Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Puranic Geography: On the “River” Ganga

The tale of the Ganga in the Puranas is not the tale of an external geographic entity but, rather, it is the tale of a (special) river-like microcosmic entity that has importance in the cardio-respiratory framework.

The Landscape of the Puranas.
Source of Image Used in Developing Graphic:

In the metaphorical framework of the Puranas, the term "river" seems to denote a flow (see illustration above) such as the flow in the blood vessels. Therefore, we may have such "topographical" entities as venous "rivers" and "rivers" formed out of "juice!" Therefore, the veins are the rivers in the Puranas.

The Ganga represents venous circulation. It washes away the "sins" of beings! The poet-anatomists of the Puranas view the Ganga as descending from Brahmaloka, the highest region of the (body) universe. This is the region of the brain. The internal jugular vein (Ganga) drains the brain and, exiting the skull, descends from the cervical (heavenly) region into the pulmonary zone—the "earth” of the Puranas.

...she is spoken of as threefold, said to issue from the world of Brahman and to fall like milk from Mount Meru into the lake of the moon, which her own fall has created, after being upheld for one hundred thousand years on Siva's head.[1]

In the passage above, the "world of Brahman" is the brain. The (venous flow of the) internal jugular vein (Ganga) issues from it and falls, as it were, from the trachea (mount Meru). Its "waters," then, are upheld on the brachiocephalic vein ("Siva's head?") before it falls into the right atrium of the heart ("the lake of the moon").

The Ganga thus descends from the sky and falls, as it were, into the earth. But the Ganga cannot directly do so. First, it has to fall into the "sphere of the moon" (the heart) and only then does it re-emerge from it to enter the "earth" (the respiratory zone). This is in the form of the pulmonary artery.

According to the Bhagavata Purana:

Later on, it (the stream) descends by the path of gods (i.e. sky), teeming with multitudes of thousands of crores of celestial cars, to the sphere of the Moon. After flooding the lunar sphere, the stream (of the Bhagavatpadi) flows down to the city of Brahma (on the summit of Mount Meru).[2]

The heart is also known as Patala, the nether-world, in the Puranas. And, therefore, the Ganga is three-fold. It flows through all three regions of:
  1. the sky (cervical region)
  2. earth (the lungs) and
  3. the nether-world (heart).

She is three-fold as the river of sky, earth, and the lower regions, tripathaga, trilokaga, etc.[3]

The passage above refers to the venous flow (Ganga) as the internal jugular vein in the cervical region (“sky”), as the (deoxygenated) blood in the heart ("lower regions") and as the pulmonary artery in the lungs ("earth").
The river Ganga is said to divide over mount Meru into four (principal?) branches, all flowing towards the "ocean:"

There, on mount Meru, it is divided into four branches under four names:--Sita, Alakananda, Caksu and Bhadra, and it (i.e, these branches) flows towards four quarters and enters into the ocean, the Lord of big and small rivers.[4]

The venous flow of the heavens—the "river" Ganga—now emerges from the intra-cardial region as the pulmonary trunk. The Ganga (as the main pulmonary artery) divides above (anterior to) mount Meru (the trachea) into four branches—the four pulmonary arteries (see figure above), corresponding to the lobes of the lungs.

And, finally, the waters of the Ganga reach the "ocean." The term “ocean” in the Puranas refers to the layer of parietal pleura surrounding the substance of the lungs, which is apposed to the alveoli. The flow of deoxygenated blood (Ganga) thus, ultimately, reaches the level of the alveoli. This is the implied meaning.

[1] Epic Mythology, Edward Washburn Hopkins, pp. 5-6.
[2] Bhagavata Purana, 5.17.4, Tagare (trans).
[3] Epic Mythology.
[4] Bhagavata Purana, 5.17.5, Tagare (trans).

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Objective of the Purana: Awakening Discrimination of Supreme Purusa

The microcosm operates through a harmonious working of the three entities of kala (time) [Siva], manas (brain) [Brahma] and purusa (spiritual personality) [Visnu]. But, for such harmony to occur out of such disparate-natured entities, there must be some master-mind to ‘string together the trinity,’ as Madhavadeva says in the Nama Ghosa. That master-entity, the lord of all the controlling entities (devas), is the supreme purusa, Lord Krsna himself.
It is to arouse discrimination of supreme purusa alone that the (anatomical) narrative of the Puranas is formulated in the first place. The entire Purana—its every chapter and verse—is designed with this ultimate objective of awakening discrimination in the mind of the (intelligent) reader.
The Puranic narrative is thus a strategy to make the reader realize the sole entity of worship, the sole object of refuge. The intelligent reader will not fail to observe that, among all the entities, it is only Hari that is emerging as supreme; and he will understand that this only is the most powerful entity, worthy of sole-refuge. It is this conclusion that is directly expressed by Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva, in their own works, in the form of upadesas and in chapters such as “The Determination of the Supreme Entity Worthy of Adoration” (Bhakti Ratnakara).
The objective of the author of the Bhagavata—and this ought also to be the objective of the inquisitive and critical reader—is to determine the supreme entity among all the entities, who alone is eligible for worship. In the Bhagavata, the reader has to know this entity by reading intelligently through the passages and piercing the dialogic strategy with the power of his intellect. But in Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva, this meaning is directly expressed.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Discovery of God: The Intellectual Process

If we take the authors of the Puranas such as the Bhagavata as the intellectual heirs of the original Samkhya school, then we will be looking at one unbroken intellectual tradition.

