Upanayanam

Upanayanam

In the long list of rituals, I have participated in, clueless and totally ignorant about what and why I was being a part of it, Upanayanam tops the list!

The first I heard about Upanayanam was in the context of my marriage; my husband -to -be got the thread ceremony done a day before our wedding, because per him it was ‘licence to marriage’!  I found it illogical and hilarious, but with a missing spirit of inquiry, I gave no further thought to it; it was another of the never-ending rituals we have in our Religion.

A few years later, I was an active participant in the Upanayanam of my brother – in – law. This time around the reason was very contradictory; my brother was keen on pursuing the path of sanyasi. Upanayanam was imperative to enable him to join the tutelage of an able guru. The same ritual for two different reasons! This comes back to me now as I attempt to elucidate below the essence of this amazing ritual.

Upanayanam (Yajnopavita, sacred thread) is the 10th samskara (rites of passage) in the 16stages of life. It marks the acceptance of a pupil by a Guru; initiate the process of learning, dwell into the study of Vedanta and evolve. From the medieval Indian texts to the present day Upanayanam is restricted to the upper caste (varnas), namely Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishya varnas, and is performed only for the boys.  Whereas, the Vedic period texts show that Upanayanam was encouraged for all members of the society, even shudras and women. Everyone wore the thread to indicate their status in their household. Today, it is a worldly ritualistic festival of sorts, performed only for the elite Brahmin boys!

In Hindu traditions, a human being is born at least twice — once at physical birth and second at intellectual birth through teacher’s care. Verily, the sacred thread ceremony indicates that the person has started to learn the sacrifices (Yajnopavita). The pupil is given the primary set of instructions (Brahmopadesha) and the student is declared as Dvija (born again). Traditionally, this ceremony is solemnized at age 8 amongst Brahmins, 11 years amongst Kshatriyas and age 12 among Vaishyas (Apastamba Gryha, 1.1.1.27 states that the maximum age to complete this ceremony is 24), unlike my husband, who got his thread ceremony done a day before our marriage, where he was 28!  Luckily for him, Gautama Gryha Sutra and other ancient texts state that there is no age restriction and anyone of any age can undertake the Upanayanam. The Baudhayana Grihya sutra in verses 2.5.8 and 2.5.9 states the teacher to “let him initiate, to school through Upanayana; a Brahmin in spring, a Kshatriya in summer, a Vaishya in autumn, a Sudra in the rainy season; or all of them in the spring.”

Every state in India has a different name for this ritual. The ceremony is called Munja or Mounji-Bandhana (literally, tying of the munja, sacred thread) in the state of Maharashtra. This name finds its origin in the name of a grass called Saccharum munja (Bengal cane). This grass is used to make a girdle that is tied around the waist of the child. In Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and in several areas of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the sacred thread is known as the “Janoi” or “Janeva”. Many other names (varying by region and community), are Bratabandha, Janivaara, Jandhyam, Poita, Pūṇūl, Janeu, Lagun, Yajnopavita, Yagyopavit, Yonya and Zunnar. The other Sanskrit term being Avyanga.

The “sacred thread” is a thin cord, composed of three cotton strands. The strands symbolize different things depending on the region. Like, in the Tamil Hindu community, each strand is for each of the three trinity of goddesses, Parvati, Lakshmi and Saraswati.

As per the ancient Sanskrit texts the term Upavita was originally meant to be any upper garment (as stated in verse 2.2.4.22–2.2.4.23 of Apastamba Dharmasutra) or, if the wearer doesn’t want to wear a top, a thread would suffice.The proper manner of wearing the upper garment or thread, is from over the left shoulder and under the right arm.

The idea of wearing the upper garment or sacred thread, and its significance, extended to women.This is reflected in the traditional wearing of sari over the left shoulder, during formal occasions and the celebration of rites of passage such as Hindu weddings. It was also the norm if a girl undertakes the Upanayana ceremony and begins her Vedic studies as a Brahmavadini. They wore a thread or upper garment over their left shoulder. Those girls who chose not to go to a gurukul were called Sadyovadhu (literally meaning, one who marries straight). However, the Sadyovadhu, too, underwent a step during the wedding rituals, where she would complete Upanayana, and thereafter wear her upper garment (saree) over her left shoulder.

The invocation of tranquility, Udaka Shanti marks the beginning of Upanayanam. This is to invoke happiness and peace in the place. Invoking the blessings of ancestors is the second step. The blessings of the ancestors upto the Atman (the last 3 generations) and Brahman (beyond the 3 generations) are invoked to bless the sacred thread.

Preparations for learning marks the third step. The student is expected to learn to be simple in food, dress and learn to control his urges. Student should learn to submit as well as to seek, taking a solemn vow to learn and to acquire knowledge; this is the fourth step. The father (the first teacher) and the guru together whisper the Gayatri Mantra into the boy’s ear. This ritual is conducted carefully done, under the wraps, so that the boy pays total attention and not a single syllable is missed. This is the penultimate step.

The last step is explaining the significance of Upanayanam (second birth); concentrate on learning by seeking out and devote his entire time to build up his body and mind.

In Nepal, a slightly different ceremony is held which combines ‘चूड़ाकर्म‘ (choodakarma) (tonsure, shave the head) and Upanayana saṃskāra locally known as Bratabandhabrata meaning promise, bandhan meaning to be bound) It is held among the Bhramin and Kshytreya hill communities in Nepal.

Rajbali Pandey compares the Upanayana rite of passage to Baptism in Christianity where the person is born again unto spiritual knowledge, as the ceremony marked the initiation of the student for spiritual studies such as the Vedas.

Another veil lifted; every time I dive into our scriptures I am rendered nonplussed. Our predecessors seem to have lead the most modern lives yet stayed utterly simple and rooted to values and ethics. They understood the scriptures correctly and strived to live them, manasa, vacha, karma.

Sources:

http://creative.sulekha.com/upanayanam

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upanayana

 

Present in the Present

Present in the Present

My last article titled Present in the Past evoked this (copy- pasted below) from my dear editor.

