This post is an English rendering of my two posts in Tamil elaborating on the invocatory verse of a well known masterpiece of Sanskrit devotional literature called Nārāyaṇīyam by Nārāyaṇa Bhattathiri, a scholar of different Indian philosophical systems (darśana-s), and Aṣṭādhyāyin, the descriptive grammar of Pāṇini. I use the word devotion and knowledge in place of the two Sanskrit words bhakti and jñānam respectively.

Bhattathiri lived in the state of Kerala in the sixteenth century CE. He condensed the well-known 18,000-verse epic Bhāgavatam written by the sage Vyāsa, into about 1,000 verses divided into 100 daśakam-s. This devotional work is chanted even today in India to alleviate human suffering due to any bodily disease or dis-ease of the mind.

My introduction to Nārāyaṇīyam

As many of you know, I come from a large family of siblings and cousins. One of my cousins is a great devotee and has been chanting Nārāyaṇīyam for the last two decades. She has been teaching how to chant these verses in Zoom sessions, explaining the meaning as she introduces each daśakam (set of ten verses). She has done special chanting sessions for the health and well-being of members of her extended family and friends.

One incident that happened almost a decade ago: my sister had a recurrence of cancer that had metastasized to her brain. She was gravely ill, I briefly visited her and returned after finding about her terminal stage of cancer. But my cousin did not give up and started special chanting of Nārāyaṇīyam for my sister’s health. By then my sister also agreed to have another risky brain surgery to remove the growth affecting her motor functions, with no guarantee of full recovery since all areas of cancerous growth could not be removed. Miraculously she recovered and was well enough to celebrate her only daughter’s wedding. After about six months she succumbed to cancer.

Our atheists and agnostics may dismiss this incident to be due to chance, but for those who have been raised as believers in a Higher Power, irrespective of their religious persuasion, can easily relate to this.

For example, those among us who know Indian history remember how the first Mogul Emperor Babur (16th century CE), when his son Humayun was seriously ill prayed saying in effect: ‘If a life may be exchanged for a life, I who am Babur, I give my life up in exchange for that of my son Humayun.’ His wish was fulfilled and his son lived and expanded his empire.
I have also mentioned in one of my blogs a quote from Tennyson about the role of prayer in a human being’s life.

Devotion (bhakti) and prayer (prārthanā)

Devotion, bhakti is towards the Higher Being, called variously by different religions. The most commonly used word for that Being is God. In Hindu religious beliefs the three-fold ways of showing the devotion to the Higher Being are:
(1). Physical worship, pūjanam, of God. In physical worship, the formless God is invoked in an Idol, either at home or in a temple. This can be in the form of offering flowers, chanting of Vedic mantras, circumambulation of the temple, pradakṣiṇam and other forms involving the physical body.
(2). Singing praises of the Lord, called bhajanam and repetition of the name of God, japa. This latter practice is common to both Christianity and Islam as well. Usually one uses a string of beads to keep the mind in focus. This practice is subtler than the former in that one does not need a temple or a holy place or altar but needs mental ability to focus. Primarily this involves the vocal cord, it can be audible to others or just the lips moving, sometimes it can be totally silent as well.
(3). The subtlest one is called meditation, cintanam or dhyānam. Here the mind is total focus of the mental image of God or, the formless Higher Being. This type of focus is likened to an uninterrupted flow of a viscous fluid.
Typically one graduates from the physical to the oral and then on to mental activity.

With devotion as the primary condition, the next one is why a person is a devotee. There is a Sanskrit saying ‘without expecting a use even a dullard does not undertake an action’. Any of these three acts of devotion, for a normal person buffeted by wants and needs, these acts of devotion are generally a form of prayer, prārthanā. Just like there are two different words, devotion and prayer in English language, the Sanskrit words also are different. Prārthanam is derived from the verb arth meaning solicit, supplicate, beg, request, with the prefix pra which accentuates the meaning of the verb, the word meaning supplicating the Lord (to fulfill one’s desire / want / need).

A curious person may ask ‘Is the role of God but to fulfill all our wishes? If so, in what way then God is different from my sweet generous uncle?’. It is a valid question. Hindu tradition does not believe this way. The concept of karma is necessary to understand the more nuanced way the result of prayer is explained — since every action, karma has a consequence, that is, a result, this action of prayer also must have a result. But it is also well known that despite fervent prayers, our wishes are not always fulfilled. The reason is due to our past karma. This aspect has been elaborated in one of my earlier blogs on role of prayer and karma.

In the tradition it is customary, if not a requirement that any creative work must start with a prayer. This also is reasonable since one starts a work, be it a prose or poem, the person has the desire to complete the task successfully. Thus for fulfillment of desire the opening statement or poem will be an invocation to the Lord. This brings us to the next question of who or what is this God? Is he the idol (mūtri) I worship, or the name I repeat or the from I meditate upon? There is a mystical poem in Tamil ridicules the notion of the idol (or for that matter any form or sound symbol) being God!

Plant a stone, calling it God, Circumambulate and murmur some deluded mantra,
Will that stone speak to you, when the Lord is in you?
Does the ladle stirring a pot of stew know the taste (of the stew)?
Tirumūlar, Tirumandiram 6th century CE

This verse points to God within, that is, the inherence in all humans. This brings the question of ‘what is the matter, who created this world of things’? This is stated by a devotee of Śiva who lived in the ninth century C.E. He sings the glory of the Lord:

How can words praise you?
The One who has become Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth,
all life, who is both Is and Is Not, the King and the Subject
And who makes people dance ‘I, my, mine’
Maṇikkavācakar, Tiruvācakam, 9th Century CE.

This enquiry as to the real nature of God is thus a subject matter for knowing, that is, it is a knowledge pursuit, the result is knowledge, jñānam of the Truth about God whom people worship. For this spiritual pursuit centered primarily on me who goes about knowing about the world (and God), no science can help and this falls squarely in the realm of knowledge.

Jñānam, knowledge

In Hindu philosophical traditions, this word has a special meaning in that it is different from knowledge of the perceivable universe which includes all branches of knowledge. This special meaning is to know, to understand the substratum of this triputī of oneself (ātman / jīva), the world around (Jagat) and God (Īśvara). This analysis is of three kinds, total duality (davita), qualified duality (viśiṣṭādviata) and non-duality, (advaita). Ironically, all these are centered on three different interpretations of Upaniṣad-s, also known as vedānta. The word Vedānta means the final portion of the Vedas. These three interpretations happened at different time periods, advaita  being the earliest in terms of chronology, other than the prehistoric Sāṅkhya system summarized below.

Duality is the foundation of Sāṅkhya philosophy of sage Kapila whose offshoot is the so-called practice manual Yogasūtra-s of sage Patañjali. Many believe that this system predates the vedas. This ancient thought happens to be the basis of most religious theologies till today. In a nut shell this philosophy is one of total disconnection between matter, prakṛti and spirit, puruṣa. Sāṅkya system postulates an infinite number of puruṣa-s and one prakṛti, which is insentient but undergoes changes to form this world of things and beings.Patañjali added a new wrinkle to this philosophy by adding the concept of God, he uses the term Īśvara as one of these infinite puruṣa-s. It is necessary to note here that though he uses the word Īśvara same sense of its English translation, The Lord. He ascribes no quality, no activity as understood today. I think that he uses this special puruṣa only as a means of mastering the mind of the seeker. His work is called Yogasūtra, simply known as yoga philosophy. What practitioners of yoga do today is not this philosophy but practice of physical postures, this yoga is based on a different work called Haṭhayoga.

A kind of Patañjali’s concept of Īśvara is common to most religious theologies of today with an overlay of ascribing qualities to this entity— there is matter with its various modifications which include the human body (including the mind), the souls of human beings (as well as souls of all living beings, according to Hindu thought); and there is one God, apart from, but other than the bodies and souls of the world and beyond. Even His residence is outside this world called Heaven.

Perhaps because of my science background, I am more drawn to questioning this ultimate duality of current religious philosophies. The pursuit of science has been to see the one behind the many, that is, not take perceived reality of duality is really the Truth. In modern science one can think of atom-molecule duality, subatomic particles duality, matter-energy duality or wave-particle duality being shown to be not really two separate and distinctly independent entities. Philosophically however, this is extended eons ago in Upaniṣads to non-duality being the absolute reality, this vision of the Upaniṣads is called advaita-vedānta.. This non dual entity is despite the perceived reality of duality. That is, this knowledge, jñānam does not interfere with perceived reality, one of duality — me-world duality, world-worlds duality, human being-God duality, space-time duality and so on. As long as one gets stuck in the perceived world of duality and, driven by desire to achieve something or shun away from something, for that person God is as real as perceived duality. Thus comes God, devotion, the role of prayer, wish fulfillment and so on.

The next question then is, what does this knowledge do to me? The simple answer is that it removes the delusion of taking relative reality to be the ultimate one and suffer the inescapable consequence of feeling constrained and sorrowful, despite flickers of experienced joy. Swami Chinmayananda used to highlight the plight of a man who tries to walk for a day wearing a one shoe size less than his foot size. He would then add,’Now Real You, The Limitless One push That into this puny little body-mind complex (due to ignorance) and lament about the state of your life! You deserve the suffering you are going through!’ Joke apart, it shows how difficult it is to comprehend this vision of unifying non-duality despite perceptual and experiential duality. A mere intellectual cognition does not help the person steeped in the limited body and the mind, but it is also well neigh impossible to get out of the difficult experiences one goes through in life.

With this background, let us try to understand the ‘why’ of Vyāsa and Narayaṇa Battatiri wrote the two great devotional works of Bhāgavatam and Nārāyaṇīyam respectively. Then we move on to discussing the similarities and differences between their two invocation verses to the Limitless Non-dual One, technically called Brahman.

Vyāsa and Nārāyaṇa Bhattathiri

Hindu tradition holds that Vyāsa was the one who divided the vedas, foreseeing the inability of human beings’ reduced capacity to master a single Veda compendium. He is the author of an aphoristic work analyzing Upaniṣads, called Vedāntasūtra, a commentary to Yogasutra of Patañjali, and the composer of epics Mahābhārata (74,000 verses) and Bhāgavatam (18,000 verses). The last one, Bhāgavatam describes the ten incarnations of Viṣṇu, a devotional work of Vyāsa, only the invocation verse is the topic for this post. Vyāsa was believed to have lived about five millennia ago.

In contrast to Vyāsa, Nārāyaṇa Bhattathiri lived in the 16th century C.E. He was born in Kerala, currently a state in India. He was a master of the descriptive grammar system of Pāṇini, was an authority of different philosophical systems of Sāṅkhya, Yoga and advaitavedānta, and an author of several works, including Nārāyṇīyam.

Despite the fact that both had clear knowledge, jñānam of the truth of God as revealed in the Upaniads, they are creators of two of the greatest works of devotion to God. In fact, the latter followed the footsteps of Vyāsa in that he condensed the 18,000-verse Bhāgavatam to his 1,034 verses Nārāyṇīyam, capturing the essence of what Vyāsa wrote. A modern day layperson who has just heard of advaita may wonder why create a poem extolling the greatness of God. Even today, many in India think that once you study advaitavedānta you will lose faith in God. This compartmentalization of bhakti, yoga and advaita into three separate and non-interacting paths appears to be common across the globe, not just in India. But in reality, these practices are not mutually exclusive but synergistic. The human being is endowed with the tangible physical body (sthūla-śarīram) and has the intangible mind, which includes the emotional and intellectual sides of the mind; this is called subtle body (sūkṣma-śrīram) in Hindu thought. Thus any human being is a composite, hence I use the term synergy among all three paths.

In addition, one finds find that great devotional works were written by many masters of advaita; many celebrated commentaries to Patañjali’s Yogasūtra-s and Kapila’s Sānkyasūtra-s were also by masters of Vedānta. This led me to conclude that comments I hear from my friends and relatives are based on personal opinions rather than based on facts, the result of not understanding the centuries old tradition.

Reasons for creation of the two
great works of devotion

In English literature, the sixteenth century poet George Herbert concludes his poem ‘The Pulley’ in which he imagines God creating the first man, pouring a glass of blessings on the human being, His creation He pored almost all of its contents but the blessing of rest. He paused and added:

When God at first made man, having a glass of blessings standing by,
“Let us,” said he, “pour on him all we can.
Let the world’s riches, which dispersed lie, contract into a span.”       
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that, alone of all his treasure, rest in the bottom lay.       
“For if I should,” said he, “Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead of me.      
But keep them with repining restlessness; let him be rich and weary,
That at least, if goodness leads him not,
Yet weariness may toss him to my breast.”

This same search for freedom from the tyranny of mind, the constant yearning for rest was poetically expressed in a very popular Indian work, Yogavāśiṣṭha, attributed to Vālmīki, the composer of Rāmāyaṇa in which Rāma asks his guru Vaśiṣṭha:

“When can I be free from the weariness of my mind,
Attain the exalted state of being free from tossing of my mind,
Like clouds resting on the peak of the mountain Meru.”
Yogavāśiṣṭha (5-4-19)

Vyāsa’s weariness, reason for writing Bhāgavatam

 According to Indian tradition, despite his phenomenal works (dividing the vedas into four branches, writing an aphoristic work on analysis of all Upanishads, Vedāntasūtra-s, showing his mastery of knowledge of the upaniṣads as well as writing the story of the fratricidal battle in his magnum opus, Mahābhāratam, felt weary. Perhaps because of the fratricidal war and consequent untold destruction by and of the feuding cousins, who were his grandchildren. According to the story, celestial sage Nārada advised him to write a book on the ten incarnations of God on the earth. It is believed that God manifested himself on the earth to protect the righteous and destroy the unrighteous rulers, and He has come to this earth ten times during a cycle of creation. Vyāsa felt totally at peace with himself after finishing Bhāgavatam a work dedicated to the description of the ten incarnations.

Nārāyaṇa Bhattathiri, his debilitating
disease and his work Nārāyaṇīyam

In contrast to Vyāsa’s weariness which was mental anguish, the 16th century C.E prodigy Nārāyaṇa Bhattathiri had chronic physical and debilitating pain with inescapable sense of weariness. According to the story, Battathiri wanted to take over the illness of his guru so the latter could continue to teach. The Lord answered his prayer, his teacher was freed from the disease, but Bhattathiri became more and more incapacitated, being unable to move his limbs. His apparently incurable physical affliction resulted in the mind being preoccupied by the illness.

One of his friends suggested to him to compose a work on incarnations of Viṣṇu at the Kṛṣṇa temple at Guruvāyūr (in Kerala state, India). He had to be carried to the temple daily. Each day he composed a set of verses, called daśakam (set of 10 verses). On the 100th day, on completion of his last daśaka, he was completely cured of his disease. His work, called  Nārāyaṇīyam encapsulates the content of the 18,000-verse Bhāgavatam in about 1,000 verses, except for the small twist! He ends most of his daśakams with a prayer verse to Lord Nārāyaṇa (another name for God) to cure his disease.

Invocation verses of Bhāgavatam and Nārāyaṇīyam

Before I start with the description of the two invocatory verses, I like to share with you as to how I was introduced to this famous work Nārāyaṇīyam, that too when I became an octogenarian! Even though I have heard of the name Nārāyaṇīyam from a colleague of mine in 1965, and remember my cousin’s prayer for the health of my late sister, only after my cousin asked some questions on the meaning of one of the verses in Nārāyaṇīyam, I discovered the depth of knowledge of Śānkhya, Yoga and Vedānta the author exhibited in his a work of devotion, bhakti. The very first verse made me understand Bhattathiri’s profound knowledge of Vedānta.
In Indian tradition, any sacred or secular work must begin with an invocation to Īśvara, The Lord. Both Vyāsa and Bhattatiri follow this tradition.

Vyāsa’s first verse from Bhāgavatam

Janmādyasa yato’nvayāditarataścātheṣvabhijñaḥ svrāṭ
Tene brahma hṛdā ya ādi kavaye muhyanti yatsūrayaḥ |
Tejovārimṛdāṃ yathā vinimayo yatra trisargo’mṛṣā
Dhāmnā svena sadā nirastakuhakaṃ satyaṃ paraṃ dhīmahi ||
(Below is a version with sandhis
resolved and component words of compounds hyphenated )
Janmādi asya yataḥ anvayāt itarataḥ ca artheṣu abhijñaḥ svarāt
Tene brahma-hṛdā yaḥ ādikavaye muhyanti yatsūrayaḥ
Tejaḥ-vāri-mṛdām yathā vinimayaḥ yatra trisargaḥ amṛṣā
Dāmnā svena sadā nirasta-kuhakam satyam param dhīmahi)

An English rendition of this invocatory verse follows.

That from which creation (sustenance and dissolution) came about
Which permeates all creation and beyond
Which is the knower of all things but self-effulgent
Which revealed the Creator the Vedas,
(the central meaning of) which deludes (even) the learned
Where Creation, Sustenance and Dissolution appear real
Similar to seeing water on dry ground (mirage)
Due to its power (called māyā)but which for ever is
free from this appearance (of these phenomena)
That Timeless Truth may we contemplate upon.

Those of us who have an in-depth study of  Vedānta texts can clearly see the echo of Taittirīya and Śverāśvatāra Upaniṣads, Vedānta-sūtra, as well as the concepts of relative and absolute realities of one non-dual Truth called Brahman, and the power of māyā that manifests this Truth to appear as though many – of the individual, phenomenal world and ‘God’ as is popularly understood by most of theists as well as atheists!

It seems sage Vyāsa has encapsulated the essence of all Upaniṣads, pointing to an entity that seems to both responsible for and free from this phenomenal world. Thus from the stand point of creation, sustenance and dissolution of this world, It seems to be responsible, but in reality It is untouched by this world. This is one of the seeming paradoxes of the vision of Vedānta, also called advaita-vedānta, or just advaita.

Note that the word Vyāsa uses the word param satyam, to indicate what is popularly called God in many religions. Note that Truth has got no form, name, qualities, functions, or anything one can relate to in this observable universes of ours (nāmā, rūpa, guṇa, kriyā, saṃbandha). And contemplation on this Truth is the invocation!

Incidentally, when I first read a book on Kabala, which is a Jewish mystical tradition about five decades ago, I found the reason for God being called genderless. The book said that the One which was before creation which has gender differentiation, how can one attribute gender to that One. I found that there is no pronounceable name for ‘God’ in the tradition.

I remember Swami Dayananda’s analogy to help one understand this unique vision of God described in Upaniṣads.‘The Sun is responsible for life on Earth, the deluge and drought, scorching heat, formation of deserts and so on. But we also know the Truth about the Sun, that in itself, namely, its true nature is untouched by the Earth nor her issues, ever-free of these changes on Earth. Thus, with reference to the Sun, it being responsible for life forms on earth and seasons etc., is the relative truth, but the absolute, that is, timeless and changeless truth, is that Sun bears no such responsibility. By its very presence things happen on this Earth as well as other planets of the solar system.

Extrapolating this to the vision of the Upaniṣads, Brahman, referred to in this innovatory verse as the Creator, Sustainer and Destroyer of the phenomenal world is the relative truth which is called God, Īśvara, but, untouched by this triple role pertaining to the world. This invocation ends in ‘may we contemplate on Timeless Truth (param satyam). Even the word truth, in any language has no form or limited by time or space. quality. There is no reference to prayer, as is commonly understood — a volitional act by the human being, often prompted by some unfulfilled desire to gain to get rid of an object or condition he /she wants.

Students of vedānta may note that I am not discussing the reality of the world, how it came about, nor the core idea of all Upaniṣads, that you are Brahman, the limitless, that is beyond limitations of time, space and causality despite the perceived and experienced limitations of the body and mind. I do not also discuss the result of this understanding on the human being. This omission is deliberate since it takes away the focus of comparison of the two invocatory verses.

