That the world and everything in it is unreal is a theme of the Upanishads. Here are a few extracts from the third chapter of the Tejo-bindu Upanishad
‘The form of the mind is false. The form of the intellect is false. I am eternal, perpetual and originless…the three bodies are false, the three gunas are false, all scriptures are false, the Vedas are false, all Shastras are false, I the Atman of consciousness am true. The triad of murtis are false, all beings are false, all truth is false. I am Sadashiva, pervading all existing things. The preceptor and pupil are false, the mantra of the preceptor is false.. Whatever is seen is false, what is conceivable is false… all living creatures are false, all enjoyments are false, right and wrong action is false, what is lost and obtained is false, grief and delight are false, good and bad conduct is false. All form, taste, smell, cognition is false, every result of human existence is false, I alone am the absolute Truth.
A passage follows on the mantra ‘I am Brahman’ which supersedes all others and destroys all duality, all diseases of the mind and all bonds. This mantra alone should be used.
The mountains have received their first snowfall. As winter sets in, the temples in the high mountains of Uttarakhand are getting ready to close. The dates have already been announced. The gods and goddesses from these will move down to their winter abodes, and return again in May. Many rituals accompany this annual journey. After a special bath, puja and worship, the image of the deity is placed in a decorated palanquin, ready to be carried. A band accompanies it for some distance, then devotees and pilgrims continue the journey. After more rituals the deity is installed in its winter temple. Worship will continue there till the gods return.
Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri, are the most important temples, known as the ‘char dham’, though others close down too. Kedarnath is one of the names of the god Shiva, at Badrinath the god Vishnu is worshipped. Gangotri and Yamunotri represent the rivers Ganga and Yamuna.
This year, Gangotri, the abode of the goddess Ganga, will be the first to close on 31 October. Yamunotri and Kedarnath will close on 1 November, Badrinath on 16 November. The goddess Ganga goes to her winter temple in village Mukhba, the goddess Yamuna to Kharsali. The deity of Kedarnath descends to Ukhimath, and of Badrinath to Joshimath.
Pilgrims to the temples were fewer after the great floods of 2013, but reached 15 lakh [1.5 million] this year.
As I read and write on history and historical themes, I am always amazed and in awe of the people of the past, who did so much, gained some recognition in their lifetime, and now are hardly remembered. Perhaps they were as brilliant as those who remain famous today, but for some reason, they are not known to the same extent.
There are artists, musicians, leaders, prophets, and of course, writers. And there are books. I will be trying to make some of these books from India better known, dating from the earliest to the modern.
There are the Vedas and all related Vedic texts; The Mahabharata and Ramayana in their innumerable different versions in regional languages; the Puranas and their stories; and the poems and writings of so many more in all different languages. Right now I am writing something on the Manimekalai, an epic in Tamil. It has a Buddhist theme, but also tells us a lot about women in early south India, and about religion and life in general.
It was long ago in the 1980s. I had never written a book, and had no idea that I ever would. Certainly there was no way I could know that one day I would be able to share my thoughts, ideas and knowledge, on one of my favourite subjects, religion.
I visited the USA for the first time, and staying with a friend in New York, I had to look in on Barnes and Noble. What a bookshop! There was so much I could have bought, and so many days I could have spent there. But I was not there for long, and did not have much money left. Then in the back of the bookshop there were second-hand books. I came across a series under the heading Great Religions of Modern Man. There were six hardcover books in the series, Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism. Each book had quotes from original texts, along with a general introduction and some comments. I couldn’t resist and though it was quite expensive for me, I bought the set!
And below I share a quote from one of the books, in memory of that visit.
From a Sufi text:
‘The Lord of the Spirit and the Word [Jesus] used to say: “My daily bread is hunger, my badge is fear, my raiment is wool, my mount is my foot, my lantern at night is the moon, and my fire by day is the sun, and my fruit and fragrant herbs are such things as the earth brings forth for the wild beasts and the cattle. All the night I have nothing, yet there is none richer than I!”.’ (From the writings of Al-Hasan al-Basri, a Sufi saint from Basra in Iraq, who died Ce 728; trans. A.J. Arberry.)
Western religious systems generally want to change and improve the world–the Eastern often want to ignore it, as the world, life and death are considered unreal. The only reality is the eternal unchanging soul. Here is a typical passage from an important text.
‘It matters little to these countless beings which are continually being born only to be destroyed, whether the noble and kind-hearted grieve or delight over their fate. The widespread illusion called samsara [world or worldliness] is an arena for incessant births and incessant deaths. Neither exhilaration nor bemoaning is called for from any quarter.’
Yoga Vasishtha, 14.34-35, trans. by Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha.
Can one ever agree with this and ignore the world?
I am mainly a non-fiction writer–but I wanted to diversify, and have completed a novel. I’m still working on improving it and tying up loose ends. Simultaneously I have an article to complete on Zoroastrianism–and today I’m focusing on that. I have most of it in place, but I have started wondering about the authenticity of later texts, and about the authenticity of the translations. It is only a five to six thousand word article–I have written more about Zoroastrianism in my book Religions of India. Now I have the idea of writing a whole book on this ancient religion.