The Taittiriya Upanishad presents a precise, profound, and sublime definition of God.
ब्रह्मविदाप्नोति परम् , “The knower of the Brahman attains the highest” — a short statement in Taittiriya Upanishad encapsulates the entirety of Vedanta. The simple understanding is that there is something called Brahman, it is possible to know ‘It’, and by knowing ‘It’ one attains the highest in life. This gives rise to three questions: What precisely is Brahman? What is meant by ‘knowing Brahman’? What is meant by ‘attaining the highest’? Read the full article below….
The great Sadhana for spiritual growth recommended by many masters is, witnessing the mind. It is true, Vedanta says that ‘I am Sakshi (witness) to my mind but I am not mind. Making this distinction is a big forward step in Vedanta path of self realization.
It is not as easy as we deliberate, because of lifetimes of Identification with the Mind. Yes, Identification with the body-mind complex is the biggest barrier in any spiritual path. As long as this identity is there, one can not establish identity with one universal principle or Absolute Truth.
Therefore, the Sadhana is aiming at shifting the identity from body-mind complex to identity with divine consciousness (Absolute Truth). For attaining this, Vedantic enquiry into oneself help us to understand how am ‘I’ separate from my body mind complex.
Witnessing the mind is one of those methods in order to see clearly the distinction between ‘I’ & ‘mind’. This works best when it is taken practically and see in meditation for quick results. Initially we can start this contemplation during meditation hours but in course of time we can practise this throughout waking state.
This Contemplation will yield instantly enormous peace & clarity and ultimately bring close to God realization within. The one thin veil between ‘I’ consciousness & ‘God’ is the veil of mind. This is also referred as ‘maya’. Because maya is defines as it can create an illusion as it truly exists but in reality it does not.
The challenge in this contemplation is the, rebelling nature of mind. Once we sit for witnessing (Sakshi) to our mind, then mind starts react vigorously, because of this flow of many thoughts it feel very difficult for to become Sakshi (witness) to mind as identification with the mind occurs instantly due to old habit. But, this challenge can be tackled only by doing this contemplation regularly (constant practise). This solution is given in Bhagavdgita by Lord Krishna to Arjuna to answer the question asked by Arjuna that; “Mind is moving like a wind, how can do meditation and contemplate on the God”, Lord Krishna replied Abhyasa & Viragya (Dispassion or renunciation to worldly thoughts & constant practise of contemplation).
“The struggle with the mind is an easy struggle if you are constantly vigilant, all of the time, doing always what you know you should do, not allowing the mind to become instinctive, not excusing the mind when it does become instinctive, not allowing the mind to justify, rationalize, excuse, become combative, but making the mind always remain poised, like a hummingbird over a flower, so that you begin to live in the eternal now, constantly, permanently. And then the within becomes natural to you, not something you hear about, study about, talk about, sing about, for you become open, awakened, within”.
Ever thought why is Shiva the subject of such deep wonder and worshipped so widely in India? Could Shiva be an actual person? Does divinity possess a human form ? And would it be limited if that divinity was in a human body?
What is Mahashivratri and Why it is Celebrated?
Mahashivratri, “The Great Night of Shiva” is the most significant event in India’s spiritual calendar. The fourteenth day of every lunar month or the day before the new moon is known as Shivratri. Among all the twelve Shivratris that occur in a calendar year, Mahashivratri, the one that occurs in February-March is of the most spiritual significance.
In Indian culture, traditions, and festivals have a deeper meaning. All of them are associated with a specific divine energy. This divine energy is given a name and form for us to understand the virtues, qualities, and its blessings clearly. One among these energies, and the presiding energy, is Shiva.
Meaning of ‘Shiva’
The word Shiva simply means mangalam (auspicious). In fact, the term Shiva has a much larger connotation which includes:
Shiva can be split into:
Sha + ee + Va
Sha stands for shareeram or body
ee stands for eeshwari or life giving energy
Va stands for vayu or motion.
If the ee is removed from Shiva, it gets reduced to sha+va or shava, which means a lifeless body. We also use the term shavasana in yoga, where one is motionless and in an absolute state of rest.
While Shava is motionless or lifeless, Shiva is with the potential of life. Anything with Shiva is with life and anything without Shiva is shava: lifeless.
So, Shiva is auspicious, Shiva is life and Shiva is potential. Shiva is all-encompassing – the universal soul or consciousness. This realization of the eternal fact that Shiva is an energy, tattva, leads to ananda, bliss.
