An-Nuur

Image taken from Google Image search

Image taken from Google Image search

Today is one of those days at work…. There’s practically nothing for me to do – at least not until the developers on my team package some stuff up and deploy it. Then it’ll be the usual game of “hurry up and wait.” Until then, surely the most productive use of my time is to reread details of this week’s mahakumbhabhishekam at my temple, to add details to the plans for my July vacation, and to blog here.

It’d been a little while since I last logged in here, and as with any other instance of logging into WordPress for the first time in a while, the first thing I accomplished was catching up on my “newsfeed” of blogs I follow that had published posts since I last logged in. One of them smacked me in the face as soon as I saw it. It can be viewed here if you feel inclined.

It is a Rumi quote. Typical of the Rumi I’ve read, it is short, sweet, and yet very profound. It also, in a very gentle way, asks, “Didn’t you know?” which is something I’ve seen a lot with Rumi, too.

Didn’t you know? This question is such a sweet way of saying, “Listen to the Truth I’m about to share with you.” It also, at least with Rumi, usually points to something each of us has likely forgotten – forgotten because of Maya and living within a phenomenal level of existence where so much seems too topsy-turvy from where we sit. So many shiny things distract us and make us “forget” things we’ve known forever – since the beginning of everything.

In the same quote, he next tells us that our light is the light that brightens the world. This melted my heart almost instantly – the place where I sense my own light, the heart chakra, is a place I go to when my ego and other head nonsense seem too relentless. The Sahaj Marg practice is the only yoga I’ve engaged in that has specifically helped the practitioners know and experience this light – the very One that lights the world.

Something else that came to mind when I read Rumi’s words is the “flameless flame” itself (my words, not part of Rumi’s quote here) which is producing that important and vital light. This is the flame within that Sahaj Marg teaches is so subtle that from a practical standpoint it can’t actually be perceived but should instead only be “supposed.” We start with the supposition of that Light, that Flame. It’s such a mild and peaceful, even gentle flame. Right? It’s constant and truly it never flickers. Neither is it ever disturbed or affected or extinguished by the goings on of the phenomenal life.

And yet, flames are quite active things. Fire and the light produced by it has always held much symbolism for the human mind and because this has been true since forever it’s something quite easy to move right on past and not give a second thought. But let’s secondly think.

As a human creature, whenever we’re seeing a flame it’s because of the magic of chemistry. Something combustible is undergoing real alchemy – it’s really and truly changing into something else and in that specific process heat and light are being generated.

From a standpoint that isn’t as deep as we could go, in order for our light to … well, light, we need spiritual combustion. In Sahaj Marg we often refer to this as integration or evolution. In other paths, you might hear of karmas being “burned away.” Same thing.

Image taken from Google Image search

Image taken from Google Image search

All of this requires a catalyst – something to spark that fire. This could be almost anything for the human being – and not necessarily something we currently recognize as spiritual or as having anything to do with God. After all, Atheists are no less capable of personal alchemy. It’s important to realize that the work isn’t finished once we see that the fire has started. It must be fed and nurtured and kept going – like a sacred dhuni in the heart of who you are.

That takes action. And the burning itself is action. And, in various ways, it can require effort to exhibit the light that has been generated by that Fire. I think in some cases one isn’t required to do much, if anything, to light the world. In most cases, probably, it’s something we have to make an effort toward – something we SHOULD make a conscious effort toward.

Image taken from Google Image search

Image taken from Google Image search

Lastly, Rumi didn’t say that we’re responsible for lighting the whole world. Noticing that, it seems clear that we’re only responsible for lighting whatever is within natural reach of our light. For some, the range will be bigger than it will be for others. That doesn’t matter. What’s important is investing the effort needed to cultivate a healthy visibility of the light coming from the Fire within.

“It is your light that lights the world.”

