Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Kanda Sashti

Sri gurubhyo namaha.

The intensely spiritual period of navaratri has just passed, and the joyous occasion of Deepavali has also passed. Now, it is another of those special periods - that of Kanda sashti. Is there ever an end to the many vratas and periods of spiritual austerities, I hear you wonder!

Though the vratas are for different deities (navaratri for the Devi, Deepavali for Krishna or Rama and Kanda sashti for Muruga), there is a theme that is common to all three. What might that be? If we look into the legends associated with these vratas, we can observe that all the three periods speak of the defeat that the forces of evil suffer at the hands of the forces of good. During the nine nights of navaratri, the supreme Devi battled with Bhandasura and his demonic forces and triumphed in the end of the battle. Bhandasura was destroyed along with his city (shunyaka) and his entire clan and army and the world was once again a pleasant and peaceful place. Then (at a different epoch) the asura Narakasura tormented the denizens of the earth and the heavens. Due to the boon that he had obtained from Brahma, Krishna along with Sathyabhama had to battle with Narakasura and defeat him. That day of his defeat and subsequent death at the hands of Krishna is celebrated as Deepavali.

Then again (at a different epoch) the asura called Tarakasura engaged in activities that were sheer torture to the devas and the people of the earth. This time (once again due to the boon obtained by Surapadman) it was Muruga, born of the seed of Siva, who had to command the army of the devas and battle with Surapadman. After a deadly battle which lasted 6 days (where the army of the Lord Muruga camped in different locations each night) Muruga or Skanda the Devasenatipathi (Commander in chief of the army of the devas) won the battle. On the sixth day or Sashti, Muruga killed the asura - Sura samharam- in Tiruchendur. It is also worthy of note that Muruga carried with him his weapon (Vel) a spear that was blessed and empowered for the specific purpose of defeating Tarakasura, by Devi Parvati. Hence his ayudha has been called Shakti Vel. It is also interesting to note that in the final stages of the war, Muruga flung his Velayudham at the asura and it split him into two halves. These two halves transformed themselves (due to his powers of maya) into a peacock and a cock. Muruga then made the peacock his vehicle (mayil vahanam) and the cock became the emblem of his flag (cevarkodi).

The devotees of Muruga usually spend the period of the six days by observing various vows and fasting from food (much like navaratri) and reading the various legends and puranas associated with Muruga. They also recite the Kanda sashti kavacham twice or thrice daily to empower themselves and to obtain the everlasting grace of the warrior prince, Muruga.

May the grace of Subrahmanya, who preached the meaning of the Pranava to Brahma himself lift all into higher states. May He shower His infinite wisdom (much like He did to Siva His father) on all and help us defeat the negative forces that are both within and without us.

Om soum saravanabhava shreem hreem klim kloum soum namaha.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Deepavali wishes.

Sri gurubhyo namaha.

Wishes for a Happy Deepavali to all readers!
Click here to view the Kanchi Acharya's Deepavali eve message.
Sri maatre namaha.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Kaivalya - Absoluteness

Sri gurubhyo namaha.

