If God is everywhere, why should I restrict my worship to the sacred icons and murtis (idols)? Why can I not worship God in say, tables and chairs?

gurudev (2)

It is true that you can worship the Lord in any form. However, the form should be such that it invokes the devotee in you, because it is the devotee that worships God. The most important aspect of worship is that the devotee is invoked. If it is possible at all, one can certainly take a table or chair and look upon it as God.

Consider this: when can you call a person a guru? It is only when the disciple in you is invoked. Then alone is he your guru. Or, when can you look upon somebody as a father? It would be when the son in you is invoked. Otherwise, saying ‘father’ is paying mere lip service to the word. Similarly, it is only if a chair or table invokes the devotee within us that can we look upon it as God; otherwise, we cannot do so. One would be insincere in saying that the chair or table also represents God.

We are given the freedom to worship God in any name and form. Yet we select a name and form that invokes the devotee in us. For instance, when we say, ’Krishna,’ the very sound of the word or form of the Lord has a certain impact on us. Such an impact can be caused both by words and forms. Each name and form, however, has a different impact on different people, depending upon their emotional makeup, upbringing, culture, and needs. For instance, while the names Rama or Mira or Radha may mean nothing to a native of Australia, the name Mary may be very meaningful. Therefore, every culture or tradition worships God in the names and forms that it has derived.

This is why we have the concept of the Ista devta. This is the particular form of the Lord that invokes the devotee within us and for which we have reverence and love. Just as mantras or sacred verses have come down to us from the time of the ancient sages, so also, the various forms of the Lord, such as Rama or Krishna, have come down to us over time. They have great significance and possess a certain power.

When a given mantra is recited by many people and chanted over a long period of time, it gains power, This is the appeal and fascination of the gayatri-mantra. Everybody wants to know if they can chant it. This is because the mantra has been recited by millions of people over the centuries, and has thus acquired a certain amount of strength and significance. This is how the deity in a temple also acquires power over time. The immense devotion expressed in a temple by millions of people, like the Venkateswara temple in Tirupati, empowers the deity. As a result, when you go there, you can draw from the power of the deity. This is why some mantras and deities are more powerful than others.

It is true that God is everywhere, but how He manifests depends upon the name and form that is chosen for worship. Therefore, when it comes to whom or what we worship, the power of the deity and the mantra become important. Such things are not important in gaining knowledge, but become very significant when it comes to worship; one must experience the positive impact of worship. This is why forms, names, and particular methods used in worship become relevant.

Swami Viditatmanand Saraswati

Excerpts from: Satsanga with Swami Viditatmanand, Vol: 1

 Link to Swamiji’s Discourses

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Freedom is a two step process. The first step being karma-yoga, which provides freedom from raga-dvesas, and the second step being jnana, which leads to freedom from ignorance.

gurudev (2)

The Bhagavad Gita says Karma-yoga कर्म योग (Yoga of action) and jnana yoga ज्ञान योग (Yoga of knowledge or wisdom) are two stages on the path of self-growth, which is the path to freedom. Karma Yoga, the first stage, enables one to acquire freedom from raga-dvesas राग द्वेस, likes and dislikes. Jnana is the subsequent stage, in which one gains freedom from the rest of the obstacles on the path to self knowledge.

The mind consists of three gunas (गुण qualities); sattva सत्त्व, rajas रजस , and tamas तमस्. Rajas and tamas result in raga-dvesas. As likes and dislikes get subdued, the mind becomes sattvika सात्त्विक. It enjoys poise and equanimity. Karma-yoga helps us achieve a sattvika mind, one that is cheerful, contemplative, and able to think clearly. It is a mind in which there is desire for knowledge. Jnana removes ignorance and enables us to attain our true nature. It thus leads to the ultimate freedom from ignorance. Therefore, freedom is a two-step process, the first step being karma-yoga, which provides freedom from raga-dvesas, and the second step being jnana, which leads to freedom from ignorance and the sense of doer ship or the ego. Hence, we do not look upon karma and jnana as separate paths.

In karma-yoga, it is not so much actions that count, as the attitude behind the actions. This attitude is also of the nature of knowledge; we have to have a sense of duty and recognize the harmony between the world and ourselves. We have to be aware of how the universe is supporting us and our actions should therefore become a means to return this favor. All this requires pr0pe; understanding.

A life of karma-yoga results in a progressive growth 0f maturity and understanding. When karma is performed with the right attitude, it becomes a means of knowledge Thus, karma-yoga is not merely action or having the right attitude. It is also the knowledge by which we progressively grow in our understanding of ourselves and the realities of life. Jnana-yoga is the subsequent knowledge of the true nature of the Self. Each stage serves to bring us closer to an awareness of our true Self. Karma-yoga removes the bigger obstacles in this quest and jnana-yoga removes the finer obstacles.

