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

Dance of Shiva

shiva_nataraja

Dance of Shiva is not mere artistic rendition of a mental idea. It is the articulation of a spiritual experience, a clear perception of how one same consciousness wears its many masks of creator, preserver and destroyer. My two cents on this aspect of Shiva.

Sri Krishna says in the Gita, that one cannot help but act. Even the Rishi in his meditative immobility acts, blood courses through his veins, there is a being to sustain and keep alive…within him are the other sheaths of being that support the outer form…all these have to work.

Sri Krishna continues to say that even He the Divine manifest as Avatar for the Age has to act. Without his tendency to act there would be chaos and dissolution. Or perhaps just nothing.

That principle of constant activity, regeneration, destruction is ever present. The immobile stone is but the temporary decision of a group of atoms to hang in there for a while. When they meet their brother sculptor, upon the insistence of his chisel-will they morph into a statue. Where there was irregular block of atoms before, there is now a form of grace and beauty..worthy of adoration, perhaps even prayer.

This principle of making, unmaking and making again is what one sees in the inner experience.

The Dance of Shiva is the amplified version of this experience. His very descent is violent, filled with the immensity of Power. To give an idea of how stupendous this experience must have been, He is the only one of whom even the Vedic Rishis were afraid, “Pity us, O Rudra!”, they cried.

In the Dance of Shiva, it is not the static principle of the Divine one perceives. This is not the Silence of a Samadhi state, not the Void of Nirvana. This is vision of the Divine in all His kinetic glory. Not a snapshot, but a continuous perception of the dynamism of existence.

Thoughts on Sri Krishna’s Revelation of Universal Form

Sri_Krishna_Vision

Let us leave aside the assumption around Krishna’s identity..you could choose whatever works for you..whether as a King, manipulative schemer, beloved of gopis, as Avatar or anything else. The Vishwaroopam, the vision of the Infinite and Immanent Godhead is infinitely more interesting.

Let us remind ourselves of the context again. The hero of that age, Arjuna, has this crisis of conscience. The stark reality of war is in front of him. All the ills that befell him, his family and clan are forgotten. The brutality of what is going to begin makes his moral being shrink in repulsion. He is not afraid, this is his moral being shrinking from the carnage that is about to begin.

In response to this shrinking, Sri Krishna has expounded the larger basis of action, of morality, of spirituality, of how individual action and living can be perfected, of how laws of conduct can be gradually widened in scope to make every thought and action align with standards of living that transcend time bound social contracts into a veritable prayer. To make the individual see his role in the larger context of the Divine Lila, in the play of the Cosmos.

Sri Krishna has expounded the approaches to the Divine, of the ways of conduct that would assure ones entry into the borders of Heaven, to escape the cycle of Samsara and Maya. He has shared his view of the Sankhya path, the Purusha – Prakriti dance that makes up common life, ethical conduct, how individual Dharma coexists with Universal Dharma, how motive of action has more relevance than the action itself, of the role of ritualism, on how ritualism can be transmuted into an inner sacrifice to the Immanent Divine rather than the offering of material things. He has reiterated the various Yogas by which one can attain the Divine, he has reconciled and synthesized these approaches into one that is wide, all-encompassing and complete.

The human disciple who has received this knowledge is already familiar with the hundred roads using which one can approach the Divine. His mind sees how this tangle has been unified into a complex harmony. He realizes the one in front, his Charioteer in this field of battle, is someone not entirely known to him. Sri Krishna senses in his dear friend a mind at relative ease, but not the heart. Knowledge has been imparted but not the experience.

The unity of all existence, the play of Maya are all but theoretical constructs as yet. Arjuna is no trained Yogi, there is yet a patina of doubt that lives when knowledge has not yet become experience.

“Now”, Sri Krishna declares, “I shall show you my universal form, the one to which even the best Yogis aspire to. Because you are dear to me, I shall give you the Yogic sight, by which you shall see my energy in all its forms and manifestations.”

There is nothing symbolic in this. This is an experience. One that can be had by you and I too. The vision of the Universal Godhead. All its diverse manifestations, all its complex inter dependencies. One vision, one perspective too, of this all pervading Godhead and Power removes the illusion of separation. It destroys doubt, it is the certitude of the Godhead, the confirmation of our bright intuitions. We see ourselves surrounded, not with our eyes but an inner perception. We find ourselves as a speck, surrounded on every direction and dimension at the same time. All dimensions open up. We see that there is a Love, a Power than transcends our mind and being. There is a Beloved who watches and broods over us. That experience is the fruit for which we toil over many lives. All our perambulations through time has led us to this moment. And now we see we have looked in vain for the thing that is within us, and that is us too. All that exists is the Brahman. All is That. Nothing exists apart from It.

