In Search of Meaning

11th February, 1990

My dear Pranav,

Did you get my first letter? I continue with the same thoughts. Brahman (it) Exists (is). Vinoba was a firm believer in spirituality (adhyatma) or Science of understanding brahman. He believed that Religion and Politics were outdated. The future lies with Science and Spirituality.

All of us are children of Light. We are a part of brahman. This self Atman and Brahman or Parmatman Advaita or non-duality. But who am "I"? What am "I" in all this?

Vinoba left his home at the age of 16 when he was in the second year of college. He was studying at Baroda, when he left for Varanasi in the north. His basic desire was to learn and understand what Brahman is (Atha to brahmajignysa). He wanted an answer to who am I?

He clearly knew that a man is not his clothes. A man is not his hands, legs or even the sum total of the parts of his body. A man is not just his body. This is called Dehabhava You must know that you are something different and better than your body. Then you see how you are related to others. But such ideas or thoughts are like seeds. "I discover many a time that thoughts keep on developing in deep sleep. Seed that is covered with soil appears to have been lost, but it continues to develop underground. It seems this is a similar process." (1) How are you related to the total? How are you related to brahman? Vinoba's life was a constant search for the truth about this self (atman) and the Supreme being (brahman). All his actions and thoughts were based on this basic mind-set.

Pranav, you may find this rather tough. Most people will not accept the brotherhood of human beings unless they accept the fatherhood of God (brahman) (2). But let me tell you that it will be increasingly clear as you grow and think. Take your name, for example; Pranav or Aum is the original expression of brahman. It is called the first Mantra. It is a symbolic expression common to all religions born in India. All our prayers and religious ceremonies start with aum.

It is the beginning of the Vedas. It has three different syllables. A, U and M. The beginning and end of the Sanskrit (Nagari) vowels is A and M, (Ah). The Vedas consist of all alphabets (Aaksharas) and each alphabet is a Mantra. If you make words out of them it is your commentary on them. It is not original. Akshara (letter) is that which does not diminish. Aksharas are original. Words and sentences are commentaries or interpretations given by others (3). So how do you propose to put meaning into these three syllables? It is upto you. Your parents have given the mantra to you. You have to search for its meanings.

That reminds me of a beautiful story which Vinoba narrated in his early writings. You do use a dictionary when you come across a difficult word. Don't you? What does a dictionary give to you? Does it give meaning? No. It gives another word which is possibly simpler or better known. It gives a synonym. Vinoba said that in Sanskrit the word for horse is ashva. What is the meaning of ashva? No, not a horse. The meaning is grazing or running a race. What you get in a dictionary is a similar word. You don't get meaning in a dictionary. You have to search for it in life. You have to search for it in living. This is the beginning of education or learning.

In Sanskrit, there is no direct word for teaching. The right word is "learning". The teacher makes learning possible. The meaning of a word is to be learned by you. It is to be searched for in real life. We use a lot of words, but we do not always understand them. We do not experience them. And unless we experience them they do not become a part of our understanding or knowledge. Take the simple word fear. Unless you see something fearful or a car passes very near you and your hairs stand on their ends you do not understand what fear is. Otherwise you will go on using more and more words, but not more full meaning. Understanding a meaning alone changes you. You will not change. You will not grow. You will only use more words.

Let me end this letter with a small story. Vinoba says Prajapati (creator of the world) gave a mantra, "da". Devas interpreted it as "daman", to rule. Asuras interpreted it as "daya", compassion. Manushyas interpreted it as "daan", giving (4). Each one is right according to his light. No one is wrong. This is the beauty of our great Hindu Tradition. There is no one correct answer. All answers have an equal right to exist. All of them have equal justification. There need not be any conflict about the "right" meaning.

With love,


L. N. Godbole