H.G. Matsyavatar Das

Saturday, 31 January 2009

Leonardo for Everybody



By Paramatma Dasi


Bhaktivedanta Ashrama, January 23rd 2009

Shriman Matsyavatara Prabhu is sitting at the table with some devotees; he is having breakfast and he is talking to Premabhakti das about his experience on special wall decorations. Premabhakti das explains that nowadays, by means of a very peculiar method, it is even possible to have, on the wall of your sitting room, the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci.

Mmm, Leonardo for everybody” says Shriman Matsyavatara Prabhu in a puzzled tone. “On the one hand it means a wide diffusion, on the other hand it means that what's special will become ordinary”, He adds. His comment, for the benefit of the few devotees present, soon turns into a short but very interesting lesson. Shriman Matsyavatara Prabhu’s thought is that one thing is to go and admire Leonardo’s work at a museum or in an ancient building: in that case we are accompanied by our will and desire to meet Leonardo’s art. But to have Leonardo’s work on a wall at home and to walk continuously before it, it gets it too familiar and that spoils everything. In the end we will not even longer notice Leonardo's masterpiece, though it is as large as the wall.

This is why – carries on Shriman Matsyavatara Prabhu – the Murtis are kept in a special place and before drawing the curtains of the temple, and opening or closing the doors, we ring bells and blow conches: because in that very moment we have to be fully aware and totally present. The world is a balance between union and separation. Too much confidence is not good, it makes you unable to correctly discriminate, to give something or someone the right value and generates addiction and pain. On the other hand, being too far apart is not useful either. It works the same in our relationships: between Guru and disciples, between parents and children and between partners. We should not to let events nor people stick to us, we should approach them in a sacred way”.





A note by Paramatma dasi:


I am so thankful to Guru Maharaja for the numberless “matchless gifts” that He always gives us and that inspire me to hold on to my old and good habit which I called “Guruvaca”. What He explained this morning struck me for its freshness and consistency.

Today everybody can have most anything... is it really ok? We take everything for granted, we are unable to prepare ourselves - we are unable to prepare our consciousness - for the most important moments of our life and of our present day. Everything is cheap, everything is near at hand, and everything can be at the same time so easily thrown away.

In traditional times a son or daughter used to offer obeisances to his/her parents, a wife used to lovingly take care of her husband showing him respect; a husband used to lovingly protect his wife. What to say about the everlasting and sacred relationship between Guru and disciples!

The Shastras were just for a few people, yes, but not to favour a classist ideology, rather because it was clear that without the right approach they would remain, as we read in the Garuda Purana, “a mirror for the blind”. This is why we offer our humble respects to the devotees, to the Spiritual Master and to the Murtis, and stay quiet in a holy place, turning off also the engine of our mind.

Putting everything on the same level without discrimination makes life mean, pale, frustrating. According to Bhagavad-gita for a self-realized yogi earth, stone and gold are alike, but certainly not because he can't distinguish between them, rather because he transcends duality. Anyhow, all those who have not reached such a self-realization level yet, should be careful and sensitive towards reality: when you don't recognize something (or someone) you cannot give it the right value and when it happens you will be forced to lose it. 

Thursday, 29 January 2009

DEATH: a Stage of Life


By Matsyavatara Dasa


No matter what our descendant roots are, noble or of humble origin, rich or poor, old or young, illuminated or not, we are all destined to die. We know that it is inevitable, but we deceive ourselves by thinking that others will die before us, that we will be the last to go. Death always seams far away. Isn’t it a misleading way of thinking? Isn’t it an illusion, a dream? This makes us negligent and we shouldn’t believe it. We should be courageous and prepare ourselves, because sooner or later death will knock at our door.

(Yamamoto Tsunetomo, samurai monk of ending 1600)


Death is most likely the most complex, painful and captivating phenomenon with which man has always had to deal with; generally it irrupts very strongly in the story of an individual, of a family unit and society reality, often leaving behind desperation, emptiness, and mental derangement.

Intelligent people of every era, though living in health, have come across this problem with genuine spirit of research, looking for the comprehension of the events that obligatorily move to a different level from the one merely pertinent to the sensorial perception.

The thought of death is located deep in the human soul and strongly affects the entire course of life and the character, mostly operating at a deep conscience level.

The objective of this analysis is the reinterpretation of the phenomenon, reinterpretation that takes the abandoning of those preconceptions structured in our mind since the green age, and connected to apparent realities and to the destructive image that the idea of death carries with itself.

To face this arcane and dramatic argument in the over-rational perspective, lightly expressed and surely unusual for the western culture, we need to take an “inner journey” , to the roots of our deepest and concealed experiences. The rational mind can capture and encode the physical reality, but not all the reality is reconductible to this level. How can the rational function explain in a full and satisfactory way the “intra-psychic” dynamics? How can it answer the existential questions on the imperceptible nature of oneself and explain the mystery of life? In front of death or of a disconcerting medical report even the most solid rationality will vacillate showing all its limits.

The sages of the Vedas, mind and life scientists who belong to a millenary tradition, indicate how the human being complexity must be studied in its entire bio-psychic-spiritual reality. The classic Indian works explain that barriers between the physical, psychic-energetic and spiritual-metaphysic do not exist; the same human life is a combination of these three interactive dimensions of reality. Man does not only have a physical body but also a psychic body, which represents one of the fundamental bases for the development of the personality. But physical and psychic do not complete the picture of a human being: the physical body and the mental structure are two tools utilized from the purusha, the spiritual self, the subject that perceives, thinks and acts using in fact the body and the mind. Only those that are fully conscious of their self can influence deeply and with determination their physical and psychic bodies, activating inner resources that allows the rediscovering of the auto-healing path. What unifies the physical world and the psychical world, that makes them interactive and gives them a meaning is the self, the vital spark, the witness, the one that sees, that hears, that understands; all the rest are tools.

We need to underline that every living being is eternal, therefore the living entity does not have a beginning (anadi) or an end (ananta). The Veda knowledge teaches that we do not die with the body but at the moment of the spiritual journey out of the body we are moved elsewhere aboard of the psychic structure. From this perspective we can transcend the mistaken contraposition of the binomial life-death, rediscovering the living being’s dimension in which death, being a life phase, is not in opposition with life, but with birth. Similarly, the “asleep” state of consciousness, the one without dreams, is not in opposition with the “wake” state of consciousness. If we made life coincide exclusively with the wake experience, then we can say that sleep has nothing to do with life, but we know very well that it is not true at all. Without sleep there could not be the wake state: during sleep the neurons healthily interact, all the cells easily surrender their wasted products and regenerate.

In the Fedone, Platone makes Socrate say, in one of his last phrases: “The time has come that I must go; every one of us continues with his or her program: I go off to die, you all go on to live, but no one knows who will be better off, only God knows”. And Tagore wrote: “Birth and death are two parts of life, just like to walk you must lift a foot and then lay it down”.

Birth and death are two dots in a circle that the sages of the Veda s call samsara, the repeated cycle of birth and death, since, like the Bhagavadgita teaches, all that is born will die and all that dies will be reborn.

Birth and death are like awakening and going to sleep: we are here before we awake and we are here again after we have fallen asleep. The similitude between dream and death is very close.

The fear of death, besides the terror generated from the unknown, from the journey to an unknown destination, is primarily constituted from the fact that we must leave the objective world, the body, our dearest people, the social position, the prestige, the richness, the pleasure of food, of sex and various possessions. Yet, doesn’t the same happen during our dreams? In the dream doesn’t the subject abandon its physical body? Doesn’t he abandon the social prestige? He abandons a large quantity of things for which he has often developed a morbid attachment. The realization of the self permanence in a different dimension from the one of the wake state of consciousness, is something to be reinforced when we have the resources to make an investment of knowledge, to resolve the problem of death in life.

Death, as the Vedas teache, is a passage towards another dimension, passage through which we renew our lives’ projects; it is not the end, but the beginning of a successive existential cycle. It is like exiting from a theatre scene and entering into another; the actor does not disappear, he is gone only to the observer’s eyes; the same is for the living being at the death moment: the protagonist does not disappear, but simply goes elsewhere. The Gita compares the body to a dress; death is like undressing from old clothes and wearing new ones.

Our prejudices, the social schemes, the way of facing certain phenomena and certain passages of life, are to be reconsidered at the renovated light of intelligence. The image of the self is not what the mirror shows. Death can lose its dramatic power if we come to a new vision of reality, by acknowledging and experiencing ourselves beyond the multiple masks of ego.

The fear of being annulled, zeroed, terminated, is the product of a certain culture, a prejudice, a negative dogma that generates tormenting thoughts, swinging between remorse and irony. Many make irony on death trying to exorcise their fear, but the right approach to the phenomenon must be honest, serious, through an in-depth study, not only intellectual, but experimental.

The subjective world and the objective world, the psychical introverted and extroverted functions and the needs of all the living being should be harmonized. It is by harmonizing these functions that we can grow up, that we can illuminate our personality. Life is a continuum, birth and death correspond to the appearing and disappearing of a physical body, and the same is for the appearing and disappearing of thoughts, illusions, wishes, opinions. If emotionally detached we put ourselves in the position of observers, we can see that the psychical contents float in our conscience as objects on the surface of a river, and therefore we can manage them at our best. What slips off our control, instead, is all that we identify ourselves with and obviously what we ignore.

The fear of death is caused by the identification with our body. Who identifies himself/herself with the body they are wearing will experiment, as years go by, growing fear and terror of death.

What wins death is love, together with consciousness. Love is the strongest feeling, it outlives death, because living means to give and receive love. To love in its widest meaning is to love life itself, therefore all that is living: all creatures. This should set our way of life, of eating, of relating with others. The more we love life and we understand its nature, the less we will fear death.




Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Dante's Journey and the Bhagavad Gita

Jagannath and His Gospel of Universal Peace


By Matsyavatara Dasa

I offer my respectful obeisances unto the lotus feet of the Vaishnavas saints. All glories to Shri Shri Guru and Gauranga.

Peace is a universal value, ever pursued by the human being, who needs it to fulfill his duties with serenity and success, in respect to the environment, to others and to himself.

All authentic spiritual traditions portray the precious value of peace and are based on common principles such as love, fraternity, solidarity, compassion, mercy and charity.

