Vedanta for Modern World

Following is a summary of a talk by Dr. Krishnamurthy Sastrigal on the topic of “Vedanta for Modern World”. Sri. Krishnamurthy Sastrigal is the retired principal of Sanskrit College in Chennai, India. He is an eminent scholar on Vedas and other scriptures.

The talk is in Tamil, a language from South India. In the following, we have provided a brief English transcript from this talk. The talk provides a collection of principles, guidance and aphorisms drawn from Upanishads considered as the essential knowledge of Vedas and hence described as Vedanta (the end or essence of Vedanta).

What is the essence of Vedantha?

Life from the view point of the soul is always wholesome, infinite bliss for everyone and everything:

ॐ पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात्पूर्णमुदच्यते । पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते ॥ ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥

Om Poornnam-Adaha Poornnam-Idam Poornnaath-Poornnam-Udachyate | Poornnasya Poornnam-Aadaaya Poornnam-Eva-vashissyate || Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||

Om, the Divine Consciousness is wholesome in nature; The entire Universe is wholesome  as it is filled with Divine Consciousness; From the Fullness of Divine Consciousness the World is manifested. Divine Consciousness is Non-Dual and Infinite; It is wholesome (cannot be divided in parts) and hence remains as wholesome as seen from its parts or as a whole. Om, Peace within, Peace outside, Peace everywhere and at all times.

Vedantha does not say, keep your eyes closed and be seated quietly.

Use all your tools and means for retaining and maintaining inner peace for yourself and promote that inner peace of everyone and everything to the best of your reach. At the same time be focused on the inner peace that comes from the reflection on the self (Athma Dhyanam)

Vedantha has only merit and it speaks of no de-merit since it is focused on the good for the self as an enabler for the good of everything external. This has to be the focus for all modern developments.

Our wants and needs should not overwhelm our satisfaction and contentment.

Vedanta = Knowledge of the Self (Athma Gnanam)

Since there is no “other”, the joy and happiness of everyone also belongs to each person.

Injunctions for modern man from Vedas:

  • Understand and use all the tools available wisely: (e.g.): Digital tools – Cell phone.
  • Consume less than you produce.
  • Understand the true nature of Athma – the SELF which directs the intellect (and our thoughts), mind (emotions and feelings) and the body (organs and perceptions).
  • Understand or establish the superiority of the Self or consciousness over our perceivable aspects of body, mind and intellect:
    • Eyes stopped working – yes, there are problems, but one can persevere with life.
    • Mouth stopped working – yes, there are problems, but one perseveres with life.
    • Ears stopped working – yes, there are problems, we can persevere with life.
    • etc.
    • But finally the life giving force (SELF or the Soul or consciousness) stopped working and decided to depart or take leave!
      • Wait a minute; everything stopped working!
      • The entire body, mind and intellect and their functions could not function!
      • On realizing this, the sense of superiority of all else vanished and the role of the “Self” – the soul, the Athman – as the enabler of everything else became evident!
  • Take the time to learn and understand that SELF (Athma):
    • One who is inside is Athma.
    • What enables you to see through your eyes is Athma.
  • True happiness is the result of the knowledge of the Self. This leads to eternal peace and happiness.
    • Examples:
      • Saint Narada enabled with all capabilities and skills was never happy with the “current” situation: His unhappiness was the result of a dissatisfied mind.
      • Advice to Duryodhana:  You don’t get sleep because:
        • You are worried about something beyond your control
        • You want something that is truly not yours (you are cunning)
        • Your mind is not in your control!
    • Contended mind leads to control in all that we do (e.g.):
      • Inner peace and harmony
      • Spending within limits.
  • Reject all that which seems to be the source of pleasure for self-driven needs (e.g.):
    • Father with mustache kissing a child: Father’s happiness makes the baby cry!
    • Ocean is merely our unrelenting collection of desires (Samsara Saagaram)
    • Living beyond means
  • Good qualities (Athma Guna):
    • Be truthful (Sathyam)
    • Be honest (Arjyam)
    • Give generously with commitment to the needy(Dhaanam):Taittiriya Upanishad (1-11-3)
      • Give/help others with commitment (Shraddaya Dheyam)
      • Do not give casually or without sincerity / commitment (Ashradhdhaya Adheyam)
      • Donate / help in plenty or as much as you can (Shriya deyam)
      • Help / Donate without a sense of fear or merely as a ritual obligation (Bhiya deyam)),
      • Give with humility or non-attachment (Hriya deyam)
      • Donate / help give with a clear knowledge of the purpose to which you are giving (Samvida deyam).
    • Be contributor not just a consumer
    • Control your mind as best as you can
    • Be self-reliant and confident of your success.
  • Develop a clear comprehension of these good qualities of the soul.
  • Two pathways to get beyond the ocean of misery:
    • Relentless pursuit and association with truth (Sath Sangh)
    • Relentless relinquishing of attachments of any kind (Sarva Thyagam)
  • Three crutches or support in this journey:
    • Knowledge (Gnanam)
    • Resulting action (Karma)
    • Performer of such actions (Kartha)
  • Knowledge and its features: Treat the world as the entire world belongs to you.
    • Everyone is part of me
    • Everything alive is part of me
    • Every object in the universe is part and parcel of me (Thath Thwam Asi).
  • How to pursue the action with the above knowledge :
    • Relentlessly (Niyatham)
    • Without self-driven attachment (Sangha Rahitham)
    • Without passion and differentiation with others (Raga Dhwesha Varjitham)
  • Who is the Performer of above actions (Kartha):
    • Muktha Sanghaha (One totally engaged in non-attachment)
    • Relentless commitment
  • What you eat does not solely belong to you.
    • Share with others including animals before taking your share of the food.
  • The eternal joy of the soul is the same for anyone and anything
    • Everything is Brahman (Everything reflects Nature and its laws: Sarvam Brahma Mayam).
    • The joy for the soul of the ant and the elephant is one and the same.
  • Wholesome life implies:
    • Tranquil knowledge (Sathvika Gyanam),
    • Tranquil activities (Sathvika Karma);
    • Tranquil person (Sathvika Kartha).
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Vedanta for Emotional Intelligence and Universal Well-being

This essay originally appeared in Soft Power Magazine:   Vedanta for Emotional Intelligence and Universal Well-being Dr Krishnamoorthy Subramanian 


Vedic Philosophy known as Vedanta and its practice leads to Personal Well Being (Athma Shanthi) which permeates and in due course becomes Universal Well-Being (Sarve’ Jana Sukino’ Bhavanthu)!

A flower with its fragrance attracts bees for its pollination and prosperity; yet the same fragrance spreads for everyone in the vicinity to enjoy, as the breeze passes by and spreads the fragrance. The flower, its fragrance, bees, pollination, breeze and the spreading of fragrance are all part of nature (Brahman). “I” as an individual (flower) and its properties (Guna), the use of my thoughts (bees and pollination), Spreading of my thoughts and actions involuntarily for the benefit of many is also part of nature (I am Brahman – Aham Brahmasmi). At some point this becomes our universal perspective (inclusion of all and exclusion of none) and second nature (Thath Thwam Asi – I and the universe are integral in each other). —- This is the essence of Vedanta.

Unlike the flower which merely exists (grows, pollinates, creates new plants and dies) “I” can do all that AND observe and manage my thoughts at the core of my being! Managing my thoughts (and actions as a result) is Gnana Yoga – Internal or self-reflection through reasoning and objective analysis.

Managing my physical body (and the fitness of various parts of the body) is the “Yoga” – self-controlled exercise of breathing and physical movements – taught and practiced today. This Yoga is meant for better health and physical well-being. Meditation as a form of Yoga is also taught and practiced for betterment of our emotional well-being. While both are good and much needed, self-regulation of our thoughts which lead to our actions is also very much needed.

Today worldwide there is a drive for wanting more and a feeling of never it is enough. There are many reasons as to why we are driven by a culture of Consumerism. This affliction is more felt by the educated and those acquainted with Western and Urban way of living. One eminent scholar of Philosophy told me that “Vedanta – the essence of Vedas – is the way of life for many rural Indians. It comes to them from their upbringing and hence self-taught through life experiences. Even among the urban population, one can see this philosophic perspective as a way of life in a poor taxi driver more than in a rich person riding in the taxi.”

In some respects the scholar is correct. Somehow I feel the outlook on life that Vedanta is to be learned only as an outcome of a life-time of experience in the school of hard knocks is self-defeating. Reading and learning Vedanta is seen today as the realm of the old and those in a monastic way of life with limited means and wants. There is a general aptitude for listening to lectures on Vedanta than there is to reflect, analyze, interpret and apply their principles in daily life. But that could not have been the goal of the writers and seers who composed Upanishads, epics and Baghawath Gita. They describe a way of life, a manner of thinking and an outlook on life for anyone that is all inclusive (moving away from the notion of “I”). They envision a mind where thoughts are held in check and steered for larger common good (Vasudeva Kudumbam). They emphasize the purpose of all our learning is to explore the invisible laws of nature and how we are all a part of that (Aham Brahma Asmi; Thath Thwam Asi).

Life can be thought of as a three legged stool:

  • Economic well-being (through academic education, profession, job, career, money, etc.);
  • Social or emotional well-being (contributing to the well-being of family, children, charitable activities, etc.) and
  • Intellectual or spiritual well-being (engagement with others and the universe in a genuine, limitless uplifting manner – a philosophic outlook that is liberating and builds inner peace and harmony within and all around.

These three legs are not mutually exclusive. In fact, each reinforces the other and makes the stool (our life) more stable and meaningful.

How can we make these simple ideas of Vedanta and reflections on them as part of our daily life? Can we teach these basics to children just as we teach alphabets, arithmetic, personal hygiene and social skills? Can Vedanta be simplified and taught and practiced by families in their daily life? Can this help our emotional balance and mental stamina just as the practice of Yoga today helps in better physical fitness?

The need for internalizing the essence of Vedanta in every person goes beyond the children and their education. Emotional Intelligence is an essential skill for the workplace today. EI is a frame of mind, an outlook that enables to see others in us; hence our thoughts resonate with others for a larger common good. EI moves anyone from “I win you lose” mindset. It is often suggested that “Win Win” should be the attitude for success in the work place and the business world. Even in this mindset “I” and “You” – the customer and the supplier – are treated as different and independent entities. At the same time we are also told that we should be the company and the business built from “outside in” (i.e.) bring in the customer and their needs as an integral part of the supplier company. Vedanta teaches us to think and behave with “We all win together” mindset, since there is no difference between “I” and “You” – We are all part of the same Universal Brahman.

The notion that we all win together is not an altruistic concept. Globalization started with the great vision of “Using all resources across the globe also to meet the needs of everyone across the globe”. The developments in Technology have equaled the playing field for every one across the globe – the same information is available instantly to anyone almost at the same time through internet and the search engines. These developments that foster “We all win together” have happened ad hoc and by chance. They have not happened through learning, understanding and internalizing of the profound Vedantic axiom: Thath Thwam Asi (You and the Universe are one and the same). We argue about climate crisis as if it belongs to one nation or the other in terms of blame or responsibility. Even the COVID pandemic is treated as a problem to be dealt with by each nation and not by the humanity across the globe as a whole.

In summary, let us not reflect on Vedanta and its teachings as the relics of the past. Let us not treat Vedanta as complex subject matter not for the common man: to be learned and reflected upon only by a select few. Let us not treat the simple and yet profound guidance from Vedanta as an afterthought to be recognized and accepted at the end of life and its turbulent path. Let us not treat Vedanta as something to be relied upon only after our economic needs are met and satisfied. Instead let there be learning, reflection and internalizing the basics of Vedanta to dispel all of these myths. Let each of us do our part for the understanding and application of Vedanta as an integral part of our daily life, our family and professional life and for the universal well-being.