“This made me feel really sad! It’s all well and good to take ownership of our state of mind and spirit but it’s another thing to undermine the huge trauma of being uprooted, the incredible grief, loss of identity and isolation that comes with it, especially when where you have come from holds such meaning and significance.

I relate to this because 20 years down the track, I still struggle with cultural conflicts, identity crisis and a deep sense of loss with all things familiar and as the memories are now fading, there is a sense of anger too.

I know and understand what you are saying in terms of learning the lesson and meant to help you grow spiritually. But, I wonder if it is way too simplistic and you saying I have to now live in the NOW will make the rest of your readers (such as myself!) feel like we are just not wanting to help ourselves.

I do agree (although I wish I could dispute) that ultimately taking ownership and stopping the blame game is the only way forward…!!

Definitely a bit of a sad story for me…Leaves me wanting to say but! but!

If even one reader is in sync with my editor’s thinking; the onus is on me to explain myself better . To begin with, the article was meant to be leading towards self – inquiry, and not to evoke sadness. If it comes across as sad, I humbly apologize.

Secondly, the article seems to undermine the trauma of being uprooted, loss of identity, being alone in an unknown land… this is not my intention at all.  I am not belittling the emotional upheaval one goes through when thus uprooted. Having said that, I wish to clarify a little bit here; these days all of us willingly come abroad in search of greener pastures, a better life. I am yet to meet a person who has gone abroad to study and has come back to India after completing their studies. They have stayed on, desperately hunted for any form of employment, married abroad and settled abroad. They undoubtedly miss their country, true, but not so much that they return to their homeland. To connect this to my view point, this ‘living abroad’ is per se a self-made choice. At the risk of sounding brutally honest, it is a willing ‘loss of identity’ and adapting to the new culture. Most of us living abroad seem to be reminded of our culture or the Indian traditions when its festive season or in some religious context! I do not relate to the present show of Indian culture abroad nor am I very comfortable with the way religion is being showcased! Thus, I have no authority to comment on anything I know I am mentally disconnected with.

More importantly, I was less commenting about others and more trying to dwell upon myself! For a spiritual aspirant like me, I feel it is less about the place, people or even culture for that matter. It is simply about the self; and this is what I wish the reader to read into. I came abroad because my husband got his job here. As simple as that. I was living the best lifestyle, indeed the best life back home, my greenest pasture, as it were. I never had nor do I currently feel any need or longing for a life abroad. Yet, I have been put in this situation. Before making the big shift, I had mentally prepared myself. All thanks to meditation, I thought I could be happy anywhere in the world. If I was moving away it meant that I had completed my role in my present place, a new role was awaiting me.

Since coming here, especially after the novelty and activity of discovery in the first few months, I sensed a lull within me, as if life had been snuffed out. That’s when the pondering (self-inquiry) began.  The feeling of being uprooted, isolation and incredible grief that my editor mentioned; I seriously had thought I was way past all that. Home is where your heart is, and heart is where you help the heart love into being, making its home! So, what was I struggling with, why was I angry and where did this sense of ‘nothing to look forward to’ stem from for me? It dawned on me that I was still not looking at the bigger picture. I was talking big but not living it. One change of place, a slight shift from my comfort zone and all my calm, equanimity and wisdom seemed to fly out the window.

Again, I agree with my editor, it is not as simplistic. But, it was not meant to be, which is the truth I had missed too. It took an effort on my part. Some introspection and a lot of courage to look at the mirror and face the reality of what I saw. To answer the last part, about getting the feeling of not wanting to help oneself; I don’t think we do not want to help ourselves. More accurate is the assumption that we are lost and we do not know what exactly can help us! We try everything and most of it gives ephemeral peace and solace. In no time the hunt is on again, because the restlessness creeps in. “In vivekachudamni verse 11 Swami Dayanand Saraswati writes: There is always romanticism in spiritual pursuit. You want to be something special, something different. There is a value for this romanticism. When you see through this romanticism you are objective. This is vairagya.” That is exactly where I think meditation gives me the edge! I know I can walk my way out of any dark hole, I just have to stay calm, introspect and look within.  I am practicing something unique, I am trying to become someone unique, challenges will assuredly be unique too, right? I needed to ‘see’ beyond all this, become objective.

Now, only if I started living in the ‘now’ and stopped being ‘present in the past’ would I be able to figure that out. That’s the omniety, the whole nine yards of what I wanted to translate to the reader.

Present in the Past

Present in the Past

“My Master used to say that the family is the best environment for spirituality, because it is in the family that  you learn love and sacrifice. Now, if you divorce your wife, what is the sacrifice? Or if you abandon  your children, what is the sacrifice? That is why I was so angry. The environment we have is what is necessary for our spiritual development. Like when a mango tree grows in a certain place and then you take it and plant it in the mountains, it will not grow….”  

One of the many reasons which had driven me to the doorstep of meditation was my anger. Anger about everything and angry with everyone. I was unhappy with the way my life was slipping through my fingers. I was moving from one debilitating day to another. My continuous thought process then was how I was merely living but not alive, purposeful. I had so many plans, so many things to do and yet somehow my circumstances or responsibilities seemed to tie me down. I was vegetating and dwelling in the past and the dreary web I found myself in. I kept blaming my family for burdening me and pinning me down in a helpless situation. I was not being allowed to evolve, I was like the caterpillar going through the longest larva stage, yet to turn into a butterfly.

Meditation helped me do away with all that baggage and “blame the other person” attitude. Today, I have grown wiser and hopefully become a much calmer and better human being.  I have learned my lessons; thus the feeling of being trapped has disappeared. I feel free, purposeful and alive. I have lots to do, I have accomplished many goals and aspirations. Maybe that’s the reason I had to go through the drudgery and boredom so that I could appreciate my new self. Without any changes in my life (on the outside), I had blossomed and changed into a little butterfly! In the same set of circumstances, just with a new mindset, better self -awareness (of the person I am, my inside), I am able to be happy and alive.

These last few months I kept reminiscing about my busy days and I wonder why I am here, in Dublin. I have no work, I know no friends nor have any acquaintances, I am stuck at home twiddling my thumbs or switching the TV channels; becoming a couch potato.

