The Elephant in the Room


20131107 was a Thursday. I don’t write about these things very often, but I had an experience during that evening’s puja and when I shared tidbits about it with a friend, I received encouragement that this end up bloggered. So here you have it… To be clear, my daily pujas are REALLY simple. Short and sweet. I think the most the whole ordeal only ever really takes is something around 15-20 minutes. On particularly “holy” days, I do a bit more in terms of worship.

Last night was only different from any normal week night puja in that my home mandir has been newly decorated with some white Xmas lights. I’ve done this before and really enjoy the warm, glowing effect it has on the entire temple room. But that’s not entirely true about last night’s puja only being different because of Xmas lights. Last night was also different because “something” happened. When I mentioned this to my friend, I think I put it in terms of a “visitation” but the closer reality is likely that it was more of a “clarification.”

My home mandir currently

My home mandir currently

I’m sitting before the mandir like always, doing the ritual like always. I recall a certain point in the process when I almost suddenly felt like I wasn’t alone. My immediate perception was that Shri Ganesh-ji had “arrived” and was in the room with me. Mind you, the beginning of every puja involves an invocation, so technically He’s always present during puja. I call to Him. He arrives. And I worship. This time however, the air in the room felt like it was more occupied than usual.

Toward the end of the puja I spend time in contemplation, dhyana, japa. It was at this time that I felt particularly aware of the room and everything happening in it. The glow from the mandir was pleasant. The asana I had wrapped myself in was hugging. The incense, a recent Diwali gift from my bahin in Atlanta, smelled great. For a very short time I seemed to feel the vibrations from the shlokas and other things intoned during the puja – as if they were reverberating throughout the room still. Then suddenly, and very sweetly, I realized that I wasn’t alone in the room. My first thought was something like, “Whoa-shit! Ganesha’s here big time!” The only form of Ganesha that I actually saw was the Vira-Ganesh murti in my mandir, but I really felt another, far-fuller, Presence.

Some readers are likely entertaining thoughts like, “This kind of stuff is all in his head.” And, I believe, that is the truth. Now, before anyone gets all huffy and puffy on me, let me say that I’m not implying that Ganesh is imaginary. What I intend to say instead is that Ganesh and I are essentially non-different and what I really, truly, and actually felt then was my Self.

I recall Shri Eckhart Tolle telling of a time when he was at his lowest and had grown suicidal. One of the last thoughts he recalls from the moments before he planned to go through with the act was “I cannot live with myself.” Strangely, right then, it dawned on him that there were two entities in that thought. There was first the “myself” that couldn’t be lived with and then there was also the “I” that seemed to be speaking and could no longer tolerate an existence with the “myself.” He questioned right then who was the “I” that couldn’t live with his “myself.” It was then that he realized that there is a component of who he is that isn’t touched by the misery of the “myself” and had grown weary of experiencing that misery.

Some would maybe say that this sounds a little like a schizophrenic break, but the reality is: We are not our mind.

The mind is an immensely powerful thing. And the ego, necessary for functioning in this life, maintains an incredibly close relationship with the mind. One of the results of this relationship is that we begin identifying with our thoughts and consequently believe that we are our mind – or that our thoughts reflect our truest selves. It’s not true.

There’s a saying, which this post is titled after, that mentions “the elephant in the room” and references something not spoken about, but potentially quite obvious. The elephant felt to be in the room with me during the final moments of last night’s puja is That. This elephant could well be called Ganesha. It would just as well be called my Self – the timeless spark of God that lives in each of us. The “I” that lives with “myself.” It’s very much like “the elephant in the room” because it’s not spoken of hardly ever, yet it’s all that there really is. I suppose within the Advaita Hindu view of things, this elephant is in the room and pervades the room, and IS the room. I often am able to separate my mind/ego from who I am – even to the point that I can watch the mind/ego function, and as Tolle says, it’s madness. But it was a blessing and true surprise last night when my Self became the Ganesha my worship was directed at – and that the connection was so complete that “I” filled the room and even surprised my own mind.

