Body To Soul Rendezvous

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Soothing hum of the Haa Chu,

Cool winds and lush green leaves,

Patting a warm lull so gentle!

Mighty mountains around like strong pillars safe,

Warmth of a New Born Babe

Lost in the mother’s bosom!


Like the still lifeless rocks and pebbles,

That lie uneven causing the smooth

Flowing river to break into ripples.


My dear soul, you create a stir in my physical being,

Still, flowing and flowing to where life leads on.

Flowing along with the gentle and strong currents of life,

Sailing through the rivers of time,

Awaiting the divine command,

Whirling and lashing against hard black rocks!


Like a fish under water,

Yet bottled and sealed in glass,

Restless, tossing and turning, trying

To live a meaningless life.


Wanting to jump out, yet choosing to stay in.

Living under fresh, life giving water,

Yet dying without water

Brought forth into the world so wide, for a purpose.

Yet, choose to remain bottled and sealed.

Finding sorrow in joy!

Fins and gills and scales over body…

Flushing out all vices,

Living to perish back into dust,

Sand that cleanses all the sweat to return back

With ease, freedom and peace.


Dear soul, I speak out I cry out to you.

Be patient! You that is me, wait…

And wait for life and the ways of the universe

To take a fresh turn.

To live a life to soulful yearnings

An outlet to the

Deepest thirst of the soul.

Sleep and rest- in peace!

Life will go on and you and me

Shall journey on until the dusk drops out

The eternal command – THE END!





I awoke one bright sunny morn,

Clasping tight, my dreams defray!

The dream of yore, now closely drawn,

Shudder would I, if it should die.


Many a time, my dreams did lie,

A fragrance so faint, hither and yonder-

As I lay, so struck with awe,

To face a day, I pinched myself in wonder


Yeah! It should be true,

Cause he was there, with open arms and illumined face.

An inner quiver I felt so new

As I was locked in warm embrace.


With joy I ran like a chain of pearls

Unstrung on marble floor!

My mind and inner calm like whirls,

Found no words, to speak as I crossed the door


To me, a dear and serene face,

A sparkling smile, so enchanting!

As a child of five, I started to gaze-

At his face, much too high for my reaching!


I fumbled and tumbled over the years,

Until I got hold of a strand of his wise ol flowing beard

That unfolded my life, wiping away my tears

I struggled my way up, to forget the days that I feared!


As we drove along, through the blue mountains

A gentle breeze wafted across my face so cool!

The aroma of eucalyptus intoxicated the

Air with every spray from the fountains


Sunshine beyond the horizon, a feeling so matchless,

Wound around my mind, a tight spool!

Like arms securely wrapped –

Around an ageing Mother Tree.


A home so warm and tended with care!

Love from my father divine

Spread out and around folks so rare

Subtle vile, washing our inner spirits sublime!


As I walk, clinging on his palm

O’er rocky mountains, slushy puddles and turmoils of life

I see a distant land so calm,

A path so smooth, shaded by majestic Ol Banyan and Rain trees

Standing tall forming an arc so lush and roots drooping down !


Little wishing star, I wish-

Illumine the dark chambers of the mind

Into supreme radiance….!

For this heart thirsts like a fluttering white Dove –


I thank thee, dear spiritual father,

For that beard of white for me to hold

I float and land in changing weather,

Like a feather!


I pray thee Father, in this pacing world,

Make me firm and bold like solid gold!

For the shade of your Awning

Gracefully follows me through and through…


Creating Healthy Dharma Centers

Prayer flag

Man has always created space for intuitive functioning. There has always been a sense of surrender to a higher power. Be it Nature, Religion, Philosophy or Spiritual pursuits. The goal has always been to find the Art of Living whereby life is faced with less suffering, bringing ease to life through right Understanding. However there has been a gradual decline in the realm of understanding. Rigidity and fundamentalism has crept in within organizations that provide right understanding. How can Practice become part and parcel of life? How can practice become an integral part in all our interactions.

Lets take Music for example, Music is defined as a meaningful pattern of ‘sound’ rather than random ‘noise’. Meaning and Sound are woven together in an aural framework where we hear both concept and intonation. In singing we have an oral structure of knowledge and beauty each one amplifying the other. Likewise in the wisdom sense, knowledge and practice bring structure within. Concentration, command, clarity, composure and technique are brought to different expressive purposes and different aesthetic effects as each tradition achieves its own kind of flavor. Blind beliefs, rivalry and propagation have hindered the universal essence of religion. Time and again, there is need to revalue and restate philosophical notions to the need and spirit of the times. Wisdom seeking wisdom.

Life is an effort to sustain something that is not there. Money, Power, Relationship – We believe gives us joy and satisfaction. Based upon any one or all of this we try to bring stability to life. None of these three have ever remained stable. Yet we feel that Human existence is to sustain and stabilize this. If Money is an external gross bond, power is a subtle mental bond, relationship a relative causal bond. The base of all three being “Mine”…Subtly somewhere within (whether we accept or not) we do know that none of these will ever stabilize. Yet we try to exist in the bubble of instability. Every effort to sustain it, takes us from suffering to more suffering. In the effort to make permanent what is impermanent, the rhythm of life is lost. Money is meant to enhance the other departments of life, not to be consumed by them. The ensembles of the world are projected by the peculiarities of our mind. The adornments and the renunciations that the Self assumes can never cover this inward Poverty. The noise of ‘Desire’ surging within, blocks consciousness from noticing things. Desire connects us to the world. Desire can be channelized into effective action and creativity. Sense of value gives power to unite. The slightest measure of a way of wisdom alone can save man from great fear.  Kant believes that – ‘All human knowledge begins with intuitions, advances to concepts and ends with ideas.’

When a person sees that he has lost his track, and all the aids that have been used are of no avail, then one has forgotten the meaning of life. One has not been living life, rather running after aids looking for short cuts. Life cannot be purchased. Life has to be lived in accord with Dharma. We need to listen to the spontaneity of life and understand the initiative of life, the flow of it, the energy of it that comes from the benevolent source of life itself.

Between the two ends of the visible and the invisible, Vidya and avidya (knowledge and ignorance), Samsara and Nirvana there is a sense of value that connects us all devoid of all divisions – the field of Dharma. Between the Sambhoga Kaya (life of enjoyment) and Nirmana Kaya (Body of transformation) there is the Dharma Kaya (Artha body, beyond concepts) that upholds and supports the Universe and the individual, thereby bringing a sense of balance. Knowing one’s own character and applying wisdom through right knowledge, effort and understanding, aligns one to the Wheel of Dharma, which releases one from bonds of suffering thereby bringing freedom in the mind and consciousness. The Way never acts, yet nothing is left undone.

Man’s quest for wisdom, his search and his seeking come from a deep longing and yearning to know. This longing has always been part and parcel of his existence. Education, information, knowledge in all fields, theology, psychology, anatomy, physiology etc., are all man’s attempts to know. This deep yearning, goes on and on throughout one’s life time. When we look at the Personal Factor in the long drawn educational need in a person, it goes on and on until the end of life. A newborn child needs nourishment for its growth and sustenance, and this need lasts till the last moment of life. Whether we know it or not, whether we act upon it or not, each human being has this thirst for wisdom that follows him as a shadow until the end.

There is also an aptitude for activity that goes on within each individual. There is an invincible creative urge, inherent in oneself that seeks expression through activity. Man is a social being. He is interconnected, and his interactions with fellow beings, affects him in many ways. On a deeper level, there is a deep sense of value that is a connecting factor. Beyond all peripheral ideas of gender, community, religion, and all kinds of social colorations, there is a philosophical entity, the truth that life presents without labels. A central focus of consciousness which gives orientation to the direct bearing on what is happening here and now in the individual’s life, within the framework of the time space continuum in which action and reaction are relevant. If the world of name and form is considered of no consequence two major realms of our life on earth, aesthetics and ethics will have to be treated as make believes.

A world citizen recognizes the entire world as his/her state and in principle does not recognize any member of the human race as alien to the world community to which he/she belongs. Such a person recognizes the earth as ones sustaining Mother, the innate inviolable laws of nature as ones protecting Father, all sentient Beings as ones brothers and sisters and kin and the world without frontiers and borders as ones home. When this kind of attitude happens in a person, his norm and connecting link is the foundation of Truth through Universal wisdom standing on the ground of all values.

In today’s world of Technology, where the whole world is interconnected, in a web of communication, there is a need to revalue and restate rigid and one sided beliefs and views in the wisdom frame of reference. The Universal teaching of the Buddha is relevant today, in the spirit of the times. The wisdom of the ancient seers bring forth a deep understanding of the human psyche and the functioning of the universe, which holds true at all times. Contemplative knowledge of the science, the structure and the functioning of this wisdom, brings a shift in our conditioned limited sense of understanding. A shift in the deep layers of our conscious-unconscious, determines the way we project and see things. It is this sense of values that we need to impart and share among other fellow human beings.

In order to create healthy Dharma Centers, we need to know where we stand today with reference to the time, clime and need of the present day individual, social and universal norms. Are we still stuck in the past understanding of suffering? Have we moved on with the changing times? Do we have an understanding of the wisdom that holds good for all times? How do we apply and impart that wisdom in today’s scenario? Are we stuck in a practice that promises Nirvana? Even seeking for Wisdom can be rigid and conditioned in a conditioned mind. Renouncing and moving away from a competitive world, we bring the same competitive mind to monastic life. We get ambitious to gain money, power and position. We shift from material comforts and desires to spiritual comforts and desires. Does this help nourish the pursuit of wisdom? Or are we stuck in a safe cocoon in the name of spirituality? Are we getting ambitious in promoting our institution/organization? Are we trying to propagate and convert others to our belief system? Are we turning a universal teaching into a closed cult? A healthy and truthful look at these questions that lurk over is essential before we move on further.

Life presents itself just bare as it is. Spiritual practice is another form of conditioning the conditioned mind. The physical, the emotional and the intellectual need proper nourishment and sustenance. When the vital energy of a person is kept healthy and nourished, it reflects a sense of contentment and strength thereby upholding the key to awareness and happiness, which one carries wherever one goes. A sense of gratitude and humility sustains it.

The Physical realm of desire can be channelized into food for strength, nourishment and sustenance. We experience the world through our sense organs and organs of action. When a contemplative sense of Self is developed with the appropriate knowledge of ethics through the science and functioning of the universal rhythm of life, it awakens a natural sense of aesthetic awareness. Such a shift in consciousness opens and gives space to bring forth the creative innate inner potential and skill of a person into a kind of social aesthetic. Knowledge, action and silence go together. In this realm a healthy Dharma center could focus on the following:-

* Study and contemplation of Traditional wisdom – Scriptural study

* Comparative study of Contemplative Traditions – Sharing of wisdom

* Study of Ethics – Ethical Practice

* Chanting – Purification of mind and Organs of Perception

* Zazen – Awareness, silence and mindfulness

In the second deeper layer of consciousness, the emotional realm needs appropriate nourishment and sustenance. The space for creation, dedication, development and expression of inner latent talents, one on one interaction, realization and acceptance of limitations and strengths, meditative awareness and mindfulness finds space for expression. Creativity and sense of aesthetic go together here. In this realm, the following could be offered:-

* Cultural Exchange – Sharing of Traditions

* East West Universe on the Wisdom of the Absolute – Unitive Understanding

* Symphony of Values – Contemplation Arts

* Sharing of skills and finding expression through Theatre, Art, Music, Architecture, Cooking, etc.,

* Meditation – Mindful Silence

Lastly the third layer of consciousness, the intellectual realm needs appropriate nourishment and sustenance. From the calming ease and stability of the physical and the emotional realm, the intellectual realm is motivated into right action. Here the intellect is engaged in applying wisdom in the field of action. Motivation, word dynamics, applied knowledge, comprehension of Truth. Here application and engaged spirituality go hand in hand through Social Action:-

* Sharing Wisdom in Schools and Colleges – Developing Soft Skills

* Sharing of awareness on hygiene and environmental consciousness in Villages – Wisdom Dialogues

* Conducting Yearly Seminars/Conventions – Unitive understanding of World Wisdom

* Zazen – Meditation, Mindfulness, awareness, silence

* Creative workshops – Creative empowerment

* Meditation, creative workshops and wisdom dialogues in prisons – Prison Outreach

* Meditation, creative workshops and wisdom dialogues for people with addictions – Recovery Programs

* Spiritual care for the dying and their families – Palliative Care

A healthy Dharma Center is like a model village that holds and respects all traditions, is Universal in its outlook and application, sustains and supports ecological balance, socially extends its wisdom to all who reach out and creatively facilitates engagement, connection and sharing of skills and needs. Sense of value, gives power to unite.

Today spirituality is not to propagate, promote or carry out the function of a missionary. Historically in the past, this may have been the trend. As things are constantly undergoing change, so is the structure and mind of the times. The Tech world that we live in today is more favourable to Universality than to division. When we are trying to overcome problems of division, why do we need to create more labels and divisions? It is a time when science stands parallel to philosophy and meta physics. Science acknowledges the unknown factor that Einstein called – “Spooky Reactions” – the unknowable. Even though science has progressed over the ages thereby making life easy, comfortable and safe in many ways, there is also the progress of weapons of mass destruction. Do we want to massacre and destroy one another just over our ignorant notions and ideas?

The I-Ching says – “Do not combat your own faults directly. As long as we wrestle with them, they continue victorious. The best way to deal with evil, is to make energetic progress in the good.”

Women are naturally gifted with a sense of intuition, just as much as a man is gifted with physical strength. There are many women teachers in this gathering that have been persistent and stable in their own intuitive conviction and have made a mark in the global arena. Regardless of gender, if we are able to stand together and function to the best of our ability, we can support and sustain one another and in doing that, we in turn support, sustain and nourish ourselves.

The role of Spirituality is not that of an activist, but that of kindling the conscience and consciousness of a lover of life in all. As we study the scriptures and the teachings of the great Masters of the past, a unique truth unfolds within us, which is unique to our own nature. Having spent 12 years in a mountain Monastery training in mindfulness and awareness, Jane Hershfield, did not write a single poem, but there after when she left the monastery and went out to live in the world, she blossomed as a poet. The poetry that came forth was enhanced with an eloquence that touched many and she emerged as an international poet of fame. A Jewish Rabbi and a Benediction Priest spent several years in the monastery training in mindfulness, awareness and silence. The wisdom and practice took them deep into the roots of their own tradition and they became Universal teachers within their own religious tradition. The famous Leonard Cohen, the Canadian singer went to Mount Baldy to practice with a Japanese teacher and his lyrics and life thereafter deeply reflected life itself. Each one is unique, and let us blossom in our uniqueness.

