Quotes from the Upanishads

All is change in the world of the senses,
But changeless is the supreme Lord of Love.
Meditate on him, be absorbed by him,
Wake up from this dream of separateness.
(Shvetashvatara Upanishad)

 

Fools, dwelling in darkness, but wise in their own conceit and puffed up with vain scholarship, wander about, being afflicted by many ills, like blind men led by the blind. (Mundaka Upanishad)

 

To the seer, all things have verily become the Self: what delusion, what sorrow, can there be for him who beholds that oneness?  (Isa Upanishad)

What of institutional religion?

What place is there for the major religions (within the posited framework of an autonomous nested mesh of destinies ranging from the personal to multiple collectives)?  Divested of the detritus of dogma deliberately designed to distinguish each sect or faith from the others, and then to enable a claim of an unwarranted theological superiority, and thereby an exclusive path to heaven, two core beliefs are shared by these religions, except BuddhismFirst is a claim of a creator god.  The second is that, since humans are the products of this creation, we are bonded to one another.

What a wonderful concept.  It is a great pity that it seems to apply only within the boundaries of each religious sect.  The others are outsiders, heretics, heathens, etc. and are therefore not going to be ‘saved.’  Thus, in the name of their god, each priesthood is likely to display or even preach prejudice towards those not under its control or influence.  There will, of course, be great exceptions – priests within each religion who are truly ecumenical (accepting related sects within their religion as non-competitive), or who are freethinkers in their tolerance, even accepting other religions as comparable paths to the one God of mankind.  I have enjoyed conversing with some of these enlightened exceptions.

What of those who quite impertinently suggested that my soul would remain doomed if I did not convert to their sect?  My riposte to such soul gatherers is as follows:  ‘When you ascend to the Celestial Abode of the Heavenly Father, you will find yourself shaking hands with Caluthumpians and members of all the other religions.’  Regrettably, some ‘wannabe’ saviours seemed discomfited by such a vision;  I have watched a few dash down the road with displeasure after receiving my good news!  I wonder how the atheists react on entry to this Abode.

Is it not true that institutional religion has pitted followers of one religion against another, and sect against sect within many religions, butchering fellow humans and defiling them in every way in the name of their faith?  Under the pap propagated by their spin-doctors, it is carnivore-eat-carnivore, that is, dog-eat-dog!  This situation continues.

A true measure of the quality of a civilisation is the way the least viable of the people are treated.  This criterion, in my view, also applies to religions.  On this test, the major religions, if not all of them, fail.  The life chances, the quality of life, of those at the bottom of the socio-economic pile are generally ignored by their co-religionists in power, in government.  It is a great pity that it was the communist nations which provided some uplift to their peasants, lifting them from their squalor.  Our only hope is the secular nation, which subordinates saving the soul to filling an empty belly.

Would it not be wonderful if individual humans were able to seek succour from their god or spirits or whatever, without being caught up within an institutional religion with all its divisive binding rules, regulations and practices, as well as its priesthood;  that is, without an intermediary?  This is not to deny that there are many who derive some peace of mind through their priests.  From observation, the two main groups in Australia are the elderly and the newly converted (mainly East Asians).  This peace of mind, if associated with sectarian prejudice, may not however be the best ticket for entry to Heaven.

Yet, the real need by the majority of humans to have some hope of alleviating their suffering as they strive merely to exist, to survive, to protect their families (especially their young), cannot be denied.  However, how could they accept that their prayers, their entreaties, are in vain;  and that they need to work through their personal destinies in each life?  Do not the alleged interventions by some kind god, or the claimed miracles brought about by saints, offer (blind) hope?  Should the purveyors of this hope, the middlemen, most of whom live well and in security, therefore be tolerated?  If so, at what price?

Yet, I will make it clear that I am not denigrating the kindness of most of those I refer to as middlemen.  I continue to deal with them.  They are worthy of respect.  They have chosen to help their church-attending flocks as best they can, but within the closed framework of their dogma, and the well-trodden paths of tradition.