The symbolism of Shiva
Shiva’s blue skin
Blue means infinite like the sky. Blue signifies the all-pervading infinity which has no limits and no shape. Knowledge has no shape, but it exists in each and every particle of the universe. The whole world is filled with Shiva. Hence blue was used to represent infinity.
The crescent moon
Wisdom is beyond the mind, but it needs a tinge of mind to be expressed. This is what is symbolized by the crescent moon.
The Shiva experience is where there is “no-mind.” The moon signifies the mind. When there is “no-mind,” how can this state be expressed? In the manifest world, the infinite consciousness requires a little bit of mind to express itself. So the crescent moon symbolizes that little bit of mind that is required to express the inexpressible.
In India, the bull has been used as a symbol of righteousness for a long time. The form of Shiva depicted riding on the bull simply means that when you are righteous and truthful, the infinite, innocent consciousness resides with you.
The third eye
Shiva’s third eye represents the knowledge that is beyond the reach of the senses. One kind of knowledge is that which we receive through our sense organs, and the other kind is the knowledge that is beyond the limited perception of the senses, represented by the third eye. The third eye is the seat of knowledge and awakened wisdom.
Shiva’s drum, the damru
Shiva’s drum, called damru, symbolizes the universe, which is always expanding and collapsing. From expansion, it collapses, and then it re-expands. This is the process of creation and destruction. If you see your heartbeat, it is not just one straight line. It is a rhythm that goes up and down.
The whole world is nothing but rhythm—energy rising and collapsing only to rise again.
The damru signifies this cosmic rhythm and the non-dual nature of life and the universe.
River Ganga on Head
The River Ganga, or Ganges, is seen to flow downward from Shiva’s matted hair. What does the Ganges mean here?
The River Ganges symbolizes knowledge—the type of knowledge that purifies your soul. The head symbolizes knowledge, and the heart means love. The Ganges is shown flowing down from the matted hair on Shiva’s head. If the River Ganges were love, it should have come out of Shiva’s heart. However, the water comes down from the head, meaning knowledge.
Knowledge liberates. It brings freedom. It purifies.
Shiva is a state of meditation where there is nothing but the inner sky of consciousness.
In this state there is alertness without action. This state of meditation when the eyes are closed gives the impression that the person is sleeping. However, he is not asleep, but alert. To symbolize this alertness and express this state of consciousness, the form of the snake is depicted around Shiva’s neck.
Shiva’s trident represents three states of consciousness, waking, dreaming, and sleep. Holding a trident signifies that the state of Shiva is beyond all three states, yet it also encompasses these three states.
Shiva’s trident also represents the three gunas, or qualities of positivity, activity, and rest (sattva, rajas, and tamas). Consciousness is beyond the three qualities, but it also holds the three together.
The Creator and the creation are one and the same. Creation is formed out of the creator, just like dance comes out of the dancer.
One beautiful form that has been given to Shiva is a figure shown dancing in absolute bliss, called Nataraja. The essence behind this image is so unique and beautiful.
One of Shiva’s hands in the dance is placed in the gesture of fearlessness, called abhaya mudra. It means there is nothing to fear. Be free of worries. Be happy.
The other hand reaches across and bends slightly downwards, pointing to the feet in the dance. What does that mean? It means: Dance! Rejoice and celebrate! Be humble in life, but also walk confidently with your head held high. One who is arrogant is not necessarily free from fear. So it means to be free from fear without becoming stiff with ego; it means to be simple and natural. It is also a reminder that you have everything that you need.
This is the deeper meaning behind the representation of Shiva in blissful dance.
Also, the whole universe is itself the dance of one consciousness. The one consciousness dances, and that dance is the manifestation of nature in all its variety and splendour. So this infinite creation is the dance of consciousness. Shiva is that in which everything in the universe has taken birth and which encompasses everything.
Importance of Mahashivratri
Mahashivratri, the one that occurs in February-March is of the most spiritual significance. On this night, the northern hemisphere of the planet is positioned in such a way that there is a natural upsurge of energy in a human being. This is a day when nature is pushing one towards one’s spiritual peak. It is to make use of this, that in this tradition, it is established a certain festival which is nightlong. To allow this natural upsurge of energies to find their way, one of the fundamentals of this nightlong festival is to ensure that one remain awake.
Spiritual Significance of Mahashivratri
Why this day and night are held with such importance in the yogic traditions is because of the possibilities it presents to a spiritual seeker. Modern science has gone through many phases and arrived at a point today where they are out to prove to you that everything that you know as life, everything that you know as matter and existence, everything that you know as the cosmos and galaxies, is just one energy which manifests itself in millions of ways.