The doing of pure devotion to 
God, then, would be the culmination of a long intellectual process, comprising, broadly, the following stages:

  1. The unconscious entityExamining and understanding prakrti, its evolutive nature, character and limitations.
  2. The conscious entityExamining and understanding the body of man and its various organs and systems. Understanding especially the nature of the neural entities and the brain. Are they of the same essential characteristics as the external (unconscious) matter? Can the brain give rise to consciousness?
  3. The pure personality: Understanding the nature of purusa, its interface with the brain (and, through it, the body), the capabilities of purusa.
  4. The supreme pure personality: Relook at the programmed nature of the entities of the body such as the brain. Is their evolving out of prakrti possible in the absence of initiation and control by a superior conscious personality? Comparison with instances from the external world. The discovery of God, the supreme purusa.
  5. The revelation of the highest philosophy: The reason behind purusa becoming endowed with a (prakrti-made) body. Motivations of the supreme purusa. Consideration and full accommodation of the higher aspects of consciousness like compassion, grace and joy. Devotion to God, the supreme purusa.
It perhaps needs no reiteration that each one of these stages is huge and could be broken up into several sub-stages and phases but this is only a general outline. The point sought to be made is this:
God may be discovered solely through a (long and exhaustive) intellectual investigation without there being any need of any external revelation.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Discovery of God through the Intellect of Man

It is possible to discover God solely through the power of intellect. The philosophers of the theistic Samkhya studied the evolutive nature of prakrti but, more importantly, recognized its limitations. In this manner, they worked their way up towards spiritual personality.
Similarly, love and pure devotion to God may not be something completely emotional or blind; it may also be the outcome of an epiphanic realization brought about solely through intellect--the culmination of a long and involved process of rational consideration and meditative contemplation
of hard material facts (such as ones pertaining to the nature of the body and so on). In fact, the "vedantic bhakti" contained in texts such as the Bhagavata, which consists in the singing of the glories of the immanent Lord, may not be something anti-intellectual but may instead have, as the bedrock of its philosophy, a sound and thorough distinction between the tattvas. This kind of a devotion then, in such (intellectual) light, would represent the acme of the process of reasoning and making sound inferences championed by the Samkhya.
For, if our philosophy has a conscious personality at its core, then it must also accord importance to conceptions and feelings such as compassion, empathy, joy and grace. After all, the consciousness of man is not the quiet whirring of a clock. It is alive and effervescent.
Therefore, if the conscious purusa is your core, then your philosophy must give full accommodation to these concepts. Consciousness is not bare thinking or merely the state of being alive (existing). It also means joy. Moreover, our human world also sways to aesthetic ideals.
These may also be regarded as yet another facet of consciousness. Civilization progresses through, nay is propelled by, such motivations as the urge to secure equality and dignity and not simply through calm, undisturbed consciousness. Therefore, a higher philosophy--one that proposes to recognize consciousness in all its aspects, must give recognition and room to these (higher) conceptions. It is not anti-intellectual and contrary to logic.
And this is precisely what the pure devotional philosophy of texts such as the Bhagavata is all about. 
Here, the doing of pure devotion to God is an expression of the highest level of the (intellectual) purusa-centred philosophy. And this joyous experience is the highest aspect of consciousness.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Brahma is the Personification of the Brain in the Puranas

In his Six Systems of Hindu Philosophy (p. 383), F.M. Muller writes:

Manas, generally translated by mind, but really a kind of central organ of perception, acting as a door-keeper, meant to prevent the crowding in of perceptions, to arrange them into percepts...One might feel inclined to translate Manas by brain...

Muller might have been hesitant to translate manas by "brain," but, to the reader engaged in interpreting the symbols  and personalities of the Puranas through the (profoundly) microcosmic literature of Sankaradeva, it soon becomes pretty apparent that manas represents the brain, the "mind-organ," and that Brahma is the personification of it in the 
Puranic texts

Understanding a Microcosmic Painting: 1. Brahma is the brain. 2. The lotus is the trachea (or bronchial tree). 3. Ananta is the respiratory diaphragm. Visnu is purusa, the spiritual personality (in the microcosm). Brahma atop the lotus seems to indicate neural control of breathing.

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Geography of the Puranas

The descriptions of the Puranas are neither mythical nor literal. They are, in fact, anatomical. The primary texts of Hinduism (such as the Puranas) are all microcosmic. The ancient seers philosophized on the basis of the body of the jiva. They translocated the "outside" entities into the microcosm. Specifically, they focused on the respiratory mechanism. [In this context, it is extremely surprising that nobody has yet written a book (or even a paper) on the microcosmic basis of the Puranas. There is no discussion at all. All are busy looking "outside!"]

Located at the body's midline, Mt. Meru (the trachea) is the axis mundi of the respiratory world. The external earth is translocated into the respiratory zone, in the Puranas.

According to the Bhagavata Purana, this "earth" is like a lotus and Jambudvipa is its innermost compartment. And in the centre of this "continent" is the golden mountain Meru.

In the Puranas, "Jambudvipa" is a region of the lung. "Bharatavarsa" is within this respiratory zone.

The General Structure of the Universe

The general structure of the universe, the "cosmic egg" (brahmanda) in the Puranas is given below. The ancient philosophers of the body split up the microcosm into a number of regions known as "lokas." There are a total of fourteen lokas but the important ones are depicted in the following illustration:
Considering this structure of the universe, the statements of the Puranas would not appear to be so hyperbolic! Mt. Meru, for instance, does indeed reach up to heaven. The earth is indeed perched on a serpent!