Our koan for today is the Sanskrit Tat tvam asi, That are thou, a Hindu mantra that is every bit as mysterious as Joshu’s Mu. It is similarly accompanied by a variety of meditative and behavioral practices intended to lead beyond duality, more or less as we have discussed with Zen koans. Now, as I have previously pointed out, you cannot make a dogma of monism as simply the concept of non-duality, Sanskrit Advaita. That would embed the opposites into your world in a way that cannot be excised.
Aha! So this.
Unlike the case of Bibliolatrous Young-Earth Creationists, nobody takes the vast multitude of Hindu writings since the Vedas literally. It is almost universally understood that they point to a reality called Brahman that is beyond human understanding, in what Buddhists call Skill in Means, or the Finger Pointing to the Moon. Note that this Brahman, which nobody pretends to picture, is completely different from the common creator God Brahma.
Tat tvam asi is one of the four Mahāvākyas, "The Great Sayings" of the Upanishads, as characterized by the Advaita school of Vedanta. Mahā means great and vākya, a sentence. They come from various Upanishads connected with various Vedas.
- That art thou
- I am Brahman
- Brahman is Prajñāna
- This Self (Atman) is Brahman
Prajñāna is taken to be pretty much the same as the Buddhist Prajñā, the ultimate wisdom. Buddhists say, with the Heart Sutra, that the five skandhas of body and mind are precisely Sunyata, selflessness.
The Hindu Theory of Everything
That are thou also applies to the vast collection of Hindu deities, which are taken to be aspects of Brahman, or Vishnu, or Paramatman. That includes, for many but by no means all Hindus, Shakyamuni Buddha.
Advaita Vedānta adapted philosophical concepts from Buddhism, giving them a Vedantic basis and interpretation, and was influenced by, and influenced, various traditions and texts of Indian philosophy.
The Smarta tradition of Hinduism is a synthesis of various strands of Indian religious thought and practice, which developed with the Hindu synthesis, dating back to the early first century CE.[note 65] It is particularly found in south and west India, and reveres all Hindu divinities as a step in their spiritual pursuit. Their worship practice is called Panchayatana puja. The worship symbolically consists of five deities: Shiva, Vishnu, Devi or Durga, Surya and an Ishta Devata or any personal god of devotee's preference.
In the Smarta tradition, Advaita Vedānta ideas combined with bhakti are its foundation. Adi Shankara is regarded as the greatest teacher and reformer of the Smarta. According to Alf Hiltebeitel, Shankara's Advaita Vedānta and practices became the doctrinal unifier of previously conflicting practices with the smarta tradition.[note 66]
Philosophically, the Smarta tradition emphasizes that all images and statues (murti), or just five marks or any anicons on the ground, are visibly convenient icons of spirituality saguna Brahman. The multiple icons are seen as multiple representations of the same idea, rather than as distinct beings. These serve as a step and means to realizing the abstract Ultimate Reality called nirguna Brahman. The ultimate goal in this practice is to transition past the use of icons, then follow a philosophical and meditative path to understanding the oneness of Atman (Self) and Brahman – as "That art Thou".
Anicons are symbols that are not pictorial.
Buddhist influences on Advaita Vedanta
Other Views of Vishnu
It is widely agreed that the wandering musician and teller of tales, Narada, was the greatest Hindu sage of all, able once in his lifetime to receive a vision of Paramatman.
Reaching a tranquil forest location, after quenching his thirst from a nearby stream, he sat under a tree in meditation (yoga), concentrating on the paramatma form of Vishnu within his heart as he had been taught by the priests he had served. After some time Narada experienced a vision wherein Narayana (Vishnu) appeared before him, smiling, and spoke: "that despite having the blessing of seeing Him at that very moment, Narada would not be able to see His (Vishnu's) divine form again until he died". Narayana further explained that the reason he had been given a chance to see his form was that his beauty and love would be a source of inspiration and would fuel his dormant desire to be with the Vishnu again. After instructing Narada in this manner, Vishnu then disappeared from his sight.
Paramatman is described as
The Absolute Atman, or supreme Self, in various philosophies such as the Vedanta and Yoga schools in Hindu theology, as well as other Indian religions like Sikhism. Paramatman is the "Primordial Self" or the "Self Beyond" who is spiritually identical with the absolute and ultimate reality. Selflessness is the attribute of Paramatman, where all personality/individuality vanishes.
There are many other Narada tales.
In the Padma Purana and some other texts, Narada is transformed into a woman for a time.
In this tale, the aged Narada, after much wandering and much purification of the mind, meets Vishnu, who has taken the form of a baby for the occasion. This offends Narada, but Vishnu chides him for this narrow-mindedness. To demonstrate that one should not be misled by such appearances, he dumps Narada into a different world as a beautiful young maiden, bathing, with all of her memories and none of his own. A prince passing by at that moment, and seeing him/her naked, is so overcome with desire that he insists on marrying the girl and taking him home to his palace. After many years and many children, the now aged woman dies, and finds himself suddenly back in front of the baby Vishnu. Overcome by this demonstration of serious Godly powers, Narada apologizes, and they part on the best of terms.
Vishnu is described here as having powers far beyond the God of Genesis, who took seven days to create one world with only two people in it, and messed it up quite thoroughly. Vishnu has as many whole worlds as he needs ready to hand, and can call up more in a moment.
In another tale, Vishnu dumps Narada in a village, where he falls in love with a beautiful young maiden, and they marry and have children, and then they all die in a flood, and there is Narada back with Vishnu again.
Narada does not realize oneness with Vishnu, though, even though he understands that everything in every universe is just Vishnu’s maya, a veil hiding the true reality. But you can’t see through maya when you are stuck in the middle of it.