Saturday, June 13, 2009
Radha and the Flow of Consciousness
The Upanishads are incredible, unsurpassed. In wisdom, in beauty and in clarity. When it comes to understanding the nature of the human being, they have never been surpassed. Speaking of them, C Rajagopalachari said, “The spacious imagination, the majestic sweep of thought, and the almost reckless spirit of exploration with which, urged by the compelling thirst for truth, the Upanishad teachers and pupils dig into the ‘open secret’ of the universe, make this most ancient of the world’s holy books still the most modern and the most satisfying.”
Kathopanishad is one of the most poetic of Upanishads. It is the Upanishad on which so much of the Bhagavad Gita is based, including its frame image of Krishna and Arjuna in the chariot. Several verses of the Gita have been borrowed from the Katha Upanishad, or adapted. Speaking of human consciousness, the teacher of the Katha Upanishad says:
parānchi khāni vyatrnat svayambhūh
tasmād parāng paśyati nāntarātman.
kaścid dhīrah pratyagātmānam aikshad
āvrttacakshur amrtatvam icchan. Kathopanishad 2.1
“The self-born one created the senses turned outward. For that reason, man looks outward, and sees not the self that is within. Rare is the brave one who, longing for immortality, shuts his eyes to what is without and sees the self within.”
We see only what is without, because that is how we are made. Seeing what is without is fine, because the world created by that same self-born one is so enchantingly beautiful. The sounds, the touches, the colours, the shapes, the tastes, they are all so beautiful, as are love, passion, ambition, the thrill of achieving, sharing and the million other things that form what we call life. And yet in the process of seeing what is without, we should not forget what is within. When we forget the within in our fascination with the without, we get entrapped in the without. And this the Upanishads call maya – delusion. Maya is not the world outside, but being trapped in it.
It is like, say the ancient masters in their exquisite language, the bee getting trapped in the lotus flower at sunset. It is fine to enjoy the honey within the lotus, and it is the bee’s enjoyment of the honey within it that makes the life of the lotus meaningful, but the bee does not belong to the lotus. Its world is not the small world defined by the petals of the lotus that close at sunset, but the vast, boundless world outside.
We do not belong to the small world we live in, but to the bhooma, the vast. The world of the sun and the moon, of thunder and lightning, of winds and rains, of mountains and rivers, of birth and death and what is beyond all this. When we surrender to this world, and limit ourselves, that’s maya.
For the Upanishad says, we are not the limited self we take ourselves to be, the power that runs the universe.
As the Taittiriya Upanishad puts it:
bhīshāsmād vātah pavate
mrtyur dhāvati pancama iti.
“I am the power fearing which the wind blows, the power fearing which the sun rises in the east, fire burns, and Indra rules over the gods. I am that power fearing which death, as the fifth, stalks the world.”
We have been trapped within the lotus, and, tragically, forgotten the vastness outside.
And the way to reclaim our real heritage, the vast, the boundless, is to turn our attention to the within. Turn our consciousness inward. Make our awareness flow not outward, but inward.
Radha is the name for consciousness that flows inward, for the river that flows towards its own source.
The word radha is the word dhara turned around. Dhara means a current, like a stream, like a brook, or a river. Radha means the consciousness that flows outward has now begun to flow inward.
Parānchi khāni vyatrnat svayambhūh – the self-born created the senses turned outward and our consciousness flows out into the world through them. But now it flows inward: toward the self within, toward the pratyagātmā, towards its own source.
Radha is the longing for Krishna, Krishna standing for consciousness, our inner self. Radha is the name for the most intense meditation which makes samadhi possible. Samadhi means merger with the inner self, merger with Krishna. Which is also what we mean when we use the word yoga in its original sense.
Yoga is not asanas. Asanas are practically the first step in yoga, the lowest, and samadhi its culmination, the highest stage.
In India we worship rivers. It is not because rivers are useful. India has never worshipped what is useful. Worshipping what is useful is the commercial attitude and that has nothing to do with religion. To us religion has never been a commercial thing. We worship what inspires awe, what helps us open our eyes and wake up into light.
The first river India worshipped was the Saraswati. The Saraswati was the river on the banks of which the Vedas were born, the Upanishads were born. When we worshipped the Saraswati, we were worshipping knowledge – knowledge of the highest kind, which in Sanskrit is called prajñā. Prajñā means consciousness. We called her Goddess Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom, of learning, of arts, of music, of the thousand forms of light.
And when the Saraswati dried up, the Ganga became the river on the banks of which the culture of light, the Vedic civilization, continued. To India, the Ganga then became the most sacred of rivers. Goddess Ganga. A dip in the Ganga washes away all our sins, said our culture. That is because the Ganga stood for knowledge and as the seers said, na hi jñānena sadrsham pavitram iha vidyate: there is nothing as sacred as knowledge in this world.
All the most sacred teerthas on the Ganga are where the Ganga takes a turn and flows northward. North is the direction from which the Ganga comes down. When she flows northward, she is flowing towards her own source.
Then Ganga becomes Radha, consciousness flowing towards its own source.
Those who study consciousness in the west, particularly those who study altered states of consciousness, say that man’s oldest adventure is this search. This search for his source. They say all religion is that search for the original consciousness, consciousness turned inward.
And they say that there is no culture in the world that does not seek consciousness turned inward. When the tribal dancers dance around the night fire to the beat of drums, they say they are seeking this altered state of consciousness – consciousness turned inward. When they use drugs and cacti and mushrooms that alter consciousness, they say they are seeking this inward turned consciousness. When people climb mountains and face death, they say they are seeking the same altered states of consciousness through danger and fear. And when man engages in sex, they say, they are seeking to turn their consciousness inward. The moment of orgasm provides to man the most easily accessible state in which his consciousness is no more flowing outward through his senses.
Every culture in the world has been worshipping Radha, though it may not know it. Worshipping her through drumbeats, through dance and music, through prayer, through fasting, through meditation, through fire-walking, through danger, through fear, through wonder, through drugs, through sex, through pain and self-torture.
Radha as a Goddess is new even to India. There is no Radha associated with Krishna in the Mahabharata, for instance. She is a later goddess.
But we have been worshipping her from the beginning of time.