THE ABCs OF ENLIGHTENMENT Week 3: CONSCIOUSNESS

Just about everything humans use today had to be invented or at the very least, as in the case of something that was already there…

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CONSCIOUSNESS

Just about everything humans use today had to be invented or at the very least, as in the case of something that was already there, like fire, “discovered,” or that’s the term we use anyway. Which is still a stretch, especially in the case of said fire, as it is not only ubiquitous but dangerous, burning your ass if you don’t move quickly enough to get out of its way!

The Wheel

Though it took 143,500 years (accepting the notion that modern man first appeared 150,000 years ago) to come up with the somewhat obvious innovation called the wheel, it would seem to qualify as an invention that, according to the archeologists, was originally cobbled together around 4500 BC by the Sumerians in Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq.

A log had been used as a roller for millennia, and when the load came off, was simply picked up and replaced at the front in order to proceed (I guess before that you just dragged things around on your sled). Later two logs were used and the load merely balanced during this reconfiguring procedure. Sometime later that process, too, was refined by three, four, or even many, many more logs; in that way the pyramids were built. Then one day some proto-insurgent decided to forget the whole get-a-thousand-slaves-and-whip-them-to-within-an-inch-of-their-lives- until-they-carried-these-humongous-rollers-back-up-a-very-steep-incline thing and made an axle. The rest, as they say, is history.

Meditation

Meditation, too, had to be invented, or more correctly (since it could also be argued that the idea of sitting quietly in self-observation was already sort of there), discovered. Amazingly, this occurred around 3000 BC, only fifteen hundred years or so after the invention of the wheel and by a group that today we call the Vedic seers or Rishis (Sanskrit for “saints”) who lived in the Indus Valley, in what is modern-day northwest India.

These Rishis also had a problem to solve and not just how to keep their captives alive long enough to finish the tomb for the glorious Pharaoh, but to find out, “Who am I?” and meditation was their solution. Yes, they reasoned that if they could take all the unnecessary noise out of themselves; if they could make their minds really calm and quiet, even thoughtless, they might be better able to observe their inner nature. (“Duh,” but we still don’t get it!)

The World’s Very First Book

For hundreds of years their discoveries formed an oral tradition or Shruti (“that which is heard”) that was passed down by the gurus (“teachers”) to their wannabe guru disciples until eventually they were collected into books called Vedas (“knowledge”). The very first of these, the Rig Veda, because it was written in the Indus script, can be fairly accurately dated to around 1700 BC, making it the world’s very first book. Earlier writings on papyrus (invented 2500 BC) or even earlier glyphs on animal skins have been found, but so far nothing before this time meets The United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture’s (UNESCO) definition of the book as “a non-periodical printed publication of at least 49 pages excluding covers,” which at 1028 mantras (“hymns”) in ten chapters called mandalas (“cycles”), the Rig Veda easily does.

The first Rig Veda (there are four Vedas) also contains the most sacred of mantras, the Gayatri Mantra, which is still widely recited throughout the world, especially by Hindus. The following translation is by Sri Chinmoy:

We meditate on the transcendental glory of the Deity Supreme,
who is inside the heart of the earth, inside the life of the sky, and
inside the soul of the heavens. May He stimulate and illumine our minds.

One “Deity Supreme”

Back in elementary school we were taught that the Hindus were polytheists (bad) and that the Christians and Jews were monotheists (awesome, and second best, respectively). And that around 1500 BC Abraham first discovered that there was only one God and this really freaked out everybody since they were all idolaters and pagans. The Gayatri Mantra, composed at least 200 years earlier, with its reference to the one “Deity Supreme,” would seem to dispute this. (And doesn’t Christianity also have angels and saints and prophets and a mother and a son and an entire heavenly pantheon that it claims surrounds its one highest God?)

Anyway, one unarguable thing—if there will ever be an unarguable thing— that we learn from the Vedas is that a formalized system of self-inquiry was methodized in the East at least 5000 years ago. And since we already know that psychoanalysis, the most familiar form of this here in the West, was established by Sigmund Freud about 100 years ago, this implies that we might have some catching up to do. Oh, and one more thing. While Freud said that our inner world was comprised of the repressed impulses of our subconscious minds that could be best understood through our dreams, the Rishis said that by practicing meditation we could come face to face with the One Supreme Being who dwells within all. Which, at long last, brings us to our essay topic: Consciousness.

oregon_sunset

Oregon Sunset by Malcom Carlaw

Consciousness

Here in the West, consciousness is generally understood to mean “the state of not being unconscious.” In the East, it describes what an individual is conscious of at a particular moment and since they believe that someone can potentially be conscious of everything, including this One Supreme Being, it covers a very wide range of things.

They also say that someone can be in a high state of consciousness or a low state of consciousness or even, I suppose, a so-so state of consciousness. And what they mean is that a person can be aware of his higher nature—his infinite peace, light and bliss—or can merely be, almost by default, aware only of his lower nature—his aggressive impulses and animalistic appetites—or can simply be staring vacantly ahead with flies buzzing in and out of his gaping maw.

How does anyone make that kind of judgment? (Excepting the fly thing, which is pretty obvious.) How do they know what is going on inside someone else? Are they presumptuous, even bumptious? (A great word; look it up.) The answers are probably they don’t and they are, unless they are a genuine Guru or Master, that is, for whom states of consciousness are their stock and trade. Zen Buddhism with its koans is a great way to illustrate this.

monk

via Wikipedia

Koans

Koans are questions given by Zen Masters to their students that can only be solved by intuition, such as the famous, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” In this practice the student contemplates his problem during his meditation and then after some time reappears before the Master with his solution. If the Master is satisfied, then he will give the student another more difficult koan and the procedure will be repeated. If not satisfied, the Master will send the student back to try again. This is done in private and to discuss of one’s assignment, especially with other students, is strictly forbidden.

Still, humans being humans, the rest of the monks, according to a friend of mine anyway, take great pleasure—of the malicious variety, of course—in finding out where everyone else is at: “Have you heard? Toyo is still on MU, and for more than one year! Shhh, here he comes.” Mu, by the way is “Has a dog the Buddha nature?”

While books like The Sound of the One Hand: 281 Zen Koans with Answers (CliffsNotesTM for Monks?!) do exist, to think that the Master, if he is a legitimate one, would ever fall for such a ploy is absurd (unless for his own clever reasons he wanted to pretend that he was taken in by this trickery, that is). This is because there is not actually one true answer to any koan and the sensei is not examining the factual correctness of his student’s response but rather his student’s inner condition, his consciousness. He is judging if his student’s meditation has been fruitful; if he has increased his intuitive capacity and is becoming more conscious of the deeper and higher realities within himself or has merely spent the last few weeks, or months, or even years daydreaming or, as is more often the case, catnapping.

A Genuine God-Man

Jesus said, “The Kingdom of Heaven (or ‘God’) is within you,” and, as you know, he was a spiritual master with a dozen or so direct disciples. And this pronouncement is perfectly in keeping with the entire message and direction of Eastern spiritual thought for millennia. Now without getting into the rancor of who was a real prophet and who was false, of who was God’s only son and who was just some distant, even estranged relation, I believe that we can state, hopefully without injury to our person, that Jesus was not just bringing this up as an interesting fact but was hoping that his disciples would also seek this same Kingdom within themselves; that he was sharing this wisdom in order to inspire them to expand their consciousness. And further, as a genuine God-man, he was already conscious of this inner Kingdom within himself and had the capacity to look within his disciples to see how close they were to realizing this reality for themselves and then, out of his love and concern for them, would try and guide them toward this ultimate knowledge in the same way a Zen Master might do. But a million, gazillion times more legitimately, of course. Phew!
Look for the next topic, Death, next week! Can’t wait to until then to read more? Order The ABCs ofThe ABCs of Enlightenment cover Enlightenment: A Mystical Primer today.

 

Jeffrey BakerJeffrey Baker was a student for more than forty years of Sri Chinmoy, who named him Kalatit (Kal, time; atit, beyond). Called “our preeminent humorist” by his teacher, he was a frequent contributor to publications and events in his spiritual community and elsewhere. A card-carrying Baby Boomer, he attended the Woodstock Festival, performed in various rock-and-roll ensembles, and has a degree in ecology from The University of Connecticut. He’s been a gardener for the Rockefellers in Pocantico Hills, New York, and “the piano tuner to the stars” working with artists such as Billy Joel, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Richard Goode and Andre Previn. He has composed more than one hundred works in the classical as well as the theatrical genres. (https://www.reverbnation.com/jeffreybaker) His The Music of the Zodiac, has had more than 40,000 downloads. His corpus of philosophical treatises, Eat My Dust, Martin Luther, as well as a collection of epigrams, 1000 Pearls of Wisdom, and a group of essays on contemporary subjects, Blah, Blah, Blah, are available as e-books (Amazon) and in paperback (Createspace).

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The Gayatri Mantra – An Ancient Mantra

The Gayatri Mantra is one of the most ancient and revered mantras in existence…

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The Gayatri Mantra is one of the most ancient and revered mantras in existence.

Om bhur bhuvah svah

Tat Savitur varen(i)yam

Bhargo devasya dhimahi

Dhiyo yo nah prachodayat

 

I lead a weekly Kirtan practice at Pilgrimage of the Heart yoga studio in San Diego. We’ve been practicing as a community for over five years and the Gayatri Mantra has become one of our staple chants.

As a Kirtan leader I enjoy exploring the deep meanings of the chants, which allows me to enter more deeply into the spirit and intent behind these beautiful utterances.

PYO

The Gayatri Mantra first appeared in the Rig Veda, which was written in Sanskrit about 2500 to 3500 years ago. It is said that the sage Vishwamitra was given the Gayatri Mantra by the Supreme Being for his many years of reverence and meditation, to be shared with all humanity, so there is considered no earthly author.

It has also been said that Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha himself recited this mantra. (See The Light of Asia – Arnold, Book the First, page 7, Routledge)

aum

Chanted through the Ages…

The Gayatri Mantra has been chanted by trillions of people over the course of eons. Quite literally it is likely sung by a billion people every day, even today.

There is a wealth of commentary and opinion as to good translations of the chant. Googling Gayatri Mantra will generate numerous interpretations. The basic gist follows:

The word Gayatri refers to the meter of the verse. The mantra consists of three lines of eight syllables each. But wait. There are four lines! That’s because the first line isn’t actually a part of the mantra itself. Its a prefix.

The Great Utterance.

The first line is a mantra unto itself and is known as, “The Great (spiritual) Utterance” (mahāvyāhṛti).

It precedes many other mantras, is used universally or can be recited by itself. It is a great aligning and centering phrase and can be interpreted as aligning oneself to the earth, heavens and what lies beyond… Or, aligning with the material world, the world of mind and with the supreme spirit… The important idea is the alignment of one’s Self with the purest Unity.

The meaning…

The mantra itself begins with the word, ‘Tat’ which means ‘That’ and refers to the Supreme that defies any earthly description…

Savitur means Sun, but not the physical sun. More like the divine light of knowledge and discernment, the animating impetus for everything.

Varen(i)yam means adoration.

Next line: Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi means contemplation of the Divine, Illuminated Grace.

Last Line: Dhiyo Yo Nah Prachodayat means loosely, whose divine intellect/illumination our prayers/meditations are for/about…

As a leader of a kirtan practice, I found the original meter (three lines of eight syllables) to be somewhat cumbersome to arrange musically/lyrically for western interpretation. So, I broke from the original meter and formed lines as follows:

Om bhur bhuvah svah

Tat Savitur varen(i)yam

Bhargo devasya

Dhimahi dhiyo yo

Nah prachodayat

 

This arrangement allows for a chant that musically simple and beautiful, and easy to play and sing.

Here’s our version and a link to another version with the classic meter:

Our arrangement: Pilgrimage of the Heart Kirtan band

Classic arrangement: This is a beautiful version by Deva Premal.

It actually maintains the classic meter while running each ‘measure’

as 5 – 6 – 6 – 7 beats per line. Beautiful, but challenging for most to follow and sing with.

 

A must have…

What is important is that the mantra be chanted with the utmost of pure intentions and an appreciation for the profound implications of the scope of this chant. It is an outpouring of one’s heart to the Supreme and a recognition of the Divine Grace bestowed upon all creation and beyond.

If you have a chanting practice, The Gayatri Mantra is a ‘must have’ in your repertories.

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