Ethics and AI

Anatomy of our experience: Objectivity the end result

Vedanta for the modern world: 

(Dr. Krishnamoorthy (Subbu) Subramanian is the President of Science based Technology, Innovation and Management Solutions (STIMS) Institute, USA. Dr. Subramanian obtained his B.S. (ME) Degree from Osmania University, India and his M.S, M.E and Doctor of Science degrees from MIT, USA. He is a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and also a Fellow of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME). His work has been recognized through the coveted 2020 Merchant Medal awarded to him. His blog on Vedanta is Spirituality in Practice:

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Athma Bodha (Knowledge of The Self) – Part 3. Requirements to study the Knowledge of the Self.

Adi Sankara Cover

Part 3. Requirements to study the Knowledge of the Self.

1. I (Adi Sankara) am composing this Athma Bodha (Knowledge of the Self) for those who have

(a) Minimized their negative attitudes and tendencies; strengthened their noble thoughts and deeds through austere activities such as prayer, meditation, virtuous living, etc.

(b) that has resulted in their mental peace and tranquility where emotions are held in check, reflection and analysis is natural and ignorance is challenged through knowledge and learning;

(c) which in turn has created a calm contentment in their mind and hence the desires and agitations are held in check; and

(d) have become a sincere seeker wanting to liberate oneself from his/her self-imposed limitations and constraints in their personality.

These are the qualifications for those fit to study this Knowledge of the Self.

From birth through childhood, young age, adult life to our current age and experience we are born and brought up on the Cognitive side of the Self. Yet, in a large crowd some one calls out our name, many with the same name respond instinctively. The moment we acknowledge that there are many more with the same name we also realize they also have body, mind, experience, circumstances, etc. which we call as individual life. What unites all of us independent of our individual descriptions and circumstances? What unites us as individuals made of matter with all other matters known and conceivable on this earth and Universe? What unites us as individual living beings with all other living beings known and conceivable on this earth and Universe? What unites us as individuals with thoughts and feelings with all other thoughts and feelings known and conceivable on this earth and Universe? This process of inquiry is the true search for the Knowledge of the Self. Such inquiry requires a preparatory discipline and frame of mind as described above by Swami Adi Sankara.

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Athma Bodha (Knowledge of The Self) – Part 2.   Prayer Song and the questions that arise.

Adi Sankara Cover

Following are the three verses of the Morning Prayer song composed by Swami Adi Sankaracharya:

In the early morning I meditate (smarami) on the Self, residing in the deep wells of our hearts. It is Real Knowledge, Eternal Happiness, the state reached by those who have transcended to the fourth state of consciousness; Self illumines all our experiences during the waking, dreaming and the state of deep sleep. I am that perfect Brahman, not the identity associated merely with my physical and identifiable matter.

In the Early Morning I salute (namaami) and show my respect to that Self, the Brahman that adds glory to the Mind and the Speech; through His grace all Speech comes alive or shines through; Who is Identified in the scriptures by relentless exploration by rejecting all else (“Na iti, Na iti – Not this, not this”). Brahman cannot be adequately expressed by Words; Brahman is called the God of the Gods, Unborn, Infallible (i.e. Imperishable) and Foremost (i.e. Primordial).

In the early morning I worship or praise the glory (bhajami) of the Self, the stable framework whose nature is Supreme Illumination, whole or the entirety, with Its presence earlier than the beginning, and Which is called the Supreme Soul; In whom this endless world is seated from time immemorial and in which this cognitive world appears illusive like a fearsome snake even if it is a Rope.

The prayer song raises the following questions:

  • Why is the knowledge of the self the Real Knowledge?

The in cognitive forces of nature (Brahman) enable all that we know, aware of, do, engage in, etc. In other words the life and the world or the universe as we know of it is all enabled by Brahman. If we divorce ourselves of the thought that I am Brahman, the Universe is Brahman then it is like acknowledging a coin with one side only. Such coin does not exist or cannot be conceived of. It is also like being in a boat on the land (without buoyancy) and wanting to float. It does not exist. Brahman (the laws of nature that enable everything) and its inseparable presence in my existence is “Who I am” or the knowledge of the self – the true knowledge! All other “knowledge” is enabled or springs forth from this foundational knowledge.

  • How does it lead to Eternal Happiness?

Much to the surprise of many, happiness is not one sided, all or nothing! True happiness is finding the balance between two competing forces. Let us return to our analogy of the person in the boat, floating in the lake. The boat cannot continue to be steady and continue its journey unless the forces are balanced on either side of the boat. It is equally true for the journey of life. While the duality or competing forces of nature (joy vs. sorrow, like vs. dislike, etc.) are eternal, their impact can become lopsided unless there is a consistent effort to balance them. But even that balancing act (Sagunathvam) will be a struggle and in the end futile unless our mind shifts to the invisible laws of nature at work. In other words conscious awareness of the Cognitive and in-cognitive aspects of the self (both sides of the coin) is the true source of eternal or long lasting happiness.

For example one can strive to be the strongest, smartest or well accomplished in any field. But there should also be a desire to manage these desires and not become overwhelmed by vanity, greed or such driving forces in our pursuit. This balancing act is Sagunathvam. At the pinnacle we reach a certain high level of accomplishment – the peak performance. All of these are based on one side of the coin – the cognitive side. At this stage the mind says, “Why not higher?” and immediately the mind shifts to comparison with others and the slippery slope of greed, vanity and unhappiness starts! This will be avoided only when we recognize the physical limitations – the laws of nature (Brahman) at work – in our own ability in this sphere of activity. Instead the mind recognizes such higher accomplishment by others consistent with their nature endowed abilities. Admiration of accomplishment of any one replaces admiration of our own accomplishment. Limitless and universal joy and happiness replaces limited happiness centered on our individual accomplishments and performances.

