Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Why People in Spiritual Life Fall?

Question: How is it that there are many people whom I know have fallen quite badly after laboriously ascending the precipitous steps in spiritual life?

"...Many spiritual aspirants climb up to a certain height on the ladder of Yoga and are then IRRESISTIBLY swept away by the TEMPTATIONS.... They lose their POWER of discrimination and RIGHT understanding.... The man who is endowed with STRONG discrimination, SUSTAINED dispassion, KEEN self-analytical power, and BURNING desire for liberation can resist temptations. He ALONE can be really happy. He alone can attain the highest goal of life --- the final beatitude or sublime vision of the Infinite." (Swami Sivananda's commentary on Gita 9:20).

Friday, December 26, 2014

"In The Shelter of Her Arms" by Gretchen Kusuma McGregor

This is an excellent book for anyone who is treading the spiritual path. It is brutally honest, surprisingly cogent, thoroughly inspirational, remarkably candid and very convincing.

The author is not an ordinary writer although her prose makes it all seems that she has written it so effortlessly. It makes a good reading, no doubt: her writing has a clear style; the book reads smoothly. Her prose is simple, direct, elegant, evocative, concise and factual. What will, definitely, strike one is her unexampled honesty and self-effacing attitude.

It was through this writer's doggedness, manful efforts, assiduousness and determinations that the world, for the first time, came to know Mata Amritanandamayi in 1987. It wouldn't be hyperbolic or a stretch to say that no one outside India would have known the great master but for the writer's efforts. The Guru had identified the right person for the job!

The book is about a sincere soul's tumultuous journey through hope, passion, loss, friendship, love, and self-discovery. "Honesty" is the focal point of this story of courage and spirituality. Any spiritual aspirant who is dashed against the rocks of truisms, threatened to be drowned in the ocean of Maya, smothered by the urges of Vasanas, tormented by ego's authoritative calls for attention, would be able to relate to what the author has gone and is going through.

In this respect, the book is a scripture in its own right!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The True Signficance of Christmas

Christmas is named after Christ. This is the birthday of Lord Jesus, the Saviour Christ, the Yogi of the East. He was born in a stable at Bethlehem, of Mary and Joseph, the obscure village carpenter. Mary and Joseph made the stable a home for Christ, the King, the Prince of Peace. The birth of Jesus is celebrated all over the world as the sacred Christmas.

Lord Jesus was an embodiment of mercy, love and humility. He was an apostle of non-violence and peace. His body was crucified, but his voice has been speaking through the centuries.

The message of Christmas is the message of universal love. It is the message of ineffable divine glory and splendour. The message of Christmas is the message of peace and goodwill among all nations.

Christmas is more than a day of rejoicing and festivity. It is a day for realizing the Christ-consciousness or cosmic consciousness. It is a day for remembering the noble deeds of Lord Jesus and his sacred life of pristine purity. Christmas comes and Christmas goes, but let the spirit of Christmas be ever with you all.

Merry-making is not Christmas at all. Christmas does not consist in ringing bells and singing songs, exchanging mutual gifts and sending Christmas cards, and in enjoying rich repasts and heavy dinners and eating cakes.

Christmas is a state of spiritual awakening. To realize the Kingdom of Heaven within yourself, to hold communion with the Lord in the chambers of your heart, to regain your lost divinity, to attain Christ-consciousness or cosmic consciousness, to love all, to include all in the warm embrace of your love is real Christmas.

Realize the spirit of Christ. Walk in the footprints of Christ. Dive deep into the heart of Jesus. Ever seek to express, in your daily life, love, joy and peace. Imbibe Christ's message of love and sacrifice. Manifest the latent Christ within you. Follow the Sermon on the Mount. Attain God-consciousness. Live in the spirit of Christ's teachings. Annihilate this little self-arrogating personality and melt yourself in Christ or the Universal Soul. This is real Christmas.

All wish to enter the Kingdom of God. But how many of you possess the real spirit of Christ ? How many of you are real Christians ? How many of you follow the teachings, precepts and doctrines of Christ ? How many of you love your neighbours as your own self ? Those who are endowed with purity of heart, humility, universal love, generosity and nobility - they only can attain the Kingdom of God or supreme peace and immortality.

The spirit or heart of Christ is seriously lacking in the vast majority of persons. The love of Christ is badly wanted. What is Christmas without love, mercy and purity ? Everybody wants to exploit his neighbour. One nation wants to destroy another nation. Is this Christmas ? Is this the teaching of Christ ?

Real Christmas never comes and goes. It is eternal. Feel the spirit of Christmas not only on one day, but throughout the year. Every day is a Christmas day for a real follower of Christ, for a thirsting aspirant. May you all walk the path that Jesus laid out! May you all be living embodiments of the Sermon on the Mount! May you realize the Kingdom of God within you here and now!

Sources: This article is an excerpt from the following books by Swami Sri Sivananda:

1. Lives of Saints.
2. Life and Teachings of Lord Jesus. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Skanda Shasti Vratam

Monthly Shasti

Lord Muruga (aka Skanda) is a popular Hindu deity especially among Tamil Hindus. Lord Skanda is son of God Shiva and Goddess Parvati and younger brother of Lord Ganesha. God Skanda is also known as Murugan, Kartikeyan and Subramanya.

Sashti Tithi is dedicated to Lord Skanda. Devotees observe fast during "Shukla Paksha" Sashti day. As to "Skanda Sashti Vratam", the day when "Sashti Tithi" is combined with "Panchami Tithi", it is observed. Hence "Skanda Sashti Vratam" might be observed on Panchami Tithi.

Skanda Sashti is also known as Kanda Shashti.

The Hindu is sunrise-sunrise, i.e., it begins with sunrise. Therefore, the monthly Shasti fasting begins at sunrise. It is broken the next day at sunrise after offering obeisances to Lord Surya. Aspirants go to Murugan Temple on Shasti.

According to the Hindu scriptures, "fast" refers to complete fast, i.e., without food and water. And, of course, no siesta, entertainment, watching movies, tittle-tattle, unnecessary travelling, reading the dailies and engaging in humdrum things that usually take our minds away from God and spiritual living.

However, not everyone might be able to observe a full fast owing to his constitution and other congenital debilities, for instance. They shall subsist on water and fruit throughout the day; but the point to note is, that too should be once a day. That is to say, there should only be one meal a day: either at noon or at moonrise.

But what about those who are not even able to do this, especially those who have not observed any spiritual discipline, viz., vegetarianism, vratas (=observance of vows and austerities)? People of this category are, apparently, those who are not inherently spiritual or have a spiritual or religious bent of mind, but take to the vrata for a reason. Even they have a place in this vrata. Lord Sri Krishna Paramatma has declared in Gita 7:16

Chaturvidhaa bhajante maam janaah sukritino’rjuna;
Aarto jijnaasurartharthee jnaanee cha bharatarshabha.

"Four kinds of virtuous men worship Me, O Arjuna! They are the distressed, the seeker of
knowledge, the seeker of wealth, and the wise, O lord of the Bharatas!"

The Lord who regards the wise "is dear to (Him)" [Gita 7:17], does not however make light of the efforts of the remaining three categories of people for He says on Gita 7:18 "Noble indeed are all these".

In other words, even if one cannot observe the full fast, or even subsist on single water/fruit meal, one stands to benefit from the vrata if one does what one can within one's abilities. People who are not vegetarians, on this score, eat only vegetarian meals during shasti. Nonetheless, the other rules, consumption of non-vegetarian food and indulging in the usual activities like those mentioned in the earlier paragraph are strictly proscribed for everyone.

In order to fully engage in spiritual activities, aspirants read and study Skanda Purana or any authoritative texts that concern Lord Murugan. It is a must for aspirant to recite Kanta Shasti Kavasam in the morning and once in the evening.

Shanda Shasti Vratham in the Month of Aipasi (October/November)
Skanda Shasti or Kanda Shasthi Vratham is an important observance dedicated to Lord Muruga. It is observed in the Tamil month of Aippasi. Devotees fast (the way that it has been mentioned in the earlier paragraphs) during these 6 days. Athough all Shashti is dedicated to Lord Murugan but "Shukla Paksha Sashti" during lunar month Kartika (which is during Solar month Aippasi or Karthikai) is the most significant one. Devotees observe six days fast which lasts on Soorasamharam day. Next day after Soorasamharam is known as Tiru Kalyanam.

The day after Soorasamharam is known as Subramanya Shashti which is also known as Kukke Subramanya Sashti and falls during lunar month Margashirsha.

