Holi Colors as Abhishekam

by Aranyakananda

I know I am several weeks late on this. And I also know that shortly after Holi I made a “solemn oath” not to write about Holi anymore this year. But being that nobody’s life is in danger as a result, I’m going to break said oath.

It did not occur to me until after Holi but there is another level on which this festival can be, and I wish was, celebrated. It always has been a joyful experience for millions and millions of people. But it dawned on me over the last few weeks at some point that each one of us is to some degree an avatar of God. As such, we may very well consider one another murtis as well. As such, I think it would be fair to approach the playing of Holi colors as a form of abhishekam.

Proper abhishekam as normally celebrated is an anointing of the murti. Each element with which the murti is anointed has a special significance. Depending on the abhishekam, various different elements are employed: Water for purity, Milk for long life, honey for sweetness in speech, Sandal paste for mental peace, turmeric for healing and matrimony, Panjamrutham is for wealth, and so forth. Each element when gently poured over the deity radiates throughout the temple and infuses and enriches each devotee present.

Similarly, each of the Holi colors has its own significance, many which overlap some of the elements of proper abhishekam. Red is for purity, green is for vitality, blue is for calm. Yellow promotes a sense of piety. Each is sort of a blessing of certain characteristics or values that we hope to bestow upon one another. And certainly with all of these colors swirling amongst the crowd during Holi, all various combinations of each quality is bestowed upon each participant. Each devotee is, again, infused and enriched with these qualities.

Aum Namo Shankaranarayanaya Namah.
Jai Hari Aum.

Posted in bhakti, dharma, Dharma religions, Dharmic Faiths, Eastern Philosophy, Festival of Colors, God, healing, Hindu Festivals, Hindu Temples, Hinduism, Holi, holidays, Indian culture, inspiration, moksha, opinion, philosophy, poojas, prayer, pujas, religion, Sanatana Dharma, satsang, self-realization, spirituality, Uncategorized, Western Hinduism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

9 to 5 Yogi

by Aranyakananda

In this day and age, it is a struggle for many to conform their spiritual convictions with every day life. For instance one who aspires to live an enlightened lifestyle but works in marketing may feel a sense of falsehood in the endeavors of their career path. But does not have to be so. For one, such a person can seek out another career path. But there is another outlook that such a person can adopt, and I think should adopt rather than abandoning the path they are on. This outlook is two-fold, in my eyes:

First, doing our duty from the perspective at which we currently sit, to the best of our ability is karma yoga. Another aspect, and really the most important aspect for Hindus is that we do said work as an offering to God. But I began this definition the way I did because even a non-believer, I think, can do karma yoga and make an effective practice in their lives.

Second, as Hindus we are taught that all paths lead to the same goal, though the appear multifarious. Therefore, to carry out your duties as the employee of a company which panders to the more materialistic wishes of the consumer population is to assist those people in navigating their way through that stage of their development. It does NOT bring you down a level to do so, and it should not in fact even suggest their being “down” on a different level from you. Hinduism accentuates the Oneness of all, but when it comes to our various desires and pursuits, I prefer to think of us all as different spokes of a wheel all connected by the hub. I prefer this over the “ladder” imagery that I myself have often employed on this very weblog.

Material pursuits are not necessarily simple idolatry, and are not less valid than more traditionally spiritual pursuits. I word it this way because all paths, again, lead to the same hub, eventually. All paths are spiritual. It cannot be anything but. And so each path taken by each individual remains fixed side by side, equally spaced, like the spokes on a wheel.

My point is this. Even in assisting someone to buy an accent piece for their outdoor pool, you are doing nothing less noble than, as Ram Dass said, helping to walk that person back home. And we can provide this service to humanity without becoming ourselves karmically involved, and without encouraging consumerism as the end rather than the means. The only way that this arrangement can become contradictory to spiritual growth is if we let judgment of the process cloud our intentions in playing our part.

Jai Hari Aum.

