Shukadeva: Shiva’s grace on Vyasa

The Mahabharata tells us that Sage Veda Vyasa had meditated on Bhagwan Shiva for a hundred years to obtain a great child. Pleased by Vyasa’s devotion, Shiva blessed him with a son who was as pious as agni (fire), vayu (air), bhumi (earth), jala (water), and akaash (space) and who was fully immersed in Brahman. Right after his birth, Shukadeva knew everything that his father had learned over the ages. And he became revered among the gods and rishis for his understanding.

Because of Shukadeva’s higher awareness, worldly responsibilities could not impress him. And he started his search for liberation early in life. After training with gurus like Janak and Narada, Shukadeva finally decided that he would forever enter the brilliance of Surya (the sun god), the Self of everyone in the solar system. Shukadeva announced, “I need permission from all — snakes, mountains, land, space, gods, and demons. Through the power of my yoga, I will be entering all the souls of the world today.”

When Vyasa heard that his son was no longer alive, he was shocked. Shiva appeared again and said, “There is no need to feel sad. Your son was exactly like what you had expected him to be. As long as mountains and rivers exist, you and your son will be remembered. And by my grace, you will see your son’s shadow everywhere in this world.” When Vyasa looked around, he saw his son in all. And he started smiling.

From the Yogavasistha: How old is Bhushandi?

In the Yogavasistha, when Rishi Vasistha asks Bhushandi, the immortal crow, to share his life’s experiences, Bhushandi replies, “When it is time for dissolution, I reach beyond the universe and establish myself in the Supreme Soul through a nirvikalpa samadhi. When Lord Brahma creates the universe, I enter the universe again and reach my nest on this divine tree on Mt. Meru.” Bhushandi continues, “I have witnessed the cosmic creation many times, have seen the universe without the Sun and the Moon, and remember events from thousands of cycles of yugas. I have seen the Samudra-manthan (churning of the great ocean) twelve times, can recall the Mahabharata, Ramayana and all the scriptures, and am also aware of the literature that you will learn in the future. I know that this is your eighth birth and was actually expecting you to visit me in this birth.”

Earlier, when Vasistha asks Bhushandi how it is possible for him to continuously remain unaffected by his surroundings, Bhushandi replies, “I am contented in Paramatama and therefore never get deluded. Free from all thoughts of sorrow, my mind remains fixed in peace. I simply spend time in my nest and observe the entire kalpa (aeon) through pranayam and yoga. Neither do I wish to live, nor do I wish to die; I know that I will live tomorrow, just like I am living in the present moment.” Towards the end of their talk, Vasistha has only one thing to say, “O Lord of the birds, I have seen many great seers. But I have never met a jnani like you.”

Yoga: What is Antahkarana?

Antahkarana refers to our inner faculty responsible for all our mental functions. As the Viveka-chudamani tells us, it is characterized by four distinct behaviors. When it expresses its quality of uncertainty, it is called the manas (ignorant/emotional/sense mind). The term highlights the mind’s ability to easily find dilemma, get tempted, and engage in distrust. When the antahkarana makes firm decisions and arrives at a conclusion, it is called buddhi (intellect). When it recalls memories from the past and then ponders over what it likes the most, it is known as the chitta (subconscious mind). And finally, when it maintains its mineness and places itself above everything and everyone else, antahkarana is called ahamkaar (ego).

While ego has been classified as a part of the antahkarana, it is the originator of all other constituents of material nature. According to the model of cosmic creation in the Bhagavata Purana, the five elements (earth, water, fire, air, and space), manas, and intellect are created from the ego, which, along with these material components, encloses the universe. Moreover, transcending the ego remains the everlasting objective of spirituality. Luckily, it starts disappearing with every chant of the Supreme Soul’s name and is totally lost by the time we reach him.

Is the world illusory?

Yesterday, through a query sent to me by a learner of Hinduism, I came across, for the second time over the last few months, a fictitious tenet of Hinduism that has been circulating in Western literature for quite some time: “All Hindus believe that the world is illusory.”
When we study Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta, we cannot pick up a single phrase from his statements to conclude that everything is unreal. On reading his theory, it becomes clear that the universe is unreal only in comparison to Brahman, the Absolute Reality. Because most non-dualists consider the soul’s separateness from Brahman as a false experience, oneness with Brahman is the truth that they seek [1].
Having said this, we should recognize that this Advaita philosophy is only a single model among the many truth-seeking models that have strongly influenced how Hindus connect to God. Ramanuja (philosophy: vishistadvaita), Madhva (dvaita), and Nimbarka, the well-known Vaishnava philosophers, clearly support that the world is real. Vallabhacharya, a Vaishnava non-dualist, too believes in a real world, which is nothing but Brahman. For Ramanuja, the relationship of complete dependence of the individual soul on the Lord is the truth to be uncovered, not the oneness of the self with Brahman. And because the Lord remains distinct from the self in the absence of non-duality, the Divine always remains unknowable in most devotional schools.

When the Hindu majority is Vaishnava, we cannot even conclude that Hindus support a “relatively real” world. And an “illusory” world is definitely out of question.

This post was last edited on March 28, 2019

Realization: Role of Effort

If Brahman cannot be experienced through discourses from a teacher and good deeds, what is their use for spiritual individuals? To answer this question, the Yogavasistha has a story to share.

Once, a tribesman lost a coin near a big heap of grass in a forest. Though he was well-off, he was a miser. Because he really needed his lost coin back, he searched for it in the forest for three days. He kept thinking that if he found the coin, he would invest it to make thousands. While he was searching, countless spectators laughed at him, but the tribesman kept searching fervently. After looking for three days, he found a chintamani, a priceless jewel that could fulfill all the desires of its owner. The tribesman happily took it and lived peacefully thereafter.

In this story, the tribesman worked hard towards a trivial goal, but his effort was rewarded with much more than what he looked for. Without searching for his coin, he could not have found the celestial jewel. Similarly, in order to succeed in our spiritual goals, we need to follow the path shown by our guru with diligence. Though instruction from a guru does not cause realization,* as this text further explains, it is essential to attaining it. Without searching for the all-pervading Brahman, we cannot find him.

*Alternate theories may give more credit to a guru’s words.

Jivanmukta: Selected Characteristics

Individuals who have attained freedom from the cycle of rebirths while being physically present on earth are termed as jivanmukta. From what we learn about them from books on jnana yoga such as the Yogavasistha, unexpectedly meeting a group of jivanmukta human beings can be rather frustrating to many of us due to their unusual way of life. Given below are a few features of such beings.

  1. They never recognize you by your name, for it is not important to them.
  2. No matter how much hospitability you show them, they do not show any sign of happiness.
  3. Even if you show disrespect or try to hurt them, they do not express anger because they do not possess any.
  4. They may not form your ideal social group. With their mind firmly fixed in the Supreme Soul, the jivanmukta do not seem to care about their environment.
  5. Though they may know nothing about your areas of expertise, they do not display any curiosity or doubts. In fact, they have nothing left to learn.
  6. They have no hopes to excel in their profession, for their livelihood is provided only by prarabdha karma. As for new karma, they do not generate any.
  7. They may watch your activities, but they never participate in what you do.
  8. Though they may be walking, sitting, or talking to you, they are said to be simply resting – permanently resting in the Supreme Soul.
  9. They continuously experience bliss and that too without any cause.
  10. No matter how hard you try, you cannot bring them back to the apparent world again. Everything is Brahman for them.

But in our times, we do not have to be so worried about them. Our chance of encountering even a single jivanmukta is minimal.