The Knots in the Intellect
The Knots in the Intellect
Vedanta talks of h?daya-granthi-s, the knots and entanglements in a person’s understanding, as the basic hindrance to self-knowledge. yad? sarve prabhidyante h?dayasyeha granthaya? (Katha 2:3:15), says the Kathopanishad. The knot is not one but many. The mortal becomes immortal when all such knots are broken, says the Upanishad.
H?daya in Vedanta refers not to heart but to buddhi, the intellect, and is always interpreted so by Sri Shankara and other commentators. The knots of h?daya, thus, are the knots, snares and tangles in the intellect. They may be called reinforced bonds with wrong, ephemeral things.
The sense organs not merely cognize the objects but send signals to the mind about their comfort or discomfort with such objects. These comfort levels are known as likes and dislikes at the intellect-level of the mind. (We are aware that Vedanta distinguishes the mind at four levels – a) the cognitive stage, called manas or mind, b) the deciding stage, called the buddhi or intellect, c) the ego state called aha?k?ra and d) the recollection level, called citta). These likes and dislikes create certain impressions on the mind and also develop bonding with such objects. The bonding may be positive or negative. When such bindings are too many, a person is so entangled in them that he can hardly get over them and dwell on self-enquiry. They are the obstacles for ?rava?a, manana and nididhy?sana.
Etymologically seen, the word granthi comes from the Sanskrit root “grathi” – ‘grathi kautilye’. Kautilya is crookedness. If we take a straight thread without any knots, it can pass through the eye of a needle and when there is a knot, it cannot. In order to make a knot, we bend it and make it crooked and more crooked. There it becomes knot. So is the thought process in the mind. An innocent and honest mind, like that of Naciketa in the Kathopanishad is an ideal receptacle for knowledge and not a mind which is entangled in worldly snares. When mind thinks in a straight manner it has a proper understanding of things, not otherwise. Vedanta involves Brahma vic?ra which is a training to think in a proper manner. It involves meditation, which is a ‘continuous stream of thoughts, like the thin line of oil poured out from a beaker, undisturbed by dissimilar thoughts’ as Shankaracharya says. Such thought gives us nitya-anitya vastu viveka, the right understanding of things. In the absence of such understanding, buddhi, the intellect becomes crooked and crooked becomes knotted. When we have too many knots we have no clear vision.
The knots in our intellect relate to avidy?, the primordial ignorance which results in identification of self with the body-mind complex, thus resulting in wrong understanding. Our inability to know what is nitya, the eternal, and what is anitya, the ephemeral, results in wrong ideas and those wrong ideas, in turn, result in a variety of bondages. All those bondages are like knots. Sometimes, we deliberately get into certain socially needed knots or bondages. We see this in marriages where the corner of bridegroom’s cloth is tied to the corner of bride’s sari to ensure that the tie (bondage) remains forever. They are two incomplete entities who are made one in order to ensure continuance of the lineage.
A similar notion of incompleteness persists in the mind of the seeker due to avidy?, a notion of paricchinnatva or de-limitedness. This incompleteness gets temporarily satiated when one acquires some objects, has relations of love and hate or an obligation to an ideology. He looks at some object and dislikes it, and that dislike grows to the extent of becoming a sort of passion. Then he likes to hate somebody and likes to like some objects. To that extent, the emotion grows and that becomes bondage, because he is bound to love or hate a person, bound to do an action or perform a religious or social obligation. All these become knots and obstacles for realization.
In the absence of granthi, “atha martya? am?to bhavati” – the mortal becomes immortal, says the Upanishad. How is it that a mortal becomes immortal? The fact is that he is immortal already. He is always immortal. It is because of his granthi-s, he is under the impression that he is a mortal. He was not aware that he is immortal. The moment those granthi-s are broken and wrong understanding of his mind/intellect is disappears, he perceives things correctly with right understanding, and thus becomes immortal – just by realization.
How many such knots are there? Different traditions seem to have different views on the number. But a very popular one is seen in the Lalita-sahasra-nama, which talks of three such knots. The su?umna n??i in the spinal cord connects to all the organs in the body and directs different functions. Three plexuses are important, as they relate to the three different levels of human functioning. These three plexuses are called the Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra granthi-s. Meditation on Lalita is said to cut off these knots.
The symbolic meaning of these knots has been brilliantly explained by Swami Akhandananda Saraswati in his talk on the above cited line of Kathopanishad.
Brahma (who symbolically represents the cosmic function of creation) granthi is in sv?dhi??h?na Chakra – genital region which is connected to reproductive activity, Vishnu (symbolic of maintenance/sustenance) granthi is in manipura cakra – the stomach region which distributes all intake to various parts of our body and thus ensuring proper nourishment of the body, Rudra (who is the presiding deity for ego) granthi is in ?jñ? cakra – the seat of aha?k?ra, the ego. Breaking these knots means to rise not only above the carnal and comfort needs but also above the ego needs. But these granthi-s have to be cut if one desires to go beyond and reach sahasr?ra cakra to attain Brahman.
Similarly, desire is the k?ma granthi. If we want to acquire more and more wealth and hoard it, it is lobha granthi. If we have infatuation with some person, thing or objective, that is moha granthi. Likewise, we can think of several granthi-s, which do not allow us to do our normal job of knowing ourselves. Gita says that all these granthi-s are broken with jñ?n?si – (jñ?na+asi) – the sword called knowledge. With the dawn of knowledge – samyak- jñ?na, all these knots would disappear.