Everything happens for a reason, live it, love it, learn from it…I know everything happens for a reason, but I wish I knew what the reason was, because the hardest thing is waiting for the understanding of the reason. Because, nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.

This move from India to Dublin, Ireland has forced me to remember the above quotes again. I have come to acknowledge in the last one year here that I am once again standing on the same threshold where I was before joining meditation. Not exactly the same threshold, but the mindset or the thought process seemed to wander in the same downward spiral. My observation is that I am more and more inclined to be ‘present in the past’. 

The first few months were busy and flew with getting acquainted with this beautiful city and its wonderful people.  Unfortunately for me, this country is the size of one Indian state, and the whole population is less than the population of a state in India! It was impossible for me to stretch my ‘new place euphoria’ beyond three months, even 3 months is a big stretch. Thus, with the honeymoon period gone, my ‘present in the past’ days became incessant. 

I was always acknowledged the fact that I would have very little active life-work here in Dublin. Yet, the new, post-meditation me was confident that I would find ways and means to be busy and happy; find some avocation to keep myself occupied and actively engaged. But now, almost every second day I find myself in a state of limbo and I feel trapped. I want to go back to my busy life. This thought process invariably brings back my question as to why, why am I here!? What is my role in this place?

I feel like that uprooted mango tree! I was happy and blooming there, in India. But, Master also said,’ that the family is the best environment for spirituality, because it is in the family you learn love and sacrifice……. Because the environment which we have is what is necessary for our spiritual development.’ Today, I have been re-planted here, in a totally new environment. Thanks to my meditation I am not angry nor have I begun the blame game. But my quest has begun. This shift to Dublin was to be able to be together again, as a family. For the last few years I had become comfortable being on my own. This big shift is something I needed to accept and adapt to. I had to learn to be at home without feeling trapped. I keep writing about this wonderful place and give the impression of being very happy and busy, but I keep cribbing and complaining to my better half about being stuck; holed up in this ‘god forsaken place’! There is a duplicity in me and my expression of self. That needs to go. In India, doing what I wanted was a piece of cake. I did not have to struggle or move away from my comfort zone. This place; I need to re-learn everything and from this environment that I am in today.  Meditation must help me be calm and with equanimity, anywhere and with anyone. This simple change of place has made my world so topsy-turvy. I am undoubtedly better than before but there is room for change still. May be that’s why I am here, to do away with the duplicity, get out of my comfort zone and learn again, afresh and anew. I am actually learning so much here, from the place and people, I need to bring some purpose to this learning and put it all to practice. For all this to fructify, I have to put a stop to my ‘present in the past’ state.

 Learn to be present in the present, accept the change and be alive now, in the now.

Circle of life

Circle of life

 

With my spirit of inquiry mood in full swing and to continue the momentum, I started watching a Television show titled Upanishad Ganga. I urge every reader to watch this show. It is exceedingly aesthetic, very informative and engrossing. This episode titled ‘stages of life’ set me on a different train of thought. We, human beings were always insecure. We had this fear that the minute we are born, we get separated from God, the source. (My Spiritual guru says, Fear is our first samskara!) Our purity starts to get compromised from that very instant; probably that’s the reason why we made these 16 stages; purification steps from birth to death. The moment we are separated from the source till the time we re-merge with the source (hopefully, we are never sure) in the same pristine pure state.  

 

Trying to lift the veil over the 16 sanskaar (Sacraments of life); Garbhadhana (Conception) is the first one. Invocation by parents; a fervent prayer for a child to fulfil the obligation; procreation regarded as imperative for paying off debts to forefathers.  It’s funny, is it not; we do not want to leave the world without leaving a little bit of ourselves! So, we yearn for an offspring, we prefer a male child; only a boy has permission to light the pyre! The beginning itself is with a desire.

 

 Second samskara is Punsavana (Fetus protection); performed during the third or fourth month of pregnancy when the moon is in a male constellation, particularly the Tishya-nakshatra. This symbolises a male child (like I said; a male child is always the first choice). A priest recites Vedic hymns to invoke divine qualities in the child.

 

This is followed by the third samskara; Simantonayan (literally meaning hair-parting. Shrimantham is the more popular known term now; baby shower is the term used in the western world).

 

The significance of this samskara is to bring prosperity to the mother (satiate all her cravings and keep her smiling and happy) and long life to the unborn child. It also wards off evil influence.

 

Then comes the child birth; our fourth samskara, namely Jatakarma. These rituals are performed at the birth of the child. It is believed that the moon has a special effect on the newly born. In addition, the constellation of the planets – nakshatras – also determine the degree of auspiciousness. If birth occurs during an inauspicious arrangement, the jatakarmas are performed to ward off their detrimental effects on the child.

 

Namkaran (Naming ceremony) is the fifth samskara.  Based on the time of birth of the baby, an astrological chart is drawn and the child is named on a day fixed by caste tradition. As per Hindu religious tradition the child is usually named after a deity, holy place or a saint as a constant reminder of the sacred values that name stands for.

 

Nishkrama (First outing); after the first 90 days the baby is allowed to step out. Which marks the sixth samskara. The first outing of the baby is usually to a temple, holy place accompanied by the father or elders in the family.

 

Annaprashan (First feeding with solid food) is the next sanskara and marks a very important occasion. This is usually the 5th month or after the child crosses the 6th month. This ceremony also indicates that the baby is ready to be weaned away from the mother.

 

 Mundan is the eighth samskara and the last samskara before the baby turns one. This is performed during the first or third year of age when the child’s hair is removed by shaving, again in some holy place, after seeking an auspicious date and time. 

 

Karnavedha (Ear piercing) is the ninth samskara and is performed in the third or fifth year. This ceremony was practiced for both, boys and girls. The essence of this ceremony was to enable the child to listen to what is good, have the courage to leave or let go of baseless information.

 

The tenth samskara is Upanayanam; the Sacred thread ceremony. Interestingly, this ceremony used to be performed for all varnas (castes). Another interesting change that has come to light that girls also were introduced in this ceremony. Now, it is only the male child and the Brahmin caste which performs this ritual with great fanfare! This ceremony introduces the male child to a teacher to receive education and marking the entry of the child to Brahmacharya.

