Six Systems of Indian Philosophy

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VEDANTA (part 2)        

The Five Sheaths of Kosas
The Self is hidden in the innermost chamber of the heart, and five sheaths veil it. Human life is composite of these five sheaths and the Self. The five sheaths are the physical, energy, mental, wisdom and bliss. The physical includes skin, blood, flesh, bone marrow and ligaments, is composed of the five gross elements. It is also called the food sheath. This is the grossest and outermost veil of the soul. The next prana or energy sheath is more subtle. The gross manifestation of the energy sheath in us is breath. Then are ten levels of prana on which human biochemical functioning depends. The mental sheath consists of lower mind (manas), ego (ahankara), intellect (buddhi), and mind stuff (citta). Beyond this is the sheath of wisdom through which knowledge from eternity transmits into the intellect. The last sheath is that of bliss. This sheath must not be confused with Brahman, whose essential nature is pure bliss. Compared with that bliss, this sheath is merely pseudo-bliss predominated by ignorance. The Self at this level is very close to realization of its essential nature but is not yet free to see its glory and perfection.

The Self has a body but the body is not the Self. The Self becomes a slave of the senses and their objects because of its identification with the body, senses, mind and other sheaths. The moment the Self remembers its real nature and understands that the five sheaths are provided for its enjoyment, it detaches itself from them and is no longer affected by the charms and temptations of the world.

These five sheaths are also studied in terms of three types of bodies: gross (sthula sarira), subtle (suksmasarira) and causal (karana sarira). The gross body is the same as the food sheath. Consciousness engrossed in this body corresponds to objects in the waking state. The subtle body is a combined state of the energy, mental and wisdom sheaths. Consciousness engrossed in this body corresponds to the world of ideas and dreams. The causal body is the same as the bliss sheath, which corresponds to the state of deep sleep. In the Upanishads, Consciousness enveloped in these three types of bodies is termed as vaisvanara, taijasa and prajna respectively.

Four Aspects of Being for Practical Study
For practical application, the human being can be studied in four major parts: body, prana, mind and Self.

 The Body - The body, composed of the five gross elements, is the grossest instrument for progressing towards the goal of life. If not healthy it could be a barrier in the way of one’s growth. Its physical health depends on a subtle force by which it is governed, regulated and nourished. That finer force that sustains the body is called Prana.

 Prana - The sustenance of all the levels of personality depends on the proper functioning of prana. It is the link between body and mind and its grossest manifestations is the breath. Both body and mind and their functioning’s are vitalized by prana, the very source of life. When the breath ceases, then all physiological and mental functions cease. If there is a harmonious flow of prana, then there will be harmony in body and mind too. Breath is then considered to the key for unlocking the secrets of the body and mind and for opening the final gate to go beyond all the mental states.

 Mind - The Vedantic concept of mind is quite different from other systems of Indian philosophy. According to VE, the mind serves as an inner instrument for receiving external experiences and transmitting them to the Self. Yoga provides only one term – citta while Samkhya studies the mind in three parts: intellect, ego and lower mind. But in VE the mind is divided into four parts: lower mind, ego, mind-stuff and intellect. The lower mind (manas) is the importer and exporter of feelings and sensation from the external world through the intellect to the Self. Ego (ahankara) is the faculty that is responsible for the feeling of I-ness. It identifies with the objects of the external world by developing attachment or aversion for them. Mind (citta) is that faculty in which all memories-whatever passes through the lower mind, ego, and intellect are stored and are occasionally recalled to the surface of the lower mind. Intellect (buddhi) is the decision-making facility. It is that aspect of the mind nearest to the Self, and is predominated by sattva, the quality of  brightness and lightness.

 In daily life, first there is a contact between a sense and the sense object. That experience is carried by the sense to the lower mind, which in turn determines and analyses that experience in order to transmit it to the ego. Then the ego either clings or rejects it. If the worldly experience is pleasant, the ego identifies itself with the object and transmits the experience to the intellect after coloring it with acceptance and attachment. If the experience is unpleasant, the coloring is with rejection and repulsion. The intellect analyses the transmission from the ego and makes the final decision to accept or reject.

 Every step of the transmission of experiences from the senses to the intellect is imprinted on the vast screen of the unconscious mind, called citta. Also when the conscious mind is relaxed and the senses are not in contact with external objects, many impressions of past physical and mental actions arise from the memory bed called citta. It is said that information regarding the entire universe is stored there, thus the Vedantic saying “That’s which is outside is also inside, the microcosm and the macrocosm are one and the same”. The VE system gives equal importance to controlling the flood of improperly analyzed feelings and sensations from the outside and the inside.

