Upanishads and philosophers vs. a real Jnani

August 30, 2008 Kamala Amma's Grace

Dearest Friends and Family,

Gandhi once said, “ I know the path, it is straight and narrow, like a razor’s edge. I rejoice to walk upon it. God’s word is, he who strives never perishes, therefore, though I fall a thousand times, I will not lose faith.”

Once we begin to consciously strive to awaken to our own ethical instincts, we become conscious of the ways in which we were leading ourselves astray from the purpose of our own lives, the ways in which we were distracting ourselves. Even in the effort to be conscious, to walk carefully, there are so many pitfalls. I tell you, I’m a done deal if I think about it. I am not even aware of my own unawareness. Its such a pathetic situation. I think that’s why Gandhi said ‘ it is straight and narrow, like the razor’s edge.” He had convincement. Anni had convincement. I never knew her to be uncertain in the least, in anyway, to be unselfconfident about that inner certainty of Truth within. Nonetheless, even in trying to be alert, we can fall. Then, it is only the Grace of God, through some means, in my case, my Jnanavatar, Amma, that we can catch ourselves, such as it is. Here is one experience we are having to illustrate this:

In my own way, with no real external guidance, I have been trying to understand the ocean of Hindu scriptural literature. There are classes in the ashram, when Amma is gone, but they are all in Malayalam, and when one asks for translations, its clear people don’t have time or think that there is not much point explaining. Also, when Amma is gone is the one time that the ashram is a little more quiet, and seclusion is nice. Over the years, I have just withdrawn to the books that are available.

There is Sankara (500 AD) also known as the Adi Shankaracharya,whom I have tried to examined a bit. One of his big works is the Brahma Sutra Bhashya, which is a huge commentary on the main points of the Upanishads, or Vedanta, (since the Upanishads come at the end – anta- of the Veda) which he also called Advaita philosophy or Absolute Monism. This work is now considered one of the three essential and authoritative works of Sanantana Dharma or what is called Hinduism. The three works are the collective Upanishads, Brahma Sutra, and Bhagavadgita. Shankara’s intellectual work throughout India quickened the absorption of Buddhism that had a stronghold in Indian culture at the time. back into the Hindu fold.

As a brief explanation, Buddhism is purported to start around 800 BC, and was very strong in India at 300 BC – 700 AD, largely due to the efforts of one of India’s great emperors, Ashok, (262 BC) who converted to Buddhism after massacring over 100,000 men, women and children of the Kalinga in what is now Andra Pradesh – he was fully sick to death of himself after the slaughter of the innocent and through his influence, vegetarianism became popular, but that’s another story.

Of course, I have only seen the English version of the translation of his exceedingly lengthy and exhaustive commentary. Yet, nonetheless, each page astounds the mind in intellectually marveling ways, that simultaneously go beyond mind. One can almost feel nerves and neural pathways forming in the brain to cope with the concepts. That work, is unbelievably astounding.

However, I have a thorn in my heart towards Shankara. This is because it was not until after he had established his ashrams in every corner of India, and gone arguing all over the place with all the religious pundits of his day, (there is one story where the wife of one of his debater opponents transcended his thought and defeated him in the debate which he had had ongoing with her husband for over a week – this indicates that here in Kerala, about 1500 years ago, women were perhaps having more of their rightful status, but this too, is another story) that he actually gained samabhava, or the certainty of equality. That teaching came to him in the form of a low-caste Chandala – whom Shankara had haughtily ordered out of his way. The man’s humble and patient response to the intellectual egotism, was, “Who is ordering who, out of who’s way” or something like that, which basically made the bulb light up in Shankara’s brain, and he recognized that the God he was arguing
about everywhere, was in the Chandala too….

I frankly feel appalled that the man had set up his ashrams, that he had written extensively about the truths of the shruti or revelatory scriptures, without having Samabhava in his heart. This is where Amma’s example is so comforting. From what I can see, she has started with all the attitudes that one would expect of a true teacher of Truth and Love. The first and foremost to me is Equal Vision of the Creation. If we can’t get beyond silly ideas of status and VIP-ness, and exceptionality, I don’t think we can see the picture whole in the least. I have to tell you, I am so grateful that we are with the Jnanavatar who is Amma, Holy Mother Amritanandamayi Devi, the incarnation of wisdom and Love. Jnana is a Sanskrit word meaning genuine spiritual wisdom, knowledge of the Truth. A Jnanavatar is an incarnation of that knowledge. We have only to see the history of Amma’s life to recognize that she has been operating from the highest wisdom
since birth itself.

A few years ago, I was introduced to Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan’s Sourcebook of Indian Philosophy, which really whets the appetite to learn more about Indian metaphysical research and thought. From Sarvepalli, who was also India’s second president, I read some of P.T. Raju, whom I found massively intellectual, yet with a keen insight on specific points, and some of Swami Satyananda Saraswati., whom, as I have understood, has now renounced his ashram and his disciples, claiming that his knowledge is as yet, imperfect. Hats off to the honest! Also, Swami Sivananda and Swami Chidananda, (who, I understand, passed last night) and Swami Paramahansa Yogananda, but these last four have not done much work on Sanskrit interpretation and commentary of sacred scriptures. I enjoyed Sarvepalli’s work because his English is very good, it appeared to take in lot of angles, although I felt some inner discrepancies with some of the interpretations… I had noticed this feeling in regard to
his translation of the Isa Upanishad. The last three verses, as I understand it, are meant to be said to a person who is dying and facing the naked Truth. I felt some question within me, about the transition to the last three verses, as well as the way in which they were directing the soul…anyhow, reservations aside, I mean, what do I know? Certainly, regrettably, not Sanskrit!

Anyhow, so, wading through the shad darshana – the six schools of philosophical thought that examine the Veda, then the school of materialism – the Charkava – which one sees today in vogue, also in the Periyar or ‘rationalist’ movement found in South India, the Arthashastra of Kautilya, mostly through Sarvepalli, I found I had developed a faith in his interpretive capacities. I felt a measure of trust in him. It just goes to show how dangerous it is to rely upon the translator! We bought a copy of his interpretation of “The Principle Upanishads”, which, after a lengthy and edifying introduction, that thrums soft expansive notes in the heart, then starts on the Brhad-aranyaka Upanishad. This is Sarvapelli’s brief outline of the relevance of the Brhad-aranyaka Upanishad:

“The Brhad-aranyaka-Upanishad which is generally recognized to be the most important of the Upanisads forms part of the Satapatha Brahmana. It consists of three Kandas or sections, the Madu Kanda which expound the teaching of the basic identity of the individual and the Universal Self, the Yajnavalkya or the Muni Kanda which provides a philosophical justification of the teaching and the Khila Kanada which deals with certain modes of worship and mediation, upasana, answering roughly to the three stages of religious life, sravana, hearing the upadesa or the teaching, Mamana, logical reflection, upapatti and mididhyasana or contemplative meditation. Of the two rescensions of the Satapatha Brahmana, the Kanva and the Madhyuandina, Sankara follows the former, and the text adopted here is the same.” from The Principle Upanishads: 147.

So, back to Sarvepalli, – well, I have to consider the facts. He was the second president of India, a VIP in everyone’s mind. India is a place where, for those so inclined, the ‘morally highly esteemed’ pathway is well lit. To be high status, and morally highly esteemed – well, it’s a win-win combo….and Sarvepalli fit the bill. And rightly so, I believe he was a very well intentioned man. So, his books did well, and he has come to be viewed as an authority on Indian Philosophy. He was Indian to boot, which has given him a big one-up on German Max Mueller, who was one of the first English translator/commentators, since Schopenhauer of the Upanishads and other works. From this stance, hence came our dilemma.

I began wading into the Brhad-aranyaka Upanishad. Now, from his description above, one gains an understanding of this Upanishad as being incredibly profound in the textual nuances it offers. There is one section of Procreation. I believe it may be where Tantra misinterpretations gain fuel from, and where Shastras that are detrimental to human and gender equality seek to find a footing. Let it suffice to say, that in his interpretation of the Sanskrit, which he has transliterated above every section of commentary, he comes up with this sloka in Chapter 6. section 4. 9, entitled Procreation Ceremonies. This entire section, leaves one, such as myself, who sees an ideal of Truth in the Upanishads in utter misery. Here is his particular interpretation of the sloka: (6.4.9) The parentheses are also by Sarvepelli.

“If she does not grant him his desire, he should buy her (with presents). If she still does not grant him his desire he should beat her with a stick or his hand and overcome her (saying) with (manly) power and glory, ‘I take away your glory.’ Thus she becomes devoid of glory.”

This is rape. Having read this entire section, I went to sleep in a miserable state of heart and mind, entirely fearful. I have a love of the Upanishads as being of Truth. As being from my ideal. How could this be of truth? This only shows why Indian women are so unhappy with the obnoxious boors that many of them are tied to. His interpretation of this sloka denies Everything, everyone of my cherished ideals of India. For two nights this heavy, questioning misery in me persisted. Finally, Tuesday came round, and in desperation, I wrote out my question to Amma, asking her how I should understand this sloka.

Then came the problem of getting it translated. No one would translate it. It went against some peoples concepts of morality and propriety to translate it. Link wrote a one-liner on the top to Amma that no one would translate it, and tried to get it to her Peetham, before the satsang. Even that was difficult. The people around her feel they know what is appropriate and not for her to read. They did not want to show her the question. Mind you, this is from an Upanishad. A recognized holy scripture of India. Its not from a Purana, or an Itihasa. Its from Shruti, revealed teachings. It’s not a ‘worldly’ question! What is wrong with trying to understand it? I can’t go into my state of mind and internal blankness. I really feel sometimes, why should I try to ask her anything? Maybe once a week, or once a month, or twice a year, I can ask a question, if she has time, or inclination, if the people around her want her to see it and answer it, then, maybe, it will be answered.
Then again, translation…. I sometimes seriously wonder what is the point. Why care, why be interested to understand. Better just read Amar Chita Katha comics, and absorb Indian spirituality through the bolllywood shows….There are many things in my mind that I wish I could discuss with Amma, and, it’s a joke to say that I can. Communication is a one way street, she’s a very busy lady. We have to find it in ourselves, etc. I operate in a vacuum…Fine. These were some of my thoughts. It wasn’t really despair or frustration. But, I’ve reached a place of no- expectation.

Then, Amma glanced around and around her peetham, until our letter which was now near the back of her chair got into her hands. Without the translation, Amma made the translator read it out. Then, she asked which sloka it was. I had Sarvepalli’s book with me, I gave it to her. She had the Brahmachari’s go out and find the Sanskrit text. First one volume was brought to her, then another. I cannot describe how beautiful her face looked, the light that was in it as she gazed at the holy words. It was the authority, peering at what has become a scriptural authority. Then, it was translated among other things, that Amma said that there are different commentators on the scriptures. Some are philosophers, some are Jnani’s. The philosophers do not have the spiritual understanding to portray the text in all truthfulness, as they are not having that vision themselves. Sarvepelli is a philosopher. So was Max Mueller, and their works suffer because of the lack of internal vision that they had. Better to read
the works of a real Jnani.

She later said that she would translate the sloka and have it brought to my room. Within 10 seconds of the end of satsang and the shift into lunch serving, 4 women came up to me and said, please let me know what her translation of that sloka is. The rest of the afternoon, and time since then has been peppered with women coming and asking me to pass on Amma’s translation of the sloka when I receive it. There were Indian as well as western women. One Indian lady, highly educated, wealthy, told me, “that sloka that was read, that is our life. People don’t know how it is for Indian women. We are literally raped whenever our husbands want, we become dead inside ourselves, we become like machines.”

It is my prayer, that my Jnanavatar, Amma, will translate the whole of the Brhad-Aranyaka Upanishad, and put it before the eyes of human understanding again, dressed in her comments for our time and age. Please join me in this prayer, for if we are to truly understand what India’s Vedas have to offer, they need correct translation, that the billions can read and understand.

I hope also that she will do the Kundalini Tantra texts, which have become entirely confused. Everyone sits smugly, and says, ‘Oh, that’s not what is meant” but no one says what is. Amma knows, let us pray that the wisdom in her, will unveil itself and bring these teachings to the fore. For myself, I can have no expectations. But, I think it would help millions and millions of people. Those seeking self expression through sexuality are not able to gain Samabhava or equal vision of the Creation. Without Equal Vision, it is impossible to behold the Truth. It is because of his efforts to arrive at Equal Vision, that Gandhi was able to identify himself as well as carry the masses of the poor with him. It is because of her Equal Vision that Holy Mother Amma is able to give each person who receives her darshan the same intensity of personal attention that she does. It is because of Equal Vision, that Mother Theresa was out on the street, picking up the dying poor. Gandhi described the path as a ‘
razors’ edge.’ We must avoid the trap of seeking to experience ourselves through feelings, emotions and ‘supernatural experiences’. These are sidetracks to our great purpose. Amma gives us this light on Tantra:

“What is involved in Tantric worship is an offering. This fact is the principle behind the worship is what is to be offered. This offering is not external, it is internal. You offer our individuality, or your ego, to the Divine. Furthermore, the references to sexual union in the worship are not to be taken as something to be done by a male person and a female person. It is the final union, the union of the jivatman (individual self or consciousness) and the Paratman (Supreme Self or super-consciousness). It is symbolic. It symbolizes the union or the integration of the feminine and masculine qualities – the union of Purusha and Prakriti, the merging of the mind into the Supreme Reality. It is the attainment of a perfect balance between the inner and outer natures of the Sadhak. It is the experiencing of and becoming established in All-Pervasiveness, which ensues from the union of Shiva and Shakti.

