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Selected Writings - V.Siva Subramaniam
The Ultimate in Spirituality - Moksha
(The experience of some of our saints and sages)
13 February 2007
Attaining Moksha which results from the union of Man’s soul with the Creator or the universal soul is the goal of the spiritual quest of most Saivites and Hindus throughout ages. Saints and sages achieved Moksha and release from the bondage to karma and samsara or immortality. Present day Hindus and Saivites heirs to the rich spiritual heritage that produced the saints and sages, seem to have lost direction in the moksha seeking spiritual quest.
Moksha and Realisation (of the inner self)
The experience of our Saints point to the struggles in the pathway to Moksha. These are much tougher in the present day (yuga) for Hindus/Saivites. (please see “Worldly Attachments – revisited for the 21st century). Where the spiritually inclined today are possessed of ego driven worldly desires the obstacles to achieving moksha are harder to surmount. Moksha is achieved when one realizes the Truth of the divine self within. The inner divine self, the atman or soul when it merges with the universal divine or Brahman attains moksha. Man in ignorance of atman’s inner divinity continues to identify with the body and mind and live in spiritual darkness. The body-mind driven by the senses readily succumbs to worldly desires that the divinity within remains captive. This frustrates man’s spiritual quest to moksha. When wisdom of the inner divine self dawns it breaks the shackles that restrains man’s realization of the Truth of the inner self paving the pathway to moksha.
Ignorance of real self vs. Spiritual wisdom
Saint Aurobhindho Ghosh (a saint of times not that distant from ours) also experienced the ignorance of his true inner self during the early stages of his spiritual quest. The Saint refers to this ignorance as an insanity. Saint Aurobindo is quoted for the benefit of readers:
The learned Saint Aurobindo at this stage, in ignorance of his true self was obsessed with the body-mind (“one’s own body” and “one’s own mind” not the inner self or atman) and the ego centric “I” and “own” ness. The realized Saint’s prescription for curing the insanity is indeed profound:
When the Saint referred to “...that which is beyond the mind” he refers to the spiritual wisdom that enabled him to realise his true inner self (the atman) as distinct from “one’s own body – mind”.
Pathway(s) to self realization
How, when and who is blessed with this wisdom of self realization? There are no direct answers to these questions. Realisation is a mystical experience beyond the domain of the worldly reasoning or rational analysis. The experience of our Saints suggests that there are no set down paths to realization. The experiences of no two Saints are similar. Each one’s experience of the divine is unique that the experiences of realization as inherited by Hindus and Saivites are as varied as there are/were Saints in our spiritual heritage. This is a noteworthy strength inherent in Hindu and Saivaite spirituality.
The spiritual inclinations of each devotee are different and these evolve and change as they pass through the different stages of their spiritual pilgrimage. To us the worldly it is difficult to surmise the experience of Gnana-Sampanthar of the bhakthi age. Lord Shiva with Parvathi appeared before a 3 year old child crying alone on the steps of the kerni (temple tank) to give him spiritual sustenance.
Saint Maniccavasagar, learned in the scriptures, experienced the vision of Lord Shiva as guru at Thiruperunthurai. God graced the youthful hunter Kannappan in circumstances that were very unique. God graced Siruththondar, a pious householder and a Shiva bhakthan. There were 63 Nayanmars and none of their experiences leading to self realization were similar.
Our scriptures have not prescribed precise pathways to self realization to serve as models for the spiritual pursuits of today’s aspirants. Ramana Maharishi of much later times was not into scriptures at the age of seventeen when he realized his true self during a dying episode he experienced. Similarly to the learned Aurobindo, realization dawned in the late thirties of his life.
Karma palan (and redemptive role of spiritual pursuits)
Though the experiences of self realization varied amongst the saints there is one common denominator that partially explains the experience of realisation. That is karma palan. Some refer to it as the law of karma carrying with it misleading connotations of being rigid, irreversible, and irredeemable amongst others. Not accommodating the redemptive value of the spiritual pursuits and God’s grace in response to it; a power that could override the working of Karma palan is a conspicuous weakness in this view. Yet karma palan does have a major role in one gaining self realization and thence moksha. The Karma palan being the carry forward of the karma from past births has a mystical character. Hence it is not precisely determinable or measurable in the worldly sense.
The rigid view of Karma palan is also not supported by the experience of our Saints that our scriptures teach. In the puranas Lord Shiva answered the mother’s plea for Markandaiyar’s life. God responded to a devotee’s deep devotion, bestowing grace on Kannappan overriding any Karma palan that he may have earned as a youthful hunter. Aspirants either accumulate or divest the balance in their portfolio of karma palan through worldly deeds and spiritual pursuits. The experience of our Saints bears testimony to the redemptive role of spiritual pursuits when God responds with grace whatever the state of one’s karma palan.
Dharmic Worldliness, realization and degrees of renunciation
Our rich spiritual heritage testifies that men and women who on realization removed themselves from the mainstream of (worldly) life experienced the power of the spirit (self). They were gifted with the mystic vision of God. The Saints experienced the personal presence of the divine. Such experiences are unique to Hindu/Saivite spirituality. Our Saints attained realization while they continued to fulfil their worldly obligations. The to-be realized souls acted with detachment when their worldliness was chastened by dharma.
Dharma moderates one’s worldly pursuits when the thoughts and deeds remain steadfast about achieving the goals of realization and moksha. The pre-eminent example is Saint Maniccavasagar. In the pre-realisation stage the Saint’s worldly pursuits were underpinned by dharma, rendering his actions righteous and good. Realising that renouncing the worldly pursuits alone was inadequate the Saint actively cultivated an intense love of the Lord. On realization at Perunthurai he became an enlightened soul; a jeevamukta but to earn moksha the Saint cultivated an intense love of God through deep meditation. This he did in temples especially Thillai. That the Saint’s ridding of attachments is total is succinctly put in the Tirupulambal திருப்புலம்பல் verse:
not kith or kin; place or name I prize not.
The Saint’s early life was also nurtured in the intensely dharmic environment of the bhakthi age. To achieve moksha the Saint earned God’s grace by purifying the self after the loss of the Perunthurai vision. This elevated the Saint’s devotion to the Lord to become worthy or deserving of God’s grace.
Throughout the ages most saints and sages insulated themselves from worldliness by renouncing the world (sannyasam - living most times in ascetic isolation) before attaining spiritual deliverance (moksha). Most saints experienced the divine after renouncing the worldly pursuits. Renunciation occupies a central position in Saivite spirituality. Bhakthi (god-love) basically requires more than a mental discipline to purify the senses. It requires one’s worldly actions to be subordinated to the love of God. The bhakthi fervour in Saivites was generally nourished through worship and religious observances. Sages who renounced the world made temples their homes from where they meditated and served God. That the Saint a jeevatman spent years in Thillai before union with God emphasizes the importance of cultivating a divine love of god over and above world-renunciation for deliverance.
Renunciation creates the space for godliness within
The Saint despised the world because it obstructed his path to god. An intense longing and love for the unseen reality (god) was needed to give inner strength in the Saint’s battle against the body-mind’s worldly attachment. When the Saint renounced the worldly life he wandered like a madman unconcerned; a perfect yogi with loin cloth and the begging bowl. When the spirit of God takes possession of one, he does not very much care for the conventions of the world. Absorbed in an intense longing for a permanent union with god the Saint went into deep meditation and craved for the company of other like-minded disciples of god. These pursuits involved intense struggles.
The Saint’s spiritual struggle in effect became a struggle to create the space within for the passion for god to occupy it. The space for this was that vacated by worldly attachments. Aspirants have to consciously control the passion for worldly attachments to provide the space for the passion for god in one’s soul. Torn by the tension between responding to the call of the spirit and the senses deluding the mind with worldly attachments (desires) the Saint struggled to evict the worldly attachments and to nourish god-love in the inner self through meditation. Meditation disciplines the self away from the worldly towards God.
Renunciation through Household Thuravihood
Family and community ties are sustained through pasam. These ties have loosened their grip on the lives of aspirants in the social order today that cultivating god-love instead is facilitated provided devotees detach themselves from the distracting cravings after the wealth-name-fame combine. Most devotees especially in the late years of life live the life of house-hold thuravis; only that the passion for god love may not most times measure up to achieve realization. In the present social milieu a viable alternative to worldly detachment and thence to spiritual deliverance is to divinize the household thuravi-hood.
The intense struggle of the Saint to detach from worldliness and purify the soul finds vivid expression in Thiruvasagam. Perunthurai and Thillai experiences were remarkable. The Saint spent years in Thillai and evolved into an advanced soul acting according to god’s will. His actions were above the worldly good and evil, and self-love. The Saint with a poised mind and rid of the consciousness of virtue and vice, acted as an instrument of god as if god acted through him. To earn such divinity to become the instrument of god the soul has to be divested of the I’ness or Ego. In effect the Thiruvasagan is a fore-runner to Ramana’s “Who am I” thesis:
you own me all, body and soul. I have no feelings of any
Numerous other saints who renounced the world also made temples their homes from where they meditated and served God. Divinity creates a sense of oneness with god; the saint acted with the thought of god and not on the basis of good or evil that the body-soul entity determined. Saint Sambandar also treaded the same path after the temple tank vision; visited temples and meditated. Unlike Vasagar who was more a Sage Saint, Sampanthar born a saint turned a sage to give the Saivaite world the Thirumurai thevarams, the great Saivaite scriptures. The distinction between saints and sages is not absolute; in approach, sages were more intellectual and saints more emotional. In reality sages acquired saintly qualities and the saints sagely qualities. The mix of both qualities produced our Saivaite saints and sages.
