H.G. Matsyavatar Das

Monday, 8 June 2009


By Matsya Avatara Dasa

From the Introduction of the book:


When starting any type of journey we need to get the adequate equipment so that the journey will be as comfortable as possible and we will also have some basic guarantee that we will eventually be able to attain our desired goal. This also applies to the journey towards self-realization, but in this case the equipment is very special. In fact the spiritual researcher does not venture into the exploration of the external world but into the inner universe, and in order to proceed safely and successfully, he needs to develop all the noblest and most elevated qualities of his personality, many of which lie in a dormant state.

Thus the principles we will explain are not simply to be considered on the theoretical platform, but they need to be demonstrated in practical everyday life. What we are going to discuss is not a scholarly and academic elaboration but a concrete and real search, because only consistency between theoretical assumptions and practical application can bring a quick evolutionary process. This process offers innumerable benefits: on the metaphysical level it facilitates the understanding of truths that would otherwise remain dogmatic or only accessible from the nominal point of view; on the intellectual platform it creates the manifestation of discernment between what is good and what is bad. This discernment enables us to avoid many obstacles and sufferings that are often generated also in circumstances that appear very ordinary. On the mental platform one attains that serenity that, as explained by Krishna in Bhagavad-gita1, cannot be separated from the journey of self-realization, and finally on the physical platform, the body gets the benefits of health and well-being.

If the dangers we will have to face were indicated by a clearly visible luminous sign it would be easy to avoid them, but the great dangers of life are not advertised in this way. However, these signals appear on other channels to those who possess the qualities we are going to study. Such virtues should be therefore studied and developed not in order to increase our ego but to become mature, solid and consistent persons that can offer help and a good example to themselves and to many others.

We should be able to measure someone's maturity or immaturity according to objective parameters; thus the evaluation of a particular individual should not be determined by personal liking or disliking, but by the presence or absence of specific qualities.

The virtues that we are going to consider are twenty-six in number, and they are mentioned and explained in several parts of Vedic literature; in this context I will utilize mainly two extremely prestigious texts: one, universally recognized for its authoritativeness, is Bhagavad-gita2, the other, equally authoritative within the Gaudiya Vaishnava3 tradition, is Caitanya-Caritamrita4.

Because of their greatness and majesty these two texts have been able, in the course of the centuries, to shape the life of a great number of individuals and they place the teaching of the twenty-six qualities within a wider elaboration on the subject of perfection, so that perfection will be not considered as something abstract, theoretical and utopistic, but will be substantiated so that it can be concretely perceived through such virtues. As true mind scientists, veritable psychologists and sociologists, the special authors of such works did not stop at beautiful but abstract philosophical speculation, they have connected these qualities, veritable jewels of a character, to precise behaviors, because values that are not practiced cannot be worth much, they do not produce effects and they evaporate like snow in the sunshine.

Gita and Caitanya Caritamrita, the texts examining the virtues we are going to study, are known as religious scriptures that support and canonize a system of values contained in a particular tradition; this however does not mean that their value is merely religious, because their psychological and sociological value, too, is undoubtedly great.

Those who want to keep a clear-cut separation between science and religion are victims of a prejudiced vision that has taken roots in the western tradition, but unexpectedly help has come from quantum physics itself, a very pragmatic branch of knowledge that confirmed that a scientist's vision of the world is not different from a mystic's.

The value of texts such as the Puranas, Vedas, Upanishads, and Brahamanas is extraordinary, not simply from the merely theological-ritualistic point of view, but also because they offer a system of values that enables us to organize our lives in a happy, healthy, consistent and harmonious way.

What do the great texts of Tradition tell us? That we are happy, vigorous, intelligent, creative and willing to live when the microcosm of our body is in harmony with the macrocosm. There is no difference between systems of different size because there are laws of a supreme order, a system of values that relate and connect everything that exists. The same laws that govern the orbits of planets and galaxies also apply to the growth of a blade of grass or a cell, to the communication between synapses, to the development of neurons, to the division of the cell by which the fetus gradually develops. Inspired, constant research, determined to get into harmony with these laws, shapes intelligence that takes us to self-healing, capable of solving problems that otherwise would be delegated to pharmaceutical industry with scarce success.

