Dead Horse

Image taken from Google Image search

Image taken from Google Image search

Partially because of my own boredom and partially because kicking dead horses is just plain rude, this will likely be just about the last post I make for a while when it comes to sorting out religion from superstition… at least until the next time I employ fire magick and begin questioning things anew.

So… last night, as part of my intentional avoidance of all school responsibilities, I found myself driving around town with my best, visiting our favorite bookstore: Half Price Books. They’re currently having a store-wide 20% off sale, and while I have no business buying more books, I simply can’t resist. I might also note, if I can do so without sounding proud, that my relationship to my best is often in a “teacher” capacity. Of course, for all teachers, the ultimate goal is that the students should themselves become teachers and last night while driving around my best definitely was a teacher. It all began when I asked him to differentiate between religion and superstition. A few times we talked in circles. A few times no sense was to be made. But in the end, using the idea of a fire and the fuel going into it, we almost sufficiently (for me) sorted out the difference between the two.

Interestingly, a big part of the fire equation hinged on hope, devotion, or bhakti. We determined that bhakti would act as the wood, the fuel. It’s essentially the foundation – without hope or devotion behind any action, that action is ultimately a dead thing. The animating force, the starting place, is hope or devotion. Without SOMETHING to ignite, there can be no fire. In that context, I find it interesting that many of the devotional poets from many different cultures have written about their devotion burning, or burning up. Fuel indeed! The fire itself, then, would be the ritual, religion, or superstition – respectively. This means the action itself. “The fire that kindles,” as my best put it. I find this in itself to be poetic. If you sit around a fire, everyone knows something is being burned to make that fire, but the fire itself is where the attention is ultimately afforded. It’s the big, showy exterior of the chemical change happening right then and there. Religion is definitely the fire. The big showy exterior that results when we set fire (action) to our hope.

Ultimately there’s a very very fine line between religion and superstition where ritual is concerned, and through chatting with another dear pal it was kind of determined that religion is superstition + validity. To go back to my best and his wisdom from last night, a big part of the validity is cultural influence, although let me be quick to say that cultural influence isn’t automatically where this so-called validity begins or ends – but it is definitely a significant factor.

So, we go back into human history. In the case of Hinduism, we can easily go back into prehistory – in fact, some of our scriptures mention a time when it was almost too cold for humanity to survive on our planet, aka the last ice age. But I digress. If you go back far enough you will no doubt encounter “religion” which today would amount to little more than superstition. People responsible for these kinds of studies will confirm as much. Our ancestors noticed that when they danced in a circle under very specific stellar arrangements, the rains necessary for good crops invariably came, which in turn ensured the survival of the community. Suddenly, puja and jyotish are born! Add about 7,000 years to that, and add humanity’s increased development in the areas of language and science, and you end up with “official” Sanatana Dharma. Through the eons, throughout the planet we inhabit, as we gained increasing dominance over nature we sought the rhyme and reason behind that dominance. As we gained that knowledge we codified and systemized it, and rightly marveled thereupon.

Why marvel? Because it’s marvelous. Duh. We’re talking about dark-n-wondrous, truly ancient stuff. This same stuff has made all the difference to us as a species. It’s THE evidence that proves our humanity – humanity being an interesting mix of the physical and nonphysical, mostly differentiated from other similar mixes according to our consciousness and awareness. We are the proof that’s in the pudding I mentioned in the last post, and our religions and superstitions are how we document our proof-ness.

Add another 4,000 years, a laptop, and a gay white Hindu in Indianapolis, and you find yourself with the current picture of yours truly and I’m telling you, finally, that it doesn’t really matter. Not really. I mean, if you want effectiveness and about all the pudding you can handle in your life (as I feel I’ve been blessed with), then you surely want to look into human knowledge that has a strong foundation. A system of thought and belief that touches the clouds, but doesn’t have its head there. Look for so-called superstition that has well-documented science behind it. There’s nothing wrong with carrying around a horse shoe, if your intention is pure and focused – indeed, if your intention is pure and focused and carrying a horse shoe seems to bring about the desired effect, then trust that your “fuel and fire” may well constitute real religion.

I’ll close by once again referencing my recent post about superstition and religion. Religiosity is a small part of my life really. Too often people see religion as the end AND the means to that end. That’s a trap. Another trap is to be found in thinking that your religion is inherently better than someone’s superstition, as both involve the same fires and woods. There might be evidence of it, but I’m not sure you’re allowed to actually think yours is better. Not really. Some would find supplication to an elephant-faced stone statue to be ridiculously superstitious. I don’t. Every single time, without fail – and I mean that as literally as I am able – that I have petitioned my conception of God for what I need, and often what I want, it has been given. From where I stand, my personal superstitions are effective in every regard. And this is where they factually transcend being mere superstitions. I’m speaking about the wood and the fire that lead me to, and provide me with, Light that enables me to see and Warmth that enables me to experience – this is Jnana. They equate my religious experience and facilitate my spirituality.

