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Upanishads Part 4

  The Nature of Self.    

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(In this concluding part of the series on the teachings of the Upanishads we look at the Self that is Reality.  Exracted from The Upanishads by Eknath Easwaran.)

Astrophysicists, when speaking of creation, tell us that in the beginning all matter in the universe would have been present in that  ‘primeval atom,’ super condensed to an unbelievable degree. In such a state, matter would no longer be possible as matter. It would be stripped down to pure undifferentiated raw energy. Variations like gravity and light would not emerged and Time and Space would not yet be real.

The sages would find this a prefect metaphor for the unitive state. In samadhi, reality is condensed into pure potential, without dimensions or differentiation. Physicists do not say there was nothing before the Big Bang; they say everything came from that, and nothing more can be said. Similarly, samadhi is not emptiness but complete fullness.

That fullness the Upanishads call sat: absolute reality, in which all creation is implicit as on organism is implicit in its DNA or a tree in its seed.

The joy of being in this state cannot be described. It is infinite. This is the second message of the Upanishads. The infinite, unbounded, full of joy – is our native state. This is Sat-Chit- Ananda. Pure unconditioned awareness which is Absolute Bliss.

How can one attempt to explain such a state, the true nature of one’s Self? “Words turn back frightened,” the Upanishads say. Yet, the sages must have longed so ardently to communicate that they had to try even if the picture was doomed to be incomplete.

Here are glimpses of what they realised…

Whatever we are, whatever we may have done, there is in each of us an inalienable Self that is divine;

As the sun, who is the eye of the world,
Cannot be tainted by the defects in our eyes
Nor by the objects it looks on,
So the one Self, dwelling in all, cannot
Be tainted by the evils of the world.
For this Self transcends all !

                                                (Katha II .2.II)

They remind us that the same Self dwells in all:

As the same fire assumes different shapes
When it consumes objects of differing in shape,
So does the one Self take the shape,
Of every creature in whom he is present.

                                                  ( Katha II.2.9)

They call us to discover that Self “which knows no aging when the body ages: this knows no dying when the body dies.” (Chan.VIII.I.I,5)

They place us in a compassionate universe where nothing is “other” that ourselves- and they urge us to treat the universe with reverence, for there is nothing in the world but That

The Self is the sun shining in the sky,
The wind blowing in space: he is the fire
At the altar and in the home the guest;
He dwells in human beings, in gods, in truth,
And in the vast firmament;he is the fish
Born in water, the plants growing on the earth,
The river flowing down from the mountain.
For this Self is supreme!

(Katha II.2.2)

Most significantly the Upanishads tell us that our. native state is a realm where death cannot reach. They knew first-hand that when the Self withdraws consciousness from the body, the continuity of personality is not broken. Death would not be different.

As a caterpillar, having come to the end of one blade of grass,
draws itself together and reaches out for the next,
so does the Self, having come to end of one life and shed all ignorance,
gathers in its faculties and reaches out from the old body to new.

( Brihad.III.4.3)

Finally, if both body and mind are made of prana which dissolves on death and if personality returns life after life than surely heaven too must be a state of consciousness, part of the created world. It might be more blissful than the physical world but it too had to be transitory.

The goal then is Self- realisation of one’s true nature: not matter embodied or disembodied, but the uncreated Self.

Thus Self -realisation is immortality in an entirely new sense: not ‘everlasting life’ but beyond death and life alike.

It must be understood here that Upanishads present no system. When much later India’s mystics and philosophers built structures based on these foundations they found they had produced points of logical disagreement. But they all understood that in practice all systems come to same thing. From one point of view the world is God, from another there will always be a veil of difference between the embodied person and the Godhead. Both are true, and neither is the whole truth. Reality is beyond all limitations.

In the end then, the Upanishads belong not just to Hinduism. They are India’s most precious legacy to humanity.

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Ramnavmi

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Ramnavmi celebrates the birth of Rama, hero of the epic Ramayana, who was born on the ninth day (navami) of the waxing moon in the month of Chaitra.

Lord Rama was the King of Ayodhya. He was the ideal son, the perfect King, the best of men. So virtuous that he became god. In him people witnessed the seventh incarnation of Vishnu, born on earth to destroy the demon Ravana.

Swami Sivananda writes, ‘He was the Lord of the mind and the senses.  He was a sage in counsel, kind and sweet in speech, and most courteous and handsome in appearance. He was master of all the divine weapons, and a great warrior. He was brave and valiant, yet gentle and modest. Ever devoted to the good of his kingdom and his subjects, he was a defender of the weak and protector of the righteous. Endowed with numerous wondrous powers of the mind, he was well versed in all sciences–in military science as well as the science of the Self.