Nārāyaṇa Bhattathiri’s invocation verse in Nārāyaṇīyam

Now we take a look at the invocatory verse of Battatiri. He lived several millennia after Vyāsa, and this verse highlights the major difference brought about by the changes in belief systems of society despite the fact that more than three fourth of the verse is an elaboration of Vyāsa’s invocatory verse in Bhāgavatam

Sāndrānandāvabodhātmakamanumamitam kāladeśāvadhibhyām
Nirmuktam nityamuktam nigamaśatasaharasreṇa nirbhāsyamānam
aspaṣṭam dṛṣṭamātre punarurupuruṣārthātmakam brahmatattvam
Tattāvadbhāti gurupavanapurapate hanta bhāgyam janānām.
(Below is a version with sandhis
resolved and component words of compounds hyphenated )
Sāndra-ānanda-avabodha-ātmakam, an-upamitam, kāla-deśa-avdhibhyām
nirmuktam, nitya-muktam nigama-śata-sahreṇa nirbhāsyamānam
aspaṣṭam dṛśṭamātre punar-uru-puruśārtha-ātmakam brahma-tattvam
tat tāvat bhāti guru-pavana-pura-pate hanta bhāgyam janānām

An English rendition of this invocatory verse follows.

The Truth that is Brahman, is the essence of understanding of limitless bliss,
Has no comparison (to anything in the phenomenal world),
Is free from the limitations of time and place, ever free,
Is illuminated by thousands of Upaniṣads; (but still) is not clear
By seeing this (Truth) which is the core of ultimate seeking (by all humans);
That (Truth) indeed is in the form of the Lord of Guruvāyūr,
This is the great fortune of all people.

Even a cursory look at the English rendering shows both the similarity and the critical difference between the two introductory verses, dealing with the same subject matter. I will elaborate on similarities and differences between the two invocation verses in my next post. There I will explain the meaning of each word of the first verses of Bhāgavatam and Nārāyaṇīyam.


நான் முதல் ப்லாகில்நான்-கண்ட-நாராயணீயம்-முத/ பட்டத்திரியின் நாராயணீய இறை வணக்கப்பாடலில் உள்ள பல பதங்களின் ஆழ்ந்த கருத்தை விவரித்தேன். ஸாந்த்ரானந்த-அவபோதாத்மகம், உருபுருஷார்த்தகம்இவ்விரண்டு சொற்களை விளக்குவது இந்த ப்லாகின் குறிக்கோள். முதல் உருபுருஷார்த்தகம்என்ற சொல்லின் பொருள்


இந்த வடமொழிச்சொல் ஒரு கலவை (compound word, ஸமாஸம்). இம்மாதிரி பலசொற்களை இணைத்து ஒரே சொல்லாக மாற்றி, பொருளையும் மாற்றும் உதாரணங்கள் தமிழ் மொழியில் இல்லை. இக்கலவைகள் வடமொழியில் மிக மிக அதிகம்.இக்கலவையிலுள்ள சொற்கள் உரு, புருஷார்த்த, கம்.

புருஷார்த்தம்: நாம் யாவரும் வாழ்க்கையில் நாடுவதை நால் வகையாக கூரலாம். அவை —அறம், பொருள், காமம் / இன்பம், வீடு; வடமொழியில் தர்ம, அர்த்த, காம, மோக்ஷ. இவைகளை தமிழில் பால்கள் என்று அழைக்கின்றனர். திருவள்ளுவர் அறம், பொருள்,இன்பபம் என்ற முப்பால்களை மட்டும் 1,330 குறள்களில் புனைந்தார். இந்த நான்கு நாடுதல்களின் (அறம்,பொருள், காமம் / இன்பபம், வீடு) வடமொழிப் பெயர்ச்சி புருஷார்த்தம் எனும் கலவை உணர்த்துகிறது.

நாடுவது நான்கு இருப்பினும் சற்று ஆராய்ந்தால் பொதுவாக நாம் நாடுவதின் அடிப்படை காமமே! காமமெனும் சொல் சிற்றின்பம் (உடலுறவு) நாடுதல் என்று பொதுவாக நினைத்தாலும், அந்த வடமொழி சொல் நாம் ஆசைகள் யாவையும் குறிக்கிறது. இது சிற்றின்பம் என்றதன் பொருளே, சிறிய + இன்பம் = சிற்றின்பம்.

இப்படி இருக்கையில், நம் ஆசைகளை நிறைவேற்ற பொருள்கள் தேவை. ஆகையால் பொருள் நாடுதல் நம் இரண்டாவது நாடுதல். உலகில் எல்லோருக்கும்ஆசைகள் பற்பல உள்ளன. அனைவரும் தம்ஆசைகளை நிறைவேற்ற பொருள்கள் நாடின் அறம் இல்லையேல் துயரமே விளையும். ஆகையால் நாம் ஓரளவு அறத்தை கைப்பிடிக்க வேண்டும். இந்த ரீதியில் தான் அறம், பொருள் இரண்டும் காமத்துடன் மூன்று பால்களாக உள.
எவராலும் இன்ப ஆசைகளுடனோ, அல்லது துன்பம் துடைக்க ஆசைகளுடனோ மன அமைதி அடைய இயலாது. இந்த மன அமைதியைத்தான் நாம் ஆனந்தம் என்று நினைக்கிறோம். இந்த அமைதி / ஆனந்தம் அடைய உயிர் உடலில் உள்ள வரை முயற்சி செய்கிறோம்.

வீடு என்ற நான்காவது நாடுவதை மோக்ஷம் என்றும், விடுதலை என்றும், ஆனந்தம் என்றும், மேலும் பற்பல சொற்களால் மறைகள் ஓதுகின்றன. இந்த நான்காவது நாடல் எல்லாஆசைகள் நிரைவடைந்த போதுள்ள மனநிலை. இதை நாம் ஊகிக்க வேண்டியதுதான் ஏனென்றால் ஒரு ஆசை நிறைந்த உடன் பல ஆசைகள் உதிக்கின்றன. இந்த மனித நிலையை என் வேதாந்த ஆசிரியர் சுவாமி சின்மயானந்ததர் உவமையால் விவரித்தார்: ‘ஆனந்தத்தின் அளவுகோல் ஒரு பின்னம். அதன் மேலிலக்கம் உன் நிறை வேற்றிய ஆசை. அடி இலக்கம் உன் நிறை வேண்டிய ஆசைகள். ஓராசை நிறைவேற்றிய உடன் பல அதிக ஆசைகள் தோன்றுவது நமக்குத் தெரியும்! ஆகையால் அடியிலக்கம் மிக அதிகமாகிறது. அதன் பலன் ஆனந்த அளவுகோல் குறைகிறது. அதனால் தான் எவ்வளவு பொருள், புகழ், பதவி வரினும் ஆசைகள் குறைவதில்லை, நிரந்தர ஆனந்தமும், அமைதியும் கிடைப்பதில்லை.

இந்த நான்கான நிலையைத்தான், வீடென்பர், இதை பட்டத்திரி உருபுருஷார்த்தம், மிகச்சிறந்த நாடல் என்கிறார் முதற்பாசுரத்தில். ஏன்? நம்மில் மிகச்சிலரே இந்த நான்கு நாடல்களை ஆய்கின்னர். அப்படி ஆராய்பவர்கள் காமம், பொருள், அறம் என்ற மூன்று விடுத்த வீடென்பதே மனிதனுக்கு மிக தேவை என அறிவர். இவ்வடிப்படைத் தேவை காம ஆசைகளால் நங்கு மறைப்பது அவர்களுக்கு விளங்குகிறது. இருப்பினும் அவகளில் ஒரு சிலரே வீட்டை நாட முயல் கின்றனர். முயற்சி செய்பவருள் இதை அடைபவர்கள் மிகமிகச் சிலரே.

உருபுருஷர்த்தகம் என்ற கலவையில் கம் என்ற சொல்லின் பொருள் அடைவிப்பது, காண்பிப்பது, உணர்விப்பது என்ற தமிழ் சொற்கள். இவைகளில் எனக்கு உணர்விப்பது என்பது தான் சிறந்தது என்று தோன்றுகிறது. இதைப்பிறகு விளக்குகிறேன். உருபுருஷர்த்தகம்என்ற சொல்லின் பொருள் வீடளிப்பது (அந்த பிரம்மன்).


ஸாந்த்ர-ஆனந்த-அவபோத-ஆத்மகம்என்பன இந்த கலவையில் உள்ள சொற்கள். இதன் பத உரை ‘பூர்ணமான ஆனந்த, ஞானத்தின் ஸ்வரூபமாக உடையது’ என்றுள்ளது. இங்கு அந்தக் கலவையில் உள்ள சொற்களை விவரிக்கிறேன்.

ஸாந்த்ர என்ற வடமொழிச்சொல்லுக்கு பல பொருள்கள் இருப்பினும் இங்கு நிறைந்த, அளவற்ற என்பன பொருந்தும்.

ஆனந்த — இச்சொல்தமிழ் மொழியிலும் பயன் படுத்தப்படுகிறது. இந்த பதம் வேதாந்தம் பயின்றவரும் நன்கு விவரிப்பதில்லை. பொதுவாக இதன் தத்சமம் மகிழ்ச்சி. இது காமப்பொருள் அடைந்த மகிழ்சி அல்ல. அந்த மகிழ்ச்சி அடுத்த காமம் மனதில் தோன்றும் வரைதான் இருக்கும். வீடு (மோக்ஷம்) அடைந்தவரின் நிலை வேறு. இந்நிலையை ஏசு கிருத்து ‘எண்ணமுடியாத அமைதி (peace that passeth understanding)’ என்றார். இந்த ஆனந்தத்தின் உள்ளர்த்தம் என்றும் அசையாத மன அமைதி என்று விவரித்தேன். இந்த அமைதியை வேண்டியே வேதம் ஓதுபவர்கள் ஓம் சாந்தி, சாந்தி, சாந்தி என்ற வாக்கியத்தை கடைசியில் ஓதுகின்றனர். வேதங்களின் குறிக்கோள் இந்த அளவற்ற, எக்காலும் வற்றாத, சூழ்நிலைகளால் பாதிக்க முடியாத மன அமைதி, இதை ஸாந்த்ரனந்தம் என்று பட்டத்திரி சொல்கிறார்.

அவபொதாத்மகம் — இதுவும் ஒரு கலவையே. வடமொழியில் கலவைகளை உபயோகிப்பது மிக அதிகம். ஏனெனில் பல சொற்களுக்கு கலவை மூலம் ஒரு சொல்லைப்பயன் படுத்த இயலும். இக்கலவையில் அவபோதஎன்றால் அறிலித்தல், உணர்வித்தல் என்று பொருள். இது உபநிடதங்களின் மறு பெயர். ஆத்மகம் என்பது அவ்வுணர்விப்பின் உட்பொருள்.

ஆகையால் ஸாந்த்ர-ஆனந்த-அவபோத-ஆத்மகம்என்ற இக்கலவையின் பொருள்: அளவற்ற அமைதியை உணர்விக்கும் உபநிடதங்களின் உட்பொருள் . அது அந்த கால, தேச, உலக சூழ்நிலை, மற்றும் பற்பல வரினும் இவ்வளவற்ற அமைதி உருவான பிரம்மன். இந்த அடிப்படை உண்மையை, அதாவது நான் பிரம்மனே (अहं ब्रह्मास्मि, அகம் பிரம்மன்) என உணர்ந்தவனை இப்பூவலகில் பிரம்மஞ்ஞானி என்று சொல்வர்.


அறிவு, உணர்வு என்ற இரு சொற்கள், சங்கராசாரியார் பயன்படுத்திய ஶ்ருப்ரஞ்ஞ , அவகதப்ரஞ்ஞ என்ற இரு சொற்களின் அடிப்படையாக உள்ளது. பொதுவாக ஆங்கிலத்தில் இவைகளை knowledge, experience (அனுபவம்) என்று மெழிபெயர்கின்றனர். இது சரியில்லை. ஏன்? மனிதனின் அனுபவம் ஐம்புலன்களால் அடைவது. அவனது உண்மை, உடல், ஐம்பலன்கள், மனம் இவைகளுக்கு அப்பால், என்றும் உள்ளதே!  உண்மையில் உணர்வு எனும் சொல்லும் இதை நன்கு விவரிக்க இயலாது! ‘அனுபவம்’ சரியில்லை, எனவே நான் அறிவு, உணர்வு என்றழைக்கிறேன்.

தமிழ் மறை என்று கருதப்படும் திருக்குறளில் ஒரு குறள் அறிவு, உணர்வு பற்றி குறிப்பிடுகிறது.
  “கற்க கசடற கற்பவை கற்ற பின் நிற்க அதற்குத்தக”
வேதாந்த தத்துவம் “கற்பவை கசடற” என்பதில் அடக்கம்! கற்க, கசடற என்பன எல்லாவித. கற்பவைகளுக்கும் பொருந்தும். இருப்பினும் வேதாந்த தத்துவம் நன்கறிய இவை மிக மிகத்தேவை. இதை ஒரு உபநிடத்தில் “கேட்க வேண்டும், ஆராய வேண்டும், நிலைப்படுத்த வேண்டும் (ஶ்ரோதவ்ய: மன்தவ்ய: நிதித்யாஸிதவ்ய:, பிரகதாரண்ய உபநிடதம்)” என்று உபதேசிக்கிறது. ஏனெனில் மற்றெல்லா அறிவுத்துரைகளை விட இவ்வறிவு நம் ஐம்புலன்களால் அறிவதையும், அதன்பலனாக மன உளைச்சலடைவதற்கு முற்றும் மாறாக உள்ளதே! 

“கற்ற பின் நிற்க அதற்குத்தக” என்பது உணர்வைக் குறிவிக்கிறது. இந்த உணர்வை வேதாந்த அறிஞர் அடையும் வழியைத்தான் “நிலைப்படுத்த வேண்டும்” என்று பிரகதாரண்ய உபநிடதம் அறிவிக்கிறது. அவ்வறிவுக்கும் உணர்வுக்கும் உள்ள இடைவெளி இரு கரையுமும் கடந்து ஓடும் ஆறுபோல் உள்ளது. ஆகையால் இந்த வேதாந்த உண்மையை அறிந்தும் அதன் முழுஉணர்வுடன் இருப்பது மிக அரிதே! இவ்விடைவெளியின் காரணமென்ன?

அறிவுக்கும் உணர்வுக்கும் உள்ள வேற்றுமை வேதாந்த தத்துவத்தில் மட்டுமே உள்ளது. மற்ற உலகியல் அறிவுகளில், மதங்கள் உட்பட இந்த வேற்றுமை இல்லை. ஏன்? இத்துறைகள் யாவும் அறிய வேண்டிய பொருள் அறிய விரும்புபவனுக்கு வேறானது. கிருமிகளை ஆராயும் விஞ்ஞானி வேறு, ஆராயப்படும் கிருமியும் வேறு. அந்த விஞ்ஞானி கிருமியாக விரும்பவில்லை! ஆனால் வேதாந்த தத்துவம், மனிதன், கடவுள் உலகம் என்றவைகளின் அடிப்படை உண்மையை ஆராய்பவனின் சொரூபமே அந்த இரண்டற்ற ஒன்றாகிய பிரம்மன். அதாவது, இந்த தத்துவம் ஆய்பவன், அவனிருக்கும் உலகம், மற்றும் அவன் வணங்கும் கடவுள் என்ற வேற்றுமைகள் அற்றது. அவன் சொரூபம் இந்த இரண்டற்ற ஒன்றே, ஆராய்வதற்கு முன்னும் எக்காலத்திலும் உள்ளது என்பதுதான் வேதாந்த அறிவு.

இது புத்தியளவில் இல்லாமல் ஆராய்பவன் தன்மயமாக்குதல் தான் நான் உணர்வு என்று கருதுகிறேன். அந்த உணர்வின் பலன் அவன் அறிவான், உலகமும் அறியும் இந்த உனர்வை வள்ளுவனார் ‘நிற்க அதற்குத் தக’ என்றுரைத்தார்.

வேதாந்த இரண்டற்ற ஒன்று பற்றிய அறிவு உணர்வாகக் கனிவது அரிதே! அதற்கு இரு முக்கிய இடர்கள் “இரு கரையுமும் கடந்து ஓடும் ஆறுபோல் உள்ளன.” இடர்வின் முதற் காரணம் நம் பூத உடலும் மனமும். மன அமைதியின்மையின் காரணம் உடல் நிலை! நீங்கா வறுமை, உடல் நோய் இவை இரண்டும் மன நிலையை பாதித்து இவ்வறிவை தன்மயமாக்க ஒரு மாபெரும் தடங்கலாக உள்ளது. உடல்நோயின் உதாரணம் நாராயண பட்டத்திரி அவர்களே. அவரது அளவற்ற வேதாந்த அறிவை முழு உணர்வாக மாற்ற இயலாதது அவர பதிகங்களில் விளங்குகிறது. அப்படி இருப்பினும் அவரது அவ்வேதாந்த அறிவு ஒவ்வொரு தசகத்திலும் தெளிவாகத் திகழ்கிறது.

இரண்டாவது காரணம் நம் ஸம்ஸ்காரம், அதாவது நம் பழக்கம். நாம் பல்லாண்டு காமவசப்பட்டு பொறாமை, ஆத்திரம், கடுமை, பொய்மை, பிறர் நலம் கருதாமை, தீமை என்ற பற்பலவைகளின் வசமாகிறோம். இவைகளின் வசமாவது வழக்கமானது. இதை முழுதும் நீக்க நாம் பலகாலம் முயலவேண்டும். இம்முயற்சியில் தளற்சி அடையாமல் இருப்பதும் மிக அரிதே. இருப்பினும் என் தந்தையின் ‘தின்ற மண்ணுக்கு சோகை உண்டு’ என்ற முது மொழிப்படி, நாம் முயன்ற அளவு பலன் உள்ளதென்பதை நான் மன அமைதியின்மை குறைவதில் காண்கிறேன்.


உண்மை, தன்மை என்ற இருசொற்களை சற்று விவரித்து இந்த ப்லாகை முடிக்கிறேன். தங்க சங்கிலி, தங்க மோதிரம், தங்க உட்டியாணம், தங்க கங்கணம் இவையெலாம் தங்கத்தின் தன்மைகள். இவை உருவம், பயன், உரிமை, ஈடுபாடு என்ற குணங்களுக்கு உட்பட்டவை. தங்கத்தின் உண்மை இத்தன்மைகளுக்குப் பார்பட்டதென்பது நமக்கு நன்கு விளங்குகிறது. மேலும், வைரம், நிலக்கரி இவை இரண்டும் உண்மையான கரியின் இருவித தன்மைகளே என பௌதிக, இரசாயன விஞ்ஞானிகள் நன்குணவர். இருப்பினும் இந்த உண்மையால் வைரத்தின் தன்மை மாறாததே. இதுபோன்ற உலகப்பொருள்களின் உணர்வு இவ்விஞ்ஞானிகளின் உலக நடத்தையில் மாறுதல் இராது.

ஆனால் நான், என்னுலகம், நான் வணங்கும் இறைவன் எனும் இம்மூன்றின் உண்மை இரண்டற்ற ஒன்றே என்பது அறிவளவில் நிற்பதற்கே பல்லாண்டு உபநிடதங்கள் ஆசானிடம் கற்கவேண்டி உள்ளது! அப்படி அறிந்தும் நம் உலகத் தன்மைகள் நம்மை ஆட்டுவிக்கின்றன. தன்மைகள் மாறவில்லை, மாறாதனவே. இது நமக்குப் புரிவதில்லை. ஆகையால் பொறாமை, ஆத்திரம், கடுமை, பொய்மை, பிறர் நலம் கருதாமை, தீமை என்ற பற்பல குணங்கள் நம்மை விடுவதில்லை, இரும்பு விலங்குபோல் கட்டுப்படுத்து கின்றன. இதை முழுதும் நீக்கவே நாம் வேதாந்த உண்மையை மனதில் நிலைப்படுத்த வேண்டும்.

வேதாந்த இலக்கியங்கள் தன்மையை மித்யா என்றும் மாயா என்றும், உண்மையை சத்தியம் என்றும் முறையிடுகின்றன. ‘மாயைக்கடற்பது மிக்கடினம்’ என்று ஒரு உபநிடதம் போதிக்கிறது. என் ஆசான் இதைத்தான் ‘உண்மை உனக்கு விளங்காவிடினும் தன்மைகளை நன்கு அறிந்தால் மன அமைதி அடைவாய்’ என்றார். உதாரணமாக, பசி, தாகம் இவை உடலின் தன்மைகள், உண்மையை உணர்வதால் இவை மாறாது. அதுபோல் உலகத்தன்மைகளோ, உன்சுற்றார், மற்ற மனிதர்களின் சிறுமைகளோ, அத்தன்மைகளின் பலன்களோ மாறாதன! வேதாந்தம் அறிந்தவனோ, பக்தனோ, யோகியோ, நாத்திகனோ, மற்றெவரோ தமது வாழ்ககைகளை சற்று சிந்தித்தால் மன உளைச்சலுக்கு முக்கிய காரணம் நம் சுற்றார், நண்பர்கள், வேலையில் மேலதிகாரிகள், இவர்களின் தன்மைகள் மாறினால் நாம் மன அமைதி அடைவோம் என எதிர்பார்ப்பதே! இந்த தன்மைகளின் மாறாமை உலக நியதி என்று உணர்பவனுக்கு வேதாந்தம் தேவையில்லை. உணராதவனுக்கு வேதாந்தம் அறிவளவே நிற்கும். இது நன்கு விளங்க விளங்க நம் வேதாந்த அறிவு உணர்வாகக் கனியும்.


