Understanding Modi’s Sanskrit Epithets – Part III
With a desire to unlock the meanings of Sanskrit phrases often quoted by India’s Prime Minister Narendara Modi, in Part I of this article series, I had provided some background – what is Sanskrit, what are the Upaniśads, Pura̅ṇas and itiha̅sas, etc. In Part II, I had explained two phrases: Satyameva Jayate and Ahimsa̅ Paramo Dharmaḥ.
In this article, let us examine two more phrases quoted by the Prime Minister:
- Sarve bhavantu sukhinaḥ
- Tena tyaktena bhunjītha̅ḥ
Sarve bhavantu sukhinaḥ
If one visits any ashram (i.e. a place of learning Sana̟tana Dharma, not the many churches that are masquerading as “ashrams”), classes will typically end with the following prayer (1):
Sarve bhavantu sukhinaḥ sarve santu nira̅maya̅ḥ |
Sarve bhadra̅ṇi pashyantu ma̅ kashcid dukhabha̅g bhavet ||
सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः, सर्वे सन्तु निरामयाः ।
सर्वे भद्राणि पश्यन्तु, मा कश्चिद् दुखभाग् भवेत् ॥
May all (living beings) live happily, may (they) be free of disease. May all be blessed with auspiciousness. May (they) never experience sorrow.
This is a simple yet powerful prayer that expresses the desire that all beings all over the known worlds and unknown worlds live peacefully. The source of this stotra is not known (2; 3). The prayer reinforces our understanding of the universal need for life free of agony, and neutralizes any negative emotions we accumulate. That is also the reason for the popularity of this prayer – it is sung in many temples, especially in Northern India. Many musicians and composers have tuned this prayer to contemporary music, such as this.
Typically, a prayer calls out the deity such as Saraswati or Krishna. In “sarve bhavantu”, there is no specific mention of a deity. Hence, this stotra can appeal to people universally. Additionally, Christianity and Islam, for example, claim that their “God” is the only True God (4), and all other “Gods” are false Gods (5) (6) (7) (8). This is why such religions are termed as “Exclusive”, i.e. (a) the religion excludes their “benefits” from all those who aren’t adherents. (b) the religion condemns non-adherents to eternal damnation/hell (9). Such an outlook shocks many Hindus because they have never been told by their elders or scriptures that followers of other religions like Christianity are going to Hell, or that Hinduism is the only real religion. Being naive in these matters, these Hindus believe that all other religions are like Hinduism, only with different names and forms!
So, for followers of such Abrahamic religions, a prayer that is not a “specific-god-specific” might appeal, God permitting! Narendra Modi, being a practical man, visualizes a need for such universal prayers to achieve his heartfelt vision for a balanced world ecosystem.
Tena Tyaktena Bhunjītha̅h̟
This phrase comes from the first verse of the Īsha̅va̅sya Upaniśad, an Upaniśad which gets its name from its very first words:
ईशा वास्यमिदं सर्वं, यत्किञ्च जग्त्यां जगत् ।
तेन त्यक्तेन भुन्जीथाः, मा गृधः कस्यस्विद् धनम् ॥
īsha̅va̅syamidam̟ sarvam̟, yatkin͂ca jagtya̅m̟ jagat |
tena tyaktena bhunjītha̅h̟, ma̅gr̟idhah̟ kasyasvid dhanam || 1||
All this – whatsoever moves on this world – is covered by Ishwara. Protect (yourself) through letting go (being dispassionate). Do not covet anybody’s wealth (or, do not covet – for whose is wealth).
We need to take a short lesson on the core vision of Sana̟tana Dharma or the message of the Upaniśads. The source of this universe is “Ishwara”. Ask any Hindu where “God” is, and the answer would be “Where is God not?” That is, Ishwara is all pervasive. Every object such as a pot, needs a maker (potmaker) and material (clay). Now, replace ‘pot’ by the ‘universe’. Ishwara is the maker of the universe, or Nimitta ka̅ran̟am. In addition, Ishwara is also the “material cause”, or upa̅da̅na ka̅ran̟am, the material of which the universe is made. An example to visualize this bold idea unique to Sanatana Dharma is that of a spider mentioned by the Munḍaka Upaniśad (10). The spider creates the web with the material it spins out of itself. Since any end-product (such as pot) is never separate from the material (such as clay), and since the material (clay) is Ishwara, this results in the vision of Ishwara being all-pervasive.
For comparison, Christianity uses the word “creation” for this universe, which is created by “God”, and a universe which is “separate” from “God”. The material for the creation is not found anywhere and hence “creation from nothing” is often implied. The Upaniśad model views the universe as non-separate from Ishwara. Hence, we cannot use the word “creation” to express the Dharma worldview of this Universe. A better word to reflect this process is “manifestation”. Finally, a̅tma̅, the Self, cannot be separate from this Ishwara, so Ishwara and A̅tma̅ are essentially identical. These are the reasons why “Ishwara” of Sana̅tana Dharma is not the “God” of Christianity.
Let us summarize the above discussion:
|Maker||“God”||“Ishwara”, Bhagavan, etc.|
|Material||“God” created world out of His Word (11) (12) or out of nothing in particular||The material came of “Ishwara”|
|Separateness||World is separate from “God”||World is non-separate from “Ishwara”|
Now, let us get back to the verse. In Adi Shankaracarya’s commentary of this verse (13) (14), he says that “Atma – you – is the self of everything in this world (a topic of all Upaniśads, which is outside the scope of this article), so what is there separate from you to covet?”
The Brihadaaranyaka Upaniśad narrates a beautiful story. Yajnavalkya, a prosperous householder decides to walk away from it all for apparently no reason! Questioned by his intelligent wife Maitreyi, if what he is now seeking would give him “greater happiness” than the prosperity he was already enjoying as a householder, his answer was an emphatic affirmative and went on to teach her (15) (16) (17):
न वा अरे पत्युः कामाय पतिः प्रियो भवति, आत्मनस्तु कामय पतिः प्रियो भवति ||
na va̅ are̅ patyuḥ ka̅ma̅ya patiḥ priyo bhavati, a̅tmanastu ka̅ma̅ya patiḥ priyo bhavati ||
One loves one’s husband not for the sake of the husband;
One loves one’s husband for the sake of the pleased self.
Yājñvalkya then extends the same observation to children, wife, people, wealth, king, etc. To elaborate: “One loves one’s children not for the sake of the children but for the sake of the pleased self. One loves one’s wealth not for the sake of the wealth, but for the sake of the pleased self.” Beginning in this manner, Yajnavalkya provides a liberating worldview that the limitless self-existent truth is one’s essence. Armed with this vision, which is the subject matter of all Upaniśads, one stands permanently protected – bhunjītha̅ḥ.
Basic material possessions are essential for this body to survive. However, an error arises when we make the mistake of equating our contentment with possessions. An insecure person will hoard. A person who recognizes security as his or her own nature will naturally give. It is this vision that has made India a country that has not attempted or desired to aggressively occupy the rest of the world.
What does our Prime Minister mean by this statement? He probably implies: “Do not take yourself to be limited or insecure. What does an individual gain by being corrupt? Unleash your full potential. What is there to fear? Consume less and contribute more. Let us boldly use the sanctity given to us to address the challenges we have.” It would do good, if Indians reflect on this message and imbibe it in their lives.
In the succeeding articles, I will continue unfolding more phrases from the seminal texts of Sanātana Dharmaḥ that Narendra Modi likes to quote.
- Pramananda, Swamini and Chaitanya, Dhira. Purna Vidya – Vedic Heritage Teaching Program. s.l. : CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012. Vol. Puja & Prayers.
- I have enquired with many Swamis. Anybody who has evidence to potential origins or sources may contact me.
- “Stooyate iti stotram” – That which praises/extols/worships is called a ‘Stotram’.
- The Holy Bible, King James Version. New York : American Bible Society, 1999, John 14:6. Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”.
- The Holy Bible, King James Version. New York : American Bible Society, 1999, Exodus 20:3-4. “Never have any other god. Never make your own carved idols or statues that represent any creature in the sky, on the earth, or in the water”.
- The Holy Bible, King James Version. New York : American Bible Society, 1999, Exodus 34:17. “Do not make any idols”.
- The Holy Bible, King James Version. New York : American Bible Society, 1999, Deuteronomy 6:14. “Never worship any of the gods worshiped by the people around you.”.
- The Holy Bible, King James Version. New York : American Bible Society, 1999, Exodus 23:13. “And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect: and make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth”.
- The Holy Bible, King James Version. New York : American Bible Society, 1999, Revelation 21:8. “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death”.
- Dayananda Saraswati, Swami. Mundaka Upanishad, Part 1. Chennai : Arsha Vidya Research & Publication Trust, 2006. “1.2.6 yathōrṇanābhiḥ sr̥jatē gr̥hṇatē ca”.
- The Holy Bible, King James Version. New York : American Bible Society, 1999, Psalm 33:6. “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth”.
- The Holy Bible, King James Version. New York : American Bible Society, 1999, Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”.
- Sastri, S. Sitarama, [trans.]. The Isha, Kena and Mundaka Upanishads and Shankara’s Commentary. s.l. : V. C. Sheshacharri, 1905. https://archive.org/details/upanishadssrisan00sita.
- Ishavasyopanishadbhashyam. Sringeri : Advaita Sharada, Dakshinamnaya Shri Sharada Peetham, 2014. http://advaitasharada.sringeri.net/.
- Paramarthananda Saraswati, Swami. Lectures on Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. s.l. : Arsha Avinash Foundation, 2015. http://arshaavinash.in/index.php/download/brihadaranyaka-upanisad-swami-paramarthananda/.
- Madhavananda, Swami. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad with the Commentary of Sankaracarya. s.l. : Advaita Ashrama, 1950.
- Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. s.l. : Advaita Sharada, 2014. Mantra 2.4.5, http://advaitasharada.sringeri.net/.
The author would like to thank Mary Amboji for her pointers to Biblical references.