16 June 2021

David Godman on Ramana Maharshi

Listened to a couple of talks by David Godman, one of the foremost scholars on the life and teachings of Ramana Maharshi, as well as some videos by a Canadian filmmaker who filmed many of the talks with him - see the channel on YouTube).

In one video, the same filmmaker contrasts those who are "truly enlightened" and those he calls merely “pointers”, i.e., those who are not enlightened, but can, to a certain degree point us in the right direction.

Actually I think the differentiation is unimportant. Those of us who are not enlightened are (according to traditional sources) unqualified to discriminate between an enlightened sage and one who isn't, and anyway, I cannot accept solely on faith the words of gurus and spiritual masters, however popular or distinguished they may be.

For me, as for others, it is more a question of what is helpful to our understanding, at a given time. In the last couple of years I've been reevaluating what I've learned from Brahmanic teachings. Buddhist teachings I take mainly as a point of reference.

People with greater intellectual gifts and spiritual sensitivity than I have analysed these traditions innumerable times and reached multiple and conflicting conclusions. I feel closer to the Vedantic tradition (not so much the Adwaita Vedanta system of Sankara). Ramana, is one of the greats, but practically, I feel that his teachings lead me to a cul-de-sac. Focusing on the "I" and looking for its source does nothing to abate my egoism.

Yet plainly our mistaken worldview has led us into the crisis now facing us. I'm quite convinced of the need to shake up our wrong perception and wrong conceptions. The inner conviction that we are independent separate entities, rather than equal members of the vast, intertwined network of the universe has led to the problems we desperately need to confront.

When we look at the world through the prism of our egoism, we think in terms of what we can extract from it, or consider how to protect ourselves from it, etc. But as long as we are objectifying the world, and subjectifying ourselves, our vision is incomplete, and therefore mistaken. This is why the eastern religions say that the world is illusion or appearance.

It isn't that we should identify with what we see. The kinship between us, that which binds us, is not something we can perceive through the senses. At a scientific level, we can understand (more and more) the connections within the biosphere. But it is not even that. The network, the matrix, is, itself the result of a deeper substratum of unity; a unity in consciousness. That is what the Vedantins are speaking of when they tell us that what we perceive as our limited self is actually the “big self”, the Brahman.

I think as I grow older, I want, more and more, to become absorbed into this “big self”, until one day I will kiss the little self goodbye, without the least regret. But for now there are dishes to wash, laundry to clean, and responsibilities that require a greater degree of concentration than either of those.

Research on a song

There's an amazing, gorgeous bit of piyyut (Jewish liturgical poetry) at the beginning of one of the Cafe de Anatolia albums, Ethno World Tarlabasa. I was clever enough to recognize it as piyyut but had no idea where it came from.

One commenter to the YouTube channel led me to a Syrian composer of piyyut, Raphael Antebi Tabbush, and said that the song is Ata El Kabir ("You're a great God"), but I found and looked at the words and couldn't see any resemblance there. This was clearly a wrong lead. Eventually, I found the composer and the lyrics to the song.

This is a poem by a 16th-17th century Rabbi Israel Najara, who was born in Safed. lived in Damascus and Hebron, and became the rabbi of the Jewish community in Gaza. The singer is Israeli, born in Tiberius, Lior Almaleh. He has an amazing voice, and it's a lovely, mystical song. The first part is in Hebrew, from the 3rd chapter of the Song of Songs. The second in Aramaic (which I don't understand, and Google Translate cannot help with that). The words quoted from the Song of Songs (trans. World English Bible) are:

I will get up now, and go about the city;
in the streets and in the squares I will seek him whom my soul loves.
I sought him, but I didn’t find him.
The watchmen who go about the city found me;
"Have you seen him whom my soul loves?"
I had scarcely passed from them,
when I found him whom my soul loves.

(The above section has been updated, thanks to D)

קַמְתִּי בְּאִישׁוֹן לַיְלָה לִסְבֹּב אֶת הָעִיר
לִרְאוֹת פְּנֵי דוֹדִי יְפֵה קוֹמָה
מְצָאוּנִי הַשּׁוֹמְרִים הַסּוֹבְבִים בָּעִיר שְׁאָלוּנִי
מַה לָךְ בַּלַּיִל תְבַקֵּשׁ מָה
עוֹדָם מְדַבְּרִים עִמִּי וְהִנֵּה אוֹר פְּנֵי דוֹדִי זָרְחָה כְאַחְלָמָה
יָהּ רִבּוֹן עָלַם וְעַלְמַיָּא
אַנְתְּ הוּא מַלְכָּא מֶלֶךְ מַלְכַיָּא
עוֹבָדֵי גְבוּרְתָּךְ וְתִמְהַיָּא
שְׁפַר קֳדָמַי לְהַחֲוַיָּא
שְׁבָחִין אֲסַדֵּר צַפְרָא וְרַמְשָׁא
לָךְ אֱלָהָא קַדִּישָׁא בְּרָא כָל נַפְשָׁא
עִירִין קַדִּישִׁין וּבְנֵי אֱנָשָׁא
חֵיוַת בָּרָא וְעוֹף שְׁמַיָּא
רַבְרְבִין עוֹבָדָךְ וְתַקִּיפִין
מַכִּיךְ רָמַיָּא זַקִּיף כְּפִיפִין
לוּ יְחִי גְבַר שְׁנִין אַלְפִין
לָא יֵעוּל גְּבוּרְתָּךְ בְּחוּשְׁבְּנַיָּא
אֱלָהָא דִּי לֵיהּ יְקָר וּרְבוּתָא
פְּרוֹק יַת עָנָךְ מִפֻּם אַרְיָוָתָא
וְאַפֵּיק יַת עַמָּךְ מִגּוֹ גָּלוּתָא
עַמָּךְ דִּי בְחַרְתְּ מִכָּל אֻמַּיָּא
לְמִקְדָּשָׁךְ תּוּב וּלְקֹדֶשׁ קֻדְשִׁין
אֲתַר דִּי בֵיהּ יֶחֱדוּן רוּחִין וְנַפְשִׁין
וִיזַמְּרוּן לָךְ שִׁירִין וְרֲחֲשִׁין
בִּירוּשְׁלֵם קַרְתָּא דְשֻׁפְרַיָּא

Today's Links

World's first wooden satellite to be launched from New Zealand - The Hindu

The satellite, designed and built in Finland will orbit at around 500-600 km altitude in a roughly polar Sun-synchronous orbit. WISA Woodsat is a 10x10x10 cm nano satellite built up from standardised boxes and surface panels made from plywood, the same material that is found in a hardware store or to make furniture.


Google is using AI to design chipsets in just six hours - The Hindu
The new chips are said to be superior or comparable to those produced by humans in all key metrics including power consumption, performance and chip area.


You Can Still Upgrade to Windows 10 For Free, Here's How - The Bleeping Computer


Covid Survivors Smell Foods Differently - The New York Times

Long after some people have recovered from the virus, they find certain foods off-putting.