Oneness without oneness – On Mahasiddha Shavaripa

Mahasiddha Shabaripada

Though he expresses with manifold variety of chattering,
The mind of the Yogi does not depart from the one.
In that oneness, there is not even oneness!
Therefore, the manifold is also free from any basis.
He dwells like a madman, careless and vacant,
In effortless conduct, like a baby.

In the state of carefree enjoyment of one’s realization,
When the plight of confused beings become evident,
Tears come forth through the power of overwhelming compassion.
Exchanging self for others, (the Yogi) engages for the benefit of others.

– Mahasiddha Shabaripada (Shavaripa)

Mahasiddha Shavaripa (Shabaripada) was one among the acclaimed 84 Mahasiddhas of Buddhism in India who attained the Mahamudra realization. He sang the above verses (from his Doha-kosha) regarding how the direct realization of emptiness and dependent arising leads to the carefree and unfabricated conduct of the Mahasiddhas, and how that manifests as great compassion to all beings.

The Yogi who attained Mahamudra realization sees all phenomena to be in one taste, that of Great Bliss (Mahāsukha). Though the Yogi engages in the manifold worldly expressions for communicating with others, his inner experience and realization never departs from that oneness of one taste. He does not experience anything whatsoever to be devoid of Great Bliss. He also sees that in this oneness of one-taste, there is not even one thing that can be found and grasped. It is utterly empty, yet it is ceaselessly experienced. And, since even that oneness is devoid of ‘one essence’, what needs to be told about the multitude of phenomena arisings! Even though he engages in a multitude of worldly expressions, he sees them to be utterly baseless, because even the oneness of one-taste is devoid of essence.

Mahasiddha Shavaripa’s quote from Doha-kosha on carefree conduct and compassionSince there is nothing to cling on to in the entire phenomenal arisings and in its one-taste, he is utterly free from hopes and fears. He has nothing to reject and nothing to hold on to. Therefore, he dwells careless and vacant, like a madman, nothing whatsoever bothering him and no phenomenal arising being capable of affecting the great bliss. He is as effortless as an infant in his conduct, because there are no consequences to fear.

Ordinary sentient beings are shattered by suffering. Since they have not realized the great bliss nature of all phenomena, they remain in confusion and delusion. And, they are tormented by hopes and fears. Tears roll down from an accomplished Mahasiddha upon seeing this plight of sentient beings, by being overwhelmed by great compassion (Mahakaruna). This is so, even though he is ceaselessly in his state of carefree enjoyment. Thus naturally, self is exchanged for the other. It means, the purpose of others is seen to be even more important than that of oneself.

It needs to be noted that for an accomplished Mahasiddha, there is no special meaning to be attributed to one action versus another. Because all actions and all results are experienced in the one taste of Great Bliss (Mahasukha). For one’s own purpose the carefree conduct is possible, and nothing more than a carefree conduct is required. Yet, by being overwhelmed the plight of other beings, the Mahasiddha sees greater benefit in one action versus others, because other beings may derive more benefit from than action. And, thus he engages in compassionate deeds of benefitting others by always keeping others before self.

Mahasiddha Shabaripada (known in Tibet as Mahasiddha Shavaripa) was originally a hunter by profession. He is called Shabaripada, because he comes from the hunting tribe called Shabara. Later, Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara introduced him to great compassion. Then, he stopped killing animals. Later, the Bodhisattva introduced him to the entire teachings of the Buddha. He is also said to have learned from Mahasiddha Saraha. Shavaripa practiced the teachings rigorously and soon accomplished the Mahamudra.

His realization of mahamudra and non-duality was later expressed beautifully by a later scholar in this way, by drawing parallels to his earlier life.

In the forest of ignorance lurks a deer,
The deer called alienation.
Taking out the great bow of wisdom and skillful means,
And shooting the single arrow of ultimate truth,
The deer dies – yes, conceptual thoughts die!
There is the flesh – a feast of non-duality,
And, the taste is that of Great Bliss (Mahāsukha),
And the goal, the Mahamudra is accomplished!

