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(Read in TAMIL)

Sri Rudra’s Bow

Conversation With Aiya (25)

The usual 5am walk this morning turned out to be a special one as I met with Aiya after a long time. Some of you may know him from my earlier conversations; Aiya is a kind of nomad, a wandering monk-like –  dare I say, but always near me as my counsel, at times when I need him.

“Good morning, Aiya”

He took my greeting hand with his usual warmth, shaking it gently and saying “Good Morning to you too!”

“Aiya, it has been sometime since we met and I am really glad to see you this morning.”

Aiya smiled with a positive nod.

“Aiya, are you in London during the first week of May?”

“May be, why?”

“There is Mahā Rudra Japa Yajñam in London, planned by the devotees and I too get a chance to serve in a small way. As the event happens on 7th of May, having you with us would be a great thing.”

“Let us see. I am glad that you are in right company of people, thinking about doing such virtuous Yajñam. Hope all goes well.”

“Thanks Aiya. Not sure how qualified we all are to perform such a Vedic procedure, but we trust in the grace of God and the Śivācāryas for presiding and guiding the event.”

We both sat on a bench.  

I continued.

“In our neighbourhood, we usually recite as a community during Śivrātri. Subbu, one of our friends also arranges an annual event, also this week, there is one organized by Dr. Nachiappan in Manchester.”

Aiya smiled as I continued.

‘But this is the first time that we are going to do for the community, Mahā Rudra Japa Yajñam, Aiya.”

Perhaps, I was letting my anxiety shown.

Aiya said.

“May all go well. As long you have the assembly of Āstika and the guidance of Śivācāryas, and above all, the dedication in whatever you all do, everything should be fine.”

“Thanks Aiya, by the way, with the term Āstika, do you mean the believers in God?”

“Not really.”

“Then, by Āstika, do you mean the people of certain caste, creed etc.”

Before Aiya could reply, I hastened.

“Aiya, being in London and also community service is what we do, our goal is to bring joy and peace to all in the community, of course without diluting the sanctity of the Yajña.”

Aiya laughed.

“Indeed!  Humanity, nay, all life-forms are divine and therefore are worthy of worship and service.  However, the purpose of doing the Yajña, for that matter, any virtuous act must be fully subscribed to, and committed by the performers and the participants in order to reap benefits”.

I waited to hear more, worrying in my mind of if there is going to be a discrimination.

 But Aiya’s words were pleasingly puzzling.

“The comforting fact is that every human being is an Āstika only – no matter which race, religion, creed or agnostic views that he or she belongs to.”

How could this be? My understanding of the term Āstika was different.  Aiya always brings insights and inferences that are more practical and relevant to the modern times. So, I was happy to ask and to steer for the useful discussion.

“Aiya, is not Āstika deemed to refer those who believe in Vedas? How could then I understand what you say?”

Aiya replied.

“Let me ask you.  If you do an action, is there not an effect that follows as the result of the action?”

“Of course,  Aiya! In my case, more often the  effect is not always what I want”, I said in a light vein.

“It does not matter! The consequence could be a benefit or an adverse impact.  No one should have any problem in accepting this, right?”

“Yes Aiya, it is common sense!”

“Now, tell me, the outcome of your actions – are they visible and tangible to you at all times?”

“Yes Aiya, most of the times.”

I thought for a few seconds and continued.

“Not all the times Aiya. Sometimes the effect of our action is unseen and unknown as it may occur at a later time.”

“Correct! The consequences could happen as imminent to the action or sometime later; those are either seen or unseen and those could impact you or someone or something somewhere  at some time! Do you see my point?”

I was listening.

“The act of walking on this grass could crush some insects but we don’t see!”

“Yes Aiya.”

“You may pull down a tree to clear a path, but in a few months, that very action could be trigger a land-slide.”

“Yes Aiya. The effect of our action could result sometime in the future. We don’t know when and how.”

“All these are logically sound and there is no denial, right?”

“Yes Aiya! I see these as facts and any rational being would accept.”

Aiya replied with a pat on my shoulder.

“Then any rational being is Āstika.”

I drew a blank on my face mixed with curiosity.

“In our Dharma, an Āstika is one who believes that our actions bring both drishta-phala (seen-consequences) and adrishta-phala (unseen consequences) for sure.”

“Well, if you put it that way, I agree.”

“That is the only way to put it.  Now if that is deemed correct, then any rational being should also question how these consequences of actions are delivered. As the consequences may happen at different times and for different people, and there are billions of people and billions of actions in the world, who is the regulator of effecting the consequences?  This may be a moot point for the agnostics but for a rational person, the conclusion is that there must be a divine power, facilitating all these.  Call it as Nature or God – there is a supreme being.” 

“Yea Aiya, that means, rationally, there can be no denial of God. But then why is the general definition that Āstika are those who believe in Vedas?”

“Don’t you see the connection?  If a rational person could conclude for the need of a supreme being to co-ordinate the delivery of effects to all, then the same rational person should ask, under what laws of governance these deliveries happen? By what means, we could approach such supreme-being to grant us relief from the adverse effects of our actions as well bestow good things for our good deeds? And how such procedures be proven to be correct?”

“Yes Aiya, by what, and how?”, I echoed.

“This is where Vedas come. Vedas are the pramānam or the source of  knowledge for all these. Without Vedas, we have nothing else to impart such knowledge! If we foolishly discard Vedas, then we are completely hopeless in our pursuits and have to dwindle blindly in a dark alley of ignorance.”

“Aiya, then should One blindly believe in Vedas?”

“No! Vedas don’t like blind believers.  Vedas do encourage all to be the challengers, seekers and inquirers.  For this, One must first recognize Vedas as the repository of all knowledge and only then dwell into the understanding and addressing of doubts. If you deny Vedas without understanding, then you are also deprived of making  falsifying assertions about Vedas.”

“Aiya, is that the reason you say, we all are inherently Āstika but not knowing it and not understanding the glory of Vedas?”

“Yes!   No one can know Vedas fully. No one need to know the Vedas fully. I say this because, it is the vast knowledge-base which also includes the remits of all actions and consequences in the world. It provides the framework called ‘Dharma’ within which all those should happen. Therefore,  Vedas need to contain the codes for everything and everyone in the world – both good and bad.  One needs to follow what is relevant to One’s  chosen life-style and the pursuit of One’s life-goals.”

“Who can teach us these?”

“The Ācāryas, mainly!”

Aiya immediately added.

“Vedic subjects must be part of the normal curriculum. But sadly, somehow superstitions and dogmatic ideas had creeped into the tradition, making the role of Ācāryas marginalized and for them to be revered only by a few.”

After a few moments of silence, Aiya continued.

“Let us get back to the Sri Rudram event. There, by saying the assembly of Āstika,  what I meant is the inclusion of every participant – who chants, who hears, who helps, who serves, who is being served et al. May all participants understand that they all are Āstika and therefore have every right to inquire, learn and enlarge their minds about Vedas and Vedic rituals.”

“They should Aiya!  This really helps. May  I ask you a couple of questions that are bothering me?’

Without waiting for his reply, I asked: “Are women allowed to recite Sri Rudram as it is Veda Mantra?”

Aiya strongly asserted at once.

“Of course! There are great many examples in history about the role of women in performing Vedic rites and inquiries. Please note that in our dharma,  women have not just equal right but more rights and privileges than men! They are furnished with an elevated place in the family and the society, for their very nature of motherhood and the reverence. As per the scriptures, in a married house-hold, whatever the virtues that the husband earns, one-half go directly to his wife. Yet, she is untouched by the sins of her husband!  Knowing this one truth was good enough for the once-dacoit to turn into a great sage Valmiki.”

Saying thus Aiya laughed. I too joined.

Then said Aiya.

“Subsequently, traditions changed to keep the qualified men to chant the Vedas for the benefit of all, while their households provide the support.”

