The Elephant in the Room


20131107 was a Thursday. I don’t write about these things very often, but I had an experience during that evening’s puja and when I shared tidbits about it with a friend, I received encouragement that this end up bloggered. So here you have it… To be clear, my daily pujas are REALLY simple. Short and sweet. I think the most the whole ordeal only ever really takes is something around 15-20 minutes. On particularly “holy” days, I do a bit more in terms of worship.

Last night was only different from any normal week night puja in that my home mandir has been newly decorated with some white Xmas lights. I’ve done this before and really enjoy the warm, glowing effect it has on the entire temple room. But that’s not entirely true about last night’s puja only being different because of Xmas lights. Last night was also different because “something” happened. When I mentioned this to my friend, I think I put it in terms of a “visitation” but the closer reality is likely that it was more of a “clarification.”

My home mandir currently

My home mandir currently

I’m sitting before the mandir like always, doing the ritual like always. I recall a certain point in the process when I almost suddenly felt like I wasn’t alone. My immediate perception was that Shri Ganesh-ji had “arrived” and was in the room with me. Mind you, the beginning of every puja involves an invocation, so technically He’s always present during puja. I call to Him. He arrives. And I worship. This time however, the air in the room felt like it was more occupied than usual.

Toward the end of the puja I spend time in contemplation, dhyana, japa. It was at this time that I felt particularly aware of the room and everything happening in it. The glow from the mandir was pleasant. The asana I had wrapped myself in was hugging. The incense, a recent Diwali gift from my bahin in Atlanta, smelled great. For a very short time I seemed to feel the vibrations from the shlokas and other things intoned during the puja – as if they were reverberating throughout the room still. Then suddenly, and very sweetly, I realized that I wasn’t alone in the room. My first thought was something like, “Whoa-shit! Ganesha’s here big time!” The only form of Ganesha that I actually saw was the Vira-Ganesh murti in my mandir, but I really felt another, far-fuller, Presence.

Some readers are likely entertaining thoughts like, “This kind of stuff is all in his head.” And, I believe, that is the truth. Now, before anyone gets all huffy and puffy on me, let me say that I’m not implying that Ganesh is imaginary. What I intend to say instead is that Ganesh and I are essentially non-different and what I really, truly, and actually felt then was my Self.

I recall Shri Eckhart Tolle telling of a time when he was at his lowest and had grown suicidal. One of the last thoughts he recalls from the moments before he planned to go through with the act was “I cannot live with myself.” Strangely, right then, it dawned on him that there were two entities in that thought. There was first the “myself” that couldn’t be lived with and then there was also the “I” that seemed to be speaking and could no longer tolerate an existence with the “myself.” He questioned right then who was the “I” that couldn’t live with his “myself.” It was then that he realized that there is a component of who he is that isn’t touched by the misery of the “myself” and had grown weary of experiencing that misery.

Some would maybe say that this sounds a little like a schizophrenic break, but the reality is: We are not our mind.

The mind is an immensely powerful thing. And the ego, necessary for functioning in this life, maintains an incredibly close relationship with the mind. One of the results of this relationship is that we begin identifying with our thoughts and consequently believe that we are our mind – or that our thoughts reflect our truest selves. It’s not true.

There’s a saying, which this post is titled after, that mentions “the elephant in the room” and references something not spoken about, but potentially quite obvious. The elephant felt to be in the room with me during the final moments of last night’s puja is That. This elephant could well be called Ganesha. It would just as well be called my Self – the timeless spark of God that lives in each of us. The “I” that lives with “myself.” It’s very much like “the elephant in the room” because it’s not spoken of hardly ever, yet it’s all that there really is. I suppose within the Advaita Hindu view of things, this elephant is in the room and pervades the room, and IS the room. I often am able to separate my mind/ego from who I am – even to the point that I can watch the mind/ego function, and as Tolle says, it’s madness. But it was a blessing and true surprise last night when my Self became the Ganesha my worship was directed at – and that the connection was so complete that “I” filled the room and even surprised my own mind.

The friend who encouraged me to publish a post about the experience, when I initially refused, encouraged me to write – not so much to say, “Look how awesome this was” as to say, “Look what’s out there.” Reader, please know You are what’s out there. You are what’s worshipable. And You are far more awesome than even yourself realizes.

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Aum Shanti


I’d like to buy a vowel, please

Image taken from Google Image search

Image take from Google Image search

According to Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami in Loving Ganesha, “Lord Ganesha is invoked through the mantra Aum. The Mandukya Upanishad elucidates the inner meaning of Aum, which embodies the highest wisdom… A represents the waking state. U represents the dreaming state. M represents the state of deep sleep. Aum in its entirety, plus the moment of silence which follows it, represents the shanti, the peace beyond understanding (I think this is a biblical reference). Thus, Aum japa performed as an invocation to Lord Ganesha, the Lord of Wisdom and Knowledge – while love is welling up from your hearts and tears are for no reason flowing simultaneously – calls forth the knowledge of the entirety of our existence in these four categories of consciousness. These are realms that God Ganesha rules over as Lord of Categories, and this is the knowledge that He can grant devotees who perform Aum japa and meditation on the meaning of Aum.”

For the sake of brevity (yeah right!) and because I’m in the middle of a number of other writing projects, both for Sthapati and school, I’ll attempt to explain why I might be using AUM instead of OM from now on – all in this post. To be as transparent as possible, this change isn’t so much about practicality or technicality, or a change in understanding. None of that has changed. It’s entirely about expression and my relationship to my ishtadevata, Ganesha. Plain and simple.

As someone who enjoys studying languages and understands more than a little about the inner workings of a number of languages, I’ve always found value in simplicity and, within linguistic contexts, phonetic approaches often serve big but simple purposes. O-M is one phonetic rendering of the pronunciation of something all Hindus understand to be supreme enough that it transcends most of our scope of comprehension. The symbol of our faith is one representation of our Highest, Brahman. It’s a bit abstract, although entirely intentional and the symbol itself is made of a combination of three Devanagari “letters” which correspond to most Western alphabets as A, U, and M, respectively. Spelled variously as Om, Ohm, and Aum (and maybe a few other ways?), it truly is pointless to insist that one rendition is better than another – although, I’m willing to admit that one rendition is somewhat cleaner than the others.


When I first encountered an attempt at “spelling” that transcendent Thing, it was A-U-M. I later adopted the phonetic spelling of O-M, in large part because everyone I encountered seemed attached to the three-letter-spelling and overemphasized those three letters when vocalizing The Word. Yes, you’re supposed to make the sound of the A, and then the U-sound, and then the M-sound, followed by silence. Satguru Subramuniyaswami affirms this. However, it’s safe to say that you’re “doing it wrong” if any listener can clearly distinguish between the three “letters” as you make their sounds. The A is not meant to be wide open like the “o” in “got.” The U is usually not mispronounced, but it is often too clearly separated from the A and the M. And the M itself is not meant to be created by the usual “humming” that ends up happening when Westerners make the sound with their lips. Anyone with even basic understanding of the Devanagari script will look at the Aum symbol, see the “bowl with a dot in it” at the top, and know the difference between a labial M and a nasalized M. Westerners too often end up sounding like ET saying “ouch” in the decades-old film, only with an M on the end… AAAH-OOOOW-MMM. That’s at least as “wrong” as using OM instead of AUM. Surely, there’s meant to be some grace and proficiency when enunciating the Primal, Causal, Sound. All of existence is held within Om/Aum, we should take care not to butcher it when invoking. An additional support for what I’ve just said about pronunciation can be pulled from the Ganesha Saharanama. One of His names is indicative, not only of how Aum should be approached, but also of Ganesha’s relation to the Supreme. You see, among many other names He’s referenced as “Ekakshara.” The name means “One-Letter” and is meant to be a direct pointer to Him actually being and personifying Aum. To my knowledge he’s the only entity in the Hindu pantheon referenced in this precise way. We’re literally saying His name when we invoke The Ancient Tone, and that tone is meant to be “one letter” – something supported by the very shape of Aum. In the same way that the three letters have been made into, and can be found within the One, Aum encompasses all stages of existence and all realms.

Ganesha, being referenced in myriad Hindu scriptures as the personification of Om, Itself, is an expression of The One that I find myself most inclined toward. The Satguru referenced at the beginning of this post is not a Ganapatya; he was the head of a very traditional Shaivate sect. Still, in the paragraph at the top and in many other places throughout Loving Ganesha and the other great texts he authored, Ganesha is extolled as having particularly unique place among humanity’s conceptions of the Supreme Divine.

In past posts, my expression of bhakti was questioned and even appears to have been taken to be borderline offensive. While I still have some less-than-smiley feelings about that and what it implies, I should admit that I’m not really concerned with that. So much of what I read, from the Ganapatya texts and the texts of many many other sects, affirms and confirms my thoughts, my understanding, and my feelings. My sadhana and the karmic expression within my unique life are also great encouragement for the path I’m making. But… I digress. No path is alive if it doesn’t (or isn’t able to) evolve. This evolution sometimes means foundational shifts. More often, though, it represents a modified way of moving along that evolutionary path – with the foundation or essence of the beginning remaining intact. This is what’s happening with my usage of Om. Let’s get back to that Ancient Tone, though, and how it’s written.

There’s nothing in the world wrong with utilizing a phonetic spelling. I’ll never attempt to convince anyone that A-U-M is somehow better or purer or more accurate. I don’t believe it is, really. However, from within the context of my own bhakti experience, I’m increasingly of the mind that the try-akshar (three-letter) spelling of the cosmic Ekakshara (one-letter) is cleaner and more fully indicative of my understanding of, and relationship with, Ganesha.

Ganesha truly is called Ekakshara. He is Aum. For many reasons unrelated (or only indirectly related) to Aum, I already understand and love Ganesha as The Supreme. As my personal Supreme, and being the traditional face of Shabda Brahman (Brahman as The Ancient Tone, as the Original Sound) as documented throughout Hinduism’s sects’ various scriptures, I understand Ganesha to be the beginning, the middle, and the end of everything. He supports the devotee in the waking, dreaming, and deep states of consciousness. Because of everything Ganesha means in my life, because of his personifying the Ancient Tone, and certainly in part because of Satguru Subramuniyaswami’s influence, it feels increasingly natural to me that I would adjust how I spell Om/Aum. Because my sweet Ekakshara is so cosmic, so universal, so all-encompassing, I feel it’s a sweeter and more wholesome tribute from my bhakti to express this with the triune spelling instead of the phonetic.

And there you have it.

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Aum Shanti