The Metaphysical Intuition; Seeing God with Open Eyes – Commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita ~ Swami Siddheswarananda, Andre van der Brink (Translator)

These last writings of Swami Siddheswarananda, the former head of the French Ramakrishna Order, are the culmination of a lifetime of spiritual search. In his teachings, the Swami sought to convey an experience of an intuition beyond logic, outside the play of opposites, through which we will be better able to understand the nature of reality. To elucidate his meanings and to make them broadly accessible, the Swami draws on the writings of others, including Meister Eckhart, Ramana Maharshi, Shankara, Hubert Benoit, Ramakrishna, and Vivekananda.


Swami Siddheswarananda (1897–1957) was a monk of the Ramakrishna Order of India and, until his death, the spiritual head of the Centre Védantique Ramakrishna in Gretz, France.

The author discusses the Principe of Vedanta using selected verses from Gita, and Mandukya Upanishad. The commentary is well thought of and frequently supported by the commentary of Shankaracharya and also by the verses from other Upanishads. The discussion is extensive; the English translation could have been better, but the translator has done a reasonable job of writing this book using the notes (in French) of Swami Siddheswarananda. This book may be summarized as follows:

Bhagavadgita IV.18: Action & Inaction. One of the basics of Vedanta is that Truth can be expressed through comparison and contradiction. It is clear from this verse that ceasing to act is still an action. It is important to understand that Atman, our proper nature is free from all action, because it is unborn (Gita II.20). It is only nature, Prakriti, which acts; the sense of ego and external materials, the action and inaction reside only in Prakriti.

Bhagavadgita V.18: The equal vision of a sage. Shankaracharya, in his commentary on this verse observes that Brahmin represent Sattva, the cow rajas, and the elephant tamas; in all of them the sage sees only the One, immutable, the one that can not be affected by the qualities, not even by Sattva, nor by the tendencies born from these qualities, whether they can be sattvic, rajasic, or tamasic. At every moment of the life of a sage, he is integrated in an atemporal comprehension, seeing the same principle in all manifestation.

Bhagavadgita X.10 & VIII.57: Buddhi yoga, the awakening of the intelligence. In the pursuit of knowledge, the higher buddhi eliminates errors, and the ordinary buddhi leads us in the domain of reasoning (yukti) and logic (tarka). In several places Shankaracharya declares with intransigence, that philosophical systems of Nyaya and Samkhya cannot yield the ultimate knowledge. If one wants to know the true nature of Brahman, one should reject the notions of totality and part, of unity and fraction, of cause and effect. As long as the reality or concept remains outside of the buddhi, then the vision remains at the plane of duality. This will exercise lower buddhi, but with the higher knowledge, one sees the Absolute Truth and the knowledge of duality disappears. This Higher buddhi encompasses everything into One Reality; the knower of Brahman becomes the Brahman (Bhagavadgita XIII.30; Mundaka Upanishad III.2.9), the terms buddhi, Brahman, Absolute, Ultimate Truth, Reality and Akshara, all refer to the same entity.

Bhagavadgita VIII.18 & 20: The comprehension of the non-manifested. According this verse, the samkalpa and vikalpa (imagination and volition) are the apparent reality that veils the ultimate realty. It is only by transcending maya, the Brahman could be realized. This is illustrated by the example of a rope that can be mistaken for a snake, when we realize that it is rope, the supposed existence of snake disappears. In the same way the maya, the apparent reality is superimposed on Brahman, the ultimate reality. Human beings are attached to what they see and experience, the manifested forms. But when one becomes conscious of the true self, then they will see that atman is the sole reality.

Bhagavadgita XIII.2: The spectator and the spectacle. The Kshetragna, the knower of the field is present in all the kshetras or fields are without any conditioning (apadhi). When one gets rid of ego (tamas) and gains knowledge, then only one vision remains that of Kshethragna. The power of ignorance (avidya) employs our attention to keep it focused onto constantly changing names and forms, and the reality seems to be divided into infinite number of spectacles. The ordinary vision is like a circle that is fixed while its circumference represents the infinity of objects perceived. The vision of a sage does not have a center or the centers is everywhere and its circumference is nowhere.

Bhagavadgita II.16: A dialectic existence. The dialectic is not proposing to define the reality with the help of demonstrations and arguments. The realty is silence, and inaccessible to various thought processes. The objective of dialectics is to point out the invalidity of conceptual thinking. While establishing the true nature of Brahman, one should not describe the Brahman in totality or in parts, of unity or fractions, cause and effect. This is to eliminate all definite conception of the Brahman. Shankara says that cause itself is unreal, because it is not perceived independent of its own cause. Thus cause is an effect of another cause. So if we pursue the cause it turns out to be the effect and cause remains in mind only.