To illustrate this further let us look at another example: Once there was a street musician who rendered a devotional song in excellent music. A famous classical music singer heard that at her door step. She was truly mesmerized. At that moment she realized that music is universal and the capability to sing superbly need not be limited to only a few who are famous, well recognized and acclaimed. As she peaked into the in cognitive side of devotional music her joy knew no bounds. This is also extolled as “the sun that shines on the king and the poor man in the street is one and the same”

  • What is the fourth state of consciousness?

We can readily identify ourselves when we are awake. Our thoughts in this state are recognizable. In fact most of our life we struggle or try to manage our thoughts, the emotions they foster and the actions that we carry out as a result. We also know when we dream. We do have thoughts, but they may or may not have structure to them. Dreams often disappear and we fail to recall our thoughts. Then there is a state of deep sleep where no thoughts of any kind are recognized.

But we are alive in all these three states. That is the fourth state – the state which is enabled by our life giving forces, the laws of nature (Brahman). We merely exist enabled by and as a witness to the laws of nature at work (Brahman) in this fourth state of Consciousness. This is the in-cognitive side of our coin that permeates or co-exists with all the other three states which belong to the Cognitive side of the coin.

  • Brahman illumines all our experiences during the waking, dreaming and the state of deep sleep. If I am that perfect Brahman, why do I associate my identity merely with my physical and identifiable matter?
  • Why does the world appear anxious, fearful and apprehensive like a fearsome snake even if it is a rope?

See section six in this series of essays.

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Athma Bodha (Knowledge of The Self) – Part 1. Who am I?

Adi Sankara Cover

  1. Who am I?

There are two aspects to “Who am I?” or the “Knowledge of the Self”. One is the cognitive aspect which we can relate to readily. The other is the in-cognitive forces of nature (Brahman) the enabler or substratum of everything cognitive.

I am the Cognitive person:   Each of us can identify ourselves by our name, appearance, age, family, connections, education, job, accomplishments, etc. In this knowledge of the self, our life in general is a “Product of our experiences”.  These experiences are the outcome of connectors (Guna) (i.e.) our Knowledge, Bias and Ignorance through which we are connected to the experience. These connectors depending on their proportion create a sense of duality such as like/dislike, love / hate, etc. The goal in life – for inner peace and harmony within – is to maintain a balance between these connectors (Sagunathvam) which leads to objectivity  through which the dualities are held in check and gradually vanish. We are equally at ease irrespective of situation or circumstances we are in or the people around us.

Our thoughts are the seeds for all our experiences. By reducing the number of thoughts we are left with less number of experiences to manage as described above. “I think, therefore I am” states the French Philosopher René Descartes. It is our mind and its thoughts that lead to our emotions and hence our feelings and actions. “Control the mind, you are in control of yourself” is the guiding principle for life by Lord Buddha. The role of thought and its impact on our actions and the way we live in the Cognitive world is illustrated below.

Kn of Self Subjective Vs. Objective

Each thought can be directed into a circle focused on “I” and “mine” as shown in the figure above. Alternatively the thoughts can be directed external to “We” and “ours”. Each excursion through the cycle is an experience. Many cycles of life and death can be metaphoric to multitude of cycles corresponding to the many experiences. More still the mind, fewer our thoughts and less is the number of cycles experienced and we live in a state of calm tranquility. In other words minimize the journey through the two set of circles shown above, closer you are to liberation from the tumultuous nature of life and its journey.

These two circles in the figure above are also analogous to the wheels of a bicycle. For the bicycle to move forward smoothly – for the journey of life to continue with inner peace and harmony – there has to be a balance (objectivity) and not sway to one extreme or other (Subjectivity governed by opinions, bias and judgments). In bicycling we maintain the balance with progress in the journey as the goal. In real life the goal is also to progress with a balanced frame of mind (seek objectivity) as best as one can in whatever we do.

I am the In- Cognitive or subtle person: On sustained reflection we also come to realize that anything cognitive and all the connectors are enabled by laws of nature. I exist enabled by and as evidence of the nature and the laws that enable the nature. This enabler is called Brahman. IT is devoid of anything tangible, cognitive or connective (Nirgunathvam). This comprehension leads us to also acknowledge the transient nature (like reflections in a mirror) of the Cognitive and the connectors (Guna) that we call as life . For more details:

Thus the Cognitive (Gunathvam) and In-cognitive or subtle (Nirgunathvam) are the two inseparable aspects of anyone or anything. This is the answer to “Who am I?” or Knowledge of the Self.

Below are two illustrations to capture the essence of the Knowledge of the Self:


Kn of Self example 1

Imagine anyone or a group of people on the boat. Think of the boat itself. All that is the Cognitive aspect of the “Self”. People on the boat cannot sway or lean excessively to one side of the boat or the other. Otherwise the boat will capsize and everyone will fall into the water. Anyone who is aggressive and wants his/her own way and hence leans beyond limit to either side will also tumble into the water. These are examples of subjective nature, yielding to personal bias or selfish motivated choices. In order to float well and remain steady everyone and the entire group in the boat has to maintain a balance between the two sides. This is analogous to maintaining the balance between the duality such as like/dislike, happiness/sorrow, etc. Striking this balance is objectivity (Sagunathvam).

The connectors and their judicious balance (Sagunathvam) are all part of the mind and its function. Attempts are being made to explain the inner working of the mind through neural science. But what is this “science”? All forms of science are our attempts to observe and explain the subtle and in-cognitive laws or forces of nature defined as “Brahman”. To make this clear let us return to the boat and the people – all cognitive that are floating on water.