ஶ்ரீ நாராயண பட்டத்திரி அவர்களின் மிகச்சிறந்த நாராயணீயத்தின் முதற் பாசுரத்தின் ஆழ்ந்த கருத்துகளை என்னால் இயன்ற அளவு விவரித்துள்ளேன். இதிலுள்ள இலக்கண அல்லது தத்துவ விளக்க குறைகளை இதைப்படிக்கும் வித்தர்கள் என்னை மன்னிக்க வேண்டுகிறேன்

ஓம். ஶாந்தி: ஶாந்தி: ஶாந்தி: (அமைதி, அமைதி, அமைதி)


இது என் முதல் தமிழ் மொழி பிலாக். நான் ஐம்பதாண்டுகளாக வெளிநாட்டில் இருப்பதாலும் உயர்நிலைப்பள்ளியளவே (1954) தமிழ் பயின்றதாலும் இந்த பிலாகில் இலக்கணத் தவறுகள் பல இருக்கலாம். இதைப்படிப்பவர்களை நான் மன்னிக்க வேண்டுகிறேன்.


நாராயணீயம் என்ற வடமொழிக்கவிதை இயற்றிய நாராயணீய பட்டத்திரிகள் நம் மறைகள், இதிகாஸங்கள், 18 புராணங்கள், கபிலமுனி ஸாங்க்கிய, பதஞ்ஜலமுனி யோக, வேதாந்த சாத்திரங்களில் வித்தகர். அவர் நூராயியம் கவிதைகள் உள்ள பாகவதபுராணத்தை ஓராயிரக்கவிதையிலில் சுருங்கச்சொல்லி விளங்க வைத்தார். 

இக்கவிதையை நான் காணவைத்தது எனது தங்கை திருமதி சியாமளா. அவர் இருபதாண்டுகளாக இக்கவிதையை தினம் பாராயணம் செய்யும் பக்தை. படித்தல், சிந்தித்தல், பலருக்கு சொல்லித்தருதல், மற்றோருடன் அளவாடுதல் என்ற வடமொழி முதுமொழிப்படி என்னுடனும் பேசினார். பல்லாண்டுகளாக வேதாந்தம் கற்றதாலும் வடமொழி நன்கு அறிந்ததாலும், கபிலமுனி, பதஞ்ஜலி சாத்திரங்கள் படித்தாலும் என்மனம் நாராயணீயத்தில் உடன் ஈடுபட்டது. இது பக்தி முதலான கவிதையாயினும் அவரது பல சிந்தாந்த வன்மை நங்கு பிரகாசிக்கிறது் பற்பல இடங்களில். இந்த பக்திரஸ அமுதைப் பல்லாயிரவர்கள் பருகினும் இப்பாடல்கள் எனக்கு அறுசுவை உணவுபோல் உள்ளது. அதன் பலன், நான் கண்ட நாயணீயக்கடலை என் எழுத்தெனும் குறுணியால் அளக்கிறேன். இதற்கும் காரணம் என் தங்கைதான். பெரியோர்கள் இதிலுள்ள குறைகளை மன்னிக்க வேண்டுகிறேன்.

வியாசரும் நாராயண பட்டத்திரியும்

வியாசரின் துயரம்

வியாசர் வேதங்களை நான்காகப் பகுத்தியவர், வேதாந்த சூத்திரங்களை எழுதியவர், மகாபாரதமெனும் இதிகாசமும் இயற்றினர் என்பது நம் மரபு. அப்படியிருப்பினும் அவருக்கு மன அமைதி இல்லை. மனத்துயர் நீங்க ஸ்ரீமத் பாகவத புராணத்தை இயற்றினார், நாரதமுனியின் சொற்படி. அந்த 100,000 கவிதைகளைப்புனைந்து மனத்துயர் நீக்கினார் என்பதும் மரபு.

நாராயணபட்டத்திரியின் துயரம்

நாராயண பட்டத்திரி என்பவர் பட்டத்திரி குடும்பத்தில் நாராயணன் என்னும் பெயர் கொண்டவர். வியாசர் காலத்திற்குப்பல்லாயிரம் ஆண்டுகளுக்குப் பின் பிறந்தவர். மிகச் சிறந்த புத்திமான், பல சாத்திரங்கள் கற்றவர். அவர் உடல் நோயால் மிகத் துன்பமும் அதனால் மனத்துயரும் அடைந்தார். அவர் நோய்தீர குருவாயூரப்பனைத் தொழவேண்டுமென்று சான்றோர் ஒருவர் கூறினார். நாராயணனின் பத்து அவதாரங்களை கவிதையாகப் புனைந்து அக்கோயிலில் சென்று சொல்லவுமென்றார். வியாசரின் 100,000 கொண்ட  ஸ்ரீமத் பாகவத புராணத்தை ஒட்டி 1,034  பாடல்களை 100 தசகம் என்ற பெயரில் நாராயண அவதாரங்களை விவரித்தார். அந்தக் கவிதையின் பெயர் நாராயணீயம். நூறாவது நாளில் பாடல்களை முடித்ததன்று நோயும் மனத்ததுயரும் அவரை விட்டதென்று அவர் சரிதம் கூருகிறது. 

இன்றும் பல்லாயிர ஆத்திரிகள் தங்கள், அல்லது சுற்றார்கள், நண்பர்கள் உடல், மன நிலை துயரம் துடைக்க அக்காவியத்தை படிக்கின்றனர். அதன் பலனைக் கண்கூடாகப் பார்க்கின்றனர். இந்த நாராயணீய தசகதங்கள்ளில் கடைசிப் பாடல்களில் எந்நோய் தீர்த்தருள் வாயூரப்பனே என்று உள்ளது. அவர் ஏன் குருவாயூரப்பனே என்றோ குரு அப்பனே அல்லது நாராயணே என்றோ பதிகங்களில் இயற்றவில்லை என்பதில் ஒரு உட்கருத்து உள்ளது. இப்படிப்பட்ட ஆழ்ந்த உட்பொருள் பல உள்ள மேலான கவிதை ரசத்தைப் பருகும் நானியன்ற அளவு அக்காவிய உட்பொருளை எழுத விரும்புகிறேன், அந்த குருவாயூரப்பன் நாராயணனருளால்.

நாராயணன் எனும் பெயரின் பொருள் — நாரனென்றதக்கு மனிதனென்று தமிழ்ப்பொருள். அயனமென்பது அடைக்கலம், இதன்படி நாராயணண் என்ற சொல்லின் பொருள் “மக்களின் அடைகலம்”. இது திருமாலின் மறு பெயர். நாராயணீயம் என்ற வடமொழிச் சொல்லின் பொருள் “(மக்களின் அடைகலமெனும்) நாராயணனைப்பற்றிய (கவிதை)”.


எக்காரியம் தொடங்கமுன் இறைவணக்கம் செய்வது நம் மரபு. வியாஸமுனி ஶ்ரீமத் பாகவதம் புனைந்தபோதும் இம்மரபைக் கடைப்பிடித்தார். “ஜன்மாத்யஸ்ய” என்ற முதல் பாடலில் இறைவணக்கம் செய்தார். இக்கால வழக்கம் போல் கடவுளின் உருவத்தையோ, இறைவனை எண்ணும் மந்திரங்களையோ அப்பாசுரத்தில் உரைக்கமல் இறைவனின் உண்மையை மட்டுமே உரைத்தார். அந்த பாசுரம்:

தெனே ப்ரஹ்மஹ்ரிதாயஆதிகவயேமுஹ்யன்தியத்ஸூரய:
தேஜோவாரிம்ருதாம் யதாவினிமயோ யத்ர த்ரிஸர்கோ ம்ருஷா
தாம்னா ஸ்வேன ஸதாநிரஸ்த குஹகம்ந நித்யம் பரம் தீமஹி.

இதன் பொழிப்புரை:

எதனிடமிருந்து அனைத்துலகமும் தொடங்கி, நின்று, அடங்கியதோ
எதனுண்மை யாதுமறிந்த ஜோதி உருவோ
எது இவ்வுலகி்ன் உள்ளும் வெளியுமாக உள்ளதோ
எது வேதங்களை பிரம்மாவுக்கு தெரிவிற்றதோ
எதன் உணமை பற்றி முனிகள் குழப்பமடைகின்றரோ
கானல் நீர் போல் இந்த உலகும் (அதன் மாயையால்) உண்மை போல் உள்ளதோ
எது இந்த மாயைக்கு என்றும் உட்படாத்தோ
அந்தப் பேருண்மையை நாம் தியானம் செய்வோம்.

அந்த பாகவத்த்தின் சாரமான நாராயணீயத்தில் பட்டத்திரியும் வியாசரின் பாகவத முதற் பாடலை ஒட்டியே தம் முதற்பாடல் புனைந்தார். அப்பாடல்:

ஸாந்த்ரானந்தாவபோதாத்மகம் அனுபமிதம் காலதேசாவதிப்யாம்
நிர்முக்தம் நித்யமுக்தம் நிகமஶதசகஸ்ரைர் நிர்பாஸ்யமானம்
அஸ்பஷ்டம் த்ருஷ்டமாத்ரே புனருரு புருஷார்த்தாத்மகம் ப்ரஹ்மதத்வம்
தத் தாவத்பாதி குருபவனபுரபதே ஹன்த பாக்யம் ஜனானாம்.

இதன் பொழிப்புரை:

அளவற்ற இன்ப உணர்வை அளிப்பது, உவமை அற்றது
காலம், தேசம் என்ற எல்லைகளுக்குப் பார்பட்டது
என்றும் எதனாலும் கட்டுப்படாத விடுதலையாக உள்ளது
பல நூராயிர மறைகளால் நன்கு தெரிவிக்கப் பட்டது
(அப்படி இருப்பினும்) தெளிவாகப் புரியாதது
அப்பிரம்மனின் உண்மையை உணர்ந்த உடன்
மனிதன் (வாழ்ககையில்) மிக நாடுவதை (அடைகிறான்)
(அந்த பிரம்மனின்) உருவாக விளங்கும் குருவாயூரப்பனே!
(இது) மக்களின் பெரிம் பேறுதான்.

வியாசமுனி, நாராயண பட்டத்திரிகளின் முதற்பாடல்களின் பொழிப்புரைகள் தமிழில் இருப்பினும் விரிவுரை இன்றி நம்மால் நன்கு அறிய முடியவில்லை. தெளிவாகத்தெரிவது ஒன்றுதான் பட்டத்திரி குருயாயூரப்பன் சிலையில் அந்த உருவமற்ற இறைவனது உண்மையை உருவகப் படுத்தி இது மக்கனின் பெரும் பேறு’ என்றார். ஆனால் வியாசரோ ‘அந்த பேருண்மையை தியானிப்போம்’ என்றார். வியாசரின் மதற்பாசுரத்தை ஒற்றி இப்பாடலை இயற்றியவர் ஏன் கடவுளை உருவகப்படுத்தினர்?

ஏனெனில், இருவரின் காலம் பல்லாயிர ஆண்டுகள் இடைப்பட்டது. இவ்விடைக்காலத்தில் இறைவனை எல்லோரும் துதிக்க சுலமான வழி ‘நட்ட கல்லை தெய்வமென்று’ சொல்லி, அத்தெய்வத்தைத் தொழுவதுதான். அந்த சூழ்நிலையில் பிறந்து வளர்ந்த பட்டத்திரி, வேதாந்த வித்தகர், வேதாந்த தத்துவத்தை கவிதையாகப் புனைந்து முதற் பாடலின் கடைசி அடியில் அந்த அருவான தத்துவத்தின் உருவாகக்கொண்ட குருவாயூரப்பன் மக்களின் பெரும்பேறு என்கிறார்.


இப்பத உரை  ஶ்ரீ அனந்தராம தீக்ஷதரின் பதவுரையை அடிப்படையாகக்கொண்டது.

ஸாந்த்ரானந்த-அவபோதாத்மகம்= பூர்ணமான ஆனந்த, ஞானத்தின் ஸ்வரூபமாக உடையதும்
அனுபமிதம் = உவமையற்றதும்
காலதேசவதிப்யாம்நிர்முக்தம் = காலதேசங்களால் கட்டுப்படாததும்
நித்யமுக்தம் = (அதனால்) என்றும் முக்தியானதும்
நிகமஶதசகஸ்ரைர்நிர்பாஸ்யமானம் = நூராயிர வேதங்களல் காட்டப்பட்டதும்
அஸ்பஷ்டம் = (அப்படி இருப்பினும்) தெளிவாகத் தெரியாத்தும்
புன: = (ஆனால்) மேலும்
த்ருஷ்டமாத்ரே = (வேதங்களால் குறிப்பாகக் கூறிய இவ்வுண்மையை) உணர்ந்த உடன்
உருபுருஷார்த்தகம்= மிகச்சிறந்த வீடு அல்லது மோக்ஷம் அளிக்கும்
ப்ரஹ்மதத்வம் = பிரம்மன்
தத்தாவத்பாதி = (உள்ள) அந்த பிரம்மனே (சிலை உருவாக) விளங்கும்
குருபவனபுரபதே = வாயூரப்பனே
ஹந்தபாக்யம் ஜனானாம் = (இது) என்ன மக்களின் பெரும்பேறு!


நாராயண பட்டத்திரி ஆழ்ந்த வேதாந்த பண்டிதர் என்பது இந்த முதல் பாடலிலேயே தெரிகிறது. ஆனால் பத உரையில்  பவனபுரபதேஹந்தபாக்யம் ஜனானாம் என்ற சொற்களைத் தவிற மற்ற வார்த்தைகளை மொழிபெயர்த்தாலும் பொருள் மனதில் பதியவில்லை, பற்பல சந்தேகங்கள் தோன்றுகின்றன! ஏனென்றால் இந்த பெரும்பான்மையான சொற்கள் — ஸாந்த்ரானந்த-அவபோதாத்மகம், நித்யமுக்தம், உருபுருஷார்த்தகம், மற்றும் பல — வேதாந்தநுட்பமானவைகள், சுலபமாக எந்த மொழியிலும் மொழிபெயக்க முடியாது. ஆகையால் இப்பாடலின் ஆழத்தையுணற விளக்க உரை வேண்டும். வேதாந்த சொற்களை விளங்க வைக்க முயல்கிறேன். முதற்கண் வேதாந்தத்தின் முக்கியக் குறிக்ககோளை சற்று விவரிக்க வேண்டும்.

ஆத்திகர்கள், நாத்திகர்கள், இவ்விருவருக்கும் இறைவனைப் பற்றி தீர்மானமான நம்பிக்கை உண்டு. ஆத்திகர்கள் இறைவன் உண்டென்று நம்புபவர்கள். நாத்திகர்கள் இறைவன் இல்லை என்று நம்புகின்றனர். நம்பிக்கைக்கும் அறிவுக்கும் வேறுபாடு உண்டே. இறைவனின் உண்மை / இன்மையைத் தெரிவிக்க விஞ்ஞான ஆராய்ச்சி உதவாது. ஏனெனில் நாத்திகர் ஆத்திகர் இருவரும் இறைவன் நமக்கு வெளியில், சுவர்கத்திலோ, கைலாசத்திலோ, வைகுண்டத்திலோ, உள்ளவன் என்ற பற்பல மத அடிப்படையில் உள்ளவர்களே.

இங்கு என் நண்பர் ஒருவர் விஞ்ஞான ஆராய்ச்சியில் மட்டும் நம்புபவர். ஆனால் சிந்தித்தால் எந்த வித ஆராய்ச்சியாலும் இறைவனை நிரூபிக்க இயலாது என்பது திண்ணம். ஏனெனில் படைத்தவனை படைக்கப்பட்ட ஒருவனால் நிரூபிக்க இயலுமா? நிரூபிப்பான் என்பது பகுத்தறிவிற்குப் பார்பட்டதே. ஆகையால் ஆத்திகர்கள், நாத்திகர்கள் இருவரும் கடவுளைப்பற்றி தீவிர, அசைக்க முடியாத நம்பிக்கை கொண்டவரே! மேலும் விஞ்ஞான ஆராய்ச்சி செய்பவன் உள்ளத்திலும் உள்ளவன் என்பது நம்மதத்தில் இருப்பினும் இக்காலக் கோயில்களின் கூடும் பல்லாயிர மக்கள் இறைவனை தங்களுக்கு வேறானவன் என்றே நம்புகின்றனர்.

எல்லா மதங்களிலும் இறைவன் வேறு, இவ்வுலகம் வேறு, அவனை வேண்டின் நம் இடர்கள் நீங்கும், தர்மவழி கடைப்பிடிடைத்த பலம் சுவர்கமும், இன்மையேல் நரகமும் என்றும், இறைவனின் உறைவிடம் சுவர்கமெனும் நம்பிக்கைகள் உள. மேலும், அவன் எங்கும் உள்ளவன், எல்லாம் அறிந்தவன், எல்லாம் வல்லவன் என்று மறைகள் ஓதினும் பொதுவாக மக்கள் இதை உணர்வதில்லை. அம்மறைகளை அறிந்தவரும் இந்த உண்மையை உணரமுடியவில்லை! ஏனெனில் ஒரு சிலையிலோ, வேறு உருவத்திலோ, மந்திரத்திலோ மனதை செலுத்துவது சுலபமானது.

அத்வைத வேதாந்த (உபனிட) தத்துவம்

நான் வேறு, உலகம் வேறு, கடவுள் வேறு என்ற அடிப்படைக் கொள்கைகளுக்குக் காரணமாகிய பகுத்தறிவு இதுதான் — உலகில் பொருள்கள் (inanimate things) உயிர்கள் (living beings), என்ற இருவித இனங்கள் உள. எறும்பு முதல் மனிதன் வரை பொருள்களைப் பயன்படுத்தியே வாழ்கின்றனர். இறைவனை ஒரு பொருளாகக் கருத இயலாது, ஏனெனில் எப்பொருளும் உயிரைப்படைப்பதில்லை. அக்கடவுளை உயிரென்றே எண்ணவேண்டும். உயிரெனின் அனின் உறைவிடம் இவ்வுலகிற்குப் பார்பட்டே இருக்கவேண்டும். ஏனெனில் இப்பூலகில் யாரும் அந்த இறைவனைக் கண்டதோ மற்றெவர்க்கும் காண்பித்ததோ இல்லை, புராணங்கள் நீங்கலாக. மேலும் நாம் காலத்திற்கு உட்பட்டவர்கள், அவனை காலத்திற்குப் பார்ப்பட்டவனாக கருத வேண்டும்.

இந்த நோக்கில்தான் எல்ல மதங்களும் திகழ்கின்றன. ஆகையால் இம் மதங்களில் இறைவன் பற்றிய விவரங்களை உண்மை என எண்ணுவதில் உள்ள குறைகள் பல. உதாரணமாக — உயிர்கள் படைத்த பொருள்களைப் பயன் படுத்து கின்றன. இறைவன் எப்பொருளைப் பயன் படுத்தி உலகையும் சுவர்கத்தையும் படைத்தான்? அப்பொருளைப்படைத்தவன் யார்? இறைவன் காலத்தையும் படைக்கலில்லை என்றால், அந்த காலத்தைப்படைத்தவன் யார்? பற்பல மதங்களைக் கடைப்படிப்பவர்கள் இறந்தபின் வேறு வேறான சுவர்கங்களுக்கு செல்வார்களா? மேலும் அவன் ஆணா, பெண்ணா அல்லது அது அவ்வேற்றுமை அற்றதா?

