Devotion Emotion in Spoken Form

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While in Chicago recently I picked up a few books on Ganesha specifically. I’ve already made my way through the smallest, which is essentially a booklet. The title is something like Shree Maha Ganesha Siddhi Vrat.

For anyone unfamiliar, “vrat” is the source of the word vow and typically translates as “fast,” meaning to abstain from food for a period of time as a means of purification. The word “siddhi” has many translations and often refers to some beneficent result of having performed some manner of penance. So, loosely, you complete a vrat and achieve some kind of siddhi. My general understanding of siddhis is that they shouldn’t be sought, and can end up being misused or a distraction – but that they can also be quite beneficial, especially when used for others’ good, and can also serve as “milestones” in personal/spiritual progress.

So this booklet details what it indicates is the fool-proof-est way of obtaining a Ganesha siddhi through a very specific vrat. I’m cool with this, aside from the info in the booklet being mostly uninteresting. But something about the booklet kept jabbing me.

Throughout the booklet, instead of telling the reader the right time to intone a mantra, it would instruct the reader and person attempting the vrat to “say the spell.” My first thought is that this is a translation error. My second thought is one of indignation – afterall, mantras aren’t SPELLS, right?

But wait… for a brief period, after Christianity and before Hinduism (and in fact the reason I even encountered Hinduism) I studied paganism and witchcraft. Spellwork was a huge part of this. Anybody will tell you that a spell is something you say to make something happen. On the mundane level, the very foundation of all language is spellwork. More magically, however, we’re talking about something higher than the mundane that we’re still trying to make happen via words. Are mantras any different than spells?

When you break everything down, yes. They are different. But beyond that, from actual formulation clear up through practical application, mantras are as much like spells as they are different. It’s odd. And while we’re at it, “prayer” in other religions is no different. We’re speaking what we want in hopes that something higher or bigger than us will get things moving. I think in my estimation, the biggest difference is that Hinduism cites more than a little science behind the formulation of it’s myraid mantras – something definitely different than the spell an English speaking witch would cast, which more than anything is devotion emotion in spoken form.

How beneficial is it to split spiritual hairs? I’m assuming it’s only as beneficial as knowing whether there’s power behind your actions and words, or whether you’re kind of just making it up.

Om Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Om Shanti

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Acharya Kedar

Acharya Kedar

Last night while I was writing a paper for school and contemplating making some rakhis for a holiday coming up, my beloved was doing He-Man stuff and watching some show on some television channel. He’s always watching some kind of alien or ghost show.

This show was no exception, except that it seemed to be a continuation of another show I’d once been familiar with. Some time ago, images on our television screen were frequently from some kind of “Celebrity Ghost Stories” show. Invariably throughout the show you were either seeing some celebrity, or former celebrity, sitting in an entirely black room telling a story from their past wherein they encountered a ghost of demon or something, or you were seeing recreations of the ghost story being told by that celebrity at that moment. This show still pertained to celebs and their ghost stories, but now a well-known psychic travels with them (to them?) to some place that they’re connected to or once were connected to, and gives them one helluva psychic assessment.

Last night’s episode detailed the ghostly adventure of a middle-aged black male celebrity, who I did not recognize. The two were walking around a home he once had to leave – the site of his ghostly encounter. While this psychic gal was speaking, she referenced his brother and asked if he could call his brother and have him come over. He did, and his brother did.

When his brother arrived, he came to where they were on some stairs and instantly I was like, “Whoa. That dude’s a Hindu monk!” This man was black and also middle-aged, but was wearing the standard orange/saffron colored garb typical of Hindu monkery, including the hunting toboggan. At first his face wasn’t visible, but soon enough he turned. Low-and-behold, a “dot” of kum-kum at least the size of an American quarter rested right between his brows and slightly above.

I’ll be damned.

As it turns out, his name is Kedar and he’s officially known as Acharya Kedar. He practices Kashmiri Shaivism, of the Siddha lineage, and is himself apparently now a Siddha Master.

As would be expected, the paper I’d been working on suddenly was pushed to another screen and I began a Google search for Acharya Kedar, which turned up a number of results. One of them – this one – is about him specifically. Like any other living teacher, he has that tell-tale shanti written across his face and exuding from his eyeballs.

I found this group’s approach to liberation (moksha, mukti) interesting and immensely traditional and specialized. Apparently, the lineage traces itself back to Lord Shiva, Himself, who is the Guru of all Siddhas. I haven’t looked much into their website, to be honest, but they’re clear that in the 20th century, the Siddha Yoga dharma was led by a Siddha saint named Bhagavan Nityananda and from his guidance a number of other successful and powerful Siddha gurus emerged and led others. This denomination of Hindus now has a specialized practice of yoga known as Supreme Meditation. The website most of my recent education on this group centered around can be accessed by clicking here. Overall, they prescribe a daily sadhana as any sect would, however they also focus muchly on the practice of Shaktipat.