(The above are extracts from my book ‘Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society.’)

 

RELIGION and I (Part 2)

There seems to be clear evidence, comparable to the stability of patterns found within chaos, of purpose within the complexity and apparent unpredictability of life, and of a uni-directional path of species evolution, and the personal development of many individual humans.  In the event, all that a Creator had to do was to set up a mechanism capable of evolving by itself, even as it related to the sentient forms within creation, and these forms too would evolve.  An arm’s-length Creator, not an interventionist god of the kind who baffles supplicants and frustrates the priesthood, makes good sense.

Such an objective analytic approach would fit life as experienced.  There seem to be trajectories for the universe we think we know, for the observable galaxies, individual suns, and planets, and for us occupants on planet Earth.  The pattern of an individual’s existence and the associated path of any personal development reflects, in my view, what might be termed as personal destiny. This is not fate, not something unavoidable.  It is a pathway for one’s current life created by each of us for ourselves, both reactively and through free will, during past lives.  With free will, one can also choose, during each life, to obey the imperatives of one’s own self-crafted destiny or respond in some other manner, much in the way a motorist might behave in a well-policed crowded city.

There is no need for the modified Hinduism of the New Age theorists of the Western world.  New Agers like the idea of a reincarnating soul choosing (often in a dialogue with appropriate others) the life to be led.  This deterministic Western approach (I can choose to be whatever I want to be) denies the concept of karma as an automatic and autonomous mechanism.  Worse still, the millions of babies born into a life of suffering in under-developed nations can be held by the New Agers to have chosen that suffering!  Unfortunately, there are Hindu gurus whose lack of understanding of karma also allows them to ignore the suffering of fellow Hindus as something deserved!!

How do I see karma?  In the Hindu framework I have set out above, it reflects the confluence of reincarnation and the law of cause and effect. 

As we paddle as best we can on our personal rivers of life, we exercise our free will to pay our personal cosmic debts, to access any opportunities to learn whatever we need to learn for our personal development, and to prepare for the next life.  We thus effectively create, as a consequence of bumbling through life as best as possible, the cliffs through which our river of life will flow during our next sojourn on Earth, and the rocky impediments and chasms we will find on the way.  How we deal with these and the cross-currents created by other personal destinies related to us will determine our future lives.  No gods, saints, or spirits are therefore necessary as determinants.  However, they may be able to intrude, to help, if they choose to;  presumably they too have free will.

Since each of us is an integral part of a number of collectives, there will result a complex network of personal destinies.  The expected web, and possibly nested mesh, of personal destinies would presumably be reflected ultimately in tribal and possibly national destinies.  These might influence species development, although a major contributor might also be genetic mutations, which are truly accidents of nature.

(The above are extracts from my book ‘Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society.’)

RELIGION and I (Part 1)

As a primary school boy, I was sent to the Pilleyar (Ganesha) temple at examination times, although I topped my class by a large margin every term, except once.  I also accompanied my parents at other times.  We were ardent in our faith.  My father, having overcome a serious illness at about 33, died suddenly at 47, when I was 18.  Within 3 years I then lost the family’s savings through a spectacular academic failure.  So much for faith and fervent prayer.

My future was thereby destroyed, as clearly forewarned after my father’s demise by a perambulating yogi, but unheeded by us.  I doubt that my mother and I were competent to absorb such a warning.  In any event, surely what had to happen had to work itself out.  Late in life I realised that what the yogi had done was to turn my mother’s vision towards Australia, which was in a direction not normally taken by students from British Malaya seeking an overseas qualification.  My folly (or was it my destiny?) led to my mother and my sisters being impoverished.  So much for temple rituals and the priesthood.  I gave away God, Hinduism and all religio-cultural rituals.

