33rd Appearance Day

Image taken from Google Image search

Image taken from Google Image search

In the past, on my birthday, I’ve written about how birthdays are one’s personal new year and how I use the day to establish resolutions (which I don’t ever really do) and assess things in life, set a few new goals perhaps. It really is like a January 1st for me. This year is different, though. I have no interest in setting goals or personal resolutions on my body’s very own new year.

In recent weeks, however, I’ve been assessing a few things. A few things that are actually really very and truly important to me as an aspiring/developing Jnanayogi. In an earlier post, I mentioned the value is perpetual assessment and questioning. To be clear, I don’t mean to doubt. I mean to explore and to experience and to know.

Occassionally, I find nuggets that really hit home and help me do that assessing and either show me that I need to adjust or confirm that the direction I’m pointed in is correct for me. Recently I visited a blog that is one such nugget. I’ll encourage everyone to visit and follow that blog, which can be found here. Below, I’ve copied/pasted a lengthy post from there titled “Spirituality of the Intellect.” For me, this title is fairly synonymous with Jnana Yoga. If you read the post, and if it makes even a little sense to you, and if you implement some of this wisdom in your existence, you can be sure that so much else will fall into place. There are, of course, many other valuable and enjoyable posts on the blog which I also encourage you to read.

Om Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Om Shanti
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Spirituality of the Intellect.

One of the oft repeated assertions in spiritual circles is that the mind and intellect is a hindrance to true spirituality. This is only a partial truth, an oversimplification of the diverse possibilities of a misunderstood and ill-defined (in normal parlance) part of the human organism.

The mind is but a lose term for a collection of psychological processes-drivers of a human being. It can be broadly classified into 3 parts. First the sensory mind, also called manas, which controls and reacts to influences that reach the mind through the sense-organs. This part of the mind is driven by instinct and compulsive reactions. Then the chittah, repository of all impressions and influences, also called samskaras. Everything that a normal human being ever does, howsoever insignificant, plants an impression in the chittah. At odd times, in otherwise uncalled for situations, the chittah can throw up random, arbitrary images from an semi-forgotten past. The third part of the mind is a mental ahamkara. A very subtle I-sense whose job it is to endlessly and mindlessly oppose, sometimes in a secret and subliminal manner, any part of the human being that is asked to transform itself in the process of sadhana. The ahamkara will do just about anything to hang on to the old personality including all its various likes/dislikes/automatic-movements/passions/desires/comfort-zones ETC, for only by the survival of the older flawed frontal-personality can the ahamkara’s own existence be justified. Often people wrongly translate the word ahamkara to mean pride. Pride is just one manifestation of it, equally expressions of humility or pity or even friendship (or any human relation) can also be a work of the ahamkara. Any refusals to change the flawed habits of the surface personality is a work of the ahamkara fighting for self-preservation.

From this chittah, is thrown out another aspect of the mind – the part which in the realm of pure-thoughts. This is buddhi. In most people the buddhi part of the mind is inseparably tied to the manas and the chittah and the ahamkara. Therefore the thought process is driven in a very subjective manner by the randomness of the conditioning present in the chittah or the compulsive, reactive nature of the manas, or is taken for a royal ride by the ahamkara churning out comfortable but insincere logic to justify the preservation of the flawed, frontal personality. The Buddhi thus becomes severely distorted and defeats the very purpose of its own existence. Such a mind is terrible master.

On the other hand, if the Buddhi is taught to function without being influenced by the sensory mind or the repository of random impressions and conditioned thinking, or be at the service of the ahamkara, then it can work in an objective and non-distorted fashion, searching for the truth as it is, and a trying to find the route to that truth. Such an intellect, unsoiled and pure, is never outraged by anything for agitation is foreign to its nature, can look at all possibilities however obnoxious or repugnant in complete calmness, and weigh them on well defined parameters of judgement. To do this the intellect has to slay the demons of the sensory mind and chittah and ahamkara, at least temporarily if not permanently, which is the higher aim. The Rig Vedic Rishis named this pure intellect as Indra, one who has won the battle against indriyas (sensory mind, manas), the mighty slayer of the demon vritra (meaning envelop), and hence named vritahan.

