Kanthar Anubhuthi - Verse 37
By Sri Arunagirinathar
We aspire for positions that fatten our ego
We are ignorant of our own good. We do not know what we should aspire for, what we have to achieve in life. We long for things and positions which will not last long, which will fatten our ego and lead us away from our essential nature. Arunagirinathar, therefore, comes to our rescue and points out that which will bring lasting good to us.
aspire for positions that quell our ego
In this verse, Saint Arunagirinathar instructs the mind to aspire for a position which is unusual and so different from the ones we generally long for. Our aspiration is, at best, to become a wealthy man, an important man, a minister, a multimillionaire, a business magnate, etc. But Arunagirinathar's suggestion is quite the contrary, because the aim is of a different nature altogether, i.e., to attain Anubhuthi (divine experience) and not worldly greatness. His instruction is to aspire for the status of being a "Parivaaram" of God a devotee, yogi, or jnani. What is the use of this aspiration we may wonder. While worldly positions fan the fire of ego and make it all-consuming and finally consume oneself, the position of being a "Parivaaram" of God helps to kill the go gradually.
Thondars: What and who are they?
The devotees of God are a category by themselves. They are called Thondars, in Tamil. Thondu means Seva (divine service) and one who has dedicated oneself to the service of God and His devotees is a Thondar. Thondars are servants, in the true sense of the term, who regard themselves as slaves of God and His devotees, and who have given themselves to the service of Temples, Ashrams, etc. They devote their whole time to divine service cleaning the premises of places of worship, attending to the needs of those that visit temples, maintenance of flower-gardens, wells, etc., and preparation of garlands and sandal-paste for worship in shrine, etc., etc. These services they do absolutely voluntarily. They are not employed workers, nor do they restrict their services to a particular temple or place. They keep moving on from village-to-village, place-to-place, and do Seva wherever necessary.
Most of the temples in the villages are uncared for and ill-maintained, partly due to finance and partly due to the negligence of the Temple authorities. Thondars will at once apply themselves to the cleaning of the area around the shrine for devotees to circumambulate, putting lamps at dust, etc. But the authorities of the shrine (Temple) and the public will, at first, suspect them and ill-treat them, because of their beggarly appearance which they purposely put on. But their love of God and genuine eagerness to serve His devotees is known only to the Indweller (God). To them, God alone exists, more so in the form of His devotees.
Service to devotees is service to God
To see a devotee is verily to see God, and any service to a devotee is direct service to God Himself. Such is their attitude. At the sight of devotees, they will fall at their feet, entreat them, and serve them. But, what reward do they get! More often than not, Thondars are subjected to severe humiliation by the arrogant public and the heartless authorities of Temple who stick to outer rituals losing the spirit. But the severe they are dealt with, the greater will be their joy, as every such experience deepens their remembrance and recognition of God's presence and the working of His divine hand behind everything. They subject themselves to every kind of humiliation so that there is not the least trace of ego left in them. Thus, the Thondars annihilate their ego, by developing serenity through undivided love for God, which draws His grace on them.
Greatness of Thondars
Their faith in God is a living faith a faith which can make God look to their bodily needs, a faith which forces Him to appear in the needed manner to remove their sufferings and difficulties, a faith which often draws God to appear before them in person to prove their greatness to the ungrateful world.
A study of the lives of saints, especially that of the Sixty-three Nayanar saints of South India will reveal the glory, greatness, and power of true devotees of God. Gouranga Mahaprabhu, Tulasidas, Ramdas, Jnana-dev, Appar, Sundarar, Jnana-Sambanthar, Sankara, Ramakrishna, Ramana, Sivananda, and other devotees could transform people by their mere presence and look. So purifying, so inspiring, so transforming is their company tat a living contact with them will ensure God-vision, even as iron is transformed into gold by the touch of the philosopher's stone.
Devotees of God solely engage themselves in the service of God, in His worship, in singing His glories, in repeating His Names, in meditation upon Him, in talking to one another about God and His Lilas; in short, they verily exist for Him and in Him, and nothing other than God exists for them. This firm conviction of the omnipresence of God enables them to behold God's presence even in those that abuse and ill-treat them and they ever maintain an undisturbed and serene mind. The ego is, thus, given no chance to express itself and it dies a natural death. So glorious it is to be a Parivaaram (devotee) of God that Arunagirinathar recommends it as the surest means of eradicating the ego and attaining wisdom and divine grace.
The verse, however, seems to convey a deeper significance the Mahavakya Upadesa.
