Ayigiri

Durga puja special dance song

Every year, many Hindus celebrate a holiday dedicated to various forms of The Mother, and every year I love it. Mostly, in my personal practice, I simply focus my worship on my preferred face of the Mother as She currently lives on the earth – which is to say, in the form of Mata Amrtanandamayi Ma, also known as Amma, The Hugging Saint. She’s an avatar of Shri Durga, who goes by another name: Mahishasuramardini. Mahishasura was a “buffalo demon” who was practically invincible and after nearly every other feasible attempt at conquering this monster had proven unsuccessful, everyone besought The Divine Mother for help.

Mata Amrtanandamayi Ma

Mata Amrtanandamayi Ma

A quick study of the symbolism employed in Durga’s image will explain why She proved so capable. Superficially, She seems to carry some weapon from nearly all the other major gods, which to some will imply that She combines their powers. However, in truth She is the underlying power that makes any of the others possible. Because of this inherent truth, this holiday is one of my favorite sign posts of the Faith.

Coming from a divorced family, and having both a birth mother and a step-mother, I know the many faces of motherhood and the value that women and mothers hold to society and humanity. Sometimes a mother plays a fierce role – either to protect her offspring or to scare them from foolishness that might place them in harm’s way. Sometimes a mother has to play the role of security, and provide the grounding force in the lives of her offspring, giving them a place of origin to reference and reset their compass when they accidentally steer off course. And other times still, the mother has to provide support in the form of nurturing the offspring and thus help to facilitate much-needed healing.

For each of the days of Navratri, which Hindus are currently celebrating, a different face of the Mother is focused on and honored. Temples everywhere are having their own celebration programs – my own local temple has programs put on each night by people from a different parts of India, all focusing on the particular face of Mother for that evening. At the end of the holiday, we’ll be holding a Durga Visarjan.

In my home, I don’t celebrate the Mother’s different faces each respective day, at least not like I would if I were to adhere to tradition. I simply honor the face of Mother I most closely connect with, which is Shri Mata Amrtanandamayi Ma. As witnessed in the actions and life story of Amma, we are all nourished and protected and loved by our shared Mother. She serves as an inexhaustible source of love, service, courage and sacrifice – a perennial example to all.

Whether during Navratri or at a local home satsangh, the worship and adoration of Amma includes singing Ayigiri or Maheshasuramardini. I have virtually the whole thing memorized. I’ve attached a video of it below for your viewing / education. I usually prefer to share three-part versions of things that include the devanagari, the transliteration, and the translation. This video only includes the transliteration, and I think I found an issue with verse nine, but whatever. It’ll still give you the bulk of what I intend to share. I absolutely encourage anyone and everyone to learn this devotional song to our Mother.

As the 2013 Navratri holiday progresses, I want to wish each of you all the best and to each of you the strongest, most healing, most protective and most protected relationships with each other and with The Mother. Jai Mata Di!

Aum Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Aum Shanti

Advertisement

Krishna-Ganesha

sanjay_patel_originals

One of the books I bought while in Chicago recently is, “The Book of Ganesha” by Royina Grewal. I’ve only read the introduction and part of the first chapter, but it’s already been really interesting. Some of what I’ve read I’m not sure how I feel about – stuff like the Aryan Invasion Theory, which this book seems to support. But generally, most all of what I’ve read would be classified as myths surrounding Ganesha’s origin. I love this stuff.

After reading through a number of origin stories I came to one I was less familiar with. Actually, I was familiar with it superficially, but hadn’t looked into it much. As it turns out, the following story is one created by Vaishnavs for, what I perceive, are very obvious purposes.

“Such was the popularity of the elephant-headed deity that the Vaishnavas also wished to claim Him as their own and developed myths to establish the connection of Ganesha with Vishnu. One presents Ganesha as an incarnation of Krishna, with Shani instead of Shiva as the agent of beheading. And it is Vishnu who revives Ganesha and grants him his special status.

(And the story goes…)

Shiva advised Parvati, who wanted to have a son, to propitiate Vishnu and observe vratas (fasts and rituals) in his honor for a year. “Then,” he said, “The lord of gopikas, Krishna himself, will be born as your son.” Parvati observed the vrata, and to her immense joy, Krishna was born to her as an infant of unparalleled beauty.