Nirvana they say is – “Getting rid of non-existent misery and attaining ease and peace which is the natural state of Being.” May we all find ease and peace as we co-exist together in this beautiful Universe. A Zen Mast once overheard two of his student’s converse as they watched a flag flying. One said – The flag is moving, the other said – the wind is moving the flag. The mast said – neither the flag nor the wind, but the mind is moving.” It was Gandhiji who said – “Be the change you want to see.” Let us find clarity to be the change that we would like to see and to contribute to the next generation. Thank you!

* Please post your suggestion, ideas and thoughts. This is just a paper that was prepared for a paper presentation. I invite you to share openly and to open up a discussion.


Essence Of Narayana Guru’s Advaita Darsana

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Year after year we gather here together returning to the same basic questions of who am I? and What is this world that I experience? Am I separate from what I see and experience as outside of me? This world affects me in so many ways, it causes me to feel pain and pleasure. I am bound to this world and I seek liberation. Liberation from what? When such questions fill within us, there is an intense need to know and we seek answers to such questions. Today let us look into the essence of Narayana Guru’s Advaita darsana. Why do we say Narayana Guru’s advaita darsana when the word advaita itself means non-dual? What is unique to Narayana Guru’s darsana?

When we are in deep sleep, we do not know anything. We are oblivious to the room, the place, even to our own identity. When we wake up the trees, the birds, the people, the whole world manifests and we begin to relate once again. We experience this world with our sense organs, organs of perceptions, inner organs and mind. We absorb the world through the five senses of seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling. When the senses are attracted to different and diverse world of names, forms, events etc reality gets veiled. Even though we know theoretically that all this are manifestations of one reality, it is not easy to put it in words. Guru says in Atmo verse 88, Sakalavum ulladhu tanne, tattvacintaagrahan itu sarvavumekamay grahikkum; akamukhamaay ariyaaykil maayayaam vanpaka palatum bhramam ekitunnu param. ‘Everything is real in itself; one who grasps this basic truth will understand all this as one; if not known introspectively, maya’s great enmity certainly creates much confusion.’ In the preceding verses Guru talked about many dimensions of Self and the world through different analogies. Considering all that, we cannot say that the world does not exist. Guru points out that this world exists in the world of transactions. A person who sees everything as one is referred to here as the tattvacintagrahan.  Tat-That, Tvam-you and whatever is experienced by you, chinta – contemplative reasoning, graham – a person who grasps. The first part of the verse talks of the one who has properly discerned the relationship between Absolute and the relative world, such a person who grasps the truth will understand all this as one. In the second half of the verse, Guru points out that  if it is not known introspectively, then maya’s hostility will create confusion. Guru talks of maya’s hostility as vanpaka. Nitya Guru calls vanpaka as natures revenge. He gives an example of a man who fasted for 10 days with no food, and on the 11th day he stuffed himself with a lot of food and fell ill. If you understand maya, it will lead you to the Absolute, if you don’t understand maya, it will lead you to confusion.  Nee allo mayayum maviyum, maya vinodanam, nee allo mayaye nikki saayujyam nalkumaryanam. Are you not maya, the wielder of maya, and also the rejoice in maya. Are you not the true one who having removed maya, grants the supreme union.

