[Advaita-l] Gita Navaneetam: Introduction-2

kuntimaddi sadananda kuntimaddisada at yahoo.com
Sat Feb 18 05:44:48 CST 2006

The Teacher and the Taught:  

Bhagavad Gita is the song celestial.  It was sung by the Lord of the
entire universe who took birth in a human form to redeem the mankind, to
the blessed couple, Vasudeva and Devaki.  The teaching was to Arjuna who
was pure hearted one (arjunaH means white, which stands for purity,
anagha, a sinless one) and through Arjuna to the whole mankind.  In
Bhagavad Gita Krishna reveals the secret of His avataara, incarnation in
human form to uplift Dharma.  Whenever people forget their divine origin
and their sanaatana dharma or Vedic dharma, the degradation of the
society occurs, materialism prevails.  The standards of the society are
measured in terms of materialistic possessions than on spiritual
development.  There is nothing wrong in possessing but something wrong
in depriving others that deserve the basic amenities of life.  In a
materialistic society desires for sensuous pleasures increase, people
become greedy to satiate their desires, and dharma is compromised.
People resort to compromising means to achieve the ends they want. The
four-fold human pursuit, purushhaartha (dharma, artha, kaama and moksha)
are forgotten to give importance to only acquiring wealth, artha, and
fulfilling sensuous desires, kaama.  Dharma or righteousness which is
essential to maintain the universe in equilibrium (dhAranAt iti dharmaH
– that which supports) declines.  When dharma declines, Bhagavaan has to
take appropriate action to restore it.  The purpose of avataara or
incarnation is not just to punish the culprits, which solves only a
temporal problem, but also to redeem the masses by teaching Brahma
vidya, which helps generations to come. Getopadesha stands therefore a
monumental contribution of MahAbhArata times for the humankind.  Its
utility for generations to come is unquestionable because of its
universal application.  The teacher is a universal being, and the
teaching is an eternal flow of knowledge of Vedas and it was brought
down to a dynamic earthly man in downtown (pArtha). Krishna is a
universal personality, loved and revered by all, from innocent children
to matured sages, king of all kings while refusing to own any kingdom
for himself, yet with kings and emperors bowing down to him, who is the
very back bone of the Hindu culture.  He permeates every part of the
Hindu society, in every form of art, in every form of Indian dance,
Indian music, Indian paintings to Indian literature.  His childhood
pranks to his adult plays, his mature and calculated political moves to
restore the goodness in the society and to establish dharma, are all
sung in many ways and in many languages, from lullabies to Gitagovindas.
 His presence reverberates in every segment of the Hindu society. 
Hence, Bhagavad Gita forms the very essence of Hindu culture, the
pinnacle of Hindu thought with divine signature and with universal
application.  While teaching, Krishna uses a universal pronoun, yah,
meaning whoever he may be he who, that is whoever follows the teaching
will reach Me, the universal goal.  Therefore, Gita should be understood
in the spirit of that teaching, application to all, without any
reservations, without any prejudices, without any privileges.  It
confirms to the Vedic teaching, yet adopting the language and meaning to
suite a rational human being.  Bhagavad Gita stands as one of the three
pillars of SanAtana dharma, sustaining and supporting it.  Many AchAryas
in the past and many scholars in the present have written bhAshyAs and
commentaries, each one from their perspective, each one claiming that
their interpretation is correct, some even claiming that their
interpretation is ‘as it is’ compared to those of others, yet all
converge in essence, in directing the human being towards the pinnacle
of evolution, each in their own way.    

I present here my own understanding, without claiming it to be
objective, based on the assimilation of the teaching that I received,
particularly from my teacher, H.H. Swami Chinmayanandaji.  He traveled
until his last breath from one end of the world to the other, as
Krishna’s ambassador, preaching Bhagavad Gita, in the form of Gita
Jnaana Yagnas, in the language that people like me can understand and
appreciate the age-old science of manual of self-unfoldment.  His last
Gita Jnaana Yagna was in Washington D.C., the capital of the United
States, where he delivered thundering discourses on Gita, sitting on a
dais, while his heart was functioning only one fourth of its capacity.
He gave us the last drop of his blood in trying to educate us, and in
making us see the beauty and grandeur of the vision of a realized
person, sthitaprajna.  Gita was his speech, Gita was his action, nay,
Gita was his life.  Gurudev’s vision and accomplishments are monumental
in educating and propagating to the rational intellects the logic of
spirituality packed in Gita and Upanishads, in building Sandeepany
SadhanAlayas to train the young rational minded budding Krishnas by
providing intensive courses on Brahma vidya, in formulating Vedantic
study groups, in popularizing the teaching even in vernacular languages
to masses of India and abroad, in providing Gita chanting competitions
for children of all ages, in building Chinmaya vidhyAlayas where culture
is brought into the classrooms, in redirecting the energetic youth to
yoga of action and contemplation, in building old-age retirement
communities where retirees can devote to the scriptural study and
contemplation, thus penetrating every fabric of the society in every
city and town.  Gurudev taught us inside as well as outside the class
room, watching and correcting every misstep that we took towards
understanding and applying this science of spirituality, with full of
love and compassion.  With full of gratitude and humility, I proceed to
churn my understanding of Gita as my offerings at his lotus feet.   

Role of a Teacher and the Scriptures:

The spiritual journey involves essentially two stages of evolution. The
first stage involves refining ones likes and dislikes expressed through
ones desires, and the next stage involves internalizing the teaching
until it becomes one with the seeker. Refinement of desires are
refinement of thought patterns that involves decreasing the quantity,
changing the quality and redirecting them towards the higher goal.
Everyone is born with likes and dislikes or vAsanas which are  due to
the impressions left by egocentric actions in the past life or past
lives. These are called together as prArabda karma. In the process of
growing, one acquires new ones called AgAmi karma, which can either be
exhausted in this life or put into one’s total account called sanchita
karma.  VAsanas express as desires at the intellect level, agitations at
the mental level and egocentric actions at the body level, which in turn
leaves or reinforces one’s vAsanas.  Thus eternal cycle is set in motion
consisting of birth, actions and birth.  In animal forms, vAsanas only
are exhausted without acquiring new ones, since they do not act with
ego.  On the other hand, human being is provided with intellect to make
a choice.  Hence he has the capacity to refine his vasAnas by refining
his desires. For refinement, one should understand the mechanics of the
processes involved.  Desire for any an object, for a place or
environment, or for people is only to gain happiness from them.  Hence
longing for happiness is root cause for desire.  Yet, happiness is not
with any object, place or people. In the fulfillment of desires, our
minds become calm and contended.  In those moments of happiness, we are
back to ourselves, where our minds feel adequate with themselves, until
of course other desires prop up due to pressure of vAsanas.  Craving for
objects, therefore, is not for objects sake, but for happiness sake. 
What we are truly seeking is happiness and not the object per se.
‘Aatmanastu kaamaaya sarvam priyam bhavati’ says the shruti. Recognition
of this fact is the first step in the evolution.  Hence, desire for
happiness manifests as desire for objects.  Next to understand is the
desire for happiness is not desire for an object since there is no
happiness in any object, but desire for myself whose nature is
happiness.  At this stage, desires for all objects are redirected to one
desire and that is the desire to know oneself. He becomes a jignAsu,
seeker of knowledge.  To know myself is to see myself by myself.
‘dyaanena Aatmani pasyati kaschit AtmAnam AtmanA’ ‘by contemplation, one
sees oneself in oneself by oneself’, says Krishna.  Since I am the
subject and not an object for me to see myself, I need a means to know
myself.  It is similar to the fact that I need a mirror to see my face. 
Mirror does not bring my face but is only an instrument that reflects my
face so that I can see my face. When I am standing in front of the
mirror, what I am seeing is not the mirror not the image but myself
reflected in the mirror. If I see a black patch in the image, I use a
towel to wipe my face than try to wipe the image.  Without a mirror, it
is impossible to see my face.  Similarly, to know myself, 'the subject
I', I need to use Vedanta mirror or darshana.  Vedanta to act as
darshana I need proper understanding of the scriptures and that is
possible only with the help of a competent teacher. Hence Vedanta says
‘arE dRishTavaya, shrotavyaH, mantavyaH, nidhidhyAsitavyaH’ – one has to
see oneself, for that one has to listen from the scripture from a
competent teacher, shravaNam, and reflect on the teaching until there
are no more doubts, mananam, and contemplate on the teaching till the
knowledge is internalized, nidhidhyAsanam.  Hence, when Krishna said
that by contemplation one sees oneself in oneself by oneself,
contemplation involves internalization of the teachings of the Vedanta. 
Shravanam involves a systematic, consistent study of Vedantic scriptures
for a length of time under a competent teacher.  A competent teacher is
one who was a competent student, who learned from a competent teacher. 
Thus, there is a guruparampara or lineage of a teacher to a student, all
the way pointing to the Lord Krishna himself.  Hence, Krishna is called
‘jagat guru’, world teacher.  Krishna says 

tad viddhi praNipAtena pariprashnena sevayA|
upadekshyanti te jnAnam jnAninaH tatva darshinaH||

Approach a teacher with complete humility and respect by surrendering to
him, and asking him with appropriate questions to learn the nature of
the reality.  The teacher in turn will import that knowledge to such a
student, since he himself learned from his teacher by approaching in the
same way. 
>From this, it follows that Vedanta is pramaaNa or the means of
knowledge.  Since it is not an objective knowledge but knowledge about
one self, Vedanta acts like mirror, darpaNa or darshana, when it is
tuned in the hands of a competent teacher.  Thus, two things are
essential; one is the teacher and the second is Vedanta shaastra, and
the teacher is such that he has learned himself from another competent
teacher.  In gaining the knowledge, one should have complete
‘shraddhaa’, which is loosely translated as faith.  Shankara defines
shraddhaa as 
‘shAtrasya guruvAkyasya satya budhyAvadhAraNA’ – shraddhA is the faith
in the truth expounded in the scriptures as interpreted by the teacher. 
Thus, scripture and the teacher together come as one package. 
Therefore, a right teacher is one who points to the scriptural authority
as interpreted by his teacher and not to himself as an authority. 
Hence, a guruparampara, lineage of teachers is emphasized in the
scriptural study.  
There is also a sampradAyam or tradition of teaching the scripture and
is emphasized since teaching is very subtle and requires a competent
teacher who can communicate the knowledge properly.  Thus, Bhagavad Gita
and upanishads have to be learned through a teacher. 

Inquiry and knowledge:  It is important to understand the nature of the
self-inquiry or Brahman-inquiry, and the knowledge that one gains
because of the inquiry.  There are many miss conceptions about saadhana,
role of Vedanta, and self-realization or Brahman realization.  Brahman
cannot be ‘object’ for inquiry, since any object is limited by
definition.  In the beginning of the study, convenience it is treated as
an object for analysis.  That which is infinite and all pervading
self-existent and self-consciousness entity cannot be objectified. 
Brahman inquiry has to lead to inquiry of oneself, the subject, I, which
is also self-conscious and self-existent principle. It cannot be
separate from Brahman since there cannot be divisions in existence or in
consciousness.  This identity has to be recognized by inquiry into the
nature of Brahman or nature of myself.  This is exactly what Vedanta
darshana provides, if it is correctly explained by a competent teacher.
People have a misconception that one has to experience this identity or
this state of oneness. It is not the lack of advaitic experience, but it
is the lack of advatic understanding since in deep sleep state every one
experiences the advaita.  It is the knowledge of the experience that is
needed.  In addition, any understanding is done by buddhi, since that is
the only instrument of knowledge that we have.  The truth is advaita.
However, understanding of the advaitic nature of the truth has to take
place only in Buddhi.  This is the reason, why study of the scriptures
and contemplation on the truths expounded in the scriptures by buddhi
are what is implied by dhyAnam or nidhidhyAsana. Some people say this is
all intellectual and the truth is beyond the intellect and we need to
sit and meditate,the study of scriptures is useful only up to some
point, etc.  When Vedanta say tat vijnAnasva, it implies that it is to
be known through inquiry using scriptural study and internalization of
that knowledge by contemplation.   It is not Atma or Brahman that has
misconceptions.  They are immaculately pure. The misconceptions are in
the mind and it is the mind that needs to realize that ‘aham brahmaasmi’
‘I am that Brahman’.  Brahman, which is infinite, includes the Buddhi
that has the wrong notions about oneself.  In the realization of ‘aham
bramhAsmi’ in the buddhi all wrong notions about oneself drops out and
replaced by the recognition that I am Brahman raises – where? – in the
Buddhi itself.  Hence it is the not the experience that I am longing
for, it is the removal of misconceptions about myself in the buddhi to
be done by appropriate inquiry using Vedanta as a tool.  ‘Truth is
beyond the intellect’, ‘one has to go beyond the intellect’, ‘I do not
want to be trapped in the intellectual stuff’ are the statements people
make.  'Truth is beyond the intellect' is alright but misconceptions are
in the intellect that need to be removed. These cannot be removed by
doing japa ‘ aham brahmAsmi’ or ‘who am I’ etc, but using Vedanta
darshana to see clearly, who I am. There are no other direct paths for
this.  When misconceptions drop out in the awakening of the knowledge,
the ever shining truth is recognized in the intellect. That truth is
beyond the intellect in the sense that it includes everything including
the intellect, since it is infinite ever-existent, self-illuminating
principle.  Since the misconceptions are in the intellect, realization
of one intellect does not mean the realization by other intellects. 
Hence, saadhana has to be done by each individual whose buddhi is
separate, and whose misconceptions in each buddhi are different from
those of others.  Each student has to approach an appropriate teacher or
is led to an appropriate teacher to gain that knowledge. ‘mana eva
manushyAnAm kAraNam bandha moksha yOH|’ - mind is responsible for both
bondage and liberations’ says manusmruti.  The fact of the matter is
even when I am ignorant; I am that sat-chit-ananda – that ever-shining
eternal existent principle.  However, due to misconceptions in the
intellect, and identifying with the intellect I am the intellect, I take
myself to be limited and ignorant.  

Question that is raised is by intellectual understanding, can one
realize the truth.  The answer is yes, provided as JK puts it, it is an
understanding as an understanding as a fact, and not as understanding as
understanding as a thought.  To give a simple and baser example, I
understand that I am a man.  Since childhood, I was brought up with this
knowledge.  It is an understanding as a fact and not as a thought.  It
is not a japa that I have to do all the time that ‘I am man’ and ‘I am
man’ that brings out this knowledge that I am man or repeat, ‘who am
I?’,  ‘who am I?’ etc.  It is an assimilated understanding based on the
teaching received from parents and other elders, when I was a child.
That knowledge remains with me in the background, in all my
transactions.  Swami Chinmayandaji used to teach this in a story form. 
There was one, Mr. Jones, who suddenly got a notion that he is rat and
not a man.  Whenever he sees a cat, he used to hide in a closet, since
he is rat and not a man. His wife noticing his problem took him to a
psychologist and after many sittings and repeating many times that ‘I am
man and not a rat’, he understood that he is a man and not a rat.  After
paying doctors fees and going back home, he returned back rushing to the
doctor, gasping for his breath.  The doctor asked – “what is the
problem, Mr. Jones? I thought you understood that you are a man and not
a rat”.  Mr. Jones replied, “ Yes, Doctor, I understand very well that I
am a man and not a rat.  But what I am afraid is whether the cat in my
house knows that I am man and not a rat.”  There is difference in just
intellectual understanding but factual understanding.  NidhidhyAsana
helps to internalize the knowledge gained by shravaNa and mananam. Thus,
study of the scriptures and contemplating on the truth expounded in the
scriptures are essential for factual understanding.  Pressure of vAsanas
formed through many lives, where the notions about oneself are deep
rooted, obstruct the factual understanding to take place.  Hence, chitta
suddhi or purification of the mind is emphasized before the study of the
scriptures.  Chitta suddhi can be accomplished effectively through karma
yoga, as emphasized by Krishna. 

With this background we enter into the study of Bhagavad Gita. 

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