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5.31.2010

Sacred insights from the Tripura Rahasya


Inspired by Chapters 1 & 2 of Tripura Rahasya [THE MYSTERY BEYOND THE TRINITY]

Srinivasa looked up to the presence of the Lord within the sacred shrine of his home. How beautiful He looked, how completely divine in the presence of these white jasmine flowers that garland His being. How pure does He shine in the light of this ghee lamp. Srinivasa sat back contemplating for a few minutes, his mind relaxed, his eyes glowing in rapture and his hair stood on end as if his ecstasy could not be contained within his being... he was in complete union with divinity.

It may have been just a few moments but they were profound, immersed in deep bhakti he looked up to the shrine in surrender, imbibing the complete moment of spiritual rapture he had felt within his being. He then prostrated on the floor bowing to the shrine. He had tasted the elixir of spiritualism, the sweet fruit of his worship and now he wanted to be in its presence for as long as he could. He realized the beauty of selfless worship and thirsted to practice this ancient sacred lore as much as he could. He went round and bowed to the sacred shrine hoping to relive this moment of rapture again.

Srinivasa now commenced his worship, reciting verses from the sacred texts, following every ritual prescribed and keeping every step clear in execution and yet he didn't completely understand the method itself or the meaning of the ritual worship he had been performing all these years. What had this worship have to do with the workings of the greater universe? Where does it start from and where does it end in all its grandeur? The worldly happenings seem so strangely permanent and yet they are considered not to be so. He sat back thinking, taking his own example...he remembered nothing of his childhood, he was different in his youth, and he is different in his manhood and in this way his life constantly changes. And therefore what is the result of these changes? What is the purpose of this change? It didn't make no sense to him.

The end justifies the means adopted by the seeker according to their temperaments. Are we really happy? Well then, having gained one purpose why do we look for another? Therefore is the only real purpose the accession of pleasure or the removal of pain? Therefore does the purpose drive the incentive for the effort to last. How then is a beggar any different from an emperor, he labors for happiness as much as an emperor does. Each of them having gained their purpose feels happy that they have been blessed as if they have reached the goal of their lives. And I too have been unwittingly imitating them, like a blind man who follows another. How completely stupid is this way of existence!

Srinivasa, sat in deep thought, he now wished he could cross this deep ocean of doubt with the teachings he had gathered. He now knew, his only way was to mentally surrender to the supreme. He realized his happiness lies in the constant moment of rapture that enveloped him while he worshiped the Lord. He wished this moment to be unbroken and undisturbed.

Prayers to God are selfish in the beginning, yet they not only fulfill one's desire but they also purify the mind. Devotion now grows in intensity and the seeker so desires nothing more than the presence of the Lord himself. If lucky, the Lord's grace is shown upon him in the manifestation of a Guru, who comes to his doorstep more by the play of circumstance than his very own search.

Misery is not the absence of happiness, but the limitation of it, for when happiness recedes, misery flows in. This is not the only miserable result of action, but worse than this is the fear of death which cannot be mitigated by any amount of action. How can transient mental concepts of devotion produce permanent results of higher truth? More over these practices are continuous and there seems to be no end to obligatory duties in one's life. How does one free himself from these obligations and seek real happiness, and yet great souls do so!

But when they do, they laugh at the ways of the world, they walk up the road of fearlessness with no concern at all, just like a majestic elephant refreshes itself in a pool of melted snow when the surrounding forest is on fire! They are completely happy and are free from any sense of obligation**. How does one reach this state? How does one escape from the jaws of Karma. As long as a man is afraid of his obligations, so long must he placate it or else he will not find peace. Similar is the fate of people who in the quest of happiness fall into the trap of action. One should not be in this state of distraction.

The only salvation to get out of this state is contemplation, the need to investigate and realize the purpose of one's existence. Can the sweet waters of dew ever collect in the sandy desert which are already scorched by heat? When the Goddess, Devi, is pleased with the worship of the devotee, she turns into Vichara** in him and shines as the blazing sun in the expanse of his heart.

Vichara is the only way to attain higher good. Vichara is the only weapon to fight the overpowering disease of ignorance. If vichara takes root the higher good for all practical purposes has been reached. So long as vichara doesn't take root, one's life remains barren and therefore useless. The only fruit of life is vichara.

