Three Principals of the Ramayana

The world is like the impression left by the telling of a story – Yoga Vashista.

Storytellers

Sri Rama, Lakshmana and Hanuman stumbled by today.

They walked by the office, singing loud and clear their ancient tale. In an era of YouTube and Facebook, this is a welcome anachronism.

I can only imagine folk-artists like these, dressed in character, performing the tales of gods and dharma for many hundred years. My modern concerns of technology, business models and strategy slinked away at the simplicity and directness of their being.

A Priceless Lesson For Rs.10

I wondered if it was the smoking. Yes, the climb was steep and I had no shoes. But 30 odd steps is all it took to break me. Panting as if my lungs had never taken a decent gulp of breath. Every pore in my body crying out sweat. My feet, calves feeling as if they had walked all the miles in a year within those 30 odd steps. You know the wall that sportspersons keep talking about? I did not stumble into the wall, the wall rammed into me with a ferocity I was not familiar with.

And that was just what happened to the body. The mind was another story altogether. Questions crawled out like ants, furious and relentless. What the heck is happening here? What was I being weighed down by? What could break me so? All the vice, all the indulgence paraded before my mind’s eye. I thought I used to be better, there was strength and grace to support, perhaps the Divine has abandoned me? But, but are the vices so unforgivable? Am sure you get the drift. I wondered, agonized and went through a mini version of Dante’s hell or perhaps the lower worlds illustrated by the Buddha.[quote_right]I wondered, agonized and went through a mini version of Dante’s hell or perhaps the lower worlds illustrated by the Buddha.[/quote_right]

I said yes, almost 2 weeks back when my cousin asked if I would to the ritual required to visit Sabari Mala, the abode of Lord Ayyappa. I did not think much, having visited the temple almost 18years back, I was familiar with the process. A period of austerity(abstinence from meat, alcohol and hanky panky), two time visit to temple, curbing of dodgy thoughts, wear the characteristic black dhothi, a t-shirt perhaps and no footwear. I managed to do okay even with the dodgy thoughts, the rest were tricky but doable.

As I stood there on Sabari Mala, with almost 80% left to cover, I did think seriously of going back. It was physically and mentally impossible. The devotion of fellow pilgrims helped egg me a little.

As I went the next 30 odd steps my eyes opened a little. The pilgrims who had seen the deity were on the way back. I caught the eye of one of them, a lad of 20years perhaps. Walking down, he came closer to the lane I was in and made a fanning motion with a piece of cloth to cool my body sweltering from the strain and heat. I still do not know how to receive that act of compassion. This stuff is easy for nobody and yet here was a guy who offered help, without asking.

Once I saw that, I could see there were more people acting thus. Small acts of compassion from strangers to strangers. Each act rendered as an offering to the Lord, each an offering to the immanent Deity. There was glucose powder being handed out, some gave out water and more. I was no longer alone with my crumbled mental and physical self. I felt as if the Lord was manifesting himself in every instrument available, who could do just that little bit to help take another step.

As you can guess, it took another 30 steps to break down again. The story repeated itself. The body wondering if it would last the climb, the mind wondering what the hell made me descend into samsara![quote_right]The body wondering if it would last the climb, the mind wondering what the hell made me descend into samsara![/quote_right]

At this break I stopped by a vendor selling slices of pineapple. Standing close to the vendor I noticed someone trying to step close from my right-side. I turned and saw an old man, perhaps around 60 years old, definitely not wealthy and almost positively poor or even very poor. He seemed hesitant for some reason. Thinking I was blocking his way I thought and stepped aside to make way. The old man came a little closer and asked the vendor the price of a slice.

The vendor was busy dishing out slices, he gave a damn about pilgrims, this was business and he conducted himself that way. He threw out the price, without looking at the old man, “Five rupees”. He even translated the number into couple of languages, after all people from nearby states visit this deity in large numbers. I kept watching as the man was about to step away. He was panting just like me and I could only wonder about the extent of breakdown that would happen to people at that age.

I almost instantly knew what to do. Having observed many acts of compassion thus far in the climb, I thought it was time for me to do something. I called the old man, more in signs than in speech. I asked the vendor to give the old man a slice. Old man hesitated, I reassured him in signs that it was okay. Taking the slice from the vendor, the old man started moving. Half way through turning away I saw the old man hand over the slice to a boy of 7 or 8 years old and kept moving.