Shivratri – The Darkest Night of the Month
Shivratri, is the darkest day of the month. Celebrating Shivratri on a monthly basis, and the particular day, Mahashivratri, almost seems like celebration of darkness. Any logical mind would resist darkness and naturally opt for light. But the word “Shiva” literally means “that which is not.” “That which is,” is existence and creation. “That which is not” is Shiva. “That which is not” means, if you open your eyes and look around, if your vision is for small things, you will see lots of creation. If your vision is really looking for big things, you will see the biggest presence in the existence is a vast emptiness.
Light always comes from a source that is burning itself out. It has a beginning and an end. It is always from a limited source. Darkness has no source. It is a source unto itself. It is all-pervading, everywhere, omnipresent. So when we say Shiva, it is this vast emptiness of existence. It is in the lap of this vast emptiness that all creation has happened. It is that lap of emptiness that we refer to as the Shiva.
Mahashivratri – A Night of Awakening
Mahashivratri is an opportunity and a possibility to bring yourself to that experience of the vast emptiness within every human being, which is the source of all creation. On the one hand, Shiva is known as the destroyer. On the other, he is known as the most compassionate. He is also known to be the greatest of the givers. The yogic lore is rife with many stories about Shiva’s compassion. The ways of expression of his compassion have been incredible and astonishing at the same time. So Mahashivratri is a special night for receiving too.
“Every Mahashivratri is meant to wake up every particle of your body. The festival is a wake-up call to move away from conflicts and move towards truth, beauty, peace, and benevolence – the ethereal qualities of Shiva.”
“Mahashivratri is an occasion to remember the eternal truth of Shivoham, meaning ‘I am that principle. I am Shiva. I am the truth, benevolence, eternity, beauty“
If we look at our own experience, the subject-object duality is the very basis of our experience of the world. I am a limited being separate from the rest of the world, this is the duality which a natural feeling of all sentient beings. “I am the experiencer and all the world of objects is separate from me” is called subject-object duality. This duality is at the root of “Samsara” (bondage or worldly suffering).
“Mano Drisyam Idamdvaitam yatkinchit sacharacharam, manasohy amanibhavedvaitam nivopalabhyathe.” This duality (subject and object) is the projection of the mind or experienced by the mind (Gaudapada’s Mandukyakarika, 3.31). Anything in the world moving and unmoving, living and non living is a duality which is experienced by the mind. When the mind becomes “no mind” duality is no longer cognized. The truth is that the mind is identical with Atman. Mind is Atman. It is only through ignorance that we separate the mind from Atman. Hence, this understanding suggests that duality is linked to the functioning of the mind, it means where there is “mind” there is a duality where there is “no-mind” there is nonduality.
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Swami Chinmayananda says in one of his talks “If mind is not under my control, nothing within or outside me is under my control”
In Patanjali Yoga, training the mind & disciplining the mind is the primary goal to enter into Samadhi which is the final goal of Yoga.
According to Vedanta or Upanishads, Chittashuddi (Pure mind) is essential to attain the self-knowledge (Self-realization).
The biographies of all great persons, admired generation after generation, show that it is only those who had the right kind of mind who became great in life, not those who had bigger buildings and longer cars. You may work in whatever profession you like, your greatness in the society, your contribution to the world, all depends upon the quality of your mind.
Hence, for spiritual realization or for material success also it is fundamentally necessary for one to have disciplined mind.
Hinduism – Mind – God Realization
The Ashtanga Yoga (eight limbs of Yoga) of Patanjali are; yama (abstinences), niyama (observances), asana (yoga postures), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (absorption)
Meditation is the 7th step and all six stages of this yoga are facilitating the 7th stage i.e., Meditation and a successful meditation gives rise to final goal of a spiritual seeker i.e., Samadhi. The last stage is nothing to do with any Sadhana like other 7 stages rather it is the final result of sincere accomplishment of all six preceding stages of Yoga.
The concentration of Mind on one particular thing for long periods without any distraction is generally known as meditation. Patanjali Yoga says meditation is meant for cessation of all thoughts. In the absence of all thoughts (meditative state) it is possible for one to realize/recognize the ‘Self’ or ‘God’ or ‘Truth’. Hence, all the other mechanisms we performed as per the Vedic Culture including religious rituals, worshiping personal deities, Temples etc. support spiritual seeker to cultivate & attract the mind towards Spiritual path. Unless the mind is drawn for spiritual seeking one cannot pass through in any stage of Yoga System.
Therefore, the disciplined and well controlled mind is a prerequisite for spiritual seekers. This kind of mind only will enable us in the pursuit of God realization. Scriptures says that; the mind which cultivate good & noble thoughts is known as ‘Sattvic mind’. The Sattvic mind is essential for a spiritual seeker for progressing in the path. The mind with lot of desires, negative emotions, jealousy, ego etc. is not going to support the seeker in spiritual path. One of the best practices recommended by great Saints & Masters to cultivate this mind is to worship the Lord by chanting & singing holy names of him. This is the secret of Bhakti Yoga, where the purity of mid (Sattvic mind) is attained easily for devotees by variety of ways prescribed in the Hindu Puranas.
Hence, it is a very beautiful system set by the Hindu Scriptures like Vedas, Puranas which can guide the spiritual seeker step by step to final goal of salvation (Mukti).
It is said by a great Saint; “Hinduism is not this external show that we have learned to trade about in our daily lives. Hinduism is a science of perfection. There is in it an answer to every individual, social, national or international problem”
The Upanishads declare in unmistakable terms that in reality, man at the peak of his achievement – is God Himself. He is advised to live his day-to-day experiences in life in such a systematic and scientific way that, hour by hour, he consciously cleanses himself of all the encrustation of imperfections that have gathered to conceal the beauty and divinity of the true Eternal Personality in him. The methods by which an individual can consciously purify and evolve by his self-effort to regain the status of his True Nature is the content of Hinduism.
Vedanta says there only Sat-Chit-Ananda (Absolute Truth) alone Is. In that substratum (adhishtâna) this mysterious offshoot ‘me’ with all its desires, ambitions, pretensions, assumptions and above all, a tremendous thirst to thrive as an individual, is born. This spurious offshoot is ‘jeeva’. It is the ego.
In fact the ego is a ghost. But it is not real. How do we believe that the ego is unreal? The ego is like a shadow of truth. When a man is walking on ground he sees his shadow moving along with him. Now if he assumes his shadow as his reality then it is very difficult for removing his illusion because now his total attention is drawn by his shadow. In order to remove this illusion one has to show the unreality of appearance but this stays as long as truth is exists. Here it looks like puzzle then how to separate the truth from untruth.
The only wise way to solve this mystery is to analyse, understand and experience the truth as it is without any projections. Here, shadow is real or unreal? at first one say it is real, because it is clearly visible but can we consider appearance is a real existence? Then many things in the creation becomes real which are mealy appearances such as mirage in desert. So, shadow is appearing but it is appearing due to true existence of a man. Hence, when there is no man there is no shadow, so shadow appearance is depends on actual existence of a man. In this case, true existence is man because his existence is not dependant on shadow but vice versa is not possible. Therefore, true existence of shadow can be negated. No weapon, modern or ancient, can kill this shadow. Stop having a tussle with this non-existing appearance
Similarly, all of us experience the ego but we never looked into it carefully and examined its true nature, if we do so then we certainly arrive at understanding of unreality or false existence of ego.
Peep through the ego–me; you will see that the ego is only a film which covers the light behind. The effulgence behind this ego is the real Self, the atman. The ego or the egos move in front of this light and make the light pass through them as in a cinema projector. We mistake the names and forms shown by the film as real. Actually the effulgence alone is real. The effulgence is God, Brahman, atman, whatever name you may call. So look through the ‘me’ and see the infinite divine Self behind. Hold on to the real, the shadow will naturally disappear.
The Lord Said: Those who, fixing their minds on Me, worship Me, ever steadfast and endowed with supreme faith, these are the best in Yoga in My opinion. (B.G. C. XII; V. 2)
Many Acharyas are written commentaries on this Verse in different ways.
According to my understanding, Lord Krishna is encouraging two paths to reach Supreme such as path of wisdom (Vedantic enquiry) & path of Devotion. Although Advaita Vedanta Sadhakas would not agree that the way of devotion does not lead to liberation or ultimate goal further they says knowledge of the self alone can give liberation. But, the God in every religion has indicated that the deep devotion to Lord leads to liberation. This conflict is to be understand properly for progressing in spiritual life.
The devotion to God is highly regarded in all the great Hindu Scriptures including Bhagavatam, Ramayanam, Mahabharatha & all other Puranas & ithihasas. We can find so many devotees who actually realized the ultimate truth through this path in those stories of Puranas.
Swami Ramdas a great Saint says;
“Behold God as all, and still be His child and servant. You are at once He and His child. God is His own devotee. He is a mystery, but a revealed mystery, revealed in love and joy.”
