Tag Archives: arthur-avalon

Reconciling Samkhya, Vedanta and Tantra

In The Life Divine, there is a chapter entitled “Brahman, Ishwara, Purusha – Maya, Prakriti, Shakti“.  According to the editing notes, this chapter was inserted by Sri Aurobindo as part of a revision of The Life Divine completed in 1940 [1].   The purpose of this chapter is to reconcile three different views of the Universe proposed by the philosophies of Samkhya, Vedanta and Tantra.  This intent may not be immediately apparent to those not well-versed in Indian metaphysics, because the word “Samkhya” is explicitly used only twice in this chapter while the terms “Vedanta” and “Tantra” never occur.  This article is a light contextual introduction to this chapter.

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Pancha-mahabhutas: the five subtle constituents of matter

If everything is consciousness (Brahman), then how does this conscious energy put on the appearance of material solidity.  Why does the table appear solid?  In order to bridge the gulf between consciousness and apparently durable matter, ancient Indian sages postulated (or “divined”) that all physical things are constituted of five subtle elements  called Pancha-Mahabhutas – earth, fire, water, air, ether.  These are not the elements known in the conventional sense (e.g. “water” does not imply the water, and “earth” does not mean soil) but are actually subtle conditions which together create the perception of forms which can be sensed by the human mind.  The actual names of these five elements are Akasha (ether), Vayu(aeriality), Agni(fire), Apas(liquidity) and Prithvi(compaction).  The descriptions of these five constituents are quite similar across Sankhya, Tantra and Buddhist philosophy and even Greek Stoic texts.  Furthermore, as I point out later in this article, what is amusing is that these five elements were codified, probably inadvertently, in the Vishnu iconography seen in Indian temples!

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Why does Yoga give you a “high”?

Many methods of Yoga have been developed in the Upanishads and other scriptures – Raja Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Mantra Yoga and what not.  Why do they work?  What is the physiological basis for the “high” you get through meditation?   This is a brief exploration of this topic.

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The spiritual aptitude (adhikara) needed for Yoga

As with every undertaking in life, so also in the practice of Yoga, some aptitude or competency is required.  Some people take to meditation like fish to water, while others labor all their life to unveil the light which lies latent within.   Aptitude can be developed through right living and right thinking and is carried over into future incarnations, guiding us into contact with saints and Yogis who can lead us to enlightenment.  The Guru adapts his teaching based on the aptitude of the disciple since all are not capable of assimilating and realizing the Truth in identical manner.   This is also the reason why different kinds of meditation techniques have developed over time.  These are some selections on the subject of aptitude from various sages.

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PanchaTattva Dharana : contemplation on the five elements

This post supplements a previous post  Videha Dharana : fixing the mind outside the body, which discussed a method called Videha Dharana as per  Sri Anirvan.   The method is drawn from the Upanishads and can also be called PanchaTattva Dharana or contemplation on the five (pancha) elements (tattva) – namely earth, water, air, fire, ether.   There is a similar technique in the Tantra texts called Bhuta-Shuddhi which is also outlined  here.

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The purpose of idolatry and its limitations

We are all idol-worshippers.  We worship actors, sportsmen, thinkers and – when we are feeling proud – even ourselves!   Our subconscious desire is to mold ourselves in the image of our idols.   The Hindu practice of idolatry directs this urge to spiritual goals by clothing the Divine in various forms.   The modern rational mind forgets the original psychological motive behind image worship and dismisses it all as an abomination.  On the other hand, there are those who narrowly fix themselves in adoration of their  chosen image forgetting that this is only a preparatory step in the spiritual path.   This post explores the various pros and cons of idolatry(aka image worship).

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Man the microcosm, Universe the macrocosm

Ancient Indian philosophy says that man is the microcosm of the Universe.     The Universe is referred to as the brahmanda (i.e. Egg of Brahma) and Man is referred to kshudra-brahmanda (i.e. Little Egg of Brahma).  The Greeks also believed in the same concept (see wikipedia).   The major points in favor of this correspondence are:

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