Archive for December, 2020

December 29, 2020

OmniLight Invocations: The Agaval Project (3)

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சத்திய ஞான சபை (Sathiya Gnana Sabhai) or The Great Hall of Truth-Knowledge designed by Ramalingam without any formal training in architecture and constructed in 1871. It was opened to the public in January 1872It is not a Hindu temple and ought not to be considered one. It has no idols of any kind. In his first prose vinappam or petition, “The Short True Petition” (சுத்த சன்மார்க்க சத்தியச் சிறு விண்ணப்பம்) to Arutperunjothi or OmniLight, Ramalingam testifies that this Great Hall of Truth-Knowledge was built at the behest of Arutperunjothi or OmniLight as the locus and sign of its special manifestation and “Dance of Grace” (அருள் நடம்). This “Dance of Grace” expresses its five cosmic tasks of creation, protection, destruction or dissolution, obscuration or concealment, and illumination or revelation. The structure of this Great of Hall of Truth-Knowledge is a symbol of the nature-body-soul complex in which this “Dance of Grace” continues.

Vedas: Rigveda manuscript page, Mandala 1, Hymn 1 (Sukta 1), lines 1.1.1 to 1.1.9 (Sanskrit, Devanagari script) – Source: Wikipedia

Āgamas: Sanskrit manuscript of the Buddhist Āgama Heart Sūtra in the Siddhaṃ scriptBibliothèque nationale de FranceSource: Wikipedia

Scriptural absolutism is the view that a particular text, or a set of texts, deemed “sacred scripture”, and, in some traditions, their theological or philosophical commentaries, provides an exhaustive and infallible account of the nature of ultimate reality, the summum bonum of human life, and constitutes the revelatory and indisputable arbiter of issues of doctrine and conduct.

Scriptural absolutism is instantiated in the positions held by religious fundamentalists on their respective “sacred scriptures”, e.g., the Bible, Qur’an, Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Tripiṭaka (Buddhist scriptures), etc.

Ramalingam rejects scriptural absolutism in couplet 3 and other couplets in the Arutperunjothi Agaval. These couplets affirm that Arutperunjothi, or the OmniLight, which is the ultimate reality these scriptures are attempting to grasp and describe, completely transcends the range of understanding exhibited in these scriptures and their theological or philosophical commentaries:

Couplet 3:

ஆகம முடிமேல் ஆரண முடிமேல்

ஆகநின் றோங்கிய வருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி

WS: ஆகம முடிமேல் ஆரண முடிமேல்

ஆகநின்று ஓங்கிய அருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி       

Aagama mudimel Aarana mudimel

Aaganinru oangiya Arutperunjothi

ஆகம முடிமேல் = Above the apex or summit of the Āgamas or the sacred scriptures (of Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, etc)

ஆரண முடிமேல் = Above the apex or summit of the āraṇam or āraṇyakas (the philosophical or theological commentaries and interpretations of the significance of the Vedic scriptures – inclusive of the Brahmanas and the Upanishads – composed in the hermitages in the Araṇya or forests or wooded wilderness)

ஆகநின்று ஓங்கிய = Completely, permanently, and expansively exalted in status

Translation: “Arutperunjothi or OmniLight is exalted completely, permanently, and expansively, above the apex or summit of the sacred scriptures of religions and their auxiliary philosophical or theological texts.

This implies that none of the scriptures in the religious traditions of the world, and their theological or philosophical commentaries, can justifiably claim to be complete in their account of the nature of ultimate reality (which Ramalingam identifies with Arutperunjothi or OmniLight).

Hence, scriptural absolutism or fundamentalism is an erroneous view of the relation between the scripture in question and the nature of ultimate reality about which the former purportedly provides an account.

There is a passage from Ramalingam’s first prose vinappam or petition on the Way of Suddha Sanmargam which is relevant in this context:

“எல்லாச் சத்திகளும், எல்லாச் சத்தர்களும், எல்லாத் தலைவர்களும் அறிந்து கொள்வதற்கு மிகவு மரியதாய், எல்லாத் தத்துவங்களுக்கும், எல்லாத் தத்துவிகளுக்கும் அப்பால் அப்பாலாய் விளங்கும் ஓர் சுத்த ஞான வெளியில் தமக்கு ஒரு விதத்தாலும் ஒப்புயர்வு சிறிதுங் குறிக்கப்படாத தனிப்பெருந் தலைமை அருட்பெருஞ்ஜோதியராகி விளங்குகின்ற தேவரீரது தனிப்பெருந் தன்மைக்கு மெய்யறிவுடையோரால் விதிக்கப்பட்ட வேதாகமங்களும் பெருந்தகை வாசகத்தைப் பெறாது சிறுதகை வாசகங்களைப் பெற்றுத் திகைப்படைகின்றன…”. (சமரச சுத்த சன்மார்க்க சத்தியச் சிறு விண்ணப்பம்The Short True Petition of Samarasa Suddha Sanmargam)

Translation: “Even the declarations of the scriptures, such as the Vedas (Hindu scriptures) and Āgamas (Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist scriptures), created or decreed by knowers of the Truth (மெய்யறிவுடையோர்), are unable to attain greater correspondence or verismilitude (பெருந்தகை) and, in their bewilderment, have obtained only a small or limited (சிறுதகை) correspondence or verisimilitude to the essential nature of Arutperunjothi, or OmniLight, who is beyond the powers of comprehension of all cosmic agencies or beings (சத்தி-சத்தர்), including the cosmic governors (தலைவர்கள்), and who transcends all elements, objects and entities, and abides in the space of pure consciousness and knowledge (சுத்த ஞான வெளி) as the unique all-governing being greater than which nothing can exist.

We should note that in this passage Ramalingam rejects the Vedantic myth that the Vedas (Hindu scriptures) are apauruṣeya or “authorless”. It is evident from his reference to the “knowers of Truth” who have created or decreed, at least in parts, the corpus of the Vedas and Āgamas.

It is because Arutperunjothi, or OmniLight, is “exalted completely, permanently, and expansively, above the apex or summit of the sacred scriptures of religions and their auxiliary philosophical or theological texts” that they are unable to attain greater verisimilitude to its reality in their declarations and, in bewilderment, have to rest content with small or limited verisimilitude in their declarations.

Hence, all scriptural absolutism or fundamentalism is a false doctrine on the true relation between scriptures and the ultimate reality they purport to describe and which, in actuality, is none other than Arutperunjothi or OmniLight.

This salient truth on the transcendent reality of Arutperunjothi, or OmniLight, is also reiterated in the other couplets in the Arutperunjothi Agaval: 603, 604, 636, 660, 753, and 754. I will comment on these couplets in later posts.

In his second prose vinappam or petition on the Way of Suddha Sanmargam, Ramalingam makes the following observations on the scriptures of Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism, and their theological or philosophical commentaries.

“அவ்வாலிபப் பருவம் தோன்றுதற்கு முன்னரே எல்லா உயிர்கட்கும் இன்பந் தருவதற்கு அகத்தும் புறத்தும் விளங்குகின்ற அருட்பெருஞ்ஜோதி உண்மைக் கடவுள் ஒருவரே உள்ளார் என்று அறிகின்ற மெய்யறிவை விளக்குவித்தருளினீர். வாலிபப்பருவம் தோன்றிய போதே சைவம் வைணவம் சமணம் பவுத்தம் முதலாகப் பலபெயர் கொண்டு பலபட விரிந்த அளவிறந்த சமயங்களும் அச்சமயங்களில் குறித்த சாதனங்களும் தெய்வங்களும் கதிகளும் தத்துவ சித்தி விகற்பங்கள் என்றும், அவ்வச் சமயங்களில் பலபட விரிந்த வேதங்கள் ஆகமங்கள் புராணங்கள் சாத்திரங்கள் முதலிய கலைகள் எல்லாம் தத்துவ சித்திக் கற்பனைக் கலைகள் என்றும், உள்ளபடியே எனக்கு அறிவித்து அச்சமயாசாரங்களைச் சிறிதும் அனுட்டியாமல் தடைசெவித் தருளினீர். அன்றியும் வேதாந்தம் சித்தாந்தம் போதாந்தம் நாதாந்தம் யோகாந்தம் கலாந்தம் முதலாகப் பலபெயர் கொண்ட பலபடவிரிந்த மதங்களும் மார்க்கங்களும் சுத்த சன்மார்க்க அனுபவ லேச சித்தி பேதங்கள் என்று அறிவித்து அவைகளையும் அனுட்டியாதபடி தடைசெய்வித் தருளினீர்.” (சமரச சுத்த சன்மார்க்க சத்தியப் பெரு விண்ணப்பம்The Long True Petition of Samarasa Suddha Sanmargam)

Translation: “Even before the dawn of my youth, you (Arutperunjothi or OmniLight) endowed me with the understanding that you are the only true supreme being who has manifested in the inner and outer domains in order to bestow bliss on all living beings. At the dawn of my youth, you gave me the understanding that the variant religious systems bearing numerous names or designations such as “Saivism”, “Vaishnavism”, “Jainism”, “Buddhism”, and so forth, their disciplines, deities, and final ends or goals, and their various scriptures such as Vedas, Āgamas, Purāṇas, and Śāstras, are all the products of differences and distortions in metaphysical or philosophical thought, imagination, and language or terminology. You also graciously prevented me from following any of their orthodox doctrines, observances, rituals, or practices.