It has now been scientifically proven that serene and inspired persons, who are dedicated to things they believe in, remarkably improve the level of their immune system. On the other hand when we are depressed, sad, filled with resentment, jealousy and envy, we cause a drop in our immune system.

We need to realize the importance of living happily in the company of persons who practice virtues and believe in them. We must be interested in values that have universal scope, accepted by Catholicism, Buddhism or any other system that contemplates a rise in consciousness and self-realization. Of course we will also include the secular systems because there are no more barricades between religion and social life. It is absurd to think that values can only be contained within so-called religious currents: even if it is clear that the priority of religious life is precisely the application of such values, many non-religious persons also welcome and practice them. Cleanliness, truthfulness, compassion, generosity, sobriety and ecology are not just religious but rather universal values.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Federation of the Indian Republics at the University of Milan, I have stated that it was the Vedas themselves that supported India's independence from the British Administration. It was a special feeling to speak about Vedic civilization in those places that, in 1968, witnessed hot, vehement, and sometimes violent protest affirming values that society did not accept.

Specifically, the values mentioned and explained in the Vedas have enabled the constitution of States within a society with so many languages, races, ethnic groups and religions.

A student-professor was commenting how people are in the grip of prejudice in relation to whatever is different, and I said that such prejudice is generated by fear, because one who carries prejudice is weak and fragile by definition; an authoritarian person is weak, and this is why he needs to use force to impose himself, while one who controls his senses and has inner strength is not authoritarian but authoritative, he is not angry but serene. No matter what comes before him, he finds the correct key for its interpretation and answers adequately to the stimulation that derives from it.

What is different scares us because it jeopardizes our certainties and some clich├ęs we have grown accustomed to. Fear generates hostility. This is why "different" people such as Jesus, Socrates, or in more recent times Martin Luther King, have been murdered. This makes us understand that the intention of affirming a universal system of values must be based on a commonly known language that should not be too exotic, exoteric or mysterious, because this would create suspicions, fears and persecution mania. We need to relate to others as if in a pleasurable game, so that prejudice will automatically fall away.

Everyone needs a model for their own development; without a model we cannot achieve anything. As long as he had Seneca to look up to, Nero was not the madman described by history. He became crazy when he changed his model, taking his inspiration from Tigellinus.

For a spiritual researcher, an excellent model is one who has complete control over passions and impulses, or vegam. Vegam means "impulse", or a discharge of energy. In a person who is afflicted by manic syndromes, the "discharges" he feels contain a great energy, but immediately afterwards he falls into a state of depression. This is typical of the dystics, those who have a two-phase behavior: in the first stage there is courage, strength, brilliance, wit, humor and a typically manic frenzy, but because this manifestation of energy is not based on reality, it is followed by a vertical fall into depression, the good mood disappears and euphoria gives way to disappointment. Then melancholy steps in, and in the most serious phases it contains even suicidal ideas, or a dark vision that affects the surrounding people, too.

Speaking of virtue implies referring to very precise and real models that are certainly not utopistic. Today like in ancient times, these qualities can be developed by the modern sages. These values are beyond time and space, they are eternal... do you want evidence? The fact they have been experienced by traditions that did not know each other, and by persons who lived at the opposite ends of the planet, who have expressed the very same realizations.

First of all, the twenty-six qualities or virtues must been explained and shown not as abstractions, but as the fruit of a series of coordinated and conscientious efforts. They are real wealth, much more valuable than any material asset that attract thieves, tax officers, false friends, and feed pernicious desires aggravating the attachment to mundane life, that makes leaving the body even more painful. The assets constituted by virtues, on the contrary, are not lost with the body. Even recent discoveries on DNA confirm this reality and determine the environment, including the psychological environment that a being finds in his next birth.

Thus we can reveal the mystery, the enigma of why there are so many other species besides the humans; it is really conceivable that chicken only exist to be roasted and eaten? Or that lambs exist to be slaughtered at Easter? This kind of idea is pure folly. Actually all these life forms search for perfection, but their nervous system is not completely developed to harmonize with the universe. This is a fascinating subject that should deserve adequate exploration. Man is racing madly after super-technology, artificial intelligence, and certainly he deserves the credit for extraordinary discoveries, but during this search he has often forgotten the inner world, becoming alienated and confused, losing the awareness of ourselves, of the world and of life.

Attaining our goal requires a constant attention, but if we begin this journey with the proper attitude it will be enthusing and give us such satisfaction and benefits that we will feel their effects for the rest of our life. Spiritual teachings that are luminous and potentially accessible to everyone will be understood and applied by each person as much as the evolutionary level of each individual will allow. In any case, no matter from which level he starts, if the spiritual researcher is sincere and dedicated, he will be able to gradually attain perfection with patience and determination, under the guidance of a genuine Master, an acarya. Acarya is a significant term in the Tradition we are talking about: it comes from the Sanskrit acara, ‘proper behavior’, and indicates a person whose behavior is immaculate and consistent with what he teaches in words. In fact teachings become effective as much as the person that transmits them is the first to apply them in his own life. In the long run, mere theoretical teachings become boring, sometimes impossible to understand, and incapable of producing fruits. On the other hand, one who respects some principles and applies them in his own life he will be able to transmit them effectively even without enunciating them verbally, because example is much more powerful than precept.

Shri Krishna Caitanya Mahaprabhu5 summarized this concept as follows: “Some behave well but do not teach, others teach but do not behave well. Perfection consists in both teaching and behaving well”.

In any environment such knowledge is constantly and practically useful: when we acquire the proper know-how we can become conscious of the atmosphere we find in an office, in a family, in a factory, in a church. We can immediately understand which psychological type our interlocutor is, but above all, these twenty-six qualities we are going to study are an exceptionally effective parameter to measure and evaluate ourselves.

This evaluation is meant to understand our shortcomings, because only by understanding them we can add what we lack, in the language of modern psychology, we can integrate our personality.

Only by understanding which qualities we should develop most we can prepare a serious work on ourselves: this is why the acquisition of knowledge is a primary factor. By analyzing these virtues everyone will be able to examine himself and discover where the deepest shortcomings lie and also where the picture looks encouraging. We will understand why in the course of the millennia the great Vedic sages, the great Masters, have explained that such qualities are characteristic of the people of a divine nature, while those who are devoid of them are characterized as darkened, dull people who generate sufferings for themselves and for all those who stay around them; sometimes even for entire communities or nations.

Behind each virtue we can get a glimpse of a world, a dimension where we need to enter to acquire that particular quality. Mere remembrance is not sufficient, what we need to do is to practice that quality, live it and integrate it in our behavior, in our intra-psychic and inter-psychic dynamics.

We can compare an individual to a tree: a burning tree risks propagating the fire to an entire forest, and similarly a burning individual risks spreading the fire to a family, a community, a project. Luckily, also the contrary is true: a strong and sweetly scented tree can expand its fragrance in all the forest, and a healthy, stable and virtuous individual can do the same thing.

The virtues of which we will discuss are the basis of all types of relationships in society as in spiritual life, in economics, in family and sentiments; they enrich life for anyone, in any circumstance. Maybe they cannot be applied simultaneously, all the twenty-six of them, but the more the awareness grows, the wider the application field becomes. Practice is very helpful: we start maybe by applying one quality only, then by a chain reaction the others will gradually manifest, too, and we can joyfully experience that they come one by one, sometimes in couples, of by the threes... and sometimes, in moments of confusion, all the twenty-six disappear.

Practice is perfected by constantly living in the company of these twenty-six qualities that can become a garland of sweet scented flowers we can always carry with us.

