Rathangapani – Life Upon the Wheel

by Aranyakananda

Just a note to avoid any confusion. This blog used to be called “Rolling with Vishnu.” Since the change in name and a possible change in appearance/layout, I wouldn’t want to lose connections I have made with regular readers.

I have long felt that “Rolling with Vishnu” was a little bit “cute” actually being a blog about a Hindu with Vaisnav leanings who is also in a wheelchair. Secondly, it suggested a certain degree of duality that I was not comfortable with. Oddly enough, upon discussing the pending change with a very regular reader and a most appreciated critic, it seems the new title, “Rathangapani” suggests even more of the same duality.

Though I am not a Gaudiya, I have always been attracted to the concept of the charioteer as a metaphor for spiritual living. The word “Rathangapani” according to Eknath Easwaran, means “He who guides the wheel of the chariot with his hands.” Being that I am in a wheelchair, this metaphor hits close to home on a gross level, and so I was at first concerned that this title would be taken wrongly. But I am not referring to my body, and I am not referring to an external God.

I remain convinced that the “charioteer” is already there tucked away in each jivan’s consciousness or maybe subconsciousness, but it is there buried for us to find, and consider our GPS as we navigate the cosmic roundabout that is the Wheel of Samsara. It is the Truth, the Self. That is the “He” who “guides the wheel.” All else is Maya, and that is about as close to duality as my little worldview that I am laying out for you here gets. We are always offered by circumstances the way of dharma, or the way of adharma in any situation. And just as in the Gita, the charioteer is the pull toward the way of dharma. I know there is a pull both ways. But Unity in Brahman is the only possible outcome. But for a while, we go round and round. And that is why this weblog is now sub-titled “Life Upon the Wheel.”

As for the two different references to wheels, that of the Cosmic Unity and that of the Jivan/chariot, you’ll just have to dwell on that. They too, may just not be the “two” that they seem to be. That is in fact the beauty of Hinduism. Though we see things in a wide variety of ways, Truth is to be found in all paths.

As for “He who guides the wheel…” as I said, I think that is a choice we make.

May it always be so.

Aum Hara Aum Hara Sadashiva
Aum Hari Aum Hari Narayana
Aum Shanti, Aum Jaya!

Posted in American Hindus, avatars, Avatars of Vishnu, Bhagavad-Gita, blogging, Brahman, consciousness, disabilities, Divine Consciousness, dualism, duality, Eastern Philosophy, ego, Gita, God, Hindu Scriptures, Hindu Sects, Hindu Temples, ISKCON, Krishna, Krishna Consciousness, life, Maya, meaning of life, meditation, non-dualism, panentheism, pantheism, philosophy, pluralism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Out Templing with the Wife

by Aranyakananda

I am beginning to suspect my wife is lovely. Last week she and I realized that it was the first weekend in time out of mind that we did not have anything planned. At first my wife said that was great because she wanted to just be home and relax for once. Since her job is infinitely more stressful than mine, I was fine with that. Then, one day, out of the ether as it were, she asked me if I wanted to go visit one of the very few Hindu temples in the state of Minnesota. It was one that we had intended to visit with a couple of friends who visited earlier this month from out of state, but time did not allow. I think my wife recognizes that I sometimes neglect to name the things that I really want, a visit to said temple being one of them. The Sri Venkateshwara (Baliji) temple is about 90 minutes from our home, so when she asked me, I said “Are there other things you want to do in the city?”

She said no.
I was amused and she was further endeared to me by this random loveliness.

So we drove up there, actually taking the opportunity to make further arrangements for a trip we will be taking up there next week. But the main thing was the temple. As she got ready that morning she said “I don’t know what to wear.” To which I responded “You don’t know what to wear? I’m the one going to have darshan with my Ishta-devata!” which gave my wife a giggle and amused me in retrospect, understanding that when one comes before God, less than a single damn is Given about what the devotee is wearing as long as he/she comes with devotion and love.

