Dharmakshetre kurukshetre

After the initial “Dhritarashtra uvacha,” the first two words of the Bhagavad Gita are “dharmakshetre kurukshetre.” These translate, roughly, as “on the sacred battlefield of Kurukshetra.” Today, like every second Sunday of a month, was the largest regularly-occuring worship service at my temple, known as Gita Mandal. I always look forward to this larger crowd, and the experience that is Hindu worship, including the discourse that’s given after all the shlokas, bhajans, and dhuns are finished. Today’s discourse, like the Bhagavad Gita, started with those words.

In the past, and likely also in the future, I’ve had a challenge helping my non-Hindu pals understand that we don’t have a resident speaker, the way Christian churches use their pastors for sermons. The man who spoke today was local, highly educated (as all of our speakers are), and very kind. And he spoke on the meaning and value of dharma.

In a manner not unlike Sri Krsna’s while speaking to Arjuna, this gentleman explained that everyone’s dharma is unique. He detailed examples of what individual and collective dharmas might look like, and then spoke a bit on the immense sacredness and value of each person not only performing their own dharma as best they’re able, but also the tremendous value of investing plenty of one’s self into actually ascertaining what his dharma actually is.

Otherwise, I agree on both accounts; although, my mind kept thinking about the second part of what he said, pertaining to knowing yourself well enough to determine on your own what your dharma might be, and then having the capacity to choose the most efficient way to manifest that. After all, a lot can be said about “diving in.” You can get busy attempting to iron out your karmas and cultivating your Bhakti, but without a foundational touch of Jnana, you’re likely to just add to your karmic pile and find that your Bhakti has gone every which way. What you then discover is that “diving in” has landed you head-first in three feet of water.

Krishna also says that when dharma decreases and adharma is on the rise, He takes human form to set things back in a more balanced direction. I think what is about the laziest way of understanding this, and it doesn’t make it less true, is that no matter how bad things get, God will and re-show us a way back. I think this is one of the many amazing aspects of my religion, and one of the big things Christianity and Hinduism have in common: the belief that God becomes human.

Equally amazing is that we’re met precisely where we are. Vishnu has incarnated numerous times to help restore dharma. Look at any avatar and you’ll see that God doesn’t usually see fit to coach from the sidelines. Any avatar from any religion will support this. The Universe meets us where we need help… The battlefields of our existence. Kurukshetre… In the place of the Kurus. The Kuru battlefield. Not the side lines. Not at the palace lounging with Dhrtarashtra and Sanjaya. Krishna/God served as the driving force of Arjuna. He supplied him with strength, restoring his courage by imparting universal Jnana. Explaining all things to Arjuna, revealing the true, intimate and impartial nature of Reality, including a mystic vision of Purushottama, Krishna dove into the battle with Arjuna and helped him navigate his crisis. Kurukshetre.

The place of dharma! How curious that the place of dharma (dharmakshetre), happens to be one and the same with the place of battle (kurukshetre). I’m reminded of the Old Testament story involving three young Hebrews and a fiery furnace. I’ll spare you the entire story; you can find it here, but suffice to say three young believers were thrown into a furnace with the intention that they would be met with a torturous demise. What happened instead, as the story goes, is that divine help arrived and all involved danced in the furnace unharmed instead of being consumed by it. Here’s an Abrahamic example supporting the Dharmic understanding of Divinity taking an active role in the so-called battlefield experienced in life.

You see, the battle field experienced in every-day existence is precisely where we’re able to meet our dharma and live as we ought to -for our individual benefit and progression, as well as the benefit of all others in the form of sustained Dharma. How fortunate we are that Dharma meets us where we are and provides us the opportunity to restore balance and order in our personal Kurukshetras!

Om shanti

Samskaram, schmamskaram…but not really.

(This was written nearly three days ago, and I’m only just now getting around to posting. Ah, life.)

