Head-y Heart Games

Taken from Google Image search

Taken from Google Image search

A friend recently accused me of employing hindu head games. He didn’t mean the accusation literally and the context in which the accusation came is too removed from here to really go into. What he was getting at – from a superficial level – is that I push people into areas of thought they may not go on their own and that person’s unfamiliar territory often causes them to rethink a few things. Little by little, this gets the ball rolling in other directions and if the effort is maintained and followed through, it can bring wonderful changes and growth. However, this is something I think runs far deeper than even he realizes and I want to discuss, as briefly as I am able, what I think might be the very best of Hindu head games.

In many branches of Hinduism, we’re taught that our (little) self isn’t much to speak of although usually very problematic and that our (big) Self is our truest essence and is a sliver of God and is essentially the same from one person to the next. This bit of belief is actually of supreme importance.

There’s a story (which I’m certainly about to butcher) of a robber running into a monk on the roadside one day. The robber either attempts to rob the monk or asks the monk for a boon or something along those lines. By the end of their discussion the monk has convinced the robber that he can give him a mantra that will bring the robber more riches than the monk could ever hope to possess, let alone be robbed of. The mantra was, “Mara.” I now forget what the exact translation of that is supposed to be, but I think it was along the lines of “bitter” or “Devil” – certainly not anything positive, which apparently appealed to the robber’s sensibilities. And so off goes the robber, repeating his mantra, “Mara” hoping that he’ll gain riches from it. The monk, though, has tricked him. The thief starts off, “Mara, Mara, Mara, Mara…” and, as would happen naturally with speech the ending of one repetition is sewn into the beginning of the next and so the thief gradually and almost seamlessly goes from, “Mara, Mara, Mara…” to “Maramaramaramaramaramaramara…” which little by little is the same as “Rama, Rama, Rama, Rama…” And so, the thief has been subtly “tricked” by the monk into chanting one of God’s names and is thereby changed into a good person. End of story.

If there are Hindu head games, this story surely illustrates one – and one that is paralleled in the concept of self / Self.

Most people live and behave very selfishly – centered around the (little) self. This is the only identity some people ever realize in life. I need this. I need that. I am this. I am that. This feels good to me. That does not. However, most teachers (although not all) within the Hindu belief system encourage their students to go deeper and deeper into things like meditation, prayer, and jaapa. Sometimes these practices appeal to people who are seeking peace or happiness. “Look within” says the Hindu guru. And so, in an effort to serve what they perceive to be their self, people might start this – their motives at this point are almost invariably selfish (little). They’re entering these efforts perhaps to escape thoughts and energy that habitually cycle and recycle around and around within their minds. Like seeking the most comfy spot on the couch to chill out, these people enter sadhanas for the results the think they will get. And they may get them.

But there’s something else they’ll get, too. (Big) Self-realization. A major difference between this and the thief / monk story is that the monk pretty much tricked the thief. In other settings, his kind of guile isn’t needed or employed. Still, if we were to take a clear look at why many enter sadhanas of various sorts, we’d find a great many reasons that are (little) self-centered. And yet they enter, and with any luck they gain depth of experience here. And so then what happens?

They go deeper and deeper into their practice. And as they do, they gain an increasingly clearer picture of the (big) Self. As more time is spent gaining familiarity and transparent access to the (big) Self, the very definition of that Self is experienced and the seeker will eventually learn that This is common to all sentient things. As that new experience becomes increasingly familiar, a weird thing happens. You enter through the door of you, but as you learn of the Self and experience it, when you come back out you are using the door of that same Self – but in others. That is, you realize and experience That which is you to be identically true and paralleled in every living thing. This is the essence of a teaching of Jesus I referred to a couple posts ago where we’re told to love our neighbor as our self. It’s like diving into the swimming pool in your own back yard, but surfacing in the pool in your neighbor’s yard.

Some pools are above-ground and some are in-ground. Some are heated and others not. Some are circular, some are rectangles, and others are amorphously-shaped. Yet the water in your own pool (in each pool) is not different than the water in their pool (or any other).

Our neighbor, truly, IS our Self and I think this is the best Hindu mind game.

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Aum Shanti


Bhaktam-idam Aham


In the last two posts I began hinting at my understanding of the nature of bhakti as a path to the divine and some of why it’ll likely never be my main source of connection. The goal of this post is to further detail why, for me, bhakti can never be more than supplemental in its nature. As with the two posts in this series, please allow me to re-iterate that my attempt is neither to bash any one method of aspiring toward the Divine nor anyone using the method of bhakti. Beyond that, I’ll try to stay as focused as possible and make quick work of this.

A few weeks ago, shortly after posting the Rig Veda quote on Facebook (which I mentioned in prior posts and will revisit below), I began polling people of different backgrounds on their definition of the word devotion (bhakti). Without exception, even if round-about-ly, all indicated that devotion is commitment, plus emotion or intensity. Usually, in my questioning, the deeper I prodded the more similar the various answers became. All, independently, agreed that devotion is more than mere commitment. I found this encouraging, actually, as it made my research easier and simpler to sort. In my poll, I asked white Hindus, ethnic Hindus, Athiests, Agnostics and Christians.

Below are some points that, for me, indicate that devotion can’t be my main path back to Godhead/Source/Brahman.

1) The Rig Veda states, “Give prominence to intellect over emotion.” I feel like this is pretty cut and dry. We inherit the Vedas, eternal Truth on The Eternal Reality, from the rishis. Those guys knew more than a little about the nature of the Supreme Reality. They also understood the human existence and all that comes with it. Humans are emotional creatures. Animals possess mostly instinct, with varying degrees of emotional capacity. Humans go one better: our instincts have atrophied some in favor of greater emotional capacity and an intellectual capacity that is greater still than that of our emotions. Emotions are not meant to be neglected, but they are meant to be controlled. It’s precisely when a person acts based on emotion that additional karma is generated. Only through well-reasoned (and thereby balanced) action can a human hope to progressively develop vairagya (detachment, renunciation) and hold hope of attaining moksha when, at last, all karmas are exhausted.

2) “In most cases the disciple becomes too attached to the Guru’s external form and forgets the Guru’s all-pervasive nature. Attachment to the Guru’s form with a firm awareness of his omniscience and all-pervasive nature is the perfect attitude. If there is attachment without proper awareness of the Guru’s infinite nature, the disciple can fall an easy victim to all kinds of negative tendencies. Devotion to the Guru backed with the understanding of his higher nature is real devotion.” This is a quote from one of the objects of my own devotion, Mata Amritanandamayi Ma. I understand this to mean that bhakti isn’t meant to be self-standing. She details, briefly, an instance of bhakti gone awry and some of the potential results. She concludes that bhakti is only real when upheld by a strongly developed jnana (proper awareness and understanding of the higher nature).

3) Although the Bhagavad Gita is often cited as a scripture that promotes bhakti as a supreme means for reaching God, I find throughout the work that jnana is invaluable to the aspirant regardless of bhakti. After all, in the overall dialogue of the text the context is that Arjuna is mentally and emotionally shaken – to the point of utter despondency. Krishna never once said, “Let’s chant the Hare Krishna Mahamantra and dance ecstatically. Then you’ll see and experience Truth. That’s how we’ll fix your insecurity and impart Self-Realization.” He did, however, consistently refer to jnanic means of realization and living life. Even when speaking of devotion and its different aspects, God often speaks in terms of that devotion being governed by qualities of jnana.

4) In the book, “Shuddha Bhakti,” by Swami B.V. Tirtha Maharaja, one finds an admission that is not only typical and true of organized bhakti, but that I find very discouraging. Swami states that bhakti is entirely about relationship. And by definition, it truly is. In his own words, Swami goes on to explain that bhakti is about the worshipful relationship between the effect and its Cause and concludes (literally) that an effect and its Cause can never be the same, implying that duality is inherent in bhakti. My abstract understanding of this (trying not to take his words too literally) is that true moksha isn’t possible through bhakti alone. Bhakti can enable someone along their way in karma yoga, raja yoga, jnana yoga – or any other yoga. However, by definition of the word itself, you can’t express or experience bhakti and union together. The closest approximation to that would be Self-Realization, at which point bhakti would become mute. Bhakti can be a wonderful and efficient means of expressing one’s experience of union, but it would seem that so long as bhakti is the focus of one’s path to the divine, unless bhakti is transcended by Self-Realization, it will essentially remain self-defeating – like continuously reaching for salvation while maintaining that you and God are distinctly separate. As long as little old me keeps adoring magnificent God “in Heaven,” we’ll remain separate precisely because of the nature of my focus (bhakti).

5) Following #4, two quotes from the revered sage Swami Vivekananda seem very instructive. The first quote is, “Everyone is but a manifestation of the Impersonal, the basis of all being, and misery consists in thinking of ourselves as different from this Infinite Impersonal Being; and liberation consists in knowing our unity with this wonderful Impersonality.” (My personal interpretation of his words after the last semi colon is the real definition of Jnana Yoga: not simply the knowing OF our unity, but knowing that unity in an experiential way. Self-Realization is the culmination of Jnana Yoga) The second quote is, “What is the object of Jnana Yoga? Freedom. Freedom from what? Freedom from our imperfections, freedom from the suffering of life. Why are we unhappy? We are unhappy because we are enslaved. And what are we enslaved by? The enslavement of nature. Who enslaves us? We do, ourselves.” As harsh as it might sound, if bhakti is dependent upon a relationship of duality (worshipper/Worshipped), I find it to be terribly enslaving, not unlike the doctrines of the Abrahamic Faiths. In my own, admittedly limited, understanding of bhakti, I couldn’t in good conscience allow that to become my own whole path. I don’t want to celebrate (through worship) my (falsely-identified) separation from Source, thereby perpetuating that very separation.

I feel like I could probably go on and on about the different reasons why bhakti isn’t a fit for me, but I’m not sure that would be productive. For one, in the instance of continuing, I’d probably want to dedicate a fourth or fifth post to the topic, and I’m not sure my own attention span could suffer that, let alone that of you dear readers. Further, if I haven’t already pissed some people off or offended, surely to continue would result in suchery – something I have no desire for.

My single hope intended for this post and the two before it is two-fold. First I hope that you understand me a little better. I won’t hope for more than that, but a little would be something. Secondly, I hope you understand yourself much more than a little better. What matters is not why Dhrishti does or doesn’t follow one path or another. What matters is that you not only follow your path fully, but that you know exactly why your path is yours – indeed, following one’s swadharma without such knowledge is entirely impossible.

Om Shanti

Post Script: It’s possible that in the near(ish) future I might have interest in showing you the other side of the Dhrishti coin. Often it’s easier to say what you’re not than what you are, but I think I’d like to try and I hope you’ll still be reading by then.

Samskaram, schmamskaram…but not really.

(This was written nearly three days ago, and I’m only just now getting around to posting. Ah, life.)

This morning, despite a nagging tiredness and overwhelming urge to sleep in for once, I found myself at temple bright and early. I’m glad for it, as usual. Everyone was typically composed, but the mood was pleasant and festive as we enter our Diwali celebrations. Another blogger mentioned that she often finds it tough to stick to Hindu holidays because there exists a myriad calendars. Depending on where you’re from and what the immediate culture might be like, the same holiday might start on widely differing schedules. She’s right and I’ve often felt frustrated or unsure because of this. However, in my experience dedication and patience has led to confidence and besides, as she points out in her recent post, there’s a ton of freedom within Hinduism to generally celebrate when/how you feel fit. Locally, we’re celebrating Diwali on Tuesday evening and Anakut on Wednesday.

This morning, all holiday aside, was typical for any session of the Gita Mandal. We invoked, we worshipped, we became musical and then a discourse was delivered just prior to aarti. Today’s discourse was delivered by a local devotee and he spoke on the meaning and benefit of Hindu Samskaras.

Truth be told, there are MANY samskaras observed by Hindus, and many of them hinge on a whole host of factors that determine whether you will observe this samskara or that one. I’ll admit now that I used to be focused on this, fearing I’d be missing out since I’m not an ethnic Hindu. I’m far less concerned these days, and while I recognize the religious origin of samskaras, it might be argued that they’re at least as much a cultural thing as anything else.

There were a number of guests today, also. Many of them were faculty from a college or two. Some were local activists. One or two were local political leaders. Each of these guests, it would later be revealed, were in some way colleagues of the speaker and it was also pretty evident that his discourse was meant directly for them, although everyone else benefitted too.

