Friday, November 23, 2007

The Foundation of Hinduism – Veda to Upaveda

As one of the oldest civilizations in the world, India has a wide plethora of knowledge to offer. While the number of seers and saints has diminished over the centuries, the wealth of experience and wisdom they had remains through the texts they passed down from teacher to student. As time passes along, the West world is increasingly looking to the East, dipping its feet into its ocean of wisdom. Modern science is making discoveries that the seers of long ago spoke of with the same or greater degree of precision and accuracy. The cosmos were mapped. Surgeries were being performed without the aid of computers and lasers. The vast botanical world, the properties and benefits of different herbs and plants was well understood.

The expanse of knowledge exists, the awareness of its existence, depth and quantity however is lacking. Unlike Christianity, Islam or Judaism, there is no one book, one text from which guidance is found. Over the course of time, countless texts were created, each with a different purpose. Together, they form the foundation of Hinduism. The following described the first three categorizations of texts.

The Vedas

The knowledgeable have called the Vedas “Shabd Brahma.” The power of the Vedas is such that through words, Brahma (Reality) can be understood.

There are four Vedas: Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sam Veda and Atharva Veda.

The Rig Veda is comprised mainly of the stutis and mantras in praise of various deities (Indra, Agni, Vayu, Varuna, etc).

The Yajur Veda contains the mantras and procedures for the performance yajnas (sacrifices). It has information on what the preparations for yajna are, the fruits of differents yajna, etc.

The Sama Veda is essentially the Rig Veda. The Sama Veda however provides information on how the mantras are to be chanted, giving fixed melodies for each mantra. The Sama Veda is considered the first text related to music.

The Atharva Veda talks about worldly things. It includes information on craftsmanship, medicine and tantra.

Each Veda is further divided into four sections:

  1. The Mantra Samhitas – the “collection” of mantras. It is often considered that the Mantra Samhita forms the proper Veda. The Mantra Samhita is generally for brahmacharis, those who not have families, those who do not have much to do with the world of maya.
  2. The Brahmanas – the technical guide. Descriptions on how and why to do yajna, etc. can be found in the Brahmana. Priests would perform the sacrifices and this section was a guide for priests or Brahmins, hence the name Brahmana.
  3. The Aranyakas – provides the analysis of yajna. This section is intended for sadhus, not for wordly people.
  4. The Upanishads – books of philosophy, also known as "Vedanta," the end or conclusion of the Vedas. The Upanisads show the Ultimate Reality. It is the recording of the experiences of Reality by saints and seers. The Upanisads are intended for sanyasis, but there is not large different between those on the path of knowledge and sanyasis.

The Vedas are not books. Veda literally means “to know.” Another names for the Vedas is shruti or that which is heard because this wisdom was not transcribed but passed down orally. The Vedas are meant to be spoken in a highly systemized way using only three notes. Each syllable is read many times in various combinations, revealing its nature as it is spoken. The precise sequence of sounds is critical. The true meaning of the Vedas can only be found in the sequential progression of sound and silence, not in the literal translations.

It is said to understand the Vedas, one must not start with the Mantra Samhita, but from the Upanisads and make one’s way back to the Samhitas.

The Six Vedangas (limbs of the Vedas)

The Vedangas are six technical texts that are required to understand the Vedas.

  1. Siksha (pronunciation)
    For centuries, the Vedas were not written down, but passed down orally as its meaning is realized in its recitation. The Vedas cannot be understood in its entirety, nor will its mantras bear fruits as described unless it is spoken as intended.
  2. Vyakarana (grammar)
    Grammar can change the entire meaning of a sentence. Vyakarana details the correct grammar.
  3. Nirukti (etymology)
    Etymology is the study of the history of language. Nirukti is the study of the origin of word.
  4. Chhandas (metre)
    Everything is created of chandas or syllables. Different combinations produce different sets of vibrations and meanings. Chhandas is the study of Vedic metre.
  5. Jyotisha (astronomy/astrology)
    As humans, we reside within the larger system of the cosmos. Changes in the cosmos affect a multitude of things, including human behaviour. Jyotisha details the planetary movements, the implications of such movement on individual and collective life, auspicious times for activities, etc.
  6. Kalpa (ritual)
    Kalpa is manual for rituals relating to various topics including large scale sacrifices to domestic affairs such as births and marriages.

The Four Upavedas (following the Vedas)

The Vedas were followed by four texts, called the Upavedas, that describe different sciences and arts.

The four Upavedas are: Ayur-veda, Dhanur-veda, Gandharva-veda and Artha-veda.

The Ayurveda deals with the science of the body. A healthy body is needed for all work as all work must be done through the body. According to Ayurveda, the body is comprised of three elements Vata (air), Pitta (fire) and Kapha (sky/land). Perfect balance of the elements results in a perfect balance. Any imbalance leads to ailments related to the element that is in excess.

Dhanur-veda literally means the Veda of the bow, but this Upaveda deals not only with archery, but the entire science of warfare. Dhanur-veda includes information on battle plans and formations, preparation and training of different arms of the military, etc. Every little detail about warfare can be found in the Dhanur-veda.

Gandharva-veda is the text for sangeet (music). A master of music is called a Gandharva. It is important to understand the meaning of the word sangeet. Literally translated as music, sangeet does not only include sound. Sangeet means sam + geet, or the coming together of singing, playing and dance, thus the Gandharva-veda is a text for music and dance. The description of music, its laws, its development, how to do its sadhna, etc. is all found in Gandharva-veda.

Artha-veda deals with the science of statecraft. The Artha-veda provides all details on rulership, different areas of government and society. An example is how the king did not have the power to make laws, but was the upholder of the law.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Importance of the Teacher

Tasmay Shri Guruvey Namah (I bow down to all my teachers, those who have guided, taken me under their wing and taught me all that I know).

The meaning of the Upanishads is very beautiful – to sit devotedly at the feet of the Guru. The Upanisads are a series of texts that transcribes conversations that various learned saints and seers have with their students. To learn and understand the Upanisads is to hear the “amrut vani” of the seers of long ago.

India is rich with a heritage of Guru Mukhi Vidhyas or Vidhya (knowledge) that is learnt from the mouth of the Guru. What does Guru Mukhi Vidhya really mean?

The last few months have been a personal journey in understanding Guru-Shishya parampara (Teacher-student tradition). I could attend Prof Shastri’s lectures at Gujarat University, but both of us can tell you that it would by no means be as fulfilling or deep as our one-on-one meeting. I could pick up a book on tabla, complete with pictures to show me placement, but my hand will not develop the way it should, nor will my personality be articulate in my music.

If you look at many traditional cultures around the world, knowledge was not transcribed but passed down orally. Why is this the case? Because the essence of knowledge cannot be transmitted in a book. In fact, in India another name for knowledge is shruti, which literally means that which is heard. The essence of the Vedas cannot be communicated through any book or translation, it is through its recitation that its meaning becomes known.

Embarking on the study of knowledge is a difficult task, which requires guidance, supervision and protection. A wrong turn could be disastrous. One easy example – one of Guruji’s students (A) in the States had learnt from one of his older students (B). A would go to B for a few lessons then practice at home for a few months on his own. B tried to best to correct him when he would return and dissuade A from taking such long gaps between lessons, but was not successful. When A met Guruji, under continued supervision, Guruji attempted to fix his hand positioning, but the level of damage was too great. If A wanted to really continue his study, he would not be able to do so unless he started again. So 2-3 years after he began his “training,” he was re started his training, but this time playing tabla with his left hand instead of right (a SUPER challenging task).

The Guru becomes a Guru because of their level of knowledge and experience. Only after intense sadhna and training do they become the trainer. A good Guru holds the keys to the secrets of the art (and believe me each art has its secrets). The ancient arts would not have lasted so long, unless their innermost essence was not shrouded by so many secrets and tests.

A cool example. Every composition in tabla has a pair. When the composer creates a cayda, gat, etc he creates not one but two pieces of music (a jod). The pair serves many purposes. The most obvious being the ability to track theft. If someone claims to be the composer and there is a doubt, the person can be asked for the composition’s pair. Another more interesting purpose its demonstration of a teacher’s trust on a student. A guru is morally bound to their gharana (or family), they cannot teach someone if they do not have trust in them. To receive the jod of a composition is a sign of ultimate trust of the guru on the student. Traditionally, if a student went to another teacher, the latter would ask if the student has received any pairs. Through this test they get an understanding of how much the former teacher trusted the student and can decide whether to take them on as a student or not.

It’s like a video game, you have to pass level one to move onto level two. A book doesn’t have those levels. You flip the page and more information is available, whether or not proper mastery has been achieved or not is not determined.

Whatever the pursuit may be, the fortunate find their guru (or mentor). The person who helps you get your foot in the door, trains you on how to behave and pass on the tricks of the trade.

It is one thing to find one’s guru and another to be a student in the true sense of the word. It is hard to understand what it means to be a student until one actually becomes a student. When I went to Kailash, I had many conversations about what a Guru is etc. An interesting point was made to me. One might take someone to be one’s Guru, but it is another thing for the Guru to take you as a student. The binding of a student to teacher entails the teacher taking on complete responsibility for the student and student taking complete surrender at the teacher’s feet. In the end, the student will become a guru.

To be a student means to enter into a egoless condition with utmost faith, devotion and love. It is surrender to something that is higher than oneself. A student of philosophy recognizes that the knowledge is much more than the oneself and that to learn it, to understand it, one must give oneself completely to its study. Ultimately, it is surrender to the art, to the knowledge and the guru is the key holder.

The Guru holds the future and present of the student. The more willing, the more dedicated the student, the more the Guru can do. Ultimately they (the teacher) are bound to preservation of knowledge, they have the responsibility to ensure that it does not pass into the wrong hands. Many traditional and ancient arts and knowledges are dying out, but you will find the master unwilling to write it down and leave it for the public for this reason only. The belief is that it is better that the knowledge “dies” with the person than go into the hands those who are not ready for it. The knowledge does not “die,” but is lost until it will be time for it to be remembered again.

We live in a day and age where knowledge is not respected or given the value it deserved and consequently its keepers’ too do not have the same position they did centuries ago. Fewer in number, but the teachers do remain. When one is blessed to find such a person, pray that one has the clarity of vision to recognize them for what they are and ability to take as much as possible of their precious wisdom.

Transcendental Freedom (By Osho)

Freedom from creates the politician, the reformer, the social servant, the communist, the socialist, the fascist. Freedom for creates the artist, the painter, the poet, the dancer, the musician. And just freedom for its own sake creates the sannyasin, the spiritual person, the truly religious.

The real freedom is the third kind, the transcendental freedom. It is neither from nor for; it is simply freedom. It is just freedom. That is moksha: just freedom. Neither against anybody -- it is not a reaction; nor to create some future -- there is no goal. One simply enjoys being oneself, for its own sake; it is an end unto itself.

“Freedom has to be understood. It is a very delicate matter, a very subtle matter, one of the most profound, because freedom is equivalent to God.

That's why Mahavira refused the existence of God, because he accepted the existence of freedom, and that was enough. He called ultimate freedom moksha. Moksha means absolute freedom, ultimate freedom; then there is no need for God. Freedom is another name for God.

Three things have to be understood. First, there is a kind of freedom that you are acquainted with: that is freedom from. A child wants to be free of the parents. The slave wants to be free from the master, from the boss. This is freedom from; it is a reaction, it is the ego asserting itself. And I am not saying there is anything wrong in it; you just have to watch the different colors of freedom.

When you are seeking freedom from, sooner or later you will fall into another trap -- because it is a reaction and not an understanding. That's what happened in all the revolutions in the past. In 1917 the poor masses of Russia revolted against the Czar, wanted to be free from Czardom. And they became free just to become slaves again, because they had no positive idea of freedom. Their idea of freedom was negative. Their whole interest was how to be free from the Czar. They forgot, they completely forgot, that just to be free from the Czar was not going to help; some other Czar would be waiting.

The moment you are free from the old Czar, the new Czar will jump upon you -- and the new will be more powerful, and the new will create a far more dangerous slavery, because the new will know that you can revolt. You have revolted against the old: he will have to make a better, stronger structure of slavery so that you cannot revolt anymore. He will be more cautious, obviously.

Now it is possible, scientifically it is possible, to fix electrodes in your head. You will never be aware of them, because deep inside your skull there is no sensitivity. So if something is put there you will never know about it, you will not feel its presence. But it can go on reporting what you are thinking to the headquarters, what kind of thoughts are moving in you; it can give signals. And there is every possibility that it is going to be practiced on people in communist countries.

So when you are seeking freedom from.... For example, if you are searching for freedom from the society, the established society, then you will fall into the trap of some alternative society. You will become a hippie or a yippie or something, and there you will again be in the same trap. If the established society wants you not to wear long hair, then in the hippie community you will be asked to wear long hair. If you do not have long hair you will look odd. People will laugh at you, they will think that you are a square. They will think that you are stupid, that you are not a rebel. So if you are trying to escape from one slavery, you are bound to fall into another, because your inner mechanism is already conditioned to being a slave. You can change masters, that's all.

The Christian can become a Hindu, the Hindu can become a Mohammedan, the Mohammedan can become a Jew -- it doesn't matter. You only change masters, you remain the same. First you Were dependent on the Hindu priest, now you are dependent on the Christian minister. First you were dependent on the Koran, now you depend on the Geeta, but dependence continues. This is not true freedom.

Freedom from is not true freedom.

