Lord Skanda-Murugan

Ontological Significance of ‘Summa-Iru' in Tamil Scriptures

(Paper presented at the 35th session of the All India Oriental Conference, held at Haridwar, November 1990)
Published in Saiva Siddhanta Vol. XXIX Jan-June 1995 Nos. 1-2, pp. 50-55

by Dr. S.R. Jayavelu, Madras

Summa Iru is an aphorism in Tamil consisting of two words. Though they are simple conveying the meaning "just be", they have deep metaphysical import and ontological significance. They are employed in Tamil scriptures to denote the highest state of conscious ‘being' which could be understood only as a mystical experience. Their dialectics is obscure. While to the novice and the uninitiated they are a riddle, to the spiritual mystic they present an eminently practical stance. They are best understood through the exercise:

Sit; close your eyes (senses); cease thinking.

An attempt is made in this paper to present the subtleties and the nuances in understanding and appreciating the significance of the pithy aphorism.

‘Suklambaratharam Vishnum…" is the invocational prayer to God which refers to His all pervading omnipresence and at the same time His immanence. Being also omniscient, His Supreme Consciousness permeates the consciousness of beings. Hence it is that He is "Unarvu Soozh Kadanthathor Unarvu" (the Supreme Consciousness transcending all consciousness of beings) according to Saint Tirumaligai Devar. His Omnipotence manifests itself as the chit sakti of beings. This grand pattern is the Infinite Love of God reflected in each and every being. So it is that every being should through its chit sakti be normally conscious of God - that is be in suddha avastha or Pure Conscious state. Also, they should be loving and lovable. But due to their free will and the ānava, māya and karma malas beings veil themselves from Pure Consciousness and remain the kevala and sahala avasthas. Nevertheless, God's Infinite Love never fails and ever fills the beings, though the latter are often ignorant of the fact.

Thus all beings are eternally endowed with consciousness of the Supreme Love of God. In swapna it manifests as sub-consciousness, and in sushupti as unconsciousness (not non-consciousness, which has no meaning). In jagrat also there is the perennial flow of His Consciousness. Normally, however, there is no cognition of these phenomena in the beings due to the veiling by the malas. The God-soul relationship is a unique one and one has to come out of the veiling by the malas through the regimen of physical, psychical and spiritual exercises to be able to experience it.

The precept ‘Tat tvam asi' in Chandogya Upanishad is in the nature of an upadesa. On the other hand the mahavakyas ‘Aham Brahmasmi, Ayam Atma Brahma', Prajnanam Brahma' are truths to be realised in self-experience. In all these (i) Brahman, (ii) the soul or self and (iii) a state of being are referred to. Even the purpose of the upadesa Tat twam asi is to ultimately realise a state of being as an experience. What is the nature of this experience?

Among the states of consciousness of a being, certain jagrat or waking states are quite intriguing. In one of these states, the self (devoid of all attachments to the external world and even its own faculties at the astral, mental and supra-mental levels) abides in itself. This is the state in which the soul consciousness is consciously aware of itself (and nothing else) with a conscious effort on its part. In this state it is aware of and has an experience of itself to the exclusion of all other things. This is a state of dualism, the subtle dualism of the self being conscious of the fact that it is conscious of its consciousness or self. This is a state of self-realization and refers to the ‘aham', or ‘ayam' or ‘pragnanam' (or twam') content of the mahavakyas referred to earlier. It is the state of cognition of the being ‘aham asmi' (or ‘twam asi'). This may be referred to as prajnanam which ultimately leads to jeevanmukti or kevala avastha.

Yet another state is the one in which the soul or self is aware of God (consciousness) alone and nothing else. But the soul or self is aware of the fact that it is conscious of God consciousness. It may be referred to as parajnānam leading to para mukti or sahala avastha. This again is a state of dualism since the soul is aware of itself and also aware of its being aware of God.

But in still deeper meditation the soul is not conscious of even itself. The soul raises itself to the level of and transforms itself into the Supreme Consciousness Itself and abides in it. This may be referred to as the ‘Brahmajnānani' or ‘Sivajnānam'. This is the Sahaja or Suddha avastha. These refer to the ‘Aham Brahmāsmi' or simply ‘Brahmāsmi' content of the relevant mahavakyas.

The common factor in the states referred to above is ‘asmi' that is the realization of ‘being' either as itself or as God. ‘Asmi is related to ‘becoming' or ‘being' or more simply ‘to be'.

To be oneself or to be oneself or to be God or to be God Himself are in themselves mystic experiences which one cannot express or explain to others. Nor can they be understood by others unless such others themselves go through such experiences.

But another more mystical experience is just ‘to be' - that is simply is ‘be' without reference (at such experiential level) either to oneself or even God. Subjectively it would amount to just ‘am' - not ‘I am' or ‘God am' but simply ‘am'.

Contrary to our expectations such a state of ‘be' or ‘am' or ‘asi' or ‘asmi' is quite simple to achieve and not at all intriguing. Almost everyone enters that state and remains as such but only for a few seconds. Let me illustrate:

I have a problem that engages my attention totally. I think about all aspects of the problem one after the other and also possible solutions. In other words I rack my brain on the problem and all possible solutions therefore. But let us say none occurs to me. Without any volitional effort on my part and without my knowledge I gently pass into a state of thinking of nothing, neither of the problem nor of the solutions, nor of even myself. Still there is an awareness in me; awareness of nothing in particular; awareness of not even myself. I simply ‘am' - but without the ‘I' being operationally effective. Simply ‘am'. But after a few seconds suddenly I relapse and revert to the state of awareness of myself and other things including the problem and its possible solutions.

This state of just ‘am' becomes at once intriguing when one tries or attempts volitionally to bring about, or precipitate or reach that state. On the other hand if the mind (and its other faculties, viz. buddhi and citta) are stilled, the state of just ‘am' or ‘be' occurs. The truth of this is put succinctly in the aphorism citta vriddhi nirodhaha.

From the point of view of God, Being is itself His Supreme Love which, however, is neither realized nor reciprocated by most of the beings. Love of being is directed to other beings and materialistic objects to a large extent and towards God only to a small extent until they discover their plight through His Grace. From the point of view of the aspiring ascetic the path to kevala avastha is a state of ‘becoming' (ninrapadi) and the avastha itself ‘become' (nitral). The path to sahalavastha is the state of ‘being' (irundapadi) and the avastha itself ‘be' (iruttal): Saint Arunagirinathar's upadesa ‘irundhapadi irunkol' is of significance. Tirumoolar devotes nineteen verses for expounding the tat tvam asi mahavakyam. There are prevarications in the interpretation and understanding of these ontological phraseologies. But the truth is one, which has to be mastered only through sustained exercise and experience under the guidance of a Guru.

It will be apparent that the two essential prerequisites for the state of ‘am' are (i) full awareness and (ii) absolute stillness of mind and its ancillaries (i.e. absolute thoughtlessness). The difficulty arises because full awareness and absolute stillness of mind are very elusive. So it is that the state of ‘be' or ‘am' into which we very often pass is not deep; nor does it last long enough to be of any consequence.

Great emphasis is laid on this state of ‘be' by most of the saints of Hinduism. In Tamil scriptures they convey this great message in just two words - ‘summa iru' - where ‘summa' would refer to absolute stillness of mind (and ancillaries) and ‘iru' to ‘be', i.e. just be aware - aware of nothing (including the self), but keep full awareness. The English equivalent of summa iru is ‘just be'. But the force and full import of the words get lost in the translation.

The etymology of the word ‘summa' is obscure. The Tamil Lexicon considers that it could probably be an abbreviation of cukamāka, a state of being happy. In common parlance the word summa is very widely used in Tamil. In Kannada it is ‘summnane' and in Malayalam it is again ‘summa'. Perhaps the Telugu word prasānti is a near equivalent word. The word is employed to denote the following:

leisurely, without any occupation or work; in a normal condition; silently, quietly in perfect peace and rest; bare, without any reason; uselessly; vaguely, unintentionally, at random; as a joke; gratuitously gratis; freely, unhesitatingly, unceremoniously; continuously, repeatedly.

But basically the word is used in Tamil to qualify a verb denoting an act done or to be done in a desireless and detached way so that such act will not influence one's samskaras.

Summa Iru is a state of mind where there are no polarities, no likes or dislikes, no attachment, in short the state of Godhead where all religions lead to. It is the egoless state in which one would be in the spirit of ‘Thy will is done' - a state of complete surrender to God wherein one loses the self in the presence of the Absolute. One immediate prasāda of ‘Summa Iru' is ‘sukham' or ‘inbam' (state of happiness) which leads to peace and helps in the path of meditation.

A subtler interpretation of ‘Summa Iru is, be in such a state whereby neither external objects and their acts, nor thoughts flowing from citta samskaras (i.e. of the recollection of past acts), enter the mind. In other words neither new samskaras nor old ones are allowed to sway the self even to the littlest extent. Saint Tayumanavar says, ‘Sindaiyai adakkiye, summa irukkindra tiramaritu'. Arunagirinathar refers to this as ceyal māndu adanga.

The states of mauna, nishtai, tavam, sāntham, and ānanda are all associated with and allied to ‘summa iru'. Though no esoterics are involved it is beyond my competence to try to explain the subtle differences between these. Even if an adept were to try to do so, it will be futile for one to have fuller comprehension of the subtleties, unless one has had practical/experience of such stands.

The Saiva Siddhanta school of philosophy postulates that the soul experiences the Pati (God) or the pāsam (attachments) according as it leans on the one or other. (Sārndhavannamādal). The doubt arises whether the soul as defined above could just ‘be', i.e. in a state of ‘asi' or ‘am' without reference to Tat or twam or worldly things. The answer is ‘yes' as ‘Tat' is itself beyond all descriptions and all the attributes we give to It is just upachāra and are with reference to what lakshanas we give It, i.e. from the anthropocentric point of view. So, the soul could be in union with It without being aware of It as we know of It.

Since every thought is referred to and is understood by appropriate word or words, any exercise of stilling the mind and its thoughts implies withdrawal of and annihilation of all words and their meaning -‘pāda artha'. Saint Arunagirinathar would therefore, refer to a state of ‘Summa iru sollāra', i.e. be in a state of full awareness and a concomitant absolute stillness of mind occasioned by complete cessation of all reference to acts or deeds through words. This state is referred to by Arunagirinathar as ‘Pesā anubhuti' and ‘Urai Unarvu atm im' state. Sollugaikku illai endra yellani izhandhu summa irukkum ellai.

The cycle of births and deaths is due to karma classified under ‘sanjita', ‘prarabda' and ‘āgāmya' karmas. But every karma becomes functional only through the medium of the mind and its ancillaries. If, therefore, the mind and its ancillaries are stilled into a state of inaction, karma is rendered functionless. It follows that so long as the mind and its ancillaries are stilled into a state of inaction, karma is rendered functionless. It follows that so long as the mind and its ancillaries remain perfectly still and the soul or self is just aware, that is in the state of ‘asmi' or ‘asi' or ‘Summa Iru' without any reference to Tat' or ‘twain' or ‘aham' or ‘ayam', it is in a karmaless state. In that state it is subject to neither birth nor death. But the moment the soul or self reverts to any other state (even the state of Godhood of which state it is cognizant or aware) it gets bound at once by karma even as the moss on the water surface of a pond quickly covers up the small visible patch of water when a person withdraws his hand. It will be clear that in the state of ‘asi' or ‘summa iru' there can be no death. This is referred to as ‘deathlessness' (immortality) or ‘the great living in deathlessness' or ‘maranamila peruvazhvu' as saint Ramalinga Swami would put it. Tayumanavar, Tirumoolar and many other saints refer to the ‘summa iru' state. Saint Arunagirinathar refers to the deathless state as ‘Iravāmal piravaamal enaial Sath Guruvāgi, piravāgi thiramāna peruvazhvu', ‘Azhithu pirakka votta ‘state; ‘Uthithu āngu uzhalvadhum sāvadhum teertha' state; and ‘Sāgaikkum meendu perakkaikum andria' state.

Thus far we had discussed about the ontology of ‘asi' ‘asmi', etc. from the point of existential state of being. As ‘being' is equated with the ontological state, it negates non-being and there is no question of an eschatological ‘asi' or ‘being'. In this context it is difficult to explain the death of Christ and His resurrection as existential phenomena unless we concede that ontological approaches could cover both existential and eschatological phenomena. This is a matter for further research. On the contrary, most of the Hindu saints from Tirugnana Sambandhar down to Ramalinga Swamigal have attained suddha avastha and Siva mukti as the prasāda of their ‘here and now' state of ‘Summa Iru'.


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