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The Sacred Architecture of the Vastu Shastra

by Aranyakananda

My father is a home builder. With his birthday having just passed when I started working on this post, and having visited my parents beforehand to take them both out for dinner, naturally I have been thinking about Vastu Shastra quite a bit. Naturally. I mean I always had a hunch there was more to my pops’ trade than slapping a house together.

The oldest known architectural document in the world, the Shastra is made up of the building guidelines set forth by Maya Danava around 3000 B.C.E. “There are more existing examples of sacred architecture in India than in all other countries of the world combined,” according to Swami B.G. Narasingha, a leading authority on the Shastra and its teachings.

To this day architects in India are first taught that “That which is temporarily manifest in this world, vastu, it is said, is originally existing on the plane of the transcendental or unmanifest, vustu.” The Vastu Shastra, therefore, Integrates physical and metaphysical, finite and infinite. Even just on the physical plane of existence it incorporates geometry, drafting, stone sculpture, bronze casting, wood carving, painting etc.

Then there are the more esoteric elements of the Shastra which along with the physical, combine to creating a space which is much like a tirthas that I mentioned a few posts back, in that it is a place where the Divine dwells amongst us. This is because it is mainly a document that expounds temple building, but it goes to show that all dwelling spaces must be sacred and must foster a tirtha-like atmosphere. Are they metaphors or practical truth? Many would say that the assertion of the Shastra is sound in that, in many ways much like the Feng Shui, it demonstrates a way to create the most vibratory atmosphere whether it be in your home or in your temple. A way to attune the atmosphere with the universal Aum, the universal flow of energy, prana.

A key element of the Shastra as it relates to temple building, obviously is reverence for deities, but this can apply to Hindu homes as well. Hence the Hindu tradition of placing an image of Ganesha at the front door of the home. Not only that but the Shastra recomments ways to build so that the optimal energy is present upon entrance to front door. It recommends installing the main door on an auspicious day. For those of us who rent apartments or anyone who moves into a pre-owned home, it occurs to me that it may be unknowable as to when the door was installed but we may be able to arrange to move in on an auspicious day. Either way, the Shastra recommends a Vastu puja upon moving in.

The positioning of the front door is of utmost importance in Vastu Shastra. In order to allow the most sunlight – UV rays. Vitamin D – the door should not open to the SE or SW. North East is ideal, but a temple should always face directly East.

But the Vastu Shastra has taken into consideration the most mundane of potential issues, which is why I think it can be applicable to the work of a home builder. For instance it recommends keeping front doors away from corners of the house. Why? Because this will eliminate most problems with moving large objects in and out, a frustration felt by masses to this day.

According to practitioners of Vastu Shastra building techniques, the front door should never face directly at another home because of the potential for both doors to be open at once creating an awkward moment whereby each can see into eachother’s lives. Nor should it look upon an abandoned building or one in a state of disrepair due to the potential to create a feeling of unease or depression. One is also advised not to have a septic tank beneath the front entrance, for obvious reasons.

Interestingly, it is advised that there be one door for entrance and one for exit, the exit door being the smaller of the two. Compare that to respiration, wherein it is recommended that we breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. Just a thought since I mentioned prana earlier.

But this is largely related to the home. As I have said the Shastra is more related to temple building than anything. In the building of a more sacred nature, a massive square is first drawn onto the soil. This is considered the perfect fundamental form. This becomes the vastu-purusha-mandala, a mystical diagram which is symbolic of the Cosmic Being. Drawing this mandala is a sacred rite to initiate the building. This rite is not just ceremony however. It is said that the mandala sustains the temple in the metaphysical plane like the actual foundation sustains it in the physical world.

Jai Hari Aum

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On Being Enlightened vs. Being Self-Realized

by Aranyakananda

I was asked the other day if there is a difference between being “enlightened” and being “Self-realized”/”Self-actualized” whichever you prefer. And if so, is it wrong to say “I am enlightened.”

Let me deal with the second question first. I see no foul in saying that you have had an experience which has changed you – an experience after which you will never be the same. I think that or a similar statement might be a little easier on the ears of others – who may be skeptical of the whole concept – than “I am enlightened.” But even so, Western Civilization had an entire period in history in which a claim to enlightenment was made, so if an individual were to make that claim I don’t see the harm if it is profoundly sincere.

