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  Volume 4 - Issue 09 SEPTEMBER 2006
 
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MUSINGS FROM PRASANTHI NILAYAM
CONCERNING THE VEDAS - 08

UNDERSTANDING AND ATTAINING THE SUPREME BEING - THE VEDIC WAY

Previous Articles In The Same Series
Concerning the Vedas 01
Concerning the Vedas 02
Concerning the Vedas 03
Concerning the Vedas 04
Concerning the Vedas 05
Concerning the Vedas 06
Concerning the Vedas 07


Loving Sai Ram and greetings from Prashanti Nilayam.

This is my eighth talk in the Veda Walkthrough series. Last time, I dealt with some aspects relating to the end of life, quoting some Mantras, in English translation of course, from Ramundo Panickkar’s monumental book. I shall now move away from Panickkar’s book, and, by way of slowly winding down on this series, I shall now mention a few related points.

The Vedas Point the Way to God

The first thing I would like to point out is that though individual Vedic rituals might be directed at deities, the grander aspect of Creation and the Creator are not lost sight of. We must understand that the Vedas were meant to cater to a wide spectrum. As the custodian of the Vedas, the Brahmins were expected to preside over various rituals performed by ordinary folk and guide these people by drawing their attention to the practical aspects of Dharma. I shall point out some examples of this shortly. For the moment, however, I wish to highlight the fact that where the Brahmins themselves were concerned, they were expected to focus on the highest aspects of Vedic philosophy. Thus it is that we find in the Vedas many hymns directly in praise of the Supreme One. Here, for example, are some verses from the Rig Veda, where the hymn is based on the rhetorical question: Who is it that we should worship?

 
 

He who bestows life-force and hardy vigour,
Whose ordinances even the gods obey,
Whose shadow is Immortal Life,
What God shall we adore with our oblation?

Who by His grandeur has emerged sole sovereign
Of every living thing that breathes and slumbers,
He who is the Lord of man and four-legged creatures,
What God shall we adore with our oblation?

To Him of right belong, by His own power,
The snow-clad mountains, the world-stream, and the sea,
His arms are the four quarters of the sky,
What God shall we adore with our oblation?

O Father of the Earth, by fixed laws ruling,
O Father of Heavens, pray protect us,
O Father of the great and shining waters,
What God shall we adore with our oblation?

That is very poetic, is it not?

This idea of an Absolute God who is Omnipresent, Omniscient and Omnipotent is present as an undercurrent throughout the Vedas, though it shows up explicitly only in the more philosophical passages.

Hailed as Sarveswara the Supreme Lord, He is extolled in the Svetasvatara Upanishad thus:

On all sides eye, on all sides face,
On all sides arms, on all sides feet,
He, God, the ONE, creates heaven and earth,
Forging them together with arms and wings.

He who is the source and origin of the deities,
The Lord of all, Rudra, the mighty sage,
Who produced in olden days the golden germ,
May He endow us with purity of Mind!

Without beginning and end is He;
In the midst of chaos He is and brings forth all things.
Creator is He, and sole provider of manifold forms.
When a man knows God, he is freed from all fetters.

In the Mahanarayana Upanishad, which, incidentally, we hear chanted often in Swami’s presence, it is said:

The sound that is uttered in the beginning of the Veda,
The sound that is established also in the end,
That which is beyond its absorption in Nature,
That is the Supreme Lord.

 Narayana, Universal God,
Supreme word, Imperishable.
On every side Supreme, eternal,
Narayana, Universal Lord.

We adore the Master of All,
The Lord of the soul,
Eternal, Benevolent, and Immobile!
Narayana, the mighty One to be known,

The Self of all, the Supreme Goal.
Narayana the Light Supreme, the Self,
Narayana the Supreme,
Narayana supreme essence of Brahman,

Narayana the Supreme!

And so on it goes. The Mandukya Upanishad puts it all very crisply thus:

This is the Lord of all, the Knower of all,
The Inner Controller.
This is the Source of all,
The beginning and the end of all beings.

In the Prasna Upanishad, the Supreme Lord is described thus:

He is the fire that burns,
He is the Sun.
He is the plenteous rain,
He is the Wind,

He is the Earth, matter and God,
Being and Non-being – He the Immortal.

And in the Taittriya Upanishad which we have already reviewed, He is described in the same tone:

That from which beings are born,
That by which, when born, they live,
That into which, when dying, they enter,
That you should desire to know:

That is Brahman!