Yogi Prabodha Jnana
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4 thoughts on “Oneness without oneness – On Mahasiddha Shavaripa

  • Avatar
    August 13, 2020 at 4:00 am
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    Namaste…..
    I have a few doubts. 1. Is there a cessation of birth and death ? Is that effect of Nibbana ? Then who is taking birth and dying and finding Nibbana ?
    2. If all compound things are impermanent , that is same as Midhya of Vedanta. That which is not permanent is called Midhya .. Pls comment on this ..

    Thank you and waiting for your reply
    Vinodkumar
    TVM

    Reply
    • Yogi Prabodha Jnana
      August 14, 2020 at 7:21 pm
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      Dear Vinod,

      You are welcome. Here are the answers for you:

      #1.

      Yes, there is the cessation of the cycle of the karmic (cause and effect) flow of birth and death with Nibbana (Nirvana). There is no ‘thing’ or no ‘ātma’ that takes rebirths. Births and deaths are events in a sequence of experiences that arise as a person. If you closely observe what you are, you can find that you are a continuous flow of conditioned experiences. The conditioned experiences are of five types – form (rupa), feeling (vedana), perceptions (samjna), mental formations (samskara), and cognition (vijnana). These experiences arise and vanish continually as a chain of cause and effect. The mental formations of previous moments of experience modulate what arise later. Due to that, there is a sense of continuity of a person as if it were one entity. And, you see that what you did in the past affects what you experience in the future. Yet, there is no permanent entity in the person that stays through even for one lifetime.

      There is no person or Ātma of the person other than these momentarily changing experiences of the continuum. There is nothing permanent whatsoever to be found within this continuum too. Thus, there is no Ātma within or outside this continuum of experiences. It is like how a river flows. There is no river other than the water that flows, yet there is no water that stays forever as the river. It is also like how one candle lights another candle before it goes off, and the second candle lighting another. So, there is a continuum of light, yet no candle stays forever. This is how we flow within a lifetime, and this is how we continue across lifetimes. Nothing stays the same through this life and nothing goes to next life. Yet, there is a cause and effect sequence that flows as the experience of one life followed by another.

      The Buddha taught this process in detail as the twelve links (nidana) of dependent arising (pratitya samudpada),and it can be observed by anybody. When this process is reversed, the cause of suffering is eliminated, and nirvana is attained.

      #2.

      The fact that all compounded things are impermanent is not mithya (falsity). Only the confusion of impermanent as permanent is mithya. Anything existent has to be impermanent as nothing can function unless it is impermanent. So, there is no need to replace the impermanent with something permanent. And, there is nothing that is permanent. Unlike Vedanta, the pursuit is not in search of permanence. The Way of the Buddha is to understand impermanence and learn to live with it without clinging. I think, this might suffice as the answer for you. But, if you are interested at a deeper level of comparison, then we need to look at sunyata (emptiness) and mayopama (illusion-like) nature of reality that the Buddha taught.

      At that level, there is some similarity and even deeper differences.

      Reality, whatever appears, is mayopama (illusion-like) in that it appears but does not exist inherently. It is not only impermanent (anitya) but also without a self (nairatmya) and empty (sunya) of inherent existence. All phenomena are empty of inherent existence because they arise only in dependence upon causes and conditions. There is no reality that is truly existent and not like maya.

      Though phenomena are not inherently existent, they appear as if inherently existent. In this sense, the way phenomena appear to a person of Samsara can also be called mithya (falsity). Yet, it is not totally mithya because, for the purpose of functioning in this world, there is consistency in the way things appear. Also, in the way you can engage with those things. Thus, within our ordinary conventions, we can produce a tea by boiling water, milk, and tea leaves together upon a fire produces tea. However, none of the above said, water, milk, tea leaves, the cup of tea, and the fire are truly existent. So, it is called samvriti satya (the concealing truth or relative truth). It has a level of truth within our ordinary conventions and not totally falsity. Paramartha satya (ultimate truth) is a deeper level of truth that shows that none of these exist inherently. Though drinking a cup of tea can be a matter of joy conventionally, it is a mistaken thought that the cup of tea is the actual source of happiness. This mistaken thought leads to attachment and aversion, and further leads to suffering. By realizing the ultimate truth, one can go beyond such mistaken perceptions, and experience the innate joy of one’s own mind.

