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, August 2, 2013

In a temple: Rituals vs. Devotion

If journalists are asked by their boss to visit a temple and find out whether attendants are performing a non-devotional ritual or an act of pure devotion, why would this task be scary for them? Because both events would probably be occurring simultaneously in the temple, and the answer would depend on the intention and desires present in the minds of the participants. While one person may be immersed in the selfless remembrance of the Deity during the ceremony, the other, a job hopper, may be performing the same ceremony for better opportunities. In fact, it takes an antaryami to actually differentiate between sakama karma and nishkama karma [1]. And the universe has only one true antaryami. But we mortals can still discuss the differences between devotion and a ritual to further our understanding.

Assume another similar real-world scenario, where a seeker goes to a nearby temple for worshipping the Deity everyday. But after continuing for a few days, the worship creates a sense of achievement in his mind. With some mutual admiration, the ego (ahamkara) darts off and the individual starts thinking that he, now closer to becoming a saint, is much superior to the people around him, especially the ones not present in the temple [2]. Would you classify this person’s actions as devotional? Wouldn’t directly requesting the Deity for material gains be preferable to this kind of worship?

Many modern intellectuals like to group selfish rituals and devotion (bhakti) together. As a result of their approach, Hindu devotionalism gets wrongly interpreted as being ritualistic. At the same time, the idea of this post is not to follow the experts who label “ritual” as an inferior word, for that would be another mistake. But it only aims to underline that devotion and rituals are not synonyms. What is the take home message? A ritual may be an expression of devotion, but devotion does not need any rituals.

 [1] Antaryami refers to the personality who knows the inner feelings of beings. Sakama karma refers to actions performed with a material desire; nishkama karma refers to selfless actions.
[2] Such phenomena are not limited to Hindu temples but can be observed in the places of worship of all world religions.

Feel free to share your views on rituals and devotion. Don’t hesitate if our views differ.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Nine forms of Bhakti

We have already talked about the Navadha bhakti summarized in the Ramacharitamanasa. For a quick comparison, the nine forms of bhakti from the Puranas are listed in the table below.


FORM
FOCUSES ON
AN EXEMPLAR
Shravana
Listening
Kakbhushandi
Kirtana
Chanting
 Valmiki
Smarana
 Remembrance
 Kaushalya
Padasevana
 Lord’s Lotus feet
 Bharata
Archana
 Worship
 Shabri
Vandana
 Prayer
 Vibhishana
Dasya
 Service
 Jambavan
Sakhya
 Friendship
 Nishadraj Guha
Atmanivedana
 Surrender
 Lakshmana

Though the examples selected in the table above are all from the Ramayana, the nine forms of bhakti, being timeless, are experienced by contemporary devotees of all forms of the Divine. Also, because one form of devotion generally attracts the other forms of devotion in the heart, most bhaktas radiate more than one type of bhakti.

And if you are searching for Lord Hanuman on the list, he has been excluded. Why? Because his name can not be placed on a list with others; all beings, mortals and immortals, receive Rama-bhakti solely by his grace.

Please feel free to use the comments section to share the name of your favorite bhakta/saint (Vaishnava, Shaiva, and/or Shakta) and indicate the type(s) of bhakti that he or she focused on.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Hinduism: Main beliefs

Though the beliefs presented below are popular, I would not like to impose them on all Hindus. So I’ll say that I am sharing some of the Hindu beliefs that I find significant.

Existence of Truth

Hindus believe in the existence of a supreme reality. For most, this refers to the Divine – Rama, Shiva, or Durga. For the atheistic, this could refer to supporting the notion that goodness is a better option in life than hurting others. After all, the actual word for Hinduism is “Sanatana Dharma.”

Multiplicity of paths

Hindus believe that there is more than one way to approach the ultimate reality and therefore respect alternate viewpoints. They understand that there may not be a right answer for every question. This aids in maintaining the dynamic nature of Hinduism.

Dynamic learning

Just like beings can amend the constitution in a democracy, the knowledgebase of Hinduism can be updated. This does not mean that anyone can write a new Upanishad. It means that we can become a Brahman-rishi or bhakti saint one day and then write a new Purana or Upanishad.

Because of Hinduism’s adaptability, every vote, even that of the unrealized, counts in Hinduism. Because every viewpoint has some lesson, it is worth listening to, though we do not have to follow it.

Liberation for all

Freedom is a property of the soul; every being deserves it and eventually reaches a state of total bliss. This is the final aim of life in Hinduism.

Perishability

Everything other than the Divine and his name is perishable or less permanent. The list of perishables includes Hindu Expressions, the blog you are currently reading.

Divine jurisdiction

Sita-Rama, the queen and king of the universe, the Bhavani-Shiva, our divine parents, continuously observe our actions, including the intention with which they are performed. Saying “sorry” for our bad karma may wash away some of our karma, but we still have to change ourselves to reach bliss.

Grace

Hindus believe in the existence of grace (kripa), but even the best saints and philosophers of Hinduism do not quite understand how the grace of Rama works. So I’ll stop here as well.

Beyond theory

Bhakti and realization are independent of philosophy. If we like a specific philosophy or Vedantic commentary and want to use it on our path to God, we can. But all theories are optional; they are not necessary for reaching God.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Devi Parvati’s dedication for Shiva

Though Bhagavan Shiva is extremely benevolent towards all, it was not easy for Devi Parvati to please him and have him accept her marriage proposal. After obtaining the panchakshara mantra [1] from Devarishi Narada, the Mother Goddess started her tapasya for Shiva in a forest of the Gangotri region. Meditating full time, she ate only fruits from the surrounding trees in the first year and accepted only leaves in the second year. A few years later, she even renounced leaves. Due to her austerity, this forest became an equal of Kailasa [2], as the Shiva Purana tells us, where all jivas had turned spiritual. The fauna, blessed by her presence and surprised by her brilliance, developed friendliness towards each other, and new species of flowers and beautiful plants appeared near her ashram.

After thousands of years passed, the glow released from her dedicated tapasya began to create distress for the gods and the world. The gods took the shelter of Lords Brahma and Vishnu so that Shiva could be convinced. Shiva, out of his grace on all souls, got ready for marriage but designed a couple of tests for Parvati before accepting the proposal. First, the saptarishis [3] were sent by Shiva to test her bhakti. In the second test, Shiva disguised himself as a Brahmin and tried to discourage her from thinking about him. But Parvati’s determination for Shiva was unyielding; she aspired for nothing but Shiva. As a result, we all get to celebrate the Shivaratri.

Happy Mahashivaratri!

[1] the five-lettered mantra for Shiva
[2] the abode of Shiva
[3] the seven sages