The following are some general rules to observe during these six days:
  • Non-vegetarian food is completely avoided during the period.
  • Avoiding garlic and onions. (Please refer to the article on "Garlic and onion"). For those, especially those who are new to vratas, and who are not vegetarians may not strictly observe this rule. Still and all, the food that they offer the Lord as prashad should not contain these two vegetable. (Again, refer to the article on them.)
  • Recite Skanda Shasti Kavasam in the morning and evening.
  • Go to Lord Murugan's temple or any temple where He is. (If this too is not possible, visit any temple, leastways).
  • A single meal a day. (For those who cannot observe this---refers to "people who are new to this vrata"---may eat their usual meals; but only vegetarian or water/fruit meal.
Medical Benefits
Besides its spiritual benefits, Shasti vratam has various medical benefits too. It cleanses the body of all impurities, and cures the body of a lot of dangerous diseases.

Other Miscellaneous Information about the Vratam
When "Panchami Tithi" ends or "Shashti Tithi" starts between sunrise and sunset then both Panchami and Sashti are conjugated and this day is chosen for Skanda Sashti Vratam. This rule has been mentioned in Dharmasindhu and Nirnayasindhu. Many Murugan temples in Tamil Nadu, including famous Sri Subrahmanya Swami Devasthanam in Tiruchendur, follow the same rule and Soorasamharam day is observed one day before Sashti Tithi if on previous day Sashti Tithi is combined with Panchami Tithi.
  Temples Dedicated to Lord Murugan

Following six abodes, which are known as Arupadaiveedu, are the most important shrines for Murugan devotees in Tamilnadu, India.
  1. Palani Murugan Temple (100 km south east of Coimbatore)
  2. Swamimalai Murugan Temple (Near Kumbakonam)
  3. Thiruthani Murugan Temple (84 km from Chennai)
  4. Pazhamudircholai Murugan Temple (10 km north of Madurai)
  5. Sri Subrahmanya Swami Devasthanam, Tiruchendur (40 km south of Thoothukudi)
  6. Thirupparamkunram Murugan Temple (10 km south of Madurai)
Marudamalai Murugan Temple (a suburb of Coimbatore) is another important shrine.

Kukke Subramanya Temple, near Mangalore, Karnataka, India is also very famous shrine dedicated to Lord Murugan
End Note
It must be noted that ‘Vrat’ or ‘Vratam’ in Sanskrit means ‘vow.’ Vratam should not be misunderstood as mere fasting. By observing a Vratam a person is trying to purify his mind through meditation, worship and by sticking to some ‘vow’ that he/she has taken. Now, this vow can include fasting, not telling lies, not getting anger etc. A vratam should be seen as a deliberate attempt on your part to bring back discipline into your life.

Fasting should be voluntary and it should not be done unwillingly. If you are taking medicines, do not observe intense fasting and stick to the routine suggested by your doctor.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Importance of Oil Bath (on Deepavali and Other Auspicious Days)

According to Ayur Veda (a system of Hindu traditional medicine of Vedic tradition) every person, regardless of age and gender, viz., old, young, pregnant and sickly persons, should take regular oil bath, i.e., every week. "Oil Bath" is known in Sanskrit as "Thaila Snanam". The Hindu scriptures recommend that one should take oil bath on lunar days, viz., Saturday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And, should strictly solar days, viz., Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday.

The scriptures say that Saturdays and Fridays are particularly beneficial for males and females respectively. In addition, the following days are forbidden too: New Moon, Full Moon and one's Nakshatra (=star).

When males take oil bath, i.e., as they are applying oil on their heads and bodies, they are to recite the following mantra, invoking the blessings of seven "chiranjeevis" (= known for their longevity and perfect health): Ashwathama, Bali, Vyasa, Hanuman, Vibheeshana, Krupa and Parashurama:

Ashwthamo Balir Vyaso Hanumanshcha VibhishaNah,
Krupah Parashuramashcha,Saptaite Chiranjivinaah.

Females are to chant the following mantras:

Ahalya Draupadi Sita Tara Mandodari tatha
Panchakanyaah smarennityam mahaapataka naashanam.

The five characters in the mantra are Ahalya, Draupadi, Sita, Tara and Mandodari, the "Pancha kanyas", whose blessings will destroy all sins.

Healthful Effects
By nature, thaila snanam (=oil bath) will make one sleepy. For this reason, therefore, astrological texts and the scriptures have prescribed only some days. That is to say, taking the bath on these days will mitigate this soporific effect. But, first of all, if oil bath should be healthful and beneficial, why does it make one somnolent and drowsy?

Ayur Veda says that the vital energies in our body, vatha, kapah, pitha, must be balanced. When one takes oil bath, the balance of these is upset in the body: one feels sleepy. Nonetheless, as it has been mentioned earlier, by taking the bath only on specified days, this natural imbalance is addressed.

