Thursday, November 29, 2018

Brahman - The Ultimate Reality

Brahman is the heart of Vedanta - the Hindu philosophy of life and one of the core values of Brahma Sutra. This post is an exposition of what Brahman is, how it is different from Atman. I tried to learn it by repeatedly reading through the passages of the book: Adi Sankaracharya: Hinduism's Greatest Thinker. Mind you, it's an extremely well-written book and it really is a brave effort by Pavan K. Varma. I felt one particular passage came close to defining Brahman which helped me improve the understanding of it.
Satyam jnanam, anantam Brahma: Knowledge is truth and Brahman is eternal, was what he proclaimed, and the Upanishads were the source of his jnana. The Upanishads are metaphysical poems. They resonate with a wisdom that is a product of the deepest meditative insight, unhindered by structured presentation but robust, with a certitude of vision that is borne of unquestioned personal experience or anubhav. There is a self, Atman, beyond definition and name and form or attribute because any attribute would only circumscribe its limitlessness. This self is the highest reality. It encompasses all of creation: we are both part of it and its manifestation—Tat tvam asi—That thou art. The self is the same as BrahmanAyam atma brahma—the self is Brahman. These utterances are two of the four mahavakyas or great sentences of the Upanishads. The Upanishads use self and Brahman interchangeably. The apparent multiplicity of the world is an illusion. Once the ego and the senses are stilled through deep meditation, we realise our true self, beyond all sorrow and pain, and realise that our true reality is ‘that’. All human differentiation then becomes false, a product of the illusion or maya. In that non-dual, or Advaita identification with Brahman, we partake of a bliss that is beyond mortal comprehension.
When I first read the above passage, it was difficult to understand what it meant. Because it says: The self (Atman) is the same as Brahman and The Upanishads use self and Brahman interchangeably. I understand what non-duality means literally. But I wanted to understand why Upanishads call it non-duality? I mean, when they say non-duality, there should be two terms that mean differently, which are considered to be one and the same. If both are the same, then why have two terms: Atman and Brahman?  The answer to this question is explained in simple terms by the eminent speaker, Jay Lakhani, and I quote:
The ultimate reality manifesting the Universe - the whole of this creation, is called Brahman; the ultimate reality manifesting as an individual through the five senses is called Atman. But there cannot be two ultimate realities - Advaita. Thus, Atman equals Brahman.

Here is another video that defines Atman and Brahman: Atman is the spirit of the individual, while Brahman is the spirit of the Universe. So the universe consists of all individuals, so to say, Atman is part of BrahmanAtman is Brahman. It is like two or more rivers joining the ocean. The ocean is Brahman and Atman is the river.

But again, if Brahman is the Supreme One - the ultimate reality, why does Atman exist? We know that Brahman is the pure spirit without form or any characteristics, both omniscient and omnipresent. That is not the case with Atman. It is characterized by ego, desire, affection, hatred, pain, sorrow, expectations and all sorts of human bonds which makes it trapped in the body by an illusion - Maya. It is this that makes Atman finite - immanent. Atman becomes one with Brahman once it breaks free from all the bonds and the veil of illusion under which it is hidden. Then it becomes pure - transcendent. Therefore, Atman is always Brahman, once we realize it.

Having explained the idea of Brahman in simple English terms, there are slokas in all the Upanishads: Mundaka Upanishad, Mandukya Upanishad, Chandogya Upanishad, Shvetashvatara Upanishad, Isha Upanishad to name a few, essentially define the same thing in different ways. But I like the definition of Brahman as told in the Chandogya Upanishad, in terms of Tat-tvam-asi:

In the beginning was only Being,
One without a second.
Out of himself, he brought forth the cosmos
And entered into everything in it.
There is nothing that does not come from him.
Of everything he is the inmost Self.
He is the truth; he is the Self Supreme.
You are that, Shvetaketu; you are that.