It hit me like a bolt even in my broken down state, the mind awoke to an unexpected clarity. The old man might not last the climb up, yet, the one slice he got he gave the boy. He did not stand there expecting a repeat generosity from a stranger, though offered out of compassion and under the eye of the Lord.

This was not philanthropy of the rich, cheques written out over aged mahogany wood. This was not the generosity of bleeding heart liberals saving the downtrodden. Nor was it generosity looking to barter your religion for material things. This was sacrifice in the truest sense, giving what is essential to yourself and not a handout from excess.

This was the dictum of the Gita about intent of the act being more important demonstrated.

And yes, if you are wondering why the title says Rs.10 and not Rs.5, I called the old man back and insisted he take a slice for himself, which he did with some reluctance.

There are distances I have to travel within to get anywhere close to that type of selfless action. The thorn of inadequacy is still lodged within.

Thus Spake Sri Krishna

Chariot

[dropcap2]All[/dropcap2] this personal effort and self-discipline will not in the end be needed, all following and limitation of rule and dharma can at last be thrown away as hampering encumbrances if thou canst make a complete surrender to Me, depend alone on the Spirit and Godhead within thee and all things and trust to his sole guidance.

Turn all thy mind to me and fill it with the thought of me and my presence. Turn all thy heart to me, make thy every action, whatever it be, a sacrifice and offering to me.

That done, leave me to do my will with thy life and soul and action; do not be grieved or perplexed by my dealings with thy mind and heart and life and works or troubled because they do not seem to follow the laws and dharmas man imposes on himself to guide his limited will and intelligence.

My ways are the ways of a perfect wisdom and power and love that knows all things and combines all its movements in view of a perfect eventual result; for it is refining and weaving together the many threads of an integral perfection.

I am here with thee in thy chariot of battle revealed as the Master of Existence within and without thee and I repeat the absolute assurance, the infallible promise that I will lead thee to myself through and beyond all sorrow and evil.

Whatever difficulties and perplexities arise, be sure of this that I am leading thee to a complete divine life in the universal and an immortal existence in the transcendent Spirit.

Sri Krishna (Essays on the Gita, Sri Aurobindo)

Krishna – Sri Aurobindo

Krishna's birth Of all Avatars of the Divine Sri Krishna alone has a special place. Sri Rama is venerated. Every other Avatar prior to him is acknowledged and prayed to. But none is adored with the intensity and rapture that Sri Krishna is. Why is that so? We would not know entirely, until the same intensity of devotion and divine insight is given to us.

But suffice to say, I don’t care..I don’t need a reason to adore Sri Krishna. I adore him because what would I be without this capability to adore? Why would I give myself to an inferior joy?

There is plenty of devotional poetry composed around Sri Krishna. But I like the below poem by Sri Aurobindo.

Krishna

At last I find a meaning of soul’s birth

Into this universe terrible and sweet,

I who have felt the hungry heart of earth

Aspiring beyond heaven to Krishna’s feet.

I have seen the beauty of immortal eyes,

And heard the passion of the Lover’s flute,

And known a deathless ecstasy’s surprise

And sorrow in my heart for ever mute.

Nearer and nearer now the music draws,

Life shudders with a strange felicity;

All Nature is a wide enamoured pause

Hoping her lord to touch, to clasp, to be.

For this one moment lived the ages past;

The world now throbs fulfilled in me at last.

– Sri Aurobindo

Immutable One and the Baffling Many

There was a question in an earlier post of mine on Hinduism. Why the many Gods in Hinduism? If God is one why does He(or It?) consent to confound us with many forms. And why do we consent to cast Him into form anyway? This is my attempt at an answer to this important question.

Crowded Heavens!

Of all religions Hinduism is unique in its personifications of the One Divine. A hundred thousand Gods they say. The heavens of the Hindus must be crowded, even suffocating perhaps!

Atomic Scientists

This is perhaps best understood with an analogy. Think about how scientists study an atom. Historically the atoms were considered to be the fundamental unit of matter. Everything was a composition of a cluster of atoms. This view persisted for long. And then came the discovery of the Electron. Read this quote from Wikipedia

The concept of an indivisible amount of electrical charge was theorized to explain the chemical properties of atoms, beginning in 1838 by British natural philosopher Richard Laming;the name electron was introduced for this charge in 1894 by Irish physicist George Johnstone Stoney. The electron was identified as a particle in 1897 by J. J. Thomson and his team of British physicists.

Methods of Modern Knowledge

The idea I want to highlight is this – First is the theoretical conception. A model that explains observed behavior. There is also the naming of the phenomena. And then someone comes along who conclusively provides proof and confirms the theoretical model. Or in some cases disproves the existence of said phenomena, and in doing so refines the conceptual model.

And so it goes. This cycle of unveiling never ends. The Atom has been broken down into as many as hundred sub-atomic particles. Check the Standard Model, as it is called, for the currently favored theoretical framework to consistently explain behaviors in the sub-atomic realm. And this is without accounting for gravitation!

Elect of Science and Soothsayers

And remember that commoners never get to see all these exotic beasts, they are reserved for the physicists and the elect of science. They come with their colliders and accelerators and study the remains of atomic accidents.

Not very different from soothsayers, who in ages long past, studied the entrails of sacrificed animals to divine the intent of the Gods.

Methods of the Rishi

The Rishi of the Vedic tradition too tried to understand and learn of things. Only he did not choose to study one element of reality, like the modern particle physicist does. He views upon the vast of existence as his laboratory, of which even he as an observer is an essential component.

The earliest Rishis, the seekers of the Answer, hunted down the cause and origin of this manifest existence. But the path was not easy, there was no written method. Or body of practice to stand upon and seek.

All he had was himself, the powers of his observation, his ability to think and this manifest existence.

Answer that hunts its Questions

But they had intimations. They had seen glimpses of it. The Powers often left traces of their workings. The flash of intuition, the rush of aspiration, the dawn of understanding. And the dreams, that subversive reality that crept upon him in sleep. Dreams that spoke another language.

The answer sought out the questions. The Rishi it seems was not without help.

And the Rishi named these powers. Named so he could identify it when it came again. And to talk about it to others like him.

Phenomena and Powers were laid bare to his acute observation. Each was seen to have a characteristic, each power had a character. And so the Rishi clothed and crowned these powers within his mind.

Lexicon of the Rishis

From this perceptual factory issued the Gods. Indra as Lord of Mind, Usha as heralder of Dawn, Hiranyagarbha as the Golden Womb that issued creation. These forms were not restricted to the benign aspects. The Rishi saw in destruction too the hand of God. This he called Shiva. Or even Rudra, the only Deity the Rishis were said to be actually afraid of. There was Kali, the mighty Mother. Kartikeya, Lord of the Armies of Light. There was too the wooer of the Soul, Sri Krishna. He who dallied with the human soul by the moonlight. And so it grew, the lexicon of the Rishis and thus of Hinduism.

The tools of this exploration are of the mind and often abstract. The subjects of these experiments are not often seen, just as those of the atomic scientist. But the methods and exactness of these experiments with the mind and soul are not very different from that of the modern scientist with his tools or in anyway less rigorous and serious.

And this is the reason for a hundred thousand Gods within the Hindu religion.

To The Skeptics

Skeptics abound, who view this excess as a waste, as an indication of a primitive and barbarian culture. To them I would say it is a question of acuteness of perception. Some choose to restrain their exploration of reality at the level of atoms. Some choose to dig further until reaching the foundation of creation. Each level of abstraction has its place and utility.

The formula of the scientist and the mantra of the Rishi are counterparts. Each explains an aspect of reality, lays bare a secret of existence.

Feynman in his lectures, Beethoven conducting the Ninth Symphony and Sri Krishna on the battlefield with Arjuna-each an aspect of the Infinite Divine explaining the fabric of reality a little more.

What We All Are

Eventually, all of us are journeymen. Whether we choose to name and pray every milestone on the way or head straight to the destination is a question of method or even a personal and a cultural preference.

The Symbolism of Indian Art

Great minds have weighed in on the nature of Indian art. Its grandeur, the suffusion of riches, sometimes even a suffocating bewildering maze of beauty heaped pell-mell. Check the excesses of this race here.

It seems there was not the clear path, a logical progression, like say the clearly delineated phases of styles like in western art. The Indian method, if there ever was one, was like the actions of spy who had gone rogue. There are hints of a method, but its context, the conditions and its aims seem foreign to the mind of the modern viewer.

The Indian mind lived a dream world and out of it birthed forms of wonder.

