Friday, March 28, 2008

A meditation on the Mahabharatha.

Sri gurubhyo namaha.

I am sure most of you would know of or atleast have heard of the Mahabharatha (the supreme epic) and more importantly the Gita (Bagawad gita). The Mahabharatha tells a story, rather many stories, of extraordinary proportions. Each time I read the book I see a different picture, a different message, a different moral. I am not going to go into the depth of the story here but I will just mention a thing or two here.

One of the most commonly asked questions about the Mahabharatha and the Gita is why is such a superior and sublime spritual book / discourse obsessed with war? Why is there so much fighting, so much treachery and so much violence in such a book? Is Hinduism really non violent or not in its core belief? If I were to list all questions in a similar vein, I am sure I can be filling pages and pages. But now that you have the gist of what I am saying, I wont repeat myself.

There are many reasons why such a spiritual masterpiece, one so sublime and yet so immanent as the Gita should precisely be set in such a context. A bit of internal meditation on the book and its message will tell you quite a bit of it and the great souls and gurus with their own insight and experience in the path of yoga and meditation garner an even deeper depth. Here though in this post, I am not going to attempt to answer this question - rather, I am going to put a question to you, the reader! Thats nice, I hear you say.....thats a good way of getting out of tricky questions. Let me assure you, I am doing nothing to deflect the question. Instead I am attempting to guess the depth of your ideologies and ethics (if we have any) much like the situation in the great epic of Mahabharatha.

Before I pose the question, let me throw in some context for those less familiar with the setting of the scene for the Bagawad gita. In the middle of the battle field called Kurukshetra the two armies have been stationed opposite each other. The army of the Kauravas (the bad guys put simply:please read the story for yourself to realise they arent actually all that bad) with eleven Akshauhinis (a military unit comprising of cavalry,elephant troops, foot soldiers, charriot troops, etc each) on the one side and the Pandavas (the good guys put simply : please read the story for yourself to realise they arent actually all that good!) with their seven Akshauhinis and Krishna on the other side. Now, these Pandavas and the Kauravas are heirs to the same throne, that of the great house of the Kurus. They are actually first cousins - Pandu the father of the Pandavas and Dritharashtra the father of the Kauravas are brothers (though born to different mothers). Since the death of Pandu in the forest while the Pandavas were still only young children, the Pandavas and the Kauravas grew up together in the city called hastinapura. Their grand father, the grand sire Bheeshma watched over their education and rearing. The acharya Drona was the guru who taught the use of the various astras and shastras (the weapons and missiles used in warfare) to the Pandavas and the Kauravas. The Pandavas were five brothers and the eldest of them was Yudishtra, the very personfication of Dharma or righteousness. The Kauravas were 100 brothers and the eldest was Duryodhana, a good man apart from the fact that his heart was consumed with jelousy at the thought of the Pandavas. The great war which forms the bulk of the Mahabharatha in all its gory detail was fought between the two camps as a result of the jelousy of Duryodhana which over time grew into a horrible hatred for the Pandavas.

The Pandavas wanted a rightful share in the kingdom of the Kurus as was their due. The crown prince Duryodhana did not want to hand them their share of the land. To cut a long story short, the Kauravas attempted many things to get rid of the Pandavas and the Pandavas did many things to give peace a chance. This was not to be and finally things came to such a boil that the great war was announced. The two armies faced each other in the battlefield called Kurukshetra. Arjuna (one of) the star(s) of the story had his bow and his inexhaustible quiver of arrows and was ready for the war. He was in a charriot yoked with handsome powerful horses and the Lord of the world, the supreme Krishna was guiding him by being Arjuna's charrioter. This is the scene. Now imagine in your minds eye (call on the special effects of the Gladiator/Tipu sultan or anything else you fancy to help the visuals) this scene. The Pandavas are on the one side, at the front line are Arjuna and his brothers backed by an immense army of heroes. The Kauravas on the other side with the veteran Bheeshma in his silver charriot yoked to white steeds commanding the immense army of heroes on the side of Duryodhana.