மதங்களின் இந்த அடிப்படையை விளக்க என் வேதாந்த ஆசானின் உதாரணம் — பானையைக் கற்பித்த குயவன் பானைக்கு வேறானவன். படைக்கப்பட்ட பானைக்கு குயவன் அறிவு-காரணம் (intelligent cause), மண் பொருள்-காரணம் (material cause). இருவித காரணங்களை இறைவனுக்கும் புரம் போக்குவதன் (extrapolating) பலனே மதங்களில் உள்ள முறண்பாடுகள். நம்மால் தருக்கமுறையில் இறைவனின் சொரூபத்தை விவரிக்க முடியாது. ஆகையால் இத்தன்மைகளுக்கு (qualities) அப்பால் ஒரு உண்மை (Truth / Reality) இருக்க வேண்டும் என்றே எண்ணவேண்டியுள்ளது. அவ்வுண்மை நம் பகுத்தறிவுக்குப் பார்பட்டதே. இந்த உண்மையை வேதங்களின் கடைப்பகுதியான உபநிடதங்கள் அறிவிக்கின்றன. சுருங்கக்கூரின் பொருள் காரணமும் அறிவு காரணமும், அதாவது படைத்தவன், படைப்பு (மனிதனுட்பட எல்லா உயிர்களும் பொருள்களும்) இவை இரண்டும் ஒரே இடத்தில் (same locus) உள்ளதே இறைவனின் அடிப்படை உண்மை (absolute truth / fundamental reality) என்பதுதான் உபனிட தத்துவம். இதை அத்வைத வேதாந்த தத்துவம் என்றும் சொல்கின்றனர்

இறைவனின் தன்மைகளும் உண்மையும்

தைத்திரீய உடநிடத இரண்டாம் பாகமான ஆனந்த வல்லியின் இரண்டாவது வாக்கியத்தில் முதற்சொல் சத்யம் (உண்மை). இச்சொல்லின் விரிவுரையில் “முக்காலத்திலும் மாறாமல் இருப்பது” என்று வரையறைகிறார் (defines) சங்கரர். அந்த உபநிடத முழு வாக்கியம் — ‘முக்காலத்திலும் உள்ளது, அறிவுப்பிழம்பு, எல்லை அற்றது பிரம்மன்’(सत्यं ज्ञानमनन्तम्ब्रह्म). இ்வுண்மையைத்தான் பட்டத்திரி ப்ரஹ்மதத்வம்எனகிறார் முதற் பாசுரத்தில்.

இந்நோக்கில் பார்ப்பின், இறைவன் பற்றிய தன்மைகளை பொதுப்படை உண்மைகள் (relative truth) என்றே சொல்லலாம். மேலும் உபநிடத உண்மையை அடிப்படை உண்மை (fundamental truth) என்றே கூரவேண்டும். பொதுப்படை, அடிப்படை உண்மைகளை நன்கு விளங்க சில உதாரணங்கள்: தங்க மோதிரம், தங்கக் கங்கணம், தங்கச் சங்கிலி இவைகள் பொதுப்படை உண்மைகள். இவைகளின் வேற்றுமைகள் — பெயர், உருவம், குணம், பயன், உடைமை, நம் ஈடுபாடு இவைகளே (name, form, quality, class, function and relationship; नाम, रूप, गुण, जाति, क्रिया, सम्बन्ध). இத்தன்மைகளால் கட்டுப்படாடது, இவகளின் அடிப்படை உண்மை தங்கம். இந்த விதத் தன்மைகள் இவ்வுலகில் உள்ள எல்லாப் பொருள்களும் உட்பட்டதே, மனிதனும், அவன் வணங்கும் கடவுளும்! இதை நாம் சற்று ஆராய்தால் வேதாந்த தத்துவம் நன்கு விளங்கும்.

இவ்வுண்மையை சுலபமாக விளக்க ஶ்ரீ ரமண மகரிஷியின் உதாரணம் ஒன்று — அரசன், சேவகன் என்ற வேற்றுமை பிறப்பு, பதவி, உடை, ஆபரணங்களே. இவைகளைக் களைந்தால் அரசன் சேவகன் வேற்றுமை மறைகிறது, அடிப்படை உண்மை அரசனும்இல்லை சேவகனும் இல்லை, இருவரும் மனிதர்கள் என்பதே! இந்த அரச சேவக வேற்றுமைகள் பொதுப்படை உண்மையானவே.  அடிப்படை உண்மை வேற்றுமையின்மை என்பது தெரிகிறது. இந்தப் பதவி, உடை, பிறப்பு, படிப்பு மற்றெல்லாம் வேஷமே, அவ்வேஷம் களைத்தால் உண்மை தெரிகிறது. 

நம்மில் பலர் திருமாலைப் பெருமாள் என்றே கூருகின்றனர். ஏன்? இதன் தத்துவம் – ஆள் என்பது மனிதனின் மறு பெயர். உலக நொக்கில் பெருமாள் = பெரும் + ஆள், இந்த உவமைப்படி நாம் சிறுமாள்களே (சிறும் + ஆள்) இப்பெருமையும் சிறுமையும் எவ்விதம்? ஆட்களின் உடல்கள் பிறப்பிறப்பிற்கு உட்பட்டவை. குறிப்புள்ள இடத்தில் உடல் உள்ளவை. அதாவது ஆட்கள் கால, தேசங்களுக்கு உட்பட்டவர்கள். மேலும் அறிவிலும் எல்லை உள்ளவர்கள். பெருமாள் இவைகளால் கட்டுப்படாத்தால் நாம் கடவைளைப் பெருமாள் என்று அழைக்கிறோம். இவை யெல்லாம் தன்மைகளே.

ஶ்ரீ ரமண மகரிஷியின் உதாரணப்படி பெருமாள் சிற்றாள்களின் வேஷங்கள் — இறைவன் எல்லாம் வல்லவன், யாதுமறிந்தவன், பிறப்பு,இறப்புகளுக்குப் பார்பட்டவன் மற்றும் பற்பல வேஷங்கள் உள்ளவன். சிறுமாளின் வேஷங்கள் — குட்டை, நெட்டை, சாதி, மதம், வயது, பிறந்த ராசி, மற்றும் பல. இவையெல்லாம் வேஷங்களே. இவ்வேஷங்களைக் களைந்தால் வேற்றுமை அற்ற பிரம்மனே தான் அடிப்படை உண்மை என்று உள்ளங்கை நெல்லிக்கை போல் உணரமுடிகிறது. இந்த அடிப்படை உண்மையைத்தான் வியாசமுனி பேருண்மை என்கிறார்.

இந்த உருவம், குணம், காலம், செய்கை, உறவு இவைகள் அற்ற அப்பிரம்மன்னான இறைவனுடைய உண்மைக்கு இவ்வுலக உவமைகள் இல்லாத்தால் அனுபமிதம், காலதேசாவதிப்யாம் நிர்முக்தம் என்றும், சிறுமாள்கள் போல் ஆசைகளால் கட்டுப்படாத்தால் நித்யமுக்தம் என்றும் பட்டத்திரி முதற் கவிதையில் புனைகிறார். பற்பல உபநிடதங்களும், பகவத்கீதையும் இந்த அடிப்படை உண்மையை கற்பித்தும் மானிடர்களால் தெளிவாக அறியவோ நன்கு உணர்வதோ அரிதே என்று கண்கூடாக இன்றும் காண்கிறோம். அதனால் பட்டத்திரி நிகமஶதசகஸ்ரைர்நிர்பாஸ்யமானம், அஸ்பஷ்டம் என்கிறார். இதன் காரணம் என்ன என்பதை பட்டத்திரி கவிதையில் பல இடங்களில் முறையிடுகிறார். அதை விவரிக்க இங்கு இடமில்லை.

அந்த உண்மையை உணர்வது அரிதாக இருப்பினும் முயற்சி செய்யும் பல்லாயிர மனிதர்களில் ஒருசிலர் இவ்வுண்மையை நன்கு உணர்கின்றனர்கள் என்பதை நாம் காண்கிறோம். இதைத்தான் த்ருஷ்டமாத்ரேஎன்றுரைக்கிறர்.

இறைவனின்உண்மையைத் தெரிவிக்கும் பாடல்கள்

வேதங்கள் இறைவனின் உண்மையையும் தன்மைகளையும் நன்கு அறிவிக்கின்றன. இதே உண்மையும் தன்மையும் கூறும் பாசுரங்கள் பல தமிழில் உள்ளன. சில உதாரணங்கள்:

அகரமுதல எழுத்தெல்லாம்  ஆதி பகவன் முதற்றே உலகு — திருவள்ளுவர்

அங்கிங் கெனாத படி எங்கும் பிரகாசமாய் ஆனந்த பூர்த்தியாகி அருளொடு நிறைந்ததெது
தன்னருள் வெளிக்குளேஅகிலாண்ட கோடியெல்லாம் தங்கும் படிக்கிச்சை வைத்து உயிக்குயிராய்
தழைத்ததெது மனவாக்கினில் தட்டாமல் நின்றதெது சமயகோ டிகளெலாம் தந்தெய்வம்
எந்தெய்வமென்றெங்கும் தொடர்ந்து எதிர் வழக்கிடவும் நின்றதெது
எங்கணும் பெருவழக்காய் யாதினும் வல்லவொரு சித்தாகி இன்பமாய் என்றைக்குமுள்ள தெது
கங்கு பகலற நின்ற எல்லா உள்ளதெது அது கருத்திற் கிசைந்ததுவே கண்டன வெலாமோன
உருவெளிய தாகவும் கருதி அஞ்சலிசெய்குவாம்.—தாயுமானவர்

வானாகி மண்ணாகி வளியாகி ஒளியாகி ஊனாகி உயிராகி உண்மையுமாய் இன்மையுமாய்க்
கோனாகி யான் எனதென்றவரைக் கூத்தாட்டுவானாகி நின்றாயை என் சொல்லி வாழ்த்துவனே

நட்ட கல்லை தெய்வம் என்று நாலு புட்பம் சாத்தியே
சுற்றி வந்து மொணமொணன்று சொல்லுமந்திரம்ஏதடா
நட்ட கல்லும் பேசுமோ நாதன் உள்ளிருக்கையில்
சுட்ட சட்டி சட்டுவம் கறிச்சுவை அறியுமோ — சித்தர்


ஸாந்த்ரானந்த-அவபோதாத்மகம், உருபுருஷார்த்தகம்இவ்விரண்டு சொற்களை விளக்க இந்த பிலாகில் (blog) இடமில்லை. ஏனெனில் முதலில் அறிவு, உணர்வு என்ற சொற்களை நான் பயன்படுத்தியதன் உட்பொருளை விளக்க வேண்டும். மேலும் புருஷார்த்தம் என்ற சொல்லையும் விவரிக்க வேண்டும். ஆகையால் இவைகளை அடுத்த பிலாகில் விளக்க முயல்கிறேன், அந்த குருவாயூரப்பன் அருளால்.

Yoga-practice: Twin Goals

In my article on yogābhyāsa the emphasis was on working with the mind to accomplish the twin-goals of steadiness of mind (cittanaiścalya) and purity of mind (cittaśuddhi). If the goal were to achieve material success, there is no need for the latter. Anyone dedicated to the goal of being the most accomplished in a field of choice is able to develop steadiness of mind without resorting to any spiritual practice.

On the other hand, purity of mind is a must for one who is interested in liberation-while-living (jīvanmukti), or hoping to be liberated after death (videhamukti) or in Heaven after death (svarga).  Thus, yoga-practice is a necessary adjunct to seekers of freedom or Heaven, irrespective of their chosen path.

The question: Is a steady and pure mind possible to achieve? For us living in a society with family, demands and aspirations, this goal of gaining a relative degree of mental equanimity and purity seems to be far fetched. From observing myself as well as others, I find that reaching this goal is not a quantum jump. It is more like a slow climb. If one goes on this path it helps the seeker towards the next aspect of practice. I remember two sayings from two different countries: “Even a ten thousand mile journey starts with the first step” and, “Even granite gets ground by crawling of ants”. This is what I have been doing and, the granite of the mind is getting ground!

Though this relatively pure and distraction-free mind one has by dedicated yoga-practice, it is only the necessary condition for freedom (or heaven) but is not sufficient.  A relatively calm and pure mind is the stepping stone leading to knowledge-practice (jnanabhyasa).  This is the focus of this article.

Yoga-practice and Knowledge-practice


The relationship between these two paths of yoga-practice and knowledge-practice, is traditionally considered to be one of cause and effect (hetu-hetumad-bhāva-sambabdha). That is, yoga-practice leads to knowledge-practice. One may think that once knowledge-practice starts, yoga-practice can be stopped! I would add that these two, yoga-practice and knowledge-practice form a positive feedback loop not just synergy. That is, yoga-practice helps knowledge-practice to continue with greater dedication to gain clarity. And, pursuing knowledge-practice results in a more consistent yoga-practice .

What is knowledge-practice, Jñānābhyāsa?

I mentioned in yogābhyāsa that the term yoga-practice, yogābhyāsa has a different connotation than practice of yoga. Likewise, the term knowledge-practice, Jñānābhyāsa also has a different connotation than the practice of knowledge even though the Sanskrit compound Jñābhyāsa can be resolved to mean both. 

By “practice of knowledge” I mean the application of any skill that one develops through a clear and error-free knowledge of his chosen field / profession through “knowledge-practice”. Thus “knowledge-practice’ is precondition for ‘practice of knowledge”. Note that both “practice-of-knowledge” and knowledge-practice take plenty of time and dedication, not unlike the process of gaining steadiness in yoga-practice. It is important to stress that knowledge-practice for secular ends does not necessitate purity of mind, that is freedom from habitual cravings and aversions which manifest in impeccable ethical behavior.

Knowledge-practice of the spiritual kind needs mental purity as well. In this I include something believed to be achievable after death, that is, it cannot be a perceptual cognition (pratyakṣa) here while living.  This is technically called parokṣa. This includes the belief in Heaven propounded by all religions and the concept of liberation after death (videhamukti) discussed in some liberation philosophies. This bring us to look at the three liberation philosophies I focus on. But my emphasis is not on a posthumous reward of liberation after death, which is not different from reaching Eternal Heaven after death. Rather it is living while liberated (jīvanmukti).

This, indeed is what the three liberation philosophies Advaita-vedānta, Sāṅkhya-yoga and Buddhism emphasize despite major philosophical (metaphysical and epistemological) differences among them. Ironically, in my experience I find that most scholars of these three systems seem to be more interested in discussing the differences than the unifying goal behind these seemingly disparate systems.

Yoga and knowledge-practices: Similarities

Yoga-practice and knowledge-practice are similar in only two ways.  The first is to gain steadiness in practice. This is best expressed by sage Patañjali in his Yogasūtras: “To be on a stable ground (steadiness), one has to practice for a long time without interruptions and with dedication (Yogasūtra, Samādhipāda 1:14).”  The second similarity is repetition which applies to just one aspect of knowledge-practice.  Repetition is necessary to master the chanting of scriptures or to focus on the teaching. These two similarities are centered on a belief system chosen by an adult, or learned from birth and upbringing. For example, in Vedic chanting, even to gain mastery for correct pronunciation with proper accents, takes more than a decade! It is true of Vedic chanting but is also necessary for the life-long study of the Bible, Quran or Torah.

Yoga and knowledge-practices: Differences

The goal of yoga is to gain something that one does not have (aprāptasya prāptiḥ). Thus, yoga-practice is a volitional action. In the most general way, any human activity used to gain or achieve something is yoga. One has a choice regarding actions:  do it, abandon it altogether or do it differently (kartum śakyam, akartum śakyam, anyathāvā kartum śkayam). The choice is left to the person (puruṣa), so it is called puruṣatantra. For example, a goal of yoga-practice—to gain steadiness of mind—can be achieved by any number of ways:  āsana practice, breathing exercises, distance-running, weight lifting or other activities. This choice applies even to the mental act of meditation since there is a choice to meditate, or to not meditate, or to use different techniques of meditation such as watching the breath (prāṇavīkṣaṇam), witnessing thoughts (sākṣībhāva), or repeating a sacred name (nāma-japa).  

On the other hand, types of cognition are not volitional since they are not subject to one’s choice!  For example, choicelessness is illustrated as following: if the eyes are open and if the mind is engaged when looking at a flower, one cannot choose not to see. One can choose to ignore or close one’s eyes but both are volitional actions. That is, knowledge, which is a cognition-centered “activity” is not really an activity since it is not left to human will / choice, but is dependent only the object, (vastu) – be it a flower or sound or taste or listening to some talk on “Schrodinger’s cat”. Tradition calls this vastutantra. Thus, gaining knowledge, which is really the removal of ignorance, the very foundation of any secular or spiritual knowledge, is not an action. 

One may object to this reasoning by citing the effort required to gain knowledge of the world, namely the sciences or knowledge of oneself. The response is simple. The volitional effort is only to create the conditions necessary to focus the mind.  This falls in the realm of practice that is discussed in detail in yogakṣema.

Foundational Paradigms of Liberation Philosophies

At this point it is necessary to relook at the foundational paradigm of all liberation philosophies to understand the critical need for knowledge-practice for a seeker of liberation. Irrespective of diversity among the three systems – Buddhism, Sānkhya-yoga and Vedānta – the foundational paradigm is the same, namely one is “already free by nature” and the sense of weariness one feels is due to ignorance of this simple fact. This sense of weariness is expressed as “sorrow” in one system, while the other two systems express this as “removal of three-fold afflictions”. This means that the only way to remove ignorance is not by action but by gaining knowledge centered on your self. This can be accomplished only by knowledge-practice.

The state of ignorance is common to all human beings. My teacher used to drive home this point. We are all born totally ignorant of oneself, of the world and of the Creator. World-centered ignorance becomes less as we study. Ignorance of the Creator becomes less as we study religion.  But for the ignorance of the nature of oneself, or the truth of world, all beings and God, there is nothing in secular or religious literature to help remove this ignorance. This is where liberation philosophies matter to any human being really interested in liberation.

Thus, the popular idea of “realization” variously called freedom, mokṣa, nibbāna, nirvāna, satori, nirvikalpasamâdhi, asṁprajñātasmâdhi, etc., is one of removal of ignorance centered on oneself (and the world). This is why “achieving liberation” is technically called “gaining of what is already gained” (prāptasya prāpti). This is because no one can “gain” what one already is! The example by my teacher, Swami Dayananda, explains the impossibility of gaining what you already have by any action including yoga-practice. He would say, “Even God cannot bless you with a head on your shoulders. He can give you one more head if you do the activity of prayer, but cannot give you the one you already have!” It is, thus, clear that this “gain” is outside the scope of yogakṣemabased activities.

Need for Knowledge-practice for “Liberation”

A natural objection can be “If knowledge takes place spontaneously, as it were, without my will, why do I not I “realize” after a reading of Dhammapāda or Sāṅkhyakārikā or Māṇḍūkya-upaniṣad?” The answer is simple:  the powers of belief, habit and perceptual cognition are all constantly contradicting the teaching that you are already free. So, one tends to dismiss these philosophies as mere intellectual exercises or “theoretical knowledge” or wishful thinking. This is not useful! This is where one has to note that irrespective of the type of knowledge (of things or of oneself), one has to know when learning is complete. Knowledge one acquires has to be free from error and doubt.

Thus, to “realize” this existing fact is to be able to “see” this fact despite agitations of the mind:  in short, not to “take the mind to be me”.  Total identification of me with my mind is called bondage, and complete disassociation of this ignorance-born identification is called freedom / realization / direct experience or any other name such as nibbāna.  The path from identification to dis-identification is, indeed, called knowledge-practice. The mind, coupled with taking perceptual experience as real is what is meant by the statement: “Mind, indeed, is the cause for bondage and freedom.” (mana eva manuṣyāṇām kāraṇam bandha-mokṣayoḥ)

A few readers well-versed in Vedānta may wonder what I really mean by jñānâbhyāsa, knowledge-practice. By this term I include the triple steps of listening, analysis, and not losing sight of what one has learned – śravaṇa-manananididhyāsanam.  Regarding why one does not spontaneously feel ‘“liberated” despite the study of liberation philosophical teaching, my Vedānta teacher, Swami Chinmayanda used to say, “It is not enough to go through the Upaniṣads, the Upaniṣads have to go through you!”  The same idea is expressed by Śaṅkarācārya by the expression avagataprajñah, meaning one who has understood the content of the teaching and not a śrutaprajñaḥ, one who had just listened to the teaching..