The subject is ‘I’, ‘this world’ and a third factor linking the two, which we can call ‘That’. In the very first verse of Atmopadesa satakam, Guru brings a sense of devotion by bringing in this third factor of ‘That’ as the karu to which one should chant with devotion and prostrate. Arivilumeriyarinnitunnavan tannuruvilumottu purattumujjvalikkum-karuvinnu kannukal anchumullatakki-tterutere veenu vananniyotitenam. In and beyond the knowledge which shines at once within and without the knower is the karu; to that, with the five senses withheld, prostrate again and again with devotion and chant. We experience the world through a process of three distinct divisions of perception:  knowledge, knower and known. If we pause to analyze and look closely at these divisions, we start to experience that, the source or origin from which it all blooms forth, is one and the same. ‘All’ is the starting point, the first postulate, the ground of all potentials. Then we see that ‘I’ am in it, all experiences, nothing is excluded. We constantly relate with the external world. Knower exists, he has a being, he sees, he feels, he thinks, he enjoys. Our life is influenced by three factors. Our sensory experience is irrefutable. One or another stimulus is always catching our attention. We are constantly in dialogue with the external world – Sat being or existence, what really exists – the reality. Secondly there is a factor of ‘I know’. Within our head there is a machine which goes on reasoning, constantly looking for meaning, for value that relates with all things, ideas – Chit knowing. Besides observing and reasoning, there is a demand of the heart. There is a thirst which is neither of the senses or of the mind. There is a central value with which our sense of awareness must join. This demand of the heart is the third factor – ananda. On an individual plane we experience it as cognation, connation and affectivity – Asti, bhati, priyam. There is a transactional world which exists. Teacher shows a child a candle and says ‘candle’. Intentionality of the candle is in the concept. This is connotation. The intention is to think of the candle – this refers to cognition. The third factor is affectivity. Sense of value gives power to unite.  “I am’ and ‘I know’. We see chit and jada. The power of knowledge is sama and anya. Sama – seeing everything as one. Anya – seeing each thing separately. Self and non-self. In Atmo verse 36 Guru says Arivinu saktiyanantamuntitellam arutiyitaam sama anya yennivannam, iru privaay itil anya samyamarnnu lluruvil amarnnu telinnunarnnitenam. The power of knowledge is endless; the end of all this can be marked as sameness and the other; thus in this way, there are two divisions; in this, merging the other with sameness, one should remain awake to that clear state of being. This power of knowledge that Guru refers to as arivu here includes within it the conscious and the unconscious, the potential and the actual, the transcendent and the immanent, the creative and the created. Guru here divides the endless power of knowledge  into two Sama Same– Knowledge in its collective and universal nature. We live it at the transactional and empirical level that comes through the senses. Anya – Compartmentalized knowledge, knower and known. Guru says merging into that form which is anyasama other sameness, one should remain awake at a neutral point. Guru’s analogy in the Daiva dasakam brings more clarity here; azhiyum tirayum katttum, aazhavum pole nangalum, maayayum nin mahimayum neeyum ennullilaakanam. As ocean, wave, wind and depth, like that, in such a manner, we and maya and your glory and you also, thus should be grasped within and understood. In the physical world that which is gross when analyzed leads to a causal factor. Salt for example gets analyzed into sodium chloride, each of which can be reduced to molecules, and in turn to atoms, to energy, and finally waves. Quantum mechanics is now able to bring everything into wave form. Yet we don’t live as waves. When we kick a stone hard, we get hurt and it starts to bleed. Guru here integrates by equating the ocean with the myriad of creation. The wave is equated with maya or our illusory perception. The wind that is directly responsible for producing the waves is equated with God’s power to generate. There is no difference between the relationship of the wave to the ocean and the relationship of an individual to creation as a whole.  In this scheme of reference the depth represents – value contemplatively. Humanity thought of collectively, divergence instead of unity, quantitatively.

In verse 37 Guru shows that it is difficult to overcome otherness. Only when one is known, the many can be overcome. Mind becomes peaceful only when its modulations slowly cease.

In verse 38 Here Guru points out how the mind does not allow itself to be controlled so easily. Here Nataraja Guru talks of the cumulative effect according to inner laws of neurology or deeper psychology. The law of inverse proportion – Just as pruning one branch would stimulate the growth of another, when the horizontal tendencies are accentuated, the vertical ones suffer and vice versa. Guru advices to remain in the state of sameness.

In verse 39 Knowledge in all cases has only one quality, its self-luminosity. It shines by itself and it illuminates all objects of knowledge. When knowledge becomes an experience, it does not become anything other than knowledge; even in that process it looks as if the one is becoming many. It is capable of sharpening its wits to mathematical precision and it can also accumulate clouds of confusion making the person go crazy. Knowledge remains changeless throughout ones life and yet it is changing all through. It continuously says This is me, this is what I know. The ‘this’, that is also knowledge. From child to the very end of life we go on saying – ‘This is me’. Will there be any difference in that subjective recognition of me? No, it will always be the same.

In verse 40 First we saw the cosmological aspect and then the psychological. In this verse a complete cosmology and psychology have to be fitted into the scheme. Nataraja guru says – The rule of harmony and the golden mean hold good here as in morality and in art. Wisdom is thus part of ethics and aesthetics and could be cultivated side by side with love of beauty or of virtue. Everything becomes the object of awareness. Bhramakala here is translated as spin emergence. Modern quantum mechanics supports the idea of spin both right-handed and left- handed, and is highly suggestive of the structural dynamism of the Absolute as seen by Guru here. When a thing is analyzed into its simpler elements, the thing changes and begins to vanish. When an atom is finally blasted, it becomes a destructive force. When all limbs are put together we have a body, when body is pronounced, we have an individual, when individuals associate themselves society etc.  When we understand a person with reference to his physical body, he is different from others in form, color, voice, moods, temperament, behavioral patterns etc. Thus life is a pulsation of consciousness with alternating emphasis of anya and sama –  specific and universal. A contemplative can detach his witnessing awareness and transcend both aspects. Anya specific anya generic; sama specific, sama generic.

In verse 41 We come into greater intimacy with this both revealing and illuminating knowledge. What is ‘this’? ‘this’ is a pot. ‘This’ is found both in the question and in the answer. This occurs in the very first verse of this work. As a result of this veiling principle of ego’s ignorance, every item of knowledge becomes a magical transfiguration.