I let the time pass for Aiya to say what I wanted to hear.

Aiya Said.

“So, May all those who like to chant the mantras, chant, irrespective of any discrimination.”

I put my mind to rest only briefly as Aiya said next.

“Be mindful!  Such a free form chanting – where One does not maintain the prescribed discipline, is ok as long as One’s  devotion is unblemished. One’s  motivation for chanting should not be for universal good and not for selfish gains.”

“Aiya, why?”,  I hastened to add.

“Not everyone is ready for the high ideals, like seeking redemption from the cycle of birth and death!  Nishkāma-bhakti is not easy for all.  We all need health, wealth, peace, joy and a way to get rid of  grief and fear. That is why we all pray and look up to the Vedic rituals. Yes, it may be  Kāmya-Bhakti! Why can’t that be the motivation for reciting the Veda Mantra?”

While asking, a thought was running in my mind.  Is not the customary Chamakam that follows Sri Rudram contains the plea for many worldly prospects!

Aiya replied.

“Well, Kāmya Bhakti is not bad! It is  good and also  a necessary thing for Āstika. It means, One is devoted to God.  Of course, in Kāmya Bhakti to seek the grace of God, there are many shlokas to recite and prayers to offer as the expression of devotion.  There are no restrictions there, as we can choose any form of God and any means of worship. Don’t you know the great devotee Kannappa Nāyanār for his seemingly unclean means of offering his services to God and attained salvation?”

“Yes Aiya, what is the course then for using the prescribed Vedic rituals and the chanting of Vedic texts to obtain a specific gain in this world?”

“When one recites the prescribed Veda mantras for specific attainment or selfish desires, then there are certain protocols to be followed. Those are the rules.”

After  pause, Aiya continued.

“Deem the Veda Mantras as surgical knives.  Like a Surgeon, one should be – formally trained, ardently exercised, reverently attired and so on to perform the chanting.”

“Aiya, this condition is difficult to follow for all. Then how does one attain the benefit of reciting Sri Rudram and doing such powerful Veda Yajña?”

“Good question indeed!  The answer is very simple and comforting. One who needs to attain the benefit of reciting Veda Mantras and performing Vedic Rituals for desired goals, should simply facilitate the performance of such recital and Yajña by engaging those who are the Vedic scholars and also those who are aspirants, learning to support such performance, in other words who subscribe to the protocols.” 

“What do you mean –  facilitate such events?”

“Facilitating in whatever ways one could afford to… like –  offering donations, materials for the Puja and rituals, service to others at the event and so on.” 

“What about those who cannot afford to contribute materially or otherwise to such Yajña but are Āstika by intent?”

“Let them participate and be ardent listeners! Let them be devoted witnesses, soaking their hearts with divinity! Let them whole heartedly bless such assembly of Āstika to grow!” 

I was intrigued.

“Aiya, you mean, just by listening to the chanting of Sri Rudram, One could attain One’s desires!”

“Yes, ultimately! One does not need to feel sad for not knowing the chanting of mantras. Like the trained chefs, let those who formally chant prepare the feast of benefits for all of us to consume. One does not need to cook to become a great diner! That is why such Yajña are hailed as the service to the welfare of the whole world.”

“Thanks Aiya! This really helps. I am aware that Sri Rudram and Chamakam are all part of Vedas. Although I don’t know the deeper meaning, yet I have learnt to recite. Hope that allows me to be part of chanting and offer the service.”

“Of course! If you know how to chant, that is fine; there is no need to know the meaning!”

Aiya looked at my questioning face and said.

“For many things in life we do not know the meaning or know-how yet such ignorance does not bother us. Do we know how we digest the food, yet we eat! Do we know how a seed germinates, yet we reap the benefit! Do we need to know how a medicine works to alleviate our illness yet we take! Not knowing the meaning is not an impediment.”

 “Yet it would be great to understand the meaning of what we recite!”, I added.

“Well, if you feel that way, then you need the right-time and the right-teacher to impart the meaning of Sri Rudram, and any such Vedic text. I say the right-time because when the true import of the text is revealed, you must have the required mental purity and capacity to assimilate.  For this, a right-teacher is a must.”

“Understood Aiya!”

“Of course, you could use  dictionary and many write-ups in the Internet write-ups to gain an understanding of Sri Rudram. Yet without proper context and qualified teacher, the literal understanding may also turn out to be a risk to the steadfast commitment of yours.”

“Understood Aiya, I remember what Sri Maha Periva of Kānchi said once. When a treasure-box is attained but its key is nowhere to be found, who would discard it just because it could not be opened! With the hope that someday a key would be got, a wise would hold on to the treasure and forever cherish.”

“Absolutely. Sri Rudram is really the greatest treasure! Just to illustrate, while the Karma-Kānda part of Vedas are prescribed only for acquiring happiness in this life and the life-after, and the Jnāna-Kānda part of Vedas for the the realization of truth, Sri Rudram is prescribed for all to recite at all times, even after the realization of supreme truth.  That is why Sri Rudram is revered as Upanishad, that which is imminent and the remover of nescience.”

“But Aiya, I thought Sri Rudram is worship of Lord Shiva and to seek his mercy as He, in the form of Rudra harms the evil-doers. I mean, He punishes for my sins and therefore I need to ask for His mercy to be free of grief.”

“Yes. The word Rudra means one who removes grief.  So,  His mercy is what we all really need.”

Aiya looked at his watch briefly and spoke.

“Look, Life is anubhava-dhāra, a chain of experiences, both good and bad.  But our concern is not about the pleasures of life but always on the sorrows, is it not? As we don’t want grief, we need to ask Rudra, who is the remover of all sorrow.”

“Aiya, then for the pleasures of life, do we pray to some other form of God? But then, Chamakam which is recited after Sri Rudram is asking for many material benefits of life? Am I wrong?”

“No, you are not wrong! Surely, we ask for many things in Chamakam,  right from wheat and grains to all prosperities. But there is more to it.”

“Please tell Aiya”

I knew that Aiya has not much time to spare on that morning  but I did not want to leave him with these questions in my mind.

Aiya said.

“Our dharma makes it so flexible in how we decide to worship. You may select any form of your liking for God, and follow many forms of worship that pleases you. But there is a deeper point that you have alluded to by referring to the mundane things that are also asked for in the Chamakam.”

“What is that, Aiya?”

“Let me ask few basic questions. The pleasures of life – what are those?”

“All that we live for in this world, Aiya! Such as Love, Money, Children, House, etc.”

“And grief is…?”

“All that pain that we suffer. Grief because of failures, fatigue, ailments, separation…. so many Aiya.”

“Is there such a clear distinction between pleasure and pain! Don’t you see that Love does hurt! Does not Money create anxieties and fear? Don’t Children bring grief!  All pleasures when not available, causes restlessness, when enjoyed ends-up in boredom, when lost causes grief.”

“Aiya, are you therefore saying that all pleasures of life are nothing but pain parading as joy?”

“This is what Sage Patanjali says!”

“Aiya, that means, we can put both pleasures and pain into one basket – Grief.  Correct?”

“Yes! That understanding is paramount to know deeper. Let me tell you what is the undercurrent of all our grief.  That is Fear!”


“Yes, the fear of losing! Ultimately, it is fear that triggers all our actions as well as inactions in this world!  It is fear, bhayam that needs to be removed. We need abhayam.”

“Aiya, I think you are alluding to the fear of death? I know the Mrityunjaya Mantra, is chanted as part of the Sri Rudra Yajña as this mantra seeks the boon of painless death, as death is inevitable.”

“Well, we can talk about it later!  Now tell me what is death and what is fear of death?”

“What Aiya!” I thought answer to such a question was trivial.

“ Death is the sort of end of this life. Fear of death is ….. the fear of death!” – I mumbled.

Aiya was eloquent.