Shaktipat has long fascinated me. I can’t consider it very long without also thinking about charismatic Christians becoming “filled” with the Holy Ghost, gettin’ all dance-y and twitchy, and then getting bonked on the head by the pastor – which naturally lays them out flat before the congregation. Truly, I think Shaktipat is less… unbelievable? Shaktipat can take the form of a physical touch, a glance, within a dream, or in a number of other contexts. Generally, as far as I understand, the purpose is to awaken one’s inherent Kundalini, and thereafter induces a journey of spiritual growth. In all my Hindu journeys, I’ve seen far less said of Kundalini from the Vaishnav sects than I have of Smartas and definitely this talk is found mostly within Shaiva and Shakta sects. I think as Kali Yuga progresses, Skatipat will increasingly become a thing of the past – and future.

Something I found endearing about this little education field trip regarding the Siddha Yoga dharma, is that siddhas (supernatural) are not being sought. A number of Hindu texts warn of potential dangers of siddhas achieved. I think that’s mostly because of the influence of Kali Yuga and how people generally are today – so many would misuse them, if they weren’t already too lazy to do the work necessary to achieve one siddha or another. Beyond that, there’s nothing inherently bad about obtaining one siddha or another, and these are even signs of progression.

I view them as a kind of reward though, as well as a tool. You bust your ass working on yourself and you may well achieve one siddha or another. This then might draw people to you, not so that you can put on a show, but so that you can share the wisdom you’ve realized. Also, depending on the siddha, you will hopefully have developed enough to recognize a way in which usage of said siddha can further your own progress. They’re like signposts and instruments. Surely, performing austerities or doing sadhana JUST to get a siddha is bad – just as bad as taking a job JUST because of the money involved. It usually results in undesirable consequences.

At any rate, this group seems to specialize in developing siddha gurus, which in turn, have demonstrated a history of using Shaktipat to help awaken others. In my opinion, it’s rather authenticating that they aren’t broadcasting everywhere and their site indicates people don’t even have to change their religion to partake and benefit.

And there you have it.

Om Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Om Shanti

Gurupada Puja

Today is the full moon for July, and marks Gurupurnima. This holiday is a “limbo of great importance” to me. The source of importance is obvious to anyone familiar with the day. Purnima correlates to the full moon. In Hinduism, many holidays fall either on the full moon, or within a certain number of days before or after it. The “limbo” part of this, for me, is due to not having a dedicated guru -something else of high importance within the Dharma. With that in mind, in this post I’ll try to detail a few of the most influential gurus in my life.

The first guru worshipped in Hinduism is Sage Vyas. It’s said that Hinduism is the only major world religion without an actual founder. Sage Vyas, however, comes close. He’s known to have lived in ancient times and according to his personal sadhana, had attained a number of siddhis. Aside from being a masterful rishi, he is most noted for compiling/editing the Vedas, which are the foundational body of scripture for Sanatana Dharma. I think he’s also known to have composed a number of other Scriptures holy to Hindus. I adore Sage Vyas for obvious reasons and some reasons which are less obvious. His influence, the karma-phala of his efforts, reaches from modern Hindu religion so far back into history few can conceive. Additionally, a well-known story about the recording of scripture involves Sage Vyas dictating to my very own ishtadevata, Ganesha. Sri gurubhyo namaha!

The stage being set by Vyas thousands of years ago, my parents were 900% my first living guru. Truth be told, my birth mother hasn’t proven herself to be worth the flawed genetic material she managed to pass on, let alone anything of greater value. My father, on the other hand has truly beautiful karma. Part of that karma was that he’d eventually meet and marry my step-mother. The two, together, make an amazing, albeit typical pair and without their guidance my life wouldn’t have amounted to half of what it has. And while I’m still able to discern parts within my own makeup that are surely inherited from my birth mother, I’m honored to report that by far I’m the sum of the two that actually cared enough to raise me. I have the level head and generosity of my father, and like my step-mom, eternally insist on perfection in all the right areas of life, have some pretty decent reasoning skills, and also would likely have made a fair living as a lawyer (AKA I can argue just about anything, always have the higher good as my goal, and no matter what you say, you can be sure I’ll find a flaw in your logic and will end up winning the debate.) If gurus come into our lives (or vice versa in this case!) to help guide and shape us for our betterment, my parents could sit on their rumps for their next ten lifetimes and still succeed in this regard. Because of this, when I’m at temple and we sing the shloka, “Twameva mata cha pita twameva…“, which translates as “You (God) are mother and father…“, I’m filled with adoration and love for these two primary human figures in my life. Below is a picture of my parents and a younger brother (at his wedding, we’re not actually Christians for the most part).

Another guru influence in my life is that of Paramahansa Yogananda. If Vyas-ji was technically a first among gurus, and my parents were the second, then Yogananda-ji was certainly the third. I came to know of him actually in the most unexpected of ways, which I’m hesitant to share. But here goes:

In my early twenties a relationship I had been in came to an end. It had lasted about seven years and when it dissolved, you can imagine, I was still very inexperienced at life. On my own for the first time ever, I was mostly doing just fine. During this time, though, I had been approached by a man from my city’s south side who was seeking models. You see, he sold clothing items online… he ran some kind of website that was fetish-gear-oriented. I’ll spare you the details of exactly what garments I modeled, but the idea is that he was no longer young or lean or unwrinkled and needed a tighter, younger body to show off these things, which folks would then buy from him. Before anyone takes this info and runs with it, believe me when I tell you that the shadiest part of all this was that all photography was shot in his home, as opposed to an actual studio. But none of that is important except to lead me to tell you that this man happens to be a devotee of Yogananda. I had an Om or something on my necklace which caught his attention and started our conversation on all things Hindu. Both of us being caucasian, we commiserated at being the only non-indian Hindus we knew of in the entire state. From then on the modelling was entirely secondary (indeed stopped) and our dealings were mostly in the context of spirituality. He took me to the temple for the first time and gave me my first copy of Yogananda’s autobiography, which as so many others will verify, is life-changing. He also gave me my first copy of the Bhagavad Gita, a translation by P.Lal. Of all the different Gitas available, this simple version remains my favorite.

Since learning of Yogananda, I’ve been drawn to his teachings and have a large number of his books, as well as a book or two written by Yogananda’s own guru, Sri Yukteshwar. I love that Yogananda was so connected with western Christianity. He does well at showing dharma in the Bible. I’ve fallen just shy of joining his “sampradaya,” The Self Realization Fellowship for a couple of reasons, namely that it’s suffered a great bit of internal conflict which has veritably split the group, and it seems to be in decline. All that aside, this is to say nothing about Yogananda or his teachings which are truly liberating. And for that, he’ll always remain a dear teacher to me. Kriya Yoga might not be my best fit, but I’m not nearly done with him, and it’s my hope he isn’t nearly done with me.

Next of gurus influential in my life is Mata Amrtanandamayi Ma. She’s an avatar of Sri Durga. Known around our planet as “The Hugging Saint, and to myself and fellow devotees as Amma (Mother). Her life has been incredible and it’s apparent that She is mahashakti personified. Born into a working class family and pretty much forced into familial slavery, Her upbringing was rough to say the least. Virtually from Her birth she was a kind of lunatic for the Lord, constantly seeking union with Sri Krsna, and even today demonstrates what is known as devibhava for the benefit of others. Today She’s the founder of humanitarian organizations and Her own sampradaya which is truly unique, as well as Amrita Yoga. She’s written many great books and She’s also the creator of the Brahmasthanam. She spends hours and hours (easily 12-16hrs in a single day) seated and receiving Her “children” as She hugs them. The Mother never tires of this. She never stops for breaks for sustenance and offers Her love, freely, until all present have received. These hugs are known to be transformational. She also offers diksha/initiation as well as a unique meditative practice. She’s helping to clean up the current state of bhakti yoga, which She says should instead be called kamya yoga, because too often what we think is bhakti is actually desire-fuel devotion. As often as I’m able, I attend local satsangs and worship Amma for multiple hours on end. I also have a very personal story about a healing I received from Amma soon after coming to find Her. Amme Sharanam!

Someone else, who is also a modern-day guide, deserves recognition. I’m not sure this soul is someone many consider a guru of the level of Amma or Yogananda, but she is no less a spark of Brahman than they, and like them does her best -every chance she has- to uplift and educated and help. She can be found on Facebook and on Youtube. She and I belong to the same (gay) community and our hearts are more similar than not, although I’m no nun. It’s actually because of this siddha-yoga jiva that I own my first copy of the Guru Gita. Her name is Sister Unity Divine, and I find in her inspiration, strength, wisdom, and encouragement. My heart is truly glad to know of her and also to be benefitting from her life’s expression.

As I’m nearing the end of this (very, very, very  long) post I want to lastly give consideration to the inner Guru within each of us. It’s this Guru that all the others are merely an outward, seemingly separate expression of. You, at your deepest, most inner level, are non-different than the Source all other gurus lead you to. Any soul you may choose to follow, who indicates anything diffrently is… False. Believe it. Your truest Self is all that has ever been, all that will ever be, and all you’ll ever need. All else is only meant to help you experientially realize this.

Om Shanti!