Every year I’m reminded of the general population’s lack of direction and perspective. Every year this reminder comes on Valentine’s Day.

Whether you hold the holiday to apply mostly to couples or to love in general, there’s no reason to be bitter. And yet every year people whine. So much of our culture centers around definitions of what we have and what we think we need to have to attain happiness. God forbid I’m single and someone else isn’t – they MUST be happier than I, no? Love is what we already have and love is what we stand to gain. Ultimately, it’s got very little to do with whether you’re single or not.

For me, personally, the holiday applies to all. I feel loved and I love loving others. On the one day of the year dedicated to love’s expression, the last thing on my mind is the fact that I’m part of a “liebespaar,” a love-pair. In fact, aside from sneaking to work early enough to slip a holiday card under my beloved’s keyboard, today was much like any other: We worked, then he went to the gym and I went to two bookstores, we eventually both ended up at home where we shared a very simple meal and now he’s downstairs watching an all new episode of The Office while I’m upstairs in my temple room bloggering and about to conclude the night with puja. I could just as easily have had the same evening were I single.

The Bible says “God is love,” and Christians are commanded to love everyone as their guru loved them. Greeks and Romans understood many forms of love – some forms being more carnal than others, which were virtually too lofty for humans to attain. And within Hinduism love has as many expressions as the Divine does.

Human-sized bears, overpriced chocolate and heart-shaped chalk candy are of course the more commercial aspect of the holiday’s modern incarnation, but the real idea of the day is no less changed. And mark my words, plenty of people today were gifted amazing flowers, steak dinners and wine, chocolates, jewelry, and romantic nights in… and will go to sleep feeling just as empty as they did when they awoke this morning. Our celebrated day of love truly has little to do with whether you’re single or not.

This year Valentine’s Day and Vasant Panchami coincide. I find this to be very auspicious. My Facebook status early today was to wish all “the love of knowledge and the knowledge of love.” I think the combination of a Day of Love and a day spent worshipping Saraswati, the holy personification of Wisdom, is wonderful. Think about what it means to actually love knowledge, and also to have knowledge of love. It’s much more than just a clever switching of word order. Possessing the love of knowledge as well as the knowledge of love, I feel, has played a large role in shaping me into who I am – and as long as I retain that perspective, I think it’s likely that this will continue to shape my personal evolution. I sincerely hope the same for you.

Love. Learn to see it in its myriad forms, please.

Om shanti


Ganesham Bhajema

Although not everything about my religious/spiritual journey in this life has been pleasant, I’m immensely grateful for every step. After being forced to part ways with Christianity, and wandering for a brief year or two, I came to discover what might be modernly recognized as the principal deities of Hinduism, namely Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. It was in learning about the Trimurti that I learned about other manifestations of the divine such as Vayu, Indra, Surya, Agni, Lakshmi, Hanuman, Ganesha, Saraswati, and many others. Initially there seemed to be a profound yet finite hierarchy within this pantheon; some gods being the husbands/wives/fathers/mothers/sons/daughters of others. For a time, most of my learning centered around acquainting myself with these relationships and their histories.

As the depth of my knowledge increased, I gained the realization that these gods were variously known to be faces of the One Supreme Reality, as well as actually worshipped by their respective devotees as That One. I found this to be an interesting facet of Sanatana Dharma that is missing from religions of the West. I also found this to be one of the single most important things a dharmi could come to know. In fact, this is literally foundational to the faith: Ekam sat vipraha bahudh’ vadanti, Truth is one, though the wise recognize it variously. It’s because of this foundation of the Hindu belief system that I’ve always wondered why a Hindu is able to genuinely believe that any such “face” the One might happen to wear, is actually the “complete” manifestation of Brahman.

Having said that, I’ll say two other things.

  1. I feel that each of the Hindu gods (it’s been said that there are over 330 million) does absolutely represent Brahman, although incompletely -if that even makes any sense. Truly, only Brahman is That, and That is impossible to fully describe from the perspective of human language and conception – which might account for why there are a bajillion deities recognized within Hindu panentheism, and which is also a testament to the vastness of Hindu religion and the fruit of its ancient and on-going efforts to paint an ever clearer picture of what Reality is. In no other religion known to humans on Earth is the picture of God provided in such an encompassing way. No joke. But each god, while worshipable as a representation of The All, at best can only point to some of That All.
  2. I’ve spent more than one-third of my current life learning about and actively living Hindu Dharma. A lot of this time, and certainly especially in my earlier Hindu years, has been spent (as I already mentioned) continually educating myself. Some of this self education has been very basic: “This is such-and-such god, and this is what he/she governs/represents.” It didn’t take long before I noticed overlapping from one god to the next. A basic example is that of goddesses Kali and Durga. Both are distinct in their own ways, yet both are known as fierce, protecting Mothers and are understood to be magnificent but volatile faces for the Shakti that animates everything. I think it’s because of encountering this that I’m not likely to ever say that one god is actually supreme over the rest. Not in all cases, but in enough, an attribute of one god is equally as applicable to another. With that in mind, why would it be logical to say that Kali is supreme, when Durga has any number of things in common with Her? And what of the attributes typically ascribed to Durga that don’t apply to Mother Kali? Do those render Durga superior to Kali? This can be carried over and applied to a huge number of Hindu deities.

Sri Ganesh is (kind of) an exception. Or at least to my current personal sensibilities, He’s the closest thing to an exception that I’ve found. I say He’s kind of an exception, because I believe you are either an exception or you’re not, and technically speaking He’s not. Why then, even bring Him up? If for no other reason, because the greatest amount of the aforementioned deity-deity overlapping occurs with Him, AKA from my perspective it seems as though the greatest number of Brahman’s attributes apply to Ganesha. I don’t think this alone makes Him an exception, but it does make Him stand out to me.

Dear Reader, allow me to provide a slight disclaimer at this point: I’m not professing to be any sort of expert. I’m also not in any way intending to invalidate anyone else’s beliefs or ishtadevata or marg or …anything. What I’m saying in this post, and in the next few to come, applies strictly to my experience. If it happens to also apply to your own, by all means let me know, and we’ll relate our commonality. If your experience has been different, and seemingly conflicting to what I’ve posted here and am about to post, you are also welcome to let me know this, provided you respect our difference as it’s been expressed in my writing. I’ll ask just one favor of you before you express your differing viewpoint. Read at least the final paragraph of this.

Om Shanti

Ganapatya for life? Probably so.

Saturday, the second, was the eight-year anniversary of my spousal relationship with, Wayne. We left Indiana the night prior, June 1st, and drove that into Nashville, Tennessee. We were on our way to Florida where we’ve planned a week-long resort stay. It was my idea that we should make mini trips on eaither side of our maha trip- mostly because I abhor places like Florida or California, the specifics of our Florida trip weren’t my idea and I suppose I needed “me” stuff on either side as a means of bracing for the misery that is Florida, and also for recovery afterward. 🙂

The first of these was to visit the Sri Ganesha Temple in Nashville, Tennessee. We arrived in Tennessee very early Saturday morning, our anniversary. That same morning, after checking in and sleeping some, we awoke, exchanged rings, and did some mapping of Nashville. We had already planned to visit The Sri Ganesha Temple for a scheduled Shani Maha Pradosham that evening.

Let me just say now that Wayne is a saint. He’s not Hindu…or anything really; maybe Agnostic? Likely Atheist. But he’s very patient and at times willing to put up with, literally, hours of what’s essentially religious nonsense to him. We arrived at Sri Ganesha and toured the place on our own.

The temple grounds are pretty simple, but pretty great. Within the temple there is one main/maha garbhagrha (btw, I suspect I’m about to misuse that word, but whatever), where Sri Maha Ganapati is housed. I don’t know exactly what His dimensions measure, but He’s got to be at least 7ft tall. Four arms holding noose/goad, axe, broken tusk, and modaka/coconut. He’s entirely black, save his eyes. He is absolutely fantastic. No joke. To say I’ve been changed simply by gazing at Him would be to speak an understatement.

