by Swami Krishnananda
We observed that the manner of religious instruction can be classified under a threefold modus operandi known as Prabhu Samhita, Suhrit Samhita and Kanta Samhita. The order of an authority is the principle behind Prabhu Samhita. The friendly advice from a friend and well-wisher closely related to oneself is the principle behind Suhrit Samhita. Generally speaking, there is a big gap between the authority issuing orders and the recipient of the order. A mandate coming from a king or an enactment of parliament may be an obligatory duty imposed upon all people, whether or not it is intelligible to everybody or even acceptable to many people, with no consideration whatsoever for the individual recipient’s reaction, and based entirely on the peremptory will of a central ruling principle. Instructions, when they are issued, keep the authority at a distance from the recipient of the order. There is obedience to the order due to the fear of consequences, not because it is palatable and voluntarily accepted.
There is a nearness and a greater closeness of relation among friends. A friend does not behave like an authority towards a person who is also a friend. There is a relationship of superiority and inferiority between authority, such as government, and the recipient of the order, but there is a sense of equality between friends. The distance between the source of the instruction and the recipient thereof is narrowed down in friendly concourse.
In the Suhrit Samhita, even the distance between man and God, in the field of appreciation of religious values, is brought down to a minimum. The God of the Vedas and the Upanishads seems to be very far away from us – as potentate ruling from the heavens like a judicial paramount authority, thinking and acting only from his point of view and not necessarily taking into consideration another’s point of view. The friendly attitude is a mutual give and take of ideas; and the distance between the authority and the recipient of the order from the authority, which was considerable in the field of instruction known as Prabhu Samhita, becomes narrowed down to practically an absence of it. There is a concourse between two parties. God comes to the earth as an incarnation, as a friend and a redeemer, a well-wisher, a compassionate physician of the soul.
The Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Smritis, in Indian religious parlance – and similar codes of scriptural authority and ethical mandate in other religions also – come under this category of a fatherhood of God who resides in heaven above; and He has not yet become a friend of man. The father is not a friend of the son -though he, of course, is a well-wisher of the son. You know the difference between the father and a friend. That is the difference between the originally conceived scriptural concept of God in heaven as the Father Supreme, and the dear and near God who is close to our heart and capable of approach and appreciation in love, affection, comradeship and close intimacy. These are the first two categories: Prabhu Samhita and Suhrit Samhita.
There is a third category known as Kanta Samhita. I compared it to the instruction that is received by the beloved from the lover – and vice versa, the instruction received from the beloved by the lover. Compare the relationship between the authority ruling from the throne of the country and the peasant in the field who has to obey that order. Compare the relationship between one friend and another friend. Compare the relationship between the lover and the beloved. All three categories imply some kind of relation, but they qualitatively differ from one another in the sense of the closeness between the two sides or the distance maintained by the two parties.
Usually, traditionally speaking, the term Kanta Samhita is used to describe the contents of the great Mahakavyas, the elegant literature of the great poets like Kalidasa, Bhavabhuti, Magha, Sriharsha, etc. Raghuvamsa, Kumarasambhava, Kiratarjuneeyam, Sisupala Vadha, Naishadeeyacharita – these are the polished elegant literary works known as the Mahakavyas, whose method and way of speaking is known mostly as the field of Kanta Samhita. But, in religious literature there is also a Kanta Samhita aspect.
The methods of spiritual practice, the ways of religious organisations, and the public proclamations of the religions of man in regard to God that are commonly known to the people in the world – these are only of the category of Prabhu Samhita and Suhrit Samhita.
In Western circles, the Kanta Samhita aspect of religious instruction is rarely seen, though it is seen very feebly in mystical circles even in such religions as Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This is the mystical inner circle which is totally different from the outer forms that religion takes in terms of the literal meaning attached to the word of the scripture or the word of the concerned prophet. There is an inner circle, an esoteric aspect of religion in Islam that goes by the name of Sufism; and there are mystical philosophers in Judaism, like Philo the Judea; and there are Christian mystics.
In India, the esoteric aspect of religion can be seen in the Agama Sastra, which is categorised into the Vaishnava, Saiva, and Sakta sections. These are names with which we are very familiar, but their contents are not easily accessible to the public. The Agama Sastra is Vaishnava, Saiva or Sakta, as I mentioned. The easy and more widely known Agama belongs to the Vaishnava, which is principally of the nature of the Pancharatra doctrine. This is worship of Bhagavan Narayana or Vishnu, not necessarily as one residing in Vaikuntha far off, above the world, but as descended through incarnations and conceived in terms of certain descents called vyuhas, or groups of divine associations, widely known as Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha, the meanings of which are known only to the esoteric Vaishnava circles.
The Vasudeva aspect is the transcendental aspect, Samkarshana is the immanent aspect, Pradyumna is the operative aspect, and Aniruddha is the visible aspect. God can be worshipped as the universal all-pervading Being. God can also be worshipped as the creator supreme of this universe. God can be worshipped as the incarnation, avatara, of Vishnu. God can also be worshipped in idols or images which we keep in temples and houses as emblems of the presence of the Almighty.
These categorisations are purely a part of Vaishnava theology, bringing God’s relation to man closer than what is found in the Suhrit Samhita circle. This is because in the esotericism involved in this concept of God as related to man in the Agama method, the closeness is not like the closeness of friend and friend; it is closer still. I gave a little hint yesterday of it being possible for us to absorb God into our own selves as a verily desirable aesthetic object of enjoyment. The Agama converts religion into an aesthetic, beautiful, architectural, sculptural, musical beauty. For instance, it is the Agama’s role to decide how a temple is to be built, and the other Samhitas do not touch this aspect.
Beauty is to be introduced into the worship of God because beauty attracts more than anything else in the world. Law may attract us, morality may attract us, but aesthetics attracts us more. Music and dance, architecture and sculpture, painting and drawing, elegant literature and poetry arouse the soul more effectively than hearing stories of the exploits of the gods in the Epics and Puranas or by submission to the order and law of an authority. All worship through the Agama, which is called Tantra in the case of the Sakta type of worship, is involved in certain well-known processes – mantra, tantra and yantra. These are words with which we are also familiar, but their basic esotericism is not always clear. The theoretical and the philosophical aspect of Agama and Tantra are known to many students of philosophy, especially since some of the great texts in this line were translated into the English language by pioneers in this field such as Sir John Woodroff, but nobody will tell us how actually the practice takes place. How do we worship God through the Agama Sastra?
Even in the Vaishnava circles, which mostly keep God at a distance, a subtle transcendence of God is emphasised together with the possible immanence of Him. There is a secret doctrine of Vaishnava worship which is called Sahaja Marga – a word which many of us might not have even heard, and the meaning of which is even less known. It is impossible to describe what this system of worship can mean to a spiritual seeker. As I mentioned, they are esoteric and secret, and they are not supposed to be declared openly in public – as the relationship between husband and wife cannot be declared in public. Everyone knows what that relationship is, but we cannot explain it because the moment we explain it, it becomes profane. The divinity, the unity and the closeness which is characteristic of a soul melting into soul gets diluted into a prosaic approach of a legalistic and moralistic way of thinking when the relation between the lover and the beloved becomes a textbook subject or a theme for a public lecture.
In a similar manner, the basic principles involved in the Agama and Tantra Sastra is never to be seen in any printed book. It is a closely guarded secret, as is the secret between the lover and the beloved. Nobody will say what it is, and nobody is expected to say what it is, because revealing that secret is something like revealing the inner content or core of an atom or a nuclear secret being released to the public through the newspapers. There is a danger in the practice of this aesthetic method of the contemplation of God in relation to the human individual – though it is considered by many a seeker as the best method possible. The Kanta Samhita method of religious worship is supposed to excel in its quality in comparison with the Prabhu Samhita aspects or the Suhrit Samhita aspects.
The excellence consists in the fact that the worshiper is practically inseparable from the object of worship. The mantras that are chanted, the yantras that are drawn, or the tantric rituals or the methods adopted in the form of worship are extremely personal due to it being necessary for the student in this field to transmute the visible world of material presentation into the very spiritual object of adoration. For the Agama and Tantra in their higher reaches, there is no such thing as bad, evil, ugly or sinful. These words are really abominable for a moralist or ethical student, because we do see evil in this world. There are bad things, there are ugly things, and there are many wicked things which are ethically condemnable; and the world abhors them from the bottom of its heart.
It is true that the abomination that is associated with the wickedness of the world and the evil that we think of as present everywhere is, of course, a visible phenomenon which has to be taken care of in a legalistic, ethical or socially ordained manner. But the esoteric circles go beyond this legalistic approach to the behaviour of the world which we call evil by going into the very reason behind it. Why does the world appear as evil?
Generally, people who condemn evil cannot answer this question. Why should a thing appear bad – though everyone knows what a bad thing is? Is it necessary for a thing to appear bad always? Are there eternally bad things? Is there such a thing called eternal damnation in the sense that a person involved in an evil which is supposed to be there permanently cannot be relieved from the trammels of its clutches?
The inner circle of the Agama and Tantra is concerned with the very reason behind the existence of such a thing that can be considered abominable in the world. That is converted into the causative factor thereof, in which case poison turns into nectar. The poisonous aspect or the evil aspect of things, the materiality in objects of the world, we may say, arises on account of a peculiar wrong presentation of things. Evil and wickedness, we may say, is an erroneous juxtaposition of values – a maladjustment of the parts of a whole – and they do not exist outside, independently, as an object that can be photographed by a camera. A camera cannot photograph evil. Evil is not visible anywhere, yet it is everywhere. We say: “The whole world is corrupt,” “The whole world is evil,” “Everything is utterly ugly and bad,” “Things are degenerating to hell”. This is what we generally say. A camera cannot photograph corruption; it cannot photograph evil, badness, ugliness, etc. It can only photograph what is there, physically speaking.
The values attached to the world through the sense organs – which the mind also takes as a finally valid way of thinking about the world – is, also, usually the method of popular religious practice. Most of the religions in the world are legalistic or moralistic. They are compulsive introductions of precise methods of behaviour – an order that is introduced into the religious way of approach without actually explaining why that order is necessary.