But it is not the same thing as being a Self-realized soul. Because the capital S suggests a realization of the higher Self. It is essentially moksha, absolute liberation while still in the body. Consider the term “enlightenment” for a second. To me, to become enlightened means that a light has come on, or something that was previously in the dark is now visible. Sometimes such sudden clarity, I’m told, can shuttle a person into instantaneous Self-realization, but the two are not mutually exclusive experiences.

We can say that enlightenment leaves us forever changed, but truth be told, there is always the potential to flutter back and forth from the new state of light to the former hazy state in which we’d lived. Self-Realization is permanent state of Satchitananda.

For another perspective,see “Sahaj Marg.”

To put this into a Vaisnav frame of reference, to compare Enlightenment to Self-realization, one might consider Vaikuntha, the heavenly abode of Lord Vishnu. It is the highest Heaven. Yet in Hinduism, Heaven is not permanent. (This may already appear to be a bad analogy as according to some, Vaikuntha is mearly Vishnu’s resting place, not one to which the currently embodied can aspire to see.) As Enlightenment is like the most heightened state of awareness for the jivan, Vaikuntha is the highest (possible?) abode for the soul still in the cycle of rebirth. Enlightenment may be compared to Vaikuntha if Self-realization is moksha, the ego dissolved into Brahman.

If this does not work for you, then let’s say that Enlightenment is to Self-realization what the coming avatar Kalki at the end of this Mahayuga is to the Dance of Nataraja Shiva which will obliterate all matter on a subatomic level. Kalki is to come at the end of the Kali Yuga to usher in a new cycle. As a friend of mine has often referenced, it has been suggested that Kalki may come in the form of a virus, thinning the herd, destroying the wicked, and whatnot. But the Dance of Shiva would be the end of the current manifestation of the cosmos as we know it.

Even as a Vaisnav, I know no more final dissolution of Being than that to be delivered by Lord Shiva.

Or, as I told my friend who asked me about Enlightenment vs. Self-realization, “Self-realization is a much stronger term.” I hope the two large-scale examples above do well to illustrate the difference.

Of course my own interpretations of Vaikuntha and the Kalki avatar are up for discussion.

Jai Harihara Aum.

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The Hamburg Beatles and a Meditation on Karma

by Aranyakananda

I find inspiration in the strangest places. I think all of us must at one point or another. I think I’ve mentioned a time or 15 that I am a fan of the Beatles. At work, along with Ganesha at the entrance of my cubicle, Krishna and Arjuna on my desk, and Swamis Yogananda and Vidyadhishananda, another source of inspiration is a photo of the Beatles taken in 1960 in Hamburg, Germany. For one thing this was just months before they really started to make some waves in their hometown of Liverpool, leading to bigger waves across Britain and even bigger waves across the Atlantic. But another reason is that in this picture, the band consisted of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best.

Sometimes I find myself forgetting that we all carry different baggage of karma, yet in the end we’re all playing the same tune. When I do, I look at this picture. It carries within its white borders a fundamental truth in stark black and hazy grey about the variety of life, that plays out through our individual karmas.

You see:

* John Lennon went on to fame, controversy, and social pariah-hood for his political and personal statements. Though he seemed to have found happiness away from the limelight for the last five years of his life, eventually he was to be murdered at age 40. In death he came to be a hippie icon, and the symbol of peace movements to this day.

* Paul McCartney became the most prolific hit-writer in the history of pop music, with the most-covered song of all-time, “Yesterday”, and enjoys success to this day and is an outspoken advocate for animal rights and vegetarian lifestyle.

* George Harrison soon tired of the rock star lifestyle, and yearning for something more he found Hinduism, becoming a devotee of Bhagavan Krishna, dying of lung cancer in 2001. He chanted the Mahamantra regularly up until the day of his death.

* Stuart Sutcliffe voluntarily left the band soon after the picture was taken, and he died of a brain hemorrhage at age 21, not long before he was to marry his girlfriend Astrid Kirchher.