It is like the two tuning knobs of a radio. Karma yoga may be likened to the big knob, which let us hear the music near the desired frequency. Jnana yoga is like the other knob, which helps in fine-tuning, so that we can hear it properly. Karma-yoga makes the mind sattvika or contemplative, so that we can experience the Self, which is happiness. Progressively, there is a desire to understand this Self. This is when jnana-yoga helps with the ’fine-tuning,’ to reveal that happiness is the very nature of our true Self. Therefore, just as the two knobs of the radio serve the same purpose, so also, karma-yoga and jnana-yoga are not two separate paths, but two stages on the path to self-realization.

Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati

Excerpts from: Satasanga with Swami Viditatmananda, Vol: 1

Links to Swamiji’s Discourses

IS THE VEDA SCIENTIFIC?

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We often hear that Veda is scientific. Is this true? The Veda as a whole is looked upon as a means of knowledge in the Vedic tradition of learning. Being an independent means of knowledge, the subject matter of the Veda has to be beyond the scope of other means of knowledge, and it has to be meaningful as well. It talks about a heaven, punya-papa, duties, and rituals with their results to be experienced here or in the hereafter. This subject matter is certainly beyond the scope of the means of knowledge such as perception, inference and so on that a human being commands. It does not expect corroboration from other sources of knowledge, much less is the subject matter revealed by the Veda subject to contention on the basis of other means of knowledge. Any contention is only with reference to a subject matter within the domain of perception, inference and so on. ‘

Science is a body of knowledge gained through perception and inference. Consequently, any scientific theory is subject to contention. When the subject matter of the Veda is not within the known means of knowledge, it is wrong to say that the Veda is scientific. Neither a scientist can accept the statement nor the one who knows the tradition. It would be proper to say that the subject matter of the Veda is independent of perception and inference.

When Vedanta, the last portion of the Veda, talks of the truth of oneself, does it reveal a totally unknown self? If it does, the self would be like heaven, which exists without any possibility of immediate knowledge in this life. If it talks about a self that is self-evident, then the self cannot be the subject matter of the Veda, since it is already evident. Vedanta, therefore, cannot be a part of the Veda since it reverses its status of being an independent means of knowledge.

A human being employs various means of knowledge to know. It includes the Veda. Every piece of knowledge becomes evident to the person through a relevant means of knowing. However, this person himself or herself does not become evident through any means of knowing. Employing a means of knowledge presupposes the presence of the person who employs it. Naturally, the person has to be self-evident. The existence of oneself, therefore, does not depend upon evidence born of an employed means of knowing. Self-evident existence of oneself is revealed when one says: ‘.‘I am.” So the Veda does not need to reveal the existence of the self.’ If this self is non-dual Brahman, the cause of the entire world, then no one can know that reality. An individual’s existence , is no doubt self-evident but he or she is the knower, who is other than the known, and who is subject to all forms of limitation. In this area, Vedanta is a means of knowledge to know the reality of the self, to know that it is free from any limitation.

The subject matter of Vedanta being I, the self, the knowledge unfolded by its sentences has to be immediate. If someone raises an objection to the way in which the tradition presents the meaning of the sentences such as “तत्त्वमसि – tattvamasi, that you are”, we employ reason along With the scriptural texts to point out the fallacy of their arguments. If the non-dual vision is contended, citing reason and experience, again the fallacy is pointed out. Thus, reason and experience are meaningfully employed by the teaching tradition. When the doubts and errors are removed, the Vision of Vedanta that I am Brahman is clearly understood. This proves that Vedanta is a means of knowledge, independent of perception and inference. So, the subject matter of the Veda is not within the domain of science. Of course, there are a lot of statements in the Veda about things that are empirically true. They can be scrutinized by the scientists to find out how valid they are.

Swami Dayananda Saraswati

Excerpts from: Insights

Links to Swamiji’s talks

Do not ride your thoughts, maintain distance from your thoughts. Observe the Silence between the thoughts! The Silence is You, the Consciousness!

gurudev (2)

A mantra is a sound that emerges from silence and merges back into silence. Every sound has its source in silence. Let us say you are chanting om namah sivaya in your mind. Before you chant the mantra, there is silence and when you finish chanting the mantra, again there is silence, and from that silence the chanting of that mantra again arises. Therefore, silence is the source of the mantra. And when you are chanting that mantra, the mantra sound is also a modification of that silence. Thus, paying attention to, the source means paying attention to the silence that obtains between the chanting of the mantra. Pay attention to the silence when the mantra is repeated by itself. If one becomes an observer when repeating the mantra, the mantra stops and he is no more a repeater of the mantra. However, due to constant practice, the mantra can go on by itself and one can become a witness or observer of the mantra. Then, one can witness the silence between the mantras. Therefore, recognize the silence or pay attention to the silence that obtains between mantras.