 

 Vedarambha or the Study of Vedas is the eleventh stage and this is performed at the time of Upanayana or within one year. The Guru teaches the Gayatri Mantra. In the olden (Golden) days the child used to be sent to Gurukul and spend the coming decade or so under his tutelage.

 

 Samavartana is the twelveth stage which marks the returning home of the child after completion of education. By this time the child is an adult, about 25years of age and which gives the natural progression to our next samskara; vivaha.

 

 After upanaynam marriage is the next big event and the child (now an adult) is ready for the grihastha ashram. Marriage enables the person to achieve the four endeavours of life (purusharths) Dharma (righteousness), Artha (wealth), Kama (desire) and moksha (salvation). The whole cycle of this child, now an adult will have the chance to pay off ancestral debt; procreate. The real test of life is said to begin in this stage.

 

Completion of duties the couple is ready or needs to prepare for renunciation; vanaprastha the fourteenth samskara. This samskara is performed at the age of 50 to celebrate the departure from the householder stage to the Vanaprastha stage when the person begins to engage in spiritual activities. This graduates to sannyasa, our fifteenth samskara, and is performed after the vanaprsatha stage.

 

 After completing all the worldly responsibilities, the couple hand over the reins and live a life engaging in spiritual practices. This brings us to the closure, the sixteenth samskara, antyesthi or cremation. This samskara is performed after death by his or her descendants.

 

These 16 stages are a purification process; we knew all along that the minute He separates us from Himself we are at a severe risk of never ever making it back with the same purity. Thus, from birth to death; beginning to the finish line it is a preparation, to go back whence we came from, the full circle of life.

 

 Sources:

Ganga Upnishad, Chinmaya Mission

Hindu rites and rituals

 

Cheap and Dear

Cheap and Dear

“What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated–Thomas Paine.(1737 – 1809).

Whenever I write I play some background noise, any noise; a random movie or songs or a television show, some noise. This habit helps me focus on my work and sometimes I hear a dialogue, some lyrics or an advertisement which grabs my attention and it triggers a separate introspective train of thought. The above quote is one example of my ‘grabbed attention’ and what ensues is the ‘train of thought’.

I was writing about ‘Irish Independence’; the heavy price they paid to fight the British, the bloodshed and the loss of life they endured and yet held their ground; how dear freedom is to them. I had just started to ‘Google’ and learn a little bit more about how the Irish had fared post regaining their precious freedom and what post war struggles followed, how did they make it to the prestigious and proud ‘developed’ nations genre.  That’s when I heard the actor say, “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly:……” The accent was different and I could not fathom the rest. But the little I had heard was ample to catch my attention and my hands involuntarily moved on the keyboard to ‘Google’ the quote.

These profound lines are by Thomas Paine, agonizing over the pain and rage he felt during their war; The American Independence from The British.  The pain in the above lines is one voice expressing the feelings of the whole nation; patriots’ cry and despair; the willingness to lose their lives to win freedom.  Involuntarily my mind went to our long drawn 200 years of struggle; war for our independence and how much this subjugation had cost us. From The Golden Bird (Sone ki Chidiya) renown to our present label of a third world country, we paid dearly for our freedom.

Even at a personal level Thomas Paine’s words are poignantly true.  We seem to value something only when we do not have it or we earn it the hard way. As long as we have something at our disposal we have no value for it, and we esteem too lightly.

Being the second child in my family I have always been ‘told’ what to do. My dad would give me a set of instructions and as if that didn’t suffice, he would then summon my elder sister and make her my policeman. To add to my misery I was not allowed to boss over my younger sisters because they were too young! Here, I was the older one and so I should adjust and understand, see reason and make them comprehend too. Throughout my childhood I remember rebelling against this domination and wanting to break free of this ‘imposed discipline’. Discipline meant shackles or bondage for me and I instinctively shied away from rule books.  The more I rebelled the more I landed myself in trouble and this resulted in more restrictions, more monitoring and lesser freedom! This yo-yo game of ‘wanting to break free’ and ‘getting ensnared into captivity’ continued for very long.

My craving for freedom was as ardent as that of Thomas Paine’s. My fight to break free was continuously making me more rebellious, prone to indiscipline and further mischief!  The more I struggled the more strict my Dad was forced to be and it became cyclic. Much later did I realize that I had failed to see the yawning difference between ‘Freedom’ and ‘Freedom with Discipline’.

If I wanted to be free, given the choice to make my own decisions, then I had to learn discipline. Discipline comes naturally to them who have some interest in the self. I had to become judicious first; have the wisdom to exercise my freedom prudently and not squander it away. My indiscipline and mischief forced my dad to put me on a tight leash, I understand that today. The day I showed some maturity and responsibility he was more than happy to see me fly.

The trip down my personal memory lane ended there and my mind revisited Thomas Paine’s lines.  My mind came back to our country and brought me back to my question about us; where did we miss the bus? It took us two hundred years to gain freedom.  We paid the steepest price. Yet have we really honored our martyrs? The blood, sweat and toil lost in gaining freedom for us; is it being squandered in vain? Have we as a nation assimilated the truth that freedom is dear and needs to be valued and cherished?

When I see the monuments and heritage sites abroad, I am filled with awe and admiration at the way they have been maintained and showcased. Unwittingly a twinge of sadness grips me. We have so much more to offer to the world, with all the sites of the world put together, our country alone may have more places worth a visit. To me, India is undoubtedly the most beautiful place on earth. Be it natural wonders or architectural magnificence, we had it all, in fact the glory we had lured the world to our country. Today, our past glory has cast a heavy cloud upon us. We barely have any trace of our past glory yet we keep singing about some long lost past. There is so much unrest and disorder. As a child, I did not learn to discipline myself, yet kept craving for independence; similarly most of my countrymen I encounter are rebelliously independent and sadly untouched by discipline. We deface our monuments with impunity. The callousness we show towards our public property is pathetic. We are very indignant if someone corrects us, we are a free nation today and it is nobody’s business to say anything to us!

