In the fourth chapter, the vision of the wise person has been mentioned of seeing the आत्मा as never the doer, never the experiencer-
कर्मण्यकर्म य: पश्येदकर्मणि च कर्म य: ।
स बुद्धिमान्मनुष्येषु स युक्त: कृत्स्नकर्मकृत् ॥ १८॥
In order to prepare oneself to see this vision, how might one be able to convert one’s कर्म into a यज्ञ (a reverential worshipful offering)? And so, the varieties of यज्ञ were mentioned.
At the beginning also, भगवान् had mentioned that ज्ञान यज्ञ is the most superior.
He also gave these instances of the other यज्ञ-s to help us see that all our कर्म can be sanctified by our attitude. It’s the same attitude with which we receive an object and it becomes प्रसाद for us.
So, all कर्म- with no division between secular and sacred, because all कर्म is sacred.
So, even in the verse-
ब्रह्मार्पणं ब्रह्म हविर्ब्रह्माग्नौ ब्रह्मणा हुतम् ।
ब्रह्मैव तेन गन्तव्यं ब्रह्मकर्मसमाधिना ॥ २४॥
the entire metaphor of a यज्ञ is taken.
So, the means of offering, the one who is offering, what is offered etc., everything is ब्रह्मन् |
After भगवान् spoke about the different यज्ञ-s, He concludes that section by saying that ज्ञान यज्ञ is the most superior, and what is very unique about the ज्ञान यज्ञ is-
(i) There aren’t too many rules. Conversely, if anybody does a पूजा or यज्ञ, there are different factors to be considered- What are the kind of offerings that are to be collected? How are they to be collected? What is the right time when the offerings have to be made into अग्नि? Then, what should be the height of the flames? What are the मंत्र-s that have to be chanted? What is the साधना that is to be done by the pundit who does it? Even before the pundit gets to the यज्ञ, he has to do अनुष्ठानम् i.e. an entire discipline of chanting certain मंत्र-s before he actually goes to perform the यज्ञ | So there are many such stipulations.
And of course, if we’re talking about the कर्म that we set up for our work situation, again there are many things to be looked into. And, if there is a weak link in your team, or even in your work cycle, then we all know that things can go for a toss.
But in this ज्ञान यज्ञ, there are no rules nor stipulations, and no materials are required. Only oneself and the teacher are required.
(ii) And in any कर्म, the notion of कर्ता is very strong. If any कर्म is done, it is done because the कर्ता wants certain things. But in ज्ञान यज्ञ, the कर्ता is exposing himself or herself to the knowledge such that I want to know the reality of me. So, the कर्ता, कर्म, करण, everything is swallowed up by ज्ञानम् | It’s a very different kind of यज्ञ |
And having spoken about its glories i.e. आत्मा विचार, भगवान् then says how one can go about this ज्ञान यज्ञ –
* श्लोक ३४ *
तद्विद्धि प्रणिपातेन परिप्रश्नेन सेवया ।
उपदेक्ष्यन्ति ते ज्ञानं ज्ञानिनस्तत्त्वदर्शिन: ॥ ३४॥
This is an important verse in the श्रीमद् भगवद्-गीता about the approach to knowledge.
तत् विद्धि – may you know, may you understand.
What? Three things-
1. प्रणिपात: – the right attitude of surrender.
2. परिप्रश्न: – asking the right kind of questions.
3. सेव – being of service to the teacher.
So, who is this teacher?
ज्ञानिन: – the one who has ज्ञानम् |
तत्त्वदर्शिन: – What is the uniqueness of this knowledge? The teacher/ज्ञानिन:/the wise person sees the reality i.e. तत्त्वदर्शि |
One will note that the word दर्शनम् is used very often in the शास्त्र | दर्शनम् really means direct immediate seeing.
And even culturally when we go to a temple, if somebody knows you’ve gone to some famous temple, people don’t ask you what प्रसाद you got, nor will they ask how many people were there, nor how was the gathering. People will ask- did you have दर्शन्? Did you see the deity ~ this is the most important part of going to the temple. One can sit and chat, or can meditate, or admire the architecture etc., but the most important thing is- did you see?
And then when we look at our other customs of doing the प्रदक्षिणा (circumambulation of the deity), the principle is that may I see all of you.
Or even when we do the आरति(waving of the camphor/lamp), the understanding is that I am that consciousness in the light of which I am able to see you. And the traditional pundit/पुरोहित् will take the आरति plate from the feet of the deity, to the face of the deity. And that sanctum sanctorum is not meant to be lit up, it is supposed to be dark. And so, with that camphor light, one is able to see.
So, there is a lot of symbolism in every aspect of this आगम शास्त्र, and also what is there in the living culture.
So, may I see all of you~ तत्त्वदर्शि – the one to whom the reality is direct, it’s immediate, it’s me. I am the आत्मा – This is not a statement of arrogance. I am the आत्मा, the limitless, in which there are no borders, there are no boundaries, and all forms exist in me. I am the reality within which the world, me-the-जीव/individual/body-mind and ईश्वर; all of these functions are all swallowed up in I-the आत्मा |
So, this Reality, the one who knows That i.e. the wise person, how should one approach this person for this ज्ञान यज्ञ?
1. प्रणिपात: – the willingness to admit that I don’t know, and I cannot figure this out on my own.
This willingness is very difficult especially because in the name of globalization, our cultures are becoming very individualistic, and we think that there’s something wrong with us if we were to admit that I don’t know something~ How come you don’t know, figure it out, you better figure it out…
And then of course, there is an abundance of information. So for any other knowledge, one can enroll in a course- online nowadays since so much is online. And we can read, understand, assimilate, learn enough, and one can teach others also. So, this is so for any other discipline of knowledge. But, people make the same mistake with वेदान्त also- some people listen to a particular Teacher’s talks and make copious notes. Then, they will pick and choose and find somebody maybe in their management circles or leadership circles, and then they will try to teach. It’s a different matter when you’re so inspired by the knowledge, and it’s helping you a lot and you weave in some of the things because you can’t help it~ you are changing, you’re transforming, it’s benefiting you. And so, one weaves certain things into what one does. That’s a different matter.
But here, for some people the pressure to be a गुरु, or to be someone that people look up to, can be very high- I want people to look up to me. So why don’t you take any other subject matter? But no, this वेदान्त is the subject matter of interest to me and so I will teach.
So traditionally, one cannot teach वेदान्त unless one’s गुरु says that you are eligible. But who follows this? Everybody decides that they are eligible, and that they can teach. And then one says that- you know what, my गुरु does not know how to simplify, and so I will simplify more, and I will teach.
So anyway, this प्रणिपात / surrender is not because one is wanting to be obedient.
There is a strange relationship between a गुरु and a student, such that the गुरु wants the student to be independent of him or her.
Contrastingly, as a parent one may want one’s child to be independent of one, but still, it feels nice when one’s children come back and say- I can’t do this without you, or what would I do without you, etc. And sometimes parents try to control their children’s lives because they cannot handle the fact that the children are independent and doing very well on their own.
So, the relationship between a गुरु and a student is a very strange one, because it’s unlike any others. In most relationships, there is some level of reciprocity, but in a गुरु-student relationship, the गुरु honestly doesn’t need much from the student. So that’s not easy to deal with. And also, that the गुरु is committed to the student’s growth completely, and so is willing to do whatever is required for the student- now that itself is not easy to stomach for a student. Because one always wonders- there must be a hidden agenda. Why is this person always available for me? Saying nice things to me? Why is this person teaching? etc. It’s very difficult to fathom that there could be someone who didn’t quite know you, initially at least, or even if the person has not even interacted with you, but still can be committed to your growth. So anyway, we struggle with trust. As adults we have been wounded enough, and so to regain our trust, is not easy. That is one constant issue that we are struggling with in our life. And then to add to it, trusting भगवान्, and now to trust another adult. It is easier to trust my dog, but trusting an adult is too much because one is concerned that I will be hurt or be let down etc.
In the eastern cultures, particularly in India, culturally प्रणिपात is expressed as touching the feet or doing a strict साष्टाङ्ग नमस्कार, that looks like a collapse on the floor. There is a verse that explains that- with one’s feet, hands, thighs, chest, head, words, mind, one says that I surrender to You- the Reality, That which is being taught.
The one who is teaching is a mouthpiece for this Teaching.
So, प्रणिपात is expressed in this way.
With some of the Japanese friends in the आश्रम, initially they were always bowing every time they see you. Or traditionally, the Indians would put their palms together when saying नमस्ते | In Nepal in particular, the people really make the effort to bring the hands together in the अञ्जलिमुद्रा and say नमस्ते |
If you do this अञ्जलिमुद्रा, and you stay like this for a few minutes, you will find something changing in you. If one stays like this, there is a settling and there is certain natural humility that creeps in.
So, this प्रणिपात ~ I don’t know, and I want to know the Truth, or I want to learn and so I am open, I am receptive. That’s all that surrender is. So, one doesn’t have to be afraid. But, we are all afraid of the word surrender- what would I be asked to surrender? So, I better be careful. One doesn’t have to surrender anything. The teacher doesn’t need anything.
2. परिप्रश्न ~ Questions.
So, this is a tradition of understanding of the Truth, and then when truth is involved, then there’s no scope for beliefs. Because beliefs are statements that are there, which have to be verified and confirmed.
If the teacher says~ 2+5=8. But one wonders if the teacher forgot their Maths, or what kind of a test is that? Because one’s experience of basic Math tells otherwise. So, then the teacher says that if you do not believe, then you will rot in hell.
So, it is not that if one does not believe, then they will rot in hell.
परिप्रश्न is that one has the freedom to ask questions. It is expected that one asks questions.
But also, one should not worry, if too many questions do not come to the mind.
Some people tell~ you know, in the rest of the class, some people ask such intelligent questions, but no question comes to me.
But really, one should not worry about this.
Or, someone says~ I ask too many questions in class, is it okay?
So, whether you ask less or more, one should feel free, as it is one’s right to ask a question.
And obviously, the attempt of the question is to understand. It’s not to prove how brilliant one is by asking such a nice question; it is to ask with the right intention.
Also, it is not just प्रश्न, it is परिप्रश्न by any person, emphasizing that the appropriate kind of questions should be asked.
One can ask- What आसन do you sit on while meditating? Which school did you go to? Did you study this language? Did you have friends in school?
One can ask all these questions, but these are not परिप्रश्न |
भगवान् आदि शङ्कराचार्य in His भाष्य says that one can ask questions like~ What is बन्ध/bondage? What is मोक्ष? So those questions when you are seeking to know the Truth, those are good questions to ask.
One can ask other questions also, so one should not feel guilty. One is welcome to ask any questions. But ultimately one’s questioning must also culminate in asking परिप्रश्न questions because the purpose of the गुरु-student relationship is knowledge.
Yes, there can be mentorship, guidance, validation, acceptance. But ultimately, the purpose is knowledge.
Sometimes, people mistake closeness to the teacher for knowledge. For instance, people may say that I have known Pujya Swamiji for 40 years. Or, I have done this for so many years. It’s good. But, the person still behaves in an insecure way. So, closeness to a person, or just because a person is an assistant and is helping with different things, doesn’t necessarily mean that the person has the attitude of surrender for knowledge. Because surrender involves dropping one’s रागद्वेष | In other words, one is very aligned with reality. So, it is not about- Oh, this is how I want this to be, or this is how it should not be etc.
So, sooner or later one’s रागद्वेष will be projected on the Teacher also- it may have happened for some, it’s not yet happened for the others. For instance, one thinks- I don’t think the teacher should be talking like this. Or, I think that the teacher should be doing XYZ. One is free to express one’s preference & opinion, but when that view starts to block what is being said, then one should understand that रागद्वेष are interfering with one’s reception
of that knowledge. No more is one open and receptive.
3. सेव – This is very big in the culture.
सेव or service to the Teacher, is really for the sake of the student. It may appear like it is for the Teacher, because certain tasks need to be done, and then the Teacher assigns. Or some proactive students say that you know what- I think that I can do this for you, is it okay? Shall I do it? Great, fantastic.
But what happens with सेव is that it is an opportunity for the Teacher to see how you are handling your रागद्वेष in performing a कर्म |
And generally, for सेव some task will be given that one is not comfortable with. Sometimes of course a task will be given that is one’s competence and therefore, it’s something that comes to one effortlessly. So, both ways are there.
So, it’s all good to talk about प्रसाद बुद्धि: or कौशलम् | But then, sooner or later if there are a few people working on a project, then complaints will begin- she didn’t do this, he didn’t do that etc. And I didn’t like the way she spoke to me and so those long complaints will come. And then one decides- I’m not going to work with this person. If you want me to do some work for you, I will not work with this person. So, it becomes like bickering children.
So here the purpose of सेव is to work through your रागद्वेष and to be of service to the teacher. Why?
Because in most cases, especially for संन्यासी-s who are not earning a living, so in order to make the teaching available, some basics are required, so that the time of the teacher, may be spent more for teaching and sharing the knowledge and therefore the student thinks- what can I do to make that person’s life comfortable such that the person is not spending time in admin or repetitive tasks.
So, this is what we try to do with our family members also- so what can I do to make your life more comfortable? So, in the way in which you try and take on some of the tasks of your family members and say- I will do it for you. It’s coming out of a certain care. Or suppose one is not proactive enough, then the person will say- oh, please help me with this and then you say okay, fine, I will do that. And you can see that the person’s time has been freed up to do whatever is important to that person and so on. We do this with our children, with our partners, with people at work.
If you have people you delegate your work to then you know you’re focused more on strategy and analysis and then somebody else is doing some of the more routine day to day work for you. It’s not that you can’t do it, you’re capable of doing it, but we all have a very limited amount of time and we want to use it in the most effective way possible.
And so, the number of wise people in this world are very few, and the ones who can teach are fewer.
So then, it is out of care for this knowledge, care for the tradition, which also extends to care for the Teacher. What can I do to make this Teaching available and to make that person’s life a little more comfortable? Comfortable, not in terms of creature comforts, but so that time will be taken away from the usual tasks.
So, these three things (प्रणिपात:, परिप्रश्न:, सेव) are important in one’s attitude in the way in which one approaches a Teacher, and then what happens is that the ज्ञानिन:/तत्त्वदर्शि will Teach.
उपदेक्ष्यन्ति- will give you knowledge, will reveal what is the Truth.
Not give you one set of advice- you must do this, you should not do that. Some teachers do this; maybe the students require it.
But the vision of the Teaching is that of freedom and therefore if at all there is any guidance to be given, then this also needs to promote the freedom of the person.
The way one lives, one lives in freedom, one promotes that. And the vision is also of freedom. So, it’s freedom all the way.
So, these wise people will Teach.
If you don’t ask questions, then the Teacher will ask you questions. And surrender is what one needs to do. And सेव also. If you ask any Teacher, they will all have stories about the nature of सेव that they have done for their Teachers. It’s a part of the relationship, especially if one is living with a Teacher, or even if one is not, then there are a lot of things to be done and so one pitches in.