All the gods came to pay homage to Parvati’s new son. The great ascetic Shani, son of Surya, was among them but he kept his eyes cast down and would not look at the child. When Parvati asked him the reason for this, he explained that once he had been so absorbed in the contemplation of lord Vishnu that he had not noticed his wife’s attempts to gain his attention. Furious that her fertile time would pass unfulfilled, she had cursed him, saying that anything his eyes rested upon would be destroyed. It was because of this that he would not look at the child.

Parvati and her attendants mocked Shani, and she demanded that he admire her son. And so with great fear, and only out of the corner of his eye, Shani looked at Parvati’s infant and his glance instantly severed the child’s head. Vishnu, moved by the mother’s grief, flew off on Garuda towards the north. He brought back the head of a young elephant which he joined to the headless body of Parvati’s son, reviving him. Vishnu blessed “Krishna-Ganesha” thus: May your puja be performed before that of any other god. May you be situated in all venerable beings and may you be the best among yogis. This is my boon to you.

Thus ends the Vaishnav origin of my ishtadevata. Does anyone else find it “typical” that Vishnu is in the spotlight so much in this rendition?

1) Parvati had to appease Vishnu to win His favor, which took a year.
2) After winning favor, Parvati is the lucky gal who gets to birth the all-star, Krishna (Vishnu).
3) All the gods paid homage to Her son, who is Krishna/Vishnu
4) An ascetic devotee of none other than Vishnu had the curse (power?) which severed the head of the infant Krishna (an interesting paradox, indeed).
5) Vishnu, who came to adore His own infant form, was also the one who saved the day by getting a new head for the baby AND being responsible for reviving him.
6) A wond’rous boon was afforded the babe, who is Krishna, by Sri Vishnu – just because?

So Vishnu gave the blessing, which was conveniently His own appearance. Then somebody who loved Vishnu “too much” was responsible for the child’s death, which allowed Vishnu – who had arrived solely to adore His own infant self – to become the hero and fix a mess that, at best, He’d only indirectly caused. And as icing on the cake, he gave a boon to His infant self.

Say what?

A better-known version of Ganesha’s origin seems more balanced, impartial, and frankly more reasonable: Shiva (traditionally known as the master of all yogis) had been away for a while meditating (as the master of all yogis would be inclined to do) when Parvati decided to create a child/guardian of Her own body. Shiva comes back and ignorantly makes a mess of the situation because He isn’t aware that the child is essentially His. When Parvati sees the mess, She threatens to annihilate all of existence in Her grief. To prevent this, Shiva ends up with an elephant head, which he installs on the child’s body and restores to life. Then because He’s the one who made the mess to begin with, He not only makes everything right again, but adds icing on top with a boon that requires “sacrifice” on His own part – which is to give Ganesha dominion over His (Shiva’s) gunas, among other aspects of the boon.

I personally find this version to be far less lop-sided than the Vaishnava version. From the beginning it follows basic foundational concepts of Hinduism: Parvati, the Mother, is where everything comes from and it’s from Her body that Ganesha is formed – like everything else in existence. Her very upset threatens the entirety of existence, which makes sense because “everything” is energy, aka Shakti, aka The Mother – which further supports that Ganesha should have come from Her to begin with. Then Shiva, the one who jacked everything up because of His own yogic imbalance, is the rightly one who made everything good again through His own effort and sacrifice – aka the Law of Karma.

And finally what you’re left with is Ganesha: The universal symbol of Hinduism regardless of sect, second only to Om itself – which He’s also uniquely recognized as the embodiment of. His strange form transcends reason and conceptual limitation, just as with Brahman Itself. His form is also a poetic combination of natural and supernatural, magic and mundane, creator and creation – signifying not only the indefinable nature of our Source, but also that He’s the harmony found perfectly situated at the center of every paradox. He rules all karmas, as no substantial action should be started without Him, and no barrier can be erected or removed without Him. He’s known to be the ruler of the Muladhara Chakra and is known to be “centered in the chest where the breath is felt” which tells us that He’s the closest to us, the most easily accessed, the true Starting Point, and intimately connected to our very existence. No other conception of God is worshipped successfully without first worshipping Him.

