Introduction to Bhagavad Gita — its origin, background story, its significance and greatness – FAQ on Bhagavad Gita

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1.  Is Bhagavad Gita part of Vedas, the Hindu scripture?

No. Bhagavad Gita is not part of Vedas. Vedas are the original and ancient source books of Hinduism and they are called Shruti (as heard). They are believed to be originated from God and no specific authors are attributed to Vedas.

Bhagavad Gita is one very important and widely read and acclaimed book of Hindu spiritual wisdom coming under the group of scriptures known as Smritis (as remembered). Smritis came much later to Vedas and they have their allegiance to Vedas, written by specific authors. Smritis are meant to explain, elaborate and interpret Vedic knowledge.

2.  Where exactly is Bhagavad Gita written?

Ramayana and Mahabharata are two great Sanskrit poetic works known as Itihasas which means ‘thus happened’.  They contain the historic stories of ancient Kings who lived and ruled in India thousands of years ago. The stories are interwoven with teachings of dharma.

Bhagavad Gita is part of the great Hindu epic Mahabharata, authored by Maharishi Vyasa.

Bhagavad Gita appears in the middle of the story of Mahabharata. According to some historians, the period of Mahabharata was around 2500 BCE. It is in the form of a discourse given by Sri Krishna, an Avatar of Lord Vishnu, to Arjuna, who one of the prime characters in the story of Mahabharata as part of their discussions in the middle of a war field, just before the epic war at Kurukshetra was to begin.

3.  In which language was Bhagavad Gita Written? At what period of time?

All ancient scriptures of Hinduism (Shruti and Smiritis) inclusive of Mahabharatam were written in Sanskrit language.

Some Historians assign the period of Kurukshetra war to the year 3067 BCE. (i.e. about 5085 years ago). Of course such time period estimates are debated by other Historians; there have been many theories assigning the time period from 1000 BC to 4500 BC.

4.  Who was the author of Bhagavad Gita? Was it God, Krishna?

As said earlier, Bhagavad Gita essentially is a discourse of spiritual wisdom given by Lord Krishna to his friend Arjuna at the war front to clear Arjuna’s confusion in taking part in the war. Since the Mahabharata was authored by Maharshi Vyasa, he was indeed the author/recorder of Bhagavad Gita portions too.

5.  What was the cause of the grand war at Kurukshetra? Who was fighting against whom?

The Kurukshetra war was actually considered a war of dharma (righteousness) against adharma (anarchy). Five Pandavas (sons of Pandu, headed by Yudhisthira) who were on the side of dharma were fighting against 100 Kauravas (sons of Dhritarashtra, a blind king of the Kuru clan ruling Kuru Jangala kingdom) headed by Duryodhana.

Pandu and Dhritarashtra were brothers and hence  Pandavas and Kauravas were cousins. Thus, virtually, it was a war within a family and Pandavas fought for getting back their rightful share of their land and kingdom, confiscated by Kauravas by a treachery, in a game of dice. Kauravas tried to humiliate pandavas by disrobing Pandava’s wife Panchali (Draupadi) after their defeat in the game. Kauravas sent Pandavas to forest and put some stringent conditions on them, if they ever wanted to get back their land. Pandavas fulfilled them successfully, but still Kauravas did not want to return the land and rule back to Pandavas. A war between them became inevitable.

Pandavas lost their kingdom, wealth and their wife Draupati too by betting in the game of dice to Kauravas. Draupati was brought to the court and Duschasan tried to disrobe her. Lord Krishna came to her rescue. It was then Pandavas took vow to avenge Kauravas for the insult.

Practically all the kings who ruled so many countries across the length and breadth of Bharata Varsha (Indian Subcontinent) took part in this war siding with one of these two warring groups. Arjuna was the brother of Yudhisthira and was the most valiant warrior and a great archer. He was virtually the hero of the Pandavas.

Krishna (an Avatar of Lord Vishnu) was a great warrior and a kingmaker at the kingdom of Yadavas and was a distant cousin of Pandavas. Krishna and Arjuna were bosom friends. Before the war, both Arjuna and Duryodhana wanted Krishna’s support for their respective group. Krishna offered his entire army to one side and his physical and moral support without taking up arms to another side;  he asked them to choose what they preferred. Arjuna chose Krishna’s support only and Duryodhana was happy to receive the huge Army of Krishna for his side. Krishna offered himself to be the charioteer for Arjuna.

Actually, well before the war began, Krishna did his best to avert the war; he used all his diplomatic skills to mediate between Pandavas and Kauravas. He offered several compromises and concessions to Kauravas from the Pandava’s side so that a war between brothers could be avoided. But he failed in all his attempts as Duryodhana was extremely adamant and arrogant; he totally rejected any compromise and was bent upon going ahead with the war and was confident of finishing off Pandavas in the war.

Thus such a massive war became totally unavoidable. The pandavas too were very determined to fight and annihilate the adharmic Kauravas and re-establish a kingdom based on dharma, with Krishna’s divine and moral support at their side.

6.  Why did Arjuna get confused about participating in the war?

When they were boys, Pandavas and Kauravas played together and studied together.  Though, as boys, Kauravas did not like Pandavas and created lots of troubles for them, they were also getting beatings from Bhima (one among the Pandavas) who was an extremely strong and powerful bully. Both the groups received the love and care of their mighty Pitamaha (Grandfather) Bhishma; Bhishma was the elder brother of their grandfathers; he was indeed the real heir of Kuru Jangala kingdom, but he had relinquished it based on an oath.

Guru Dronacharya was very fond of young Arjuna who excelled in Archery, under his teaching.

Both the groups studied together and learned archery and other war skills from Gurus Kripacharya and Dronacharya.  Dronacharya’s son Ashwathama too studied with them and was a good friend to Pandavas. The Acharyas were particularly fond of Arjuna who was extremely skilled in archery.

Despite the undercurrent of enmity, the Pandavas had maintained some sort of cordiality and entertained their brothers well when they became owners of their own kingdom with Indraprastha as capital. Everything turned sour afterwards.

But Arjuna did possess a soft heart for his erstwhile relatives deep down his heart and also lots of respect and love for his acharyas. Unfortunately, the mighty grandfather Bhishma and his teachers Kripacharya and Dronacharya (and his son Ashwathama) sided with Kauravas in the war on account of their loyalty to the Kuru Jangala Kingdom. Some other kings who were their relatives too were at the side of Kauravas.

Just before the war began, Arjuna wanted to see at close quarters who were the people ganged up against them in the war. Krishna took the chariot to the front, facing the opponents.

It was then Arjuna suddenly became very weak-hearted. He saw his own cousins, his most respected Grand father Bhishma, his masters Kripa and Drona standing up in the war against his side. With Lord Krishna on his side, he was sure that the war would be won by Pandavas, but all the people who were his relatives and beloved teachers now standing in front of him would get killed in the war. He was caught by the emotions of attachment and he felt very bad about such an outcome of the war.

Arjuna becoming weak and disheartened to see his dear ones in the other camp in the war. He dropped his bow.

Suddenly the whole war looked meaningless to him. He was gripped by a sudden inexplicable feeling of renouncing all his cherished desires to win back and rule their kingdom.

7.  How did Krishna, Arjuna’s charioteer became his counsellor?

Though Arjuna was very friendly with Krishna and was so close to call him ‘Yadava’ (Krishna’s caste as a cowherd) and was free to talk with him without using respectful words, he was fully aware of the fact that Krishna was a divine personality (avatar) and a personification of universal wisdom. He knew that at the time of his confusion and dejection, it was Krishna who could counsel him and guide him towards dharma and rightful course he had to follow in order to come out of his predicament.

Thus Arjuna had no qualms to openly express his thoughts and worries to Krishna and seek His guidance. He was humble enough to surrender to Krishna as a disciple and seek Krishna’s guidance from His stature as a Sadguru.

Krishna not only taught dharma to Arjuna, but also showed him his Vishvarupa (cosmic) form.

It was then Lord Krishna too shed his pretences of behaving like a friend or an obedient charioteer and took up Guru Bhava (the mood of a Guru).  When Krishna spoke, he did not speak as a human being, but as the Supreme Being, the lord of the entire universe — the creator, protector and destroyer of the whole creation and at the same time, in-dweller in all the souls; in order to wipe out any trace of doubt that may appear in the faith of Arjuna, Krishna even showed him His Vishvarupa (Universal cosmic form) which awed Arjuna.

8.  If the Bhagavad Gita discourse took place right at the middle of a massive war field between Krishna and Arjuna as a dialog, how exactly was it brought to other’s knowledge?

Actually, it is highly interesting how this ‘recording’ of the conversations happened at the centre of a battle field.

Maharshi Vyasa was one of the most prime characters in Mahabharata. He was a rishi having many mystic powers. According to Bhagavata Purana, he was also an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. He was the one who fathered Dhritarashtra and Pandu, which he did conceding to very compelling reasons for the sake of continuation of progeny in Kuru Kingdom, upon his mother’s request. Thus he was the grandfather of both Kauravas (Sons of Dhritarashtra) and Pandavas (sons of Pandu). He was one central personality who was a knower of trikala (past, present and future) and he would present himself physically at most critical places and times amidst his kin in order to give them solace when in trouble and guide them on dharma. Thus he was an eye-witness and also a historian of the entire Mahabharata story.

Since the King Dhritarashtra was blind, he could not participate in the War; in order to keep him informed of the day to day developments and happenings in the war, Vyasa gave special powers of visualization (‘doordarshan‘) to Sanjaya, a personal assistant/ minister of blind Kaurava King Dhritarashtra to remotely witness all that happened in the Kurukshetra war in order to narrate them to the blind king. The power also included reading the thoughts of the people who were engaged in the war.

During the first ten days of war, Dhritarashtra was not too keen to know the details of what happened in the war except for the information on which side was having the upper hand at the end of each day. When on the 10th day, the grand old Bhishma, the commander of the Kaurava Army was defeated and grievously wounded by Arjuna, Dhritarashtra became extremely concerned. He wanted Sanjya to narrate every detail of the war right from the beginning.

Thus, Sanjaya using the divine powers given to him, narrated every minute details of the happenings at the war front (as a flashback) to the blind king.

The Bhagavad Gita portion of the Mahabharata in fact starts with Dhritarashtra asking Sanjaya to tell him what his own sons and the Pandavas assembled at the battle field were doing. Sanjaya begins his narration of the scenario where both sides were ready to begin the attack. It was then that Arjuna asks Krishna to take his chariot to the middle where he could see his opponents standing fully geared up to fight against them. Subsequent happenings and the dialog between Krishna and Arjuna (which formed Bhagavad Gita) was narrated to Dhritarashtra by Sanjaya. Sanjaya continued with the narration of every detail and happenings in the war subsequently.

Vyasa dictating Mahabharata for Lord Ganesha to write it.

Much later after life the period of Pandavas and Kauravas, Sage Vyasa formed in his mind the entire story of Mahabharata as a grand Itihasa which was too monumental a work for him to put into writing. Conceding to his prayers, Lord Brahma engaged Lord Ganesha to do the writing of this grand epic on palm leaves based on the dictations of Vyasa.

While the present version of Mahabharata as available to us contains some 24000 verses, Bhagavad Gita comes in the middle of Mahabharata as part of the Book 6 – Bhishma Parva, spreading across 18 chapters (Chapters 25 to 42). The Gita contains 700 slokas (verses) each of two line length.

