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VEDANTA KESARIA Well Charted Road Map| Editorial | November 2004  

 

 

 

 

          Editorial

   

 

              

          A Well-Charted Road Map

 

 


     In the course of a talk with his devotees, Sri Ramakrishna disclosed a profound secret: how to read a charted road map leading to a unique spiritual goal. By that he made available to us a ready reckoner for using the road map. In fact, many seemingly simple utterances of his hold in their bosom stereoscopic views of unintelligible technicalities of philosophies. Suppose one speaks from the terrace of a ten-storied building to us who are on the road below. The person on the terrace knows what it is like to be on the terrace, what are the things available there, how to reach there. We can even hear the person giving a running commentary about the terrace, etc. Sri Ramakrishna, and for that matter all realized souls, have this immediate knowledge. But on our part, we, who are on the ground, can only speculate about the lift or stairs leading to the terrace and about things on the terrace. Therefore, the words of such people who speak from their realization are to be studied carefully with positive aspirations. Otherwise, we may misconstrue their teachings and land in great trouble. Sri Ramakrishna's statement is this: 'Having tied the non-dual knowledge at the hem of your cloth, do whatever you like.' At the same time, he has also said: 'An expert dancer makes no false steps.'


     The phrase 'non-dual knowledge' used by Sri Ramakrishna in the first sentence paves the way for three types of meanings:


     (i) A contrary understanding. There came a sadhu to Dakshineswar when Sri Ramakrishna was there. He used to stay at the Panchavati in the temple garden. After some time, it came to Sri Ramakrishna's ears that people were not happy with the character of the sadhu. Sri Ramakrishna would hardly keep such matters a secret. One day the sadhu came to meet him. Sri Ramakrishna immediately raised the topic and said, 'Hello! I understand that you are a Vedantic sadhu; but people say ill about you. Why is it so?' The sadhu replied, 'According to Vedanta this world is an illusion. So whatever you have heard against me is also an illusion.' Shocked at this misinterpretation of the lofty ideal, Sri Ramakrishna rebuked him severely saying, 'If this is what your knowledge of Vedanta means, fie upon your non-dual knowledge.' Obviously, such an unethical interpretation is not supported by any knowledge, sacred or secular. But this happens in case of all sublime teachings. People pretend to be holy, and sanctify all immoral practices in the name of religion. We fall into the trap of such 'sanctified shop-keeping' and do not find a way out of it.


     (ii) A misunderstanding. The scriptural statements speak about a non-dual knowledge that can be had from the scriptures alone. The real import of such teachings is to impart information to the readers how to do or perform disciplines to remove obstacles from the path of realization. But, after a study of the scriptures we may feel that mere study itself is sufficient to attain Brahma-jnana. As a result, we go on deceiving ourselves till the last until we are frustrated about our deception. An intellectual understanding of the scriptures is, of course, necessary. It is called paroksha-jnana (mediate/indirect knowledge or intellectual knowledge). But, what useful purpose does this information serve? The Upanishad says that Self-realization cannot be had through repeated information (na bahund shrutena). It should help us to convert this jnana into aparoksha jnana (immediate and direct realization). The first knowledge is 'information' and the last one is 'realization'. That is why the Kathopanishad says that even after having studied this knowledge (shravanayapi) many do not become Brahman. Shankara says in his commentary to the Brahmasutras that it is seen that such people remain attached to the worldly matters (shruta-brahmanah api samsaritva darshanat). Therefore, the receiver (labdha) of this applied knowledge should also be competent (kushala). We may contend that removal of ajnana is the work of Shravana, Manana, and Nididhyasana; so it does not come under karma. This is a misinterpretation. Because, removing is a verb; hence it is meant for doing something that may rightly be called 'work' - as huge as a Corporation sweeper's work! Shankara was never tired of emphasizing the need for grinding disciplines. (Cf. nigharshanena achchhadyate svena paramarthikena gandhena, is covered up by their natural scent through the process of rubbing properly. Isha Up. 1)


     (iii) The understanding. It is called 'realization'. Shankara preached the philosophy of non-dual knowledge attaining which a person does not relish permanence in his/her own body. This unbelieveably austere philosophy was a tangible reality for Shankara himself, howevermuch others would contradict the same. When Shankara was staying at Srisailam, a Kapalika, named Rudra Bhairava, persuaded him to agree to be the 108th of the human sacrifices to be performed by him at the feet of Shakti. This last of the 108 sacrifices would fulfil the mandatory number required by the heinous ritual that the Kapalika had undertaken. Shankara, the most vociferous of all the critics of desire-prompted rituals, felt compassionate to the entreaties of the Kapalika. The Kapalika perhaps had never had the privilege of sacrificing such a high profile victim of the stature of Shankara. In fact, Shankara himself connived with the Kapalika! He told the Kapalika that the latter should arrange for the sacrifice at dead of night when Shankara's disciples would be fast asleep! The God of Fate smiled! The story goes that Shankara did go surreptitiously to the sacrificial place, but, as good luck would have it, his devoted disciple Padmapada, was alerted in his dream at the right moment by his Ishta, Nrisimhadeva. Padmapada reached the place on time and killed the murderer. This incident presents an insight into the realization of a Jnani of the non-dual Truth.


