Monday, February 1, 2016

BMI Chart - Swami Chinmayananda's teaching aid

Swami Chinmayananda - One of the greatest 20th century Hinduism revivalists, who went to the masses, instead of being sought unlike traditional Hindu Gurus; a towering personality who was able to explain Hinduism to a modern mind, which had been riddled with questions from modern life, science and mostly skeptics. This year, we are celebrating the 100th year. Above all accolades, his contributions to society stands out in bringing the Bhagavad Gita to the masses, which was usually reserved for an advanced spiritual aspirant. Right next to that monumental contribution, one would argue the BMI chart as a tool to explain Vedanta.

            The genius of great wisdom lies in their simplicity to elucidate great ideas. BMI chart is a prime example. It can be used to introduce vedantic ideas to a novice, even to totally unrelated cultures in a scientific language. It can also be used to impart deeper understanding to advanced aspirants.

What is BMI?

            Human beings are uniquely endowed with a mind and an intellect, apart from a body. Vedanta aggregates the mind and intellect as Antahkarana (Internal Instrument) and the body, inclusive of the sense organs as Bahishkarana (External Instrument). Just like the body deploys the senses as instruments to detect some information in the external world, the mind and intellect are inward facing instruments.

            Human tendency is to have one or more of these instruments dominate the individual. This is not a question of right and wrong. We can simply turn around and see some are concerned about the physical plane, irrespective of other considerations, for example, social workers. Most of us are tossed by the mind and many cannot hold logic oriented discussions. They are emotional in every approach, be it being happy or sad. The bulk of the masses in the current generation will fall in this category. Then there are people who are centered around their intellect. When one thinks of Abdul Kalam or Sri Aurobindo, their intellect comes to the fore, irrespective of their field of knowledge. Though we have this observation, in reality, we may find ourselves an admixture of these traits.

            The importance of understanding these trends are important as they may aid or deter our inward journey to the SELF.

            To fully understand the BMI concept, the idea of Vasanas is central to it. I have given a basic sketch of Vasanas in an earlier article. 

            In Bhagavad Gita, chapter 13, Krishna emphasizes on idea of kshetra (the field) and kshetrajna (the knower). The Body-Mind-Intellect (BMI) is the kshetra where all experiences occur. This is the field that experiences heaven and hell. This field of birth and death is called samsara.

            Before we dwell on the SELF or Supreme Consciousness, let us dive deeper into the BMI. The Body Perceives Objects. The perception is centered on the instrument and the biases within. Let us take any object around. A person with myopia will not perceive the same object as one with normal eyesight would. The object being the same, the perception can get distorted by the perceiver of the object. Similarly a person observing the moon with a powerful telescope will have a better perception than a person without it. It is also important to note that the mind has to be engaged during this process.

The mind however fast can only deal with one sense at a time. The senses have a limitation that they can only produce a picture of one kind. In remote sensing satellite, reflected light is captured in different bands. These bands are merged to provide a composite picture, as each wavelength captures a different piece of information. In the same way, the senses are deployed to detect information in different areas of interest. The mind collates and interprets these never-ending newsfeeds.

Amongst the senses deployed also, not all are equal. Science has repeatedly proved how the different senses impact our learning or understanding differently. Before we shift our focus to the next instrument, Mind, let us also understand that object itself operating under different conditions. We know the states of matter will alter the object. But if one were to peer closer to the objects, we see them as bunch of molecules and atoms. Atom is mostly empty space. Reducing further we land into a world of only energy and information package. 

Also interestingly, I see you as an object, but you perceive me as an object. Needless to say that there is a blending of sorts going on.

As we just now observed, the object perception is a very biased process, depending on the mind’s level of participation. The Vasanas are the filter through which the mind can perceive any object. But the mind also performs an interesting action. Either as a reaction to a perceived object or situation (present), the memory (past) or the projected understanding (future) the mind feels emotions. This feeling can take diverse expressions. We analyzed this in detail in an earlier post on Desire – A genealogical approach.

