In the last post I scratched the surface on a three-part series I’m planning to write about my understanding of the nature of the Hindu conception of God, and also where I personally have encountered the highest concentration of This in my own life. Before continuing in this post, you’ll want to have read the one before this. Inform yourself here. As mentioned in the post before this, Ganesha deva holds a particular place in my swadharma. In this post I’d like to attempt to explain how trying my hand at devotion (Ganesha = my ishtadevata) brought me to a higher knowledge regarding Truth. Right now, I’m not terribly confident that my thought processes or use of words will serve as I hope, but if you care to continue reading, you’ll have my best effort.
Bhakti, or devotion, was the first component at play in my being transfixed on the Ideal that is Ganesha. I came to know of Him almost the very instant I came to know anything at all about Hinduism. Perhaps love/devotion at first sight? LOL No, but really -probably the first two things I knew regarding Ganesha is that He’s the Remover of Obstacles, and that He’s the son of Shiva, the God of Destruction (among other things and whose name is synonymous with auspiciousness and consciousness. I’ve been meaning to make a post just about Shiva.). With attributes like that instantly my heart was hooked.
As I mentioned in the last post, I find the highest quantity and concentration of divine attributes to be applicable to Ganesha. If Brahman is essentially attributeless, and It is (Neti, Neti, remember?), then it reasons that devotion to anything with attributes best serves as a launch pad for experiencing/merging with something virtually impossible to conceptualize. You have to essentially master the phenomenal world before transcending it and realizing the Foundation of all that is phenomenal. Otherwise you’re trying to go from zero to sixty without really even knowing how to operate the vehicle. Some vehicles come with power windows, but no power seats. Some don’t have power windows, but have power seats, and so on. I want a vehicle with as many bells and whistles as I can find so that operating my vehicle happens as optimally as possible, making that zero-to-sixty acceleration not only more likely, but smoother in the process. And so, as it happens, I found Ganesha.
In my opinion, of all the prominent gods within the Hindu pantheon, Ganesha is the most striking. For me personally, gods like Brahma, Vishnu, Kartikeya/Murugan, Shiva, and just about all forms of Shakti/The Mother are too anthropomorphic. I don’t think this lessens their value in any way, but it makes them less appealing to me. Even one such as Hanuman, who has a human-like form of a monkey, is too human-like to represent something as indescribable as Brahman in my experience. In contrast, Ganesha refuses to fit most moulds. Possessing the head of an elephant, a typically obese thorax and abdomen, and rarely seen with fewer than four arms … the whole mess of which is perched upon a miniscule maushika (mouse) vahana. His form, while full of meaning that I’ll pick apart later, doesn’t fit in. Maybe this pulls more at my own heart strings because of growing up as I did: short, scrawny, unathletic, non-farmer gay kid in the middle of Indiana’s corn fields. Like Ganesha’s misfit head and whacked beginning, I didn’t fit many moulds hoped for me either. On some level, I feel affinity for His image and all it’s various traits may represent.
I think, too, much of what Ganesha is said to symbolize/represent/govern are things I hold dear. This list is actually super big, and I’ll get to that in the next post. I suppose it’s selfish, but finding not only what I hold dear, but much else otherwise kind of makes Ganesha the ultimate in one-stop spiritual shopping for me.
Shortly after learning of Ganesha I purchased my very first murti. At that time, I was already more inclined toward the Shiva side of things, but a murti of Ganesha is what I encountered first and it was almost like I was imprinted instantly. I’ve included a photo of it above. My first “mandir” was nothing other than the top of a cheap dresser and consisted of hardly more than a cloth covering the dresser’s top, a candle, and the Ganesha above. I’m tempted to say that it was during this time that my bhakti was newest and strongest. I certainly didn’t yet possess much spiritual knowledge, but I knew I loved God and I knew that for me, Ganesha was my preferred image of God. At this time, too, I was familiarizing myself with Yogananda and his autobiography, and with the Bhagavad Gita. Because of the lack of knowledge, including knowledge of the concept of Karma Yoga, bhakti was literally my entire religion. I had known devotion before with earlier religious experiences, but during this time in my life it was quite literally just myself and what I understood to be my god -the connection was palpable and real and it’s from this time of my life that I retain spiritual memories that not only are kept tucked away for my remembrance only, but sealed my relationship with Brahman as Ganesha.
Since those days, I’m become more familiar with the other faces of Brahman. I don’t suppose I could ever fully exclude any one of Hinduism’s god. However, I’ve also become increasingly close to the Ideal of Ganesha and have learned so much about Him -and have learned and experienced so much as a result of learning about Him. This brings me to the next post which I intend to deal with the meaning encapsulated in Ganesha’s form as well as jnana yoga. For now, let it be clear that Ganesha is the source of my devotion and its object, and this has brought me to new landscapes of internal wisdom.
Let me start by saying the third paragraph is going to be tremendously valuable in helping a person new to Sanatana Dharma in understanding the significance of bhakti yoga.
Your original personal mandir sounds like my current one. Though I have never felt like I needed much, it has evolved tremendously since I first installed it in my household one day while my wife was at work. You don’t need much because you must always, as you suggested, remember that whatever your devotion is directed to, it will always be but a shadow of the Infinite Brahman, though in another sense, complete.
You have reminded me of my first timid steps into the waters of this Great Ocean 🙂 Also I thank you for pointing out that whatever our Ishta-devata is, it is the “source and the object” of our devotion. The idea that devotion itself could find its very source in That which we direct the devotion TO is perplexing to many. But it is this very fact which verifies that we are not the doer. So we do not do bhakti to gain brownie points, but to express that very Oneness with the One.
In short, this post was a pleasure to read. Pranams, bhai.
I’m glad you enjoyed this one. I think thinking of bhakti as a way to express oneness is interesting. Even though I realize our devotion comes from the Source we’re directing it toward, I’d never thought of it in the context of oneness. Thank you!