Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Nurturing of the Soul

ahimsA prathamam pushpam
pushpam indriya-nigraha
sarva-bhUta-dayA pushpam
kshamA pushpam viSeshata
jnAnam pushpam tapa: pushpam
dhyAnam pushpam tathaiva cha
satyam ashtavidham pushpam
vishno: prItikaram bhavet

Ahimsa (non-violence)is the first flower
Controlling of the senses is the second flower
Compassion for ALL BEINGS is the third flower
Quality of Forgiveness is the fourth
Knowledge the fifth, Austerity the sixth
and Concentration the seven
Truth is the eighth flower
All eight of these flowers are dear to Vishnu

This is a prayer or stotra by the name of Prapanna Parijatam,
or Offering of Flower by the Surrendering one. It was written
around 12th century by Varadacharya. Essentially it is describing
what offering the individual should make to God. My father taught me this
when I was a young boy, it has stuck with me since. The import of this
stotra is that one doesn't need offer anything material to God aside
from one's own qualities and actions. Meaning that our lives themselves
are an offering.

The list of 8 qualities above are pivotal for our individual spiritual,
psychological and moral development. Non-violence is the first and foremost
of all the flowers. Non-violence isn't just an action but a state of mind
and philosophy on life. Life itself is fundamentally a violent activity, for
us to live we necessarily harm others. When we breath we kill millions of bacteria,
walking kills the insects on the ground we step on, we kill animals and plants for
food and so on. Clearly here, we are asked to have a mentality of non-violence,
which includes acting non-violently. Non-violence doesn't require that we absolutely
abhor or stop our lives but that when possible we avoid harm in action, word, deed or

The next important offering is the controlling of the senses. It is imperative to
understand that in Hindu and Buddhist thought it has never meant that one subjugate
the desires or the senses, that is simply near impossible speaking from a practical perspective.
What is meant is that we must control our actions which stem from our senses. To do so, we must understand the
psychology of the mind. Our senses are entirely at the whim of our minds and emotions.
Our eye sees something and suddenly we desire it, we cannot dismiss that desire nor
can we fight the desire itself because it is ingrained in us. What we can do is control
our actions. We can either allow the desire to control us or we can control it.

Empirical Studies in consciousness conducted by Benjamin Libet have shown that in most cases
we begin to act even before we are conscious of it, there is approximately 200 milliseconds
between when the action starts and we are conscious of it. In fact, what we have is a veto power
which usually is invoked around 100-150 milliseconds before the action is fully in effect.
What this requires is that we understand the action before we undertake it. Before anger sets in
we should understand its root and quell it. Understanding the root will allow for the mind to be

The third flower is vitally important one too. Compassion for all beings. Every living creature
that has a nervous system has the ability to feel physical pain and many if not most of those beings
can also experience emotional or psychological pain. Compassion requires us to find ourselves in the other.
One can say that in the pain of others is our pain and in their happiness is ours. Compassion is
not just an act but a thought too. The ability relate to another and give them the empathy and
sympathy that is required. In Buddhist thought, compassion is the goal of meditation so that
one can see past the suffering that is existence feel for all beings. A Bodhisattva is he/she
that has forsaken Nirvana until they can guide all other beings to that state.

Next to compassion is forgiveness because compassion allows us to see the inherent humanity in others and
thereby forgive them. Forgiveness involves understanding the circumstances of the incident or act and
there upon allowing that moment to pass. Forgiveness entails the idea that many times we fall prey to
our emotions and circumstances, not even the greatest amongst us is free from that. To be human is to
be fallible. Forgiveness also allows us to conquer the insecurities and hurt that dwell within us.
Violence is perpetuated when forgiveness is not given nor accepted.

Knowledge is the fifth offering. In Indian thought, knowledge as used in the word jnana (cognate to
the Greek word gnosis) means wisdom and spiritual insight.
Krishna says in the Gita:
The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees
with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a
dog and a dog-eater

Here spiritual wisdom or jnana, prevents one from discriminating against others based on physical
differences. To one who is steeped in wisdom, they see pass the shell that we all wear and delve
into the core of what connects us all together. Our common existence and connection, in the words of
Martin Heidegger, continuum of Being. We all share an equal desire and right to exist. Krishna asks
us to stop seeing the "other" and see them as part of oneself. The lines of caste, creed, race,
nationality, species and so on disappear.

The next flower is Tapas or austerity. Austerity here means dedication and discipline. It is the active
principle of trying to better oneself through practice. This is a practical matter, as human beings like
every other animal is a creature of habit. So the habit of a person so is that person. If we breed good habits
into ourselves by that I am not referring necessarily moral choices but acts that allow us to grow in our
world views, compassion, understanding, knowledge and so forth. Tapas generally means heat in sanskrit
referring to building up of ones spiritual strength and also physical. Austerities were practiced to
cultivate one's mind and train it to overcome physical and other mental difficulties.

From austerities one develops concentration, the ability to focus or more specifically single pointed
focus. Unwavering unlike a lamp in midst of wind. Concentration lets us dissect ourselves and
gives us a way to discriminate in our actions. It allows us to learn and develop our strengths.
Stilling of the mind through meditation takes us away from the flux that is life and brings us to a
world that allows us to focus on the self.

The last and most important flower that all others depend upon is Satya or the Truth. Truth here is
both empirical and spiritual. There is a Vedic saying "satyam eva jayeta" or Truth alone triumphs.
Truth is the core of our being, it is how we can learn compassion and develop the ability to control
the senses and forgive. Truth is looking first at the world at large from a variety of perspectives
and trying to understanding things as they are not as we wish them to be. At a deeper level it is
looking into ourselves and staring down both our strengths and faults. Accepting those faults as
existent and trying to improve them. Every statement has some level of truth to it, when people
make comments about us, it is important for us to first ascertain in that comment if there is anything
that is true and if so address it and fix it.

The qualities listed in this little stotra or verse are universally good qualities, an ideal to strive
to. Not just for the idea of pleasing a god but even if one does not believe in a god, these qualities
are humanistic and ideal. Virtues as Socrates would say. Just something to keep in mind.