Interestingly, Vyasa’s Mahabharata text as we have today is not a direct narration of Vyasa but appears as narrated by the Pouranika (Purana exponent) by name Ugrasrava, son of Romaharshana Rishi, surnamed Souti to the rishis of Naimisharanya! How did Ugrasrava come to know of the entire story of Vyasa for narration to others?

Souti (Ugrasrava) narrating Mahabharata to the sages at Naimisaranyam.

The Vyasa Bharata story was heard by him from Maharishi Vaisampayana (a disciple of Vyasa) as he narrated it to King Janamejaya (Grandson of Abhimanyu and great-grandson of Arjuna ) during a Sarpa Yagna in the august presence of Sage Vyasa himself.

We cannot help but get wonderstruck by the power of memory and transmission our rishis of the past had possessed on account of their severe austerities (Tapas).

Thus, the Bhagavad Gita (and Mahabharata) as the authentic Sanskrit script available in the present form is indeed from Souti (Ugrasrava) as heard by him from Rishi Vaisampayana. Thus this specific text’s period of origin is at least about 60 to 100 years after Kurukshetra war.

9.  How did Krishna manage to convince Arjuna?

Krishna primarily emphasized the role of Arjuna as a Kshatriya (warrior/ruling class) whose prime dharma was to fight and annihilate evil people. Having exhausted all avenues of reconciliation already and having made all preparations for the war, backing out at that juncture would amount to cowardice for ruling class.

Regarding killing of the near and dear ones, Krishna went about explaining the relationship between human body, jivatma (soul) and further higher truths about Atman (Self) and God. He explained the idea of selfless action surrendering fruits to God, which would make him free from any guilt of wrong perception of killing people in a war.

As Arjuna asked several doubts and sought clarifications, Krishna explained the various deep spiritual wisdom from Upanishads and other scriptures in a simple way that Arjuna could grasp; he revealed to Arjuna about His divinity and how he was the mastermind behind all happenings including the war and the impending deaths. He revealed his Vishvarupa (cosmic divine form) to Arjuna that cleared him of all doubts. It convinced Him of Krishna’s all-encompassing power, made him surrender to Krishna unequivocally and act as per his instructions.

He got back his lost confidence and stood up valiantly to fight the war to its logical finish.

10.  Why is this discourse called Bhagavad Gita?

Bhagavad Gita means God’s song. It means Gods’ teachings here. Though the conversation took place as prose, Vyasa Mahabharata and the Gita are in poetry form only.

11.  What is the source and authenticity of Bhagavad Gita/ Mahabharata  text as it is available today, if it is indeed several thousand years old?

It is hardly possible to preserve the original manuscript of the Bhagavad-Gita written by Vyasa himself or by Souti (Ugrasrava), for the last 5000 years. However many ‘Pothis’ (religious poetic works) of the Bhagavad-Gita as well as Mahabharata were there in palm leaves all over India as preserved in manuscript tradition with some ‘path bhedas’, ( variant readings).

It was Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune that took a monumental project of compiling a Critical Edition of Mahabharata. This edition was prepared with painstaking efforts of scholars by the likes of V. S. Sukhtankar, S. K. Belvalkar, S. K. De, Prof. Dr. R. N. Dandekar for about five decades consulting 1,259 manuscripts and the task spread across 50 years starting from 1917.

Taking into consideration these available manuscripts, and particularly Prof. Shripad Krishna Belvalkar has published ‘Authentic Version‘ (critical edition) of the Bhagavad-Gita in November, 1941.

12.  How and why did Bhagavad Gita acquire such a prominence as a Hindu spiritual scripture, if it was only a private conversation between Arjuna and Krishna?

Whatever Sri Krishna taught to Arjuna was not something meant specifically for Arjuna’s understanding. Actually, Bhagavan Sri Krishna utilized the opportunity to teach mankind about the highest truths of spirituality with Arjuna  as a ruse.

It is so because Bhagavad Gita contains the quintessence of the Vedic knowledge of doing Karma with dharma (righteousness) and attaining Moksha (liberation), the role and purpose of them in life, how to face the ups and downs of life by proper understanding of these and how to lead a balanced life, keeping moksha as the ultimate goal.

While in the Vedas, the Karma Kanda (earlier part of Vedas) emphasizes pravritti (external actions to fulfil worldly desires through ritualistic worship of Gods), the Jnana Kanda (Upanishads) gives thrust to Nivritti (relinquishing Karma) and seeking true Jnana.  It is Bhagavad Gita that brings in a synthesis between the two, by advocating selfless engagement in action, by relinquishing the fruits at the feet of God.

While Upanishads are somewhat more difficult to comprehend, Sri Krishna taught the essence of Upanishads through Bhagavad Gita in a much simplified way for the consumption of all classes of people. It must be remembered that in the olden days, Vedas were learned, memorized and propagated only by Brahmins; Kshatriyas and Vaishyas had access to Vedic knowledge, but Shudras were prohibited from knowing Vedas.

But Bhagavad Gita, as a Smriti was open to all for knowing and learning the greatest spiritual wisdom of Sanatana Dharma.

Bhagavad Gita also qualifies to be one of the best sources of spiritual wisdom of Hinduism for the following additional reasons:

  • The idea of Karma Yoga (doing selfless action, without aspiring for the fruits of action) gets expounded for the first time.
  • By emphasizing the indestructibility of the Atman which is One without second, but existing as jivatmans (individual souls) in living beings, Sri Krishna reiterated the basics of Advaita expounded in Upanishads. It is with this very first thought flow, Krishna started convincing Arjuna to engage in war and kill the opponents’ bodies because only bodies perish and not Atman.
  • The idea of Bhakti Yoga (path of devotion to God) too gets stressed as a very valid path and gets elaborated for the first time. This paved the way for evolution of Dvaita School of Philosophy in future.
  • The idea of God being the in-dweller in the hearts of all souls is also expounded in Bhagavad Gita. This paved the way for the evolution of Vishishtadvaita school of philosophy of the Vaishnavism sect in the future. Bhagavad Gita shows Saranagati (total surrender to God) as the simplest course which became the best ideal of attaining liberation for Vaishnavas of the Vishishtadvaita school.
  • In Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna unequivocally expounds His all-encompassing nature as the Ishwara (the creator, protector and destroyer of the universe) and his stature as the Parabrahman – God beyond names and forms, past present and future. This lead to the concept of Krishna as the ultimate God (not just an avatar of Vishnu) and paved the way for the Gaudiya Vaishnava sect. According to this sect including its followers under ISKCON), Krishna is the only God/ Paramatman and Bhagavad Gita is the most authentic scripture for reference.
  • In Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna criticized the practices of conducting Yajnas (fire sacrifices) with fulfilment of desires as goal. Thus, Krishna underplayed the significance of Purva Mimamsa school of thought and advocated Vedanta (Upanishads) thoughts better. This paved the way for future generations to wean away from worshiping devatas (celestial beings) and getting entangled to Vedic Karmas, without aiming for spiritual progress. In other words, Krishna emphasized the need for progressing from Karma (actions) to Jnanam (wisdom).
  • Krishna emphasized the importance of becoming “a man of steady wisdom” as an ideal. Such a person would be totally aligned with God and do all his worldly activities without getting affected by ups and downs, failures and successes in life, be keeping himself totally detached from the fruits of all actions.
  • Krishna quoted concepts and ideas from Samkya School of Philosophy of Hinduism in Bhagavad Gita (like Purusha and Prakriti and the ideas of Trigunas). Thus he gave his stamp of approval to those sections of philosophy too as valid.
  • The Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras and Bhagavad Gita are the three ancient scriptures that form the core of essential Hindu philosophy. Hence the three together are called Prasthana Traya.

Thus Bhagavad Gita, as a spiritual scripture of Hinduism, is a re-emphasis on the existence and approval of the various facets and tenets of Hinduism. All these facets are valid for establishing a relationship with God/ Ultimate Truth to progress towards Moksha.

Going one step further, Bhagavad Gita has also become a book of wisdom for universal reference, cutting across religious barriers.

Swami Sivananda says:

This holy scripture is not just an “old scripture”, nor is it just a book of “religious teachings”, nor even a Hindu holy book. It transcends the bounds of any particular religion or race, and is actually divine wisdom addressed to mankind for all times, in order to help human beings face and solve the ever present problems of birth and death, of pain, suffering, fear, bondage, love and hate.

It enables man to liberate himself from all limiting factors and reach a state of perfect balance, inner stability and mental peace, complete freedom from grief, fear and anxiety. Within its eighteen chapters is revealed a human drama. This is the experience of everyone in this world, the drama of the ascent of man from a state of utter dejection, sorrow and total breakdown and hopelessness to a state of perfect understanding, clarity, renewed strength and triumph.

The study of the Gita alone is sufficient for daily Swadhyaya (scriptural study). You will find here a solution for all your doubts. The more you study it with devotion and faith, the more you will acquire deeper knowledge, penetrative insight and clear, right thinking.

Shruti – The 4 Vedas

Origin of Vedas

The Vedas (inclusive of Upanishads or Vedanta) are the foremost reference scriptures of Hinduism.

The 4 Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sama & Atharva vedas) are the original source of all knowledge and they are not attributed to any specific authors or messiahs. They are considered as originating from God, heard and registered by great rishes (seers) of the yore. Hence they are known as Shruti (as heard). Vedas are also known as apaurusheya (not made of man).

Even though certain hymns and mantras are attributed to certain Rishis in the vedic texts, they are recognized as the seers (mantra Drishta) of those texts and not the authors of the texts. According to Kanchi Paramacharya (Sri Chandresekharendra Saraswathi) it is akin to Columbus identifying America — he is not the creator of America.

It is said in Hindu Puranas that Veda was originally one, but in Dwapara Yuga, Veda Vyasa (Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa), (who is considered an Avatar of Vishnu) split it into four; he did so for the sake of bringing Vedas to logical groups, convenient for transmitting in written form (from the practice of verbal transmission only prevailing in earlier yugas).

Each Veda is broadly said to contain two major parts — the Karma Kandam and the Jnana Kandam. The Karma Kandam deals with mantras and procedural rituals and the Jnana Kandam contains the supreme wisdom — the Upanishads (or Vedanta — The culmination of Veda). While the ritualistic parts got diluted  over the period of time, the Upanishads, the quintessence of Vedic knowledge lives on and they form the basic source of reference for all the supreme philosophies of Hinduism. They serve as guides for earnest seekers and also as reference books for comparing the experiences attained after practice of the spiritual disciplines.

The term ‘shruti’ carries considerable significance because in times of yonder, there was no practice of writing the vedas in scripts, but were only transmitted by chanting and listening from one generation to another.

Proper Chanting essential

Vedas carry significance not only in their contents, but also in the right pronunciation and  intonations with which the chanting of the mantras are to be carried out. The Vedic mantras carry subtle vibrations and these vibrations were essential to invoke the Gods of nature and get their blessings. The rishis did not want to allow any change in the contents of the Vedas nor in the way they were to be chanted; hence they devised extremely systematic and strict procedures and guidelines for chanting as well as teaching them.

Only Brahmins were allowed to propagate Vedas because extreme austerities involving physical and mental purity, sacrifice, simple living, intellectual capacity, memory capacity,  devotion to God and ability to handle an extremely difficult language of Sanskrit etc were fundamentally essential for the task. Brahmins were nurtured traditionally across generations to possess those qualities.

Vedangas

At the later periods of propagation of Vedas, a properly formulated system of ensuring that Vedas were preserved and passed on generation after generation without errors, 6 Vedangas (Veda Angas, meaning limbs of Veda) were  developed. They deal with outlining and explaining systematically the grammar (Vyakarana), meter (chandas), phonetics (shiksha), etymology (Nirukta), astronomy (Jyotisha) and rituals (kalpa).

