Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Unchanted Mantra

The non-dualistic traditions of both Vedanta and Tantra tell us that without even knowing or realizing it, we are silently chanting a mantra 21,600 times daily! Not only is this mantra being silently recited by every living being, but it affirms the most fundamental of truths propounded by the monistic tradition – that you are one with the Ultimate Reality. Multitude of Vedantic and Tantric texts explain this mantra, known as the Ajapa (unchanted) Mantra, Ajapa Gayatri, Hamsa Gayatri, Hamsa Mantra, Soham Mantra, etc.

The essential teaching of the Ajapa Mantra, an extension of the teaching on prana (vital life-force), is that the very process of breathing is a mantra. The sound of inhalation plus the sound of exhalation together form this mantra known as So'haṁ or Haṁsa. Before we proceed further, however, we must understand that there is a fundamental difference between how Vedantic tradition treats the Ajapa Mantra and how the Agamic/Tantric tradition treats it.

Texts of Vedanta uniformly accept and teach that the sound of inhalation is so (or the syllable sa) and the sound of exhalation is haṁ (or the syllable ha). Put together, the two syllables become So'haṁ. This teaching is elaborated in multiple Upanishads, particularly those classified as Yoga Upanishads. In the Vedantic context, So'haṁ indicates saḥ (He) + ahaṁ (I), and means “He I am.” Essentially, it is a silent reaffirmation of the Vedantic great statements (mahavakyas): tat tvaṁ asi (That Thou Art) and ahaṁ brahmāsmi (I am Brahman). In other words, with every breathing cycle (So'haṁ) we affirm the fundamental non-dualistic Vedantic teaching of the oneness of the Atman (ahaṁ) and Brahman (saḥ)

Texts of Tantra, in contrast, accept and teach that the sound of inhalation is haṁ (or the syllable ha) and the sound of exhalation is sa (the syllable sa). Together, the two syllables become Haṁsa. This is dealt with in multiple Shakta Tantras like the Todala Tantra, in Shaiva Tantras like the Vijnanabhairava Tantra, and Vaishnava Tantras like the Lakshmi Tantra. In the Tantric context, Haṁsa indicates a dual affirmation. On the one hand, Haṁsa indicates ahaṁ (I) + saḥ (he) – meaning “I am He”; or ahaṁ (I) + (she) – meaning “I am She”. This affirmation is no different than the Vedantic affirmation of the oneness of the individual Atman and the Paramatman (Brahman).

The other affirmation inherent in the Ajapa Mantra, which is characteristically and uniquely Tantric, is that of the oneness of the masculine and feminine principles. The two syllables of the Haṁsa (ha + sa) are taught in the Tantric tradition to represent Shiva (ha) and Shakti (sa). The terms Shiva and Shakti may be replaced in Shaiva-Shakta sources with Sun (ha) and Moon (sa) or Bindu (ha) and Nada (sa). Similarly, in Vaishnava Tantras, ha represents Narayana, and sa represents Sri. In the Tantric tradition, therefore, the very process of breathing (Haṁsa) also affirms the absolute oneness of the Divine, seen as a dual principle of Shiva-Shakti, Bindu-Nada, Sun-Moon, Narayana-Sri, or ha-sa.

Since the Vedantic and Tantric traditions of Hinduism are not mutually exclusive, what we find is that the doctrines of one system intermingle with the other. As a result of this, the terms So'haṁ and Haṁsa are used interchangeably in both traditions to refer to the Ajapa Mantra. Regardless of the term used to refer to the Ajapa Mantra, the phase of breath for which the syllables stand remains unchanged within the given tradition. Nevertheless, both traditions accept the Ajapa Mantra as the base mantra upon which all mantras ride, whether they are chanted out loud, pronounced without vocalizing, or recited mentally. In fact, the Haṁsa (which means swan) is depicted as a vehicle of Gayatri Devi, the personification of supreme mantra of the Rigveda.