This morning, despite a nagging tiredness and overwhelming urge to sleep in for once, I found myself at temple bright and early. I’m glad for it, as usual. Everyone was typically composed, but the mood was pleasant and festive as we enter our Diwali celebrations. Another blogger mentioned that she often finds it tough to stick to Hindu holidays because there exists a myriad calendars. Depending on where you’re from and what the immediate culture might be like, the same holiday might start on widely differing schedules. She’s right and I’ve often felt frustrated or unsure because of this. However, in my experience dedication and patience has led to confidence and besides, as she points out in her recent post, there’s a ton of freedom within Hinduism to generally celebrate when/how you feel fit. Locally, we’re celebrating Diwali on Tuesday evening and Anakut on Wednesday.

This morning, all holiday aside, was typical for any session of the Gita Mandal. We invoked, we worshipped, we became musical and then a discourse was delivered just prior to aarti. Today’s discourse was delivered by a local devotee and he spoke on the meaning and benefit of Hindu Samskaras.

Truth be told, there are MANY samskaras observed by Hindus, and many of them hinge on a whole host of factors that determine whether you will observe this samskara or that one. I’ll admit now that I used to be focused on this, fearing I’d be missing out since I’m not an ethnic Hindu. I’m far less concerned these days, and while I recognize the religious origin of samskaras, it might be argued that they’re at least as much a cultural thing as anything else.

There were a number of guests today, also. Many of them were faculty from a college or two. Some were local activists. One or two were local political leaders. Each of these guests, it would later be revealed, were in some way colleagues of the speaker and it was also pretty evident that his discourse was meant directly for them, although everyone else benefitted too.

The speaker’s topic of Hindu Samskaras was actually quite fitting. The guests who came just for him are those who care deeply about finding a solution for groups of people who seem down-trodden and often unable to help themselves, namely blacks and Latinos. Information presented in the discourse was interesting and often mentioned that the character/quality of person we eventually become is largely affected by influences even before we’re technically people. Special attention was given to expecting mothers and the care they should receive. The speaker seemed of the mind that improvement could happen, mostly, by dual means.

  1. Expecting mothers must be treated quite delicately and must receive the absolute best care. Many studies suggest (prove?) that the experiences of the embryo/fetus while in the womb directly affect its development not only physically but mentally, spiritually, and psychologically. Think prenatal vitamins and pointing a speaker playing Mozart at momma’s belly.
  2. Patience. With enough care and dedication toward intentionally creating successive generations of more wholesome human organisms, we could eventually manifest a more wholesome world/culture. The speaker indicated this would take a minimum of a few generations.

There was one from among the guests who said many people try to be encouraging and advise folks to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps!” but what to do when one has not even bootstraps?!?! This led the discussion in a slightly different direction.

Another, from the general audience, spoke up rather passionately. She was slightly past middle age, and like so many others present, she was highly educated. She acknowledged that everything that had been said was fine and true, but she added that there’s no need to wait for generations to pass before effecting or noticing the changes necessary for our time. She asserted that change can happen right here, right now, if only the individual makes the effort. In her estimation, everything already said during our discourse essentially promoted a “victim of circumstance” to “victim of environment” mentality. I couldn’t agree more. I know an adorable young man, who happens to no longer live in my state. In addition to being young, he was often ridiculous with making choices. While speaking about him to a mutual friend, she said, “we’ll you can’t fault him for how he is. Look at how his parents are!” I didn’t buy it then, and I don’t buy it now. I know first hand what it’s like to grow up in a divorced home, to see many things a child shouldn’t, and to have a worthless parent. I’ll allow that, up to a certain age, these factors can be applied as reasons for behavior. But after a certain age, you’re just making excuses. After a certain point, you are exposed to more than the example set by your family. And once you begin having things to compare, there’s no reason for the “lesser path” to any longer be acceptable. Change is up to you. And so, with very few exceptions indeed, the possibility of accelerated or immediate change isn’t unreasonable. Attempting change from a generational scope isn’t practical. It must be brought individually.

This reminded me of another blogger friend who recently wrote a short but interesting post asking, among other things, if chickens will always produce the same kind of eggs. He also asks the same question, in an adjusted context: Love/Hate. My friend mentioned Gandhi and Jesus who apparently want us to respond to hate with love. The question here was, “But how can you love yourself if you see yourself returning hate from others with hate?” My friend was mostly asking this rhetorically, really, but my answer to this is an exercise in Jnana. Learn the nature of your Self -experience it -and you’ll see that responding to any thing with any response that isn’t love, is likely a reactional product of the ego. Bhakti alone can get a person there, too, but I’m less comfortable with that process. Applying bhakti leads to seeing the One in all that you encounter, which will lead to a change in response, from returning hate with hate to returning hate with love, but what’s happening then is essentially Jnana anyway because the result is Self realization and the knowledge-experience that neither your personality nor the personality yours is interacting with as real or permanent as it seems.

Whether the approach taken is Bhakti or Jnana is irrelevant. The point that was encouraged by the woman in the audience today, and a point which I support, is that change can happen now and it’s the responsibility of the individual. An example of how this is possible can be found on yet another blog that I just came across. This writer’s “About” page paints a pretty clear picture of what the modern human experiences, and provides an easy-to-read example of the actions that particular human took to remedy his condition and create the change he needed.

The idea behind the generational progression to humans of finer quality is better than nothing, but it’s impractical. Generations are, after all, made of individuals- which is where the real change happens anyway.

Every year the Diwali season reminds us of the triumph of Light over Darkness. I’m grateful that this victory doesn’t require the span of generations to see its realization. Sri Ganapati bless you, dear reader, now and in the year to come. And may The Lord of Wisdom and Remover of Obstacles guide you toward your own ever-blissful victory over the Dark that would surround you.

Om shanti

11062012/2

Today is Election Day in my country. My beloved had the entire morning’s activities planned out for us when the sun set days ago. You see, he intended for us to awake very early, be out the door only minutes later, and among the first in line at our local voting location. The fact that this week happens to also be the week during which he’s due into the office an hour earlier than usual made this particularly painful. However, much to his relief, I’m sure, everything went virtually exactly as planned. We were, indeed, among the first in line at our voting site and everything went really well except for the machines didn’t work at first. Apparently, the voting machines all over my county (Hamilton) were giving the operators some kind of error when they tried recalibrating them. I have to admit, after hearing about some Ohio machines being owned by Romney’s son, it wasn’t too comforting to know there was a “problem” with the machines in my own majority-conservative locale. After about twenty minutes, though, things were somehow ironed out and the voting began. Within seventy-five minutes’ time my vote was cast and my tired butt was headed to work.

After all of this, and because I wasn’t able to rest my eyes, I pulled my phone out and began seeing what Facebook might be looking like already. At that time, still rather early, there wasn’t much going on. By the time I’m writing this, it seems the rest of god and the US population has awakened and are posting. One of the earliest posts for today that I noticed was a call from Sister Unity Divine. Her post was a simple request that folks recite the Rudram today while the election is in process. Her post carried a photo of Shiva Nataraj before a background of the American flag.

 

 

I’ve heard of the Rudram before, but I’m mostly unfamiliar with it. Since I arrived at work so early, I decided to take the extra time before other arrived for a little sadhana, and meditated on all Shiva means, focusing on His aspect as the embodiment of pure consciousness. It makes perfect sense to perform Shiva pujas and do other sadhanas pertaining to Lord Shiva, like reciting the Sri Rudram Chamakam. In an attempt to access a little knowledge about the Rudram, I used my work computer to Bing the Rudram and, as would be expected, found a Wikipedia result high on the list.

