Sunday, March 16, 2014

Holi: Celebration vs. Renunciation

In the most popular traditional story about Holi, we should note that Prahlada, the child devotee, was not only saved from an aunt who hated him, but he was also saved from the boon of Brahma, the writer of the divine plan. What Brahma says or thinks becomes the blueprint that unfolds to create all the events in the universe. Had Prahlada left everything for destiny to work out, he would not have been saved; the divine plan, entirely based on flawless karmic calculations, was on Holika’s side. But Prahlada made the right choice — the only choice that could have saved him.  He took the refuge (sharanagati) of Vishnu and found the divine plan overridden by Vishnu’s grace. For us, Holika represents very powerful circumstances, filled with anger, hatred, restriction, and conspiracies. Prahlada represents a being who is apparently weak but is solely dependent on the Supreme Soul. Of course, Vishnu ensures that circumstances are turned into ashes and the being dependent on him is saved.

In the other story related to why Holi is celebrated, Shiva turned Kamadeva, the god of desires, into ashes. Following the elimination of desires from the world, Shiva, in his divine play, continued to focus on his blissful self, and Devi Parvati started her meditation on Shiva for thousands of years. For ordinary beings, the festival indicates that whenever an individual being starts remembering Pavati-Shiva, they accept the being in their protection and begin his or her spiritual journey by closing the three gates to hell — kama (lust/desires), krodha (anger), and lobha (greed) —for the being. With time, renunciation and pure love win over the being’s instincts.

We can waste the occasion of Holi by extravagant shopping, partying, gossips, drinking, making fun of others, or watching scrawled TV programs. Alternatively, we can give the festival some spiritual meaning by eliminating at least a single selfish desire.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The gap between astrology and spirituality

My initial plan for today’s blog was to create a saint’s astrology chart and analyze it. I made his chart and looked at how well-connected his 1st, 5th, and 9th houses were, with respect to both the ascendant and his moon, showing great spiritual promise. I also noticed combinations that are known for creating austerity and refined oratory. Before labeling him as a product of two or three astrological influences, based on his Sun-Moon-Ascendant signs, I suddenly stopped to check if any of this was making sense and if any planetary combination could justify the bhakti and discrimination that this saint possessed.

On looking at the chart honestly, I figured out that the planetary placements were average and innumerable people have been born with combinations that are spiritually as powerful. Then why didn’t they all become like him? One explanation is that the grace of the guru is transcendental; what the guru gives his or her disciple can not be seen in a horoscope. Another reason is that astrology gives only a tiny window into one’s destiny. People who foretell spiritual evolution from an astrology chart may be missing the point. Spirituality is about releasing oneself from the grip of the karmic impressions we are born with, which, in part, are probably represented by planets. And grace, to be defined as grace, has to transcend karma.

In a saint’s chart, we may see how some events like education, difficult times, foreign travel, formation of a monastery, and publications are related to the planetary placements. But what are generally difficult or maybe impossible to foretell are the defining elements in the making of a saint like bhakti and knowledge (though it is very easy to find combinations later).

When it comes to finding solutions to our problems, the approach of spirituality is different from that of astrology, though both may cheer up an individual in distress. Many popular astrology remedies only re-channel energy from a stronger area of our life to the weaker area, keeping our karmic accounts unchanged. But devotional spirituality aims at eternally renouncing the cause of problems by taking refuge in the Divine.

Any way, there was no point of my analyzing the chart of a being who was born to renounce. So I deleted his chart.

Many differences exist between astrology and spirituality. Please feel free to share your views about them.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Can Rama give us money too?

While both Bhakti Saints and ordinary people may believe that Rama takes care of every being in his creation, the question about money becomes irrelevant for the saints, who would never aspire for finances and have only learned to think about Rama, leaving all worries about their future to him. In contrast, we may find it difficult to leave our liking for money or may be bound by circumstances to work for money.

Because spiritual principles do not change for the spiritually less evolved, we are expected by nature to bring in certain qualities from the lives of saints, if possible, into our own lives. One such quality is — patience — which, in the context of monetary returns, teaches us that a lag generally exists between our hard work and our returns.

