Our Holy Scriptures; the Greatness of the Tirukural

Path to Siva, Lesson 20, Commentary


Within our Saiva Siddhanta Holy Scriptures the Saiva Agamas explain the basis of temple ceremonies and worship plus yoga and jnana. The Tirukural was considered by Gurudeva to be "the most accessible and relevant sacred text." In it are practical and helpful guidelines for our conduct in every day life. The point of family life is to gain steady improvement, forever, in self control in the midst of responsibilities in the fulfillment of family dharma. Meanwhile, not taking detachment too far but taking it in the sense of spiritually looking for happiness, not outside in other people or possessions, the world, but inside ourselves and then sharing it with family and friends. "We regard the writings of our satgurus as scripture."

Path to Siva, Lesson 20

Tirukural, Introduction and Contents

Tirukural, Chapter 15 Possession of Self-Control

Unedited Transcript:

[Voice recording only begins at 30 seconds into Bodhinatha's talk. He began with:]

Good morning. Today, reading from Path to Siva, Lesson 20.

"What Are Our Holy Scriptures? Our holiest texts are the Vedas and the many Agamas. [Audio begins here.] These large collections of religious books are called shruti, 'that which is heard.' This means they were revealed by God to Indian rishis long, long ago. For the Vedas this possibly occurred more than 6,000 years ago. For many centuries they were chanted from memory, then finally written down in the Sanskrit language. The Rig, Sama, Yajur and Atharva are the four Vedas. Each has a section on hymns, rites, interpretation and philosophy. Many of the mantras chanted during temple worship are from the Vedas. The Upanishads are the most popular and mystical part of the Vedas. The Agamas date back about 2,000 years and are also in Sanskrit. Each major Hindu lineage has its own Agamas. There are 28 main Saiva Siddhanta Agamas, each with four sections. The Agamas provide knowledge in temple design and construction, daily worship and festivals. They also provide teaching on meditation and Saiva philosophy. The Vedas have been published in many languages, but the Agamas are not yet widely known. In addition to the Vedas and Agamas, Saiva Siddhanta has thousands of sacred books and songs. These comprise a vast body of secondary scriptures called smriti, many of which are written in the Tamil language. A popular smriti text is the Tirumurai, a twelve book collection of hymns composed by numerous Saivite saints. Most important among these is the Tirumantiram, a yogic treatise by Rishi Tirumular, recording the Saiva tenets in 3,047 verses. Tirumantiram is prized for expressing a unified understanding of Siddhanta and Vedanta. Another important smriti text is the Tirukural, containing 1,330 couplets by the weaver saint Tiruvalluvar. Tirukural, one of the world's greatest ethical scriptures, is sworn on in South Indian courts of law. We also regard the writings of our satgurus as scripture."

As you know, Gurudeva was more inclined to write a book than to read one. He found, generally, that reading was just seeing what someone else had experienced rather than experiencing it himself. But, there were a couple of strong exceptions, scriptures he really related to strongly. As we know Patanjali's Yoga Sutras is one of those. Was the one book that he and Yogaswami had in common, Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.

He also became very interested in the Saiva Agamas and wanted those better known. As it says in the lesson they're not very well known. Why did he feel the Agamas were important? Because it explains the basis of temple worship. In other words you don't find explanations for temple worship in the Vedas, just the homa part. But not the actual temple, not the murti. And he felt it was necessary for the scriptural basis of temple worship to be better known. Of course the, the priests themselves have knowledge of it. But the rest of us, the devotees, don't.

Therefore, we put a lot of energy into getting the Agamas digitized. First we had to find them. That was easy cause they'd already been collected up and put in one place. All we had to do was find the one place they were all collected up which was the Pondicherry French Institute and then get permission to digitize them, which we did. And that took a number of years with a team of five or six. And then we had the privilege of handing them back to the Sivacharya Community and they were absolutely delighted to get their scriptures back because they had turned them all in many years ago with the understanding that the French Institute would publish them. But interest in Indology including the Saiva Agamas waned significantly in France and because this is government run institute they didn't follow through on the project. So most of the work they did was many decades ago. Excellent work but it just stopped.

And our other approach to the Agamas was to get key Agamas translated into English which we've done and we've put them on our website. Sabharathnam Sivacharyar is our scholar, priest, translator and he's done quite a lot of work. We're working on the entire Kamika Agama because it's the one that's most widely referred to in Saivite agamic worship in terms of what's done in the temple. So, having the whole Agama will be good even though a lot of it's just on details on how to build things in the temple and how different ceremonies are done. Still a valuable resource to have in English.

And then we have select portions of other Agamas where the yoga and jnana sections are particularly valuable in Sabharathnam's opinion. And all of that is on our website as we receive it. We're still receiving new parts of it every few months and we add that to our website. So you can see on our website what we have.

The other scripture, Tirukural, I'll read one paragraph from the introduction which is Gurudeva's take on it.

"Many years ago when I was first in Sri Lanka--that was in 1949--I made a vow to bring together the best of the East and the best of the West. Living with a traditional Saivite family that informally adopted me in those early days, I was introduced to the Tirukural. I found it to be one of the most important scriptures in all of Asia, so enchanting and so very practical. It contains wondrously no-nonsense insights on life, teaching us how to deal with the various feelings and circumstances that we encounter in our internal life and our interactions with others. In this sense, the Tirukural is the most accessible and relevant sacred text I know, applying to everyday matters and common concerns."

So that sounds like a book review. Strong praise, Tirukural. ...most accessible and relevant sacred scripture. In other words, it really gives us guidance for every day life and that's one of the areas that many Hindu scriptures don't touch on; they're more abstract. But, as we know in Gurudeva's teachings we need to start at the beginning and the beginning has to do with getting our conduct in every day life in order. And they have guidelines for our conduct in every day life that are so practical is very helpful.

One chapter, I'll just mention. First I'll tell the story:

Family was having a darshan session with me in the Guru Peedam. Husband and wife and two young boys, probably around 3 and 5, 4 and 6. And the boys had just attended the puja and so just as is the case, young children can only sit still so long. They can't come in and sit still in the Guru Peedam for another hour and a half. So they were running around a bit and the husband was a little bit off center because of that and apologized. And then he made the statement, he said: "You know before I was married I was a much calmer person."

So that reminded me of the chapter on "Possession of Self-Control" and one verse in particular:

"More imposing than a mountain is the greatness of a man who, steadfast in domestic life, has mastered self-control."

So it's easy if you're living by yourself to be self-controlled but if you have two young boys running around all day long then it's somewhat harder. So Tiruvalluvar saying, you know, if you can master that it's quite an accomplishment. You're mightier than a mountain.

And that is the point of family life is to gain self control in the midst of all of those responsibilities, in the midst of all of those family members and friends, to be able to be as self controlled as if you were just by yourself. That's the goal of self control and it's, we just need to keep that in mind. And, as you know, in Gurudeva's teachings, we don't try for perfection. We simply try for improvement. And we should be able in various areas of self control to see, if we compare ourselves now to a few years ago we should be able to see improvement. That's the goal is steady improvement.

Gurudeva said, even in his latter years he said: "I'm still working on improving certain things inside." Not on the outside but inside. Talk to the devas better, do this better, do that better. Never stopped improving himself which is a wonderful attitude to have. There's always some area in our outer actions or inner life that we can improve. And to identify those areas and keep working on them, forever, that's really taking the spiritual path seriously.

The other aspect, another aspect of the Tirukural is its division into two types of dharma. Family dharma and renunciate dharma. Illavaram [family life], turavaram [renunciate life]. Arum is the ancient Tamil word for dharma.

And, in general, they're confused. The difference between them is not clear and some of the renunciate attitudes end up in householder life or among young Hindus. They think they're supposed to be doing it in their concept of what they're supposed to be doing. So a simple way to understand the difference is you just look at the chapter titles, just a couple from the householder section. "Hospitality" very important practice. "Avoidance of Covetousness, Envy and Forbearance. Virtuous Conduct. Gratitude." Then toward the end there's one on "Fame" and two on "Charity." And in that section, the only way you become famous is through charity. That's the goal is, your charity is so extensive you're, you have a reputation in the community for being an unusually charitable person and that's the kind of glory or fame "pukal" that we want.

Then you just look at the last four in the renunciate section: Impermanence of All Things, Renunciation, Knowledge of Truth, Eradication of Desire. Sounds like a renunciate life, right? But sometimes family people feel they're supposed to have the attitude that all things are impermanent, the world is unreal. We should be detached from the world. So, if we take that too far then we can't fulfill family dharma correctly because we have to be attached to our profession, attached to our family members, take it seriously. Can't see it as unreal.

But, we want to be detached in a certain sense. The main one that I emphasize is detachment from looking at the world as giving you happiness. That's the major detachment. We don't want to be looking outside ourselves for happiness in other people or in possessions. That's being attached to the world in a way we don't want to be attached. We want to look for happiness inside ourselves and then share that with family and friends. So, the happiness needs to come from the inside, or we don't want to be looking outside for it. That's the major way that a spiritual person needs to look at the world that's different than someone who's not spiritual. We're looking for happiness inside of us and then we're sharing it.

Well, thank you very much.

Photo of  Gurudeva
The older you get, the more disciplined you should get, the more sadhana you should perform as you drop off the extraneous things of the world.
—Gurudeva