Monday Morning Greetings 2024 #24 – Swami’s Analogies

June 10th, 2024

A reasonable person wants to understand what is true and live by it. But how to ascertain the truth? The wisdom traditions of India generally outline three main means of knowing called pramāṇa.[1] The three main pramāṇas are verbal testimony (śabda—what we accept as true in the form of the testimony of a recognized authority), pratyakṣa (direct experience), and anumāna (inference or logical conclusions). In our tradition we consider śabda, our sacred texts, as the highest pramāṇa.


Of course, there are limits to śabda when communicating the truth. The audience may not accept the authority of one’s tradition or may accept the authority of śāstra but misunderstand the point being referenced. I therefore find upamān or analogy, making comparison between things that have similar features, helpful in communicating certain points, especially those which are somewhat abstract.


For this Greetings I would therefore like to share a few of the analogies I composed to hopefully demonstrate how helpful analogy can be in illustrating concepts that are sometimes challenging to explain.


What is Bhakti?

Introduction: Is bhakti our nature, an energy of God, or a practice to achieve perfection? It is all of these, but in explaining what bhakti is, especially to an audience not familiar with our tradition, I composed the following analogy.


Analogy: Just as there is a natural love that flows between a newborn calf and its mother, there is a natural love that flows between the soul and God called bhakti.


Comment: I was in the flower gardens of Vrindavan visiting a gardener friend when I saw a calf being born for the first time in my life. The calf got up immediately to drink its mother’s milk and the mother began to intensely lick its calf. I had an epiphany. There is a universal principle of natural love between two beings that have a relationship clearly seen in this innate love between a cow and its calf. It perfectly illustrates what bhakti is, except that in bhakti the natural affection is between the soul and God.


Why devotional practice must be concentrated, uninterrupted and prolonged to bear the fruit of realization.

Analogy: Just as a piece of paper under the intense rays of the sun focused upon it through a magnifying glass will not burn immediately but only catch fire when those rays are focused steadily for some time, similarly the experience of the holy name will only touch one’s heart in the practice of japa meditation when one is concentrated on the holy name uninterruptedly over a prolonged period.


Comment: This analogy came to me after reading in the Yoga-sūtras the definition of practice—meditation that is concentrated, uninterrupted and prolonged over a period of time.


How can the same divine energy of the holy dhāma which pushes us so sweetly and easily towards God feel sometimes so challenging?

Analogy: The same eastern wind, which is very pleasant for a sailboat moving east, is oppositional and unpleasant when the sailboat is moving west. Similarly, the divine energy of Vrindavan is helpful towards the service of Krishna and makes residing in Vrindavan so sweet. But it is oppositional to our desires when we are moving in the direction of false ego and makes residing in Vrindavan quite unpleasant.


What does śuddha-nāma, or the pure name mean? Isn’t the holy name pure itself?

Analogy: Sometimes a person whom we don’t recognize, although they are right before us, doesn’t reveal their full self and remains a stranger. But when we serve and love them, they reveal their full being as a child, friend or lover. Similarly, when we chant the holy name with neglect, although the holy name is right before us, it remains distant like a stranger. But when chanted with pure love, the holy name reveals itself fully as our child, friend or lover and that is called śuddha-nāma.


Analogies are a powerful tool in communicating principles of truth that we seek to share with others. I hope you found mine effective.


[1] From root mā, “to measure”. Pra usually means “completely”.


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