Tag Archives: knowledge

Four basic concepts at the core of Indian spirituality, Mircea Eliade


Yoga: Immortality and freedom by Mircea Eliade

An insightful passage  from Mircea Eliade, in the ‘Point of departure’ of his book Yoga, Immortality and freedom.

He explains in this introductory passage how any historical study of Indian philosophy has to discuss these four basic concepts and explain their relationship. Obviously, the various systems of Indian philosophy (Samkhya, Yoga, Vedanta, etc.) and we might also include here the Buddhist traditions, will differ on the definition they give to the concept of Nirvana or Moksa, absolute freedom. That will have consequences on the Yoga, the ways or techniques which have necessarily to be in keeping with the ultimate goal to be reached. Eliade ends by emphasizing that the pursuit of truth by the Indian sage is for achieving liberation or freedom from the limitations of human condition, which distinguishes him from a western philosopher.

Four basic and interdependent concepts, four “kinetic ideas,” bring us directly to the core of Indian spirituality, They are karma, maya, nirvana, and yoga. A coherent history of Indian thought could he written starting from any one of these basic concepts; the other three would inevitably have to be discussed. In terms of Westem philosophy, we can say that, from the post-Vedic period on, India has above all sought to understand:

(1 ) The law of universal causality, which connects man with the cosmos and condemns him to transmigrate indefinitely. This is the law of karma.

(2) The mysterious process that engenders and maintains the cosmos and, in so doing, makes possible the “eternal return” of existences, This is maya, cosmic illusion, endured (even worse- accorded validity) by man as long as he is blinded by ignorance (avidya).

(3) Absolute reality, “situated” somewhere beyond the cosmic illusion woven by maya and beyond human experience as conditioned by karma: pure Being. the Absolute, by whatever name it may be caIled—the Self (atman), brahman, the unconditioned, the transcendent, the immortal, the indestructible, nirvana, etc.

(4) The means of attaining to Being, the effectual techniques for gaining liberation. This corpus of means constitutes Yoga properly speaking.

With these four concepts in mind, we can understand how the fundamental problem of all philosophy, the search for truth, presents itself to Indian thought. For India, truth is not precious in itself; it becomes precious by virtue of its soteriological function, because knowledge of truth helps man to liberate himself. It is not the possession of truth that is the supreme end of the Indian sage; it is liberation, the conquest of absolute freedom. The sacrifices that the European philosopher is prepared to make to attain truth in and for itself: sacrifice of religious faith, of worldly ambitions, of wealth, personal freedom, and even life—to these the Indian sage consents only in order to conquer liberation. To “free oneself” is equivalent to forcing another plane of existence, to appropriating another mode of being transcending the human condition. This is as much as to say that, for India, not only is metaphysical knowledge translated into terms of rupture and death (“breaking” the human  condition, one “dies” to all that was human); it necessarily implies a consequence of mystical nature: rebirth to a non conditioned mode of being. And this is liberation, absolute freedom.


Sun & clarity of thinking: the Gayatri

Lever de soleil sur la terre-Nasa

Sun rise on Earth- Photo NASA

ॐ भूर्भुवः स्वः तत्सवितुर्वरेण्यम्‌

भर्गो देवस्य धीमहि धियो यो नः प्रचोदयात्‌।

om bhūrbhuvaḥ svaḥ tatsaviturvareṇyam

bhargo devasya dhīmahi dhiyo yo naḥ pracodayāt |

Om, the cause of everything, the earth,

the space in between and the worlds above.

That (Lord) is the one who is the most worshipful.

We invoke that effulgent, all knowing (Lord).

May (the Lord) set our minds in the right direction.

I could pray for anything, power, fame, money, job, house, etc. O Lord, give me this, and this, and this…This would be endless and changing all the time. It is fine and we can pray for all these. But is there any prayer which would be more fundamental, that would encompass everything? One thing I can ask for that would take me all the way? Yes, it is prayer for clarity of thinking. Why?

Because life consists of situations we have to face. In every situation of my life, I have to make decisions. Life is thus nothing but a series of decisions. With reference to my desires and actions, what to pursue and what to leave aside? What should be my priorities? What is the basis of my choices? Sometimes things are not so clear, there are grey areas and I can get confused. With reference to results of actions/situations, how to know the difference between the situations where I can bring a change, using my will and effort, and the situations I cannot change and have to accept, or simply learn from?

One of the meanings of Gayatri mantra is therefore: ‘May the Lord brighten our minds and make us think properly; may we have clarity of thinking, may You help us come out of our confusion and subjectivity, so we can make proper decisions in our lives.’ Once one has that clarity, that objectivity, one can live life fully, in an effective and intelligent manner.

Word to word meaning (by Swami Dayananda Saraswati):

Om The name of the Lord, the one who sustains, protects this world and is a source of all blessings.

bhūrbhuvaḥ svaḥ what is this Om ? It is manifest in the form of everything. Om is bhū, the earth, Om is bhuvaḥ, above the earth and Om is svaḥ , all what is beyond the scope of our perception, whatever is unknown to us.

The Lord is in the form of all these three worlds; Om sustains, pervades, and permeates everything. Nothing in the universe is separate from the Lord. All that is here is the Lord.

dhīmahi – we pray to, invoke. The prayer is in the first person plural. Why? Because our well being as individuals depends upon the well being of others. So this prayer includes all people around us.

tat vareṇyam – That Om, tat, who is vareṇyam , the most worshipful, the one to be invoked, whose blessing is to be sought

devasya savitu devasya, an effulgent being, like the shining sun, savitu, which is free from darkness (ignorance), and is thus all knowing.

We can also say devasya , the effulgent being who is in the form of savituh, the sun. The sun stands for the solar system and by extension to all galaxies, stars, quasars, black holes, etc., the entire cosmos.

ya bharganaḥ dhiya pracodayāt ya bharga, the one who is resplendent, who burns darkness, confusion and ignorance – pracodayāt, may this Lord brighten, set in proper direction – naḥ dhiya, our minds

Notes :

Gayatri has other deeper meanings which open up when one begins to study the Upanishads and the Gita. I mentioned briefly a few of them in the word by word meaning. The nature of the Lord who is invoked is quietly introduced in the first part of the prayer. As we saw, all that is here is manifestation of all knowledge and all power which is the cause of the universe.

The word vareṇyam also means that the Lord must be chosen by you, chosen to be known by you. The truth is that Isvara is me and that equation, I have to choose to understand. The prayer then becomes a prayer for knowledge, for gaining clarity in understanding this oneness. ‘Let me dwell upon, contemplate upon the nature of Isvara, the cause of the universe and myself. Let me see clearly the essential non difference between Isvara and me, like  wave (the individual) and ocean (Isvara) are nothing but water (limitless consciousness and existence).’

Know more with two articles in this blog:

[1] The cosmological way of relating to the sun-Brian Swimme

[2] Modern cosmology & Vedanta – Does the universe have a beginning?

Some links to Vedanta, Being alive to what is

[1] The equation ‘You are that’, the cause of the universe

[2] The equation ‘You are that’, the nature of ‘that’

[3] Article in pdf format, The vedic vision of God

[4] Two Articles in pdf format, Bringing Isvara into your life, Bonding with Isvara

[5] Maturity & Knowledge, The individual and the total