Regardless of the tradition, the great yogis of Hinduism have used sound and breath to understand both evolution from the Divine and involution back to the Divine. With regards to the Ajapa mantra, the in-breath reflects involution, a refolding of Shakti back into Shiva, and the out-breath reflects evolution, an unfolding of Shakti from Shiva. One who has understood the meaning of the Haṁsa mantra, mastered the esoteric teachings of Prana therein, and through this vehicle come to full and direct realization, therefore, is given the honorary title Paramahaṁsa (supreme swan) because s/he is now a liberated being.

Aum Namah Shivaya.

Agnideva © 2008. All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Theology of the Shiva Purana II

The present post is a continuation of the previous post entitled Theology of the Shiva Purana examining how the Shiva Purana deals with theology and the philosophical view that forms its basis. When one reads the Shiva Purana, it becomes quite clear that different books were authored by different sets of hands each with a slightly different philosphical worldview. Every book narrates a large body of legends, and at the close of the book the philosophical stance is explained. The below comes to us from closing of the Kotirudra Samhita (Book IV). It is quite clear that the author of this text subscribed to the non-dualistic Vedanta, as the view is quite in line with that philosophy. While Vedanta provides the theoretical theology in the below excerpt, it is clear the ontological basis of Sankhya and the means to the end (liberation) as taught by Yoga are presupposed. Quite notably, the theoretical and practical theology of the Agamas is absent from this teaching. According to the Encyclopaedia of Hinduism, the Kotirudra Samhita, which is found in the standard (northern-southern) version of the Shiva Purana, extracts heavily from the Jnana Samhita, a book found only in the Bengal version of the Shiva Purana (see: Shiva Purana: Sense and Sensibility ). The Jnana Samhita, itself extracted in part from the Linga Purana, is believed to have been authored in northern India (ca. 850 ce) by those who subscribed to a combined Sankhya-Vedanta philosophy. With this background, the theological and philosophical view presented below is not surprising.


Sūta said:

O ye sages, may this be heard. I shall explain the perfect knowledge of Śiva in the manner I have heard. It is a great secret as it is the form of the highest salvation. (1)

In the assembly of Brahmā, Nārada, Kumāra, Vyāsa and Kapila they had discussed this and come to this conclusion. (2)

It shall be known that the entire universe is wholly Śiva. That Śiva is in everything must be known by the learned scholar. (3)

Beginning with Brahmā and ending with a blade of grass whatever is seen as constituting the universe is Śiva Himself. That Deity is called Śiva. (4)

When He wishes, this is created. He alone knows all. No one knows Him. (5)

He Himself creates it and enters it, but stand far off. The Citsvarūpa (Pure Consciousness) Being who is pure does not really enter it. (6)

[Just as] luminary bodies are reflected in water and do not actually enter it, so Śiva too appears [to have] entered it [the created world]. (7)

Really Śiva alone, the Auspicious Being, manifests Himself. The ignorance of the same is a defect of the mind. In fact, there is no second entity. (8)

In all philosophical systems the concept of duality is evident. But the Vedāntins call Him eternal and non-dualistic. (9)

The individual soul, though it is a part of His becomes deluded by avidyā (ignorance). He then thinks that He is different (from Śiva). If He is released from avidyā, He becomes Śiva. (10)

Śiva pervades all creatures. He is the Lord of the sentient and the insentient. He is the Benefactor. (11)

He who cleverly tries means of releasing himself after resorting to the Vedāntic path attains the fruit of his right. (12)

The pervading fire is latent in every block of wood, but only he who churns it sees it manifested [knows this] to be true. (13)

So also, the clever devotee who makes use of the expedients of devotion, etc. certainly reaches Śiva. This is undoubtedly true. (14)

Lord Śiva is everywhere. There is nothing else. Śiva appears in different forms always due to our illusion. (15)

The ocean or the lump of clay or the piece of gold attains different shapes due to delimiting conditions. Śiva too is so. (16)

There is one essential difference between the material cause and its effect. The difference is due to illusory perception. If the one ceases to exist, the other is also quelled. (17)

The shooting sprout from the seed may exhibit multiplicity, but ultimately it becomes the seed and shoot perishes. (18)

The perfectly wise is the seed. Deformity is the sprout. When deformity disappears, he becomes perfectly wise again. There is no doubt in this regard. (19)

Everything is Śiva. Śiva is everything. There is no difference at all. How is this manifoldness seen? How is the unity regained? (20)

Just as the luminary called the sun is seen differently in [different bodies of] water, so also is the case with it [Śiva and the universal manifoldness]. (21)

The all-pervading space is not bound or fettered anywhere. So also the all-pervading Lord is not bound anywhere. (22)

The individual soul is contaminated by the ego. Śiva is free of it. The individual soul is insignificant and it experiences fruit of action. But the great Śiva is uncontaminated. (23)

Gold mixed with silver or other base metals depreciates in value. So also is the individual soul in its association with the ego. (24)

When a gold alloy is purified with chemicals, it regains its original value. Similarly the consecrated soul too attains purity. (25)

The devotee at the outset shall go to a competent preceptor with devout and reverential feelings. He shall worship and serve him considering Him Śiva. (26)

Thanks to this conception, all sins and dirt are removed from the body. When he gains knowledge, his ignorance disappears. (27)

Freed from the ego, the individual soul attains pure intellect. Thanks to Śiva’s grace, he attains the state of Śiva again. (28)

Just as one sees one’s own form in the mirror, so also the pure soul sees the all-pervading Śiva, certainly. (29)

He becomes the living liberated soul (jivanmukta). When the body perishes, he merges into Śiva. The body is begot by the prārabda karma. The perfectly wise is considered different from it. (30)

If a person is not elated on acquiring something good and is not annoyed on acquiring something bad and if he has equanimity, he is said to be perfectly wise. (31)

By the practice of yoga, discrimination between the different principles is generated. Then there is a desire to get released from the body. The aspirant then is blessed with devotion to Śiva. (32-33)

From devotion arises love; from love the desire to hear about the Lord; from this desire association with the good; and from this association a competent preceptor is attained. (34)

If knowledge is attained, he certainly becomes liberated. Hence if one desires to be perfectly wise, one should worship Śiva alone always. (35)

He shall worship Śiva with unflinching and exclusive devotion. Salvation will be the result. There is nothing to be doubtful about this. (36)

There is no other Deity greater than Śiva for the attainment of salvation. After seeking refuge in Him, one withdraws form worldly existence. (37)

O wise ones, these words have been uttered by me after considering the statement of the sages. Ye shall retain these strenuously in your minds. (38)

~ Śrī Śivapurāṇa: Koṭirudra Samhitā [Book IV]: Chapter XLIII: 1-38.
The Śiva Purāṇa (Part III). Trans. and annotated by a board of scholars. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1996.

Aum Namah Śivāya.

Related posts: Shiva Purana: Sense and Sensibility, Theology of the Shiva Purana

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Sankhya System and the Tattvas

The oldest system of organized philosophical thought to arise on Indian soil, many experts opine, is that known as Sankhya. It is believed that the Sankhya system of thought was already well-established before the time of the Buddha and Mahavira, and is traditionally attributed to the ancient sage, Kapila. The most authoritative text expounding the Sankhya known today, however, is a late work known as the Sankhya Karika authored by Ishvara Krishna.

Sankhya, which literally means “of numbers”, is known as such because it authoritatively enumerates all of existence, consisting of mind and matter, neatly into twenty-five categories known as tattvas (“thatnesses”). Within the Sankhyan system, the individual knower (the sentient being, the self) is called Purusha, and that which is known (insentient matter, or more correctly the root of all insentient matter) is called Prakriti, primal nature. The entire philosophical system of Sankhya is built upon the dichotomy between the Purusha and Prakriti.

According to Sankhya, Prakriti in its basal state is a perfect balance of its three modes (gunas) known as sattva (goodness), rajas (passion) and tamas (darkness). At some point, there arises an imbalance in the three modes, and as a result basal Prakriti impinges into differentiation into grosser and grosser elements (tattvas) of which there are twenty-three. The lower twenty-three tattvas of Sankhya are therefore considered expansions of Prakriti (the twenty-fourth tattva), and are to be experienced by the twenty-fifth tattva, which is the sentient being or Purusha.

