What is an avatara?

22b71973b2a46a83832fe50cb188babeIn the overall scheme of things, the creation is designed to be self-maintaining, self-sustaining, and self-correcting. The universe is meant to exist. Yet it can only continue to exist if there is harmony. When the abuse of freewill creates disharmony, the potential of the self-correcting mechanism throws up a force to restore the harmony. This is how the avatara or incarnations are described in the scriptures. We also observe that this happens from time to time. It may be difficult for us to determine whether or not a given manifestation is an avatara, but we can understand the principle behind it.

Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati
Excerpts from Satasanga with Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati Vol. 1

 

 

 

 

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Vedic Marriage – a means, a sadhana साधना for self-growth!

55574f57cb3b24f23c5f160a621063d8_indian-wedding-symbols-clip-art-gallery-symbols-and-meanings_1500-1600There are many types of vivaha or weddings in the Hindu tradition. For example, the wedding of Shakuntala and Dushyanta is a gandharva-vivaha, a marriage by mutual consent, without any wedding ceremony. Many weddings in the west fall under this category. The most common wedding in the Vedic tradition, however, is the वैदिक-विवाह vaidika-vivaha, also known as the ब्रह्म-विवाह brahma-vivaha.

In this kind of wedding, typically, a number of guests are invited to attend and bless the couple. If the guests are younger than the couple, they wish them well and pray for them. If they are older, even by a day, they bless them. Everyone present at the event is a witness to the wedding, including the priests, brahmans; agni, fire, and the adityadi devatas, etc. Your hridaya, heart, and your mind also witness the wedding.

The concept of the heart and mind being a witness, here, is a reference to one’s conscience. In fact, there is no conscience other than your common sense, or knowledge of right and wrong. The ‘informed you’ is the conscious being, and that being is the witness. Finally, saksi or atma is also a witness to the wedding.

We perform certain specific rituals during the wedding ceremony. First, we perform a nandi-sradha to obtain the blessings of all our ancestors. Then we perform a dayadi homa to get the blessings of all the देवता devatas. There are many significant steps in these rituals involving the families of both the bridegroom and the bride. Their brothers and sisters are also involved in the rituals. The माङ्गल्य-धरणं mangalya-dharanam or the tying of the mangala-sutra is an important step, but is not the final ritual. It is only a prelude for what follows. The vaidika wedding is complete only after the saptapadi सप्तपदी,  the taking of seven steps by the couple. These seven steps are symbolic and very significant. They are symbolic of two people coming together, both of whom are pilgrims. You know, a pilgrim is just not a traveler. While every traveler is not a pilgrim, every pilgrim is a traveler. Someone who goes to Hawaii is not a pilgrim, but the person who goes to Jerusalem or Varanasi is a pilgrim. A pilgrim has a very sacred destination. Thus, with every step that is taken in this saptapadi, there is a prayer, “May the all-pervasive Lord Vishnu, the sustainer of everything, lead us as we take this step.”

Human life is very complex and you have to take the initiative to make it simple. Each one is born alone and walks alone, and is proceeding towards a certain destination. What can that destination be? Security is one destination and it is relative in the beginning. Only once you gain relative security, can you gain absolute security.

For example, money, a home, progeny, etc., are all forms of relative security, which give you a sense of satisfaction. This sense of satisfaction gives you a sense of growth or maturity. For instance, you gain a certain fulfillment through your children.

Everyone has an inner child that missed out on something in his or her childhood. When you become a parent, through the very process of parenting, you get back what you missed. The experience of love is the same whether you love or are loved by another person. When you think the other person loves you, it is only your guess; but, when you love, you are sure about your love. As a parent, you are certain about your love for your children. That is why when you bring up children, you find that you become a therapist for yourself. Hence, no therapists were needed in earlier days.

When you become a mother or father, you get what you missed as a child. That is what marriage is for: to help you in self-growth. You grow in a marriage; you have no choice but to grow. In this creation, which is continuously taking place, the man and the woman, two pilgrims, begin their lives together. Is there a destination? What can it be? Every self-conscious individual wants to be self-satisfied. When I don’t need to be ‘approved’ by others, I am O.K.; I have made it. I have made it when I don’t need others’ emotional support; that is growth. It is very important. Therefore, every self-conscious being has to see himself or herself as an adequate person: self-satisfied, content, and happy. That is the destination: मोक्ष moksa or freedom. To reach that final destination, there is a relative destination; growth. You have to be morally upright without any conflicts.

In the beginning, there may be conflicts, but afterwards, there will be moral uprightness without any conflict. It should become so natural to you that it is impossible for you to compromise your value structure. For this, you need to be emotionally secure.

To achieve this relative emotional security you need to fuse your ego, and for that, you require another person. You have to work with another person towards this emotional growth because when there is another person, one ego rubs another ego. If the rub is too rough, it is not good; if there is no roughness at all, it is not good either.

This is the nature of marriage. There will be some roughness, but you will have to work with it all the same because of your commitment. You have declared in front of all these witnesses that you are going to be together for life. You yourself have declared this openly, in the presence of agni and all the devatas and, therefore, you don’t have a choice. You have to work it out for yourself. For two persons to live together, it takes a certain sacrifice, a certain yielding. Nobody can sharpen a knife on a rough stone; much less, on a slab of butter! When you yield, you grow, and you become richer.

Marriage is a very significant event in one’s life. It is sacred because two separate pilgrims come together to proceed forward towards the same goal. Like two rivers that come from different sources and merge in the same ocean, these two people come together in a marriage and undertake the pilgrimage together. Therefore, marriage is not an end. If it were an end, it would end! It is a means, a sadhana, for your growth. In as much as it is a means for your growth, there is no bad marriage at all.

But, you have to make it a means. We need to grow. This growth ensures that nobody is a loser. Naturally, the couple prays to Lord Vishnu and then takes the first of the seven steps.

The first step in the saptapadi is for material wealth. The next step is for health and strength. The third step is toward wealth of all kinds, including inner wealth, and here the couple is asking for help in following dharma, for growth. The fourth step is toward mutual happiness and the fifth toward the welfare of the families. Then there is  a sixth step taken for prosperity in all seasons, and finally, the seventh step toward the happiness born of wisdom. After taking the seven steps, the bride and groom chant a mantra pledging lasting friendship, mutual respect, and harmony. Once your bride is in your home, she is your friend. In an Indian marriage, the man is typically older than his wife. Because of this, he is given respect in this relationship. In this friendship, however, neither is superior or inferior to the other.

