In Vain

Everyone get ready. I am about to go all Catholic on you for a moment.

I don’t know if other people have a different understanding of the term “in vain” than I do, but I grew up as a Catholic and learned the Ten Commandments. One of them is “Thou Shalt Not Take the Lord’s Name in Vain.” I was given to understand this to mean not to swear or speak in anger using the Lord’s Name, e.g. “goddamnit”, or “Holy Christ on a pogo stick!”, what have you.

The definition of “vain” is two-fold however, neither having to do with anger.

  1. having or showing an excessive opinion of one’s appearance, abilities or worth.
  2. producing no result; useless.

If you consider “…in vain” in the context of the Commandment that I am citing, definition #1 above could apply to using the Lord’s name as a show of your Righteousness. If you consider “vanity” as in self-absorption, you can see how the Commandment may refer to calling on God for purely selfish or ego-driven purposes. This covers everything from “God please help me pass this test that I didn’t bother to study for because I was out being a hooligan” to “God please make my boss drive off a bridge this morning because I did not finish the project that is due on his desk today.” What have you.

For that one, it depends on what role you feel that “prayer” should rightly play in life.

But then there is the second definition. To use the Lord’s name to no avail; uselessly. Examples could be similar to the ones I used to illustrate my original, Catholic understanding of the term, but a tad more casually employed. “Jeez”, “Oh my God”, what have you.

The Name of God is powerful. And as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility, if I may quote Voltaire and Spider-Man simultaneously. With that in mind, in the context of definition #2, I wonder if the Commandment has to do with wasting or belittling that power by chucking around the Holy Name, willy-nilly. So again nothing to do with anger, but carelessness maybe?

Interestingly if you look at it from this angle you can see that it would appear that the Commandment is telling us, “look man, if you’re going to use the Holy Name, at least use it to actually call on God toward a higher purpose, i.e., in prayer. Which would seem to contradict what I said about definition #1. So again it depends on your point of view. But one thing is for certain, to “use the Lord’s Name in vain” clearly does not mean to use it in anger.

I had to get Catholic for this post because there don’t seem to be much for Hindu examples. The various names of God are such a part of life especially in India to begin with, that I don’t know that they ever consider using the names of God so trivially. I could be wrong.

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Corporate Yoga

As of July 13 I work for a company which holds, endorses and encourages yoga classes in the office building, during the work day. I couldn’t be happier just knowing that this is going on somewhere in the building.

Also each Monday the advertising department – my team – has a weekly meeting to discuss projects current and upcoming. Today my supervisor made a short announcement, handed out a flyer related to  a project for the fall, and then turned it over to another member of the team. Her sole agenda was to play a video of a talk given by Arianna Huffington on the benefits of meditation. Of course she tended to focus on the “new research proves” angle rather than the “hoary wisdom implores you to confirm” one, but still…

Huffington talked mostly about neurological research which shows that meditation strongly tends to improve focus while activities like playing “Candy Crush” – though for some the only relaxation and escape from an otherwise busy day – tends to blur the focus of the mind. She said that any repetitive activity dulls the mind, which worries me because most of my working life has been repetitive jobs, the present job being a bit of a departure from that.

She also confirmed that “multi-tasking” is not a real thing and that attempts to do so really set you back in any progress you’ve tried to make. Because you are randomly “switching gears”  as it were, which confuses the mind. To me this sounded like an endorsement of repetition, but I really don’t think it is. Repeating dulls the mind, but if you are doing one thing and you have to be disrupted that isn’t good either. You can stick to one thing without it being repetitive. (To prove that, I’ve used as many variations on the word “repeat” as I can.)

The research in favor of meditation is “overwhelming” according to Huffington. And countless others; neurologists, psychologists, yogis, and sadhus alike.

I am proud to say I work for a company that has caught up with the 30th century B.C.E.

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In one of the latest posts on this weblog, the word “trappings” was used simply in reference to something that comes along with another something. Sort of to say it’s just a package deal.

I was amused to find that the official definition of the term “trappings” (outside of the context of hunting) is something like “the outward features, characteristics, or objects associated with a particular situation, role, or thing.” Characteristics that are just part of a package deal. To expand on that, the concept of “you take the good with the bad” comes to mind but it is not really implied.

I was amused because there is something else is not really implied either. None of it beyond the word itself really refers to a trap of any sort. Interestingly though, it is features, characteristics, and objects, situations, roles and things that tend to be the agents of Maya. And in life, that IS very much a part of the package deal. We’re surrounded and tempted, bewitched, bewildered and beheaded by Maya at all times and all turns. Our appearance,  our age and race and so on are all characteristics that are traps in the way of realization.

Objects, I’d argue are an even greater trap when we think of them as an end rather than simply tools or even just props in this drama.

Situations can be similarly tricky, when I react rather than respond. Subtle difference, but in observing some of my Samkhya friends in my early days as a Hindu, I learned this lesson most effectively.

Other than “objects”, and maybe even more so than with “objects”, it is “roles” where Maya presents itself the most. It is in our various roles in life that we lose ourSelves, and forget who and what we really are. Unfortunately it is a package deal.

Jai Sri Tirupati Venkateswar

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“Did You Happen To Notice Where the Vaisnav Temple Is In Town, By Chance?”

In “The Catcher in the Rye” Holden Caulfield tells of a classmate he’d had who casually asked upon first meeting him “Did you happen to notice where the Catholic church is in town?” and how that was clearly this kid’s way of finding out whether you were Catholic or not.

I wouldn’t ask for that purpose, but it is getting to the point now where any time I go out of town, at least when I go to a larger city, I want to find the Hindu temple if they’ve got one. There is still a week left but in the month of July already I have visited Hindu Temples in Indianapolis, Nashville and Winnipeg. I don’t have any further templing on my agenda until at least next summer. Other than my home town, and two in the Minneapolis area, those are the only ones I’ve been to. Well, I did see the one in San Francisco which was started by Vivekananda, but was not able to go inside. Alas.

But that is not what I feel like talking about. I want to talk about my own feelings towards seeking out these places, and what the perception might be toward my doing so.

I think most Hindus can agree that visiting a temple is a different experience than visiting a church. And hopefully anyone reading this who is not Hindu can come to understand why. I think that the purpose for visiting either one are fairly similar. Except that most people go to their church when there is a mass whereas going to a Hindu temple is more of an individual thing. You don’t need a priest there to approach God. You don’t need one at a church either, but most people don’t just go in to pray. They do that at home, where you also don’t need a conductor to connect with God. Many people have written about the architecture of a Hindu temple and how its very construction is meant to promote a very specific vibratory atmosphere following guidelines passed down through the ages, whereas churches, well… if viewed from above they are often cross-shaped. Maybe there is more to it than that.

But I am getting off track. The point is in my hometown there is literally an intersection where there is a church on all four street corners. There are fewer Hindu temples than that in the state of Minnesota. That makes it a very unique experience already when a person like me visits a place that has one. But that bit I wrote above about perception is this. My wife and I visited her family in Winnipeg recently and the second day we had some time so we decided to visit the temple. Leaving the house of a family member we were staying with we said that we were off to go and visit the temple. We were not met with any kind of funny look or snide comment or anything. They wouldn’t do that, but I had this feeling that there was the thought in the room, like “you’re on vacation, visiting, and you’re goin’ to church?!” They were probably just surprised. Maybe a part of it was one of them seemed to not be aware that I’d become a Hindu in 2010.

It is not a religious obligation to do so even if I am out of town, and it is not a sight seeing thing either. It is a spiritual experience, and it is indeed a bit of curiosity to see how each temple does things. So its a bit of both, in some ways.

I’ve begun seeking them out after a templing trip we took with friends, and noticing a very specific atmosphere they each have. There is a lot of similarity between the one in Maple Grove, MN and the one in Indianapolis, IN but at the same time each manifests its own identity. I’m not saying it isn’t the same with churches. But you don’t go to a temple to listen to some bloke give a sermon (sometimes there are guest speakers which can be quite valuable). It is a very personal experience with a lot of individual responsibility for how much you get out of it.

Jai Hari Aum!

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You may have read a few posts back I wrote about not using the nom de plume “Aranyakananda” anymore. In response to that post I received a comment from a friend who pointed out that people who change their name to something that refers to God rather than the small s self usually end up sidetracked by having done so anyway. All kinds of egotistical booby traps when ever one’s name is involved.

With that in mind, I have a story to tell.

Having started a new job two weeks ago at the local newspaper, I was part of a feature about all of the new hires. In the section about me, my last name was spelled wrong four times. On the website they got the name right under my photo but within the copy, three misprints remained intact.

I made a joke about it to my supervisor asking who I had to “scream at” about getting a retraction, and the following day I announced on my Facebook page that I was legally changing my first AND last name after having a co-worker get my last name right but my first name wrong. These are the trappings of having a first and a last name that are both English words if spelled slightly differently. So it is frustrating but really I think this is a nice bit of demonstratory experience about the whole thing about names.

My ego doesn’t demand that you get it right as a sign of my own singular importance. It is just sort of frustrating having to clear up any misunderstandings as to which is the right way. I don’t think names are meant to signify “me” vs. “you”. If they truly did then it would be impossible for anyone to have a name that someone else has. I think of names as a tool used to clarify the location in space of the part of Brahman one is referring to at the moment.

Aum Namo Narayanaya Namaha!

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At a Balaji Abhishekam in Minnesota in 2015

Today I attended Balaji Abhishekam with my wife. She’d been expressing interest in dipping her toe in the waters, as it were, at the temple I go to, and today she said she’d go with me. Only after she expressed her strong wish that we bring flowers for the abhishekam, which we did. My wife was happy to see that the flowers we offered turned out to play a special part in the events.

After the Balaji murti was anointed with the various elements of abhishekam (which turned out to be much more elaborate than I am used to, with multiple aartis throughout) and the curtain was pulled for the Sri Venkateshwar to be re-dressed, chants were chanted, and hymns were humn. And then, our temple offered, and imbibed a very special “prasad” of sorts, which was the music of the Minnesota Devaganam Ensemble. They are basically a troupe of female vocalists who sing musical renditions of the works of the Alwars, the South Indian Vaisnav poet-saints of yore. They were accompanied by a veena player and a mridangam player. The vocal group is based in Minneapolis (about an hour away) and came down to be a part of the festivities and to give away their CD, a copy of which my wife and I took home.