So, Devotion to God is a one of best way to progress in spiritual way. When a devotee is in love with his Lord, he can attain purity in mind (ChittaShuddi) and this lead to understand & feel the presence of God in every moment of his/her life. Lord Krishna said in Gita that, the Path of Devotion is more loving to him compare to path of knowledge. A devotee is never experience the rajas & tamasik (anxious or cruel kind) of thoughts in his mind as long as he is dwelling on Lord (Sattvic state of mind). In all the scriptures are recommended that the Sattvic mind is essential for understanding any advanced scriptural meanings.
The power of Devotion is fulfilment and love. The God is Love it means a devotee experiencing God all the time when he is practising the pure devotion (Shuddha Bhakti). Further says, a true devotee is not necessary to go through any vedantic enquiry or scripturual readings & contemplation for attaining spiritual wisdom. Lord Krishna says in Gita, he will grant the final wisdom to the one who fixing their minds on Lord, worship Lord, ever steadfast and endowed with supreme faith. This is the promise Lord Krishna made and which gives a great support to genuine seekers of Lord.
“God is always kind and loving. He never forsakes those who depend upon Him.”
The way of knowledge is also a great path undoubtedly, but it is a hard path according to Lord Krishna. Harmony of paths is very helpful because situations in life sometimes shake the faith of humans on Lord. If a devotee has some wisdom from the scriptures then it helps in tough situations to withstand and relate to his life. The Law of Karma, Vedantic enquiry about the existence of Self are the very useful for us.
“The surrendering of the weak and faulty will of the individual to God’s will, for eliminating thereby the ego sense, is truly easier than the assertion of Divinity within you so that the individual will may be transformed into the Divine Will. In the first case, you have an Almighty hand to lift you up and guard you against any fall, whilst in the latter, since you depend on your own gradually developing will, there is always the danger of a fall.”
A saint says that attaining Samadhi is a matter of one minute but prerequisite is a purified mind and this may takes uncountable time.
When we dwell on it, we understand how deep and important it is for us to forward in spiritual life. There is a spectrum of methodologies taught for purification of the mind in every religion.
I would say that there are only TWO ways, which can bring up the mind close to God. They are Aspiration (yearning) & Devotion. Yes, unless deep aspiration/yearning/longing for God, purification won’t begin in the Mind. When this deep aspiration begins, one naturally withdrawn from the world (dispassion), this is another criterion for spiritual upliftment.
Devotion is farther greater thing but it comes as gift of God due to intense yearning. If, One is successful in attaining these two things in spiritual life, I would say he/she is blessed one. This will result into good progress in Spiritual life. One need not to be worry about time period of final realization as long as we keep intact these two aspects in practice. Because, usually the progress in spiritual life is gradual but is is certain. The wisdom of God always working in positive way in these minds at the background. Trust on God and he saves us from Samsara.
Key pointers for Spiritual Seekers from teachings of Saints:
The attainment of God-realisation is a gradual process. Hence it must be understood by every aspirant that the path which takes him to the goal of spiritual perfection should be trodden upon with determination, steadiness and patience.
What is needed is a fixed resolve, a sustained faith and an optimistic outlook when walking on the path
There may come moments of vacillation, uncertainty and even of despair. Here the aspirant should have recourse to the society of saints. Through their inspiration and guidance a seeker should regain strength and assurance and march onward.
Saints are beacons. Saints show the path. They hearten you in our struggle. Their words should carry absolute weight with us. They can awaken and enthuse seeker.
But a seeker have to advance on the path by his own growing inner power and will. One should feel conscious that the Divine within is our sole refuge. It is by the constant thought and meditation of Him (God/Guru) that we rise from the lower to the higher planes of consciousness. When finally seeker is absorbed in Him, He manifests within seeker in all His beauty, power and glory.
Identify yourself with the immortal Purusha — the witness — beyond the Gunas and Dwandwas — on one hand; surrender all your actions to the Divine Shakti — whose manifestation is the universe of name, form and movement — on the other.
Lastly, realize that the inactive Purusha-the witness, and the active Shakti or Prakriti-the witnessed, are the eternal aspects co-existing in the ultimate Godhead — the Purushottama, who is at once Purusha and Prakriti and beyond both.
The first two processes effectually eradicate the ego-sense, take you to the Impersonal, and then lead on to the still higher Impersonal Person — Nirguna-Saguna. This is the complete, all-comprehensive Truth. This glorious realization makes it natural with you to love all alike and to enjoy the bliss of universal love. You love yourself, in all, and as all.