Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Gitas as Agamas

The format of writing teachings in the form of dialogues between a master and a disciple is a very old tradition, and probably goes back to Upanishadic times. For example, much of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is a teaching of Yajnavalkya to his disciples and part of the text reads as though someone was actually recording the sage's literal words either in vivo or by later recollection. This may indeed be the case. 

For the most part, however, there were no third party scribes standing by recording verbatim conversations and preserving them for posterity’s sake in the ancient world.

All such dialogues and conversations in ancient texts were written by human beings – some were self-realized masters, others ordinary priests, philosophers, scribes, and bards. They wrote their own teachings in the form of conversations that occurred in the distant past. They were well within their right to put words in the mouths, so to speak, of divine beings and ancient personalities because that is how religion was taught. Shaivism has an interesting way of dealing with this concept. It says all teachings ultimately came from Shiva – mundane, vedic, tantric, even profane - no matter who the writers was. Mystically speaking, Shiva continues to speak ad infinitum. If you are tuned in to that frequency, you too can hear the conversation!

Coming to the Agamas (Tantras), one of the key characteristics of any Tantra is that the speaker/teacher is a divine being. Many times, but not always, the listener is also a divine being. Other times, the listener/student is a sage or devotee. The divine being gives the text authority, makes it a valid teaching, and gives it credence. But, it should be understood that the center of any Tantra is the teaching. It is the teaching imparted by the right master and practiced correctly which leads to efficacy.

The same applies to the philosophical, poetic discourses known as Gitas, of which there are more than 18 found in various Itihasas and Puranas. They are teachings where a divine being is the teacher (e.g., Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, Shiva in the Shiva and Ishvara Gitas, Devi in the Devi Gita, Rama in the Rama Gita, etc.) or a self-realized sage (e.g., Ashtavakra in the Ashtavakra Gita). In so far as the format being a conversation, the speaker being a divine being and the listener being a devotee or disciple, then, the Gitas are indeed mini Tantras in spirit. The Gitas are Tantras par excellence and present concepts that are similar to yoga- and vidya-pada sections of the Tantras; sometimes in more condensed form. 

The major difference between the Tantras and the Gitas that followed them chronologically is that the dialog in the Gitas is placed within the itihasic framework, whereas the Tantric dialogs are free of itihasic context and, therefore, have a timeless element. The other major difference is that the Gitas put the Vedantic philosophy at the forefront followed by Sankhya-Yoga and Tantric concepts. By contrast, Vedantic philosophy is in the background, yet implicit, in the Tantras and the Tantric philosophical concepts take center stage. Tantric and Vedantic philosophies, of course, are not mutually exclusive and are eternally united by yoga (pun intended). 

Aum Namah Shivaya. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great delivery. Outstanding arguments. Keep up the amazing effort.

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