While maintaining the balance people in the boat also need to be mindful that the boat and everyone and everything on it are all afloat thanks to the body of water in which everything is floating! This ability for anything to float is enabled by buoyancy, which is in cognitive. The invisible buoyancy is necessary for everything cognitive (all that is floating) to exist that way! This is Brahman (that which enables the fire to burn, wind to blow, water to wet, objects to float in the water, etc.) the sum total of all laws of nature that enable who we are, what we do. Brahman includes the nature (forces that enable the planet and the universe to exist). Brahman represents the Universe and all that enable the universe to exist.

In the above illustration we recognized two co-existing states: the cognitive state (everything including the water) and the in-cognitive or subtle buoyancy and its role (the enabling force that makes all that is cognitive to float and enable the water its ability to sustain the floating). A true knowledge of the self comprises of both these co-existing states.

Illustration 2:

Kn of Self example 2

In many respects the answer to “Who am I?” or the knowledge of the self is also analogous to two sides of a coin. On one side of the coin is the cognitive – our identification as individuals with our name, personal details, preferences, like/dislike, etc. This is the world of opinions and judgement – subjectivity. Through analytical reasoning we strive to be objective, with a balanced frame of mind. The other side of the coin is the forces of nature (Brahman) that enable everything – all aspects of our being.

There is no such thing as one sided coin. Unaware of this we tend to remain focused on one side of the coin – the cognitive side – as if it is the whole coin. This is our illusion or Maya. Being aware that there are two sides – the cognitive and the in-cognitive – and they are eternal and inseparable is the true knowledge and the wisdom. Being tied to one side of the coin most of the time we identify ourselves as individuals. When our perspective shifts to the other side of the coin we see ourselves as limitless, as an integral part of the universe at large (Thath Thwam Asi; Aham Brahmasmi)

Summary: The floating boat cannot exist without a body of water supporting it through buoyancy. A coin cannot exist without two sides. We as individuals or anything we can relate to have a cognitive state and an in-cognitive or subtle body of laws of nature (Brahman) which enables the cognitive to exist.

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Athma Bodh (Knowledge of The Self) – Outline

Athma Bodh (Knowledge of The Self)

Adi Sankara Cover

Composed by Bhagawan Adhi Sankaracharya

An interpretive translation with commentaries;

Acknowledgement: Preparatory reading included the book by Swami Chinmayananda.

 Swami Adi Sankara has composed a morning prayer that contains three verses. He has also composed the text Athma Bodha (Knowledge of the Self) which is composed of sixty eight verses. In this series of eleven essays we shall use both the Morning Prayer song as well the Athma Bodha to develop a reflective look at who each of us are or simply put “Who am I”?


  1. Who am I?
  2. Meditation (Prayer Song) and the questions that arise.
  3. Requirements to study the Knowledge of the Self.
  4. What are the distinguishing features or subtlety of the “Self”?
  5. How does the “Self” evolve in the Cognitive side or emerge as individuals in the physical world?
  6. Why is it we misunderstand our Self only as part of our cognitive universe?
  7. Techniques to recognize the in-cognitive (i.e.) Consciousness, Brahman or the Self: the other side of the Coin!
  8. Methods or practices to internalize the understanding of Brahman, Self or Universal Consciousness.
  9. How does one who has acquired the knowledge of the Self act or behave?
  10. Brahman – Definition.
  11. Conclusion.
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Emotional Distancing and Intellectual Alignment

Emotional Distancing

Life is a journey from the known to the unknown. Yesterday is history and tomorrow is unknown. With the COVID – 19 pandemic across the globe, we are all going through new uncharted journey. Social Distancing, Community Spreading, Self-Quarantine are all terms now in our parlance which were unknown to us only a few weeks ago.

Copied below are a few lines from a very good article I came across recently:

Practicing social distancing means maintaining at least six feet of distance from others when possible. Under these guidelines, normal social interactions are practically impossible. Research shows that older people are happier than younger adults, in part because they care less about success and social status. Instead older adults tend to focus on things like spending time with family, volunteer work and hobbies. The guidance around preventing exposure to and the spread of Covid-19 makes these activities much more difficult to practice.

 The current situation and the social distancing it requires doesn’t just negatively impact the elderly. Humans are social beings, and we all benefit from connecting to others. While we absolutely should adhere to guidelines from medical officials, I also strongly believe that social distancing doesn’t mean we have to socially disconnect. In fact, the CDC also released guidelines on mental health and coping during Covid-19, which included advice to:

  • Connect with others,
  • Discuss your fears with friends and family and
  • Maintain healthy relationships.

Here are a few suggestions to stay connected:

  • Schedule virtual hang time with friends, family and coworkers.
  • Check on your neighbors.
  • Go outside, safely
  • Find creative ways to help others
  • Reframe your thinking

Each of the above is an excellent idea to practice for the next few weeks as we get through this crisis of pandemic.

I would like to focus a bit more on “Reframe your thinking”.

As we have noted many times before we as human beings exist in three realms – through our physical body and its functions and the activities we engage in; through our mind and the emotional response it creates and the intellect that fosters thoughts and ideas. Life is a collection of physical activities, governed by our emotions which in turn are influenced by our thoughts. Emotions lead to the feelings of fear/bravery, love/hate, like/dislike, friend/foe, etc.

Overcoming this duality is the goal of most studies in philosophy.  It arises from an emotional comfort within each of us. Becoming non-dual or being at ease without a profound allegiance to either of the dual positions and the resulting emotional comfort is the desired end goal. We identify such a manner of life as Spirituality in Practice.

But, where do these emotions come from? They are the end result of our thoughts. The brain which thinks of something translates that thought into emotions and feelings which reflect in our actions. In other words through control and management of your thoughts, you manage the entirety of your being. This is the essence of Buddha’s teachings. Baghawath Geetha summarizes this as:

Through Self-control one remains one’s own best friend; through lack of self-control one becomes one’s own worst enemy.                  B. G. 6.6.

It is best to keep the above advice in mind at this time of uncertainty and turbulent journey for all. Thus being one’s own best friend and not becoming one’s own worst enemy starts with reframing our thinking and managing our thoughts constructively and for our collective common good.

