We are conditioned to accumulate stuff. We accumulate both abstract and concrete things – objects, wealth, acquaintances, information, ideas, concepts etc. We associate everything that we accumulate with an idea of a ‘self’.
When people are in the process of getting the next thing listed in their to do list, some of them suddenly come across the concept of spiritual enlightenment or a complete spiritual awakening. It is advertised as the best thing that can happen to a human being and sounds incredibly cool. They just grab this idea and add it in their shopping list.
Spirituality is a business today. So before one gets the true spiritual thirst as the result of an inner calling, spirituality is advertised at their door step with exciting offers and discounts. A lot of these deals are full of bullshit sandwiched with statements of some mind-blowing truths picked up from the literature of some of the most popular gurus of the last century.
Some of them are from people who have been having short or long glimpses of non-duality in their daily life, but are convinced that this is what spiritual enlightenment is all about and this is how the rest of their lives are going to be. They usually give up and come to premature conclusions.
I have addressed the above points many times in my recent Youtube videos. But in this blog post I want to explain why spiritual enlightenment is all about losing and what exactly you lose.
Spiritual enlightenment has various definitions in general. There are people who say that spiritual enlightenment is about being omnipotent and omniscient. But when I talk about spiritual enlightenment, I am talking about what is practically possible to anyone who is truly seeking it; it is something that has happened to millions of people before and something that is happening in more numbers in today’s world.
It is not about achieving or accumulating anything; it is about returning to the source; it is about going back to your natural state; it is about untying the knots or undoing all the complications that your mind has created while growing up; it is about going home. So it is all about losing.
You lose many things. You lose all the reifications. You lose your false ideas, beliefs and illusions. You lose the cravings to do many things you had been doing before. You lose 98% of your mental chatter and lose all self-referential thoughts. You lose your conflicts and your mind loses a lot of its weight.
But I can list three primary things which you lose, which is usually regarded as the symptoms of atma jnana or self-realization. It is only after self-realization and abiding permanently in non-duality, your awakening is complete.
Here are these three things:
Sense of a separate self – At self-realization, you permanently lose the sense that you are an entity separate from the existence. Your experience of life changes completely. You no longer feel like you are trapped in a body and limited. There is no difference between you, the blue sky, the blowing wind and the rest of the nature. It is like a wave realizing that it doesn’t have a separate existence but it is the ocean itself. It is not intellectual understanding or understanding gained by temporary glimpses; it is dying completely before you physically die.
Sense of agency – You no longer feel you are doing your actions; actions simply arise from the inner stillness without any sense of agency. You see life as if everything is unfolding all by itself. Ahankara or the sense of agency is lost.
Psychological time – Everyone has a to-do list or agenda. Everyone is looking forward to future to get a sense of completion. Everyone feels like something that is in the future is waiting to complete them. A religious person hopes that he will reach heaven in the future and a spiritual person thinks that he will reach spiritual enlightenment in the future. This craving and seeking, whether it is for a material goal or a spiritual state is completely absent after self-realization. You will feel full and complete already and you are not looking forward to future to get something that will give you a sense of completion which is missing now.
Spiritual enlightenment is the end of duality and the life that is confined to the rat race of humanity. But it is not the end of everything. It is a new beginning.
In the following video, I have made some important clarifications:
I recently finished reading Dr. Jeffery Martin’s book ‘The Finders’, which is about finders, or the people who have access to what he calls as ‘fundamental well being’. Those finders also include the category of people who have found what I often write about – the spiritual enlightenment. The academic name for fundamental well being is ‘persistent non-symbolic experience (PSNE)’.
The book is based on the research and interviews conducted on nearly a thousand people who claim to be finders – or experiencing the states which are often referred to using words like Nondual awareness, Plateau experiences, Unity consciousness, Deautomatization, Enlightenment, Samadhi, Transcendental experiences, Flow experience, Mystical experiences, Satori Cosmic Consciousness, The peace of God, Peak experiences, Silence beyond sound, Numinous experiences, Shamanic ecstasy etc. (This list of words is taken from the website for his own research project : nonsymbolic.org).
Regardless of the quality of the research and the accuracy of his conclusions, this book is extremely useful for people who have reached these states of consciousness. Most importantly, it is pretty interesting and useful for people like me who have gone beyond the sense of agency or sense of experiencing oneself as the ‘doer’. Because, this book has documented many things based on the inputs shared by many people who are awake (and possibly many people who have glimpses and have non-abiding awakening).
I liked the articulation and simplicity where he has explained the features of narrative self and challenges that a finder faces, especially in relationships. I have gone through a divorce after becoming a ‘finder’ and I can relate to it a lot. The book is overall wonderful but many facts that are presented can be challenged. As the author himself says, the findings need a lot of refinement and I would consider the research as being in an initial stage. We need input from other researchers and further experiments of similar nature from others to take this forward.
From my perspective, I find the concept of continuum a little problematic. May be it makes certain things easier from an academic point of view. But it is misleading to a seeker, in my opinion. I am also skeptical about many other things said in the book, like the possibility of losing one’s fundamental wellbeing.
I have discussed more in this video:
He also had a ‘Finder’s course’ to help people reach the fundamental well being and I heard that the cost was about $3000, which is a lot of money. And the claim that majority of the attendees reached fundamental well being is indeed extra-ordinary. Currently he has a program called ’45 Days to Awakening Challenge’ which costs about $500. Because of the huge claim that is being made and a very high cost, many people ask if it is a scam. If you have completed any of the above mentioned programs, comment your experiences below.
Every one has a hole inside them; the hole is made up of a sense of lack that causes the feeling that things are not still good enough. This hole is huge and enormous; it exists even for people who appear more happy than others…
Spiritual enlightenment makes your sense of lack to disappear not by filling the hole but making you to realize that this hole is an illusion. This hole was created by your conceptual or narrative self that always creates a story out of what is happening.
After enlightenment, you not only realize that the hole is an illusion but you also realize that the narrative self itself is an illusion; the one who wanted to get enlightened didn’t even exist in the first place….
The greatest irony of enlightenment is to realize that it was never absent.. You were trying to attain something that you already have.
What is spiritual awakening? If you are new to this whole thing, than I am going to offer you a fuzzy guide. The reason why I call it as ‘fuzzy’ is because that is how any real guide for spiritual awakening for a ‘beginner’ is supposed to be…
Imagine that you are walking in complete darkness in an area where sun light cannot enter (may be an extra-ordinarily thick forest) ; you have been walking for ages and you have adapted yourself to it. Sometimes you see fireflies and you call it as ‘happiness’. I am telling you that there is something beyond this where you can get much more of what those occasional glimpse of fireflies offer.
I have to tell you that there is a way out of forest where you can open yourself to bright sunlight; but you have forgotten what sunlight means. So I have to use firefly as an example until I take you to a place where I make you see a ray of sunlight. Once you see that ray you can trace the path yourself and find your way out.
A complete spiritual awakening or spiritual enlightenment is that place where you are completely open to sunlight. A glimpse of a single ray while being in the forest is the moment of your first spiritual awakening. And your existing human condition is the condition of a person who is walking in absolute darkness. Those fireflies are the fleeting moments of true peace and fullness that you experience when you get what you want in life.
I am not going to write it all out here. I am going to present an animated explainer video to you that gives some idea. Exploring more of my work through my Youtube channel, my blog here and my book will help you getting a direction after that.
My previous post was in 2020 and I know that this blog is idle for a long time without any posts.. I have been quite busy with my English and Tamil Youtube channels. But finally I decided to resurrect my blog today and write some updates on a regular basis…
This post is an introduction to my Youtube channel on spiritual enlightenment… Videos are win win for both of us.. It is easy for me to talk and it is easy for you to listen. So if you are looking for spiritual guidance, subscribe to my channel now:Subscribe Now
All these videos are based on my own experience of spiritual awakening. I also review spiritual books, gurus and teachers, review scientific papers on spirituality and talk a lot about transpersonal psychology.
Here are a few popular videos:
I also do a lot of live sessions and answer questions on spiritual enlightenment. Here is the link to the playlist: spiritual enlightenment Q & A
This is a personal post, addressed to my readers, fellow bloggers and authors. Some of you may have contacted me and have communicated with me, while the rest of you may be reading my work in silence. I hope you are all doing fine during these tough times.
Just to give you a short introduction, I am an author of a few books and have Youtube channels in Tamil and English. I write and speak about a wide range of topics, covering the spectrum of religion and spirituality; it starts from the religion of layman that deals with myths and rituals at one end of the spectrum and the world of spiritual enlightenment or self-realization, evolution of consciousness etc on the other end. Searching for ‘Shanmugam P’ in Google will show you all my online profiles.
As I was evolving in the spiritual path myself, I used to think that the levels that an average Joe finds himself in are pointless and wrong. When I was growing out of the world of a personal God and his mythical relatives, the rituals and beliefs etc, I used to think how wrong I was before; I thought that much of what is in the religious domain is simply a waste of time. Now I know that it is not. Human experience is shaped by everything we learnt in the process; the richness of being a human is caused by all the colours and the layers in the spectrum.
My spiritual growth has helped me to find absolute fulfillment in the present moment and made me to live in the now. But due to practical reasons that help my survival, I have a rough agenda for the future. I know what I am good at and how I can give back to the society; rather than being employed under a boss who has goals that are totally different from mine, I want to make a living doing something on my own.
I have a variety of interests. Some of them include writing about temples and their history, interpreting and promoting spiritual literature and poetry in Tamil and Sanskrit, doing research on transpersonal psychology to create a stronger bridge between science and spirituality, sharing my own experiences to seekers etc. Probably starting an NGO will be a good idea. I am not interested in making profits; I just need to survive and help others while I live.
I think a lot may be possible with a network of friends. Your suggestions on this are welcome. I have also made donations easier. You can now donate to me via Paypal, Stripe or a direct transfer to my bank account.
I need your support here. If you are reading this, it simply means karma is bringing us together. I am destined to write this and you are destined to read this today. I am not saying that someone decided it before; I don’t believe in that type of destiny! I am saying that things are happening the way they are supposed to happen, obeying all the natural and scientific laws. That is exactly how Karma works.
At the moment I am divorced and don’t have a source of sufficient regular income; but soon I will be married; I don’t know who is destined to live with me and I am not sure who all will be a part of the network of people that support me. But I am sure that we can make a difference together. If you have been enjoying my content, kindly consider making a donation here: https://nellaishanmugam.wordpress.com/donate/
We are living in an age when spiritual wisdom has been demystified enough, though “spiritual enlightenment” or ‘self-realization’ still remains a mystery for people who are seeking it. This is also an age when the general public seem to have no idea about the true authentic spirituality, the science which explores the mechanics of human suffering and the way out of it. This is also an age when many so-called gurus use the weaknesses of the spiritual seekers to their own advantage, become spiritual entrepreneurs and earn millions in their spiritual business. Also, this is the age when seemingly contradicting and confusing theories in spiritual science confuse the clueless seeker and leave him in despair.
