NIRVANASHATKAM—“VIA NEGATIVE” APPROACH TO UNDERSTAND THE SUPREME
(Compilation for a discourse by N.R. Srinivasan, Nashville, TN, February 2017)
The Atmashatkam also known as Nirvanashatkam is a composition by Sankara Bhagavad Pada consisting of 6 fold verses (and hence the name Ṣaṭ-ka to mean six-fold) focusing on the Hindu Philosophy of neti neti and non-dualism.
The poet of the Nirvanashtkam is apparently God Siva as the translation goes but it is generally seen as a statement by the author who identifies himself with the dissolution aspect of Brahman that is Shiva. It is obvious that it is Sankara who is talking about the Self in him. The first five verses list what the Self is not. It is not body or mind, nor the things that attach them to each other and to the world, including the intellect, the senses, the practices of life, the occurrences of life such as birth and death. The last verse says that Siva permeates the universe, and that he is consciousness, bliss and the soul, and by implication Siva is Brahman. Upanishads and Gita also say the Self is an integral part of Brahman. But every verse mentions Siva is Chid-Aananda that is Consciousness and Bliss omitting Sat. Upanishads describe Jivaatman which occupies the same body as Paramaatman as Sat-Chit-Aananda that is Truth-Consciousness and Bliss. It is therefore obvious this reference chit-aananda is to the Self or Jivatman where Siva means “that which is not”
Brahman referred as SATHYAM consists of three syllables, sath+thi+yam=Sathyam. Sat is the immortal; thi is the mortal; and yam means “by that both these are regulated” thereby meaning Supreme Brahman. Maayaa is Mithyam, opposite of Sathyam. World is Maayaa to those who have attained a desire-less (Gunateetha) state in this world with Sadhana or spiritual training and are on their onward journey only to integrate with Supreme. Occupying the same body both Paramaatman and Jivatman share the same qualities except Paramaatman is Sathyam Jnaanam Amalam and Anantam (Sathyam as described above, Absolute Consciousness, Untainted by Karma at any stage, and Bhuma or indescribable Plentitude). It is the Self of all Selfs. So the last verse refers to Paramaartman
When Sankara Bhagavatpada was a young boy of eight and wandering near River Narmada, seeking to find his guru, he met the learned seer Govindapada. Govindapada wanted to know who he was. Sankara replied to him with his instant inspired poetic composition of six verses which are given below. Swami Govindapada impressed by his profound knowledge as to who is, accepted him as his disciple. This was no ordinary reply but coming from a profound thinker of the Supreme. The verses reflected contemplation practices then prevailing that lead one to Self-Realization. "Nirvaaṇa" is complete equanimity, peace, tranquility, freedom and joy. “Aatma” is the True Self. Nirvaana also means “Formless” referring to Paramaatman. The very name Bhagavat Pada shows his subservience to the Supreme. In Bhagavad Gita Bhagawan refers to Krishna as Parmaatman as revealed in Viswaroopam. Sanakra also later commented on Gita including Vishnu Sahasranama. Strangely he did not think of Sri Rudram for his study Otherwise we would not have been in the dark as to the odd and even numbers in Chamakam. Also he did not think of Sivasahasranamam. In his last composition Bhajagovindam as well as Aatmabodha he advised all to meditate upon the sustenance aspect of Paramaatman that is Vishnu showing his main focus on Vishnu alone.
manobuddhyahaṅkāra cittāni nāhaṃ
na ca śrotrajihve na ca ghrāṇanetre
na ca vyoma bhūmir na tejo na vāyuḥ
cidānandarūpaḥ śivo'ham śivo'ham
I am not mind, nor intellect, nor ego, nor the reflections of inner self (Chitta). I am not the five senses. I am beyond that. I am not the ether, nor the earth, nor the fire, nor the wind (the five elements). I am Consciousness and Bliss that is Self. I am Auspiciousness, Auspiciousness.
