Meaning of Life and Mystery of Death- An Exposition by Sage Sanatsujata in Mahabharata

2. Nature of knowledge                             
Having heard about the greatness of “maunam” or contemplation, the King asks who is the person who can be said to practice this “maunah”? Is it a person who merely refrains from speaking, or is it a person who contemplates? Which of these two is “maunah”? Does a person attain Brahman by merely refraining from speaking? How does one practice “maunam” in this world? (The word “maunah” has two meanings: (1) refraining from speaking and (2) contemplation. The king desires to know which is applicable here).

Sanatsujata said:
Brahman is “maunam” because neither the Vedas nor the mind can reach (describe) Him. He is the source from which the Vedas have arisen. Or, He is the consciousness because of which the words of the Vedas are pronounced. He shines as effulgence itself. The Taittiriya Upanishad Says, “That from which the words return along with the mind without reaching it is Brahman”.

Dhrtarashtra asks whether a person can escape the consequences of his sinful actions by the mere fact of having learnt the Vedas. Sanatsujata replies that the Vedas do not protect an evil-doer from the consequences of his evil acts. The obligatory and desire-oriented actions (nitya and kamya Karma) prescribed in the Vedas can lead a person only to other worlds such as heaven which are all at the transmigratory level only. They cannot lead anyone to liberation from bondage.  The King therefore questions what is the idea in learned people proclaiming that one should study the Vedas and perform the actions laid down. Sanatsujata replies: Brahman appears as this universe consisting of names and forms due to Maya. The Vedas as well as the sages further speak about the real nature of Brahman (as different from this universe). This Brahman is beyond cause and effect, all-pervasive and without any differences either inside or outside. It is beyond the reach of speech and the mind. It is experienced as consciousness by everyone.

The actions performed as an offering to God become an indirect means to the ultimate human goal of liberation by purifying the mind and making it fit to receive knowledge of the Self. Actions performed with any other motive become the basis for further bondage. Austerities and other actions performed with desire for the fruit give just the result laid down for that particular action in the Vedas, such as sojourn in heaven. Their effects last only till the merit earned is exhausted. But a knower of Brahman performs actions only for the welfare of others and not for any benefit for himself.

On hearing this, Dhrtarashtra asked how does pure austerity become exceedingly fruitful?

Sanatsujata replied:
Austerity which is free from all taint is known as “kevala” or “pure” tapas and only such austerity yields plentiful results and not when the austerity is tainted or defiled. Such untainted tapas or austerity leads to the purification of the mind in which jnana as realization of true Self arises. Pure tapas have to be free from twelve taints (doshas) and seven kinds of malice. It has also to be endowed with twelve virtues (gunas).

These are described now. The twelve doshas to be avoided are anger - lust, greed, lack of discrimination about right and wrong, desire to know about the pleasures from sense-objects, cruelty, and the tendency to attribute evil qualities to those who are good, pride, lamentation, desire for sensual enjoyment, envy, and hatred.

The seven kinds of malice which are obstacles to spiritual progress are - the mind being ever intent on enjoying sensual pleasures, prospering by harming others, lamenting after having given away a gift, being prepared to put up with any amount of humiliation out of greed for some paltry gain, lack of the strength of right knowledge (discrimination), boasting about one’s own mental and physical faculties, and ill-treating one’s own totally dependent wife.

The twelve virtues or gunas which are means to spiritual progress are - Knowledge of the Reality, speaking what is true and good for others, control of the mind, study of Scriptures, being free from intolerance of the well-being of others, unwillingness to do anything improper, forbearance in adverse circumstances, not giving publicity to the faults of others, performing sacrifices prescribed in the Vedas, giving away wealth to the deserving, self-control even in the presence of temptation, and  control of the senses.  

By these practices one becomes free from Pramada or the fall from one’s natural state of identity with Brahman and his activities become pure. O king, if one becomes free from the bondage of the senses, sense-objects, mind and thoughts of the past and the future, he
will be extremely happy. The one who remains established as Brahman which is existence-consciousness-bliss can only be called a Brahmana and all others are in ignorance. The efforts of those who have fallen from the natural state of identity with Brahman become futile. They become subject to all kinds of sorrow.
O best among men! The Vedas on their own are the means for knowing Brahman. The wise study the Vedas and thereby attain knowledge of Brahman and not knowledge of the world.

But the Upanishads say that Brahman is different from the known as well as the unknown, and that neither words nor the mind can reach it. So a doubt arises as to how can the Vedas impart knowledge of Brahman? The answer given by the sage is that Vedas are insentient and so neither Brahman nor the world can be known through them. He who knows Brahman knows the entire universe of objects, since; by knowing Brahman everything is known. But he who knows only the universe of objects does not know Brahman. Just as the thin circling of the moon on the first day of the bright fortnight can be pointed out only by first pointing to the branch of a tree through which it can be seen, so also the Vedas indicate the nature of the eternal Supreme Self only with the help of various hints. An object can be described by words only if it has some quality such as name, form, action, relationship with some other object, etc. The Self does not have any quality at all. The Vedas cannot therefore directly describe the Supreme Self. They only point out to it by means of various arrow-marks. I consider the one who understands the purport of the Vedas thus to be a wise man who knows the Supreme Self.

The spiritual aspirant should not identify himself with the body and senses and should not go after sense-objects which take him away from the Self. Shunning accumulation of sense-objects, he should contemplate on the meanings of the words “”that” and “thou” in the Upanishads and realize the supreme Brahman as his own Self.

Since the Self can be realized only by giving up all sense-objects, one should resort to quietude, i.e., give up all action and meditate on the Self. He should not even think of sense-objects. To such a person the Self reveals itself and he attains the Self which is beyond the dense darkness of ignorance. Only by quietude (by giving up all action and always meditating on the Self) one becomes a muni, and not merely by living in a forest.
As a grammarian by analyzing the words arrives at their roots, Brahman being the source of all names and forms, the knower of the Self knows the source of everything in this universe. The person who sees the worlds as they are (as Brahman itself) is the one who sees everything. Being established in Brahman which is Truth, the knower of Brahman is omniscient. O Kshatriya, by being established in knowledge and the other disciplines mentioned earlier such as truthfulness, study of the Vedas, reflection and contemplation, etc., one realizes Brahman. O wise one, I shall tell you about these (study, reflection and contemplation).

Receive Site Updates