NOTE: The Vedangas are NOT part of Shruti, but they are part of Smriti texts.

Parts of Vedas (classification of contents)

Karma Kanda  —  Samhitas (hymns) & Brahmanas (rites)

Vedas prominently contain mantras, hymns, chants and rites which were/are essential to worship Celestial Gods of nature (Varuna, Vayu, Indra, Rudra etc) in order to satisfy them and get cattle, good harvest, progeny, gold, wealth and possessions for happy living in this world without being troubled by natural calamities. Whatever activities (karmas) and rites vedas ordain for these purposes are classified into Karma Kanda. It must be noted that each of the 4 vedas do contain Karma kandas with Samhita and Brahmana classifications under it.

For convenience sake, the Mantra, hymns and chanting part of Vedas (under Karma Kanda) were grouped in to Samhitas.  The procedural aspects, rites and rituals were explained in prose under Brahmanas.

Conducting a Yagya (Fire sacrifice)

Samhitas and Brahmanas are primarily concerned with invocation of Gods and conducting fire rituals and sacrifices connected with the 16 samskaras (healthy vedic practices and ordained rituals to be done at various stages in life right from conceiving a child, birth, naming ceremony, beginning of education, marriage, death ceremonies and ending with post-death remembrance ceremonies. At the larger picture, there were elaborate yagnyas (Grand fire sacrifices) conducted by kings like Ashwamedha yaga, Rajasuya Yaga, Vaishnava Yaga etc.

Kings conducted such yagas to establish their supremacy over  other kings, to conquer more  powers through boons to be obtained from celestial Gods, to ensure life in heaven post-death, to bring prosperity to their nations and so on. Such yagas involved lots of materials, elaborate procedures, plenty of gifts to be given to poor people, invited guests (including other kings)  and Brahmins, variety of mantras to be chanted to invoke celestial Gods and so on.  Samhitas and Brahmanas essentially contain all these details.

The Jnana Kanda

The Aranyakas (theology)

The Aranyakas contain the Vedic practices, and contemplative analysis and aspects of them related to forest life. In some vedas and in the assessment of some scholars, the Aranyakas appear to be an extension of Brahmanas only and some times they are treated as part of Karma Kanda only.

As per the Ashrama dharmas (Brahmacharya, Grihasta, Vanaprastha and Sanyasa)  prevailing in vedic period, once the duties of family life (grihasta ashrama) are over, middle aged husbands and wives shifted to forest for living a life of austerity and divine contemplation. As per vedic tradition, they get so much used to doing their vedic karmas with necessary fire sacrifice rites, they tend to continue with those practices in the forest too. The Aranyaka portion of the Vedas contained the necessary scriptural guidelines for them. Procedures and materials for such sacrifices have got to be simpler to suit the simpler lifestyles of forest dwellers.

A relaxed life in the forest without worldly desires also means there was scope for review and contemplation of the vedic practices, finding out better interpretations and meanings of them, questioning their significance, need for search of better knowledge about divinity other than seeking sops from Gods for happy living. The Aranyakas contain the contemplative aspects of the Rishi’s thought process in these matters.

Further, as we can learn from Ramayana, great Rishis like Vishwamitra conducted special fire sacrifices with some grander purposes (for the welfare of the world perhaps  to counter the evil forces like asuras and rakshasas) . Some of them could be secretive too. Suspecting this secrecy, Asuras came to destroy those Yagnas  and thats’ how we find Vishwamitra taking the help of Rama and Lakshmana to protect the yaga. Naturally, the secretive part of rituals too are contained in Aranyakas.

Vedanta – The Upanishads (philosophy)

Having experienced the worldly life with its joys and sorrows and having understood the benefits as well as the limitations of totally relying on vedic karmas, there were indeed doubts and questions in the minds of the rishis. Procedures were too many, disciplines were too demanding, material needs to conduct rites were imposing and there could be so many lapses leading to failure of the intended purposes of conducting yagas. Desires don’t seem to get satiated, expectations are not always met and dissatisfaction still remains in life.

The rishis of yonder started thirsting for better spiritual knowledge; through deep meditation, they  inquired into the cause of birth, death, jiva (soul), God, how God is related to soul, what is the true nature of God and so on. Through their tapas, the rishis acquired the supreme knowledge related to all these queries. They experienced that God called by them as Brahman is beyond name and form but inclusive of everything in the creation; it is smaller than an atom but as all pervasive as infinity and it is no different from Self. It is not just a theory but something experienced and never explicable by words.

The rishis tried their best to teach this transcendental experience of Brahman in whatever best way they could — by verbose explanations, through poetically expressed hymns, by cryptic but grand statements (‘maha vakyas‘), through examples and similes, by stories and so on. Such part of the documents is Upanishads or Vedanta (the culmination of Veda) and those parts of vedas containing these teachings are called Jnana Kanda. In some vedas and in the assessment of some scholars, the Aranyakas appear to be a prelude to the Upanishads; Upanishads in some vedas seem to naturally culminate as an extension of Aranyakas.  Hence Aranyakas too are considered parts of Jnana Kanda.

Upanishads thus form the very core and crux of the highest knowledge of spirituality in Hinduism. They are one of the three authentic philosophical reference scriptures of Hinduism viz Prasthana Triya (Brahma Sutra and Bhagavad Gita are the other two).  More details on Upanishads are covered in a separate chapter here:  <> UPANISHADS.

Several portions of Vedas have been lost across time

It is only natural that a scriptural tradition existing and propagated across countless generations  only through verbal transmission from time immemorial, several parts and segments of Vedas have been lost. More than hundreds of Upanishads were said to be existing, but primarily about a dozen of them are existing.  Only a very small portion of Sama Veda is reportedly existing alive now.

The significance of Karma Kanda has also been considerably diluted in present times. Yagas like Ashvamedha or Rajasuya have totally lost their significance since several centuries. However, the crux of Upanishad philosophy is still available intact and whatever existing definitely contain the very essence of the ultimate spiritual knowledge.

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The Brahma Sutras (Vedanta Sutras)

What are Brahma Sutras?

Brahma Sutras or Vedanta Sutras are very cryptic and extremely short notes written in Sanskrit to serve as points or hints to understand without conflicts the elaborate teachings available in Upanishads (Vedanta) . The word Sutra in sanskrit means an extremely short sentence containing some information in a nutshell. Another meaning of Sutra is thread/ string. The knowledge of Brahman (God) or the teachings of Vedanta are brought together like beads in a string in this scripture.

Brahma Sutras are clues or aids to memory on the study of Vedanta. They can not be understood without a lucid commentary (Bhashya). The commentary also is in need of further elaborate explanation from a competent Guru/ Acharya for earnest students of scriptures to comprehend the subject matter.

Brahma Sutras are also known as Uttara Mimamsa. Uttara means the latter. Upanishads are the latter part of Vedas. Mimamsa means the investigation or enquiry into the connected meaning of the sacred texts.

What is its importance as a Hindu scripture?

Considering the importance of its contents, Brahma Sutra is one of the three prime source books of Hindu Philosophy having allegiance to Vedas. The Upanishads (Vedanta), The Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutras are the three reference books and together they are called Prasthanathraya. Upanishads are known as Shruti Prasthanam (essense of Vedic knowledge), the Bhagavad Gita is known as Smriti Prasthanam. Smritis are essence of derived, secondary  knowledge from Vedas serving as guidance for practical life covering dharma shastras (teachings on righteousness), Puranas, Itihasas (mythological stories) and essential spiritual teachings. Brahma Sutras are known as Nyaya Prasthanam or Tharka Prasthanam (Logical essence of Vedantas).

When was Brahma Sutras composed? Who was its author?

Historians say that the practice of writing scriptures in the form of Sutras existed between 400 BCE to 400 CE and hence the origin of Brahma Sutras could be sometime in this period. But based on the contents of Brahma Sutra, where Buddhist and Jain philosophies too are discussed,many scholars are of the opinion that it is a work done after the period of Buddha and Mahavir (Jainism). Accordingly, some historians assess that Brahma Sutras were written some time in 2nd century CE and some say 4th Century CE.

The Rishi Badarayana Vyasa was the author of Brahma Sutra.

Vyasa is credited with compiling all 4 vedas and also authoring the epic Mahabharata and many Puranas. But the historical period of those scriptures were far earlier than the period of Brahma Sutras.

Since ‘Vyasa’ is considered a title rather than a name, it is also argued that the Vyasa of Mahabharata (known as Krishna Dvaipayana) is different from the Vyasa of Brahma Sutras (known as Badarayana).

What are the essential contents of Brahma Sutras?

Brahma Sutras essentially discuss Ontology – Nature of Man, God, Universe, life, creation and their interrelationships. It also deals a little with Eschatology — death and post-death scenario. The Sutras highlight not only on how the creation came from God (Brahman) but also how God himself is part and parcel of the created. The sutras establish that human being is essentially Atman and hint on the nature on atman and how the Atman is related to Paramatman (God, Brahman).  It gives hints on spiritual practices particularly on meditation. it also throws hints on what happens at the time of death and the post death scenario of normal mortals and how it differs from the death of realized saints.

All the notes in Brahma Sutras on the above are essentially based on the teachings available in Upanishads (Vedanta), particularly on Chandogya Upanishad and Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. The Sutras also touch upon other Hindus Sashtras  Mimamsa and Samkya and also on the philosophies of Buddhism and Jainism  to throw hints on how Vedanta differs from their view point.

Brahma Sutras indicate renunciation as the ultimate way to attain realization. Hence it is also known as Bikshu Sutra (Bikshu means a renunciate who eats by begging food).

The Brahma Sutras have been contained in 4  Adhyayas (chapters) and each chapter contains 4 Padas (sections) . In each Pada, there are several adhikaranas (Topics or propositions) containing the Sutras. Totally, there are about 555 Sutras , based on Sri Shankaracharya’s commentaries on Brahma Sutras.  They are grouped in 191  adhikaranas. Each adhikarana consist of five parts:—(1) Thesis or Vishaya, (2) Doubt or Samsaya, (3) Anti-thesis or Purvapaksha, (4) Synthesis or right conclusion or Siddhanta and (5) Sangati or agreement of the proposition with the other parts of the Sastra.

(The four chapters and their contents in Each Pada’s  adhikaranas in brief are given at the end of this article).

Can a person with a rudimentary knowledge on Hindu philosophies and good knowledge in Sanskrit understand Brahma Sutras? Will reading a direct translation of Brahma Sutras in other languages be helpful in understanding Hindu philosophy on God better?

No. Not at all.

The Sutras as such will be totally incomprehensible for plain sanskrit scholars.  Same is the case with direct translation too. Even with a reasonable knowledge in Hindu philosophies, one cannot make head or tail of reading Brahma Sutras directly. Brahma Sutras have to be comprehended only through commentaries (Bhashyams).

Here is a sample of  a few Sutras directly translated:

From Chapter 1, Padam (Section 2):

Sutram 1: “As this teaching is popular
Sutram 2: “As the qualities proposed match
Sutram 3: “As not matching, it is not life force with body
Sutram 4: “As Karma and doer are mentioned”
Sutram 5: “Due to difference in wording
Sutram 6: “As per Smriti too
Sutram 7: “The place is mentioned small, likewise that too is mentioned small, if cannot be God, it is not so, as it is told for meditation and as vast as sky”
Sutram 8: “If experience of pain / pleasure is present, it does not match; because of difference
Sutram 9: “God is the eater as the entire cosmos is absorbed
Sutram 10: “As it happens

Doesn’t it look extremely obvious that nothing meaningful could be obtained from these even by a scholar who knows Hindu philosophies  well?

