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Suleiman Charitra and Jatakamala

As well as translating Kemendra’s Darpa Dalana for Rasāla recently, A.N.D. Haksar has two two other very disparate translations also out: Suleiman Charitra and Jatakamala. Both, in line with the diplomat-turned-translator’s now trademark style, use a combination of mainly prose with some elegant free verse to recount these poems in wonderfully readable modern English.

Suleiman Charitra of Kalyāa Malla is a small Sanskrit work with huge import across cultures. It relates the biblical tale of David’s fascination with, and ultimate seduction of, his general’s wife Bathsheba in the language and context of Sanskrit kāvya.

The story, told fairly economically in the Bible, has many of the elements of classic Sanskrit love poetry. With some imagination and many embellishments by the 16th century poet we soon have all the ingredients necessary: a powerful man burning with desire, a go-between, and a beautiful woman cautious at first but later an equal partner in ‘the battle of love’. The telling is all the poet’s own – from the leaf juice potion used to confound and inflame Bathsheba, to the description of the many positions they tried in their lovemaking ( Kalyāa Malla’s other work is a manual on sex) – and much much racier than the original. The beauty of Bathsheba – or Saptasuta as she is called, a rough translation of the name’s Hebrew meaning – follows kāvya conventions: her lips are as red as the bimba, her thighs shapely as the plantain, her waist adorned by the triple wrinkle. Even the distinctly non-erotic episode – in which David is made to see what a crime he has committed by sleeping with his general’s wife and then ensuring the general is killed in battle, and as a result is persuaded to have the first son Bathsheba bears him killed as recompense – is heavily influenced by Sanskrit thought. We thus have David, confronted by his ministers on his joy following his son’s death, expounding on the soul’s immortality, and the unreal nature of birth and death.

As the translator points out in the introduction, this wonderful example of cross-cultural influences deserves much more attention than it has so far attracted. Professor Minkowski, current Boden Professor at Oxford, did talk about it in the Boden lecture of 2006 but that aside this little poem has hardly been noticed. This translation, the first into English, will hopefully change that to some degree, and remind us that the coming together of different cultures can engender wonderfully rich fruit rather than inevitably leading to conflict and destruction.

Jatakamala, first translated by A.N.D. Haksar in 2003 and recently reprinted, could not be more different. This collection of stories about the previous births of the Buddha, composed by Ārya Śūra probably in the 4th century AD, is extremely well known and loved among both Buddhists and others. And this is nīti-kāvya, poetry designed primarily to educate and edify. There are beautiful women to be sure but the Buddha’s previous incarnations never swerve from their upright and moral conduct. Indeed, when the Buddha in one tale is struck with love for a particularly enchanting women who belongs to his minister, he, unlike David, does not yield to his passion, even as the husband entreats his master to take her as his wife.

Here we have a hero who can do no wrong, and whose many deeds – from offering his own body to be eaten to entering hell rather than fail to pay respects to a visitor – are so right that they seem not only impossible to emulate but difficult even to relate to, so far removed are they from normal human experience. And yet most of these stories are still a rip-roaring read. There is a huge variety of lively characters, from a prince who has inherited a taste for human flesh from his lion mother to a chick who refuses the worms his parents bring and prefers a vegetarian diet of leaves. Indeed the Buddha himself appears in many avatāras, including as several animals and also the king of the gods, Śakra. And we travel with him from the royal palace to (many a) hermitage to the edge of the world. In each story, he calmly meets the calamity or challenge before him, and is concerned only with how to help others and follow dharma, even at, in fact often at, the cost of his own life. The tales of the Buddha committing suicide or allowing his body to be trampled to hacked to death in order to feed or help others are famous, and justifiably so; for all the talk of this body being only a vehicle for spiritual pursuit, how many others are so ready to give it up so easily and so joyfully, and in such a painful manner?

The one story though that really touches the heart is that of the prince who is banished from his kingdom because of his great generosity, and happily goes to the forest as a renunciant, followed by his beloved wife and children. Their peace there is destroyed when a Brahmin comes one day and asks the prince for his children, to be servants to the Brahmin’s wife. The prince is upset but doesn’t for a second consider refusing the Brahmin his request, and remains steadfast even as his children – beaten in front of him by their new master – appeal to him for help. Śakra then comes to test him – as he does in many stories – by asking him for his wife, who has by this time returned from gathering fruit to the hermitage to find her children gone. This request too the prince grants.