– Jay Shri Ganesha! –

Om Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Om Shanti

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ShubhRakhi : 2-in-1

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When I was very young, I almost invariably played by the rules in every instance. As a first born and closeted young person, my way in the world was found in being a good boy. To this day, the thought of disappointing my parents in any way causes me to cringe and break out in a sweat.

However, in my teen years some of that changed. This shift occurred primarily when I was forced to part with the first religious community I formally knew. It was a time of immense pain for me. From then since, it’s been of high value to me to always engage in the effort needed to know my heart, and then to follow it.

One way this manifests, yearly in fact, is a Hindu holiday known as Raksha Bandhan. I don’t know if, like many other Hindu things, there are multiple versions of this holiday’s origin, but the one I’m most familiar with involves Krishna (I think?) protecting his sister, which she then returns with a gesture of devotion by tearing part of her sari and making it into a bracelet around his wrist. Since the time of this supposed event, every year Hindu brothers and sisters celebrate their affection and devotion to each other. Brothers bring their sisters gifts and sweets and promise to always support and protect them. In turn, sisters tie a bracelet of sorts around their brother’s wrist, offer him treats as well, and likewise promise to support and be devoted to that sibling relationship. But that’s not exactly how I roll.

There are a number of people in my life, of no blood relation per se, who I value truly very much-ly actually quite-ly and immensely. Every year, for Raksha Bandhan (and in fact for months ahead of time) I purchase gifts to the best of my ability and bestow them upon my loved ones. If I can be honest, it’s the second most expensive time of the year for me, after the American Christmas holiday. Gift bags are assembled and packages are placed into the post… and when it’s all said and done, my wallet is usually, literally, more than empty. But my heart is so full. This holiday, celebrated almost entirely backward by yours truly, is my personal mahabhakti celebration.

More along the traditional lines of the holiday, though, is my relationship with my only blood sister. We’re about six years apart in physical age, and if ever a big brother had a baby sister… oh boy! Of the children brought here by my birth mother, my sweet sister and I are the only siblings remaining in the state. You can look at us and tell we’re related (because of a fine mix of Native American and European, we both have almond-shaped eyes and high cheek bones). I’ve included a photo of her in this post. Another likeness we share is our birth mother’s sheisty, feisty attitude. I think my sister’s absolutely beautiful, and I’m certain she hasn’t yet realized her tremendous worth to the world. I’m committed to helping her see this value and using it for her betterment and for the benefit of those others in her life. We talk/text regularly, and I love that we talk about boys. 🙂 If ever a sister expressed her devotion and support to a brother, it’s when my sister speaks to me. And if ever a brother was committed to protecting his little sister, it would surely be the brother who threatens to break the legs of any guy who causes her heart pain. Probably half of the communication between us is simple exchanges of “I Love you, bubby” and “I love you, too!”

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More than anything in this life, people need to know how much they mean. The value found in the simple fact that they are breathing is something lost on most. Generally, I’m good about telling others how I feel about them – for good or bad! But this is the one day of the year when I really mean it when I say I’m glad you didn’t die when you fell down the stairs, or that I’m glad you are who you are and that you are amazingly beautiful whether you’re closeted or not, or how truly important our times in the rivers means to me, or that you are my sweet sweet little sister and I will always be here for you.

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When it comes down to it, I really have no words. Not any that are adequate, anyway. Every morning and every night when I sit in my temple room before my mandir, my heart becomes obese – absolutely obese – as it sings the song within it. My sincerest hope, my brothers and sisters in this life, is that you know you are the very song of my own heart.

Jai Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Om Shanti

Ganeshapujana

Taken from Google Image search

Taken from Google Image search

One thing I enjoy studying is variance within the same. What I mean is how many different ways can the same haircut be performed and get the desired results, how many different ways are there to make bread, how many ways are there to skip rope? Also, how many ways are there to perform Ganesha puja? This is a question that can never fully be answered because the truest and most complete answer is that there are as many ways are there are people performing the puja. Youtube is full of suggestions, as is the Interweb in general. Ganesha puja can be as complex as you need, but because He’s the closest to the material plane of existence, and is also the most easily satisfied, puja to Him can be as simple as wanted, too. Many times, the details are ironed out for one by the forerunners of the sect he’s adhering to.

Below is one example taken from a blogspot entry, which conveniently enough also offers guidances on puja for Hanuman, Shiva, Shiva/Parvati, Krishna, and Ram.

How to do Ganesh Puja?