The Sri Venkateshwara Temple is in Edina, MN and we found it a bit difficult to find via Google map. I think the road it is on is a fairly well-traveled one, but the Temple is a bit tucked away. But we found it. And once we did, even though there was a ramp leading up to the front door, there was a sign which suggested that wheelchair access was to be found around the back of the building. So we did as suggested. Once inside, shoes off, we found the sign which claimed to point to the elevator. Unfortunately this led us down an unending labyrinth of hallways, checking every door we came to thinking the elevator had to be hidden somewhere. We did not find it until we came all the way around to the front part of the building. Turns out had we gone in the front the elevator would have been immediately apparent.

After the very human and therefore obligatory grumbling, we took the elevator upstairs and came into the inner sanctum, and into an immediate state of peace. It is smaller than the Hindu Temple of Minnesota in Maple Grove, which I may write about at a later date. We came to Venkateshwara on a very quiet Sunday morning, and the temple is carpeted so probably much quieter even when there are more than the 4 devotees (counting myself and my wife).

We found Sri Ganesha, I offered many pranams, then began the circumambulation. The Ashta-Lakshmi, the 8 forms of Maa Lakshmi dwell within this temple, which was lovely. And alongside Sri Venkateshwara (w/Bhu-devi and Shri-devi) is a Vishnu murti. And that is the extent of the murtis. As you can see this is a very Vaisnavite temple, which felt like home for me.

After visits and meditations on each one’s presence within this old jivan, my wife and I took a stroll around again because on the walls are mounted golden plates depicting the Dashavatara. So, though we actually went backward, it was still nice to take my wife around and tell her my version of the significance of each avatar. She asked questions, and corrected me when I told her the second avatar was a fish. Anyway I told her later that was my favorite part of the visit, to have that time to explain that part of my religion with her. Could have been in more depth, but I didn’t have time to run down the entire Vishnu Purana.

There were two priests and we did take in a short puja to the deity for which the temple is named just before leaving. The priests were quite friendly and probably having gained a sense for new-comers, the priest allowed me to take aarti then offering the flame to my wife, whispered “do just like he did.” During the few times she has taken puja with me, she generally does just watch what I do, and follow, but it was still nice.

There is no bookstore or gift shop as there is at the Hindu Temple of MN, but they did have a small table with some DVDs, one in particular of the Hanuman Chalisa, which I find to be lovely every time I hear it, and a few copies of Autobiography of a Yogi, which, if you know me, you will know that made the Sri Venkateshwara Temple dear to me straight away.

As my wife and I drove around later trying to plan our route between our hotel and a venue we will be attending next week, I could still taste the water from the puja, and it brought me back to that place of simplicity and Oneness. The difficulty finding the place and in finding the elevator once inside was definitely worth the while. I may visit it again next week, but if not, then some other time for certain.

Okay so this was not really meant to become a “temple review” as there is no sense in such a thing, I think. But I just wanted to give you an account of my thoughts upon the atmosphere.

Jai Hari Aum!

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Would You Rather…

by Aranyakananda

A good friend of mine died in January. From time to time I get to thinking about things he used to say. Little bits of wisdom, whether they appeared as such or just talk. One of the things he used to say when someone expressed their anger at a situation was “Oh well, it’s better to be pissed off than pissed on.” Literally meaning it is better to be angry than to be urinated upon.

And I get what he was doing. He was saying whatever just happened could be a LOT worse. Almost anyone would agree that they’d rather the former than the latter. Interestingly this little couplet of my friends’ brings with it a situation wherein the first may very well be the direct result of the second.

From what I have learned in Hinduism, about karma, etc., I am starting to wonder if the above-quoted aphorism was accurate. First and foremost you never want your inner peace to be dictated by outside forces. However the whole point of living a spiritual life is NOT to come to a state wherein you will suffer any disgrace that may befall you. Ahimsa is not about letting the world trample all over you. But there is a proper response for everything. In this case the response to the latter does not have to be anger. And I am certainly not saying that I would rather the latter than the former. BUT I think the misfortune and discomfort of the latter is little compared to what one can do to oneself, to infect one’s immediate environment by allowing oneself to become angry. To allow getting “pissed off” to become a way of life, a conditioned response. Of course there is such a thing as “righteous indignation”, or being “pissed off” for a rightful cause. And I think being defiled in such a way may be one of those times. You don’t just let someone go around doing that in a civilized society.

