Kanthar Anubhuthi - Verse 36
By Sri Arunagirinathar
Skanda Puranam: How Skanda became Skandagurunatha
Lord Siva bowed to Lord Skanda and obtained Upadesa on Pranava. And Arunagirinathar prays to Lord Skanda to reveal to him that secret Upadesa, which He gave to Siva. The occasion for instruction to Siva is narrated as follows in the Skanda Puranam.
Once Brahma, with the other gods, went to Mount Kailasa to pay homage to Lord Siva. After paying homage to and taking leave of Siva, they wended their way back through the abode of Lord Skanda. The Lord, as yet a small boy, was playing with other boys. Brahma out of his pride of being the creator paid no heed and bypassed the Lord (Skanda). Skanda wanted to teach a lesson to him and called him to His presence. Brahma came and bowed to Lord Skanda, and stood before Him with folded hands.
"What is your work?" asked the Lord.
"Creation," replied Brahma.
"How do you do the work of creation?"
"With the help of the Vedas."
"Do you know the Vedas?"
"If so, repeat," said the Lord.
Brahma started repeating the Rig-Veda, beginning with "OM."
"Stop," said the Lord, "do you know the meaning of OM?"
Brahma tried to explain Om, but could not do it satisfactorily. Skanda, thereupon, ordered Brahma to be imprisoned and took over the job of creation upon Himself on the ground that one who does not know full well the meaning of Pranava (Om) is not fit to do the work of creation. The gods who had accompanied Brahma went to Lord Siva, reported the matter to Him and prayed for the release of Brahma from his imprisonment. Siva came to Skanda and ordered Him to release Brahma. Though unwilling, for the reason stated above, in obedience to His father's wish, Skanda released Brahma. Brahma and the other Devas realizing the greatness of Skanda placed His Feet on their heads and with His permission left for their respective abodes.
Incidentally, Siva, keeping Skanda on His lap, enquired of Him as to whether He knew the meaning of Om and if so, to reveal it to Him. Skanda said that the secret of Pranava is not to be told in public but is to be revealed secretly only when approached with an attitude of discipleship. Though Himself the Svarupa of Om, and also that Skanda was Himself in another form, yet eager to hear the sweet exposition of Om from the boyish lips of His Son, Siva, assumed the attitude of a disciple and bowed to Him saying, "Natha! Kumara! Namah" (Prostrations unto Thee, O Lord, O Kumara), and asked for Upadesa. Into the willing ears of Siva, Skanda silently gave Upadesa of the meaning of Pranava. Siva was highly pleased to hear the secret exposition from Skanda, since the latter did it exactly as Siva revealed it to Him earlier. Siva admiringly said, "Yes, You are right; the meaning of Pranava is precisely the same. Even as the Vedas conclude saying `Subrahmanyom' and `Sadasivom,' we two are the meaning of Pranava. Those who know its meaning thus, become equal to Me, i.e., attain Me. To know the meaning of the Pranava is the foremost Sadhana for attaining Brahman for those well-versed Sadhus who are settled in their understanding and Sannyasins who are filled with Suddha-Sattva. How can Brahma who is possessed of the pride of his position know the meaning Even yogis who have purified themselves of their sins in Dhyana do not know this; only My devotees out of My grace know it. Dear child, since you are verily myself, you know this mysterious Pranava. Of all yogis, one but Sage Agastya is fit to know the Pranava. Therefore, give Upadesa of Om to Agastya, who will become your foremost disciple. Let this Parampara (line of instruction) thus continue."
Siva knew the meaning of Pranava but...
It is evident form the above that Siva took Upadesa of Om from Skanda not because He knew it not but to reveal to the world that Skanda was one other than Himself in every respect. The incident also indicates the method of approach and attainment of spiritual wisdom from a Guru. Also, but for Siva's getting the secret revealed from Skanda, a doubt might arise in the minds of people as to whether Skanda knew the meaning of Pranava at all. Thus, the Pranava-Upadesa-incident has many secrets behind it.
Lord Skanda reveals the Pranava secret to Arunagirinathar
What Skanda revealed to Siva, that Arunagirinathar requests the Lord to reveal to him also. And the Lord did reveal it to Arunagirinathar, though, of course, in the same way in which He did it to Lord Siva, i.e., secretly!
Now, Arunagirinathar does not say what it is that was revealed to him, but leaves it for us to pray to the Lord, as he did, and get it revealed from Him directly and secretly, as in the case of Siva and himself. This being a treatise on Anubhuthi (God-experience), the Saint leaves it to us to experience it ourselves. But in hiss other works, he gives out what the Lord revealed to him. He says that where the Dvaitam (dualistic consciousness) of "I" and "mine" vanishes, there true knowledge dawns. To know this knowledge is to know the secret of Om (Pranava). To know the Knower is knowledge. And it is also held by some that the Saint has given a clue to this in the other half of the verse itself, when he says that though being the Lord whose Feet adorn the heads of Brahma and other gods, He adorns His head with Valli's Feet. Valli practiced such penance as to efface "I"-ness and "mine-ness" and so the Lord placed Her feet on His head, which means where individuality is effaced universality makes itself revealed or accessible. It is held, therefore, that the instruction given by the Lord to Siva was this where one loses oneself, there the Lord can be experienced. The Pranava Upadesa reveals the secret identity or Oneness of everything.