Rama does take care of his devotees’ security and needs, as also promised by him, in his form as Krishna, in the Bhagavada Gita. But we must remember that Rama works according to his own calendar, not that of the living beings. And what we gain at the end of the day may be unrelated to the intensity of our craving.

Moreover, Sita-Rama may, at times, deliberately delay results for their devotees or not fulfill their wishes at all. If a devotee child asks Sita Devi for mango ice cream, she may give him vanilla ice cream. If the child asks for vanilla, she may give him mango. And if the kid acts smart, desires mango, but asks for vanilla, she’ll most probably give him vanilla. The actual choice of flavor becomes only available to the saints who don’t want ice cream but are contended with the fact that the Mother if providing them with food. Sita-Rama, being the perfect parents, do not make the parenting mistakes that human beings make. While nurturing the universe according to their own plan and by inserting difficult lessons at times, they create ways for the liberation of every soul.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Who is a Bhakti saint?

In order to answer this question, we will first take a look at the simpler question, “Who is a saint?” and then simply add the element of bhakti to the answer. As my reference, I am selecting the discussion between Garuda and Kakbhushandi in the Ramacharitamanasa [1], where one of the questions asked by Garuda is, “Who is a saint and how can we differentiate a saint from the unsaintly?”

“Saints accept sorrow for the good of others, while wrongdoers accept sorrow for hurting others,” replies Kakbhushandi, adding “Beneficence is the innate nature of a saint.” This answer stresses that it is the capability to experience pain for others that makes one a saint [2]. Though the finest qualities of beneficence (paropkara) may be difficult to obtain without self-realization, saintliness is unrelated to the possession of mystical powers, type of dress worn, or the number of one’s spiritual disciples and followers.

Would Hindus label anyone who has the capacity to experience pain for others and is devotional as a bhakti saint? Not so soon…the individual being’s acceptance by Rama is significant too. And this is where the darshan of Rama comes in [3]. The biographies of bhakti saints show us how they have all experienced suffering for other human beings, possessed the bhakti of Rama/Shiva, and were blessed enough to meet the Divine every once in a while. Birth as a bhakti saint is never easy…it undoubtedly remains the greatest phenomenon in Hindu spirituality.

Goswami Tulasidasa believes that virtues, niyams, meditation, charity, and austerity are all habits worth possessing, but they cannot eliminate material attachments and non-discrimination from our mind; the only actual savior for beings trapped in this universe is — the bhakti of Rama.

[1] This comprehensive discussion in the Uttarkand focuses on our spiritual evolution. It is a must-read for all devotional seekers.
[2] What is the biggest happiness that a person can experience? Meeting a saint, according to the Ramacharitmanasa.
[3] Also check out this post; it explains how Shabri obtained the darshan of Rama.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Krishna’s last lesson for Arjuna

As soon as Sri Krishna concluded his divine play on Earth and left the planet, Arjuna understood that it was not his power that had won the Mahabharata war but that he was only a puppet — an instrument that Krishna had shaped to carry out his plan. It is interesting to note that Arjuna, in spite of his nearness to Krishna, took an entire lifetime to understand this, reflecting the situation of all jivas.

Earlier, Arjuna had seen his own chariot turn into ashes and a big miracle by Ved Vyas and had heard the lecture by Krishna, especially delivered to him. Yet, being a human being, he could not understand the most important points. Sometimes, difficult lessons in life are understood by revising the related theoretical concepts again and again; when this approach does not work, we have to experience the difficulty ourselves and come out of it. Now that Arjuna’s time to leave Earth was also near, Nature delivered the final lesson: Arjuna lost a battle to ordinary thieves who were fighting with wooden clubs and running away with Dwarka’s wealth. To make it worse, he even forgot how to discharge his arrows from the bow. For a warrior who possessed all the divine weapons reachable in the solar system, this was a major blow to the ego — the biggest loss that he had ever experienced. Possibly, this event was much bigger for him than the destruction of all the generals of the Kuruvansha and the Yaduvansha.

As the Vishnu Purana tells us, when Arjuna visited Ved Vyas after losing his last battle, Vyas said “Everyone that is born must die. Everyone that rises must fall. A union always ends in a separation, and all accumulation ends with a loss.” Vyas further advised the Pandavas to renounce everything, leave the kingdom, and spend their remaining days in the forest.