Pawn

Image taken from Google Image search

Image taken from Google Image search

I’ve never set foot inside of a pawn shop. (Btw, why aren’t these places called “stores”? They’re always “shops.”) Pawn shops are, to me, like gas stations and liquor stores – I simply shall not enter inside. It annoys my Beloved, sometimes greatly. But back to pawn shops… So, you have something and you get something ($$$) for it, right? I know there’s more to it that just that, but stay with me here. Now tell me, who would go into such a place with say a Faberge Imperial Egg? According to the Faberge website, the most expensive one sold was the 1913 Winter egg which, I think, sold for a little over 3 million dollars. What folly for the owner of that treasure to go into a pawn shop, be offered $10, and accept! Not just folly, right? Tragedy!

Why is that? Because, for a number of reasons, the Winter Egg of 1913 has been determined as worth far more than $10.

Doesn’t it seem as though the same would (should!) apply to humans? (For the record, I fully believe that this also applies to non-humans, but I’m trying to keep the scope within reason right now.) As a Hindu, this baffles and saddens me – that humans are more familiar with and more certain of the value of a manufactured egg than they are their own worth. No one would take less cash for something than it’s truly worth, especially if that cash was genuinely needed. But humans not only discount but also flat-out ignore their own value ridiculously often.

In my earlier years as a Hindu, I was considerably drawn to Yogananda and his teachings. Same goes for Vivekananda, although I still drink a bit from that fountain. One thing I learned from both is that, as sparks of the Divine we’re children of God.

This is interesting, no? Being a child of God? What does that even mean? I don’t know that I’m the most authoritative person on the matter, but I can tell you it means it’s your duty to know your worth and to live as though you know that value.

When kings and queens have children, those children are known in very specific ways: they aren’t just children, they are princes and princesses. Right? Those titles are outward symbols to let everyone else know, “Hey – Don’t mess with me because not only is my dad the king, but also I’m destined for the throne my self!”

Now before we take this whole prince/princess talk too far in the direction of ego, let’s relate it back to the point being made: There’s a value assigned to being the child of a king and that value must be recognized. Plain and simple.

Why is being a child of God any different? It isn’t. Please believe me.

As a child of God, you’re to know your value and worth. You’re to know the source of your very existence in the very same way a prince or princess does. This is simply calling a spade what it is, and unless you begin abusing that knowledge there’s no ego in it. In the very same manner no one in their right mind would pawn a Faberge egg for $10, no one in their right mind is willing to discount the immense value inherent to who they are. Else, that person is suffering unnecessarily and may well not be in their right mind – filled instead with delusion and excuses for why they should tolerate being valued for only $10.

Even from a godless perspective the same holds true. On the most basic level every human is made of flesh and bone. Excepting differences that could easily be called “cosmetic” (skin color, eye color, height, weight, ability/disability, ancestry, nationality, religion, etc…), each human is far more like the next than not. This means, a literally as is possible, that each has the same value. It’s not complex reasoning or high philosophy of any sort.

Dear reader, it is a supremely sincere prayer in my heart that you should know this – that you should have this Realization. Everything is within you, and as such you are worth the sum total of every thing – and then some! Please know it and live this truth. Stand up for yourself when you should and in the way that you should – in a way that makes clear that you are no different. Stand up for others because of this immense value, too.

Anything short of this is surely pawning yourself for $10.

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Aum Shanti

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Shallow Shraddha

God statue

The last post might have your head swimming a little. It was basically meant to determine a few specific things: 1) There’s a difference between “real” and “existent.” 2) Brahman isn’t meant to be understood as the First Cause. 3) Maya is shared by everything possessing consciousness within the phenomenal world and is also beginningless and endless. 4) Existence continues indefinitely, even after what’s perceived to be real vanishes or falls away.

Be forewarned: Following, you’ll find a mix of paraphrasing and direct quotes from the Swami. If you’re reading this AND you’re a bhakta, you might find yourself strongly disagreeing with what’s about to be said.

Although Brahman cannot truly be said to be the cause of the phenomenal universe (Maya is) this could technically be inferred since Maya (the actual cause) is superimposed upon Brahman and has no existence apart from It. Only through this specific context of the relationship between Maya and Brahman can Brahman actually be referred to as the ultimate cause of everything. However, even when considering Brahman as the cause of the universe, it cannot be said that the universe is created from Brahman or that Brahman transformed Itself into the universe, since Reality – by definition – is incapable of temporal action or change.

