During a recent conversation with a fellow sadhaka the topic of what we had studied so far came up for discussion. A few minutes into this conversation the realization dawned that we seemed to be in a hurry to ‘finish’ a ‘syllabus’ or ‘curriculum’ and go somewhere! The sense of hurry to finish as many texts as possible was clearly evident. Fortunately for us we reminded each other of some things that we had learnt from our teachers to counter this hurried learning. Like many mundane addictions that we see in our daily lives, there is also an addiction to reading scriptural texts and listening to numerous lectures of various Guru-s. And this probably becomes more relevant in the context of the Advaita Academy’s repository of online vedanta materials! One can spend any number of hours here without realizing the passage of time. We have the advantage of reading articles or listening to lectures of a number of wonderful Swami-jis and even seeing some amazing teachers in action in the uploaded video lectures.
The scriptures call this syndrome, this addiction, as shastra vasana, the latent tendency of pride of learning. This is of three types:
Addiction to study
Addiction to study of many scriptures
Addiction to the observance of injunctions laid down in scriptures
The story of Bharadvaja Rshi is used to highlight the first type. He had applied himself to the study of veda-s in three successive lives. He began to study the remainder in the fourth. Indra, the king of Gods, cured him of this addiction by showing him the impossibility of ‘completely’ studying the veda-s. He then initiated the sage into the mysteries of vedAnta and brahma vidya thereby enabling him to cross the ocean of samsara.
The story of the sage Durvasa is mentioned as an example for the second type, namely the addiction to studying many scriptures. It seems the sage once came to pay his respects to Lord Shiva carrying a load of books on his person. The divine sage Narada joked at the sight comparing the sage Durvasa to a donkey carrying a load on its back. In utter disgust the sage threw away all the books and was then initiated by Lord Shiva into brahma vidya, the knowledge of the Supreme Self.
The Sage Narada also is an oft quoted example. Even though he had mastered the 64 branches of learning he was still unsatisfied till he came under the grace of the teacher in Sanatkumara and realized the Self under his care.
The Katha Upanishad proclaims that ‘the Self is not attainable by mere study, not even by intelligence or even by great learning.’
The Muktikopanishad also says that, ‘Wise men must try and catch a glimpse of the light within. Even if one studies the four veda-s and all the dharma shastras many times over, one cannot know the essence of the brahman just like the ladle cannot know the flavor of the food it is used to serve with.’
The third variety of shastra vasana is that of an addiction to the various karma – religious activities. The scriptures themselves quote the story of Nidhaga, disciple of the Rshi Ribhu. The over enthusiastic desire for karma leads to future births and is considered to be an impure vasana. Nidhaga, though instructed by his Guru Ribhu many times over continued to focus only on religious injunctions. His Guru had to finally step in to cure him of his addiction. Likewise, Dasura’s story in Yoga Vasishtha shows that he was unable to select a single clean spot anywhere in the world for the performance of his religious duties because of his over zealousness in following religious injunctions.
I am reminded of a Zen story in which a young monk approached a wise old teacher and asked him to explain the Diamond Sutras. The old teacher asked the young renunciate to read out the sutras as he himself didn’t know how to read. The young monk was surprised and asked how the old man could explain the meaning if he couldn’t even read the text. The old teacher pointed to the full moon shining brightly in the sky and asked what it was. On being given the correct reply he said, ‘My finger pointed to the moon. But the finger itself is not the moon. In the same way the words in the text point to the truth. But they themselves are not the truth.’