|Vedanta Spiritual Library|
Glimpses of Vedanta
By S. N. Sastri
1. Introduction to Advaita Vedanta
2. Mind is the key to happiness
3. Bondage and Liberation are only in the Mind
4. Means To Self-realisation
5. Anatomy of Bhakti
6. Gitacharya and Gopijanavallabha
7. Vishayananda to Brahmananda
1. Introduction to Advaita Vedanta
The term 'Vedanta' stands for the Upanishads as a whole, which form part of the Vedas. It would therefore be appropriate to give a general account of the Vedas before going on to deal with Vedanta.
In the Indian tradition, philosophy is termed 'darsana', a Sanskrit word meaning 'seeing' or 'experiencing'. This indicates that the aim of philosophy in India is direct experience of the ultimate Reality and not mere intellectual speculation as in Western philosophy. The Indian philosophical systems are classified into two broad categories known as 'aastika darsanas' and 'naastika darsanas'. There are no exact equivalents to these terms in English, though the terms 'orthodox' and 'unorthodox' are sometimes used. It would be wholly misleading to use the terms 'theistic' and 'atheistic' for these categories. The term 'aastika' has been defined as referring to a person who, or a system which, accepts, (1) the authority of the Vedas, (2) the doctrine of rebirth and (3) the existence of other 'lokas' or spheres of experience. In the category of aastika darsanas fall those systems which accept the authority of the Vedas. These are the six systems known as Nyaya, Vaiseshika, Sankhya, Yoga, Purvamimamsa and Uttaramimamsa (or Vedanta). Even among these six, it is only the last two that base themselves directly on the Vedas and accept nothing that goes against them. The other four systems are based more on independent grounds of logic and reasoning, but they too are not opposed to the Vedas.
In the category of naastika darsanas fall the four schools of Buddhism, Jainism and the Carvaka (or atheistic) school, which do not accept the authority of the Vedas. These also make up a total of six.
All the six aastika darsanas regard the Vedas as the record of the divine truths revealed to the sages (Rishis or seers) in their supra-normal consciousness. The sages are not the authors of the Vedas. They are known as 'seers' of the Vedic mantras. The traditional view is that the Vedas are eternal. The word 'Veda' means primarily 'knowledge' and secondarily the books in which that knowledge is recorded. This is not knowledge of the external world, but the knowledge of the supreme Truth which cannot be attained by any effort of the human mind. It has been categorically declared by our ancient sages that the Vedas have no validity in matters which fall within the domain of other valid means of knowledge such as perception and inference. Sri Sankara says in his Bhashya on the Bhagavadgita, ch.18, verse 66: "The validity of the Vedas holds good only with regard to matters which cannot be known through such other valid means of knowledge as direct perception, etc., because the validity of the Vedas lies in revealing what is beyond direct perception. Even a hundred Vedic statements cannot become valid if they say that fire is cold or non-luminous. If a Vedic text says that fire is cold or non-luminous, one should assume that the intended meaning of the text is different, for otherwise its validity cannot be maintained. One should not interpret it in such a way as to contradict some other valid means of knowledge".
Because of this clear demarcation of the spheres of validity of the Vedas on the one hand and the other means of knowledge relied on by science on the other, no conflict between science and the Vedas can arise, similar to those which arose between the Church and the discoveries of scientists like Copernicus and Galileo in Europe. It is this knowledge contained in the Vedas that is considered to be eternal. Just as the law of gravity existed and operated even before it was discovered by Newton, the knowledge contained in the Vedas existed even before it became known to the sages.
The Vedas are considered to be 'apaurusheya', i.e., they are not human compositions. Even God is not the author of the Vedas. The eternal knowledge contained in the Vedas is only revealed by God to the sages in each cycle of creation. The Vedas are 'seen' or 'heard' by the sages and recorded by them or their disciples for the benefit of posterity. The Vedas are therefore termed sruti, or 'what is heard'. As distinguished from these are the smritis, which are all human compositions, based on the srutis. The Itihasas and Puranas come under the category of smriti. According to Manu, the greatest lawgiver of India, the smritis should be considered as an elaboration of the Vedas. However, it is an inviolable rule that, where there is a difference between the sruti and the smriti on any matter, the sruti has to be upheld and the smriti should be interpreted in conformity with it. The truths enshrined in the Vedas have been actually experienced again and again by successive generations of great souls. The experiences of great saints like Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Bhagavan Ramana in recent times bear testimony to the authenticity of all that is stated in the Upanishads.
The Vedas are four in number: Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda. Each Veda consists of three parts: the karma-kanda, the upasana-kanda and the jnana-kanda. The karma-kanda is divided into samhitas and brahmanas. The samhitas are collections of mantras, or hymns in verse, most of which are praises or prayers addressed to various gods such as Indra, Varuna and Agni. They are chanted during the performance of sacrifices. The brahmanas are mostly in prose and contain detailed descriptions of sacrifices and instructions for the performance of sacrificial rites. The upasana-kanda deals with various meditations. The jnana-kanda consists of the Upanishads and this is what is denoted by the term 'Vedanta'.
These three kandas are, however, not mutually exclusive compartments. The highest philosophical truths, similar to those expounded in the Upanishads, are found also in the samhita and brahmana portions which deal mainly with Vedic rituals. It is further noteworthy that the Isavasyopanishad appears in the samhita portion of the Sukla Yajurveda, the Brihadaranyakopanishad forms the concluding portion of the Satapathabrahmana of the Sukla Yajurveda, the Chandogyopanishad constitutes eight chapters of the Chandogyabrahmana of Samaveda and the Kenopanishad forms the ninth chapter of the Talavakarabrahmana of Samaveda. All these form part of jnanakanda, in spite of their being located right inside the samhitas or brahmanas. The term 'Vedanta' should therefore be understood to mean the ultimate conclusion or the highest philosophy of the Vedas and not the end portion of the Vedas.
The triple texts
The source books of Vedanta are the triple texts, Prasthanatraya, namely, the Upanishads, the Bhagavadgita and the Brahmasutras.
The word â€˜Upanishad' is derived by adding the prefixes â€˜upaâ€™ (near) and niâ€™ (with certainty) to the verbal root â€˜sadâ€™ meaning â€˜ to destroy, to go to and to loosenâ€™. By the word â€˜Upanishad' is meant the knowledge that destroys the seeds of worldly existence such as ignorance in the case of those seekers of liberation who, after cultivating detachment towards all enjoyments, approach (upa, sad) this knowledge and then deliberate on it with steadiness and certainty (ni). Though this knowledge is the primary meaning of the word, it is used also to denote the book that contains this knowledge, in a secondary sense. This knowledge is known as 'Brahmavidya'. The theme of all the Upanishads is Brahman, which is identical with the individual self. This subject is dealt with in detail later on.
It is not known with any certainty how many Upanishads existed originally, but 108 are now available to us. There are commentaries, known as 'bhashya' by Sri Sankara on eleven of these, namely, Isa, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Aitareya, Taittiriya, Chandogya, Brihadaranyaka and Nrsimhatapani upanishads. There is also a commentary on Svetasvatara upanishad, but there is difference of opinion among modern scholars about its authorship, though tradition attributes it to Sri Sankara.
This is the second of the triple texts. It forms part of the great epic Mahabharata and is given the same authority as the upanishads. As is well known, the Bhagavadgita contains the teachings of Lord Krishna to Arjuna on the battle field of Kurukshetra. Sri Sankara has described it as the essence of the Vedas.
This work is attributed to sage Veda-Vyasa. It consists of short aphorisms, called sutras. There are in all 555 aphorisms. A total of 192 topics, known as adhikaranas are dealt with in these aphorisms. The purpose of these aphorisms is to explain the real import of various terms and statements in the upanishads and to reconcile apparent contradictions. Sri Sankara has explained the meanings of these aphorisms from the Advaitic point of view in his commentaries, known as â€˜Bhashyaâ€™.