      So, you can drink a cup of tea and enjoy that even though it is like maya (illusion). You can be happy and peaceful with and without that cup of tea. And there is no phenomoena that is not maya-like. Yet, when we do not realize the illusion-like nature (lack of inherent existence and dependent arising) of the tea and other phenomena, there is suffering. In that case, we mistake the cup of tea to be the actual source of happiness, and crave for it. Craving leads to suffering. And, when the tea (or something more precious) is present, we suffer with the worry about having to part with it in future. When one realizes the illusion-like nature, there is no suffering and one will be able to work with the illusion-like reality perfectly for the benefit of beings who are still suffering due to confusion about reality.

      To understand this clearly, let us compare this with the mithya of some non-Buddhist systems. In those non-Buddhist systems, one considers the impermanent as mithya and, seeks for something else that is thought to be permanent. Thus, they reject this world of impermanence, and try to cling on to a seemingly stable meditative experience that appears as if it is permanent. However, in reality, even those meditative experiences are established to be impermanent when you analyze them closely. Not only clinging to ordinary appearances of this world but even clinging to such meditative experiences is a cause of suffering.

      Let us look at an analogy such non-Buddhist systems of Mithya-doctrine give. They claim that a ring or necklace of gold is mithya (falsity) because those forms can change over time. They claim that only the gold that stays permanent is the satya (truth). In the same manner, they claim that a permanent singular substratum is the only reality and that the impermanent multiplicity of this world is mithya. However, this is neither correct nor pragmatic. For example, a gold-biscuit does not function in the same way as gold-ring until it is made into a ring. Only a ring can be worn, and not a gold-biscuit. Further, a ring can be worn even if it is not made of gold. Thus, a ring of gold has specific conventional use that are lost if you overlook its characteristics of being a ring.

      Likewise, one may argue that a cup is mithya, and only the material used to make the cup, say paper or cellophane, is the satya. Again, you can’t drink tea with that paper unless it is assembled as a cup. So, it does not make sense to reject the cup as mithya and accept only an underlying material. In other words, by rejecting the multiplicity of phenomena appearances as mithya and seeking for a singular permanent entity, one is basically limiting one’s exposure to a narrow range of phenomena – that of a samadhi state of abiding in meditation. The Way of the Buddha is not like that.

      Let us now come back to the Way that the Buddha expounded.

      In the Way that the Buddha expounded, there is no clinging to any of state of experiences. All phenomena are seen to be impermanent and without inherent existence. Yet, there is neither acceptance nor rejection of the appearance of this world or of any state of meditative experience. Impermanence is not a cause of suffering if it is not confused to be permanence. Impermanence is an opportunity for ever-fresh experience moment by moment. The Buddhist Way is about mindfully relating to whatever you experience, without rejecting or clinging on to, and then cultivating deeper insight about its true nature. There is no need to reject the multiplicity and transient dynamics of this world. Everything can be experienced in one-taste (the taste of great bliss of Nirvana). The oneness expressed in the quote above by Mahasiddha Shavaripada is about that one taste or the great evenness of mind. It is not about clinging to one entity by rejecting the rest. It is an oneness (the taste of great bliss in every experience) with the realization that not even one thing exist inherently.

      In fact, at a deeper level of understanding, Nirvana and Samsara are not two different worlds. When phenomena are confused to be what they are not, there is Samsara. It is the experience of a mind that is compounded with ignorance. When that confusion is eliminated, the same phenomenal world is experienced as Nirvana.

      #3.
      Here, I would also answer some of the other questions that you asked elsewhere. In the comment section of a FB post, you asked, “If I am not, then where is MY Karma ? What is Atha and Anatha ? pls comment .

      There is karma only because you are not. If you were a permanent entity, how can you ever do any activity? An activity involves change. How can you ever experience anything? A moment of fresh experience is a change from the previous moment. If you were a permanent entity, how can there be any effect of karma? Any effect involves change. Thus, there is karma, and cause-effect chain only because there is no permanent ‘I’. If there is anything permanent, it cannot handle cause and effect, and it can neither experience nor act. Please refer to point #1 above to see how karma and cause-effect chain work in a continuum of experiences without a permanent ‘I’.