“Vakratunndd mahaakaay Suryakottisamaprabhaa. NirvighnaN kuru me dev sarvakaaryesshu sarvadaa.” Meaning: O Lord Ganesha of large body, curved trunk, with the brilliance of a million suns, please make all my work free of obstacles always.

Ganpati Puja : Stepwise-wise directions

Puja must be commenced only after performing ablutions. Begin by reciting “Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah” (1) Follow this by repeating “Aum” thrice. Now take a sip of holy water and invoke the god to purify you by repeating Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah thrice and wash hands. Now the puja can begin.

Sprinkle the ganesha idol with rice grains and flowers and chant Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Asanam Samarpayami

Next wash the feet of the idol with rice and sandal water and chant ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Padyam Samarpayami.’ Next wash the hands of the idol with sandal water mixed with rice and flowers and chant ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Samarpayami.’

Next offer the idol water to drink , thrice , while chanting ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Achmaneeyam Samarpayami.‘

Next the idol has to be bathed with milk, curd, ghee. Honey and sugar. Chant ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Panchamrita Snanam Samarpayami.’
After this make holy water offering. All the five offerings are to be made separately chanting ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Payah Snanam Samarpayami ‘ when offering milk.

‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Dadhi Snanam Samarpayami‘ when offering curd.
‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Ghrut Snanam Samarpayami‘ when offering ghee.
‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Madhu Snanam Samarpayami’ when offering honey.
‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Sharkara Snanam Samarpayami’ when offering sugar.

Now offer holy water to the idol and then wipe it clean with a piece of cloth while chanting ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Uttaraposhnam Samarpayami.’Now all the necessary ablutions have been completed.

The puja will proceed by making various offerings to lord ganesha. Offer raiment to the idol in the form of two threads chanting ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Vastropvastram Samarpayami.’When offering white thread repeat ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Yagyopveetam Samarpayami.’

Now red sandal powder paste is applied to the brow of the idol while chanting ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Gandham samarpayami.’

Offer rice and chant, ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Akshtam Samarpayami.’ Garland the idol, shower flowers and chant, ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Puspam Samarpayami.’ Offer Durva grass chanting, ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Durvan Kuran Samarpayami.’ Leaves offering chanting ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Bilvapatram Samarpayami.’ Burned perfume offering to be made while chanting ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Dhoopam Agrapyami.’

Perform the aarti of the idol with a ghee lamp chanting ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Deepam Darshyami.’

Give sweets to the lord, chanting ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Naivedyam Samaryami.’Offer water to the idol ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Achmaneeyam Samarpayami.’
Offer fruit, ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Phalam Samarpayami.’
Offer betel nut, betel leaf, clove and cardamom and chant ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Tamboolam Samarpayami.’ Offer perfume and chant ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Itram Samarpayami.’ Offer coins and chant ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Dakshinam Samarpayami.’ Now offer sandal rice, flower, and durva all mixed in water and chant ‘Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Vishesh Argyam Samarpayami.”Now genuflect before the idol while chanting, Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah I bow before you.

Finally to bring the puja to a close, circle the idol in a clockwise direction while chanting Aum Shri Ganeshya Namah Pradakshinam Samarpayami once.

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

India Book House

Every year, it’s not guaranteed that my beloved and I will take a vacation. We do take time off throughout the year, but an actual dedicated vacation is something a bit new to us, after almost a decade of being together. While there are a few other trips on the potential horizon, this past week has been it for the year. We mostly piddled around the house and around town this week, and bounced a few travel plans around – finally settling on a day trip to Chicago. Saturday. My parents came with us, and it really made all the difference. Our plans were basic: Drive to northern Indiana, take the South Shore Line into the city and use the L to get everywhere, everywhere being two comic book shops for my beloved and Chicago’s Little India for me.

What actually happened was that we all carpooled into the city and got confused almost immediately within China Town, parked in China Town, boarded the L there and took it north to Devon Street, where Little India was supposed to have been. The first 20 minutes in the city and the last 20 minutes in the city were probably the most confusing. Luckily, the very first person we encountered was an L employee who was about as helpful as she could have been without actually riding the L with us – and she actually did do that breifly. You can see her below.

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As soon as we boarded the L, we shot from the south side to the north and exited as close as possible to Devon Street, which Google indicates is the Little India of Chicago. Unfortunately, what Google doesn’t share is that there’s a good mile (more?) trek from the Loyola stop on the L to where Little India actually begins. On a hot summer day with Midwest humidity, walking a bajillion city blocks is miserable. Just about as miserable, though, is getting to your supposed destination and repeatedly finding only the same kind of stores: Groceries, dress shoppes, and eateries. Occasionally, we’d see a phone place or a salon of some kind, but the variety was lacking in the most disappointing way. Further, here in Indy, puja items are mostly bought at the Indian grocery stores. In Chicago, most of the groceries in Little India are actually more Muslim (Pakistani) than Hindu. In fact, this area of the city is alternately known as “Indo-pak” because of the very prominent Muslim presence. The result, as far as my shopping was concerned, was that none of the groceries we passed carried Hindu puja items like here in Indy. However, the closest thing we found to fulfill my needs actually was a bookstore and it was a treasure indeed!

