Monday, September 5, 2011

Pentad on the Path to Plenitude : notes on Sadhana Panchakam :1

I propose a short series on sadhana from a practical standpoint - I am choosing the framework provided by BhagawatpAda in His work Upadesha Panchakam. While everything that has to be written about advaita sadhana has already been meticulously covered by His Holiness Kanchi MahaperiyavA, in his work, Deivathin Kural, I felt it might be a useful mananam exercise to put together some thoughts on this afresh - stemming from the standpoint of an ordinary spiritual aspirant, and I invoke His Grace, to bless me in this brief exercise..

EkadantAya Vidmahe
VakratUndAya Dheemahi
Tanno Danti Prachodayat.

At the time Sri Sankara, content that his avatara's brief had been adequately fulfilled, was about to resorb Himself into Kailasha, that his understandably aggrieved disciples entreated him to deliver one more final sermon. In response the ever-benevolent BhagavatpAda delivered his final upadesha in five crisp but sublimely pregnant verses - that would serve as a succinct methodology for any sincere seeker to tread the path towards acquiring gnosis and achieving plenitude.

Vedo Nityamadhiyatam Study the Vedas daily

This is the very first madate that Sankara lists. And it almost get us clean bowled on the first ball. While the pramana for self-knowledge is the Veda alone is well-recognized, the means to that understanding is also through the VedA is perhaps not well-emphasized. We need to infuse our lives with the sublime resonance of the VedAs. How can this be accomplished in today's day and age? I feel there are three easy steps one can, with some disciplined effort, incorporate into our daily routine without unduly encumbering our perennially meager time availability.

First - daily practice of Sandhyavandanam. Many of the mantras in the sandhyavandanam are derived directly from the Vedas. Performing of the sandhya ritual both in the morning and evening - and at least on one day of the weekend in the noon period as well - will ensure that we adhere to Sankara's first mandate faithfully. Most importantly, the Gayatri mantra - the centerpiece of the sandhyavandanam - is verily considered veda saara - the essence of all the vedas. Gayantam trayate iti gayatri" - That which protects - it is gAyatri alone that safeguards and nurtures our spiritual wellbeing. The Gayatri mantra occurs in the Rig, Yajur and Samavedas. A twice daily chanting of this Mother of all vedic mantras 108 times at a minimum will hopefully bestow on the seeker immense fruits in the form of adrshtA, thereby clarifying his antahkaranam to become a fit receptacle for jnana. On every Sunday when there is more leisure time, one may attemtp to increase the number of chants with the eventual goal being to reach 1008 chants at least one time, one Sunday, every month. Chanting the Gayatri less than 108 times to me seems like a waste of the entire and laborate Sandhya ritual - I would consider this akin to spending hundreds of rupees on a elaborate jewelry box and then placing a small silver coin in it. The entire purpose of Sadhyavandanam to my mind is to purify the mind, and enable to dwell and contemplate with attention on Gayatri upasana.

Three important aspects are stressed during Vedic chanting and these hold true for the sandhya ritual as well - yadeva vidyayA karoti shraddhayopaniShadA tadeva vIryavattaraM bhavatIti - faith, concentration and knowledge. So it is important to chant with immense faith and immense concentration. One cannot afford to be languid in one's performance. Also and perhaps even more importantly it is important to have knowledge about the word meanings of the mantras as well as their significance - and one needs to be cognizant of this during the performance of these rituals as well. So when one performs marjanam for example be cognizant of each word and every sentence and reflect on its significance especially from a Vedantic perspective. I quote His Holiness the ParamAchAryA of KAnchi here - "Veda adhyayana, without knowing the meaning thereof is like preserving the body without the soul. Veda Mantraas uttered with a knowledge of their meaning will lead to Paapa-parihara(expiation of sins), and Arishtasaanti(liquidation of evil), and pave the way to Brahma-saakshaathkaara(God realisation)."

Second step is a daily recitation of the Sri Rudram. In the entire breadth of the vast Vedas, the 11 sections of Sri Rudram is considered to be the most sacred. Sri Rudram occurs in Krishna Yajur Veda. There are seven chapters in this Veda and Sri Rudram occurs in the fourth or middle chapter. So if Krishna Yajur Veda is like a garland, Sri Rudram is like a pendant in the middle. Chanting of the rudram has been extolled as being one of the most potent mantras in destroying the endless and innumerable bundle of papas that we have doubtless accumulated from beginningless times and continue to do so in this birth as well - either through acts of commission or ommission.
The Kaivalya Upanishad recommends thus : Yah shatarudrayamadheete so'gnih puto bhavati surapanat putobhavati sah brahmahatyaya putobhavati sa suvarnasteyat puto bhavati sa krtyaakrtyat puto bhavati tasmadavimuktam aashrito bhavatya atyashramee sarvada sakrdva japet He who studies the Shatarudriya, is purified as by the Fires, is purified from the sin of drinking, purified from the sin of killing a Brahmana, from deeds done knowingly or unawares. Through this he has his refuge in Shiva, the Supreme Self. One who belongs to the highest order of life should repeat this always or once (a day). For our purpose as a seeker, setting aside two time periods during the day when one can recite the entire shri rudram should suffice. The rudram has enshrined in it the famous panchakshari mantra Om Namah Shivaya which also, similar to the Gayatri mantra, has tremendous potency as a nullifier of accumulated papa-karma. On Monday evenings every week, and on every fortnight on Pradosham, one can visit the temple if possible and chant Rudram during the time of the rudrabhishekam - this will undoubtedly be of multifold greater potency.

Third step is a daily recitation of our favorite Upanishad - either the entire one -as in the case of a short Upanishad like the Kaivalya - or a portion therefrom - as in the case of larger Upanishads like the Chandogya or the Taittiriya. Many sections of the Taittiriya Upanishad in particular lend themselves well to this exercise, as they are not only resonant with poetic beauty but also replete with tremendous prose pregnant with advaitic import - and serve as wonderful aids to contemplation as even we recite the verses.

A question may arise as to the relevance of this for women, and others outside the scope of the three varnas who may be ineligible for vedic adhyayanam. The practical alternative is to instead find recourse in the fifth VedA - namely the puranas and itihasas. The GitA is said to contain the essence of all the Upanishads. So instead of twice daily sandhya ritual one can take up Gita adhyayanam/ parayanam instead. Once again if such chanting is done with faith, and more importantly with adequate emphasis on concomitant contemplation on the import of the verses, it is certain to provide greater benefit. Instead of Rudram, which is the nama-smaranam enconced in the VedA, we can choose to instead recite the sahasranAma - Vishnu sahasranama is from the Mahabharata and Lalita Sahasranama is from the Brahmanda Purana - and both are extolled as being extraordinarily potent in conferring on the sincere aspirant the elixir of immortality. The latter in particular is extremely esoteric and powerful - particularly the sodasi mantra which is ciphered within. As an added benefit, the rigid procedural disciplines of niyama/ achara do not necessarily apply here and hence one can be unconcerned with the fruits of inadvertently improper process.

Taduditam karma svanushthiyatam
Perform diligently your duties
Teneshasya Vidhiyatamapachitih
Dedicate all those actions as worship unto the Lord Kamye Matistyajyatam
Give up all desire-prompted activity.

Since we are deprived of the safety-net of the Vedic varnashrama construct, we are left to think-through our ragadevsha impoverished intellects as to what our dharmic calling is - what is our dharma? what is the right karma that I should perform? The simple answer is to regard whatever roles one is already fulfilling as an active member of society as being one's DharmA -one's calling and focus instead on dedicating the karma, the activity to the Lord. I hence have combined the second and third commandments into one topic for discussion.
The issue of svadharma in today's day and age can be replaced by the concept of looking at one's work as one's duty. Let us take an example of a teacher. Now Ishwara has imparted to him, or her, skills that enable this person to impart education to some young minds in his school. His duty is to do the best job he possibly can. So what the Lord means by saying do works for my sake is this, and give up desire-prompted activity is: Recognize that you are in this place in time by His Grace. Whatever you do is for His sake alone. Do your best - be the best you can be. Do not be slack in your work. Do not be disinterested in your work. Do not be neglectful of your work. Why? Not because you want a promotion, not because you want to win the best teacher award at the annual ceremony, not because you want a monetary reward from a rich child's parent, but because you are doing this to please the Lord of All. This action of yours, this role that you are playing - you will play because this is what is your best way thank Him for all that He has equipped you with, and endowed you with. And this can be of true of ANY job. Each one of us is engaged in something where we are contributing our bit to society, to the Order. And in return we are rewarded with certain comforts and rewards we ought not to take for granted. It is His Grace alone that has given us some mediocre abilities to do certain things that soceity values or requires and rewards us accordingly. It is my duty that I do with diligence as my token of appreciation to the Lord this action. This then is what is meant by "dedicating your actions for the sake of the Lord"
What is the benefit of this frame of mind? The benefit is mani-fold. The most important benefit for me as a jijnasu is antahkaranashuddhi - my mind does not entertain too many conflicts. If my work is appreciated it is OK, if it is not, then that is also OK. If I make a profit or not, I am concerned not with anything else other than doing the best job I can and devoting it to my dear Ishwara. The next benefit is - I become a more efficient worker - "yogah karmasu kausalam". By removing my mind about unnecessary anxieties and worries about my work my entire mind-intellect-body is fully attuned to and fixedly converged on the job at hand. The third benefit is as my sense of kartrtvam decreases, so does my sense of bhoktrtvam. Now its likely that given our present degree of maturity we are unable to do this consistently. "Yes, it is all very nice to say perform your work as a dedication to Ishwara - but if my boss does not give me a raise this year, I am going to stay angry for a week, possibly a month. If someone else, in my view less deserving, gets promoted I am going to be in a unpleasant frame of mind for many months. I am doing this job, because I do want to make a good living, and afford among many other things a good education for my children, etc" In the GitA, in His infinite kindness, Bhagwan Krishna comes down one notch further for our benefit. He says "OK, no problem. Whatever you may gain with your desire-prompted actions, you get to keep - but on one condition - accept it not as a result of your actions, but as my Grace!!" In other words, develop "prasadha-buddhi". At the time I engaged in a particular transaction, of course it was self-ishly motivated - i did it to gain something materialistic - but now that i have obtained the result - let me look at the result not as a result of my accomplishment, but as a "gift" from the Lord. Before I would pat myself on the back when I won a commendation or earned a lot of money and puff up with pride and arrogance, now I touch it to my eyes and say "O Lord, this is nothing but Your Grace, and I accept it humbly as your child." just as a baby would lovingly accept something from his mother.
Prasadabuddhi is perhaps even more useful when the result is a loss, or worse we gain something bad. In that case also, relinquishing "ownership" of the fruits of our action, and accepting the result as the Lord's offering, helps us accomodate and accept - i did what i did with such-and-such in mind, but this is what i got, this is what was the result. Such is His Will, and I accept it knowing that this being His prasada - it is doubtless what is in my benefit. I may not be able to see it or recognize it now, but in someways known only to Him, this will help me grow as a person, as a individual."

How does this faith, this attitude, this bhavana, help? It makes me a more accepting person, a more accomodating indivisual. And an accepting mind is a more mature mind, a mind less in conflict, a mind less in turmoil, and such a mind lends itself to spiritual growth, to quietitude, and most importantly to contemplative enquiry.

( be continued)

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