Once this pure intellect is developed and instilled and one learns to operate from that platform of pure-reason, one must ideally head for the next stage of pushing the frontiers of the mind and intellect into a higher region of functioning, where by default the intellect can integrate apparently contradictory lines of thought in a harmonious manner. Even higher than this stage is an intellect with a natural illumination and unfailing intuition, which can known things by dint of a process that seems to bypass normal logical constructs. Beyond this intuitive mind, lies a vast Cosmic Mind, the mind of the Great Gods where like a Universal game of chess one see innumerable possibilities on every side, gigantic divergences, near-infinite karmic-chains and their exact repercussions right down to the minutest details. It functions not from the premise of piecemeal analogical building blocks of reason, for such a lower method simply cannot handle a universal complexity of unspeakable proportions, but from a perspective of spontaneous knowledge that does not need to strive. And then there is a mind beyond this too, the mind where direct knowledge of Truth comes by the inalienable oneness of subject and object, of viewer and the viewed, or the experiencing-agent and the experienced-subject, where everything is simultaneously and equally divided yet undivided. There is no point thinking of it from our normal mind. Whatever one may think, whatever one can think, will be inevitably flawed for sure, because this is as far beyond the ranges of the average human mind as a normal man is to a cockroach.

The one singular disadvantage of the intellect, though, is its habit of moving in endless circles when it hits a logical road-block. If one falls into that trap, the intellect hinders the seekers progress. However if one is well aware of limits of pure intellect, one can very well use it as a stepping stone into a higher range of the mind and beyond. But to imbibe the essence of these higher platforms of the intellect, one must first develop the pure intellect – uncluttered by manas, chittah and aham, which is the beginning of the spiritual planes. And therein lies the problem for 90% of people, as the mind in most has not learned to offload the retarding, retrogressive weights and soar high above on its own wings. Therefore the spirituality of the intellect is off-limits to most, and consequently the intellect gets unduly demonized.

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Rime-n-Reezun

Image taken from Google Image search

Image taken from Google Image search

Two times in the last 48hrs I’ve encountered things from freinds who were in one way or another kind of questioning the “why” behind certain actions. I think this is important and wanted to post briefly on this.

I recall from when I was a child some discussion with my mom or maybe overhearing her remark about something… the lesson was, if you’re not grown enough to talk about your actions without embarassment, you probably shouldn’t be performing those actions. Agreed.

Embarassment doesn’t pertain to what either of my friends were dealing with (one was writing about tilak/bindu application and the other about wearing a brahmin thread/upanayan and having to explain it to his significant other), but there’s an underlying principle at work in all of these contexts – know why you’re doing anything you’re doing as well as why or why not you should be doing it.

The friend writing about tilak application touched on this. He mentioned wearing it out and abouty, including at work where it would be a bit out of place for him. He also mentioned other outward expressions – like wearing an Om pendant on the outside of one’s shirt – and how that kind of thing is sometimes perceived. He also mentioned applying tilak with a mostly invisible substance, knowing it was there although no one else did. I think that’s brilliant.

The other friend indicated that he wears the brahmin thread and that his spouse was having a hard time understanding why. A number of questions were asked this friend by many who noticed the post. On the surface, it seemed as though this “brahmin” didn’t actually know why he himself wore the threads. After more dialogue, it turns out that the spouse in question might be demanding a logic-based reason for wearing the threads – which will remain debatable. Otherwise, it’s a fairly cut-and-dry matter and an explanation should be relatively easy to provide by someone wearing the garment. I remain not entirely convinced that the person wearing the brahmin’s thread actually knows every in-and-out as he should, or perhaps he’s just a poor communicator when it comes to this stuff and talking about it with his spouse. Any which way, the numbers don’t quite add up as they should in my opinion. I’m thinking that someone demanding a logic-based reason for this samskar could receive a full answer from someone wearing the thread and would fill the rest of the blanks in for himself. That is, unless the spouse is a bit unreasonable to begin with and might be looking for reason where there is none, and refusing to accept anything else.

Whether you’re talking tilaks or threads, it’s all the same – the what simply doesn’t suffice, unless you’re cool with looking like a shallow doofus. You’ve got to know something’s why as well as that why’s implications, or you probably shouldn’t be doing it. It’s part of what sets the reals from the wannabes.

Om Shri Ganeshaya Namaha
Om Shanti

Ganeshapujana

Taken from Google Image search

Taken from Google Image search

One thing I enjoy studying is variance within the same. What I mean is how many different ways can the same haircut be performed and get the desired results, how many different ways are there to make bread, how many ways are there to skip rope? Also, how many ways are there to perform Ganesha puja? This is a question that can never fully be answered because the truest and most complete answer is that there are as many ways are there are people performing the puja. Youtube is full of suggestions, as is the Interweb in general. Ganesha puja can be as complex as you need, but because He’s the closest to the material plane of existence, and is also the most easily satisfied, puja to Him can be as simple as wanted, too. Many times, the details are ironed out for one by the forerunners of the sect he’s adhering to.

Below is one example taken from a blogspot entry, which conveniently enough also offers guidances on puja for Hanuman, Shiva, Shiva/Parvati, Krishna, and Ram.

How to do Ganesh Puja?

“Vakratunndd mahaakaay Suryakottisamaprabhaa. NirvighnaN kuru me dev sarvakaaryesshu sarvadaa.” Meaning: O Lord Ganesha of large body, curved trunk, with the brilliance of a million suns, please make all my work free of obstacles always.

Ganpati Puja : Stepwise-wise directions

Puja must be commenced only after performing ablutions. Begin by reciting “Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah” (1) Follow this by repeating “Aum” thrice. Now take a sip of holy water and invoke the god to purify you by repeating Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah thrice and wash hands. Now the puja can begin.

Sprinkle the ganesha idol with rice grains and flowers and chant Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Asanam Samarpayami

Next wash the feet of the idol with rice and sandal water and chant ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Padyam Samarpayami.’ Next wash the hands of the idol with sandal water mixed with rice and flowers and chant ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Samarpayami.’

Next offer the idol water to drink , thrice , while chanting ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Achmaneeyam Samarpayami.‘

Next the idol has to be bathed with milk, curd, ghee. Honey and sugar. Chant ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Panchamrita Snanam Samarpayami.’
After this make holy water offering. All the five offerings are to be made separately chanting ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Payah Snanam Samarpayami ‘ when offering milk.

‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Dadhi Snanam Samarpayami‘ when offering curd.
‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Ghrut Snanam Samarpayami‘ when offering ghee.
‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Madhu Snanam Samarpayami’ when offering honey.
‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Sharkara Snanam Samarpayami’ when offering sugar.

Now offer holy water to the idol and then wipe it clean with a piece of cloth while chanting ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Uttaraposhnam Samarpayami.’Now all the necessary ablutions have been completed.

The puja will proceed by making various offerings to lord ganesha. Offer raiment to the idol in the form of two threads chanting ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Vastropvastram Samarpayami.’When offering white thread repeat ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Yagyopveetam Samarpayami.’

Now red sandal powder paste is applied to the brow of the idol while chanting ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Gandham samarpayami.’

Offer rice and chant, ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Akshtam Samarpayami.’ Garland the idol, shower flowers and chant, ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Puspam Samarpayami.’ Offer Durva grass chanting, ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Durvan Kuran Samarpayami.’ Leaves offering chanting ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Bilvapatram Samarpayami.’ Burned perfume offering to be made while chanting ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Dhoopam Agrapyami.’

Perform the aarti of the idol with a ghee lamp chanting ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Deepam Darshyami.’

Give sweets to the lord, chanting ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Naivedyam Samaryami.’Offer water to the idol ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Achmaneeyam Samarpayami.’
Offer fruit, ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Phalam Samarpayami.’
Offer betel nut, betel leaf, clove and cardamom and chant ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Tamboolam Samarpayami.’ Offer perfume and chant ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Itram Samarpayami.’ Offer coins and chant ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Dakshinam Samarpayami.’ Now offer sandal rice, flower, and durva all mixed in water and chant ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Vishesh Argyam Samarpayami.”Now genuflect before the idol while chanting, Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah I bow before you.

Finally to bring the puja to a close, circle the idol in a clockwise direction while chanting Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Pradakshinam Samarpayami once.

Agni Lost / ज्ञानयुक्त भक्ती, Jnanayukta Bhakti (devotion guided by knowledge)

I’ve mentioned in other posts about how influenced I am by Shri Eckhart Tolle. If I can be honest, I’m hoping to be further influence by him. It does a person good, and I’ve been clear on my recommendation that each person should read his work, A New Earth, which is pretty much timeless.

In some of the earlier chapters of A New Earth, he details SO many things that are tough to chew for the every day human. However, things change a bit after about a third of the book, and assuming you’ve invested in the foundation information in those early pages, the rest becomes a matter of application.

This application was tested recently. I have a good pal, who I think sometimes cringes when I quote him here or post to Sthapati inspired by him or our conversations. This will (almost?) be one of those times.

Recently, he advised me that I sometimes “forget that even though Ganesha is Aum ITself, and therefore a stone’s throw away from BRAHMANity, that doesn’t stop other Ishtadevatas from being the absolute best possible path for someone else.” I know precisely where this originates, although it came to me quite unexpectedly. And if I may be honest, it stopped me in my tracks.

Although I’ve already composed a great many words on this, I’m not sure they’re all to be shared. I can share, however, why this gave me pause.

My first reaction – and that’s all it was, a reaction – is that this is inaccurate of me. However, a result of Jnanayoga is that reactivity rules one less and less and I refused to react initially. Immediately, I set out to discern the Truth about this statement.

Is this a case of misunderstanding on my friend’s part? Perhaps he’s misperceiving my words and sentiments? Would this be his ego getting in the way of messages I mean to actually convey or have I used the wrong words when I write? Or, just as bad if not worse, is MY ego the culprit here? Perhaps, as much as I keep my ego in check, I slipped and some of my words were flavored in this way? I suppose this is likely as long as I retain human form. Maybe all the above? Maybe none of the above? Is it possible my bhakti rubs (or rubbed) his own in the wrong way? I’ve seen this happen a bajillion times, since much bhakti in many bhaktas (and people in general) still rests on the more superficial levels of our humanhood.

All these potentials as well as so many more which I care not to list here could be on the table. It’s because of all these and the many others that I’m not likely to post the numerous other words I’ve written about all this.

Ultimately, none of them matters because of one fancy word: Responsibility. My responsibility is to my own development. And until others seek me in such a way, my responsibility is to none other. There’s a quote I read once, “I’m responsible for the words I say, not for how you understand them.”

There’s HUGE immense truth to that, although I don’t really fully agree with it. However, it’s precisely because of this that I’m given pause. I also find it to be my responsibility to communicate well and effectively. On that note I can admit to also taking on the (pretend) responsibility of guiding the understanding of others. It’s because of these factors that my posts are invariably never quick reads. At any rate, it seems clear that I’ve failed…somewhere.

As silly as it’s going to sound, a character from the Lord of the Rings comes to mind. She some kind of great elf witch or something. Her name is Galadriel. She seems to come from good stock, and she’s virtuous enough. But she’s not without deficit still. When Frodo and his band arrive in her woods, she welcomes them and sees into each so that she can know. She’s also presented with an opportunity – she’s definitely powerful enough to take the ring they carry and make herself even more powerful. But in Tolle’s terms this is ego, and luckily she recognizes that this opportunity is also a test. Like anything else in existence, it can be directed variously. She realizes this and also recognizes that as long as she has to make a choice, she’s not “there yet.” The way she puts it is that this opportunity, or test, would potentially make her “great and terrible.” (Terrible having a different meaning than is mostly used or understood today) She recognizes that being great, terrible, or any combination of the two is of no benefit – both must be transcended.

galadriel-profile-small

When my friend shared his perception with me, I was faced with an opportunity – a test of my own karmas, both current and future. Should I have attempted to clarify with my friend? Would that have been an honest attempt or just my ego self-preserving? Would it matter either way, and is it even my responsibility? Tolle would ask me if I’m “less” because of anyone’s (mis)perception or because of my own ego. The answer is no. The answer also parallels that of Galadriel’s when she’s able to see the ring for what it means – she indicates that she’s passed the test, but also that she will consequently withdrawal to the West. (I think?)

C_Gal_04

For a few days now I’ve also done a bit of a pull-back. As the days have passed recently clarity has come, but not entirely. Although I can’t retreat to the West as Galadriel did, I can and will remain in puja and sadhana. This is required to minimize the chances of future failure, and also to enter future failures with more clarity than I did this one.

Whoa.

Om Shri Mahaganeshaya namaha
Om Shanti

Ganesha Loka

Game_Scene_Paradise_Island_by_firebolide-940x500

Many things have been on my mind lately. Many quite heavy things. If you ask anyone who knows me well or is in my daily life, they’ll probably tell you that this is the norm for me, and they often express a mix of worry and annoyance when I take a “break” from those heavy things to study other things like religion or linguistics … which they also consider “heavy.”

This post, is meant to be such a break. I thought to share a bit from a recently-bought book that I brought home from Chicago and have been working my way through in my free time. It’s all about Ganesh and is rightly called, “The Ganesha Book,” by Royina Grewal. I’ve (recently) been accused of being a little extra biased when it comes to Ganesha (this is indeed part of the heaviness of what’s been rolling through my noggin of late), and this is likely to fall thereunder. It’s a description of Ganesha’s Loka (kingdom, realm, heaven, dimension, …whatever). Although other Ganapatyas might disagree with me, I’m not of the opinion that this is the heavenly destination of all Ganesha worshippers. The value I find in this Ganesha-loka description, though, is the same as I find in Ganesha Himself – a sweetly poetic, deep and deeper-pointing, sublime accounting of the Destination Ganesha not only points to but brings us to.

According to the book, his celestial kingdom is called Swaanda Dhama, the abode of bliss. His palace is seated on a “wish jewel” island, which itself is surround by a forest of wish-fulfilling trees, which is in turn surrounded by an ocean of sugar can juice. Ganesha sits on a lotus made of the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, indicating His supremacy over wisdom and learning. This lotus is positioned on the back of His lion throne – borrowed by His Mother.

His kingdom has four gates, each guarded by two of His eight special attendants, Paarshadaas, who are probably adaptations of the eight Dikpalas – the guardians of the directions within the Hindu tradition. Like Ganesha, they are all short and four-armed and the tip of their thumbs and index fingers touch, a mudra which signifyies their unity with god.

Also in residence within this kingdom is His mouse, given to him at birth as a gift from the Earth, according to one story. According to another, this mouse is Agni, the god of fire. (That story indicates that there was once a feud among the gods during which Agni assumed the form of a mouse and disappeared into the earth. The conflict was eventually resolved, and the gods gave the mouse to Shiva to energize him for the production of His son, Kartikeya. With that task complete, Shiva passed the mouse onto His oldest son, Ganesha, who had been without a mount for a long time.)

Sadly, the descriptive story of Ganesha’s kingdom stops pretty abruptly right there. And so, this post will also.

Om Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Om Shanti

Keys to the Gate

I often post here regarding the goings on of my Facebook friends…This post will be no different. One of my pals on the social networking site posted a link that I’m about to share with you. After poking around only a little, it seems like a pretty good resource – although to be fair, I’m planning to dig a little deeper and research some of the resources that contribute to the site.

It’s called Hindupedia and can be accessed here. I’ve shared below a page I took from there citing the general, broadest scope of Hindu beliefs.

Sanatana Dharma by being a dharma is by definition not dogmatic in its beliefs or faith. Below is a list of key beliefs that are common across most followers of this dharmic tradition.

Reverence for Revealed Scriptures The Vedas are of divine origin. These primordial hymns are the bedrock of Sanatana Dharma, the eternal religion.

All-Pervasive Divinity There is one, all-pervasive Supreme Being, who is both immanent and transcendent, both Creator and Unmanifest Reality

Three Worlds and Cycles of Creation There are three worlds of existence — physical, astral, and causal — and the universe undergoes endless cycles of creation, preservation, and dissolution.

Laws of Karma and Dharma Karma, the law of cause and effect by which each individual creates his own destiny by his thoughts, words, and deeds — and by obeying the laws of dharma, righteous living.

Reincarnation and Liberation The soul reincarnates, evolving through many births until all its karma has been resolved and moksha (liberation from the cycle of rebirth) has been achieved. Not a single soul will be eternally deprived of this destiny.

Temples and the Inner Worlds Divine beings exist in unseen worlds. Temple worship, rituals, sacraments as well as personal devotion create a communion with these devas, divine beings.

A Path Guided by a Guru A spiritually awakened master, or guru, is essential to know the Transcendent Absolute, aided by personal discipline, good conduct, purification, pilgrimage, self-inquiry, meditation, and surrender to the guru and the divine scriptures.

Compassion and Noninjury All life is sacred, to be loved and revered; and therefore one is expected to practice ahimsa, or “non-injury.”

Diversity of Paths There are many paths that lead to salvation. Although the goal is one, the sages call it by different names and means.

It’s been said that there are as many religions within Hinduism as there are outside of it. Within that context, there are certain to be some (many?) Hindus who adhere to all these core concepts, and some (many?) who hardly grasp any of them. Either way, “vasudaiva kutumbakhum,” the whole world is one family.

Om Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Om Shanti

A Sweet Girl

Taken from Google Image Search, "Stillness"

Taken from Google Image Search, “Stillness”

The last job I held was at a cancer treatment center and blood specialist. It was really rewarding work, although I stayed for only two years. While there, there was a woman who was my supervisor who is about as mixed a blessing as someone can be.

On one hand, I adore(d) her because she really does have a good heart and I think her commitment to being “traditional” is cute in some ways. She isn’t always the smartest worker, but she always works hard and cares about completing her assignments. She bakes THE BEST confectionary delights – no joke.

On the other hand, she is often immesnely frustrating to work for or with. All finances aside, she’s just about the sole reason for why I ever even left the clinic. I was really happy there, but just couldn’t put up with the manic-depressive way she managed sometimes. I won’t go too much into all that.

Her name is Pam. And one of her goals is to “be a sweet girl.”

I think the story is something like, her mother or grandmother or aunt charged her with this command when Pam was growing up. Pam keeps a post-it note on the front of one of her computer monitors reminding her to be a sweet girl.

I want to be a sweet girl, too. At my new job, in Pam’s memory and for my own subtle benefit, I now also keep a post-it note on the front of one of my computer monitors. Of course, because people sometimes frown on a 33 (almost) year old male reminding himself to be a sweet girl, my note is written in my first second language – German.

It’s interesting how all people can touch you and affect your life… and consequently your karmas. I know I can improve on being a sweet girl. Often I fail miserably. I don’t let it get to me, though – or at least I try not to. It’s infinitely more important to more pay attention, not to the times you’re anything except a sweet girl, but to picking yourself up and trying again for that sweetness.

Om Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Om Shanti

Guru nahin

Two days ago, among the bajillion emails sent to my phone during each day’s course, I received an email from Madhudvisa Dasa. This happens from time to time… krishnite email from the servant of Vishnu/Krishna. Usually they’re the spammy kind of mass emails that no one gives a second look before deleting. In fact, I only even receive these emails for two reasons: I looked into Krishna culture and religion early into my Hindu path while trying to find my landing spot and managed to sign myself up for these “newsletters,” and the second reason is that I’m too lazy to look into unsubscribing. Deleting, usually without opening, is truly easier. But this email’s subject line caught my attention. It read, “Joshua on Guru: Everyone is lying to you.”

Oh good. Everyone is lying to me. More fuel for the fire pushing me toward pratyahara, samadhi, and moksha, no?

The email continued on, detailing how divisive the Vishnu/Krishna-centric community is within its own sphere, and in relation to other spheres. Among the other “offenses” someone aspiring toward Godhead needs to watch out for, it’s now also imperative to not believe what others say because everyone is lying… especially when it comes to what designates or constitutes a bona fide guru. The email also mentioned by name a number of vaishnava maths (pronounced mutt) that are apparently especially good at deceiving devotees, one of which I recall learning about in a distant discussion with an Indian who informed me that the math was more liberal and gay-friendly than some of the others. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve given vaishnavism a shot – how often I’ve WANTED to be a vaishnav.

I’ll admit, the whole bit was more than amusing. Interesting. Although I’ve long since realized that, while noble and valid in its own ways, vaishnavism isn’t mine, I also became intrigued to learn about the names and maths mentioned in the email and see what I could unearth to better round out my continuing Hindu education.

I would feel like this post lacked if I didn’t also point out that Christianity, historically, has behaved very similarly. Indeed, it’s one of the most fractured and splintered religions on the planet and each additional split that lead to yet another denomination mostly happened because of an “I know more than you, and what I know is righter” viewpoint. Even when I ask my most liberal Christian friends why they are Lutheran or Methodist or stick with the Church of the Brethren, they almost uniformly give me the same answer: the other denominations are valid and still lead to Jesus/God/Heaven, but my denomination has a purer path.

This leads me to deep conviction that while Bhakti gets the Shakti moving quite readily, it’s still the starting place that leads to the other yogas. And sadly, every time I see yet another instance of this untethered-emotion-based religious behavior, I gag. I look and look and look, and virtually every time I encounter a lively bhakti-centric path I also encounter emotion and ego, among other things. (Please note: I’m not anti-Bhakti. But, for me, connecting with God involves more than reaching a particular mood when I sing or chant. I’m over-simplifying here, forgive me. And I realize, fully, that ego and emotion are found outside of Bhakti and vaishnavism.)

All of this has re-inforced a minor conclusion I’d come to already, but have questioned multiple times. The necessity of a formal, human guru. My jury is definitely not out when it comes to this: I’m fine without one currently. I see my growth and sense when it slows. I’m often pushing myself into new spaces and increased awareness. I have no problem studying devotional texts and implementing them as they apply to my personal dharma. Seva isn’t foreign to me and isn’t something I have to be told to do. I do loosely follow a few human beacons within humanity’s waves, but even those particular mahatmas tend to stress the importance of connecting with the real Guru within as opposed to depending on the grace of another, albeit advanced, human to carry you to the far shores of existence.

Om Tat Sat Om

Fight or Flight, or Faith

I recently overheard a conversation which made me ask a few question within mine own head.

Here’s the deal: A few coworkers were, for whatever reason, discussing flying to places as opposed to road travel. One admitted that she was in her 40s when she flew for the first time. She reminisced with a smile on her face of how her aunt, who has since passed, once was in from out of town and as she was headed back wanted my coworker to come stay for a bit, so she bought her the plane ticket and the rest is history. My coworker said she was so thrilled to be flying that she was glued to her window the entire flight.