Following on from the previous post where the nama sarvamayi suggests total and complete non separation (of the Devi) as a requisite for total or unlimited dominion, the concept of Kaivalya or Absoluteness takes an altogether new perspective.
Before I venture deeper into the details of the state of Kaivalya, it would be appropriate to first introduce you to what the term means - both in the way it is understood and what it really is. In the spiritually alienated society we live in today, religion, philosophies and other spiritual concepts are deeply penetrated by a dualistic perception of life and the world. Thus the non- dual ideas and concepts that are the very core of yoga and 'true' spirituality, like freedom, happiness or liberation etc are heavily misinterpreted or misrepresented. This is the case when we look at the concept of Kaivalya too. The more common translations/interpretations of the word Kaivalyam contain a false or wrong understanding of it as a withdrawal or as isolation. They purport to derive this meaning from the root 'kevala', alone or by itself, etc and thus paint the supreme state of Kaivalya to be akin to an isolation. They say that it is that state where one is 'free' from the pull of the external universe and its eternally confusing array of tricks. They also describe the state of being of the yogi in the state of Kaivalya as one who is (in appearance)not any different to any other human being. His life is still punctuated like all of ours by the night and day, rain and dry and all other natural stimuli. The difference is that, unlike others, the yogi in kaivalya is able to transcend the 'effects' of these stimuli and is able to be in a state of mental 'isolation' where these effects are not felt. Like a state of 'comfortably numb'. This, as we all know, is perhaps even achieved with the aid of morphine or other opiates! Why would anyone go through the tough and hard path that is yoga to arrive at a dull, uninvolved and non - present state of mind? This misinterpretation of Kaivalya stems from the attitude of separateness that affects all of us in the world today.
But that could not be all? The siddhars and many other yogis have actively sought and in many cases have also attained to this supreme state called kaivalyam. Surely, it cannot be connected to isolation and separateness. Surely, there must be a better explanation? Yes, there is! Kaivalyam cannot be viewed as freedom from anything in the context of escape, hiding, aversion,or sheer laziness to not be involved. Rather, this supreme state is a result of something altogether different in nature. It is not possible to arrive at this state through intellectual processes or though differentiation or reductionism or an attitude of separateness. Instead it is a state that is achieved through the release of such things! And once again, this 'release' is not a conscious process of giving up on things - it is more like a spontaneous surrender that is a result of some 'direct' spiritual experience or experiential realisation. Kaivalyam then should be defined as union more than isolation.
Like how the nama (in the previous post) Sarvamayi indicates that non separation (or union) is a requisite for unlimited dominion, the state of singleness without attributes (the definition of kaivalya) is also only possible on arriving at a state of union. Even the yoga sutras of Patanjali describe Kaivalya as the ''establishment in its own nature (swarupa) of the energy of consciousness.'' Bhojaraja, a commentator, explains that state of energy in which modifications are extinct and when it remains alone with its own nature is Kaivalya. This being alone in ones one nature is inclusive and not isolation as one's own nature is that of this universe. It is a state of absoluteness that happens as an effect of the self realising its unity with the entire universe. At that state all differences and modifications cease to be- as there is nothing that is not I. This supreme and totally connected state of samadhi is Kaivalya. It is solitary not because of the negation of everything else, but because everything is included into oneself. And the supreme Devi graces Her bhaktas by being Kaivalyapadadayini (Bestower of the solitary abode(kaivalya)). This She does by destroying the dualistic knowledge (a result of avidya) and manifesting the knowledge of oneness and unity, beyond all separation or objectification.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Nirbedha - without difference.

Sri gurubhyo namaha.

We often hear about 'the way' that has to be followed to reach spiritual heights. There are as many paths and sampradayas as there stars in the night sky - and this is only in the wider folds of Hinduism, not to mention the many other religions and folk traditions in the world. Which then is the 'right' path? The followers of the various sampradayas vehemently argue that their own is the true path. This attitude perhaps starts because of their intense belief and exclusive devotion to their own chosen path, and in that context is perhaps acceptable. A similar pattern is visible if we look at the various puranas and upa puranas.
The Vaishnava (concerned mainly with Vishnu) puranas present stories which convey to the reader the all pervasiveness of Vishnu. To arrive at this end, they would often appear to belittle the other Gods particularly Siva, and have story lines where many prominent Gods of the Hindu pantheon struggle with and face defeat at the hands of Vishnu. The Shaiva puranas on the other hand would argue to emphasize the importance and superiority of Siva over the other Gods. The stories there would often portray Vishnu and other Gods suffering as a result of the wrath of Siva. The same pattern is visible in the Ganesha, Skanda, Vayu and other puranas. In all the puranas, the chief deity extolled in the stories is often shown to be superior and in control of the other deities. To make matters worse (or more interesting) the various puranas often convey the same story or set of events with a completely different emphasis or angle. In the modern world we are well used to this tactic and we might even expect the corporate giants or politicians and people of that ilk to put a favorable 'spin' on the story to further their ends. But would the great pundits and rishis of yore have used such a cheap and artificial tactic to stress their point? And if that were the case, what would become of the esteem and regard with which we view the puranas? From the stories it becomes as if not all of them can be true (as they are contradictory), and if they are not all true, are some true? Or are they all false? These are the questions that will trouble the minds of those trying to understand the truth and dharma through the media of the puranas.
The great sages and even the Paramacharya of Kanchi are of the view that the difference in the puranas does not indicate a 'falseness'. Rather, they urge the individual to understand the real reason behind the many contradictions and the differing emphasis on the same or similar events. They say that the stories in the various puranas were often intended to bring about a sense of surrender and intense devotion to the chosen deity (Siva, Vishnu or other) and to bring about that all exclusive devotion, the stories had to be in such a way as to make the chosen deity supreme and beyond others. They also urge us to find the many stories in the same puranas that show or speak of the unity among the different deities (eg. Rama praying to Siva before crossing over to Lanka, Siva coming as Hanuman to help Rama in his task, etc). And on careful study we find that there are many stories that speak of their connectedness too.

In the Lalitha Sahasranama, there are many names that describe beautifully and exceptionally the underlying unity of Lalitha and Siva and this entire universe. It is inspiring and uniquely expansive to feel and meditate on this oneness, it is pure joy, sheer bliss! There is a nama of the Devi that is Nirbheda (without difference) - why is She without difference? Does that mean there is nothing apart from Her or does it represent a different kind of difference too? Lakshmidhara in his commentary expresses that since the Devi is neither connected with anuyogitva (for) nor is She concerned with pratiyogitva (against) to the mutual non-existence, She is said to be nirbedha or without difference. That is, She is without bias and is devoid of all differences.
On realizing this non difference the dual knowledge (of the pair of opposites) is destroyed and the 'real' knowledge is firmly rooted. This aspect of the Devi is conveyed by the next nama Bhedanasini (destroyer of difference).
Another nama Sarvamayi (as All) drives this home further. Without non - separation there cannot be unlimited dominion, or omnipresence which is an essential attribute of the Supreme. The term sarva (all) here includes all the tattvas (principles) from earth to Siva. It includes the two hundred and twenty four worlds (bhuvana) and is represented also by the fifty letters (akshara). Our altogether human attitude of perceiving difference where none exists is a cause for much confusion often leading to war over such matters. And it is an unfortunate habit to posses as more often than not, it reduces the infinite beauty of this world and the subtle and precise balance with which everything is connected.

Sri maatre namaha.

Friday, October 06, 2006


Sri Gurubhyo namaha.
I am back in circulation - after sort of a 'retreat' over the Navaratri period. Its five days now since I completed the vrata and I am pretty much back to my usual habits of Cafe latte and an herb called tobacco for breakfast. It never ceases to amaze me how fast I let something become a habit, be they good or bad. I can as easily wallow in the morphic patterns of my more baser self as I can in the unbroken bliss of meditation. After a due course of introspection during the nine nights of the vrata, I can see that the root of all this lies in my complacency. It must be my very nature or it must be the effect of years of herbs, but I find it very difficult to not be appreciative of anything. Everything, well almost everything, appears to me to be meaningful and necessary, and it all feels 'right' for its own reason. You might not think that its anything to worry about, but let me tell you, it is very difficult to cultivate 'good' habits and do 'good' things when it is impossible to discriminate between things.
I have never observed a Navaratri fast before, not in the way that I did this year at least. I quite like fasting, ya, really. I like it for many reasons. Firstly, I like the way the day becomes longer when you do not eat during the day. A few hours into the fast and it becomes clear how much time we spend each day thinking about or in the preparation of food. Breakfast sort of blends into lunch with a coffee (or a couple) in between, and before you know it, its time for dinner and then the usual cups of tea before its bed time. The average day is punctuated by the many meal times and snack times and you end up with many spare hours when you don't have to think about eating. Next I love the ecological sense in fasting - I mean, really we don't need that much food to survive. Quite a lot of the time we overeat. It must be an instinct left over from the days our great ancestors were the hunter gatherers, the fear of what if the next time there was nothing to eat? And as a result we over do food when we have it. And at the end of the day when the world is seen in terms of available resources and those that are there to make use of those resources, it becomes clear that we need individual effort to make life on earth sustainable. I think it is more responsible of me to let go of a meal every so often so that the same resource is available to someone else, elsewhere on this earth. I understand that perhaps it is a very romantic way of thinking about it and I also understand that the couple of handfuls of food I give up is not going to do much for the starving millions in Africa (or India). But over the last six years I have fasted for something like 216 days! I normally fast 3 days each month ( not including the special fasts on occasions like Sivaratri or Navaratri) and that makes 36 days in the year. Try and do the arithmetic and it becomes clear that over 6 years I would have fasted for 216 days atleast. If you calculate three meals per day that will give us 648 individual meals! Imagine the amount of food that would spare for someone else (considering that all resources are limited). I feel that in the olden days when man was much more in tune with the universal rhythm, he understood the necessity of pacing oneself. As a method for sensible use of resources among other things (like yoga, movement of prana, etc) he evolved the system of fasts and other voluntarily imposed restrictions on oneself. These methods were intended not only for his own benefit and evolution but for the bigger universe and all things connected with it. Fasting I suppose is a good alternative to intensive farming using unnatural methods (GM) to deliver an unrealistic yield. Not only does that attitude wreck the earth and destroy the power of food, it also does nothing to encourage the individual to live a life of moderation. On the contrary, it strengthens the innate greed and want in the individual, making him (and thus society) develop an insatiable appetite. It alienates us from the natural rhythm and the seasonal cycles to such an extent that all that matters is the self and its needs - no big picture.
Another aspect of fasting that I enjoy tremendously is in the mental realm. Over the years, it has become clear to me that our connection to food is very complex and has lots to do with the mind than to the physical aspect of hunger and survival. I find that the hunger pangs and the rumbling stomach is very easy to rise above and ignore, but the same cannot be said for the mental impressions of food. Like cravings for example. During the initial stages of my fasting, it was the craving for a particular taste like salty, sour etc and the craving for certain foody aromas that needed effort to overcome. It wasn't hunger or physical fatigue because of not eating etc that troubled me. The very thought of salt or salty things would cause the immediate release of saliva in my mouth and it was this 'mental' connection to food I wanted to understand. And believe me, fasting is a great way to try and understand and isolate what is mental and what is physical when it comes to food. I like the mental preparation that automatically happens on each and every fasting day. It is like going away from your beloved or your family for a while. Like you say your goodbyes until you meet again, like you want to go to that one favourite bench in the park or go for a walk in the woods all the while knowing that it might be sometime before you are able to experience it all again. I like to say my mental goodbyes to food, tastes, smells, snacks, coffee and everything else for the duration of the fast and then I love the way everything feels new and fresh when the fast is finished. A new attitude of appreciation and gratitude is born (however temporary) and I feel like thanking the Lord and the earth and everything else for what I have. The lowly upmaa, or the dry idli and the humble curd rice, all become for a while as divine as the best nectar. Thanks and praises.
When we look to the yoga sutras it becomes clear that yoga is not accomplished by those who either indulge their bodies or by those who torment their bodies. That is to say, moderation is the key. Not great fasting and other practices by which the body is tortured and not the attitude of indulgence without any restrictions. Moderation is the key, the middle path, the path of yoga. But being Libran and burdened as I am with an 'addictive' personality,I am a complete stranger to moderation. Its all or nothing with me I am afraid and no in betweens. But Iam trying! Now you might say, why then do we need to fast or show any restraint in anything? I imagine that it is because only restraint (voluntary and not obligatory) can truly make us understand what moderation is. Everything in the way we live these days is geared towards excess. Success in life seems to be measured in terms of 'how much' of anything is there rather than in terms of 'what' is there. The quantity is stressed more than the quality. Lots of money, lots of food, lots of sex, lots of everything, the more the better. So, we have to cut down and show restraint only to come to 'moderation', and there we can stabilize ourselves for the next while. From there we can begin seeing things for what they are. The middle way.
During the nine days and nights of this Navaratri, I lived on two or three pieces of fruit every day. My body felt good, my mind felt better. The fast included not only restrictions on food consumed, but also in other areas of life. There was no sleeping on beds and mattresses, just on the floor, I tried to restrain my speech, thoughts, even actions. The fast was accompanied by regular extended prayers and meditation in the mornings and evenings and throughout the day. The Sahasranamam of devi Lalitha was my steady companion, the object of my meditations, the destination for all my prayers. Ganesha, as always gave me the strength to persevere and continue the fast till the end without any hurdles and I enjoyed every minute of it. The continuous attitude of introspection was refreshing for a change. Finally, having successfully observed the fast shows me the same thing that I mentioned at the very start of this post - I am as happy in the crystal clear waters of the Ganges as I am in the mucky waters of everyday.
Everything appears to be equally important and everything seems to be another manifestation of the same Devi. My eternal thanks and praises to Her.
Sri matre namaha.