One of the songs they performed, “Ramanuja Mangalam” was written in reverence to Swami Ramanuja, one of the great Vaisnav saints. I’d been meaning to write something about Ramanuja since recently reading about him in Hinduism Today magazine. I probably still will. The article reminded me why I had been leaning toward Sri Vaisnavism some time ago, but never really headed full-on in that direction. I am very much a Smarta, it seems. I have a special place for Lord Vishnu, but He can never be the “be all and end all” for me. For example, in recent days my wife and I were talking about Balaji and I was explaining how Balaji is Venkateshwar, and Venkateshwar is Vishnu and Krishna is Vishnu and so on and so forth. She said something like “aren’t they all Vishnu?” I had to think about it, because what she meant was aren’t Ganesha and Shiva and so on all Vishnu? Well, yeah they kind of are. And they all are Ganesha too when it comes down to it. All the same with different faces.

Anyway, that was a nice reminder of Ramanuja for me, and a nice glimpse into the temple experience for my wife even though it took an unusually long time to dress the murti behind that curtain. But it didn’t matter because the music was uplifting, the people at the temple were kind, and we were both glad we’d brought the flowers. And the priest’s daughter made sure to bring prasad upstairs for me (I am in a wheelchair and there is no elevator) and my wife.

I think my wife was left with a very nice impression of everything and barely seemed to notice that the entire abhishekam turned out to go about 90 minutes longer than I’d predicted. And the Balaji murti was adorned so beautifully, my wife was moved to take some photos of it, and the others before we left (after I secured permission from our priest, of course).

We haven’t heard the CD yet but I wish we’d had the opportunity to donate to the organization who recorded it and sang to us today. I am sure we still can. The great thing is that now that I am fully employed again we have the opportunity to regularly donate to our temple.

Aum Namo Tirupati Balaji Namah!

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Out of the Ether

I am the type of person that tends to take people’s word on things in many ways. So a few days ago I surprised myself when I went into a session with a psychic with a sense of intrigue and cynicism in equal measure. The notion that thought energy is transmitted from person to person given the right circumstances and environment appeals to my spiritual sensibilities. I’d never met this woman however, though I knew some people who’d gone to her before and had been impressed with the conversation they’d had.

A few very interesting things happened during this session. For one, at the beginning the psychic asks you to name a couple of people who have passed who you might want to hear from or know about their fate or whatever have you.

I named of friend/mentor of mine, a bloke called Jim who’d died about 18 months ago. The psychic first asked if he was about my age but I was willing to give her a pass on that one since his son is roughly in my age group and has a similar name. She picked up on Jim having been a father figure of sorts to me. Which surely wasn’t too big of a leap since he was about my father’s age. But what really got me was that she said that “he wants to know if you ever got the tattoo.” After Jim died I got a tattoo in his honor. I never spoke with Jim about getting the tattoo and during this session my arm where it resides was covered, so neither Jim (in life) nor the psychic should have known about it. So that got me. She also seemed to refer to his son asking me to deliver Jim’s eulogy, which he did, along with a couple of other unique details relating to his relationship with his son and with his father.

Then she just jumped into talking about something that I had planned to ask her about anyway which was the future of some of my writing projects. Without being asked she told me that I should be doing that, in particular she seemed interested in one that I am planning with a friend of mine. She said that she saw a publisher contacting me about it at some point. She said it had to do with “the afterlife” which is not entirely true. It has to do with the Devas and Devis. Unless she had another one in mind that I am not aware of yet. Who knows? I tend to go on quite a tear, creatively, ever 5-7 years.

Anyroad this friend and collaborator of mine, and I, had recently thrown around the idea of taking a trip out to New Jersey to visit the new temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey. During my conversation with the psychic, she informed me that I was going to New Jersey without my having mentioned anything about that plan. Oddly, she said that it was going to happen later this year, which I don’t think is likely at all for myself, my wife or my friend, but still interesting that of all places, she just pulled New Jersey out of the ether.

She also seemed to know about someone close to me who is buying a house, and also that I would be doing something with genealogy which has always been an interest of mine, and something that my mother has actually taken WAY beyond interest in recent years and has created books for all of the branches of our family. One of those branches had actually been on my mind recently.

Also, the psychic seems to be of a Catholic leaning. Filipino Catholic to be specific, and they tend to be more liberal than Roman Catholics. I bring this up because out of all of those who had a reading that I know of, I am the only one for whom she mentioned a previous incarnation. She told me that I had been a wolf and what that meant to my current disposition. I don’t know if this is because she could somehow sense my Hinduness. I took off all jewelry and covered all tattoos which might point to that fact.  So, very interesting that she’d say something about reincarnation.

I don’t know exactly what to make of all of this until I review the recording of the conversation, so maybe I will have more to say later. But I wanted to put this out there and see what anyone thinks.

Jai Hari Aum

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