In verse 42 Brings a general sense of appreciation. Does not produce any compulsion to take the role of actor. Promotes release from role playing situations. Knower becomes enjoyer and actor. A contemplative who aspires to peace and harmony is recommended here to cultivate a unitive understanding of the purport of ‘this’ which comes to the surface of the mind like never-ending ripples of curiosity. Pure reason or pure knowledge. Specific attribute of pure reason. When knowledge becomes finalized beyond becoming.

The ultimate teaching is that there is one reality alone. As there is but one single reality, each person is inseparably one with the whole, with the one changeless reality underlying all that is changeful. Directly realizing this oneness requires no teaching or learning; it only has to be experienced like a wave finding its oneness with the ocean. But conveying this apparent secret to someone, in a systematic manner, taking into account everything we know about ourselves as individuals, about the total universe, about the one all underlying reality makes a science out of it. That science is what we call Brahmavidya. The most authentic source of Brahmavidya is the Upanishads authored by the ancient rishis who preferred their names unknown, while their teachings remain ever known. Narayana Guru a rishi of the Age of science, restored the essential content. Aum






Epistemology and Methodology Of Spinoza and Narayana Guru

                     Narayana Guru                         images

Epistemology is the philosophical study that investigates the origin, structure, method and validity of knowledge. Every school of philosophy has its own epistemology. We are now going to see the Epistemology and methodology of Baruch Spinoza.

About Spinoza

Spinoza is a philosopher of the seventeenth century. The philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries have certain interests in common:-

  • The necessary existence of God
  • The nature of experience
  • The nature of substances
  • The role of reason in knowledge
  • The relation between mind and body
  • The question of freedom

According to their views on these subjects they are divided into categories. Are they rationalists or empiricists about knowledge? Are they materialists or idealists about reality? Spinoza is unique in the sense that even though he was interested in the same questions that other philosophers of his era were writing about, he approaches them in a very different way. Spinoza believes that truth is known through reason; he also believes that rational knowledge could not be attained without experience and experiments. Spinoza is as much an empiricist as he is a rationalist. Another label that is applied to Spinoza is ‘atheist’. He is considered an atheist insofar as he denies the existence of the God of theism – an anthropomorphic, intentional God to be feared, worshipped and obeyed. However it is clear that Spinoza believes very strongly in a God that is identical with nature. This led him to be labelled a pantheist – someone who believes God is everywhere in every being. Spinoza is radical in his metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. He actively undermined establishment views about philosophy, religion and politics, because he believed that his society had got all three badly wrong. His philosophical radicalism runs parallel to his religious and political radicalism for which he was punished. He was expelled from the Jewish community at age 23. Individuals who did not conform to the religious, social or ethical norms of the community could be punished by withholding rights to take part in certain community activities. Only two of his books were published during his life time. Principles of Cartesian Philosophy and Metaphysical Thoughts and The Theological Political Treatise. Theological Political Treatise is a religious and political critique. Spinoza set out to demolish the whole system of established beliefs about political and religious authority, provoking condemnation and violent opposition. He accuses the church of appointing self-aggrandising, anti-intellectual people in positions of authority and of guiding people through lies and deceit. Religious dogma prevents people from using reason while faith is nothing more than superstition. Organized religion is anti-rational and leads to hatred, violence and war. Spinoza wants to diagnose why people irrationally follow such systems, he wonders why they are distracted from Christianity’s message of joy and love towards hatred and resentment. Why do they put up with a government that leads them into endless wars? Why do they long for less freedom and tolerance and fight for the return of a monarch? Spinoza’s answer is that both the Church and State encourage the masses to remain irrational and powerless, thus ensuring the continuance of their own power. The result is a society of people discouraged from using their reason. Who not only tolerate their own enslavement but actively fight for it. Spinoza’s criticism on the established beliefs about political and religious authority provoked condemnation and violent opposition. Even though The Theological Political Treatise was published anonymously, soon Spinoza became known as its author. He was charged with atheism, sacrilege and denial of the soul. Spinoza became known throughout Europe as the dangerous and subversive author of a book that was universally banned. Spinozist became a term for anti-establishment. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Spinozism led philosophers to be dismissed from their posts and their books to be banned. It was not until the 1780’s that it became acceptable to read his works. The public outcry against the Theological Political Treatise made it impossible for Spinoza to publish his major work, the Ethics during his lifetime. When it was published after his death in 1677, it too was banned. However he sent drafts to his friends and followers. The Spinozist Circle was in regular correspondence with Spinoza, and wrote to him often seeking clarification of obscure points. Spinoza lived a life of a reclusive philosopher. His punishment deprived him of political, economic and religious status. He was banished from the Amsterdam community and was instead forced to live elsewhere and had to make his own way in the world. Perhaps that is what he must have wanted. He focused on philosophy and found a new community amongst intellectuals, political radicals and religious dissenters. He learnt the craft of lens making and lived a modest life grinding lenses. He died at the age of 45 from lung disease. Probably as a result of inhaling glass filaments. Spinoza believed strongly in the power of communities, and maintained contact with local and international circles of philosophers and free thinkers. He distanced himself from material concerns. He lived alone and never owned property.