 The Self - All these facilities becomes conscious because of the association of consciousness, the Self with them. Without consciousness they are inert and lifeless. Intellect gets its intelligence from this source, prana too and the body grows and becomes active by virtue of this source. The realization of one’s unity with this source is the very goal of life.

Liberation and the Means of Attaining It
In actuality, there is no place for bondage or liberation in the VE system. There is only existence – the Self. There is nothing outside the Self that can tie it up with the rope of bondage. The Self is all pervading and eternal, and it is a misunderstanding or false apprehension to perceive multiplicity and transitoriness. This misunderstanding does not make any difference to the Self, which is pure and unaffected by the laws, rules and regulations of the world. But it causes one to lose one’s awareness of perpetual happiness and bliss. In VE, liberations means to cast away the veils of ignorance and realize one’s own essential nature, which is bliss, knowledge and consciousness. Liberation is simply a realization of the Truth that already abides within and a transformation of inner attitudes.

Sankara and his guru Gaupada believed that there is no such thing as bondage and liberation. This is the Absolute Truth, for all these words and their concepts imply duality, which itself is invalid. The very concept of duality is itself bondage, and the state beyond dualism is the absolute Truth, the goal of human quest.

In life many people do not budge from their positions, even though they experience life as a series of pains and miseries, because they ignorantly think they cannot move away from where they are. In actuality all of us are ever free, but our imaginations often create bondage for us and prevent us from releasing our self--tied bonds. Spiritual practices take us way from the place of assumed bondage.

VE provides for a systematic method of spiritual practice (sadhana), which helps one to gain release from the self-created imaginary rope of bondage. The means described are sravana, manana and nididhyasana. Sravana entails studying the scriptures and listening to the learned teachers so that one can understand the validity of external objects and the essential nature of the Self and thereby discriminate the real from the unreal. In this way one can lead from darkness to light and from mortality to immortality. Manana is contemplation – repeatedly analyzing particular concepts. This is a process of pondering the truths received directly from teachers and through the study of scriptures. Nididhuasana is the process of applying those truths in daily life.

VE is the path of knowledge, requires great concentration and good balance. These qualities are acquired through study, mental resolve and withdrawal of the mind / senses from all their objects. To do so purification of heart and mind and balance between intellectual and emotional activities are essential.

People misunderstand that VE is the path of renunciation but actually it is the path of conquest. He conquers the negatives related to external objects and for him nothing bad remains, everything is good and auspicious. According to VE, birth and death are the two gates of the kingdom of eternity. For a realized soul, death is not a source of fear but rather it is a necessary vehicle for the journey of eternity.
Four Stages of Self-Realization
The VE system is based totally on the Upanishads. These works contain several great statements called Mahakavyas that serve as strong pillars to support the entire Vedantic philosophy. Four of them are –

1. Brahman alone is real and the universe is unreal.
2. There is only one Brahman without a second.
3. This Self is Brahman or I am Brahman.
4. This entire universe is Brahman.

Some scholars find these sentences contradictory but Sanskara’s statements resolve the apparent conflicts they contain. The four mahakavyas explain the states of realization that as aspirant of Vedanta experiences in the inward journey. The problem of contradiction arises because the mind by its very nature is extremely limited and can in no way grasp the transcendent, multifarious truth of reality and so it perceives the contradictions among the necessarily incomplete verbal expressions of the various states of realization. An analysis of Sankara's interpretations will help unravel the inner meaning and reveal their essential harmony.

1. Brahman alone is real and the universe is unreal - The student’s first step is to accept the existence of one single Reality called Brahman. All worldly thoughts and desires lead to transitory results because the entire universe and everything in it is ephemeral. Worldly objects pull one down unless the faculty of discrimination properly analyzes them. VE thus advises to realize the unreality of the external world so he can control his worldly desires. Discrimination is the only means one has to cast away the net of duality and multiplicity and discrimination cannot be strengthened without full determination and dedication. For this reason, the VE system first of all emphasizes learning how to discriminate between worldly transitory objects from the permanent reality. In then advises one to determine fully to dedicate his whole life to the search for knowledge for which renunciation and detachment are the most effective tools. With resolve one can practice visualizing and feeling the presence of divinity is every aspect of life instead of pursuing transitory objects.

According to VE knowledge that does not free us from bondage is only information that burdens one’s life. However, knowledge that comes from the depths of the consciousness helps one to discriminate the real from the unreal. Unless one purifies ones mind one cannot hear the voice of conscious and intuition that is constantly speaking from the depths of his consciousness.

A wise person turns his mind away from all the worldly charms and directs it towards Self-Realization. If one allows himself to waste time on petty things, he will have the time to explore the inner avenues of life. Thus, this first great statement of the Upanishads is meant to increase one’s inner strength by emphasizing the reality of the divinity within and denying the reality of the external world. This is not escaping from the world but rather turning inward, dissolving external objects into a state of oneness.