Yoga-practice (yogābhyāsa) and knowledge-practice (jñānābhyāsa) have different ends. Yoga-practice is a deliberate action with a goal to be achieved and is subject to choice. The goal can be reached in a number of ways or one could choose to abandon the goal. Yoga is defined as gaining of what is to be gained (aprāptasya prāpti). Thus, in yoga-practice one tries to achieve the twin goals of a relatively steady mind and to be relatively free from cravings and aversions.The role of Yoga-practice, yogābhyāsa, is to prepare a steady mind (cittanaiścalya) with minimal buffeting by cravings and aversions, known as purity of mind (cittaśuddhi). Secular pursuits need only a steady mind and not a pure mind to be successful. Knowledge-practice has the goal of not losing sight of the existing fact that one is free and never bound. This is not possible if there is still the underlying ignorance and ignorance-born identification with the mind. Still, there is a connection between the two practices, in that one helps the other towards “reaching the goal” of spiritual practice.

I thank Alice and Chris for editing this blog post.

This article In brief: This blog focuses on Practice, the second of the three words – Learn, Practice, Master series. Practice is of two types: yoga-practice (yogābhyāsa) and knowledge-practice (jñānābhyāsa). The first of these is described in this post. The second will follow. I use the term Yoga-practice to distinguish it from the expression ‘practice of yoga’, which is usually known as practice of physical postures or āsana-practice. Though the word yoga is derived from the verb yuj, which has several meanings, in yoga-practice the word ‘yoga’ has a technical definition, not widely known. It is defined as “any activity undertaken to gain something that one does not have.” Thus, it encompasses many different activities, including physical postures (practice of yoga), breath control, meditation, ethical behavior (such as telling the truth, non-injury by thought, word, or deed and others), and overcoming impulsive actions driven by attachments and aversions. The goal of all these activities is to gain a purer, distraction-free mind. In short, yoga-practice is a necessary step for any seeker, whether s/he follows the path of Patañjali’s Yoga, Advaita-Vedānta, or Buddhism, or simply wants to live as a devoutly religious person. The Sanskrit word for any type of practice is abhyāsa.

Two Types of Practice (abhyāsa)

The Sanskrit word for practice is abhyāsa

Sanskrit-English dictionaries often list more than one meaning for the same word, sometimes even diametrically opposite meanings. The word abhyāsa has ten different meanings in a dictionary to which I often refer1. In English the word is usually translated as practice, which is one of the  meanings listed, some others are repeat, exercise, study, and recite. I use the popular meaning practice in this post.

Yoga-practice and Knowledge-practice
(Yogābhyāsa and Jñānābhyāsa)

I’d like to introduce here what I consider to be two kinds of practice that are synergistic. They are yoga-practice (yogābhyāsa) and knowledge-practice (jñānābhyāsa). In Vedic and Vedānta traditions knowledge-practice is well-known. In this post I introduce and discuss yoga-practice. I use hyphenated words in this blog to clearly distinguish these two Sanskrit compounds2 from the commonly used expressions ‘practice of yoga’ and ‘practice of knowledge.’ 

Yoga-practice (Yogābhyāsa)

Technical meaning of  the word yoga in yoga-practice

Not unlike several meanings for the word abhyāsa, the dictionary I cited gives a list of more than 40 meanings for yoga. The usual meanings one sees in English translation in books describing āsana practices is yoking, while the same word means to have a mind in total focus (samādhi) in Patañjali’s Yogasūtras3. But those familiar with Bhagavadgītā understand the same word yoga as simply to mean a chapter / section / topic. Note however, in this blog I use a technical meaning of the same word yoga.

The technical meaning of yoga, albeit a rare one in common literature, is used in the well-known set of verses called Bhagavadgītā, in the fourth quarter of the following verse, where yoga is an integral part of the compound yoga-kṣema – “I take care of yoga-kṣema.” 4

This Sanskrit compound yoga-kṣema comprises two words. In this context, Yoga is defined as an action undertaken to gain something that is desired, but not already gained; and kṣema asan action to keep what one has already gained.5 Thus the word Yogābhyāsa in this post means “practice to achieve something that is not already attained.” The two actions of yoga and kṣema are observed in all living beings from plants to animal kingdom, driven by automatic response, instinct, or deliberate action. 

Meaning of yoga relevant to Vedānta and Yogasūtra students

Those of us who have studied both the Vedānta work Bhagavadgītā and Yogasūtra of Patañjali see a very important meaning of yoga that is not widely understood. That is, the word yoga is used to really mean viyoga, the very opposite of yoga! If one takes the most common meaning of yoga, yoking, the goal of both the books is really de-yoking, known as viyoga.

Thus, a study of the totality of Yogasūtras, however, shows Patañjali intends the word yoga to mean viyoga, de-yoking. This fact is not clear from the first few sūtras in the first chapter, so often a reader becomes stuck in the notion that if only we get to samādhi, all will be fine! Patañjali’s work is built upon the foundation of Kapila’s Sāṅkhya system; and Patañjali’s central thesis, like Kapila’s, is not just temporary cessation of unhappiness, but total elimination of of it. The core of this reasoning is centered on a premise common to the three liberation philosophies — Yoga, Vedānta and Buddhism. That is, human unhappiness is due to ignorance, and removal of the cause, ignorance, eliminates unhappiness. Thus any yoga-practice really is an attempt at removal, vi-yoga, of this yoking with unhappiness. Sage Patañjali summarized Kapila’s philosophy that the cause of unhappiness is ignorance in a few aphorisms in the second chapter of Yogasūtra. He indicates the goal of yoga as one of viyoga, removal of this ignorance. He states: The association (saṃyoga)  between the subject and objects is to be removed.6 Bhagavadgītā in the sixth chapter entitled Yoga of Meditation (dhyānayoga): Dissociation of this association with unhappiness is called yoga.7

Two critical components of ‘yoga-practice’

Mastery of the mind is a first and crucial step in all liberation philosophies, be it Vedānta, Buddhism or Yoga. Patañjali defines this as a definition of yoga in his second aphorism – Yoga is mastery of mind.8 But there is a second critical step in all of these philosophies as well. Vedānta and Yoga describe two necessary components of total transformation of the mind:  developing steadiness of mind, citta-naiścalya,  and achieving purity of mind, citta-śuddhi. Buddhism emphasises śīla,  which includes developing traits such as compassion, love, forgiveness towards oneself and all living beings. Accomplishing this is not possible unless one has a steady (citta-naiścalya) and pure mind (citta-śuddhi) respectively.

First critical component –  Steadiness of mind, citta-naiścalya

Steadiness of mind is the ability to focus on a task at hand without being distracted by one’s wandering mind or by external stimuli. In the religious and spiritual realms, repetition of sacred names, practice of āsana, breathing exercises and meditations develop in the seeker steadiness of mind, that is, a mind that is not distracted by any other thoughts.

Steadiness of mind is necessary for success in secular pursuits as well. Such a focused mind can even be similar to being in samādhi. Any person dedicated to what s/he is doing, any professional – artist, writer, architect, scientist – has developed this steadiness of mind without need for belief in any religion or spirituality. Even a trained assassin has his mind in samādhi in planning as well as executing his task!

But steadiness of mind alone does not guarantee that such persons can achieve liberation. It is possible that a person with extraordinary ability to focus on any pursuit may still be self-centered, hurtful to others, and deceitful. Even one who applies extraordinary time and effort to the study of spiritual works may remain neglectful or disinterested in the needs or well being of others. We might say that such a person has not been blessed by the teaching. A Sanskrit expression describes such a person to be like a ‘beast of burden carrying a load of sandal wood, unable to smell the fragrance’.  Why? This is where purity of mind, citta-śuddhi, the second critical component, comes in.

Second critical component – Purity of mind, citta-śuddhi 

The question is, “What is a pure mind?”  Both Yoga and Vedānta describe a number of qualities defining a pure mind. To put it in a nutshell, this means one has the ability to master the habituated patterns of thinking that result in impulsive actions that only strengthen the same habits.      

Why do these patterns of behavior arise in the mind? Human beings are generally full of desires or aversions, rāga or dveṣa, that result in clinging attachments to or aversions from things, beings, and situations. My teacher, Swami Dayananda, used to highlight the unreasonable nature of one’s aversions by narrating this imaginary conversation:

A young lad says, “Swamiji, I hate bananas!”
Swamiji asks, “What has banana done to you to hate it?”

One can replace bananas with brussel sprouts or okra or anything that one hates, to see that we all have inexplicable and perhaps habituated aversions! Gaining a handle on these drivers of actions is accomplished by practice of detachment, virāga or vairāgya.

Most of us spiritual seekers need to achieve a great degree of mental steadiness as well as mental purity. Thus, both these pursuits fall under the technical definition of yoga in the expression yogābhyāsa, yoga-practice. While modern life for most of us has made us develop a good degree of mental steadiness and focus, there is nothing in secular literature that stresses detachment, virāga/vairāgya. For this we need guidance from religious or spiritual books. They focus on both critical needs for the mind.

Purity of mind in Yogasūtras: For students of yoga, the first goal of steadiness of mind can be achieved by regular āsana-practice for a long time. I have seen that many of those who stick with āsana practice develop an interest in Patañjali’s work. Thus they try breathing practices, prāṇāyāma, and do some type of meditation. Āsana and prāṇāyāma comprise only the third and fourth limbs of the eight limbs, aṣṭāṇga, 8 while ethical conduct, yama, and personal observances, niyama, are the first and second limbs. Patanjali defines yama as: non-injury, truth, non-stealing, scriptural study, not accepting favors, and not holding on to things.He defines niyama as: cleanliness, contentment, performance of austeries, study of scriptures, keeping the Lord in focus.10 According to Patañjali, mastery of mind (nirodha) can be achieved only by having purity of mind as well:  Mastery of mind is achieved by practice (abhyāsa) and detachment (vairāgya).11 Purity of mind is definitely achievable, though it needs years of dedicated practice of both āsana etc;, practices and detachment to loosen the stranglehold of our encrusted patterns of impulsive behavior.

Purity of mind in Vedānta: The thirteenth chapter of the Bhagavadgītā contains a set of five verses elaborating the qualities that must be cultivated in order to gain the knowledge that is the primary teaching. This long list comprises more than 20 qualities one has to possess to be the right receptacle of the knowledge of the Upaniṣads, as described in the Gītā. A review of this list shows it to be a superset of yama and niyama defined by Patañjali. In addition it also defines dispassion and explains how to develop it. The traits to be developed by a seeker of liberation are: Absence of pride and vanity; non-injury; forgiveness; alignment of thought, word, and deed; service to the teacher; cleanliness; steadiness; self-control; dispassion towards sense objects; absence of ego; seeing the downsides of birth, death, old age, disease and unhappiness; non-attachment towards progeny, spouse, house etc.; being even-minded due to gain of desired or not desired things; unwavering devotion to Me with total focus (on essential identity of the core of your and my Being); resorting to a place free from distractions; lack of desire towards throngs of people; being steadfast in gaining self-knowledge and seeing the truth of oneself are the means of gaining knowledge.12

Purity of mind in Buddhism: Buddhist practitioners can see that most of the śīlas (Pāli, sīla)13, applicable to both lay-practitioners and monks, are included in these five verses in what is ostensibly considered to be a ‘Hindu theistic text’

Developing dispassion, vairāgya: the problem is the mind

Graduation from being impulsive to being deliberate in thought, word, and deed is the result of detachment. The Sanskrit word for detachment is vairāgya (synonyms: virāga in advaita-vedānta and vaśīkāra in Patañjali’s Yogasūtra). Both Yoga and Vedānta texts have clear definitions of what is meant by the word detachment. This detachment is not what one achieves by a blind giving up of objects or friends and those dear. Real detachment is born of a mature understanding of the limitations of any worldly accomplishments and of not being desirous of heaven after death. Patañjali defines detachment: Detachment is total lack of craving for sense objects perceived here or heard from scriptures.14 An introductory Vedānta text, Tattvabodha defines detachment in a similar manner:What is detachment, virāga? Absence of desire for enjoyment of pleasures here or in heaven.15

Simply defining detachment does not help the seeker!  Nor does it mean that one should give up everything and become a monk, thinking that such a lifestyle alone is real detachment. Unlike āsana or prāṇāyāma practices, there are no guidebooks or teachers available to tell you how to practice detachment. Our cravings for things of the world do pose serious problems in overcoming them. When the mind, due to habit, drags one towards objects of pleasure, one has to practice to counter those thoughts. This practice is to be done by the individual based on an analysis of his or her own life-experiences

A technique for this reflection is called pratipakṣabhāvanā, a kind of intentional cognitive therapy, by which one actively chooses to focus on the downside of letting the habituated mind drag one towards objects of pleasure with resultant actions only strengthening the habit. This is quite different from a ‘sour-grapes’ attitude born of incompetence or failure-based giving up. Only an intelligent examination of life’s accomplishments and experiences results in real detachment. This is the first step in seeking the means for liberation according to Muṇdakopaniṣad: ‘Having examined all experiences gained by actions, the seeker of Truth gains detachment.’16

This rather cryptic Upaniṣadic statement appears to be elaborated by Patañjali in the second chapter of Yogasūtra on practice called sādhanapāda. He describes how to do the reflection called pratipakṣabhāvana in his very long aphorism: ‘Inflicting harm, etc., to others can be done either by oneself, or at the behest of, or persuaded by another person. These (actions) are backed by greed, anger and delusion. Such actions may be of mild, moderate, or severe intensity.  These actions result only in sorrow, thus keeping one ignorant.’ 17

In Vedānta, development of detachment is the second of four qualifications for a student. They are: (1) ability to discriminate between what is ephemeral and permanent, viveka; (2) detachment, vairāgya; (3) six-fold wealth of control of sense organs etc., śamādi- ṣatkasampatti; and (4) desire for liberation, mumukṣutvam.

The second qualification, detachment, vairāgya, is of such importance that an 8th century master of advaita-vedānta, Śaṅkarācārya, felt the need to create a set of 31 verses describing how to gain a degree of detachment from the world of objects and people. This work is called Mohamudgara, Remover of Delusion. Another name of these verses is Bhajagovindam, Serve the Lord Govinda, the refrain for the verses. This text provides ample ways to reflect on the facts of life in order to increase one’s level of detachment. Here are  two typical verses:  ‘Water on a lotus leaf is quite tremulous; life is just as unsteady. Know the world to be possessed by pride, disease and sorrow.Be not conceited by youth, wealth, or retinue: time can take them away in a minute. The wealthy are afraid of even their  progeny. This is the way it is for all (of us).’18, 19

How can one gain steadiness in mastery of the mind by Yogābhāsa?

Sage Patañjali describes how one can gain steadiness in pursuit of nirodha, complete mastery of one’s mental modes.  He calls this steadiness dṛḍhabhūmi, a termusually translated as “firm ground” saying: ‘For steadiness in that (abhyāsa and vairāgya) is (called) effort.20It (control of mental modes, nirodha) becomes steady by pursuing for a long time, uninterrupted, with dedication and reverence.21


The word yoga in yogābhyāsa is used in a sense not familiar to many. I use this to mean “that which allows one to gain what one does not have.” Yogābhyāsa for a seeker of liberation includes both prescribed practices in the sacred books / paths one follows and the practice of detachment. This process is elaborated in the Yogasūtras of Patañjali, in Bhagavadgītā, and in Buddhist scriptures. Whether one’s chosen path is Yoga, Vedānta, Buddhistic practices such as Zen or Mindfulness, or dedicated devotion of any religious persuasion, yoga-practice, yogābyāsa is a necessary first step.

An equally important second step is the repeated study of sacred books of one’s chosen path, which I call jñānābhyāsa, knowledge-practice. While yogābhyāsa helps the seeker move from being impulsive to being deliberate in thought, word and deed, knowledge-practice transforms the person to be spontaneous in all actions, though the two extremes of impulsiveness and spontaneity may look similar. Another more popular way to understand the role of knowledge-practice, jñānābhyāsa, is to make the seeker own up / realize / experience the goal of teaching. Knowledge-practice forms the subject matter for a subsequent post.   


1 The Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Prin. Vaman Shivaram Apte, Rinsen Book Company, Kyoto, 1966, p. 194

2 in Sanskrit many individual words can be combined to form compounds called samāsa-s. There is more than one way to resolve such compounds yielding very different meanings, the best meaning is determined by how such compounds are formed. Thus the common ones such as practice of yoga, practice of knowledge comprise one of the ways of resolving these two compounds yogābhyāsa and jñānābhyāsa respectively.  But I am using a different way of forming the same compounds and a resolution that needs to be translated as hyphenated words.

3 In Sanskrit all words are derived from a set of about 2,200 verbs. Yoga is derived from the verb yuj. One meaning of the verb is to yoke, to connect, to join. Vyāsa, the first commentator to the Yogasūtras, defines the word yoga in this sutra to mean samādhi, based on the second meaning of the same verb yuj given earlierto be in samādhi: युज समाधौ (माधवीया धातुवृत्तिः पृ. ४२६) yuja samādau, Mādhavīyā dhātuvṛttiḥ, p.426, Prācyabhārati, Series 1, 1964

4 अनन्याश्चिन्तयन्तोमामं ये जना: पर्युपासते । 
तेषां नित्याभियुक्तानां योगक्षेमं वहाम्यहम् ॥(भगवद्गीता ९-२२)
  Ananyāścintayanto mām ye janāh paryupāsare
  Teshām nityābhiyuktānām Yogakṣemaṃ vahāmyaham. (Bhagavadgītā 9-22)
The fourth quarter of the verse is in bold, the meaning is cited in the text

These are technical meanings found in Sanskrit-Sanskrit dictionaries, which are more
  like encyclopedias. This definition is based on such a 19th century six-volume
  dictionary. अनागतानयनागतरक्षणे योगक्षेमम् | (शब्दकल्पद्रुमः) Gaining what is not gained and
  protecting what is gained is yogakṣema. (Śabdakalpadruma)
Also, in Śaṇkara’s commentary to this verse, he states: योगः – अप्राप्तस्य प्रापणम् | क्षेमः –
  तद्रक्षणम् | Yogaḥ – Aprāptasa prāpṇam, Kṣemaḥ – Tadrakṣaṇam. (Ānandāśrama
  Pub. # 34, Śrīmadbhagavadgītā, 1936, p.391, This book is in Devanāgarī script only)
  Meaning: Yoga gets what is not gained, Kṣema protects what is gained.

6 दृग्दृश्ययोस्संयोगो हेयहेतु:।(योगयूत्रम् २-१७)
Drgdrśyayossamyogo heya hetuh. (Yogasūtra 2-17)

7 तं विद्याद्दुःखसंयोगवियोगं योगसंज्ञिदतम् | स निश्चयेन योक्तव्य: योगोनिर्विण्ण चेतसा॥(भगवद्गीता ६-२३)
  Tam vidyāt duḥkhasaṃyogaviyogam yogasamjñitam. Sa niścayena yoktavyah yogo’nirvinna
  cetasā. (Bhagavadgītā 6-23) ‘May you know that the removal (viyoga) of association
  (saṃyoga) with unhappiness is called yoga. This yoga has to be practiced with perseverance
  and an undistracted mind.’ (Bhagavadgītā  6-23)

8 योगश्चित्तवृत्तिनिरोध:।(योगसूत्रम् १-२) Yogaścittavrttinirodhah (Yogasūtra 1-2) mastery of
  mind is Yoga (Yogasūtra 1-2). Though the word nirodha is often translated as control,
  I prefer the word ‘mastery’. Cittavṛtti is translated as mental modes in many books.

8 यमनियमप्राणायामप्रत्याहारधारणाध्यानसमाधयोsष्टावड़गानि | (योगसूत्रम् २-२९)
  Yamaniyamaprāṇāyāmapratyāhāradhāraṇasamādhayo’ṣṭāvaṅgāni. (Yogasūtra 2-29)
Eight limbs are yama, niyama, āsana, prāṇāyāma, pratyāhārā, dhāraṇā, dhyāna and samādhi.

9 अहिंसासत्यास्तेयब्रह्मचर्यापरिग्रहा यमाः | (योगसूत्रम् २-३०)
    Ahiṃsā-satyā-asteya-brahmacarya-aprigrahā yamāḥ. (Yogastra 2-30)

10 शौचसन्तोषतपस्वाध्यायेश्वरप्रणिधानानि नियमाः | (योगसूत्रम् २-३२)
  Śauca-santoṣa-tapas-svādhyāya-īsvarapraṇidhānāni niyamāḥ. (Yogastra 2-32)

11 अभ्यासवैराग्याभ्यां तन्निरोधः | (योगसूत्रम् १-१२)
    Abhyāsavairāgyābhyām tannirodhaḥ. (Yogasūtra 1-12)

12 अमानित्वमदम्भित्वमहिंसाक्षान्तिरार्जवम् |
    आचार्योपासनं शौचं स्थैर्यमात्मविनिग्रहः || (भगवद्गीता १३-७)
   ācāyopāsanam śaucam sthairamāmavinigrahaḥ. (Bhagavadgītā 13-7)

इन्द्रियार्थेषु वैराग्यमनहङ्कार एव च |
    जन्ममृत्युजराव्याधिदुःखदोषानुदर्शनम् || (भगवद्गीता १३-८)
    Indriyārtheṣu vairāgyamanahaṅāra eva ca:
    janamamṛtyujarāvyādhiduḥkhadoṣānudarśanam. (Bhagavadgītā 13-8)

असक्तिरनभिष्वङः पुत्रदारगृङादिषु |
    नित्यञ्च समचित्तत्वमिष्टानिष्टोपपत्तिषु || (भगवद्गीता १३-९)
    Asaktiranabhiṣvaṅgaḥ putradārāgṛhādiṣu:
    nityañca samacittatvamiṣṭāniṣṭopapattiṣu. (Bhagavadgītā 13-9)
मयि चानन्ययोगेन भक्तिरव्यभिचारिणी |
  विविक्तदेशसेवित्वसरतिर्जनसंसदि || (भगवद्गीता १३-१०)
  Mayi cānanyayogena bhaktiravyabhicāriṇī:
  viviktadeśasevitvmaratirjana saṁsadi. (Bhagavadgītā 13-10)
अध्यात्मज्ञाननित्यत्वं तत्त्वज्ञानार्थदर्शनम् |
  एतज्ज्ञानमिति प्रोक्तमज्ञानं यदतोन्यथा || (भगवद्गीता १३-११)
  Adhyārmajñananityatvam tattvajñārthadarśanam:
  etajñānamitiproktamajñām yadatomyathā. (Bhagavadgītā 13-11)

13 The Shambala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, Shambala, Boston, 1991, p.197,
  Also, Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Volumes 1 and 2, Macmillan Publishing Company, Reprint
  Edition, 1972:  Buddhism, p. 417

14 दृष्टानुश्रवितविषयवितृष्णस्य वशीकारसंज्ञा वैराग्यम् | (योगसूत्रम् २-२५)
  Dṛṣṭānuśravikaviṣayavitṛṣṇasya vaśīkārasamjñā vairāgyam (Yogasūtra, 1-15)

15  विरागः कः | इहामुत्रार्थफलभोग विरागः | (तत्वबोधः ९, १०)
Virāgaḥ kaḥ? Ihasvargabhogeṣu ichhārāhityam. (Tattvabodha, 9,10)

16  परीक्ष्य लोकान् कर्मचितान्निर्वेदमायाद्ब्राह्मणः | (मुण्डकोपनिषत् १-२-१२)
    Parīkṣya locān karmacitān nirvedamāyād brāhmaṇaḥ (1-2-12)

17  वितर्का हिंसादयः कृतकारिकानुमोदिता लोभक्रोधमोहपूर्वका
  मृदुमध्याधिमात्रा दुःखाज्ञानान्तफला इति प्रतिपक्षभावनम् | (योगसूत्रम् २-३४)
  Vitarkā himsādayaḥ kṛtakārikānumoditā lobhakrodhamohapūrvakā
  mṛdumahyādhimātra duḥkhājñānānantaphalā iti pratipakṣabhāvanam (Yogasūtra, 2-34)

18  नलिनीदलगतमतिचलचपलं तद्वजीवितमतिशयचपलम्
  विद्धिव्याध्यभिमानग्रस्तं लोकं शोकहतञ्च समस्तम् || (मोहमुद्गरः ४)
  Nalinīdalagatajalamatitaralam tadvajjvitamatiśayacapalam
  Viddhi vyādhyabhimānagrastam lokam śokahatam ca samastam.
(Mohamudgara, 4)

19  मा कुरु धनजनयौवनगर्वं हरति निमेषात्कालस्सर्वम् |
  पुत्रादपि धनभाजां भीतिः सर्वत्रैषा विहिता रीतिः ||  (मोहमुद्गरः १३)
  Mā kuru dhanajanayauvanagarvam harati nimeṣāt kālassarvam
  Putrādapi dhanabhājām bhītiḥ sarvasyaiṣā vihitā rītiḥ.
(Mohamudgara, 11)

20  तत्र स्थितौ यतेनोSभ्यासः | (योगसूत्रम् २-२३)
  Tatra sthitau yatno’bhyāyasaḥ. (Yogasūtra 1-13)

21  स तु दीर्घकालनैरन्तर्यसत्कारासेवितो दृढभूमिः | (योगसूत्रम् २-२४)
  Sa (nirodhaḥ) tu dīrghakāla-nairantarya-satkāya-āsevito dṛḍhabhūmiḥ (Yogasūtra 1-14)

I thank Alice, Candace, Chris and Philippe 
for their valuable comments and edits.

Many of you may know that I have been using a guided meditation app called Headspace by Andy Puddicombe for a few years. Those unfamiliar with this person can refer
Andy sometimes uses three sets of ten meditations each. The first set of ten sessions he calls “Learn,” the second “Practice” and the third  “Master”.

Whether the learning sought is secular or spiritual, the need for this sequence – Learn, Practice and Master – is the same. This is best illustrated by a story narrated by one of my Vedānta teachers, Swami Chinmayananda. He was an expert in driving home a point through an unforgettable story. Here is one just right for this topic.

A story by Swami Chinmayananda

A person was fixated on the notion that he was a chicken, so would not go out of his house for years due to fear of dogs chasing to kill him. At the recommendation of his friends and well-wishers a psychotherapist started working with him. His sessions went on for years.
After a long time, one day, at the end of a session, he told his therapist “I now know that I am not a chicken.” The therapist replied “Great! Why don’t you just go round the block and come back. I will be happy to conclude the session today.” 
Barely a few minutes had passed when the therapist heard some barking dogs and someone pounding on his doors, he rushed to open the door.  His patient barged in panting and plopped himself in a chair. After he calmed down, the therapist asked, “What happened?  Why were you panting when you rushed in? Are you alright?” He replied, “Doctor, I know I am not a chicken, but do the dogs know I am not a chicken?


Two factors necessary to learn any subject, sacred or secular are desire to learn and readiness to learn. The first one presupposes that one is aware of being ignorant of a subject. 

Desire to learn: Realizing that one is ignorant leads to a desire to learn. In Sanskrit there is a single word for “desire to learn”:  jijñāsā. We all know that a strong desire remains till the object of desire is gained unless eliminated by mature dispassion, vairāgya. But this does not apply to desire to know who you are, the result of analyzing all the fulfilled desires one had and finding that this did not lead to any lasting sense of contentment. This is why in many sūtra texts, jijñāsā is in the opening aphorism. For example, the analytical text of the ritual portion of the Vedas, the sūtra attributed to Jamini starts:

अथातो धर्मजिज्ञासा।   ॥१.१॥
Athāto dharmajijñāsā (1:1)
Now, therefore, may one entertain a desire to know dharma (1:1)

Another well known sūtra work by Bādarāyaṇa, the analysis of Upaniṣads, starts:

अथातो ब्रह्मजिज्ञासा।  ॥१.१॥
Athāto brahmajijñāsā (1:1)
Now,  therefore, may one entertain a desire to know Brahman (1:1)

Many students of Patañjali are aware of the work Sāṅkhyakārikā of Īśvarakṛṣṇa. His book starts with:

तापत्रयाभिघाताज्जिज्ञासा ।   ॥१.१॥
Tāpatrayābhighātājjijñāsā (1:1)
For cessation of the anguish triad, may one entertain a desire to know. (1:1)(No attempt is made here to explain these aphorisms from three disparate fields of learning since it is not the objective of this article.)

Readiness to learn: When it comes to ancient teachings on the life goal, to be free while living, called mokṣa, the readiness to learn is critical. It means having the ability to learn by setting aside intellectual and emotional roadblocks, based on one’s current perspective, convictions and past experiences. This type of readiness to learn is called śraddhā in Sanskrit, poorly translated as “faith”. This word faith, especially in modern times, may be looked down upon, sometimes equating to blind faith if not also being irrational, superstitious ideas. But faith is particularly relevant to any scriptural study. The best definition of śraddhā was stated by an advaita master, Śaṅkarācārya in Vivekacūdāmaṇi.

शास्त्रस्य गुरुवाक्यस्य सत्यबुद्ध्यवधारणम्।
सा श्रद्धा कथिता सद्भिर्यया वस्तूपलभ्यते। ॥२७॥
Śāśtrasya guruvākyasya satyabuddhyavdhāraṇām
Sā śraddhā kathitā sadbhiryayā vastūpalabhyate. (27)
Conviction that the words of the teacher and of the sacred work is true:
This is defined as śraddhā (‘faith’) by the wise,
With this one gains the object (of one’s quest) – (Vivekacūḍāmaṇi, verse 27)

Difference between secular and spiritual learning

The first big difference between secular and spiritual knowledge was highlighted to us at the āśrama by our teacher, Swami Dayananda Sarasvati,  “If you study microbiology, you do not want to be a microbe! If you study geology, you do not want to become a rock! But when you study Vedānta, you want to be what Vedānta says you already are.” This is succinctly stated by “Tat tvam asi”, namely you are what you seek! Thus, what you want to be is not different from yourself–the truth of yourself–not what you take yourself to be.’

The second major difference is the effect of such a study on the student. Accomplishments in the study of secular  subjects do not usually transform the student. They will often continue to lead to feelings of wanting, needing, dissatisfaction and emptiness. Having spent my life as a scientist, I can say that there is an acute sense of not knowing everything concerning even a small area of scientific endeavour. This sense of being left unfulfilled and wanting to transcend this grief is highlighted in the following story about Narmada in Chāndogya-Upaniṣad in the seventh chapter.

Story of Nārada approaching his teacher Sanatkumāra

The celestial sage Nārada approached Sanatkumāra and asked him to teach, to which Sanatkumāra replied, “First tell me what all you have studied, then I will teach you.”  Nårada described his scholastic accomplishments in more than twenty different fields of study and concluded, “Despite all this knowledge, I still feel sorrowful. O Lord, may you teach me the way to transcend this sorrow.” The teaching that follows is about self-knowledge; that is, the true nature of oneself.  (Chāndogya Ch. 7, Section 1, Verses 1-3).

Spiritual study transforms the person, while expertise in any branch of secular knowledge leaves the personality of the learner untouched. More often than not one remains the same, perhaps becoming more haughty, looking down on others, be hurtful, unforgiving, lacking compassion and so on.

Learning – When it is complete

More than two millennia ago, a Tamil poet known as Tiruvalluvar in his well-known work Kuraḷ succinctly expressed two aspects of learning: thoroughness and behavior of the student toward fellow beings:

கற்க கசடற கற்பவை கற்ற பின்
நிற்க அதற்குத்தக. (குறள்: 391)
Karka kaśaḍara karpavai kaṭrapin
Nirka adarkuttaha. (Kuraḷ: 391)
Learn without any shadow doubt or confusion.
Having learned what all has to be learned,
May your life reflect what you have learned. (Kural Verse 391)

The word kaśaḍara defines when one’s learning is complete.This word means free of defects. That is, whatever one has learned must be free of doubts, confusion and error. One may have a feeling that the knowledge gained is free of any doubt, but it could still be totally erroneous!

That it is quite possible to have erroneous understanding of what the teacher says is illustrated by another story in the same Chāndogya-Upaniṣad in the eighth chapter. 

Story of Indra and Virocana learning from their teacher Bṛhaspati

Two students, Indra, the king of gods, and Virocana, the king of demons, approached their teacher, Bṛhaspati, seeking knowledge of the self known as puruṣa in Sāṇkhya/yoga and ātman in Vedānta. Both had heard how this ātman is free of birth, death or other limitations known to living beings, be they humans, demons or gods. They stayed with the teacher for years. They were asked at the end of the study to look at themselves in a well to “see ātman.” They both saw their own reflections. The king of demons, Virocana, realized clearly that the body is, indeed, the self and left for his kingdom. He told his subjects to take care of the body and enjoy life!

Indra, on the other hand, started thinking how this is not the case, since what he saw was just a reflection of the physical body. So he went back to the teacher, and he was asked to stay for a few more years. Finally, the teacher explained how the self is enshrined in the body but not limited by the body, and that the truth of one’s being is, indeed, ātman.

Thus, taking oneself to be just the body and its three states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep is not true knowledge. True knowledge is seeing that there is one Being witnessing all these three states. This witness, as it were, is the imperishable, limitless self, the true nature of any living being. Thus, blessed by correct learning, Indra finally left the teacher and went back to rule his kingdom. He imparted this knowledge to his subjects. This story also highlights how expressing and trying to resolve doubts during the learning process is an important step in gaining clear understanding of any teaching.

While I was in school I studied Sanskrit as the third language. In those days it was mandatory to memorize and “regurgitate” in the exams to get a high score. The incidental benefit of this focus on rote memorization is that one remembers things decades after school! One verse I remember talks about how and when learning is complete:

आचार्यात्पादमादत्ते पादं शिष्यस्स्वमेधया।
पादं सब्रह्मचारिभ्यः पादम् कालक्रमेण वै।।
Ācāryātpādamādatte pādaṃ śiṣyassvamedhayā
Pādaṃ sabrahmacāribhyaḥ pādam kālakrameṇa vai.
One learns a quarter from the teacher,
the second quarter using the learner’s reasoning,
Another quarter from co-students and the last, only with passage of time.

Learning – Mark of the learned

The last part of Kural’s verse – nirka adarkuttaha, May your life reflect what you have learned – tells the real mark of learning. This is relevant to any spiritual study. This is what is popularly called “Walk the talk”. This means one’s learning is reflected in his/her behavior towards all living beings.

Unfortunately, we generally are very good at learning once we set our minds to it but fall by the wayside when it comes to living an exemplary life and being a shining example of what the teaching is all about: being free of impulsiveness, cravings, hurtfulness to others in thought, word and deed, and other baser instincts that propel a person to act based on “ends justify the means”’ type of reasoning. The hallmarks of a learned person, jñânin, wise one, are described in the Gītā in the second chapter (Chapter 2:55-72). I will elaborate on the mark of wisdom in a later post, entitled Master.

Here I do not mean only actions motivated by the theological concepts of God, Heaven and Hell or the need to be good in life (not sinning etc.), these result in a person leading an ethical life. My focus here is what is called “liberation / freedom theology,” though I prefer the term liberation-centered philosophies. One can include in this category Buddhist, Sāṅkhya /Yoga  and Vedānta philosophies.

The primary thrust of these systems is living-liberated; that is, freedom here and now, not as a posthumous reward of heaven as described in Abrahamic religions or the different heavens described in the ritual section of the Vedas. Even in Vedānta, in the Upaniṣads there is mention of liberation after death, videhamukti. Liberation after death is more like a response to the polemical question, “If I am really liberated, how come I still am bound to this body”  and not the real intent of Vedānta.

Though the word liberation sounds almost mystical, it is synonymous with the word freedom, which is easy to understand. The question then is “What is this freedom?”  No one is free from aging, illness and death. Also, freedom implies the idea of being in bondage from which one gains freedom! The freedom one talks about in these philosophies is not something to be gained. Anything gained can be lost as well, so a liberated person can be bound again. The freedom discussed in these philosophies is not a two-way street because liberation is not an event in time.

In reality, one is free and the sense of bondage is due to total identification with the mind.  If the mind is agitated, “I am agitated.” If the mind experiences an emotion of sorrow, joy or hurt, then “I am sad, joyful, hurt”. I remember at the end of one of our Vedānta residential courses, Swami Dayananda encapsulated the essence of the Vedāntic vision of living-liberated thus:  “You are free from the moment you no longer take yourself to be an existing emotion in your mind.”  This freedom is described by the famous analogy of sculpting an elephant out of a big boulder. One does not make the elephant but only chips away the non-elephant until only the elephant remains. What is being chipped away in the life of a seeker is just his or her  identification with the mind and its emotions.

Thus, the focus of liberation philosophies is to make seekers realize that they are already free and only have to free themselves from identification with the mind. In a mind that is besieged by regrets, cravings, hate, anger and similar emotions, the philosophies do not work. The transformation of the person to manifest the understanding of the core of these philosophies is not possible. The philosophies remain at best at the level of intellectual appreciation of a lofty concept.

This leads us to the second word of the triad Learn, Practice, Master.  What Practice is and why it is critical for the student of philosophy forms the subject of the next post.

I thank Alice, Candace, Chris and Philippe
for their valuable comments and edits.


For the last several years I have been participating in a Yoga Sūtra a group-discussion that led me to study the Yoga Sutra (YS) with Vyāsa’s commentary, with the vivraṇa b by Saṇkarācārya, with the ṭīkā c by Vācaspati Miśra, and with an independent commentary by a 20th century yogin, Sadāśivabrhamendra. 1-6

The Bhagavadgītā (BG) 7, 8 is a set of about 800 verses in 18 chapters written by Vyāsa. I studied this text at the āśrama-s dedicated to Vedānta d in India and California. Now I am intrigued by its similaritiesto the YS on many levels. This made me wonder if the BG was intended to be an elaboration of the YS. However, I found no publication comparing these two well-known works.

I follow the traditional belief that the author of the commentary to the YS 9 and the BG are one and the same. I am well aware of the debate as to whether the YS commentator Vyāsa and the author of the BG are two different persons living at different times but having the same name. Some even believe Patañjali himself wrote this YS commentary though it bears Vyāsa’s name. 

Differences between the two works, the YS and the BG  

Patañjali’s work is known by its title Yogasūtra (YS). It is technically classified as Yogadarśana e, yoga philosophy, in contrast to the rarely available and scarcely known philosophySāṇkhyadarśna of Kapila 10 and the more widely known summarization of this system by Īśvarakṛṣṇa in the Sāṇkhyakārikā 11 Though the YS has its moorings in the more ancient Sāṇkhya system, it is treated as a separate philosophical system since the concept of Īśvara is found in the YS by Patañjali but not mentioned in the earlier Sāṇkhya philosophy.  The concept of Īśvara f is Patanjali’s own.

Note that the ritual section of the Vedas g also does not have an Īśvara, “God” since it is assumed that karma h, actions themselves produce the results here and hereafter. From the modern idea of God, one can say that that both Sāṇkhya and vedic ritualism are “Godless!” According to Patañjali, however, Īśvara is just another Puruṣa, like most of us, Puruṣas. The uniqueness or what makes this Īśvara special is that He h is free from any action or the result of an action; in short one who has no karma-bound limitations (YS 1:24). But, there is no description of who this special puruṣa is, not his qualities and abilities, as is commonly understood in theologies.

Vyāsa’s BG, on the other hand, is not considered an independent darśana but is folded into Vedāntadarśana, vedānta philosophy. Unlike Patañjali, he did not strike an independent path propounding any new system of thought. He used the pretext of writing an account of his descendants’ families engaging in a fratricidal war in a book of 100,000 verses called Mahābhārataa in which the BG is a subsection. His work is called a smṛti j in contrast to vedas, the śruti k. The tradition considers the smṛti to be an elaboration of the rather terse śruti.

Typically, due to the fact that the foundation of the yoga system is the Sankhya, the Sāṇkhya-Yoga is considered as one integrated philosophical system.  This system is grounded on the fundamental duality of prakṛti l, matter, and puruṣa m, the sentience, the former is the one undergoing changes to form the phenomenal world while the latter can be many. Patañjali’s new idea is that one of these innumerable puruṣa-s is Īśvara, a special one (YS 1:24). He simply states that by mere repetition of his name, praṇava, Om and reflecting on its meaning one can gain samādhi (YS 1:23).