About Narayana Guru

He was born not long after the first shots were fired in 1857 by the ranks of the Indian Army which rose against the British hegemony in India. The British ruled the country and Indian culture was at its decadent. Local chiefs called Raja’s and Maharaja’s were exploiting the people who lived in fear and toiled in sunshine and rain to feed, clothe and fatten those high ups in society, The dignity and compassion of the common man was stifled and smothered. Caste prejudice forced the majority to live in shame as deprived destitutes. Such was the historical background in Kerala during Narayana Guru’s time.


Reading The Ethics of Spinoza is an exercise in unfolding the Truth. The Ethics is not written in paragraphs or prose but in definitions, axioms, propositions and demonstrations. A book designed to help the reader develop his or her own reasoning. Spinoza’s text does not tell you the Truth as a narrative. It aims to engage you in active thinking, to know the Truth for yourself and thus build your own rational understanding. In The Ethics you will encounter the following:-

  • Definitions – Which set out the meanings of key terms
  • Axioms – Which set out basic, self-evident truths
  • Propositions – The points that Spinoza argues for and their demonstrations
  • Corollaries – propositions that follow from propositions they are appended to
  • Lemma – Propositions related to physical bodies
  • Postulates – Assumptions about the human body that are drawn from common experience
  • Scholia – Explanatory remarks on the propositions.

Spinoza deduced ethics from psychology and psychology from metaphysics. He asserted that all things are morally neutral from the point of view of eternity;  only human needs and interests determine what is considered good and evil, right or wrong. Whatever aids humanities knowledge of nature or is consonant with human reason is acknowledged as good.

Karu – Ocean Waves

When Spinoza uses the term Substance linked to the verb facio or latin facies, it could be translated as ‘the fashioning’ or ‘the make’ of the whole Universe. The term ‘face’ evokes a surface continuum that expresses finite modes. Narayana Guru uses the word ‘Karu’ which means mould. At the outset, let us take note of this similarity, as the Substance forms the core of Spinoza’s epistemology.  Spinoza’s God/Substance that spreads out as the many infinite number of attributes is conceived as a duality between Extended Being and Thinking Being. Spinoza uses the analogy of the Ocean and Waves. The finite modes represent the surface features which rise, last for a certain amount of time and fall back from where they came. The waves are determined to be what they are by the ‘depth’ of the ocean that causes them. The extended being and thinking being – Atmo 1 Arivilum yeri arrinjidunavan than uruvillum othu purathum ujvalikum karuvinnu kannugal anchum ulladaki teru there veenu vanangi odhidenam.

Spinoza’s God

Spinoza says ‘God must be called the cause of all things in the same sense in which he is called the cause of himself. The distinction between ‘the God which causes and that which is caused – Being and Becoming. Spinoza expresses this by using the terminology – Natura naturans and Natura naturata. Natura naturans or nature that natures that refers to God as a cause of itself. Natura naturata – nature that is natured that refers to God as effect of itself. Read Nitya Guru’s ref in That alone about Guha ashtakam – Shaantham shambutanujam sathyamanadharam jagadadhaaram, gyaatrgyaan nirantaraloka gunatheetam gurunaateetam.


The all-important question of how body and mind interact, how is one inserted into the other or articulated has puzzled philosophers for ages in the East and in the West. There must be a homogeneity for purposes of one order of realities acting on another, which in Sanskrit is called samanadhikaranatva. Finding a common ground. Not taking sides. Like for example milk and curd, the common factor being water. Since it is reasonable to suppose that whatever all people have in common is best for everyone, the good that people should seek for others is the good they desire for themselves. In addition reason is needed in order to keep the passions in check and to achieve pleasure and happiness by avoiding pain. The highest human state, according to Spinoza is the intellectual love of God, derived from Unitive Understanding. A faculty higher than ordinary reason. By the proper use of this faculty a person may contemplate the entire mental and physical universe and view it as comprising an infinite substance, which Spinoza terms as God.

Structure of knowledge

In chapter three of The Ethics Titled ‘On the Origin and Nature of the Affects’  P1 Spinoza distinguishes between two kinds of Knowledge –  Inadequate Knowledge and Adequate Knowledge. Given that finite existence necessarily involves ‘confusion’ with other things, we do not have adequate knowledge of external things, of our own bodies or our own minds. Inadequate ideas are mixed with truth and privation of truth (falsity). Such misapprehensions are an inevitable aspect of being a finite mode. This does not mean that all inadequate knowledge is uncertain. For Spinoza, it is impossible to have a true belief that is not knowledge. Either you have an uncertain belief, which therefore involves falsity, or you have true knowledge. Insofar as we experience and imagine, we are bound to err. This kind of knowledge with which the mind operates with the other can be compared with Narayana Guru’s ‘Anya’- (Compartmentalized knowledge of subject and object, of knower, knowledge, knower and known) in his structure of Knowledge where the one consciousness is classified into two Sama and Anya in the 100 verses of self instruction The Atmopadesa Satakam verse 36. We shall come back to this a little later.

The second level at which the mind operates is at a more rational level according to Spinoza. This he calls Adequate Knowledge. Spinoza defined an Adequate Idea as an idea which, insofar as it is considered in itself, without relation to an object, has all the properties or intrinsic denominations of a true idea. So what is a true idea? A true idea is God’s activity of thinking, and all ideas are true insofar as they are God’s. This Adequate knowledge can be compared with Narayana Guru’s classification of ‘Sama’- Knowledge in its collective and universal nature. We live it at the transactional and empirical level that comes through senses. According to Spinoza in every human mind, some ideas are adequate and others mutilated and confused. An Adequate idea is an idea understood fully and truly; it is the activity of thought that is sufficient and necessary for understanding the idea completely. Since the human mind is part of the infinite intellect, each human mind is itself an adequate idea, i.e. the true, full, active conceiving of the human body. So, in our essence, we have adequate understanding of ourselves. But insofar as we are finite modes, we do not have full access to that adequate understanding. The finite mind has partial or inadequate knowledge of its own body and inadequate knowledge of the other bodies it interacts with. In the infinite intellect, every adequate idea is understood clearly and distinctly from the other adequate ideas.

Verse 36 Guru classifies knowledge into two categories – Anya and Sama. Knowing the many as existing is the anya kind of knowledge; knowing the one alone is sama. In verse 42 Guru invites attention to an approach – ‘For intellect and all such to vanish, and for the true path to come, ‘this’ should be meditated on. Guru further clarifies this truth in verse 88 – Sakalavum ullathu tanne.

Third kind of knowledge

Now here Spinoza brings in a third kind of Knowledge. This third and highest grade of knowledge, which is that of the divine mind, Spinoza calls scientia intuitive – Intuitive Knowledge. Spinoza says – “ Insofar as I approach the possession of such an idea, I necessarily become God to some extent.” Hence Spinoza was tagged as ‘the God-intoxicated man.’ In P29 of Chapter 5 he says – Everything which the mind understands under the form of eternity, it understands not because it conceives the present actual existence of the body, but because it conceives the essence of the body under the form of eternity. Things are conceived by us as actual in two ways; either in so far as we conceive them to exist with relation to a fixed time and place, or insofar as we conceive them to be contained in God.

The separation of Time into units, the minutes of the clock and the days of the calendar is a product of imagination, for it is an abstraction of the duration we experience. But as we gain rational knowledge, we understand more and more that what is true, is true eternally. When we know through reason (the second kind of knowledge) we understand that things follow from the necessity of the divine nature, as expressions of God’s eternal attributes. We understand things not in terms of how they happen to appear to our senses, but in terms of the essential properties that they share with us; the common notions. Common notions exist in the infinite intellect and are eternally true. Now here Spinoza brings in a common notion or norm which we talked about in the beginning – the samanadhikaranatva or finding the common ground. The value of the essential existential content of body and mind – Sat Chit Ananda.

On the one hand it completes the Ethics by bringing us full circle, back to the ontology of Part 1. But in doing so, it seems to call into question many of the naturalistic ideas that Spinoza argues. Spinoza appears to argue for the immortality of the mind after death, God’s infinite love for us and our potential intuition, the mysterious third kind of knowledge. This third kind of knowledge according to critics have been sharply divided and questioned as to whether it should be taken seriously. In the words of one of the critics – “The impossibility of giving a coherent account of eternity as evinced by the incoherence is productive in that it reveals something interesting about what a finite mode can and cannot do. Perhaps the second half of Part V should be seen as an experiment in which Spinoza tests the capability of his own thinking.”


Now looking at the methodological differences:-

Spinoza’s methodology as a Rationalist and Empiricist still leaves him unclear when it comes to the positive end of the pole Intuitive knowledge. He mentions and refers to intuitive wisdom but he does not use it as the methodology.

Narayana Guru on the other hand uses intuitive wisdom as the methodology. This is a very crucial important difference. Turiya bodham ?

The central doctrine

The Guru again comes back to the main theme and declares his conclusive doctrine concerning the one Ontological Reality in verse 50 at the very middle of the work – All that is material and mental, subjective and objective, generic and specific, finally is realized to have become transformed and sublimated as One Consciousness or chit which he calls arivu in Malayalam.

Life is paradoxically placed between necessity and freedom. In our endeavour to find a balance through right understanding; Gaining reason according to Spinoza involves building up common notions, i.e. clarifying ideas that are already part of the essence of our minds. Gaining rational knowledge, then means regaining the truth that our minds fundamentally are. As we become more rational, we get back on track with our mind’s essential activity of true understanding. Through reason we gain better understanding of ourselves and our place in the universe. Reason is not something we are born with; it must be built up and developed, through the common notions that we gain in our encounters in the world. It is only by having experiences with other bodies that we will build up common notions and become more rational.

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