In that state the Sadhak transcends everything and merges with the Supreme Principle. That Supreme Oneness is the meaning of sexual union in tantric puja. This union of the masculine and the feminine happens within you. It is not external. This union of Shiva (Supreme Consciousness and Shakti (Primordial Energy) happens when the sadhaks purified semen, which has transformed into ojas (pure vital energy) reaches the top of the head where the thousand-petaled lotus is located. The use of sexual imagery as symbolic imagery in tantric sadhana is an external figurative depiction of this inner transformation. Sexual union is the closest symbol that can give the idea about this eternal union of Shiva and Shakti. Both aspects, Supreme Consciousness and Primordial Energy are within us.

All human beings are sexual, and therefore, all are familiar with the experience of sexual desire, the longing for union with the opposite sex. Thus by employing something that everybody can understand, that is, the terms and symbols of sexual union, to express the essential quality and process of eternal union, the sages have tried to give us an idea of the process of inner union. But human minds are so crude and lowly that they misinterpret the whole thing and bring it all down to a vulgar level, misusing it or using it as an excuse for licentious behavior and illicit actions that can cause harm to others as well as themselves. Tantric sadhana must not be practiced with out the guidance of a Perfect Master.” From Awaken Children, Vol 4: 294-296.

At this time, children all over the world are being exposed to an incorrect understanding of sexuality that is taught them from their parents, society, schools, national governments and medical systems. We need to know how to direct this tremendous energy, given these circumstances…we need to know what kind of intervention can work now. Only a Jnanavatar would know. Lets hope she will tell.

In so many ways, our earth ship is on the wrong course….let us all start to ask the questions that will bring it to the right course, for our children, and the unborn creation. The hope of our planet and human civilization lies in our children. Let us not waste their time, let us not confuse them and condition them wrongly from their great purpose in the Creation. Om Namah Shivaya!

Loving you,

Kamala Aunty

3 Responses to “Upanishads and philosophers vs. a real Jnani”

  • Duty2Love says:

    Have you read Swami Vivekananda’s “Letters from Colombo to Almora” and many more of his marvelous publications? Also another one in my list is “The Charm and Power of the Upanishads” by Swami Ranganathanda. Thank you for your review and pointing out many good books ….. although my Master says – “Read and enjoy or Do and feel!”

  • Sreedevi says:

    Dear Kamala Aunty,

    I heard so many different versions of last Tuesday’s satsang when I visited the ashram on Wednesday that I find it a relief to know what really happened ‘from the horse’s mouth’ so to say.

    There is no point hiding from the truth – that doesn’t make it fade away. Women are exploited everywhere around the world, and in India, it is made socially acceptable through the institution of marriage. There are so many qualified women who stop working and confine themselves to their kitchens just because their husbands or in-laws feel it is a family dishonor to have women earning. This is just one sacrifice they make, and which is evident on the surface level. I wonder how many more they make in their life-long relationship and how much they suffer silently.

    I really appreciate your question, and we really need Amma’s help to put the scriptures into 21st century perspective. Chauvinists often quote ‘Sthree Na Swathanthryam Arhathi’ (A woman doesn’t deserve freedom) from Manusmrithi to scripturally gain support for the atrocities they inflict on their women. The sloka that you have brought up is just as relevant or more and I am sure Amma will put it into the right perspective for us.

    At Her Lotus Feet,

  • Lauren Landress says:

    Dear Kamala,

    I very much enjoyed reading your blog. At one point in your column you indicate that several of the God-realized swamis you refer to “have not done much work on Sanskrit interpretation and commentary of sacred scriptures.” Perhaps you aren’t aware of Paramahansa Yogananda’s highly acclaimed translation of and commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, entitled God Talks With Arjuna, a 1200 page, two volume work. (He also wrote a two-volume, 1400-page commentary on the New Testament, The Second Coming of Christ, in which he draws many parallels to India’s ancient scriptures.)

    Wishing you many blessings as you continue your journey on the path to God-realization.

    In divine friendship,

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