My book “The Truth About Spiritual Enlightenment: Bridging Science, Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta” has been helping seekers around the world to reduce the confusion and get more clarity on the path. It has received many positive reviews, mainly highlighting the honesty and clarity they found in the book. I wrote this book when I was beginning to understand what was happening to me, two years after spiritual enlightenment. About four years has passed since then; if I look back at the last six years, I feel compelled to share a few things which may be helpful for sincere seekers.
My Life as a seeker
I was pushed into spiritual seeking because of my own emotional problems in my life which were the results of a traumatic childhood. I felt like I didn’t belong to this world and its people, and this huge lack of a sense of belonging was very depressing. When my peers were spending their time in understanding people and the world and learning the survival skills that are necessary to survive in this cruel, competitive world, I was spending all my energy to find out how to cope up with my emotional issues and be happy. There were only two choices: 1) Suicide 2) Survive, seek and find the way out. The second option led me into spiritual seeking; I somehow got the trust that I can find the way out by getting the help of the saints of the past and the wisdom that they have left for the world.
Sometime during the end of 2002, I went through an experience which changed my worldview and my life completely. I was in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu for my semester holidays and I saw that there is a part of ‘self’ in me which is just pure conscious witness and it was unchanging. Identifying with this observer self or Sakshi (witness) was a great relief. It made me realize that I am a part of an infinite wholeness and can’t be separated from it. It gave me enormous strength to face the world and its challenges. I felt like a secret door to inner exploration had opened. I can classify this experience as a kind of ‘conversion experience” that psychologist William James discusses in his classic, “The Varieties of Religious Experience”. The joy that this experience gave me never left me for the next six months. Many people, especially in the West, mistake this transformation for spiritual enlightenment but it is not.
It is only after this I came to know that the spiritual enlightenment which was accessible to Buddha, Mahavira, Shankara, Jesus and Muhammad was not a sole possession of such special people but it is a potential of every human being. But contrary to the path of renunciation and abstinence which was commonly discussed in popular spiritual books of the past, my way was of surrendering control and accepting life. This doesn’t require running away from life, controlling or going against one’s natural desires or torturing oneself. I practised a meditation called Sakshi bhavana (witnessing meditation), which is just being a witness or sakshi to what happens in the mind and the body, instead of identifying with the contents of consciousness. Sakshi bhavana basically creates a gap between an experience and the conscious observer self that witnesses this experience; this gap lessens the severity of pain or suffering that the experience brings.
Spiritual Enlightenment – The reward of the spiritual seeking
12 years of practicing Sakshi Bhavana, reading spiritual literature and hunting spiritual gurus came to an end on July 12, 2014, on the day of Guru Purnima. I felt like I have dissolved myself in the infinity and the wholeness of this existence. My perception of ‘self’ was no longer limited to this finite body and mind. I felt to be everything: I was the sky, the earth, the trees and everything around me. I stopped feeling like I was locked inside a body. I felt like I, as a person, stopped existing, as If I have simply melted in a soup of conscious experience and become everything. In fact, I was surprised to see that I could still function and carry on with my regular tasks without actually feeling that a personal limited self was doing them. There was no doubt that this is the advaita or oneness that all scriptures were talking about and this way of experiencing life still continues after these six years. The reward that this transformation brought was a great freedom and strength which cannot be put in words.
Challenges after self-realization – The untold downsides of Spiritual enlightenment
This is the part that I haven’t clearly discussed so far because I didn’t want to scare people. But now I have proceeded to throw some light on it, so that people can be prepared. This can also help people who are actually struggling to get some help after self-realization.
Spiritual enlightenment gives a different dimension to your mundane existence. We can call this as spiritual existence, which is totally different from the ‘human existence’ that everyone is familiar with. This spiritual existence makes ordinary experiences of life so rewarding; in fact, simply being alive has its own beauty, freshness and bliss in spiritual existence. Since it is so rewarding, it is very easy to actually neglect, ignore, deny or suppress the human existence which you still possess or still important. In fact, it may be very hard to see the truth that this spiritual existence is not a replacement for human existence, but only an addition to it.
It is not very uncommon for many self-realized people to neglect their body, health, relationships, careers etc because their importance fades before the majesty of self-realization. But when the situation demands your fullest attention, you may face an extremely challenging situation and no one would understand you. You have to go through some pain in correcting the situation.
For months after my own realization, I continued my job; but I didn’t think about anything at all. My mindset was similar to a small kid trying to explore the surroundings. I totally forgot about the responsibilities of my job and what I was supposed to do to keep my job. I was working in a call center and making sales was my responsibility. But I was so excited to meet every new person on the phone and I totally forgot that I had to convince the guy for a purchase. My mind was not thinking about an end or a goal. It is only after a few months I realized that I have to have a goal or end in my mind in order to survive in society. I couldn’t think of anything in the long term but I have to accept ‘making sales’ as a purpose to my existence.
I also kind of forgot that I was a human being with an independent existence and I was being watched by the world around me for all reasons. In fact, I kind of even forgot to realize that my today’s existence was a continuation of my yesterday’s existence. I didn’t realize that people were behaving with me in a certain way as a result of my own recent past behaviour. Past and future simply didn’t exist for me. I stopped keeping a track of what I did everyday or what happened to me everyday. I didn’t give a damn about what others thought about me to the extent of ignoring the fact that I was behaving like a lunatic at times. For example, I used to scare the hell out of people by keeping prolonged eye contact with them; I used to totally forget to think how weird it could be for another person. It was the idea of being a ‘person’ that carried the continuation from one moment to another moment; but since I lacked the idea of being a person in my conscious experience, I must have appeared as a totally funny guy to people.
This kind of compromised my career and relationships. It is only when they got compromised and when I felt answerable, I paid attention to what was happening to me. There was a time when I had to go for a job interview for a new job; that’s when I realized that I really didn’t have a version of myself in my mind. In fact, I absolutely had no immediate answer to the usual and common interview question, which is, “Could you tell me a bit about yourself?”. I felt like that was the most difficult question to answer.
There was also another confusion, which requires some explanation to understand. The world around you treats you in a certain way because you are a certain kind of person, projecting a certain image. In fact, the society simply reacts to how you are as a person, the patterns of your reactions, speech, behaviour etc. In turn, you learn your own behaviours and reactions depending on how the world treats you. All of our behaviours are simply learnt unconsciously using the three methods of learning: Classical conditioning, operant conditioning and observational learning.
But after self-realization, many things change in you. Even the simple things like the way you gaze, the way you speak etc undergo changes. Your face reactions are now a lot different. Since you are different, the way the world treats you is also different. This will literally shock your system even though this appears as an ordinary issue. Personally, I noticed that people started to talk to me with respect, strangers very easily started a conversation with me and people would even forgive me so easily when I messed up; people also took me for granted because I was less judgemental, less argumentative, less problematic and less complaining. This was all totally new to me. You may think that it is cool but it does bring its own challenges. The behaviours you already learnt will be totally out of place and will not fit with your changed persona. Because of this you may misunderstand people and reality. In fact, it is normal to go through a period of mild schizophrenia; it is a disorder which makes you misinterpret reality.
Also, you won’t sound much complaining and you won’t worry much. This is a good thing right? Not always… Your lack of worry will irritate your partner. You will be seen as irresponsible by your boss. People may start to think that you have become careless. They may bother you with a long monologue of useless advice; if you don’t pay attention to that they may feel extremely hurt because of all the good intentions they had.
Your lack of fear can be easily misinterpreted as lack of humility. Your boss at work may feel like you lack respect. You will keep offending people who have strong egos, which can actually become a threat to you. Some people may even try to hurt you because your simple presence may be offensive to them.
There is more to it. There is a reward center in your brain which controls your behaviour, by rewarding certain behaviours like eating, sex etc. You repeat behaviours which are rewarding and you refrain from behaviours which cause pain. One of the things which is very rewarding to a normal human mind is the feeling of personal accomplishment. It is this which motivates us humans to do a lot of self-preserving actions. It is this which kind of rules the world. People compete in elections, try hard to win a race or a competition, try to show off and even like to achieve goals because the sense of personal achievement they get out of it is extremely rewarding. After spiritual enlightenment, the reward you get in the feeling of personal achievement fades in comparison with the rewards and gifts your spiritual transformation brings. But this can result in compromising your human existence a lot. People who are close to you can actually start hating you for this.
Also, the people who were close to you in the past, like an old friend or your school classmate, can mess up your ‘spiritual existence’ by simply coming in touch with you. Meeting a human being from the past means a lot to your brain. All the neurons and pathways associated with this old human gets activated and a lot of old thought patterns can also get activated along with it (look up ‘classical conditioning). Your emotional state after such an acquaintance may surprise you. Please remember, your brain doesn’t know that you are enlightened! In general, people who know you before your spiritual enlightenment are hard to deal with, because the impression that they have about you was from the older ‘self’, while you are no longer the same person. These people can misunderstand you quite easily and the transactions or interactions are not always smooth.
‘ If you were addicted to any substance or drug like nicotine, alcohol etc, and if you didn’t work on your addiction before spiritual enlightenment, then you can’t quit that easily after enlightenment. First of all, addiction is a serious brain disease, not just a habit. It hacks the reward center of your brain and messes up the system. So getting over it is a huge work. A person quits using a drug because of the incentive he gets out of quitting: a feeling of personal accomplishment, restored health, more social acceptance etc. He has to convince himself that such rewards are greater than simply continuing to use the drugs, which is challenging for normal people. It gets more challenging after spiritual enlightenment because such rewards are nothing before the new ‘spiritual existence’ which rewards you for simply being you. In general, bringing any kind of behavioral change is more difficult, especially for the first few years after spiritual enlightenment.
Also, after spiritual enlightenment, all spiritual seeking disappears because the person who was seeking is no longer there. But growth or evolution is still possible. There is much more potential to a human being and spiritual enlightenment is just a beginning of the new dimension. Since seeking anything in the future is completely absent now, it is only the challenges and pain you face help you with any further evolution. So, your psychological wellbeing can still be affected after spiritual enlightenment but you can be assured that the end results are always good. So the ‘end of seeking’ is actually a problem here because you no longer seek a next stage in your evolution; it won’t even make sense to you. It is true that there is no higher stage or a ‘more enlightened’ state; but there is a richness in realizing the full potential, which is possible by facing the challenges of a normal life. There is a beauty in the maturity of spiritual enlightenment when you learn to live an ordinary life with this new ‘spiritual existence’. You accomplish this evolution when you continue to “chop wood and fetch water” after spiritual enlightenment.
To conclude, spiritual enlightenment is pretty much like a rebirth. You have to explore this new dimension and learn how to live with it all by yourself. It takes a few years to kind of stabilize things after spiritual enlightenment. There is much more to the spiritual enlightenment than what you find in spiritual literature and from the gurus. The rest, you have to find out by entering this realm yourself.
Pappankulam is a small village near Tirunelveli, Tamilnadu, India which has some beautiful teples and beautiful stories associated with them. It is my own native place and I had recently gone there. The main Shiva temple (Arulmigu Vadakalainayaki Sametha Thiruvenkadar Temple) was once damaged; but it was renovated in 2017 and now it looks beautiful.
The village also has many other temples like Ramaswamy temple (Lord Rama), Sadai Udayar sastha temple, Palani Andavar temple, Muppidathi amman temple, Chandika devi amman temple, a temple for Ganesh etc. The temple myths seem to convey messages that glorify the village. They seem to indicate that this village gave a lot of importance to arts and crafts, wisdom and Vedas.
I am going to go into the details of the myths and explain the possible reasons that such myths were created in the first place. Because, myths are not historical incidents. But they are created to make a point, convey a message, give a theological narrative or a supernatural explanation for a real incident, to glorify a person or a place etc. So they may carry hidden historical explanations even though a story in itself may not be a faithful narrative of a historical event.
There are a couple of stories about Pappankulam which are related to Hindu Varna system. But I will use those stories to remove certain misconceptions about Indian Varna system. In fact, It is not really as worse as it is portrayed by some political parties in India.
This post will also help you to know about an important village in Tamil Nadu which gave so much importance to arts, knowledge and Vedic education. This is very obvious by the stories associated with this place.
Pappankulam – A Land Donated to a Brahmin
Let us first see why this village was named Pappankulam. There is an anecdote which is not a myth but likely to be historical.
Aditta Varma (or probably Aditya Varma) was a Pandiya king and was also a devotee of Shiva. He built many temples of Shiva and they were designed by a sculptor named Chaturvedi. Chaturvedi was probably his last name as it is a common last name among Brahmins which means ‘the knower of four Vedas’. It could also be just a nickname since his original name was forgotten.
Chaturvedi was an excellent sculptor with good mastery in his skills and a great sense of art. So the king Aditta Varma was very pleased by his work and donated some land. It was called Chaturvedi Mangalam (an old Sanskrit name for Pappankulam).
Chaturvedi later went through so many problems in his life. When consulting astrologers, it was found that Graha dosha was the reason. In Astrology, Graha Dosha is an instance of one celestial body afflicting another. Chaturvedi was advised to consecrate a Shiva Linga with Chandrakanta stone (moonstone or sodium potassium aluminium silicate) and build a huge temple with Navagrahas (nine grahas or celestial bodies in Indian Astrology). He was told that building such a temple will get rid of his problems.
Chaturvedi built a Shiva temple and also dug a pond near it. The temple is now beautifully renovated and known as Sri Vadakalainayaki Sametha Thiruvenkadar Temple, Pappankulam. The pond is called Kalkurichi pond. Once he built this temple, it is believed that his problems were solved.
Another version of the story says that the temple already existed before the time of Aditta Varman but the king prayed here to have progeny. He didn’t have children for a long time. But once he prayed in this temple, he was blessed with a child. So the king Aditta Varman expanded the temple with the help of sculptor Chaturvedi and also donated him some land. This information is available in the temple inscriptions.
The word ‘Pappan’ in Pappankulam is a distortion of the Tamil word ‘pArpAn’ (பார்ப்பான்) which means a Brahmin. ‘Kulam’ means pond. The village got this name possibly because all four Vedas were taught, recited in this village and because of the fact that Vedic culture flourished here.
Some people also give another explanation. The Tamil word ‘pApAngu’ means the young one of a bird. Since a lot of small birds constantly make noise in this pond, it was called by this name. But I really think that this explanation was forced. The first explanation about Pappankulam being the village of Brahmins and Vedas suits this village for many reasons.
Goddess Saraswati and the Curse of the sage Durvasa
In Hindu Myths, sage Durvasa is known for his short temper. But sage Durvasa was a real person, probably a self-realized jnani with a short temper.
This may sound strange because many people believe that something like self-realization or spiritual enlightenment would certainly make a person get rid of anger. But even a self-realized person retains certain vasanas and many other older habits according to his own karma or nature, so that he is able to interact with the world and society. So each enlightened person carries at least 1-2% of imperfections from his past, which do not cause anymore bondage. For Durvasa, anger was a tool and it is often referred to as sAtvika krodha, the anger arises from balance and compassion. Durvasa has composed Sri Tripura Mahimna Stotra: https://www.kamakotimandali.com/srividya/mahimnah.html
There is another story associated with Thiruvenkadar temple. One day, Durvasa was reciting Vedas but committed a small mistake by using a wrong letter or sound. Hearing this, Saraswati, the Goddess of arts and wisdom, started laughing.This angered Durvasa. So he cursed that Goddess Saraswati should go to earth and live for 64 years and teach all the 64 arts to humans. Because of that curse, both Goddess Saraswati and Brahma (her consort) came to earth, worshipped Tiruvenkadar of Pappankulam and lived there for 64 years, teaching arts and wisdom to people. Thamirabarani Mahatmyam has many stories associated with places near Tirunelveli, including the curse of Durvasa on Saraswati.
This story was probably created to explain the existence and growth of various fine arts in this village 500 years before. It is a theological narrative to explain how many people in this village learnt arts those days. The temple was a small stone temple during Kulasekara Maravarman’s reign (1268–1308 CE). The inscription in the temple says ‘ராஜசதுர்வேதி மங்கலத்தின் வடமேற்கே வேளார்குறிச்சியில் பகவதி விண்ணகர் ஆழ்வார்’ (Northwest to Raja Chaturvedi Mangalam, in Velarkurichi, Bhagavathi Vinnagar Azhwar.)
There is a small stage called Jeeva Kalaiarangam very close to the temple, where plays are conducted every year during the car festival. (When I was a school boy, I acted in a few of those plays myself, especially in comedy roles. Just in one play, I appeared in a court scene as a lawyer). A writer in our village writes these plays every year and they last for one hour.
Vada Kalai Nayagi – The Goddess of arts
The Shiva in the main temple is called Thiruvenkadar and his consort Shakti in this temple is called Vada Kalai Nayagi. Vada (vAdA) means ‘never fading’; ‘Kalai’ means ‘arts’; Nayaki means ‘Chief’. So the name Vada Kalai Nayagi literally means Goddess of arts. The temple is based on Karanagama.
Also, the Goddess is depicted to show 32 expressions (Samudrika Lakshana) in a single sculpture and that is considered to be very special, showing the unique skill of the sculptor.
The Confluence of Ramanathi and Kadana nathi rivers – A Confluence of Tamil and Sanskrit
Pappankulam is the place where two small rivers, Ramanathi and Kadana nathi (Gadananadhi or Gatananadhi) meet and merge with each other. Both rivers have an interesting story.
Ramanathi is said to have originated from a drop from the Kamandalu (an oblong water pot) of sage Agastya. Kadana nathi is said to have originated from the water that sage Atri obtained as a loan from river Ganges.
Again, while thinking about the reasons for these myths, they seem to indicate something that is unique about Pappankulam. Sage Agastya is associated with Tamil language and it is believed that Agastya came up with the Tamil grammar for the very first time. (Agastya is also a Rig Vedic rishi). Atri is associated with Gangetic plain and Vedas. It is where Vedic civilization and Sanskrit education thrived. So this story was probably created to explain that just like Ramanathi and Kadana nathi meet here, Tamil and Sanskrit also meet here.
This makes a lot of sense. Since the village got its name because of Bramins and Vedic recitations, it was certainly a place where Sanskrit met Tamil. Today we have both Brahmin priests who chant in Sanskrit and Tamil odhuvar priests who take care of certain temples; they recite Tamil hymns from Tevaram.
It is also important to note that there are mountains with the name of both Agastya (Agastya hills) and Atri (Athri malai) just a few miles away from Pappankulam. Devotees can trek both these mountains after getting permission from the forest department. People believe that sage Atri had an ashram in Athiri malai and created Kadana nathi for his disciple Shri Korakkanathar.
Threefold Classification: Thiruvenkadu (Uttarapuri), Madurai (Madhyapuri) and Pappankulam (Dakshinapuri)
People also say that the temple town Thiruvenkadu is considered as Uttarapuri or northern town, Madurai is considered as Madhya puri (the town in the middle) and Pappankulam is considered as Dakshina puri or the one in the south. The suffix ‘puri’ is usually used at the end of the names of many towns and villages.
I was wondering why there is such a classification and what is common between these three places. I am just writing what seems to be obvious.
Thiruvenkadu is a village located near Sirkazhi, Nagapattinam. Thiruvenkadu means “white forest’. This village has a famous Shiva temple called Swetharanyeswarar Temple. The name of Shiva in Pappankulam is Thiruvenkadar, which is the literal Tamil meaning of Swetharanyeswarar. So, it may be said that the temple in Pappankulam was based on the original temple in Thiruvenkadu.
There are many stories which are associated with Thiruvenkadu and this is one of them (from Wiki):
“Achyutha Kalappalar, a local chieftain was childless. His guru Sivacharya analyzed his horoscope and read out an ancient palm leaf manuscript. It had the verse of Sambandar, one of the major Saivite saints Nayanars. Chieftain was advised to pray at Venkadu to be blessed with a progeny. He prayed at the place along with his wife and was blessed with a boy. The boy later went on to write Sivagnana Bodham.”
Sivagnana Bodham is considered to be the best Tamil text in Saiva Siddhanta. The author of Sivagnana Bodham is Meykandar, who is shown as the blessed boy in the above story. This superior Tamil text of spiritual wisdom is associated with Thiruvenkadu. Just like that, Madurai is a place associated with three Tamil sangams and the huge body of Tamil literature associated with it. So, the only thing that is common for all the three places is their association with wisdom, literature and knowledge.
Based on that, it is likely that Pappankulam is listed as one of the three places because of its association with wisdom and knowledge.
Association of Pappankulam temple with Budha (Mercury)
Budha (Mercury) is one of the nine grahas in Indian astrology. The main temple of Budha in Tamil Nadu is actually Swetharanyeswarar Temple in Thiruvenkadu near Sirkazhi, Nagapattinam, where there is an image of Budha. But Budha is said to have also worshipped here in Pappankulam too.
Budha is said to be a graha related to wisdom and intellect. According to astrology, Budha dosha, a malefic effect of this graha is believed to cause nervous and mental issues and poor academic performance. Budha as a person is also considered as superior among jnanis or self-realized people.
Since Budha is associated with intellect and wisdom, it is reasonable to assume that association of Budha with Pappankulam temple is to show the association of wisdom with the village.
Pazhani Andavar temple, Pappankulam
There is a temple called Palani Andavar (or Pazhani Andavar temple) very close to Thiruvenkadar temple. The word ‘Pazhani’ here refers to the hill temple for Murugan in Palani, Tamilnadu. The temple for Skanda or Murugan in Pappankulam has the same name as the deity of temple in Palani hills.