The twenty-five tattvas of Sankhya

Nature (prakriti) is the state of equipoise of Goodness (sattva) Passion (rajas), and Darkness (tamas): from Nature [proceeds] Mind (mahat); from Mind, Self-consciousness (ahamkara); from Self-consciousness, the five Subtle Elements (tanmatra), and both sets [external and internal] of Organs (indriya); and, from the Subtle Elements, the Gross Elements (sthula-bhuta). [Then there is] Soul (purusha). Such is the class of twenty-five.
~ Sankhya Karika I:61

25. Purusha – the sentient being (consciousness), the experiencer
24. Prakriti – primal nature (root of all insentient matter)

Antahkaranas – internal organs

23. Mahat-Buddhi – intelligence
22. Ahamkara – objective ego
21. Manas – mind

Jnanendriyas – organs of knowledge

20. Stotra – organ of hearing (ears)
19. Tvak – organ of touching (skin)
18. Chakshu – organ of seeing (eyes)
17. Rasana – organ of tasting (palette)
16. Ghrana – organ of smelling (nose)

Karmendriyas – organs of action

15. Vak – organ of speech (tongue)
14. Pani – organ of grasping (hands)
13. Pada – organ of movement (feet)
12. Payu – organ of excretion (anus)
11. Upastha – organ of sex

Tanmatras – subtle elements

10. Shabda – sound
9. Sparsha – feel
8. Rupa – form
7. Rasa – taste
6. Gandha - smell

Mahabhutas – gross elements

5. Akasha – space
4. Vayu – air
3. Tejas – fire
2. Ap – water
1. Prithivi - earth

Per this system, the individual Purushas are bound by Prakriti and its subsequent expansion of twenty-three tattvas, and the Purushas mistakenly identify themselves with the insentient matter which makes up the gross and subtle body. The Purusha is truly the sentient, atomic self experiencing Prakriti and her byproducts from within. Once the Purusha understands himself as such, as truly a liberated being and independent of Prakriti, he becomes dissociated from all the elements and organs, and he is liberated from further embodiment.

Sankhya and Theism

From the pure Sankhya perspective, there is no doctrine on the nature of a Divine Being or Lord, and it is expressly a non-theistic philosophy which argues against the need for any Lord or Governer of the universe. However, from a certain perspective it may be said that the “Divine Being” is nothing more than the sum totality of all liberated Purushas. This type of Sankhya is called nir-ishvara (non-theistic) Sankhya.

It is generally assumed that nir-ishvara Sankhya transformed into sa-ishvara (theistic) Sankhya when the Sankhyan system became associated with the Yoga system of Patanjali, which accepts Sankhyan ontology completely, but infuses it with theism. This assumption, however, may or may not be valid. The “pure” Sankhya system outlined above and in almost all books is that derived from the Sankhya Karika of Ishvara Krishna (ca. 200 ce). It must be remembered that the Sankhya philosophy is much older than the most authoritative text on it. The textbook of Yoga philosophy, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (ca. 200 bce), for example, attaches itself to a theistic version of Sankhya. Similarly, the Bhagavad-Gita (ca. 200 bce) and the Mahabharata epic (200 bce-200 ce) also elaborate a theistic version of Sankhya. More importantly, the Agamas of Shaivism, Vaishnavism, etc., many of which were likely in existence ca. 100 ce, also speak of a theistic framework for Sankhya. To assume that the Sankhya philosophy was non-theistic in the beginning, and then transformed into theistic may not be a valid. It is far more likely that the theistic version of Sankhya was transformed into non-theistic Sankhya under the criticism of other non-theistic systems that arose on Indian soil, and it is that version which we find outlined in the Sankhya Karika.

Regardless of which version came first, it is the theistic version of Sankhya that is now accepted in all schools of Hinduism. The theistic version of Sankhya makes room for a Divine Being (Ishvara) who is the Ruler over Prakriti and the Purushas. The Divine Being in theistic Sankhya is beyond the twenty-five tattvas, yet is equally present within them as the Pervader. Though pervading Prakriti, the Divine Being remains unaffected by its material insentience. From a dualistic stance, the individual Purushas or souls, when liberated, gain union with this Divine Being. From a non-dualistic stance, however, there is really no difference between the Divine Being, the perceived multiplicity of Purushas and the myriad forms of Prakriti – all are aspects of the Divine Being. Individual Purushas only exist as individuals in a matter of speaking, as individuality is experienced only in the context of Prakriti, which itself is a gross aspect of the Supreme. This is the manner in which the schools of Vedanta accept Sankhya and its ontology.

In a future post, we shall examine how the ontology of Sankhya figures into the ontology revealed by the Agamas of Shaivism, and how it is deemed by the Agamas as accurate, yet incomplete to understand fully the nature of Being. Since Sankhyan principles are at the root of Agamic philosophy, a basic understanding of Sankhya is absolutely necessary to grasp Agamic philosophy.

Aum Namah Shivaya.

Agnideva © 2008. All rights reserved.

Related post: Shuddha-ashuddha Tattvas

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Forms of Shiva II

Shaivite iconography recognizes many different traditional forms of the Lord. The Shiva Lingam is the primary form for worship and is found everywhere, in almost all temples of Shiva. The Shiva Lingam is referred to as the aniconic form because it depicts the supreme Formless Form (arupa-rupa). In addition, 25 common iconic forms (murtis) are described as prominent in Saiva Siddhanta, although many more are recognized (see previous post: Forms of Shiva). In general, anthropomorphic representations are called Maheshvara murtis, whereas the Shiva Lingam, the aniconic form, is called Sadashiva murti.

The Maheshvara murtis are sub-divided by two sets of classifications. The first classification divides the murtis into fierce (ugra) or benevolent (anugraha) images. The second classification divides the murtis into bhoga, yoga and vira. The bhoga forms are represented with Shakti, whereas in the yoga and vira forms Shakti is not specifically depicted, but is implicit. Note that all the bhoga and most of the yoga forms are also anugraha forms.

25 Maheshvara Murtis

Grouping I
Grouping II
Bhikshatana Anugraha
Nataraja AnugrahaYoga
Aja Ekapada
Kamadahanamurti (Kamari)UgraYoga
Tripurantaka (Tripurari)UgraVira
Mahakaleshvara (Kalari)UgraVira
Virabhadra (Karala)
Uma-Maheshvara AnugrahaBhoga

Panchanana Shiva – the five faces and the five Shaktis

In addition to the above twenty-five, there is yet another important but rare anthropomorphic form – the five-faced (Panchanana) Shiva – which is considered not a Maheshvara Murti, but a Sadashiva Murti like the Shiva Lingam. Per Shaivite theology, Shiva realized in the five faces is revealed as the Lord and Master of all the categories of existence (tattvas), which have classically been described and divided into groups of fives. The sum totality of all groups of five categories is the manifest universe (prapancha). Revealed in the five faces, Shiva is realized as the essence of all prapancha (prapancha-sara).

Each of the five faces of Shiva has a proper name, and an associated Shakti, which collectively describe the Panchakritya (five divine acts) of Shiva, i.e. creation, sustenance, dissolution, concealment and revealment.

Name of Face
Associated Shakti
Ishana (Sadashiva)
Anugraha Shakti (Power of Revealment)
Tatpurusha (Maheshvara)
Tirodhana Shakti (Power of Concealment)
Aghora (Rudra)
Samhara Shakti (Power of Dissolution)
Vamadeva (Vishnu)
Stithi Shakti (Power of Sustenance)
Sadyojata (Brahmā)
Sristhi Shakti (Power of Creation)

The basic idea is that the Supreme Lord (Parameshvara) ever creates the world, sustains it, and dissolves it when the time is ripe. Moreover, He has concealed Himself within the fabric of manifest existence, and becomes revealed to us as such when we have matured enough.

Aum Namah Shivaya.
Anbe Sivamayam Satyame Parasivam

Agnideva © 2008. All rights reserved.

Related Post: Forms of Shiva

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