There are morals aplenty here, as the author points out in the introduction and conclusion of each story, and as reiterated by the Dalai Lama in his preface to the book, but perhaps the greatest power of these tales is their ability to stick with the reader as an ever-ready moral compass beautifully decorated in a rainbow of colours.



The Seed of the Vedas

By Anand Viswanathan

श्रीरंग मंगळनिधिं करुणानिवासम्

श्रीवेंकटाद्रि शिखरालय काळमेघम् |

श्रीहस्तिशैल शिखरोज्वल पारिजातम्

श्रीशं नमामि शिरसा यदुशैलदीपम् ||

लक्ष्मी नाथ समारम्भां नाथ यामुन मध्यमाम्   |

असमदाचार्य पर्यन्तां वन्दे गुरु परम्पराम्  ||

The Vedas form the basis for all aspects of life in India from time immemorial. They can be broadly divided into purva bhagam (‘earlier portion’)and uttara bhagam (‘later portion’). The former talks in detail about all the karmas (actions) one has to perform and the latter talks about the ultimate goal that is to be reached by all the karmas. The latter portion or the end of the Vedas are called Vedanta (literally – ‘end of the Vedas’) and the main goal of Vedanta is to talk about paramatma or brahmam (the highest soul or being), jivatma (the individual soul of the devotee) and their relationship and how the jivatma can reach paramatma.

Vedanta is constituted of a number of Upanishads (they are termed so because they bring us near to brahmam- upa nishaditi Upanishad – “Upanishad means ‘bringing one nearer (to Brahman)’”). Ten important ones have been commented upon by various acharyas and their particular brand of philosophy established. The first shloka of Isaavasya Upanishad (which itself belongs to Shukla Yajur Vedam) forms the basis of this this essay’s discussion. This Upanishad was taught by Surya deva to Yagnyavalkya who in turn taught this to Tadyan Aatharvana. We get the Upanishad as an upadesha (text of instruction) from Tadyan Aatharvana to Subhodha, his son as well as disciple.

This is a short Upanishad with just 18 verses and it begins with a brilliant opening verse:

ॐ ईशा वास्यमिदम् सर्वं यत्किञ्च जगत्यां जगत् |

तेन त्यक्तेन भुञ्जीथा मा गृधः कस्य स्विद्धनम्  ||

The verse can be translated as follows (I give the literal translation and then the taatparyam – the ultimate meaning – of each)

ॐ ईशा वास्यमिदम् सर्वं- “All this that exists surrounds the lord like a cloth” (and, we understand, “is totally pervaded by him”)

All that can be known by different pramaanams (different ways of gaining knowledge) at all times surrounds the paramatma like a robe. This means that all this chit (mind/spirit) and achit (non-spirit, hence ‘matter’) which surround the paramatma is under his control just as a robe is controlled by its wearer. It (the universe) also conceals the brahmam so that we are unable to perceive him just as a robe covers the body.

In the Vishnu Suktam too, we read that

अन्तर्बहिश्च तत्सर्वं व्याप्य नारायणस्स्थितः “Narayana pervades inside and outside of all that exists.”

The creator and his creation, and the relationship between them is the subject of this quarter of the verse. An interesting quote from Mundakopanishad, verse 7 can be looked at in this context:

यथोर्णनाभिः सृजते गृह्णते च यथा पृथिव्या मोषधयः संभवन्ति  |

यथा सतः पुरुषात् केशलोमानी तथाऽक्षरात्  संभवतीह विश्वम् ||

“As a spider spreads out and withdraws its thread, as on the earth grow the herbs and the trees and as from a living man issues out hair, so out of the imperishable does the universe emerge.”

This quote also reveals that this universe comes forth from brahmam, sustains itself in brahman and finally rests in brahman after pralayam (‘universal destruction’).

Here, it is important and interesting to note that God is not someone who is isolated from us and wields his authority over us. The Paramatma resides in everything known and unknown in creation and guides our actions. The mistakes we commit are due to our conviction that we are right (which is against our inner informer).

