Perennial Wisdom

Prachya – Manisha – Gaveshana – Mandiram is the answer for the annoying and urgent question ‘Is our culture dying?’ In the course of this talk it would be my endeavour to engage your attention on certain eternal verities relevant to man’s life and man’s conduct in real life. The expectations about Man and the ground realities, the contemporary actuality around, would naturally cause turbulence in those of us who believe that life is not mere pleasure, still less an opportunity make money. The name of this association of thoughtful, benevolent intellectuals needs explanation for those who do not have ease in understanding the Devbhasha, Sanskrit. A number of inquiries can be instituted into the oriental wisdom down the ages in various fields and in diverse depths of detail. This is a temple of quest for the understanding of oriental wisdom, manas, heart-mind-intellect. Talking about and thinking about eternal verities will surely gives us valuable insights. We are fortunate in that our ancients left us wonderful treasures that could show us the way to meaningful living and save us from anguish, uncertainty, doubt and indecision.

Eternal verities are universal truths, which have a fundamental purport. No matter what the country or what the period of time, these are truths for all time. These may relate to the nature of the world, man’s conduct and behaviour and so. These may relate to physical nature or human nature, ethics, aspirations, goals and so on. These may relate to morality, human conduct and behaviour.

Let us take the eternal verity propounded by the upanishad: ‘brahma satyam, jagat midhya’. Can this mahavaakya be false. No, certainly not. The Upanishad was saying this in the context of explaining the universe and the universal reality. But we often say that life is real, suffering is real. The resolution to the problem is simple. Utterances exist in contexts. In the context of discussing brahma, brahmapaaardha, the Supreme Being and so on, in metaphysical speculation, we are convinced that jagat is midhya. We also have to agree in the verity jaatasya maraNam dhruvam or parOpakaaraya punyaaya paapaaya para peeDanam. These eternal verities, universal truths are truths for all time with no way to controvert. We cannot be idle and cease activity on the count of inconsequence saying that jagat is midhya.

Life is real, relatively as per our limited human understanding, in the sense that we are living it, experiencing, doing things, feeling happy or hungry, so on and so forth. But we, above that stage of avidya, do not say that life is mere birth, copulation and death. The poet said this in a mood of disillusionment and there are times we too fall in dejection. Precisely at this point we should seek the counsel of our ancients and find some kind of solace from their observations, statements, injunctions and caveats and sage counsel.

Birth, copulation and Death are partial truths of life. They are not the whole truth. The sign of life is not mere breathing. Life has a purpose and a goal and our ancient wisdom has been telling us that there is rebirth and a life after death. Our religion asks us to try to establish contact with the ultimate reality as per our own wish, desire, thirst or what you will.

There are physical realities. Nature, our earth, the other planets, the universe and the brahmand of our scriptures are aspects of eternal physical reality. What is Man’s place in this universe? What is Man’s importance on this earth, in this world? What is his destiny? Is there a purpose in human life? The thinking man has been addressing these questions right from the Vedic age. The great minds have revealed to us aspects of the absolute reality.

The great physicist Sir James Jeans wrote about the world, our home in space. Just imagine a huge cathedral, or the fabulous palace of a king. Put three grains of sand in the huge building. The building is less closely packed with the sand than this universe with planets, stars and worlds. The earth is a tiny particle in the universe and Man in the worlds is not any the more significant.

At the same time, Man is a unique creation and he has thinking capacity and a host of other qualities which other beings (those we know) do not have. Contrast man’s ideals and aspirations with the goals that people around are pursuing in the contemporary reality. Not that we do not know that life has a purpose. We have become more rational, more objective, and more open-minded, more understanding and more materialistic too. The contemporary actuality does not need to be explained at any length.

Knowledge has been expanding at very great speed. As Alvin Toffler wrote in his Third Wave nearly thirty years ago scientific discoveries and inventions are growing and expanding in geometric progression. The branches of knowledge have grown beyond recognition. Specialization is becoming more and more sharply focussed on minute aspects. But the sad reality is that man does not seem to have grown any the wiser. Wisdom is given a back seat. While according to knowledgeable minds scientific progress is doubling every fifty years, wisdom seems to taking strides backward threatening man’s very existence. Siddhi, accomplishment is the watchword. Shuddhi., purity is not paid any attention. Great minds like Thoreau (1848), Vivekananda (1900) Vivekananda (1900) Gandhi (1945), Sorokin (1948) and are only fashionable names to be tossed in quotations to impress.