The speaker’s topic of Hindu Samskaras was actually quite fitting. The guests who came just for him are those who care deeply about finding a solution for groups of people who seem down-trodden and often unable to help themselves, namely blacks and Latinos. Information presented in the discourse was interesting and often mentioned that the character/quality of person we eventually become is largely affected by influences even before we’re technically people. Special attention was given to expecting mothers and the care they should receive. The speaker seemed of the mind that improvement could happen, mostly, by dual means.

  1. Expecting mothers must be treated quite delicately and must receive the absolute best care. Many studies suggest (prove?) that the experiences of the embryo/fetus while in the womb directly affect its development not only physically but mentally, spiritually, and psychologically. Think prenatal vitamins and pointing a speaker playing Mozart at momma’s belly.
  2. Patience. With enough care and dedication toward intentionally creating successive generations of more wholesome human organisms, we could eventually manifest a more wholesome world/culture. The speaker indicated this would take a minimum of a few generations.

There was one from among the guests who said many people try to be encouraging and advise folks to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps!” but what to do when one has not even bootstraps?!?! This led the discussion in a slightly different direction.

Another, from the general audience, spoke up rather passionately. She was slightly past middle age, and like so many others present, she was highly educated. She acknowledged that everything that had been said was fine and true, but she added that there’s no need to wait for generations to pass before effecting or noticing the changes necessary for our time. She asserted that change can happen right here, right now, if only the individual makes the effort. In her estimation, everything already said during our discourse essentially promoted a “victim of circumstance” to “victim of environment” mentality. I couldn’t agree more. I know an adorable young man, who happens to no longer live in my state. In addition to being young, he was often ridiculous with making choices. While speaking about him to a mutual friend, she said, “we’ll you can’t fault him for how he is. Look at how his parents are!” I didn’t buy it then, and I don’t buy it now. I know first hand what it’s like to grow up in a divorced home, to see many things a child shouldn’t, and to have a worthless parent. I’ll allow that, up to a certain age, these factors can be applied as reasons for behavior. But after a certain age, you’re just making excuses. After a certain point, you are exposed to more than the example set by your family. And once you begin having things to compare, there’s no reason for the “lesser path” to any longer be acceptable. Change is up to you. And so, with very few exceptions indeed, the possibility of accelerated or immediate change isn’t unreasonable. Attempting change from a generational scope isn’t practical. It must be brought individually.

This reminded me of another blogger friend who recently wrote a short but interesting post asking, among other things, if chickens will always produce the same kind of eggs. He also asks the same question, in an adjusted context: Love/Hate. My friend mentioned Gandhi and Jesus who apparently want us to respond to hate with love. The question here was, “But how can you love yourself if you see yourself returning hate from others with hate?” My friend was mostly asking this rhetorically, really, but my answer to this is an exercise in Jnana. Learn the nature of your Self -experience it -and you’ll see that responding to any thing with any response that isn’t love, is likely a reactional product of the ego. Bhakti alone can get a person there, too, but I’m less comfortable with that process. Applying bhakti leads to seeing the One in all that you encounter, which will lead to a change in response, from returning hate with hate to returning hate with love, but what’s happening then is essentially Jnana anyway because the result is Self realization and the knowledge-experience that neither your personality nor the personality yours is interacting with as real or permanent as it seems.

Whether the approach taken is Bhakti or Jnana is irrelevant. The point that was encouraged by the woman in the audience today, and a point which I support, is that change can happen now and it’s the responsibility of the individual. An example of how this is possible can be found on yet another blog that I just came across. This writer’s “About” page paints a pretty clear picture of what the modern human experiences, and provides an easy-to-read example of the actions that particular human took to remedy his condition and create the change he needed.

The idea behind the generational progression to humans of finer quality is better than nothing, but it’s impractical. Generations are, after all, made of individuals- which is where the real change happens anyway.

Every year the Diwali season reminds us of the triumph of Light over Darkness. I’m grateful that this victory doesn’t require the span of generations to see its realization. Sri Ganapati bless you, dear reader, now and in the year to come. And may The Lord of Wisdom and Remover of Obstacles guide you toward your own ever-blissful victory over the Dark that would surround you.

Om shanti