In the final ritual, the sakhya-homa, the bridegroom chants a mantra telling the bride that he is the sËma and she is the rk, meaning that he is the lyric and she is the music, and that he is the earth and she is the heavens, and so on. The sakhya-homa is the last ritual in the wedding, but it is very important. Ultimately, a marriage is all about friendship and understanding. Finally, there is the hridaya-sparsha हृदय-स्पर्श, the ‘touching of hearts’, in which both declare, “I give my heart to you. May your mind work in consonance with mine.” This does not mean that both should think alike, but is an affirmation that each will support the other, support the other’s interest. The sakhyahoma is a wonderful assertion of eternal friendship.

From all this you can understand that you are not a mere witness in this world. You are a participant in this creation; you create; you do; you accomplish, and you have all the saktis, powers, for all this. When you participate in the creation, you are one with Ishvara and that is why the wedding is highly ritualistic. In fact, the couple is viewed as Siva and Parvati, or Narayana and Lakshmi. If you think you are Narayana or Lakshmi, you cannot have any problems with your self-image. Devo devlayah proktah देवोदेवालयप्रोक्त; the body is called the abode of the gods, देवालय devlaya. Thus, this jiva जीव is Bhagavan भगवान . Where, then, is the problem of self-esteem? Every day, we offer a bath, snana; clothing, vastra; ornaments, abharana; sandal paste, chandana; and kumkuma in worship to ईश्वर Isvara in our hearts. Ishvara is not only in our hearts, but is everywhere and is everything. Whatever we do to ourselves is an offering to God or whatever is offered to God is, in effect, given to ourselves.

Thus, these vivaha mantras are very significant and very meaningful. The two separate pilgrims, who come together in this friendship pledge to support each other and use the marriage as a means for self-growth.

Swami Dayananda Saraswati
Excerpts from Swamiji’s Discourse on Vedic Marriage

What is Japa? A form of prayer, meditation and contemplation.

Swami Dayanand JiJapa जप  is the repetition of a word or short sentence during the practice of meditation. The letter pa stands for that which removes or destroys all impurities and obstructions and the letter ja stands for that which puts an end to the cycle of birth and death. Therefore, japa is an indirect means for liberation, moksa. By destroying the varieties of obstructions to knowledge, japa paves the way for liberation. Japa, then, is more than a mere discipline or technique.

Unpredictability of Our Thoughts

At any given time, you have only one thought and what your next thought will be is anyone’s guess. But when the next thought does occur, it will have done so because of some logic. There is no thought without a certain connection to the preceding thought. This connection may be flimsy or it may be very clear and logical. But the thought itself is never predictable.

Even now, I cannot predict what I am going to say. I simply said I would talk on japa, and I started. Even the words I am saying right now were not known to me. What is going to come is unpredictable, but when it does come, it has a logic, a reason.

“BMW THINKING”

Suppose you see a BMW on the road and it draws your attention. What will your next thought be?

“How can he afford it?”

And then:

“A person I work with just bought a new BMW. How can he afford such an expensive car? Last year he did not even have a job. His wife must have a lot of money. I wish my wife had a rich family. When I got married I did not think about money or my future.”

All these thoughts started from seeing a BMW and they follow a certain logic. This particular sequence is only one line of thinking. Let us look at another one:

“The German people are quite industrious. Even though their country was devastated during World War II, their economy rebounded quickly. They produce the best scientific equipment in the world.”

Where did we start? From BMW. What will come after BMW is anyone’s guess. Even in deliberate thinking you do not know what is coming next because thinking is always linear, one step at a time, one thought at a time. The connection between the thoughts can either be a logical, syntactical connection within a sentence or a simple association. But there will always be a connection, be it weak or strong.

In “BMW thinking,” the connection between thoughts is not a deliberate one. Therefore, the next thought can be anything. The sky is the limit. “The BMW emblem is different. It is not like the Mercedes insignia.” The Mercedes insignia makes you think of a star and then your next thought may be, “My astrological sign is not favorable.” This movement from one thought to the next is listless thinking, a meandering of thoughts in which there is no direction.

Listless Thinking

In listless thinking, although there is no direction, there is always some logic, some connection. It may be a simple rhyme, one word reminding you of another, or a variety of other possible connections. The one invariable is that, at any given time, there is always one thought or another in your mind.

In listless thinking, just as in deliberate thinking, you do not know what your next thought will be. But, in japa, you know what is coming next. The japa can be a word, a short sentence, a section of a Veda, or even a whole Veda, but, to be a japa, it must be repeated.

If you are repeating a word or short sentence you are sure about what is supposed to come next. If something else comes, you know you are off track. In “BMW thinking,” however, to think of Germany and then of a Mercedes or anything else is not to go off track because there is no track. Such thinking just happens. This is what is meant by listless thinking. There is no direction to it.

We really do not have a method to learn about our minds. We only know that we are subjected to a particular type of thinking. For example, we get into a reverie until something arrests our attention and only then do we come back.

Japa as a Technique

Exercising one’s choice is very important in japa. If I choose to mentally chant a word or sentence for a length of time, then I have a technique in hand and can see what happens in my mind.

In japa, I know exactly what is to come next. If something else pops up, I know this is not what is expected and I bring back the chosen thought. In the process I learn how to dismiss unwanted thoughts and retain the one I have chosen. This is one important result of japa as a technique.

As a technique, any word will work. You do not require the Lord’s name or a “spiritual” mantra. Anything can be a mantra, like gring…gring…gring…gring…gring…gring…gring. If you keep on repeating this sound, it will work. An extraneous thought will eventually come, like “What makes this kind of noise?” ”A bagpipe may be the response. Then you may ask, “What does a bagpipe have to do with my japa?” By returning to the sound, the bagpipe thought is dismissed.

In this way, japa works as a technique for gaining some mental discipline. However, japa is something more than the mere chanting of a sound. In repeating a given chant, you give yourself an occasion to see the ways of your own thinking. This repetition becomes a technique for keeping your mind directed fog a length of time – and it can also help the mind gain a certain depth.

Interval between Thoughts

The advantage of repetition is that we can appreciate the interval between two successive occupations of the mind. In “BMW thinking,” listless thinking with no direction, the mind simply moves from one thought to another. This type of thinking is like picking up noodles. If you try to pick up one noodle, you find it coming along with a few others. Similarly, the whole occupation of thinking becomes “as though” a single thought; even though there are many thoughts.

Between two thoughts there is an interval. BMW is the name of a vehicle and Germany is the name of a country. Because there is a connection between the two, the interval between them is missed. Repeating a given chant eliminates or avoids the connection between two thoughts because, between one chant and another, there is’ no connection.

Each chant is a complete unit in itself and one thought unit is not connected to the second thought unit since both are the same. Thus, between two chants, there is a period: chant…period…chant…period. There is no comma, only a period, a full stop. Therefore, each chant is complete, and between chants, the interval is available for you to recognize.

Peace of Mind: Is it Natural or do we have to Acquire it?

What is it that obtains in the interval between chants? Between one thought with a certain form and sound and the next thought, there is no given thought. There is only an interval with no form or shape. This is what we call peace or silence. Because this silence has no particular thought form, there is no thinking as We know it.

We always think that peace is something we have to acquire. Because the mind is restless, we think that peace is something new that we have to acquire, an attribute with which we have to embellish the mind. Is peace something we have to acquire or is it natural?

Restless Requires a Build up.

For peace, what do you have to do? For restlessness, you have to work; you have to create a buildup because, without one, you can never become restless. The problem is that this buildup is not something that we do consciously. It gets built up, like a wall erecting itself. Suppose you have a pile of bricks and they just assemble themselves into a wall. You would consider it a miracle, but you do not consider a buildup of thoughts a miracle because it is always happening. It is a miracle, however, because it just happens. That it just builds itself up and you have no say over it is truly amazing.

There is a helplessness in the whole process. Something triggers off a buildup; it may be a simple hormonal change, indigestion, someone’s look, a frown, a change of weather, or any number of other things. Any one thing is good enough-you may be combing your hair and a few hairs come out! Any event that you do not accept starts it off and then your mind is busy for the entire day.

Restlessness requires a buildup to which I, myself, am not a party. And yet the buildup is mine. I do not look upon it as different from myself. I see myself fuming and do not know what to do. I have to do something about it because, although I am not a party to it, I am completely involved in it.

Why is it that I cannot keep track of this thought buildup? This is because the whole habit of thinking has been “noodle thinking.” associative or nondirectional thinking. It is not “peanut thinking” where. as in eating peanuts, you take one peanut. then another peanut, and then another. It is all “noodle thinking” and, in fact, is the most common type of thinking.

The very beginning of such thinking is an association of “I.” Without that, the thoughts would not begin. Because of its association with “I,” there is no question of my being aware of the first thought because I am taken over at the outset by the thinking itself. I become the very thought and the thought becomes me.

An Occupation for the Mind

I can give the mind a meaningful occupation wherein chain thinking is broken. Then the interval that obtains between successive thoughts can reveal a great fact about myself-that I am the silence that obtains between two thoughts.

Logically, we can see how restlessness requires a buildup, whereas peace is something very natural for which we need not do anything. We do not create peace; we create only restlessness.

In japa, you deliberately create a thought. Because you have a will, you can choose. In this way, you become the author of a given thought. A specific thought is created by you because you choose it, whereas the silence that ensues is not created by you. In fact, the silence is the basis of all thought.

In the text, Panchadasi, the mind is likened to a dancer on a lighted stage. The dancer portrays a variety of aesthetic sentiments–love, helplessness, anger, cruelty, wonderment, fright. The light on the stage lights up the dancer with all of her moods and changes and when she makes her exit, it lights up the empty stage. The dancer may be performing various dance forms, or may not be on the stage at all, yet the light remains un-involved. It merely illumines.

The light itself is not a “doer,” much less an “enjoy-er,” of the dance. Nor does it light up the stage as one of its jobs. The nature of light is to illumine and it illumines; the verb “illumines” involves no action or motive on the part of the light. Therefore, the light has no doer-ship. Similarly, when I have a thought and the thought goes away, what remains is silence, which is likened to the empty stage without a dancer.

The Nature of Thought and Silence

Absence of thought is generally looked upon as peace, something to be achieved. Thought can be suppressed or negated by certain external means, such as the practice of breath control.

When you retain the breath, you cannot think. Try. Hold your nose and try to think. You cannot. Your only thought is to breathe!

Here, however, we are not interested in the absence of thought but in understanding the nature of thought and silence. The whole approach, therefore, is cognitive. Thought sometimes happens without my sanction and sometimes it happens with my sanction. In japa. thought is deliberate; it occurs with my sanction. And when the thought goes, I understand its absence as the nature of silence.

I am Silence

What I experience, or am aware of, between two thoughts is silence. If I see the silence after every thought, should I take myself to be the thought or should I take myself to be the silence? Thought arises and thought falls. Before the rise of the thought I am silence and after the departure of the thought I am silence. I am silence first and I am silence last. Thus, in spite of thoughts, I am silence.

The practice of japa does not give me this understanding. But, by doing japa, I create a situation wherein something that is understood is understood more clearly. In spite of thoughts I understand that I am silence.

In “BMW thinking,” you jump from one thought to another. You hold onto the second thought and leave the first. And you hold onto the third and leave the second. The lingering content of the first thought connects you to the next thought. This connection causes you to catch the second thought and leave the first. Thus, we go from BMW to Germany. Germany takes you to World War 11. World War takes you to Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor takes you to Hawaii. Hawaii takes you to the beach. The beach takes you to melanoma and you become sad. This is how the mind works. If you catch one thought, it means the previous one is gone because the two thoughts have nothing to do with each other.

I call this type of thinking “monkey thinking,” the mind being very much like a monkey who leaps from tree to tree. One tree may be an evergreen and the next a maple tree. The monkey just goes from one to the other. Similarly, one’s mind jumps from thought to thought and there is no control over the ways of one’s thinking. In this kind of chain thinking, one cannot arrive at the gap, the interval, that exists between thoughts.

In India there is a tree called the areca tree, from which we get the betel nut. Like a palm tree, it is very thin and fibrous and tapers at the top. Looking at the tree you may think it would break if you climbed it, but it will not. A man who goes up one of these trees to gather the small fruits at the top does not need to come down and climb another tree. Instead, by bending the tree with his own body weight, he catches hold of the next tree. In this way, he moves from tree to tree gathering fruit. Only after picking the fruit from the last tree in the garden does he come down.

This is exactly what we do in our thinking. From one thought, BMW, you catch Germany, then you catch World War 11, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and the beach. Then you catch melanoma and worry about the new mole you have: “I’d better consult a doctor. Suppose it is cancer. How will I be able to handle it?” All of these problems started from BMW. This is like walking upon thoughts. You never get to the ground.

There is another tree, the coconut tree that, unlike the areca tree, cannot be bent without breaking. Thus a man picking coconuts must return to the ground before climbing the next tree. Japa is like this. You get to the ground-not after a length of time, but immediately. You chant and, like coconut-tree climbing, you come down. You chant. You come down. Chant…come down…chant…come down. In this type of chanting, being aware of the interval is as important as the chant because it is the interval that reveals your true nature-silence, awareness.

Once a person is committed to mentally repeating a given chant, his or her mind automatically goes to japa whenever it is free. Just as water draining from the mountains creates new ravines, a new track is created towards which the mind repeatedly goes. In this way, japa becomes a way of keeping the mind meaningfully occupied. As well as . being a useful activity, it is also a prayerful one.

Eventually, a time comes when the mind enjoys a certain composure. Because you appreciate that any distraction or agitation is transitory, you do not come under its spell. A mind that knows this has a ‘certain depth, a certain tranquility, even before such agitation , begins. In conjunction with the vision of the teaching that you are the whole, japa is very effective. Even without any exposure to Vedanta, japa is beneficial in that it keeps the mind meaningfully occupied.

Being Aware of the silence.

Japa is a tool that enables you to negate any distracting or improper thought by replacing it with the chosen chant. It gives you an occasion to eliminate chain thinking and to be aware of the interval, the silence, between thoughts. This is why I refer to japa as a discipline.

In keeping with the teaching, you understand this silence as something natural. You also develop the capacity to nip in the bud any thought you do not care to have. In all these ways, then, japa is helpful in gaining mastery over your mind.

Sound as a Technique

A common practice among many meditators, in the west is to chant invocatory syllables called bija-akasaras बीज-अक्षर, Srim, Hrim श्रिम्, ह्रिम् traditionally used to invoke certain deities for purposes of meditation. When these sounds or any other single syllable wads. such as Ram and Syam are chanted. the mind is naturally going to have a particular occupation. Because the chant is repetitive. chain thinking as eliminated.

That any sound will work as a technique was demonstrated by one scientist using a meaningless sound and recording changes in various human functions. While the subject chanted this sound, his thought processes and metabolism slowed down significantly. His blood pressure also came down and his heart beat rhythmically.

Since the person was sitting quietly, his mind occupied with the repetition of the meaningless sound, these findings are not surprising. Had he thought of some problem he was having, he would have begun to fume and his heartbeat would naturally have increased. Based on the results of his study,. the scientist wrote a paper in which he concluded that a special chant or mantra is not required and that the repetition of any sound, even a meaningless sound, could produce the benefits he had recorded.

As a technique, any sound that is repeated will work in the same way as any other sound. But in what way will it work? For some time, no doubt, the body and the mind will be quieter. But, then, you may become amused that you are sitting and chanting a meaningless sound. Is it not amusing to set aside a time each day to chant gring…gring…gring so seriously?

I know I would be amused. Something would tell me, “Idiot! What are you doing?” Then I would say, “Be quiet. You are always criticizing. You don’t believe in anything. Keep chanting.” Again, gring…gring…gring. “What is this gring?” someone would ask from inside. “It’s a meaningless sound,” would come the reply.

Then, “A meaningless sound? Why are you chanting a meaningless sound?”

“It’s called…Be quiet. I told you not to criticize.”

Gring…gring…gring…gring…gring. Then again from inside, “Did you pay for this? Why don’t you change gring into zring or some other sound?” Why not?”

“Be quiet! This sound was specially chosen for me.” Gring… gring…gring. It would be very difficult for me to chant this meaningless sound.

Anything you do should be meaningful. It is very difficult, therefore, to seriously sit and chant a meaningless sound. You may not know the proper meaning of a chant, but you need to know that it is meaningful. If it is the Lord’s name, you may not understand its full meaning, but because you know it means the Lord, you have enough understanding to chant it seriously.

A meaningful chant

If a sound that has no meaning is chanted, it can serve as a technique. And, for the purposes I have mentioned, it looks as though any chant will work. But all sounds you repeat will not work because you cannot give meaning to a chant that is meaningless and, therefore, you cannot be serious about it.

Suppose, however, you chant a word that does have a meaning, like carrot: carrot… carrot… carrot…  carrot… carrot. Or; zucchini… zucchini…zucchini…zucchini. We have varieties of meaningful words, even the word cookie: cookie…cookie…cookie. Why not? Any meaningful word is definitely a step ahead of a meaningless word, but something more is required for it to work as a japa. A meaningless word will not bring anything to your mind and a meaningful word will cause your mind to be full of carrots, zucchinis, cookies, or whatever. Therefore, neither of these kinds of words will work.

A Meaningful word that Covers the Whole Creation

Instead, you choose one meaningful word that covers the whole creation, a word that is not one of the many objects in the world. A meaningless sound does not indicate any object, whereas a meaningful sound includes everything without indicating any one object. Since all objects are included in the form of the Lord, nothing is omitted when you repeat the Lord’s name.

In this way, the meaningful chant becomes all-inclusive. All words are included in one chosen word. All names in all languages are also included. You can say Siva, Rama, Krsna, Jesus, or Allah, but in your mind the word Chosen should stand for everything. Because the word does not stand for any one thing, you will not be reminded of a given object when you chant it.

A Word You can Relate to.

You are related to the Lord whose name you repeat. As a devotee you are related, the relationship being between the devotee and the altar of your devotion alone. One recognizes the Lord in a given name or, recognizing the Lord, a name is given. That name can be given traditionally or by education.

If it is traditionally given, the word and the Lord are already bridged in your psyche. This bridge is a blessing because the word immediately strikes in your mind as the Lord. Whether by tradition or by education, the word and its meaning must become connected in your mind.

To the meaning of a word known to you as the Lord, you are a devotee. The devotee is the fundamental person who assumes a variety of relative roles such as father, mother, wife, husband, brother, and sister. If you are an individual, you are first related to the total and, only afterwards, are you related individually.

I am Related to the Total

Individuality is possible only when I carve myself out as an entity from the total. The one who identifies with a given physical body-mind-sense complex is an individual. The individual is naturally related to the total because, from this total alone, he or she is carved out as an entity, just as a tree has an individuality carved out from the total, the forest. The forest includes the tree, but the tree does not include the forest.

In this way, there is an individual and his or her Lord is the total. The Lord is a being and I am a being. The Lord is looked upon by me as omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. Thus, as an individual, my relationship with the total is fundamental, the total being the basis for the individual.

This individual entity is also related, but relatively, to all other individuals with whom he or she comes in contact—parents, aunts and uncles, husband or wife, children, neighbors, friends. And who is the person who is related? The person is fundamentally a devotee and this devotee is related to another person by assuming the role of son or daughter, sister or brother, niece or nephew, parent, and so on. Therefore, one becomes a devotee son or daughter, a devotee wife or husband, a devotee mother or father, a devotee friend, a devotee employee or employer, a devotee thinker, and a devotee seer.

Invoking the Devotee in You

The devotee, then, becomes fundamental. It is the devotee that is invoked when one repeats the name of the Lord, the name being not separate from the meaning. When the word is repeated, the meaning naturally strikes.

Once you know the meaning of any word, you cannot separate the word from its meaning. For example, try repeating the word “car” without thinking of a car. It is impossible. A word and its meaning are inseparable.

Because I am related in this form to the meaning of the name of the Lord, the total, I naturally do not chant as a husband or wife, aunt or uncle, cousin, son or daughter. Thus, I am free from the distractions of these relative roles.

If a person chants as a father, he will have a lot of problems. Suppose, being a devotee of Siva, he named his son Subrahmanya, Subbu for short. Subrahmanya 1s the name of Siva‘s son. Therefore, when the father repeats Lord Siva’s name, what happens? Subbu comes into his mind, the one who does not study as he should. Because of this Siva-Subbu association all kinds of agitations will come. Thus if the father chants, Subbu will definitely come-along with all of the fatherly concerns.

Suppose, however, the devotee is invoked by the same person, then the Lord and the simple relationship between them is recognized. The devotee alone is there when the person-chants, the role of father being relegated to a relative role assumed by the devotee. In the devotee-Lord relationship there will be none of the distractions attached to the relative roles assumed by the devotee.

Japa is a Metal Prayer

A japa is a word, sentence, or group of sentences, whose meaning is the Lord, wherein the individual invokes or salutes a certain deity as the Lord. It is neither a meaningless sound nor does it denote a certain object, like zucchini. Its meaning is the Lord, through which the devotee is invoked.

Therefore, japa not only serves as a technique but as a mental prayer. Only when the repetition is a mental prayer is it called japa. Japa is recognized as an indirect means for gaining liberation because it destroys all obstructions and impurities, thereby preparing the mind for the knowledge that is liberation.

In the tenth chapter of the Bhagavada Gita (10.25) Lord Krsna says, “There are many forms of rituals and many means through which ‘I am invoked, but among them I am japa.

यज्ञानां जपयज्ञोऽस्मि !!
yajñānāṁ japa-yajño smi!!

Swami Dayananda Saraswati
Excerpts from Japa

What is the worship of God through a pratika, प्रतिक – symbol ?

2434b63dfae421e5dcbe936e257038f3The word pratika means “going towards”; and worshiping a pratika means worshiping, as a substitute, something which is, in one or more respects, like Brahman ब्रह्मन्, but is not Brahman. Along with the pratikas mentioned in Sruti there are various others to be found in the Puranas and the Tantras. In this kind of pratika, worship may be included all the various forms of pitri-worship पितृ -पूजा (ancestors-worship) and deva-worship.

Now, worshipping Isvara ईश्वर, and Him alone, is bhakti; the worship of anything else – deva or pitri  or any other being-cannot be bhakti. The various kinds of worship of the various devas are all included in ritualistic karma, which gives to the worshipper only a particular result in the form of some celestial enjoyment, but can neither give rise to bhakti nor lead to mukti मुक्ति – liberation. One thing therefore has to be carefully borne in mind. If, as it may happen in some cases, the highly philosophic ideal, the Supreme Brahman, is dragged down by pratika-worship to the level of the pratika and the pratika itself is taken to be the Atman of the worshiper, his Antaryamin अन्तरयामि, then the worshiper becomes entirely misled; for no pratika can really be the Atman of the worshiper. But where Brahman Himself is the object of worship, and the pratika stands only as a substitute or a suggestion thereof, that is to say, where, through the pratika, the omni present Brahman is worshiped, the pratika itself being idealized into the cause of all, or Brahman-the worship is positively beneficial. Nay, it is absolutely necessary for all mankind until they have got beyond the primary or preparatory state of the mind with regard to worship.

When, therefore, any gods or other beings are worshiped in and for themselves, such worship is only ritualistic karma; and as a vidya, a science, it gives us only the fruit belonging to that particular vidya. But when the devas or any other beings are looked upon as Brahman and worshiped, the result obtained is the same as that obtained by the worshiping of Isvara.

This explains how in many cases, both in the Srutis and in the Smritis, a God or a sage or some other extraordinary being is taken up and lifted, as it were, out of his own nature and idealized into Brahman, and is then worshipped. Says the Advaitist, “Is not everything Brahman when the name and the form have been removed from it?” “Is not He, the Lord, the innermost Self of everyone?” says the Visishtadvaitist. “The fruition of even the worship of the Adityas, and so forth, Brahman Himself bestows, because He is the Ruler of all.” Says Sankara, in his Brahma Sutra Bhashya: “Here, in this way, Brahman becomes the object of worship, because He, as Brahman, is superimposed on the pratikas, just as Vishnu, and so forth, are superimposed upon images.”

The same ideas apply to the worship of the pratimas प्रतिमा – idol as to that of the pratikas. That is to say, if the image stands for a god or a saint, the worship does not result in bhakti and does not lead to liberation; but if it stands for the one God, the worship thereof will bring both bhakti and mukti.

Swami Vivekananda
Excerpts from: Vivekananda Yogas and Other Works

Japa is a form of worship. A form of mediation leading to the appreciation that you are the consciousness that is silence!

gurudev (2)Repeating a mantra or a hymn or a name of the Lord is japa जप. It is also a form of prayer and worship. A devotee performs japa with a spirit and attitude of devotion. Japa is a special kind of worship that can be at the level of speech or mind. Japa has three forms ucca ऊचा, manda मण्ड and manasa मनस japa, Ucca japa is to repeat the name of the Lord loudly so that others around can also hear. Manda or upamsu japa is when it is repeated softly so that the performer alone can hear. Manasa is when the name is repeated mentally. Each form is considered superior to the previous one. Chanting softly is considered superior to chanting aloud and mental chanting superior even to that, for simple reason that each following step requires more concentration than the previous one.

A mantra is p a sacred formula in repeating which a certain attitude is also involved. For example, in the mantra, Om namah Sivaya ॐ नमः शिवाय, salutations to Lord Siva, the attitude of surrender is involved. Similarly also in Sri krasnah Saranam mama श्री कृष्ण शरणम् मम्, Lord Krishna is my refuge. In the GayatrI-mantra we meditate upon the brilliant light of Lord Sun to inspire our thoughts in a noble direction. Japa is a very important form of worship. Lord Krishna says in the Gita :

यज्ञानां जपयज्ञोऽस्मि !!
yajñānāṁ japa-yajño smi!! [10.25]

“Among the yajna I am japa-yajna.” Japa, repeating the name of the Lord is compared to yajna, sacrificial ritual. The Lord says, among all sacrifices japa is the most exalted. He identifies himself with it, saying he is the ritual in the form of japa, since it does not involve offering of any material other than one’s own self and devotion.

Japa is prescribed as a spiritual practice for the devotees. It helps us develop focus and concentration of the mind. When Om namah Sivaya, Om namah Sivaya is repeated, the mind is able to maintain the flow of the same thought form. The mind is nothing but a flow of thoughts, in which there seems to be a connection between one thought and another. We do not know what that connection is and hence it is hard to say what that next thought will be. The mind also has a habit of wandering and getting distracted. Therefore in japa, we deliberately give a specific occupation to the mind. When every successive thought is the same, like when repeating a name or a mantra, the mind develops an ability to focus itself on one thought. When the mind wanders it is brought back to the mantra or the name that is being repeated.

Japa is a spiritual practice because not just any word or formula is repeated. It is the name of the Lord that is repeated. The very utterance invokes the devotee in a person. It is the devotee who repeats the name of his Lord, his ista-devata इष्ट देवता for whom he has reverence and love. It is with this worshipful and prayerful mind that the Lord’s name is repeated and that has a soothing and purifying effect. Japa is compared with the flow of the sacred Ganga. Just as many unclean streams of water become the Ganga when they merge in her, so too when the impurities of the mind merge in the name of the Lord they become sanctified.

Japa can be for meditation also. When it is performed at the level of the mind it becomes an excellent form of meditation, involving a worshipful attitude. Our Pujya Swamiji says that the japa can be further utilized for contemplation on the Self, by repeating the name of the Lord with devotion, the mind does calm down. The repetition gets progressively slower. As the repetition becomes slower and the mind gains a degree of calmness, one gains an ability to witness the mantra that is chanted. By long practice the mantra emerges from the mind without any effort and one becomes the witness. The observation of the mantra and the space between the mantra also becomes possible. Om namah Sivaya, silence, Om namah Sivaya, silence. Appreciate the fact that silence precedes and follows the mantra, that the mantra emerges from silence and merges back into silence and that the mantra is nothing but the manifestation of silence. As the mantra merges into the silence what remains is only silence. That is the silence of the mind. At the same time you are the silent conscious witness of the silent state of mind. This leads to the appreciation that you are the consciousness that is silence.

We prescribe meditation involving the repetition of the name of the Lord because meditation should necessarily be mental worship of the Lord.

Thus japa is a form of prayer, worship, meditation and contemplation. It is not easy to do mental japa. So first of all start with loud recitation of the name, make it soft to a murmur and then bring it to the level of the mind. If the mind gets distracted, then go back to loud chanting. By long practice, doing japa at the mental level can be accomplished. This is an excellent form of prayer leading to -meditation and samadhi, absorption. Yoga-sastra says that isvara-pranidhanam ईश्वर प्रणिधानम worship of the Lord leads to samadhi, absorption, identification with the Lord. The idea behind any form of worship is to ultimately identify with the worshiped.

Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati

Excerpts from: Hindu Dharma Basics & Beyond
Link to videos of Swamiji’s Discourses

What is meditation and what is it not? What are the different kinds of meditation?

gurudev (2)
Meditation is defined as, maintaining a steady flow of thought on the same object. Typically, इश्वर isvara or saguna सगुण brahma ब्रह्मन्, the Lord with attributes, is the object of such a flow of thought. You can maintain that flow by repeating a name in your mind, by focusing your attention on a form, by thinking about the glories ‘of the Lord, by performing mental worship etc. Meditation includes all these different processes. It is called upasana उपासना or mental worship of the Lord. In this, there is a duality between the devotee and the Lord, between the one who is meditating and the Lord who is meditated upon.

There are many kinds of meditation, but we define meditation as maintaining a thought-flow centered upon the Lord. It requires some support in the form of a word, a mantra, of an image to keep the mind focused. It is not emptying the mind of thought, or thoughtlessness. The yoga-sastra योगशास्त्र defines meditation as the stoppage of thoughts or a complete stilling of the mind. If there is identification with the thoughts, there is bondage. The purpose of stilling the mind is to dissociate it from all thought so that there is no bondage. When there are no thoughts there is no identification and in the absence of identification, there is only the self. The idea in the yoga-sastra is that we can gain the knowledge of one’s own. self only if we still the mind. However, rather than emptying the mind, we prefer mental worship, which invokes the devotee in the person who meditates. This helps to purify the mind and secure the grace of God.

Another form of meditation is contemplation upon the realities of life or upon the nature of one’s own self; it can be called the reality; meditation. This meditation is of the nature of seeing’ rather than worshiping. In mental worship, some kind of visualization may be involved, but here we see, for example, the order that obtains in the universe. There can be meditation upon your own self where you see the self as consciousness, or you can contemplate on the reality -seeing the reality as it is. You can meditate upon acceptance, compassion or the order. You can choose a topic and contemplate on it.

When meditation involves the worship of God, it is soothing, healing, and purifying for the mind. It is desirable that इश्वर isvara be involved in the meditation. Ideally, meditation should involve a spirit of worship. The Upanisads suggest that we meditate upon pranava प्रणव  or om ॐ and superimpose isvara on om. The repetition, of om then becomes meditation. If one reflects upon brahman with the help of om, it becomes contemplation. Thus, one worships om as isvara in the first instance and sees the self as om or isvara in the second.

In the उपनिषद Upanisads, we find उपासना upasanas that are meditations upon the Lord with attributes, and they are done with the help of certain models prescribed in the texts. For example, we find meditations upon the harmony and oneness obtaining in the universe, based on various elements of nature or the luminaries of the different worlds. In one meditation, the universe, which is the manifestation of isvara, is looked upon as the cosmic person with the sun for his eyes, with fire as his mouth, and so on. Seeing the cosmos as a person, as one organic whole, becomes meditation. These are some kinds of meditations that are taught in the Upanisads.

Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati
Excerpts from Satasanga with Swami Viditatmananda, Vol. 2
Link to Swamji’s Discourses

What are the mahavakyas?

dayanandji

Every Upanishad must have a maha-vakya महावाक्य, not just four Upanishads. For the sake of समन्वय samanvaya, showing that all four Vedas have only one तात्पर्य tattparya, vision, four maha-vakyas are quoted, one from each Veda:

  1. तत् त्वम् असि, Tat Tvam Asi -> That Thou Art.
    from Chandogya Upnishad, Samaveda.
  2. अहम् ब्रह्मास्मि, Aham Brahmasmi -> I am Brahman.
    from Brahadarnayaka Upnishad, Yajurveda
  3.  प्रज्ञानम् ब्रह्म, Prajananam Brahma -> Consciousness is Brahman.
    from Aitareya Upnishad, Rigveda
  4. अयम् आत्मा ब्रह्म, Ayam Atmā Brahma -> This self is Brahman.
    from Mandukya Upnishad, Atharvaveda.

In fact, every Upanishad has maha-vakya. Without a maha-vakya there is no Upanishad, there is no Gita, and there is no शास्त्र sastra either. Any sastra reveals what is to be revealed, and therefore, maha-vakyas are seen in all the Upanishads.

In maya-vakyas there are no differences. It is not proper to create differences among them, like some people do. Some claim that, tat tvam asi is an upadesa-vakya, a sentence giving the teaching; aham brahmasmi is an anubhavakya, a sentence revealing the experience of oneness, and so on. The whole Upanishad is meant for upadesa, revealing an equation between जिव Jiva and ईश्वर Isvara.

Sawmi Dayanand Saraswati

Excerpts from Kenopanishad

Six Schools of Philosophies of Hinduism

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In Hinduism the word darsana, ”Vision of Truth”  is used to indicate philosophy. Hinduism encompasses six schools of philosophy, called  सड -दर्शन Sad Darsanas (sad means six). Two different classifications of the schools of Hindu philosophy are recognized by the orthodox and heterodox thinkers.

The orthodox classification of the schools is:

  1. Vaisesika, Kanada
  2. Nyaya, Gautama
  3. Nir-Isvara-Sankhya निर्-ईश्वर -सान्ख्य, Kapila
  4. Sa-Isvara-Sankhya, स-ईश्वर -सान्ख्य,  Patanjali
  5. Purrva Mimansa, पूर्व मिमांसा , Jaimini
  6. Uttara Mimamsa, उत्तरा मिमांसा , Vedanta

The other classification, which gives equal status to the atheistic schools, is:

  1. Materialism – Charvaka
  2. Buddhism – Buddha
  3. Jainism – Mahavir
  4. Tarka – Kanada and Gautama
  5. Sankhya – Kapila and Patanjali
  6. Purava Mimamsa – Jaimini, and Uttara Mimansa Vedanta

Knowledge falls into two categories: secular knowledge and spiritual knowledge.

Secular knowledge pertains to the world of things and beings. Spiritual knowledge deals with the subjective realization of the transcendental Reality that lies beyond the limitations of the phenomenal world. The theme of each of the philosophies is an inquiry into spiritual knowledge.

Spiritual knowledge is divided into two main groups: theistic and atheistic.

Theists are those who accept the Vedas and believe in an eternal Reality. The Theistic school can be classified under two categories:

  1. Theistic Theism
  2. Theistic Atheism

Theistic Theism accepts the Vedas and also believes in Brahman, the nondual eternal Truth. Pure Theistic Theism is enunciated in the Brahma Sutras, which consist of the very essence of the Upanishads. This school of thought is known as Uttara Mimamsa, which had fallen into obscurity until Adi Shankaracharya revived it and brought it to the attention of the thinkers of the world as Advaita Vedanta.

Theistic Atheism supports a belief in the Vedic declarations but not in the one eternal Truth, or Brahman, as indicated by the Upanishads. Followers of this school believe that the Truth cannot be realized by study, reflection, and meditation upon the Upanishadic declarations. Three main schools of Theistic Atheism exist: Tarka, Sankhya, and Purva Mimamsa.

The Tarka school follows the points of view expounded by Kanada and Gautama, whose philosophies are called Vaisesika and Nyaya, respectively.

The Sankhyan philosophy is most rational, analytical; and scientific in its treatment. The Sankhyans fall into two groups, sustained by two great exponents, Kapila and Patanjali. Kapila’s philosophy, called Nir-Isvara-Sankhya, does not take into consideration the concept of a Creator, or Isvara. Patanjali introduces the concept of a Creator (Isvara) in his doctrine called Sa-Isvara-Sankhya.

Purva (”earlier”) Mimansa (”sequence of logical thinking”) is the last in the category of Theistic Atheism. The Vedas are divided into two sections, the Karma Kanda and the Jnana Kanda. Karma Kanda is the earlier section, which is seemingly dualistic, whereas the Jnana Kanda constitutes the later portion, which is positively non-dualistic, declaring the absolute oneness of Truth. The earlier Vedic thought, contained in the Karma Kanda, was compiled by Jaimini. The philosophy of Jaimini, discussed in the Jaimini Sutra, expounds the essence of Purva Mimansa. According to this philosophy, the human being has to follow faithfully the ritualistic portion of the Vedas. If he does so, he will gain infinite merit. To enjoy the fruits of such merit, the individual soul will get a chance to live for a fixed period of time in a realm of consciousness where he can experience subtler and more intense sensuous enjoyments. This temporary resort in Heaven is conceived by the followers Purva Mimamsa as the goal of existence.

The Atheistic school of philosophy is classified in two categories:

  1. Atheistic Atheism
  2. Atheistic Theism

Atheistic Atheism declares a disbelief in either the Vedas or the supreme Truth. This school is championed by some philosophers, the most important among them being Charvaka. The Materialists (Charvakas) believe that no higher goal than materialism is to be achieved in life, and that the human being has only to find maximum enjoyment in sensual indulgence, unrestricted by ethical or moral scruples. They believe that the human being merely exists as he is; he comes from nowhere when he is born and goes to nowhere when he dies. At death when the body is buried, everything ends.

Atheistic Theism, however, accepts a supreme Truth beyond the body and the objects of the world; however, it refutes the Vedas.

The Buddhists and the Jains fall under this category. The Atheism of Buddhism sprang from Buddha’s revolt against the excessive Vedic ritualism practiced during his age. Ritualism had reached a state of absurdity, and the people following it had grown to be barbarous and immoral. Buddha denied the authority for such practices and, in doing so, had to denounce the Vedic textbooks themselves.

The Jains, the followers of Mahavir, also belong to the Atheistic Theistic school. They are considered atheistic because of their non-acceptance of the Vedas. Their theistic leanings are attributed to their belief in the eternal Truth, which is permanent, perfect, and all-blissful.

Swami Chinmayananda

Excerpts from: Self-Unfoldment

Hindu Scriptures at a Glance

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The Hindu Scriptural literature is so vast and comprehensive that there is no branch of knowledge left uninvestigated by the great Seers of this country. The Hindu was never satisfied unless every question that he faced, be it material, scientific, religious, physical, metaphysical, philosophic or purely spiritual, was thoroughly discussed in all its varied aspects, to its irrefutable conclusion. The various Books that constitute the Hindu Scriptural literature will give an insight into the progress of Indian thought through the ages, in the field of metaphysics and will show how the sages of the past in this country relentlessly investigated into the facts and truths of life, discovered the laws governing them, arrived at the path and goal of the ultimate human destiny, enunciated and codified them in systematic treatises and bequeathed them to posterity. To them, SANATANA DHARMA meant the “ENTERNAL VALUES OF LIFE” and human endeavor which they adhered to always and in all ways. To them Hinduism was not a closed Book, because in their profound wisdom they recognized and accepted that there is no limit to knowledge. Search! You will find ‘The more you search, the more you will find! This is true of all fields of knowledge -and all faiths. Only search and stop not till the goal is reached.