Auspicious Day
Other than the days mentioned in paragraph one, "Chathurthasi" is another day that is ideal for oil bath for both genders. So is Friday afternoon. Saturn, who is in Sanskrit as "ayush kaarakan", rules  Chathurthasi (=rikhtha thithi) and Saturday. Indira rules Friday, which the scriptures have declared, benefits everyone.

Note: Oil bath on Saturdays can help appease Saniswaran, and reduce His bad effects during His 7 1/2 testing period.

According to Bharadvaja, who is one of the seven great rishies in this manvantra, oil bath should be taken on the tithis and the days that have prescribed.

Oil Bath on Deepavali
In the dark fortnight of Ashwina month, on the fourteenth day, early in the morning, one should take oil bath, i.e., applied oil on the body and cleanse it with lukewarm water. If ashwaja krishna chadurthasi [Narakachaturthi day] falls on a Sunday, however, when the star Swathi is ruling, scented oil bath should be taken.

On Deepavali day, Goddess Lakshmi lives in oil, and Mother Ganga lives in warm water. This bath removes bad luck. After the bath, one ought to wear new clothes and jewellery.

Note: Generally, the scriptures forbid taking oil bath on holy days. However, Deepavali is an exception. This exception has been provided for by Sri Krishna who granted Nakarasura's boon that everyone, in remembrance of his death, should take an oil bath on Deepavali. 
How to Take an Oil Bath? 
1. Apply oil (=coconut or sesame oil) from head to toe and massage it. Apply it on the head first in small quantity. Rub it in gently. Massage the head with more oil. 
2. Apply oil on the face, eyes, nasal passage, every hairy part, ears, armpits, navel, groin, anus. 
3. Apply oil on other parts of your body. Do not squeeze excess oil from the head to apply on the body.
4. Leave it for 30 - 45 minutes.
5. Then wash the oil off with lukewarm water---start with the head bath with "Shiyaakai".
6. When is the best time to take oil bath ?
6. Within three hours from Sun rise is most suitable time to take oil bath
Note: The oil could also be in the following composition: 50% of coconut oil + 40% sesame oil + 10% mustard oil. 

Other Health Benefits of Oil Bath
1. It clears oily substances from the skin of total body and facilitate the same to transfer heat from its inside to outside. This will enhance your kavasam / auric field and strengthen your spirit's anatomy to attract prosperity and spiritual energy.
2. It treats diseases like migraine, depression, stomach disorder, diabetic, sexual disorder, jaundice, cancer and other viral diseases.
3. It helps in getting deep sleep, and getting concentration in our daily activities.
4. It improves the complexion and the skin texture.
5. It improves the health of hair.
6. Highly beneficial for the eyes since it improves vision and removes dusty particles.
7. It is good for the nerves
8. Prevents dry skin build-up on elbows, knees, feet and hands.
9. It calms strained muscles, and it is even believed to improve the amount of a nursing mother's breast milk.
10. Reduces mental and physical stress.
11. According to some Siddha Texts, oil bath enhances our kavasam (=auric shield). It, as a result, attracts positive people and energies towards oneself, and at the same time, repels negative people and energies.

Sources: Ayurveda texts, trusted internet sites on ayurveda and Ayurveda forums, Swami Haridoss's speech on Narakasura, Hindu Matham Pathil-alikarathu Vols. 1 and 2.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Animal Sacrifice

Sacrifice the Beast in You

Swami Chidananda: "The Sadhak’s task is, therefore, to first and foremost entirely eradicate all that is gross, all that is animalistic, brutal and beastly in his nature. These qualities have to be thoroughly overhauled and taken out of his nature. After this process is done, the transformation of the human nature has to be taken in hand and it has to be sublimated, and transformed into a higher divine nature. It is precisely this study of man as a composite being containing the lower animalistic nature and then the human nature endowed with discrimination, consciousness of higher ideals of a noble divine purpose of this human birth upon this earth, and the capacity to actually rise up into a higher divine consciousness—it is this study of man and this knowledge of the nature of man that has led to the conception of the animal sacrifice as also the Narabali which later on became degenerated into the actual outward practice of sacrificing animals at the altar of Mother Kali. 

