Once a man went on a safari with his pet poodle. During the tour, the poodle got separated from the owner and wandered off into the forest. As it was searching for the path back, it reached a lake. In the stillness of the forest, the poodle heard a rustling sound in the bushes and through the corner of it’s eye, saw a leopard sneaking in. This is probably the end of my life, thought the poodle. Quickly, he came up with a plan. He found some bones lying around and started licking it. Then at the top of his voice, he said, “This leopard is so tasty. Hope I find some more.” The leopard, worried for his life, ran away.
A monkey, who was sitting on the tree, saw what was happening. He ran behind the leopard and told how the poodle had tricked him. The angry leopard decided to return and finish off the poodle. Sitting on the back of the leopard, the monkey also decided to go and see the fun. The poodle meanwhile saw both of them coming and sat with his back facing them. He had guessed what the monkey had done. When the pair were close, the poodle, yelled at the top of his voice, “Where’s that damn monkey. I told him to fetch me a leopard”
The mind, like the poodle, is always scheming, planning and thinking. When the mind is angry and agitated, you can notice that your breath is rapid and shallow. At the same time when you are happy, the breath is deeper and relaxed. Once your observe this, you need to wonder if the reverse is true. Can altering your breath, change your mood?
Anyone who does pranayama knows that it can be done. To understand the yogic explanation for this phenomena, we have to understand the relation between breath, prana and the mind.
Prana is the life-force that sustains the functions of the body and it supplies energy to all parts of our body. It is present all over the universe and it pervades our body as well. The breath and prana are closely related and inter-dependent; through breath, you can control prana. By controlling the act of breathing you can efficiently control all the various motions in the body and the different pranas that are running through the body.
Speaking of pranas, there are five that requires mention. The prana above the throat is called prana. The one below the belly button is called apanan and is responsible for the excretion function. Samanan stays between these two — below the throat and above the belly button — and is responsible for digestion. Imagine our stomach as an engine generating energy by burning fuel. Like how the fire burns strongly in our traditional hearth, when air is blown, samanan helps with digestion. Vyanan is a prana which is spread all over the body, across all our naadis. The last — Udana — sits in the sushumna. At the time of death, it gathers all your accumulated karmas and leaves. Sometimes this prana gets attached to the body and will refuse to leave. That’s why Hindus cremate quickly.
Next we need to understand the relation between prana and the mind and how they are connected. At one level, they look different. The mind is an instrument of thought and perception. It has bodha shakti. The prana, meanwhile, is connected with action with constant movement. Prana has kriya shakti. But both mind and prana originate in the pancha bhootas. The mind, which is a jnana indriya, is formed from the sattvik aspects of the panchabootas. The prana, which is a karma indriya, is formed from the rajasik aspects of the pancha bhootams. Thus the source of these two are the same. They are expressions of the same base. If you imagine two branches coming out of a trunk, the mind and prana are two branches coming out of the pancha bhootas. Since they are coming from the same trunk, influencing one, affects the other.
There are such varied types of religious practices, but not all may suit you. Based on the level of sattva, rajas, and tamas, your affinity towards a practice may vary. I like to think of each of us as
α * sattva + β * rajas + γ * tamas
Based on the values of α, β and γ, you may like going to temples, but may not like sitting for meditation. You may like reading the Upanishads, but you may not like chanting. Whatever be the practice, the goal is to increase the value of α and lower β and γ.
Unfortunately you cannot increase the value of α by swiping right on your screen. It is a journey with many intermediary states, starting with focus on the gross and going subtle. At all times, ourindriyas are showing attractive sights and triggering thoughts on what’s next. The goal of practices in SanatataDharma is to take you from the sthula to the sukshma. Let’s take a look at two concrete examples from the field of meditation and japa.
In Raja Yoga, the goal is to awaken the coiled up energy dormant in your body and make it rise from the base of the spine tothe crown of the head along the sushumnanadi, which can be imagined as running parallel to the spinal cord.
Yogic anatomy defines seven chakras — whirlpools of energy, whirling constantly and exhibitngmyriard colors — at different parts of the sushumnanadi. The seven chakras are the muladhara, at the end of the spine, swadishtana, just above the reproductive organs, manipura at the navel, anahata at the center of the chest, visudha at the throat andsahasra at the crown of the head. There are different colors, symbols and sounds assigned to each of these chakras.