There are two smaller garbhagrhas to either side of Sri Ganapati. On His right, His father Siva is housed in the lingam form. It’s rather impressive, and aside from the Nataraja form, the lingam is my favorite expression of Siva. On Sri Ganesha’s left is housed Venkateshwara, a form of Vishnu. On the external walls of each of these three garbhas are mid-height nooks which are also garbhas in their own sense. Each of them house not only the other 31 of Ganesha’s 32 forms, but also a handful of other deities like Nrsingha, Sathyavan (?), Lakshmi, etc… In front of where Ganesha, Siva, and Venkateshwara are housed, along the outside walls of the main temple area, are six other pujasthanas. In these are housed Durga, Shubramanyan, Parvati, Radha/Krsna, Laskhman & company, and Jagganath & company.

We visited each one. I explained just a little about each to Wayne as we made our stops. We noticed, not unlike in Indiana, that I (we) were just about the only non-indian(s) there. On that day, there was another white man there. He sat quietly near the back of the main area, rudraksha mala in hand, absorbed in jaapa. According to his chosen tilak marking, I could tell he is a Saivite. With our initial walk about done, we settled near where the Navagrahas were stationed and waited for the Maha Pradosham to begin. This puja was lovely and lasted just over an hour. Afterward, I offered obeisances to Ganapati once more, purchased a few gift murtis (miniature replicas of the Mahamurti) for friends, and we left.

The next morning, we returned quite early. This time we were just the second ones, after the pundits/pujaris, to arrive. Before entering, we toured the outside grounds a bit. We then entered. Jagannath Puja was just finishing and things were set for Saraswati Puja, which was scheduled that morning as a benefit to recent graduates.

The best part of that morning for me, and something which has truly tattoed my mind and soul, was the Ganesha Abhishek. It took place after the Jagannath Puja and prior to the Saraswati puja. After entering the temple, I made pradakshina. I then sat before the Mahamurti for darshan. Jai Sri Ganesh!

They were in the process of waking Him. The door to His garbhagrha was opened, but a curtain still kept Him veiled. Then it was pulled back. He was utterly bare. No malas/garlands. No pushpam/flowers. Nothing. He was literally absent. His image was there, and it was still magnificent, but it was obviously just gross matter. After the unveiling, which was rather unceremonious, some rites took place: chanting, incence… the whole bit. Then the abhishekam began. The panchamrtam were poured over His image in their usual order. At specific times in the puja a pause was made. During this pause, tilak/vibhuti was applied to His forehead, flowers were placed on Him, and incense was waived circularly while the pujari chanted. Then the abhishek would continue. The whole thing was amazing and felt very good.

At this point, Wayne whispered a question to me… Something like, “Is this done every day?” He just couldn’t fathom something like this being someone’s pride and joy; their “job.” I nodded, smiling – I’d be in Bliss if I could do that. Of course, this is coming from someone who intended to become a monk immediately following high school, and only didn’t because at the time I thought all monks were necessarily Catholic! At this point in my life, I’m happy being a grhasta/householder, but should the stars align it’s definitely not off the table,

After the panchamrtam, the cutrain was pulled closed again. During this time, actually just prior to the curtain being pulled closed (for anyone unfamiliar with the process), the gross material changes. I mean this pretty much literally. It’s at this stage that the difference between an image/idol and a murti is made. I really can’t explain it further.

So the curtain is pulled and Maha Ganapati is out of sight for a while. During this time I found an excellent, auspicious, opportunity for jaapa. I got about three rounds in before the closing of the abhishek was conducted. The curtain was, again, withdrawn. Now, He’s dressed and has malas/garlands. It was like seeing Him for the first time-although it obviously wasn’t the first time.

I literally almost cried. That annoying lump in your throat was as far as I let it get, outwardly. This previously gross matter was transformed. I’m picturing a young girl. She takes her favorite Barbie doll and dresses her. Nothing. It’s a doll. Now, picture the same girl with the same Barbie doll. She dresses her, and then the doll’s eyes blink. She’s awake now; brought to life by a combination of the process (puja) and the devotion (bhakti). The Velvetine Rabitt. Pinocchio. Pixar’s The Toy Story. It’s all the same: inanimate becoming animate. As a Hindu this is foundational. God is simultaneously in everything as the indwelling, timeless Essence of all that lives, and yet is also beyond all that can be found in the worlds of causation. And so, in our tradition, we’re able to “wake” matter up -to call a condensed and concentrated portion of The Divine to be near us.

That morning Ganesha was near. Ganesha was veritably palpable-well, indeed He was physical! He stood, adorned and adored, right in front of me. Immense and immensely dark. I could have used 10,000 words to ascribe attributes to Him and still fallen remarkably short of anything adequate.

A previous post here on Ardhanarishwar dealt with G/god having attributes and being attributeless. Neti, Neti. It’s true. I expereinced this first-hand while receiving Sri Ganesha’s darshan and observing His abhishek. Om Ganapati!

Om Tat Sat Om

Star: One/Seven

The first Star of Hinduism mentioned in the booklet is Brahman.

The overview offered of Brahman includes the following: Universal Consciousness/Life Force, Free of attributes or form(aka Nirguna/Nirakar), Sat-Chit-Anand, Many call It, God. As well the overview includes “Ishwara” : Manifestations of Brahman for our need/convenience.

“According to Hinduism there is only one Supreme Consciousness which is referred to as Brahman, which is all pervading, omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient. This consciousness may be called God. Thus the belief is in only one God.”

The author suggests that Brahman can be imagined somewhat what similar to pure energy: having no form or shape, yet able to manifest itself in many forms or shapes. He claims It’s technically something unable to be perceived by our senses. It’s harder to comprehend and even harder to visualize or worship. Interestingly, It’s can sometimes only be described in negatives. Not matter. Not mind. Not intellect. Not the elements.

The only way to describe Brahman is to say, “Neti, Neti” which translates to something like, “Not this, not this.” The idea behind this application of describing Ultimate Divinity in negatives is that any attribute which might be applied will eventually fall short of being an adequate description. Additionally, it might be mentioned that attirbutes are in some cases risky. Being humans, posessing egos and minds, we’re suspect to worshiping the attribute instead of what it describes.

Thatte points out that Brahman does not reward or punish individuals. This is noteworthy to say the least. Any conception of God that either rewards or punishes is nothing if not petty and small.

In speaking of the Ishwara aspect of Brahman, it’s said that this is natural and temporary. Ishwara is a personal God. If Brahman is dilluted enough to be preceived by the senses, what you get is Ishwara. Ishwara is God-with-qualities. Ganesha, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Shiva, Krsna, Hanuman, etc… Something non-Hindus struggle with is understanding that all of these devas/devis are representations of the Brahman. It’s conceivable that a woman might wear a certain makeup when she’s at work, a different face when she’s at church and yet a different face when she’s on a nice evening out with her husband. The ishtadevatas are simple Brahman wearing different makeup according to the immanent need and inclination of the worshipper. To illustrate this, a Sanskrit couplet is offered,

Akaashat Patitum Toyam, Yatha Gacchati Sagaram-Sarvadev Namaskaram, Keshavam Pratigacchati.” (Just as all the water which falls from the sky, ultimately flows into the ocean, prayers offered to any deity ultimately go to the Supreme God(referred to here as Keshava or Brahman))

Practical Takeaway: There is only one God. Regardless of how and to whom one prays, ultimately the prayers go to the same God. This concept promotes acceptance of all religions as they are just different means of reaching the same God.

I think this is actually a really good “Star #1” for a few reasons. It helps clear up a huge misconception about Hinduism, namely that it’s a polytheistic religion. At its core, it isn’t. Also, this approach to explaining some of what Brahman is, allows the author to touch on another very unique and importrant trait of Hinduism: acceptance of other dharmas as equally valid.

Om Tat Sat Om!