Here are a few suggestions with respect to “reframing our thinking”:

Our thoughts are likely to get intense as we are isolated. Such thoughts can be negative or positive in their impact on the self and those we interact with. Here are a few negative thought processes to avoid:

  1. Avoid repetitive thinking (Rumination) of anything and especially something negative:

Pay attention when your thinking starts to get repetitive or negative. When you notice rumination, make yourself break the cycle. Get up and do something else: Go for a walk or reach out and call a friend (but don’t continue the rumination out loud by whining to them). Don’t overeat or drink too much alcohol to avoid the negative thoughts.

Try to change your thinking to a problem-solving focus that is more deliberate and strategic.

  1. Avoid overthinking

Overthinking is when you go over and over different choices in your mind, trying to imagine every possible outcome and everything that could happen in the future, to make sure you make the perfect choice. Your focus is on avoiding mistakes and risk. The problem with overthinking is that it’s an attempt to control what is not controllable.

Limit the time you spend thinking about a decision before acting. Give yourself a deadline to decide, even if it feels uncomfortable. Only allow yourself to research a few alternative options — not everyone endlessly.

  1. Avoid Cynical Hostility

Cynical hostility is a way of thinking and reacting that is characterized by angry mistrust of other people.

Try to get some distance from your judging thoughts. Notice when you begin to think distrustfully. Deliberately think of alternative ways of seeing the situation.

Few suggestions for “reframing our thinking” in positive manner:

  1. You are in-charge:

Notice in all of the above negative tendencies to avoid we find that “you, your mind, your thinking” is at the core. In other words you are in-charge. Even when you are isolated and distanced from others (due to the current situation and circumstances) your mind and thoughts will be penetrated by others depending on what you see on the TV, hear on the radio or read in the paper or listen in your conversations. All of them are merely views and thoughts expressed by others. You can use them as inputs. But never lose sight of the fact that “You are in charge of your thoughts and hence your response to such thoughts”. This inner courage is essential and brings with it an unassailable stability in your thoughts and in your approach to life. If you already have such stability now is the time to practice it. This is also your time to learn this essential element of self-control.

  1. Structure your entire day into elements with a schedule:

Recently I read in a “Dear Friend” column advice given to an elderly person. This person felt isolated and did not know what to do with her time on a daily basis. The advice given was to structure her time into chunks for personal care (eating, cleaning, sleeping, exercise, Yoga, etc.), physical activities (like cooking, cleaning the house, arts and crafts, etc.), emotional activities (socializing, caring for others, meditation, etc.) and intellectual activities (reading, writing, solving puzzles, etc.). Once you make a list like that and schedule your activities, your mind gets freed up from thinking “What I should do next?” Such structuring the day at this time may become a better time management skill over the long run as we get out of this virus and the crisis it has heaped on us. Note that the physical, emotional and intellectual activities are all interconnected. Yoga as a physical activity is also meditation and channeling our thinking for that period of time.

  1. Practice Emotional Distancing and Intellectual Alignment:

In philosophy it is called “Na ithi Bhavam” or “Not this attitude”. For example every part of your body like your fingers, legs, heart, lungs, head, brain, etc. belong to you. Yet individually they do not describe who you are. Parts by themselves entirely do not represent the whole. This is the surprising reality of anything we know! Even after I describe you by your name, family, date of birth and other identifiers you are not fully identified. The identification may be adequate for certain purposes like credit approval or entry through passport control, etc. But you are never fully described. Certain aspects of who are may be known only to you and no one else! The point is this: learn to explore who you are in a larger broader context. You exist as a material or physical object (Annamaya), as a physiological and emotional entity (Pranamaya and Manonmaya), as an intellectual and thinking person (Vignanamaya) and as a liberated soul part and parcel of the larger universe (Anandamaya).

This thought process hopefully liberates you and your thinking into new dimensions and directions. Exactly what will be these thoughts and where will they lead you is very individual and situation specific. Yet, most likely it will lead you to feel as an integral part of a larger and limitless universe. You will slowly begin to see that everyone you know (and all those whom you don’t know) are all recognizable in the above five layers.

This understanding brings with it an Intellectual Stability. Your physical isolation will not limit your mind and your emotions and thoughts as they expand to include everyone and everything. Your physical distancing will not be a limiting factor for your intellectual integration and engagement with the universe at large. Thath Thwam Asi – you and the Universe are integral in each other. In this state of mind the notion of “I” or “you” gradually vanishes along with all the emotional constraints we are attached to. You develop emotional distancing from all those thoughts and experiences which constrain you to limit yourself.

  1. Creatively engage in activities that help others which in turn are also helpful to you:

Social Distancing and Self-Quarantine are no longer unassailable constraints when there is no difference or space between you and others (through Intellectual alignment) and if there is truly nothing in it for you (emotional distancing). Our mind gets liberated to think of ideas and actions we can implement today for the larger common good. We gain courage and confidence to propose new ideas, enlist others into our fold and advance such ideas into reality. Intellectual alignment and emotional distancing also gives new and personal meaning to the saying “Lord give me the courage to change things where I can, humility to accept where I cannot and the wisdom to know the difference between the two”! Let us keep this wisdom in our mind as we journey through these uncharted times of global pandemic.

Om Shanthi Shanthi Shanthi — Peace and safety for all!

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Spirituality in Practice – Living life with a Conscious Self-awareness.


In our essays on Spirituality in Life, we see an undercurrent, a constant theme: Living life with a conscious self-awareness; engagement in life with a larger perspective that includes others (and everything) as much as we can.

 It is equally important to realize that life of Spirituality in Practice is not limited to those who study scriptures or live a religious way of life. Instead such manner of living is possible and may be natural for anyone with some self-reflection. In this essay we observe this perspective in the following excerpts from interviews with Professional Tennis players.

 “Ten Deutsche marks was like 10 dollars, and my father said, ‘This is all we have,’” Djokovic said. Novak  Djokovic  recounted what his father said when  Serbia as a nation was formed after a violent break up of Yugoslovia in the 1990s. “And he said that more than ever we have to stick together and go through this together and figure out the way. That was a very powerful and very impactful moment in my growth, my life, all of our lives.”

 In his view, Novak said that he is no longer playing tennis to prove himself but to improve himself and the lives of those around him. “I am really grateful for the career I’ve had, but for me right now, tennis is more a platform than an obsession about individual achievement. I don’t see tennis anymore only as I’m going to go there, and I’m going to win the trophy, do everything possible to achieve that, and once that’s done it’s done, and that’s the only reason I’m playing,” he said. “I’ve finished with that kind of chapter in my life. I guess through the evolution of my life I came to the stage where it’s more than that.”

 “If you see things from a larger perspective, it’s quite interestingly the same in terms of understanding what the next step in life is”.

 Novak Djokovic, less beloved on a global scale than his rivals, has been harder to pin down. Perhaps this description should spring from that elusiveness. “He is a searcher: It seems that the things are perfect, but suddenly he wants to change in some way.” 

That tonic or formula of success is like a holy grail for any athlete. How can I really optimize everything and be in a balanced state of mind, body and soul every season for the rest of my career and really be able to peak when I need to? “I think the No. 1 requirement is constant desire and open-mindedness to master and improve and evolve yourself in every aspect. Stagnation is regression” added Djokovic.

 Novak Djokovic in the interview after winning the 2010 Australian Open Semi Finals at Melbourne:

“When you are young, you want everything right away. There is no waiting! But with age you learn to trust the process and gain patience. You cannot be a perfect human being or a top tennis player from very young age. That is why we enjoy this beautiful thing called life!”

To be spiritual also implies treating winning and losing equally and put in your best effort. It is the only way forward if you want to maintain your composure and make progress. This realism is confronted by many of us and in many occasions in life.

Consider for example: Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have now won 56 of the recent 64 Grand Slam events in the past fifteen years. “It’s unique in sports history that the three best players by far are playing in the same era,” Dominic Thiem said after his loss at the 2020 Australian Open. “That’s what makes it very, very difficult for other players to break through.”

There are many more of us in daily life like Dominic Thiem pushing hard to break through the glass ceiling to get to the top of the professional tennis world. It is required of us to treat winning and losing with equal regard and put in our best effort and yes, even when the winning happens or not.

Novak Djokovic in the interview after winning the 2020 Australian Open Finals and the championship at Melbourne:

Real understanding of life comes not when you win, but when you have time to reflect on it.

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Brahmam Okate’ : Everything is part of nature!

The knowledge gained from Vedas (Vedantha ) can be summarized in two statements:

  • Thath Thwam Asi (You – the individual – and the Universe are integral in each other)
  • Sarvam Brahma Mayam ( Everything is Brahman)

Universe is the Cognitive world of objects, emotions and thoughts of which we are part of. Each of us – and everything we know of (and all that we do not know) – merely exist in this universe in one form or another as:

  • material objects,
  • living beings,
  • emotional human beings with our thoughts and feelings,
  • analytical persons who understand and manage our physical body, emotional feelings and thoughts through Self-Control and Objectivity,
  • with a conscious awareness of the above four states (and hence in union with and respectful of the laws of nature (Brahman) that enable all these five states of being!

Brahman may be recognized through the Laws of Nature (known to us and the unknown) that is behind each of the five states or layers of our existence. Brahman may also be recognized as the Lord we worship in recognition of the marvel of the laws of nature.

The universality of nature (Everything is Brahman) is extolled, often in the form of poems for worship. Below is the translation of one such poem titled: Brahmam Okate’: The individual SELF and the Universal are one and the same

There are no differences of low and high. Lord (the soul inside all of us, the driving force behind everything) is one and the same.

Every form of creation is one and the same because the indwelling spirit in every creature is one and the same.

Be it a King or a Slave, everyone has to sleep. Be it a noble man or uncultured rude person, the earth they stand on or lie down to sleep is one and the same.

The sensual pleasure is one and the same for angels or for the insects and animals.The day and night are equal in duration to the rich as well as to the poor.

One could afford to eat tasty food and the other eats stale and wasted food.But the tongue and the sensory perception of taste is the same for both.

An object of fragrance or an object of bad odor, the air that carries the smell is one and the same. Be it an elephant or a dog, the sun shines alike on both of them.

The Lord who sits in judgement of the good deeds (Punya) as well as the bad or the sin (Papa) is one and the same. The laws of nature is one and the same even if see its effect as benevolent or violent.

In the following we illustrate the principle of Brahmam Okate’ (Laws of Nature are Universal) with some modern day images:

Brahmam Okate' 1


Branches and roots are alike in their pattern of growth; Branches seek the sun light and grow upwards, while roots seek water and nutrients and grow downwards


Brahmam Okate' 2  

Water is cold and molten metal is hot. But, the growth pattern of crystals is very similar in molten metals as well as in freezing water.


  Dendrites in Metals               Ice Crystals

Brahmam Okate' 3


Plants change color in Fall Season depending on the sunshine and intensity. But we can see trees amazingly similar in their shades of colors even if they are more than 3000 miles apart (in the East and West coast of USA).


Brahmam Okate' 4


When space is limited – like in a Medina in Morocco – Everyone has to share the same narrow lane; it makes no difference if you are a child, mother, horse or a tourist!


Brahmam Okate' 5A pair of  cats sleep  in the middle of the day and in the middle of Medina with its limited space, where  horse and donkeys are put to hard and heavy labor! The “lucky” cats and the “unlucky”donkeys and the horse are all part of the animal kingdom!!

Brahmam Okate' 6


Everyone is covered by the skin when we are alive. Some lose their skin after death to tannery for further use. Some while they are alive carry the skin of others who have passed away.


Brahmam Okate’ : Everything is part of nature!

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Enlightened Living: Progression from Self-Control to Total Self-Control to Un-attached active Engagement.

Enlightened living

Thendral is a monthly publication in Tamil Language published from Bay Area, CA. USA. Recently I read the following letter in a recent publication of Thendral in the column that provides advice to the readers:

“Dear friend:

I am 77 years old; my husband 84 years old. We have been married for 53 years. Ours is a “Love marriage” as opposed to the traditional arranged marriage. It was rough in the early days as his parents did not approve of our marriage. He married me despite such resistance from his family. “Opposites attract” is true in our case as we are both different in our habits and preferences. I am an extrovert and he prefers to remain contained within the family. He will adjust and go along with me, even if that was not his choice. I have also adjusted myself by giving up my work life and career. He had lots of work related travels. While at home we used to quarrel and argue a lot. But in the end he will give up when I shed my tears. This is how my life continued for more than four decades.

Now that he is retired and mostly at home, he is demanding attention all the time. I prefer to go out and do some social service, while he wants me to stay home and take care of his aging health. While he seems to have a sense of insecurity, I am getting old and easily tired. The future looks bleak. Our two sons are settled and far away. My husband appears to be depressed but refuses medical attention. We are both constantly at edge and angry at each other. There is no peace of mind.

Can you please help?”

This real life letter and plea for help reminded me of a Japanese movie “What A Wonderful Family! (English title) / It’s Tough Being a Family (literal title)” that I saw with English subtitles in one of the long trans-continental flights! Without giving away the details of the movie, the summary of this 2016 movie:

Husband (Isao Hashizume) and wife (Kazuko Yoshiyuki) have been married for 50 years. For her birthday, the husband asks the wife what she wants for her birthday present. She replies that she wants a divorce. The wife’s request for divorce sends the entire family into chaos.

Amazingly the details narrated by the 77 year old Indian house wife in her letter pleading for help are almost identical with the circumstances and background laid out in this Japanese movie!

Life is the same no matter where you live in the world or what cultural background one comes from!

What can be our advice to this 77 year old woman? Strangely the advice would be the same for a young or middle aged person under similar circumstances.

  • In the Japanese movie the house wife returns to her peace and happiness when she finds out that despite all her apprehensions and fear she has managed her long married family life largely based on mutual trust between family members.
  • This trust is restored when the husband signs the divorce paper and hands it over to the wife along with a series of reflective comments that expresses his genuine regret for taking his wife for granted; for not sharing with her his genuine thoughts of how much he loved her dearly; hence he would do anything that pleases her including the signing of the divorce paper!
  • With trust and mutual respect restored in her thoughts and in her mind, the wife shreds the divorce papers and returns to her life of peace and happiness.

Trust is an abstract feeling, a conditioning of the mind that overcomes anxiety and despair.

It may be only in the movie where we find the above acceptance and resolution of differences between two people. Rare indeed is it in real life. But that does not have to leave each of us helpless and miserable, reliant only on others to remove our anxiety and despair. Instead introspection and self-reflection can be the best starting point for any situation of anxiety and despair. Self-reflection is also the beginning of self-control.

Through Self-control one remains one’s own best friend; through lack of self-control one becomes one’s own worst enemy.             B.G. 6.6.

Self-control also implies disconnecting oneself from the personal nature of any activity. It creates a separation between “I” the inner person – who is reflecting and analyzing – and “I” the person who feels the suffering, misery and let down. Instead of having two individuals – the husband and the wife – we have now two different persons: The reflecting “self” Vs. suffering and seeking help “self”.  While the acceptance and resolution between two individuals – the husband and the wife – may or may not happen, the resolution between the inner “I” and the external “I” is well within the reach of each of us! This discipline for internal dialogue and finding answers on one’s own accord is described as “Yoga” or union with the self. Through such internal dialogue we create a separation or distance from the questions of “What am I doing? Why am I Doing this? How am I supposed to do this? Which is right? Wrong? Why?Instead these questions can be transformed into “What is “it” that I am worried about? How much do I understand the “it”? My connections through my knowledge, bias and ignorance related to “it”? We have described the connectors and the process of their use at: They are not mere hypothetical. Instead they are real and useful every day and in every situation.

At a time of crisis, if Knowledge / Understanding prevail, it transforms a person to tranquility (a higher plane of existence).            B.G. 14.14.

At a time of crisis if we are driven our bias leads to turbulence resulting in a relentless series of actions (through a chain of unfulfilled wants and needs) compounding our grief and misery.  At a time of crisis, ignorance shrouds a person with delusion and inertia which results in a lack of any sense of purpose or direction.             B.G. 14.15.

The challenge faced by any one of us: How can we put to use such analytical frame work for enlightened living when one is in the middle of a crisis? It is neither useful nor compassionate to suggest this analytical technique to someone in crisis but who has never practiced internal or self-reflection. That would be like encouraging someone who is drowning in the swift current of a river to swim well and get to the shores safely. Instead they need a safety net to be pulled away from their turbulent waters. That is the role of the family and society at large. At the same time those who are on safe ground and are unwilling to learn and practice such analytical frame work to manage their daily life may find themselves at some point or another in their life like the 77 year old house wife and her plea for help!

Self-reflection and analytical reasoning requires a properly functioning mind. Wisdom is also required to separate anxiety and despair caused by mental health vs. issues driven by lack of analytical reasoning. Such education, knowledge and wisdom may be needed in the society at large as we grow older and also as we focus on care for the elders in the family!

Every activity is the result of the culmination of five aspects:  Person(s) involved; Purpose or motive (requirements of Body, mind and Intellect and their functions); Means; Circumstances and Laws of Nature or Divine Influence.                         B.G. 18.15

This being the case, any person who believes – due to his/her limited reasoning – that he/she or someone else is solely responsible for that activity or outcome does not see the full picture.                B.G. 18.16.

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