Humble salutations to the Supreme Intelligence, the Advaita Guru ParamparA (lineage teaching non-duality / advaita vedAntA) and my own AchAryA (Preceptor) for the content that I put forth in this blog !
Going from Religion to Philosophy
What is Life if not for a series of continuous changes! Through life, we all change drastically and dramatically too whether physically, intellectually or emotionally. But what about spiritually? How much have our notions about God and Heaven really changed from the time we were kids? It wouldn’t be an exaggeration at all to say that a majority of religious adults still fear being punished by a God in some way for something they did or didn’t do right! What about the fear of going to hell? We seek growth and progress in all areas of life but somehow are able to comfortably go through our entire lifetime simply clinging onto our childish notions of God.
Religion is the space that introduces us to an entity called ‘God’ and gives us many adjectives to qualify that God such as Omniscient, Omnipotent, Eternal, Unborn, etc.etc. Philosophy is the space which helps us intimately experience that entity by explaining the very nature of God. Example will make clear the attitude! I know of sticky candy – it is sweet, sticky, tasty. But is that the same as eating the sticky candy and experiencing it first hand? Knowing the candy as an object is analogous to knowing God through Religion. Eating the candy and experiencing its deliciousness intimately is the same as understanding God in its very essence through Philosophy. All the descriptions for God given by all Religion bear greater relevance only when that God itself is truly understood in its essential nature. Until such time, descriptions are nothing but empty words!
At this point I am reminded of a lovely parable:
“4 blind men were taken near a large, tame elephant and each one was asked to feel the elephant and describe it. The first one felt its strong, tall front legs and claimed, “The elephant is like a mighty pillar!”. The 2nd man felt the tail of the elephant and claimed, “No, The elephant is like a long rope!” The third man felt the mid portion and declared, “Both of you are wrong. The elephant is like a large wall!” The 4th, after feeling the trunk said, “You are all completely wrong. The elephant is like a huge water hose.” Now a 5th person with eye-sight was brought in and in a second he declared, “This is an elephant!”.
The 4 blind men can be compared to those of us who are within the realm of different Religions. Every definition of the blind men fall short of the actual truth and yet they fanatically fight amongst each other because humans have a tendency to project our partial experiences as the whole truth and believe it as the whole truth too! The 5th “seeing” person is the wise philosopher who is really the only one with a whole, clear picture of Truth. He sees through the eye of knowledge / wisdom and understanding. Not only that but he is the only one who can truly be compassionate and loving to all the other 4, being fully aware of the shortcomings in all their definitions!
So, having said this much, should we rather stop at Religion or reach its culmination, in Philosophy?
What is GYAna yogA?
GYAna yogA or Self Knowledge is the discipline involving serious, systematic enquiry and contemplation into the Self / God which takes the help of Scriptural teachings / philosophical portion of Scripture / vedAntA, which are expounded by a wise preceptor.
A mind that is fairly pure and quiet, through the practises of karma yogA (living a prayerful life of values) and dhyAna yogA (quietening the mind through meditation), both which constitute Religion, invariably questions, “What is God? What is the world? Why am I here? Who really am I?” If such questions need definite answers, that is when have to turn to an appropriate instrument / field to help us out. Every subject / instrument works within its field or scope and has no right or authority to prove or disprove the findings of another subject. Can Science ever disprove a history fact? Can English be validated by math? Then, how foolish of us to turn to Science to prove what is beyond the scope of Science, about God / Self? Scripture is considered the authority on the subject of God / Self as much as the eyes are considered authority of vision, ears are the authority of hearing, etc.. Its revelations can neither be proved nor disproved by others, especially Science (as many want)!
The eyes perceive everything in this grand Creation, the beautiful sights, forms, colours, shapes. But can the eyes that perceive the grandeur ever see themselves? Can they ever know, however hard they tried, how big or small, wide or narrow, what colour, what shape they were, without the help of a reflecting instrument (mirror) at all?
How did we come to know that it isn’t the sun that rises and sets and that it is a stationary star? We perceive the sun all right but does knowledge about the sun automatically come to us by intently thinking or meditating on it? We necessarily have to take the help of Science which reveals all about it, to give us valid knowledge. Based only on perception if we arrived at conclusions, they at best can be educated guesses and ideas and not necessarily the truth! Even if at the physical level, we need a specific instrument, which is the authority in the field to reveal truths which we could never perceive then how dare we assume that the subtlest of all could be arrived at by ourselves, with no help what so ever! It is really the same as someone claiming to have seen their own eyes without using a reflective instrument!!!
Can Scriptural study be independent of a Preceptor?
I know my ABCs really well! Guess that’s why I am blogging and you are kind enough to oblige by reading 🙏🏻! Suppose I, who has very basic physics knowledge argue, “ I know English really well. All texts of Astro Physics are available in English today so I need no one to teach me!” Only as much sense as the above statement makes does the question regarding need of a wise preceptor also make! The subtlety of the subject cannot be stated enough. Reading vague translations of Truth can only paint a vague picture! This is such a subject where in spite of teacher and structured teaching, there is still plenty of room for misunderstanding!
Let’s say there is a road map of a country without a key indicating what each symbol or colour on the map stands far, How much sense could we make of such a map? Yes we still might be able to make a little sense out of it by trying hard but to get the clearest picture, the key is absolutely mandatory. The Preceptor is that Golden key who opens the highest locks pertaining to the subtlest Truths. This is not a self discovered mission for him too! He learned the techniques from his Preceptor, who learned from his and thus hails the whole vedAntic teaching lineage. While accolades and appreciation in the material world is based on self discovery, research and analysis it is the exact opposite when the subject matter is God / Self. Self knowledge is about knowing a series of enumerated “Dos and Donts”! It is not a study of ,”If you do this you will attain Heaven and if not, you fry in Hell!” It is a pragmatic study of questions and answers pertaining to the highest questions in life which when deeply assimilated grant an individual’s emotional freedom, here and now. VedAntA makes no difference between Scripture and Preceptor for the words of the teacher are non different from Scripture!
What keeps us from the pursuit?
The ideal progression for an individual would be the travel from seeking to searching, Religion to Philosophy, action to knowledge, outside to inside, noise to quietude. However, unfortunately for us, it becomes very easy to get stuck or lost in the first 2 disciplines (Religion) themselves and we don’t quite make it to the most meaningful part. Living a quiet life of morals and values is certainly a wonderful thing but is that the “be all and end all” of our appearance here? The main causes for obstruction:
- Our own pride is to blame for by deluding us to think, “Why should I learn from anyone or any Scripture? The Self being “self evident” will reveal itself to me, through intense meditation perhaps!”
- But a more common problem is, in spite of understanding the need for study, we don’t indulge in it because worldly life and activities keep us unnecessarily busy and overwhelmed. So invariably that pushes spiritual pursuits to stages in life when all faculties are slowly starting to get dim in us. It makes sense for someone to learn swimming before jumping into the ocean. Similarly, spirituality equips us with the maturity and strength needed to face life.
The stages of GYAna yogA / Self knowledge
- Receiving the teachings / shravanam : A systematic, consistent process of receiving the teachings of Scripture for a length of time under the guidance of a preceptor is the very first step. Every word in the definition is paid attention to if one must derive the maximum benefits of this knowledge.
- Removal of intellectual blocks / mananam : For any knowledge to sit comfortably in the intellect, all doubts with regards to the knowledge received must be cleared. This is the 2nd stage where any and all doubts are cleared from time to time, either through questions or they themselves disappear as the teaching progresses. So point to note, we are not expected to blindly believe what is said! The teacher appreciates and welcomes us to think and ask questions for, doubtful knowledge is as good as no knowledge! For eg. There is an electric post on the road from which a wire has broken lose and fallen on the road where it has recently rained. Suppose a passerby asked me whether it was a live-wire or not to which I have an unsure answer where I say that I think it is 99% dead. Even my 1% doubt is as good as me not knowing and he would still be weary of treading that path, as he was before even asking me.
- Removal of emotional blocks / nidhidhyAsanam : The biggest challenge a human being faces is a large knowing-doing gap. We know many things, but can we always do in keeping with what we know? Spirituality is all about integrating the different layers of our personality and bridging the knowing-doing gap. Through the preceptor we consistently start receiving a whole load of teachings. But what purpose would the teachings serve if my old, habituated ways of being continue to hamper progress? for eg. Scripture says, “Happiness is my intrinsic nature” but I successfully continue being the miserable creature I was even before gaining knowledge. Such gap is overcome by the practise of meditation specifically termed nidhidhyAsanam, but this one being different from what was described in the previous blog, namely dhyAnam or upAsanA. In the previous meditations, we picked objects from the world around to focus on. Here we pick statements from the teachings which we are intellectually convinced of and meditate upon it in an attempt to assimilate them deep into our being. For example, once we have reason enough to believe that yes, we are the cause of our own happiness, we meditate upon, “ I am of the nature of happiness!” Why meditate upon statements of truth? My preceptor explains this with a delightful example. Let’s say I have a little tick tock clock in my bedroom that ticks all day long. In the din and roar of daytime activity, the ticking of the clock is barely perceptible. But when I turn off my lights at night and am struggling to fall asleep, the tick tock of the clock seems to be so loud that it disturbs me greatly. Did the tick tock get louder at night? No, everything around fell silent so the tick tock apparently appears loud and clear! Similarly, in order to break habitual notions and behaviour, we first quieten the mind and recall statements of Scripture that will resound loudly in a quiet mind. Doing this consistently through time helps acquire firm conviction. It’s almost like self suggestion!
The benefits of Self Knowledge are like none known!
It certainly is no exaggeration to say that nothing else in the Creation is able to grant us the freedom and independence from struggles and sorrows as Self Knowledge does! Knowing that I am free, of the nature of contentment, happiness, peace, joy, compassion intrinsically, automatically reduces our dependance and expectations out of the world. Worldly knowledge certainly increases our IQ (no doubts about that) and also equips our already bloated ego substantially making us more fit for material wealth acquisition but does it free us really? Does knowing that ‘matter is nothing but energy in motion’ really help in any situation other than if you are a scientist? Try saying that when you stub your toe on furniture and fracture it!! But in the same situation, call me crazy weird if you like but firmly reminding myself that I am only a witness to the pain and not actually in pain actually helped to the point of evading the doctor for the next several days, in spite of limping around with swollen toes! The right perspective shift is really all it takes to free us from pains, whether physical or emotional. Ofcourse, the conviction should be firm!
There are literally a million ways for an individual to be miserable or sorrowful But there is only one way to permanent joy! That is, knowing the Truth from deep within. Just knowing by reading an article in a magazine stating this fact or watching a 3 minute speech by somebody on the topic doesn’t help but understanding and assimilating that information deep in us is what brings about change. GYAna yogA is simply the process of declaring to a sugar cube that it is sweet and the result of assimilated knowledge is total contentment which is to be okay exactly as we are! Today our lives revolve around complete dependance, whether upon material objects or people or relationships or situations. That we can be free and happy without any dependence what so ever is our strength which is revealed by knowledge.
This is the only pursuit where The Seeker (of happiness / peace/ contentment) becomes The Sought (discovers that his very nature is what he seeks)! One Upanishad (text of the highest philosophy) says:
brahmavit ApnOti param !
He who knows the Truth attains the highest !
Can any material Sciences guarantee such result and thank God it can’t for, knower of bacteria will then become bacteria, haha !!! The point is, no matter how much we come to know in the material space, our desires, our wanting, our seeking never ends.
This is the one knowing which puts an end to ALL seeking and wanting and helps us live in peace and happiness with ourselves!