Makes me wonder if we got our freedom cheaply?  We seem to esteem it too lightly.

Note: I started writing about Ireland, but went off course again. What is written is just the way the thoughts ran in my head, ruminating in writing.  In the wake of the changes that have happened in my country, I thought it the apt time to upload this article.

Kalash Pooja

Kalash Pooja

My spiritual guide, my Master, recently published a post on Speaking Tree titled “Fasting and Autophagy: Ancient Wisdom and Scientific Research Intersect”. This brought back many memories and I pulled out my long forgotten notes; all the diligent studies I had done to understand the true significance of so many rituals I blindly followed in the past.

I have already written about Lighting the lamp, Prasadam, Idol worship and Bhajans. All these rituals have a profound meaning and done in true spirit and with perfect understanding, they should result in achieving our ‘goal of life’.  Another such ritual which I mindlessly followed was Kalash Pooja. This article is an attempt to understand the true significance of this important ritual.

It is believed that before the creation came into being, Lord Vishnu was reclining on His snake-bed in the milky ocean. From His navel emerged a lotus from which appeared Lord Brahma, the creator, who thereafter created this world.
And Lord Vishnu held Kalash filled with nectar during Samudramanthan (churning of the ocean). All deities are believed to reside in the kalash.

Since then the kalasha is viewed as a symbol of abundance, wisdom and immortality. The Purna-Kalasha is considered a symbol of abundance and “source of life”. It is also called Soma-Kalasha, Chandra-Kalasha, Indra-Kumbha, Purnaghata, Purna-Virakamsya, Bhadra ghata, or Mangala ghata.

We find a kalash in the hands of Hindu deities Brahma, our creator, Shiva our destroyer and teacher, Laskhmi our goddess of prosperity. Every auspicious occasion, be it Gruh Pravesh, Gauri pooja, Deepawali , marriage and  even to celebrate the arrival of a new born, we perform kalash pooja.

I enter this home with a kumbha; fill it with ambrosia and anoint

All those who drink of this heavenly water and protect this home.

I enter this house to dwell in it. ( Atharva veda: 3.13.7-9-5000BC)

The Kalash and its adornment have a very symbolic meaning for every occasion. To welcome the new born Kalash represents material things: a container of fertility – the earth and the womb, which nurtures and nourishes life. The mango leaves associated with Kama, the god of love, symbolize the pleasure aspect of fertility. The coconut, a cash crop, represents prosperity and power. The water in the pot represents the life-giving ability of Nature.

For Gruh Pravesh and other household functions, a silver or brass face of the Goddess is attached over the coconut of the Purna-Kalasha. In this form, the Purna-Kalasha symbolizes the Goddess as the manifestation of mother earth with her water, minerals, and vegetation.

Other interpretations’ of the Purna-Kalasha associate with the five elements or the chakras. The wide base of metal pot represents the element Earth, the expanded centre is water, neck of pot is fire, the opening of the mouth is said to represent air, and the coconut and mango leaves: ether. In context of chakras, the Shira (literally “head”) – top of the coconut symbolizes Sahasrara chakra and the Moola (literally “base”) – base of Kalasha – the Muladhara chakra.

The water in the kalasha symbolizes the primordial water from which the entire creation emerged. It is the giver of life to all and has the potential of creating innumerable names and forms, the inert objects and the sentient beings and all that is auspicious in the world from the energy behind the universe. The waters from all the holy rivers, the knowledge of all the Vedas and the blessings of all the deities are invoked in the kalasha and its water is thereafter used for all the rituals, including the abhisheka. The leaves and coconut represent creation. The thread represents the love that “binds” all in creation.
On some occasions the Kalasha is filled with coins, grain, gems, gold, or a combination of these items instead of water. The coronet of 5, 7, or 11 mango leaves is placed such that the tips of the leaves touch water in the Kalasha. These leaves are known as leaves of deity’s seat. The coconut is sometimes wrapped with a red cloth and red thread; the top of the coconut is kept uncovered. A sacred thread is tied around the metal pot. The Shira is kept facing the sky. The kalash is used for creating seat for invoked deities during the puja ritual. The water inside the kalash keeps this seat pure till the ritual of Pranapratishta (invoking deity into an image, idol, coconut or betelnut). Thus, the invoked deity principle stays for a long period.

Putting a coin is symbolic of sacrifice. Through this medium there is sacrifice of wealth and jiva (embodied soul)’s attachment is reduced. This qualifies the worshipper to benefit more from the sattvikta of puja ritual. A copper coin is put in the kalash. The copper has more capacity to project sattvik frequencies. It helps in emanation of sattvik frequencies present in the water into the atmosphere.

The betel nut kept in the kalash is to enhance sattvik and rajsik components in the water of the kalash. This increases the capacity of the water to emit manifest principle of deity. The betel nut contains particles related to absolute earth element which are useful in binding of sattva particles related to sattva component. This then easily helps in retaining the sattvikta of water for a long time. Five precious stones like pearl, diamond, emerald, blue sapphire, ruby and gold are also added to the water of kalash. The five precious stones and gold have capacity to attract and emit the principles of five superior deities. This benefits the worshipper. But with changing times the use of five precious stones and copper is reduced and replaced by alloys which are spiritually less beneficial.
The consecration (kumbhaabhisheka) of a temple is done in a grand manner with elaborate rituals including the pouring of one or more kalashas of holy water on the top of the temple.

There is a world of depth, meaning and essence to every ritual. Everything that was said and done during our Vedic period had the backing of science, logic and reasoning. It has sadly deteriorated with time and gone into oblivion today. Every ritual I have performed in the past would have fructified if I had done them myself, with full awareness and knowledge, the essence of what I am doing and why. I was always sincere but lacked the jijnasu quality, the spirit of inquiry was missing. Meditation (I have come back to Meditation, I know:) ) has made me aware of this yawning gap between my actions and ignorant actions!

