'Text-days' are for delving into the words and theory of Advaita Vedanta
FIVE VERSES ON SPIRITUAL PRACTICE. Written by Sri Adi Shankaraachaarya. This text is also known as Upadesh Panchakam (five verses on 'drawing near') and as Sopaana Panchakam. As mentioned last week, sopaana means steps. This can be elaborated in Sanskrit as सोपाना-रोहण ज्ञायः/sopaana arohana jnaayaH… steps for climbing by comparison - meaning a measure to compare ourselves and our improvements. Have you not stopped on a steep climb from time to time to see how the view is from that point, comparing it with other earlier views and pondering on what is yet to come? In case you are wondering, also, why so much Sanskrit is included here; firstly because that is the source language of the teachings. Argument enough, but also because, as with any technical subject, there is certain terminology which is unavoidable. Once we know that 'kettle' is the enclosed pot in the kitchen room with which we can boil water, we no longer require the long explanation. We simply adopt use of the word 'kettle', knowing full well what it is, where to find it and how it relates to other pots.
In live study-group situation, open discussion of each point and examples from each participant's practices would be given. What is written in these posts is not the defining speech… these points are constantly to be pondered upon and used as our 'hanger', that which keeps our practice in shape. We are given saadhana to take up between classes/posts so that we may begin to experience the physical and mental effects of the theory of vedanta. Do not miss your opportunity. Take up the saadhana, use the comments box to interact and if you wish personal guidance, email Yamini-amma.
Full introduction and first shloka were given last week, along with some discussion of first paada. If you have not already done so, please review that post before proceeding.
The second paada of Saadhana Panchakam (SP) asks us to perform diligently the duties assigned to us from the veda-s. At this point and for this audience, these 'duties' will not be addressed here. What is important is that, in your daily readings, something is learned which you feel opens your heart and mind and helps you in your daily activities. Your saadhana last week was to begin at the beginning, per SP, and select each day a passage from your chosen scripture. Whether bible, koran, torah, dhammapada… all will hold wisdom and parable and injunctions upon which we might ponder and then utilise. This is the application clause! (See 'workings-days'.)
It seems almost pedantic to point it out but it is a fact that when it comes to anything which resembles 'tonic', many of us are averse and become procrastinators extraordinaire. Be clear. Simply reading the label on the medicine bottle will NOT make you better.
Similarly, just reading the text is not going to improve you; and whilst contemplation and reflection upon the themes are of benefit, the honest-to-goodness proof are the results which can only come from carrying out the experiment for ourselves. There must be dynamic involvement with the concepts. Whichever of the scriptures you have picked up, somewhere in all of them are the basic principles of right living, be that exercising temperate behaviour, controlled mind and deeds and such like.
As with paada one, this is not a difficult idea to comprehend. Putting it into action may prove more of a challenge because, woe is me, this may mean surrendering to some rules and discipline.
In the third paada the instruction is to dedicate all action in a worshipful manner. Assuming we are managing the first two instructions well enough, we will reach a stage where we are able to make every action a reverent one. At the most advanced level this means we understand that every breath we take should carry a devotional molecule, every movement should be under our control and every thought is for reaching the Higher. That is an ideal. There are those who live it, but we cannot all be cloistered nuns or mountain-dwelling sadhus. In a daily life of transaction and distraction, our efforts must be towards minimising the impact of the baser elements that life throws up and seek to dedicate all that we say and do to that Higher Element. This requires of us that we sublimate our egotistical selves. Even we if we do not subscribe to "God", there is surely a value of living which all would recognise as the ultimate perfection of humanity. Reaching for that still requires humility and devotion to cause. There is no room for the ego me in the search for the True I. Dedicating an action to the higher brings out the beauty of us and manifests as beauty in our work. (A Christian reference which may appeal to some readers is Practice of the Presence of God (pdf downloadable, .mobi available and audio also). Brother Lawrence understood the efficacy of humility and 'resignation' (surrender) and this short book is worth perusing.)
Offering all our actions, even if that is stapling pages, to the altar of the higher, acknowledging that without that 'energy' the action could not take place, is one of the best ways of correcting ourselves and learning to focus inwardly.
Paada four asks us to renounce all mental desires. Desire is based in the mind only. The items on which you set your sights have no intrinsic value; only that which you place upon it. Desire is the seed which germinates the thoughts of "I want...I need…" Once the thought has formed our senses become engaged and agitate us further. This is called extroversion of the mind and such a mind is unavailable for deep study and analysis of the scriptural concepts which present themselves.
This is the point where the student after years, perhaps, of studying a passage feels nothing has changed, they are no further up the spiritual ladder. They have kept letting the mind throw itself outside. They become disillusioned and then cast around for an easier route to salvation. They can fall prey to those nefarious sorts who offer realisation at the press of a finger and a few hundred paisa, the 'new' churches with misguided values and money at their heart.
If you want a job doing well, do it yourself.
Supplant all external desires with the internal desire for raising yourself to the highest level of being. Whether it be of Divinity or Humanity. Play with all the lesser desires, but recognise them for what they are - apply viveka and vairagya and return always to the true purpose.
Continue each day to read from a text. Notice how often your mind permits itself to become distracted. Play a game with yourself and keep a record of how many times you have to rein it in!
Each day make one action which you regularly perform a dedicated action. In the Hindu household there are prayers for everything and at some point we shall look at these; but for now (and for non-Hindus), take, say, the eating of meals. It is a common thing across the world to give thanks for food - at least it was. This does not have to be formal grace; it ought, though, to have 'heart' and genuine gratitude for being able to eat and sustain the body.
If you can do this for other actions throughout the day all good and well! Share your experiences through the comments box.