Do you smell a flower? Or …

What happens when you smell a flower? 

You say it smells sweet (or something like that), right?

When you put a drop of honey in your mouth, you say that honey is sweet, right?


What if it was not right?

Today I was browsing Kaushitaki Brahmana (कौषीतकि ब्राह्मण) and came across some text – interesting piece even if slightly turned around in meaning.
न वाचं विजिज्ञासीत वक्तारं विद्यात् न गन्धं विजिज्ञासीत घ्रातारं विद्यान्न रूपं विजिज्ञासीत दृष्टारं विद्यात् ….न कर्मं विजिज्ञासीत कर्तारं विद्यात् न सुखदुखे विजिज्ञासीत सुखदुखयोर्विज्ञातारं विद्यात् … न मनो विजिज्ञासीत मन्तारं विद्यात् …।
For the uninitiated: we all know there are four Vedas, right? Right. Each of the Vedas have four – let’s say, subsystems, or modules. Samhita, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads.
The Sanskrit text above translates thus:
Let’s not try to find out what speech is, let’s know the speaker. Let’s not try to find out what smell is, let’s know the one who smells. Let’s not try to find out what form is, let’s know the seer… Let’s not try to find out what action is, let’s know the doer. Let’s not try to find out what pleasure and pain are, let’s know the one who knows pleasure and pain… Let’s not try to find out what mind is, let’s know the one who possesses the mind.
Yet, the way our senses and our understanding of sensory signals work, we do precisely the opposite. We smell the smell (perfume) of the flower and we claim to have smelled the flower. We taste the sweetness of honey and we say we tasted honey. We experience (some/few/one or two) qualities of a person and we say we know a person. We have experienced a bit of life and we say we have known the life. How accurate is that?
Sometimes (much more than ‘some’ times) we fall prey to stereotypes and generalizations. we seek the sweet middling tendencies, universally applicable ‘truths’ and deny the other person any deviation from that ‘normality’. Although the passage above is about knowing the Brahman, I read it in a more worldly fashion. Think about the empathy and sensitivity to the uniqueness in the other it implies.
We think that ‘scientific’ approach is superior, but that is also miserable. In the name of science and ‘systematic’ approach to creating knowledge, we get tempted to take abstractions at such higher levels that they no longer apply to the chunk of reality we have in our hands. There is nothing wrong with grand theories, but in the name of grand theories, we misplace the actual point of interaction between ourselves and what we experience. And all the while, we think that we have a universal, objective truth. We think that ‘the reality’ is objective, and one for all. We establish standards and ‘cut-off’ s of ‘normality’ and brand the deviations.
It might be fine at times, and necessary at some others. But a habit of making a conclusion at a level higher than where the experience occurs is a gross error. While we do smell the smell, we do not smell the flower. Saying that we smell a flower is a gross denial of all the parts of a flower that either do not smell or have a smell that human nose cannot register. Think of what it means when applied to our interpersonal ties with others.
Does this paragraph not knock on the doors of dynamics of leadership and interpersonal relations?? What do you say?
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5 thoughts on “Do you smell a flower? Or …

  1. Subhash Yadav says:

    In the form of a seed, these issues have all the potential to become a full fledged discourse on how we know and understand concepts like ‘reality’, ‘knowledge’ and also a comparative study of the perennial(Sanatana) and modern approach to these things.
    The modern approach, developed and perfected by the ‘West’ begins by abstracting those aspects of reality which our senses cannot register and thus ‘consciousness'( the ‘Knower’) is the first casualty. Science began by abstracting consciousness(the ‘Knower’) from everything that exists and now, after a few hundred years is attempting to find and know ‘consciousness’, which appears to be absurd. All modern knowledge begins with this abstraction and rejection of the ‘Knower’ within and at first stretches all the senses to their extreme, to know and understand reality. When the senses show their limitations, it develops microscopes and telescopes to sort of overcome the limitations of bodily senses and vigorously explores the external world in all its aspects. Scientific Method, Logical Positivism, Technology are the fruits of this endeavour.
    As you rightly identify and diagnose, modern knowledge attempts to fragment reality into many parts,(there are more than 25 specialist doctors for our body) reduces reality to its pre-conceived notions and theories(Man is a rational animal) and after all these attempts is unable to arrive at reality. This leads us, as you rightly say to a gross denial of the richness which gets abstracted because it does not comprise and hence, is a part of our research objectives. The so called pure and social sciences are abstractions of reality as per their underlying assumptions. Our so called Management Science is a higher level abstraction created for serving the profit making machine. Such high level abstractions usually are blind and ill formed views of reality, theories of leadership and interpersonal relations notwithstanding.

    The Rishis say that this was, is and will be a futile attempt to understand reality. The outside reality that our senses register is constantly shifting and changing( Ja -gat – That which is constantly going away, Sam- sarati -Samsara, that which is continuously slipping away from us) and cannot be relied upon.
    It has a limited, outer usefulness which is respected and given its due in the form of Apara Vidya. True knowledge of reality can come only from Para Vidya.
    The only way to completely understand outer reality is first within and then without. Enter within, know and understand the ‘Knower’ and then you are ‘eligible’ to know and understand the outer world. This is Vijnana as against Science which rejects the within and explores only the without.
    The ‘Knower’ is the only constant, eternal, all pervading reality. Only by knowing it, getting a glimpse of it, we begin to understand and know and make sense of the shifting sands of our outer reality. The only way to completely know the flower and the honey (literally as well as figuratively) is to know the ‘Knower’ within.

    Congratulations Ma’am for such a wonderful brooding. When I first read it, was unable to write a long comment, finally could do it today. Thanks, also, for giving an opportunity to put my thoughts into words.


  2. Subhash Yadav says:

    Great Ma’am, It seems slowly you are being led to the ultimate mystery of all mysteries – Who am I ? It reminded me of Maharshi Ramana :
    ‘I exist’ is the only permanent self-evident experience of everyone.  Nothing else is so self-evident as ‘I am’. What people call self-evident, that is, the experience they get through the senses, is far from self-evident.  The Self alone is that.  So to do self-enquiry and be that ‘I am’ is the only thing to do. ‘I am’ is reality. I am this or that is unreal. ‘I am’ is truth, another name for Self.
    Attempted to write a long comment while waiting for my train at Mughalsarai Jn. near Banaras, but my old windows phone browser lost it in navigation. Shall write back when I have access to a desktop/laptop.


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