To one who does not posses the key to this dream vocabulary the works of magnificence appear even as the labored efforts of a primitive race – snatches of beauty appear to gleam out from a few perspectives, we appreciate the scale, the engineering aspect of hewing rock and stone, but the piety that birthed gods from inert nature is unseen.

Yesterday I stumbled upon an instance of art so simple in its execution that it instantly yielded a clue to the nature of Indian mind.

Lord of Beginnings

A simple rock, rough and unfinished. Much like the unregenerateness that is man. With no characteristics that would distinguish if it were to lay by the street corner. Perhaps even serve as a stepping stone to span a pothole on a crowded pavement. A simple stone that patiently bears the footfalls of men, men more inert than itself perhaps.

Hosted on a frame. The shape is irregular. Almost like a triangle, or is it a parallelogram?, but one that did not yield to Greek world view.

Upon this stone were drawn three short parallel lines in white, with a red dot right in centre.

Four strokes is all it would have taken. Like the meaningless incantations of an Occultist. Gestures that made no sense to our pragmatic world-view. But that dipped into some mystic sky to gather some of its hue and splash on stone.

Lo, now we have Ganesha, the Lord of Beginnings.

In a flash the mundane is made profound. A time-born inertness stands as a monument in time to the eternal. From now, Indian society would revere this stone. Offer its devotion, oblations from its prayers and let the light from a sacred fire leap out and touch the God in time. From now this would be a symbol, a conduit for the mind of the aspirant to pass through.

And in this symbolic world-view resides the key to understanding ancient Indian art. Not to compel nature into regular forms, to suffocate her infinite variety within the confines of geometry.

No, the Indian mind allowed nature, and hence art, to course the free skies of the intuitive mind. Every object it saw- cow, dog, tree, stone, could be made profound. The temples were the artistic assertions of Kings. But the devotee did not need them, not essential to the progress of his soul. In the thickness of the jungle, or beside the banks of a stream, the pebble shaped as the form of his devotion would do. By that devotion the God will be brought down into the pebble. A temple more grand and sublime than any made by hands will be erected in the vastness of his heart. And the mantras that burn through his mind shall create the pedestal, the flowers, the offerings. Every ritualistic injunction shall be followed, no rule overruled. Here will prayer be made perfect.

This is the key. Every object could aid in the soul’s turning to the Divine. Here at last was a race that could practically live out the idea of a Divine’s Omnipresence. Every object could be God. All it took was a flash from the intuitive mind.

Ignore this symbolic thinking, and one is as a child wandering the halls of heavens wondering if the shining hosts were the legends of his comics come alive. One would still enjoy the color and flash and splendor. And in doing so walk away from doors of eternity because it did not speak the rational language of men.

No Lucifer in Hinduism

icarus2

Idea of eternal damnation is an impossibility within Hinduism.

There is a hell, Naraka, for sure..and the hindu versions of boiling oil and other assorted cruelties remain. But the idea that an act, however heinous, once done condemns forever is not possible.

Allow me to explain. Every Asura, Rakshasa and other principalities of the nether world are all incarnations of a older, often nobler principle. Who by the deviance of their wills, or the pride of their powers, start their descent into the offices of ignorance.

Every chief power of the dark realm finds his or her end at the hands of a Divine manifestation within Hindu mythology. Death to evil in this case acts as a salvation, a redemption of the fallen soul.

Sometimes, one does not wait for Death to redeem. Either at the gates of death. Or in events that bring the full force of death, redemption is granted.

This idea of release from the karmic bonds of existence, however dire and twisted it may be, offers a hope which is absent elsewhere.

Shiva, in a poem by Sri Aurobindo, is referred thus “Is he God then, whom the forsaken seek, things of sin?”.

nrsimhadev

Hiranyakashipu, a demon who compels the descent of Vishnu as Narasimha, gains his powers by performing sever austerities to Brahma. Killed by Narasimha, the soul released from the shackles of the perverted self, would go back to its source after working out the fruit of its karma.

Ravana, said to be an ardent devotee of Shiva, had Vishnu as Sri Rama to come and stop him. Again, killed by a Godhead and the soul returns to source after karmic debts are paid.

The idea that God, who exceeds all our measures of morality, should be vengeful or wrathful to a tribe or people or non-believers, is to make Him or Her or It very limited in conception.

Above all to limit individual action by the notion of eternal condemnation is a brutal idea. Perhaps effective in keeping the simplistic lot under the umbrella of a particular creed. But utterly useless to anyone who ventures to think deeply.

An Omniscient God would, by definition, pervade all things. Including the evil that befalls the world. Including the other sundry godheads that may piggyback on His Omnipotence. His infinite variety would not be limited to a single name. Or form.

The Highest God would be compassion and love, instead of breathing fire. One day he might come as warrior, as the cleanser of our souls. Another day as the lover, who woos us with the music of heavens. Yet another day perhaps he might come as the mother who lulls us into a primordial sleep. Each manifestation would take the most beneficial aspect towards the child-soul.

The next time, someone condemns you in the name of religion, remember the karmic dues might take an eternity to pay but your reaching the highest goal, to the very bosom of the Infinite, is a done thing.

Lucifer and his ilk, are the spiritual counterparts of Icarus, not examples to prove the irreversibility of the effects of sin. Let your heart be not worried.

 

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The Mystique of the Curse in Hinduism

Durvasa flees, his curse backfires

A curse is hard to escape. Within the tomes of Hindu mythology and its epics, the occurrence of a curse is a frequent certainty. Most ancient civilizations, ancient Greek, Biblical, Egyptian etc., had curse practitioners.

The practitioners were almost always someone wronged. Someone whom the laws of Dharma were to protect but failed to. Instances of cursers include chaste women, short-tempered Rishis and incarnate manifestations of the Divine. The curse was the last resort of the weak and the oppressed. The final card that would play out in time.

The recipient of the curse were just about anybody. Gods yielded in silent submission to law greater than their omnipotence, for they too were subject to the causal laws. Cities were subject to it. Kings. Gods. Nothing was spared.

Framework of Laws

The Hindu conception of laws of life had many layers to it. The individual was said to be governed by the law of Karma, cause and effect to be worked out within this framework of life. The notion of Dharma, or the principle of righteousness, provided for laws the individual and the larger collective had to adhere to. Kaala, or Time, was also seen as a law that governed the lives of men. Above all this, as an inscrutable element, was the notion of Lila, or Divine Play, something mounted for the purpose of the immanent Divine to realize and savor within the scope of Time.

Time-bound Laws Were Mutable

Each of these co-existed, overlapped and even cross wired many a time. Everything was subject to ignorance and error. Even Kaala, or Time, could err. Ensuring the short-term survival of the wicked and the tyrant. But Lila stood far above as the chief arbiter who could correct every wrong. What a short-sighted God yielded as a boon to the Rakshasa would be overcome and negated by the Avatar who would come later.

Idea of Lila, or Divine Play

Lila was above the idea of Karma, or Dharma, or even Kaala. Sri Krishna in the Mahabharata exemplified this idea of Lila. Superficial notions of individual and time based morality were shattered for the wider perception of Dharma. Time bound ideas of Dharma were exceeded in the expression of the supreme Lila.

But the Lila and the certainty of it was only given to the Avatar. Not for common mortals or the lesser gods. Here is where the curse comes handy. How do you compel an unyielding Time or the Supreme Divine to hear your case? When all else fails you curse.

Qualities for a Curser

The curse required some basic qualities if it had to be effective. If you were a Rishi you had to acquire Tapas, the spiritual strength that is born of introspection. A woman had to be chaste – chastity was seen as a shield that even the Gods would fail to conquer. A householder and commoner had to adhere to his Svadharma, the law of his personal evolution. Each of these would ensure there was enough charge for the Curse to work.

Deflection of a Curse

The nullification of curse was almost never managed head on. It always had to be deflected, a workaround had to be sought. This required the knowledge of someone who exceeded the spiritual stature of the curser. If it was a someone who had acquired some spiritual merit then a Rishi could figure out the workaround. If it was a Rishi who cursed then you had to head to a Godhead to redeem yourself. But the key aspect was this – An incarnate Godhead never cursed, never ever cursed. In fact he took on any curse with equanimity, it was the price he would pay..even with his life if need be in sticking to the laws of Time.

And overarching all this was the idea of the Lila, the Divine Play of existence.

Summary

The curse was an instrument of action. It was intent vocalized towards a specific result. The target could be anything as long as the practitioner had the spiritual merit. Laws of existence could be superseded by curses. 

What is next?

There is much more to explore on this particular topic especially in comparison to how a curse was perceived in other ancient civilizations and specific instances of how the curse is not what it seems on the surface within Hindu mythology.

Appreciate any feedback, even a curse, for putting you through this! 🙂