Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Qualities of a good student

            A good student is identified by certain qualities that set him/her apart from the rest. Different cultures, different times have different standards. But in India, there seems to be some bedrock traits which really kept the intellect sharp and pure of any student. A good student becomes an amplifier of his Guru’s teachings. AdiShankara to Govinda Bhagavadpada, Swami Vivekananda to Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Chinmayananada to Tapovan Maharaj are good examples of a good student who outshone their gurus in their brilliance, yet staying humble and true to their roots.

            What are these qualities? We will consider these qualities as needed not only in Spirituality, but also in regular life. These are not only for school/college kids, but also for each one of us. We are all students of life, if we choose to. Let us begin with a story from our Itihasa.

            In the early sections of The Mahabharata, there is a mention of a great sage Ayoda-Dhaumya who has three disciples Aruni, Upamanyu and Veda. One day, the Rishi bade Aruni of Panchala to go and stop a breach in the water course of a field.

            Thus ordered by the preceptor, Aruni found the breach was not easily mendable and seemed to be growing due to the gushing of the water. As a good student, he found no option to carry out his master’s command. He lay down on the breach and confined the water. As time passed on, Dhaumya was wondering where Aruni was. The other students responded he is acting upon his earlier command to contain the breach.

            A concerned Dhaumya went in search of Aruni, along with his other disciples. As he kept calling Aruni’s name, he heard a faint voice informing him that he was laying over the water course. The shivering, wet Aruni told him master that unable to find any suitable measure to carry out his master’s command, he decided to become a human embankment. The moved master gave him an honorific title Uddalaka – one who has raised above.  (There are many Uddalaka Aruni’s mentioned in different Upanishads. It will be very difficult to ascertain if they are one person or many spread across time, though one can infer the latter by conjecture)

            Aruni, a brahmachari boy, could have thrown up his hands in despair when the traditional methods of blocking the breach failed. He could have gone to get help. Instead he raised his personal commitment through his sharp intellect and action. Guru’s words are very potent. Guru Stotram extols it as “Moksha moolam Guru Kripa”.  It is important to note that only those teachers who direct us a step closer to SELF REALIZATION are real GURUS. Someone teaching at school or teaching us a skill like driving or cooking etc will not and cannot be a Guru.

Vidyarthee Panchalakshanam
            There is a wonderful Samskrita Subhashita, proverb, which captures the essence of a student.

काकचेष्टा बकोध्यानं श्वाननिद्रा तथैव |
अल्पाहारी ब्रह्मचारी विद्यार्थी पञ्चलक्षणम् ||

Kaaka-cheshTaa bakodhyaanam shvaana-nidraa tathaiva cha
Alpaahaari brahmachaari vidyaarthee pancha-lakshaNam

Agility of a crow (kaaka), concentration of a crane (baka), light sleep like a dog (shvaana), light eater (alpaa-haari), brahmachaari—these are the 5 qualities of a vidyaa-arthee.

            Let us dwell bit long on each of the five traits.

काकचेष्टा (kaaka cheshtaa)
Cheshtaa translates more like actions. Crow is characterized by curiosity. It seeks to explore. It is never tired of giving up. In fact, there is a Panchatantra story of how it got water from a pitcher having water. Crow is also a very social animal, always wanting to share. It demonstrates the power of a unified community.
            A good student must never be tied by dogmas. While respectfully learning and pushing the boundaries of knowledge, he/she must also test the boundaries of rigid dogmas. Drawing strength and inspiration from those who walked in front of us, a good student will be always willing to share. A good student is very industrious, never shirks from working hard. Keep chipping away at the task like a crow keeps pecking at its target.

बकोध्यानं (bakodhyaanam)
            A crane embodies the picture of concentration. Focused on its target, the crane keeps patiently waiting.

            A good student has 100% focus on the task on hand. To concentrate better one has to have clarity of purpose. A good mastery over the senses by Sama and Dhama is needed in case of spiritual students. Sama is internal restraint, more like control over sense organs, Jnana Indriyas. Dama is restraint of the karma Indriyas. A student of surgery cannot have the mind grazing everywhere while learning a live operation. This is easy to understand, but the same principle applies to a student learning algebra or driving or cooking or arts. Focus is nothing more than keeping the distractions away from the target. One gets a glimpse of it from Arjuna, when Drona tests all the princes to spot a dummy bird target. While the rest were also good in shooting arrows, the ability to focus very intensely set Arjuna apart.

श्वाननिद्रा(shvaana nidra)
A dog is always alert even in its sleep. It does not imply it is not enjoying its sleep. Its mind is always alert.

A good student must always have an alert mind. On one angle, he can learn to be a light sleeper, implying a sharper mind, it also implies that even during the down times, a student is alert to act.  Krishna highlights this as characteristic of a Muni – alertness. A slightly deeper meaning can also be extracted, as the ability to keep a desired state of consciousness even when surrounded in not normal conditions. Just as a dog wakes up alert and stays ready for action even in sleep, we must have a realistic connection to not just waking state while asleep, but also have turiya consciousness in waking state. This is often referred as Sahaja Samadhi.

अल्पाहारी (alpa ahaari)
Light eating is a factor directly linked to our ability to learn. We are the food we eat. This I interpret in two ways - The physical food and sensory food. We are seeing the effects of childhood obesity. This global epidemic is now even in under developed countries. This should be more like limiting junk eating for modern times. But also one can observe that heavy meals need time to digest. This channelizes more blood supply to the digestive tract and away from the brain. It is very easy to observe the drowsy effect everyone feels after a heavy meal. The ability to eat light does not mean eating sparsely or scarcely, nor does it imply eating less nutritious food.

Ahaar implies food, as we noted above, it can also apply for sensory food. Senses are our door way to reconnecting and rekindling the vasanas. Having Sama and Dama are implied by light eating (by the mind).

The common explanation given for a Brahmachari is abstaining from carnal actions. While this is true as it can be a sensory leak of energies, it must be noted Brahmachari is a compound samaskrita word – Brahma and Acharya. I interpret it as constantly living in the thoughts of Brahman. This can be done by selfless actions, devotion, knowledge and/or meditation. Having the mind revolve around Brahman, the only Truth, in higher consciousness, a good student is able to lift himself up. Refer Bhagavad Gita 6.5.

The mind when absorbed in higher ideals along with intellect forces the body to follow it. We the converse as a bad example, where our mind is distracted and centered around senses. This obviously splits our concentration.

            Even in Vedic times, there has been a great emphasis on the student qualities. One of the ten major Upanishads is Taittriya Upanishad, part of Yajur Veda. It is celebrated for profound, precise instructions. It is made of three segments, Vallis – Siksha valli, Ananda valli and Bhrigu valli. Each valli consists of Anuvakas, lessons.  We will focus only on the first portion of the 11th Anuvaka of Siksha valli for our theme.

satyam vada . dharmam chara . svadhyayanma pramadah . acharyaya priyam dhanamahritya prajatantum ma vyavachchetsih . satyanna pramaditavyam . dharmanna pramaditavyam . kushalanna pramaditavyam . bhutyai na pramaditavyam . svadhyayapravachanabhyam na pramaditavyam

Speak the truth. Do your duty (righteousness). Never swerve from the study of the Vedas. Do not cut off the thread of the offspring after giving the preceptor the fee he desires. Never swerve away from truth. Never swerve from duty (righteousness). Never neglect your welfare. Never neglect your prosperity. Never neglect the study and the teachings of the Vedas.

सत्यं वद (Satyam vada) – Speak the Truth
Satyam is the foundation of Hinduism. This is the highest discipline. In Chaandogya Upanishad, we see the son of a prostitute with an unknown father approaching a sage seeking Brahma Vidya. He speaks the only known information without deceit. The sage acknowledges that is a Brahmin trait and accepts him as a disciple though he is low born. Satyam is the last leg on which Dharma is standing in Kali Yuga, according to Bhagavata Purana, Cleanliness, Mercy and Austerity being the other three.

 धर्मं चर । (dharmam chara) Be righteous
Dharma is a non-translatable. Samaskrita is filled with so many words which are hard to translate. The primary reason being numerous meanings can be given to the same word. The above can also be read as Do your duty. The best we can translate is Follow Dharma.

 स्वाध्यायान्मा प्रमदः (swadhyayanma pramada) Don’t swerve from Swadhyaya – Study Daily
Swadhyaya implies pious study of holy books, recommended daily. Kanchi Shankaracharya used to often say, till the time the masses were daily reading Ramayana and Mahabharata, the overall peace of mind was much higher and there was less strife in the society. Once we have given it up, chaos has multiplied. Apart from Ramayana, Mahabharata, reading life of saints and sages, puranas, Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads etc can be good choices. It also goes with the mindset of the student. For the bhakti inclined, there are numerous choices from Tukaram Abhangs to Purandara Dasa Padagalu or Tyagaraja Kritis and more. To the intellectual oriented there is a treasure trove ranging from Thevaram, Thiruvasagam to Upanishads. Complete works of Vivekananda is another treasure chest.

In the good olden days it meant only Vedas. Reciting Vedas daily was mandatory. Even Avvaiyar, a great saint poet said ஓதுவது ஒழியேல் (odhuvadhu Ozhiyel – meaning  DO NOT STOP RECITING) .  Though the modern secularists have mistranslated it to mean STUDY. Odhudhal is done with intonation. There is only one thing that is intonated in our culture. Vedas.

 आचार्याय प्रियं धनमाहृत्य प्रजातन्तुं मा व्यवच्छेत्सीः (acharyaya priyam dhanamahritya prajatantum ma vyavachchetsih) Having brought to the teacher the gift desired by him, enter the householder's life and see that the line of progeny is not cut off

We already saw in Fourfold Hinduism, that Grihastashrama is at the core of sustaining all the four Ashramas. It is critical to not neglect the future of human race. This is critical as they wanted to pass the spiritual message to the next generation. This can be translated as the importance of passing good traditions, good knowledge to the next generation. Also not to forget being thankful to the Guru by giving whatever he desires.

Krishna goes through an ordeal to revive the dead son of his teacher Sandeepany’s wife which he took as his command from his Guru. Drona also asked the Kuru princes to bring Panchala King Drupada to avenge his dishonor as a gift. The Pandavas saw victory where the Kauravas failed. Vishwamitra tacitly imparts knowledge of divine weapons to Rama, though he demands him to take Taraka head on. Guru Dakshina is mostly done for parting the vestigial connections of ego in the student. It can also be a genuine request that the Guru wants in exchange for his knowledge. Even if it not so, Guru’s wishes are more than a command for a good student.  

 सत्यान्न प्रमदितव्यम्।  (satyanna pramaditavyam) Do Not swerve away from Truth
The repetition of Satyam in one sloka again emphasizes the importance of Satyam to our Dharma. Here Dharma is Hindu Dharma, religion. I used the word to highlight the non-translatable nature of the word Dharma.

धर्मान्न प्रमदितव्यम्  (dharmanna pramaditavyam) Never swerve from duty (righteousness)
Following Dharma is again re-emphasized. It is important to recall Bhagavad Gita 3.35 where Krishna stresses the need to follow ones’ own svadharma even if it appears menial when compared to others’ glorious dharma.

कुशलान्न प्रमदितव्यम् (kushalanna pramaditavyam) Never swerve from welfare.
It is critical to keep welfare in the center of one’s focus. If all one does is sacrifice, then it creates a stress in one’s personality. If all one thinks is about one’s own self, with a bloated ego, one can hurt oneself of others. So welfare is stressed. It is important to note that these students who were about to reintegrate themselves back into the society needed this. They have been mentally habituated to minimums and could wrongly expect the world to conform to his attitude or worse still he could take all these repressions as a revenge on the society. Even for non-academic students, it makes sense to keep the well-being of everyone at the center.

भूत्यै प्रमदितव्यम् (bhutyai na pramaditavyam) Do not swerve from prosperity
Many believe that Hinduism is all about spiritual well-being and nothing in material plane. This sloka is a direct refute for such wrong ideas. Prosperity is emphasized. We may also recall from Fourfold Hinduism, the four purusharthas – Dharma-Artha-Kama-Moksha. Prosperity is not only in terms of Artha, but in all aspects.A well balanced personality can be more effective in the society or in one’s actions.

स्वाध्यायप्रवचनाभ्यां प्रमदितव्यम् (svadhyayapravachanabhyam na pramaditavyam) Never neglect the study and the teachings of the Vedas

This appears as a repeat not to forget the Vedas and what one has studied. The emphasis is best captured in Thiruvalluvar’s kural.

கற்க கசடற கற்பவை கற்றபின் 
நிற்க அதற்குத் தக

Karka Kasadara Karpavai Kattrapin
Nirka Atharku Thagai

Whatever you learn, learn it thoroughly. After you have learned, learn to apply what you have learned and live your life according to what you have learned.

