The Expansive Vision of the Vedas
There is one all-pervasive consciousness principle that is the cause and content of existence. Names and forms are incidental attributes subject to negation. That which exists in time and space has a beginning and an end and therefore cannot be taken to be absolute.
In the seeming fluctuation between the unmanifest and the manifest, lies the dance of creation and dissolution. Ishwara, as Nataraja, is the choreographer, the dancer and the audience. Behind the skillful, intricate movements, all of which are in a state of flux, there is a constant. This unchanging, non-dual whole is the subject matter and vision of Advaita. This vision is in harmony with the laws of Mother Nature and the material universe.
Ancient Indian civilization stems from this vision. It was integrated into the life of every living person irrespective of education or social status. The learned sages quote from the Upanishads, “Ishavasyam idam sarvam,” and the villager quotes from his experience, “Sab bhagavan hai.” Analysis of these words: Sarvam, Isha, comprises the subject matter of Vedanta.
Swami Vidyaranya (1300-1391 AD), a propounder of this vision and Mathadipathi of Sringeri Matt, was a scholar and social reformer. He was responsible for the establishment of the Vijayanagar Empire, a crowning jewel in the history of Karnataka. He authored many books including Sarvadarshanasangrah, Aparokshanubhuti and Panchadasi which are popularly used by those in pursuit of knowledge.
Panchadasi is a comprehensive and unique work where each chapter is independent, so one can pick up any chapter and study it exclusively. The tenth chapter, Natakadeepa prakaranam, draws on the imagery of the theatre and its major aspects with respect to illumining the tattva, the truth.
A dance performance consists of a dancer, nartaki, an organizer, prabhuh, an audience, sabha, all of which are illumined by the nataka deepa– a powerful light which lights up the whole hall in equal measure and remains lit before, during and after the show with the same intensity. The prabhuh, organizer, occupies a special seat with the best view of the stage. He experiences elation or depression depending on the quality of the dance performance as he feels a pressure to have a return on investment.
The nartaki is inspired by the reaction and appreciation of the audience. She is supported by accompanying instruments and brings out various bhavas and intricate steps. The audience, sabha, observes the performance without the same emotional intensity as the organizer. At the end of the performance, the nartaki, sabha and prabhuh retire but the nataka deepa remains shining. Swami Vidyaranya later mentions the benefits and limitations of an example.
The nartaki, sabha and prabhu comprise the triputi, the triad. The nartaki is the buddhi, intellect. The prabhuh is the ahankara, the doer. The sabha are the objects of perception, vishayas. The accompanying artists are the sense organs, indriyas, which relay information to the buddhi. The nataka deepa is the sakshi or witness: the one who illumines the triputi, who exists independent of the triputi and who continues to illumine in the absence of the triputi. The absence of ahankara, buddhi and vishayas (objects of perception) can be experienced in deep sleep. It is the presence of sakshi which signifies to the waker that he had deep sleep. In order to experience the world, subject-object duality must exist. There is ‘I,’ the subject, and objects of my experience. When that duality is there, sakshi cannot be experienced as it is illumining the entire drama.
Before the dance program, the hall is lit up by the nataka deepa. It lights up the audience, stage and organizer without partiality. After the show is over, the deepa remains lit. So too, during waking, the buddhi dances to the tune of the ahankara and inputs from the vishayas. Here, sakshi cannot be experienced as it is illumining this dance. In the absence of ahankara, buddhi and vishayas, sakshi remains but there is nobody left to experience sakshi. It just remains.
The subject matter of Vedanta is to recognize that you are that sakshi – you are non-separate from that which illumines and pervades the entire creation. It is this light which brings to light the ahankara, buddhi, manas and so on. Without the presence of sakshi, all are inert. Sakshi seemingly provides sentience to the inert, without undergoing any modification. It is the self of all and the cause for life and you are that. This is not a matter for experience or a state of being, it is a matter for cognition.
The universality and inclusiveness of the vision of the Vedas extend far beyond obscure texts which are the prerogative of a few. Indeed, the subject matter deals only with the universal human experience of sorrow and confusion and freedom thereof.