Yantras, Mantras, & Murtis – OH MY

I’ve been thinking about something lately. Transcendance. I’ve known of or have been a part of a number of groups who ultimately forego all images of the Divine – not unlike Muslims. The Sahaj Marg is a prime example: Clearly Hindu. And yet essentially shuns all images of the Truth and has even been known to resist the label of “Hindu.” The reasoning, in digest version, is that these end up being things that bog down the human soul’s progress toward growth. Since attachments are essentially what keep us here, no murtis mean one less attachment.

Of course, everyone recognizes the value of an external focus. In the context of spirituality, or personal development in general, we (at least) start out being helped by external focus points. We pray to crucifixes, or statues, among other ritualistic suchery. In the beginning, this serves us well. It helps us to bring ourselves out of the claustrophobic encasement built by the mind and ego. First we learn to recognize Truth as separate from ourselves – in God, in our religion, in humanity. And as we grow that recognition, and serve It, we (hopefully) eventually come full circle and realize that the Self we see in God, our religion, in humanity – is within us. In fact, IS us. Sometimes you have to leave home in order to return. This can, of course, lead to issues if one fails to continue growing and persistently relies on that Other. As long as that Other is viewed as the Other and not one’s Self (which would change everything entirely), peace can never fully be realized. The Other is what this post is meant to be about.

In Hinduism, one has more freedom than anywhere else to choose their path to God and that includes the Shape they perceive God to have. Resultantly, Hinduism arguably offers the widest range of established Shapes. The Shape I’m most inclined toward, at least currently, is Ganesha.

I’ve been reading through “Loving Ganesha,” by Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami. It’s a fairly immense book, although not endless. As I’m working through it for about the fourth time, and thoroughly enjoying every word of the Satguru’s, I began to wonder about all this… structure. And it came to me: What if I had no Ganesha murtis? Could I not perform the pujas in the book? Would it be useless to chant the Ganesha Sahasranam if I only had access to a murti of Vishnu? What if I knew only Vishnu puja, but had only a murti of Kali?

I already knew the answer according to my typical logical workings and my own personal tradition centered around Ganesha, but I decided to ask others for their input. After all, THOUSANDS of years of contributions have gone into the development of what we know to be murtis and puja formulations. One can find tome after tome of Scripture detailing exactly why you do what you do and how to do it. Why does one use red flowers in Ganesha puja as opposed to dark purple ones? Did you know that each murti, when formally created, must adhere to very strict guidelines or it’s considered flawed? Have you ever paid attention to the Sanskrit sounds produced during one mantra or Sahasranama, versus another? You’re meant to be conducting very specific energies, and so you’re supposed to be forming very specialized sounds with your mouth. The same can be noticed in the various mudras employed by temple priests when performing pujas for the temple’s deity. From a standpoint of orthodoxy (which I’ve been known to pick and choose from), any aspiring pujari needs to know these things – and many others! – if he’s to be taken seriously by the community he hopes to serve. I’ve found that most Hindus might not know the exact right way about worship, but they can invariably discern the “wrong” way.

One source of input on this topic has come from the friend I mention frequently. Although I’m not sure I’ve put this exact question to him, the response has typically been that too much could be lost among the details and that one shouldn’t necessarily compromise what’s in the heart for the sake of the ritual itself. In theory, I’d agree with this. It’s a little more bhakti-centric than I was hoping for and than I am inclined to accept entirely, but the meat of that answer is something good for chewing.

To gain additional perspective, I took this question to a closed Facebook group I belong to for LGBT Hindus. Initially, some seemed puzzled by my question. This is almost certainly my fault, as I tried to keep the wording to a minimum for the sake of brevity. Some answers received were quite general and along the lines of, “Whatever your tradition allows is fine.” Yep. That’s true. No argument there. Additional sentiment received was similarly bhakti-centered, “You can worship any form of God through any form of God, as long as your heart is in it.” Fine. Fair enough. Again, I don’t disagree.

Still, I’m looking for something more substantial than heart-felt emotion. Something more calculated – like Hinduism itself. After all, the very religion we Hindus adhere to isn’t exactly a religion of the heart. I mean, sure, it is. But to say Hinduism is a religion of the heart would be an incredible disservice. Anywhere one looks within Hinduism, we see structure and knowledge. THIS is the house we Hindus live in. Everything, literally everything, is precise. The Sanskrit language we speak and chant in, mudras, yantras, mantras, and yes, the very shape of our temples and murtis are all exactly and precisely and concretely revealed and formulated. The rishis didn’t “feel” or “love” Sanskrit mantras into being. Mantras have a scientific and verifiable connection to the universe. The rishis transcended emotion and tapped into these deep, real, and concrete mysteries and just as systematically provided them to us. I digress?

So what if we were to ignore the structure provided for us by our beloved rishis? Would that mean Ganesha puja performed with a Hanuman yantra or a murti of Brahma is negated? If it doesn’t mean that, then what is the exact value of the effort (aka those very yantras, mantras, and murtis) of those rishis thousands of years ago and what does that mean for the current and future face of Hinduism? Could there be detrimental effects of this kind of mish-mashing? There are certainly tales of malevolent effects of misused, or even just mispronounced, mantras – even including spinal paralysis!

If I can say this without sounding condescending, I think the group I posted this question in isn’t used to questions that force one to go so deep into the value of things. In fact, 99% of the entre response thread that resulted was contributed by a Kraishnav who spent two-thirds of his entire effort in the conversation simply trying to convert me to his sect, saying that I should not only read the Gita “AS It Is,” but that my question is bogus and all worship of the so-called demi-gods goes to Krishna anyway. I really wanted to spit.

At any rate, a concrete and educated answer from other sects remains elusive and my hope for a substantial dialogue with others to deeply discuss this remains unfulfilled. Maybe I’ll try again later.

Om Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Om Shanti

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Gayshnava

Taken from Google Image search, "Gay Hindu"

Taken from Google Image search, “Gay Hindu”

Friday was an interesting day for me. The week has pretty much flew by, although Friday not so much. Russia’s been on my nerves in the worst way. It’s not often I recommend obliterating nations, but Russia is pushing it. Even the Middle East with all its own joys doesn’t get under my skin the way Russia is currently. In the Middle East at least they have “good reasons” for their dumb ideaologies. By “good reasons,” I mean religion. Everyone is dictated by Islam in those regions and while it’s not right to be that way either, per se, it’s at least a foundational starting point that can evolve. It’s spiritually misguided logic – it theoretically started out wholesome, and wherever it sits currently, it could also theoretically get back to square one. Russia is different though. The stuff coming out of Russia these days is just mean. Russia’s not saying that Jesus wants them to hunt gays. It’s saying its population is dwindling and gays pose a threat to reproduction and therefore the survival of the nation. That view violates so much common sense and even basic facts that I find it far more offensive than a Muslim who’s ignorant wanting to hunt gays. It’s a fine line, but a distinct one in my mind.

Along these lines, a friend on Facebook reposted something from Vaishnav literature wherein Prabhupad Swami had some pretty harsh words regarding gays, including that we’re lower than even the animals, which are already far lower than humans already. He went on and on as the devotees probed him on this. You can read that blissful knowledge here.

The best part of it all for me was that no one said, “Those are not true Vaishnavs!” One commenter did come close (he’s what another friend would rightly call Kraishnav), but otherwise it didn’t even show up on th radar. This is heard muchly within Abrahamic religions. Whenever Christians hunt people or Muslims bomb them, the other adherents of those faiths are quick to abandon their brothers and very loudly make sure everyone else knows, “They aren’t real Christians!” I’ve even heard a Buddhist monk do this in reponse to some other monks standing up against Muslim oppressors. It seems terribly egoic to me when people turn on their own brothers/sisters like that. It was nice that no one did that – today anyway.

Someone else commented that Vaishnavism is essentially “curried Catholicism.” I’m not sure that’s an entirely fair or accurate assessment, but it’s one I can relate to as having an element of truth to it.

But it all got me thinking… What if one keeps his mouth shut entirely? I mean, the whole event Friday on Facebook was really quite interesting. Somebody said something, others encountered that said thing and said something else in reponse, and then more and more people ended up saying more and more in reponse (in reaction?).

So if I have shitty or hateful or whatever views does it really matter so long as I keep my pie hole shut? My karmas are mine alone (mostly) and if I don’t project them in any manner externally (which, I’ll admit would be nearly impossible to do) then why should anyone else care about it?

I see this happen in the spa I work part-time at. One professional will be having a conversation and since the area is rather open and fluid, conversationsa are often blended and melted into each other, or at least overlapping. This often creates a “mind your own business, nobody asked you” kinda of situation. Prior to those interactions, relative peace is experienced. But is that really peace, or just relative, individualized ignorance?

Here’s what I think the REAL root of it all is: Jnana. And I mean both sides of the Jnana “coin.”

Jnana, I’ve said before, is experiential realization of Truth. It requires work on your part and no one else’s. If I want your advice to check my own thoughts against, that’s one thing. But if I haven’t invested enough work in my own Self, I won’t even really be (experientially) aware of what’s already inside me. This is simultaneously the starting place and the finish line, no joke. But if this doesn’t happen, a person not only has no secure foundation (afterall what’s clearer than your own personal, experiential, realization of Truth?), but also almost certainly has no clear idea of the Goal – also because they’ve not invested the work needed for experiential realization. So if one neglects the work that needs done, and has no realization of the secure foundation (not the same as having no foundation at all), and has no resultant sight of the Goal which would also need to be certain, then he/she is likely to rely on others in ways that the hope-filled think will give direction to their journey – this laziness is grave and is pretty much the reason the self-help industry is booming. Nothing wrong with a book telling you how to reach your higher Self, but just reading won’t work. This almost invariably means that the kind of ineractions I mentioned earlier take place.

To keep moving… What’s all the fuss about gayness and Hinduism? Superficially, Hinduism is pretty much literally the most liberating religion ever. Many religions are quite “free,” but within the context of history and orthodoxy, the freedom found in Hinduism simply can’t be surpassed.

Interestingly, Hinduism has a rich, albeit somewhat obscure, history of gayness. The Faithology website has a page on homosexuality within Hinduism which can be accessed by clicking here – and it does a fair job at detailing exactly what I’m talking about.

The site mentions the “third sex,” which everyone should read about. More popularly, though, the site also offers a few nuggets most might not know about. For instance, the Harihara aspect of God, is a male-male union of Shiva and Vishnu. This can’t exactly be said to be gay, but it’s definitely homosexual (according to a strict definition of the word) and stands in sharp contract to the more obviously hetero blending of “God” in the form of Shiva and Shakti. Also, Krishna’s own son, Samba, actually engaged in homosexual acts (which isn’t the same as being gay, but whatever) and is a known cross-dresser/transvestite. There’s also a version of the Ramayana that details the creation of the god Bhagiratha from lesbian intercourse.

Another WordPress post, also inspired by some of Friday’s interactionsw, was composed by the Facebook friend mentioned earlier who had reposted Prabhupad’s interview transcription. This post can be read here, and takes a myth buster form. In all actuality, the posted I just linked you (as well as my post here) could just about as easily contribute to the strife I was getting at in the beginning of this post.

In theory, we should all be able to hold any view under the sun about any subject under the sun, and it shouldn’t matter. Should it? Why does it? Have I already provided the answer, or do I need you to help enlighten me? Are you sure?

Om Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Om Shanti

Bad Breth(ren)?

Taken from Google Images

Taken from Google Images

Recently, someone came back into my life who had disappeared. This person is surely sweet and kind, and while I haven’t been able to spend much time with him, as another non-Indian Hindu I felt an almost-instant connection to him. We first met at my local temple. He’s a servant of Krishna through the ISKCON organization. Our time together was brief, to say the least. I’d no sooner learned a little about him, hoping to learn much more, when he disappeared. After he vanished, we reconnected on Facebook although soon enough he’d vanished from there too. Then he reappeared by means of a friend request. I naturally obliged, glad to see that he seemed happy and well. The last I knew he was somewhere in Appalachia, but he’s resurfaced in sunny Florida.

Just yesterday, only a week or so after reconnecting, he messaged me on Facebook. We’d had prior “comment discussions” wherein I’d persisted with the indication that I’m devoted to The Mother/Amma and Her Son, Ganesha. Our comments to each other felt a little awkward because he seemed convinced that I’d not given Krishna a chance, but generally these comments were innocent and superficial – then came the Facebook message.