            Learning it properly and applying what one has learnt are critical to the spirit of learning.

            Thus, we have seen the different aspects of a good student. Irrespective of our stage and age in life, we are all students of life. May we all apply these attributes and reap greater benefits in our individual life, so that we can be impactful in the society in a good way.

Om Tat Sat

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Desire - A Genealogical Approach

            Desire – a primal force behind evolution, very easily visible behind all human endeavors and achievement. There is a greater emphasis, especially from American centric ideas of having desires, goals, positive mindset and many more similar ideas widely published, widely circulated. Some make money selling “The Secret”. Some opine there is no secret. Amidst all this chaotic hard sell we find the common man, tossed between multitudes of desires in his daily life. History pages are filled with individuals, communities, societies, nations and civilizations rising and falling on desires.

            So what is Desire? What are its origins? What are its associates? Are all desires good or are they all bad? What are its impacts? How can I tame this force to benefit myself? Desire, though it appears as a stand-alone entity, but it comes as a family of attributes. These are some of the focus in this article. The West glorifies desire as the magical engine for all good. In the East, especially in India, while this aspect has been recognized, there has been a strong trail of insights from many spiritually advanced souls to share a complete picture of Desire.

            Napoleon Hill, a great thinker and writer who influenced all of what we recognize today as Self-Help made the following very interesting insights:

Desire is the starting point of all achievement, not a hope, not a wish, but a keen pulsating desire which transcends everything.

When your desires are strong enough you will appear to possess superhuman powers to achieve.

The starting point of all achievement is desire. Keep this constantly in mind. Weak desire brings weak results, just as a small amount of fire makes a small amount of heat.   
            These quotes sufficiently capture the power of a desire, when channelized properly. As we have noticed time and time again many rise from the depths of odds to scale the heights of achievement. Be it Alexander’s world conquest or Abraham Lincoln’s gritty resolve to overcome failures or our favorite sports team or person who seem to defy the odds to win a championship or ourselves who have achieved anything and everything is a factor of our desire.

            But again why in the East, especially India, there seems to be a message that is counter intuitive, warnings about desire. Thiruvalluvar in his Thirukkural has written ten Kurals (couplets) warning about அவாவறுத்தல் (Avaavaruthal) – Curbing of Desire. Is there more to understanding the nature of Desire than what we read in the so called Self Help or PMA books? If Desire prompted motivation is taken away will mankind lose all the zeal to move forward?

            Let us dive deeper. We are now going to observe what happens. A desire bubbles to the surface from the depths of our mind. At this moment, let us not focus on why and how it appears. As soon as the desire arises, depending on its intensity, it prompts us to act. The desire arises on account of the duality - I as the seeker and the object sought. The seeker wants identification with the Object sought and that experience is happiness. The seeking mind thinks “I like to eat laddu, eating it gives me joy”. A boy is madly in love with a girl, marrying her is seen as happiness. It may be even a virtual object, like a state of mind. The key thing here being the object sought need not be physical and the object is separate from the subject.

            There is an intense pressure created in the mind on account of the desire which pushes it in the direction of the desired object. This rushing towards the objects perceived as external to the consciousness is called Materialism. When the consciousness expands to encompass the entire Universe, it sees everything as part of itself or itself as a part of something larger, there is no movement or rushing towards objects. There is a sense of peace, just like the river that has merged into the seas. This is the divinity one seeks. Desire is nothing more than a backdoor way mind attempts to expand itself to be at Peace. But unwittingly, it is everything gone wrong.

            This happiness one obtains by desire fulfillment is referred in tamil as sittrinbam (சிற்றின்பம்), ephemeral fleeting pleasure. The intensity and longevity of the happiness is proportional to the intensity of the desire. The mindset of the seeker plays a critical role in the manifestation, pursuit of the desire and also the fruits of its actions. The mindset is nothing more than the interplay of the three gunas – Saatva, Rajas and Tamas. For instance, a child may be so intensely attached to its favorite toy. It may not want to part with it even for a second. As the child becomes an adult, it will not have the same intensity towards the same object. This is due to the constant rearrangement of the mind.

