Jaya Jaya Gananatha

As part of my “retreat” of late, I’ve been engaging in the religious practices that are “usual and customary” to me, but also have added to the regular schedule a number of additional practices meant to not only facilitate the self-imposed pullback, but also (as I’ve discussed recently with a pal) sometimes it does one good to do what I’m doing – in effort to become either a better student, a better teacher, or both.

For the last few days I’ve immersed myself “making a notebook.” That phrase is a little misleading, because the notebook was already fully formed when I came to own it. However, I’m filling the notebook with different writings, for different purposes. I’m using it to review my puja formulations, to help with memorization of the Athrvashirsha, likhita japa, and other things. As a way of taking a break from all of that, I naturally turned to Youtube to search for new (to me), inspiring videos. Below is one that I happened across that I thought to share.

Anyone who has read this blog much at all, or who has access to my Facebook page, knows that I’m a Smarta-Shaiva-Ganapatya. The video shared here struck me as pleasant and devotional, as well as accurate and educational. For lacking any real authority, it’s surprisingly comprehensive. It mentions the Milk Miracle of 1995, and two others I wasn’t even aware of which have occurred even more recently. The video also details a number of things about Ganesha and Hinduism in general that are crucial to any (kind of) devotee’s knowledge. Some of the things cited here, for me, are great proof of Ganesha’s supremacy within the Hindu pantheon. Whether He’s known as a “mahadeva” or not, whether He’s one of the accepted Trimurti or not… None of those things essentially matters.

Ganesha, in every way, points to the Ultimate Truth so precisely, efficiently, and in a manner so easy to understand by folks everywhere. He’s the easiest to appease and approach in this Kali Yuga, and in each of the other Yugas as well. He aids one in every yogic endeavor. In fact, one literally will get nowhere without Him.

Regardless of your persuasion, dear reader, I do hope you’ll view the video and enjoy.

Om Shanti

Dwindle

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One of the first non-Indian Hindus I knew was a big fan of Paramahansa Yogananda. And, aside from a number of indecent things, one of the first things he did was give me a copy of Yogananda’s autobiography. I’ve read it only once in full, and it was a full decade ago, and I can even now surely recommend any person wanting a taste of Hinduism to read that work. Shortly after reading that, and looking into Yogananda’s western “church,” The Self-Realization Fellowship, I came to know about Swami Kriyananda – the one pictured at the heading of this post.

Initially, I’d hoped (quite fervently) to one day meet Swami Kriyananda – this was a hope that died not long after even just hearing about him and the rift within Self-Realization Fellowship. Since that time, I’ve collected numerous books associated with Yogananda, Kriyananda, or other parts of the Self-Realization Fellowship. Suffice to say, my interest in all of this has remained novel, at best, and my path has only occasionally meandered across it all since finishing The Autobiography.

As a related aside, I was recently catching up on posts from www.hindu-blog.com when I discovered that Swami Kriyananda had very recently left his body. The full link to that post follows: http://www.hindu-blog.com/2013/04/swami-kriyananda-dies-at-86-direct.html

Another link, as mentioned in the one just above can be found here, and offers a little more about Swami Kriyananda and his other involvements.

As unconnected as I am to Kriyananda, Yogananda, or The Self-Realization Fellowship, I was still struck by this. Although none of this ever amounted (for me) to a real “life chapter,” I do place some kind of connection between SRF/Yogananda and coming to Hinduism. Obviously, because the two rather coincided. I suppose I should admit a touch of melancholy at the news of Swami Kriyananda’s passing, only a little mind you, but simultaneously there was within me a small, very subtle, smile.

Kriyananda had many troubled years after the passing of his guru and struggle with his guru-bhais and guru-bahins. I’m sure his spirit feels wonderful release right now. On a much more superficial and shallow level, mine does to. Progression. Just as his soul has put a chapter of existence behind it and closed that door, I feel like I’m able to also more fully do that now that the last quasi-connection remaining in connection to my early Hindu years has left.

Progress is indeed so precious.

At my local temple, when news of one’s passing reaches the congregation, we collectively chant the Mahamrtunjaya Mantra a number of times on their behalf: Om Tyambakamyajamahe, Sugandhimpushtivaradhanam, Urvarukamivabhandhanam, Mrtyormukshiyamamritat

My heart and thoughts go to all within the SRF and Ananda Sangha who looked to Swami Kriyananda for light and a reflection of the Light.

Om Shanti

Unaware

Today is Friday. All throughout each and every week I eat like an Amish person on a diet. Fridays, however, are my splurge day. I usually have breakfast out, usually Subway. I always eat out for lunch and dinner each Friday. This morning’s breakfast was Starbuck’s, but today’s lunch came from Subway.

There are a number of Subways I frequent and some are “better.” Virtually all are owned and staffed by Indians. The one I went to today is a favorite of mine. They’re always glad to see me (and, I assume all others getting a sandwich). As usual, I ordered a flatbread veggie sub. It’s a delicious and healthy vegetarian meal that I’m particularly fond of. Very few times have I ever been disappointed by this sandwich.

As my sandwich was passed from one artist to the next along its way to the register, I requested the toppings I desired. After heaping lots of wonderful plantlife into my meal I indicated, “That’s all.”

“That’s all?” the middle-aged male indian sandwich artist asked, puzzled at the lack of dead animal on the bread. “Yeah. Is that okay?” I replied. “Yes. It’s very okay.” was his final answer.

I’m certain this devout Hindu man, as well as his many coworkers – all very obviously devoted Hindus – doesn’t recognize that I am also Hindu and that this influences my dietary choices. Still, every single employee at this location has never been anything except nice to me. They always seem to appreciate that I don’t heap flesh onto my sandwich, but instead usually request extra spinach or olives.

As I sat there eating, a lesson on behaviour – on Karma Yoga – dawned on me. We should be kind to everyone. Most humans have very localized awareness, and thus also have very limited knowledge of the world around them. For obvious reasons this has been a source of turmoil in the world since humanity’s beginning. We would all do well to always be reminded that we’re simply unaware. You might never know who’s a Hindu and who isn’t (and it shouldn’t matter), especially since you’re likely to judge life on preconceived notions in your own flawed mind.

Recognition of one’s “unawareness” serves more than one wonderful purpose. First, it helps facilitate humility. When you know how much you don’t know, you’re more likely to always acknowledge that you’re not better than anyone else. (A trick of Maya, interestingly, is that those who recognize no difference among others or assume a humble role among others, often end up “better” than others.) Also, knowing that you’re unaware instantly opens you up to growth – one of the few things that can remedy the degree to which you remain unaware. Also instantly, knowing one’s “unawareness” and patiently accepting it with humility, along with the aforementioned implications, frees one from many of the fruits of one’s actions (karmaphala), thus speeding the “moksha process.” Herein lies a fine example of a little Karma Yoga leading to much Jnana Yoga… and ultimately the experience of moksha.

Om Shanti

Pratyahara

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Like ninety million other people my Facebook newsfeed is a mixture of posts from people I know, specific things I’d like to know about/from, and miscellaneous other “incidentals.” One such incidental on my newsfeed recently was a quote of the Buddha. I noticed it in passing – or, rather in scrolling. It caught my eye and as I kept scrolling it ended up catching my thoughts, too.

The exact wording I now forget, but it was something along the lines of “share your enlightenment with others,” but using more words and going very briefly into why everyone should do this. Instantly, I felt conflicted.

The role or idea of the boddhisattva came to mind. Someone is a bodhisattva who has attained liberation and also has vowed to return to a physical life, lifetime after lifetime, for the sake of helping others attain liberation, too. That seems to fit the quote. Fine. Dandy.

However, the bodhisattva clique is rather small – and probably smaller these days than ever. So what about the rest of us? Well, any reason-minded person could tell you that when it comes to something like enlightenment, as with virtually everything else, we’re all at different places. Some have more money, and some are in the process of getting more. Some have bigger families, and some are in the process of growing theirs. Some have already long been invested the intense labor of Self-realization, and some are just starting.

All of that is also fine and dandy. In fact, it’s quite perfect – and here’s why: Freedom. Because I am where I am, and you are where you are, we’re both free to tackle our respective “next step” in whatever way we think will prove most productive.

Occasionally, those who’ve already rounded one corner or the next are able to yell back to those approaching that same corner and offer advice or guidance to make that process smoother for those people. It’s not a matter of seniority, superiority, or ego. It’s a simple act of kindness, with potentially immense implications for the journey of those at a different place along the road. It’s that simple. And yet it’s not that simple. No one wants to feel like they’re “less.” The truth is, no one ever is, but that’s not always easy to see for some people. Priorities and perceptions are so easily – and so often – skewed. Suddenly, there’s a bit of a mess. Someone labels someone else egoic, arrogant, prideful, or bossy, when what’s actually at work is that those same qualities are well and alive within the labeler and are hoping to remain not only undetected but also fortified.

