On Moksha and Nirvana

Is the Hindu Moksha the same as Buddha’s Nirvana? This was a question on Quora and my response is below.

Released

From a conceptual viewpoint Moksha and Nirvana are the same. Both are around breaking fetters of the senses to release individual Atman from the snare of Illusion. But there are key differences and am going to outline then briefly.

Before I state this point to be noted is that Buddhism did not evolve in isolation, it grew from the rockbed of Hinduism as a recoil from the ritualism sans insight theme that existed at that time. And after the outflowering of the Shakya Sage, there was a fresh light thrown that replenished inquiry into the human condition, leading to fruitful enrichment of Hinduism and Buddhism both.

Now to the brief outline. Nirvana in its essence moves towards the cessation of individual existence. All is annulled so that the wrinkle of suffering and pain may be removed from this fabric of life.

Silence is all?

Where Nirvana as a goal falls short in my view is this. Life is seen as a battleground, with Maya as antagonist pitting the child-soul against Her stupendous machinery. The child-soul grows in inner clarity by not falling for the snare of the senses. But that clarity that eases the mind and our higher faculties does not fully satisfy. The Silence is seen, the Unreality of the Many is perceived. Yet the heart is vacant, the powers of life wither away with that trenchant insistence on an escape to Nirvana. We live so that we may escape. And even that life is as an exile, a heart beats but the sap of existence is denied to us.

Many Roads to Self

Moksha, does not have the precise, or some would say narrow, definition that the Buddhist path of Nirvana has. Hinduism allows for many alternative modes in which the Soul may escape the fetters of Illusion. Moksha as a notion broadly clubs these  for convenience. Moksha’s approach to release from suffering accounts for the varieties of human consciousness. The lover finds his roads are peopled with the manifestations of his Divine Beloved and the eventual oneness is attained. The worker uses the tools of his trade to manifest some of his Deity’s perfection, power and beauty and eventually find release into the Deity’s Being. The thinker charges through the modes of consciousness with his bright intuitions and finds the light that illumines all existence to be the same as that which eggs him on, thus releasing himself from the mighty snare. And so with other modes of approach.

Journey makes us

Why this emphasis on approach when the question itself was around the end goal? Well, one finds the Silence to not be a mere negation of our perceived multiplicity. There is in It all diversity of seen and unseen hidden away, all the play of opposites together, all that which lures and repells, all is in It. The path through which the seeker approaches his Goal has colored His Goal. The Void and Silence are lonely no more. The lover, toiler, thinker and the occultist find their at times opposing views all resolved into a transcendent unity that reconciles Form and Formless, Time and Timeless, One and Many…all in a single view.

Much of this might be moot dependent on the state of consciousness one has attained. As the Buddha says, best is find this out for oneself through experience and until then only hold these as possibilities available to our aspiring self.

Painting by Priti Ghosh

The Names of the Mahabharata

While reading the Upanishads and Vedas, the thing that strikes you first are the names of Rishis and the Seekers of Knowledge. Vamadeva, Viswamitra, Angirasa, Bhrigu and more. Leave alone understanding of mantras, the very mention of these names seem to wake some primordial impulse to Truth and Godhood. So it should be, since to the Rishi every God, every named power, could be invoked and meditated upon until they manifested in him in all their power. So it is my idea to dwell on these ancient names to perhaps draw something, worth the try I would think.

So it struck me, what of works that I seem to know, what names lurk in there, what powers or qualities do other names hold for the eager seeker? So I picked the Mahabharata, specifically the version available at Project Gutenberg, translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli from the original Sanskrit of Krishna Dwaipanya Vyasa. With some help from Python, NLTK and writing a basic entity recognition algo I managed to extract all the names from the english text of Ganguli. That done, I fed them into the excellent WordCloud in Python tutorial code by Andreas Mueller. And just like that they came out..the heroes, villains, gods, demi-gods..all of them 🙂

So without further ado, let me humbly offer this tiny fruit of my labour for your curiosity and pleasure. Note that each image links to high resolution versions (1200 x 900).

Adi Parva

Mahabharata Adiparva

Sabha Parva

Mahabharata Sabhaparva

Vana Parva 1

Mahabharata Vanaparva1

Vana Parva 2

Mahabharata Vanaparva 2

Virata Parva

Mahabharata Virataparva

 

Go ahead download and see how many names are familiar to you. It is interesting how mentions of characters varies as the plot progresses. Vaisampayana is the narrator, hence the number of mentions. Arjuna establishes himself as key at the start and the end. In the middle sections Yudhisthira plays a bigger role and so on.

If there is interest I can release my code that did the basic entity recognition with some help from NLTK. In addition I also plan to put out a clickable version of this word cloud, so that curious folks can head to Wikipedia directly.

Let me know if this sort of analysis and visualization on Hindu scriptures and epics seems interesting to you.

Technical Notes:

The size of the image is based on the frequency of mentions in the text and normalized for overall word count. The top 200 names have been pulled out. As you can see the entity recognition could be a lot better. The list of left out names are much larger, I need to try another route to present all of them.

Credits to Python community, the awesome natural language processing library NLTK and Andreas Mueller for enabling this, would not have been possible otherwise.

Swami Vivekananda on Conversions

Brief quote from a biography of Swami Vivekananda.

There were on the boat, among other passengers, two Christian missionaries who, in the course of a heated discussion with the Swami, lost their tempers and savagely criticized the Hindu religion. The Swami walked to one of them, seized him by the collar, and said menacingly, ‘If you abuse my religion again, I will throw you overboard.’

‘Let me go, sir,’ the frightened missionary apologized; ‘I’ll never do it again.’

Later, in the course of a conversation with a disciple in Calcutta, he asked, ‘What would you do if someone insulted your mother?’ The disciple answered, ‘I would fall upon him, sir, and teach him a good lesson.’

‘Bravo!’ said the Swami. ‘Now, if you had the same positive feeling for your religion, your true mother, you could never see any Hindu brother converted to Christianity. Yet you see this occurring every day, and you are quite indifferent. Where is your faith? Where is your patriotism? Every day Christian missionaries abuse Hinduism to your face, and yet how many are there amongst you whose blood boils with righteous indignation and who will stand up in its defense?’

Swami Vivekananda’s love for Bharath and its people should not be under dispute from any patriotic person regardless of current religious affiliation. It would serve us well to think why he thought conversions were bad and how he advocated holding our faith.

Read the biography. Perhaps our dormant faith and energy would wake up.

Appeal: History Repeats in Assam

What happened to Bharath many times before is happening again.

Another country or thought system or religion is after us once more. Over 2,00,000 of our citizens have been displaced.

Imagine if it were to happen in our location; say Karnataka or Tamil Nadu or Gujarath or Maharashtra or Uttar Pradesh or Andhra Pradesh.

If foreigners had kicked me from my home then I could not have blogged and you could not have read this. Our families would have no home, no belongings, no money…nothing. Our children would have no future.

We would be like political refugees that we have read about in papers. We would know what Kashmiri Pandits felt like, what Red Indians felt like, or Incas felt when decimated, or thrown out, from their own land.

For now, for just a little while let us forget our differences. You and I can still hate each other eternally, for now let us lend a hand to our brothers and sisters.

You will have the eternal gratitude of all who love Bharath. If nothing you will have done the right thing for another human being, that should help for now and hereafter.

Param Foundation, associated with Seva Bharathi, is lending a hand on our behalf in Assam. I donated some money and got update below from them:

Present Activities by Seva Bharathi and condition in Assam:

  • Seva Bharathi has set up 3 base camps for medical relief exercise.
  • 2 in Kokrajhar and 1 in Gossaigaon.
  • They have pressed 2 ambulances and two teams of doctors and helpers at these camps
  • Medicines are being given at these camps for contagious and water borne diseases.
  • Relief materials which are of immediate importance are being provided in these camps now.
  • Mosquito coils, bread, biscuits, bed sheets were distributed.
  • They expect that people will stay in relief camps for at least 20 days to a month as many areas are still under grip of violence
  • Curfew has been lifted only in few parts of Kokrajhar and Gossaigaon where violence has abated.
  • There are other areas and districts where violence is still happening and curfew is still in vogue. (Seva activities cannot reach them now)

You can make a difference now by donating any amount to Param Foundation or similar organizations. Details of Param Foundation is below:

Savings Account name:        Param Foundation

Account number:                  910010021117832

Bank:                                     Axis bank, Chamarajpet branch, Bangalore

IFSC Code:                           UTIB0000558

Note: 80G receipts are available for the donors. Please send an email to info@paramfoundation.org with the address, email and telephone number of the donor. Receipts will be sent through the courier.

Contact: Radhakrishna Holla 09731264009

 

 

If Sri Krishna Were to Appear

This post will not resonate with those who have not felt Bhakthi, if so apologies and I request you to return later. 

I have wondered for almost two decades now, how would it feel to be in front of the Divine. To stand in front of Him, the goal of our toils and the heights of our aspiration. To see Him with bare eyes, not as intuition, not as an experience where the little self vanishes. But here and now, to see Him as one would a dear-most friend. Or as the realization of every tear shed over many lives, of every longing that wracks the heart, or the becoming of every song ever sung.

Of all the paths to the Divine, the one of Knowledge taken by the thinker, or the one of Works undertaken by the toiler or even the road taken by the royalty..the Raja Yoga they call it, the most sublime of all paths to the Divine conceived by the Hindu race, is the path of Devotion and such a mighty conception it is. To give the heart its complete realization, to consider every strain of love and longing that the human heart gives itself to and make it an instrument of Yoga. God as Father, as Ishwara. God as Mother, as Shakthi in Her many manifestations. God as Child, as Skanda or Muruga in the Tamizh Bhakthi path and so on..so many ways of adoring the Divine.

But right at the top of the devotional path is to see God as Beloved, as Sri Krishna, the one who captivates souls, the one who makes Meera sing songs of anguish, one who makes a Chaitanya roam with a kirtan on his lips. Sri Krishna, the one to whom even the most fallen send their adoration, to whom mortal hearts sprout speech only to utter, “My Beloved, My Lord, My Master”.

So I have wondered, what would I do if He appeared in front. Would I jump in joy, would I rush into His embrace never to return..oh what would I do I wonder. What I have realized is this though, if Sri Krishna did appear I would break down, not in relief it is all over but rather ask through tears what makes Him put souls through everything, for what purpose.

What is the point of this post? Well, I came across a picture that, to me, captures that anguish of seeing Him and silently asking, “Why?”. See the picture. Have not embedded it in the post because I wanted to set context.

A Story by Sri Ramakrishna On Aspiration

In response to a query from a devotee, Sri Ramakrishna tells a story on how we should aspire to the Divine. This is my retelling of that story, in response to question on why I had said that the Sadhana we perform is paltry.

There was once a widow with a young son. With no earning member the family, they had to subsist on the generosity of villagers.

The boy was soon of school going age. There was an operational hassle, the school had to be reached by going through a forest. Those who could afford had their bullock carts or other helpers to ferry the kids to school and back. Our little boy had none of these, so naturally he was scared and reluctant.

The mother then does what every soul with no recourse amongst the living does, she kneels and holds him close to her and says, “Do not fear my dearest, you have a brother, Krishna is his name. Call him when you are afraid”.

For the mother, her child is all that makes life worth living. The love she bestows upon him sustains her. She fears as every mother that something would befall him. But what else could she do? She who would gladly give her life to let her child grow, gives him up at the feet of Sri Krishna.

The boy takes his mother’s word to heart and starts his trek to school. The unfamiliar always evokes fear. A barefoot, barely clothed 6-7 year old is no different. It is soon dark in the dense jungle and the path barely visible. The first tendrils of fear clutch him. Every play of shadow and rustling of trees are promises of horrors that would soon fall on him.

The Fates slay heroes, a child is no match and he is soon broken.

Crying and knowing his mother would not hear even if he called, he remembers what she told about a brother. He does not know this brother, never seen him and sees none around. But the fear soon overwhelms and he cries out, “Krishnaaa, Krishnaaa”.

No answer.

Was his mother wrong, does he really have a brother? But he knew his mother never lied.

So he cries out again, fear choking him, cowering amidst the forest clearing, “Krishnaaa..O Krishnaaa”.

