Practical Vedanta

Vedaanta is the end of all knowledge. End as in goal, or as in the ultimate kind of knowledge. It is a theory of what knowledge itself is. What practical use could it be? Volumes have been written on how to translate the abstract concepts of Vedanta to every day life. The ultimate authority in `modern times’ (only about a few hundred years ago) is Sankara Acharya. His Vivekachoodaamani and Bhajagovindam are attempts to explain this most abstruse of all branches of classical Indian philosophy to the masses; or at least to laymen.

So I sat my ten year old son down one Sunday morning. Started him on the Vivekachudamani the modestly titled “Crown Jewel of all Wisdom”.
After the initial prayer to Govinda, which went off well enough, we got into the basic question of ;
`Who am I’?
`Daddy’ came the reply.
`But who is Daddy?’
`You of course.’
`Yeah but who am I really?
`I said, you are my daddy.’
`Oh, then who are you?’
Starting to lose patience: `What do you mean?’
Things are not going too well.

I decided on a different tack. `Your soul is the universe. Ayam aatma brahma’.
`Ok.’ Eyes glazing over.’
`Are you your body?’
`Whatever.’
`Sit up straight!’
`Uh?’
`I said sit up straight and pay attention.’
`Okay…’
`What is the difference between the space inside a pot and the space outside the pot?’
`Which pot do you mean?’

‘ It doesn’t matter which pot; just any pot.’

` How am I supposed to answer if you don’t tell me which pot?’
Eyes tearing up.

Oh well, time to stop for the day.

The next Sunday we start on the Bhaja Govindam.
Perhaps a song would be easier to understand.
bhaja govindam bhaja govindam
govindam bhaja moodhamathe

`Pray to Govind, Pray to Govind
Pray to Govind, you idiot!’
Giggle. `You said idiot.’
`Yes, he means you are an idiot until you start to pray.’

Sampraapte sannihite kaale
nahi nahi rakhshati dukr.njkarane

`When you are on your death bed
your knowledge
of Sanskrit grammar wont save you’
`Oh Ok.I wasn’t going to learn it anyway.’
`He means no knowledge of any kind except devotion to God will help you then.’
`Great!So why are we doing this every Sunday?’
`Don’t be a smartass!”
`Ok.’

evam maamsavadaati vikaaram
manassi vichinthaya vaaram vaaram

`When you get lust for women in your mind,
remind yourself over and over that the body is mere flesh.’
`Did he ever have a girlfriend?’
`No he was celibate all his life.’
`What is celibate?’
`It means he never had a girlfriend.’
`Ok’
`He is saying not to get attached to all that.’
`How would he know?’
`May be he had experiences in his previous life?’
`Or may be he didn’t. That is why he is putting it down.’

Better change the subject.
`What are the six kinds of temptation?
We talked about this three weeks ago.’
`I forget. I do remember the names of Vishnu you asked me to memorize. Viswam vishnu vashadkaaro..’ ;
`Yeah, yeah but that is not what I am asking now.’
`Eyes tearing up..I tried so hard to learn them..you know dad this stuff is real hard for me’

Time to stop for the day. Clearly I am not getting through.

The next Sunday I begin: `let us learn the malayalam alphabet.
`Ok.’ Unexpected enthusiasm.
`Get a pencil.’
`Sure.’ Runs for a pencil
Even remembers to get paper, no second trip needed.
`Let us start, Dad.’
ka….kaa..ki..kii….
Go through all sixteen vowel forms of ka.

Next week we go on to the next consonant kha.
Tries to read the title page of vivekachuudaaamani ..guesses correctly that the first symbol is `vi’.

Do I have a natural linguist here? Another Norbert Wiener who will learn ten languages by the age of seventeen?
Wow.

His mom smiles.
`He is just so glad you aren’t talking Vedaanta.Just so relieved that all he has to learn is a strange alphabet.’

Ha! I knew it! Vivekananda was right! There is nothing more useful than Vedaanta.

April 2005

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