Science of the Absolute Chapter 8 - Epilogue

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AN INTEGRATED SCIENCE OF THE ABSOLUTE

 

8. CONTEMPLATION

 

EPILOGUE

Bhakti (devotion or contemplation) as understood in the philosophy of the Upanishads has to comprise within its scope theological, cosmological, psychological and axiological factors to be treated together as belonging to an integrated Science of the Absolute. Devotion to God, even when he is conceived as the most high or truest Being, does not suffice to cover the total threefold essence of bhakti as found in the Upanishads.

Even in the Vedas there are elements of agnosticism and disbelief where God's omniscience is doubted. The Lord or Isvara is not always identical with the Absolute (brahman), and very often has only a secondary position.


The creator, Brahma, is not identified with the Absolute either, but is rather a member of the Hindu pantheon, having his place within the sway of relativism due to Maya. The hypostatic entity called God or Jehovah, acceptable to prophetic religions, is not the full Absolute because his ontological existence is not affirmed so as to fulfill the threefold requirements of absolute reality which are sat-cit-ananda (existence-subsistence-value). Any subject or object of devotion has to refer to this ontological reality and recognize its immanence side-by side with the transcendent qualities belonging to it as attributes. The attribute has the status of a thinking substance without any extension into space. Substance and attribute must represent together this highest contemplative value.

 

Indian religion is both pagan and prophetic at once. The nous and the logos here belong together without contradiction at the core of the Absolute. It is in the Self that both value and a cosmological God find a place. Without the psychological Self, given a central position in bhakti, the whole subject of devotion and contemplation will be miscarried.



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The most important feature in the verses of this chapter is the persistent attempt by Narayana Guru to underscore the essential unity between ananda, atman and brahman. More than half the verses are devoted to these entities. The implications are explained in the commentary over and over again. This is done so that the central message will have a unitive and scientific status. In doing this Narayana Guru agrees not only with Sankara, but also with Ramanuja and Madhva who give much more primacy than Sankara does to the Adoration of Vishnu as a real God equal to the Absolute.

 

Sankara relies more on wisdom values while devotional values get a secondary position. Ramanuja´s svarupananda (bliss in one's own Self) refers to the same psychological value. Madhva also uses a similar expression. called svarupanandataratamya (gradation based on the degree of bliss in the Self). He accepts thereby the same mode of reference in keeping with Vedantic thought as do Sankara and Ramanuja. God is founded in the Self and the Self is founded in God.

 

The Absolute inclusively comprises God and the Self, without omitting the cosmological implications. These implications are part and parcel of the notion of God as it grew out of Vedism where sacrifices were offered to hypostatic principles representing the phenomenal aspects of nature. These principles are the deities Indra, Varuna, Agni, etc. which were later formed into one God called sarve-devah (all gods). Later a single God sprang up under the various names of Karmanaspati (Lord of all action), Aditi (the mother of the Sun God), Brihaspati (the Great Lord), Vacaspati (Lord of the Word), and Brahmanaspati (Lord of the Great Principle).



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The history of Vedic thought passed through the stages of samhitas (compendiums of Vedic thought), aranyakas (philosophical forest treatises), brahmanas (literature treating of the Absolute) and, finally, the Upanishads where the psychological and cosmological fully blend in the Self. These are the stages lending their coloration to perfect the prevailing notion of the Absolute as used in the Upanishads. Even in the Upanishads the ideas of brahman, atma and ananda are often used interchangeably. It is this fusion of three distinct notions that Narayana Guru insists on bringing together more closely than ever before.

 

The first five verses are devoted to this apparently simple task, and the value of this chapter consists in becoming thoroughly familiarized with such a unified point of view. Moreover, it is such a view alone that makes a subject like bhakti, which has so many facets, become unified under one supreme science. Even within these five verses, it is to be noted that slight nuances are indicated for purposes of structural clarity when words such as upadisyate (is taught), as against an expression like visrutah (is well known) are used.

 

Some instruction has to be given because positive knowledge cannot come by itself. A teacher's authority is involved here. To know on the contrary that all belongs to love or happiness does not require proof or teaching. It is a matter of general observation.

 

It is profitable to discuss such indications in the text and commentary referring to nuances of meaning meant by Narayana Guru to reveal the structural aspects of devotion or contemplation treated as a whole.
 
The key text supporting this is the "Brihadaranyaka Upanishad" (IV.5.1-6) and the discussion between Yajnavalkya and Maitreyi already quoted (see pages 699-77).



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We have already pointed out the mistake into which the usual interpretations fall. It consists of insisting that the unilaterally conceived ego is the beneficiary of bliss. When bliss is bilaterally understood as belonging to the Self as the Absolute free from all particular couples enjoying such bliss, the true nature of the universal value involved comes into evidence The prevailing popular notions in respect of the way of devotion or bhakti-marga are not found in this chapter. Not only the way of bhakti, but the way of karma too has no regular basic texts or sutras attributed to a sage or rishi as with Yoga or Samkhya. Of course there are the famous "Bhakti Sutras" of Narada, who has a background of the Puranas (myths and legends) but not a background from the Upanishads. The "Bhakti Sutras" reflect the principle of the bipolar relation between the worshipper and the worshipped in various bhavas or attributes, such as prema (love), dasya (service) etc. These attitudes are enumerated by Narada in a certain order. Such attributes really cover only the popular and mass-devotional requirements of ordinary religion. They do not belong to a fully philosophical or scientific context, although the "Bhakti Sutras" do not violate the fundamentals of higher philosophical devotion and contemplation. They do not, however, comprise the whole of bhakti understood in a more absolutist context.



The "Gita Govinda" and other texts treat of devotion in the context of erotic mysticism so popular with a Vaishnavite religious expression. This covers the same subject-matter of devotion within its own proper limits. In this expression we find ecstasies, trances, and even collective frenzy worked up by mass emotion and dancing and singing in temple festivals, as in the famous Pandaripur temple in Maharashtra State where Vithoba is worshipped. Similar expressions are found in Bengal among the followers of Gauranga, Vallabha, and Nimbarka, all ecstatic mystics. Here group exaltation sometimes attains to a high degree of ecstasy called bhavasamadhi or complete ecstatic union with the one being adored.



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Such popular religious expressions are interesting but they cannot be given any serious recognition in a Science of the Absolute. One of the reasons is that cruelty and uncleanliness are sometimes countenanced. True devotion should not be an excuse for transgression of the basic requirements of a good or spiritual life. Often too such excesses produce unhealthy reactions.
 

 

1. BHAKTI IN THE BHAGAVAD GITA

This is no regular text book dealing specifically with bhakti that can be included in the Science of the Absolute. What is available is the chapter in the Bhagavad Gita devoted to this subject. In the preliminary verses of the Gita there is no reference at all to any kind of exaggeration of mystical contemplation. Narayana Guru completely accepts the attitude of the Gita. In this commentary on the opening verse it is said that a person who is fully absorbed in the joy of Self-contemplation has nothing else to do. This Self-bliss is bhakti itself without any outward expression in behaviour at all. The contents of Chapter XIII of the Gita have to be viewed in this same light as a fully verticalized state of Self-absorption where no horizontal activity finds a place. The chapter begins with a pointed question by Arjuna asking for clarification of one important point which concerns the superiority or preferability of establishing a bipolar relation between a theistic God or a non-personalized Absolute. In the Science of the Absolute it is normal to expect one to think of the Absolute impersonally, without any anthropomorphic analogy creeping in. One of the weakness of the human mind is this tendency towards anthropomorphism.



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Religions such as Buddhism have boldly attempted to establish a religious and ethical relation conceived on rational lines between the religious aspirant to wisdom and the abstract ideal to be attained, such as Buddhahood. Various degrees of personification of such an ideal are however inevitably present in some of the later Buddhist devotional expressions. In every case, however, there is an attempt to attain to absolute bliss, including in its content what is righteous and ethical. In the last verse of this chapter of the Gita (XII.20) there is reference to dharmyamritam, which covers the same requirement as in Buddhism. We read:

"But they who cherish devotedly this righteous immortal value, as stated, endowed with faith, with me for Supreme, these devotees are exceedingly dear to me" (1)

 
A theological or personal God becomes necessary only because of the limitations in human beings such as referred to in the Gita (VII.9):

"If you are unable to fix your thoughts steadily on Me, then by means of unitive ascent (Yoga of practice) seek to reach me, 0 Arjuna" (2)


Thus there are two limiting ideals at two different levels for the aspirant to choose from according to his ability in contemplation. In the last verse in Chapter XII it is clearly shown how the impersonal attitude is superior, but if one cannot attain the best, then the second best will have to do. Anything is better than something worse.



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Anthropomorphic devotion to a personal God is permitted. The Gita does not condemn it. A fully scientific outlook in contemplation would naturally be beyond the reach of pious and religious people who seek consolation through religious devotion of a popular kind. Therefore allowances have to be made for the lack of inner strength of the contemplative. We read in XII, Verse 12, the following interesting remark:

"Better indeed is knowledge than practice; than knowledge meditation is superior, than meditation renunciation of the benefit of action - after renunciation - peace." (3)


 
This provides ample latitude for persons of different grades of spiritual progress or strength. It is a striking feature to be noted that in this graded series wisdom (jnanam) is not treated as the highest, but is immediately succeeded by meditation (dhyana). Meditation becomes purified and is superior when all fruits of action are also abandoned. The end when purified, purifies the means as well. Rational wisdom (jnanam) need not necessarily have this content.

 

When taken by itself rationalism can be nihilistic and empty of content. For this reason it is put at a lower level. Meditation belongs to a truer context of Yoga where two counterpart are treated instead of merely one. Thus contemplation and meditation have their dynamics and inner structure whether treated in anthropomorphic terms or not.

 

The modus operandi of such a dynamism within its full amplitude is what constitutes the subject matter of the twenty verses in the Gita on bhakti. The rest of that chapter stresses an inner attitude of mind proper to true absolutist contemplation. There is a certain neutrality and equality of outlook between inner and outer factors of life to be maintained constantly by the contemplative. All these attitudes can be described as consisting of perfectly verticalized tendencies. When this condition has been fulfilled by the contemplative, the only other one required is the establishment of a complete bipolarity between the absolute principle and the Self.



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If needed, a personal God can occupy a low and easy position for purposes of popular contemplation. The choice is left to the individual. In every case the ideal has to fall on the plus side of the vertical axis to have any effect. When the ideal is put too far beyond reach it fails to influence the aspirant and thus its purpose is again defeated. Such peculiarities of the dynamism of contemplation have always to be respected and above all it is important that the bipolarity must exclude everything extraneous to the contemplative situation. This point is specially stressed by the terms sada (ever) and ananya (non-other). When these terms are put together and fulfilled by the contemplative he guarantees his own success. Such is the promise found in Verses 6 and 7 in the Gita´s Chapter XII:

"But those who worship Me, renouncing all actions in Me, regarding Me supreme, meditating on Me by that Yoga exclusive of all else.
 
For them whose minds have entered into Me, I become ere long, 0 Arjuna, the saviour out of the ocean of death and repeated cyclic existences." (4)

 
The basic features of this perfect absolutist bhakti are also present in this chapter by Narayana Guru. There is no difference at all in basic content, although Narayana Guru presents his case in a plainer and non-mythological literary style.



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2. ABSOLUTIST ETHICS AND AESTHETICS

Dharma is a most important Sanskrit word meant to cover all notions of natural righteousness. It is derived from the root dhri, to bear or support. Truth or reality must support or be consistent with any activity natural to humanity. Such is the basic idea on which dharma is to be understood.

 

One hears the term sanatana dharma (eternal righteousness) whose connotation in modern India has become vitiated by a certain type of orthodox attitude, thinking in terms of exclusive casteism, wherein certain groups are unjustly denied basic rights while certain privileges are taken unfairly by others. The original meaning of this term is innocent of these modern connotations.

 

Dharma is usually associated with ritualistic action (karma) obligatory in the life of a Vedic brahmin. The "Purva-Mimamsa Sutras" of Jaimini begin with a reference to dharma in this Vedic context but, as we have seen, Jaimini was not merely thinking only of the brute ritualism of primitive Vedism nor of the various gods who were to be propitiated by the sacrificing of animals. For him dharma meant a value elevating man and not degrading him within the hedonistic heaven of the ordinary brahmin. Thus understood, dharma could raise man though the unseen (adrishta) into the never-before-known (apurva). Such a value accepted as a goal in life borders on the full notion of absolutist axiology is what Jaimini really stands for.

 

Be this as it may, we are here more directly concerned only with fully absolutist dharma in keeping with the spirit of the Upanishads. In one of the santi pathas (preliminary chant repeated in Vedantic schools or sakhas) we find the term upanishatsu-dharmah (absolutist righteousness arising from the Upanishads). It is well known that the Upanishads teach pure wisdom and that mere brahminical ritualism is fully repugnant to its finalized attitude. Brahminical duties and the Upanishads had nothing in common. In fact, as Paul Deussen points out, the Upanishads belonged more correctly to the ruling class of kings and princes in India, and were only later accepted by Brahmins. The term dharma applied to the Upanishadic way of life is thus somewhat enigmatic. It is the Self that is important in Vedanta. We read the following interesting passage regarding the notion of the Self as developed in the Upanishads:

"We may therefore assume that the doctrine of the atman as the first principle of the universe, the gradual rise of which we have traced through the hymns of the "Rig Veda" and "Atharvaveda", was fostered and progressively developed by the Kshatriyas in opposition to the principles of the Brahmanical ritual" (5)



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What is important to note here is that early Vedic schools have to be distinguished from later Vedantic ones. The dharma of the former was geared to its own system of hedonistic values meant for Brahmins only, while the dharma of the Upanishads was open and universal, always taking the form of nivritti (negative) rather than pravritti (positive). The Brahmin family loyal to a certain branch of the Veda in a hereditary and orthodox manner was usually cruel and exclusive and completely closed to any kind of catholic wisdom teaching. We have seen how this closed and static attitude has left its mark even on the "Brahma Sutras". The Bhagavad Gita has made full amends for this.

 

One has to remember all the same that ethical and aesthetic considerations naturally clung even to the later Vedantic schools who had their prototype in the anterior closed schools of early Vedism. If the ethics of the Christian world grew out of the prototype of the city-state, and that of Islam as against the tribal worship of the cow, we can also generalize here and say that absolutist ethics arose in the ancient forest schools where the sages taught the secret philosophy of the Upanishads to chosen pupils. The teaching was meant for those wishing to go beyond mere ritualism and who were ready to undertake the study of this higher wisdom in the context of Self-knowledge. They had to sit by the teacher and listen to this esoteric secret or non-public teaching first, before closed Vedism opened out dynamically into the Vedantic way.



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Generally speaking, such Vedantic schools were of small size and situated in the forest completely away from society. We have to imagine a guru (spiritual teacher), sometimes married and sometimes an unmarried recluse, who kept the sacrificial fires burning mostly for the purposes of symbolic respect for the Vedic background. The disciples who were admitted presented themselves with a bundle of firewood signifying that they were prepared to tend the household fire and serve the guru for the sake of pure wisdom. These disciples were called brahmacharis whose very name meant that they were supposed to walk in the path of the Absolute. The brahmachari had to wait sometimes as long as twelve years before the guru agreed to consider him fit for higher wisdom. A period of silence and negative education was imposed on him. This was also true of Pythagoras and his methods. There was a period of preparatory silence and control where all outgoing tendencies belonging to social or political life were sublimated to higher levels of dedication to the Absolute.

 

The brahmachari, therefore, had a certain number of virtues characterized by negativity rather than by positive forms of social behaviour. Speaking of the origin of Vedic ethics, Deussen gives us the following interesting picture. He does not however sufficiently distinguish the closed and open forms of ethics as we have ourselves just done. He cites the following examples from certain Upanishads to develop his theme:

 

"In "Chandogya Upanishad" (III.17) life is regarded allegorically as A great soma festival. In this a miniature ethical system in five words is incidentally interwoven, when as the reward of the sacrifice (dakshina), which is to be offered at the great sacrificial feast of life, are named:
  1. tapas, asceticism;
  2. danam, liberality;
  3. arjavam, right dealing;
  4. ahimsa, no injury to life; and
  5. satyavacanam, truthfulness (in speech)
In the "Taittiriya Upanishad" (I.9) twelve duties are enumerated, by the side of each of which the "learning and teaching of the Veda" are constantly enjoined. These are:

"Right dealing and truthfulness; asceticism, self-restraint, and tranquility; and as duties of a householder, Maintenance of the sacred fire and the agnihotram, hospitality and courtesy, duties to children, wives and grandchildren." (6)



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Deussen also quotes from the "Chandogya Upanishad" (V.11.5 and then comments:

"This is in keeping with the gentle humane tone which we see adopted in the Upanishads in the intercourse of husband and wife, father and son teacher and student, prince and subject" (7)

 
It is easy to see from the above how ethics and aesthetics had together to grow from the most natural and normal human soil for all later ethical and aesthetic values to take shape in human life. It was an extension of normal family life treated as a unit where as a rule a Vedic Brahmin taught his own son and other young men only as an exception. The later Upanishadic schools resemble gurukulas more properly understood as such, wherein students like Nachiketas, Jabala, Satyakama, etc, were all young men seeking higher wisdom through affiliation to a guru.



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The early origins of absolutist moral instruction are reflected in a beautiful passage of the "Taittiriya Upanishad":

"Having taught the Veda, a teacher further instructs a pupil: Speak the truth, practice virtue (dharma), neglect not study (of the Vedas). Having brought an acceptable gift to the teacher, cut not off the line of progeny.
One should not be negligent of truth, virtue, welfare, prosperity, study and teaching.
One should not be negligent of duties to the gods and the fathers.
Be one to whom a mother is as a god, a father is as a god, a teacher is as a god, a guest is as a god.
Those acts which are irreproachable should be practiced, and no others. Those things which among us are good deeds should be revered by you, and no others.
Whatever Brahmins (brahmana) are superior to us, for them refreshment should be procured by you with a seat.
One should give with faith (sraddha).
One should not give without faith.
One should give with plenty (sri), modesty, fear and sympathy (samvid).
Now, if you should have doubt concerning an act, or doubt concerning conduct, if there should be there Brahmins competent to judge, apt, devoted, not harsh, lovers of virtue (dharma) as they may behave themselves in such a case, so should you behave yourself in such a case.
Now, with regard to (people) spoken against, if there should be there Brahmins competent to judge, apt, devoted, not harsh, lovers of virtue - as they may behave themselves with regard to such, so should you behave yourself with regard to such.
This is the teaching. This is the admonition. This is the mystic doctrine of the Veda (veda-upanishad). This is the instruction. Thus should one worship. Thus, indeed, should one worship." (8)

 

Here the brahmin or brahmana is not of the closed and static context. He is rather a man of wisdom and openness. It is easy to see how the morality of a simple and fundamental kind contained within the normal life of a brahmachari in the environment of the family like that of a guru was not the same as usual public morality. There is no reference at all to any closed social life, not to speak of political factions or closed groups.



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In respect of such a pattern of ethical behaviour, it can reasonably be thought that it is too simple to suit modern times when education in most democratic countries has been reoriented to be compatible with a changing society based on recognizing some kind of democratic rights in various degrees. This must be the reason why Narayana Guru breaks through the usual conservative reserve in this matter and indirectly brings into the picture values having definite political implications. This occurs in the line respecting an administrator putting down evil. Although Narayana Guru may not be thinking of a particular state, the applicability of this principle is envisaged as a possibility to be developed on a universal and global scale.

 

Narayana Guru takes care in his commentary on this verse to underline the fact that such ethical implications treated item by item in a certain innate structural sequence, are not to be mixed up with the main item of loyalty directed to the Absolute. The ethics of Confucius and Lao Tzu also differ between them in the same way. The former is a traditional type based on respect for ancestors and rulers only, while the later is a completely open type of absolutist morality. The "Tirukkural" of Tiruvalluvar in the Tamil literature of South India also excels in presenting a blend of both these types of ethics in its aphoristic and pithy sayings. This is also true of the religious mystics of South India and the Maratha country. They have represented in their own way a revival of the mystical and contemplative way of religious-ethical expression. The Tamil or South Indian mystics were called Nalvars because this great mystical tradition centred around the four great mystics Tirujnanasambandar, Apparswami, Sundaramurthy and Manikkvasakar. Their type of mysticism bears the unmistakable imprint of an absolutist attitude in their philosophy based on a full recognition of Siva as the ultimate reality.



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We read in the "Tirukkural" of Tiruvalluvar, who preceded the four saiva saints in the first century AD:

260
"All life worship with folded hands
The man who neither kills nor feeds on flesh.
 

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(to a man of learning) every country
Is his, so also every city
Wherefore then should a man
Cease to learn until his death?" (9)


The Maratha religious mystics who correspond to the South Indian group also represent a great mystical tradition. Some of them are Jnanesvar, Muktabai, Namdeva Janabai, Ekanath, and Tukaram. Jnanesvar is more philosophical than the others, but all of them bear mystical traits of great dignity and value in the context of contemplation. The following mystical poem by Jnanesvar is entitled "The Name":

"To the dwelling of the saints take thy way;
There the Lord himself shall not Say thee nay.


Cry "Ramakrishna - 'tis the path To life's goal.
Worship Rama, - he who is Siva's soul.


Him whose name is unity who so find,
Fetters of duality cannot bind.


All the lustre and the glow Yogins gain
By their name so honey-sweet we attain.


On Prahlada's childish lips dwelt the name,
While to Uddav bringing gifts Krishna came.


Easy it is to utter it (Is it not true?)
Yet who use it anywhere Ah, how few." (10)

 

Muktabai has a humorous mystical poem called "The Land of Topsy Turvy". This land is really the mystic's own Self where all is One. We read the following:

"An ant has leapt up to the sky
And swallowed up the sun on high!
A marvel this what I declare, -
That barren wife a son should bear.


A scorpion plumbs the nether Pit,
And Vishnu's snake bows down to it. -
A fly an eagle brings to birth.
Mukta, beholding, laughs with mirth." (11)



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While we are still at the subject of the teacher-pupil relation let us further note that the pupil seated beside the teacher had to pay full attention to his words in order to grasp the total implications of such cryptic teachings. Narayana Guru also insists here on such a rapport between teacher and pupil.

 

Bliss or ananda is an all-comprehensive value factor. Even animals have this experience in their own way. Happiness with a capital letter can even be identified with the highest aim of all absolutist teaching. The Science of the Absolute can also be called the Science of Happiness in this sense. The secret here is to understand the all-inclusive character of absolute Happiness.
 

 

3. THE COHERENCE OF THIS CHAPTER

Modern science relies on a high degree of probability for its certitude. A scrutiny of the arguments contained as proofs in this chapter reveals that a thing based on probability is not made use of by Narayana Guru. On the other hand the fullest certitude is seen to be arrived at through axiomatic and nominalistic grounds of definitions or of the impossibility of being otherwise. The most self-evident truth on which the whole of this chapter depends for its certitude is found in Verse 3 which states that all beings wish only happiness and not anything else. This is not a truth requiring argumentative proof, but rather one which most people are not very likely to recognize unless they are taught.

 

Happiness is the ultimate aim of every creature. We touch here an attribute of the Self in whatever grade of life-expression it might be understood. The attribute determines the substance which is itself the attribute. Just as when we say God is Love or matter is energy, there is a verticalized version of reality wherein substance and attributes are equated as interchangeable terms. This method is also recognized in pure mathematics.

 

Bliss (ananda), the Self (atma) and the Absolute (brahman) are three basic attributes found in this chapter. They give meaning and content to the pure Absolute. Just as a correct definition of a thing is by its very clarification convincing, so too the axiomatic clarifications of the basic relations between these three attributes give substance to the pure Absolute and sufficiently guarantee the high degree of scientific certitude in this chapter. A person's name does not require proof.

 

Although in the Upanishads and the commentaries on the "Brahma Sutras" there are many varieties of arguments, the most important arguments in respect of proof of the most fundamental aspects of the Absolute are based on ruling out the impossibility of any contrary position. The next argument is that which says it is proved because it is seen in ordinary life. When a certain truth is universally self-evident no further proof is required. When the secret word of a philosophical text also confirms the same truth from the side of the axiomatic or a priori, conviction is firmly established from both the experimental and axiomatic sides.

 

The scientific character of this chapter depends upon the self-evident observational verity stated in the third verse, finding its full support in many Upanishadic sayings which equate the Absolute with ananda (bliss). For this self-evident truth Narayana Guru assumes the direct responsibility as indicated by the terminating use of the expression upadisyate (is taught). In the commentary to this verse he refers to the use of the word upadesa (teaching or instruction). The truth of the Upanishads is not always a publicly evident teaching, but rather one requiring an intimate mutual adoption between a wise guru (spiritual teacher) and a devoted sishya (disciple) who is the representative questioner ready to be wholeheartedly affiliated to wisdom.



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The close-knit blending of the three attributes of the pure Absolute is already acceptable to Vedanta in its purest and most finalized form which is free from ritualism and instead gives primacy to the Self equated to the cosmological Absolute. This blending is the value called bhakti (contemplation). The first six verses bring the nature of this into light. Bhakti is generally considered a form of emotion, but according to this chapter, as seen in Verse 5 by the term niscitadhi (one of sure mind) the person attaining to certitude is a true bhakta or contemplative. Science and emotional logic are not compatible. The forming of the three attributes of the Absolute into unity demands a high degree of contemplative awareness. When this awareness attains to the white heat of synthesis it is capable of yielding a fully scientific conviction, here defined as of the essence of bhakti (contemplative devotion). Contemplation is thus raised to a high status.

 

In our translation of the last four verses, we have been obliged to use such terms as adoration, devotion, loyalty, etc. This is in order to keep within the milder forms of bipolarity involved in the world of necessities of everyday life. These values do not fall outside the overall scope of the subject-matter of this chapter. They belong to the familiar contexts where the relations have their own proper uses and corresponding terms in common language. The content in every case remains the same as comprised under bhakti. It will be noticed that the contingent factors of bhakti are covered in the first half of the chapter, while the most necessary levels like loyalty to administrators of justice etc. are covered in the last half.



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There is a perfect symmetry between the contingent and necessary poles of bhakti. Just as in the multiplication table of the number nine, one sees a mysterious symmetry between the numbers, so too in this chapter we have a certain coherence which is meant to set the seal on its total certitude.

 

This is also true of the other chapters. We have mentioned this here only because it is possible to see very clearly the structural unity. In the next two chapters where value factors gain further ground, conviction has to depend on similar reasons of axiomatic cogency. In this respect the structural features of the present chapter serve as a model for the two final chapters.
 

 

4. THE COMPONENTS OF NORMAL CONTEMPLATIVE VALUE

After having examined the coherence of elements entering into bhakti, as revealed in the structure of this chapter, it is natural to find in the Upanishads a typical example wherein the cosmological, psychological and axiological elements are made to blend together into a unitive contemplative Absolute, metaphorically referred to as "honey" in the "Brihadaranyaka Upanishad".

 

The structural ossature and articulations of this poetic composition respecting the philosophical principles of the Science of the Absolute, are so clear, visible and transparent that we feel justified in quoting it in full. A splitting up of this piece of work would damage the unity of the vision underlying it and cut into its interest as a total confection meant to be enjoyed as a whole. These words are moreover meant to be chanted by the brahmachari in his gurukula. When heard in such a living way it has the strange effect of a mantra or mystic formula. This has the same value as contemplation when most normally expressed.

 

Individual mystical experiences might have one-sided slants wherein either emotion or intelligence dominates although it would be wrong to condemn the value of any mystical expression simply because of the extraneous factors that might cling to it.



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A normalized and healthy version of mysticism is to be preferred. The right attitude is to forget the extraneous and only take the pure and precious content. When so treated all mystical experience is equally valuable. The humblest and most illiterate of devotees can also have the highest of mystical experiences. We have the example of Kannappa Nayanar, one of the sixty-three Nayanars or mystical and contemplative saints of the Tamil country in South India. His mysticism is held in high esteem in spite of its simple outward form. Narayana Guru, in Verse 60 of the "Atmopadesa Satakam", explains how spirituality can be expressed at different levels where the two ambivalent counterparts balance each other yielding the same constant value. In judging mysticism or spirituality in general this law of equilibrium resulting from compensation has to be respected. Reciprocity, complementarity and cancellability must yield this same constant by this method.



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In the "Brihadaranyaka Upanishad" under reference honey is the most central of values. Honey is horizontally gathered by bees from many flowers and when so gathered the value can be represented as a unitive factor on a vertical axis in cosmological, psychological, theological or even political contexts. The total range of necessary and contingent values can be comprised within its scope in a certain methodological and epistemological order. A scrutiny of the verses that follow reveals its poetic form which does not mar its fully scientific status. We read:

"This earth is honey for all creatures, and all creatures are honey for this earth. This shining, immortal Person who is in this earth, and, with reference to oneself, this shining, immortal Person who is in the body - he, indeed, is just this Soul (atman), this, Immortal, this Brahma, this All. 
 
These waters are honey for all things, and all things are honey for these waters. This shining, immortal Person who is in these waters, and, with reference to oneself, this shining, immortal Person who is made of semen - he is just this Soul, this Immortal, this Brahma, this All. 
 
This fire is honey for all things, and all things are honey for this fire. This shining, immortal Person who is in this fire, and with reference to oneself, this shining, immortal Person who is made of speech - he is just this Soul, this Immortal, this Brahma, this All. 
 
This wind is honey for all things and all things are honey for this wind. This shining, immortal Person who is in this wind, and, with reference to oneself, this shining, immortal Person who is breath - he is just this Soul, this Immortal this Brahma, this All. 
 
This sun is honey for all things, and all things are honey for this sun. This shining, immortal Person who is in this sup, and, with reference to oneself, this shining, immortal Person who is in the eye - he is just this Soul, this Immortal, this Brahma, this All. 
 
These quarters of heaven are honey for all things, and all things are honey for these quarters of heaven. This shining, immortal Person who is in these quarters of heaven, and, with reference to oneself, this shining, immortal Person who is in the ear and in the echo -- he is just this Soul, this Immortal this Brahma, this All. 
 
This moon is honey for all things, and all things are honey for this moon. This shining, immortal Person who is in this moon, and, with reference to oneself, this shining, immortal Person consisting of mind - he is just this Soul, this Immortal,, this Brahma, this All. 
 
This lightning is honey for all things, and all things are honey for this lightning. This shining, immortal Person who is in this lightning, and, with reference to oneself, this shining, immortal Person who exists as heat - he is just this Soul this Immortal, this Brahma, this All.



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This thunder is honey for all things, and all things are honey for this thunder. This shining, immortal Person who is in thunder, and, with reference to oneself, this shining, immortal Person who is in sound and in tone - he is just this Soul, this Immortal, this Brahma, this All.
 
This space is honey for all things, and all things are honey for this space. This shining, immortal Person who is in this space, and, with reference to oneself, this shining, immortal Person who is in the space in the heart - he is just this Soul, this Immortal, this Brahma, this All.
 
This Law (dharma) is honey for all things, and all things are honey for this Law, This shining, immortal Person who is in this law, and, with reference to oneself, this shining, immortal Person who edists as virtuousness - he is just this Soul, this Immortal, this Brahma, this All. 
 
This Truth is honey for all things, and all things are honey for this Truth. This shining, immortal Person who is in this Truth, and, with reference to oneself, this shining, immortal Person who exists as truthfulness - he is just this Soul, this Immortal, this Brahma this All.
 
This mankind (manusha) is honey for all things, and all things are honey for this mankind. This shining, immortal Person who is in this mankind, and, with reference to oneself, this shining, immortal Person who exists as a human being - he is just this Soul this Immortal, this Brahma, this All, 
 
This Soul (atman) is honey for all things, and all things are honey for this Soul. This shining, immortal Person who is in this Soul, and, with reference to oneself, this shining, immortal Person who exists as Soul - he is just this Soul? this Immortal, this Brahma, This All.
 
Verily, this Soul is overlord of all things, the king of all things. As all the spokes are held together in the hub and felly of a wheel, just so in this Soul all things, all gods, all worlds, all breathing things, all these selves are held together." (12)

 

5. THREE MODERN INDIAN CONTEMPLATIVE MYSTICS

Mysticism is deeply engrained in the normal life of India. It is therefore difficult to select individual instances of representative mystics for concluding this chapter. Romain Rolland and many others were greatly impressed with the life of Sri Ramakrishna, who in many ways is a typical religious mystic of India. Rolland was also influenced by the Ramakrishna Vivekananda Society, a religious organization characteristic of the new and awakening India of his time.

 

Whether contact with Christianity and Western civilization had any affect on Indian mysticism is an open question into which we do not want to enter. The great Indian Mutiny of 1857 is supposed to have been a reaction against modern Western values and Christianity. Old standards and behaviour patterns of the time were yielding place to new ones, and great men who represented the best in the old way of life found it very difficult even to earn a normal livelihood.

 

Without being guided solely by any one single modern Indian mystic and yet not wishing to be exhaustive we have selected three mystics who are good representatives of their time.



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At present Indian life is caught between Eastern and Western standards Even crude politicians speak with a double voice claiming to be yogis and mystics. Nonetheless, the mystical content of the lives of Sri Ramakrishna, Ramalingaswami and Ramana Maharshi sufficiently proves their absolutist character, genuine mystical feeling and insight. This will be sufficiently evident from the quotations to follow.

 

Ramalingaswami lived about 100 years ago in the Tamil country. Not only was he a genuine mystic deeply rooted in a Tamil Saivite devotionally philosophical tradition but also a practical person. He first of all opened many ashrams (religious centres) where he established open and free kitchens or dining places for hungry people of all castes and creeds. He stood for one humanity without superficial racial or other distinctions and was humanitarian and universal in outlook. It is said he induced hundreds of thousands of his followers to adopt a cleaner and healthier life. He taught ahimsa and many of his followers became vegetarians and abandoned all cruel practices of killing animals. His appeal was mostly to the simple uneducated masses of peasants. Narayana Guru in "Scriptures of Mercy" refers to Ramalingaswami describing him as one devoted to the transcendental value of the supreme lord who departed bodily ere life for him was stilled. The end of Ramalinga Swami, as known to tradition, supports this version of his passing away, whether strict empiricism could warrant such a possibility or not. The following short poem by him speaks for itself:



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"In caste, in religion, in codes and creeds, in books and arguments, in tribal quarrels,fFrom the beginning attached and wavering, Oh, you of the world. 
 
Wandering and wandering in vain, your being destroyed is not fair. In the just and pure path be steadfast and firm.

Dancing the unique chief, the one, He himself "on the beam". The effulgence of grace, sportively playing, calling this very moment, I proclaim aloud "Uma!"" (13)


 
Ramalingaswami in this next poem praises his spiritual teacher Sundaramurthy, one of the Great Tamil Saivite mystics. Although hundreds of years separate teacher and disciple the relationship still exists on a purely spiritual or vertical basis. Ramalingaswami says:

"My teacher, I bow to thee in awe and reverence.
While I am daily singing your divine songs-
Songs full of honeyed sweetness,
I wholly forget myself.
Is it only the tongue that sings?
No, never, never the tongue alone.
My whole body sings. My whole mind sings.
My whole life sings.
Indeed the mystical life within me also sings!
This is what happens to me, oh my teacher.
Magnificent while I am daily singing
Your divine songs, songs full of honeyed sweetness.
I bow to you in awe and reverence, oh my spiritual teacher full of compassion all your own!"



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Ramana Maharshi was also a contemplative mystic from the Tamil country. He was a muni or silent recluse, and had a large following which included Westerners who were taken by his utter simplicity and spontaneity. Narayana Guru dedicated his "Munichariya Panchakam" to him (see pages 867-868 above). Though the Maharshi´s words were few, what he did say was always of the highest mystical order. We quote first from "The Marital Garland of Letters" (Verses 38 to 43), a beautiful composition of over 100 verses:

"Sun! Thou didst sally forth and (the siege of) illusion was ended. Then didst Thou shine motionless (alone), Oh Arunachala!
(A dog can scent out its master); am I then worse than a dog?
Steadfastly will I seek Thee and regain Thee, Oh Arunachala!
Worse than a dog (for want of scent), how can I track Thee (to Thy home), Oh Arunachala?
Grant me wisdom, I beseech Thee, so that I may not pine for love of Thee in ignorance, Oh Arunachala!
Not finding the flower open, Thou didst stay, no better than a bee (trapped in the bud of my mind), Oh Arunachala!
(In sunlight the lotus blossoms), how then couldst Thou, the Sun of suns, hover before me like a flower bee, saying 'Thou art not yet in blossom', Oh Arunachala?
'Thou, hast realized the Self even without knowing that it was the Truth.
It is the Truth Itself!' Speak (thus if it be so), Oh Arunachala!
Reveal Thyself! Thou only art Reality, Oh Arunachala!" (14)


 
This mystical poem was composed by Ramana Maharshi while he was living in a cave on Arunachala mountain. This mountain has a long history in the religious life of South India. In the mind of almost every Tamil, there is a numinous quality attached to it because of its associations with Siva.



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The next selection from Ramana Maharshi is from his "Forty Verses on Reality". Here the theme is advaita or non-duality. Verses 35 and 40 speak for themselves:

"To seek and abide in the Reality that is always attained is the only attainment. All other attainments (siddhis) are such as are acquired in dreams. Can they appear real to someone who has woken up from sleep? Can they who are established in the Reality and are free from maya, be deluded by them? 
 
If it is said, that Liberation is of three kinds, with form or without form or with and without form, then let me tell you that the extinction of three forms of Liberation is the only true Liberation." (15)


Our final instance for contemplative mysticism is the well-known Sri Ramakrishna. So much has been written about him both in India and abroad, that very little more can be said. There is no question that he was an absolutist mystic as the following quotation will show. The following is attributed to him in his early 20's while he was a temple priest:

"One day I was torn with intolerable anguish. My heart seemed to be wrung as a damp cloth might be wrung....I was wracked with pain. A terrible frenzy seized me at the thought that I might never be granted the blessing of this divine vision. I thought if that were so, then enough of this life! A sword was hanging in the sanctuary of Kali. My eyes fell upon it and an idea flashed through my brain like a flash of lightening. 'The sword! It will help me to end it!' I rushed up to it, and seized it like a madman .... And lo! the whole scene, doors, windows, the temple itself vanished .... It seemed as if nothing existed any more. Instead I saw an ocean of the Spirit, boundless, dazzling. They bore down upon me with a loud roar, as if to swallow me up. In an instant they were upon me. They broke over me, they engulfed me. I was suffocated. I lost consciousness and I fell .... How I passed that day and the next I know not. Round me rolled an ocean of ineffable joy. And in the depths of my being I was conscious of the presence of the Divine Mother." (16)



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6. CONCLUDING REMARKS

In the sixth chapter on instrumentalism (karma or action), it was the subjective Self that was given primacy over the objective and active side of reasoning or thought. Reasoning was further purified in the next chapter where the Self to be attained through reason was more globally circumscribed as a high value in the context of Self-realization.

 

In this chapter there is the equation of three elements or factors, each conceived as a global unit placed on a vertical axis of reference. The axiom that things equal to the same thing are equal to one another is the underlying argument here. This is how the three elements of existence, substance and value are equated and reduced into unitive terms and treated interchangeably.

 

These three items: existence (sat), subsistence (cit) and bliss or value (ananda) are equated, either in a descending or ascending manner, with the Self (atma), the Absolute (brahman) and bliss or value (ananda). The central value is the bliss of contemplation. This element of bliss or joy was not very pronounced in the previous chapters, but from this chapter onwards it gains more and more prominence because yoga and nirvana are the ultimate steps toward pure happiness or bliss. The contingent aspect of pure happiness or bliss is treated in the first half of this chapter, while in the second half the necessary aspects are dealt with. The whole of the Absolute value of bhakti is contained within the limiting brackets of the first and the closing verse.



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We now refer to the verses individually:

Verse 1. The reference to atmavid (a knower of the Self) in this verse shows that it is wisdom and not mere religious emotion that is of primary importance. Moreover it is the Self itself that contemplates the Self, and not any other deity or divinity of a lower status than the Absolute.

 

Verse 2. Here the common reference for both ananda and brahman is the value implied in the Absolute. Both are equally made up of the stuff of essential value. The term sada (constant or always) underlines the principle of continuity that is of the essence of contemplation. Interrupted or piecemeal contemplation does not have any real or cumulative effect. It has to be constant and of a bipolar nature.

 

Verse 3. In this verse, as already pointed out, Narayana Guru on his own authority underlines a verity which is at once a secret of secrets as well as an overtly acceptable universal characteristic of life in general. Even when at certain times creatures seem to enjoy suffering, as when people enjoy a tragic play, the main direction of the flow of life towards happiness is not thereby reversed. Thus happiness as the goal for all living creatures gives us the key to a universal religion as Narayana Guru has stated in Verse 49 of the "Atmopadesa Satakam". This is the basis of the one religion that he always stood for.

 

Verse 4. The definition is further clinched and stated in the characteristic cryptic language of the Upanishads. The last line is etymological and is a final form of reasoning justified by linguistic usage. The sanction of usage in any language can certify or vouch for its basic verity. If this were not so, language used for many centuries would have been discarded. This linguistic principle is used to best advantage in the Upanishads and here Narayana Guru also takes advantage of it. The reference again to the atmavit (knower of the Self) is of primary importance. Emotion and self-knowledge have the same difference between them as do blind and true love.



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Verse 5. The terms of the equation are here more intimately juxtaposed because Narayana Guru considers it very important that, unless the distinction between them is completely abolished, true devotion will not bear its fruit of full emancipation or liberation in the context of absolute wisdom. The term visrutah (is well known) shows how Narayana Guru wants to point out that all wisdom literature (sruti) justifies this point.

 

Verse 6. This same truth is repeated here but with insistence and with one slight difference. Here the truth is stated in the first person rather than the third. This more direct equation of the three factors involved with the Self experienced by each person as a living and conscious human being refers to an important consideration to be fulfilled by true contemplation. Such a type of contemplation means that the integral experience of the contemplative is more important than a mere academic understanding of the subject. The word bhavana (creative imagination) comes from the same root (bhu, to become) as anubhava (experience). Through intellectual sympathy one becomes what one contemplates. The man who enters into his own metaphysical knowledge is called an anubhavasali (one capable of true becoming).The term satatam (always) again underlines the need for a constant continuity in mediation.



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Verse 7. Sensuous joy, which is often treated as "sin" by certain religions, is scientifically examined here by Narayana Guru. This should not be interpreted to mean that sensuousness or "sin" is condoned. Narayana Guru is more interested here in revealing the content of the Absolute for the sincere and wholehearted seeker of wisdom. The support for this is found in the "Brihadaranyaka Upanishad" (IV.5.I ff.) which Narayana Guru refers to for support. There are also verses in the Bhagavad Gita supporting this position. In Chapter 10, Verses 28 and 36 mention is made of the Absolute being both the god of erotics (kandarpah) and the chance-risk behind gambling. Sin is a horizontal factor and as such is outside the scope of contemplation.



Verse 8. Value appreciation is not confined to idealistic or conceptual levels. The painter's joy in mixing colours on his palette is not of a conceptual nor intellectual order. This verse is meant to underline how the same value of Self-contemplation is present at every possible level whether it be perceptual, conceptual negative or positive.
The term vidvan (a knower) is meant to underline the fact that this is a truth only evident to a person who is sufficiently instructed so as to see the common ground uniting the existent and subsistent aspects of absolute reality. At the levels of the nous and logos the well instructed man sees the same universal element of Self-bliss. This form of bliss is exalted above all other possible values.



Verses 9 & 10. The various items can be arranged here in a descending order on a vertical axis, ranging from more contingent to more practical and necessary items. The implications of this have been explained already by Narayana Guru in his own commentary on these two verses. The only point to be noted here is that the Father of the World, even if represented as a most high god, is to be treated inclusively as comprehended in that ultimate transcendental-cum-immanent contemplation mentioned in the last lines. The equation here is one between the immanent and transcendent aspects of the Self.



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FOOTNOTES

 

[1] Bhagavad Gita, p.529

 

[2] Bhagavad Gita, p. 519

 

[3] Bhagavad Gita, p. 522

 

[4] Bhagavad Gita, p. 518

 

[5] Deussen, Phil. p.20.

 

[6] Deussen, Phil. p.365

 

[7] Deussen, Phil. p.366

 

[8] Adapted from Hume, pp. 281-282

 

[9] "Tirukkural", verses 260 and 397, resp.

 

[10] N. Macnicol (trans.), "Psalms of the Maratha Saints", Calcutta,1919

 

[11] Macnicol, p.856

 

[12] Hume, pp. 102-104

 

[13] trans. from the Tamil by T.P. Sanatanakrishnan

 

[14] A. Osborne (ed.), "The Collected Works of Ramana Maharshi", New York, ed. 1970, p.55; also "The Mountain Path", Oct. 1964, Tiruvanamallai.

 

[15] "The Mountain Path", Oct. 1964

 

[16] R. Rolland, "The Life of Ramakrishna", trans. E.M. Malcolm-Smith, Almora, 1929, pp.24-25.