And so, on one hand, the Buddha is as right as ever. Enlightenment SHOULD be shared. Everyone on the journey has someone to their front and to their back. We can all help and be helped – often simultaneously. Thus, enlightenment should ALWAYS be shared.

On the other hand, though, things are a bit darker. Many won’t seek help or otherwise ask for it, perhaps because they don’t realize how much they need it and perhaps because they’re simply too egoic, arrogant, proud, or bossy to allow for the help. This makes sharing one’s enlightenment risky business. Everyone seems to frown on unsolicited advice, regardless of how incredibly warranted, practical, or even necessary it might be. At this point, I’m reminded of the passage in the Bible where the “casting of pearls to swine” is discouraged. This leads me to my next conclusion.

I’m feeling the need, and have been for around a week already, to retreat. Pull back. Introvert myself. To contract. There are a few things I need to nail down for myself, but there are also a few people who need to learn to walk a little more on their own – and actually walk. It’s like wasting one’s breath. You can share your knowledge (enlightenment) with someone all day every day, but at the end of the day if the one you gave so freely to never makes the effort to implement that goodness in their own life, and create/realize their own enlightenment, you might have been equally productive simply holding your tongue instead – and in the process would have spared yourself the sad frustration of knowing the potential, but unrealized, blossoming of that other soul with whom you shared.

Sometimes, too, absence makes the heart grow hungry. A post or two ago I shared a story from the Upanishads about a gamble the senses were having with each other. It’s a cute story with a deep lesson. You should read it. I’m about to enter a similar gamble with myself and others. I’m sure it will be a boon to everyone, and I’m sure the absence of what little enlightenment I have to share will be filled soonly. You’re about to prove me right and you don’t even know it.

All the grace that is mine to give, I gladly forward on to you!

Om Shanti and namastu te.

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Hindu Deluge

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Every culture/religion on the globe has their own creation stories. It’s probably safe to say that most involve a myth about mass destruction of life as well… a kind of reset button that occured earlier in “recorded” history. Most in the western hemisphere are very familiar with the story of Noah’s Ark and the biblical flood. The notion is that God created everything, man ruined it, and so to wipe the slate clean again – God killed virtually everything that was alive on the planet. The strange thing about the biblical account of this event is that Christians believe sin is inherent in humanity and that we’re carrying the sins of the original humans. Since the only humans spared were those who existed along with all the other sinners, it’s strange to think that God somehow reasoned that to kill every sinner (every person) except one (and his family) would someone eliminate enough wickedness in the world to warrant another shot – when what actually would have occurred is that were would be the very same proportion of “sin” present on the planet, only on a smaller scale. But whatever.

The Hindu version of this differs a bit. What’s included below is the (…or at least one…) Hindu story of the flood as taken from the Shatapatha-brahmana.

“In the morning they brought Manu (the first human and father of all humanity) water for washing, just as now also they are wont o bring water for washing the hands. When he was washing himself, a fish came into his hands.

It spake to him the word, “Rear me, I will save thee!” “Wherefrom wilt thou save me?” “A flood will carry away all these creatures: from that I will save thee!” “How am I to rear thee?”

It said, “As long as we are small, there is great destruction for us: fish devours fish. Thou wilt first keep me in a jar. When I outgrow that, thou wilt dig a pit and keep me in it, when I outgrow that, thou wilt take me down the sea, for then I shall be beyond destruction.”

It soon became a large fish. Thereupon it said, “In such and such year that flood will come. Thou shalt them attend to my advice by preparing a ship; and when the flood had risen thou shalt enter into the ship, and I will save thee from it.”

After he had reared it in this way, he took it down to the sea. And in the same year which the fish had indicated to him, he attended to the advice of the fish by preparing a ship; and when the flood had risen he entered into the ship. The fish then swam up to him, and to its horn he tied the rope of the ship, and by that means he passed swiftly up to yonder northern mountain.

It then said, “I have saved thee. Fasten the ship to a tree; but let not the water cut thee off, whilst thou art on the mountain. As the water subsides, thou mayest gradually descend!” Accordingly he gradually descended, and hence that slope of the northern mountain is called “Manu’s Descent!” The flood then swept away all these creatures and Manu alone remained there.” (1.8,1,1-6)

Om Shanti

Cake Taker

I’ll spare the full and exact details of the following conversation – which you should be warned is of a mostly medical, but adult nature, but suffice to say that I just had a chat with someone about contracting HIV. This person is “on the DL,” which for anyone who doesn’t know, means he actively lives a hetero life, possibly with a wife or girlfriend, but very secretly engages in homosexual behaviours. For the record, this DL demographic is more prevalent in non-white communities and is also one of the groups with highest instance of HIV.

**Parentheticals and quotation marks are mine.**

Dude: Bare oral (unprotected oral sex) is more dangerous than letting someone breed you.

(For anyone not current on vulgar slang, “breed,” as you might guess, references the act of insemination. The implication here is unprotected anal sex.)

Me: How so? (Knowing full and well the risks associated with either act.)

Dude: Just like eating food. It goes right into your system. If someone breeds you, it’s more likely to push the sperm out of the anus.”

Me: You won’t usually get HIV from “swallowing.” And anal sex is WAY more likely to infect someone… even if “it” is pushed out. Food goes into your system when it’s digested. HIV doesn’t work that way.”

Dude: You could have an open sore in your mouth. (His first valid point) But whatever. I gotta go.

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Please allow me to make clear on something:

In the context of unprotected oral sex – HIV is a serious risk. However, the risks are statistically lessened in the context of oral sex and ingesting semen is not how someone becomes infected in that context. The only truly threatening way someone will contract HIV through unprotected oral sex is if he/she (whoever is in the passive/receptive role) has a sore or cut of some kind in his/her mouth. Otherwise, still in the context of oral, the risks of getting some other STI is greater.

In the context of unprotected anal sex – HIV infection is statistically more likely than with oral sex. The idea that oral sex is more dangerous because of it “getting in your system the same way food does” is an enormous falsehood and is as laughable as thinking drinking sugar water will make someone a sweeter person. “Pushing it out” after having unprotected anal intercourse is equally false and ineffective. In fact, it’s veritably impossible to prevent infection in this way because even if a person DOES “push it out,” he/she won’t be able to rid their body of all traces of the semen and even if THAT were possible, infection is still far more likely anally than orally.

This gentleman is a great example of how misinformation/miseducation, or an entire lack thereof, is literally deadly.

Proof that knowledge is not only power, but also life.

Om Shanti

Christmas in California, in April

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So…I’ve been writing an essay pertaining to the importance of a Hindu American identity. It’s been a good little journey so far. I was reading some in The Idiot’s Guide to Hinduism today when I came across an interesting tidbit of information I can’t not share with you.

I say the following ENTIRELY WITHOUT disrespect to the Christians of the United States: It’s absolutely amazing how many people in this country truly and genuinely believe that America was founded by Christians and is a Christian nation. Neither is true. The Pilgrims were certainly Christians of their own kind, but most of the “founding fathers” were definitely not. Theists, yes. But not Christian. Anyone who yearns for truth and finds value in not only discovering it, but in thinking on their own can do minimal research and find this fact. The same can easily be done with so many other misconceptions many Americans “know” is true. Having said that, here’s what I recently learned about the history of the naming of the state of California. (As a wordy, this the stuff I LOVE to read!)

According to historians, the state of California is named after a dark-skinned woman warrior named Calafia, who was a character in a famous sixteenth-century Spanish novel. Aggressive, half-naked Native American women reminded the Spanish conquistadors of Califia, and of the Amazons, too, which is why they named the Amazon River after them! But where did the figure of Califia come from?

This fictional queen was based on an ancient European goddess named Koliada, who represented the winter solstice. She was black-skinned because she symbolized the darkest time of the year and fierce because winters in the Northern Hemisphere are often brutal. But she was honored, too: her festival was celebrated with extravagant feasts and lavish gift giving. When Christianity replaced the old religion in Europe, her winter festival was changed into a new holiday called Christmas.

The name Koliada means “goddess of time,” appropriately enough for a solstice deity. Her names in Greek(Kalanda) and Latin(Calenda) are the source of our word “calendar.” In antiquity she was worshipped throughout the entire Indo-European world. In Russia she was known as Kolyada. In northeastern India she was called Kalika. Hindus today still worship her as the fierce, dark goddess Kali.

There you have it!