“First a child is shown the branches of a tree, and then he is shown the moon through the branches. This is called shakha-chandra-nyaya. The idea is that first one must be given a simpler example. Then the more difficult background is explained.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 21.30 Purport)
Not simply for literary embellishment, analogies play an important role in understanding the world around us. Understanding is the building block for escaping the cycle of birth and death, for which the human being has the best chance.
Higher topics like the changing bodies, the distinction between individual and matter, the relationship to the Supreme, the onset of seasons, the illusion of sense gratification, and so forth usually cannot be taught as is, in the beginning stages to the interested seeker.
A child of six months or younger may know a few words. When crying they call out to their mom. When the father comes home from the office, they happily crawl towards them and say, “Da-da”. The natural progression is to go through objects, shapes, numbers, and then perhaps the alphabet and spelling different words. The harsh reality of inevitable death, forced separation from loved ones and attachments, probably will not be understood until later.
As Vedic teachings are meant to liberate every single person, they are presented in such a way that individuals of various backgrounds, languages, and cultures can understand the higher topics. Every person has the chance for upasana, which is coming closer to the Almighty in fearless worship.
To this end analogies are quite common within Vedic literature. Three Sanskrit words specifically get used most often, even by the Supreme Lord when teaching His most famous student on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.
This means “just as.” Take something that is known. In the Bhagavad-gita Krishna uses this word many times. The seasons are known. How they come about on their own, without anyone asking – a sober human being will acknowledge this truth. Smoke covers a fire and mirror covers dust. People have firsthand experience. The idea is to take something already understood as the starting point.
“In the same way.” “So.” As the seasons come on their own, know that happiness and distress arrive and exit in the same way. That is to say a person doesn’t have to specifically seek them out. One should not be overly aggrieved at bad fortune and they should not rejoice too much when something positive occurs. Maintain a level head.
मात्रास्पर्शास्तु कौन्तेय शीतोष्णसुखदुःखदाः।
mātrāsparśāstu kaunteya śītoṣṇasukhaduḥkhadāḥ।
“O son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.14)
A person is known to put on different clothes, maybe exchanging a few sets within a single day. A new shirt does not mean a new person. An old shirt gets set aside to not be worn again. Tatha, in the same way, the individual within a particular body is not affected by the external. The body is like clothes, and at death that body is cast aside for good in favor of a new set.
This word means “like” or “as.” A transcendentally situated person can withdraw the senses from sense objects, like the turtle taking shelter of its shell. This is the simpler construction of comparison. Iva is also the way to create similes. “He withdrew his senses from sense objects like a turtle.”
The idea is that every person has a certain knowledgebase. They have their own worldview established through experience. Take whatever they know to help them understand the higher topics. The Almighty is Adhokshaja, which means that He can’t be measured by blunt instruments. His transcendental form is greater than the entire cosmos, and in the paramanu, or atom, He is smaller than the smallest. He is still kind enough to provide some understanding of Him, which is enough to win escape from birth and death.
Tatha for point of understanding,
Needed for higher topic commanding.
Compared then yatha using,
Like yogi sense interaction refusing.
Iva also for simpler comparison making,
Three key words from Vedic literature taking.
For higher topics, up to Bhagavan to go,
Each person in some capacity can know.
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