Kanthar Anubhuthi - Verse 3
By Sri Arunagirinathar
What is reality?
A thought-provoking verse! What is reality? The immediate reality (to the senses) is the world outside consisting of the Maha Bhutas (five great elements) viz., earth, water, fire, air, and ether. Are these elements the reality? No; because these are changing in character, while reality is unchanging and eternal. Or, is it the knowledge that one obtains form the world? No. Here knowledge refers to sense perception. Is it the four Vedas that the guru teaches to the disciple? No. Even the Vedas return, unable to reach the reality. Is it the ego that asserts itself in everything, everywhere? No. Much less is it the mind that acts on the report of the senses. None of these is reality because all these are modifications of Prakriti, which by its very nature is ever changing.
Ego defeated at Thiruvannamalai
What, then, is reality? "It is the place where," says Saint Arunagirinathar, "I have been accepted." The "I" which the saint refers to may either mean himself or the ego-principle "I". When Arunagirinathar dropped himself down from the Temple tower, Lord Muruga appeared before him as his Guru and accepted him, which happened in Thriuvannamalai in South India, now made famous by Bhagavan Ramana Maharishi. Thiruvannamalai is the place where the egos of Brahma and Vishnu were put to an end by Siva. Thus, "where I have been accepted" means that were the ego accepts its defeat or inability to know the real, there reality stands revealed.
Puranam: Sivarathri & significance of Thiruvannamalai
Once, Brahma and Vishnu had a debate wherein each attributed Supreme Lordship to himself, but they could not decide the matter. Finally, finding no other means, they decided to settle the issue by a fight - He who would win was regarded as the Supreme. The fight began and went on for several years and there seemed to be no end to it. Now Siva, wanting to put and end to their fight, appeared before them as a huge column of light which flabbergasted them and curious to know what it is, they stopped their fight. Then a voice was heard, "Why do you vainly quarrel over your superiority? Lord Siva only knows your strength. He who finds either the origin or summit of this light is the Supreme Lord."
At once, Vishnu assuming the form of a huge boar, went into the earth to find the bottom; and Brahma, taking the form of a huge swan, soared high in the skies to see the top of the light. The more they searched, the farther was the light seen. They were exhausted and failed in their attempts. At once the light appeared as Siva before them, seeing whom, their ego vanished and they stood accepting Siva as the Supreme Lord.
The Lord again disappeared and only the huge column of light was there, which gradually condensed itself into a mountain. This is the Arunachala mountain at Thiruvannamalai where Saint Arunagirinathar was accepted by Lord Murugan. This is said to have happened on a Mahasivarathri day.
Ego and Reality
The ego fails in its attempt to know what reality is. Where the ego ceases, there reality reveals itself. The ego is active and intact and in its search for reality in the outer world, in sense-knowledge, in the mental functions and even in intellectual understanding, though in subtler and subtler degrees. But when it recedes into the innermost recesses of the heart, it melts and vanishes into its source, as a salt-doll that enters the ocean trying to fathom its depth. Reality is lodged in the core of the heart, where the ego has no access.
The Mahanarayanaopanishad says, "In the center of the body is the sinless (egoless) lotus of the heart, which is the abode of the Supreme Being. Further within that, is the sorrowless ether (reality)."
Cessation of ego is the revelation of reality. To know the knower is knowledge.
"O Lord Shanmukha, reveal to me as to what reality is." Asks the saint. He addresses the Lord as Shanmukha, i.e., the Lord with six-faces. It will be relevant to see what the saint has said about the six faces, in one of his Thiruppugal song:
Here also, after giving the meaning and purpose of the six-faces, the saint still requests the Lord to reveal to him the true meaning of His six faces, and this he addresses to the Lord at Arunachala or Thiruvannamalai, which, as we have seen, is the place where egos of Vishnu and Brahma were vanquished. By this, the saint wants to show that our understanding of the meaning of the six-faces is all right so far as it goes, but the true significance of it will be revealed only when and where the ego vanishes. That is why he has dedicated the song to the Lord at Arunachala and not of any other place.
Thus, when the saint wants to know the truth about anything, he makes reference to Arunachala, to show that it can be known or revealed only in that egoless state.
Instruction for the devout Sadhaka
[The pithy prayer for the "all-ceasing and mine-loosing good" of verse 2 may be said to be expatiated upon in greater detail in this verse, whereby the Sadhaka is also shown the process of rational investigation into the nature of reality and where it is to be realized.
Realty ever shines within, as the Self, and can be realized when the ego is relinquished, is the instruction of this verse to the aspirant.
Combining head and heart Jnana and Bakthi
It is interesting to observe that throughout this work of Kanthar Anubhuthi, the saint brings about a blend of the heart and the head, a prayerful mood and an inquiring/investigating nature Bakthi and Jnana, as an effective form of Sadhana. Thus, the prayer of a bhakta (devotee) of the previous verse is immediately followed and strengthened by the investigative nature of the Sadhaka.]
Karthikeyan, N.V. Kanthar Anubhuti (God-Experience) of Saint Arunagirinathar. 2nd ed. India: Divine Life Society, 1990.