      Atta (Ātma) is the sense of Self or “i” that seems to stay the same through our experiences. Philosophically, some people speculate about as a permanent, independently existing, and indivisible entity that is different from changing experiences. And that can be refuted both through observation and logic. At a subtler level, one may take Atma to be a substantial, self-sufficient, and autonomous entity though not permanent, independent, or indivisble. That is, a compounded entity that seems to hold certain self-characteristics such that it plays the role of Self. Even this is refuted through observation and logic. At an even subtler level, Atma may be viewed as an inherently existing I. Even this is refuted through observation and logic. Anatta (Anātma) means not-self. It is the realization that whatever is experienced is not Self, because it is not an “i” that seems to continue over time. There is also nairātmya (no-self). It is the realization that there is no self at all within or outside our realm of experiences.

      #4.
      You also asked in another FB post, ”If I am not, then who is attaining Nibbana?

      Again, if you are, how can you attain Nibbana that you were not? Nibbana is possible only because you are not inherently something. Thus a compounded state of your continuum is Samsara, and the uncompounded state is Nibbana.

      #5.
      Elsewhere, you also asked “all living beings are made up of FIVE substances and all attain Nibbana when they die. It things are so simple, then why a human should do Sadhana ?

      The body may be seen as made up of the five elements. But, we are not just the body. We are sentient beings – that is, we are basically beings who have a continuum of experience. As explained above, that continuum of experiences goes through the cycle of birth, sickness, aging, and death. Beings do not attain Nibbana automatically upon death. Instead, they just go on to experience another birth. To attain Nibbana, one should develop insight to reverse the twelve links of dependent arising.

      To people of modern times, continuity of consciousness and the cause-effect process of consciousness is often difficult to understand because they confuse consciousness and mind with brain. Though it can be clearly differentiated, it is a complex topic involving discussion of modern science, philosophy, logic, etc. And, those who do not understand the difference between consciousness and brain, consider the cycle of birth and death to be a blind belief. For someone who is ready to do a genuine inquiry, this need not be blindly accepted. One can infer the continuity of consciousness through logical analysis provide one is able to see the characteristics of consciousness that differentiate it from brain. One can also directly understand that through observing in meditation. However, since that is quite a complex task for a beginner, the idea of the cycle of birth and death seems to be non palatable for many beginners of modern age. For this reason, many modern writers of Buddhism adopted skillful means of not talking about next life at all, and rather focusing on this life alone. In this way, they wish to bring the benefit of the teaching of the Buddha to wider audience. Their wish is that people can at least managing this life better with the teachings of the Buddha, and that in turn would help in any future lives.

      I hope this answered your doubts.
      Warm regards and Metta,
      Yogi Prabodha

      Reply
  • Avatar
    August 15, 2020 at 1:29 pm
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    Dear brother,
    Thank you so much for your kind and enlightening reply. I am a retired soldier and have much interest in the teachings of Buddha. When I was working at Chennai, I found a Burmese Pagoda at a place called Padianallur near Madras central Jail.But I could not communicate the Burmese monk because of language problem.Around five years back, a Chinese monk from Malesia visited Kerala and also stayed one day at my home.He also did not answer to my questions.I have been wandering all around Tamil Nadu in search of Jain temples and visited Kanchipuram,Thiruvannamalai etc.There used to be a weekly Buddhist discourse at Chennai which I used to attend on every Friday during 2009.I left Chennai 2010. I live near Chempazhanthy , the brith place of Sree Narayana Guru. There is an ancient Bodhisathva statue in the Gurukulam complex brought there from a Shasta temple nearby.There is one more Bodhisatva statue of the same shape near Vithura at place called Makki.
    Pls watch this videio of Ven Gobind Lama from Himachal .People worship him as a realised person.He speaks some thing here …https://youtu.be/vgFm2I3lnRU at 24 minutes [edited by site admin – link replaced with the link to the original video], Here it looks like Vedanta. Again he says some thing different. He says there are two ways for realisation.. Buddha way and Milarepa way .. https://youtu.be/vgFm2I3lnRU at 48 minutes [edited by site admin – link replaced with the link to the original video]
    Mahavira was also a Yogi like Buddha. Many Masters teach different way. The ultimate truth may be one and same for all, still many schools of religion exist..I am a humble seeker .Narayana Guru says there is only the ARIVU. All things are made of that. Vedantha….
    Thank you .
    With love
    Vinodkumar

    Reply
    • Yogi Prabodha Jnana
      August 19, 2020 at 8:25 pm
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      Dear Vinod,

      Some of the questions you brought up are on some delicate topics, and I have to answer it with a rather lengthy response. Please see my responses below.

