ENERGY BLOCKAGE REMOVAL
|2005 AND 2006|
THE MAN AND HIS PHILOSOPHY
Chapter 19: Rituals, Fire and Knowledge
QUESTIONER: YAJNAS OR RITUALS HAVE AN IMPORTANT PLACE IN SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE, AND THERE ARE MANY FORMS OF YAJNAS OR SACRIFICIAL RITUALS MENTIONED IN THE SCRIPTURES. BUT THE GEETA ATTACHES SPECIAL IMPORTANCE TO JAPA-YAJNA AND JNANA-YAJNA -- THE RITUALS OF CHANTING AND KNOWLEDGE. TALKING ABOUT THE SIGNIFICANCE OF JAPA OR CHANTING, YOU MENTIONED AJAPA OR WORDLESS CHANTING. SO PLEASE EXPLAIN TO US THE SIGNIFICANCE OF JAPA-YAJNA, JNANA-YAJNA AND AJAPA AS ENVISIONED BY THE GEETA.
Rituals have an important place in human life; what we call life is ninety percent ritual. human mind is such that it takes recourse to many seemingly unnecessary activities so that the harshness of life's journey is mitigated.
In the course of man's long history thousands of such rituals -- I would like to call them plays -- have been developed. If they are taken playfully they add juice to life, they become occasions for celebration. And if we take them too seriously they become pathological, an aberration.
It was a D-day in the whole life of the human race when fire was discovered for the first time. It is the greatest discovery ever made throughout man's history. We do not know the name of the person who first discovered fire; whoever he was, he made the greatest revolution in man's life. Since then man has discovered many other things. There has been a galaxy of great names like Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Einstein, Max Planck -- but none of them teaches the height of that unknown person who first discovered fire. Even the splitting of the atom and landing on the moon are not that important.
Now the same fire is such a common and ordinary thing in our day-to-day life -- we have captured it in a tiny matchstick -- that we cannot comprehend its pristine glory; but it was not so ordinary in the distant past. We are indebted to fire for most of the growth and progress our civilization and culture have achieved down the ages. Human civilization today is essentially the product of fire. None of the great inventions of history would have been possible without this igniting spark called fire. Fire is foundational to everything in our life.
Evidently when it was first discovered, we celebrated the occasion by dancing around it in utter ecstasy. This celebration, now turned into a ritual, was so natural and spontaneous -- as if it had exploded on us from nowhere. There was no other way to ex press our gratefulness to existence except by dancing and celebrating. And we said fire was God, because it occupied such a central place in man's life.
Every religion in ancient times grew around fire or the sun. The night was frightening it was full of darkness and danger and man was terribly afraid of wild animals and snakes and reptiles. And the day was comforting, full of light and warmth. One could look around and take care of himself against any danger. So darkness looked inimical and the sun seemed friendly. With darkness there was danger and death. With light there was hope; fear disappeared and everything was relatively safe. So human beings worshipped the sun as God. When fire was discovered, it heralded man's victory over darkness, and so he began to love fire more than anything -- including the sun. Naturally many beautiful things like song and dance, love and festivity grew around fire.
You know when Yuri Gagarin returned from his voyage into space -- he was the first man to enter outer space -- the whole world joined to celebrate the event. Overnight Gagarin became world renowned; his name reached the farthest corners of the earth. Hundreds of thousands of newborn babies all over the world were named after him. It takes a lifetime to attain to the fame which this first astronaut achieved in no time, because he orbited the earth. It was a great event, an epochal event. Wherever Gagarin went, people went mad to receive him; wherever he went, millions thronged to see him. Hundreds of people lost their lives in stampedes caused by his visit. Why this madness?
The advent of the new fills man's heart with delight and joy, and he always celebrates the occasion with great fanfare. As we celebrate the birth of a child with song, music and feasting, so we welcome everything new and rejoice over it. That is how it should be. It will be a sad day when we cease to rejoice over the new; it will mean the death of all that is meaningful and vital in our life.
I say all this to explain to you how yajna came into being and how it became so significant in our life. Yajna was our way of celebrating the discovery of fire; we danced around it with abandon and offered to it every good thing we had.
Our ancestors who initiated these sacrificial rituals did not have much to give. They had wheat and they made an offering of it to the fire. They had somras, the best wine of their times, and they offered it to the fire. They sacrificed even their best cows to greet this god who had come to transform their life so radically. And everything was so impromptu and spontaneous. It was an outpouring of a simple, innocent and unsophisticated heart-mind that our people had then. They were a rural people -- cities had yet to come into being -- who lacked sophistication.
By the time of Krishna and the GEETA civilization had made great strides -- thanks to fire. And so fire became a household thing, the extraordinary be came ordinary. Now it seemed meaningless to dance around fire and make sacrificial offerings to it. In the meantime thousands of people had opposed it. Fire was no longer taken as the greatest blessing that it was when it was first discovered. So Krishna grafted a new word onto the old stem of yajna and called it jnan-yajna or the ritual of knowledge. A new word, jnan or knowledge was added to the old word, yajna or ritual.
Vinoba Bhave is now doing the same thing, he has started a bhoodan yajna, popularly known as the Land-gift Movement. The ancient word yajna has been yoked to a socio-political concept known as bhoodan or land-gift.
The society in which Krishna was born was a highly developed and sophisticated society. Now dancing around fire looked so primitive and backward. So Krishna thought of igniting the fire of knowledge, which is the last luxury of a society that comes to the pinnacle of material prosperity. But he used an old word, because a word to be a word has to be old. Krishna said, "If we want to dance we will dance around the fire of knowledge. If we have to offer something to the sacrificial fire we will offer our. selves in place of grains and wines and cows."
Jnan-yajna or sacrificial ritual of knowledge stands for a special spiritual path, and every traveler on this path burns his ego, his "I-ness" in the fire of the knowledge of reality. Ordinary fire burns everything that is gross, but it cannot burn subtler elements like thoughts of arrogance, pride and ego. Only the fire of knowing can destroy it.
It is interesting to know that down the centuries the symbol of fire remains alive. And it is not without reason.
The most important reason was that in the life of the primitive man there was nothing like fire which by its nature moved upward. Water moves downward: pour it anywhere and it will find a downward path to flow. But no matter what you do, the flame will always rise upward. Even if you turn a burning torch upside down, its flames will keep going up. So fire became the symbol of ascension -- upward journey; its flame reflects man's highest aspiration to reach the unknown.
Fire was the first thing in the knowledge of man that rebelled against the law of gravitation. The earth seems to have no power over fire. So those who danced around fire and rejoiced over its blessings also nursed a hope and prayer that a day might come in their life when they would go on the upward journey to the highest, the ultimate in existence.
Like water, human mind as we know it is inclined to move downward. There is some similarity between man's mind and water. Pour a container full of water on the hilltop and it will soon find its way down to the lowest lake in the valley. Such is man's mind. Therefore the seers who first exalted the fire and danced around it in joyous homage declared their aspiration to become like fire and ascend to the heavens. Their prayer said, "We want to turn our spirit into a flame so that even if it is put in an abyss it will continue to move upward and reach the zenith." So the ritual of the sacrificial fire was symbolic and significant.
There is another attribute of fire which is still deeper and more meaningful; it is that first it burns its fuel and then burns itself. As soon as the fuel turns into ashes the fire is extinguished. This aspect of fire is deeply representative of knowledge, which first burns the dross of ignorance and then burns itself. It means to say that after one's ignorance is dispelled, the ego, the knower himself disappears. The UPANISHAD says, "While the ignorant wander in darkness the knowledgeable wander in blinding darkness." For sure, this has been said to ridicule the pundits and scholars who subsist on borrowed knowledge. One who attains to true knowledge, what is called wisdom, disappears as an ego, and so there is no way for him to wander in darkness. True knowledge first destroys ignorance and then it destroys the knower too, who ceases to be an ego, an entity. It is like fire, that after burning the fuel extinguishes itself.
So those who came to know the truth realized that knowledge is like fire. It burns ignorance like fuel, and then burns the knower as an ego, who disappears into emptiness. Therefore, he alone can embark on a journey to knowledge who is prepared to become an utter emptiness, nothingness.
There is yet another attribute of fire which is still more relevant to the knowledge of truth. As the fire's flame rises upward it is visible only to an extent and then disappears into the vast space; it becomes invisible. The same is the case with the knowledge of truth; it is related with its knower only to a small extent and then it disappears into that which is un knowable. The visible part of reality is very tiny in comparison with its invisible part which is immense and infinite.
For all these reasons fire became a very useful and powerful symbol of knowledge. and Krishna ushered in jnan-yajna. Worship of knowledge is like worship of fire.
If you rightly understand the significance of fire as a symbol, you will know that worship of knowledge is eternal. While all other rituals that came into being with the discovery of fire have died because they were products of circumstances, the pursuit of knowledge remains with us forever. Knowledge is not bound with circumstances; it is eternal. So for the first time Krishna freed yajna from the fetters of time and events and yoked it to the eternal. From now on in the future, yajna or rituals will be in vogue in the way Krishna refashioned it; its meaning and purpose will be derived from Krishna alone. The pre-Krishna chapter of yajna is closed forever. It is now outdated and dead. If someone still talks of the yajna of the pre-Krishna days, he is only trying to perpetuate a dead and meaningless ritual. Now it is not possible to dance around fire in the old way, because fire is no more an event, it is an everyday affair.
Krishna talks about another kind of yajna which is japa-yajna or the ritual of chanting. The secret of japa is the same as that of knowledge. Japa at first burns all your thoughts, and then it burns itself -- the thought of japa or chanting. And what remains is known as ajapa -- wordless chanting. For this reason it is called yajna, because it works like fire.
