Pappankulam – A Village of Brahmins and Four Vedas

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Pappankulam is a small village near Tirunelveli, Tamilnadu, India which has some beautiful temples and beautiful stories associated with them. It is my own native place and I had recently gone there. The main Shiva temple (Arulmigu Vadakalainayaki Sametha Thiruvenkadar Temple) was once damaged; but it was renovated in 2017 and now it looks beautiful.

The village also has many other temples like Ramaswamy temple (Lord Rama), Sadai Udayar sastha temple, Palani Andavar temple, Muppidathi amman temple, Chandika devi amman temple, a temple for Ganesh etc. The temple myths seem to convey messages that glorify the village. They seem to indicate that this village gave a lot of importance to arts and crafts, wisdom and Vedas.

Pappankulam Arulmigu Vadakalainayaki Sametha Thiruvenkadar Temple

I am going to go into the details of the myths and explain the possible reasons that such myths were created in the first place. Because, myths are not historical incidents. But they are created to make a point, convey a message, give a theological narrative or a supernatural explanation for a real incident, to glorify a person or a place etc. So they may carry hidden historical explanations even though a story in itself may not be a faithful narrative of a historical event.

There are a couple of stories about Pappankulam which are related to Hindu Varna system. But I will use those stories to remove certain misconceptions about Indian Varna system. In fact, It is not really as worse as it is portrayed by some political parties in India.

This post will also help you to know about an important village in Tamil Nadu which gave so much importance to arts, knowledge and Vedic education. This is very obvious by the stories associated with this place.

Pappankulam – A Land Donated to a Brahmin

Let us first see why this village was named Pappankulam. There is an anecdote which is not a myth but likely to be historical. 

Aditta Varma (or probably Aditya Varma) was a Pandiya king and was also a devotee of Shiva. He built many temples of Shiva and they were designed by a sculptor named Chaturvedi. Chaturvedi was probably his last name as it is a common last name among Brahmins which means ‘the knower of four Vedas’. It could also be just a nickname since his original name was forgotten.

Chaturvedi was an excellent sculptor with good mastery in his skills and a great sense of art. So the king Aditta Varma was very pleased by his work and donated some land. It was called Chaturvedi Mangalam (an old Sanskrit name for Pappankulam).

Chaturvedi later went through so many problems in his life. When consulting astrologers, it was found that Graha dosha was the reason. In Astrology, Graha Dosha is an instance of one celestial body afflicting another. Chaturvedi was advised to consecrate a Shiva Linga with Chandrakanta stone (moonstone or sodium potassium aluminium silicate) and build a huge temple with Navagrahas (nine grahas or celestial bodies in Indian Astrology). He was told that building such a temple will get rid of his problems.

Chaturvedi built a Shiva temple and also dug a pond near it. The temple is now beautifully renovated and known as Sri Vadakalainayaki Sametha Thiruvenkadar Temple, Pappankulam. The pond is called Kalkurichi pond. Once he built this temple, it is believed that his problems were solved.

The pond near Thiruvenkadar Temple

Another version of the story says that the temple already existed before the time of Aditta Varman but the king prayed here to have progeny. He didn’t have children for a long time. But once he prayed in this temple, he was blessed with a child. So the king Aditta Varman expanded the temple with the help of sculptor Chaturvedi and also donated him some land. This information is available in the temple inscriptions. 

The word ‘Pappan’ in Pappankulam is a distortion of the Tamil word ‘pArpAn’ (பார்ப்பான்) which means a Brahmin. ‘Kulam’ means pond. The village got this name possibly because all four Vedas were taught, recited in this village and because of the fact that Vedic culture flourished here.

Some people also give another explanation. The Tamil word ‘pApAngu’ means the young one of a bird. Since a lot of small birds constantly make noise in this pond, it was called by this name. But I really think that this explanation was forced. The first explanation about Pappankulam being the village of Brahmins and Vedas suits this village for many reasons.

Goddess Saraswati and the Curse of the sage Durvasa

In Hindu Myths, sage Durvasa is known for his short temper. But sage Durvasa was a real person, probably a self-realized jnani with a short temper.  

This may sound strange because many people believe that something like self-realization or spiritual enlightenment would certainly make a person get rid of anger. But even a self-realized person retains certain vasanas and many other older habits according to his own karma or nature, so that he is able to interact with the world and society. So each enlightened person carries at least 1-2% of imperfections from his past, which do not cause anymore bondage. For Durvasa, anger was a tool and it is often referred to as sAtvika krodha, the anger arises from balance and compassion. Durvasa has composed Sri Tripura Mahimna Stotra: https://www.kamakotimandali.com/srividya/mahimnah.html

There is another story associated with Thiruvenkadar temple. One day, Durvasa was reciting Vedas but committed a small mistake by using a wrong letter or sound. Hearing this, Saraswati, the Goddess of arts and wisdom, started laughing.This angered Durvasa. So he cursed that Goddess Saraswati should go to earth and live for 64 years and teach all the 64 arts to humans. Because of that curse, both Goddess Saraswati and Brahma (her consort) came to earth, worshipped Tiruvenkadar of Pappankulam and lived there for 64 years, teaching arts and wisdom to people. Thamirabarani Mahatmyam has many stories associated with places near Tirunelveli, including the curse of Durvasa on Saraswati.

Goddess Saraswati

This story was probably created to explain the existence and growth of various fine arts in this village 500 years before. It is a theological narrative to explain how many people in this village learnt arts those days. The temple was a small stone temple during Kulasekara Maravarman’s reign (1268–1308 CE).  The inscription in the temple says ‘ராஜசதுர்வேதி மங்கலத்தின் வடமேற்கே வேளார்குறிச்சியில் பகவதி விண்ணகர் ஆழ்வார்’ (Northwest to Raja Chaturvedi Mangalam, in Velarkurichi, Bhagavathi Vinnagar Azhwar.)

There is a small stage called Jeeva Kalaiarangam very close to the temple, where plays are conducted every year during the car festival. (When I was a school boy, I acted in a few of those plays myself, especially in comedy roles. Just in one play, I appeared in a court scene as a lawyer). A writer in our village writes these plays every year and they last for one hour. 

Vada Kalai Nayagi – The Goddess of arts

The Shiva in the main temple is called Thiruvenkadar and his consort Shakti in this temple is called  Vada Kalai Nayagi. Vada (vAdA) means ‘never fading’; ‘Kalai’ means ‘arts’; Nayaki means ‘Chief’. So the name Vada Kalai Nayagi literally means Goddess of arts. The temple is based on Karanagama.

Sri Vada Kalai Nayagi

Also, the Goddess is depicted to show 32 expressions (Samudrika Lakshana) in a single sculpture and that is considered to be very special, showing the unique skill of the sculptor. 

The Confluence of Ramanathi and Kadana nathi rivers – A Confluence of Tamil and Sanskrit

Pappankulam is the place where two small rivers, Ramanathi and Kadana nathi (Gadananadhi or Gatananadhi) meet and merge with each other. Both rivers have an interesting story. 

Ramanathi is said to have originated from a drop from the Kamandalu (an oblong water pot) of sage Agastya. Kadana nathi is said to have originated from the water that sage Atri obtained as a loan from river Ganges. 

Again, while thinking about the reasons for these myths, they seem to indicate something that is unique about Pappankulam. Sage Agastya is associated with Tamil language and it is believed that Agastya came up with the Tamil grammar for the very first time. (Agastya is also a Rig Vedic rishi). Atri is associated with Gangetic plain and Vedas. It is where Vedic civilization and Sanskrit education thrived. So this story was probably created to explain that just like Ramanathi and Kadana nathi meet here,  Tamil and Sanskrit also meet here.

This makes a lot of sense. Since the village got its name because of Bramins and Vedic recitations, it was certainly a place where Sanskrit met Tamil. Today we have both Brahmin priests who chant in Sanskrit and Tamil odhuvar priests who take care of certain temples; they recite Tamil hymns from Tevaram.

It is also important to note that there are  mountains with the name of both Agastya (Agastya hills) and Atri (Athri malai) just a few miles away from Pappankulam. Devotees can trek both these mountains after getting permission from the forest department. People believe that sage Atri had an ashram in  Athiri malai and created Kadana nathi for his disciple Shri Korakkanathar.

Threefold Classification: Thiruvenkadu (Uttarapuri), Madurai (Madhyapuri) and Pappankulam (Dakshinapuri)

People also say that the temple town Thiruvenkadu is considered as Uttarapuri or northern town, Madurai is considered as Madhya puri (the town in the middle) and Pappankulam is considered as Dakshina puri or the one in the south. The suffix ‘puri’ is usually used at the end of the names of many towns and villages.

I was wondering why there is such a classification and what is common between these three places. I am just writing what seems to be obvious. 

Thiruvenkadu is a village located near Sirkazhi, Nagapattinam. Thiruvenkadu means “white forest’. This village has a famous Shiva temple called Swetharanyeswarar Temple. The name of Shiva in Pappankulam is Thiruvenkadar, which is the literal Tamil meaning of  Swetharanyeswarar. So, it may be said that the temple in Pappankulam was based on the original temple in Thiruvenkadu. 

There are many stories which are associated with Thiruvenkadu and this is one of them (from Wiki): 

“Achyutha Kalappalar, a local chieftain was childless. His guru Sivacharya analyzed his horoscope and read out an ancient palm leaf manuscript. It had the verse of Sambandar, one of the major Saivite saints Nayanars. Chieftain was advised to pray at Venkadu to be blessed with a progeny. He prayed at the place along with his wife and was blessed with a boy. The boy later went on to write Sivagnana Bodham.”

Sivagnana Bodham is considered to be the best Tamil text in Saiva Siddhanta. The author of Sivagnana Bodham is Meykandar, who is shown as the blessed boy in the above story. This superior Tamil text of spiritual wisdom is associated with Thiruvenkadu. Just like that, Madurai is a place associated with three Tamil sangams and the huge body of Tamil literature associated with it. So, the only thing that is common for all the three places is their association with wisdom, literature and knowledge.

Based on that, it is likely that Pappankulam is listed as one of the three places because of its association with wisdom and knowledge.

Association of Pappankulam temple with Budha (Mercury)

Budha (Mercury) is one of the nine grahas in Indian astrology. The main temple of Budha in Tamil Nadu is actually Swetharanyeswarar Temple in Thiruvenkadu near Sirkazhi, Nagapattinam, where there is an image of Budha. But Budha is said to have also worshipped here in Pappankulam too.

Budha is said to be a graha related to wisdom and intellect. According to astrology, Budha dosha, a malefic effect of this graha is believed to cause nervous and mental issues and poor academic performance. Budha as a person is also considered as superior among jnanis or self-realized people.

Since Budha is associated with intellect and wisdom, it is reasonable to assume that association of Budha with Pappankulam temple is to show the association of wisdom with the village. 

Pazhani Andavar temple, Pappankulam

There is a temple called Palani Andavar (or Pazhani Andavar temple) very close to Thiruvenkadar temple. The word ‘Pazhani’ here refers to the hill temple for Murugan  in Palani, Tamilnadu. The temple for Skanda or Murugan in Pappankulam has the same name as the deity of temple in Palani hills.

I am quoting the temple legend of Palani murugan temple from Wiki:

According to Hindu mythology, “Sage Narada once visited the celestial court of Lord Shiva at Mount Kailash to present to Him a fruit, the gyana-pazham (literally, the fruit of wisom), that held in it the elixir of wisdom. Upon Lord Shiva expressing his intention of dividing the fruit between his two sons, Ganesha and Muruga, the sage counselled against cutting it. He decided to award it to whomever of his two sons first circled the world thrice. 

Accepting the challenge, Lord Murugan started his journey around the globe on his mount peacock. However, Ganesha, who surmised that the world was no more than his parents Shiva and Shakti combined, circumambulated them”.Pleased with their son’s discernment, Lord Shiva awarded the fruit to Lord Ganesha. When Murugan returned, he was furious to learn that his efforts had been in vain. He left Kailash and took up his abode in Palani hills in South India. It is believed that Murugan felt the need to get matured from boyhood and hence chose to remain as a hermit and discarded all his robes and ornaments. He went into meditation to know about himself”.

I am also quoting my interpretation of the same story, as I have written in my post ‘3-level meditation’:

First of all, Shiva and Shakthi represent two things: Purusha and Prakriti. Purusha is the pure witness; the consciousness without any attributes including actions or qualities. Prakriti is everything that is witnessed by Purusha. Prakrithi includes everything that is witnessed in your conscious experience: the external world and its internal representation consisting of thoughts, emotions, likes and dislikes, intellect, ego, memories etc. Essentially Purusha and Prakriti are inseparable, just like fire and heat are inseparable. So this union of Purusha and Prakriti constitutes absolute reality or what we call as God.

Realizing this absolute truth in one’s experience is Jnana or self-realization. Usually, self-realization is compared to a fruit, since it represents the fruit of spiritual sadhana. You will see the word ‘Phala’ used in many Buddhist texts as a synonym for enlightenment. There is even sutta in Buddhist canon called samannaphala sutta, which means the fruit of asceticism.

There are always two kinds of people in the world. People who realize that the truth is very close because it is inside them and people who search for the truth outside. The story of Ganesha and Skanda competing for Jnanapalam (fruit of wisdom) has a striking similarity to this concept. Ganesha realizes that the truth is within, so he immediately gets the fruit by reaching the Shivasakthi which is very close to him. On the other hand, Skanda goes around the world and realizes that he did not get jnana in spite of going around the world. (this is illustrated by the story that Skanda could not get the fruit). So finally he realizes his folly and takes Sannyas. He sits in one place and goes within to find the truth.”

The presence of a temple whose deity is associated with the fruit of wisdom again reinforces the fact that the village Pappankulam is associated with wisdom, especially, spiritual wisdom that is realized through self-realization.

The Beliefs and Uniqueness About Pappankulam Thiruvenkadar Temple

Linga made of Chandrakanta stone
  1. For rainfall, people do Dara homam. People say that the result is instantaneous. It is also said that an eagle makes rounds on the sky during the homa. 
  2. Legends say that Chola and Pandya kings worshipped Saneeswaran (Shani) and were able to win battles. It is a general belief that by worshipping Saneeswaran here, one can win his enemies.
  3. The linga is made with Chandrakanta stone (moonstone). People used to believe that this stone gets its coolness from the moon and also keeps the room cool. People believe that this stone is good for meditation and calmness. Chandrakanta stone is worn as a gem and popularly known as lover’s gem as people believe that it helps them to find true love. Moon is linked to the mind; so this gem stone is linked to both emotional balance and intellect. 
  4. Inside the temple, there is a shrine of a siddhar who attained moksha. The details about him are not available. Every full moon day, there is a special puja in this shrine. Some believe that it might be Thiruvenkadar who was popularly known as Pattinathar. (There have been three people by the same name).
  5. The statue of Skanda or Murugan with his consorts is made of a single stone.
  6. In the shrine of Guru bhagawan, a snake is sculpted under his feet. It is believed that people can get rid of Raghu Kethu dosha by worshipping Guru bhagawan here.
  7. The lingam appears bigger if seen from the flagpost (kodimaram) and smaller if viewed from the mandapam near sanctum sanctorum. This is something unique about the architecture of the temple.
  8. Since Budha was believed to have worshipped here and since he is thought of having the power to remove the malefic effects caused by other planets in astrology, people believe that by worshipping him one can get rid of all graha doshas.
  9. The abhishekam (bathing of the deity) water is believed to possess medicinal qualities. People attribute this to Chandrakanta stone.
  10. Sthala Vriksha (the monumental and holy tree) of this temple is night-flowering Jasmine.
  11. The theertham (holy water available in the pond nearby) is called Brahma theertham.
  12. There is a snake depicted separately at the feet of Dhakshinamoorthy. This is something unusual as the snake is usually just drawn in the other temples. The snake represents Kundalini.
  13. People who have problems in getting married visit this place during the Tamil months of Adi and Ani (roughly from the middle of June to middle of August), take bath in the place where the two rivers merge (called irandathu mukku or the corner of two rivers), and worship Thiruvenkadar with oil lamp. They believe that this gets rid of the problem.

Association of Lord Rama and killing Shambuka

Ramayana is an epic based on wisdom king model (Dharmaraja) whereas Mahabharata is based on a warrior king model (Chakravartin). In Ramayana, Rama is shown as a king who protects Dharma, the right way of life, during his reign. Here we need to remember one thing (which I will elaborate on later); the norms of those days were different. And the society was also a lot different.

In Pappankulam, there is a beautiful temple of Rama known as Ramaswamy temple. According to temple inscriptions, it was built before 12th century AD by Pandiya king Maravarman I. 

It is not surprising that Rama, an icon of wisdom, has a temple here. But the temple is also associated with one of the most controversial episodes of Ramayana, the killing of Shambuka by Rama.

In Uttarakanda (Final chapter or Ramayana), sargas 73-76 narrate the story of Shambuka. Shambuka was a Shudra (lower caste) ascetic who was slain by Rama for attempting to do a penance.  Rama considered this penance of Shambuka as the act in violation of dharma as he believed that the negative consequences or karma, resulting from this act, caused the death of a Brahmin’s son in his kingdom.

Uttarakhanda is not usually considered as written by Valmiki, the original author of Ramayana. It is usually seen as a later addition. But this episode is seen as controversial and often used to criticize Ramayana as a whole, as promoting caste based discrimination. There are some problems with such a conclusion. To understand, we need to see how the whole Varna system (the system of four varnas including Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras) evolved and how it was seen in Ancient India.

History of Varnas

There is already a hypothesis called Trifunctional hypothesis, according to which  three classes or castes—priests, warriors, and commoners (farmers or tradesmen) existed in prehistoric  Indo-European societies. This was something which naturally happened. 

Even in Ancient China, there were the shi (gentry scholars), the nong (peasant farmers), the gong (artisans and craftsmen), and the shang (merchants and traders) forming a fourfold classification. So, there has been a natural division of society based on what people did.

Vedic civilization also initially had these threefold divisions. Brahmins (priests, writers, poets, teachers and intellectual pillar of the society), Kshatriyas (king and the army), and Vaishyas (merchants and farmers). There was no fourth varna.

Among the three varnas, there was no strict birth based division. But it was natural for the son to follow the father’s occupation. A teacher was someone who initiated the people from all three classes to Vedic study, which not only included studying hymns and rituals, but also included studying etymology, prosody, astrology, phonetics and grammar. And certainly, it should have included basic education like basic Mathematics, Geometry, knowledge about various plants and their uses etc. Because, this was the only form of study until there was a university in Taxila. But that was a place for scholars and elites, not common people.

Now, who was a Shudra? One who was not initiated into Vedic study. So initially, the following were Shudras:

  1. All people, from the time they were born until they were initiated into Vedic study were Shudras. Since they are not initiated yet, they are Shudras.
  2. Tribes who were following a tradition different from Vedic religion. Since they are not initiated yet, they are Shudras.
  3. Tribes who deviated from Vedic traditions and hence the people born now are no longer initiated into Vedic studies. Since they are not initiated yet, they are Shudras.

When we are looking at the cultures in a huge landmass over a time period of more than 3500 years, we need to keep the following things in mind.

The meaning of the word changes many times throughout history. Customs and rules also change throughout history. We tend to think of a static homogeneous system when we think of Varna system. But that is not really the case. Even the meanings of the words like Brahmins and Shudras have had different meanings and connotations during different times of the history.

Until Kuru kingdom was formed, there were no strict rules in the society. From Michael Witzel, we know that initiation into Vedic studies was open to anyone. This was very true in the early Rig Vedic period. So anyone, regardless of what tribe they belonged to, what language they spoke at home, what food they ate were initiated into Vedic study. This was the time the whole Rig Vedic samhitas were not yet compiled into one collection.

At this point, basically, if a person makes a living through a means that is not natural to his Varna, he is doing something that he is not qualified for. The real intention behind formulation of various rules for various Varna was that a person should do the work which suits his personality, ability, other genetic traits, conditioning and nurture etc. This rule will apply even right now. If your friends say you look like a bodybuilder but you are looking for a high-paying job in a company for a post that you don’t qualify for, the confusion is obvious. But it is true that some of the rules that existed then were very cruel.

Once the Kuru Kingdom was established, things began to change gradually. Because of getting patronage and money, it was very easy for traditional priests to do a good job and prove their worth. So it was not usual for someone to change their varna. Slowly, Shudras became a fourth caste who should serve other three classes. And Varnas became birth based, even though it was not strictly and universally followed. You can find evidence for it in Vedas themselves:

yathemāṁ vācaṁ kalyāṇīṁ avadāni janebhyaḥ | brahma rājanyābhyāṁ śūdrāya caryāya ca svayāya caraṇāya ca ||

Just as I have revealed this salutary auspicious teachings to all humans, so should you. I have revealed the Vedic truth to brahmins, kshatriyas, sudras and Aryas, to personal servants and to the lowest of servants (araṇāya) also. (Sukla Yajur Veda 26:2)

It also looks like there was a discussion. Some say Shudras should not be initiated; and some say that they should. In this context, there are certainly talking about a strictly birth-based four-fold varna system. But the fact that there was a discussion indicates that the rules were relaxed, even though some took advantage of it to show their prejudice.

vidyate caturthasya varṇasya agnyādheyam ityeke

Some say that all four varnas are eligible to consecrate the 3 sacred fires (Bhāradvāja śrauta sutra 5:2.8.)

Markandeya Purana says that Shudras can perform Yajnas or fire sacrifice:

dānaṁ yajño’tha śuśrūṣā dvijātināṁ tridhā mayā |

vyākhyātaḥ śūdra dharmo’pi jīvikā kāru-karmajā |

tadvad dvijāti śuśrūṣā poṣaṇam kraya vikrayaiḥ |

The religious duties of a Shudra are works of charity and the performing of yajñas and serving others. They earn a living from being artisans, tradesmen, craftsmen etc. from service professions, from nurturing and from selling and buying. (Markaṇḍeya Purāṇa 25:7-8)

 Prejudice is natural in human beings, and to get rid of that one has to develop a certain clarity; to get read of it completely, one has to walk on the spiritual path and attain atma jnana or self-realization. But it can be kept in check and channeled properly. One can bring more awareness to it. 

Among any two groups, the problem of ‘we’ vs ‘you all’ is bound to occur at some point of time. When a person associates his self-image to the whole group he belongs to, the notion that the other ‘group’ is inferior can very easily arise. Today, we see the same prejudice and hatred taking place in the name of caste, religion, language, nationalities, races etc. 

At any point of time, a society has all kinds of people with different personalities, character, intentions, mental purity etc. So, it is very safe to assume that in any culture, some kind of prejudice would have resulted in oppression and hatred of the ‘other’ group. But how can anyone get an entire picture of the situation at any point of time in the ancient past? So, it would be a mistake to consider that Varna system was a rigid division that existed throughout the entire subcontinent, throughout the whole past. 

The episode of Rama and Shambukha

Let us come to Rama’s situation in the story of Ramayana. He hears that someone who is not initiated into how to do rituals and penance is doing a penance and it resulted in the cause of a Brahmin’s death. 

Rama approaches the Shudra ascetic, And here is what Valmiki Ramayana says:

On this that Prince approached the one who had given himself up to rigorous practices and said “Blessed art thou, O Ascetic, who art faithful to thy vows ! From what caste art thou sprung, O Thou who hast grown old in mortification and who art established in heroism. I am interested in this matter, I, Rama, the son of Dasaratha. What purpose hast thou in view? Is it heaven or some other object? What boon dost thou seek by means of this hard penance? I wish to know what thou desire in performing these austerities, oh Ascetic. May prosperity attend thee! Art thou a brahmin ? Art thou an invincible Kshatriya? Art thou a Vaishya, one of the third caste or art thou a Shudra? Answer me truthfully!” Then the ascetic, who was hanging head downwards, thus questioned by Rama, revealed his origin to that Prince born of Dasaratha, the foremost of kings, and the reason why he was practicing penance. Hearing the words of Rama of imperishable exploits, that ascetic, his head still hanging downwards, answered “O Rama, I was born of a Shudra alliance and I am performing this rigorous penance in order to acquire the status of a God in this body. I am not telling a lie, O Rama, I wish to attain the Celestial Region. Know that I am a Shudra and my name is Shambuka.” As he was yet speaking, Raghava, drawing his brilliant and stainless sword from its scabbard, cut off his head.”

— The Ramayana of Valmiki: Translated by Hari Prasad Shastri p1585

Rama is a person who doesn’t seem to be too sensitive about the divisions of Varna and certainly he doesn’t seem to exhibit any prejudice. We see that throughout Ramayana. We see his loving interaction with Shabari, an old Shudra woman. And here he is facing a situation. 

Everyone says that this Shudra ascetic needs to be slain; that seems to be the public consensus according to the norms of the day. He is not qualified, uninitiated but his penance was believed to be the cause of the death of a son of a Brahmin, the person who initiates many people. And here he says that he does this penance to attain the status of Gods. Those days, it should have sounded pretty much like, “I don’t have a driving license and I am drunk but I am on my way to participate in a car race now”. You hear this from a guy after you have heard from someone that he had been the cause of the death of someone’s son. 

Penance is done for the welfare of the society.  An unqualified and uninitiated person doing a penance for attaining the status of God while already being accused of having caused a Brahmin’’s death posed a threat to the society. And everyone asks to kill him. As a responsible king, Rama killed Shambuka. Looking at it from a modern lens, it may sound too cruel; but the past is past. Whoever wrote this story has just reflected the norms of the days when it was put into composition.

But personally, I don’t take epics as history, They might have been inspired by multiple stories and traditional lores; some of them may be true; some of them may be a mixture of two different stories. The fact that people had the liberty to compose different versions for stories like Ramayana indicates that they didn’t take the epics as faithful historical narratives as we do today.

Ramayana has a spiritual meaning though. It symbolizes our consciousness getting kidnapped by the three malas: anava, karma and maya. Or it could indicate our senses getting kidnapped by the root ignorance or avidya. An entire text called Adhyatma Ramayana was written to allegorically interpret the story of Hindu epic Ramayana in the Advaita Vedanta framework.

But the story of Shambuka does teach one thing, which became hidden because of time. One should follow his svadharma, or make a living that suits his personality traits, abilities, interests and experience. Shambuka’s story also teaches about the quick justice that happens to an offence in the state that was believed to have caused a serious consequence. But one shouldn’t interpret this as a careless justice given without proper investigation. At least, the author of this part of the story wants us to understand that it was an emergency, according to their norms and situation. 

In Pappankulam, the story of the temple goes like this. According to the temple myth, when Rama wanted to kill Shambuka, he was hiding somewhere nearby the Kadana nathi river. Rama stood on a rock here to locate him. It was the spot where the rivers Ramanathi and Kadana nathi meet. It is said that Shiva appeared as a light near Madavarvilagam and helped Rama to locate Shambuka. Rama is also said to have done Sandhya Vandhanam there. So the rock is called Sandhya rock or Sandhya parai. It has an inscription of a chakra and a footstep. It is believed to be the footstep of Rama, according to the temple myth. After killing Shambuka, Rama is believed to have taken shelter under a tamarind tree, which is the same as the location of Ramaswamy temple in Pappankulam. The killing of Shambuka is believed to have taken place in Sambankulam near Sivasailam.

Chandika Devi Amman temple in Pappankulam, Parashurama and Tripura Rahasya

On the way to Kadana nathi river, there is another temple for mother Goddess Shakti or Parvati. The temple is called Chandika Devi Amman and usually referred to as Sendika Devi Amman by locals. Many people name their daughters as Sendika (my father’s elder brother’s daughter is one of them). I couldn’t find anything much about the existence of Chandika devi amman temples in other parts of Tirunelveli district. But I am assuming they should exist as small temples, as there are stories associated with Chandika and Parashurama.

From Wiki:

“Parashurama (Sanskrit: परशुराम, IAST: Paraśurāma, lit. Rama with an axe) is the sixth avatar of Vishnu in Hinduism. Born as a Brahmin , Parashurama carried traits of a Kshatriya and is often regarded as a Brahma Warrior. He carried a number of traits, which included aggression, warfare and valor; also, serenity, prudence and patience. Like other incarnations of Vishnu, he was foretold to appear at a time when overwhelming evil prevailed on the earth.The Kshatriya class, with weapons and power, had begun to abuse their power, take what belonged to others by force and tyrannize people. Parashurama corrects the cosmic equilibrium by destroying these Kshatriya warriors. Bhumihars claim that their ancestors were Brahmins who were set up to take the place of the Kshatriyas slain by Parashurama. (Bhumihars are a Hindu caste mainly found in Bihar (including the Mithila region), the Purvanchal region of Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, the Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh, and Nepal.).”

There is a legend associated with Chandika worship. Whenever we talk about any myth or legend, we need to understand that it need not be historical. Parashurama is generally associated with Northern India and his birthplace is believed to be on top of the Janapav hills in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. He is also associated with many temple consecrations in south India, including the Sabarimala temple and Kanyakumari temple.

But was Parashurama really a historical person? He was probably a Brahmin who stood up against the oppression of kings and helped with consecration of many temples. Parushurama might have been a real name or just a nickname. But it is usual for people to attribute myths about the person they liked and admired. People also attribute the work of the descendants of an important person to the person himself. It is also usual for disciples to compose a work and name their own guru as the author. So, even with careful and critical analysis of various sources, confirming historicity of an incident is very challenging.

The myth associated with the worship of Chandika goes like this. Guru Dattatreya preached the essence of Advaita Vedanta to Parashurama in Gandhamadana Parvatha hills, Rameshwaram.  He went over the three states of consciousness which are waking, sleeping and dreaming and explained that the consciousness that witnesses these three states is more real than what is being witnessed. It can be understood well with the screen and movie metaphor popularized by Ramana Maharshi. This consciousness is personified as Chandika, who rules over all three states as if they are three cities or Tripuras. So she is also known as Tripura Sundari.

Later, Parashurama is said to have lived in Pothigai hills in Tirunelveli and did a spiritual practice on Chandika for 12 years. He imparted this truth to his disciple Haritayana. Haritayana compiled the teachings as Tripura Rahasya

There are no temple myths associated with Chandika Devi amman temple in Pappankulam. It is a very small temple. But the form of Chandika is used in a lot of myths and famous texts.

Chandika or Chandi appears in Markandeya Purana, in the section known as Chandi or The Devi Mahatmya. This is what she says about herself:

I resemble in form Brahman;

From me emanates the world

Which has the Spirit of Prakriti and Purusha;

I am empty and not empty;

I am delight and non-delight;

I am knowledge and ignorance;

I am Brahman and not Brahman!”

The basis for Chandi worship is found in Devi Bhagavatam and Devi Mahatmya. The Goddess is also understood as a combined force of Maha Saraswati, Maha Lakshmi and Maha Kali. The Chandi worship might have originated in West Bengal and might have been popularized by Parashurama (or one of his descendants) in the South. Parashurama is understood as someone who created or developed the iconography of Chandika in  south Tamil Nadu.

Chandika, Maheshwari and Skandamata are associated with the 5th day of navaratri. Chandika also refers to a 7 year old girl. Chandi is depicted as a very angry Goddess.

Sankara Narayanan and Gomathi Amman temple, Pappankulam

On the way to Kadana nathi, there is a small Shiva temple in the Agraharam street called Sankara Narayanan and Gomathi Amman temple. This temple is not in a good condition and needs renovation.

The original Sankara Narayanan Gomathi amman temple is in Sankarankovil, Tirunelveli district. The temple is associated with religious tolerance between Shaivism and Vaishnavism. The myth about Gomathi Amman is there to explain that Shiva and Vishnu are different names of one Supreme divinity. 

As Rig Veda says, the truth is one but called by various names by wise people (Ekam sat, viprah bahuda vadanti – Rig Veda 1.164.46). This also applies to names like Allah and Yahweh. Gomathi amman can be taken as an embodiment of religious tolerance, who preaches the truth about the essential oneness of various paths.

I ended up writing about Gomathi amman in the past which was a result of some amazing coincidences that I witnessed. I have written about such coincidences in the following posts:

Goddess Gomathi Amman, Adi Thabasu and Religious Tolerance

Some Amazing Coincidences Regarding Religious Tolerance

Sadaiudayar Sastha Temple, Pappankulam

Sadaiudayar Sastha is our family deity. Shasta means a teacher or a guru. Just like there are various forms of Shiva, there are various forms of Shasta too and one of them is Sadaiudayar.

 Again, I would like to remind the readers here that names like Shasta, Shiva, Vishnu etc are different names for one divinity and each of these names may highlight a particular aspect of divinity more than the others. 

Sastha is the personification of a divine teacher. When you consider Almighty or the Supreme reality as a divine teacher or if you are attracted to the image of a teacher more than anything else, then you can choose one of these forms for worship: Sastha, Skanda guru, Dakshinamurthy. 

The true form of worship involves surrender and love, as shown in Bhagavad Gita; but which form you are devoted to doesn’t matter at all, as long as you feel more emotionally connected with your chosen form. The devotion purifies the mind and prepares the ground for self-realization.

Just like there are eight forms of Lakshmi called Ashtalakshmi, there are eight forms of Sastha too. I have elaborated on the etymology of the word Lakshmi and the eight forms of Lakshmi here: 3-Level Meditation

Ashta Sasthas

Let us now see about Ashta Sasthas:

Adhi Maha Sastha – Similar to Adhilakshmi or Mahalakshmi, he represents the highest wealth of a human being which is self-realization or Atma jnana. Adhi Maha Sastha is depicted with two consorts: Poorna and Pushkala. Poorna means fullness; Pushkala means abundance or an absence of any sense of lack. This actually means that self-realization changes the way you experience your life in such a way that you feel full and complete and do not sense that anything lacks when it comes to your ultimate well being.  Adhi Maha Sastha is more popular in villages of South; Sadaiudayar Sastha is just one form of Adhi Maha Sastha.

Dharma sastha: Dharma sastha is someone who takes care of Dharma or cosmic order. Dharma dictates the way of life that contributes to the well being of oneself and the other. The concept of avatar is closely linked to Dharma. So an avatar of Sastha should be considered as a human representation of Dharma sastha. 

Manikandan, who is popularly worshipped as Ayyappan is considered as an avatar of Dharma sastha. This doesn’t mean that Almighty took the form of a person. Almighty is always Avyakta or impersonal; but it is that which manifests as everything. Manikandan was a human prince who practiced celibacy; but once his time is over, he has merged himself with the Almighty; it is explained by saying he merged with Dharma sastha. So the distinction between Manikandan and Sastha is the same as the distinction between Krishna and Vishnu.

This is the reason why I have written earlier that the banning of women’s entry to Ayyappa temple in SabariMala is not at all necessary. Read this post for details: Entry of Women to Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple -A Detailed Look at Sabarimala’s History and the Recent Supreme Court Verdict

Just like there is Bhagavad Gita for Krishna, there is Boothanatha Geeta (or Bhutanatha Gita) for Manikandan. It is a very rare text. You can read a short commentary on it here: Bhoothanatha Geetha – The Song of Ayyappa

Gnana Sastha: He is the lord of wisdom. He is depicted as sitting under a banyan tree just like Dhakshinamoorthy. He also holds a Manikka Veena instrument just like Saraswati, the Goddess of wisdom. Please note that the same icons have been reused for the iconography of Sastha.  He exclusively represents the part of a teacher or a guru. He can be compared to Vidya Lakshmi among Ashta Lakshmis.

Kalyana Varadha Sastha: He is a symbol of marriage and auspiciousness. Can be compared to Vijaya Lakshmi. He is also depicted with his two consorts.

Gajaarooda Sastha: He is the annihilator of enemies. Just like Gajalakshmi who  represents royal power.

Sammohana Sastha: Represents conjugal bliss and harmony and depicted with Poorna and Pushkala.

Santhana Prapthi Sastha:  Symbol of progeny, just like Santanalakshmi. He has a consort Prabhavati who holds Manikka Veena and also a child Satyagan. He is also called Brahma Sastha.

Veda Sastha: He represents Vedas and the knowledge they give. He is also called ‘Simharooda Sastha’ (the one who rides a lion). 

Veera Sastha: Similar to Dhairya Lakshmi, he represents courage and valour. This form of Sastha  is mentioned in ‘Adi Sankara Vicharitham’ which has Adi Sankara worshipping Veera Sastha in a place called Kudhiran.(Between Trichur and Palghat).

Building a  complete Ashta Sastha Temple at Veppampattu, Salem  was a dream of Guruswami Viswanatha Sarma, who was ordained by Paramacharya. But this project is not complete yet and  Villivakkam Sree Viswanatha Sharma Ashta Sastha Temple Trust is currently looking for financial assistance. 

I can see a similarity between this Ashta Sastha project of Guruswami Viswanatha Sarma and Skandasramam project which was completed by H. H. Swami Santhananda Saraswati Avadhoota Swamigal. Skandasramam is also about Skanda guru, the form of divine guru like Sastha (Gnana Sastha, in particular). Both are in Salem, Tamil Nadu. I have opened up regarding some amazing coincidences in a video regarding this, and this video is available on the page about 3-level meditation.

The Story and Details About Sadaiudayar Sastha Temple, Pappankulam

Now let us see the temple myth about Sadaiudayar Sastha, a form of Adhi Maha Sastha.

I am quoting the story from the official blog of Sadaiudayar Sastha temple:

The Temple of Sri Porchadaichi and Sri Sadaiudayar Sastha is situated amidst the paddy fields surrounded by hills on the old Koprathope Road that connects Kalakkadu,  Papanasam and Kizha Ambur villages skirting the Western Ghats. It is not a temple built according to the Agama sastras. There is no flag mast or prakarams. No utsavam is performed or festivals celebrated. And it has a moving tale behind its origin. 

A brahmin of Kizha Ambur for Kalakad was accompanying his pregnant daughter home for delivery.Dusk fell as they approached Pappankulam, it started drizzling and so did the girl’s labour pain. The father desperately prayed to Sastha and looked around for help. Finding a hut nearby, he approached it hoping to find a woman. there was none and he returned crestfallen. But to his delight and relief he found that his daughter had  delivered a boy and a dark skinned woman had played midwife. The girl did not known the woman’s identity.

      Sure that it was none other than Sastha who had appeared as a harijan woman to save his daughter’s life, the brahmin profusely thanked Him and offered whatever he had with him raw rice and coconut that the girl was taking home from her  husband’s place. He heard a voice that said that it was the deity, Sri Sadaiudayar of the temple located nearby, that had helped the girl and that she would give birth to eight sons all of whom would serve the lord of that temple. The oracle came true  and the tribe, known as ettu pillai kootathar and matrilineal offsprings became staunch devotees of the Lord. 

      Sri Sastha of the temple is seen as an endearing child, in a standing posture. The members of the family, spread across the country, visit the temple now and then to offer worship. In the olden days Sri Sastha, Sri Raja Rajeshwari and the other deities were housed in thatched sheds. Hence the temple, even after its be raw rice and coconut (kapparisi). Cooked food is not allowed. Only a learned priest from the family does the pooja once in a day and that too in the morning. Devotees do not visit  the temple after 5 p.m. During thai all the members of the family (adimai as they are referred to) gather and offer worship in the night on all Fridays. ( An interesting custom is being followed since long ladies at any age are not permitted to visit the temple at any time ) Before the festivities, the harijans in the neighbourhood are invited to Ambur and showered with gifts.“

The temple prohibits entry for women during Pujas, except for lower caste women.  (I don’t support such a ban. This custom must have started considering Manikandan, one of Sastha’s avatar was a Brahmachari. But as I have explained in the link given above, that is not relevant because Manikandan no longer exists as a personal entity or Vyakti. He has merged with Avyakta or Adhi Sastha himself.)

Here is what the temple blog says about the entry of women:

It’s a tradition that women folks of brahmin adimais are not permitted to visit, participate,in the Temple day or night poojas. Harijans dynasty are exclusively permitted as god himself  took the form of a harijan women and still that descendants of the particular clan of the community are reverently treated by Ettupillai Kootathar and Pen Vazhikkani brahmin devotees.

There is a traditional custom in vogue to compensate the women’s exclusion that is Paalum Pazham Pooja 

This pooja is being performed as individual prarthana at their houses. A pictured screen of the deities are taken by Poojari is and Komurthar. They go to the houses where prarthana’s are  to be fulfilled and kuthuvilakku are taken. Komurthar does sangalpam and all the needed kuthuvilakkus are placed for pooja and Swamy Sadaiudayar and Porchadaichi are being invoked in the vilakkus along with other deities like Bhairavas and Devas.

Devi Parayanam is part of the pooja. Women folk are invited and attend the poojas and also have the rare privilege of cooking Payasam as neivedyam in contrast at the temple whereonly the uncooked raw rice is the neivedyam. Here fruits, panagam etc, are placed as neivedyam. The pooja concludes with a Rahasya Pooja. The entire pooja is the replica of friday poojas at the temple.

So women folk eagerly participate in the functions on every panguni uthiram day at Kizha Ambur where Sadaiudayar’s own adobe is situated and precious thiru aparanam are kept.”

The best part about this temple is that it talks about a lower caste woman helping a Brahmin. This story promotes better understanding between people of different castes. So, the Sastha here is a symbol of intercaste tolerance. When you read this story along with the story of Rama and Shambukha, you see a balance and get a better understanding.

Contact Details for Sadaiudayar Sastha Temple

1) Mr.P.S.Easwaran, Temple Trustee, email : pseaswaran1935@gmail.com, Ph : 0462-2334803

2) Mr.Manthira Moorthi, Temple Communication Dept. Cell : 6381635486

About Trust Building Facility & All about Trust Details:

Mr.Sankarraman, Manager of the Trust, Cell : 9677644241.

Temple Archakar:

1) R.Ramachandran : 93606 16422

2) S.Kumar : 98940 35861, 04634 – 253844

The Village as a Temple – A Unique Feature of Pappankulam

There is a unique feature of the part of the land in Pappankulam where all the above mentioned temples are present. The whole piece of land somehow resembles a temple in itself in which Sastha is the mulavar or the primary deity.

Whenever you look at a Sankalpa mantra in the Puja Vidhi (rules of worship) for any deity, you will notice that the worship of  Ganesh and Durga Parameshwari comes first.

Here are two lines from Ayyappa Puja Vidhi (Harihara Putra Puja Vidhi):

शबरिगिरीशाभिन्न पूर्णा पुष्कलाम्बा समेत श्री हरिहरपुत्र पूजां करिष्ये ॥ (द्विः) आदौ महागणपति , श्री दुर्गा परमेश्वरी पूजनं च करिष्ये ॥

These two lines in Sanskrit say, “I am going to perform Puja for the one who lives in Sabari giri, or Harihara putra (Ayyappa) who is with Poorna and Pushkala. First, I will perform Puja for Maha Ganapathi and Durga Parameshwari.”

When you enter Pappankulam village through its western bus stop, you will soon be greeted by a Ganapathi temple under a banyan tree and a small Muppidathi temple on the two sides of the same street in the same location. (Just next to Ganapathi temple is the home of my father’s elder brother and I stayed there for one year when I was 15 years old.).

Mupidathi is the third  of eight forms of Kali. Pidari means head. It became pidaari and then pidaathi.  Temple myths in Tirunelveli district say that 8 Kalis after coming from Kailash went to Podhigai hills and started gracing devotees in various temples in place near Tirunelveli. These 8 Kalis are the forms of one divinity which is the same as Chandika, Tripura Sundari or Durga Parameshwari.

So, when you step inside Pappankulam to visit Sastha temple, you are greeted by Ganesh and Durga Parameshwari at the entrance of the long street that leads to Sastha temple and Kadana nathi.There is a pond nearby, just like there is a pond near all the temples.  After you walk for five to ten minutes, you reach the cross roads where you take left to visit Tiruvenkadar temple and Palani andavar temple (for Skanda); then take right to visit Ramaswamy temple. Then you proceed to visit both Chandika temple and Shankara Narayanan Gomathi temple. Finally, when you are about to reach the river, where you visit the mulavar which is Sastha. After having a darshan of Sastha, you reach the river bank of Kadana nathi, where you can proceed to visit the confluence of two rivers. This symbolizes the disappearance of duality and realization of oneness. 

My Own Experiences in Pappankulam

From June 1999 to April 2000, I spent my days in this village as I was studying in my 10th standard. This is the village where my father was born; my grandfather Shanmugam who is well known as Pappaiah Pillai in the whole village had passed away sometime during 1992. I was named after him. I had never spent much time here except coming for holidays and staying for four or five days. But during that one year, I lived here and enjoyed the beauty of rural life.

During those days, Thiruvenkadar temple was damaged. The place looked like a haunted place. The area around the temple was used as an open toilet by locals. The place was filled with thorny bushes, and pigs which were feeding on human excreta. I used to sit in the entrance of this Shiva temple for hours in loneliness, composing poems, thinking about stuff, meditating etc. 

During the annual holidays that year,  I wrote two Tamil poems in classical Tamil meters, one for Shiva and one for Goddess Saraswati. Here are the links:

Poem about Shiva: சிவசக்தி அகவல் – A Tamil Poem About Lord Shiva with English Translation

Poem about Saraswati: நாமகள் அந்தாதி

I also composed a short hymn, a Venpa (Tamil metra) on Thiruvenkadar and Vada Kalai Nayagi.

But those days I didn’t know anything about the temple myths; I didn’t know that Goddess Saraswati was associated with that very temple which was my ground of contemplative thought, creative writing etc. I only knew about the story regarding Durvasa’s curse on Saraswati last month, February 2020. I visited Pappankulam for the death of my father’s elder brother, who I personally see as my own father and that is when I became curious about this village. So, my composing a poem about Saraswati was a pure coincidence.

I now see all this as a miracle. 

Conclusion – What do Vedas teach and who is a Brahmin?

Whenever you study a scriptural canon or a spiritual/religious movement, it is important to try and understand the original intentions for such a tradition to come into existence. We should also pay attention to how ideas evolved. We should learn to see things from multiple perspectives. The story of blind men and the elephant comes to mind. You can read this post for more clarity on this: Logic And Spiritual Enlightenment – An Overview of Anekantavada, Saptabhangivada (Seven Valued Logic) and Syadvada of Jainism

The word ‘Veda’ literally means knowledge. There are two kinds of knowledge: 

  1. Knowledge that deals with practical things (this includes all kinds of practical knowledge: knowing which is the closest restaurant from your home to knowing the technical details of building an aircraft).
  2. Self-knowledge or knowing yourself, which is completely realized at self-realization or Atma Jnana. Upanishads deal with this subject.

Now the scope of Vedas includes both kinds of knowledge. No, I am not saying that knowledge about quantum mechanics or general relativity is found in the four Vedas which are in Sanskrit. But I am saying that the modern scientific knowledge which deals with such topics are also essentially a part of Vedas (or simply put, the body of knowledge we have so far as humanity). So that is what Vedas actually mean.

The four Vedas of Sanskrit deal with a lot of subjects. At the first glance, it may seem like Vedas are mostly talking about some complicated rituals which are no longer practiced. But why did they do those rituals in the first place? They tried to find explanations for what was happening in nature and human life, and they tried to manipulate it according to whatever they knew and understand. We are still doing it! Scientific community does exactly that!

Now, if we take this approach and ask ‘why’ questions instead of ‘what’ questions, you can understand many things. 

First we need to understand that early Vedic religion did not have concepts like Atma jnana, Mokha, Samsara or Karma. These concepts were influenced by Sramana traditions . It is not that Vedic and Sramana traditions were two different traditions which did not overlap. While Vedic tradition is a tradition that was collectively followed by a social group, Sramanas were independent ascetics who had certain teachings and followings. So, a Sramana could be a Vedic rishi who gave up the rituals and became an ascetic, after being taught by someone else, who is also an ascetic.

Ritualistic Vedic Tradition and Sramana Tradition

Let me quote from a part of a post I wrote which is ‘Hinduism and Dharma’. It differentiates the concepts of early Vedic tradition from Sramana tradition:

  1. “In Vedic religion, sacrifice is God, and it is more powerful than devas and humans. In fact, sacrifice or yajna created this world. So sacrifice is applied as a metaphor for many others things: birth, sex, burning a body in funeral pyre are all sacrifices.
  2. Devas attained immortality and went to heaven because of sacrifice. There is a story that says that when devas went to heaven, they destroyed all knowledge about sacrifice so that humans do not have access to them. But Rishis received that knowledge as revelation and gave it to mankind.
  3. Devas are not omnipotent. They depend on humans because they are pleased with oblations that we offer on fire. We also depend on them for rainfall, health, cattle, longevity, heaven etc. It is a mutual dependency. It is sacrifice which is omnipotent and that includes the hymns, melodies and the actual ritual.
  4. Each man is indebted when he was born. He owes to devas, Rishis and ancestors who are already living in heaven. So he has three debts. To clear the debt, he has to do these: a) To clear the debt to Rishis, he has to be initiated to study under a teacher and go through Vedic study. b) To clear the debts of Devas, he has to offer oblations five times a day and also offer seasonal rites. c) He has to give birth to a son to clear the debts that he owes to his ancestors. Progeny increases the glory of his ancestors in heaven. Also, a man is reborn as his son and thus attains immortality through son in the earth. At the same time, he also attains immortality in heaven after death.
  5. The wife and the son are two important people in Vedic religion. You are not qualified to offer oblations unless you are married, because you have to do them with wife. It is said that a wife completes a man by giving him the qualifications to do the rites.

So, you have to live a life as a house holder if you want to live according to Vedic injunction, as per Brahmanism. But when cities developed in North Eastern India, new ideas arose: the doctrine of samsara, karma, rebirth and moksha. People who were talking about these new concepts were wandering ascetics called sramanas. Many liberal Brahmins in the cities accepted these new ideas and tried to interpret them within Brahmanic religion which later led to asrama system. But Brahmins in villages were too orthodox and couldn’t accept these concepts because these parivrajakas or sramanas were not allowed to get married.

But slowly these ideas got absorbed in Brahmanism giving rise to Upanishads and the doctrine of Vedanta. Slowly, various folk religions, Shiva, Krishna, Vasudeva, Narayana cults got absorbed into Vedic religion and temple worship also became popular. Vedic popularity was replaced by agamas and puranas. It developed dharma as we know today.

But the heart of Dharma lies in purusharthas: Dharma, artha, Kama, and moksha. It places Moksha as the final goal whereas Vedic religion considered heaven as the final goal.

If you think about it, Brahmanism is life positive. Even though Sramana traditions were life negative, they actually offered a way out of psychological suffering while living. By taking the medititative aspects of Sramana traditions and combining it with life positive aspects of a house holder’s life, Bhagavad Gita came up with a complete path to moksha.”

The Essential message of Vedas

Based on what he have seen above, here is the gist of the message in Vedas:

When you look at the sun, the moon and stars, the changing seasons etc, everything seems to follow a Law. They also seem to contribute something to us humans. When Vedic people applied the same logic to human life, they concluded that humans should also follow a Law and give something back to the society and nature. We receive help from many sources; so we are obligated and indebted to all such sources and we have to fulfill that obligation.

So what is the Law that humans should adhere to? This basically asks the question, “How should you live your life so everyone including yourself can live a happy and peaceful life?”

According to the consensus that we have so far, a human being should strive for righteousness (Dharma), wealth and education (Artha), pleasures needed to meet one’s psychological and emotional needs (Kama) and the ultimate liberation that one attains through self-realization (Moksha). There are various means to attain the first three and in the modern days we don’t have much to take from religious and spiritual texts regarding the first three goals of human life..

But there is an enormous wisdom in the world literature that discusses the fourth goal which is liberation from all the psychological bondage and suffering, while living. The knowledge about it is obscured and distorted because of various issues: changing meanings of words, meanings lost because of translation, meanings misunderstood because of poor articulation or usage of confusing words, lack of people who are capable enough to impart this knowledge to others etc. A part of my work is to make sure that all that wisdom is made available in my blogs and books.

Who is a Brahmin?

So, who is a Brahmin? In practical life, a Brahmin is none other than anyone who excels in intelligence, knowledge and virtue than others (and not just anyone who is from a particular caste).. If a person is intelligent, ethical and knows enough about essential stuff, he is a Brahmin. He should be given  preference in roles like teaching, writing, scientific research, spiritual research etc. When a person who is not competent enough takes the role of a Brahmin (by becoming a teacher, a law maker etc), that will create a huge problem in the society. In fact, the intellectual gap between a stupid teacher and a brilliant student can mess up a lot of things. I will write a different article explaining in detail about how  huge ‘intellectual gap or difference’ can lead to a major social issue.

 I will give you a clue. Try convincing a typical right wing online troll about anything; try talking to him with logic. He would reply with either ad hominem or whataboutery. There are people who have a hard time understanding simple things but are completely convinced that they are intellectually better than others. When these people take up important positions in the society, it will lead to social disorder, poverty, unemployment, riots, chaos etc. It is exactly what is happening in India today.

This is exactly what Gita says as ‘Varna Samkara’ or the mixture of Varnas (Gita 1.43). In the earlier days, a quick shortcut to prevent Varna Samkara was to follow a birth based Varna system. But today’s society is very complicated. Varna Samkara in the modern context can be interpreted as a confusion in determining the roles and qualifications of people. To resolve that confusion, everyone should work on finding their own uniqueness and choose a way of living that suits one’s personality, abilities, interests etc. In other words, everyone should follow their own svadharma. 

There is also a deeper meaning for the word Brahmin. A knower of Brahman or a self-realized person is the one who is truly a Brahmin. He is Brahmavid, one who knows what Brahman is, in his experience. 

People who are caught up in the modern concept of religions, religious divisions etfc may have a hard time in being open to many things written here. If you do, then go through these posts:

A Brief History of Major Religions of the Major World Religions

12 Shocking Truths About Religions

Which Philosophy Personally Appeals More to You, Buddhism or Advaita Vedanta?

(This is a repost of the answer that I wrote in Quora for the same question)

Both point to the same truth!

I have noticed that many people don’t agree when it is said both are the same, because they are only looking at both of them in philosophical level. When it comes to ultimate reality, no matter what words we use, they can be always misleading.

I am talking from my own experience. Oneness with the rest of the existence is a living reality for me. But I will back up my statements by quoting both Vedantic and Buddhist scriptures.

The main source of suffering in our lives is caused by identification. We get identified with our mind, our body, our thoughts, our emotions etc. This identification of mistaking something that is not Self as Self is termed as Avidya or ignorance. Ignorance causes us to think that there is a separate individual self which needs to be protected and enhanced.

In other words, we feel experientially that we are separate from the rest of the world. This separation causes us to crave for fulfillment. That is why Buddha said craving is the root cause of suffering. It is Avidya, the ignorance which causes craving. Buddha is talking about the immediate cause and Vedanta is talking about the original cause.

Some people will object to this by saying that Buddhism doesn’t say that there is something eternal. First of all, when you realize that time itself is an illusion, you will also realize that eternity is only an idea. Buddha was more specific and straight forward, while Vedanta is little compassionate and gives you something that your mind can grasp.

When anyone asked Buddha any metaphysical questions such as ‘Is there anything eternal’, Buddha was silent. It is called Noble Silence .He talked about the impermanence of aggregates, but what we call in Vedanta as absolute reality is not one of the aggregates. It is not anything that is objective. It cannot be put into words. But both Vedanta and Buddhism has actually hinted about this absolute reality with striking similarity.

See the below examples:

Vedanta:

“It is this Akshara (the Imperishable), O Gargi, so the knowers of Brahman say. It is neither gross nor subtle, neither short nor long, not red, not viscid, not shadowy, not dark, not the air, not the ether, not adhesive, tasteless, odourless, without the sense of sight, without the sense of hearing, without the vital principle, mouthless, without measure, neither interior nor exterior,. It eats nothing, nobody eats it.”

– Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3-8-8.

Buddhism:

“There is that dimension, monks, where there is neither earth, nor water, nor fire, nor wind; neither dimension of the infinitude of space, nor dimension of the infinitude of consciousness, nor dimension of nothingness, nor dimension of neither perception nor non-perception; neither this world, nor the next world, nor sun, nor moon. And there, I say, there is neither coming, nor going, nor staying; neither passing away nor arising: unestablished, unevolving, without support [mental object]. This, just this, is the end of stress.”

– Buddha (in Nibbāna Sutta: Unbinding (1))

Buddha directly talks about something that is eternal too, but he uses the word ‘unborn’:

There is, monks, an unborn— unbecome — unmade — unfabricated. If there were not that unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, there would not be the case that escape from the born — become — made — fabricated would be discerned. But precisely because there is an unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, escape from the born — become — made — fabricated is discerned

– Buddha (in Nibbāna Sutta: Unbinding (3))

So, why did Buddha reject Vedas when Vedanta says that Vedas are the only authority?

We need to take Buddha’s time into account. Buddha lived sometime around 800 BC- 600 BC. It was during those times when many rishis were able to realize that there is something beyond the benefits that was got from mere rituals..Vedic rituals only focused on materialistic benefits that people could enjoy in three worlds. They were never about ultimate reality. That is when two great upanishads, Brihadaranyaka upanishad and Chandgoya upanishads were compiled. It must have taken a century or two; Buddha started talking to people at the same time period. So, we can safely conclude that when Buddha was alive, upanishads were not a part of Vedas.

This will raise many objections. Because, many people believe that Vedas are eternal and infallible. Even Shankara believed so. But, consider the following verses from Brihadaranyaka upanishad and the commentary from Shankara:

From chapter 6, section 4:

Verse 6: If man sees his reflection in water, he
should recite the following Mantra : ‘ (May the
gods grant) me lustre, manhood, reputation,
wealth and merits.’ She (his wife) is indeed the
goddess of beauty among women. Therefore he
should approach this handsome woman and
speak to her.

Shankara’s commentary:

If perchance he sees his reflection in water, he
should recite the following Mantra : ‘(May the gods
grant) me lustre,’ etc. She is indeed the goddess of
beauty among women. Therefore he should approach
this handsome woman and speak to her, when she has
taken a bath after three ‘nights.

Verse 7 : If she is not willing, he should buy her
over; and if she is still unyielding, he should
strike her with a stick or with the hand and
proceed, uttering the following Mantra, ‘I take
away your reputation,’ etc. She is then actually
discredited.

Shankara’s commentary:

If she is not willing, he should buy her over,
press his wishes through ornaments etc.; and if she is
still unyielding, he should strike her with a stick or
with the hand
, and announcing that he was going to
curse her and make her unfortunate, he should ·proceed,
uttering the following Mantra : ‘I take away your
reputation: etc. As a result of that curse, she comes
to be known as barren and unfortunate, and is then
actually discredited.

The above verses show how totally male dominative the society was those days.. Even though this doesn’t have anything to do with enlightenment, this example shows how one should not take everything just because it comes from a scripture or a person who is regarded as an authority.

And I don’t think that such infallible and eternal upanishads can advice someone to beat his wife if she doesn’t agree for sex.

You may say that these were later interpolations. But if that is the case, how could we trust Vedas in the first place?

But I know that Vedic verses such as Nasadiya Suktha and almost all upanishads have immense wisdom. We have to see them as collection of various poems composed by different people, instead of seeing them as infallible and eternal scriptures. I know that it is very difficult for many Indians to accept, because we are deeply blinded by pride and confirmation bias.

So, Why did Vedanta say that Vedas are only pramana (means of knowledge)?

Let us talk about three different methods of acquiring knowledge in general. (Vedanta uses six, but let us talk about three important ones here)

  1. Direct experience
  2. Inference
  3. Testimony from an authority.

In our daily life, we can get to know about many things through direct experience and inference. But we would never know the path to end the suffering unless someone tells us, simple!

So our ancient Indians selected the Upanishads as the only reliable authority to teach us the path towards liberation. It is just a standardization made by humans to avoid any conflict. And according to the social structure that prevailed those days, instead of relying any random person’s words as authority, it was reasonable to accept Upanishads as authority.

But we live in 21st century now. We are aware of things like confirmation bias and we are more keen towards human rights. While we do appreciate and show immense reverence to our ancient scriptures, it is nothing wrong in changing certain things to suit our modern society.

Also, Vedanta uses a certain teaching method called Adyaropa Apavada while Buddhism teaches directly and precisely. Vedanta is poetic where as Buddhism is empirical. Buddhism gives you the raw truth but Vedanta offers to you with added sweets and flavors. The only problem in Vedanta is that people may get stuck with the words and concepts.

You can find more details in my post here where I have included some additional points: Buddhism and Vedanta are the Same – A Detailed Comparison

If you are looking for a great spiritual authority to confirm the validity of Buddha’s message, then I will quote some of the words from Bhagwan Ramana Maharishi:

Disciple: Research on God has been going on from time immemorial. Has the final word been said?

Maharshi: (Keeps silence for some time.)

Disciple: (Puzzled) Should I consider Sri Bhagavan’s silence as the reply to my question?

Maharshi: Yes. Mouna is Isvara-svarupa.Hence the text: “The Truth of Supreme Brahman proclaimed through Silent Eloquence.”

Disciple: Buddha is said to have ignored such inquiries about God.

Maharshi: And for this reason was called a sunyavadin (nihilist). In fact Buddha concerned himself more with directing the seeker to realize Bliss here and now that with academic discussion about God, etc.

Buddhism and Vedanta are the Same – A Detailed Comparison

Buddhism and Vedanta are two big schools which have dominated the spiritual world till date.  Among many schools which have existed in the past, only these two have made a great influence all over the world and still continue to exist. But they seem to be contradictory to each other in many ways.

But based on my own experience and based on what I have read, these two schools only seem to differ because they use different conceptual languages. They also have different teaching methods. But the essence is the same.

When it comes to Vedanta, Prasthanathrayi, consisting of main Upanishads, Brahmasutras and Bhagwad gita is  the authority. In Buddhism, Tripitaka, consisting of Vinaya Pitaka, Sutra Pitaka and Abidharama Pitaka, is the source of all conceptual details. When you go through the scriptures with an open mind and with the support of your own spiritual realization, you will see that both are essentially the same.

Both schools talk about the cessation of suffering. The process of the cessation of suffering is called Moksha in Vedanta and Nirvana in Buddhism. Now let us see how these two schools define the nature of this liberation and the ultimate truth:

Vedanta

“It is this Akshara (the Imperishable), O Gargi, so the knowers of Brahman say. It is neither gross nor subtle, neither short nor long, not red, not viscid, not shadowy, not dark, not the air, not the ether, not adhesive, tasteless, odourless, without the sense of sight, without the sense of hearing, without the vital principle, mouthless, without measure, neither interior nor exterior,. It eats nothing, nobody eats it.”

– Brihadaranyaka Upanishad  3-8-8.

Buddhism

“There is that dimension, monks, where there is neither earth, nor water, nor fire, nor wind; neither dimension of the infinitude of space, nor dimension of the infinitude of consciousness, nor dimension of nothingness, nor dimension of neither perception nor non-perception; neither this world, nor the next world, nor sun, nor moon. And there, I say, there is neither coming, nor going, nor staying; neither passing away nor arising: unestablished, unevolving, without support [mental object]. This, just this, is the end of stress.”

– Buddha (in Nibbāna Sutta: Unbinding (1))
Do they sound similar? Yes, Because they talk about the same thing.

Now consider the following quotes:

There is, monks, an unborn— unbecome — unmade — unfabricated. If there were not that unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, there would not be the case that escape from the born — become — made — fabricated would be discerned. But precisely because there is an unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, escape from the born — become — made — fabricated is discerned

– Buddha (in Nibbāna Sutta: Unbinding (3))

………………………………………………..

Verily, that great unborn soul, undecaying, undying, immortal, fearless is Brahman

–        Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.4.25

 

This Sunyata or the ultimate truth doesn’t have any attributes. It is the conscious space in which everything takes place. It is the substratum of everything that is in the reality, like a movie screen that acts as a substratum to show the moving pictures on it.

This substratum itself is empty of anything that we can call as a ‘thing’, including abstract things. A ‘thought’ is a thing; a feeling is a thing’ a sense perception is a thing; and an experience is a thing too. All these are witnessed as the existing things or stuff that occupy the space of consciousness itself. This underlying consciousness is called shakshin ( witness), satchitananda (truth -consciousness -bliss), nurguna brahman, sunyata and so on.

 

Buddhism and Vedanta
Buddhism and Vedanta are the same!

Adyaropa Apavada – The Teaching method of Vedanta

 

So, when Buddhism calls it as sunyata, why does Vedanta defines the reality in positive terminology?  Because, Vedantins  use a different teaching method called ‘Adhyaropa apavada’. The teaching method intentionally superimposes some attributes to the ultimate reality first to distinguish it from everything that it is not. So, even though no concept can define something that lacks any kind of thing that is conceived by a concept, these intentional attributes are made in order to help the mind to grasp it  as a concept at the initial stage.

Then Vedantins negate everything that it is not. They reject the body as not it because body can be witnessed as a thing. They reject the mind as not it because mind can be witnessed as a thing too. You first understand that you are Brahman and then you negate everything that is not ‘You’ by closely monitoring the mental processes every moment, with the detached witness attitude.

Finally, even the intentional attributes are also rejected. This helps to drop the initial concepts that were formed to understand Brahman. Once you let go of all the concepts of reality and narrow down to the bare reality of yourself, people say that you have realized the truth.

Let us see some excerpts from Vedantic scriptures which support this:

“Who so knows the Self, thus described, as the fearless Absolute (brahman), himself becomes the Absolute, beyond fear. This is a brief statement of the meaning of the entire Upanishad.  And in order to convey this meaning rightly, the fanciful alternatives of production, maintenance and withdrawal, and the false notion of action, its factors and results, are deliberately attributed to the Self as a first step. And then later the final metaphysical truth is inculcated by negating these characteristics through a comprehensive denial of all particular superimpositions on the Absolute, expressed in the phrase ‘neither this nor that’. Just as a man, wishing to explain numbers from one to a hundred thousand billion (points to figures that he has drawn and) says, ‘This figure is one, this figure is ten, this figure is a hundred, this figure is a thousand’ , and all the time his only purpose is to explain numbers, and not to affirm that the figures are numbers; or just as one wishing to explain the sounds of speech as repre sented by the written letters of the alphabet resorts to a device in the form of a palm-leaf on which he makes incisions which he later fills with ink to form letters, and all the while, (even though he point to a letter and say “This is the sound “so and so”‘) his only purpose is to explain the nature of the sounds referred to by each letter, and not to affirm that the leaf, incisions and ink are sounds; in just the same way, the one real metaphysical principle, the Absolute, is taught by resort to many devices, such as attributing to it production (of the world) and other powers. And then after wards the nature of the Absolute is restated, through the concluding formula ‘neither this nor that’, so as to purify it of all particular notions accruing to it from the various devices used to explain its nature in the first place’.

– Brhadaranyaka  Bhasya IV.iv.25  – by Shankara

……………………………………………………………………………………….

“Nor can the Absolute be properly referred to by any such terms as Being or non-being. For all words are used to convey a meaning, and when heard by their hearers convey the meaning the speaker had in mind. But communicable meaning is restricted without exception to universal, action, attribute and relation….

The Absolute, however, does not belong to any universal (genus), so it cannot be expressed by a noun such as ‘Being’ or ‘non-being’. Being without attributes, it cannot be described by any adjective denoting an attribute. And being actionless, it cannot be expressed by any verb denoting activity.

For the Upanishad speaks of it as ‘Without parts, without activity, at rest’ (Svet .VI.19) . Nor has it any relation with anything. For it is ‘One’, ‘without a second’, ‘not an object’ and ‘the Self. Hence it cannot be expressed by any word. And the upanishadic texts themselves confirm this when they say ‘That from which words fall back’ (Taitt .ll.9) , and in other passages.”

– (Bhagwad Gita Bhasya XIII.12) – Shankara

……………………………………………………………………………………

And because the Absolute has no particular characteristics, the Veda indicates its nature by denying of it the forms of all other things, as is shown, for instance, in the following pa sages: ‘And so, therefore, the teaching is “neither this nor that”‘ (Brhad.II.iii.6) , ‘It is other than what is known, and above the unknown’ (Kena I.U), ‘That from which words fall back without obtaining access, together with the mind’ (Taitt .II.9)

And the Vedic texts also relate how when Badhva was questioned by Baskalin he gave his answer merely by not speaking. ‘Sir, teach me in words’, Ba§kalin said. But the Teacher remained silent. Finally, at the second or third time of asking, Badhva replied, ‘I am telling you, but you do not understand. This Self is utter silence’

– (Bramasutra Bhasya III.ii.17) – Shankara

………………………………………………..

(a) In order to disclose the nature of the self as Brahman in itself Srutis like the following negate all specific features superimposed on it by the unenlightened common mind :-

“It is this Akshara (the Imperishable), 0 Gargi, so the knowers of    Brahman say. It is neither gross nor subtle, neither short nor long, not     red, not viscid, not shadowy, not dark, not the air, not the ether, not    adhesive, tasteless, odourless, without the sense of sight, without the    sense of hearing, without the vital principle, mouthless, without measure,   neither interior nor exterior,. It eats nothing, nobody eats it.”    – Br.3-8-8.

(b) Lest, by this strict denial of all properties it may be taken to be absolute nothing (s’unya), it is taught by means of illusory attributes seemingly pertaining to it owing to Upadhis (apparently conditioning factors).

(c) At the close of the teaching the rescission of even the imputed attributes used as a device for purposes of teaching, lest it should be regarded as actually belonging to it.
Hence that Brahman cannot be denoted by the epithet ‘jnanam’ (knowledge) either. Nevertheless, it is indicated though not expressed, by the word ”jnanam’  denoting the semblance of consciousness which is really a modification of the mind. It is not directly denoted by that term because Brahman is devoid of genus and other specific features which alone are the occasion for the application of words to a thing. So is it with regard to the term ‘Satyam’ (truth). For Brahman is by its very nature devoid of all specific features. The term Satyam really refers to the genus ‘being’ inhering in external objects, and when Brahman is described as ‘Sat yam’ (Real), it is only indicated by that term. But Brahman is not actually expressed by the term ‘Satyam’.

Tai. Bh. 2-1, p. 285 – Shankara

 

Atman and Anatman – The difference

 

Whatever you  observe in our conscious field is not You.. Therefore they are not the Self (or Bhrahman).. That is what the word ‘Anatta’ (Anatman) means..  Atman is Self. Anatman is that which is not Self.

This Atman or Brahman or Self cannot be put into words. Any name that is given to it is actually misleading to some extent. Thats why Buddha only talked about Anatta- that which is not the Atman.

Read this excerpt, it will make sense:

“Objection : “Is not even Atman denoted by the word ‘Atman’ ?

Reply: No. for there are Srutis like ‘From which words fall back’, ‘That in which one sees nothing else’.

Question: How then do texts like ‘Atman alone is below … .’ and ‘It is Atman’ reveal Atman ?

Reply:  This is no fault. For, the word (Atman), primarily used in the world of differences to denote individual soul as distinct from the body it possesses, is extended to indicate the entity which remains after the rejection of body and other not-selfs as not deserving that appellation, and is used to reveal what is really inexpressible by words”.

– Shankara – Ch. Bh. 7-1-3, p. 542.

Neti -Neti in Buddhism

 

Now, let us read Atmashatkam, a vedantic short poetry attributed to Shankara and Anattalakhana sutta, a Buddhist Sutta that discusses the Buddhist teachings on Anatta – no self.  Once you read it carefully, you will realize that both say exactly the same.

AtmaShatkam

1) I am not mind, nor intellect, nor ego, nor the reflections of inner self (citta). 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 indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.

2) 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 indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.

3) 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 (kāma), nor even liberation (mokṣa). I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.

4) I have neither merit (virtue), nor demerit (vice). 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 indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.

5)  I do not have fear of death, as I do not have death. I have no separation from my true self, no doubt about my existence, nor have I discrimination on the basis of birth. I have no father or mother, nor did I have a birth. I am not the relative, nor the friend, nor the guru, nor the disciple. I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.

6) 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 indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.

Anatta-lakkhana Sutta

“So, bhikkhus any kind of form whatever, whether past, future or presently arisen, whether gross or subtle, whether in oneself or external, whether inferior or superior, whether far or near, must with right understanding how it is, be regarded thus: ‘This is not mine, this is not I, this is not myself.’

“Any kind of feeling whatever…

“Any kind of perception whatever…

“Any kind of determination whatever…

“Any kind of consciousness whatever, whether past, future or presently arisen, whether gross or subtle, whether in oneself or external, whether inferior or superior, whether far or near must, with right understanding how it is, be regarded thus: ‘This is not mine, this is not I, this is not my self.'”

……………………………………………………………………………..

It is obvious.. Both say the samething. This is called Neti Neti method in Vedanta – rejecting whatever that is observed as not-self. Here, it is important to see the thoughts, emotions and feelings etc are different from you, as they arise and pass away. As you witness these thoughts, you see yourself as a witness instead of identifying with thoughts and mental processes.

 

Nididhyasana  and Mindfulness  are the same

 

I understood that  Nididhyasana which is prescribed in Vedanta and Mindfulness that is prescribed in Buddhism are exactly the same, when I read Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati’s interpretation of Nididhyasana.

 

You can read the book ‘Adyatma Yoga’ of Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati to know how he explains it. He was a Sanskrit scholar and vedantic monk. He dedicated his whole life in bringing out the kind of teaching method that was actually adopted by Shankara. He lived up to the age 94 and has written over 200 books. He has worked hard enough to bring out the true teachings of Shankara.

 

Conclusion

 

We can compare Buddhism and Vedanta to two languages that evolved from a parent prolanguage. They split into two when Buddha refused to accept the authority of Vedas.

As centuries passed and different things evolved in each school, they became like two mutually unintelligible languages which belong to the same parent.

 

Oldest Teaching Of Advaita – Excerpt from Chandogya Upanishad

Upanishads are the basis for Indian schools of thought.  Of this, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and Chandogya upanishad are the oldest. These are the earliest available literature in India which teach non-duality. I have been reading these texts for the past few days and I came across this wonderful section, which is the 6th prapathaka of Chandogya Upanishad. I found it very impressive and it brought tears in my eyes as I read it. So, I am sure you will enjoy this as well.

It narrates the story, which is a conversation between sage Aruni and his son Svetaketu. It contains the famous mahavakya ‘Tat tvam asi’. It has some great pointers which are useful for the spiritual seekers. I am posting the entire 6th prapathaka here… (Translated by Swami Nikhilananda). You can find the entire text here: http://www.swamij.com/upanishad-chandogya.htm

Khanda I — The Non—Duality of the Self

  1. Om. There once lived Svetaketu the grandson of Aruna. To him his father said: “Svetaketu, lead the life of a brahmacharin; for there is none belonging to our family, my dear, who, not having studied the Vedas, is a brahmin only by birth.”

2—3. Svetaketu went to his teacher’s house when he was twelve years old and studied the Vedas till he was twenty—four. Then he returned to his father, serious, considering himself well read and arrogant. His father said to him: “Svetaketu, since you are now so serious, think yourself well read and are so arrogant, have you, my dear, ever asked for that instruction by which one hears what cannot be heard, by which one perceives what cannot be perceived, by which one knows what cannot be known?” Svetaketu asked: “What is that instruction, venerable Sir?”

4—6. “Just as, my dear, by one clod of clay all that is made of clay is known, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the truth is that all is clay; “Just as, my dear, by one nugget of gold all that is made of gold is known, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the truth is that all is gold; “And just as, my dear, by one pair of nail—scissors all that is made of iron is known, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the truth is that all is iron—even so, my dear, is that instruction.”

  1. “Surely those venerable men did not know that. For if they had known it, why should they not have told it to me? Therefore do you, venerable Sir, tell me about it.” “So be it, my dear,” said the father.

 

Khanda II — Brahman: the Cause of the Universe

 

  1. “In the beginning, my dear, this universe was Being (Sat) alone, one only without a second. Some say that in the beginning this was non—being (asat) alone, one only without a second; and from that non—being, being was born.”
  2. Aruni said: “But how, indeed, could it be thus, my dear? How could Being be born from non—being? No, my dear, it was Being alone that existed in the beginning, one only without a second.
  3. “It (Being, or Brahman) thought: ‘May I be many; may I grow forth.’ It created fire. That fire thought: ‘May I be many; may I grow forth.’ It created water. That is why, whenever a person is hot and perspires, water is produced from fire (heat) alone.
  4. “That water thought: ‘May I be many; may I grow forth.’ It created food (i.e. earth). That is why, whenever it rains anywhere, abundant food is produced. From water alone is edible food produced.

 

Khanda III — The Threefold Development

 

  1. “Of all these living beings, there are only three origins: those born from an egg, those born from a living being and those born from a sprout.
  2. “That Deity thought: ‘Let Me now enter into those three deities by means of this living self and let Me then develop names and forms.’
  3. “That Deity, having thought: ‘Let Me make each of these three tripartite,’ entered into these three deities by means of the living self and developed names and forms.
  4. “It made each of these tripartite; and how these three deities became, each of them, tripartite, that learn from me now, my dear.

 

Khanda IV — The Threefold Development further explained

 

  1. “The red colour of gross fire is the colour of the original fire; the white colour of gross fire is the colour of the original water; the black colour of gross fire is the colour of the original earth. Thus vanishes from fire what is commonly called fire, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the three colours (forms) alone are true.
  2. “The red colour of the sun is the colour of fire, the white the colour of water, the black the colour of earth. Thus vanishes from the sun what is commonly called the sun, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the three colours alone are true.
  3. “The red colour of the moon is the colour of fire, the white the colour of water, the black the colour of earth. Thus vanishes from the moon what is commonly called the moon, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the three colours alone are true.
  4. “The red colour of lightning is the colour of fire, the white the colour of water, the black the colour of earth. Thus vanishes from lightning what is commonly called lighting, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the three colours alone are true.
  5. “It was just through this knowledge that the great householders and great Vedic scholars of olden times declared: ‘No one can now mention to us anything which we have not heard, thought of, or known.’ They knew all from these three forms.

6—7. “Whatever, appeared red they knew to be the colour of fire; whatever appeared white they knew to be the colour of water; whatever appeared black they knew to be the colour of earth. “Whatever appeared to be unknown they knew to be the combination of these three deities (i.e. colours). Now learn from me, my dear, how these three deities, when they reach man, become each of them tripartite.

 

Khanda V — The Threefold Nature of Food

 

  1. “Food when eaten becomes threefold. What is coarsest in it becomes faeces, what is medium becomes flesh and what is subtlest becomes mind.
  2. “Water when drunk becomes threefold. What is coarsest in it becomes urine, what is medium becomes blood and what is subtlest becomes prana.
  3. “Fire when eaten becomes threefold. What is coarsest in it becomes bone, what is medium becomes marrow and what is subtlest becomes speech.
  4. “The mind, my dear, consists of food, the prana of water and speech of heat.” “Please, venerable Sir, instruct me further.” “So be it, my dear.”

 

Khanda VI — The Physical Nature of the Mind, the Prana and Speech

 

  1. “That, my dear, which is the subtlest part of curds rises, when they are churned and becomes butter.
  2. “In the same manner, my dear, that which is the subtlest part of the food that is eaten rises and becomes mind.
  3. “The subtlest part of the water that is drunk rises and becomes prana.
  4. “The subtlest part of the fire that is eaten rises and becomes speech.
  5. “Thus, my dear, the mind consists of food, the prana consists of water and speech consists of fire.” “Please, venerable Sir, instruct me further.” “So be it, my dear.”

 

Khanda VII — How the Mind consists of Food

 

  1. “A person, my dear, consists of sixteen parts. Do not eat any food for fifteen days, but drink as much water as you like. Since the prana consists of water, it will not be cut off if you drink water.”
  2. Svetaketu did not eat any food for fifteen days. Then he came to his father and said: “What, Sir, shall I recite?” His father said: “The Rik, Yagus and Saman verses.” He replied: “They do not occur to me, Sir.”
  3. His father said to him: “Just as, my dear, of a great blazing fire a single coal, the size of a firefly, may be left, which would not burn much more than that, even so, my dear, of your sixteen parts only one part is left; and therefore with that one part you do not remember the Vedas. Now go and eat and you will understand me.”
  4. Svetaketu ate and approached his father. Then whatever his father asked him, he showed that he knew it.

5—6. Then his father said to him: “Just as, my dear, of a great lighted fire a single coal the size of a firefly, if left, may be made to blaze up again by adding grass to it and will thus burn much more, “Even so, my dear; of your sixteen parts only one part was left and that, when strengthened by food, blazed up. With it you now remember the Vedas. Therefore, my dear, the mind consists of food, the prana consists of water and speech consists of fire.” After that he understood what his father said, yea, he understood it.

 

Khanda VIII — Concerning Sleep, Hunger, Thirst and Death

 

  1. Uddalaka the son of Aruna said to his son Svetaketu: “Learn from me, my dear, the true nature of sleep. When a person has entered into deep sleep, as it is called, then, my dear, he becomes united with Pure Being (Sat), he has gone to his own Self. That is why they say he is in deep sleep (svapiti); it is because he has gone (apita) to his own (svam).
  2. “Just as a bird tied by a string to the hand of the bird—catcher first flies in every direction and then finding no rest anywhere, settles down at the place where it is bound, so also the mind (i.e. the individual soul reflected in the mind), my dear, after flying in every direction and finding no rest anywhere, settles down in the Prana (i.e. Pure Being); for the mind (the individual soul) is fastened to the Prana (Pure Being).
  3. “Learn from me, my dear, what hunger and thirst are. When a man is hungry, as they say, it is water that has led (i.e. carried away) what was eaten. Therefore, just as they speak of a leader of cows, a leader of horses, a leader of men, so do they speak of water as the leader of food. So, my dear, know this offshoot (i.e. the body) to have sprung forth from a cause, for it cannot be without a root.
  4. “And where could its root be except in food (earth)? And in the same way, my dear, as food too is an offshoot, seek for water as its root. And as water too, my dear, is an offshoot, seek for fire as its root. And as fire too, my dear, is an offshoot, seek for Being (Sat) as its root. Yes, all these creatures, my dear, have their root in Being, they dwell in Being, they finally rest in Being.
  5. “When a man is said to be thirsty, it is fire that has led (i.e. carried away) what was drunk by him. Therefore as they speak of a leader of cows, a leader of horses, a leader of men, so do they speak of fire as the leader of water. So, my dear, know this offshoot (the body) to have sprung forth from a cause, for it cannot be without a root.
  6. “And where could its root be except in water? And in the same way, my dear, as water is an offshoot, seek for fire as its root. And as fire too, my dear, is an offshoot, seek for Being as its root. Yes, my dear, all these creatures have their root in Being, they dwell in Being, they finally rest in Being. “And how these three deities (fire, water and earth), on reaching a human being, become each of them tripartite has already been said. When a person departs hence, his speech merges in his mind, his mind in his prana, his prana in heat (fire) and the heat in the Highest Being.
  7. “Now, that which is the subtle essence—in it all that exists has its self. That is the True. That is the Self. That thou art, Svetaketu.” “Please, venerable Sir, give me further instruction,” said the son. “So be it, my dear,” the father replied.

 

Khanda IX — The Absence of Individuality in Deep Sleep

 

1—2. “As bees, my dear, make honey by collecting the juices of trees located at different places and reduce them to one form, “And as these juices have no discrimination so as to be able to say: ‘I am the juice of this tree,’ or ‘I am the juice of that tree’—even so, indeed, my dear, all these creatures, though they reach Pure Being, do not know that they have reached Pure Being.

  1. “Whatever these creatures are, here in this world—a tiger, a lion, a wolf, a boar, a worm, a fly, a gnat, or a mosquito—that they become again.
  2. “Now, that which is the subtle essence—in it all that exists has its self. That is the True. That is the Self. That thou art, Svetaketu.” “Please, venerable Sir, give me further instruction,” said the son. “So be it, my dear,” the father replied.

 

Khanda X — The Absence of Particularized Consciousness in Deep Sleep

 

1—2. “These rivers, my dear, flow—the eastern toward the east and the western toward the west. They arise from the sea and flow into the sea. Just as these rivers, while they are in the sea, do not know: ‘I am this river’ or ‘I am that river,’ “Even so, my dear, all these creatures, even though they have come from Pure Being, do not know that they have come from Pure Being. Whatever these creatures are, here in this world—a tiger, a lion, a wolf a boar, a worm, a fly, a gnat, or a mosquito, that they become again.

  1. “Now, that which is the subtle essence—in it all that exists has its self. That is the True. That is the Self. That thou art, Svetaketu.” “Please, venerable Sir, give me further instruction,” said the son. “So be it, my dear,” the father replied.

 

Khanda XI — The Indestructibility of the Jiva

 

  1. “If, my dear, someone were to strike at the root of this large tree here, it would bleed but live. If he were to strike at the middle, it would bleed but live. If he were to strike at the top, it would bleed but live. Pervaded by the living self, that tree stands firm, drinking in again and again its nourishment and rejoicing.
  2. “But if the life (i.e. living self) leaves one of its branches, that branch withers; if it leaves a second, that branch withers; if it leaves a third, that branch withers. If it leaves the whole tree, the whole three withers.
  3. “In exactly the same manner, my dear,” said he, “know this: This body dies, bereft of the living self; but the living self dies not. “Now, that which is the subtle essence—in it all that exists has its self. That is the True. That is the Self. That thou art, Svetaketu.” “Please, venerable Sir, give me further instruction,” said the son. “So be it, my dear,” the father replied.

 

Khanda XII — The Birth of the Gross from the Subtle

 

  1. “Bring me a fruit of that nyagrodha (banyan) tree.” “Here it is’ venerable Sir.” “Break it.” “It is broken, venerable Sir.” “What do you see there?” “These seeds, exceedingly small, “Break one of these, my son.” “It is broken, venerable Sir.” “What do you see there?” “Nothing at all, venerable Sir.”
  2. The father said: “That subtle essence, my dear, which you do not perceive there—from that very essence this great nyagrodha arises. Believe me, my dear.
  3. “Now, that which is the subtle essence—in it all that exists has its self. That is the True. That is the Self. That thou art, Svetaketu.” “Please, venerable Sir, give me further instruction,” said the son. “So be it, my dear,” the father replied.

 

Khanda XIII — The Invisibility of an Existent Object

 

  1. “Place this salt in water and then come to me in the morning.” The son did as he was told. The father said to him: “My son, bring me the salt which you placed in the water last night.” Looking for it, the son did not find it, for it was completely dissolved.
  2. The father said: “My son, take a sip of water from the surface. How is it?” “It is salt.” “Take a sip from the middle. How is it?” “It is salt.” “Take a sip from the bottom. How is it?” “It is salt.” “Throw it away and come to me.” The son did as he was told, saying: “The salt was there all the time.” Then the father said: “Here also, my dear, in this body you do not perceive Sat (Being); but It is indeed there.”
  3. “Now, that which is the subtle essence—in it all that exists has its self. That is the True. That is the Self That thou art, Svetaketu.” “Please, venerable Sir, give me further instruction,” said the son. “So be it, my dear,” the father replied.

 

Khanda XIV — The Means of Self—Knowledge

 

  1. “Just as someone, my dear, might lead a person, with his eyes covered, away from the country of the Gandharas and leave him in a place where there were no human beings; and just as that person would turn toward the east, or the north, or the south, or the west, shouting: ‘I have been brought here with my eyes covered, I have been left here with my eyes covered!’
  2. “And as thereupon someone might loosen the covering and say to him: ‘Gandhara is in that direction; go that way’; and as thereupon, having been informed and being capable of judgement, he would, by asking his way from one village to another, arrive at last at Gandhara—in exactly the same manner does a man who has found a teacher to instruct him obtain the true knowledge. For him there is delay only so long as he is not liberated from the body; then he reaches perfection.
  3. “Now, that which is the subtle essence—in it all that exists has its self. That is the True. That is the Self That thou art, Svetaketu.” “Please, venerable Sir, give me further instruction,” said the son. “So be it, my dear,” the father replied.

 

Khanda XV — Ultimate Liberation

 

  1. “Around a dying person afflicted with illness, my dear, his relatives gather and ask: ‘Do you know me? Do you know me?’ He knows them as long as his speech is not merged in his mind, his mind in his prana (breath), his prana in heat (fire) and the heat in the Highest Deity.
  2. “But when his speech is merged in his mind, his mind in his prana, his prana in heat and the heat in the Highest Deity, then he does not know them.
  3. “Now, that which is the subtle essence—in it all that exists has its self. That is the True. That is the Self. That thou art, Svetaketu.” “Please, venerable Sir, give me further instruction,” said the son “So be it, my dear;” the father replied.

 

Khanda XVI — Liberation for the Knower of Brahman

 

  1. “My dear, they (i.e. the police) bring a man whom they have seized by the hand and say: ‘He has taken something, he has committed a theft.’ When he denies it, they say: ‘Heat the axe for him.’ If he has committed the theft but denies it, then he makes himself a liar. Being false—minded, he covers himself with falsehood, grasps the heated axe and is burnt. Then he is killed.
  2. “But if he did not commit the theft, then he makes himself what he really is. Being true—minded, he covers himself with truth, grasps the heated axe and is not burnt. He is released.
  3. “As that truthful man is not burnt so also one who has known Sat is not born again. Thus in That (Sat) all that exists has its self. That is the True. That is the Self. That thou art, Svetaketu.”