Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dvaitamu sukhama

Raga Reetigowla, 22 Karaharapriya janya
Aa: S G2 R2 G2 M1 N2 D2 M1 N2 N2 S Av: S N2 D2 M1 G2 M1 P M1 G2 R2 S

dvaitamu sukhamā?
advaitamu sukhamā?

caitanyamā vinu sarvasākṣi vistāramugānu delupumu nātō!

gagana pavana tapana bhuvanādyavanilō nagadharāja śivēndrādi surulalō
bhagavadbhakta varāgr
ēśarulalō bāga ramincē tyāgarājārcita!

English verse:
Are we one, or are we two?
Is one path to bliss true?

O Soul of all, that sees all!
Reveal all, heed my call!

In earth, air, fire, water and ether,
The Trinity, the gods and their king,
And in the most blessed seeker,
You of my worship, abide delighting.

This song is about another eternal question, "Which is the right path to salvation?". This is the pleasure (sukham), alluded to in the song. The story of modern Hindu philosophy begins with the resurgent school of Vedanta rising to ascension towards the middle of the first millennium, along with the Bhakti movement of personal devotions. There are six Darshanas('paths') or schools of Hindu philosophy, usually mentioned in pairs due to the common threads, viz Sankhya-Yoga, Nyaya-Vaisheshika and Mimamsa-Vedanta. These schools encompass various methods from logic, to the empirical to reflective philosophical inquiry, as in the Vedanta. Sankhya, literally counting up or enumeration, is the serial conceptual development of the One and the universe and the primordial particles, the tanmatras(literally molecules) etc., such as in a theory of matter. Yoga literally the act of blending or joining, has come to mean contemplation or seeking the One through various paths, such as that of knowledge. In the modern day, it has become a composite of other systems, and is seen advocated by adherents of Vedanta as well. Nyaya, literally logic or justice, is the school of pure logic or reason, similar to some of the western systems in employing mainly syllogisms, modus ponens, modus tollens and other methods, starts developing its theory from sixteen aspects of inquiry. Vaisheshika or distinction, uses similar methods, but develops a theory of matter, nature and all things, with fewer aspects. Mimamsa (or more correctly "purva mimamsa", mimamsa of the first part). literally investigation, deals with reflective philosophical inquiry. Vedanta, ("uttara mimamsa" or mimamsa of the latter part) develops such inquiry into the now familiar theses on the Brahman, the Supreme Self, and the nature of all matter and beings. Vedanta uses an abundance of the methods of logic and reason in its development of concepts.

Central to Vedanta is the concept of the Paramatma, the Supreme Self, (the Brahman), who pervades the universe, created and sustained it, and is omnipotent and omnipresent, and the concept of the Jivatma, the particular self of a person. Advaita or the school of non-Duality or Monism, which came first, teaches that these two are but one and the same and all the world is an illusion. Vishistadvaita, the school of Qualified Monism or non-duality, holds that while they seem two different entities, with different identities, the former is immanent in the latter, and they are not truly separate, and that the world is not an illusion but represents the person of the Supreme Self. Dvaitam or Dualism which came last, teaches that the two are distinct and that the particular self should strive to attain the former. Many times, Vedanta is wrongly conflated with just Advaita or Monism. It must be kept in mind that there are three very different schools. Each school of Vedanta bases its theories chiefly on the Gita and the Brahmasutras or Aphorisms on Brahman, ascribed to Baadarayana. The principal teacher of each school, i.e. Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva, has commented extensively on either book, each interpreting the books as showing the theories and conclusions of his school. Also invoked frequently are the Upanishads and less frequently, the Vedas and other texts.

Today, Vedanta is the school of choice for virtually all Hindus. We must note another difference. These six darsanas or paths are systems of philosophy- often considered esoteric. Vedanta is of daily interest only to active seekers and those learned in it. Praxis, worship and liturgy, as seen in temples and homes on a day to day basis, are entirely different. In general, Advaitins are votaries of Siva, though, as we have seen earlier, six deities are allowed for them. Vishistadvaitins and Davitins are votaries of Vishnu, the latter often invoking Him in the aspect of Krishna. While the philosophies differ, most of the liturgy and rites, such as the fire sacrifices, are common to votaries of all three schools of Vedanta. Additionally, rites, practices and worship differ across the various regions of India.