What’s interesting is the symbol assigned to each of these chakras and what it represents. The muladhara is represented by a square and means gross matter. The swadhistana, represented as a crescent, means liquid state. The next three are triangle (fire), a star, like the one on Israeli flag (vayu) and oval (akasha). The last two are of a different league. Thus as the Kudalini rises, it goes from gross to subtle.
Some people cannot meditate and find japa more conducive to their nature. While Kundalini goes from gross to the subtle, in a practice like japa too there are variations. Ideally you want to do a silent japa,because only one indriya is involved. Some people who start doing silent japa are usually seen snoring or lost in deep thoughts after a while. This usually means that the person has not developed enough concentration to do silent japa. Such people are asked to do the japa a bit louder so that multiple indriyas are now involved. For people who cannot focus on one single mantra like “Om Namah Sivaya“, they are asked to do chant something more involved like the sahasranama. For whom even that is hard, they are asked to do bhajans with musical instruments so that the jnana and karmendriyas are all involved and the chances of mind moving away to other thoughts are less.
Attention is beginning of the spiritual journey. As the practice becomes perfect, you go into higher planes where realization is possible. This one-pointedness comes through regular and incessant practice: as Patanjali has said, ‘Nairantarya abhyase. There are no shortcuts. As the influence of indriyas are diminished, deep mental states are achieved. Finally, from a state which language cannot describe, realization is achieved.
In Computer Science, there are computations using binary or hexadecimal system, but for most people, the common system is the decimal system. Indian mathematicians did not restrict themselves to one system for computation. During the time of Aryabhatta, there were at least three methods of writing numbers. The most popular way of writing was using the Samskritam number system. Mathematicians like Varahamihira and Bhaskaracharya used a different system called the bhoothsankhya. Aryabhatta, though, invented his own system which was a new contribution.
In the Aryabhatta number system, the Samskritam letters from क to म carry values from 1 to 25. Letters from य to ह carry values 30, 40, 50… 80. Whenever an इ-kaara is used, the value is multiplied by 100. When an उ-kaara is used, the multiplier is 10,000, ऋ-kaara multiplies it by 1,000,000. To illustrate with example
च = 6
चि = 600
चु = 60,000
च्र = 6,000,000
कुचि = कु + चि = 10,000 + 600 = 10, 600
Reference: Aryabhateeya by Aryabhata (by Prof K S Sukla & Prof. K V Sarma. Commentary by Dr. N. Gopalakrishnan), Published by Indian Institute of Scientific Heritage, Thiruvananthapuram
When I told people I was going for Kumbh Mela, the most common questions besides, “Why”, were, “Isn’t it so dirty?”, “Aren’t you afraid of stampedes?”, “What happens at Kumbh Mela?”, “Why is it called Kumbh?”. What made all these questions interesting was that, they were not asked by secular people, but by Hindus.
But the best question I was asked was, “What is the Kumbh Mela?”
On an impulse, I attended the 2019 Ardh Kumbh Mela at Prayagraj and found answers to the above questions. This was not my first trip to Uttar Pradesh, but my first Kumbh Mela. Since I had been to UP before, I was not surprised by the questions of cleanliness. But, the Uttar Pradesh of 2019 is not the same as Uttar Pradesh of the 1990s. What shocked me was the cleanliness at the Kumbh Mela, the largest gathering of people in the planet.
We will get to the cleanliness at the Kumbh Mela. Before that, it is important to answer the question: What is the Kumbh Mela?
The Kumbh Mela is the largest religious gathering of people in the world. No other religion or country has anything of this magnitude. Do a search and you can read the statistics yourself. It is larger than the population of many countries. Once in twelve years, the Kumbh Mela is held at four places — Prayagraj, Haridwar, Nashik-Trayambakeshwar, and Ujjain. In the middle of the twelve year period, the Ardh Kumbh Mela occurs at Haridwar and Prayagraj. This year, the Ardh Kumbh Mela ran from Makar Sankranti to Maha Shivarathri day.
There is a reason why the Kumbh Mela occurs every twelve years. The Mela occurs when the Sun, Moon and Jupiter are in certain zodiac signs. The moon takes one month to go through all the signs, the sun takes a year and Jupiter, 12 years. The Kumbha Mela occurs when Jupiter enters the same sign again and that is once is twelve years.