Now the next obvious question is how, we - the ordinary mortals, attain the state of Brahman. The Katha answers and I quote from the book:
When the five senses are stilled, when the Mind is stilled, when the intellect is stilled, That is called the highest state by the wise. They say yoga is this complete stillness in which one enters the unitive state, never to become separate again. When all desires that surge in the heart are renounced, the mortal becomes immortal. When all the knots that strangle at the heart are loosened, the mortal becomes immortal.
Further Reading:
Complete Works Of Swami Vivekananda - Swami Vivekananda's famous works are Karma Yoga and Jyana Yoga. Before jumping into those, in Vol 1, please read how he introduces Hinduism to the world in The World's Parliament Of Religions, Chicago on Sept 11, 1893. Also, don't forget to read his Paper On Hinduism. These two are as wise as the philosophy of the Vedanta itself. 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Book Review: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry


It's the beauty in little things that makes reading The Little Prince so beautiful. Yes. It touches upon the little things in life that often get ignored, neglected or forgotten in pursuit of great things. It reminds us what we miss out being adults. The author teases adults by calling them "Grown-ups". This is a book for all grown-ups. Written in a simple language and expressed with utmost innocence, it gives a glimpse of what goes on inside a child's mind by painting pictures of love, loss, and friendship. Without further ado, and to keep this review as "little" as possible, I will leave you guys with a few quotes from the novella, just to pique your interest. I am now looking forward to watching the film adaption of this beautiful work.
All grown-ups were once children... but only few of them remember it.
It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.
“People have forgotten this truth," the fox said. "But you mustn’t forget it. You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed. You’re responsible for your rose.” 
You can only truly see with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye. 
You're beautiful but you're empty, - the little prince told them. - No one could die for you. Certainly, my own rose, to an ordinary passer-by would seem just like you. But she, and she alone, is more important than all of you, because she is the one I watered.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Book Review: Adi Sankaracharya - Hinduism's Greatest Thinker

I came to know about this book when I read the review of it by Shashi Tharoor in the newspaper. I always wanted to learn about the religion I follow - Hinduism, not by the doctrine it preaches, but to get the substance of it. This book precisely does that. And I think Pavan K. Varma has done an amazing job in expounding the advaita philosophy of Hinduism as conceived by Adi Shankaracharya.

It is divided into three parts: The journey of the Great Guru, The thought of Upanishads according to Adi Shankaracharya, and the final part is the validation of these thoughts by modern science. The journey tells us about the background of the Guru starting from Kaladi in Kerala and goes on regaling the audacious expedition and establishment of the Peethas at the four corners of India.

The excitement begins in the second part. It starts with the contents of Bhagavad-Gita and Brahma Sutra and also how these ancient texts are structured. It emphasizes Nishkamakarma - the act without expectation of rewards from Bhagavad-Gita, and the idea of Brahman from Brahma Sutra.

The definition of Brahman in advaita (non-duality) philosophy is self: Tat tvam asi - That thou art (You are that), the Atman, the soul of human life is Brahman - the ultimate reality. This definition appears incomprehensible because, as I read it, the definition itself is not finite. It does not have form or boundaries as it transcends the physical world, beyond the comprehension of the brain with the information received by the five senses. The realization of Brahman is Brahmanubhava; i.e pure consciousness or cognitive wisdom. It is the ultimate reality with eternal bliss. Thus, according to Sankara, Brahman is sat (truth), chitta (awareness/consciousness) and ananda (bliss) - Satchidananda. Once the mind attains this state, it becomes one with God - the higher intelligence or cosmic energy. Pavan Varma backs this belief by sharing the real experiences of eminent personalities like Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev, Eckhart Tolle and the near-death-experience of Anitha Moorjani. It is after reading these experiences, I was able to feel the understanding of Brahman.

In order to experience this Brahman, the first and foremost step is to have a still mind - the mind without any activity, the mind in absolute peace. This is achieved through meditation. It is in this state that the mind opens the door to awaken intuitive consciousness.