The friend who encouraged me to publish a post about the experience, when I initially refused, encouraged me to write – not so much to say, “Look how awesome this was” as to say, “Look what’s out there.” Reader, please know You are what’s out there. You are what’s worshipable. And You are far more awesome than even yourself realizes.

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Aum Shanti



Two posts ago, I began this three-part episode. In the last post, I discussed as best I’m able how my experience with bhakti cemented my relationship with Ganesha and I mentioned, just briefly, how that bhakti has led me to progressively higher experience within jnana yoga. In this final post my goal is to explain some knowledge about Ganesha (some very superficial jnana, at best) and perhaps to step a little deeper if the post leads me there.

Although Ganesha’s form, having a human-like body and an elephant head, is mismatched, His immense form comes loaded full of an immensity of symbolism and wisdom pointing to higher Truth. In fact, the most notable trait He possesses, His head/body combo, point to an undeniable truth. The human body is attached to a non-human head. One meaning behind this is to show us that, while a body will not remain alive without the brain within the head telling all parts what to do, Divinity is an automatic and necessary part of human existence.

From there, you can just about pick something -anything- about Ganesha’s form and He will use it to enlighten you. In some images He has more than one face or head. His large ears are said to not only serve as sifters, helping to sort Truth from untruth (Asato ma sat gamaya…), but also are efficient and even necessary to hear the multitude of prayers sent to Him -a natural observation considering He’s only deity within Hinduism worshipped/approached by (literally) all before any task or any other form of worship. Ganesha’s broken tusk has meaning. The varied directions and curvatures of His trunk also possesses esoteric knowledge. The position of his legs, whether seated or standing or dancing, is also meant to be a sign to us. One obvious place where knowledge has been encoded: His hands/arms. Their number, position, mudra, and what they may hold are all indicative. His color is meant to teach us. Whether he has a consort on His lap, or two, or none, is meant to point to Truth, too. His vahana is highly symbolic. The size of his belly also tells us something. Everything about everything about everything, pertaining to all forms of Ganesha (Vedic wisdom supplies us with 32, officially), points to higher Truth. As such, the progression toward Truth (Brahman) is quite literally inescapable while contemplating, meditating on, or worshipping Ganesha.

Oddly enough, even in unorthodox representations of Ganesha, very nearly the full Truth can be found. To be clear, as mentioned above, there are 32 officially recognized forms of Ganesha. However, one other form that I’ll mention now is known as Sri Shubh Dhrishti Ganapati. There are a number of stories accounting for how this form came to be, but the most accepted or known is that He appeared in this form to a man who then made that form known to us all. Some say that this form of Ganesha is just a money-making scheme, and I suppose that’s quite possible, but I also think that’s irrelevent because any form of any god could be used for the same, and is, without automatically negating that form’s inherent value or purpose. He apparently manifested to the aforementioned man in a dream as a way of coming into our present Kali Yuga, and is meant to be an all-encompassing representation of The All, and as such is also known as Sarva Mahashakti. This form of Ganesha, like all other forms of Ganesha, is known as the physical form of the pranava (Om, Aum,…), and encompasses/combines all other major deities. One can easily see, with even a glance at the form: Shiva’s trident, Vishnu’s conch, and Durga’s lion -among a number of other notable attributes, signifying the culmination of all attributes. Worshipping and meditating on any of Ganesha’s holy forms will lead to liberation because the worshipper or meditator is, among other things, simultaneously worshipping or meditating on all other gods within the pantheon, which themselves point to The Absolute, as well as the Primordial Sound, which is itself the Foundation of all phenomenal existence (as our modern physics is proving). In this way, both Saguna Brahman and Nirguna Brahman are sought and experienced, and the wheel of samsara transcended.