(Allow me to offer a slight disclaimer on using a source like Wikipedia. Certainly, it should never be cited as credible in academic writing. Beyond that, however, it should be noted that Wikipedia has upped its security requirements in regard to who is able to post/amend their entries, hopefully meaning there’s less actual crap to be found. Also, whether one considers an entry on Wikipedia as credible or not, anyone serious about their inquiry would do well to scroll to the very bottom of the result’s page to view the “Notes,” “References,” and “External Links” sections. Even if the entry itself contains pure bologna, which is very possible, one can usually find valuable information –or sources to such –at the bottom.)

Here’s what I’ve learned about the Sri Rudram Chamakam on this Election Day.

1) Rudra is a name for a fierce manifestation Shiva dating back to Vedic times, and during that period was associated with storms, wind, and thunder. A translation of Rudra is “The Roarer.”

2) The Sri Rudra, as a text, is a hymn pulled from the Yajurveda.

3) The Sri Rudram is an early example of sahasranama.

4) Although Shiva is viewed as the Supreme Godhead by Shaivites, Shiva is understood to be a non-sectarian aspect of Brahman who manifests in “myriad forms for the sake of diverse spiritual aspirants.”

5) Within the Sri Rudram, one can find the Shaivite Panchakshara((OM) Namah Shivaya) as well as the mantra Om Namo Bhagavate Rudraya.

6) Dating back to Vedic times, Rudra is assigned the number 11, and of the thirty-three deities named in the Vedic pantheon, 11 of them are attributed to forms of Rudra.

The Shri Rudram seems to be associated with sacrifice. The sacrifice is meant to be external and/or internal. I find this terrific on account of the association between our consciousness (Shiva) and our external, material-based form. The external sacrifice referred to is one offered in a havan/homa/yagna, although in modern times everyone makes sacrifices in other ways, often much more personal in nature than a community coming together to toss oblations into a holy fire. The notion of internal sacrifice is something I’m very keen on. Humans (especially in Kali Yug) operate from a largely emotional and egoic place internally, the two often working together to create an immense and complicated cycle that proves instrumental to our entrapment in Maya and prolonging our journey toward Moksha. I recognize the value of external rituals, but for me personally the value of internal sacrifice has always been of greater value, although exponentially tougher to perform.

 

 

Sri Rudram is a useful thing to recommend on a day like today, as Sister Unity Divine has done. Speaking in the context of internal sacrifice, the entire nation would do well to consider this all day. If you haven’t already voted, you should be considering why you plan to vote the way you will. It’s a rare person, indeed, who honestly and objectively is able to look within and discern the ugly details behind the way he or she is planning to vote. Further, in the event that one’s hoped-for candidate isn’t the victor of today’s election, the Sri Rudram and the notion of internal sacrifice is definitely applicable.

It might make for an experience of growth if those who voted for the losing candidate make swallowing their pride into an internally sacrificial ritual. This is obviously easier said, than done.

Om Shanti

11062012

Is it just me or does it seem a little “not right” that some voting sites are held in churches?

I’m actually a little conflicted.

One one hand, it’s an act of generosity for churches to open their doors to registered voters and host this kind of thing. Fine. Dandy.

On the other hand, though, the USA is in many ways a borderline theocracy and for more than most of our history we’ve been our own worst hypocritical enemy when it comes to the separation of church and state, as called for by our own sovereign, governing documents. Add to that the typical biased nature (conservative OR progressive) of the churches, and the Christian Church’s incredibly spotty history (from both Catholic and Protestant sides) in regard to honesty and egalitarianism, and it just seems like there’d be better places to host something as crucial as presidential elections. Schools, court houses, fire stations, libraries, nursing homes. You name it. There are SO many other acceptable and functional locations that would work.

Ok. I’m done. Best luck to both candidates.

Om Shanti.