The other, I’m not sure has ever flown and was very clear that she prefers to travel by car/bus/train… anything except air. I don’t recall her citing any kind of tragic or unpleasant experience. Just some disdain… and much fear. Interestingly, she did go a little into how she felt powerless while flying, or whenever she considered flying. I remember her saying something like, “When you’re in that air plane you can plummet from the sky, crash, and die. There’s nothing below you. You’re in The Hands and that’s all you got.” While saying this she cupped her hands before her solar plexus.

Of course, by “The Hands” she meant the hands of her god, which happens to be the certainly crucified and possibly risen Jesus of Nazareth. And for the record, both this woman and the one she was speaking with are both Christians. What struck me the most isn’t that one Christian had no fear and the other was full of it, but that the one with fear pretty much out rightly proclaimed that resting in her own god’s hands wasn’t safe enough for her. She trusts her own flawed driving skills more than she trusts the one who’s “driving skills” are the source and direction of everything.

I’m not as versed in Christianity as I once was, but I know a huge part of walking that path pertains to faith and believing. I know faith has numerous definitions, but a generalized definition I think applies often enough is something along the lines of, “I hope/have confidence that this/that will happen, although I have no concrete reason to logically know it will.” After all, by faith you’re saved through Jesus Christ (biblical Book of Ephesians), who apparently paid not only for your transgressions, but also everyone else’s. After accepting Jesus into one’s heart, faith is what makes a person a “new creature.” (biblical book of 2nd Corinthians) Faith is what saved the three in the fiery furnace. (biblical Book of Hebrews, and Book of Daniel) Jesus was so impressed by the centurion’s faith that he healed his young gay lover, without even going to him. (from the Gospel of Matthew)

But apparently faith isn’t enough to comfort someone as they fasten their airplane seatbelt.

I guess I’m trying to decide whether I think she’s a “good” Christian or a wishy-washy one. As if my opinion actually matters! Maybe that’s not even a fair question. And by “good” Christian, I don’t mean a Christian who is a good person. I think most Christians are perfectly good people. What I mean is a Christian who adheres to their religion strongly. Since its advent, and in most cultures where Christianity has been present, good Christians have taken solace in what they consider faith during times when reason seems to have left them. Example: Just about any time science has made a new discovery or advancement. Galileo’s life was made quite miserable by the Christians of his day.

I’ve sat through sermons in many churches where the understanding of faith is different from this. In Christian theory (theology?), faith (and the corresponding salvation/relationship with Christ) is not unlike the concept of faith in dharmic religions. In a practical context, though, a difference definitely appears.

In Hinduism, the word for faith is SHRADDH(A). In the context of shraddha, one’s faith must be evident in his actions, or it can’t truly be said that he even has “faith” (shraddh). He may have belief, but not faith. The idea here is that if what you believe isn’t reflected in your actions, then necessarily, it can’t be said that you believe what you think you believe, or at least what you tell others you believe. You can’t call a spade a spade, if it has no characteristics of a spade. No?

However, within Christendom, it’s completely accepted and common practice to say or preach one thing, but do another. I know that might sound judgmental and harsh, but it’s the historical reality. The Church, as it exists as a collective body of believers, has not been very diligent about focusing on the actual teachings of its guru, Christ. (This could easily lead me to a post on the value of practical hypocrisy, but now’s not the time.) This brings me back to the coworker gal in my office who says she believes she’s in “The Hands” while flying, but refuses to fly. Surely to have faith that your version of God is in control is the same as acknowledging “The Hands” everything rests in. How is it even logical to walk around glorifying your Lord up one side and down the other, at every turn (and trust me she does all day long), but then not have faith in that Lord to care for you? Am I missing something here?

But whatever.

I’ll close with a quote by someone I respect immensely for his work and its clarity. He’s a celebrity, but no less authentic in regard to the teachings he passes on to us. Deepak Chopra once said,

“Faith can be the cover for a mind that stubbornly holds onto God or stubbornly refuses to accept the possibility of God. All faiths were founded on direct experience of God and their intention was to pass that experience on. Faith is a form of hope and hope is unfulfilled unless real experience arrives. Turn inward to find the root that faith springs from. When you find it, faith will no longer be a crutch, an excuse, or a desperate hope.”

Om shanti

Gita 4:24

I have a subscription to a magazine known as Yoga Journal. I’ve had a subscription since forever.

Used to, somwhere near the front they’d have an “Om” page on which they’d offer a mantra or prayer of one kind or another. This is one trait of the magazine that makes it rather Hindu, although the magazine isn’t technically such. Sadly, while there remains an “Om” page or two, mantras are no longer offered.

This month one of the Om pages holds a perspective article titled, “Living Blessing.” The author pretty much only talks about blessing his meals before he consumes thems. But he details every part of this process, and for no longer than the article is (it’s not long), he does well and going deep, but staying very easy to understand.

Near the end, he mentions that there are many ways to bless one’s food. He admits that the one he uses is a prayer from the Bhagavad Gita, known as the Brahmarpanam. I love it. See below for this prayer…

Brahmarpanam brahmahavir, Brahmagnau brahmanahutam,

Brahmaiva tena gantavyam, Brahmakarma samadhena.

(The act of offering is Brahman, The offering itself is Brahman, The one making the offering is Brahman- offering into the sacred fire which is Brahman. He alone attains Brahman. who, in all actions, is fully absorbed in Brahman.)

I mentioned that I love this shloka, and here’s why: It sums up the essence of my religion eloquently and simply.

Personally, I don’t subscribe to Dvaita philosophy/Dualism. I find truth to be more manifest in Advaita philosophy and I also find Advaita to make a stronger foundation for a more complete religious and spiritual expression, and to be more complimentary to the human experience.

Having said that, I’ve not yet reached an understanding of how any believer within any religion can believe (only) that G/god exists more in one locale than another. The awareness of that realization can be more evident in one person or thing than another, but that doesn’t in any way mean the Divine is more or less present there. So to believe that G/god is “somewhere out there” while downplaying or neglecting altogether the immanent presence of the Divine seems arrogant, ignorant, insulting and incomplete, nevermind illogical.

So, within the foundation of understanding the Highest One as simultaneously immanent and intimate, as well as impartial and impersonal, this prayer says it all.

Brahman, who is THE highest conception of the Divine ever, and the closest humanity is likely ever to come to describing The Incomparable All, is the only real Truth that exists and is the center of this prayer (as well as everything else, literally). Through this prayer we learn that The One is Who offers. The One is That which is being offered, AKA: the offering. The One is the actual action of making the offering. The One is the means through which the offering is offered. And The One is the recipient of that offering. There simply isn’t an aspect of existence or nonexistence which isn’t permeated by Brahman, The One.

Amazing.

Chapter 4 of the Gita is the chapter on the yoga of action and renunciation, and this chapter actually kicks ass. Allow me to detail why.

  1. Shlokas/Verses 5-9: Foundational to Hinduism, Krishna explains that humanity is never without The One. A promise that every age sees The One arrive and that those who recognize suchness are able to step off of the wheel of death and rebirth.
  2. Shloka/Verse: 11: Also foundational to Hinduism and a support for why Hinduism is so inherently tolerant and peace-loving. Here The One states, “My path is the path all follow, in different ways.” I don’t need to force or pressure you to convert to my religion becuase my religion already encompasses yours and finds inherent value in it.
  3. Shlokas/Verses 18-30: Pretty much a definition of Karma Yoga and Renunciation. For me this amazes, because of the emphasis on intimately knowing and, perhaps even more importantly controlling, one’s internal landscape. These verses explain the essence and outlook of the person succeeding in renunciation (vairagya) and also in controlling his karmas. Notice how many of these traits involve what would, by today’s standards, be called absolute controll over one’s emotions. These verse indicate that that person’s actions are purified through knowledge (a hint at Jnana Yoga), and in verses 22 & 23 we learn that in abstaining from emotional reactions one’s karma disappears. I suspect this is because far too often a lack of control over one’s emotions leads to a roller coaster of reactions, which perpetuates the cycles of samsara/samskara. Verse 25-30, of course following the Brahmarpanam, detail how fully The One pervades every aspect of life.
  4. Shloka/Verse 35: “Knowledge will remove your bewilderment.” Throughout the Gita Arjuna is a wreck and Krishna makes many attempts to console him. I interpret the knowledge mentioned here to be knowledge of the Truth, AKA Jnana Yoga. I love that He tells Arjuna that this knowledge will enable him to “…see all creation in yourself and in me.” Jnana leads one not only to mastery over his own karmas, but also to peace, and even further to Self-Realization. This is supported in the following verses. In verse 36 Krishna says that knowledge takes even the worst folks to safety. In verse 37, He states that “knowledge consumes karma” in the same way a log is charred to ashes by fire. Verse 38 has Krishna saying, “There is no purifier like knowledge in this world; time makes man see the truth of this,” and in 39 we’re advised that “the commander of his senses gains knowledge; and with this knowledge he finds final peace.”

I’m aware that there’s more to the Gita than Jnana, and entire sects have been founded on those bits and pieces. Still, in Chapter 4 I find a huge chunk of my religion -and this chunk pretty much applies across the board. The wisdom found in this chapter, like Brahman/The One, without a doubt pervades and permeates all that there is.

Om Shanti