Sri Shubh Dhrishti Ganapati

In my beginning with Ganesha, in part because of His fantastic form, I found devotion to Him to come quite easily. The entire last post somewhat detailed my journey with bhakti, which was then the primary and elementary form of my religion. Bhakti, being my starting place, is what led me to familiarity with karma yoga and then to an ever-deepening experience of jnana yoga. For me, this progressed naturally: Developing bhakti enables the potential for me to see That (Brahman, Atman, Ganesha, Krishna, Vishnu, God, myself…whatever label I attach to that which I’m devoted) in each conscious entity I encounter. Also, the realization and experience of It’s omnipresence leads naturally to modified, corrected, and elevated behavior, which includes behaviors of the mind/intelligence (read: practicing karma yoga). No joke: Try seriously believing that everything you encounter is pervaded by that One to which you’re devoted and still behave as you did before that realization. I’ll be bold and say that if you’re able to behave as you always have, you’re not only not really seeing that to which you’re devoted in others, but also you’ve yet to even taste bhakti -even if the taste is otherwise only fleeting.

With “Step 1” and “Step 2” partially under my belt (at least theoretically), the stage is set for “Step 3” : Jnana Yoga. When you take the fire provided by yoga of devotion (bhakti) and add to it the wood of karma yoga, you find yourself surrounded by the other-worldly glow of Jnana. Many people stop understanding what jnana is after scratching its surface. This is why some are fine believing that jnana (“knowledge” with a miniscule k) leads to bhakti/karma. That’s an incomplete understanding of what jnana is, and in that light it’s easy to conclude that “learning what’s right” (jnana) allows one to better perceive The One, and then enables true and full devotion, resulting in liberation at the feet of the Lord.

Jnana is more than mere “knowing.” It’s knowing with a magiscule K. When one’s devotion (bhakti yoga) and devotional actions (karma yoga) are effectively used to still more and more samskaras, the wisdom inherent in one’s atman appears increasingly clear to the mind. With this settling of samskaras the mind is able to perfectly reflect back to the atman the Image of Itself. This is an experience of jnana -Truth(one’s soul) knowing/seeing Truth(that soul’s Source) clearly. The experience is of a ridiculously indescribable, transcendent, and blissful Consciousness which is the truest essential nature of the atman/paramatman/Brahman. This is Sat-Chid-Anand and this is Brahman.

Om shanti

Star: Three/Seven, The Soul and its universality

The third, official/unofficial start of Hinduism is the Soul.

The basics of this star include:

  • Universality of the existence of souls
  • All living beings have “soul” -not just humans
  • The same life, which is Atman/part of Brahman, exists in all living beings
  • Soul is indestructible
  • The whole Universe is one(family)

Earlier in his booklet, Thatte mentions Purusha and Prakruti. The soul is the Purusha of a being. Since the soul is essentially a living entity’s Atman, which itself is a small part of the Ultimate Brahman, and since every living thing has soul, all things have the same foundational essence and are thereby connected. Hence the Vedic sentence, “Vasudev’ Kutumbhakum.” Universal Family. Hinduism believes that the whole Universe is an intimately-connected family.

All living things have soul, which can also be called Self or jiva. All soul is part of the Universal Consciousness, aka Brahman. It’s because of this that all that is living must be treated with care and respect. This is the basis of environmental sensitivity which is embedded in Hindu philosophy.

What happens to the Atman when one dies?

You must first understand that a person dies because the Atman leaves the body, not the other way around. Once He has left the body, it is dead. The Bhagavad Gita explains, “Just as one discard old clothes when they get worn out and puts on new clothes, similarly, the Atman discards the body(at the time of death) and is reborn in another physical body.” (It should be noted that while the body is impermanent at best, Hinduism places great emphasis on physical well-being. Patanjali’s Yoga Shastra/Sutra is a great resource for this!)

The life form the Atman takes upon rebirth is determined by a staggering number of factors, not least of which is the Atman’s store of karma yet to be worked through as well as the condition/focus of one’s mind at the moment of death. It has supposedly taken “several million cycles of birth, death, and rebirth” to experience life as a human. Some believe that it’s possible for the Atman to regress to a lower life form, depending on one’s actions/karma. This is something I’m not sure I agree with entirely.