     Be that as it may, when we look at the latter part of the sentence - 'do whatever you like' - we realize that it is not a wholesale permission. Because, in the understanding of this sentence lies the whole lot of confusion. Let us recount an intelligent story. A person was on his deathbed. He made his 'Last Will and Testament' in favour of his trusted servant who was near him serving in his illness. In the will he bequeathed all his properties to the servant and directed him thus: 'I hereby direct you [the servant] to give to my son whatever you like.' In good time, after the death of the testator, the servant called the master's son and offered a meagre ten per cent of the total property. Astonished and disgruntled, the son went to his lawyer for help. The matter came up for hearing in the court. Understanding the implication of the words of the father, the judge asked the servant, 'What percentage of the property do you like to take for yourself?' The servant replied, 'Why? I have told him that he would get ten per cent of it. That means I would like to have ninety per cent for myself.' 'Yes,' said the judge, 'you like ninety percent. So give to the son "whatever you like". Give him this ninety per cent.' In understanding Sri Ramakrishna's blanket permission to all our wishes in 'do whatever you like', we have to understand his interpretation of the word 'you' from his other statements like 'an expert dancer never makes a false step'. To appreciate the interpretation, we would divide this 'you' in two stages of evolution. It would help us discover the 'likes' of the person concerned.


     (a) The first stage of tying the 'non-dual knowledge at the hem of our cloth': If we have a strong intellectual conviction about our goal and we are working our best to reach it, then it is but natural that our 'likes' would be in consonance with and determined by our aspirations. At this first stage only we are required to be careful about understanding our goals. The Advaitic tradition offers such a great advantage. It supplies us with an unambiguous idea about the road map, so that we do not fall in the traps of a 'contrary understanding' or a 'misunderstanding', and that we take up disciplines seriously to reach the goal. Here we may recall the words of Sri Ramakrishna: 'Do something first; then you may become a King Janaka.'


     (b) The second stage: It is not a stage actually. But for the purpose of our discussion we take it for a stage of a realized 'you'. At this stage the realization of the persons does not allow them to 'like' such acts as would be incongruent with their knowledge of oneness. So Sri Ramakrishna gave the instance of the perfect dancer. The Panchadashi warns that if a person, who has realized the non-dual Reality, does not behave according to his knowledge, then there would be no difference between a dog and a realized person (shunam tattvadrisham ko bhedah?).


     It is now time for us to understand the road map to appreciate the interpretation of the phrase 'non-dual knowledge' used by Sri Ramakrishna in the above-quoted sentence. The competence of the students desirous of taking the path of knowledge has been neatly delineated by Sadananda Yogindra in the Vedantasara. The following is the whole map. An aspirant should DO these things:


     (i) Read the Vedas (Vedanta is included) formally with their auxiliaries and acquire intellectual conviction either in this birth or earlier;


     (ii) Avoid desire-prompted works, prohibited works (because these alone do not come under the definition of karma that is valued by Shankara.);


     (iii) Perform regular and occasional duties, and compensate for faulty actions causing loss or injury to others;


     (iv) Perform meditation on the deities, with or without symbols. This has been explained by Shankara in his commentary to the third chapter of the Brahmasutras;


     (v) Discriminate between the Real and the unreal;


     (vi) Cultivate dispassion for temporary goals both here and hereafter;


     (vii) Acquire self-control; total withdrawal of the mind from sense-objects, or renunciation; composure of mind, i.e., physical and mental resilience; faith in the words of the scriptures and the guru; and engage an extremely pure mind in the pursuit of jnana;

 

     (viii) Desire for liberation from repeated birth and death;


     (ix) Approach a guru for guidance in the path of Advaita;


     (x) Hear from the guru the great scriptural sayings about the identity of the empirical self (Jivatman) and the transcendental Self (Brahman), and then remove the obstacles from the path of this non-dual knowledge.


     Now, let us verify if any aspect of our life has been left out of this scheme - active (karma-yoga, i.e., use of hands), emotional (bhakti-yoga, i.e., use of heart), meditative (dhyana-yoga, i.e., use of mind) and intellectual (jnana-yoga, i.e., use of head). This is a plan for a life wholly oriented towards final liberation called Moksha. Hence, the whole life has been taken care of. The road map as delineated above leads to the threshold of the path of Knowledge, which begins after the ninth condition of approaching a guru. Thereafter, if the aspirant is exceptionally competent, he/she will be liberated as soon as he or she hears the great sayings of the Upanishads. Whereas aspirants below the calibre of Svetaketu of the days of the Upanishads, have to listen to the great saying of Tat tvam asi (You are Brahman) with elaborations for more than nine times; to borrow from the expression of Christ it may be 'ninety times nine'. It is, therefore, rational to say that we would have to practise Manana, and Nididhyasana until all the obstacles are removed. We have to DO this until Brahmajnana.


     The confusion is created when we interpret all the DO's as the karma that Shankara opposed. Shankara's objection is to the karma that consists of kamya karmas (desire-prompted work producing impermanent results, or selfish works) and nishiddha karmas (prohibited works which are harmful), but not all endeavours or performances. From this point of view, the path of Advaita is an all-inclusive Darshana, which is delineated by those who traversed this path gloriously. We won't translate the word Darshana as 'philosophy'. Philosophy is mostly speculative, whereas Darshana is based on the facts available after realization. We may compare 'philosophy' with the knowledge of those who are at the ground level speculating over the things on the terrace of the 10th floor and over the stairs or lifts leading there. Darshana is comparable to the record of interviews with the persons who ascended onto the terrace of the tenth floor successfully.

 

     Prabuddha Bharata

     Vedanta Kesari

     Vedanta Mass Media







      

International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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