Deep and unfathomed like the ocean, firm and steadfast like the Himalayas, valiant like Lord Vishnu, he was the joy of Kaushalya. Though fierce like fire on the battlefield, he was calm like the cool breeze of the Mandara Hills, patient like Mother Earth, bounteous like the god of wealth and righteous like the lord of justice himself.  Such a great person was the Lord Rama!’

When Rama was King, his subjects enjoyed heaven on earth. Ramrajya, the rule of Rama is now synonymous with an ideal state.

As loved today as he was in Ayodhya, Ram remains one of the most popular Hindu deities.

ImageAt mid-day, the time Rama’s birth, all Ram temples across India, will begin special poojas with chantings from the Vedas and readings from the Ramayana. But the largest celebrations will be in Ayodhya, the birthplace of Ram. A rath yatra is the highlight of the celebrations here. A procession with a chariot, rath, moves through the city carrying actors dressed as Ram, Sita, Laxman and Hanuman who enact parts of the Ramayan while crowds line the streets to watch.

In the south of India, the day is also celebrated as the wedding anniversary of Sri Rama and his consort Sita. Sitarama Kalyanam, the ceremonial wedding ceremony of the celestial couple is held at temples throughout region.

It is interesting to note that Ramnavmi has many elements of Sun Worship.

Ram was a Raghuvamshi, a descendant of the Sun Dynasty. Ramnavami is celebrated at the beginning of summer when the sun is moving higher up in the skies( of the Norhern Hemisphere).

Ram was born at noon, the time when the sun shines most brilliantly .On Ramnavami the prayers start not with an invocation to Rama but to Surya, the sun.

Rama is also known as Raghunatha, Raghupati, and has other names which begin with the prefix Raghu meaning sun.

The syllable Ra is used to describe the sun and brilliance in many languages. In Sanskrit, Ravi and Ravindra mean Sun.

The ancient Egyptians termed the sun as Amon Ra or simply ‘Ra’. And in Latin the syllable Ra is used to connote light as in radiance.

Could it be that Valmiki modelled his Rama on the mighty Sun? Was Ram a personification of the Sun? Or, did Ram simply embody the qualities of the Sun? I wonder.

Holi-The Colours of Joy

Red, blue, green, yellow….. bring on the colours, aaj Holi hai !!!

It’s time to welcome Spring and drench the world in colours of joy and laughter, love and romance! Today we let go of old grudges and embrace our neighbours and friends. Today we let love spring in our hearts.

Many a colourful tales of Krishna and the milkmaids playing Holi in Vrindavan have inspired poets and artists for centuries. And Bollywood movies!

There isn’t a festival to rival Holi for its sheer abandon. It’s the one day when a rather conservative society lets its hair down and men and women, girls and boys together join in the revelry.

And because a picture is worth a thousand words…..

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Parvati -Daughter of the Mountains

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We‘ve looked at the bountiful Laxmi, then the learned Saraswati and now let’s cast our eyes on the bold and beautiful Parvati-Daughter of the Mountains and the consort of Lord Shiva.

In a way, Parvati is the ultimate Goddess.  All Hindu women want to be like her and all Hindu men worship her.

For she is none other than Shakti, the Cosmic Energy at play. Just as Shakti is experienced through her manifestations in Nature, so too is Parvati best understood through her various names and forms.

The stories of Parvati form a big chunk of Hindu mythology. Their charm and their ability to inspire has endured over many millennia. Parvati is worshipped in countless different forms and names all across India from the tiniest villages to cities. Devotees will scale high mountains and go deep into dark forests to seek her. She is the Mother Goddess and from her being spring myriad other goddesses.

I can’t possibly tell all her stories here in one post . Each one needs to be elaborated at length and relished slowly.  I look forward to writing them in separate postings at a later stage.

But  here, just as an introduction, are brief sketches of her most popular and widely worshipped forms.

Sati-Sati was the first wife of Shiva. His first love. She had married Shiva against her father’s wishes. One day hurt by her father’s insulting behaviour she immolated herself plunging Shiva into deep despair. Unable to bear her loss Shiva withdrew from the world into a cave. There he remained lost in meditation till Pravati came along and broke his trance.

Parvati-Shiva ParvatiSati was reborn as Parvati, the daughter of Himavan-Lord of the Himalayas. Parvati means ‘daughter of the mountains’. Strong willed as the mountains she won Shiva’s heart through many years of severe penance and deep devotion.

Gauri-Shiva and Parvati were married in a beautiful ceremony watched by everyone on heaven and earth and celebrated by gods and asuras alike. Parvati moved to Shiva’s abode in the Himalayas to live as his wife Gauri.

