john grimes grimesj at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Tue May 5 09:01:03 CDT 1998

Sadananda wrote
        kulam pavitram jananii kRitaarthaa
>        vishvambaraa punya vatiicha tena|
>        apaara satchit sukha saagaresmin
>        liinatare brahmani yasya cheta saH|
>Kulam ( caste? ), the mother and the world itself that gave birth to such a
>individual are all blessed by the one whose mind has merged into that
>Brahman which is endless of ocean of bliss.

Kulam is "family" and also means: condensation, solidification, that which
binds or contracts; whatever has name and form; any unit of manifestation;
the human body; abode; residence; school; family; world; universe; embodied
cosmos; all of creation; divine creative energy; power of consciousness

Wonderful word "kulam"

I am sitting here working on my translation of the Vivekacudamani and
looked at the email and there was Sadananda quoting it like nectar. How
sweet the slokas.
How appropriate.

Here is my translation of those two verses:

For all things subject to birth, birth in a human body is rare. Even rarer
to obtain are strength of body and mind. Rarer still is purity. More
difficult than these is a desire to live a spiritual life. Rarest of all is
to have an understanding of the scriptures. As for discrimination between
the Self and the not-self, direct Self-realization, continuous union with
the Absolute, final and complete liberation are not to be obtained without
meritorious deeds done in a hundred billion well-lived lives.

How many myriad things are there in the universe! Think of the billions of
stars and specks of dust and grains of sand and microbes beyond count.
Innumerable are the drops of water and leaves on trees and atoms beyond
count. Of all the entities in the universe, those with a human body are
very rare! This is not speculation but an obvious objective observation.
And, what is rare and difficult to obtain is generally considered to be
precious, valuable.
The physical body is precious. Why? Ignoring for the moment spiritual
realization, it is because one has a physical body that one has been able
to enjoy all the pleasures that have come one's way throughout one's life.
All of the delicious foods and wonderful sights and relationships, colors
and fragrances and sounds beyond compare, everything that has been
experienced was, is, and will be, only because one has a physical body. The
body is the vehicle by which and through which a person is able to enjoy
all that one deems enjoyable. Thus, birth in a physical body is rare,
valuable and precious.
Even rarer and more difficult to obtain than the physical body is a strong,
inwardly inspired or awakened (viprata) body and mind. The word "viprata)"
generally means "the rank or condition of a priest (brahmana)" and thus
this verse is usually translated as, "more difficult to obtain than a human
body is to be born as a male member of the priestly caste." How un-vedantic
and tragic that the orthodox have, in a parrot-like fashion, blindly and
dogmatically declared that the mere act of a male birth in a brahmin family
is an indispensable prerequisite for Self-realization! Commentators,
scholars, and apologists have gone to great lengths in an attempt to
justify this interpretation. To mention but a few: Women are (declared to
be) not fit to realize the Self because of their involvement in: domestic
duties, child-bearing, child-rearing, and/or sense-pleasures; rulers and
warriors (ksatriya), business people (vaisya), and laborers (shudra) are
unfit to realize the Self because their activities are directed outwards;
renunciation (sannyasa), leading to the realization of the Self, is
reserved for, is the dharma, only of brahmins, and so on. However, no
amount of apologetics can logically rescue such an interpretation of the
word "viprata)." Isn't it clear that what Sankara is doing in this verse is
describing the stages of self-development? And in regards to the Self,
vedantic spiritual practice does not pertain to the physical body, male or
female. Enquiry and reflection are categorically declared to be the means
to Self-realization. Thus, the word "viprata)" must be describing as
qualification, qualities and not gender or caste. Vipra means, "stirred;
quivering; inwardly inspired or excited; wise; learned; a sage or seer." A
qualified aspirant, a seeker of the Self, must be able to discriminate the
Real from the unreal; must be able to be detached and dispassionate; must
be intellectually strong and tranquil; must possess a sharp intellect which
is able to vigorously reflect and tirelessly and unceasingly meditate on
the Self. Firmness of determination, steadiness of composure, detachment
and discipline, and a burning desire to know the inner Self are what are
required - not merely a male brahmin body. Why, a substantial portion of
the Vedic hymns themselves were either given by female seers or were
addressed to females by males. To exclude females from being qualified
seekers of the Self is to blindly ignore both the subject-matter of Vedanta
as well as a whole host of knowers such as: Maitreyi, Gargi, Romasa,
Lopamudr O(a,¯), Apala, Kadru), Visvavra, GhoSa, Juhu, and so on.
A strong and sharp intellect is absolutely necessary in order to determine
and digest the illusory nature of names and forms. To firmly conclude that
the sand is sand and the rope is a rope and not to be deluded into thinking
there is water in a mirage or a snake underfoot takes a strong and sharp
intellect. To remain absolutely quiet and reason out that what was not
there before and what will pass away in the morning must therefore be
merely fleeting appearances is the work of a (strong) intellect. In regards
to the necessity of strength, see verse 343.

*See Mundaka. Up. 3.2.4 "This Self cannot be attained by one without
strength" Sankara, commenting on this said, "strength is at the root of all
great achievements." Also see Brh. Up. 5.14.4 "Truth is based on strength"

Rare and difficult to obtain are these three: a human birth, a burning-
desire-for-liberation, and association with great-beings. They are the
results of divine grace.

This is an oft-quoted verse of Sankara's which delineates three boons that
are the results of divine grace. To obtain a human body, which is so rare
and precious, involves grace. To have a burning desire for liberation is
even more rare and precious. Out of all the human beings in the world,
there are comparatively very few who are seriously, earnestly, continuously
seeking either God or the Self. This is a simple fact. Look around. There
are relatively very few people in this world, at any given time, who are
completely consumed with the spiritual quest. And of all those individuals
who both possess a human body and who are earnestly seeking the divine,
even fewer have the great good fortune to have the association with a
Divine-Master, with a knower of the truth. As well, according to Advaita,
divine grace, though absolutely necessary for the removal of ignorance, is
not something to be acquired. It is there all along. It is the innermost
Self of everyone. All that is necessary is to know of its existence. Thus,
grace has been compared to the sun, always present and eternally shining,
but one must turn one's eyes in its direction and look at it. Though here
and now, from the perspective of an individual not knowing this, one must
seemingly make an effort to discover it. If an owl does not see the sun
that is illumining the entire world, is that the fault of the sun? It is
entirely due to the individual owl's defective vision.

How wonderful,

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