This is where a new word comes into play. Ishwara. This word is used to reference the creative principle. Ishwara is Brahman united with Maya. We’ve already identified that Maya only continues to function in relation to an ignorance-based egoic consciousness. From there it’s not much of a stretch at all to identify Ishwara as Brahaman personified, that is, the Impersonal Ultimate Reality with my falsely-individualized and biased sense perception superimposed upon it. Because Maya is said to hold responsibility for the creation/perceivable manifestation of the universe, when that same force is personified the result is Ishwara.

With this established, it can be said that there are “two” Gods – The Impersonal (Brahman) and The Personal (Ishwara). This is otherwise referred to as Nirguna Brahman (Ultimate Reality that transcends any attributes) and Saguna Brahman (the same Ultimate Reality limited by personal attributes). Nirguna Brahman only appears as Saguna Brahman (Ishwara) within the relative ignorance of Maya. Because of the limitation that comes with assigning personal attributes, Ishwara has the same degree of reality as Maya. God the person is not the ultimate nature of Brahman. In the Swami’s words, “Personal God is the reading of the Impersonal by the human mind.”

Sri Ramakrishna was known to have lived continually in the consciousness of absolute Brahman and often used the following illustration, “Brahman may be compared to an infinite ocean, without beginning or end. Just as, through intense cold, some portions of the oceans freeze into ice and the formless water appears to have form, so, through the intense love of the devotee, Brahman appears to take on form and personality. But the form melts away again as the sun of knowledge rises. Then the universe also disappears, and there is seen to be nothing but Brahman, the Infinite.” (I think this points to bhakti as a primary, rudimentary, and preliminary means for building a relationship with Brahman, but also indirectly incriminates bhakti as a primary method of distorting the true nature of Brahman. It’s through bhakti that we see god personally (literally), but this very act seems to immediately and literally twist the Truth. Such is the price of ignorance and Existence within Maya.)

On the note of Bhakti Yoga, Shankara says this, “Although Ishwara is, in a sense, a person, we must beware of regarding Him as similar to or identical with the jiva – the individual human soul. Ishwara, like the jiva, Brahman united with Maya, but with this fundamental difference – Ishwara is the ruler and controller of Maya, the jiva is Maya’s servant and plaything. We can therefore say, without paradox, that were are, at the same time, God and the servants of God. In our absolute nature, we are one with Brahman; in our relative nature, we are other than the Ishwara, and subject to him. Devotion to the Ishawara, the personal God, may lead a man very far along the path of spirituality, it may make him into a saint. But this is not the ultimate knowledge. To be completely enlightened is to go beyond Ishwara, to know the Impersonal Reality behind the Personal Divine Appearance. We can become Brahman, since Brahman is present in us always. But we can never become Ishwara, because Ishwara is above and distinct from our human personality. It follows, therefore, that we can never become rulers of the universe – for that is Ishwara’s function. The desire to usurp the function of Ishwara is the ultimate madness of ego. It is symbolized in Christian literature by the legend of the Fall of Lucifer.

“If there’s only one consciousness, one Brahman, who is the seer and who is the seen? Who sees Brahman and Ishwara, and who is the jiva? Are they different or one?

“As long as man is within the limitations of Maya, the One is seen as many. Ignorance can do no better than to worship Appearance; and Ishwara is the ruler of all appearances – the highest idea which the human mind can grasp and the human heart can love. The human mind can never grasp the absolute Reality, it can only infer its presence and worship its projected image. In the process of this worship, the mind becomes purified, the ego thins away like mist, superimposition ceases, Ishwara and world-appearance both vanish in the blaze of transcendental consciousness when there is no seer, no seen – nothing but Brahman, the single, all-embracing, timeless Fact.”

If you back up two paragraphs, you may well be reminded of the scene from the Bhagavad Gita where Krishna reveals a vision of Vishvarupa to Arjuna, and also from the Gita where Krishna advises that those who worship ancestors attain ancestors and those who worship spirits attain spirits, etc… I find that scene to be supportive of what’s mentioned above. I understand Krishna’s words to be Nirguna Brahman’s Truth being “filtered” through Maya – the result of which is Arjuna perceiving Krishna to be simultaneously immanent and transcendental – which is technically true, but still highly (and unfortunately) subject to all the misgivings and pitfalls of Maya.