The Pranava Mantra
A brief study of Om would not be out of place here. Pranava (Om) is verily the Absolute or Brahman. It is also all that is visible here. It is "this" and "that," the visible manifestation and the transcendent Reality. It has two aspects the relative and the Absolute. The three constitutive words of OM, namely, "A", "U", and "M", represent the former; and Om in its transcendent nature is the latter. "A" represents the waking state in the individual called Visva, and cosmically it is the Universal physical called Virat. It is the consciousness that animates the waking state and the physical cosmos, respectively. "U" represents the dream state in the individual called Taijasa, and cosmically it is the Universal subtle called Hiranyagarbha. It is the self-same consciousness animating the dream state and the subtle cosmos, respectively. "M" represents the deep sleep state in the individual called Prajna and cosmically it is the Universal causal called Ishvara. It is, again, the self-same consciousness animating the deep-sleep state and the causal cosmos, respectively. It is not that they are 3 different consciousnesses, but one and the same consciousness animating the different levels of manifestation. It is Visva, Taijasa, and Prajna in the individual; and Virat, Hiranyagarbha and Ishvara in the cosmic level. But all these are in relation to the creation. There must, however, be a state unrelated to creation, that is, even prior to creation. What was there even prior to creation? It is pure Om, pure consciousness-existence. But no-one can know this, because all have come after creation, and we cannot know what that condition was which was even prior to creation. That condition is the Absolute, transcendent Reality, Om. How did creation rise then? In that pure existence-consciousness there arose the cosmic vibration Om. (How and why, we cannot explain, because we all came after that. The authority in this regard is only the scriptures, which are the revelations of realized saints). Om is also, therefore, known as Sabda-Brahman. And from it, Isvara (causal), Hirangarbha (subtle) and Virat (physical) proceeded. These are only cosmic states. Thus, Om is a cosmic vibration which is always present. There was Om as pure consciousness before creation; in it arose the cosmic vibration Om, and all this visible Universe came forth. Thus, the Absolute and relative are both Om.
How "OM" helps us
Now, how is this knowledge of "Om" to help us? When we utter Om, it is not a mere sound uttered by us, but is a vibration created in us. So, in the utterance of Om we are supposed to create a vibration in us which will help attune ourselves to the ever-existing Cosmic vibration of Om. Thus, a correct recitation of Om with the proper Bhava (attitude) and understanding will enable one to transcend individuality, in stages, and attune oneself to the different cosmic states of Virat, Hiranyagarbha, and Ishvara, and finally with Pure consciousness itself. Thus, we (and everything) have come from Om, have our being in Om and have to merge in Om.
"Natha Kumara Nama" appears to be a Tamil rendition of the sacred Shadakshara Mantra "Kumaraya Namaha" in Sanskrit. This Shadakshara (six-lettered) Mantra is naturally considered to be as sacred as "Om Saravanabhavaya Namah" as it was uttered by the Lord (Siva) whose Mantra is Panchakshara (five-lettered).
Such a great Lord, who is Om itself, who revealed the secret of Pranava to Siva, should keep the Feet of Valli Devi on His head reveals the simplicity and gracious nature of His and shows that He is eager and seeks to help true devotees. Valli Devi did severe penance to attain the Lord. From her childhood, she was determined to marry the Lord and thought of Him always; nothing else in life interested her. Even then, the Lord tested her devotion pretty well before accepting her. But when He was thoroughly satisfied with the genuineness of her love for Him, He even took delight in placing her Feet on His head. The Lord verily becomes the slave of His true devotees. He gives Himself completely to those who give themselves to Him unreservedly. Such is the graciousness and simplicity of the Lord.
Instruction for the devout Sadhaka
[Verses 33 to 35 depicted the earnest longing and spiritual unrest of the Sadhaka's mind to get a total freedom from all Karmas and the bondage of Samsara.
He, therefore, feels the need for initiation into the highest mystic meditation to attain Realization and be freed from Samsara. Hence, as Siva bowed to and sought Pranava Upadesa from Skanda, the Sadhaka, bowing to his Guru, seeks initiation into the secret of Pranava (highest type of Nirguna meditation).
Since pure Pranava is considered as the Mantra of the Sannyasins only, it is implied that the Sadhaka seeks initiation into Sannyasa when he asks for initiation into Pranava.]
Karthikeyan, N.V. Kanthar Anubhuti (God-Experience) of Saint Arunagirinathar. 2nd ed. India: Divine Life Society, 1990.