About the verses: In this song, Tyagaraja wants to know from the Supreme Self, which path leads to salvation. He was raised in Advaita, but finds himself questioning. "Are we one or two":The 'we' refers to Tyagaraja, as a Jivatma and the Paramatma. As Tyagraja addresses the Supreme Self directly, I have taken the references to Dvaita and Advaita as asking whether he and the Supreme Self, were one and the same, or two separate entitites. Sarvasakshi, literally witness to all, is the notion that the Paramatma sees all. Earth, fire, air (wind), water and ether (or sky), are the pancha-bhutas, or the five basic elements, of which all matter is composed. Nagadharaaja- Nagadhara+aja- "He who bears the mountain"+ the prime "mover". The first is Vishnu, for his having held up the Govardhana hill to shelter the cowherds from Indra's wrath of torrential rains or the Mount Mandara, as the Great Tortoise, during the churning of the ocean. "Bhagavadbhakta", literally devotee of the Lord, hence the most eminent "seekers". Note that in this song, Tyagaraja is not directly referring to Rama. Interestingly, though Tyagaraja has made many statements in his songs, in line with his Advaita heritage, a few statements may be taken as being more in line with Vishistadvaita. We shall look at some along the way.

Since this is a song that deals with the deepest, weightiest and most consequent matters of philosophy, and concepts unique to the Hindu system, your servant does not dare to search for parallels elsewhere. But, still, the methods of Vedanta can sometimes descend into circuitous dialectics and grammatical gymnastics, confounding all but the most persistent. In fact, they might seem forbidding to the average devout Hindu, who is usually not guilty of extensive philosophical inquiry, as is not the bulk of humanity. Which calls to mind this 18th century epigram on the feud on technical niceties between the Baroque composers Handel and Bononcini:

Some say, compar'd to Bononcini
That Mynheer Handel's but a Ninny
Others aver, that he to Handel
Is scarcely fit to hold a Candle
Strange all this Difference should be
'Twixt Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee!

These characters also appeared in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass. Another that comes to mind is Ibsen's Peer Gynt confronting the Boyg. During Peer Gynt's fantastic journeys, he runs into the Boyg, an invisible troll with no real features- as if he were a void come alive. Peer Gynt's conversation with the Boyg is hilarious. He repeatedly asks "Who are you?" and receives the answer "Myself". In the darkness, the Boyg is blocking his way forward. He asks the Boyg to let him pass, but the Boyg tells him to "go around". He tries to cut the Boyg down, to no avail. He falls, and then rises, and finds the Boyg is blocking him on all sides now. From Act II:

PEER GYNT. Answer ! Who are you ?
PEER GYNT. Let me pass, then !
VOICE. Go round about, Peer ! Room enough on the mountain.
[PEER GYNT tries to pass another way, but runs up against something.]
PEER GYNT. Who are you ?
VOICE. Myself. Can you say as much ?

PEER GYNT. Backward or forward, it's just as far
Out or in, the way's as narrow.
It's there '.and there ! and all about me !
I think I've got out, and I'm back in the midst of it.
What's your name ! Let me see you ! Say what you are !
VOICE. The Boyg.
PEER GYNT [feeling round him] . Neither dead, nor alive ; slime and mistiness ;
No shape or form ! It's as if one were smothered
Amidst any number of bears that are growling
At being waked up ! [Shrieks. ]
Why don't you hit out at me !
VOICE. The Boyg's not so foolish as that.
PEER GYNT. Oh, strike at me !
VOICE. The Boyg doesn't strike.
PEER GYNT. Come, fight ! You shall fight with me !
VOICE. The great Boyg can triumph without any fighting.
PEER GYNT. I'd far rather it were the Brownies tormenting me !
Show fight, will you !
VOICE. The great Boyg can get all he wishes by gentleness.
PEER GYNT [biting his own hands and arms]. Oh, for claws and teeth
that would tear my flesh !
I must see a drop of my own blood flow !
(R.F. Sharp translation. Your servant is guilty of many things in life, but not of Danish.) (PS. To clarify an email I got from a reader- that was a joke... Peer Gynt was of course written in Norwegian.)

Eventually, with the 'assistance' of some 'women', the Boyg is made to vanish, and Peer Gynt continues his journey when he wakes. And, as the Boyg taught him, he continues to "go around" all things in life.


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