A good book to read about Kumbh Mela is Nityananda Misra’s Kumbha. In the book, he cites the many origin stories. According to one, the origin of Kumbh Mela is connected to the Samudra Manthan. When the Kumbh containing amrit came out, the drops of nectar fell into the locations where the Mela is held currently. Two other traditional accounts are also popular about the origin of the Kumbha Mela. As per the first, Garuda was assigned the task of carrying the amrita-kumbha to the abode of Vishnu. While flying to Vishnu’s abode, Garuda stopped at four places—Haridwar, Prayaga, Ujjain, and Nashik—putting down the kumbha on the earth for some time. As a result, these places became sacred and the tradition of the Kumbha Mela started. As per the second account, once Kadru enslaved Vinata, the mother of Garuda. To release Vinata from bondage, Garuda brought the amrita-kumbha from the Nagaloka. As he was flying to the ashram of his father Kashyapa, Indra attacked Garuda four times. The amrita from the kumbha spilled at the four places and the tradition of the Kumbha Mela started.
Another version I heard goes like this: our rishis observed that the confluence of rivers at certain latitudes during certain times had forces which affected people. This secret, known only to a few, soon became part of Hindu social consciousness. Now crores of people comes to partake in that royal bath and attain mukti. No one is inviting them to come. None of the people coming there are asking for any scientific proof for any of these origins. It does not matter what any text book says or if anyone rewrites them.
Now with crores of people visiting the Kumbh Mela, the question on cleanliness was legit. What I saw though, surprised me.
This is what I saw when I got off at the Triveni Sangam, bus stop, along the banks of Yamuna at Prayagraj. What you see is the vast area of the Kumbh with the Yamuna, deep far inside. As you walk towards the Yamuna, there are numerous temporary shelters all around.
These are changing rooms for women after they take bath in the holy rivers. This is the view of the banks of Yamuna at the Sangam. For the amount of the people who were at that place, it is clean.
I saw the bogey of hygiene busted. Uniquely designed penta-urinals for men dotted every walkway. At a discreet distance were arrangements for women. I saw safai-karmacharis equipped with pressurised water hoses involved with their work. Thoughtfully named as ‘swachchagrahi’, they had a place they could call their own. For all 2,000 of them, massive, clean, brightly lit and well-insulated dormitories ensured that these health workers took responsibility for their tasks with missionary zeal. Their decentralised teams toiled under a distributed leadership model working round the clock in geographically dispersed teams to keep the 2,00,000 toilets squeaky clean.
And no, human waste does not flow into the holy waters. The Kumbh I had read about scared me into being wary of wading the filthy e-coli infested water. The Kumbh I saw was equipped with massive sump pits that collected human waste. Automated trucks sucked this sludge into tankers that would ferry it to the nearest sewage treatment plant. At the Kumbh, I missed seeing the rodents and the roaches entirely.
The main attendees of Kumbh Mela are the Sadhus. These sadhus, who live in various places around the country, come to the Kumbh to meet each other, share their experiences, and meet common people. Nag Sadhus, who are completely naked, even in the coldest of winters are an important part of the Kumbh Mela. Besides the sadhus, there are lakhs of kalpavasis — people who spend time at the Kumbh living an austere life — and much more amounts of ordinary people like me who visit for having the religious experience.
The main event of the Kumbh is taking a bath in the river. This year, the royal baths were on Makar Sankranti, Mauni Amavasya and Vasant Panchami. Among all these days, the bath on Mauni Amavasya is considered the most sacred. The baths in these sacred rivers connects a Hindu with the divine. Many millennia back, my ancestors would taken this holy bath, at the same location. By taking that bath, the connection between nature, humans, their ancestors, and the divine becomes real. The effect that it has on you cannot be described.
To get to the Triveni Sangam, you have to take a boat from the shores of Yamuna. There are many boatmen offering that trip for a price. This short boat ride, where you are escorted by gulls, take you to a set of parked boats around the Sangam area. This is where Yamuna meets Ganga and the invisible Saraswati. This is the point where you take a bath,
Behind the Scenes
The scale of Kumbh Mela is of Indian magnitude. Also, the problem of building facilities to handle vast amounts of people is not simple. There are other problems too. Most of the land where the Kumbh city is built is under water due to the monsoons. Once the monsoon drops off, there are two months to arrange the facilities for the crores of visitors. With our usual chalta-hai attitude, you expect a sloppy job. It is no ordinary task; but what amazed me was the perfection with which it was done. A 32 sq km area was organized as a city with 20 sectors with all the facilities you expect from a city.— police, hospitals, fire stations, clean water supply. Once the Kumbh Mela is done, the city is dismantled.
Crowd control is an important part of the event. To avoid stampedes and other disasters, the entire Kumbh Nagari and the bridges are monitored using CCTVs and drones. Misra writes, “If they concluded it was indeed overcrowded, they instantly relayed this information to the police personnel on the ground who would then divert the crowd to other bridges to balance the load. Sharma told Diego Buñuel of the National Geographic that it was crucial to keep the crowds moving, even if they were being sent the wrong way, as stopping the crowds would amount to hara-kiri.”
One of the common tropes about Kumbh Mela was about people getting separated, never to be found again. Or they discover each other after one child becomes a dacoit and the other a police officer. The arrangements that are done to prevent this at the Kumbh Mela is just phenomenal. As Misra writes, “At the 2013 Prayaga Kumbha, there were 17 lost and found centers (Bhule Bhatke Kendras) where people separated from their families could report themselves. The kendra would then make repeated announcements on loudspeakers and also put up the picture of the lost person on display screens and a website. On average, around 1,000 children were lost every day at the Mela and most of them were reunited with their families”. Also, “besides using CCTV cameras and public announcement systems, the administration also engaged as many as 160 volunteers who between them could speak sixteen languages and communicate with each other using a mobile application. It helped Bharat Bharati share photos of missing persons with the volunteers.”
What is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors? The Kumbh Mela is an experience that affects you both on the inside and outside. While walking in the Mela grounds, I knew I was part of a tradition that has continued for millennia. People of all age groups and gender belonging to various economic strata have walked these sacred grounds connected with a single purpose. The people on our boat were from Rajasthan. All of us reached the sangam and took the dip together. We spoke different languages, dressed differently, but there was a unity in our intent.
While I was leaving back to Kerala, the meta thought I had was about how Hindus preserve their memories. First, there is the story of the samudra manthan and how the nectar fell in various spots. The second one is about the triveni sangam. This is the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna and the invisible Saraswati. An invisible Saraswati, you say. The river, during it’s peak, did not even flow through that region. It flowed via Rajasthan, till natural events caused it to disappear. In 2019, we are still preserving these memories.
The above is a painting of Radha and Krishna under a kadamba tree. It was painted on paper by Karpoori Devi in 1995 in the Madhubani style of the Mithila region of Bihar. The picture was taken at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. In this picture, the divine couple is seen in a lush forest setting. Also important is the auspicious kadamba tree with round yellow flowers.
Hindu gods and goddesses are the popular topic of Madhubani art, which you can identify by the vibrant colors, distinctive lines and elaborate details. Notice the borders of the paintings to see what I mean. For centuries, women have painted the walls of homes with festive imagery. In the memory of the locals, this tradition has been around since the time of Raja Janak. These paintings adorned private spaces with images of gods and other festivities.
The pigments for the painting come from flowers, berries, tree bark etc and traditionally produced twenty-two colors. Brushes were made from frayed straws and sticks of bamboo wrapped in cotton. Nowadays modern pigments are used for color and for fine lines nib-pen are used. As you see a sample of these paintings, you will see bountiful representation of nature, the birds and animals. There is detailed line work and rich patterns on the border.
If you want to see the richness of these paintings, this is the perfect one. The large tree is filled with birds. Krishna along with a cow and calf are standing next to him.
This one shows Shiva riding Nandi among the mountains in Kailash. All of Shiva’s attributes — matted hair, trishul, and moon — are present. The rocks in the backdrop resemble the linga.
Ganesha is another popular subject. It is a bit different from the usual representations of Ganesha that we are used to.
These are ordinary people doing these paintings. But here is a technical one showing the seven chakras on a meditating ascetic. His eyes are wide open, in a state of heightened awareness and there is a halo around his head.
Cows were worshipped by these artists. The picture of the pregnant cow, shows fertility, and is surrounded by flowers, buds and bees.
Finally, these artists were not just looking at representing their gods, but also important contemporary events. So here is the Narendra Modi arriving in a village to cheering woman supporters.
Buddhism reached Japan in the 5th century when the monarch of the Korean kingdom of Baekje sent a mission with gifts, image of Buddha and sacred objects. The arrival of Buddhism disrupted the existing system of kami worship and eventually prevailed. Today, there are thirteen schools of Buddhism, 80,000 temples and 150,000 monks. Indra and Brahma reached Japan with the spread of Buddhism. They are part of the Buddhist world and Buddha is often represented with Indra and Brahma flanking him. There is also another representation of Buddha descending from Indra’s heaven.
These two statues are made using hollow dry lacquer and come from the Nara period (710 – 794 CE). Brahma is wearing a Chinese style robe, while Indra wears a monk’s robe over Chinese style breastplates as the protector of Buddha.
These two statues were created for the Kofukuji Buddhist temple in Nara Japan in the 8th century. Empress Komyo sponsored the construction. A fire in 1180 CE destroyed the Golden Hall where they were placed, but these statues survived. In 1906, the temple was in dire financial situation and such treasures were sold to raise funds. Eventually, it ended up in an American museum.
One of the interesting features of Sanskrit is that, in a sentence, the order of the words don’t matter. You can switch them around and the meaning remains the same.
Take for example a sentence like, Rama is going to the forest. You can’t say, “Rama going forest.” You need the “is” and “to the” to make sense of the sentence. The “is going” indicates that it is one person who is doing the action. Now, “to the forest” indicates that the forest is the object of the action.
In simple Sanskrit, you would write it like this
रामः वानमं गाच्छति
It reads, “Ramah vanam gachati”, When you say “Ramah”, it indicates one Rama. A forest is “vana”, but in the sentence, we wrote it as “vanam”. That indicates, it is the object of Rama’s destination. The “ti” at the end of “gacchati” indicates that it is one Rama who is going (not two)”. If there were many Ramas, it would have become “gacchanti”. Thus the “is going” and “to the” are built into the words themselves.
This makes it interesting. Now you can write
गाच्छति रामः वानमं
गाच्छति वानमं रामः
वानमं गाच्छति रामः
All these sentences mean the same even though the order of words are switched around. Since each word has the part which maintains its relationship to the verb, the order does not matter. Due to this, in poetry, you can switch words around to fit the meter. In Hindu tradition, almost everything is written in poetry form and this made it easier for an oral society to remember anything forever.
Here is a complicated sentence
भारत ! यदा यदा धर्मस्य ग्लानिः अधर्मस्य अब्युधानं च भवति तदा अहम् आत्मानं सृजामि
Take those words and resequence them and apply the sandhi rules, and you get the following verse from chapter 4 of Gita
यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य ग्लानिर्भवति भारत ।
अभ्युत्थानमधर्मस्य तदात्मानं सृजाम्यहम् ॥४-७॥
Here is an exercise. Try the “Rama is going to the forest” in your mother tongue and see how it behaves. Does it work the same in Dravidian languages and Indo-European languages? In Malayalam, it behaves exactly the same as in Sanskrit. In Hindi, it does not.
Based on the lectures of Varun Khanna at Chinmaya International Foundation
There are clues in Mahabharata which tells us about how the itihaas grew to become the longest poem with over a lakh verses. Mahabharata is divided into 18 parvas with Harivamsha as the 19th. The core of it — around 24, 000 — verses are about the war between the Pandavas and Kauravas. Besides this, there are tales of gods, kings, sages, discourses on philosophy, religion, law and various asramas of life. We know that Vyasa was the composer who taught it to Vaisampayana who then narrated it to Janamejaya at his sarpa yagna. Ugrasravas, the suta, then narrated it to others at Namisharanyam. Recently I read a book — A short history of Sanskrit Literature — which elaborates on a theory on how Mahabaharatam came to be.
Here are three verses from Mahabharata which refers to three different lengths
This verse refers to the first stage that has over 8000 verses
This is the reference to the 24,000 verses
This is the reference to the third stage that has over a lakh verses.
It is not just that the number of verses increased; the name of the itihaas changed as well. The very first line in adi parvam refers to it as jayam.
Then it became bharatam and finally mahabharatam. Was it because it passed through three people — Vyasa, Vaisampayana, and Ugrasravas?
The author of the book, T. K. Ramachandra Aiyar, thinks that the core of Mahabharata is the rivalry of Kurus and Panchalas. Their enemosity is historic. They quaralled for a long time and finally there was a union. The Yajurveda — which was composed in a nearby region — mentions this. The Kathaka Samhita, though speaks of a dispute between Vaka Dalbhya from Panchala and a Dritharashtra who is the son of a Vichitravirya, a Kuru. Over time, the kingdoms split again and engaged in constant rivalry. By the time of Mahabharata, the Kuru and Panchala kingdom were separate.
Prior to the war, there was a turn of events which caused the annexation of Northern Panchala by the Kurus. This is the incident, where Drona defeats Drupada using Arjuna. This event upset the balance of poweer between the two kingdoms. The Kurus were defeated in the war and the Panchalas won along with the Pandavas. (Here is an interesting explanation about the Mahabharata war, not as a rivalry between Kauravas and Pandavas, but as a war between Kurus and Panchalas).
With this background, here is the theory on what might have happened. The defeat of the Kurus would have resulted in various songs glorifying the victory of the Pandavas and their allies. Sutas would have sung this in various assemblies. This would have been Jayam. By the second stage, when it reaches 24,000 verses, the life of Pandavas was elaborated. Krishna was represented as an incarnation of Vishnu and Shiva and Vishnu become more prominent than Brahma. The epic became popular all over bharatavarsha and other additions like the stories of gods and sages were added and it became a treatise on dharmashastra. This was the third stage.
The book became an authority on dharma dealing with religion, law and morality. It was accorded the status of the 5th veda. There are land grants dating between 462 CE and 532 CE, which talks about the one-lakh verse Mahabharatam compiled by Vyasa. There are numerous literary evidence from Sanskrit authors on the stature of Mahabharata. From Ujjayini to Khamboja, the ithihaas was read in temples. It became a national epic.
There is an academic notion that Buddha was not just a religious teacher, but a social critic and a revolutionary social theorist. He is also considered a social reformer who challenged the Brahmin orthodoxy. Buddha also reacted against the social structure made up of the four castes, which denied individual autonomy and human freedom.
This narrative fits well with the notion of a linear process where a new system differentiates from an existing system. It is similar to how Martin Luther reformed the ritualistic Catholicism and how Christianity came out of Judaism. But was Buddhism a social reformation of Hinduism?
According to Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, it was not. In his book, Hinduism and Buddhism, he writes that the distinction can be found only by people who study Buddhism superficially. A student with deep knowledge will not. According to him, there is nothing he could find which could be called as social reform or a protest against the caste system. Instead, AKC says Buddha can be called a reformer because he had discovered the ancient ways of the awakened. The Buddha also praised the Brahmins who remembered the old path of the contemplatives that led to Brahma.
Both the Upanishads and Buddhist doctrines were born in the forest where they continued with purity. As time passed, the Brahmins moved to the courts and got corrupted by power, grandeur, and rituals. They became Brahmins by birth as opposed to those who knew Brahma.
The intention of both sets of doctrines was to restore the truths that were known before. The problem is that people admire Buddhism for what it is not and what scholars think Buddha should have said.
At the same time, there is selective suppression of what Buddha said. In lectures by American Buddhists, there is rarely a mention of reincarnation or supernatural powers. The talks mostly revolve around contemplative practices. These techniques are popular in the Western world; in a recent podcast, may high achievers admitted to following the practice. It is lucrative to remove “otherworldly mumbo-jumbo” from Buddhism and sell it as “mindfulness”. This does not mean that the Buddha did not advocate mindfulness. For him, it was not something you carried in your pocket and used occasionally. Mindfulness was part of life and he warned against doing things absent-mindedly. Buddha believed in reincarnation too. Siddhartha Gautama was seventh in a series of prophetic incarnations.
When it comes to the discussion of the Self, there is little distinction to be found between the two traditions (“for those who have attained, there is naught dearer than the self”, “the Self is the lord of the self and its goal”, says the Buddha). Both traditions are experiential and understanding the concepts logically was insufficient. The goal was to transcend the senses and experience the Self. Like in the Upanishads, the goal of an Arhat is brahma-bhutena-atmana or “with the self that is Brahma-become”. The question which leads to that answer is quite familiar: By which self (kena-atmana) does one attain the Brahma world? Take a look at the first line of Kena Upanishad and see what it says. Buddha also discovered early on that what is now known as cogito ergo sum is delusional and proposed anatmya or the non-existence of permanent ego.
The concept of Brahman is achieved by a process of elimination. No one can define what Brahman is; it is defined by saying neti neti (not this, not this). In Buddhist tradition, the physical and mental factors are analyzed, perceived and observed. Finally, the observer separates from the thoughts and feelings and says, “That is not my self”. In the Upanishad tradition, we know our senses say what the reality is. Finally, we transcend that reality and reach a state where we perceive other states of existence. The Autobiography of a Yogi and Sri M’s book details various experiences that a spiritual person passes through.
Another imagery that is common in both traditions is that of the chariot and charioteer. Through various techniques, both traditions help us understand the Self and what the Self is not. In both traditions, we are not wanderers guided by events like a ship in a storm, but beings capable of knowing the Self and experiencing it.
In the first book of Panchatantra, the merchant Vardhamana sets off from the city of Mahilaropya and has to abandon his bull, Sañjīvaka in the forest. This triggers a set of events involving a lion, Pingalaka, and two jackals, Karataka and Damanaka. Vardhamana considered various career paths and settled on inter-regional trade. In Panchatantra, Vardhamana is a role model, a man who had achieved great wealth due to his karma. A dharmic trader has to offer charity, donations, and construction of religious and civic amenities.
Besides becoming rich, a dharmic person has to generate additional wealth as well.
What has not been obtained should be obtained. What has been obtained, should be kept secure. What is kept secure, should be augmented and expended on the deserving. Even wealth that is protected according to the practices of the world can be suddenly lost due to various calamities. If wealth cannot be used when the occasion for it arises, then it is just as good as not having earned it. Therefore, protection, increase and use of the earned wealth should be done (Natural Enmity: Reflections on the Niti and Rasa of the Pancatantra [Book 1])
This is illustrated using the example of collyrium (anjanam or kohl) and an ant hill. When you have a dabba of collyrium, a small quantity is used daily. Soon, the dabba becomes empty. Contrast that with the ant hill. Every day, the ant contributes a little, but over time, it becomes – well, an ant hill. The niti shastra, advocates saving money and building capital. At the same time, it advocates against hoarding because all it takes is a natural calamity to destroy it. Natural Enmity: Reflections on the Niti and Rasa of the Pancatantra [Book 1] by Ashay Naik quotes
upārjitānām arthānāṃ tyāga eva hi rakṣaṇaṃ|
taḍāgodarasaṃsthānāṃ parīvāha ivāṃbhasāma||
[3.1] In order to protect the wealth that has been gained, one must let go of it like the outflow of water that is stagnant in a tank. Hoarded money is comparable to stagnant water – it becomes the harbinger of dregs and diseases. Like water, money should be constantly in circulation.
arthair arthā nibadhyante gajair iva mahāgajāḥ|
na hi anarthavatā śakyaṃ vāṇijyaṃ kartuṃ īhayā||
[3.2] Wealth attaches itself to wealth just as giant elephants to each other. Without outlay of capital, it is not feasible to practice commerce assiduously. Use money to make money. Wealth attracts wealth as – we have a nice ancient metaphor here – elephants attach to other elephants. Panchatantra adds two more aspects of money management to the existing thought. Till those times, it was considered that one should acquire and protect wealth. But Panchatantra argues that one should consider the application and augmentation of wealth as well. Vanijya, cannot happen without capital investment.
In socialist India, before the economy was opened up in the early 90s, being wealthy had a bad connotation. Popular culture showcased the wealthy as people surrounded by henchmen and molls, roaring with laughter without any purpose who took special fascination to poor blind mothers. In Kerala, we took it one step further. These villains built their houses next to a pool housing hungry crocodiles, into which the hero would be dunked.
Gaining wealth is not bad. As per our tradition, it is part of one of the four purusharthas, along with dharma, kama, and moksha. The testimony to that is the graph below
The graph shows the global contribution to world’s GDP by major economies from 1 CE to 2003 CE according to Angus Maddison’s estimates. Up until the early 18th century, China and India were the two largest economies by GDP output.
Once the enlightened Europeans took over, it was a disaster. This disaster was prolonged in 1947 by a family, who had no grounding in dharma. Vishnu Sharma wrote the Panchatantra to educate the foolish sons of a king. If only the fools, who crashed the country into a ditch had read any of this.