Just as the great war is about to begin, Arjuna looks across to the other side and sees the array of heroes ready and waiting to begin the fight. He sees there assembled against him, his dear grandfather Bheeshma, his beloved guru the acharya Drona, their uncle Salya, and many of his friends who studied with him under Drona, his cousins the hated Duryodhana and his brothers, the acharya Kripa and many other heroes who Arjuna held in high regard. Opposite Arjuna were arrayed his family and friends, his teacher, his elders - those very people he had been used to venerating and holding close to his heart. When he sees this, his legs go weak under him and give way. Arjuna collapses to the side of the charriot and is choked with tears. His mind is paralysed by the fear of the understanding that whether he won or lost the war, he would be a loser. Gasping for breath and trying to acchieve some amount of composure (he is a kshatriya after all) Arjuna speaks to Krishna. He says, '' O Krishna, my limbs fail me and my courage and valour desert me now at this moment when I see those arrayed against me. O Krishna, of what use is the kingdom, why, of what use is the lordship over the entire world, when it has to be obtained by slaying those who are so dear to me? Against me, my lord, are assembled the elders and the scions of the Kuru house. Against me is my guru, the acharya Drona. How O Krishna, can I bring myself to kill these very people who have been objects of my love and devotion all along? How O Krishna can I enjoy the kingdom by destroying those very people who make it meaningful for me to enjoy that kingdom?''

The lord spoke then to Arjuna to address this his dilema (which was so powerful that it was in the way of him performing his duty), so the despondency and confusion in the heart of Arjuna will vanish. These words of the Lord Krishna which were spoken to clear the mind of his devotee and friend Arjuna is what is known as the Gita. Here at the climax stage, where the armies were waiting to tear each other apart, where many incredible and exceptionally powerful weapons and missiles were armed and at the ready, where the drama which would spell the end of the days of darkness (if it went well) and which might result in the total anihilation of the world (if it didnt go well), where we the readers are waiting with bated breath to see the way the events would unfold, here at this most high point Krishna utters the Gita!!

This so far is the context. Now to my question - It has been made extremely clear that the war to be fought is going to be the mother of all wars. Ferocious, intense and arduous. Innumerable heroes make up the two armies and each one is an opponent you would not want to face if you intend to live! Those heroes have the most unimaginably powerful weapons. One side represents dharma (what is righteousness) and the other adharma (what isnt righteousness). This is the external war we all know.

On the other hand is the internal dilema faced by Arjuna (and it goes without saying that such a dilema will be faced by anyone with an ethic and conscience). Every rule, every precept whether traditional (sampradaya) or injunction from the Vedas (pramana) has always made it extremely clear that one's elders and one's guru etc are verily the manifest form of God. They deserve respect, devotion and the love of disciples and children. A student is forbidden to deride the guru even in jest and thought, never mind fight a battle on opposite sides. Have you ever heard of sastras or scriptures advocating one to fight with and to go against the wishes of the elders like one's grandfather or guru?? I am sure though you would have heard of many stories and scriptures which detail the gory states of hell and the netherworlds obtained by one who goes against his guru. And yet as Krishna tells Arjuna, knowing all this he has to fight his guru and those who are close to his heart to fulfil his duty as a kshatriya to prevent the rise of adharma.

Meditate on it. Think about it. And then tell me which is the bigger and greater war? The externally violent one fought with the weapons and missiles or the inner war where one is pitted against one's own set of ethic and moral codes for the sake of a 'bigger' justice?? Tell me, which war did the author want us to be aware of before spilling the beans on the nature of this world and the intricacies of dharma, karma and yoga in the form of the Gita? When you deliberate and find the answer for this one, think more! Then we will begin to answer the question that originally brought us here. Until then....................

