Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Parables of Acharya on proper chanting of Vedas

Hare Krishna Friends,
My apologies for missing to post last Friday. The following excerpt is drawn from the book “Exalting Elucidations”.

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What follows is a humorous parable narrated by Acharya depicting the need to recite the Vedas in the prescribed manner:

A poor pandit had unmarried daughters. He was at a loss as to how he could find the money to get them married. A friend told him, “Musicians get handsome rewards.” Consequently, the desire to learn singing sprouted in his mind. He found out that to train his voice, he would have to practice singing for long. Hence, he sat under at the outskirts of his village and practiced singing. But what emerged from him was a mere cacophony.

A ghost that had earlier been a musician inhabited that tree. It was not able to bear the pandit’s murder of music. So, it told him, “I am a music-knowing ghost. This tree is my home. Your cacophony is making it impossible for me to stay here. Go elsewhere.” The pandit replied, “Why should I go? I want to earn money and for that I want to become a songster by ardent practice. This is my chosen place of practice.”

The ghost said, “Since it is money that you want, I will tell you how you can get it. I shall possess the princess. The king will have his physicians attend to her. However, they will be unable to cure her. You seek the king’s audience. Tell him that the princess is possessed by a ghost and that you can exorcise it and cure her. With the king’s permission, go to the princess and sing there as you are doing now. I, who cannot bear your atrocious singing, will immediately leave the princess. She will get cured. The king will handsomely reward you. Thereafter, there will be no need for you to come here and kill music.”

The man agreed and the ghost’s plan was successfully executed by them. As a consequence, the man was able to get more than enough money to get his daughter married, while the ghost was able to live in peace on its tree. Just as the music-knowing ghost of the story was put off by the poor man’s cacophony, Vedic scholars feel ill at ease when someone chants the holy Vedic mantras incorrectly in their presence.

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Prostrations to All.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Parables of Acharya on Maya

Hare Krishna Friends,
Thanks to Mallika for administering the Blog site. The following excerpt on Maya is drawn from the book “Exalting Elucidations”.

Maya, the fascinating phenomenon, is the source of human bondage. But an understanding of its nature can pave the way to liberation. It is with this in view that the scriptures have spoken extensively about Maya; the Advaitic scriptural lore abounds in information and tales on Maya. Acharya narrated the following parable based on the Yoga-Vasishta.

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A young lad said to his mother, “Please entertain me with a story.” His mother agreed to do so and narrated the following thoroughly fanciful tale.

Three handsome prices lived in a city that was totally non-existent. They were courageous and righteous. Two of them had not been born, while the third had not even reached the womb of his mother. With good thoughts, they set out to acquire the best. On the way, they came across fruit-bearing trees suspended in space. They plucked and ate a variety of tasty fruits.

Moving on, they beheld three rivers prettified by ripples. Two of the rivers never had a drop of water, while the third was fully dry. The princes bathed and sported in the dried-up river. Having drunk its sweet water to their heart’s content. They reached a city that was yet to come into existence and where people where conversing and enjoying themselves.

In that city, the princes saw three lovely mansions, two of which had not at all been built, while the third had not neither walls nor pillars. They entered the third mansion and, there, obtained three golden vessels. Two of the vessels had been shattered and pulverized. They put into it a quantity of rice that was hundred handfuls less than a hundred handfuls. They cooked the rice in that vessel and, with it, fed numerous Brahmins who had no mouths, but were voracious eaters. There after, they ate the food that remained.

Delighting themselves with hunting and other pursuits, they dwelt happily in that city that was yet to come into being.

The boy listened to his mother with rapt attention. He enjoyed the story and found nothing incongruous in it. As far as he was concerned, his mother had given him a completely factual account of what had once transpired.

Just as the undiscriminating child regarded the story as factual, unenlightened people mistake the world they see and think of it to be real. They do not realize that the universe is illusory; it appears and disappears with the onset and cessation of mental activity and has no existence apart from the non-dual Supreme that is of the nature of pure consciousness.

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Prostrations to All.


Saturday, January 20, 2007

True Devotion - The Puranas Explained

Hare Krishna Friends,

The following conversation between a Bhakta (B) and His Holiness Sri Chandrashekara Bharathi Mahasvami (H.H) is selected from the book “Dialogues with the Guru”. Even some of us might have the same doubt that the Bhakta has.

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B. It seems to me that Sri Vyasa is himself responsible for these unseemly squabbles. He wrote a large number of puranas devoted to many different devata, and in every one of them he calls the devata dealt with there as the Highest Being, so that even a sincere reader is unable to understand which is really the Highest Being in Sri Vyasa's view.

H.H. I suppose we can start with the presumption that Sri Vyasa was neither an ignorant person nor was he deliberately out to mislead people?

B. Certainly.

H.H. He must have known the elementary proposition that there cannot possibly be more than one Highest Being.

B. Quite so. That is just my difficulty. I cannot understand how he chooses to call every one of the devatas as the Highest Being.

H.H. Your difficulty is very easily solved if you understand Sri Vyasa to say not that every devata is the Highest Being but that the Highest Being is every one of the devatas.

B. How is that?

H.H. The Highest Being having no name or form of his own has to take on some name or form when he is conceived of as an object of worship. Being in his essential nature absolutely formless, in the absolute view he has no form at all; but in the relative view, all forms are equally His.

B. I do understand this. But Sri Vyasa when he deals with a particular form say Shiva chooses to endow it not only with the attributes of the Highest Being but also with the attributes peculiar to other devatas. He does not deal with Shiva as the dissolver-aspect of the Highest Being, but says that he is even Vishnu or Brahma and sometimes says that Vishnu and Brahma are but his aspects, or offspring.

H.H. Take a familiar incident in family life. Suppose a gentleman has four children and the birthday of one of them happens to be celebrated. That child is the 'idol', the upasya for the day. He is seated on a raised seat in the central hall of the house; he is dressed in costly clothes and is decked with jewels. It is not unusual for the mother and the other children to part temporarily with the jewels that they themselves usually wear, so that the 'idol' may be better adorned?

B. It is so.

H.H. Do the mother and the other children feel the slightest regret at parting with their jewels or the slightest envy at that child wearing them for the occasion?

B. Certainly they do not.

H.H. Can anybody accuse that child of depriving its mother and the other children of their jewels on this day? Further, will anybody accuse the father of partiality towards that child because he gives it prominence for the day and even deprives the others of their jewels to enable that child to shine better?

B. Certainly not.

H.H. Now will you tell me in whom the right of ownership and possession of all this finery and all the jewels really vests?

B. Certainly in the father.

H.H. Quite so. Does he ever wear the jewels himself?

B. No.

H.H. That means, that though all the jewels really belong to him, he never shows himself off in them but finds pleasure in decking out his children in them as and when occasions may arise.

B. Quite so.

H.H. We may therefore say of him that he never wears any jewels though all the jewels are really his?

B. Yes.

H.H. The jewels are his, not only when they are kept in the safe in his custody but even when the child is actually wearing them.

B. Certainly.

H.H. The Highest Being, the impersonal Brahman, is like the father. He never wears any attributes, but all the attributes which every one of the devatas has belong to him. When a particular devata is conceived of as the upasya in a particular Purana for uplifting a type of bhakta, that devata is given the seat of honor, next to none (not even the father, who has to stand aside in the background looking on happily at the child), and has to be decked with all the attributes which ordinarily go with the other devatas also. There is absolutely no room for any charge of partiality if in any particular Purana certain devata is given prominence over others, for when their turn comes in the other Puranas they are treated with equal prominence. Such is the attitude of Sri Vyasa in every one of his Puranas. He knows that the Highest Being is devoid of any attributes, any name or any form; but, as a practical teacher, he knows equally well that such an absolute conception is not within the reach of people, a few exceptions apart, and, therefore, he offers for the contemplation of devotees particular devatas who, though mere aspects of the Absolute Brahman, are treated for the moment and for all practical purposes as being identical with the Supreme Being. He has so written the Puranas that the bhakta of any particular devata by intensity of devotional exercise can obtain the fruits of devotion to other devata also, without the need of worshipping them separately, and finally, by further effort, can attain even knowledge of the Absolute Brahman, through devotion to his particular devata. For practical wisdom, which combines economy of effort with maximum benefit and adapts the doctrine of the Absolute Brahman to the needs of the devotee without impairing in any way the truth of the doctrine, Sri Vyasa is inimitable. If we fight among ourselves without understanding Sri Vyasa properly, the fault is ours, certainly not his. On the other hand, all our gratitude must go to him.

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Hari Om,

Monday, January 15, 2007

True Devotion - Name and Form

Hare Krishna Friends,

The following conversation between a Bhakta (B) and His Holiness Sri Chandrashekara Bharathi Mahasvami (H.H) is selected from the book “Dialogues with the Guru”. Mahasvami clearly brings out that God is beyond any particular name and form.

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B. May I ask one other question in relation to Bhakti?

H.H. Yes. What is it?

B. I have seen a number of bhaktas who lead earnest and pious lives, but at the same time indulge in recrimination and invective if any devata other than their own upasya devata happen to be praised within their hearing. Is such an attitude of intolerance consistent with true Bhakti?

H.H. No it is not. Such an attitude is not to be found in true bhaktas but only in those who have no proper understanding of the meaning of Bhakti or of the nature of the Lord to whom they profess to be devoted. The Highest Being, the Supreme Lord, the ruler of the universe, transcends all particular names and forms. Name and form are the attributes of the mute prakriti. God has no name or form of his own until you clothe him, howsoever slightly, in prakriti. This entire world of name and form is, as it were, only his feet, to adopt the words of the Purusha Sukta. We cannot have any direct relationship with the higher and larger portion of his divine personality. Only his feet are visible to us and we are asked to worship him only through service to his feet. It is our proper conduct, as laid down in the Shastras, with reference to the various portions of the universe (devils, pitris, men, animals, etc.), that goes by the name of Karma. This is the service of the feet. When, after steady and continued service at his feet, the Lord, satisfied with our devotion, chooses to raise us up to a height where from we can look directly upon his face, there will be time enough to learn whether His forehead bears the mark of the Gopichandana or is adorned with Bhasma. Situated as we are at present at the lowest rung of the ladder and even without a gleam of the glory of his feet, why should we choose to waste our time and energy in speculating and wrangling about the nature of his face? The true bhakta never does that. He is content to know the simple definition of the Lord that he is the Creator, the Sustainer and Dissolver of the universe. The name or form that you assign to the Lord is of no moment to him, for he knows that that name or form is not his essence, but is accepted or assumed only temporarily for the sake of a particular bhakta. The true bhakta is also content to know that the Vedas are his divine commands and that a strict performance of the duties enjoined by them is the only way of securing the grace of the Lord and, within the competence of man, the only way of serving him.

B. But is it not a fact that a Shiva bhakta claims that Shiva is the Creator, the Sustainer and the Dissolver the universe, and a Vishnu bhakta claims that same thing for Vishnu?

H.H. No doubt at first sight it may seem to be so. In the view of the Shiva bhakta his Lord Shiva is the only Creator, Sustainer and Dissolver of the universe. He does not grant that any other entity, Vishnu or another has the characteristics of being the Creator, Sustainer and Dissolver of the universe. He does not say that there is more than one entity which can claim those characteristics or that his Lord Sihva is supreme over all others. What he means and what he does believe is that the Lord Shiva is the only Creator, Sustainer and Dissolver of the universe. He does not postulate plurality of Gods, but emphatically says that there is but one god who is the Creator, Sustainer and Dissolver of the universe and that his name is Shiva.

B. Certainly it is so. But the Vishnu bhakta says the same thing of Vishnu. The devotee of Ganesha, Subrahmanya or Devi also says the same thing of his upasya. Which of these has to be taken as right? All of them surely cannot be right.

H.H. You agree with me that none of these bhaktas postulate plurality of Gods?

B. I do.

H.H. You agree with me that they all postulate the existence of only one God?

B. Certainly.

H.H. You also note that they all agree in the definition of that God as the Creator, the Sustainer and the Dissolver of the Universe?

B. Yes.

H.H. But they happen to differ as regards the name or the form to be attributed to that God?

B. Quite so.

H.H. This shows that their conception of God is not at all faulty.

B. Yes.

H.H. Suppose you have a grain of rice before you and you satisfy yourself that it has got all the characteristics which are particular to rice and that therefore it is rice; does it matter the least to you if a Tamilian gives it the name arisi, a Canarese calls it akki or a Sanskrit Pandit prefers to call it tandula

B. No, it does not matter.

H.H. Don't you then realize that all names are external to and not of the essence of things, though such names have great practical utility in the world of names and forms? Similarly, if the characteristics of being the Creator, Sustainer and Dissolver of the universe are there, what does it matter if he is called Shiva, Vishnu or Devi? The entity denoted is the same, though the names may differ. A Tamilian who does not know Canarese or Sanskrit will be vehement in saying that rice is called only as arisi and never as akki or tandula. He is quite correct so far as he goes, for no such names are to be found in the Tamil language with which alone he is familiar. As long as by a process of analysis, he does not learn to dissociate the name from the thing, the name is the thing for him; and if you deny that name, he will take it that you deny the thing itself. Only the bhakta will be quarrelsome who cannot dissociate a particular name or a particular form from his conception of God. He is correct so far as his mentality goes. But his bhakti is far below than real bhakti which realizes that God is above all names and above all forms, that particular names are but convenient denominations for trying to express the essentially inexpressible and that particular forms are only limited aspects of the essentially limitless God.

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Hari Om,

Thursday, January 11, 2007

True Devotion - The Scope of Bhajana

Hare Krishna Friends,

In the postings related to Sri Chandrashekara Bharathi Mahasvami, I had mentioned about the book “Dialogues with the Guru” (published in Tamil as “Then Muzigal”) recorded by Sri Jnanananda Bharathi. Recently, I got a copy of the book from a friend here. Mahasvami explains various aspects of our Dharma in his own inimitable way. We might have come across some people having the attitude that doing some Bhajans or chanting some particular Mantra is sufficient in itself and they can do away with their Nithya Karmas. Some even have an attitude of intolerance towards devatas other than their upasya devata. In the following conversation, Mahasvami clearly brings out their ignorance.

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Another evening, the conversation which was quite general at first, gradually turned on the subject of Bhajana, a singing of devotional songs to the accompaniment of music. A bhakta who belonged to the party in attendance mentioned that such devotional exercises had an exhilarating and soothing effect on our wayward minds and that it was pleasing to find that bhajana parties were being formed in increasing numbers in every town and village.

H.H. I am very glad to hear this. But I have heard that at the same time the observance of our religions rites is steadily going down. Why is it so?

B. It is mainly because the ordinary people lack faith in the efficacy of religious rites that they resort to bhajana for pleasing God.

H.H. I suppose that many of the persons engaged in bhajana may not care for or may even neglect their ordinary religious duties like the Sandhya worship.

B. Yes. They say that while engaged in bhajana they can give up the Sandhya worship, because bhajana being a higher kind of worship makes Sandhya unnecessary and redundant.

H.H. As a general proposition it is quite true that the greater includes the less. But how do we know that bhajana is of greater efficacy than karma in the matter of pleasing God?

B. Bhajana is a direct appeal to God while karma is but an indirect appeal through the observance of rituals.

H.H. I suppose you concede that we have never met God personally.

B. Certainly, I do.

H.H. You must also concede that we can never of our own accord find out what will please God and what will not, for we cannot ask him directly nor can he tell us in person.

B. It maybe so, but we can easily ascertain it from the Shruti, which embodies his teachings.

H.H. You may also add the Smritis, especially the Bhagavad Gita, which record in no unmistakable terms his mind as divulged to those who have had the rare fortune to hold direct communion with him, both in the spirit and in the flesh.

B. Certainly.

H.H. And what do they teach us?

B. They certainly do not discount Bhakti.

H.H. Certainly no. But the question is what is Bhakti? Is it your Bhajana or is it Karma?

B. How can Karma be Bhakti?

H.H. In fact, you will find that Karma alone can be Bhakti and certainly not the Bhajana, if it is inconsistent with or is divorced from Karma.

B. How can that be?

H.H. The Lord tells us quite unambiguously 'Man attains perfection by worshipping God by performing the Karma enjoined on him. He clearly enunciates here the proposition that the way to worship him is to perform one's assigned Karma.

B. But, such a performance of Karma is not the only way in which devotion can be shown to the Lord.

H.H. It is the only way for those on whom Karma is enjoined.

B. Surely a person who spends his time in prayer and contemplation of the Lord is as much a bhakta as, if not more, as the one who busies himself with outward rituals.

H.H. Leave again comparing. He will not be a bhakta at all if he chooses to neglect the Karma enjoined on him in favor of mental prayers and contemplation.

B. Why so?

H.H. Take the ordinary case of a master and his servants. Suppose one of his servants is always standing before him and singing his praises. The master may sometimes ask him to fetch something from another room. Suppose the servant replies, 'O, Master, I cannot bear the thought of parting from you even for a moment. I cannot forego even for a moment the pleasure and the privilege of looking at your handsome face. I like to be ever with you and to praise you by recounting your inestimable qualities. Don't ask me to leave your presence.' Suppose again there is another servant who is always away from the presence of the master, but is carrying out with scrupulous care all the commands of the master, communicated to him either by the master personally or through his deputies. Wherever the master turns, he finds that he has been most loyally obeyed by this servant who nowhere seems to intrude on him. Which do you think is the more devoted of these two servants and with whom in your opinion, will the master be pleased more?

B. Certainly the latter.

H.H. Is a father happy with the child who always prefers to sit on his lap and declines to do anything or with the one who is going out on errands?

B. With the latter, I should think.

H.H. Further, can you grant that the servant, or the boy, who refuses to leave the presence of his master or father and does not carry out his orders, is really devoted at all?

B. Surely disobedience cannot go hand in hand with devotion.

H.H. Quite so. The primary test of devotion in any sphere of life is obedience, unquestioning and loving obedience, not inquisitive or grumbling obedience.

B. Certainly.

H.H. 'The Shruti and the Smriti are the commands of myself,' says the Lord. Can you conceive of a devotion to the Lord side by side with disobedience of his commands?

B. I now see that bhajana can never be a substitute for Karma.

H.H. It can never be.

B. What then is the function of bhajana? It cannot certainly be all waste.

H.H. A servant, when he finds leisure after discharging all his duties, may certainly stand in the presence of the master, but not when he has got duties to perform. Similarly a person, who after performing all the Karma enjoined on him still finds leisure, can spend it in prayer or in singing the praises of the Lord and thus utilize the leisure to the best advantage. Bhajana is thus intended only for the occasions of leisure in the midst of Karmic duties.

B. I fear if a Brahmana should be asked to perform properly all the duties enjoined on him by the Vedas and the Smrtis he cannot have bhajana at all.

H.H. It is not quite so. It is only the lazy people that are ever short of time. The busy ones are always able to find leisure.

B. It seems to me that if bhajana is to be done only at the times not occupied by religious duties, the castes other than the Brahmanas will have more leisure for it, as they have to perform only very few religious observances. It seems that the non-Brahmanas are more competent to take up bhajana.

H.H. Quite so. It is intended more for them than for the Brahmanas.

B. Is it not an anomaly that the Brahmanas should be denied equal privilege in this matter?

H.H. No. They are not denied this 'privilege' as you call it, for they can enjoy it in their leisure moments. Further, you forget that carrying out the commands of the Lord is a greater act of devotion than singing his praises. Now you may look at the matter from another point of view also.

B. What is that?

H.H. A servant who loves to look at the face of his master and avoids performance of his duties does so because he derives pleasure from being with the master and fears a cessation of that pleasure if he has to perform his duties.

B. It may seem to be so.

H.H. The only consideration therefore which weighs with him in determining his conduct is his own pleasure and not the pleasure of his master.

B. Strictly analyzed, it is so.

H.H. Can you call such a servant devoted in any sense when he places his own selfish pleasure above his master's pleasure?

O. Certainly not.

H.H. Similarly, if a so-called bhakta prefers to sing to the accompaniment of enchanting music the praises of the Lord at the same time ignoring, neglecting and disregarding his divine commands, can you call him a 'devotee' at all?

B. I fear, not.

H.H. Again please consider for a moment that that so-called bhakta has a conception of the Lord only as a very attractive object intended for his enjoyment. What can be more absurd than dragging down the All-conscious, Omnipotent Lord to the level of a toy intended for one's amusements? To conceive of the Lord as an object of pleasure is sheer profanation, which should never pass off under the name of devotion. Real devotion lies in carrying out his dictates implicitly. To disobey him in action and to profess allegiance in words is blasphemy. It is not Bhakti. By Bhakti it is meant single-pointed devotion uniformly expressed in mind, speech and body.

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We will see the section on “Name and Form” in the next post.

Hari Om,

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

God is neither Partial nor Cruel

Hare Krishna Friends,

Following is the transcription of a lecture given by Sri Abhinava Vidyateertha Mahasvami on selected sutras from the “Brahma Sutra” of Badarayana.

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There is tremendous inequality in the cosmos. The Devas are said to enjoy great felicity in heaven and are endowed with powers of the kind men are not. Humans constitute a middling class while animals lie lower than man in creation. The capacity of a worm, for instance is less than that of even a fool. Apart from the fact of inequality, there is great suffering too. All animals and humans are subject to death and the inhabitants of heaven have to return to the world of mortals on the exhaustion of the stock of virtue that enabled them to enter heaven in the first place. Even young, innocent babies are, sometimes, seen to be in great suffering. Disease, infirmity etc., are sources of misery to people.

The Vedantic conclusion is that Brahman is the material and efficient cause of the universe. Thus, God ought to be the one who creates this cosmos with its great inequality and its sufferings. Would not such a God be partial by virtue of his ordaining inequality? Further, would not God be cruel by being the ordainer of great misery? Surely, a partial and cruel God is no true God at all. This conclusion follows from the assumption that God is the efficient cause of the universe. As it is thoroughly unacceptable, God could not have been the ordainer of the universe. This is one of the objections considered and rebutted in the Brahma Sutras by Badarayana (Veda Vyasa).
Badarayana aphorizes, "Partiality and cruelty are not there in God owing to his consideration of other factors, for the Vedas so show". If God had created this world arbitrarily, without taking any factor into consideration, he would have been open to the charge of partiality and cruelty. However, God is blameless since this unequal creation is brought about by him in conformity with the virtues and vices of various beings. God is like rain. Rainfall is the common cause for the growth of a variety of crops such as paddy and barley. However, the differences between crops stem from the disparity in the seeds. It is not rain that makes a barley seed sprout into a crop different from paddy. Like rain, God is the common cause for the birth of the Devas, humans etc. But it is the great merit acquired by the Deva in an earlier birth that results in his being born a Deva; a man is so born because of his having earlier earned merit as well as demerit.

How is it known that God creates in accordance with the virtues and vices of beings? The aphorist points out, "for the Vedas so show". For instance, the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad teaches, "One becomes virtuous through good deeds and vile through evil acts" In the Bhagavad Gita the Lord tells Arjuna, "In whatever way people worship me, in the same way do I consummate their desire.”

The aphorist next presents another objection and answers it. "If it be contended that this is impossible for want of any distinction in work prior to creation, we reply ‘No’, because of the world being beginning-less". Prior to the origin of the cosmos, there could have been no Karma, virtuous or vile, in accordance with which God could have created a world of inequality and suffering. The Chandogya Upanisad says, "In the beginning, O good looking one, all this was but the Truth, one alone without a second" and thereby rules out differences. So, if God were the ordainer of the Universe, he must be the one responsible for the inequalities at the start of creation. At best, he can rely thereafter on the good and bad acts of persons to reward or punish them in their subsequent lives. Thus, God must be guilty of partiality and cruelty by virtue of his having introduced inequality and suffering at the very start of creation.The Vedantin answers this objection by saying that the problem mentioned does not arise for the transmigratory state is beginning-less. There is nothing like the absolute starting point. Every cycle of creation is preceded by another cycle which produces the requisite disparity in the merit and demerit of creatures.How is it known that the transmigratory state has no beginning? Vyasa answers, "This is logical and it is met with in the scriptures". Suppose the cosmos with its unequal inhabitants had an absolute starting point. Then, its emergence must have been capricious. God could not have been responsible for the inequality. This is because he operates, as seen earlier, on the basis of the past Karma of creatures and there could have been no Karma prior to the origin of the universe with beings. Avidya too could not have been the cause of inequality as, without involvement of past Karma, it is, per se, homogeneous. Hence, a universe with an absolute starting point could have come into being only by chance.If events can occur capriciously then it should be quite possible for beings to have happiness or misery for no rhyme or reason. A man’s good and bad deeds could go unrewarded and unpunished respectively. Further, if chance occurrences are possible, there is nothing to preclude the accidental rebirth of liberated souls. All this is unacceptable and absurd. On the other hand, everything would fall into place if the transmigratory state were beginning-less. The relationship between the condition prior to and after the start of each cycle of creation could then be on par with a seed and a sprout.The scriptures too declare transmigratory existence to be devoid of a starting point. For instance, the Rig Veda teaches, "The Lord devised the sun and moon as before". In the Gita we read, "Its form is not perceived here as such, neither its end, nor its origin, nor its continuance". The teaching of the Puranas also is that the past and future cycles of creation are without number.To conclude, God is not guilty of partiality or cruelty because he creates in accordance with the past merit and demerit of each creature. There is no first creation prior to which there was no merit or demerit for God to consider. There is thus no flaw in the Vedantic conclusion that Brahman is the material and efficient cause of everything.

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Hari Om,

Friday, January 05, 2007

Brief life sketch of Sri Abhinava Vidyateertha Mahasvami - 05

Hare Krishna Friends,

Today we will conclude the brief Biography of Sri Abhinava Vidyateertha Mahasvami.

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It is difficult to find a personality like Sri Abhinava Vidyateertha Svami in the annals of the Mutt who had so extensively and repeatedly traveled from Kanyakumari to Kashmir . As mentioned before, his first tour was in the year 1956 which lasted for six years. Again starting from Sringeri in 1964, he covered Southern and Northern India continuously for four years. This was his second major tour. On the earnest request on the King of Nepal, Acharya visited the country in the year 1967.

In many parts of the country, Acharya established branches of the Mutt and consecrated many temples. He established many Veda Patashalas for the propagation of Vedas and initiated activities for Dharmic awareness. Similarly, for the propagation of Sanskrit, he established the ‘Surasaraswathi Sabha’ which is conducting examinations for a large number of students twice a year (fortunately, I have had the opportunity to pass exams till Pravesha from the Surasaraswathi Sabha).

Acharya’s compassion was something that can only be wondered and not explained. To cite an example, once an Ayurvedic physician brought to the Acharya a rare preparation whose composition he kept secret. The doctor said that the lotion he had prepared would heal any wound. The quantity supplied was very small and so was precious. One day the Acharya saw a badly wounded dog. He noticed that someone had hurt it with a knife and that the wound was very deep. The poor creature whimpered in agony. The Acharya was moved. Immediately, he ordered that the lotion be applied on the dog. This shows the remarkable concern the Acharya had on all live beings. The application of the ointment was continued for a couple of days. The wound healed completely beyond expectations and in a remarkably short period of time.

Acharya was always accessible to devotees and he made no distinction of caste, creed etc, as far as sincere aspirants were concerned. He accorded very high priority to spiritual aspirants. He never believed in keeping to himself what he had learnt. He had trained many in the Tarka Shastra. He was ever keener on expounding Vedantic texts. He would welcome doubts and would not hesitate to refer numerous other texts. Quite often his expositions and upanyasams clearly bore the stamp of realization, particularly those which relate to Yoga and the state of a Jivanmukti.

Acharya regarded only a genuine practitioner as one competent to preach and so he was meticulous in his anushtanam. Acharya's life itself serves as an ideal for disciples to emulate to the extent their limited capacities permit. Thus, it was not only when Acharya was speaking or giving a discourse that he advised them. Even his simple day-to-day schedule and his exemplary precepts serve as beacon lights to guide persons struggling in the trammels of transmigratory existence.

The Acharya’s instructions also were unique and the method adopted was particularly suited to the disciple. A young devotee (in his twenties) was working in a Management concern. He often had to take his assistants to task (some of them being old enough to be his father). He felt that he was being rude and was disgusted with himself. He met the Acharya at Sringeri. When they were together the same afternoon, the Acharya suddenly got up and proceeded at a great speed, beckoning the devotee to follow him. They quickly reached the Sharada Devi temple where a new Gopuram was being built. Some workers were found to be idling, instead of attending to their tasks. The Acharya climbed the scaffold with great agility and proceeded to reprimand them in no uncertain terms. He then climbed down rapidly and walked back towards the bridge. His face bore a delightful smile directed towards the devotee. The devotee was amazed that the Acharya was seemingly angry a moment back but was so peaceful immediately afterwards. The devotee learnt a permanent lesson in the manner of handling official duties without a word having been exchanged.

In 1966, when Acharya was observing Chaturmasya Vrata at Ujjain , a young Brahmachari from Andhra Pradesh named Sri Sitarama Anjaneyalu - sharp in intellect, fierce in dispassion and extremely keen in learning the Shastras came for Acharya's darshan. When asked by the Acharya about the purpose of his visit, Sri Anjaneyulu obediently replied, "I want to learn the Shastras at the lotus feet of Your Holiness". The next day, Acharya intimated Sri Anjaneyalu that he would teach Tarka Sangraha and the lessons started the same day. From that day onwards, Sri Anjaneyalu stayed with Acharya and continued with the studies of the Shastras. As the days passed, Sri Anjaneyalu became a master of Vedas and the Shastras, totally indifferent to sense objects and extremely devoted to Acharya. Sri Anjaneyalu's surrender to Acharya was complete and total. No wonder Acharya chose Sri Anjaneyalu as his successor-designate.

On November 11 1974, the Acharya named his successor as ‘Sri Bharathi Teertha Svami’’. The Guru and his disciple made a number of visits together. Speaking about Sri Bharathi Teertha Svami, the Mahasvami once said, “When I was in Delhi (in 1982) my disciple was with me. He conducted himself the way a disciple should. On the occasion of Vidvat Sadas, he showed that he was more scholarly than the most erudite of the scholars who came.” The Acharya had also mentioned in the speech that the tradition of the Sringeri Sharada Peetham is transferred from Guru to Sishya just as a lamp lights another lamp. He thus indicated that the lighted lamp becomes as bright as the one that lit it.

With the passage of time the Acharya began to hint that his work in a mortal frame was nearing completion. One day the Acharya and H.H. Sri Bharathi Teertha Svami were standing in front of the Adhishtanam of the Parameshti Acharya (Sri Chandrashekara Bharathi Mahasvami). The Acharya then said, “After my life is over, you need not have to wonder where to have my Samadhi. It can be built here (pointing to the southern side of the Parameshti Acharya’s Adhishtanam).”

Unable to bear such words, Sri Bharathi Teertha Svami said, “Why should the Acharya talk about such matters now?” To this he replied “I am not just talking about my Samadhi. For you too it must be constructed on the southern side of my Samadhi. You know that Vidvat Sadas is being held in the Mandapam in front of the Samadhis. If my Samadhi is also constructed adjoining the existing Samadhis more people can be comfortably accommodated.”

The Acharya’s speeches also subtly reflected same. For instance, in 1986 at Chennai he said, “Brahman shines in the form of consciousness. If one were to get the direct realization of this, one will fulfill the purpose of a human birth. This is what the scriptures say. Experience is also like that. The more absorbed we become in Brahman the more we realize all that is happening in the universe is merely an illusory sport.”

From the second week of September 1989, the Acharya was not keeping well. During this time, he asked his secretary to read to him, texts like Mohamudgara, Siva Manasapuja Stotram and Brahmanuchintanam. He said, “Instead of mourning and wailing when one is sick, one can read holy works, such as these. This is what my Guru has taught me. But now, I not able to read and so you read them out to me.”

In the early hours of the morning of September 21, 1989, he experienced chest pain and uttered “Narayana.” His assistant came running. The Acharya’s first reaction was, “Have I spoken so loudly that I woke you up?” The characteristic of extreme compassion never deserted him even then. During the latter half of the morning he shed his mortal coil.

The Acharya lives even today in the hearts of many of his devotees and continue to bless and guide as ever before.

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From the next email, we will see some of the teachings, accomplishment in Yoga, experiences of disciples etc.

Hari Om,

Monday, January 01, 2007

Brief life sketch of Sri Abhinava Vidyateertha Mahasvami - 04

Hare Krishna Friends,

Thanks for the beautiful message “New Year – a Vedantic Perspective” from Hariram. Let us try to constantly seek the Ultimate Reality of Lord. Continuing from where we stopped previously.

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Sri Chandrashekara Bharathi Mahasvami was least interested in the administrative affairs of the Mutt. He wanted to be absolved of his pontifical duties and spend time in meditation. He handed over the running of the Mutt to his able disciple. He also authorized the young Svami to take decisions on the Mutt’s affairs. Paramacharya had conveyed to the Government (since the junior Acharya was a minor, the Mutt’s administration was under Mysore Maharaja’s control) that Acharya's views might be taken as his own. Though this meant that Acharya could freely take decisions within the framework of Government control, he chose to always consult Paramacharya in important matters even when the latter chose to be secluded. When Acharya took a decision, he did it so well that Paramacharya was completely satisfied.

In 1954, Paramacharya began to give hints that he no longer wished to retain his body since he felt that his work had been completed. On Sunday the 26th of September 1954, His Holiness Sri Chandrashekara Bharathi Mahasvami got up very early even before the break of the dawn, walked coolly into the stream of the river Tunga and shuffled off his mortal coil. It was a voluntary Jala Samadhi. Paramacharya was in Padamasana posture, there was sign of drowning or suffocation or struggle for life, not even a drop of water had entered the Mahasvami’s mouth. The Acharya who was on the other bank of the river overlooking the activities for the forthcoming Navarathri celebrations rushed to the other side when he got the message. In spite of being a Yogi, he could not keep down his emotions. With a heart rendering cry “Amba” he sank down to his knees and remained so. But soon he regained himself and set about to execute the final rites as per the Mutt’s tradition.

On October 16, 1954, Sri Abhinava Vidyateertha Svami formally took over as the 35th Jagadguru Sankaracharya of the Sringeri Sharada Peetham. A large and distinguished gathering witnessed the installation ceremony and invoked the blessings of the new Jagadguru. After his coronation, Acharya rendered a brief speech wherein he said that he was highly in need of Paramacharya's grace to carry out his duties as a Peetadhipathi. He then said that he would pray for such blessings from his Guru.

The tasks that awaited the new Jagadguru were enormous. The Mutt’s administration, which lay in Government hands (India had attained Independence and from the Maharaja of Mysore, the State Government had taken control) was far from satisfactory and the financial status precarious. Facilities for the stay of devotees at Sringeri were very poor and extensive renovations were absolutely necessary. Further, devotees from all over the country were eagerly looking forward to Acharya's gracing their cities. Acharya set about solving these and many other problems in his characteristic and inimitable style.

He assigned the first priority to the call of his devotees and so in 1956, set forth on his first South India tour. This lasted for six years. Village by village, he visited and graced devotees by the thousands. Relentlessly he drove himself to the verge of exhaustion to inculcate Dharmic ideals and spiritual values in the hearts of millions. On his tours it was customary for him to give at least one Anugraha Bhashana at every halt. His discourses covered a variety of topics. The main feature of these speeches was that it went straight to the heart of the listener with its Dharmic content, couched in simple language.

Acharya had an unusually open mind. Wherever he traveled he would be keenly observant. He analyzed and absorbed what was relevant to the Mutt. For example, he talked to several farm owning disciples and learnt many agricultural techniques. Much of Acharya's knowledge stemmed from his interest and observations.

In 1959 the Government handed back the administration of the Mutt to the Acharya. The Mutt was stripped of all the Jahagirs earlier in its possession. This was a big blow to the income of the Mutt. The Mutt had to be content with an annual compensation of a couple of lakhs of rupees. When the news was sorrowfully told to the Acharya, he was unperturbed and replied, “The Jahagirs were non-existent in Sankara Bhagavatpada's time. The Mutt had been functioning quite well even before the lands were granted. Likewise, it shall carry on now without them. There is nothing to worry about.”

Acharya's immaculate intuition and razor-sharp intellect contributed a great deal in evaluating and dealing with situations. Accepting and implementing good suggestions, skill based work allocation and freedom of action at various levels were the highlights of his ingenious methods. He formulated plans for the betterment of the Mutt. He streamlined its administration. Acharya initiated the construction of a new guest house. Renovation of Amba and Ganapathy shrines at the Malahanikareshwara temple complex, a new Vimanam for the Adi Sankara Bhagavatpada shrine and a gopuram for the Amba temple where his other schemes. While planning a building, Acharya would give importance to user-convenience, non-wastage of space, fulfillment of multiple objectives, provision of expansion and cost-minimization. The bridge over the Tunga River called “Vidya Tirtha Sethu”, stands as a living monument to his memory, for it owes its construction entirely to him.

He renovated the patashala at Sringeri and made numerous conveniences for the teachers and students. He also encouraged secular education. With his blessings, a girls' school was started at Sringeri. He was also the patron of the Sankara College at Kalady. He also planned and directed the construction of the Sri Sharada Dhanvantari Hospital at Sringeri.

With the agricultural knowledge acquired during his tours, Acharya converted a bamboo forest adjoining Narasimhavanam into cultivable land. Many thought that this was impossible and he proved them wrong. To enhance accessibility, Acharyal chalked out the positions and paths for laying roads in Narasimhavanam. Irrigation being vital, the Acharya took special care in planning canals for appropriately channeling the flow of water.

Simple living and high thinking characterize Mahatmas. Acharya insisted on doing his personal works himself. He would take his attendant's assistance for a task only if such help was essential or if it was related to his pontifical duties.

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Hari Om,