This is a qualitatively similar experience that Sri Ramakrishna Parahamsa imparts to a doubting Narendra, our later Swami Vivekananda about the nature of Time and Cosmos. The experience that Fritjof Capra has, as recounted in his preface to Tao of Physics, of seeing all reality as a dance of atoms, of the fact that everything is woven from a single fabric is similar to this. The experience of Sri Aurobindo, when imprisoned by the British, where he saw the jail walls, the jailer, the prisoners..even the bars that were holding him in as Vasudeva is similar to this.

There is nothing symbolic in this. Aspiration and/or the grace of a Guru can give this experience. Doubts vanish to one who has had this experience of the Universal form of the Divine. The unassailable poise of the Buddha, the acceptance of calamity with surrender, the ecstatic poetry of Annamayya, Chaitanya, Meera, Andal..all come from this experience in any of its infinite varieties.

Note: This was my answer to a question on Quora. Have posted it here after some editing.

Yoga of Self-Organization

Prelude

Yoga is a joining of the individual self to the immanent yet all-pervading Divine. Why Yoga? For those who have felt the ache of the call, there is no need for an answer. For those yet to hear the call, know that riches of consciousness and harmony of existence that elude you now will become your natural state through Yoga.

Start of Yoga

If you adhere yourself to a certain rhythm and discipline, you will see a great change. Let us say that all our routine could be subject to this rhythmic inner movement and to a discipline still subject to the inner law. But this is not for the so called intellectual types with big egos. This is for those who are willing to serve the Divine and live for a divine purpose.

Discipline

There are many types of discipline; physical, vital and mental discipline but the one that we need most is a psychic discipline. It is a flowing spontaneity of action out of the inner Spirit, something natural and tremendously simple in manifestation without any artificial mental colours and intellectual deformities (which we call our natural traits!) and is possessed of the Divine Truth.

Method

We have to open ourselves to this inner Psychic Consciousness and organise all our activities around it, all that we do normally in our day-to-day life like reading or writing, work, conversation or even sleep. All must be gathered in a single great movement of aspiration towards the Divine. That’s how you begin into the path of integral yoga.

Inner or Outer

It is the inner conquest that is more difficult than the outer achievement. You may have progressed materially, built your career and even made a name for yourself in your own little world but a man without his spiritual consciousness at the front is more or less a neatly decorated carrion without any life in it. It is by the inner law that all external life must be governed or else your life will be subject to the play of forces and your soul will remain hidden from you and the true splendours of life along with it.

Hour of Light

In a word, to give ourselves in true self-giving to God and to nothing else and through Him possess the world for the sheer delight of existence. It is the hour of light, as we might call it, which has come to the our aid and we must welcome it with all our sincerity and truthfulness.

What Supports the Bhaktha and his Yoga?

The heart is another country. Especially so for the bhaktha, he who has set foot on the path of devotion.

Bhaktha and the Beloved

To the bhaktha, a lover of God, there is a sense of otherness, much like mortal love perhaps but here there is no hankering for a time-born being, no disturbance of the senses, no propensity to debase oneself by indulging in sensual gratification. Often the bhaktha faces downturns, old impulses return to claim their ancestral place, and they protest with vigor and vehemence. But to one whose inner being has woken up in however little a measure and tasted the unmixed delight of Divine intoxication, there can be no lasting fall..there is only a delay until the ultimate embrace with the Divine Beloved.

But until that final embrace occurs there are glimpses, whether frequent or rare, brief glimpses of the Divine. Like milestones strewn around on a highway, these markers arrive to provide solace to the soul on its long-winded journey. They arrive in a multitude of shapes, forms and ways. If there is any method at all, then it is one based on His infinite freedom and our ability to receive it.

A Curious Phenomena

All these little moments/events share a specific character in that they occur anywhere and everywhere. It seems as if they have no limitation of time or space or form. The Rishis and God Lovers of the Hindu tradition had observed the nature of this peculiar Power and Phenomena minutely.

The Rishi’s Habit

What the Rishi observed within or without, he named it. He knew that a Power or Phenomena when named, could be spoken about, could be meditated upon, could be invoked and even made manifest within an individual’s consciousness. This is what they did, the Heroes of the Hindu tradition. They watched and watched with eyes, ears and every sense available. When they reached the limit of the senses, they observed the instrument that observed, the mind. When the chaos of mind was stilled, they found even rarer phenomena. This climb, this reaching out to hidden territory, this journey and adventure within they named Yoga.

Alone and Not Alone

The Rishis found themselves, not unlike the scientist who peers into atoms and builds his models of String Theory or Quantum Physics and who is baffled by the inability of common untrained men to understand them, alone in their pursuit of the Unknown. Even in the crowd the God Lover, the Rishi, is alone. But even in this solitude amidst sense-driven men, the Rishi observed something that always was with him. That could wake up at the most common moments and let him know he was not alone, that the goal of his journeys was always nearby.