      
#1. On Sameness / Oneness

      To answer your question regarding the sameness that Govind Lama of Himachal spoke about,

      The oneness/sameness that he expressed is the same as the one in the above article deals regarding Mahasiddha Shavaripa’s words – the oneness without oneness – “In that oneness, there is not even oneness!” That is clear from the compassion and loving-kindness with which he is relating to people. You can find this kind of oneness/sameness across the spectrum of Buddhism and is different from ontological oneness speculated in some other philosophies.

      Words ‘sameness’, ‘oneness’, etc. are not exclusive to some philosophy that establishes monism – one ultimate entity. The Buddha, Mahasiddha Savripa, and the Lama in the video you referred to talk about on kind of oneness. Please do not confuse that with the other kind of oneness. If oneness meant a philosophical view that individual people are mithya (falsity) and that there is only one entity in this world as satya (truth), and that too that only one entity being an always perfect being, then what role does compassion and loving-kindness have? If people are not people but the always perfect one being, to whom is compassion felt? And, by whom? Why would there be teachings in this world meant to lead sentient beings to liberation and enlightenment? If the only real being is already perfect and the perception of seeing sentient beings is utter falsity, there is no one to be liberated, and there is no need for teachings. After all, who is teaching whom? If someone realizes an oneness that is one entity without a second (advaita), then such a person would end up sitting quite as, for him, there is nothing other than that in this world, and there is nothing to be accomplished for the benefit of self or others. Obviously, that is not the view here.

      That is not the reality. The Buddha discovered that beings and their suffering are impermanent and arising only due to interdependent causes and conditions. Any of us can also analyze and arrive at the same conclusion. Because suffering is not inherently existing and impermanent, it can be changed to happiness and bliss. Because one can relate to the suffering of sentient beings and because that suffering can be transformed, there is great compassion and tremendous scope for benevolent actions.

      The Buddha taught sameness and oneness of all beings in various ways. But, none of those is in the sense of monistic philosophical speculation that there is only one entity that is satya. It is rather about the nature of all beings. Let us see some of the contexts of such oneness, sameness, equality, non-dual (advaya), etc., in Buddhism.

      The Buddha found, and all of us can discover through in-depth analysis and inquiry, that there is no inherently existing being. There is nothing that exists by itself. Yet, through interdependent arising, sentient beings of various kinds appear. Such sentient beings undergo cycles of suffering and happiness. The suffering and happiness also do not exist inherently, but only appear interdependently. Beings may behave differently due to differing habitual dispositions that they accumulated through their ignorance. Yet, at a deeper level, every sentient being wishes for happiness, peace, and contentment, and wants to avoid suffering, pain, and discontentment. The only reason they have suffering is that having overtaken by ignorance, they don’t know the actual causes of suffering and happiness and thus engage in wrong actions of body, speech, and mind. Therefore, there is the sameness in their most basic motivation being ‘wanting happiness and not wanting suffering’. They are also the same in being confused and continuing to suffer in myriad ways despite having the potential for abiding in happiness and peace. When a person of some realization sees this plight, there is indeed great compassion. The sameness of this kind is what the Lama in the video mentions. It is not that they are a single being, but they have similar qualities. That is not the only sameness.

      Further, every sentient being has the quality of being aware. Mahayana Buddhism explores this in detail. Sentient beings may be aware and conscious in confused ways, and they may misconceive things. Yet, the fact remains that all of them are aware, in one or another manner. The confusion and ignorance can be eliminated. Confusion and ignorance, though present, are not in their nature because those can be eradicated. Thus, another sameness is that all sentient beings naturally possess the quality of being aware, free from any confusion. It does not mean that such a pure awareness free from confusion is present in the sentient beings right away. Yet, it shows the potential that upon purification of confusion, they too would have the same awakened awareness as the Buddhas (Omniscient Ones). In other words, all sentient beings have the same potential as that of the Buddhas, to be perfectly awake and to be perfectly at peace and bliss, and to have perfect compassion to benefit others who are yet to be awakened. This quality again is a sameness in nature – all sentient beings are empty of inherent existence, yet they have the quality of luminous awareness. They are aware, yet, that awareness is not seen as an entity upon investigation. They are aware, yet there is nothing to cling to as, “This is awareness” or “This is me”.