            As soon as the object of desire is attained by the seeker, there is a temporary expansion of consciousness, followed by a quick realization of the duality experience. For instance, if a child gets its toy or a food connoisseur gets some favorite delicacy, though the sought object is acquired, the object retains a distinct separation. Even if I as a seeker get all the land or all the money I seek, the objects are still outside my consciousness. This constant reminder itself keeps reinforcing the duality. What might be an object in one’s view could be a seeker in another perspective.  Even if it is an atom, it will not want to merge into another, giving up its identity.

            Another aspect of desire fulfillment is its insatiability. This is very evident from the story of Raja Yayati. The desire fulfillment immediately reinforces the vasanas that give birth to the desire. This reinforcement renews the vasanas, giving birth to the same desire again and again. In many cases, this also reinforces the urge to repeat the process. Some have even gone to exclaim, Happiness is in the process of achieving, not the achievement. While this observation carries some merit, it is not complete by itself.  This outlook does not realize that we are mere hamsters on a wheel, in the hands of our desires.

A desire may have many outcomes. The outcome may be completely opposite of what we want. The outcome may be favorable but in smaller measure. One may meet their expectations of the desire and achieve exactly what one desires. The outcome may be more than what we expect in our favor. The first two may bring unhappiness and disappointment while the latter two may bring more than just happiness.

Favorable: The happiness that sparks due to the fulfillment of the desire may fuel a host of emotions in the mind it originates in. The most visible and predictable one is rekindle the desire again and again. Try eating one potato chip from a bag. Try watching TV or browsing internet for only few minutes. This will trigger us to repeat the process mindlessly.

If the impulses get embedded as chemicals, they can turn into addictions. Addictions of higher kind like smoking, drinking, drugs may be chemically triggered after a certain point causing the desires to be born out of compulsive impulsions. Though this may represent a smaller fraction of favorable outcomes, it is easy to observe people indulging in smaller guilt free pleasures as they give sanction to such desires themselves. How many times, we see a diabetic patient consoling themselves that one laddu won’t kill me or what kind of life is it if one cannot even enjoy one laddu?

Apart from reiterating the vasanas to give birth to the desire, desire also morphs itself into other emotions. The mind that achieves the object puffs up in Mada (Pride). The ahamkara (ego) becomes stronger on account of repeatability of achievements. The victories of great conquerors like Alexander, Napolean, Hitler only fuelled more conquests, not greater administration. Also on account of achievement, there is a greater opportunity to compare the degrees of success. A perceived lack on one’s success relative to others generates Lobha (Greed). Lobha can take the form of Covetousness and even violent ways to snatch from other’s successes. The desire can simmer inside in the form of Matsarya (Jealousy). Due to the pride of desire fulfillment, the bloated ego goes into a state called Moha (intense attachment or temptation based on delusion). When the object of desire is centered around carnal pleasure, it is called as Kama (Lust).  Since Self preservation is one of the primal instincts in nature, Kama can have a vice like grip in different forms. Though it need not be visible in lewd promiscuous behavior, it can be morph from the choice of words or actions on the milder side to extreme violence. How many times we see the most oddest of couples and still call it as love? Kama can delude a person to seeing a Urvasi in the ugliest person and vice versa.

Unfavorable: This is very easy to understand. Disappointment and unhappiness is the first modification of desire, when the object of desire is not materialized. A blockage when the seeker is seeking an object transmutes the desire into Krodha (Anger). This anger if in greater intensity is called rage and can further as wrath.  

Repeated disappointments can lead to frustration. The eagerness to have the object of desire results in worry, anxiety. The displeasure when in the presence of a factor while will not entertain expression turns to depression. When desire confronts the source that blocks, it also becomes as Fear, even if it is imagined. An extreme nature of fear can be understood as Psychosis. As noted the insatiability also expresses itself as always wanting, a shortcoming in one self. This creates a constant craving. Sometimes, the seeker is at liberty to go after the cravings, one after the other with different objects. Under certain conditions, marriage for instance, due to the societal norms, one may be constrained to be limited to few sources.

The sage wisdom of Indian thought process crystallized these passions as  Arishadvarga – six passions – kama (lust), krodha (anger), lobha (greed), moha (intense attachment or temptation based on delusion), mada (pride or hubris) matsarya (jealousy).

            Some more thoughts on desire

            Desire is a psychological operation where the seeker perceives the object to be an exact fit.  Desire is constantly connected with a pair of opposites - Raaga (Like) and Dvesha (Dislike). Desire manifestation urge gets channelized by Raaga-Dvesha. This also results in the attachment to the fruits of action performed. Thus as we observed, Desire whether fulfilled or unfulfilled, will disturb the peace of mind. This is owing to the fact, the mind being attached to the outcome.