And suddenly, from behind a tree comes out a stranger, a young lad of 9 or 10 years, clothed like a shepherd, a peacock feather stuck in his head. Smiling, he walks to the boy and says, “You called”.

Sri Krishna in Forest

I have found a lot of times that is all there is. That cry, that single cry of the entire being. And the answering grace from the friend of man and the goal of our journeys. The prayers we offer, the sadhana we perform is paltry. We cover ourselves in rituals, mantras and prayers, all of which are ineffective without that cry. Sri Krishna can indeed walk in front wherever you are reading this. What is needed is the cry, everything else is pittance.

How do I learn more about Hinduism?

Temple in Angkor Vat

That was the question asked by someone few days back. “Aspire”, was my response. For that is the key element, without which the Shastra[1. Veda, Upanishads etc] and Guru will be in vain with regard to understanding Hinduism and living its tenets meaningfully.

Aspiration is a subtle seeking, not the hankering of crude ambition, but a prayerful poise. The pride of external accomplishment left behind, we unmoor our little selves from familiar shores.

It is fine that we have nothing yet, not even a Guru. What matters is that in the depths of our being the gong has been struck and the time has arrived for the journey to begin.

Based on the intensity of this seeking, external events will be moved with an infinite precision by the all pervading Divine.

The stranger who guides you away from harm, the scrap of paper that latches onto your leg that magically clarifies your pressing doubt, a song of aspiration you hear when half-asleep and flying over a foreign ocean, the priest-less nameless temple in which you shudder in awe at an unexplained presence, the beggar at the traffic signal who provides an opportunity to practice generosity, the almost bare farmer sheltering his child from rain on a remote highway, the laborer who watches his toddler though slaving in sweltering heat..everything, everything becomes a book that you can and should learn from.

The Shastra and Guru will arrive when necessary, but know it is enough to depend on the Purushottama[2. The Divine, Perfect Being, Brahman] within.

For when not constrained by your personal preferences of institution, form and method, the Divine is perfectly free to engineer serendipity. And there is nothing more pleasing to Sri Krishna than a soul that not only “knows” of his omniscience but also acts with perfect obedience and strength upon the knowledge of that omniscience.

Yet, do not trust every stranger and charlatan who comes your way. Judge what you see, then think and decide. The one who carries the Divine light within carries it in silence. Many would tout their exclusive truths, ride rough with the strength of their swords or haggle for the allegiance of your soul. About these we shall not concern ourselves now.

Once you have begun to aspire, as Swami Vivekananda says and I paraphrase, “The quest for God is like canker, whether in this life time or next it is sure to lead you to the Divine”.

This and this alone makes one a Hindu, everything else is mere preparation and not the actual understanding or living the tenets of Hinduism.

Trey Ratcliff via Compfight

How to Invoke a Deity

Senses Closed, Open Within

Senses Closed, Open Within

Go where human taint has not disfigured things. Bare foot, let clay and soil and water of the earth dress your feet.

Dig fingers deep into earth, draw out a clump of sand flesh, this will be the body of Him.

Mould sand flesh into a shape of your aspiration. What this will be will be guided from within.

Whether sage bare, or winged horses, or many armed hero, or many minded priest, or reclining God, or playful herd-boy…what it will be shall be guided.

Sand flesh formed, now erect it on a seat.

Sit in front and gather the following – Every thought that strays, every desire self you have lent unto living and dead things, every impulse that animates your thoughts, every virtue, every vice..everything.

These gathered make of them a garland; each segment will be a thing of vileness or perversion or despicable or grand or noble or sublime or even beautiful.

This is as it should be, an offering is perfect when it is what it is.

This garland of old becomings and impulses gently lay in front of your aspiration’s shape.

Now open yourself, as bare hungry earth lays prone to a pregnant sky.

Cast away every thought and impulse that occurs, be as the first man ape who waited for a thunder wielding hero.

Wait. Wait. Wait.

You shall see that skies of self are vaster than earth.

Slowly there is a tear in the fabric of self and something trickles through.

Wide, Vast and Puissant.

This is but one limb of the Deity.

Hold on to it.

From mere sand flesh a bigger self has been born and thou art the mid-wife of it.

Photo Credit: Andres Rodriguez via Compfight