"Iraiyon Parivaaram" is an exalted state, and therefore, we must try to understand the true significance of the word "Parivaaram." Thondars, Bhaktas, or devotees of God are His Parivaaram. But who are Bhaktas? He who has attained perfection in Yoga is called a Yogi; he who practices Yoga to attain perfection is also called a Yogi. Similarly, those who have attained God or experienced God-consciousness are the real Bhaktas ("Parivaaram"); though, of course, those who strive to attain that state are also called as Bhaktas. Thus, though in its broadest sense, "Iraiyon Parivaaram" includes all devotees, the term cannot be used will full justification to denote the ordinary devotees who just attend temple or do worship at a particular hour of the day but engage themselves in mundane activities during the greater part of the day. Those who have given themselves solely to devotional practices and honestly strive to attain God but have not yet tasted the bliss of God are "Iraiyon Parivaaram," but only in a secondary sense. Only those Thondars, Bhaktas, Yogis, Jnanins, who have experienced God-consciousness, at least as a passing glimpse Jivanmukta are the real "Parivaaram" of God. Hence, the Periya-Puraanam, which treats the lives of the Sixty-three Nayanar saints, also goes by the name Thiruththondar Puraanam. If we do not make the above distinction, we would be equating the routine temple-goers with the exalted Nayanmars and other saints, which would not be justifiable.
Jivanmuktas are the true Parivaaram of God
The Jivanmuktas are the true "Parivaaram" of God. After experience of God-consciousness, they generally come down partially which may either be due to the residue of their Prarabdha Karmas or God's will, or both; and when they do so, they are characterized by extraordinary love for God and extreme compassion for living beings. They devote themselves to external forms of worship, singing the glory of God and such other activities which may appear to be like those of ordinary Bhaktas.
Soham I am that found in Kanthar Anubhuthi
But even then, these Jivanmuktas will be steady in their inner Bhava (feeling) of "Soham" (I am He), "Sivoham" (I am Siva), "Ahama Brahma Asmi" (I am Brahman), "I am a Bhakta", "I am God's Parivaaram", or (Naan) Iraiyon Parivaaram," which are only different formulae conveying the same meaning. Thus, has Saint Arunagirinathar hidden very mystically, secretly and deeply "Aham Brahma Asmi" in "(Naan) Iraiyon Parivaaram"!
To be an "Iraiyon Parivaaram" or a Jivanmukta is to be established in the consciousness of "Aham Brahma Asmi." To aspire to become an "Iraiyon Parivaaram" is to aspire to become a Jivanmukta, i.e., to try to get oneself established in consciousness of "Aham Brahma Asmi." How? By meditation on that Mahavakya, because meditation on "Aham Brahma Asmi" will lead to actual experience or realization of "Aham Brahma Asmi" Advaita Bhavana leads to Advaita Avastha. Hence, when the mind is asked to aspire for the status of being an "Iraiyon Parivaaram," it is an instruction for meditation on "Aham Brahma Asmi."
"Iraiyon Parivaaram" is really a Mahavakya Upadesa -> initiation into Sannyasa -> aspiration to become Brahman
Now, the instruction to meditate on "Aham Brahma Asmi" presupposes, in its turn, initiation into Sannyasa, as the Mahavakya Upadesa is given only at the time of giving Sannyasa.
This verse may, therefore, be said to contain, implied in it, the Mahavakya Upadesa of "Tat Twam Asi." It is implied, because the Upadesa is always given in secret. When the disciples approaches the Guru for initiation into Sannyasa, i.e., the highest mystic meditation, the Guru gives him Mahavakya Upadesa saying, "Tat Twam Asi" (Thou are That), and the disciple is asked to repeat and meditate on "Aham Brahma Asmi" (I am Brahman), which Saint Arunagirinathar renders as "(Naan) Iraiyon Parivaaram," which status the mind is instructed to aspire for.
As you think, so you become
It is the way of thinking that makes the consciousness Jiva or Isvara, man or God, individual or cosmic. If the principle of awareness in us thinks "I am the body," it verily gets limited to and identified with the body; if it thinks "I am pure consciousness or God," it doubtless becomes God, it is God. Hence, it is said, "As you think, so you become."
The mind or Jivatman, to whom the instruction is given, in its essential nature belongs to God or universal existence, Satchidananda or pure consciousness. The Jiva belongs to the nature of the Atman and not of the body or the mind. Due to Avidya (ignorance), the universal which alone exists, has somehow forgotten its universal nature, alienated itself and come to regard itself as an isolated existence, or the Jiva, and asserts its independent existence, which is called Asmita (ego). Consequent upon this individualization, the Jiva sees something outside itself, and worse still develops a liking for certain things and dislike for certain others (Raga-dvesha). Finally, it gets attached to a particular body and to the things related to it, and clings to them, which is Abhinivesha. Now it has to get back to its original condition of universality in order that it may be freed form all these afflictions.
The effective method for this, says Arunagirinathar, is meditation on God, on one's essential status of belonging to God, i.e. of one's universal nature. It is to think rightly, which is to know (and feel) "I belong to God", "I am Brahman". As a dreaming subject wakes and feels one's true personality in waking; so does the Jiva wake up to its universal waking condition of Isvaratva (Brahmanhood) in meditation. The mind is, therefore, instructed to meditate as, "I belong to God" [(Naan) Iraiyon Parivaaram] or "I am Brahman" (Aham Brahma Asmi).