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha | Aum Shanti

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Jnana Crazy

I came across the video posted below on a friend’s Facebook page today. It’s of a well-known song, and I really enjoy this sing-able version of it. I’ve included the lyrics, too, in case you’re not familiar. Look only a little deeper into the words of this song and you’ll taste some Jnana. One of the most karmically beneficial skills my adventure into Jnana Yoga has provided me is the abibility to, at times, leave my mind aside and see not only how crazy everything here is, but also the peace of seeing what “so pleasant about that place” where even the mind cannot touch. Good stuff!

I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind
There was something so pleasant about that place.
Even your emotions had an echo
In so much space

And when you’re out there
Without care,
Yeah, I was out of touch
But it wasn’t because I didn’t know enough
I just knew too much

Does that make me crazy?
Does that make me crazy?
Does that make me crazy?
Possibly [radio version]
Probably [album version]

And I hope that you are having the time of your life
But think twice, that’s my only advice

Come on now, who do you, who do you, who do you, who do you think you are,
Ha ha ha bless your soul
You really think you’re in control

Well, I think you’re crazy
I think you’re crazy
I think you’re crazy
Just like me

My heroes had the heart to lose their lives out on a limb
And all I remember is thinking, I want to be like them
Ever since I was little, ever since I was little it looked like fun
And it’s no coincidence I’ve come
And I can die when I’m done

Maybe I’m crazy
Maybe you’re crazy
Maybe we’re crazy
Probably

Shallow Shraddha

God statue

The last post might have your head swimming a little. It was basically meant to determine a few specific things: 1) There’s a difference between “real” and “existent.” 2) Brahman isn’t meant to be understood as the First Cause. 3) Maya is shared by everything possessing consciousness within the phenomenal world and is also beginningless and endless. 4) Existence continues indefinitely, even after what’s perceived to be real vanishes or falls away.

Be forewarned: Following, you’ll find a mix of paraphrasing and direct quotes from the Swami. If you’re reading this AND you’re a bhakta, you might find yourself strongly disagreeing with what’s about to be said.

Although Brahman cannot truly be said to be the cause of the phenomenal universe (Maya is) this could technically be inferred since Maya (the actual cause) is superimposed upon Brahman and has no existence apart from It. Only through this specific context of the relationship between Maya and Brahman can Brahman actually be referred to as the ultimate cause of everything. However, even when considering Brahman as the cause of the universe, it cannot be said that the universe is created from Brahman or that Brahman transformed Itself into the universe, since Reality – by definition – is incapable of temporal action or change.

This is where a new word comes into play. Ishwara. This word is used to reference the creative principle. Ishwara is Brahman united with Maya. We’ve already identified that Maya only continues to function in relation to an ignorance-based egoic consciousness. From there it’s not much of a stretch at all to identify Ishwara as Brahaman personified, that is, the Impersonal Ultimate Reality with my falsely-individualized and biased sense perception superimposed upon it. Because Maya is said to hold responsibility for the creation/perceivable manifestation of the universe, when that same force is personified the result is Ishwara.

With this established, it can be said that there are “two” Gods – The Impersonal (Brahman) and The Personal (Ishwara). This is otherwise referred to as Nirguna Brahman (Ultimate Reality that transcends any attributes) and Saguna Brahman (the same Ultimate Reality limited by personal attributes). Nirguna Brahman only appears as Saguna Brahman (Ishwara) within the relative ignorance of Maya. Because of the limitation that comes with assigning personal attributes, Ishwara has the same degree of reality as Maya. God the person is not the ultimate nature of Brahman. In the Swami’s words, “Personal God is the reading of the Impersonal by the human mind.”

Sri Ramakrishna was known to have lived continually in the consciousness of absolute Brahman and often used the following illustration, “Brahman may be compared to an infinite ocean, without beginning or end. Just as, through intense cold, some portions of the oceans freeze into ice and the formless water appears to have form, so, through the intense love of the devotee, Brahman appears to take on form and personality. But the form melts away again as the sun of knowledge rises. Then the universe also disappears, and there is seen to be nothing but Brahman, the Infinite.” (I think this points to bhakti as a primary, rudimentary, and preliminary means for building a relationship with Brahman, but also indirectly incriminates bhakti as a primary method of distorting the true nature of Brahman. It’s through bhakti that we see god personally (literally), but this very act seems to immediately and literally twist the Truth. Such is the price of ignorance and Existence within Maya.)

On the note of Bhakti Yoga, Shankara says this, “Although Ishwara is, in a sense, a person, we must beware of regarding Him as similar to or identical with the jiva – the individual human soul. Ishwara, like the jiva, Brahman united with Maya, but with this fundamental difference – Ishwara is the ruler and controller of Maya, the jiva is Maya’s servant and plaything. We can therefore say, without paradox, that were are, at the same time, God and the servants of God. In our absolute nature, we are one with Brahman; in our relative nature, we are other than the Ishwara, and subject to him. Devotion to the Ishawara, the personal God, may lead a man very far along the path of spirituality, it may make him into a saint. But this is not the ultimate knowledge. To be completely enlightened is to go beyond Ishwara, to know the Impersonal Reality behind the Personal Divine Appearance. We can become Brahman, since Brahman is present in us always. But we can never become Ishwara, because Ishwara is above and distinct from our human personality. It follows, therefore, that we can never become rulers of the universe – for that is Ishwara’s function. The desire to usurp the function of Ishwara is the ultimate madness of ego. It is symbolized in Christian literature by the legend of the Fall of Lucifer.

“If there’s only one consciousness, one Brahman, who is the seer and who is the seen? Who sees Brahman and Ishwara, and who is the jiva? Are they different or one?

“As long as man is within the limitations of Maya, the One is seen as many. Ignorance can do no better than to worship Appearance; and Ishwara is the ruler of all appearances – the highest idea which the human mind can grasp and the human heart can love. The human mind can never grasp the absolute Reality, it can only infer its presence and worship its projected image. In the process of this worship, the mind becomes purified, the ego thins away like mist, superimposition ceases, Ishwara and world-appearance both vanish in the blaze of transcendental consciousness when there is no seer, no seen – nothing but Brahman, the single, all-embracing, timeless Fact.”

If you back up two paragraphs, you may well be reminded of the scene from the Bhagavad Gita where Krishna reveals a vision of Vishvarupa to Arjuna, and also from the Gita where Krishna advises that those who worship ancestors attain ancestors and those who worship spirits attain spirits, etc… I find that scene to be supportive of what’s mentioned above. I understand Krishna’s words to be Nirguna Brahman’s Truth being “filtered” through Maya – the result of which is Arjuna perceiving Krishna to be simultaneously immanent and transcendental – which is technically true, but still highly (and unfortunately) subject to all the misgivings and pitfalls of Maya.

To wrap up here, I’ll close with additional thoughts of my own. There’s nothing wrong with worshiping Ganesha, or Krishna, Rama, or Hanuman – or any of the other supposed 330 million Hindu faces for God. In fact, their Appearance is quite natural from our standpoint within Maya. The same is to be said Buddha and Jesus Christ and the Divine Faces of any religious path. Further, the fervor (bhakti) with which devotees often pursue their ishtadevata (God of their choosing) is not to be discounted. Everything is entirely valid and meaningful when it’s in its place. I personally find it of high value to be devoted to an ishtadevata whose very form (perception within Maya) already transcends much of what’s already perceived within Maya – since, as already discussed in previous posts, transcending Maya is where Brahman is met directly. Of key importance is not only to know when you need one tool, but also recognizing when any one tool might have exceeded its usefulness.

I would urge all of you, dear readers, not to hesitate to seek new “tools” when your path has allowed you to outgrow the one you were using. There’s no shame in this. Of key importance is not only to know when you need one tool, but also recognizing when any one tool might have exceeded its usefulness in your own development. Existence is never restful, and stagnation is a sign of decay, not progression or growth.