The Path of the Bhagavad Gita

One cannot talk about the Vedas without some reference at least, to the Bhagavad Gita. The Gita can understandably be described in any different ways but for the present, I would choose to describe it as the direct authentication of Vedic Wisdom by God Himself. God in human form not only corroborates all that is said in the Vedas in various places but also goes far beyond, by opening up a simple path by following which anyone can, if he or she so chooses, attain God by observing just a few very simple rules.

Basically, the Gita reveals to man how by loving God, man can attain God, without any jeopardy to his normal call of duty. And that the God man so attains, is nothing but the Brahman whom the Vedas extol.

There is a very important point here that needs to be underscored. The Vedas essentially told man, “Follow Dharma and you will reach God.” Very true indeed. But then, for many, Dharma may appear like an inconvenient set of rules. Krishna instead tells man, “Just love Me, and be devoted to Me. I shall take care of everything.”

Does that mean that man can forget Dharma? Not at all. However, man now thinks of the Loving God and tries to please Him. God is so wonderful, loving, compassionate, and all that, that it is a joy to please God. Thus, driven by his love for God, man starts following Dharma almost unconsciously. Dharma is no longer a burden but something that is merely incidental.

Creation, Swami says, is a Divine Play involving the Lord and the devotee. Krishna was the first to make that plain, besides instructing man how to please the Lord. I remember very distinctly what Swami said when inaugurating the Samskrita Sadhanam in Bangalore in January, 2001. This is what Swami said effectively:

 

“God has everything. Being the Creator of everything, there is no need for God to desire this or that. God does not incarnate to ask man for service or favours. God incarnates so that man may have God in his radar screen. When God is physically present directly in front of his eyes, man feels an urge to serve God. That is the opportunity that the Avatar presents to man. Some people are not quick on the uptake, and so God asks people sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly, ‘Will you do this for me’.”

 

We hardly realise how much Swami is doing so that we might improve ourselves. Many years ago, late Dr. Fanibanda asked Swami a question. By the way, for those of you who are not aware, I should mention that late Dr. Fanibanda was a renowned dentist in Bombay, he was a good amateur magician and on top of it all, he was a good photographer and film cameraman. It is thanks to him that we in the Prashanti Digital Studio have reels and reels of archival film that have wonderful scenes that we shall never again see.

Getting back to Dr. Fanibanda and his question, he asked Swami, “Swami, what is the purpose of the Sri Sathya Sai Organisation?” Swami replied, “Nothing.” That of course knocked the good doctor out flat. When he recovered, he gently asked, “Swami, nothing? How can that be?” Swami then smiled and replied, “I founded it so that people could improve themselves!”

A very profound reply, and when we think about it, so many of the activities that revolve round Swami and the Ashram are really opportunities for various people to improve themselves. I personally find this absolutely remarkable. I mean otherwise, how would so many people with expertise in finance, administration etc., get an opportunity to serve in the Divine presence?

In His earlier incarnation as Lord Krishna, our Swami said this, and this is very important:

On me fix they Mind. To Me give thy devotion. To Me offer thy sacrifice. To Me make thy obeisance. Thus having attached thyself to Me and made Me thy end, to Me indeed thou shalt come!

Even the vilest of sinners shall be counted as righteous, if he turns to me with undivided devotion; for he has chosen the right path.

These are incredible pronouncements that only the Lord can make. And just listen to this guarantee.

As for those who exclusively worship Me, who meditate on Me with no other thought and who are ever steadfast – I bear entirely the burden of their welfare.

By the way, these remarkable slokas or hymns are all from the ninth chapter.

It is no surprise then that in the post-Krishna period there was a great following for the Lord in the form of Krishna. Indeed, many saints did exactly what was prescribed and attained precisely the destiny promised. In short, I would say, using a modern idiom that the Bhagagavd Gita is nothing short of Vedanta for dummies!

I am sure with all these remarks, you would be able to recall innumerable statements from Swami where all these assurances have not only been reiterated but even exceeded; in other words, Swami is giving bargains far exceeding Krishna’s offers! That really is what the Lord’s compassion is all about.

Sacrifice – a Vedic Value

Changing the gear somewhat, one theme that occurs right across the Vedas is SACRIFICE. The Sanskrit word for sacrifice is Tyaga, and there is a Vedic passage extolling sacrifice that Swami often quotes. In the Vedas, the theme of sacrifice may be seen in two distinct perspectives. One of these is what I would like to call Cosmic External, and the other Sublime Internal. As is to be expected, the two concepts are in fact related.