Then learning and logic took over!  Studying the belief systems of the simpler societies at my university, and dipping into some anthropology, sociology, psychology, and the major religions, I realised that there has been, and is, an innate need in many, if not most, of us to understand what we humans are, and our place in the Cosmos.

I realised further that:  the complexity and beauty, as well as the observable but inadequately explicable aspects of the experienced world;  the exceedingly complex patterns of inter-linked cause and effect, action and reaction, and the inter-dependencies of the physical, chemical and electromagnetic forces affecting us;  the uniformity, the invariability, the predictive capacity of the laws of nature;  the ecological balance between mobile and fixed forms of life;  the intuitive yearning by sensitive souls for communion with sublime or higher forces not clearly understood;  and the inferred influence of the spirit world, all of which affect our lives, could not have occurred purely by chance.  Instead, they might, I felt, reflect the mind and soul of a Creator.  How else could all that have occurred?  By chance?  Is that another name for an inexplicable cause, akin to the gods of simpler people?

I did conclude, logically, that there had to be a Creator of all that exists.  I then noted, with great interest, that an academic and confirmed atheist had reached the same conclusion after a lifetime of non-belief in a Creator, for exactly the same reasons.  There has to be a Creator, he now accepts, thereby upsetting most severely his former fellow-believers in that causal mechanism named Chance.  Like me, he doesn’t claim to know; only that a creator god makes (unverifiable) sense.

 

(This is an extract from my book ‘Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society.’)

 

 

WILL ALL RELIGIONS LEAD TO THE OCEAN OF CONSCIOUSNESS?

I became deeply interested in religion – in the feeling, its probable causes, and its expression – at age 24. I began to read about these issues while I was also studying psychology. A not unconnected trigger for my interest was my waving a fist in the direction of the sky, saying “To hell with you” about 3 years earlier. That was because my life-chances had been scuttled by then, for ever.

Yet, by age 30, I had decided that, logically, there had to be a Creator for all that is. By 40, after repeatedly dipping into books on religion (especially a massive tome published by the University of Essex), I decided that all the major religions are equal in their potential; provided that the detritus of divisive dogma was discarded.

This would leave only the 2 core beliefs shared by them; these being: There is a Creator ultimately responsible for the Universe; and that, as we humans are co-created, we are bonded to one another.

By age 50, I realised that only Hinduism offered a cosmology – and what a vista! By age 60, having discovered Easwaran’s ‘The Upanishads,’ I began to obtain a glimpse of mankind’s place in the Universe.

I then contrasted the cosmology of Western science with that of the Hindus. Strangely, there was a broad congruence between the concepts used by some modern speculative scientists and the language (and concepts) of Hinduism. These scientists may have read Hindu metaphysics. The reflection by the latter philosophy of the ancient Vedas also seems warranted by planetary configurations mentioned in the Vedas having reportedly been confirmed, all the way back to 9,000 years ago.

Reading Vivekhananda, Yogananda, and Aurobindo in some detail by age 70, I realised that, in the absence of Good Books of the kind available to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, able Hindu commentators such as these, as well as that great epic the Mahabharatha, had contributed to those vibrant but diverse rivers pouring into the vast lake of Hinduism. There are other lakes of religious belief, large or small, fed by other faith rivers throughout the globe.

In the way that most rivers on Earth flow into their respective seas, all of which are part of a single global ocean surrounding raised lands, there is now a great need for all the lakes of religious belief to have access (for the benefit of their adherents) to that Ocean of Consciousness from which we humans are believed to have risen; and to which we are expected to return eventually.

With a parallel thought, my advice to a few individuals claiming a superior (and exclusive) faith is this. “When you reach that single door to the Celestial Abode, you can expect to find yourself shaking hands with followers of other faiths.”

All strands of existence, whether material or ephemeral, should surely be coming together, all inter-mingled, on an on-going flow through time, just as the waters of Earth’s rivers eventually reach a single global ocean of Earth.

Extracts from the Upanishads (from Easwaran)

It is only when the concept of a transcendent and immanent Creator is conjoined with the means of realisation of the Self, through meditation, and the related emphasis on states of consciousness, that one begins to understand why a Western philosopher like Schopenhauer was drawn to the Upanishads.

In these, he saw, not Hinduism or India but “… a habit of looking beneath the surface of life to its underlying causes …”. He also drew attention “… to the courage to discover in ourselves a desperately needed higher image of the human being”. … …

The power and poetry of the Upanishads can be seen from these extracts (from Easwaran):

As the same fire assumes different shapes

When it consumes objects differing in shape,

So does the one Self take the shape

Of every creature in whom he is present.

(Katha 2 .2 .9)

 

When all desires that surge in the heart

Are renounced, the mortal become immortal.

When all the knots that strangle the heart

Are loosened, the mortal becomes immortal.

This sums up the teachings of the Scriptures.

(Katha 2 .3.14-15)

 

As a caterpillar, having come to the end of one blade

of grass, draws itself together and reaches out for the

next, so the Self, having come to the end of one life and

shed all ignorance, gathers its faculties and reaches

out from the old body to a new.

(Brihad 4 .4.3)

 

The world is the wheel of God, turning round

And round with all living creatures upon its rim.

The world is the river of God,

Flowing from him and flowing back to him.

 

On this ever-revolving wheel of being

The individual self goes round and round

Through life after life, believing itself

To be a separate creature, until

It sees its destiny with the Lord of Love

And attains immortality in the indivisible whole.

(Shveta 1 .4-6)

 

Meher Baba summarised it all beautifully and succinctly: “The finding of God is the coming to one’s own self”. An important corollary is provided by Kahlil Gibran when he said: “For what is prayer but the expansion of yourself into the living ether?” Of relevance too is the view of Erasmus, the great philosopher of the European Renaissance: “The sum of religion is peace, which can only be when definitions are as few as possible, and opinion is left free on many subjects”.

 

The above are extracts from ‘On the Cosmos’ from my book ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity’

A useful guide to the Cosmos

I recommend the Hindus’ Upanishads as a useful guide to the Cosmos … … The Upanishads proclaim (according to Easwaran) that “There is a Reality underlying life”.  “… this Reality is the essence of every created thing, and the same Reality is our real Self, so that each of us is one with the power that created and sustains the universe”. That is, the Creator is both transcendent and immanent.

Easwaran goes on to say that this Reality or oneness  “ … can be realised directly, without the mediation of priests or rituals or any of the structures of organised religion, not after death but in this life, and that this is the purpose for which each of us has been born and the goal towards which evolution moves”. Complex, yet simple. Is it not inspiring and therefore attractive to those who love freedom? I believe it is.

And the yoga schools in Australia are indeed introducing this perspective to seekers of a better path to spiritual fulfilment. The goal of evolution may thus be said to be the realisation of One-ness. This is also the purpose of repeated human re-birth, where life between lives is a mere staging house.

The path to spiritual fulfilment is lit thus: since “… there is in each of us an inalienable Self that is divine”, mankind is “… in a compassionate universe, where nothing is other than ourselves …”.  Mankind is thus urged  “ … to treat the universe with reverence”.

Thus, man’s innermost essence, the Self (or Atman), is not different from God, the ultimate Reality. This Reality (or Brahman) is “ … the irreducible ground of existence, the essence of everything — of the earth and sun and all creatures, of gods and human beings, of every power of life”. This equivalence of the ground of one’s being (the Self) and the essence of every thing (Reality) is encapsulated in the phrase “Thou art That”.

Thus, metaphysics and morals merge in that simple summary. … … A close friend of mine, of European origin, and a staunch churchgoing Catholic, found the teaching of the Upanishads most agreeable!

The above are extracts from ‘On the Cosmos’ from my book ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity.’