My head is swimming with the words of the book that I have just finished reading. I look at the world around me, wondering if it is all a mirage, as unreal as the dream I dreamt last night. Just as the sun dispels the early morning mist before me, will the blessing of God dispel the veil of Maya one day? Will I be able to see and feel the oneness of the universal consciousness then? I ask myself questions for which there are no certain answers.
My fey mood has been triggered by an account by Dr. Eben Alexander of his Near Death Experience (NDE) in his book called ‘Proof of Heaven’. I have long followed this genre of books; the first time I read on this subject was nearly 18 years ago and I have continued to read on and off since then. These books are first-person accounts of people who have been close to death or have died and then been revived. They talk of their spiritual journey before and during their ‘death’. What did they see? What did they experience? I am always fascinated by these accounts though I am far from being a morbid person. I wonder, am I looking for confirmation of my own beliefs in these books?
Obviously, NDE accounts vary in credibility. There are some which are self-glorifying (I was ‘the chosen one’ syndrome), others are too denominational to be credible (my faith gets into heaven, all else in hell syndrome). Then there are the scientific explanations which explain away NDEs as synapses firing in a dying brain, an alteration of brain chemistry. Still, the commonality of experiences often give me pause and I have always kept an open mind. This last book I read seems the most convincing because of the credibility of the witness, a Neurosurgeon from Harvard, and that when he was in a coma for a week with bacterial meningitis, his neocortex (the area of the brain responsible for conscious thought, sensory perception, language etc) was not functional.
So what did he experience? Many things, but some things resonated more with me than others. He says that in that other place ‘everything was distinct, yet everything was also part of everything else’. This is one of my core beliefs, that we are one and all is God Sarvam Brahmamayam. He describes the presence of a Being, ‘a brilliant orb’, which was ‘omniscient, omnipotent, and unconditionally loving’ and which was of ‘infinite vastness’. This resembles the ultimate Brahman of the Upanishads who is ‘eternal, omnipresent, free from all changes, self sufficient, not composed of parts, self-effulgent’ as explained by Adi Shankaracharya (8CE) in his Brahma Sutra Bhashya. Dr.Alexander writes that there was a sound he heard which was associated with the Being and that it sounded like OM. Again, this matches Hindu thought as in this quote from Katha Upanishad ‘The syllable Om is Brahman’.
Dr Alexander’s concludes that the brain is not the source of consciousness, that consciousness exists beyond our physical selves. The scientific-rationalists of course think that consciousness is the product of the brain; when the brain is dead, the consciousness ceases to exist. Dr.Alexander proposes that the brain acts as a filter to keep out memories of the infinite. Is this not what we call Maya?
Do you wonder that with these thoughts in my mind, I chose to listen to Annamacharya’s exquisite kriti Nanaati Batuku in the most mystical of ragas Revati? And what a song! It strikes exactly the correct note for me today. Annamacharya says ‘This day to day existence is but a drama’ . He stresses ‘To be born is real, to die is real, everything in between is just drama’. So what is real? ‘That which is beyond is liberation’ he says. For lyrics and translation, see footnote. If you would like to know more about the raga, click here.
One cannot think of this song without thinking of the wonderfully emotional renditions by M.S.Subbulakshmi. Yet today, it is to T.M.Krishna’s rendition that I am drawn and that is what I present to you. His beautiful voice adds even more beauty to this kriti.
[Alternate link : http://mio.to/IWvg ]
For an instrumental version, listen to Kadri Gopalnath on the Sax giving strength to the beseeching notes of Revati.
[Alternate link : http://www.raaga.com/a/?CL01438 ]
Footnote (Lyrics) :
Language : Telugu
I do not speak Telugu so I have transcribed them in Devanagri script. The lyrics have been sourced from various sites on the internet and aurally verified. Special thanks to Sri Sistla for an excellent compilation of Annamacharya kritis.
नानाटि बतुकु (/ब्रतुकु ) नाटकमु
कानक कन्नदि कैवल्यमु ॥
पुट्टुटयु निजमु पोवुटयु निजमु
नट्टनडिमी पनि नाटकमु ।
येट्ट नेदुट गलदी प्रपञ्चमु
कट्ट कडपटिदि कैवल्यमु ॥
कुडिचेदन्नमु कोक चुट्टेडिदि
नडुमन्त्रपु पनि नाटकमु ।
वोडि गट्टुकोनिन वुभय कर्ममुलु
गडिदाटिनपुडे कैवल्यमु ॥
तेगदु पापमु तीरदु पुण्यमु
नगि नगि कालमु नाटकमु ।
एगुवने श्री वेङ्कटेश्वरुडेलिक
गगनमु मीदिदि कैवल्यमु ॥
nAnATi batuku (/bratuku) nATakamu
kAnaka kannadi kaivalyamu
puTTuTayu nijamu pOvuTayu nijamu
yeTTaneduTa galadI prapanchamu
kaTTA kaDapaTidi kaivalyamu
kuDichEdannamu kOka chuTTEDidi
naDumantrapu pani nATakamu
vOdi gaTTukOnina vubhaya karmamulu
tegadu pApamu tIradu puNyamu
nagi nagi kAlamu nATakamu
eguvanE SrI vEnkaTEshvaruDElika
gaganamu mIdidi kaivalyamu
This day to day existence is but a drama. That of which we have but a glimpse (is seen yet unseen) is liberation.
To be born and to die, these are real (truth). In between these two events, all that we do is drama. That which is right in front of us, is the universe. That which is the ultimate end, is salvation.
The food and drink we consume, the clothing we wear, this conjured up things we do is is all drama. When you cross beyond these, there is salvation.
Our sins never reduce. The good-deeds to be done are endless. All these laughable time-bound acts are drama. The one who is in the higher place is Sri Venkateshwara, beyond the skies and the universe is salvation.