Na cha pranasamjno na vai panchvaayu
Na vaa saptadhaatuh na vcaa panchakosah
Na vaak-paani-paadam na-cho-pastha-paaayu
Chidaanandaroopah Shivoham Shivoham
Neither can I be termed as energy (prāṇa), nor five types of breath (vāyus), nor the seven material essences, nor the five sheaths (pañca-kośa). Neither am I the organ of Speech, nor the organs for Holding (Hand), Movement ( Feet ) or Excretion. I am Consciousness and Bliss that is Self. I am Auspiciousness, Auspiciousness.
na me dveşarāgau na me lobhamohau
mado naiva me naiva mātsaryabhāvaḥ
na dharmo na cārtho na kāmo na mokşaḥ
cidānandarūpaḥ śivo'ham śivo'ham
I have no hatred or dislike, nor affiliation or liking, nor greed, nor delusion, nor pride or haughtiness, nor feelings of envy or jealousy. I have no duty (Dharma), nor any money, nor any desire (Kaama), nor even liberation (Mukti). I am Consciousness and Bliss that is Self. I am Auspiciousness, Auspiciousness.
na puṇyaṃ na pāpaṃ na saukhyaṃ na duhkhaṃ
na mantro na tīrthaṃ na vedā na yajña
ahaṃ bhojanaṃ naiva bhojyaṃ na bhoktā
cidānandarūpaḥ śivo'ham śivo'ham
I have neither merit (Punya), nor demerit (Paapa). I do not commit sins or good deeds, nor have happiness or sorrow, pain or pleasure. I do not need mantras, holy places, scriptures (Vedas), rituals or sacrifices (yajñas). I am none of the triad of the observer or one who experiences, the process of observing or experiencing, or any object being observed or experienced. I am Consciousness and Bliss that is Self. I am Auspiciousness, Auspiciousness.
na me mṛtyuśaṅkā na me jātibhedaḥ
pitā naiva me naiva mātā na janmaḥ
na bandhur na mitraṃ gurunaiva śişyaḥ
cidānandarūpaḥ śivo'ham śivo'ham
I do not have fear of death, as I do not have death. I have no caste or creed distinction. I have neither father nor mother. I am not born. I am not the relative, nor the friend, nor the guru, nor the disciple. I am Consciousness and Bliss that is Self. I am Auspiciousness, Auspiciousness.
ahaṃ nirvikalpo nirākāra rūpo
vibhutvā ca sarvatra sarvendriyāṇaṃ
na cāsangata naiva muktir na meyaḥ
cidānandarūpaḥ śivo'ham śivo'ham
I am all pervasive. I am without any attributes, and without any form. I have neither attachment to the world, nor to liberation (Mukti). I have no wishes for anything because I am everything, everywhere, every time, always in equilibrium. I am Consciousness and Bliss that is Self. I am Auspiciousness, Auspiciousness.
But for the texts marked in bold letters all the rest describes the Self in negative terms in all the six verses, hence the name Nirvana Satkam—Six-fold negative Revelations of the Self. This is one of the high philosophic poetic compositions written by Adi Sankara Bhagawat Pada, connecting his Self, more with Lord Shiva than this world and clearly explaining his theory of non-dualism. Many of his followers believe he is an avatar of Siva like Ramanuja is believed to be an avatar of Adisesha by Vaishnavites. There is a story that one of his disciples started chanting Shivoham. Sankara entered a black smith’s house and happily drank one tumbler of molten iron and ordered the disciple to do so. Naturally he was not able to it. The Acharya told him that as for himself the molten iron or ice cold water are not different because he has realized that he is no different from the Supreme being, and till the disciple attains that state of Self-realization there is no point in his repeating Shivoham i.e. “I am Shiva”
Nondualism in is discussed in two rather contrasting ways (“the positive way” and “the negative way”). Although these appear to be opposites, they actually represent alternate means to explain the same.
The idea of Brahman as neti-neti (not this not this or nehalism) becomes a very strong theme in later Advaita Hinduism, both as a concept and as the root of practice. This thought essentially comes from Upanishads only.
The ideal example of the “via negative” approach appears in the and most important Upanishad on which Sankara has commented. Here we find the famous definition of Brahman as “not this, not that. “Neti-neti” means that Brahman can only be defined by what it is not, and what it is not is anything. It is not confined to any of the names or forms of this world. “Neti-neti” is literally saying, “No matter what you see, it’s really just God” beyond all descriptions and state of existence. Whatever you see it is not real. It is all Brahman!which is one of the oldest
One example of “via positive” approach comes from the This goes into a detailed description of atman (“Self”), in mantras 6 and 7:
6: The wise man beholds all beings in the Self, and the Self in all beings; for that reason he does not hate anyone.
7: To the seer, all things have verily become the Self: what delusion, what sorrow, can there be for him who beholds that oneness?
This leads us to the logical conclusion that if everything is composed of the same substance, how can there be any opposites?
Mandukya Upanishad adopts the same idea of “via negative” approach by stating this Self has to be realized as undefinable Turiya State, which means the “fourth” state. This Upanishad mentions about this important term for the first time. the essence of the Consciousness manifests as the Self in the three states, Self in reality is the cessation of all phenomena; It is all peace, all bliss and non-dual (Adviteeya). This is what is known as the Fourth (Turiya). is not that which is conscious of the inner (subjective) world, nor that which is conscious of the outer (objective) world, nor that which is conscious of both, nor that which is a mass of consciousness. It is not simple consciousness nor is It unconsciousness. It is unperceived, unrelated, incomprehensible, un-inferable, unthinkable and indescribable. While
Neti Neti only means one cannot limit infinite qualities of Paramaatman such as Ananta (with no end), Bhuma (Plentitude); any auspicious epithet employed suits it but falls short of the actual qualities and this can be only expressed as Neti Neti.
It is worth going through the following spiritual thoughts of Sadguru of ISHA Foundation:
”Nirvana means “formless” The Nirvana Shatakam is towards this – you don’t want to be either this or that. If you don’t want to be this nor that, then what do you want to be? Your mind cannot understand this because your mind always wants to be something. If I say, “I don’t want to be this; I don’t want to be that,” you would think, “Oh something super!”
When we say “Shiva,” there are two fundamental aspects that we are referring to. The word “Shiva” means literally, “that which is not.” Today, modern science is proving to us that everything comes from nothing and goes back to nothing. The basis of existence and the fundamental quality of the cosmos is vast nothingness. The galaxies are just a small happening – a sprinkling. The rest is all vast empty space, which is referred to as Shiva. That is the womb from which everything is born, and that is the oblivion into which everything is sucked back. Everything comes from Shiva and goes back to Shiva.
The word “Shiva” means literally, “that which is not.” On another level, when we say “Shiva,” we are referring to a certain yogi, the Adiyogi or the first yogi, and also the Adi Guru, the first Guru.
So Shiva is described as a non-being, not as a being. Shiva is not described as light, but as darkness. Humanity has gone about eulogizing light only because of the nature of the visual apparatus that they carry. Otherwise, the only thing that is always, is darkness. Light is a limited happening in the sense that any source of light – whether a light bulb or the sun – will eventually lose its ability to give out light. Light is not eternal. It is always a limited possibility because it happens and it ends. Darkness is a much bigger possibility than light. Nothing needs to burn, it is always – it is eternal. Darkness is everywhere. It is the only thing that is all pervading.
But if I say “divine darkness,” people think I am a devil worshiper or something. In fact, in some places in the West it is being propagated that Shiva is a demon! But if you look at it as a concept, there isn’t a more intelligent concept on the planet about the whole process of creation and how it has happened. I have been talking about this in scientific terms without using the word “Shiva” to scientists around the world, and they are amazed, “Is this so? This was known? When?” We have known this for thousands of years. Almost every peasant in India knows about it unconsciously. He talks about it without even knowing the science behind it.”
Sadguru says that in the beginning of creation there was darkness alone and the day was created first when creation process started. If Shiva is darkness then Vishnu is light that is needed for our sustenance and living. If we take the meaning of Shiva to mean darkness instead of usual auspiciousness then every line in the Nirvana-shatkam ends with the Self proclaiming itself as Nothing in its microcosmic form compared to macrocosmic form of the Supreme. The word Nirvana in the title means Nothing. It is therefore logical to understand Siva means Nothing in this context. Hence the prayer to the Supreme of the Self in its eagerness to join the company of the Supreme! In practical life we considers ourselves as everything and so cannot visualize the Self in us. Sivoham in the concluding part of each verse also reminds us that we are just nothing and so our prayer to the Supreme through Self to join Him with our Truth- Consciousness form (chidanandaroopam) after exhausting all Karmas.
Other thoughts on Nirvana are as follows:
In Hinduism, the concept of Nirvana "nothingness" is characterized by an egoless or Gunaateetha state of being in which one fully realizes one's own small part in the cosmos.
The term Brahma-nirvana appears in verses 2.72 and 5.24-26 of the Bhagavad Gita. Brahma nirvana (nirvana in Brahman) is the state of release or liberation; the union of Self with the Brahman.
According to Mahatma Gandhi, the Hindu and Buddhist understanding of nirvana are different because the nirvana of the Buddhists is shunyata, emptiness, but the nirvana of the Gita means peace and that is why it is described as brahma-nirvana (oneness of Self with Brahman)
Let us look at the famous Upanishad Mantra of Invocation:
Om poornamadaha poornamidam poornaat poornamudachyute |
Poornasya poornamaadaaya poornameva avasishyate ||
|| Om Saantih; saantih; saantih ||
The numeral 0 is called shunyam in Sanskrit. In numerology symbolism 0 represents Nirguna Brahman and 1 Saguna Brahman. If we consider Poornam as 0 in the above mantra the meaning still holds good.
That is shunyam, this is shunyam; from the shuyam, the shunyam becomes manifest. From the shunyam when the shunyam is negated, what remains is again shunyam. Siva means shunyam says Sadguru. That means Siva in Sivoham represents Parmaatman alone as the dissolution aspect of bringing everything to shunyam.
It is logical to conclude the concept of neti neti in Brihadarnyaka started from this mantra. Brahman is described as “anoraneeyaan mahato maheeyaan” which means Brahman is everything from 0 to infinity.
Thinking of difference between Siva, Vishnu and other Gods and Goddesses comes out of our ignorance. Paramatma (universal consciousness) manifests itself in all beings and presents Itself in various worships out of magnanimity. Any deity may be worshipped but with this thought of Parammartma to ultimately focus worship on that Supreme alone. Adi Shankaracharya proposed “Panchayatana Puja” to achieve this end being a Smarta himself. “Sarvadeva namaskarah kesaavam pratigacahati”—all obeisance go to Kesava only. “Sivaaya vishnu rooppaaya siva rooppaaya vishnave sivasya hridayam vishnuh vishnurhridayam sivah | yadhasivamayo vishnurevam vishnumayam sivah yadhantaranapasyaam tadhaame svastiraayushi || “Siva is a manifestation of Vishnu. Vishnu is a manifestation of Siva. Siva’s consciousness is Vishnu. Vishnu’s consciousness is Siva. As long as we do not see a difference between the two, our health (society’s health) remains strong”.
Chamakam asks us to meditate on Brahman not in the form of icons but as odd and even numbers which abruptly ends at 48. Obviously it is humanly impossible to go on like this for ever for Brahman is limitless. “Anoraneeyan mahato maheeyaan”—smaller than the minutest (virtually 0) and bigger than the largest. He pervades everything from 0 to infinity. So it is wiser to go to the root of all these numbers that is “0”, unique contribution to the knowledge of numbers to the World by Hinduism which we call Shunyam or Siva that is Brahman. 0 is the amazing numeral that forms the basis of all digital technology to-day, a contribution of Hinduism through its Vedas, that is Brahmajnaanam, Knowledge of Brahman. Therefore the word Shiva in in Nirvanashatka refers to Paramaatman alone or the Supreme and not the sectarian belief of God Siva worshipped by Saivites. Please refer to my discourse on “What do the Odd and Even Numbers in Chamakam Signify--January 2012”
If Nirvanasatkam is considered as the composition of Saint Adisankara then Siva in Sivoham refers to the Self in Sankara. If it is considered as the projected composition of Brahman as the spokesperson, like Gita whose spokesperson is Bhagawan though written by Vedavyasa, then Siva in Sivoham refers to Shunyam that is Nirguna Brahman that is Nirvikalpa and Niraakaara—without any attributes or any form. I for one will go with the explanation of Siva (shunyam) for Paramaatman in view of the last verse where Siva is qualified with the epithets like Nirvikalpa, Niraakaara Niranjana, Sarvatra sarvendriya etc. in spite of limited by the epithet Chidananda.
It is worth recalling here Sanakra's comments on Sunya in Vishnu Sahasranama:
It is worth recalling here Sanakra's comments on Sunya in Vishnu Sahasranama:
suvarnavarno hemango varangas chandhanaangadhi
viraha vishamaha sunyo grithaasirachalaschalaha
In his commentary, Adi Sankara charya explains “sunya” as an apt “nama for God, the Supreme Brahman, who is “nirguna ” – i.e. the Being who is totally devoid of any qualities or attributes. In other words, according to Sankaras school of metaphysics, God is “guna sunyan”.
According to this explanation, God transcends all attributes. His qualities like omnipotence, omniscience etc. only serve to help us in ascertaining His reality but they do not “per se” define Him. The truth of Gods existence cannot be grasped by us with reference to His qualities or “guna ” alone, says Sankara. Brahman is to be apprehended as an Absolute Being who stands far apart from and quite beyond any of His infinitely (“ananthaha”) great qualities – i.e. He is “nirguna brahman”, a Being without qualities, a Being with “zero” qualities. Hence it is fit to call Him “shunyah”Aatmeswaram saasavatam sivam achyutam—He is the Lord of the individual souls who is eternal, auspicious and inexhaustible (MNU)
In His own inimitable style bringing Nirvana ashtakam to practical to life swmi Chidananda has delivered audio/video presentation on YouTube with the following introduction. I wish i had such skills and depth:: "Starting with “mano-buddhi-ahankāra-chittāni nāham,” the set of six verses, attributed toĀdi Shankara, have been very popular in circles of both the beginners and the learned. “You are Pure Consciousness. All the rest of it derives its existence and strength from ‘thought anchored in ignorance’. Negate and celebrate.” That is the essence of this hymn, sung by many artistes in various tunes. It is a good review of their studies for serious students of Vedānta. For meditator, it is an excellent prop in their practice. The webinar will give the meanings of this composition and highlight its significance".
1. Anantha Rangacharya, Principal Upanishads, Bengaluru, India
3. Swami Vireswarananda, Bhagavad Gita, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India
4. Wikipedia on Nirvanaashtakam
5. Discourses of Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev of ISHA Foundation
7. Swami Chidananda, Fowai Forum on Nirvaana Shatkam, Marcxh 2017
7. Swami Chidananda, Fowai Forum on Nirvaana Shatkam, Marcxh 2017
Understanding of Consciousness
Hindu, nondual Advaita philosophy offers a framework that may be useful for our contemporary cognitive science and philosophy of mind precisely for it offers a theory for connecting the material with the phenomenal.
The medieval worlds of Hinduism takes for granted all sorts of phenomena that appear impossible for our worldview, predominantly here, the idea of reincarnation, the idea of a subtle body, the idea of , or magic through a modal conception of subjectivity and objectivity. It links materiality with the notion of consciousness through a modal conception of subjectivity and objectivity.
Hindu conceptions of the mind says that the cut between mental and material occurs at a much higher-order level of mental operation. Classically, we find in Hindu thought in two separate categories, termed “” and “ ”, spirit/consciousness on the one hand, and Nature/matter on the other. is aware, self-aware and sentient. is insentient, mere dead materiality. The category of Purusha actually encompasses much of what Western model would understand as “consciousness” or “mind”.
Sankhya philosophy says the world contains twenty-five basic different categories. Of these twenty-five, twenty-four are the products of the evolution () of materiality, . Only , sentient aware is actually capable of consciousness. What then is ? evolves into the physicality of the world we see around us, here broken down into the five elements, water, earth, air, fire and space. Yet, also evolves into three categories that we would intuitively classify as mental--Known as the , the inward sense organs, these include the intellect ( / ), the ego ( ), and the mind ( ). These three, as evolutes of , fundamentally lack sentience. Thus what a contemporary Western scientist might understand as “mind”, “awareness” or “consciousness”, is, to the contrary, from an Indian perspective relegated to the level of mere materiality.
How could something, like ego, so clearly related to consciousness and awareness be considered a part of materiality? That is, psychology and biology, which ultimately boil down to physics and notions of how electrons influence the structure of molecules, which influence the chemistry and biology of the human brain for instance, the experience of a person enjoying the scent of red roses on a table.
The Sāṃkhya classification of the “mind” (), “ego” ( ) and intellect ( / ) as evolutes of , material nature, reflects this separation of the psychological and phenomenological components of consciousness. Linking these three as the inner sense organ ( ) to materiality recognizes their dependence on the physical Sāṃkhya reserves the notion of conscious-ness, consciousness, as incapable of connection with physical materiality. The for some is simply a witness ( ), isolated ( ) and inactive ( ). The Sāṁkhyan as consciousness is not supervening on the physical.
Vedanta notions of , the Self, draw from this early conception of mentality as at base material in nature and stress the fundamentally incommensurate nature of the Self, , with the material, including mental components. Hindu models share the assumption of an underlying acceptance of phenomenological consciousness as a “something there,” the “ ” or “existence” component we find in Śaṅkara’s notion of , self as “ ”, “being”, “consciousness” and “bliss”.
Vedanta thought offers with the inclusion of mental phenomena as materiality is a capacity to expand the very notions of matter to a wider sphere. Hence, Indian religious traditions have very little difficulty accepting phenomena like subtle bodies, capable of transmigration. Not conceptually loaded with airy notions of ineffable being, as ideas of a “soul” might be, the subtle body remains fundamentally on the side of matter.
Tantric Advaita scholar of 11th century Abhinavagupta adds a sophisticated phenomenology that bridges the gap between the phenomenal on the one side and all that materiality on the other side, including both the psychological and the physical. Abhinavagupta links these through four different registers. He links primarily the phenomenal with the psychological in terms of grammatical notions of subjectivity and objectivity. Secondly, he links the phenomenal with the psychological and the physical through a reformulation of notions of knowledge and action. He also links the phenomenal with the psychological through an understanding of consciousness in bimodal terms of , a kind of “shining forth” and , a kind of “self-reflexive, active awareness”. And he links the component of phenomenal consciousness with the physical through a formulation of the subtle body, which defines the subtle in terms of a notion of fundamental properties. Abhinavagupta’s use of subjectivity and objectivity as a way of thinking about the relationship between the phenomenal components of consciousness on the one hand, and on the other hand, psychological and material understandings of consciousness. Abhinavagupta insists that we should not try to ignore or dispose of the phenomenal component.
Abhinavagupta says we should understand the subjective and the objective as convertible into each other. The subjective and the objective are two modes of awareness linking the same experience, depending upon the grammatical relation one takes in relation to the experience. He says: Abhinava suggests that we read the relation between phenomenal awareness and psychological awareness in grammatical terms, in terms of first-person and third person accounts of awareness.
Abhinavagupta quotes from well-known classical Indian texts, including the here and relies upon his audience’s presuppositions of what it means, for instance, when Lord Kṛiṣhṇa says, “I am Mount Meru” to signal the kind of shift to subjectivity that he indicates. What precisely then allows for a shift from the non-conscious matter of , in the form of an insentient rock, is Abhinavagupta’s recognition of its always latent potentiality for subjectivity. Abhinavagupta tells us repeatedly, quoting from the , “Even the limited Subject gains lordship from contact with the strength of the Self ( )”. That is, consciousness, and with it, a capacity for phenomenal experience, is present in greater or lesser degrees across a spectrum in various entities and objects. By contact with the Self, , those beings or things which display only limited or an absent capacity for phenomenal experience, like a rock, increase their capacity. It is, in this system, there is no hard and fast demarcation between consciousness and matter. (Please refer to Einstein’s theory of Relativity mass and energy are related to each other)
For Abhinavagupta, the consciousness of self is not irreparably, ontologically separate from matter, but instead always already infuses it, merely needing the contagion of contact with the Self to wake it up. Ram-Prasad points out that Udayana’s Nyāya conception of Self does not equate to a notion of unique personhood, emphasizing instead its function as a kind of “transcendental consciousness.
Easwara Kṛishṇa quotes from the ,
Abhinavagupta says the subtle body is a transformation of consciousness, or specifically a condensation of consciousness into a more material, , object-oriented form. He also says this same process to be involved in the condensation of consciousness into the even more dense forms of matter that make up objects here, the physical body, the rock, a table and so on.
To conclude then, it is probably fair to acknowledge that Abhinavagupta’s conception of the mind-body split derives initially from a position that favors the phenomenological pole, the “subject” formulation of consciousness and matter. Abhinavagupta adds a great deal to possible ways of thinking about the mind-body split. His monist position of a spectrum of a subject-object continuum offers a way of incorporating an idea of what Chalmers calls the phenomenological, and what Abhinavagupta points to as the subjective, while managing to avoid an essentialist dualism between the phenomenological on the one hand and the psychological on the other hand, the neurons firing in that mass of matter called the brain. Here Hinduism does not conflict with Western thoughts.
In this context it is easy to explain how Rama brought back to life Ahalya from stone rather than dismissing it as the Will of God
“Consciousness is at the very center of our epistemic universe
(Through courtesy IndiaDivine.Org)
“SHIVOHAM” MEANS I
AM SUNYA AND THAT IS PARABRAHMAN
was a great mathematician in India who lived in the 10th century CE, He was
Bhaskaracharya. He wrote several pioneering treatises (in Sanskrit) on Vedic
mathematics. In one of the treatises, it is said, he wrote a small dedication:
“To the Supreme Brahman, who is Infinity, I offer my salutation”. Bhaskaracharya used the Sanskrit word
“khahara” to denote God as “Infinity” in the dedication. It is derived from
“kham” which means “Zero” and “hara” meaning “divided”. The word “khahara” was
meant to indicate that God who is Infinity is related to Zero.
was the first mathematician to reveal to the world the intimate relationship
between “sunya” and “ananthaha”, between Zero and Infinity. Any quantity
divided by “sunya” is equal to Infinity, he said. Take a value like 16 and
divide it (“haraha”) with progressively decreasing divisors. What happens? The
quotient progressively enlarges. For e.g. 16 divided by 4 = 4; and 16 divided
by 2 = 8; and eventually when 16 is divided by 0 it equals “Infinity!” Every
quantity, every value in the world, when divided by “sunya”, results in the
same quotient or result viz. Infinity, “ananthaha”
is the mighty power of Zero that it can raise and relate all values on earth to
the exalted state of Infinity – that very same state in which God Almighty, the
Vishnu of the sacred “Sahasranama”, is said to eternally reside and rule!
Vishnu is Called as Shunyah in Vishnu Sahasranama?
One of the “namas” in the Sahasranamam that
I’m always intrigued by is the name “shunyah” given to Vishnu, which appears
in sloka No. 79:
hemango varangas chandhanangadhi
viraha vishamaha sunyo
The Sanskrit word
“sunya” means “zero”, “nullity”, “cipher”, “emptiness”.
It would strike
anyone as extremely odd that the Sahasranamam should choose to call Lord Vishnu
as Zero! You can understand God being called “ekaha”, the One Supreme Being.
The essence of all monistic theism lies in the belief that God is One (the
Upanishad says, “sayaschayam purushe; yaschasavadhithye; sa ekaha”).
understand too God being addressed as “ananthaha” the Infinite, as in the
Sahasranamam stanza 70:
kamadhevaha kamapalaha kami kanthaha
anirdhesya vapurvishnuhu viro ‘nantho
Since God is
Immeasurable it seems plainly alright to name Him “ananthaha” the Infinite. But
how is one to explain hailing the Almighty as “shunyah” the Cipher?
There is a view
that “If Infinity is immeasurable, so is Zero”. Mathematically speaking, one
could define zero to be anti-infinity. If “Infinity” is immeasurable plenitude,
“Zero” is immeasurable emptiness. If you were to imagine, say, an interminable
series of values, from zero to infinity, floating somewhere out there in
endless space, then, surely, Zero would be at one end of it while Infinity would
be found at the other end, wherever, that is, the two ends may be found, if at
all. And if you reflect upon it deeply, that would make out “Zero” and
“Infinity” to be two sides of the same un-graspable coin.
By the same
logic, you might say the Sanskrit “ananthaha” and “shunyah” might seem
antonymous but in reality they mean the same thing. Hailing God Almighty as
“Lord Infinity” is hence no different from hailing Him “Lord Zero”.
notwithstanding, we know for a fact however that the “Infinite” and the
“Cipher” are never really the same thing. None of us would be willing to
exchange one for the other if it came to a real choice between the two. If I go
up, for instance, to a venerable “acharya” or “guru” and prostrate at his feet,
I would expect him to shower his benediction upon me saying, “May you be
blessed in life, my son, with Gods infinite Grace!” If instead the man were to
say, “May Gods zero grace be thine in life!”
the blessing would stand transformed into a vicious curse, wouldnt it?
So then, why is
God, who is Infinite Being, being called “sunya”, a Zero – the very opposite of
infinity? The traditional commentators of the Vishnu-Sahasranamam offer us some
explanation in their respective “bhashyas”.
Lets take up Adhi
Sankara’s “Sahasranama bhashya ” first.
commentary, Sri Sankara (6th CE) explains “sunya” as an apt “nama for God, the
Supreme Brahman, who is “nirguna ” – i.e. the Being who is totally devoid of
any qualities or attributes. In other words, according to Sankaras school of
metaphysics, God is “guna sunyan”.
According to this
explanation, God transcends all attributes. His qualities like omnipotence,
omniscience etc. only serve to help us in ascertaining His reality but they do
not “per se” define Him. The truth of Gods existence cannot be grasped by us
with reference to His qualities or “guna ” alone, says Sankara. Brahman is to
be apprehended as an Absolute Being who stands far apart from and quite beyond
any of His infinitely (“ananthaha”) great qualities – i.e. He is “nirguna
brahman”, a Being without qualities, a Being with “zero” qualities. Hence it is
fit to call Him “shunyah”
Lets turn to the
other explanation found in the commentary of Sri Parashara Bhattar (11th CE) on
the Vishnu Sahasranamam titled “bhagavadh guna dharpanam”.
“shunyah” in the typical way of the school of Visishtadvaitha theology.
According to this school, God is the Supreme Abode of all auspicious
attributes. The Almighty is full of innumerable good qualities like “gny+an+a”,
“bala”, “aiswarya”, “virya”, “shakthi” and “thejas”. In Visishtadvaitha, God is
“ananthakalyana guna ganan+” (to use a famous expression of Sri Ramanujacharya)
– i.e. Brahman is Being with infinite number of happy and wholesome attributes.
The theology next states that God, by corollary, is also totally devoid of
inauspicious, un-wholesome or negative qualities.
Bhattar, in so far as, Brahman is replete with infinitely good attributes, He
is to be known as “ananthaha”. And in so far as He is absolutely bereft of
defective qualities, He is to be known as the God of “zero-defects” – in other
words, He is “shunyah”.
From a purely
theological standpoint both explanations above are equally valid and wholly
satisfying (depending, of course, upon which school of Vedanta – Sankaras or
Ramanujas – one is predisposed towards). All the same, for one who is not
steeped in the various nuances and niceties of Vedhantic theology, (especially
for one who cannot really appreciate the technical difference between the
metaphysical “nirguna” and “savisesha” Brahman), the explanations of Adhi
Sankara and Parashara Bhattar for “sunya” might only seem to resemble the case
of the proverbial bottle that got described as “half-empty” by one and
“half-full” by another.
theological considerations aside, one can still regard Zero to be a remarkably
apt “nama” for the Almighty. Common knowledge of the world around us reveals
how all powerful the concept of Zero, “sunya”, truly is. When we look at the
history of Zero, we realize why “sunya” is almighty indeed!
Until about 1500
years ago nobody in the world outside India could count numbers beyond 9
without enormous difficulty. The entire Graeco-Roman Western world knew nothing
about the Hindu-Arabic system of numerals that prevails in the entire world
today. The Romans depended upon alphabets to denote numbers – such as I, X and
C or with V, L and D. In their system the number 32 had to be written, for
example, as XXXII but writing a number like 3200 or 32000 for the Greeks and
Romans presented a huge, often insurmountable problem! For several centuries
the Graeco-Roman civilization struggled with this cumbersome system of
numbering. It was the principal reason why for almost a thousand years Western
mathematics hardly advanced beyond being a method of elementary counting and
mensuration using crude devices like the abacus. The Greeks and Romans had no
knowledge of how to deal with large numbers, ratios, series, complex algebraic
functions and calculations – all child’s play for any high-school student
today. Western thought simply stagnated for ages since it could just not
grapple with the mathematical problem of large numbers and calculations.
1000 and 1200 AD, the Western world came in contact with the Arab world and
that was when the Hindu-Arabic system of numerals opened the eyes of the
Europeans to a whole new world of mathematical thought.
The Arabs had for
long borrowed and been using the Hindu system of numerals that had been in use
in ancient India for more than a thousand years earlier. The Hindu system did
not use alphabets but a simple but versatile scheme of numeric symbols starting
from “Zero” – the famous “sunya” – and ending with 9. These symbolic numerals
made it so easy to represent and calculate numerate values anywhere from zero
to infinity in quick time. They enabled complex functions and calculations.
They made it possible to represent the most formidable series of values by a
mere formula which in turn facilitated further complex mathematical functions!
The Western world realized – for the first time ever – the power of the Hindu
numeral system: a power that became the inspiration for all the mathematical
advancements to later come out of Europe: algebra, ratios, surds, functions
such as squares, cube and root, series and progressions, logarithmic tables,
quadratic equations… and so on and so forth.
It was the power
of Zero, “sunya”, indeed, that made the European Renaissance possible – the
Renaissance that eventually gave birth to all the wonderful discoveries of
modern mathematics such as Fibionacci series, Pascals Probability theory and
even Newtons Calculus! “The concept of Zero unleashed something more profound
than just an enhanced method of counting and calculating”. Zero revolutionized
the old modes of human thought. It meant firstly people could use only ten
digits, from 0 to 9, to perform every conceivable calculation and to write any
conceivable number. Secondly, it opened up a whole new world of possibilities
for abstract human thinking that had been simply unthinkable before!
How did the
ancient Hindus discover such a powerful concept as “sunya” while the rest of
the world remained ignorant of “Zero” for ages?
To grasp the concept
of “sunya” required a very high level of intellectual and spiritual advancement
as what prevailed in India during and after the Vedic period. As the English
philosopher, A.N. Whitehead wrote: “The point about zero is that we do not need
to use it in the operations of daily life. No one goes out to buy zero fish or
eggs. (But) It is in a way the most civilized of all the cardinals, and its use
is only forced on us by the needs of cultivated modes of thought”. Vedic
mathematics and astronomy of those ancient times clearly bear evidence to the
highly sophisticated conceptual and ideological skills that our Indian forbears
possessed. There was no doubt at all that the ancient Vedic Indians who gave to
the whole world the idea of “sunya” were indeed masters of the most civilized
and “cultivated modes of thought”.
“SHIVOHAM” MEANS I AM SUNYA AND THAT IS PARABRAHMAN
viraha vishamaha sunyo grithasirachalaschalaha
anirdhesya vapurvishnuhu viro ‘nantho dhananjayaha