"I am that" explained via ocean-drop analogy
Suppose a wave or drop in the ocean, which has due to some error in thinking, regarded itself as isolated form and unconnected with ocean, starts thinking rightly, how would it think? First, it will feel, "I belong to the ocean," then, "I am part of the ocean," then, "I am inseparable from the ocean," then, "I am non-different form the ocean" and finally, "I am the ocean."
Though these are stages of rethinking on right lines (meditation), the wave was ever the ocean, even when it thought itself to be separate form it; and "I am the ocean" is implied right from the beginning stages, i.e., in "I belong to the ocean," etc. assertions. So is the case with the Jiva, which is but a myth, which has, due to wrong thinking, come to regard itself as separated from God. The Jiva is nothing but a speck of consciousness in the consciousness-ocean. How can the Jiva, or for that matter anything, be separate from God who is the omnipresent and all-pervading Reality? Can anything be outside Him? Hence, the Jiva that starts aspiring to attain its true status (or Being), first mediates, "I belong to God; I am an associate of God; I am God's Parivaaram." Then it feels, "I am part of God, I am inseparable from Him"; then, "I am non-different from God"; and finally it realizes, "I am God; I am Brahman; Ahama Brahma Asmi." And "Aham Brahma Asmi" feeling runs through the current of meditation right from the beginning from "(Naan) Iraiyon Parivaaram."
Viewed purely from a literal sense, the term "(Naan) Iraiyon Parivaaram" may appear to suggest a dualist concept, but a mystic insight would reveal that it contains in its bosom the highest secret of Absolute Oneness. The intellect has a limit and when it reaches there it has to give up itself. We should not, therefore, miss to grasp the underlying truth in our over enthusiasm to stick to literal meaning and intellectual understanding.
That it implies "Aham Brahma Asmi" meditation may also be inferred from the latter part of the verse. After instructing the mind to aspire to attain the status of being an "Iraiyon Parivaaram," Arunagirinathar adds, "O mind! By knowledge called Serenity, destroy the ego with its root (Avidya)," by which the effect that would follow from such a meditation is hinted at. And it is interesting to note that the Saint adopts this technique even in the other two verses of instruction of the mind (verses 7 and 14).
When this meditation on "Aham Brahma Asmi" is practiced by the well-prepared mind, it settles itself in its universal condition of "Being," which is called Serenity, as against the condition of Asmita or Jiva, which is "becoming." As a wave-crest subsides and becomes one with the calm waters of the deep ocean, the ego-wave of Jiva subsides in the existence-ocean of Isvara. This knowledge or realization of "I am Brahman" brings about the equilibrated condition of universality (i.e. Sereneness or Samatvam), which is a death-blow not only to the ego but also to its cause, Avidya. Hence, Arunagirinathar says, "Destroy the ego with its root." He does not, however, make a direct mention of Avidya because it is not a thing to be perceived, not a thing of positive experience. We are aware of the condition of Ahamkara (ego) and its workings in the form of personality consciousness, but not of Avidya, which is a logical presupposition and which is inferred from its effects. So, the destruction of the effect to its root means the destruction of the cause itself. All this Arunagirinathar implies when he says, "Destroy the ego to its root."
The ego cannot totally be destroyed unless and until its root-cause Avidya is removed and no effort of the Jiva can do it as all its efforts presuppose Avidya and ego. Hence, meditation on its higher, essential aspect of "Being" (Serenity) which is also Awareness (knowledge) is the only royal way to destroy the ego together with its root, Avidya. The help of the higher is to be taken to overcome or subdue the lower. Thus, the Jivatva is to be absorbed or withdrawn into Ishvaratva by the most effective method of meditation on "Aham Brahma Asmi" by the qualified mind, duly initiated by a competent Master, is Arunagirinathar's solemn advise.
Instruction for the devout Sadhaka
[When the disciple approaches the Guru with an earnest longing for liberation and seeks initiation into Sannyasa (verse 36), the Guru, being convinced of his fitness and readiness, initiates him into the order of Sannyasa (with the Mahavakya Upadesa, "Tat Tvam Asi" Thou art That), and instructs him to do meditation on "Aham Brahma Asmi" "(Naan) Iraiyon Parivaaram" "I belong to God," and with this knowledge of serenity or oneness to destroy the ego totally.
Though the aspirant touched the fringe of Cosmic-Consciousness, he had to return to world-consciousness because Avidya was not yet destroyed (verses 28 and 29); and unless Avidya is removed, realization is not possible. Here is, therefore, the instruction for annihilation of Avidya, the root of Ahamkara or ego.
Now, with this initiation and instruction, the disciple is fully equipped to leap into the Absolute. The act of being initiated into Sannyasa is, of course, not the attainment of the goal; it is only a final preparation for it. That meditation on "Aham Brahma Asmi" is necessary to break the causal chain, i.e., Avidya, Maya, or Samsara, and attain Samadhi, is evident form the Guru's instruction, following the initiation, to destroy ego with its cause (Avidya) by the knowledge of one's true identity.]
Karthikeyan, N.V. Kanthar Anubhuti (God-Experience) of Saint Arunagirinathar. 2nd ed. India: Divine Life Society, 1990.