Hands

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

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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.

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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

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Illegal Atheists

by Aranyakananda

The world is a funny, funny place.

It appears that in Saudi Arabia it is now illegal to be an atheist. In fact atheism is equated with terrorism. It is not illegal for an atheist to enter the country, just illegal for Saudis to be atheist, or “practice atheism” whatever that means, in Saudi Arabia.

I don’t know everything about this law or the intention behind it, I admit, but to me this whole thing sounds deplorable considering that the majority/authority in Saudi Arabia is Muslim, Islam not being one of the more “experiential” religions in the world. I would go so far as to say the three major Abrahamic religions are either faith- or Law-based. And though certainly many of their adherents do “experience” God, basically what is happening here is that it is illegal to not to believe in something that cannot be proven to exist. I am actually unclear as to whether this law is Islam-specific.

The world is a funny, funny place because while this is going on we have also had Communist regimes wherein the governments have actively promoted atheism if not suppressed the right to practice. And there are shades of grey in between the two extremes, like in China where there are like 5 choices of officially sanctioned religions.

The situation in Saudi Arabia has got me thinking about Hinduism. How interesting it would be, given the experiential nature of the many related practices, if, let’s say India were to make it illegal not to be a Hindu. It would never happen, nor should it ever happen, let me be clear. Just an interesting thought how the one place where the dominant religion is most experiential – some would say empirical – of all would not think of placing such a stipulation upon it.

Maybe it wouldn’t because it wouldn’t make sense. Maybe it wouldn’t make sense because of the very idea that it is experiential and all you need to do is practice meditation to understand some of its principles. Maybe other places like Saudi Arabia feel the need to make its majority religion mandatory because it is not as experiential and there is a concern for losing adherents. Or maybe it is simply what it appears to be. A social control thing.

Aum.

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Blucky

by Aranyakananda

…and speaking of luck, per the last post on this blog, last night I was in Hobby Lobby (a place so very Christian in reputation that I was worried I would burst into flames just walking in) and I found a poster which gave me cause for pause.

“I am not lucky, I am blessed!” it read.

This is a dichotomy that a good friend of mine and I have revisited from time to time in our discussions. I do not believe in luck, and he tends to avoid the idea of any individual being particularly more “blessed” than any other as it promotes blatant duality, not to mention the larger-scale idea of a “Chosen people”, among other reasons.

Hinduism, indeed is kind of a middle ground in this respect in that there is no such thing as blind luck. Karma trumps randomness at all times. And many would say that in order for one to be “blessed” it would take a situation wherein God were playing favorites to some degree, if only for a moment, but repeatedly and on demand. This is why we don’t pray for things for for things to happen for us. We just pray to know Him. Not that this is exclusive to Hinduism, but the “blessed individual” is more of a Christian concept, I think we’ll all agree. We still feel gratitude for all that befalls us even if we do make our own destiny, inasmuch as how we react to circumstances will give life the appearance of trial or triumph.

We are not lucky. We are not blessed. We are blucky.

Prabhu kō saba gaurava.
Aum.

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Superstitious Double Whammy?

By Aranyakananda

The subject of luck has come up on this blog at various times. Friday the 13th has been the topic of at least one or two posts. But tomorrow is unique in that it is Friday the 13 and it is a full moon. My Facebook feed has been inundated with posts about this double-dose of “bad luck.” First and foremost, I don’t believe in bad luck. But let’s just assume for the purposes of this post that I do.

So we’ve got Friday the 13th, a date connected with “bad luck” for various reasons, and we’ve got the day of the full moon converging. A full moon is supposedly when all the loonies come out or whatever. Whatever it is that makes werewolves do their thing supposedly holds sway over normal humans to a lesser degree on the monthly occasion of the purnima.

For Hindus, any Purnima is an auspicious occasion. Which is why often times pujas are held on the date. Tonight is Sri Sathya Narayana Puja at my temple, for example. Auspicious tendencies and spiritual power is heightened at such a time. And I think this is probably related to the werewolf myth in a roundabout way. These tendencies and consciousness are heightened, but like anything, with these possibilities made manifest during purnimas, comes the possibility for their opposite to manifest. Great care is to be taken at this volatile time and that is why pujas are undertaken. It is only a volatile time for the unobservant. The non-vigilant. It is a time for awareness of the Self.

As long as this awareness is present, then purnima (the full moon) will cancel out any “bad luck” that otherwise might manifest due to it being “Friday the 13th. Unfortunately paranoia (superstition) tends to set in when you’ve seen too many movies.

Aum Namo Narayanaye Namaha

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Let Them Be.

by Aranyakananda

“If you love a flower, don’t pick it up.
Because if you pick it up it dies and it ceases to be what you love.
So if you love a flower, let it be.
Love is not about possession.
Love is about appreciation.”

– Osho

The words above are currently striking me quite heavily. Not as a metaphor for something bigger, but literally. At my office in the back of the building we have a concrete patio and a nice lilac bush. When it bloomed last year, a co-worker and I went on a mission to fill the office with the aroma and the sense of life that the flowers emitted. He cut off a branch and put them in a watered vase in his office. I did the same in my cubicle. He put some at the front desk.

And I was thinking of doing the same this year. But while there is not necessarily anything wrong with picking flowers or in this case trimming off a branch for your enjoyment, I am finding this year that it is much more of a spiritual experience to go out to where this flower chose to bloom.

To sit beside it.
To feel the sun fall upon your face just as it falls upon the plant.
To take in its aroma in its natural environment.
To feel the breeze, and hear the scuttle of the leaves along with it.
To recite a few mantras before it.
To thank it for simply being right where it is.

I guess it’s just the bhakt yogi in me. Also it provides a nice escape from the normalcy of my cubicle. If I kept the flowers at my desk, they would lose the exceptional quality they have in their natural environment. They would become mundane.

Also call me a tree-hugging hippie but I love it that there is a weed growing straight up from under one of the wooden benches out there, and it is growing straight between two of the planks of the bench and it has not come to any harm.

Aum Suryaya Namaha
Jai Hari Aum

Aum
Bhuh Bhuvah Svah
Tat Savitur Varenyam
Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi
Dhiyo Yo nah Prachodayat

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