Om Shanti

Let’s Pretend

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According to Shankara, the phenomenal world has a relative existence that is superimposed upon Brahman. When transcendental consciousness is achieved, superimposition ceases. Because of this, we can know for certain that while the real world is existent, it’s not actually, technically real.

Shankara basically defines this superimposition as falsely remembering something in the place of what’s really there. Some might be quick to point out that one has to also have experienced or perceived what’s actually there in order to mistake it for the superimposition (You follow? You have to know something is there to begin with before it can be mistaken for something else) – and how can this be true of something like Brahman, which is not perceivable by the human senses? Shankara foresaw this argument and responds, “Brahman is not non-objective in the absolute sense, for Brahman is the object of the ego-idea. We know quite well, by intuition, that the inner Self must exist, since the ego-idea is a presentation of the inner Self. Nor is it an absolute rule that objects can be superimposed only upon such other objects as are placed before us; for ignorant people superimpose a dark blue color upon the sky which is not an object of sense perception.”

What this means is that although Brahman isn’t exactly apparent to our every-day sense perception, there is a manner in which we are aware of It: the inner Self. Yet Brahman is partly apparent to our normal consciousness also. Brahman is Existence, and we all know that we exist. In our ignorance we superimpose the private individuality of being Mr. Smith onto our awareness of Existence. In doing this, we end up forgetting that Existence isn’t our private property, but instead is universal and absolute. This expression of superimposition is our first act as human beings. The moment we say, “I am I,” we’ve started a kind of chain reaction which makes further superimposition inevitable. The very nature of our claim to individuality implies individuality everywhere, and immediately creates a superimposed world of creatures and objects upon the absolute Reality. The egoic self and world-appearance depend on each other. Lose the ego, and the world-appearance must necessarily disappear.

Beyond this, Shankara also notes that searching for the beginning of this cycle of world-appearance is futile and mostly fruitless: What is world-appearance? Maya. What causes it? Our ignorance. What is this ignorance? Maya, also. Shankara makes a very important distinction in regard to Maya/Ignorance. Maya is not only universal, but beginningless and endless. Ignorance (avidya) is beginningless, but can end at any moment. It’s precisely because of this distinction that 1) humans are born into the world perceiving the same Maya as all other humans, and 2) that an “individual” soul can achieve illumination, and thereby achieve moksha/liberation – which means the end of perceiving the phenomenal world to that consciousness – but the world still remains as perceivable (existent) Maya for all other humans.

Wrap your brain around that!

Om Shanti

A Game of Ropes and Snakes

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Shankara’s view of what it means to be real comes from his predecessor, Gaudapada, and from the Upanishads. No object, no kind of knowledge, can be absolutely real if its existence is only temporary. Absolute reality implies permanent existence. For example, we often have different experiences while dreaming during sleep. Those experiences often contradict the experiences we have while awake. And of course, both our waking and dreaming experiences cease when we’re deep into dreamless sleep. And so every object of knowledge, whether external or internal, is subject to modification and therefore not “real.” Here in the West, we don’t often recognize that thoughts and ideas are also objects of knowledge.

Behind all our experiences lies the Reality. This deep consciousness alone is the only constant feature of all experience. Vedanta sits squarely between realism and idealism. Western realism and idealism are both based on the distinction between mind and matter. For Vedanta, though, mind and matter fall into the same category as objects of knowledge.

According to Shankara, the world-appearance can be likened to an imagined snake which ends up being just a piled/coiled rope. When the truth is known, the snake-appearance vanishes into the reality of the rope. In like manner, the world vanishes into Brahman for the illumined soul. This snake-appearance idea can also be found in the Ashtavakra Gita in a lesson given by sage Ashtavakra: “The universe rises from you like bubbles rising from the sea. Thus know the Atman to be one and enter even thus into (the state of) Dissolution. The universe, being manifested like the snake in the rope, does not exist in your who are pure, even though it is present to the senses; because it is unreal. Thus verily do you enter into (the state of) Dissolution.”

Other systems of Hindu philosophy (Sankhya, Nyaya, etc…) insist that the phenomenal world holds objective reality. Advaita Vedanta disagrees, insisting: there is no ultimate reality to the world of thought and matter. Mind and matter, which are finite objects with relations, are a misreading of Brahman… like confusing a rope to be a snake.

At this point, it should be made clear that according to Shankara there’s a difference between non-real and non-existent. Simply put, the world-appearance “is and is not.” In the state of every-day consciousness (ignorance) it is experienced and it exists as it appears. However, in the state of illumination it is not experienced and ceases to exist. Shankara also distinguishes between private illusions of the individual and the world illusion. He refers to private illusion as pratibhasika (illusory) and the world illusion as vyavaharika (phenomenal). So pratibhasika would apply, for example, to a man’s dreams – which cease to exist during his waking hours. However, the other, vyavaharika, continues through his waking life – until he comes to realization of the Truth through knowledge of Brahman.

This seeming paradox – the world being non-real yet having existence – is a fact. And Shankara calls this fact Maya. Maya has its basis in Brahman, but only applies to the phenomenal world of names and forms. This leads us to a deep philosophical issue: the relationship between the finite and the Infinite; the problem of how the phenomenal world came into being.

“If we believe that the finite has an absolute reality of its own and that it has emerged from the Infinite and is an actual transformation of the Infinite, or if we regard the Infinite as the transcendental first cause of the phenomenal world, then we must admit that the Infinite is infinite no longer. A God who transforms Himself into the visible universe is Himself subject to transformation and change – He cannot be regarded as the absolute reality.”

We surpass this difficulty if we consider the world as Maya. Further, this explanation of the universe is in perfect accord with modern science. Some might point out that the Upanishads state that the universe emerges from, subsists in, and eventually merges back into Brahman. Shankara doesn’t disagree, but explains it differently: The universe is a superimposition upon Brahman.

In this way Brahman remains entirely unchanged. It is not transformed into this universe, but appears to us as this universe, in our ignorance. We superimpose the apparent world onto Brahman just as we sometimes superimpose a snake onto rope.

It should be noted that the idea of superimposition (vivartavada) is inseparably linked to the Theory of Causality. Causal relation exists in the world of multiplicity – which is Maya. Within Maya, the mind cannot function without causal relationships. Here’s the twist: To speak of cause and effect with reference to the Absolute is absurd. To seek to know what caused the world is to transcend the world. To seek to find the cause of Maya is to transcend Maya – and when we do that, Maya vanishes because the effect ceases to exist. How can there be a cause to a non-existent effect? Thus the relation between Brahman and Maya is unknowable by the human intellect.

Coming up: Maya is an unreal fact.

Om Shanti

Jnana-view

Prayer Hindu

The first two chapters of this copy of the Vivekachudamani are really more of an introduction than anything and so much of what is said feels like the essence of Jnana, as I understand it. I also find what I’m planning to share in upcoming posts to be essential Hinduism if ever I’ve encountered Hinduism’s essence. Surely, the rest of what devotees would identify as Sanatana Dharma has grown from this very knowledge. You’ll see.

Many people mistakenly understand Jnana Yoga to mean hardly anything deeper than intellectual wisdom. Often, in an effort to refute the immense value of Jnana Yoga, people cite texts that point out that book wisdom won’t automatically lead to moksha/liberation. However, Jnana Yoga blows book wisdom (which is highly prone to ego influence) out of the water entirely, and is directly concerned with experiential knowledge of Reality. When I superficially consider what Jnana Yoga might mean for a soul that becomes illumined, I often think of the movie The Matrix.

Neo embarks on a journey of realizing exactly who he is at his center and by the end of the movie, after the realization that the illusion everyone lives in (Maya?) has no real power of its own, we’re allowed to glimpse the new “vision” his illumination has brought. He sees that the essence of everything is The Same… Everything is swirling in binary code, although the distinct forms of various things are still distinguishable.

That is Jnana Yoga. Commitment/Devotion was fuel for the fire that drove him along his journey. His actions were certainly a part of that process, too. The culmination of his entire journey was to arrive back at an experiential knowledge of Reality. With this manifestation of Jnana Yoga, he achieved liberation and was free to not only move about existence as need willed, but could also control the “material” world and was freed from fear. He ultimately attained freedom from Illusion(Maya) as well as those agents who worked within it. Then, as a Seer, he became a bodhisattva – someone who’s vowed to forever assist others on the same journey, until all are similarly liberated.

I’ll soon be sharing some of what I’ve learned in the opening chapters – that eventually bring me to the actual Vivekachudamani in chapter three. It’s lofty stuff, that’s for sure, but it’s also Truth.

Brace yourself.

Om Shanti

Opinionated, instigating post #1: (Ekam)Sat Nam

Apparently, the world needs to know my thoughts on a few things, including the theater shooting in Denver, the shooting at a Sikh temple, and gun ownership. I have many thoughts on these matters and I’ll do my best to keep them organized and well-written, in effort to make your reading as painless as possible. Here we go…

Firstly, it goes without saying that the two incidents mentioned above are heinous. I’ll refrain from going too much into how tragic I feel these events are. My heart goes out to those who caused and were affected by these events.

The Denver Theater Shooting:  

This seems to be getting much less television air time lately, which surprises me. James Holmes seems to be a pretty messed up individual, but likely not more so than anyone else. All verifiable mental illness aside, I think each of us acts based on how we perceive, process, and manage stimuli. Actually, I think our sciences prove this. The worst to deal with is that which seems to come from within. In fact, that which comes from within is the toughest because it automatically is perceived to be reality, when it often is not. Haven’t you ever just known that your spouse was doing something specifically to spite you, and when you dug deeper it turned out they weren’t even aware they were doing it, let alone that it was something that bothered you?

Emotions are invariably tough to control, but it’s possible with even a little effort. The mind on the other hand is immensely difficult to subdue, and unlike emotions, for most people will require perpetual guarding to maintain any control that is gained. So, if someone doesn’t have control over their own emotions (and most do not), they are also very unlikely to be in control of their mind (also to be said of most folks, and is applicable in reverse since a controlled mind is used to lasso emotions), and this has proven to produce a reactive individual (which most people are).

Because of this, our prayers and thoughts are well spent on the lives and states of people today; people like Mr. Holmes. Yes, fine, pray for the victims. It won’t do as much good as you think. What’s done is done and through this horrible event they’ve been released from their most recent opportunity to exhaust various karmas. They’re on their way to their next cycle of physical existence (or maybe not), as dictated by their karmas and samskaras and will proceed in the best way they are able.

A better use for the prayers offered as a result of something like this is for an improved and education and poised mental state of humanity in general during our time. We’re ignorant in every aspect of our operating existence and we’re reactive – often making choices based on anything but reality. And so in our delusion we end up likening ourselves to Batman’s Joker character and shooting at crowds in a theater.     

The Sikh Gurdwara Shooting:

I should firstly admit that, while I know little about the theater shooting, I know even less about the gurdwara shooting. However, I think this event is less complicated. A fool mistook one group of people for another and started killing. This actually should set a very poignant example for everyone. This idiot was so ignorant in the middle of his hate, and blinded because of it, that he didn’t even kill the ones he meant to kill. Looping this back to the lesson of Maya from the Denver shooting, we find another great example of how very stupid our entrapment within the physical confines of existence can make us. I mean, if you’re going to be stupid enough to plan to kill, at least make sure you have the right target, no? Fools.