“Death happens once in this life. That’s it. We all inherently aware that death is definite and there is no need to fear on what is anyway going to happen. Yet we fear. The whole life is spent on the fear of death, but death, as an instant event, actually frees us from that perpetual fear! Strange is it not!”

I waited.

“We fear the unknown due to our ignorance!  Ignorance always dreads Knowledge.”

“I don’t understand Aiya.”

“What will happen to me after I die? This question causes fear. No One actually thinks that there is an end to Oneself. A true Āstika would see death as a state of transition to a new life with a new body and to a new world. Why then is the fear? It is because of not knowing what that new life, new body, new world could be.”

“Aiya, I don’t even think that deep! But seeing the dead person freaks me out”.

I tried to giggle.

Aiya paused for a few seconds and said.

“Are you fearful of seeing One who is asleep, almost like dead?”

“No Aiya, on the contrary I may be envious of such deep sleep.”

“ What is the reason for your interest in deep sleep?”

“Peaceful time, Aiya”.

“Exactly! But have you noticed – when you are in deep sleep, you have lost everything! Your body, mind, possession, identity,  all your diseases and  pleasures…. All gone! You own nothing then! It is a place where you are totally deprived of all possessions yet you are keen to go there every day, why?”

Aiya continued.

“Only because the state of deep sleep is enjoyable and also, more importantly, you know that after the slumber, you still have a body, the world and the life ahead. Only that knowledge of hope removes the fear of sleep.  In the same way,  when there is knowledge of what death really is and what am I who is forever deathless – then there is ‘abhayam’. That freedom is ‘mukti’. That is the state of bliss where there is no pleasure or pain. It is called ‘ānanda’ in Vedānta.”

“Aiya, that means, until ‘mukti’, both the pleasures of embodied life and the pains there in, are simply the grief!”


“In this context, Aiya, what do we ask God through Sri Rudram?”

“Good question. Please listen carefully!”

I was full of ears as Aiya continued.

“We conceded that grief in our life is our own making due to our actions.  Remember, grief here includes everything that binds us deeply in the cycle of birth and death.  In Sri Rudram, we see God in the form of Rudra, as the dispatcher of our karma-phala and the allegory is the piercing sharp-arrows of Rudra that are perpetually poise towards us.”

“Is that why Rudra is seen also as fearsome or gora?”

“Well, as we are soaked in fear, to us Rudra looks fearsome!  Personally, we dread the ordeals of life that hurt us like the piercing arrows; collectively also  for the world, Rudra’s arrows cause havoc in nature as earth quakes, tsunami, cyclones, pandemic of diseases etc.   Perpetually fearful we are, in our minds Rudra is seen as Gora and fearsome. His form is perceived as unbearable,  clad in tiger skin, decorated with serpent, armed with thousands of weapons, of which is the Pināka, the invincible bow, along with the quiver full of sharp arrows. Rudra’s forehead or ‘lallādam’ is shining with the flame of insurmountable anger. That is how the devotee sees the Lord, as awe-inspiring force  of nature.”

“Aiya, is that why Sri Rudram begins with the worship to Rudra’s anger, hand, arrow and bow etc.”

“Yes, also in that order! Anger drives the hand to pick the arrow from the quiver and to mount it on the bow, ready to be shot. The devotee sees these dynamics and offers his prayers for mercy in that same order! How thoughtful!”

“Aiya, why can’t Rudra show a calm face?”

“He does! That Agora form is what the devotee is also asking for! Is not God the most compassionate!  What you must appreciate is the nuances of the devotee’s plea.”

Aiya then recited couple of lines from the Sri Rudram.

ni̱śīrya̍ śa̱lyānā̱ṃ mukhā̍ śi̱vo na̍: su̱manā̍ bhava |

vijya̱ṃ dhanu̍: kapa̱rdino̱ viśa̍lyo̱ bāṇa̍vāg u̱ta |


I said, ‘Yes Aiya,  it is in the first chapter of Sri Rudram”

“Correct, you may even take these two lines to be the core of this text. The devotee says to the Lord, ‘O may your bow be unstrung, may the quiver be empty, may the arrows be blunt’ etc. How polite and tactful the plea is!”

“Does God oblige to the plea?”

“Of course!  Lord Krishna illustrates this.  In Mahabharata, there is an episode where Sri Krishna and Arjuna go to  Kailash seeking the Lord’s mercy and Pāshupathāstra. Lord instructs them to go to a tree on which those weapons are kept.  When they reach,  the tree is enveloped by a raging fire with fearsome snakes to deter access.  At once Sri Krishna sits down and meditates, reciting Sri Rudram. Upon hearing this, the Gora face of Rudra turned to Agora, the most enchanting,  and compassionate, bestowing all grace upon Sri Krishna. So, be assured, the Lord does listen to the recital of Sri Rudram and bestows His benign grace.”

Aiya continued.

“A greater insight is in Ramayana! Like Sri Krishna, Sri Rama too was a great devotee of Lord Shiva. I am sure you know the episode where Sri Rama  breaks the bow of Shiva for the marriage to Sri Sitadevi.”

“Yes Aiya! I always wondered when I was a young boy, as Sri Rama has broken Siva’s bow, Sri Rama must be the most powerful and alike…. You know in the younger days; we all  seek heroes of great valour”.

Aiya laughed.

“Epics and Purāna illustrate many such episodes. But the key import is what Sri Rama signified by breaking the bow of Siva.  Now you must reconcile with the understanding of Sri Rudram.  The bow of Rudra that we are afraid of, for which to be unstrung and unusable, that we dearly pray for, is the same bow that Sri Rama broke as a twig!   How?  It is because Sri Rama, as a realized soul, Jivan-mukta had no fear of Karma-phala!  As a karma-yogi, He was untouched by the effects of all actions! Where then the piercing arrows of Rudra could point to?   The dormant bow in front of Rama, was nothing of use and nothing of effect. That was the reason it was broken.   But the kings who failed in their tasks before Rama, are like us, loaded with selfish desires and ego, and thus burdened by Karma-phala, dreading the pointed arrows of Rudra’s bow.  How are we to break the bow?   The best that we could do is to admit our folly and ask for Rudra’s compassion. This is what we do through the chanting of Sri Rudram as a whole-hearted plea. The utmost we could do is to wish that his bows are unstrung, quiver is empty and arrows becoming blunt.”

“Aiya! That means, to see the agora face of the Lord at all times, and to be free of the piercing arrows of Karma-phala, we should perform all our actions as Karma-Yoga.”

“Yes! And pursue nishkāma-bhakti! That would be a natural companion when you follow the path of Karma-yoga”.

“Aiya! Great!  When does the fear of death ultimately go? Is that not the Mrityunjaya Mantra asking for?”

I recited.

trya̍mbaka yajāmahe suga̱ndhi pu̍ṣṭi̱ vardha̍nam |

u̱rvā̱ru̱kami̍va̱ bandha̍nān mṛ̱tyormu̍kṣīya̱ mā’m̎t |


Aiya said with an approving smile.

“Well, first of all Mrityunjaya Mantra is not part of Sri Rudram but it is a fitting addition,  as it beautifully correlates. We don’t have time to go into details. But briefly, Mrityunjaya Mantra asks for painless and smooth separation from the embodiment at the time of death, like a ripen lemon  that easily leaves its stalk.  This is to assure us that there is no pain of death.  Interestingly there is a caveat before that. The mantra asks, until the painless separation comes as destined, may my  body and mind be full of nourishment and vigour to enjoy the life to the full – suga̱ndhi pu̍ṣṭi̱ vardha̍nam.  Thus, we ask for both fabulous life till the full allotted life-span that ends with a peaceful death! How wonderful!”

“Aiya, that is pleased to hear”

“Yes, Although Mrityunjaya Mantra is known as mantra for winning over death, it should be also taken as mantra of winning over the fear of death. Fearlessness means Freedom.  Therefore, melon-like separation from the stalk does not just means disembodiment at the time death, but also the disentanglement from the worldly affairs even while we have the embodied living.”

“Aiya, what is disentanglement from worldly affairs? Is it renunciation?”

“Renunciation not in the way that you may think – giving up all and wander or hide in a cave!  That could also happen. More importantly disentanglement means that we do all our life pursuits, although fully engaged and with focus,  never entangled with undue ownership, passionate likes and dislikes etc.  As these are the entrapping nets of samsāra, we must not be entangled.”

Saying thus, Aiya bid farewell and walked into the unseen corners of the field.

Needing that I must see him again, as he has left so many burning questions in my mind, I continued my walking, then with somewhat clearer mind and peace.

What are you hearing’, asked Aiya at Keerti who was intensely listening through her earphone. Smiling, with her finger pressing on the pause button, Keerti said ‘Shivoham’.
Aiya looked at me with wide-open eyes.
I said, ‘Yea, It is a film song which she likes very much’.
‘Do you know the meaning of the word Shivoham’, asked Aiya.
‘No’, Keerti said shaking her head little apologetically.
I hastened.
‘Keerti I have told you before! You must always try to understand the meaning of the words that your hear and speak’.
As a typical father, I am keen that my child learns everything well.
Aiya touched my shoulder. ‘Don’t be anxious about her not learning everything. We all use so many words without ever trying to understand the true meaning of those words.’
‘May be Aiya, I only meant that we should not be like that.’
‘Very well then, do you know the word that you most often use, without even understanding what it means’, Aiya asked me pointedly.
Is that a trick question, I hesitated for a while.
As Aiya was staring at me for an answer, I started saying.
‘That is correct’, Aiya interrupted even though I had not finished my sentence.
‘Yes, the word I is what you and every one of us use more frequently but without even spending few minutes in the understanding of what that word means.’
It hit me. It was not a trick question but the blatant truth that we all shy away to embrace. For a student of Vedanta, this question is central that I have learnt. But is it relevant to our day-to-day life, I wondered.
‘Aiya, you refer to the famous spiritual question Who am I, don’t you? Is it not an insightful question for those who study Vedanta?’ I asked.
‘Who am I – the very question is Vedanta. Anyone who pursues this question to get the true meaning of the word is the true seeker. So do own up to the question. If you use a word, you should try to understand its true meaning, is that not your advice to Keerti?’
I was divinely trapped.
‘Aiya, explain to me. I am unclear.’
Aiya asked again ‘Who are you? When asked, how do you respond normally?’
‘Aiya, that depends on who asks. I say my name; I may introduce myself as the son of so and so, or whose relation I am; or what job I hold etc. How else can one introduce oneself!’
‘Those are the ways indeed! That is how one needs to relate to others as the world is a place for collaborating on external norms and references. But you should know that you cannot define your very self only with references to everything other than yourself. Just within yourself, you should know who you really are! Otherwise we remain truly ignorant!’
I nodded in agreement.
‘Yes Aiya, Please tell me, how do I understand the true meaning of I.’
‘You cannot understand!’
I was shocked to hear his response. After listening for the need to understand, I am told that I can never understand.
‘Then what? I am confused Aiya’, said I, thinking in the back of the mind, how puzzling and intriguing is Vedanta.
‘It is a fact. You see everything with your eyes. Yet can your eyes be seen by your eyes?’
‘No!’ after saying this, I quickly added, ‘yes they can, in a mirror’.
‘Correct, When I want to see me, I need a mirror, ideally clean which shows at least a part of me.’
‘This is obvious Aiya. Every day I see myself in the mirror’.
Aiya giggled.
‘Well if you have taken the word mirror literally, yes, you do see your body or part of it on the mirror. Therefore do you take your body as the meaning of the word I?’
‘Well, the body is part of me. It is my body!’
‘So are these… your shirt, your car, your house etc. All these objects are those that you can say as ‘mine’. Would that mean, all these are also the meaning of I?’
‘No Aiya! Those are mine but external to me. The body is not external to me.’
‘Are you sure? When someone is dead, you say someone is gone forever, and his or her body remains. So is not there a lot more than the body for the word I?’
‘Yes, I agree. There is a mind inside the body.’
‘So your body is also external like any other object, right?’ asked Aiya.
I looked at him in agreement.
Aiya asked, ‘So when you say I, do you mean your mind?’
‘Probably! But again, I am not sure Aiya. It is because I also say my mind is sad, my mind is confused etc. So mind may also be an object that I own!’.
I was truly lost for words for a while.
‘Aiya, what is the mirror that I need to see myself, I mean not a literal mirror’.
Aiya with a twinkle in his eyes said, ‘The mirror that shows who you are is also your mind, to be precise, that part of your mind, which is normally shut but when opened, it becomes the internal-eye seeing the self.’
‘How do I open the internal eye?’
‘Well first, you must recognize the existence of the internal eye and the reason why it is shut.’
‘Why it is shut?’
‘It is not shut but obscured. Cluttered by so many things in your mind, it is not able to focus.’
‘You mean my thoughts about the day-to-day life etc. as clutters?’
‘Thoughts are very nature of the mind. So thoughts are not the clutters by themselves, but the type of thoughts, the focus of thoughts etc. To see the clutters of the mind and to reassure the validity of the goal for seeking and opening the inner eye, you need another mirror’.
I was curious.
‘The scriptures and the teachers are those mirrors. In them, you see the mistakes of your understanding on the nature of your-self and take actions to achieve an uncluttered mind. Guru triggers you to start cleaning your mind’.
‘Aiya, so purity of mind is the foremost step to understand who I am. Is that correct?’
‘Correct, but it not so simple! There are loads of means – starting with being good to others to whole lot of virtuous acts.’
‘Praying to God?’
‘That is also! But not if your prayers are for some material pleasure. That does not lead to the path of understanding who you really are’.
‘Aiya, please tell me who am I’.
‘That is for you to find out. But I can tell you it will be the most rewarding.’
Encouraged, I asked again.
‘Aiya, can you at least tell me what are the cues that I need to ascertain that I have truly found who I am’.
Aiya laughed aloud. ‘What am I to say? These are obvious and the scriptures keep shouting these glaring truth, often to our deaf-ears’.
There was some silence.
Aiya asked, ‘What is on the table?’ pointing at a book on the table.
‘There is a book’, I said.
‘If I tore the book into pieces and leave it there, then?’
‘Well, I would say, there is a lot of paper’
‘If I burn all the papers into ash’
‘Well then, there is ash. Aiya, what is the point?’
‘You see, in all your replies, you stated the state of an object. As a book, as a pile of paper and as a heap of ash the object continues to exist.’
‘Yes!’ I was curious.
‘The existence which you have indicated by the word IS never changed but it’s form of existence – like a book, paper, ash – have changed’.
I was listening intensely.
‘The ISness, if I may use the word, refers to the eternal existence. ISness always exist. Only the forms of existence change. The eternal existence is therefore a primary nature of things.’
‘Aiya, are you saying that I exist forever?’
‘Yes, eternal existence is the very nature of every one of us. The ISness is the Ishvara, the Universal existence. Therefore a cue for your search of yourself is the eternal existence. See what remains eternally in you. That should lead to the true meaning of I.’
Pleasantly surprised I asked again for the guarantee.
’Aiya, Do I exist forever? Won’t I die?’
‘You never die! Your forms may change. Know the difference. The point is death may look tragic to others as they would miss the form of you. It is never a tragic instance for you because you never die!’
We were simply sitting in silence. I was for the first-time feeling a sense of fearlessness but a cloud of anxiety.
That was then, Keerti, removing her earphone, asked blissfully, ‘What! Both of you are so quite!’
I smiled at her and then turned to Aiya.
‘Aiya, what other cues are there to help in this search of Who am I?’
Keerti for her turn asked, ‘So what is the meaning of Shivoham?’
We waited for Aiya to answer.

Mee. Rajagopalan

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