When 30-something men are akin to teen girls

Since last Wednesday I haven’t felt 100% well. Thank gods, no stomach or real GI issues, but a head cold for sure. I think the most frustrating thing about it for me is that I’m not sick enough to simply stay home and rest, yet the entire time I’m downing decongestants and going about business as usually as possible, I’m feeling run down and sleepy, and wondering if my continued activity will lead to a further decline of my health. <Sigh>

At any rate, I made it through the rest of last week, including one night of class and a day at my part-time job cutting hairs. Typical for nearly every Saturday, my best friend wanted to come over for our oft-held game night. I consented, although I didn’t feel like it. What happened instead of game night, though, was something that made us giggle. We ordered Chili’s take out online, picked it up, and headed home for a relatively quiet night in… making doll clothes.

Earlier that evening, right after leaving the spa, we went to a Dollar Store-like place in search of cheap artificial flowers to make garlands, and to JoAnn Fabrics’ for some, well, fabrics. And after securing our dinners, we huddled around my dining room table surrounding my home mandir’s mahamurti. Scissors, needle and thread, measuring tape, and newly purchased fabric in hand, we set about the task of creating garments for Ganesha.

Any time I think of adornments for a murti, the Hare Krishnas come to mind. Most vaishnav murti adornment is elaborate, ornate, and interesting- true works of devotion. And why not? Seems easy, considering humans are used to dressing a human form and, excluding the earliest avatars, most modern vaishnav conceptions of the divine take a decidedly human form (Krishna, Radha, Ram, Venkateshwar, Chaitanya…). So it reasons that Vaishnavs would be well-practiced at making human doll clothes fitted for human-shaped gods.

On the other hand, however, Ganesha transcends human form. His head alone makes fitting a murti for garments challenging, nevermind that His form doesn’t usually stop with only two arms. When was the last time you fitted a shirt for Someone with four or six arms? In contrast to the typical dress code for vaishnav murtis, at least half of all Ganesha murtis I’ve ever even seen dressed are usually wearing a dhoti at best, or otherwise some kind of devised wrap. I wanted more than this for the murti presiding over my personal home mandir.

So we found ourselves creating precisely-measured paper patterns, cutting fabrics, sewing, dressing the murti and assessing the necessary adjustments only to start the process again, hoping for better results. The whole bit required a lot of attention and concentration, and patience as it was pretty much trial and error. We went through a number of prototypes before finally calling it quits. I can honestly say that garland making is a walk in the park compared to this.

The difficulty and complexity involved in this task, though, is was made it a true endeavor of bhakti. Only just tonight, alone in my dining room with the aforementioned supplies, did an actual working garment come to be realized. I’m pleased as punch, and warmed in my heart chakra, to see the mahamurti back in its seat -only this time fully dressed.

Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha

Om Shanti

Chintamani Ganesha

The story of Chintamani Ganesha, as told on the Hindu Blog
Chintamani Ganesh is worshipped at the famous ChintamaniTemple at Theur in Maharashtra and is also one among the Ashtavinayaka Temples. Chintamani is a wish fulfilling Gem which was in the possession of Sage Kapila. The holy saint used it only for Dharmic purposes. Ganapati got the name after he protected the Gem.
Once, Gana, the prince of the kingdom, came to the ashram of Sage Kapila with his army. Sage welcomed the prince and the army and served tasty food to the entire army.
Gana wanted to know the secret of Sage Kapila that made him produce such tasty food instantaneously.  He then came to know about the Chintamani Gem. He then wanted to possess it. But Kapila declined as he knew that the prince would use it for evil purposes.
Gana forcibly took the gem away from the ashram.
Sage Kapila then prayed to Ganesha for his help. Being pleased with Kapila’s devotion, Ganesha first attempted to warn the prince through a dream. But Gana was adamant. He decided to kill Sage Kapila for seeking the help of Ganesha.
Ganesha and Siddhi Devi appeared at the ashram and to protect the hermitage, they created a thousand-armed warrior named Laksha. He destroyed the army of Gana. Ganesha then killed arrogant Gana and retrieved the gem.
Sage Kapila asked Ganesha to keep the Gem as only He could protect it. In memory of the divine incident, Ganesha took the name of Chintamani and resided at Theur in the form of Chintamani Ganapati.