Ganesha Loka


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



Taken from Google Images

Taken from Google Images

In my last post (and in another) I mentioned briefly that I’d gone to a seminar of sorts, which turned out not to be what I expected.

Jeffrey Armstrong was the speaker, and speak he did! His website indicates that he’s a “Western Master of Eastern Wisdom.” I suppose on some level that’s true enough. The flier I saw at my temple enticed us with tag lines like, “Dharma is not religion” and “Brahman is not God.” In truth, that’s exactly what Jeffrey Armstrong taught us, although not the way we were expecting. His approach was to teach us how to explain the tough concepts within Hinduism to non-Hindus, a lesson that came in the form of a vocab lesson.

I mentioned that a dry-erase board was at the head of the class with Jeffrey, and was divide down the middle by the word transcendental. Facing the board, to the left of the middle was a number of religious words most people are familiar with… given to western culture through Christianity or Islam. On the right of the board were religious words of dharmic/Sanskrit origin.

Anyone who’s seen the movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” will recall the father of the main character, Tula. He was slightly loony, “fixing” everything with Windex. For me, an endearing trait of that character was his “ability” to trace any word, from any language, back to a Greek origin. Such was his pride in the Greek culture he was born into.

Jeffrey Armstrong wasn’t born into Hindu culture or religion, but his enthusiasm was no less. The hours we spent with Jeffrey Armstrong that night were in listening to him teach us how words like God and Heaven were inadequate for Hindus to use when speaking to non-Hindus about our Faith. As a wordie, in virtually every example provided by Jeffrey Armstrong I found myself getting goose bumps. (I nearly swooned when he admitted that he reads dictionaries for fun. I’m the ONLY other soul I know to have done this.) I literally LOVE studying language and its evolution – and Jeffrey loved teaching just that. An interesting twist, though, was that every “Do Not Use” word that Jeffrey dissected seemed to have a Vedic/Sanskrit/Hindu origin, which often left me thinking, “If that word has such a terrific source, why is it so inadequate?”

But whatever. His point stands: So many – in fact virtually ALL – religious words coming from western religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are mostly inadequate and inappropriate for describing Hindu concepts. In honor of our own path, and for preciseness, we should be leaving “their words” for use by “them” and begin more faithfully employing the words that best serve “us.”

There’s a catch, though. “They” don’t know or understand “our” words. Plus English is everywhere. So while Brahman does NOT mean the same thing as God (both literally speaking and figuratively), it not only has no English equivalent, but also remains the closest equivalent in the mind of the non-Hindu. Thus, in my mind, the word “God” remains employable in my conversations with non-Hindus – even if it requires add-ons to help its meaning better approximate the meaning of Brahman.

What say you, dear reader?

Om Shanti

Let’s Pretend


According to Shankara, the phenomenal world has a relative existence that is superimposed upon Brahman. When transcendental consciousness is achieved, superimposition ceases. Because of this, we can know for certain that while the real world is existent, it’s not actually, technically real.

Shankara basically defines this superimposition as falsely remembering something in the place of what’s really there. Some might be quick to point out that one has to also have experienced or perceived what’s actually there in order to mistake it for the superimposition (You follow? You have to know something is there to begin with before it can be mistaken for something else) – and how can this be true of something like Brahman, which is not perceivable by the human senses? Shankara foresaw this argument and responds, “Brahman is not non-objective in the absolute sense, for Brahman is the object of the ego-idea. We know quite well, by intuition, that the inner Self must exist, since the ego-idea is a presentation of the inner Self. Nor is it an absolute rule that objects can be superimposed only upon such other objects as are placed before us; for ignorant people superimpose a dark blue color upon the sky which is not an object of sense perception.”

What this means is that although Brahman isn’t exactly apparent to our every-day sense perception, there is a manner in which we are aware of It: the inner Self. Yet Brahman is partly apparent to our normal consciousness also. Brahman is Existence, and we all know that we exist. In our ignorance we superimpose the private individuality of being Mr. Smith onto our awareness of Existence. In doing this, we end up forgetting that Existence isn’t our private property, but instead is universal and absolute. This expression of superimposition is our first act as human beings. The moment we say, “I am I,” we’ve started a kind of chain reaction which makes further superimposition inevitable. The very nature of our claim to individuality implies individuality everywhere, and immediately creates a superimposed world of creatures and objects upon the absolute Reality. The egoic self and world-appearance depend on each other. Lose the ego, and the world-appearance must necessarily disappear.

