama-Moksha are the key to unraveling a very fulfilling productive life. Dharma is more of sociological order. Artha encompasses all material objects including Wealth. In other words,  whatever that can be procured for a price. Kama,though reduced to carnal pleasure, includes all psychological pressures on an individual. Moksha is the spiritual dimension. This concept though in many indian languages use the same verbiage, but its importance can be traced in languages like Tamil which have parallel evolved words to describe the same four ideas – Aram-Porul-Inbam-Veedu அறம் - பொருள் - இன்பம் - வீடு. These are not four levels or steps as commonly misinterpreted. One common way of looking at it is, Using Dharmic way, create wealth to enjoy legit things and attain freedom. This is very inviting, but not the whole purpose. The four have to be followed simultaneously. They are like the four quarters in a dollar or rupee.

FOUR states of consciousness – Jagruti, Swapna, Sushupti and Turiya. They are Waking, Dream, Dreamless Sleep and Pure consciousness. Indian tradition, irrespective of the Sampradhayas or Paramparas followed revolve around four levels of consciousness. We are all aware of the first three. Our life revolves around them, but being ignorant of the fourth lands us in utter confusion. We already saw how we chopped off Sannyasa as a concept in modern life. We see the same for Moksha. To a lesser extent, one can see the less significance of Atharvana Veda also, as it is not used for rituals. We can understand that the concepts and ideas envisioned as FOUR lose their meaning significantly if we lose one or more of them.

            FOUR Mahavakyas, the central pillars of Vedanta. If any Acharya has to create a new school of thought, one must incorporate these Mahavakyas as part of their explanation. Since I find the best concise explanation I came across was from Swami Sivananda3, I am glad to quote it entirely.

            The first Mahavakya is: "Prajnanam Brahma. Consciousness is Brahman". This is Lakshana Vakya. The teacher gives the definition to the student that pure consciousness is Brahman. Then the teacher says: "Tat Tvam Asi. Thou art That. You are the all-pervading pure consciousness". This is known as Upadesa Vakya. Then the student contemplates on what the teacher expounded, in the form of the idea, "Aham Brahmasmi. I am Brahman". This is Anusandhana Vakya. Finally, the student realizes that this Self which is within him is Brahman: "Ayam Atma Brahma. This Atma is Brahman". This is Anubhava Vakya.

            What a better way to close talking about FOUR than by paying my humblest obeisance and FOUR koti pranams to each of the FOUR Sanakadi Rishis - Sanaka, Sanandana, SanatSujata (Sanantana) and Sanat Kumara, the four mind born sons of Brahma who have dedicated themselves to aiding and assisting evolution in creation. May their fourfold blessings be upon all of us.

Om Tat Sat


1.    Tapah soucham daya satyam iti padah krite kritah Adharma amsais trayo bhagnah maya samgam madais taba (Srimad Bhagavatam 1.17.24)

2.    Breaking India