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  Volume 4 - Issue 06 JUNE 2006
 
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MUSINGS FROM PRASANTHI NILAYAM
CONCERNING THE VEDAS - 05

MANTRAS - MAN'S LINK TO GOD

Previous Articles In The Same Series
Concerning the Vedas 01
Concerning the Vedas 02
Concerning the Vedas 03
Concerning the Vedas 04


Loving Sai Ram and greetings from Prashanti Nilayam.

Today, I shall finally start on what I have been promising all along, namely to take you on a Veda Walkthrough. The idea for such a walkthrough has been bugging me ever since I came across a most fascinating book entitled: THE VEDIC EXPERIENCE, Mantramanjari, in the library of our Institute here. This book is by one Raimundo Panikkar, and it is an amazing book. The author too is amazing in his own way.

Raimundo Panikkar – Scholar Par Excellence

Raimundo Panikkar was born in Spain to a Catholic mother and a Hindu father – that is why his name is half Spanish and half Malayalee. Panikkar grew up as a Catholic and entered priesthood. Later he came to India and discovered the Vedas. Of this trip, Raimundo Panikkar says, “I left as a Christian, I found myself a Hindu, and I returned as a Buddhist, without ever ceasing to be a Christian.”

Panikkar has three doctorate degrees, one in science, one in philosophy, and one in theology. He is a scholar par excellence, and was, until recently when he retired, a Professor in the Department of Religious Studies in the University of California, Santa Barbara Campus. He is widely acclaimed as a great theologian. Panikkar is well known for his attempts to initiate a dialogue between Christianity and the major Asian religions. Panikkar believes that though Christians must remain devoted to Christianity, it is not necessary to believe that all truth is exhausted by Christ, much less by the historical person Jesus of Nazareth. He has argued that though Jesus is referred to as the Son of God in the New Testament, this does not mean that the Son of God is always and only Jesus.

 
   
Dr. Raimundo Panikkar

The Vedic Experience – A Treasure House of Vedic Mantras

So much for the author of the book, The Vedic Experience. Now a few words about the book itself. It has had many printings, and is published by Motilal Banarasidass of Delhi, a well-known publisher of books on Indology and Indian scriptures. The book has 936 pages, and is what Panikkar calls a Vedic Anthology. It is a collection of Vedic Mantras from right across the Vedas. As Panikkar himself explains,

A Vedic Anthology seems appropriate in our age, when the world is so much in need of serene and balanced wisdom, and when the Indian tradition has so powerful an appeal, especially for the younger generation.

I am not sure if the younger generation of today has any idea at all of the Vedas; I personally doubt it; in fact, few of the elders of today know anything! Such being the case, I thought I would pick up some ideas from this treasure of a book and share it with Radio Sai listeners, in the hope that at least you would take greater interest in what Swami has to say about the Vedas, ancient Indian Culture and tradition, etc.

Mantras - The Main Link To God

You might wonder how I am going to deal with a book that is over 900 pages. Here is my road map. Panikkar has collected Mantras from Aitareya Aryanaka through KausikaSutra and NyayaSutra, right up to Yajur Veda, with Bhagavad Gita thrown in for good measure. Altogether, it is a mighty scholarly effort. Now what criteria did Panikkar adopt for making his selection? This is what Panikkar himself says:

This anthology claims to represent the whole of the Sruthi or Indian revelation. It purports to contain the central message of the Vedas, to embody their essence, their Rasa. Just as a bouquet contains all the seven colours of the rainbow and all the fragrance of the fields, this anthology seeks to encompass the whole range of Vedic experience and to convey the main body of the Vedic revelation.

When I first glanced through this monumental book what struck me was how various Mantras are chanted at different stages in a person’s life, and how they all, at the global level, establish the link between Man, Nature or Creation and God the Creator.

Right then the idea grew within me that somehow, I should share this fragrance with our listeners, and this series is the result. In a sense, this talk and the one to follow are the centrepiece of this series.

 

A Vedic Walkthrough Of A Person’s Life

This is what I plan to do in the present talk and the next one. I shall, starting from the moment a person is born, keep track of that person through life, till death. During the life of that person, Mantras are chanted on many occasions. Leaning on Panikkar, I shall offer brief extracts so that we get an idea of what is the content of the Mantras chanted. When we do this right across a person’s life, we would get a broad overview of what Panikkar rightly calls the Vedic experience. I use instead the more catchy term Walkthrough, but it means the same thing.