            We saw that desire is a powerful force that can lead us in different ways. It arises on account of the Avidya (Igorance). We already saw that it can manifest in different ways. It cannot be suppressed. The more aggressive one gets with desire, the more stronger, it will get in its varied expressions. The Tamasic and Rajasic minds give birth to violent expressions of desire, be it externally or internally. An increasingly Saatvic mind, will incline towards subliming the desires rather than mere fulfillment. Krishna’s therapy is not desire suppression, but being detached and not hankering after the fruits of karma. This cuts the cycle of desire reiterating the vasanas. Newly arising desires can be dealt with Viveka and Vairagya.

            What is the test of desire? If it creates a ripple in the mind, be it happiness or unhappiness, it may not be desirable. The idea of desirelessness as  the key has been at the heart of dharmic traditions from India.  Consider these quotes

No matter how much of something you get, it never satisfies your desire for better or more. This unceasing desire is suffering; its nature is emotional frustration. – Lama Yeshe

There is no fear for one whose mind is not filled with desires – Gautama Buddha

            While desirelessness is a lofty spiritual goal, we can start benefiting by realigning ourselves with the following thoughts:

            Satchitananda’s Reflections:

After reading all this, it is natural to have the question, we are living in a fast paced world, how can we apply all this? Is it practical to become desireless, right away? What about my legitimate obligations to my family, society and to even oneself?

  • Let us watch the origin of the desires and all its modifications. The family of desires is much larger and complex than what is listed above. The mere fact we watch it will moderate the desires or its ramifications.

  • There may be simple or mild desires like drinking a cup of tea, which may not trigger any major side effects. These may be permissible. But there will be certain desires like a diabetic wanting a laddu or alcohol. A middle aged person with family responsibilities wanting to drink alcohol, especially with troubled health background in past or in family history. These warrant exercising vairagya based on viveka. Raising awareness to the nature of desire helps it get sublimed instead of getting suppressed.

  • There may be some stronger desires which may arise due to various factors like trying some drugs or could be violent modifications of desires like anger, fear, greed, jealousy, pride etc. Observing the roots will again help one moderate these.

  • One of Krishna’s key messages in Bhagavad Gita is not to hanker after the fruits of karma. This means that one can make sankalpa (an idea or vow to perform, desire an action). Krishna also highlights in Gita that no one can exist without making actions. This basically implies that one can be a watchdog of the vasanas which give birth to the desires. One can control the conditions that give birth to such vasanas. For example, avoiding smokers or places habituated by them is a good way for a person intent on giving up smoke.

  • Purusharthas, especially Dharma are a key to evaluating the nature of desire. Desire as we noted gets differently expressed due to the gunas of the mind. Dharma is not based on the morality of society, which can be changing. Fire even during cave man times also burnt whoever touched it. That is the dharma of fire. As there is increasing Sattva, the understanding of Dharma becomes clearer. Just like to understand Einstein’s laws one’s mind has to be subtle, in the same way Sattva helps in increasing the clarity of one’s own mind.

  • Expanding one’s consciousness to include more will help one evoke nicer desires from the mind. If one loves humanity as a whole, one’s desires will be more evolved rather than a selfish person.

  •       Thiruvalluvar aptly guided in one of his kurals

பற்றுக பற்றற்றான் பற்றினை அப்பற்றைப்
பற்றுக பற்று விடற்கு.

patruka patratraan patrinai appatraip
patruka patru vidaRku

Hold on to that desire, a desire to remain detached.

  • The entire article has been beautifully summarized in Bhagavad Gita slokas 2.62 and 2.63.

    ध्यायत विषयान्पुंसः सङ्गस्तेषुपजायते
    सङ्गात्संजायते कामः कामात्क्रोधो अभिजायते || 2.62

    dhyāyato viṣayān puḿsaḥ sańgas teṣūpajāyate
    sańgāt sañjāyate kāmaḥ kāmāt krodho ‘bhijāyate

    While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them, and from such attachment lust develops, and from lust anger arises.