Action is purification of the mind; not for gaining (knowing) the truth. Knowledge of the truth is by inquiry alone; not even a little knowledge is gained by crores of action. Vivekachudamani (5.11)

Sources:

http://ajitvadakayil.blogspot.ie/2013/05/kalasha-symbol-of-cosmic-womb

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalasha

http://bharathkidilse.blogspot.ie/2009/10/kalasha

Self- Imprisoned

Self- Imprisoned

‘If we are not progressing, it is because we create problems inside ourselves, by ourselves, for ourselves.’ -Shri. P. Rajgopalachari

A decade ago if anyone mentioned the word ‘Meditation’ and started to explain the need for meditation, I would have scoffed; looked incredulously at the speaker and walked away. In this day of rush, competition and buzz, who is foolish enough to meditate? Moreover, who has the time or luxury to sit for meditation? Instead of wasting an hour sitting with their eyes closed and building sand castles in the name of meditation; a wise person can achieve some other tangible, productive goal.

Today, for every ailment, physical or emotional, the only panacea that comes to my mind is ‘meditation’. On the surface of it, I am very much the same person; I am still studying books on psychology, albeit the reading has now shifted from pure Behavioral Psychology to psychology and the role it plays in Spirituality. I still practiced counseling; work as an online behavioral therapist; yet my suggestions have changed. Earlier I used to suggest some therapy, now all I can recommend, talk about, suggest or advise is ‘Please experience Meditation’. I seem to have forgotten all else, no therapy comes to mind!

Any ailment I have; psychological or physical, I resort to meditation. I need to know the reason as to why it happened, the psychology behind the physical manifestation of the problem and then alone do I accede to proper medication. Somehow meditation answers everything for me, it gives me all the options, throws light on the path and I feel enabled because of this awareness. Knowing myself is possible only through meditation and unless I try to ‘know’ I remain stagnant.

I wonder if this is not the same thought that crosses every mind? Don’t all of us seek to ‘know’ and after knowing, should we not try to ‘change’ or attempt to become a better person? I find it strange that anyone would deliberately shy away from meditation. Why do we resist change, what is our fear?

 ‘The root fear is the fear of death, namely the fear of psychological death, or the death of ego.

The root fear, not being mastered, manifests itself in a quantity of secondary fears: fear of others, fear of liberation and even of course, fear of love, of the Real love of the Master, since it is going to consume us…

Another way of saying the same thing is to consider the desire to retain desires as the main cause of our ambivalence and our resistance to change…’ (Psychology and its role in Spirituality- Ferdinand Wulliemier)

A few years ago my sentiments matched verbatim with the author. I was unwilling to relinquish my Self. I used to see my life as a utopian one. where was the reason to change such a life? My complaints were many and for every complaint my search for a solution would start afresh. If it was a physical problem visit the doctor, if it was an emotional one then simmer in it and blame the world, and how unjust the world is. After a few days of such simmering and moaning I would compare my situation with some less fortunate person (according to my myopic understanding) and get back to feeling happy. Today, I realize that I resisted change because I had imprisoned myself. All my battles were momentary and situation based. With lapse of time or some external adjustment the situation changed and I presumed (very incorrectly) that all was well again. The change never happened. It remained a cyclical state.

 I thought I had it had all. Because, any outsider who saw me and the life I lived, continue to live; would say it was, is, hunky -dory.  With everything in my favor, my persistent feel was one of dissatisfaction. I did not feel perfect nor did I feel I was competent and complete. When the complaints are from others we can ignore them. We can bring to the fore a few extra flaws in that person and pacify ourselves. It is easy to find fault in others. It is easier to overlook our own faults and compare ourselves with others and feel good. The problem starts when the self begins to complain. That’s when knocking on doors outside of the self, for answers, becomes futile.  Something kept nagging, I continuously kept facing some physical aberration or the other which made me wonder and dig deep within.

Meditation introduced me to this ‘dig deep within’ and thankfully I am able to feel more ‘free’ and ‘self-aware’. I still am self -imprisoned, yet to break free totally, especially in the emotional attachment and ‘expectation from others’ category. But, meditation has made me aware of the simple fact that: ‘If I refuse to face you in my inside, I have to face you outside’ – P Rajagopalachari.

This sentence glares at me every time I feel intolerant, irritated, simmer with anger. Such feelings get actualized with some relationship issues or some physical ailment surfaces. This inner discontentment with the self reflects on the outside and triggers conflicts with family and friends or some health issue escalates and I am forced to confront my ‘inside’.

I meditate and learn that my discontentment with my inside is not a valid reason to misbehave with others outside. If my inside is resolved and I am brave enough to ‘know’ and tackle my inside, then the outside takes care of itself. So, as long as I refuse to face my inside, I will be forced to face it on the outside.

I need to get rid of this self -imprisonment, to be ‘free’ in the real sense.  And the prison is mine, so the first conscious step and the remaining journey too, the initiative to break free of these shackles needs to stem from me, and me alone.

 

 

Moodily Sweet

Moodily Sweet

‘Writing comes from you, what happens when there is no more ‘you’?’ – Dr. Paul Pearsal

I have not penned down a single line in the last two months and once again I am stumped. That’s the reason the above line springs to mind. All my writings, almost all, come from some personal experience, learning, reading or interaction with others and their experiences from which I learn. In a way, I can acknowledge that my writings are my mirror. They reflect my mood, state of mind or my level of understanding, growth and maturity.  Writing is my way of sharing my learning and also keeping myself busy. Me busy means a happy, cheerful, smiling me. A me with some purpose and a progressive goal for my tomorrows.

I have never thought of myself as the ‘author’ of my life. Author is one and one only, God. But, I can definitely be the editor of my life, and that’s what my writings help me improve; be a proactive, daily editor of my life…. Now, that brings me back to the first line! I have not written in more than a month.  Which brings me to my next question, had I stopped editing my life? Had my life become stagnant? Or had my life come to a utopian, changeless state? The answer is a big ‘NO’ to both. Neither is my life stagnant nor is my life utopian yet, so why had the editing come to a pause?! 

For every anecdote I share with you all, travelling down 4 decades of memory lane is exhausting, yet I can’t help it. Most of the baggage I am unloading now, or have started to unload in the recent past; I seem to have lugged it since ages. Like even this adjective ‘moody’; I remember wondering why I was called moody from the time I was probably 7 or 9 years old! Which is again 4 decades ago! Most of my family, friends and acquaintances described me as ‘Sweet natured’ and ‘moody’.  Sweet natured and moody seemed and still seem contradictory to me.  Moody and broody seem a likely combination. Sweet natured and smiling seemed to go together. Personally, I never thought I was moody. I was always smiling and sweet natured (that’s what I thought).

To bring a semblance to the above topic jumps; this phase of writing, not writing, lapsing into long sessions of oblivion and suddenly resurfacing and becoming very proactive; all this starkly highlighted the word ‘moody’. ‘Sweet’ was a polite addition (more to not hurt my feelings). Thus, a mature, unbiased look at the mirror did reveal a very moody and less ever- smiling pattern to me! Most of life oscillates between these two emotional states and thus it was no wonder that people described me as ‘moodily sweet’. Thus, the mystery about me unraveled itself after so many decades and I know where that adjective ‘moodily- sweet’ comes from.

No, no; I am not trying to recommend meditation yet again! (though this understanding and clarity is because of meditation). I am saying I understand myself better today and I try to change myself with a better understanding of why I need to make the change.  I now see the need to change myself for my own self and for my own mood management. Next time someone tries to describe me I aspire to be described as ‘sweet’ and not ‘moodily sweet’.

What I write comes from me; all the moodily sweet learnings make me the person I am today. In this sweet mood phase I am attempting two articles, both interconnected. I hope to explain my state of mind and also my learning. Meditation has helped me know myself and it continues to show me my true nature. I know what makes me moody and how I can temper my mood. Meditation helped me acknowledge that I am a ‘moody’ person. It is meditation alone which has enabled me to articulate myself. These writings, if they can help any one person enquire about meditation, it is half the job done for me. And the day one person joins the path to self- discovery and begins meditation, then I will consider myself a successful writer. My writings are my learnings and my teachings too.

‘It is my opinion that many really good teachers do not come from joyful households where all was easy. They come from a place of much pain and suffering, and they’ve worked through the layers to reach the place where they can now help others to become free. – Louise Hay’

Dublin Diaries – 3: TACSAI’ Tales –  Finally!

Dublin Diaries – 3: TACSAI’ Tales – Finally!

Writing about the Irish Independence took me through all the wrong alleys and made my last article a very serious one. I am keeping that part on hold and starting afresh on a lighter vein. So here comes, my Tacsai’ Tales.

I have already shared our first Taxi experience, on our way to the GNIB office (Immigration); the cheerful disposition our cabby had. Despite the horrible wind, rain and cold the taxi driver was cheerful, helpful and exceedingly smiling. That was the first time and I thought, he probably woke up on the right side of the bed, or had won a lottery, that’s why he could afford to smile through the unpleasant weather. Moreover, this weather must be like second nature to them so they can afford to be unconcerned was my last lame excuse.

Forget the weather and their ability to retain a cheerful demeanour through that unbecoming cold and extreme wind. That is just one tiny part. The other experiences I had with them reveal a ‘perfect character’. They exude a warmth which I have not been able to sense anywhere, world over. Not even in India, the country which is most known for its hospitality and giving nature.

Within a month of coming to this city my daughter and I bravely dropped off my son to the airport at 4:30am. This is such a feat for me because I would not have dared this even in India. I am very apprehensive about cab drivers, to travel alone in their company that too at such odd hours made me very afraid.  My daughter and I hailed a cab and gingerly tried to ‘see’ if the cabbie ‘looked’ safe or not. But all that was not necessary at all; the cabbie greeted me warmly (another thing I am still trying to get used to, they all greet you, wish you and smile with a natural ease) and started a simple conversation to put me at ease!

Cabbie: ‘Hello there! Early morning flight is difficult, eh?’

 Me: Smiled agreeing.

Cabbie: ‘This is the safest place, you can travel at any time and be safe. Nothing to worry in this country!’

I could only smile and nod. Yes, this is a safe place and the cabbie was reassuring me; helping me be brave and stop wringing my hands daughter out of nervousness.  In my flurry, I forgot the right turn to my house. The cabbie very patiently took an about turn, no show of temper or irritation.

One other instance that comes to mind is my first visit to my meditation centre. Like it always is; it was raining incessantly, horribly cold and was still dark at 7:45 a.m. Being a Sunday the roads were totally deserted. This time I was alone, not afraid anymore. I did carefully map the ashram address on my phone; yet the horrible rain and poor visibility made me nervous. I was unsure if I could ask the driver to hunt the exact gate, so that I need not have to step out in the rain and dark and find myself in the wrong gate! The driver himself took care of my predicament. He drove up and down the said road almost 4 times till we did not locate the exact gate. The huge gates were closed and I was actually embarrassed to ask him to wait for me, I wanted to check if the centre was open, else I could return home in the same cab! The cabbie read my mind; he waited till I did my cross checking and confirming, saw me safely inside the gate, wished me ‘Happy beneficial meditation’ and drove away with a smile.  How could my heart not flip for such genuine people?

They have a lovey sense of humour too. Once we (my husband and I) had to go to the social security office. After our work was done my husband headed straight to work and asked me to a taxi home. I was expecting he would drop me home and then go to work; so this change of plan mildly irritated me and I plonked myself into the taxi in a huff. The cabbie probably noticed the small altercation we had and the way I bundled into the taxi.

He cheerfully greeted me, ‘Lovely day, eh!’

I was in no mood to notice the ‘lovely day’ but not wanting to be rude I said, ‘Yes, it is! But my boss says I need to go home! So not so lovely anymore!’

Cabbie, ‘No young lady! You are the boss! How dare your man not obey the boss!’  

I already forgot my irritation and smilingly said, ‘No, no, in my country Man is the Boss, not the wife.’

Cabbie, ‘No young lady, you are wrong here, wife is the boss! Not the husbandJ! Like in my house; my wife is the Boss! World over women are the ‘Boss’!’

I started to laugh, his words did not apply to my house but they were so soothing and I still had hopeJ. 

He sweetly continued, ‘Look at me, we were in London, had a good job and life! My wife was bored there! She ordered that we move here, where the whole family lives! Now, I have to drive this taxi, earn for her!’

