THOUGHTS OF SPIRITUAL WISDOM -
Reviewed by Tattvaloka, June issue
Several books offer daily quotes, to the reader, providing positive encourageent and inspiration to sart the day with, and supported by wisdom from people of different walks of life. There are also books with motivational thoughts for targeted groups, such as students and white collared workers.
Here is a somewhat unusual collection that the author claims is aimed at “any English speaking citizen of the world who seeks to know something beyond the needs and pleasures of material welfare.” Originally posted by the author daily on his Facebook page for reflection and contemplation by his large fanbase, these have now been compiled as one-page-a-day book, forming a handy and attractive volume.
The author is a former Professor of Mathematics at BITS, Pilani and was trained from his early days in traditional Hindu way of life by his father who was a Sanskrit scholar and an exponent of Vedanta. An active and respected octagenarion, the professor has written more than a dozen books on religion and advaita philosophy for modern readers and on Mathematics at all levels.
In his foreword, Swami Paramarthananda, a revered advaitic scholar and disciple of Swami Dayananda, has commended the book that essentially helps beginners to work on one’s own transformation before becoming spiritual speakers.
The Thoughts in the book cover a range of topics , from profound wisdom to fleeting imagery. The sources of quotes range from acclaimed Vedantic texts to leisurely reads, such as Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy ‘As You Like It’.
Since books of this nature are bound to attract the attention of serious seekers, they could find plenty of thoughts, to mull over. For example, the one pager, ‘I Slept Happily’ (serially numbered 169), is a condensation of thoughts of several scholars on the core of Dakshinamurti Ashtakam by Adi Sankara. It describes the principle of continuity of Universal Consciousness. The statement that “The seer can never lose the character of seeing, even as the fire cannot lose the character of burning”, is good enough for contemplation by a serious reader.
Similarly, the Advaitic interpretation by theosophist Annie Besant (166), of the famous story of Krishna stealing the clothes of Gopis, is likened to the stripping of materialist disguise to see the spirit. This is another masterly thought to provoke the serious reader into the threshold of spiritual depths.
There are are good selections from Swami Vivekananda and Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa too. The ones presented in the words of the biographer Romain Rolland on Ritualism (127), and the other on the Right Attitude in Giving (325) are provocations good enough for beginners.
Some of the selections are extracts from other books, such as the one on saint Tirumoolar (182) that narrates an interesting story of transformation of a cowherd into an evolved soul. Some anecdotes drive home philosophical truths culled from spiritual discourses, such as Chennai-based Sunder Kumar on the nature of Maya (291).
Serious readers of Vedanta may be perplexed by this eclectic random selection. The pleasing presentation of the book would also stand enhanced with a few editing styles and punctuations.
In sum, this is a good attempt to bring, in one volume, a large train of thoughts that could arouse the curiosity of lay and serious readers alike to look at life around with a thinking different from what they are used to.
Thoughts of Spiritual Wisdom , Compiled and Edited By Professor V Krishnamurthy. 404 pp
Professor V Krishnamurthy has done a real service to the spiritually inclined by compiling this book of 365 Thoughts , one for each day of the year. As he says in his Preface he has chosen these Thoughts randomly and they follow no particular pattern but do touch on hundreds of issues dealing with the quest of man for God. His choices are astoundingly wide and there is hardly any prominent Indian spiritual Master he has left out . In addition he quotes from philosophers , scientists and public figures ,who in addition to their professional commitments, took the trouble to comment on life. He has also quoted from his own books and blogs and his filial piety is brought to the foreground in his multiple references to his venerable father Sri Viswanatha Sastri ,whose Vedantic reflections find place here. His choices go beyond Hindu thinkers and Plato, Shakespeare, Fergusson , Eddington , Einstein, Huston Smith, Will Durant and Paul Brunton, among others find a place but the focus is very much on Sanatana Dharma with particular attention to Vedanta. Some of the pieces are short and sweet , others are elaborate and technical and yet others are part of a middle ground of Abstract ideas getting emotional colour and concrete expression. Some we chew, some we swallow easily , others we masticate and digest with some difficulty. The collection ends appropriately with a grand finale in the form of a quotation from Paramacharya Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati and the Shanti Sukta of the Atharva Veda.
There is a helpful Index of author sources, an Index of the Titles of the Thoughts ,an aid to the pronunciation and transliteration of Indic words, and a final Index of names or key words. Thus cross referencing is facilitated.It is as comprehensive a collection as one might want and one wonders how , as in the case of Goldsmith’s school master, one head could contain so much. But that is Prof VK who has a huge fan following , comprising former colleagues , students , spiritually inclined people who have been listening to his exuberant Vedantic lectures over the years , or reading with profit his blogs where there is a turbulent over flow of Vedantic wisdom.
In these Thoughts we have subjects like Meditation, Meaning of Life, Science and Spirituality ( Prof VK being a mathematician has a bias for such passages ),the Gita as a guide not only to a fulfilling life but as a manual for management students . We have passages from the Bhumi Sukta of the Atharva Veda which deals with the essential divinity of the world. And we have the charming episode of Rama stepping on his Padukas before handing them over to Bharata – a classic example of transmission of spiritual power from Him to the devotee . But Vedanta Dikshita goes even further and shows how the Paduka is more divine then the divine Himself. Rama steps on the Padukas so that he can derive the spiritual energies of the Padukas before parting with it to Bharata , energies which will stand Him in good stead when He has to walk the strait and narrow path of the forest with all the perils which beset Him. We have a passage where Rama who could not be present at His father’s obsequies makes up in part by performing the rites for Jatayu , a foster father figure for Rama, a case of Pitru Vakya Paripalana. By performing the obsequies Rama was honouring a promise Dasaratha had made to Jatayu to give the latter his first born . Sri Aurobindo is represented with his concept of the supramental and the real and how man can verily become superman . My favourite passages are from Paul Brunton where he shows spirituality as intertwined with daily life and the one where he gives a clarion call to Mystics to speak out and relay their message to the world which is ignorant of that dimension of experience. The unity of India and her religious culture is the burden of some of the passages. How this religious culture is expressed in the Pinda Danam at Shraddha ceremonies and how the Mother gets sixteen Pindas, one for each of her sacrificial actions in giving birth and raising children, is a moving insight into our great culture and tradition. Passages on astronomy, mathematics and science and their relation to the spiritual mysteries are an interesting set of Thoughts. The religious English poet TS Eliot is represented in his musings on Death, Life and Immortality . We meet Saints like Ramakrishna, Moolar and Jyothi Ramalingar, to mention only a few, either through their statements and wisdom or through moving anecdotes about them. Kabir and Tulsi Das and Tyagaraja find place here. Dr Radhakrishnan is of course , very much there with his mellifluous prose , but the passages of his friend Hiriyanna on Vedanta , on Advaita, Vishishta Advaita and Dwaita match Radhakrishnan in their remarkable lucidity and clarity . I must add that Prof VK represents himself with passages from his writings on the Ten Commandments of Hinduism and other books but there is nothing immodest about this because those passages are apropos to the task on hand and lucidly explain many complicated concepts.
I consider this a great collection , very useful for the devout and those who are at least curious about spirituality. These Thoughts need not be read sequentially . One could dip into them at random and get satisfaction that one has learnt something new , or been introduced to a great thinker or a brilliant thought. The way to go about this is to read only one passage a day and reflect on it and make connections with one’s previous readings . This way a coherent body of spiritual knowledge will be available for the Seeker and s\he will find himself or herself enriched . We could not ask for more from this ninety year old Professor who with the full vigour of youth and infectious enthusiasm ,has in this collection shown what it is to practice spirituality and live it. The book is highly recommended and well worth possessing.
Kansas\Hyderabad Mohan Ramanan