Even though the Paramatma is present in everything, we must make efforts to know and see him. The means prescribed by the shastras are listening to his glory and thinking about his glory followed by uninterrupted continuous thought about him. This process is easier done when we take advantage of temples where Narayana resides as a arca murthi (idol).

People may doubt that the idol has all the qualities of the lord. The shanti patam of the Isavasya Upanishad dispels this doubt:

ॐ पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात् पूर्णमुदच्यते |

पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते ||

“Om. That is whole and complete; this is whole and complete.  From that whole this whole came.  If you remove that whole from this whole, what is left is still the whole remains.”

The whole referred to here can be interpreted in various ways. One is ‘brahmam and the world’. The other is ‘this object and that object’. In the second sense we can say that even in the idol he displays his full swaroopam (own nature).

To return to the opening verse of the Isaavasya Upanishad:

यत्किञ्च जगत्यां जगत् तेन त्यक्तेन भुञ्जीथा-

“Sustain yourself with the insignificant portion of yours in this vast universe by performing three tyaagas (‘renunciations’)”

Here the Vedantic system emphasises our miniscule portion in the whole universe. We all are often deluded by our fleeting successes and the gaining of wealth etc but we must know that this all means nothing compared to the whole existence pervaded by brahmam.

In the Mahabharatam, Rishi Vyaasa succinctly but movingly expresses the objective of life as follows:

मातापितृसहस्राणि पुत्रदारशतानि च |

संसारेष्वनुभूतानि यान्ति यास्यन्ति चापरे ||

हर्षस्थानसहस्राणि भयस्थानशतानि च |

दिवसे दिवसे मूढं आविशन्ति न पण्डितम् ||

ऊर्ध्वबाहुर्विरौम्येष न च कश्चिच्छृणोति में |

धर्मादर्थश्च कामश्च स किं अर्थं न सेव्यते ||

न जातु कामान् न भयान्न लोभात् धर्मं त्यजेज्जीवितस्यापि हेतोः |

नित्यो धर्मः सुखदुःखे त्वनित्ये जीवो नित्यः हेतुरस्य त्वनित्यः ||

“Thousands of mothers and fathers, and hundreds of sons and wives arise in the world and depart from it. Others will (arise and) similarly depart. There are thousands of occasions for joy and hundreds of occasions for fear. These affect only him that is ignorant but never him that is wise. With uplifted arms I am crying aloud but nobody hears me. From Dharma comes Artha and Kama. Why should not Dharma, therefore, be courted? For the sake neither of pleasure, nor of fear, nor of cupidity should anyone cast off Dharma. Dharma is eternal. Pleasure and pain are not eternal. Jiva is eternal. The cause, however, of Jiva’s being invested with a body is not so.”

We can lead a normal life with whatever we earn but only if we do so with detachment. The word त्यक्तेन (“with detachment”) is extremely important in this context. The three types of tyaagas are known as kartruthva budhdhi tyaagam (the thought that I am not the doer but it is Narayana), mamathaa tyaagam (that this is not my karma) and phala tyaagam(without expecting any result for the action). Krishna thus instructed Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita(3.30):

मयि सर्वाणि कर्माणि संन्यस्याध्यात्मचेतसा |

निराशीर्निर्ममो भूत्वा युध्यस्व विगतज्वरः ||

“Therefore, O Arjuna, surrendering all your works unto Me, with full knowledge of Me, without desires for profit, with no claims to proprietorship, and free from lethargy, fight.”

For according to him attachment is the root of all evils (this is not something later discovered by other religious leaders but told to us by our own Gita Acharya , 2.62 and 2.63 ):

ध्यायतो विषयान्पुंसः सङ्गस्तेषूपजायते |

सङ्गात्संजायते कामः कामात्क्रोधो ऽभिजायते ||

क्रोधाद्भवति संमोहः संमोहात्स्मृतिविभ्रमः |

स्मृतिभ्रंशाद्बुद्धिनाशो बुद्धिनाशात्प्रणश्यति ||

“While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them, and from such attachment lust develops, and from lust anger arises.From anger, complete delusion arises, and from delusion bewilderment of memory. When memory is bewildered, intelligence is lost, and when intelligence is lost one falls down again into the material pool.”

Hence Swami Vedanta Deshika prays for vairaagyam (freedom from worldly desires) in this world in his Vairagya Panchakam (verse 1)

क्षोणी कोण शतांश पालन कला दुर्वार गर्वानल-

क्षुभ्यत्  क्षुद्र नरेन्द्र चाटु रचना धन्यान् न मन्यामहे |

देवं सवितुम् एव निश्चिनुमहे योऽसौ दयाळुः पुरा

धाना मुष्टि मुचे कुचेल मुनये दत्ते स्म वित्तेशताम्  ||

Extended meaning:

“There is no King who rules the entire world. The different kings rule little parcels of land on this earth. The haughtiness of these kings is huge and grows like wild fire. There are human beings, who praise these insignificant kings to the sky. They get rewards from these kings and consider themselves fortunate. We do not consider these deluded ones as significant ones. Our philosophy and values are different from these people. We believe that eulogising Sriman Narayanan will grant us all the wealth we need even without our asking.

Once upon a time, there was a pious man with the name of Kuchela, who was dirt poor. His life was steeped in poverty. Kuchela was a boyhood friend and classmate of Krishna. He had nothing to give for his friend except a fistful of pounded rice when he went to visit Krishna. That was all he could afford. The most merciful Lord accepted that present as a great gift and blessed Kuchela with wealth comparable to that of Kubera. Following this path, we are determined to prostrate ourselves before our Lord and seek the wealth from Him alone.

For further guidance in this context of detachment and renunciation, we may look at a few question and answers from the Yaksha Prashnam episode of Mahabharata. The Yaksha Prashna is an episode with a great deal of practical relevance for in today’s world.

यक्ष उवाच

किं नु हित्वा प्रियो भवति किं नु हित्वा न शोचति |

किं नु हित्वाऽर्थवान्भवति किं नु हित्वा सुखी भवेत् ||

युधिष्ठिर उवाच

मानं हित्वा प्रियं भवति क्रोधं हित्वा न शोचति |

कामं हित्वाऽर्थवान्भवति लोभं हित्वा सुखी भवेत्  ||

“The yaksha asked:

‘What is that if renounced makes one dear to all? What is it that if renounced does not lead to regret? What is it that if renounced makes one wealthy? What is it that when renounced makes one happy?

Yudhishtira answered:

‘Pride, if renounced makes one dear to all. Wrath, if renounced leads to no regret. Desire, if renounced makes one wealthy. Avarice, if renounced makes one happy.’”

And finally the concluding section of the Isaavasya Upanisad’s opening shloka:

मा गृधः कस्य स्विद्धनम्-

“Do not steal anyone else’s money”

This fits well with the rest of the sloka. All this is indeed brahmam (paramatma and his body constituted of jivas and achit or objects without jnaanam) and by stealing evanescent material things we cannot acheive anything. Moreover it is against the Dharma Shashtras. We are already subjects to unknown purva karmas (earlier deeds) and take birth again and again to expend our karmas. A metaphor from the Upanishads:

द्वा सुपर्णा सयुजा सखाया समानं वृक्षं परिषस्वजाते |

तयोरन्यः पिप्पलं स्वाद्वत्त्यनश्नन्नन्यो अभिचाकशीति ||(Mundakopanishad:3rd mundaka:verse 1)

“Two birds that are ever associated having similar attributes nest in the same tree. Of these one eats the fruit of divergent tastes and the other looks on without eating.”

Here the bird that looks on as a witness is the paramatma and the bird that eats the fruit is the jiva. The fruit is nothing but the karma and tree is the body of a living being. While the jiva eats the fruit and diminishes in attributes, brahmam on the other hand remains unaffected.

Additional note from the नीतिद्विषष्टिका of Sundarapandya:

ते मूर्खा मूर्खतमा येषां धनमस्ति नास्ति च त्यागः |

केवलमार्जनरक्षणवियोगदुःखान्यनुभवन्ति ||

“Those unwise persons who own wealth but do not part with it for good causes are the most foolish for, experiencing the miseries of earning, guarding and losing it alone ultimately fall to their lot.”

Thus the overall import of the opening verse is clear. Since everything that exists is brahmam and his property, we should live a life of detachment, should not covet anyone else’s wealth and should aim to attain moksham (ultimate liberation from the cycle of rebirth)since we ourselves are his property.

The significance of starting the Upanishad this way is to immediately impress upon our hearts the close relationship between the jivatma and the paramatma, hence the need to know more about him and thus induce in ourselves the required eagerness to proceed on the path of brahma-vidya (knowledge of brahman).

I conclude here with a prayer from the Upanishads:

ॐ आप्यायन्तु ममाङ्गानि वाक्प्राणश्चक्षुः श्रोत्रमथो बलमिन्द्रियाणि च सर्वाणि |

सर्वं ब्रह्मौपनिषदं माऽहं ब्रह्म निराकुर्यां मा मा ब्रह्म निराकरोदनिराकरणमस्त्वनिराकरणं  मेऽस्तु |

तदात्मनि निरते य उपनिषत्सु धर्मास्ते मयि सन्तु ते मयि सन्तु |

“May my limbs, speech, vital force, eyes, ears, as well as my strength and all organs become strong. Everything is the brahman revealed in the Upanishads. May I not deny brahman; may not brahman deny me. Let there be no spurning (of me by brahman), let there be no rejection (of brahman) by me. May all the virtues that are spoken of in the Upanishads repose in me, engaged in the pursuit of the self as I am – may they repose in me.”

ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ||

The author is currently pursuing a Master’s in Electrical Engineering at Arizona University.

Meditation on Meditation – Dr Varanasi Ramabrahmam


Dr Varanasi Ramabrahmam

In this piece, the Upanishadic insight of human consciousness and mind, their form, structure and function will be analytically presented together with the description of phases and states of mind to get an idea of how the mind works. Calming the mind is presented as a process of de-learning illusory knowledge, relearning the real nature of human-being and then practising how to completely unlearn or be unaware of all the new knowledge too but not the insight gained. It will be argued that meditation and calming the mind are synonymous with self realisation and are the exact opposite to the process of generation of thoughts. The importance of possessing an open mind, having faith together and being on good terms with others will be stressed.


The ability to calm the mind is of the utmost importance in modern life. Many meditative techniques currently in vogue are intended to help humans to cope with the stresses and strains associated with today’s lifestyles. In many cases traditional meditation techniques are presented as popular modern methods. Attempts to calm the mind will give the desired results if meditation is undertaken in full knowledge and understanding of the mind and the nature of the meditation process.  

Upanishadic philosophy is Sat-Darsana, a revelation of truth. The process of arriving at and experiencing truth is technically termed self realisation.  With self realisation comes a calm mind and an increased mental functionality. One must possess absolute faith to calm the mind: faith in the approach, faith in the text and the teacher and faith in oneself. Cultivating, engaging in and maintaining a stable and harmonious relationship with others helps the aspirant in attempts to calm the mind.  Often the lack of harmony hinders the aspirant from finding mental peace.  The mere observation or practice of a meditative technique in an academic or mechanical way may not help the individual in his/her aim.

                Ego – self-consciousness, the collection of thoughts about ‘I’ as body and associated personality traits, social status, ‘me’ and ‘mine’ – creates vasanas (impressions/experiences/memories) within us. All cognition/perception/volition/urge-related experiences are created and retrieved by the antahkarana (inner mental tool) chittam (sense/idea/mood/insight/mind). Egoistic thoughts and actions (with the thought and sense of ‘I’, where ‘I’ is identified with the respective individual) in awakened/wakeful and dream conscious states creates memories (vasanas). These memories are later activated (with reference to the passage of physical time) and cause happiness or unhappiness accordingly in the present. The state of mind bereft of egoistic thoughts, memories or other cognitions/perceptions/experiences is the state of Self (Atman) – it is ego-free, blissful, peaceful and time-transcendent. This state is called jagrat sushupti or wakeful sleep. The three other conscious states – the awakened/wakeful (jagrat), the dream (svapna) and deep sleep (sushupti) – are transient super-impositions over the present wakeful sleep (jagrat sushupti); they occur simultaneously or alternately. 

                Memories and the record of our experiences are our psychological past and our fears, anxieties, imaginations, expectations etc., form our psychological future. The thought-flow concerning these past and future memories activated as remembrances and fear, anxiety, anticipation, apprehensions, imaginations etc., consist of our psychological past and future and gives us the awareness of time and the sense of the passage of time. Thus thought-flow (reflected chit-energy transformations) is psychological time and its flow. Living in the ‘past or future’ in the present leads to peacelessness. The aim of spirituality is to enable one to cultivate the habit of living in the physical present with peace.

     Such a spiritual tradition suggests that the aim of human birth is to cease to be ‘human’ and be divine – Ego-free – to transcend human nature and live in eternal blissful ego-free state. The word ‘human’ in human being refers to the ecstasy, excitement, grief, fear, anxiety, thrill, sense of achievement or disappointment and many other psychological comforts or discomforts experienced by men and women during the course of life. A human being grows tired of these psychological pulls and pushes and craves relief from this chain of states of emotional disorders to find peace. Some study Vedanta  to attain peace of mind and some to acquire knowledge and to satisfy their intellectual curiosity. Arriving at the truth grants peace in both cases and calms the mind.  Peace and calmness are divine qualities. So are pure consciousness, being, bliss, silence and timelessness. The mental process by which one can attain these qualities of divinity or the method by which a human being transforms himself/herself into a calm divine being is known as meditation on the Self – the real Nature of the individual. The divine being is also called Self, Brahman, Atman.

     Eka vastu chintanam eva dhyanam (literally ‘meditation is concentrating simply thinking about just one thing’) is one definition of meditation. This means that meditation is contemplation on a divine quality, of which the end result is that the mind merges into that quality and becomes that quality – this is what we call self realisation. 

     Theology proposes Bhakti – the path of devotion – for this purpose. In this method the mind   concentrates on a name or form of a chosen auality of divine being and meditates on that name or form.  This name or form is in fact a manifestation of the Self and the mind thus has a single focus. At the appropriate moment, divine grace enables the mind merge into that name or form.

    Another definition of meditation is: dhyanam artha bhavanam (literally ‘meditation is contemplating on the meaning’). This is the path of knowledge. This meditation process involves concentrating the mind on study and learning and hence understanding the divine nature. This path also leads to a calm and peaceful mind.   

     In short, meditation or calming the mind consists in concentrating the mind on a chosen thing or contemplating upon a chosen concept, expression or insight.

     The Upanishads contain descriptions of the Self and many ways of meditating on the Self, known as Vidya (possesssing and contemplating on right knowledge) or Upasana. The knowledge other than that of the Self is termed Avidya (literally ‘non-knowledge’) by the Upanishadic sages. According to their definition, Avidya consists of all sciences, arts, skills and the learning of languages and other disciplines and art forms.

    The Isaavaasya Upanishad advises us to make use of both Vidya and Avidya while meditating on the Self to attain calmness within and warns that using only one of them leads to darkness – the Upanishadic term for ignorance (sloka 9). The eleventh sloka of this Upanishad teaches us the proper way of meditating on the Self,

                                Vidyaam cha avidyaam cha yastadvedoobhyam saha

                                Avidyayaa mrtyum teertvaa vidyayaa amritam asnute

    This means that one must contemplate on and be aware of the Self by using both Avidya and Vidya. Through Avidya one crosses mortality and by Vidya one attains immortality. Immortality is the release from the cycle of birth and death i.e., from the rise and the setting of an egoistic mind (mithyaaham – literally ‘a false “I”’). An egoistic mind and self-consciousness are responsible for all disturbances the individual experiences. Thus knowledge about both Vidya and Avidya is necessary for one to meditate on the Self and live as the Self in and with calmness.

     The antahkaranas manas, buddhi, ahamkaaram and chittam enable us to engage and disengage with the perceived and experienced external world and acquire knowledge and activate the inbuilt tendencies- i.e., the arishadvargas. All this knowing or mental activity called Tamas (ignorance) hinders the seer (sat/atman) and makes one view only the seen (jagat-retrieved inner mental world). Thus this engagement of the antahkaranas with the perceived or experienced external world is Ajnaana in Upanishadic terms.

     The term Ajnana here is used not to belittle any of the acquired knowledge in any way but only to point out that truth, self, pure consciousness or prajnaanam outlives rather than transcends all these perceptions, intellectual operations, self-consciousness, experiences and their recollections by being, manifesting as and in, causing, maintaining and observing the origin, the becoming and cessation of all these mental functions carried out by the antahkaranas.  It is this that is the ultimate Jnaana (knowledge).

     The mind as the activities of the antahkaranas is like a boat in the river of consciousness and the self-consciousness of the person is the individual travelling in the boat. The boat helps the person to proceed in the course of the life and at the end the river, the boat and the individual together merge in the sea of pure consciousness. Thus meditation is a journey on the boat of the mind by the meditator to reach the Self, the divinity, and become one with it. After this merging with the divinity, no trace of the meditator or the meditative tool (the mind) remains. Only object-free meditation continues – this is simply the blissful state of the Self continuously experienced which maintains the mind’s calm.

    An individual by his samskaara – inbuilt hereditary mental tendencies – has a natural proclivity towards a particular antahkarana as a meditating tool and thus meditates. Different meditative techniques are available to suit the temperament and mental make up and preparedness of the individual.

                The Self or Brahman or Atman or Prajnaanam is always present. This is the revelation and the essence of Upanishadic Teachings. It is interesting to note that being (sat), pure consciousness (chit) and bliss (aananda) are the characteristics of the Self as described in the Upanishads. Being is a present continuous form of the verb ‘to be’ and becoming the present continuous form of ‘to become’; the becoming is the physical and psychological manifestation of the being. The natural state of a human being is being, the present continuous form of ‘to be’ and not becoming – which is limited by memory of the past and speculation as to the future. But the normal state of a human being is a combination of a series of being and becoming or peace and disturbance, past and future – or fluctuation between all these – and seldom is being, the natural present continuous state, the blissful state. One becomes something when one cognises an object or uses an antahkarana or the mind.  When the mind ceases to cognize, one returns to the natural state of being. Becoming is a super-position and causes disturbance to this being and makes one live in an unreal state.

                The mind, in the form of antahkaranas, transforms human beings into a human becomings as it were.  Luckily this transformation is transitory and reversible. These transformations of the mind worry ordinary people. But the realised souls are always aware of the transitory nature of these transformations and the simultaneous presence of the two present continuous forms – the being and the becoming, which are consciousness and awareness – and are always beings. They only view the becomings in the form of vasanas and jagat occurring within and without and are not concerned or touched by these ‘unreal’ happenings.

                The Upanishads talk about Mithyaham – the virtual Self or maya (illusion).  The virtual Self is the reflected Sat and is made up of the same stuff as Sat. This virtual Self is the first becoming in the individual and is responsible for and contained in all mental functions, which are its own transformations. The virtual self always transforms itself as antahkaranas resulting in the perceptions and experiences (vasanas) which are viewed by and are aware of the Self in the different conscious states. The various transformations of the virtual Self as various antahkaranas to perform various mental functions what you can call reversible becomings (vivartanam).  These becomings constitute mental activity and the sense of the passage of time in the individual; they make the individual aware of the body, psychology, gender, social status etc, as well as the form and structure of ego and self-consciousness.

                If these becomings – the thoughts, feelings, intellectual functions, perceptions, experiences, understandings, urges, instincts and tendencies – all cease to happen or the virtual Self undergoes no transformations then it is unoccupied awareness, bliss, peace, silence, eternity and hence timelessness. Thought-ego- and feeling-free consciousness results in an experience of calm and peace within and is observed by the Self as the Prajnanam or seer. The Self as seer is always present and is eternal and timeless; it is a present continuous being. A reading of this transcript is itself a de-learning, relearning and unlearning process i.e., a way to calm the mind.

Note: The method of meditation as a means of calming the mind cannot be generally prescribed.  Just as a psychologist treats each case individually so too the method of calming mind is specific to each individual and depends greatly on one’s mental makeup.

1. Meditation/calming the mind veils our ignorance and unveils our knowledge and real self.

2. Meditation/calming the mind veils our false identity and unveils our real or true identity.

3. Meditation/calming the mind veils our unreal or apparent or misunderstood nature and unveils our true and real nature.

Sri Ramana Maharshi:

4. Find out wherefrom this ‘I’ springs forth and merge at its source; that is tapas-meditation.

5. Find out wherefrom the sound of the mantra in japa rises up and merge there; that is tapas-meditation.  


Ramabrahmam, V., 2007, Upanishadic ways of calming the mind, Presentation at the national seminar on “The Indian Approach to Calming the Mind” on 25th and 26th August, 2007 at Veda Vijnana Gurukulam, Bangalore.

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