Like their forefathers the saints and sages of the recent times attained moksha after intense struggles in their spiritual journey. Saint Ramana was initially more saintly but as a sage produced (in “Who am I”) an invaluable Saivaite scripture more so for the 21st century Hindus/Saivites. (vide “Relevance of Ramana’s Message” by the author in AMJ October/December 2004). The truths on self-love or ego are timeless. Saint Ramana who renounced the worldly to gain god-love realized the potential divine within, without the I’ness.
Most times Shri Ramana meditated alone, observed mounam in the continuing search of his true identity which to him was not the “I” but the atman. He earned peace and indifferent to the vagaries of life, relished divine joy. To most devotees possessed of the I’ness today Ramana’s teachings provide the path for removing the major hurdle obstructing their path to realization and moksha.
Aurobhindo was essentially a sage but turned a saint using higher yoga to gain self realization, identity with god, immortality and moksha. The experience of Aurobhindo shows that moksha can be reached without going through vanavasam. He created the necessary conditions of vanavasam in his ashram.
The service that the saints/sages rendered from the ashrams is not social service in the conventional sense but service as god’s agents with Godly love filling the saints’ hearts. Although the service of the saints of the bhakthi age was centred around temples those of recent times are centred around ashrams. Both were seeking after the same truth and the same spirit. Following the example of the saints/sages of the ashrams house-hold thuravis ought to create the conditions in house-holds to indulge in the necessary spiritual pursuits to achieve realization and moksha.
The ultimate in spirituality is Moksha which follows Godliness
When realization takes possession of one, one does not very much care for the taboos of the world. The Saint’s struggle began as a struggle to regain the Perunthurai vision of Shiva. This required his soul to be purified to perfection which he achieved after the years in Thillai. The Saint blamed the unworthiness of his soul fouled by worldly attachments or desires and his incapacity to eradicate those attachments that lay hidden (lurk) in the saint’s soul for the loss of the Perunthurai vision. The Saint changed after Perunthurai. After Perunthurai, had the Saint merely pursued a dharmic life without the moksha goal he would have just ended up as a mortal performing worldly social service. To achieve moksha the Saint painfully cultivated the love of God.
The saint’s post-Perunthurai struggles were not only to purify his soul of those lurking desires to become worthy of God’s grace was absorbed in meditation in the company of other like-minded souls, god’s disciples who were also focused on meditation. (Sacred Cento 60).
The ultimate in spirituality – the joy of Moksha as Vasagar experienced
The joy of Moksha comes from the union of Man’s soul with the Creator and immortality on release from the bondage to karma and samara. Sages view this as an impersonal, transcendental and mystic union of the self and god, the Absolute. To the saints it was an intimate personal union; symbolically a spiritual marriage. To Vasagar the union was essentially the latter. Quotes from Vasagar’s verses point to this view:
Vasagar’s Thiruvasagam expresses the union metaphorically as a spiritual marriage. In the decad ‘Mine eyes have seen’ sung by Vasagar in Thillai the Saint alludes that the Lord “made me his own”. The Saint made numerous references to the Lord of Perunthurai as ‘….the very self within my soul..’. ‘my soul is consumed’, ‘rapturous bliss’ amongst others. Was Vasagar expressing his bliss at the conscious level especially when he was in meditation and enjoying the joy of the union?
The bliss Vasagar mentions was not in the worldly sense; it was at the mystic level, although he expressed it in the verses. References like ‘In Him my body, soul, and thought, and mind were merged’ (The Tambour song), ‘As torrents burst their bounds, Thou rushest through my soul” (The Temple lyric) expresses the joy of the union with the Absolute in the abstract metaphysical than in the “spiritual marriage with God” personal form.
The conclusion is that the Saint’s scriptures including the Thiruvasagam reflect the predominant bhakthi trait of the period. The Saint’s works belonged to the bhakthi period when expression of bhakthi took precedence over metaphysical themes in the field of spirituality.
These quotes and brief comments above based on a study of a few verses in the Thiruvasagam selected randomly fail to do justice in bringing out Vasagar’s joy of moksha. Spiritual aspirants with the appropriate inclinations are encouraged to work on in-depth studies of the Thiruvasagam to stimulate interest and re-direct interest of spiritual aspirants in the goal of moksha. This is the underlying theme of the above essay.