It was a mere coincidence that, when I finished reading this book until this point, I was involved in a discussion on Atheism vs Theism where I presented the idea of Hinduism. Hinduism is not about Gods and the rituals and customs that come along with it. Gods are merely symbols of different energies surrounding us. The rituals are scientific methods to utilize these cosmic energies. This is clearly stated in the book. The discussion is posted here. (Please read through)

As a commentary to the discussion, there are a few more practical observations of my own. One: Nazar Utaarna - getting rid of the effects of evil sight; using rock salt, sugar or even with a few leaf-veins of a broom. We know all these methods work. We just don't know how. It is science. Second: the precise schedule of eclipses. If we take the calendars of ten years from now, they will correctly tell us exactly when eclipses occur. The mathematics behind this calculation is even before the existence of NASA or any space agency. Third: The solidification of mercury at room temperature - Rasa Vaidya. It is pure science. We witness the results of all these scientific methods. Thus, there is a presence of a higher intelligence and a higher form of energy. The common man with a limited capacity of understanding wanted to know about the existence of this energy. It was preached as God by the philosophers after Shankaracharya.

The last part of the book deals with validation of Brahman with modern science. Varma corroborates the idea of Brahman with postulated theories and experiments conducted by great scientists on astronomy, particle physics, quantum mechanics and even neurology. It's quite convincing. The research done by Varma in this regard and citing it in the book is really commendable. The epilogue describes the advent of philosophers after Sankaracharya namely, Ramanujacharya, Madhwacharya, Vallabha, and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. These philosophers deviated from Advaita and preached duality (sometimes called as qualified non-duality: Vishistha Advaita) where God and man are two separate entities.

This post is not a critique or feedback about the work. It is a small step to inspire others to read it for seeking spiritual enlightenment. I am sure it will plant a seed of thought for the atheists if they are not adamant in opening their minds! Finally, I will leave you guys with a quote:
When the religions are largely reduced to rituals, there is always the danger that the form will become more important than substance.

Further Reading:
  1. Brahman - The Ultimate Reality
  2. Kindle Notes & Highlights

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Theism vs Atheism: A Quick Discussion

Recently, I was involved in presenting the ideology of theism in a group discussion on a social media platform. The group consisted of a bunch of atheists and two active theists. That means I am the second one. The atheists lacked decorum. So I had to guard the beliefs which I was about to present. It's mainly based on Hinduism. And thus, I presented this:

Around 4000 years ago, there lived contemplators and logical thinkers. They were highly intelligent people - hyper-intelligent. They questioned the logic, science to find answers to the question: what is reality? They found the answer. It is pure consciousness or higher intelligence through which they experienced eternal bliss. They interacted directly with this very consciousness, or higher intelligence or the energy that has created cosmos: cosmic energy. They experimented with this energy using metaphysics by mystic arts. So you can imagine their level of intelligence. They understood the fact that in order to have such cognitive wisdom, one has to surrender self: ego, pride and all the worldly desires in order to have absolute focus. It's like what we say today: Science requires sacrifice. This immense knowledge was passed to next generations orally. But over time, as years passed, that human intelligence dwindled and the science and knowledge of this wisdom surpassed human comprehension. The great thinkers wanted this wisdom to be imparted to all of mankind. It was too complex for a common man to understand. So, the great thinkers began documenting the science in the form of Vedas and Upanishads. Vedas describe science and Upanishads describe the philosophy. Both of these are systematically structured and well articulated. It is this discipline of wisdom that came to be known as Hinduism. In Vedas, different forms of energies are symbolized (Like Batman symbolizes justice). They are given different names that came to be known as Gods in recent years. The rituals and customs are in fact scientific methods that need to be performed to attain pure consciousness. Vedas and Upanishads are written in Sanskrit - an ancient Indian language, which a small population knows today. And unfortunately, these rituals are followed blindly just because of faith in them, without knowing the real essence of it. The paintings/pictures of Hindu Gods what we see today are drawn by the imagination of a common man to reach out to people. The pictures depicted do not match exactly what's in the Vedas. The term Hindu implied a geographic, ethnic or cultural identifier for people living in the Indian subcontinent around or beyond the Sindhu (Indus) river. So it's not named after a person as in Buddhism, Jainism or Christianity.

There was a short Q&A session after this.

Q: Who were those thinkers?
A: I don't know (even though I knew the answer). 

Q: What happened to them?
A: They were mortals. They died. 

Q: So what is Hinduism, if not religion? 
A: Hinduism is science and philosophy of life.

One atheist was adamant and shot me with a question that if I don't know who they were, how could I believe what they have written? I said: History is hazy; many facts are either lost, tampered or destroyed. Then I was easily outnumbered. I just gave up because of two reasons: It was never my intention to convince them. The opposition was adamant in just launching attacks. Finally, the discussion digressed because I couldn't corroborate my beliefs. It never reached an end.

Next day I got in touch with the other theist. I shared what I had felt about the discussion.

Me: Even though I have thick skin, I am quite sensitive. I respect others, so I expect the same respect in return. You might have observed I never use a foul language even in case of disciplining someone. What I see is, the problem with atheists (especially in the group) is that they are never open to the thoughts, ideas shared by us. They are like racehorses: their eyes are set to look at only one direction. That's because they are adamant (you remember the person clearly said that) They are adamant perhaps because deep inside they feel insecure. Insecurity shows when they sense a threat of getting convinced (or converted) to what we say. See, when they preach atheism, I listen because I just want to learn. That's it. There is no way I will set foot in that direction. I won't go against my faith.

Other Theist: I understand. And that makes sense. I might be at an advantage in that I've been both sides of that fence. But the return from atheism to theism was a powerful one for me, and they won't sway my beliefs very easily either. I wish more in that group would engage us in the reasonable and logical discussions the group title promises though, but I'm afraid they've gone rather rigid in their beliefs. Their "faith" in their doctrine is so strong 😁 None of the things they claim are proven facts, and fortunately for us, the onus is on them to prove that God does not exist, rather than on us to prove that he does.

There was yet another day of debate. A debate between religion and science on war crimes. Atheists said that wars are fought today because of religion. They blamed religion for oppression against humanity. They proclaimed that science is harmless and it works for the betterment of humanity. I objected. Be it science or religion, there are always two sides of the same coin. For instance, man discovered nuclear science (fission and fusion) to produce energy. The same science is used in making bombs that destroy mankind. Scientists think they are so creative. But all they bring along with them is death and destruction. There is a gross misuse of science and religion as long as the mind is corrupt.

Saturday, November 3, 2018



Your passive taunts don't bother me
When you glorify my weakness.
I don't have the nerve to fight;
Not because I am afraid of you,
But because I am scared to
Lose my inner peace.

Although my silence is full of answers
You don't care to know my troubles.
And I cannot bear your noise either.
Because listening to your rant
Has become a burdening torture.

Why don't you recall our days of joy?
How happy we used to be for each other.
Remember the time when
We were caught in turbulence
Right in the middle of the storm?
And all those times when it didn't matter
If we didn't even go out for a stroll?
There was a light shining in your soul
With the power to sing songs and verses
That had spells to light the darkness.

Now it feels like you yearn for that pain
For that happiness to be in place again
You want that empty hole to be filled
But you have forgotten what to fill it with.
Instead, it is filled up with mediocrity.

You pick on the things I didn't do for you
Which did not bother much back then.
I am slapped with the ledger of things
You have been doing for me every day
And you expect a fair value in return.

I want you to have your desires quenched.
Then you will see that your thirst is insatiable:
The lamp of joy lies within yourself, darling,
Which has been doused by that empty hole.

We both used to have so much in common,
But now, you and I are standing at the poles
With nothing but an endless desert between us.
The scorching sun is enjoying this vivid spectacle
As though we're basking in this mess at his behest.

Rest assured that I won't give up on us.
It's just another turbulence in between us,
Which we will have to face it together.
I know that in time, it will subside;
In time, the light will glow again.
In time...

Oct 17, 2018