    क्रोधाध्भवति संमोहः सम्मोहत्स्म्रिथिविब्रमह्
    स्म्रितिब्रम्सद्बुद्धिनाशो बुद्धिनशत्प्रनष्यति|| 2.63

krodhād bhavati sammohaḥ sammohāt smṛti-vibhramaḥ
smṛti-bhraḿśād buddhi-nāśo buddhi-nāśāt praṇaśyati

From anger, complete delusion arises, and from delusion bewilderment of memory. When memory is bewildered, intelligence is lost, and when intelligence is lost one falls down again (into the material pool  - Samsara)

Om Tat Sat

Suggested Reading:

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Question & Answers - 2 - Fate vs Free Will

Q2a: A friend of mine exclaimed after revealing a bunch of woes that it seems it’s in one’s fate to go through all these miseries. It appeared to her that no matter one works so hard, one will go through what one is destined to.

Q2b: Another friend once argued that the entire world was in one’s hands. A fellow conversationalist then reminded, everyone wants success and happiness, but not all seem to achieve it. Even amongst the ones who are working hard, to some success remains elusive, WHY?

Q2c: A third online friend emailed me, out of the blue, asking what would be my opinion about Horoscopes, how one should approach as different people have different results?

Ans: Fate, also known as luck or fortune is usually used to describe one born with a silver spoon or someone wallowing in great misery. There seems to be a mysterious force guiding us. Many can testify to strangers showing up to help in times of dire needs or someone who is feeling like being on the top, suddenly dashed to the ground.

            There is an equally mysterious, Free-Will, the ability to whatever one chooses to. We also see lots of great books like Yoga Vashishta, which glorify the Purushartha (self effort). We hear numerous stories like Markandeya, Savithri, who even defy death through their Purushartha. We see in our daily lives people defying the odds, rising from abject penury or serious handicaps.

            Now rises an interesting question, in this tussle, which is more powerful.  Depending on one’s experiences in life, people take sides. They often present convincing testimonials. Is there a real answer to evaluate which of these two mysterious forces holds the upper hand, or is it a timing thing?

            Let us jog our memory on what are the three types of Karmas. All the karmas we have accumulated in our past (one must emphasize life or death doesn’t make a difference to this accounting system according to Hindus) is called Sanchita Karma. Only a fraction of it fructifies at any given time, this is called Prarabhda Karma. This also controls the basic tendencies or Vasanas. This Prarabhda shapes our current situation along with what we had done with it. The Karmas generated by current actions, be it prompted by our Vasanas or independent free will, are called  Kriyamana or Agami Karma.

            Simple analogy, a store owner may have lots of inventory in the warehouse. This is Sanchita Karma. At any given time, he may choose to display some fraction of his inventory. This is Prarabhda Karma. Due to the transactions of supply and demand, he may restock more of some products or liquidate some. These actions are like Agami Karma.

            The advocates of Fatalism fail to recognize that it promotes inertia, weakness of will and laziness. They will point out, it does offer some sort of solace or explanation. But fatalism destroys faith. On contrast, free will can cheer up the more forlorn person and raise their spirits. It gives hope and promotes one to strive their way out of their current situation. There is an emphasis on evolution, ownership of one’s future. Instead of throwing up our hands and blaming God for everything, we can take responsibility to deal with our life. If we are playing cards, our Prarabhda is deals the set of cards in our hands. But what we do with it will determine the course of actions. It is literally in our hands.

            The case for pitting fate against free-will only shows a lack of our understanding. They are two aspects of the same thing. Our Past actions sculpted our Present. Our Present will impact our Future. Irrespective of why we do an action, every action reinforces a subtle tendency. Every action generates a fruit, be it good or bad due to its interaction with the Universe. Krishna tells in Bhagavad Gita that HE alone is the dispenser of fruits. But it must be noted that he is talking of the timing thing when an action will fructify. Every action has a double impact, it reinforces a samskara or tendency internally and manifests as fate externally. This samskara will continue to prompt us in a certain direction. This explains why one whiff of cigarette or drug can make some addicted for life as this reinforcement keeps happening till a chemical takeover happens in the brain.

The following quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson in The Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, aptly summarizes this process from western verbiage:

Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.