Bhagavadgita IX.4 & 5: Contradiction and certainty. Consciousness, which is ever present, never becomes unconsciousness. This consciousness may not be perceived readily, but it operates through sense of vision. The whole universe, “from Brahma down to a blade of grass” can not be separated from That. This is the supreme non-manifested (akshara) who never becomes an object of perception.

There is only one reality, and it is non-dual. Mandukya Upanishad teaches of no contact or no relations. The human experience is strongly chained to relations and rapport, and knowledge arises from such an interaction. Casualty is a principle that originates from relations to explain the effect. The theory of reason is inherent in such a logical evaluation of things.

On the lesser side of metaphysics, I am a little confused about the book cover that has warriors with rifles sitting on horses who look more like Islamic soldiers. Is this appropriate for a book on the philosophical discussion of Gita?

Review By Rama Rao

Advertisements

TEDx – Gadadhara Pandit Dasa

This is a Ted X talk by Gadadhar Pandit Dasa, a monk in Manhattan practicing the ancient tradition of bhakti for almost two decades. He shares the story of his journey from a comfortable life in Los Angeles, to losing everything he ever had, finding the true meaning of life through the crisis and sharing his message as a Hindu chaplain at Columbia University, New York.

View Here on his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita

Bhagavad Gita: You Are Not The Body / You Are Not Your Mind ~ Gadadhara Pandit Dasa

When I first came across this concept, in the Bhagavad Gita, about 20 years ago, I was immediately fascinated by it. Not being subjected to birth, old age, disease and death got my attention. It’s safe to say that no one is looking forward to these aspects of life.

We do our very best to avoid old age, disease and death, but to no avail. We don’t want to look or get old and the proof of this is in the hundreds of billions of dollars that are spent by the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries in trying to preserve our youth and vigor. We’ll do just about anything to keep on looking young — stretch, pull, nip, tuck — whatever it takes. It’s an attempt to have eternal youth.

Disease and death are no-brainers. No one wants to die and as Steve Jobs said it so wonderfully: “Even people who want to go to heaven, don’t want to die to get there.” We experience so much pain in this life when we lose something of value. Losing even little things such as a pair of jeans or a phone can cause pain and disturbance to our lives. What to speak of losing a loved one which can leave us despairing for years. Death is that moment that rips us away from everything that we hold dear, all at once! It’s quite difficult to imagine how painful that must be.

If we consider the process of birth with some thoughtfulness, I’m pretty sure we’d want to avoid that too. Getting your whole body and head squeezed out over hours and hours seems like nothing less than torture. It’s no wonder that we come out of the womb and into the world screaming at the top of our lungs.

Chapter two of the The Bhagavad Gita explains:

For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. He has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.

Krishna dedicates the entire first section of chapter two to explaining this concept to Arjuna and to all the readers. The basic point that Krishna wants to drive home is that we have been identifying ourselves with something that we’re not. That we’ve been identifying with something temporary and material as opposed to something spiritual and eternal. It’s a classic case of mistaken identity.

Yes, it’s a very difficult paradigm to digest, even if you were raised with a belief in the soul. Basically, it’s telling us that when we’re looking into a mirror, we’re not seeing the real person. We’re only seeing the exterior covering. The real person is sitting within the body. The body is often times described as a vehicle and the soul as the driver. A vehicle can’t function without the driver. The soul is seated in a vehicle made not of metal, but of flesh and bones. The eyes are like the headlights and the arms and legs like the wheels which allow for motion. And like most vehicles, ours also comes with an exhaust pipe. Personally, I live in an Asian-Indian 1972 model. What’s your make and model?

It’s explained within the Upanishads that the soul is one ten-thousandth the size of a tip of hair. The Bhagavad Gita describes the soul as, “invisible and inconceivable…unbreakable, insoluble, and can be neither burned nor dried.” The Upanishads also explain that the soul resides in the region of the heart.

I sometimes get asked “if someone gets a heart transplant, are they also getting a new soul?” The answer is no. The soul is in the region of the heart but doesn’t move if the heart is removed.

The soul is the spiritual spark that creates consciousness. It can also be said that it is consciousness. Without the soul, the body is just a lifeless lump of matter that starts decaying and loses all attractiveness. We have to admit that no matter how close we were to someone, once the soul leaves the body, we’d prefer not to hang around the body for too long.

Recognition of our spiritual identity doesn’t translate into indifference towards one’s own or others’ bodies. The body is a very important vehicle. It can’t be neglected as it serves as the vehicle for the soul and it takes the soul to its next destination. That destination can either be another material body or liberation from the cycle of birth and death.

Of course, liberating the soul from being entangled in the body is no easy task. It takes a regulated and committed spiritual endeavor of meditation and certain lifestyle changes to achieve that goal. For those who have come to the realization that the material body isn’t their permanent home and that they need to transcend this cycle of birth and death, will aspire for such a commitment. When I had this realization, I started taking small steps towards reuniting the soul with God. I know I have a long way to go, perhaps even several life times, but in my opinion, it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

The Bhagavad Gita: You Are Not Your Mind

Have you ever wondered about why your mind works the way it does, and how it comes up with all of its scattered, random and half-organized thoughts? Where are all of these thoughts coming from, and what’s the reason they are there? Many of our thoughts originate from experiences we’ve had in the past, but the mind will also come up with dreamlike scenarios about events that have yet to take place in our lives.

We will find ourselves in a scenario for a future event, and we will be fully imagining the experience of what it would be like to live in that scenario. Some of these situations can be pleasant, while others are very nightmarish.

We’ve all had experiences where we can be eating, sleeping, walking down the street, studying, working, listening to music or even engaging in a conversation with someone else, and the mind will begin to drift away to somewhere else. We didn’t consciously decide to let the mind wander, but it did. It just left us standing there talking to someone while it decided to go away for a while. This happens all the time!

This happens for prolonged durations during the dreaming state. Our dreams often seem so vivid and detailed, but they weren’t our conscious creations. The mind conjures them up and gets very creative. This brings me to that statement Morpheus makes to Neo in “The Matrix”:

Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?

No one willingly chooses to have a nightmare where one is chased by an animal, attacked by a murderer or falls off of a cliff. We can wake up in a sweat with our heart beating a million miles an hour. It becomes obvious that we weren’t in control of our thoughts at that time, and that we are rarely ever in control of our thoughts at any time.

The Bhagavad Gita describes the tendency of the mind as follows: “For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his mind will remain the greatest enemy.”

By referring to the mind as a friend or an enemy, the Gita treats the mind as if it were something different from us. Many times it can sure feel as if someone else, or even a whole group of people, is carrying on elaborate dialogues up there that have little to do with our present reality.

Many Hindu texts create a distinction between the physical body, the mind and intelligence. The mind is often compared to an impulsive child who isn’t capable of making proper decisions, and the intelligence is likened to a parent that helps the mind choose the appropriate and healthy course of action.

A mind that isn’t given proper attention and is allowed to run wild can cause havoc in our lives. The uncontrolled mind is the sole source of fear, stress and anger in our lives. We’ve all had the experience of recalling instances where others might have physically, financially or emotionally hurt us. Even though we tell ourselves that “it’s over and that there’s no need to continue to remember such instances,” we find that the mind forcibly brings these thoughts back to the forefront of our consciousness.

The Gita explains that we can either become liberated with the help of our mind or completely degrade our consciousness. Believe it or not, the choice is ours. It may be possible to avoid unpleasant situations, uncomfortable places or unfriendly people, but the mind isn’t something we can escape.

The mind lives within us and controls our thoughts, emotions and actions. We go to sleep with it every night and we wake up with it every morning. If we’re going to spend that much time with someone, doesn’t it make sense to develop a friendship with that individual? The question arises: How do you develop a friendship with someone that you can’t see or touch or really even talk to?

First of all, we have to acknowledge that we have a mind and not that we are the mind. Second, we need to be able to admit that we have very little control over the mind’s activities. Thirdly, we need to know that we’re never going to have complete control over the mind.

Of course, we’re not talking about controlling the mind in some forceful, unnatural way. What we want to accomplish is a harmonious relationship between the mind, intelligence and the soul, so that these different components of our being can be on the same page more often. This will lead to a happier and more peaceful existence. This, of course, requires training and practice. Nothing worth achieving ever comes easy.

During the mantra meditation session that I lead at Columbia, I encourage participants to incorporate a regulated practice of meditation into their daily lives. After all, we make time to clothe and feed the body, so why not take time to feed and nourish the mind? Even a short regiment of 10-15 minutes a day will gradually reduce the hurricane-like winds in the mind and grant the mind greater levels of focus and steadiness, which is something we can all use a bit more of.

Meet Gadadhara Pandit Dasa, Columbia University’s First Hindu Chaplain

Gadadhara Pandit Dasa (also known as Pandit) has been a monk in the bhakti-yoga tradition since September of 1999. After spending six months in different monasteries in India, Pandit moved to a temple/monastery in the East Village of Manhattan, where he currently resides.

Pandit currently serves as the first-ever Hindu chaplain of Columbia University and New York University. His activities at Columbia include facilitating weekly vegetarian cooking classes, discussions on the classic Eastern work Bhagavad-Gita, and sessions on the art and practice of mantra meditation. His motivation is to help the students and faculty to find a balance in their material pursuits and spiritual aspirations.

Pandit was featured in the NPR piece “Long Days and Short Nights of a Hindu Monk,” and he has also appeared in a PBS documentary on the Bhagavad Gita, as well as The New York Times. He also is a participant in the interfaith community and dialogue of New York City. For more from Pandit, check out his website at nycpandit.com

%d bloggers like this: