Saturday, 17 September 2016

"Independence" - Perceptions of Ancient Seers

[Original Article in Kannada - by Vidwan Chayapathy;  English Rendering - by Archana Vagish]

 “Swaatantrya” (Independence) - what does this word mean? Independence is the unfettered opportunity available to a person or a country to prosper as per his or its wishes.  Independence is also interpreted as:  Freedom from oppression of others, self reliance, severing all ties that bind one etc. The saying -“Paaratantrya (Dependence) is hell and Swaatantrya is heaven” is popular among the masses.

There are several sovereign countries in the world. Each country has its own view point on “Independence”: “A country comprises of a community of people. A person belonging to the country and hence the community, should offer himself or herself for the betterment of the community. Any other form of personal Independence is meaningless” - This is the opinion advanced by the champions of national Independence. The Nation after all exists for the multi-faceted development of its people.  The unbridled opportunity available to each and every citizen to blossom as per his or her wish is independence. “A country that forbids this personal growth to its people is nothing but a prison. A person without a chance to develop according to one’s wishes can be likened to a breathing corpse”- These are the opinions of the proponents of personal freedom. Now the question arises: Liberty is for the person or for the country?

If the window of opportunity available to a person to develop as he or she pleases is termed independence, then does not this opportunity exist even to anti-social elements such as thieves, murderers and gamblers? If such is the case, what would happen to the welfare of the country? Shall we then say that liberty is living a life without any rules and restrictions? Isn’t it essential that citizens conform to the law of the land? If yes, then isn’t obeying the law imply a restriction on personal freedom? Then what is the boundary-line for the individual’s freedom and wantonness?

While interdependence in society, sharing amongst others, are essential for personal and national development, how is it practically possible to grow freely without depending on anyone? In fact, for people having the generous opinion that it is mandatory for the entire world to develop as one Nation, a discussion on national freedom is meaningless. Some arguments portray independence as imaginary and that it does not really exist. Whereas some believe independence is bestowed by Nature and is not artificial. So the next question is- Is freedom natural or artificial?

What is a fair and reasonable answer that puts all these questions to rest? Where are we to find such an answer? Are there people who have found a solution to this vexed problem? If yes, what is their answer? Are these solutions relevant even today? Or are these questions unanswerable? 

Directing their attention towards the path of progress of mankind and having identified the means to protect this independence, the ancient seers of our mother-land have obtained answers to these questions. We can ascertain the suitability or other-wise of these answers by pondering over them.
Why do we need independence? Independence is needed for living. It is therefore imperative that the nature of such independence required for living should be searched within the realm of life itself. What did the seers find? What plan did they envisage to protect such freedom? 

When one sows a jackfruit seed, the seed takes the form of root, shoot, supporting stem etc right upto the ripened fruit, finally taking the form of a seed again within the fruit. Where does the plan for such a development prevail? It is present within the original seed of the fruit itself! If we consider this seed of the tree as “self”(sva-its own), the  ability to grow according to the design (tantra) that exists within the seed can be called as the “independence (sva-tantra-own design)” of the seed. When one sows a jackfruit-seed, it does not yield mangoes or jasmine! When a seed starts growing into a tree up to the point that it culminates into a seed, its development cycle is said to be complete. Thus allowing a seed to grow gradually into a tree and enabling it to complete its cycle marks the true protection of its independence or swaatantrya.  Hence it can be said that one can ensure autonomy of the entity (the seed) by ensuring that its development cycle is allowed to be completed. And this independence is bestowed upon the seed by Nature itself and it is not artificial.

The same truth is applicable to independence in Life as well. Just as the tree is pervaded by the vigor of its seed, the body that signifies the tree of Life is pervaded by the vigor of its soul or the Jeeva-shakti. By following its inward path, through the withdrawal of the sense organs inwards, the ancient seers of Bhaarata could perceive an effulgent Light in the inner-most recesses. That spirit, that Light (Jyotirbeeja) in itself is recognized as the original seed of Life. The splinters arising out of this effulgent Light are the Jeevas. The objective of evolution is for the Jeeva to return to its Source. Thus, when the Jeeva (sva) evolves according to the plan (tantra) or design embedded in this ’Seed’ of life, this can be termed as true development of life and in that lies its true independence (sva-tantra). The body represents the middle stage of evolution. When the Jeeva inhabits it and develops with the intention of returning to its original form (Jyoti), this intention confirms and protects the true independence of the Jeeva. This independence is a gift of Nature to man; it is not imaginary. 

Now the Jeeva (also known as Purusha) dwells in the body (also known as pura) to truly develop as per his plan, to achieve the prime objective of human birth; the Purushaartha yojane (plan) allows him to achieve this objective which refers to attainment of Dharma, Artha, Kaama and Moksha. This is tailor-made for the Purusha and not merely for the body. Nonetheless, all the sense organs (indriyas), mind (manas) and intellect (buddhi) too have a role to play in this scheme. Just as the branches, flowers, fruits etc play their part in the development cycle of the seed, the different body-organs become important tools for the Jeeva and they participate in the attainment of Swaatantrya of the Jeeva.

What exactly is this Purushaartha yojane? How does it operate? By ensuring the following: Dharma - Protecting the organs by using them in line with what they are designed; Artha - acquiring of wealth using these organs (or tools) without maligning this Dharma, ; Kaama - entertaining desires which do not endanger the Dharma of these organs and their purpose. If Life proceeds along these lines, the Jeeva can retrace its journey, in a very natural way, to its original abode (seed of life). That is Moksha or salvation. It is not death. When the tree bears fruit, it does not imply its destruction; rather it is its crowning moment. It is possible that one can live in the same body even after attainment of Moksha.  Hence Purushaartha yojane is that plan which establishes the fulfillment of the natural evolution of life. This indeed is the path to the preservation of the Swaatantrya of life. Just as the true Swaatantrya of the seed lies in its entering the soil and embracing the plan for its development, so does the true Swaatantrya of the Jeeva lie in embracing the Purushaartha yojane in one’s Life. Hence Swaatantrya cannot be equated to living according to one’s whimsicalities. Further, since such a plan exists for the complete and true development of every Jeeva, it is not wrong to say that this scheme is applicable for mankind in its entirety. This in itself is also the universal personal freedom. Such personal independence ensures comprehensive development of life (as per the plan of the Jeeva) and fills the life of the individual with peace, contentment and happiness.
A country exists for the welfare of its citizens. When they are given the opportunity to live according to the Purushaartha yojane or the plan to achieve the objectives of human birth, it implies that they are provided with the golden opportunity for their all-inclusive development. Hence, the ancient seers of India laid the goals for the Nation too as “Dharma-artha-kaama-moksha-roopa sarva purushaartha phalamidam raajyam” or “The purpose of the Country is (to enable its people) to attain the objectives of human birth namely Dharma, Artha, Kaama and Moksha”. When the goals for the Jeeva and the country become one, personal independence and national independence get united. Such independence is the right and true asset of every individual and is worth fighting for even at the cost of one’s life. 

Personal independence is not an artificial or imaginary concept, but is bestowed by Nature. The ancient seers of our land have thus explained the essence of true independence - Becoming one with the omnipotent effulgent spirit wherein lies the home of all the Jeevas in the world. Hence this independence is worthy of universal esteem. 

The soul of this script is the inspiration of Sriranga Mahaguru who, having accomplished Swaatantrya, declared that “living a life in accordance with the absolute Truth is the true independence.” May this script be an offering to that lustrous Seed of Life!  

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Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Traditional Practices During Grahana (Eclipse) - Ignorance or Awareness?

[Original Kannada Article by Vidwan Chayapaty- English Rendering by Smt Padmashree Mohan]

"During a lunar eclipse, the moon enters the shadow of the earth, and during a solar eclipse, the moon comes between the sun and the earth.  With their learning and insight, teachers of yore understood this to be the reason for the eclipses." These are the words of Varaahamihira who lived in the first part of 6th century A.D.  His words provide evidence that Bhaaratiya (Indian) astronomers had an accurate understanding of the reasons for the occurrence of eclipses from a very early time.  Even in that distant past, they had developed mathematical tools to predict the incidence of eclipses.

Along with this precise understanding of eclipses, the teachers of yore have also recommended some best practices to be followed around the time of an eclipse.  These include fasting from eight hours before the onset of an eclipse, a bath during and after the eclipse, and placing a blade of darbha grass on all clothes, milk, curds and other dry ingredients that are used in cooking.  Expecting mothers are asked to stay indoors and hold a piece of iron in their hands.  Iron rings are also placed around the horns of cattle. The time of the eclipse is considered sacred and is recommended to be used for japa (chanting), dhyaana (meditation), tarpana (ritual offering of black sesame seeds with water to ancestors) and daana (charity).  Even today special trains and buses are introduced during eclipses to facilitate the travel of pilgrims to sacred rivers where they get a purificatory bath. 

Similar practices are not to be found in any other culture or country, and have, therefore, raised questions and doubts in the minds of several people.  On the one hand, there are numerous people who place their unquestioning faith in shaastras (scriptures) and traditions and follow the practices recommended by shaastras without probing the rationale behind them.  On the other hand, there are enough people, who in spite of their regard for shaastras, lean towards logic and accept only those conventions that conform to scientific understanding, reason and rationale.  The question, therefore, is about the basis for the numerous procedures surrounding an eclipse.  Are they based on research and scientific knowledge? Or are they just superstitions rooted in ignorance? It is not straightforward to conclude that these customs are based on scientific awareness as they are not found in any other country.  Moreover, science which has succeeded in outer-space missions and is everyday changing the map of the universe with newly discovered galaxies and constellations has not lent any credence to the traditional practices connected with an eclipse. How then can we insist that these practices are the result of sound knowledge and not mere ignorance? 

Amongst us there are also people who cry foul that our country has been declining because some mindless men let age-old superstitions persist instead of condemning them.  This number swells because they encounter practices such as those surrounding an eclipse which appear to have no logical grounding.  

The eclipse is a natural phenomenon. There is no denying the effect of the eclipse on the physical world; still how can we justify these practices?  The astronomical study of eclipses and its effects has already been well-established. And yet, these customs cannot be verified against any known scientific fact. Therefore the notion that it is wise to give up these superstitious practices is becoming more prevalent.

Although it is true that the exacting yardsticks of verification established by science and technology have a far reach, it is also true that science has not evolved to a point where it can claim to have measured everything.  New discoveries of the mysteries of nature coming to light every day clearly show that there still is much to be understood and quantified. Therefore one must be open to newer results, methods and tools to understand the world around us. And if these new techniques were to substantiate some of the practices, it would be wise to accept them in the light of new findings, though they may have been reviled in the past.

What is such a new technique or tool that has not become available to science thus far as we know it?  How is it possible to measure the effects of an eclipse with this tool?  What practices were instituted based on the outcome of the use of this ‘instrument’? Sriranga Mahaaguru researched this matter and used such a ‘devise’ to provide empirical confirmation of the customs connected with an eclipse. The summary of his experiential and experiment-based findings is presented here in brief.

The manner in which Sriranga Mahaaguru considered the body of shaastras, sampradayas (traditions), scientific findings, the remarks of people (who either accept these practices or reject them), the views of native and foreign writers and all the debate around this subject was truly captivating.  While presenting his findings, he asked that people should examine his results without any bias and only then accept them.  "Say yes if it rings true, say no if it doesn't" was his motto.  “Theory, experiments and experience constitute my shaastras" - this was Sriranga Mahaaguru’s firm conviction.  What is the premise to be proven?  Can it be verified with an experiment?  Can it be borne true by experience?  If so, accept it; else reject it.  This was Sriranga Mahaaguru’s fearless and honest dictum; and it is acceptable to every seeker of truth.

On one occasion, during his masterly exposition, Sriranga Mahaguru had presented the views on eclipses according to shaastras, modern science, common sayings and common practices.  Then he had said enigmatically, "We have heard what others say about an eclipse; now let us listen to what an eclipse has to say about itself!" He had then proceeded to conduct experiments during the time of the eclipse itself.  

Naadi-shaastra was Sriranga Mahaaguru’s tool for conducting experiments related to eclipses.  (The term, naadi, literally translates into the English word ‘pulse.’ However the meaning of the word ‘naadi’ is much wider than the scope of the word, ‘pulse.’  Pulse only indicates the heart beats; but a naadi reading by a competent person gathers the vibrations from other sources in our body.) The throbbing of the naadi can be felt within about a square inch area in the wrist of every person (right hand for men and left hand for women).  Ayurveda has indicated that while the pulse can be observed easily by anybody, it takes training to identify the distinct patterns in the naadi brought about by variations in the compositions of vaata, pitta and sleshma, to arrive at the diagnosis of a disease.  Sriranga Mahaaguru’s astute investigations into Naadi-shaastras helped him understand that an in-depth reading of the naadi is capable of yielding insights into the physical, celestial and spiritual realms of an individual's life.  His yogic saadhana combined with his adept use of the naadi-tool helped him research and re-validate the truths discovered by Bhaaratiya rishis (the sages and seers of ancient India) through their tapasya (penance). The articles printed under the title "Sri Guru Vani" in the Mandiram’s monthly publication "Arya Samskrti" give us a glimpse into these investigations in his own words.

It suffices to say here that Sriranga Mahaaguru had discovered that the science of Naadi could be employed to study the various observances related to the eclipse. The confidence arising out of his systematic study of eclipses, its effects and other related customs was such that he welcomed the most challenging questions posed on the topic.  He used to say, in a compelling manner, that a blindfolded person, seated in a dark room during the time of an eclipse, could accurately indicate through the naadi reading, the quadrant of the sky where the eclipse occurs, the time of its onset and its close, and the course of its progress - all without the help of any other external tool.  On one occasion, he had presented himself to such an examination and using naadi as a tool had given complete and accurate details about the eclipse. 

Sriranga Mahaguru had taught the Naadi-shaastra to some people who had approached him as disciples; and with their participation he had conducted experiments related to the effects of the eclipse during the time of an eclipse itself.  He had asked these subjects to note down their naadi readings before the onset of the eclipse.  He then had them note down the changes they observed in their naadi readings, and the order in which these changes occurred during the progress of the eclipse.  Later he had presented them with water, darbha grass, iron and other such materials recommended for use during an eclipse.  He had asked them further to note the changes brought about in their naadi readings while being in physical contact with these materials (one at a time) - so that the effect of these materials could be noted. In the end, he had them all compare their findings.  Even though Sriranga Mahaaguru had not given any prior indication about what to expect or look for, most experiments showed similar trends in the changes to the naadi readings.  Pointing this to the participants, Sriranga Mahaguru said with a knowing smile, "You gleaned this information from the eclipse itself, didn't you?  These are not my words; they are the articulation of the eclipse itself, aren't they?" Thus he revealed the mystery about the eclipses. 

The following is an overview of the readings and the results from the experiments thus conducted.  The reading of the naadi started to slow down as the time of the eclipse drew near.  At the onset of the eclipse, the formerly clear differentiations in the vaata, pitta and sleshma naadis began to become blurred.  A little later, upon taking a closer look, the reading of the pitta naadi started to show distortions.  Such a distorted pattern during non-eclipse times would be symptomatic of indigestion or bone fever (asthi jvara).  Because the naadi showed sub-optimal functioning of the digestive system, the practice of not eating during an eclipse, and even of fasting for few hours before the onset of the eclipse seems meaningful.  A newspaper reported that several animals refused to eat food during the duration of the eclipse.  This is not surprising; their behavior is natural given the circumstance. 

The peculiar rhythms in naadi during an eclipse have a resemblance to rhythms observed in leprosy. In certain populations and cases a prolonged persistence of this rhythm may lead to health complications. Hence the precautionary measure of a bath at the end of an eclipse to restore normal rhythms has been advocated.

Metals are good conductors of electricity; wood and rubber are bad conductors. These insulators remain unaffected by the flow of electricity, and also prevent accidents to others.  Similarly there are a few objects that remain impervious to the effects of an eclipse, and render similar benefits to their users too.  Water, iron, darbha grass and gold are some of these objects.  Mere contact with these objects resets the naadi readings to the pre-eclipse normal state.  An understanding of this subtlety, led to the evolution of practices such as getting a bath (preferably with cold water) and giving an iron bangle to a pregnant woman.

Apart from these physical effects, the occurrence of an eclipse induces in the body, a state that lends itself to spiritual experiences. Even those experiences that are very difficult to achieve during normal prolonged periods may be easily achieved by the spiritual seeker even during a short duration of an eclipse. For this reason, the eclipse has been identified as a sacred time to pursue japa and dhyaana.

Therefore, these experiments conducted by Sriranga Mahaaguru prove that there are a number of practices surrounding the eclipse that stand on a sound basis arising out of the experimental understanding of eclipses and their effects based on Naadi Vijnaana.   While many practices are based on awareness, there may also exist a few other customs that have become a part of the popular observance due to the ignorance of people. Not all of these practices can be endorsed, but the more widespread ones such as bathing, fasting, meditation, tarpana and daana, the use of darbha and iron can all be affirmed as being consistent with the naadi vijnaana of eclipses. 

Salutations to the rishis of yore who understood so well the laws of Nature and advocated customs that are in harmony with the eternal truth.  Salutations too to Sriranga Mahaaguru who once again uncovered the deeper significance of these customs which were lost in the ravages of kaala (time), desha (place) and prakrti (vicissitudes of Nature).  Thoughts of gratitude towards Sriranga Mahaaguru fill the heart, for his are the words of Truth that make this article worthy of being offered at the feet of that entity which is the Absolute Truth.