Shaktism and Kundalini

August 21, 2014

Among the various paths within Indian spirituality, one of the most important is Shaktism – or the worship of Shakti (Power/Energy) which is personified as the Goddess. The philosophy is known as Shaktism and an adherent of the path is called a ShaktA. Some believe that this branch of spirituality originated at an ancient time from the root idea called Samkhya, which saw the world as a duality between Purusha – the male principle and Prakriti – the female principle. While the term Prakriti means Nature in general, the term Shakti specifically indicates energy/power. Shakti always invariable involved some form of movement, for manifested energy and power is best understood through the sense of movement, while Purusha indicated that point of stillness or immobility with respect to which the movement is perceivable. Shiva therefore represented the ultimate transcendental stillness while Shakti or the Goddess became the sum total of all motions in the Universe. The ShaktAs took this idea to an extreme proclaiming that world as we know it is entirely Shakti. In one sense they were not wrong. Consider a simple example. At any given point the earth is in motion around the sun; the whole solar system is in motion around the center of the galaxy; the galaxy itself is in motion around some point in the Universe known as the Great Attractor and so on. Therefore our whole existence as a species is subject to a constant play of subtle cosmic movements overlapping with each other in ways which we may not be able to understand consciously. And therefore the ShaktA scriptures proclaimed that it was the Goddess – Shakti personified – who creates, sustains and destroys this Universe. Overtime in the course of its natural evolution, Shaktism practically bifurcated into two major schools – the SriKula and KaliKula. SriKula considers Lalita Tripursundari as the main form of the Goddess, while Kalikula considers Kali as the chief form of the Goddess. There were other methods of classification too, based on geographical regions, but those became less prominent with the passage of time.

Tantra

Though much misunderstood and occasionally reviled, one of the most fascinating offshoots from Shaktism has been Tantra. Simplistically expressed, Tantra concerns itself with the practical application of Shakti (energy) to achieve certain desired results in the world. The more esoteric aspects of Tantra deal with the idea and practice of awakening a latent spiritual energy inside the human body which can aid an individual’s spiritual growth. This energy is traditionally referred to as Kundalini Shakti. To achieve this aim Tantra utilizes a wide range of tools like mantras (mystical chants), yantras (mystical diagrams), specific visualizations along with worship of different archetypal forms of the Divine Feminine energy.

Kundalini

Some believe that the idea of Kundalini was first established as a powerful tool by the Hatha Yogis and Tantric Yogis of the original Naths Parampara. Possibly the earliest reference and explanation of this term comes from Sant Dhyaneshwara’s exposition of the Srimadbhagwata Gita in Marathi, known as Dhyaneshwari. The knowledge was passed down by competent Gurus to fit disciples. In the last century British writer Arthur Avalon and the Theosophists translated some of the Tantric texts into English. This brought forth the knowledge and idea of Kundalini into the public consciousness in a massive scale. A textual definition of the term Kundalini refers to the coiled up residual Divine Shakti at base of the human spine, which remains in a ‘sleeping’ state until it is awakened by force of sadhana (spiritual practices) and made to move through the six spinal centers, thus energizing them, until it finally merges with the Absolute, allegorically represented by the thousand-petalled lotus above the head. This, the Tantras said, was Shiva and this fantastic union of Shiva and Shakti- the awakened Kundalini – results in a most terrific state know as Nirvikalpa Samadhi.

However inspite of mass dissemination and wide use of the term Kundalini, the actual phenomenon still remains as much as mystery today as it was centuries ago. For no understanding of Kundalini is practically possible without an understanding of a related term, ahamkara, of I-ness. Akamkara is the force that binds and holds the human personality to the body and gives it a unique and individualized character. It is what makes each one of us separate and different from the rest of humanity. In order to maintain this personality, with all its various likes/dislikes, habits, tendencies, attachments etc, a tremendous amount of energy (Shakti) is used. By dint of sadhana when this force is made to disengage from its daily and continuous job of maintaining this limited human personality and some part of the energy is freed up, then that free energy becomes the Kundalini Shakti of an individual. And just like the ahamakara clings to ideas, opinions (of oneself) and attributes of the personality, similarly the free Kundalini can be made to attach itself to something more subtle and Divine, like the form and personality of a Devata.

One of the most important ideas pertaining to the Tantras is that the human personality is not a constant but is a product of various conditionings acquired over many lifetimes along with the environment and experiences of this lifetime. And it can be changed if the conditioning is changed. But this ordinary personality is flawed, ignorant, weak and temporary. The aim therefore is to reconfigure or finish this personality with all this attributes and transform it into a more abiding, eternal, flawless personality from one of the archetypal energies, known as Devatas. And that is possible only when the ahamkara is fully (theoretically speaking) or partially (practically speaking) made to disengaged, or forget its ordinary existence, and align itself to this greater form. One must slowly dissolve to the mundane in order to get recreated into the spiritual. And naturally such a process is not without its many difficulties, hazaards and dangers, unless one has a strong Guru to guide, either internal or external.