In contrast, the vedānta idea of Īśvara with qualities such as omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, has powers as the giver of the results of actions as well as having over lordship of the results; Patañjali has no such clear postulations. Vyāsa, on the other hand, follows the vedānta tradition – Īśvara with qualities, devoting an entire chapter in BG describing the cosmic form of Īśvara (BG, Ch. 11). The BG has been interpreted by three great propounders of vedānta philosophies – advaita, viśiṣṭhādvaita and dvaita n.

At this point I have to point out my bias, both as a scientist schooled in hard sciences and as one who is immersed in advaita philosophy. It is hard for me to subscribe to the validity of absolute demarcation, namely maintaining duality of prakṛti and puruṣa as fundamental realities. In science, since the last century, what was once considered to be fundamentally different – wave-particle duality, matter-energy duality, nuclear particles duality – all only led to an existing fundamental non-duality. So, from the advaita-vedānta view of the BG there is a big conceptual, perhaps irreconcilable difference with the Sāṇkhya-Yoga system. But, if I look at the same BG with the lens of the Yogasūtras, I do find that many portions of this text appear to be an elaboration of the cryptic sūtra style work of Patañjali.

There is but one more major difference between YS and BG. Since Patañjali’s philosophy is built on the foundation of the Sāṇkhya system, he does not dwell into the “vision” of the latter, namely ‘“you, the seeker, are, indeed, the puruṣa”, but he states that ignorance of this is responsible for your present condition. So, the solution is not “doing something” but knowing who you are. This is stated at a few places in the YS, but this message is not even appreciated by many a serious student of Patañjali! 

One can understand this since almost all those who come to study the YS are serious āsana practitioners having practiced for years. Being born and raised in the current culture of “don’t just sit there, do something”, they think that doing something is meditation, and that this would give them kaivalya which yogins would call samadhi. Sadly, as we will see later in this post, the explicit statements in the YS about ignorance being the cause for the current human condition is missed.  Any amount of practice of meditation, postures and other actions cannot remove this ignorance. No ignorance can be removed by a physical or mental action; it is only removed by knowing one’s true nature. I am reminded of my vedānta teacher’s comment, ‘apne āp kaisa hoga – by itself how can it happen (meaning removal of ignorance).’

The prime focus of the YS is how to fix up the mind. Thus, it is rightly called a “practice manual”, that is, a book which completely deals with the “way” never explicitly discussing the “vision”. As I mentioned, no amount of practice can grind out avidyā, ignorance. This is clearly stated by Patañjali himself in Sādhanapāda, the second chapter on practice.

For those students of the YS 9 who may look at askance, one just has to examinethe foundation of Sāṇkhya on which Patañjali builds the structure of yoga. The well-known Sāṇkhya work, Sāṇkhyakārikā by Īśvarakṛṣṇa starts his work with the opening statement:

For total elimination of three-fold pain (have a) desire to know. (Sāṇkhyakārikā1:1)

Thus despite Patañjali’s primary focus, as mentioned earlier is yoga, he clearly states the need for gaining this knowledge to remove ignorance, the cause of the seeker’s present condition. In short the ‘way’ is necessary but not sufficient, one has to know, that is one has to gain a clear unshakable ‘vision’.

Thus in this second chapter of YS, called Practice, he lists the five afflictions starting with avidyā, ignorance:

Five afflictions are ignorance, ego, likes, dislikes and clinging to life (YS 2:3)

He adds the fact that this ignorance (of the true nature of the seeker to be none other than puruṣa) is the root cause, the ground on which the remaining four afflictions manifest to varying degrees:

Avidyākketramuttareām prasuptatanuvicchinnodārānam
Ignorance is the place for the rest (of afflictions) to be dormant, weak, intermittent or fully manifest (YS 2:4)

Later, in the same chapter he states that the prime cause is ignorance and the need for clear unshakable knowledge as the cause for its removal. This is what I call ‘Vision’.

Tasya heturavidyā
The cause for this is ignorance (YS 2:24)
Vivekakhyātiraviplavā hānopāyaḥ
The way of destruction of this (ignorance) is clear discriminative knowledge
(between prakṛti and puruṣa ) (YS 2:26).

Now to similarities between YS and the BG

Though this is the primary focus for a series of posts, here are the similarities between the two works:

  • As a sūtra text, the YS has to fulfill the criteria of a sūtra – short, clear, pithy and multidimensional. This is true of many a classic sūtra work, such as those by Pāṇini, Jaimini and Vyâsa.
  • Thus, any sūtra work needs a commentator as well as sub-commentators. 
  • Independent works centered on sūtra works also are necessary and many such works do exist and not just for Patañjali’s YS.
  • Based on my understanding of both Patañjali’s YS and the BG, I think that many of the words used in the YS gain immediacy to the seeker by the study of the BG.
  • Some typical examples are Īśvara, abhyāsa, the manifestation of the three guṇas of sattva, rajas and tamas, prakṛti and puruṣa and the marks of a yogin who has gained this “vision” and is able to maintain this “vision’”of the Sāṅkya by following yoga practice. These are all elaborated in detail in the BG.

We will focus on similarities between the two works in future posts, especially those that appear to be an elaboration of the YS as well as Vyāsa’s own commentary to the YS of Patañjali. 

Please refer to my previous post for “way’” and ‘“vision’’, terms
originally used in a few books on Vajrayana buddhism,
but I have used these words in my blog post

My grateful thanks to my friend, Chris Washburn, a Yoga teacher with good    knowledge of both Sanskrit and advaita-vedanta for her valuable suggestions and editing the material.

Glossary of some Sanskrit terms used in this post.

(Note: I added the glossary to explain some Sanskrit terms that may not be familiar to many who do not know Sanskrit. I used to tell my vedanta students, “Sanskrit is a foreign language to most Indians as well”! Also, the etymological meaning and common meanings are some times different. The former gives one better insight into language structure. I hope readers find this useful. I am using what is called the substantive form of the word in this blog as is customary in writing using many languages. The grammatically correct forms are used in actual quotes in the blog such as the sūtras.)

a Sūtra: derived from the verb sūtr meaning to tie, to thread by adding a
suffix a to form the noun. The word, thus, means a thread, that which ties
things together. It means ‘a short, concise technical sentence’ translated
as aphorism. This style of writing is usually short, clear, pithy and
multidimensional. Because of this, one needs commentaries to explain
the intent of the author. Incidentally, the Sanskrit word for commentary
is bhāṣya, derived from the verb bhāṣ, to talk about, to describe formed
by adding the suffix ya yielding the word meaning ‘that which needs to
be explained – an explanation.

b Vivaraṇa: derived from the verb vṛ with prefix vi, meaning to explain
formed by adding the suffix ‘ana’ to make the noun. The word, thus
means an explanation. Typically the commentary explains an aphorism.
  Even this commentary needs further elaboration which is usually done
by a different author. sSuch works are called vivaraṇa, tīkā, tippaṇi, vṛtti,
vārttika etc.,

c Tīkā: derived from the verb īk meaning to resort to formed by adding the
suffixes a and ā to make the noun. This word also means an explanation.
Though all these terms mean explanation in English, there are many
subtle differences. They are too technical to explain and, thus, not
germane to this post.

d  Vedānta: this is a compound of two words, veda and anta. Veda, derived
from the verb vid, to know with suffix a to form the noun meaning
knowledge. In context, this also means a book of knowledge which
applies here to the scriptures called the four vedas – ṛk, yajus, sāma and
  atharvaṇa. Anta means end, thus, the compound means end portion of
the vedas. These are also known as Upaniṣads.

e darśana: from the verb dṛś to see with the suffix ana (ref. Vivaraṇa), the
noun form meaning vision. This word is usually translated as philosophy.
Thus, one has the compounds Sāṅkhyadarśana, yogadarśana, vedānta-
darśana, advaitadarśana and so on.

Īśvara: from the verb īś to rule, have overlordship with the suffix vara
forming the noun meaning One who has overlordship, equivalent to the
word The Lord referring to God in English.

g Veda: Refer to vedānta defined earlier.

h Gender in Sanskrit: From the foregoing it is clear that words are formed
by addition of suffixes to verbs. These suffixes define the gender of the
word, hence it is said that the gender is formal in Sanskrit. It is thus more
akin to languages other than English. Some of the suffixes define the
gender of the noun formed, still it need not be factual, namely denoting
the sex of the object. Thus words like Īśvara, puruṣa are masculine while
prkṛti, śakti, śruti, ahimsā are feminine.

i Upaniṣad: Refer vedānta defined earlier.

Śruti: derived from the verb śru to hear with the suffix ti to form the noun
meaning ‘that which is heard’. In the tradition this applies to the four
vedas, also known as scriptures.

k Smṛti: similar to śruti, this is derived from the verb smṛ to remember.
Traditionally this refers toany sacred work written by a person. Well
known examples are manusmṛti, epics such as  Rāmāyaṇa, Mahābhārata
and mythologies as Bhāgavatam.

Prakṛti: derived from the verb kṛ to do with the prefix pra and suffix ti. In
Sāṅkhya-yoga as well as in vedānta this refers to unmodified, also called
primordial matter in the unmanifest stage, that is, before creation. In
grammar this refers to an unmodified form such as any verb before
  the addition of any suffx. Creation is brought about by transformation of
this prakṛti to vikṛti, yielding all animate beings and inanimate things.

Puruṣa: This is an irregularly formed word from Purin as prefix and śī
the verb meaning to reside in with suffix a. In Sāṅkhya-yoga as well as in
vedānta this refers to the ‘soul’, the indweller in all living beings, though
usually it refers to human beings. In both systems it also means the
unchanging, quality-less awareness ever present but not known to be
distinct from and other than prakṛti. This ignorance of one’s true nature
is the result of human suffering.

dvaita, viśiṣṭādvita and advaita: These represent three ways of
interpretation of vedānta, respectively propounded by three masters,
Madhva, Rāmānuja and Śaṅkara (and a few other masters before him as
well). The most easily understandable and easily appreciated one
is dvaita since it is the basis of almost all current day theologies including
the ancient Sāṅkhya-yoga.

   dvaita: a compound of dvidhā, twofold and verb ī to go, know, perceive,
cognize, be aware of, and the suffix ta. Etymologlically it can mean ‘taken
as / known as / perceived as / cognized as two. Two does not mean only
two – it means with reference to you, there is “other”; thus you
   and the other form two. The other can be God, this world, your spouse,
and so on. Thus those who subscribe to this theology as the reality are
convinced that God is God, You are you and one can never be the other.

  viśiṣṭādvita: derived in a similar way except it is a compound of viśiṣṭa
usually translated as ‘qualified’ and advaita. The prefix a, called negative
particle in grammar gives the opposite meaning of the word to which it is
attached (similar to typical, atypical; thiest, astheist). Thus advaita means
non-dual, the philosophy of advaita is unfortunately wrongly translated
in many authoritative books as monism! As a compound, viśiṣṭādvita is
qualified non-duality, meaning there is some qualifier – that you are
  almost but not same as God.

advaita: As described, this means non-dual, that is, in reality you and God
are not different in reality. It is only apparently different since the
concept (or notion) of I and concept of God are both conditioned by
some qualities. Thus the qualities attached to you are limited in terms of
knowledge, power, and time (alive between date of birth and date of
death). Similarly we attach qualities of being ‘The Lord’, Creator,
Sustainer, Destroyer, One in control of our destiny (karma), One who
blesses us and so on. A twentieth century sage, Ramana Maharshi puts it
succinctly thus in Upadeśasāram: ‘The difference between you (jīva) and
God (Īśa) is due to costumes; drop the constume, you see the Truth of
yourself’. Of course, it is not that easy as we the long-time students of
advaita-vedānta know only too well, the reason being our minds having a
strangle hold to our conviction that we are this body and the mind, all the
philosophy is nice to listen and or teach! And, to be in a position to see
what he says we need to prepare the mind to rid of its likes and dislikes –
this is the whole thrust of Patañjali’s and Vyāsa’s works.


 1 Yogasūtrabhaṣyavivaraṇa of Śaṅkara, Vol1-4, T. S. Rukamni, Munshiram
Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd. 3rd Edition 2010 (Has Devanāgarī text
and English translation of the sūtra, the commentary and the vivraṇa)

 2 Śaṅkara on the Yogasūtras, Trevor Leggett, Motilal Banarsidas Publishers
Private Ltd., Delhi, First Indian Edition, 1992 (All in English)

 3 The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, With insights from the traditional
commentators, Edwin F. Bryant, North Point Press, New York, 2009
(Sūtras in Devanāgarī, English transliteration, Meaning of sūtras in
English and Bryant’s comments)

 Light on the Yogasūtras of Patañjali, B. K. S. Iyengar, Harper Element,
2013 (Sūtras in Devanāgarī, English transliteration, word for word
meaning, meaning the sūtras in English and Iyengar’s comments)

 Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras with the commentary of Vyāsa and the gloss of
Vācaspati Miśra by Rāma Prasāda,  Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers
Pvt. Ltd. 2005 (Has Devanāgarī text and English translation of the sūtra,
word for word meaning, Vyāsa’s commentary in Devanāgarī with English
translation, and the gloss only in English)

Yogasūtram, Śrī Sadāśivendrasarasvatīkṛta Yogasudhākaropetam, First
   Edition, 1992,The Samskrit Education Society, Madra – 600 004 (In Sanskrit
only. Available as a PDF download)

Srīmad BhagavadGītā Bhāṣya of Śrī Śaṅkarācārya, Translation by Dr. A. G.
Krishna Warrier, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Madras-600004, India (Has
Devanāgarī text and English translation of both the verse and Bhāṣya, the

Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Swami Swarupananda, Advaita Ashram,
Calcutta-14, India (Has Devanāgarī text and English translation of every
word of the verse in Devanāgarī with meaning in English and the verse
meaning in English – best for easy reference)

Patañjali Yoga Sutras, Swami Prabhavananda, Sri Ramakrishna Math,
Mylapore, Madras 600004, India (Has Devanāgarī text of the sūtra and
English translation with a short comment by the author – best for easy

10  The Sānkhya Aphorisms of Kapila, by James Robert Ballantyne Kapila
(Published by Forgotten, Copyright 2013, available for PDF
download, paperback copy can be purchased from

11  Samkhya Karika with Gaudapadacarya Bhashya by Brhamasirhi
Vishwatma Bawra, compiled and edited by William F. Milcetich,
Brahmarishi Yoga Publications, 2012 (Text in English Transliteration,
Commentary and comments by Bawra. Some out of print books available
for PDF download and Digitized by Google Books, printed paper back
copy can be purchased)

A rather strange title indeed for this post! The SARS-CoV-2 virus causing COVID-2019  is an equal opportunity infector, transcending race, nationality, age, wealth, power, technological advancement or political polarization and posturing. Not unlike the famous quote made by Oppenheimer on witnessing the awesome power of man-made bomb, I can only think of quoting from the same chapter from the Bhagavadgītā to this Nature-made virus with global impact. To me the virus seems to be declaring 

‘World-destroying mighty time am I’ (Bhagavadgītā, Ch.11:32)

It is ironic to see history repeating itself since the flu pandemic of 1918, a century ago, showing the vulnerability of the human kind, perhaps human irrationality as well in dealing with this type of unseen enemy. As one interested in history, I read about the Spanish Flu pandemic, the refusal to wear masks, organizing protests agains mask wearing directives and the pandemic coming back with greater ferocity in spring of 1919 causing even more deaths than it caused when it first arrived in 1918. Santayana, the 19th century philosopher perhaps foresaw this to state “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it“. Sadly it is true in the 21st century as well!

Since the last six months of almost near shut down of activities thanks to the SARS-CoV-2 virus induced pandemic I have been thinking about what positive effect it can have on humanity, can there be any silver lining? Can a person really relate to it, as Shakespeare wrote:

“Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything”
(As You Like It, Act II, Scene 1)

Another poem, a favorite of my father (who was a high school English and history teacher before he became a head master, called a high school principal in US) also comes to my mind when thinking of the current situation, if it can provide us a rare opportunity to ‘have time to stand and spare’. This is a poem ‘Leisure’ is by the 19th century Welsh poet Davis.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Over the last few weeks, I have been thinking more and more about discovering any possible silver lining in this dark cloud hanging over the entire globe. I was reminded of my life at an āśrama (a monastery offering a way of life of study and contemplation) in Bombay (Mumbai) in India during 1976-1978. This is one of the several interesting anecdotes that has relevance to the current situation we are confronting and its potential for transformation of the human being in more ways than one.

Though most of you may know my years of study of Vedānta, here is a brief background setting the context, for the anecdote I refer to here. Almost 45 years ago, a close friend of mine and I decided to leave our respective professions in New York and go for a full-time study of Vedānta at an āśrama in Bombay, after listening to public talks by Swami Chinmayananda for several years in US. This place was devoted a residential course for study of vedānta texts, learn Sanskrit to allow us to study the commentaries of texts that were not covered in this short 30-month course, and included daily guided and silent meditations. The resident teacher was Swami Dayānanda, an erudite Vedānta scholar and an excellent teacher. His Sanskrit name Dayānanda means ‘the joy of compassion’, and he lived true to the name – dealing with a motley crowd of 65 of us of widely different ages, cultures, educational qualifications, expectations and, at times bristling with irritation against any kind of do-s and don’ts. The suggestions of activity reduction were construed by many among us to be an imposed ‘discipline’.

We were told not to go to the āśrama library and delve into books on Vedānta or any other philosophic systems; not to go out of the āśrama premises to see movies, visit restaurants, eat street foods etc., etc., Naturally there was some murmur about these impositions. Swami Dayānanda devoted one of his talks explaining the reason for these suggestions misconstrued as an ‘imposition’. He thought that these suggestions were helpful in bringing about a transformation of oneself, the primary goal of any monastic life style of study and reflection. This is what I remember about his discourse, it is not a verbatim quote.

“All your needs are taken care of here. There is no cause for mental agitation since boarding and lodging are free. Even necessary books to study are provided free. So no worries about having to pay for anything. There is no expectation as to what you have to do after this 30-month course of study and reflection. The reason for my suggestion about not reading any books on philosophy, reading papers, journals etc., and curtailing your external activities is just this: In our daily life there are so many distractions and external stimuli so the mind is constantly engaged with no time to turn inward. Thus the impact of constantly changing inputs does not allow one to change, to let the mind look at itself – this is the first and necessary step towards transformation. Only then the teaching about the Truth of your Being I impart, based on these sacred texts can take hold in yourself. In our āśrama setting, I reduce the external stimuli to the minimum to provide this opportunity for personal growth.”

His talk made a deep impression on me, and this lasts even to this day, after forty five years, two bouts of monastic living, getting back to pressure-cooker high tech work for two decades with its inescapable consequences, looking forward to and longing for retirement and after almost two decades of retired life! Despite my sporadic but nowadays a more sustained efforts in exercise, yoga and meditation, I have to admit that regarding this inner transformation, I am still a WIP (work in progress), but at peace with continuing effort! 

I think that with my background, with this Nature-made bomb still showering a global sense of helplessness and untold misery with no clear end in sight, I can see the sliver lining! It appears to me as though the virus telling us “Stop! You have enough of escape distractions despite what I have done – Your internet, cell phones, other mobile devices, social media and doom-scrolling! This is an opportunity for looking at yourself, try to transform yourself into better human beings with greater compassion, kindness, forgiveness and understanding!”


In 1956 Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) was launched with the logo of two hands protecting a lamp with the Sanskrit quote ‘Yogakṣemam vahāmyaham’ in Devanāgarī script. 
(Edited to show just the logo).

I was sixteen years old at the time, I recognized that the phrase was a quote from the Bhagavadgītā (the Gītā), but I did not know what the words really meant! I was vaguely aware that these words were understood to mean general well-being, but this colloquial use does not necessarily imply that the meaning is correct.

In 1972 in New York City, I listened to a series of talks by the (late) Swami Chinmayananda on the Bhagavadgītā’s 12th chapter. This led me in 1976 to study vedānta full-time at his āśrama at Sandeepany Sādhanālaya, Mumbai. Among other major vedānta texts, we studied the Gītā, under the tutelage of Swami Dayānanda Sarasvatī. There I understood the depth of meaning of this quote which comprises just one quarter of a verse (Chapter 9, Verse 12) in the Gītā, a book of 700 verses.

In 2019, during one of my regular phone conversations with my brother in India, he asked me what this word yogakṣhema meant. He is a retired electrical engineer, a deeply religious person who is well versed in Sanskrit and familiar with the Gītā. My reply to him forms the content of this post.

Bhavadgītā Chapters

The Gītā consists of 18 chapters, each containing the word Yoga in its title. As explained in my previous post, Jewels from the Bhagavadgītā (1) , the word yoga here means a topic or a chapter. The Gītā is divided into three sets of six chapters, each set is called a ṣatkam. From the advaita view, this book is an exposition on the meaning of the rather cryptic sentence in an Upaniṣad, Tattvamasi, That You Are (Chāndogyopaniṣad 6:9-4). Thus, the first set of 6 chapters centers on the word tvam, you, while the second set focuses on the tat, that (God, the Limitless) and the last set of 6 chapters focus on asi, are, emphasize the essential identity of the tat and tvam, in contrast to our total identification with the body and mind.

The LIC quote occurs in Chapter 9, which is in the middle of the second ṣatkam of Chapters 7 to 12. These focus on God’s greatness and attributes as well as Her all pervasiveness / omnipresence. This section ends with the twelfth chapter called Bhaktiyoga, the chapter on Devotion. The ninth chapter is titled Rājavidyārājaguhyayoga –The King of Knowledge, the King of Secrets. The word guhya, secret, implies that the Gïtā is the essence of the Upaniṣads, and they are referred to as secret-knowledge in the sense that this is not to be given to the unprepared. The idea being that a mind full of desires which acts impulsively would be unable to assimilate that teaching, in contrast to a focused, calm mind not consumed by cravings.

The thrust of these middle six chapters is simple: the suffering and confusion of human beings is due to the conviction that they are in charge of their own actions and can control their outcome as well – in short, operating solely based on the ego. One has to realize that God governs things and that surrendering to this Higher Power in thought, word and deed is the way for the complete removal of human unhappiness.

Yogakṣemam Vahāmyaham

This quote Yogakṣemam Vahāmyaham occurs as one quarter of the 22nd verse in the ninth chapter of the Gīta that consists of 34 verses. In this verse, Kṛṣṇa, identifying himself with God, proclaims

Ananyāścintayanto mām ye janāḥ paryupāsate
Teṣām nityābhyuktānām yogakṣemam vahāmyaham. (9:12) 

Prabhupāda Bhaktivedānta’s interpretation of this verse in his popular book “Bhagavadgītā As It Is” follows:

But those who worship Me with devotion, meditating on My transcendental form, to them  I carry what they lack and preserve what they have.

I prefer the following interpretation of the same verse In my version, I chose to use the same Sanskrit words yoga and kṣema in the translation as well. Finally we come to an exposition of the meaning of these two words, the focus of this blog post!

Those who constantly meditate on Me with no other thought,
I secure their yoga and kṣema.

What is Yoga?

Nowadays the word yoga has become quite well-known almost everywhere in the world. It is commonly understood to mean the practice of āsanas, that is, physical postures with emphasis primarily on physical fitness and good health. But if one looks at the etymological root, yoga comes from the noun form of the verb yuj, to yoke, connect, join,, it is clear the word can have a different connotation, from just referring to physical postures.

The word yoga is used in the Gīta in its most general meaning – any activity initiated to gain / connect to something that one does not have but wants (aprāptasya prāptiḥ). Thus yoga is the activity all living beings engage in, be it a slug moving towards shade or a predator pursuing a prey. For a human being this yoga can be the process of gaining something that is desired – a fit body (which drives one to take up āsana practice), wealth, power, or to become an authority in a subject of choice and so on. The word desire is used to indicate both desire and aversion since they are two sides of the same coin – a desire for wealth or aversion to poverty.

What is kṣema?

The meaning of this word is not known to many even in India. This noun is derived from the verb kṣe, to stay, abide in, to keep. As used in juxtaposition with yoga it means protecting what one already gained (prāptasya rakṣaṇam). This second activity also takes constant effort by all living beings. Bhaktivedānta translates this word by the expression “to protect what they have”, or one can use just the word safety.

What is unique to humans in yoga-kṣema?

The question then is “are these two pursuits universal”? The simple answer is yes. Then one can ask what is unique for us? The additional feature not available to the animal and plant kingdoms is that we are not totally programmed, driven by instincts. We do have choices. My vedanta teacher used to say “a cow does not choose to smoke, but we choose to smoke even though we do not have a chimney”. This choice, driven by the faculty of thinking is what drives some of us to find meaning in life, call it search for freedom or nivāṇa of mokṣa or God. We make use of the mind to create a hell in this life being propelled by our desires and aversions, but yearn for eternal freedom. Many a religious thought and philosophy of the East makes one see that one is already free and the reason we do not experience it is the mind full of impulses, desires and aversions. An upaniṣad states

Mana eva manuṣāṇām kāraṇam bandhamokṣayoḥ (Matri. 6:34)
Mind indeed is the cause for both bondage and freedom.

A mind consumed by cravings is stuck in a cycle of expectation, frustration or elation which is bondage. A mind not afflicted by these cravings is free. Belief in God is one tool that rids the mind of agitations brought about by unfulfilled expectations as well as ever increasing temptations and desires. The Gītā devotes several chapters to how faith in God helps towards this goal.

How can God “carry what I lack and protect what I have?”

The answer depends upon one’s concept or notion of God. The popular one of some Super Being sitting in heaven doling out rewards and punishments to humans is far from the vision of God in the Gītā. The multi-layered Hindu Concept of God, role of prayer, the belief in fulfillment of the wish of the devotee, and why prayer sometimes do not seem to work have been discussed in my blog

According to the Gītā, yogaśāstra, the teaching of Yoga, is focused on dealing with the mind. The fundamental problem is that one identifies with the contents of the mind. Redirecting the mind to focus totally on God results in cessation of the desire to gain something that one does not have (defined as yoga pursuit) and of the equally strong urge to protect what one has gained (defined as kṣema pursuit). This is the real intent of this phrase in the verse where Krṣṇa says: yogakṣemam vahāmyaham – “I take care of yoga and kṣema”. This is in contrast to the idea that some God up somewhere is going to cater to every fancied need and desire or bless one to hold on to what one has, simply because the individual prays fervently!

Roles of prayer and why
prayers are not always fulfilled

One may ask, “If I cannot single mindedly meditate on God with no distractions, does my prayer / meditation become meaningless?” No one can easily choose to meditate constantly with no stray thoughts coming in the way! We all have to start with the mind we have. Arjuna says, “mind indeed is distraction, it is as hard to control as the wind” (6:34). Krṣṇa’s answer is simple “Indeed it is true. But one can restrain the mind by practice and developing vairāgya, dispassion” (6:35). Students of Patañjali’s Yogasūtras may be familiar with a very similar aphorism “By practice and dispassion (the mind) is restrained” (1:12). How exactly this is to be accomplished by a believer is the focus of a few chapters of the Gītā (2-6, 12). 

In addition, as no action, intentional or otherwise is without consequence in this world, prayer is no exception. Arjuna had similar doubts about the effectiveness of prayer, to which Krṣṇa tells him ‘my devotee never is let down” (6:40). We will discuss this in future blogs.

A natural follow up question is, “How can I know that my prayers will be answered, if these are for my own selfish goals rather than  desire-free meditation ?” Prayer for a believer plays two roles: psychological and religious.  At a practical level, thinking of something greater than oneself brings about a certain calmness of mind. At the theological level, there is a possibility of the divine Grace helping you to to fulfill your desire. But this Grace is not handed out just because one prays but depends on three factors – right effort (prayatnam), time (kālam), and God (daivam).

Prayatnam, effort, means adequate and appropriate effort. For example, if I love redwood trees and want to grow one in my backyard in the Arizona desert, my efforts will fail and no amount of fervent prayer will help.

kālam, time required for fruition of an action. Say that I live in Hawaii, being a lover of coconuts I plant one in my yard. I have to wait for a few years to harvest a coconut. Here too, God is not going to accelerate the process however much I pray. 

Lastly, the third factor called daivam, God comes in the picture. Let us say a couple wants to have a child and all the other conditions are right, but still they cannot conceive. The couple prays fervently to be blessed with a child, and sometimes they do beget a child and it is attributed to the grace of daivam. A scientist may question if this is really a divine grace – this cannot be proven by a randomized-double-blind trial! Faith does not lend itself to scientific methodology. And if, despite the prayers the couple does not have a child, being strong believers in daivam they accept it as God’s will, thus be free of emotional turmoil, that is, fluctuations of the mind.

Conclusion : Yogakṣma and the Logo

Back to the logo. It is just a clever marketing ploy in India to sell life insurance using familiar and readily recognizable words from a sacred book, the Gītā. But if this logo were to make one curious enough to figure out the source and dig into the real import of the Gītā, then it is an unintended great service to this well-known sacred text of India.

My heartfelt thanks to my friend Philippe, a student of Patañjali’s yogasūtras, for devoting hours of his time to make this post useful
for anyone not familiar with the Gītā.

The Bhagavadgītā – background

For many among us who have just heard of the word Bhagavadgītā, but are not quite sure of who wrote, where it occurs and what it is about, the following background would help. For the rest of us, this is just a concise summary of what we already know.

This text, sometimes translated as “The Song Divine” has eighteen chapters, comprising about 700 verses. This is in the epic “Mahābhārata”, a 100,000-verse work attributed to Vyāsa. This epic describes a familial feud among nephews of two royal families that resulted in a fratricidal war leading to almost total annihilation of one of the families. Bhagavadgītā is set at the place in the epic where the nepoticidal war is about to begin. But the Commander-in-Chief of one army was having a crisis of confidence and was ready to give up. This was brought about, not by lack of courage, but by the fact that this war thrust on him by his nephews would result in his killing or death in battles of his brethren and those he respects. His name was Arjuna and his charioteer was Kṛṣṇa, his friend and relative. Bhagavadgītā is a conversation between Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa, where Arjuna beseaches his own charioteer thus

Kārpaṇyadoṣopahatsvabhāvaḥ pṛcchāmitvām dharmasammūdhachetāḥ
Yacchreyaḥ syānniścitam brūhi tan me śiṣyasteham śādhi mām tvām prapannam. (2-7)

My mind is tainted by self-pity, I am totally confused about what is dharma I approach you as your student, please teach me! (Ch.2, Verse 7)

Thus, having set the context, Vyāsa describes this spiritual teaching as an ongoing dialogue between the two, Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa. This dialogue is about 650 verses constituting the rest of the 2nd chapter and the remaining 16 chapters.

Even at that time it was common belief that Kṛṣṇa was an incarnation of Lord Viṣṇu. And in a few chapters in the Gītā he takes on the role of God. In one celebrated chapter he shows Arjuana his cosmic vision. Those who are familiar with the nuclear physicist Oppenheimer may remember his quote from the Gītā (from the 11th chapter, where Kṛṣṇa shows Arjuna the cosmic vision of Himself) on witnessing the first atomic bomb detonation. 

The “Vision” and the “Way” in Bhagavadgītā

Bhagavadgītā is not an easy text to follow: thus, giving rise to a number of interpretations over the last several centuries. This set of 700 verses captures the essence of Vedānta’s vision of what you are in contrast to what you take yourself to be. 

Vedānta means the end portion of vedas. Vedas mean books of knowledge. Vedānta is also called the ultimate knowledge of the vedas. Another name for vedānta is Upaniṣads. Vedānta is usually looked upon or interpreted in three ways: advaita-vedānta, viśiṣādvaita-vedānta and dvaita-vedānta. 

These Sanskrit terms such as advaita, viśiṣādvaita and dvaita are typically translated as philosophies of nondualism, qualified dualism and dualism respectively. The foremost exponents of these three thoughts are Śaṅkarācārya (8th century CE) for advaita-Vedānta, Rāmānujācāya (11th century CE) for viśiṣādvaita-vedānta and Madhvācārya  (13th century CE) for dvaita. It is not correct to assume that they were the ones who came up with these concepts first. It is likely that such divergent views were already present, and they expounded them clearly by writing commentaries to several upaniṣads and the Gītā.

The nondual vision of vedānta and the Gītā is that you, the individual, are essentially not different from the world and God. The qualified non-dualism insists that you and God are not quite nondual while the dualistic vision, which is commonly shared with all Abrahamic religions, is that you and God are separate and your role is to worship Him so after death you will be in heaven with Him. Note that this idea of ultimate duality is also the cornerstone for Sāṅkhya-Yoga philosophy.

In one of the invocation verses for the Gītā usually chanted in India expresses the fact that it captures the essence of Upaniṣads in a poetic way.

Sarvopaniṣado gāvo dogdhā gopālanandanaḥPārtho vatsassudhīrbhotkā dugdhaṁ gītāmṛtam mahat

All Upaniṣads are cows, the milkman is KṛṣṇaArjuna is the calf, the enjoyer is one of clear-mind (who drinks this) great nectar of the Gītā.*

(In olden days the calf is allowed to drink the milk from the cow, then the milkman moves the calf away and milks the cow. The milk is for others to enjoyThis is the basis for this verse. I replaced the words gopālanandanaḥ and Pārthaḥ with the corresponding synonyms for clarity.)

Irrespective of these philosophical differences, one has to agree that the Gītā imparts a vision: of who you are that is at variance from your idea of your relationship to other people, the world and God. Since this Vision is so radically different from our perception, merely presenting the vision as Upanisads do was not enough. So, the Gītā offers a Way to understand and assimilate this Vision. (I use the terms Vision and Way with cqpitalized first letters since these terms are commonly used in a Buddhistic tradition.) Assimilation of this vision manifests in terms of one’s behavior towards people and all living beings as well as ways of  understanding of the nature of God. Thus, one can say that the Gītā has both the Vision of this ancient spiritual wisdom and the Way to own it up.

The Vision of the Gītā

The easy way to introduce the Vision for the reader is to start with a familiar example of what we all know and perceive. But we do not see any inherent problem or conflict between our perception and knowledge. We all know that the Sun never rises or sets. This knowledge can be called Vision. But this vision does not negate the perception and experiential enjoyment of a beautiful sunrise or spectacular sunset. In this simple example of the Vision, the way to retain it is through the  basic science taught in grade schools.

Another more advanced example, one my vedānta teacher Swami Dayananda Sarasvati used to cite, is diamond and charcoal. This illustration shows how day-to-day transactions with people need not conflict with the Vision. Any one who has an understanding of elements, crystalline and amorphous solids has the vision that diamond and a piece of charcoal are but the same carbon. But this vision will not alter the behavior of a man offering a big piece of wood charcoal to his girlfriend as a unique Valentine-day gift! 

The following example illustrates the Vision of non-duality not in conflict with perceptual/ experiential duality. In science it was left to Einstein to remove the perceived duality of mass and energy; this does not mean a piece of rock can light up an object nor can visible light be hurled at one to cause physical harm. 

I plan to use these examples to highlight the most difficult, if not often questioned, Vision of non-duality revealed in the Gītā. Once this is understood, it is easier to see the viewpoint of the other two philosophies. 

The vision of the Gītā is a concise summary of the knowledge stated in all Upaniṣads. The core teaching of all Upaniṣads is captured by a single sentence “Tat tvam asi, That (limitlessness, brahman) you are.” (This is a quote from Chandoyopaniṣad.) The natural question arises in one’s mind, “If I am limitless, then what about the world I perceive?” This is where one can see that perception is not reality only to be sublated by knowledge – this is what science teaches us tirelessly! The examples cited earlier of sunrise, sunset, diamond, charcoal, matter, energy, all tell the human being that perception is not reality, nor does reality alter your perception.

But does this mean advaita-vedānta is a branch of science? As a retired scientist, I will respond, “Definitely not!” The simple reason is that the foundation of science is the invariant observer-observed relationship. The observer is the scientist and the observed is the phenomenon. In Vedānta, this is described as aham-idam, I-this duality. But the edifice of advaita-vedānta is elimination of this observer/observed duality, the ultimate goal of science by the postulate of non-duality. This is why vedānta is treated as philosophy and not science. 

But for many of us who are students of this philosophy it is not just a speculation but sacred knowledge to be understood and assimilated. I must add that for some academics and other scholars, this too is only a belief system not any different from any other theistic dualism or non-theistic philosophies.

While there is no conflict between knowledge of sun rise and perception, if vedānta tells me that non-duality is the reality, I find it at variance with all my waking world experience, my emotions, my conflicts etc., So, where is the catch? The catch is that one takes oneself to be this body, this mind, this intellect, these emotions, to be different from this world, God, Heaven, Hell etc., – simply taking perceived duality as the only reality. That is, idam is really and totally different from and other than aham. The prime substratum for this notion is the total identification with mind by the individual.  And to remove this habituated and society imposed thinking that is defined as “knowledge” one has to have a “how to” manual. And this I call the Way to assimilate the Vision. This is where the Gïtā comes in. 

This, in a nutshell, is what the Gïtā teaching of Vision / Way is all about. Namely, if one follows the Way to hold the Vision, that person’s behavior towards fellow human beings or any living being on the Earth will never result in disharmony. And the person will operate from a center of complete harmony in his / her thought, word and deed. Maintaining harmony is what is technically called dharma in Indian tradition, and this dharma conflict was what drove Arjuna to the exasperating confusion and consequent need for clarity. 

The Way described in the Gītā

While the Vision is easy to communicate. But without emphasizing the Way, it cannot be retained to bless the student. Thus, one very short Upaniṣad, called Māṇdūkya conveys the Vision in just 12 sentences! This Vision is called Brahmavidyā, knowledge of the Timeless (limitless, Brahman, call it God, total, Nature or whatever).

Note the word Yoga as many meanings. The most popular meaning is practice of physical postures, called āsanas. The other meaning is a section or topic. Third meaning, mentioned by Vyāsa in his commentary to Yoga aphorisms refers to a mind that is capable of single-pointed attention towards a chosen action or thought, also called samādhi.
The Way is what is called Yogaśāstra, teaching of yoga. Yoga centers on dealing with the mind, accepting the mind with all its existing notions, concepts, conclusions, impulses etc., but consistently and methodically works with it towards its complete rehabilitation. This results in a mind in samādhi, that can hold the Vision. Else the Vision only remains as an intellectual exercise, not blessing the seeker.

This is the reason why in traditional chanting of the Gītā one chants at the end of each chapter the following:   

Brhamavidyāyām yogaśāstre Kṛṣṇārjunasaṁvāde arjunaviṣādayogonāma prathamodhyāyaḥ.
In the knowledge of Brahman and the teaching of Yoga, in the dialogue between Kṛṣṇa and Arrjuna (is) the first chapter called Topic on Confusion of Arjuna.

Each chapter ends in a similar way, as though reminding the one who chants that this is the dialogue between Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna. For those of us who have studied the Gītā the titles of each section beyond the second chapter tells the Way – the means of assimilating this vision while the main focus of the second chapter is to tell the Vision.

The Gīta’s exposition of the Way

Any teaching has to start with what one already knows or believes. The Gītā is no exception. What one knows is this phenomenal world. I, the person, is the one who perceives, knows and thinks. I know I am other than this world. This dichotomy of I and world, known as duality, is the basis of all my worldly pursuits driven by my cravings, desires and aversions . If I believe in a Higher Being, call it God or any other name many religions give, then that God gives me punishment or reward for “good” or “bad / evil” things I do while living. The result is heaven, hell and so on after death. 

Kṛṣṇa, knowing Arjuna’s background, starts with the latter’s world view which includes God as an entity beyond the phenomenal world. For multi-layered idea of God in the tradition, please refer to my post at this site: At the same time, Kṛṣṇa never loses sight of the Vision, whether you are drawn to non-dual or dualistic philosophy.

As long as one takes oneself to be a limited-being, circumscribed by the world of things and beings, then God is as real to that person as this world. For such a one this conviction on dualism is valid. And, this dualistic approach is quite relatable and popular in the context of prevalent theism with Creator – Created dichotomy as the reality among all religions. This dualistic thinking, found in most of Indian systems of theology as well, contrasts with mystic traditions of both the East and the West that assert the essential non-duality despite perceived and experienced duality. The latter is the same as the advaita-vedānta Vision.

Jewels from the Gītā

As the title of this post implies, this will be the first in a series of posts. I take some snippets from this 700-verse text which I call jewels. Since our focus is centered on the Way to hold the vision of the Gītā, these quotes pertain to this primary objective.

I thank Alice and Chris for editing and helpful comments.