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.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Sankaradeva’s Anadi Patana : The Plan of the Earth

Text Followed: Śrīmadbhāgavata, edited and published by Śrīmanta Śaṅkaradeva Saṅgha, P. 56.

কহিবো নৃপতি সৃষ্টি লীলা কথা পাছে .
শুনা যেনমতে বসুমতী ৰহি আছে ..
পৃথিৱীৰ অধে সাত পাতালৰ তলে .
ব্ৰহ্মাণ্ডক বেঢ়িয়া কেৱলে আছে জলে .. ১৭ ..

kahibo nṛpati sṛṣṭi līlā kathā pāche .
śunā yenamate basumatī rahi āche ..
pṛthivīra adhe sāta pātālara tale .
brahmāṇḍaka beḍhiẏā kevale āche jale .. 17 ..

I now proceed to tell, O king, the facts pertaining to the Lord’s playful activity of creation.

How this earth is situated, please listen carefully to it. 
Below the earth, deep to even the seven subterranean depths, 
this universe is bounded solely by water. 17

কূৰ্ম্মৰূপে হৰি আছা জলৰ উপৰে .
পঞ্চাশ কোটি প্ৰহৰ বহল কলেৱৰে ..
কূৰ্ম্মৰ উপৰে সৰ্পৰূপে ভগৱন্ত .
হাজাৰেক ফণা সমে আছন্ত অনন্ত .. ১৮ ..

kūrmmarūpe hari āchā jalara upare .
pañcāśa koṭi prahara bahala kalevare ..
kūrmmara upare sarparūpe bhagavanta .
hājāreka phaṇā same āchanta ananta .. 18 ..

Manifesting as the great tortoise, The Remover of Suffering,
in a body spanning 50 crores of “great-distances,” is present above these waters.
Above kurma, the Lord of All Opulence exists in the form of the great snake—
Ananta, the Infinite One, with his thousands of hoods. 18

সূৰ্য্য সম জ্বলৈ মহা ফণী মণি যত .
শৃঙ্গে সমন্বিতে যেন ধৱল পৰ্ব্বত ..
তাৰ আঠ ফণা আঠ দিশে গৈল বহি .
আছে আঠ দিগ্‌গজ উপৰে তাৰ ৰহি .. ১৯ ..

sūryya sama jbalai mahā phaṇī maṇi yata .
śṛṅge samanbite yena dhavala parbbata ..
tāra āṭha phaṇā āṭha diśe gaila bahi .
āche āṭha dig–gaja upare tāra rahi .. 19 ..

The great hood-gems, they sparkle with the intensity of the sun—
a white mountain, as it were, with its great cliffs!
His eight hoods have gone in all the eight directions
and the eight “direction-elephants” are perched atop them! 19

দ্বাদশ হাজাৰ প্ৰহৰৰ পন্থ কায় .
দেৱাসুৰ নাগগণে জপন্ত সদায় ..
বলৰ দৰ্পত আতি মহালীলা কৰি .
আঠো আঠ পৰ্ব্বত পিঠিত আছে ধৰি .. ২০ ..

dbādaśa hājāra praharara pantha kāẏa .
devāsura nāgagaṇe japanta sadāẏa ..
balara darpata āti mahālīlā kari .
āṭho āṭha parbbata piṭhita āche dhari .. 20 ..

With bodies spanning 12, 000 “great-distances,”
they are the object of veneration for the devas, the asuras and the tribe of snakes (nagas).
In arrogance deriving from strength, doing great sports, 

these eight, again, are holding eight mountains on their backs! 20

পৰ্ব্বতৰ উপৰত সসাগৰা মহী .
যেন চাঙ্গখান আলগতে আছে ৰহি ..
যি দিশৰ দিগ্‌গজ লৰাৱে নিজ কায় .
সি দিশৰ পৰা জানা ভূমিকম্প যায় .. ২১ ..

parbbatara uparata sasāgarā mahī .
yena cāṅgakhāna ālagate āche rahi..
yi diśara dig–gaja larāve nija kāẏa .
si diśara parā jānā bhūmikampa yāẏa .. 21 ..

And, (finally), atop the mountain, is situated the earth together with her oceans— 

like a raised platform maintaining its distance from the ground! 
From whichever direction an elephant moves its own body, 
from that quarter, know, an earthquake emanates! 21

যেতিক্ষণে তোলৈ হামি কচ্ছপ অনন্তে .
সাতোখান মেৰু মহী মন্দৰ পৰ্য্যন্তে ..
সাগৰ সহিতে সৱে কৰৈ টলবল .
দেখিয়ো কৄষ্ণৰ ইটো যোগমায়াবল .. ২২ ..

yetikṣaṇe tolai hāmi kacchapa anante .
sātokhāna meru mahī mandara paryyante ..
sāgara sahite save karai ṭalabala .
dekhiẏo kṝṣṇara iṭo yogamāẏābala .. 22 ..

At whichever instant either Ananta or the tortoise raises a yawn,
the seven Merus, the earth, all the way up to Mt. Mandara,
along with the oceans—all experience tremulation!
Witness this marvelous life-sustaining material prowess of Krsna! 22

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Eka Sarana Hari Nama—The Religion of Sankaradeva

The name of the religion propagated by Sankaradeva is Eka Sarana Hari Nama (IAST: eka śaraṇa hari nāma ; AS: এক শৰণ হৰি নাম), also referred to as Mahapurusism. According to Madhavadeva, he (Sankaradeva) had revealed eka śaraṇa hari nāma which is the ‘king of all dharmas.’ Sankaradeva’s eka śaraṇa is rooted in the Bhagavad Gita (18.66) and the Bhagavata Purana (11.12.14-15).

Eka sarana means taking sole-refuge in Krsna (Hari). According to Sankaradeva, only by taking sole-refuge in Krsna and singing (kīrttana) and listening to (śravaṇa) his names and glories would the embodied personality (jīva) obtain release from the nescience (avidyā) wrought by primal matter (māyā) and not otherwise.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Microcosmic Origin of the Bhagavad Gita

The true message of the Bhagavad Gita, which seeks to remove the ‘materialness’ of man through a dialogic strategy of sublimation of consciousness, cannot be known without delving into its microcosmic roots. It is the recapitulation in poetic form of the ancient philosopher-scientists’ insights into the mystery of conscious experience.
Realizing quickly that the external universe is composed of dead matter, they abstracted it simply as the world of the sense-objects and instead focused on the human body, its anatomy as well as function. They inspected carefully the organs of the body and saw them for what they are: mere instruments for a spiritual first principle known as the purusa (pure personality). Consciousness is not a phenomenon that arises out of a mere collation of matter but an essential characteristic of purusa. This spiritual entity identifies itself so totally with the circuitry of the brain—its neurological processes—that it has become almost a neural (sensory-motor) entity. This causes purusa to experience births and deaths and afflictions in an endless cycle of existences. The solution then is to educate the purusa regarding his true nature, the ontological category to which he really belongs, which is the same as that of God (the supreme purusa), and to free him from the dharma of the senses by making him develop a “core consciousness” which is rooted not in matter but in the supreme pure personality.
The ancient seers were not content with sketchy outlines; they wanted to know how exactly purusa experiences the taste of sense objects. A hierarchy of neural entities stretching from the sensory receptors (vedas) upwards to the brain was discovered. However these researches remained exceedingly abstruse to the common man and they felt the need to make it both accessible and interesting. So they introduced into this philosophical and scientific account poetical elements like personification, etc.
There are three chief entities of the microcosm: (a) the spiritual personality (Visnu) of the same essence as God (b) the brain (Brahma) and (c) time (Siva). Above this trio however stands Krishna (God) the cowherd, as it were, of the sensory receptors. There has thus been a translocation of God to the neural realm! The import is that he is the supreme innervating entity (paramatma), the supreme actuator of this micro-creation. All those arrayed up against Arjuna, the jivapurusa connected to brain—are material personalities while he himself is purely spiritual in nature. The grief that he suffers in this gripping dharmic drama is also, in a sense, the grief of ontological confusion.
These material, neural entities which emanate, from the (non-literal) causative point of view, from the body of the supreme purusa, are categorized into several classes based on property and function (guna, karma; Gita 4.13). To each is assigned a specific dharma.  The function of some of them is to acquire knowledge or sense-data; for others, like the controlling nerves (devas) of the ‘sun’ (trachea) and the ‘moon’ (oesophagus) and other structures, it is to do motor-action and to subdue the visceral organs. Some engage specifically in the keeping of ‘cows’, the sensory receptors, and the processing of their sensory products; while for others the dharma is to aid and serve the other entities. To digress, the view, therefore, that the caste system of the external world is sanctioned by the Gita is a misinterpretation of the most horrendous kind and is a potent example of how deadly misinterpretation of scripture can be. Such an interpretation is not only wrong, it also is diametrically opposite to the teaching of the Gita which says that this kind of a material gradation among personalities is restricted only to the world of matter, to the sphere of the neural entities.
Now, in this micro-universe, the ignorant purusa works. He thinks himself to be a ‘man,’ a neural entity, and engages in ‘work’ (karma) as dictated by the vedas or the sensory receptors. Moreover, corresponding to his microcosmic ignorance, there is an equivalent ignorance reflected externally in the realm of praxis. The path of karma then becomes a path of microcosmic emulation.
There is mimicry by the material man of essentially two kinds of neuronal activity. In the first mode known as pravritti, alluded to by Krishna (3.14), there is a metaphorical sacrifice, a yajna, going on in the body. Krishna talks about anna sustaining all creatures and this anna, he says, is produced through rain which in turn is made possible by karma performed in yajna. This is the purely autonomic loop that does not involve the spiritual personality. Here, the ‘oblations’ are the transmitted signals; the channel (such as the spinal cord) through which these ascend to the ‘heavens’ (the base of the brain) is the ‘fire,’ and the deva, the activated nerve. The ‘rain’, of course, is oxygen and from it, respiratory metabolism takes place (‘food’ is produced) and from this ‘food’, the neural entities are further nourished.
But in the second mode, the ‘oblations’ of this internal yajna are offered to the spiritual personality. This is the path of nivritti or niskama karma. It is very clear from these microcosmic origins that the path of karma is purely material. Even in the second variant, the purusa continues to function as a material entity but does karma by offering to the supreme purusa. None of these reflects the true nature and function of purusa. As karma pertains only to the material, non-conscious units and not to conscious personality, its practice can be sustained only in the state of ignorance. The doer of karma—the neuronal man—must be instructed to cultivate knowledge of spirit and sublimate his consciousness. It is for this reason that the entire dialogic strategy of the Gita transitions from the karmic to the bhaktic.  To the jiva, it is recurrently told  that he is not a neural entity but an amsa (15.7) of the supreme spirit, not ksara but aksara, immutable (15.16), that like the ‘knower of the field’, he is distinct from the mind, body and senses and that for the one taking delight in atman, there is no karma (3.17). The glory of paramatma is brought before him so that his consciousness becomes undeviatingly rooted in spirit.
The great ontological crisis is thus lifted. However, as soon as the jiva comes out of material mode, his previous microcosmic emulations must also go for these dharmas which are rooted in the philosophy of karma are no longer compatible with his reclaimed status of spiritual personality. Therefore the final call-to-action of the Gita is of sole-refuge (eka sarana) in God forsaking completely all veda-ordained dharmas (18.66).

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Madhavadeva’s Nama Ghosa: a Landmark Text

The chief literary oeuvre of Madhavadeva (1489-1596 CE), the foremost exponent of the sole-refuge (eka sarana) school in the post-Sankaradeva period, is the Nama Ghosa (The Proclamation of Pure Devotion). This text, which enjoys canonical status among the adherents of this school, is based primarily on the Bhagavata Purana. It celebrates the pure, joy-filled devotion (bhajana) to Krishna, the supreme spiritual personality (parama purusa, paramatma), forsaking all ‘materialness’ (krishata, in the author’s own words) engendered by the jiva’s default allegiance to primal matter. Madhavadeva has internalized the message of the Bhagavata—its call-to-action as well as its philosophical rationale—with the aid of the lucid commentary of Sridhara Svami and supplemented it further with apt translations from the other primary texts of the Vedantic-puranic tradition such as the Bhagavad Gita.
Madhavadeva’s Nama Ghosa (NG) is a landmark ‘essence-text’ in the history of spiritual thought in India not only because its author shows extreme courage for his time to boldly assert the supremacy of pure devotion over the path of microcosmic emulations technically referred to as karma, but also due to the revolutionary impact of some of its pronouncements on society. Spiritual and social reforms go hand in hand in Madhavadeva. This made the preaching of the eka-sarana faith also very much a social movement. In the modern period, some scholars have glossed over this important social aspect. In their view, Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva sought merely to establish equality for all on the spiritual plane without seeking to disturb the status quo in the social order. This is a mistake of epic proportions.
The society of the time was organized into a hierarchy on the basis of a system of varna and asrama which laid down separate ‘ordained duties’ (dharmas) for the different categories and castes. This was essentially born of a philosophy of bheda or difference which saw man as a part of matter (prakriti) rather than as a spiritual personality. It sought to emulate the material ‘personalities’—the sensory and motor units in particular—of the microcosm.
However, the philosophy of pure devotion championed by Madhavadeva in the NG, which runs counter to such a philosophy of difference, is that of intrinsic equality. Here, man is an amsa, a (tiny) part, as it were, of God. Madhavadeva says, “You are eternal, unstained, Narayana. We too are your amsas” [v. 273]. In fact, here, the very doing of pure bhakti is predicated on the existence of a transcendental society in which all members are essentially of one kind; all are purusas or pure personalities. They are by nature immutable (unlike matter) and, hence, not subject to placement at different levels on a material scale. Therefore, the bhaktic philosophy envisages a kind of society which is modeled on Vaikuntha, the transcendental society, in which the governing ideal is one of equality. In the NG, we find perhaps the most clear and emphatic rejection of caste in the entire corpus of Sankaradeva-ite literature: noho jana ami cari jati, cario asrami noho ati [v. 670]. “Know that we are no member of the four castes nor do we adhere to the system of four asramas”.
The embracing of such a philosophy and its widespread dissemination among the masses automatically put the conception of the ‘dharmic’ society at peril and in threat of diminution, if not eventual extinction. For caste, it now was logically concluded, could be sustained only in the state of ignorance (avidya, maya) in which there is the identification of the self with matter. The NG thus contains the framework of a unique philosophical rejection of caste based on the contradictions between two opposite ideologies.
Many a page in the history of medieval Assam is riddled with instances of persecution of the leaders of the Sankaradeva movement. It is in consequence of the preaching of the idea that was carried in germ form by the NG. There was a nexus of religion and politics in this period with the preservation of dharmic ideals weighing heavily on the decisions of the rulers.
For scholars and students of religion, the NG offers, on reflection, several instructive lessons. It challenges the traditional and rote interpretation of a religion. It points to the pitfalls of stereotyping and opens up the mind to newer possibilities. The idea of ‘two Hinduisms’, one mutually opposed to the other, is perhaps unimaginable to some, even more so in a scenario where we are keen to present a religion as a monolith. Yet, as we saw above, that is precisely the impression one gets on studying the NG. Left to themselves, the dharmic one would retain the caste-system and the truly bhaktic one would abolish it. Madhavadeva clearly says [v. 599] that the doing of karmas is antithetical (birodhi) to the singing of the Lord’s glories. Does not such a word-selection fly in the face of the conventional understanding in which the path of karma is seen to be supplementary or even a prerequisite to bhakti? How can such irreconcilable differences be explained? Madhavadeva’s NG forces us to raise these interesting questions.
The fact is that, as with any religion, there have always been two contradictory currents of thought operating within Hinduism. The first is that of the status quoist; the second, that of the reformer. The reformer always challenges the misinterpretation of the former. The reformer’s prime strategy is that of engaging with the orthodoxy through a dialogue (samvada). In the dialogic strategy of the Gita, for instance, the dharmic side is represented by Arjuna and the bhaktic one, by Krishna. It would seem that Madhavadeva’s NG has no dialogue but there is the author and the reader (or listener)! It is through this dialogic strategy that the individual and social consciousness is sought to be sublimated. The final verdict of Krishna in the Gita [18.66]: “Forsake all dharmas, O Arjuna” (sarva dharman parityajya), may be understood in the context of this dialogue between two opposing ideologies.