It seems to me that, if there is a hierarchy of life(surely based on the development of consciousness), it isn’t a two-way street. Evolution, whether physical or spiritual, must surely be a process that leads to ever-better states of existence, with no choice of going back really. So, I don’t see reincarnation as a matter of forward/backward movement of the Atman in its development. I see it as a matter of how much or how little the Atman progresses compared to what the potential for progress is. A life lived with intentionally more effort placed on improvement(punya- good deeds, etc…), versus the opposite which would be a life lived with tons of paap(badness) is more likely to know further and faster advancement.

This alone would constitute “heavenly” reward in the form of increased nearness to moksha/mukti/samadhi(freedom from the samsaric cycle of birth and rebirth), as opposed to the relatively hellish “punishment” of another turn around the wheel.

Thatte’s practical take-aways in this chapter include: We all have a soul and it’s because of this that we’re all connected. It’s because of this connection that we should strive to treat others with compassion and empathy. And although he doesn’t go much into these, he also claims as take-aways: You create your own heaven or hell. As well, we can train ourselves to control the desires generated by our senses. Controlling these desires isn’t the same as denying them, rather it means that the intellect is in charge of using the mind to control one’s senses.

Hinduism’s Second Star

The second star designated in Thatte’s booklet is that of Advaita, NonDualism. This is huge for me. From my earliest memories I’ve been spiritual. Winter has always been my least favorite season, but as a young child I can recall looking out my parents’ front door windows at snow swirling down. I sensed the wind. I felt a hint of the temperature on the cold glass. I saw flake after flake swoosh to the ground or a tree branch and pile up on the flakes before it. All of this is very superficial and something anyone can see, but I saw Something behind all those aspects of a snowfall. I had no idea what to call that Something because the family I was born into isn’t religious, but I perceived It no less. For me now, the saddest part of that memory is that I assumed that Something was on the other side of the front door’s window. It must be out there.

As I entered my teens, I familiarized with Christianity through the means of a local Baptist church. I’ll spare the many details of this part of my life. For what seemed like a long time this new chapter satisfied me religiously and spiritually. Still, as with my early childhood, That was external. It should be noted that within every branch of every Abrahamic faith, the vast majority have a very orthodox understanding of an external God. This trait, in my estimation, is a defining characterist of those streams of humanity’s perception of the divine, and frankly I feel this is a sad testament to the state of human affair in recent millenia.

If the Abrahamic faiths can be noted for their distant god, surely the Dharmic faiths should be noted for the opposite trait as something which is equally defining. This is where Advaita/NonDuality comes in and is also why it’s particularly important to me.

“Advaita Vedanta maintains that everything is derived from Brahman and Brahman resides in everything. The Upanishads teach us that the world comes from Brahman and returns to Brahman.” (Thatte, 2010)

All throughout most of Hindu theology nowdays one encounters the notion of Atman. Invariably, this is presented as the human soul and is essentially defined as a spark of the Divine which resides in every entity. This Atman comes from Brahman in the same way a spark comes from a fire. It’s because of this, that hindus have the mantra/prayer, “Aham Brahmasmi,” “I am Brahman.”

Thatte goes on to explain that it’s because of all this that one does not need an external medium to seek God. Because your deepest Self is nondifferent to God, knowing your self(aka self-realization) automatically is synonymous to knowing God.

This is phenominal. Truly, I believe the Abrahamic faiths, at their cores, teach this. Today though, it’s much tougher to discern that from their doctrines. Part of why this is amazing is that it allows the flood gates to open for the experience of God. If God naturally resides in me then I don’t must follow some prophet, else I’m damned. Each person is free, even before the grand self-realization process has begun, to find their own path Home. In my opinion, this is foundational for any real and true spiritual or religious effort. Also, on a very personal level, the fact that this is(currently) a huge difference between Hinduism and the Abrahamics is enough for me to sense the truth there. My time with Christianity didn’t end well or quick, really, and while I honestly hold no actual grudges against individuals I can’t help but find comfort in anything that isn’t Christianity.

Back to the booklet…

Thatte’s practical take-away for this star’s chapter is that: Since each of us is essentially Atman, all should be treated with respect and reverence, just as we’d treat the Supreme Being.

Star three is somewhat a continuation of this star. It deals more with the Sould and its universality.

Om Tat Sat Om