Further, you made it known to me that the various metaphysical or philosophical systems bearing names such as “Vedanta”, “Siddhanta”, “Bodhanta”, “Nadanta”, “Yoganta”, “Kalanta”, and so forth, and their paths and practices, were only lesser and limited variants of the experiences and states attained on the higher path of Suddha Sanmargam. You also graciously prevented me from following any of those paths and practices (of Vedanta, Siddhanta, etc).”

Thus, Ramalingam justifies his rejection of the prevalent Indian religious systems and their affiliated theological, metaphysical, or philosophical systems, on the grounds that they were shown by Arutperunjothi or OmniLight to be deficient and/or “only variants of lesser and limited forms of experiences and states attained on the higher path of Suddha Sanmargam“.

According to the notes on his last talk given in October 1873, Ramalingam reiterated this justification for giving up adherence to the prevalent religious, theological, and philosophical systems.

He pointed out the erroneous anthropomorphic conceptions of the supreme being, e.g., representing it with multiple heads, multiple arms holding different weapons, etc., at the heart of religious systems such as Saivism, Vaishnavism, and so on. He also pointed out the recourse to obscure esoteric jargon in the language of the scriptures of these religious systems and their theological or philosophical commentaries.

Further, these religious systems were fragmented and divided into various sects. Our mortality does not allow us to expend precious time and effort in exploring the labyrinthine doctrines and ways of these innumerable, diverse, and conflicting religious sects.

 All this does not mean that he saw no value at all in the scriptures and their philosophical commentaries. In many couplets in the Arutperunjothi Agaval, Ramalingam acknowledged that the Vedas and  Āgamas express glimpses of the Truth or ultimate reality and the Way to it.  Unbeknownst to them, their declarations on the nature of Truth or ultimate reality are only fledgling approximations to the immeasurable nature of Arutperunjothi or OmniLight.

The following couplets make this point clear:

Couplet 201: எவ்வழி மெய்வழி யென்பவே தாகமம்

அவ்வழி யெனக்கரு ளருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி

Translation: “That which the Vedas and  Āgamas declare to be the True Way or Path, i.e., the Way or Path to You, graciously set me on that Way or Path, Arutperunjothi or OmniLight!”

Couplet 29: வேதாக மங்களின் விளைவுகட் கெல்லாம்

ஆதார மாம்சபை அருட்பெருஞ் ஜோதி

Translation: “Arutperunjothi, or OmniLight, seated in the Hall of Truth-Knowledge, is the basis and support of all fruition of the effects or results of the (practices prescribed by) Vedas and Āgamas.”

Couplet 606: துரியமும் கடந்ததோர் பெரியவான் பொருள்என

உரைசெய் வேதங்கள் உன்னும் மெய்ச் சத்தே  

Translation: “Arutperunjothi or OmniLight is the absolute reality which the declarations of the Vedas conceive to be beyond the state of Turiya (the state in which the soul has pure consciousness or awareness only of itself), and as the vast and great heavenly being.”

Couplet 714:  வேத கீதத்தில் விளை திருப் பாட்டே     

Translation: “Arutperunjothi or OmniLight is the beautiful and sacred song which springs forth from the music of the Vedic chants.”

Couplet 753:  தேற்றிய வேதத் திருமுடி விளங்கிட

ஏற்றிய ஞான இயல்ஒளி விளக்கே  

Translation:  “Arutperunjothi or OmniLight is the inherent light of the lamp of knowledge which illuminates the crowning revelations of the Vedas.”

716         நம்புறும் ஆகமம் நவிற்றிய பாட்டே

Translation: “Arutperunjothi or OmniLight is the music and poetry of the authoritative testimony of the Āgamas.”

The manuscript of Ramalingam’s magnum opus Arutperunjothi Agaval or Invocations of the OmniLight

What about the status of the Arutperunjothi Agaval?

If we approach it in the spirit of scriptural absolutism or fundamentalism, i.e., thinking that it is exhaustive of the nature of Arutperunjothi or OmniLight, this is inconsistent with its own revelations on the immeasurable and transcendent nature of Arutperunjothi or OmniLight.