      Again, this does not mean that all beings have the same consciousness as some speculative systems imagine. To understand this, consider the case of a person who is sleeping and seeing a confused dream. He has a confused consciousness, but he too can wake up from sleep later as possess a wisdom consciousness. Thus, since his confusion is temporary, he too can eliminate it and give rise to the wisdom of waking consciousness. Therefore, he possesses the potential for waking consciousness, though currently, what he possesses is confused consciousness. It is an error to speculate that the dreaming person has, in parallel, got another permanent consciousness that is always awake. No, he would have a waking consciousness only when he wakes up. In this way, it is also wrong to claim that all beings possess the same conscious entity. If that were the case, then it is impossible that while one person is sleeping, another person is awake. Likewise, if there is only one entity without the second in this world, all people should be awakened, or all should be in confusion, and all should be seeing the world in the same way and should hold the same perceptions. As you know, that is not the case.

      From this, we can understand that the various ways of confused consciousness arise when there are ignorance and confusion. And, an awakened pure consciousness arises when there is no ignorance. None of these consciousnesses – confused or awakened – exist inherently. None of these exist permanently. Though everyone has the potential for awakened awareness, it is not that a permanently awakened awareness is present in parallel to another temporary awareness that is confused.

      So, sameness does not mean one entity in everybody. In the Buddhist context, sameness means similar capacity and similar nature. Not even one entity is truly established. Yet, all sentience arise interdependently with similar capacity and nature. So, there is oneness without even one entity established.

      If one clings to even one thing, including even a pure state of awareness, it is not liberation. To be totally free, one needs to let go of all modes of clinging. Clinging to pure awareness as Self is also a mode of clinging.

      There is also non-duality in Mahayana Buddhism. This non-duality is advaya (not two) and not advaita (no second). Advaya means that the duality of the object of experience (vishaya) and the experiencing consciousness (vishayin) is a falsity. A single moment of experience is perceived as separate object and subject due to ignorance. Likewise, the three spheres of the experience, the experienced and the experiencer, or the three of action, doer and the recipient are not truly three distinct entities but established so in our perception due to ignorance.

      #2. On Two Ways

      To answer your question regarding the two ways of realization:
      In the video that you referred, the Lama mentions two Tibetan terms, Do and Ngag, that he also casually translated as Buddha’s way and Milarepa’s way by him so that ordinary people of the region can understand easily. Its precise translation is Sutra and Tantra ways. Both are the ways taught by the Buddha. In fact, there are many ways, sometimes told as 84000 ways and sometimes enumerate as nine ways and so on, that the Buddha taught towards awakening. All these ways fully accept the basic realities of the world that the Buddha discovered – anitya (all compounded phenomena are impermanent), anatma (person and phenomena are without self/atma), dukha (all phenomena contaminated by the compounding of emotions are in the nature of suffering), nirvana (there is freedom from such compounded emotions, and that is utterly peaceful).

      #3. On the correctness of many schools

      Regarding your statement, “The ultimate truth may be one and same for all, still many schools of religion exist..”:

      This is another delicate topic and needs a long reply.

      We are not talking about religion here. Religions are dogmatic. People fight with each other in the name of those dogmas. They do so without knowing what truth is. Let alone truth, they don’t even know how to find out which is truth. Often, they don’t even know what they are aiming for in the name of religion. Since religion has become more of a matter of emotional clinging than a path to some realization, it became a tool for narrow communal identities and a basis for cultivating hatred for others. There is also the so-called religious sentiment that gets wounded very easily. Ideally, what religion aims should be to heal the wounds of humanity. Unfortunately, it keeps wounding more people. So, it has become a tendency and necessity to cultivate the much needed religious harmony by accepting all religions as equal. It is an approach of ‘live and let others live’ because nobody knows who is right.

      However, progress in the world does not come through any of these religions and sentimental faiths, but through the systematic, rigorous, and scientific investigation without emotional and communal biases. Now, for all practical matters, people rely on science and hold their respective religions as their object of only emotional attachment and sense of communal identity.