Something to think about. We all tend to have a mental hierarchy of goodness and badness of all possible things. But Hinduism has turned a lot of my conditioned hierarchies of thought on their head, and this just might be one of them. Depending on how long I think about it.

Shanti, Jaya!

Posted in ahimsa, American Hindus, consciousness, dharma, Dharma religions, Dharmic Faiths, Eastern Philosophy, ego, famous quotes, forgiveness, friends, Gandhi, Hinduism, humor | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Egad! He’s One of ‘Them'”!

by Aranyakananda

I’ve made it no secret that as a Hindu I have accepted the Christ as a part of the very large picture that is my worldview. I still often take issue with Christians, and Christianity for that matter. But the Christ is always at my table. I have written about it a few times here to the ire of a few, to the delight of more, to the indifference of a good many. It doesn’t matter to me.

But a few things have come up in the past weeks that bring the whole issue to the surface again. I want to purge a bit. In college my dorm RA was also sort of my guru when I was looking for light in the “born-again” Christian scene on campus. He taught me a lot of things and opened up my mind and my heart to some perspectives that I had not considered. But I was unable to take Christianity to heart completely. There was always some nagging question relating to infinity/eternity that bothered me. Questions that as it turned out were answered in quite a nifty way by Yogananda, Vaisnavism, and Hinduism as a whole.

This friend and I reconnected through Facebook several weeks ago. But until last week he never really “said” anything to me. Last week in a post I made mention of the Christ. There was mockery of the Christ involved but not coming from me. He called me on it and asked me if I would drink the blood of Christ. He pointed out that I had once professed my belief to him, and that I was now worshiping “demons” and that this hurt him very much. The interesting part is that once I explained to him that my search in Christianity never did result in a change of heart for me, he told me that his attitude toward my current path was completely changed in the positive direction. Because though, yes, I was still worshiping demons, it was just because I “don’t know any better. This makes it okay I guess. Because I was a “seeker” he said. I think this was meant to suggest I had not yet found what he had. I reminded him that we are all equally seekers and that despite what he may assume about Hindus, there is only one Absolute. I noticed that his arguments that Christianity and Hinduism are incompatible are always backed up by Christian doctrine/scripture alone, while my contentions that they are compatible are based on the New Testament as well as Hindu scriptures.

Today on my ride into work, I was asked about a Ganesha tattoo I had peeking out of my sleeve, and whether it was a cross. I said “No, I’m not a Christian.” I don’t know why I didn’t just say no it isn’t. Because I don’t reject the idea that the crucifix represents. In fact I told my old college friend that what I think of Jesus is that he resurrected to show as that we are not our bodies, clear and simple. I leave the sin part out. I guess ever since the exchange above I am feeling a little more outspoken in saying to Christians “I do not believe as you do, and that is okay.” It is part of being a minority, I guess, I process of accepting it and owning it. Yes, I am an apostate. The funny thing is that when I said “I am not a Christian” I heard a woman next to the one who asked me about the tattoo (sitting behind me) sort of clear her throat as though to say “Oh boy we have one of ‘them'”. I don’t know how else to describe it. But I could hear definite meaning in that throat-clearing.

The third thing that has bothered me is something that brings it all home, this gap that there seems to be between Christians and folks like me. It was a Youtube video of what was referred to as a “Yeshu Puja”. A Jesus Puja. This was a ceremony which I have never seen in a Hindu temple, or anywhere else, but in the video it was conducted by an Indian Hindu woman. I like the idea very much. If truth really is one but only called by many names then this should not be an issue. Another Indian, a man and presumably a Hindu commented on the video to the affect that Hinduism is accepting of the Christ but that Christianity was not accepting of pujas. Which I think is true, but he then flat out demanded that the video be removed from YouTube “immediately.”

Needless to say, it was not removed. But it is my contention that by him saying that Hinduism accepts the Christ followed by “Remove it immediately” he contradicted himself immensely, and contributes to the gap that fundamentalism creates. If the Christ is accepted as an avatar or at least his words accepted as a valid path, then why may this not be celebrated with a puja to Him? My local temple celebrates Sai Baba Puja regularly now. And from what I understand of Sai Baba’s devotees, their convictions are in sync completely with those of the devotees of the Christ. Except for the crucifixion/resurrection bit. Is there a reason why Yeshu Puja should be unacceptable to a Hindu?

Please advise.

Aum Hara Sadashiva, Aum Hari Narayana, Aum Sri Yeshu!
Aum Shanti, Shanti, Shantihi!

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by Aranyakananda

Hinduism is great in that for the most part one is able to walk/roll one’s own path without taking too much criticism from others. There have been many exceptions to that rule in my experience. But coming from Western culture, I have made my own rules and followed my own heart in many ways and haven’t felt it to be an issue. I won’t flout sacred tradition just for the sake of doing so. But I also know myself and approach my Ishta-devata accordingly. And you should too, and nobody can take that away from you.
For example, Chaturmasya begins in a week. It is a four-month period akin to the Catholic lenten season at least in one way. It begins with a one-month period wherein Vaisnavs traditionally will abstain from leafy vegetables. I myself happen to be one of the worst vegetarians you’ll ever meet. I tend to get lazy and eat a lot of pasta because it is easier than chopping vegetables. My point is that during the first part of Chaturmasya, I have chosen to undergo other, more personal “austerities” than avoiding leafy vegetables. Because I need my greens. And also because it wouldn’t be much of a sacrifice to begin with seeing as I already don’t eat enough of them. I owe it to the body that carries me to eat them. I’ve never observed Chaturmasya too much anyway or any other vrats. They remind me too much of Lenten season on the Catholic Calendar.

Secondly, I have many tattoos, two of which are a representation of the Vaisnav an the Shaivite tilaks. They are on my right arm. I have never seen anyone else with such tattoos even upon extensive internet research. And I understand why. Tilaks are supposed to be something one would apply daily as a spiritual practice. But I do actually use the tattoos in a similar way. Now that I have both, I do “ritually” apply certain substances to my skin over the tattoos while repeating the mantra “Aum Hara Aum Hara Sadashiva/Aum Hari Aum Hari Narayana” in obeisance to Sri Shankaranarayana.

But, you’ll notice I said these tattoos are on my right arm. Which means in order to apply anything to them, I have to use my left hand.

And so, thirdly, and more applicable to the title of this post, when I am at the temple, I of course adhere to the usage of the right hand only during puja and while receiving prasad (with a couple of slip-ups). But when I am away from temple, I do not make it a habit. Because other than writing, there is not anything that I use only my left hand for. As far as I know the left hand being impure is simply the result of the Indian cultural practice of using it and it only for cleansing/grooming. I am in a wheelchair and all kinds of filth collect on both of my hands from pushing myself around. I wash them before temple and before worship at home, and they are equally clean. Therefore my left hand is no less or no more clean than the right.

So I guess that makes me a bit of a rebel. But one needs to follow one’s own rules to an extent in order to fully understand oneself. And while there are certain practices that are a must at the temple, I have also noticed with a smile that there is not a strict dress code. Many a times, guys have come to puja wearing a tee-shirt or a pair of shorts. I think that “Come As You Are” spirit is important. You never would have seen that at a Catholic Mass. There were “standards”, you know. I understand paying proper respect to the deities, but I hardly think that Jesus or Krishna would stand at the front door of the respective house of worship and pass judgement on the sincerity of the devotees based on their clothing.

Aum Hara Aum Hara Sadashiva
Aum Hari Aum Hari Narayana
Aum Shanti Shanti Shantihi

Posted in Abrahamic faiths, American Hindus, auto-biography, autobiography, avatars, Avatars of Vishnu, bhakti, Catholicism, Christianity, Comparitive Religion, disabilities, Eastern Philosophy, Forms of Shiva, God, Hindu Festivals, Hindu Sects, Hinduism, India, Indian culture, Jesus, Krishna, Liberal, mantras, Narayana, opinion, philosophy, poojas, pujas, religion, Saivism, Sanatana Dharma, self-realization, Shiva, social commentary, spirituality, Vaishnavism, Vedic culture, Vegetarianism, Vishnu, Western Hinduism, wheelchair, White Hindus, yoga | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The TGIF Retraction