The silence, in fact, obtains between any two thoughts. Usually, however, we are not able to maintain distance with our thoughts, and therefore, we generally get swept away by our thoughts; we go for a ride on our thoughts. And therefore, the silence between thoughts is not evident to us. Therefore, we have a special chain of thought in the form of repeating a mantra; here, each thought is preceded and followed by the same thought. This provides the mind with an opportunity to stay on one thought; it doesn’t run away anywhere. If the thoughts change, the mind will run away with it. In repeatedly chanting a mantra such as am namah sivaya, the mind has nowhere to go and it remains in one place, and allows us to pay attention to the silence that obtains between the mantras. Where is this silence? Who are you? You are the witness of the silence. What kind of witness? You are the silent witness of the silence. Ultimately, you will discover that the silence is yourself. You are the source of the mantra, and that silence is nothing but consciousness, and thus, the consciousness is the source of mantra. Consciousness is yourself, and therefore, looking at or examining the, source of the mantra will bring you to yourself. Thus, it helps us in abiding in our own selves. It helps us discover that we are silence and then the mantra may even subside, leaving just the silence that ultimately enables us to be with ourselves, the silence.

The Kenopanisad [2-4] says, प्रतिबोधविदितम् मतम्  pratibodhaviditam matam, brahman is known through every cognition. Bodham means a thought, a cognition. When brahman or the self is known, you are able to maintain the distance with the thought with reference to every thought that occurs in your mind. You can be objective with reference to any thought, that is, you do not get carried away by any thought. It can be any thought, not necessarily a mantra. As thoughts arise in the mind, you can contemplate as to what is common between the different thoughts. Each thought can be different from the other thought and the consciousness that illumines the thought is the common factor. It is like the light that illuminates the variety of objects in this hall. But we miss that light, since our attention is On what is illumined, the name and form. Similarly, in the case of our thoughts, it is the consciousness that illumines every thought but we are so pre-occupied with the thought itself that we miss the consciousness that illumines the thought. May you now become detached from the thought. This is detachment. It does not matter what the thought is.

Normally, the content of the thought is important to us. It is a good thought or a bad thought, this thought or that thought, and we react to it. A thought is a thought and if we can be equal with reference to all thoughts, with neither attachment nor aversion or reaction, we will have the poise to observe that all thoughts are illumined by consciousness. Thus, a thought becomes like a mirror. A mirror provides us an occasion to look at our own faces, and similarly every thought becomes an occasion to recognize the fact that it reflects consciousness, is illumined by consciousness. We thus shift our attention from the thought to the consciousness that illumines the thought or from the thought to the consciousness that obtains between the thoughts. This is what is suggested in the Kenopanisad. When brahman or the self is known with reference to every thought, it is truly known. The same thing happens here looking at the source of the mantra or looking into the source of the thought.

Ultimately, the source is nothing but the self Therefore, our attention is turned from the mantra or thought to the silence, and then to the self or consciousness. The self is the ultimate source of everything, and through this meditation, our attention gets. again focused on our own selves. This is the most exalted bhakti, devotion when the mind abides in its own self. Therefore it becomes the greatest tapas, penance or greatest bhakti, devotion.

Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati

Extract from Satasanga with Swami Viditatmananda, Vol: 2

Link to Swamiji’s Discourses

Why do we do pradakshina प्रदक्षिणा?

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When we visit a temple, after offering prayers, we circumambulate the sanctum sanctorum with folded hands often chanting prayers. This is called pradakshina प्रदक्षिणा.

Why do we do pradakshina?

We cannot draw a circle without a center point. The Lord is the center, source and essence of our lives. Recognizing Him as the focal point in our lives, we go about doing our daily chores. This is the significance of pradakshina.

Also every point on the circumference of a circle is equidistant from the center. This means that wherever or whoever we may be, we are equally close to the Lord. His grace flows towards us without partiality.

Why is pradakshina done only in a clockwise manner?

As we do pradakshina, the Lord is always on our right. In India the right side symbolizes auspiciousness. It is a telling fact that even in the English language it is called the ‘right’ side and not the wrong one! So as we circumambulate the mam/m random”; we remind ourselves to lead an auspicious life of righteousness, with the Lord who is the indispensable source of help and strength, as our guide ~the ‘right hand’ -the diagram aspect -of our lives. We thereby overcome our wrong tendencies and avoid repeating the sins of the past.

Indian scriptures enjoin – matru devo bhavo, pitru devo bhavo, acharya devo bhavo – ‘May you consider your mother, father and teachers as you would the Lord’. With this in mind we also do preemies/aim around our parents and divine personages. The story of Lord Ganesha beating his brother Lord Kartikeya in a race to circumambulate the world by going around his parents is a well-known one. Sacred mountains (giri pradakshina of Tiruvenamalai) and holy rivers (Narmada parikema) are also circumambulated.

After the completion of traditional worship (pooja), we customarily do pradakshina with folded hands around ourselves. In this way we recognize and remember the Supreme divinity within us, which alone is idolized in the form of the Lord that we worship outside.

As we circumambulate, We chant:

यानि कानि पापानि जन्मान्तरकृतानि च !
तानि तानि विनश्यन्ति प्रदक्षिणपदे पदे !!

Yaani kaani cha paap aani janmaantara kritaani cha,
Taani taani vinashyanti pradakshina pade pade.

All the sins committed by an individual from innumerable past births are destroyed by each step taken whilst doing pradakshina.

Swami Vimalananda, Radhika Krishnakumar: Chinamya Mission

Excerpts from: In Indian Culture Why Do We?

Why do we do Aarti आरती ?

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Towards the end of every ritualistic worship of the Lord (pooja) or devotional singing (bhajan) or to welcome an honored guest or saint, we perform the आरती aarti. This is always accompanied by the ringing of the bell and sometimes by singing, playing of musical instruments and clapping.

It is one of the sixteen steps (shodasha upchara) of the page ritual. It is referred to as the offering of the auspicious light (mangla niraajanam). Holding the lighted lamp in the right hand, we wave the flame in a clockwise circling movement to light the entire form of the Lord. As the light is waved we either do mental or loud chanting of prayers or simply behold the beautiful form of the Lord, illumined by the lamp. We experience an added intensity in our prayers and the Lord’s image seems to manifest a special beauty at that time.

At the end of the aarti we place our hands over the flame and then gently touch our eyes and the top of the head; We have seen and participated in this ritual from our childhood.

Why?

Having worshiped the Lord with love -performing abhiseka, decorating the image and offering fruits and delicacies, whilst performing the aarti we see the beauty of the Lord in all His glory. Our mind gets focused on each limb of the Lord illumined by the light of the aarti. It is akin to silent open-eyed meditation on His beautiful form. The singing, clapping, ringing of the bell etc. denote the joy and auspiciousness, which accompanies the vision of the Lord.

Aarti is often performed with camphor. This holds a telling spiritual significance. Camphor, when lit burns itself out completely. It represents our inherent tendencies (vasnas).

Lit by the fire of knowledge, which illumines the Lord (Truth), our vasnas and the ego, which creates a sense of individuality that keeps us separate from the Lord, burn themselves out completely. Also even as it burns and sacrifices itself, the lighted camphor reveals the glory of the Lord and emits a pleasant fragrance. Similarly we too should willingly sacrifice ourselves and all we have as we serve the Guru and society and spread the fragrance of love to all.

When the aarti is actually performed quite often our eyes close automatically. This is to signify that each of us is a temple of the Lord -we hold the divinity within. The priest reveals the form of the Lord clearly with the aarti flame. The Guru too clearly reveals to us the divinity within us with the light of spiritual knowledge.

At the end of the aarti, we place our hands over the flame and then touch our eyes and the top of the head. It means -may the light that illumined the Lord light up my vision; may my vision be divine and my thoughts noble and beautiful.

The philosophical meaning of aarti extends further. The sun, moon, stars, lightning and fire are the natural sources of light. The Lord is the source of all these wondrous phenomena of the universe. It is due to Him alone that all else exists and shines. As we light up the Lord with the flame of the aarti, we turn our attention to the very source of all light, which symbolizes knowledge and life.

Also the sun, moon and fire are the respective presiding deities of the intellect, mind and speech. The Lord is the supreme Consciousness that illumines all of them. Without Him the intellect cannot think, the mind cannot feel or the tongue speak. The Lord is beyond the mind, intellect, and speech. How can these finite equipment illuminate the infinite Lord?

Therefore as per perform aarti we chant:

न तत्रो सूर्यो भाति न चन्द्रतार्कम्म् , नेमा  विधुतो भान्ति कुतोयमग्निः !
तमेव भान्तमनुभाति सर्वं, तस्य भासा सर्वमिदं विभाति !!

Na Tatra Suryo bhati Na Chandra Taarakam, Nemaa Vidyuto Bhaanti Kutoyamagnih,
Tameva Bhantarn Anubhaati Sarvam, Tasya Bhaasa Sarvam Idarn Vibhaati.

He is there where the sun does not shine-nor the moon, stars and lightning. Then What to talk of this small flame (in my hand)! Everything (in the universe) shines only after the Lord And by His light alone IS all illumined.

Swami Vimalananda & Radhika Krishnakumar, Chinmaya Mission

Excerpts from: In Indian Culture Why Do We?