Tuesday, April 11, 2006


The boy then recounted a story of Ravana. “Ravana was born with ten heads, or so the story is told. When Ravana was young, he was a devotee of Shiva and undertook thousands of years of terrible penance. He purified himself and performed this tapasya, hoping to please God and earn merit in His sight. After many long years, however, Ravana received no blessing or acknowledgement. Therefore Ravana struck off one of his heads and, staunching the flow of blood, continued to fast and meditate for another thousand years. Again he received neither blessing nor acknowledgement. Striking off his second head, Ravana continued his tapasya undaunted. Again and again, over thousands of years, Ravana repeated this act until, his single head remaining, he prepared to strike it off. But before he struck that final blow, Shiva appeared to him.

Ravana, overjoyed, stayed his hand and knelt before the object of his devotions. Shiva said, “You may complete your tapasya by cutting off your head. But if this is not pleasing, I will grant you a boon for the nine heads you have already lost.” Ravana thought a great while and, placing his sword in the dust, said, “Grant me invincibility against devas and rakshasas and all other celestial beings.”

At once granting this wish, Shiva disappeared from sight as suddenly as he appeared. Ravana abandoned his austerities and, with his terrible power, became ruler of the rakshasas and waged war on the devas.”

Aurangzeb said, “This story is absurd, as are all your stories.”

The boy said, “You say this because you do not know the meaning of the story. You hold a bottle full of wine and demand how you can drink the bottle itself. You hold a handful of cooked rice and wonder how you can eat your hand.”

Aurangzeb laughed at this. He said, “Then tell me the hidden meaning of the story.”

The boy answered, “Rather than putting down his sword, Ravana would have served himself better by leaving his last severed head in the dust at God’s feet. His austerities were not complete. He had not achieved the goal, which was to please Shiva, but substituted his own desire for God’s desire for him. In his worship, he attained his own ends, not God’s. Ravana’s heads, which were the emblems of his ego, stood between him and the atman. With ease and tranquility Ravana had surpassed all devas and rakshasas. He had walked through nine doorways of sacrifice, performing what no other could perform so easily. But he could not open that final door and was blind even to its existence. Had he completed his tapasya and struck off his final head, he would have achieved union with God. But he squandered this in order to possess a moment’s mastery over the transient world. Ravana, demon king of Lanka, seemed the most powerful creature. But he was himself merely a creature and when he was defeated, neither his invincibility nor the sacrifices he had performed to achieve it, were of any value. He could not strike off his head to find the atman because he loved himself too much. He could not abandon the illusion of rank and power in the world because he bowed down to the world. He could not break the wheel of samsara because he worshipped the wheel. He possessed wisdom, but was unwise; he was knowledgeable, but knew nothing of himself; he was a worshipper of God who neither heeded God’s law nor acknowledged God’s manifestation in Rama. His invincibility did not avail him, nor did his wisdom advise him nor his knowledge inform him.

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Atman (continued)

Aurangzeb said, “You Hindus are worshippers of the self, which you call the Atman.”

The boy said, “Let me speak to you a little of the Atman

“For countless ages Uma dwelt in the pavilions of holiness, beneath the canopy of God’s love and protection, her hem purified of worldly illusion, her face unseen by gods, men, or demons, Behind the realm of appearance and disappearance, she arose from her palace and all who saw her were intoxicated by her beauty, by the scent of her perfume, and by the sweetness of her voice. The devas knew she was the maidservant of God.

“One of the devas, Vayu, who is the god of wind and father of both Hanuman and Bhima, approached Uma and asked her about the nature of God. Uma did not answer but demanded to know what power Vayu possessed to dare ask this question. Vayu, who was very proud, said, “I am among the mightiest of the devas. I can blow away any object in the world, however far and for however long I please.”

“Uma placed a single grain of dry rice before Vayu and said, ‘Show me this great power.’ Vayu exerted every effort, but could not cause the rice to budge. Winds that could have torn the Himalayas from their roots did not cause that grain of rice even to tremble. Vayu gave up and was astounded, but before he could speak, Uma said, “You can understand as much of God’s nature as you can move this grain of rice. Your power is not yours, but His. You yourself are not yours, but you belong to Him.”

“Vayu knelt and pressed his fingers upon Uma’s feet. She raised her hand and said, ‘Go in peace. You may yet find Him in yourself, but only after being rid of yourself. Within you there is not room for you and Him together.’

“Who puts on filthy rags and imagines them a kingly robe? Who wars with his brother over the rotting corpse of a whore? Who places upon his head a crown of dung and calls himself king? Such is the man who knows nothing of Atman.

“Those who understand this will rise out of samsara and achieve release from the world and its temptations, its mad and shameful passions, its defilements and illusions.

“O king, what we call Atman is the divine within every man. We are made in His likeness. We are forged as cups of iron in the furnace of His love, filled with the wine of His essence. This is the likeness. We may know something of Him from within ourselves, as we may know something of the sun when it warms the body. From His vineyard, He pours forth liberally. Drink from the cup of yourself, not for the sake of the cup, but to taste that wine which is more precious to the believers than their own lifeblood.”

Sunday, April 2, 2006


I've been struggling lately with the concept of Atman; not my own understanding of it, but my ability to express my understanding in words that make sense without one comment directly contradicting another. For the sake of recording and remembering this problem for future reference, and to compare my ultimate resolution of the problem to the original evolution of the prose, I'm incorporating my current notes into this blog. These notes have not been organized, but are based on relatively random thoughts as I read through portions of the Upanishads.

All possession, including reputation and attainment, are gone by morning. All pride is lost, all senses deprived, all knowledge sundered, all achievements forgotten. Do not put store in these things for as quickly as they come, they go. A man, drunk with wine, achieves a moment of bliss; but bliss flees with the dawn.

Between your individual self and the Universal Self, which is the Atman, the difference between them is as darkness and light. The Atman is not the self if by self you mean the man that you are or the life that you lead, for these in fact are at variance with the Atman. If the individual self is not tamed; it runs wild without direction, without purpose. He cannot die to himself, but lives again and again, finding no peace, no escape from attachments or from the wheel of samsara. Forget this illusion of yourself, this living falsehood, and know your true Self and achieve that better life, which is union with God.

He is the goal; know yourself and this is both road and destination, door and palace, throne and king.

Shut your eyes to what you imagine you are and find Him within yourself. Die to yourself and live within Him. Without this, you die as many deaths as you have desires and yet you are reborn into desire as often as you die. That is the road to misery and is the wheel of samsara. No intellect can unravel it. No scripture can make it clear. But He has placed this sign of Himself in the lotus of your heart. Give up your knowledge and know with His knowledge.

Do not partake of the fruits of action nor drink from the wine of those fruits. To accept the reward of your actions is to be paid in full and that reward is fleeting and desire is only further inflamed. For the one who eats, for a moment it is enough until that moment passes; when is there ever enough?

The wise say the Atman is the Brahman and that the Brahman is the Atman, making no distinction between the two. But this understanding is not subtle, and the Atman and Brahman both are not grasped by logic or intellect; their meanings are subtler than any subtlety and hidden behind many veils. Words cannot describe it for by describing words place limits. But who will understand my meaning if I am without words, if I am silent?

If the Atman is a droplet, He is the well of fathomless waters. If the Atman is a flicker of light, He is the sun. If the atman is a looking-glass, He is what you find reflected. Attachments and desire obscure that glass. Cleanse it and be free and reveal what is in your heart.

After Ravana’s defeat, Rama and Sita were crowned in the city of Ayodhya. As a gift for Hanuman’s loyalty and friendship, Sita gave him a string of pearls. She said, ‘These pearls are more precious than any others in the world. With these you may remember Rama.’
Years later, Hanuman was seen unstringing these pearls, trying to open them up, grinding them into powder. The people of Ayodhya said, ‘Do not destroy those pearls. They were given to you by Sita.’ Hanuman said, ‘I am opening them to find Rama within them.’ The people did not understand and Hanuman said, ‘Rama is everywhere in everything, even in my heart.’ The people laughed at him and said, ‘Show us what is in your heart; we too would like to lay eyes on Rama.’ Innocent of their mocking, Hanuman agreed and opened his chest before their eyes, revealing the face of Rama.

Hanuman had no use for pearls, except that they might bring him nearer to God. He had no use for his body, except that God dwelt within. Hanuman is the temple. No mosque is holier than yourself, but it must be washed of worldly defilements. Sacrifice all things at the altar of the Atman. The Temple of Hanuman is in the likeness of a looking glass. See what is in it, worshipper. But if, with pride, you have fouled it, you will see nothing. Though the Atman within you is shining, you are blind to it.

This illusion of your self, complete in itself, existing in time in the world, is a veil over your true self. These are different things, who you imagine you are and the hidden mystery within you, which is the spirit of God. There is your Highest Self, though even this name deceives. To realize that self, you must lose yourself entirely, releasing the bonds that tie you to this world.

Illusion gives rise to attachments that draw you away from the Atman. Look within and you will find God enthroned. But instead you turn away and wander in the wilderness of illusion. How far have you wandered and yet come not a step closer while ‘He is closer to you than your jugular vein.’

You may say that the Atman is you, and this is true. But likewise you may say that it is not you; and this also is true. To achieve the realization of the Atman, you must die to yourself. By ego, action, and illusion you are drawn away. Let go of all these things and you will come to the end of reason. Yet when we speak of reason’s end, we mean the true outcome of reason, not its extinction. By reason we learn that the mind cannot grasp Him nor word describe Him. Reason gives us knowledge and establishes, by its own proofs, its own limits. Through reason, we learn of reason’s inadequacy, and this is the greatest achievement of the rational intellect. Know that you cannot know Him, and your knowledge has born fruit.

How then can we know Him, if not by reason or intellect? By two means: in the appearance of the messengers of God and by the command, ‘Know yourself to know God.’ The mystery was born within us and lives within us at all times, hidden even to ourselves in the lotus of the heart. You know the Hadith. God has said, ‘Man is My mystery and I am man’s mystery.’ He lodges in the heart. Give up the pretence of yourself and find Him within yourself revealed. God is the Atman; the Atman is God. But this does not mean that you, Aurangzeb, are God. No, Aurangzeb is in the way. Renounce him and find God within him. The Atman within you, as within all men, is His gift, His grace. In the Quran it says, ‘Within you are the signs of God. Can you not perceive?’ And likewise is it not written in that holy book, ‘God shows His signs to men both in the world outside and within themselves.’ These verses are sufficient proof that, though Muhammad does not say the word ‘Atman,’ yet speaks of it clearly. Yet so few have achieved this perfect detachment and many are known to us by name. Muhammad, Moses, and Jesus are known to your people. Rama, Krishna, and the Buddha are known to mine. These are men who loosed the bonds of attachment to all things and who revealed God from within themselves, for within us He resides. To achieve that state of perfection is not possible, except by His grace, and many struggle throughout their lives to achieve union with God, to become aware of the Atman, to be ruled by the Atman. But gold is not valuable because it is common, but because it is rare. Yet most who claim to possess this gift have merely deceived themselves, and this is another veil between them and their goal; what they think they have achieved is, in fact, a new obstacle to them and the way is barred.