Caitanya Mahaprabhu indicated these virtues to one of his important disciples, Sanatana Gosvami, and also in Bhagavad-gita, at the beginning of the sixteenth chapter, we find a list of twenty-six virtues that is very similar. By comparing the two lists we find that any difference is only a variation of rasa6, or taste, emotion, sentiment.

We will introduce the subject with a description of the twenty-six qualities by Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura7: “Like twenty-six pearls or sweet-scented flowers, they constitute a necklace representing the character of a practically perfect person. The state of perfection is characterized by the presence of these twenty-six qualities”.

In the Scriptures the perfect, evolved, liberated beings such as great sages and saints are sometimes described with some of such virtues and sometimes with others, but when we make a careful analysis of their character we find that all twenty-six are present. Such virtues are certainly an attainment, not a starting point. By knowing them we become able to make an assessment of our life, to understand who we are, where we are, and in which direction we are walking.

It is rare for an individual to be able to make a deep and honest analysis of oneself, and this is why the spiritual Master is necessary. TModern men are more and more inclined towards psycho-therapists and analysts that often are not even aware of the spiritual reality of the soul, and therefore they only analyze on the basis of temporary characteristics. Within Tradition such analysis is made by the guru, who is able to see the shortcomings in a personality and proposes a therapy by engaging the disciple in devotional service, which leads to catharsis and purification8.

We cannot heal by ourselves alone; today we live in the "do it yourself" age and the figure of the Master has become obsolete, rejected by the majority of people. Individuals are left to themselves, everyone is master of himself and the effects are under our eyes: violence spreads, phobias and panic attacks are more and more frequent, and depression is now the fourth more common disease in the world. The "do it yourself" mentality is therefore an illusion, but when we have understood this fact it is not sufficient for us to passively cling to a Master. One who wants to have the guidance of a spiritual Master must activate himself and serve in his mission; this has been true for millennia and the sacred Texts offer dozens of examples.

We need a dynamic approach, the deliberation of submitting ourselves to the cure, a therapeutic pact in which Master and disciple take a role and respect it.

Krishna explains in Bhagavad-gita: “Go to a Master who possesses this knowledge, be humble, ask him questions and serve him”9.

Service and humility psychologically prepare us to understanding, in fact if our state of mind is not appropriate we will not be able to perceive the answers, no matter how deeply wise they can be.

The Masters can offer knowledge because they have realized it; one can only give what he has. Thus, by following the teachings of an enlightened person, gradually the anarthas crumble away and give way to virtues. In this way trust turns into faith and becomes deeply structured in the heart, because theoretical knowledge is united with practice that confirms the teachings. By seeing persons who have become healed,our faith in the therapy grows and we understand that the method is working. However, the cure must be administered adequately and the two parts, Master and disciple, must interact harmoniously.

In the West there is a widespread prejudice in regard to spiritual masters, because people still suffer from the dichotomy of religion-secularism. In the Vedas this does not exist because the rishis10

were at the same time secular and religious, they did not deny the central position of the spirit or the peripheral importance of material creation. The stimulation to approach the world of the spirit should not be accompanied by a denial or denigration of the world.

Virtue, ethics, is a spiritual factor that can be manifested in the world through morals, through a series of behaviors that are based on ethical principles. The most genuine part of each religion in fact manifests as a concrete behavior in the world.

The Illuminists' protest was against an abstract religiosity only showing a practical result in privileges and a monopoly of power; it did not oppose spirit in itself, but the way it was expressed in daily life. The determination of the liberal state to express values different from the confessional states was a legitimate freedom of expressing one's own spirituality that was called in a different way only as a reaction. Some anarchists have shown great virtues in their lives; they were just protesting against a corrupt religious world, but they opposed an evil by generating a situation that later degenerated into evil itself.

Often the West moves between these extreme opposites, as it was brilliantly explained by Heraclitus with the principle of enantiodromy11;

even Plato speaks about it when he states that after a period of anarchy a tyrant comes, then after a while he is felled and anarchy returns. The Puranas state that such contrasts keep increasing in Kali-yuga12. However, the sun is neither western nor eastern and virtues are of a spiritual nature, whether they are lived by Mazzini or St. Anthony. Nobody should think he is the sole repository of these virtues; fundamentalism originates from a monotheism that cultivates the idea of being the chosen people, the sole repository of the truth, but the truth that pervades the entire universe is inscribed into the hearts of all men.

1 Bg. II.66.

2 Literally, ‘Bhagavan's song’. It is a text belonging to the VI book of the Mahabharata epic, considered the Gospel of the Hindus, the most famous Sanskrit work in the world, and its authoritativeness is recognized by all the Schools of thought belonging to the vast Indo-Vedic tradition. In his commentary to Bhagavad-gita, Shankara Acarya calls it "a collection of the quintessence of the meaning of the entire Veda". It highlights the figure of Krishna, the hero God, who reveals the science of spiritual realization to prince Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.

3 School founded by Shri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, based on the doctrine known as acintya bheda-abheda tattva, that explains how God and the souls or jivas are non-different from the qualitative point of view but different on the level ot shaktis or powers. The word Gaudiya comes from the Sanskrit Gauda, indicating the district of Gaur, the central area of Bengal, from where Caitanyadeva started to spread His teachings.

4 The most famous and important biography of Caitanya Mahaprabhu (1486-1534), compiled by Krishnadas Kaviraja Gosvami, who could hear the earthly lilas of the Lord from the mouth of his own Master, Raghunatha Gosvami, one of the six Gosvamis of Vrindavana, direct disciple of Caitanya Mahaprabhu.

5 (1486-1534). Founder of the Gaudiya-vaishnava School, He was considered a manifestation of Vishnu-Krishna and venerated as such. His preaching gave Hinduism a new orientation and the culture of Bengal an impulse that would never fade away. In line with the Bhagavata literature and with the previous vaishnava acaryas, Caitanya offered a faith pervaded by the personalist vision of the Absolute, to whom the devotee offers service and devotion, thus becoming free from the cycle of the samsara and attaining the highest goal of existence, love for God (prema bhakti). His teachings were the foundation of the thought system known as Acintya-bhedabheda-tattva.

6Literally, 'taste, aroma, flavor, sentiment, emotion'. Spiritual sentiments that constantly and reciprocally flow between God and His devotee. Rupa Gosvami's Bhaktirasamrtasindhu (II.32-33) explains in details twelve main rasas, of which the following five are the most famous: contemplation (shanta-rasa), service (dasya-rasa), friendship (sakhya-rasa), parental relationship (vatsalya-rasa) and romantic relationship (madhurya-rasa).

7 (1838-1914): acarya of the Gaudiya-vaishnava tradition, magistrate, theologian, poet and prolific author of works on bhakti.

8 Those who are interested in a deep study on the relationship Guru-disciple can avail the text on this subject, or the text on Traditional Indian Pedagogy, both published by CSB; please contact the Secretary.

9 Bg. IV.34.

10 Great sages, poets who compiled the Vedic literature. There are three different categories of 'seers': rajarishis, saintly kings, brahmarishis, wise brahmans and devarishis, devas that are distinguished due their saintliness and wisdom.

11 A psychological law enunciated by Heraclitus, according to which everything is transformed into its opposite.

12 The last of the four cosmic ages that cyclically follow each other and characterize the transformation. Traditionally it began in 3102 B.C., with the disappearance of Bhagavan Shri Krishna from Earth, where it is compared to the winter season for its aspects of dullness and degradation. In fact this period is characterized by the prevalence of hatred and quarrel (the world kali literally means ‘quarrel’), the increasing denial of the dharmic principles and the decreasing psycho-physical and intellectual resources of the human beings, that become less and less capable of conceptualizing, memorizing, understanding and especially living the teachings on the metaphysical realities. The total duration of the Kali yuga is of 1.200 heavenly years, equivalent to 432.000 earthly years.

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