Among the Vaishnava Saints, Caitanya Mahaprabhu, together with His Eternal Associates, is undoubtedly the incarnation of these principles. Lord Jagannath in His turn, links all of the above values, as a symbol of universal and fraternal love, peace, life, empathy and compassion toward every living being. In His fascinating form, Shri Jagannath reveals His nature of Soul of the Universe and Supreme Love, through His big, sympathetic and merciful eyes and His arms that seem to invite to a wrapping hug.

Jagannath is known as the liberator of the fallen souls, as He who gives the four purusha-artha (dharma, artha, kama, moksha), happiness, serenity and harmony, all of which are channeled towards bhakti, Supreme love for God.

God is the source and sustainer of individual, social and universal peace. It is therefore on a spiritual basis that peace, the authentic and lasting one, can be researched, built, developed and maintained.

Peace is the result of coordinated and constant efforts. It is first of all the continuous practice of deep knowledge, which implies an ample vision of all dynamics involved and is therefore an indispensable assumption for the recognition of the proper line of behaviour to be followed in every circumstance. This line enables for the tangible development of peace at all levels: individual, domestic, social, political, economical and so on.

Religious science and traditions of all times agreed in stating that there are universal laws, governing life in the cosmos (the term cosmos in Greek means in fact 'order'). Specific laws regulate and sustain the entire creation and every manifestation of life, from the human being to the microscopic insect. They are expression of an order, defined as 'implicit' by modern quantum sciences, hidden beyond tangible reality, and from which the 'explicit order', the one visible and perceivable in Nature and its phenomena, derives.

In the Vaishnava tradition, this order on which life and unity of the cosmos are founded, is named dharma, from the Sanskrit root dhr, meaning 'to bear, to sustain' or ritam, from the Sanskrit root r, meaning 'to proceed', designating in this case the 'regular flux or trend' of things.

Jagannath, Lord of the Universe, is indeed the origin and the home of this order, thought by Divine intelligence for the well-being of each creature and conceivable in particular by human beings, who have the capability of discernment and, above all, of love towards less developed creatures, fellow men and God.

Being really interested in building peace, means being interested in knowing these universal laws, which are recognized and venerated as the expression of a superior intelligence, Cosmic Conscience or God, by religious men of all times. Peace means synchronizing one's dynamics with the cosmic dynamics, by harmonizing them with each other; or learning to move in harmony with the universal and eternal order, the breach of which causes imbalance, lacerations and conflicts, within and without. Peace is not therefore just a morale necessity, but is indispensable for the survival of mankind, tightly and indissolubly connected to life of the entire creation and of all creatures. In lack of such consciousness, peace is alas destined to remain a very vague concept, subject to be exploited by people, truly pursuing other purposes.

Every authentic religion brings a universal vision, because it teaches, even with diversified terms and ways, that nothing is separated from the rest, that the one is connected with the whole and the whole is connected to the one. The word religion derives from the Latin religere, which means 'to unify, to connect', such as the word Yoga derives from the Sanskrit root yuj, which has the same meaning. Without Yoga, or the reconnection of the individual conscience to Cosmic Conscience, there cannot be true peace, as peace is obtained only by the individual who has acquired a deep consciousness of the unity of everything that exists. He must perceive the common Source that connects everything and be aware that the well-being of one is not separated from the well-being of others. Love for God constitutes the maximum warranty for peace, because loving God means loving all living beings, by considering their common origin and their indissoluble union with Him.

In Bhagavad-gita, (V.29), one of the fundamental texts of the Vaishnava religion, it is explained that peace will be reached by those who, by recognizing God as the final Beneficiary of all sacrifices and austerities and Supreme Friend of all living beings, will offer their service and pure devotion to Him. The very essence of Vaishnavism is indeed bhakti or love for God (Vishnu-Krishna), which includes love for the creation and all creatures, as expansions and revelation of the Absolute. This is why in the Vaishnava tradition, the principle of ahimsa or non-violence is not exercised exclusively towards human beings, but towards all living beings because compassion, solidarity and mercy cannot and must not be reserved to only one race or species. Again, in Bhagavad-gita, II.66, Krishna says that if man's intelligence is not connected to the Supreme – with all this statement implies – peace, shanti, will not be reachable, and if peace is not reachable, what to say of happiness (kutah sukham).

Every religion, if authentic and authentically lived, contributes to the restoration of harmony between Creator, creation and creatures, by favoring the evolution and well- being of all living beings, all aiming towards the infinite Love of the same, unique God. Jay Jagannath!


Seminars : The Origin of Personality Disturbances



Pinarella di Cervia (RA), from December 27th 2008 to January 4th 2009.
Seaside Resort
 - Pinarella di Cervia (RA) 
Lecturer: Marco Ferrini (Shriman Matsya Avatara Prabhu). Professor appointed to American Colleges and Universities. International Affiliate of the American Psychological Association

The Winter Seminar of Centro Studi Bhaktivedanta took place from December 27th to January 4th at Pinarella di Cervia, in a comfortable seaside resort, on the topic: The Origin of Personality Disturbances and their Solutions. The speaker, Marco Ferrini, held morning and afternoon classes for a total of twelve lessons, discussing the 55 sutras of Patanjali’s Sadhana Pada: a perfectly suitable text for the event, in comparison toBhagavad-gita and other fundamental texts of the Krishna-Bhakti vaishnava culture.


The participants showed attraction and concentration on the Yogasutra Study Sections. They were impressed not only by the scientific language and the rich philosophical and psychological approach to Patanjali’s work, but even more by the practical and skilled commentary given by Marco Ferrini, joining deep awareness and  incentive in an orthopractic analysis to the benefit of every one.
 
A preliminary overview of the text mapped the way of the journey: from sutra 1 to 7 origin, functions and extinction of social conditionings (klesha); from 18 to 28 the relation between the perceiver and that which is perceived; from 30 to 34, effort and relaxation (yama andniyama) and from 35 to 45 their practical effects; from 46 to 48 benefits of asana postures; from 49 to 53 pranayama; and the last two sutras on pratyahara, the withdrawal of the senses from the phenomenal to reach antaranga yoga (which consists of concentration, meditation and samadhi or the Realization of the Self).
 
The first sutra was a very good starting step for the rest of the work: active Yoga means rigorous consistency (tapas), study of oneself and of the scriptures (svadhyaya), and surrendering to God (Ishvara pranidhana). Tapas, pointed out Ferrini, is dull endurance, but the comprehension of the obstacle and its solution, by means of suitable instruments. Without tapas, there can be no attenuation of the heart’s conditionings and, without this, the experience of samadhi or perception of Reality will remain a utopia. The importance of a deep study is fundamental to insert ecological knowledge in the neural circuit, teachings able to direct the existence of a living being. With no spiritual tension, with no signifying steps towards the Supreme, life will remain limited, tasteless, flat – when it doesn’t become a turmoil – and will not satisfy the inner needs naturally pursued by humans.
Another well developed  topic was the overlapping between the insight of the subject (purusha) and that which can be seen (prakriti), with all its implications for the individual’s perception and experience. According to Patanjali, this identification is the primary cause of suffering. Sutra XXXIII  was widely discussed, in which Patanjali suggests: when disturbing thoughts occur, meditate on the opposite; following is part of Marco  Ferrini’s commentary in this regard: “This is a practical psychological teaching that allows us to activate metacognitive functions, in order to divert our attention and modify the quality of our state of being. It is an efficient technique at no cost, that may allow to immediately restore our emotions to a higher tone and quality and our character to its original the brightness”.
Remarkable for the audience were the consequences of one’s commitment to universal ethic and moral principles, for instance: the practice of ahimsa, non-violence, brings to an end one’s tendency to conflicts.
 
The many and stimulating questions were an opportunity to satisfy the participants  who were further enthused by the explanations.
Besides the studying of Sadhana pada, the Seminar offered many other activities, such as workshops, asana and pranayama sections, theatre, poetry readings poems and shared moments of leisure, indoors and outdoors, walking along the beach and in the pinewood.
Saturday, January 3rd, the full day was dedicated to CSB Academy students who attended their examinations on several psychological and philosophical subjects; in the evening, as a final award for their studies, some of them received their Master or Doctorate degree. Their touching and genuine speeches filled the evening with warmth and a special sense of intimacy.
Food was a very much appreciated ingredient of the Seminar: a variety of vegetarian, well prepared, delicate and tasteful dishes, cooked by the expert chefs Leeman and Salvini, with the precious help of Marisa Scotto and the whole kitchen staff; the people gathered appreciated the association and the discovery of  new  tastes and flavours.
Even the junior participants were well entertained by skilful coordinators who every day gave them  important lessons of life, teaching with a joyful and playful attitude.
We can meet again at Easter time, from April 10th to 14th at Villa Vrindavana (San Casciano, Firenze), in the same spirit of joy. The title of the Seminar will be: the Science of Meditation and the Evolutionary Transformation of Personality.

The Psychic Structure of the Universe




By Prof. Marco Ferrini (Matsyavatara Dasa)


What is the structure of the universe? What are life and consciousness? A mere combination of atoms and molecules? Are living creatures enlivened by a spiritual essence? If yes, is that true only for man or for all living manifestations? These are eternal questions, for both science and religion.

The highest minds of Western science have understood the great value but also the limits of experimental knowledge and have indicated that there are two ways of understanding: besides the scientific-deductive method, there is intuition, accessed through contemplation.

Vedic rishis have conducted their research starting from the very same mechanism of understanding: the investigation in the deepest self leads to a level of consciousness where perception realizes a unified vision of the various levels of reality, enabling us to understand the fundamental laws of universe.

The tale of cosmogony told by Vedic texts describes in three stages the explosion of a seed: germination, expansion and finally disintegration - or in other words: creation, maintenance and dissolution. Understanding the nature of Vedic cosmogony is itself a journey where we witness an invisible seed1 expand while differentiating itself in cosmic space, to the point of its dissolution.

Just like the human being is a combination of physical body, mind and spirit, so according to Yoga and Samkhya philosophy, the entire manifested world is nothing but a thought created by the Cosmic Mind crystallized in energy and matter, created with the purpose of allowing the realization of the person. The transformation of energy into matter and matter into energy, according to the formulae revealed to the West by Einstein over one hundred years ago, and the most recent discoveries of quantum physics, describe through a Western scientific language the identical great realizations of the Vedic sages. The universe is therefore expanding consciousness, a project realized by the thought of the Cosmic Mind.

The Vedantic paradigm recognizes two categories of knowledge: the knowledge of matter and its components, like atoms and quarks (the bodies) and the knowledge of spirit (the knower of the body or field of activity). The first category studies what is changing, temporary and external to the self, while the second category studies what is unchangeable, eternal, transcendent -- the self.

In the last analysis however, according to Vedic psychology there is no real dichotomy between matter and spirit, as they both originate from the the same supreme consciousness, pervading the entire universe (virat, the cosmic body) and animating all matter (prakriti), just like individual consciousness pervades the entire body of any species. The world is therefore a tight net of correlations: the subject is connected to the object, spirit to matter, beings among themselves and each one of them to the supreme Being, individual bodies to the cosmic body, individual minds to the universal mind.

The thorough understanding of these tight correspondences and correlations between micro and macrocosm, constitutes an unavoidable premise to the penetration of reality and the attainment of a full realization of the self, through the development of an organic and integrated world view. Vedic works in fact teach that each individual’s well being necessarily depends on his own level of harmony with the macrocosmic dimension, the divine source of all energies.

Samkhya philosophy describes the process leading to the manifestation of the phenomenal worlds, starting from the interaction of prakriti and purusha. In fact, the dynamic activity of the universe is due to the interaction between spirit and matter, purusha and prakriti. Their contact is necessary because spirit is inactive without matter and matter is blind without spirit. They are observed as consciousness and non-consciousness, subject and object, knower and known. The entire process of creation is an act of gradual evolution and development from one element to the next, until the attainment of the variety of nature as we know it.

Especially in the Upanishads we find the description of the stages of a process that can be described as psychic involution or development in matter, depending on the perspective of observation. For the sake of clarity we will call it evolution, a concept that cannot be equated to the Darwinian concept of evolution of the species.

Rather, it is a thickening, an increasing materialization, that brings the elements to become perceivable by the senses. This development characterizes the path of whatever is manifested, and goes from an implicit stage to the full actuation of one's own expressed reality, perceivable by the set of senses. This implicit stage is not perceptible by the senses, and is only attainable through intuition in the so-called extrasensorial perceptions, those faculties that develop at higher consciousness or superconsciousness levels.

Samkhya philosophy describes potential elements, fundamentals of the so called subtle manifestation defined as tanmatras. As a rule they are not perceivable but can be deduced by means of inference. They represent potential elements, archetypes, and correspond to the fundamentals of sound (shabda), touch (sparsha), form (rupa), taste (rasa) and smell (gandha).

From this potential energy, through a process of extroversion, the following develop: the sense of hearing, the sense of touch, the sense of sight, the sense of taste and the sense of smell, and then the respective organs of perception -- ear, skin, eye, tongue and nose, and ultimately also the five bhutas, or ether, air (the gaseous elements), fire (the warm and radiant elements), water (the liquid elements) and earth (the solid elements).

Material energy (prakriti) is composed of the five bhutas or physical elemets just described (ether, air, fire, water and earth) and the three subtle elements composing the psychic structure of the individual beings and that of the Universe: manas, buddhi and ahamkara (mind, intelligence and false conception of self).

The gross physical elements derive from the tanmatra as follows: from the sound tanmatra (shabdatanmatra) the akasha is produced -- the element of ether-space that originates from the interaction between sound and its object and reveals the characteristics of the sounds perceivable by the ear, exactly because the perception of space is connected to the hearing apparatus2.

From the touch tanmatra (sparshatanmatra), combined with the one of sound, the air-wind element is produced (vayu, air), with the attributes of sound and touch: it can also be perceived by hearing, but it is specifically detected by touch.

From the color tanmatra (rupatanmatra) mixed with the ones of sound and touch, the light-fire element develops (agni, light or fire), having properties of sound, touch and color; it can be perceived by hearing and touch, but it is specifically detected by sight.

From the taste tanmatra (rasatanmatra) mixed with the preceding three, the liquid-water element is produced (apa), having properties of sound, touch, color and taste; it can be perceived by hearing, touch and sight, but it is specifically detected by taste.

Finally, from the smell tanmatra (gandhatanmatra) mixed with the preceding four, the solid-earth element is produced (gandha, earth), having properties of sound, touch, color, taste and smell; it can be perceived by hearing, touch, sight and taste, but it is specifically detected by smell.

The combinations of atoms that we find in nature are further transformations of these five elements, the result of processes with several stages of elaboration, reaction and synthesis.

It is therefore from the imperceptible, the subtle, archetypal elements that physical bodies and organs are created; it is the sense function or faculty which develops the sense organ and finishes it to perfection.

Sense organs are energy transducers: they are stimulated by an external energetic source and transmit it to nervous centres. They are channels through which coded information passes, directed to mind and intelligence. Physiologically, once these sense stimuli reach the nervous centres in the cerebral cortex, the connection to the rest of the physical body is activated.

Samkhya teaches that every tangible physical structure which is perceivable by the senses, derives from a subtler reality, from an imperceptible psychic structure, substratum to all things. The subtle body composes a mental framing against which the physical body is sketched and structured. Startlingly but evidently, this concept recalls one of the most advanced hypothesis in modern physics: that of the so called implicit order. In Vedic literature in fact, introspection and mystical intuition are pictured as the major instruments to grasp transcendent reality, beyond the reach of the human senses and logic, capable of revealing only the epidermic strata of reality (this perception is defined pratyasksha and is on the psycho-physical plane). What is perceivable to the great majority of people is the superficial level of existence, defined by Bohm as explicit or revealed order. Underneath it is the implicit or concealed order, origin to all objects and appearances of the physical world.3.

Indian thought and specifically vaishnava Vedanta explain that consciousness reigns above matter, in micro and macrocosm. The individual body is subject to individual consciousness4, just like the cosmic body, the universe, is pervaded and sustained by the cosmic Consciousness. The individual consciousness is part of the cosmic Consciousness. Therefore, the Upanishads state: “It [Brahman]5 is far yet close; it is inside and outside all things”6, or “You are That [Brahman]”7; from this we can gather that the spiritual essence sustains and pervades all things, that the individual self is originated from the cosmic Self8 (as His expansion) and is indissolubly connected to It by an eternal relationship9.

Mystics of all traditions and all times have always seen and described some sort of unity, and interactive and interdependent relation among all cosmic components. Such a conception is surprisingly met and harmonized by the most recent scientific discoveries, especially in the field of quantum physics, pointing to a substantial interconnection of all natural elements and to the overcoming of the supposed separation between observed system (object) and observing system (subject). Through his general theory of relativity, Einstein had already demonstrated that space and time are not separate entities but are harmoniously connected within a wider set, a four-dimensional continuum made of matter, energy, space and time. And eminent representative of modern subatomic physics have gone yet further. Bohm, for example, has stated that everything that exists in the universe is a continuum: things belong to an undivided set, though they possess peculiar qualities.

Vedic texts offer the great opportunity of taking to this fascinating journey of knowledge within ourselves and outside, as they investigate the different dimensions of reality, spotting interactions, connections and correspondences. Not only do they explore the physical universe, defining the fundamental principles of Vedic cosmogony and eschatology, they describe the universe of interior experience, providing in-depth explanations on the different states of consciousness of the being and on the human personality in its multiple components: perception, instinct, thought, imagination, will, emotion, intellect, intuition, spirit.

In the Upanishads, the universe is observed and understood in constant relation to the individual; the analysis of the relation between macrocosm and microcosm thus gains a pre-eminent psychological connotation and opens up to a vision of reality founded on a deep interrelation between self and Super-self, infinitesimal Brahman and supreme Brahman, within the frame of a peculiar characterization and conception of time and space.

The Upanishadic rishi precisely aims at unveiling the tight net of correlations connecting the world of things to that of consciousness10, object to subject, macrocosm to microcosm, by merging the multiplicity of the real to its unique source and pointing to Brahman, the supreme Spirit, as the ultimate essence sustaining everything, basis and unifying factor for the multitude of things and events we can observe.

Experimental sciences offer an important contribution in the field of perception, by providing sophisticated instruments of observation and research. Modern scientific research (specifically quantum physics) has already demonstrated that the observation of reality and reality itself depend also on the consciousness of the observer, on the viewpoint he has developed. For a thorough and reliable exploration, the study of the object need therefore be accompanied and preceded by the study of the subject, by the analysis of his psycho-physical apparatus, in order to understand the nature of his deep self.

Generally the Westerner tends to focus his attention outside himself, and therefore, although he has become expert in analysing with precision and completeness the phenomena of objective reality, still remains quite ignorant in the study of his own self and of his inner reality.

In this regard, Hindovedic texts offer an inestimable heritage of knowledge that can integrate the acquisition of today's objective disciplines with a science that is extremely ancient and yet surprisingly modern. They explain in depth the dynamics of the inner world, of which external reality usually is a projection, by using an effective method, successfully tested for thousands of years, for the development of the perceptive instruments and the elevation of consciousness. In fact, ancient Indian culture and specifically Yoga tradition offers the most ancient school of psychology, capably describing the nature and functions of the psyche with accuracy, using a scientific system and specific language, and in such detail that even modern psychology will be greatly benefited.

According to the Vedas the mind is an object rather than a subject; it is the “filter” used by the conditioned being to see the world. Defined as “internal sense”11, the mind has a key role in determining the quality of existence for every individual, because it is the operative centre which directs every action. The quality of mental health determines the quality of perception, and hence the quality of behaviour and life, too. Vedic literature explains that neither time nor space are absolute realities, since they are lived individually according to specific modalities. Phenomena like old age, death, relationships between people, and between people and things are therefore connected to subjective states of consciousness.

Hindovedic psychology does not reduce the science of psychology to neuro-physiology as is the tendency of some modern psychology schools12. This they do generally by negating the specific reality of the psyche in relationship to the reality of the body, and equating the cognition product with a structure that can be reduced to the activity of the nervous system. This then is considered to correspond to physical and biological laws, which are constructible according to objective and experimental parameters. According to Hindovedic psychology the psychic objects (ideas, thoughts, images, emotions, feelings, etc) are not less real and tangible than physical ones. They are characterized by their own structure and function and can be studied through a methodology that is different from the methods used for tangible bodies and consists mainly in the epistemological method named pratyaksha13 and based on sense perception.

Modern schools of psychology do not interpret the individual psychic process in a theoretical environment based on materialistic-positivistic duality, but Hindovedic psychological science is different because it recognizes the existence of a reality beyond the body and the mind - the living force, or the conscious subject - who is experiencing the acts of seeing, thinking, feeling etc, through the psychological and physical instruments.

This deep and unchangeable me, situated beyond space and time, simply defined as the self by the ancient sages, is the real reference point of the cognitive experience. This self is described, in different contexts, with the definitions of atman, purusha or jiva; all these names indicate the living entity: the spiritual self, or the real subject of perception, who is capable to give light to the intellect, vitality and consciousness to the body.

In Indian psychology, the mind (just like the body) is constituted of material energy (prakriti), that has a particular and more subtle nature than the gross physical elements. Western psychology on the other hand identifies the mind (when its specific structure is recognized) as the subject of cognitive experience, and gives no consideration to the existence of an unchangeable self (spirit soul) as the place of consciousness and the “centre of gravity” of the personality.

Atman, being a pure spiritual principle, is beyond time and space so in its ontological essence it cannot undergo any form of limitation or conditioning. It is like a “spiritual monad” possessing the qualities identical to those of Brahman though not to such extent.

Thus perception, reflection and elaboration of data is enabled by this function of atman, whose main attributes include consciousness and which utilizes the mind as its organ of action. Mind, therefore, is not a reality having its own independent existence: it is not a subject but rather an object. Unlike the spiritual self whose intrinsic nature remains always unchanged, consciousness can be altered by the substances or psychophysical forces, but can not be explained in materialistic terms as if a biochemical product. It produces biochemistry and not vice versa.

Consciousness uses the mind like an organ of action The classic texts on Yoga, and in general on the Hindovedic tradition, emphatically state that a human being must learn to manage and utilize the psychic instrument, take full control of it and direct it in order to facilitate the acquisition of the deepest possible knowledge of oneself and the world.

In order to properly utilize and even to cure the mind, we must first of all know it deeply, understanding its structure, functioning, extraordinary faculties and limitations. To do that, the essential thing is not identifying with it. When the subject misidentifies his own psycho-physical instruments of thought and action as the self, he thus loses awareness of his own original individuality, who is spiritual in nature. As a consequence, the being becomes more and more alienated from his real self, and enters in a state of deep confusion and depression.

Hindovedic literature explains the psychological mechanism that misidentifies consciousness with the sum total of one's psychic contents and with the body, manifesting the ahamkara, the sense of ego or the reflected and conditioned consciousness.

The ahamkara constitutes the first stage of the personality splitting, and subsequently the field of consciousness becomes isolated and limited to the body and mind, thereby losing its original integrity14.

Since these two are constantly changing - the body being characterized by a continuous flow and turnover of atoms, the psyche being characterized by a “river” of thoughts15, an endless sequel of vritti or mind changes - the individual who is a victim of ahamkara identifies himself with a transitory and fleeting personality that is subject to continued oscillations, which inevitably become a source of suffering.

However, the Vaishnava Vedanta teaches that the ego produced by ahamkara should not be denied or removed, but rather de-conditioned and controlled by the self, so that instead of acting as a barrier it can become a bridge between the individual and his original identity of pure consciousness.

Without re-harmonizing the individual being with the supreme Being, the individual mind with the Cosmic Mind, the finite intelligence with the Infinite Intelligence, we cannot attain a perception of the self and the world that is correct and including all the anthropologic and existential components: the physical, the psychic and the metaphysic. The dynamic and harmonic integration of these three dimensions of being is a fundamental prerequisite to re-establish a global state of health at all levels.

In the Hindovedic traditional understanding, the study of the mind cannot be separated from the study of the self16; in facts the psychic component and even the physical component can only be effectively and permanently healed in the context of the development of a deep awareness or spiritual consciousness.

In such process of research and evolution, great importance is to be attributed to the correct comprehension of the dynamics of perception, the nature and function of psychophysical instruments through which we can experience the phenomenal world. Perception is a complex phenomenon, fundamental for our consideration, as it determines the quality of life.

As we know from ancient Vedic science, each aggregate of matter has a certain psychic charge (pratyaya). Matter in fact, although in a way inert, lacking its own will, is pervaded by powerful energies (gunas), the structuring forces of physical universe. These energies are inherent to nature and are called in Sanskrit tamas, rajas and sattva17, each of them determining differently the nature of things.

The psychic charge present in every object stimulates the sense organs of the observer and through them it enters the mental sphere of the individual, thus generating waves or subtle rays of psychic energy, vritti. Sense organs prove to be the primary energy transducers through which psychic streams of objects reach first sense faculties (jnana indriya), and from there penetrate the mental sphere, manas, the seat of extroverted functions and gathering of the data collected by means of senses from the outer world.

Vrittis however, do not stop at the manas level, but proceed beyond, reaching further psychic levels: ahamkara, the platform of the historical ego, and subsequently, the platform of the intellect or buddhi, meant for processing and analysing the data received by manas. Still, the stimulus doesn’t come to a halt at the buddhi level, as it proceeds down to the unconscious psychic plane, karmashaya.

What sort of objects inhabit the unconscious? Various impressions or traces of memory called samskaras, representing bits of perceptions or past experiences. Samskaras form psychic traces, vasanas, the source of tendencies or mental automatisms, extremely difficult to eradicate, as they are rooted at the unconscious level.

According to universal psychic laws, the impressions in the unconscious memory agglomerate and join other impressions of similar nature, thus forming the so-called complexes and influencing the emotional state, thoughts and conceptions of life, up to determining character formation and individual personality.

These unconscious psychic contents re-emerge reinforced in consciousness, through the so-called returning vrittis, especially in moments when the ego is weakened, taken by surprise, fear or other strong emotions.

Thus the unconscious plays an extremely important part in our life. Our “I”, acting mainly on the rational basis, has very little force when compared to the unconscious and its titanic power.

Vedic literature explains that at the moment of death the spiritual being or atman transmigrates from one physical matrix to another (yoni) on board the subtle psychic body (sukshma sarira,) where innumerable unconscious impressions accumulated during the existence of the individual, are stored. These impressions determine not only the quality of the previous life, but also the destiny of the being, the nature of the next physical body and natural predispositions otherwise unexplainable, inborn talents or congenital psychopathologies. At the moment of birth, the deep mind looks nothing like a tabula rasa, rather like an encoding with innumerable recordings.

According to Vedanta vaishnava the different forms of psychic conditionings and sufferings deriving from this encoding (illnesses, anxieties, failures) are not inevitable. As a matter of fact neither physical nor mental body, constitute the real identity of the being, they are just instruments at the disposal of the self and not necessarily its cages. Through the Yoga science, the individual can learn how to make positive experiences in the world, managing to filter and select at his best the impressions before they reach the unconscious memory. Besides, it is possible to gradually recover all the psychic material lying in karmashaya and transform it in such a way that it could become propaedeutic to our evolutional progress, to the rediscovery of our deep identity, the comprehension of the fundamental laws of the psychophysical universe, the development of a harmonic relationship with ourselves, with others, with macrocosm and reality around us.


FOR MORE INFORMATION:

BHAKTIVEDANTA STUDY CENTRE

ACADEMY OF TRADITIONAL INDIAN SCIENCES

www.c-s-b.org/en

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1 It is precisely avyakta (non manifested).

2 The perception of directions in space is a function of the inner ear; sound is also perceived through a vibration of the space contained within the ear (see M. Piantelli, Lo hinduismo. Testi e dottrine, in Storia delle Religioni, ed. G. Filoramo, Editori Laterza, 1996).

3 Cfr. Michael Talbot, All is One, 1997.

4 Cfr. Bhagavadgita XIII.34: Descendant from Bharata, as the sun lights the universe all by itself, so the owner of the field [the atman] lights [with its conscience] the entire field [body]. Author’s translation.

5 The Spirit, the Absolute, supreme Reality (Paramatma), transcendent Truth (Paramtattva). The term Brahman is morphologically derived from the sanscrit root brih, meaning ‘to grow, to expand’, and it indicates the all-pervading spiritual essence, infinitely vast, without limits.

6 Isha Upanishad mantra V.

7 Cfr. Chandogya Upanishad VI.11.3.

8 Cfr. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad V.1.1: “[There are] that complete [Brahman] and this complete [jiva]; this complete [jiva] springs from that complete [Brahman]. Taking this complete [jiva] from that complete [Brahman], the complete stays [thus].”

9 Bhagavadgita XV.7.

10 Cfr. M. Talbot, All is one, 1997: I believe we have since time overcome, in particle physics, the concept of passive structure of the universe, I believe we are in a domain where the interaction of consciousness with the environment is verified on a primary scale and we are thus creating reality, under all the reasonable definitions this term can imply.

11 See Bhagavata Purana III.26.14.

12 See for example Watson's Behaviourism (in the chapter Contemporary Schools of Psychology and Their Contribution).

13 This subject will be further elaborated in the chapter Methods of Indian Psychology.

14 In this case the individual, completely identified with a distorted and partial vision on himself, unable to perceive anything else, is not even capable of realizing his own conditioning and the fragmentation of his own awareness. This state of consciousness is typical in the most serious mental conditions, like psychosis.

15 According to Bohm, consciousness constitutes a perfect example of undivided and flowing movment, the ebb and flow that cannot be clearly defined, but from which thoughts and ideas spring up to the surface. These products of the psyche are in a sense similar to the ripples or whirlpools produced in a running stream and, exactly like the whirling flow of a stream, some of them can repeat themselves and persist in a more or less constant way, while others are evanescent and disappear as quickly as they appeared. This tendency to crystallize in fixed and rigid patterns is also observed in the thought vortexes (ideas and opinions) which sometimes tend to become sclerotized in the consciousness.

16 It is interesting to note that in the Western tradition the term psychology originally meant ‘science of the soul’ (from the Greek psykhĂ© ‘soul’, related to psykho ‘breathe, blow’).

17Sattva-guna is the force which takes up; it implies ‘equilibrium, harmony, lightness, luminosity’. Rajoguna is the force working in expansion; it generates ‘dynamism, frenetic activity, creativity’. Tamo-guna is the force pulling down, it produces ‘inertia, lethargy, disorder’.