A series of short writings by Pujya Swami Dayananda Sarawati gives an insight into Vedanta and sets us on the right course to start understanding and prusuing the Study of the Scriptures. Here He introduces us to the concept of Spiritual Practice.
Introduction to Spiritual Practice
Growth in religious life starts with one’s acknowledgement that there is something higher than him. One begins with the transactional nature of religion, i.e. performing certain rituals asking God’s assistance to achieve certain personal benefits. The first portion of the Vedas called Veda Pūrva or Karma Kāṇḍa prescribes rituals/prayers using the organs of action (karma indriyāṇi)
- Kāyika karmāṇi – Using the body such as prostrations etc
- Vācika karmāṇi – Using the mouth to chant prayers, mantras etc
- Mānasa karmāṇi – Using the mind for meditation
We ask for assistance from God to give us the instruments of enjoyment; these fall into three broad categories (sādhanatrayam):
- Improvement of the Body mind complex (upādhi) – one needs healthy body and mind to enjoy anything in this world
- Availability of sense objects (viṣaya) – One needs sense objects that include family, friends etc. to enjoy with
- The right environment (loka) – One needs a peaceful, harmonious and healthy
environment to enjoy the sense objects
The benefits received from through these three sādhanas are called sādhyas and since they are three in number also, they are called sādhyatrayam; they are upādhi phalam, viṣayaphalam and lokaphalam.
However, these three benefits also have three defects:
- They are mixed with pain when obtaining what you don’t have and when protecting what you have
- They by nature never lead to full satisfaction. One always wants more and so travels from one sense object to another to find happiness
- One develops attachment or addiction to them. There is sorrow when one is separated from them; the intensity is directly proportional to the strength of attachment.
At some point in time some wonder if there is an end to it. Can one be free of all this pleasure and pain and achieve permanent peace?
The scriptures including the Bhagavad Gita attempt to answer the following questions:
- What is spiritual life?
- Can I live in this world and enjoy and still not be bound by pleasure and pain?
- Who am I?
- Who is God? What is my true relationship to God?
The Bhagavad Gītā or the Divine Song is a dialogue between the teacher and the student (Guru-śiṣya-saṃvāda) where Krishna is the teacher and Arjuna is the student. It takes place on the battlefield just before the great Mahābhārata war. Arjuna faces a great dilemma over the war and experiences intense grief over the prospect of killing some of the loved ones on the other side. Krishna’s teaching (not preaching) to Arjuna not only removes the latter’s dilemma, but has given the world an eternal and universal solution to all the problems. It is eternal and universal because the teaching is still relevant today, a several thousand years later to anyone in any walk of life.
The Bhagavad Gītā is an open secret. It is open because it is available to everyone and it is a secret because very few make avail of it. It contains the essence of the vast knowledge of the Vedas in a systematically constructed step-by-step manual that provides the roadmap for artful living and achieving Moksha or the ultimate freedom while still living.
The Bhagavad Gītā’s eighteen chapters are divided into three sections of six chapters each. Each section is called a ṣaṭka (means consisting of six).
In the first section (prathama ṣaṭka), three main topics are addressed – the nature of a living being (jīvasvarūpa), personal effort (prayatna) and spiritual practice (karma yoga and jñāna yoga). A human being pursues four primary goals (puruṣārtha) – security, luxury, good after life and liberation (arthārtha, kāmārtha, dharmārtha and mokṣārtha). Without the personal effort, one cannot achieve any of these goals.
In the second section (madhyama ṣaṭka), the emphasis is shifted to three other topics – the nature of God (Īśvarasvarūpa), meditation (upāsanā) on God with form (Saguṇa Īśvara) and the grace of God (Īśvara anugraha). Without the grace of God, any amount of effort will be unable to achieve the goals. It is declared in scriptures
(Yājñavalkyasmṛti), that personal effort and the grace of God are like two wheels of a chariot; in the absence of either the chariot will not move.
In the final section (carama ṣaṭka), Krishna emphasizes the Jīvātma-Paramātma-aikya or the oneness of the nature of the microcosm (jīvātmā) and the macrocosm (Paramātmā). This is akin to stating that the nature of the wave (microcosm) is the same as that of the ocean (macrocosm), which is water. This is also called vyaṣṭi-samaṣṭi-aikya or the oneness of the individuality with the totality. The essence of the final section is the enquiry into the principal statements of Upanishads called mahāvākhyas. The examples of statements that pronounce the oneness of jīvātmā and Paramātmā are, “I am Brahman” (Ahaṃ Brahmāsmi) and “Thou Art That” (Tat tvaṃ asi).
In the Gita, Krishna highlights the importance of leading an ethical life and teaches the values to accomplish it. Dharma is treated as a limb of the Vedic philosophy. He also stresses on scriptural enquiry as the means to liberation. Mokṣa cannot be obtained through action, intuition or meditation alone. The study of Vedanta under a proper Guru alone leads one to its proper understanding, which in turn will lead to proper enquiry.
Gita, in essence, teaches spiritual evolution and not revolution. Vedas never support revolution or sudden occurrence of things. The Spirit (Puruṣa) and the nature (Prakṛti) always existed, but at the time of creation, the latter was in a non-manifested form like the seed of a tree. Over a period of time, the world evolved like the tree from the seed and it is still evolving. We are all evolving in one way or the other. Gita teaches us how to spiritually evolve, i.e. to understand the nature of life in the manifested form. It first teaches us to practice karma yoga for the purification of the mind. Karma yoga starts with selfish actions (sakāma-karma) and then graduates to selfless actions (niṣkāmakarma). A human being (jīva) is initially dominated by laziness (tamo-guna) and to motivate him, he has to be taught selfish actions that bring him personal benefits. Once the person is active, he should begin to perform selfless actions by sharing and serving for the benefit of the others. The highly active person then needs to learn to slowly wind down. To the eligible people, Gita prescribes Jñāna Yoga to pursue Self-knowledge. Only upon gaining the knowledge can one be free. So, the roadmap to freedom is:
Karma yoga ——> Jñāna Yoga —–> Jñāna —–> Mokṣa
Some recommendations are given here for the sustained study of the scriptures:
- One must have faith (śraddhā) in the scriptures. To be a doctor, one must have faith in the medical science. Without this, knowledge in any subject cannot be acquired.
- Consistent listening and understanding over a length of time is critical for the study of scriptures. With sporadic listening, one ends up with thoughts and concepts too fragmented to coalesce into coherent knowledge.
- Study of the scriptures must be done under the guidance of a qualified teacher who follows a defined tradition of philosophy and the manner of communication (Guru-śiṣya-paramparā). He himself should belong to a lineage of qualified gurus. This is akin to attending an accredited school for learning.
- Testing the concepts learned with actual practice solidifies the understanding.
- You may not understand all the concepts; set them aside for the time being and keep moving. At some later point in time, with consistent listening and practice, those concepts will become clear. Remember – if something does not sound logical, either the teacher has not explained clearly or you have not understood properly. Vedas are never wrong. Continue the pursuit to find the right answer.
- It will be frustrating if you are looking for a specific result – there is no object to
be obtained here; you are learning to be You. You will find peace by being You.
- This is an evolutionary process perhaps over many births. Continuous
improvement is the key. Everyone starts playing cricket wanting to be like Sachin
Tendulkar. Do your best to become like him. If you don’t become like him, you
have not lost anything. On the contrary, you have gained some valuable things;
at the very least, you know how to play cricket, you understand teamwork; you
enjoy each time you play it and you keep healthy. Even if you don’t achieve
Mokṣa in this life, you at least are on the path to it in some next life.
This page may have ended but Swamiji’s teachings have only just begun. Next topic will be “Independence” which is getting freedom from sorrow. Pls follow this page for updates. Please share your comments and feedback below.
Pranaam from Kamal Kothari