The Ever Present Guide

The Hindus had to name this phenomena. What was it that was everywhere? What stayed with them in waking and in dream? What climbed the soul’s stairs into rarer and rarer heights along with them? The name had to be personal, after all this was the Guide who ventured with them into territories no map could capture. And it had to describe the idea that the Phenomena was everywhere. To the Rishi, to name something was automatic..the Power they wanted to name always suggested what it aught to be called.

Sarvavyapi, they ended up calling this Phenomena. Sarva-vyapi, or Sarva-Vyaapi as its pronounced in Sanskrit. Sarva is ‘everything’. Vyaapi is ‘one who pervades’. Put together Sarvavyaapi is “One who pervades everything”.

The Sterile Heaven of Icarus

The nearest western equivalent would be Omnipresent. As with most things spiritual, the western heart had yet to soar into heights of bhakthi yoga. Icarus who tried to soar heavenward was made into a parable to not have men aspire too high. The Tower of Babel was struck because men aspired to heavens. The West was content to abandon ancient freedoms of the Greek spirit for something new. And the word Omnipresent, so remote and sterile.

Swaha

Sarvavyaapi, One who pervades everything. Sarvavyaapi pervades you and I, pervades all that is manifest whether perceived by us or not. May that Sarvavyaapi guide us, as He guided the Rishis of the Veda.

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.

Aphorisms: Human Modesty

To shun human modesty is to grow aware of God nude wisdom and delight of self-seeing; then modesty becomes a condition of His nudity and utter delight of existence.

Modesty is a subtle form of human ego, a masquerade too dangerous to be part of a spiritual self-evolution.

Behind the human ego stands an infinite divine Person, stripped of our disguises and self-pretensions and it is to this inner Deity that we must turn for spiritual guidance and succour and give ourselves in earnest self-giving without the least reservation so that we may be undone of all constitutional make-up and re-emerge into the Spirit of light, pure of self and nature.

It is in this transformed state of consciousness that the all-Delight of the Divine could manifest and the human frame sustain it for the progressive play of Krishna.

Every finger of his quietly dangling hand expressed peace

Siddhartha, in Herman Hesse’s book of the same name, arrives at Jetavana hoping to catch a glimpse of the Budhha, the Enlightened One. Not having seen him before, Siddhartha waits, almost wondering how to identify the Awakened One from the river of ochre colored robes that seemed to flow through the Jetavana grove. And then it happens, read how Hesse describes this sequence.

Siddhartha saw him, and he instantly recognised him, as if a god had pointed him out to him. He saw him, a simple man in a yellow robe, bearing the alms-dish in his hand, walking silently.

“Look here!” Siddhartha said quietly to Govinda. “This one is the Buddha.”

Attentively, Govinda looked at the monk in the yellow robe, who seemed to be in no way different from the hundreds of other monks. And soon, Govinda also realized: This is the one. And they followed him and observed him.

The Buddha went on his way, modestly and deep in his thoughts, his calm face was neither happy nor sad, it seemed to smile quietly and inwardly. With a hidden smile, quiet, calm, somewhat resembling a healthy child, the Buddha walked, wore the robe and placed his feet just as all of his monks did, according to a precise rule. But his face and his walk, his quietly lowered glance, his quietly dangling hand and even every finger of his quietly dangling hand expressed peace, expressed perfection, did not search, did not imitate, breathed softly in an unwhithering calm, in an unwhithering light, an untouchable peace. – Siddhartha, Herman Hesse.

The sentence “..every finger of his quietly dangling hand expressed peace..” has stayed with me ever since I read it almost a decade back. A peace that fills the entire being is perhaps alien to most in practice. But that is the payoff for a soul that has consented to take the difficult journey to the Divine.

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa

Sri Ramakrishna in Samadhi

That phrase and idea also reminds me of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa’s picture above. Check the posture when he entered into a state of Samadhi. Notice the inward drawn countenance and specifically those fingers, all indicating complete absorption in the immanent Divine.

This peace and union with the Divine is attainable through systematic practice of Yoga or any spiritual practise. This possibility is open to everyone regardless of their station of birth, race, caste and other human taxonomies society thinks of to classify itself. The old world notions of a specific caste or race or tribe having exclusive access to the Divine, or the condition that one has to follow a specific Messenger or Prophet, sometimes under the not so gentle nudge of sword or money, is a perversion of all that can be considered Divine.

Any universal principle or power would not stoop down to laying criteria for embracing humanity and all of life. Anything that insists on human criteria can safely be assumed to be less than Divine or a Divine impulse misused for lesser purposes by men. What matters is adherence to Dharma, inner Yoga and renunciation of all human hypocrisy.