            This internal equipment is an eastern concept where the rational analyzing faculty is termed as the intellect. The intellect generates thoughts by thinking.

            The consciousness or life force in us which enables the Body to Perceive Objects is also behind the Mind to Feel Feelings and the Intellect to Think Thoughts. This Consciousness though it enables all these operations gets comingled with the BMI and identifies itself as the Perceiver-Feeler-Thinker. The lens of vasanas constantly keeps the Consciousness to be separate from the P-F-T. This constant separation is due to the EGO. Consciousness is covered by the three types of dirt, which is proportional to the vasanas – mala (dirt), vikshepa (fickleness) and avarana (dirt). Mala can be scrubbed only by selfless action – Karma Yoga. Vikshepa can be annihilated only by constant devotion to the Supreme Self in some method – Bhakti Yoga. Avarana can be unveiled only by knowledge of the Self – Jnana Yoga.

            As we understood how Consciousness can be approached by removing the dirt covering it, it basically translates to the broad methods prescribed in Sanatana Dharma – Karma, Bhakti and Jnana margas to suit the temperament of people leaning to Body, Mind and Intellect equipments. For the ones who are a mixed pattern, Dhyana Yoga or Meditation was prescribed. Swami Sivananda introduced a simplification to the modern world. Many times we are not any one type. Hence he recommends doing a little in each category every day. A little bit of nishkamya seva, a little bit of reading scriptures (Upanishads, Itihasas, puranas, Bhagavad Gita), a little bit of bhakti, a little bit of meditation, a little bit of atma vichara, a little bit of satsanga. This approach smoothens all our kinks in all areas of life.

            We already observed from the chart that vasanas play a key role in the perception of Objects by the body, feelings felt by the mind and thoughts thought by the Intellect. But little is understood about the nature of our own life or consciousness. Just like in a mathematical concept, the unknown entity is referred as “X”, let us keep OM to represent Consciousness, which we know nothing about. As we scrub the vasanas and do not let new ones to replace the existing ones, as we increase Satsanga (association with the wise – people who have an understanding of Consciousness are referred as the wise, not to be confused with worldly wisdom, which is nothing but knowledge), we perceive the play of Consciousness everywhere in the Universe.

            Narayana, represented as OM, enlivens in all beings. When EGO obstructs, it mistakes this ray of enlightenment as the individualised Perceiver-Feeler-Thinker. Consciousness can thus be realized only by the eradication of Vasanas. Just like a bright light covered by numerous layers of dirt is invisible, till the layers of dirt is removed; an understanding of Consciousness doesn't arise until the vasanas are scrubbed. Once they are gone, there is nothing that needs to be done to make the Consciousness shine, as it is the light which makes even light visible.

            Till the time one gets a direct understanding of Consciousness, we can either use Shruti (Vedas, Upanishads) or Smriti (Itihasas, Puranas) as a reference, a pointer to the pointer. It may be noted that countless great souls, rishis, realized people have corroborated their experiences to be identical with the ones stated in Shruti. Hence listening to these Wise men have been part of our tradition. 

            All the darshanas and mathas like advaita, visishtadvaita, dvaita have sprung from a simple fact, when these great realized souls after tasting this nectar wanted to share it with the ones who desire to approach the SELF.  This is where the seeming differences crop up.

            So, we have all the aids. We have BMI getting us OET through PFT. We have the scriptures which can corroborate our inner journey milestones. We have Satsanga to assist. We have four major paths guiding us based on our vasana makeup. As long as one desires to understand the real perceiver, the real feeler, the real thinker, one can be on this journey at a moment’s notice. The BMI chart is an excellent tool to any seeker to interpret subtle esoteric vedantic ideas in a common man's language.

            May that Supreme Consciousness grant us the good intellect, a healthy mind and a sound body and guide us on this journey we are all making, with or without our knowledge.