I laughed out loud now and asked,’ your wife must be working and earning too though?’

He turned back and gave me a grave look and said, ‘My wife is the Languishing Lady of luxurious shopping and lunches. That’s all that she does dear, believe me!’ I could not control my outburst anymore.

A cabbie informed me that Dublin (which means the ‘dark pool’) is the English name for ‘Baile Átha Cliath’, meaning “town of the hurdled ford“. He even tried to teach me some basic Gaelic.

Another cabbie said, ‘India and our country have a lot in common. We started the first rebellion against the British and Gandhi carried forward the baton to India.’

These are a few ‘Tacsai tales’. There are many more; every time I step into a cab I step out with some new knowledge or a smile on my face, or both.

Spiritual Business

Spiritual Business

I have just returned from a Heartfulness Training Workshop in Vrads Sande, Denmark. During His talks Master twice made references to ‘Spiritual Business’. My 12 year old daughter who was in the adjacent room heard the reference and later asked me why Master referred to our spiritual journey as a ‘Business’.

For her business was a give and take thing – venture which entailed profit.  Competition is integral to business, and emotions are very likely to be trifled with. To her understanding, a spiritual journey was exactly the opposite. This path is that of pure love, sacrifice and volunteer work – a zero profit venture. This is the noblest path to follow, one where emotions dictate everything. Thus, this comparison with business was a mismatch according to her opinions.

Actually, when Master first used the term ‘business’, even I felt somewhat nonplussed, because my comprehension of the word ‘business’ was exactly what my daughter had voiced. So, what was the ‘profit’ element in Spirituality? What was the transaction? What was I trading in this business? I was here for myself, to know myself and become a better human being. I was here to lose the layers of samskara I had accumulated over the years and many past lives too. This practice helped me peel the layers, become wise, and hopefully become discerning. This was all about me and me alone. If I practiced diligently, I stood to gain.  If I was lethargic, the loss too was mine, that I remained stagnant. So where was the transaction, with any outside party as such? Who was I getting into a trade with in this spirituality business? So, why did Master repeatedly refer to this as a business? Where were the profit /loss for anyone apart from the person concerned? What was the risk?

If I did consider this as His, my Master’s, spiritual business, then He stood to lose the most. This path has no entry fee. This path knocks on doors and volunteers introduce the Method free of cost.  The workshops are conducted by volunteers and are all free of cost too. Our annual congregations in India are free of cost. Apart for the travel expenses, boarding, lodging and food is free.  This is the same for every activity in India and every workshop or event we conduct; everything is free.  Even after everything being offered keeping in mind the comfort of the aspirant, there is zero guarantee that the aspirant will reap the benefit by understanding this path and what it truly has to offer. So what did the Master stand to gain? Of the innumerable seeds He has sown, scattered everywhere He set His foot, how many will He reap? Most of those seeds will die as seeds, or grow a bit and wither away. Maybe one in a hundred will become a tree and bear fruit. Would He be amongst us to see the one odd tree bear fruit? Probably not; yet He continues to sow seeds, invest His time, effort and energy in this assured loss venture. So from His side also I saw no reason for Him to call this a ‘Business’. Why would one talk about an assured loss?

So, how could I explain the term ‘Business’ to my girl? What profit was Master referring to when He said Business? Thus, with my limited understanding, I attempted to answer my daughter’s question. I tried to explain how this spiritual journey was ‘Business’ for me! What I have gained from this path, and continue to gain every day, is so crystal clear that my profit and loss statement is tilted heavily on the positive side. For me this was a sole proprietary business. I stood to gain or lose in direct proportion to my involvement, diligent learning and honest implementation of the same. So this remained an individual journey; a sole proprietary concern. That said, my next question popped up immediately.

For every aspirant at an individual level this path or any spiritual path is a sole proprietary business. The day we become wise enough to comprehend that this profit needs to be dispersed, a new business begins. The risk of being lethargic was heavy; I could lose my Self or remain ignorant about the Self.  I think I will term that as a partnership business where we share a mutual brotherhood; a sincere yearning to share our profits. This learning has to begin to reflect at home and amongst other family members.  Learning left in the locker like a fixed deposit sum fetches no interest nor does it grow. So there is a need for this sole proprietary concern to spread its wings and become a partnership. Then this spiritual business can flourish profitably. This was a funny sort of business where individual success became imperative for the whole Mission to succeed and prosper. The sole proprietary concern flourishes and aspires towards a successful partnership. It should continue to share profits and grow into a Global Mission.

Master is at the helm of the affairs and for Him the whole Mission is a sole proprietary concern! One person, one unit, one family is what we are for Him, the Mission is one. This repeated reference to spiritual business suddenly started to make sense to me!

In today’s world, profit and loss are the kind of terms we tend to comprehend faster. We are wary and reluctant to acknowledge any philanthropic work but we are all ears the minute a ‘business’ idea is talked about! The day we ‘see’ profit in ‘spirituality’ we will probably start taking it seriously. We will give it the place and priority it needs in our lives.  This is actually the most profitable business venture with the potential to make every other venture profitable eternally! But we never look at this spiritual path as a ‘business’ venture; probably because tangible profit is not visible. The risk of ‘loss of Self’ is intangible; hence we remain oblivious to this risk too. The second reason may also be that for every other venture we depend on ourselves more, our efforts are consistent and focused. We have a vision and a goal. Whereas in spiritual business because the profit is intangible we feel like we are either groping in the dark for too long or we are dependent on someone (Master) too much. And the subtle change, the inner change that is happening is met with resistance on the outside, making it worse for us. One small hurdle, clash or friction on the outside and we abandon the path or drop it like a hot brick.  We set off in search of a different venture, a more tangibly profitable one.

Only if we started thinking and considering our spiritual journey as our prime ‘business’ and repeatedly strove to maximize our profit in this ‘business’ will the purpose of this life be served, the goal be achieved.  And that is His intent. He wants us to take this spiritual ‘‘Business’ seriously. And if ‘business’ is the key, magic word, that helps us take this path seriously, so be it.