'Text-days' are for delving into the words and theory of Advaita Vedanta.
We are now studying Aatmabodha. As always, with each week, you are encouraged to review the previous teachings and spend some time in contemplation of the meanings as the affect your life. Please do consider purchasing the text. Remember, also, to recite the mangala charana before each study and review the lessons before each new one.
The thing about philosophy is that it must ensure its concepts are clearly understood and seen as applicable to daily life - else it risks being ignored and considered too esoteric. To a large extent, this has occurred in Western philosophical models; however Eastern philosophies are closely linked with spiritual pursuit and are therefore generally more accessible, more 'immediate', and have pertinence. This is one of the roles of Aatmaabodha; to bring to light the major tenets of Vedanta and display them in such a way that anyone from any walk of life can connect with them. It starts at the top. Big things cut down to bite-sized pieces. In doing this it also serves as a kind of 'advertisement' - a teaser for what is ahead to encourage new students; but it also is worth the re-reading by more advanced students, for retaining the basics is extremely important. … it is perhaps worth reminding readers here that keeping up the notebook will pay dividends! Now let us proceed as we explore the concept of Maya, the great illusion.
Naanopaadhi-vashaad-eva jaati-naama-aashrama-adayaH, aatman-yaaro-pitaastoye rasa-varna-adi-bhedavat ||11||
Because of Its association with different conditionings, the idea of caste, name, position and so on are superimposed upon the Aatman, just as flavour, colour and so on are superimposed on water.
Having learned about the substratum of existence which is given several names (here it is 'Aatman', the Universal Spirit), this shloka furthers the concept of superimposition, the creation of illusion, which we shall later learn is called as Maya. Whilst not given here directly, please take note of the following words as they will be referred to a lot;
raep /ropa = superimposition, specifically
AXyaraep/adhyaaropa = application of superimposition, or one might say, 'wrong attribution'.
Mostly during study of Vedanta, adhyaaropa is the word utilised, for we must remain constantly aware that we are wrongly attributing what we perceive as being 'real', when in fact it is unreal.
|` © Yamini Ali MacLean|
This is what this shloka is pointing out. The example give is that of water; of itself, water is colourless, odourless, tasteless. However, it can also absorb and present these qualities according to what it is filtered through. The filter might be the earth it travels through, which adds impurities to the basic, pure substance; or it might be that something is added to it deliberately - tea for instance; or it might be collected and placed in a bowl or a pond which is painted with bright orange patterns, thus to the casual looker the water appears orange, when in fact it remains pure but merely reflects its surroundings.
The environment in which the water finds itself, and the treatment it receives, are the conditionings with which it is associated to give it its 'character'. Likewise the jiiva, the individualised Aatman, takes on the appearance of its individuality due to the body in which it lives, the family, society, country of residence, the consequences of life experiences, the colouration of earlier lives, not recognised, but sometimes putting the individual at odds with their particular society's "norm" - and so it goes on.
The conditionings - or to use the Sanskrit**, the upaadhis - placed upon the Aatman are the entire physical world of objects. Within the human creature, such upaadhis are the body, the mental state, the resultant cultural, societal conditions etc.
Aashrama refers to life stages (position); there are four. Brahmachaarya is childhood and youth and roughly covers ages 0 - 24. GRhastha is 'householder'; that most active time when marriage, home, children, work are being established and solidified and, traditionally, covered another 24 years. Vaanaprastha is 'retirement', but not in the fullest sense; rather it is that period where the gRhastha might expect to hand over the reins of duty and work to the younger generation, allowing for a withdrawal into artistic and spiritual saadhana; this again is around 24 years - up to age 70-ish. Finally comes Sannyaasa, renunciation; assuming sufficient longevity, the individual now completely withdraws from regular life and focuses entirely upon the spiritual goal of moksha - traditionally, the person would leave the home and find a forest abode in which to meditate.
Those who feel a very strong call in brahmacharya, may, at the agreement of their parents and approval of their aachaarya/Guru, take the 'shortcut' to sannyaasa by devoting their entire life to the study of scriptures and the actions of a renunciate. It is not the same as priesthood - indeed the priests of Hinduism (the Pundits) tend to be of the high social class and can be very attached to worldly things. The Pundits come only from the Brahmin caste.
Jati is a less-used term for the nature of who we are. The 'caste system' of India as it exists is, in fact, a vile corruption of the original intention of the shaastra to describe the nature of mankind. The origin of it is the Purusha Suktam, wherein the Universal Man is described and an explanation is given of why some folk are better suited to certain tasks in life. The truth of the matter is that within one family, indeed within any single individual, all four 'varnas' may exist, but one and occasionally two may be dominant. Varna more accurately is translated as 'colour'; it refers to the 'colour of personality'. To be Brahmin is to have strong intellectual ability and artistic temperament (Yeshu might have been considered Brahmin); Kshatriiya-s are more inclined to strategy and management (Sri Rama would have been considered Kshatriiya); Vaishya-s are the key workers of the community, carrying out commerce, farming, manufacture and so on (Mahatma Gandhi was Vaishya); Shudra-s are the labourers of society, for every community requires its builders, cleaners, garbage collectors and so forth (an example of a great leader who might be classed as Shudra is Lech Walesa, who was a mechanic and electrician before taking up political life).
Naama is, as it sounds, 'name' and is used in the context also of 'fame'; all too readily we can fall into ego-brushing according to obtaining recognition.
The point made in the shloka is that all of these are nothing but 'taints' upon the purity of Aatman, resulting from the upaadhis. What is lost sight of is that the Aatman resides in us all; it is a single thing and not many things. The example which Gurudev (and now many swamis) use is that of electricity. The power flows through many different devices - bulbs can be many different colours, fans different shapes, cookers different sizes - but it is never any of these things. It ever remains electricity. None of the devices is anything without that power to enliven them. So it is with the Aatman within us; it is the source of our very existence.
...what then are these upaadhis, how did they come about?
**please note again, whilst learning Sanskrit as such is not at all an imperative for study of Vedantic philosophy, like any technical subject, there are key words and phrases which are best understood in their original context and are therefore worth the memorising.