Your mind is stuffed with thoughts, all kinds of junk. So you use a word for chanting, and with the help of this chanting you banish from your mind all other thoughts -- except the one thought which is your word for chanting. However, when all other thoughts disappear, then this last thought -- the thought of chanting -- becomes unnecessary and it drops on its own. It is followed by a state of utter silence which is called ajapa or wordless chanting or non chanting. So ajapa too, is a kind of fire which first burns the fuel and then burns itself.
But there is a danger with chanting just as with knowledge. In fact, there is danger with every kind of spiritual discipline. There is no path from which one is not going to deviate. Every path leading to a destination has its bypaths of deviation, and you can use them to deviate from your journey. The truth is that we use paths more to digress from them than to reach.
For example, Krishna talks about the path of knowledge. For most people knowledge is scholarship, information, concepts, ideas, doctrines. If someone mistakes knowledgeability for knowledge he is on a wrong path, he is going astray. Now he cannot attain to truth, to knowledge, even if he crams his head full of all the scriptures there are in the world. And remember, ignorance is not as harmful as false knowledge. False knowledge is harmful, pernicious. It is lifeless, it lacks fire altogether. Pseudo knowledge is like ashes left after the fire has been extinguished. You can collect ashes in tons, but they are not going to change you. So if someone mistakes scholarship for knowledge he is already off the track.
It is the same with japa or chanting. If someone thinks he will reach through chanting he is mistaken. No one has ever found God or truth by chanting the name of Rama or Ave Maria. Chanting is like a thorn -- one uses it to take out another thorn sticking in his flesh and then throws away the two together. Both thorns are equally useless. If he leaves the second thorn in the place of the first, thinking it is something valuable, then he will continue to suffer. And he is for sure a stupid person. But there is no dearth of such stupid people in the world.
Buddha had a beautiful story he loved to tell again and again. A group of eight persons -- perhaps they were all pundits and priests -- crossed a big river in a country boat. Reaching the other bank they conferred among themselves as to what they should do with the boat which had helped them to cross the river. One -- perhaps the most knowledgeable among them -- suggested that they were indebted to the boat for having done such a great job for them, and so they should carry it on their heads to repay the debt. Everyone agreed with him and they lifted the boat to their heads and carried it to the next village they were scheduled to visit.
The people of the village were amazed to find their guests carrying a big boat on their heads. They said, "What are you doing? A boat is meant to carry us; we are not meant to carry the boat on our heads. Why did you not leave it in the river?"
The visitors said, "It seems you are all very ungrateful people. We know what gratefulness is. This boat helped us cross the river, now we are repaying our debt to it. It is going to stay on our heads forever."
Buddha says many people turn means into ends and cling to them for the rest of their lives. A boat is useful for crossing a river; we are not supposed to carry it on our heads after it has served our purpose.
Japa can be used with the awareness that it is a means which helps one to be free of his thoughts. But if someone takes japa to be an end in itself, of course he will be free of other thoughts but he will be a prisoner of this japa which is as good as a thought. His mind will remain as burdened and tense as ever. There is no difference between a mind teeming with thoughts and another filled with the chanting of Rama or Ave Maria. They are equally tense and restless. It is possible a thought-filled mind can achieve something worthwhile in the workaday world; a few of his thoughts may be found useful. But as far as the chanting-filled mind is concerned, it is completely a waste. But this man will say what helped to free him from wasteful thoughts is something valuable, and he is not going to part with it. This man is carrying a boat on his head.
To give japa the place of a yajna or sacrificial ritual has a deep secret, it is meaningful. When Krishna calls it a yajna, a sacrificial ritual, he means to say that japa is also like fire, which first burns its fuel and then burns itself. And it is meaningful only when it burns itself.
So we can use a word, a mantra, a seed word, as a means to cast away other words from our minds. But ultimately we have to throw away the mantra itself. If we get attached to the mantra, if we cling to it, then it will cease to be japa; it will turn instead into a kind of hypnotic trap, you will be a prisoner of its hypnosis. If you become obsessed with japa, you will go berserk. There are people who get so fixated with japa that they begin to derive an infantile kind of gratification from it, and then they can never be able to part with it. Then it becomes pathological.
Japa has to be used with awareness. If you are a witness while chanting a name or a mantra, if you know that while chanting goes on at the mental level, you remain a witness to it, then you are making a right use of japa. And it is only then that some day you will be able to go beyond it. And then japa becomes a yajna, a fire which first burns its fuel and then burns itself. And when you are empty, utterly empty, silent, you attain to meditation, you attain to samadhi or superconsciousness.
For this reason Krishna gives both knowledge and japa the status of yajna, because yajna happens around fire. And fire is immensely significant. If you understand the significance of fire, you will understand what jnan yajna or japa-yajna is. The truth is: one who is ready to burn his ego, his "I", who is ready to totally efface himself, is ready for yajna. He alone is deserving of yajna who is capable of making an offering of himself into the fire of knowledge. And then all other yajnas fade into insignificance before this great yajna, which I call the yajna of life.