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sing and dance for the Lord - mantra 56

Sri gurubhyo namaha.

The fifty sixth mantra of the Thirumandiram is the last mantra which forms the section titled The greatness of vedas. Here the sage hints at the view that songs, dance, music and other such arts are for the purpose of seeking, praising and uniting with God and not for the fulfilment of the more baser desires of the human beings.

பாட்டும் ஒலியும் பரக்கும் கணிகையர்
ஆட்டும் அறாத அவனியில் மாட்டாதார்
வேட்டு விருப்பார் விரதமில் லாதவர்
ஈட்டும் இடஞ்சென்று இகலல்உற் றாரே. 56 .6.
Vedic Sacrifices
Uncaught in the world's web of woman, song and dance,
Such alone seek the holy sacrifice to perform;
But the unpracticed in austerities do but reach
Desire's Abode, misery to find. 56.6.

Comsong and dance As long as there are songs and music, that the songs are set to, in the world's web of woman there will also be the dancing girls who dance to the song and music. Uncaught Those who do not conform to the path set out by the Vedas for the realisation of Truth; Such alone seek the holy sacrifice to perform will be unfit for the performances of the holy sacrifices, But the unpracticed in austerities as they do not possess the discipline to follow the observances and the many austerities. do but reach Desire's Abode, misery to find Instead, they let their desires and thoughts flow outward into the worldly objects and thus destroy themselves.

* The sage expresses his understanding that song, music and dance were established to realise the truth about God. But instead, when they are used (superficially) for entertainment and satisfying the whimsical desires and lust, they (i.e. the songs, music etc) become incapable of conveying the truth about God. Rather, they become distracting tools that encourage the outward flow of consciousness towards the external sense objects. Thus, those who are caught in the external world become unable to stick to the strict discipline that is required in order to establish oneself firmly on the right path as revealed by the Vedas. And those that are true to the Vedic path, become the accomplished ones, able to understand the truth that is conveyed through the Vedas.

Here ends the second section of the Payiram (Proem) titled ‘The greatness of the Vedas’.

Non different to the Self - mantra 55

Sri gurubhyo namaha.

The fifty fifth mantra of the Thirumandiram talks about the six angas or limbs of the Vedas. Here the sage also hints at the fact that karmas (those that are sanctioned by the vedas or those that are not) lead to more and more births and deaths. So he suggests the jnyana marga or the path of Knowledge where the non duality (advaita) of the jiva (embodied being) and Siva (supreme being) is ever contemplated. With is bhava or awareness in the mind of non difference the individual must attempt to merge in Siva rather than worship with a feeling of being different to Siva.

ஆறங்க மாய்வரும் மாமறை ஓதியைக்
கூறங்க மாகக் குணம்பயில் வாரில்லை
வேறங்க மாக விளைவுசெய்து அப்புறம்
பேறங்க மாகப் பெருக்குகின் றாரே. 55.5.
One In Several
Of the One, the Vedas chant in divisions six,
The One who yet in parts divisible does not be,
As divided parts they swam into their ken,
Then upgathered and swelled into the patterned whole. 55.5.

ComThe One who yet in parts divisible does not be The are not many in this world, who are capable of understanding the truth about Siva, by realising that He is not separate from themselves, Of the One, the Vedas chant in divisions six yet they chant the Vedas that comprise six angas or divisions, which are sung in His praise. As divided parts they swam into their ken They chant and worship Siva, by falsely imagining Him to be separate (other than) from themselves. Then upgathered and swelled into the patterned whole And through such worship they achieve the result of increasing manifold their riches, desires and position in this world. Thus, they lead themselves into doom.

* The six angas or divisions of the Vedas are – Sikshai, Karpagam, Vyakaranam, Chandhovishidhi, Jyothisham and Niruttham. Those that do not understand Siva to be the same as oneself, but who, in the wrong perception of Him to be different from themselves, perform much Karma (both those that are sanctioned by the Vedas and those that are not) which leads to their being tied to many future births.

Supreme path of Siva - mantra 54

Sri gurubhyo namaha.

The fifty fourth mantra of the Thirumandiram continues in praise of the Vedas and emphasises that the supreme path shown by the Vedas includes the path of Siva or Siva yoga (thought by Thirumular) by describing and expounding on the philosophy of such yoga in the Upanishads.

திருநெறி யாவது சித்தசித் தன்றிப்
பெருநெறி யாய பிரானை நினைந்து
குருநெறி யாம்சிவ மாம்நெறி கூடும்
ஒருநெறி ஒன்றாக வேதாந்தம் ஓதுமே.54.4.
Supreme Path
The Holy Path is naught but the Path Supreme,
Who muse on the Lord, Himself the Path Supreme,
As Material-Immaterial, as Guru Divine,
They reach Siva's Pure Path-so Vedanta’s all declare.54.4.

ComThe Holy Path is naught but the Path Supreme The path of Siva, which is the holiest of all paths is, Who muse on the Lord where one thinks of the Lord who is beyond the As Material-Immaterial duality of knowledge and ignorance and Himself the Path Supreme is manifest as the Supreme state of Liberation. as Guru Divine It is to be found through the guidance of the Guru and They reach Siva's Pure Path it is the path capable of bestowing the realisation of Siva. so Vedanta’s all declare This holy path of Siva is spoken of as being the best of all paths, by the Upanishads.

* The Upanishads are called Vedanta (lit. End of Veda) – The final declarations made and affirmed after much discussion, deliberation, debate and inner meditation, on the various truths spoken of in the Vedas. Thus the Upanishads contain the ‘last word’ on all maters. So it is an accolade for the path of Siva to be spoken of as the highest path in the Upanishads.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Mahashivaratri 2008

Sri gurubhyo namaha.
Another Mahashivaratri observed, a step closer to home! The confusion regarding the actual date of the vrata being the 5th or the 6th added to the mystery and also brought forth some very useful information with which the vrata is actually fixed - with respect to the calculation of the thithi and the kalas etc. We followed the date given by the Sringeri acharya (5th) and it also worked out to be the same day when the calculations were made for the location we were in.

Shiva being the king of yogis and a mountain man through and through, we arrived at the foothills of a beautiful mountain here in Ireland. The mountain whose name means 'The great deceiver' or ' The great path' was our clean ground for the commencement of the vrata - very apt. The great deceiver is the great path and the great path is the constant deceiver. There must be something about the mountain air or perhaps its the strong grounding energy radiated by the mountains, I have always felt 'closer' to Shiva on the mountains than on sea level.

As the evening fell, we were ready for the journey to begin. The setting sun was the timer to set us off on our journey to the deep, to the very core of our being. Worship of the guru and the guru mandala the first step for anything was done. The sankalpa was made and the puja begun with all the due facets. Mahaganapathy was invoked to ensure no hurdle big or small would become powerful enough to distract us from the yoga of union with Shiva. The sacred waters were invoked into the kalasa to be used in worship of the supremely effulgent being. The earth, asana and atma being purified by the due processes we were now ready to venture into the main part of the worship. The supreme Lord of Pasus was imagined as Dakshinamurthy, the guru of gurus and duly invoked into the linga emblem. The upacharas and offerings were made and Shiva praised with a hundred and eight names. We fortified ourselves with the kavacha (armour) of Shiva and then again the armour of Rudra. We were now well and truly ready for transformation.

The linga was bathed through the night at each yama (quarter of the night) with different substances as prescribed in the sastras - milk, curds, ghee and honey. To keep 'awake' and in union with Him, many stotras and slokas were sung and chanted. Various forms of His were invoked and contemplated. The middle of the night or Maharatri was reserved specially for the chanting of Shiva's favourite hymn, the RudrAdhyAyA or Rudram. Eleven rudrams were chanted for the 11 rudras and the entire energy was transferred into the kalasam with water which was then used to bathe the linga. The heat from such an exercise is somewhat overwhelming. Cold as it was outside in the middle of the night at the mountains in Kerry with a gale blowing, we were (at least I was) over heating! The sweat pouring in a steady stream was like the ganges come down to wash away the sins of the mortal beings on earth. With it, it took away my fatigue and my failings.

Shiva was then praised using the Sahasranama or thousand names of Shiva. Like the siddha Thirumular mentions, the Shiva sahasranama is like a rope thrown to the one who is nearly drowning in the ocean of samsara! Holding steady to His feet and holding Him steady in the lotus of the heart, each name of praise was offered with a handful of flowers. Nearing the end of the archana, the feeling of Shivoham (I am He (Shiva)) was becoming cemented in the mind. Shivoham. Shivoham. SHIVOHAM. A part of my mind gets high with the emotion of being Shiva while the more 'grounded' part of me reminds me that the next thing is to 'be'have like Shiva! A long way yet before that, but I am in no hurry and I am sure He is no hurry for that either.

The rising sun brought us out from the reverie that his setting on the previous evening left us in. The ksheerArghyam (offering of milk with mantras) was performed signalling the end of the vrata. The world and the mountain were ready to take us in their embrace when we stepped out of the 'cave'. The rare treat of performing the morning sandhyavandana as it is meant to be done by the stream (instead of by the tap at home) was a delight. The daily prayers finished with we were ready to break the fast - which we did by feasting on the offerings of the nights puja.

Fully fortified now, we began our ascent of the Great deceiver or the Great path in a strong shower of rain. The winds got too strong as we gained height and built up to storm force quite soon. We had an experience of Kailash like weather to finish the vrata. It was just perfect!!

Hopefully the currents generated by the nights worship keeping vigil against sleep will stay in us for a while more - we need that to face the tide of life here on Earth.

O Shiva, the three eyed,
The only medicine for the soul.
O king of yogis, the one with tawny locks,
The only medicine for the heart.
O lord of bliss, in the Ecstasy of intoxication,
The only medicine for me.

Namah shivAya. sAmbasadAshivAya. AtmAya. Namah shivAya.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Moving force of the Vedas - mantra 53

Sri gurubhyo namaha.

In this the fifty third mantra, the sage elaborates on the fact that the vedas contain mantras and formulations which are capable of producing jnyana (knowledge/wisdom) and infinite other kamya (desired) results depending on the state of maturity of the seeker. That is to say that everything there is to be known or experienced can be known or experienced through the path of the Vedas.

இருக்குஉரு வாம்எழில் வேதத்தின் உள்ளே
உருக்குஉணர் வாயுணர் வேதத்துள் ஓங்கி
வெருக்குஉரு வாகிய வேதியர் சொல்லும்
கருக்குஉரு வாய்நின்ற கண்ணனும் ஆமே. 53. 3.
Moving Mood
In the beauteous Veda, aptly named the Rig,
As the moving mood behind, He stood;
In the trembling chant of the Vedic priests He stood,
Himself the Eye of vision Central. 53. 3.

ComIn the beauteous Veda, aptly named the Rig In the Vedas that are so beautifully ornamented by the many mantras (chants) that are contained in them, As the moving mood behind, He stood the Lord is felt as the intense emotion that is capable of melting the heart of the listener. In the trembling chant of the Vedic priests He stood He is also felt as majestic and terrible sound, capable of inducing incredible fear in the heart of the listener. Himself the Eye of vision Central He, the three eyed (Siva) is present as the central causative factor in all the Vedic mantras.

* The above mantra describes that the Vedas possess many mantras that are capable of bestowing much good fortune and other great benefits. And the Vedas also possess many mantras that are terrible in nature and which are capable of destroying others and producing many other evil calamities. That is to say, the Vedas have the necessary mantras for Jnyana yoga (path of knowledge) and they also have the mantras that are of use to the one desiring of (good or bad) ends. Yet, it is the same Siva, who bestows the fruit to the both – the Jnyani’s who chant the Vedic mantras without expecting any particular fruit and the Grihasta (householder) who chants the Vedic mantras expecting certain definite fruits.

The truth of the vedas - mantra 52

Sri gurubhyo namaha.

The next mantra in this section dealing with the greatness of the Vedas is the fifty second one in the Thirumandiram.

வேதம் உரைத்தானும் வேதியன் ஆகிலன்
வேதம் உரைத்தானும் வேதா விளங்கிட
வேதம் உரைத்தானும் வேதியர் வேள்விக்காய்
வேதம் உரைத்தானும் மெய்ப்பொருள் காட்டவே . 52. 2.
Truth Of Maker
Brahma spoke the Vedas, but Himself not the goal supreme;
He spoke the Vedas only the great Maker to reveal;
He spoke them for the Holy sacrifices to perform,
He spoke them, the True One to manifest. 52. 2.

ComBrahma spoke the Vedas, but Himself not the goal supreme The (Brahmana) who is proficient in the chanting of the Vedas with the right intonation (swara) cannot realise the truths spoken therein, by the knowledge of the sound (words) alone. He spoke the Vedas only the great Maker to reveal Because, the Lord revealed the Vedas, so that we might be able to attain the knowledge of the Supreme Brahman (Absolute Being). He spoke them for the Holy sacrifices to perform That is the reason why He spoke through the Vedas, instructing them (the Brahmana) to perform the holy sacrifices (yaga’s &c). He spoke them, the True One to manifest He instructed them through the revelations of the Vedas, so that they might realise the Truth (Brahman).

* The Vedas have been revealed so that the (wise) may attain to the enlightened state of being able to understand and unite with the supreme Brahman. Therefore, the mere recitals of the Vedic passages are not capable of bringing about that state. The wise should know that, one becomes a true knower of the Vedas only by identifying the Brahman (through the various recitals and the associated sacrifices and observances) and uniting with that).

The greatness of the Vedas - mantra 51

Sri gurubhyo namaha.

This is the fifty first mantra of the Thirumandiram and in this section (this mantra and the next few following) the sage deals with the greatness of the Vedas. After the first part in praise of the form of God, the sage now extolls the virtue of the Vedas as they are the method through which the Siva is to be realised.

The mantras will now be numbered in two different ways - the first number refers to the position from the start of the Thirumandiram and the second one refers to its position in the relevant section of the text.

வேதத்தை விட்ட அறமில்லை வேதத்தின்
ஓதத் தகும்அறம் எல்லாம் உளதர்க்க
வாதத்தை விட்டு மதிஞர் வளமுற்ற
வேதத்தை ஓதியே வீடுபெற் றார்க்களே. 51. 1.
Vedas Proclaim Dharma
No Dharma is, barring what the Vedas say;
Its central core the Vedas proclaim;
And the Wise ones ceased contentious brawls,
Intoned the lofty strains and Freedom's battle won. 51. 1.

ComNo Dharma is, barring what the Vedas say There is no truth or law (Dharma) that has not been spoken of or revealed through the Vedas. Its central core the Vedas proclaim All the laws and observances that are worthy of being followed are explained through the Vedas. And the Wise ones ceased contentious brawls Therefore the scholars, who are possessed of wisdom, should stop wasting their time by entering into arguments (debates) that purport to debate the wisdom of the Vedas. Intoned the lofty strains and Freedom's battle won Instead, they should follow (by intoning the Vedic mantras) the paths set out through the Vedas and attain Mukti or Liberation.

* The Vedas are held to be four in number – Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharvana Veda. The above four, each comprise the following four divisions, namely, Mantra, Brahmana, Aranyaka and Upanishad.