      We can’t handle the topic that we are discussing with such a religious mentality. We need a scientific inquiry. Do we say in science that Newton and Einstein meant the same thing? No. We could say that Newton discovered the laws of Physics within a particular scope, and Einstein took it forward. We could also say that many of the earlier held scientific beliefs were proven wrong with later findings of science. In science, there is no sentimental wound when an earlier thesis is proven wrong. For example, people initially thought that the earth is flat and that the sun moves around the earth. But, this was totally rejected later as we came to know that earth is a globe that rotates around the sun. There is no need to say that both the old and new theories are valid methods to reach the same meaning. There is no need for people born in a certain race or region to continue to believe that the earth is flat. That is the beauty of genuine inquiry. In science, nobody expects you to uphold wrong, right, and partially right theories equally.

      But, unfortunately, when it comes to the topics left to religions to explore, it is considered fashionable and the right etiquette to uphold all religious dogmas as leading to the same truth. This is so because people implicitly know that religions are not reaching at any truth, but only becoming objects of attachment and conflicts for people. If you want to know the truth about the matters that we discuss, you have to liberate these topics from the purview of religions and approach it with a fresh mind – free from clinging to traditions, ancestry, etc. That is the only way.

      If analyzed genuinely, we can see that not all systems of philosophy lead to the same result. Some are wrong. Some are right. It is also true that some are partially right in the sense that it benefits people though it may not take on to the complete awakening. Any system that promotes non-harming of others, compassion and benevolence to others, and taming one’s own afflictive emotions are systems in the right direction even if it does not have the wisdom for awakening. Further, any system or an interpretation of a system that leads to ill-will, covetousness and evil actions is indeed wrong.

      Moreover, when it comes to the wisdom for awakening, it is not the question of Buddhism or another. It is also not a question whether you call yourself Buddhist or not. But, it should have the correct understanding of reality and should be capable of uprooting ignorance. For example, concerning physical systems, if anyone were to say that apples, when detached from the tree, will fly away to outer space, that will not be a correct system. If someone were to speculate that at least some of the apples will fly away while others fall to earth, that also has no basis on reality. Likewise, since clinging, particularly clinging to impossible ways of Self due to ignorance, is the fundamental cause of suffering, any system that leads to freedom from suffering should address this cause and help in eliminating all modes of clinging.

      As the Buddha taught, even the Buddha’s own words are not to be accepted blindly just out of reverence for him. It needs to be accepted after having analyzed it for its correctness. The Buddha said,

      “Oh bhikshus and the wise! Just as gold is tested
      Through burning, cutting and rubbing,
      Likewise, examine my words thoroughly,
      And only then accept them, not merely out of respect for me.”
      – ghanavyuha sutra

      The Buddha also told,
      “Rely not upon the individual, but upon a valid teaching
      Rely not upon the words, but upon the meaning
      Rely not upon interpretable, but upon the definitive meaning
      Rely not upon an ordinary consciousness, but upon exalted wisdom”
      – catvāri pratiśaraṇāni sutra

      So, even if it is the Buddha’s own words, the right approach is to analyze them and see in which context the Buddha said so for what purpose. Analyze to see its applicability for our purpose and gain correct insight into those words. Only then accept it.

      No matter which system one follows, the correct representation of reality must have these four points anitya, anatma, dukha, and nirvana. It is as fundamental as saying that all apples would fall to the ground.

      #4. On Srinarayana Guru

      Regarding your mention of Sri Narayana Guru’s view,

      Though Sri Narayana Guru expressed his wisdom using the Upanishadic paradigm, I feel that his insight comes closer to Buddhism. Unlike Upanishads, the qualities of compassion and kindness to others is a central theme in his teachings. This is no wonder. I think his practical teachers were from the Tamil Siddha tradition while his scholastic learning would have been on Upanishads. Tamil Siddha tradition is known to have had a secret lineage of Buddhism till at least the 17th century, and at least the fragments of that wisdom would have continued later too.

      As discussed above concerning question #1, the qualities of compassion and loving-kindness won’t come as the central theme along with the wisdom if individual people and their impermanent temperament were treated as mere falsity (mithya) while taking only the pure awareness as the truth (satya). There could be compassion and kindness as worldly moral values even in other systems, but the Buddhist realization explained in #1 above brings these qualities to the very center of realization. Sri Narayana Guru also seems to keep compassion and kindness as the central theme along with his version of the wisdom of oneness.

      He said,

      അവനിവനെന്നറിയുന്നതൊക്കെയോർത്താ-
      ലവനിയിലാദിമമായൊരാത്മരൂപം.
      അവനവനാത്മസുഖത്തിനാചരിക്കു-
      ന്നവയപരന്നു സുഖത്തിനായ് വരേണം.

      -(verse 24, Atmopadesa-satakam)

      (Meaning: If [one] reflect on whatever [one] know as ‘that person’, ‘this person’, etc., in this world, primordially, they are expressions of a single self. Whatever one observes for the welfare of oneself, should [be suitable to] bring welfare to others. )

      Here, suppose we take atma (self) in its traditional meaning as the only one entity, with all other being falsity. In that case, it cannot lead to the second part – that of recognizing individuals such as oneself and others, and finding one’s own welfare in the welfare of others. This is so, because the perfect oneness is not seeking any welfare, and if we see only that perfect oneness in others, there is no need to be concerned additionally about their welfare. Any such additional concern would have to be rejected as mithya (falsity). Since that is not Narayana Guru’s approach, his insight about oneness had to be similar to the oneness of Buddhism (as explained in the answer to your question #1). It is possible that he had such a vision of oneness through his Tamil Siddha practical lineage, and expressed it in Upanishadic terms due to his scholarly exposure to that tradition.

      He also said,

      തൊലിയുമെലുമ്പുമലം ദുരന്തമന്തഃ-
      കലകളുമേന്തുമഹന്തയൊന്നു കാൺക!
      പൊലിയുമിതന്യ പൊലിഞ്ഞുപൂർണമാകും
      വലിയൊരഹന്ത വരാ വരം തരേണം.

      -(verse 12, Atmopadesa-satakam)

      (Meaning: See the ego that carries skin, bone, impurities, and the inner habits for disasters. These others will wither away. There is perfection as it withers away. May I be blessed not to give rise to a greater ego at that time! )

      Here again, as he cautions against giving rise to a greater ego, I think, his insight is not like the speculation about one cosmic consciousness. It could be something closer to the Buddhist wisdom – that of perfection through total letting go of clinging. When clinging is totally abandoned, everything is seen as perfect because there is no mental compounding that contaminates it.

      Again, he said,

      സകലമഴിഞ്ഞു തണിഞ്ഞു കേവലത്തിൻ-
      മഹിമയുമറ്റു മഹസ്സിലാണിടേണം.

      -(verse 13b, Atmopadesa-satakam)

      (Meaning: Having unbound everything, and having cut off from even [the clinging to] the greatness of oneness, [you] should sink into the expanse. )

      Here, he seems to suggest going beyond the clinging to the oneness, into the expanse of total non-clinging, very much in the Buddhist way, and similar to the ‘oneness without oneness’ expressed by Mahasiddha Shavaripa.

      Though Narayana Guru’s famous motto is, “ഒരു ജാതി, ഒരു മതം, ഒരു ദൈവം മനുഷ്യന്” (One caste, one religion, one God for humanity), which sounds rather theistic, he later approved the modification by his disciple Sahodaran Ayyappan. Sahodaran said, “ജാതി വേണ്ടാ, മതം വേണ്ടാ, ദൈവം വേണ്ടാ മനുഷ്യന്. വേണം ധർമ്മം, വേണം ധർമ്മം, വേണം ധർമ്മം യഥോചിതം.” (Humanity does not need caste, does not need religion, does not need God. We need Dharma; we need Dharma; we need Dharma appropriately). I find this latter motto more appropriate. According to the account that I heard, Narayana Guru also approved it. And that indicates that Narayana Guru did not cling to a concept of God in a theistic way, but only used it as a skillful method to benefit people of that time who could not abandon religion and God. This possibility is confirmed by that fact hat Narayana Guru announced later through news paper, “I don’t have a caste or religion”.

      I hope this clarifies your questions.

      Warm regards and metta,
      Prabodha

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