Srinivasa thought, a man without the sense of vichara, is like a frog in the well that doesn't know anything, either of good or bad, and dies in the very same well of ignorance. If we forever continue to run away dispassionately from misery and seek the depths of pleasure, we can never escape from the cycle of birth and death just as a jack-ass pursues a she-ass even if kicked a hundred times by her.We will therefore never give up our thirst and ignorance will continue to prevail.

Srinivasa collected himself. There was only one way forward - contemplation on the self and the purpose of one's life in this sea of obligation within the darkness of ignorance.

===================================================

**Free from obligation doesn't mean that it is not performed, it is performed but with no attachment to the act or the fruits of its result. As the Gita rightfully says, we cannot escape action or inaction, but we can escape its karma by the detachment from the obligation itself.

**Vichara - Discrimination, investigation, deliberation, judgment 


5.17.2010

Reflecting on Plato's "Allegory of the cave"


I was this candle that never burned
I was this piece of matter that exists in this universe without purpose
I was this drop of life that thought I breathe and therefore I am

 
There was a deep cave in the forest, a cave so dark with an entrance so small that no light managed to cross through the mouth of the cave to light up its walls inside. But something was strange about this cave for within its walls lived a group of people. They had lived there for many years with their hands tied and their faces to the wall that stood opposite to the mouth of the cave. This was their life, this is how they had always been, this is what they had been taught to do and this was how they existed. Every day the only awakening they had was the changing colors of the wall in front of them. It turned white in the early hours of the morning, moving to a bright yellow by noon and changing to a glowing orange by evening and then to inky blackness by night. And they were happy to live, in this familiar little world of known comforts to see these colors repeat themselves on the wall of the cave.

For some this was a common occurrence, for a few others it didn’t strike a chord at all but for one man in their midst, it was a growing miracle, that flowered every day and faded by night to bloom again in the morning. He was a romantic, a poet in his heart and though the others mocked at him, he sang to himself, certain that there was more to these miraculous colors but strange as it may sound, none of them ever turned to see the mouth of the cave to ever figure out what was really happening. They continued to live as they were, creating imaginary problems in their lives and solving them as they went along, the only assurance in their reality was the periodic change in the colors on the wall.

It was one such day, very normal to their lives as the white turned to yellow and then to a glow of orange. But strangely that night there was a burning glow of red on the wall instead of the inky blackness. This sent shock through all those within, leading to fear of the unfamiliar and horror over the change in regular pattern. The glow of red grew brighter and danced around the walls, leaving them puzzled wondering what kind of strange heavenly phenomenon could this be? Speculations ran wild, sentiments were hurt as people hurled fiery words at each other insisting that they were right but none of them even turned around to the mouth of the cave. And then there was peace, the deep red turned to the familiar inky blackness they were so comfortable with and they retired for the night.

The next day started again as always but by evening the burning orange gave way to the crimson red that leaped all over the walls increasing the fear of the people inside who wondered what magical phenomenon this was. But this time one of the men decided he would do what no one else dared. He believed in his miracle, he believed there was a God and he decided to dare and see what was at the mouth of the cave. What caught his eyes were the leaping flames of a breath taking fire, so bright and graceful as it climbed through the air in its glorious shades of color. He turned back in excitement, he couldn’t withstand the bliss he felt of having seen the glimpse of divinity at the entrance of the cave. He tried to explain the phenomenon to the others, that it was a leaping flame at the entrance of the cave but no one was ready to hear him and no one really wanted to know the secret of the glowing flames.

That evening and even stranger event occurred. As the cave dwellers got used to the glowing red, they were now comfortable to see its dancing hues of the wall and that event too was no more than an occurrence from the position it held as a miracle some time ago. But this night it was even weirder. As they continued to look up to the wall in all its glowing redness, there suddenly appeared stark black forms that sprang around the wall. They were fast, agile and sure footed, they barely stayed in one place, they flew faster than anyone to spot them in a single place. They were real and they grew larger and shrunk slowly and disappeared into the redness. The cave dwellers looked on again at the wall with horror, wondering what was going on. They feared the worst that all hell broke loose to come and grab them and vanquish them all.

And once again the same man decided to take a second change and turn to the mouth of the cave. This time he turned to see something even more spectacular. There was a group of beautiful women, so beautiful and so richly dressed, so graceful and so magical, he breathlessly looked on to seeing them float around the glowing flames dancing with its burning arms as if in an enigmatic embrace. Their bodies glowed in yellow gold, their skin shimmered in the red glow of the light as then enjoyed the moment of love and beauty while they hopped around the flames is such splendor. And then the inky blackness of the night shrouded this beautiful view he just had a glimpse of. He was too excited the next morning and tried to explain to the others in the cave, about the fire and the women. They called him mad, they thought he was insane and they mocked at him to make him a recluse, disowning him for his thoughts and for this excitement over things that never were real, that never took place for what they saw were giant beings on the wall and what he tried to explain was the shadows of damsels dancing around a fire. He was beaten by all, to have even shared such a wild imagination for no one believed in any such occurrence.

He didn’t give up, for he sang out loud, he burst into poetry to describe the women he had set his eyes on. He sang about the red glow, about the fire and about the graceful women who threw stark shadows on the wall. He was proclaimed mad and in a few days he was beaten for spreading such wild thoughts to scare the people and shake the peace in which they lived. He was considered a misfit and unanimously elected to be stoned to death. As be breathed his last, he sang out loud, describing how a damsel danced by the flames, only to have her golden gown catch fire and set herself ablaze and be swallowed by the same fire that threw the red glow on the walls.

Many days later, the men continued to live on, staring at the same wall that shined bright yellow again. But the red glow had long gone, long disappeared for it seemed uncanny that it faded the very same time the man breathed his last. There was eerie silence in the cave, as the rest of them continued to be, alone in their silence, uncomfortable with their existence. And then it happened, a strong wind blew and raised the dust in the cave. The wind was strong and forced them to bend low and close their eyes. And as the dust 
settled, they slowly opened their eyes to look up to the wall... a small piece of a golden cloth, half burnt and faded, flew along the wall to disappear into the inner darkness of the cave... 

They looked up at the wall and then into the darkness in shock.. and all they could remember were his last words as he died singing away...

I am the fire that burns this candle
I am the glow that give the diamond its life
I am the soul that leave this body
I am the truth you killed with all your might.

I am your only hope to salvation
I am that which you do not wish to seek
I am the free bird who dared to turn
I am the light that now leaves this cave.

* -*-*

Reflecting on the Allegory of the cave


The Allegory of the Cave, also commonly known as Myth of the Cave, Metaphor of the Cave, The Cave Analogy, Plato's Cave or the Parable of the Cave, is an allegory  used by the Greek philosopher Plato in his work The Republic to illustrate "our nature in its education and want of education". (514a) The allegory of the cave is written as a fictional dialogue between Plato's teacher Socrates  and Plato's brother Glaucon, at the beginning of Book VII in Benjamin Jowett's translation and in chapter IX in Robin Waterfield's translation(514a–520a).

Here's more on Plato's Allegory of the cave


5.10.2010

The experience of Shivahood, the state of real bliss.

The inner search for the Lord in the environs that we live in is practically impossible to keep the mind in focus towards a single goal, especially when it is not shared by anyone around us.

To work and make money is a goal we can all talk about, to buy real estate and get married are topics every one is interested in, but to talk about a spiritual goal hardly has any takers for a discussion. Yet it is a fight at some point in everyone's mind to want to know what spiritualism is.

What is illusion, inner soul and the beauty of enlightenment? What do we mean when we say these words, what are we meant to experience? Going to a temple in the city and having a glimpse of the Lord is not going to get us the answer. How do we even try to remotely get to this experience?

The only answer that hits my mind to get a glimpse of this supernatural effect is a visit to Tungnath or Mount Kailasa or some such remote place. I am sure that other places can, in some form render the same result, but a difficult trek to Tungnath or Kailasa are sure hits. Why? Because when the mind decides to do this journey it has agreed that its going to be physically challenging, it does not promise a darshan in winter and therefore time of the year matters and by the time we even get a glimpse of the destination, the mind and the body have had enough but the only energy that rules is the emotion to achieve the pilgrimage.

Let’s start from the beginning, gathering information on any of these two journeys defines that the weather may not support the trip and there is room for a flop. Just viewing pictures gives a rough indication that these treks are long and pains taking and there is hardly any help in the way. The altitude gives a feeling of distance from comfort that it results in mental detachment from all materialism, all emotion, and all attachment. The very fact that the mind decided to do this trek means that the emotions and the soul are ready to have a glimpse of this superior power.

At the foothills, before we begin the actual journey, the heart is overwhelmed that we made it this far, the mind is exhausted and can’t really entertain thoughts anymore. The difficulty now is the trek. Bleak regions, strong winds, bring the raw forces of nature close to us, so close that the familiarity of civilized life is a distant memory. Here there is only one thought - the discovery and the experience of the unknown. What stands in front of us is a snow capped mountain, cold, formidable, silent and powerful. And the only pool of resources we have is the fast diminishing reserves of energy within us. Food is brought down to the basic minimum and water may be hard to find and what’s more - money cant buy us anything here. Credit cards are a piece of junk here; because the rules that work here are very different. This is the first realization of detachment. This is also the first realization of freedom. 

As we take each step, the body begins to tire but the beauty of the region is a treat to the eye. The freedom to be in a land so bleak, the achievement to have fulfilled the wish to be here to imbibe the beauty of this land is a great feeling indeed. We can simply feel free to experience the power of this earth. How do we understand this power? Scaling these heights or even attempting to do the parikrama is a tedious effort of time, physical energy that is being squeezed out of every bone in the body to move the foot to the next step. All we have is the sheer will power to achieve this goal or overcome this challenge. We can look at it either way. Tungnath certainly doesn’t give the impression of easy enlightenment, its a difficult up slope trek that makes you, breaks you, exhausts you even before you made it to half the mark and we still do not have any sight of the temple. Kailasa parvat on the other side gives you a distant glimpse of its enormity and tells you to go home but doesn’t let you come any closer. In either case there is a realm of curiosity that is teased, the need to discover is prolonged and desire to break loose from the shackles of our existence and be one with the forces of nature can be reasonably enormous. Here too there is a strong echo of the dualism of life; this journey gives us the dual experience of frustration and spiritual bliss at the same time.

Approaching Tungnath on a winter morning

Do we ever get to feel this power? When we are exhausted and look up to the great temple or the mountain peak itself, the mind is blank and there is a sense of achievement to have reached or completed the trek. The minds eye now opens up to the forbidding reality in front of us. The world is at our feet, civilization is a distant reality and all that there is now is the Mountain and me. The first glimpse up close brings no thoughts to the mind, no words to the mouth, no fears to the heart and no pain to the body. The result of feeling this power is the feeling of being small and weep, weep like a baby full of emotion, and just pour out this overwhelming feeling into a pool of tears that are probably the most beautiful pearls of enlightenment we could generate selflessly. Just weeping into a pool of overwhelming love and emotions rolling out towards the power of the unknown is the most strangely blissful moment we can hold on to. If we felt this emotion at the moment of death, I guess we would be blessed with immortality.

The whole trek becomes a selfless journey of love, a churn of the mind and the body as it works its way up the spiritual grind of churning out the self from within. This emotion that floats to the surface of oneself is described very beautifully in a verse written by Thirumular.

Lord stands as Ghee in milk

He is Mukti, Jnana and Nada
That in the three branches of knowledge resound [poetry, music and dance]
Thus they praise the Lord
Through time unending;
As the ghee within milk
The pure one within them stands
That light they seek not and love not [2115]


Just as ghee belongs to the essence of milk, it floats on the surface of the milk untouched and unmoved. It is pure and concentrated and yet it doesn’t dissolve into the depths of the milk itself. Similarly the emotion of joy and supreme bliss that is felt on getting the closest view and discovering the Lord at these sacred shrines is an extraction from the process of churning the body, mind and emotions to reveal that we possess it. Once its out it floats of the surface of the milk of our existence, of our conscious self it is there to be experienced in all its purity and when it is experienced, what results is a tear of the overwhelming emotion of love.