The treasure trove discovered at the edge of Chicago’s Little India is called India Book House. We were almost passing it before we knew we were upon it, and after checking out a few Ganesha murtis in the window, decided entry was mandatory. The only way our time spent there could have gone better is if I were made of a little more of money than I am. This place was mostly a book store, but also carried a significant array of mandirs, music, DVDs, CDs, and murtis – many of which were of Ganesha. We spent a good hour in the store while I examined every square inch of the place, making sure no Ganesham went unnoticed. I left with five books: Shree MahaGanesh Siddha Vrat, The Book of Ganesha, Srimad Bhagavadgita (I have about 20 different versions of the Gita, but this is the copy most used at my temple here in Indy and I’ve been looking for an exact copy), The Thousand Names of Ganesha (this particular publication is only available for Ganesha, Vishnu, and Shiva), & Ganesha Puja Vidhi (a manual on proper Ganesha puja protocol as published by the Chinmaya Mission Trust.

I also left with no less than eight very unique Ganesha murtis some of which were good ole chaturbhuj forms, but I also nabbed a fantastic panchamukh and a 16-armed Mahaganapati which is likely to replace the Nrityaganapati as the mahamurti in my home’s mandir. I only say these are unique because I search the local stores and the internet on a somewhat regular basis and I’ve either never encountered these murtis before, or I may have seen close resemblances but not exact. Further, while I’ll admit to having spent hundreds of dollars more than I should have, I know from having already looked far and wide that the same murtis in most other places would be significantly more pricey. The multiple hundreds of American dollars that I spent were well-spent, indeed. Below, you’ll see a pic my dad took of me near one of the shelves with Ganesha murtis. I feel like the pic is a little goofy, but considering how exhausted I was from the trek there, the heat/humidity experienced, and then being nearly blissed out at the finds, goofy is what you’re bound to get from me.

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Like the L employee, the man and woman who own and work the India Book House were immensely helpful and kind. Well, mostly the woman. The man mostly just tried to sell me on things I’d already spent 40 minutes looking at and decided against. That was annoying. She, however, assisted me numerous times making sure to keep my items at the register, freeing my hands free to grab more Ganeshams. She also gave me a couple swastikas free. And boon of boons! Near the end of my time there, I asked about locating some rakhis for upcoming Raksha Bandhan – one of my favorite Hindu holidays, and one I’ve been slowly preparing for. They didn’t have any, but she took my address and asked how many I wanted and how fancy I wanted them. I gave her all that info and she promised to grab me some directly from India, ship them to my home address, AND insisted I didn’t pay her for this! We’ll see if she delivers on her promise. If so, I’ll be quite pleased to finish my gifts to people! I still regret not getting a pic with them when I had the chance.

I’m not superstitious, but I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit to thanking Ganesha in my mind and heart when we found the India Book House. We’d walked SO far already, had seen mostly useless stores – half of which were strictly Islamic – and were really about to give up, when we very suddenly found ourselves at the storefront. I’ve taken photos of each murti purchased and have posted to my Facebook Ganesha Collection album which can be viewed here, I think.

After finishing up at the bookstore, because we had spent so much time just getting there, it was time to grab lunch and get to some of my beloved’s shopping. We grabbed lunch in Lockerbie Square where I saw a Hare Krishna cross the street wearing a dhoti, neck mala, and t-shirt. He disappeared into an apothocary.

We kept moving and found our way to the comic stores sought after by my beloved. Sadly, he was disappointed by his findings, much as I was with Little India in general. And I’ll admit, for being nicely located in a place like Chicago the comic shops weren’t spectacular. In fact, we’ve been to small town places back in Indiana that had more to offer. After visiting his places and buying more things, we meandered a bit around the city ducking into one place or another and then decided it was time to head home. During our wandering we passed a gurdwara for the Chicago Sikh community and meditation center for Raja yoga of te Brahma Kumaris.

Sweaty and quite exhausted we worked the L back to China Town and left the city. Overall, I’m quite happy to have this memory with my family. I can think of about 50 others I would also have liked to have along for the day, but time like this with just my parents and my beloved is worth more than gold to me.

Excellent blessings were received from my first and most important gurus, my parents, as we enter the Shravan month and celebrate Guru Purnima. I don’t think God actually loves anyone in such a way as to favor them (after all, that would mean the at least occasional negation of karma), but when so many “good” things happen as they did, it’s hard not to feel smiled upon.

Om Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Om Shanti