Beyond this, Shankara also notes that searching for the beginning of this cycle of world-appearance is futile and mostly fruitless: What is world-appearance? Maya. What causes it? Our ignorance. What is this ignorance? Maya, also. Shankara makes a very important distinction in regard to Maya/Ignorance. Maya is not only universal, but beginningless and endless. Ignorance (avidya) is beginningless, but can end at any moment. It’s precisely because of this distinction that 1) humans are born into the world perceiving the same Maya as all other humans, and 2) that an “individual” soul can achieve illumination, and thereby achieve moksha/liberation – which means the end of perceiving the phenomenal world to that consciousness – but the world still remains as perceivable (existent) Maya for all other humans.

Wrap your brain around that!

Om Shanti



The mind is in itself the cause for one’s happiness and misery. That mind which is possessed of wisdom, manliness and cheer is a friend, while that which is otherwise is a foe.

The mind that is sullied by the passions of attachment and hatred gives rise to misery and several other painful experiences. Hence one should wash off these impurities of the mind with one’s own wisdom and manliness and make it crystal pure.

To get rid of human misery, it is the mind and not God that is to be pleased. Without purity of mind no salvation is possible.

Motionlessness of the mind is itself salvation, while its motion is worldly bondage. Get the mind absorbed in itself and it will then merge in ecstatic Bliss. That is indeed the cessation of all misery and the attainment of final beatitude.

Brahmananda Swami Sivayogi (1852-1929)
-As taken from Hindu Blog

Viper’s Sting – Barbados Lime Is Just the Thing!


There’s a dark and wond’rous mystery that lives in my temple room. It’s a little nerve-wracking, very encouraging and somewhat thrilling. I’ve been meaning to speak about it, but I hate jinxes. It’s so weird.

Arjuna’s Imbalance

ArjunaLast Sunday, the nuclear physicist who gave the discourse at my temple spoke on the topic of darshan. He mentioned what the actual definition of it is, as well as how loosely the term is tossed around these days. In his discourse, he mentioned that in the middle of the Bhagavad Gita, which is pulled from the middle of the Mahabharata, Arjuna received Vishwaroopa-darshan by means of Sri Krishna. He also noted that darshan typically doesn’t (or shouldn’t in its original meaning) apply to being in the presence of holy people. No matter how revered your guru might be, that individual is still a human person and as such is no more a part of God than you or I. I suspect that this knowledge plays a big part in why Hinduism is the only major world religion which doesn’t point back to one human founder. In reality, when we do things like guru-pada-puja we’re not technically worshipping the guru or his/her paduka/sandals. As with all other Hindu worship, what is actually worshipped is what the image represents, the Presence it holds during the puja. But all of that is truly neither here nor there.

Not long ago, I was reading a newly-bought version of the Bhagavad Gita with verse-by-verse commentary provided by Swami Chinmayananda. Chinmayananda is a really great teacher, I think. I’ve seen videos of his live speeches and read some of his works, and his approach to Self-Realization seems to be really balanced. On that note, I really enjoy the format/layout of this particular Gita, although I’m typically not fond of Gitas like this one or the purport-full one so popular with ISKCON because I find them to be more than a little slanted. The interpretations offered in these purports reminds me of the bias found in differing versions of the Christian Bible. With that in mind, I’ve usually resorted to collecting various translations of the Gita as well as Sanskrit dictionaries and when I do a study of a shloka, it usually involves pulling numerous books from my shelves and cross-referencing like you wouldn’t believe. The result, which I’ve grown to trust increasingly over time, is that the Guru usually guides me instead of relying on a guru. But that also is just about neither here nor there.

Right now I have literally twenty different Gitas from twenty different backgrounds/sources.

While reading the Swami Chinmayananda translation with commentary, I discovered an idea that I’d missed until now. Arjuna was a really messed up individual. In many circles, whenever he’s mentioned, it’s usually in reverence. Usually Arjuna is presented in a bhava of compassion. He’s so bothered by the sight of seeing family and friends on the opposing side of the war that he literally crumbles before it all.

I don’t buy it. I mean, yes, he crumbles, but Arjuna is emotional and out of control with those emotions. That’s it in a nutshell. Chinmayananda suggested that Arjuna is delusional and filled with immense levels of attachment. According to the swami, Arjuna physically exhibits symptoms of psychological imbalance and unrest -as much is mentioned by Arjuna himself in the Bhagavad Gita. Although it escapes me, modern psychology actual has a word/diagnosis for Arjuna’s psyche/body exhibition. The man was not well.

Arjuna may well have been a fabulous Kshatriya, but aside from being a skilled and respected killer of humans, he was a veritable mess. The scientist giving the discourse I mentioned earlier is far more knowledgeable than I am on the Gita and the Mahabharata, and he was of the mind that Arjuna had good reason to know that Krishna was more than “special.” And yet he was pretty much blind to this. He received counsel from Sri Krishna and repeatedly argued with it. Then, after explaining so much to him, Sri Krishna gives Arjuna “second sight” and revealed His universal Form, Vishwarupa. I’m pretty sure Arjuna requested this, and when he received what he said he needed to supposedly dispel his doubt for good, what happened? He begged the Lord to “put it away.”

I think after all this nonsense and back-and-forth with him, I’d be like, “Arjuna, you clearly aren’t ready for all this. I think you need to spend the next 4,000 years as an insect” and be done with it. A person with his depth of delusion and attachment needs major help. And major help he received!

Claiming that Arjuna was crippled by compassion bothers me. Compassion never cripples. To assign something as noble and beneficial as compassion or kindness to Arjuna is simply making excuses. Krishna continues to work with Arjuna through the rest of the Gita. He offers His student even more wisdom and comfort… and after all this, clear into the very last chapter of the Gita, Krishna says that Arjuna is still filled with pride and is foolish. But at least he’s no longer scared, right?

I mentioned earlier that I have 20 different versions of the Gita. These different Gitas are “by” the likes of Hindu leaders such as Swami Rama, Swami Swarupananda, Swami Chinmayananda, Winthrop Sargeant, P. Lal, Sri Krishna Prem, Edgerton, George Thompson, Prashant Gupta, Kim and Chris Murray, P. S. Mehra, Acharya Vishnu K Divecha, Paramahansa Yogananda, Swami Satchidananda, and Srila Prabhupad. Some come with commentary and some don’t. And while I do think the commentary is naturally slanted, I’m thankful for the different perspectives they present for looking at this scripture. They definitely give the inner Guru something to chew on.

Om Shanti!


I mentioned recently that I’m forever in the middle of reading 27 books. I finish one, have six others I’m still in the middle of, and feel compelled to buy 21 others. I easily spend more, yearly, on books than I do on clothing, music & entertainment, and adding to my collection of Ganeshas… combined.



I think this year might be different. (I’m fibbing through my teeth, but humor me, will you?) I think this year might be one wherein I do my best to become a Completer. My boss uses this term to describe his own work ethic. I don’t know the exact definition of this term in that context, but I think it applies to me, too -in the work place. Outside of work, though? Far less so. This year, I want to up my sense of commitment to the things that make me happy; namely language exploration and spirituality. So early into 2013, and I’m sure some of you reading this will say, “AHA! A New Year’s resolution!” It’s not really.

Here’s my game plan. You ready?

  1. I’m hoping to devote more time to adding to my working knowledge of Hindi and Sanskrit. If I feel the itch, perhaps Spanish, too. It would be nice to be able to use at work for when I get calls asking for a Spanish-speaking rep, but it’s gonna have to be a pretty strong itch.
  2. I’m considering enrolling in the Himalayan Academy‘s Supervised Master Course Study. I already have the books (although I’ll likely be purchasing a new, matching set because I’m OCD like that), and I recently paid the $11 to receive the workbook and worksheets. The basic flow here is that there are three, rather large, books that the Course is studied from. In addition to that, sadhaks receive the workbook/worksheets and in an organized and scheduled manner sadhaks work their way through the 15-month curriculum. You study the material. You do the homework. You send it to a monk at the Kaui monastery and get feedback. The whole journey is more than just doing homework assigned by monks. As I understand it, it’s essential Saivite catechism, plus sadhana instruction… leading up to and including formal conversion. After completing this, there are another 1-2 “courses” spiritual aspirants can progress through. Support for students/sadhaks is provided by the monks directly, as well as other resources including a super-top-secret-members-only Facebook group.

Once upon a time, when for about 13 seconds, I offered Dr. Phil (the largest asshole ever) my full attention, I heard him say that part of what plagues America these days is that we never complete anything. We’re apparently excellent starters, but no so excellent completers. I don’t know that this is where my manager got the term, but it IS likely the one thing Dr. Phil and I agree on. To be a completer you need commitment. Thus this post.


These aren’t resolutions, and here’s why I think that: While I am starting these with a distant and vague goal of completing them, it’s vastly more about the journey. I love learning-learning-learning. Nonstop learning. And I’m probably not going to stop buying (too many) books. I have hundreds of books; not a single one is fiction. That’s also not likely to change. But I don’t want to be in the middle of so many. What’s the matter with exercising a little bhakti for the sake of furthering myself along the path to Jnana-yogi-ness?

Meh, we’ll see.

Om Shanti

Woe is me, but not really

A week ago today was the toughest day I’ve had in a minute. Please, allow me to bore you with the details.

I awoke with the beginning of a head cold. I arrived at the clinic and promptly arranged for my heavily sugared and heavily creamed coffee. This part is good…it’s real good…and addictively delicious. A little later that morning I found myself training a new hire. This is also something I enjoy, although a bit less so with a fledgling head cold. The whole process of training someone means everything goes half the normal pace and requires twice the energy and focus. At the end of the day, I found myself not only entirely spent, but also doing what I usually do at the end of a Thursday (the busiest, most hellish day at the clinic), which is to wrap things up as fast as possible and change into more comfortable clothes to wear to class. I make my way out to my car where I discovered the battery was dead…something the shop warned me of two weeks ago while I was in for an oil change, but otherwise would have been a total surprise. This is truly enough to send me into orbit. You see, anything car-related is a mystery to me. When I sit down into my car, and insert the key, the damned thing needs to move or I’m in fits. Additionally, as I’ve already admitted in prior posts, all things number-related are also practically mind-boggling for me, which makes perfect attendance in class more than mandatory for me. And guess what –when your car won’t start it’s REALLY tough to get to class. More stress.

So, I call my male spousal equivalent and instruct him to bypass his usual stop at the gym as he’s leaving work and come instead, immediately, to pick me up because he’s now my ride to and from school. Even though anything on his schedule that night was neither mandatory or nor something anyone else depended on him for, it was very clear by his demeanor that he was far from thrilled to be called to aid someone like myself. Truth be told, this actually hurt my feelings more than a little. I pride myself on rarely asking for anything from anyone, and growing up it was taught to my brothers and I that you should always be more than willing to help someone else, and never guilt them for it. In defense of my beloved, he didn’t actively guilt me and he didn’t argue with anything I said I needed, but my ego was still bruised, I suppose, because my perception was that he was pissed because he had to give up an evening of doing nothing in favor of an evening of helping me. But whatever, it’s entirely unimportant and inconsequential, but at the time stung pretty badly when I already wasn’t at my best.

So he gets me to school. While I’m in class he’s kind enough to run around and buy a new battery, although it wasn’t able to be installed. He did also manage to get my car to start on the old “dead” battery. So class ends, he picks me up to take me to my car to that we can figure something out… and it starts raining.

That was just about icing on the cake.    

At the beginning of this post, I requested you, dear reader, to allow me to bore you with the details of my miserable day. I used the verb “to bore” intentionally. By virtually every comparative standard, my life is a walk in the park. I find myself, as I age, increasingly self-guilted at thoughts and complaints that arise during my moments of struggle. Days like this one, while painful and frustrating at the time, unfailingly remind me of concepts like Maya, gratitude, and perspective. I’ve said before that even the poor in American are richer than the poor in India. Conversely, even a really crummy day in Josh’s World is still better than a normal day in a lot of folks’ lives. I really shouldn’t complain.

But the reality here is that suffering is universal and applies to all –even a soul as advanced as a Rshi. In the same way that concepts like karma and Brahman are universal, impartial, and impersonal, so is suffering. Everyone suffers, and that fact is what sets such an easy stage for compassion toward those who’re suffering (in their own way).