Once the Kundalini is awakened in an individual, as per Tantras, it is then made to self-identify with a form of the Divine Mother who then safely guides the journey of this transformation process. For an awakened Kundalini can also accentuate/blow-up various pre-existing weaknesses or identify with something other than the Divine and eventually wreck havoc on the individual. It is because of this danger associated with the process that the ancients would guard this knowledge and made sure that the experience is transmitted only through the medium of a competent Guru who was capable of protecting the disciple from missteps and damage. On the other hand, for the right individual, it was/is one of the fastest means of spiritual progress. Sometimes as the Kundalini Shakti passes through the various chakras in the subtle body, it can manifest different supernatural abilities in an individual. But this is not compulsory and varies from person to person. However what definitely happens with a Kundalini awakening is a marked change in the personality and behavior of the individual in some way or the other. New worlds open up and many older ideas and habits and rigid notions can get replaced totally or in parts, and this is easily noticeable to others. In some extreme cases an awakened Kundalini can shoot up straight to the head and produce fantastic spiritual experiences and generate a virakti – detachment and dislike – for the world around. But that is rare. One interesting problem with trying to awaken this Shakti is that the more one thinks of Kundalini, lesser the chance of experiencing an awakening. For the I-ness has to learn to forget the constituents of the personality, including mental ideas about ourselves and what we want to be, or not want to be, before Kundalini can awaken. It is difficult to experience the Kundalini, however the far greater difficulty lies in purifying and deconditioning this Shakti until it reaches the Absolute. For that needs a transformation, as opposed to forceful suppression, of the six ripus – Kama (lust), lobha (greed), krodha (anger), mada (arrogance), moha (attachment), jealousy (matsarya) – or energies which distort the purity of this Shakti. Mostly this is lifelong process. The lesser is the ego attachment to these things, the greater is the Shakti available to an individual. Or stronger is the identification of the Kundalini Shakti with the Devata, greater is the manifestation of the Devata’s energy in the sadhaka’s life. No two cases of Kundalini Shakti awakening are exactly equivalent, even though the two people maybe worshiping the same form of the Devata. Therefore, because of the extremely individualistic nature of this path, dogmatic ideas are mostly unhelpful, and may they cause more hindrance to the sadhaka.

One may wonder why exactly is Kundalini referred to as the Mother in Tantra. Is it mandatory to do so? No it is not, but it is a good safeguard. Shakti, any shakti, is a force almost mechanical in its activity. A knife can cut through anything including the wielder of the knife. And this is no ordinary Shakti but a vast amount of force. By personifying and indentifying this force with the concept of the Divine Mother assures a protection for the sadhaka against many pitfalls and dangers, for once the bond is forged, indeed it behaves as a mother to a child (the sadhaka).

Though each experience of Kundalini has its own uniqueness, yet there are some broad classification that can be done. Again, to understand this, we have to understand our Ahamakara properly. This I-ness works not only through our mind, but also through our pranas and the physical body. So depending on which part or parts of the being cause a turning of Ahamkara into Kundalini, will open certain possibilities and limit certain others. This also explain, if properly understood, why in some cases of Kundalini awakening may lead to various kinds of trances, or a remembrance of past lives, or even certain occult abilities. But this is too complex a topic to be dealt with completely in this writeup. Moreover the very act of writing down things whose reality is at a most subtle level can cause much distortion in the idea. Loss in transmission is a very real possibility in such things!

Kundalini in Tantra

Now that we have a basic understanding of what Kundalini maybe, we will see how this helps in Tantra, or for that matter any other aspect of life. One of the typical features of a powerfully awakening Kundalini is a tremendous inner concentrated ability of focus. This is way beyond normal powers of concentration. It is infact so intense that it can create a reality or open up occult realities for the sadhaka. Now Tantra deals with the art of using rituals for various purposes. In every ritual there are two components – the rules of the ritual and the Shakti of the individual. Togther they bring success. Which means if a person without sufficient Shakti performs a ritual with perfection, yet it may produce no results. So whenever a person has the freedom to use his own Kundalini Shakti, it gives a strong energy at his disposal which can be used for perfection in any ritual worship, or for that matter many other mundane areas of life. This is one of the biggest practical uses of the Kundalini Shakti. All sorts of magical or occult practices succeed based on the usage of this Shakti. Of course, one can turn this entirely to the spiritual realms and not bother with anything mundane, but that is a matter of individual paths. One example best illustrates this point. Once Swami Vivekananda, not yet world famous, had exorcised a haunted house where he and his brother disciples were staying using a fistful of sand from the banks of a river nearby. In most cases that would be an impossible thing to do, but Swami Vivekananda could do it because of the tremendous force of an awakened Kundalini Shakti working through his mind and body.

Thinking about awakening Kundalini is often a fruitless exercise. Rather a seeker is better off trying to reduce the impact of the six ripus on his consciousness, such that when an awakening happens, there will be lesser amount of troubles and hazards to deal with. Except for rarest of rare cases, having a competent master/mentor/friend/guide/guru who can help one digest the effects of Kundalini is almost mandatory.

Why Aghora, why not Aghora.

February 17, 2014

Someone asked me a question – when there are easier, happier paths to Ananda, why should one follow such drastic and harsh methods as Aghora. Here is my reply posted below, for some others I know also have a similar, and I must add, valid doubt.

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There are millions of paths to the thing that people call God, and only the limitations of the seeker bar the seeker from accessing one or other path, for God is limitless and beyond restrictions.

Why do people follow this path? Because there are different people with different temperaments.. it is neither necessary nor compulsory that only one path is better than other, for that will depend on the inner make-up of the individual who is walking. As there are millions of people on earth with millions of tendencies, similarly there are millions of paths to God.. neither one is better nor one is lesser. It all depends on who is walking the path.

The path – whatever path – will eventually lead to the experience and continuous revelation of the antartmah inside the cavity of the heart, be it worship at home or in a smashan. But going into the heart and finding the guidance of the antaratmah is not easy.. if it were so then everyone who is following an ‘apparently’ satwik path would have already found God in their heart… and when that is found there is no stress in life, all situations are acceptable, that inner Ananda never leaves. To do that, one has to decondition oneself from the six ripus – frankly a very difficult task. One in millions succeed, irrespective of the path followed..

