A Life of thinking globally, acting locally, and seeking peace internally.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Thunder and Lightning

I totally miss being in class at ETS and having a reason to read Hindu theological writings. I was searching my mail for something recently and found a story about thunder and lightning from the Upanishads that I love.

Some background on the Upanishads: Since the Upanishads form the concluding portion of the Vedas, they were called Vedanta or "the end of Vedas." However, the term Vedanta now refers to a school of philosophy based on the Upanishads. There are 108 generally accepted Upanishads, but according to different sources, the number varies upto 200. The oldest of these works dates back to 600 BC. They contain a freedom of thought unknown in any of the earlier works, except the Rig-Veda. The Upanishads are more universal and can be read by all. And these are the ten principal Upanishads:
  • The Aitareya Upanishad of the Rig-Veda.
  • The Brihadaranyaka, Isha, Katha and Taittiriya Upanishads of the Yajur Veda.
  • The Chandogya and Kena Upanishads of the Sama Veda.
  • The Prasna, Mundaka, and Mandukya Upanishads of the Atharva Veda.
It is in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad that a typically value-based story appears: 'What the Thunder Says'. Prajapati, or Brahma, the All-Father, having created the three races of gods, men and demons, appointed each to their own realm - heaven, earth and the netherworld. All three begged him for advice to live by. So, to each race, Prajapati gave counsel.

When the world was still young and the newly created beings—the Divas, the Asuras and the Manusas—were groping to understand their place in the world, they all meditated for true knowledge from their creator Prajapati.

After a long time had passed, the Divas went to Prajapati and asked for His wisdom. "Lord, please tell us what we should live by."

Prajapati looked kindly at the Divas, who were endowed with great character and who had God-like intentions, but He simply uttered a single letter of the Sanskrit alphabet, "da."

The Divas pondered over what they had heard until Prajapati gently asked them, "Divas, do you understand the meaning of what I said?"

The Divas stated, "Yes, Lord, we understand. 'Da' stands for Damyata—control. You want us to live a life of restraint."

Prajapati said, "Yes, you have understood it. Be self-controlled."

Next, the Manusas, who were humans, went to Prajapati and reverentially asked for His wisdom. "Lord, please tell us what we should live by."

For a few minutes Prajapati observed the Manusas, who had great intellect and passion but who were weak in body and petty in their dealings with others. He again pronounced the same letter of the alphabet, "da." Prajapati paused, allowing them time to reflect over His answer. Then he asked them, "Manusas, do you understand what I said?"

The humans grasped the meaning quickly. "Yes, Lord, we fully perceive what you said. 'Da' symbolizes Datta—give. We should be generous. There is great joy in sharing."

Prajapati was pleased with their answer, "You have understood. Go and live accordingly."

Lastly, the Asuras went to Prajapati and asked him for His wisdom. Although the Asuras were created in darkness, they were still His children. Prajapati looked at them carefully. The Asuras were strong in body and in their determinations. They were the rivals of the Divas. But once again Prajapati stated only "da."

The Asuras mused over what they had heard until Prajapati inquired, "Asuras, do you understand what I said?"

The Asuras clearly discerned the message of Prajapati. "Lord, when you said 'da' you meant Dayadhyam— compassion. You want us to be compassionate."

Prajapati smiled, "Yes, you have understood it. Live a life of compassion for others."

Prajapati rose up and vanished in the clouds in the midst of a loud thunder—"da," "da," "da." And the three races repeated, "damyata," "datta," "dayadham," and went their separate ways. The divine message is often repeated by the clouds as they thunder, "da," "da," "da," as if to remind all beings of the lesson learned by the three races at the very beginning of their journey—be self-controlled, be generous, be compassionate.

Prajapati did not instill wisdom, nor did He offer to show the right path. Prajapati accepted the three different interpretations of His message because the Divas, Manusas, and Asuras recognized their own frailties and interpreted His Message accordingly. One can perceive wisdom only at a level of one's cognizance and consciousness

* Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Book Five, V.ii.

If you like music: MS Subbalakshmi sang Maitreem Bhajata, which includes the three Da's at the UN in 1966 - listen to her here:
or watch her here:

If you like poetry: TS Elliot's Wastland includes reference to this story and ends with these words:
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
Shantih shantih shantih Read more Entry>>

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mother's Day reflections

I had an amazing Mother's Day. I snuggled with the kids in the morning, had a great homemade brunch NOT prepared by me, and went to see the latest Star Trek movie (in IMAX, my first time!) released on Friday. And someone dear to me sent me these words proclaimed on the first Mother's Day. And through all these activities, I discovered that I need to find balance between contemplation and activism in my search for peace...

Mother's Day Proclamation
by Julia Ward Howe*, 1870

The First Mother's Day proclaimed in 1870 by Julia Ward Howe
was a passionate demand for disarmament and peace.

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or tears!

Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have taught them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the bosom of the devastated earth, a voice goes up with our own. It says, "Disarm, Disarm!"

The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail & commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesars but of God.

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.

Biography of Julia Ward Howe

US feminist, reformer, and writer Julia Ward Howe was born May 27, 1819 in New York City. She married Samuel Gridley Howe of Boston, a physician and social reformer. After the Civil War, she campaigned for women rights, anti-slavery, equality, and for world peace. She published several volumes of poetry, travel books, and a play. She became the first woman to be elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1908. She was an ardent antislavery activist who wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic in 1862, sung to the tune of John Brown's Body. She wrote a biography in 1883 of Margaret Fuller, who was a prominent literary figure and a member of Ralph Waldo Emerson's Transcendentalists. She died in 1910.

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