"What was an idealistic conception to symbolise a certain inward process in man’s spiritual life later on became externalised in a degenerate form in the shape of the practice of animal Sacrifice. For what the animal sacrifice to be done to the deity Kali symbolised was the invoking of this divine power in Its destructive aspect as Durga or Kali, within the personality of the seeker so that this divine power may work within the aspirant and completely annihilate the beast within the man. This sacrifice of the lower self of the seeker, of the animal nature of the Sadhaka is what is achieved by Mother Durga or Kali in the first stages of an aspirant’s Sadhana-life. 

"To this end, the aspirant has first to analyse and try to ascertain what are the prominent aspects in which the animal side of his lower nature has its play in his present personality. One may be a slave to anger more than to anything else; another lust, to carnality; and a third one to some other aspect. One may find several aspects are dominant in his lower personality and holding him slave. It may be that at different times different passions get the upper hand. He has, therefore, to first of all introspect, analyse himself and try to find out what particular manifestation of the gross lower Gunas are operating within his nature. A sincere study of one’s own nature is absolutely indispensable to the Sadhaka. 

"Unless he knows what is there in him that is undesirable, inimical to success in Yoga, that stands as obstacle to Sadhana, it is not possible for him to proceed correctly upon this difficult inward Path of Yoga. More difficult is it because these dark aspects of the gross part of man’s nature, of the Tamo-Guna are not always clearly expressed and visible within himself. Far more easy it is to fight the external foes, because you know what they are and their nature and strength so that you can meet them on their own level. The inner enemies of man—anger, lust, jealousy, hatred, cruelty, etc.,—have various forms and are invisible; they are cloaked under various disguises and unless the seeker invokes the grace of Antaryamin or the Indwelling Presence of the Divine in him, to aid him, it will be a difficult task for him to proceed with this process of destroying his lower, selfish, egoistic nature.

"To analyse another person is an easier matter because you can observe his outward behaviour, etc., but this self-analysis is a very difficult task—first, because of the basic extrovert tendency of the human mind—it tends to go outward to the objects of the universe and to make it go inward is itself a delicate task; secondly man is prevented by the ego-sense from finding out and knowing what is defective, what is bad, that which is not gratifying to the ego. It is common experience that that which is not pleasant to the ego is hidden from its gaze. Therefore, it is difficult of self-analysis, and this is one of the reasons why in the Eastern mode of spiritual life the aspirant is asked to go and submit himself to a Guru. 

"He approaches the Guru, surrenders himself to the Guru and tries to live with the Guru so that the defects and undesirable qualities within him which he will not be able to perceive by his own efforts, by his own study of himself, can be easily perceived by the Guru and then the Guru puts the aspirant in such situations where he will be able to overcome these defects and also sometimes gives him such tasks where the eradication of these qualities becomes absolutely necessary; and he may also give the aspirant specific instructions and where necessary even admonish him so that these hidden defects, hidden to the aspirant but not hidden from the gaze of the Guru, its destruction becomes facilitated. Thus the Guru also fulfils to a great extent the role of Mother Kali in helping the aspirant to destroy the vicious tendencies and evil traits that are the stumbling blocks in the very first stages of one’s spiritual life."


Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sadhana and Spiritualising Everything

Question: I am so bogged down with a lot of things---I hardly have much time after work (at office and home). How could I find time for sadhana (=spiritual practice)? 

Answer: "The life of a spiritual seeker is Sadhana-oriented. To him, there is NO such thing as time for Sadhana AND time for other activities. All activities ARE sought to be transformed by him into Yoga. His living itself becomes Sadhana, becomes Tapasya (=austerity).. The Sadhak (=seeker) gathers guidance by observing men and matters closely... The intelligent seeker then begins to see a divine purpose in EVERY incident in his life. He begins to feel, to sense, the guiding hand of God, the protecting power of the Guru. He, then, feels grateful, feels encouraged and steps up his Sadhana... If you can perceive the working of the Lord's hand EVEN  in your day-to-day life, in matters big and small, you may know that you HAVE progressed considerably in the spiritual path, that you are considerably purified." (pgs. 113, 115, "My Journey to God's Kingdom" by N. Ananthanarayanan) [The writer was a direct disciple of Swami Sri Sivananda Maharaj of Rishikesh] 

Answer: "Throughout the day's activities, be WATCHFUL that you do NOT become lost in the mental restlessness of worldliness. Inwardly, take the Name of God. Stirve to keep your mind busy thinking of God. This practice Paramahansaji called "spiritualizing" thought... By spiritualizing thought, one gradually spiritualize one's actions, so that everything one does becomes a form of meditation. One's whole life should be a continuous spiritual experience." (pgs. 71-72, Only Love by Daya Mata) [The author was a direct disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda].