Brahman and Bhagavan

December 26, 2010

In Radhanath Swami’s excellent book The Journey Home – Autobiography of an American Swami there is a nice quote from Srila Prabhupada about the difference between the personal and impersonal God:

One afternoon, a guest asked Srila Prabhupada this very question. “Is God formless and impersonal or does He have form and personality?” The chattering of birds, screeching of monkeys, and honking of distant rickshaw horns were silenced by the anticipation in my heart. I sat up with attention, eager to hear his answer.

Srila Prabhupada slowly leaned forward, his face perfectly relaxed and full lips curved downward at the edges. Sitting cross legged on the floor, his elbows rested on the low table in front of him and his hands were clasped together under his chin.

With a grave gaze, he quoted from the Vedas and explained, “We must first understand the inconceivable nature of God. The Supreme Lord is simultaneously personal and impersonal. It is an eternal truth that He is both formless and that he has an eternal, blissful form.”

I felt a warm, peaceful sensation flood my chest. With one hand Srila Prabhupada stretched his index finger upward. “The Lord’s impersonal, all pervading energy is called Brahman. And Bhagavan is the personal form of God, who is the energetic source and never under the influence of illusion.

“Take for example the sun. The form of the sun as a planet and the formless sunlight can never be separated, as they exist simultaneously. They are different aspects of the sun. Similarly, there are two different schools of transcendentalists who focus on different aspects of the one truth.

“The impersonalists strive to attain liberation in the Lord’s impersonal formless light, while the personalists strive for eternal loving service to the Lord’s all attractive form. There is no contradiction.

“Similarly, the soul is part and parcel of the Lord, simultaneously one with God and different from God. Qualitatively we are one with God, being eternal, full of knowledge, and full of bliss. But quantitatively, we are always but a part, just as the sunray is but a tiny part of the sun and yet has the same qualities as the sun.

“We are both one with God and different from God. God is the independent controller, but when the soul misuses his God given independence, he forgets his relation to the Lord and falls into illusion and subsequent suffering.”

Leaning back against the wall, he tilted his head slightly and gazed directly into my eyes. “The two schools, personalists and impersonalists, both approach different aspects of the One God.”

He went on to explain how Krishna, His form, qualities, personality, and abode were unlimited, and that all the true religions of the world worshipped the same One God. He had simply revealed Himself in different ways at different times.

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Q&A with Shankara

December 10, 2010

From Prasnottara Ratna-Malika by Adi Shankara

What is poison?
The disregarding the advice of elders.

How can respect be commanded?
By asking for no favours.

What is poverty?
Discontent.

What cannot be uttered by a good man?
Whatever is not truth and the faults of others.

Who is rich?
The ascetic.

Who is worthy of being served?
The giver.

What is the root cause of happiness?
The performance of good deeds.

When is lying not a sin?
When said in performance of one’s duties.

What is one’s duty?
Following the virtuous ones who excel in the traditional prescriptions.

What is the greatest enjoyment?
Health.

What is real happiness?
The inner laugh – not the visible outer one.

What is it that cannot be stated as either true or false?
Maya – the appearance of the world.

What lesson does maya teach?
Dvaita – the dualistic nature of things.

What is the real Truth?
Advaita.

For the whole 67 verses, see here.


Pray Without Ceasing

December 10, 2010

Adi Shankaracharya:

The Acharya encouraged his disciples to perform daily worship with these words:

“You should take special care about upasana (worship). Though the object is to obtain the formless Brahman, you should never make light of upasana.

“As long as you desire to maintain a physical body, upasana should be done without fail. Every part of the human body is the place of a devata (deity).

“If we forget our oblations to the devatas, we cannot survive. The relationship between the king and the subjects is the relationship between the devatas and men. Just as we pay our taxes to the king, we should offer puja (ritual) to the devatas. That is an essential duty.

“Through upasana the mind will become purified and doubts and distractions will disappear. Through upasana you can gain concentration which is the gateway to the kingdom of Yoga.

“Therefore, along with the effort for attaining Brahma Jnana (knowledge of the absolute), you should also perform upasana. The Goddess Sarada is the Goddess of Learning.

“By worshipping Her, right knowledge will dawn on you. That alone can banish ignorance. So even for sannyasins (renunciates) the upasana of Sarada Devi will be of great benefit.”


Yin leads to over-commitment

December 10, 2010

More ideas:

Manu Smriti says that Vaishyas are the most important caste because they support all the rest. They should make as much money as they can. A Brahmin may steal or trick a Vaishya into supplying materials for yagyas if not given freely. Vaishyas are to make money for yagyas, thereby supporting the whole world.
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Does Ramana neglect the will? No. It depends if there is any denial. His will is for sincere renunciation, just as Shiva embodies renunciation. Shakti embodies duality including will. They are different points of view, but both are legitimate, and without denial.
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“Not much happier, but richer of soul.” Herman Hesse in Narziss and Goldmund.


Reflections from Purusha

December 10, 2010

In 2004 I spent a year as a monk in Germany. I joined Transcendental Meditation’s monastic programme called Purusha. It was a great year and I resonated with it deeply.

This afternoon I have been looking through my notebook. Here are a few gems that I collected from that time. Most of them are paraphrased.

“All the texts say that in order to gain release one should render the mind quiescent.” Ramana Maharshi in ‘Who Am I?’

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (MMY):

Bringing the mind to silence is all that is required.

Sankalpa – proclamation of a specific desire to a deity. A way of using specific mantras to get a desired effect.

If you speak Sanskrit, you enliven atma. Anything you say in Sanskrit is enlivening atma.

Shiva is silence. Vishnu is dynamism and Ganapati upholds any coordination between the two.

Non-duality. “Non” refers to the unmanifest. “Duality” refers to the manifest. So with non-duality you have two: the manifest and the unmanifest.

While it is true that Natural Law always governs, we want to bring forth the highest aspect to govern.

Mantras create action in the unmanifest.

Renunciation is the basis of fulfillment.

If you want to be a saint, then live with saints.

Real knowledge brings humility.

With regards to conflicting personalities within the Purusha group: by putting a bunch of rough stones in a bag and shaking it around, the stones will become smooth.

Psychology is a waste of time and energy. Better to grow a lotus than stir the mud.

Aham Vishvam: I am the Universe

We attack ignorance on all sides.

There is only one of us.

There can never be unity of the absolute and relative because they are eternally separate. But the mind can appreciate unity and the heart can rise to feel unity.

Speak the sweet truth.

MMY doesn’t encourage international, inter-racial marriages. He says to marry the girl next door.

When a thought is perceived, the stress has already been released.

If a man has 99 bad qualities, we focus on the one good one and it will multiply.

Many people get enlightened, but very few cognise the Veda. They are more mature.

Intellectual knowledge is complementary and supplementary to direct experience.

The true knower of Reality knows the Absolute Reality and the relative realities.


Ramana says the world is real

December 10, 2010

“The jnani is unfathomable; he abides always in the Self alone. He does not consider the universe as unreal or as different from himself.”

– Ramana Maharshi in the Ramana Gita


Be Nice to Cows

December 1, 2010

This week I took a trip to Taihape in the lower, central part of the North Island. Driving through the New Zealand countryside in spring is a wonderful experience. The land is alive. The hills and mountains embody Shiva and the rivers and lakes express Shakti.

I saw many grassy paddocks filled with cows. I noticed that if there was a tree, all the cows would sit under the tree in the shade – avoiding the burning New Zealand sun. If there was no tree, they would be forced to stand in the sun.

It made me realise that if there were no fences all the cows would find a tree to shelter under. How cruel is it to put up fences and force the cows to stand in the sun? How would you like it? I felt very sorry for the cows.

And I met a very lonely horse called Fudge. The horse was kept alone in a paddock as a personal slave. The master also had some dogs and chickens that were kept tied up.

It made me realise that we are living in Kali Yuga – a dark age in the Hindu calendar. What right have we to chain anyone – human or otherwise? It is a barbaric way of treating fellow living beings.