Friday, 3 May 2013
Dharma, Artha, Kāma, Mokṣa – IV
In the last blog, I concluded with a quote from the Ashtavakra Gita. King Janaka asked the sage Ashtavakra about knowledge and freedom. There are many things that Ashtavakra said in reply, the material of the Ashtavakra Gita. He also said (1.11) मुक्ताभिमानी मुक्तो हि बद्धो बद्धाभिमान्यपि। This is a profound statement. One who thinks of himself as free is free. One who thinks of himself as bound is bound. Realizing that there is a आत्मन् is freedom from that bondage. We intuitively grasp that the atman is not the physical body. Nor is it the ego, the mind, the intelligence or even consciousness. It transcends all of these. And as I have said before, the existence of the atman is one of the core beliefs of Hinduism.
I have increasingly pondered about the words सुखः and शान्ति. The former means joy or happiness, the latter means peace or tranquility. When I am asked whether I am happy or unhappy, I no longer know how to respond. There are several relevant shlokas in the Bhagavad Gita. I will not give you the Sanskrit, but only an English translation. You can look up the Sanskrit, since I will give you chapter and verse. However, I should tell you whose translation this is. It is my own, from the translation that was published by Penguin in 2005. In 2.14, “O Kounteya! Because of contact between the senses and objects, feelings of warmth and cold, pleasure and pain result. But these are temporary and are created and disappear. O Bharata! Therefore, tolerate these.” And in 2.62-63, “If a man thinks about sensual objects, this gives birth to attachment for them. From attachment is created desire and desire gives birth to anger. Anger gives birth to delusion and delusion leads to confusion of memory. From confusion of memory comes loss of intellect and loss of intellect results in destruction.” Finally, one more and we are done. In 2.56, “He is not disturbed by unhappiness and he is beyond desiring happiness. He has overcome attachment, fear and anger and he is known as a sage who is unwavering in his intellect.” The imagery is of a tortoise that draws in its limbs from external stimuli. Our texts keep using the expression द्वन्द, meaning pair, couple or opposites. All such opposite sentiments, including happiness and unhappiness, are transient and temporary. Self-realization means transcending these.
Of course, this is difficult, because the senses stand in the way. The senses stand in the way of a lot of things. We used to think the sky was blue and lot of people still think that. But we now know that the sky isn’t really blue. It appears that way because the blue part of sunlight is scattered more. Before Lord Rayleigh explained this to us, there would have been some disbelief. I am typing on a computer screen and the screen appears white. Is it intrinsically white? Not really, it appears that way. The screen is rectangular. It is really rectangular? Not really, it appears that way. In 1884, Edwin Abbott Abbott wrote a book titled “Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions”. It was satire and is fun to read, even now. Flatland was a two-dimensional (2D world) and among other things, was visited by a Sphere from the 3rd dimension. This Sphere tried to persuade various residents of Flatland that a third dimension existed. His only success was with a Square, who became the Sphere’s student. However, the Square offended his teacher by proposing that if a 3rd dimension existed, so should, logically, a 4th, 5th or 6thdimension. This was too much for the Sphere and Edwin Abbott Abbott to digest.
Forget time as a 4th dimension. Modern string theory proposes there are 26, 11 or 10 space-time dimensions. Modern physics talks about parallel universes and multiple universes (multiverses). The mind begins to boggle. I find the stories of J. J. Thomson and G.P. Thomson, father and son, quite revealing. Stated simply, the father won a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1906 for establishing that an electron was a particle and the son won a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1937 for establishing that an electron was a wave and not a particle. The simple point is that there is much that we do not know. Senses, and measurement based on the senses, are deceptive and misleading.
The senses become prey to the six enemies (रिपु). These are काम क्रोध लोभ मोह मद मात्सर्य. काम figures in the title of this blog too and is desire. However, it is not interpreted in the narrow sense of sexual desire or erotic desire alone. It is desire for anything that panders to the senses. Everyone has heard of Vatsayana and Kama Sutra, now reduced (at least in people’s perceptions) to sexual positions. You have probably heard that women were supposed to be well-versed in 64 practices associated with kama (kama kala). Have you ever wondered what these 64 are, apart from assuming that they are sexual positions? If you read Vatsayana, you will be surprised. They are things like playing on musical instruments, dancing, writing, painting, cooking, sewing, solving mental puzzles, reading, carpentry, architecture, gardening, poetry and gambling. Actually, in that list of 64, there is not a single sexual posture at all.
क्रोध is anger and in a broader sense, falling prey to passion. लोभ is greed or avarice. मोह is confusion or illusion, to be interpreted as imagining that everything is about the senses. मद is egoism or pride. मात्सर्य is jealousy or envy at what others possess, resulting in one’s own misery and unhappiness. If one can conquer these six enemies, one begins to progress. One advances towards शान्ति. I will leave a thought and argue it out later. I don’t think there is anything in Hinduism that says the pursuit of काम or the pursuit of अर्थ (a term that I have still not defined) is bad, notwithstanding recommendations about renunciation. The thrust of the argument is that addiction to these is bad. There is an analogy with the Bible. Some people think the Bible says that money is the root of all evil. Not at all. 1 Timothy 6.10 actually says that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.