Since it is free from the deficiencies or limitations of the Vedas and Āgamas, the enlightenment poetry of the Arutperunjothi Agaval is patently on a vastly higher level of inspiration and revelation. But we must not mistakenly think that the Arutperunjothi Agaval provides a complete account of Arutperunjothi or OmniLight.

No text can do that since any text is inexorably within the bounds of verbal thought even when it points to a transcendent reality. Indeed, it can point only by means of verbal thought. The Arutperunjothi Agaval also declares in couplet 6 that Arutperunjothi or OmniLight abides in a space beyond thought and language (“உரைமனம் கடந்த ஒருபெரு வெளிமேல்“).

The Arutperunjothi Agaval is revelatory enlightenment poetry at its best. But we must not treat its couplets as exhaustive of the reality and nature of Arutperunjothi or OmniLight. Even when they beautifully and profoundly illuminate some aspects of the nature of Arutperunjothi or OmniLight, they do so only as a great set of celebratory or laudatory signposts on the Way and the goal of Samarasa Suddha Sanmargam.

I would like to conclude this post by acknowledging that scriptural absolutism or fundamentalism has also been rejected by other great spiritual teachers, including a few in the classical Chinese Chan or Zen tradition, e.g., Línjì Yìxuán (9th century CE).

Only a great teacher dares to disparage the Buddhas and patriarchs, dares to criticize everything, to defy the Teachings of the Three Baskets…The Twelve Divisions of the Teachings are only surface explanations. The Three Vehicles and the Twelve Divisions of the Teachings, all are so much old paper to mop up messes.(The Record of Línjì)

The Twelve Divisions of the Teachings” refer to twelve-fold classification of the corpus of Buddhist scriptures, e.g., sūtra or aphoristic teachings, geya or aphoristic teachings in the form of verses, jātaka or stories of the Buddha’s previous lives,  itivrittaka or the alleged discourses of the Buddha, and so on. “The Three Baskets” is a reference to the Tripiṭaka, the three sets of Buddhist scriptures, Vinaya Pitaka or those dealing with disciplines or practices, Sutta Pitaka or those dealing with discourses, and Abhidhamma Piṭaka or those dealing with special and advanced doctrines. “The Three Vehicles” pertain to the three Buddhist sects and systems of thought: Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana.

In calling all of them “only surface explanations” and “so much old paper to mop up messes”, Línjì is rejecting the notion that enlightenment requires adherence to scriptural doctrines. His rejection of dependence on scriptural testimony implies that scriptural declarations are not exhaustive of ultimate reality, or “Buddha-nature”, as it is conceived in Chan Buddhism.

Here are some pertinent comments on scriptural absolutism or fundamentalism by the Indian mystic-poet and philosopher Sri Aurobindo (1872 – 1950):

Sri Aurobindo (1872 – 1950)

All fanaticism is false, because it is a contradiction of the very nature of God and of Truth. Truth cannot be shut up in a single book, Bible or Veda or Koran, or in a single religion. The Divine Being is eternal and universal and infinite and cannot be the sole property of the Mussulmans or of the Semitic religions only, – those that happened to be in a line from the Bible and to have Jewish or Arabian prophets for their founders.”

Sri Krishna Prem (aka Ronald Nixon1898 – 1965)

The great yogi-turned, Cambridge-educated, and former British-Raj university lecturer, Sri Krishnaprem (aka Ronald Nixon) made these insightful remarks in rejecting scriptural absolutism or fundamentalism:

“One of the greatest obstacles to the finding of Truth is the belief, current among religious people, that Truth is written down in some book or books which constitute the “sacred scriptures” for them.

The orthodox Christians consider the Bible to be the inspired word of God inspite of its making a number of statements of fact which are quite certainly incorrect, and orthodox Hindus say that the Vedas are apaurusheya, which presumably means that they have no human authors, inspite of the fact that they are quite obviously the compositions of certain rishis.

It is by no means intended here to depreciate those ancient writings, some of which are among the most inspiring productions of the human mind, and contain realisations and intuitions which are of great help to a seeker.

But it cannot be too strongly emphasized that an attitude of blind acceptance of what is written in any book is definitely harmful, and effectually serves to prevent the attainment of Truth.

What is wanted, however, is not blind belief but intelligent study.” (“The Search for Truth“)

Indeed. What is wanted is not blind belief, but intelligent study of the Arutperunjothi Agaval, bearing in mind that it consists of indications and signposts on the great Way of Samarasa Suddha Sanmargam.