            It can be evident that once a tendency takes root and starts auto piloting one’s life, it can be altered; but requires tremendous will power sustained by reinforcing good vasanas. This will be an uphill battle. Let us take a simple example that is realistic. Most of us tend to lead sedentary lives and we are settled into this tamasic way of life as we find it is easier to slouch on a couch than do some exercise. First step is to recognize that one needs a change. Even to register this requirement is a herculean task, not to talk about actually doing exercises. This internal pressure of tamasic vasanas cannot be merely overcome by mere viveka (discrimination) or vairagya (dispassion). It is easier to deploy a third arsenal in our tool kit, emotions, our dreams, and aspirations. This provides the fertile ground for our viveka and vairagya to germinate.

            To aid this process, we can also make use of Yoga Vashishta’s insights of using PROPER ASSOCIATION to support our dreams and sankalpas. It is very important to note that even the choices available by free-will are factored and colored by our past choices.

            Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was noted for his beautiful parables crystallizing the wisdom of the sages. In this parable, he simplifies our understanding of Karmas. Let us imagine a cow tied to a stake with some rope. The length of the rope is determined by Prarabhda Karma. The cow has the free will as determined by the Prarabhda. You and I do not have wings to fly like birds for instance. The cow can knot this free will by its own current actions, Agami Karma, and curtail its own freedom. We see people making poor choices, not living up to their own potential. Which smoker or drug addict or alcoholic will ever alter the way easily? The free will in this case gets colored by the vasanas which keep the desire to abandon as an almost inexistent possibility. The cow on the other hand, if truly desirous of freedom, if it keeps tugging all the time, keeps weakening the Prarabhda. At some point, if the Prarabhda is not strong enough, gives way to the present actions.

            Krishna seems to emphasize on Karma in so many places in Bhagavad Gita. In the eighteenth chapter, towards the end, Krishna’s last message to Arjuna is sufficient to highlight the importance of free will. After having given the essence of Vedas in eighteen chapters, Krishna informs Arjuna that he has given all the knowledge that is available and the next steps are in Arjuna’s hands. It must be noted that earlier on in other chapters, he even informs Arjuna that he cannot escape the divine will to act.

इति ते ज्ञानमाख्यातम् गुह्याद्गुह्यतरम् मया

विमृश्यैतदशेषेणा यथेछसि तथा कुरु|| 18.63

Iti te jnaanamaakhyaatam guhyaad guhyataram mayaa;

Vimrishyaitadasheshena yathecchasi tathaa kuru.

Thus has wisdom more secret than secrecy itself been declared unto thee by Me; having reflected over it fully, then act thou as thou wishest.

            So we saw that fate is nothing more than our own past karmas and can be a real potent force. We also saw that free will has the ability to even modify fatalistic or deterministic endpoints. Is that all? We see all the time Bhaktas talking highly about the Supreme Will. Jnanis talking of Divine Will. God’s Will is the only force that actually exists. Just like we saw the fallacy of separating the force of Karma into Fate and Free Will, we can understand that this universe and all the Laws are nothing but the GRACE of GOD. It definitely takes a subtle mind to effectively make this small jump. Even if someone argues, that I did all the work, like Krishna mentioned, it is HIS GRACE that determines the timing of the fruits. He is the Phala-data, giver of the fruits of action. Some have used the phrase of the entire Soul willing. In our cow parable, this is akin to the owner of the cow, releasing the cow by untying it from the stake.

Free Will, as we noted earlier gets constantly colored by our vasanas. When one removes the coloring of the EGO that constantly keeps interfering in our decisions, then HIS will merely shines through ours. It is the EGO that has differentiated DIVINE GRACE as HIS will and ours, which is the same as that seemingly, sees fate and free will as two different forces. This factor, EGO, is the most potent force which the DIVINE WILL deploys to make this Universe dance to HIS tunes. The potter sees clay in all his creations, but the one with ego sees the different utensils. Similarly the goldsmith sees gold in all the forms of gold ornaments.  May the DIVINE GRACE help us overcome our vasanas and EGO to see HIS WILL shining in all aspects of our lives. May HIS GRACE make us effective in all our endeavors. May HIS LOVE help us overpower the deathly grasp of Karmas. Krishna has given all that wisdom in Bhagavad Gita. May we have enough Free Will to read and apply these teachings in our lives. If we can make one step in this direction, DIVINE GRACE rushes towards us a million steps, eager to embrace us and lift us to a higher state of being. 

Om Tat Sat

Suggested Reading:
  1. The riddle of Fate and Free-will solved – Swami Chandrasekhara Bharati, Sringeri Mutt