Just about every religious path or sect or denomination has its own set of rules. One of the first things I read when initially learning about Hinduism is that there are more religions WITHIN this religion than there are outside of it. Doesn’t that sound strange? How can a religion contain multiple others? Well, it’s true. In Islam you simply have the Quran. In Christianity, you have one very small religious text (the Bible). Even Mormons, who recognize the Old Testament, New Testament, and what I’ll call the Next Testament and have probably the most reading to do of all Christians, have only a tiny amount of scriptures to pull from compared to Hindus.
Hinduism has been around since… forever. It predates every other living religion today and at it’s essential core it remains incredibly and fantastically applicable to modern life and in harmony with science. Most other religions alive today have to backtrack a bit to realign what they say they believe so that they can harmonize with modern life and science, but the truth of Hinduism is that many recent scientific advancements support what Hindu texts have said for many thousands of years. (To be clear, going back 2,000 years or 4,000 years is cake to the Hindu. When most religions were just opening their eyes to the light of day, Hinduism long surpassed the crawling and walking phases and was running marathons.)
Regardless of the development of any specific religion, you’re bound to find a set of “rules.” Those within the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, among others) are very familiar with this, and it could even be said that they specialize in rule making. The problem with that approach is that rules suck. They aren’t usually as universally applicable or universally enforceable as we think. People, historically, break rules. Too often our rules are just not realistic.
But they still have value, right? If nothing else, they provide a basic foundation which can in turn either be built on or be jumped from. Whether those rules are built upon or jumped from depends entirely on the individual and it shouldn’t be forgotten that your personal choice to build or jump from a set of rules in no way naturally applies to whether someone else does the same action with the same set of rules.
In Sahaj Marg, we have what are termed The Ten Maxims. When you google the definition of what “maxim” means you get, “a short, pithy statement expressing a general truth or rule of conduct.” For anyone not familiar with what “pithy” means, it means concise. That definition helps illustrate exactly what our Maxims mean to us (or to anyone). Our practice traces back on some level to Sage Patanjali who is known for his sutras – these Maxims are, in their own way, sutras. They are short, concise, general truths / rules of conduct, and tie together nicely like sutras would. Another layer of this was found by scrolling through additional google results – one of which mentions that a maxim is subjective. For anyone not familiar, subjective means, “based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions.” So when you smoosh all that together you end up with a meaning that encompasses the idea of a general (universally applicable?) truth or rule of conduct that is concise (not bogged down) and able to pass through any individual’s subjective filter. This understanding is immensely valuable because structure is provided and so is freedom.
I start from where I am, I go to where I am able, and I grow the whole way. Equally important, and not to be forgotten, is the knowledge that none of that applies to you. Even if you follow the same Maxim (or surat, or sutra, or commandment, or whatever…), my experience and application is good only for myself and yours for you. It’s that simple and with that I’ll mention Sahaj Marg’s Maxim 1.
The first maxim reads, “Rise before dawn. Offer your prayer and puja at a fixed hour, preferably before sunrise, sitting in one and the same pose. Have a separate place and seat for worship. Purity of mind and body should be specially adhered to.” (Depending on where you are reading, the wording of the maxims might vary. For instance, I am going by a wallet card I ordered from our bookstore, but if you go to our site the words differe a bit. The essence is not changed, though.)
The first thing I noticed is that this maxim has no less than five parts to it: 1) Rise before dawn. 2) Offer prayer / puja at a fixed hour, preferably before sunrise. 3) Sit in one and the same pose. 4) Have a separate place and seat for worship. 5)Purity of mind and body should be adhered to.
This instantly seems to support the ability for anyone to adopt this maxim, from whatever point in their own evolution they might be. Maybe you can’t rise before dawn, but you can offer morning puja at the same time each morning. Maybe you live in a place that doesn’t allow for you to have a totally separate temple room or something but you can at least go to the same place in your home and use the same seating / posture. Purity of mind and body? Get up, shower, put on clean clothing – knowing that you’re headed into morning puja and meditation.
Personally, I rarely rise before dawn – except maybe in winter months. Regardless of whether I’m up before dawn, I do puja / meditation each morning after my shower and before leaving the house for the day. I sit in the same asana, not in a reclined posture, and I wrap myself in a comfortable but sturdy green blanket which is used for nothing else. That’s where I am currently with Maxim I. Others, more evolved than myself, perhaps are able to adhere to every part of this maxim. And there are many others, most people probably, who do well to complete one-fifth of this Maxim daily. Doesn’t matter – do what you can do now, and try to do more as you can as you grow.
This maxim, I’m guessing, is the easiest to gloss over. We want to know what other rules we have to follow. We want to see what else is written. We read it and then we’re like, “Okay – what else?” But this maxim is actually really important. If anyone is guilty of running a hundred miles an hour the minute their feet step out of bed, then it’s me. But I still recognize, and hope you do too, how important it is to set the tone for your day with stillness and peace and calm. Who knows what your day will bring? It’s smart to start your day with actions that are predictable and quietly productive.
A maxim that is so helpful as to set the stage for one’s day may well be as beneficial in setting the stage for the additional maxims.
Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha | Aum Shanti