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Vedanta

Living Vedanta

My eyes open. I am still rather sleepy. It is however clear as the daylight entering the room that I am in the waking state. How do I know it? I recognize my surroundings, my familiar mind and its thoughts. If the Vedantin were to tell me, in the dream you were sure, you were the dreamer going through the dream experiences, until you awoke. Now you are in waking claiming to be the waker. There is another who is the ground of waking, sleeping and dream. Brahman. Siva. Ishwara. You are that.

But I am cent percent sure I am the waker. That is exactly why I need to live Vedanta. The goal of life, is to undo the waker, to see myself as the awareness in whose presence, every state flourishes. The Vedantin adds his first insight – the belief that I am a waker, is not will-based. Neither is the belief that I am the dreamer will-based, or the belief where I wake up to say, “I slept well”. Did I sleep? This contemplation sets the tone for my day.

The body needs to be pushed out of its inertia, the mind out of its dullness. A cold bath for the monk in me? No, just a piping hot coffee please. The first activity is to do my Sandhya. The objective of the Sandhya, as determined consciously in the beginning of the Sandhya itself, is Mokshartha Siddhyartham, nothing lesser, nothing material. The Sandhya is the most sophisticated form of symbology. Water is poured back into water. Nothing has really changed. Everything has been transformed! The body is purified, the mind acknowledges the holiness of the elements, the world is looked upon with reverence, and the thoughts are centred on the Mother Sandhya, so that we come to the right understanding.

The Vedantin’s ready reckoner for life is the Gita. So I break my fast with food as Krishna prescribes.

āyuḥ-sattva-balārogya-sukha-prīti-vivardhanāḥ
rasyāḥ snigdhāḥ sthirā hṛdyā āhārāḥ sāttvika-priyāḥ || BG 17.8 ||

Foods in the mode of goodness increase the duration of life, purify one’s existence and give strength, health, happiness and satisfaction. Such nourishing foods are sweet, juicy, fatty and palatable.

If it were a hundred years ago or even 50 years ago, maybe I would have been called upon as the “Officiator of sacrifices” in a yagnashala, temple or somebody’s home. I would perform rituals for the welfare of the society, and in turn be paid for my work. However, the Zeitgeist is otherwise, and Krishna made us the concession, with this quote:

kāyena manasā buddhyā, kevalair indriyair api

yoginaḥ karma kurvanti, sańgaḿ tyaktvātma-śuddhaye || BG 5.11 ||

The yogīs, abandoning attachment, act with body, mind, intelligence and even with the senses, only for the purpose of purification.

So what do I do? I am a software engineer. I write code. It is a bit of a stretch, but can you imagine, the computer to be the transmitter of my offering, electricity being the fire, the code I write, the mantras and offerings made? It is so. After all it does not so much matter what I do, it is anyway all undone. If I were doing a fire ritual, what is left at the end of it – ashes, bhooti! Remember, the pouring of water back into water? So it is. The trick is, I need to make sure my act is an act of surrender, an offering unto Brahman. Otherwise there is no reorientation of the mind, from seeking the result, to seeking God. Off course I do it for a living, what do you think? It’s no fun. All work is ayasya:

saha-jam karma kaunteya, sa-dosam api na tyajet

sarvarambha hi dosena, dhumenagnir ivavrtah || BG 18.48 ||

Every endeavor is covered by some sort of fault, just as fire is covered by smoke. Therefore one should not give up the work which is born of his nature, O son of Kunti, even if such work is full of fault.

We go through life, doing what needs to be done to carry on this journey. Krishna again says,

niyatam kuru karma tvam, karma jyayo hy akarmanah

sarira-yatrapi ca te, na prasiddhyed akarmanah || BG 3.8 ||

Perform your prescribed duty, for action is better than inaction. A man cannot even maintain his physical body without work.

There is an order, rta, which governs our evolution. We cannot avoid action, we have to orient ourselves to this order. It is like how the blacksmith forges the metal to shape it to a sword. We are being forged by life, so that we gain a diamond-cutters mind which can cut through this samsara and see the truth behind it. The more malleable we become, the lesser we let our desires, our likes and dislikes take over, the more digestible is this world.

Krishna continues to point out to us how to manage our lives. He says

yuktahara-viharasya yukta-cestasya karmasu 
yukta-svapnavabodhasya yogo bhavati duhkha-ha || BG 6.11 ||

He who is temperate in his habits of eating, sleeping, working and recreation can mitigate all material pains.

I try to follow this simple but powerful of tenets. It seems so logical and easy. Yet it is not possible. When I did hear this, my life was in chaos. I had to bring my life in order. I worked to climb a corporate ladder, the rat race, my relationships were breaking, my health was waning. So there was no room for bringing balance in life. It was beyond me. Then there are those devils – my likes, dislikes, my strong desires, my anger, lust. Can my will loosen my likes, dislikes, desires, anger, lust? I know the limitation of the will. I can barely bring myself to wake up early in the morning.

The Vedantin introduces me to his ingenious device. He tricks his mind willingly and knowingly. He introduces an anthropomorphic entity – Ishwara. It is him we praise, pray to, we remember at all times. He is giver of everything, of all results. To the alcoholic, there is alcohol to celebrate his happiness and to endure his suffering. Similarly, Ishwara is to be made integral in my experience of life. I pray to him exclusively during my Sandhya, chantings, meditations, I think of him when it rains, when I see a beautiful sunset, when I switch on the light in the evening, when I give something away, when I get new clothes, when I get a salary increment, when I am tired, when I cry in despair… he is now involved in my transactional life. I begin to love Ishwara.

What did the Brahmin do in his free time? Was there none allowed? If we ask the Vedantin, he would say, do not bring out your monkey’s tail (thiraga bala bichbeda). A rather tall order for me who spent considerable time on popcorn and pitchers of beer. The more I pray, the more I give, the more I align myself to the rightness in me, I see that there is joy in clarity which is more worthwhile than those pleasures I sought, which had anyway ended rather painfully. Off course, there are dilemmas, there are strong temptations and I cave in. Like Forest Gump said, “Shit happens.” Rta laughs at my childishness, but takes his pound of flesh, it is the order that Rta has to maintain. Remember, the metal is being forged in the furnace of life – it ain’t gonna be no easy.

The Vedantin says, the tendencies have to be exhausted, and quotes Vyasa in the Mahabharatha, “Kashaye karme pakve, thatho jnanam uthpadhyathe.”

We do not lose heart or sight of the goal. The Vedantin keeps pointing out to me the nature of Ishwara. He reminds me how all my travail is a joke, for what is to be attained is already available. I begin to feel, this indefatigable presence, this awareness that I cannot ignore, I cannot deny. Then when there is friction in life, when my mind is dull, when I make a mistake, when I forget, when I feel my body exhausted, I see that this presence, constantly throws light on everything, including my ignorance and stupidity. I do not need to go overboard figuring out how to overcome my exhaustion, force my mind into alertness, rectify my forgetfulness; I can see these are limitations of the body, the mind, the intellect. There is the order of karma, which I have to go through. I pray for strength, to this unalloyed presence, that I can follow Dharma. I know that the body and mind cannot go through all this unscathed. They will suffer, they will decay, there is no way out, except to see that I am not these things. They are in me, and I am not in them. I am the indefatigable presence. I chant Sivoham, Sivoham. There is no comparable soothing balm that can bring more lasting peace to my worrisome mind. These thoughts set the tone of my night.

A new day begins, with the waker, being awoken. The water being poured into water. We learn our lessons, while we build the sand castles. The world is for me, not I for the world. These may be just words, and I may spend a lifetime figuring things out, or it may all come to me in a flash. What else is worth living for?

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