“I wish you would study Srila Prabhupada. Pravin is such a bad influence. He is a very bad man.” Short & sweet.

The Gita tells us that one’s individual path (swadharma), even with all its potential flaws, is better than another’s. Krishna was telling Arjuna that he should always follow the advice of the Guru in his own heart. I’ve read through more than a few versions of the Gita more than a few times and I’ve yet to notice a single shloka, with purport or commentary (or nothing), that instructs a devotee to “share the good news of Krishna with everyone possessing two ears. Encourage all to follow Krishna.” (In fact, I’d point out that the opposite is the implication of Krishna’s words.) And yet, many times the case is one of proselytizing – which I find to be unHindu. In my response message I mentioned that this “typical” characteristic of the bhakti marg (bhakti is a part of all paths, but seems to prevail primarily among Vaishnavs) makes it something that’s not suited for me -although I do find both bhakti and Vaishnavism beautiful and worthy of my respect. I generally hate to generalize, but if a generalization happens to be generally true, from time to time I’ll generalize. I realize this means an unfair and sweeping application to some Vaishnav bhaktas, but for ease of communicating my thoughts – which are already tedious enough – I will sometimes generalize. I will also point out that no other sect of Hinduism has ever approached me or otherwise interacted with me in the manner specifically typical of vaishnav bhaktas. In all other experiences of mine – literally ALL other experiences – with various Hindu sects and denominations, I’ve never been badgered at all about my path like I have with vaishnav bhaktas. If you find this bothersome, do forgive me.

Superficially speaking, the message sent by my friend is innocent enough. It’s also a common occurance and typical. We all encourage others to go after what we see is the best – in any situation, right? Even better is when we KNOW something is “working” for us and we want others to experience the same. I think this is potentially noble and compassionate and is something virtually everyone does to some degree or another. However, herein lies an ugly trap. It’s one thing to broadcast one’s inclinations, in fact Hare Krishnas are pros at it. I do it frequently on my own Facebook page, and have even received remarks that for a Hindu I’m awfully evangelical. Still, I find distinction between broadcasting one’s inclinations and directly trying to persuade others to buy into them, too. If it’s not clear to you, this distinction I’m making, imagine the difference between having tattoos & choosing to wear clothing that shows them, and actively trying to convince others to get tattoos, too.

In subsequent messages, this friend has pointed out that “worship of all gods and demigods factually goes to Sri Krsna.” (There are other parts of this conversation that also bothered me, but I don’t feel they’d add much more to what I’m trying to communicate here, so I choose to leave them off.) As I’ve already pointed out, I’m familiar with the Gita and Krishna’s words. I know exactly what’s being referenced, and while I’m recognizing where this friend is coming from and the influences he’s under that are causing him to point this out, I’m struggling to not be offended – partially because I think his interpretation of this passage is skewed and partially because even before now I’ve made clear that I plan to stick to my own swadharma and not someone else’s.

Ultimately, this is inconsequential. I know where I stand and I’ve invested huge efforts into knowing exactly why I stand where I do – which is more than most people can say about their own journey. If that ever changes it’ll be because of my own personal growth, not because someone quotes the scripture of another sect to me. I understand wanting to share with others what you perceive to be valuable and beneficial knowledge, but I feel like a Muslim who’s listening to a Christian thump him with Bible verses. For one, it’s not pleasant. For another, Muslims have their own scripture, and even if a Muslim affords respect to the Christian Bible, it’s still not authoritative to that Muslim’s swadharma, even if it’s applicable. Like telling an Atheist they’re going to Hell – it’s pointless because “Hell” has virtually zero value to the Athiest.

So where to go from here? The part of my genetic makeup coming from my mother’s side (German, Native American, Catholic, Alcoholic) provides ample impulse to tell this “bhai” to go get fucked and how to do it. Some, however, would see that as mean. The rest of me, and thankfully the larger portion of my current self, is more inclined toward patience and a progressive insistence – simple reiteration – that I’m neither Vaishnav or bhakta. My patience, like my father’s, is typically miles long – but I’m not into repeating myself like this. Am I wrong in perceiving this pal’s messages the way I have? Is this just a matter of the best intentions gone awray? And if we say that, aren’t we just making excuses?

Dear reader, advise if you feel so inclined.

Om Shanti