Then there is another kind of freedom: freedom for -- the second kind of freedom, which is far better than the first. The first is negative. The second is positive: one wants to be free to do something. For example, you want to be free of your family because you are in love with music. You are not really against the family. You are for music, and the family creates a hindrance, so you escape from the family. You are not against the family, against the parents, but they want you to become an engineer and you want to become a musician.

And it is good to be a musician even if you have to suffer for it. It is better to be a musician if you really want to be a musician, if you have a passion for it, than to be a successful engineer, rich, comfortable, safe. You can be safe, rich, comfortable, secure, but you will be dead if you do something which you never wanted to do. If you want to become a musician or a dancer or a poet and that is your passion, then go for it. You may be a beggar, you may never become known, you may never be rich -- because the society does not need much poetry.

The society does not need much music, it needs more weapons to kill. It does not need poetry because poetry cannot be of much use in War. It needs atom bombs, hydrogen bombs. It needs soldiers, not sannyasins. It is a society based on hate, it is a society which is rooted in violence. It is a society which is greedy and lives through greed, ambition, lust -- lust for power.

If you become a good ladder climber your parents will be happy -- although the ladder leads nowhere. One day suddenly when you have become the president of the country, on the last rung of the ladder, then you see the point: that you have come to the highest and now it looks as if your whole life has been a wastage -- because the ladder leads nowhere. You are just in the sky, hanging. You have not arrived anywhere.

But now to say this is not right... because at least the people who have not arrived believe that you have reached. To say, "I have not reached," will need great guts.

That's what Buddha did when he renounced his kingdom. He said, "There is nothing." That's what Mahavira did when he renounced his kingdom, what Ibrahim did when he renounced his kingdom; he said, "There is nothing. " But these people are really courageous people. Otherwise it looks so stupid; when everybody thinks you have reached, why say it? Why not let the illusion continue? And what is the point in saying that you have been after something which was absolutely absurd, ridiculous, that your whole life has been foolish? Why Say it, why confess it? Just keep quiet. Go on holding on to the top, remain there till you die, but never tell the secret to anybody because that will prove that your whole life has been just a life of utter mediocrity, unintelligence.

If you want to be a musician or a poet, be a musician, be a poet. And this is a second kind of freedom: you will be at least happy that you are doing your own thing, not somebody else's thing.

And this is my experience: that to be doing one's own thing is the greatest joy in the world -- whatsoever that thing is appreciated by the society or not, valued by the society or not, whether it can be sold in the marketplace as a commodity or not. If it is the thing that you passionately desire, intensely desire, then do it; and whatsoever the cost, sacrifice yourself for it.

This is the second kind of freedom: freedom for. This is a positive approach, better than the first. The first type of person becomes a politician. The second type of person becomes a poet, a painter, an artist. The first freedom is negative, the second freedom is positive -- but remember, they are aspects of the same thing.

Even the first type of freedom at least pretends that there is some goal. Even the politician says, "We are fighting to be free -- from this kind of society, this kind of structure, this kind of politics. We are fighting to be free from this society just to create another society. We are fighting for some goal, some value, some utopia, some ideology." Even he has to pretend that, because the negative cannot exist alone; at least the positive has to be talked about. So communism talks about a classless society, utopia, where everything will be beautiful, where paradise will have descended on the earth. It will take infinity, but that goal has to be given. Otherwise people will not fight for a negative freedom.

So the negative implies the positive; and vice versa, the positive implies the negative. When you want to become a painter and your parents are not agreeing and your society thinks it is foolish, you have to fight with them. So freedom for will have something to do with freedom from; they both are together.

The real freedom is the third kind, the transcendental freedom. What is that? It is neither from nor for; it is simply freedom. It is just freedom. That is moksha: just freedom. Neither against anybody -- it is not a reaction; nor to create some future -- there is no goal. One simply enjoys being oneself, for its own sake; it is an end unto itself.

Freedom from creates the politician, the reformer, the social servant, the communist, the socialist, the fascist. Freedom for creates the artist, the painter, the poet, the dancer, the musician. And just freedom for its own sake creates the sannyasin, the spiritual person, the truly religious.

Pagal, your question is, "We must be free. Yet where does freedom end and selfishness begin?" The first two are selfish, ego-oriented. The first, freedom from, is very egoistic because it has to fight against. It is violent; it has to be very egoistic. It has to disobey, it has to destroy, it has to conspire against the status quo. It needs great ego. The politician is nothing but pure ego.

The second, freedom for, also has ego, but more delicate, more subtle, not so gross as the politician's. The musician also has the ego, but more delicate, softer, more gentlemanly. The poet also has the ego, but nice, sweet, not so bitter as the first. They both are ego expressions.

Only in the third, pure freedom -- neither against nor for -- is there no ego and is there no selfishness, because the third freedom happens only when the ego has evaporated. If the ego is still there, the freedom may be either the first or the second. The third requires as basic the phenomenon of the disappearance of the ego :FANA. One has to understand the ego to attain the third freedom.

Watch the ways of the ego. Go on watching. There is no need to fight for, no need to fight against; there is only just one need: to watch and be aware of how the ego functions, its mechanism. And slowly, slowly out of that awareness, one day the ego is found no more. Because the ego can exist only in unawareness. When awareness comes and the light comes, the ego disappears like darkness. And then there is freedom. That freedom knows no ego.

And that freedom is love, and that freedom is God. That freedom is nirvana, that freedom is truth. In that freedom you exist in God, God exists in you. Then nothing wrong can ever happen through you. Then your life is virtue. Then your very breathing is meditation. Then you walk and it is poetry. Then you sit silently and it is dance. Then you are a blessing to the world. You are blessed.”

Sunday, November 11, 2007


My friend wrote this fantastic post, which she calls a “Darpana Moment”. The topic: life.

It begins like this:

How many times do we forget that the life we live is the life we choose to live. Many people feel that some of the decisions that they have to make are based on family obligations, and perhaps some are, but sometimes to achieve the great we have to break out of the norm. There is a saying that goes along the lines of being scared of our endless possibilities. How true can that be? How can one be scared of the endless possibilities? Are we scared to dream big because we do not want to disappoint ourselves or others? Why are we so scared to dream big? To achieve greatness? What holds us back?

The first sentence highlights an important point. Namely the life we live is the life we CHOOSE to live. As humans beings we are placed at the top of the animal kingdom because we have intellect. We have the ability to make decisions based on reason and understanding, we have the ability to CHOOSE. The sad part is that the world or so-called society does not create an environment that promotes choice. After all, order is needed for so many billions of people to co-exist.

But what does that mean for the individual?

What is life?

If we have the ability to choose the way we live, why are the majority of people unhappy? Why do they feel like something is missing?

Pick up any self-help book, listen to motivational talks, hear inspiring stories and you’ll find a common theme through them all. The people who succeed, the people who set themselves apart and can say that they are happy, realized that they had the ability to CHOOSE and CHOSE to make their lives according to their own wishes. Though they may have failed (many many times for that matter), they held on to their vision of the life they WANTED to live and did everything to make that life a reality.

The conversion from a dream to reality doesn’t happen on its own. It takes conviction, it takes determination, its takes the ability to continue on despite all the obstacles.

It’s ironic when you look at it. Society (now this is a vast generalization I know) idolizes those who achieve great heights, but does not provide the support or encouragement for someone to reach those heights. God, the universe, whatever you want to call it, has given each soul a talent, a gift, a capability. But as that soul moves along with the normal practices of life, if it does not tune itself to its abilities or if there is not someone around who can help one recognize these capabilities, the soul continues in the circle of average life, while feeling that something is missing, having a dullness over their general being.

The system is not meant for those who want to be more than average. Understandably, it would be scary every person was trying to realize their potential and continually living with uncertainty about whether or not success will be achieved.

It is the UNCERTAINTY that makes people afraid.

Why marriage? Legal security. But does legal security guarantee mental security?

Why a “respectable” steady job such as that of a doctor, engineer or lawyer? Job/ financial security, but does financial security guarantee happiness or job satisfaction?

We get degrees, etc to qualify ourselves for certain positions, but what piece of paper tells the world of your passion and determination, which turn out to be two of the biggest qualifications for success?

The first challenge of life is to find that passion, find that god given gift. The second is to follow through on it. It is not only the responsibility of the individual to find one’s own passion, but also to support others in the pursuit of their own.

In his last lecture, a young professor in the last stages of cancer asked the audience to do one thing for him – allow their children to decorate their rooms however they want - let them scribble on the walls, do whatever they feel. Allow their inner creativity to come out.

The talent exists. The creativity is there, but often the outlets for its expression are blocked. We are too busy trying to make people like ourselves to allow them to be themselves.

Khalil Gibran has a beautiful quote on children, which can be applied in general.

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself….
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts…..
You may house their bodies but not their souls…
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.

So it is a challenge to me, you and everyone else.

Instead of trying to mold someone into our personal model of ideal life, which often is that of the life we wished to have, but don’t have; let us support each other in one’s personal journey to realize one’s own life purpose, to uncover one’s talents and gifts and make them in a way that they become the life we live. Success may not be guaranteed, but one will be better than the average.