by Aranyakananda

“TGIF” has long been an expression that’s given me a giggle, and cause for reflection, as you’ve seen once or twice if you’ve followed this weblog. This morning my wife gave me yet another reason to reflect on it. As I sat on the bed trying to wake myself up, she came in and said “Thank God it’s Friday…well…thank ‘time’ that it’s Friday.” Upon hearing this I teased her about being “deliberately and openly atheistic.” But I think that she, being somewhat of an agnostic who always feels there are bigger fish to fry than to look into spiritual matters, was really just being careful to be true to herself and her present state. It doesn’t concern me. I love her enough to give her the time she needs to work it all out, a courtesy we should give anyone. She practices similarly by saying “OMG” rather than “Oh my God”. It is not just trendy letter-play. I have heard her start out with “Oh my G-” then consciously start over with “OMG”.

Funny enough, her saying “Thank time it’s Friday” is not atheistic at all. “Time” is closely associated with various Hindu deities: the yet-to-come avatar of Vishnu, Kalki, and Kali Maa, as well as Shiva, and probably others. In short, God (Brahman, really) IS time, and time IS God even though time also happens to be a function of Maya. There is no time but the eternal “now”. And the only eternal is Brahman. After all, the past only exists in our memories and the future only exists in our imaginations. To be caught up in either one is to lose oneSelf. Just like to be consumed in God-Consciousness is to lose oneself.

Hari Aum.

Posted in agnosticism, agnostics, atheism, avatars, Avatars of Vishnu, consciousness, current events, Divine Mother, Durga, Eastern Philosophy, editorial, family, God, Hinduism, Humanism, humor, Kali, Kalki Avatar, life, love, Maya, panentheism, pantheism, philosophy, pluralism, religion, self-realization, Shiva, social commentary, spirituality, Vishnu, Western Hinduism, White Hindus | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

100 and 8

by Aranyakananda

“Auspicious” is a word that I never heard until I began reading Hindu texts and commentaries on said documents. “Inauspicious” was a word I was familiar with, oddly enough. But I had never heard anyone employ its opposite, nor did I really consider it. But they are indeed opposites, absolutes I think.

Auspicious – conducive or favorable to success.

As you probably know, 108 is a most auspicious number not just in Hinduism but in Buddhism, Catholicism, and others. Over time, just in Hinduism 108 has come to have meanings attached to it that are too various to mention here. There are 108 principle Upanishads, many of the gods have 108 names associated with them. I won’t claim to know the one original importance of the number, aside from the various references to it in the Vedas which obviously go back about as far as it gets in Hindu texts.

I won’t even go into the numeralogical wonders associated with 108. Except for this one. The 1 stands for unity/singularity. The 0 stands for emptiness and the 8 stands for eternity as the 8 on its side is the symbol for eternity. I like that.

But I digress.

The most recognizable example of the number 108 will be the number of beads on a japa string. Opposites being extremes/absolutes, the definition above of “auspicious” should refer to not just the lives of the one performing japa, but for all.

In discussing it with a friend, I came upon something of which I’d not been aware. One of the reasons we say mantra 108 times, and therefore the reason there are 108 beads on a japa string is that we say the mantra 100 times for ourselves, and 8 times for the wellbeing of the world at large. (In Buddhism, for the record, the extra 8 are to account for any errors in the 100).

I myself have for as long as I can remember, opened my japa practice with “Aum Gum Ganapataye Namah” for the first 8 beads, and then went on to whatever other mantra was currently on my mind for the remaining 100. As another friend has always told me, Ganesha is the one deity who is most accessible to us in the material world. So in doing so, hopefully I have already been saying 8 for the world at large through Sri Ganesha without even knowing it.

Aum Gum Ganapataye Namaha
Aum Shankaranarayanaya Namah

Posted in astrology, Buddhism, Comparitive Religion, dharma, Dharma religions, Dharmic Faiths, dualism, duality, Eastern Philosophy, Ganesh, Ganesha, Hindu Scriptures, Hindu Sects, Hinduism, History, Indian culture, japa, Mahamantra, mala, mantras, meditation, myth, mythology, opinion, philosophy, pluralism, religion, spirituality, Upanishads, Vedas, Western Buddhism, Western Hinduism, White Hindus, yoga | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments