Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Canto XVII : the Three Devotions

Canto XVII is all about shraddha, which I have here translated as 'devotion' instead of 'faith', because earlier Krishna has decribed how faith blossoms into devotion. If, as Krishna informs Arjuna, 'your birth is divine', it follows that Arjuna's heart is in the right place, his faith is well-meaning, his moksha is assured. But is it really ?

A man is what his faith is (yat shraddhah sa eva sah). But a man may be sattvika, rajasika, or tamasika. The sattvika man's faith leads him to worhip gods, the rajasika worships rakshashas, the tamasika sprits and ghosts. Is faith enough ?

No, says Krishna. More important is the Truth That Is (Om Tat Sat). Shloka 23 adds that everything - Brahmins, Vedas, rituals -- proceeds from the Truth That Is. What is that Truth That Is ? Om, we know is the all-embracing sacred syllable, and requires all manner of complex, even mystic gloss; Tat is that that, which is mysteriously vague; and Sat is Is, 'Issness', but 'isness' has an inscape not easy to put one's finger on.

Shraddha requires something more than abstractions. Chant Om Tat Sat, by all means, advises Krishna. Faith is fine, and Om Tat Sat are fine, but put feeling in the faity and the chanting. Too many devotees perfomr mechanical, ritual, push-button shraddha. Such shraddha is 'asat', unreal, valueless. Hence the key last shloka : 'Unreal is giving without feeling, action without feeling, discipline without feeling. Useless in this world and the next.'

Arjuna asked :

What is the condition of those who set aside the scriptures but perform their duties with devotion ? Is is sattvika, rajasika, or tamasika ?

Krishna replied :

Let me tell you what it is. The atman knows three types of devotion : sattvika, rajasika, tamasika.

Each person's nature dictates his manner of devotion : a man is what his faith is.

For which reason, sattvika men worship the gods, the rajasika worship the rakshasas, the tamasika spirits and ghosts.

And anti-gods are worshipped by unthinking men,

Who torture the atman with lust and selfishness, and rejects the disciplines laid down in the scriptures.

Food, ritual, tapasya, charity -- all are different with different people. Let me explain this to you.

The sattvika likes the food to be pleasing, savoury, juicy, and sustaining.

The rajasika likes the food to be bitter, sour, salty, dry, burning; food that produces pain, sorrow, and ill-health.

The tamasika likes the left-over, and half-cooked food, stale, smelly, defiled, and tasteless.

Ritual whichi is sattvika is work performed selflessly, satisfying for its own sake, nor for reward.

Ritual which is rajasika is work for reward, performed for the sake of fame and success.

Ritual which is tamasika is without mantra, without shraddha, without any kind of dedication, work that goes against moral principles.

Tapasya of the body means respecting gods, Brahmins, elders and wise men; it involves wisdom and purity, brahmacharya and ahimsa.

Tapasya of speech of means speaking the truth; it involves pleasant and helpful words, and study of the Vedas.

Tapasya of the mind means serenity; it involves silence, self-control, compassion and honesty.

These are the three aspects of the sattvika. They are practised by men who have devotion.

Tapasya used for reward, honour or fame, is rajasika -- it is transient and trecherous.

Tapasya practised for self-torture, from folly or malice, is tamasika.

Sattvika charity is giving for the sake of giving, giving that expects no return, giving at the right time to the right person.

Rajasika charity is reluctant giving, giving that expects return, giving that looks for reward.

Tamasika charity is giving to the wrong person at the wrong time, giving without concern, giving with contempt.

Brahman is Om Tat Sat, the Truth That Is; Brahmins, Vedas and rituals proceed from the Truth That Is.

Chant Om, when you give charity, when you practise discipline, when you perform ritual.

Chant Tat, and forget the fruits.

Chant Sat, the Truth and the Good.

Firmness in discipline and charity is Sat. And action thus performed is Sat; it is real.

Unreal is giving without feeling, action without feeling, discipline without feeling. Useless in this world and the next

No comments: