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The Highest Refuge Of All Things






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TOP        =======UNDERSTANDING HINDUISM========

The Highest Refuge Of All Things

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To set the mind upon one thing at a time is called Dharana.

The Manifest and the Unmanifest

These are of two kinds

The Highest Refuge of All Things
From The Mahabharata
Santi Parva, Section CCXXXVI/ VII
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Vyasa said: If Emancipation be desirable, then knowledge should be acquired. For a person who is borne now up and now down along the stream of Time or life, knowledge is the raft by which he can reach the shore. Those wise men that have arrived at certain conclusions (regarding the character of the soul and that, which is called life) by the aid of wisdom are able to assist the ignorant in crossing the steam of time or life with the raft of knowledge. They, however, that are ignorant, are unable to save either themselves or others. He who has freed himself from desire and all other faults, and who has emancipated himself from all attachments, should attend to these two and ten requirements of Yoga, viz., place, acts, affection, objects, means, destruction, certainty, eyes, food, suppression, mind and survey.

[Note: The place should be a level spot, not impure (such as a crematorium, etc.), free from kankars (stones or gravel), fire and sand, etc.; solitary and free from noise and other sources of disturbance. Acts include abstention from food and sports and amusements, abstention from all kinds of work having only worldly objects to accomplish, abstention also from sleep and dreams. Affection means that for good disciples or for progress in Yoga. Objects refer to sacred fuel, water and suppression of expectancy and anxiety, etc. Means refer to the seat to be used, the manner of sitting, and the attitude of the body. Destruction refers to the conquest of desire and attachments, i.e., renunciation of all attractive things. Certainty means unalterable belief that what is said about Yoga in the Vedas and by preceptors is true. The nom. Sing, inflection stands for the instrumental plural. Eyes include the other senses. All these should be restrained. Food means pure food. Suppression refers to the subjugation of our natural inclination towards earthly objects. Mind here has reference to the regulation of the will and its reverse, viz., irresolution. Survey means reflection on birth, death, decrepitude, disease, sorrow, faults, etc. In giving these meanings, I, of course, follow, Nilakantha.]

He who wishes to obtain superior Knowledge, should, by the aid of his understanding, restrain both speech and mind. He, who wishes to have tranquillity, should by the aid of knowledge, restrain his soul. Whether he becomes compassionate or cruel, whether he becomes conversant with all the Vedas or ignorant of the Richs, whether he becomes righteous and observant of sacrifices or the worst of sinners, whether he becomes eminent for prowess and wealth or plunged into misery, that person who directs his mind towards these (attributes that I have spoken of), is sure to cross the ocean of life which is so difficult to cross. Without speaking of the results of the attainment of Brahman by Yoga, it may be said that he who sets himself to only enquiring after the Soul transcends the necessity of observing the acts laid down in the Vedas.

The body with Jiva (soul) within it is an excellent car. When sacrifices and religious rites are made its Upasha, shame is Varutha, Upaya and Apaya its Kuvara, the breath called Apana its Aksha, the breath called Prana its Yuga, knowledge and the allotted period of existence its points for tying the steeds, heedfulness its handsome Vandhura, the assumption of good behaviour its Nemi, vision, touch, scent, and hearing its four steeds, wisdom its Nabhi, all the scriptures its Pratoda, certain knowledge of the scriptural declarations its driver, the soul its firmly-seated rider, faith and self-restraint its fore-runners, renunciation its inseparable companion following behind and bent upon doing it good, purity the path along which it goes, meditation (or union with Brahman) its goal, then may that car reach Brahman and shine there in effulgence.

[Note: These verses sketch out the course of life which one desirous of attaining to Emancipation or Brahman is to follow. Particular virtues or attributes have been represented as particular limbs of the car. It does not appear that there is (except in one or two instances, any especial aptitude in any of those virtues or attributes for corresponding with one instead of with another limb of the figurative car. Upastha is that part of the car on which the driver sits. Varutha is the wooden fence round a car for protecting it against the effects of collision. Shame is the feeling that withdraws us from all wicked acts. Kuvara is the pole to which the yoke is attached. Upaya and Apaya, which have been called the Kuvara, are ‘means’ and ‘destruction’ – explained in verse above. Aksha is the wheel, Yuga is the yoke. Vandhura is that part of Yuga where it is attached to the pole, i.e., its middle, about which appears something like a projecting knob. Nemi is the circumference of the wheel. Nabhi is the central portion of the car upon which the rider or warrior is seated. Pratoda is the goad with which the driver urges the steeds. The commentator explains that Jiva-Yuktah means having such a Jiva (soul) as is desirous of attaining to Emancipation or Moksha. Such elaborate figures are favourite conceits of Oriental poets.]


I shall not tell thee the speedy means that should be adopted by the person who would equip his car in such a fashion for passing through this wilderness of the world in order to reach the goal constituted by Brahman that is above decrepitude and destruction. To set the mind upon one thing at a time is called Dharana.

[Note: Adopting the Kantian distribution of the mental phenomena, viz., the three great divisions of Cognitive faculties, Pleasure and Pain, and Desire and Will, Sir William Hamilton subdivides the first (viz., the Cognitive faculties), into the acquisitive faculty, the retentive faculty, the reproductive faculty, and reason or judgment by which concepts are compared together. Dharana corresponds with such exercise of the Representative faculty or the power by which the mind is held to or kept employed upon a particular image or notion. It is this faculty that is especially trained by Yogis. Indeed, the initial step consists in training it to the desirable extent.]

There are, again, as many kinds of Dharnas arising out of these, upon subjects that are near or remote.

[Note: The seven kinds of Dharanas appertain respectively to Earth, Wind, Space, Water, Fire, Consciousness and Understanding.]

Through these the Yogi gradually acquires mastery over Earth, Wind, Space, Water, Fire, Consciousness, and Understanding. After this he gradually acquires mastery over the Unmanifest. [Note: All these have been explained lower down.]

I shall now describe to thee the conceptions in their order that are realised by particular individuals amongst those that are engaged in Yoga according to the rules and ordinances that have been laid down. I shall tell thee also of the nature of the success that attaches to Yoga, commenced (according to rules) by him who looks within his own self. The Yogi that abandons his gross body, following the instructions of his preceptor, beholds his soul displaying the following forms in consequence of its subtlety. To him in the first stage, the welkin seems to be filled with a subtle substance like foggy vapour.

[Note: Pasyatah means ‘of that which sees,’ i.e., of the Atman or Soul.]

Of the Soul which has been freed from the body, even such becomes the form. When this fog disappears, a second (or new) form becomes visible. For, then, the Yogi beholds within himself, in the firmament of his heart, the form of Water. After the disappearance of Water, the form of Fire displays itself. When this disappears, the form that becomes perceivable is that of Wind as effulgent as well-tempered weapon of high polish. Gradually, the form displayed by the Wind becomes like that of the thinnest gossamer. Then having acquired whiteness, and also, the subtlety of air, the Brahman’s soul is said to attain the supreme whiteness and subtlety of Akasha (space).

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Listen to me as I tell thee the consequences of these diverse conditions when they occur. That Yogi who has been able to achieve the conquest of the earth-element, attains by such lordship to the power of Creation. Like a second Prajapati endued with a nature that is perfectly imperturbable, he can from his own body create all kinds of creatures. With only his toe, or with his hand or feet, that person can singly cause the whole Earth to tremble who has achieved the lordship of the Wind. Even this is the attribute of the Wind as declared in the Sruti (scriptures). The Yogi, who has achieved the lordship of Space, can exist brightly in Space in consequence of his having attained to uniformity with that element, and can also disappear at will. By lordship over Water, one can (like Agastya) drink up rivers, lakes, and oceans. By lordship over Fire, the Yogi becomes so effulgent that his form cannot be looked at. He becomes visible only when he extinguishes his consciousness of individuality, - these five elements come within his sway. When the understanding, which is the soul of the five elements and of the consciousness of individuality, is conquered the Yogi attains to Omnipotence, and perfect Knowledge (or perception freed from doubt and uncertainty) with respect to all things, comes to him.

[Note: The Understanding is called the soul of the five elements and of the consciousness of individuality because these six things rest on it or have it for their refuge.]

In consequence of this, the Manifest becomes merged into the Unmanifest or Supreme Soul from which the world emanates and becomes what is called Manifest.

[Note: It is from the Unmanifest or the supreme Soul that the world or all that is Manifest. Springs or emanates. The Yogi, in consequence of his superior knowledge, apprehends all that is Manifest to be but the Unmanifest Supreme Soul.]

The Manifest and the Unmanifest

Listen now to me in detail as I expound the science of the Unmanifest. But first of all listen to me about all that is Manifest as expounded in the Sankhya system of philosophy. In both the Yoga and the Sankhya systems, five and twenty topics of knowledge have been treated in nearly the same way. Listen to me as I mention their chief features.

That has been said to be Manifest, which is possessed of these four attributes, viz., birth, growth, decay, and death. That which is not possessed of these attributes is said to be Unmanifest. Two souls are mentioned in the Vedas and the sciences that are based upon them. The first (which is called Jivatman or embodied soul) is endued with the four attributes already mentioned and has a longing for the four objects or purposes (viz., Religion, Wealth, Pleasure and Emancipation, also known as Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha). This soul is called Manifest, and it is born of the Unmanifest (Supreme Soul). It is both intelligent and non-intelligent. I have thus told thee about Sattwa (inert matter) and Kshetrajna (immaterial spirit). Both kinds of Soul, it is said in the Vedas, become attached to objects of the senses. The doctrine of the Sankhya is that one should keep oneself aloof or dissociated from objects of the senses.

That Yogi who is freed from attachment and pride, who transcends all pairs of opposites, such as pleasure and pain, heat and cold, etc., who never gives way to wrath or hate, who never speaks an untruth, who, though slandered or struck, still shows friendship for the slanderer or the striker, who never thinks of doing ill to others, who restrains the three, viz., speech, acts, and mind, and who behaves uniformly towards all creatures, succeeds in approaching the presence of Brahman.

That person who cherishes no desire for earthly objects, who is not unwilling to take what comes, who is dependent on earthly objects to only that extent which is necessary for sustaining life, who is free from cupidity, who has driven off all grief, who has restrained his senses, who goes through all necessary acts, who is regardless of personal appearance and attire, whose senses are all collected (or devotion to the true objects of life), whose purposes are never left unaccomplished, who bears himself with equal friendliness towards all creatures, who regards a clod of earth and a lump of gold with an equal eye, who is equally disposed towards friend and foe, who is possessed of patience, who takes praise and blame equally, who is free from longing with respect to all objects of desire, who practises Brahmacharya, and who is firm and steady in all his vows and observances, who has no malice or envy for any creature in the universe, is a Yogi who according to the Sankhya system succeeds in winning Emancipation.

Listen now to the way and the means by which a person may win Emancipation through Yoga [or the system of Patanjali]. That person who moves and acts after having transcended the puissance that the practice of Yoga brings about (in the initial stages), succeeds in winning Emancipation.

[Note: It is said that with the practice of Yoga, during the first stages, certain extraordinary powers come to the Yogi whether he wishes for them or not. In a previous section it has been said that that Yogi who suffers himself to be led away by these extraordinary acquisitions goes to hell, i.e., fails to attain to Emancipation besides which heaven itself with the status if Indra (king of gods) is only hell. Hence, he who transcends the puissance that Yoga brings about becomes Emancipate.]

I have thus discoursed to thee on those topics (viz., Emancipation according to the Sankhya system and that according to the Yoga system), which are dissimilar if the speaker is disposed to treat them as such (but which in reality, are one and the same).

[Note: Dhirah is explained as Dhyanava. Santi has reference to Emancipation, for it is Emancipation alone that can give tranquillity or final rest. The commentator points out that in this verse the speaker shows a decided preference for the Sankhya philosophy.]

Thus can one transcend all pairs of opposites. Thus can one attain to Brahman (Supreme Reality).

[Note: Vide The Bhagavad Gita, verses 4 and 5, Chapter 5.

The Blessed Lord said: Children, not the wise, speak of knowledge and the Yoga of action or the performance of action as though they are distinct and different; he who is truly established in one obtains the fruits of both.
             - Gita Chapter 5, verse 4

That place which is reached by the Sankhyas or the Jnanis is reached by the Yogis (Karma Yogis). He sees who sees knowledge and the performance of action (Karma Yoga) are one.
            -  Gita, chapter 5, verse 5.

(Translations by Swami Shivananda, The Divine Life Society, Rishikesh.)

Vyasa said: Borne up and down in life’s ocean, he that is capable of meditation seizes the raft of Knowledge and for achieving his Emancipation adheres to Knowledge itself (without extending his arms hither and thither for catching any other support).

Suka said: What is that knowledge? Is it that learning by which, when error is dispelled, the truth becomes discovered? Or, is it that course of duties consisting of acts to be done or achieved, by the aid of which the object sought may be understood or attained? Or, is it that course of duties, called abstention from acts, by which an extension of the Soul is to be sought? Do tell me, what it is, so that by its aid, the two, viz., birth and death, may be avoided.

Vyasa said: That fool who believing that all this exists in consequence of its own nature without, in fact, an existent refuge or foundation, fills by such instruction the aspirations of disciples, dispelling by his dialectical ingenuity the reasons the latter might urge to the contrary, succeeds not in attaining to any truth.

They again who firmly believe that all Cause is due to the nature of things, fail to acquire any truth by even listening to (wiser) men or the Rishis (who are capable of instructing them). Those men of little intelligence who stop (in their speculations), having adopted either of these doctrines, indeed, those men who regard nature as the cause, never succeed in obtaining any benefit for themselves.

[Note: Enam is singular. The commentator thinks it should be taken distributively. In verse 3, the doctrine of the Nihilists (Sunyavadins) has been referred to. In verse 4, that of the Lokayatikas. In both, Nature is spoken of as the cause, with this difference that the former regard the universe to be only an erroneous impression of an existent entity, while the latter regard it as a real entity, flowing from and manifesting itself under its own nature. Both doctrines, the speaker says, are false.]

This belief in Nature (as the producing and the sustaining Cause), arising as it does from a mind acting under the influence of error, brings about the destruction of the person who cherishes it. Listen now to the truth with respect to these two doctrines that maintain (1) that things exist by their own nature and (2) that they flow (in consequence of their own nature) from others that are different from and that precede them. Wise men apply themselves to agriculture and tillage, and the acquisition of crops (by those means) and of vehicles (for locomotion) and seats and carpets and houses. They attend also to the laying of pleasure-gardens. The construction of commodious mansions, and the preparation of medicines, for diseases of every kind. It is wisdom (which consists in the application of means) that leads to the fruition of purposes. It is wisdom that wins beneficial results. It is wisdom that enables kings to exercise and enjoy sovereignty although they are possessed of attributes equal to those of persons over whom they rule.

[Note: It is by the wisdom that all these results are achieved. Wisdom is the application of means for the accomplishment of ends. Nature, never rears palaces or produces vehicles and the diverse other comforts that man enjoys. He that would rely upon Nature for these would never obtain them however long he might wait. The need for exertion, both mental and physical, and the success which crowns that exertion furnish the best answer, the speaker thinks, to both the Nihilist and the Lokayatikas.]

It is by wisdom that the high and the low among beings are distinguished. It is by wisdom that the superior and the inferior ones among created objects are understood. It is wisdom or knowledge that is the highest refuge of all things.

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These are of two kinds

All the diverse kinds of created things have four kinds of birth. They are viviparous, oviparous, vegetables, and those born of filth. Creatures again, that are mobile should be known to be superior to those that are immobile. It is consistent with reason that intelligent energy, inasmuch as it differentiates (all non-intelligent matter), should be regarded as superior to (non-intelligent) matter.

[Note: It is difficult to render the word Cheshta as used here. Ordinarily it implies effort or action. It is plain, however, that here it stands for intelligent energy, implying both mental and physical effort or action, for its function is to distinguish or differentiate.]

Mobile creatures, that are innumerable, and of two kinds, viz., those that have many legs and those that have two. The latter, however, are superior to the former. Bipeds again are of two species, viz., those that live on land and those that are otherwise. Of these, the former are superior to the latter. The superior ones eat diverse kinds of cooked food.

[Note: The Itarani do not refer to Pisachas (wandering ghosts) but to birds, which are called Khechare or denizens of the sky or air. Khechare may include Pishachas, but these are also Bhuchara or denizens of the surface of the earth.]

Bipeds moving on land are of two kinds viz., middling or intermediate, and those that are foremost. Of these, the middling or intermediate are regarded as superior (to the former) in consequence of their observance of the duties of caste.

[Note: The commentator explains that for ascertaining who are Uttama or foremost, the middling or intermediate ones are first spoken of and their distinctions mentioned in the following verses. Of course, the foremost are foremost, and the intermediate ones can never be superior to them. For all that, intermediate ones are observers of the duties of caste; the foremost ones are not so, they having transcended such distinctions; hence, tentatively, the ignorant or popular opinion is first taken, to the effect that the observers of caste are superior to those who do not observe Jatidharma.]

The middling or intermediate ones are said to be of two kinds, viz., those that are conversant with duties, and those that are otherwise. Of those, the former are superior in consequence of their discrimination in respect of what should be done and what should not. Those conversant with duties are said to be of two kinds, viz., those that are acquainted with the Vedas and those that are otherwise. Of these the former are superior, for the Vedas are said to dwell in them.

[Note: This probably means that as the Vedas had not been reduced to writing, their contents rested or dwelt in memories of men versed in them.]

Those that are acquainted with the Vedas are said to be of two kinds, viz., those that lecture on the Vedas and those that are otherwise. Of these, the former, who are fully conversant with the Vedas, with the duties and the rites laid down in them, and the fruits of those duties and rites, are superior in consequence of their publishing all those duties and rites. Indeed, all the Vedas with the duties laid down in them are said to flow from them. Preceptors of the Vedas are of two kinds, viz., those that are conversant with the Soul and those that are otherwise. Of these, the former are superior in consequence of their knowledge of what is meant by Birth and Death.

[Note: To understand what is birth and what is death, and to avoid birth (and therefore, death), are the highest fruits of knowledge of the Soul. Those that have no knowledge of the Soul have to travel in a round of repeated births.]

As regards duties, they are, again, of two kinds (viz., Pravritti and Nivritti). He who is conversant with duties is said to be omniscient or possessed of universal knowledge. Such a man is a Renouncer. Such a man is firm in the accomplishment of his purposes. Such a man is truthful, pure (both outwardly and inwardly), and possessed of puissance (i.e., of power that comes of Yoga). The gods know him for a Brahmana (Brahmin) who is devoted to knowledge of Brahman (and not him who is conversant with only the duties of Pravritti). Such a man is versed also, in the Vedas and earnestly devoted to the study of the Soul.

[Note: The word Para (the locative form of which is used here) always means that which is high or foremost. It is frequently employed to mean either Brahman or the Soul, and as Soul is regarded to be a part of Brahman, Para has but one and the same meaning.]

They that have true knowledge behold their own Soul as existing both in and out. Such men, O child, are truly regenerate and such men are gods.

[Note: To look upon everything in the universe as one’s own Soul is the highest aspiration of a righteous person. It is Yoga that enables one to attain to this highest ideal of existence. One who realises this is said to be a true Brahmana (Brahmin), a really regenerate person, in fact, a god on earth. Adhiyajna and Adhidaivata are words that signify the Soul.]

Upon these rests this world of Beings, in them dwell this whole universe. There is nothing that is equal to their greatness. Transcending birth and death and distinctions and acts of every kind, they are the lords of the four kinds of creatures and are the equals of the Self-born himself.
Related articles
Sankhya versus Yoga
Raja Yoga  
Acts vrersus knowledge
Direct Path,  
Self- Atma
The Nature of Reality
Consciousness- the three states
Freedom and Bondage
Gita for Children, Yoga,     
Mind Q & A 
Karma Yoga

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