REVIEW OF ‘PRIMER OF SPIRITUALITY’ by Ramanathan Manavasi
5.0 out of 5 stars Showcasing Spirituality in the manner of a Kaleidoscope with dazzling perspectives
Reviewed in India on February 6, 2022
Review of the Book “A Primer of Spirituality” by Prof. V. Krishnamurthy
Prof. V. Krishnamurthy was a professor of Mathematics and Dy. Director of BITS (Birla Institute of Technology and Science), Pilani, India. He was systematically trained under the influence of his erudite father. He is a recipient of half a dozen awards and honors for his contributions. A nonagenarian has energy and enthusiasm to propagate valuable knowledge to humanity. His magnum opus “A Primer of Spirituality – 108 Questions & Answers in Hinduism” is actually not a primer (though deceptively titled). It unfolds a vast panorama of an assortment of erudite questions and authentic answers. Applying the principle of sthali pulaka nyaya – sample for bulk – the excellent selection will be enough for assimilation and absorption into our beings. His extensive cross reference to various authors is commendable.
He quotes from Chaturvedi Badrinath’s book “Mahabharata – An Enquiry into the Human Condition” in pp 3 describing a sloka Mahabharata Savitri. When both wealth and pleasure can be had from dharma, why do people not follow it?
In pp 10-12, he elaborates a different algebra that the mystics are talking about. A different process to be applied to the same body, same senses and same mind. This results in a different perception of one’s own self. He explains an example from mathematics which shows that what appears to be two contradictory statements may both be true in their own setting, provided the hypothesis of that setting is granted. Though it looks bizarre, all electronic students handle it routinely.
In pp 16-17, he describes lucidly the Sri Rama Rameti Sloka eulogized by Lord Shiva with the help of the Katapaydi Sankhya.
In pp 19-20, he makes an astounding revelation about two creations of Lord Brahma – a man called Svayambhuva Manu and a lady called Shatarupa, similar to Adam and Eve of Western Literature.
In pp 21-22 the author brings out eminent examples of Avatars. If God had really a purpose in descending on Earth, it could not be to solve our mundane problems of illness and poverty. It would be to clear the way for our spiritual growth. A Jesus did this by Himself suffering and making the supreme sacrifice for the cause of humanity. A Shankara did this by his intellectual analysis and preaching of devotion with an attitude of renunciation. A Ramanuja did this by the unceasing war against intellectual, religious arrogance and snobbery. A Ramakrishna did this by inspiring people to serve humanity unselfishly and see God in all forms. A Shankaracharya and Ramana Maharshi did it by living the exemplary life of a saint. To turn the degrading culture spiritually inward, and to make us look Godward, even an avatar might find it difficult. That may be why perhaps the Almighty decided that we should experience a Pandemic.
In pp 26-27, he explains how money and learning can go together – Saraswati and Lakshmi can coexist. It is interesting to note that Macaulay’s English based educational system contributed to many misconceptions. The Saraswati of the East which represents Pure Science and Abstract Knowledge and Lakshmi of the West which revels in Applied Science and Knowledge should have come together.
In pp 32-33 he describes ecstatically the power of mantras of Sanatana Dharma. He mentions about a mantra from Lalitha Sahasranama – “jwala malinika kshipta vahni prakara madhyaga” uttered by Anantarama Dikshitar with the audience made the clouds dispersed and the sky became clear.
In pp 41-42, he quotes Sathya Sai Baba to explain how when we saturate the air with sounds full of reverence, humility, love, courage, self confidence, and tolerance we benefit from those qualities ourselves. During nama sankeertanas, a charmed circle of sound is produced and a strange sense of the greatness of God creeps into the soul.
In pp 48, he borrows from Cho Ramaswamy’s book “Ïndu dharmam”- 1996 a fact that small acts of social service would be of great value to clear the cobwebs of dirt in one’s mind and purify it.
In pp 51, he takes the help from Mahadevan’s book “Timeless Gita – Endless Bliss” to avoid the need for benchmarking ourselves to compare and contrast with others.
In pp 54 he explains how Sanatsujata reminds King Dhritarashtra about the two kinds of karma not canceling each other. There is no double entry system as in accounting practice. Regretting the sin done is the way to atone for the sin done. By taking the decision that it will not be done again is what purifies it.
In pp 60-61, he tackles the million dollar question that baffles all non-believers. Why many true devotees of God suffer either hunger or poverty or disease or failure in their endeavors ? The experts in the scriptures like Krishna Premi Swamigal do not accept the answer that God tests them to gauge the intensity of their belief and devotion. The elementary answer only underestimates the omniscience of God. He has no necessity to test us mortals. He clearly knows that we will fail in such tests. We suffer because of our karma and we have to suffer it.
In pp 62, he quotes from Dr. Radhakrishnan’s book “The Brahma Sutras – The Philosophy of Spiritual Life” Evil is there amongst us because we sometimes (why, many times) abuse free will. Man is subject to different set of laws.
In pp 63, he quotes a beautiful verse from Katha Upanishad : The Self-existent Lord made the senses turn outward. Incidentally the verb that the upanishad uses here for ‘made’ is ‘vyatrrinat’ which means also ‘punished’. The mind also cannot reach the Atman, because it is not the object of contemplation.
In pp 63-68, the author describes the splendour of the life of his father Sri R Visvanatha Sastri, always a picture of karma-bhakti-jnana in action. He explains lucidly the last moments of his dear father with a prayer to God that may he be immanent in him and prompt his speech, fortitude and intellect. In page 68 we can see a photo of his father.
In pp 75, he describes the tendencies of the mind, the aggregates of imprints left in the subconscious mind, of all the actions, thoughts and expressions constituting all the previous lives. These vasanas as they are called abet the pentad of troubles called the klesha panchakam in Sanskrit. They are avidya (ignorance), asmita (egoism), raga (desire), dvesha (hate), and abhinivesha (fear of death). The mind is only a flow of thoughts on the subtle bed of vasanas. It is only a bundle of desires.
In pp 81, he narrates the profundity of names of God in sahasranamas. Take the line anur-brihat-krishash-sthulo-gunabrrinnirguno-mahan; adhrritah from Vishnu Sahasranama. On the face of it, the line means atomic, microcosmic, lean, fat, full of attributes, attributeless, great, supportless. Now, Sage Parashara interprets them as describing the eight powers of Yoga, namely, anima, mahima, laghuma, garima, ishitva, vashitva, prakamya, and prapti – meaning, the powers to become atomic, transcendent, light, heavy, the power to will anything, beyond any natural phenomenon, effortless attainment of anything, and omniscience coupled with omnipotence.
In pp 82-85, he describes categorically his own understanding of God. Rama has been extolled as the model of perfection for us to follow and emulate. Rama is called a suvrata – one who has the best vows, the best character, the best behaviour. The descent of the Divine from its divine pedestal is called as avatar. Though the complete such avatar is Krishna, in this avatar, God’s mystic powers of tirodhana (illusion, deception) have been so much interwoven with His other functions. It is difficult for us to understand the perfection in Him. He says wonderfully in the end “Transcendence, Immanence and Perfection – TIP is the tip of the iceberg that is my understanding of God”.
In pp 87-88, the author narrates the importance of the word ‘namah’. Explaining the words of Sathya Sai Baba he says Worship Him with the word ‘mahah’. One becomes a mahan, a great person. Worship Him with the word ‘manah’. One becomes a most respectable human. The two words mahah and manah start with the syllable ma which immediately links with the word mama that smacks of mamakara (mineness). On the other hand, the word namah begins with the negative na and so the ego is first discarded before the ma comes into play. Remarkable indeed.
In pp 88-90, the author explores the views of Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha regarding the importance of Buddhi Yoga. If the thoughts, responses and attitudes of the mind are to be refined, intelligence will have to intercept the course and give its own correcting and sublimating inputs. When the mind follows an object, mano vritti (modification of the mind) happens. The consciousness of the buddhi reflected from the Supreme, illumines the object. This illumination is called as phala vyapti.
In pp 94-98, he lucidly explains the significance of Ramayana as the supreme vedantic content enunciated by the sage Valmiki. Ramayana is the expatiation of the Blissful Ultimate Reality. Rama gets into wedlock with Sita, incarnation of Mayashakti (Prakrriti). Rama exemplifies renunciation by his marathon act of renouncing the very crown that was offered to him the previous day. Moha comes in the form of Maricha. He also has to destroy the non discrimination (aviveka) in the form of Vali and make a lasting friendship with viveka (discrimination) that is Sugriva. Once we resort to Bhakti, Lanka that is our physical body, should now be burnt, even when alive. We should have nothing to do with the body or its going on. This is the lanka dahanam of Ramayana. We can take the support of utsaha (perseverance and zeal with Vibhishana). Our own real nature is jnana. The body is inert. Any aggressive attitude towards the body-mind-intellect is not called for. The only remedy is to keep on pouring clean water into the reservoir of mind allowing it to overflow until all the unclean water loses its density of contamination. The names of God are purifiers. They fill up the mind with sattva guna.
In pp 105, the author delineates the non interactional sadhana suggested by Swami Bhoomanand Tirtha. The three sadhanas form the royal route to Spirituality : taccintanam (thinking of the Supreme), tat kathanam (talking about that Supreme) and anyonyyam tat-prabodhanam (mutual conversations about that Supreme).
In pp 121 the author explores the practice of Truth as Bhavana or Bhakti.
The only object which will never get separated from us is God. Love of God maturing into the insight of seeing the entire world as Himself is Advaita Bhakti. God is our only true love. Until we learn to place ourselves unreservedly into his hands and see the world as Himself our trust wherever else we give will be betrayed again and again. If we are intelligent we learn the lessons after one or two such betrayals.
The million dollar question is : Can we ever rise up to these levels? Yes, we can, through the concept and practice of idol worship. Just for the sake of clarity take the concept of idol worship. Is there a God within the idol or is it simply an inert matter? Hinduism prescribes to you : Have an attitude of belief that God is in it. Start with that attitude. It is a bhavana (mental conception (fancy) of course. But there is a logic here. God is everywhere; and so He should certainly also be in that inert matter called idol. This is the truth. But the truth does not appeal to us in the beginning, because we expect the indwelling God to somehow express Itself so as to be visible to our perception. So the only thing we can do is to have an attitude of belief, bhavana. It means that the truth is being practised as a bhavana. In due time, the false belief that the idols of God are only idols, will disppear and it will gradually lead one to the realization that it is in truth not a bhavana. In fact one will reach the bhavanatita stage where one does not have to have a bhavana any more, because what has been taken as true is indeed true. This is the esoteric basis of not only idol worship, but also saguna brahman worship.
Between Jnana (Knowledge of the Absolute) and Bhakti (Devotion) there is this interdependence. For a devotee, the accompaniment of jnana is an indispensable crutch, without which he is blind. For the man of knowledge (jnani), bhakti (devotion) or prema (divine compassion) is the only way he can express himself. The seeker is within the vyavaharic (transactional) level of thinking and the vedantin’s answer is in the paramartik (transcendental) level. They don’t match. There are multiple perceptions of truth. In Computer Science, when a technical term has multiple definitions, they call it overloading. There is no overloading of truth at the transcendental level.
In pp 121 -122, the author explains the concepts Shravanam, mananam and nidhidyasanam in Bhagavad Gita with source from Dr. Radhakrishnan. The word pranipata (prostration) stands for shravana (hearing and listening). The word pariprashnena indicates the sadhana of manana ie., chewing by the mind what has been learnt by a process of churning the logic and sequencing the ideas by repetitions, questioning and analysis. The word sevaya stands for service, to long to practise what is heard.
In pp 130-131, the author differentiates succinctly the difference between Knowledge and Knowing : All knowledge of the Absolute is knowledge by identity. It cannot be understood by any of the senses. The is why Lord Krishna gives special ‘divine sight’ for Arjuna to enable him to see His viswaroopa. This grasping is not understanding in the usual sense of the word. This is awareness by identity, awareness by becoming one with. Knowledge in the Vedanta means the emotionally satisfying the conviction that “I am not the BMI (Body, Mind Intelligence) I am Brahman. Knowledge and knowing are two different things, Knowledge begins with the memory in the mind. Knowing in Vedanta is the emotional conviction of that memory. It is existential. It is of the Being. Knowing is the core of our existence.
The taste of water, the light of the Sun, the sound in Space, the smell of the Earth, the glow of Fire, the lives of living beings -- all these are nothing but Absolute itself. All these look like poetry, music. Yes, the music of the moving, the melody of poetry, the delicacy of dance – all these are the song of the Absolute.
In pp 144-145, the author provides a convincing reply to the question What is meant by Self Enquiry from Dennis Waite’s book Back to the truth. Self enquiry is the term usually given to the technique advocated by Ramana Maharshi in which the question “Who am I” is repeatedly asked. We are not looking for an answer. Any answers that may arise will be from the mind and necessarily untrue. It might be a variant on the ‘neti neti’ practice adopted by the Brahadaranyaka Upanishad but the Maharshi denied this claiming that this practice is an intellectual exercise and the ego could never eliminate itself.
Self Enquiry begins with the realisation that “I am not the body” and progresses thereon. To recognize what I am not is the beginning of the process of recognizing who I am. Self effort channelled into self enquiry brings Self Knowledge. The best method is to annihilate the answers of the mind and ask “To whom do they occur?” Whenever an apparent answer is thrown up by the mind, it is turned into another question. By separating the ‘Í’ from the objects with which the identification is occurring, we are undermining the seeming reality of the ego. When there is no longer any identification of any sort, all is seen as the Self.
In pp 165-168, the author gives a short account brilliantly covering the achievements of Shankara, the greatest propagator of Advaita. In his short span of 32 years, Shankara achieved what no one ever before or after him achieved. Shankara synthesized in his one personality the superlatives of a philosopher, writer, thinker, poet, scholar, blessed devotee, mystic, reformer, humanist, lawyer, and logician and the beloved of the Lord.
In pp 176-182, the author analyzes brilliantly the queen of all mantras and the mother of all the Vedas – Gayatri Mantra. The simple meaning of the word Gayatri is that which protects the one who chants it. There are four things which begin with the alphabet ‘ga. Ganga, Gayatri, Gita and Govinda. The combination of these will ensure the end of transmigration. This is the age old advice of our Guru, which word also begins with ‘ga’
In pp 173, the author is set to explore the truth in spiritual experimentation and revelations. He gives a list of 126 names of saints and spiritual luminaries whose messages will illumine our lives. A Google search of the persons in the list will provide significant details about them to start with.
Clocks, Clouds, Rubik’s Cube and Kaleidoscope :
As anyone who has tried to solve a Rubik’s Cube knows, the way home is complicated. In Rubik’s case, it took him over a month to solve his own puzzle. But the thing about the Rubik’s Cube is, no matter how complicated, it can be solved. In fact, if you learn the right algorithm, it can be solved relatively quickly and easily. This is not the case when we deal matters that are complex rather than complicated. A Clock is complicated. It has many moving parts, but someone with the right skills can take it apart and put it back together again because it works in a predictable way. A Cloud, by contrast, is complex. There is a lot we can do to analyze the weather, but it will always remain somewhat unpredictable because of the myriad of moving elements, that interact in ways that cannot be fully anticipated. Clouds just do not work like clocks.
Invented in 1816 by the Scotsman David Brewster, the kaleidoscope consists of mirrors that reflect images of different colored pieces of glass in intricate patterns. Unlike the Rubik’s Cube, the kaleidoscope does not have a solution or an end point. The picture it produces can be changed endlessly by rotating the tube containing the loose fragments. With each turn, the pieces shift, new reflections are formed, and a new set of patterns emerge.
We can go beyond the Rubik’s Cube to show how one can use a multiplicity of narratives to better understand complex and contested issues, such as Climate Change and the Corona virus pandemic. Instead of treating these issues like puzzles to be solved, we try to understand them in their full complexity by using the narratives in the manner of kaleidoscope : with each turn, we introduce a new perspective and show how the pieces of the phenomenon shift to create a new pattern. Although less ordered and predictable, the kaleidoscope method allows us to get a better handle on the myriad dimensions and unpredictable dynamics of complex issues. It is my sincere conviction that Prof. Krishnamurthy has succeeded in showcasing spirituality through various patterns and perspectives in the manner of a kaleidoscope. It is my personal gain that I have studied this short and sweet gem and I would recommend it to all inquisitive readers. I crave your indulgence to excuse me for this long review, which I feel is worthy of your efforts.