The essence of Advaita Vedanta
The philosophy of Advaita Vedanta has attracted intellectuals from all parts of the world because of the fact that it adheres to the strict rules of logic and does not demand blind faith or unquestioning acceptance. The student of Vedanta is asked to examine and think for himself before accepting the teachings of the Guru. But he must start with an open mind, a genuine desire to understand and an attitude of respect towards the scriptures. We find in the upanishads that the student frankly puts his doubts and objections to the Guru and the Guru very patiently clarifies his doubts and answers his objections. The upanishads are not for the intellectually indolent. There is a very important place for reason in Vedanta. The fundamental principle of Vedanta is that the final testimony of truth is actual spiritual experience. This makes it a very scientific system and therefore acceptable to intellectuals of the present day who swear by reason and the scientific method.
Dr. T.M.P.Mahadevan, the great Vedantic scholar, says in his book 'Ramana Maharshi and His Philosophy of Existence': "We believe that Advaita is not a sectarian doctrine. It is the culmination of all doctrines, the crown of all views. Though other views may imagine themselves to be opposed to Advaita, Advaita is opposed to none. As Gaudapada, a pre-Sankara teacher of Advaita, says, Advaita has no quarrel with any system of philosophy. While the pluralistic world-views may be in conflict with one another, Advaita is not opposed to any of them. It recognises the measure of truth that there is in each of them; but only, that truth is not the whole. Hostility arises out of partial vision. When the whole truth is realised, there can be no hostility. (Mandukya Karika, III. 17 & 18; IV. 5)".
The essence of Advaita has been stated by Sri Sankara in half a verse thus: Brahman is the only Reality, the universe has only apparent reality, and the individual self is non-different from Brahman.
Brahman is the only Reality. 'Reality' is defined as that which does not undergo any change at any time. By this test, Brahman, which is absolutely changeless and eternal, is alone real. The world keeps on changing all the time and so it cannot be considered as real. At the same time, we cannot dismiss it as unreal, because it is actually experienced by us. The example of a rope being mistaken for a snake in dim light is used to explain this. The snake so seen produces the same reaction, such as fear and trembling of the limbs, as a real snake would. It cannot therefore be said to be totally unreal. At the same time, on examination with the help of a lamp it is found that the snake never existed and that the rope alone was there all the time. The snake cannot be described as both real and unreal, because these two contradictory qualities cannot exist in the same substance. It must therefore be said that the snake is neither real nor unreal. Such an object is described as 'mithya'. Just as the snake appears because of ignorance of the fact that there is only a rope, this world appears to exist because of our ignorance of Brahman. Thus the world is also neither real nor unreal; it is also 'mithya'. Just as the snake is superimposed on the rope, the world is superimposed on Brahman. Our ignorance of Brahman is what is called avidya or ajnaana or nescience. This ignorance not only makes us ignorant of Brahman, but it projects the world as a reality. The world has no reality apart from Brahman, just as the illusory snake has no reality apart from the rope. When the knowledge of Brahman arises, the world is seen as a mere appearance of Brahman. The illusory snake arose from the rope, was sustained by the rope and ultimately merged into the rope. Similarly, the world arises from Brahman, is sustained by Brahman and merges into Brahman on the attainment of knowledge. Another example is also given to explain this. Ornaments of different sizes and shapes are made out of one gold bar. Their appearance and the use for which they are meant vary, but the fact that they are all really nothing but gold, in spite of their different appearances and uses, cannot be denied. The appearance may change, a bangle may be converted into rings, but the gold always remains as gold. When we begin to look upon the bangles, rings, etc., as nothing but gold in essence, the differences between bangle and ring, ring and chain, etc., cease to count though they continue to retain their different shapes. Similarly, on the dawn of the knowledge of Brahman (which is the same as the Self), though the different forms continue to be seen by the Jnaani, the realised soul, he sees them all only as appearances of the one Brahman. Thus the perception of difference between one person and another, or one thing and another, and the consequences of such perception, such as looking upon some as favourable and others as the opposite, and the consequent efforts to retain or get what is favourable and to get rid of or avoid what is not favourable, come to an end. This is the state of liberation even while living, which is known as Jivanmukti.
Every individual identifies himself with the physical body, the sense organs and the mind. When a person describes himself as stout or lean or fair-complexioned or dark, he is looking upon himself as the physical body to which these characteristics belong. When he says 'I see', 'I hear', 'I smell' and so on, he is identifying himself with the organs of sense which perform these functions. When he says 'I am happy' or 'I am unhappy', he is identifying himself with his mind. The Upanishads declare that all these identifications are wrong and that the human being is in reality not the body or the sense-organs or the mind, but Brahman, which is eternal, changeless and not affected by anything that happens to the body-mind complex. It is Brahman that appears as the jiva or individual because of identification with the body-mind complex. This body-mind complex, which makes the infinite, all-pervading Brahman appear as an individual limited to a particular body-mind complex, is known as the limiting adjunct or upadhi of Brahman. This wrong identification, which is called bondage, is due to our ignorance of our real nature. This ignorance is what is called avidya or nescience. When this ignorance is eradicated, the person remains established in his essence as the Self or Brahman-Atman. This is liberation. Thus liberation is not the attainment of some new state in some other world after the end of the present life. It is only the realisation, in this life itself, of what one has always been, namely Brahman, by the removal of the wrong notion that one is the body-mind complex. The illusory snake never existed. What existed even when the snake was seen was only the rope. Similarly, bondage has no real existence at all. Even when we are ignorant of Brahman and think of ourselves as limited by the body, we are really none other than the infinite Brahman. Liberation is thus only the removal of the wrong identification with the body, mind and senses. The attainment of the state of liberation-in-life or Jivanmukti is the ultimate goal of human life according to the upanishads. Three paths are laid down in the scriptures as the means to the attainment of this ultimate goal. These are karma yoga, bhakti yoga and jnaana yoga. Here the word 'yoga' signifies 'the means'. That is to say, karma, bhakti sand jnaana are the means to the attainment of liberation. These are, however, not independent paths, but are intrinsically bound together. Karma yoga is the performance of all duties enjoined upon one by the scriptures, as well as the duties that are incumbent on one because of one's station in life. If these duties are performed without craving for the fruit of the actions and as an offering to God, they lead to purification of the mind by the eradication of desires and the evil consequences of desire, namely, greed, anger, jealousy and other negative emotions. The very fact that all actions must be performed as an offering to God implies that one must have devotion to God. Thus the path of bhakti or devotion to God and the path of action, or karma yoga are intrinsically bound together and one cannot be practiced without the other. Thus karma yoga and bhakti yoga form one composite whole. As stated above, karma yoga is the means by which the mind becomes purified by the removal of all impurities in the form of desire, anger, greed, delusion, pride and jealousy. Bhakti yoga brings about concentration of mind. Only a mind which has become pure and one-pointed is capable of attaining self-knowledge. Jnaana yoga consists in hearing the exposition of the scriptures by the Guru, reflecting on what has been heard in order to remove all doubts, and meditation to realise as an actual experience what has been understood intellectually by hearing and reflection. A person who has, by this process, come to experience the truth that he is really the Atman and not the body, mind or sense-organs and remains firmly rooted in that experience is a liberated one or a Jivanmukta.
2. Mind is the key to happiness
We all know from our experience that no two persons are identical in their thoughts, their likes and dislikes, reaction to situations and so on. What is the reason for this diversity?. If we examine the composition of a human being we find that he is made up of three components. The first is the outer, physical body consisting of skin, muscles, bones, blood and the like. Then there is the mind, which term includes the intellect. The third is consciousness. The physical body is made up of the same chemicals in all human beings and so it cannot be the cause of the difference in character between one person and another. The consciousness is the same in all. We thus see that it is the mind that is the cause of diversity. According to our scriptures the mind performs four functions. These are: (1) evaluating the pros and cons of any situation, (2) ultimately coming to a decision on what is to be done, (3) storing the experiences and (4) identifying actions, thoughts, etc as one's own, in the form 'I am doing this', 'I did this', 'I am happy', 'I am sad', etc. The manner in which these functions take place can be explained by taking an illustration. I am walking along the road and I see at a distance a person whose gait seems to resemble that of a certain friend of mine, named Raman. I begin to debate whether the person I see at a distance is Raman or not. When he comes nearer and I am able to see his face clearly, I compare it with the memory of the face of Raman stored in my mind. If I find that the two tally, I decide that he is Raman and I greet him. It will be clear from this example that my decision and subsequent action are governed by the memory of the face of Raman stored in my mind. To generalise, all our reactions to various situations are governed by the impressions and experiences stored in the mind. Every action performed by us and every thought that arises in us leaves an impression on the mind. We do not of course remember all our actions and thoughts, but all of them leave impressions. These impressions are what are known in our scriptures as samskaras or vasanas. It is these that decide how we react to particular situations. If the actions and thoughts are good, they leave good impressions and these will make the person act in a manner that contributes to the good of others and ultimately to his own good. Bad actions and thoughts leave bad impressions and these will make the person act in a manner that causes harm to others and ultimately to himself also. It is because of this that we are instructed by our scriptures to always do good deeds and think good thoughts and to refrain from all evil acts and thoughts. When a person acts in a manner beneficial to others, he feels joy at having made some one else happy. Selfishness, jealousy, anger, haughtiness and other such negative attitudes and emotions arise from the evil impressions left by evil thoughts and deeds. A person who is jealous, selfish, angry or haughty cannot be happy and he himself is the person who suffers most from such evil traits. On the other hand, a person who always harbours goodwill towards others will himself be always happy. Every individual is born with the impressions, both good and bad, which he had accumulated by his actions and thoughts in past births. When he dies, the impressions gathered in his mind go with him and will be present in his mind in the next birth. When a person dies, it is only his physical body that is cremated. His mind, which is called the subtle body in the scriptures, goes to other worlds and then comes back again to this earth in another body. Whether a person is born as a human being or as an animal, bird and so on depends on the impressions of his actions and thoughts left in his mind at the time of the death of his previous body. Even those who have been born with bad impressions can, by their effort, erase those bad impressions and create good impressions by their good actions and thoughts. This is what our scriptures exhort us to do. The ultimate goal of human life is to go beyond the cycle of repeated births and deaths. The essential requisite for this is the purification of the mind. A pure mind is one which is free from cravings for worldly pleasures. The Upanishads say that the mind itself is the cause of bondage which is the root cause of all sorrow, as well as of liberation which is a state of supreme bliss. The mind becomes the cause of bondage and consequent sorrow when it is agitated by desires. The same mind, when freed of desires, is the means to liberation. The secret of happiness thus lies in ridding the mind of all desires and elevating it by fixing it on the contemplation and worship of God.
There is an episode in Chapter 34 of Skandha X of Srimad Bhagavatam which illustrates vividly how haughtiness leads to downfall and suffering. Once the cow-herds of Gokula went, along with Lord Krishna, to a place called 'Ambikavanam'. Having bathed in the Saraswati river, they worshipped Lord Siva and His consort Goddess Ambika. They passed the night on the bank of the river, praying and fasting. Suddenly a python appeared and began to devour Krishna's father Nandagopa. Hearing Nandagopa's cries the cowherds rushed to his rescue and belaboured the python with firebrands. In spite of severe beating the python did not release Nandagopa from its hold. Krishna then went and touched the python with his foot. At once the python changed into a very resplendent Vidyadhara (a semi-divine being). The Vidyadhara told Krishna "I am a Vidyadhara by name Sudarsana. Being endowed with extraordinary beauty and wealth, I was very haughty. Once, in my haughtiness, I ridiculed some great sages of the Angirasa line for their rather ugly looks. The sages cursed that I would become a python. You have now saved me from the effect of the curse". By being haughty because of his beauty he became a python which is a very repulsive creature. The lesson we have to learn from this story is that if a person is haughty because of his beautiful looks, he will be deprived of his beauty and will be born as a very ugly creature in his next birth. The story of the curse making the Vidyadhara a python is only another way of bringing out this truth. Extending this logic, it follows that if a person is haughty because of his wealth and therefore treats the poor with contempt or misuses his wealth to harm others, he will be born as a beggar in his next birth. If a person is haughty because of his learning, he will be deprived of learning and will be an illiterate person in his next birth. The lesson therefore is this. Never be haughty because of your wealth, beauty, learning or other accomplishments, but cultivate humility. Be kind and considerate to others who are less fortunate than you and do all that you can to help them.
Thus we find that the only way to get better births in future and to attain liberation ultimately is to strive hard to discard all evil traits which one is born with and to make the mind free from desires. These can be achieved only by the grace of God. The cultivation of intense devotion to God is therefore the prime requisite for the attainment of happiness.
3. Bondage and Liberation are only in the Mind
(An episode from Devi Bhagavatam)
The purpose of the Puranas is to expound the abstruse teachings of Vedanta in a manner easily intelligible to the common man. This is done through the medium of stories which convey profound truths under a very attractive garb. It happens sometimes that the same episode is narrated with substantial differences in different Puranas. This is because the stories themselves are not important; what are important are the lessons we derive from them. This is being stated here at the very outset because the story of Suka as it appears in Devi Bhagavatam, which is going to be narrated here, will be found to be totally at variance with what is found in Srimad Bhagavatam.
The main Puranas are eighteen in number. The authorship of all of them, except one, Vishnupurana, is attributed to sage Vyasa. Sage Parasara, father of sage Vyasa, is considered to be the author of Vishnupurana. Of these, the two which are considered to be the most important are Srimad Bhagavatam and Devi Bhagavatam. The former is devoted to a description of the various incarnations of Lord Vishnu and the narration of His glories. The latter extols the glory of Bhagavati or Parasakti. Each of these Puranas contains about 18000 verses divided into twelve Skandhas. In Srimad Bhagavatam there are 335 chapters and in Devi Bhagavatam there are 318 chapters.
Lord Vishnu (or Narayana) and Bhagavati (or Narayani) are two aspects of the same Supreme Reality known as Brahman in the Upanishads. The concept of the Supreme Being as the Divine Mother of the universe has its basis in the Vedas themselves. The Rigveda contains the famous Devi Sukta, proclaimed, significantly, by a woman seer, Rishi Ambhrini. This hymn may be said to have laid the foundation for the whole doctrine of the manifestation of Chit-sakti as the universe and Her immanence in it.
After composing Devi Bhagavatam, sage Vyasa taught it to his son Suka. At this time Vyasa had a disciple who is referred to merely as 'Suta'. While Vyasa was teaching the Devi Bhagavatam to Suka, his disciple, Suta, who was present, also learnt it. It was Suta who narrated the Devi Bhagavatam to Saunaka and other sages in Naimisharanya, a very sacred spot.
The Devi Bhagavatam begins with a verse reminiscent of the Gayatri Mantra:
"Om. May we meditate on that Primordial Vidya in the form of the all-pervading Consciousness, Who enlivens our intellect".
Vyasa and Suka
The episode narrated below appears in chapters 10 to 19 of Skandha I of Devi Bhagavatam:
Suka, the son of sage Vyasa, was the very incarnation of Vairagya (detachment). Soon after his birth he became the disciple of Brihaspati, the preceptor of the gods. After completing the study of all the scriptures within a very short period, he returned to his father's hermitage. In course of time Vyasa began to think of getting his son married, as only then would he become entitled to perform the religious duties prescribed in the Vedas for a house-holder. One day sage Vyasa told Suka, "My son, you have mastered the Vedas and all the other scriptures. You must now enter the stage of the grihasta by taking a wife. Only a grihasta can properly propitiate the manes and the gods. Your duty to me will also be fulfilled only if you marry. The scriptures say that one who has no son cannot get access to heaven. I am therefore very eager that you should marry. You were born as my son as the result of intense austerities practiced by me. It is therefore your duty to fulfill my wish by getting married".
Bonds of Samsara stronger than iron chains
Suka replied: "Father, it is no doubt true that a son should act according to the wishes of his father. But, at the same time, the father has a duty to give such advice to his son as would lead the latter to the highest good. I am surprised that you, who are so learned, are talking like an ignorant man bewildered by the power of Maya. You say that you want me to be happy. The happiness produced by worldly enjoyments is always mixed with sorrow. Is that real happiness? If I get married, I will have to act according to the wishes of the woman I marry. How can there be happiness when there is dependence on the will of another? One who has been bound by an iron chain may at some time be able to free oneself, but one can never free oneself from the bonds of his wife and children. Will one whose mind is set on the supreme bliss find any attraction in the pleasures of the flesh which are trivial and always mixed with sorrow? Instead of rescuing me from this ocean of Samsara, why are you trying to immerse me deeper into it? It is only the ignorant who will find happiness in worldly life, just as worms are happy in filth. One who, even after having attained a human birth which is so difficult to get and having, in addition, studied all the scriptures, is still attached to the world, is no better than a dog or a pig. Only that person is really learned who strives for liberation from Samsara".
To this Vyasa said: "What you say may, on the surface, appear to be quite logical, but the fact is that you are labouring under some wrong notions. What binds a man is not wife or children or home but the mind. One who is mentally free is not bound even if he has a family and one who is not mentally free is in bondage even if he is outwardly in the Sannyasa Ashrama. Whether a person lives in a house or a hermitage or in the forest, it is the mind that is the cause of bondage as well as of liberation. A householder who does not swerve from the path of righteousness, performs all the duties ordained by the scriptures and does not harm any creature is truly a liberated person. All the other three Ashramas depend on the householder for sustenance. How exalted the Grihastashrama is! Heaven and liberation are within easy reach of one who conducts his life according to the scriptures, in whatever Ashrama he may be. One who transgresses the tenets of the scriptures has no hope of spiritual evolution, even if he is a Sannyasi. The stage of the householder is as difficult as it is exalted. The way to the fourth stage, Sannyasa, is through that of the householder. There is a great risk in jumping from Brahmacharya to Sannyasa. The right path is to live the life of a householder in accordance with the scriptures, then hand over the responsibility of the household to the son, take Vanaprastha and then Sannyasa. You know that the mind and the senses are very powerful. They are likely to make a man go astray. A Brahmachari should, therefore, get married at the proper time. It is very difficult to control the senses when one is young. For your own good, therefore, you should get married. There is nothing wrong whatsoever in this course".
On hearing these words of his father Suka replied: "Whatever you may say, I will not marry. Marriage is undoubtedly a bondage. It can never bring real happiness. One who gets married will have to worry about the means of earning wealth. One whose mind is occupied with the thought of acquiring wealth can never be happy. If he is not able to earn money and remains poor, his relations will treat him with contempt. If he earns wealth, there will be other problems. To earn wealth one has to deviate from the path of righteousness. One who strictly adheres to the path of righteousness can never become rich. Indra, the king of the gods, has all the wealth of the three worlds at his command. But is he happy? He is afraid even of the starving ascetic. You know all this as well as I do. And yet you are trying to push me deeper into this terrible Samsara. The sorrow caused by birth, old age, disease and stay in the mother's womb can all be borne. But the sorrow caused by desire is worse than all these. Because of desire, even those who have mastered the Vedas and all the other scriptures wait at the door of the rich to get something. They bow low before him. They praise him to the skies. All this is just to fill the belly. Cannot the belly be filled with some fruit or root or leaf which can be got in the forest? Instead of that, why should one build a prison for oneself with wife and children? I am not in the least attracted by the Karma Kanda of the Vedas. Please therefore impart to me Jnana or Yoga. Tell me the means by which I can destroy all my Karma: Sanchita, Prarabdha and Agami. Please do not talk to me again about the bondage that marriage undoubtedly is".
On hearing these words of his son Vyasa was overwhelmed by grief. Tears came streaming down his cheeks. His body began to tremble. Seeing all this Suka said to himself: " O God! My father is reacting as if what I am proposing to do is a heinous crime. He is the author of the Vedanta sutras, the Puranas and the Mahabharata. He has divided the Vedas into four. He is reputed to be omniscient and a man of perfect discrimination. But see how Maya has overpowered even him! None can conquer this Maya. Even the Trinity (Brahma, Vishnu and Siva) act according to the commands of the Devi, who is Mahamaya".
Then he spoke to Vyasa thus: "You who are so learned are grieving like an ignorant man. How strange! What is the meaning of the words 'father', 'son' and the like? Who is the father and who is the son? Think who I, now your son, was in a previous birth. Is it not mere delusion to think "I am so and so"? Give up your grief, knowing that all this is Maya. What good can accrue to you from me? Each one has to undergo the consequences of his past actions. It is therefore meaningless to think that one can benefit or suffer due to the actions of some other person. A human birth on the earth is extremely difficult to get and even more so is birth in a noble family of learned persons. What a great pity it will be if one wastes such a birth by being overpowered by Maya!".
Vyasa was astonished to see such intense detachment in his son. He said: "O child, I am very happy to see your firm detachment. If it is still your desire to take Sannyasa you may do so. Such intense detachment is very rarely to be found. The scriptures say that persons with such total detachment can take Sannyasa direct from Brahmacharya. All the same, it will be good for you to study the Bhagavatam which I have composed. It is equal to the Vedas themselves.
Following Vyasa's advice, Suka studied the Bhagavatam. But even that did not clear his doubts and give him satisfaction. Vyasa then told him, "If my Bhagavatam has not cleared all your doubts, I advise you to go to the kingdom of Mithila. A king by name Janaka, who is a liberated soul, is governing that kingdom. He will clear all your doubts".
How can a ruler of a kingdom be a Jivanmukta?
Suka was surprised to hear this and told his father: "O father, what you say is very strange. A king who is governing a country is a Jivanmukta! You say that he will clear my doubts which even you have not been able to clear! Do you want me to go for advice to a householder, and that too a king who is ruling a country? To say that a Jivanmukta is ruling a country is as absurd as saying that a barren woman has given birth to a son. How can a king conquer his senses? Can one who is free from the notions of 'I' and 'mine' rule a country? How can a ruler who enjoys kingly pleasures, who distinguishes between heat and cold, pleasant and unpleasant, friend and foe, be a Jivanmukta? Can he look upon saint and sinner, sage and thief, friend and foe with an equal eye? If he can, how can he function as a ruler? If he cannot, how can he be a Jivanmukta? No one has seen a king who is also a Jivanmukta. All the same, I shall take your advice and go and see this Janaka".
Suka leaves for Mithila
So saying, he prostrated before his father and, after receiving his blessings, set out for Mithila. Before he left, Vyasa made him promise that he would return to Vyasa's hermitage from Mithila.
Suka walked through town and country, hills and dales, forests and fields; he passed through places inhabited by people following diverse customs and religious practices. At the end of three years he reached Mithila. At the entrance to the kingdom of Janaka the guards stopped him and asked him who he was and why he had come there. Suka stood motionless, without uttering a word in reply. The guards told him that they had orders from the king not to let anybody into the country without making full enquiries and finding out what he wanted.
Suka then told them, "My object in coming here has been achieved by your stopping me. It appears that even a Sadhu cannot enter the kingdom of Janaka who is said to be a Jivanmukta!. I have come here after crossing two huge mountains and braving great odds. It was none other than my father who prompted me to come here. But I do not blame him. It is the result of my own karma. Men are generally tempted by money, but I have absolutely no desire for money. It is only my Prarabdha karma that brought me here. It is strange that in this country which is ruled by a Jivanmukta even a Sadhu is not allowed to enter!". So saying, Suka continued to stand there. The guards then said, "O revered sir, we have now realised that you are a Mahatma. Please go in and forgive us for having stopped you".
Suka replied, "You have not done anything wrong. It is the duty of a servant to obey implicitly the orders of his master. You have been very correct in the performance of your duty and you should be commended for that. Nor is the king at fault. It is the duty of the king to find out whether a person entering his kingdom is worthy or not, whether he is an honest man or a thief, and so on. Without thinking about all this I have come here. It is wrong to enter another's house without being invited. That is what I have done. The fault is, therefore, entirely mine".
The guards then wanted to know from him the real import of the terms 'happiness', 'unhappiness', 'honour', 'dishonour', 'friend', 'enemy', etc,. Suka explained that when a person finds his wife, son and others behaving in the manner in which he wants them to behave, he feels happy. If not, he feels unhappy. In other words, happiness arises when a person finds other persons and things around him to be favourable to him and unhappiness when they are unfavourable. Every one is all the time engaged in actions which are expected to bring happiness. Those who help him in this are considered to be friends and those who hinder him are considered enemies. A wise man is one who does not crave for worldly pleasures which attract the ignorant. For a man free from desires happiness lies in being alone and meditating on the Self. Contentment is his friend. Desire, anger and the like are his enemies.
Suka then entered the country of Mithila and continued to walk. When he reached the gates of the king's palace, he was stopped by the guards there. As before, he stood motionless, without uttering a word. Soon the king's minister went to the gate, having heard of the arrival of Suka. He saluted Suka and took him inside. There, in one of the inner chambers of the palace, a number of beautiful young damsels came to attend on him. The minister left, leaving Suka with the damsels. Suka sat down and went into meditation. All the efforts of the damsels to distract him and make him take interest in them failed.
Suka and Janaka
King Janaka himself then came there and after respectfully bowing before Suka he took Suka to his assembly hall. The king then asked Suka the reason for his visit. Suka said, "O king, you have perhaps by now come to know that I am the son of sage Vyasa. After completing my studies under Brihaspati, I returned to my father's hermitage. My father then asked me to get married, saying that the Grihasthashrama is the greatest of all the four Ashramas. I felt strongly that marriage is a bondage and that it takes one away from liberation. I was not convinced by all the reasons given by my father in favour of marriage. He then asked me to approach you and get my doubts cleared. I have come in obedience to his words. O king, kindly tell me what is the means to liberation: austerity, performance of yajnas, etc., or knowledge".
Janaka said: "I shall tell you what an aspirant for liberation should do. After being invested with the sacred thread, he should go to a Guru and study the Vedas. After completing his studies and having given Gurudakshina, he should enter the stage of the householder by getting married. He should then perform the rites laid down in the Vedas without attachment. He should be truthful, compassionate and free from all desires and cultivate purity of mind and body. He should also beget progeny. He need remain with his family only till his first-born son gets married. Thereafter he may enter the Vanaprastha Ashrama. After conquering the six internal enemies, namely, desire, anger, greed, delusion, pride and envy, he may take Sannyasa. It should be noted that Sannyasa is only for those who have attained total detachment. Out of the 48 Samskaras laid down in the scriptures, 40 are for householders and the remaining 8 are for Sannyasis".
Suka asked: "For a person who has attained Jnana, Vijnana and Vairagya, is it compulsory to go through all the four Ashramas one after another? Can he not go straightaway to the Sannyasa Ashrama from Brahmacharya?
Janaka: "O young sage! understand that the senses are very powerful. They cannot be relied upon. Disaster may befall the immature. If a person who is not yet fit takes Sannyasa and if thereafter desire for food, wealth, children or other comforts arises in his mind, what is the way out for him? Since vasanas will not get extinguished by themselves, a wise man should first eradicate them before taking Sannyasa. The impact of a fall is greater for a person who is at a height. A person at the lowest level cannot fall; he can only go up. A person who wants to climb up has to be very careful. If a Sannyasi falls, there is no remedy for him. The senses cannot be subdued by force. To attain complete control over the senses one should go through the Ashramas, one by one. A man of wisdom will not be affected by the pairs of opposites such as heat and cold, honour and dishonour, or gain and loss, even if he is a householder. Look at me. I rule the kingdom, I perform all my duties, I eat what I want and experience everything. At the same time, am I not liberated? You can also be like that. Bondage and liberation are both in the mind. If the mind is impure, nothing will be achieved by bathing in all the sacred rivers. If the mind is controlled, there can be no talk of bondage or liberation. It is only the mind that makes distinctions such as friend and foe, and the like".
Suka: "You say that the rituals laid down in the Karmakanda of the Vedas should be performed meticulously. But how can the cruel deed of sacrifice of animals be the means to liberation? Is not the drinking of soma juice in a sacrifice clearly contrary to Dharma? Are not killing of animals and eating their flesh unrighteous acts? Moreover, all that can be attained through these Vedic rituals is enjoyment of the pleasures of heaven for a limited period. They cannot confer liberation. Heaven is only a chain made of gold, which can bind a man as effectively as an iron chain. My mind is not at all attracted by such transient pleasures, which ultimately lead only to sorrow".
The secret of Karma
Janaka: " O wise young sage! You have not yet understood these matters correctly. You have been looking only at the external appearance of things. That way you get only superficial knowledge. You have to go deeper to understand subtle truths. It is not the outward appearance that decides what is righteous and what is not. This is the secret of Karma. The same action may amount to injury to a living creature in one situation, but not so in another.
The Vedas declare that the killing of an animal in a Vedic sacrifice is not violence. If it is done without attachment and craving for the fruit, it is not violence, but even that would become violence if there is attachment and desire for the fruit. Any action done without attachment and without the sense of doer-ship is no action at all and it does not create any bondage.
Suka: "What you say may be true in the case of a person who is free from desire. But how can one who is under the control of Maya become free from desire? When even those who have mastered the scriptures are not free from attachment and aversion, what to speak of the ordinary man? Mere study of the scriptures will not destroy nescience (ignorance of the Self). Can darkness be removed by merely shouting 'light, light'? You said, "Look at me". I have looked at you carefully. I do not find you to be in any way different from other worldly men. I see you only as a king possessed of wealth, fame, power and all objects of enjoyment. Notions of friend and foe, happiness and sorrow, likes and dislikes -- you have all these as much as anyone else. And you call yourself Videha (meaning Jivanmukta). This is nothing but vanity. It is like an illiterate fool bearing the name 'Vidyadhara', a blind man being named 'Divakara' (which means sun) or a beggar having the name 'Lakshmidhara'. The name 'Videha' given to you is as meaningless as these. It is only a title that you have inherited from your ancestors who got it somehow, without any reason to justify it. Whatever that may be, as far as I am concerned, I am not at all interested in home, wife, children or wealth. I wish to remain free from all such bondage".
Janaka replied: "O sage, you think you can be free from all bondage if you go and dwell in the forest. Remember that there are animals there also and you can develop likes and dislikes towards them. The same five elements which are here are present in the forest also. How can you be free from any connection with them? As long as you have a body, you will need food. The thought about food will be with you even in the forest. Can you become free from thoughts about your yogadanda (staff), your deer-skin and your water pot? The thoughts I have about my kingdom are also only of the same nature. It is not the quantity or quality of what one has that makes for bondage, but it is the sense of possession. A renunciate attached to his loincloth is not less in bondage than a king attached to his kingdom. It is the thought that this body is yours that is the fundamental bondage. Being free from all sense of possession and knowing that I am not bound, I remain happy all the time, whatever I do. You, on the contrary, are always sad, thinking that you are in bondage. Giving up this wrong notion, know that you are never in bondage and that you are ever free and be at peace with yourself. If you understand this truth, you will realise that a man fully engaged in action can still be completely liberated".
On hearing these words of Janaka, Suka realised that bondage does not arise from action, that none can remain without performing any action and that it is one's attitude towards action that creates the distinction between bondage and liberation. He took leave of Janaka and returned to his father's hermitage. He married Peevaree, the daughter of the manes. He begot four sons and a daughter. Thereafter he left for Kailasa and did penance there. Finally he cast off his body and attained Videhamukti.
4. Means To Self-realisation
Many of us have studied the Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita and acquired an intellectual understanding of their teachings. We know intellectually that we are not the body or the mind or the intellect, that we are in reality the self or Atma which is beyond these and which gives consciousness to the body, mind and intellect and enables them to function. We know that the joys and sorrows arising from our contact with the external world pertain only to the body, mind and intellect and not to the self which cannot be touched by them. But we also know that this intellectual understanding is not enough and that unless this matures into actual experience we cannot say that we have attained the ultimate goal of human life. The goal to be attained is a state in which we remain absolutely unaffected by joys and sorrows, pleasure and pain, success and failure and all such pairs of opposites. What is it that prevents our intellectual knowledge from becoming translated into actual experience? We can find out the answer to this question by taking two examples, one in which an intellectual understanding gets translated into actual experience and another in which it does not.
A person is given a dish which he has never tasted before and he is told that it is a very sweet dish. He now has an intellectual understanding about the nature of the dish, namely, that it is very sweet, but he has not actually experienced the sweetness. He puts a bit of it on his tongue and actually experiences its sweetness. Here his intellectual understanding has been translated into actual experience and the two are fully in accord with each other. But suppose this person is, at this time, suffering from some illness which makes everything taste bitter in his mouth. Even if he is fully convinced that the dish must be sweet as he has been told by the person who gave it to him, he is not able to experience that sweetness, but he experiences only a bitter taste. His illness obstructs his intellectual knowledge from being translated into actual experience.
We can take another example. There are persons in our country in some of the interior States who have never seen the sea. Take one such person who has read everything about the sea in books. He knows that the sea is a very vast stretch of water, that waves constantly rise and fall in it, that one cannot see the other shore, and so on. When he actually goes to some place on the sea coast, he experiences all that he has learnt from books. But suppose this person is taken blindfolded to the sea. Then he will not be able to experience what he has learnt from books. The bandage on his eyes prevents his intellectual knowledge from becoming an actual experience.
In the same way there is some obstruction because of which our intellectual understanding acquired from the scriptures does not mature into actual experience. The obstruction is the mind which is full of desires and is therefore all the time going out into the external world through the sense-organs. If this obstruction is removed, we will be able to experience what we know intellectually. The means by which this obstruction can be removed and the actual experience of what is taught in the Upanishads, which is what is known as Self-realisation, can be attained are described in the Bhagavadgita.
The Lord says in the Gita that knowledge is enveloped by ignorance and therefore all living beings are deluded (Ch.5.15). When it is said that A envelops B, it clearly follows that both A and B are positive entities and they exist at the same place at the same time. That means that both knowledge and ignorance exist in us at the same time. This would appear to be opposed to reason if we understand 'ignorance' as meaning merely 'absence of knowledge'. But in Vedanta ignorance or Avidya or Ajnaana is not mere absence of knowledge; it is of the nature of a positive entity, described as 'Bhaavarupa', as opposed to 'Abhaava' which is a mere negation or non-existence. Knowledge here does not mean 'knowledge of an object'. It means Brahman or Atman, which is of the nature of Knowledge or Pure Consciousness. This Atman, which is our own essence, does not become manifest to us because of the Ajnaana which covers it, just as on a very cloudy day the sun, being hidden by the clouds, is not visible to us. Actually, what is covered by the clouds is not the sun, which is much bigger than the clouds, but our vision. Similarly, when it is said that ignorance covers the Atman, what is meant is that ignorance covers our mental vision and prevents us from experiencing that we are the Atman or Brahman and not the body-mind complex. If this ignorance or Ajnaana is removed, the Atman will shine forth in all its splendour (Gita, 5.16). What has therefore to be done is only the removal of ignorance and not the production of knowledge, which is eternally present and which is our very essence, or our real nature. The mind functions through the sense-organs. The Kathopanishad says that the sense-organs are all directed outward and so they are incapable of knowing the Atman which is within. A rare person, having acquired total detachment, withdraws all his senses from their objects and concentrates the mind on the Atman and thus realises that he is the Atman and not the body, mind or intellect (Kath.up.II.1.i). This is Self-realisation. By this means the obstruction caused by the mind id removed. This is known in Vedanta as manonaasa or destruction of the mind. But what is destroyed is not the mind itself, but its tendency to go out through the sense-organs and experience objects and feel attachment towards those that are pleasant and aversion towards those that are unpleasant. This attachment and aversion, which find place in every individual, are the actual obstructions to Self-realisation. As the Gita says, each sense-organ has either attachment or aversion towards its objects. Attachment and aversion are the enemies who block a person's path to liberation. One should therefore take care to see that he does not fall a victim to them, by rooting them out (3.34).
A very apt illustration in this regard is found in Vedanta texts. When a potter makes a pot, he does not have to make any special effort to fill it with space. But if one fills the pot with water, there will be no space inside the pot. In other words, the space becomes covered by water. If the water is poured out, the pot becomes filled with space again. If you want to fill the pot with any other substance, say, rice, you have to make an effort, but if you again want the pot to have only space inside, all that you have to do is to remove whatever other substance is inside it. In the same way, Atma is ever existent in the mind, like space in the pot, but it is covered by all other thoughts. When the mind is emptied of all other thoughts, the Atma will shine forth. This is what is called Self-realisation. The following passage in the 'Jivanmuktiviveka' of Swami Vidyaranya makes this very clear: "A pot of clay, when made, comes filled with the all-pervading space; thereafter, filling it up with water, rice or any other substance is due to human effort. Though the water, etc., in the pot can be taken out, the space inside cannot be removed; it continues to be there even if the mouth of the pot be hermetically sealed. In the same way, the mind, in the act of being born, comes into existence full of the all-pervading Self that is pure Consciousness itself (Atma-chaitanya). The mind takes on after its birth, owing to the influence of merit and demerit, the forms of pleasure, pain and other such transformations. While these can be removed from the mind, the form of the Self, which does not depend on any external cause, cannot be removed". It is therefore said:- "One should cause the mind, which by its very nature is ever prone to assume the form of either the Self or the not-Self, to throw into the background its perceptions of the not-Self, by taking the form of the Self alone".
5. Anatomy of Bhakti
To the common run of people the practice of Bhakti means nothing more than going to the temple regularly or worshipping God by means of rituals in an image or other symbol at home. The persons who do this consider themselves to be Bhaktas and are considered so by others also. While such regular worship is certainly necessary and should be practised by every one, the Bhagavata Purana says that much more is expected of one who wants to be considered a devotee in the true sense of the term. Sage Kapila, an incarnation of the Lord, explains in the third Skandha of Srimad Bhagavata who a real devotee is. He says that a man who worships God in an image, but looks upon other human beings with contempt and exploits them, makes a mockery of worship, unmindful of the fact that the same God dwells in them also. The Lord will not be pleased even though worshipped in an image by means of rituals with costly materials, by a person who does not see the same God in all beings. The worship of God through rituals laid down in the scriptures is no doubt an essential ingredient of Bhakti, but it is not an end in itself. It is only the means to the realization of the presence of the same divinity in all beings. A person who exploits others or treats them with contempt and has no consideration for their feelings and rights cannot qualify as a Bhakta even if he assiduously performs ritual worship meticulously every day. This is the gist of verses 21 to 25 of chapter 29 of Skandha III of Bhagavata.
Now let us see what the great sage Narada says about Bhakti. Narada says in Narada Bhakti sutra that Bhakti is supreme love of God. Here it must be clarified that God is not some Being residing somewhere in the heavens who stands apart from the world, but God is the Indwelling Self of all living beings in this world. Thus love of God means love of all creatures, who are all His manifestations. Narada further says that an essential characteristic of Bhakti is the dedication of all activities to God. Thus what is described as Karmayoga in the Bhagavadgita is also an essential ingredient of Bhakti according to Narada. A Bhakta is thus one who does not separate religious and secular activities, but considers all of them as service of God. The Lord says in the Gita (18.46) that the performance of one's duties is itself worship of God and is the means to spiritual progress. A person who looks upon every action, whether religious or secular, as worship of God will act without selfishness and will not harm others in any way. Narada declares that the highest exemplars of Bhakti are the Gopikas, who dedicated all their actions to Lord Krishna and whose minds were always engrossed in the thought of Krishna.
The Bhagavata, in Skandha XI, chapter 2, verses 45 to 47 divides devotees into three categories according to the progress achieved by them in the path of devotion. The highest category, called Bhaagavatottama, is: "He who sees himself in all creatures and all creatures in his own self". That is to say, he realizes that the same Self pervades the whole universe and he therefore looks upon all creatures in the world as God. He does not see any difference between himself and others. Thus the foremost devotee is also a Jnaani, one who has ceased to identify himself with his limited personality.
The second category of devotees is: "He who cherishes love for the Lord, is friendly towards other devotees, compassionate towards the ignorant and does not harbour any enmity even towards those inimical to him". Such a person has not yet got over the sense of difference between himself and others, but has progressed to the extent of being free from pride, arrogance and hatred.
The last category of devotees is: "He who worships the Lord with faith in an image, but does not serve His devotees or other beings". Even such a person is far superior to the pseudo-Bhakta referred to earlier, because, while the former has faith in God and considers worship as his duty, the latter looks upon God merely as a means for the fulfilment of his selfish desires. The latter does not deserve to be called a Bhakta at all. Prahlada says in the Bhagavata that a person who worships God expecting some worldly benefit in return is not a devotee at all, but only a trader (Bh. VII. 10.4).
In Sivanandalahari Sri Sankara defines Bhakti as that state of mind in which all thoughts are directed only towards the lotus feet of the Lord, just as the seed of the Ankola tree sticks to the tree itself on falling down, the iron needle jumps towards the magnet, the devoted wife thinks always of her husband, the creeper clings to a tree and the river keeps flowing towards the ocean.
At the highest level, Bhakti and Jnana are the same. This becomes clear if we compare the descriptions given of a Sthitaprajna in chapter 2 and a Bhakta in chapter 12 of the Gita, which are identical in essence.
The paths of Bhakti and Jnaana are not independent of each other. True Bhakti presupposes knowledge of the relationship between God and the world. Without this knowledge Bhakti will be nothing more than blind belief in some superhuman power called God, who blesses those who worship him and punishes those who do not. Such blind belief will crumble at the advent of the slightest adversity, because the person will feel that he has been let down by God on whom he had relied. But if he has some knowledge of the teachings of Vedanta, he will realise that sufferings are not inflicted on him arbitrarily by God, but are the result of his own past actions and that they are intended to cleanse his heart of impurities and engender in him an attitude of detachment towards worldly joys and sorrows. So also, if the path of Jnaana is followed without an element of Bhakti, it will become dry logic and the person will be devoid of love and compassion for other living beings. The upanishads themselves say that the Self cannot be realised by mere scholarship. The upanishads declare that ignorance of our true nature is the root cause of all our sufferings. Because of this ignorance, which is called Avidya, we identify ourselves with the body, the sense organs and the mind and attribute to ourselves the joys and sorrows which pertain only to the body and mind. In reality we are the Self or Atma which has no birth or death, hunger or thirst, sorrow or delusion, old age or disease. The wrong identification with the body, mind and senses is what is known as bondage. This bondage is not real, but is the result of Avidya or the ignorance of our real nature. What is caused by ignorance can be removed only by right knowledge. One point stressed by Advaita is that even when we look upon ourselves as individuals limited by the body, we are in reality none other than Brahman. It is not as if every one is initially in bondage and becomes liberated on the dawn of Self-knowledge. Liberation is only the removal of the wrong identification with the body and mind and not the attainment of some thing which did not exist earlier.
Now a doubt may arise. Since liberation is attained only by Self-knowledge, what is the purpose served by Bhakti? The upanishads say that the mind is the cause of bondage as well as of liberation. It is like the key which locks as well as opens a door. When the mind is attached to sense objects it causes bondage. When it becomes free from such attachment, the very same mind is the means to liberation. Self-knowledge can arise only in a mind that has become free from all desires for worldly objects and enjoyments and is one-pointed. It is the nature of the mind to hanker after sense pleasures. The mind can be withdrawn from them only by attaching it to something else. This is the role played by Bhakti. As devotion to God takes root in the mind and grows, desires for worldly objects become gradually weaker and finally disappear. The Lord says in Srimad Bhagavata that, unlike attachment to worldly objects, attachment to God does not cause bondage, just as a burnt seed cannot germinate, though its appearance as a seed continues (Bh. X. 22. 26).
It is said in Srimad Bhagavata that devotion to God gives rise to detachment and leads to Self-knowledge (I.2.7). In the Bhagavadgita the Lord says that a devotee is one whose mind is always fixed on Him, who has surrendered himself totally to Him, who always recounts His glories and who ever revels in Him. The Lord confers on such a devotee the yoga of wisdom through which the devotee can attain to Him. The Lord dwells in his heart and dispels the darkness born of ignorance (Ch 10. sl. 9 to 11).
Madhusudana Saraswati, the great devotee and Advaitin and a celebrated commentator on the Bhagavadgita says in the introduction to his commentary that Bhakti pervades both Karmayoga and Jnaanayoga. He describes Bhakti as threefold: Bhakti combined with Karma, Bhakti by itself, and Bhakti combined with Jnaana. Karmayoga involves the dedication of the fruit of all activities to God. This necessarily implies devotion to God. Bhakti is thus an essential ingredient of Karmayoga. Jnaanayoga leads to the realisation of one's identity with Brahman. Identification is possible only when there is intense love. A husband and wife identify themselves with each other and with their children only because of love. Devotion, which is defined by sage Narada as supreme love of God, is thus an essential ingredient of Jnaanayoga also.
All teachers of Advaita have therefore stressed the importance of practicing both devotion and Knowledge together. Sri Sankara, the greatest exponent of Advaita and the greatest of Jnaanis, composed many soul-stirring hymns in praise of various deities in order that the emotional side of the human being may also be developed. It is therefore clear that there is no contradiction between Advaita and devotion to a Personal God (Saguna Brahman) as wrongly thought by some. It has been categorically declared that worship of Saguna Brahman is the best means to the realisation of Nirguna Brahman.
6. Gitacharya and Gopijanavallabha
It is said in Srimad Bhagavatam that the Lord, in His incarnation as Sri Krishna, graced the earth for 125 years (Bh. XI. 6.25). During this period Krishna took on many different roles, as Gopijanavallabha or the darling of the Gopis, as the slayer of many Asuras, as the messenger of the Pandavas to the Kauravas, as Arjuna's charioteer and as the Gitacharya, the exponent of the essence of the upanishads in the form of the Bhagavadgita. The most enchanting and significant of all these roles are those of the Gitacharya and the Gopijanavallabha. According to Swami Vivekananda, the Gopijanavallabha is even greater than the Gitacharya, because it is in that role that His infinite compassion and love are manifested to the fullest extent.
The word 'gopijana' should not be understood as encompassing only the female inhabitants of Gokula. Every sincere devotee who surrenders himself or herself totally to the Lord is included in the term 'gopijana'. Swami Vivekananda says: "Gopileela is the acme of the religion of love, in which individuality vanishes and there is communion. It is in this leela that Sri Krishna shows what He teaches in the Bhagavadgita: "Give up everything for Me. Go and take shelter under Brindavanleela to understand Bhakti". Krishna, as the Gopijanavallabha, demonstrates to us by His own example and that of the gopis how we can actually translate into practice the teachings of the Gita.
Krishna's relationship with the gopis is very much misunderstood and consequently misinterpreted. To quote Swami Vivekananda again: "There are not wanting fools, even in the midst of us, who cannot understand the marvelous significance of that most marvelous of all episodes. These are, let me repeat, impure fools, even born of our blood, who try to shrink from that as if from something impure. To them I have only one thing to say, 'First make yourselves pure'; and you must remember that he who tells the history of the love of the gopis is one who was born pure, the eternally pure Suka, the son of Vyasa. So long as there is selfishness in the heart, so long is love of God impossible. Ay, forget first the love for gold and name and fame and for this little temporary world of ours. Then, only then, you will understand the love of the gopis, too holy to be attempted without giving up everything, too sacred to be understood until the soul has become perfectly pure. People with ideas of sex and money, and of fame, bubbling up every minute in the heart, daring to criticise and understand the love of the gopis! This is the very essence of the Krishna incarnation". (Sages of India).
The central teaching of the Gita is that we should give up our ego and perform all actions as an offering to the Lord, without any attachment to the fruit thereof. This is what was practiced by the gopikas. Sri Narayana Bhattatiri says in Sriman Narayaniyam, a condensed version of Srimad Bhagavatam: "While performing their household chores, the gopikas used to sing songs about Thee; all conversation among themselves was only about Thee; even in dream they would talk only about Thee. Almost all their actions were imitations of Thine. Seeing everything there thus identified with Thee, Uddhava was absolutely wonder-struck" (Srimannarayaniyam 76.8).
The gopikas had completed effaced their individuality and had identified themselves with Krishna. The butter which they lovingly offered to Krishna represents their heart. Butter is white and soft. Whiteness stands for purity. The implication of the offering of butter is that the gopikas surrendered their hearts, which were absolutely pure and soft, always melting in love for Krishna, to Krishna Himself. Sri Sankara says in Sivanandalahari that the only offering we can make to the supreme, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent Lord is our hearts:"Thou holdest the golden mountain (Meru) in Thy hand (as a bow); Kubera, the Lord of wealth, is ever by Thy side; the wish-yielding tree, Kalpakavriksha, the Kamadhenu and the gem which fulfils all desires, Chintamani, are all in Thy abode; the moon has its abode on Thy head; all auspiciousness abides at Thy feet. When this is so, what object of value can I offer unto Thee! Therefore, O Lord, let my mind be Thine (as that is the only thing I can dedicate to Thee)" (Sivanandalahari, 27).
The great sage Narada extols the devotion of the gopikas in the Narada Bhakti sutras. Narada defines Bhakti as 'supreme love of God'. Love of God becomes supreme only when (1) it is totally free from any selfish desire, (2) there is no place whatsoever for any love of a worldly nature in the mind, and (3) the devotee completely forgets himself or herself and sees only the object of his love, God, everywhere. All these are found in the love of the gopikas for Krishna. Narada says further in sutras 19 to 24:
Sutra 19: "The essential characteristics of Bhakti are the dedication of all activities to God and the feeling of extreme anguish if He is ever forgotten". Dedication of all actions to God, which is known as Karmayoga in the Gita, is thus an essential ingredient of Bhakti according to Narada. This, again, is what the gopikas were doing. Apart from representing their heart, butter has another significance too. It is the final product of all the labours of the gopikas. They milk their cows, turn the milk into curd, churn the curd and get butter. This butter, which is the essence of milk and which is the final product, is offered by them to Krishna. The anguish which the gopikas feel when they are separated from Krishna even for a very short period finds expression in the beautiful 'Gopikagitam' in chapter 31 of Skandha X of Srimad Bhagavatam.
Sutra 20: Examples of such perfect Bhakti do exist.
Sutra 21: Such indeed was the Bhakti of the gopikas of Vraja.
Sutra 22: It cannot be said that they were ignorant of the fact that Krishna was the supreme Lord Himself.
It is made very clear in the Gopikagitam in Srimad Bhagavatam that the gopikas knew that Krishna was the supreme Being Himself: "You (Krishna) are not just the son of Yasoda; you are the Indweller of all and the witness of all minds" (Bh.X.31.4).
Sutra 23: If they did not have this knowledge, their love would have been nothing more than the base passion of a mistress for her paramour.
Sutra 24: In such profane love the mistress is not at all interested in the happiness of her paramour. Such a love is purely selfish. But in the love of the gopikas there was no selfishness at all.
Thus Narada considers the gopikas to be the best exemplars of supreme devotion, or parabhakti.
The gopikas practiced Karmayoga by dedicating all their actions to Krishna. They had intense devotion to Krishna. They knew that the same supreme Being indwells all creatures and is the witness of all their actions. Thus we see in the gopikas the synthesis of all the three yogas, which is the essence of the Bhagavadgita.
It is thus clear that what was taught by Krishna in the Gita was actually demonstrated in their lives by the gopikas.
7. Vishayananda to Brahmananda
Every human being has desires, but the desires vary from person to person and from time to time for the same person. Some desire wealth, some fame, some power; one who has no children wants children, a bachelor wants to get married, and so on. But if these persons are asked why they desire all these, the answer will invariably be that they expect to get happiness by the fulfillment of their desires. So it is clear that what every human being wants is happiness, and each one has his own notion of what will bring him or her that happiness. Thus it is happiness alone that is desired for its own sake, and everything else is desired only for the sake of happiness. In Vedanta all objects of desire are denoted by the word 'Vishaya'. This noun is derived from the verbal root 'si' with prefix 'vi' which means 'to bind'. This very derivation indicates that it is these objects of desire that bind a human being firmly to transmigratory existence characterised by repeated births and deaths. The happiness experienced on the attainment of any object of desire is known as 'Vishayananda'.
'Brahmananda' is the bliss which is the very nature of the person who has realised that he is Brahman. This realisation is the consequence of the removal of the wrong identification with the body, and mind, which is natural to every living creature. Brahman being Bliss itself, one who has realised that he is Brahman remains as that very Bliss. Though Bliss is the real nature of every human being, it is only the realised soul who is aware of it.
All desires spring from identification with the body and mind, because the happiness looked forward to by the fulfillment of desires is to be enjoyed by the body and the mind. Thus Vishayananda, or the happiness arising from objects, has, as its basis, identification with the body and mind. On the other hand, Brahmananda is the consequence of the removal of this identification. These two thus appear to be diametrically opposed to each other. However, paradoxically, as it may seem, Swami Vidyaranya says in Panchadasi (XV.1) that Vishayananda is the door to Brahmananda and is an aspect of it. We shall see how this is so.
Desires and their effect on man
When a person intensely desires something, his mind remains obsessed by that desire. He is full of anxiety about the fulfillment of that desire and fears about obstacles cropping up. In such a state of mental agitation he is very miserable. If he fails in his effort he becomes even more unhappy. His mind becomes filled with anger and hatred against those whom he considers, rightly or wrongly, to have been responsible for his failure. He becomes dejected and despondent. There cannot be even the slightest trace of happiness when the mind is in such a state.
When and how happiness arises
If, on the other hand, the object desired is attained, then his mind becomes calm and remains so until another desire arises to disturb it. When the mind is calm, the bliss which is the real nature of every human being, becomes clearly reflected in it, just as the moon is clearly reflected in a pond in which the water is clear and not disturbed by the wind. When the mind is agitated by anxieties, fears and other such emotions, the reflection of bliss is indistinct like the reflection of the moon in a pond in which the water is muddy or disturbed by wind. Thus happiness is the result of the calming of the mind for the time being, but it is wrongly attributed to the attainment of the desired object.
Happiness does not come from objects
Objects have no capacity to produce happiness or unhappiness. The same object may give happiness to one person and unhappiness to another person. It is also every one's experience that the same object gives happiness at one time and unhappiness at another time to the same person. Warm clothing gives comfort in cold weather, but one cannot bear even the touch of it in a hot summer.
The mind is the cause of happiness and unhappiness
A person is happy when other living beings or inanimate objects are favorable to him, and unhappy when they are unfavorable. A thing or person is considered favourable when that thing or person responds in the way desired. If a son obeys his father, the father is happy; if he does not, the father is unhappy. A person is happy with his car or any other object as long as it functions well; if it does not, he is unhappy and wants to get rid of it. It is thus clear that happiness and unhappiness are only states of the mind, but are wrongly thought to be caused by external objects. Happiness is the result of the mind becoming calm. The mind becomes calm temporarily when a particular desire is fulfilled, and then happiness is experienced. But soon another desire crops up and agitates the mind, causing unhappiness. Thus it is clear that lasting happiness cannot be attained by the fulfillment of desires.
Detachment is the key to lasting happiness
True and lasting happiness can result only if the mind is permanently kept calm. This can be achieved only if desires, which are the cause of mental agitation, are completely eliminated. We are therefore led to the conclusion that total detachment towards all worldly pleasures (Vairagya) is the only means for the attainment of true and lasting happiness, which is Brahmananda.
Vairagya is the most essential requisite for a person who wishes to attain Self-knowledge, which alone will lead to eternal bliss. It is said by Sri Sankara that one who attempts to attain Self-knowledge without cultivating dispassion is like a person trying to cross a river on the back of a crocodile, mistaking it for a floating log of wood. He is sure to be eaten up by the crocodile midway.
It is now clear why Swami Vidyaranya says that Vishayananda is the door to, and an aspect of Brahmananda. Vishayananda is nothing but Brahmananda reflected in a calm mind.
Why the bliss aspect of Brahman is reflected only in a calm mind
Brahman is Existence-Consciousness-Bliss. The existence aspect alone is manifested in inanimate objects, but not consciousness and bliss. This is because inanimate objects have no subtle body which alone can reflect consciousness and bliss. The consciousness aspect is manifested in all animate beings, even when the mind is agitated, for we see that even a person who is unhappy is conscious. But the bliss aspect is manifested only when the mind is calm. A doubt arises as to why, when Brahman has both the aspects of consciousness and bliss, only one of them, consciousness, is reflected in an agitated mind. When you look at the reflection of your face in a mirror, you find that the face in its entirety is reflected and not only some aspects of it. This doubt is answered by Swami Vidyaranya by giving two examples. When water is in contact with fire, only the heat aspect of fire is absorbed by the water and not the light of fire. But when a log of wood comes into contact with fire, it absorbs both the heat and the light aspects. The same is the case with the reflection of Brahman.