Tuesday December 11, 2018

Upanishads unfold mystery of Brahman

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By Nithin Sridhar

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 11

credit: hridaya-yoga.com
credit: hridaya-yoga.com

In the last segment, the questions regarding God were taken up and the following three questions were listed:

  • What is God?
  • Where is God?
  • How to perceive/reach/realize God?

But, only the second question: Where is God? was taken up for analysis. The scriptures were quoted to show how God was not some super human being sitting in heaven, but he was present everywhere and in all objects as their innermost Self. It was further added that God can be realized in one’s own Hrdaya (Heart or center of existence).

In this installment, let’s take up the first question regarding God: What is God? Before proceeding further, it must be clarified that the term “God” is basically an English terminology that is rooted in western philosophical conception of the Supreme reality.

The Hindu scriptures refer to the supreme reality as Brahman and by various other names like Atman, Ishwara, Bhagavan etc. depending upon the context and meaning that is intended to be conveyed. The Upanishads in particular use the term Brahman when it intends to speak about the God in its entirety, as existence itself. Therefore let’s look into how Hindu scriptures define Brahman.

The Hindu scriptures over and over again stress on the fact that the Brahman is beyond description. The Brahman is beyond the senses and the mind. It cannot be perceived by the eyes, ears, nose or even the mind; yet it is Brahman that makes all these faculties of mind and the senses to function (Kena Upanishad: 1.5-9).

Kena Upanishad (2.3), in fact, says that if a person believes that he can know Brahman as an objective reality, then such a person has not realized Brahman. On the other hand, a person who realizes that Brahman is beyond objective perception and is beyond the grasp of words or thoughts is an enlightened person.

Consequently, no count of words or gauge of logical analysis can actually define the Brahman. They, at best, can act as pointers in the direction of the ultimate goal. It is in acting as “pointers” lie the utility of such verbal or logical definitions. For example, the North Star, even though it did not reveal the destination as such, guided the sailors in the olden days towards their destination.

Similarly, the Upanishads give various definitions of Brahman to help different seekers of ultimate Reality who are at different levels of spiritual and intellectual competence.

Mandukya Upanishad (Verse 7), which is the shortest among all Upanishads, describes Brahman from the standpoint of Brahman. Consequently from that absolute standpoint, it describes the Brahman as beyond empirical dealings, beyond the grasp, unthinkable, indescribable, wherein all phenomenon of world as separate entity ceases to exist and wherein non-duality alone exists.

These descriptions may not make sense to many because most people are still in the realm of the objective universe bound by the Avidya (ignorance) that prevents an individual from rising above duality.

From the standpoint of Brahman, this universe as a separate and independent entity does not exist. Brahman which is non-dual (without a second entity) alone exists. This does not mean that the objective universe has no meaning. It simply means that, from the standpoint of Brahman, whatever we perceive as world, objects, names and forms are all Brahman alone.

As people find it hard to understand this and harder to digest this, the Upanishads also offer other definitions that can be understood from the standpoint of the universe which is rooted in duality.

Taittiriya Upanishad (3.1) defines Brahman as:

yatOvAimAnibhUtAnijAyantE

yEnajATAnijIvanti

yatprayant-yabhi-sam-vishanti

tadvijigyasasva tad brahmeti ||

Translation: From which all the creatures are born, being born by which they sustain and into which they merge back, is known as Brahman.

The definition given in this mantra (hymn) of the Upanishad gives three points:

  • Brahman is the source of the Universe.
  • Brahman sustains the Universe.
  • Brahman absorbs back the Universe into its Self.

This is significant. The Upanishad is invariably saying that Brahman is both the material as well as the instrumental cause of the Universe. Moreover, Brahman exists as the support or sub-stratum of the Universe. It is for this reason that the Brahman is called as Atman, the innermost Self. It exists in the Hrdaya, the center of individual existence, and It supports the individuality and multiplicity of the Universe.

Let us ponder over some more about the terms “material cause” and “instrumental cause”. For the manufacture of any object, both causes are necessary. For example, for creating a pot, there must be a potter who makes the pot (the instrumental cause) and the mud from which the pot is created (the material cause).

There are various philosophies within Hinduism that give different and sometimes opposing viewpoints regarding the status of Brahman with respect to the universe. But, the Upanishad itself is clear that Brahman is both the instrumental and the material cause.

Hence, unlike the western religions and philosophies that define God as being separate from His creation, Brahman is not separate from the universe. The universe instead is considered as an extension or the body of Brahman and hence inseparable from Brahman. In fact at highest level it is realized that the universe is non-different from Brahman.

Without going into the details, it is suffice to say that, from the standpoint of the universe, the universe is the effect and the Brahman is the cause (both material and instrumental). And in order to realize the Brahman/God, one must dive deep into one’s own Self- into the Hrdaya- and travel from the effect to the cause and from duality to non-duality.

More in this segment:
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 1
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 2
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 3
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 4
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 5
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 6
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 7
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 8
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 9

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 10

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Puja for The Spiritualism, Not for Vulgar Entertainment

The westerners practicing Hinduism have learned a pretty well from our "scriptures" and are becoming more spiritual while we just locked up those "holy books" only in the drawers of the altar. Thus we only love to shake our “butts to the boom-boom of Bollywood”.. right in front of the Gods' idols !!!

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Hinduism
he westerners practicing Hinduism have learned a pretty well from our "scriptures"

By Salil Gewali

Any auspicious days in Hinduism are expected to be observed with a complete purity of action and thought. The same holds true for other religions too. As per the Hindu scriptures, the believers are required to stay away from any kind of sense gratifications, particularly when the specific days are dedicated to Gods and Goddess such as Navratri, Laxmi Puja, Krishna Janmashtami, Shivaratri, to name a few. The pathway to devotion and spiritualism should not be “desecrated” by the blot of the brazen entertainment. The scriptures logically explain why it is antithetical, and its adverse consequences.

Hindusim
Incidentally, the Bhagavad Gita describes such situation as the rise of “tamasic vibes”.

 But, what a huge irony, rather a blasphemy that many people these days have started to choose the auspicious days of Gods to satisfy their base senses. Without a wee bit of regret, a certain class of people holds almost every auspicious day as the most “unmissable” occasion to booze with the friends, and what not, and stagger back home, lol! Such bizarre practices are fast catching now than ever.  Sadly, hardly any conscious people and spiritual organizations stand up and take the right measures to check such godless deviations.

What is quite unpleasant is that such a kind of unholy practices are often being facilitated by certain “Hindu intuitions” as well. On this past Laxmi Puja, the “propitious time” to perform the ritual had fallen between 6 PM to 7:53 PM. Yours truly decided to use that span of time for meditation. But hell broke loose. Apart from fireworks around, the Bollywood songs in high decibel burst forth from a certain Hindu institution quite frustrated the mission.

Hindusim
Sadhu Sanga Retreat, 2016

 One senior citizen laments – “Nothing could be irreligious than the fact that a favorable time for “puja” is also being used for the wrongful purposes. We rather expect the “Hindu institutions” to teach our children Bhajan, Kirtan, and other spiritual activities, not the loud and feverish parties and disturb others.”

Another college student adds “Having been much disturbed by the noise pollution, I have persuaded my parents to shift our place of residence to elsewhere, not at least near holy places with an unholy mission. I have started to see such institutions with the eyes of suspicion these says.” Is it that our institutions are unable to use their “discretion”, and as a result, they fail to differentiate between right and wrong?  One is deeply apprehensive that Bollywood songs and vulgar dances might as well be included as a part of the “puja ritual” as we have long accepted the fun of fireworks bursting as an integral part of Laxmi Puja which in fact is just an entrenched “misconception”.

Hinduism
Hinduism is expected to be observed with a complete purity of action

Needless to say, our roar for consumerism has almost drowned the whisper of inherent spiritualism. We are only just sending out the wrong messages. I’m afraid, the whole culture itself might be looked down with derision by other faiths. It might just become a subject of ridicule! It is no exaggeration, such negative notions against the “wrong practices” are all what we often read these days in several newspapers and social media. Do we want others to demean our profound spiritual heritage thus?  I believe it calls for a serious soul-searching.

Incidentally, the Bhagavad Gita describes such situation as the rise of “tamasic vibes”.  It warns in the strongest terms that mankind should absolutely be careful not to fall under the influence of any short-lived sense gratifications. Or else, our endeavor to “practice and preserve” the sanctity of a religion/spiritualism will be a futile exercise.

However, on the other hand, the westerners practicing Hinduism have learned a pretty well from our “scriptures” and are becoming more spiritual while we just locked up those “holy books” only in a drawer of the altar. Thus we only love to shake our “butts to the boom-boom of Bollywood”.. right in front of the Gods’ idols !!!

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’.

Twitter:@SGewali.