* Pete Best was abruptly fired from the band 2 years later, just before they recorded their first single, never glimpsing all-out Beatlemania. To this day he fends off questions from interviewers about what might have been.

Five men in one band. Five very disparate paths.

It is a reminder that we each have our own path which we cannot predict (in ourselves nor in others). That fortunes can shift, plans can change, and life can take us in any of myriad directions at a moment’s notice. Our state of mind during those potentially troubling times is the only thing we have control over. Our only weapon is, indeed, our state of mind. This is not a judgement on any of these five men, or of their karma. It is merely a photo that has become a parable for me.

Jai Hari Aum.

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by Aranyakananda

Have you ever noticed that when precipitation falls from the sky, we say “it is raining” or “it is snowing”? We could, if we had time to lollygag, say “precipitation is falling from the sky”. We certainly don’t say “the sky is raining.”

When the temperature rises, we say “it is hot out today” and when the temperature falls, “it is cold out today.” We don’t say “The air is hot” or “the air is cold.” I mean those phrases do occur but not really. And even if we did say “The sun is hot today”, we wouldn’t, in opposite conditions say “the sun is cold today.” That makes no sense. So “it” must be something else.

Though the Upanishads go to great lengths in explaining, tell me: What is raining? What is snowing? What is hot? What is cold? I am not asking you for the definitions of those terms. I am asking you to consider what is doing those things.

Jai Hari Aum

Posted in avatars, Avatars of Vishnu, consciousness, dualism, duality, Eastern Philosophy, existentialism, God, Hinduism, Maya, meditation, non-dualism, panentheism, pantheism, philosophy, religion, Sanatana Dharma, science, spirituality, Upanishads, Vedanta, Vishnu, Western Hinduism | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Holi and Race (My Last Post About Holi For This Year, I Give You My Solemn Oath)

by Aranyakananda

While congregating around the Holika Dahan fire outside my temple, the priest gave a short explanation about the fire pooja before performing the offering ceremony. Afterwards it was asked if anyone had anything they wanted to say about Holi. Various stories and anecdotes were told. But one stood out. It was about Krishna and Radha. As I wrote days ago, it is an amusing story. Krishna was jealous of Radha’s fair complexion and so upon the suggestion of Krishna’s mother he decided to do something about it. He would later cover her face with color. Probably not blue, yellow, green and red but whatever he had to do to make himself feel better. Somehow, from that, it is now seen as an act of great endearment for one to color his or her lover’s face on Holi.

One aspect of the story which I had not considered was brought up. The discussion turned to race. How Indians of myriad ethnicity take part in Holi colors and by the end of it, they all look like they are of one background.

I had heard talk of the story of Lord Hanuman having racial undertones, and maybe even that of Krishna and Rama’s darker (blue?) complexion. While I had never thought of it in relation to the Holi colors, for me it held a great amount of significance, being of white (German/Irish mostly) ancestry. I mean I can be the only white person in my temple amongst dozens of people and not think anything of it. I have never really felt out of place once I am actually in the temple and have shown that I am there for the same reason everyone else is. If I am looked at differently, I prefer to just assume it is because I am in a wheelchair. No big thing.

But I do like how the colors during Holi make evident that the differences (amongst Indians AND others in this Hindu Renaissance of which we are all a part) are but skin-deep. Different cultural traditions are a valuable thing in a collective and individual sense of belonging. But really they are superficial, and Holi in some small way, somehow goes a long way in demonstrating that.

Jai Harihara Aum

Posted in American Hindus, avatars, Avatars of Vishnu, current events, dharma, Dharma religions, Dharmic Faiths, Eastern Philosophy, Festival of Colors, Hanuman, Hindu Festivals, Hindu Scriptures, Hindu Sects, Hinduism, Holi, holidays, India, Indian culture, inspiration, ISKCON, Krishna, minorities, myth, philosophy, pluralism, poojas, pujas, Radha, Rama, religion, Sanatana Dharma, social commentary, spirituality, Vaishnavism, Vishnu, Western Hinduism, wheelchair, White Hindus | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment