Atonement for sins committed

The Chapter of the Self

This chapter comes in the part of the Apastamba Law-book concerned with atonement for sins committed. The doctrine of karma (literally ‘action’) was that the consequences of an action extend into the moral and psychological realms, according to a law of cause and effect, as fixed and predictable as that in the physical realm. Actions prescribed by the holy texts as good will lead to happiness and favourable circumstances in this and future lives; actions condemned as bad will lead to suffering and adverse circumstances.

The acts prescribed as good are what is called dharma or duty, and dharma varies according to the situation of an individual. For instance a king who has the duty of protecting his subjects against invasion cannot practise the pacifism (a-hinsa) which is part of the dharma of a wandering monk; the king sees the world as consisting of separate entities, and he discharges his responsibility to those of them whom he has undertaken to protect, by diplomacy and where necessary by fighting. The wandering monk is one who has seen the Self in everything and everything in the Self, and his duty is calmness of mind and senses, endurance, standing back from the world, faith and meditation (samadhi). This karma, says Shankara in his great commentary on the Brahma-sutras, is simply a reinforcement of his Self-realization.

There was a view that once an action had been performed, its results were unavoidable and unchangeable, but most of the teachers believed that the effects of some sins at least could be modified by carrying out certain austerities. The famous Law-book of Manu lays stress on repetition with devotion of the sacred syllable Om, praised as an expression of God himself, and

also on control of the life currents (prana) by special techniques. Fasting was regarded as effective, and various forms were taught – reducing the mouthfuls from fifteen a day at full moon to one a day at the new moon, and so on. Apastamba recommends prayer and meditation for those who wish to reduce the effect of their faults and increase their merits as individuals, but he introduces a section called the Chapter of the Self, which is for those who wish to follow the second path of the Vedas, namely to get out of individuality and become universal.

He begins by telling the aspirants to practise ‘yogas of the Self’, later described as practising characteristics like freedom from anger, speaking the truth, sharing with others, nobility, contentment and others. The method is called yoga because the basis is meditation. It was not thought effective to force oneself to perform charity, for example, while inwardly grudging the money, or to show an outward amiability while inwardly seething with anger. Shankara remarks that without meditation practice, such inner feelings cannot be really controlled.

The traditional method of yoga was to meditate on one of these things, in the form of an actual incident, every day 5 in time the practice reaches what is called samadhi, a meditation state where consciousness of meditator and the act of meditating disappear, and the object alone remains, shining out in a radiant form. When this happens, the roots of the mind have been substantially changed, and the characteristic is becoming natural to the yogi.

The meditations slowly make the mind clear and steady. Opposed to them are what are called doshas. The word dosha is left untranslated here. It comes from a root whose sense is that something has gone wrong, that something natural has been defiled or spoiled or impeded in its operation. The main idea is that something is not what it should be naturally, or is not working as it should work naturally. A flaw in an argument is a dosha, bad light is a dosha to a man who is looking for something (though not to a blind man who is groping for it). A thing is a dosha only in a particular situation. Anger, says the Law-book, is a dosha to a man seeking freedom, because it disturbs his mind and binds him firmly in his individuality; for the first of these reasons, it is also a dosha in the way of worldly success. Though an angry man can often overbear a lazy man, simply because he is more aroused, he will generally lose to an energetic opponent who yet keeps inwardly calm. The angry man always tries to force things, uses unnatural means, and is therefore subject to ‘dosha’.

When the yogas are being practised and the mind has been partially steadied, at least sometimes, the yogi is told to practise realization of the Self. ‘Each and every living being is the city belonging to the one lying at rest in the cave, indestructible, taintless, the unmoving abiding in the moving. Those who practise realization of it, they are immortal.’ When an untrained man looks within, he finds, as David Hume did, nothing but a flux of thoughts, feelings and so on, and no enduring self at all. Hume allowed that others might find one, but that was irony. No indestructible, taintless, unmoving self is found. Without skill in meditation, as Shankara says repeatedly in his Gita commentary, the Self is not made out clearly, though it is in fact always being experienced as the support of the inner and outer worlds. But it is not recognized, people believe that these worlds support themselves.

The yogi shakes off the moving thoughts and sensations and feelings and memories as they arise, and looks calmly and steadily through them, as it were, to find in the changing flow something which does not change.

The shaking off is not done by force 5 that would produce further agitation. A modern teacher has remarked that it is something like the way in which sober people shake themselves free from the attentions of a maudlin drunk who is looking for a listener. They simply pay no attention to him. At first he becomes more insistent, but as he presses himself on them they take no interest5 they look through him, neither answering nor arguing nor reasoning with him. They keep turning away, so that he has to go round the other side. Drunken men vary in their persistence, but as they have paralysed the higher powers of the mind which can exercise patience, they can never last as long as sober people who are determined to have nothing to do with them. After a time, getting no reaction, the intruder turns away to look for more favourable circumstances. The next day he may be back, but after six weeks, finding that he never gets any response, he gives up.

This is the method of shaking off the doshas at the time of meditation on Self. They can not be shaken off unless they have been already weakened, ‘thinned out’ as it is said, by the practice of their opposites: calmness, generosity, and so on. That was the meditation given first.

Practice of Self-realization leads to discovery of something immortal, the undying in the dying. All thoughts and feelings rise and pass away – they are dying. The men in whom they arise are dying. All are dying. But in them, underlying them, is something unchanging which never dies. Even a flash of realization of this immortal element can free a yogi from the anxieties of a lifetime. But it has to be a real living experience – not an intellectual idea merely.

Two meditations have been described: the meditation on the characteristics like freedom from anger, and the meditation directly on the Self, the undying in the dying. A third meditation is given – on the universal Lord from whom the universe arises, by whom it is supported, into whom it finally returns. This is the universal Self, and the individual Self finally turns out to be the same as that universal Self. The yogi meditates that the objects of the world, and the currents which move them, are from one being; that being has entered everything, and is everything, though in another sense he is beyond everything. The world is meditated upon as the Lord. Under the influence of the doshas, it has been seen as consisting of separate objects impelled by conflicting currents, physical and mental, but if this meditation reaches samadhi, the world is seen and felt as a play of light. Here again, this must be something lived, not simply a notion subscribed to when circumstances are not too overwhelming. The yogi has to feel the universal light as one with the light in himself; when this happens, even briefly, there is a great and lasting effect on mental reactions, and often on the physical plane also.

Here is the basic text, on which Shankara made the commentary which is to be presented later:

The Chapter of the Self

in the Apastamba Law-book (1.8.22 and 1.8.23)

1 Let a man practise in the approved way the yogas of the Self, which make the mind steady.

2 There is nothing higher than attainment of the Self.

3 For that end, we quote some verses which bring about attainment of the Self.

(Now follow verses from some lost Upanishadic source – Shankara)

4 Each and every living being is the city belonging to the one lying at rest in the cave, indestructible, taintless, the unmoving abiding in the moving.

Those who practise realization of it, they are immortal.

5 This indeed which here in this world and here in that world is called the object –

Having shaken himself free from it, let the seer devote himself to that which lies in the cave.

6 (Pupil) ‘Not in the self have I attained it. Now in other

things will I seek that place of the good, by detachment.’

(Teacher) ‘Devote yourself to your welfare, not to your harm. (It is) great, a mass of splendour, all- pervading, the Lord.’

7 He who is constant in all beings, wise, immortal, firm, without limbs, without sound, without body, without touch, great, pure –

He is all, the highest goal, he is in the centre, he divides, he is the city.

8 The yogi who practises realization of that in everything, and always holds to firmness in that,

Will see that which is hard to see and subtle, and rejoice in heaven.

9 The seer meditating, seeing everything in the Self, will not be deluded,

And whoever sees the Self alone in everything,

He is Brahman, glorious in the highest heaven.

10 Subtle, finer than a lotus-fibre, he stands covering all5

Greater than the earth, firm, he stands supporting all.

He is other than the sense-knowledge of this world.

The world is not different from him, who is ever standing as the supreme, who is to be known, who himself divides into many.

From him the bodies all come forth, he is the root, eternal, he is constant.

(This ends the Upanishadic verses)

11 Yoga is the basis for destruction of the doshas here in

this life;

Having thrown off these which torment beings, the wise one (panḍita) attains peace.

12 Now we exemplify the doshas which torment beings:

15 Anger, thrill, irritation, greed, delusion, self-display, spite, false speech, over-eating, back-biting, jealousy, lust and hate, loss of self-possession, absence of yoga. They are shaken off on the basis of yoga.

14 Freedom from anger, freedom from thrill, non¬irritation, freedom from greed, being without delusion or self-display or spite, truth-speaking, moderate diet, no back-biting, freedom from jealousy, sharing with others, giving up, straightforwardness, gentleness, calm, control, the yoga which has no conflict with any being, nobility, kindness, contentment – these apply to all the stages of life.

Practising them in the approved way, one becomes all-pervading.


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