I am quoting the temple legend of Palani murugan temple from Wiki:
“According to Hindu mythology, “Sage Narada once visited the celestial court of Lord Shiva at Mount Kailash to present to Him a fruit, the gyana-pazham (literally, the fruit of wisom), that held in it the elixir of wisdom. Upon Lord Shiva expressing his intention of dividing the fruit between his two sons, Ganesha and Muruga, the sage counselled against cutting it. He decided to award it to whomever of his two sons first circled the world thrice.
Accepting the challenge, Lord Murugan started his journey around the globe on his mount peacock. However, Ganesha, who surmised that the world was no more than his parents Shiva and Shakti combined, circumambulated them”.Pleased with their son’s discernment, Lord Shiva awarded the fruit to Lord Ganesha. When Murugan returned, he was furious to learn that his efforts had been in vain. He left Kailash and took up his abode in Palani hills in South India. It is believed that Murugan felt the need to get matured from boyhood and hence chose to remain as a hermit and discarded all his robes and ornaments. He went into meditation to know about himself”.
I am also quoting my interpretation of the same story, as I have written in my post ‘3-level meditation’:
“First of all, Shiva and Shakthi represent two things: Purusha and Prakriti. Purusha is the pure witness; the consciousness without any attributes including actions or qualities. Prakriti is everything that is witnessed by Purusha. Prakrithi includes everything that is witnessed in your conscious experience: the external world and its internal representation consisting of thoughts, emotions, likes and dislikes, intellect, ego, memories etc. Essentially Purusha and Prakriti are inseparable, just like fire and heat are inseparable. So this union of Purusha and Prakriti constitutes absolute reality or what we call as God.
Realizing this absolute truth in one’s experience is Jnana or self-realization. Usually, self-realization is compared to a fruit, since it represents the fruit of spiritual sadhana. You will see the word ‘Phala’ used in many Buddhist texts as a synonym for enlightenment. There is even sutta in Buddhist canon called samannaphala sutta, which means the fruit of asceticism.
There are always two kinds of people in the world. People who realize that the truth is very close because it is inside them and people who search for the truth outside. The story of Ganesha and Skanda competing for Jnanapalam (fruit of wisdom) has a striking similarity to this concept. Ganesha realizes that the truth is within, so he immediately gets the fruit by reaching the Shivasakthi which is very close to him. On the other hand, Skanda goes around the world and realizes that he did not get jnana in spite of going around the world. (this is illustrated by the story that Skanda could not get the fruit). So finally he realizes his folly and takes Sannyas. He sits in one place and goes within to find the truth.”
The presence of a temple whose deity is associated with the fruit of wisdom again reinforces the fact that the village Pappankulam is associated with wisdom, especially, spiritual wisdom that is realized through self-realization.
The Beliefs and Uniqueness About Pappankulam Thiruvenkadar Temple
For rainfall, people do Tara homam. People say that the result is instantaneous. It is also said that an eagle makes rounds on the sky during the homa.
Legends say that Chola and Pandya kings worshipped Saneeswaran (Shani) and were able to win battles. It is a general belief that by worshipping Saneeswaran here, one can win his enemies.
The linga is made with Chandrakanta stone (moonstone). People used to believe that this stone gets its coolness from the moon and also keeps the room cool. People believe that this stone is good for meditation and calmness. Chandrakanta stone is worn as a gem and popularly known as lover’s gem as people believe that it helps them to find true love. Moon is linked to the mind; so this gem stone is linked to both emotional balance and intellect.
Inside the temple, there is a shrine of a siddhar who attained moksha. The details about him are not available. Every full moon day, there is a special puja in this shrine. Some believe that it might be Thiruvenkadar who was popularly known as Pattinathar. (There have been three people by the same name).
The statue of Skanda or Murugan with his consorts is made of a single stone.
In the shrine of Guru bhagawan, a snake is sculpted under his feet. It is believed that people can get rid of Raghu Kethu dosha by worshipping Guru bhagawan here.
The lingam appears bigger if seen from the flagpost (kodimaram) and smaller if viewed from the mandapam near sanctum sanctorum. This is something unique about the architecture of the temple.
Since Budha was believed to have worshipped here and since he is thought of having the power to remove the malefic effects caused by other planets in astrology, people believe that by worshipping him one can get rid of all graha doshas.
The abhishekam (bathing of the deity) water is believed to possess medicinal qualities. People attribute this to Chandrakanta stone.
Sthala Vriksha (the monumental and holy tree) of this temple is night-flowering Jasmine.
The theertham (holy water available in the pond nearby) is called Brahma theertham.
There is a snake depicted separately at the feet of Dhakshinamoorthy. This is something unusual as the snake is usually just drawn in the other temples. The snake represents Kundalini.
People who have problems in getting married visit this place during the Tamil months of Adi and Ani (roughly from the middle of June to middle of August), take bath in the place where the two rivers merge (called irandathu mukku or the corner of two rivers), and worship Thiruvenkadar with oil lamp. They believe that this gets rid of the problem.
Association of Lord Rama and killing Shambuka
Ramayana is an epic based on wisdom king model (Dharmaraja) whereas Mahabharata is based on a warrior king model (Chakravartin). In Ramayana, Rama is shown as a king who protects Dharma, the right way of life, during his reign. Here we need to remember one thing (which I will elaborate on later); the norms of those days were different. And the society was also a lot different.
In Pappankulam, there is a beautiful temple of Rama known as Ramaswamy temple. According to temple inscriptions, it was built before 12th century AD by Pandiya king Maravarman I.
It is not surprising that Rama, an icon of wisdom, has a temple here. But the temple is also associated with one of the most controversial episodes of Ramayana, the killing of Shambuka by Rama.
In Uttarakanda (Final chapter or Ramayana), sargas 73-76 narrate the story of Shambuka. Shambuka was a Shudra (lower caste) ascetic who was slain by Rama for attempting to do a penance. Rama considered this penance of Shambuka as the act in violation of dharma as he believed that the negative consequences or karma, resulting from this act, caused the death of a Brahmin’s son in his kingdom.
Uttarakhanda is not usually considered as written by Valmiki, the original author of Ramayana. It is usually seen as a later addition. But this episode is seen as controversial and often used to criticize Ramayana as a whole, as promoting caste based discrimination. There are some problems with such a conclusion. To understand, we need to see how the whole Varna system (the system of four varnas including Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras) evolved and how it was seen in Ancient India.
History of Varnas
There is already a hypothesis called Trifunctional hypothesis, according to which three classes or castes—priests, warriors, and commoners (farmers or tradesmen) existed in prehistoric Indo-European societies. This was something which naturally happened.
Even in Ancient China, there were the shi (gentry scholars), the nong (peasant farmers), the gong (artisans and craftsmen), and the shang (merchants and traders) forming a fourfold classification. So, there has been a natural division of society based on what people did.
Vedic civilization also initially had these threefold divisions. Brahmins (priests, writers, poets, teachers and intellectual pillar of the society), Kshatriyas (king and the army), and Vaishyas (merchants and farmers). There was no fourth varna.
Among the three varnas, there was no strict birth based division. But it was natural for the son to follow the father’s occupation. A teacher was someone who initiated the people from all three classes to Vedic study, which not only included studying hymns and rituals, but also included studying etymology, prosody, astrology, phonetics and grammar. And certainly, it should have included basic education like basic Mathematics, Geometry, knowledge about various plants and their uses etc. Because, this was the only form of study until there was a university in Taxila. But that was a place for scholars and elites, not common people.
Now, who was a Shudra? One who was not initiated into Vedic study. So initially, the following were Shudras:
All people, from the time they were born until they were initiated into Vedic study were Shudras. Since they are not initiated yet, they are Shudras.
Tribes who were following a tradition different from Vedic religion. Since they are not initiated yet, they are Shudras.
Tribes who deviated from Vedic traditions and hence the people born now are no longer initiated into Vedic studies. Since they are not initiated yet, they are Shudras.
When we are looking at the cultures in a huge landmass over a time period of more than 3500 years, we need to keep the following things in mind.
The meaning of the word changes many times throughout history. Customs and rules also change throughout history. We tend to think of a static homogeneous system when we think of Varna system. But that is not really the case. Even the meanings of the words like Brahmins and Shudras have had different meanings and connotations during different times of the history.
Until Kuru kingdom was formed, there were no strict rules in the society. From Michael Witzel, we know that initiation into Vedic studies was open to anyone. This was very true in the early Rig Vedic period. So anyone, regardless of what tribe they belonged to, what language they spoke at home, what food they ate were initiated into Vedic study. This was the time the whole Rig Vedic samhitas were not yet compiled into one collection.
At this point, basically, if a person makes a living through a means that is not natural to his Varna, he is doing something that he is not qualified for. The real intention behind formulation of various rules for various Varna was that a person should do the work which suits his personality, ability, other genetic traits, conditioning and nurture etc. This rule will apply even right now. If your friends say you look like a bodybuilder but you are looking for a high-paying job in a company for a post that you don’t qualify for, the confusion is obvious. But it is true that some of the rules that existed then were very cruel.
Once the Kuru Kingdom was established, things began to change gradually. Because of getting patronage and money, it was very easy for traditional priests to do a good job and prove their worth. So it was not usual for someone to change their varna. Slowly, Shudras became a fourth caste who should serve other three classes. And Varnas became birth based, even though it was not strictly and universally followed. You can find evidence for it in Vedas themselves:
yathemāṁ vācaṁ kalyāṇīṁ avadāni janebhyaḥ | brahma rājanyābhyāṁ śūdrāya caryāya ca svayāya caraṇāya ca ||
Just as I have revealed this salutary auspicious teachings to all humans, so should you. I have revealed the Vedic truth to brahmins, kshatriyas, sudras and Aryas, to personal servants and to the lowest of servants (araṇāya) also. (Sukla Yajur Veda 26:2)
It also looks like there was a discussion. Some say Shudras should not be initiated; and some say that they should. In this context, there are certainly talking about a strictly birth-based four-fold varna system. But the fact that there was a discussion indicates that the rules were relaxed, even though some took advantage of it to show their prejudice.
vidyate caturthasya varṇasya agnyādheyam ityeke
Some say that all four varnas are eligible to consecrate the 3 sacred fires (Bhāradvāja śrauta sutra 5:2.8.)
Markandeya Purana says that Shudras can perform Yajnas or fire sacrifice:
dānaṁ yajño’tha śuśrūṣā dvijātināṁ tridhā mayā |
vyākhyātaḥ śūdra dharmo’pi jīvikā kāru-karmajā |
tadvad dvijāti śuśrūṣā poṣaṇam kraya vikrayaiḥ |
The religious duties of a Shudra are works of charity and the performing of yajñas and serving others. They earn a living from being artisans, tradesmen, craftsmen etc. from service professions, from nurturing and from selling and buying. (Markaṇḍeya Purāṇa 25:7-8)
Prejudice is natural in human beings, and to get rid of that one has to develop a certain clarity; to get read of it completely, one has to walk on the spiritual path and attain atma jnana or self-realization. But it can be kept in check and channeled properly. One can bring more awareness to it.