The knowledge can be broadly divides into two broad categories: Para परा – intuitive and Apra अपरा – intellectual. The intellectual knowledge can be further divided into secular and non-secular.

Knowledge Para – Intuitive
Apara – Intellectual Secular
Sacred Srutis – Deal with Eternal Principles
Smritis – deal with Practical Applications of Eternal Principles

All the Sacred Books are divided into two broad categories. the Srutis श्रुति and the Smritis स्मृति. The Hindus believe that the Srutis are “God-revealed” and the Smritis are “Man-realised” –or better, “recapitulated by man,” on what he has already heard from the “Srutis” which word means “That which is heard.” The Srutis deal with eternal principles and hold good for all time; while the Smritis deal with the practical application of those eternal principles according to changing times. In fact there is a Sruti content and a Smriti content in every religion. In Hindu religious thought, the word “Sruti” stands for the “Vedas.”

The four “Vedas,” Rig, Yajus, Sama and Atharva form the . Srutis. The word “veda” वेद comes from the root “Vid” to know. The Veda is literally the Book of Knowledge-  Knowledge of the changeless and Supreme Reality.

The Sacred Books of the Hindus are tabulated for easy reference:-

Srutis – Four Vedas: Rig, Yajus, Sama, Atharva Karma Kanda Smahitas – Mantras
Brahmanas – Ritualistic
Jnana Kanda Aaranyakas  – Method of Worship
Upanishads – Vedanta
Smriti Ithihas Ramayana
Mahabharta
Puranas 18 Main Puranas
48 Ups Puranas
Smritis – Dhrama Sastras 18 Smritis
Manu Smriti – Main
Veda Upangas Nyaya – by Sage Gautama
Vaiseshika – by Sage Kanaada
Sankhya – by Sage Kapila
Yoga – by Sage Patanjali
Mimamsa – by Sage Jaimini
Vedanta – Sage Veda Vyasa
Vedangas Siksha – Phonetics
Kalpa – Religious Rites
Vyakarna – Grammer
Nirukta – Glossary
Chhandas- Prosody
Jyotisha – Astrnomy & Astrology
Upa Vedas Ayurveda – the Science of Life
Dhnur Veda – Science of Warfare
Gandhrva Veda – Science of Art & Music
Sthaptya Sastra – Mechanics & Construction

 

Excerpts from: Hinduism that is Sanatana Dharma, Chinmaya Mission

Hindu Caste System – Nothing but varying degrees of combinations of three thought textures!

caste

We are essentially divine, but the divinity in us is covered by a veil of thoughts. The differences in the concentration and type of these thoughts give rise to the variety of human beings we see in the world.

The textbooks of Vedanta delineate three thought textures, or gunas गुण , through which the human mind functions:-

  1. Sattva सत्व = purity: thoughts that are pure and noble
  2. Rajas रजस् = passion: thoughts that are passionate and agitated
  3. Tamas तमस् = inertia: thoughts that are dull and inactive

These thought textures, in various permutations, determine individual personalities. And on any one day or during any hour of a day, each of us may have one of the three textures play the predominant role. Every human being experiences all three types of thought currents: sattvika, rajasika, and tamasika. Only the degree to which any one of these textures predominates determines the type to which an individual belongs.

The four gradations in the caste system of India are s. The historic misinterpretation and misuse of those gradations comprise what is generally known as the caste system today.

The four castes were originally determined neither by ancestry nor by vocation, but by a person’s inner temperament:-

The brahmin ब्राह्मिन् (thinker) class is predominantly sattvika सात्त्विक, exhibiting only a little rajas and minimal traces of tamas. The Gita says that this category of people is characterized by serenity, self-restraint; austerity, purity, forgiveness, uprightness, knowledge, and belief in God. Priests, ministers, great thinkers, and subtle poets belong in this category.

The ksatriya क्षत्रिय (leader) class exhibits mostly rajasika राजसिक qualities, with a little of sattva and tamas mixed in. According to the Gita, this category is characterized by prowess, splendor, dexterity, generosity, and lordliness. Leaders of society, such as national presidents or community activists, fall into this category.

The vaisya वैस्य (trader) class has less of sattva and miss and more of tamas. In this classification fall the traders and business people.

The sudra  सुद्र (laborer) class has a major share of tamas, with a little of rajas and minimal traces of sattva. This category includes people who work on simple and menial tasks, and who are motivated largely by the direction given by others.

Today, these classifications have lost much of their meaning. They come to designate a hereditary birthright in the society, a mere superficial distinction that divides society into castes. For many years, people have espoused the belief that the four castes are based upon and determined by birth within a given family and by the type of vocation one follows. This confusion arose because the ancient masters of religion, who were also great psychologists, had suggested certain Vocations that they thought would be best suited to persons, belonging to each respective class of mental and intellectual texture. The intention was merely to guide those who were not well versed in psychology in selecting for themselves a gainful field of work wherein their present mental make-up could be put to best use. However, no rigidity was ordained about this selection. Anyone could pick up or even change one’s vocation and transform oneself from a sudra to a vaisya or ksatriya or brahmin, or vice versa. Hindu history is replete with such examples of mental transformation.

As the years rolled by, the basis of classification was forgotten, and people wrongly equated the four grades in the caste system to occupations and birth into families engaged in such occupations. Thus, a priest in a temple is generally considered a brahmin, without any reference to his attainment in study of the scriptures and in practicing the precepts. This is a dismal distortion of the truth. A true brahmin is one who is highly evolved in mind and intellect, has studied and assimilated the scriptural teachings, and daily practices the noble qualities that he has learned. Such a one can be found in any country, religion, or community. He need not be a Hindu or an Indian.

To achieve the mental transformations that catapult us from one classification into another, we have to put forth our own self-effort. A tamasika तामसिक person has to put in a lot of effort and time to shake off his lethargy and inertia and burst himself into activity before he can even dream of reaching the state of sattva. A rajasika person is already active, but that activity is directed to acquiring and enjoying the sense objects of the world. The person has to change the direction of her activity to again self-purification instead of sense gratification. The sattvika person is at the portals of Truth. Such a person is fully prepared to take the flight toward Self-realization; She needs only to contemplate and meditate on the supreme SeIf.

Swami Chinmayanada

Excerpts from: Self-Unfoldment