[Advaita-l] Prayer with full Understanding -1

Kuntimaddi Sadananda kuntimaddisada at yahoo.com
Sat Apr 3 10:48:01 EDT 2021

PraNAms to all
Today I had a zoom talk for Chinmaya Mission study group. On the above topic. I had an article few years back and it is also now in the book just got published 'Self and Supreme' by the Indic Academy. I am posting here in three parts for those who are interested. 
Hari Om!
Prayer with Full Understanding

This article was published in‘Kadambari’ journal, July 2006, pp. 22-25, was written at the request of theorganizers of Kadambari. 


असतोमासद्गमय  - asatomaasadgamaya| 

तमसोमाज्योतिर्गमय -tamasomaa jyotirgamaya|

मृत्योर्माअमृतं गमय- mrutyormaa amrutam gamaya|

Lead us from the unreal to the real. Lead us from ignoranceto knowledge. Lead us from mortality to immortality. 

These mantras, which we all chant at the end of ourprayers, are from the Brihadarnyaka Upanishad. By the chanting of thesemantras, we are requesting certain specific things from the Lord. But we needto understand clearly (1) what exactly it is we are asking the Lord to do (thatis, the goals we are seeking), and (2) how we expect Him to accomplish thesetasks (that is, the means for accomplishing these goals). 

A good initial question is whether the Real, Knowledge, andImmortality – the three things that we are requesting – are really separategoals (since we are making three separate petitions), or actually one and thesame goal – and only appearing different when viewed from three differentangles. If they are all the same, then why request them in three different ways– unless we are confused, not knowing exactly what we want? Or is it that wewant to ensure that the Lord hears our prayers, one way or the other? 

Another important question at the outset is why we wantthese three particular goals – instead of, say, moksa (liberation) orfreedom from samsaara (suffering)? What is the use of having these threeboons and still suffering due to samsaara? Why not pray directly for moksa?In other words, we need to have a clear understanding of what our prayer reallymeans. So let us examine the Vedic mantras more closely. 

asatomaasadgamaya| The first prayer says, “Lead us from asat to sat – that is,from the unreal to the real.” In fact, the terms asat and sat are normallytranslated as nonexistence and existence, respectively. So, we are asking theLord to lead us from nonexistence to existence. Closer examination of thismeaning reveals an inherent contradiction: If we are nonexistent, to beginwith, then our request for existence has some validity. However, since we mustexist if we are reciting the prayer, does not the prayer itself presuppose ourexistence? And if that is so, doesn’t that make it a useless prayer – since weare asking Him to do that which is already an accomplished fact? It will be awaste of His time and ours unless asat hassome other meaning than non-existence. Some darshanikasor philosophers argue that the terms are mutually exclusive, i.e., that whichis not asat must be sat, and that which is not sat must be asat. If so, then we are asking the Lord to do somethingimpossible. Lord Krishna declared thousands of years ago in the Bhagavad Gitathat, “naasato vidyate bhaavo naabhaavovidyate sataH” (2-16) – “nonexistence can never come into existence andexistence can never become nonexistent.” It is an absolute Law of Conservationthat applies not only to matter and energy but to subtler entities like jeevas(individual souls). Krishna says: 

नत्वेवाहं जातु नासंन त्वं नेमे जनाधिपाः, 

न चैव नभविष्यमः सर्वेवयमतः परम्| 

natvevaaham jaatu naasam,na tvam neme janaadhipaaH| 

na caiva nabhavishyaamaH sarvE vayaH mataH param|| 

“There was never a time when Iwas not; there was never a time you were not, nor all these kings arrayedbefore us. There will never be a time when they are absent. Hence, that whichexists can never cease to exist.” Based on this, the first part of our prayerappears to be in vain. · 

Knowledge: tamasomaajyotirgamaya| Now let us examine the second prayer, “Lead us from ignoranceto knowledge.” We do not specify here exactly what ignorance we are referringto – is it ignorance of Chemistry, Physics, Biology, the world, or ignorance ofeverything? In the Mundakopanishad the student approaches his teacher and asks:kasminno bhaghavo vijnaate sarvam idamvijnaatam bhavati “Hai! Bhagavan, please teach me that, by knowing which Iwill have knowledge of everything!” Now that is really a pretty tall request.Is that what we are requesting in our prayer, tamasoma jyotirgamaya? 

When we say, “I have knowledge,” or “He is a knowledgeableperson,” we only mean “knowledge of X.” That is, “knowledge” always refers to aparticular area or object. It is always some objective knowledge, or we can saythat it is ‘qualified knowledge.’ Epistemologically, knowledge withoutqualification is indefinable. So, in asking the Lord to lead us from ignoranceto knowledge, we are using two unqualified and therefore indefinable terms. Weare requesting something that we ourselves are unable to define properly. · 


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