In this scenario, groups of enlightened minds and thinking people are at work: witness the culture and heritage oriented TV channels like Samskar, Aaastha etc. Unfortunately, even those have to resort to accepting advertisements to sustain themselves. With a positive note that they would find sponsors with no business interests let us quickly remind ourselves of three sacred seers and their declarations of some eternal verities. First, Sage Veda Vyasa, who was participant of the action in the Mahaaitihas, the grand epic the Mahabharat, Adi Sankara and Trailingaswamy, in the chronological order.

Maharshi Vedavyas belonged probably to the 5th millennium BC. In the grand narrative, during the days of Aranyavas of the righteous Pandavas there was an episode where Yamadharma Raja himself in the guise of a Yaksha poses some questions to Dharmaraja, with the promise that he would be allowed to drink of his pond. This is really a test and the questions are related to creation, dharma, righteous life, human nature, insight into ideal human relations and so on. Dharmaja answered all the seventy-two questions to the satisfaction of the Yaksha, who out of joy brings all the four brothers of the wise, righteous man back to life. Here is a sampler of the questions and the answers, which encapsulate eternal verities, valid for all time.

What does really help man?

What the greatest among dharmas?

What is the path to heaven?

What is jnaana?
Ability to discriminate, distinguish good and evil.

What envelops the whole world?
Ignorance, ajnaana.

What is ahamkara, ego sense?
Ignorance, ajnaana.

Which is the most surprising thing?
Seeing death everyday and still thinking of one’s own permanence.

Who is a sthithaprajna?

The one who considers all dualities the same, the one contented, the one who conquers the six enemies, the one steadfast never losing his cool.

Adi Sankara of the 9th Century wrote Prasnottari Mani Maala, where he asked questions and answered them himself for the benefit of the devout. Here is a sampler:

Who is in bondage?
Those attracted to vishayas, things, the sense attractions.

What is called liberation, mukti?
Dispassion, vairagya towards vishayas.

Which the most horrible hell?
This human body itself.

What is said to be the reason for liberation, moksha kaaraNa?
Self-knowledge. atmajnaana, realization of the self.

Who are true enemies?
One’s own senses, If these are conquered, they would be friends.

Who is the blindest?
The one tossed by lust.

What is death?
One’s own infamy or, disrepute.

Which is the malady right from the beginning?
Samsara, the world and also the birth cycle, which leads to being born again and again.

Which is more poisonous than poison?
Attraction and slavery to vishayas, sense attractions.

Which is the biggest enemy?
Desire coupled with anger, untruth, greed.

By destroying what does one get liberation?

Mahatma Trailinga Swami (1607-1887) answered his disciple’s queries with genuine love for all. These are very pithy sayings, saarOktulu replete with the essence of deep insights and understanding inspired by the Supreme Being we call Eshwar. Here is a sampler:

Sishya: What is the most horrible naraka?
Guru: Our body.

Sishya: Where is swarga?
Guru: This very earth is swarga, if desires die.

Sishya: How can the earthly bond be severed?
Guru: By attaining aatmajnaana.

Sishya: What would give mukti?
Guru: Aatmajnaana.

Sishya: What is the way for the attainment of swarga?
Guru: Ahimsa, non-violence.

Sishya: Who is the enemy of Man?
Guru: His own senses.

Sishya: Who is the blind one?
Guru: The one ravaged by lust.

Sishya: What is Death?
Guru: Infamy or disrepute is Death. Man is immortal.

Sishya: Who is buddhiman? (The wise one)
Guru: The one who does not give in to lust.

Sishya: What is meant by manovinaasana? (Destroying the manas)
Guru: Moksha, salvation.

Sishya: How do we have any belief in a thing, which we do not see?
Guru: As we believe in the air and fragrance even though we do not see them.

The statements of all the three seers/sadhakas/visionaries relate to the Supreme Being, universal truths relating man’s life, his conduct and things worth pursuing, contemplating and practising. The three visionaries separated by vast stretches of time asseverated the same things again and again as the essence of wisdom. These are exempt from punarukti dosha just as in the case of sankeertan and repeating God’s name.

Tailpiece: Let me add as a tailpiece to my talk Indic Indic, call it Hindu, our culture survived all kinds of onslaughts internal or external. It will survive. The eternal verities have relevance for all time. At the individual level, (not as a great movement) everyone should turn the searchlight inward. Rising above the money-driven activities which are killing the human personality, each should aspire and endeavour for personality development and strive for a value oriented and principle-governed, god loving society in one’s own way.


More by :  Dr. Rama Rao Vadapalli V.B.

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