While suffering shares some pretty big similarities with the likes of karma and Brahman, unlike them it isn’t ultimate. (There’s actually a quasi-loophole that technically makes karma not ultimate either, but it’s a very small loophole indeed!) The biggest aspect of suffering that keeps it from ever being ultimate is that, while few very people indeed have a choice in the suffering that may already be on its way to them, each of us has a ton of control in regard to controlling that suffering once it arrives. What I mean is that no matter what circumstances you find yourself in, you will always, always, always have a choice in how you decide to react to that pain.

Patanjali wrote extensively on this. In Sanskrit, the word for suffering is dukham. According to Patanjali, none in the phenomenal world is exempt from experiencing dukham. None. Many people ask, “Why me?” Patanjali answers, “Why not you?” There simply is no hierarchy in suffering. Suffering is suffering is suffering… and every living thing will know it. He explains that not only is dukham inescapable, but also that its existence cannot be denied, and neither can it be denied that it causes pain. The good news, according to this sage, is that anyone and everyone can change their reaction or response to dukham and a great way to start this process is to avoid responses like blame, guilt, or regret. In the Yoga Sutras, 2.15 & 16 teach a valuable lesson applicable here. In 2.16, Patanjali wrote, “Heyam dukham anagatam,” which translates in some cases as “Pain that has not yet come is avoidable.” This should serve as a tremendous source of hope for those on the path of Dharma. We know that pain is often a part of existing. We know that the cyclical nature of karma means it’s likely we’re due at some point or another for pain. But we are in control over whether we perpetuate suffering in our own lives, and we also have the ability to control how miserable our experience of pain might be.  

In retrospect, for me the hidden benefit found in my miserable Thursday a week ago is that I don’t need to regret that I waited too long to get my battery changed. Nor should I feel guilt for asking someone to help me. And I shouldn’t blame my spouse for reacting as he did. After all, whatever was on his schedule or not, in his own way he suffered that day too and I shouldn’t place my own suffering above another’s.

Just sayin’.

Om shanti

Star One of Hinduism, part B

This post is somewhat of a detour in my journey through what’ve been called The Seven Stars of Hinduism.

Actually, it’s less of a detour and more just me finishing what I thought I already had. 🙂

So the first Star is Brahman-One God. It’s a huge first star and well beyond the scope of human language, even the Sanskrit. However, if any language ever uttered by humans would come closer to adequately describing The Absolute Reality surely Sanskrit lead the pack. I’ve studied a number of languages for a number of reasons and all are delightful and amazing in their own ways. And, truth be told, I’m not even very proficient at Sanskrit. I can probably recognize 50 or fewer words and know only the absolute very basics of its grammar. Having admitted as much, I can say that even with my super limited knowledge of it, Sanskrit continues to impress both my mind and my heart.

So, even with the full awesomeness of their tongue, the ancient indian rishis found it difficult to describe in words The Truth they experienced. In Thatte’s booklet, on which I’m basing this and other posts about Hinduism’s Seven Stars, he says, “When indian sages realized the Absolute, they felt the need for an adequate symbol to communicate the inexplicable Brahman or Ultimate Truth. Their philosophic investigations led them to believe that at the beginning there was a Sphota(Big Bang!) which made a sound. This sound(shabda or word) was Brahman. Space, time, energy, consciousness, and everything else came out of this over the years. They called it Nada Brahma or Shabda Brahma which means Brahman in the form of sound… No particular letter of the alphabet, neither a consonant nor a vowel could adequately express this sound. This sounds, which is the Brahman, is AUM. AUM is considered the unity of all sounds to which all matter and energy are reduced to their primordial form.”

So there you have it. God’s ultimate-ness in a nutshell…a sonic nutshell.

It’s noteworthy that modern physics has determined that everything is a combination of sound and light and the only difference between me and my table and a tree on the other side of the planet is the difference in our qualitative vibratory rates, and of course varying levels of consciousness.

God, Brahman, The Absolute… first unmanifest, became manifest with the Big Bang event. Everything else afterward is the result of this holy cosmic sound in action. Which leads into another facet of Hinduism, which is that God is everywhere in everything. This belief, found in Hinduism, is one of the differentiating factors separating it from the Abrahamic faiths which are founded on the basis of a separation from God.

Because of this association between Brahman/Om/Creationary Sound this perception of The Absolute(OM) is one of the most potent and peace-instilling prayers a person can utter. It’s always the foundation of any true mantra.

Om Tat Sat Om