Sunday, 17 November 2013

Blessed Karthigai Deepam

|| Aum Sri Ramakrishna Sharanam||

 ||Aum Namo Narayanaya||

There are certain activities that we participated in at school that didn’t make sense or appeal to us at that time but now reveals its value and glory in our daily life. I was not into debating or even cared much to attend such during my school days. Today we see what a central role constructive debating takes in the world - from formulating legislation, to effecting decisions at various levels in organisations right down to our homes and personal lives. It has the ability to sift out the stronger, salient points and allow the truth to emerge from amongst the weaker, unsubstantiated points in arguments.

One would be amazed to learn that debating was also very popular amongst spiritual scholars, who would challenge other thinkers in order to place their ideas and philosophy on the pedestal of communal acceptance. Places like Madurai in South India were known to be the nucleus of many spiritual debates. Master said that this type of debating helps develop the mental muscles. In Swami Nikhilananda’s book Sri Ramakrishna: The face of silence, there is an incident that explains this... “After teaching him some more, Sri Ramakrishna said to Naren, now debate with the scholars and yogis who come to see me. Test what you have been taught by pitting it against what they know. You have got the gold, now put it through the fire of criticism.” Day after day, Naren met with fierce mental battle with the pundits and holy men that visited Dakshineshwar. All of their debates were carried on in Sanskrit. And the chief rule that each contestant followed was that each statement they made was to be correct and made from memory and no one was allowed to quote from printed paper.

After his success as a debater was established, one of the devotees urged the Master to put an end to such nonsense.  What can your disciples gain by humbling another man’s intellect? Take the case of young Naren, he never loses a debate. Soon he will become quarrelsome and conceited like a serpent raising his head at everybody. Sri Ramakrishna explained that he is building his mental muscles during these exercises. He will have to wrestle with pundits of distant lands when I am gone. As for conceit, he is a realised soul, it will not touch him. He is not unripe.

We can understand from the above excerpt that the Guru’s encourage debate to allow the unalloyed truth to surface. Those in the knowledge had the technique of articulating that truth through the weakness of other arguments and emerging victorious. How exquisitely the teacher prepares the student to stay abreast and maintain his knowledge.

Today, in the South Indian town of Thiruvanammali home of Arunachala Shiva, and  given added prominence by Sri  Ramana Maha Rishi, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims will gather to witness and commemorate a great debate that took place between the Gods. This puranic encounter starts with Lords Vishnu and Brahma debating over who was greater between the two, and in order to settle this argument  Lord Shiva appeared as an endless flame of light before Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma, who each considered Himself supreme and said that the matter could be tested if the two could search for Lord Shiva’s head and feet. Lord Vishnu took the form of a boar and delved deep into the earth and Lord Brahma that of a swan and flew towards the skies. Lord Vishnu failed in His search and returned. But Lord Brahma, chancing upon a piece of Thazhambu - a flower, learnt from it that it had been floating down for thirty thousand years from Lord Shiva’s head. He seized upon this and claimed to Lord Shiva that he had seen the other’s top. Lord Siva realised the falsehood and pronounced that there would never be a temple for Lord Brahma in this world. He also interdicted the use of the flower Thazhambu in His worship. Lord Shiva appeared as a flame, and this day is called Karthigai Deepam - the celebration of maha deepam or great light.

Arunachala Mountain

 The great lesson learnt from this encounter is that many people who have read a little or gained some secular knowledge think that they have mastered the world. They would use any means... even deceit with the aim of soliciting fame, respect and fortune... but will soon realise all to be transient, as it is based on untruth. True knowledge and mastery of the world comes with realisation of the self alone. Saint Adi Sankarcharya - who had collapsed many weak arguments by various Pandits and scholars on Vedanta and a prolific commentator thinker raised to the point of adoration the following idea immune to any form of undermining purely on the merits of absolute truth. In the Atmastakam, He declares:

manobuddhyahaṃkāra chittāni nāhaṃ
na cha śrotrajihve na cha ghrāṇanetre
na cha vioma bhūmir na tejo na vāyuḥ
chidānandarūpaḥ śhivo'ham śhivo'ham

I am not mind, nor intellect, nor ego, nor the reflections of inner self (chitta). I am not the five senses. I am beyond that. I am not the ether, nor the earth, nor the fire, nor the wind (the five elements). I am indeed, that eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Shivam), love and pure consciousness.

Like Shiva appeared as that form which had no beginning and no end, unfathomable,  we are that - eternal, auspicious, pure, all-knowing consciousness, truth. This knowledge eludes us because we associate ourselves with the senses, world, body and mind.

Let us stand by truth in all our arguments and let all our points emanate from our inner truth (Shiva), is my sincere prayer. May all celebrating Karthigai Deepam have an enlightening celebration.

Affectionately Yours
Yogan Naidoo


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