Aghora is one of the names of Shiva – his Southern Face, he has five faces and five fundamental names. There are great self-realized paramhamsas who have walked this path too – Trilanga Swami, Ramakrshna performed all the 64 acharas of Vamachara, Kinnaram of Varanasi etc . Infact Lord Kalabhairava is precisely the form of Shiva who is worshiped as the Purushottama in this path.

Now the question is why follow such harsh methods? There is a philosophy behind the madness. The soul reveals and works perfectly ONLY when all the ripus – which are nothing but chains that bind the awareness and distort the same – are cut asunder and transformed. But saying that I want to transform the ripus is easy, doing it is much difficult. It does not happen easily. This is a long and hard battle that requires intensity self-examination and constant re-work on oneself. The Aghora sadhanas, when performed by a capable seeker, are designed to break away these chains at a faster pace. The first thing such a seeker learns is to overcome fear and shame – two of the ripus – and eventually attachment to everything materialistic – including the body – for the Divine can be experienced perfect only when all attachments are ceded and when one truly relies on the Divine. The constant remembrance and acceptance of the atmosphere of death causes the inevitable reality of ones own death to sink inside and that – irrespective of caste, creed, sex, religion – creates an inner vairagya. To a true aghori nothing that the world can offer has any value.. or rather he values it to the extent that it can make him remember the Supreme from whose energy all this has come into existence!

Consider an analogy. There is a huge cup filled with some muddy water. The task at hand now it to remove that muddy water and replace it with chandan-scented water. How do we approach it? Two simple methods. One is to keep pouring chandan-water into the already filled cup, so that by the process of displacement one day the chandan-water will remove the muddy-water and fill the whole cup. This is a slower method but a safer method. The second is take the cup with the muddy-water, just overturn it and throw away its contents. Then fill the same with chandan-water. This maybe faster, but it will create disturbances for emptying the cup at one shot will appear as drastic, harsh and painful. Now in the analogy replace the initial cup of muddy-water with the normal human personality with all its facets and ripus. Vamachara – and by extension Aghora – wants to empty the cup as fast as possible and therefore its methods are drastic and appear painful. Whereas traditional sadhanas want to replace the human personality in a slow and steady manner, so that its jarring effects are minimized. Whenever the ripus and the normal ego are negated, by whatever methods, it will always appear painful for we are so accustomed to living in them, that we refuse to change and subconsciously we hang-on tight. But specially when these are changed in a sharp and forceful manner – as done in Aghora – then it can appear fierce both internally as well as externally.

The end is a similar state irrespective of the path. The best Aghoris also live in and through a state of inner-Ananda. Infact the shastras say that a paramahamsa adopts the vesha – garb – of a child, or a madman or a pisacha. What does that mean? They live so deeply in their inner state of communion that they care not one bit about what and how they appear to the external world of appearances. And to know/recongize a paramhamsa, one has to look within and behind their garbs. Not an easy thing, again.

My views on satwa Guna. Of the three Gunas, this is the best and most conducive for true spirituality. But there is some misconception about what satwa truly is. Infact, it is an inner-state made of balance, and harmony, and equanimity, which will then lead to Ananda. But the important thing is that a truly satwik individual has reduced/removed or totally transformed the I-sense or ego or Ahamkara. Lord Rama , of all people, was the most satwik man that every lived. Not one place in the whole Ramayana can anybody – even his staunchest critics – trace the mildest form of ego in his actions. Ego, pride, attachment to his exhalted status he had none. And yet, when the time came he could engage in a vicious war and destroy a larger and stronger army. A war automatically means death and killing. Those are harsh actions. Did that make him any less sawtik? In my book, absolutely not! While there are certain external attributes that can indicate satwa guna, but its real and actual play is totally internal. That state is achieved even by good Vamachari sadhakas and Aghoris. Where as there are many who strongly believe that they are satwik, engaging in traditional religious precepts and infact create a satwik ego in their mind, which has very little to do with actual satwa guna that is truly spiritual and transformative. A genuinely satwik individual has no trace of ego in his actions. Ego and satwa do not reside inside the same vessel.

And then there is the state which is beyond the three gunas -trigunatita. Dattatreya, who was the first Guru of Aghoris, regarded as a form of Lord Narayana, was an Avadhoota. Krshna speaks of him in the Uddhava Gita as that Avadhoot who had 24 gurus. One reaches satwa, stays in satwa and then goes even beyond satwa.

All the paths to realization have come from the Rishis, including Aghora. Rishi Vasistha was the one who perfected the Mahachinna Sadhana – the Self-realization through Aghora. The descriptions of that sadhana will scandalize most traditional people. And Vasistha was no ordinary man, he was one of the most ancient and powerful brahma-Rishis! Rishi Durvasa was a worshiper of Bhairava form of Shiva who is the devata of Aghora.

However, it is also a sad reality that Aghora and Vamachara Tantra has been abused and misused by people unfit for this path. For every one genuine Aghori, there are endless impostors and frauds and the strange and drastic nature of this path often attracts exactly those who are unfit for this.

Is it necessary that one must follow this path? Not at all, for there is a democracy of paths inside Sanatana Dharma. Each individual must follow his own thread and his own path and sometimes multiple paths if such is the destiny. Is it easy to experience the Infinite Divine through Aghora? Frankly no. But then, truthfully speaking, neither is it easy to experience that Infinite Divine within the confines of traditional religious paths. Just like there are fraud Aghoris, similarly there are millions of unfit posers inside traditional religious settings who are too busy with the external postures rather than the inner journey.

For once realization of the soul or the Self comes in – whatever be the path – everything else will subside.. it is a flow that cannot be described in words.. there is never going to be any agitation in the consciousness. One can handle all things calmly, and be guided by the Divine Will to act only as an instrument of the same, while soaking in inner Ananda.

[Mind you Ananda is not sukha. Sukha is the happiness born from desires and their fructification. Ananda has no external cause and when perfected, remains irrespective of whatever happens outside. That is the inevitable goal.]

Hence realization is an individuals journey, no single path is a guarantee for it. Statistically speaking, at any given point of time only a handful realize the soul or the Self, and it has very little to do with which path they are walking.. that is how Nature plays Her game!

Parasmani

November 10, 2013

There lived a poor brahmin in the district of Bardhaman in Bengal. He would religiously worship Lord Shiva, everyday, asking and imploring the Great God that his acute poverty be removed and that he should become rich. Of course, nothing happened and the prayer became a habit which he continued for a great number of years. Eventually one night he saw a dream, in which Shiva appeared and directed him to visit a particular place near a river, a great distance away from his home. There, said Shiva, you will find a man who will solve your problem. The brahmin was overjoyed, finally his prayers have been answered and now he had absolutely no doubt that he will become very rich. The very next morning, right at sunrise, he set off towards the direction that Shiva had spoken off in the dream.

All his effort, all his prayers, all his patience would now bear fruit. He kept thanking Shiva profusely as he kept walking – for in those days walking was the main mode of traveling – through unknown cities and towns. The physical exertion of the journey could not dampen the gladness of his heart even slightly, or water down the enthusiasm he felt at the unexpected turn of fate. Truly, Shiva is most kind!

Finally, after many days of travel he reached the specific bank of that specific river. It bore a very deserted first-look. Not a soul in sight. Then all of a sudden the figure of a man caught his sight. A single mendicant sitting down near a rock, all alone. The brahmin rushed to him and fell at the sadhu’s feet. The sadhu of course was taken aback. He inquired of the brahmin why he had come to this deserted place to which the brahmin replied that Lord Shiva has directed me to come to this place, to find the man who will show me the means of relief from my poverty. As he then introduced himself and described the dream in details, the sadhu became more perplexed. He replied that he was wandering beggar, without a possession, who did not even have a proper piece of clothing, how on earth could he remove someone’s poverty? Surely, there must have been some mistake. But the brahmin was adamant. He would not listen to any logic. He was sure that this man would transform his fortune, as Shiva had said in the dream. Suddenly the sadhu remembered something. His face became bright and his eyes shone with clarity. He remarked, yes I remember now. Years ago one day I found a very rare gemstone on the banks on this river, which could turn any metal into gold. It was the famed and mythical Parasmani. I had kept it buried under that tree there, thinking that it could be of help to someone. Now that you have come to me as directed by Lord Shiva himself, please dig out that stone from there and take it. That, I am sure, will solve your problem. You won’t have to remain poor again!

The brahmin dug out the stone.As he touched the stone ontu a piece of metal he had and it immediately turned into gold. This was indeed the Parasmani. All his prayers, all his troubles, all his misfortune was now going to be a matter of the past, a pale faded memory. Now was the beginning of a new life. He kept thanking Lord Shiva, for the Lord’s infinite mercy. And then out of nowhere, a most curious and peculiar thought, alien to the momentum of his present happiness, entered his mind. Cautiously he walked back to the sadhu. Folding his hands in reverence he said, “Sir, what is that wealth which you possess that allows you the power to give away such a rare and precious stone without a second thought? Please give me a bit of THAT!” Saying this, the brahmin threw the stone back into the river.

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Liberally paraphrased into English from a poem by Rabindranath Tagore, which I had read two decades ago, and whose title, unfortunately, I do not remember now. This was from the section named “Katha Kavita”, or story-poems.

Are Indians naturally spiritual?

November 4, 2013

Indians, generally, are brought up in an environment of religion inspired culture and tradition right from childhood. As a Bengali proverb goes – “ baro mashe tero parbon” – meaning 13 festivals (of the religious kind) in 12 months. Every year during major pan-India festivals like Diwali, or Eid – to name only two and there are plenty of them – we dress up in the best attires, exchange happy greetings, connect with friends and family, perform traditionally mandated rituals and prayers and generally spend a day in buoyant holiday spirits. That effectively sums up a religious holiday for an average Indian.

So, does it mean that Indians are naturally spiritual people? Before we can answer that question, we need to ask, what exactly does being spiritual mean? Some believe that it means having certain kinds of predefined psychological experiences, or perceiving occult realities, or having access to ‘supernatural’ abilities, or possessing profound erudition in the scriptures and ritualistic traditions of one or more formal religions. The Bhagwata Gita, which is one of the most revered Indian religious texts, containing a dialogue between Krishna, the God descended on earth, and Arjuna, the warrior torn between righteous duty and love for his relatives, also delves into this eternally question – how does one know a spiritual person? For it is, as we shall see, not through axiomatic statements but by analysis and observation of how these spiritual processes or states affect a person’s worldview and engagement with life around him, that the essential spirituality quotient of an individual can be judged.

In the 2nd Chapter of the Gita, Arjuna asks Krshna – arjuna uvaca sthita-prajnasya ka bhasa samadhi-sthasya kesava sthita-dhih kim prabhasetakim asita vrajeta kim.

[Translation: arjunah uvaca--Arjuna said; sthita-prajnasya--of one who is situated stable wisdom; ka--what; bhasa--language; samadhi-sthasya--of one situated in trance; kesava--O Krsna; sthita-dhih--one fixed in consciousness; kim--what; prabhaseta--speak; kim--how; asita--does remain; vrajeta--walks; kim--how. Arjuna asks what are the signs of one whose consciousness has been fixed and steady in Wisdom. In what manner does he speak, what kind of language does he use, how does he sit, how does he walk?]

In the next few verses Krshna explains the external signs of a spiritual man. Such a man is neither perturbed by sorrows of life, nor is he exuberant in happiness. He remains unaffected by attachment, anger, fear. He can withdraw his sense organs from engaging in external objects as a tortoise withdraws its limbs inside the shell. His consciousness remains ever fixed on a greater and transcendental reality. Such a one must be known as a great saint.

In other words, when a man truly takes a spiritual turn, it reflects to the world outside as a control over sensory indulgence, and a marked reduction from normal levels of reaction to external provocations. The same situations which would have elicited a strong response earlier, often involuntary, in the form of anger or hatred or lust or greed or possessiveness – any of the sad-ripus or 6 chains that bind the normal consciousness – would now evoke a far less kind of reaction. And such a man will be able to detach himself from the vagaries of life, because he will perceive the basic impermanence of it all, and go about things, even those which are apparently unpleasant, with a tranquil mind and a steady heart. Without going into complex theological and spiritual analysis, these verses above form the most fundamental parameters for judging a spiritual man. All rituals, all paths, all traditions are designed to finally inculcate this attitude towards life and death. It remains as the firm, unshakable basis on which the giant tree of spirituality must stand and flower.

Coming back to the topic, are Indians more spiritual than people of other countries? Not really. On an average, we are just as good or as bad as any other race of people. Anyone making a living in India will know this. Underneath the mushrooming of market-friendly spiritual brands, the traditional as well as the new-age acts or those who do a bit of both sides, lie a collective of spiritually untransformed human beings. The famed Indian Yogic stoicism, historically, in its mass manifestation has turned into a passive resignation to things which appear more powerful than us; our faith on the Divine is but a fragile caricature of past legacies, while our overall spirituality has become a skeleton of customary traditions to be followed whose living spirit does not enthuse our shallow lives, notwithstanding the massive crowds that gather at professionally managed and widely televised ‘satsangs’ (holy gatherings), or the high sounding ancient philosophies which we love to throw around during any discourse that touches on spirituality and religion, or the long list of religious holidays that mark a calendar year. To one who takes on this most difficult adventure of transformation, every day is a chance for self-improvement; every act an opportunity to observe and rectify all that is ignorant and opaque inside us. Everything can be turned into a festival of the Spirit.

Having said that, India does have one unique advantage over any other place in the world. The amount of spiritual exploration that has happened in this subcontinent for countless millennia, and the powerful energy that it has generated in the thought-atmosphere of this land, which when streamlined has produced such fantastic documented paths and methodologies that for any sincere seeker India can be a goldmine. Probably there is no essential path of spiritual-transformation which has not been explored to its maximum depth in this land, including paths which preclude any belief in things Supernatural, or things un-experienced, to start off the spiritual journey. The collective pressure of all this makes Indians as a race a bit more pliant and open to genuine, experiential spirituality. That may also be the reason why there have been such endless streams of REALITY-addicted – for that is what it finally is, a study of unconditioned REALITY – men and women who have lived across the length and breadth of this subcontinent from a very ancient time.

A good saint once remarked that at any given point, only a handful will experience and live the life of the Spirit, while the rest will remain happy scratching the surface. That is how Nature plays the game. This may well be true. While essential spirituality will always remain a “flight of the alone to the alone,” as Plotinus so poignantly observed, living in India can potentially help in opening the average mind and life to the elusive touch of the Infinite slight bit easier than in other cultures.

Bhairava

August 8, 2013

Fear in any mode exists so long as the individual works from the premise of a secret I-sense, otherwise loosely called ego (Ahamkara is a more apt word). This is an evolutionary technique that has been developed in order to create the psychological feeling of individualization and separateness, which is most useful for any normal meaningful engagement with the world around. There is an ahamkara that works in the mind, one that works through life, one that works inside the physical instrument. Like all else, it works in every possible way, often surreptitiously, to sustain and justify its own existence and utility, sometimes by constructing elaborate mental logic for those actions – verbal, mental or physical – which can strengthen its anchor inside the individual. All human fear is rooted in the essential fear and resistance of the Ahamkara towards its own annihilation. There is however another operating principle that lies deeper, which cannot be imagined or mentally constructed, that has an entirely different frame of reference, which knows its own eternal nature and therefore has no fear of diminishing or losing itself or becoming redundant, ever.

Bhairava is that form of Shiva who destroys this Ahamkara and makes one live life from a station of complete and permanent internal freedom. He represents the clear, free, frank, and frontal movements of consciousness. The inside and the outside are in sync at all times. There is no gap, even so slight between what lies deep within, what works in the verbal flow of the mind and what comes out finally as the spoken word or performed action. His state of boundless internal freedom is represented pictorially as Shiva (stillness) residing in a smashan (where attachments have ended), holding a skull know as brahmanda-khappar (skull of the Universe), drinking wine in copious amounts (a state of permanent Divine Intoxication), cohabiting with women who come to Him willful drawn by his unshakeable spirituality, (breaking all codes of society) ETC. Bhairava is ever alone, but never lonely. He has Eternity as his companion. Many have ruined themselves over centuries trying to imitate the external iconographic representation of Bhairava, without attaining the inner clarity and limitlessness. One cannot copy Bhairava. One can only become Bhairava.

Garuda – The Divine Bird

July 12, 2013

Garuda is the mythical bird in Hinduism who acts as the vehicle of Lord Vishnu.  In the Adi Parva of the great epic of Vyasa, retold by Vaisampayana at the sarpasatra of king Janmejaya, and further narrated by Ugrasrava Sauti to the host of Rishis headed by Saunaka, we find the story of this invincible Gaurda.

Once Rishis Kashyapa was performing a fire-sacrifice (yagya) for a desirable offspring. He had asked all devatas to assist him in the same. The mighty Indra, Lord of the devas, was assigned the task of bringing fuel for this grand sacrifice.  As he flew through the sky carrying a heavy piece of wood, he looked down and saw a vast multitude of the Valakhiya Rishis – by some accounts sixty thousand in number – struggling to carry a single stalk of the Palash leaf.  Apart from being thumb-sized, the severity of their ascetic practices had resulted in their physical body becoming emaciated and weak which made the task of carrying a single leaf appear extremely difficult. A watery depression along their path caused by the hoof of a cow posed an insurmountable obstacle for these miniature Rishis. Drunk as he was with the arrogance of his own might, Indra stopped and laugh at their misery, insulted them thus and finally flew over their head without offering any assistance. This angered the Valakhilyas and filled them with terrible resolve. They decided to create another being more powerful than Indra who would move at the speed of thought, who could muster any amount of strength as the occasion demanded, who would be unbeatable in war and unmatched in ferocity, who will strike fear in the heart of Indra and finally be the one to replace the  Lord of the devas.  With this intention in mind they participated in the yagya of Kashyapa pronouncing powerful mantras to aid their cause.

Indra was terrified when he realized what has happened and what was about to happen.  He rushed to Rishi Kashyapa explaining everything and begging to be rescued. Kashyapa then went to the Valakhilyas and asked them if they were satisfied with the sacrifice. Tied to a vow of truth-speaking, the Valakhilyas disclosed to Kashyapa that they have set in motion a process by which a new Indra will be born. The mind-born son of Brahma then explained that Indra has been pronounced sovereign of the three worlds by the promise of Brahman. Trying to replace Indra would tantamount to falsifying the words of Brahman, which will prove futile.  To rescue the situation, Kashyapa suggested that let there be a new Indra, not of humans but of birds and winged creatures! The Valakhilyas, already pacified by now, agreed forthright. This was how the mighty and fearless Garuda was born as the son of Rishis Kashyapa from his wife Vanita.

The Pouranik story of Garuda can be interpreted as a psychological description of certain spiritual states of a seeker.  If we look at the Devas as various life-fulfilling and positive qualities in man, while Asuras/Rakshas and the whole host of negative entities as all that is animalistic in man, then Indra is the intellect which presides over the various sensory-inputs transmitted through the agency of the sense organs (Indriyas).  During the ancient times Indra as a deity held a position of prestige and honor as evident from the various Vedic-hymns attributed to him. However, by the time when Dwapara Yuga was to end and Kali Yuga was to start, Indra lost his grandeur. Krshna, as the SrimadBhagwatam mentions, forbade residents of Vrndavana from worshiping Indra. When the human intellect is subtle, it has the ability to directly perceive spiritual truths and subliminal realities. But as the quality of time progressively deteriorates from Satya Yuga to the Kali Yuga, the nature of the average intellect too degrades, making a direct intellectual realization of a higher and deeper Reality far more difficult if not impossible. When a certain rigidity of the mind and thought gets added to this spiritual impotency of the intellect, it compounds the problem manifold resulting in a mental fanaticism that is often a precursor to practical fanaticism, exhibiting itself through a mindless affinity for dogmas, religious or otherwise, that have outlived their purpose. The next obvious step to this mental fanaticism is arrogance and supremacist behavior. This is the essential reason why Krshna stops the worship of Indra and tells him, while diffusing Indra’s delusions of grandeur in the Govardhan episode, that he (Indra), unlike in an earlier era, has become arrogant and overconfident. Consequently, we hardly find any temple dedicated entirely to Indra. But if Indra is the normal human intellect, what then is the Garuda?

The average human mind functions through a rigorous and fragmented labor of reason and piecemeal logic. It is however eminently possible, employing serious effort and practice, to push beyond the abilities of the normal mind and experience a larger integrative quality of thought. As the mind expands, so does its basic nature and operating principle. It acquires an equanimous ability to handle apparently contradictory information in the right balance and flow with abundant ease, and without being swept, stressed or disturbed, residing in a greater stillness and calm. Even further as it goes, a definitive and unfailing intuition starts pouring in and directing the seeker. This is what the imagery of Hari riding the Garuda represents. Garuda is the Indra – the vast and powerful Lord for all that flies above the normal human mind – practically manifesting in a seeker as the activation of a greater, more supple and more subtle intellect, while Vishnu is the spotless Divine intuition that rides this new and fitter vehicle. Garuda moves at the speed of thought because it is a higher and superior kind of thought itself, it is fearless because an exalted mind which can see things from multiple sides has no cause for fear, it is unassailable (by human negatives) because it abides in detachment and objectivity, it is wise because true wisdom is a natural byproduct of such a mental condition, and it is unfailing because it is ever guided by the Supreme all-seeing Intelligence.  And it is this spiritual state, as  it becomes a settled realization, that can bring the Nectar of causeless Ananda (Amrita) to the seeker.

Garuda is the greatest enemy of the Nagas. The Adi Parva of the Mahabharata states that the Nagas, born of Kadru and fathered by the same Rishis Kashyapa, were a bickering lot, steeped in jealousy, rancor and possessiveness. To make the normal human mind ascend to the status of a Garuda, it is imperative that the seeker must move beyond all that constricts the consciousness. Steady detachment is the perfect antithesis to low pettiness. Unlike the others, Sesha Naga who remained unaffected by the environment of low intrigue that surrounded him and eventually disassociates himself from the other Nagas, was bestowed with the title of Ananta (Infinity) by the Creator.  He too finds a place in the pantheon of Vishnu and becomes a friend of the mighty Garuda. It is interesting that both Garuda and the Nagas, though diametrically opposite by nature, are fathered by the same individual. The conscious human instrument can choose to live in the lowly depth, or ascend to the masterly heights.

When we look at the above from the perspective of Kundalini Yoga, we can explain this phenomenon as the rise of Shakti above the head. This automatically causes a terrific, impregnable silence to descend on the mind, accompanied by a commanding Divine guidance which cannot be disobeyed.

A mind that tears itself away from the tyranny of ceaseless and unwashed thoughts, operating from a much higher station of equanimity, selflessness, and accompanying wisdom and compassion is the spiritual essence of the iconography showing Hari (the Supreme) astride the transformed mind (Garuda).

Om Garudadhwajaya Namaha!

Bhisma, Arjuna, Drona, Karna, and Krshna

May 17, 2013

Objectively, it cannot be said who is the greatest warrior among Bhisma, Arjuna, Drona and Karna, for while Bhisma, Drona, Karna had each humiliated Arjuna at various points during the battle of Kurukshetra,  Arjuna had defeated all of them together during an earlier battle around Matysa Rajya.

As a character Bhisma was terrific. His chief drawback, in my reading of the Mahabharata, is when he often displays that he takes the written laws of the shastras too literally, instead of judging Dhrama as something more Universal and beyond the written word. Recall how he kept debating with the great scholars in the court of Dhristarastra whether it is legitimate and allowed, by the books, to intervene in the game of dice when Draupadi was being disrobed, instead of just stopping the gory act from unfolding before his eyes. He was too often tied by convention.

Arjuna’s character was one who seemed to have insecurities, and to mask the same he would project an image of over confidence. When Krshna asked Arjuna to worship Durga before his battle against Karna, Arjuna arrogantly kept parroting that Karna is only a son of a chariot-driver, how can he defeat me. What a lame argument! Then Krshna had to tell him very clearly that, He (Krshna) consider Karna an equal match, if not better, than Arjuna and therefore Arjuna needs to get the protection of Durga in order to win. Of course, the Goddess Durga appears, after Arjuna propitiates Her and says if Narayana himself is guiding him, victory is unstoppable. Arjuna never had a correct assessment of himself. Either he was overconfident, or lacked in confidence. The later is visible when at the drop of a hat he would promise to commit suicide or some such thing, or feel over-dejected when he would make an arrogant promise and then fail to keep the same. Pity was another flaw his displayed at the battlefield. Even after the knowledge imparted by Krshna, he hesitated in killing his own Gurus. Convention, lack of confidence, over-confidence, useless pity were the main chinks of Arjuna’s personality. His biggest positive however was his instinctive love for Krshna. None of the other characters in the Mahabharata war – leaving aside Vyasa – had such an instinctive pull for Krshna.  He had many wives, he had many friends, brothers, gurus etc.. but his attachment was only to the Lord and this is what saved him in the long run. That’s why even today we take the character of Arjuna and Krshna together and call them incarnations of Nara and Narayana!

Karna was great in every sense till the time Krshna revealed to him his real identify, that he was the brother of the Pandavas. From then on it was a saga of endless self-pity. Another mistake. On the one hand he wanted to join the Pandavas, feel the love of his brothers, OTOH his warped sense of friendship even when it was apparent to him that his friend, Duryodhana, was leading him down, prevented him for choosing correctly.

Drona, who the Adi Parva says was born out of Bhrihaspati’s body had an great ego of being a superb Guru, which no doubt he was. He also had a terrific attachment to his son, which proved his undoing.

Interestingly, all of Bhisma, Drona and Karna were very spiritually accomplished men. The Mahabharata stays that unequivocally at many points in the narrative. This proves that mere experience of deities or higher states o consciousness is not enough. A constant mental expansion, and identification with the Universal Dharma is what makes a truly fascinating being. The more one expands and goes beyond his/her limited identification, the greater is his/her world-view, the vaster is the mental horizon, the subtler and more far-reaching is the comprehension of Dharma.

Only Lord Krshna had zero attachment to anyone –  man, woman, deva, davana, friend,foe etc. He was the only Universal Being in the Mahabharata and that is why He is the Lord who is worshiped, among all the wonderful characters in the Mahabharata. He is the Jagat Guru.

As Barbarika said after the great war was over, it was Krshna who circled the battled field with his Sudarshana Chakra killing everyone. Himself the playground, Himself the player, Himself the play. Involving everyone, yet ever uninvolved!

Swami Vivekananda and Kali

May 15, 2013

“It occurred to me that God grants the Master’s prayers, so I should ask him to pray on my behalf that my family’s financial crises would be overcome. I was sure that he wouldn’t refuse, for my sake. I rushed to Dakshineswar and importuned him, saying, ‘Sir, you must speak to the Divine Mother so that my family’s financial problems can be solved.’ The Master replied: ‘I can’t make such demands. Why don’t you go and ask the Mother yourself. You don’t accept the Mother—that is why you have all these troubles.’ I replied: ‘I don’t know the Mother. Please tell the Mother for me. You have to, or I won’t let you go.’ The Master said affectionately: ‘My boy, I’ve prayed many times to the Mother to remove your suffering. But She doesn’t listen to my prayers because you don’t care for Her. All right, today is Tuesday, a day especially sacred to Mother. Go to the temple tonight and pray. Mother will grant whatever you ask for, I promise you that. My Mother is the embodiment of Pure Consciousness, the Power of Brahman, and She has produced this universe by mere will. What can She not do, if She wishes?’ When the Master said that, I was fully convinced that all my suffering would cease as soon as I prayed to Her. I waited impatiently for night. At 9.00 p.m. the Master told me to go to the temple. On my way, I became possessed by a kind of drunkenness and began to stagger. I firmly believed that I would see the Mother and hear Her voice. I forgot everything else and became absorbed in that thought alone. When I entered the temple, I saw that the Mother was actually conscious and living, the fountainhead of infinite love and beauty. Overwhelmed with love and devotion, I bowed down to Her again and again, praying, ‘Mother—grant me discrimination, grant me detachment, grant me divine knowledge and devotion, grant that I may see You without obstruction, always!’ My heart was filled with peace. The universe disappeared from my mind and the Mother alone occupied it completely.” – Swami Vivekananda

Chandipath, Durga Pujo and Bengal

January 11, 2013

A good friend asked, “There is no ref about Durga’s paternal home in Chandipath. Then why do Bengalis consider Bengal as the Paternal home of Durga ?”

My answer: Firstly, the Chandi is a compendium of various forms of Shakti, culminating in the supreme known as Adya Shakti. Durga or Mahisasuramardini is a part of these collection of Shaktis. The Durga Puja that happens in Bengal was arguably started during mid 1600s by a king named Kamsanarayana, who ruled over a area which corresponds to a district in present day Bangladesh. He wanted to perform a equivalent of the aswamedha yagya, and therefore invited the greatest Tantrik Mahapandits to devise a procedure for the same. Pouring over scriptures and based on his own innate wisdom, one Tantrik Acharya, came up with the whole procedure of the Durga Puja. This included adding of Saraswati, Lakshmi, Ganesha, Kartikeya, Shiva into the pantheon of Durga as well as the iconography of Mahisasuramardini being worshiped in the act of slaying the demon. Later during British rule, Raja Nava Krishna Deb of Sovabajar area of Calcutta popularized Durga Puja into a community worship.

This being the background of the Akala-Bodhan – as this Durga Puja is known in Bengal – the philosophy of the worship and methodology was derived entirely from the Tantras. Durga was the symbol of the awakened Kundalini Shakti. Her home, or paternal home as you put it, is not Bengal per se, but the whole earth. Kundalini in a normal human being sleeps in Muladhara, which is the epicenter of the prithiwi tattwa, from where it has to be awakened and made to rise up into the thousand-petaled lotus above the head. In some rare cases, this Force may rise upto the top, merge with the Absolute above the head, stay there for sufficient periods of time, and then again come back to the Muladhara. But this coming back is entirely different. The adhara – mind-body complex – in which such a phenomenon happens, becomes a true Siddha. Quite impossible to accurately describe in words. Such an being can continuously and simultaneously perceive both the dual and the non-dual nature of reality.

This coming back or return of Shakti into the Muladhara, is translated in ordinary language as homecoming of Durga. Home, because, Muladhara was Kundalini’s original home, from where She rises to meet Shiva – Unmanifested Absolute – above the head and beyond the ordinary existence. And since this worship of Durga was popular in Bengal, therefore the colloquial idea that Bengal is her “baper-bari” – or father’s house.

Iconography of Hindu Deities

December 6, 2012

A deity is a Cosmic Personality, which has certain characteristic attributes within the field of duality. Internally a deity is always connected to and constantly aware of that Supreme One , which is impossible for the average human mind to imagine. Some functionality of that purely transcendental energy is manifested in a certain fashion through archetypical Cosmic Energies. These we know as various deities. The form/iconographic of each deity. holds a vital clue to understanding the nature of the path personified by that energy.

Goddess Durga is shown riding a lion, with weapons in ten hands. In any standard Hindu ritual, there is a provision of praying to the ten Dikpalas – guardians of the ten directions – before commencing the actual worship. Each of these ten directions also represent ten different categories of actions. By holding ten weapons in Her ten hands, Durga – coming from the root word for fort (Durg) – helps to build a fortress inside the worshiper. A fortress which protects the inner Purusha from being disturbed by provocations coming from the different directions, as well as all possible kinds of external stimulus. Lion, the vehicle of the Goddess represents strength, power, raw courage, confidence and fearlessness. Exactly the qualities that a sadhaka will imbibe when he/she keeps successfully meditating on the iconography of Durga. Eventually as greater realization dawns, a terrific sense of vast detachment and equanimity – being able to handle all contrary points of view without reacting – is born in the sadhaka. For as the Chandipath mentions, She is both Buddhi (intelligence), as well as Bhranti (error), Lakshmi as well as Alakshmi, that is all aspects of duality, and to be able to assimilate such a grand perspective of reality which can seamlessly synchronize all shades of the world, it is essential to abide in a condition of mental equipoise. Like an Emperor sitting in a throne, watching everything silently, without reactive participation, but acting only through  a  deeper Wisdom which is a natural by product of equanimity. Only in such a state of internal stability, it becomes possible to control the most furious of energies (Shakti), represented by the lion She rides!

When the Goddess in the form of Chamunda is described as shavasana (sitting on a corpse), it implies that like a corpse one must be dead in relation to the world, not physically but  mentally, in order to be able to appreciate the terrific energy of Chamunda.

Similarly for all Hindu deities, by acutely analyzing the iconography, one can find out the philosophy of the path and the specific kind of energy represented by that specific deity in the world of duality and the preconditions for success in the sadhana, that it demands of a sincere sadhaka.

[Will be updated in time with more analysis of other deities as well].


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