I could probably go on and on, but I bet you’re about to hurl. Fair enough. Every once in a while I just gotta make a post like this and get it out of my system. Thanks for tolerating.

Om Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Om Shanti

Tree Sons

(Image from Kaui Hindu Monastery)

(Image from Kaui Hindu Monastery)

Many people roll their eyes at the thought of somebody being a “tree hugger.” The implications and mental images that usually accompany that title are potentially of a sloppy person, a bit whimsical and carefree (careless?), perhaps anti-establishment. It’s a label that’s been around for decades and, as with everything else through the decades, the definition of what a tree hugger today is has probably changed from the original meaning. I suppose in a lot of ways, I could be called a tree hugger. Don’t get me wrong – in so very many ways I’m not even close to what “tree hugger” probably originally meant. Still in many other ways I’m very much a tree hugger, and a number of people in my life may well be able to vouche that I’ve literally hugged a tree once or twice. From a young age, others will also be able to confirm, I’ve enjoyed being in “the woods” and going rivering and traipsing through creeks and just being completely enveloped by Mother in nature. I think it’s something most people never experience, but I can attest that trees give great hugs if you allow.

I’m not a hippie. I’m just a Hindu.

Tree hugger (hugged?) or not, one thing I am is a tree worshipper. For thousands of years Hindus have recognized the immense value of trees and have also recognized how very truly trees imitate the Supreme One – far beyond the superficial “roots in heaven” symbolism. As Hindus, we’re free to see God wherever we might be inclined to, and a number of scriptural references encourage us to see God in trees. This is something I do, and have always done, with much ease.

** An important thing for any non-Hindu readers to understand is that Hindus don’t really worship trees (or any of our other religious images). At the foundation of our religion is the Ground of All Being – the essence that supports all that is and is common to virtually everything. This is what advanced modern sciences are catching up to and proving accurate at an increasing rate. And it’s this recognition, of that Ground of All Being, that allows for the immense diversity, and consequently the expansive freedom afforded to Hindus. **

Something else I easily could manage but have yet to accomplish (at all, let alone with much ease) is parenthood. I’ve posted a few times here how important my parents are to me and what an invaluable treasure they’ve been to me and many others in this life. Anyone who knows me outside of all things cyber can attest to my strong desire to be a dad, and how envious (in a good way!) I often am of parents.

Luckily for me, there seems to be scriptural support for the fusion of these two, seemingly unrelated aspects of my life. A year or two ago, a friend on Facebook posted a quote, something from one of the myriad Hindu scriptures, that included the Sanskrit translation, and I found it striking. It truly struck a chord with me because it linked the huge benefit and value of family and parenthood to that of ecology, and quite specifically trees. Those scriptural references are cited below.

“A pond is equal to ten wells; ten ponds are equal to one lake; ten lakes are equal to one son; and ten sons are equal to one tree.” (“dashakupa-sama vaapi dashavaapi samo hrdaha dashahrda samaha putro dashaputro samo drumaha”) -Vrkshayurveda 6

“Those who plant trees, for them they are like sons. There is no doubt that because of those trees, man attains heaven after his death.” -Mahabharata, Anu parva 58/27

The photo at the end of this post is primarily of a treeling I’m nurturing in the middle of my front yardage. When we purchased the property about four summers ago, an actual tree stood where this baby one does now, although it was mostly dead. After a year or so, we came home one day to see that the HOA and landscapers had chopped the half-dead tree. A year or so later, you can imagine my thrill when, while piddling around my yard, I notice a resurrection of sorts occurring. I nursed the little bitties and helped them grow – offering not only regular watering, but also regular pujas. However, one day much to my dismay, I came home from work to see another chop job had taken place. I’ll admit: I cried. And not only that, I spent the rest of the evening melancholy and pouting indoors.

For me, things like this ARE kind of like my children and I miss the life I interacted with when something like that fails or ceases. I suppose that proves the scriptures true, no? At any rate, my treeling is growing back! I noticed it very early this spring season and I’ve been tending to it since before our final frost. To date, it’s survived and prospered even more than it did last year!

As with so much else within the Scriptures, I’m not sure I really buy that a tree is equal to ten human sons. This isn’t the first time I’ve doubted the scriptures… in fact, I do that often enough. At any rate, I do enjoy the sentiment and every day when I go outside for vrksha-puja and I notice that this treeling has split into “two” very close to the ground I smile at the thought of my twenty twin sons, and my heart enjoys the moment as a temporary expression of the love I have for the human child who is likely never to arrive in my life.

Om Shri Ganeshaya Namaha
Om Shanti

IMG_20130618_200452_737

Mother Shiva

I read a post recently, by an author I read regularly. Her most recent post is what I wanted to bring your attention to – that can be found here. In case you care not to go there and read it (it’s not terribly long), I’ll share the essence of it as I perceived it: The power of bhakti. In the past, when I’ve written about bhakti, I’ve been critical. Please believe: I still am.

At odds with the message of a few modern gurus, I think bhakti is a poor choice for modern man to try to forge an entire path from. However, I can admit that this is my personal inclination based on my personal experience, and while I’d love for others to have the same realization, I don’t expect it. Still, bhakti has immense value when handled appropriately and what I find amazing is the control of bhakti exhibited by the author’s son, as mentioned in the post. He seems to either be a very clever guesser or he’s perhaps a future jnani.

She was chanting to Shiva when her son approached her with a request to chant Kali instead. (The mantra she was chanting is known as panchaksharamantra – the five (panch) letter (akshara) mantra. If Vaishnavs have “mahamantra” revealed by Prabhupad, then this is the mahamantra of Shaivites – only it has Vedic origin.) Initially she resisted, to which he responded that Shiva is a nickname for The Mother anyway. Her son is hardly a few years past the toddlering age and yet he speaks as though he recognizes The Mother in all and already seems to realize that the Names are a convention employed within Maya. Further, in many Hindu sects a symptom of bhakti is that the various gods other than the ishtadevata are known to be other/lesser manifestations of the god of choice for that sect. With that in mind, if his words might be taken to imply the development of Jnana Yoga within him (as I suspect), surely the response he gave his mother should likewise imply the development of Bhakti Yoga.

No matter how you slice it, when you get into the meat of Hinduism (hey now… many Hindus DO eat meat) you’ll practically invariably come to learn that (almost) no matter what god you worship, that god is lifeless without the animating Shakti supporting him. As far as I can tell, Chaitanya is the only vaishnav “manifestation” of god that is known to be a two-in-one composition of The Mother and The Father, in that context known as Vishnu and Lakshmi. For those of a shaivite inclination, the more exotic and well known image of Ardhanarishwar is given – less androgynous than Chaitanya, and literally a half/half of Shiva and Shakti.

tumblr_m03bs0FIBW1qk2mrpo1_r1_500

That author’s son likely doesn’t yet recognize the profound depth inherent to his own words, but from where I stand his little internal landscape is already a demonstrating a fine and productive mix of Jnana and Bhakti. Surely, for him and anyone else, a similar approach involving such a beautiful balance between Bhakti and Jnana will result in a swift departure from the wheel of samsara.

Om Shanti

Bhakt’

In the last post I scratched the surface on a three-part series I’m planning to write about my understanding of the nature of the Hindu conception of God, and also where I personally have encountered the highest concentration of This in my own life. Before continuing in this post, you’ll want to have read the one before this. Inform yourself here. As mentioned in the post before this, Ganesha deva holds a particular place in my swadharma. In this post I’d like to attempt to explain how trying my hand at devotion (Ganesha = my ishtadevata) brought me to a higher knowledge regarding Truth. Right now, I’m not terribly confident that my thought processes or use of words will serve as I hope, but if you care to continue reading, you’ll have my best effort.

Bhakti, or devotion, was the first component at play in my being transfixed on the Ideal that is Ganesha. I came to know of Him almost the very instant I came to know anything at all about Hinduism. Perhaps love/devotion at first sight? LOL No, but really -probably the first two things I knew regarding Ganesha is that He’s the Remover of Obstacles, and that He’s the son of Shiva, the God of Destruction (among other things and whose name is synonymous with auspiciousness and consciousness. I’ve been meaning to make a post just about Shiva.). With attributes like that instantly my heart was hooked.

As I mentioned in the last post, I find the highest quantity and concentration of divine attributes to be applicable to Ganesha. If Brahman is essentially attributeless, and It is (Neti, Neti, remember?), then it reasons that devotion to anything with attributes best serves as a launch pad for experiencing/merging with something virtually impossible to conceptualize. You have to essentially master the phenomenal world before transcending it and realizing the Foundation of all that is phenomenal. Otherwise you’re trying to go from zero to sixty without really even knowing how to operate the vehicle. Some vehicles come with power windows, but no power seats. Some don’t have power windows, but have power seats, and so on. I want a vehicle with as many bells and whistles as I can find so that operating my vehicle happens as optimally as possible, making that zero-to-sixty acceleration not only more likely, but smoother in the process. And so, as it happens, I found Ganesha.

In my opinion, of all the prominent gods within the Hindu pantheon, Ganesha is the most striking. For me personally, gods like Brahma, Vishnu, Kartikeya/Murugan, Shiva, and just about all forms of Shakti/The Mother are too anthropomorphic. I don’t think this lessens their value in any way, but it makes them less appealing to me. Even one such as Hanuman, who has a human-like form of a monkey, is too human-like to represent something as indescribable as Brahman in my experience. In contrast, Ganesha refuses to fit most moulds. Possessing the head of an elephant, a typically obese thorax and abdomen, and rarely seen with fewer than four arms … the whole mess of which is perched upon a miniscule maushika (mouse) vahana. His form, while full of meaning that I’ll pick apart later, doesn’t fit in. Maybe this pulls more at my own heart strings because of growing up as I did: short, scrawny, unathletic, non-farmer gay kid in the middle of Indiana’s corn fields. Like Ganesha’s misfit head and whacked beginning, I didn’t fit many moulds hoped for me either. On some level, I feel affinity for His image and all it’s various traits may represent.

I think, too, much of what Ganesha is said to symbolize/represent/govern are things I hold dear. This list is actually super big, and I’ll get to that in the next post. I suppose it’s selfish, but finding not only what I hold dear, but much else otherwise kind of makes Ganesha the ultimate in one-stop spiritual shopping for me.

Shortly after learning of Ganesha I purchased my very first murti. At that time, I was already more inclined toward the Shiva side of things, but a murti of Ganesha is what I encountered first and it was almost like I was imprinted instantly. I’ve included a photo of it above. My first “mandir” was nothing other than the top of a cheap dresser and consisted of hardly more than a cloth covering the dresser’s top, a candle, and the Ganesha above. I’m tempted to say that it was during this time that my bhakti was newest and strongest. I certainly didn’t yet possess much spiritual knowledge, but I knew I loved God and I knew that for me, Ganesha was my preferred image of God. At this time, too, I was familiarizing myself with Yogananda and his autobiography, and with the Bhagavad Gita. Because of the lack of knowledge, including knowledge of the concept of Karma Yoga, bhakti was literally my entire religion. I had known devotion before with earlier religious experiences, but during this time in my life it was quite literally just myself and what I understood to be my god -the connection was palpable and real and it’s from this time of my life that I retain spiritual memories that not only are kept tucked away for my remembrance only, but sealed my relationship with Brahman as Ganesha.

Since those days, I’m become more familiar with the other faces of Brahman. I don’t suppose I could ever fully exclude any one of Hinduism’s god. However, I’ve also become increasingly close to the Ideal of Ganesha and have learned so much about Him -and have learned and experienced so much as a result of learning about Him. This brings me to the next post which I intend to deal with the meaning encapsulated in Ganesha’s form as well as jnana yoga. For now, let it be clear that Ganesha is the source of my devotion and its object, and this has brought me to new landscapes of internal wisdom.

Om Shanti