Kshetra, Death, Non-Attachment & Solitude
... for this flesh ye see
Is Kshetra, is the field where Life disports;
And that which views and knows it is the Soul,
The elements, the conscious life, the mind,
The unseen vital force, the nine strange gates
Of the body, and the five domains of sense;
Desire, dislike, pleasure and pain, and thought
Deep-woven, and persistency of being;
These all are wrought on Matter by the Soul!
The Field is made up of the Five Elements (bhutas), the “I” consciousness as ego and will (ahamkara), the intelligence (buddhi) that visualizes the temporal illusory hologram, and the Unmanifest (avyaktam) aspect of Prakriti (Nature, the feminine Principle including the three gunas). The Field is the five senses (indriyani) as the eyes that see, the ears that hear, the nose that smells, the tongue that tastes, and the skin that feels touch. The Field is also the five motor organs - the voice, hands, feet, anus, and the generative organs.
Krishna gives Arjuna illustrations of the Field with its changes and modifications (XIII.5-6; Gambhirananda):
*Desire (iccha or kama) and its opposite repulsion or hatred (dvesah).
*Happiness (sukham) and its opposite pain and sorrow (duhkham).
*The body as the aggregate (sanghatah) of organs that are made up of the five elements (bhutas).
*Consciousness (cetana) which is sentient intelligence that produces knowledge.
*Courage (dhrtih) as the steadfast fortitude of hope that allows us to hold on to the vital energy (prana - the life breath).
This universe is the One veiled. Everything in our temporal illusory hologram is the Supreme Self who has taken on the aspect of limitation to play in Time and Space. The Creator covers Its Self in various layers, the sheaths (kancukas) that produce the Illusion of Separation and the Appearance of Multiplicity.
... the non-dual Lord, who by the power of His Maya, covered Himself, like a spider, with threads drawn from primal matter (pradhana) ...
- Svetasvatara Upanishad VI.10
The sages absorbed in meditation through one-pointedness of mind, discovered the creative power belonging to the Lord Himself and hidden in Its own gunas.
- Svetasvatara Upanishad I.3
... Thou are great God in the highest position lying beyond the mysterious sphere of Maya. Thou art One and hast yet penetrated in multifarious ways into the Hearts of all beings having Thee as their abode.
Krishna enumerates what is spoken of as Knowledge (jnanam). He tells Arjuna that whatever is contrary or opposite to this, is considered to be the absence of knowledge (ajnanam). These are the attributes that are indispensable for living in the Field in a state of harmony. These are the qualities generated by higher consciousness:
Humbleness, truthfulness, and harmlessness,
Patience and honour, reverence for the wise.
Purity, constancy, control of self ...
The ones who live in the understanding of Wisdom Knowledge never forget the temporal nature of birth (janma) and death (XIII.8). In the west we deny the intrusion of old age that inevitably brings sickness and death to all without exception. We cling to our fantasies of immortality with an endless stream of products which promise to keep us young, with face creams and plastic surgery, and costly medical practices that often only prolong suffering.
We fear death. Our lives are spent in consumption, chasing the dreams of the young - dreams that always elude us. We are not taught to seek wisdom; we don’t understand death, and we fear what we don’t understand.
The wise, however, are ever mindful of the wheels within wheels that turn ineluctably. Old age comes to us all and brings the loss of physical strength, beauty, memory and intelligence. The vigilant awareness of the temporal nature of existence in the Field reminds us to remain unattached to what can never be permanent.
Contempt of sense-delights, self-sacrifice,
Perception of the certitude of ill
In birth, death, age, disease, suffering, and sin ...
The Honey Pit
There is a wonderful story in the Mahabharata that I call ‘Hanging on Life’s Illusions’ which describes the transient, fragile and perilous nature of life. Only a culture steeped in primordial traditions could produce a story like this one!
In my words based on Ganguli’s translation, Book 11.Section 5:
There once was a man, a brahmana priest, who wandered the wilderness and found himself in a remote deep forest teeming with beasts of prey, lions and elephants all roaring such sounds as would frighten Death (Yama) itself! The man was terrified, his hair stood on end; his heart beating fast, he ran ‘hither and thither’ trying to escape.
But the forest was a trap surrounded with a net and many five-headed snakes that reached to the heavens. Running in fear, the man fell into a pit and became entangled in ‘clusters of creepers that were interwoven’ so that he hung upside down by his feet. From his hanging plight, he saw a large mighty snake in the pit. Close by the monster snake was a gigantic dark elephant with six faces and twelve feet.
Near the mouth of the pit were many ‘bees of frightful forms’ swarming in large numbers, who desired to drink honey collected in combs. But this honey could only attract children. The honey fell in many jets below and the man who was hanging by his feet in the pit began to drink from the jets of honey. He drank and drank more - but his thirst was never quenched and he always desired more.
‘Even then he did not become indifferent to life. Even there, the man continued to hope for existence. ... In that plight he continued to dwell, deprived of his senses, in that wilderness, never losing at any time the hope of prolonging his life.’
The Mahabharata tells us that if we understand this story properly, it will lead to our release. The wilderness is this world and the forest is the limited sphere of our own life. The beasts are all those forces which threaten our existence. The huge snake at the bottom of the pit is Time, which destroys all embodied creatures.
The creepers represent our desire to hold onto life and the bees are our endless desires. ‘The jets of dropping honey are the pleasures derived from the gratification of our desires and to which men are seen to be strongly addicted. The wise know life’s course to be even such. Through that knowledge they succeed in tearing off its bonds.’
Non-attachment (asaktis) occurs as we cultivate in the mind a sense of indifference and dispassion to the objects of the senses (indriyarthesu). This non-attachment takes the form of an evenness, an equanimity of the mind. The consciousness of non-attachment also applies to your loved ones, to family, even your spouse and children.
Detachment, lightly holding unto home,
Children, and wife, and all that bindeth men ...
I don’t think that non-attachment to the ones we love means being cold to them. As Ganguli says, ‘lightly holding’. This non-attachment is the constant awareness that all things come and go in life. The reality is that there is nothing we can hold on to forever - except the God within us that we are. Everything and everyone else is in motion, either moving toward us or away. We accept and enjoy what comes to us, and we let go when that time passes.
Rama’s attachment to Sita
In the Mahabharata the story of Rama and Sita is told to Yudhishthira, Draupadi and the Pandu family who have been exiled to the forest. Rama also suffered such an exile. His wife Sita is kidnapped by the terrible demon Ravana, the king of the Rakshasas; and her husband Rama is beside himself with grief, lamenting profusely. Rama’s brother says to him: ‘this state of your mind is as unworthy of you, as diseases...’ These words make Rama ‘recover his natural calmness’ and he becomes once again ‘mindful of his business’ (M.N.Dutt; Vana Parva, Ch 280.4-7).
Rama is reminded that power is lost in attachment. Rama’s consciousness of grief and lament will not give him the self-contained focus required to rescue Sita from the demonic. This story can be seen as a parable: The demonic has taken over the small self - Sita is the self lost in Prakriti’s Maya, and must be redeemed by the one-pointed effort of the Soul - Rama as Purusha.
In the Age of Wisdom, we live alone ...
In their descriptions of the Golden Era, the Satya or Krita Yuga, the Sanskrit Puranas say that we live alone. Surely if we know that we are One with our Source we would need no other to fulfill us. Our contentment would come from within. We might interact with other beings and enjoy these experiences, but we do not need them. The emptiness that generates need emerges only in the frequencies of the Illusion of Separation that occur in the Treta, Dvapara, and Kali Yugas.
They are mostly isolated ... - Linga Purana Ch.39
14. In the Satya (Krita) Yuga, the subjects are born as twins; their avocation abounds in taste (rasa) and happiness.
15. They are always satisfied. They enjoy all pleasures and bliss. There is no inferiority or superiority among them; there are no special characteristics among subjects; they are all auspicious.
16. Longevity, happiness, and [facial] features among the people in the Satya (Krita) Yuga are the same for all; they have no special liking; they have no pairs-of-opposites (Dvandvas, ie. pleasure-pain, etc.), no hatred, no fatigue.
17-19. Those who have no abodes live on mountains and in the oceans. Even then they are devoid of misery. They have mostly sattva gunas and are mostly isolated. They move about without specific desires; they are perpetually delighted in their minds. They refrain from virtuous and sinful activities.
The necessity of solitude ...
In our current Kali Yuga, those who seek Wisdom (jnana) and Liberation (moksha) from the endless rounds of birth and death understand the need for solitude. To gain access to the Real, we need to begin to hold our consciousness away from the ebb and flow of the collective.
We are living in an ocean of frequencies which affect and modify our behavior. These frequencies are born in the thoughts of others and wash over us like waves on the sea. They are emitted from friends and family, from television and radio, and even from passing strangers in the street. We need solitude (XIII.10 or 11).
Loving all solitudes, and shunning noise
Of foolish crowds; endeavours resolute
To reach perception of the Utmost Soul,
And grace to understand what gain it were
So to attain, - this is true Wisdom, Prince!
And what is otherwise is ignorance!
In his commentary Abhinavagupta says that the realization that ‘there is nothing beyond’ the Supreme One, leads the yogin to ‘develop unwavering devotion to God’ (B.Marjanovic). Knowing God to be All, you begin to want only God. The company of those who are devoted to their own egos no longer interests you. You recognize the gunas at work in the small identity ego-self.
विविक्तदेशसेवित्वमरतिर्जनसंसदि .. १३- ११..
mayi cānanyayogena bhaktir
viviktadeśasevitvam aratir janasaṃsadi 13.11
Craving the solitude that permits you to listen to the God-within, you naturally seek out secluded places (vivikta-desa). Once you have tasted the Nectar (amrita) of God’s Love, nothing else will do. Nothing is sweeter.
You will want nothing more than to abide in your devotion (bhaktis) to the one within. The Wisdom Knowledge (jnana), the Knowledge of the Supreme Self (adhyatma-jnana) will hold you steadfast in your effort because you understand the true goal (artha) of all Life (XIII.11). Whatever is contrary (anyathe) to this goal is ignorance (ajnanam).
Svetasvatara Upanishad Vol. Two
The Upanishads, A New Translation
Translated by Swami Nikhilananda, 1952
Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1990; NY
Essence of the Exact Reality or Paramarthasara of Abhinavagupta
Translated by Dr. B.N. Pandit
Munishiram Manoharlal Publishers, 1991, Delhi
The Linga Purana - Part I
Translated by a Board of Scholars, 1973
Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1990, Delhi
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