To wrap up here, I’ll close with additional thoughts of my own. There’s nothing wrong with worshiping Ganesha, or Krishna, Rama, or Hanuman – or any of the other supposed 330 million Hindu faces for God. In fact, their Appearance is quite natural from our standpoint within Maya. The same is to be said Buddha and Jesus Christ and the Divine Faces of any religious path. Further, the fervor (bhakti) with which devotees often pursue their ishtadevata (God of their choosing) is not to be discounted. Everything is entirely valid and meaningful when it’s in its place. I personally find it of high value to be devoted to an ishtadevata whose very form (perception within Maya) already transcends much of what’s already perceived within Maya – since, as already discussed in previous posts, transcending Maya is where Brahman is met directly. Of key importance is not only to know when you need one tool, but also recognizing when any one tool might have exceeded its usefulness.

I would urge all of you, dear readers, not to hesitate to seek new “tools” when your path has allowed you to outgrow the one you were using. There’s no shame in this. Of key importance is not only to know when you need one tool, but also recognizing when any one tool might have exceeded its usefulness in your own development. Existence is never restful, and stagnation is a sign of decay, not progression or growth.

Om Shanti

Shivohum and Same to You, too.

namaste-sanskirtOne of my favorite publications is a Shaivite magazine, “Hinduism Today.” I’ve had a subscription for years and have purchased a few subscriptions for others as well. Whether one happens to be a vaishnav, shaivite, shakta, or smarta, this magazine is invaluable. It’s been instrumental in my own growth, for sure. One thing I repeatedly adore about it is that, although it is technically sectarian, it differs from most other sects in its openness and inclusiveness. As such, while it’s definitely a Shiva-oriented source, it does great work in covering the broader picture of Hinduism and the Hindu diaspora.

The most recent issue has a focus on Swami Vivekananda, which has been really great for me. His lineage appears to be from the Shakta denomination of Sanatana Dharma, his own guru being a priest for Kali at one of Her temples … in Dakshineshwar, I think. Along with this focus on Vivekananda and all he did for our faith, there are various other articles. One of these deals with the Namaste greeting, and is what this post’s primary focus is meant to be.

Namaste

The article begins in pointing out the differences and immensely varied implications to be found in the Western handshake and the Anjali Mudra (Namaste greeting). For the sake of brevity and keeping focus, from here out I’ll use bullet points to list what I think are the main talking points of the article.

  • The handshake originates in medieval Europe. Weaponry on the person used to be a more common sight, and so was fear. The resultant “accidentally retributive” attacks were sometimes thwarted by showing the other guy your open hand (“I’m unarmed, don’t stab me!!!”). Later, with a little cultural evolution, the open hands were joined upon meeting or passing, and we now have the handshake.
  • The anjali mudra is highly symbolic: “Anj” means to adore, celebrate, honor; the pressing of the hands together symbolizes the bringing together of spirit and matter; the hands coming together symbolizes the self meeting the Self.
  • Three main forms of the Namaste greeting exist: 1) Simple meeting of the hands, vertically at the solar plexus; 2) Same as before, plus the addition of raising the hands until the upper fingertips touch one’s third eye; 3) Same as before, plus the addition of taking the joined hands to a position above the head at the aperture in the crown chakra known as brahma-randhra. These three variations are progressively formal.
  •  The handshake is an outwardly conquering gesture. It hints at Western man’s desire for conquering and acquiring. An overly strong handshake can be meant for purposes of intimidation, and a too-weak handshake is also very telling.
  • Western culture is summed up in the handshake: reaching out horizontally to greet another; we reveal our humanity; we convey how strong we are, how nervous, how aggressive or how passive. Namaste reaches in vertically to acknowledge that, in truth, there is no “other.”
  • It’s more civilized to Namaste instead of shaking hands. Popes never shake hands. Kings never shake hands. Even mothers don’t shake hands with their own children. Namaste is cosmically different: Kings do namaste, Satgurus namaste, mothers namaste their own families, we all namaste before God, a holy man, or a holy place. The namaste gesture indicates our inner valuing of the sacredness of all. Namaste is also more practical: A politician or performer can greet fifty-thousand people with one Namaste and the honor can be returned.
  • The gesture has a subtle effect on the aura and nerve system. The nerve currents of the body converge in the feet, the solar plexus and the hands. To balance this energy, and prevent its loss from the body, yogis and meditators sit cross-legged and bring their hands together. The anjali mudra is a simple yogic asana.
  • An increasing number of celebrities and others around crowds are adopting the Namaste greeting as a polite means of avoiding the transmission of contact diseases. The Namaste greeting has become a veritable icon of Indianness, although an ever-increasing number of non-Indians are also using the greeting.

I’m not sure that all of these points do justice to the practicality, intuition, and value that the Namaste greeting holds versus the handshake. Hopefully these points, as highlighted from the article, hint at some of this.

Om Shanti