Among any two groups, the problem of ‘we’ vs ‘you all’ is bound to occur at some point of time. When a person associates his self-image to the whole group he belongs to, the notion that the other ‘group’ is inferior can very easily arise. Today, we see the same prejudice and hatred taking place in the name of caste, religion, language, nationalities, races etc.
At any point of time, a society has all kinds of people with different personalities, character, intentions, mental purity etc. So, it is very safe to assume that in any culture, some kind of prejudice would have resulted in oppression and hatred of the ‘other’ group. But how can anyone get an entire picture of the situation at any point of time in the ancient past? So, it would be a mistake to consider that Varna system was a rigid division that existed throughout the entire subcontinent, throughout the whole past.
The episode of Rama and Shambukha
Let us come to Rama’s situation in the story of Ramayana. He hears that someone who is not initiated into how to do rituals and penance is doing a penance and it resulted in the cause of a Brahmin’s death.
Rama approaches the Shudra ascetic, And here is what Valmiki Ramayana says:
“On this that Prince approached the one who had given himself up to rigorous practices and said “Blessed art thou, O Ascetic, who art faithful to thy vows ! From what caste art thou sprung, O Thou who hast grown old in mortification and who art established in heroism. I am interested in this matter, I, Rama, the son of Dasaratha. What purpose hast thou in view? Is it heaven or some other object? What boon dost thou seek by means of this hard penance? I wish to know what thou desire in performing these austerities, oh Ascetic. May prosperity attend thee! Art thou a brahmin ? Art thou an invincible Kshatriya? Art thou a Vaishya, one of the third caste or art thou a Shudra? Answer me truthfully!” Then the ascetic, who was hanging head downwards, thus questioned by Rama, revealed his origin to that Prince born of Dasaratha, the foremost of kings, and the reason why he was practicing penance. Hearing the words of Rama of imperishable exploits, that ascetic, his head still hanging downwards, answered “O Rama, I was born of a Shudra alliance and I am performing this rigorous penance in order to acquire the status of a God in this body. I am not telling a lie, O Rama, I wish to attain the Celestial Region. Know that I am a Shudra and my name is Shambuka.” As he was yet speaking, Raghava, drawing his brilliant and stainless sword from its scabbard, cut off his head.”
— The Ramayana of Valmiki: Translated by Hari Prasad Shastri p1585
Rama is a person who doesn’t seem to be too sensitive about the divisions of Varna and certainly he doesn’t seem to exhibit any prejudice. We see that throughout Ramayana. We see his loving interaction with Shabari, an old Shudra woman. And here he is facing a situation.
Everyone says that this Shudra ascetic needs to be slain; that seems to be the public consensus according to the norms of the day. He is not qualified, uninitiated but his penance was believed to be the cause of the death of a son of a Brahmin, the person who initiates many people. And here he says that he does this penance to attain the status of Gods. Those days, it should have sounded pretty much like, “I don’t have a driving license and I am drunk but I am on my way to participate in a car race now”. You hear this from a guy after you have heard from someone that he had been the cause of the death of someone’s son.
Penance is done for the welfare of the society. An unqualified and uninitiated person doing a penance for attaining the status of God while already being accused of having caused a Brahmin’’s death posed a threat to the society. And everyone asks to kill him. As a responsible king, Rama killed Shambuka. Looking at it from a modern lens, it may sound too cruel; but the past is past. Whoever wrote this story has just reflected the norms of the days when it was put into composition.
But personally, I don’t take epics as history, They might have been inspired by multiple stories and traditional lores; some of them may be true; some of them may be a mixture of two different stories. The fact that people had the liberty to compose different versions for stories like Ramayana indicates that they didn’t take the epics as faithful historical narratives as we do today.
Ramayana has a spiritual meaning though. It symbolizes our consciousness getting kidnapped by the three malas: anava, karma and maya. Or it could indicate our senses getting kidnapped by the root ignorance or avidya. An entire text called Adhyatma Ramayana was written to allegorically interpret the story of Hindu epic Ramayana in the Advaita Vedanta framework.
But the story of Shambuka does teach one thing, which became hidden because of time. One should follow his svadharma, or make a living that suits his personality traits, abilities, interests and experience. Shambuka’s story also teaches about the quick justice that happens to an offence in the state that was believed to have caused a serious consequence. But one shouldn’t interpret this as a careless justice given without proper investigation. At least, the author of this part of the story wants us to understand that it was an emergency, according to their norms and situation.
In Pappankulam, the story of the temple goes like this. According to the temple myth, when Rama wanted to kill Shambuka, he was hiding somewhere nearby the Kadana nathi river. Rama stood on a rock here to locate him. It was the spot where the rivers Ramanathi and Kadana nathi meet. It is said that Shiva appeared as a light near Madavarvilagam and helped Rama to locate Shambuka. Rama is also said to have done Sandhya Vandhanam there. So the rock is called Sandhya rock or Sandhya parai. It has an inscription of a chakra and a footstep. It is believed to be the footstep of Rama, according to the temple myth. After killing Shambuka, Rama is believed to have taken shelter under a tamarind tree, which is the same as the location of Ramaswamy temple in Pappankulam. The killing of Shambuka is believed to have taken place in Sambankulam near Sivasailam.
Chandika Devi Amman temple in Pappankulam, Parashurama and Tripura Rahasya
On the way to Kadana nathi river, there is another temple for mother Goddess Shakti or Parvati. The temple is called Chandika Devi Amman and usually referred to as Sendika Devi Amman by locals. Many people name their daughters as Sendika (my father’s elder brother’s daughter is one of them). I couldn’t find anything much about the existence of Chandika devi amman temples in other parts of Tirunelveli district. But I am assuming they should exist as small temples, as there are stories associated with Chandika and Parashurama.
“Parashurama (Sanskrit: परशुराम, IAST: Paraśurāma, lit. Rama with an axe) is the sixth avatar of Vishnu in Hinduism. Born as a Brahmin , Parashurama carried traits of a Kshatriya and is often regarded as a Brahma Warrior. He carried a number of traits, which included aggression, warfare and valor; also, serenity, prudence and patience. Like other incarnations of Vishnu, he was foretold to appear at a time when overwhelming evil prevailed on the earth.The Kshatriya class, with weapons and power, had begun to abuse their power, take what belonged to others by force and tyrannize people. Parashurama corrects the cosmic equilibrium by destroying these Kshatriya warriors. Bhumihars claim that their ancestors were Brahmins who were set up to take the place of the Kshatriyas slain by Parashurama. (Bhumihars are a Hindu caste mainly found in Bihar (including the Mithila region), the Purvanchal region of Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, the Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh, and Nepal.).”
There is a legend associated with Chandika worship. Whenever we talk about any myth or legend, we need to understand that it need not be historical. Parashurama is generally associated with Northern India and his birthplace is believed to be on top of the Janapav hills in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. He is also associated with many temple consecrations in south India, including the Sabarimala temple and Kanyakumari temple.
But was Parashurama really a historical person? He was probably a Brahmin who stood up against the oppression of kings and helped with consecration of many temples. Parushurama might have been a real name or just a nickname. But it is usual for people to attribute myths about the person they liked and admired. People also attribute the work of the descendants of an important person to the person himself. It is also usual for disciples to compose a work and name their own guru as the author. So, even with careful and critical analysis of various sources, confirming historicity of an incident is very challenging.
The myth associated with the worship of Chandika goes like this. Guru Dattatreya preached the essence of Advaita Vedanta to Parashurama in Gandhamadana Parvatha hills, Rameshwaram. He went over the three states of consciousness which are waking, sleeping and dreaming and explained that the consciousness that witnesses these three states is more real than what is being witnessed. It can be understood well with the screen and movie metaphor popularized by Ramana Maharshi. This consciousness is personified as Chandika, who rules over all three states as if they are three cities or Tripuras. So she is also known as Tripura Sundari.
Later, Parashurama is said to have lived in Pothigai hills in Tirunelveli and did a spiritual practice on Chandika for 12 years. He imparted this truth to his disciple Haritayana. Haritayana compiled the teachings as Tripura Rahasya.
There are no temple myths associated with Chandika Devi amman temple in Pappankulam. It is a very small temple. But the form of Chandika is used in a lot of myths and famous texts.
Chandika or Chandi appears in Markandeya Purana, in the section known as Chandi or The Devi Mahatmya. This is what she says about herself:
“I resemble in form Brahman;
From me emanates the world
Which has the Spirit of Prakriti and Purusha;
I am empty and not empty;
I am delight and non-delight;
I am knowledge and ignorance;
I am Brahman and not Brahman!”
The basis for Chandi worship is found in Devi Bhagavatam and Devi Mahatmya. The Goddess is also understood as a combined force of Maha Saraswati, Maha Lakshmi and Maha Kali. The Chandi worship might have originated in West Bengal and might have been popularized by Parashurama (or one of his descendants) in the South. Parashurama is understood as someone who created or developed the iconography of Chandika in south Tamil Nadu.
Chandika, Maheshwari and Skandamata are associated with the 5th day of navaratri. Chandika also refers to a 7 year old girl. Chandi is depicted as a very angry Goddess.
Sankara Narayanan and Gomathi Amman temple, Pappankulam
On the way to Kadana nathi, there is a small Shiva temple in the Agraharam street called Sankara Narayanan and Gomathi Amman temple. This temple is not in a good condition and needs renovation.
The original Sankara Narayanan Gomathi amman temple is in Sankarankovil, Tirunelveli district. The temple is associated with religious tolerance between Shaivism and Vaishnavism. The myth about Gomathi Amman is there to explain that Shiva and Vishnu are different names of one Supreme divinity.
As Rig Veda says, the truth is one but called by various names by wise people (Ekam sat, viprah bahuda vadanti – Rig Veda 1.164.46). This also applies to names like Allah and Yahweh. Gomathi amman can be taken as an embodiment of religious tolerance, who preaches the truth about the essential oneness of various paths.
I ended up writing about Gomathi amman in the past which was a result of some amazing coincidences that I witnessed. I have written about such coincidences in the following posts:
Sadaiudayar Sastha is our family deity. Shasta means a teacher or a guru. Just like there are various forms of Shiva, there are various forms of Shasta too and one of them is Sadaiudayar.
Again, I would like to remind the readers here that names like Shasta, Shiva, Vishnu etc are different names for one divinity and each of these names may highlight a particular aspect of divinity more than the others.
Sastha is the personification of a divine teacher. When you consider Almighty or the Supreme reality as a divine teacher or if you are attracted to the image of a teacher more than anything else, then you can choose one of these forms for worship: Sastha, Skanda guru, Dakshinamurthy.
The true form of worship involves surrender and love, as shown in Bhagavad Gita; but which form you are devoted to doesn’t matter at all, as long as you feel more emotionally connected with your chosen form. The devotion purifies the mind and prepares the ground for self-realization.
Just like there are eight forms of Lakshmi called Ashtalakshmi, there are eight forms of Sastha too. I have elaborated on the etymology of the word Lakshmi and the eight forms of Lakshmi here: 3-Level Meditation
Let us now see about Ashta Sasthas:
Adhi Maha Sastha – Similar to Adhilakshmi or Mahalakshmi, he represents the highest wealth of a human being which is self-realization or Atma jnana. Adhi Maha Sastha is depicted with two consorts: Poorna and Pushkala. Poorna means fullness; Pushkala means abundance or an absence of any sense of lack. This actually means that self-realization changes the way you experience your life in such a way that you feel full and complete and do not sense that anything lacks when it comes to your ultimate well being. Adhi Maha Sastha is more popular in villages of South; Sadaiudayar Sastha is just one form of Adhi Maha Sastha.
Dharma sastha: Dharma sastha is someone who takes care of Dharma or cosmic order. Dharma dictates the way of life that contributes to the well being of oneself and the other. The concept of avatar is closely linked to Dharma. So an avatar of Sastha should be considered as a human representation of Dharma sastha.
Manikandan, who is popularly worshipped as Ayyappan is considered as an avatar of Dharma sastha. This doesn’t mean that Almighty took the form of a person. Almighty is always Avyakta or impersonal; but it is that which manifests as everything. Manikandan was a human prince who practiced celibacy; but once his time is over, he has merged himself with the Almighty; it is explained by saying he merged with Dharma sastha. So the distinction between Manikandan and Sastha is the same as the distinction between Krishna and Vishnu.
Just like there is Bhagavad Gita for Krishna, there is Boothanatha Geeta (or Bhutanatha Gita) for Manikandan. It is a very rare text. You can read a short commentary on it here: Bhoothanatha Geetha – The Song of Ayyappa
Gnana Sastha: He is the lord of wisdom. He is depicted as sitting under a banyan tree just like Dhakshinamoorthy. He also holds a Manikka Veena instrument just like Saraswati, the Goddess of wisdom. Please note that the same icons have been reused for the iconography of Sastha. He exclusively represents the part of a teacher or a guru. He can be compared to Vidya Lakshmi among Ashta Lakshmis.
Kalyana Varadha Sastha: He is a symbol of marriage and auspiciousness. Can be compared to Vijaya Lakshmi. He is also depicted with his two consorts.
Gajaarooda Sastha: He is the annihilator of enemies. Just like Gajalakshmi who represents royal power.
Sammohana Sastha: Represents conjugal bliss and harmony and depicted with Poorna and Pushkala.
Santhana Prapthi Sastha: Symbol of progeny, just like Santanalakshmi. He has a consort Prabhavati who holds Manikka Veena and also a child Satyagan. He is also called Brahma Sastha.
Veda Sastha: He represents Vedas and the knowledge they give. He is also called ‘Simharooda Sastha’ (the one who rides a lion).
Veera Sastha: Similar to Dhairya Lakshmi, he represents courage and valour. This form of Sastha is mentioned in ‘Adi Sankara Vicharitham’ which has Adi Sankara worshipping Veera Sastha in a place called Kudhiran.(Between Trichur and Palghat).
Building a complete Ashta Sastha Temple at Veppampattu, Salem was a dream of Guruswami Viswanatha Sarma, who was ordained by Paramacharya. But this project is not complete yet and Villivakkam Sree Viswanatha Sharma Ashta Sastha Temple Trust is currently looking for financial assistance.
I can see a similarity between this Ashta Sastha project of Guruswami Viswanatha Sarma and Skandasramam project which was completed by H. H. Swami Santhananda Saraswati Avadhoota Swamigal. Skandasramam is also about Skanda guru, the form of divine guru like Sastha (Gnana Sastha, in particular). Both are in Salem, Tamil Nadu. I have opened up regarding some amazing coincidences in a video regarding this, and this video is available on the page about 3-level meditation.
The Village as a Temple – A Unique Feature of Pappankulam
There is a unique feature of the part of the land in Pappankulam where all the above mentioned temples are present. The whole piece of land somehow resembles a temple in itself in which Sastha is the mulavar or the primary deity.
Whenever you look at a Sankalpa mantra in the Puja Vidhi (rules of worship) for any deity, you will notice that the worship of Ganesh and Durga Parameshwari comes first.
शबरिगिरीशाभिन्न पूर्णा पुष्कलाम्बा समेत श्री हरिहरपुत्र पूजां करिष्ये ॥ (द्विः) आदौ महागणपति , श्री दुर्गा परमेश्वरी पूजनं च करिष्ये ॥
These two lines in Sanskrit say, “I am going to perform Puja for the one who lives in Sabari giri, or Harihara putra (Ayyappa) who is with Poorna and Pushkala. First, I will perform Puja for Maha Ganapathi and Durga Parameshwari.”
When you enter Pappankulam village through its western bus stop, you will soon be greeted by a Ganapathi temple under a banyan tree and a small Muppidathi temple on the two sides of the same street in the same location. (Just next to Ganapathi temple is the home of my father’s elder brother and I stayed there for one year when I was 15 years old.).
Mupidathi is the third of eight forms of Kali. Pidari means head. It became pidaari and then pidaathi. Temple myths in Tirunelveli district say that 8 Kalis after coming from Kailash went to Podhigai hills and started gracing devotees in various temples in place near Tirunelveli. These 8 Kalis are the forms of one divinity which is the same as Chandika, Tripura Sundari or Durga Parameshwari.
So, when you step inside Pappankulam to visit Sastha temple, you are greeted by Ganesh and Durga Parameshwari at the entrance of the long street that leads to Sastha temple and Kadana nathi.There is a pond nearby, just like there is a pond near all the temples. After you walk for five to ten minutes, you reach the cross roads where you take left to visit Tiruvenkadar temple and Palani andavar temple (for Skanda); then take right to visit Ramaswamy temple. Then you proceed to visit both Chandika temple and Shankara Narayanan Gomathi temple. Finally, when you are about to reach the river, where you visit the mulavar which is Sastha. After having a darshan of Sastha, you reach the river bank of Kadana nathi, where you can proceed to visit the confluence of two rivers. This symbolizes the disappearance of duality and realization of oneness.
My Own Experiences in Pappankulam
From June 1999 to April 2000, I spent my days in this village as I was studying in my 10th standard. This is the village where my father was born; my grandfather Shanmugam who is well known as Pappaiah Pillai in the whole village had passed away sometime during 1992. I was named after him. I had never spent much time here except coming for holidays and staying for four or five days. But during that one year, I lived here and enjoyed the beauty of rural life.
During those days, Thiruvenkadar temple was damaged. The place looked like a haunted place. The area around the temple was used as an open toilet by locals. The place was filled with thorny bushes, and pigs which were feeding on human excreta. I used to sit in the entrance of this Shiva temple for hours in loneliness, composing poems, thinking about stuff, meditating etc.
During the annual holidays that year, I wrote two Tamil poems in classical Tamil meters, one for Shiva and one for Goddess Saraswati. Here are the links:
I also composed a short hymn, a Venpa (Tamil metra) on Thiruvenkadar and Vada Kalai Nayagi.
But those days I didn’t know anything about the temple myths; I didn’t know that Goddess Saraswati was associated with that very temple which was my ground of contemplative thought, creative writing etc. I only knew about the story regarding Durvasa’s curse on Saraswati last month, February 2020. I visited Pappankulam for the death of my father’s elder brother, who I personally see as my own father and that is when I became curious about this village. So, my composing a poem about Saraswati was a pure coincidence.
I now see all this as a miracle.
Conclusion – What do Vedas teach and who is a Brahmin?
Whenever you study a scriptural canon or a spiritual/religious movement, it is important to try and understand the original intentions for such a tradition to come into existence. We should also pay attention to how ideas evolved. We should learn to see things from multiple perspectives. The story of blind men and the elephant comes to mind. You can read this post for more clarity on this: Logic And Spiritual Enlightenment – An Overview of Anekantavada, Saptabhangivada (Seven Valued Logic) and Syadvada of Jainism
The word ‘Veda’ literally means knowledge. There are two kinds of knowledge:
Knowledge that deals with practical things (this includes all kinds of practical knowledge: knowing which is the closest restaurant from your home to knowing the technical details of building an aircraft).
Self-knowledge or knowing yourself, which is completely realized at self-realization or Atma Jnana. Upanishads deal with this subject.
Now the scope of Vedas includes both kinds of knowledge. No, I am not saying that knowledge about quantum mechanics or general relativity is found in the four Vedas which are in Sanskrit. But I am saying that the modern scientific knowledge which deals with such topics are also essentially a part of Vedas (or simply put, the body of knowledge we have so far as humanity). So that is what Vedas actually mean.
The four Vedas of Sanskrit deal with a lot of subjects. At the first glance, it may seem like Vedas are mostly talking about some complicated rituals which are no longer practiced. But why did they do those rituals in the first place? They tried to find explanations for what was happening in nature and human life, and they tried to manipulate it according to whatever they knew and understand. We are still doing it! Scientific community does exactly that!
Now, if we take this approach and ask ‘why’ questions instead of ‘what’ questions, you can understand many things.
First we need to understand that early Vedic religion did not have concepts like Atma jnana, Mokha, Samsara or Karma. These concepts were influenced by Sramana traditions . It is not that Vedic and Sramana traditions were two different traditions which did not overlap. While Vedic tradition is a tradition that was collectively followed by a social group, Sramanas were independent ascetics who had certain teachings and followings. So, a Sramana could be a Vedic rishi who gave up the rituals and became an ascetic, after being taught by someone else, who is also an ascetic.
Ritualistic Vedic Tradition and Sramana Tradition
Let me quote from a part of a post I wrote which is ‘Hinduism and Dharma’. It differentiates the concepts of early Vedic tradition from Sramana tradition:
“In Vedic religion, sacrifice is God, and it is more powerful than devas and humans. In fact, sacrifice or yajna created this world. So sacrifice is applied as a metaphor for many others things: birth, sex, burning a body in funeral pyre are all sacrifices.
Devas attained immortality and went to heaven because of sacrifice. There is a story that says that when devas went to heaven, they destroyed all knowledge about sacrifice so that humans do not have access to them. But Rishis received that knowledge as revelation and gave it to mankind.
Devas are not omnipotent. They depend on humans because they are pleased with oblations that we offer on fire. We also depend on them for rainfall, health, cattle, longevity, heaven etc. It is a mutual dependency. It is sacrifice which is omnipotent and that includes the hymns, melodies and the actual ritual.
Each man is indebted when he was born. He owes to devas, Rishis and ancestors who are already living in heaven. So he has three debts. To clear the debt, he has to do these: a) To clear the debt to Rishis, he has to be initiated to study under a teacher and go through Vedic study. b) To clear the debts of Devas, he has to offer oblations five times a day and also offer seasonal rites. c) He has to give birth to a son to clear the debts that he owes to his ancestors. Progeny increases the glory of his ancestors in heaven. Also, a man is reborn as his son and thus attains immortality through son in the earth. At the same time, he also attains immortality in heaven after death.
The wife and the son are two important people in Vedic religion. You are not qualified to offer oblations unless you are married, because you have to do them with wife. It is said that a wife completes a man by giving him the qualifications to do the rites.
So, you have to live a life as a house holder if you want to live according to Vedic injunction, as per Brahmanism. But when cities developed in North Eastern India, new ideas arose: the doctrine of samsara, karma, rebirth and moksha. People who were talking about these new concepts were wandering ascetics called sramanas. Many liberal Brahmins in the cities accepted these new ideas and tried to interpret them within Brahmanic religion which later led to asrama system. But Brahmins in villages were too orthodox and couldn’t accept these concepts because these parivrajakas or sramanas were not allowed to get married.
But slowly these ideas got absorbed in Brahmanism giving rise to Upanishads and the doctrine of Vedanta. Slowly, various folk religions, Shiva, Krishna, Vasudeva, Narayana cults got absorbed into Vedic religion and temple worship also became popular. Vedic popularity was replaced by agamas and puranas. It developed dharma as we know today.
But the heart of Dharma lies in purusharthas: Dharma, artha, Kama, and moksha. It places Moksha as the final goal whereas Vedic religion considered heaven as the final goal.
If you think about it, Brahmanism is life positive. Even though Sramana traditions were life negative, they actually offered a way out of psychological suffering while living. By taking the medititative aspects of Sramana traditions and combining it with life positive aspects of a house holder’s life, Bhagavad Gita came up with a complete path to moksha.”
The Essential message of Vedas
Based on what he have seen above, here is the gist of the message in Vedas:
When you look at the sun, the moon and stars, the changing seasons etc, everything seems to follow a Law. They also seem to contribute something to us humans. When Vedic people applied the same logic to human life, they concluded that humans should also follow a Law and give something back to the society and nature. We receive help from many sources; so we are obligated and indebted to all such sources and we have to fulfill that obligation.
So what is the Law that humans should adhere to? This basically asks the question, “How should you live your life so everyone including yourself can live a happy and peaceful life?”
According to the consensus that we have so far, a human being should strive for righteousness (Dharma), wealth and education (Artha), pleasures needed to meet one’s psychological and emotional needs (Kama) and the ultimate liberation that one attains through self-realization (Moksha). There are various means to attain the first three and in the modern days we don’t have much to take from religious and spiritual texts regarding the first three goals of human life..
But there is an enormous wisdom in the world literature that discusses the fourth goal which is liberation from all the psychological bondage and suffering, while living. The knowledge about it is obscured and distorted because of various issues: changing meanings of words, meanings lost because of translation, meanings misunderstood because of poor articulation or usage of confusing words, lack of people who are capable enough to impart this knowledge to others etc. A part of my work is to make sure that all that wisdom is made available in my blogs and books.
Who is a Brahmin?
So, who is a Brahmin? In practical life, a Brahmin is none other than anyone who excels in intelligence, knowledge and virtue than others (and not just anyone who is from a particular caste).. If a person is intelligent, ethical and knows enough about essential stuff, he is a Brahmin. He should be given preference in roles like teaching, writing, scientific research, spiritual research etc. When a person who is not competent enough takes the role of a Brahmin (by becoming a teacher, a law maker etc), that will create a huge problem in the society. In fact, the intellectual gap between a stupid teacher and a brilliant student can mess up a lot of things. I will write a different article explaining in detail about how huge ‘intellectual gap or difference’ can lead to a major social issue.
I will give you a clue. Try convincing a typical right wing online troll about anything; try talking to him with logic. He would reply with either ad hominem or whataboutery. There are people who have a hard time understanding simple things but are completely convinced that they are intellectually better than others. When these people take up important positions in the society, it will lead to social disorder, poverty, unemployment, riots, chaos etc. It is exactly what is happening in India today.
This is exactly what Gita says as ‘Varna Samkara’ or the mixture of Varnas (Gita 1.43). In the earlier days, a quick shortcut to prevent Varna Samkara was to follow a birth based Varna system. But today’s society is very complicated. Varna Samkara in the modern context can be interpreted as a confusion in determining the roles and qualifications of people. To resolve that confusion, everyone should work on finding their own uniqueness and choose a way of living that suits one’s personality, abilities, interests etc. In other words, everyone should follow their own svadharma.
There is also a deeper meaning for the word Brahmin. A knower of Brahman or a self-realized person is the one who is truly a Brahmin. He is Brahmavid, one who knows what Brahman is, in his experience.
People who are caught up in the modern concept of religions, religious divisions etfc may have a hard time in being open to many things written here. If you do, then go through these posts:
You may have already heard that advaita talks about oneness, the oneness of the existence that exists without a second; it says that this oneness is your true nature! But this is not a theory and not something that is meant to be just intellectually understood. This oneness is realized in one’s living experience which not only transforms you but also liberates you from all psychological bondages.
I will give you a short introduction on Advaita Vedanta but will also let you know about some pitfalls that one can encounter if certain things are not understood. Before Advaita Vedanta is taught, the disciple is expected to develop four-fold qualifications called sadhana chatushtaya. I will also quickly go over them in this post.
First, advaita (non-duality) doesn’t really have a contradiction with dvaita (duality). And there was a reason why various dvaita (dual)) schools emerged after Shankara’s time. What is usually described as advaita philosophy or the non-dual oneness is the fruit of the spiritual path. What is described as dvaita philosophy (the duality of God and devotee) is actually a path. In the beginning of bhakti, there is duality; but it always ends with non-dual oneness.
In Advaita Vedanta, bhakti or devotion is considered as one of the means to purify oneself and develop sadhana chatushtaya or four-fold qualifications. But the problem with Advaita Vedanta is usually this: people directly go for the theory or the higher teachings in Vedanta without developing these four-fold qualifications. It is developing the four-fold qualifications that takes the most part of a person’s journey.
This mere intellectual understanding sometimes results in pure arrogance with absolutely no transformation. When you tell someone that sounds like “You are God”, it is very likely that it will be misunderstood; the person may also forget his duties and become very careless; because from the perspective of Advaita, nothing really matters. But in practical life; everything matters. Even after realizing the truth in your experience, you still have to play the role in the real world. You would certainly live like a water drop on a lotus leaf, but the world still sees you as an individual bound to the obligations of the society.
Advaita and Dvaita
People like Ramanuja and Madhva who came after Shankara addressed the above mentioned problem. If you see the traditions in the world which see God and devotee as separate, you will notice that they all promise a place after death where they can live in God’s presence. We often hear vivid descriptions of vaikunta, paradise or heaven. This was just used as a trick or a social tool. To the general public, it was this teaching which was appropriate: develop loving devotion to God and surrender to him; after death, you can live with him forever. This was like tricking a child. By saying this, they can lure them into showing devotion. This in turns purifies the mind. According to the tradition, even if liberation is not possible for a person in this life, the spiritual development that he went through is carried forward to the next birth.
There have been many places in the world where people were quite primitive and completely lacked any moral sense or obligation towards society. Just imagine a vast peninsula which has no empire, no state, no kings and no public laws. 5th century Saudi Arabia is one of them. Many people, as a reaction to how things have turned out in the name of Islam and how Muhammad’s life was described in Hadiths written down many decades after his death, have come to a conclusion that Muhammad was a power hungry warlord, who was just after power, women and sex. But that will contradict many things in Islam itself.
Even the critics of Muhammad agree that Muhammad was a genius. Also, historians suggest that he was not illiterate as it is believed by Muslims. Muhammad also played tricks; he made compromises too. The idea of eternal hell was actually a social tool developed by Plato, a disciple of Socrates; it is not there in old Testament of Bible. Muhammad used this concept to discipline the people of Arabia. He was against female infanticide and many other social problems. Most importantly, Muhammad asserted that surrender or submission to one supreme God is the true form of worship. There was no concept of religion those days, even though people had various beliefs. People only had a concept called ‘deen’ which meant ‘the way of life”. Muhammad asserted that Islam or surrender to God is the right way of life or deen.
Islam stands on five pillars which basically is: oneness of God and submission to God; 5 prayers a day which has different postures just like yoga, a way to convey submission and also to focus one’s attention; fasting for a whole month with an attitude of devotion and love; going on a sacred pilgrimage where various devotees from different races and places gather as a symbol of equality and charity to the poor. But Muslims later became too sensitive towards their faith; even though Muhammad improved the status quo of Arabia as per historians, he couldn’t improve it completely in his lifetime. So, only Sufi tradition preserved the original teachings more clearly, which the mainstream Islam rejects as heresy.
Jesus also insisted that love towards God and love towards human beings are his two commandments.
So the bottomline is devotion is one of the ways to purify oneself. And a personal God or a personification is required for it; this divine has to be one and not many, so that one can surrender to it. It is the same as prapanna as described in Gita.
Apart from devotion, karma yoga, or doing one’s duties without attachment to the fruits of actions, also purifies the mind and develops the four-fold qualifications. Karma yoga is about focusing on the action rather than the result, on the present rather than the future; it teaches to develop love towards one’s actions and do the actions with focus and involvement, not with a mind that is daydreaming about the results. Pure Karma yoga produces states of flow quite effortlessly. Other sitting meditations and kundalini yoga also comes under karma yoga.
Four-Fold Qualifications – Sadhana Chatushtaya
So now you may ask; what are the fourfold qualifications that one should develop?
Out of those four, let us just see one for now, which is Shad-Sampat or six virtues. So this one among the fourfold qualifications is further divided into six:
Sama: calmness of the mind;
Dama: gaining control over the mind and senses.
Uparati: The tendency to naturally drop certain conditioned behaviors and habits; for example, you may lose interest in certain habits.
Titiksha – forbearance. Not getting too excited in pleasure and ability to withstand suffering.
Sraddha – trust; This is a trust in spiritual path and see it as a working method; this trust naturally develops once you start feeling some changes in your mind and experience.
Samadhana: Resolving all the internal conflicts so that you gain the ability to focus.
The most practical way to go for is to first slowly develop these six virtues; don’t give any deadline. The practice has to be taken slowly and gradually so that you also live your social life in the meantime. For example, a person who starts with can first work on forbearance or titiksha. This means that whenever you go through suffering, you should go through it willingly since there is no choice and try to bear the suffering without getting too distressed about it. You can also develop shraddha, or a faith that you would be able to grow spiritually as the time goes by.
Focused attention meditation that involves focusing on an object (like dhyana or shamata) can bring calmness to the mind and develop sama. It will also slowly develop dama or self-control. That is essentially about bringing the wandering mind under control without letting the mind distracted by sense objects. Uparati is something that would happen naturally when other virtues are developed. Samadhana is something you develop last.
2) Vairagya – Non-attachment
The next thing in four-fold qualifications that I am going to explain is vairagya or non-attachment. Many people mistake that non-attachment is renouncing one’s possessions. But one can lead a normal worldly life and still develop non-attachment,. This is usually symbolized as a metaphor: one lives like the lotus leaf in water; even though the leaf resides in water, it doesn’t get wet or the water doesn’t stick to it. Vairagya also refers to a certain state of mind; To understand that we have to learn about a concept called ‘hedonic treadmill”.
Hedonic treadmill theory is a psychological theory that states that regardless of the objective outcomes of lives such as success and failure, the experience of life always returns to a base-level happiness. Happiness never increases as time goes by; the base level happiness always remains the same but it keeps us in the hedonic treadmill, chasing for objective outcomes without actually reaching anywhere. This base-level happiness is a limited happiness and one is not satisfied with it. It is only self-realization or the realization of the truth about one’s own nature which can make the limited level of happiness to blossom fully, giving an individual the absolute sense of fulfillment and liberation. When one realizes that running on this hedonic treadmill is fruitless and is not interested in the objective outcomes, he has developed vairagya.
Now one may ask, if one chooses to not to be interested in the objective outcomes, won’t he stop working or performing? No; this will increase the performance. Because it will actually make the karma yoga to mature. Since you are not interested in objective outcomes, you can be fully devoted to action, while doing your obligatory duties. As I said, flow states are very normal when one is in karma yoga; so actions actually give a sense of enjoyment at this point.
3. Mumuksutva – Desire for liberation
Now you know that self-realization and the liberation that happens because of it while living is the only thing which will give you the absolute fulfilment. So, your concern shifts automatically from worldly desire to the desire for liberation. Your calm mind, non-attachment and the desire for liberation will make you more focused on the practice and also make you qualified to understand what Viveka is. It might have taken a few decades to reach up to this point. But there are exceptions, like people who get vairagya and mumuksutva in a very early age in life.
4. Viveka – Discrimination of the observer and observed.
One need to realize something that is self-evident. You know the existence of anything because you are conscious of it. You know that a tree you see exists because it is a perception perceived by the consciousness. Consciousness is what that knows everything; that knows that this world exists. So, existence of anything is only known by the existence of consciousness. You are also aware of your own thoughts, emotions, subtle mental movements and mood changes as they float as the contents of your consciousness. When you see everything from a totally subjective perspective, you will see that this world itself appears as a perception in your consciousness; it is as if everything is happening within consciousness.
It takes a great deal of objectivity to understand and develop viveka. Usually a human being is too attached to the concept of ‘me’ or ‘self, which gives him a sense of separation from the world. But when you develop non-attachment, it will be very easy to see this concept of little ‘me’ as an object of consciousness, which only appears to exist because the thoughts flow in the mind in a high speed. Just like a fan which is running in a high speed creates an illusion that there is a circle, the thoughts when moving fast gives a continuity and creates the illusion of self.
But if you take a step back from your thoughts and just observe what they do, sometimes they may slow down and you may be able to silence your mind for a few seconds. In that few seconds, you would just exist as consciousness simply perceiving sense perceptions. You can now see that you are actually consciousness itself, and that the thoughts, emotions, body and everything you perceive in consciousness is not you; But consciousness, which is the true Self, is now identified with the body, mind and many other concepts like one’s beliefs, one’s nationality, one’s religion etc. It mistakes a selective part of what is observed as self. This idea of mistaking the body and mind as one’s self is avidya or root ignorance, which is considered as the root cause of all suffering.
Since it is because of consciousness that the world is perceived, consciousness is seen more real than what appears on the consciousness. This consciousness or the pure awareness has no attributes and gives space for the life experience to occur and the perceptions to exist. Whether you are sleeping, dreaming or in a waking state, it is consciousness which pervades all these three!
With this understanding you can inquire everything that happens in your consciousness and see that it is not you; because you as the pure awareness that observes a thought or emotion should be separate from what is observed.
Since you can observe the thought, the thought is not you. This discrimination or clear identification of the observer or the pure awareness (the real you) and the objects of observation (thoughts, emotions, perceptions etc) is viveka.
Now this may raise a question. Doesn’t Vedanta say that everything is one and there is no two? Doesn’t the discrimination of observer vs observed promote duality? No.. Actually, this discrimination is necessary to remove the attachments and the selective identification of consciousness with body, mind and certain mental concepts related to the egoic self (my beliefs, my religion, my country etc).
The concept of oneness doesn’t have to be promoted as a teaching, belief or a philosophy. This is the reason some traditions do not talk about oneness or the absolute Brahman that exists without a second. It may actually confuse people at the earlier stages. Brahman is the same as your real self. Upanishads say prajnanam Brahman, which means consciousness is Brahman.
You can imagine your consciousness as a screen and everything that is observed in consciousness as moving pictures on the screen, In a sense, the screen and the pictures are different; but the pictures do not have any independent existence on their own, So the picture part is called as maya and the screen part is brahman. But you need to understand that the screen can exist without picture. The pictures are just modifications of the same reality. You may see thousand men marching in a screen but the screen is one. But until or unless this oneness of Brahman becomes living experience, theoretical understanding of what is Brahman is of no use. When the final realization dawns, both observer and the observed is realized as one and the same; this is Advaita. If you want to really understand oneness, it has to start with developing sadhana chatushtaya first.
The final stage of Vedantic path involves to be completely established as a witness or awareness; It is called as shakshibhava or nididhyasana. This is the same as mindfulness in Buddhism. It requires just being a witness and passive observer of everything that passes by in consciousness. You just let the mind happens by itself; you neither give force to the thoughts, emotions and subtle movements of mind nor suppress them. You simply let anything arise and pass away in your conscious experience. Your focus is more on silent gaps between thoughts and mental movements. these gaps keep increasing until the observer and observed converges and all the distinctions disappear,
There are many other things taught in Advaita like karma and creation of the universe. But they are not really much important, Understanding karma helps, but many things can be learnt in the later stage. The only thing one can focus on as a starting point is to work on purifying one’s mind.
I have explained more about Sadhana chatushtaya here:
(I am republishing an answer that I wrote on Quora)
The concept of karma yoga in Bhagavad Gita actually insists that one should do the required action without getting attached too much on the results.
Because getting hung up and attached to the fruits of action rather than giving your full attention on the actions you do will be actually a hindrance to the performance of action itself.
I actually read the same advice in a Forex trading website which asks traders to focus on action instead of results, and treat losses and profits alike because losses do happen in trading (like Gita teaches that one should have a calm and same attitude towards success and failure).
If anyone is having a goal but focused more on daydreaming about the fruits of actions, then he won’t focus on the action with full attention, involvement and love. Doing an action for the pure joy of doing it rather than doing it only for the results it gives, will also make the action easy. Because you are doing what you love to do. This is the essence of Bhagavad Gita.
The situation of Gita is very complicated. It is a fight between the relatives. One side has more people and one side has less. The beauty of Mahabharata story is that it doesn’t show reality as black and white as some middle age Tamil movies do.
In some slightly old Tamil movies, we would have a hero who loves his mother and sister, helps the poor, works hard, gets humiliated but first responds with peace then in climax fights like Bruce Lee, can dance and sing well and cannot see a single flaw. Then there is a villain who is the most cruel person that you will ever see.
But in the epic, it is different. First, both sides have good people and bad people. But none of the good people are shown without any flaws; this applies to Dharma and even Krishna. And none of the bad people are shown entirely evil. Duryodhana helps Karna when others reject him and Karna helps poor with charity. So, the it is quite realistic.
Now, one side grabs a state/land because of jealousy and greed, and other side loses it because of the temptations to gamble. All these are human weaknesses that one should overcome. Also, the war in the epic represents symbolically the struggle that an individual goes through in overcoming these, purifying the mind, conquering the ego and living the rest of the life with full contentment and peace. And Gita tells us to do all these without withdrawing from the world, without renouncing it and without stopping your actions and duties which are obligatory.
Then, Arjuna’s dilemma is this: His gurus are standing in the other side. He is asking, “How can I wage a war against my own gurus Drona and Bhishma? Instead, it is better to beg and live (those days it means nothing but taking sannyas).
As soon as Arjuna refuses to fight, Krishna talks about something practical. He is not interested in talking about spirituality at this moment. He just says casually in two slokas, ‘come on, Arjuna.. From where are you getting all this at this moment. This will only bring defame. This doesn’t suit you. Get up and fight’.. This is a very practical advice.
The very first thing Arjuna utters after that is, “How will I fight Bhishma and Drona with my bow and arrow? They deserve to be worshiped. It is better to beg and eat rather than ruling this world and the next world by killing my own gurus.”
Looking at it superficially, Arjuna sounds wise. But the two armies are ready to fight and the war is about to begin (in spite of many attempts to avoid the war). This is not the right time to say ‘I won’t fight’. That is why Krishna says that the war has happened by chance ( ‘yadruccaya ca upapannam – Gita 2–32’). A person who refuses to fight after coming to the war field will be seen as a coward rather than a non-violent man. When the army general refutes to fight for India, in India- Pakistan war by saying that his high school teacher is fighting for Pakistan army, especially when the war is ready to begin the next moment, it doesn’t look practical. In fact, the duty of the army general is to fight and that is his responsibility.
It also talks about svadharma. The essential meaning of this is one should only do the work or pursue a career that one is qualified for, the work that suits one’s personality and abilities. This very well applies to the modern day situation., People choose higher studies and careers based on its scope, based on money etc. Money is important; but what is more important is enjoying your work. If you are in a profession that doesn’t suit you, a job that doesn’t satisfy you, than obviously you are doing some job that is not compatible with your svadharma.
Many people link svadharma to varna but the inner and original or intended meaning of svadharma is just this. And that is one of the important messages in Gita.
Since Arjuna’s svadharma is being a warrior Krishna reminds him that it is people like him who are needed for the society when such a war occurs. A lot of attempts have been made to avoid the war and it is of no use.
Also, since this is about waging a war in an emergency situation even if our favourite people are on the other side, it teaches that one should be impartial, unbiased and neutral minded.
Then it gets into deep spiritual discussion. Krishna says, “you sound wise; but you forget that true jnanis do not worry about birth and death. (which means Bhishma and Drona themselves do not worry about death). wise people understand the impermanence of things in life”
But without getting into the deepest philosophy of Gita, this much can be taught to school children.
I have a 3 year old son. I have taught him a Gita verse, a Tirukkural, and a few other lines like, “yadhum ure, yaavarum kelir’ ‘anbe sivam’ and ‘vasudhaiva kutumbakam. You can watch him telling these lines by heart here: Shanmugam Piramanayagam was live.