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Prof M Sivaramakrishna
Magazine : Mother of All
Language : English
Volume Number : 7
Month : January
Issue Number : 1
Year : 2008

The final clarification begins when the brother puts the question almost bluntly, in a forthright manner “Mother! what (then) is Vedanta?” And equally instantly comes the Mother’s cryptic answer: “Vedanta is what is not known either to the one who explains or the one who listens!” (‘Talks with Amma’ in Telugu by Dr. Sripada Gopalakrishna Murthy; p.214). There is a subtle hint in the Telugu word for “knowing” – “Telianidi (8). But the Mother says “Telianide” (3) Which means “what is not known. Exactly that” is Vedanta.

The truth is known to any seeker: he who knows does not speak and he who speaks does not know. But the seeker only knows it: he does not have the interiority which is capable of making known what cannot be made known. In short, Vedanta is not knowledge that can be made known. Like any other that figures under the category of apara vidya. Roughly, secular knowledge(s). They can be communicated in the form of propositions based on facts. But Vedanta is not knowledge in that sense. It is as the Upanishads declare that knowledge after which everything else is known.

The catch here is language. Language is not built to express this knowledge which comes at the end of the Vedas, the modes of perception. That’s why it is the end of all knowing of all that our = mind and brain assumes as knowing and knowledge. This is, of course, obvious to anyone familiar with even the rudiments of the Vedanta philosophy. But what is not obvious is made clear by Amma.

Recall the incident, the narrative line, that frames this discussion. The boy who comes to see the Mother without informing the parents. Like a later day Nachiket – but Nachiketa who has no awareness of why he ran to the Mother. If this is kept in mind, we recall, again, that Amma is not explaining, as many scholars explain the Upanishadic stories. They separate the narrative and its significance assuming that they can be separated; or indeed, that they are separable.

In the present context, the incident is both the narrative and its inseparable significance. Or, the narrative is the significance. If this is the situation, is there any need or possibility of knowing what Vedanta is? Hence the question asked by Annayya: “How does one know it? (That?)”

Perhaps, at this stage, one can separate questions into two categories: questions which have answers which don’t lead to further interrogations. And questions which after so many interrogations cease and merge into silence, the cessation of words – nishabda. Not because our questions are answered but because answers in the form of linguistic formulations are facts but not truths. Truths I can only be experienced in the depths of one’s poorna chaitanya, holistic awareness. In short, the initiatory process of hearing (sravana) attains its culmination in the cessation of hearing. Experience displaces expression. We taste sugar and we cease to bother about finding linguistic equivalents to express what that experience, Mooka Swadanavat says in the scriptures. The mute relishing that.

But, then, the final question has to be answered so far as the context is concerned. Otherwise, the story does not reach its end, its anta. Hence the Mother’s further explanation. She begins by stating: “It gets to be known by itself” (o) A startling statement. That makes itself known: Then, is there no need for our sadhana or our inquiries, explorations? Yes, no need; but, yes there is need.

Mother puts the paradox concretely: “There is an object, a thing. Assume that if it is seen, there is no need to tell. Even when we tell using an analogy or a comparison, we cannot make it an experience of seeing that? Isn’t it? What is perceived has to be told to you by fashioning it in language. (or “illustrating” it, if Mother’s word in Telugu “chitrikarinchi” is considered)”

But here there is no guarantee that what the speaker has in mind and is communicated through language gets understood or perceived exactly as the teller sees it. Hence, Mother’s immediate qualificate “you understand it, each, according to your own levels. None can understand that as it actually is (The ‘thing in itself’ is ununderstandable is a common Vedantic assumption). Even when it is explained, after a study of the shastras. It is only explaining a chapter, an aspect (prakarana). Prakarana means Yoga. Right? And Yoga means following the inquiry in a systematic manner. Isn’t it so?”

In translating the Mother’s words particularly here I find myself in a vortex. I can grasp what is to be translated into English but the nagging doubt plagues me: Does its English rendering approximate to and express the nuances? the silences between words? the tonal vibrations which account for the fact that communication takes place even before what is communicated is perceived or just understood? I doubt whether translation of Amma’s words into another language can ever be perfect or even accurate, literal. But one need not worry because the end of all listening or reading (either in the original or in English in this case) is transformation not just translation and understanding through translation.

No wonder that, at this stage, the Mother not only disowns any ability to communicate but also any sastraic profundity. “I do not know how to tell?” she says. “All I can do is to talk to (my) children when they arrive here. And then ask whether they had their meal. Except these, I know nothing.” The subtlety here is, if we are her children and remain child-like do we need anything else? We think we do. Hence question after question.

Then what is the way? Is it in what Mother is so particular whenever her children arrive: Is it in her greeting them? Yes. But, most of us may not be satisfied with them. We would like to listen to her words, to her “message”. Breaking the possible hierarchies which may surface, Amma says categorically: “Vedanta is everywhere. There is no need to go far. It is there in your work, in your service.” (pg. 214)

This, of course, is not the end. Mother rounds the discussion off by choosing the context of a doctor curing a disease. One of the chief – questionnaires was an Ayurvedic doctor. Amma lifts the profession of the doctor into the perennial disease of ignorance, what is called “Bhava Roga”. She says: “Instead of assuming that the disease of the patient is cured since, you as a doctor know the root cause of the disease, you should cure it without any residue of it left over. Doing like that is Vedanta. Is this Vedanta? Don’t you think that our vocation (dharma) is implicit, and imbedded in this?”

These are not questions! That’s Amma’s natural magic! Yes, this is Vedanta. Yes to act making every act a sacrament is Vedanta. But Amma is there to oversee the physicians: while these physicians may cure, only Amma certainly heals. Hence the significance of her feeding. We feel the Truth when we recall Shakespeare’s words in Twelfth Night: “If music be the food of love, give me excess of it…..” For Amma food, feeding her children, is the music of her love, the music that evokes vibrations cleansing and healing the apparent discords and dissonances. In this sense, what is Vedanta? For Mother, it is activating the music of the soul, of the ever perfect self by nourishing the annamaya kosha, which, nurtured and nourished by Amma, draws its breath to listen to the Breath of the Eternal which all Vedanta is in its essence.

(This is the third and final installment of the essay entitled “What is Vedanta?” The first and second installments appeared in July September 2007 and October December 2007 issues of Mother of All)

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