2. There is only one Brahman without second - In the second stage the consciousness expands, and he does not allow his mind to waste energy in denying the existence of the world. In the first stage there are two processes: accepting the existence of Brahman and negating the existence of the universe. But in the second state, there remains only the positive aspect ‘There is only one Brahman without a second’. This stage helps the aspirant realize the presence of divinity in external objects.

3. I am Brahman - Realization of the oneness of the truth outside is not sufficient for a spiritual seeker. Even though the first two stages establish peace and harmony in relation to the outside world, there still remains a subtle difference between the two. Thru the continuous practice of contemplation, a student of VE starts thinking, ‘If there is only one Brahman without a second, who am I? Through deep contemplation, he dissolves the duality between inside and outside and realizes that the Self that shines within him is the same as the all-pervading Brahman. I am Brahman is the third stage of realization.

4. All is Brahman - in this stage the student transcends the feelings and attitudes of I, mine, thy and no longer sees any difference in these concepts. His little ego expands into a higher ego, the limited I expands into a higher I. In this state one fully understands that an individual I is the appearance of that highest I.

At this state one fully overcomes all passions, desires, emotions such as attachment, hatred. One’s heart starts beating with compassion to help those who are suffering. For such a person the entire universe becomes Brahman, and he finds himself in the universe and the universe in himself. He lives in Brahman-consciousness.

In this state divine love is expressed for all. One’s whole being becomes a center of universal love that radiates life and light of knowledge and peace. In this state all words become mantras and all actions are performed selflessly in the service of humanity. Such a person lives beyond the concepts of life and death.

Contemplation & Meditation
 VE is generally referred to as Jnana Yoga, the path of knowledge. It is practiced through contemplation and meditation. In the classical texts of VE sravana, (study) manana (pondering) and nididhyasana (application) are mentioned as methods for attaining the goal of life. The proper method of practicing these is not clearly described in the texts but is taught directly by a teacher to the student. The mahakavyas are guidelines for contemplation, through their understanding and incorporating the techniques of meditation a student can attain success in his quest.

Contemplation and meditation are complimentary practices. The former helps a person comprehend reality intellectually and the latter helps experience the Reality within. Through the former one comes to know through the latter one comes to realize. The former is a pre requisite for the latter.

The Vedantic method of contemplation is completely different from the Christian method of contemplation. In the former, a student reflects on the transitoriness and hence ultimate invalidity of the experiences of external objects and looks to search for something that is real. In his contemplation, awareness of the highest goal of life, Self-realization is always maintained. Questioning and analysis are the chief modes of Vedantic contemplation. The student uses rigorous logic and close reasoning to realize the truth of his subject of contemplation. Faith and dedication are then employed to accept the truth, and strong determination is brought to bear to bring that truth into practice in daily life. Reliance on religious and theological concepts of God and on the practice of rituals is discouraged in VE. Religious contemplation is viewed by VE as a kind of daydreaming because such contemplation utilizes a set pattern of thinking based on mere belief.

Vedantic contemplation focuses on discriminating the real from the unreal in order to know the absolute Reality. The eternal sound OM, is used as a primary object of contemplation in VE. On this point, Patanjala Yoga and VE are similar to each other. Raja yoga also states that Om is the name of the Supreme Reality. Both systems teach how to use the eternal sound OM as an object of mediation while coordinating its mental repletion with the flow of breath.

The sound Om, has three simple phonemes, A-U-M and a fourth state silence. The fourth state is called Turiya, the superconscious state, the absolute Brahman. The three sounds denote the states of walking, dreaming and deep sleep and the aspects of divinity that are involved in the processes of manifestation, preservation and annihilation. The Upanishads say that the Om is the bow, the individual is the arrow, and the Supreme Consciousness, Brahman, is the target. One should shoot carefully, like a skilled archer, while being completely absorbed in the goal – Brahman-consciousness.

Unless the student understands the meaning of OM as described in the various Upanishads, various repetition in meditation becomes mechanical and boring. If its meaning has been properly contemplated and if the student is attuned to the sound, then during meditation this sounds leads him to the realization of higher dimensions of life. Success on this path is not easy. Constant awareness, guidance from a competent teacher and faith in and total surrender to the absolute Reality lead the aspirant to the highest goal of life.

Friends after typing 67 word pages am tired. It is the spirit of bhakti within that motivated me to carry on. At times I felt like giving up but remembered Swami Chinmayananda’s words in the Holy Gita ‘the importance of fortitude’. That’s what kept me going.

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