Ideally, I should offer both the Sanskrit original and the English translation of the Mantras, but since I do not right now have access to an erudite Vedic Pandit who can pull out what I want from the Sanskrit originals, I have to be content with the English translations found in Panikkar’s book. It is my hope that one day Radio Sai would be able to produce a program complete with the Sanskrit chants. I am in fact trying to rope in an eminent scholar, and if my efforts succeed, we might even offer that program soon. For the moment, you have to be content with what I can offer in these talks.

A Son Is Born….

Let me start off with the birth of a son to a couple. According to tradition, the child’s father should feed with a golden spoon a little butter and honey and say:

 

I feed you with ghee, the gift of God the beautiful,

I feed you with the golden wisdom of honey,

May you have long life, protected by the Devas,

May you live in this world a hundred circling years.

Next, putting his lips close to the child’s ears, the father says:

May God grant you intelligence,
May His power grant you intelligence,
May his two Divine messengers, Lotus-wreathed,
Grant you intelligence.

The father then touches the shoulder of the child and prays for strength thus:

Be a stone, be an axe, be unsurpassed gold,
You in truth are the Veda, called my son,
Live, therefore, a hundred years.
Powerful God, give us the best of treasures,
Grant us Your gifts, O bountiful One!

The mother is also remembered, and the father prays for her thus:

You are Ida, the daughter of Mitra and Varuna,
You a courageous woman, have borne a vigorous son,
May you be blessed with vigorous children,
You who have blessed us with a vigorous son.

I have not included all the Mantras chanted on this occasion, but selected just a representative few. In Vedic times, birth was not regarded as merely a family affair but an event of cosmic significance. Human birth was a part of the cosmic drama, and the birth of a son was important for the continuity of the Vedic tradition, which revolved mainly around men in those days. By the way, the child is fed butter and honey because these were considered symbols of wisdom.

The Young Boy Goes To A Guru…

I now skip the years and come to the time, in the Vedic era that is, when the young boy is accepted as a disciple by a Guru. This ceremony that brought the disciple close to the Guru was called Upanayanam. Swami says that the mother shows father to the child. The father then shows the Guru to the boy, and the Guru guides the boy to God. So really speaking, though in a worldly sense Upanayanam brings the boy closer to the Guru, the inner meaning is that Upanayanam is a step in going closer to God. The Upanayanam ceremony that we see these days is an adaptation of that ancient ritual.

In Vedic times, life was seen as a whole. Man, it was felt, is born not to enjoy and fritter away life but to serve a cosmic purpose as ordained by God. Man’s primary duty is to adhere to, to sustain and to preserve Dharma. Dharma was given the utmost importance because without Dharma, Society would degenerate, and when Society degenerates, humanity itself could be in peril.

Following the path of Dharma calls for discipline in life and this is the discipline to which the young boy is initiated when admitted to the fold of a Guru. In a sense, the period that the boy spent at an Ashram with a Guru was a period of apprenticeship. If a modern analogy is required, this apprenticeship could be likened to the life of a cadet in a military school.

The Guru is also known as Acharya, meaning one who teaches by example; in this sense, the Guru is rather like an instructor in a military school who teaches by example how to march, how to hold the rifle and fire, etc.

The tradition followed in the initiation, and which has been adapted in the present-day Upanayanam ceremony also, is supposed to be based on the initiation undergone by the Lord when He came down as Vamana. On that occasion, it is said, that the gods and the goddesses themselves presented the various articles needed by the young Brahmin.

In that same spirit, the Acharya gives to the new entrant, a new garment, then a girdle, then the sacred thread, followed by a deerskin, and finally a staff to complete the proceedings. That is when the student is formally admitted to the fold and the Acharya accepts the boys as a disciple.

Some of you might wonder, as I did, whether the parents did not perform then the Upanayanam as is common these days. It seems that in those distant and prehistoric times, the father simply brought the young lad and left him in charge of the Acharya. The initiation was done by the Acharya, after he agreed to take the boy as a disciple in his Ashram.

 
   
Sri Vamana Avatar

How Does The Guru Initiate the Young Disciple?

Now to some of the Mantras chanted. We start with the presentation of the new garment by the Acharya. This garment symbolises the entrance of the boy to a new phase in life, and since the garment is supposed to be specially woven by the goddess, a prayer is offered to her by the teacher:

May the goddess who spun,
Who wove and measured this garment,
Clothe you with long life!

Put on this garment endowed with life and strength.
As Brihaspathi clothed Indra in the garment of Immortality,
Even so I clothe you, with a prayer for long life
A good old age, strength, and splendour.

For your own well-being you have put on this garment.
You have become a protector of your friends,
Against the curses of men.
Live a hundred long years.
May you be noble, blessed with fullness of life,
Sharing generously your wealth.

After this, a few more rituals, and then comes the sacred thread part. The Acharya places the thread around the boy and says:

You are the sacred thread,
With the thread of sacrifice,
I initiate you.

Next, some oblations in which water held in the palm of joined hands is poured. Now follows a question and answer session during which the Acharya formally ascertains the disciple's parentage and lineage and willingness to be a disciple. It starts off with the Acharya asking,

What is your name?

The disciple replies,

I am so and so.

This goes on and in the end, the Acharya says,

Declare yourself as a student

And the reply comes,

I am a student sir.

The Acharaya now declares,

By the vivifying power of God Savitr,
With the strength of the two Asvins,
And with Pusan’s aid,
I initiate you.

After this the Acharya hands a piece of deer skin as a symbol of longevity and says,

Put on this skin, so and so,
May the firm eye of Mitra,
Be a token of swiftness and self control.

May Aditi gird your loins
That you may know the Vedas,
That you may acquire insight and faith,
And retain what you have learnt,
That you may be endowed with goodness and shining purity.

 

 

The Acharya now hands a staff to the disciple that is a symbol of the ascetic life the Sishya is embarking on. The disciple accepts it saying,

This staff which is falling from the sky upon the earth,
I now take up with prayer for life,
With prayer for fullness of spirit,
And the splendour of Brahman.

The teacher then says,

Agni, I entrust this student to you,
Indra, I entrust this student to you,
Aditya, I entrust this student to you,
All Gods, I entrust this student to you,
So that he may have a long life,
So that he may acquire authority in all the Vedas,
So that he may achieve renown and happiness.

After this, the Acharya says,

Under my direction,
Your mind will follow my mind,
In my word you will rejoice with all spirit,
May Brihaspathi unite you with me.

The Final Hymn – Gayatri Mantra

It is only after all this that the Acharya teaches the Gayathri Mantra to the disciple. The ritual ends with the spiritually rejuvenated disciple offering solemn prayer and promise to the sacred fire. He says:

O Lord, the glorious One,
Make me glorious too.
Lord, you who are the custodian of sacrifice for the gods,
Even so may I be the custodian of Sacred Knowledge for men.

You, Lord, are the protector of bodies.
Protect my body.

You, Lord, are the giver of life.
Impart vigour to me.

Lord, what is imperfect in my body.
That Lord, restore to fullness.

May the God Savitr give me wisdom,
May the goddess Saraswati, give me wisdom,

May the two Divine Aswins, wreathed with lotus,
Give me wisdom.

 

That is a very brief account of the elaborate and extended ritual associated with the initiation ceremony that launches the young disciple into apprenticeship with his Acharya. I apologize I am not able to provide right now, the Sanskrit rendering of the Mantras I have presented in English, drawing of course upon Panikkar’s monumental volume.

Significance Of The Initiation Ritual

Now to some comments on the above. The first thing we have to note is that during the apprenticeship, the disciple or Sishya gets a thorough grounding in the Vedas from his Acharya. Learning the hymns and committing them to memory besides knowing how to chant them properly etc., is only part of the training. More important, the Sishya was expected to live like an ascetic, and in practical terms, that meant strict sense and mind control. Indeed, the various symbols like the girdle, the staff etc., are all associated with such regulation.

 

Why the sense and mind control? The answer is simple. By its very nature, the mind tends to wander and does so very easily. It takes some effort to focus the mind on something and retain that focus for an extended period of time. Concentration is not unusual; indeed, it is often necessary, especially when one is engaged in a complex task. A painter has to concentrate, a musician has to concentrate, a surgeon has to concentrate, and so on.

Concentration on a task associated with a profession is not all that difficult, but when it comes to concentrating and meditating on God, it is a different matter; the fickle mind is ever ready to wander. Yet, with effort, one-pointed attention on Brahman is possible.

Now why on earth was the poor boy made to do all this? For a very good reason. In Vedic society, it was the duty of the Brahmin to help people follow Dharma, develop love for God and so on. How could he do all that if he himself lacked discipline?

Discipline, the ancients realised, comes more easily when inculcated at a young age. In those days, attractions and distractions as we now know did not exist. So one would think that those boys should have had no problem with sense and mind control. In a sense that is true. But, as Ramakrishna Paramahamsa points out, there are two attractions that can cause the downfall of any person in any age. As he puts it, they are Kamini and Kanchan, meaning woman and gold.

The attractions of sensual pleasures and wealth are present in every age, and the Vedic age was no exception. The Brahmin, for example, could easily start making money using his scriptural knowledge. Indeed the story of Adi Shankara and the grammarian that Swami often narrates is an example.

Just to remind you, when Shankara was going along with his disciples to the river Ganges for a morning bath, he saw a man furiously cramming the rules of Sanskrit grammar. When Shankara asked why the man was spending so much energy on learning grammar, the man replied he was doing so to become a scholar in King’s court and earn, money acquire wealth and fame.

 

Vedic Society did not permit such misuse of knowledge. Knowledge was to be used solely for the benefit of Society and a Brahmin’s main duty was to help people in following and abiding by Dharma.

The Vedic seers laid down norms of life and behaviour that to us might seem very demanding and even stifling. That is because in this day and age we are all tuned to personal achievement, sense gratification, acquisition and so on. Consumerism being the order of the day, what is undesirable is heavily marketed as the most desirable thing to have. However, when individual greed dominates, collective good has to perforce decline. Common good gets enhanced only when individuals sacrifice. Indeed, sacrifice is a constant undercurrent through the Vedas. As Krishna says, it is only through sacrifice that the individual can prosper. Society prospers only when individuals prosper. And it is only when Society prospers that the individual can enjoy real security, peace and happiness. So there is a kind of inter-linkage between man and Society, with sacrifice at the core.

I hate to use the word but something like Moral Socialism was advocated, so that everyone was guaranteed well being. Where the Brahmin was concerned, he not only had to rise above desires but also had to feel one with Creation and its Creator through adoration. The Vedas being full of such adoration, the Brahmin was expected to spend a lot of his time chanting the Vedas.

So how long does the disciple stay with his Acharya, and what happens after he has acquired a solid grounding in the Vedas? Well, he takes leave of his Acharya, and that is when the Acharya gives the farewell sermon, with Matru Devo Bhava etc., that I referred to in one of my earlier talks.

The Guru Fosters Righteousness and Righteousness Protects The Guru

One might wonder how on earth did the Acharaya provide for himself? This is a valid point, because here on earth, even a monk or a Sannyasi needs essentials like food, clothes etc., for sustaining himself. In ancient times, the disciple, obviously drawing from his parents, would make an offering to the Guru while leaving. This was called Guru Dakshina. The Guru was not expected to ask, but at the same time, the graduate disciple if I might use that term, was expected to make an offering. How much? No quantum was prescribed; rather, it was each according to his capacity.

Today we might wonder how at all can such a system work. Might not people cheat? Should not one prescribe the amount the student was supposed to give? Well, such concepts are the so-called blessings of modern Society. In Vedic Society, the Acharya did not make stipulations; instead, he had full faith that the Lord would take care of him and the good Lord always did because the Acharya was helping people to follow Dharma. As the saying goes, he who helps the cause of Dharma would be protected by that very same Dharma.

I think I had better wrap up this talk. Next time, I shall tell you what the disciple did after leaving the Ashram. But for now, let me recall an encounter I had with an unusual gentleman about seventeen years ago. This man was born and brought up in Bombay, and worked for sometime as an officer in bank. Later he came to Madras as Chennai used to be known in those days, and spent some time working for a well-known Finance company. One fine day, he just chucked his job. Why? Because he felt an overpowering urge to go around delivering spiritual discourses and narrate stories from the Puraanas.

God Takes Care…

I asked him why he felt like that, especially since he was all set to climb the corporate ladder. He replied that two things motivated him to change. First was that being a wandering minstrel spreading the good word was the family tradition. In his family, since no one in his generation followed that tradition having gone for well paying jobs, he felt that he must do something to preserve the family tradition.

Next, he said, spreading the spiritual message gave him a lot of joy. I then asked him the obvious question.

I said, “But you must eat! What about money?” And you know what he said in reply?

He said, “Amazingly, I do not starve. Wherever I go, I do not ask for any money. I fulfil my speaking engagement as a call of duty but later, people spontaneously come forward and give me envelopes with small amounts of cash. It is not much, but enough for me to survive. Anyway, my wants are now very simple and I do not need much cash to sustain myself. The Lord is taking good care of me and I have no wants!”

 

Yes, this is exactly what I heard in this Kali age, not too long ago, to be precise in 1988. As long as the Sun shines, there would still be good and noble people walking on this earth, at least in this land, the birth place of the Vedas.

Thank you and Jai Sai Ram.


Dear Reader, this is our fourth article on the series 'Concerning The Vedas'. Did this article help you? Would you like more in this series? Please let us know at [email protected] Please mention your name and country when you write to us. Thank you for your time.

Heart2Heart Team


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Vol 4 Issue 06 - JUNE 2006
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