On the other hand, if you take Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, a person with rudimentary knowledge on Hindu philosophies may  reasonably understand their direct translations even without explanations. It is quite likely that many doubts and confusions may linger, but still one can definitely grasp considerably on the subjects by reading the direct scripture (if knowledgeable in Sanskrit) or through direct translations.

It is  obviously not so with Brahma Sutras. As already mentioned and seen, the Sutras are extremely cryptic notes, serving as systematically organized and sequentialized hints to aid and rekindle the memory of the earnest students of philosophy in relating to the larger elaborations and references taught by the gurus through the Bhashyas (commentaries).

The bhashyas relate which particular verse of which Upanishad is referred to in a Sutra; or which Sankhya philosophical text is being negated in which Sutra; or which  statement from a Smriti is associated with which Sutra; what is the wholesome meaning of each Sutra or each adhikarana and so on.

If read with Bhashyams (commentaries) will the Brahma Sutras serve as an adequate source of knowledge of Hindu philosophies?

No. Brahma Sutras are NOT independent source of spiritual knowledge like Bhagavad Gita or Upanishads.

Brahma Sutras with Bhashyams, when heard through the explanations of one’s Guru, at the best serve as a guide to remove any confusions, misunderstandings and doubts on Upanishads, for those who have already studied Vedanta in depth. They can also help in clearing any added confusions on account of reading other scriptures like Mimamsa, Samkya philosophy or philosophies of Buddhism and Jainism.

Is Brahma Sutras meant more for scholars and Pundits?

Yes, more or less.

Even to understand Brahma Sutras with appropriate Bhashyams, one must have studied and reasonably grasped at least the 12 major Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita; a reasonable exposure to Purva Mimamsa, Nyaya and Samkya philosophies too are essential. In the olden days, only highly qualified and brilliant Pundits (Brahmins) with a good grasp of Sanskrit language and  keen, earnest seekers of spirituality with a thirst for grasping the highest knowledge on Brahman (also possessing the knowledge of Sanskrit) were fit for learning Brahma Sutras.

It must be noted that the Bhashyams too were only in Sanskrit and a mere understanding of Sanskrit would not just help in deciphering the bhashyams too. A qualified Guru’s teaching and explanation using the bhashyams and appropriate references to the source texts in Upanishads and other scriptures are essential.

For present day scholars and earnest seekers of core philosophy of Hinduism too, the same conditions are applicable, except for the fact that they can make good with translations of the originals from Sanskrit to their own languages. In any case, the teaching from a qualified Guru can never be dispensed with.

Are there many Bhashyams (commentaries) on Brahma Sutras?

Yes; indeed.

Badarayana’s disciples must have learned and memorized Brahma Sutras and also received and absorbed the Bhashyam, to be transmitted to next generations by word of mouth. Over a period of time, Sutras  (and probably bhashyams) might have started appearing in written form in palm leaves. Across centuries, the original bhashyams too could have been lost.

The earliest available and reportedly the most authentic commentary on Brahma Sutras is from Sri Shankaracharya (788-820 CE) and his bhashyam is based on his Advaita philosophy. In the subsequent centuries, several other commentaries appeared from different Acharyas by offering their explanations of the particular school of philosophy they professed. Thus there are bhasyams written by Sri Bhaskara and Sri Yadava Prakasha (10th & 11th Century) based on Bheda-Abheda school of thought, Sri Ramanujacharya (11th/12th Century) based on his Vishitadvaita school of thought, Sri Madhvacharya (13th/14th Century) based on his Dvaita School of philosophy, Srikanta (13th Century) based on Saiva Siddhanta and so on.

Down the line of disciples of the masters (who wrote the original commentaries), across time, even comprehending the bhashyas got difficult, needing further enlightenment on the original bhashyams. Thus several additional explanations to the original teachings too came, written by latter disciples.

Why are there different schools of interpretations?  What is the impact?

The technique of Sutras served as  effective mode of teaching  in a period when propagation of Vedic knowledge was primarily through word of mouth and not through writing.

But the negative outcome of this technique could be that there was tremendous scope for losing (fully or partially) the associated teachings with the Sutras,  or distorting and twisting the original teachings associated with the Sutras, while the Sutras themselves, being brief, were memorized and transmitted reasonably accurately and in latter periods got written in palm leaves.

The original teachings contained in Upanishads are essentially non-dualistic (Advaita) in their core, which have been expressed by the rishis in poetic form directly based on their experience. They also contain metaphors, allegories and parables which give scope for different interpretations. We have seen already how the direct meaning of Sutras are so cryptic and vague; naturally, the sutras coupled with allegories in the Upanishads do provide enough scope for different interpretations.

The spiritual experiences attained by different acharyas at different periods of histories and their own convictions of their experiences to be truer than Advaitic experience of the rishis gave them the impetus to give different meanings to the sutras and also to the Upanishad statements; some upanishad statements also have the scope of differing from purely advaita point of view . Added to these is the scope available in Sanskrit language per se to spit or combine words to get different meanings.

Swami Shivananda says, “Sanskrit is very elastic. It is like Kamadhenu or Kalpataru. You can milk out of it various kinds of Rasas according to your intellectual calibre and spiritual experiences. There fore different Acharyas have
built different systems of thought or cults by interpreting the Sutras in their own ways and became founders of sects.”

Swami Vivekananda says, “...the problem gets compounded by the acharyas who wrote the commentaries. A commentator interpreting the Sutras from Advaita point of view retains phrases emphasizing the advaita angle, but distorts the meaning of certain words that seem to convey Dvaita concept. A sanskrit word meaning ‘birthless’ (ajah) gets conveniently distorted to read ajaa to mean a female goat! If not worse, at least in a similar fashion, the acharyas of Dvaita conveniently distort Vedic words and phrases conveying Advaita concept, while retaining those giving a dvaita angle of meaning!”

Added to this is another reality that the number of Sutras referred and quoted by these Acharyas too vary. While Sri Sankara’s commentary is based on 192 adhikaranas and 555 sutras, Sri Ramanujar’s is based 155 adhikaranas and 545 sutras and Shi Madhvar’s is based on 223 adhikaranas and 564 sutras.

Naturally, we get an impression that the writers of commentaries could have played with and distorted, to some extent, the original purport and conception of Sutras by Badanarayana!

For an English reader, which could be a good commentary on Brahma Sutras to read?

It is felt that Brahma Sutra commentaries done by Swami Shivananda (Divine Life Society, Rishikesh) which is based predominantly on Sri Shankara’s Bhashyam is a good one, very neatly arranged and written in an easily comprehensible style.

 

 

To give a birds eye view of what Brahma Sutras broadly contain, the chapter wise contents are given below (based on the above book):

(Note: Each bullet below corresponds to each adhikarana)

Chapter 1: Samanvaya Adhikaram

In the first chapter the author shows that all the Vedic texts uniformly refer to Brahman and find their Samanvaya (reconciliation) in Him.

(Ch. 1)  Section (Pada) 1

  1. The enquiry into Brahman and its prerequisites.
  2. Definition of Brahman
  3. Brahman is realisable only through the scriptures
  4. Brahman is the main purport of all Vedantic texts
  5. Brahman (the intelligent principle) is the First Cause
  6. Anandamaya is Para Brahman.
  7. The being or person in the Sun and the eye is Brahman.
  8. The word Akasa must be understood as Brahman
  9. The word ‘Prana’ must be understood as Brahman
  10. The light is Brahman.
  11. Prana is Brahman

(Ch. 1) Section (Pada) 2

  1. The Manomaya is Brahman
  2. The eater is Brahman.
  3. The dwellers in the cave of the heart are the individual soul and Brahman.
  4. The person within the eye is Brahman.
  5. The internal ruler is Brahman.
  6. That which cannot be seen is Brahman.
  7. Vaisvanara is Brahman.

(Ch. 1) Section (Pada) 3

  1. The abode of heaven, earth etc. is Brahman
  2. Bhuma is Brahman
  3. Akshara is Brahman
  4. The Highest person to be meditated upon is the Highest Brahman
  5. The Dahara or the ‘Small Akasa’ is Brahman
  6. Everything shines after Brahman
  7. The person of the size of a thumb is Brahman
  8. The Devas also are entitled to the study of Vedas and to meditate on Brahman
  9. The right of the Sudras to the study of Vedas discussed
  10. The Prana in which everything trembles is Brahman
  11. The ‘light’ is Brahman
  12. The Akasa is Brahman
  13. The Self consisting of knowledge is Brahman

(Ch. 1) Section (Pada) 4

  1. The Mahat and Avyakta of the Kathopanishad do not refer to the Sankhya Tattvas.
  2. The Aja of Svetasvatara Upanishad does not mean Pradhana.
  3. The five-fold-five (Pancha-panchajanah) does not refer to the twenty-five Sankhyan categories.
  4. Brahman is the First cause.
  5. He who is the maker of the Sun, Moon, etc. is Brahman and not Prana or the individual soul.
  6. The Atman to be seen through hearing etc., of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (II-4-5)  is Brahman and not Jivatma
  7. Brahman is both the efficient and the material cause
  8. The arguments which refute the Sankhyas refute the others also.

Chapter 2: Avirodha Adhikaram

In the second  chapter, alternative concepts in other Shastras are confronted and  proved that there are no conflicts in Upanishad interpretations.

(Ch. 2)  Section (Pada) 1

  1. Refutation of Smritis not based on Srutis
  2. Refutation of Samkhya Yoga
  3. Brahman can be the cause of the universe, although It is of a contrary nature from the universe.
  4. Kanada and Gautama Refuted
  5. The distinctions of enjoyer and enjoyed do not oppose unity
  6. The world (ef fect) is non-dif fer ent from Brah man (the cause)
  7. Brahman does not create evil
  8. Brahman is the cause of the world
  9. Brahman is the material cause of the universe, though He is without parts
  10. Fully-equipped Brahman
  11. Final end of Creation
  12. Brahman is neither partial nor cruel
  13. Saguna Brahman necessary for creation

(Ch. 2)  Section (Pada) 2

  1. Refutation of the Sankhyan theory of the Pradhana as the cause of the world.
  2. Refutation of the Vaiseshika view
  3. Refutation of the atomic theory of the Vaiseshikas
  4. Refutation of the Bauddha Realists
  5. Refutation of the Bauddha Idealist
  6. Refutation of the Jaina Doctrine
  7. Refutation of the Pasupata System
  8. Refutation of the Bhagavata or the Pancharatra school

(Ch. 2)  Section (Pada) 3

  1. Ether (Akasa) is not eternal but created
  2. Air originates from ether
  3. Brahman (Sat) has no origin
  4. Fire originates from air
  5. Water is produced from fire
  6. Earth is created from water
  7. Brahman abiding within the element is the creative principle
  8. The process of dissolution of the elements is in the reverse order from that of creation
  9. The mention of the mind and intellect does not interfere with the order of creation and reabsorption as they are the products of the elements
  10. Births and deaths are not of the soul
  11. The individual soul is eternal. ‘It is not produced’
  12. The nature of the individual soul is intelligence
  13. The size of the individual soul
  14. The individual soul is an agent
  15. The soul is an agent as long as it is limited by the adjuncts
  16. The soul is dependent on the Lord, when he works
  17. Relation of the individual soul to Brahman

(Ch. 2)  Section (Pada) 4

  1. The Pranas have their origin from Brahman
  2. The number of the organs (organs of knowledge and action)
  3. The organs are minute in size
  4. The chief Prana has also an origin from Brahman
  5. The chief Prana is different from air and sense functions
  6. The minuteness of the chief Prana
  7. The presiding deities of the organs
  8. The organs are independent principles and not functions of the chief Prana
  9. The creation of names and forms is by the Lord and not by the individual soul

Chapter 3: Sadhana Adhikaram

In the third  chapter, the means of attaining Brahman are described.