The Outer Sacrifice

Let me start with what I refer to as the Cosmic External aspect. The basic idea here is that the human is but one cog in a massive engine called the Cosmos. The Cosmos has innumerable entities ranging from stars and galaxies at one end to insects, plants, animals and so on at the other end. Everything in God’s Creation has a purpose for its existence, and plays a role in the Cosmic Scheme of things, though we might not be aware of it. In this sense, not only the Universe but every single entity in it, big or small, has a definite purpose for its existence. This, of course, goes against the belief common amongst many modern scientists, that the Universe simply happens to exist and has no purpose.

 
 

The important point here is the interconnectivity of existence. The point needs to be underscored especially in today’s world, when many hold that man is supreme, that everything exists for his benefit, and he can even do what he wants. Take, for example, the question of bio-diversity. Bio-scientists have recognised that bio-diversity in Nature is good for ecosystems and for mankind too, and must not be disturbed. However, genetic engineering promoted by many companies, it is feared, would greatly harm bio-diversity by making just a few species of plants dominate. This would be clearly going against the structure of Nature but the protagonists of genetically modified seeds could not care less about such considerations.

Another example: there are many coral reefs round the world, some of them truly famous. However, their very fame has spelt their doom. Heavily promoted as tourist destinations, many of these reefs are in danger of being wiped out. It was not realised, until recently, that coral reefs play a vital role in preserving balance in marine ecosystems. They are the breeding ground for many marine species, which in turn support many types of fishes. Damage to coral systems has caused, in many places, heavy destruction of many species of fishes. I can cite many examples but shall not at the moment. Maybe in a talk later, I shall deal extensively with ecosystems. Currently, the point I want to make is that man’s superior abilities does not give him any special license to disturb eco-balance in anyway. God has given man superior abilities not for damaging the environment but to become conscious of God and move towards Him. Misuse of Divine capabilities endowed by God to man for a special purpose is a great sin.

Indeed, this is where sacrifice comes into the picture. In the Gita, the Lord tells Arjuna:

At the time of Creation, the Creator told mankind: ‘Through sacrifice thou shall prosper and propagate. This shall be the milch-cow [Kamadhenu] of thy desires.

This is verse 10 in Chapter 4. Here, sacrifice is described at a level that most people would grasp. It is a payment for favours one wants. Continuing, Krishna adds:

Worship is a form of sacrifice. Worship the powers of Nature [the Devas], and they in turn will nourish thee. Through this synergy, thou canst attain the highest good.

 

Here, sacrifice is commended in order to achieve a balanced co-existence with Nature. The word sacrifice normally makes people say: “I am being asked to simply give up something that I have earned with hard work. Is this not unfair?” Krishna dispels such notions. Maybe the person might think he or she has worked hard, but there can be no gains unless there is the Grace of God. Thus, what people think they are sacrificing is really something that has been given to them by God. They are not giving away some material thing of theirs, but something given to them by God. To make sure that this idea is not forgotten, Krishna says:

Fostered by sacrifice, the deities of Nature will, unasked, bestow on thee all the enjoyment thou couldst possibly desire. But he who enjoys the gifts of the gods without offering sacrifice in return, is verily a thief.

Food is one of the great gifts of Nature. We do not realise it but all food comes really from Nature and not the supermarket. Reminding man of this, Krishna says:

The virtuous who partake of food that remains after the sacrifice is offered are free from sin; but the selfish who eat alone without sharing their food with others are in fact feeding on sin.

These slokas are from the fourth chapter of the Gita, where Krishna really goes to town on the subject of sacrifice. Here are some more slokas from that same chapter:

Know that all action originates from the Supreme One who is imperishable and all-pervading. And in sacrificial action, this Supreme Spirit is consciously present.

O Partha! One who does not revolve with the wheel of sacrifice but seeks instead mundane pleasures through the gratification of the senses lives in vain.

I am sure you would have noticed that all that I have said so far about sacrifice is actually connected with the so-called external aspect. We receive, and so we must also give; better it is give more than what we receive. One important thing to remember is that what we give or sacrifice is something that would bring material advantage in some form to us if we did not give that away. Thus, the term sacrifice is used in the traditional sense.

 

Now in the Vedas, the word sacrifice is intimately tied up with Yajna and Yaga. And Yajna and Yaga call to our minds the spectacle of a huge sacred fire, the sacrificial fire as it is sometimes called. I am sure many of you must have seen Yajnas being performed at Prashanti Nilayam at the time of Dasara. We see priests pouring not only ghee but cooked rice and many material objects into the fire. What does all this symbolism really mean? How does making offerings to the fire amount to sacrifice? Let us first hear Swami on the subject.

The sages used to perform Yajnas for gaining mastery over the senses. The real nature and meaning of Yajna is the overcoming of all our bad tendencies, throwing them into the fire of sacrifice.

What is sacrifice? What is that one must give up? Is it the transient wealth that one has?

Sacrifice means giving up one’s desires, greed and extreme miserliness. Unless you sacrifice desire, anger, greed and so on, you cannot attain Divinity.

The Inner Sacrifice

That is the real point - Yajnas are performed for achieving Inner Purity through sacrifice, and this is where what I earlier referred to as the Sublime Internal, comes into the picture. However, it must be added that in Vedic times, people did perform Yajnas for propitiating deities and getting boons from them. For example, Emperor Dasaratha performed the famous Putrakameshti Yaga so that he might be blessed with children. This is the external aspect of the Vedic ritual. But the beauty is, as Swami sometimes points out, all these rituals have a sublime internal aspect too.

This brings me to my next point which is about fire. In the scriptures, the term fire is sometimes used in a generic sense. Let us get back to the Gita for a moment, and listen some more to Krishna: the few slokas I am now going to quote are from the fifth chapter.

Some offer sacrifice to the Devas alone while others more evolved offer the ego as a sacrifice in the fire of Knowledge.

Some offer the senses such as hearing, in the fire of sense control; while others offer sound and other objects of perception to the fire of the senses.

Others again, kindled by Wisdom, sacrifice all the activities of the senses and of the vital energy [Praana] in the fire of self-restraint.

Some perform sacrifice using material objects, some through austerity, others via Yoga, and some again make the study of the scriptures, and the acquisition of knowledge [of the scriptures] their sacrifice – all born of piety.

Yet others, abstemious in food, practice sacrifice by spiritualising their vital energy. All these know what sacrifice is and use it to purge themselves completely of sin.

Thus, many and various are the sacrifices enunciated by the Vedas. Know them all to spring from the action of the mind, the senses and the body. Once thou knowest this, thou canst win release.

All the slokas I have just quoted relate to what I would call the internal aspect. Remember my earlier quote of Swami who says that sacrifice really means giving up one’s undesirable habits and traits? When one gives up a bad habit like getting angry say, one can say one is sacrificing anger in the Sacred Fire of Spiritual Knowledge. That is the spirit in which many of these slokas are to be understood.

 

A Sacrifice of Meat and Alcohol

This gives me an opportunity to narrate a small incident and bring this talk to a close. This happened way back in 1995, around October I think, when I paid a three-week visit to New Zealand, on an invitation from the Sai Organisation. The high point was the National Conference, which, it so happened, coincided with the Deepavali festival.

The Spiritual Convenor of the New Zealand Sai Organisation had a nice idea. It was to have a fire, and everyone was supposed to write on a piece of paper one or more undesirable habits that the person wanted to get rid of. Everyone was made to stand in a queue, and one by one, people went to the fire, said a small prayer to Swami, and then threw the paper into the fire. The idea was to sacrifice bad habits, with fire as the witness. I thought that this was an excellent way of performing a Yajna in modern times, sticking closely to the basic principle stated by Swami.

 

Announcements were made about the fire and all that at lunchtime, and devotees went around with pencil and paper, wondering what they would give up. It was very much like people going to Benares in the old days, taking a dip in the Ganges and then giving up some favourite vegetable. What used to happen was that people would sacrifice a vegetable that they did not like anyway! I was remembering all this when I fell into conversation with a devotee. He is a very good person, and he had worked a lot for the National Convention. He also took good care of me.

He had a long conversation with me about what he should give up. Hearing him out, I suggested that he should give up eating meat and drinking alcohol. He did not like what I told him and argued with me a lot. For my part, I tried to explain why Swami had asked devotees to shun these. He went away saying he would think about it.

Came the evening, and the fire was lit. One by one, people were walking up to the fire and throwing the piece of paper they had with them. This man came up to me and showed the paper he had with him. On it was a promise to give up totally meat and alcohol. He walked up to the fire tossed the paper into the fire, came back to me with huge grin and gave me a huge bear hug. He was a big fellow and literally crushed me but it was worth it! He was so happy and I too was happy for him.

So you see, Yajnas are relevant in this day and age too, especially in their Sublime Internal aspect. I hope you will agree with me.

Thank you and Jai Sai Ram

 


Heart2Heart Team


 

 
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Vol 4 Issue 09 - SEPTEMBER 2006
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