Gauri awakened Shiva’s interest in the world by questioning him on various issues. As he spoke, Shiva revealed the secrets of the Tantras and the Vedas to Parvati. Shiva the foremost yogi then taught his wife yoga and through her passed on the teachings to mankind.

Shiva enamoured by Parvati’s beauty sang and danced to the delight of the gods who named him Natraja, the Lord of Dance.

Parvati is literally Shiva’s other half, fused to him in his half man half woman form of Ardhanareshwar.

Shiva and Shakti – As the cosmic couple, they are worshipped together. While Shiva is Purusha, the latent masculine energy of the universe, Parvati is Prakruti, the vital feminine energy. The Ying and Yang of Hinduism. And, although they appear to be distinct they cannot be separated, just as one cannot separate heat from fire.

 

maaDurga smallDurga-Invoked by Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva to wage a war against the asuras and to kill the demon Mahishasur, Parvati becomes the powerful Durga.  Riding a lion and wielding weapons, she single-handedly vanquishes the entire asura army and restores peace.

                                                                                                                                                                                 Durga

Kali- To help her son kill the demon Raktabija, Parvati assumes the form of the dreaded goddess Kali. Dark as death, gaunt with sunken eyes, her enormous tongue hanging out, and with long disheveled hair covering her naked body, Kali strikes terror in the very heart of evil.

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Kali

Jagadamba –In this form Parvati is the guardian of the Universe. She is the Divine Mother who protects and nurtures her children, her devotees. Anyone who seeks her attention shall have it.

Mother of Ganesha and Karitkeya-Parvati is also the mother of her two sons Ganesha and Kartikeya. One she fashioned from her own self and the other was born from Shiva’s seed but not her womb. She raised both with loving care and attention.

Festivals

The Goddess is celebrated during Navratri all over India in different ways. For nine nights India revels in her power and energy.

Gangaur is another major festival, dedicated to Gauri and is celebrated in Rajasthan for eighteen days, starting from the last day of Holi.

Speaking of which, It’s Holi tomorrow. And it’s a whole other story which you can read about tomorrow !

Celebrating Shivratri

Tomorrow is an important day in the Hindu calendar. It is Maha-Shivratri- the Great Night of Shiva.Image

Shivratri is celebrated with great fervour across India, Nepal, Mauritius and parts of Indonesia every year, on the Fourteenth day of the month of Phalgun. It is the moonless night, in dark fortnight of the waning moon.

Millions of  Shiva devotees will wake up today before dawn and make their way to the nearest Shiva temple, carrying with them offerings of water, milk,honey, bael leaves, fruits, flowers and incense.

According to the ancient text, the Shiva Purana, Mahashivratri worship must include six items.

  • Bathing the Linga with water, milk and honey followed by bael leaves, representing purification of the soul
  • The vermilion paste applied on the linga after bathing it, representing virtue
  • Offering of fruits, for long life and gratification of desires
  • Burning incense, yielding wealth
  • The lighting of the lamp which is conducive to the attainment of knowledge
  • And betel leaves marking satisfaction with worldly pleasures.
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Many will fast through the day and prepare themselves to keep vigil all night. This is the night to lose one’s self in thoughts of Shiva. Chants of Om Namah Shivaya will be heard in temples and ashrams all through the night.

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The story goes that it was on this day, that Shiva swallowed the deadly poison Halahal which rose from the Churning of the Ocean. The poison was so strong that Shiva had to be kept awake all night to stop him from losing consciousness. Hence tonight all his devotees will keep awake and remember the night Shiva chose to bear the intense agony of the poison in order to save the world.

It is believed that the Great God Shiva( Mahadeva) will bless any devotee who seeks his blessing today and grant them their heart’s desire. Unmarried girls will pray to get husband as devoted as Shiva, married women will ask Shiva to bless their husbands with long lives, those seeking children will ask to be blessed with them, men will pray for Shiva’s strength and seek his protection.

But, the spiritual aspirant will seek Shiva himself.  For it is said, that tonight Shiva will make himself known to those who lose themselves in his thoughts  and will enlighten them like the crescent moon that appears at dawn after the dark New Moon night. ( In India no moon is visible on the new moon night)

The twelve Jyotirlinga temples situated around India will see the biggest crowds.

These stone lingas are said to be Swayambhu( appearing naturally,not man made) and belong to the pre-historic times. They are mentioned in ancient texts like the Puranas and are said to embody the Jyoti, the flame of Shiva. The temples were built around them much later.

For more information on the Jyotirlingas you can check this link

http://www.shaivam.org/siddhanta/sp/spjyoti.htm

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