(Ch. 3)  Section (Pada) 1

  1. The soul at the time of transmigration does take with it subtle parts of the elements
  2. The souls descending from heaven have a remnant of Karma which determines their birth
  3. The fate after death of those souls whose deeds do not entitle them to pass up to Chandraloka
  4. The soul on its descent from the Chandraloka does not become identified with ether, etc., but attains a similarity of nature
  5. It takes only a short time for the descent of the soul
  6. When the souls enter into plants, etc., they only cling to them and do not themselves become those species

(Ch. 3)  Section (Pada) 2

  1. The soul in the dream state
  2. The soul in dreamless sleep
  3. The same soul returns from deep sleep
  4. The nature of swoon
  5. The nature of Brahman
  6. The Neti-neti text explained
  7. Brahman is one without a second
  8. The Lord is the giver of the fruits of actions

(Ch. 3)  Section (Pada) 3

  1. The Vidyas having identical or the same form found in scriptures constitute one Vidya
  2. Particulars of identical Vidyas mentioned in different Sakhas or places are to be combined into one meditation
  3. Those Vidyas with different subject-matter are separate, even if there may be some similarities
  4. It is appropriate to specialise OM by the term ‘Udgitha’
  5. Unity of the Prana-Vidya
  6. Attributes like Bliss, etc., of Brahman have to be combined into one meditation
  7. Katha Upanishad (I.3.10-11) teaches merely that the Self is higher than everything else
  8. The Self mentioned in Aithreya  Upanishad  I.1. is the Supreme Self and the attributes of the Self given elsewhere should be combined with this meditation.
  9. Only thinking water to be the dress of Prana is enjoined in the Prana-Vidya
  10. Vidyas of the same Sakha which are identical should be combined, in meditation
  11. The names ‘Ahar’ and ‘Aham’ of Brahman occurring in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (V.5.1-2) cannot be combined
  12. Attributes of Brahman occurring in the Ranayaniya Khila constitute an independent Vidya
  13. The Purusha Vidya in the Chhandogya and the Taittiriya are not to be combined
  14. Unconnected Mantras and sacrifices mentioned in certain Upanishads do not belong to Brahma-Vidya
  15. The statement that the good and evil deeds of a person go respectively to his friends and enemies is true for texts that mention discarding of such actions by him
  16. The shaking off of good and evil by the man of Knowledge occurs only at the time of his death
  17. The knower of Saguna Brahman alone goes along Devayana, and not the knower of Nirguna Brahman
  18. The passage of the soul by Devayana applies equally to all Vidyas of Saguna Brahman
  19. Perfected souls may take a corporeal existence for divine mission
  20. The negative attributes of Brahman mentioned in various texts are to be combined in all meditations on Brahman
  21. Mundaka Upanishad III.1.1 and Katha Upanishad I.3.1 constitute one Vidya
  22. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad III.4.1 and III.5.1 constitute one Vidya
  23. The Sruti prescribes reciprocal meditation in Aithreya Upanishad (II.2.4.6)
  24. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (V.4.1 and V.5.3) treat of one Vidya about Satya Brahman
  25. Attributes mentioned in Chandhyogya Upanishad  (VIII.1.1) and Brihadaranyaka Upanishad  (IV.4.22) are to be combined on account of several common features in both texts
  26. Pranagnihotra need not be observed on days of fast
  27. Upasanas mentioned in connection with sacrifices are not their parts, but separate
  28. Meditations on Vayu and Prana are to be kept separate notwithstanding the essential oneness of these two
  29. The fires in Agnirahasya of the Brihadaranyaka are not part of the sacrificial act, but form an independent Vidya
  30. Atman is an entity distinct from the body
  31. Upasanas connected with sacrificial acts, i.e., Udgitha Upasana are valid for all schools
  32. Vaisvanara Upasana is one entire Upasana
  33. Various Vidyas like the Sandilya Vidya, Dahara Vidya and so on are to be kept separate and not combined into one entire Upasana
  34. Any one of the Vidyas should be selected according to one’s own option or choice
  35. Vidyas yielding particular desires may or may not be combined according to one’s liking
  36. Meditations connected with members of sacrificial acts may or may not be combined according to one’s liking

(Ch. 3  Section (Pada) 4

  1. Knowledge of Brahman is independent of sacrificial acts
  2. Sannyasa is prescribed by the scriptures
  3. Scriptural texts as in Chhandhyogya Upanishad (I.1.3.) which refer to Vidyas are not mere praises but themselves enjoin the meditations
  4. The stories mentioned in the Upanishads do not serve the purpose of Pariplavas and so do not form part of the ritualistic acts. They are meant to euloigise the Vidya taught in them
  5. Sannyasins need not observe ritualistic acts, as Brahma Vidya or knowledge serves their purpose
  6. Works prescribed by the scriptures are means to the attainment of knowledge
  7. Food-restrictions may be given up only when life is in danger
  8. The duties of Asrama are to be performed by even one who is not desirous of salvation
  9. Those who stand midway qualified for knowledge; between two Asramas also are
  10. He who has taken Sannyasa cannot revert back to his former stages of life
  11. Expiation for one who has broken the vow of Sannyasa
  12. The life-long celibate who fails to keep up his vow must be excluded by society
  13. The meditations connected with the subordinate members of sacrificial acts (Yajnangas) should be observed by the priest and not by the sacrificer
  14. In Brihadaranyaka Upanishad ( III.5.1) meditation is enjoined besides the child-like state and scholarship
  15. Child-like state means the state of innocence, being free from egoism, lust, anger, etc.
  16. The time of the origination of knowledge when Brahma Vidya is practised
  17. Liberation is a state without difference. It is only one.

Chapter 4: Phala Adhikaram

In the fourth chapter the result of attaining Brahman is described.

(Ch. 4)  Section (Pada) 1

  1. Meditation on Brahman should be continued till knowledge is attained
  2. He who meditates on the Supreme Brahman must comprehend It as identical with himself
  3. The symbols of Brahman should not be meditated upon as identical with the meditator
  4. When meditating on a symbol, the symbol should be considered as Brahman and not Brahman as the symbol
  5. In meditation on the members of sacrificial acts the idea of divinity is to be superimposed on the members and not in the reverse way.
  6. One is to meditate sitting.
  7. There is no restriction of place with regard to meditation
  8. Meditations should be continued till death
  9. Knowledge of Brahman frees one from all past and future sins.
  10. Similarly good work do not affect the knower of Brahman.
  11. Works which have not begun to yield results are alone destroyed by knowledge and not those which have already begun to bear fruits.
  12. Permanent obligatory works enjoined by the Vedas for different Asramas are not to be given up.
  13. Sacrificial works not combined with knowledge or meditation also help in the origination of knowledge
  14. After enjoying the fruits of Prarabdha Karma the knower becomes one with Brahman

(Ch. 4)  Section (Pada) 2

  1. At the time of death the functions of the organs are merged in the mind.
  2. The function of mind is merged in Prana.
  3. The function of Prana is merged in the Jiva.
  4. The mode of departure from the body up to the way is common to both the knower of the Saguna Brahman and an ordinary man.
  5. The dissolution of fire etc., at the time of death in the Supreme Deity is only relative.
  6. The Pranas of the knower of Brahman do not depart at the time of death.
  7. The Pranas (organs) and elements of the knower of the Nirguna Brahman get merged in It at death.
  8. The Kalas of the knower of the Nirguna Brahman attain absolute non-distinction with Brahman at death
  9. The soul of the knower of the Saguna Brahman comes to the heart at the time of death and then goes out through the Sushumna Nadi.
  10. The soul of one who knows Saguna Brahman follows the rays of the sun after death and goes to Brahmaloka.
  11. Even if the knower of the Saguna Brahman dies in Dakshinayana, he still goes to Brahmaloka.

(Ch. 4)  Section (Pada) 3

  1. The path connected with the deities beginning with that of light is the only path that leads to Brahmaloka.
  2. The departing soul reaches the deity of the year and then the deity of the air.
  3. After reaching the deity identified with lightning, the soul reaches the world of Varuna.
  4. Light, etc., referred to in the text describing the path of the gods mean deities identified with light, etc., who conduct the soul stage after stage till Brahmaloka is reached.
  5. The departed souls go by the path of gods to Saguna Brahman.
  6. Only those who have taken recourse to the worship of Brahman without a symbol attain Brahmaloka.

(Ch. 4)  Section (Pada) 4

  1. The liberated soul does not acquire anything new but only manifests its essential or true nature.
  2. The released soul remains inseparable from the Supreme Soul.
  3. Characteristics of the soul that has attained the Nirguna Brahman.
  4. The soul which has attained the Saguna Brahman effects its desire by mere will.
  5. A liberated soul who has attained Brahmaloka can exist with or without a body according to his liking.
  6. The liberated soul which has attained the Saguna Brahman can animate several bodies at the same time.
  7. The liberated soul which has attained Brahmaloka has all the lordly powers except the power of creation.

To read the complete elaboration of the above subjects, here is the link to the site: Brahma Sutras (Swami Sivananda)

The pdf format of the book is also available for free download:  Click here

References:

  • Brahma Sutram (Tamil) By Swami Asuthoshananda (By Ramakrishna Math Chennai, Year 2013)
  • Deivatthin Kural (Tamil) – Part 2 (compilation of talks of Sri Kanchi Paramacharya) – Vanathi Publications, Chennai.
  • Upanishad Saram (Chandogyam, Brihadaranyakam and Brahma Sutra saram) By Sri Anna Subramaniam – Tamil – Ramakrishna Math Chennai (10th Edition 2016)
  • Brahma Sutras – Swami Sivananda – Divine Life Society

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Purusharthas – Dharma, Artha, Kama & Moksha

The purpose of a religion is basically to pave a way for leading a meaningful, smooth and joyous life without sacrificing mental peace and without too much pain and suffering.

Hinduism which is sanatana dharma — the way of righteous living contains more than enough guidelines for the above purpose.

Purusharthas

Hindhu dharma outlines four Purusharthas — meaningful pursuits for life: Dharma, Artha, Kama & Moksha.

Dharma (Righteousness)

Righteousness and duties in life. Hinduism places highest importance to following righteousness in life. Whatever be your activity in life, if it confirms to right dharma, it brings in peace and harmony in life. The Hindu dharma does not permit an unbridled life of carefree enjoyment; everything has its preset boundaries. ‘Eat, drink and be merry’ is never considered the goal of life. Every individual is bound by his duties and responsibilities towards his family, to the society, to the nation and to the entire nature and universe even encompassing the departed souls of forefathers and devatas (demigods controlling the nature) in the upper worlds. In ancient Hindu civilization, Manu Smriti was the scripture elaborating the dharmas to be followed in life by different classes of people.

Artha (Wealth)

Going in pursuit of money, wealth, comforts and possessions is indeed considered as an essential aspect of human life. But it shall not be the only goal of life and whatever one does to acquire Artha should be bound by dharma. Else, one is sure to end up in a chaotic life of suffering.

Kama (Pleasure)

Seeking pleasure through the 5 senses including sexual pleasure is the very nature of all creatures. Again Hinduism permits enjoyment within boundaries. Any hunt for joy ignoring dharma is highly discouraged because such a pursuit may bring short term joy but end up in pain in the long run.

Moksha (Liberation)

Of all the acceptable pursuits of life, seeking Moksha (liberation from the Samsara — from the cycle of births and deaths) is considered the highest goal of life. Man, after pursuing a life of seeking artha (wealth) and kama (pleasures) and even leading a life of strict dharma (righteousness) is bound to feel a shallowness in life at some point of time or other. Even within one’s life time, the process of ending up in old age deprives one from enjoying artha and kama to any level of reasonable satisfaction and  a sense of dejection of not having enjoyed enough lingers in the mind even at the death bed.

This causes subsequent births and the cycle keeps on continuing, because the the fundamental nature of wealth or sensual enjoyments is such that practically no one ever gets a feeling “enough is enough”. This aspect of creation is known as maya. Maya always deludes people to indulge in more and more enjoyment leading only to more and more suffering or dissatisfaction.

At some point of other in life, at some birth or other, man starts wondering whether his hunt for wealth and enjoyment is fundamentally flawed somewhere. He starts seeking more clear answers for the true meaning of birth. It is at this point, a man grows from the clutches of religious faith to spirituality. From the Karma Kanda in Vedas (that gave all the procedures for seeking worldly enjoyments) a seeker elevates himself to Jnana Kanda — Vedanta /Upanishads  and he gets the right answers and clarifications now.

He gets mentally prepared to leave behind Artha and Kama and goes behind Moksha as the only meaningful pursuit in life.

Upanishads – Vedanta

What are Upanishads? Where are they?

Upanishads are the concluding parts of the four Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva Vedas); they are also known as Vedantas (Veda+anta = end of Vedas). They are also known as Aranyakas, that which were taught at forests.

The contents of each Veda are classified into two portions – the Karma Kanda and the Gnyana Kanda. The Karma kandas are the first part of Vedas and they contain  hymns, procedures and instructions regarding rites and ceremonies, rules of conduct and  mantras and verses with intonations etc connected with doing Vedic karmas and fire ceremonies. The second, ending portions called the Gnana Kanda are the Upanishads that contain the quintessence of Vedic spiritual knowledge about God – Jnana.

What does ‘Upanishad’ mean?

Upanishads contain the core spiritual teaching of Vedas and are taught by Rishis to their deserving and spiritually earnest disciples in seclusion.  The word Upanishad in Sanskrit means “sitting down by the side” which actually relates to hearing the teachings of the saint by sitting close to him. Its another meaning is secret doctrine. It also said to mean the knowledge of Self/ Brahman (Atma Vidya/ Brahma Vidya).

Why Jnana Kanda (Upanishads) considered the Ultimate of Vedic knowledge?

The earlier Karma Kanda part of Vedas was essentially to do with hymns, prayers, rituals and rites to please the celestial Gods for getting worldly life with desires and wants fulfilled. But, by doing the rites and fulfilling the worldly desires, several questions also came in the minds of rishis — are they really fulfilling? Are they able to solve all problems? Why wants, suffering, sorrows and pains in life do not seem to get eradicated totally from life simply through the path of conducting vedic rites? Is there some Supreme Truth behind the celestial Gods who are pleased by Vedic ceremonies and other Gods (Eswaras) of creation, sustenance and destruction?

Having  understood the benefits as well as the limitations of totally relying on vedic karmas, there were indeed such doubts and questions in the minds of the rishis. Vedic procedures were too many, disciplines were too demanding, material needs to conduct rites were imposing and there could be so many lapses leading to failure of the intended purposes of conducting yagas. Desires don’t seem to get satiated, expectations are not always met and dissatisfaction still remains in life.

The rishis of yonder started thirsting for better spiritual knowledge; through deep meditation, they  inquired into the cause of birth, death, jiva (soul), God, how God is related to soul, what is the true nature of living and non-living beings, human mind, intellect, ego, the connection between the creation and the creator (God) and so on. Through their tapas, the rishis acquired the supreme knowledge related to all these queries. They experienced that God called by them as Brahman is beyond name and form but inclusive of everything in the creation. It is not just a theory but something experienced and never explicable by words.

 What do Upanishads contain?

It is in the Upanishads that the concept of God beyond name and form called Brahman find explanation in so many ways. The advaita concept of Brahman (or parabrahman — universal soul) and atman (Self) being one and the same is explained. Upanishads in fact appear to be a labor of love of the great seers to explain the inexplicable — Brahman who is beyond all names forms, beyond the conception of the mind, omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent, smaller than the atom but larger than the largest, all inclusive but not not bound by anything, not perceptible to the senses, mind or intellect and yet experienced without doubt by the single minded devotion and meditation of the earnest seeker.

The rishis tried their best to teach this transcendental experience of Brahman in whatever best way they could — by verbose explanations, through poetically expressed hymns, by cryptic but grand statements (maha vakyas), through examples and similes, through stories, prayers,  conversations, arguments, questions and answers and so on.  Such part of the Vedic knowledge, the concluding documents of Vedas is Upanishads or Vedanta.

Upanishads thus form the very core and crux of the highest knowledge of spirituality in Hinduism. They are one of the three authentic philosophical reference scriptures of Hinduism viz Prasthana Triya (Brahma Sutra and Bhagavad Gita are the other two).

Despite the various styles, methods and flows with which the different Upanishads speak, the common thread of knowledge carried by them is the knowledge about Brahman and Atman and the unity between the two.

Thus, Upanishads ascertain monotheism. That One God beyond name and form, being omniscient and omnipotent, can come assuming numerous names and forms to reach His devotees who, based on their tastes, temperaments and conceptions tend to worship him in various names and forms. Whatever different God forms that various Puranas (in Smritis) glorify as the Supreme Gods are none other than Brahman, the Ultimate Truth behind Upanishads.

How many Upanishads are there?

It is said that there are 108 Upanishads. However, the following 10 upanishads are acknowledged to be the most important and comprehensive ones (for study in the order given below), by great Spiritual masters like Sri Shankaracharya:

1) Isa Upanishad   (in Shukla Yajur Veda)

2) Kena Upanishad (in Sama Veda)

3) Katha Upanishad (in Krishna Yajur Veda)

4) Prasna Upanishad (in Atharva Veda)

5) Mundaka Upanishad (in Atharva Veda)

6) Mandukya Upanishad (in Atharva Veda)

7) Taittriya Upanishad (in Krishna Yajur Veda)

8) Chandogya Upanishad (in Sama Veda)

9) Brihadaranyaka upanishad  (in Shukla Yajur Veda)

10) Svetasvatara Upanishad (in Krishna Yajur Veda)

Three more Upanishads namely, Aithereya Upanishad (in Rig Veda), Kaushitaki Upanishad (in Rig Veda) and Maitrayani Upanishads (in Krishna Yajur Veda) were also included by later scholars into the fold of principal upanishads, taking the total count to 13.

 

Free Will versus Determinism from Hinduism Point of View

Western idea of determinism and Hinduism’s concept of Karma have several similarities. While determinism as a philosophical idea does not involve God, the concept of Karma in Hinduism is intrinsically interwoven with God’s will as a strong mediating force.

According to Wikipedia, “Determinism is the philosophical proposition that every event, including human cognition and behavior, decision and action, is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences.”

Hinduism’s Karma principle concurs with the above definition to a large extent, except perhaps, with the phrase “an broken chain”. Whether the chain of prior occurrences can be broken or not remains at the will of God, according to great Hindu Masters.

Does Hinduism totally negate existence of free will? Not really.

In Hinduism, everything in the relative plane involving name and form the entire cosmos, this world, all the sentient and non-sentient creations including human beings – is Maya, God’s divine play. Man is deluded by Maya and this maya makes him identify himself with his body, mind and ego. This maya makes him think that he has the free will. Free will is strongly associated with ego.

Free Will and Ego

In proportion to a man’s dependence on his ego, he believes he has the free will to function as he wishes. On the other hand, a saintly person, who is more and more aware of the supreme divinity controlling all, who is able to decipher the wily play of egotism inside human minds, understands quite lucidly on the strength of his experiences and convictions, that it is God’s will that is always done.

An egotistic person has the strong faith that he is the doer. On the other end, a saint who has surrendered his ego at the holy feet of God has the strong conviction that he is NOT the doer but it is God’s will that acts through him. Hinduism links this sense of doer-ship to the inescapable necessity of enjoying or suffering the consequences of the actions by the doer.

Relationship Between Actions and Results

Thus, if you engage in actions based on the whims of your free will, you have to own up the consequences or results or fruits of your actions. As a doer with ego, you have the freedom to act as per your free will. The actions you undertake in this way are known as “Agamya Karma” — actions that are bound to bring their fruits in (unknown) future. But the enjoyment or suffering you undergo presently based on your past acts across several births, done out of free will, is known as “Prarabhda Karma”.

One of the strongest messages given by Hindu Masters is that as long as one has the sense of doer-ship, a man has the freedom of choice in action (free will). But as an enjoyer of the consequences of past actions, he has NO freedom of choice! The extent of enjoyment or punishment and the time and sequence at which the fruits of actions are delivered unto to him, happen purely at the will of God, according to Hindu Masters.

Freedom of Action and “Vasana”

Every person in this world possesses certain inherent tendencies, based on his intensity of desire, his cultural background, his education, the extent of his faith in God etc. These indwelling impressions and tendencies, which Hinduism calls as “vasana”, meaning, very appropriately, smell, play a very strong role in the working of free will of people. Thus, under identical situations, a decision taken out of free will by one person will definitely differ from that of another person, based on their respective vasanas. Thus the concept of vasana of Hinduism agrees fairly well with determinism.

In Hinduism, the ultimate goal of human birth is stated to be God realization or salvation. To attain this goal, a total surrender of ego to the divine will (known as “saranagathi”), the total elimination of desires (which cause one to engage in action based on free will) by practicing discrimination and a total elimination of vasanas (which remain accumulated deep inside the heart across several births) through spiritual disciplines like meditation, form the essentials of religious practice for an earnest seeker.

The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna – Book Review

The holy book The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, was originally Written in Bengali by “Ma-” (Mahendranath Gupta) and translated to English by Swami Nikhilananda.

The Gospel is a virtual source book for all facets of Hinduism, a treasure trove of spiritual knowledge, accessible to all, expounded in the most simple language comprehensible to one and all. It is no wonder this voluminous collection of extensive teachings of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, recorded more than a century and a quarter ago, is still being read spellbound by earnest spiritual speakers across the globe, cutting across all religious barriers.

Who is Sri Ramakrishna?

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836-1886) was one of the greatest spiritual masters of Hinduism, who lived at Dakshineswar (near Kolkotta, India). Considered to be Divine Avatar (God’s incarnation in human form), Sri Ramakrishna, who hardly had a rudimentary primary education turned out to be a spiritual volcano, who through his all consuming devotion on divine mother Kali, had a vision of her. He spent 12 years in intense spiritual practices in various paths of Hinduism and attained God realization/ self realization/ Nirvikalpa Samadhi/ Atma sakshatkar. 


He is a rare spiritual personality, who personally engaged himself in practicing the various paths of attainment of the Supreme divine bliss that Hinduism presents as suited to people of different tastes, capacities of intake and mindset. He practiced the path of Bhakthi (devotion), Gnyana (the path of Self Inquiry) and Tantra(Kundalini Yoga) at varying times by undergoing intense practice and attained the ultimate divine experience in each path. Despite being a realized person himself, he opted to be under the guidance of specific Gurus who were masters in their specific paths to guide him procedurally in those paths.

He also practiced the disciplines of Islam and Christianity for a while and attained divine experience through these religions too. By the strength of his experience, he confirmed that the ultimate truth and experience of God attained by following various paths is one and the same. This virtually unlettered person turned out to be a great exponent in explaining the intricacies of Hinduism in all its facets and tenets, which even learned pundits cannot fathom.

He declared that every Religion, every sub-sect and every method of practice is ultimately intended to take man to this highest goal in life. And he declared “As many faiths, so many paths” purely by the strength of his own experiences.

His prime disciple, Swami Vivekananda later founded Sri Ramakrishna Math and Mission and spread spirituality and selfless service, with the able assistance from his master’s other Sanyasi (relinquished) disciples.

Who is Ma- , Mahendranath Gupta?

Sri Ma- Mahendranath Gupta fondly called Master Mahasaya. He is an apostle and evangelist of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa

A school teacher by profession, Mahendra Nath Gupta was a house-holder disciple of Sri Ramakrishna who was destined to end up at the Feet of his Master in a time of utter mental turmoil. He was associated with Sri Ramakrishna for a period of about 5 years till his master’s death, and he was divine-commissioned to be the authentic recorder of Sri Ramakrishna’s profound teachings.

Ma-, after every meeting with his Master, recorded his conversations in his diary with details of date, people present, topics and summary of the discussions that took place and a brief descriptions of the place and scenario. After his masters passing away, Ma- wrote those diary notes into elaborate publications, spanning over 5 volumes in his mother tongue Bengali. The Bengali gospel was titled “Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrut” At first it was published in 1897 as a small booklet. It received lots of attention and appreciation from the Master’s devotees. Later, it became his life mission. He was engaged in this massive task till the end of his life.  “Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrith” was published by him in 5 volumes one after the other in 1902,1904, 1098,1910 and 1932. The last volume got published only shortly after Ma’s death in 1932, but before that Ma- had finished complete proof reading of the book and he was ready to depart, having fulfilled his life’s mission.

Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrit 5 parts.

The greatness of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna

Perhaps in the history of religious teachers, it is the first time that the spiritual teachings of a great master have been recorded with such a precision and truthfulness. The conversations will bring before the reader’s mind an intimate picture of the Master’s eventful life from March 1882 to April 24, 1886. With vivid description of the scenario, the moods and the nature of the people present, the song and the dance made, the utterances of the master in his native simplicity and rustic beauty have been brought out by Ma- in a wonderful way in the book.

Sri Ramakrishna could expound the deep religious truths of Hinduism that eluded comprehension to the greatest scholars in the simplistic way, with down to earth examples. As one reads the Gospel, one could see that Dvaita (Duality), advaita (Non-duality), Visishtadvaita (Qualified non-duality), Bhakti Yoga (Path of devotion), Karma Yoga (path of selfless work), Gnyana yoga (path of self-inquiry), Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga, Tantric practice, the concept of Avatar, God with Form, God without form, Kundalini yoga, the various Samadhis all the facets of Hinduism have been wonderfully explained by Sri Ramakrishna. It could be treated as one source book of Hinduism which can be read and understood by any earnest follower of Hinduism with out need for an any intellectual interpretation.

The book starts with Ma-‘s first visit to Dakshineshwar to meet the master.  He gets captivated by Sri Ramakrishna’s simplicity, loving words and the divinity that he radiates. He soon makes a second visit; the master starts asking more personal details about Ma-. He finds Ma- to be possessing physical features indicative of spiritual substance in him. Ma- starts asking questions and he gets answers that hit him point blank with utter straightforwardness and simplicity that could shatter his ego. He becomes like a ‘peacock fed with a little opium’. Lured by the addictive power of the opium, the peacock starts coming again and again to Sri Ramakrishna to partake the feed!

The greatness of the Gospel not only lies in the substance of the master’s profound teachings but also on the wonderful narrative skills of Ma-. When you read the Gospel, you would feel like getting transported back to those times, to be at the places where Sri Ramakrishna lived, sang, danced, froze in Samadhi, traveled, visited, ate and jovially chitchatted with his devotees unleashing his childlike guilelessness and spontaneous humor.  You would meet his closest devotees who became great spiritual monks and other prominent devotees of Ramakrishna in future. You would feel like being present along with them, sitting  in front of the master, partaking his prasad, singing with him, laughing with him and dancing with him in divine ecstasy.

When you read and re-read the Gospel, you will understand Bhagavad Gita better. Your doubts in Upanishad statements will get cleared. What you had judged as foolish idiosyncrasies of Hinduism earlier would become quite meaningful. The book has the potential to transform a common religious person to a spiritual aspirant. If you are a non-Hindu, you would get wonder-struck at the greatness of Sanatana Dharma. If you are a Christian, you will start understanding the Bible better; your reverence on Jesus Christ will increase. If you are a Muslim and studied the Gospel in all earnestness, you will finally understand why it is so important to segregate ‘the sugar from the sand’ in religious scriptures.

Swami Nikhilananda

The English Version

Swami Nikhilananda, a monk of the Ramakrishna Order, for the benefit of English speaking readers took up the monumental work of translation of the Gospel into English  and completed it in the year 1942 and was first published by Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Centre, New York.

About his effort, Swami Nikhilananda says:

I have made a literal translation, omitting only a few pages of no particular interest to English-speaking readers. Often literary grace has been sacrificed for the sake of literal translation. No translation can do full justice to the original. This difficulty is all the more felt in the present work, whose contents are of a deep mystical nature and describe the inner experiences of a great seer. Human language is an altogether inadequate vehicle to express supersensuous perception.”

The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna – First edition Year: 1942

He wants the readers of the Gospel (particularly from West, who are not too familiar with Hinduism) to keep in mind the following: “But these words were not the product of intellectual cogitation; they were rooted in direct experience. Hence, to students of religion, psychology, and physical science, these experiences of the Master are of immense value for the understanding of religious phenomena in general. No doubt Sri Ramakrishna was a Hindu of the Hindus; yet his experiences transcended the limits of the dogmas and creeds of Hinduism. Mystics of religions other than Hinduism will find in Sri Ramakrishna’s experiences a corroboration of the experiences of their own prophets and seers. And this is very important today for the resuscitation of religious values. The skeptical reader may pass by the supernatural experiences; he will yet find in the book enough material to provoke his serious thought and solve many of his spiritual problems.”

The Gospel is also available (translated from original Bengali version) in all major languages of India. One of the earliest translation of the book was done in Tamil and the book is titled “Sri Ramakrishnarin Amutha mozhigaL” (ஸ்ரீ ராமகிருஷ்ணரின் அமுதமொழிகள்) in 3 volumes, available from Sri Ramakrishna Math,Chennai.

If you want to buy The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna online, here is the link: https://istore.chennaimath.org/product/the-gospel-of-sri-ramakrishna-royal-edition/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to prepare yourself for meditation

Many people who undertake meditation with lots of initial enthusiasm discontinue it after a while. There are many obvious reasons for it. Hindu saints, who devised meditation as a means of attaining self-realization or Samadhi (or Nirvana in Buddhism) were quite aware of this stark reality. The goal of meditation being the highest, the task of succeeding in it is also the toughest.

To attain success in meditation, there are, in reality, several preparatory disciplines needed. A sportsman participating in 100-meter-dash is expected to run just for about 10 seconds only in the actual competition, but think of the extreme physical rigors he has to undergo just to tune up his body for the purpose.

In the same way, in Ashtanga Yoga or Raja Yoga ( by Saint Patanjali), meditation comes only as the seventh and penultimate step in attaining Samadhi.

Swami Shivananda (1887-1963) the founder of Divine Life Society, Rishikesh, used to retort to his disciples who complained about lack of success in meditation this way: “Meditation is only the seventh step. Have you succeeded in all the previous six steps?”

Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi) absorbed in meditation)

The Preparatory Disciplines for Spiritual Meditation

Of the six steps preceding meditation, the first two are really concerned with attaining the physical and mental purity so basically essential for any spiritual aspirant to aim for a divine pursuit in life. They are yama (self-restraint) and Niyama(observances).

Then comes the right sitting posture (asana) and then the right breathing practice (pranayama). Pratyaharaand Dharana are the 5th and 6th steps that are at times considered as part and parcel of meditation itself. Unlike the first two, these four disciplines are closely associated with the actual practice of meditation. We can study them more deeply in separate articles.

Here, let us see in detail what the first two basics stand for:

  1. Practice Yama (self restraint): 

    Yama includes the following qualities:

  • Ahimsa: non-violence, non-killing, non-injury, remaining harmless. A body and mind inclined towards violence causing injury (both physical and mental) to others will be in an agitated state. Naturally calming it down through meditation is difficult.
  • Satyam: truthfulness, honesty.
  • Astheyam: non-stealing.
  • Brahmacharya: continence, being free from sensual cravings. Attraction towards sex is a taboo for any spiritual aspirant. Body and mind craving for sex can never be easily tamed by meditation. Any craving for other sensual pleasures is also highly detrimental in attaining concentration at meditation.
  • Aparigraha: non-covetousness, not yearning for gifts. In other words, non-attachment to materialism. To love things coming free is a human tendency that, when nurtured, increases one yearnings. A mind always craving for materialistic possessions becomes unfit to meditate. Further, getting a gift from a person makes one obligated to that person which can become a bothersome bondage.
  1. Practice Niyamama (observances or disciplined habits).

    Niyama includes the following:

  • Soucha: purity, cleanliness. This includes both external as well as internal. External purity is obtained by bathing, wearing clean clothes, etc. and internal purity comes by regular practice of yama.
  • Santosha: happiness, contentedness. Being happy with what you are and what you have, remaining contented without unnecessary cravings – this quality makes one fit for undertaking meditation. A person who gets upset for trivia, one who is mostly unhappy and dissatisfied with himself or with others around him will find meditation too difficult.
  • Tapas: practicing austerities, spiritual disciplines. Willingness to give up physical comforts, readiness to sacrifice, observing fast, tolerating physical suffering, engaging in regular spiritual practices, readiness to help others at the cost of one’s own personal comfort – these qualities elevate one’s mind to a higher level.
  • Swadhyaya: self study, spiritual study. Reading spiritual books, scriptures, life history and teachings of great spiritual masters will help one to constantly think of what is truly essential in spiritual life. This practice also negates reading novels, watching television and movies, reading newspapers, etc. which have the tendency to dissipate the mind on sensual and worldly matters.
  • Ishwara Pranidhana: worship of God, surrendering to God. Acceptance of God as the supreme power controlling everything in the creation is one of the best ways of subduing the ego. The more one surrenders and worships God, the more one is freed of the machinations of self-will and egotism. A mind thus unburdened finds it easier to do meditation.

How About Disciplines Needed For Non-Spiritual Meditation?

Meditation as promoted today through techniques like Transcendental Meditation is more for “commoners” who seek physical and mental well-being. For them too, some good measure of disciplines is essential if they want to pursue with meditation in the long run and reap the benefits aimed. Many drop out in the middle because they lack such disciplines in life. If one word is to be used for explaining what are the disciplines needed, it is “moderation”. They are given below:

Eat moderately, Eat “sattvik” (pure) food: Food is intrinsically connected with thoughts. Food, mild in taste and texture most preferably vegetarian, not too hot and spicy, not fried with excess fats and oils, has to be consumed in moderate quantities. Drinking alcoholic drinks must be either avoided altogether or curtailed heavily.

At least 2 to 3 hours should have passed after eating food when one sits for meditation.

Sleep Moderately: Both excess sleeping and inadequate sleeping are detrimental to doing meditation. A healthy person needs about 6 to 8 hours of sound sleep (which may vary with age and body nature) a day. Sleeping in the daytime can potentially affect doing meditation.

Enjoy sensual pleasures moderately: Whether engaging in sex, seeing movies, watching television, listening to music, speaking over the cell phone or whiling away time with friends – whatever be the activities, engage in them in moderation.

The more one progresses in maintaining the basic preparatory disciplines elaborated above, the more one will feel his/ her progress in meditation. A strong will, a sense of surrender to God and determination to succeed are needed for one to maintain these preparatory disciplines and reap success in meditation.

How to understand Trigunas – Sattwa, Tamas and Rajas – The ancient Hindu Psychology

Hinduism contains a very ancient and a remarkable analysis of human psyche and its constituents. This concept, known as Trigunas (three characteristics) is part ofSamkhya Philosophy which is a part of six orthodox systems (astika) of Hinduism, having allegiance to Vedic knowledge.

Samkhya school is considered one of the oldest Hindu systems of philosophy and its origin is attributed to Saint Kapila.

According to this school philosophy, from the causeless, infinite, unfathomable and intransient “Purusha”, everything that is manifest in creation – the worlds, the life forms, the matter and energy behind them all came on account of “Prakriti”; every being under prakriti is made up of the trigunas – known as SattwaRajas andTamas in its core psyche.

Trigunas: Sattwa-Rajas-Tamas

Sattwa is purity and holiness; Rajas is to do with action and drive and Tamas is laziness and inertia. In other words, every human being’s mind-stuff is made of a mixture of these three basic qualities in different proportions. All words, actions, temperaments, aspirations, conduct and character of every individual person are reflected by the proportion in which these three qualities exist in the mind.

No individual’s conduct, character, aspirations, values and drives are same as another person’s. Why is it so? It is purely because the ratio in which these three qualities are built in the psyche of each person is different.

To understand these qualities better, let us see what each of these qualities represents more elaborately.

Sattwa: Purity, holiness, devotion, serenity (Sage Sri ‘Kanchi PeriavaL’))

Sattwa (Purity and holiness):

Sattwa

Love, compassion, devotion to God (Bhakti), ahimsa (non-injury), truthfulness, non-stealing, discrimination (viveka), dispassion (vairagya), daya (compassion), thyag (sacrifice), kindness, soft-speak, control over senses, non-jealousy, honesty, non-covetousness, patience, forbearance, mercy, humility, guilelessness

 

Rajas (Action and Drive):

Rajas

Activeness, boisterousness, hurry, action, impatience, passion, drive, ambition, motivation, power-mongering, manipulation, desire for leadership, domination, self-promotion, rule-breaking, pushy, love for coterie, love for subjugating others, love for grandeur, competitive instinct, workaholism, exhibitionism, strenuous effort, fighting spirit, strong belief in self-will, love for spending and extravaganza, materialism, loudmouth, assertiveness, avarice, authoritativeness, pride.

 

 

Tamas (Laziness and Inertia):

Tamas

Laziness, dullness, sloth, greed sans effort, lack of motivation, fatalism, negativism, excess sleep, jealousy, envy, miserliness, pessimism, perverted desires, hatred, lust, obsession, deceit, vengeance, day dreaming, bashfulness, covetousness, gluttony, stealth, treachery, possessiveness, aversion, rumor mongering, back biting, dishonesty, laxity.

The Human Mind is a Mixture of Trigunas

In any human being, though all these three qualities will be present in varying proportions, generally one of these qualities will be more predominant than the other two. For example, Saints and sages are predominantly sattwic. A politician or a sports star is predominantly rajasic. People who easily get hooked to drinking or drugs are predominantly tamasic.

How do these qualities fundamentally find their place in a human psyche?      

One of the foundation stones of Hinduism is the concept of Karma and rebirth. Every human being takes birth in this world and engages in action – karma. Actions are driven by aspirations and desires; Aspirations and desires are propelled by vasanas, literally meaning smells, that you acquire based on the imprint of your past experiences (also known as samskaras).

Trigunas and Rebirth

Some of one’s desires may get satisfied through one’s actions in this birth whereas some may not; some actions create very strong samskaras inside one’s psyche and may even work like fuel added to fire to increase the cravings. But unfortunately, the human life span is limited. Hinduism says that when one dies, one’s unfulfilled desires, cravings, dreams, love, hatred, and spiritual aspirations are carried as vasanas along with the soul.

When the soul takes a rebirth, its psyche comes built essentially with the appropriate mix of Trigunas, based on the vasanas of its previous births.

Trigunas and the Process of Aging

In childhood, the trigunas remain buried deep inside and starts manifesting gradually as one ages.

Little children (up to the age of two to three) are not fettered by trigunas. They are not attached to Sattwa, Rajas or Tamas as grownups do. Great saints and divine souls too though essentially sattwic, live beyond the fetters of trigunas. That’s one of the reasons why little children are so divine, lovable and attractive.

As one grows into adulthood, one’s character evolves more clearly based on his inherent trigunas. It can be said that basic personality traits in a person remain more or less confined within certain boundaries, but they definitely evolve and get reshaped as one ages more and more.

Life is fickle. A person engaged in excessive action may one day long for a life of idleness and sloth; a person full of desires at heart but too lazy to act upon them may dream of an action-packed life; a person used to running madly for satiating selfish sensual pleasures may one day understand the futility and the pain behind such pursuits and he may want to rededicate his life to do selfless service to society. Aging and consequent physical limitations too influence one’s composition of trigunas.

Is it possible to make a self-assessment of the extent and proportion of sattwa, rajas and tamas inside us? Yes. By answering the quiz given in the following article, one can get a reasonably good picture on one’s constitution of Trigunas.

Bhagavad Gita, one of the greatest scriptures of Hinduism gives elaborate explanation on the role of Tigunas in human psyche. Click here to read on what Bhagavad Gita says on this subject.

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Ramakrishna Paramahamsa on Trigunas – Sattwa Rajas and Tamas

Sri Ramakrishna, a divine avatar in the 19th century, whose conversations on Hinduism have been extensively recorded in The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, has spoken very widely about “trigunas.”

Triguna means thee qualities, comprising of satva (purity and holiness), rajas(action and drive) and tamas(laziness and inertia). (To understand more about Trigunas, please read: Trigunas – Sattwa, Tamas and Rajas – The ancient Hindu Psychology) first.

Sri Ramakrishna says “God can be reached through satva guna. Rajas and Tamas separate us from God. Some compare sattwa to white color; rajas to red color and tamas to black,”

Sri Ramakrishna – He has elaborated a lot about Trigunas

 

Characteristics of People With Trigunas

Ramakrishna explains: “Pride, sleep and excessive eating are some of the identities of people of tamas. People with rajas engage themselves in many activities. Their dress will be pompous and shiny; their houses will display grandeur and be cleanly maintained; they will hang the portrait of the ‘queen’ (queen Victoria of British empire – it was the period when India was under British Rule)”

On the other hand, Ramakrishna says that, “People of sattwa guna will be soft and calm. They will earn just to have enough meals to live; they will not go out to sing praise on the rich to get money; their houses will not be properly maintained and may look unkempt. They will not bother about dressing impressively. They will not run around in hunt of name and fame.”

Play of Trigunas in Devotion to God

People’s gunas will be exposed in their attitude towards worship of God and in the practice of religious austerities too. Ramakrishna’s described his observation about devotees as follows:

Rajasic worship of God?

“The rajasic devotees  would wear silk clothes at the time of worship. They will wear a rosary made of ‘rudraksha’ around the neck and the rosary will have golden beads interspersed between rudraksha seeds. If someone visits their Puja Room, they will proudly take the visitor to show them around. Come this side; here are more to see; the floor is made of white marble; the ‘mantap’ (wooden enclosure where the God’s image is placed) has excellent carvings,” they will explain. They will donate to charities in a way visible to all.

 

 

As regards people of Sattwa guna, their contemplation about God, their acts of charity and their meditation will all be done secretively without the knowledge of others. They will sit inside the mosquito net and meditate. Others may think, “this man must have had poor sleep last night; that’s why he is sleeping so late.”

Ramakrishna says, “Sattwa is the last step in the stairs. By the next step, one can reach the roof. Once sattwa is in full measure, there won’t be much of delay to getGod’s vision. A little more progress will make one attain God.”

Trigunas – The Three Thieves

“The trigunas keep man under their spell; If sattwa is present, it drags rajas with it; If rajas is present, it drags tamas with it; All the three gunas are like thieves.

“Tamas destroys; rajas binds and sattwa releases one from bondage; but still, sattwa by itself cannot take you to Godliness, it can only show the way to God,” says Ramakrishna

He explains this concept of trigunas through the following story:

Once a rich man was traveling though a forest. Midway, he was suddenly surrounded by three thieves and they relieved him of all his possessions. Then one of the thieves said, “What’s the point in leaving him as such? Let’s kill him;” so saying, he advanced towards the rich man with his weapon. At that moment, the second thief intervened and said, “No. There is no use killing him; let us bind him thoroughly so that he cannot go and complain to the police.” So saying, he bound the man with a rope and all the thieves left the place.

After a while, the third thief returned to the place alone. He came near the rich man and said, “I am really sorry about the shabby treatment we have done to you. I will release you right now.”

So saying, he unbound the rich man, took him along showing the way through the winding paths of the jungle; finally they reached the outskirts of the forest and the highway was now visible. The thief said to the rich man “See, this is the road you can take now to reach your home.”

The rich man was moved. He said, “I am so grateful to you; won’t you please accompany me to my house? Our family will be very much pleased.” The thief replied: “I can’t come there. I will get caught by the police.” Saying so, he bidgoodbye to the man.

Ramakrishna explains that in the above parable, the thief who wanted to kill the rich man represents tamo guna. Tamas destroys. The second thief is rajas. It binds. It binds people to activities and make them forget God. The third thief is sattwa. It shows the way to reach God. Qualities like devotion, compassion, charity etc come from Satta. The rich man’s “own house” is the “Parabrahman.” One cannot attain the knowledge of the Brahman without transcending the three gunas.”

Active Engagement in Charity Work – Rajas or Satva?

During his meeting with Easwara Chandra Vidyasagar ( a great and well renowned scholar and philanthropist who lived during Ramakrishna’s period), Ramakrishna explained it this way: “Sir, what you are doing are acts of Sattwic karma; your rajas has its origins in sattwa. Out of sattwa comes compassion; even if your activities are based on compassion, activity by its very nature is rajasic. So, I would say, your activities are “rajasic sattwa;” so, they are harmless.”

Triguna and little children

When one studies the life of Ramakrishna, it is possible to understand how he himself lead a life of divinity, by transcending the trigunas. Ramakrishna used to frequently state that little children are divine because they too are beyond the fetters of Triguna. Only when a child grows, the three qualities start establishing their dominance on the character permanently. Sri Ramakrishna had a very keen eye to observe the behavior of children and he used to give very vivid and practical explanation of children’s behavior and how they are not bound by Trigunas.

We shall study further what Sri Ramakrishna says about Triguna and the behavior of children in the subsequent article.